Saturday, March 14, 2009

Riding sea swells in Alexandria & more things

"Mountolive" is the third book of "The Alexandria Quartet"

Literature turns me into a Republican ....

Maybe more of this story will come back to me as I write it, but probably not. So what?

A few years ago, I was taking a graduate level course in literature. I cannot recall the name of the course, but it concerned novels and was British and European in nature. It was an evening class, in the summer, and there were about 25 students in attendance. Most were high school teachers looking for credits to use to jump up their salaries. One or two were grad teaching assistants (probably career grad assistants). One among the group was the village idiot, me, who thought the class might be more beneficial to me than an evening bowling or sitting in a bar. It is entirely possible I was the only person there because I actually wanted to be there. (Well, I never claimed to be perfect.)

One of the books we were reading was, "Mountolive," written by Lawrence Durrell. I mentioned him back when I listed my choices for the 100 best novels ever written. That seems so long ago, but I have not been writing on the blog even for two months yet so, I guess, it really was not that long ago.

Durrell, who may or may not have been an actual British citizen, was born in India and died in France. His works include, "The Alexandria Quartet," of which "Mountolive" was third in the series. Briefly, it tells the story of David Mountolive, a junior member of the British legation to Egypt, his love affairs, his work, his observations, his recollections.

I still have the book. I looked for it so I might refresh my memory, but could not find it. I do not have enough room for all my hardback books on my shelves, much less any paperbacks. Most of my books live in boxes where, although absent from me, are in the company of many other fine books and know that I do love them, still.

Back to topic. Our instructor, an elderly man whose body language indicated boredom and resignation, often read a few pages from the novel we were engaged with at the moment. Then, like good instructors everywhere, he asked we, his students, for interpretations. Again, without the ability to re-read the pages, I cannot recall the details precisely, but one evening he read about a boat -- maybe a punt, maybe a gondola, certainly not a canoe -- riding the waves on a lake or a river or whatever at sunset or sunrise or at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time or whatever.

One of the high school teachers seeking a raise (pay, that is) volunteered that it was a perfect description of the sights and sounds one would experience if riding in or watching a boat moving across open water under a beautiful sky. I seem to recall another volunteering a similar opinion, differing mostly in the exact shade of color of the sky. Then, he who has an opinion about everything raised his hand. "I think Durrell is making a very detailed allusion to a man and a woman making love," said he. (Note the absence of crude language in his commentary.) He, who sat next to one of the career grad assistants, felt heads turn to look his way. (Some of the more subtle in the group only turning eye balls.)

He, who sees strange things when upon the water, went on to describe how he thought Durrell's description of a boat (whatever kind it was) rising and falling upon the water, with the movement of the currents and the spray of the water, etc., etc., etc., to be an allegorical description of love-making. (I really wish I could dig the book out of the pile to do justice to this commentary.)

After a few minutes of hemming and hawing and commenting about what an interesting interpretation "he," meaning me, had arrived at, we had an early dismissal, and each of us adjourned to our favorite establishments of liquid refreshment. No matter if my interpretation had any validity or not, it still fascinates me that the depth of some readers' perception goes no deeper than debating the shade of color an author has just described, especially when dealing with writers such as Durrell, who himself had said the quartet was his continuing investigation of modern love.

It was then, for the first time among the many conversions in my life, that I registered as a Republican, hoping that they, at least, knew the difference between a love scene and watching a boat bobbing in the water. Whether or not this conversion was a success is a story for another day. Canoes are magical things, are they not?

More things about more things ....

I almost bought a 40-foot sailboat to live on when I sold Sanctuary/Refuge, but decided, no, it would be far too premature. Besides, I had too many books and guns to fit within her -- and, if she went down with my guns and books, I think I would go with her, too.

Early on, by design, I turned into a newspaper jack-of-all-trades. I can do it all, none of it especially well, but run any desk or handle any job or write satisfactorily enough to cover any story in the joint. The words generally used to describe me are "sort of indispensable." Hard to beat that, unless the newspaper itself actually folds, and which is why it never has been difficult for me to find work.

