May 23, 2008

Ah, June...


The ideal vacation is one in which you’ve spent so much time upfront dreaming of it that it cannot disappoint. It’s been “paid forward” – the mere anticipation is the greatest delight. If the June trip to NY were to be cancelled and our flight unrefunded I can’t say that we hadn’t gotten my money’s worth.

The joy is in the research, the poring over the luscious pictures in the Frommer’s Travel Guide, the reading of evocative histories like Hamil’s “Downtown” and Tyler Anbinder’s “Five Points”, the inspection of detailed city maps. All of it burnishes proto-memories of the Reds at Yankee Stadium, Strand Books, and hearing Fr. Neuhaus say Mass. I haven’t felt this way since seven years ago, since Rome, which I’d thought in its beauty and spirit had ruined all other destinations foreign and domestic as the girl-next-door suffers by comparison to Sophia Loren.

For the Ireland trip I’d studied for months, immersing in Irish poetry and Celtic mythology, and reading a leisurely fable of medieval Ireland titled “Sun Dancing”. I can’t imagine reading of medieval Ireland or the Celtic myths but for the self-assignment under the deadline of an upcoming trip yet I’m much the richer for it.

It feels like the return of a friend, this pang of vacation anticipation. I didn’t think I’d feel this way about a U.S. city again. Apparently I’d waited long enough between trips, a decade a sufficient interlude to re-awaken the hunger. Beach vacations are well and good but they don’t have the promise of shocking the synapses but instead bathe them in a return to the body in the form of exercise and drinking and sun. If the beach re-awakens the body, New York awakens the mind with its museums and architecture and diverse multitudes. (There’s something ironic that in an age with such accessibility to the greatest writings – witness the Gutenberg site – and the greatest art we seem ever more resistant to the classics and great art, and I recognize my role as a blog-writer as part of the problem.)

I haven’t entirely deserted my suspicion of the truth of Viktor Shklosvsky’s assertion that literature is all about defamiliarization and that habit “devours objects, clothes, furniture, one's wife and the fear of war..[and that] art exists to help us recover the sensation of life.” On a purely natural level indeed, but the saints refuted the hell out of it, living highly sensate lives in the midst of the desert or the sparest monastery.

For a Trappist monk, familiarization is embraced in the most radical way and for some of them habit devours nothing (“habit, where is thy sting!?”) but instead enhances, when marinated with grace, as you can plainly see in the faces of the aged monks at the end of the film “Into Great Silence”.

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