Die Pronounced Dee
It’s hard to write about real things right now—head is dealing with some shit—is a line I wrote in my journal ten years ago. Plane quiet. Long hours with knees. Wasn’t until Frankfurt a Frenchman, a German, and myself, laughed at a cartoon in a newspaper depicting Hemmingway in hiking gear with the caption — ‘walks on a trail once and gets a park named after him.’
Before all this happened, I was sharing a second-story room with my best friend. Had a balcony, looked out onto the street through maple tree leaves. Had a large stone fireplace, television, music corner, just two mattresses on a wood floor really. Moldy rice cooker, mini fridge. The same street I played roller hockey. I never liked hockey very much, but I tried. Today I found out what Bluetooth is, and why it's a big deal. It is also a line I wrote ten years ago and may not make sense in a year. I was sketching a woman who pretended to be asleep on the train when her eyes opened—she asked for the drawing, said I drew well.
Here’s more from my journal: for the last 30 mins, I thought the train went underground, but I just hadn’t noticed when became nighttime. Most people have horrible taste in music. Hey security guard! What's with the sequenced walkie-talkie? and why is it as big as a WW2 radio pack? Dude partying on the other side of the train just gave me a beer! Merci! Trains passing each other feel like they're going to hit. Only a few inches separate lifandef.
On what happened earlier in the voyage—Why was a drunk Polish guy at the train station asking me where he should go next, and what was he prophesying? Said he is living his second life at the moment and is due for a great reward. He must deliver his gift and slip away. Is he the next messiah? Je ne sais pas, je ne sais pas. We were going to Die, a romanesque town where you have to go to once in your life. “Don’t worry, it’s pronounced dee,” was the reassuring line.
I caught up with the group at the circus. Children were riding camels and ponies in the park. There was a market going on in the town square next to the cathedral. The market had everything from fromage, hats, music, homemade soap, art, clothes, etc... If only I had more money, I would’ve bought a lot more than The Wursts live in Hamburg Star Club 1962. But hey... that’s not too bad already. After a few hours of walking around Die, we headed to a small town nearby to wait for a soirée folk dance. We picked up 3 hitchhikers who also happened to be going (random). They showed us where the salle de fête “room of party” was, and we said see ya later. We drove on to explore the area more and a river came up that looked pleasing enough to investigate—nestled between 2 shivers of joy—we searched for fossils in the riverbed and found none. We headed back to Die and roamed around. We hiked up to the highest point overlooking it all, and just stood there mesmerized. Afterward we bought beers and chocolate and had ourselves a nice pre-game in the parking lot. We ate cheese and bread and drank beer. This was going to be quite an event. Car after car parked in the “parking-lot-of-party room.” In this region—when there’s a folk dance, everyone knows about it.
By the time night fell, we were at a solid buzzed state. It was cold and dark when we made it inside the dance hall. We bought more beer at 2 euros a glass at the vending table. The room was filled with pastoral characters wearing greens and pinks and blues, like a Degas pastel. The event started off slow with a classical piano solo and interpretive dance. The piano played a delightful pianissimo with so much touch it made me want to cry. The woman dancing tapped her feet gently on the ground as she lifted her own body in the air and gave a subtle turn with each passing chord. Her face micro-changed with each note. Then the band came on. A trio consisting of an accordion, trombone, and vibraphone. They played for more than two hours straight. All memorized—French, Scottish, German, and Polish folk music. I couldn’t believe how good they were at their instruments and how they didn’t have a single sheet of music in front of them. The dancing was fun and open and fluid. Everyone was nice and helped me learn the steps. With every new partner, I would imagine an entire life with them in a single dance, going home with them—searching for my keys as they wait patiently for me to open the apartment door. Asking their father to marry them. The whole bit.
At one point I just stood at the very front and watched the band. It always interests me to watch someone who knows how to play the accordion well. The way their fingers fly over the—what seems like hundreds of buttons and how their feet tap uniquely but to the same tempo. After a while I sat down and talked to Sarah about why music can change who you are. She said with music, energy and emotion collide and bounce like molecules heating up in a pot. The room seemed to play air like an instrument. I wish my life could hold the spirit of that night. Like steam, we vanished shortly after the music was over—and we drove the foggy mountain road back home.
[Insert rant about death?]
Our lives seemed protected by the Village. The outside was far away, and the internet was hard to come by. A sad phone call that lasted over an hour left too large a portal in the emotional lives of all the volunteers. Sadness that one volunteer had from deaths of loved ones, long distance partners breaking up, or something relatively-trivial-but-sad-nonetheless was often dealt with as a collective. All news had to be digested in some way by everyone. I remember feeling depressed for days after hearing that my friend's father passed away, there was no funeral. Most news tried to be shoved down and hidden before the collective could tell that something was off—but at the first sign of a tear or a moody afternoon display the community picked the hole like an anteater tongue in search of ants, which always came out. Slowly at first, and then spewing like a fountain.
