Thursday, April 26, 2007

Encountering Jacques

Last night I had a very distinct urge to spend my dinner break at a seedy bar. My thought process was tightly wound and seizing up; a little lubrication and a carousing social atmosphere seemed just the thing. A while back I'd gotten out of the deleterious habit of writing in my journal at a bar, so it was kind of fun to revisit the experience this one time.

I had to find a new bar, though, because my old favorite dive, a noisy sports bar with a happy hour that couldn't be beat, had gone out of business*. I felt like an outsider when I entered the dark confines of my new-chosen venue, until I was greeted warmly by a bartender who had worked at the sports bar a couple years before. I set myself up at the end of the bar where I had the benefit of light from the front window and open door.

I ordered a martini and a pint of Guinness, an allotment for the night that would amply satisfy me. I hauled out my journal book and the latest National Geographic. I did a quick survey of the patrons; the place was full of people having a good time, playing pool in back; through the open backdoor I could see people enjoying the spring evening out on the the sunlit back patio. Determining that there was nobody I knew, I immersed myself in the process of writing in my diary.

I wrote about the blog experience, the effect it's been having on me: tensing up my thought process, for one thing, wondering if I needed to step away from it for a while. I wrote about the fact that I couldn't remember the bartender's name...but I knew it would come to me...perhaps I would hear someone addressing her.

After a while her name came to me, and that was that, I had nothing more to write, so I turned to my National Geographic, a very interesting article about Jamestown and the ecological impact the colony unleashed upon the New World. Sensational stuff:
By the beginning of 1610, the settlers at Jamestown were dining on "dogs, cats, rats, and mice," Percy wrote, as well as the starch for their Elizabethan ruffs, which could be cooked into a kind of porridge. With famine "ghastly and pale in every face," some colonists stirred themselves to "dig up dead corpse[s] out of graves and to eat them." One man murdered his pregnant wife and "salted her for his food." When John Rolfe arrived that spring, only about 60 people at Jamestown had survived what was called "the starving time."
Ooh, I have to quote that in my blog, I thought.

I looked up from my reading, as if to share this gruesome detail with someone, when I noticed a small man dressed in dark garments: a heavy coat, an old knitted scarf, and a flat cloth cap, a sort of limp ragged beret. He made his way over to me, pointed out the array of items in front of me, and remarked in a slow, halting way that he found this curious. He seemed pretty drunk, and I wasn't relishing having to deal with him, but something about him made me decide to engage him, so I explained that I like to contrast the flavor of gin with the flavor of Guinness, and that when I get tired of writing, I like to read, and vice versa.

Emboldened, he took up a bar stool next to me, and then inquired about the nature of my writing. I'm often asked about this, so I gave a rendition of my usual answer. "I write as a way to apprehend my existence, savor the details of my day, and also to sort out my thoughts and emotions, deal with problems, and to help me remember things."

He seemed pleased with this answer, and asked my name. I obliged and asked him his. He told me he was Jacques, which made me aware now of his slight French accent. He spoke very carefully, halting between each word; this punctuated his speech with a kind of gravity, but I also was aware it might just be his effort to sound coherent through the haze of alcohol. As I shook his hand I took a closer look, admiring his Old World face, which was long and haggard. He had serious thoughtful eyes, a prominent nose and a pointed beard, all of which, in the shadows of the bar, brought to mind the face of El Greco.

I asked if he was French. "I am Flemish," he said. "Oh," I answered, being at a loss as how to respond to his Flemishness. He asked who my favorite writer was, and as I paused to turn over the usual literary suspects in my mind, he waved his hand dismissively and said, "I shouldn't ask that."

I noticed at one point that he had a golf ball-sized goiter on the left side of his throat. Questions about iodized salt flitted across my mind and then fluttered off. My involuntary glance at the bulbous protrusion led him to adjust his scarf back around to cover it.

The conversation continued on a vague course. Because of his slow, deliberate way of speaking I was at a loss to understand where he was going with his series of questions. He told me he was an artist, a painter. He seemed to want to convey that in his native country there was pride in being an artist and in making a living at what you most wanted to do. By implication, Americans did not hold this value. Certainly, the job I've held for so long does not fulfill my life's calling. It provides the financial means so I can pursue that fulfillment in my spare time.

Jacques spoke wistfully about Paris, which was a couple hours from his hometown. Here his speech was even more halting, as if words were inadequate to express the wonders the city had to offer. Also, he seemed to keep getting lost in his reminiscence.

I took my last sip of martini, thanked Jacques for the conversation, and bid adieu. As I walked away from the encounter, I felt very satisfied. I had realized my desire for amiable social interaction, the European flavor Jacques provided, a bonus. And though the concepts were only vaguely expressed, the kinship to the aesthetics of life inspired me.

As I was looking at portraits of El Greco to illustrate this post, I came across the visage of another 16th Century painter, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, responsible for those fanciful portraits of people comprised of fresh produce. Somewhere between El Greco and Giuseppe Arcimboldo you can get an idea of the impression Jacques' face made on me.

Now I'm wondering if the artwork of the dark and brooding Jacques has any of the whimsy of Giuseppe Archimboldo's vege heads.

In other news, tonight's the night I host the classical music program Musica della sera, which you can listen to live on-line. Show time listing is Pacific Time. I'll be adding to the playlist through the course of the program.

*I prefer not to think the curtailing of my barside writing habits was the direct cause of its demise.

    From Today's Soundtrack

  • Ahir Bhairav/Nat Bhairav─Hariprasad Chaurasia And Shivkumar Sharma ─Call of the Valley
  • Love Turns 40─Vienna Teng─Dreaming Through The Noise
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Televised─Gil Scott Heron
  • Carl Orff: Carmina Burana─Chicago Symphony Orchestra, James Levine
  • Bird On A Wire (Leonard Cohen)─k.d. lang─Hymns Of The 49th Parallel
  • Selva Amazonica/Pau Rolou─Egberto Gismonti─Solo
  • Antienne Devant l'ouvrage de tes mains, et Psaume 91, avec kora─The Monks of the Abbey of Keur Moussa─Psaumes & Rythmes pour tous les temps - Samedi
  • Calice─Chico Buarque & Milton Nascimento─Brazil Classics 1


Lionlady said...

What an interesting encounter, so nicely brought to life.

Last night, about the same time as you, I was also reading the NG Jamestown article.

Break a leg on the show tonight!

Puzzled said...

Thank you, dear lionlady.

Meera was asleep when I got home, and she has my show playing on buffer delay. Damn pleasant music, if I do say so myself.

And my legs are both intact, thank you very much! :)

O'Donovan said...

Love the new tagline for the blog, Puzz!

And I loved this post; what an evocative description of the conversation.