Just as I have this deep desire to write a travel memoir, or something along those lines, my ability to travel has been hampered. I was so looking forward to traipsing around Paris this September. I fully planned on journaling everything with the intention to write something of a little memoir of our experiences, too. Just as I had every intention of writing a memoir of our upcoming Caminho Português.
I suppose both are still possible, with the passage of time and good fortune. It would depend both on the pandemic being over and my surviving it. For now, I am just standing here on the corner of Wanderlust and Disappointment–Nowhere to go and a deep unsettling urge to get there.
But I’m not a patient person. I was gung ho to finally dabble in the world of travel memoir that I have fallen so deeply in love with. I planned to cover all my tracks in Paris this year. And to fully record every step of our Camino experience in the less traveled Portugues Way next year. And now it’s gone…for now. Lost to this coronavirus that will not go away.
I know these are first world problems, that we should be happy enough just to avoid infection, but as the day of our intended departure nears it is a pain made more raw. We were to fly to Paris on Friday September 4th. We were to be in the beautiful City of Light for my 54th birthday on the 13th. I was to scrawl our experiences with intention, possibly while sitting in the shadow of Notre Dame…or in the company of Shakespeare and Co. No matter the frivolity of the loss, it is nonetheless a loss.
Now, what happens? Do we push Paris forward a year and hope the pandemic ends? Do we walk the Camino next year and bump Paris? Do we plan something altogether different? Do we make no plans and hope only to survive?
There will be no travel memoir writing, at any rate. Not while our wings are clipped and we are stuck on the ground. This is my whiny post of negativity. It’s been a long time coming. People are dying and I’m complaining about not being able to write about the sunset in Paris, or how the books in the poetry section of Shakespeare and Co smell. Or how a macaroon always tastes better in Paris—when it carries with it that extra O, and the meringue is made in France. I’m bitter about my inability to partake in travel-writing while others deal with heartache and despair.
Is it just me, or is everyone getting tired of this pandemic? I’m glad to be healthy, and to have avoided it thus far. And I’m glad that nobody I know has gotten sick. If we all do our part and practice social distancing and mask wearing…who knows? Maybe it WILL pass. Maybe there will be travel inside the World of After. It seems so bleak right now, our future. Sometimes I feel like I was just getting started. And now that I have the desire to talk about it, to write it down…I am unable to move.
I know Paris will be there. And so will the coast of Portugal. With any luck, so too will I. And if and when the time comes that we once again board a plane and disappear into adventure…a journal will come with me. And I will tell it every little thought I have while I’m away.
In the meantime, I suppose it’s time to cozy up with a book that has already been there among the wanderlust and roaming. There are plenty of books on travel out there, just waiting to be explored. No tickets or packing needed.
“When the wind is blowing and the sleet or rain is driving against the dark windows, I love to sit by the fire, thinking of what I have read in books of voyage and travel.”— Charles Dickens
I’ve been reading a lot lately. As a slow reader, my TBR list is just an impossible mountain I’ll never ever be able to scale. Adding three books for every one I read has never helped my cause one bit. And every once in a while a book not only sneaks into the pile by serendipitous accident, but gets moved directly to the front of the line once it appears.
Recently, while doing a bit of research for a CURE heavy novel I was contemplating writing (a multi-generational love story that switches from past to present with a soft Cure background soundtrack throughout), I discovered that I had missed the fact that Lol Tolhurst (founding Cure member) wrote a memoir that included the time spent with the band.
I was SO glad to come across it–it was like finding the perfect gift for myself. It turns out it is one of my favourite memoirs I’ve ever read. It’s sharply honest, poignant and self-effacing. It takes the reader on a journey from the excitement of starting the band up in the late 70s to the painful separation Tolhurst experienced when eventually leaving the band. It’s a brutally honest memoir where the autobiographer is unafraid of skewering himself and taking blame and responsibility for his actions during an exciting, yet tumultuous and overwhelming time in his life.
