Itinerary: Prussia Cove – Upper West Side

At Saigon Grill two black-haired, scruffy male singers are arguing over a melody, singing it to each other in solfège. I admit, I find this reprehensible. As I settle in for yet another Vietnamese luncheon, I wish to be sonically neutral, awaiting my steaming gleaming heaping plate; solfège gives me preemptive indigestion. “It is a joy,” one explains unctuously to the other, “it is nice.” Instantly I want to smash and pulverize their joys so they would sit, at least, in shocked silence, which would be–what is the right word?–preferable.

They continue conversing semi-musically; I lose the thread. But then the more vocal one pipes up his instrument and says: “I was like” — cluck — “honey,” initiating the cadence so familiar to New Yorkers, the beautiful scraping rhythm and refrain of someone finally informing an irritating other exactly how clueless they are, “that’s the problem… you have NO technique.” His hands move quickly outward in a paradoxical demonstration of nonexistence.

Ah, I have travelled so far.

I climbed over and between black, brown and gray rocks, negotiating a route which just seemed too detailed. Patience-testing. Each rock, I thought, is a different shape. Very few were obligingly flat-topped, and some were slippery with seaweed, and the long beach was there in the distance like advertised paradise, awaiting my trip through rocky limbo. I crawled, stepped, braced, squeezed; time passed. Finally the rocks began to thin, and I found a sandy strip and pulled off my brown shoes and set them on the gray wet sand and also my white socks which looked so strangely luminous-white, and set them in a safe zone away from changing tides, and went out to the crescent of soft sand with the beautiful shallow approaching waves, waves an inch deep at most which crept up the sand like long water fingers.

Alone–on a huge isolated beach with water coming up which would eventually touch the crumbling cliffs at my back. Ah, I thought, addressing the ocean in my mind, now we can really get down to business. Now we must have that heart-to-heart we’ve been postponing for so long, great Mother Ocean, and I prepared almost to fight it like a child taking on a bully. Kick it, splash it, give it what fer. Give vent to my joy. But the most extraordinary element, really, was that it was so apparent there was nothing to fight. Or I guess: it was amazing how this became apparent. There was a rhythm to this revelation. Some vector of intention which I had brought with me eagerly to the beach, some totally undeclared purpose, melted as my feet numbed happily in the cold shallow water. I swear the ocean seemed to answer with a giant radiating slow silent word. No question was asked. The word, I repeat, was not the sounding waves; it had perhaps just as much to do with the slatish sky or the green gorse which hovered around on the perilous cliffs looking down to see what I, or it, might do. It was not spoken, it was situational, it was like air. Patient ocean, so different from I, hurried rock-clamberer. I searched my state of self; I did not feel affected, prideful, stupid, foolish, pressed, hopeful, hungry, insightful, wishful, accomplished, thoughtful, selfless, fretful, calm, centered, or scattered; adjectives fell off me like water off rock, innumerable.

If one thing could really be said about my situation is that I wanted to take greater advantage of it, to be worthier of it, to do justice to the word “experience.” And it was not following the conventional script, starting with “such a beautiful spot” and ending with a snapshot for one’s desktop picture… Yes it was incredibly beautiful and I felt enclosed, cuddled, sensually alive … But most importantly some sense of presence occurred which reversed the conventional structure of action, not “I saw a beautiful place” but “A beautiful place spoke me.” Not spoke “to” me, for fuck’s sake; spoke me myself and myself only without prepositions, as if a man opened his mouth and out came a picture. My desire–more, more, experience this more–was only a kind of impatient vibrating at my own boundaries. If only I could be this way in the presence of other people, those dear to me, if only I would let them speak me, then I might speak them too; and it was very clear from the sea’s silent crashing that I was the only obstacle. Ocean was not approving or disapproving, just observing and for once I didn’t resent its personal advice. I was the only living rock on the beach, brightly clad, rolled-up jeans rock, pacing back and forth in the sunset, the only rock which was not married to the ground and sand and against which the sea might break itself merrily, if only I would let go of something more.

An hour or so later, I stared out the window of the main house at the Last Sunset, which daubed just the tip of the black promontory yellow-green, and listened to the crashing waves, now pane-muffled. Two banks of clouds sitting awkwardly in the sky were lit too at their tops with surreal sunlight and when I blinked, and looked again, a half moon had appeared between them, and it seemed like there were just too many beautiful events all at once and you just had to keep looking until some inner switch clicked off and you knew. Then: a melancholy dark dinner with candles and goodbyes; a short swift night drive down country lanes hurling headlamps against the endless curling green hedges; and white bunnies, lit up whiter-than-white, fleeing the oncoming car like scattered ghosts; and a long, clattering machine carrying me, us, back to civilization and do, re, mi.

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  1. hari
    Posted October 4, 2006 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    that’s so funny, i go to saigon grill and i’ve never heard anything that i could make out above the din.

    sounds like you had such a beautiful, spiritual experience on the beach.

  2. Chris
    Posted October 5, 2006 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    As you are clearly a Proust afficionado, thought you might enjoy this (should you not know it) – E M Forster on Proust’s style:

    “Three fields off, like a wounded partridge, crouches the principal verb, making one wonder, as one picks it up, poor little thing, whether afgter all it was worth such a tramp, so many guns, and such expensive dogs.” (cited by Graham Robb in current NYRB)

    Forster in any case emulated Proust in his profligacy with commas.

  3. Anonymous
    Posted October 8, 2006 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    Someone needs to get laid and soon
    (general observation)

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