Tuesday 22 February 2011

We'll always have Paris

Place or people? People or place?

I am going to disgust some of you today by revealing that it was only two days ago, in my life of thirty years, that I saw Casablanca. And before you scream at me, yes, I loved it. I loved the fact that I could already quote half the movie; that at those lines, I put my hands spread over my heart and gave a little yelp much to the amusement of Martín; that even something as vile as smoking seems quite beautiful if you're Humphrey Bogart; and that there is always a reason to move on.

It got me thinking about the choices in the movie, and the ones which were finally made. Rick chooses the perfect past, in the perfect place, rather than a non perfect future with the love of his life. Brave or stupid? Admirable or foolish? Stupidly admirable, perhaps.

I thought about the places in the world which meant something special because of the person I was with there. Did the love and passion grow because of the place, the person, or both? Would one have survived without the other?

I spent New Year 2005 in a small, lakeside town, overlooked by a beautiful volcano, in Chile. I had stayed on instead of continuing to travel because I had met a man on Christmas Day. While my fellow travellers moved on and explored Patagonia, I stayed in his house enjoying a carefree life of lake swimming, moon parties, dog walks along the beach, strawberries in bed and the buzz of instant attraction. My companions got further and further away and my heart got further and further involved. Nearly two weeks later, it was a wretch to leave, but I did.

And life/fate/curious circumstance took me back there almost a year later. Twice. The first trip back was a disaster: the water under the bridge in his life meant my return was not an extension of our romance from before. What, I had to ask myself, had I expected? I had to leave again anyway, and tried not to think about it. The second time, things had changed again, and we went straight back to the fun, passion and yearning we had found in each other some seventeen moths before.

At 5am he stood on the porch of a house in the middle of a field. It was pouring with rain. Huge puddles sat between me and the beeping taxi, its headlights reaching our feet, standing so close together as we said our goodbyes. His kiss said stay. Mine tried to reply I want to, but I can't.

And, sadly, I drove away, waving, blowing kisses at that man as he stood blowing kisses back in the first light of morning, alone in his boxer shorts. I packed up my un-slept-in tent in the rain and spent the day in a trance of What if?

Right person, right place, wrong moment? In the I miss you emails that followed, I would have liked to have thought so. But, no. Some months later there was another person, another place and another magic. And I had to leave again.

But now, in this moment, if my heart thinks back to those 'perfect' times: the sunshine, the love, the picturesque place, the trust, and I try to take any part of it away from there, I can't. That man belongs in that place at that time. I can't put him at my side in a supermarket in London, nor can I see him in a restaurant with me in Buenos Aires. He doesn't belong on a chairlift with me in France, nor on the beach in Hunstanton.

He is where he is for a reason. If we had taken it somewhere else it would not have been the same. And we would never, with wonderful feeling, be able to say right now, "We'll always have our Paris".

Friday 4 February 2011

Reading the rush hour

I've lived in London for six months now. For four months I have been one of the millions of people getting on the tube every morning and again in the evening after a day's graft. The first part of my journey, I squash on the train and spend four minutes shoulder to shoulder, bum to crotch, armpit to face with whoever's space I am forced to share. For the next part, I can usually get a seat after a stop or two and it slowly filters out as we while our way to Hammersmith. Legs out, paper spread.

This is if I pick up the paper in the morning. I'm not going to pick up my usual broadsheet read (the lunchtime online read is for this) but perhaps I'll pick up the Metro. I always feel positive when picking up this paper, perhaps because it's free, but then I start reading it, and I wonder what suicidal thoughts I must have had when I stooped down to get it. It's simply one of those papers where you can read the headlines and that is enough. Five words from each story and you've delved as far as you need to, trust me.

So, more often, I take my book. Not only does it whoosh the minutes past, but it gives me forty odd minutes a day to read it, if I can't find time at any other moment of the day. I enjoy reading immensely and get slightly worried and depressed if my bedside table has a book on it which needs to be wiped for its dust.

Of course, I am not alone in this endeavour. Millions of others bring their paperbacks, kindles and ipads on board. At first, I would be interested to see what and how people were reading. I put people into categories: The Reader Who Wants You To See What He's Reading (the book will be held high in someone else's airspace and has just got into the top three of the New York Times Bestseller List); The Try Anything Once Reader (usually struggling through something like Mein Kampf); The Social Reader (there is a picture of Richard and Judy on the cover somewhere); The Truly Dedicated To The Cause Reader (these are the ones who lug along huge hardbacks and proceed in the same way);The Immersed Reader (they miss their stops); The Trendy Reader (on their leather bound kindle).

Then, recently, I started taking this a bit further. I had forgotten my book, remembered to not pick up a paper and so was squashed up with no reading material. However, I soon realised I was surrounded by the stuff. Packed like sardines, I could still read the lines of those around me. So, I got a page of a thriller novel, a terrible write-up of a boxing match, and a paragraph on how negative thoughts can give us cancer. I stepped off that train enlightened, confused and happy.

Reading snippets from other people's books and papers is an interesting way to spend the commute. It also lets you read things you wouldn't normally 'be seen' to read, and come away with your reading reputation in tact. Snippets also let your imagination steer into other worlds. Not only do you wonder what has happened and what will happen after your two pages worth, but it also gets the mind pondering the reader. What are they thinking reading the same lines with their hindsight? Why did they choose it? It's a whole minefield of words and wonderings.

So, next time you're on the tube on a dreary winter's morning without your own reading material, despair not: simply while the journey away with whatever your fellow commuters have to hand. Your reactions and opinions to words you wouldn't normally have read will make you arrive refreshed and ready to start the day in a way you couldn't have otherwise imagined.