On noses

I’ve never really given my nose much thought. I’ve broken it for sure once (rolling head over heals down a staircase–my fault), and maybe two other times, but none of those other time fixed the first mishap. I admire the classical aquiline nose such as one finds on Basil Rathbone, Cher, and Barbara Streisand. Best nose ever, a true blue ribbon schnoz, must go to the Spanish actor, Rossy de Palma, whose nose is both big and bent. Of course, the nose is meant to function as one of our senses and smells are a big part of life: best favorite natural smell–real lilacs; worst smell ever–rotting garbage. So the nose is there to entice you to smell the neck of your significant other or to warn you that there is a gas leak. Other favorite smells: cookies baking, freshly cut grass, a new car, a newly opened can of coffee grounds, bacon frying, cinnamon, roses and honeysuckle, rain on earth. There are others, more private, so those will have to do. Let’s just say we all have a favorite or two that we won’t share with the whole world. The smells I hate: most synthetic perfumes, scented candles, potpourri, dead things, musty flowers, stale beer, smoke of any kind, sweat, fresh tar, rubbing alcohol, and if you give me a minute, I can imagine others, including old body odor. My nose holds up my glasses, but it also gets me in trouble because sometimes it runs. Sneezing does not help a nose. Others think that noses are slightly erotic, but I’d rather not go there. Noses are not, however, on my list of repressions. Noses really help shape a face, but I never get the bump on mine fixed, nor would I have it straightened or fixed in any way. I’ve lived with it this long, so I guess we’re in it until the end. I hate my nose when I get a zit on it. My nose does not help with my snoring, which is bad. I have often felt bad for Rudolf with his red nose, being picked on for something that you have no control over is both unfair and unkind. I admire and love big noses. Even so, what is a perfect nose, anyway?

On the heart

As a friend undergoes quadruple bypass surgery, my own heart bleeds for his wife and young son. The heart is such a delicate thing. We only have one. Unlike our kidneys or lungs, Mother Nature only gave us one, and if it doesn’t pump correctly, we are so out of luck. It is the pump that drives our life’s blood, that keeps us alive by delivering oxygen to our cells and carrying away the waste produced by those same cells. When the heart’s blood supply is cut off, we die, and the complex network of arterial arteries and veins can become clogged and cause trouble. My friend is having his plumbing reworked tonight in an attempt to save his life. The heart keeps us alive, though, in more ways than we know. The heart is also a metaphor for love, beating a little faster when the beloved is near, feeling empty and heavy when the beloved is absent. One suffers heartbreak, loneliness and sorrow because of the heart, a fist sized organ tucked in between the lungs just under the breastbone. It sustains us when we are said, celebrates our victories with joy. We can feel it when it beats, sending blood pulsing through our veins and arteries. Both literal and metaphor, the heart measures our well-being, or our sadness, or our happiness, our bliss, our ecstasy. When the heart goes wrong, our outlook can only turn black. The heart sustains us even in the dark night of the soul because the heart believes in hope, and maybe that is the only thing we have left in our darkest hour. Hope is a good thing, perhaps the best of things, but without it, I’m not really sure what is left. Certainly, the heart faces failure, defeat, and disillusion because those are also a part of all lives, but I also think the heart is resilient and can snap back from those blackest of thoughts when one feels alone and abandoned against the entire world. Healing comes through the heart. So tonight, one man and his family will face the toughest challenge a man can ever face: his own mortality. Yet it will be his heart that which sees him through to the other side. The heart, the veins, the medulla, burn gloriously and brightly, but there are severe truths that even the heart cannot deny. If he heals, it will be his own heart which brings him healing. The hands of the surgeon, created and guided by God, will put him back on his feet. The heart knows about mortality, knows that it will eventually return to the ashes out of which it rose, knows that nothing will go on forever. Yet, for now, the soul swims in that cold river of mortality because the heart knows how.

On Don Juan (Tenorio)

Don Juan is an old character, made famous by Tirso de Molina in his 1630 play “El burlador de Sevilla”, and there is no need to track him down as an historical figure, a task that would bring neither understanding nor resolution. More than a character from Spain’s Golden Age of drama, more than the character from an opera or a movie, don Juan is an archetype that has always been a part of human society. He is pure ego, ignoring the rules of polite society, flaunting his bad behavior in the face of ethics, morals, and law. Don Juan is a faceless creature who only cares about his own pleasure, about his own pursuit of physical delight, about getting what he wants in spite of the consequences for himself or others. From a moral perspective he is pure evil, pursuing all the women he wants to pursue, regardless of whether it is right or wrong. Society, of course, disapproves of don Juan. The dark side of don Juan is not his desire to sin or anything else that he does. The dark side of don Juan is his complete indifference to social norms, his subversion of ethical rules, and his complete disregard for conforming to order. He is an active social offender, he’s a bad boy, and he’s unrepentant about any of it. His crime is that he loves women, like many men, born under the sign of Venus. What is problematic about that love is that it is dark, profound, strong, multifaceted, and boundless, unconfined to the bounds of marriage or law. His love is chaotic, fragmented, driven by desires that are base and primal, uncontrolled, illogical, passionate, and dangerous. The masculine figure of don Juan is not about what is right or moral or even logical. His desire is timeless, wild, savage, powerful, virile, and boundless, and what makes him so dangerous is how this danger makes him attractive and desirable. Women want to be with him, and men want to be like him. Good, honest people like to reject the figure of don Juan outright, but they know they are lying to themselves and letting their repressions get the better of them. It isn’t that the average person is bad, but the repressions of an average society–an orderly society–are too wide-ranging to be really effective. We make rules and rules and rules, but for the most part, the rules are only as good as those who would willingly obey them. Don Juan is a rule-breaker of the first category. He willingly and forcefully breaks rules, flaunting his liberty in the face of those who would enforce those rules. In a sense, don Juan is about liberty and freedom, he’s about human agency and the right to decide his own course of action in the world. He is independent, powerful, and dangerous. He is the unbound face of anarchy.

