Download 7.05 Mb.Pdf ko'rish
- Bu sahifa navigatsiya:
- August 20 – Asnières
Mars is big this summer. And near. The blue and red planets have come within
hailing distance of one another. They did in the past too, long before we recorded what
we saw, back when our eyes were still stark naked. In another seventy thousand years
the orbits will come this close again. But not until then.
The Dullins, a Lyonnais family you met last summer, friends of Janet and Patrick,
spend every August in Périgord and invite you to join them for the annual gathering of
the Thiviers astronomical club. There’ll be a slide lecture, and afterward one and all
will have an opportunity to view Mars through a telescope. Thus your Opel takes its
place in the great caravan of cars winding its way up to the high field where the club
has set up its observatory.
The sun sets. You sit amidst a crowd of several hundred arrayed on the stubbly
pasture, watching and listening patiently, raptly even, to the unhurried unfolding of
several thousand years of Martian lore and, more recently, scientific study and
exploration. It’s an engaging presentation, and only when Gwen nudges you and
whispers in English how beautiful the moon looks peeking from behind a cloud bank
do you realize how much of the voice-over you’ve understood without trying.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 416
A picture of Orson Welles flashes on the screen surrounded by headlines of the
hysteria unleashed by radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds. The well of fear must
have gone very deep in order for a hoax news broadcast of an invasion from Mars to set
off the reaction it did. It hits you suddenly, an obvious thing you’d never considered
before: the present moment is not the first time Americans have responded to
perceived dangers from within or without by flying into a panic. We have a history of
absurd, grotesque misestimations of objective threat.
What could possibly be the origin of this vast water table of collective fear? You
sense it has something to do with a buried past in which so many of us were displaced
children. You feel stupid not being able to put your finger on it. Out there in the
kosmos lies a no-brainer just beyond your grasp. An image comes of your grandfather
Meyer riding the tram in Paris. It’s 1905 and he’d walked across Europe from Kalish.
What was he, nineteen? And then his voice, old as you remember it: “Vat are you
scared of, Charlie?”
When the show is over, Gwen and the two Dullin daughters disappear into a
tent-planetarium set up for the children, and the adults queue up for the telescope.
Word passes down the line that the atmospheric conditions tonight are not optimal for
viewing Mars. So instead, the instrument has been trained on the moon. You lower
your expectations and anticipate the familiar view, just a bit closer-up this time. But as
you put your eye to the lens, it literally fills with an astonishingly detailed and
luminous terrain, almost painfully bright. As you step down off the platform, you
shake your head in wonderment. Right away you feel it. The image has gone deep.
At the abbey church at Cadoin, Katie draws an exquisite Virgin Mary, one of the
few intact sculptures in the area, ravaged as it was by the Hundred Years War and the
religious conflicts that came after. The church and cloister, and all the buildings in this
area are made of a rich, yellow-ochre sandstone. The sun angles low as you leave, and
you remark on the peculiar pattern of conical erosion, like pockmarks, on the lower part
of the church’s facade. And then it occurs to you that these are more than likely the
evidence of a more recent war, one that seems evermore part of a remote and absolute
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 417
• • •
Unbelievable heat. Taking refuge in the air-conditioned Monoprix in Périgueux,
you buy Renaud’s latest CD. Now toute la famille can listen to “Docteur Renaud, Mister
Renard” in compensation for being stuck behind caravans of vacationers head to and
from Bordeaux along the N89. Track five, “Manhattan-Kaboul,” is the song Katie
anticipates while the first four play. It’s Renaud’s cri de coeur over 9/11 and the
invasion of Afghanistan, a duet with the clear-voiced young Belgian singer Axelle Red.
Gwen also scores “Chihuahua,” a novelty mambo she saw the video of on the hotel TV
in Venice. She’s pined for the single ever since – though it’s all over the airwaves, the
pan-European tube de l’été. Now she can hear it 24/7. Wonder if her friends back home
are listening to it. Hard to imagine it getting any airplay there at all. Such a fearlessly
silly, self-mocking, life-affirming song.
