Sunday, February 08, 2009

Freedom Writer

A Wayfarer's Notes, a blog by Vincent (also known as "Perpetual Labs" in the right margin) is appropriately dedicated to Basho, whose footsteps inform every post. Some writers can can soak up details of people and things and absolutely bathe them in mindful observation, holding those long enough in mind to transduce into text, for enjoyment by others. Vincent can find spiritual peace and slow down time when walking to buy a reading lamp and a memory card for his wife. A recent post was "Metaphors," and a line in it about the clarity of early-childhood memories especially resonated:
I don’t think we can exactly choose our mood, despite what some say, any more than we can blow into the sails to make our boat go forward. What we can do is be sensitive to the breeze and trim our sails to take advantage of every zephyr that could possibly take us where we need to go: need, not want.

Being a savage, and not a whit ashamed of it, I’m neurologically wired to a sense of place. The whole visible, smellable universe is redolent with associations; thus something happened in this spot, or reminds me of something that happened somewhere else; the scent of the resin from pine, laurel or holly evokes this or that. I cannot pass a certain telegraph pole in the street without its weather-worn tarred surface reminding me of Australia, a land I left sixty-two years ago.

Many things remind me of the ocean journey that brought me to England, with its smell of fresh paint, diesel oil, sewage and salt spray. Memory provides its own kind of presence, one sense invoking the other, so now I feel the constant shuddering of the ship’s decks and bulkheads, the warm exhalations from the ventilator cowls, the daily adventure of getting lost and feeling quite safe, for on board everyone knew me, almost all were women, war brides predominantly. I suppose I used to feel on that ship as a rock star must feel when he dives into the audience and they combine to hold him aloft. Leaving Australia was an exile and loss, but the shipboard journey was a consoling interregnum. I was only four at the time, but all the same I could feel, as I feel now. It astonishes me when I hear a person confess to nothing but vague memories before the age of eight, when up till that age mine are at their most clear and poignant.

This house, too, reminds me of a ship, an imaginary one, not the one in which I sailed from Fremantle to Tilbury. It’s cosy and narrow: a 12-foot-wide slice in a row of similar houses all joined together. But from front to back—I just ran a steel tape measure between the two—is 38 foot. The rooms are furnished simply, and though they are rather dark, the furniture and doors are of real wood, whose glow is derived from the sun’s fecundating rays. Where I sit now, which we call the middle room, for it leads to a smaller room at the back, has an arrangement of five washing lines strung across the room, where in winter drying sheets hang slackly like the sails of a becalmed schooner.
Someon has proven the best travel writers don't even need to travel.

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