The morning walk to work is a fundamentally difficult concept. A morning walk to work is a walk inside brackets, is fenced in by time, is a trade-off between mindfulness and speed. The walk becomes an act to maintain a balance between these two things. It becomes a challenge to stay in the present, to not rush ahead to the tasks of the day, to prevent your mind from getting to the office before your body. It is also a challenge to pay just enough attention so that the walk can end at the right time and place. But you don't want to be too conscious of that, because then the lovely free feeling is repressed. Not la Flaneuse's first choice, but it is a very good reminder of how time-poor we are, if a simple unplanned unhurried walk is a luxury occurrence.
The kind of short stories I like best give something up – reveal or yield something that is not otherwise, not by any other means, explicable. You couldn't get there, for instance, with a poem; you couldn't get there with a novel. The "something" might be a single resonant image or a moment of nuanced emotion, but whatever its nature it is so utterly itself, so utterly belonging to the story, that we (the readers) know it is true, and therefore universal. Not every short story is like this but this is the kind I like. I like the revelation and I like it best when it is simply there and the writer isn't hitting me over the head with it, or pointing all kinds of arrows to it, or screaming it in neon. I like the moment when the skin of something is pulled back just a little bit and I get to peek inside. I don't want to necessarily be inside. But I don't mind if it gets inside me, you know – if it gets inside my own skin, then it's really something.
Again I walked for no purpose other than walking. I walked a walk that is a chain of parks -- the Bois de la Cambre (the edge of it), Parc Wolvendael, Parc Brugman, and Parc Montjoie -- with a minor detour into Dieweg Cemetery. Hergé is buried there, Tintin's creator, and Paul Hankar, the architect -- though I have to say that I have never found Hergé's grave. The Cemetery was very dry and dusty -- the driest and dustiest I have ever seen it. It must have suffered in that week of heat we had. But once deep inside, the dust gave way to moss and shadow and the overrunning vegetation filtered the light.
Back on the streets, it was quiet and in some places nearly deserted. Usually things start to pick up again about now in Brussels, but my impression today was that this was not the case. The turn has not yet occurred...
This week I walked with no other purpose but walking. I had not done this in a very long time. I usually have a walk in the morning but it gets justified with a purpose -- the bakery, or the post office, or walking with the youngest daughter to school. The other day I needed nothing, needed to do nothing, apart from walking. At first it felt strange: Where would I go? How would I know? As I walked, ideas came. One street beckoned, another didn't. One direction felt wrong, another right. I even walked down a street that I may have never walked down before, despite having lived in and around this neighbourhood for 15 years. It was a surprise achievement. But ultimately I was happy just to have been walking for the sake of walking. I don't think I can satisfactorily explain how liberating it feels. I think that I have broken through some kind of barrier, one that I didn't even know was there.
It was so stifling in the office the other day that I had to go out and walk for a while during my lunch break. I decided to go to a second-hand book shop; there was enough time to get there and back on the tram. The results were good: "The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes, "The Lying Days" by Nadine Gordimer, and "No Night Is Too Long" by Barbara Vine.
The Vine book is one that is especially hard to find, and has not been reprinted like her other, even earlier books, so that was especially lucky. "The Lying Days" is Gordimer's first novel, and I have to confess I have not read more than one or two of her short stories. Am currently reading this and it is lovely and loose, with beautiful language. It's the kind of book I wish I had time to take to the woods and find a clearing and read it all day. I am completely convinced by the voice of the narrator.
"The Sense of an Ending" is brilliant. I read it first, in about 24 hours -- it is short for a novel, but that only makes it better: it is hard in the sense of compact, concise, every word working for the overall effect, and -- a thing that can be all too rare, I want to read it again. In fact I wanted to read it again right away, but I made myself wait and read "The Lying Days" first.
The other night the air was still warm at midnight. I laid in bed with the window wide open so the breeze -- what breeze there was -- crossed my bare legs. It reminded me of spending the night at the house of my mother's parents during the summer. They did not have air conditioning so we could sleep with the windows open, with the sky dark outside and the earth cooling down but the room still warm inside. I loved the encroaching sensation of the night air, the shallow rise and fall of the curtain when there was a breeze, the night sounds of crickets, of passing cars, of other insects humming their summer's hum, the smell of the room that was familiar, but not mine --a closed-up, drowsy, wooden smell, soporific, like a baseball game. And there probably was a baseball game on somewhere, on the radio, and the sound of it came through the open window too; that announcer's drawl and the drone of the crowd in the background adding to the texture of the night, along with the beds that sagged in the middle and the cotton sheets so smooth with washing and age, that the embroidery on the pillowcase was no more than a faint scar...