Posts Tagged ‘counterweight’

To baguette or not to baguette

August 27, 2009

I want to go home, M says, whenever she feels dis-ease, even if she is already located in the dwelling she refers to as “home.”

M is not yet three.  This is how she ingeniously languages her sense that her well-being is challenged; I wish I had come up with the expression first, but pilfering it from her does give me a joy, albeit a derivative and secondary one. This year—which started yesterday– I’m not sure where home is, or if it is a locality at all. “Home” might be a form of confidence in selfhood, or whatever allows you to recognize that you are containable.

I bought a lot of heavy things before leaving.  It seemed compulsory to purchase and then not to bring them along, like a counter-weight to no longer existing somewhere.  Books presented themselves as Suddenly Necessary Acquisitions.  Consequentially, standing near anyone else’s bookshelves was a mesmerizing and dangerously suggestive event, which led to the sense that if I did not own such-and-such a book—insert a title here– should I immediately expire, I would be slightly the lesser for what I’d missed.

In the quasi-crisis of impending transition, I kowtow to the pull of capitalism.  The consequences are literary, but the implication is same ol same ol: that buying stuff can save you from doom.  The promise of new books has always thrilled me, like the feeling that radiates bodily after a first date with someone who was not your average homo sapiens but endowed with impressive brain-cum-heart circuitry.  Riding the Fung Wah-we-take-whatever-route-amuses-us bus back to NYC from New England (I subscribe to doom by a variety of methods) and beginning one of aforementioned purchases, I see the woman in the row in front of me is also reading.

Nosy to the last, I investigate her materials.  A shiny, cartooned pamphlet cautions: “Your colon is more than 5-ft long: that’s a LOT of poop for bacteria to feed on!” Ah, she is reading of the scatological turnpike within each of us.  The graphic of the colon, proving the claims diagrammatically, looks like something Salvador Dali would conjure up on a productive day.  The villainous bacteria arrives at the colon a little hungry, a little dejected (like me, on Jet Lag blues) et VIOLA! The last supper awaits.  The colon containeth.  The bacteriae wanteth.  It is all so equitable (later, she’ll take out a book of Christian prayers and aspirations, such as: may all bacteria be happy and free).  “Guess who’s coming to dinner? An army of bad bacteria and your poop is the buffet!”  As the Colorado airport updates remind us, terrorist alerts have been “recently” raised to “red”, and we are living in a “red” time.  The threat is everywhere, and if the external terrorists don’t get us first, well, we’ve already been invaded in the homeland.  Perhaps W was right: it is a good versus evil world, and anyone who wants to get all Buddhist about it clearly hasn’t had a colonoscopy lately.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”—perennially accurate, like GPS when it is not recalibrating.  The first person narrator who steps into Dickens unapologetically and exits much the same way has enlightening things to say about the unknown variable within each of us, that thing we call our “self”—not so much its form or function, but its existence in the first place.  And this self is always in the act of finding itself situated in the times that are both best and worst, entering and exiting unapologetically and unexplained; thus we can safely say that this co-existence of opposites, which don’t hold up as such but mutate towards one another, is a pure guarantee– and the only one– about the time/s in which we live.  That and the carrion bacteria, which are implicated in the same conundrum, but whose gastronomy differs, say, from that of the French.

Insurance, assurance (Fr.).  MO told me she can’t help visualizing that I have gone off to my death (on this trip)– a friendly prophesy which activates all my Jewish choose-your-own-morbid-adventure finales.  While I do not suspect that that is true, or Truly true, or at least not any more true than it ever is, I know new circumstances often euthanize old selves, which act as composting agents in one’s ground of being, so other aspects of oneself can summon the energy to bust up through the soil of the conditioned world.

