Tuesday, December 14, 2010

There had to be a hello.

I once knew a man, not as well as some, but enough to know he never said goodbye. Instead, Father Tony Lehman would say "to be continued..." A farewell befitting of his religious convictions, peaceful presence and tremendous wisdom.

Having been on the move now for the better part of a decade I've become rather accustomed to saying goodbye. Unfortunately, "to be continued" really only worked when Father Tony said it.

However the goodbye (or if you prefer its historical form "god be with ye") is an art I've never really mastered. Back in college my departure from social gatherings came to be known as "pullin' a Myers" where upon I would skip the goodbye and make an exit out a back door or linger my way towards any direction that would allow me to slip away without immediate detection. It's nothing I'm proud of but was something so common many of my friends grew to expect/accept it.

Over the years I have learned to face the music and it seems to me "the goodbye" regardless of how long you've known the person/people, be it bidding farewell after lunch, or parting from a significant other or leaving a Christmas party or the countless other farewells one finds him/herself saying on any given day, each of them can be placed into one of three distinct categories:

1) The Harry Houdini goodbye: where you feel like a magic trick has been preformed on you, as if Houdini jerked out the soft-warm-bunny feeling friendship from your heart the moment you turned and walked away. Followed by a dull pain felt floating somewhere in the core of your being (which, coincidentally also happened to be the cause of Houdini's death, J. Gordon Whitehead punched him repeatedly in the stomach, testing Harry's claim he could take any blow to the stomach) because you both know seeing each other again will likely never occur or will take place many months if not years from now.

2) The standard nonchalant goodbye: more or less a formality, given that circumstances surrounding the farewell will have both parties seeing each other (for better or worse) again in the immediate future and thus there is no need to get overly emotional. Likely the most common of all goodbyes.

3) Finally, the "good riddance" goodbye: Admittedly, I have found it useful in only a handful of situations as it is the most difficult goodbye to execute properly given how connected our world has become (facebook, twitter, email, blogs, etc) and I find the hardest to explain to you, the reader, without coming off as a complete jerk.

My take on the "good riddance" goodbye (which -side note- i think is a coincidence worth pointing out, that the word "dance" beautifully fits within the word riddance, as there has been a time or two where immediately following a good riddance goodbye, i broke into a quiet song and dance to celebrate the separation.) is that people are constantly dropping in and out of each of our lives. Some stick around longer than others, but for a select group for whatever reason, once they drop out of our lives, it would be better for all involved if they stayed out (and/or vice versa).

I trust this is starting to read rather harsh, but point being, why can't we get back some of those good old fashion good riddance goodbyes, like when a man (or woman) on horseback rides off into the horizon, a trail of dust, a rhythmic fade of hooves hitting the ground being the final image you/they have of them/you. I believe there is hidden value in the good riddance goodbye however rare it might be in this world, a crown of closure.
All of this is to say that during my travels I have met some _______ characters (fill in the blank with any descriptive word you wish, I guarantee they all fit). Many of them flip through my head, as if the game GUESS WHO was affixed to an 80's style Rolodex and placed in my brain, spinning endlessly with different faces/personalities. Many of whom I would love to see again, many I will see again some day and others who get lost in the flow of time. It does happen from time to time that I'll think back to a particularly sad Houdini goodbye, remembering thoughts of someone I met way out in the field, smiling as I realize for every fond farewell there had to be a hello.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mind over Mopeyness

I felt it set in the morning after I left Paris. Like when you feel the on-set of the common cold, this shunned emotion started to well up inside of me, it slowly rolls in my mind like thick fog, generating severe synaptic atrophy, jabbing at my thoughts with self-deprecating punches, as if my brain had some how bounced onto a hamster wheel and would bumble along in self pity for all of eternity. There was no doubt about it I had come down with a severe case of mopeyness.

