Thursday, March 28, 2013

Elves for beginners

I grew up reading a lot of world war 2 history. Specifically, I read a fair amount about the Holocaust. This is what happens if you're bookish in Belgium. People love to invade, so there's a lot of history. It's Belgium. So cute. So conveniently located. This early reading perhaps accounts for my tendency to think about The Jews in hushed, reverent tones, the way one might about a recently deceased relative or an endangered species.

Belgium is a lapsing catholic country, and I a humanist in it. One of the two places I can claim as a home town is quite full of muslims, so I grew up around lots of headscarf-wearing, Arabic (and Turkish) speaking girls my age, even if my school in the other home town was so obliviously white they thought the second generation Italians were exotic. I grew up around Turkish and Moroccans folks, Greeks, Poles, Italians, take your pick; but not jews. Never jews.

It wasn't until I was well into university that I met my first real live Jewish person, on a summer job. She was Georgian, loud, confident, fun and altogether something else. And she was from Antwerp, of course, where those people with the hats sell diamonds.

She didn't have a hat.

I moved to America. Lovely, America. America is full of jewish people, and whenever I find out a friend is jewish, I have to supress a little cry of "really? how exciting!" because that isn't polite. You see, I was dutifully taught abous muslim customs and festivals in school, and you couldn't miss the catholics. Jews now; ah. I got taught plenty about jews. Just not about...current ones. Mostly, it was death and suffering. Not so much live, contented jews. Jews buying pie. Jews making coffee. They were unexpected. As a consequence, I feel like a hobbit (we've established Belgians are hobbits, right*?) encountering elves for the first time, with a slight thrill. I mean, look at those elves, they're all tall and long-haired and they sing all the time, and I don't understand what the songs are about but they can run on snowdrifts, and how cool is that?


Remind me what Passover is again?

It's exotic. I can´t help it. Every time I schedule an event over a jewish holiday I have to be schooled, only to also forget the next one. I´m like a 19th century anthropologist - all inquisitiveness and misinformation; that's the voice in my head anyway. In conversation I try to be just a tad more sensitive. I still forget that there is no Christmas, even though I at one point lived with a (non-Christian) Turkish flatmate so overwhelmed by the Christian show of "look! trees! we cut some down for you!" that she left the country for a week (apparently that impulse is not unique)

Oh, and THEN I met some orthodox jews. You know, the whole no driving on Saturdays band. I don't stare. I really don't. I don't ask about the timers, the kitchens or the clothes or anything. See?

So if you meet me, and you're jewish, try to forgive me. You can let me know if I'm forgetting a holiday and I, in turn, will refrain from asking what you need it for. I promise I won't look at you funny, and I will do my best to ignore the random bursts of songs in Quenya.

*Belgians love elevenses, and biscuits with their coffee. Possibly whipped cream in the coffee, and some booze. After that, perhaps a beer and a cheese plate?)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

This fine experiment

Think of what it would be like, this life, if it could be taken at face value. If I could treat it as a series of experiments.  Try something. Fail? Take notes, try again with adjustments. Succeed? Take notes and see if the success can be replicated. The outcome can only be discovered through the experiments.

I forget where I read this now, and the context, but I was reading an article recently that suggested a different reading to Frankenstein. The problem, the article posited, was not that Victor Frankenstein created the monster, but that he abandoned it. To which I said, probably out loud "well, yes, how else would you read that?" I've always thought that the creature was very sympathetic, and intended to be so.

So with my life, cobbled together from the pieces of my past and circumstances, brought to life by the incomprehensible magic of the line of nows that lead there - it would be a mistake to reject it for not looking the way I imagined it. It would be a mistake because, quite apart from missing any merits that it has, in abandoning the life I have in favour of some illusory other life, some hypothetical future, I bring out the monster. The monster of the life I have rampages while I am away looking for a dream life.

The dream life? Maybe from afar. When I approach it, I find that this new life, too, is scarred and lopsided, and now wherever I walk I tread on the traces and debris of my rampaging creature. Now there are two monsters; because if I could not see the beauty in the face I myself made the first time round, how could I do better the second time?

This creature, this life I have, this wild experiment of mine, it shines, if I will only let the scars heal.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Where I get stuck in an airport

I’m sitting in an airport. I’m going to be stuck here for a few more hours. I am sitting on a fairly comfortable couch, the tri-lingual announcements echo overhead in one, two, three, and I sit here. It isn’t only true that happiness is found in unexpected places; I would say now that it is more easily found in unexpected places, that the lack of expectation creates a space for it. Expectation really is just pre-meditated resentment, and if I find myself in a place where no expectations apply…

I just finished a lovely book, a labyrinthine voyage of a book, I have a terrible cold and I’ve slept about four hours. Our plane keeps getting delayed, one, three, five hours away. I move through the airport as if through a foggy day in a Sherlock Holmes novel, as pleased as him with its shroud and hidden artifacts. This time is all mine. Some day I will have enough inner peace to create such time for myself, such fully available time, but for now I am content to accept it like a gift.

I hadn’t intended to stop here, but stop I did, so yes, I take off the cycle clips and stand for a moment, this is as close as I will get anytime soon to a month in a convent in the Pyrenees. There are multi-national wall plugs but no internet, or rather no internet I am willing to pay such extravagant fees for, and for this too I am grateful. I have tissues (with lotion, because my family loves me), I have books (one more print one, at least four audiobooks, and six or seven e-books), I have company I talk to or be quiet with. How churlish I would be to criticize this perfectly formed moment simply for happening here, at this time and place.

Of this time and place I could say this: it holds everything, like all time in airports, I could go anywhere, the Aeroflot flight is gone, El Al may still be there, Bujumbura is not so far; I have no desire to go anywhere except, eventually, home. The noises are just rustlings that make up the silence in my head, the place (here, home, I’ve flown out of here a million times, only now I leave here to go home) is somewhere but most of all it is Airport, and so nowhere at all. Stairs zoom soundlessly across the tarmac to waiting planes, luggage carts are visible in the view of Outside, outside of this decontaminated zone, this quarantine area.

Soon I will get some tea, and after, I may read some more of my book. I have no other plans.