coromandal


the flock of bridges is bleating this morning

(apollinaire, various iterations | gare saint-lazare | sante)

Luc Sante is the Belgian American writer who wrote Low Life. This is his description of how a poem by Guillaume Apollinaire described perfectly his experience of leaving Belgium. The poem, however, does far more than address his identity as an immigrant: it is a clear revelation, a flash, of his place in the world that lays bare his desire for the clarity of modernity in the face of the confusion of religion. He comes to a point of exhilaration and comfort.

“A la fin tu est las de ce monde ancien.” “In the end you are tired of this old world.” Thus began “Zone,” by Guillaume Apollinaire.

Bergère ô tour Eiffel le troupeau des ponts bêle ce matin “Shepherdess o Eiffel Tower the flock of bridges is bleating this morning.” The poem was speaking directly to me, to me alone, as proven on the second page: Voilà la jeune rue et tu n’es encore qu’un petit enfant / Ta mère ne t’habille que de bleu et de blanc. “Here is the young street and you are but a little child / Your mother only dresses you in blue and white,” which was exactly true of my early childhood; that tu clinched it. Tu regardes les yeux pleins de larmes ces pauvres émigrants / Ils croient en Dieu ils prient les femmes allaitent des enfants / Ils emplissent de leur odeure le hall de la gare Saint-Lazare. “You look with your eyes filled with tears at the poor immigrants / They believe in God they pray the women suckle infants / They fill with their odor the hall of the Saint-Lazare station”—I had been there and seen that! Furthermore, the poem seemed to be about a yearning for modernity in the face of confusion as to the truth of religion, a clairvoyant depiction of my own central inner drama of the time. But there was more: the poem was fluid, rhyming but in an elastic meter like an improvised song, with phrases strung together without punctuation but always clear in their meaning, with an unlabored syntax close to conversational, with capitalized names like cherries in a box of chocolates, with sudden movements in time and space executed with a casual legerdemain, with a flash and whirl and continual surprise that was just what I wanted from the modern world but with a palpable kindness that reassured me as the poem flung me about.

~excerpted from French Without Tears, by Luc Sante



rooted in ideas
February 28, 2008, 6:43 pm
Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: , , ,

This goes a million miles deep toward explaining what it means to grow up between worlds:  is it that leaving the tangible, the earth, people, people’s culture, their judgments and pronouncements, makes a void that is naturally filled by intangibles like ideas and memory?  It seems to make sense that this between place, a strange new made-up world, catalyses where memory meets the new reality.

“people who root themselves in ideas rather than places, in memories as much as in material things; people who have been obliged to define themselves – because they are so defined by others – by their otherness; people in whose deepest selves strange fusions occur, unprecedented unions between what they were and where they find themselves.”



the emptiness of one’s luggage
February 21, 2008, 4:36 pm
Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: , , , , , ,

The reason people don’t like immigrants is that they seem to have done the impossible – defied gravity and flown; flown from the things that tether us to the ground, especially love for birthplace.  It’s envy.

Escaping the myth of rootedness gives the immigrant hope; however, it is not only birthplace that we have lost, but also history and memory and even time itself.  The metaphor is of an empty suitcase.

“I, too, know something of this immigrant business. I am an emigrant from one country (India) and a newcomer in two (England, where I live, and Pakistan, to which my family moved against my will). And I have a theory that the resentments we mohajirs engender have something to do with our conquest of the force of gravity. We have performed the act of which all men anciently dream, the thing for which they envy the birds; that is to say, we have flown.

“I am comparing gravity with belonging. Both phenomena observably exist: my feet stay on the ground, and I have never been angrier than on the day my father told me he had sold my childhood home in Bombay. But neither is understood. We know the force of gravity, but not its origins; and to explain why we become attached to our birthplaces we pretend that we are trees and speak of roots. Look under your feet. You will not find gnarled growths spouting through the soles. Roots, I sometimes think, are a conservative myth, designed to keep us in our places.

“When individuals come unstuck from their native land, they are called migrants. When nations do the same (Bangladesh), the act is called secession. What is the best thing about migrant peoples and seceded nations? I think it is their hopefulness. . . . And what’s the worst thing? It is the emptiness of one’s luggage. I’m speaking of invisible suitcases, not the physical, perhaps cardboard, variety containing a few meaning-drained mementoes: we have come unstuck from more than land. We have floated upwards from history from memory, from Time.”

~From Shame (New York: Aventura/Vintage, 1984), 90, 91. Salman Rushdie