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.

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