Incidentally...

[William Dyce: Pegwell Bay, a Recollection of October 5th 1858]

I had a French teacher in high school who would often begin many sentences with "Incidentally, ..." He would then launch into a disparate range of topics, rarely ones which could accurately be called "incidents." But the phrase stuck with me. (This was never in French of course, which would explain why 7 years of studying that language has left me capable of unraveling little more than bistro menus and Paris Vogue).

I was able to leave my place of employment at the "early" hour of 9:00 PM last night and, forgoing the swim I should have had, went straight home. I packed an incredible amount of reading, writing, listening, and leaping about into the hours before I finally tired myself out and retired (around 1 AM I should say). I felt, melodramatically, as if I had been uncaged for an evening, and in my freedom darted about between notes on the diary of Virginia Woolf; Rimbaud's Illuminations, Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, and memory after memory.

I remembered my family's love of fires (both the sort contained by a hearth, and those that were a bit more dangerous and out-of-doors--incidentally, we once decided to destroy a large box which had served as a container for some sort of an appliance, and then as a sort of cat-chambers by burning it. Unfortunately, the wind picked up and we were sent running for pails of water by great burning chunks of cardboard. We all found this quite funny if I remember correctly...). I wished for a roaring fire like the sort we used to build, which I would lay in front of all through the winter. Cheek pressed against the scratchy rug, book tilted in front of my eyes and lit by warm, flickering light; turning from side to side as the fire would slowly warm until burning. Always on the side, thigh and one arm cool against the marble tiles, nose cold and then burnt and then cold again.

The cats would always lay perilously close to the fire, as if soaking up as much heat as felinely possible.

The smell of wood in all its forms: the sawed wood as one of the umpteenth home projects were occurring, the smell of damp bark and mulch in the woods, the smell of the burning firewood, slowly becoming cinders and ash.

As I thought these things last night, I would either be writing or reading; lying prone on the floor, supine on the bed, pacing about, stretching, taking breaks to switch albums (the CD sort).

Then I was sideswiped by a memory most vivid. It was from my weekend spent in Haworth, utterly alone, under a self-imposed vow of silence, re-tracing the steps of my beloved Brontes. I was transported back to the hike I made out to Top Withens, the chilly picnic I enjoyed out there, the sheep, the silver-green grass against well-worn and much-photographed stone. I walked the four miles back to town that night along a different road, briefly lost my way, worked up an enormous appetite, and arrived back to town for a supper of rosemary-currant chicken with roasted potatoes and a glass of shandy.

It was a wonderful evening.

A couple of passages from Hemingway--they seem to me to be the truest, simplest descriptions of hunger and cold.

I closed up the story in the notebook and put it in my inside pocket and I asked the waiter for a dozen portugaises and a half-carafe of the dry white wine they had there. After writing a story I was always empty and both sad and happy, as though I had made love, and I was sure this was a very good story although I would not know truly how good until I read it over the next day.

s I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.

~~~

We burned boulets which were molded, egg-shaped lumps of coal dust, on the wood fire, and on the streets the winter light was beautiful. Now you were accustomed to see the bare trees against the sky and you walked on the fresh-washed gravel paths through the Luxembourg gardens in the clear sharp wind. The trees were sculpture without their leaves when you were
reconciled to them, and the winter winds blew across the surfaces of the ponds and the fountains blew in the bright light.