WAO: Casual Pedestrians

The rain kept falling, I walked west along the river. I love light rain. A friend and I were talking about how our books tend to end up in, or narrowly avoid, a post-apocalyptic world, and I think it’s because we both enjoy not seeing another human being for miles around when we want to think. Rain keeps the casual pedestrian indoors. I was wearing my courier bag with 30lbs of weight in it, so I let myself get absorbed by the sounds, smell, and muted sights of the overcast day while trying to find the position that spread the load most evenly.

The ducks were out in force, flying after each other, swimming, or napping on the rocks by the river. A small clan of fierce duck warriors bickered and quacked at each other on the opposite shore, which of course was ridiculous because, well, they’re ducks. How can you possibly take that seriously? They’re the clowns of the animal kingdom, with all the comic/tragic sadism that entails.

I sat down on a bench in a small raised area where the Rhone and Arve river’s meet, the bag clinking on the stone behind me and weight lifting from my shoulders in more ways than one. An older English couple followed me up, but they left after a minute or two of trying to see where the nearest crossing was.

The Arve was green and a little milky like unpolished jade, with twinkling points of light where the sun caught raindrops hitting the fast flowing surface. I put my head on my hands, closed my eyes, and just listened for a while. There were three people – locals – who were also on the point for solace; they mostly sat still, away from each other, and watched the water. A group of kayakers was donning wetsuits and getting into the river, and they were much louder. The rain made a steady patter of white noise, masking the more distant sound of people on the high stone viaduct a few hundred yards downstream.

I opened my eyes and moved on when the rain stopped.

 A foundry and warehouse turned indoor garden and music hall.

A foundry and warehouse turned indoor garden and music hall.

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Time

I’m standing in my kitchen/office, cooking dinner. “To All of You” by Syd Matters is playing, bacon is sizzling, and once it’s done I’ll toss some butter in the pan and make toast.

I took a couple days off from work, caught up on sleep, did some writing. Someone read Black Fall, then read White Winter the next day, which is always gratifying because I put a lot of effort into making them a breathless, headlong rush.

There is a place in four-dimensional space where I am pointing at a bird. The bird is made of light, or at least it is passing in front of the sun on a perfect day.

When I pause like this, I usually spend a lot of time dreaming, day dreaming, and self-evaluating. I pull out my stuff box, the one with all the little mementos (see the external memory post) and refresh the pathways. I now know what becoming the wind means for me. I wonder what it means for other people.

I wrote a tweet about the nonlinearity of time. Unbeknownst to me, another conversation on sequentiality was happening on a parallel course that crashed into me when I checked my email. I wrote something appropriately witty but I hope not overthought, then deglazed the pan with soap and water. I wish I had a tomato.

There were moments, when I was a pilot, that I felt like I was sitting at the center of all the things I’d learned from aerodynamics to tapping malfunctioning gauges, surfing a fine line of viability in the thin overlap at the edge of my ability and the requirements of the task. Those moments didn’t last long – one maneuver, a particular set of weather conditions – a moment of perfect relevance.

This is not one of those moments, but I can go there whenever I want. I’m okay.

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The Crows Have Their Beaks Open

It’s a perfectly hot day in Geneva.

I was on my way to have my ritual savory and sweet crepes and fresh pressed fruit juice when I saw a lady in full workout get-up stopped at a street corner, rising on her tiptoes. She was about a head-and-a-half shorter than me; she was trying to see over a parked car to tell if the light had turned green yet without stepping out of the shade. She had pale, lightly freckled skin with no signs of sunscreen, and I thought, “Why would you go work out and hide from the sun?” So I figured she’d gotten all sported up to hit her favorite indoor workout place. I checked a map; there was one a block away, right where she was facing.

I was made for days like these. When the weather is hot and dry, my muscles thrum, pores open, skin that’s usually a touch oily if I don’t drink 8 glasses a day starts functioning like a perfectly tuned cooling machine. I store the heat and, to my wife’s great displeasure, release it at night. The beach is nice, but the first time I went to the desert, I felt like I belonged there, from the particulate sunrise to the cold of night.

The ladies who run the creperie don’t show any signs of recognizing me, which is fine because I’m one of a thousand weekly customers. But I’m playing a game. I always order the same thing, give the same name with the order, flirt with the younger one just a little. I sit in the sun, and the older of the two – she dyed her hair a lovely shade of red this week - asks if I won’t get insolation (heat stroke), to which I politely smile and say, “I could sit here all day.” I always bring my dishes to the counter and thank them. One day, they’ll remember.

