Chasing rainbows

What have I missed?

I have been neglecting this blog.  The only post this year was in March.  A bit sad for not wanting to be here often enough. The world as it is, too much to think about, too little I can say.  Then I find the draft dated 2014/9/23.  Something that once touched me I took the time to write about. I read it, vaguely remembering the story. As always I don’t remember my own written words, are they really mine?

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What have I missed?

I was channel-hopping and the Film 4 matinee caught my eye.  Had a look at the time, I was 30 minutes late.  With only two-thirds of the film left, I clicked the info button on the remote control for a synopsis to see if it would be worthwhile to start watching.

This was what appeared on the TV screen:

“Almost entirely devoid of dialogue, In the City of Sylvia follows a young man as he wanders central Strasbourg in search of a woman he asked for directions in a bar several years ago.”

Not much of a story then.  No danger of losing the plot, literally.  I have never been to Strasbourg but I am a keen armchair traveller.  Time to hit the streets to sightsee the French city.

The young man was walking closely behind a woman; somehow you could feel the tension there. One couldn’t tell if she knew she was being followed.  She turned into a back alley. She came out onto the main street and crossed the road.  She stopped at a shop and leaned against the door to talk on the phone.  She walked on. In a split second she was gone.

The young man was running in circles.  It made you dizzy just following him.  Several times, he came across the same graffiti on the wall – Laure je t’aime. Repeating scenes of embracing young lovers in the square; kids kicking a ball.  Up on the balcony a woman was watering plants; a summer dress hung on the wooden window plank, swaying in the breeze.  Another woman in her lingerie was blowing dry her hair in front of an open window.  Walking backwards looking up at the building, he nearly hit a fruit stall.

Eventually he found her waiting for the tram.   He went in after her and watched her from the next car.  Did she know?   Hesitantly he approached her, ‘Sylvia?’.   Six years ago he met Sylvia in the bar les Aviateur, and still kept the napkin on which she drew him a map for directions.   ‘Sylvia?’  No, she’s not, you’re mistaken.   What a disaster, I made a mistake, shaking his head.  The tram moved on.   It’s wrong to follow; it’s unpleasant to be followed in the street; I was running in circles to avoid you; I tried to hide in a shop but it was closed, didn’t you notice.  Bells tolled, the tram ran through the high street. You two looked alike but it was six years ago. Bells tolled again, the tram passed the river and the crowd.  I’d get off here, hope you wouldn’t; I hope you’d find her.   He sat down, looking out of the window and watched her walk away, turn a corner.

Later he went back to les Aviateur.  He saw another face.  No, not Sylvia.

Another day, he was in the street again, empty bottles lying idly in the corner.  People walked on by.  He read newspaper in the cafe, smoking and gazing out of the window. Was that Sylvia?  He got up and followed.  No, not Sylvia.

It’s not the end of the story, yet.  The search went on, for Sylvia, and the ‘mistaken Sylvia’.  The sketchbook in his hand was blown open revealing pencil sketches of women.  He sat in a tram stop, seeking out women’s faces, drawing them.  People came and went. Trams came and went.  Women’s faces came and went.

He was young.  He had time on his side. He could afford to chase rainbows.  Being the accidental follower, suddenly I  wish I were young again.

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What have I missed?

Almost two years have passed since the unfinished draft.  I no longer remember the rest of what I’d like to say.  I wasn’t writing a review, that’s never been my forte. I was making notes, trying to retell the story.  The interlude of life.  Dreaming, searching, longing. Was I envious? What was there to be envious of?  Being young and carefree? Having the courage to act on daydreams? Was it lust, or love that was being chased?  Or is it just rainbows?

What have I missed telling you?  The sights of the city? That something which first inspired me for this blog post?  How am I going to polish the story so that it makes sense to you? I don’t know.  Too much time has passed. I don’t remember.  I have changed my mind, like everything else in life. Time does that to you, changing one’s mind. I don’t want to hang on to it any more. I don’t think I’ll try finishing it.  I don’t think it’ll matter but perhaps you should know this is the final line I wrote in my draft :

“Loving you, I could not grow old….”

