Monday, January 25, 2016

missed connections: losing my iphone as i leave new york

“How is that phone even working?” The fourteen-year-old son of our friend in Paris asked, staring across the bistro table at my iPhone with the kind of casual disdain that French teenagers have perfected.

He was right, of course (as all those French teenagers usually are). My iPhone’s battery had overheated and expanded, pushing up against the screen, which had detached around the edges along the top. It being a work phone, I could have turned it in for a replacement, but knowing I would be leaving the university in six weeks, I didn’t want to go through the hassle, despite risking the loss of all service and connection while on vacation in Europe.

After all, I was reminded of my first visit to France in 1999. Back then, if I’d had a cell phone, it would have only been just that, a phone—no Internet, no GPS, texting, email, no camera or music—just a phone. But I didn’t even have that. Instead, I had a cassette player with the Italian language tapes that I had practiced for six months before the trip, some guidebooks, a big foldout map of France, and my Nikon F3 camera.

When we arrived in France, we had just finished three weeks traveling around Italy where I had been in charge of all communication and had already snapped dozens of rolls of film. Stepping off the overnight train from Venice to Nice, it was now Bob’s turn to do all the talking. I was relieved of my duties as translator and guide, and could now lose myself in the only tool I had at my disposal, the camera lens, to comprehend this new place I was exploring.

But only a day into the three weeks we were about to navigate through France, the battery on my F3 died. Completely died. And finding a replacement in the southern French countryside would prove impossible. There was plenty of goose liver pâté and rillette, but no camera equipment.

For the rest of that trip I was surprisingly disoriented. I couldn’t remember any of the high school French that I might have snatched out of the air at another time. Maps, which I’m normally good with, were hard to negotiate, and the simplest things, like toilets and door keys, were completely alien. I mean like extraterrestrial alien.

I have memories of the trip: the ferme-auberge where we stayed near Carcassonne, cassoulet in Castelnaudary, Burgundy, Toulouse, Cap d'Agde, eating bread and jams from a farmers market along the road in the Loire Valley, the taxi driver in Paris who pretended not to understand where we wanted to go, a kiss on the Tour Eiffel. But I have only half as many memories from France as from the three weeks prior in Italy. And no photographs.

A friend whose family moved from Mexico to Southern California when he was six years old says he has very few memories from his first year in the United States while he was learning to speak English. For him, having the vocabulary and making memories were intimately intertwined and had been completely disrupted. And I dare say, the same has been true for me when traveling, especially on that first European vacation when the tools I’d used for the first half of the trip all failed me suddenly.

So yesterday, two days before my last day in my current job and one week before I leave New York City after 26 years and move to Providence RI to start my next job, my iPhone lost the battle and died completely. And by strange coincidence, so did the iPad 2 I’ve been nursing along for several years without replacement. Furthermore, at close of business on Tuesday, I will be turning in my work laptop, and then all mobile connection will cease. I won’t have a cell phone and laptop until I start work next Monday in Rhode Island.

I’m being challenged to face my final week in New York tool-free, and it’s frightening. I have no way to record my final days or stay connected with friends I'd like to see before I leave. I will need to fall back on conventional ways of communicating and being present to the moment, and experience them unfiltered, unmapped, and uninterpreted until I’m plugged in once again.

So, until then, call Bob if you want to get together before I go.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

quiet sadness on the pope's visit

As a person who cares deeply about ending poverty and its systemic causes, as well as reversing the disastrous consequences of climate change, I know I should remain silent.

I should tuck my personal feelings into my vest pocket, keep a low-profile, and roundly support the lovefest that has been unfolding here in the United States for Pope Francis during his visit.

But I'm conflicted.

And I'm tired.

Monday, August 31, 2015

this is what you get: life after plasma tv

Our 12-year-old 52" Fujitsu plasma TV would still be displaying beautifully and brightly had our movers not killed it.

After a decade of walking into Best Buy's home theater departments and backing right out again, horrified by how bad the LED HD displays looked compared to our plasma, Bob and I are now forced against our will to consider the new generation of TVs—and to deal with a generation of salespeople who don't know that film wasn't "analog" and that movies on movie theater screens before 1990 didn't look like old VHS tapes or a low def cable broadcast.

One young salesman actually tried to tell me my eyes just "didn't know any better back then" enough to recognize that movie images were all jagged digits and blurry bits like the lower resolution broadcast of Peter Weir "Witness" that we were watching on the 75-inch 4K TV display in front of us.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

reading my skin

know better now
to guard against
the dangerous sun,

but our skin
tells cavalier stories
of childhoods
cycling through

scars learned-from
can be badges
of endurance
and resilience,

and freckles,
like the stars,
gorgeous remnants
of playing
with fire.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

où est la guerre?

We arrived in France for the first time on Bastille Day.

After three weeks in Italy, where I had been in charge of the map and the language, Bob emerged from the overnight train to Nice suddenly totally responsible for our well being.

As he spoke first to the cab driver and then to the hotel clerk, he held is head as if it was painful to produce the sounds he was making. And the locals stared at him as though he were a giant misérable wearing a bloody head bandage.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

time capsule to my teenaged self

Dear Jim, Hello from 2015.

I'll bet that sounds downright Jetsonian to you as a 17-year-old in 1975.

So I'll settle one big question at the outset: we do not have flying cars. 

There is, come to think of it, something called a personal computer that I know you'll appreciate for at least a couple of its features in particular: it will check your spelling for you. Hold your tears. I know you'll love that.

And then there’s the Internet, which is also hard to describe, but it will eliminate the need for the family's old Encyclopedia Britannica. And there's a whole lot of, well, anything you might ever want (publicly or secretly) on the Internet, such as movies and music and travel guides. And, umm, well, let me just say, kids your age today aren't even thinking about agonizing over how to convince the sales clerk at the 7-Eleven to sell them a copy of Playgirl.

Yeah, I know about your secret Playgirl stash.

See, I’m you, grown old. I'm you 40 years from now.

Friday, March 27, 2015

love saves the day

Since yesterday's explosion on Second Avenue at Seventh Street in the East Village, I've been thinking about this photograph.

I took it about a month ago while sitting at a window table in San Marzano restaurant, looking up Second, during one of our February snow storms.

The building on the left, the former home of the quintessential East Village vintage clothing and novelty shop Love Saves The Day, is one of the buildings that collapsed. The woman with the white umbrella is passing in front of the restaurant that was the source of the explosion.

I've also been thinking about the staff at Pomme Frites, Sushi Park, Paul's Burger, San Marzano and the other shops along this avenue. And especially about the residents who lost their homes. We're anxious to check on acquaintances who work at the restaurants.