The worst thing about living in fear is probably the denial. It’s spoon fed to us so early that somewhere along the way fear becomes hard to distinguish from routine, our brains clicking shut till its over. Those of us that are the worst hit not just live by the book but make it our Bible, an unintelligible multitude telling itself that here lies moral ground, here lies direction, here lies the closest thing to stability. But what is stability if not glorified stagnation? We fear chaos, change, saving our breath for when we’re in clear ground for god forbid the fumes of a hint at change, for better or for worse, clear the fog in our heads.
And what is fear? It’s the very existence of a women’s compartment, the half-meant pat down at airport security and every engineer who got there because someone else’s kid never strayed from the norm. Somewhere along the way, we stop trying to light fire with damp wood and get in line because in some obscure way, that seems more rewarding. Somehow we delude ourselves that the way forward is to start marching to one big drum.
But there comes a time when it’s no longer enough. Pavlov’s ringing his stupid bell, you’re drooling but there’s no goddamn food. And those of us stuck, turning and turning in the widening gyre the longest, are hit the hardest, so afraid of being ordinary that we work harder than most to find some salvation by way of fame or fortune. So afraid of being ordinary that we join a legion of all those in the same rung: an extraordinary rung of ordinary men who live their now in fear of tomorrow – numbing ourselves in the name of work.
When you come from a town as small as mine (or at least once it was) or from a town as intrusive as mine, it makes stepping out of line no less than sin. We prepare every day in advance, some taking each step keeping in mind what happens ten years from now. Much like a squirrel storing nuts for the approaching winter, but also with a separate store for the next winter.
And the next winter.
And the next winter.
And a spare, you know, just in case.
Every day of mine was recorded well in advance, in ink or graphite, making little room for something new. I directed the action, reading off a script I kept in the form of to-do lists, post-its and itineraries. But that day, on a train to Nîmes, I stood among a half-recognisable group, my plans nothing beyond their whims and a crumpled sheet that lay just below my palms – red, although my nails no longer dug into them. And yet, with each giggle, I felt the soreness I had grown accustomed to dwindle and disappear. With each secret spilt, I felt more at home than I ever could so far from it. Sisyphus deserved a break too.
It took a few hours and some Doux Champagne to make the crowd familiar to me, each line in every face reminiscent of a story, branded with marks and moles and scars that stood to tell that here was a rare breed, one of its kind, created from myriad experiences, their voices and spirits contingent to their past. Each one, a rare breed.
Of which one sat across from me at the Jardins de la Fontaine. His face was calm, one hand supporting him as he leaned back, the other on a pile of cards he had so meticulously arranged. He felt familiar.
“Tell us something nobody knows about you.”
His eyelids parted, his face stretched in a tight smile. The silence that followed only intrigued us all further; we sat there watching him, we sat there in solidarity – waiting.
Moments passed with each heartbeat. His chest rose as he began.
“I grew tired.”
He laid a finger on the deck, pushing the first card out of order just so slightly.
Meeting him had felt like a visit home after a considerable amount of time ; each piece of furniture a reminder of what I’d left behind. Just knowing where the glasses were kept. Every word he spoke was like pulling out and dusting an old book I’d read till I fell asleep, the prose not ingrained in my memory, yet familiar. His laugh was all the games I’d played in my garden as a child, his gaze like looking out from the terrace as the sun hung low behind a wave of mountains.
The sun hung low behind him. We were familiar.
“I was tired of the same old, the conventional. So I went out and lay down at a metro station, you know, just to try it.”
Each one, a rare breed.
And yet, one rarer than most. Just like the wine, replaced over the years by a preference for Brut. Here in my hands it lay, years from its days of glory, daring to try in all its sweetness.
With that, we packed up our things and made our way to dinner.
(Day Trip): Arenes de Nimes – La Maison Carree – Tour Magne – Jardins de la Fontaine
Doux Champagne, Fleury Pere et Fils Millesime (2000, 2005 Vintage) : Sparkling | Sweet, Fruity | Pair with Non-Chocolate Desserts| Get some here.