The terminus for all lovers who – like Icarus, fly too close to the sun – is a bar somewhere: perhaps in an unfamiliar place – but suitable nonetheless for the cooling of melted wax, and the submergence of events in a vat of alcohol for consideration.
One cannot drown such sorrows: for they are the stinging fish that inhabit the random directions of life’s treacherous currents. Nor should they be the subject of self-pity, because those who crash into stars and then dive into turbulence must accept the consequences. And as somebody once said – probably Wilde, Maurois or Twain, they said most things of any humorous value – “Almost all farce is generated by the difference between human aspiration and achievement”.
It was a farce whose dénouement was as clinical as it was inexplicably hilarious: in a manner of speaking, the sudden emergence of a microscopic examination at the end of a series of universal pledges and compliments….this is forever, you are the best ever, you are my transport of delight, we are twin flames. As Sinatra sang:
‘the plaintive sigh/the words I’ll love you ’til the day I die/ the self-deception that believes the lie’
In the final hours, there was but a simple observation on my part: “You know, at times you can be dogmatic”. This instantly rendered me an accuser, a person of bad faith. To argue my corner was to demonstrate what a sly person I am. And so I went to bed, unable to sleep, and my lover came to ask if we could be adult and civilised. But I had already recovered my adulthood; being both intelligent and sensitive, she accepted this and went to sleep elsewhere.
During the night, I awoke in need of blader evacuation to hear her talking to the concierge – a good friend. There was much moving about, and then whispered but animated conversation punctuated by laughter. This transformed my own mood from sadness to resolution. Not resentment or anger, just a confirmation of the impression gained the previous evening: I had a determination to survive, and so did she. Forever had evaporated – as it always does.
When at 9 am I entered my briefly occupied étude, she was already with a patient elsewhere in the rambling apartment. The huge case with which I’d arrived nine days earlier was there, inviting me to use it. I did, and left. Waiting at the lift, I saw the door of her flat open. She was there, with a forced smile: had I left the key? “Naturally”, I answered. An ironic last word.
Outside, it was a perfect, cloudless Parisian day….the sort that shows off this wonderful city’s magnificence to perfect effect. It was not hot, but I lacked the motivation to lug 24 kilos of luggage into the metro. The first free taxi was hailed, and the relief was like arriving on the top side of a celestial cloud. The driver was a gently francophone Caribbean. I told him the airline and destination: he answered “entendu Monsieur”, and after a few minutes we exchanged a little information. Yes, I was retired in the south west, enjoying the calm and serenity of the countryside. I loved Paris, but now I was going home. My mind had refixed its coordinates. “You are sane, Monsieur,” he remarked unknowingly.
‘No more pain/ no – no more strain/ Now I’m sane but/ I’d rather be punch-drunk’
The bar I chose at Orly was not exactly Skid Row. Caviar House is an establishment that charges fifty euros for just enough smoked salmon and shrimp to top up a satiated kitten. This order of ten minutes probably cost more than the staff make in a morning, but I was not in the mood for assaults upon injustice: I was here for comfort and fortitude, not radical reform. And anyway, I had been told enough times in the previous three weeks that I was a Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Sinatra again:
‘Just what makes that silly old ram/ think he’ll break that Boulder Dam/ anyone nows no Ram can/move a Boulder Dam’
Of course, my arrival with a boarding card obtained online (but with hold baggage packed at the last moment) threw Air France into a paroxysm of je m’en fou confusion: no, I could not go airside now, I must wait two hours until baggage hold checkin was ready. It would be better to go to Area B and check in the baggage manually: the machine would not respond to a passenger already in possession of a boarding card. Don’t you understand? We’re trying to run Fawlty Airlines here, and you’re getting in the way.
Inevitably, Area B was for automatic machines. But some very kind and patiently charming staff were on hand to explain how to hoodwink parroting technology into submission. It often strikes me that this is the way with contemporary globalist companies: the ground troops are there to help the customer, not feed the share price. That these human beings will one day be sacrificed in the cause of mechanised profit is the ultimate in obscene neoliberal Schadenfreude. Yet at the end of it all, the inability of ‘management’ to organise an erection in a Viagra factory remains risibly obvious.
As regular Sloggers know well enough, I am these days the antithesis of a Big State socialist ideologue. Grown older and more confirmed in my pacifism, I know full well that democratic socialism is a cruel contradiction, and that if neoliberal globalism steals the citizen’s job, then collectivist catechisms rob that same citizen of all liberty and dignity.
As long as the raw material is Homo sapiens, rigid systemic theory cannot work, for it will be run by that species – a species indelibly prone to greed, privilege, material wellbeing and power over others.
The only answer (I think) is to advocate a humanitarian philosophy from the bottom up that starts with the individual, the family, and a community of manageable size – one where direct democracy is possible, and personal responsibility obligatory: where nobody can cheat, and nobody can hide.
But we have descended so far now, apparently to aim for this objective is to be Utopian. I think to expect achievement of the objective is Utopian; but as an American advertising legend once observed, “If you don’t aim for the stars, your ass will end up in a ditch”. Per adua ad astra and all that: to have the human voyager gene is most emphatically not to tilt at windmills, but to aim high. There is a Universe of difference between the two.
I was judged Utopian by the other being in this Strange Interlude. A cursory read of The Slog’s home page would have vapourised such an idea, but such had not been attempted. Probably that was part of the problem. To work hard at understanding the uniquely painful history of another person is the hardest task we ever face. When the attempt is not reciprocated, then one has confused all-consuming obsession with profound compassion.
Failure produces far more useful insights than success. Triumph can too easily lead to hubris, but tragedy cements the foundations of learning. One thing is for sure: life for me is never dull. For good or ill, I am the sort of bloke who fits André Maurois’ description of George Smythe uncomfortably well:
“He advised others to sip life slowly, but for his own part drank it down at one gulp”
I may not be consuming it at one gulp, but I am certainly determined to finish the bottle.
Normal service will be resumed almost immediately at The Slog