Drunkenness: probably NOT a contradiction to despair

It’s quarter after 3 and there’s no one in the place
‘cept you and me
So set ’em Joe
I got a little story I think you oughtta know….. (Harold Arlen/Johney Mercer)

(Frank Sinatra,melancholy, on a bar stool -the apotheosis of melancholy, too romantic to be despair. Tears in my beers).

It was quarter to 4, when I woke up. It’s inching toward 5:15 dawn now. No big deal. A friend of mine hasn’t really slept for six months. I just logged 4 hours. She sometimes gets only 2, although there are signs she’s moving out of Winston Churchill territory. Five hours seems doable to her now.

What better time than the tail-end of the night to contemplate drunkenness.

For the past few days of global chaos, I have been reading Ken Bruen’s last two Jack Taylor crime novels, The Emerald Lie and The Ghosts of Galway. When I say ‘last’, I mean adieu Jacko, at least that’s what the author has implied in interviews. From the condition of the man, it’s no wonder. He has suffered so many vicious attacks as a Guard and a private eye that he is a physical wreck -lame, deaf, with mutilated fingers, and a heart full of grief. All of his friends and even his dogs meet dreadful ends because of him. Well, not even Bruen is heartless enough to eliminate every last one. Maybe there is a short story that will clear up the oversight. Jack drinks! He likes a Guinness and a Jameson chaser. He likes the Guinness built just right. In the right mood, he can lose months of his life to these libations and then months more to the aftermath.

He can’t go into a bar without someone, usually a woman, with a wad of cash, sidling up to him and saying, “You’re Jack Taylor.” It may be a simple job, like ‘find my lost brother’ -who is entirely fictional, but more often as time has gone on, it has been ‘Look what this bastard did to my girl. Get me some payback.” Payback gets gotten, although not always by Jack. Jack’s a hurley stick man, but others in his orbit use more lethal means.

Jack is a good man, his landlady says early on and his good friend, the outside nun, later on. He is a keen man for justice, humanized by reading and music and his love of dogs and swans. He has been hardened by his “walking bitch of a mother with her tame priest”, by the corruption of the church and  the government, by the miserable poverty attendant on the collapse of the Celtic Tiger and, perhaps most of all, by the water tax.

Suffice to say Bruen knows from PTSD.

The Irish have a reputation for enjoying a drop. I do not say drunkenness. Who am I to judge? I lived with Connor for many years. He gave up martinis every Lent. I lived in hell for 40 days each spring. I have a beloved relative, Colin, who is more sensible and less church-ridden. He says of his year-round habit, “Mostly ice,” as he pours his Bombay Gin. Vermouth doesn’t even get to breathe on the glass. Both get loquacious, even argumentative. I got many a cooking lesson in front of guests from Connor. Neither fall down or pass out or miss work.

I find it hard to read the Joe Nesbo books where Harry Hole descends into drunkenness and heroin. But then some experiences have to be first hand: sex is another one. And Harry is needed sober and strong back in Norway.

College binge drinking lost its glow for me before I got out of high school. Just that one, totally horrible, unable-to-feel-appendages experience put me right off. The stag and doe parties that I see depicted on Brit telly and which apparently happen here as well are not my cup of booze. I also had a terrible experience with a brownie on my niece’s 50th. That  limited my appreciation of getting high for good and all.

I know I drink too much wine for a person of my age and constitution. A 6-oz-glass puts me in legal jeopardy, although drinking in solves that problem. Drinking alone? Get real.

(A librarian once told my daughter never to eat while reading. My daughter was outraged, “You have to eat, you know.)

So the flaming world is falling apart. The leader of the free part is tailoring his actions to please 30% of his country. They don’t seem to be terribly well-informed about historical precedent. They don’t seem to know much geography and certainly even less economic theory than the rest of us. Which is saying something! They can’t tell a good guy (Canada) from a bad guy ( Russia). They claim to be helpless to prevent child massacres on their home soil. To them, children separated from parents and locked in what sure do look like kennels if not cages, brought that on themselves, and can damn well show up in court to coo or babble their own defense – in Spanish.

Who wouldn’t drink?

The most drunken person I ever met was my Aunt Mae. She was drunk on the love of Jesus, and joyfully swept all and sundry up in her ecstasy. Also she wouldn’t say no to a nip of brandy.

Jesus and I fell out one time.