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Memories are made of this

Before class with time to spare

She calls

She knows I am always there

The sun is shining

She sits in the Square

Drinking morning coffee

Hello there

 

I take the train

I come to the Square

The sun is shining

A lone woodpigeon fearlessly perching on the park bench

The trees swaying in the gentle breeze

I sit

Drinking in the views where she calls every morning

 

Next time the phone rings

I remember the Square

The trees

Happily greeting

Hello there

 

Castles in Spain

I promised Walter that one day I would go visit him in Mexico.  That was the summer of 1979 in Madrid, after we had spent our fifth day travelling together.  Hang on, was it in Toledo’s Alcázar?  Things often didn’t happen the way I remember.

I recalled getting on the last train out of Nice before the French Rail strike.  We met Walter and his son Rewi at the station.  Walter greeted us in rusty Mandarin.   He had been in Lanchow working for the UN in the Forties teaching technology and stayed on until the Fifties to observe the change of powers.  Rewi had been backpacking long enough for his father to come and fetch him home.  Before that though, they planned to spend some quality time together allowing Walter to share his own European travelogues.  The train headed for Barcelona.

In the midday sun, we were enjoying Spanish coffee at a roadside cafe.   Indeed, we were in Toledo.  That morning we met Goya, El Greco and their kings.  Walter remarked, “It’s gonna be hard times for the modern artists.  They can’t sit a general in front of a computer.” Another cup of coffee?  Here up on the hill, time stood still.  The hustle and bustle had left us alone.  The locals on the other table were yelling at each other.  We were amused by the heated arguments and wondered what it was about. Walter smiled. There were only two things the Spanish interested in: football and politics. It was football. Across the road in the yard a girl was doing her laundry, the way her mama used to do with a washboard.  Life had not promised her a washing machine.  She didn’t know that. It was easier, I imagined, to lead a life without demand if you knew nothing about what you didn’t have, couldn’t have and simply got on with it.

Life was in no way easy, Walter was saying, in the time of war, but somehow people made it through.  What time was it?  I was not listening.  Distant thunder didn’t frighten me.  Should we make a move?  I came all this way wanting to see the castles in Spain and had not had a glimpse so far.  We drank up our coffee and brought our days together closer to the end.  We headed for the castles, and in Spain they really were there.  Right before my eyes, not wishful thinking. I had been daydreaming about travelling the world all the time.  There and then, I gave my word to Walter that should I be going to America, I would love to visit his weaving factory and meet the rest of his family.

The castles had seen beautiful princesses and wicked witches.  That’s what I was told. But did someone on a white horse ever find his way here?   If those remaining stones were disillusioned  they didn’t show.  Dreams survived all the long waiting years and our childhood.  Between sleeping and waking we grew up, only to find the fairy tales torn and the castles in ruins.  What was unkind was not a breach of promise.  Perhaps the prince did come on his white horse, leaving his armour and swords for the tourists to admire.  

An old couple exclaimed with adoring eyes.  They had found their lost enchantment.  To make believe that what had been there for them once would be there again for them then. Fifty years had passed them by and they came back to the place where they spent their honeymoon.  A long way from where they were then, many years my senior, I wondered what glamour they could bring back to keep the story going for their grandchildren.  My youthful eyes didn’t envisage what they saw.

But Walter knew.  It took a century and hundreds of thousands of men to build the castles in Spain and concrete the stronghold of dreams.  A kiss of cannons shattered them.  Broken armours and rusted swords, we left them behind.  

Walter urged, “Come to see us, or I won’t forgive you.”  I turned and took a long last look to make sure they were there.  The castles of Spain. 

 

(A Rewrite — published on 1/6/1980,  The Thumb Biweekly)

Vincent

Nobody ever brought me flowers except Vincent.

We were calling on the farmhouses, his folks and kin.  He was on his bike, spurting forward and stopping every now and then to wait for us.  Françoise was telling me, that Philippe had taken to heart the need of a career after she came out of hospital; that she longed to have a little house in which everything grew — daffodils, cabbages, strawberries, man, child and love.  I saw in her eyes thin smoke rising from the red chimney of her little house and turned to look for mine.  It was then that Vincent tapped me from behind and handed me the flowers he picked.  The flowers withered that afternoon.

