There is more than one kind of journey. There's the literal kind, where you get a on a plane or a train, or in a car, and you actually go somewhere. There's also the metaphorical kind, where you share a long experience of life with someone and where you also end up somewhere other than where you started, but you get there by living, rather than by driving.
I had forgotten about how much I cherish these metaphorical journeys - how much I love and appreciate the people I make them with. They didn't do anything to make me forget about how much they mattered. We all just get caught up in the journey itself - life - and the next thing you know, a year has gone by and then boom! Something happens to remind you.
A couple weeks ago, a good friend of mine died of cancer. His name was Marc Rigby. I'd known him for more than 15 years, and at times it is so hard for me to comprehend that he is really gone. He was a truly good friend and I will miss him for all of my days.
I last saw him during the Christmas holidays. We were to meet for lunch, but for the second time his chemo treatment ran over and I ended up just keeping him company at Mt. Sinai in the out-patient chemo room. I was shocked when I saw him. His face had taken on that skeletal quality that I have associated with someone who will be dead soon for as long as I can remember. Yet it never occurred to to me that Marc would actually die. Marc wasn't a dier. It would be bad for a while, then he would get better. He always got better. But this time he didn't.
At the funeral, I was in a weird shocked place. I couldn't recall any good stories or special memories about Marc.I would listen to others talk about him and think to myself "Right! I was there for that!" but I, who had spent so much time with him, couldn't come up with anything.
But the paralysis is fading from my brain and I find myself thinking about him often. So I thought I would write down those memories and share them over the next couple months. In no particular order.
Here is a picture of Marc in Paris, which I'm not writing about in this installment. But Marc liked elephants and I like this picture, so here it is.
I think the sheer funnest trip Marc and I ever went on together was to Nashville. This trip was a freebee for us, as he had won it by entering a contest. Marc had a thing about contests and entered a whole slew of them every week. He won Raclette grills and shampoo baskets, dinners out, movies, and two trips. Nashville was one.
The Nashville trip was four days. We stayed at the Gaylord Opryland hotel, which even for us jaded travelers was truly a sight to see in itself. We spent half a day just exploring the hotel! Our main purpose was to attend a Patsy Cline tribute at the Grand Ole Opry, which we enjoyed hugely. During the days we did the usual tourist stuff including spending literally four hours in the Dolly Parton display at the Country Music Museum. Marc LOVED Dolly Parton! His wacky side adored her schtick – the big blond wigs, the crazy froofroo dresses and the over the top make up. His love-of-music side totally respected her talent. He made me listen to dozens of songs before we could move on to Conway Twitty and eventually Elvis. We went to Studio B and saw the cupboard that Elvis punched through and sat on the red stool where Elvis, Patsy Cline and other great artists perched to make their famous recordings.
But Marc's absolute favourite thing about Nashville was barhopping on Broadway. This was the Marc Rigby “perfect storm” of enjoyment. Plentiful and really inexpensive but decent beer, outstanding live music, people dressed up in strange outfits (in this case, like cowboys), dancing and people to talk to.
Marc was a little shy about new people when he was sober, but he relaxed with every beer and eventually got positively friendly. He decided we were going to be British Anthropologists, observing and interacting with the natives. He does a passable British accent, certainly good enough to get by the native "Nashvillains". I look more Scots than British, so I adopted a broad Glaswegian brogue and entered into the spirit! Before the evening was over we’d listened to amazing country bands about 6 different bars, drunk about 15 beers (Marc drank 10, me 4 or 5). I was ready to fall down; Marc didn’t even show that he had been drinking), spent about $30 in total on food and drink, and collected enough information about the habits and rituals of the Nashvillains to write a PhD thesis.
Another trip we went on due to a contest win was Japan. We flew into Tokyo, then moved on to Kyoto and then Hiroshima. In Tokyo, Marc had a chance to really and truly show off one of his huge talents. The streets in Tokyo are generally not named. Instead, each block has a name. As well, the buildings are numbered around the block, not in lowest to highest order, but in the order the various buildings were constructed. On top of it, most of the buildings were labeled in Japanese characters. I don’t have a very good sense of direction at the best of times, but Tokyo was impossible for me. From the moment I woke up until we returned to the hotel room at night, I had absolutely no idea where I was. Marc, on the other hand, had a brilliant sense of direction. We would take some crazy route through the subway system – maybe six different trains – and emerge in a completely new place. He would take a quick look around and lead us directly to wherever we were going. His sense of direction was like a comic book “superpower.”
His superpower didn’t help us in Hiroshima at the Peace Gardens, although I think he did have a lifelong fantasy fulfilled there. We were in Japan in the tourist off-season and the Peace Museum and Garden was mostly filled with Japanese school children. There was a group of, I’d say seven year-olds, who were there with their teacher doing a project on International Communications. A group of five of them approached us. They were dressed in their school uniforms and looked very cute and solemn. “We are Japanese School Children,” they chanted in unison. “We are studying In-ter-nation-al Comm-un-i-ca-tions. May we ask you some questions?”
They then went on, still chanting in unison, to ask us where we were from, why we were visiting Japan, about our families and so on. Then they gave us some bookmarks which they had made in their class as a small thank you gift.
It didn’t take long for us to realize that aside from a Norwegian guy on the other side of the garden, we were the only foreigners in the Peace Garden. More and more children started crowding around us. After about 45 minutes of the same chanting and questions and bookmarks, we tried to leave, but they were desperate to finish their projects. We tried walking away, then running. It was like that scene in the Beatles movie when the fans are chasing the Beatles down the street. I have rarely seen Marc looking more sheerly gleeful than he did running down the roads of Hiroshima being chased by a mob of screaming fans. I think he always thought he deserved a mob of screaming fans, and since he finally had one, he was going to enjoy every minute of it!
Actually, being mobbed by school children was a bit of a theme of our travels, since it also happened in Morocco. In one case, a school across the street from where we were eating some oranges let out for lunch and the kids were fascinated by my red hair. We ending up being rescued from a storm of young women and girls by the police! I think Marc was a bit jealous that he wasn't the centre of attention on that occasion, and since he always liked to be the centre of attention, he had to do something to make up for it. He decided his goal would be to blend in with the “natives”. He stopped shaving to enhance what he called his “swarthy attractions,” spoke only in French, and bought a fez, which he insisted on wearing everywhere. I didn’t think it was a flattering look on him, but he got a kick out of pretending to be an eccentric Moroccan. He also got a kick out of attempting to betroth my sister to an admittedly very handsome oriental carpet merchant, but alas, it didn't work out.
Like most tourists in Morocco, were also inundated with requests to buy things. Still on the theme of being mobbed by children, we were approached wherever we went by dozens of children at a time trying to sell little animals made from folded up palm leaves. Marc decided to give the kids a hard time and made a bunch of “origami moose”. I put both “origami” and “moose” in quotation marks because…. Well, let’s just say that while Marc may have been capable of constructing a bacon hat, he wasn’t generally what anyone would call “artistic”. His “origami moose” looked more like a crumpled up candy wrapper than any form of either origami or wildlife. He got a huge kick out of offering these sorry excuses for art to the kids in exchange for their leaf animals. He would laugh himself silly at the looks of confusion and consternation that would come over their faces.
More to come over the next weeks....