“Home” doesn’t yield a facile denotation at the moment; instead, I have a school-year to elasticizing “home”, chez-moi-– a concrete noun which bleeds– or must– into an abstract geography.  The job I’m now holding—to educate two creative children as their family travels round the world—makes me think that in the hand the Divine Dealer laid out for me, my Aces are all grazing in the Elysian Fields– grass which is eaten but regenerates instantly.  (This is a metaphor so you needn’t worry about the pesticides which could make this possible).  To consider “home” in such a context is like contemplating the elegance of a wilting rose, which in its ugliness gets more and more beautiful.  So too as the noun withers, the apparatus of its beauty shines forth and its architecture, softening, gains a kind of luminosity hitherto unsuspected.

“Away” has begun, and beginnings are usually comical because one has not yet been inundated sufficiently by any of the minor perturbances to have collectivized them into a “problem”– which implies a kind of perseverance– and any major ones can in good humor be consigned to the farce of having a Mortal Coil in general, rather than one’s bad fate in particular.

Some Little Things are aggregating in the prop closet of this initial blog entry; the toilet paper in our apartment is well protected from the abyss of the toilet beside it by a metal shield and is perforated into petite rectangles resembling plush doilies.  Leave it to Parisians to elevate even peeing to an aesthetic experience.  The paper towel roll is more compact too– do the French make smaller messes?  Even spill in a quasi-contained, decorous way?  In fact, all of the inbuilt appliances suggest a kind of accountability for one’s usage; the lights are low-energy bulbs, the washer-drying unit is a front-loader which has buttons galore, many of which, I’m sure, say things like “take a minute to think about the water level you are selecting: is this really a medium-sized load of laundry?”

We are living in someone else’s apartment, and we had to break in– not such an easy feat with seven pieces of baggage, three of which exceeded aviation restrictions; the baggage-handler at JFK, overcome by abject delight at chucking checked luggage onto the conveyor belt, magnanimously did not deem them overweight.

suitcases in tadasana, ardha tadasana, and savasana

suitcases in tadasana, ardha tadasana, and savasana

I didn’t bring the entry codes with us to our apartment complex and so we had to stand outside the gate until someone emerged, then wait in the inner courtyard looking pathetic, a sight which elicited, as far as was discernible, absolutely no response from those leaving for work.  I went off to the closest hotel with my new Mac, which had arrived the day before gleaming like the bright moon in dark terrain (I will never make sordid fun of pampered Mac users again!), to retrieve the necessary codes from my email.  Mac omnipotency aside, it wouldn’t deign to connect into the customers-only wifi, and so the hotel attendant, Fareed, perhaps the only French person awake before eight a.m., let me use his personal computer before his manager arrived, and would not accept even a piece of fruit in return.  I said: you are my best friend in Paris! As if that was a prize and not a liability.

Upon summoning her with a bell, the gardien, who spoke to me in rapid French befitting a French person, made it clear from a harried search that the key to the actual apartment was simply not in the safe with the other keys.  We shared a number of ha-ha’s, a tinkly soundtrack befitting any inter-lingual conversation which innocently involves each contributor having no idea what the other is saying.  A truth about French language: it is impenetrably French.  As in, fakery doesn’t really get you anywhere. I’m sure I proffered some phenomenal parataxis: “My name is do you speak English I don’t”– but she was polite about it, continually attempting to ask me questions that honored the parameters of syntax.  Eventually the gardien’s husband was sought, the key was re-sought, and the Revelation could not have been a more welcome experience, or a more self-evident proof of a higher power’s intercession– who may offer the believer keys to the Kingdom, but more importantly allows for the appearance of keys to the flat.

I sprinkle my speech with a little faux French or hardly-French French– OUI– and J is busily faking a French accent while he speaks English, which doesn’t help but makes us both feel more interesting or at least of a softer variety of foreigner.  Though imitation Crocs might let your feet look as stupidly uncool-cool as the real things do, imitation language has no such guarantee.  Imitation language is false hope– and some insist, against the grain of Obama, that all hope is false.  As effective as if you walked around imagining yourself wearing Crocs (say) and thought that might serve as a protection from stepping in excrement.  And then.

And then.  And then.

