Sense Of Place

Yesterday I received a Facebook message from my wife’s friend in Bristol; her husband is writing a novel. He had a question for me about New York City. Specifically he wanted to know something about Brooklyn.

You remember him? I wrote about him a few months ago. He’s the guy who’ll probably get a film deal after selling like, urr, a gazillion books…. and I’ll sell, uh, quite a few less. ;-)

I was startled he had a question about anywhere in the U.S. I say that because he has managed, without ever having even once set a foot in the U.S., to write vividly about life, people and places in the country. Everything he knows about the U.S. he has picked up from books, TV, films…. and, uh, me.

Amazing how some manage that. But I find there is also nothing more satisfying and useful than having walked the ground in the places you are using – or even just think may use – as story background. Doing that imbues a tale with a much more rooted “sense of place.”

Pope Francis passing by at an audience in St. Peter's Square, the Vatican, September 2013. [Photo by me.]

Pope Francis passing by at an audience in St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican, September 2013. [Photo by me.]

I was unsurprisingly pleased (to be honest, ecstatic is a better word) when one of my readers wrote me that she enjoyed my detailing a Paris neighborhood where she had lived. She said it brought back happy memories. That I had been there myself definitely made a difference: I don’t know if I would have been able to write about it quite as I had if I had never been there in person.

Yep, umm, just like our pal Ernest Hemingway. ;-)

Strangers In A Yearbook

Putting up Facebook photos of our ongoing Florida holiday (my uncle demands to see them!), and noticing those who “like” and “comment” on them, abruptly has led me this afternoon to realize I have zero contact now with anyone non-family whom I knew pre-university.

Which led to this quick post. Much as I hate to admit this, yes, guys, I’m in my later forties. My friends today are all people I have met from about age 20 to the present.

Am I odd? I suppose the way I’ve lived has contributed. I left home and that was pretty much that. (I even left the country.) I’ve never been to a high school reunion, nor was I really even interested in attending one.

In our Facebook era, do they still even have high school reunions? I’m sure if I went to FB and had a nosy around, I’d find old school chums on there. But why bother? After all, no one has sought me out either.

Indeed, by now, if I engaged with any of them, those old schoolmates would feel mostly like strangers. How do you start that interaction anyway? “So, uh, hey, what you been up to for the last 30 years?”

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Maybe they figured I “ran off”? If any have ever “stalked” my Facebook page, among my friends now they’d find not a single non-family friend any of them know. Anyone who might have done that has probably thought, “Who are these people?”

Naturally we fall away from many in life and make new relationships as we mature. There are those I once liked a lot – even since high school – who I’m pretty sure I’ll never see ever again. That’s no one’s fault. Life merely takes us all in different directions.

Then there’s the opposite bunch: relatives I can’t stand. You too may have to endure the same sorts of detestable people you are lectured you are supposed to like because they are termed (by those doing the lecturing) “family.” Sadly, to slightly rework the old saying, you can indeed choose your friends, but you could relocate to Antarctica and you still couldn’t get entirely the hell away from certain “relatives.” ;-)

On Lexington

We met up Friday with a college friend of mine from my time at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks. (Don’t ask.) He and his wife had been touring Ireland, and were finishing their vacation with a week in London. Via Facebook, we had arranged to get together.

I’d last seen him in person twenty years ago. Yes, two decades. But he hasn’t changed… well, save for a few gray hairs, but we all end up with those. We had never met his wife. (We had been invited to their 2003 wedding, but could not get there.) It was great to grab the chance to do some catching up while we had a lunch at Mildreds:

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I wouldn’t normally note a restaurant here, but this one is worth a mention. It was full for lunch, and had a buzz; yet you could also carry on a conversation without yelling. The staff we encountered were friendly too.

I wanted a Stella Artois (that’s my favorite), but since they didn’t have that, I settled for a Budweiser – brewed in the Czech Republic. My wife had a glass of red wine, of course.

Oh, and the restaurant is vegetarian. I don’t mind eating vegetarian now and then. But I don’t think I could eat vegetarian all the time.

It’s my friend’s wife who is pescatarian. My friend joked – when his wife was away from the table briefly – that he is a meat eater. But he’s learned to eat lots of non-meat.

There are plenty of places to stop for a meal between Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus. But this one will more than do if you ever find yourself looking for somewhere tasty (as long as you are happy not to have meat), and reasonably priced.

Thus ends this, uh, “Trip Advisor” blog entry. :-)

Oh, and my wife told him about my book. A bit of a slip. Now he wants to read it.

I had no choice but to let him in on it. I also warned him that if he tells my parents, I swear I’ll unfriend him on Facebook. ;-)

Thanks For Sharing

I just wanted to “share” that I’ve noticed that the number of my posts “shared” to other social media – Twitter, Facebook, Digg, etc. – has “exploded” in recent days. My little literary site here has existed since December. Yet I have had upwards of half of my total shares since just last Friday.

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Since I’m not getting assailed by “sp@m” and “trolls,” it appears then that most of that recent uptick in “shares” indicate many of you are indeed “normal” human beings and actually do “like” what you see. ;-)

I extra-appreciate that because, as I’ve also explained recently (and in case you didn’t see that post), I can’t share my writing myself on most social media.

