Walkabout in Geneva

Geneva, Switzerland

Café de Paris; Hotel Cristal; Genѐve-Cornavin Railway Station; a little girl on crutches chasing after the chocolate wrapper; a man with a huge bag carrying the stories from the night before; a woman smiling into her mobile twirling her black hair; the Holy Mother sculpted from granite is interceding for me; her Only-Begotten carved from fine wood afloat in mid-air; a homeless angel with a yellow scarf sleeping beneath the pew; not long from now one of us will be dead; I was here three decades ago when I would consume Him; let go, Michael, let go; you hear me, let go, Jeremiah, let go; who is eating the flowers; Edelweiss; leaflets in the shape of stars; beware of the pickpockets; lost and found; an angel searching for his wings; an old woman ferrying a broken pram with a blue wedding dress; please, I am still waiting; Pauline always replies even as she orbits the earth; Tchaikovsky’s letters from fevered rooms and anticipating cities; “Once I was seven years old” (Lukas Graham); happy birthday dear Father beneath the earth; Fauré’s Requiem in D minor; a man with an umbrella hanging from his back is riding a scooter; a young man with big eyes is arguing with the mischievous Cupid; Lac Léman is undulating like Rilke beneath the surface of things; will they be interested in what I have to say; they will not stop that which is soon to come; the second death as unexpected as a spider’s web around your left ear; it is getting dark and pieces of water are starting to break; two silver bicycles tied to a light post; “Bicycle Thieves” (Vittorio De Sica); “Seven Samurai” (Akira Kurosawa); “A movie as rich as a buttered steak topped with grilled eel” (a discerning critic); a man and a woman outside are exchanging photos which will prove them wrong in the morning; Harry Chapin and Bob Dylan; story tellers and word painters; a little bird nested on my laptop; Icarus flew too close to the truth; the flying trapeze tricks and catches; 1234, 12, 1234, 12…; OCD the disease of the prophets reminding us of the return; Arrivée; Départ; Place de Cornavin; Rue des Alpes; a bald Chinaman; a blackbird resting on the balcony; a bouncy girl with bumped up ponytails is on the look-out for the old woman with the pram; Thomas Aquinas the simplicity of God; Beethoven loved poets; Irina Ratushinskaya’s old parrot wanted “to swear in every language known to man”; TinTin was here; more homeless angels with baseball caps; “Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom” (Siddhartha, H.H.); John Calvin; Karl Barth; Hans Küng; the sounds of a didjeridu; music will remain free but there will be a cost to water; seventy-three of the Psalms are attributed to King David; equality and upward mobility the great paradox; save the middle-class; it is very cold and the nose is running; stories written on shivering skins; I should buy a scarf this morning; the great trees of Notre Dame; Hermann Hesse and Patrick White venerated trees; “Giant Trees of Switzerland” (Michel Brunner); every day twenty two thousand children day from preventable pathologies; quantum mechanics and the smallest unit of time; the age of irreversible innovation; Famous Fresh Baguettes; EdelWeiss Shop; Swiss Watches; booming sales of advertising; Facebook profits surge; Google air balloon Wi-Fi hot spots over parched land; A Father walking with his Son who has a bent back; Jean Dubuffet Métamorphoses du paysage; a woman on the corner waiting for a book; I saw you many years ago in Zermatt outside the bakery; a little boy with winter gloves drinking hot chocolate; “Old man look at me now I’m a lot like you were” (Neil Young); did anyone enjoy the Joe Cocker post; the prophetic insights of Pink Floyd; Sachin Tendulkar does not like Greg Chappell; the umpire’s finger will eventually go up; howzattt; your love dripping down my right shoulder like scalding water; yes, Katina, tear open the envelope; it probably has to do with the little stories from Saigon; Jorge Luis Borges is waiting; tronc pour les fleurs; Ave Maria; La basilique Notre-Dame; I have to go to the post office; Rue du Mont-Blanc; Victorinox is