Life Becomes Claire

Darlene has been dreaming of and searching for a miniature Yorkie for more than a year. This week she found one, the only puppy in a litter born June 11 in nearby Brighton, Colorado. She visited the puppy on Thursday, and yesterday we drove out to Brighton with checkbook and camera. After browsing long lists of French girls' names, we have decided on Claire, which means "clear" in French. We met Claire's parents, Mimi and Max, and the breeder, Helen, said we can come back any time for pre-parenting visits. Darlene brought t-shirts we had worn the night before, so Claire could get used to our scent, eau de Fifi et Leonard.

This morning our roles have reversed. I am oddly upbeat about this new addition to the family, and Darlene is filled with worry. Dogs are technically not allowed in our building, a rule which is winkingly violated by a woman on our floor who owns three little Yorkies. In my mind a dog this size, who can come in and out of the elevator in a handbag, does not fit the common law definition of "dog." The plan is to ask forgiveness rather than permission, a strategy which gives me the willies. Thus Claire has already lured me from my comfort zone, even before she arrives. We are scheduled to pick her up on the way to Maine at the end of the month. She's destined to be a flying dog, or perhaps she will clear the way for us to abandon gypsy life for a while.

John. That's the name of the guy I visited with on my way over to Starbucks just now, 10 minutes ago. It's taken that long to fish his name out of pre-France memory. He lives in the high-rise next to ours, and I've visited with him a number of times in the past. Memory is just one feature of the intense cluster of mental and emotional disorientations I've been going through in the week since we returned. In the right frame of mind, I would find it spiritually refreshing to reenter my life and find it changed, out of whack, so that I feel like a tourist in my home town. Isn't that the way every day should be, brand new? The problem, as always, comes in mis-defining reality, in insisting that I "should" remember John's name the instant his face looms into view. If I'd been free of that ridiculous parameter I would have simply asked him to remind me of his name, which would also have provided a chance gently to correct his own mangling of mine as "Mr. Eberly." "Actually, that's Edgerly, Len, but I'm sorry to say I have forgotten YOUR name..." A good traveler learns the skill of asking questions, especially questions you think you don't need to ask.

If all goes well actuarilly for Claire and me, I will be around 70 years old at the time of her departure. This is a dizzying thought, a way of wondering what the bejeezus we have done. She is a new country, with a name from the country where we lived for three months and came back changed.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Ritard of Journaling

What I missed most while I was away from home were my dictionaries. They don't travel well, my Webster's Third New International, my two-volume Shorter Oxford English, and my American Heritage 4th edition. Not to mention their companion tomes, The Columbia Encyclopedia, Benet's Reader's Encylopedia, Roget's Thesaurus, and Bartlett's Quotations.

I also left a long-time favorite writing-hour-starter book at home, The Journals of John Cheever, and today was my first chance to sample again the bittersweet delights of his intimate entries. He didn't disappoint, and he gave me an excuse to play with my dictionaries. Praising Katherine Anne Porter, Cheever wrote, "In some of the emotional scenes she strikes with exceptional accuracy that balance between the ritard of observation and the flow of feeling." (p. 164) I found that "ritard" is short for "ritardando," an Italian musical term. What an elegant way to evoke how one has to slow down to observe things. Cheever's journal contains veiled and not-so-veiled references to his homosexuality, as well as the wild mood swings that accompanied his alcoholism. But the writing is always taut, masterly.

I began keeping journals when I was seven years old. For some time now I've felt a strong yearning to type up my old journals, and in the continuing disorientation of reentry from France, today seemed like a good day to begin. I carefully opened my first journal, a drying volume titled "Daily Diary." The year is 1958. I am preserving line breaks and spelling, which make the entries appear like small cummings-like poems. Here are a few samples:

January 1, 1958

today Mother went
to the Eemmens
Briftas. I was
sik dad was too

January 2, 1958

today I am still
sik. Gramie
gave me a cow
boy set with two
guns. Dad stayed Home
the doctor came to.o.

January 8, 1958

the fog horn blew
so I stayed Home.
got a new frind.
It snowed today.

Back in the States, I continue to keep a separate journal in French, the red leather volume I bought at the Montblanc store in Cannes. If the leather did not feel so soft to my fingers, I might abandon writing in French, which seems strange here in Denver. But there is no way I will abandon mon journal rouge without filling every page. I notice the same obsessiveness in the author of the blue Daily Diary, who for a year filled in every single half-page space with at least a mark, in one case, two big Xs where something was written in pencil and then erased.

I am in need of someone to correct my recent French entries, a task ably performed by Jean Segarra, my professor at the Institute while I was there. Here is a raw sample from today:

Pour la première fois depuis trois mois, j’ai trouvé un mot dans une de mes grandes dictionnaires ici à mon bureau. John Cheever a utilisé le mot « ritard, » qui est une petite forme de ritardando, un mot italien que Larousse explique ainsi : « Terme d’interprétation indiquant qu’il faut retenir le movement. » Webster’s dit : « with a gradual slackening in tempo, used as a direction in music. » Et maintenant, il faut que je retiens mes movements. Être chez moi veut dire il y a trop de choses que je veux faire. Écoutez-moi : mon travail dans cet epoch c’est écrire dans ce journal rouge, en français, tous les jours. Après ça, nous voyons ce qu’arrivera.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Mile High Home

We rolled our luggage into the apartment in Denver this morning at 1:30 am. We're tired. A trip to Whole Foods in Cherry Creek made me think the designers of the displays must have spent some time in the open-air markets of France. The Segway still works, and I glided through the empty streets of LoDo this morning. I was able to hover in the middle of 17th Street and take a series of photos of Union Station. I had a Denver skillet for brunch at Dixon's. It was fun to see a bottle of Heinz kechup proudly perched on the table; whenever eggs were served in France I was tempted to ask for kechup but always resisted the temptation, fearing I would spark an international culinary incident.

This evening I downloaded an amazing Google program that enables you to "fly" to any spot on the globe from outer space. I have taken odd comfort moving the cursor from Denver to France and back numerous times, enjoying the visual illusion of soaring up into space and then settling down on the other side of the ocean. This may be good therapy for jet lag.

I can tell that three months is a long time to be away, because in that time the old Post Office complex in Lower Downtown was completely demolished and carted away. Also, a huge new parking garage was built on the Auraria campus. I don't even remember the beginnings of excavation in late March, just before we left.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

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