I went out for dinner tonight at a place in Hamilton, Ontario, where I live, called Le Parisien. It was a lovely evening with several of my dearest friends. We spoke of books and fashion, politics and philosophy, food and pop culture and were served by an elegant, tall thin man with an arch manner and a sense of moment. We started with oysters and chablis, then moved on to a Bordeaux merlot and lamb shanks.
It was a lovely evening of discussion and commentary, peppered with the friendly recounting of the weeks events and the necessary commiserations over hard-fought defeats, and well-earned victories. We spoke of what motivates us – a desire to learn more about the world; to feel its beauty more acutely than we already do; to not succumb to the easy utilitarianism that beckons in the speech of so many cynics – those who have lost faith in the beauty of the world, its truth and perhaps, its ultimate justice.
No, at our table, romance was well alive – the crystal call of a storoes of love, brotherhood or friendly solidarity animated our conversation, driving us toward topics which lay ever closer to our hearts, those places where it is difficult to avoid revealing who you really are, and what you really care about.
There was a special moment during dinner, for me though.For even though I was among friends, I found myself longing for the sunny shores of my memories and my imagination.
There was a moment, amidst the clatter of plates and glasses, silverware and wine bottles, that I felt a pang for a world that I haven’t known. I have not known the caress of a wife’s arms, and I have not known the cry of a child’s voice calling for me as father. I have not felt the many joys – tinted with pains, of course, I am not a fantasist – of the bond between two hearts and bodies that have been joined though experience, and passion and desire.
The moment when I felt this most specifically was when I took into my hands the great tumbler of calvados that I had ordered. It was hot, and my fingers recoiled slightly as I first wrapped them around the glass; glass which I expected to be cool and reflective, but which was shockingly hot and sent a jolt through fingers up my arm and into my mind. A jolt which moved my mind away from the present, my melancholy at not sharing my life with a kindred spirit. A jolt which grasped my mind and sent it hurtling back in time, the years a blur as I breathed in deeply of the stringent aroma of the calvados, bobbing and weaving along the great raging current of my memories of the past, submerging me under the liquid fire of past experiences, both good and bad, until I emerged in an eddy of memory, the calm and reflective pool which was my destination.
I remembered being twelve year old, and picking apples with my mother and father. This was several years since the tragedy of my brother’s death, which still coloured and shaped many of my emotional experiences of being with my parents. I worried constantly that all would end suddenly, that either they or I would be taken, and the survivor remain, forlorn alone and helpless on the wretched earth. But this was not to be that fateful day. This was a golden day of joy. A day of walking between rows of apples trees, heavily laden with fruit, under a blue sky which seemed so deep, so pure and yet so soft. Fluffy clouds glided across the cyan canvass and I watched them, lying on my back, feeling the spiky grass against my naked legs under my khaki shorts, and the moist earth cooling the back of my head as I sank back into the ground, feeling rooted and ancient. I remembered the diesel smell from a tractor growling in the distance, and the warmth of the sun on my face and on my arms as I finally emerged from under the shady coolness under the apple tree.
I ran to catch up to my parents – my mother was worried about me, her face lined and her eyes slits from looking for me between the branches of the trees and calling my name. Finally I did, and she took my hand and we walked, in silence for bit, until she asked me what I had been doing. I told her that I was looking at the clouds and the sky and she smiled and said that it was alright, but I really should not have fallen behind them. We spent the rest of the afternoon picking apples together – my father telling stories and my mother interjecting. It was a happy day.
And so I was brought back to the dinner table, my reverie over, and my focus replaced upon the conversation at hand. But I felt a certain calm, and at the same time, a certain urgency. An urgency to somehow find a place in my busy life for golden sunny afternoons in the orchard, with someone who wants to be there with me, telling stories, holding hands, picking apples, and maybe sharing the day.
As I drove home in the rainy night, I kept the radio off in my Mercedes-Benz. My mind was full of memories and possible futures – all of them unrealised.
Amazing what a warm glass of calvados will trigger after dinner.