The first, and most sobering, discovery upon returning to planet Earth, vis-à-vis, coming home after five weeks in Europe, involves my body. At 71, things aren’t what they used to be. I got on the exercycle for the first time in five weeks and collided rather forcefully with physiology. My legs are stiff. My stamina depleted. It’s going to be an uphill road. And then there is the stuff. Five weeks of unopened mail. Several square yards of urban agriculture in disarray. And all the things I thought I was going to be able to remember but can’t. Including, last night, attempting to pay a bill that I had already paid.
It is all galling and frustrating, but I hope not to distract from whatever change of consciousness that lingers from our trip. Freed from routine and conventional responsibilities, Jane and I had some good talks. This is what travel can do. When you’re staring dumbly at the Landes de Gascogne and realizing that you have settled for a week in one of the least interesting parts of France…what is there to do but think about life back home? What’s missing in it. What needs to be improved.
My community involvements, well, they don’t give me enough human contact, I decided. My interests in transportation, housing and the overall urban project are perfectly splendid. But they are also a little cerebral. I have tried to volunteer for work with foster kids. I will try again.
Then there is writing itself. Here I get into a curious rut. Willful determination is splendid for getting one to sit down in front of the computer and get to work. After that, its value is more limited. I am trying to finish a book. Instead, the project is finishing me. I want to complete it. Thing is, at this stage, even after several years, I am not sure what “it” is. Lots of themes, myriad interests. Bits from my life. Various reflections on stuff that matters to me. It’s all a sprawling mess. And trying to make it prematurely orderly just doesn’t work. It’s what it is, a hodgepodge. And, I have decided, it needs to sprawl. I keep trying to polish the thing. And it keeps defying me.
Which means that it’s time for something more like play and dreamtime. In front of the keyboard, that is. This is hard for me. I am determined to finish. I am determined. And now I have determined that this opus is overly determined. I need to lighten up.
I also need to write an op Ed, a very difficult one on the slow demise of Amtrak. Really, it should tell me something that while on the Bay of Biscay, gorging on cheese and the Bordeaux regional wine, I kept thinking about how the nation’s rickety old train system was under cruel attack. Of course the country itself is under rule attack within. And to put everything in perspective, there was the TGV.
It’s something like 350 miles from Paris to Bordeaux. The train between the two cities covers this ground in two hours. At least, I think it’s a train. Actually, it could be a rocket sled. One thing it certainly is: infrastructure. The French have a long range vision of how the country is developing and the best way to get around. It’s not our way. And if I had to describe our way, I’m not sure I could. Lots of lobbying and jockeying of commercial interests, all acting parochially and short-term. The goal? The public good?
It’s there somewhere. And maybe that’s part of my personal work. To try to find it.