For a while, when looking up my old address on Google Maps, the Street View image would show a broken dressing table outside the house. My girlfriend and I had broken up or at least decided on a break and we were in the process of moving out of the house, an old two-storey terrace with a front door that opened directly onto the footpath. In the Street View image, alongside the broken table is its large mirror, propped against the wall reflecting my car parked across the street. You could rotate around in Street View and see my car, registration is obscured, loaded with boxes ready to leave.
Both of us felt it: That day was an island,
strewn with rocks and lighthouses and lovers,
in the generous ocean. On the mainland,
people went about their business, eating
the Times, glancing through coffee and oatmeal,
as we walked the gangway into an original dream
of attentiveness, as if a day’s pleasure
could concentrate us as much as suffering,
as if the seawall were a banquet without
surfeit, as if we could walk hand in hand
with no one nearby, as if silence and blue
wind became an Atlantic cove to float in,
and the air centered itself in small purple
butterflies flitting among the weed flowers.
In the darkening city we returned to,
our privacy completed the cafés of strangers
— Donald Hall
“There is nothing certain except that nothing is certain, and nothing more wretched than Man nor arrogant.”
— Pliny (inscribed on the ceiling in Montaigne’s library)
There is an insufficiency of words when describing the smell of green mango. It is chthonic. At once mineral and metallic earthiness combined with a sharp bitterness that is like biting into chocolate and collecting foil wrapper in the mouth. It is also tropical which is evocative but not a particularly accurate descriptor. There is a palm tree that grows near beaches in Queensland – I first noticed them as a child in Noosa – they produce inedible orange fruit that falls from the tree when ripe. This fruit, when it falls during summer, on the forest floor and the paths and that lead to the beach, begin to ferment in the heat. That smell, too, is hard to properly describe although it is perhaps more difficult since it conjures other scent-memories: coconut oil lotion, drying salt on the skin, cigarette smoke. Green mangoes have, in their smell, the same potential to sweetly ferment.
Take a breath. Feel your feet on the ground. You’re standing on a ball that’s spinning at a thousand miles an hour. And the ball is moving through space at sixty seven thousand miles an hour. You’re doing all that without even trying. Whatever the next week brings, it’s not going to be too much trouble for someone moving at sixty seven thousand miles an hour while spinning around at 1000mph, is it? You can do anything. See you next week, speedy.
Every Monday morning I wake up to find a newsletter from Warren Ellis. And at the very bottom, there’s always a little encouragement, a mantra of possibility broadcast from a mage on the Thames Delta to his acolytes.
On an abandoned section of trail, the air scented with licorice, as we skirt blackberry brambles and brush against wild fennel.
“…my greatest skill has been to want but little”
— Henry David Thoreau
“It’s to do with knowing and being known. I remember how it stopped seeming odd that in biblical Greek, knowing was used for making love. Whosit knew so-and-so. Carnal knowledge. It’s what lovers trust each other with. Knowledge of each other, not of the flesh but through the flesh, knowledge of self, the real him, the real her, in extremis, the mask slipped from the face. Every other version of oneself is on offer to the public. We share our vivacity, grief, sulks, anger, joy… we hand it out to anybody who happens to be standing around, to friends and family with a momentary sense of indecency perhaps, to strangers without hesitation. Our lovers share us with the passing trade. But in pairs we insist that we give ourselves to each other. What selves? What’s left? What else is there that hasn’t been dealt out like a deck of cards? Carnal knowledge. Personal, final, uncompromised. Knowing, being known. I revere that. Having that is being rich, you can be generous about what’s shared — she walks, she talks, she laughs, she lends a sympathetic ear, she kicks off her shoes and dances on the tables, she’s everybody’s and it don’t mean a thing, let them eat cake; knowledge is something else, the undealt card, and while it’s held it makes you free-and-easy and nice to know, and when it’s gone everything is pain. Every single thing. Every object that meets the eye, a pencil, a tangerine, a travel poster. As if the physical world has been wired up to pass a current back to the part of your brain where imagination glows like a filament in a lobe no bigger than a torch bulb. Pain.”
— Tom Stoppard, The Real Thing