It is a strange feeling, trying to decide which t-shirt fits a given occasion, when you open a drawer and see one from the Sierra Club and another from the Audubon Society, and next to them is another that reads: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because I am the meanest SOB in the valley." It is an even stranger feeling to know they all accurately represent a part of you or, at least, a part of you that you have been and could be again, should circumstances call for it in protection of loved ones or castle or any innocent's life. Who says the male of the species is not a complex creature?

Music Note: Listening to Lee Ann Womack ....
Specifically, "I Hope You Dance" ....
Some lines from: "I Hope You Dance:"

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat
But always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted

God forbid love ever leave you empty handed
I hope you still feel small
When you stand by the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me you'll give faith a fighting chance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance

I hope you dance


Katy said...

Good morning Fram and happy Saturday.

Your comments on your evening class remind me of when I was in the 6th form at school and studying English A Level - specifically on this occasion the sublime "Xanadu" by STC. I remember our teacher becoming very irate, desk-thumpingly so, at his frustration that we didn't see the allusion contained in and around the lines:

"...And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced..."

My only excuse is that we were perhaps only 16, 17 years old at most and ignorant to the meaning either by (genuine) innocence or late adolescent embarassment...

The T-shirt slogan that you mentioned made me smile as a picture of that exact same one is inside the double gate-fold vinyl LP sleeve of the mid-1980s album "Love" by The Cult, one of my Goth rock favourites right back at about the exact same time as I was entirely missing STC's point.

Katy said...

PS - I should have said I have that album still, although like your books safely stored away in boxes, all of my vinyl collection resides at the barn.

TheChicGeek said...

Hello Fram :) I love the song "I Hope You Dance." What perfect advice for how to live life. The book sounds wonderful and your analysis, perfect. I love it when people like you are in classes I take...makes them so much more fulfilling and enjoyable :)
You'd be surprised at some of the T-shirts I have :) You should do a post and display your best ones. T-shirts tell us a lot about the wearer.
Have a Beautiful Saturday!

Fram said...

I wonder how many other things The Cure and I might have in common, Katy.

While you had coffee morning with mother, niece and friends, I had banana cream pie lunch with a cousin and her husband passing through on their way to a wedding. It was a happy Saturday.

Fram said...

Let me know when you sign up for a class, Kelly. I think we could keep the instructor a bundle of nerves throughout, sitting in the front row and showing off our t-shirt collections. Mine mostly are like my books, hiding somewhere in unpacked boxes in my basement, but I'll take a look one of these days.

"Dance" is a very special song.

TheChicGeek said...

Fram, you sure like banana cream

Fram said...

It appears we all had a nice Saturday, Kelly.

Congratulations, on the party, and if there is any pie left over ....

By the way, I am near-certain I could have picked you out without any identification by the photographs.

TheChicGeek said...

Yes, I'm the cute
No pie, just cake. Shall I ship you some? I'm teasing you. I feel happy today. I'm glad you had a happy day too :)

Fram said...


Put a piece in the freezer, just in case.

None of us have enough happy days, and I'll bet you deserve a few more. If you're smiling, I'm smiling.

Chocobo said...

Guns and books . . . I constantly find myself to be a paradox. At first it was difficult, but now I revel in it every day. Sensitive and hard-core, passionate and calm, everything and nothing. Being human is such a lovely thing.

I'm glad that there is someone else who recognizes that and embraces it instead of letting it upset them.

Fram said...

I just now noticed your comment here, Chocobo. Yes, I believe you understand it, more so than most people older than you.

There are no rules stating gun lovers must be card-carrying, Republican, NRA members, or any dogma that states only liberals can be environmentalists or demonstrate for equal rights. Be yourself, not someone else's stereotypical cutout.

Something special ....