Sunday, May 11, 2014

When the World is Good

I've officially been away more this week than I've been here.

All the windows stay open while I'm gone and I water the inside plants while I'm here, but I'm feeling a bit like a house-sitter lately.

Yesterday's train ride to Annapolis wound up being 4 1/2 hours instead of 3, partially because the train was sold out at every stop (the conductor attributed that to it being Mother's Day weekend), meaning longer than usual times to load and unload at every stop.

But we also got stopped on a bridge over a choppy, brown river (being navigationally challenged as I am, I have no idea what body of water it was) because of a fallen tree on the tracks.

So we sat there for 45 minutes, waiting for a southbound train to pass us so that we could use that track since ours was, shall we say, incapacitated. And while I have no bridge issues, per se, it did occur to me that if that that other train ended up on our track by mistake, I was going to die a watery death.

But it didn't so I enjoyed the silence of the "quiet car" (seriously, I wouldn't sit anywhere else, including the business car with its higher price tag) to finish up my book, Oscar Hijuelos' 2002 "A Simple Habana Melody (from when the world was good)."

Granted, I hadn't read his "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love" since it came out in 1989, but this one struck me as undeniably more tragic with its detour into the tragedy of a man incorrectly sent to a concentration camp.

With still more time on my hands, I started another book, but soon realized that I'd better not go too far into it since I'd need it for the trip back.

Talk about a shame; no one should have to ration their reading.

But eventually I made it to my friend's house for a 24-hour visit that included a visit to the riverside crab shack Cantlers and a dozen extra large crabs enjoyed next to a couple on a date, a medic and a soldier, both of whom had recently served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

When they ordered the steamed sampler of clams, mussels and shrimp to start, they had no idea how to peel and eat shrimp, so the affable bartender gave them a shelling and de-veining lesson.

Needless to say, they didn't go anywhere near picking crabs like we were, a wise move given how arduous a task it can be if you don't know what you're doing.

My return train was far more timely with no unexpected arbor issues, and still leaving me a solid 3 hours to be absorbed in Jonathan Harr's "The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Carvaggio Masterpiece," an improbable NYT bestseller I'd picked up at the library giveaway last year.

While it didn't have the earthy, poetic fluidity of Hijuelos, who was influenced by another favorite of mine, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the art detective story was enthralling for how fate and tenacity both had a hand in leading several art historians to an important and presumably lost work.

By the time the train pulled in to the station, I had only 60 pages left and I was dying to know how it ended but finding out wasn't an option at that point.

A favorite girlfriend and her cute husband were having a party tonight to celebrate her getting her master's, so I needed to hurry home, shower and get to the soiree.

Only problem was that I'd never been to their house, it's in a neighborhood I don't know and one that turned out to be black as pitch with no streetlights.

I was pretty sure I'd found the right house when I eased open the front door and heard someone ask, "Did you just say you were going to be picking at your skin?"

The party was in full swing and the graduate grabbed me and said she'd feared I was dead when I'd missed Live at Ipanema last Sunday, but I'd assured her that I'd just been otherwise occupied.

Since it was my first visit, she gave me a tour of the house which was full of her husband's photographs, one of hers at a doughnut shop in Pennsylvania with a sign saying, "We specialize in holes" and a bunch of found photos, acquired at thrift stores, online and at Etsy shops.

One particularly intriguing one was a sepia-toned view of the Richmond waterfront near Tredegar with holes drilled along the edges as if it had once hung on a museum wall.

Both she and her husband are avid record collectors and while I glanced through their vinyl, that's an afternoon's activity all by itself. And I'm not even talking about the seven inch discs and cassette tapes or CDs.

Even the framed posters were worth checking out - a Dali exhibit, a Hitchcock retrospective, the first 300 albums released on SubPop.

And don't get me started on the camera collection, the giant record player or the photograph of every kind of microphone imaginable.

Their house was a delight and as a party guest, I had full rein to wander around and check out its details, all under the guise of mingling.

So, sure, I engaged with a group discussing restaurants and chatted with some new-to-me people about what they did.

At least right up until the point where it was time for me to go home to my own charming abode, at least for a few hours before heading out again first thing in the morning.

On the road again.

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