Some days, all Life is a come-down from the womb.  Some days, all Life is a windshield you can’t get the streaks off of.  Some days, all your prepositions dangle (see above) because you just can’t figure out your sense of direction.  I am having one of those days—a bonus of Jet Lag– which I will subvert in a moment by heading out into Baguette Land.  The French bread contains an ingredient which is unlistable because the Divine Grandma herself personally adds it to each batch baked.  The rest of us can just pout about our unannointed bread, stop pouting long enough to eat, and then pout again.  I propose the baguette traditionale as despair’s counterweight, or at least a sponge that sops it up.

One thing I do know about home is that when I practice the beloved practice of yoga, wherever I practice, I am there, and “there” is a baffling deictic.  The bafflement wraps me like a shroud and shows me my own heart when I don’t think I can fathom what that is.  In fact, all kinds of unfathomable things are noticeable in the container of practice—it is rather like a petri dish in which to study what it is to be alive—things for which one needn’t offer terminology, because the experience vouches for itself—is as clear as what it is to have a hand.  Perhaps that is reason enough to practice at all: to bow to a situation in which experience testifies for itself, is ample unto itself, begs for nothing beyond itself, cuts the blurry smorgasbord of embodiment into cookies which need no more advertisement or recommendation than the clarity of their presentation and flavor already provides.

J and I found an English language bookstore today (“found” sounds more intrepid than befits the situation—we just Googled and complied) so I could counterweight my counterweight and possibly buy a book with a few French language clues in it—although knowing nothing as a premise has its own compelling attributes, everywhere around the globe.  One table held a pyramid of books on French culture—largely lumped into the category of critical humor, largely written for a newly-expatted or itinerant population (though the French, say the back-flaps, seem to enjoy either trashing or relishing these treatises on their idiosyncracies as well) all well- intentioned to increase the reader’s cultural navigation potential or the human GPS.  Hardly having been here a day and a half, I’m already declaring things about “The French this, the French that, the French aesthetic, etc. etc. etc.”, with an emphasis on the et cetera part.  Because to declare makes you somehow sure of your cognizance, and cognizance is an asset even in a world of fuzzy objects, where most objects would be content to be home, unremarked upon, taking a nap.

It is true that I have passed no café, tabac, boulangerie, etc., where 90 percent of the clientele was not drinking wine.  The glasses are like a faint streak of mascara on a woman’s eyelashes—implying doubly that she may have no problem with her looks as is, but life is nicer with a little accentuation.  I treat the wine like that for now, though J wonders if there is alcoholism here.  What do I know.  Some places no one drinks at all and compared to those dystopic locales, wherever they may be, the people here have a definite problem.  Compared to the respiratory high in the Colorado mountain air, my bronchioles here have a problem.

But our bodies have a way of fending for ourselves when we stop deciding things about how homeostasis actually works.  Just trust the cornucopia of bacteria moving into the colon, or the squishy, baguette-panacea of France to elucidate how amply OK we are.  We’re invaded and OK.  We’re an invasion and OK.  Most of the time our idea of home is fabricated, and we’re OK.  Most of the time, we tip our hats to the place that will claim us as its resident without knowing we’re doing so.  For example, I ogled at a cloud instead of watching out for the Paris traffic; the crosswalks offer none of the forewarning of an impending death-by-auto which is signaled in America by the blinking red traffic light.  On boulevards and petite rue alike, it is an all-or-nothing affair; if the lights have a timing logic to them, I don’t know it yet.  I prefer to think it is a philosophical inclination—subtle and yet city-wide—which allows you to wind up in the red when you thought you were in the green.  As in, to become literate in how amply extinguishable you are, if only to appreciate the next Bordeaux, the next clean-shaven plane tree on the banks of the Seine, all the more acutely.  I want to go home, I say to myself.  But the light is red, and so I stand in place, and soon J, a respectful street-walker, will take my hand and lead me towards the salvation—and I do feel it is that– of the gentle vegetables in the supermarche, and the somalier, who will speak English to you if you agree to speak it slowly, standing in the aisle, pointing towards the wine which, like us, just needs to breathe before its perfection is palpable.