The trip was scheduled for June 2020, teaching to Stockholm, with a holiday in Brussels.
Then it was rescheduled for the following June, but I couldn't get on the plane.
So I arranged for a fall weekend in October.
And wrote and wrote and imagined what it would be like when I came back, novels and lost characters, dreamscapes about it all.
When I finally got to come back,
Carson McCullers accompanied me for the flight, their story in a thin autobiographical novel tracing her isolation, of Frankie in Columbus, of most of us everywhere, trying to get away, or at least to find ourselves.
Reading it, I think of Al coming over when the teenager was born 18 years ago.
And Judy joining him at her birthday.
And her life now in Los Angeles.
And staying at Mom’s when the little one was born.
Cooking on the 4th of July, a couple of years later.
And her walking to the subway earlier in the day, making it through high school.
And Rob in England .
And James in Brussels .
And Tim at home in the West Village, struggling for breath.
Friends through time, encountering each other, ever rushing and receding.
Back to the novel and Frankie in Columbus, “who belonged to no club and was a member of nothing in the world.”
I pull out my notebook and draft a few notes.
New York has been so wonderful, it's hard to leave, especially in the fall.
Kevin is swimming in Coney Island.
Greg and George and I met at Barbes on Tuesday.
Karl and Jenny had us over Wednesday.
We had a house guest later that night, fleeing the south, as Carson did, as many of us did.
On and on...and now I’m on the road for a minute, reading Carson’s notes.
“Death, love and the improvisations of human experience, and the freaks of change that control our destinies.”
Some days , I look around and think what a dream to be here, meeting friends, riding through the city, going to Tobac with Caroline, watching the little one grow up, chatting witht eh teenager in LA about Dada and art history, and what and remembering Stanley…and what we read together.
What a dream to know so many friends, off to Brussels fo see James, so relieved I’m on the flight.
Dozing all night long and waking in Europe, half awake, dreams still dancing through my mind, the glare of the difference in the new day in the airport, I look for a ride. None to be found, I grab a cab to Avenue Louise…stopping outside Hôtel Solvay, standing at the Art Nouveau townhouse designed by Victor Horta, taking in the city, the women ordering coffee, the cyclists on their way. And then off to Square Marie Louise see Steve at the Meeting Spot at Rue de Taciturne.
It's a drizzly day here.
As usual I am lost.
So I stop, asking students for directions.
It's down there around the circle, they tell me.
Still can’t find it.
Instead I stumble into stanger, who tells me about Morocco and the city, asking where I’m from.Its just down the hill, she tells me.
And finally a warm place for a cappuccino and a rest.
I’m soaked from the rain, but it's ok feeling and living and reconnecting with Steve, who I knew in San Francisco and New York before he left town.
“How come every time I see you you are in a bar?” he asks.
Its true, I acknowledge, sipping a pint, looking about the pub, always chasing a feeling, just like Carson in Columbus, trying to get as far away she can, as I can.
How is your life?
How is mine?
Chatting and laughing, and strolling back to Avenue Louise, we stop at a social center.
They are repairing bikes today.
Tomorrow an art show is planned.
We are scheming, wondering if we can achieve a livable merger between commerce and sustaining?
Maybe we just need to degrow says Steve, step it back a little.
It doesn’t seem likely.
On we walk, up the hill and over to James’, where we
chat late into the night, remembering Marla and Megan, Meg and her brother and Naomi and lost parents, a disappearing brother, people we may not ever see again, and the sagas of living.
There’s a certain mystery to it all, I write in the journal the next morning, wondering about the phone that flew out of my pocket earlier in the day.
Teenagers had been fighting in the Square.
My notes from the night before appeared missing along with my mind.
The coffee shop down the street is full.
People are meeting each other.
A teenager waits for her friend to arrive from the train.
Three women sit with a glass of wine.
It's a wild domain, outside this one.
Why are we here?
Why are they?
I’m taking field notes.
Why write a thesis asks Umberto Eco.
It all happened to fast.
Strolling all morning, I meet James and Irene and Steve at L’Ultimate Atome on St Boniface 14.
After lunch, James and Irene go home.
Steve and I walk, wondering about it all.
I still had my phone.
James texted me about St Catherine Square.
And we stumbled through it, chatting about man’ s search for meaning and nietzsche and Victor Frankyl and the seeming futility of the UN sustainability goals, the dovetailing crises of flooding cities and migrants moving, inequality and rising hostility toward multiculturalism, stopping for a cappuccino and then a rest on the way back to the train station.
I reach for my pocket.
No phone, no nothing, no excelsior pass, no united ap, no instagram, no nothing.
But we have ourselves and than will have to suffice.
Still the fears of it all, eternal fears, of never getting home.
I retrace my steps to no avail, my coming and disappearing, looking at everyone else in the park, holding and sharing the air, the city, their lives.
Back at James’, those old notes find they way out of the shirt pocket into the journal.
Have faith in the world, some things come back.
Not my phone, not this time.
The next morning, James is sleeping.
So i make my way out for a stroll and another coffee in the dream bar.
More arrivals and departures.
It's all in flux.
James and I make our way to Bruges to see art, snapping shots of homuncular babies, like only the Northern Masters can render them.
There’s Michaelangelo’s Madonna and Child, whose journey brought her from Italy to Bruges, to Paris, back to Bruges after Waterloo, to a secret location, stolen by the Nazis and rescued by the Monuments Men during World War II, back home.
The child looks so tiny.
But he’s been through a lot.
After the trip to the museum, we sit in the square, drinking St Emilion Bordeaux.
History pours over us here.
It's good to still be friends, to tolerate each other, revel in it all through the years.
At 5 AM the next morning, I walk down Avenue Louise, past the old war memorial, trying to hail a cab, the cafe lights first blinking, the day beginning for yet another day on the way back home.
“I fall in love too easily” is playing.
Finally a cab.
Only two wrecks.
And we make it through the traffic.
Through security, COVID tests ok.
Adapting to a new normal, tests and lines.
The sun finally rises.
And I start to doze, looking at old Europe, thinking about Orson Wells in the Third Man, between war, the black market and an uncertain future.
I think of everyone back in old Brussels, starting their days, the barmaids opening cafes and shops, the workers painting the streets, the owners cleaning their windows for another day, on and on and on.
“Listen, what I have been trying to say is this,” says Frankie, now F Jasmine, ever transforming. “Doesn’t it seem strange that I am I and you are you?”
Bernice looked at Jasmine in the novel.
“This is what I mean,” F Jasmine said.
“You are walking down a street and you meet somebody.
Anybody and you look at each other.
And you are you and he is him.
And when you look at each other, the eyes make a connection.
Then you go off one way and he goes off another way.
You go off into different parts of town, and maybe you never see each other again.”
Bernice doesn’t know what Frankie, now F Jasmine means.
“And now I’m leaving town and there are all these people I will never know.”
And so the end of Part Two approaches in the Member of the Wedding.
New doors are opening for F Jasmine, if even in a dream, the same kind of premonition i had.
Carson is leaving Columbus, just like my Mother did all those years ago.
Carson is long gone.
Mom is still around.
And Brussels is behind, in the distance.
New York, Brooklyn, where Carson found a home, in a magic house, with Auden and friends, lies ahead.