For the past seven mornings you’ve walked barefoot from your room downstairs
to the terrace, laptop under your arm, your soles encountering four distinct textures and
temperatures along the way. Each time you sat writing at the stone table, Mme.
Jacqueline, also barefoot, snuck up on you with a little tray of coffee, cake and
homemade confiture. The two of you have a little game going, of seeing how close she
can get before you register she’s there. Today the thought organizes itself in your mind
that in these moments while you still hold off the tide of the day, you have felt more at
peace than at any time these past two years.
Villa des Courtissous is not, in fact, Paradise. The D704 runs only a hundred
meters off to your right, and from behind the screen of pines, it is possible to hear the
hiss of cars. Occasionally air is fragranced with cow manure drifting over from the
farm just the other side of the wall behind the pool. But this place, and the
consideration with which you are treated here, has gradually worked to undercut your
reflexive state of alarm.
A South African family’s been staying for a few days. The mother teaches
Afrikaans at a public school near Capetown. In middle age, she still possesses the air of
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 418
up from your iBook as she climbed out and you greeted one another with an exchange
of waves. But today you listen to her rhythmic splashes, her crawl, breaststroke, then
backstroke, then silence.
August 11. Psychologically you are still half geared up for a repeat of last year’s
phone call. In the early, deeply somnolent hours of the morning after Katie’s birthday
on the 12th, the cell chirped on the nightstand and her brother, via satellite, announced
that their mother had suffered a stroke. The phone’s electronic riff – soon inextricably
associated with Peter’s evermore despairing calls from Wilma’s bedside – eventually
triggered so much anxiety in Katie, and nausea in you, that you changed the ring tone
to a playful warble called “natural” – something like what the Emperor’s nightingale
must have sounded like. But however much you assert control over a host of
particularities, at the drop of a hat, so much energy still rushes out to counter – what?
The tranquility of this place feels strange, anomalous to a harsher, more saw-
toothed, and presumably truer nature of things. It’s foolish, risky, to try to claim on
behalf of yourself and Katie and Gwen these moments of surcease from the fray, to
suspend for howeverlong you may the pervasive sense of another shoe about to drop
off a centipede. On top of which, you find it disconcerting to be so well taken care of.
Not very Manhattan. Well, not your Manhattan. A voice in you head says: The three of
Just like last year, you spent Katie’s birthday canoeing down la Vésère – though
you make twice as long a trip this time, from Montignac to St. Léon, and the river’s
notably shallower from the drought. Again, a sumptuous dinner beneath the umbrellas
at Le Petit Léon.
The heat kept you up into the early hours, but after you fell asleep on your damp
sheets, no phone call awakened you.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 419
Assumption. Today the Virgin Mary ascends to heaven. And the canicule
breaks, at least for now. The Sud Ouest puts the number of heat-related deaths at 3,000.
On the front page, a picture of crews in Paris raking up enormous quantities of fallen
leaves “en plein été.” After yesterday’s cloud cover and last night’s rainstorm, the
terrace floor is cool enough to invite you to put on your sandals. But you decline,
preferring the smoothness of the stone beneath your feet. Going barefoot outdoors still
feels like a luxury. Mme. Jacqueline brings you coffee, madelines and confiture – comme
d’habitude, she whispers.
