When I was a young man, I began searching for the meaning of life. Along the way, I wrote a travel journal, a mix of prose and poetry, and labelled it Fool’s Odyssey.
I was young and confused (I know, that’s redundant). I’d followed a pretty girl to Barcelona and stumbled into “a jolly mess of Marxism.” Still, their idealism was infectious. Nearly as infectious as Gabriella’s face.
It turned out Gabriella had a boyfriend. But I came back anyway. My second night in Barcelona was mystical, almost Catholic. So I began returning to Gabriella’s little café de comunistas, only partly because I hoped she’d break up with Carlos.
Each day my scantily-bearded young Marxist friends and I would whet our courages with vino, and then talk and talk and talk—we wouldn’t stop until the vino did. I wrote in my journal:
I’m learning to play the cacophone,
and God it feels good, God it feels fine!
Each day I return and burn some more,
and wash down ideals with liberal wine!
My would-be life of radical idealism was like a little coal in the back of a furnace. Everyone wanted to blow on it and make it glow, but I would say, “No, let me think,” then the holes in the grate would grow larger and the coal would begin to glow a little more. “It’s better than sin,” I wrote, “we’re building a furnace of tin!”
But each evening, I’d ramble home alone along the street they called Las Ramblas. And there I’d see trinket sellers, and cult-religion peddlers, and twitching alcoholics, and a boy hooker who looked like a Pagliacci beneath a pound of powder. And I’d wonder if los comunistas really had the answers they needed—that any of us needed. Then suddenly I’d be running, the only one not rambling on the damned Ramblas.
One night I heard a lonely singer’s refrain:
“And the Ramblas is pain,
and the Ramblas needs rain…”
I never knew what it meant. But it haunted me. So all the next day I sat in my tiny crackerjack flat reading shaky manifestos, trying to shore up my half-built philosophy with paperback buttresses and underpinnings of typeset proofs.
But the coal was starting to fade.
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