If you’re a Cure fan in passing, or a lifelong one like myself…you owe it to yourself to pick up this memoir. Tolhurst tells a raw and honest story that is at times painful to read and at other times remarkably joyful…much like the music of The Cure itself, which he helped to give birth to.
To be honest, this memoir has an underlying song coursing throughout it like a freight train…a song that makes the book’s subtitle so fitting: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys. This book is as much of a love song to boyhood friendship that endures as it is a tale of self-redemption and self-perseverance.
In the following touching passage, Tolhurst begins by saying The Cure began in 1972 when the boys first jammed together. But he then goes on to tell the reader how it really began on a rainy day way back in 1964:
“…But in my mind The Cure began much earlier than that, on a gloomy rainy day in 1964 with the mists swirling all around. It began the moment the school bus pulled up to the stop at the top of Hevers Avenue and the doors swung open with a hiss. Neither Robert nor I wanted to get on that bus. We didn’t want to leave our mums and go to a strange school in another town where we wouldn’t know a soul. I probably would have started crying if Robert hadn’t been there. I can hear my mother’s voice even now, gently urging me along. “Hold Robert’s hand now and look after each other.”
Robert took me by the hand and led me onto the bus. It was the first of many journeys together. If only in my imagination , we are still those boys.”
I think that passage is a wonderful and fitting example of the lyrical writing that fills this touching memoir. Through all the ups–and the many downs– that Tolhurst experienced through the decades that took him from that 1964 hand-holding moment to the present, the reader is gifted with a hard-hitting often lush and lovely retelling of life with and without one of the most beloved groups of our time.
I have loved The Cure since the moment I first heard their music sometime around 1979-1980. I no longer know when they came into my life, but I know it was close to their beginning. They entered when I needed them the most, and they have been a constant companion throughout. Their music has never ceased to lift me when I was down and comfort me when I didn’t want or need to be lifted. They have brought me endless joy. It’s not often one feels as though music itself has played a part in saving their life…but I feel this way about The Cure‘s music.
It was a magical experience to get this personal and poignant glimpse into the life behind the music. Tolhurst has written a beautiful memoir that is as much an homage to his good friend Robert and the incredible thing they created together, as it is an homage to his own strength, perseverance and redemption arc. He has poured himself into this retelling of an enchanted if at times rocky life.
Looking Back – My Mother and the Body in the Ganges
I can’t stop thinking about that body. Two years later, I still close my eyes and see it—him—bobbing in the river’s brisk current, entangled in the anchor rope of a small wooden boat anchored just off the shoreline of the Ganges in Varanasi, India. Directly in front of the Dashashwamedh Ghat, the city’s busiest steps leading down to the sacred river.
They don’t warn you about the strength of the Ganges’s current before you actually see its power. The moment it came into view, I recalled how Gautama tossed his wooden bowl onto its surface and declared that he would become a Buddha if only the bowl could manage to flow upstream. Only upon seeing the flow of the Ganges did I realize how brazen his declaration had been.
The body floated there, bloated, half-naked and ignored. Who was he? Where were his people? Were they desperately seeking him? Did they place his body there or did he slip into the river’s murky current by himself? Did he ask to have his body dropped into the river? Could he not afford the crematorium further down the shoreline with its billowing clouds of thick grey smoke?
My head swarmed with questions, even as our guide Ranvijay told us to do nothing. To touch it or move it, or even to draw attention to it, would have been disrespectful. It could have set off a mob of protesters defending the body’s right to be there. A body in the Ganges stayed in the Ganges.
After travelling across India, I had naively considered myself acclimatized to the fascinating beauty of the country. I even found harmony in the dissonance of the traffic in its congested roadways. I thrived in being thrown into the mix of tuk-tuks, rickshaws, cows, goats, pigs, dogs, cars, trucks, bicycles, motorbikes and pedestrians. All life can be found inside the cacophony of that chaos. I loved being swallowed in the current of its beauty. But that body? It disrupted my equilibrium. It threw me off course.
