Succumbing to the temptations of Google Earth, I travel manically from
place to place whilst, to my right, the view from the window remains
unchanged apart from the flight of a chaffinch and the trembling of a bush.
From Prague to Patmos, from Plympton South Australia to its originating
namesake, all journeys are equal. The cyber-plane takes off and, after a few
brief seconds of blur, one lands in the place one has named as if for the
very first time.
'All this shall be yours' he said 'if you will bow down and worship me'.
Greedy for the spaces of earth, I land in the rocky brilliance of Patmos and
enter the Cave of the Apocalypse. A white wall with a recess for the saint's
head... outside, the burning slopes that are still set in a sapphire sea on a
February night, as if the seasons had become an irrelevance.
From Patmos I return to Dunwich via Sighisoara - a journey that would take a
number of days and cost a small fortune. By way of Streetview I arrive -
first scrambled then unscrambled - on a back street of stucco-fronted houses.
The Transylvanian countryside can be glimpsed to the right. It is as quiet as
it was when I walked that street over six years ago, but I do not see myself
as I move my mouse in the direction of the Saxon graveyard.
In Dunwich, I look for Sebald in the only street - a street surprisingly
devoid of historical atmosphere, neat like a cul-de-sac in a suburb. Driving,
or walking, or perhaps flying to the beach I find myself circling, panning
the view and aware that, with a few strokes of the keyboard, I can return
home... if such a concept still holds meaning.
A HECKLER IN EL CLUB SILENCIO
Another singer collapses as the music plays on. That is how it is in
El Club Silencio, in a night much deeper than night.
The audience, too stunned to applaud, is engulfed in its nocturne. And
applause would only suggest a day to come that is at odds with the crimson
drapes, the shabby balconies, the aura of a realm that is as self-contained
as a satellite. They share a single sleep in which torch songs circle like
crows, more deathly than death because it is repetitive and blank (unlike
death which, in comparison, is industrious, brisk and stupid). The songs that
echo through this sleep are more powerful than the singers - who are carried
out, in turn, and returned to the mannequin cupboards from whence they came.
The space behind the stage where the props are stacked is invisible, as the
dressing rooms where the dead prepare to reiterate their deaths. If I were
there, I would shout for the orchestra that has to exist, that plays the
orchestra's notes as the audience shivers. My thinking sends me there... to
the very heart of the theatre of sleep.
Outside (I suggest) it is three AM and frost insinuates itself between the
naked toes of a tramp. Buildings mass like trees in a forest - the sun is a
scarab under a stone.
In any dream, it is possible to shout oneself awake and, by supreme
bloody-mindedness, I manage at last to raise my voice. As cobwebs colonise the
air, the curtain melts in a nimbus of dust. The audience jolts awake,
separate both in body and mind. Even if the songs continue to play, there is
no-one sufficiently asleep to hear them.
Fate propels me there, with my tiny pension and my neighbours plotting
as I sit on the veranda of my cottage, in a village three hours'
grimy-windowed bus-ride from the capital, and drain draught after draught of
cheap wine like the doctor draining apricot brandy in Satantango. I will enter
my eighth decade learning a new language with headstrong incompetence, a Rich
Man from the West who is not rich at all and does not understand anything,
who is swindled with justification by handymen with large families to feed,
who is propositioned by women a third of his age although his erections,
these days, are almost exclusively in the mind. I will be the perfect subject
for a film that is never made as my friends send e-mails from the depths of
Devon and the backwoods of freezing, pristine Canada, as I skype them on
dial-up knocking over everything and staring into the webcam like a Seventies
police sergeant giving his suspect the treatment. You, my lover, will be
giving English lessons exactly a thousand miles to the east, as now, which
probably places you somewhere in Kazakhstan. I will apply the usual
forbearance as I learn to draw wood and chop water, then learn to learn from
my mistakes - out at sunset, watching the clouds turn dark over
vine-and-sunflower covered hills of the Moldavian interior, having no home but
the death I still stave off at any cost, enjoying the flora and fauna and
reading the books I stacked up in my more prosperous fifties. What innocence
fate has in store for me! I think, contemplating this land that is named
after a drowned dog in a fable, the poorest in Europe and the only one
without a guidebook to its name... its shape the very shape of my fate, its
undeserved failures my own, its wine the blood that flows in my veins. I can
smell its cigarette smoke as I write and sense its undulations under my feet.
LIGHTNESS OF TOUCH
Miles Davis on headphones, Friday night. His Great
Expectations, leading me towards the rest of my life.
How many days, months, years, breaths, sighs, pauses, silences? How many
advances and retreats? How many more loves and hates? I ask the white page.
It blackens with my thoughts.
I consent, once more, to the pact of living. I feel lust although it is
unfocussed. The Moon and Venus are crossing my natal Venus - this suggests
the invention of imaginary women who appear as twins at the back of my
I am keen to remain faithful but I am also on alert for new loves, for the
smell of their hair and the lustre of their skins. Everything remains
unfocussed, as in a dream. I am even uncertain of my sex, which has spread
across my skin and is neither a lighthouse of isolation nor a volcano of
I am marinated with their taste as the music swallows me - the rise and fall
of Miles' trumpet, reaching a crescendo and falling back into the
polyrhythmic murk. Mistress Luna, madam Aphrodite, re-assuring me that I am
not too old to be enraptured. At least not yet.
© Norman Jope