This weekend I slipped on some ice near my apartment. I sat there for a moment, looking at the glamorous hiking boots I’ve been wearing since mid-January to skate the unshoveled sidewalks, thinking that if ever there was a moment for a charming stranger to offer an assist to this former Sugar Plum Fairy, this was that moment.
No one appeared, of course, and so I hoisted up my groceries and went hand over hand on the fence for a few streets, already wincing at what has blossomed into a naughty-looking bruise that raised eyebrows in yoga class (I winked and hummed a few bars of “My Funny Valentine”). At the top of my stoop, I felt for the house keys that oddly weren’t in the cloth bag or my wallet or the side coat pocket. Fantastic. I retraced the blocks with mincing steps and there they were, sparkling on a tall snow bank, their aerial flight rivaling mine.
For both recoveries I am grateful, however, most of the hours since have been spent dreaming about water in its liquid state. When I was a child, most of my wanders were to creeks in the neighborhood and as an adult (albeit one who has trouble staying upright at times), I prefer to live near large bodies of water. My secret trick when everything feels frozen has always been to open the third1 in the C.S. Lewis series and disappear in the first ten pages with Lucy, Edmund, and their annoying cousin Eustace into the admirable painting of a ship that hangs in Lucy’s guest bedroom.
The things in the picture were moving. It didn’t look at all like a cinema either; the colours were too real and clean and out-of-door for that. Down went the prow of the ship into the wave and up went a great shock of spray.
The children plunge beyond the wooden frame and into the ocean, pulled up by Caspian and brought spiced wine on deck. Eustace will have none of that deliciousness, spitting out the wine and sulking for “Plumptree’s Vitaminised Nerve Food” like the fastidious vegan character he is. Made to look the more ridiculous because he fails to realize he has landed in an adventure, he is punished later for his gold lust, a crucial plot point in this sole book of the seven without a noteworthy villain (beyond the slave trade on the islands). Anyway, Eustace is much nicer after being disenchanted from his dragon form.
Almost a year ago in a very cold place near a fjord, I visited a friend just as their winter was ending. We read part of one of the Chronicles to his daughter, making faces at each other over her head at the intensely Christian allegories, but were impressed with the forthright tone, and with no women’s clothing on the ship, Lucy cross-dresses in Caspian’s princely clothing immediately and that’s pretty fun. Who run the world? In Narnia, it’s characters with courage, no matter the gender. Professor Lewis’ texts are nothing if not didactic, but still, it was a good lesson for me to remember, making eyes on that couch and wondering if I should have made the trip from Paris. Considering what it might be like to share bedtime story duty all of the time. For very much like a fairy tale character, that little girl no longer has a mother. Her hair was wet from her bath as little Narnian Queen Lucy’s was, pulled from the ocean, and I kissed the crown of her head.
Her father asked me the other day what books she should read next, and where my upcoming travels might take me. I had left them to travel on to Bilbao, dance through Richard Serra’s ‘The Memory of Time’ and stand under one of Bourgeois’ ‘Maman’ installations. I have accepted an invitation from fascinating strangers to take a ferry to a tropical island, I told him. How rare it is that we meet anyone interesting enough to cross oceans and rearrange circumstances so we can. Someone that makes us squelch better sense and certain failure, choosing to focus only on that crazy moment when we noticed them across a long room at the edge of another continent. So many of us have improbable beginnings.
With a fresh list of books that feature adventurous young women and a few that have dropped out of print to wrap and mail, I can fervently hope his daughter will one day leap through frames and keep leaping. It’s better to know than always to wonder.
As Lucy puts it:
When she had finished dressing she looked out of her window at the water rushing past and took a long deep breath. She felt quite sure they were in for a lovely time.
This copy is the second U.S. printing by Macmillan in 1960 and belonged to my mother’s sister.
Third, not fifth! The text mentions in the opening pages that the children have been to Narnia twice, and the narrative unfolds more gracefully in the original ordering. ↩
A few more days
A final Hi meeting
The local neighborhood bar has a quiet time between six and nine. It is a place that specializes in coffee, beer and seasonal menus. There is just enough of each for a satisfying snack and effective buzz. After the time when the laptop lids close and before the social gatherings start -- there is a sort of twilight*. Often this time is a fugitive ground rife with creative inspiration and meditative work -- of the kind that results in personal reward.*twilight may refer to civil, nautical or astronomical variety depending on your social or terrestrial condition
A man positions his mouse on the edge of his browser window. He clicks, holds and drags the viewport first left then right. The content of a video game promo micro site responds and adapts to the available space. To the man, this is more delightful than the game itself.
A man laboriously moves his piano down three levels onto the subway platform. Classic vocals and strided chords -- he played so well I swore he was blind. Oblivious to the heat on that August stage, he was most in touch with his audience -- whom he elevated with his music.
A woman should do exactly as she pleases no matter what a man may think.
As the Dalai Lama once said, "It is a time when there is much in the window, but nothing in the room."
"No one understands me," she said. Her grandmother was silent for a minute. It seemed she was searching for an answer in the star speckled sky. "But no one understands anyone in this world, darling. We are all unique. It is what gives us a sense of wonder."