Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It should be like a Californian, giving up oranges

I must have been taught, or somehow learned early in my life, to break easily away from intimacy. When Massi and I split, no matter what pain there was, I did not fight back. We parted almost too casually .. Massi said that sometimes, when things overwhelmed me, there was a trick or a habit I had: I turned myself into something that did not belong anywhere. I trusted nothing I was told, not even what I witnessed .. It was, she said, as if I had grown up believing that everything was perilous. A deceit must have done that .. 

'Your goddamn cautious heart. Who did you love that did this to you?'

'I loved you."

'I said I loved you.'
'I don't think so. Someone damaged you. Tell me what happened when you came to England.'

'I went to school.'
'No, when you came. Because something must have happened' ..

'I said I loved you.'

'Yeah, loved. You're leaving my life, aren't you.'

In this way, valid or not, 
we burned the few good 
things remaining between us.

Over the last weekend, in Williamsburg, Virginia, I struck up an acquaintance with a fellow from Calcutta, now residing in Singapore, of lively and learned interest in living pleasantly. A sweetly temperate Fall day was drawing toward a soft, Poussin sunset as we thought of throwing together some dinner. Out of thin air, he asked me, What's your favourite fruit? Disliking questions like this (given that they always depend on too many contingencies), I replied that he seemed to be asking what fruit's disappearance would darken the world, for me; and to this stipulation, he agreed. This was what he was asking. I said, well, for me, it might be what an apple is to a Norman, or a gooseberry to a New Zealander. I would have to say, an orange, of whose absence I viscerally refuse to think. With this, he whole-heartedly agreed, and said, Yes, and to me it would be a banana, or a mango.

He and I, enjoying a glass of wine, laughed that it hadn't come down to the grape in a Pinot Noir, or Chardonnay - or, indeed, the coffee berry; and then we reasoned, that part of the beauty of these vinous fruits is that they show the prospect of a universal common ground at the deepest plausible level - and if not, of an amiable evening with strangers. But to approach the universal it is necessary to discover the particular. It simply does not work, the other way around.

Just sayin'.

Michael Ondaatje
The Cat's Table
op. cit.

George Balanchine
New York City Ballet
Chase Finlay


  1. I enjoyed this very much... and love the dialogue around the fruit's disappearance. I'm not sure what my answer would be...

  2. I'm delighted, Barbara, to give enjoyment with a difficult question - and it is a difficult one. But I've also read you to be brave with such things, which frankly gives your delight a special resonance here. The page will stay open in case you should ever feel like being on the spot. :) Are we tending toward fig or plum, by any chance? I admit, the lemon in my conscience has been making life miserable for me ever since this declaration, and I don't believe I should even discuss the revenge of the strawberries. If parting were really such sweet-and-sour, would we hear more of quince?

    But I don't mean to trivialise Ondaatje's text, whose eeriest and most blogger-challenging element, I think, is the narrator's gift for remote intimacy, i.e., for "not belonging anywhere." Expatriates such as oneself are naturally aware of this.

  3. Look what I just read:

    The lemon is close but I think the disappearance of berries [do I need to name one?] is an unbearable thought.

  4. Barbara, I feel that instead of thanking you for this referral and for your thoughtful enhancement of this posting, I should apologise for presenting such a draconian metaphor. :) Never forgetting that this was originally "about" modes of relinquishing human relationships, It's almost scary to think that we know we have an unequivocal rapport with fruit. We don't say of the fruit, "Well, we meant a lot to each other but we grew to have different needs, and the lemon needed a conservatory in Cincinnati instead of a terrace at Positano." So I suppose the underlying metaphor is pretty suspect ... Thanks v much for the education!