It’s one thing to see shrouded bodies on makeshift pallets awaiting their turn in the fires of the shore-side crematorium. It’s quite another to see a body abandoned and falling prey to the elements. The bodies on the shore, modestly wrapped in colourful cloth and hidden from prying eyes, afforded a dignity to the people they once were. The body in the water, with its skin becoming translucent as it filled with gases and expanded to an obscene grotesque caricature of its former self? It seemed like an insult to the dignity of the soul who had once resided within it.
I felt angry with the people who ignored the corpse. But why be angry when their intention in ignoring the body was, in fact, their method of honouring it? In ignoring the vessel, those around us were giving it the reverence it deserved. Surely it was we visitors who had it wrong.
I’m back home in Toronto now, our trip to India now two years behind us. It’s a cold February day as I await the second of several pans of peanut butter cookies being baked to a golden brown in the oven. I sip my coffee and absently bite into a warm cookie as the body in the Ganges rises back to the surface of my thoughts.
Ever since I began to mix the ingredients for these cookies, I’ve been thinking about my mother. She passed away almost four years ago now. Though we had not spoken for a while prior to her passing, we had managed to reconcile in her last couple of days in this world.
After she passed, I asked my father only for one thing. I had to have Mom’s beat up old recipe box filled with decades of haphazardly jotted down family recipes, magazine clippings, and the like. It was the one thing of all her possessions that offered a solid link to the bond we shared in the time before our estrangement.
As I allow the cookie to melt away on my tongue, childhood memories of baking with my mother come flooding back to me. They hit with a force much greater than the current of the mighty Ganges. I’m in tears, caught between the body in Varanasi and my own complicated memories. The two things converge in a swirl like bodies caught in a river’s relentless eddies.
My mother told me to never look back on things as they baked. Something about it being bad luck to look back at the baking before it was time to take it out of the oven. “Stop gawking at them,” she’d say. “A watched pot never boils. They know what they’re doing. Follow the rules and it works out in the end. Baking is a science.”
She made sure I followed those rules too. The measuring, the mixing, the oven temperature, and everything else that went into getting it just right. To veer away from the recipe was sacrosanct.
I stop stuffing my face with peanut butter-y goodness long enough to gawk in at the tray in the oven. Two minutes left on the timer. Sure enough, the cookies are fine. I chuckle to myself, wondering if I would have gotten a dirty look from my mother for not trusting the almighty science of baking. Some things never change, even as the world around you changes in a thousand different ways whenever you glance away. I never quite trusted my mother’s exact science of baking theory. I always gawk in the oven.
As the timer on the second batch goes off and I dry my dampened eyes, I consider the body in the Ganges once again. What if it were my mother entangled in that anchor rope and struggling against the current? Would I be able to leave her there? Would I be able to reconcile myself to the sacredness of the river, or to the fact she had left her body long before entering its current?
It seems ghastly to even speculate. Perhaps I’m not meant to reconcile any of this. I go about the motions of getting another tray of cookies ready for the oven and I set the timer. Placing the baking sheet in the oven, I already know I’ll look back on them before the timer goes off. I’ll disobey my mother once again.
There was no mob of protesters that day on the Ganges. Our little group of tourists became solemn and quiet, but we let the body be. We each did what we had to do to pack the memory away for later. We slipped away on the current and tried our best not to look back, knowing full well we always would.
When it comes right down to it, there’s not much difference between resurrecting that body and conjuring happy baking memories with my mother from the time before everything went wrong. Both things are mists of memory now, there for the plucking for as long as I’m capable of holding onto them.
As right as my mother was about the science of baking, though, she was wrong about one thing. She miscalculated my obstinance—or maybe she didn’t, maybe she knew—because I’ll always look back. It’s who I am. Whether it be a body ending its journey in the mighty current of the Ganges, or a tray of cookies adhering to the laws of science my mother always swore by, I’ll look back. I’ll remember.
Maybe it’s the looking back that makes memories of my mother, and of the body of a stranger floating in the Ganges, so sacred. I bore witness. I was there. I carry them with me.