Have you ever looked in to a cow’s eyes? Next time somebody talks you into the possibility of an afternoon of cow-tipping, you know those Sconzo’s, they’re incorrigible, well take em up on the idea, but during the daytime so you can get close enough to gaze into Daisy’s eyes, first. Sweet, huge, bulging, and vacant as a musty cave, but wait, what are those long curling feathery arcs framing her eyes? Why those are Daisy’s eyelashes, cutest lashes on any animal, especially serving as they do as accessories to those big dumb eyes. You see a cow can’t do eye contact. Most animals can’t. Dogs the notable exception of course, but we’re talking generalities here, and one could make a strong argument that dogs are not animals OK? Can we just stipulate to that for the sake of peace this morning? What we are talking about here is eye contact with other people, with others of our own species.
Every day in every interaction we look, if we are gifted with sight and most of us fortunately are, into other peoples’ eyes. Take a minute and think about the last person’s eyes you experienced. Flashing, bored, please go away, excited, confused, piercing, playful, concentrating, studying, curious, and the list of possible emotions we take from each other, we send to each other is the complete catalogue of human feels. And even as important as language is to our social entanglements, it’s the eyes that actually do the heavy lifting. They communicate what words cannot, and they do it leaving an imprint as indelible as a tattoo or a hot branding iron. Eyes can melt, burn, freeze, tempt, shock, adore, reprimand, and all the other things a good branding iron and a hot fire and do too. Not bad for a paper-thin membrane, some squishy nerves and of all things an aqueous humor. At least that’s what I remember from my notes.
Sparkling mutually, the magical twinkle two people can sometimes share with only a glance, like flowers waving in the breeze, laughing at the sun, and praising the day, is the swooning of two souls destined to be on the same grain of sand at the same time and touching the untouchable effervescence of another life. It’s my favorite people watching experience, best when it’s in-person involving me and another soul, but rewarding as well simply by observing two others, and yes rewarding as well simply by listening to another describe a meaningful relationship. Watching people in love, is almost as fun as being in love. It might even be the love energy you need to fall into love. Try it. Fall in love watching others in love.
Take Aunt Anna. Anna is alone now. All alone in a gorgeous hundreds year old estate in the hills of Buda, on the left bank of the Duna. Her husband Tomas passed away last winter after 65 years together with Anna, his love and he hers. She is elegant in her velvet great chair. The samovar and pastry, hand-folded sweet cherry tarts, and the ubiquitous Hungarian cheesy treats; juices and water, with a promise of vodka, and all for an afternoon tea with her great niece and me. We would only stay an hour, yet she treated us as two honored guests expecting to take up residence.
We listened to her describe life these last many years, a life that celebrated the intricate weave between two lovers from the beginning of their time. No children. Just two lovers traveling the world. He the artistic director of the Hungarian Opera Company, and she his perfect mate. Shanghai, Bangkok, Vienna, Bogotà, Johannesburg. Christmases in Vienna every year, because they had honeymooned there 60 years and more ago. Her wistful smile hesitated, she stopped to wait, her smile lingered on the air, the birds picked up her song, a soft breeze danced over us as her smile shared her heart and that of her departed lover. The two hundred years old chairs, violins practicing their solos on the patios as youth relentlessly disrobes and sunset prepares its curtsy, this beautiful, sweet old European, Anna whose wistful gaze now says,
After 65 years what can I do? I miss him so. I miss him always. Always.
Springtime can be cruel. Her words fade away leaving just her eyes, the light of her smile.
Returning to Budapest from Geneva, our plan had been to take an afternoon train to Zurich, spend a day there and then take an overnight train to Budapest. We had tickets for Budapest via a discount fare, but we had to get assigned seats as well as the Zurich train passes. So to arrange, we negotiated the Swiss Rail station, really a first rate tribute to civilization. A delightfully Swiss ticket agent waited for us first to navigate the take a ticket line and 10 minutes later is giving us his fullest concentration. After studiously considering a computer screen for an intense period of what seemed concentration, he informs us somberly that the train is full. Pentecost weekend. Long holiday weekend. Yes, we had tickets, just no assigned seats. His advice?
Arrive early and who knows, you may find a seat. Perhaps even together?
We were charmed, if frustrated, even startled, at his tres serieux demeanor. Difficult for me to take anyone in a red uniform seriously having grown up on Peter Sellers movies, but I kept my guard up and didn’t crack up. We guessed he might simply be going through the motions, but every impression he offered publicly for our consideration was of the utmost concern for our well-being. Truly a puzzle, eyes can be a total mystery too. And wasting them on computer screens helps matters not at all. Yet our situation was dire as it was more than seats, it was our entire plan. We had to get to Zurich and then back to Budapest in the next couple of days. Are the Swiss and Germans going to Budapest for Pentecost? I think not. We would soon find out. Swiss rail clerk’s monsieur mais je n’est-ce pas, there is nothing that can be done, tres serieux, and his eyes confirmed the inevitability of our fate. We would remain in Switzerland until she let us go. Our rail clerk friend was merely sharing the message. He blinked his eyes, the copper brown orbs flashed sincerity, a slight upturn of the corners of his thin lips and the message was delivered and received.
