Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘trip

Trip to Paris and Oklahoma?

Note: Re-edit of “Numb at the Magnitude of the Unknown (Part 1, June, 2004)”

It was May of 1975.  I had just graduated in Physics from the Lebanese university.

I secured a student visa to the United States of America. I was to study English for the summer at a university in Oklahoma.

I did not know then that there was more than one university in Oklahoma. It turned out there were several and the university I applied for graduate study was Not the one I landed for English summer schooling.

The trip was not that urgent, but the civil war in Lebanon started to look serious and I dreaded Not be doing anything for the duration..

My inborn stubbornness clenched the deal and off I left.

Logically, my destination should have been France for graduate studies, but I was tired of theoretical education.

I figured that the US educational system was more hands on, practical… with upgraded labs and “stage” at factories…

I was wrong. It was mostly of the theoretical stuff.

It was my first trip away from family and home. I learned later that my mother played the fundamental role of convincing my father that it is time that I learn to be on my own and fly with my own wings.

My mother told me that the night I flew away my father cried his eyes out in his bed.

My father offered me $5,000. Two Lebanese pounds at the time was worth one dollar (Now, a single dollar is worth 1,500 LP)

I stayed in Paris for a couple of weeks, supposedly to visiting a student cousin of mine. My cousin Nassif happened to be vacationing in England with a girlfriend.

At the airport, no one searched me or welcomed me.

Before I exited the airport, an agent asked to search my luggage. Why me? No, it was Not a random search. I had to rearrange everything in my beaten suitcase.

Even then, France pinpointed specific passengers to be searched.

I met my friends Ghassan and Moussa who helped me rent a room where they stayed at a university complex for foreign students.

I toured Paris alone in metro and mostly on foot. Paris was gorgeous.

Strong with maps of trains and buses routes, I crisscrossed Paris from Mont St. Michel to the Louvre, and almost everything in between. Alone, all alone.

I walked Champ Elysee, Quartier Latin, Pigale…When I get tired walking I would join the closest train station and hop to another destination.

Breakfasts were delicious at the university low-ceiling breakfast restaurant .

Breakfast was the time to see all the various international students. The smell of fresh coffee, milk, bacon, eggs and fresh bread was appetizing.

The buffet was scattered with many varieties of fruits and drinks.

( I still dream of waking up to such a breakfast environment)

There was another restaurant for lunch and dinner, but the menu was dismal and Not tasty.

I landed first at New York at Laguardia airport. We were flying over the Oklahoma Territory, 22 hours after leaving Paris. We still had one hour to land.

It was pitched dark outside and I might have been feeling cold in the plane. One stewardess might have realized my haggard quietness.

An angel, no more than twenty years old, blonde, blue eyed, beautiful with a refreshing smile, and compassion transparent in her welcoming face.

She brought me a blanket without any request on my part and suggested to bring me some orange juice.

I felt then that it is okay to live in America and to know Americans. I wished I told her that I was scared, terrified, and numb at the magnitude of the unknown waiting for me.

I wished I told her that I needed to throw myself at her mercy and be helped.

I was lacking conversational skills and lacking practice in English.

I was not basically a social guy, though I enjoyed being among crowds.

Friends suffered me on account of my quietness: I painfully resigned myself for their impression of my “aura of bookish knowledge“.

UI

What a trip

My shadowless journey among the living

I keep hearing: Life is just a trip

What trip?

A few come to life, their trip all planned out, scheduled, financed…

They tried all kinds of transport facilities and toured the world without luggage

They get out in their voyage for long treks in nature, climb mountains, surf, hunt wild animal in safaris…

They never had to try Greyhound or these slow trains for destinations not so exciting, and pretty unknown.

A few come to life not having any stipend to dismount from the transport carriage to have a bite

As many riders do in the bus.

A few are discovered in the landing gears of airplanes: They are retrieved in a state of hibernation

Many have no idea where on earth they were born and why they were born.

Frequently trailing after the long pilgrimage convoys to the nearest UN compound for food, potable water

And treatment for curable diseases.

Occasionally they are pushed to join “revolutionary” armies as kid slaves

After being forced to kill their mother, father, and elder brothers and sisters.

It is getting tradition to board rickety ships as immigrants, after suffering long journeys in desert and refugee camps

And hoped to be picked up by more comfortable salvage ships.

The vast majority are stashed in containers

And human-packed containers cross oceans in total darkness

And in the stench of totally closed compartment.

Cars are the transport means that killed and handicapped most trip takers

And particularly in countries suffering from embargoes on spare parts

The daily toll is staggering.

I was packed in the luggage compartment of some transport means and forgotten.

I was found 6 years later.

I woke up after a coma of eternity to discover a semblance of life.

I chocked when I had my first breath of fresh air: It was poisonous to my weakling constitution.

For the first time I noticed shadows of people surrounding me.

And I wanted one of them shadows, all mine.

I was transferred so many times and experienced all kinds of confinement in boarding schools,

In private schools and later in public universities.

I was shuffled from one main language to another main language schools.

As adult, I kept sharing apartment and lived in tight basements, modern caves…

I wanted a shadow, but wanting and getting one is not an easy journey among the living.

My best refuge was dark rooms and basements.

I was a totally transparent body among the living up the age of 13.

Living bodies who never noticed me or paid any attention to me.

Why I’m under the impression that never talked to anybody till the age of 13?

Why I’m under the impression that nobody talked to me till then?

I had no shadow to impress and attract the living.

I joined in trips with the living:

It is not of any fault or limitations of the living for isolating me.

I just had no subjects or emotions that could create any kinds of passions in me

To transmit, communicate, explore.

What a trip among the living

As if no lights left any trace of a shadow

Behind or ahead of me.

And I didn’t find any good enough reason to observe the living and their behaviors.

It is not an easy job to establish a salient shadow.

Years later, I managed to secure a room of my own in the ground floor.

I installed the bookshelves, the computer, the homework of my university students…

I thought I was settled.

Relatives of mine deemed this room a luxury for someone just intent on reading and writing.

A room that was vouchsafed to be better vacant and put for rent.

Instead of being rent, my own room was reserved for storing unwanted belonging that were cramming

And disfiguring their interior designed space for receiving the rare visitors.

Why do I write?

So I can learn to observe.

I observe to resuscitate whatever feeling and emotions I buried

In the deepest recesses of my convoluted memory.

Still this shadowless individual,

Still learning to observe the shadows

Note: I began my piece 3 days ago, before I stumbled on Thomas Mann’s essay “Nobleness of the Spirit”. I flipped to the chapter of the German poet Chamisso and discovered the novel “The marvelous story of Peter Schlemihl (1813)”. I got the key symbol of Shadow and ran with it.

Read every day and you’ll never lack inspirations to improve and finish an essay.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2020
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