Download 7.05 Mb.Pdf ko'rish
- Bu sahifa navigatsiya:
- July 26
- July 27 – To Nuremberg
- July 28 – To Strasbourg
- July 31 – Saline d’Arc et Senans
The Synagogue museum is a cabinet of curiosities, wherein one finds a sampling
of medieval Kabbalistic texts. Interpretations of the alphabet, discussions of the
transmigration of souls, and the sephirot – those emanations by which God creates and
rules the world. To Empedocles’s four elements the mystics added the qualities of
permeability by light, hence translucent air, opaque fire, transparent water.
In one 17th Century engraving, a bearded Jew dances with the Devil and a fox.
Another depicts the great fire of 1679.
Amidst display cases filled with Nazi-era artifacts, one tiny object strikes your
eye: a special postage issue used for mailing parcels to Terezin (Theresenstadt). The
stamp shows a farmhouse nestled in rolling hills, the scene overarched by billowing,
cumulous clouds. Printed in teal green monochrome, the imagery is undulant as a
landscape by Grant Wood. So much so that even knowing what you do, you feel an
urge to vanish through the picture’s plane and live inside this idyll.
• • •
The traffic lights make a peculiar accelerating, agitated sound as they switch
colors: green to red, red to green, as though a mechanical bird were flapping its wings
inside the steel boxes, trying to take flight.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 406
A city of the young, on the make, seekers after the great Skoda Fabia RS in the
sky. Not many folks your age around. How could a family afford to live here?
Extraordinary faces on the few old Praguers you do see, as though their inner life’s
distilled down to a single fixed expression: impassive, astonished, shell-shocked.
• • •
Moldavite gems everywhere, jewelry and crystals: deep green stone – legacy of a
meteorite that hit down south fifteen million years before a Jew danced, an official
defenestrated, a traffic light flapped, or Franz and Max stepped out on the town.
• • •
Velvet brand beer – dark, smooth, a good deal less robust than Staropramen.
Named for the revolution?
Food’s good. Whipped cream on meat! Who’d a’ thunk it?
A day of music appreciation starting with morning coffee. Low but steady
against the rise and ebb of room noise, the radio at Odkolek plays a song you’ve heard a
thousand times. At first you pay no attention, but then you notice a subtle alteration in
the phrasing of the lyrics. Get up and go over to the counter to listen more closely. The
young woman who made your coffee and bagged your pastries assumes naturally
enough that you want to order something else. So you smile, point to your ear, then at
the radio. She smiles too, but probably thinks he’s barmy.
Apart from the refrain, “pretty woman,” the words are indecipherable. Yet the
vocalist’s timbre and intonation – in fact the whole arrangement – is so authentic-
sounding that you consider for a moment the possibility that Roy Orbison recorded the
original in Czech and version you grew up with is a cover.
Noon approaches and you wait with Katie and Gwen amidst the crowd in the
old town square for Master Hanus’s astronomical clock to chime and set the automaton
figures in motion for their allegorical play. The throng parts as a van drives slowly
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 407
empty gas bottles out and rolling new ones inside. They’ve left the cab doors open, and
you hear the dashboard radio thumping a familiar bass line, and skittering over it, a
raspy, sassy, woman’s voice. It only takes a couple of bars to register “These Boots are
Made for Walking” in its spot-on accurate Bohemian emulation.
Later still, over dinner in a little pizzeria near your apartment, the sound of
another radio drifts in from the kitchen. As though by a conditioned reflex you
recognize Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly.” But once again, it is and isn’t.
The waitress seems a sympathetic soul. Does she somehow intuit your
disconcertion, the ambivalence occasioned by your last night in Prague? She suggests
you and Katie finish your meal with a becherovka. You look at one another. Sure why
not? Just say “Ano” – one of six Czech words you’ve managed to learn in five days.
When your glass is drained, you have the opportunity to exchange nearly all of them.
“Uchet prokim,” you say. The waitress nods. “De-equay,” she says, and as you leave,
“Nashledanou.” That’s a bit much for you to manage in return. But you think she
understands your “S’bohem.” It’s an easy word, one you could get used to.
makes the experience less than pleasant is the way the flimsy plastic seat lid bangs
against your back every time the train takes a curve. You push it away repeatedly, as if
it were the arm of an overfriendly stranger in a bar. It is only when you stand up and
wash your hands that you notice the metal clip that would have enabled you to secure
the lid to the wall. Everywhere new codes, new lessons in perception. Everywhere new
opportunities to adapt.
• • •
So often these past couple of years, you sense that the world has become a china
shop and you have mutated into a bull. However deliberate and careful you try to be,
every time you move, your ears are alarmed by the crash of crystal shattering. And
then, of course, you twitch in response. You’ve not an ounce of cool left in you.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 408
July 28 – To Strasbourg
On the train between Manheim and Karlsruhe, a shift in the internal landscape.