Vincent was shy the first time I met him.  He came out of his room and embraced bonjour and backed away.  I could not even make out how he looked and left him staying shy in Paris a week later.  When I returned he was easier, and brought me those flowers; and tumbled on my lap to stay in the same snapshot with me; and tried to learn a little English.  It would never cross his mind, nor could I understand why I had come all this way to find him and let him see me off in that lonely station far away from Paris.  He tried to keep pace with the train and one merciful step almost tripped him.  The train was moving fast, soon he left me behind.

He would go on and forget what I remembered, memory withered — like flowers picked — and he was just eight.

 

(published on 1/4/1980 – The Thumb Biweekly)

When we meet again

You don’t believe me when I said —

“I’ll call.”

“Let’s do coffee.”

“I’ll be in touch.” —

I don’t believe me either.

 

If our paths were to cross again

In winter

The north wind blows

The muddy roads turn icy in the cold

Let’s not share any more polite exchanges

Let’s have a bear hug.

 

I could do with the warm embrace.

 

I read, I like, I share (14) : Cecelia Ahern

” Where would we be without tomorrows?  What we’d have instead would be todays.

 And if that was the case, with you, I’d hope for the longest day for today.  

I’d fill today with you, doing everything I’ve ever loved.  I’d laugh, I’d talk, I’d listen and learn, I’d love, I’d love, I’d love.  

I’d make every day today and spend them all with you, and I’d never worry about tomorrow, when I wouldn’t be with you.  

And when that dreaded tomorrow comes for us, please know that I didn’t want to leave you, or be left behind, that every single moment spent with you were the best times in my life.”

— Cecelia Ahern “How to fall in love”

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Thought of the day :

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could do this with our loved ones?   Our mums and dads, our brothers and sisters, our husbands and wives, our sons and daughters, our best friends.

Make today count.   Make our lives complete.

Homeward bound

Where’s home?

It should be a simple question, until we read too much into it.  I read too much into it.

Once, on the flight heading back to London from Hong Kong, a middle aged English lady sitting next to me posed that question.   She was bored and trying to be friendly at the same time. Where’s home, she asked.  I just said goodbye to my ageing parents and didn’t know if I would see them again.  I wasn’t in the mood to strike up a conversation with a stranger.  I put on a polite smile.  She pursued.  Where’s home, Hong Kong or England?  Both.  She paused, decided that the one word answer wasn’t what she expected, and turned her attention to the book she was holding all along.  Little did she know that it wasn’t my desired conviction either.

It is not a simple question.  Not since I took up permanent residence outside my birth place twenty five years ago.  Apparently now I have two places I can call home.  Ain’t  I lucky?  Then why is there an unspeakable sadness lingering deep down?

Every time when I was supposed to be coming home to see my parents, I needed to follow the line of ‘Visitors’ through Customs.  The city met me with forever changing faces and continuous tearing down of buildings and traditional values.  Nothing is familiar any more.  I cannot find my way around.  I constantly get lost in the city I grew up in.

Often my dear friends welcome me back with a feast, but would no longer allow me to share the bill.   I am grateful for the privilege yet can’t help feeling a little out of place.   I yearn so much to be part of the gang again, doing what everyone else is doing.

Back in England, I am often being asked on the phone if I spoke English.  I can understand that.  With my given name and my accent the person on the line can deduce that I am not local.  Even though I have tried to celebrate Christmas like everyone does, am I being forgiven if I secretly missed the red packets, the moon cakes and rice dumplings?

I have tried to take comfort in the saying: home is where the heart is.  No matter where you are.  Home is where the heart is.

Not a place to belong.

I have now two places I can call home, and I do not feel like I have a place to belong.

It has taken a poignant dialogue between Clooney/Bullock in the movie Gravity to make me realise:

Where’s home, Dr. Stone?”

Lake Zurich, Illinois.”

Is there somebody down there looking up, thinking about you?”

There is my mother sending reminders, that the weather is autumnal and I need to pack my jacket and jumpers before heading back to Hong Kong.  There is my sister getting the bed ready.  There are my friends making diary notes for our reunion.

There is my girl in London booking her weekend off to spend time with us after my trip.   There is my neighbour looking after the house while I’m away and emailing to wish me a happy stay.

I am homeward bound.