everywhere; I wish I didn’t have to do this; I can’t speak without notes anymore; I only want to collect words and images; “We drilled with wooden rifles” (W.H. Auden); the Venus of Brassempouy; on the tusks of elephants an infallible biography; demand for ivory for piano keys; sucre.cannelle; nutella.banane; Grand Marnier; an angel with long hair and a leather jacket recognizes me and points to the post office; he gives me my ticket; I am writing postcards; keep walking else you will get lost; next to me two friends sharing a joke; a man with a groomed moustache enjoying a beer; a teenage runaway missing two fingers is filling his pockets with milk and sugar; rises in quarterly revenue people dying of hunger; slavery on the rise in the supply chain; human rights versus computer rights; 1234 12 1234 12…; nose bleed last night; dear Jesus how did I get here; the Panopticon; George Orwell; Uberveillance; a man far away from home is playing the harp; a woman lost on the streets nearby is brushing her hair and screaming; a blind man stops to listen; Agnus Dei choral music; help us all dear God; convection another name for thunder storms; Läderdach chocolates; I skipped breakfast this morning; the food industry; “Death in Venice” (Thomas Mann); “Death by Internet” (Joe Cavalko); death by degrees; Michael Eldred introducing Plato to the Blues; B.B. King buried with Lucille; Ray Charles swinging the ivory like on a trapeze; Billy Holliday Ripe Fruit; Consuelo Velasquez Bésame Mucho; Dalida Je suis malade; a man speaking with his mouth agape; an old man with a white ponytail and beard pointing to his walking stick; a couple with their little daughter in the shopping trolley next to the detergents; two women carrying shopping bags see me transcribing them into history; nothing is insignificant all acts touch upon the eternal; “Sonata Mulattica: A Life in Five Movements and a Short Play” (Rita Frances Dove); tomorrow I leave for the Inter Continental; conferences will not change the world; love and destruction change the world; the Apocalypse of John; thanks for the adaptor Charlie; the remote control never works the first time; the body sinks into the bath where for a minute it must drown; “Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky...” (Prufrock, T.S. Eliot); a tall man with an ill-fitting suit smiles at me; I catch a glimpse of myself on the glass where the colourful balls are; where have I been all these years; like the “five star” squatters in Mozambique; the four men next to me discussing the ‘miracle’ of Leicester have left; the tall man with ill-fitting suit has returned with a young child to buy a red and blue ball; a woman opposite me has fitted her star-studded sunglasses into her hair; a quarter of a century ago she would have cast a furtive glance my way; “I want to eat the sunbeams flaring in your beauty” (Pablo Neruda); I will never get this talk down to three minutes; but I can get it down to three words; surveillance kills context; I miss you Father; old men are as prone to clichés as the hair growing out of their ears; “When you are old and grey and full of sleep, And nodding by the fire…” (When You are Old, W.B. Yeats); the tooth hurts poison seeping into the jaw; another nose bleed; all pain is childbirth; a young woman carrying flowers and apples; Saint Catherine of Siena Giovanni Battista Tiepolo; hullo Katherine Albrecht all will be well; Palais des Nations; the Broken Chair; Cathédrale Saint-Pierre; Jardin Anglais; Avenue Giuseppe Motta; Rue du Rhone; Quai Wilson; Bongo Joe Records; Bon Génie; ICT Discovery; The Art and History Museum; 1234 12 1234 12…; Aleppo cries tonight; baby girl rescued in Kenya from beneath the rubble; authoritarian populism on the rise in America; Pindar already speaks of animated figures; “they appear to breathe in stone” and “move their marble feet”; see Michael Crichton’s Westworld “where nothing possibly can go wrong”; “Car 54, Where Are You”; the great late Fred Gwynne; The Munsters; Bus No. 5; where did the hours ago; packing almost done; airports; cemeteries; the late evening resurrection; Flight EK 414L; Seat 61D; home sweet home.

