Friday, August 25, 2006

Something about today ...

There was something in the music this afternoon, in the breeze I felt this morning as I padded through the still dark apartment and in this evening’s late summer sky that conspired to take me for the ride of a lifetime, or at least a chapter or two.

In the music there was a friend and an afternoon a few years behind me, when I entered a room and felt the full force of Coltrane’s Ballads for the first time. It was in her apartment on the east side of Manhattan, not quite the lower east side but close. It feels like I’ve known her all my life but we met in the 1980’s when New York City was a mess – drugs and greed and crime were the talk of the town no matter what part of it you called home. She was living in Chelsea then and I was living on the Upper West Side, attending NYU at night and riding that wicked human freight train, the 7th Avenue IRT, from West 4th Street to West 72nd street. God what a freak show that was. The trains were dark as night and covered like a fairy sailor’s shoulder in the roiling script of graffiti artists who provided the background colors for that era in the city. As I write this my head clouds with images of the many places in which we met over the years, each of them holding a story about who we were and what was going on in our lives at that point in time. I was in New York recently and regrettably, missed her, but this afternoon in Cologne, the music connected us albeit briefly.

I’ve been in the US for the last few months and forgotten a few things about life in Germany, like how to buy cheese and bread without creating linguistic havoc, but I also forgot the smell of Europe in late summer. This morning when I caught the scent, it was the first thing I consciously smelled all day. Now a normal day for me consists of lots and lots of smelling; I shop for groceries with my nose as much as with my eyes, I always sniff my food before I eat it (I’ve met a few others who suffer from this deviant quirk) and being the father of a nearly three year old boy, smells are my life. The smell I smelled this morning was fresh and bright and flicked a switch in my brain that signaled a memory. Funny how the brain works, one sniff and I was in Paris on a day much more complicated than today, in a place I never expected to be and in a world in which I probably didn’t belong. But for the time that was allotted me I lived it and did my best and rode with the fast horses and drank from delicate cups and ate on soft gold-brown tables in rooms I didn’t even dream existed. This morning, as I passed a window in the hall, I smelled the smell of the Europe I knew in an earlier version of myself, before I lived here all the time, when I only lived here on borrowed time.

And finally there was the sight of the late summer night sky that drew me like Circe to the loom, and I went through the apartment opening all the windows including the double doors in the room in which I am sitting now because I couldn’t get enough of it, that sky. I know I’m not the only one to return home from a long summer away and feel the pull of places and people left behind. Memory performs a sort of spell-check on our recollections, erasing all those nasty little irritations from the page and leaving us with a clean slate of unblemished experience to dream on all winter long. But for me the tables have turned somewhat. This is the first reverse vacation I’ve ever experienced, coming back to Europe after a long holiday in the US. Perhaps that accounts for the mix of images that were evoked by the sounds and smells and sights of today, some of them distant in time and space and some of them very, very close, like the view I think I’ll never forget, just outside my window.