Monday, April 03, 2006

Untitled (Sky Bargello)


Saturday, April 01, 2006

The big way

GG, an American student I knew during my study-abroad year in Austria, had flown over with two suitcases, one with clothes and one distended with books, including a giant dictionary and a complete Shakespeare. His demands on the personalities of other people were unknowable but extremely strict, and he seemed to like only me and a cheery Fordham student who prayed before meals no matter the circumstances. G’s impatience with frivolity and noise were widely known and often ridiculed. Our program leader and German professor, who knew that I occasionally spoke with G, was concerned for his welfare, and he addressed me solemnly during an office-hours visit, suggesting that G was one of those rare people of whom it could be said that books had saved his life. This may have been the case—one may not express skepticism toward such claims—but I believed that if anything had saved G’s life that year, it was joining a farm-league baseball team and playing a circuit of rural sandlots in the outlying hamlets of Salzburg, for G, who grew up in the American Midwest, got to be the star pitcher.

It would be absurd for me to say that riding a bicycle has saved my life—it has more often jeopardized it—but I have often used cycling to recall its true character, and it was with this intention that I hauled my bike up from the cellar yesterday morning. I hadn’t decided my path in advance, but when I saw that a certain road sign had been graffitied with the words BIG WAY, I knew immediately to follow the route it indicated, for it seemed to me that these words, more than any other, expressed the essence of cycling. The route happened to be that of my final ride last season, and many things caught my eye that I had missed in September—rusting water district appendages capped with lids formed like the eyeholed hat worn by a character on Fat Albert, comically anglophilic names like “Hedgerow Lane” and “Thornhurst,” the grave of Rose Rodney (This world is not my home), a mailbox wound around with plastic autumn leaves and stickered with glittery letters announcing “PATHWAYS TO CONSCIOUSNESS” (I dared not to look inside)—but what impressed me most was everything I recognized perfectly by sight but had not thought of during my absence—particular houses, shapes of hills, stretches of shoulder, farmland vistas—old friends recalled to life only in perception. One wonders what elements of mind are distributed elsewhere in the world, offloaded into the things but waiting in permanent readiness for a drive-by retrieval.