July 18, 2008

But not today the struggle

I had a pupil yesterday for a class: after an hour of conversation I asked her to read aloud, from the opening chapter of Homage To Catalonia.

She speaks English well, her vocabulary is good and she also knows French: and yet the only words which she had never heard before were bourgeois and bourgeoisie.

July 15, 2008

Second life

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth

I asked and she said yes: almost immediately, the space between the question and the answer barely there. Long enough only for the fact of the question to be understood, for its meaning to register. Yes almost immediately: and therefore, almost without fear.

I had been afraid that she might say "are you serious?". I had been afraid of that when I first planned to ask - and having stepped back from doing so, and having, as it turned out, asked spontaneously and unplanned, I had forgotten to anticipate that answer. I forgot to be forewarned, to restrain my inclination to make a stupid, smart reply, that would have spoiled it, that would have made it cheaper. That path, at least, was never taken. Nothing was ruined. Just the perfect simplicity of yes.

That was eleven days ago, or nearly twelve: time passes, time passes, while you think about what you want to say and what the words would mean. But a simplicity is always the same however it is expressed: it explains itself, no matter how you may try to explain it.

Time passes. One uncompleted night eight years ago I closed my eyes and let the light go out: I fell, and kept on falling. A falling without movement, a falling which only came to rest eleven days later, as they allowed me to open my eyes and separate my way, slowly and confusedly, from the morphine and the hallucinations through which I had been living since my eyes were closed. It took days for me to be able to separate reality, outside my head, from the hallucinations that remained within: it took a long time for me to be able to understand where I was and who I was, and then to grasp hold of my memory, to let it settle back in order and tell me why.

Grasp hold, hold fast, cling on. Since I returned I have been clinging on, much of the time. Much of the time exhausted, without having done very much. When I am up in the Pyrenees I sometimes see a tree, stranded, high up on the mountainside. Sometimes in a convoluted shape, sometimes at a painful angle to the ground, all its energy consumed in the struggle not to fall, the tree itself partly consumed by its own efforts. They struggle, and consume themselves. But even on the mountainside, they still cling on.

I was up in the mountains eleven days, twelve days ago. And now I am returned once more: and I came back with this knowledge, as simple as a yes, as simple in expression but as hard to get to. An instant waited for, the knowledge earned: that if you cling on, if you cling on and cling on and still you do not fall, then - in the end - if you have struggled long enough, you get your second chance.

July 01, 2008

Village of the dreamed

Last night I slept in the village and woke up with a nightmare, about milk and insects. We worry about milk: we have to worry, in the Aragonese summer, and try not to leave the fridge open for more than the shortest possible time. And the evening before a column of ants had discovered the cat's rejected biscuits and had to be sent on their way, with spray and mop and disinfectant, just before we went to bed.

I dreamed I was drinking coffee, and somebody warned me that the milk was off: then they lifted up a huge, huge transparent bag of milk, discoloured milk full of insects and maggots. I woke, feeling sick, thinking I had drunk the rancid milk. But neither the taste nor the image would go away, recurring every time I closed my eyes - so I had to make myself stay awake until the desire the sleep had gone.

While I was forcing wakefulness into my head, while I was trying to think of other things than crawling insects and rancid milk, I thought about my thoughts, about the process of trying to think of one thing in order to block out another: which brought to my struggling mind The Midwich Cuckoos, Gordon Zellaby thinking of a brick wall to hide from the Children the bomb he has brought. It had not occurred to me before a sleepless hour this morning: one of the great heroes of twentieth-century English literature is a suicide bomber.

I met him in the desert

People in the know say this London-based credit derivatives trader is Matt Piper. So, another rogue trader? Let's not be too hard on Matt. He probably made a few mistakes, but not everyone who screws up is a rogue trader. I know Matt. I met him in the desert a few years ago, and he's a good sort.