On Casablanca (1942, movie)

The first time I saw this movie was in a nasty old movie theater in Madrid where the customers smoked in the theater while drinking cans of beer that they bought out of plastic tubs in the lobby from a guy who looked a hundred and six, but was really forty-five. The year was 1980, and the last vestiges of the old regime were still lurking around in dark corners like wild dogs. The print of the movie was horrendous–scratched, patched and worn out. There were subtitles in Spanish that only proved that the person translating the dialogue didn’t know English, and he didn’t want to learn English, either. So I sat there in the dark with my three cans of beer and watched Rick and Ilsa fall in love in Paris, I watched her walk into his gin-joint in Casablanca, I watched Rick tell Ilsa to get on that plane and support her husband because “I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” He’s in tears, she’s in tears, and you know they will probably never, ever see each other again. She walks with her husband to the plane knowing that that part of her life is over. I know the film was made on cardboard sets in Hollywood. The movie theater stunk, the film was worn out, the beer was warm, but none of that mattered. I was enthralled by what I consider to be one of the top ten movies of all time. Ilsa is beautiful, erotic, passionate, and crazy-in-love with two very similar guys. Rick is cynical and tough, believes in nothing, trusts no one, but he’s a romantic and a sentimentalist. The rest of the ensemble is brilliant as they orbit the stars. The entire film is bathed gently in a thousand tones of gray that wrap the characters gently in their soft shadows. Gray is so pervasive in this film that the entire final scene is played out against a thick fog which completely erases any need for scenery at all. Finally, the bad guys have been thwarted, the good guys have flown away on a plane, and the hero and his plucky sidekick walk off into the foggy night. The ending is not neat, a million threads are left hanging, but the cynic has conquered his cynicism just a bit and perhaps has even found a little bit of himself again. Anyone claiming their nationality to be “Drunkard” can’t have too many ideals or dreams left. I left the theater smelling of stale cigarette smoke, rancid beer, and old sweat, but I knew I had witnessed something very special, and every time I see Casablanca now, I admire it that much more. As Rick would say, “I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.”

On hearts

Hearts are not to be trifled with. Hearts beat faster when the beloved comes closer, and they ache when they are lonely and forgotten. Hearts do break, but they also endure. Jealously and envy poison the poor heart. One might coldly describe the physiological function of the heart as one of pumping blood, but then, where’s the fun in that? The heart is the closest thing we have to feeling pure emotion, to giving meaning to our existence, to letting us know that in spite of the dark nights, we are all fire and still alive. The heart is proprietary and irrational, hopeful and full of desire. The heart is poetry, art and music all clamoring to be seen and heard. Logic and reason and rational thought are not a part of the heart’s repertoire. Why would anyone try to keep their heart locked up, silent, motionless, inactive? Life is often not kind to the heart, making it suffer and cry and endure pain. Loss is unkind to the heart, and yet all happy love stories end in loss and suffering. The heart knows this deep down in the dark places where the soul resides. The joy of togetherness is always offset by the pain of separation. The heart, though, will risk everything for the joy of companionship and the pleasure that it brings. Bliss, ecstasy, elation, happiness are all transfixed by the heart in the rapture shared with the beloved. The heart knows, darkly, that nothing is forever, but the heart is also blind and forgets that time marches forward and changes everything in the blink of an eye. The heart chooses to love because it has no choice. The alternative, a generation condemned to solitude, is unspeakable. In the end the heart pretends to live out a comedy, turning a blind eye to the tragedy that waits at every turn because the alternative to not loving is succumbing to a valley of perpetual tears. The heart knows this and chooses to love anyway.

On love

Love is a pretty tricky, if not risky, emotion, but most people enjoy being in love, most people love to be loved, and when love goes away, the pain is almost immeasurable. Valentine’s Day, which is just around the corner, always seemed like a time of crisis for so many, including myself when I was single. The whole idea of being single was just so much more tragic than it was the rest of the year. Human beings do not do well when forced to live by themselves. Single people do not live as long as married folks, but I’ve known so many married folks that live in conflict and pain. One thing that is very important about love is that you cannot generalize about why people fall in love, how they pick their mates, or how they stay together. I’m sure sociologists will disagree and site a bunch of studies, but my argument would be this: studies generalize, people are individuals. What humans hate and fear is being left alone, which is what makes the Robinson Crusoe analogue so frightening: you end up making friends with a volleyball called Wilson. I would also suggest that although love has a physical side to it, love that lasts is more than physical and transcends the day-to-day crap that makes life difficult. In fifty-plus years one has one’s successes and one’s disappointments. Ideally, we would all like to marry our childhood sweetheart and then just grow old together. Perhaps there was a time in some distant and golden past when that sort of thing happened, but in this complex world of high pressure jobs, family conflicts, strife of all kinds, random chaos, religion, politics, caprice, serendipitous chance, and strange attractors one is infrequently in the same place long enough to develop a real relationship with anyone. We move around too much and love has no chance. We all desire real emotion, we yearn to be loved, but love is such a dangerous proposition that we often say “no” because it is the only way to guarantee the safety of our soul. Loss, rejection, hurt, betrayal or indifference are heartbreaking because you risked everything, you dared to love, and now you walk away alone. You can only do that so many times before you quit in sheer desperation and self-preservation. Love is always that double-edged sword, and it either protects or kills, and you may never know why. Recently, a truly heartbroken friend asked the eternal question: is it better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all? Something to think about.