He leans against the wall outside the Prêt à Manger witting with his dog on the old Mexican blankets that look uniquely out of place on a cool London morning. He sips the now fetid coffee in its Styrofoam cup, its Burger King logo and temperature warning. His hair is long, mostly gray with streaks of white, his beard white with swaths of blond, he looks as though he just stepped down the plank of the great sailing ship, returned from a voyage save for his tattered, stained Manchester United sweatpants. I put 50p in his metal box against my better judgment and stroke behind the ears of the placid dog. “May you be many times praised” he sputters, through teeth stained tobacco brown, “for with more like you, Rufus here, and I shall later enjoy a fine repast. May Saint Dymphna be praised.” In the taxi to Paddington Station I wonder who my patron might be, if Jews only had Saints.
Tonight, when the sun has finally conceded the day to its distant but ever larger kin, the moon will again sing her ever waning song hoping we will join in a chorus we have so long forgotten, bound to the earth in body and in waxing thought.
We will stop and listen perhaps, over the din of the city, the traffic, the animals conversing with the sky, our thoughts, but the words will now be an alien language for which we have no dictionary, only the faint memory of the place from which both we and the moon share cosmic ancestry.
Ann Arbor a certain diffidence Butte born of three rum Collins Carmel the Gucci show windows Duluth darkened, foreboding Erie escalator rattle Fairbanks a sound coffin Grapevine grand piano Hilo the restaurant empty Ithaca seeking diners Jacksonville by the exit signs Kalamazoo conventioneers drool Lincoln and slobber Memphis over the ankh necklace Natchez girl cross legged Oakland engulfed in smoke Providence the ficus droops Rehoboth in the shade of the bar Salem laughter turning Toledo into controlled sobs Urbana highball glass slips Vidalia off the table edge Wausau and falls Xenia dropping slowly Yuma through the night Zanesville into sleep.
It is incredibly sad when all you have seen is Paris from a taxi hurtling toward the center of the city, because you are late for a meeting, and then your view out of the conference room window is another glass building which, if you lean your head far enough right gives you the reflection of the Eiffel Tower.
As the meeting drags on you realize you must pay attention as another taxi speeds you to the Charles DeGaulle airport Hilton for a dinner meeting and sleep before your 6 A.M. flight to Zurich, and you begin to think that Paris and New York arent all that different from the back seat of a taxi.
He liked nothing more than slipping out the back of the Ritz Carlton and heading down Nonhyeon-ro, more alley than street, past the small bulgogi restaurant, and winding his way to Gangnam-daero 106, finally arriving on the great avenue, Gangnam-daero. It was buzzing with life at all hours, but in the early evening the Virgin Megastore was quieter. He’d slip in, ignoring the rock blaring on the first floor, the insane K-Pop on two and finally, passing through classical, arriving at the international section tucked away in a third floor corner. He’d rummage for Celtic CDs, certain he’d find things he never could get at home, for while Korea was so greatly influenced by America, Virgin, a good U.K. company, brought its CDs from England and sold them at surprisingly low prices. A bit of the ould sod in Korea, and hey, kimchi was once green right?
It is the difference I always notice between small and large cities: the parks.
When you sit deeply within Boston Commons or Central Park you can feel the city always threatening to encroach and once again make you its prisoner, smell and hear the city, traffic and trucks rumbling, horns played in a cacophonous symphony.
In small cities you can sit in a park and wonder where downtown could be, distant, a whisper perhaps alwlays unseen, and you can get lost in dreams of childhood smell newly mown grass, and listen unimpeded to the stories the trees are all to willing to tell.
I would like to go back to the days when, after a fire reduced a commericial building to charred rubble, the onlookers and the gawkers wondered if it was an angry customer or employee, or sloppiness or poor maintenance.
Now, we watch as the fire marshals comb through the ashes and the rubble, looking not only for the source of the flames but also the accelerant, always wondering as we do just how the business was doing and if not well, did the owner at least pay up on his fire insurance.