Archive for the ‘travel’ Category
My love for the horrible has drawn me into some relatively ridiculous and odd situations, not least of which being the yellow acrylic nails I’m sporting at the moment. When the ambiguous “-ible” ending is swapped for “‘-or,” though, it leads to a fascination with the grisly and the anxiety-provoking. I developed an unspoken, hitherto unprecedented type of friendship with a kid in middle school over our mutual love for Stephen King novels; I’ve seen all the Amityville movies on the SciFi channel; I read ghost stories day in and day out. One of the things that I’ve realized is maybe most interesting to me about horror writing is that it not only serves to creep out the reader, but also to give him, if he’s astute, a sense of what’s actually eating the author – what keeps the author up at night, letting his mind range from the horror of the vast and unknowable to the minutiae of his room: a ticking clock, a creaking floorboard, a movement in the curtains, a doorknob’s barely perceptible turn to the left.
This morning on the way to work, I was reading Borges’s Book of Imaginary Beings on the train and stumbled across his entry on the Kraken. It includes this excerpt from Tennyson’s Juvenalia, which were written by poet as an adolescent and never published:
Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber’d and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
Where he hath lain for ages and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
Now if you’re a fan of horror, this poem points to one thing and one thing only: CTHULHU. A year ago D. and I got into reading the much-lauded king of 20th century horror writing, H.P. Lovecraft, of whose work there are numerous compilations (not to mention almost unlimited fan fiction). The Call of Cthulhu is one of Lovecraft’s best-known works. It’s not the longest, nor in my opinion the most frightening, by a long shot – but it gets to the heart of, and puts a face (if you can call its “pulpy, tentacled head” – one of H.P.’s favorite images – a face) to Lovecraft’s deep hatred of the unknown, the unthinkably large, the ancient, and especially, those Ones who inhabit dark expanses beyond our understanding, i.e., the sea and the reaches of space. If you have read much Lovecraft you know that a great deal of his approach to illustrating the terrible is not to illustrate it much at all; to allow doubt to fester in fertile opacity. His description of Cthulhu’s body (the above-described head surmounting “a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings”) isn’t the most bone-chilling of images, but from how frequently Lovecraft assigns these characteristics to his monsters – the tentacled head in particular – we can tell that at least he’s seriously bothered by them as the physical identity of a creature he associates with the deepest, most unnerving kind of challenge to the bounds of human time, logic, and developed space. For me, it’s these realms that Lovecraft has the most success in describing, and which have left the largest impression on me as suggestions that the most basic laws governing the systems of our planet and galaxy are rooted in a logic that is so far from human as to be obscene, and so obscene as to be sinister in intent. The alien landscapes and their inhabitants, which provide the hair-raising substance of stories like Dagon and The Whisperer in Darkness are perhaps Lovecraft’s most successful feat (what is eerier than the line “And it has come to pass that the Lord of the Woods, being…seven and nine, down the onyx steps…tributes to Him in the Gulf, Azathoth, He of Whom Thou has taught us marvels…on the wings of night out beyond space, out beyond th…to That whereof Yuggoth is the youngest child, rolling alone in black aether at the rim….”?)
Sometimes it’s easy when reading Lovecraft – and especially when reading a Lovecraft compilation, which puts all of his paranoia in one place and invites a few rolled eyes at the man’s burning need to convey how terrible bumps in the night were for him, with what seems at times no sense of obligation to illuminate much for the readers at all – to develop a kind of irritation at his pretty unclear terror about things that we just aren’t generally spooked by. Things like the planet Pluto, pink gelatin, translucent orbs, and air conditioning. But his overall focus, like that of most writers, is on the relationship of the large to the small, the yawning to the minute, the imperceptible to the mindblowing. The shock of something brushing you in the night or of a wasteland so vast its limits are unseeable; the terrible similarity between a nagging fear and the presence of a black hole. One of Lovecraft’s greatest fears it seems, and the thing that lies at the center of much great horror, is the tiny signifier that reveals something inconceivably huge.
In another of Tennyson’s Juvenalia, he writes of the house, and the body, as empty, soulless shell:
The Deserted House
Life and Thought have gone away
Side by side,
Leaving door and windows wide:
Careless tenants they!
All within is dark as night:
In the windows is no light:
And no murmur at the door,
So frequent on its hinge before.
Close the door, the shutters close,
Or thro’ the windows we shall see
The nakedness and vacancy
Of the dark deserted house.
Come away: no more of mirth
Is here or merry-making sound.
The house was builded of the earth,
And shall fall again to ground.
Come away: for Life and Thought
Here no longer dwell;
But in a city glorious –
A great and distant city – have bought
A mansion incorruptible.
Would they could have stayed with us.
These two poems in Tennyson’s Juvenalia terrify perhaps primarily because they’re such massively frightening, and frighteningly effective, works about something both huge and ancient (a monster and death), written by a human adolescent. And what is more unnerving than a written work that betrays a vast, inexplicable darkness within its writer?
_____________________________________________________________ I have seen the dark universe yawning Where the black planets roll without aim, Where they roll in their horror unheeded, Without knowledge or lustre or name.
Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah
Today I had brunch on the Upper West Side with my new love Ian Kroll, where I stuffed myself with pancakes and scrambled eggs and almost offensively delicious bacon. We walked back to his apartment and then I decided instead of taking the subway home, and since I had nothing else to do with my Sunday except laundry, that I’d just walk home. I ended up walking the full 120 blocks, past Morningside Park, past my old apartment, along Central Park West, through Columbus Circle, and eventually down 7th Avenue to stop in at the Chelsea Hotel, and then on to Greenwich Village. It was my favorite kind of day – rainy and green – when everything around you suddenly seems to take on so much meaning.
