Heavenly Exotica

I’m sitting in a coffee shop alone this morning, in a foreign land. I’m writing a novel. This is my sweet spot in life, my perfect place. But I use the article the without precision, because I have a few other sweet spots. Having all my kids in one room, where I can protect them with my life is one. Denise and I have several of our own.

mexico coffee shop

I’ve done a lot of sitting alone in coffee shops in foreign lands, writing. Some, modern of glass and steel, with comfortable seating. Some of stone or concrete with hard, three legged stools. A few of tatch. The most rudimentary, just a kind soul making me coffee or tea over a single burner benzene tank sitting on the dirt, and us sitting on stones. There have been hundreds, and yet each time it’s returning to a very special moment. As I sit here and am enamored within a world being built with my words on a computer screen, flowing from my own imagination, a part of my mind is still attentive to the exotic world around me.

apartment malta

Starting with the olfactory, there are new smells of unfamiliar spices, new perfumes, strange foods (yet all with either a base of garlic or onion) being cooked somewhere, and the all-pervading smell of burning paper. I’ve smelled burning paper in every city I’ve visited within the developing world. It is the background smell, and least pleasurable, to all the others. I traced down the smell of burning paper once in Kathmandu. It came from a vacant lot where people were standing around a big fire … of burning paper. In Cairo it was where, like Kathmandu, vacant lots had been turned into makeshift landfills and then someone—for reasons unknown to me—sets them on ablaze. Paper is the dominate fuel of garbage. The smell is sometimes infused with a hint of burning plastic.

My auditory sense is dominated by the languages, which are not my own. I strain at the very primitive edges of language learning in these situations. I hear the same sounds repeated by different people within different sentence structures, and I start to see patterns. I am deeply curious to the conversations, for which I long to participate. (In Malta I was thrilled beyond belief, at my outdoor cafe, when I was able to understand a whole conversation between a father and his daughter, once I suddenly realized that Maltese is really Arabic). Here, I notice the inflections in voices, giving emotions to the syntax.  When I understand the emotions of other humans, using language that I can’t understand, it only intensifies my curiosity.

Surrounding the intentional conversations, I hear the disorganized sounds of children, laughing and crying. I hear stray dogs barking in packs (therefore no one’s pet). I hear traffic, which is different from that in my normal world. The horns are dual and within a high-pitched range. Engines race more intensely in the developing world. In America, such racing is perceived as hostile, a fit of road-rage. In the developing world, I believe it is from aggressive driving without ill intent, which seems to come from living perilous lives. When you struggle to feed your family, life is more of a race to an end and fatalism begins to dominate your world view.

Tying all these sounds together is the music. Each world with their own, gorgeous sounds, (sadly, accented with American rock or pop). Sometimes, in densely populated places, this music emanates from a dozen points; radios, TVs, live bands, and car sound systems passing by with the doppler effect. I wish I could understand the lyrics to give sense to the beautiful voices and melody.


I will not even endeavor into the visual because it would take pages to describe.

This sweet spot got me thinking this time. For some, maybe many, the afterlife is seen as a place of great comfort. Where you come in, into the perfect home. Where you rest comfortably in your favorite recliner, surrounded by the people most familiar to you.

I now think that my hope is that the new world, or Heaven, (if you believe in that idea), will be an immersion into the very unfamiliar. A passage into the totally exotic. Where, the beauty of the unknown, is most deliberate. Where the unaccustomed, liberates my curiosity to its fullest extent. Where I’m not only surrounded by people that I’ve never met, (I do want my friends and family there too, but that’s beside the point for now), but those people are very different from me. They look, smell, and behave differently. They challenge all my ideas of the perfect. That they speak a language that I will have to acquire. This is my hope of a new earth, of a Heavenly existence, a lovely place of eternal unacquaintance.

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