Saturday, April 14, 2012

Saturday commute lxii: all over this world

     Here, basically, is the thing
     that we do. Whatever else you
     may hear is decoration. What-
     ever else he might say, is a
     guy's way of gaining permis-
     sion to excuse himself to go
     do this. Whatever else you 
     may have thought, is natural-
     ly very flattering, but kick
     back. This is what we do.

  I can't allow you to come
  to this page and then de-
  part, with the impression
  that this is complicated.
  It is not. We are hydraulic.

          We could have cracked
          its mirror with a rock,
          a branch that might have lifted
          something muddy to the surface.
          Instead we kept on staring
          and the sun set, several times.

          Somewhere it keeps setting,
          waits for one of us to still
          the thread that hums between us,
          not gossamer but steel.

          Somewhere you shimmer like the lake,
          the picture on the glass is real,
          and one of us says what we didn't say,
          feels what we didn't feel.

Our gestures, our movement, 
our play  and our rest are 
savourings sustained by hy-
draulic splendour; our meta-
phors and our imagery of pos-
sibility are steeped in flow 
and buoyancy, stillness and 

Everything that Nature 
tells us is elegant, she tells us is safe, certain. Even our dearest and most vulnerable extractions of life, such as wine, are expressions of that treas-
ure of which we are a part.

Take me to the lake, we think.  Take me to the 
sea. These environments 
of our most obvious nor-
mality never exhaust 
their tug. We go where 
we are wanted, and all 
that we do there, in 
our various ways, is 
a reclamation for a 
time. I have a friend
who slides on water,
I had a brother who 
made war on it; the reciprocating pressure equalises profusion 
without being told.
Have you left the lake?
I don't think so. 

Jonathan Galassi
  Still Life  [fragment]
op. cit.

iv  Photograph Wynn Bullock

Friday, April 13, 2012

Suppose it were Friday lx: panache declares a stock split

The story goes, that the young Terestchenko
wrote home to complain of the glare at mor-
ning assembly at his public school, and on
the sound proposition that he'd need two
eyepieces, the family sent down a Rollei. 
The rest of the story is well known, how
he grew so to detest the accumulation of
its heaps of awesome images, that he open-
ed a blog and then a tumblr, to dispose of 
the debris. 

Yet his debris was so often another man's
castle, that it went on, until, while run-
ning 'round Nîmes on low batt, his natur-
al release at last proposed itself in the
the pausing of panache, propulsion and 
poise on a perch of sweet perspective be-
tween its navigations of aplomb. He would
invest in a surfing van, to purge impres-
sions of its pursuit with peripatetic

What's good enough for lesser search engines, 
is good enough for our paragon of style to 
the bone; Terestchenko's photography page
has just declared a stock split, not to
sever surfing (I'd be sure) from its base
but to cast it forth in a new investigative
light, of the very most promising perspec-
tive and inspiration. We know it must be
marvelous, for this may be the first time
he's seized definition of his own project, 
with such open-ended permission. It in-
clines one to pay attention, bright as 
it's bound to be.

ii     Ivan Terestchenko Photography
iii   Tale from the Van

Scenes from Galassi i

               You talk about my
               bad judgment as
               if I had any.

Jonathan Galassi

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Reading with my father

            These, coasts,
       were the prayers of the age-old boy
       who stood at a rusted balustrade
       and, smiling, slowly died.

       Shores, how much these cold lights say
       to the tormented one who fled from you.
       Blades of water glimpsed between the arcs
       of shifting branches; rocks brown in the foam;
       arrows of roving
       swifts . . .

            O lands,
       if I could trust in you one day,
       funeral trappings, gilded frames
       for the agony of every being.

            Now I return to you
       stronger (or deluded) though the heart
       seems to dissolve in glad-and savage-memories.
       Sad spirit of the past
       and you, new will that calls me,
       perhaps it's time to unite you
       in a calm harbour of wisdom.
       And one day we shall hear the call again
       of golden voices, bold enticements,
       my more divided soul. Think:
       to make the elegy a hymn, to be remade;
       to want no more.

            To be able
       like these branches,
       yesterday rude and bare, alive today
       with quivering and sap,
       for us too to feel
       among tomorrow's fragrances and winds
       a rising tide of dreams, a frenzied rush
       of voices toward an outcome, and in the sun
       that swathes you, coasts,
       to flower again!


