Wednesday, 8 April 2015

A Hazy Shade of Spring

In the morning as I am brushing my teeth, a scene flashes before my eyes: two little boys in a light green bumper car surrounded by autumn leaves waiting for someone to take them home. In the morning haze, I try to recollect the movie I saw before going to bed the previous night, and just then the haze slowly lifts. It wasn’t a movie but a book, part of a collection, Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano.

The unknowable, enigmatic past that we try to grasp forever. Events never reach any fruitful conclusion; people come and go, never to be heard from again; places disappear, not just from our memory, but also often physically. Yet, it is the one “true” story that we have. So we try to find a way out of the haze, thereby giving direction to our lives. 
Over breakfast I say, we’ll forget everything. (I say that often I realize.) So I start from some sort of a beginning. The door opened and you were standing there. But then what happened next? What were you wearing? Which book was I reading? What were they talking about? And then the days zoom by– blank upon blank.

All the photographs have been scanned and sorted. But what do they say? What does this photograph reveal? Smothered in roses and marigolds, she is standing next to her and he…he is looking towards– what or whom? What were they thinking? Why does mother appear to be smiling so ruefully? When does love begin, when does it end? Did they know? But they had just met.

She isn’t even in this photograph you add as a matter of fact.

But did they know then? What good is this collection of all these half-seen, half-heard, half-known things, if it only pushes us further into the haze?
“What would you know about this song? It’s from the 60’s.”

Is followed by a laugh that comes from a bellyful of warm soup and bread. He slowly shuffles away from the line singing along, “Baby, Baybee…” More laughs follow.

I dislike walking down this part of 28th street for reasons that are the pet peeves of those who walk the streets of New York, but for moments like these…that will perhaps become ‘sepia-tinted’ memories.
I seem to recognize your face
Haunting, familiar yet, I can't seem to place it
Cannot find the candle of thought to light your name
Lifetimes are catching up with me…

All these changes taking place...

Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away…
– Eddie Vedder, ‘Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town:

I see her standing next to the entryway of a Deli somewhere on 42nd and 9th. Dressed all in black except for the white hand-knitted headscarf. Frail body, but a steely erect spine. I notice her because she is standing at the exact point where the sunlight falls– all in black highlighted by the sun, while the rest of the street lies in shadows– the lazy brain has learnt to report photographic compositions. But today I am not seeking any more photographs or memories. Yet, looking at her I am reminded of Mrs. N.

Mrs. N in her classy chiffons leaving a trail of perfume. Mrs. N of the (what I always remember with a shiver as) cold mansion with massive glass cabinets filled with ceramic jars, crystal bowls and silver oddities. Mrs. N of the lavish Christmas Eve dinners. After dinner the guests in gratitude pocketed her silver tablespoons. She’ll hardly notice they thought. But she did. She was old, but even as a small child I knew, far from foolish.

The family has a black sheep who slips into the mansion at night and goes ‘baa, baa, baa’, they whispered. Never letting her rest in peace.

Mrs. N is dead, the newspapers reported. The police are looking at all possibilities, and for the moment have ruled out foul play.

In the only photograph of hers that I have, Mrs. N is wearing black.
Why should we recollect it all? Why can’t we just let the past lie as it is? Why must we understand everything?

A toddler wearing a woollen cap with a felted red rose is watching me intently. Her father is carrying her in his arms. She is carrying a stuffed giraffe in her hand. Towering above it all, with her head turned back she is looking at the world passing by. As I begin to think of another question why, she looks into my eyes and smiles.

Abandoning all reason, I smile back.
The blood moon has caused restlessness in the tide. The waves rush in, bang against the embankment, retreat and then return. Two gull are watching silently. The waterwheel– a creative evocation of the city’s past– turns slowly, the inscription next to it reads ‘Long Time’ and the descriptive arc engraved on it travels all the way from the big bang to the end of the earth (to be swallowed by a sun that has exhausted all its fuel). After Hurricane Sandy the counter has stopped recording the rotations. Such is the fate of all human endeavours. At some point they (should/must/can/will) stop.

How do we ever find our way?

The tide rushes in, bangs against the embankment and retreats again. The gulls rise, almost magnetically: 

Gonna rise up/ Find my direction magnetically:

“Such is the way of the world
You can never know
Just where to put all your faith
And how will it grow

Gonna rise up
Burning black holes in dark memories
Gonna rise up
Turning mistakes into gold

Such is the passage of time
Too fast to fold
Suddenly swallowed by signs
Low and behold

Gonna rise up
Find my direction magnetically
Gonna rise up
Throw down my ace in the hole”
–  Eddie Vedder, ‘Rise’

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