Or, more accurately, a lifting of veils, as though cataracts had dissolved and your eyes,
and perhaps other occluded organs as well, reassumed a once-customary, but nearly
forgotten directness of experience.
You had a preview of this yesterday as the train approached Nürnberg: the
rolling shapes of the hillsides echoed one another in subtle modulations – dark to light,
near to farther green. How fast and clear the waters of the streams you rode over
seemed to flow.
Now as you near Baden Baden you notice an object too far off to make out
clearly. It hangs suspended, a bit up from the far treeline, flashing sunlight. Does it
move? If so, it travels slowly. Blimp, some part of you thinks. But how and why here
in the countryside? There’s something in this moment about the dance of the possible
and the impossible, but you don’t try to unpack it, just let your mood lift. Certain
substances are like your spirit at times, they defy gravity.
The train stops in Kehl, but not for long. The conductor’s whistle sounds. Rails
carry you across the river and into France.
gorgeously colored projections onto the cathedral’s facade syncopated by illuminations
of the windows from within – has the quality of an ancient, still vivid dream. Sitting
with your family at a smooth wooden table in this little café, tugging apart your
croissant, the rhythm of yesterday’s train wheels comes back – adduces, in retrospect, a
sensation you couldn’t fully register at the time: such a palpable relief to see, above the
passing housetops, the first tricolor on the French side of the border. Nothing special
about it, just a piece of cloth flapping from a pole atop a mairie. You’re not much for
nations or their symbols, and this flag comes bundled with as much baggage as any
other. But there it was, an unmistakable, altogether unexpected lightening of the heart.
You felt another turning too, an emanation out of the ground: Alsace retaken by French
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 409
In the shadow of the cathedral, the market peace. You buy hats for yourself and
Gwen, who, perhaps sympathetically, lost hers as well. Her new hat looks even better
than the one it replaces. It’s navy blue with little zippered pockets on each side of the
crown – a style that falls somewhere between Vietnam Ranger, le golfing, and the young
LL Cool J.
Yours is a visored cap, black at the band, transmuting to a kind of warm brick
orange at the crown. Katie swears it suits you more than your vanished khaki Goddard
cap. Pure color on this one, chromas in transition. No logos, no identifiable marks or
• • •
Pedal to the metal from Strasbourg toward Lyon in your dark gray Opel Vectra.
You’d hoped for the same model Renault you had last year, but this was the closest
thing to it. The Opel’s a real gas guzzler, but the seats are comfortable and it’s stable on
the road. Time for lunch. You pull off the A36 at Aire de Champoux Besançon and
spot an empty picnic table. While Katie and Gwen unpack the cheese, bread, tomatoes
and fruit you head for the cafeteria to buy a coffee.
Walking there, the brightness makes you squint, and you hear more clearly the
respectively higher and deeper whiz-whines of the passing cars and lorries just beyond
the scrim of trees. A cloud covers the sun momentarily and you open your eyes. A
man squats by the open door of a red Peugeot pouring water from a liter bottle into a
bowl for his curly little dog. Another man sits at a picnic table, but your view of him is
blocked by the back of the woman facing him, straddling his legs. Her hair is short and
blondish. They enjoy a nearly motionless, unhurried kiss.
On your return trip you notice a woman with a thickening waist and brown hair
up in a ponytail. She leans against the hood of a silver Renault with a bison luggage
rack clamped to its roof feeding a newborn from a bottle. When she pulls the nipple
away, the baby begins to cry, twisting fretfully in its yellow onesie. The father, sitting
in the driver’s seat, sticks his hand out the window and wiggles his fingers to distract
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 410
against the car hood.
The couple at the picnic table remains glued together. Who knows when this
kiss began or when it will end? You brush your right hand up over your forehead and
back across your crown. It’s an old gesture, from when you had more hair, and a
forelock that occasionally got in your way. Why did you suddenly revive a once-
familiar movement, its utility definitively past? Hard to account for. But one thing’s
sure. You don’t know which time you’re living in, do you?
The great saltworks of Claude Nicolas Ledoux. For years you’ve seen this place
in prints, read references in books and now your feet kick up fine gravel dust along its
calibrated paths. The same bloke who ringed Paris in those silly tax gatehouses
designed this too. His boss, Louis XIV, past master of architectural control, also
possessed a more than passing interest in the politics of salt.
