Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A New Day

Don't you believe it! How do you like the new pic? It's very controversial in some circles. Some of my readers (all five of you) think that it looks like on old doddering fool getting ready to drool. I like to think that it makes me look surprised, excited, and energized. You tell me what you think. I really, really want to know. And, in fact, this blog has a comment facility such that you can add your reasoned comments and intellectual critiques of my new pic! I'm looking forward to a rewarding and lively interchange of ideas.

So, it's been ages since I have added anything of any import to this blog. That isn't to say that I've been dead, or anything like that. And it doesn't imply, although you might think so, that I have a boring, insular, and somewhat pathetic life. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have talked with intellectual giants (well, I consider her a giant) since my last blog entry. I have eaten the nectar of ancient civilizations. I have been challenged by the real and theoretical artistic post-contemporary vision of modern Catalan art. Finally, I'm discovering a bridge to the gulf of a difficult past. There was life before Happy. And my post-apocalyptic view still remains intact, knowing that over the next 40 billion years, I'll be, well, Happy.

2011 has been the year of the Cosmic Road Trip. It started with a stint in Ft. Lauderdale with Ron, ramped up with a trip to the Pacific Northwest, recycled on a bicycle trip down the Great Allegheny Passage with Jerry and Rick, went full-throttle with a square dance convention, gay cruise and Catalonian vacation with Ron, and now will play out a trajectory of a visit to my sister, then off to Rexburg, Idaho to see my daughter and my newest grandchild and Moscow, Idaho to see my Mom, and I'll end it up with a weekend in York, Pennsylvania square dancing with Tim. But that travel is also insinuating its way into my life on Bucknell Terrace, too with some examining and rethinking. It starts out with butterflies beating their wings, but perhaps some real growth and change can result. In any case, my heart is full and very happy. I'm grateful for the experiences, and for being able to have a Cosmic Road Trip.

I may be Pollyana's stepbrother, but examining the context of the road trip would also reveal how profoundly moving this whole experience has been for me. I find myself turning over small (and large) parts of my life and looking at them from a different perspective. I feel alive, restless, scary, and awkward all at the same time. The road trip within has been dramatically shaped by the Cosmic Road Trip without. While I don't believe that I've seen this year anything that has been radically different than in other years, it seems to be facing me with a clarity, saturation, and brightness that I've not experienced before.

In 1976, I had a born-again experience. I woke up one morning, and the world had changed. It was the deepest experience of my life. I remember it like it happened yesterday. My life this year is approaching in its multiplicity the profundity of that moment in 1976. That's why I'm dancing. It's also why I'm writing these feelings down, before they fade and become shaped again by other events. I feel caught up in something greater than myself.

Traveling has the capacity to broaden horizons and change circumstances. I love being wide-eyed somewhere other than Wheaton (although I love Wheaton, too!). It was hilarious to be in Florida in February and hear a young, drunk, sexy-looking, blonde guy discourse on Floridiots. I've never been quite so entertained in a hot tub. It also cast a light on my own fears and prejudices about growing older (he would have called me ancient, but thankfully, the ambient light did not betray me), and about what it means to me to be gay. Oh, you bet, I do have a gay identity. And I wish they would send me the homo card to go with it. I'm definitely not a Floridiot, either, although I think I could enjoy becoming one.

April saw me zipping off to Seattle and Moscow. Moscow means Mom. It also means the University of Idaho, and it means hometown. My feelings about Moscow are mixed. Part of it is the distance I have put between me and my hometown. Part of it is that when I go there, I go there to visit my step-Mom, and not much else, except for at least one stroll on the University of Idaho campus, my Alma Mater, and a school deeply tied up with my adult life and career. I see in my Mom a woman growing very old, more infirm every time I visit. She's full of life, with a great laugh and sense of humor, and she knows that she's about walked to the end of the path. I'm ambivalent about her approaching death. I'm grateful that she and my father chose to spend a life together so that she could be my Mom. In her, I see me in the next quarter century. Her journey will some day be my journey, and I'm glad to see it close-up a couple of times a year. I'm always surprised by our mortality.

