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Pithy Sayings May 29, 2013

Posted by Alex Sawit in Stuff in General.

By Lanie Sim

May 29, 2013




The first time I stepped into Cyrano was sometime last year in late November. It is now late May and the quotation on Alex’s blackboard still hasn’t changed. After seeing it for months, I would like to open the task of choosing a new quote.

When I first walked into Cyrano, I did not get to talk to Alex, who is one of Cyrano’s proprietors and its founder. There was a huge party, the birthday girl was smashed and Alex, as resident grumpy cat, was in a bad mood because of some kerfuffle with the corkage. The next time I visited, the atmosphere was more subdued. I came for cocktail class in the backroom that evening and while waiting for another friend to arrive, Alex, Jeco (the curator of the cocktail classes) and I settled down for a chat.

My eyes were drawn to the chalkboard on the wall, which had something written in French: “Le vent éteint les bougies mais allume le feu.”

In English, it may be translated as, “The wind blows out candles but fans the fire.”

“What does that mean, Alex?” I asked, intrigued by both the French and the novelty of a chalkboard on a wall where one can write pithy sayings.

The wind blows out candles but fans the fire. Hmm…

Though I am generally not a fan of sappy books and movies, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife gets me every time. In the story, the protagonist, Henry, suffers from a genetic disorder which causes him to uncontrollably travel back and forth through time, allowing him to visit his future wife while she is still a child and he is an adult.


Front cover of the first edition.


The film poster.


Though this in itself does not sound very romantic (it actually sounds a little creepy), what strikes me as enduringly romantic is the knowledge that Clare, as a child, will already know that she has a soul mate that she will meet by the time she becomes an adult. Even though Henry himself does not have memories of her when they finally meet in her adulthood (because at this point Henry has not yet begun to travel back in time to visit her), Clare will have been nurturing these memories. It is her longing, her anticipation, and her eventual gratification that propel the romantic pathos of the story.

But by the time they do meet, it also becomes Clare’s burden to always wait for him to return each and every time he disappears.

CLARE: It’s hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he’s okay. It’s hard to be the one who stays. I keep myself busy. Time goes faster that way.

I find it funny, this stark, seemingly Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus contrast between the protagonists. Clare reflects on how she is struggling with her willingness to wait for Henry. Niffenegger alludes to Penelope waiting for Odysseus to return from his heroic voyage. It is romantic, emotional, literary. On the other hand, Henry talks about his experience very matter-of-factly. He almost calls his experience a material and temporal ADD, a temporary distraction in which after you recover you are already elsewhere. He has accepted it. It is what it is.

HENRY: How does it feel? How does it feel? Sometimes it feels as though your attention has wandered for just an instant. Then, with a start, you realize that the book you were holding, the red plaid cotton shirt with white buttons, the favorite black jeans and the maroon socks with an almost-hole in one heel, the living room, the about-to-whistle tea kettle in the kitchen: all of these have vanished.

What is saddest for me is that their love story is punctuated by short times together during periods of long absences rather than the other way around. But how can Clare will Henry to stay and love her when he does not even know when and to where he will disappear? Clare’s love is the act of waiting for Henry in his absence, beyond her control and subject to the whims of fate.

Does absence make the heart grow fonder? I suppose. Waiting is an exercise in patience and control.

I am both impatient and impulsive. We invite new and old Cyrano friends to contribute a new saying for the board. The winner gets a glass of wine and we get the pleasure of your company.

Now that’s a win-win.





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