Metropolitan Homesick Blues

Southampton Stories & Other Stuff

Posts Tagged ‘life

NORWAY AND SORROW’S END

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The Spitsbergen’s thrusters whine into full power and gently push us away from the dock. In mid-harbour the helmsman takes advantage of the ship’s momentum and deftly executes an arc that turns the bow towards the channel markers. The main engines take over and we move, dead-slow, to the waiting open water just beyond the towering, treeless granite mountains standing on each side of the harbour mouth. Angry crags of rock dark from cloud shadow are sucking what sunlight they can into their crevices before the dark night clouds roll in.

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With the sun sinking behind us we are outward bound. A certain sadness sails with us.

September 19 – 3:30. On a soft, sun-filled afternoon Alice left us. She hadn’t the strength to fight any longer. Alzheimer’s had robbed her of her mind. Now it wanted her spirit. We were with her. She knew because she held Norma’s hand tightly. It was one of those late September days that borders on autumn but is reluctant to cross over. You know this because you can see the light changing – loosing its softness – the colours becoming vivid and taking on a harder edge as the sun prepares for the oncoming fall.

She was days away from her 94th birthday. We were days away from our trip to Norway.

 There was little time to grieve. Just time enough for us to stop in our tracks and think about what just happened. Time enough for arrangements and lawyers and wills and settlements and a multitude of phone calls and of course, packing and travel needs. In the midst of it all we realized that we would have to pack our sorrow and take it with us as we sailed the coast of Norway.

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There is nothing as exasperating as travel to take your mind off everything else. Caught in the computer labyrinth of check-in and customs. The lateness of flight departures. The guaranteed jet lag. The stress of tight transfer timelines. The unknown of arriving sleep deprived in an unfamiliar country. Some would say this is the down side of travel; taking yourself out of your comfort zone – trying to create a new “now” even though it is only temporary but must be mastered, quickly. Lawrence Durrell in “Bitter Lemons” described it well: “Journeys…A 1000 different circumstances contribute to them, few of them willed or determined by the will – whatever we may think.”

A new level of determination is needed because it is ‘travel’ – a personal challenge – a unfamiliar situation where you willingly place yourself – where the puzzle of logistics – the unfamiliar of an unknown place – the solving of ‘the way’ is your task. Maps, guidebooks, Internet recommendations don’t accurately deal with the new reality of location, language and customs. Hauling belongings. Running for trains. Searching for streets with unpronounceable names. Fighting fatigue. Lost in the din of strange words. Your best currency is your wit and your intelligence.

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When I was young. When I was dreaming dreams of traveling the world, I dreamt of sailing to strange places on a tramp steamer or a cargo ship crewed by misfits and lost souls running from their past – escaping from themselves. We would put-in to strange ports, drink rum in some noisy quayside bar, off-load cargo then sail on to repeat the same process in yet another port many nautical miles away.

I read stories of people who left their lives behind or vacationed recklessly as passengers on a rusty, creaky ship for months at a time seeking solitude, anonymity and the peace of just being themselves without the bother of having to be a tourist. This trip would be something like that only more civilized.

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The Spitsbergen is a supply ship for 200 travelers that stops in small ports up the coast of Norway, past the Arctic Circle turning at the Russian Border and heading back down again…a working ship with cruise ship amenities, but none of the luxury liner nonsense. It would be twelve days on the Norwegian Sea, time enough to move through the silent sorrow that was traveling with us.

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Lights creep towards us. As they come closer, they flash revealing a bigger ship approaching. Our bridge lights come full on. A blast from our ship’s horn startles us. Now the bridge lights of both vessels illuminate the darkness. Spitsbergen’s sister ship rushes past lights flashing as if waving. We rock with its wake. With engines full now we race ahead into the night of dark water.

