As I tap this out on my phone, I’m sitting on an aisle seat on a plane heading home.
Holding my head in my hand, I feel my breathing escape from the mask that sits uncomfortably on the bridge of my nose fogging my glasses.
I’ll be home soon.
I’ve just finished Patrick Modiano’s novel, Villa Triste. Written and published in 1975, it’s about a young man who is trying to escape responsibility and fearful of a potential war. He meets a beautiful young woman, an actress and a camp young doctor who calls himself Queen Astrid and together they spend time in a hotel Villa enjoying parties, meetings with weird and wonderful people of high society. We get a glimpse of a different world, one where people with money, spend time in hotels, bars and restaurants gossiping about their peers, drinking and eating fine wine and foods and generally living in a bubble.
The protagonist, is trying to escape real life and responsibility himself. He’s 18 and realises that he cannot be a child nor is he ready to for his responsibilities as an adult either. For now, it seems he’s biding time. Like Holden Caulfield, in The Catcher in The Rye, he’s a character who has distinctive clothing to set him apart from his peers, Holden with his hunting cap, the young Count, his monocle.
However while Holden Caulfield tried to make sense of the world by constantly asking questions and exasperatingly calling people “phonies” , the young Count tries to hide, to escape, to ignore. In some ways, he makes no attempt to understand.
I find Holden, a far more real character than the Count. After all, is it better to be affected by circumstances and get angry and reactive trying to make sense of it (and maybe not getting answers) or simply, not even attempting this and instead deliberately ignoring so you don’t face consequences.
(I’ll take the former any day. Ignorance can be bliss but when realisation bites you, you fall harder).
Reading the book, it feels like it’s a dream. It’s slow, the situations unfold but they’re not really situations merely recounting moments in his life that he remembers. If you were to recall an age where you felt most insecure, unsure and naive then it’s likely you’d recall it the same way. Moments where you recall a certain look, a smile, colours, folds and drapes of clothes, textures.
In some way, I feel like this young man. His life is just beginning and he’s scared to face it so he delays responsibility. He makes sure he doesn’t buy any newspapers or listen to the radio to find out about the news of the outside world in an effort to continue to be in his bubble with Yvonne and the “queen”. However, I’m the opposite. At a different age where I too, am slightly anxious about what the future holds and in some way, trying to be in my own bubble as well. To continue to enjoy life in my own little and insignificant ways, a little bit fearful of what’s “out there” to be faced in the near future.
Sometimes I think that in our life, there are signs everywhere that are meant to help us hone in, reflect and understand.
Why do I read a certain book and in the end, it’s the perfect book for that time and place?
Why do I hear a song with lyrics that end up having a secret message that gives me the answers I need?
Why do I end up meeting strangers who offer me an insight when I need it the most?
I feel as if my Brisbane trip offered those little moments of insight, coincidence and learning about myself. For a few days, I could just be myself with no responsibilities. To enjoy each day and not worry about the news or work and to appreciate exploring the place in my own time.
We need times where we just need our own little escapes from our own minds, our “solitudes” or our “interludes” between those times where we ourselves and society expect us to act our role or to step up. The spaces between projects; between work and home; between events. The spaces where time seems to stand still.
Like a Patrick Modiano novel, it feels like time in Brisbane stopped for a while. Indeed, I noticed how slow my time there went for me.
Now, as the plane descends for Melbourne, I return to my adult responsibilities and enter the busy and frenetic world again.
Back to reality.