Trains of Thought
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XXXI. memories

Like a commute, a Renaissance garden is a buffer between outer landscape and internal living: outside and inside, departure and arrival. A good commute would be like the Piccolomini Palace garden in Pienza.

Opposite me a young man’s neck cranes down to his phone. His ears are covered by green metallic headphones. His perception is limited. His breathing oscillates. An excited crescendo is followed by a sigh. He leans forward sometimes and his stale breath enters my range of olfactory perception.

The fold-out bikers coalesce into a peloton on Whidborne Street. It is not safe to cross the road until they pass.


Peloton of fold-outs

A man in a grey tracksuit and a woman by the window argue. He has a can of Red Bull on his table. His black training shoes are immaculately black. He is probably forty years old. The argument pauses. He asks me whether they are in the right carriage to King’s Cross.

Two men at Starbucks talk about God. “I know I should be praying” says the one wearing a light beige coat, bald with a beard perhaps mid-thirties. The other in a grey suit wears a pink tie. “I get it: about Jesus dying and there was an infinite fracture, I get all that… I should pray for her, for Donald Trump, refugees, Brexit… as soon as I open that window I think of everything. Overload. It’s a really negative response.”

On the train a few days later my neighbour’s iPad is focused on bible verses (Jeremiah 21:1-23:8) and interactive commentary.  Grey suit trousers, pink shirt, Sony headphone, a sip of Starbucks coffee. Black-frame Oakley glasses.

As you stay close to Jesus, his joy flows into you and your joy is complete. As Gordon Fee writes: unmitigated, untrammeled joy is – or at least should be – the distinction mark of the believer…  An unknown content provider, eye-dropped via a fellow commuter’s iPad.

He moves and shifts as he reads, internalising, interlocking his fingers, releasing them. The app frames its content in red. He writes an email on his phone while the screen shows a new article titled “More.” “More please is the title of the autobiography of comedian actor Barry Humphries.” A glimpse of his playlist: July Nights (Eagle Lake), The World is Turning, Alpine sketch, Approaching Dark. Perhaps it is this one: A Playlist.

A man in a green shirt and greying hair can’t sit still. He is excited. He sniffs and fiddles and bites his nails. He scrolls from Twitter to e-mail and back. Onboard WiFi bandwidth is inconstant. He pumps his legs and moves and sniffs to the rhythm of his internet connectivity. AMT coffee from Cambridge stands next to his Mac and a well-used (dirty) iPhone. He is especially interested in a tweet that says: “Multiple messages can be bad in sequence too.” Opposite him a man in a red jumper with a well-kept beard thoughtfully strokes his tongue.

A report on the condition of King’s College chapel was open on the table: main chapel and parapet gutters. The parapet gutter is a stepped lead gutter.

Across the aisle there is a loud conversation about someone who has his breakfast at Carluccio’s every day. He is related in some way to the solution of a problem at a gynecology department. Suddenly the conversation stops. The woman leans over across the aisle towards me. She wants to catch my neighbour’s attention. My neighbour is watching a series on his tablet while also playing a game on his phone. The channels have clashed and the sound of his game is leaking from his phone.

Yellow folder, white hair, glasses top-rimmed in black, he licks his finger to turn the page, 14xx foundation, MOD, nuclear, in confidence!, a black pen with the logo of the Royal Houseguards Hotel (1 Whitehall Place). Searching and shuffling through papers, a small square watch with a black wristband. Blue shirt, grey suit. Scratches his glasses with his  fingers to remove a hardened blemish.


A few days later, the same passenger diagonally in front of me. We are held outside King’s Cross at a red signal, the sound of a laptop’s keys, the deep hum of a passing train, the wind whistles through the Class 387 window next to the door, not airtight.

Karpeles writes about Czapski’s mistake in recalling the colour of Vermeer’s wall in Proust. He calls it “a piece of pink wall.” Czapski’s memory of Proust in a Soviet prison camp is otherwise extraordinarily complete.

Czapski’s patch of wall appears as the wrong color. He writes that Bergotte was repeating to himself, “little patch of pink wall, little patch of pink wall.” In both sets of typescript, the phrase appears over and over as “petit pan de mur rose.” In one of the two sets, the passage remains as transcribed, while in the other, the word rose has been lightly crossed out and the word jaune, yellow, written above it, though not in Czapski’s hand. After the war, when the Polish translation of his text appeared in print, this mistake was corrected. The wall returned to Vermeer’s original color—yellow wall, mur jaune, żółty murek in Polish. The edited version makes the citation once again true to Proust but, poignantly, no longer true to Czapski. The madeleine and the little patch of yellow wall are major foundation stones of the Proustian edifice. Curiously, both slipped Czapski’s mind.

Lost Time: Lectures On Proust In A Soviet Prison Camp

You can’t remember if you can’t forget.

Like Brian Williams, Proust’s Gilberte remembers events to her advantage.

In a word, Gilberte was now persuaded that she had not gone to Tansonville, as she wrote me in 1914, to fly from the Germans and to be in safety, but, on the contrary, in order to meet them and to defend her Château from them. As a matter of fact, they (the Germans) had not remained at Tansonville, but she did not cease to have at her house a constant coming and going of officers which much exceeded that which reduced Françoise to tears in the streets of Combray and to live, as she said this time with complete truth, the life of the front. Also she was referred to eulogistically in the papers because of her admirable conduct and there was a proposal to give her a decoration.  Time Regained

What do we remember? How and why do we remember?

Memories of paintings that I cannot recall, both in the Palazzo Ducale di Mantova close to the room with Ruben’s reconstructed altarpiece. There is a figure at the lower front right corner of the painting. I think he is a shirtless saint, suffering or joyous. A short description on white plastic in front of the painting says that Vasari described it as a fine painting. The artist was in the circle of Parmigianino. The other painting I want to recall shows a saintly man famous for his powers as a public speaker. One of his arms is raised. He is not tall. He is intense. The painting was described as characteristically odd in the manner of the artist.

Are we more than any machine we may construct? What happens when a society is caught up within the construction of the machine? Can we be more than something we are tied up in, tied in with?

Every renaissance needs a boundary: a roof garden, a well-constructed commute.

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