Bob lives in Seattle, and I try to see him whenever I get to the Northwest. Bob and I go back 30 years. He's pretty much retained his hardline left-wing radicalism. I've retreated into a comfortable leftish centrism, which doesn't always please Bob. Our friendship is one of shared experience over the course of a couple of years in the early 80s. We both survived Washington State's Nuclear Desert and came out fast friends. Our lives went in very different directions, but at heart, we're small town gay boys looking to get laid every now and then, but never by Republicans.

My CRT continued with a jaunt down the Great Allegheny Passage with Rick and Jerry in early June. Over the course of a week, we pedaled about 225 miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Cumberland, Maryland. Both guys are far more doctrinaire (my word...) than I about environmental issues, and also (I think) about personal responsibility. I heard quite a bit over the week about the environment, global warming, fracking, and consumerism. I hope that at least a little of the dialogue has rubbed off on me. The real discovery on this beautiful trip down a rail trail is how free I feel on my bike, how my bike and I are this entity hurtling down a path, carefree, sweaty, sometimes rainsoaked. It's a complete marvel to me how a man and his machine blend into a wonderful pumping organism speeding (or not) down the trail to a new sight, a new place, an ahhh vista, or a heart-stopping moment. I was thrilled by the trip, and happy to share it with two intrepid cyclists. Does it really get better than this?

Also this summer a friend, Steev, turned me on to Mormon Stories. I checked it out, joined the Facebook group, and have begun to rethink my relationship with the Mormon tradition. In the meantime, my youngest daughter invited me to come visit her. I love her very much. I think her kids are angels. This invitation has sparked some introspection (oh yes, I'm capable of that...), and I feel humble, fearful, happy, tentative, gay, and grateful all rolled into one emotional point. I've purchased the plane ticket for a September visit. When I found the Facebook group, it felt like I was returning home. I felt a tremendous loss on leaving the LDS church, but I realize that the tradition extends far beyond the institution. I just want to connect my current life to the life I left behind. I want to reknit a connection. I want to acknowledge to the people I love within and without the LDS church, and Mormonism that I need to reclaim a spiritual community that evicted me. This is part of my Cosmic Road Trip. I'm not asking to be re-baptized. I'm telling people that I'm Mormon, and gay, and atheist. And that's not a contradiction. It's me.

Okay, let's get away from this heavy stuff! For a few days in June and July, I was at the gay square dance convention in Atlanta, Georgia, Gone with the Windmill. I danced a lot of Advanced, and on the last day, way too much Challenge 1. My gray matter was spilling on the floor. Tonight is the first night that I'll have danced C-1 since Atlanta, and I'll have to post a status on Facebook chronicling the result. The Fun Badge Tour was one of the best. I was impressed.

It's really time that I ended this blog entry. Two days after returning from Atlanta, Ron and I flew off to Barcelona, and spent a week on the cruise ship, Nieuw Amsterdam, with 1700 other gay guys and 30 lesbians. Ah, RSVP, thank you! We had a blast. Well, what did you expect? So, the first port of call was Tunis. To put it mildly, it was not one of the favorite ports of call among the men (and probably the women). Tunis is dusty, hot, and second-world. But it's also strikingly different than any other port we were in. I've never had a trader right in my face trying to make a sale (okay, I ran into something like it in the Yucatan). I saw camels up close. I walked through the Roman baths in Carthage. I had a wonderful lunch of Tunisian specialties made for tourists, just like me. What isn't there to love in an experience like this? I don't know if I'd like to spend three weeks in Tunis, but 5-1/2 hours was spectacular. Sure, I'd do it again!

Okay, in Europe, it's easy to get overdone with Madonnas. They are everywhere, and that's because ancient churches are everywhere. And saints are everywhere. And everything is older than dirt. And every place looks like a postcard. I love tour guide history. I think I could almost become a tour guide, just about anywhere, after this cruise. All of them were unrelentingly cheerful, even when it was hot. All of them new the tale that made this place the most beautiful, historical, important place in the Ancient World.

I loved it. I loved every moment of it. I loved every church, every square, every ruin. I loved soaking up the experience in a different place in a different way imagining the histories, the people, the forces, that propelled and animated this place, and finally I'm in it. I'm part of the picture. I'm crossing a bridge across the Tiber, and staring up Il Duomo, and walking in the twisting alleys of a Provencal village. This is not Wheaton.

