February 27, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Take a River

By |2018-03-21T18:18:48+01:00March 1st, 2005|Area 51|
Maybe a movie...

What do you think you know about me?”

She’s doing it again, tilting her chin. Gestures are poignant in a time of doubt. The languid is the glib. Awe envies hyperbole and they stare at each other, one waiting on the other to blink.

What do I know?

Not much. Not about her. But my father made a point about feelings. He called them facts with accents. They are where you should get to eventually. Take a river, Seine or Tiber, Thames or Danube, Vltava or Colorado, and you’ll eventually find a grateful, moistened city.

Eventually is a word patience admires.

Why, she asks, should the pope not retire? Speechless, absent, a metronome of suffering, he’s hard to look on without pathos or revulsion. Faiblesse oblige. Why should he not simply put a stop to the display?

Evidence of suffering, I answer, is the eventually of things in motion. Decay moralizes, if uncomfortably. The pope is the anti-celebrity, the face of mortality on a planet wed to skin treatments. I remember him as powerful, warm, and vibrant — two decades ago — but best not to speak of the distant past. She wouldn’t remember, and it ages me.

I’m obtuse. She is less so. She’s smart and stunning enough not to downplay herself, but does so anyway, cinders in her smile. A decade has passed, she says, and what have I done? Little, she answers herself.

“What do you think you know about me?”

I could change the subject. It might help. But to what precisely? Maybe a movie. We enjoyed the latest, a melancholy comedy about wine, love and disappointments. The previous one she liked a little less, noting rightly that Clint Eastwood is always good but rarely great. Even a million dollar baby with an Oscar tossed in doesn’t diminish his limitations. Good yes, but not great. Too much gratuitous sentiment.

It’s hard to love yourself when you’re chipped. You hear your own sentences. They are foolish or sweet. You run in place. She blinks. I blink.

I know this much, but I don’t say it: making democracy in Iraq is as much about ensuring shopping as delivering minds to visionary thoughts. A powerful nation exports pet concepts to expand commodities. It’s natural marketing. If Baghdad eventually gets its own Via Condotti (and a Shah of its moment) all will have been for the best. Modernity’s bluntest offering is choice. As the new was once good’s main course, so now it’s the turn of choice, albeit forced.

But choice is what you don’t get on the weak side of a romantic dinner. Most aspects of love approximate tyranny, with affection the quaintest absolutism. But I tell myself to seek solace. It’s the demon you know. You’re not going to prison. You’re not ill. Rehumanize yourself.

And if she were perhaps lost (by soft light it’s unclear) would you help her find herself, or find a way? Yes, of course. Anything. But how to be sure? Think again. The pope won’t escape, part of the point: health, joy, disease, peril, in descending order. Karol Wojtyla’s doom is valuable because it’s compellingly public. At times I imagine Wojtyla and John Kennedy conversing, and of Kennedy speaking 1963, amid the deepest nuclear fears. “Our most basic common link,” he said, “is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

Walking to the supermarket a few mornings earlier I saw a narrow boy on a motorbike in the rain. He came up behind a fat red car and skirted fast to make a path between it and a lamppost. The maneuver was simple, to bend and to accelerate. But his bike was caught by the car’s impromptu stall and he was cast into the air, his head shattered against the post. He lay still for a long time, and when the ambulance came, almost begging through the dense traffic, it had stilled its siren. There was no need.

Life is cruel, she says.

What I want her to say is, “How are you — you, the one left alive,” but she doesn’t.

I seek reassurance. But so does she.

We each need to listen more. Perhaps further movies lie in store. I hope so. Such absolutism has addicts.

She’s doing it again, tilting her chin. I look beyond her, or pretend to — and suspend disbelief. Faiblesse oblige.

Christopher P. Winner’s email address is cpwinner@theamericanmag.com

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris in 1953 and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.