On my way back, I saw a tree that was burned or struck by lightning at some point. Same species as all the others that lined the street, but it was the only one for over a mile that had mushrooms growing on it. Character comes from damage. Life grows in the cracks.

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Here be Monsters

I’ve been walking through my mindscape lately - more than the actual city. Revisiting memories, turning them in my hand and seeing how the light strikes them. Testing boundaries.

I’ve been watching Penny Dreadful, and I’ve been swilling the word monster around my mouth like boxed wine. Monster. What the hell is a monster anyway? They used to be on maps, but science drove them all away (literally, we’ll get to why).

Children are afraid of monsters, we know this. That’s why horror movies are for adults. And we’ve seen enough gore-infused sets to know that monsters are destructive, but I don’t think that’s the heart of them. Explain fake blood and silicon organs away until you’re blue in the face, the monster is still scary.

I won’t play coy, it’s not my nature. Monsters have no fear. Strip the mutated hide from the creature’s bones and you will only see purpose, hunger, need, and nothing to stop them from taking what’s yours. The wolf went from beast to companion when man discovered it feared the fire, the stick, and the thrown rock. Grendel became human weeping at his mother’s feet, because if you think of it, it’s Beowulf who’s the true monster of that tale.

So, if someone scares you, if you lean away slightly when they’re near, watch them closely. Find out what they’re scared of. They’re all more human than you think.

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External Memory

I bought an external memory today. It’s a drawing of Peter Pan, sword drawn, Tinkerbell whispering in his ear.

For those of you not familiar with the concept of an external memory, your brain basically throws out 99% of what you did each day. It has to. Not even you want to remember what your breath smelled like when you woke up. The remaining 1% gets prioritized by emotional tags – the stronger the emotion, the more detail goes into long term storage.

Once it’s there, though, it gets pretty messy. The more things are tied to that memory, the more likely you are to be able to access it when you want to, but if a whole section of your life goes by the wayside, you’ll have that annoying feeling something’s on the tip of your tongue, and not much else. That’s where an external memory comes in – it’s a small object that links directly to that cluster of memories, so you can forget everything that surrounded it and still jump straight to it. I keep a box of these things, check it every once in a while to keep things fresh.

If you’d like to see the concept in action, check out the Ghost in the Shell (2nd GIG) episode called “Affection.” It rocks pretty hard.

Aside from that, my day was pretty normal. I went to a couple different hairdressers to see if they’d cut my hair. The first two were booked solid, and I didn’t bother going in the third (one hairdresser, just started on a coloring job). The fourth place was an uber nice Parisian chain salon where I was offered coffee (no, thank you), coke zero (nope), and then water which I accepted gratefully since I’d just been running.

It came with biscuits, which is delightful, but mostly I’m thinking, “What the heck is a simple hit with the hair clippers going to cost me?” (About the same as my usual place, turned out.)

Once that was out of the way, I wandered. Went to my (now) favorite crepe place for lunch, dessert, and two glasses of fresh squeezed organic O.J. I picked up some coffee from Valmandin for the office. I went to that art gallery and got my prize.

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Synthetic Mountains

My wife grew up in San Diego. I grew up on the French Riviera, at the foot of the Alps. You could spin out a 1000 stories from that fundamental difference – what she thinks of the cheese I like; what I think of the cars she likes to drive - but basically, I gave her crap for her ridiculous mountains, which are secretly fungal hills. You’ll see them if you ever drive around on the West Coast, between Baja and L.A. They're covered in water efficient green stuff and clumps of round, pale boulders that look like mushrooms, and they're short (like my wife - hah). I’m convinced they’re fake. Hippie communes probably store their shag rugs under them.

I was sitting on a friend’s back patio last night, looking up at the Alps. I’d just finished doing a few laps in her saltwater pool (which is awesome btw), so I had that nice I-just-did-light-exercise glow going, a small glass of rosé, and a handful of snacks. There were a couple people there - I think we were talking about work. Then the sun slipped a few more degrees lower and painted the bare rock faces and trees the color of the aforementioned rosé.

That’s when it hit me. I don’t hate my wife’s mountains any more than I hated the elderly gentleman who walked around our neighborhood in New York in purple velour and a top hat. I was just homesick.

Home is where you can feel small and a bit tired but eminently safe. 

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Wanderlust

I got lost on the wrong side of the train tracks today, trespassed, jaywalked, and had coffee.

