Serendipity is the effect by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate, especially while looking for something else entirely.
Carpe diem is a phrase from a Latin poem by Horace. It is popularly translated as “seize the day”. The general definition of carpe is “pick, pluck, gather”, although Horace uses the word in the sense of “enjoy, make use of, seize.”
Proverbs 16:18: "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall."
The day starts innocently enough. Having gone out the night before, I sleep in a little, before setting off for my morning run. I feel victorious at having once again completed the 5 mile trail. I record a new personal best. For a mediocre runner such as I, that amounts to shaving off a second or two from the mile. Every personal best deserves to be celebrated. So, I promise myself a small piece of chocolate after dinner.
I start on the usual Saturday morning chores – laundry, grocery shopping, a little cleaning here and there and lastly the hairdresser’s . I was to meet him at around noon. Dressed, made up and ready, I settle on my leather recliner – cherishing the moment. I slowly drift into a delicious slumber, only to be nudged awake by the ring of my phone. It is him letting me know he is running late. No problem; more snoozing.
I leave the house a little after noon. I drive along Ventura Boulevard taking in the surrounding with no rush. I start thinking about this fellow and what our meeting will be like. Just by happenstance, I had run into a peer of his a few weeks ago at a local seminar. During the mingling at the reception afterwards, I had casually and almost absentmindedly asked after him. A week later, I received a call from him letting me know he was going to be in town and whether I wanted to get together. The last time I had seen him was years ago; I hardly remember how many. I vaguely recall that he was going through a rough patch. We got together a few times, made a friendship of sorts. He ended up leaving the state and we lost touch. I hope to find him in a better place this time. Nevertheless, I organize in my mind some good topics for conversation in case things don’t flow. It’s only lunch I tell myself. It was clever of me to set it up that way so I can get out by mid-afternoon.
He said he would be waiting at the entrance of the hotel off Sepulveda. Sure enough he is there, looking not much different from the last time I had laid eyes on him; perhaps just a tad rounder, though I can’t be sure. It’s been a while. As he opens the car door a look of bewilderment spreads on his face – you could even categorize it as fear of sorts. Pleasantries for introduction and we set off on the road. I soak in the compliments – my looks, my figure, my hair. He sounds genuinely pleased to see me and somewhat taken aback by the transformation. At the back of my mind I wonder what he must have expected to see. Well, what exactly does one expect after a long hiatus? Erosion – possibly.
We head over to my favorite place on Montana Avenue. One minute we are seated inside of a crowded room, next minute I look up and the place is deserted. What happened? Where did the time go and for that matter, what of my clever little topics of conversation? I suggest we go for a walk. He accepts. So it is that we set off for Ocean Avenue. He is having a hard time keeping up but is a good sport about it. He asks me to slow down. I cut the strides short and allow him to set the pace. At one of the cross roads he stops momentarily, takes out his handkerchief to wipe the sweat off his brow. Do they make this model of man still? Such an endearing gesture; I chuckle inwardly.
It is just one long sentence, he and I. We share stories of people, work, friends, family, children, travel, his place of origin, mine, hobbies, pet peeves – everything and anything. The information comes fast and furious as if we are in a time crunch and need to exchange as much pertinent data as possible. There is no awkward hesitation. No embarrassment of the admission to failures and goof ups, big and small. Nodding and shrugging our shoulders we communicate without words as well. And of course we laugh and laugh and when we regain our composure, we laugh again retelling anecdotes of the years gone by. We talk about age and aging; youth and the young. I am happy, confident, in charge of myself; glad for this stroke of luck to have rediscovered my old friend. There don’t seem to be any hidden agendas, innuendos, strategies – anything to give me a hint of threat. I don’t feel I am being tested or that I am on show. I feel accepted, welcomed – warts and all. So it is that I get carried into his world and let him lead. Always the driver in my own life, I now become the passenger in this slow cruiser of conversation strolling down the Santa Monica boardwalk.
We stop for water at Perry’s. The cyclists swoosh by, as do the roller bladers, gorgeous women in halter tops, stunning men showing off their abs; chubby cheeked children with their proud parents, in strollers, on trikes, walking hand-in-hand. A visual feast if one cares to look. The two of us are far too engaged with each other to care.
