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I like someone's idea of death as the dark wind that blows from the future. I don't know who expressed it that way. Everyone around me is trying to shelter from that wind, pretend it will blow itself out before it gets this far. Holidays, eating out, clubbing, working, as if that momentous orgasm which we strive for but never seem able to attain will establish us for all eternity and overcome whatever storms ride our way. But flesh decays and the sexual drive diminishes and droops and orgasms seem less important so there is no protection against the wind.
I met Paul and we connected immediately using Guinness and Whiskey in liberal amounts. I didn't realize at the time that it was all going on his bill - not sure if he realized, though by now he might have. We committed ourselves to a walking tour of Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru which will probably take about three months and should be good fun. We are like chalk and cheese but have a common background of sorts. Our wives don't know what we've planned. That might be a problem. We'll do the length of Ireland as a practice run.
There's not a lot you can count on in this life. Even the weather here is all wrong for the time of year but since this is Ireland perhaps we could have counted on such a thing so that doesn't really count after all. Rosaleen has announced that she's leaving work and I'm left with no-one to do her job, and my memory let me down because I forgot to put a notice in the paper about Sunday. So what we're left with that's dependable and predictable is pain and the gracious love and mercy of a truly magnificent God.
Paul says I can take 5 CDs and 3 books when we go to South America. Decisions, decisions. Music? A mix of Jazz and Opera I suppose. And Leonard Cohen. I imagine he'll have a mix of folk and Hendrix and Dylan. Books? Along with the Bible I have to have Crime and Punishment and I Promessi Sposi. Crime and Punishment has been a totally different experience when I've read it in Ireland, France then India. Weather and atmosphere and smells really do a strange work on receptivity. I hope he allows me to take La Morte Heureuse as well.
I bought condoms from a supermarket today for the first time - it's not the first time I bought any, I've just not done so in a supermarket before. The checkout person scanned the barcode with what I thought was feigned indifference and it was one of those machines that displays the name of the product on a screen for everyone in the queue to see. There it was in all its luminous glory - "CONTRACEPTIVES". The word took up every available letter space and since it was the last item it stayed there till the next customer was started.
What made cricket and the weather major parts of evening news? How do they rank along with earthquakes? I've missed something. Not everyone watched the World Cup or Wimbledon. Not everyone cared, but who would believe me if I told them? Even Camus' outsider Mersault loved football and swimming even though he lived on the fringes of society. (Well I'll allow swimming. At least it's participative for me.) But football? Cricket? Rain? And the Stock Exchange ..... there's another topic all TV watchers are going to get fired up about. I wonder if Camus thought I would write about him?
Grass grows and grows and it doesn't stop growing, not even when you chop its collective head with a low-set blade on a mower. You just can't kill it off. It keeps on coming back. We sit on it, lie on it. We dig it up and plant it elsewhere and it thrives. It's so green. It goes all brown if you ever let a drought kill it off but more often it's so irritatingly green but I love green normally and I love grass if the truth be told but not so much in lawns. Too contrived. Too perfect.
I'm a silly old woman Well that's not entirely true; I'm not that old, though to a teenager I probably am. Moreover I'm not a woman, and I certainly don't think I'm all that silly, just a bit daft. Maybe best to start over again. I'm a rather sensible young man... no, that won't do either. We've got the gender bit right this time so that's something, but the "young" is a bit deceptive and I don't really like to think of myself as "sensible". One more time then. I'm a man. Now wasn't that easy? No need for adjectives.
The gates are faded white and haven't been painted for a long time. I never shut them so the hedge grows through them and there is a dent in one of them where Maria reversed her car in some bizarre direction but I wasn't there to see it all happening. A couple of bricks keeps them from swinging out into the road when there's a strong wind, but I think they can go now because the hedge is so thick I don't see how they could break free from its growth. Maybe now I'll start to close them at night.
I was part of an interview panel today and one candidate sat on his chair like he was sitting on a toilet. He sat full square on the chair, knees and feet well apart, leaning forward with his forearms resting on his legs just above the knee and when he got up I wanted to remind him to wash his hands. From then on I was lost. The next candidate was a lady who sat demurely, legs crossed, and I found myself wanting to tell her she couldn't go to the toilet that way. The toilet sitter got the job.
