Thursday, March 6, 2014

Romance Studies: Memory Lane Repost

This was published a year ago, and is one of those pieces that has the germs of several good short stories scattered about -- so many fine characters, such unique situations.  But mostly it serves as a reminder of the importance of friends, in all the classifications and confusions inherent to those relationships.  From demanding divas to mealy-mouthed geniuses, make the time to swipe a bandanna stained with their salty sweat, or maybe a sweater as soft to the skin as that friend was to your fragility, in some truck stop before dawn.
Just don't take anything that they need.  Or divulge what you all pinkie-swore to protect as private.

Faust poster, Milan, 1863

Hello, Dear Readers!

I've been quiet here, but pretty darned loud, elsewhere.  The mapping coordinates of my new "elsewhere"?  Ha!  What do you think I am, gullible?  Excuse me one moment, la Bonne et Belle Bianca Castafiore calls -- she is down with The Crud, from which Fred and I are just now escaping, and the poor child needs fresh, microwaved arboreal rice heating packs, wrapped in the organic flannel of my favorite old shirt. Apparently there is no softer organic flannel in the world... than my favorite... old... beloved... shirt.

It's over-sized, not being really mine. Over-sized soft things are perfect for CRPSers.  And, until The Milanese Nightingale made me wash it ten times straight,then douse it with Snuggles laundry softener, it still smelled like the man I "borrowed" it from.  Okay, so some people leave relationships with pre-fabricated legal divisions, half of the children, the beach house but not the in-town condo.  I leave with pieces of favored fashion -- in this case, Matthew's well-worn plaid organic cotton shirt.

Matthew vies with Brother-Units Grader Boob and TW for Total Sweetness Quotient.  No offense to TW, but as I recall, he is on the normal side of height, and no offense to Grader Boob, all of six feet and four, but if Matt didn't slouch, he topped The Boob by another good four inches.  And while years of grading have added girth to The Boob, Matt is genetically determined to skeletal aspirations. Also, he forgets to eat.

Matt had no love relationship with me.  He may have secretly hated me, but I'm pretty sure that'd be both beyond his capabilities and just not the case, being unwarranted.  So how dare I have stolen his long, soft, well-worn organic cotton blue plaid shirt?

Okay, and a V-neck sweater, baby blue.  That's it.  I swear.

Well, I had a huge crush on him, of course.

Matthew mumbles.  Probably not now, as he's established as a biggie in the academic world, is a father and a husband -- to a strong, beautiful woman who just wouldn't tolerate mumbling if that mumbling were controllable.  She's also a doctor, and so I think Matthew gets a Mumbling Pass due to some mild condition, maybe an oral deformity of some kind, or larynx liabilities.  Cathy wouldn't spend her life with a Mumbler-By-Choice.

Cathy was there when I met Matt, fell head over heels for Matt, and knew, as did I, the complete impossibility of my infatuation.  I liked her a lot.  Smart, calm, swift, pretty, private.

The thing is, you get used to it, Matt's mumbles.  Also, he garners a few benefits from this minor affliction.  People shut up when he speaks, the better to hear him.  And thank the Lord above, he doesn't waste the opportunity with a bunch of yaddayadda.  Unfortunately, the Devil on his broad shoulders has him convinced that he can tell a good joke.  Ay.  Oy.  The Devil double dogged him, too, as Matt thought he played a decent hand of poker.  We wagered match sticks, poverty-stricken academics that we were.

Matt hosted prodigious dinners, always themed by color.  White dinners were good, and pretty easy to digest.  Orange dinners called for antacids.

Those broad shoulders.  That beautiful long black hair, always one day late for a shampoo, in a pony tail.  Speckled with grey back then, probably all grey now, though I hope not.  A bodacious beard, neatly trimmed.

No butt, but legs from here to there.  I never saw him on a bed that didn't look like a fun house set up, his knees usually marking the end of the mattress, his honker feet hanging in the air. Unfortunately, unless Cathy was there to shape the spoon, he liked to spread out in sleep, no curling up, no tucking of those grandaddy long legs.

