Of Time and Distance: A Departing

[Corfe Castle]

Yesterday, in the late afternoon, I sat on unmowed grass leaning against a stone wall. I was on the grounds of Corfe Castle in south Dorset. The mason who built my backrest had fitted the stones into their places over 1,000 years ago. There was still a strong sun in the west and the sky was about as blue as any sky can get. The cool breeze, however, forced me to zip up my fleece vest.

I was thinking of our journey that is nearly over.

Tonight, I’m sitting in front of a MacBook laptop in room 412 of the Doubletree Hotel in Southampton struggling to find the words to describe our travels.

I am thinking about our journey that is nearly over.

Tomorrow, at this time, I’ll be standing on the deck of the Queen Mary 2 as it plows its way through the waters of the Atlantic ocean heading for New York City.

I’m pretty sure I will be thinking of our journey that will soon be over…July 1 to be precise…barring any major nautical distractions.

Five weeks ago, I sat at Gate 42 of the American Airlines terminal waiting to board our flight to Paris.

Where did the time go?

Paris~~We stayed in a tiny room of the Hotel Atlantis a few steps from the Church of St. Suplice. Days seemed to fly by as we walked through Pere Lachaise cemetery, saw a performance at the Paris Lido, visited the Louvre and stood in the sun at the front door of Notre Dame. We found a shady bench in the Jardin du Luxembourg. I felt like an artist as I opened my watercolor pencil set and made two drawings. I looked at my work…I’m no artist…just a traveler.

[Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris]

Onto…

Brussels~~Only a brief stop to catch a train to Bruges, which is to me, one of the most sublimely beautiful and melancholy cities I’ve ever visited. After a touristy canal boat ride, we sat in a small waterside bar. We conversed with the waitress. I asked her if she was married.

“No,” she said looking at the water. “No one wants to marry me.”

[Bruges, Belgium]

Back to…

Brussels~~This time we stayed for four days. We befriended a bartender named Aurora. She was from France and was completing an internship at the Marriott. We became Facebook friends. After one failed attempt to locate the Market Place, we found it down one cobblestone lane. Once in the Square, you can turn 360 degrees and see nothing but ornate buildings highlighted in gold gilt. Outside the City Hall, I watched a middle-aged man get out of a car and straighten his tie. He was on his way to be married. I caught and held his gaze as he walked to the large oak doors. I gave him a two finger salute from my right eyebrow. He smiled, nodded and went inside…proud, happy, in love and full of hope.

Onto…

London~~A few hours after boarding the Eurostar, we got off the train at St. Pancras Station. Our hotel was the best one yet in our travels. It was just steps from the frenzy of Trafalgar Square. We visited the National Gallery and had dinner at the Sherlock Holmes pub near our hotel. Next evening, we got tickets to The Play That Went Wrong. Madcap misadventures and very funny.

[The Sherlock Holmes]

Onto…

Edinburgh~~Here we climbed the hill to see part of the Castle. In the evening we saw Wicked at a theater two doors away. Trust me, it was a great show for a far less ticket cost than New York City. At night, we took in a sort of haunted Edinburgh walking tour.

It was time to begin our driving part of the trip. Got a rental at the Hertz less than 100 yards from our hotel. It was a perky KIA with a GPS. After a short drive to Durham to visit the Cathedral (massive, awesome but NO PHOTOS ALLOWED) we spent the night in a small hotel.

Onto…

Litchfield~~Again another Cathedral city. This prize was one of the best of all the cathedrals I’ve visited in the UK.

 

[Lichfield Cathedral]

Onto…

Grassington~~We’re in the “Switzerland of England”, but the time had come to test my back and right foot on a footpath. Things didn’t feel right. Lower back pain and pain in my foot despite doses of Alleve. Our main goal for us was to explore the Yorkshire Dales, but all we managed was a few miles one day, a few the next and 3.5 miles on the third day. We never unpacked our hiking boots!

