Tuesday, April 8, 2014

serene and aimless

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” 

- Augustine of Hippo

There was a long period of time when we didn't go anywhere. We were too tired, too broke, and let me repeat, too tired. Years passed and we went no where, stayed home, repeated the lines by Rumi: "A little while alone in your room will prove more valuable than anything else that could ever be given you."

But we read a lot of books, we travelled inward. We worked. Rob painted, there was a time when he would paint all day starting early in the morning, and then go back to his studio after dinner for a couple more hours. I worked in whatever part-time job I happened to have, and worked on my writing. This was before we had our daughter. Then everything changes, you become even more tired, and perhaps more hopeful. The world contracts, but in ways, too, it expands.

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” 

- Gustave Flaubert

Travel does make one modest. And it also reminds you how wondrous the world is. How odd and crazy and full.

So. Anyway - I like the contrast of the very first shot - taken on my iPhone at a place down the street from where we were staying and where we had dinner one night with the shots I took at FAO Schwartz, the fancy and famous toy store.

We also went to Dylan's Candy Bar, which had been such a thrill on our first trip.

And, a different kind of candy store, The Strand Book Store. Heaven on earth.

We did each find a few treasures there but when I came home, I began reading A Defense of Ardor by Adam Zagajewski which I'd purchased before leaving. In his essay, 'Vacation's End' he talks about the latin word, otium. Otium is 'serene, aimless, unhurried meditation.'

He compares otium: "I think of a room with books, an armchair, and albums of reproductions" with vacation. Vacation involves travel, which "is necessarily accompanied by an abundance of minor, annoying indignities." (Just think, airport security).

Well, he goes on to talk about 'the phenomenology of vacations,' saying, "the trip explodes the serenity of otium, it tears us from our favourite books. (Or rather from our choice of bedtime reading - how many books can you take on the road? And who knows if you'll want to keep faith with the authors you picked up while packing?)"

The novel I took with me on the trip (and did keep faith with) was Siri Hustvedt's The Blazing World. This is the publisher's description of the book:

From the internationally bestselling author, praised for her “beguiling, lyrical prose” (The Sunday Times Review, UK), comes a brilliant, provocative novel about an artist, Harriet Burden, who after years of being ignored by the art world conducts an experiment: she conceals her female identity behind three male fronts.
Presented as a collection of texts, edited and introduced by a scholar years after the artist’s death, the book unfolds through extracts from Burden’s notebooks and conflicting accounts from others about her life and work. Even after she steps forward to reveal herself as the force behind three solo shows, there are those who doubt she is responsible for the last exhibition, initially credited to the acclaimed artist Rune. No one doubts the two artists were involved with each other. According to Burden’s journals, she and Rune found themselves locked in a charged and dangerous psychological game that ended with the man’s bizarre death.

When Claire Messud's book came out, The Woman Upstairs, I wrote a blog post about ruth and ruthlessness. The book is about two women artists who make installations, similar to the artist character in Hustvedt's book. The main character in The Blazing World is a likeable one. Tall, feels herself to be odd looking (though others describe her otherwise) - someone I could relate to and with whom I could empathize. The story of Harriet Burden is told polyphonically, which could be distancing, but ends up not being so. Interesting form, of course, in a book where the 'mask' is central to the presentation of the main character's art.

I was going to write a long and erudite blog post comparing the two novels, and then bringing in my own self-published book about the woman art forger, Hive: A Forgery. However, one runs out of time. And then, it's still a little depressing to me to think about Hive, and the slightly humiliating need to self-publish. (I usually follow up my feelings of self-pity by reading the piece Tanis MacDonald wrote about it on Lemon Hound).

Alright, enough about all that.

I was a bit obsessed with taking photos of the poetry section at The Strand. So. Much. Poetry.

Our suitcases were a little heavier on the way home. And I'm quite happily prepared to return to 'otium' - that serene and aimless meandering through my various stacks of books....


  1. The strand looks just like I remember it 13 years ago. Chloe looks radiant in FAO Schwartz :)


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