I Know Where I'm Going

Buffy Art Historian: Conclusions

 

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BUFFY:  In other words, your typical male.

XANDER:  On behalf of my gender, hey.

GILES:  Yes, let’s not jump to any conclusions.

BUFFY:  I didn’t jump. I took a tiny step, and there conclusions were.

 

season 2, episode 15 (written by Rob DesHotel and Dean Batali, created by Joss Whedon)

(artwork: Georges de La Tour, The Fortune Teller, 1630s, oil on canvas, 101.9 x 123.5 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

 

Nabokov on film genre

 

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Nabokov’s powers of description and his eloquence were, indeed, formidable, and if Lolita somewhat loses its narrative thrust after its two main characters take flight through a vast America whose imaginary geography is constituted by the writer, the reader is rewarded by the abundance of evocative passages and descriptions. Such is the one where Nabokov discusses Lolita’s ‘veritable passion’ for cinema. An irony verging on disdain seeps through the lines that detail the various genres, and although it is more than likely that Nabokov jumbled together scenes from different films, the way he writes suggests he might refer to actual genre b-movies from the late 1940s, the period when he started his novel.

Musicals: “In the first, real singers and dancers had unreal stage careers in an essentially grief-proof sphere of existence wherefrom death and truth were banned, and where, at the end, white-haired, dewy-eyed, technically deathless, the initially reluctant father of a show-crazy girl always finished by applauding her apotheosis on fabulous Broadway.”

This seems too generic on the one hand, and too specific on the other, but despite much google searching I have come up empty-handed.

Gangster films/noir (Nabokov calls this category ‘the underworlders’): “The underworld was a world apart: there, heroic newspapermen were tortured, telephone bills ran to billions, and, in a robust atmosphere of incompetent marksmanship, villains were chased through sewers and storehouses by pathologically fearless cops.”

It might very well be the b-genre documentary-style noir He Walked by Night (1948), directed by Alfred Werker and the uncredited Anthony Mann, that prominently features a chase through sewers (the sewer scene from The Third Man also comes to mind, but I consider it a less likely candidate – it would hardly qualify as ‘genre’).

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Westerns: “Finally there was the mahogany landscape, the florid-faced, blue-eyed roughriders, the prim pretty schoolteacher arriving in Roaring Gulch, the rearing horse, the spectacular stampede, the pistol thrust through the shivered windowpane, the stupendous fist fight, the crashing mountain of dusty old-fashioned furniture, the table used as a weapon, the timely somersault, the pinned hand still groping for the dropped bowie knife, the grunt, the sweet crash of fist again chin, the kick in the belly, the flying tackle; and immediately after a plethora of pain that would have hospitalized a Hercules…, nothing to show but the rather becoming bruise on the bronzed cheek of the warmed-up hero embracing his gorgeous frontier bride.”

I am almost certain that this refers to The Virginian (1946), based on Owen Wister’s popular novel and directed by Stuart Gilmore, probably more well known as Preston Sturges’s editor. Gilmore even got his protagonist, blue-eyed Joel McCrea, from Sullivan’s Travels. The film features a rearing horse, a stampede, and Barbara Britton as the prim pretty schoolteacher.

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An exercise in futility? Perhaps – but an entertaining one, at the very least.

 

* All references are from the 2006 Penguin Red Classic edition.

Parody and the noir

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Probably because of its wide appeal as popular culture (both as literary and cinematic genre) and of the tendency to codify characters and plot points, the noir lent itself easily to parody from early on. My Favorite Brunette (1947), directed by the forgettable Elliott Nugent and starring Bob Hope, is the movie that inaugurates this sub-genre, dating only six years after The Maltese Falcon. Peter Lorre plays second fiddle in both movies, as the villain in the Falcon, and as a parody of himself in My Favorite Brunette. The cast of the latter also includes Dorothy Lamour, who appeared regularly alongside Bob Hope (and Bing Crosby) in the Road to…(Singapore, Zanzibar etc.) series of comedies.