So- upon self-diagnoses I looked around my cousin's flat for my "its cold as hell out there" gear and set out to visit the (free) Imperial War Museum:
At first glance the building didn't look much like a museum but the large cannons posted out in front led me to believe I was indeed at my destination.
I took a stroll through the Tibetan Peace Garden planted next to the Imperial War Museum, you know, get all Zenned-out before I learn about how the world went to war.
This piece of the Berlin Wall posted in front of the entrance had me thinking two things. In what ways should I change my life? And who spent the time to chip away this souvenir.
I had to smile at this poster on the way into the museum, only because it reminded me of Mike Kingen, an extremely talented Marine Corps pilot. Knowing not only how much he would have appreciated the exhibit inside that highlighted a broad range of brave soldiers but also that should I ever be in such a situation as that, I would want no one other than him at the helm.
Full of objects that defined the fury of WWII, I wandered around amazed at the history. And couldn't help but feel I missed my calling in life as I passed through the MI6 display, I mean, there was a lengthy period of time I spent growing up on the farm wishing I was James Bond.
Then came the unexpected surprise. T.E. Lawrence's (AKA Lawrence of Arabia) original Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle. I learned that this motorcycle was the one he was thrown from when he swerved to miss two boys on bikes. Six days later he was dead due to head injuries. His death deeply affected the neurosurgeon Hugh Cairns who tended to Lawrence's injuries, so much so that Cairns dedicated himself to the study of head injuries related to motorcycle accidents. His findings led to the wide spread use of crash helmets.

The walk back to Waterloo station had me so busy consuming the wonders of the world I completely forgot about being mopey.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Finding a way to move the feast

I can remember feeling very depressed and alone the day after arriving in southern Mexico. I was in the town of San Cristobal without a clue as to what I was doing there. Walking aimlessly through the narrow streets I stumbled upon a small (English) bookstore. Inside that space the feelings of loneliness I entered with began to flow out of me.

It's hard to say exactly when I started taking solace in bookstores, but this sense of comfort has existed in me for several years. Which is why it comes as no surprise that the last few months at Shakespeare have produced some of the most intense feelings of happiness I have ever known.
These surprisingly noticeable feelings of happiness stem from my general take on life, that life's intrinsic value is found in feeling. Beyond being a series of breaths, life is a flow of continuous feeling, rising and falling like giant swells in the ocean, cresting with boisterous laughter one moment, then dipping low with a sinking sadness the next. Reveling in the spectrum of feeling that is life.

Clearly the ability to feel life is not the least bit dependent upon living at Shakespeare, I'm only confessing that the range and intensity with which I have experienced life since staying at the shop has been unlike anywhere else I have traveled to. There exists a different flow of feeling from Shakespeare, be it the books themselves, the staff, the sound of Notre Dame's bells, the tumbleweeds, George's presence or more than likely, a powerful combination of all the above.
Hemingway famously said to his friend Hotchner “if you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” I read that quote long ago, and to be honest, looking back it might have played a part in getting me here. And while there may be some healthy debate as to whether or not I still qualify as a 'young man' there is no doubt these days spent living along the Seine at Shakespeare&Co will remain with me for the rest of my days.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tumbleweeds, creepy tombs and Tarte Tatin

Naturally, a tumbleweed's direction is dependent upon which way the wind blows. Which is why George Whitman affectionately labels those who stay at Shakespeare as tumbleweeds.

It happened that Jamie, Dylan and myself were gathered in the writer's studio maybe for the last time yesterday. Each of us having made plans to push on in the coming days. Having shared countless laughs together over the last few weeks an impromptu decision to visit the catacombs set in motion one of those priceless days of happenstance.

Off we went on bikes as the snow fell across Paris. The snowflakes had this movie set feel to them, small, odd shaped dots of white in no particular hurry to reach the ground. From everything I am told snow in Paris this early in the year is unusual. Glancing back as Lester and I led the way, the sight of the three of us on bikes riding across Pairs to visit the catacombs gave me a flash of the movie Goonies, which then made me smile.
So as far as I can gather the year was 1780 and Paris was over-flowing with dead Parisians. Full to the brim with bones Cimetiere des Saints-Innocents had to be closed for public health reasons. It was finally decided that all the bones from Paris cemeteries would be stored in abandon limestone quarries. Open to the public, these piles upon piles of bones and skulls can be visited deep under the streets of Paris.

