18 November 2015

Just Another Face

Walking around my neighborhood last night I was thinking how refreshing it is that, despite the recent tragic events in Paris, people here, total strangers even, still have the courage to look one another in the eye, something I don't remember happening too much, if at all, back home. 

The story below was written many years ago during a prolific writing spree that lasted nine months. Observing the men and women and children on the sidewalk last night, all of whom looked me in the eye as we passed, reminded of the anecdote below. Somehow it feels appropriate to bring it out and share now.

* * *

She's just a face in a window.  I can see her from our apartment.  Straight, dirty-blonde hair falls to her shoulders as she sits, hunched over her desk, chin resting on a fist.  She taps at her keyboard with two index fingers, then stares at the flat computer screen.  Waits.  More tapping.

Occasionally she picks up the telephone, then dashes away from her desk in one fast, black blur, carrying files and papers, important-looking things.  She's always dressed in black — pants, jackets, shoes.  She wears white blouses, though.  The cuffs are always showing out the ends of her sleeves like curls of whipped cream.

An anonymous face.  Bank worker probably.  Something to do with numbers, market trends.  Stocks perhaps.  Must be nervous work the way she's always snacking on something — chips, lollipops, her nails.  Her desk sits next to the window and never once does she look out or even up to see if clouds are passing overhead.

At the end of the workday she'll probably take the elevator with shiny silver doors to the ground floor and walk out onto the street, blending into pedestrian traffic.  Blending in.

Maybe we've crossed paths before, asked each other the time.  I, too, often find myself on the street.  Inside me, a rush of sounds and thoughts and images always swirl about, dancing the dance of the butterfly, never resting on any one thought for too long.  "How do I say that in French?  Je voudrais, no, J'aimerais verifier que…encore…or it is toujours?  Merde!  I never remember…" My sons are sleeping…It's 12:55pm…conscious in breath…Like this the dance continues. 

Hands stay in pockets if it's cold.  Someone in front of me takes a long drag on a cigarette.  Holding my breath, I pass with my head down and to the side, inhaling again only once the smoke is safely behind, consciously sidestepping the dog turd on the curb.

People pass one another without words, lost in their own thoughts, talking on cell phones, smoking, rushing to appointments, school, the doctor, the store.  Fast fast fast, never looking up to spot the blue ribbon of sky through the city canyons or to appreciate the centuries-old architecture.  Everything else is so important.  We're like planets, with our own civilizations, sometimes crossing paths, orbiting around our own centers of interest, sometimes brushing one another, often never taking notice.

There are truly human moments though, moments that can send shivers through to the bone.  They come through the eyes, a silent, penetrating look.  "I see you," they say, sometimes flirtatiously.  Souls exchange whatever it is they need to in that moment, then move on, generous but detached.

Some don't move.  They are the pillars, the still points, sitting on sidewalks with plaid blankets, German shepherds sleeping at their feet guarding stainless steel water bowls and plastic cups with coins.  Sometimes we offer them a nod, a clinical bonjour, a coin tossed in the cup if we're feeling moved or generous that day, a handshake and a few words if we're willing to slow down.  Then we're back to business, gotta get there, off we go, bonne journée, go, go, go!

But they are the ones who see the poplar and cherry trees blossom in spring and the swallows chase one another over the rooftops.  They know what the sky looked like at the end of each day.  They see us, too, possibly thinking, "Thanks for the coin," or "Just another busybody," or "Just another face in the window."

14 November 2015

Paris — City of Love, City of Light

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
- Martin Luther King Jr.

10 November 2015

Did You Know...? Part 14

Throughout history the French have made quite a name for themselves, innovating and making discoveries that some say have changed the world.

From Pasteurization (Louis Pasteur) and the aspirin (Charles Frédéric Gerhardt) to the first motion picture (the Lumière brothers), French inventions span multiple categories across the centuries: Arts & Entertainment, Chemistry, Physics & Mathematics, Medicine & Biology, Communication, Transportation, Clothing and, of course, Food & Cooking.

Here are a few honourable mentions that may (or may not) surprise you:

  1. Aqualung - invented in 1943 by Jacques-Yves Cousteau, this device gave divers an unprecedented level of autonomy by allowing them to stay underwater for several hours at a time.
  2. Braille - in 1829, Louis Braille invented this system of raised dots, giving blind people an easy way to read and write, a method still in use today.
  3. Hot air balloon - created by brothers Joseph and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier, they launched their first hot air balloon, called a Montgolifère, in 1782.
  4. Mayonnaise - Sources differ on this one. Some (the Spanish) claim it was created by them on the island of Menorca. The French, of course, say the contraire. But whoever whisked together same-temperature egg yolks and oil for the first time has undoubtedly made a grand contribution to world food culture ever since.
  5. Modern Bikini - in 1946 two Frenchmen, Jacques Heim and Louis Reard each introduced, independent of one another, their redesigned "skimpy" versions of the two-piece swimsuit in vogue at the time. Heim called his the atome while Reard named his the bikini, a direct reference to the atomic testing going on in the Bikini Atoll at the time.

It might at first seem paradoxical that the same culture is responsible for what may appear to be diametrically opposed innovations — mayonnaise and the bikini.

But that just points to a mystery that many people have been trying to solve for ages — how is it that French women stay so darned thin?

It is a just question, and one whose answer deserves its own post for a future date. 

Stay tuned!