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My Favorite Brunette mimics the convoluted plot of previous noir films such as The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep, placing the misunderstanding about the main character’s identity at its center. Bob Hope plays a children’s photographer who fantasizes about becoming a private eye and in the process is mistaken as one: ‘All my life I wanted to be a hardboiled detective like Humphrey Bogart or Dick Powell or even Alan Ladd’, using the actors’ names instead of the names of the characters they portrayed on-screen, thus blurring the line between life and fiction. This desire to incarnate the noir male would be explored further and relentlessly parodied some decades later in Woody Allen’s Play it again, Sam (1972), where a fictional alter ego resembling and sounding like Humphrey Bogart offers dating advice to Allen’s no-good-with-women character.

Other noir parodies have cropped up over the years, the funniest among them arguably being The Cheap Detective (1978), written by Neil Simon and directed by Robert Moore (responsible for another superb, Neil Simon-scripted parody, the 1976 Murder by death). Peter Falk, as Lou Peckinpaugh, parodies the archetypal film noir detective as much as his own portrayal of Columbo (on television, since 1971), adding layers of meaning to his performance (to use a Murder by Death quote, he is ‘in disguise in disguise in disguise’). The movie packs a series of references to films not strictly defined as noir, such as Casablanca and To Have and Have Not, perhaps because Humphrey Bogart who starred in both of them developed his cinematic persona in a way that transcended genre distinctions, as if operating in an unbroken extra-filmic narrative. Among its most hilarious scenes, the one with Madeline Kahn introducing herself with seven consecutive names stands out, in parody of Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon: Denise Manderley, Wanda Coleman, Gilda Dabney, Chloe Lamar, Alma Chalmers/Palmers, Vivian Purcell, Carmen Montenegro (‘that’s my last one, I promise!’).

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Another interesting attempt was Carl Reiner’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), with a stunning Rachel Ward who apparently made an impression as a noir female and would go on to star in Against All Odds (1984), the remake of Jacques Tourneur’s iconic noir Out of the Past (1947). Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is a fascinating meta-commentary rather than parody strictly speaking. The film uses various scenes from 1940s noirs, edited in such a way as to create the illusion of their interaction with the film’s characters. The film does not care about verisimilitude and remains a curious homage to the genre.

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Nevertheless, the most creative and original tribute/parody to the noir genre remains to this day ‘The Girl Hunt Ballet’, the 12 minute song and dance number from Vincente Minnelli’s 1953 Band Wagon. Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the scriptwriters of the movie, were influenced by the success of Mickey Spillane’s novels (his 1952 Kiss Me Deadly would turn into Aldrich’s unforgettable movie only three years later). It was, however, the uncredited Alan Jay Lerner who penned the libretto, full of memorable lines (‘The city was asleep. The joints were closed. The rats and hoods and killers were in their holes’). Perhaps the success of the sequence is due to Fred Astaire being cast against type as the tough guy; or, to the choreography of Michael Kidd, who imbued the dancing scenes with an eroticism and a snappy energy unknown to Hollywood musical till then. The result though would not have been the same without Cyd Charisse, in the double role of the blonde, seemingly innocent victim, and the brunette femme fatale. Matching Fred Astaire move for move, she manages to embody both grace and danger, that sexual danger that threatened to derail male supremacy. Rod Riley (Fred Astaire’s perfectly alliterated character) encapsulates that, upon his first meeting the brunette version of Cyd Charisse. ‘She came at me in sections…more curves than a scenic railway’, he remarks sharply, only to conclude: ‘She was bad. She was dangerous. I wouldn’t trust her any farther than I could throw her. But…she was my kind of woman’.

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[first published at Curnblog]

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Elective Affinities XXXI: Knife in the head

 

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Kazimir Malevich, Girl with a Comb in her Hair, 1932, oil on canvas, 35.5 х 31, The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow (partial view)

 

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Lorenzo Lotto, Friar Angelo Ferretti as Saint Peter Martyr, 1549, oil on canvas, 89.9 x 69.4 cm, Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts

 

[I had never seen Malevich’s painting before Gerasimos Mamonas posted it, a couple of days ago, in Aimez-vous Brahms, a Facebook page dedicated to classical music and painting. Needless to say, the association was instantaneous: Lorenzo Lotto’s versions are among the most well-known representations of the saint, as well as Cima da Conegliano’s. We are so used to seeing saints depicted with their attributes of martyrdom in otherwise realistic scenes, especially in the type of painting known as a ‘sacra conversazione’, that we rarely think about how weird and ‘unnatural’ the whole thing is. Comparing it to the kind of modern art that places little value on realistic representation, makes it even more obvious – but the parallel also serves as a kind of visual joke.]

