Friday, July 13, 2012

There's a Train Everyday, Leaving Either Way

we went by train to the bronx botanical garden yesterday.  i'd never been there.  hugh knew about the train from grand central, which was right around the corner from bryant park, where we were having lunch.  shakun had read that they had a special exhibit on monet and giverney this summer.  

a charming, modest effort to recreate his exquisite normandy lily pond in the bronx glass house with large posters of french symbolist poetry outside in the flower gardens around the exhibit.  

verlaine.  "memory, memory, what do you want from me?"

mallarme. "with no more ado, forgetting blasphemy, i must sleep, lying on the thirsty sand, and as i love, open my mouth to wine's true constellation!"  

rimbaud.  "and i will go far, far off, like a gypsy through the countryside -- joyous as if i was with a woman

very lovely, indeed.  

verisimilitude and verse.  

leah, ezra, shakun et moi.  a peaceful, tranquil family day meandering the botanical park, ez napping under dawn sequioa trees (from nanking university, china), leah climbing the rose pergola, watering the roots of those magnificent spruce trees, soaking up the summer nature, hundreds of acres of lush, protected green surrounded by new york city while being simply together.  

of course, life is always full of our own self-created, inner dynamic, as well.  that's the truth of family.  this time, a bit of ez and leah challenging each other.  sibling stuff.  worldly wise, experienced older brother (20) and sassy, moody much younger sister (11).  

'why are you always angry?'  

'why do you always tell me what to do?'  

the normal routines of childhood and twists of complex, home-grown affection.  ezi offering principled moral guidance to leah.  leah pushing back.  frustration, impatience, then reconciliation.  later laughter and games as ez made faces behind the lush ferns while leah played hide n seek among the venus flycatchers in the tropical greenhouses.  

the best part of family life, it seems.  away from the damn daily stresses of a single household, but instead floating on the same lily pad for a few weeks of meandering.  cloudishness.  drifting in the beauty of the world.  open to the fragrance of a new day, a new place, a new experience.  

being here.  who would have thought we'd spend the afternoon in the bronx botanical garden?  i thought we were going to see the vuillard exhibit at the jewish museum.  or the titians in the met.  or bike around central park, as leah wanted, again.  at least i thought that we were going to these places yesterday.  but, what did i know, actually.

in truth, i like this type of unplanned travel time.  very much!  

i've been practicing it for a few decades...

open the door and step outside.  

what's there?

this morning we boarded a train at penn central to go from nyc to syracuse with the bucolic and peaceful hudson river out the window, shaku and leah in front of me.  the contrast with the polluted, poisonous bagmati river in kathmandu or the churning, unpredictable, monsoon-swollen kali gandaki of thak khola in nepal is remarkable.  

but, please, i must not continually contrast nepal with america.  it's not fair to either -- or us -- or the joy of travel. let them be who they are.  there is magnificence and munificence in both worlds.  they are simply such different worlds.

the contrasts can be made another time, another day, another hour.  not now.

did i mention that i like trains?  you feel the motion, the sway of the train, the rumbling of the tracks, the light dancing around the cabin, the earth-bound dimension of the views.  the views.  there's something slower, calmer, more grounded and tactile about the train.  something, of course, that harkens back to earlier times, the 19th C. technology that gained the white man this american nation.  the europe of 19th C. novels and tragedies.  

not the numbing security and cloistered cabins of airports and jet planes.  the weightlessness of being sky-bound.  the shadow of 9/11 and psychic uncertainty of arrival.  the tight spaces and cloistered air of 30,000'.

maybe it's a sense of spaciousness, as well.  windows that don't look out or down on clouds.  rather, human space and settlements rolling by outside in a calming, seductive naturalism, actually.  

that childhood myth of icarus was not merely a personal warning of hellenic hubris, but a common fear of heights.  as the frost poem, 'birches' chants, 'earth's the right place for love'.  while swinging on those ice-enfolded, new england branches, the frost child doesn't want to be transported far away from earth, but merely enjoy the swaying of the movement and momentary weighlessness of his brief flight.  close to the ground, where his feet soon return.

trains, too, on earthly plane, give us that temporary sense of flight, freedom, fleeing, rushing away, leaving problems behind, escape.  goodbye dense, urban new york!  goodbye complex world!  adieu!  i'm leaving my troubles at the street corner, under that flashing traffic light that counts down the irritating seconds to permit me cross the road and heading out to adventure, romance and the open road.  

throw in more coal.  build up a head of steam.  race the engines.  hurl down the tracks.  all aboard and full steam ahead!  the rush and tumble of the track.  the sounds of movement and sway of speed.  

yet we are already in deep into a new age.  millennial dreams and fears a decade plus past.  now all well-attired suburbia in here.  windows that don't open.  iphones and ipods and ipads and macbooks in our magical i-age.  petite pizzas and burly burgers from the dining car.  'the hunger games' and 'fifty shades of grey'.

'where are woody guthery and the men of hard depression times?  jumping the train and desperately seaching for their new selves, that promised land, the american frontier, the times they are a'changing...

for me, however, this day-long journey is less a sense of open road or new adventure than a return to the source.  

i recall it was late february 1978, a wintry day of new beginnings when i left syracuse by train.  mom and dad at the station to say a long goodbye.  as i headed alone to new york and a flight a few days later from jfk to london with scott to start our once epic journey around the world.  

youthful ambition.  an escape from reality.  a reinvention of the self.  a logical extension of a corseted liberal arts college education.  a curiosity about family origins.  a desire to see the world that existed before america was born.  a sense of life beyond our shores.  an aspiration to go global before the words were all over the wall street journal.  an urge to swim the bosphorus for myself and stand in the himalaya where the rishis once sat.  to run away and run amok.  to dream and read and write and break free from conventions.  while, as bob thurman advised, 'not deprecating the convention'.  to make the world home.  yet never forgetting where i came from.  to embrace the human family while never leaving my own...

such are the stuff dreams are made of, dear prospero!

so i stepped onto a jet plane with a copy of paul theroux's 'great train bazaar' in my day pack, a poster of mount everest in my hands, a blank journal with a CG Jung quote (from 'Memories, Dreams, Reflections') and Doonesbury cartoon ('Allah hu Akbar!") as the preface and a pocket full of dreams (as Dylan sang).

now 34 years later, mom no longer in dewitt, new york but at ease in palm beach gardens, florida.  dad recently gone to an ethereal world beyond beyond, where we know we will return one day.  and me, since 1983, perched below the himalaya, 8,000' shivapuri hill in my backyard (as i often like to say) and corrupting kathmandu below.  between heaven and hell.  the unconquerable nature that frees me and the city that, as bhupi shechan, shakun's uncle, wrote 'is like a cigarette ashtray with four gateways'.  

i don't know if scott and made the world home, but i have made one in nepal, while scott has his in cambodia.  the dreams have become reality.  the aspirations a life.  the distance reduced.  the adventure a family.  the seeking a foundation.  the escape a shelter.  the history added new chapters.  the family extended.  the generations enhanced. the quest a reflection.  the hopes, now memories.  the empty journal a book.  

the wheels of life churn like the train we're on.  round and round.  joni's circle game. 

          And the seasons they go 'round and 'round
          And the painted ponies go up and down
          We're captive on the carousel of time
          We can't return we can only look behind
          From where we came, 
          And go round and round and round 
          In the circle game

and the life continues...

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