I met him at my first campus Amnesty International chapter meeting. New to the Gothic Wonderland, I wanted some activities outside the scintillating world of Romance Studies, something I think anyone could understand.

Romance studies is an umbrella academic discipline that covers the study of the languages, literatures, and cultures of areas that speak a Romance language. Romance studies departments usually include the study of Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese. Additional languages of study include Catalan and Romanian, among others.
Romance studies departments differ from single- or two-language departments in that they attempt to break down the barriers in scholarship among the various languages, through interdisciplinary or comparative work. These departments differ from Romance language departments in that they place a heavier emphasis on connections between language and literature, on one hand, and culture, history, and politics on the other hand.
Because most places in Latin America speak a Romance language, Latin America is also studied in Romance studies departments. As a result, non-Romance languages in use in Latin America, such as Quechua, are sometimes also taught in Romance studies departments.

For some reason, I remember one moment with the intricacy of a sharply focused journalistic photograph.  There were five us crammed inside the car of our recently deceased boss -- she was killed in a car accident while vacationing in Portugal, and we inherited her car, her overwrought, shrill coven, and her tribe of feral cats.

Along with her life, the semester had just ended and we had an unmet grading deadline or something -- for some reason, we were frantic to get to the Languages Building, do whatever it was needed doing, pile back in the car, and be on our own way to vacation, which, if I recall correctly, was a Latin American studies conference in New Orleans.  We were flying in our own booze, being universally broke.

The campus was empty, bereft of rich kids, void of harried profs, a sucking vacuum free of administrative types -- though somewhere was a woman tapping her long, well-kept fingernails on the thin veneer of a big desk, waiting, waiting, waiting for those Romance Studies ne'er-do-wells who owed her a printout of grades.  Tap tap tap.

So being stopped by a campus cop was not helpful.  The Dead Boss' parking decal was out-of-date and no way were we going to be allowed to park in front of the bleeping chapel, just a hop, a skip, and a frantic sprint from the Languages Building.  Please note:  there were maybe four cars in sight and there was no way Mr. Campus Cop could know about the vodka bottle leaking on my underwear in the baggage crammed inside Dead Boss Lady's trunk.  Not that my drunk underwear should keep us from parking in front of the chapel but some people are judgmental.

Clearly, Campus Cop was bored, and we were the cure.

"So, where are y'all heading in such a hurry, anyway?" he asked, leaning into my space through the open window.

Like trained seals, we answered as one:  "205 Languages Building..." after which our chorus broke down into cacophonous parts of differing lengths and stresses.

I said, " that we can finish some important business for the Dean."
Alice said, "...'cause we gotta empty our mailboxes."
Alejandro added the ever useful "and we got schtuff to do!"
Scott, whom few managed to understand, tossed off a friendly "...and we have to deconstruct Calderón's historical adaptations of..."
And dear Valérie, a Phys Ed grad student from France, summed it all up with: "I have the besoin, the growing need, to use the Romance Studies' salle de bains... You must let us pass, you flic, you feuk...

Before Valérie's full bladder led her to further announcements in verlan, we regained our choral strength and declared, in striking unison, "We're faculty with Romance Studies!"

He pulled his considerable girth out of the car window, stood up straight, one hand on the radio clipped to his belt, right where one would expect a gun, and chuckled.

"Y'all are messed up.  You want me to believe they teach romance here?"

Anyway, it went on and on, we weren't able to get Valérie to shush, and it wasn't all that funny.  I can't even manage a "you had to be there!" -- because what was more memorable was how time froze and I saw the place for the first time in years.  Maybe because it was empty, maybe because we were driving a dead friend's car, anxious to get away from her coven mates, her feral cats, our grief.  Maybe because I could hear tunes in my head, mixed by a mean DJ -- "a winter's day.." and "Monday, monday, monday..." and various Jim Croce tunes, the most oft repeated being "I've got a name, I've got a name..."

The sky was grey, the trees and dead leaves were of no color at all.

Dana, our dead boss, had begun the transition from Romance Studies to Primatology, which makes a sort of sense.  The nattering of lemurs.

