A very uncomfortable bus ride took me all the way from Madrid to Paris, the beginning of a drifting journey – that is, if “aimless” may be applied to describe a journey.
Migration to the north in mid-October wasn’t a best idea; Paris was so much colder than sunny and at times simply hot Andalusia. But I couldn’t terminate my journey and flew right back to Taiwan as is. That would have been too depressing, and time and space were needed for the decomposition of myself.
Yes, I saw the inevitabilities that were coming for this grand tour, with or even without my enterprising complex-planning capacities. But even with my endurance and willpower, I unfortunately am not made of steel and have to pause for a mental breath.
It felt like drifting, indeed. Paris has changed so much, in some parts not so very pleasantly, but this was already my fifth visit to Paris, and nothing much seemed very fresh to me, despite my intention to find fresh dimensions and discover tiny little surprises. Instead, I found little to my interest after I finished the first and prime and seemingly sole item on my checklist: CD-shopping, which sealed the fate of turning this trip to anything but anything resembling backpacking. There was another kind of drifting too – a doomed search for flickers of warmth and recognition, a.k.a. damnation.
And the first several days were especially miserable. With the weather rainy and cold, the kind of slight resignation that originated in Spain easily turned into numb melancholy. Almost melancholy.
And yet there is something more than all the self-centered aspects of this visit to Paris: there’s Auntie. Ever since I was a kid, Paris meant Auntie and Uncle James, at least a big part of what Paris meant to me, that is. Since James passed away a couple of months ago (while I was in Zakopane; see this previous post), this visit is in some way the ending of an era to me.
This may not be the best time to visit, but what is a better choice? At one point or another, I’m bound to visit and pay my respect to James. To the constantly sensitive me, it felt a teensy bit awkward when I walked into the garden and went past the lavender bush. No, there was no lavender flower, but fragrance lingered, coming from some dried lavender from yesteryears, now hung at the garage.
Auntie was very much composed and told me that I could sleep in James’s room. That was again odd at the very beginning, but it’s James, the good old patient and loving James, right?
Auntie somehow isn’t the sharp character I remembered, or maybe that was just what an adult may look like to a child, while I am no longer a child. Characteristics of people tend to evolve as years pass by, and such changes of elders are some of the least easy things to take for a younger family member – a younger family member like I am, that is. But hey, that’s my problem – it’s my loving sentimentality and subjectivity.
Besides, I count myself lucky (again as a selfish and self-absorbed nephew) while considering the fact that there are so little about Auntie that changed: her footsteps are as firm and swift as ever. In fact, among the family members of her generation, or indeed anyone I know of her generation, she is the single one that moves like a sturdy 30-something. I guess it’s all the charity work with which she has kept herself busy. In fact, when she mentioned how she would have to visit this “old, old lady” next door or help another such lady trim her trees, it’s very easy to forget that Auntie is already in her sixties. Sixties, yes, and she still gets a ladder and climbs up to cut and trim and whatsoever more readily than a 20-year-old boy. She is inspiring.
As is the case as ever, I find myself feeling unable (almost disabled) to figure out what is in Auntie’s mind. Maybe there’s nothing particular was in her mind, but somehow I kept wondering silently. Still, I found myself keeping a loving eye seeing how she turns on the TV to watch “X Factor” – she pronounced it as French, just like she pronounces all other names in English (except for maybe people’s name) – I still remember how many summers ago during a visit she mentioned I should go to “Virgin,” namely “Virgin Megastore,” and James said “Quoi? C’est quoi?” Even more importantly, I listened intently, partly but not just to spend more time with her, and while I find several contestants pretty good, Auntie and I like Jahmene Douglas in particular, especially because of his “modesty, quite unlike how all other Western participants shout and wave arms to express how excited or upset they are upon hearing verdicts from the judges,” as Auntie and I would similarly put it.
Eventually I decided it was enough drifting. Enough was enough, even though the weather seemed to become better. (Actually, Auntie later told me I was lucky – Paris immediately dropped back to gloomy chilly rain as soon as I left.)
Auntie fretted before my departure because Parisian metro system started yet another strike on my departure date. On our way driving to a train station she could not restrain herself from providing an intermittent yet pretty insistent flow of comforting words saying that we would make it in time – turned out that she was the nervous one! (Much later, arriving at the airport, I found myself almost late for the flight. But that was another thing.)
Auntie followed me to the platform. Taiwanese are usually not very great at hugging, but me being an outlier, I made up my mind and gave Auntie a hug, who, as so very Westernized as I thought she has been, surprisingly couldn’t hug back at the first moment as a physical reflex. Several trains came into the platform before mine did, and I hugged Auntie several times, since I don’t know how long it will take before I can see her again. (She seemed not used to this – at least not from a Lin, that I am sure of – but happy.) And with this departure I will leave behind an era that boasted a long-time friend named James.
I got on the train. The sun shone through the clear cool morning air, reminding me exactly of the clear cool morning air in Helsinki, when the first host of this trip took me home on that airport shuttle bus. These two mornings seem to bookend the six-month-long journey perfectly. I am grateful that I am granted this tranquil morning on a moving train.
And I don’t know what lies ahead. All I remembered to be at that moment was to be thankful.