Monday, August 20, 2012

We Build Al-Qaeda In Washington.

You step delicately
into the wild world
and your real prize will be
the frantic search.
Want everything. If you break
break going out not in.
- Michael Ondaatje.

FJ is off gallivanting around the city again, leaving me no other option than to write another Heavy Metal Monday myself. I was going to write about metal myself, but given that my exposure to the genre is somewhat limited - pretty much just Gunners, Metallica and a little bit of Slayer, really - I figured it'd be better leaving that to the experts (a humility that hasn't stopped me from writing about cycling, incidentally).

Whenever FJ can't think of what to write about I always tell him to just think about his last bike ride, and write about whatever he was thinking about during that. That works alright for this blog, which is by nature introspective, and ostensibly about cycling. But really, my last ride wasn't that interesting. I did a couple of laps of the Boulie with Hurley and FJ. Hurley was tired, Jamesy wasn't feeling too great, and I was too relaxed to give a shit. We'd started late and headed out on High St, before stopping for Preston Pies. A couple of pies, a bit of After Pie Thinking, then we headed back past New Timer House and hit the Boulie.

Later that night, however, I was in bed reading The English Patient. I kinda get what Elaine is saying in the clip at the top - it's an impractical novel, probably difficult to read if intimate descriptions aren't your thing. It's not even my favourite Ondaatje novel. It's In The Skin Of A Lion that keeps calling me back, that I've read over and over again. Probably partially because of the locations - it's a very Toronto novel, even though it's set in the 1930s. They talk about building the Bloor Street Viaduct and I remember catching the bus over that bridge on my way to Kingston for the start of the University year. They talk about Danforth Street and I remember my friend Caroline who used to live down that way. But also because the novel is so local, so grounded in community. It's almost as if Ondaatje is sitting outside a cafe pointing to local characters as they walk by - look, there goes Alice, she was once a nun but is now an actor; there goes Caravaggio the thief; that man is named Patrick, he is on his way to pick up his daughter Hana from school. As much as it's about the characters, it's about the city, the narrative of one symbiotically resonating in the other. I like that a lot - the idea that part of our identity is geography, that where we are is at least partially responsible for who we are.

In The English Patient, however, the protagonists - all of them - have lost their sense of place, and are trying to rebuild. Two of the main characters are continued from In The Skin Of A Lion - Patrick's daughter Hana (who, incidentally, is actually his stepdaughter, but is referred to throughout the latter novel simply as his daughter), and Caravaggio, who is Patrick's friend. It's the process of them rebuilding that sense of identity that makes the novel kind of amazing, not the romance. Well, actually, I guess the romance is kind of part of it. They find each other and build their new identities through those relationships, through the love that they find. These days we scoff at that kind of thing, because we're all supposed to be independent and not lean on anyone. But that's just bullshit. Every single person we interact with effects who we are, changes who we are, even if only a little. Like Ondaatje himself also writes in the poem that opened this post,

If I speak of death
which you fear now, greatly
it is without answers
except that each
one we know is
in our blood.

I guess, in a way, that the two books are different because one is enclosed within Toronto - or at least Ontario - and the other has the whole wide world to deal with. I guess that's how things are for me at the moment too. Before I only ever thought about the bike, about this small world that wasn't significant to anyone else. But now there's so much more to the world, and that can be a little confusing, a little overwhelming at times. When you're open to the whole world you feel things more acutely, more passionately. I will, however, say one thing. This is better.

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