Monday, January 22, 2007

Bonne continuation...holding on to the thread

Friday we grabbed the kids at noon. Notice Colm resplendent as the le petit roi ... his class celebrated the fete du roi, epiphany sunday... a religious holiday non?... all is forgiven if you bring a galette to class. We loaded princess Tess and his Majesty and split for La Rochelle.
We drove north along the coast to Point de Grave where we caught the ferry. Beth fixed a tailgate lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. On the ferry Colm drew many smiles from mothers and grandmothers who saw his crown and greeted him, "Bonjour Monsieur le Roi!"
Colm, like all true monarchs was blissfully oblivious of their fawning overtures. What he most wanted to do was practice walking like a drunken sailor as the boated swayed back and forth... the boat's movements put me in mind of a campfire group hug rendition of kumbaya...then it began to make me feel nauseous, not exactly mutually exclusive associations.
My sea legs are so pathetic...had I lived in the days of the great sea migrations, I'm sure I would have wasted away to nothing, if by some miracle I hadn't simply fainted and fallen overboard beforehand.
We landed at Royan and then drove on to Rochefort and finally the old port city of La Rochelle. It is picturesque, of course. We don't take as many pictures of this sort as we used to ... picturesque becomes a bit commonplace here in the Old World.
The port is guarded by three towers. The old arched door to the city now leads to a pedestrian zone predictably charming and catering to shoppers and gourmands. It is said that one can eat out every night of the year in La Rochelle and not visit the same restaurant twice. Another boast I'll simply have to take on faith.

But the attraction here for us...the aquarium. We got a hotel about a five minute walk from there and we ate dinner out of our cooler.
The aquarium did not disappoint. It is almost but not quite on a par with the one in Newport which simply means that is it is quite good in its own right thank you very much. Colm and Tess had free reign to wander and stick their noses right up close to myriad varieties of fish. They loved it and they want to go back. We had the place largely to ourselves, another bonus for travelling in January.

We got home Saturday evening and unfortunately by Sunday morning both Beth and Colm were sick. Tess and I took care of them... Tess really responded to the call to care for her mother and brother. It's sweet to see the bonds of sisterly affection displace those more quotidian displays of rivalry and one-ups-manship that seem to entangle the two of them. Sunday morning, Tess reminded us not to make too much noise so that Colm could get his rest.

Colm was a little whipped puppy all day. He simply curled up and sniffled, occasionally grabbing a kleenex to blow his nose, His eyes sunk deep into his head, his forehead got very warm (fever of 102). All he wanted was to be read to, so I sped "read" to him in English from a French version of Zoro, (he and Tess have adopted Z as their new favorite letter, they make it with the proper Zoro sound effects). After Zoro, I found myself trapped on the couch under a feverish lumpy boy, Beth was trying to get a nap, Tess was silently turning pages in her room, the only thing I could reach with my free hand was... Harry Potter.
Confession: I have not read any of the Harry Potter books. (I am pausing for the gasps to subside) I can only say that I've not been bitten by the Potter bug and that the movies have done nothing to arouse my interest. Last summer while watching the kids at Riverside Park I made the casual acquaintance of another father there to whom, in the course of conversation, I offhandedly disclosed that I had not read a single one of the Potter books. He looked at me first with incredulity and then with an expression akin to alarm. "And you're an English teacher?" he said.

And so I read about the "boy who lived" to my own ailing boy. Beth's eyes tear up almost instantly at the mere mention of this phrase so pregnant is it for her with not only the entire painful Potter family history but also with her own (our own, I might say) twin intimations of inexpressible delight and inevitable mortality. Beth is a human tuning fork, she registers keenly and exquisitely the perturbations of life. Becoming a mother has only amplified this capacity.
The decision to become a parent (it can't always be a choice but it needs to be a decision) is so invested with hope; even if it is unexpressed, it is there, nonetheless, implicit. And hope is a garment we wear until it is threadbare, we then seek to mend it, hoping to pass it (if nothing else) on to our children so that they will not be unprotected from the elemental forces of life. Long after we cease to hope for ouselves, we hope for our children and by extension, for others.
Many of the French we've met this year upon learning of our exchange have used a particular phrase when taking their leave. They say to us, "Bonne continuation." I like it. It puts me in mind of the thread of life that runs both forward and backward through time, perhaps even tangled and folded and knotted, but always unbroken...that is the hope anyway...bonne continuation, may it continue unbroken, passed on from hand to hand, so that we can find our way...our way back to each other, back home, even as we inch onward.

The joy that seems transcendent but which we fear is merely transitory are for me most keenly voiced in the poetry of writers like Yeats, Auden, and Dylan Thomas and Wordsworth. Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a novel that fingers the same tightly wound heart strings. When I hear or remember certain lines like Roethke's "who stops being a bird yet still beats his wings against the immense immeasurable emptiness of things" or Thomas "time would take me up the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand in the moon that is always rising" I feel an ache. There is nothing for it sometimes but to surrender to that ache and let it resonate in the air, a song, sad and sweet, tearful perhaps but a song nonetheless. The thing is only a part of what happens to us when we are ambushed by a book or a song or a film has to do with the intrinsic artistic qualities of the work in question. The other part is of course us - our disposition, which is to say, our particular point of vulnerability. When we are ready to laugh or cry we don't need much in the way of prodding, we need only to be touched where we can feel it... so it is "the boy who lived" finds its mark.

Everyday just about, quietly, surreptitiously, I watch my daughter and my son as they play, alone and together. It's funny how I favor the word "play" to some form of the verb "to be". They seem endlessly committed (though not consciously) to a series of provisional role playing games, as if they already understand that a single lifetime is barely enough time to, by trial and error, sort out what will feel right and what just won't play at all. I am reminded that I too was once like they are now, and that one day they will "be" as I "am". But that kind of reasoning is merely syllogistic; it brings me nowhere; I feel no illumination. I am closer to them than to anyone else on earth and yet the chasm separating us sometimes seems infinitely wide. As wide as the one which prevents me from really remembering who I used to be. Who are you Tess? Who are you Colm? I find myself wondering with equal parts awe and amusement. I think I'll let William Stafford have the final word and rescue this meandering post, if that's possible.

A Story That Could Be True

If you were exchanged in the cradle and
your real mother died
without ever telling the story
then no on knows your name,
and somewhere in the world
your father is lost and needs you
but you are far away.

He can never find
how true you are, how ready.
When the great wind comes
and the robberies of the rain
you stand in the corner shivering.
The people who go by-
you wonder at their calm.

They miss the whisper that runs
any day in your mind,
"Who are you really, wanderer?"-
and the answer you have to give
no matter how dark and cold
the world around you is:
"Maybe I'm a king."

-William Stafford


Anonymous cjones said...

DEEP --- but good. Especially about the garment hope and the exsistential ache!

11:17 AM  
Blogger kc said...

in honor of epiphanies I probably should have posted a haiku or something...oh well...what I lack in blinding insight I try to compensate for with numbing verbage.

11:45 AM  
Anonymous cjones said...

In September on Cycle Oregon, I learned that our second-day lunch stop, Ukiah, was haiku spelled bacwards.

Later, gator

11:14 PM  
Anonymous erin said...

Dad, you definately "are".

2:22 AM  

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