dijous, de juny 30, 2005

A Very Good Year (English / Welsh / Cornish / French)

"They lie around did living tread this sacred ground now silent dead"
-inscription on cross on Ynys Llanddwyn, Wales

Why start out a blog entry called "A Very Good Year" with such a morbid quote? Ah, there are many possible answers to that question. Although, it has, indeed, been a very good year, and I have the pictures to prove it. I just received photographs in the mail from T., taken of a dinner I had here at the house nearly a month ago. It was a fun evening; I made traditional Welsh dishes again, notably Bara Claddu, broccoli and cauliflower in a special cheese and cream sauce, and special potatoes au gratin with heavy cream, cheese, leeks and a white onion, then stuffed chicken breasts filled with Welsh Cheddar, various spices and vegetable bits and then wrapped in bacon. For four people I used a pound a half of bacon! For dessert I made pwdin efa. We enbibed gin and tonics as well as three bottles of lovely wine, two white and one "white merlot" which was also quite enjoyable. Decadent and delicious if I don't say so myself!

At any rate, the reception of these pictures quite literally filled the last slots in the photograph album I began last year around this time; it now bears the name "Albwm Haf 2004 - Haf 2005". Looking back over the album, I have enjoyed walking back through this year. Regardless of what quantum physics has to say about the passage of time, our little chemical reality interpreters perceive the past as real and concrete, immutable, hence certain, inasmuch our squishy chemical computers don't begin to rot away at unnatural rates... Thus, looking at the album is comforting and not as unnerving as looking at the equally immutable or supermutable future (depending on where in the grand scheme of things the observer that we think we are really is).

In the album are lovely pictures of the Schenectady Soroptimists Garden Club Tour that I went on with Anna, followed by snaps of Shelburne Farms at the store of which I purchased some lovely cheese and blueberry wine; Anna accompanied me on that journey as well. Then there are pictures from Wales and old friends I saw at Welsh Heritage Week, held last year in the beautiful ravine at Nant Gwrtheyrn, with its steep cliffs and switchback road that seems to spill out over the sea. Next are photos of T. and her sister-in-law H., taken on a brillantly sunny day as we toured Albany and Schenectady. After these come incidental photos of dinners here at my home, shots of the house before the siding went up, snaps of the Jag on her inaugural visit to my driveway, other shots of family gatherings over Christmas and a my trip to New Orleans; near the end there are pictures of a short trip Carolyn and I took to the Grafton Peace Pagoda with its beautiful stupa, and now finally, with exactly the right number of sleeves left, the pictures from June 3rd of the dinner with T., M. and Carolyn.

The pictures evoke the memories of these events and others still at which no photos were taken, of the many wonderful meals I had, the great quanities of gin, vodka, bourbon, scotch, whisky, grappa, beer, wine, champagne and poire I sipped, burbled and chugged with friends, at the same wonderful meals, at bars and clubs. I can then recall other more clandestine events, the lovers both perrenial and temporary who tickled my fancy over the year, the thought of each one brings a smile to my lips. Besides debauching myself and others with rich food, copious alcohol and general lust, I think of the trips, to Vermont, to Massachusetts, to New Orleans, to Wales, to Montreal, to Binghamton, to Pennsylvania and the little valley I used to call home. I think of the valuable moments I passed with friends both close and distant, with Tom, Carolyn, Anna, Annie, Mary, Bill, Marlene, T., M., Jon, Kim, Theresa, my mother and brother, the neighborlady Carol and her daughters, John, Barbara and James, Mary Jones and Olwen, Lynn and Gareth and many many more people who spent time with me (especially an caroryon ha'n nosow tân-both!). So many lovely memories, so many treasures for me to enjoy, it was indeed a very good year.

So why the morbid opener? The answer or answers are not hard to imagine. The chiefest of them being that I know this can't last forever, not as far as my squishy neural net is concerned. Sooner or later the parade will be over and all that will be left is a question mark. To the unknowing, it may appear as though I'm some sort of dour pessimist, always seeing the glass as half empty. It is true that I do rue that so much time has already passed, and I know that no matter how many I have left, the days are dwindling down. You never get more of them, you got as many as you got, 2 or 2 million, fewer or a greater number. On the other hand, I'm not sitting at home with an afghan across my knees wringing my knuckles worrying about it either. However many days I have, I'm making each one as much a bal dans la rue as I can, and I plan to do so until, as my Fulmontese brethren say, I shit the bed.

Nevertheless, one day I won't be able to kick it up like I do now, nor even at all. One day my friends and family will see a candle in the night, and my own will have been snuffed out. Of course this is an old message, one I have, and no doubt will say, many times. Why I should think of death when I have also been thinking of such lovely things is not a surprise when you consider the various factors that have led up to my being where I am now. I grew up with an old family, and as I grew from childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood, I was witness to many deaths and funerals. Also the combination of my Celtic and Pennsylvania German ancestries has led to a certain pragmatic and maudlin way of looking at life and its dance partner death, perhaps even existential bordering on jovial nihilism (I'm not certain that's as much an oxymoron as it may first appear).

