Thursday, February 23, 2012

Travelogue 436 – February 23

well past the midway point of this our life,

don't i now find myself again confounded by the sure,

by the sylvan darknesses of dead-eye probity?

In another wry display of synchronicity, I'm presented with a photo of myself from 2005, suddenly displayed alongside an interview. I'm baffled by the appearance of this photo, until I check google images. What the architects of days may have found amusing is that I'm working on the very moment that produced that photo in my shabby little memoir.

It's July and I have returned to the US in time to enjoy a blessed Minnesota summer, when events conspire to spell 'success' for us in the sand. Carolyn has made the connection that leads to the wealthy family behind a large American trust. One young scion of that house is traveling in Africa. Friends have whispered in his mother's ear, and he has consented to a visit to our first school. I am forced to board a plane for Ethiopia, now well into rainy season.

The photo is official, a product of the visit. It captures me in my disheveled glory in the early days of the Ethiopian enterprise, the expression on my face a fair representation of my uncertainty, even my dread and regret. I have a question for lenses. Am I doing the right thing?

The visit to the school went well, and the generous young man from the wealthy family funded our next two projects. My fate was sealed, and after the visitors had dried their eyes and left, after the children had gone home to their unlit huts, I sat on the doorstep alone, under damp skies, and I watched all content drain from my mind. I watched the highest leaves in the eucalyptus sway in the mild breezes. This was to be home, now, it would seem.

It's not 2005 anymore, in case any of my readers have lost track. It has not been for some years. I'm not in Addis Ababa. I'm taking a run along the towpath beside a canal that itself is older than Addis Ababa, carved from the British landscape by enterprising men during the youth of empire.

The ground is winter hard, studded by rocks. The sky above is both half-full and half-empty of clouds, a meteorological stew for all seasons. And in between the resolute earth and fickle sky is me, winning my battles while losing the war against Time. And beside me, surrounding me in fact, is landscape in somber green. The hills, as revealed by winter's bare trees, are pre-occupied by silences and meditations, probably meditations on spring. Faced with the responsibility of springtime, how will they fare? What concatenation of stone, what divinity dressed in mud, decreed this weary cycle of things? Once spring has blossomed, it will feel very like joy, they know.

I've come out today to share the solitude and silence of the hills. According to my rigorous schedule preparing for the approaching half marathon, I should have dropped in on the gym for a light routine. But the hills required my company. And the world of music video and sweaty triumph seem altogether too bright for me.

One mile is like another, but for the exquisite subtlety of unfolding countryside along the course of the Avon. Sometimes the bluffs climb in protest against the smug propositions of peace, and then they gently surrender. The prospect opens. The fat sheep graze, blessed in their ignorance of opportunity. The grass is always green in Britain.

If only Britain were mine. But Motion is dictat; it rules the very molecules in my tender knees. The landscapes must each be abandoned to their terrible musings. And the life of jarvis retains for life the title of 'jarvis travels'.

There is a ripple being sent across the surface of the green water of the canal. It is a slight shiver, a faint and passing register of the chill. It arrives at the hull of a sleeping house boat. There the movement stops. Smoke curls from the chimney pipe above the narrow boat. Someone might be reading inside, warm underneath the blanket that warmed him yesterday. He might be pausing, just as I pass, to dream about the next place. When he does move, he will stand on the deck of the boat, towering above the roof of his abode, steering clear of the stone walls of the canal. He will advance at the pace of a walk. He will tie to his new moorings. He will return to his blankets. There was no need to pack them.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Travelogue 435 – February 15
The Goose Abides

The ice is breaking up in the canals. In the small canals, it has cracked into clear-edged little sheets. The fat white geese step gingerly across the tilting islands, skating slightly with each step. The ducks bathe where the yellowing ice has sunk below the surface. In the larger canals, the ice has retreated to the sides.

Europe's deep freeze of last week has subsided. Temperatures are solidly above freezing. The skies have resumed a kind of formal grey brooding, shedding intermittent drizzles throughout the day.

I've gotten a late start, so by the time I arrive at the Bagel and Bean, just off the Schinkel Canal, the place is crowded. I still score one of the round, green tables by the window. The place is intimate. The place has been staffed by he same few for several years. They serve me a bowl of yogurt accompanied with tiny dishes of stuff to add, tasty and healthy, raisins, granola, wheat germ, honey, lecithin, bananas. I'm happy. The computer winks; I am summoned.

I slept almost to nine. After a month made up mostly of 5am starts, this feels luxurious. Especially since I was in bed by seven. Amsterdam is a short respite on a crazy trip. I knew even as I boarded my first plane that this trip would be crazy. It would be immersion.