And I loved the cruise. The porn stars got deported in Tunis (their underwear was worn too provocatively under their cheeks). It was reported that their debarkation was a mutual agreement between them and RSVP. I can't wait to see RSVP's promotional materials for 2012 :-) The ship was very comfortable. The food was grand. The entertainment was fabulous. Amy Armstrong and Freddie Allen, I love you! The entertainment on a gay cruise really is a cut above. Amy is sometimes painful to watch, but only for the poignancy of her performance. She has an astonishing voice. A lot of the comedic talk was about alcohol, self-image, and sexual attraction, and the talk wasn't happy talk. It was the tip of an iceberg of alienation. We see it surface in our lives from time to time, but what's beneath the surface is the real story. Maybe gay men (lesbians?), and the large women who entertain them really are profoundly alienated from each other, and from the world off the cruise ship. How far is the social distance between sexual connection and deep friendship? Just askin'. Thanks, Amy for letting me ask the question after your fifth Cosmopolitan. I couldn't do that!

The lesson of Catalonia is, again, we're not Spain. It's like being gay in a straight world. People around you presume you speak Spanish, but you're really Catalan. I was quite taken by the country, the people, the FOOD, the place. I would go back tomorrow. Spain has a peculiar hold on me, and Catalonia has settled on my mind.

After debarking from the cruise ship, Ron and I rented a car and drove about 145 kilometers northeast of Barcelona to Castelló d'Empúries. It's a small fortified town about 8 km from the Mediterranean and several km east of Figueres. We stayed in a small, family-owned and operated hotel, the Hotel Emporium. The family adopted us, and really wanted us to love our vacation and see everything we could see in that part of Catalonia. We did. The church in the town dates from the 12th century. The outside is plain; the inside is exquisite, and yes, you'll find St. Sebastian bleeding near the door. The old town is a maze of streets and alleys, although after we had been there a week, we were not getting lost so often. And the food. I loved the food. The hotel had a gourmet restaurant that re-created Catalan cuisine in a beautiful way. This was not street food, or some odd tapas. This was an offering from the soul of a Catalan kitchen.

Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy the street food, or the cafes. Because I did. We had a platter of tapas in Girona that made me happy. I ate anchovies at every opportunity, because I could. A Frenchman served me a sandwich in Prats de Mollo, and I'm sure that it was the authentic sandwich that I'd been waiting six decades to eat. We even ate at our favorite Indian restaurant in Barcelona. Govindas. Check it out! Ron, Brian, and I had eaten there five years ago. It was a hoot to return. I loved the Indian food, Catalan style.

Which brings me to another insight. Ethnic food, no matter where it's prepared somehow absorbs the place that it's in. That is, Indian cuisine in Langley Park, Barcelona, or Amsterdam is Indian cuisine, but parts of Langley Park, Barcelona, or Amsterdam assert themselves in the food. I discovered this with Catalan pizza, too. In fact, McDonald's is not always McDonald's, either. Every culture leaves an imprint, and I was amused and intrigued by it.

Yes, we went to the Dalí Museum in Figueres. We re-visited the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. We visited the Jewish Museum in Girona. For me, the most surprising visit was to MACBA in Barcelona, where a curator took a group of us on a tour of the collection, and in the course of an hour and a half he gave us a cogent, credible, philosophical perspective on contemporary Catalan art. The art would have been completely inaccessible without his fast-paced and penetrating art history lecture. It was a tour de force that had all of our heads spinning, and I think every person on the tour was hanging on to the words that spilled out of his mouth in such complete thoughts and elegant explanations. It was performance in an art space. It was at least an upper-level semester art appreciation course crammed into our time together. I've never seen anything like it.

Okay, I'm going to end this. I'm out of breath, and perhaps you are too. Or maybe you're just bored. I kind of feel like the parent of a first-born child. Such a parent acts like it's the first time it's ever happened. And when I see behavior like that, I remind myself that it is. And that's my Cosmic Road Trip so far. It's still in progress. I'll let you know what happens next.

3 comments:

Jerry said...

Well, to tell the truth, I don't think the photo is at all flattering. On the plus side, however, you have to admire someone who doesn't care about that sort of thing.

Geek Tenor said...

The picture is frightening. Love, Brian

TGD said...

That photo is exactly what I expect to see from you. Noting more, nothing less.