Europe Journals - Part II

Europe Journals
Tim Donlan

Part II


A warm guitar lulls between the many gentle conversations of the
crowds, playing Bach, Beethoven, traditional ballads. Spread
before me is Paris. I am sitting on the steps of the Sacre Coeur.

Just the tops of trees end after the botanical gardens, and it
is forever buildings, stretching across eras. Cathedrals and
monuments in dark stone and granite. A handful of skyscrapers
rising anachronistically over to the right. But most of it white,
tan and pink masonry, topped with metal and slate roofs. These
glare in the sun like a king’s fortune of jewels tossed into a
three-year-old’s Lego pit. The clouds are thick but tiny, so they
glow from the overhead sun like they’ve gone radioactive.

Things just don’t sink in. Sentences like: “I’ve a degree in
Computer Science,” and “I’m touring Europe for a month
with my best friend from childhood,” just don’t register.
The magnanimity of the statements seems to lessen the effect.
Emotionally, I feel like I’ve just graduated high school and its
a lazy summer ahead of me. The true future is far less serene, or
as lucid.

In reality, I’m sitting in front of a busy street. For me it’s
a thoroughfare of culture, and the round edged, pussified cars
streaming by are just a component.

Two tiny girls, one riding a bike and the other a scooter,
sail past me on the sidewalk. Who will they become? Their mother
strides by with a quick step, blonde hair coifed and slicked

If this were your home, what would be your axioms? What would set
your principles in stone so you could spiral away in brilliant
fury, still forever encapsulated in the “set” of
culture? I want to ask these girls, these denizens, what they
think of America. If I can clunk the French into a single
sentence: Artsy, pastry nibbling, wine sipping, highbrows (snobs)
still coasting on grandeur from centuries past
. It’s half assed
and certainly isn’t fair, but it’s my quick and dirty guide to
looking at France. How would they clunk America?

I’m sure they would have some good reasons why their
ideologies and worldviews are superior. And I wouldn’t disagree.
Only mark up another notch on the scoreboard for relentless
cultural influence over a poor monkey in a cage. Can we blame
these people for who they are? Can we even give them credit?

I can imagine watching chimpanzees chattering and scratching away
over a beer and banality. How mundane and ultimately satisfying,
to see rats run a maze with passion and purpose. How different we
assert ourselves, with monuments and cultured flourish.
Aesthetics. Civilization is our biofilm. Communication is our
vector of exchange. Perhaps diabolical and pathological, but in
the end expected, organic.

I was moving through the underground catacombs of the Paris
subway, heading for the ancient heart of the city when I heard
soothing chords. I came across a string orchestra playing an
ominous piece of Beethoven. This was no string quartet; it was at
least ten young men and women expertly playing violins, violas,
cellos and string bases. They sounded enticingly fresh, echoing
through the deep arched tiled corridors and passageways. I was
heading down towards my metro connection, away from the music,
when the piece changed.This was a bittersweet ode to life, dipping down and rising up,
all in harmonious perfection. I had to turn around. Holy shit
this theme latched onto some emotional handle, as though I was a
mere marionette, hooked into some sobbing machine. The melody
must be hardwired into my brain somehow, and the composer was an
absolute genius to capture it, transcribe it into notes and time
signatures.I am now sitting in a glorious hard stone headquarters of a
millennium long institution. The structure does not betray its
legacy in any dimension. The Notre Dome Cathedral in Paris. Hell,
I’m an atheist and this rumbling, cascading, waterfalling sonance
spilling forth from the mile high organ, coupled with
architecture to match the sound’s glory – could make me bow down
for an eternity.

People (American apathetic atheists) are very ignorant about
the power of the Christian memeset. I see now how overwhelming
glory flows down the lines of history – familial and cultural,
ominous and eternal. Dirty farmers watching, wet eyed in rapture,
the burning incense rising into the stone rafters. Concentric
rings gently expanding in a golden basin of holy water. Walls of
prayer candles blurring into a yellow sea from those spiritual
tears. And music, blessed music.

These sound waves emanating from the practiced choir, and even
the unwashed masses, wrap around the shaped rock, spiraling ever
upward to reverberate with statues of saints and stained glass.
Harmonies arranged by pious ministers and priests, monastically
tied by blood to that metameme.

And from that pattern seed arose such beauty.

Candlelight, cold stone, Latin and harmonically perfect
architecture – seeds, and strong points, of the greatest religion
to infect the world.

At the Louvre Palace, the spectacle of grandeur continues.
Life must have been insignificant next to these monoliths. What’s
more astounding – the intricate mason work, architecture and
sculpture, or the fact there is no living plant life for acres?
Such gall and belligerence by the people of the past, same as it
ever was.

