Skip to content

Posts from the ‘nor form, nor outline; yet we feel it is’ Category

nourriture.

I’ve been writing elsewhere, in silence, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it is the fantasy of secrecy; perhaps mere shyness. But does reason matter? What matters is: I’ve abandoned this place for far too long, and I miss this broader and more treacherous home.

Certain things are perfect. (I am not one of them, but even this is a matter of perspective; given enough times, everything disintegrates into the necessary.) Today the rain was perfect, and perfect was the day, and there was even something perfect in the sugared glass and metal tissue and throbbing lights of the car accident that slowed my slow way home.

Thanksgiving is next week. Last Thanksgiving M. was three weeks into a three month caging in a windowless detention center; this Thanksgiving it will be enough to spend together. And there is so much more, from the growing being in the belly of my sister to my marriage and slow shuffle east, from this house and our home and our hurrying business to our move and our love and our everything.

Still, no matter how much I give it, the past gulps down each new day as if starving. How can anyone stand living at the brink of the world? I keep peering over the edge, and it is dizzying.

solstice.

Today the sun stood still in declination; today the world only slivered before the coming of the night; today tonight rushed forth in happy ecstasy; today, or now, dawn is nearly here.

It’s four in the morning, and my nocturned self is gratefully watching another sleeping, finally, beneath the weight of a heavy past. It’s four, and I can only breathe.

vin.

At the end of today’s walk I stopped in at wineshop a mile or two from home. I’d never noticed it before. The sign out front offered tastings on Saturdays, and who am I to decline a gift of fate?

The bespectacled old man behind the counter–the owner, as it turned out–was a wizened caricature of Frenchness; his heavy accent was accented not only by a beret, but a black and white striped shirt. He poured as generously as he talked.

I left with two bottles, both old and storied. Walking back, the bag balanced precariously on my hip, I wondered into whose bellies–or cellars–the rest of each Italian barrel had been tipped. (I wondered this at yesterday’s dinner, too, over a plate of veal: who had the rest of the calf fed? Who else had it become?) It is strange what connects us.

agité.

Some people–perhaps most–join a group and then graciously proceed to conform even more to it. I have an irritating and opposite pattern; I’ll ingratiate myself to some crowd or another–be it a writer’s group, a women-in-business consortium, some volunteer / activist project or another, even (and sometimes worst of all) an academic department–and instead of taking notes and learning how to be a good version of the demographic in question, I’ll find myself acting as the local contrarian, questioning not only the surface decisions, but the very values around which the group purports to organize.

This is frustrating. It makes me not a good belonger. It makes me skittish about joining anything, because I’ll invariably end up condemning it. I over-empathize with opposition.

“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member,” Groucho famously said, but it’s not quite that. I think I am just against groups in principle. I can’t even wholeheartedly align myself with humanity, for god’s sakes, or even life writ large. I wish I could be happier being in-between, or perhaps more whole-heartedly give myself to distance; I am not proud of this form of participation.

chaleur.

I do not remember my first sauna.

I may have been a newborn, or perhaps it was months later; I know only that I was young. Before I was born my father built saunas–peculiar, coopered structures that resembled iron-hooped winebarrels–in the Adirondacks, so their occurrence and use was normal not only for our family, but for our relatives and neighbors as well. Saunas were a staple of my childhood, and more. They served as substitute baths, excuses for gatherings, and especially as buttresses against the cruelty of bitter upstate winters. I remember crouching on the floor to stay cool while the sweat seeped from the grim and glistening dimly-lit adults above me, and I remember jealously guarding the wooden pail of melting snow (the result was meant to be poured on the hot stones atop the cast-iron stove, an event I hated, as it would turn the air inside to scalding steam), and I remember the extremes of intolerable cold and intolerable heat and the happy thrill of shrieking naked through the night between them.

I do not own a sauna–and these days realize how still-unusual they are in this country–but I love them with that sweet familiar love that comes from a memory writ large in a body much smaller than the one I have now.

But this is all merely to introduce the Russian bath house within walking distance of our apartment here, a bath house which, until today, the summer had conspired to dissuade me from. I had last been there this spring, when, possessed of a hacking cough and an aversion toward hospitals, I decided to huddle in a steam room until I could breath freely again. Anticipating a lengthy recuperation, I had bought a half-dozen visits. I ended up needing only one.

Today I remembered my remaining passes, and wandered over in the early afternoon. The interior–chambered and stony and still–was empty save for a trio of heavily tattooed Russians, muscled and paunchy and clad in battered swimsuits and felted Soviet sauna caps. (They had seen fit–in the absence of any objection–to stoke the sauna to a comfortable 240° F, something I didn’t realize until the skin on my extremities started mottling into peculiar red-and-white leopard patterns. The air was so hot I ended up soaking my towel so I could breath through it occasionally; the air was so hot that deep inhalations were otherwise painful. I was grateful for the cold plunge outside.)

I spent the next few hours sweating in the dark, all the while being subjected to a bizarrely interrogative still-birth of a conversation. The three men spoke Russian between each other, but every so often one would bark a question–in affectless and heavily accented English–in my direction:

YOU. DO YOU DREAM. YES? OKAY. DO YOU CRY IN YOUR DREAMS? HOW OFTEN. HOW OFTEN DO YOU CRY IN YOUR DREAMS?

ARE YOU PAINTER. YOU PAINT? NO? YOU PHOTOGRAPH? OKAY. WHAT WAS LAST IMAGE YOU MAKE?

YOU. DO YOU KNOW DIFFERENCE IN BURNS FROM HEAT AND BURNS FROM ACID? IS THERE DIFFERENCE. YOU THINK YES? WHAT DO YOU THINK IS DIFFERENCE?

YOU HAVE NO TATTOOS. ARE YOU HAPPY? IN YOUR LIFE, ARE YOU HAPPY. SO WHY YOU HAVE NO TATTOOS?

I am sure they were merely trying to include me in the group, or, more likely–given that my answers would result in their returning to a quiet Russian murmur–simply supplementing the boredom of their own familiar conversation with some additional material. Still, given the flickering darkness of the room, my heat-dazed state, and the spit of their rough accents, the experience was one of a surreal purgatory.

It felt strangely and sweetly like home.