Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Unprinted Menu

Since I began CarpeSummer, the summer solstice has been kickoff day for a summer of enjoyment.  

Last summer, I lost interest in some of my old desires after a wonderful trip France, Barcelona and Vancouver, B.C.  Since then, my "bucket list" has evolved to include less selfish pursuits.  

I wrote a long essay on the trip.  The following is an excerpt.  


Anthropologists and ethnographers actually study the difference between pilgrims and tourists.  The etymology of “tourist” is a circle: you finish where you begin.  Sincere pilgrims seek something more.  Faux pilgrims don’t care, if the path is cool.  Some travelers end up in between.  On this trip, I had no intention of rejiggering brainwaves; it just happened.

*  *  *  *  *

Day Eight, we crossed into Spain and met the other six members of our wedding party in Barcelona for a three-hour guided tapas tour.  When the siblings get together, laughter reins.  Over the next two or three hours, three restaurants fed us fifteen dishes, some of which were nearly erotic in appearance:  Did someone intend those little balls to look like breasts with nipples?  And picture this: a bread stick wrapped in prosciutto perched on the narrow oval bowl of red-orange sauce floating three halves of hard-boiled quail eggs?  Hmmm. 

Gluttony is one of the seven cardinal sins.  St. Thomas Aquinas asserted gluttony is a gateway sin to another capital sin, lust.  Authorities assert one can commit the sin in any one of five ways.

Gluttony = at least one of the following:
Consume mass quantities

Timing: eating too soon or at inappropriate times

Luxurious eating: costly food intended to stimulate the palate

Elaborately prepared delicacies

Eagerness: even eating simple food with too much zeal

While parts of The Holy Bible encourage us to eat, drink and be merry, the sin of gluttony condemns us to hell for eating like beasts for the purpose of sensual pleasure. 

My depression-survivor dad would be aghast at how much Abigail I spend on the culinary arts.  Dinner out for Dad and Gloria is a $7 pummeled and fried piece of pork, ten inches in diameter, sticking way out of the bun.  Definitely enough for two. 

I hear Dad’s voice often.  He never talked of “travel.”  Working people take vacations:  precious limited periods of time off work that better be well planned.  He meticulously packed his 1962 Ford Falcon station by Thursday night, and stocked it with NoDoz®.  After work Friday, he’d drive through the night from Chicago to Amarillo, Texas or Valdosta, Georgia, on the two-lane roadways of the 1960s, stopping only for gas.  Save money on motels that way, too.  “Travel,” like the culinary arts, is a luxury for those unencumbered by workplace vacation policies.

*  *  *  *  *

Gaudi’s fanciful and functional design for a town center at Park Güell is brilliant.  Having just visited ancient towns in Southern France, I saw Park Güell as an upbeat update.  From the panoramic view above, the rough stone footpath evokes medieval villages as it guides people to Gaudi’s town center.  There, a gingerbread church tower faces the market area with confection ramparts that conjure a friendly Gothic fortress and provide a sense of community, solidity and security.

Park Güell is a “must-see,” and, for 76.8% of the crowd (give or take), a must photograph and “share.”  Freakin’ selfie-sticks everywhere!  Lots of visitors, but few people present.  At some point, I realized I was a moron shooting pictures from every angle and interrupting the experience of our party for posing.  I regretted the many times I had been with people but less than fully engaged while playing photographer.

On Day Eleven, I lost interest in broadcasting photographic evidence of my good times to those who do not request them.

Next day, Abigail and I sweat our way up Montjuïc to the National Art Museum, which offers voices from the tenth through the twentieth centuries.  The creators’ works sing that humans love beauty, people and God.  They express reverence for open landscapes, busy cities, and virtuosity of craft.  They proclaim that war, poverty, and sadness have always coexisted with humor, whimsy and love.

Outside the museum, under the harsh, hot sunlight, people photographed themselves in front of the panoramic view, adding their drops to the multiple firehoses of voices that blast us from all directions:  Facebook Television, internet, strangers on the sidewalk, friends and family.  Look at me!  Adopt my cause.  Sexy.  Environmental Armageddon.  Help me. Clinton.  Best restaurant.  Thirty people blown up. Trump.  Retirement account.  Most valuable player.  Implacable corruption and incompetence.  Disruptive technology.  Youth.  Art.  Music. Wilderness. Genius. 

On Day Twelve I vowed to monitor the voices I allow into my head and escort out the ignorant, disingenuous, and banal.  I want more genius and less drivel.

I examined my own voice and found it lacking.  Over the past twelve days, Abigail and I had visited the haunts of, or creations by, some people deemed indisputably cool by history:  a restaurant frequented by Paul Cézanne, Van Gough’s asylum, Park Güell, and on and on.  Being at those places does not make one cool or accomplished.  Diligent effort to contribute a worthwhile voice is what sets apart cultural icons from the rest of us.

