Hours from now I’ll look at my aisle window and believe it’s Venice instead of Stockholm, eighteen-hundred and forty-six instead of two thousand and nineteen, and I’m navigating channels on a gondola in the “City of Water” on my way to a ball in ‘Going to the Ball (San Martino)’. Also, my name is Joseph Mallord William Turner and not John Robert Harvey.
However, hours from now, so let’s begin with the begin after several cups of coffee and a train ride from Stockholm City Station to Arlanda Airport. Moments allowing for reflection within reflection, while remaining stationary as light and solids blur together defying past, present and future.
Certain joys await the traveler if a bar in the early morning hours glows “open” and offers a soothing, peaty, briny elixir . . . such as a double pour of Laphroaig sipped in the comfort of an alcove and comfy chair.
Tasting like sea salt hardened by snow on a slice of peat carved and carried into a forest for some reason and left, I board a plane bound for Heathrow Airport and look into my window, where we were only hours ago and a picture above, sun rise into a salted, smudged window resembling Turner’s palette.
Flight achieved, ground falling away, time to bring out my traveling companion Samuel Beckett, specifically Sam as he appears on page two hundred and eighty-six of Volume Two of the four volume set of Beckett’s canon, and more specifically within the early paragraphs of The Unnamable.
For several months I’ve reread Watt, Molloy, Malone Dies and now The Unnamable. Certainly a hypnotic prose style altering perceptions of character, plot, setting and time, but as well Sam remains an ever-reluctant fabulist who tries, much like Michel de Montaigne, to avoid spinning a yarn, following any one of his multi-headed, labyrinthine storylines, and yet he does, yet he does. “I am of course alone.” What I do when I’m alone and with others–tripping the consciousness fantastic. And then lunch arrives.
Actually, I’m a plane further on from when Beckett’s words filled the cabin and passengers began to disassociate; now, after a stop at cavernous Heathrow, I’m ensconced in an aisle seat crossing the Atlantic. What do we have here? Chicken with Winter Vegetables and other assorted goodies. A particular culinary style, a certain cuisine, a range of gastronomic experiences exists within and without airplane food. It’s packaging may be the most important aspect of the moment as it occupies the traveler with an almost endless manipulation of paper and plastic wrapped in paper and plastic and so eats away the time crowded next to other travelers much as the commonplace simile “packed like sardines” suggests, and so after wrestling with containers I consume what imitates Chicken with Winter Vegetables.
Between seven and eight hours later, I’m sitting at a bar at the Toronto Pearson Airport waiting to catch a train into Windsor. Sam and I are thirsty, so I order a Lagavulin 16 and talk about “narrow spaces” and “the plumage of certain birds’ with the bartender.
A few pages further with a narrator who increasingly senses he’s living out an infernoesque or purgatorial afterlife, or simply a pause between storytelling adventures, and I’m on a near empty train car traveling further into winter darkness. How many days has it been? I’ve lost count.
I’m also traveling with my novel about a man who cooks meals for his dead family members or with my memoir about a man who cooks meals for his dead family members, at least, that’s how it begins, or how it occupies itself in the first section; however, when the twelve-year old boy with antlers shows up, well then the cooking and writing becomes much as you would expect if you were writing about cooking for a twelve year-old boy with antlers who your dead brought to you one hot, sunny day in Houston.
The world outside whirls by as it does when not moving and the steel and upholstery I’m sitting in speeds down carefully laid tracks. All while Bob Dylan whispers in “Not Dark Yet,”
I was born here and I’ll die here against my will
I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still
Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don’t even hear the murmur of a prayer
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there
A man pulling a cart arrives. A skinny man, maybe my age, offering me in English touched with French a ham and cheese croissant and a cup of coffee. How can I refuse? The paper and plastic on the train prove more compliant to opening and revealing than the plane. Wonder why? Meanwhile, the train speeds on, Sam talks to the attendant, my narrator rummages through his refrigerator as his dead uncle has shown up drunk and hungry, and outside the world or I or none of the above speeds past. Bon Appétit!