I’m typing this at 6:20 in the morning, sitting in my backyard beside a small bonfire, wearing pyjamas, a toque, fingerless gloves, and a lumberjack shirt from the grunge era. My dog is lying beside me on her ratty Mexican blanket. In the east, there’s a faint flash of lightning in the sky, but, for now, I’m dry. My breakfast is a slice of last night’s homemade pizza (anchovies, good mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes), washed down with a glass of Guinness. The morning smells like wood smoke, stinky dog, and imminent rain.
With every year that passes I more firmly believe that it is the odd, idiosyncratic, specific, and sensual pleasures that make life worth living. Or rather, it is the semi-random, half-planned combinations of those pleasures. Like perhaps you’re walking across a field at midnight, eating a Twix bar, when the clouds suddenly drift away, revealing an intense moon, just as a nightingale begins to sing. Or the smell of perfume, roasted coffee, and wool sweater when you hug a friend you haven’t seen in several years.
Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that “peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” I love that idea, that the universe is offering us suggestions of how to dance, how to live our lives with rhythm and grace. Moreover, that what is spontaneous and improvised in this dance is just as important as what is planned and rehearsed—part tango and part disco.
Long ago, I discovered that what happens by surprise is far more memorable than what is carefully contrived. Travel is one clear example. I barely remember, for instance, my dutiful slog through the Louvre, or even the view from the observation deck of the Eiffel tower. I do remember, though, turning a street corner, hand-in-hand with my lover, coming across a sidewalk artist working in chalk, creating a wild picture of flowers and planets. The Michelin-starred restaurant in London was memorable, but the late night curry and chips in Brick Lane was much more so. Honeymoons are nice, but stolen kisses in back seat of a taxi cab say far more about the vital spark of romance, I think.
If there is truly a living, sentient spirit behind the machinations of the universe, I believe she has a trickster’s heart. She is always ready to upend your expectations, take you to unthought of places, both good and bad. She has a roguish smile, a winking eye, and a dark sense of humour. She is capable of dealing both sweetness and disaster; I expect there are few lives she has not endowed with generous helpings of both.
It is always easy, though, to recognize calamity when it befalls us. We tend not to be nearly as adept at recognizing good fortune—at recognizing those chance encounters, serendipitous combinations, and lucky finds. You’re at a garage sale, say, and you find an art deco lamp and a Velvet Underground record in perfect condition. You’re walking down the street, and you catch a glimpse of a woman with a perfectly shaped neck, just as the warm sun falls across your face. Or, you’re sitting in your backyard, early in the morning, when the fire is burning down, your dog is farting, and the storm has not yet arrived.