It would have been unusual, I think,
if the years after his wife’s, my
mother’s death, which found my father
returning to La Jolla to live among
friends of their youth, did not allow, 
in this adjusted family geometry, a 
deferred rapport between us to unfold. 
As incompletely as I could imagine
how our unexpected family residue 
struck him, I think I can say that
for both of us it did invite an or-
iginal conciliation, more than a 
reconciliation, in its two most dis-
tant members. I know that I am for-
tunate, that our lives allowed my 
natural hunger for a true rapport 
with my father to furnish entire 
vacant quarters of my mind, not 
with inheritance or belief but with 
confidence and ease, in talks we'd 
pursue on many themes after breakfast, 
before I would set out for those day-
time and evening distractions of the 
young bachelor, flying down from 
San Francisco once or twice a month. 

His never-doubted interest in one's 
intellectual growth had never expired, 
and not just as an element of paternal 
duty. What was telling, was how that 
motive brought back so clearly to him 
the education he had been given and 
never laid aside, but also never ex-
ercised in such plain sight in years.
It was almost startling to seem to 
sit with him at Cate (then the Santa 
Barbara School for Boys), and re-open 
Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad; or 
bring him back to Twain to take that 
voyage down the river with me, into 
the "Negro question" as it marked our 
past. I found how a single book we might 
read - Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian as 
much as Lord Devlin on Woodrow Wilson’s 
foreign policy, Too Proud to Fight
could let us appreciate our strikingly 
sympathetic but distinct sensibilities. 
This pleased him, both in the exertion 
and its evidence, and certainly with
less surprise than the same impressions 
came to me. But it did something else, 
that one could see. It comforted him 
in a project of his own. And we had not 
yet done that. Tone of voice, setting, 
time of life played their part, but 
for me they distinguished less an ex-
ception than a stunning, shining rule, 
that texts are meeting places we can

Such a book, I think, has lately been
published and will likely find its way 
into further presentation here, Jonathan
Galassi's new poetry, Left-Handed. I've
already exhibited his translations of 
Leopardi and of Montale, and I've known
him to be one of the great editor-pub-
lishers of his generation. I'd not been 
aware of his poetry.

To anyone who has been interested occa-
sionally in reading this page, I espec-
ially commend these poems, which com-
prise a continuous narrative drawn from
elements of his life. They achieve with 
the reader what Montale foretold for an-
cient intimates, not for self-disclosure
but to unite in a calm harbour of wisdom.
You probably learned it from your father,
that this can be done, and probably you
wish to pass it on.

Eugenio Montale
Jonathan Galassi, translation
Collected Poems, 1920-1954
op. cit. 

Jonathan Galassi
Knopf, 2012©

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"Beware of torticollis," she says

All of life for me has been an im-
provisation of a study posture. If
I had ever come near to a position
which enabled efficiency in assim-
ilation without advancing fatigue
or promoting complacency, I'd prob-
ably have violated half the rulings
of the anti-trust code, to amass
these competing virtues in one cushy
entity, and wrought the ruin of the 
furniture trade and the cloisters 
at the same time. And yet we still 
hear of the upholsterers, and now 
and then of other Orders.

torticollis is that one has to look
it up. We can't have a true frisson 
of study without an irritant, a pang
with a word someone uses right in
front of us, which rings no bell
at all. It's only a pity that the
lexicon is so nearby these days,
and I have real sorrow for an en-
tire generation which hasn't had
to go downstairs to the dictionary
stand in mother's morning side of
the library, to find out what the
heck is going on. Only yesterday,
learning was so chronically about
getting up. Hence the contingent
postures we ancients still adopt,
so conducive (we were told) to in-
tellectual versatility, and that
good character otherwise sustained
by the cold shower.

Torticollis does sound promisingly
like a cause of action popular in
the common law of Area Code 310,
not otherwise famous for monastic
contemplations. One can see entire
phone banks of clinky-loafered law
clerks, churning prospective plain-
tiffs from the student directories
of UCLA, "How's our pretty neck to-
day, my dear?" And it does hold out
that promise, for which I don't ex-
pect so much as a referral fee, 
from the glossy new skyscraper on
Santa Monica Boulevard, for legal
stalwarts of its cause. There's
something more and more contemp-
tible about any free exchange of
ideas in the Facebook age, when
you can get a billion.

Now, seating, on the other hand, con-
tinues to command our consideration,
if only as an investment principle.
Several dozen amusingly artisanal
plinths for the posterior can set 
up a pleasant little trade almost 
anywhere that Jaguars gather, un-
like their namesakes as it is to
do so. And if the chair doesn't 
have to be conducive to study any
longer, one can just imagine what
this would lend to its price.

But now we come to our provenance
for torticollis, in a writer who'd been
having her parquet repaired, possibly
to mitigate the risk of slip-and-falls.
I had written to her, on some creative
counsel she was giving in the matter of
the study posture, when she warned me of
a risk I hadn't given due weight in mine.
Nor had this compassion the tone of the
reprimand we might expect, toward the
irreverence for the bombe implicit in 
improvisation. Just free information,
if I'd bother to look it up.

