Paris to Marseille: 670 kilometers. Ryan Bingham: repeat. Sun roof: open. I am on my way down south for a Buddhist conference, a pilgrimage that I have been doing since I arrived in France almost three years ago; this will be my fourth visit. This time, I am going as support staff, in charge of cleaning and general management. I felt a need to be of service, to provide a tactile proof of my gratitude for all that this mystic place has given me over the years.
The retreat center is near Aix-en-Provence, at the foot of Mont Sainte-Victoire, the mountain that Cézanne painted over 60 times. The mountain, with its rugged, geometric shapes, inspired his use of bold blocks of color to create the new spatial effect of "flat-depth." Cézanne's rhythm of light gradations and differentiation within this ruggedness creates a paradox of subtlety and beauty that, in painting and in reality, provides that spark - that squeezing of the heart that is a reminder of shared humanity.
My own memento mori came late in the conference, Saturday, past midnight. Dinner cleanup was finally over and we were sitting on the wooden steps, feet relaxing in the dewy grass, when across the top of the mountain came a comet, slow-moving and stardust-leaving, so seemingly close that both us and the mountain felt illuminated by its fire.