Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Of late I’m impatient with children’s books. Though, thinking back, I remember I read Edgar Allan Poe in Spanish translation to Tallulah as she nursed, two or three months old, soliloquies in Hamlet as lullabies, and Sandra Cisneros’s La Casa en Mango Street before she was two, and she was happy. Lately she revealed an interest in The Odyssey, and sobbed uncontrollably when Beowulf died, and requested repeated chapters of The Sun Also Rises, intrigued by the fishing and the bullfighting and the drinking. (She knows from drunk mans.) She began to invent games featuring Lady Brett Ashley. Hemingway wrote some nice, simple, prose—like a kids’ book, kind of, yet so much more satisfying. (“Isn’t it pretty to think so?”) The Odyssey and Beowulf, though—they were meant to be spoken. The emotions and motivations emerge stark and spare, like hillsides of granite.

I took a walk to the ferry dock at an unaccustomed hour. It had gone dark. I passed the usual detritus, the plastic bags and go cups and empty Medallas shining under the streetlights. The wind was coming from the sea on the other side of the hill as I listened to the sound of the coquís, and one of the men playing dominoes outside the bar lifted his plastic cup of liquor and called out Hi, loudly in English.
Is it tristes tropiques, whatever those are, exactly? (I look up Levi-Strauss on the internet.) Are tristes tropiques like cruisebummers—that haunted sense of something missing, a void to be filled in paradise? I passed the house of a woman we’d known. She had died of cancer two days ago. She’d gone up to her old home in Vermont to die and because I never saw her leave I couldn’t shake the feeling that she hadn’t. I walked past the empty restaurant where a young chef we’d met had started working, when the tourists didn’t come to her restaurant up the hill.
Then I understood that melancholy was something I was looking out of, into the night--displacing it to this other world presumptuously from the world in my own head. The feeling that I don’t belong here, and I can tell, somehow, that I never will. And the places I’ve loved—are they closed to me, indefinitely? That’s the thing about wandering, for me, the intensified awareness that things are always changing and temporary, the craving for difference alternating with the need for certainty, some place that is safe and unchanging. Some place that I now know, and always will, does not exist and yet—like those beautiful archetypes—it is, it must be.

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