The light buzz of the wine I had at lunch has evaporated. I am in possession of a lucid mind. The umbrella provides a shade of sorts. As if on cue, we both, at the same time, take off our sunglasses. I invite him to read the story of my life etched on my forty some year old face. I start talking to him with my eyes searching in his for points to connect. I am not flirting, I am not seducing. Seizing the moment, I want to delve into a deeper communication with this individual who happens to have tickled my funny bone.
He takes in my face; the eyes, brown and deep, sporting jet black eyelashes; the mouth, no more than a slit, plumped up with lipstick and gloss; the nose – remaining long and wide –for I never mustered up the courage to go under the knife; the chin with the ‘lucky’ cleft; the age spots big and small; the mole above my right eyebrow and the scar below my left; my olive skin, a shade darker now because of the California sun. I don’t mind the gaze. I feel good and comfortable about myself. So I gaze back. I feel as if he is extending a loving hand through space to touch the laugh lines that are deepening around my mouth, and the tiny ones around my eyes which, like shards of glass, are sprinkled here and there. He observes the deep furrow in between my eyebrows. I imagine his fingertips gently tracing them, asking without words why these lines are so deep so early on. I smile coyly looking down, I touch them myself. It hasn’t been easy, I admit quietly. He nods with understanding.
It is my turn to observe. His skin, though a touch sallow, has the same tone as mine. He has an open face, sporting healthy jowls which give him an overall cheerful look. The dancing dark brown eyes make up with joy and luster what they lack in shape and size. His round cheeks and flat nose hint at a mixed origin. His best feature is his lower lip, which is full and the color of a scab. His thin upper lip, together with a slight gap in between his top front teeth, affords him a subtle lisp. His melodious accent dances around the guttural consonants of the English language, in an attempt to breathe life into them with the vowels which are more prevalent in his native tongue. His deep throaty voice only adds to the enigma; making his speech at the same time intriguing and irresistible to follow. I feel he is a happy, kind and honest sort. The bond between us forms effortlessly and in so doing, many imperfections are forgiven quickly, compassionately and with abandon.
He startles me with a declaration - something poignant. A signal of ‘this is where I am at’. He says he is happy being alone all the time save for when he returns to an empty house from a trip. I mentally go through all the things this person must do on a daily basis. The list is long. I conclude that he must have confronted and conquered so many demons. Almost reluctantly he admits that he wants to share the moments with someone special. He even confesses to craving physical closeness. “Who are we kidding?” – he blurts out, adding a sweet smile to soften the risqué topic. “Quite – Who ARE we kidding? - I think. He is speaking for both of us. I nod. It does not occur to me to rebut with a clever comment such as ‘Well you can always buy that’. Suppose he does buy it and decides to tell me. What will I do with that information? I decide I’d rather not know how my friend goes about acquiring carnal pleasure.
The conversation flows easily. And in between the lines, my take is that this man expects a woman to fall into his lap. He is not looking. He is done looking.
He asks me where I am at; bluntly, as if it is his right to know. I consider honesty to be the best policy. I have no reason to be apologetic. Lifting one brow I say “I am game”; I pause, take a sip of my water, look away wistfully; turn to him and finish the sentence with conceit “for the right guy”. He nonchalantly asks me what is on the wish list. I give him the boilerplate answer – dismissively “Oh, the usual; good looking, educated, gainfully employed, financially solvent; that sort of thing.” He listens carefully and is quiet long enough that I begin to think the answer has more than satisfied his curiosity. Just as I am about to bring up another subject, he shoots back “Define good looking”. Well, how does one define good looking tactfully to a man who is not? Again, I stay with honesty. Ever so eloquently and in my best voice I present an intellectual response. “Well, beauty is best described through symmetry, proportion and balance with a touch of the dramatic”. “Do you always evade answering direct questions?” He retorts. I cannot figure whether this is an accusation or a real question. I am both shocked at the audacity and knocked to the ground by its truth. He has attacked and presented a challenge at the same time. Surprisingly, I am not offended. His interest seems so genuine it is hard to believe he is being presumptuous just to be a pest. It is as if he is egging me on to comment on his less than stellar looks – if I have the guts that is. This man is asking me to define something which I imagine to be common knowledge. As if he has read my mind, he qualifies the question. “Listen, I know what it means to be good looking. I just want you to tell me what it means to you”. I decide on complete candor. There is no escaping it now; I am cornered. “Height, eyes, hands – shoes, watch, hair.” I blurt out. “All six categories must be to my absolute liking, in that order”, I state honestly, concisely, arrogantly. I relax and breathe a sigh of relief. After a brief silence, he starts checking himself, head to toe for the body parts and objects I have just listed. I start to giggle. This is hilarious. He is taking me for a ride of a lifetime. I simply cannot predict where he is going with all of this. Is he flirting? Is he teasing? What is he on to? I don’t have any answers. I am perplexed. He meets none of the criteria on my list. He is not a candidate, not a prize, not even close. Plainly stated he just is not my type. And yet I can’t stop looking at him, laughing along. And with every sentence and gesture that emerges from him I take one step closer. I am mesmerized, wondering what he will do next.
