There are people who’re happy to wear black till science comes up with an even darker colour. Due to the nature of my resting face, however, I’m not one of them. If I were to walk out onto the street dressed like Johnny Cash, anyone I happened to meet could be forgiven for thinking that someone had died. It’s interesting that the early portraits of Darwin show him brooding – probably about Natural Selection. Not that my resting face portends my coming up with a theory as game-changing as Evolution. But Chaz was a native of my hometown. Maybe it’s something in the water.
One thing was clear: it was perfect weather for cycling. That’s to say, it wasn’t. It was already hot despite it being only 8:30. Unless the would-be cyclists were ultra fit or particularly hard-nosed masochists, I had visions of wilting knees before lunch.
My current concern, however, was another. Four full-sized bikes were leaning on their stands behind the open boot of an estate car.
“Did all those come out of there?” I asked the family father.
“No, I took them off the roof.”
One glance at the bike rack on top of the car was evidence enough. However, the thirty-something wasn’t done yet. “Not even I could have managed that!”
What was that, I wondered, “Not even I”? It spoke of a self-confidence which I spent the rest of the day in awe of. I don’t think there’s anything on the planet which “not even I” can do.
I tend to write short, pithy, anecdotal blog posts. That could be seen as something of a problem. There is, after all, a lot more to be said. However, given my current state of mind, it’s all I’m capable of. Maybe, in the future, I’ll return to the seeds I’ve sown in order to further nurture them. Till then, this’ll have to do.
“That’s quite some shirt!”
My conversation partner had a point. I knew it was a great shirt, quite possibly my best. Given the importance of the show, anyone would have forgiven me for leaning on the garment’s excellence. However, what my conversation partner didn’t know was that the shirt was a throwback. Its purchase dated from the days when I still wore flamboyant clothes to attract attention. As such, they were a rich, outward expression of my inward poverty. Those days were thankfully over. However, it’d left me with a brightly coloured wardrobe and very little cause or occasion to plunder it. The concert was an exception, though. Still I couldn’t let the enthusiastic comment go unqualified.
“If I could play the guitar like you, I wouldn’t need to wear exotic shirts to attract attention.”
And that’s the truth.
For six years, I “travelled the world”. Actually, I spent most of the time in the Americas and Europe in the largest possible definition of the word. I didn’t get further east than the Golan Heights or further west than Washington State. The point isn’t my rather limited experience of “the world”. Instead, it’s the effect that having made do with the contents of a backpack for half a dozen years has had on me. I’m dismissively anti-materialist and a near pathological minimalist. That doesn’t leave me with a lot of time for “things”. That being said, I do come into contact with them on a regular basis. That’s what this category of blog posts is about.
One thing was clear: my conversation partner wasn’t used to being addressed in a theatre by a strange man. My excuse is that I wasn’t a strange man. I was a paying member of the audience talking theatre in a theatre to another member of the audience who had probably also paid to be there. It doesn’t get much safer than that. Nevertheless, it does only take one, so maybe she had a point. Despite the fact I was trying to strike up a conversation with her, her partner, who sat in the seat on the other side of her, did most of the talking. We both raved about a recent production we’d seen independently. He was rapidly making the far better interlocutor. As it was, though, the houselights went down, and a hushed expectancy settled over the many heads.
“Enjoy the show,” I whispered to my direct neighbour. But both her fear and the opening notes of the introductory music were too much to warrant a response. Pity.
It was an arts-and-crafts place. I have no idea what I was doing in there. As something of a pathological minimalist, I have zero use for watercolours and pottery. I know people who can think of nothing better than dredging through aisle upon aisle of twee objects and knitwear. However, I’m careful to avoid going shopping with them.
Perhaps I was there to meet the store’s owner. Destiny has a way of arranging such things. She was a wisp of a woman who’d never strayed more than eight miles from that very store.
Rather than that making her narrow in any sense of the word, it merely served to hone her interest all the more. When she’d found out that I was slowly amassing quite a collection of stamps in my passport, she encouraged me to tell her about a few of my more intense experiences.
She was an easy audience with a thirst for knowledge and a hunger for adventure. Nevertheless, the day was heading towards dusk, and I still had a piece of road to travel. As a result, I made my excuses and turned to leave.
“Thank you for sharing,” she said.
I didn’t know what to say to that. “No problem”? “My pleasure”? By way of acknowledging her statement, I raised my hand. The gesture could have meant absolutely anything. Her smile indicated that she didn’t take it in the least bit illy.
The brothers talked politics. Incessantly. And not just any old politics either, but local politics – local to their Canadian hometown. No sooner would one brother drop the name of someone in the mayor’s office than the other would pick it up and run with it. Listening to them, I couldn’t help but feel envy. What I wouldn’t have given to have grown up with someone to talk about local politics to – or absolutely anything, come to that.
Though the brothers were completely self-contained, they weren’t travelling alone. A third resident of their hometown was with them. He looked like a local politician himself. Regardless of how dusty the South American roads roads got, he’d descend from the back of an open pickup truck as clean and well-pressed as when he’d got on.
What with the brothers and the other, I made a vow to myself to get to Canada some day. One way or another, it seemed to have a lot going for it.
“An hour a day, one way.”
And that over a length of a decade.
The period of time some people will spend on the road in order to juggle their personal and professional lives blows the mind.
Ten years before, love had enticed my conversation partner away from his beloved small city and into the rural tract of land stuck in the northern slopes of the Alps like an axe. But nothing could tempt him away from his insurance job there. I didn’t get the impression that his position was so rare that he couldn’t fill a similar slot in a town closer to his chosen domicile. It was more the effort of learning the new structures that put him off.
Questions upon questions piled up in my brain. Unfortunately, time – and the too-loud music – was against us. The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that we got talking about German Rail. As so often in life, the pet hate of the nation hogged the conversation till it was time to go. For a commuter, though, I suppose that’s only natural.
Returning to the car, I noticed him – a man in a blue suit crouching over a bush. Of course I’d noticed the bush on the way to the shop. It was a metre-tall work of nature completely covered in what looked like spider webs.
“What is that?” I asked the crouching man.
On closer inspection, it was possible to see that the bush was literally writhing with caterpillars.
“The larvae of the ermine moth,” the suited man said. “And I’ve forgotten my camera.”
Not to be daunted, however, he was taking pictures with his phone.
“See how the evening light shines through the webs?”
He showed me the screen of his phone. It was indeed a remarkable picture. I studied the bush itself. It didn’t have half the effect on me as the picture had. I suppose that’s life for you. It takes in the whole at the expense of the part. Art, on the other hand, works the other way round.
Not that the photographer was an artist. He was a corporate representative for a health insurance company. His job took him to every part of the area. During his breaks, he was always very snap-happy. Despite his passion for his hobby, he was also a consummate rep.
“I trust you’re with the right health insurance company?”
When I told him which organization I entrusted my coverage in the event of injury to, he winced. That may have been his reaction when he’d discovered he’d forgotten his camera.