Taking notes inside a Bucharest MacDonalds

15 August 2011

Bucharest, Romania

 

I cut myself shaving this morning when I saw you in the mirror looking back at me; “you yourself are indeed another small world with the sun, moon and stars within you” (Origen); I thought he was a one-winged angel but he was carrying the shopping bag from the inside of his large coat; a deaf Beethoven composing the Appasionata; next to me a big woman has ordered her fourth burger and looks happily content like the Buddha in Bangkok; a young girl is sweeping the floors of broken dreams and timeworn drafts; a bearded old man with a broken ladder has skipped in to tell some stories; the suspicious manager with the gold teeth is keeping an eye on me; the fine-looking woman from across the road has walked off with a fallen angel who missed his train; people should reply to letters within a fortnight at most; George Orwell always replied to his letters even when he was dying; Leo Tolstoi was not an admirer of Shakespeare; a young fellow with a bald patch and a large nose is scratching his armpit in search of answers; I should have ordered the large Coke instead of this cheap beer; my feet hurt from all the running and the taking off; I love Valerie’s photo of Les sprouting up through the trunk of a great tree; a simple stone can fire the imagination with the same force as The Kneeling Nun of New Mexico; despite the heat the forecast for tomorrow is heavy rain followed by possible shipwrecks; more heavy sweeping of the floors and great loss of forensic evidence; Sylvia Plath’s cry for help; outside a little boy in a yellow shirt wishes he was a helicopter; Thomas Merton where are you on Saint Lucy’s Day; “sing us a song you’re the piano man, sing us a song tonight” (Billy Joel); notes inégales; what did Lazarus and the daughter of Jairus see; the woman with the one leg has pulled out a large map of the city from her silver purse; remember to ask how to get to Brasov; two old men pleased with the “special deal” are slapping each other on the shoulder and pointing to a place neither wants to go; I am now fifty years and a couple of days old; August 15th the Dormition of the Holy Mother; thank you my dearest Katina; a group of Gypsies are dancing on the street pointing to Ursa Major; we are made of the stuff of stars; one line can save a life more than a great book of a thousand pages; I wonder how many times Mircea Eliade walked up and down this street going about his eternal return; “Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy upon me the sinner”; at what point do we lose our capacity to know God; not random behaviour but yes a “fine tuning” of the universe; Francisco Goya the same as Caravaggio directly onto the canvas; CCTV is everywhere like a second skin which it will soon become; intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance; government denial; laser designators, multi-position mechanisms, skybox satellites; masters of spin, rumour mongers, buyers and sellers of corpses; “Dial F for Frankenstein” (Arthur C. Clarke); Google has actually re-invented the Trojan Horse; there is more to Samsung than you think; Lycett’s Dylan Thomas is another very good read; I cannot get this tune out of my head I think it’s from the Electric Light Orchestra; OCD is one nightmare after another; Nicholas Tesla is so terribly underrated; a couple of weather wizards have dropped in; really glad to have read Tchaikovsky’s letters; nutcrackers and wooden dolls; you are punishing me, please reply to me; hot white glass slowly stretched; taxis on Bulevardul Banu Manta line the streets like a hive of bees; it all comes down to salvation; Okanokumo, clouds on the hill; maybe I will get some ice cream with caramel sauce; the dogs of Bucharest are in search of their long dead masters; “when you are old and grey and full of sleep and nodding by the fire” (W.B.Yeats); deep down we are all scared that we will be found out; how did Primo Levi really die; progress nowadays has to do with economics and I am sitting in one of its citadels; Augustine’s birds are too sharp this afternoon; I should probably delete this page; Art is no longer the point of beauty; the great gift of comprehension; algorithms will one day choose who amongst us will live or die; I wish that little girl with the green shoes would stop picking at her nose; freedom begins with forgiveness; the Divine Liturgy lifted my spirits today; The Brothers Karamazov dealt atheistic idealism a heavy blow; we are all condemned because one child has died of hunger; hours are sometimes even more precious than love; compassion is the most wonderful of all words; racism is the root of all evil; maybe I should have changed rooms last week; ice particles shape-shift under the sunlight to cause an avalanche; like the hair of an angel which falls to earth; I want to die a good man; Oh, Lord! So many letters I never should have written; Michael Faraday one of humankind's best; beautiful flowers splashed in white; without coal our world would be plunged into darkness; who are the ringmasters; Nero and every other tyrant obsessed with popularity aka “Likes”; the Apocalypse has hurt my mind yet it has not robbed me of hope; “666” I have seen it and it is a merciless thing; Nostradamus relishes playing hind n’ seek with big children; Big Brother is growing enormously fat; be warned Kafka understood ICT; the ghosts in the machine will not need to rest and they will convince us they are not there; please God, please merciful Father, keep the black dog away; sturm und drang; “I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence” (Robert Frost); let me be absent from the next to last holocaust; the bones of monks; the fragrant oils of the ossuary; often the real drama is at the back of the pack; the shadow belongs to the thing from which it drops; like prophetic dreams which are not conditional to knowledge; no, I am sorry Ghenadie, I cannot do that; the rhinophores and gills of the nembrotha cristata; the Moab desert in Utah was once home to fish; on Naxos midget elephants have been trapped in stone; and then like John Steinbeck “gradually I write one page and then another”; I will go now and make sure to look for a short-cut; an impossibility like a little book on Chinese motifs.   

