Death in the Afternoon


“Why do you want to go to Varanasi?”

“I think…,” I said to S at the restaurant last night after sailing, “I think I need to do a little contemplation of death. My parents are getting older and it is something I will have to face. I just need to go to Varanasi.” Lucky for me, he didn’t ask me to define need.

We don’t really contemplate death much until it comes close to us. It has come close to me before and and it makes me feel like I can never really be attached to anyone. In the end, even when things work out, you will lose those you love the most. Could I bare it? I lost a friend when I was 19. He was 23. We can wait until it is our time to retire to the forest to think on it, but we never really know when death will visit our doorstep.

I wonder about myself…I should hope that I will have learned something before I have to come nose to nose with it. I hope I will have gained some skills, some knowledge, that will keep me from being destroyed by the thought of it when it comes to my house. I think that maybe being the initiator of knowing death will give me some contentment in living.

Excerpts From To the Best of our Knowledge’s series, Minding Mortality:

Jim Fleming: If death’s the one experience that we are each guaranteed to have no matter who we are or where we live, it’s probably no wonder that every culture is rich in symbols of death.  Think of the skulls and crossbones on medieval European churches, the ankhs of ancient Egypt and the cherry blossoms of Japan.  Sadafumi Uchiyama is a third generation Japanese gardener and curator of Oregon’s Portland Japanese Garden.  Anne Strainchamps talked with him about what the cherry blossoms mean in Japan.

Strainchamps: Now cherry blossoms are very important in Japanese culture, aren’t they?
Uchiyama: Yes, it is.  Cherries are our most beloved flowers in Japan.  It’s a coming of spring and also something to do with this sort of short-lived, it just blooms and goes away in a few days.  That’s something appeals to the Japanese and it does too, to me.  Cherry blossoms, in fact, in Japanese culture, we really enjoy and value the most the flowers just before it full blooms, anticipation for what’s coming, but emotionally that’s something people are looking for.  So often we in the Japanese literature and art, we talk about the beginning and end of flowers, the ending of the flowers, how they change, you can see almost the snowfall flowers that falling.
 __________________________________________________________________
While all of my colleagues went off to be tawdry tourist in Hawaii after graduation, my friend and I went to cool and windy Seaside. I raided the book store and celebrated my initiation into real life with Hemingway. Ernest and I laid out in the dunes at the edge of the sea grass and death loomed just off the coast in my mind as he told me about Spanish Bulls and the Snows of Kilimanjaro.

My first and still favorite read from Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon, which happens to go great with a little drink and some Pablo Neruda:

Death in the Afternoon

“Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”

  • 1 1/2 ounces absinthe
  • 4 ounces Brut champagne

Glass Type: champagne flute

Pour absinthe into a champagne flute and add iced brut champagne until it clouds up — at least 4 ounces.

Short of foreign travel, if you lack the kind of decadent friends who engage in pretentious pursuits like bootlegging absinthe, there are a couple of legal alternatives. For what our dear editor likes to call the “Near Death Experience,” use Absente, the new — legal — absinthe substitute that’s been promoted of late; it’s 110-proof (the real stuff is always real strong, whatever its other attributes). If you prefer to keep the Man in Black safely at arm’s length, try using a mere ounce of Pernod (or other 80-proof pastis). We’ll call that the Paper Cut.

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