 

 

The enchanted, impressionist April

 

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There is a passing reference to painting in Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Enchanted April (1922), more specifically to impressionism. When the subject of Lotty’s and Mellersh’s social life comes up, von Arnim writes: “whereas she and Mellersh, when they did go out, went to the parties of impressionist painters, of whom in Hampstead there were many. Mellersh had a sister who had married one of them and lived up on the Heath, and because of this alliance Mrs. Wilkins was drawn into a circle which was highly unnatural to her, and she had learned to dread pictures. She had to say things about them, and she didn’t know what to say. She used to murmur, ‘Marvelous,’ and feel that it was not enough. But nobody minded. Nobody listened. Nobody took any notice of Mrs. Wilkins.”

Although no explicit like or dislike is stated in the passage, painting does not seem to detain the author’s interest, unlike nature herself which merits some of the book’s most memorable descriptions. Pictures are also presented in opposition to nature: Lotty has no problem expressing herself enthusiastically once in San Salvatore, her ideal vacation spot in Italy, but painting apparently belongs to a specialized type of discourse, where one “has to say things” about it, things that do not come naturally.

It would be interesting then to compare some of von Arnim’s descriptions with the type of impressionist painting that devoted so much attention not only to the representation of nature as such, but to capturing the effusiveness and luscious materiality of blooming and blossoming, the same that, literally, enchanted the author.

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“All down the stone steps on either side were periwinkles in full flower, and she could now see what it was that had caught at her the night before and brushed, wet and scented, across her face. It was wistaria. Wistaria and sunshine…she remembered the advertisement. Here indeed were both in profusion. The wistaria was tumbling over itself in its excess of life, its prodigality of flowering; and where the pergola ended the sun blazed on scarlet geraniums, bushes of them, and nasturtiums in great heaps, and marigolds so brilliant that they seemed to be burning, and red and pink snapdragons, all outdoing each other in bright, fierce color. The ground behind these flaming things dropped away in terraces to the sea, each terrace a little orchard, where among the olives grew vines on trellises, and fig-trees, and peach-trees, and cherry-trees. The cherry-trees and peach-trees were in blossom—lovely showers of white and deep rose-color among the trembling delicacy of the olives; the fig-leaves were just big enough to smell of figs, the vine-buds were only beginning to show. And beneath these trees were groups of blue and purple irises, and bushes of lavender, and grey, sharp cactuses, and the grass was thick with dandelions and daisies, and right down at the bottom was the sea. Color seemed flung down anyhow, anywhere; every sort of color, piled up in heaps, pouring along in rivers—the periwinkles looked exactly as if they were being poured down each side of the steps—and flowers that grow only in borders in England, proud flowers keeping themselves to themselves over there, such as the great blue irises and the lavender, were being jostled by small, shining common things like dandelions and daisies and the white bells of the wild onion, and only seemed the better and the more exuberant for it.”

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[All works are by Childe Hassam (1859–1935), the American impressionist painter]

 

 

Buffy Art Historian: Emily Dickinson

 

Because I could not stop for Death (479)
Emily Dickinson, 1830 – 1886

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed us –
The Dews drew quivering and chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –

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John Singer Sargent, Madonna, Mosaic, Saints Maria and Donato, Murano, ca. 1898, watercolor and gouache on white wove paper, 32.4 x 24.1 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

 

GILES: Oh, Emily Dickinson.

BUFFY: We’re both fans. [referring to the boy she likes]

GILES: Yes, uh, she’s quite a good poet, I mean for a…

BUFFY: A girl?

GILES: For an American.

season 1, episode 5, Never Kill a Boy on the First Date (written by
Rob DesHotel and Dean Batali, created by Joss Whedon)

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Color stories

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Some years ago, when my son was about four years old, his pre-school organized its annual raffle, with objects that each one of us brought from their houses, objects we no longer had any use for. A minor incident occurred that I still vividly recall. His best friend, among other things, got two ribbons (to hang keys from, or something similar). One was blue, the other was pink. His mother encouraged her son to offer one, since my son had gotten nothing up to that point. The child generously offered him the pink ribbon, which my son eagerly took. Upon which, his friend pointed at him and called him a ‘girl’. It was not mean, rather a friendly jest, and my son did not react to it; he had yet to associate the color pink with girls, and most of his other friends at the time were girls anyway.