[Part of the Grassington walk]

Onto…

Gillingham, in North Dorset~~I felt like I had arrived home. Most of you know that I lived and taught in Dorset in the mid-1980’s. I walked the footpaths every weekend that I wasn’t visiting a cathedral. My housemate was a young teacher named Tim. Now, Tim is semi-retired and does some consulting work with schools. He, and his wife Jo have put us up several times in their spare apartment. They have three children. George is working in London. Thomas is going to university and 11 year-old Anna, who is being looked at by the Royal Ballet. She’s very good.

[Tim, Anna & Jo.]

We spent six nights at Tim’s house, helping him one evening to celebrate England’s win over Tunisia in the World Cup. We spent our days driving around Dorset and revisiting places I knew and loved. Of all the Counties in England, I feel that Dorset is the most beautiful. The land of Thomas Hardy.

After a lovely farewell dinner, it was

Onto…

Corfe Castle~~We stayed at an old manor house. The first night we drove a few miles to Wareham and had a dinner with another friend from the 1980’s. Marion was the art teacher when I first met her. A most remarkable woman.

Onto…

Southampton~~And this is where I now sit, writing, thinking and remembering. Where did those 33 years go when I was so young and healthy that 9 mile walks were mere afternoon strolls.

At the front end of a six-week holiday, it seemed like such a very long time. But it passed like two blinks of my itchy right eye.

I wonder. I wonder about the stone mason who built the wall I sat against yesterday? If he walked out of the past and sat beside me to watch the afternoon sun descend on south Dorset, would he have the same questions I’ve been asking?

Would he ask what happened to that 1,000 years? Where did it all go?

[All photos belong to me and are copyrighted]

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If I Was A Good Dog And My Time Came To Die, I’d Go To My Reward, England

Some years ago, when I wore a young man’s clothes, someone told me that when dogs get old and die, they go to The Dog Star. Now, as a man with gray hair, I know the truth. When dogs pass on, they go to England.

When I was a child I had a dog. His name was King. He was a good dog too. Except the one day he wanted me more than our large back yard…so he followed me to school.

“King! Go home!” I yelled. He would stop and then start following me again. I forget how that day turned out…it was more than sixty years ago. He probably went back down Front Street and sat in the back yard until one of us got home from school.

We didn’t ‘play’ with him in the way some dog owners do. We never threw a stick, a frisbee or a tennis ball. He just enjoyed playing around us as we played our own games.

I cried when King was “put down”…something that my parents did when I was in bed with the flu. I heard about it later from a friend. It was the right and humane thing to do. King had damage from being struck in the hind quarters in front of our house. He was old. He howled when the train blew the whistle as it came near our house. I was sad but didn’t blame my parents. I was quite ill and they didn’t want to make my misery any worse.

I’m okay with all that.

But, here in England…they love their dogs. Pets are even allowed into the bar area of a pub…where people can eat. That is not legal in NYC, or most other places.

In front of almost every shop along the High Street of any small town or village, there are stainless dishes for the dogs to drink from. That’s a good thing. I thought the Upper East Side of Manhattan was the place to open a pet supply shop. No, it’s in every village in England.

I do have to object to the fact that many walkers (and England is full of walkers) don’t keep their dogs on a leash. The dogs “worry” the sheep and lambs. That’s not right.

But you should take a walk along West 92nd Street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Hardly anyone obeys the “pooper scopper” laws. It’s a problem all over (and I mean that literally).

I love dogs. I really do. But I’m the one who wants to be the master.

.

That’s why I love cats more than dogs. The cat’s attitude is: “I’ll get back to you.”

The dog:

“FOOD’

[All photos are mine]

 

 

 

 

Bruges Makes Me Sad

[Mariam and her husband after dinner at the Market Square.]

Occasionally, during your life you arrive at a destination that forces you to hold your breath, for too long, and then exhale with an audible gasp. Your heart can hold off on a beat and then give you an extra pump. And a part of your thoughts fade…you lose a sense of time. The view before your eyes alters your senses in more than a few ways.

