17 July 2010

A Dream In Sunset Park

I am going to make the most audacious claim you'll hear for a while.

I am going to show you a photo of a dream:

Here's another photo of that same dream:

Believe it or not, the place in the photo looked more or less as you see it back around 1961.  Yes, it's a place I'd actually been to before today.  This is how I got there today:

OK, so now you know I'm not in some exotic foreign land.  To give you an idea of where I am, here's another shot.

Those of you who are familiar with Brooklyn, NY--or part of it, anyway--now know where I am.  It's Sunset Park, which is on a hill surrounded by the eponymous neighborhood. 

Save for the views, not many people would call it their "dream" park.  But it has become mine, through no choice of my own.

I don't make any great effort to remember my dreams.  Some of them just happen to stick with me, for whatever reasons.  But I know that I have had more than a few dreams in Sunset Park, or some place that looks very much like it.  

One of those dreams came during my first night in France.  That day, I took the boat from Dover to Calais.   After I'd gone through French customs, I went to a bar.  In those days, Calais was fairly gritty and, being a seaport town, full of sailors, dockworkers and such:  the very kinds of people who were in the bar.  

Every one of them was even more inebriated than I would become.  Given the sort of person I was then--at age twenty-one--that's saying quite a bit.  However, I'm not sure if the libations were lubricating their tongues and making them start conversations with me.  

I wasn't worried about them.  I was, however, worried about this:  The only word I understood of what they were saying was "miss-shyure."  Did I not work hard enough in my French classes?  Was I taught a dialect they didn't speak?  

Anyway, we all got laughs at each other's expense and I managed to ride to Boulogne-sur-mer.   It wasn't very far, but the town had a hostel listed in the Hosteling International guide.  It was clean and relatively quiet.  At least, it was quiet enough for me to fall asleep not long after I had supper.  Or maybe the alcohol had something to do with it--or the dream I would have in Sunset Park.

My grandmother was in that dream.  I spent a lot of time with her and my grandfather when my mother had to go to work. My grandparents lived not far from the park and, very early in my childhood, they used to take me to it.  In those days, it had a garden in the middle of it.  Of course, in my memory, it's one of the most beautiful gardens in the history or horticulture--or, at least, one of the most beautiful gardens I've ever seen.  So is the view I've shown, which--as I've said--is much like the view I have in my memory.  

The following day after my first dream in that park, I cycled into a town called Montreuil-sur-mer.  It's a few kilometres inland from the English Channel, but a few centuries ago, before its harbor silted up,  it was right on the coast and was a fairly major port.  It's the town in which Jean Valjean of Les Miserables becomes one of  les bourgeois and serves as mayor--and where Inspector Jalabert tracks him down.

Nothing quite that dramatic happened to me.  (After all, we're talking about life, not fiction, here!)  However, I did come to a garden in the town that overlooked the sea and gave me a clear view--even on that overcast day--of the coast from which I'd sailed the day before.  And the grayness of the day did nothing to dampen the vibrancy of the colors in that garden:  there were sunrises, sunsets and dusks, and all of the seasons, in it even thought the sky wasn't expressing any of them.  Perhaps the view of the sea had something to do with that.  

Now, remember that I was twenty-one years old when I say what I'm going to say next:  That was the first time I cried during that trip.   At least, it's the first time I recall crying.

That evening, I got to a town called Abbeville and called my grandmother.  Somehow I knew she sounded better than she actually was.   And, without my asking or prompting, she talked about that park, and that we used to go to it.  "You loved to go there."

"Yes, I did.  I always loved going there with you and grandpa." 

"It seems like only yesterday that we used to go there."

I didn't tell her I had indeed been there the night before.