It was supposed to be a 30-minute tram ride to visit one of Geneva's specialty coffee shops. I'd brought a print copy of my first book and a highlighter because it's been about a year since I read the thing and I thought I'd pull some quotes from it for marketing purposes. Here's the first one I highlighted:

That was when Jonas found out what human ash smelled like: incense, charcoal, and chalk dust. It slipped through his fingers like white sand and crushed seashells. It got into his mouth, nostrils, and eyes. It colored his hair and mingled with his tears… but no matter how frantically he tried to gather the pieces back together, his father was never coming home.

When I looked up, I was in a different town. Well, crap. It turns out, of course, that if I'd stayed on, it would have looped back around to where I was going, but I've been experimenting with impulsiveness lately so I got off and started walking.

Geneva is a small city and Lancy is a small town (which is called a municipality). There are no sidewalks in some places, so I warily loped down a bike lane. I ducked under a tree branch. I passed a sign that said, "Private Property" and pretended it wasn't there. I chased a white butterfly down a meandering trail through a field of hip-high ryegrass and purple wildflowers. At that point, the errand had become an adventure. After a few moments when I thought I might be climbing a fence and running across train tracks, I found a tunnel that went underneath and crossed back into Geneva.

I've been walking a lot more lately without a destination or path firmly in mind. I think I spent most of my time in the service and the couple years after that starving for time, so that I filled every free moment with sleep, books, games, movies, or sport. I wanted to escape, to be somewhere else where what I did mattered more. Some of that's whiny navel-gazing, and some of it's justified - anyone who's stood a 24-hour watch knows what I'm talking about. Now, I'm turning down cross streets and checking art galleries because  my instinct tells me I have somewhere to be. Because I'm curious.

I guess I'm as happy as I've been in years.

I made it to the coffee shop. It's called Valmandin, in a municipality called Carouge, which is like Lancy except more pedestrian areas and artisanal shops. The lady running it roasts by feel, not software, and is one of a very few people promoting specialty coffee in Geneva. The coffee I had was creamy, with chocolatey notes that made it almost like a mocha even though it was nothing but coffee. It had the sharp bite of a short espresso and a long lasting finish I could still taste well after I'd left the shop. If you're passing through Geneva (or live here), you should stop by.

I stopped to have crepes on my way home. Because.

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Old Town

Took a walk through the city this evening. Stopped on the bridge and stuck my toes under the guardrail, watched the river flow by beneath my feet in swirls and oily reflections. There's no oil in the river, mind; it's just the shadows and opacity give it that look.

Spent some time watching a Eurasian Coot (small black waterfowl) fish. She'd take about 6 seconds each time to dive and come up with a fish about the size of her head, then swim for a while before diving again. They're super aggressive during breeding season, but this one was alone and calm.

Life is funny. There are cigarette butts between century-old flagstones. I took an unplanned turn and found a restaurant with a $19 three course lunch (that's cheap here). There's a Catwoman costume in the window of a shop called the Marquis de Sade. Graffiti is always cleaned off the older or more expensive buildings, so the city's disenfranchised tag plywood walls at construction sites, and the irony of that effing slays me.

The rest of the walk was buildings and people. I went down a back alley and found a 40-foot overlook. A prostitute on the road below immediately spotted me and stared, hand on an out-thrust hip. I smiled. Most people never look up.

I listened to a couple on their first date turn away from a restaurant. "Sorry, I know what I want, and when it's too expensive I don't want it," she said. The guy didn't care, he just wanted to eat, but he liked her enough to play along. I knew about the $19 restaurant by that point, but I didn't say anything, I just grinned and thought of all the things people around us knew and we didn't.

I sat in the plaza in front of the cathedral for a while, listening, smelling, watching. The air smelled of acorns and flowers, a little grass, and then, when the breeze shifted, like the pepper infused oil pizzerias use.  People came and went. Taxis - 3 Priuses and a minivan of some kind - slunk by, wheels crackling on the cobblestones. I saw a lone backpacker with a book in his hand, two pairs of men walking - one pair German and the other Dutch - an Irish tour group, and four couples, two pausing and shifting their tone when they saw they weren't alone. A family of 6 with British accents, skin the color of cherry wood, and the clothing of middle-class Americans filled the square with sound as the father took pictures, the mother asked questions, the two younger boys fought, and their older brother and sister looked on. One group would show up as the other left. The square was never empty, and never full.

The streetlamps flickered on. I walked home.

 

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