Sunday morning cafe

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I get lost in words — on the page, spoken by others around me, the new ones that swirl with the old ones in my head.

Smells, sweet and savory, waft in my direction and then move swiftly away.

The occasional eye contact with a stranger; reading someone’s lips while pretending to listen intently to whatever is(n’t) streaming through my silent headphones; the random utterance or facial gesture that reminds me of my grandmother (she would’ve turned 90 yesterday).

Über concentrated forms of distraction.

Incarnations of bread and water.

Avoiding people/dogs while acting like I’m not bothered by (scared of) them.

Mind wandering, thoughts out of nowhere; a long standing dilemma eases naturally as if the answer was present all along; at peace with where I am.

This must be what church is like.

Slip and fall

 

The almost-gash on my leg, just below my knee, refuses to bleed. The indentation, the size of a large staple, taunts me as if it is daring me to take a closer look, knowing full well that the sight of actual blood would induce swooning. So instead, the capillaries along the two-inch abrasion scream silently, the bright maroon from a few hours ago now settling into a brownish wine color. Another, smaller patch of this strange hue sits just millimeters below.

It’s not the pain or the embarrassment that lingers after a fall. No, it’s the split second between realizing you’re about to fall and the moment you begin your descent. The heart, perhaps out of self-preservation, holds its breath. We’re falling, it says, steadying itself before bracing for impact. It’s that instant that reoccurs, the memory of the moment just prior to losing all control that leaves the most indelible mark on the mind and in the body. It’s a recognition of fear about which we can do nothing but succumb. Powerless.

Let me go back a few hours, back before I had cause to wonder how early my doctor would be able to see me Monday morning.

Friday, the 23rd, the day after American Thanksgiving. To the internet and consumerist world, it is Black Friday. For me and three others with whom I passed the time this afternoon, it was a respite from the busy-ness of ordinarily hectic and over-scheduled days. All of us educators and researchers; three of us faculty at universities and the fourth a junior high teacher; all of us, despite our geographic distance, are ever in conversation with one another.

I snapped the second plastic buckle into place and adjusted my scarf before swinging the bag over left shoulder. What I was wearing as a scarf was a large, rectangular, thick cut of green wool that my grandmother had used as a shawl. Along the edges thread has been woven back and forth to resemble the shape of flowers or something else in the flora family. Folded lengthwise, I could wrap it around my neck a few times or, as I was wearing it this time, I often left one end hanging low in front of me and flung the other end across the opposite shoulder. As I started walking toward the door, I was filled with a soothing bliss, a flashing remembrance of the last several hours spent in the company of friends and colleagues with whom I had attended graduate school, with whom I enjoy talking and thinking about and imagining new questions and ideas that arise from our intersecting threads of inquiry.

We sat in the corner, occupying two small tables that on one side offered seating in the form of a curved cushioned bench with a tall, arched back covered in dark fabric, and on the other side could accommodate chairs. I had noticed the clusters of food scraps that rose up from the dark, vinyl floor like mini-landfills here and there, but, other than making a mental note to avoid them I hadn’t paid them much mind. During the course of the afternoon spent at the cafe where I once was employed for 36 hours, and to whose food preparers I almost completely handed over the responsibility of meal preparation during the year that I was writing my dissertation, I had successfully maneuvered my way to the counter to order a total of two cups of coffee and a scone. The service had been pleasant — not overly impressive given my very simple order, but worth noting all the same.

My friend, who would be giving me a ride home, walked a few steps in front of me and I had no reason to think anything was out of the ordinary… and the next instant, I was gripping onto metal and plastic poles that had been set up to direct traffic to the salad station. Down I went, but not before gliding uncontrollably for what, in that instant, felt like an unending spell of torture — the ground mocking me as I struggled to maintain some semblance of an upright posture before recognizing that pain would be unavoidable.

Perhaps I should have stayed down for a few more seconds, but in that most powerless of moments, the only thing the body wants to do is return to normal. How bad can it be, you think, fully aware that your shock impulses have taken over. There is an inexplicable impulse  to smooth your hair, to dust the unbelievably filthy floor dirt from off of your jeans, and then, while all of this maneuvering is happening, a glimpse of crumbs on the floor. A patch of wet crumbs. The culprit. So harmless looking. A non-issue had the crumbs never been dropped, or had they been swept up in a more timely fashion.

