Halcyon Days (the privilege of down time)
I am still here on the Isle of Lucy (Lesbos that is). Today the weather was wondrous. These days of faux spring come regularly to Greece in January or February. They call them the “Meres Halkionides” the origin of the English word halcyon . This word, introduced to the language by Bill Shakespeare, is defined as “Idyllically calm and peaceful; suggesting happy tranquillity”. Forsooth. Ain’t it the truth?
(Halcyon refers to the kingfisher bird of greek classical legend who would nest on the waters after they were calmed by the gods for a period of two weeks each year during winter.) I am on my own here as Athena and my son are now in Athens. This is the first time in quite a while that your working boy has had a place to himself. This is also the first time for some while that I have desired solitude in which to work and think.
Someone said (it was Joni Mitchell) that as artists, it is our privilege and our duty to have intervals of “down time” between major periods of work. During these times one may plunge into the psyche like a pearl diver and bring up objects from the bottom. There is the luxury to wash off the slime and sludge and see if the takings of the day are pearls or swine.
With this in mind, it was my duty as an artist to drive out to an area of scenic delight and soak in the resplendence of the sights. I went out to a flatland surrounded by mountains overlooking a bay of such astral magnificence that I often find myself exclaiming the highest accolade an American can bestow upon any given situation. “Wow!” I will say.
My mind is positively buzzing with strange little ideas. Perhaps this is due to the vats of caffeine-rich diet coke I guzzle daily. Perhaps it is a sign that the winter arc of my polar orbit is ending and I am about to scale the dizzy heights of the annual spring mood swing.
My Dad’s Roadster
Apropos of pretty much nothing, I found myself remembering a story about my father, Blaine Morton Reininger as I piloted Athena’s old Honda Civic through the celestial radiance of this day. I was brushing cigarette ashes off of my “cashmere” jacket when it Prousted itself into view.
Ol’ Mort, black sheep of the family, had been obliged by The Great Depression of the thirties to find employment wherever it could be found. Sometimes he scored, more often he went hungry. Like his son, when he came into some money he would generally celebrate his new-found prosperity by spending it as soon as possible.
On this particular occasion, Mort had happened onto a good thing. He had some change in his overalls. He ran right out and bought a new Stutz Bearcat Roadster (a snazzy vehicle of the time) and a camel’s hair coat. He, like me today, was out feeling his oats on a mountain road, puffing one of his perpetual Camels. To his dismay, the burning coal of that cigarette fell off onto his reet new coat. As he tried desperately to save it from destruction, he forget about the Stutz for a minute and went over the side of that steep road.
As he hung there over the cliff, he was forced to decide between staying in his ride or dying. Ever-sensible Mort leapt out of the doomed vehicle and stood there in his charred camel’s hair coat watching the Stutz plummet down the cliff. Ol’ Dad was left sans coat, sans car, sans everything.
What is the moral of this story? There isn’t one. I just wanted to tell a tale of my Father now that I have become one myself. The other day, holding little Ian I realized with a start that I had become Mort. I was the spittin’ image of my dad from the cigarette to the glasses to my stubborn tendency to be tall. Like him, I have gone salt and pepper in the hair, like him I have a head of hair that could double as a toilet brush.
Identity is like the waves and ripples in my faithful Indian companion the wobbly blue sea. Things take on a certain form for a time, then transmute into something else. The fact of the sea remains, but its features are in continual flux.
If I am become Mort today, tomorrow I will be someone else. Privileged as I am to behold the sea every day, I am often struck with just what a wonderful metaphor it is and for how many things. Would we have decided that energy and the very fabric of reality moves in waves were there no sea for us to use as a model?
Sogyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, a book which sustained me during the darkest days of grief over the loss of JJ also compared identity to waves in the sea. If the atoms and smaller particles contained in that wave are attached to being there, they are in for a pretty sorry awakening. In any case, a wave is only a manifestation of a force moving through the water. No one set of particles can ever be said to be the wave in question. In the same manner as that wave moves over its matrix, the sea, our personalities move through existence, propelled along by the force of will until we coalesce back into the cosmic background noise.
Such are the thoughts that this noble Aegean , formerly sailed by Argonauts and Atreides family members, inspires in old Guido. And over there across the water is Turkey, where once was Troy. Perhaps there is some cosmic symmetry in the fact that ersatz Agamemnon now hangs in sight of his old stompin’ grounds. Perhaps not.
Non linear note on the Euro.
As things seem to be shaping up, one of the major pains with this coinage is how tiny and fiddly it is. The one cent coin is the size of an aspirin and the others are little better. Everyone in Greece has bought one of the handy dandy Euro conversion calculators such that prices listed in drachmas end up being silly Euro amounts like 1.73. In view of this fact, there was a run on change purses the day after the new coinage hit the streets. A coin purse was not to be had for love nor money on this island. I went to the same shop 5 days running, only to be told that they were coming in on the boat from Athens “Avrio”. Domani, tomorrow.
In keeping with enlightened modern free market practices the streets are now full of gypsies peddling Chinese coin purses. I saw one erstwhile couple in front of the bank selling them from a cardboard box. Then the cops came and they hotfooted it outta there, stuffing the box into a gym bag and ducking into a doorway. Cops left, they re-appeared.
There is a clandestine nod nod wink wink trade in drachmas still going on. Shopkeepers keep drachmas under the counter and keep two tills going. I have yet to travel with this money. How strange to avoid the necessity of changing money. How many times was I stuck in a train station with a fortune of unuseable money in my pocket after hours without the wherewithal to buy a cup of coffee, make a phone call, take a taxi. How many times did I whip the driver of the van onwards coming back from a gig, trying to make it to the bureau de change at the Belgian frontier so that JJ and I could eat when we got home. Now these stories will just bore my son a few years down the line. “Son, in my day you had to show your passport when you went to france. Then you had to buy different money. The people spoke a DIFFERENT LANGUAGE. That’s right, almost no one spoke English!”
“Dad, take your medicine. Here’s your virching glasses. Good Night. Keep your hands off the nurses’ butts. They’ve been complaining again.”