Yet I know that what woke me up this night and what is keeping me awake is fear and self-restraint and that the answer is release.

Coleman Barks organizes some of Rumi’s poems into ‘Tavern Madness’ in Rumi: the Book of Love. The tavern is a place where passion breaks loose, an excited place where one is out of one’s mind, with others.There is the shared sense of the presence flowing through. We are connected. We are one, present and absent at the same time. I love the poem that says
I didn’t come here of my own accord
And I can’t leave that way
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.


It reminds me that something has charge over me. Whatever that is will see me safe home.When I read that, I remember I am not alone in passion or rage or goodness or hope or despair or terror. Whether what holds us together is DNA or Soul, it is universal and wise enough, drunken enough, to triumph.

In the meanwhile raise a glass – soda water with or without lemon will do. Drunkenness, O Necessarily Sober One, is fundamentally not about alcohol.

(Full disclosure: my biological grandfather, who hailed from the Emerald Isle, died syphilitic  in New Hampshire madhouse. But may have been teetotal.)

 

 

 

 

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Bulletin from Shangri-la # 4: spirits

trees outside windowWhen I first walk into the house in the pines, I hear my mother say, “It’s beautiful!” My mother passed on in 1976, but this is the first I’ve heard from her. My grandparents, even my father-in-law and certainly my father when his time came, showed up in the days after they moved on. Not my mother. Absolute silence. So profound, that I had an existential breakdown. Now here she is- or seems to be- celebrating the tiny, jewel of house in Sierra mountains.

Of course she would be here, if anywhere, because the mountains and the pines are like her birthplace in Hereford, Quebec. And we are here, her daughter and her grand-daughter and full of joy to be together. It is the week of Mother’s Day and Julia’s mother-in-law is due to arrive as well.

We speculate that my mother has been lost in the timelessness of that other place, a purgatory of her own making, and only now has found a beacon to guide her out.

In the days that follow, her spirit seems to be doing loop-de-loops in the blue sky above the mountains. All the other mothers in our line, Janet and Jenny and Gladys, come into our thoughts as they often do, but only Lila is delirious.

She is not the only spirit there.

Besides being thin, the air is bone dry in this drought. Near the front door, a humidifier sends a jet of mist into the air. Out of the corner of my eye, I see it as a dancing water sprite.

The floors are local stone, patterned like rugs. Every step feels rooted in their strangely old, slumbering consciousness. There is a small cairn of rocks near the entry and California jade and other semi-precious stones on the desk and tables. The fireplace and massive hearth of red brick fills one whole wall. The cathedral ceiling is rafterred and wooden. A wall of sliding doors looks out on the woods. Below a lake peeks through the trees.

This is a Taoist household with altars to the ancestors and the family, but there is also a stone Buddha sitting below the bookcases. A path of beige floor stones leads up to him. One morning when I am making tea, I catch a glimpse of a figure standing in front of Buddha, the figure of a monk in a brownish robe. When I turn, he gives me what can only be called a stink eye. I hurry away. Julia tells me there is a Zen monastery nearby.

Enough proves to be enough one night as I get into bed, I have a picture of an army of brownies – no not that kind- tiny beings wearing red hats and overalls going about some work under the trees. I saw such creatures when I was a child when my father took me fishing in the trout stream that ran down through the woods. They scared me with their intensity. I always understood the Seven Dwarfs on a visceral level.

In the fields, as a child, I saw fairies – blue and pink and gold- or once in a while, a towering angel. I preferred them.

Happy ghosts, water sprites, meditating monks, nature spirits, but I don’t have to cry like Macbeth, “No more sights!” I move over to the boxcar house and don’t even see dead miners. https://115journals.com/2014/05/15/bulletin-from-shangri-la-the-boxcar-house/

 

Septuagenarians on the Road #4

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASee Septuagenarians on the Road #3 for the first part. (https://115journals.com/2013/09/11/septuagenarians-on-the-road-3/)

We wake up on the third floor of Auberge Ayres Cliff on the third day of our road trip. I go downstairs to see if the restaurant is open. It is not. Back up that wooden Everest!

Since we are booked into the Auberge Ripplecove, we have to pack up our things yet again, and Georgia has a plan for getting them downstairs.

We take turns using the shower and my cereal bowl. Georgia’s nosh is All Bran and mine is gluten-free granola. Our ice packs have melted and so has the ice and in keeping with its historic charm, the old auberge has neither ice machine, vending machine or coffee maker. No problem, we know a great little place to have breakfast in Coaticook.

