RE: Reading The Fixed Stars on an unspecified island (a recognitive reconnaissance)
It always begins before even leaving.
It never matters when or where.
We meet some people & go to some place near our house to fill our bellies with some things, in this case sea urchins. Eating sea urchin is as close as you can get to licking the bottom of the sea. Then we meet some more people & drink some fermented spirits & listen to some musicians playing music in our language, in a style from the south of our country, though they are from the country we are now living in. Afterwards we go up to the 3rd floor of our home & lay our heads down on our bed—the only bed i claim as our own. We lay there until i hear blackbirds out our window. I listen to the blackbirds until the sky starts to get light then get up & run boiled water through some ground-up beans & slowly sip it until i feel awake.
I write this down then i go outside & start running without really knowing in advance where i am running to. I run across the river by the «mouth of truth», though a field where they used to race horse-drawn chariots & up behind the ruins of ancient colossal baths. A squadron of men yielding weedeaters try to get a handle on entropy. The sun is rising through the mist. Umbrella pines line the horizon. I end up running through a dramatic gate in a wall & along an aqueduct, down along a cobbled road that is almost 2000 years old. Still paved with the same large stones, but trafficked with a stream of modern vehicles, 2-wheeled & 4—all intent on going somewhere as if their lives depended on it. I run above a network of catacombs & grottoed ruins, through meadows & past sheep still sleeping in an enclosed pen. It smells of pasture & smoke. I stop only to drink water from a spigot that's been running continuously for who knows how long. I run past 13 pedestalled plaques, each depicting a man & a cross—from carrying it to being nailed to it. It just happens to be the very day this man was nailed to this cross—2012 years ago. At the last station a runner in front of me gestures with his hand, touching his chest & mouth, back & forth. I turn around soon thereafter & run a different way back.
When i get home i water seedling plants on our terrace then i squat in a tub & run water over myself. After lathering, i rinse off. I put some different clothes on & stuff a change or two of clothes into a backpack, along with my identification, a camera, two books, a few pens & this very notebook i'm writing in. We drink more coffee then shutter the windows & lock the door behind us with a skeleton key. We walk down along the river & cross a different bridge then i ran earlier. We keep walking in the sun until we pass an off-white pyramid. We also pass a cemetery where people not from this place are buried. On one grave of a famous poet it says «Here lies one whose name was writ in water.» We don't actually see or read this, but i've read it before with my own eyes. A lot of things we pass in this city we initially saw once or twice on the inside & thereafter you walk by & it triggers the memory. Sometime these memories are cumulative, other times they stick to a particular event in time.
In a nearby train station i think we can catch a train to the town on the coast where we need to go to catch a ferry boat, but i'm wrong. So we get on another train that backtracks underground to the main terminal & there we catch an above ground train that leaves the city limits & heads toward the coast. And here i am on this train. I'm writing in a notebook with a map showing an abstracted view of where we live on the cover—at the very bottom on the south bank near the island formed by the forking & then re-merging river.
But now we are fast moving away from that place to another one.
In a book i was reading yesterday it said «a landscape doesn't have an inside.» When i run & ride on trains i feel like i'm perpetually on the brink of getting inside the landscape. I'll never make it inside, but it's more about the effort of trying. These activities unstick you, if only for an instant, from the everyday vanity of your immediate world, as does reading. I didn't bring that book with me, but i brought another book with a dark blue cover. I will now put down my pen & read this book.
This book i'm reading is taking me to another place just like this train. In this place in the book there is a disease that wipes out many of the inhabitants. This place in the book is a place that doesn't resemble any other place i have ever been to or read about. And the way the author writes of this place is also uniquely his own.
In this book there is a builder who designs & builds a bathhouse out of words.
You get the idea. This is the affect of the language—it has the power to build, to transport you.
Most of the people on this train aren't originally from here. They have darker skin & darker hair & speak another language. On the roadway outside the train, far from any town or place, a woman advertises herself. A car stops & she leans in. After some negotiating, she doesn't get in but resumes her posturing as the car drives on. I look back & forth between the book & out the window. Eventually we arrive at a town on the coast. I'm not entirely sure i've been to this town before—it resembles any number of other coastal towns of this country. We walk down to where the fishing boats come in & sit by the water in the sun & refill our bellies with mussels & clams & fish. Then we walk around the point to a beach on the open water. We find a spot beneath a lighthouse on a cactus-covered slope & read in the sun until i fall asleep.
We get some ice cream & watch some fishermen buy binoculars from a street peddler that doesn't speak their language or even ours. In this place they speak another language other than my mother tongue so it makes me ever-cognizant of language, mine & theirs. Language is never anything we should take for granted.
We board a fast boat that takes off from this harbor & into the open sea. As quickly as this prior town existed for a few hours, it's now like it no longer exists, except on a map. The sky is blue & the sea bluer. I continue reading this book written in a language that marries sexuality & violence, not just to describe it, but these things & the words used to describe them become one & the same.
In this passage it is revealed that we are indeed on earth, but that is as much as we know. Every once in a while i go outside on the deck & look at the expanse of sea & some islands in the distance. Eventually we enter a harbor & disembark.
