Friday, June 24, 2011

Merlin: Lost In Marseille

My first order of the day was...well,  nothing.

I lazily woke from my jetlagged stupor and remembered that I told my dad to go to breakfast without me. Only sleep will keep me from pastries, and even then I regret my decision. I made myself a cup of tea, and was grateful to be in a country where Lipton wouldn't be served.

I finished my book, which was both a great and a sad thing. Austin has always been interested in Arthurian legends, while I have found them less than compelling. I suppose I was wrongly remembering my freshman encounter with Le Morte d'Arthur. However, as we have recently been watching the Merlin mini-series on Netflix, I decided to give some Arthur books a go. (FYI, the mini-series is beyond cheesy and yet we return to it again and again.)

I started my non-televised Arthur education with The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart. As you know, the Arthurian legends are very different from one another. History adds her own updates and twists with every generation and it is seemingly impossible to keep them all straight.

This book is the first in a series that focuses on Merlin. I'm only going to bring up one particular piece in the story, and then we'll walk the beautiful streets of Marseille. And, like Merlin, I'll magically weave them together before your wondering eyes.

As a boy, Merlin was told by his mentor to make sure that he attended a short trip with the king. His destiny, he was told, included this trip and he had to put himself in the way of destiny. Merlin obliged, and found himself on a wholly forgetful trip in which he acted as a servant and spent the rest of his time eavesdropping. He was quite sure that he must be there to overhear some important political intrigue. The only memorable thing about his trip was that he saw a bird fly into a small copse and he felt compelled to follow it. The bird gave him some personal insight on how to conduct himself around certain parties who were not thrilled that Merlin continued to live. He tried to be like the bird by attacking at times, flying away at times.

Anyways, the only significance for many many pages is that Merlin was a big fan of this bird. This must have been a lesson he was supposed to learn, and his journey wouldn't have been the same without the bird lesson. Not a memorable moment for Merlin.

As a man, he is forced to assist a king with a building project (paraphrasing like crazy) and will find his death if he is unable to provide the king with necessary answers. Suddenly he remembers the bird, and notices that the building is in the exact location he was when he followed the animal into the trees. He follows the path, unseen by everyone else due to overgrowth and whatnot, and finds the answers he needs to save both his life and fulfill his destiny.

I was thinking about Merlin today while I was walking through Marseille. I found myself the proud owner of several unplanned hours, and took an ambling walk down the street. I turned one corner, and then the next. I crossed a street, walked up a hill, and found myself surrounded by beauty. The streets here are somewhat haphazard, like a child'sSometimes the tracks make sense, and at other times there is no order discernable to the adult eye. You get the impression that a small avenue looked up one day and was surprised to find himself attached to the rest of the world.

Marseille is not the most beautiful city I've ever been to. And yet, I struggle to name a city that is like it. The beach culture is prevalent, meaning that the people are generally more laid back and casual. The French culture is obviously prevalent, so green cafe awnings and cigarette smoke fill the streets while women wear scarves with impossibly short shorts. There is a provencial element that I stumbled upon today that I am still trying to understand. Perhaps the avenue still retains his allegiance to the countryside where old men wear brown hats and kiss everyone on both cheeks. Some streets, it would seem, still belong to the world in which purple flowers creep slowly along stones and lean outward to watch passersby.

I was enjoying such streets today, wilting in the heat and exulting in the marvelous ocean breezes. A street would suddenly end and a San Francisco style hill would present itself, and I climbed higher and higher and ambled my way to...somewhere.

It occured to me that although I could retrace my steps to the hotel, I actually had no idea where I was. Strangely enough, I just kept walking. I had no idea if this was a 'good' or 'bad' part of town. The graffiti clashed with the small stores that sold baby shoes for 220 Euro. I had no notions of where I was, or what that place should be. It was quite marvelous.

It hit me that I might be experiencing a Merlin moment. I didn't conjur a dove, I'm sorry to report. But I might have watched a bird fly into a wooded path.

I realized today that there is a distinct difference between being lost and not knowing where you are. Today I walked the streets of a city I know very little, had no map of, and had never visited before. But I wasn't lost.

I came to the conclusion that you aren't lost until you have somewhere you are supposed to be. You aren't lost unless the lack of location awareness upsets or unnerves you.

The reason this mattered to me is that I feel a bit like Merlin on this trip. I'm happy to be here, and I am happy to go along with what seemed like the right thing to do in coming. But, as I told you yesterday, I've struggled with the point of my being here. In this trip, and really with life in general, I've felt quite lost.

I'm nearly 30 years old. I never finished my college studies, I don't have a job, and I feel quite unaccomplished. I feel very much like I trail in the shadow of other bright stars whom I love and am honored to know. Still, on most days I wonder what I am doing with my life and why I am where I am.

I stopped today on the streets of Marseille and breathed in the cozy herbal perfume of purple flowers. And, I realized that I might not be lost. I might not know where I am, it is true. But there isn't anything wrong with exploring steep hills and short avenus that hold no immediate significance.

Perhaps Marseille isn't my Merlin moment. I might never find any connection with this trip and the rest of my life But, maybe it doesn't matter. It is a reminder that exploring what is around you is part of life, and that these many moments lead to and define The Moments that define you.

I got lost today in Marseille. But really, I didn't. It smelled of purple flowers and sea salt. It was kind of like magic.


Talitha said...

I needed this blog today. It was a good reminder to just slow down and be ok with the journey, even if it takes you places you are not prepared for.

Jessica said...

I am reminded of a certain phrase, by a certain author. It is not obscure, in fact it is often seen on the bumpers of volvos and VW vans. It is used mostly as a excuse, for some that smoke pot and follow bands like Phish on summer tour, for aimless lives, or validation to do nothing. But it's timeless truth is sometimes found, and it's profound meaning and hope for those of us that follow The Spirit and still find peace in the expression know that "Not all who wander are lost". I am so thrilled to read that you have left the path to learn how to wander without fear of being lost, i often find myself in the exact same situation, just in a much less exotic location...