You write, cut and paste, and re-write, struggling over the story of the two
Wenceslas statues. Why is it so difficult to find clear, descriptive language? Is it
because Prague reminds you of your city – the old, still-vital New York City, before it
started keeling over like a dead horse? But has it really, or is it just that an
accumulation of traumas keep you from seeing it clearly any more? No – that doesn’t
describe the situation. The fact is that when you look at New York, you see what it
could be – the way someone like Woody Guthrie saw the whole country and imagined
it fair and just and decent to itself and others. Undriven by greed. Pastures of plenty –
for all. With our resources and energy, we ought to live in the most humane,
enlightened city in the world. A place no one would think of bombing because it would
be such a crime against the life force within their own souls. Silly bugger. Here you sit
in the middle of La France Profonde and what plays in your mind is the voice of Mavis
Staples, scratchy as on your ancient 45:
Time passes. When M. Jean appears, it is as a silhouette and it literally dawns on
you that the sun has risen over the treetops and your right shoulder is damp with
sweat. New York, he tells you, is experiencing a huge blackout, une grand panne
d’électricité, along with the much of the eastern third of the country and up into
Canada. Fifty million people without power. Which explains why the circuits were
busy when Gwen tried to call her friend Daphne last night.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 420
M. Jean feels compelled, on your behalf, to turn on the huge TV in his living
room and search for news. It soon becomes apparent that CNN is down – a salt and
pepper noise and static roar has taken its place. The closest representation to be found
of your mère patrie is an episode of “Married With Children” dubbed into French. Al
Bundy stares into the camera, utterly confounded. M. Jean continues to channel-surf.
Ah, Bloomberg News – in German. Beneath commodity prices, the headlines crawl by:
the blackout covers the same area as one that shut down the Niagara-Mohawk power
grid in 1965. Not terrorism, says Bush. Right. Al Bundy’s face cycles round again, still
dumbstruck, then suddenly bursts into delight at some venal epiphany.
You thank M. Jean and walk back out onto the terrace. Here you are, deep, deep
in the heart of someplace else. You’ve actually managed to miss a significant New York
event. Is it possible your fate and your city’s are not inextricable after all?
• • •
Windows up, AC pumping, you cruise through the desiccated Périgord
countryside. Gwen sorts through the CDs, hands you the Beach Boys anthology you
bought in the Monoprix. Slide it in and crank it. And she’ll have fun fun fun till her daddy
takes the T-Bird away.
Last night, with the Virgin safely ascended to heaven, Katie told you she no
longer feels like an American. The return to Paris for her will be like a homecoming,
she said. A few nights ago she dreamed she was back in New York. Her circumstances
were comfortable enough, yet she woke up in a panic. The two of you have shifted
positions these last eighteen months. After 9/11 and the bombing of Afghanistan, she
dug her heels in while you desperately tried to convince her to consider a move to
Europe, however temporary – something you’d been agitating for since long before the
planes flew into the towers. Now she’s not sure she can stand to go back.
But this summer, the length and breadth of your travels, has shown you clearly
what leaving the states would cost – in every way. Beyond all else, you’ve got a lifetime
of practice invested in your language instrument. You’ve honed, to the highest degree
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 421
having to begin from infancy again! Je suis un écrivain américain…
And then there are these notes.
In two days you leave for Paris – nous duvons partir. As usual, you began to pack
in advance, in part as a way of shifting your mind into a transitional gear. As you slid
flyers and keepsakes into the meshed pocket of your valise, you felt the familiar shape
of your watch and pulled it out – saw the second hand moving. Reset the hour and
date and left it on the desk. When you came back from dinner, it was bang on time.
Afternoon. M. Jean invites you down to his cave, of which he is unabashedly
proud. Nicely vaulted, the cellar seems to have been built before the house was burned.
What you don’t know about wine would fill volumes. Still, it’s an impressive array he’s
gathered. Lining a ridge on the walls, wooden crate ends branded with impressions of
a score of famous vintages. You raise your eyebrows at the sight, and he catches you
out, laughs puckishly. He bought the crates at a brocante he says, since he could never
afford the wine. Then he gives you a snapshot he took last week of you on the terrace,
at work on your laptop, the breakfast tray cleaned of pastries. A silly smile, but there’s
no denying it, you look happy.