We would happily suffer our fate, the promise of his eyes.
To be apprenticed to my friend Pishta as his brewer’s helper is a fantasy I sometimes entertain. It is most intense for the several weeks during and after our annual visit. Pishta is a PhD in fractal chemistry. This past winter he took a turn for the worse with a bout of pneumonia that laid him up for weeks. It was worse than we knew, so it turns out. We only see him in our memories, the grand smile, as though he had just pulled another miracle out of his hat. The sparkle in his eyes was a firestarter, no less. The Pishta we knew always had a cigarette hanging from his lips. A hand-rolled creation that he studiously rolled as social occasions permitted. After a meal, waiting for a train, upon greeting a friend, simply taking a break from concentrating, and certainly while talking about brewing wine and palinka.
Pishta had come down with flu and then pneumonia this past winter. We learned only after he had been in the hospital for over a week. He lay in a coma for 9 days as his body struggled to recapture its vitality. He shared his ordeal over a long walk around the lake.
I still dream about smoking, but after nine days in a coma,
He shrugs his shoulders, and his eyes drift away, as they do his smile floats across the water, a silent thank you.
It has been 4 months since he smoked his last cigarette.
Erge, Pishta’s wife smiles too. Erge is a perpetual smile, a round picture of happy, she is always grateful, always. She is so full of acceptance for the love in her life. For her children and her 13 grandchildren. For her giant garden, for the countless creations she organizes in her postage stamp of a kitchen. This man, her man for life, is still with her even as she had prepared to lose him. There is the smallest of tears in the corner of her eye, glistening as the evening glows, she nods her head, not in agreement as much as silent prayer. Pishta n Ergzsbeth, PhDs in chemistry and physics, still teaching though now farming n brewing their own 10 acres is their devotion now. Pork liver dumplings in wild mushroom broth, duck confit with wild onions and garlic, home made wine and palinka, a long walk around the lake, these friends of ours have seen it all. First an empire, then the wrong side of the iron curtain, then a free market with all the chains this implies.
Loving one person, is sacred. You can see this in their eyes.
Smiles are Esparanza too. There is a man who owns a lake and a castle too. He could be Omar Sharif, Michael Caine and Arthur Fiedler all at the same time. And he speaks only Hungarian. A merchant of the Middle East, African, South Asian and South American commerce, one can only imagine, million dollar LOC’s, gold inlaid tables and cash in every pocket. Just picture the guy in Snatch and that other movie, each with Dennis Farina. That’s your man.
There I sit smoking in the rain at the lake under a meticulously engineered patio with a man with whom perhaps three words might be shared; but we didn’t need to talk, it was perfect. The Magyar will rule again, and this warrior will be in the lead! Somewhere sometime, be prepared.
We ride horses the final 20 miles to his castle, his women meet us at the gate, our horses are taken to his stables. Wet, but warm and dry we are enchanted and spellbound by the power and dominance of this outlaw dealer in antiquity, forgeries and upstairs-man games. The yield is righteous though as the beauty of the bounty of this land and these people he shepherded, exclaim self-evidently. Birch trees, lilacs, roses, apricots, chestnuts the river and Lake Balaton below us, a Transylvanian paradise!
We talked thru until the morning of an idea a shared passion for tomorrow on our planet, but how might we accomplish it? The 1% will not rule us. Victor Koch will not enslave us. He was speaking my language and fire flashed in his expression. He tells the story of his son refusing to translate one of his negotiations in precise form. He demonstrates, stands before us, aiming at my wife, he grabs his junk in his hands through his pants, shakes vigorously, and then commands his wife to translate.
She hesitates, ladylike, and begins tentatively, even as our friend stands before us, crude simulation of junk in hand, like he’s waiting to set his goods down on the counter. She says,
He says, you can put your cock in my mouth,
He interrupts vigorously, he understands more than we know,
No, No, not that, No, No.
His wife begins again, hesitant, embarrassed of course, but glowing a smile of apology, as she translates precisely it would seem,
He says, put my cock in your mouth, if you think we are going to agree to that. Basically he told the man to blow him as a derogatory way close to the negotiations. Kind of an Hungarian ‘Fuck You’.
He nodded, and I think I see beneath his crown of grey, out of control locks, the confident, knowing smile of 10 black stallions charging downhill. This man, interrupts life in order to have the floor, his gaze pierces like a pike. Fear him. His wife,
Eva, laughs nervously, rearranges the air with her hands as she giggles the next thought to the surface and beams with a proposal.
Let’s take a tour of the grounds under the full moon?
Smiles can be lethal. They can bring peace as well.
Our good friends Gyula and Timea, greet us at the door, actually out near their gate as we had called a few minutes earlier, lost again. A day of transportation, cars, trains, buses, and then trains, metro and a short walk, but what direction? We were parched. Our biking friends. We have biked nearly 500km in Hungary in two trips the past few years, one around Lake Balaton and the other through the mountains north of St. Etendre. Such a beautiful couple. Their daughter was taking her exams for advance math placement in college. Their youngest showed us her many art pieces, and then sat quietly by the window reading. Their son was preparing for another competition. And Gyula was building yet another bike!