In those days (I don’t believe it is still there) there was a payphone in the cellar by the laundry room. The arching stairwell with medieval-uneven-steps faced directly to the wall where the payphone hung. And there would be Selim, sitting on the first step with his back towards the door. When I was on laundry duty—washing the community’s dirty sheets, he would be talking in Turkish to his mother or his sister. I would scuttle by holding a bin full of aprons and he’d just look up at the emergency sign, a running stick figure and green arrow. The bottom step in the stairwell seemed slanted and smoothed out from all the phone conversations there. We all rely on our friends to fill the void of our families. But it’s impossible. Voids can’t be fully refilled no matter how hard we seem to try. Someone wise once said the only way to go through grieving is through it.
One morning, while I was hanging the sheets to dry, I overheard Cody on the phone, which was strange because he was never down there. He was talking about his finger that got cut off from the cement mixer. It happened a few days before (I’m guessing it took some time to muster up the courage to tell his old man). “It’s just the tip dah, it’s just the tip!” The silhouette of his head made a shadow through the sheet as he looked down at his swollen ring finger. He paused.
I know, I know, I’m the idiot.
Uhhuh, it’s gone.
Well, you know what?
It’s not all me fookin’ fault!
Dose arseholes wouldn’t help me with the cement
I had to do it me fookin’ self! It’s no shit I got me finger jammed in the gears.
Uhuh, uhuh. So you’re tellin’ me not come home yah?
Alright, fine, you all can go fook youself,
I’ll go find Maddie fookin’ live wit her!
Yes, well then I guess I AM a Frenchman now ain't I?
Oh piss off you old hag!
I heard the small words, “You have some nerve!” as he slowly hung up the phone, it clicked into place after doing a wiggle. It was already a bad February morning; Selim and I were complaining about plaster falling on our faces. It wouldn’t stick on the rough domed ceiling; the mix was too liquid. “Trop d’eau, trop d’eau,” the old man who made the coffee in the morning would say religiously, though he wasn’t there that day. When Cody came in to ask us if we could help him with the mixture I was in no mood, maybe it was gloom, or the plaster falling in my eyes, the lime burning my face, my humanness dissolving, and it was easy to just ignore him. He said fine, I’ll do it meself. A sense of disaster was already in the air. I noticed then that he had changed his black plugs with sabertooths. When he took them out his ears stretched halfway down his neck and he liked to put his fingers in the hole and stretch them more, much to the disgust of everyone around him but Maddie who thought that was hilarious.
No one but us three were in the Village that morning. Minutes later he stormed through the door holding the gushing finger with swirling eyes laughing hysterically. A laugh that I’ve never heard again like it was from a different language. The glottal stops signifying an unknown signifier. Voici n’est pas une laugh. Before we could react, he was gone. And we didn’t see him for a few days. Apparently, he had to hitchhike to the hospital in Gap, holding his finger. The Shepherd saw him at the bottom of the road standing on the highway and drove him straight there speeding. When the association director came back from the grocery store, she frantically tried to call anyone who might have known where he was. The hospital said he checked out. Dinner that night was quiet, I remember seeing in my journal that I wanted to go home already after getting full on a blended squash soup and old soaked bread.
He came back two days later as if nothing had happened. I realized that he hardly showed his emotion. He always seemed happy even when he was irritated, he’d throw in a loud laugh, and I’d think how does he do it? His face would scrunch up and he’d raise his chin and tell you how to say piss off with hand gestures from cultures all around the world. But not that night. That phone call got to him. If the Village was a glob—a happy molecule in a dream state—that phone was an entry point to reality that no one here was quite ready for, and even when volunteers left—it could take them years to feel okay back in ‘normal’ life. I don’t know if I will ever adjust no matter how time seems to dull the memories, a wave of iridescent pain fluttered in my gut when Cody left with his dried fingertip in a bag. It is known that certain appendages can last up to four days if properly kept cold. Unfortunately for Cody, the nerves were too damaged to reattach, so he asked the doctor, “Well what do I do with this thing?” apparently the doctor replied, you can keep it as a souvenir of the Alps. That may have been the one time I saw Cody tell a story and not laugh.
Sometimes energy gets severed. The power gets cut. We are communities of organisms living off of land and energy which has an awareness of the environment and reacts to heat and cold and dry and wet just like we do. Our agency is wrapped up in so many clothes and fabrics of things that we don’t consider to be part of civilization, but like how words are fingertips of language touching areas of our brain, the electricity grid is a collective of travelers going where they are needed, like with sac à dos and walking sticks they climb in hills and wallow in deserts and pass over lakes through rivers and sometimes they make a journey of thousands of miles for nothing at all, just to get called back to the center.
This made me think about Sarah, and how she found the Village by following the electric lines when she just happened to make a turn down this road that one night. Most of us get sent life-changing chapters through some form of electricity—phone calls, emails, texts, stories, posts, lights turned on in a distant window, and we either follow those paths for as far as they will take us, or we return to the pool and wait for another jolt to move us somewhere, or give us a purpose to move somewhere better than where we are in that moment of waiting, and we can only hope it teaches us something of value about the world. Your consciousness is always in flux of expansion and compression, like the prices of electricity or the number of trees in a forest, sometimes it seems arbitrary and human based as to why the things we value seem so unimportant, or why one moment we would pay hundreds of dollars to just sit at the side of a lake to feel like we have some kind of connection to nature. The fuses are being blown. And even a perfectly balanced mind that has learned the secret to expansion and compression and connection and isolation, can still be in misery if the terroir is dry and has lost its blood.