Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Laptopped Again

Whew. It's good to be laptopped again. With birthday money from my folks, I sprang for this machine: a Thinkpad T-41, refurbished from IBM, $422. Sitting in Tosi's, tip-tapping away. Now I can start typing in what I've scribbled in my notebooks, past couple of weeks. I seem to have written this on Easter:

Easter morning. A gentle rain falling. The sky is soft gray, and the light comes up from the wet streets, catching the fluted geranium leaves in the window boxes, and then spreading up in fans of barely visible luminosity, sweeping up, as if, in some esoteric inversion of photosynthesis, the leaves were giving life to the sky.

Christ is risen today.

It was all a long time ago, and very far away. Isabel and Sir Richard Burton -- the explorer, you know, and translator of the Arabian Nights, not the actor -- were at sea. He looked at the waves and the sail. "I should like to be buried at sea," he said, suddenly.

His wife, who was Catholic, said quietly, "I don't think I could quite bear that. Is there anything else that would do?"

He reflected on the importance of the body, in her faith. He himself was a Sufi, if he was anything. He could not stand the thought of suffocating the dark earth. He wanted the air and the light.

Oh well. He grinned his wolfish grin. "Then I think I should like to be buried in a tent," he said lightly, and let the matter drop.

Years later, she had a mausoleum made for him, a tent of white translucent marble, so his coffin could lie in the light. When she died she was laid beside him, a little lower, so that once again they were sleeping in a tent together, as they had used to do in Syria and South America.

That's how I remember the story, anyway. There's a picture of the tomb in the biography I read. A first-rate biography of the two of them: A Rage to Live, by Mary Lovell.

He loved to make people's flesh creep: to pretend to have coolly murdered a boy in Africa lest he give their party away, to have resorted to cannibalism when a castaway. There was always a juvenile streak in him. He was one of the great adventurers of his time, and still he had to make up stories to impress people. But one of the last acts of his life was rescuing a robin from a cistern, and carefully drying and warming it. Good karma, I should think, for the voyage out.

The gears that keep me meshed in the present have been slipping. The other day I got off the bus. I had gotten to the best part of a mystery novel -- not, of course, the revelation of who did it, but the epilogue, in which the detective retells the story from the start, but in such a way that all that had been puzzling is made to seem plain, or even inevitable.

I was eager enough for this that I kept reading, as I walked along. Something I used to do constantly as a boy and a young man, but which I had not done for many years. The street gently rocked under my feet, and the distance between me and boyhood slipped away. Alone under the cloudy sky. The loneliness and self-sufficiency of an inveterate reader swept up around me. So perfectly, so sensitively attuned to the words on the page; so disconnected from the indistinct, flesh-and-blood figures that swirled past me on the sidewalk.

I stopped, as I do, and looked at the sky. I didn't know who to ask. I still don't.

The self-sufficiency has always been a piece of fakery. I dread being alone, just as ordinary people do. I sometimes think my whole life is a fabric of virtues made from necessities. I was alone on Easter, as I arranged to be. Wholly alone, and the pure anxiety of it threatened to eat me up.

I have always presented myself -- and thought of myself -- as someone who was perfectly content with, even eager for, solitude. It is not true. Take away the company of books and images, the pretend-company of my boyhood, and quickly enough I become agitated. Desperate to eat, and craving oblivion. If I had a television I would have turned it on. I had plenty of work I could have done, but without the reassurance of human company I couldn't bring myself to do it.

I'm not sure where this leads. I think: why should I not need company? Surely that is simply what my species does, like crows or baboons. Gathers in company. But I can't do that, either. Company is difficult for me. I never understand; I'm never understood. Socializing is often an ordeal, always tiring, to me.

But this is very exciting: the T-41's run for over an hour on the battery, and the battery's registering 75%. I'm wired again!

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