Farewell to Brian Johns (1936-2016)

A beautiful thing to have done a good deed and never to have known.

For a number of years it has been my habit late in the evening to visit the Wikipedia “Recent Deaths” webpage.[1] This not on account of any morbid curiosity on my part, but to discover who of those that have passed on will reveal new things to me. Necropolises are our greatest universities. The dead are our truest teachers. And I have left the richer not only to be reminded that I have been given another day of grace, but also with an addition of valuable knowledge from visiting these lives which have come full circle. People from all walks and schools of life. Lessons are everywhere to be found. Sometimes, too, these visits have been touched with an additional and deeper gratitude. I come face-to-face with men and women I have met at some time during my own life either incidentally or in a more personal space.

On the evening of the 1st of January 2016 I read of the passing of one of these people that I had encountered in those more personal spaces. A man who was a paper boy and a factory hand when growing up to afterwards wear a number of different hats with great distinction in the corporate, business, and academic worlds.[2] I met Brian Johns for a brief but decisive moment in my life in one of his many personifications as managing director of the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) 1987-1992.[3] It was during this evening when I visited the “Recent Deaths” webpage that one of the clues for his compassion and affection towards me would reveal itself. But first something of the context behind our correspondence and the two meetings at SBS.

At the time I was living through one of the two life experiences which would in their own season and for their own reason, take apart and change me forever. I had made the heartrending decision to ask to be relieved of my priesthood and was seeing out the last months of my diaconate.[4] I was increasingly becoming estranged from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in Sydney and had fallen into a deep melancholia (a more correct word for depression).[5] In short, outside my immediate family I was almost completely alone and on the edge of letting go of everything which I had up to that time lived and worked towards. Support from those places where I would have normally expected was not forthcoming and this was made known to me in some heartless ways. In reality, there is no one to blame, more often than not we move and respond from within a space we alone create and inhabit. I was a greatly idealistic twenty-nine year old who could now envision no future for himself. In a moment of desperation I thought my one way out (excepting for my ongoing battles with suicidal ideation) was broadcast journalism. I loved to write and to communicate with people and to listen to their stories. I felt I could do well in the media. It would have been utterly marvellous I thought, to do the research and then to sit down in a chair in front of an audience and do the interview.

This is when Brian Johns enters into my story, around late August or early September of 1990.

Somehow during those weeks of numbness and inertia I managed to put together a few words outlining as best I could my current situation and what I was hoping for in terms of the future. I addressed and posted this letter not to one of the department secretaries or programme directors, but directly to the SBS Managing Director Mr Brian Johns! And that’s where I thought it would end. Immediately afterwards I was embarrassed thinking that even if that rambling letter would reach this man what on earth would he make of me? A week or two had passed when a phone call came through to our home in Kingsgrove from the Managing Director’s private secretary asking to speak with “Father Jeremiah Michael”. Brian had actually received my letter, had read it, and asked to meet with me. It is not possible to spend our entire lives living in a world of pure perception. At last some little light at the end of the tunnel. 

I was not the young man of even a few years earlier. My once unshakeable and booming confidence was very close to being completely shattered. I was frightened of exploring new territories and had decided to never again open up my heart. To make matters worse, I had started to binge drink in a futile effort to shut away the pain. But somehow, by the grace of God, I had always been able to find that extra bit of reserve I have needed to keep moving forward. And so I nervously made an appointment with Brian’s secretary to meet with him on an afternoon of the following week. I prepared the best I could, put the alcohol and those awful anti-depressants away, and read up on the basics of news media.

It will not be possible to forget the days leading up to my meeting with Brian. I was very much anxious during the cab ride and was fearful of becoming physically ill. I needed a drink or to be sick. It had become difficult to tell the difference. A few years earlier in 1987 in my mid-twenties during the Roman Catholic-Eastern Orthodox Joint Declaration at the Vatican where I had been present to witness this historic moment, I was together with a group of young inter-denominational clerics introduced to Pope John Paul II.[6] Certainly, I was nervous and anxious then, but not as apprehensive or hesitant as I was during the hours heading into this present moment. I had an entirely different perception of myself back then in Rome and now in lots of ways I was another man. Except for the fact that hope and my belief in the Creator, would refuse to wholly go away.

