27 May, 2008

Oscar Wilde and Francois Truffaut (Or, "How I Spent My Memorial Day")

Never does my life seem to flow in easily definable patterns, and holidays are no exception. While many people were barbecuing, or swimming, or hiking (something fairly normal that I did accomplish yesterday), I went from Thoreau to Oscar Wilde to Francois Truffaut in an afternoon.

Thoreau because who can go into the wilderness in New England without being confronted by the shadow (generally in the form of his less than subtle, but intensely poignant words) of this environmental activist? His name was dropped in the middle of a trail-history sign, and I have yet to discover what he actually had to do with that particular trail (or particular wilderness) at all. I suppose this is something I should look into.

I think I could write pages and pages about the actual hike, but my writing would be an extremely poor reflection of the actuality. It was a good hike, and in the end there were surprises of nature and of humanity. A white wild flower that grew along the path in bunches, and wild strawberries and raspberries were the most beautiful surprises. On the other side, we have the condominiums that overlook the trail now, an eyesore in an area that was once transferred from a hardcore logging community to national forest, and is now moving closer and closer to being used again. It's dangerous when people start to think that they own the Earth, and not just dangerous for nature. Nature isn't the type to lie down for humanity. Just take a look at an abandoned parking lot and you can see green pushing up through the pavement. Take a look at environmental history and you will see that it is always the species that go beyond their means and tip the balance who end up in trouble; and while nature may not be preserved exactly, she always seems to bounce back. In the mountains, it is difficult for me to forget how much bigger the world is than any one person with their little tiny problems.

This is where I move to Oscar Wilde. The playwright came up in conversation yesterday, and we were all trying to remember some of his famous quotes. He had some truly great lines like "America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence with nothing in between" and "If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you" and then of course this gem: "I think God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability." He often strikes that happy chord between Groucho Marx and Mark Twain, and I find myself becoming more of a fan with every quote I read. Yesterday, we were also employing the iPod's shuffle feature. The iPod shuffle is like a radio station that you control. You can yell at the DJ if a song pops up that does not suit your mood, but you can also - kind of - leave it up to fate. I qualify with "kind of", because I am almost certain that Apple has some program written that takes into account all of the "flow" factors of mixes made in shuffle mode. "Flow" factors being tempo, cadence, mood, genre, and the finish of the song. If such a program is not in effect, then I have to say, right now, that my iPod is haunted. Where I struggle to find a song that perfectly fits to another song, my iPod in shuffle mode throws out one perfect fit after another. But back to Oscar Wilde. In the midst of the Oscar Wilde conversation, the Pretenders' "Message of Love" starts pumping from the speakers. Lo and behold, this song happens to have an Oscar Wilde quote from Lady Windermere's Fan: "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." Beautiful synchronicity at its best.

We somehow wound our way through the Memorial Day traffic, and at home I found my borrowed copy of Les Quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows) by Francois Truffaut, king of French New Wave cinema. This movie is generally regarded as his masterpiece, and I would agree that it is a great film. It follows Antoine Doinel, a French adolescent who stumbles through life away from his brutal teachers and disinterested parents towards the ocean. It's another journey that you really have to make for yourself, but that last Oscar Wilde quote sums up the movie pretty nicely. There are many emblematic scenes in this movie, but one that stays particularly clear in my mind is one of Doinel sitting in his jail cell looking like such a little boy, but hand-rolling a cigarette from the contents of his pockets in an extremely graceful and world-wise way. He has little baby fingers that are still kind of pudgy, but he rolls his cigarette with certainty of technique. The soundtrack is a work of art that is unfortunately not being sold at this time (not even on Amazon UK for $60). Composed by Jean Constantin, it is orchestra based with a sound that is somewhat Chaplinesque. At times it is both incredibly child-like and naive, and hauntingly mature, like Antoine Doinel himself.

This is how I spent my Memorial Day, and writing this account I find myself feeling completely unique. I can't imagine that anyone else (in New England anyway) had exactly the same kind of day. To quote Oscar Wilde: "Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative."

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