We returned to Portland for a two-day break for some work and laundry and to eat ascetically before continuing our gluttony in Vancouver, B.C. with four friends. 

Vancouver is a wonderful city.  The overcast sky kept the air cool and clean.  Wooded hillsides slope to the midnight green waters of Burrard Inlet, making Vancouver feel cozy, despite all the gleaming towers plus cranes signaling more on the way.  Our excuse to visit was a concert by James Taylor, who satisfied the crowd with a humble, professional and charming performance of his old hits along with some new songs, which, he admitted, sound like his old catalogue. 

The six of us walked and talked and walked between delightful feedings. 

On Day Seventeen, our way took us past Science World.  Six of us scrunched together for a selfie.  With all the fresh air, endorphins and dim sum (God! That was great f’ing dim sum.), we all looked very happy in the picture in front of the water and the downtown beyond.  For another twenty minutes, I thought it was okay for someone else to post a picture of me having fun on Facebook.

Vancouver is not all beauty, charm and restaurants. 

Also near Science World was a young woman pulling an enormous two-shopping cart train of belongings.  The caboose cart was a normal-sized, filled to the top, and had a suitcase above the top of the basket and tied down.  In front was a supersized cart of some kind, bigger than grocery carts, piled well over the top and covered with a gray a tarp, I think.  We were too distant to tell if it were a waterproof tarp or a blanket.  The woman had attached a large black strap on the front of the forward cart, on which she pulled the train.  She dropped her arm for a break during my 45-second observation.  Did her landlord raise her rent 35 percent as in every other West Coast boom city?  Recently evicted?  Fleeing an abusive spouse or boyfriend? 

We continued through Chinatown and through Vancouver’s concentrated open area of desperate and troubled homeless between Chinatown and Gastown: maybe 70 to 150 people dressed in dirty clothes hanging on to whatever they have left and getting by however they can.  Some seated with vacant stares, some lying, most moving but not going anywhere, resembling bees in a hive, walking a few feet in one direction and then another.  Some talking, one yelling.  One guy had a grocery cart full of metal parts.  Another had a grocery cart with a variety of plastic garbage bags, black, white, big and small, both in his cart and hanging on the outside. 

One lean woman, maybe 5’3,” in her late 30s or early 40s was swinging what looked like a bamboo pole or broomstick around like a ninja warrior, probably suffering some psychotic break, as three others tried to calm her.  For homeless women, sexual assault is only a question of when. 

I panicked for the woman pulling the shopping cart train a few blocks away.  Some night, will others tear away her belongings like a pack of wolves pulling apart a baby buffalo?  Will she end up between Chinatown and Gastown with nothing but dirty clothes on her back and a “put me out of my misery” look on her face?  I felt like returning to her, but lacked the courage to suggest it to the group.  I took down from Facebook the happy picture snapped and shared twenty minutes before by my dear friend.  I felt guilty being so high within screaming distance of the train puller.

Is gluttony a sin also because we selfishly gorge ourselves when others are in need?  A definitive answer will require me to consult a reverend colleague who has more experience than merely clicking “ordain me.”

Dr. Nancy Frey earned her Ph.D. studying pilgrims and other people who trekked the Camino de Santiago, or the St. James Way.  For centuries, the faithful have walked the arduous path for prayer, mediation, divine guidance and inner calm.  These days, others “do” the Camino as if it were the Appalachian Way.  Dr. Frey reported that very few people changed their lives suddenly and dramatically upon return from the Camino.  Some compartmentalized their Camino experience as an interlude bracketed between their “real life” selves. 

Dr. Frey concluded her five years of experience and study of Camino Pilgrims with the following few words, “Most pilgrims, however find that deep personal transformation occurs over time through action and reflection, that the Camino may have provided the catalyst, but they work to integrate the Camino and daily reality.  In a sense, one chooses to be changed.”

And travel can confront the observant with a menu.

On Day Eighteen, I returned to Portland with the following thoughts:   
  • Instead of capturing beauty, make something beautiful.
  • Be present and share your gifts, not selfies.
  • Have a heart.

It is now Day 395.     

While I certainly intend to eat, drink and be merry this summer, I am pushing harder to integrate and act upon my changed sensibilities.  My “bucket list” now includes working to help others not merely as an attorney or mediator, but as a person. 

(c) 2016-2017

* Frey, Nancy Louise, Pilgrim Stories: Onand Off the Road to Santiago.  Journeys Along an Ancient Way in Modern Spain. Berkeley, US: University of California Press, 1998 (print)