The incident made me thought (then, and in years to come) about the gender color ‘coding’ that takes place from a very young age, and how a parent, even when actively trying to avoid similar stereotypes, is still bringing up a child in a society that is flooded by them. As my son came more into contact with products and commercials addressed specifically to boys or girls (I can hardly recall toys in large stores that are gender-neutral), he came to intensely dislike the color pink and eventually chose blue as his favorite color (although green was his pick in the past). When I tried to explain to him that there was nothing inherently wrong with the color pink, that liking the color pink does not make you a girl, and that there is nothing wrong with being a girl anyway, I had to make a small concession: I do find most of the products addressed to girls of exceedingly poor taste (and gender propaganda more blatant), and when confronted with the choice of what to buy a little girl for her birthday, I always end up with books, playmobil or lego. I remember though an instance when I expressed distaste for a toy that my son was trying to convince me to buy, and him retorting that perhaps I did not like it because I was a girl.

My arguing that he didn’t like the products addressed to girls not because they had anything girl-specific about them, but because they were of bad taste in general ultimately backfired, as my son inferred that things of poor taste are mostly addressed to girls. But he also started noticing things that had escaped my attention, such as the fact that there is apparently a far greater number of commercials addressed to girls than they are to boys – which had me thinking of the role of women as consumers in society. I guess what I am trying to say is that colors represent larger realities and contribute to the construction of identities in crucial ways. The seemingly ‘innocent’ packaging of products (ranging from shampoos to clothes and toys) has effects that are not only long-lasting, but far more erosive than we realize. Since this gender stereotyping goes so far back in someone’s childhood, one tends to naturalize its effects, and accept it as inevitable. It is not.

II.

In 2011, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, a professor of language and education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, published a book entitled Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education. In an enlightening interview, the university professor and activist discussed the ways Palestinians were represented in Israeli textbooks (all published after the Oslo agreement) and the effects of these representations in the formation of young Israelis, who move from school to the army, and are prepared to make the transition from children and students to soldiers. Peled-Elhanan argues that the dominant representation of Palestinians is as either the ‘problem’ (terrorists, refugees), or ‘primitive’ (as farmers, working the land with antiquated methods) – or simply absent. ‘You never see a Palestinian doctor, or teacher, or child’, she says. This practice aims at dehumanizing the opponent, reducing them to a menacing collective of non-individuals. One of the various ways this is achieved is through the use of color. Peled-Elhanan analyzes maps in geography textbooks, for example, and the way that Palestinian land is shown as a blank spot in population maps, reenforcing the myth of the uninhabited land. Another way this is achieved is through the colors more generally associated with Palestinian villages as opposed to Jewish settlements. When showing the former, this is always done in a color palette of ‘natural’ colors (olive green, ‘dirt’ brown, yellow), while Jewish settlements are shown like ‘Swiss villages [with] saturated green and flowers’, even when they are in the middle of the desert. Thus, the natural colors of the land are associated with backwardness and primitivism, while the color palette used to represent Israel is associated with progress and with civilization brought to the land that was empty before the return of the chosen people. The symbolic meaning of color is placed in the service of a racist narrative, aiming to uphold the occupation of Palestinian land and actively prepare students for the fulfillment of their military duties. Color divisions as politicized tools.

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Portrait of Sir Francis Ford's Children Giving a Coin to a Beggar Boy exhibited 1793 by Sir William Beechey 1753-1839

III.

There is a painting by William Beechey at Tate Britain, currently not on display, although it was part of the latest installation of the permanent exhibition when I saw it back in 2013. The painting, called “Sir Francis Ford’s Children Giving a Coin to a Beggar Boy” was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1793. It portrays two wealthy children, finely dressed and bathed in bright light, as the girl tends her arm to offer a coin to a beggar boy. There is a long tradition in Western painting of representing beggar children and poor people, in various states of occupation, or simply of carefree being (Murillo’s beggar boys eating fruit is a case in point).

