– One of our many trips to Victoria –
We’ve been in Victoria again.
In these gorgeous summer months, after days and days out in nature all by ourselves, we sometimes hop on the ferry (without car), take the 1½ hour trip to Canada, and immerse ourselves into a city with all its busyness, action, and entertainment. Mostly, we just sit in street cafes and watch people – something we know so well from Europe.
There are street cafes in America, but people here have a different cultural concept how to use them. Here they mostly just sit and mind their own business and respect a strong sense of privacy. Here the typical atmosphere of a street cafe as a social market place is not so common. It has its variations pretty much everywhere in the world and has evolved to an art form especially in Mediterranean Europe, but here, if you find them at all, it’s often not more than another way to sit by yourself. In France, you go there to see people and of course to be seen. You go into a street cafe to interact, not necessarily only by talking with others but by stepping into the circle in order to observe and being observed. Verbal conversations are usually also quite private and restricted to your table (maybe the next one close by), but there is always so much more conversation going on, on other levels, embracing the whole place. When you go into a cafe in Europe you always choose a crowded one, and it’s against the rules to sit out of sight in a dark corner, it’s ok to sit by yourself, but not hidden, it’s also against the rules to come as a big group and take over the place.
The fairly small city of Victoria, tucked away on remote Vancouver Island, somewhat isolated from the overwhelming “American ways”, is a little bit of an exotic place. It has preserved a sweet flair of its European past. It is of course commercially distorted and abused now – how could it not, being a place of people – but for us, homesick, as we sometimes are, it’ll do. So we hang out there, strike up conversations with strangers or just sit for hours and watch people, judge people – of course, we are humans, it’s one of the most basic characters of humans to judge – but judging in a compassionate not-separating way, judging as seeing yourself in the others. One can sit in such an environment and meditate and lose every sense of self. On the other hand, it is not rare, under such conditions, to dive into the most meaningful and heart-opening conversation with total strangers.
We talked with a fat Japanese guy who had his arm tattooed, and he fascinated me by having “no opinion” about his tattoo. He was open like a child and wise like a sage. He let us feel his skin, he answered each of our prejudice-loaded questions with such disarming honesty and charm that we felt like receiving a profound lesson.
We talked with a magician who loved people so much that he never bothered to develop any finesse in coaxing money out of them.
We met a family from Ghana (Africa) and had of course a wonderful exchange about the inherent freedom of being a victim of racism or the perceiver of the phenomenon of racism.
We watched an artist (we visit him each time) perform his quiet mastery of drawing incredibly beautiful portraits. I saw the wonder not only in the finished work but even more in the fascinating process of delivering the very first magical strokes on the empty canvas that only later become apparent as crucial and in an enrapturing way precise and correct. This moment of sitting before an empty canvas or an empty sheet of writing paper or whatever, being aware of the almost unbearable freedom of creativity, the freedom to do what ever you want, of freedom as such, is so powerful – when you bother to pay attention – that you can get dizzy.
Again we chatted with some German tourists who always strike a sweet and sensitive nerve in me. They sometimes evoke otherwise deeply hidden romantic emotions in me. And likewise we hardly ever fail to touch something in them, precisely because we are German too (Parvin is in this sense even more German than I am – especially Germans are usually deeply moved when they find out that she’s not German at all).
We met a woman from Israel (living in Canada), having the well-known strong opinions about Arabs but demonstrating a heartbreaking yearning for peace and understanding.
Our waiter in one of these cafes graced us with a free ice cream when he left because his shift was over and we were still there after hours and hours. He has such an inspiring mindfully caring and unobtrusive way to deal with people. – “Just a summer job”, he says, but he did what he did with his full awareness. And when we shared our delight about his ways with him I was deeply moved to see that he not only found his ego flattered but that he understood the quite impersonal quality of our delight.
So for once we let the mountains be mountains, sacrificed a perfectly good hiking day, and kind of reconnected to our social condition.
On the ferry ride back we met a delightful young couple who turned out to be kind of famous; they converted an old school bus to run on vegetable oil which they get for free from restaurants and recycle it this way. They travel for free and keep the oil from being wasted. They don’t run around preaching but just share their know-how with anybody who is interested.
It was noisy on the ship. Somehow, a little tired from the day, I still immensely enjoyed the noise this time. It was like music, filling my whole heart; music, permeating the soul with the universal roaring song of life.
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Klaus July 19. 2010