This was to be a single-product factory. But more than that, a town designed on
ideal lines. Here every aspect of its population’s life and labor would be taken into
account, all things provided for, all energies rationalized, distilled into the functions of a
unified machine. What’s science but efficiency? Build your town by a forest so fuel is
close to hand. Divert a river while you’re at it. Far easier to shift water to woods than
Ledoux drew out a vast circle of uniform stone buildings – workshops, stores
and living quarters – evenly spaced around the town’s perimeter. “Its form is pure like
that described by the sun during its course.” From dead center, spoke-like avenues
radiated out from the Director’s house, symbolic of the King’s all-seeing eye. “Nothing
escapes surveillance. A hundred eyes open, while another hundred doze. Keen pupils
relentlessly scour the restless night.” With such perfected sightlines, happy the worker
with nothing to hide. “The eye surveys the shortest line with ease. Work proceeds
down it quickly and the burden of the worker is lightened.”
It is possible, of course, to be rational in the particulars and stark mad in the
whole. Everywhere you look, symbols of the saltworks hewn into the masonry and so
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 411
without constant reminder one would forget one’s place and purpose.
But Arc et Senans never came fully on-line. It took so long to build it that in the
intervening years efficiencies in salt production leaped ahead, outstripped the
advantages of centralized production. Obsolescence unplanned, Ledoux’s wheel-city
ended up a semi-circle. Very little salt was made here, in this half-built, half-ruined
It’s hot as blazes. No real trees in this utopia. Set for a spell in the shadow of the
massive gatehouse looking toward the Director’s building. There’s an oculus built into
the pediment, like a cyclops staring you down.
Normally you don’t get these recorded audio devices, but this one’s been worth,
literally, its salt. Not least for the quote from Ledoux it just intoned in your ear. Did he
really say that? Rewind. Playback again. Write it down.
Holy cow. And maybe he believed it too.
Besançon, home of the world famous astronomical clock that shows the tides in a
dozen far-flung ports, complete with ships tossed on painted waves moved by hidden
gears and crankshafts. This is the clock that resurrects Christ at noon and shuts him
back up in the tomb at three. An astonishing array of timekeeping modes from the
immediate to the impossibly distant. One hand marks leap centuries – it moves a tick
every four hundred years. And it was there, two days ago, in the presence of this
glorious mechanism that you noticed your watch had stopped dead at five to eleven.
The classiest Swatch ever made – an Irony, with a chromed metal casing. Bought for
you by Katie twelve years ago in a Geneva airport’s duty-free shop and taken for
granted ever since.
Today, when you reach Brive, you park near the central square and walk off in
search of a battery, optimistic even though it’s lunchtime. And there’s a jewelry shop
open – will wonders never cease? – in an understated, air-conditioned mini-mall just off
the market square. The lab-coated clerk changes the battery, but the hands won’t
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 412
lifespan, “c’est poubelle.” In one smooth ensemble of motions, her toe depresses the
pedal of the garbage bin, the lid flies up and she suspends your watch, its strap end
held lightly between her thumb and forefinger, over the chasm. She cocks her head
questioningly. You explain that the watch has sentimental value, and she returns it to
you with a good humored shrug. Chacun à son delusion you can almost hear her think.
Into your pocket it goes, and later, into a zippered compartment in your luggage. It’s
turning to a ghost on your wrist now, visible only in its pallid shape set against the sun-
August 5 – Saint-Rabier
You had counted on accommodations at Janet and Patrick’s new house, but the
truth is, neither your presumptive hosts nor the place itself are in any condition to
receive guests, so after two days of uncertain plumbing and strained friendship, your
tribe of three decamps to Villa des Courtissous. Intense sticker shock over the room
rate, particularly since you hadn’t imagined staying in a hotel for this leg of the journey.
But then M. Jacques and Mme. Jacqueline have softened the blow by only charging for
two. Gwen’s gratuit, breakfast’s included. And then begin the intangibles. The
moment you pulled into the driveway, the three of you felt the tranquility of the place
as a palpable thing and fixed on it like a magnet.
Drive down to dinner beneath the trees at La Mule Blanche in La Mule Blanche.
At the close of the meal, the waitress trundles the cheese cart out onto the terrace. You
choose three pieces: chèvre, St. Nectaire and a local variety shot with blue. As she cuts
this last one, she spots a little fly that has drowned itself in the fromage blanc. With a
light, swift movement, she dips a spoon, removes the fly and wipes it on a towel lying
on the shelf below, perhaps for just such a purpose. Absorbed in the play of evening
light, Katie has not noticed any of this. When she orders the fromage blanc, you almost
reach across the table to touch her wrist, alert her. Reflexively. But to what? The fly is
gone. No real cause for alarm.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 413
On the lawn between the side entrance and the swimming pool lies a piece of
white limestone about two meters across, a meter high, and perhaps half a meter deep.
