|waiting for scorcio|
It’s supposed to be the most dispiriting time of the year – late January, early February: cold, wet, windy, with yards of winter still to plough through. And yet it might as well be spring.
|oh Happy Days|
Although plainly there is pleasure to be taken from blue skies, indeterminate grey feels more complex and human, and therefore more interesting. Maybe it is a lifetime of British weather talking, but if you’ve got an eye for the speck on the otherwise flawless horizon, probably best use it.
|I do not know quoi|
A man waits for his lover in a bar in mid 1970s Paris. The man is the writer and philosopher Roland Barthes. Despite his celebrated career as an intellectual, all those fine books and the near certainty of a place in the pantheon of eternal French thinkers awaiting, still Barthes worries as he waits anxiously ‘for an arrival, a return, a promised sign’. And he waits with ‘no sense of proportions’ This is key – proportion. With time on his hands, and only his head for company, the lone thinker rapidly ties himself in knots, creating a mini psychodrama of abandonment by his lover, the ‘loss of the loved object’, where the scenography induces ‘all the effects of minor mourning.’
Barthes’ psychodrama is personal, but also familiar to many. It’s early evening, the magic hour, and the writer rests his reading book on the cafe table in expectation of the lover’s imminent arrival. The wait is firstly mathematical, the checking of the watch. The second hand races up to, then past, the agreed time; and then inexorably circuits round again (like the sea, it never stops), pulling the minute hand away from the meeting time, making the lover definitively late.
|A Lover’s jacket|
And the one who waits becomes cross with the one who still hasn’t arrived. ‘I decide to “take it badly”’, writes Barthes in A Lover’s Discourse, his collection of short speculative pieces on the ambiguities of passion and the self.
The next stage of waiting is wondering. Was there a misunderstanding of where and when? Could he/she be in a different cafe? Or is it me stupidly sat at the wrong meeting place?
Barthes could call his lover and ask. This is pre-mobile, so he’d need to get up and use the public phone booth. But often with Parisian cafes the booth is in the basement, and in this way Barthes risks missing the late arrival of the lover; who (following the law of sod) would arrive just after he ducked downstairs. And, finding no sign of Barthes, the lover might assume their date gave up waiting and left, probably in anger.
Perhaps it is better to think of it in these terms: the absent parent leaves, and then returns, and the reappearance is wonderful; but this coming and going suggests a new pattern, wherein they will probably disappear again. From now on we understand that nothing is certain in this life. Which is why Barthes is so anxious over the tardiness of his lover. A psychic wound has been created, one to last through to, and then across, the vast, yet galloping plains of adulthood. (But for the grown-up, collapsing in tears and kicking our legs on the carpet is no longer an option.)*
But despite this apparent dead end, it doesn’t need to be simply angst and pain. There is another way to regard the situation, one where ‘here, gone, but back again’, plays out as entertaining; and where glimpses of happiness might provide a sufficient warmth to get you through those inevitable cold spells.
We assumed we were just playing a game, not enacting a crucial life lesson. But looking back, maybe there’s more to games than we know. One day, while he was under the towel, the expectation building, I took a chance and introduced a new twist by pulling out a plastic wash basin and putting it over my head. When the Annoying Son next peeped out from under the towel he was confronted by a bucket monster. And he almost exploded out of the chair at the comedy.
I then repeated the trick, but added extra reverberating sounds from under the plastic as embellishment. Only to then, suddenly, dramatically lift the bucket, to see what J thought of it so far – and my infant son started to cry.
Oh no! Too much. I’ve really gone and done it now, not only scaring, but possibly even scarring my son for life. I said it’s alright. Told him it was just a ‘stupid game.’ Only to realise he was crying with disappointment, not fear; that he was sad with me for taking the basin off too soon, when he was having all that fun. ‘More, Daddy! More!’ More, More, More. Just one more, okay!
Repeated fun was never a trial or a bore. And yet with repetition there was also always difference, with everything constantly changing – even if appearances sometimes suggested otherwise. As Deleuze observed, nothing is ever the same, even copies are something new, with reality not fixed, but always in a state of becoming.
In the last months of his life, the neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks reflected upon how age and longevity profoundly changed his view on existence, bringing forth the realisation that permanence isn’t as long lasting as it once seemed – that empires rise, and they fall, that big ideas come and go. And with this knowledge, came a sharper view on the short nature of things: ‘One is more conscious of transiences and, perhaps, of beauty.’