Seagulls. Birds that inhabit the place where land and air and sea meet and play off each other. Sea spray races into the air and covers the rocks. Rocks melt into the sea. What the elements have in common are seagulls, at home in the air, on land and on the sea. Deceptive horizons. Mist in the morning. Mist on some hot afternoons which doesn't make sense and it confuses families on holiday who are slaves to the sun, sand, sea formula after a dark winter. The constantly shifting and confusing of the borders between air and land and sea.
Last month over 200 people died in a plane off Taiwan and over 200 people died in a train in Mozambique but there were no British citizens on board either. Archie had a light shone up him at the hospital. The Belfast Lord Mayor's parade shivered through the streets with freezing, ill-clad girls sitting on the open backs of lorries doing nothing other than looking cold. We just aren't a carnival type city. We want to be, or at least everyone else does, but that's not really who we are and we seem to have difficulty forging our own identity.
I try to reach you but the noise and the smoke between us stops my efforts to communicate from a distance and the bar doesn't look like it will empty or quieten down. Your life is like Toby's Bar. Always full, always busy, never any time to talk apart from ordering drinks. Your life is all business, going here going there meeting someone, drinking coffee which takes effort. I try to reach you and I'm sure that if you gave me the chance we could be friends. You look like you could be my friend. I'm not looking much. Friends.
The light is fading over the lough and the last rays of sunlight bounce off something beyond the horizon to reflect off the white wall of the house across the road from mine. Now its' gone. It's officially night and the sun that leaves me is shining on my brothers and sisters in the West. India is already well asleep, snoring. Belfast looks beautiful tonight. The lights are coming on and there is that faint rumour of day left in the sky that's a mixture of black and yellow and green. I see it from my house on the hill.
I don't want to go on someone else's holiday or eat someone else's dinner: that's what TV watching is about. Everything's happening to someone else and I'm an outsider, unable to participate in life so I pay others to live for me and I think then that I've been there, done that. I can give all sorts of information about how to get where and what it's like there but I've never been. Is that because my aspirations are only realizable by the rich and idle? Maybe if I had a less fertile imagination I could do some real living.
A warm evening at a table outside a cafe. The young people are loud and taken with themselves. The coffee is young and bold and the tables and chairs are shiny chrome. Some students talk about the words of Rimbaud as if they really know what he was talking about and as if theirs was the generation who discovered him and who really understood him. In the feel of the late sunshine through lime trees and in the smell of beer from the bar next door and in the passion of the young people I read the poems of Rimbaud.
We never really touch each other, not in a way that matters. We never touch anyone, and the only person we can rely on is ourselves, and how reliable are we? The sun rises and the sun sets, but we are not the sun. Every airplane that takes off must land, safely or otherwise, on its wheels, on its belly or on its roof, but it lands. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord. Nature raw or nature reorganized has structure. God has structure. We are not God, not sun nor airplanes.
We are so intense. We are wine, a red, raw, wretched wine from south-facing desert slopes in Algeria, squeezed from grapes that grow on soil that's poor in nutrients but mineral rich with salts and shiny metals. Occasional rain exposes our roots. We harbour memories of desert caravans; we have seen brutality and thought no wrong of it and it was executed within a humane system. But we betray ourselves when we speak of things that are true but which can never be understood because you condemn with blinkers all that is not of you. Drink, and turn away.
Last night the Countess Rubadiri entreated me with overtures not dissimilar to those she laid upon the Chilean Ambassador a few days ago in Café Zinc. I couldn't help overhearing on that occasion, and when the same words were addressed to me at Antoines's last evening I was most shocked. The Countess, it would seem, is most desperate to attach herself to someone of significance in influential circles - any influential circle it would seem if she even sought Enrique de Cartegena's attentions! To my relief she passed out as a result of too much Pernod at 10.37 precisely.
Always try to fly first class. The best way is to enter "economy" as late on as possible and head towards first class and before going on through turn and shout to an imaginary friend down the plane "I'm on through here James, see you when we get off in Athens". Then head on into first class and since you're last in you'll be able to see what seats are likely to remain vacant and take one, acting like it's yours. I did it on a Syrian Arab flight from Delhi to Damascus and they're the best airline I know.
