Shelter from the Storm

I've heard newborn babies wailin' like a mournin' dove
And old men with broken teeth stranded without love.
Do I understand your question, man, is it hopeless and forlorn?
"Come in," she said,
"I'll give you shelter from the storm."

- Bob Dylan

I was without internet access for most of the time that I have been in France. I am used being online constantly and have to urge this battle against the impulse to respond to every new email instantly. While rambling around Paris was rather exhausting, I must say that I was quite up to the task of spending a few more minutes online. For the first time, I had not left anything behind and yet I had this feeling that I had left something behind. I had, it was - free, constant and relentless access to the internet.

It wasn't that people would give me up for dead if I did not respond, but puzzling question of 'How would I find information that I needed and did not have?' Four, five days later and it strangely after a few days it does not matter as much. I had this idea that I would sit in some cafe in Paris and post my dispatch for the day.

Another One Will Bite the Dust

It was no wonder of wonders that as part of the conference schwag I was given a laptop bag. Not another laptop bag! Can organizers be so lacking in imagination that all they can think of is giving out another laptop case? Surely, they have enough of their own gathering dust on a shelf.

A Taste of a Feast

More importantly, personally of course, is the fact that I have been in Paris since last Saturday. As recuperation from the day's mad rambles I have been reading Hemingway's A Moveable Feast - his memoir of Paris in the 20s, or more correctly, of his account of 1920s Paris as a young and struggling writer.

Before getting to France, I felt I needed to 'prepare' for the trip. (It is France after all.) 'Prepare', in my book, is defined as - to read as much as possible on the subject. I was intrigued by the fact that a memoir about an age in Paris long gone is still referenced in almost every general book or guide on Paris.

The books begins with a quote from a letter that Hemingway wrote to a friend:

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

That was arresting enough. Yet, I could not read it before I left since I had to do the stuff that pays the rent and which defrays the cost of getting to France. In retrospect it was infinitely better not to have read it before.

I am trying to figure out why this book appeals and enthralls me so much. Much of it appeal lies perhaps in the fact that the book is a sort of a mirror. Like Hemingway, I find myself in Paris, in my 20s, recently married, with wife, and with a rather thin wallet (done thinner by the weak greenback). When Hemingway writes that on a hungry stomach he appreciated the paintings in Luxembourg museum better, I not only understand it but also know it. Then there are times when the taste and sheer delight of my meal and the wine of the afternoon come alive as I read an account of his meal years ago.

The book is a wonderful dessert at the end of a marvelous feast that is Paris. It is one of the few books that one is lucky to have read at the right age, place and time.
What I have right now is simply a taste of Paris. On Paris, later. For now, I realise it's really important to first savor the taste.

Join the Have Nots

I see them on busstops, under trees on campus, at info-desks, on street-corner cafes. From Seattle to Singapore, people between six and sixty are doing 'it' at all times of the day. 'It' has achieved the impossible. People have even given up TV for 'it'! That's something.

'It' is a recent 700+page book which has managed to numb millions to any sort of sensation; many have taken a temporary leave of absence from their responsibilities as children, graduate students, parents, babysitters and citizens. While they are under the grip of a fantastic spell, I am gripped by self-doubt. A lot of self-doubt. For a person who fancies himself as reading omnivore I wonder - 'Have I managed to miss out on the greatest book cult of my generation?' For all her billions, J.K. Rowling has nothing to thank me for; I haven't read any of the books or seen any of the movies.

If you put half a dozen people together, somehow, somebody manages to steer the conversation to the sixth and last book. I try to hide behind the nearest flower-pot to avoid embarassment. "Man, you are STILL reading Faulkner? That's not even 60s dude, that's 40s."

Millions of people queuing up for the book at midnight like crack-addicts waiting for their next fix can't be wrong, can they? Am I simply a literary snob? or just out of touch with popular culture? What is a great book? One that seeks out universal truths? or one that has universal appeal?>

While Harry Potter could be the answer to world peace, the world is clearly divided into the haves and the have-nots. I clearly belong to the mass of people who have not read the hexology (Aside: I was disappointed it wasn't called a sexology!) The time is nigh to start a support group for the have-nots. Want to join? Don't be ashamed. Whether you are a self-doubter, a pop-culture hater, or just an unrepentant snob - help is at hand.