With some of the good stuff, a glimpse is all you get. On a train ride four, five months ago, pulling away from a local station, I caught sight of a winding street leading away up a minor hill. But the train accelerated and the meander was gone. The after-image was of an approach road climbing up to a small cluster of brick houses, glowing in a pink sunset. I’ve looked out for this winding lane several times since – I like a good visual meander – but I can’t find it.
The street might just as well have vanished. It can easily happen. Streets often go missing in this complicated city. A New York Times article from 2014 concerning trainee London taxi drivers ‘doing’ the Knowledge, describes the rigours of the memory test as ‘less a product of the English character than of the torturous London landscape… To be in London is, at least half the time, to have no idea where the hell you are… Take a look sometime at a London street map,’ urges the American writer in London, quite perplexed and put out by what lies before him. ‘What a mess: It is a preposterously complex tangle of veins and capillaries, the cardiovascular system of a monster… The result is a town that bewilders even its lifelong residents. Londoners, writes Peter Ackroyd, are “a population lost in [their] own city.”’
|mum never liked birds|
In the 1980s comedy film drama Something Wild, mid way through this tonally-shifting road movie, as the yuppie-out-of-water storyline shifts into a darker, twistier tale of a yuppie in peril, there’s a pause for breath as the camera follows the heroes down a empty rural meander at dusk. The road curves up, goes right, then left, as the vehicle disappears out of shot. The meander is brief and slight, but hangs heavy with a sense of switchback and transience that still hovers in my head three decades after.
|the longer you look, the stranger my legs get|
The song Meeting Place, by The Last Shadow Puppets, is a retro pop ballad concerning a short-lived love affair. The swoonsome, deeply romantic track concludes with the lines: ‘I’m sorry I met you darling/I’m sorry I left you’ – to then drop away into an extended, pretty orchestral fade out. The song is brief and doesn’t pack many verses, solos, breaks, or middle eights. It is much shorter than you want it to be, and therefore, arguably, its perfect duration. But you crave for the song to hang about as the orchestral coda slowly pulls you away. And then you grasp the piece’s essence – that Meeting Place is what it describes, a heartbroke, plaintive glimpse of peak perfect happiness stretching into the distance…
The meandering London street from the train window at dusk was beautiful because of the light, and the unexpected curve of the tarmac climbing up the hill, and because the way the full-leaf trees sagged densely over the pavement. But it was also beautiful for being fleeting, rather than lasting.
|just a glimpse|
There is a word for all this, if you speak Italian: scorcio. (Not to be confused with scorchio – how Spanish TV weather reporters describe hot weather.) The Italian scorcio, means a glimpse, a space, a turn, a moment – something that’s over almost before it’s really begun. A passing glimpse of the moon, a patch of sky, a strip of blue water.
A google of scorcio coughs up pictures of arches, views under a bridge, or something leading on from the bottom of an alley or stairway. Perhaps a scorcio is a flash in-between two buildings; but not long in duration, already gone in fact. Scorcio isn’t a view, or vista, or prospect in a new city, but to catch sight of another way to continue, a perhaps more enticing alternative route. But scorcio might also describe this thing that pierced you for a moment. The trick, perhaps, is to be contented with just this glimpse; to not be anxious or go chasing an elusive thing that will only give you the slip anyway.
|‘where the fuck did Monday go?’|
* Abandonment is not only a condition to last a lifetime, but enough material for a life’s work. Well, according to David Bowie in a late interview: ‘My entire career, I’ve only really worked with the same subject matter. The trousers may change, but the actual words and subjects I’ve always chosen to write with are things to do with isolation, abandonment, fear and anxiety, all of the high points of one’s life.’
** This waiting in a cafe for the late arrival of a lover didn’t happen to me. Not lately. The new lover is a good time keeper. The anxiety of waiting simply occurs as a fine example of bad brain work.
*** In the period when he went looking for support for his love life from assorted systems of belief, Barthes recounts a dream in which a loved person falls sick in the street and begs passers by for help. But they all dismiss his entreaties. Barthes interprets the dream as the various philosophies having nothing to offer him, with none of them equipped to “‘understand’ me – or ‘shelter’ me.”
**** Later on, once the Annoying Son found his legs, he graduated to hide and seek, leading to longish afternoons in the park. The parent counting to fifty, then pretending to search for their child in the bushes and woods,;despite the fact that they’d immediately spotted their child (the flash of distinctive clothing, parental radar) crouched under the canopy of the Willow tree over there.
***** Another glimpse from a train window a long, long time ago. Travelling from Vienna to Venice, crossing north eastern Italy on a hot morning. The service slowed to a crawl through the outskirts of a town. At the front of a queue of cars behind a level crossing sat two nuns in full head dress eating bananas in an old grey Fiat.