Certainly, given the historical context of the catacombs, it is interesting to see such a sight but it seems even the curators knew something needed to be added to the experience of wandering past an unfathomable amount of femurs. “Why not add famous quotes about death...” someone must have said a few years ago as I walked past a wide range of quotes written in marble plaques throughout the catacombs. Most of the quotes are from famous Frenchmen long since dead, but I couldn't help wishing to find Woody Allen's quote "Life is full of misery, loneliness and suffering - and it's all over much to soon" in some dark, damp corner of the catacombs but no such luck.
Once again above ground with the living, having dropped the bikes back off at the shop, Jamie, Dylan and I made our way by foot across the Seine to the Marais in the 4th Arrondissement. We were headed for Le Loir Dans la Theiere. Known for their tarts, I went with the Camembert/spinach/walnuts combo, Dylan tried another one and Jamie ordered duck terrine.  Having not understood what a terrine was he ate it and then complained it tasted like cold meatloaf. Dylan and I laughed. But to be fair I only know what terrine is because the Chef made it in Provence.
Having stuffed our faces with savory, we washed it down with red wine and moved promptly onto the sweets. (note- this is not my typical diet, but rather a fitting last meal with some good friends). The three of us dived into a chocolate mousse with a layer of some sort of cream, a towering piece of lemon meringue and the infamous Tarte Tatin, something like an inverted apple pie which has as many creation stories as it does chunks of apples. Dylan rattled off the version where a woman was baking a pie for the king or something, mismanaged the journey from the counter top to the oven and dropped it face down, in her hurry she salvaged the wreckage, flipped it on a plate out of the oven and voila, Tarte Tatin.
A cold walk back to the bookstore had us laughing and freezing and discussing odd bits about life. It was a winter day that began with no plan but grew to into hours of boisterous banter and wonderful stories traded between three guys who happened to tumbled through Shakespeare around the same time.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

an adventure in personal hygiene

Pedaling past Notre Dame, I noticed a dusting of snow that covered the small park behind the flying buttresses. The cold air blew a deep freeze over my fingers as I made my way along the Seine towards the public showers. Minutes later, I wrestled the key away from the frozen bike lock and headed inside, my backpack loaded with soap and a change of clothes.
This particular bath house opens at 7AM, so when I strolled in close to 10:30AM, after opening up the bookstore, I could hardly be frustrated at the line that had formed. A collection of men, some cold, others dejected, and still others who smelled as though they could use a good washing stood just inside the entrance patiently waiting for a Frenchman to summon their presence towards the next open stall. I noticed a police officer searching the contents of a plastic bag which looked to belong to a man standing next to the sinks.
As orderly and clean as these public facilities are, there still exists in me an underlying sense of distrust with the men who frequent them. My eyes wandered around the tiled surroundings as I stood waiting. I made brief, unintended eye contact with a man seated on the bench. His shiny bald head was lined on the sides with greasy strips of hair that had been brushed forward from behind his ears. In the millisecond that was traded between our eyes, his mouth curled into a rather creepy smile.

A minute later a frumpy Frenchman in a royal blue one-piece mechanics suit called out the opening of two showers upstairs. Without hesitation I stepped towards the offer and, much to my discomfort, so did smiley. As I walked down the row of shower stalls, barely wide enough for one person, I turned shoulders with a younger looking man, I glanced at him, sensing his stare, and saw a slight smile followed by a quick wink. At which point I by-passed my benefit-of-the-doubt-everyone-is-just-happy-to-be-getting-clean approach to these odd smiles and bolted for the nearest open stall, spun around and flipped the latch of the lock shut as fast as the fastest cowboy in the history of western gunslinging duels.

Stepping back out into the frigid air I felt refreshed and warm from the hot water. When the weather turns, for many men and women who live on the streets (or at a bookshop with no shower), a stop off at the public bath house is the surest way to escape the cold.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

7,800 pipes with a smokin sound.

I dont know jack about organs and how they make music but my friend Dylan's excitement and knowledge about the subject was contagious enough for me to be seated under the massive vaulted ceiling of Notre Dame listening to the (free) weekly organ concert today. 7,800 pipes started to sing, and I listen for what Dylan says is humankind's great effort to crunch the complex sounds of an entire orchestra into one magical instrument.
I am certain Dylan ears were more intent on picking up the finer points of one of the world's great organs than mine were. My ears were busy tripping flashes in my brain of sitting at funerals as a young boy, riding the carousel, and watching the Phantom of the Opera. Funny how music triggers dusty memories in our minds.

An hour passed, then the pipes fell silent. Dylan and I made the cold three minute walk back over the Seine to Shakespeare while taking in the view of Christmas coming to Paris.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

lots of little feet shuffling through Shakespeare

20 eight-year-olds from a bilingual school toured the bookstore yesterday. The older a person gets the harder it seems to imagine what the world looks/feels like through eight year old eyes, but as I stood in front of them, speaking briefly about how I sleep upstairs, living in the library, their eyes went wide at such a thought.

