Uit:When You Are Engulfed in Flames
“Beside our apartment building in New York, there was a narrow gangway, and every evening, just after dark, rats would emerge from it and flock to the trash cans lining the curb. The first time I saw them, I started and screamed, but after that I made it a point to walk on the other side of the street, pausing and squinting to take them all in. It was like moving to Alaska and seeing a congregation of bears – I knew to expect them, but still I could never quite believe my eyes. Every now and then, one of them would get flattened by a cab, and I’d bend over the body, captivated by the foulness of it. Twenty, maybe 30 seconds of reverie, and then the spell would be broken, sometimes by the traffic, but more often by my neighbour Helen, who’d shout at me from her window.
Like the rats that spilt from the gangway, she was exactly the type of creature I’d expected to find living in New York. Arrogant, pushy, proudly, almost fascistically opinionated, she was the person you found yourself quoting at dinner parties, especially if your hosts were on the delicate side and you didn’t much care about being invited back. Helen on politics, Helen on sex, Helen on race relations: the response at the table was almost always the same. ‘Oh, that’s horrible. And where did you know this person from?’
It was Hugh who first met her. This was in New York, on Thompson Street, in the fall of 1991. There was a combination butcher shop and café there, and he mentioned to the owner that he was looking to rent an apartment. While talking, he noticed a woman standing near the door, 70 at least, and no taller than a 10-year-old girl. She wore a sweat-suit, tight through the stomach and hips. It wasn’t the pastel-coloured, ladylike kind, but just plain grey, like a boxer’s. Her glasses were wing-shaped, and at their centre, just over her nose, was a thick padding of duct tape. Helen, she said her name was. Hugh nodded hello, and as he turned to leave, she pointed to some bags lying at her feet.”
David Sedaris (Binghamton, 26 december 1956)
Uit: The Swan Thieves
“Outside the village there is a fire ring, blackening the thawing snow. Next to the fire ring is a basket that has sat there for months and is beginning to weather to the color of ash. There are benches where the old men huddle to warm their hands — too cold even for that now, too close to twilight, too dreary. This is not Paris. The air smells of smoke and night sky; there is a hopeless amber sinking beyond the woods, almost a sunset. The dark is coming down so quickly that someone has already lit a lantern in the window of the house nearest the deserted fire. It is January or February, or perhaps a grim March, 1895 — the year will be marked in rough black numbers against the shadows in one corner. The roofs of the village are slate, stained with melting snow, which slides off them in heaps. Some of the lanes are walled, others open to the fields and muddy gardens. The doors to the houses are closed, the scent of cooking rising above the chimneys.
Only one person is astir in all this desolation — a woman in heavy traveling clothes walking down a lane toward the last huddle of dwellings. Someone is lighting a lantern there, too, bending over the flame, a human form but indistinct in the distant window. The woman in the lane carries herself with dignity, and she isn’t wearing the shabby apron and wooden sabots of the village. Her cloak and long skirts stand out against the violet snow. Her hood is edged with fur that hides all but the white curve of her cheek. The hem of her dress has a geometric border of pale blue. She is walking away with a bundle in her arms, something wrapped tightly, as if against the cold. The trees hold their branches numbly toward the sky; they frame the road. Someone has left a red cloth on the bench in front of the house at the end of the lane — a shawl, perhaps, or a small tablecloth, the only spot of bright color.”
Elizabeth Kostova (New London, 26 december 1964)
Uit: Tropic Of Capricorn
“0nce you have given up the ghost, everything follows with dead certainty, even in the midst of chaos. From the beginning it was never anything but chaos: it was a fluid which enveloped me, which I breathed in through the gills. In the sub-strata, where the moon shone steady and opaque, it was smooth and fecundating; above it was a jangle and a discord. In everything I quickly saw the opposite, the contradiction, and between the real and the unreal the irony, the paradox. I was my own worst enemy. There was nothing I wished to do which I could just as well not do. Even as a child, when I lacked for nothing, I wanted to die: I wanted to surrender because I saw no sense in struggling. I felt that nothing would be proved, substantiated, added or subtracted by continuing an existence which I had not asked for. Everybody around me was a failure, or if not a failure, ridiculous. Especially the successful ones. The successful ones bored me to tears. I was sympathetic to a fault, but it was not sympathy that made me so. It was a purely negative quality, a weakness which blossomed at the mere sight of human misery. I never helped any one expecting that it would do any good; I helped because I was helpless to do otherwise. To want to change the condition of affairs seemed futile to me; nothing would be altered, I was convinced, except by a change of heart, and who could change the hearts of men? Now and then a friend was converted; it was something to make me puke. I had no more need of God than He had of me, and if there were one, I often said to myself, I would meet Him calmly and spit in His face. What was most annoying was that at first blush people usually took me to be good, to be kind, generous, loyal, faithful. Perhaps I did possess these virtues but if so it was because I was indifferent: I could afford to be good, kind, generous, loyal, and so forth, since I was free of envy. Envy was the one thing I was never a victim of. I have never envied anybody or anything. On the contrary, I have only felt pity for everybody and everything.
From the very beginning I must have trained myself not to want anything too badly. From the very beginning I was independent, in a false way. I had need of nobody because I wanted to be free, free to do and to give only as my whims dictated. The moment anything was expected or demanded of me I balked.That was the form my independence took.”
Henry Miller (26 december 1891 – 7 juni 1980)
Zu wenig Zeit genommen
für die Betrachtung der Sterne.
Ich rede nicht von Teleskopen.
Ich spreche von einer Dachluke
in einer ganz gewöhnlichen
Vom Heimweg zu später Stunde,
nur flüchtig aufschauend,
den Schlüssel schon im Schloß.
Nicht, was ich nicht weiß,
der nachlässige Gebrauch
All die nichtssagenden Fotos,
in die wir unsere Liebe hineinlesen,
unsere Erinnerung an Augenblicke,
die nicht auf dem Bild sind.
was tut ihr, wenn wir sterben,
unter Menschen, die nur sehen,
was ihr zeigt?
auf das Sichtbare:
wer könnte so leben.
Rainer Malkowski (26 december 1939 – 1 september 2003)
Berlijn, Berliner Dom
Zie voor nog meer schrijvers van de 26e december ook mijn vorige blog van vandaag.