This family was living the life, a beautiful home, an even more marvelous family. We enjoyed an afternoon repast, marvelous morsels prepared by a first rate cook. Pork dumplings and rosti. Desert of rocatta torte, which I had two helpings of and I am not a big desert guy. And toasts of palinka, home brew the best of course. And in this case, it’s the brew of a retired associate of Gyula. One of those couples who can smile in unison, in harmony, in shared accomplishment and with joyful gratitude for the life they have established after leaving the Puszta behind.
Gyula is a friend. He is named after famous medicinal baths on the Puszta. I am not surprised. His smile is from a hot spring of life.
Eva and Gabor, she sits up straight, so earnest in her affect that I feel I am deciding her appeal, refreshing the room with her sparkling smile, Gabor gazes behind picking up any unused happiness and storing it away for the right moment. She calls the shots in this family, and she does so with her eyes. Gabor, laughs deeply loving every breath.
Mr. Chairman of the High Commission, his determined empathy understated only by his even manner, nothing can alter his demeanor, the second hand of his mustache ticks ever so slowly as he wrinkles his forehead, not so much to understand as to further emphasize his sincerity for the point he is making or to better hear the point you are making. His point at this moment is to reinforce my message, that the family is the source of all workplace outcomes.
I am making my case that the sum output of an organization’s collective efforts, in this case managing the care and welfare of some 300,000 people in every country on the planet, is multiplied many times over if one includes workers’ families. Thinking of an organization’s mission beyond shareholders and employees, acknowledging the fact of educating, feeding, even loving the loved ones of employees, as an extension of the real effect of declaring a collective an organization, is next level humanity.
So many smiles happen because of the unseen and unknowable fluttering of a simple pair of butterfly wings, somewhere sometime secretly shielded from our glance.
Verchi, beams with pride and excitement revealing the intensity and passion she feels for this new man in her life, determined to take this moment by storm and force the world to conform to the reality that she has earned the right to love according to the laws of nature.
Martzi, says very little, except the pride and happy fortune in his steely countenance framed as it is by his dark features, this man has found a woman too, actually she has discovered him as though by accident and there bond is sealed tight, he dotes on her copious every word.
The eyes can see both ways when we are in love. Our windows are open, the shades are ripped wide open. We are vulnerable when we love; our smiles are guilty.
Otabe-san, even as an older man, maybe it is his being Japanese, his curls frame his slender cocktail speech, his collar so well-dressed, circles his bald pate lovingly, his glasses aim his eyes as they paint a picture of the rock and roll music he loves, his expression goes wide with awe as he learns I share the same experience of having been swept away by rock and roll so many years ago. He is of the Eagles and Rolling Stones. I can smile at these names. Otabe-san smiles as though he is the celebrity.
My friend Cameron possesses a smile that is pure joy. It’s almost as thought you could back up and take a running jump into his eyes. He is what the word grin is derived from, it’s just a contraction for Cameron. His eyes flash with an energy for life and celebration like few others I have known. The first time we met, we did not. We were both trolling upstairs at a blues club catching a band that had captured us, held us hostage that weekend actually. It was perfect. We each noticed the other or not, somehow connected later, and a telepathic friendship keyed by retinal security bloomed like a rocket for the stars. Cannot explain this. Just know that when we are in the same area code, we can tell. Fact, believe me.
So the time in Florida, where he surprised me? How did that even happen? Kissed that dude. And the times in negative 30 below, damn how did we survive my being lost? Single Barrel Jack, that’s how. Not to mention medicinal eyedrops. Jeez, I smile just thinking about this guy. it has been too long.
And my eyebrows don’t come back for days when I smile like this. It breaks my face in the most fantastical way. How can a smile bring you physical joy, relief, strip your anxiety away to the scaffolds, you can see the Sistine Chapel through a smile.
Katie, her eyes bathe me in serenity and desire simultaneously, they reach out deep from down in the embryo of her heart and love me like I have never been loved. They are sweet, like honey, golden like the alpine glow, and deeper than the clearest mountain lake, she is an angel and they sparkle at every corner of her smile. I am empty as I write this, like a pitcher overturned in shock.
When Joel says, “let’s do this aright?”, then feigns astonishment and childlike wonder at the crowd’s erection, he is practicing the art of the magician. The magician who challenges the crowd to doubt even as they are being lifted off their feet, the same ticketmaster who manages the turnstiles between this life and the eternities of others, the alchemist who conjures smiles for all and simultaneously, yes the master of our smiles. Surely a band is what it takes, and one with the heart to manage a cultural gathering such as has never existed. Then his expression, Joel’s very being, turns mischievous as the skit gets rolling and a newborn everyday authentic glee, unfettered enthusiasm, is this really happening to me? comes through like sun through a break in the clouds after a long week of rain, this guy is the real deal. These guys are the real deal. It all begins with his smile; with their smiles, continuing always through our smiles. Love life, love smiles, smile love.