He looks at the crowd, the sand and the ocean, and then turns to me willfully. “What else?” he asks. “What do you mean what else?” I respond with exasperation. With a gentle smirk on his face he reminds me of the topic. “This man of yours, what else does he need to be?” he asks somewhat sympathetically. I am losing patience but at the same time I cannot walk away and let him win. I am quiet, thinking up a strategy, how and where to make the next move. Is this the game of chess? Or is it checkers? Poker or Gin rummy? No, no, no – This is truth or dare. It is my turn to look at the busy crowd on the boardwalk; men, many men, gorgeous men, ugly ones, young, old, short, tall, bald, balding, with hair of all colors in every place, in some places or nowhere at all, the fat and the thin, broad shouldered, sunken chested , angular and round, sad, happy, goofy, serious, the macho and the not so, hetero and homo, metro and retro; the good for nothing, the good for something, the good for anything, the game, the tame and the lame. This place is full of men and here is this man who is asking me the most difficult question I have ever been asked. I can’t lie. I won’t lie. That would be giving up my integrity and he knows I would not do that for any man. Then I think to myself, really is it that difficult a question, or is it simply hard to admit to a man my deep seated wish. I take courage, inhale deeply and turn to him, “I want a man for whom I would jump off a cliff - figuratively speaking of course”. I exhale.
He takes stock of my serious face and bursts into laughter with abandon, a big belly laugh. His whole body is shaking; tears trickle down his face. It is an eternity before he stops this display. I glare at him, a little hurt. “Glad to be of amusement to you”, I say sarcastically. I look away. That statement sends him into another roar. I now regret having confided in this person. I should have known better. It is a little girl dream of mine and he had no business extracting it from me. Here we are though. I am being mocked. I sense the sting of tears behind my eyelids.
He reaches over; places a hand on my forearm, locks eyes with me and in the kindest and most generous tone asks “And how many times have you jumped off that cliff – figuratively speaking of course?!” I know and I fancy he knows the answer. I blush.
His hand travels down to my hand, giving it a gentle squeeze, before he interlocks his fingers with mine. Eye contact – yes – green light – yes. The lock is undone and with it the gates, doors and windows of my soul creak open one after another to let him in with a simple premonition that he will be there to catch me on the way down.
And so it is that on a Saturday in May, I fall for this man – for the imperfection, the tapestry of an adventurous past, the kindness, the persistent curiosity, the not so naïve sense of entitlement, the shameless self-adoration, the handkerchief, the sweat, the shortness of breath, the laughter - the cheek of it all.
We stay at the table at Perry’s until it gets dark and then we wander into one of the hotel bars on Ocean Avenue. We share a plate of cheese and a bottle of wine. And I never get to have my piece of chocolate.
Back in the car we cross town on San Vicente and I drive us back to the valley through one of the canyons. Jobim’s Bossa Nova tune, Chega de Saudade, pours out of Gilberto’s throat into the speakers. The music is the glue which binds us to the moment. I don’t know then what this song will eventually mean to me.
And so it is dear readers that our hero and heroine venture upon a passionate and devastatingly intense love affair. I want so much to tell you that their union saw many seasons of happiness and joy; but alas it had but one. The ending was just as abrupt and unforeseen as the beginning, catalyzed, of all things, by a fluke of nature. Her plane, destined to carry her to him, never took off on account of a thunderstorm. A week after the aborted trip they had their one and only fight. Just as the autumn leaves fell to the ground to be crunched under foot, so too was the rosebud of this romance callously plucked from the vine, its petals carelessly strewn onto the field of senseless cruelty only to be trampled upon for no reason. He crucified her with words for transgressions she had not committed. He burned her at the stake, with intent and ruthless passion. In revolt, she delivered the ultimate slap – she cut contact.
