Friday, 16 May 2014

Boston and mortality 1

Straight down the centre of Commonwealth Avenue

I loved Boston. It felt comfortable, European, a touch French in architecture. The city had a relaxed civic grace. Granted I might have been in one of the richer areas but there were still the two beggars, no three, along Newbury Street and each of them was receiving something from someone as I approached them. The first sat by a tree while three young girls spilled from a bar. One immediately dropped some coins into his cup and they started a conversation. A young to middle aged sporty couple were walking down towards the next beggar. They stopped and gave something too. I gave something to the third so it must have been a good day down Newbury Street with its shops, cafes, galleries and dives. You don't get art galleries in poor streets. This was civic and pretty.

It was Saturday morning. I had arrived late on Friday - late by European time that is, meaning about 1am, though it was only 8pm or so in Boston. I explored the suite of rooms, arranged my things, made myself a herbal tea and tried to sleep but it wasn't easy. I was too tired so it took maybe an hour. It's the usual long-distance disorientation.

The next morning I had solo breakfast of poached eggs. The time was still not quite right, but I resolved to go for at least a good half hour walk. I am now obliged to do this daily since it was discovered, just the day before my departure after the return of a blood test, that I now have type 2 diabetes with rather high blood sugar. Everything else was OK. The nurse had reeled off the right sort of diet I should be following though I was already on most of it, adding the idea of a daily half hour brisk walk. It is true that I had been breathless at the beginning of any morning walk down to the local station for well over a year, but the pain generally wore off.  Still, something was not right. It was my mother with her heart trouble who used to gasp so dreadfully later in her relatively short life (she died at fifty-one) and I had often thought of her.

It was the same down Newbury Street, a little gasping at first then settling into a decent pace. The temperature was mild, just warming and growing more humid, heading towards the expected downpour later in the afternoon. Newbury Street eventually reaches the public garden with its lake, swan-boats (with the bonus of an actual swan) and memorial statues, including the 9/11 memorial. Nearby struts Washington on a pacing horse and the periphery of the park is sprinkled with more statues to people like Charles Sumner, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, Thomas Cass, Wendell Phillips and others. People jog, push prams, amble, stare at the lake, snap photographs and take advantage of the early sun.

The Eliot Hotel is situated in Commonwealth Avenue, a long central drive with a broad central green reservation full of more statues - the civic theme continuing. It runs parallel to Newbury and I walked back that way, trees in blossom, the houses bigger than down Newbury, slightly more baroque, more a matter of statements about taste and wealth, though they are mostly apartments now and the whole street is lined with trees in full blossom, pink and white.

I suppose I feel a little more mortal having been diagnosed with something positively dangerous if I don't deal with it but I have always felt mortal so it is not a shock, just a minor change of degree. This personal sense of mortality has, I suspect, been the best thing about life as long as I remember, it involves a kind of careless delight in the spectacle of something I know, and always have known, to be brittle and finite. We walk on and breathe the dead. They did the same, as will our children and their children. It lends the experience of merely being alive an excitement, almost - ironically - an out-of-the-body pleasure.

So the body goes up and down the street walking (relatively) briskly for some forty minutes. Then it goes back, lies down, reads and waits to meet Elizabeth, the organiser, in the lobby, and when I meet her, there are others too going to to the Goethe Institut for the day's events. And there is László K and Dorka, and soon enough we squeeze into taxis and get down to business.


Mark Granier said...

Sorry to hear about your diabetes George, though you seem to have it under control.

Mortality, yes, a matter of degree. I often think of Harrison's poem. These lines especially:

'...then it's the kumquat fruit expresses best
how days have darkness round them like a rind.
Life has a skin of death that keeps its zest.'

Take good care, won't you.

George S said...

Thank you, Mark. It was a surprise in that it was that specific diagnosis. I'm not overweight and we eat healthily: on the other hand I am stuck to my desk most of the day. If I were Keats I'd have died forty-one years ago so it's not all bad news: I can still relish kumquats whenever I come across them. And I have never forgotten the skin of death, which may be just a little thinner now. No skin, no kumquat.