9/14/04The French Alps are jagged teeth with pure white caps. Riding the
train in through the dense forest, the tops were just barely
visible. Most of the mountains were gray brown stone, hazy in the
distance, but the tallest of them, Mont Blanc, gleamed far above
in a frigid tempest. Swirling around the summit was an extremely
dense cloud, white as snow. It’s churning appendages looked like
a ravaging avalanche, crashing downward.

I met Josh on the street, trudging up through cafes and
patisseries. Our grins were probably equally beaming, and we
shook hands then embraced. After only one day, I can say with
confidence his personality has not changed – impulsive, fun,
intense, directed, somewhat demanding. The same Josh. I assume he
says the same of me – crazy, aloof, etc.

We spend the rest of the day taking a scary steep gondola above
the clouds, up onto the ridgeline opposite majestic Mont Blanc.
On the way up, listening to rickety cables pass through pulleys,
and the boxy car swinging in the wind – we could see
parachutists, spiraling like birds, catching updrafts and
currents, soaring down into the valley.

The exercise was good, and the scenery gave all the pain
purpose. There is something to be said of physical exertion and
activity that cannot be matched through simple stimuli of the
senses. Pumping muscles – locomotion – moving through the
physical plane of reality. Your mind wanders and sometimes goes
off the hook, and you are reduced to a rock climbing, mountain
hiking automaton, eyes glazed with the reflections of sparkling
glacier lakes and craggy peaks.

We decided to stray off the beaten path, avoid quad wounding
switchbacks, and go horizontally across the slope of the
mountain. This turned into a very time consuming tactic – to say
nothing of personal safety.

It was about a 45-degree incline, with wet grass and needle-like
shrubs, sprinkled in parts with wild blueberries. Rivers of loose
rock and boulders made their tumbling way down from the ridge,
and we made tedious, precarious progress, often sliding a few
adrenaline pumped meters in the wet grass or pebble causeways.

Much laughter, and of course – joshing – ensued.

Our water supply dwindled and we were still a good couple of
hours from the gondola drop off base camp. We decided to make our
way down to a glacial lake and refill, albeit wary of unknown
diseases and pathogens. We certainly didn’t want to spend the
remainder of our French Alps jaunt crouched over a stinking
toilet, reeling with dysentery.

We rock jumped for at least half a kilo, turning our feet and
tendons to hamburger.

Eventually we found a path, hovered above the sparkling lake
to dunk my empty plastic water bottle, and then scrambled back up
to the ridgeline.

In a rocky dip of the trail, surrounded by the menace of
boulder-strewn walls, four mountain goats appeared into view.
Merely a few dozen meters away, Josh and I had no idea where they
had come from. Languidly, they nibbled the grass sprouting
between the boulders, looking up into Josh’s camera lens without
fear, slowly chewing. They dwindled into the rocks, bowing their
horned heads to eat, and we left them behind with hurried
strides. Within the hour we were back to the rickety cable car,
famished and tired. We got some ice cream, thumbed our noses at a
herd of Japanese tourists, then descended to the mountain village
of Chamonix.

9/14/04We arrive with trepidation, twenty kilos on our backs, trudging
with sore muscles through the drab urban streets. I’m still warm
and buzzing from two bottles of wine on the train. We approach
they darkened Hotel with wary, nervous and half joking smiles.
When we ring the bell, an old crone peers out of a window, framed
by foliage and wilting red flowers. From her wrinkled lips spills
forth a barrage of colloquial French gibberish.

I am the clueless outsider once again, sullenly smirking at
typical French shittiness, but Josh is my savior. This is an
amphibian-eating hag from Triplets of Belleville, and Josh
negotiates the perilous frog speech like a local, or at least an
Ace student of French IV. That’s Josh for you, weaving expertly
into the wavelength of culture to elevate his own kingship.

We get a private double for 25 Euro. This is probably the best
deal in town. I’m relieved, but I didn’t have all that much
emotionally invested, cause I’m the eternal aloof apathetic. Josh
couldn’t be more ecstatic, promptly bringing out the chest
thumping good-natured boasting.

I lounge on the lace bedspread in a room that looks like it
hasn’t been renovated since World War II.

Minimalist white IPod headphones plugged into my ears, tome sized
schizophrenic composition book spread before me, two free rub on
tattoos kissing the back of my hands. One is a glaring pirate and
the other some twisted thorned Van Gogh vine.

Alanis Morissette moans, whispers and cheers in my ears. Her
honest desperate girl power lyrics force an encroaching smile, a
warm wetness in the corner of my eyes. I could care less about
the looks of a girl, if only she had this mind, these words on
her wet lips. I’d love her for a few lifetimes.

On the train, Josh and me talked about literature, dreams, and
goals – a conversation of true depth. When was the last time I
had one of those – the teary eyed acid exposition to Stephanie?

Drifting through Europe, catching some wicked thought patterns, a
transient transplanted, a future untold, aging, clenched jaw and
fist, white tooth glaring smiles, embraces, and inevitable

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