Giants and Windmills

by Ben Perreira

I wrote the below piece last summer when I returned from six weeks in Europe. Walking through old cities and reading old books made me think about the constancy of change.

There’s a certain sobriety to be learned from those who have lived long and seen a lot. One man’s formidable giant is just a windmill in a field to another. Lessons from these old stories serve as strong motivation to make good things happen while one can. Vale.

“Six Weeks A-Wander”

Coming, all is clear, no doubt about it. Going, all is clear, without a doubt. What, then, is all? – Hosshin, 13th c. Japanese death poem.

There would be no revelation. Nothing learned that couldn’t be otherwise learned through careful observation.

I spent just under six weeks in nine cities – eight of them new to me. I was in airports, train stations, ports, metros, busses and taxis.

I walked probably 200 miles, often on bumpy streets and dragging a bag that I came to call Petit Pierre because it weighed as much as a French kindergartener.

I gazed at contemporary buildings, legendary stadiums, old churches, art, parks, mountains, fjords and people.

I “communicated” in seven foreign languages, two of which I had studied before.

I was constantly lost. I was physically lost for practically the entire time, reinventing the wheel every 4-5 days when I arrived in a new city. At times, I felt lost altogether. Wondering how the story would end.

I ate the best and worst food possible. The breakfast buffet that was so welcome the first morning in Helsinki became detestable by the last morning in Copenhagen. I managed to find some great kebab in almost every city.

I paid 1 euro for a glass of rose at a restaurant in Barcelona’s Gothic District and $12.50 for a beer at a cheesy bar on Oslo’s Karl Johansgatan.

I met gypsies and representatives from the World Health Organization, beautiful women and executives from Nokia, rude Parisians and affable Spaniards, former lawyers and future lawyers, colleague connections and ephemeral hostel party-mates.

I read several books, but Don Quixote was the one that mattered most. It took me longer to read this masterpiece than it did to finish my MBA. It is the longest and most meaningful relationship I’ve ever had. I spent two years wondering how it, too, would end.

And in the end, it was exactly as it should have been. We realize that everything we have been doing along is frivolous, the fodder of simple enjoyment. Others laughed at us and we reveled in it. We will sulk at misfortune and giggle our heads off in sheer ecstasy, and, eventually, the vibration of the strings dulls into silence.