After the initial shock wore off, she played the bargaining and the blame game. She was convinced she’d been had, tricked, duped. The anger and rage consumed her for weeks on end. Eventually she gave up that explanation and started on the conversation with self, striving to criticize, analyze, theorize and philosophize, all with the aim to demystify the mystery. She took to the road, travelled to the east and the west, drove up and down canyons, alleyways, mountain roads and coastal highways; searching, everywhere she went and in every face she saw, for meaning. She found none. She took to the hills, then to the valleys, walked, ran, sat, thought, read, wrote, shouted and cursed. She wept bitterly; even wailed; all to no avail.
In the early morning light, he would visit her in her dreams – providing momentary solace. He would lie next to her, softly caressing the deep furrow of her brow with those hands she had grown to love. And then ever so gently he would trace the curves of the body he had once known well.
The mourning took a season, maybe even two. Eventually the fog lifted. In the distance she spotted the glimmer of hope and heard its horn toot. The end of her suffering was drawing near. The answer came to her at last.
And so it was that she took her pride to the cemetery of the fallen and gave it a proper burial. She knelt by the graveside and recited an apt eulogy. She then got up, dusted herself off, donned the cloak of humility, turned on her heels and embarked on the train of destiny.
The little girl is tugging at my apron, begging to be part of the ritual of my cooking.
“Gramma, Gramma, pick me up; let me see”.
I lift her up, give that pug nose a kiss; feel her soft skin and delight in it. She puts out a tiny hand to feel the deep creases on my face.
“Gramma – how do you get a face like that?”
I smile and grab the little hand, place little kisses on each fingertip and finally one big one on the palm of her hand, tickling her to a giggle.
“Well, you get to live a long time and do a lot of things and your skin kind of starts to get a little tired of all the stuff that you do. So it curls up and gets ready to go to sleep.
“Gramma, my skin will never get like that.”
Another round of little kisses ensues. I see my own reflection in these angel eyes. I set her on the countertop and hand her a wooden spoon.
“Now come on sweetheart and help me with this. You need to stir while I put the finishing touches”.
“What are you making Gramma?”
“A special soup”
“Where did you learn to make it?”
“From my Gramma when I was a little girl just like you. She would put me up on the counter and I would watch her mix everything together”
“When was that Gramma?”
“Oh a long time ago, in a land far far away from here.
The little girl gleefully claps. “I know, I know – Iran”. “What makes a good soup Gramma?”.
“Let’s see, you have to get the greens all washed and chopped, then you have all kinds of beans and spices and lots of this special stringy white stuff; see here. You put it all in a huge pot – it has to be a huge pot – not a small one. Then you mix it with water and place it on a low flame and let it simmer for a very long time – maybe a day, maybe two days.”
“I can’t wait that long Gramma. I don’t have a lot of time.
“Oh honey, but you need to be patient if you want to taste a great soup.”
“Why is this such a great soup Gramma?”
“Because it is what life is like, my darling. You take a whole bunch of different things that happen to you. You mix them together with hope and love; lots of love. Then you wait and stir and wait and stir. And then one day you wake up and find you have everything you wished for when you were a little girl. Then you tell your stories."
“I want to hear all your stories Gramma”.
“When you are older my love, when you are older.”
Just then my husband arrives and walks into the kitchen. He greets me and hands me an armful of flowers. I look at them and breathe in the fragrance. “Aah, Golé Maryam – dastet dard nakoneh, Azizam”. I give him a radiant smile. Clapping his hands together, he treats me to a glint of those big brown eyes, bends his head a little and places a sweet kiss on top of mine. “What have we here?” he peeks into the pot; takes a whiff; smiles heavenwards and with a deep resounding bellow he exclaims –“Aakh Joon - Aashe Reshteh”. He reaches over, picks up the little girl and in one fell swoop throws her up in the air and catches her on the way down. She squeals with delight.
Glossary of Persian Terms
Aah & Aakh – Expressions of surprise and delight.
Azizam – My beloved.
Aashe Reshteh - A traditional Persian dish of herbs, beans and other ingredients served on special occasions such as the first day of winter.
Dastet dard nakoneh - Literal translation is “May your hands not suffer”. Figuratively speaking it is a term of gratitude offered in response to a gesture of goodwill.
Golé Maryam -Tuberose
Joon -Literal translation is “Life”. This is a versatile term in the Persian vernacular. It connotes closeness, excitement and joy all at the same time or separately, depending on the context of delivery.
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