Fastest or Farthest

Adolphe Menjou and Marlene Dietrich in Von Sternberg’s Morocco (1930)

I wonder if I misremember the scene: Marlene Dietrich writes with her lipstick on her vanity mirror, these lines from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Winning”:

Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne
He travels the fastest who travels alone.

When I searched for the still of the scene, I only came up with a mirror on which was written, again in lipstick, “I changed my mind.” I would obviously have to see the film again to refresh my memory. I know the words are in the film somewhere, and the quote has stuck with me—though sometimes I remembered it as “He travels the farthest who travels alone.”

I like to travel alone, but I think I would much rather travel with Martine or my brother Dan or one of my friends. Unfortunately, Martine thinks I’m much to adventurous in my trips. She claims that anti-malarial medications like Chloroquine or Aralen do not agree with her. Otherwise, she is an ideal travel partner who is genuinely interested in the places I like to visit. The highlight of our travels together was our trip to Argentina and Uruguay in 2011.

My brother is also an excellent travel partner: We tend to agree in advance on the places he wants to see and the places I want to see. Thus far, we have gone on only two trips together: Mexico in 1979 and Ecuador in 2016.

My friends are more problematical in that none of them would dare to visit a Third World country whose language they don’t speak. I always imagine introducing them to Maya ruins or South American volcanoes or Icelandic fjords. But I imagine them as being versions of myself before I started on my travels—all eager to travel to exotic destinations and devil take the risks! Alas, they are not like me. They are irrepressibly themselves. And that’s why they’re my friends.

So I suspect that most of my future travels will be by myself.

A Day at Universal Studios

Mohan Gopalakrishnan and Son Aravind by the Hogwarts Express Locomotive

The last two days I have been busy with an old friend visiting Los Angeles from India. I used to work at Urban Decision Systems with Mohan Gopalakrishnan, a brilliant young programmer who went on to work for a number of computing companies in the United States and India. He was accompanied by his 14-year-old son Aravind.

Today, I drove them to Universal Studios in the San Fernando Valley. We did all the usual tourist things: In addition to the Studio Tour, we saw the Special Effects Show and took a wild Jurassic Park Boat Ride. I was surprised that, at this date in June, there were so many thousands of tourists in attendance. Still, it was worth it. We had a lot of fun and managed to catch up on old times.

Mohan repeated his invitation to visit him in Chennai, where he lives, but I have already written a post about my hesitation to visit India. Who knows? Perhaps I might might take him up on his invite at some point, but I would first have to overcome my fears.

 

The Joys of Friendship

Mona and Wilder

Mona and Wilder

This evening, I got together with old friend Mona, with whom I used to work more than ten years ago. At the time, her little son Wilder was still an infant. No more, it seems. (It must be those Wheaties.)

Although my friends and I are all growing older, it is good to see their children thriving.

Because I lack a pituitary gland, I could never have children of my own. (And no, I was never very positive in my replies to people who said I could “just adopt,” as if all I had to do was put in a deposit at the neighborhood baby store.) So I take particular pleasure in seeing the children of my friends.

Martine was unable to join us, because her back was hurting her; so she was lying flat on her back wearing a brace when I returned from the Marina after seeing Mona.

 

A Face In The Crowd

Identifying Faces from Google Picasa

As this has been a slow afternoon at work, I decided to try to identify my friends on the thousands of photographs I have stored on my second work computer. These are faces of people in Chinatown parades, Obon Carnival line dances at the West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple, military re-enactors, or just people in the background of many of my shots. They may be people who cut me off on the highway, served me lunch, speakers at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival, or what have you.

After one has been looking for a while, one keeps wondering whether the face is the face of a friend or acquaintance. Then I bring up the original photograph, and it’s just a tiny face in the background greatly enlarged by the mighty Google face recognition software.

Even so, I am surprised at how many faces I recognize of people I haven’t encountered for years. Have they dropped off the edge of the earth? Or have our paths simply diverged, as they frequently do, for reasons relating to geography, changing interests, or whatever other reason. Some of them represent friendships I will take up again. Perhaps some of the people I see most now will be somehow re-prioritized in life’s endless reshuffling of the deck.

None of the faces above are familiar to me, but several look as if they possibly could represent people I met once (and filed away in my mind as “do not make any special effort to remember”).

There is a term in demographics called cohort. The term refers to a group of people one is affiliated with at a particular time. For example, I belong to the cohort of Hungarian-Americans born in 1945 in Cleveland, Ohio. I also belong to the cohort of people who attended graduate school in film at UCLA but never attained their degree objective. There is also the cohort of people who regularly attend the Chinese New Year Parade on Hill Street every February, people who go to the Obon Festival, people who attend military re-enactments, or people who just read obscene numbers of books because they love to.

All the people in the thumbnails above intersected, however briefly, with my life at one time or another when I was sporting one of my digital cameras. Every one of those faces represents a different world which intersected mine.

How many faces will we see in our lifetimes? How many millions? How many people are wondering about my image as they edit their Uncategorized Picasa photos? Who knows? The answer is blowing in the wind.