You leave Villa des Courtissous at seven in the morning to catch your train from
Brive to Paris. At the door, Mme. presents you and Katie each with a little brocade
sackful of walnuts harvested from the trees on their property. She also gives Gwen a
tiny book, not much larger than a postage stamp and with a spine about three
sixteenths of an inch thick. On the cover, a brightly colored cubist portrait of young
woman, somewhat androgynous. The book is a micro-edition of the Universal
articles compressed into two score ultra-thin pages. On the inside front cover, Mme.
has written: Souvenir de Villa des Courtissous, le 19/8/2003 – Jacky.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 422
• • •
On the train you open the tiny book and your pocket dictionary and attempt to
read Gwen the first article. Tous les êtres humains naissent libres et égaux en dignité et en
droits.… All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.… Il sont doués
de raison et de conscience et doivent agir les uns envers les autres dans un espirit de fraternité.
They are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act toward one another in a
spirit of brotherhood.
But the sun pours warm through the compartment window, and so halting is
your translation that, by the time you finish, she’s fallen peaceably asleep.
Two months seemed an oceanic stretch not long ago – now your time has irised
down to two handsworth of days. At the presse in the station near your hotel you buy a
copy of Libération, then make for Le Rallye, just across the square. The lead story: a
huge explosion at the UN compound in Baghdad, one that nullifies indefinitely any
possible international effort there. Turn the page. Another Hammas leader and several
bystanders killed by missiles fired from an Israeli helicopter into a car driving through
the streets of Gaza. Tomorrow’s paper, or the next day’s will, almost certainly, report
the suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus or a Tel Aviv café. Page 3: a would-be
conqueror worm tried to gobble up the internet. None of it is really news.
You’re running out of clean clothes again, so the three of you walk through the
echoing passageway under the tracks to the Courbevoie side and the more cheerful
launderette. By mistake you push a button on the washing machine that will cause it to
run for nearly an hour. With unexpected time on your hands, you make for the park,
situated on a bluff over the river. Below, cars rush along the Quai Maréchal Joffre.
Here the highway traces the course of the Seine as it loops northeast and divides to flow
around the Île de la Grande Jatte. From this vantage, you can see the tops of the Eiffel
and Montparnasse towers over the line of buildings on the opposite bank.
Closer by, at the upper perimeter of the park, flanked by benches and flower
beds, stands a stone sculpture of Psyche and Eros. The immortals disport with
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 423
formerly upraised and entwined, but what does it matter? It’s a small thing in the face
of such passion – ce n’est pas grave.
Katie and Gwen sit on a bench and translate their way through a book you
picked up in FNAC the other day, a crime-solving game for kids, lavishly illustrated
with famous paintings in both authentic and subtly-altered versions. The idea is that a
gang of art forgers has called into question the entire collection of a great fictional
museum by brashly substituting a series of fakes for the true masterpieces. Each fake
has been altered in the style of particular gang member whom the reader must identify
in order to solve the mystery and save the museum from disgrace. A plastic
magnifying glass attached to a ribbon bound into the book aids the young detective in
Gwen reads aloud in French and it sneaks up on you how much she’s learned
and how fluid and accurate her phrases sound. You leave the scene of the investigation
and stroll in the park, kicking your way through the carpet of dried leaves you read
about back in Périgord. No exaggeration. In the countryside, says Libération, the
canicule has occasioned the earliest harvest since 1893. There’ll be a premature
vendange too, but the fast-ripened grapes should yield exceptionally good wines.
You make your way along a shaded path perpendicular to the main esplanade,
and fall to reading the little plastic signs identifying the trees. As you walk on, you
realize that without any fanfare, this modest suburban park comprises an arboretum
gathered from afar: Algeria, Vietnam, Brazil – even darkest California. You wind
down to the base of the garden where a bed of highly disciplined plantings stretches
nearly to the highway. Then you climb the formal staircase back up toward your
detective girls and the statue of the trysting principles of love.