More and more, I tend to resist things that
are free, in most circumstances; I regret
the dismissal of provenance, obligation,
rapport, reinvestiture. This is only to
work a torticollis in the mind. I'm with 
Woody Allen; I like copyright, even in a
pedagogic passing from cup to cup. I like
knowing to whom I owe my ability to swim,
my putting stroke, my snicker at the phrase,
always chasing Rimbauds. I believe in tex-
tiles, tessuti, and integuments of taste.
Some are wired their way, I am in mine. 
Behind what I possess, there is no annul-
ment. There is context, or I am missing.

Le style et la matière

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Perils of the off-the-rack way of life

I really didn't need this,
an off-axis button in a new
pair of jeans. Oh, wait to
break them in, was my haber-
dasher's answer; it's his 
answer to everything, as if
it's up to me to do my own
tailoring. I tell him, fine,
but don't sell me any wine.
I don't want to stain my feet.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Strain of the Hermès stirrup

A recent marker, in the long spiral
of acquisitive affectations of excel-
lence, the exact moment hasn't been 
recorded when we first began to see 
hirelings of the politics industry, 
wearing the distinctive necktie we'd 
been selecting for years. Probably,
the initial crack in the levee came
from a courtier columnist, at a re-
ception of Mrs Graham's. Now every
strutting intern sports the stirrup,
Hogarth's lobbyists supplying whole
stables at the think tanks. 

I don't imagine, our thugs have 
dared to affect the insouciant rain-
coat, the rakish baseball jacket, 
the satiny sellier belts. But that
was the end of the necktie, for most 
of us. And it was fitting, that our
evacuation left these figures ex-
posed as the charlatans of indul-
gence in craftsmanship and design 
that they are in representation and 
probity. I'd love to see the house
imprint a Daumier scarf for them. 

But, look again. We'll always have
our haircut.

Shame or scorn, there would need to be some haven

for many reasons, including that it reminds
me of the boyhood home of Laurent in Malle's
immortal Le souffle au coeur (1971), while
the steps and vegetation are so like those
along the Presidio wall in San Francisco, 
and the crest of Telegraph Hill. But I love
this painting for suggesting the mysteries
as much as the laughter in a house in the
sweetest settings.

In the boyhood home I grew up in, protected 
in leafiest oblivion of place, my 11-year-
old brother was departing one afternoon for 
a dressy party hosted by one of his friends, 
when my mother, remarking on how well he 
looked, bestowed on him an approving kiss
in well wishes for a nice time. Watching 
this, at age 6 or 7, I stepped forward to 
do the same, as I might have done, any old 
time in a variety of circumstances.  

I was restrained and offered my first pretense
of shock, that such a gesture could have enter-
ed my mind. It came from my mother, announcing
that it would be inappropriate for me to kiss
my brother. A bright flicker of something ter-
rible flashed in her tone and her manner, as
if something wrong in me did not belong in the
house, and I recoiled into a furious search in-
to myself for what that could be. I can still
hear myself saying, I want to kiss Davy, too.

This was my initiation into what I would come
very soon to perceive as a grinding but unpre-
dictable interrogation through the years of my
youth, into whether or not I were experiencing
this bad thing that dwelt within me. It was, I
promise the reader, my earliest comprehension of
the need for some externality of shielding - in
my mind, in those days, no doubt simply a fairer
god - against a simmering and ferociously bitter
uproar in the one very closest to me, of scorn 
for something I simply had no idea of existing.
But what, too, remained to be done, to tranform
me into an angry and predatory bully? 

I applaud the estimable Blue Remembered Hills
blog for devoting an Easter posting to the mat-
ter of familial homophobia. I have found it to
be pervasive and sometimes immeasurably devas-
tating to people of my friendship, from coast
to coast and of every variety of background or
means. I had an easy time of it, although one
can never forget astonishment with its first
appearance. I honour the memory of my mother
utterly, with deep admiration and gratitude. 
She had recently lost her young half-brother, 
an uncle of whom I've written more than once, 
to what was explained to us all as an acciden-
tal death. She simply never could distance 
herself from anguish and an irrational guilt
in that loss, except through kindly Episcopal
counselling, blaming his death on his sin. And
he and I had been on terms, my god, of family
trust. We drew animals together, with crayons,
and he helped me to laugh through orthodontia.

Elisabeth's lovely painting haunts me with a
warmth and gaiety with which a house can shel-
ter a family. All my little torments have ex-
pired. We meet in the present, do we not, be-
cause there are people we love, to be looked

Elisabeth Baysset
Les Enclauses