Personality of place provides a point to ponder this week

It has been a good week, one that made me happy to be here now. The other day I boarded the crosstown bus in front of Yamuni department store, one of many people in a long line. By the time I got on the bus, there was standing room only, but a kind young woman gave me a seat in the front row, next to a boy in his teens who looked as if he were trying to be oblivious.

I settled myself and opened my current bus book, a book of poems. After reading the introduction, I started reading the poems, and soon I was oblivious to my surroundings. I began reading one line over and over, pondering the truth of it, when the teenager next to me asked, “What is the name of the author?” I was startled but showed him the front cover. “’Women in the Garden,’ by Mary Lou Sanelli,” I said.

“I must buy that book,” he said. Then he smiled and confessed he had been reading over my shoulder, that he had forgotten to bring a book, which he usually did. I told him that I was dwelling on one phrase and began to recite, “’personality of place molds us more deeply than will. . . .”

“. . . or any part of our past’” he finished it for me.

Then in a rush of words, told me that he loved Agatha Christie and had read all of Arthur Conan Doyle and thought the movie portrayal of Darcy in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” was wrong: Darcy was not an ass, he was more an ironic type. He had even become charmed with romances after finding a copy of “Message in a Bottle” on the beach. He preferred reading English to Spanish and had even read “Don Quixote” in English. As I recall, he said that his favorite novel was “The Count of Monte Cristo,” and he is currently learning Japanese (he is Japanese Tico). We left the bus, going our separate ways, but with similar smiles.

Then on Sunday I went to the afternoon performance of “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” a comedy set in 1953 in New York City. It is also the less than comic time of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The set is a writers’ room of a TV comic variety show. All but one of the writers is supposed to be Jewish so New York-style jokes fly. After the first scene, when most of the actors come on stage and introduce themselves and their shticks, one might say, the play gains speed and laughter. All of the actors were good, but it was the entrance of Ira, who staggered and lurched and sailed onto the stage clutching every part of his body as if in terminal pain, throwing himself on the sofa claiming to be suffering every ailment known to mankind, that got me terminally giggling. From then on I began to giggle as soon as Ira entered.

His run ins with the other writers brought out the best of each of them. If Jim Trollinger, who is Ira, was not totally type cast, he is a natural born actor. (The play continues its run weekends through Dec. 4 at the Laurence Olivier Theatre.)

Each time I remember Ira, his lines or his antics, I begin to laugh and when I think of young Patrick and his love of books (he has a Kindle but he likes the “feel of a book”), I smile and say, “Thanks for the memories.”

I also have been dwelling on the phrase “personality of place molds us more deeply than will or any part of our past.” In her poem, Ms. Sanelli was referring to a friend’s house on the beach with an endless view of water. I have lived in many places, and I remember them all, probably even more vividly than I do the people I have met in those places. But is she right or is the way we have been molded that influences where we choose to live, instead of vice versa? It is something to think about.

My friend Steve’s comment that it is difficult to celebrate an American Thanksgiving in Costa Rica, has added to the thinking.

It is an especially good week when I am also left with something to ponder.

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