And it was perhaps this latter point that brought the manager, who was working his very first shift, rushing outside while my friend and I waited for our ride. Was I ok? Was I sure? What was my name? First name? Last name? And my number? And my address? But I wasn’t comfortable sharing my address. Oh, well my supervising manager will ask me for it. My head was reeling, I wasn’t all quite there. Thankfully, my friend had the presence of mind to ask for the manager’s card, noting that I would get myself checked out and be in touch if necessary. The man shook my hand asking, Are you sure you’re ok? Do you promise?

My friend later told me that I had inadvertently used the magic words that no business wants to hear: Slip and fall. It was the simplest explanation. And yet, they carry with them the ominous promise of legal action. Litigious action was the furthest thing from my mind as I inspected my leg at the scene of the crime incident. A visible scrape, some swelling, the promise of an abrasion and no doubt a scar to come.

Our bodies carry stories. And now mine carries a reminder of one more.

it’s the people, stupid

While contemplating ways to turn my sabbatical into a full time gig, another thought has been slow to develop, awaiting, it seems, for the right combination of stop bath and fixer to come together for the image to render. The image, of course, is always there. In what form, to what degree of expression and saturation — that is anyone’s guess. I am referring to the line made famous during Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, attributed to “ragin’ Cajun” James Carville, has all the simplicity of a Rubik’s Cube waiting to be restored to color-coded order: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

The intended audience for this linguistic artifact of Carville’s arsenal of distinct wordplay was the crop of Clinton campaign workers, but quickly spread and became a catalytic force in the election that shifted voters’ attention toward the early 90s recession and away from the then-current administration’s efforts in the Persian Gulf. A cynic might only see the self-serving nature of this tactic, and certainly such an assessment is not without merit, but it may be equally valid to suggest that this redirection impacted perception as well as interpretation; experience is never unmediated, memories are always colored with the filters of perception.

In my recent travels, therefore, it is telling that the moments of greatest significance have been people, a realization that brings into stark relief that what I miss is tempered by what awaits:

strolling with and without purpose,
a conversation, or many all at once, making short work
of twenty blocks or a few turns around the reservoir,
pausing to mark the path the cherry blossoms make their own
each spring, leaving traces of cotton candy pink on the ground, year round.

the latest adventures of dancing girl and the urban cartographer,
that put petulant antics of impossible characters in perspective.
hesitation, then slow blooming exhilaration on faces, young and younger,
in leaps and laughter.

oh, the laughter… infectious, soothing, a salve for the senses
that blister too swiftly without apt balm,
the space of rumination and silliness*, a most wonderful distraction**
found(ed) in the comfort of friends.

New York and Philadelphia are both gritty cities, that’s true, but the grit, too, has purpose, story, context; and occasionally, the grittiness recedes long enough for the rest of the image to come through. Readjustment from sabbatical back into the awaiting semester — this return from leave, which a follower of a follower on twitter described as “landing” — fills me alternatively with dread and anticipation. The invitation to see the familiar anew, however, has the potential to serve as a parachute to soften the landing. Knowing when to pull the handle to deploy the chute in time can be tricky when you’re flying through the air. New toys and old friends can help.

Part of the seeing, again, collection:

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

20120725_095132

 

 

…so many previously overlooked or unrecognized corners teeming with stories if someone is willing to ask; conversations yet to be had; words to be written and read; ingredients awaiting a turn in the skilllet or chopping block; battles to be fought for the purposes of larger goals; goals to reconsider.

Yes, perhaps returning won’t be so bad after all…

 

*and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll click on silliness above… may cause giggling, so put your headphones on.
* wherein distractions are, of course, the very stuff of life. click and read the longer post by a kindred ruminator, another interweb stumble-upon.

must do lists

We all have them, must do lists that we enact even if we aren’t aware of them. That list of things we do to acclimate ourselves in new surroundings. For some, it’s connecting with friends and family, for others it’s seeking out and dining in local restaurants. Apparently these are mine:

– cafes and coffee shops, scouting and frequenting, for writing and people watching in

– grocery store comparative ethnography, which yes, involves registering for a points accrual card

– walking, aimlessly and with purpose — the purpose being to achieve enough of a sense of directionality that any point I know where I am on the imaginary map in my mind. For HP fans, yes it’s my own version of the marauder map and I am the moving dot.