This happened to me the first time I visited Bruges (Brugge, if you wish) in the mid 1980’s. I walked beside the canals, then lined with lace and chocolate shops. I paused with my friend who was traveling with me. I had to lean against a tree. I was overcome by a deep and very intense sense of melancholy. I began to cry.

I was in Bruges and I was sad.

In my heart, I knew why this was happening, but I was reluctant to put it into words. How could anyone really understand my inner thoughts?

I never forgot my visit from that year. We were given a choice, after studying posters, of a free Mozart concert in the City Hall or a one-ring European circus just outside of the old city.

We chose the circus. I don’t need to tell you how I fell in love with the trapeze star. She was beautiful and she soared back and forth like an undecided angel. If you ever see the film Wings of Desire you will get an idea of how I felt. (Spoiler!) In the film, the main character is an angel who falls in love with a trapeze artist. Of course angels can’t do that…so he pays the price…by losing his wings.

On a quiet street where old ghosts meet,

I see her walking now away from me,

So hurriedly. My reason must allow,

For I have wooed, not as I should

A creature made of clay.

When the angel woos the clay, he’ll lose

His wings at the dawn of the day.

–Raglan Road by Patrick Kavanagh

I cannot separate this poem (later a song by Van Morrison), from my experience in the 1980’s. You feel special and celestial, one moment and then you feel human the next. But love, beauty, art, youth and history were in the mix of tea leaves I drank the following morning.

So, now I’m back in Bruges with my wife, Mariam, thirty-three years later, and I’m feeling the same melancholy thoughts that made me lean against a tree so many years ago and begin to cry.

My thoughts now are the same as they were then. As our train came to a stop at the rail station, the very same emotions overcame me.

But is all this simply about the love of beauty and the beauty of love?

Why did I lean against that sycamore tree? It was because of a question that became evident the moment I walked into the Market Square so many years ago:

Why can’t the world have more places as beautiful as Bruges?  Why is art defined by the amount of steel and glass?  There are beautiful buildings in New York City, but not that many.  The Woolworth Building. The Chrysler Building. The Empire State Building.

But, this isn’t a post about Manhattan. It’s about how one young man found beauty in an old Belgian town…and, not knowing how age changes perspectives, found the same feeling decades later. Laying expectations on someone, like your wife, is blatantly unfair. Even so, I needed Mariam to see the beauty of this town, as I did.

When we visited the Louvre, Mariam and I had a conversation about beauty and art and the feelings of the soul. I told her that many of the great paintings (please don’t ask for examples) made me sad. She replied that great art should elevate the soul and evoke happiness. I said that really profound art, like Venus de Milo, did the opposite for me. She is most beautiful in her sadness.

Beautiful art, beautiful men and women, ancient Roman and Greek female nudes and beautiful cities make me yearn for a better world…one without hatred and violence. The destruction of art in the name of any god, is a godless act.

I suppose this post is about love and beauty.

 

[All photos are mine]

The “Popcorn” Man

[The Street Vender. Photo is mine.]

At first I thought he was selling a popcorn necklace. He would walk up and down the rows of diners, whose tables (here in Paris) always face the streets. And he would peddle his “popcorn” necklaces to those at the tables that were closest to the sidewalk.

Yes, I thought he was selling “popcorn” necklaces. If I bought one, would I eat it for dessert as I walked home? He seemed to be at every restaurant on the Boulevard St. Germain.

The more I saw the man, the more I thought about his life. I lived in New York City for almost three decades so I thought I knew about street/restaurant venders. Mostly those individuals sold roses, or played Do-Wop, or simply held out an old Greek coffee cup that all the delis and hot dog guys sold coffee in.

They held out their empty cups.  I had no way to discern whether or not they were truly “homeless”, truly “veterans”, truly in need. I had to go on instinct. Was this just a pan-handler (and there are more and more on the streets of New York) or someone truly in need of two quarters or three dimes.

So, I thought more about the “popcorn” man as the days went by. People rarely bought anything from him. I would watch him work the rows of diners. Most paid him no attention.