Matthew's clothing smelled like work.  Like his stories of raking cranberries in Wisconsin, harvesting blueberries in Maine.  Like his waking just minutes before his classes were to begin, dunking his head in water, shaking off excess with the vigor of a damp dog, running out the door in the same clothes he slept in.  A plaid blue shirt, covered by a misshapen baby blue v-neck pullover.  He taught philosophy and was finishing his dissertation, and saw brilliance in most every student he met.

He's the one to whom I gave the canvas, the huge canvas, that bore the explanation of my near death experience on the cliff -- do you remember, Dear Reader?  It doesn't matter, really.  What matters is that he is the one whose understanding I valued the most.  He hung it in his office, despite the fact that much of the "paint," not being paint at all, began to fall off the ill-prepared painting surface -- the gold hair foam, for instance, and some of the kaopectate.  It would have held up better kept horizontal, flat.

Matt and I shared something else, that we, in turn, kind of kept under wraps -- our attempt to help a battered woman that I'd met while in the hospital.  It helped that Matt was so tall and broad, the prominence of his skeleton hidden by the bulk of shirt, sweater, and a weird black raincoat.  But she couldn't leave, wouldn't leave, despite our two trips to free her.

There was a custom in Matt's house, one that I picked up, of welcoming visitors who tend to stay, on average, for three years.  So always have a house with a porch, and hang on to the hammocks you collect, because they're perfect for 3-year visitors -- who will all be, I can assure you, Buddhists.  I don't know why.

Our battered woman was an evangelical Christian who still loved the man who had left old scars and new welts on her back from his predilection for belts with big metal buckles.  When I was helping her pack during our first visit, she packed several of those belts and cowboy buckles, rolling them up to save room, her hands lingering on the leather with a soft passion.

Matthew always loved Cathy;  Cathy loved no one but Matt.  But, and this is the one area in which we all snickered at Philosophy Boy, he did not believe in monogamy.  Despite remaining monogamous after meeting Cathy, if you don't count the sex he had with other women. They managed marriage after I left that scene, but I would love to have heard the reasonable conversations that had to have taken place.

Oops, Bianca is yelling -- to me, a sign of recovery and hope for a rapid cure for her beleaguered voice, her operatic instrument -- for another "hot flannel." Another bit of Matt, cut into strips, then basted together to make pockets for the arboreal rice The Castafiore insists upon as the best heat-retaining rice.

Believe it or not, Gounod's Faust is on the schedule at The Met, beginning Thursday, March 21, with the final production on 5 April.  It's been envisioned in a setting that encompasses our most recent World Wars, which I think suits the story well.  Bianca is cast as first understudy to Marguerite, Marina Poplavskaya.

Most importantly, not only will the Milanese Nightingale enjoy a fine time in New York City, but we will be free of Marguerite's Jewel Song for weeks, possibly even a month should the show tour...

It's expensive business, opera.  I just checked the cost of an orchestra seat, specifically Row Q, Seat 111 -- $235.  But "day of" standing room tickets go for between $17 and $40.  You'd have to really love Gounod to stand through 3+ hours of his Faust.

What's that?

The sweater?  Well, the night that Marmy Fluffy Butt decided to give birth to five kittens, though she quit in exasperation after four, leaving Fred to birth little Dobby, I grabbed the first, warmest, softest thing I could find, and that was Matthew's sweater.  The kittens, no offense to Marmy, seemed to love the sweater more than her own unreliable fluff, and so the sweater was donated to the cause.  When they finally were weaned and confident enough to travel any-and-every where, I retrieved it, washed it.  But the clawed holes and stains were permanent, as were my memories of my marble-mouthed philosopher friend, so I threw it away.

Well, she's launched into what might be considered a scream, so I'd best be going.  Please support The Met in this newly envisioned version of Gounod's Faust... as we would be both proud and just plain old ecstatic were it to hit the road in May for say, a six month university tour.  Yes, we'd miss Bianca's help during ManorFest 2013, when she's usually anchor to the night Rescue Squad that retrieves lost Maze Runners.  And I know the Manor Staff would regret not having her here to wax both the marble and the wood steps to our many magnificent stairs.  But as it is for the greater good, we will pull together and get by.

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