Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Meaning of Night

We have been having English weather of late. The overcast grey and mild temperatures with a hint of moisture on the way. Quite far from the -30 degree weather people in western Canada are experiencing now. This weather, though drab and dreary, is rich in character, the kind of weather that an M. R. James short story or a Wilkie Collins novel evokes, or an Atkinson Grimshaw painting can depict. If one would like to curl up with a great victorian-like read, one might want to turn to the recently published novel, The Meaning of Night, by Michael Cox. Though the footnotes seem more obtrusive than necessary, the story and the writing is of enough interest to carry one through the 600 page plus novel. John Bayley in his review of Michael Cox's 1983 biography of M. R. James, M. R. James: An Informal Portrait (Oxford University Press), writes: "Among the many pleasures to be got from Michael Cox's excellent book is the sense of a vanished world. . .Cox's wholly admirable book is a treasure-house of vanished lore, atmosphere and personalities." This could equally be said of The Meaning of Night. A good holiday read to be sure.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Forty Eight

This afternoon I locked the door to Chumley and Pepys Secondhand Books at 48 Albert Street, Stratford, for the last time. I put two garbage bags out and handed the keys in to the owners of the building. It was a good feeling. We were ready to move on.

After two months of wretched weather, it was a glorious day. We finally had a taste of Indian summer with the sun shining benignly and the temperature reaching 14 degrees. Cats were enjoying the warmth and squirrels were nervously busy but with a lighter bounce to their hops. The river Avon's water level had been lowered for the winter and the flocks of Canada Geese looked rather perplexed. Yes, it was a good day for closure.

Last Friday, stressed and exhausted, my wife and I were busy with last minute packing of odds and ends. We were removing the contents of an old wooden filing cabinet I had brought with us from Montreal, business files, christmas decorations, old audio cassettes, and junk, when upon opening the second drawer we looked down to see two large wooden numbers, a 4 and an 8, which I had bought long ago and painted the store colours, blue and gold, but had never used on the exterior signage. Last Friday was my 48th birthday. We both smiled at each other and remarked on the coincidence of closing the 48 Albert Street Bookshop on my 48th birthday. We had been so busy, we never thought about it until those wooden numbers played their part. It was a deftly cut jig saw piece that fit right in place.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

c'est le paysage longtemps...

Dust motes and bare shelves, tired thoughts and diminshed energies; hard to think I shall close the door and never return. Today, after almost a week of packing and moving boxes of books, my resolve and my ability to rise to the required challenge were at their lowest ebb. It was at the close of day, the light fading into a steel november dusk, that I came across an old audio cassette which had fallen behind a cabinet. An audio cassette I had taped of an interview with Joseph Campbell in 1981. On the other side I had taped the countertenor Alfred Deller singing John Dowland's songs with Robert Spencer, lute, and the Consort of Six. Holding this old "Intermagnetics" 60 minute audio cassette, was like finding a lost thread of light directing me out of the of the bibliographic labyrinth I had entered three years ago. I sat on the weathered oriental carpet and my thoughts travelled back to conversations on philosophy, literature, art and music with a friend in the cafes of Montreal on la rue St. Denis and boulevard St. Laurent. The friend who lent me his old slightly scratchy album of Alfred Deller singing Dowland, and the one who told me of Joseph Campbells work. The days of haunting secondhand bookshops for Kierkegaard, Donne, Conrad or Durrell; and record shops in search of those Angel Records of Freni, Baker, or Schwarzkopf, or Blue Note Records of Miles Davis and other giants, or those ECM albums which were so in vogue...

At home, I showed my wife the cassette and we listened to it together. It was a pleasure to be able to share a part of my life of 25 years ago, but saddening, for the world seems to be running further away from the philosophical truths Campbell believed in.

At the beginning of the day, however, I turned on CBC radio as I usually do when I enter the shop, and the classical request show Here's to You with Shelley Solmes . She was introducing a piece of music requested by someone who said he had had a dream of listening to this piece of music with a friend, and so would like to hear it on the show. It was the villanesca by Granados from his Danzas Espanolas. Angela Hewitt on the piano. That alone was interesting. A dream of listening to a specific piece of music. With someone. Unusual. But what had me transfigured into a statue of apprehension was that the piece of music was important to me as well. In fact, last night I had rumaged through some old video-cassettes and discovered a film I had taped off the television, one of my favorite French films of the 80s, Peril en la Demeure(1985) with Richard Bohringer one of my favorite actors who also appears in Diva, another favorite film of the 80s. This piece of music by Granados traces a thematic thread through the film. I watched the movie and was reliving that late 1980s and early 1990s period of my life.

Coming to the end of one pursuit I seem to have been shown the past, as if the recent three year section of my life had just shifted into puzzle position, interlocked with past events to reveal a larger picture. A final piece for the middle panel of the triptych of my life. This makes me think of Bohringer again, playing an interesting character in the film Diva, working on a very large puzzle, listening to ambient music and finding that last piece.

C'est le paysage longtemps, c'est une cloche,
c'est du soir la delivrance si pure-;
mais tout cela en nous prepare l'approche
d'une nouvelle, d'une tendre figure...
Ainsi nous vivons dans un embarras tres etrange
entre l'arc lointain et la trop penetrante fleche:
entre le monde trop vague pour saisir l'ange
et Celle qui, par trop de presence, l'empeche.
-R. M. Rilke

Dans la multiple rencontre

Dans la multiple rencontre
Dans la multiple recontre
faisons a tout sa part,
afin que l'ordre se montre
parmi les propos du hasard.
Tout autour veut qu'on l'ecoute-,
ecoutons jusqu'au bout;
car le verger et la route
c'est toujours nous!
-R. M. Rilke