I thought about him at night when I couldn’t sleep. I thought about him when I walked through the Louvre. I thought about him when I sat and contemplated Notre Dame.

What was his life like?  Did he go home after his rounds? Who gave him the necklaces to sell? Did he have a family? Did he have to sell his wares to feed his children? Was he a widower who went home alone to an empty flat? Was he a happy man? Did he hold dark secrets in his heart?  Was he even married?

But, the real question that kept looming in my mind was quite simple.

Was this man lonely? Was his only human contact with those who pretended he wasn’t even there or brushed him off as an annoyance to their Parisian dinner?

When I looked at him, I tried to work out his life…but, clearly, that was an impossible task.

Until tonight.

I made sure we were seated up front, near the sidewalk. I had my iPhone. I wanted to ask him his name. I wanted to take his photo. I wanted to make some kind of contact.

And, I wanted to buy the necklace of “popcorn”.  I would eat it, as dessert on the way back to the hotel.

I nearly gave up on finding him.  Then, there he was. Four tables away. Then three.

Finally, he stopped at our table. I indicated that I’d like to buy his merchandise. He smiled and sold me the necklace for 3 euros.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“Bangladesh,” he replied.

Before he could walk away…before I could ask his name, I asked what it was that I just bought. From the first touch I knew it wasn’t popcorn.

[The Jasmine Necklace. The Photo is mine.]

“It’s Jasmine. Jasmine flowers,” he said as he walked off, moving on to another restaurant. Ten seconds after we had spoken, I lost him among the the pedestrians.

Now our room is filled with the scent of Jasmine.

I’d like to think (maybe it’ll help me sleep) that I made a quiet street vendor smile, even for a second, and fall asleep to the scent of Jasmine.

 

Our Dream Trip: So What’s All The Fuss?

[Photo source: Google search]

It began as an ordinary rainy morning in Albany, New York.  We stayed over at a Marriott to break the trip a little and to get a fresh start for the final leg.  To Manhattan and drop off the Budget rent car, get to our hotel on W. 35th St., and then to head uptown to meet some friends for dinner.

Simple plan, right?

I’ve had many bad days in traffic in many cities.  I’ve sat in New York State Thruway traffic for an entire afternoon in a blizzard.  I’ve been in a car for hours trying to get across the Bourne Bridge to enjoy Cape Cod.  I once pulled off I-95 just outside Stamford, CT and had to have dinner while the back-up on I-95 came down to only a ninety minute delay.  I know traffic.  I’m no novice and any man who says I am, well, I’ll meet them in the parking lot of the closest Dairy Queen and ‘discuss’ the issues.

But, nothing, nothing compares to what happened when we pulled off the West Side Highway in the West 50’s and headed to the rent car garage.  It was located on W. 49th St. between 8th and 9th Ave.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Well, the break-down of sanity started with us in the middle of a Hells Kitchen Street Fair.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Street Fairs, I bought many used CD’s and knife-sets at street fairs, but don’t hold one on the day I need to drop off a rent. And many cross-town streets were closed and traffic rather thick.

We had to get to the rent car place by 5:00pm.  It was about 3:30.  Was I worried?  No, but Mariam, who grew up in the City and knew traffic better than I, was getting antsy.  But, she made a fatal mistake.  She told me to turn right at a point when I should have turned left.

So, of course traffic got worse.  Did I mention that many of the cross-town streets were blocked.  Why?  One would need to go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, light a candle, and plead the question to the gods of the transit authority.

But, St. Pat’s may as well have been in Staten Island, considering the congestion.

It was 4:37 pm by now. and we were still only three blocks away.  On a Saturday afternoon in NYC, with a Street Fair going on, being three blocks away was like being in New Hampshire.  But, I still thought we’d make it.

We turned right onto 49th Street.  We drove a block.  We were between 8th and 9th Ave.  We were as good as home, until I read her the address on a building to my left.  It was at one or two digits different from the location of the garage.