That moment energy, with their young minds spinning and imaginations running wild, captured what I often miss sight of on any given day here at Shakespeare and Co, forgetting that such an existence, viewed through the eyes of a child, can evoke some of that same magic that one finds from those tall tales told by Lewis Carroll or E. B. White or Shel Sliverstein or, or, or.
The kids wrapped up the stairs, past the beds and the books, gathering in the library, where my friend and fellow Shakespeare inhabitant Dylan and I took turns reading from “THE GRUFFLO” while the other half went to the top floor to say hello to George, who opened the bookstore in 1951. He will turn 97 next month. -Now- I can only imagine what that experience was like for those little minds.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Indoor inspiration on a rainy Sunday.

I bumped and nudged my way through a crowd of fashion forward photography fans, bright colored sneakers, thin sweater vests paired with facial hair growths of different shapes and lengths, the quintessential camera draped over the chest. iPhones rang with various house ring-tones, foreign mouths practiced their English skills in this very international setting as I took in the view of some amazing photographs.

I was underground near the Louvre getting lost in a massive photography exhibition entitled Paris Photo, thousands of photos some modern some very old were on display for the weekend. Paris becomes photo friendly for the month of November with outdoor exhibits across the city.

One minute I was staring at an Elk's head on a table, a clean cut, the head sat upright on a pristine white table in a snow covered background, a minute later I was replaying the debate I had recently read about regarding the authenticity of Capa's “Falling Solider”. I stood staring at the print for a moment amazed at the image itself and the controversy that surrounds it. And glancing down I was equally amazed at the € 22,500 price tag.

Having spent a few hours wandering, I walked back out into a rainy Sunday in Paris feeling inspirational overload. It was great to see such a wide collection of images, both in terms of challenging one's own eye and appreciating those who have created something beautifully original.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

PHOTO ESSAY: The view from Sacre Coeur

So my Paris postings seem to be pulling from the same story line -Brad finishes shift at Shakespeare- notices the amazing light that comes around about once a week- Brad then slings a camera over his shoulder- jumps on his bike, and speeds off into the unknown, exploring some new corner of the city-

The photos that follow were taken when Lester and I toured the 1st, 2nd, 9th and 18th arrondissements, making our way towards Sacre Coeur (on top of the 18th) in time to catch the sunset. Perched on the highest hilltop in Paris, Sacre Coeur is popular among tourist as it provides a great view of the city and is home to a small group of artists who sell their creations in a square next to the Basilica. Berets and canvasses fight for space among the tiny square that is lined with brightly lit cafes and restaurants. The weather and the view made for a great ride.
A slice of light caught my eye as I made my way along the Seine

A view from Pont du Carrousel

Boys playing football in Jardin du Carrousel

A view of Palais-Royal Musee du Louvre

The view from Sacre Coeur of the Parisian skyline

Sacre Coeur at sunset

I think this shot has been taken a time or two...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

PHOTO ESSAY: Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise

Lester was kickin' up water on my pant legs from the rain soaked streets of Paris in early November. With some sizable sun breaks the other afternoon we rushed towards Cimetiere Pere Lachaise, an old, large, and rather famous cemetery in the 20th arrondissement.
Walking through the massive entrance, I thought of the many who passed through the same entrance fondly remembering loved one(s), now laid to rest, of course many came without such heavy thoughts but rather there to pay respect to the legend of Oscar Wilde or the countless musical pilgrims, visiting the grave of Jim Morrison. I was there because i was told it was a beautiful setting with elaborately designed headstones
Every corner of the cemetery was covered in big beautiful leaves. Having shaded the deceased during the hot summer months they now gather among the graves, having run their own cycle. Resting in peace... until a Frenchman comes with a loud blower and rounds them up.

Grave of Jim Morrison

On my way through the cemetery I walked past several crows. The way they hopped, swopped, floated and danced from grave to grave I couldnt help but appreciate how much they seemed to belong there among the dead, dressed in black, a chaotic procession of wings.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Paris through a pinhole.

From my perspective, Pat Bognar has perfected the pinhole photo. Pinhole refers to photos taken with a camera (or small box) that uses a hole no bigger than a pinhole to capture an image. Giving how small a pinhole is, this method of taking photos requires long exposure times under lots of sunlight.