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It was on this day that I learned of Henry’s passing. Henry had been a close friend since grade school. The loss of a childhood friend brings on a completely different feeling of grief than that of the loss of a family member. What is taken from you is a close relationship forged independently of family prerequisites. It is something deeply personal. A friendship founded on a sharing of intimate life-moments and experiences that infused your personality and contributed to your independence. And this independence let you leave your family; so to speak, so that you could become the individual you are now…the individual that only your friends would understand because they were there most steps of the way. Henry was one of those friends. But, like Alice, he left. And now we are sailing with the memory of them both.

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As we sailed this rugged, rocky mystic coast with its cliffs, crags, snow-capped mountains, mist, fog and fiords – this shrouded landscape with steep scree strewn slopes that slide straight into the Norwegian sea – where rain clouds chased the light until they both blended into a kaleidoscope of colours – where stars dominate the night skies and the aurorae dance to the unheard music of the universe – we realized this is the perfect place for remembrance:

 But if the while I think on thee, dear friend, All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.

Shakespeare, Sonnet 30

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On a cold rainy overcast day, in an old wooden Sami church in Trumso, we lit a candle for Alice and a candle for Henry. And then we got on with our journey.

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Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

November 13, 2016 at 3:13 PM

NO EASY TIME

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In this sweet and sad life things never go the way you want them to. Plans and aspirations often take a road least expected and a change in direction often leads to the unexpected. This is the ying and yang of life – the light and dark – the good and not so good.

You could say these are trite thoughts, more of those interminable clichés so prevalent in today’s social media. But, they are truths so real, so prevalent that their reality can be a drain on your dreams.

Alice probably never thought of her life this way. I imagine she simply wanted to endure her simple existence and survive as best as possible. We found evidence of that in a battered old cream-coloured ‘valise’. (Valise was the word she used for her small suitcase.) Family photos, post cards, trinkets, treasures, legion flags, remnants and reminders of the war sent to her by her husband – all those things she held dear but had now forgotten were in there. The significant signposts of her life we found in a square gun-metal-grey lockbox. She didn’t know where the key was at first but she knew that her important papers and documents were safe and secure even though they were long past any relevance or use to her today. This is where she kept her past – her memories.

They are remnants of a life lived and loved ones lost. Today those moments come and go, each one struggling for a place of prominence in her mind. Recollections of her young life come rushing through intruding unexpectedly, transforming the past into the present and the present into confusion.

Still, this is Alzheimer’s and we must deal with it. It is hard to understand why but as Virginia Wolfe wrote in Mrs. Dalloway, ‘What does the brain matter compared to the heart.’

NormanAliceNorman and Alice

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

January 8, 2013 at 3:09 PM

Baking Biscotti & The Path to Enlightenment

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I never imagined that I would one day become a baker of biscotti. But, here I am, well into my leisure years, contemplating recipes, the merits of flour (whole wheat, preshifted, unbleached or enriched), whole or slivered almonds and the wisdom of adding brandy when it isn’t called for, among other things. As I was to learn through trial and error – all of it is important to one degree or another.

It is a process that soothes your mind. As is the Zen of prep, the organization of ingredients, the creative measurement of amounts, whether the butter and sugar blend properly and the dough is worked (not overworked) just so. One, over time, develops a personal touch for all of this. The process becomes part of you. One learns not to ignore past mistakes. The mistakes become markers along the way. And the way leads to enlightenment.

Sound a little much? Perhaps so. Still, if you consider baking biscotti an exercise in relaxation, a short continuum in which the cares of the world and your everyday life are sublimated to a simple purpose, then perhaps not. After all, ingredients never come together exactly the same every time. There is always a minute variance. So consider the concentration required, the attention needed to make sure your biscotti don’t burn because you can’t trust your oven. In the second baking, you are forced to focus on timing because you want just the right amount of toasting on either side.

There is karma in the baking of biscotti. You alone are responsible for their success or failure. It is the sum of your feelings brought to bear in the baking of a simple biscuit. A time when you taste again all that is simple in life.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

February 20, 2010 at 8:40 PM