At this point, all I knew for certain was that we were in the proper borough…Manhattan.  I ‘asked’ her to call the place and ask where the h**l they were located.  She did. The woman said something like: “Oh, you can just make the block.”  Mariam told her there was no block to make.  Traffic was at a standstill.  Where was the drop-off place?

[Quiet Streets at 2:30 am]

It turns out we had drove past it, 3/4 of a block behind us.  It was 4:47 pm.  Mariam walked back a bit and found the place.  Not clearly signed as a Budget rental facility.  But, what were we to do at this point? I made a very male-like executive decision.  I told her to get out of the car.  Walk back on 49th Street and make hand signals to divert the traffic and make way for me to violate several traffic laws.  I told her to wave everyone on this narrow one-way street to the left.  That would enable me to back up almost an entire block to the garage.  I can’t tell you how many traffic codes this action was going to defy, but I took solace in the fact that if I got arrested and cuffed, at least I would have access to a bathroom.

How the bathroom scene played out in the Budget Rental garage is a whole other story and a whole other blog.

So, we met out friends for dinner.  And, last night (I’m writing this at 3:00 am on Monday), we had a great time visiting my son, Brian, his girlfriend, Kristin.

[Me, Mariam,Brian and Kristin]

The streets are quiet now.

On Tuesday afternoon, we fly to Paris.  We’re going to get a taxi from De Gaulle Airport to our hotel in central Paris. I’m full of anticipation and excitement. Paris traffic, I understand, is a breeze.

But, do you want to know something?

I love New York.

One Son

[Brian. April 24, 2018.]

No, the title of this post is not something I stole from a menu from one of the many Korean eateries on W. 35th Street.

And, if you look at the photo above…(I always use a lead-in graphic for my posts), I can tell you certain things:

It’s a profile of my son, Brian.  No, he is not dreaming of traveling to France.  No, he does not make a living balancing things on his forehead (maybe he does, maybe I missed something). And, no, he is not conjuring a suitcase.  If he had that kind of talent, I’m confident he’d be conjuring something more interesting that a valise with faded travel stickers.

We were at a restaurant just south of Macy’s and a few blocks from where he works.  During the dinner I looked at him and recalled that I didn’t have a good profile picture of him.  So I asked him to pose against a neutral wall, not considering the piece of old-time luggage that was mounted there.

Before we rejected the desert menu, I was busy thinking.  I had written many blog posts that highlighted places and people who I hardly knew.  Interesting interactions with people who I, most likely, would never meet again.

I’m proud of those posts, but it occurred to me that I had not highlighted my own children enough.  I had mentioned them in many blogs, but never were they a main subject of my encounters.

When I first moved to Manhattan in the very early 1990’s, Brian was about five years old.  I was going through a divorce.  My father brought him down to visit.  I took my dad to Bethune Street where he worked for the Bell Labs in the 1930’s.  Brian came along.  He was a tiny guy in the big city.

Later, he came down with a friend.  I have a picture of him in front of the Twin Towers.  He says he remembers the day clearly.

Even later, he came to live with us while he attended Baruch College to complete his undergraduate degree.  We had a challenging time fitting him into our one bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side.  For me, it was good-bye Letterman while he slept on the fold-out sofa.

He graduated and before you could say “congratulations”, he had a job.

Now, he buys us dinner…we are the ‘out-of-town’ now.  He tells me which train to take to get to some obscure place in one of the boroughs.  He has a lady friend and they live in Astoria.  Ironically, he lives just blocks away from where my wife grew up.

I’m awed by how my son has grown up.  I’m amazed at his success.  I’m proud to have him as my son, my only son.  No one will carry the Egan name into the future except him.  And, I’m not pushing anything.

I love my son beyond what I thought was possible.  He is everything I tried to be in my life…funny, outgoing and charismatic.  Where I failed, he succeeded.

Look at the photo below.  It seems like just yesterday that I took the picture.  I’ll always think of him with the little stick in his right hand.  The look on his face says to me: “I’m a good boy, daddy.”

