Pipes, a variety of pipes, large ones, long ones, meerschaum pipes, water pipes, he’d had many, and brandies too, although mainly fruit brandies, peach and apricot especially, but sometimes cherry, and of course, the good ones, Cardenal Mendoza in the corked box, and once in a very long while, two or three times perhaps, Gran Duque de Alba. He’d preferred the Spanish brandies but the best one had probably been an Armagnac, 25 year old Cles Des Ducs. It came in a beautiful crystal decanter in a wooden cigar box, both of which he still had. He also loved Grand Marnier, although somehow, it seemed to get sweeter as he aged, and then, too sweet. But his current wife still enjoyed it. And of course, wines, especially those red wines from the Bordeaux region he’d loved when he lived in New York, but could now rarely obtain.
He’d enjoyed symphonic music, classical, especially Beethoven, but Mozart as well, and Tchaikovsky, and Brahms, and Vivaldi, and Shubert. And all of the foregoing because his mother had led him to believe that his long-vanished father, whom he’d eventually located, late in life for them both, had favored them. Perhaps he had but it was just as likely that his mother had invented the specifics as part of a virtual profile, one she’d created to guide him into becoming the man she’d hoped he’d be. And for the most part, perhaps she’d succeeded. But not totally; he was pretty deeply flawed in too many ways. His sons had told him so, … eventually. His mother had been an amazing woman in every positive sense. Not perfect, her insecurities made that impossible, but then again, she’d somehow overcome every obstacle life had thrown her way, and there were many of them, among which, were his father, and his step father, and who knew who else. Perhaps him as well.
The pipes were all gone. His lately returned father had appropriated a few, his favorites, and his second son’s friends had stolen the last ones during a party of sorts at his apartment, they used them for pot and hashish and who knows what. And the alcohol came and went, but it was not all that important to him, thank goodness. And the music, … well that stuck, but supplemented by classical guitar and flamenco works which created another virtual world for him, an Arab sort of world fading into Iberian imagery set in Granada, and Valencia, and the Alhambra, and even Johnny-come-lately Aranjuez.
Cigars had been a stage all their own, one he sometimes used to market his law firm, and when that was gone, his strategic consultancy, and when that was a memory as well, his writing, but never his university academic endeavors, smoking had become anachronistic by then, and although he tended to love anachronisms, that was not one.
It was a sort of strange day in early spring high in the central range of the Colombian Andes where he now lived, as usual, in a home reminiscent of a museum, a large apartment full of old books already read, many several times, but some, not at all. The Quimbayas Cumanday, a snow-clad volcano that overlooked his tenth floor apartment was no longer quiescent, but not altogether active. It seethed and spumed ash and shook the surrounding mountainsides several thousand times a day, but the tremors were slight, at least for the most part, and neither he nor his wife were very troubled by them, at least not any more. If it were to erupt, the magma would slither down the other side of the glacier, although streams of mud might prove troublesome to nearby towns. It was over fifteen thousand feet high, and the city in the sky where he lived was above the seven thousand foot mark, leaving a great deal of space to be filled before magma ever became a problem, or before beaches were created through global warming, which to him would be a blessing; he missed the ocean.
He loved seeing the Quimbayas Cumanday, now called something else, the name of some bureaucrat or other, and the other three chains of snowclad ranges visible from the windows in his bedroom and his library and his guest room, and he wondered what it might look like, should it erupt, and what it would sound like, and whether it would be during the day or would waken him and his wife in mid-night, or whether it would really ever erupt at all. The small constant tremors made that less likely as they constantly released pressures that would otherwise build up. Quimbayas Cumanday seemed to know just what it was doing. He wondered whether referring to Quimbayas Cumanday as an “it” was insulting, but then again, how to know if it was a “he” or a “she”. Divinities are sort of strange that way.
The day was drawing to a close and soon the sun would set, pretty much behind the tall gothic cathedral that graced the city, the second tallest in the hemisphere, as he understood it. The sun set there during the periods closest to the equinoxes, then moved in a range, left and right for a while, and beyond the sunset he knew lay the Pacific Ocean, lightning and thunder there making the view of the west visible from his apartment’s long corridor, decorated as an art gallery of sorts, a periodically entertaining spectacle. Not that he could see the Ocean, it was too far away, but he knew that was where the sun set, and that it was from there that the thunder and lightning played.
Soon it would be dusk and the moon and the very few constellations and stars and planets visible, Venus and Jupiter among them, would come to visit. He loved the view of the night sky as seen from distant oceans or from desserts where billions of lights and stellar clouds created insuperable cyclical works of art and prompted speculation on the natures of divinity and time, and of eternity and infinity, and of mathematics and physics, and perhaps, of other distant species. But little of that was visible amidst the light-pollution generated by the city.
He loved the instant of transition that twilight turned dusk represented, as purples and oranges and lavenders and greens darkened and slowly became indigo. To him that was a magical instant repeated twice each day, a cycle reminiscent of the only two times during each day when broken clocks and timepieces were perfectly balanced.
He often thought of his three sons at dusk, now grown and estranged, living far, far away, and wondered at might have beens, and of all the people he’d known and somehow wronged, and of how he’d change things, if he only could. And of his father, gone for good now, and of those family members he’d treasured now gone as well. And of his many former classmates and students now scattered around the world, and of those curious people who read the articles and stories and poems he published, and wondered whether they took them seriously, or, like his sons, took him for a fool.
And he wondered what was to become of a world that in so many ways seemed to be headed headlong towards perdition, but also, gratefully, of the southern hemisphere which seemed to be finding its own way, learning from the many, many mistakes of its northern brethren, the self-proclaimed elder brothers and bearers of the “white man’s burden”.
And finally, he knew, his wife would soon call him to bed and that he’d lie pleasantly at her side, trying to fall asleep, fitfully at first, and that he’d eventually dream strange and entertaining dreams of far-off places and strange things, and of people and places he’d known, and then, as he woke, he’d wonder which realm was real.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2023; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.
Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen). Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He is currently the publisher of the Inannite Review, available at Substack.com. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). However, he is also fascinated by mythology, religion, physics, astronomy and mathematics, especially with matters related to quanta and cosmogony. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and much of his writing is available through his blog at https://guillermocalvo.com/.