By William MarkiewiczEarly drawing, Paris by WM
When I came to Canada I worked for awhile as an orderly in a Toronto hospital. We, new orderlies, were given a pamphlet about out duties which began poetically: "You are not a tree -- be a bush." So, we were notified of our place. The majority of us were newcomers, immigrants of all nationalities. The orderlies and cleaners shared a changing area composed of rows of boxes in a dark, cool basement. One morning,while we were changing, somebody in some distant row started to sing a fragment from Dvorak's New World Symphony. I completed the fragment and he shouted: "We understand each other!" In French there is a saying: "On the heights where spirits blow..." The spirits may meet also "in the valleys."
In Switzerland, shops close at lunch while the majority of restaurants are open only at mealtime. So one has to be organized to avoid surprises. I saw in one delicatessan display window a nice mixture of sausages and the like, cheeses, and impressive bottles of wine. So, without looking too attentively, I started up the steps and I bumped into a living wall. It was the owner of the delicatessan standing in my way. He saw that I didn't see him and he didn't warn me; he just stood there, looking challengeingly at me. How did I dare not to know that it was closing time?! He wasn't an exception. The Swiss remain tribal peasants, ready at any moment to defend, with tooth and claw, their territory. Mentally they remain completely separated from the outsider, whether tourist or foreign worker, despite the fact that Switzerland lives from tourism and foreign workers.
I was hitchhiking with my friend through the Spanish Pyrenees. Stopping at a solitary crossroad we saw a village in the distance. Then we remarked a small silhouette approaching. It was a man in his seventies, impeccably dressed in tie, jacket and hat despite the heat. What was he doing so far from the village, by himself, like a wandering cat? We started talking, his French was pretty good. He told us that he had lived in Paris in his youth, where he left his illusions. He repeated this several times. We were teenagers, not interested in what he was talking about and he didn't really expect us to be curious. He was still happy to find a momentary ear and companionship reminding him of his own youth and illusions. Finally he turned back to the village, and said in parting, "If you don't find anybody to pick you up, come to the village, I'll accommodate you.*There* I am somebody." In what did he find his consolation? In the respect of the villagers toward the "gentleman from the city?" In the wine? One more secret lost.
The woman, middle-aged, quite well dressed, no ostentation, not nouveau-riche and not an aristocrat, sat across from me. She simply represented comfortability of generations of -- a perhaps provincial -- middle class. The unquestioning self -satisfaction plainly expressed in her face, was at first unsupportable for me. I thought to myself, "You cow, who do you think you are?!" As I continued observing her, I started to envision through her, as through a transparent showcase, her ancestors; mother, grandmother, great grandmother ... Certainly she had inherited the crafts of baking, embroidery, melodies, which, thanks to those like her have not disappeared into oblivion. I ended by perceiving her as a messenger of archetypal values and, by the time I left the wagon, I even liked her.
The standing man held on to the pole. He could have been a lawyer, a doctor. married, living a double life, bisexual, lover of superficial secrets and intrigues ... I read him like a book. Hey, how can I know all of this?! I halted my galloping imagination.
A man over sixty, round, with hat and coat sat on a park bench reading his newspaper. A young woman sat down at the other end of the bench. Engrossed in his paper, he didn't move; he didn't even seem to notice her. I looked at him again and was struck by a small change. Now his hat had a tiny, beautiful feather. When did he put the feather in and how? He must have been an expert. For me his gesture obviously was a numb homage to her sex, youth and beauty and a dumb cry of despair. If the most eventful happening in man's life was to wear a hat with a feather in the vicinity of a pretty girl who doesn't notice , then isn't it a crime of the whole universe against a little defenceless man? And does such a universe have the right to exist?
This happened a long time ago and the man must be dead by now.
I was in Patagonia, perhaps the last corner of a pioneer land. There is nothing exotic in the climate for a European. So, it's 'otherness' consists in being like a spot on a more beautiful planet. In a tavern in an isolated countryside, my Argentinian companion started a conversation with some local character of undetermined age. They certainly knew each other. He seemed more worn out than old. He told me that he was of German extraction, first generation Argentinian. Like many in Patagonia he was probably a descendant of those Nazi refugees who found a haven in Argentina, especially in Europe-like Patagonia. He talked about his divorce, his solitude, his life without prospects. He also talked about the new lady he'd met. "So, it isn't so bleak for you as you say," I commented. "Yes, but she still dreams!" he answered. I looked at this pathetic, already half-existent, young/old man and I thought: "He must be under 40 ; If a man at this age dreads a woman who 'still dreams' what kind of image must he have of himself and what happened to his own dreams? Is this some poetic justice -- or rather injustice because nobody should pay for somebody else's sins -- that he pays for the crimes of his father? Or perhaps his own father destroyed his son's personality after having killed -- how many? Only his son, a pathetic banner, manifested that something had gone very wrong."