Monday, June 22, 2015

sag harbor

A firefly blinked into existence, drew half a word in the air.  Then gone.  A black bug secret in the night.  Such a strange little guy.  It materialized, visible to human eyes for brief moments, and then it disappeared.  But it got its name from its fake time, people time, when in fact most of its business went on when people couldn't see.  Its true life was invisible to us but we called it firefly after its fractions.  Knowable and fixed for a few seconds, sharing a short segment of its message before it continued on its real mission, unknowable in its true self and course, outside of reach.  It was a bad name because it was incomplete-- both parts were true, the bright and the dark, the one we could see and the other one we couldn't.  It was both.

From Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead

Friday, June 19, 2015

"on self-respect"

"Most of our platitudes notwithstanding, self-deception remains the most difficult deception.  The tricks that work on others count for nothing in that very well-lit back alley where one keeps assignations with oneself: no winning smiles will do here, no prettily drawn lists of good intentions.  One shuffles flashily but in vain through one's marked cards -- the kindness done for the wrong reason, the apparent triumph which involved no real effort, the seemingly heroic act into which one had been shamed.  The dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others -- who are, after all, deceived easily enough; has nothing to do with reputation, which, as Rhett Butler told Scarlett O'Hara, is something people with courage can do without."

From "On Self-Respect", Slouching Towards Bethlehem by (the inimitable) Joan Didion

Monday, June 15, 2015

then and now.

Eight years ago, I spent ten days backpacking-without-a-backpack in Europe.  I sent juicy newsy emails to a list of family and friends every few days.  I am very glad to have those, and the replies, in the archives.  It reminds me of a simpler time, before social media became the filter through which we experience life.

I started in Amsterdam, where I stayed in a Christian women's hostel and met a group of four girls from York.  I visited museums and strolled the canals during the day, and ventured out at night with my new friends to gawk at the red light district and drink warm Heineken.  I almost fainted in public after spending too long watching from the sidelines at a coffee shop.  I visited the Anne Frank Huis and was very moved, most of all at the display of international editions of her diary.  I ate at a vegetarian restaurant one night and felt really self-righteous, even then.  I remember the moment of realization that serving fries in a paper cone with a dollop of mayo made more sense to me than bloody ketchup ever would.

The train to Belgium was fast and clean.  Antwerp was underwhelming, but I chalked it up to the miserable weather.  I feigned great interest in Belgian beers when my hostel-mate, Anders, asked me to find a bar called the Kulminator with him.  He was from Idaho and I remember finding each other on Myspace before we said our goodbyes.  He is probably the first guy I ever drank a beer with who grew a beard for fun.  We went to another bar called The Eleventh Commandment, decorated almost completely with religious statues.  The bar was an altar and the booths were old pews.  I shopped in H&M and ate a waffle every day.  The waffles were amazing.

In Bruges (before the movie came out), I stayed at a hostel where beers cost 1 euro at happy hour and the smell of cigarette smoke wafted into my dorm room all night long.  I celebrated Fourth of July with two Americans from Tennessee, one of whom, according to social media, has since put on weight and become a father.  I climbed the belltower in the main square and far below, an orchestra played near the square's fountain.  I remember calling my mum that afternoon with the music in the background.  The sky was very blue.  Also, more waffles.

My last stop on the solo tour was Brussels.  I hung out with some Californians and developed a weirdly intense two-day crush on one of them who had a tattoo across his chest that said BLESSED, like Lil Wayne.  I didn't know who Lil Wayne was but went with it.  He kind of looked like Russell Brand (??)  We drank premade sangria that we bought at a corner shop and the guys rolled their own cigarettes.  The next day, I ate moules frites at a table outside a restaurant in a little alley, where tourists walking by looked at the empty seat across from me with confusion and pity.  It was great.  The main square of the city was impressive even though the rest of it, at times, felt like Philadelphia.

When my ten days came to an end, I boarded a train from Brussels across the border to Lille in France, and then onward to Angers.  My family met me at the train station and I felt strangely relieved to be reunited with them.  It felt like longer than ten days.

In two weeks, I'll be back in France with my sisters and my parents.  It will be the first time I have been back there with my entire family since that summer.  This time around, instead of eating fries with mayo and drinking with strangers in the preceding days, I'll be tying up loose ends at the office in preparation for a new job and making arrangements for our plants to get watered and the cat to be fed while we are away.  Those ten days in 2007 feel like just yesterday, so I guess I've done a lot of growing up in the meantime... but I could definitely still go for a waffle.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

"one minus one"

"I do not even believe in Ireland. But you know, too, that in these years of being away there are times when Ireland comes to me in a sudden guise, when I see a hint of something familiar that I want and need. I see someone coming toward me, with a soft way of smiling, or a stubborn uneasy face, or a way of moving warily through a public place, or a raw, almost resentful stare into the middle distance."

From "One Minus One" by Colm Tóibín

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

timing is everything.

Summer has come on strong.  Muggy humid days appeared seemingly out of the blue around Memorial Day and with them, all the sneezing and sniffles and lethargy of springtime allergies.  On the days in-between rides to the subway or around the neighborhood, my bike seat was covered in a thin film of green powder and even the cat is sneezing daily.

On Sunday, after an impromptu barbecue with friends the night before and a flurry of spontaneous morning cleaning, we sucked down icy coffees and headed for the India Street pier.  The East River Ferry is neck-and-neck with riding a bike as my favorite way to travel in New York.  The view is spectacular, the air is (relatively) fresh as it rises off the river, and for the price of the aforementioned iced latte, you get a few moments of watery respite from the hustle and bustle.  We touched down on East 34th Street and scurried beneath the FDR towards Second Avenue and the Kips Bay movie theater.  A few hours in air conditioned darkness seemed like the perfect way to escape both the humidity and promised thunderstorms forecast for later that day.

Two and a half hours later, the engines of Mad Max still humming in our ears, we stepped out of the cinema to scattered raindrops and a blackened sky.  Timing is everything.  After fifteen minutes in the supermarket for baguette and tins of cat food (we have become Those People) and chickpeas for that night's dinner, the skies had opened and Second Avenue was flooded.  I immediately thought of California, and of the doormen on the Upper West Side who clean off the sidewalks with a hose every morning in the heat of the summer, instead of with a broom.

We decided to brave the rain.  It's only water after all.  Ten minutes and ten blocks later, the rain had eased and we had arrived at the subway.  Timing is everything.  A couple of train delays and another downpour later, with a fresh bottle of gin in hand, we were back across the river and ready for cocktails.

I drank my negroni as I wandered from room to room to room to room (there are only four) closing the windows to keep the rain from wetting the carpet.  The smell of roasted garlic emerged from the oven.  We listened to jazz.  I noticed that my watch had stopped ticking.

I might leave it that way all summer.