There's a joy to work. There's abandon. I dare say there's amnesia built into the hardest regimens. And I can't say, strolling beside the quiet canal, what it is I've accomplished in a month's craziness. Checking items off a list has as its end abolishing the list. They're all gone.

But I'll retain the image of the fat white geese sliding along their bobbing slabs of ice, the overarching unconsciousness in their eyes, as though their own blessed plumpness were the law that held water and ice in their thrall. They step and they slide; they peek at the sky. They put another ice sheet behind them.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Travelogue 434 – February 3
Selt It, and Selt it Cheep

It seems the Knicks are to be my team this trip. I'm watching them keep a salty upper hand over the Celtics – pronounced like, 'I like selt it, I selt my soul last night'.

The ubu storm moved in last night, making a mess of Denver. I stayed at 'home' and watched the world come to an end from my fourth floor window. The apocalypse had been the day's story. It's a-coming, folks, it's a-coming. I tease everyone I get a chance to about it, but they only nod with goosebumps and strange smiles of apprehension. I get a lecture at the mall: strangers had best stay home. 'If you don't know how to drive in this, you'll only get yourself in trouble.' I acquiesce solemnly.

I stay home and watch the flakes start their swirling fall from the heavens. I have a lovely prospect from my window of two interstates meeting and coiling around each other in angry intimacy. As the snow finds us, the rush hour traffic slows. The headlights slow and take their places in long queues.

The TV hangs at the height of the bartender's head, and my monitoring of the game is only intermittent, punctuated by drink orders, punctuated by bartender's banter. They take the role seriously here, something I generally appreciate.

The ubu storm continues through the next day. I obey the mall boy for the entire morning, but then I cannot contain myself. I venture out to my blue steed, abandoned to the snow drifts in the parking lot. I lift my chin to the skies, accepting the apocalypse, so gentle on my cheeks, melting against me, frustrated in its multitudinous assault on the doomed earth. I enter the steed, turn the ignition, and wallow in my sin, my irresponsibility – driving when I was warned.

The roads don't look markedly different from hundreds of winter roads I've driven in Minnesota, but I'm prepared for the Colorado surprise. Nothing about snow driving is fun, especially behind the wheel of a front-wheel drive compact. 'Do not worry, my trusty one,' I murmur to the steed, stroking its clean dash. We spin wheels and pull a few swimming skids, but otherwise the trek into town is uneventful, slow and wet. Though the feathery darts still rain down upon the sinful, man's friend Apollo asserts himself from beyond the clouds, warming the atmosphere to a degree friendly to life, and the streets are awash with melt-off.

The Tattered Cover has survived the snow assault. I work for several hours in the bookstore's cafe quite comfortably. I'm encouraged by my defiance of avenging weather. I drive downtown. I'm thinking film. I'm thinking Jazz Age entertainment.

And it must be said that the pre-film bar, Marlowe's, has an old-world style to it. The bartender slicks back his hair. He has perfected his patter. Some of his customers are regrettably twenty-first century. Next to me is a rich man in a windbreaker who is buying drinks and 'squares' for all the lingering off-duty staff. 'Squares' are part of some barroom lottery, and they cost fifty dollars each. His wife slouches in her sweat suit. Her spring-flower nails are perfect. She cackles rather than laughs.

The Knicks are winning. To judge by air time, the winners are advertisers. They're certainly self-assured, buoyant. Life is good. Life is suspension in a solution of style. I'm reminded again of America's great contribution to culture, the unadulterated, winning image. There was electricity; there was the atom bomb; there was frame of film. American science distilled the image into transcendental experience, and has proven to everyone's satisfaction that the snapshot means more than the scene, the scene more than the chapter, the chapter more than the long, tiring day.

And Rimbaud, what would he say? I had the pleasure of being reminded of him recently, reading an article, an article about Patti Smith! It happens I have also been writing about my first visit to Harar, a place that takes pride in its association with the sour arms-runner, ex-poet, proud enough to fabricate a few he-slept-here locales.

What would the poet say – the boy who changed an art form, the boy who understood a thing or two about distilled images and distilled sensation, the rare poet who knew exactly how quickly he had outlived his own image? How long can one play stringy-haired and starry-eyed adolescent? The antidote: stringy-haired and gruff merchant in the deserts of East Africa. Beautiful.

Standing up, I set in motion a series of actions rarely allowed to characters in film: I pay my bar bill; I walk the entire way across the street; I climb every step of a three-floor staircase; I stand in line for three uninterrupted minutes. And my reward is to reenter that bath of warm-water imagery. Life has meaning. I mean, it has poetry. I mean, same thing.