“The Russian Likes To Remember…

“The Russian likes to remember, he does not like to live.”  Chekhov   Living is fraught with uncertainty.  Living is fraught with peril.   Living is nothing if not a stew of ambiguities.  Living demands effort.  Living is work.  Living is always poised near the cliff of annihilation even on a sunny spring afternoon of a near ideal temperature.  Living is fleeting, always charged with the dynamic bodily necessities of tomorrow and the day after.  Living involves real other people who are endlessly disappointed and disappointing and who are never quite what they seem, so we are always shaking our heads over what poor judges of character we have been   I think that I may be more Russian than I have ever realized.   The one who remembers fashions the memories according to his nature, his predilections, his whims.  Viridical memory may be an oxymoron.  Memory can smooth or exaggerate bumps and lumps, as suits its purposes.  Memory is gossamer.   Memory can counterfeit pleasures and pains and passions so perfectly as to make them pass for real, even to the point of supplanting other claimants to the mantle of reality.  Memory is a vamp and a tramp.   It helps weave the dreams that live us.   Memory is a river whose shifting banks we are so that we can choose its course until it drains into the sea of conceit and deceit.   Who can fault the Russian for preferring to remember what never was around a warm campfire rather than to live?  Yet live he must and does and so must we and do we.   Liking is another matter. ...

1591 Compton Road

1591 Compton Road   When you  live in a house, you hardly see it.  Of course, you see it, but you take seeing it for granted,  It becomes a habit.  You see it automatically, but without intention, without attention, without appetite or invention.  It is just there which approximates not being there.  Then you add time and distance, all the accumulated incidents, accidents, passions and pleasures and defeats of living.  It is submerged.  Or better yet, it is buried in your life.   Then a friend shows you a picture he has taken in the far off city of your birth.  A picture of the house, changed but recognizably itself.  The hundred year old elms are gone.  The luxuriant rhododendrons and mountain laurels flanking the steps up to the front porch are gone.  But the house, with its two dour gray wings, one a library, one a screened in porch, is more than reminiscent.    There is a shock  of recognition, like a depth charge in my mind.  Not only is the house reanimated, rescued from the accustomed dullness of habit, but so many memories come flooding back of when I lived in that house and all that I lived in that house.  The house is suddenly living and ferociously so.  I have trouble sleeping the night after I see the picture, this portrait of a being with whom I was intimate.  Or perhaps the tense is wrong : this portrait of a being with whom I am intimate.   I do not simply wander the house and the yard, but also the halls of time.  I smell the...

Henri Michoux

When we lived in Paris in the early fifties of the last century when I was a little boy of six, seven, maybe eight, my father was a mystery.   For me as a child (and perhaps for all the rest of me as well) everything was mystery. It surged before me in sensory immediacy, just as it was, yet always changing, full at once of caprice and the immutability of actually being.   Looking back I see that we lived well as citizens of a conquering/liberating power, even though we had no refrigerator and the furnace worked intermittently.   We were privileged, an anomalous status for people who belonged to a faith whose remnants were just clinging to life and trembling with knowledge of the once and future terror. The Second World War was not truly over.   It raged on in the heads and hearts of so many who were silent, including my father. The dead had met their deaths by combat, by extermination, by accident, by hidden acts of cruelty intimate beyond naming and yet they were not dead because the living clung to them, scrapped desperately to reach them and failed. The living were thrown back on their own minuscule and diminished resources. This was all they had as their dreams in nights of fitful sleep kept reminding them of the radical amputations they had suffered. Three or four times of a Sunday afternoon my father and I walked along the banks of the Seine.   I had no idea what he was thinking nor even did I have an idea of trying to form an idea of what he...

Guanacaste, 2017

I’ve just turned 71. The reversal of the digits from 17 to 71 took 54 long years, 54 short years, 54 inscrutable years.   There is no way to make a map of the way. So many people I’ve loved are dead and gone and yet alive and not gone in my mind. When I was 17 the outer population was greater than the inner population. At 71 it is exactly the reverse – the inner population is greater than the outer population. I don’t have to spill blood libations to court them.   They come in my dreams, looking exactly like themselves from long ago and faraway.   My Great Uncle Manny wears the forty year old blue shoes back again in fashion. He loved them and loved the revolution that brought them back. I loved them because he loved them. That was enough. We get swept up in the currents and eddies of other people’s lives.   That is what love does, also what hate does. But how does the dream machine hold so much – shoes, faces, voices, the banks of the Seine, my father’s pipes and his Latakia tobacco? I appear sometimes as myself with and without a befuddled expression. And women, too, starting with my mother and proceeding from there, I have been listening and listening down the years and down the decades. I have heard voices from outside and voices from inside.   I have heard the voices of some who lived and died before I was born, some long before. Ancients have been my contemporaries. I have tried to make a music of what I have heard...

One Note

In the night he played the organ of sorrows whose vast pipes spanned continents and whose music was time, the sea in which he swam and dissolved to become a wail sounding the deep where beginning and end are one note...

Tanzania

The strangest thing about Tanzania was how familiar it was to me in February of 2016 after a gap of nearly fifty years. 1. I left Tanzania in 1969. When I was there long ago, I was young and Tanzania was young. Now I am old and Tanzania is still young, very young, with a huge portion of its population under 20. It has an enormous and stunningly diverse youthful population that needs an education, work, a sense of purpose and meaning, pathways to dignity and integrity, pathways not so easy to find in the maze of the modern world in which traditions have been radically disrupted. My very first trip to East Africa took place when I was eight. I travelled through the portal of triangular postage due stamps issued by the Nyassa Company of Mozambique, then a Portuguese colony.   These stamps showed wildlife within their escalloped borders. I remember giraffes and zebras, each with a hint of the savannah behind them. These hints conveyed the vastness of the savannah and so, too, the existence of another world in which I was wholly absorbed. I would have loved to own these stamps, but knew better than to ask because I knew we did not have the money for such luxuries. So they remained in their glass case at Halle’s.   In retrospect this was a stroke of good fortune.   The imaginative experience remained free of the weight of concrete possession.   So it possessed me all the more deeply. I recently looked for these very stamps and found them figured on the internet, even as they still figure in my imagination....