30 May 2009

A Journey and a Language

A quiet day today. I slept until almost 1:00 this afternoon; I can't remember the last time I did that when I wasn't jet-lagged. And I'm starting to feel sleepy again. I don't think I'm coming down with anything, and I don't think I'm falling into the kind of depression my father has experienced--or any depression at all.

I didn't do anything earth-shaking: Took a skirt to the dry-cleaner, mailed a package and shopped in the weekly farmer's market on Roosevelt Island. I was rather surprised that they were still there when I arrived: they normally run out of most of their produce fairly early in the afternoon. They still had some mushrooms: the best I've found in this area. However, they'd run out of cherries. Victor, one of the men who runs it, expressed the disappointment I was feeling. However, he offered some consolation: Although the cherries were at least as good as they were last week, they're still not locally-grown: Those won't come in for another couple of weeks, at least. Still, I was a bit disappointed: Cherries are one fruit I very much look forward to finding and eating late every spring and early every summer. In January, there are cherries and other fruits from South America. They're perfectly good, just not as fresh as the domestic produce.

So, today was a warm, sunny day on which I didn't go for a bike ride. (Well, I rode to the dry cleaner and the market, but that doesn't count.) At one time that would have infuriated me; woe would betide whoever asked me to spend such a day with him or her rather than in the saddle. What woe would betide them? They'd have to put up with me, in the kind of mood into which I'd sink.

Yesterday, through the graduation ceremony and the reception that followed, this image played through my mind: That I had been looking at a map that showed roads that led to the ocean, and I was nearing the end of one of those roads. I have been on more than a few trips in which the destination was the sea, including one in which I landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport and my only itinerary was to ride my bike to the ocean. After about a week and a half of pedalling through some lovely countryside and stopping in various chateaux, musees and pretty towns and provincial capitals--and a bend in the Garonne river, where it begins to open itself toward the sea--I arrived at the duned shores near Bordeaux.

I remember that particular bend, not only because it's a lovely place, but also for an older couple I met there. They had to be one of the most contented pairs I've ever encountred. I imagined that they had been living near that bend all of their lives, mainly because I could not imagine them in any other place. Why? I had arrived late in the afternoon or early in the evening, depending on how you keep (or spend) time. We talked a little; they were fascinated that someone from the other side of the ocean would come to their part of the world to ride a bicycle. And said etrangere could speak French reasonably well! If I recall correctly, they spoke no language other than their own. And, really, it was all they would need: what they knew about that place really couldn't have been described in any other way.

As we talked, the man nudged me: Voir! Voir! He pointed to the water: What looked like an oceanic tide rushed toward the bank where we stood. Deux fois chaque jour, his wife explained: Twice a day, the tide comes in to their bend in the river, about 20 miles inland from the sea.

That's the sort of thing the tour books don't mention. And it's one of those things you can only find on a journey to the ocean, precisely because there is no way to predict that you will find such a thing.

I don't know why I was thinking about all of that during the graduation and reception. I guess those new graduates were arriving at the ocean, a seemingly infinite and chimeric expanse stretching before them: one that is familiar yet almost never understood in its own voice, which can only be understood, much less mastered, through intimate experience with it. Schooling has given students the means for making maps and boats, if you will. But, as necessary as they are, they are the phrases that allow approach and entry; really learning about the sea requires living with it.

You might be say I am also describing my own situation, as my surgery date nears. I know why I am undergoing the surgery and I have visions of what I want my life to be like afterward. However, I also know that there's so much before me that I don't and can't know; I think I might be speaking, in effect, a different language once I get there.

When you understand something in its own language, you change. I wonder how I will change.