Cities of Light: A Menage a Trois

Boats at sunrise, Varanasi

Boats at sunrise, Varanasi

Another post that falls into  our Romance on the Road theme. This time, Scott Hartman, photographer, writer and member of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook shares with us a story about his first love, a woman, and his last love, a place. To learn more about Scott, please go to his website Far Away Eyes, or read a more complete description of his  fascinating life at the bottom of this post.

Six months into a year-long Grand Tour.

Thailand and India were behind me, Nepal too.  What was in front of me, I didn’t know.  All that was certain was that Paris was beneath my feet.

Walking (because I didn’t know how to use the Metro) on an umber midsummer late afternoon from the Gare du Nord to my hotel in the Monmarte (the hotel, a birthday gift from my father, who knew my budget didn’t allow for The City of Lights).  Twenty-five kilos on my back.  My step light, legs steeled during a 300-mile walk in Nepal.  Mumbling passages from A Moveable Feast, trying to remember the name of the bar – no, not that one, the other one – where Hemingway sat, with Eliot and Picasso . . .

There was something about the light (the rising, radiant hum of argon and neon) how it shined on things, reflected, clung to them (the last whisper of pink sun on the Sacre Couer).

When I saw the corner café, I knew I would eat there.  Knew I would have cassoulet, a half-carafe, no, a full one, of vin rouge, maybe a Cahors.  One-floor above the café was my room.  A room with no memory of me, nor I of it.

Sunrise, from Asi Ghat, Varanasi

Sunrise, from Asi Ghat, Varanasi

Sunrise, Varanasi

Sunrise, Varanasi

Upstream from Tulsi Ghat, Varanasi

Upstream from Tulsi Ghat, Varanasi

Into my Van Gogh world walked a Degas, a dancer, offstage; the personification of Paris: stylish and playful – hair bobbed to three inches below her ears, kissing her shoulders with each step.  Self-assured – café au lait skin, tight black sleeveless dress, to mid-thigh when she walked, higher still at the table, (sitting ten feet away); confident and proud – a gold filigree chain around her right ankle.

I couldn’t know that in ten minutes the man she came in with would come to my table, and ask if I’d like to have ice cream with them.  (After a hushed conversation with her in French) didn’t know that his second question would be, “Do you prefer men or women?”  More hushed French; then I was introduced to Nicole.  I didn’t know that I’d go home with her, or that I’d sleep alone that first night (but would for the next 120) listening to thunder echo along rue Brezin.  Didn’t know that three days in Paris would turn into three months, that when I left, she’d cry.

It took me twenty-seven years to find my first love (you do not forget your first love) and another twenty-seven to find my last (you cannot forget your last.):  another City of Light, another kind of Light.

Her most ancient name is Kashi, from the Sanskrit root, “ksh”, to shine.  She has been here since time began.  This is, in fact where time began.  When Paris had yet to crawl, Kashi had fallen and risen for millenia.

I admire her strength.  Alexander tried, the Persians many times, the British too, but she has not been defeated.  What she has and what she is cannot be defeated.

She is insistently inquisitive; ‘I don’t know’ is not an answer.  She asked me to define love, and wouldn’t let me leave until I did. (Love is not, as the dictionary suggests, a noun.  It is a verb.  Not something you have, but something you do.)  She is generous; beneath a pipal tree besides the Ganges (perhaps where the Buddha sat) she told me a story, gave me a book to write, and I did.  Her tolerance is legendary; a Moslem mosque built on top of a Hindu temple; her resilience, epic: how after the bombs in 2006 she observed a day of mourning, but the next day was back to her luminous self.

When she speaks I listen.  She has made sense of things for me that I could find no sense for in my own culture.  She has touched me in places I didn’t know I had.

If you saw her in a crowd you would look twice; though at first, you wouldn’t know why (her appearance is to Beauty what Wisdom is to Knowledge).  But a year from then, a lifetime from then – or two – you would remember the light.  How it was everywhere and always, seen best at times when things are darkest.  She is a reminder that the Light is in all of us, in each of us, in me.

For: Papaji, Raju, Rama, Leela, Gordon, Manon, Mira, Sunil, Sohan Lal, Rajiv, Mitra Rose, Flora, Annie, Billie Mae, Francisco; my sisters, Susan and Karen; Dayle – who have been there, who are there, who know.

Scott  – I was a Journalism major and Eastern Philosophy minor at Colorado State University. I left school before graduating to attend Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, CA and left Brooks on my first international trip (National Geographic Dreams in my 24-year-old head) to be photographer and alternate boatman on an attempted first descent of a river in Peru.  We didn’t complete our first descent – and almost lost three men – I did lose two camera bodies, four lenses and all of my film, as well as twenty pounds, but returned home determined to “do that again”, whatever “that”

Two years later I took off on a year long Grand Tour – six months in Asia, six in Europe.  China and Tibet for four months in ’85; Indonesia, Thailand, India and Pakistan for four months in ’89; India again in ’92 for four months; three month solo sea kayak trip in Alaska in ’93; Iceland for four months in ’94; India (first extended stay in Varanasi, six months, in ’99-’00); and Varanasi again for six months, in ’06.

Scattered between those blanks in my travel CV, are numerous cruises to the Sea of Cortez in a small tugboat; ten times rowing my own raft through the Grand Canyon (I guided in college) and ten thousand other river miles in the West.

I currently live in Escalante, Utah, in a Basque sheepherders wagon, where I am working on writing and film projects.

  • Scott Hartman

    light beyond the sun, thank you for that

  • light beyond the sun

    Looking back, faces and bodies blur. Places leap up with perfect clarity in my mind. Thank you for this.

  • Scott Hartman

    Thank You, Julie. Yeah, if I have any “luck” at all, it happens on the road :) And yes, I did take the photos, all scanned from the original Kodachrome. Happy Trails and Travels. Scott

  • Julie Kinnear

    Wonderfully written post. Most of us get our lives moving during the travels, but as I read, you encountered the most important things in your life on the road, wish that happened to me too.
    and one quick question in the end – did you take the pictures in the post?

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