09 May 2009

Senses and Soloists

Some of my best days include sense-memories. Today was one of them.

This morning, I took my usual trip to the farmer's market on Roosevelt Island. It seemed that the fruits and vegetables were fresher and more plentiful than they have been in months. Given that this is the middle of spring, that's to be expected. There still isn't much locally-grown stuff, but at least most of what they were selling came from Florida or California rather than the far end of South America. Not that I have anything against Chilean grapes or Argentinian pears, or anything from any other country. It's just that domestic production, even from as far away as California, tends to be fresher. Compared to the Tierra del Fuego, Fresno or Salinas is local.

Another reason why everything seemed fresher was that the market itself seemed fresher. A nice spring breeze after an early-morning rain can make almost anything seem dewy. However, there was something about that air that also brought out the sweetness in the scents of the grapes, the tart aroma of the strawberries and the pleasant pungentness of the basil. And I could practically taste the almost translucent sweetness of this year's first good corn.

What filled my nose seemed to go straight to the memory centers of my brain. Before I knew it, I was in those wonderful markets I used to find all over France and Italy when I was living in and travelling in those countries. Save for the middle of summer, most of the time it's not much warmer in much of France and northern Italy than it was late this morning--just under 70F. And there the morning sun often as not follows a predawn shower or precedes rain that passes through before noon.

If one must experience deja vu, one can do much worse than I did today!

These days, I feel that my senses are always alive in the way they were in my old life only when I was stimulated. It took something like a bike tour in a foreign country to bring that out in me. Now, it's as if my senses have no "off" switch. Much of the time, that's wonderful. But for someone like me who suffers migraines, sometimes it can also be a bit too much. At least today wasn't one of those times.

Well, at least I'm at an age when I am no longer shocked about finding out that my heroes were wrong. Arthur Rimbaud, who used to be one of my favorite poets (He's still worth reading for his sound, especially in the original, and his imagery, though his concerns can be a bit tedious.), wrote about the derangement du senses. I don't think that derangement is necessary; if you pay attention to your senses, you'll do just fine. If you want to sharpen them, there are all sorts of ways--including, of course, taking estrogen. But some of you guys may not want some of the other side-effects!

Tonight Dominick and I went to see The Soloist. Excellent acting, interesting story and engaging cinematography. I'm thinking of it as sort of an inversion of Les Miserables: Nathan Ayers and Jean Valjean both ran from their pasts, though for entirely different reasons. Valjean, of course, does so voluntarily after escaping from prison in Toulon; Ayers, in contrast, is driven out of Juillard and away from his family by the voices in his head that grow ever more insistent. He leaves what could have been a life of praise and reward for one of scorn and pity on the streets of Los Angeles; Valjean runs to Montrueil-sur-Mer, where nobody knows him, and becomes a very well-respected member of his community. He even manages to become the Mayor. Inspector Javert pursues him across the miles and years and tries to make him "pay" for his long-ago crimes; reporter Steve Lopez wants to bring Ayers back to the life of promise he had as a young virtuoso.

In the end, the townspeople don't want to give Valjean up. And Ayers doesn't want to give himself up, if you will, to a life of concerts and possible celebrity. Both men want to live out their lives in their own versions of peace: Valjean in the community that he has adopted as it has adopted him, and Ayers with nothing but the music he so loves.

Finally, both Javert and Lopez arrive at impasses: The former realizes that he can neither arrest Valjean nor allow him to go free, for after saving people's lives, he is, as Javert realizes, a much more complex man than the criminal the inspector always assumed him to be. And Lopez is frustrated by the fact that in the end, he cannot transform Ayers into someone who would be at home with the artistic directors and conductors of the world's great opera houses and troupes. Javert deals with his dilemma by tossing himself off the Pont au Change into the Seine; Lopez can only console himself with the fact that he helped Ayers to get off the streets and into an apartment and arranged for his long-lost sister to meet him.

All right. You didn't come to this blog for some two-bit comparisons and analysis, did you? I'm going to stop. I'm tired, anyway. At least I'm going to bed after having my senses awakened and seeing Dominick and an excellent movie. Things could definitely be a whole lot worse.

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