This is not my image, but this is what we climbed
It is 11 pm Pacific time. I am dreaming of granite walls merging with the sky, of snow patches hiding from the sun in the north facing gullies, of boulder fields and screes, of the city of rocks, of occasional pine trees and small lakes glistening far below, of an adrenaline rush, of fear and excitement, of happiness. I am dreaming of mountains.
I started mountaineering late, in my mid-twenties. It crept up on me over the years, slowly turning into an addiction. Why do I climb, spending days and weeks stuck in the mountains and on the cliffs, suffering through cold and heat, bleeding, eating power bars, sleeping on the rocks and fighting altitude sickness?
A journalist once asked George Mallory (one of the greatest mountaineers humankind has seen), “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?”
Mallory answered, “Because it is there.”
He disappeared while trying to climb Everest in 1924. His body was found 75 years later. Some time ago, I tried to explain to my mom why I climb. “Mom,” I said, “All the roads don’t lead to Rome. They all lead to a cemetery, but the prettiest one climbs up a cliff.”
Tonight, Barclays Center sports arena is packed almost to limit of its seating capacity. 19,000 people came to hear Leonard Cohen. It is strange to see all these people quietly waiting for a performance to start. Barclays feels more like Lincoln Center than a sports arena.
The overhead lights dim and only cell phone screens glimmer in the darkness below me. The scene lights up in bordello red and blue and the band arrives. Seventy-eight-year old Leonard Cohen sprightly scampers across the scene, like a winner of the octogenarian Olympic Games. He starts the performance with ‘Dance me to the End of Love’. As his voice fills the stage, I am left to ponder on why I like him so much.
I am airborne, like a plague.
A plane is taking me away from my work, my girlfriend and my friends, away from my fat black cat and from her white belly, away from the city of New York, my immigrant home.
Middle America leisurely rotates below me. The quiet corn fields glow in the sun. The smooth round cows wander in the fields, munch on the corn and drool on both ends. The locals stately push their carriages along the extra-wide Walmart aisles, their children wobbling behind. The warm humid air pulses over the parking lots. The little white churches lead to salvation. The flyover states enjoy their summer.
The Cascade mountains are drawing closer at 600 miles an hour, 10 miles a minute, almost 100 feet per one heart beat.
Tomorrow my friend Sprax and I will sort our gear, pack our backpacks, exhale the last gulp of car exhaust and start walking uphill.
I am looking at a picture my girlfriend just took. I didn’t even know that I could look so serene and happy at the same time. Something in my facial expression is reminiscent of a mother looking at her sleeping baby. Cannibalistically.
It’s 10pm on a Wednesday night. It’s dark outside the window, a cold November drizzle smears the lights coming from the Castle Village buildings. I am sitting at a wooden table in my tiny Manhattan kitchen come dining room. My left hand is soaking in a blender – cold water is unsuccessfully trying to soothe the pain radiating from a large burn across my palm. I don’t care. I am happy. I achieved a dream that I hadn’t even have the guts to dream about. The dream is sitting right here, on the wooden table, on a black wire tray a foot and a half away from me. The dream looks like a misshapen slightly burnt brownish lump still covered in a thin coat of whitish powder. It’s about the same size and shape as a human brain but it’s slightly less symmetrical. I gingerly caress it with my fingertips; I run them along the rough folds, grooves and ridges of the surface. Something crackles faintly underneath. I bring my head close to it and almost touch the surface with my ear. Heat irradiates towards my head and I can feel faint noises coming from under thick crust. It’s talking to me. It says, “Hi.”
On Friday, as Yvonne and I discussed our weekend plans, my lovely girlfriend stumbled upon an idea that was as tasty as it was healthy.
“Why don’t we choose the ten best bakeries around the town and bike from one to another picking one pastry at every place? I will take some pictures and you will write it up,” Yvonne suggested.
“What are you waiting for? Choose the bakeries!” I enthusiastically blurted.
Yvonne burrowed inside her Apple delight for half an hour, browsed the internet and came up with a list of 12 French (oui), American, Turkish, German and otherwise-excellent-but-lacking-an-identifiable-ethnic-character bakeries all around town, from 58th street and Fifth avenue to Dumbo, Brooklyn.