Posts Tagged ‘nowhere’

Me in the Sky

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

The Clouds From Underneath

Because I can never go for very long without planning some kind of travel-related adventure, I’m taking a small trip to Indianapolis this weekend to see a friend. I’ve been promised a visit to a pumpkin patch, so I’m expecting that there will be plenty to write about.

I’m flying U.S. Airways, and, as a coincidence, one of my pieces happens to be featured in their in-flight magazine this month. So yes, I’ll be the girl walking off the plane in Indiana with four copies stuffed into my carry-on. You can read the piece here—it’s about a strange/wonderful afternoon I had in London—but it’s a more glamorous experience if you read it from 30,000 feet off the ground. If you happen to be flying U.S. Airways this month, please keep an eye out for me. (My piece starts on p. 24.)

Happy travels!

Green City

Friday, May 9th, 2008

I buy a scone, all perfect and blueberry, not too sweet with powdered sugar, and decide to go back every morning. Today was crumble, living up to its name. And anything called crumble should probably not be ordered to-go. But I walked up the street with its berry apple stickiness and thought of the shop with its little metal tables and the stacks of tarts (peach-chocolate, pear, cherry) and mountainous creamy things and wanted maybe to go home and maybe never go home. Because there are places like this in New York City, but there is not This Place. Red door. Iron handle. Table by the window.

A cathedral is only a cathedral if it’s the seat of a cardinal. Otherwise it’s a basilica.

The signs here. Clock faces surrounded by wooden statues of dancing girls. Three golden balls held in curls of iron. Bookmakers that I always think actually make books, actually bind them, I mean, until I look in the windows and see only computer screens, bits of paper on the floor. Stores that sell only ribbons for dance shoes, satin for hair ribbons, tulle for recital costumes.

“This language,” she said, “is the language of poverty.”

So it died.

I speak that language, I learned last week. A mouthfull of flat syllables that are only used by the uneducated, the poor, farmers and laborers. So it died. By the hand of the people who speak it. By people who taught their children to speak the language of big cities, of education and money, of Somewhere Else.

So then how do you convince people that when a language dies, a culture dies? That if you obliterate a language, you obliterate a whole way of thinking about the world. That just because a culture is poor, that doesn’t make it… not a culture.

I imagine trying to describe this to my grandmother, and her shrugging her shoulders. Maybe it’s better that it dies, then, she would probably say.

In the tiny medieval church which is almost-crumbling but not, the priest unlocks the door to the crypt and lets me enter. It is me, an old guy from town who hasn’t visited in a long, long time, and a French couple in town for the weekend. We all read the plaques and gaze upon the effigy of the dead — a woman and a knight, a knight and a woman. A low, dark doorway is barred and a sign across it says, BELLRINGERS ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT.

There is a stone, worn smooth by the centuries. It used to be in the town center, in the market, and merchants rubbed its grainy surface for luck in business, for prosperity, for gold coins rattling on the bottom of a tin. Everyone else leaves and I touch the stone and I can almost feel it, a pulse, something of the centuries past. The priest sees me and smiles.

“For luck,” I say.

“Of course,” he says. “You’d be crazy not to.”

Treasure

Friday, May 9th, 2008

And maybe the greatness of a city lies only in the number of treasures it houses, locked away in its museums and bank vaults. Europe is crammed with treasure. Casks of emeralds and golden goose eggs. Chips from the femur bones of martyrs. The slightly bent crowns of long-dead kings.

Here, in this city, the treasure is a book, which is why I like this city. A book in a vault which is itself inside a vault, and you can only look at one or two pages at a time because the thing is so delicate and crumbling that any disturbance, a sneeze, will obliterate it to dust. The monks who who bent over its pages by candle light, ruining their eyes, used lapis lazuli for the blue. It could only be found, then, in one mine in the world, and that mine was across an ocean and then another ocean, and then a dessert.

Getting here, I swear, the plane banked for the entire flight and planes that bank and do nothing else are guaranteed to make me sick, to stir up every almost-dead fear that still lurks in my head about airplanes. About them falling out of the sky.

In Italian, that’s how they say “plane crash.” There is no crash. No notion of what actually happens on the ground. Just the long, airless journey there. In Italian, planes fall.

There are other treasures here that I won’t see. Another tiny Vermeer glinting on a wall. Stained glass. An axe handle smeared with the traces of a warrior’s blood.

I always try to leave some things unseen, so I have a reson to come back.

And still, as everywhere, there is a room upstairs with a couple fighting in a language I don’t understand. A soft little cake full of berries and sugar. Pan handlers. Waiters who smile once they get a good look at you. A guy playing a guitar.

I’ll be back in Paris on Sunday.

Where In the World Is

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

I’m not going to tell you where I am right now.

It is not Paris. Or New York. I’m not in Italy. Or anywhere else in France. But at some point, after you see so many things. And see them and see them. That place becomes a kind of footnote to the experience itself, the pretty backdrop to happiness or lonliness or sickness.

I came home from Italy sick from drinking the tap water. Everyone told me not to drink the tap water. I drank the tap water. And I was deathly sick in Paris for three days and almost got better and then left again because all I wanted to do here. Here. Europe. Was see things.

And for the very first time, I felt really selfish. I wondered when it would settle, that feeling. Because when people ask, I feel like my reasons for coming here are not practical or good ones. I am too old for the Gap Year. I am not here to work. Learning French will not help my career in any particular way.

I did this because I knew it — the act of seeing and seeing — would make me really happy.

And as an adult. As a woman. That seems so incredibly foolish. To spend so much money. To sacrifice for exactly no one. To let go of the traditional safety nets of family, of work, of home. To be alone, mostly. To change context.

There is nothing smart about any of this.