If you are new here, by way of introduction much of what I post is serious. It may be about my experiences in having written the first book, and now as I work on the sequel. Related issues come up as well. It may also be on life overseas, on study abroad, and on frequent fliers’ worst nightmare. I have also written about painful loss.

But it isn’t all “heavy” stuff. We do have to smile too. I’ve composed posts on many of the novel’s characters…. and a post on a certain person’s reaction to some of them. There have also been pieces on subjects such as travel, “pen pals,” and my novel unexpectedly stirring up memories of an office affair. The intimidating wildlife and glorious weather often found in the Catskills have also inspired posts.

I like to mix it up. I believe we shouldn’t tie ourselves only to the oh, so, serious side of things. (Assuming “tie” is, uh, the right word there?) There is no final exam at the end of the semester. Heck, there isn’t even a semester.

So I just want to say “thank you” for your shares, and also for your follows, and your continuing visits. :-)

Paris Or Rome, Or Cleveland?

Snowed in as many are currently in the U.S. northeast (including us), I’ve seen some weighty issues being thrashed out at times among some of my Facebook friends. One (male) relation offered this philosophical observation last night. It having a degree of relevance here, I thought I’d edit it, and clean it up grammatically, and share it:

You could go to Paris or Rome with someone you care little for, but go to Cleveland with someone who truly turns you on, stay in a garage and be overjoyed. Absolutely….forget Paris or Rome….

It is indeed true: it matters not where you are, as long as you are with the one you love.

Yet I couldn’t help but think also on how that statement made no allowance for a related possibility. Suppose you are “with someone who truly turns you on”…. and the choice is either Paris or Rome…. or Cleveland? Where would you prefer to be together? ;-)

Incidentally, I admit I have never been to Cleveland. However, I have been to Youngstown. Not that that’s the same place, of course.

A snowy Saturday. [Photo by me, 2014.]

A snowy Saturday. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Yes, definitely too much snow now. I suspect cabin fever is indeed setting in. :-)

Some Farewell Thoughts

Today was Kam’s funeral, at 11am, in London. Since we couldn’t be there to say goodbye, I’m sure you’ll indulge me as I scrawl a few additional, utterly inadequate words about her on here…..

We knew Kam for almost 20 years. Suddenly, at just 45 years of age, she is gone. She died eight days ago.

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She never joined Facebook; she wasn’t keen on social media. Email aside, Kam’s singular concession to instant communications was her mobile phone that was never out of her reach, and the texts that came flying our way often unexpectedly. When I asked again about Facebook a year or two ago, I received a bemused look, a smile, and finally a drawn out, soft reply: “Well, you know, maybe I’ll…. think…. about it….”

I knew that was Kam’s genteel way of saying, “Uh, Rob, no.” To her, “social networking” meant lovely, handmade Christmas and birthday cards. It was letters on paper composed in a clear script. It was carefully wrapped gifts with perfect bows on top. It was sharing Champagne.

Indeed when you met Kam for lunch, it was likely in a cool cafe near, say, Harrow school. When it was for dinner, it was in one of London’s posher restaurants. In Manhattan, years ago, I was immensely relieved when my favorite French restaurant met with her approval. Friends, Kam insisted, were supposed to get together in quality places.

And if you needed help, she would be there – and in the “if you needed to be picked up at the airport in the middle of the night” sort of way too. Once, from London, we were unable to get my in-laws on the phone in Christchurch (130 miles away). Kam had then been living in the vicinity, so we rang her near midnight to see if she could drive over to the flat and make sure they were okay. She didn’t hesitate. (My father-in-law had at some point just put the handset on the main base sideways or something, so the phone was off the hook.)

There was nowhere she seemed not to have visited – from America, to China, to India, to you name it. Back from a trip to Rome years ago, we joked the designer shopping had undoubtedly been a big draw for her. She never looked anything less than well put together.

Unexpectedly, Sikh Kam said also that she had thought the Vatican had been so inspiring that she could almost have become a Catholic. We knew she didn’t really mean that of course. Anyone who knew her knew she never could have ceased to be Sikh.

A couple of weeks ago, while we were in the midst of helping organize a summer holiday to Florida with another family, we hoped hoped hoped Kam wanted to come along too. When we knew Kam was going to be involved in whatever was happening, we always looked extra-forward to it.

In recent years she had developed a serious health problem. Kam rarely said much about it, and always conveyed the impression all was somehow under control. She was still working, and commuting on the London Underground, a few days before her death.

She had given us a heads up that she wanted to come to Florida, but she wouldn’t know if she could travel until closer to the actual time – and that’s where matters had been left….

We know for sure now: she won’t be in Florida. There will be no more trips, no more text messages, no more cards and letters, no more bows, no more smiles, and no more Champagne.

Our lives – the lives of everyone who knew her – will be emptier and bleaker without Kam. She was the personification of grace, charm and caring. It was our inestimable privilege and honor that she had thought enough of us to have shared some of her too short life with us.

I suppose we’re all still trying to process the cruel reality that we’ll never see her again. It has been an incredibly depressing week. Yet I’m determined also to try to remember these words: “Death can destroy the body but not the soul.”