There is, however, something striking in this particular portrait and the way the painter has constructed his composition. All bright and warm colors (red, pink, yellow, the luscious black of the almost comically inappropriate black hat of the boy, the exaggerated rosiness of the children’s cheeks) are concentrated on the right side of the painting. This is further stressed by the use of light, which singles the two wealthy children out as if they were angelic apparitions, sent to alleviate the misery of the beggar boy. Upon closer observation, it becomes clear that the beggar boy and his attire are barely distinguishable from the landscape. The dark brown rags that he is wearing integrate him with his surroundings, subtly suggesting that his poverty is as natural a phenomenon as the very existence of earth and trees all around him.

The choice of color serves a purpose. The representation of an act of mercy is not construed as social criticism, but, on the contrary, as token for the unchangeability of the current class status (the distancing of the participants in the scene also contributes to the effect). The entry on the museum’s site (written by Martin Myrone) sheds some additional light on the scene. Although very careful in making direct associations between what is known of their father’s history and the possible meaning of the painting, Myrone informs the reader that Sir Francis Ford (1758–1801) was a wealthy plantation owner in the West Indies (Barbados), who ‘upheld a strong pro-slavery stance in his activities as a Member of Parliament’. An explanation hinging on Ford’s opinions on slavery is not paramount here (Myrone hypothesizes that the painting may be linked to the pro-slavery defenders’ position that slaves were better off than the British working class). But the source of wealth depicted in the painting does lend it another layer of meaning: empire is once more the silent absentee (as in so many works of art), in a scene that could not appear more removed from it. Yet in the heart of rural England, a beggar boy and the emissaries of imperial wealth will forever keep their places, immortalized in color that distracts the viewer from the fact that the coin being transferred is the actual reason of their difference.

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What I see when I see the world: Córdoba

 

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Córdoba   © Foteini Vlachou

 

Buffy Art Historian: Ducks and Dikes

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Frank W. Benson, Ducks Alighting, 1921, etching, 25 x 20 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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Kano Tan’yū (Japanese, 1602–1674), Ducks and Reeds, ca. 1650, album leaf; ink on paper, 21.3 x 27.3 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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Kawabata Gyokushō (Japanese, 1842–1913), Pair of ducks, 1887–92, album leaf; silk, 34.3 x 27.9 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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Watanabe Seitei (Japanese, 1851–1918), Ducks in the Rushes, ca. 1887, album leaf; ink and color on silk, 35.6 x 27.3 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

BUFFY: Is Sunnydale any better than when I first came here? Okay, so I battle evil. But I don’t really win. The bad keeps coming back and getting stronger. Like that kid in the story, the boy that stuck his finger in the duck.

ANGEL: Dike. It’s another word for dam.

BUFFY: Oh. Okay, that story makes a lot more sense now.

season 3, episode 11, Gingerbread (written by Jane Espenson, created by Joss Whedon)

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Pieter Nolpe, The Bursting of St. Anthony’s Dike, 5 March 1651. Vertoninge…Amsterdam, 17th century, intaglio, 33.7 x 50.8 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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Antonio Tempesta after Otto van Veen, Plate 29: Civilis Floods the Land by Defensively Breaking the Dikes, from The War of the Romans Against the Batavians (Romanorvm et Batavorvm societas), 1611, etching, first state of two, issue 1, 16 x 20.5 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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Xu Yang and assistants, The Qianlong Emperor’s Southern Inspection Tour, Scroll Four: The Confluence of the Huai and Yellow Rivers, 1770, handscroll; ink and color on silk, lacquer box, 68.8 x 1096.17 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

 

Books: the physical object

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The other day when I was waiting at the hospital I saw a middle-aged couple. They must have been in their late 50s. The lady was carrying a paper bag – her husband was apparently the patient. At a certain point, I noticed that the paper bag was dripping. I let her know. She started removing the objects one by one, mundane objects accompanying patients in the long waiting hours before or while treatment. Among those, there was an old and battered copy of a book by Eça de Queirós. I couldn’t catch the title, but Pedro who had noticed on his own the book resting on the man’s arm a little earlier, let me know that it was an old edition, by Livro do Brazil, one of those that you needed to cut open the pages with a paper knife when you first bought it. I was very moved by the aspect of the book. This was not a book to simply pass your time by. This was a book that someone had read, and re-read, perhaps a favorite novel, that was now called upon as a source of comfort and consolation, against the dreaded disease.

