Well, faithful readers, after a bit of a hiatus, we are back. Carol and and I just finished dinner in the wheelhouse of Vivante. We are moving down the Canal du Bourgogne toward our reservation for 3 weeks in Paris. We have been in Europe just over a year at this point with another few months to go.
One piece of our extended stay across the pond was a clockwise gyre through Croatia, Montenegro, the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa. During one of those long, languid Spanish evenings we sipped a glass of sherry at a bar along the waterfront. It had been serving this wonderful elixir since 1840. The wooden bar was worn smooth with decades of wiping the chalk tallies of the patrons’ bills clean, and ancient barrels lined up along the back wall, ready to dispense another dose of this wonderful wine.
Later, as we sat enjoying a cortado, (Spanish coffee) Carol stated what we had been thinking ever since parking Vivante for the winter and striking off on our road trip across Europe; it has been a “once in a lifetime journey”. As I ruminated over that idea for a while, it seems that what we have actually experienced is more closely described as a “life in a once time“.
I hope that over the next few moments, I can share this idea with you.
‘As you may have noticed from some of my earlier posts, “time” is on my mind these days. (See “Paris in the Twilight Zone”) This may have been influenced by my recent reading list that has included several dumbed-down volumes on the topic of Quantum Gravity.
After hours of head scratching, I have come to understand that a big part of that field involves the question of time. To us normal folks, time seems to be a relatively straight-forward idea, ticking away steadily in one direction, meting out our lives second by second. To our physicist friends however, time ebbs and flows, speeds up and slows down, stops, and apparently, for a few fleeting moments, can run backwards.
Another line of thinking on time considers the possibility that everything that has ever happened still exists, but we simply can’t see it given our limited sensory capabilities. For those interested in that mind-bending concept, the movie Interstellar may prove useful. It is that idea that I turned over in my mind as I pondered our trip this year.
Much of the territory we have traversed over the winter has a recorded history numbering in the thousands of years. But in some towns, that history does not exist as an abstract description in a book or artifacts in the dusty rooms of a museum. It a visceral part of the lives of the people every day.
We visited places where walking your dog takes you past a Roman amphitheater from 250 BC and daily shopping requires a winding passage by a Roman temple. The market reached in that journey being in continuous use for over 800 years.
This conflation of the then with the now goes beyond the presence of the stone columns and plaster structures in today’s world, permeating the fabric of the human experience. We observed spirited bartering negotiations unchanged by the passage of the centuries interrupted by a video call from a family member and a woman in business attire dropping off loaves of bread to be baked for the evening meal in the community oven, fired by wood, delivered via donkey.
*In this world there is a constant mashup of the then and the now, presenting incongruities from moment by moment to those of us who go through life mentally shredding the past as we go, not thinking about how our present is inescapably entangled with everything that has happened before and constantly circles back to that past with lessons for us to carry forward to if we are open to seeing them.
Unfortunately, we are more often than not distracted by the shiny new objects of our world that prevent us from reconnecting with the important learnings that are all around us. Things and experiences that, while seemingly old and outdated, are at the core of our prospects for the future.
In Kotar, Montenegro, we dined in a tiny 4 table restaurant run by a physicist/chef/guitar player/traditional singer. Over some very good local wine the conversation hopped from microwave propagation, to the preparation of fresh fish, to the way in which the history of this small country is found in its songs. There did not seem to be any distinction between the past, present and future in his world.
Sometimes the past is seared into a culture’s memory in such a visceral manner that it is impossible to escape and difficult to see beyond. At a roadside war museum near the Croatian/Bosnian border a 30-something guide standing by a shattered Soviet Mig, an American tank buster and an UK armored vehicle described how his Bosnian neighbors one day became Bosnian executioners the next.
His matter-of- fact eyewitness description of the horrific slaughter of members of his village by former friends from across town could not mask the underlying anger that was truly uncomfortable to witness.
As we continued our travels, entering Spain we were immersed in the reality of ancient religious rituals honoring the Christian tradition of Easter during the Semana Santa (Holy week). Hundreds of thousands of people, from grandparents to small babies lined the streets to see the processions pass by throughout the evening and into the early morning as the week progressed. Whether from religious fervor or simply honoring echos of past times and traditions, they came night after night to witness the spectacle that has spanned the centuries little changed.
These episodes continued through the rest of our travels. They are always there but we often don’t recognize them for what they are. They are a time machine into a past that exists with us today.
We are perhaps the only species on earth that experiences what we call time. The human brain has evolved the ability to store fuzzy images of what we have already seen and done in it’s vast array of neurons. We call these things memories. We have also developed in some simple ways, the ability to extrapolate those memories forward combining them with what we see in our “present” time to create the concept of the future.
The smart folks who think a lot about this kind of thing say that this perception of time is simply an approximation that allows us humans to come to grips with our amazingly complicated world. Our senses allow us only a very rough cut of what really happens around us. In spite of our limited perspective, we often do not appreciate the things that are clearly there and should fill us with wonder and inform our future actions. Carol calls it being in the Present Moment.
If you are even more confused now than when we started down this rabbit hole, do not fear, I am there with you. Perhaps all we can do is keep our eyes and ears open to what is in front of us every day and smile.