I enjoyed a nice stroll and a meal Tuesday night with friends who are visiting Paris; a couple I have known for what must be about 20 years now. Crazy. Not that they are still together (though considering the statistics, it is impressive), but rather that it has indeed been that long. I am a bit incredulous: Twenty years?
And so on. I am always surprised at how the passage of time actually feels. Or fails to feel.
Turns out that most days, it feels like nothing at all. It’s not like walking in high-heel shoes across cobblestones -- that feels very much like something. And even more, it is something of which you are ill-advised to lose awareness. The moment you do, you will probably hurt yourself.
But on the macro scale -- years, decades -- the experience of being in time isn't a separate sensation unto itself. It’s a stealth sensation, more akin to having thumbs: they’re just there. They’re your thumbs, and there are your 20 years -- and counting -- of friendship. Like air -- invisible and odorless, yes, but no less present for its intangibility.
But every now and then, the passage of time announces itself with authority, and unexpectedly. I was at the counter of the video store renting a Pedro Almodovar film. (An aside: funny how in this case, as you will soon see, the insight came not from watching the work of art, but merely from the act of renting it. I digress.) This must have been about two years ago. I was planning to watch, or better to re-watch, the Flower of My Secret, one of my favorites of his, which stars Marisa Paredes (and Rossy de Palma, as a very convincing and impressively coiffed and shellacked bourgie housewife). I find watching it to be incredibly soothing; it is a place I enjoy returning to at least once a year.
I mentioned this to the clerk -- how I felt about it, and how in particular I very much needed to see it because my nerves had been a bit jangled by my viewing the night before of the Bad Education -- a film that I did not find incredibly soothing, nor a place to which I had any desire to return.
He said that he adored Almodovar, and had loved the Bad Education. That he thought it was a great film.
I agreed that it was remarkable -- adding only that for me, personally, it was too dark. And that I would place it in a particular part of the Almodovar spectrum -- alongside the mid-late eighties works, like Matador and Law of Desire, that presented a real psycho-sexual darkness (as opposed to the Pedro stuff that traces romantic obsession as it gets progressively daffier, and cartoonily violent, like a greased pig contest with pistols, wigs, and espresso-maker earrings).
He looked at me a little blankly, and said that he hadn’t seen Matador or Law of Desire. And added “I was probably in kindergarten then.”
Surprisingly, this didn’t make me feel old. Rather, it made me absolutely aware of where and who I was. Or more precisely,who and where I was not. No longer living in the Haight-Ashbury in a big drafty flat with roommates (as I had been when the guy behind the counter was being read aloud-to in Mrs. Whoever’s class). And no longer was I taking the N-Judah downtown every morning, and no longer stopping at the Kabuki Cinema on the way home from work for the $3.75 “twilight matinee” (or “cocktail screening” as I liked to call it). And no longer a beer drinker, a fan of the Talking Heads, nor wearer of Doc Martens.
I was now a resident of Los Angeles (and therefore witness to long, orangey sunsets, and longer lines at left-turn arrows); a home-owner; an aunt; a daughter who had lost a mother. And despite the calendar and map which could clearly point to how far I had traveled -- a not-insignificant way to have come no matter how you measure it -- the details of that life were not at all far away.
Not at all. They were vivid and three-dimensional, but just as contained and untouchable as a tableau inside a snowglobe.
A little shake and there it was: the feeling of cool, damp, air on Fillmore; streetlamps barely perceptible in the fog (and perfect in their "Maltese Falcon"-ness); the smell inside the Japantown Mall next door to the movie theater -- of sesame oil, and a particular kind of paper, and of clean linoleum.
All I said to the guy behind the counter was, “You’d like both of those films,” I said, and left.
Although lingering around the edge of that San Francisco early-evening chill -- I recognize now -- was also a benign ignorance on my behalf of what was to come, both the pleasurable and less-so. Indeed, there was much to come. Some of it uphill both ways. Illnesses, deaths, new faces, other cities, other addresses, too many typing tests at too many temp agencies, depression, endless boxing and unpacking of belongings, self-doubt. And later, absolute certitude.
But how could I have ever guessed that on a lonesome, windy day in Paris, nearly 20 years in the future, I would sit down in a full theater, and find consolation in a reunion with Carmen Maura?
Certainly I am not always a good judge of speed, nor of distance. But that may be less important than having loyal traveling companions along the way. Pedro Almodovar, for example, or even just me-myself, both in and out of Doc Martens.