It started me thinking about books as physical objects and my own relationship with them. I have been a defender of electronic books from the very start, mostly because I hate carrying weight. The moments that I associate with reading, however, and my own memories of it are all attached to a specific book, that had a determinate aspect, look, feel, weight; that was read (or bought) in a specific place; or that was given to me as a present by a beloved friend or lover. I can only recall one exception, of a book recently read on an iPad, Jean Rhys’s masterpiece Wide Sargasso Sea. I was in a caffe just off Notre Dame, and I doubt I’ll ever forget the brilliant telling of the story of Bertha Mason, the ‘madwoman in the attic’, the guilty secret that haunts the love of Rochester and Jane Eyre (one of my least favorite Brontë novels). The descriptions of colonial landscape can only be compared to the feeling of the jungle in what is probably my favorite novel of all times, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

But Heart of Darkness is precisely one of those novels that I strongly associate with a time and place: Paris again (strangely, it seems I have read most of Conrad’s novels in Paris: Chance, Victory), and the metro. At least, I started reading it in the metro – but it soon proved impossible. The volume was slender enough to be carried around without aggravating my back, but the richness of Conrad’s prose and my desire to roll around the words in my mouth (like candy), to pronounce them loudly and slowly, and come back to each individual sentence, made it impossible. I read the rest in the seclusion of my student room.

I am now again reading Conrad (The Secret Agent), and the uproarious, utterly unique and ultra-modern 1749 Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, which is too heavy to carry around. These made me think about other encounters with books: my friend Vassilis offering me what is possibly the best translation of a book in another language that I have encountered so far, Mary Webb’s Precious Bane, translated by Anna Sikelianou in Greek; my first boyfriend, also named Vassilis, offering me Karagatsis’s The Great Chimera, dedicated to my wandering spirit; the poetry book by Álvaro de Campos offered to me by Pedro, my future husband (his own, old copy), as well as the slim bilingual edition of W. H. Auden’s poems I bought from the Feira do Livro in our first outing together; the kitsch-y editions of The Collector’s Library (my Secret Agent is from the same publisher), with the shiny, fake golden leaves, and hard covers, like War and Peace that Noti gave me as a present – I could not get through the novel, as I kept losing track of the names of the characters, could not be bothered with any of them, and was unexpectedly put off by Tolstoy’s subtle but unmistakable misogynism.

And many others: the original white-cover-with-red-title edition of Stratis Tsirkas’s Drifting Cities trilogy (I can hardly think of re-reading it now, that the edition has changed); the tiny volume, from a never before heard small editing press (bibliothèque allia), of Casanova’s Histoire de ma fuite des prisons de la République de Venise, which would become my second favorite novel after Conrad and always sits atop my nightstand; Camus’s Caligula that I was reading in parallel with Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (giving rise to a funny misunderstanding when, upon my friend Elik asking how ‘it’ ends, I replied “well, they kill him, of course”, which led to a grave surprise since his childhood memories of Ivanhoe were much happier); the used copy of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, which awaited some twenty years till I picked it up again: apparently, the English was quite challenging when I first started it, and the book still carried tiny letters of vocabulary explanations on top of the words in the first pages; Ethan Frome, whose emotional impact was proportionally inverse to its size; the Age of Innocence which I had to buy twice, because the Wordsworth Classics edition had a serious printing error (jumping from Chapter 6 to 15), but that I still kept because it had John Singer Sargent’s Lady Agnew on the cover.

These are also the books I would probably take with me, if I needed to, well, take books anywhere with me. These, and perhaps the cheap paperback edition of Wuthering Heights, with the tiny, tiresome letters – and Wilkie Collins’s Moonstone (how could anyone prefer Dickens?). Perhaps I would still take the portable reading devices, and the cables needed for periodically charging them. Would I remember though where I read what? Or where (and how) it was that I first encountered a book?

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* Originally written in August 2015, finished today. Then and now, in treatment.

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