I heard people working in the second floor office while I was reconnoitering, but saw no one. Georgia goes to top of the stairs and pushes her bag off the top step.  I hear it thump, thump, bump and crash. Silence. She heaves down the second one. It is not until I start to bump my wheeled suitcase down the top step, that a man shows up on the second floor and gallantly sweeps her bags up. Another sprints up the stairs to carry mine down. See, all we had to do was ask.

The guy carrying mine is likely the proprietor, whereas hers has been working outside on the deck. He speaks English well and by the time, I have carried down the remaining odds and sods, Georgia and he are deep in conversation about the town. Communication is proving to be a challenge, so this is welcome.

We debate about who will drive. As usual, Georgia wants to drive early when she is fresh.

“Which way do you intend to go,?” I ask. She points back the way we came.

“I’m driving,” I announce.

I pull a u-turn right there on Main St. and head around the corner on 141. I have these maps in my head or so I believe, and indeed, they fail me only once and then for only 6 miles. As we drive, I explain that basically there is a wide fertile valley where dairy farms flourish and on either side there is a two lane black top. When we were young our father took the left hand road to get to Sawyerville where we had moved in 1941, but the mail van took the right hand route. I travelled in the mail van with my mother that winter and noted the ‘exotically different towns’, St. Isadore, St. Malo, Paquetteville. We were on a mission to reveal to my Nanny that a baby was “expected”. My 5 year-old self made little sense of this, but I was very glad to go back to Hereford. I stubbornly refused to understand what was “expected” until that fateful first day of school when Georgia inconveniently arrived. (See https://115journals.com/2013/08/31/labour-day-weekend-reflections/)

In less than half an hour we are Coaticook. (This is an Abenaki word as is Massawippi, which means big, deep water.)

Coaticook is an agricultural town, the centre for production of milk products, especially butter, but it also boasts an industrial park largely devoted to farm and construction equipment. And it boasts a covered bridge as well as a round barn. It seems that every time we go there, a major road is under construction. This time it is Child St. In trying to park on the opposite side of the street I came in on, I get entangled in the detour, which kindly offers us a tour of parts of the town we have never seen before. Finally, we disembark at that parking spot we have been aiming for for 20 minutes, walk half a block and arrive at the Croissant Chaude.

I order my usual gluten/ milk/ bacon- free breakfast – ham and home fries, while Georgia enjoys a fresh-from-the-oven muffin with butter and jam. There is one French couple, clutching a map and looking for advice and two women speaking English, very loudly, with interesting personal detail. Then in comes a couple in their early 50s, speaking with an Australian accent. It is not long before Georgia has struck up a cross-the-room conversation and we have learned that they have ridden motor bikes from Las Vegas up through Colorado and on to Chicago. There they switched to a car and, like us, they are siblings. Georgia reminds them that the longest relationship most people have is with a sibling.

Hey, two conversations in one day!

After breakfast, we turn south on 147 and begin the final leg of our journey home. Since I am still driving, Georgia has the leisure to observe that the infrequent houses we are passing have the largest, greenest, weed-free lawns she has ever seen. Prosperity and ride-em lawnmowers, I suspect. Our grandfather’s dooryard stayed short and smelled of what I learned much later was camomile. Even later, I learned that camomile lawns were all the rage in Elizabethan England. As you walk over them, crushing the little yellow flower balls, the perfume rises. Surely my harried grandparents did not actually plant it.

We skirt what we called Wallace Pond with its cottages and youth camp, pass a haulage company bearing my last name, catch sight of the Line -the wide treeless cut up through the woods that marks the dividing line between Canada and the United States, round a corner and find ourselves in front of the church.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAHere there will be silent conversations.

I park the car south of the church where the church hall used to be and the wagon sheds where the horses sheltered and munched from their bag of oats while we children skidded the wax onto the hardwood floor and the fiddles tuned up and the women hauled chicken pies out of the oven. I suppose this liveliness vanished long before the hall did. I was in it last in the mid 80s, having brought my father down from Ontario for his cousin’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. When it was pulled down, its lovely wood panelling sold for scrap, I do not know.

Georgia is the first to see that Uncle S. has died. His name joined his wife’s on the gravestone not long after we were here four years ago. Georgia is bitterly aggrieved that no one let us know. But, really, who is left that knows how to get in touch with us? Only our cousin R., 11 years older than me, but even he doesn’t answer my emails. Probably  an uncle and aunt my own age are still living in the States, but we don’t know each others’ addresses.