Sometimes on days like this I feel weirdly conscious of what it will feel like to look back on this part of my life and see it as dated. Maybe it’s because the lighting looks like an old photograph. It’s like I’m suddenly able to see all the things about myself the way we do when we remember our younger selves: for our sweet ingenuousness, our ability to find joy in things and be surprised, the way our hearts lit up for people and were crossed with fiery thrill at things that scared or shocked us, and most of all, those moments when as young people we were for a moment able to see straight to the pearly center of something and feel that stab of awareness to our own context in the world. On days like this I feel like I’m walking backwards away from myself. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be able to see myself as a grownup, since I’m so easily able to look back on where I am at any given moment.
Sleep ∞ Over – Outer Limits
I’ve been writing less lately because it’s spring and time for moving and sleepovers (tonight is only my second night in 8 days or so on which I will not be sharing a bed with one pretty girl or other) and reading outside and making iced tea and warm mornings walking to bakeries for bread; the winter is more conducive to long cozy thought sessions. Is it true for anyone else that in spring, one’s thoughts are made less of words and more of laughing?
This weekend I left Paris with R. and C. to visit J. at the villa in St. Raphael. It could be because I spent my first time there as a ten year old child, but each time I visit I feel like a little girl again. At the risk of sounding like an early-twentieth-century children’s book about wealthy families who travel to Normandy and Brighton for the benefits to the body and spirit of bracing sea air (“We went to the seaside and had ice cream in two flavors!”), I love going from the city to the coast because of the way that I’m reminded of the solid presence of my own body, of its vulnerability and resilience, in a way that I only remember feeling equally in childhood. My skin burns in the sun, my feet and hands are all cut up from hitting rocks underwater, my hips are scuffed and bruised from being thrown against boulders by alarmingly big waves at high tide. I check my legs for ticks after pulling my skirt up above my knees, running across the train tracks, and through high grasses on the other side. Nothing reminds me of childhood more than getting hit in the back of the head by a cold wave, spending what feels like minutes underwater as the wave rolls over and past, and coming up gasping, wide-eyed, and spitting out saltwater. Almost as shocking and exhilarating as birth, and causing a similar indignance.
In other news, my new apartment in the 18e arrondissement is perfect, with hardwood floors, almost-floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the cobblestone street between Le Moulin Rouge and Le Sacré Coeur, which is noisy and bustling in the best way. There’s a baby nearby that babbles a lot in French, a family across the street which has just opened up the windows and started listening to Maria Callas records in the evening, and a dog who seems to live at a cafe on my street and occasionally gets up the energy to bark when another dog goes by. Soon I’ll have to buy one of those rolling grocery containers to drag my food uphill, especially given my penchant for only buying groceries that come in jars and bottles (olives, preserves, milk, honey, speculoos spread, spices, clotted cream, pearl onions…) and then realizing too late how heavy they are.
I’m babbling, but just trying to get writing again.
On an August morning in 1976, French filmmaker Claude Lelouch mounted a gyro-stabilized camera to the bumper of a Ferrari 275 GTB and had a friend, a professional F1 racer, drive at breakneck speeds through the heart of Paris. No streets were closed, since Lelouch was unable to obtain a permit.
Edit: apparently the backstory is 100% true with the exception of the Ferrari, which in reality was a W116 Mercedes. In case anyone’s taking notes.
Let it run till the end….
Matisse Museum, Nice, Cote d’Azur | Photo credits Capitan Lau Rios
Just got back from the Cote d’Azur with mes poules this weekend. The picture above is me in front of the Matisse Museum on a mountainside in Nice, France. It was gorgeous hot weather on Saturday and we spent much time basking, sun-giddy, dehydrated, undersleeped, and laughing so much. I’m always struck by how the light in the south of France makes everything look like a photograph from the 1970s that’s been sitting in an open album for years and years. When I was there with J. a few weeks back we snuck ticketless onto a train in Boulouris on a misty greygreen afternoon and then walked along the coast road to the Villa St. Anne, and the whole time I felt like I was ten again, smelling pollen and sea air and hearing Renaults passing, making that nice rushing sound cars make when they flash by you on a wet road.
Kurt Vile – Blackberry Song
This song is just how that kind of day feels. In case you’re keeping a spreadsheet of the songs I post on this blog and the varying sorts of sentimentality I attach to them, Kurt Vile always makes me nostalgic and painfulhappy (something I cultivate, for better or worse). Getting pricked when picking blackberries just makes it that much nicer when their tangy dark juice stains your lips.
Summer is coming!
View of Absaroka & Beartooth Mountains – MT/WY border | Photo by my Uncle Gray
Some realizations about who you are, and who you’re not anymore, are like opening up a big door onto a hillside and stepping out into the grass, seeing a heavy grey sky and dark trees somewhere ahead of you and knowing they’re where you’re going: a horizon too big for comfort, air cold and stimulating like a March breeze – always coming in from another part of the world and unnervingly, suddenly, bracingly close – and most of all such a thirst for everything you can’t yet see.
Via Tania – Fields (Lemonade Remix)
“The most direct and deliberate offering on Via Tania’s sophomore album Moon Sweet Moon is the transfixing track “Fields.” Tania’s glassy vocal lines float over cascading flourishes of organic instrumentation, inciting an overwhelming sense of movement, propulsion and dislocation — forging a truly unique sonic space between a modern day Billie Holiday and lateral musical storyteller Suzanne Vega….”