Ahead and above there's only a dense, solid, grey mass. The water on the lough is grey too, but it has a different quality to it and a few small sailing boats are anchored not far from the shore. What makes the water different from the air is that it has a shiny skeen on its surface, making it almost transparent, as if the boats were floating on nothing, and gradually over the course of an hour it takes on the faintest pink tinge as the sun finally manages to struggle through the thinning fog to sets beyond the docks.
A man died in Malawi last week from eating a snake because he was so hungry. I've eaten snake and lived as have many others so I'm supposing he eat the poison and not just the flesh. Poor Malawi, in so many ways. Famine, corruption, disease, poverty, beauty, glory. Now the president wants to change the constitution so that he can get another term in office – the last one did that and sat on for 30 or so years, stifling and robbing the country. And now a law there has been passed to stop public protest over the planned nonsense.
I watched a plane landing in Belfast today knowing what the passengers didn't know, that they were heading into a riot. The east of the city was steaming and that's where the city airport is. It reminded me of when the plane I came to Belfast on in the 1970s landed in Cyprus and there was shooting in the airport and we couldn't get off. The train we rode from Malawi to Mozambique in 1971 got through the day before the line was blown up – and the parents who took me on those trips worry about me going to Lebanon!
There was a smell in the air in Belfast today and a certain quality in the warmth of the sunshine in the early morning that transported me to Paris. Behind Notre Dame where the tourists seldom stray, though travelers sometimes do, to Madame Berthillon's where you can get a jug of steaming milk and a smaller one of chocolate sludge and mix your own hot chocolate. Crêpes. The river looks like gold and the world is far away. Or on a cold November you buy a huge tureen of French Onion soup made with the new Beaujolais that's just arrived.
It's hard believing that four days ago I was the man I see in the mirror today. He's a stranger and I can't say I ever knew him other than to nod at him each morning when I shaved his face. He went places I'm coming back from. The facts in my head must have been apprehended by him because they would never find room in my life, like the fact that when England played Argentina in the world cup this month the sales of Argentine wine dropped by 16% in English supermarkets and rose by 21% in Scottish supermarkets.
Three girls in a house; two cats. Sunshine on the balcony looking out over the sea. I eat a meal there most lunch times. Nothing much, just some bread with olives, fruit and wine. And when the afternoon is just about done we walk for a while among the gardens in that part of town and let the heady lilac and lime scent transport us to some place we've never heard of for a while then we wander on home intoxicated. At home there's only me and my painting of three girls. Empty bottles, half-remembered afternoons and Sarah's fudge cake.
On a bus going across town to give my mother her birthday present. A hunger striker has died in jail and needs to be honoured A crowd of children are sent out in front of the bus to stop it. Then masked men appear from nowhere and board the bus. Petrol is sprinkled around but no-one is allowed off. Only when the hesitant fire has taken hold at the front is the driver allowed to open the doors at the middle of the bus and we file out, calm, chatting, inconvenienced. We forget by the time we get home. Belfast.
I like watching planes taking off from the city airport. I don't get to see them till they're clearing the office blocks and they head into clouds like metal dissolving in acid. When I'm driving over for a swim the planes seem to be shooting out of the top of the Belfast Hilton like tennis balls from a practice gun. If the clouds are thin and wispy the planes just become ghostly, indistinct, shadowy and menacing, and they come and go for a while in the flossy clouds. If the cloud is thick the planes just disappear with no trace.
Suddenly my jeans are getting too small. My wallet hurts my backside when I sit down so either my wallet is too full or my backside has gotten too big and my wallet hasn't got any extra notes in it so we all know what the problem is. Just got back from a few days on the North Coast and its all brass but no class. Very nouveau rich. Tasteless and tacky. Very complacent about the food they cook – they think sticking an acute accent above a few "e"s makes a meal continental and that makes it a higher price.
Suddenly smiling doesn't seem like such a good idea. False sense of security. Makes me think that I'll soon stop and remember that all's not so good after all and so laughter and smiles will seem hollow and futile. Qoheleth was right when he advised that it is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting; that sorrow is better than laughter. Yet I have so very much to make me smile. Yes things will change some day but why not enjoy them while they're good instead of mourning before there's been a death?
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