Not pretending to know what I am doing I have recently entered the world of the pinhole. First, I acquired a small box which was sold as a kit. The kit is the camera and has everything one needs to take and develop pinhole photos inside. From start to finish, from photo paper to developing solutions. This small box, old-school shall we say, is awesome but slightly time intensive considering it works one exposure at a time, as in each piece of photo paper has to be removed and another replaced in complete darkness, under red light. I have yet to set aside a day (or two) to undertake this endeavor but rest assure I will update you on the outcome when that day comes.

However, my friend Terry, who works at Shakespeare and Co made me a digital pinhole “lens”. Meaning he took a simple lens cap, cut out a small hole in the center, then took a piece of tin and covered the small hole, then, you guessed it, poked out a tiny, tiny pinhole in the center of the tin.

I stuck this digital pinhole on my Nikon D70 a few days ago (the last few days in Paris have been on par with fall weather in Portland...) and came to find it makes for some interesting albeit blurred images. I haven't had much time to play with it but enjoy the practice before embarking on a journey with my little black box in hand.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Heart pounding

Darkness fell over Paris as Notre Dame beamed brightly with floodlights. The library upstairs was crowded. By half eight the place was packed. The usually tranquil room with tall stacks of old books suddenly sparked with life, with onlookers and live performances of poetry, prose, and music.

I was scared merde-less. My trembling voice jittery with “what am I doing up here” fear, pushing past the black mic towards the 30 plus sets of eyes focused on my collection of words about the loose connection between Washington state's apple harvest and an illicit drug trade. It was the piece I selected to read for Shakespeare and Co's "open mic night".

It was a night of anonymous inspiration. Watching a small group of artists, some known, some known only by their mothers, huddled in the stairwell, pounding hearts before they preform their prized works in front of a live audience. A shared desire to express that song or that poem or that story which moved them so strongly they couldn't help but put feeling to paper. And then take that paper and present it to perfect strangers.

After the last performance, everyone gathered for wine, sharing laughs in the library about who wrote that really funny poem or how unique was his voice, or how could she RING the bell, I wasn't finished my apple story.

The world that surrounds Shakespeare and Co is something like a living novel. An infinite network of moving parts, enduring protagonists, heartless villains, and all the passion of a great paperback. Every day that burning sun shines over the south towers of Notre Dame I awake, feeling like I just flipped a page. The real beauty of this story is in not knowing what chapter you're on in a novel that surrounds you.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Lester- my new friend, my new freedom

Leaving Lyudmila in Torino after we formed such a strong bond over the Alps was tough to say the least. But yesterday along came Lester. I am happy to report I am back to my cruisin' ways. It happened the other day that a gem with flaming red lipstick who floated away from the Australian coast and washed ashore on the banks of the Seine six years ago had a cycle to spare.

So it was, on a sunny autumn afternoon the other day my new friend Lester and I got acquainted. Not unlike Lyudmila, Lester is packing some weight, although this time it has nothing to do with my excess luggage and everything to do with the stiff steel, which dont get me wrong, has been bent to befriend me during my time in Paris, and I am eternally grateful for the wheels.
Lester and I stop off for an expresso high on a hill that over looks the Parisian skyline
Of course the best reason for a having a bicycle in Paris is the quick and easy access you have to the entire city. Walking is something I take great joy in but a bike combines the ability to see the streets and if need be do it in a timely fashion. I feel like riding the metro in Paris is like closing your eyes at the movies. Too much to see above ground.

I snapped this shot in a tiny park near the Marais. Paris is full of these beautiful parks in the middle of this, at times mad, and massive city.
Having been in Paris just shy of a month I find myself understanding the layout of the city more and more with each passing day. Getting a feel for the arrondissements, all 20 of them, which divide up the city into different sections. Each one with its own personality, its own sense of sytle, be it gruff or hipped out, or historic, or chic, or artistic, or commercial. My hope is that Lester and I still manage to get lost long into November.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

on travel.

I move among crowded thoughts.

Personalities, streets, towns, trains, moving past my eyes.
Packed London streets, fresh French air high up in the Alps, lavender fields stretching across Provence, wood-fired pizza in Torino, smoked fish lined up on a coathanger along the shores of lake Issyk kul.

Constantly greeting evils and inspirations, some internal some external.
Tides of loneliness come and go, lapping against my soul like the cold Atlantic waters that surround Mt. St. Michel.

Just as the man sniffs ether in front of Shakespeare and Co
This addiction to a life in motion feeds my imagination, transporting my senses into the unknown.

Rushed goodbyes and unexpected hellos, I crave the rewards of randomness, Deep inside I am alive with the solitude and the surreal that is travel.

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