As soon as I walked into the foyer of the SBS building at Milsons Point (unless I am mistaken the move to Artarmon had yet to take place)[7] I became positive and I allowed for an excitement to rush through my body which I had not felt for a long time. I was still a cleric and was dressed in my black and freshly pressed cassock. My shoes were spit-polished from the night before. More than a few quizzical stares came my way. I explained to the reception the reason behind my visit and was soon sitting in the waiting room leading into the executive offices of the Managing Director. There was a deep sense of relief as if I had succeeded in escaping from a dangerous place. Though I knew my present situation was complicated and there was more waiting for me, here at least were some lovely shards of light.

It was Brian himself who stepped out and invited me into his modestly furnished office. It was a room stacked with books. I remember from the start being impressed with his old world elegance and demeanour. Well dressed and softly spoken with a striking mane of thick greying hair, he cut an impressive figure. You knew immediately with Brian Johns, that you would have to bat straight to get his attention. On his desk, I was taken aback to find, that he had open and was in fact reading a typed MS of my poetry which I had included in my initial correspondence. It was I must confess what writers term juvenilia. Yet here was a man who had previously been a publishing director with Penguin Books taking interest in my earliest literary efforts. Even now as I write these lines, I smile at one of our first exchanges. Brian quickly asked me what it was “exactly that I wanted”. I was overwhelmed by this incredible opportunity and trust which was directly cast my way. I fumbled for a response and came out with a less then convincing “I would like to read the news.”

He smiled warmly and encouragingly, he asked a few more questions, and then said, “Okay, Jeremiah, we will speak again.” What happened afterwards and my reasons for not carrying through with Brian’s amazingly generous response is for another day. I wrote a letter telling him “I was not in the right frame of mind and that I was extremely sorry for robbing him of his valuable time”. But a few weeks later I back-tracked and Brian once more, unbelievably for someone in his position, reached out to me again. However, for a second time I told him I was in no condition to go ahead with such a “visible career move" when I was so close to “abandoning my priestly vocation” and that I was heading for England to enter a retreat.

I flew out to London soon afterwards as the First Gulf War (1990-1) was getting underway and the world was entering into yet another of its post WWII apocalyptic moods. I asked and was given permission to spend time with the monastic community of Saint John the Baptist in Essex, Tolleshunt Knights.[8] The abbot at the time was the recently sainted Father Sophrony.[9]  At Heathrow Airport everywhere there were signs of the war, the surrounds replete with heavy armaments and soldiery. I, too, on a much smaller scale was to enter into my own private war. It was to last for many years with as many twists and turns as Tiamat’s tail.

The heart of these paragraphs has to do with the generosity and kindness that a man in a high professional post would express to another man whose life was at a crossroads. I started these paragraphs with the promise of revealing a clue which communicated to me in a profoundly moving way a hidden connection between myself and Brian, and why he seemed to understand where even some of my oldest and dearest friends could not. Here was a stranger, who discovered more in me in only a few hours of conversation, what others could not over the duration of many years. I learnt much about friendship during those agonizing months and it would become a subject of lasting fascination for me.

I did not know until a few days ago that Brian himself had been a seminarian at Saint Columba’s Seminary and was preparing for the priesthood.[10] Incredibly and in another lovely twist, our vocations would again career into each other when much later we would both be awarded professorships.

My final correspondence with Brian was a quarter of a century ago. A letter sent from London a day or two after my arrival, and a postcard from Madrid a month after my request to be relieved of my priesthood had been granted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Our lives are to be measured by good deeds and little else. It is where it all begins and where it will all end.

Thank you dear Brian, requiescat in pace.

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deaths_in_2016

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Johns_(businessman)

[3] http://www.sbs.com.au/

[4] http://orthodoxwiki.org/Presbyter [I was ordained into the diaconate as a celibate with the view towards a bishopric].

[5] William Styron rightly made this distinction between depression and melancholia in his own memoir of his struggle with mental illness in the memorable Darkness Visible. http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/12/the-hope-that-william-styrons-darkness-visible-offers-25-years-later/383406/

[6] https://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2DIM1.HTM

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Broadcasting_Service

[8] http://www.thyateira.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=373&Itemid=163

[9] http://orthodoxwiki.org/Sophrony_(Sakharov)

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Johns_(businessman)