Extravagantly ornamented with scrolls, it looks like a fragment of an arch over a
colonnade or else a door lintel. Where does it come from? Katie asks M. Jean. It’s a
remnant of the building’s original masonry. During the war, the Nazis learned that a
group of Jewish children were being harbored in the villa and leveled it with the
occupants inside. Incendiary shells, he says.
Later you read that in March 1944, fighting between the maquisards and the 2nd
S.S. Panzer Division raged through the district. Local resistance centered in La Mule
Blanche, the unprepossessing collection of buildings six kilometers to the south at the
junction of the D704 and N89, the latter serving as the main east-west military supply
route. Nowadays a steady stream of civilian traffic whizzes straight past the
crossroads. Nothing much to draw the attention besides the restaurant’s painted
emblem of a coquettishly-winking white mule.
Difficult to imagine the S.S. headquartered just down the road from where you
sit. Or, on the far side of those hills, tanks pummeling Château Rastignac into rubble.
Like Villa des Courtissous, Rastignac has been rebuilt. But the expropriated paintings –
the Degas, Cezannes and Mondrians – never returned. Nor did those deported, the
family whose ancestors had lived in the château since the eighteenth century. In all
probability, they passed through Lyon, before traveling farther east than you’ve been
this trip. On rail lines that probably passed close by Prague. If not through it.
You write these notes on the broad front terrace overlooking the lawn with its
white stone fragment and the swimming pool. The view’s cut off from where you sit,
but if you got up and went to the rail you would see them – your family’s towels hung
over the pool’s balustrade, drying. Three terrycloth American flags in a row. When
Mme. Jacqueline handed them to you in a neatly folded pile, you nearly recoiled, but
sensed from her affect that the gesture was motivated by an underlying warmth. Later
she said she’d hoped they would make you feel “welcome and at home” in France, as
she has in the U.S. Before they restored the villa and started running it as a chambre
d’hôte, M. Jean and Mme. Jacqueline visited friends in Fort Meyers every year or so,
and often, en route, spent a few days in New York. They’ve toured Ellis Island and
Harlem, took a helicopter ride around lower Manhattan. Right. You’ve seen on one of
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 414
World Trade Center from a seagull’s coign of vantage, taken on a cloudy day.
This morning’s sky is very clear, but it will soon become breathlessly hot. La
Nothing shaking anywhere but the lightest possible breeze through the treetops
between the villa and the road. Upward you rise until you hang suspended in the
basket of a great white balloon. Your view is split and unified. There’s your craft from
afar, as though it’s a dot on a postcard’s blue, yet in the same instant, you can look
down from precisely where it flies. That’s how you locate yourself – the shadow of
balloon and basket passing over the tiled roof of Strasbourg cathedral. Someone waves
to you from the platform of the spire. The figure, distinct in the twilight, is too small to
identify, but you’re pretty sure it’s Goethe. Which thought causes you to laugh out
loud. The sky above is a dome, and you lean back the better to look up into it. When
you pull the balloon’s cords, if the wind is right, you can almost guide it in the direction
you want to go.
Forest fires, deadly ones, sweep across southern Europe. And drought up north.
For the past several days, from ten-thirty on, like clockwork, blindingly hot.
In the evening, you drive to Montignac and eat on the terrace of one of Gwen’s
favorite restaurants. From here you can see la Vésère as it flows by, nearly a meter
shallower than this time last year.
Mid-meal, out of nowhere, comes a gust of wind, then another, and you notice
banks of clouds massing up on the southern horizon. A shower of dry leaves falls and
you think: ah, the first breath of autumn, but the gusts persist, grow stronger, and soon
greener leaves lie scattered on the flagstones too. You pick one up and plant the stem in
your empty water bottle. With the next gust, the leaf whirls in place like a gyroscope.
You’ve gotten into the habit of writing early mornings on the front terrace
overlooking the pool. This time, Mme. brought you a little tray of coffee, madelines
freshly baked, and her own cherry confiture. She approached so silently you saw her
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 415
smelled the coffee first.
From time to time, flights of a dozen or more tiny birds wheel overhead. You
stretch out full length on the stone bench. Above, the shutters against the white stucco,
two shades deeper than the lightening sky. Apart from the birds, cloudless blue. At the
topmost edge of your peripheral vision, the villa’s pediment and entrance portico. If
you roll your eyes downward, beyond the tip of your nose, a spray of black lace formed
by the silhouettes of the treetops. The bench is still cool. Two hours before the heat sets
Very high above, traversing the oculus of the dome, a bright glint. Reason tells
you it’s an airliner heading toward Bordeaux, metal skin reflecting the rays. But just
now, you credit it as the gesture of some thing moving beyond the world you know.
• • •
Download 7.05 Mb.
Do'stlaringiz bilan baham:
ma'muriyatiga murojaat qiling