I hope the sweater is still in around somewhere.  In a trunk maybe.  Then someday, if he has a son of his own, he may be able to have him pose for a similar photo.  And, maybe he’ll write a blog about much he loves his little boy.

Oh, yes you are, my one son.  My Number One Son.

Love you Brian.

[Brian. ca.1990]

All photos are mine.

A Hint Of Green: Southbound On Train #238

[Everything is ON TIME]

Aboard the 12:10 train for Penn Station

I check my watch as the train jolts into motion.  It’s 12:09.

There was a time when Mariam and I would make the trip from Manhattan to Rainbow Lake in one day.  It was 305 miles from our apartment door on W. 93rd Street to our driveway at 58 Garondah Road, deep in the heart of the North Country.  Oddly, it was exactly the same distance from the driveway of my childhood home (420 Front Street) in Owego, New York.  But that’s beside the point.

We left our city apartment in November of 2011 and moved to the Adirondacks.  My childhood dream was realized…I was living in my favorite playground.  Now, I could hike, kayak and bike to my heart’s content.

Reality set in quickly.  I had serious lower back issues and my right foot was problematic.  Hiking became less enjoyable…it actually became unbearibly painful.

“Age appropriate,” said my orthopedic surgeon.

“Thanks,” I said as I thought about where I would store my snowshoes and x-country skis.

Fast forward to the present moment.  We no longer make the trip to the city in one day.  Our favorite hotel is on Wolf Road in Albany.  Mariam has since retired from her job of fifty-one years in health care.  It wasn’t a total break, however.  She is now the President of the Hemophilia Association of New York.  That means quarterly trips to the city.  We’re on such a trip as I write this.  We’re old hands at this, although we still use SIRI to get from our hotel to the Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak Station.

I’d like to say that the gentle rocking of the coach is nap-inducing, but in reality, its nausea-inducing.  We make sure our seats are close to the restroom.  The train is really not rocking at all, it’s jerking me from side to side like a Yuma cowboy at the County Rodeo.  I’m having trouble hitting the right keys as I write this.  I’m using my MacBook Air without a mouse.  The heels of my hands are firmly planted on the deck of the laptop, but still I hit the wrong keys.  Three sentences ago, I meant to type “The train is really not rocking at all…”, but what appeared on the screen was: “Yug brain is ggreally not frocking ab vall”.

I’d like to say that in a half-hour, I intend to stroll back to dining car to sip a cognac and play a few hands of Whist, but in reality, there’s is no dining car on this particular train.  What made me think I was on the American version of the Orient Express?  But, hey, given the present state of rail travel in a country that sold its soul to Detroit and spends zillions of dollars on the Interstate System, I should be happy to settle for what we do have.

And, this trip is a little different for another reason.  I’m running away from a very long and depressing winter in the North Country.  It’s still January at Rainbow Lake.  I had to shovel a path to the garage just yesterday.  I’ve been filling the bird feeders two or three times a day.  Our respite in the city, where flowers are blooming I’m told, is only for a week.  Then its back to the snow, which I promise, will still be present in our front yard until early June.

As I look out at the Hudson River to my right, I do not see any snow…only on the tops of the distant Catskill Mountains.  Alongside the tracks, in the trees that line the river, I see wisps, mere hints, faint washes of pale green.  Spring is arriving in this middle land between the Adirondacks and urban New York. Across the river, on the western shore, I think I see forsythia shrubs in bloom.  The yellow is intense.  Some of the trees are starting to bud with a reddish hue.

[One of the many lighthouses of the Hudson River.]

It’s great to see color after six months of a monochromatic grayness.

Now, if I can only hold myself steady against the jerking of the train, and not slam the right side of my head against the plexiglass window sustaining a slight concussion, I can end this post.  But, I must find my email first.

We’re passing a nuclear power plant.  I think I’m starting to glow.

Do I see the George Washington Bridge coming up on my right?  Soon, we’ll be in tunnel on the west side of Manhattan and I will lose the wireless.  This is my second posting from a moving train.  I’ve done it!

[All photos are mine.]