We wander through the streets of this new town until we find a place to call home for the next few days. When we first arrive, the hostess at this hotel is not there because she is out in the yard collecting lemons. She wipes her hands off then shows us to our room. We drop off our backpacks then go out to explore our surroundings. This island is known for a certain scenic beach, but a few years ago several people were laying on this beach sunning themselves when rocks fell from the cliffs & killed them. They've draped metal netting down some of the cliff but it still remains closed for fear that it will happen again. Even if it was open, there's only one way to access the beach (besides by boat) & that is from a tunnel built almost 2000 years ago—but in the process of trying to renovate this tunnel (with explosives) they collapsed an otherwise historic section of it, so the tunnel is also blocked off. We keep walking up the road until we're up on top of the cliff looking down at this beach.
This island is also known as being a location in an epic book written some 2800 years ago, though back then the name of the island (in the book) had 5 vowels & no consonants. The hero of this book is seduced by a witch who turns his men into swine & so he has a year-long affair with her on this island to have the pigs turned back to humans. This witch lived in a cave overlooking the above beach—it could be this cave below, but i could be wrong.
In the book i'm reading now there is also a love interest. The same-sex couple travels on a raft, on a river in search of a sea that keeps being somewhere other than where it is supposed to be. And the raft is made of ice wrapped in burlap so constantly needs to be replenished by opening vents when it is cold out. These women renounce language for silence, or at least for a language that is more akin to music, without words.
We watch the sun set then return to town & eat food caught from the sea. A massive bonfire is lit on the beach in front of where we are eating. Then a solemn religion procession passes & everyone stops eating to watch. The fire & procession have something to do with that guy that died 2000 years ago. On this day last year we were on another island in the same sea that also had a procession to commemorate this man. Funny that these people here would so honor this guy, being that they are descendants of the men who had this guy killed. Maybe in their genes they still feel bad about it.
After ingesting these things into our bodies we go back to our home away from home & lay our bodies down & read until our eyes tire & we shut them & then i hear rooster's crowing & the sound of furniture being moved around over our heads. The weather has changed overnight & it is now raining & cold. We ingest more things into our bodies & read more words thinking the rain might pass but it doesn't so we go down into town & catch a bus going to the other end of this island. There are other people not from this island here, here just for the hell of it like us, but most of them seem to be at least from the mainland or the same continent. We haven't heard anyone speaking our language here.
There are domesticated cats & dogs on this island & lots of birds, but otherwise not a lot of animals, not even goats. Supposedly they keep rabbits here but we haven't seen any. The dogs are friendly & everywhere we go we seem to have one in tow. Most of the cats seem to spend all their time inside garbage dumpsters until we scare them when we walk past.
We get off the bus on the other end of the island & start to walk back, sometimes in the rain. We stop at a few beaches along the way & look around & into the water or at the plants & cliffs & whatever else is interesting to look at.
You can get a good idea about a place by reading about it or from looking at photos other people take before you go there, but you can't really get the «feel» of a place until you go for yourself. Every island resonates at its own unique frequency. The vibe of this island is at times difficult to pick up on as it isn't the season most people go to this island & lot of the island is covered with cement & thoughtless architecture—blocky concrete homes strewn haphazardly on crumbling slopes. The natural environment is sketchy & subject to erosion so a lot of the places that used to be visited are now closed, or at least not accessible unless you have a boat. But even in the traces of human occupation there is beauty, intentional or not. Or at least sights of interest.
The water in this place tastes funny & not funny in a good way, but funny in a sweet tangy way. What little of it there is comes from old underground cisterns. In the book, language becomes liquid: «So small as to be invisible to even the eyes of children, it is written there nevertheless, in helices coiled together two by two, in numbers beyond counting even in the smallest drop of blood.» But even this blood language must be parsed, transcripted & in doing so inevitably kills its original essence by virtue of use: «It was invisible, what the gel did to the blood, but it disturbed him to know that, in order to read the blood's helices, it tore the pairs of them asunder; what had been a carefully coiled helix wrapped in the snug embrace of its opposite number, it left a tattered strand of waste; what had been the name of a person it left an unintelligible stutter.»
A lot of times in this place there are doors leading into the sides of cliffs. Rather than build homes or storage shelters, they often just carve them out of the soft rock or repurpose existing grottos.
We walk down to some rocky area with crystal clear pools of water that in summer months would likely be crowded with sea- & sunbathers. But now it is raining & too cold to do little else than observe.
At one point i am curious enough to stick the tip of my camera underwater (see below). Then we are hungry again & eat more shellfish.
A lot of the roads & pathways here don't seem planned. If a new home is built somebody might extend the stairs or trail to reach their home, but that's it, until the next person builds a home further up. So all the roads & footpaths have a piecemeal quality to them that often dead-ends & you have to backtrack & go the way you came, often through people's yards, mostly abandoned as most people don't seem to live here year round. Just dogs that follow us around for a while then branch off sniffing somewhere else.
We walk back to where we are temporarily living & by then the sun has come out so we sit in the rays, sheltered from the wind, which has picked up, and read. Or half-read, half-sleep. I dream i am in an underground cistern like the one i was visiting here or here, but this cistern is empty of water & you can walk around & ride your skateboard in it. In the book i'm reading things are starting to get racey & raunchy.
And as fiction becomes increasing blurred with reality, the footing of this book becomes increasingly oozing with slime & its inhabitants increasingly less human.
This is the type of book it is.
I finish this book & then we eat swordfish & other seafoods, washed down with spirited liqueur made from lemons. We walk home in the dark streets & lay down & close our eyes again & it gets windier & windier & with eyes closed it sounds like everything is coming undone outside. It seems every time we are near the coast in this country the air gets turbulent & unsettled like this, especially at night, but perhaps this is only because your imagination takes over in the darkness of foreign places.