The day is coming, and it will come sooner than I like, when I will die. I have no idea what if anything will be left of my collective life experience after the big event, but I do know that my life will have been, in the grand universal scale of time and place, rather meaningless (not necessarily pointless), and quickly forgotten. I'm not Montaigne, nor Chrétien, nor even Gore Vidal. No one will be reading these silly words 500 years from now marvelling at the almost sophisticated thoughts of a hick from the swamplands of the Pocono Plateau. And that's just fine, because that's my place in the world, and it's anyone else's place who reads this as well. Even Montaigne will be forgotten, indeed the whole Earth will someday vanish into our bloated sun as it begins quivering into its own death throes. Relatively speaking, we're all promised the same gift at the end: the embrace of certain temporal oblivion.

What will really prove annoying to anyone reading this is that all the previous text was a preamble to what I really wanted to write, the substance of which will be proportionately short. When I die, I want a great funeral. I want pomp, circumstance, I want it to be more than a little over the top, a little larger than life, and certainly larger than pretty much anyone else's. Why?
As as a young man, before I could venture out on my own, on Saturday nights I was relegated to the darkness of my bedroom. My father was a drunk and irritable man who didn't want to see his family on Saturday nights and stormed and screamed until we all left him in the living room with his beer, cigarettes and remote control. I would listen to music on my "boombox" (hey it was the 80's!) with my headphones on. Sometimes I would play cassette tapes instead, and one of my favorites was the Andrew Lloyd Weber operetta Evita.

In one line the character Che sings, "When they're bringing your curtain down, demand to be buried like Eva Peron." I must have listened to that operetta a thousand times over the years. I could indentify with Eva after all. She had been a nobody from nowhere, and she scratched and fucked her way to the top. What hayseed wouldn't want to take a similar path, albeit journeying along it for a bit longer than she? That line about her funeral stuck with me, and now, decades later, I still want them to bring my curtain down with as much flare as my estate can muster. Indeed, even all my residuals were poured into my funeral, so be it! I have no children to care for, and whatever charities I might give my money to at my departure will still function just as well without the relatively little money I will have at the time of my "ymadawiad."

This is what I envision as my funeral: I want to be cremated. I still am Pagan enough to want my remains to go back to the Earth, sooner rather than later. I would like some of my ashes scattered in the Memorial Garden at First Unitarian here in Schenectady, some in the woods behind the house where I grew up and where we scattered my father's (it is as much my land as his after all), and if possible some on the sides of yr Eifl in Wales, the beautiful three-peeked mountain that rolls down into the sea not far from Tai'n Lôn on which my ancestors built the great hill-fort of Tre'r Ceri millenia ago. The thought that my remains could rest in the three places that have meant the most to me brings me peace even as I still breathe. I would also like a stone placed in my memory in Stroudsburg Cemetery on the plots my family owns. Many of my other people are there and even though my remains may not be, I would like my name to be counted with them, especially my aunts Arwilda and Margaret.

Then for the funeral itself. Assuming that I die here, in Schenectady, I want a funeral procession, old world style, from my house to the First Unitarian Society. My closest friends and any family still alive could come to my house and drink my liquor and then march slowly behind Blodwen my Jaguar (or whatever pretty car I may have at the time of my demise) and the pipe band. I must have a pipe band, and they must learn to play at least one Welsh song, the ever haunting Hiraeth, its title meaning something like "longing." Once at the church, a normal Unitarian memorial service could be held, but I would like songs that were meaningful to me played before the service begins. One day I will have to generate that list of songs or burn the CD. However I want a place reserved for my pretty car right in front, just as though I had driven it to church. Incidentally, inside the pretty car, if my ashes have already been scattered due to logistical reasons, I want a nice photograph of me, and my rose, a deep carnation colored one like grows behind my house in the back seat. Also, a glass and a bottle of my favorite alkie at the time of my demise, along with a my old black, dusty holmburg hat (the hat is significant to my youth). If some or all of my ashes are still present, I want them to be in the back seat as well, not in any fancy vessel, but in the same black box they come from the crematorium in. That is how I received and dispersed my father and my grandfather, and if at all possible it is how I wish my remains to be carried.

On the chancel table at the church tasteful photographs of my life and my friends and my people can be displayed along with any other items the person or people responsible for my arrangements feel is representative, only in the most tasteful way. Additionally, I want to have many roses, vases that stretch the length of the chancel, or if I'm no longer at FUSS, fill the room. I want the deep hued carnation-colored ones for me, peach colored ones for my aunt Arwilda, and pure white ones for my Aunt Margaret, as I have often left these two colors upon their tombstones knowing full well the meaning of these colors accordant to them. Arwilda and Margaret were with me in the beginning, and are still my guiding lights even though they are ghosts now, and I want them to be with me in the end. After the memorial service, if my ashes have not already been interred in the Memorial Garden, I want them to be with the appropriate rites. After that, my closest friends and loved-ones, up to 100 people, I want them to be treated to a meal at a great restaurant, something like Angelos or Daniel's at Ogdens. My only request is that at the head table, a place is left for my rose, my bottle and my glass. I have always been my happiest at lovely meals surrounded by friends and loved-ones, telling stories and enjoying the food and the libation. At the meal I don't want any speeches or grandstanding, I just want a place left for me, as though I had been delayed or simply stepped away for a moment.

People may leave the meal with bellies full and prayfully smiling. Death is not only to be wept for, but also to be embraced, a life, long or short, finds its reward in the question mark. When they're bringing my curtain down, that's how I want to be "buried."

"So what happens now?
"Where am I going to?"


"Don't ask anymore..."