Sunday, November 30, 2008
Chapter Three - The Journal Begins - September 1859
Yesterday, still on the sea, I was Jules Bourglay.
Today I am nobody. I am like a pane of glass. Clear. Brittle. People look through me and see only what is beyond.
My former life is buried in the waves, and blown by the wind that carried me to this new country. This country where any criminal, any sinner, any saint may begin anew. This new land, America.
Today a new life begins.
This I vow. To the life of my dear Marie, I forever dedicate my own life. And to beg forgiveness of those who loved her, like I did. I dedicate my journey.
I left Lyon unwillingly. But I accept my fate with my open heart, crushed though it is. This I know. In a country where I am a stranger, I will melt like a Spring snow and run through the earth until I am carried away again, purified. I have no need for Jules Bourglay.
And so Jules Bourglay, I bid you adieu.
The great port of New York is crowded. It hums with commerce. There is a beautiful indifference to the stranger, the immigrant.
"Ask for nothing," New York seems to say. "And nothing you will receive. Ask for the world, and it is yours."
The costume and custom are foreign, as is the language. Occasionally I catch a phrase of my native French, but rarely is it the polished, musical song my father taught me. It is the sour French of the port and back alley. It is a French that calls to me from Lyon.
More often I hear Italian, or Spanish. And most often the formidable, unconquerable Anglais.
I traveled the street until I found an outfitter. For my walking I would need sturdy boots, and trousers of a heavy twill. The man sold me roomy farmer's boots, and trousers of a blue canvas. I gave to him all my silver, and let him keep the clothes I wore on my crossing. Though I understood none of what he said, he seemed to understand less of me. He took the silver happily, and gave me a soft cotton shirt, and a light wool coat as well.
It was September, and he mimed pulling a blanket around his shoulder, shivering. If the balmy weather of this September day is as cold as it gets in New York, I have nothing to fear.
Next I found a sailor's seafaring shop, spent my gold on a canvas duffel, a cast iron skillet, a straight razor, scissors, and a long knife.
At a bookstore, I bought a second journal, this one, plain paper between heavy leather covers, and a small hymnal, in French, I found on a corner book shelf. I recognized the songs, and could have sung them by heart, the man charged me three coppers for it, but I gave him the remainder of my gold and walked into the street.
I was too generous too soon in my career as a wanderer, and in my haste to begin my journey I forgot to procure a hat. This I bartered for. No need for time, I traded my Swiss pocket watch for a felt hat that seemed to me to have the shape favored by the Americans wandering these narrow streets.
Though the day is bright, and the noise of the street powerful, my heart is leaden. I still cannot understand how any mother can smile at her child when she knows how cruel a fate awaits him. I cannot comprehend how a lover can take another's hand when he knows he is holding, beneath her pale flesh, a fan of bones which the earth will, in the end, bleach white.
This I know. Life is but a mockery. The soul is trapped here. All men are fools seduced by a colorful charade.
Today, I step into the street, free, unencumbered by belongings save for those strapped to my back. This is how I will live until I die. This is where I will lose myself and find peace.
Adieu, Jules Bourglay. Adieu.