Friday, October 17, 2003

"Reine sans chandelle"

I really fell out of bed today. I was even outta the house before it was really day, the bonus was to have my choice of chairs at Starbucks, no competition at all. It might have been perfect, except the coffee did not taste the same.

Aha! How do we really know whether the coffee really ever tastes the same? It's not as if we had some of yesterday's coffee right there to compare, sip of one, sip of the other, yessir, tastes the same. We have to conclude that the "tasting the same" is in part our memory of yesterday's coffee and in part our expectation of today's. There you have the perfect combo for disappointment as memories fail and expectations are overrated and not met. It's actually the equivalent of crossing a river on melting ice: will it hold until you reach the other side?

A lot of the decisions we make in life are based on just such flimsy premises, and we still wonder what went wrong with our clever game plans, we still manage to remain under the illusion, delusion, they are based on something solid and permanent.

Years ago, before experiencing surgery under general anesthesia, a friend of mine who was a surgeon had jokingly told me, over dinner, a propos of I don't remember what, that a sensible person should never select a personal perfume before an operation, because there was a great likelihood their "nose would change" after general anesthesia, and they would end up hating the thing they had loved.

In 1982, when I went in for my first cancer operation, I remembered this: I wanted to test it out for myself. I was in Paris at the time, the perfect place for choosing a woman's perfume. It took a while, but after several hours of walking around and "clearing my nose", as they say, my choice settled on Yves St Laurent's "Rive Gauche". I bought a very small bottle, mindful of my old friend's warning, and I was glad I did, because he knew what he was saying, after the operation, I absolutely hated "Rive Gauche", and I gave it away.

Actually, after that it became increasingly difficult for me to enjoy perfume at all: everything was too strong, and here in America, as I always claim, everything smells like "Charlie", and I hate "Charlie". Particularly on me.

My final "nose change" happened for me when an overblown young gastroenterologist on steroids perforated me in 2000, and I had to undergo an emergency laparatomy, which sent me home wide open, like a gutted fish on a kitchen slab. My nose after that was like a brand new nose from the beginning of time: everything smelled very strong. I could even smell the rain. For a while there, it was difficlult to go out into the street at all, not only because I was too weak to walk so much as a block, but because every single little thing assaulted my new nose and made me gag. At the same time, eating also became a chore: I had the appetite, no problem there, but nothing tasted the same. In fact, most of my favorites, or my regular standbys, tasted absolutely awful, totally unrecognizable. I owe the fact that I managed to live through this period to Charvie goat cheese with herbs, which managed to taste good, in fact, delicious, and so I do really believe I owe my life to goat cheese. I had some every day for a while, in truth my days were anchored on its spreadable scrumptiousness.

What did I drink, you may ask? Well, coffee and tea, my personal favorite, went out the window for months. Since I never drink soda, there was no problem there. I stuck to a small glass of grapefruit juice every day, for the potassium content, but the only thing that really tasted good was plain water, at room temperature.

Well, those days are over and just a memory now. Still, goat cheese has my as-eternal-as-is-possible gratitude.

Last night, I actually turned off the radio before going to bed, and that was because it was crackling. Maybe that is why I became aware of my dreams for a change, not the whole dreams, but fragments thereof, which were left behind like flotsam on the beach after a winter storm, mere indications of some bewildering activity.

I woke up once during the night with a crisp certainty that I had been describing myself in my last dream as a "reine sans chandelle", a queen without a candle.

Ah! So I am still playing that game, the bilingual dreams that are only nonsense until you translate them into the second language, when they make perfect, wacky sense.

Years ago, I had brought back with me into the morning a full dream, or almost, that had me puzzled for years

I was walking around Manhattan on a spring day, and on the plaza level of the Chase Manhattan Bank in the Wall Street area, came across a booth, like the booths that get set up around Christmas time to sell holiday postage stamps for greeting cards. There was a huge line of people standing there--to get what? Well, it couldn't be stamps, could it? I asked someone, I was told: "This is a line for people who want a form to apply for a divorce, for people who want to do it themselves."

"Goodness," I exclaimed, "What will they think of next..."

I wasn't married, I've never even come close, but my thinking was part: "You never know when you might need one," and part: "I wonder what this form is like? I didn't know it even existed, I thought you needed a lawyer for a divorce (I could have added: and a husband)," and part: "I had no idea so many people wanted a divorce", I could not resist queuing up to get my own form.

The line was excruciatingly long, but I stuck it out and finally I was holding in my hot little hand a form that looked for all the world exactly like an IRS Form 1040! Only it had a different number and was labelled a "File for Divorce Form".

As I walked away, I started filling it out. I wanted to experience what it would be like to apply for a divorce, if I ever should need one, I wanted to know whether I would be up to it. Sure enough, it was simple: it asked pretty much all the Form 1040 questions on the front page in exactly the same format even, name, first name, address this year, address last year, if different, social security number, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

You turned to page two, and there you came to the nitty gritty personal questions.

"Date of marriage", well, I would have to leave that blank for now, I wasn't actually married.

"Husband's Name", and related particulars, ditto.

Then the box: "Tell us in your own words why you are requesting a divorce?" Well, huh, I suppose it would be the usual: "Incompatibility of humor," I wrote with a flourish. Hehehe! You can't stump me!

Satisfied, I moved on. So far, everything was going swimmingly, though I was aware of the futility of my efforts, even in my dream. I was being a good sport, I wanted to know where this would lead.

Finally, the unexpected small, very small box: "Tell us in your very own words what was the most meaningful event in your childhood."

In your very own words? There is barely room in the box to insert "I was born". How like the government to design a form that fits the paper better than the intention behind it! Well, I laughed, I'll play your game: you want it in five words or less, here it is. And I put down: "I was half a war orphan."

This struck me as so funny, I woke up right away, and so I don't know what else was on the Divorce Form, or where it should be filed, and so on.

I chewed on the cud for a full two years before I understood its meaning.

One Sunday night, in springtime once more, I found myself walking across town very, very late, rather fast because the wind was cold and I was wearing insufficient clothes, and to cheer me on, I was singing (not that loud, under my breath, for myself only, I am not a total loony). All of a sudden, I realized I was singing one of Louis Arragon's beautiful poems:

"La vie n'est qu'un etrange et douloureux divorce,
Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux."

Roughly and unpoetically:

"Life is nothing but a strange and painful divorce,
There is no happy love."

My dream suddenly became very clear to me. And I understood that my unconscious, or my subconscious, however you want to call it, has a playful streak to it, when it wishes to pass along its message, which I do not manifest in my consciousness, where I am very square, some say boring.

Over the years since then, I have had many bilingual dreams, by which I don't necessarily mean that they are conducted in two languages (although this sometimes does happen), but that the key to the meaning is held in the second language. They are truly bilingual, because sometimes an English dream is solved by a French cue, as a female horse, a "mare", representing a "mere", a mother (almost same sound, but its gibberish until you realize the dead horse you come across in a field represents your dead mother, and that horses have nothing to do with it), but also vice versa. It's a great relief to find out what makes you tick, believe me.

So, for the moment I don't know yet what the significance of being a "reine sans chandelle" is, a queen without a candle, maybe when I find out, I shall be embarrassed by the revelation, and I may get to wish I hadn't spoken out so soon!

Alea jacta est! Hehehe!
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