Friday, July 8, 2011

The Outside World

I haven't been recently.  To the outside world.  But it has come to see me in the form of my friend, Dana.

Being at home with your child can often feel more like being in a home with your child. Within four walls (that sometimes seem like they should be white and padded!) it's just you, the kid and one of the animated Bobs (the British construction dude or the one of geometric trousers). If your home is in a new place where you don't know many people, some days from the time of first stirrings in the morning, the only sound you hear is of your own throat clearing making way for words that might not  be spoken for hours.  So, it really can feel like you are not part of the exterior landscape. Moreover,  since the summer arrived here and brought with it a procession of mosquitoes and convectional squalls, the outdoors have become truly deserted coaxing one further inside. Since Gavin's (the fancy pilot's) schedule has changed to include intense flying all weekend - and I mean from 7am on Saturdays (or even Fridays) to 9pm on Sundays - I do feel a bit lonely and purposeless.  As far as entertaining my son,  I am left feeling a little like a birthday party clown who keeps bumping into the same kids on the party circuit and has run out of tricks.  There are only so many stimulating pre-schooler activities I can pull out of my tired, budget conscious a$$.....

One can see, then, that a visit from a friend is more than a pleasant opportunity to 'catch up'. Under these circumstances, a visit from a friend can be regenerative and can make you feel finally and once again part of the outside world.  But, as if in grand tribute to life imitating art,  a parade of slapstick style mishaps began almost as soon as we began to discuss Dana making a short trip down.  First of all, the doable range of dates for her visit were rendered laughably narrow, something that happens when you consider multiple families' commitments, thousands of miles to travel and everyone's perpetual quest for cheap airfare.
Eventually, the only way it would work was for Dana to arrive here at 1am and travel back three days later at 5am!   The idea that became Dana's visit was incongruous in its objectives:  Her aim was to briefly escape the mania that is her busy life.  My aim was to brush up against that mania just for a second - to feel the rush of juggling two activities, nay, a conversation AND and opinion at the same time just for a few days.  So, really the theme for the visit is one of irony, of incompatibility between the circumstances and its ultimate ends, of square pegs in round holes.  But we were desperate to realize this now monolith of a goal.

To travel through Toronto (or any other major city that could also qualify for the euphemistic 'big smoke' nickname) rush hour -and that western portion of the 401 that is perpetually and ironically 'rushing' at a standstill- to  reach the long line at the check in counter and to inch forward in that line for 45 minutes shuffling one's carry-on across the airport floor (because you didn't want to bring a rolling suitcase because you didn't want to have to check it and waste time unnecessarily!) have become expected parts of the experience of air travel.  Missing any of those steps would cause one to suspect the karmic coordinates, or the legislative engines of Murphy to be somehow out of whack.  But what is not expected is to be told - once you have shuffled yourself to finally be mere inches away from that flight check-in agent (ah - so close)- that your flight is canceled, not to be rescheduled for that day and that the reason is that they could not find a pilot.  Not that they couldn't find the pilot.  They couldn't find a pilot!  I know, right? 

She did get here in the end - a full nine hours later and after a dusk to dawn spent to-ing and fro-ing on aforementioned gauntlet of the 401. So, it became all the more important to savour our time together and get everything seen, every discussion theme plyed, every cell of her epidermis tan in whistlestop fashion. 

You see Dana, like myself,  spent her youth coming to this area - about 20 miles of where we are  - regularly.  Well into our teenage years, our parents - well meaning -  were dragging us on various modes of transport to spend vacations here in Florida.  Although she and I were in high school together, this never came up until recently.  With both of us being so familiar with the area, I had to pull out some stops and discard the regular itinerary of rote sites of interest in favour of one befitting my friend's well worn Florida lens.  A few torrential thunderstorms later and a requisite sojourn at the outlet mall and we began our quest for the unsung sites of the gulf-coast to have as backdrops for our planned dense and gratifying conversations.
 Parts of the Gulf Coast of Florida follow lines on a Sacred Energy Grid. Sometimes, this is called Gaia's sacred sites map or the crystalline earth grid.  So, like any good diamagnetic gravity vortex, it needs a housing, a place people can go to soak in this energy.  This area has one such Eco-Spiritual Center and I had been a few times before. We went there together hoping to attract, in a few short minutes, the serenity promised by a full session of meditation.  Given the telescoped nature of our tour of the area, we were trying to fit in a nice sophisticated dinner à  la girls night out after our eco-spiritual-yogic-karma mini-journey.  So, a muddy PWYC kayak ride or a sitting in the sweat lodge was out of the question.  They would have really ruined our hair.  And so we settled for an express-meditation (an oxymoron if I ever did hear one) a walk on the deliciously rickety suspension bridge (built in a true community effort by residents donating boards one by one - each engraved with a few words beseeching peace or love or both) and went on our way - fancy clothes and constitution unscathed despite our quick retreat into the rainforest.

 Dining out in Florida or other franchise-heavy destinations is an altogether different experience from
eating a meal in a restaurant in a big city or in a rural area.  The scene here is homogenous.  Whereas in a big city, there are hip 'up and coming' chefs, traditional kitchy diners and earthy, fun food trucks all crowded together on the same city block, this restaurant landscape is a bit one-note.  And that note is moderately-priced, semi-casual, mid-level, cross-section of cuisines.  Yes, this is the land of the infamous mid-meal.  And it is fitting as many of the residents whether seasonal, or year round transplants, are from the mid-west of the U.S. where food is not particularly marked as an adventure or a medium of art.  So, even though places may be disguised as unique and quirky, they get their homey thatchkes from the Sysco of decorators - standardized and mass produced.  But, I say unto you: You can't judge a menu by it's giant plastic cover. are not likely to find any other kind. Wonderfully,  there are plenty of good eats to be found if you shift your expectations a hair.  Dana and I - both of us hopelessly uberconscious of food, how it is prepared, where it comes from, with whom it is shared, and all those other considerations that so many of my other friends find boring and pointless - ended up at an upscale version of a mid-place(!)
 Yes, the menu is giant with lots of specials and combos but the food was very tasty.  This particular restaurant was one of those chains disguised as a California style bistro.  They got it right though.  The shrimp appetizer is prepared consistently to the point that an 'A' list celeb is currently promoting it and the restaurant on funny radio spots nestled comfortably between reassuring ads for anti-depressants and rousing entreaties from local personal injury lawyers.

Of course, Dana also accompanied me to my daily grind equivalents: my ESL classes full of amazing and ebullient - mostly female- students, the fitness classes I teach a few times a week to keep limber and prepared for  whatever osteo-situation awaits me.  And I accompanied her on vacation-type activities: dips in the sea, shopping, lolling on the beach.  Because although I have emphasized quite dramatically the isolation I sometimes feel - even here in paradise - the truth is friendship is therapy.  It casts a startling new colour on whatever it is in your life you are gazing at sometimes for too long under the same light.  So, the splash of colour she added for me was the perspective to see the small rewards in my routines, the serenity of the sea so close by and the pleasure of not needing much more than a pair of flip-flops and a bathing suit.  I will be bold and suggest that my paint brush stroke left for her a reassurance that you can step away for a moment - not even that far away - from the noise and simply take a quick swim.

There is no doubt that social connection is essentially about communicating with frequency, quality and  vibrancy.  It boils down to dialogue.  So, to Dana I will pay one of the most meaningful compliments I have to proffer:  Thank you, my friend, for the conversation.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for visiting my blog - it's great to meet you!

    I am intrigued by the swamp...

    ;-) A.