We visit each gravestone and leave flowers for our Nanny and our Aunt Mae. The wind purrs through the pines that stand at the edge of the church yard above Indian River. Nanny and I took off our shoes the last time I visited her -she was 87- and went wading in the cold mountain stream. And one of my best memories is of a church picnic a little farther up in a pine grove. After we had eaten, the women washed the dishes in the river. A well informed 4 year-old, I was aghast. “Don’t worry, Joy,” Maude sang out.” We’ll scald them off when we get home.”

We cross the bridge and point the car up the dirt road that leads to Cannon Hill. (Sometimes, we children called it McCannon.) It winds steeply up through the woods. I know that a good trout stream is dropping down through the trees beside us, for my father took me fishing there. I also know that wood spirits live there, brownies perhaps, rather malevolent little beings, quite unlike the fairies that lived in the corners of the hayfield and came in rainbow colours. Neither had the magnificence of the angels that I saw twice when I was little and once when I was 42. I don’t believe any of this really, but, on the other hand, I know it to be true.

Here on the right is the farm I remember living on, although both barn and house have long since been rebuilt. What used to be a hayfield is pasture now and there are cows there. Then we are back into woods. Soon we will come to the Swamp, the part we children didn’t care for. I want the road just to go on and on. I don’t want to sail out into open and see the house where Nanny lived alone until she was well over 90. There it is now, with a long well groomed side yard planted with small fruit trees. Much of the white siding is still missing as an insulating upgrade proceeds slowly. I prefer to remember the gleaming white siding and the neat, little screened porch. We turn right, pass in front of the house and continue on up into the wilderness that lies below the mountain. We are making a pilgrimage past Aunt Mae’s tiny house. The road is much better than it used to be because somebody with influence and money has built a house out back of beyond. A very nice house, quite a cut above Aunt Mae’s.

On the way out, we stop near where Nanny’s first house stood, the one that burned down- well, the second one burned down too actually. By ‘down’, I mean utterly, to the cellar hole. I want to walk but mine is apparently a minority opinion. We press on, waving at the men loading a pickup in Nanny’s yard. Yes, one is probably Aunt Mae’s grandson, but we don’t feel up to the explanations. Our cousin R. has just had his driveway paved. It is covered in fresh tar and roped off. No sign of his huge white SUV.. Now we are higher between open fields, past the new forest that covers our grandfather’s fields.

He  had a stone boat, a sledge into which he threw the heavy rocks he dug out of his fields. The horses would drag the contraption over to the stone pile around the big spruce tree or one of the other half dozen that he and his long dead predecessors had broken their backs building and he would heave them off. Sic transit and all that. A rich American bought the land and planted it in trees.

At the highest point, we stop to take pictures of the mountain vista.

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SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThen we drive down a truly scarey incline past our Uncle S’s house, one of those that make you think you vehicle will tip end over end, Then we are on the road that once changed places with the brook during a flood and we drove on the stream bed for weeks. (It was war time and we didn’t vote for the party in power,)

We cross the border at Beecher Falls, discovering that the agent on duty can fill us in about Cousin R. who seems to alive and kicking. We stop for lunch at Nanny’s favourite restaurant, the Spa in Canaan where I have fresh Maine lobster.

the SpaHereford was in Quebec and Canada, but we drew our identity from the States, from Vermont and New Hampshire and Maine, from New England. Every New Year’s Eve, we gathered in the hall for an oyster supper. We even spoke with New England accent. LIke most immigrants, I got rid of mine asap but when Nanny said “Spa”, I thought she meant “Spar”.

As we attempt to cross back into Canada at the Hereford crossing, the Canadian agent keeps questioning us closely. Georgia tells him we crossed at Beecher Falls an hour ago and ate lunch and that we are now returning to Ayres Cliff. I repeat the same story. He keeps glancing at the luggage filled hatchback. “So you are coming from New Brunswick?” he says. Well, no, we are coming from Ayres Cliff and going to Ayres Cliff. “Then why do you have your bags?” he asks in exasperation. Because we are changing hotels? I offer as if seeking his approval. “Ahhh” and he waves us through.

PLEASE CLICK ON PICTURES TO ENJOY FULL DETAIL.

to be continued -one more time