– book stores, for book viewing, greeting card purchasing, conversation having – libraries, not just visiting but signing up for a membership card

– public transportation, for riding to rest my weary feet when I’ve walked too far, and for those accidental encounters like the one last night when an enchanting 4 or 5 year old girl, telling jokes replete with utterly beguiling British inflections, was tugging at my dress and tickling me by the end of our 10-stop-long ride together, much to the embarrassment of her French father. For my part, wary of not wanting to encourage small children’s interactions with strangers, kept my distance but could not help but laugh along at her endless string of “guess why” jokes. In a similar scenario that took place a few years ago in New Orleans, another girl around the same age struck up a conversation with me, en francais, on a hotel elevator and by the end of the 33-floor ride, was inviting me to accompany her and her father on their afternoon visit to the zoo.

And of course, starting to talk like the locals. I can’t really help it if I start my interactions with a friendly Hiya, now can I?

teenage wasteland

the song comes on overhead, here at fleet river bakery where the early-morning rush has given way to a mid-morning buzz, and i am instantly transported to the many other times i’ve heard and been consumed by this song. getting lost in the drum solo, more than a few turns at air-guitar and air-violin, and channeling my inner roger daltrey when no one was looking. what were the circumstances that brought pete townshend to write this song. sure, wikipedia speculates and the artists themselves offer memories. but what was it like when that final riff was played for the first time? and why has my adoration for it only deepened over time?

it’s over now. and i can’t wait to hear it again.

good wednesday morning.

a right rainy day

there’s a light rain falling here today. and by that i do mean that the droplets literally feel lighter, as if this is water of a lighter density falling from the skies above. not quite meant to evoke notions of heavy water reactors and radiation, but more on the order of water that is taking its time falling down, light as a feather with less velocity as if something is breaking its fall, but wet all the same.

i write this post from fix coffee on whitecross street, a fantastic pub-turned-coffee house that i found courtesy of this ingenious brainchild of website: letsmeetandwork.com. (plenty of london cafe/coffee shop listings and a few nyc listings, too. further evidence that there many of us out there: we who like to work in settings that are not too loud and not too quiet, where we are happy to make a purchase and not be freeloaders while still enjoying access to wifi and electricity without feeling like we must leave within minutes of arriving. fix is spacious with high ceilings, bulbs that hang straight down from thick metal wires, and a steady stream of guitar-heavy music is adding to the hum of the comfortably full room.

the walk here, via a quick information-gathering pitstop at the very fun-filled Barbican Centre, was filled with the quirkiness of an average Saturday:

— a boy of three or four runs in a purposeful zig zag pattern down a stretch of footpath and the wind fills his shirt and he is flying… for several seconds before his mother says loudly, but not quite in a shouting manner, “Kyle!” he freezes, pivots, and runs back at full speed into the open arms of his slightly older sister.

— balloons mark the entryway to the Good Fashion Show, going on today amidst other London Fashion Week events.

— walk past the Charles Dickens house-turned-museum, where he lived for a short time. too bad i didn’t walk by a few days ago when the prince and duchess were by for some cake

— spend several minutes at the Barbican, where i intended to stop to pick up some information about youth arts programs. there, in their fantastic little museum shop, i stumbled onto a neat collection of essays penned by william morris titled, “useful work versus useless toil.” in just the opening lines of the titular essay, the first of four in this slim volume, he raises the question of what work is desirable and who gets to cast work in what light. these opening pages are reminiscent of a discussion about work and labor that is found in the pages of lefebvre’s “the production of space” in which he writes, “Whereas a work has something irreplaceable and unique about it, a product can be reproduced exactly, and is in fact the result of repetitive acts and gestures.” much to ponder…

— another happy, albeit digital, discovery: the newly released letters between robert and elizabeth barrett browning. thank you wellesley college and baylor university! all of the letters, taking up over 100 gigabytes of hard drive space, have been archived and transcribed, and especially fantastic are the scanned images of the handwritten missives between these authors, friends and lovers.

and, now a few pics from other walks this week (and the end of words for a bit). more on flickr.

Morning run

Whitehall Court

Follow me

Temple Church

Deco art