The first time I read an Eavan Boland poem, it was “The Pomegranate,” and I was sitting just a little too far away from the screen of my computer. And so I thought, “How lovely, this place she’s describing, as a city of fogs and strange cosmonauts.”
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world.
And another. And another.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[martedì 28 aprile 2020 ore 14:04:29] [¶]
On Saturday or Sunday we end up, almost invariably now that we have figured it out, ordering in from Vivanda, because it doesn’t require making too many decisions, because you get to call and speak to a human being, and because all the money we give them goes to them, and not to some gig economy behemoth that feasts on everything and everyone that falls through the cracks of neoliberal capitalism.
Also, because their sformatino di cipolla con fonduta di parmigiano is fantastic.
As I write this I’m already wondering: will this be a thing we remember? Will I find myself in a year, taking a bite of that sformatino, and feeling overcome by something I can’t, for maybe a full four seconds, understand?
I think of that chocolate cake that Colum McCann painted a whole still life of, in words gathered like shrapnel from a long walk through a broken city. I think of Proust of course. I think of a plate of grilled pomfret from the Casbah at Beach Luxury.
In a conversation this week about the pandemic as a portal, Arundhati Roy talked a little about what time feels like these days.
Do we have a present? Somehow it feels as if we don’t have a present. As if there’s a past and there’s a future. [We have] echoes of the past and a premonition of the future... We’re trying to stitch our past to our future and we can’t, because the present is ruptured.
And of course, there’s much to unpack in all of that. But also, as Jeannie suggested, to think otherwise of. For there is a kind of present here. Even if it’s a present we can’t feel, or can’t articulate feeling, like when a small child is feeling anxious or resentful or even joyous, and doesn’t know how to tell you. Doesn’t even know how to tell himself, for that matter.
It’s a present right now, and we’re having trouble with it. But some day it will be a past, and then what? What will we make of these days in which we have found, inevitably, some things that make our lives almost, almost beautiful—or anyway real? The sformatino from Vivanda, all wobbly in its biodegradable box. Pietro at Todo Modo, passing books to you through the little sportello they have cut carefully out of the wood-paneled entrance to the store. Doing apero on speakerphone with André in Rome. Going to a poetry reading on Zoom with Noor in Poland. Leaning out the window to chat with Ciro on the street, and tell him what you thought of last week’s delivery of bread and wine. Counting syllables toward a workshop on the ghazal. Listening to Andrew belt out “Quanto è bella” at six o’clock, balcony-style. Listening to a blackbird that seems to be singing, you could swear, from so far away that it must be your imagination, except it isn’t. Waking up at night to the sound of the wood in the window frame creaking, and realizing it isn’t new, it probably always creaked like that, but it’s only now that you can hear it, because the street outside is so quiet. Watching Brooklyn and Wild Nights with Emily. Watching the numbers. Asking everyone all the time—with what feels like a kind of urgency, as if this, now, is how we must hug—how are you? Come stai? Come state?
Watching the numbers.
After 9/11 I would walk around the Village, and those flyers would ripple from everywhere. From streetlights and signposts and newsracks and bus shelters, a whole wall of them fluttering across the front of Union Square. I would listen to the radio, alone in my apartment on Carmine. I would talk on the phone to people I loved, all of us trying to name these new things we were or maybe were not feeling—for it was hard even to know what was feeling and what wasn’t. What was feeling and what was numbness. I would wonder how I would ever be able to look south from anywhere in my city again.
Even now all this is hard to remember. (Even now I look away when they replay the footage.)
But all of that was a present then. All of that was like being in a pool whose edges you can’t see. (It was many other things too.)
You know that essay I was reading the other day, the one by Jacqueline Kolosov in Family Resemblance? In it, there is that quote from Virginia Woolf, about how one never realises an emotion at the time:
It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.
Last night I read an essay in The Believer about wanting and not-wanting to read (because these days I find myself not only not-wanting, but entirely unable to be wanting...), and I came upon this, in a reflection from Courtney Maum:
I worked as a waitress for much of my youth and I’m comforted by the author’s descriptions of hot pans and emptied wine glasses, people touching salad forks and fingers without a care in their bright world.
And god. Talk about wanting. I look at those words, those emptied wine glasses and those people touching salad forks and fingers without a care in their bright world, and all of a sudden I am longing so hard I have to stop reading, for those people and those wine glasses. For the way candlelight flickers against the back wall of your awareness in a Florentine restaurant filled with wood and wine and white porcelain. It is a longing so visceral I know I will remember it for years.
Because even the absences, the parts we don’t have, the parts we are missing so hard, are part of this.
This weekend has been full of Facebook posts about Italy’s Liberation Day. Grainy old photographs from seventy-five years ago, of young men and women (this year, so many photographs of women, so many of them with those 1940s haircuts, those overcoats and those shoes, that Anna Magnani set to their jaws...). Pictures of bodies lying before tanks and of cities in tatters. Pictures of people standing together—you can’t help noticing now, how close together—people arm in arm, people hugging. And in every picture you can hear in the background, the black-and-white voice of someone singing—lusty, hungry, and alive—the words to Bella Ciao.
I come back to thinking about here and now. About this present we are in. What will it feel like, when we finally remember it as a past? What will we know?
What kind of complete emotion will it be?
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[domenica 26 aprile 2020 ore 22:04:29] [¶]
These days, there is this from a piece by Patricia Hampl, in the Paris Review:
At no time in human history, we are told, have so many people been migrants. The exile, back turned from the language and habits of home, facing uncertainty, is the emblem of the human being in our world. And in an eerie turn, right now every “self-isolating” person has become a new kind of exile, sent into social detention where only fellow-feeling can meet and comfort one another. Relationships are no longer “in person,” but perhaps even more “in spirit”...
And this from an essay by Jacqueline Kolosov, in Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres:
Dickinson was in her late twenties when it first became possible to mail a letter sealed in an envelope that was dropped in a public box and paid for with a pre-purchased stamp. This system, like the railroad, heralded an age increasingly defined by speed. As Marta Werner writes in the afterword to the collection of Dickinson’s envelope writings—fragments that Dickinson wrote on sections of envelopes—assembled in The Gorgeous Nothings: “[Dickinson] lived and wrote in the century of suddenness, amid the rise of new telecommunications technologies that altered forever the forms of human contact. ‘The new media [historian John Durham Peters writes] gave life to the older dream of angelic contact by claiming to burst the bonds of distance and death.’ Yet they also delivered us into new solitudes.”
I think about how, if that was a century of suddenness, then maybe this is a century of constant suddenness. More kinds of constant suddenness than any one of us, alone, can bear.
I think about some things that Eula Biss tried to tell us, in On Immunity: An Inoculation, about being together and (a)part. But I want to go back and get them, and put them here properly. I promise I will do it soon.
I think too about new solitudes. And the bonds of distance and death.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[domenica 05 aprile 2020 ore 14:03:22] [¶]