On the wall of the landing just below the terrace there’s a plaque dedicating the
park to General Leclerc. His profile is carved in low relief and he wears a kepi, the
visored, cylindrical military hat you associate with de Gaulle and the gendarmerie.
Incised beneath the Maréchal’s likeness, a pronouncement uttered from Morocco in
1941: “We will not lay down our arms until the tricolor, the beautiful tricolor, flies over
the spire of Strasbourg cathedral.”
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 424
To some modest extent, you understand the spirit of his words. You’ve been
there, Strasbourg that is. You walked up, or rather round and up, the two hundred and
ninety steps to the tower. You stuck your hands out and ran your fingertips along the
red sandstone harpes de pierre, craned over the banister and spotted the most recondite
chimera – the beasts and man-beasts the masons carved high up to please no one but
themselves. You grasp and then let go, the sense of something kindred that loosely
knits across gaps of time and culture in a world where your insignificance shifts for
itself among seven billion other insignificances. Where you vie for some sort of brief
equilibrium between what you are alive to, and that which you do not – cannot –
imagine. Small moments in the groove.
Sunday, First Day they call it, and you attend Quaker meeting in a basement
room on the Rue Vaugirard, the longest street in Paris. One of the elders is a retired
professor of American Studies. You leaf through a book of her essays and your eye falls
on a quote by her mentor Bernard Vincent:
creating have all, at one time or another, been affected by the temptation of isolation,
isolationism, parochialism, self-sufficiency, and other forms of imperviousness to, or ignorance of
external, distant foreign influences.
Against the ever-present background of the American quest for identity, this insular and
sometimes almost autistic obsession has naturally met, over the years, with various forms of
criticism and resistance, both inside and outside the U.S.
Autism, that’s a powerful word and it hits you like the heel of a hand against
your forehead. Il a raison. How and where did we catch it? And what to do now?
This last night you will spend in town at the Hôtel du Quai Voltaire the better to
uncomplicate the trip to the airport tomorrow. So you trundle your luggage out the
door and down Rue Sablière, across the plaza to the station and the train that will take
you into Gare St-Lazare. But not before an exchange of hugs with M. Claude and
Emilia and a snapshot of them standing with Gwen and Katie in front of the hotel. We
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 425
prochaine!” and over your shoulder you echo the phrase.
As the train nears St-Lazare, you try for a photo through the window of a bright
red and yellow graffiti tag painted in a coffer of the railway embankment by an artist
who uses the nom-de-spray Cham. It cheers you up every time you pass it: the fat,
rounded letters of the artist’s name morphing into a near life-size cartoon camel.
Hopefully you got the shot straight on. The proof is in the pudding. You’ll see when
you develop the film back home.
All three of you take a mid-day nap at the hotel, then in the afternoon, head off to
a museum you’ve never visited before, the Jacquemart André, on Boulevard
Haussmann in the 8th Arrondisement near Parc Monceau.
A real Second Empire mansion this place. Extraordinary paintings too: a couple
of absolutely wild Giandomenico Tiepolos – huge, half-beautiful, half hideous.
Portraits by Hals and Rembrandt, and the latter’s tiny masterpiece of Christ at Emmaus.
The rush of the presence of what you’ve only seen in reproduction. And then a strange,
unfamiliar Van Dyck: an ancient, wizened man, his face contorted with hate, enacts a
terrible, shadowed mutilation upon a plump infant who struggles in the patriarch’s iron
grasp. A scythe lies to one side at the old man’s feet, and at the other, a skull. And
then, on second glance it comes to you that the victim is no ordinary child. “Le Temps
coupe les ailes de l’Amour” the catalogue reads. Time clipping the wings of love. Ah,
now it all makes sense.
customary distance. Red planet virtually twinned with blue.
• • •
Download 7.05 Mb.
Do'stlaringiz bilan baham:
ma'muriyatiga murojaat qiling