Some blocks in West Portal are so solemnly tricked out and terraced so green that they achieve the impression of having been there forever, like Europe or the Federal Reserve. Then an avenue opens to the water and reminds you the whole thing is rooted in two feet of loam over the sands. Quiet and foggy, no shops open on Sunday, occasional car with its hunched, grayed driver coming to a careful halt at the stop signs. The offices are all advertising wills and trusts—sad corner of the city that made you rich, where you now wait to die.
Of course it doesn’t take long to walk up to the Sunset, which is more alive if cars are the measure of life. But here too, with the broad straight avenues, the theme-and-variations row houses and the sun a flickering light bulb in the moving fog, I always feel like I’m dreaming.
Signs of Fine Weather to Come
Then, with tight throats, the ravens repeat their clear caws three or four
times, and often in the high perches where they bed down at night,
happy with some odd, unaccustomed pleasure, cry
raucously among themselves amid the leaves. They delight,
storms over and gone, to see again their small broods and sweet nests.
I hardly believe that their instincts are indeed divinely given
or that Fate awarded them greater foreknowledge of things
but rather that when the weather and intermittent spring
rains alter course and Jupiter, soaked by the South Winds,
thickens what was just now thin and makes the thick loose,
the responses of their senses change, and their hearts receive
perceptions other than those left when the wind pursued
the clouds—hence that harmony of birdsong in the fields,
cattle lowing happily, and the ravens’ guttural exalting.
—Virgil, Georgics 1.410-423, tr. Janet Lembke
8 September 1934. What a relief the Mont Ste. Victoire after all the anthropomorphised landscape... Cézanne seems to have been the first to see landscape & state it as material of a strictly peculiar order, incommensurable with all human expressions whatsoever... Ruysdael’s Entrance to the Forest—there is no entrance anymore nor any commerce with the forest, its dimensions are its secret & it has no communications to make.
16 September 1934. I do not see any possibility of relationship, friendly or unfriendly, with the unintelligible, and what I feel in Cézanne is precisely the absence of a rapport that was all right for Rosa or Ruysdael for whom the animising mode was valid, but would have been false for him, because he had the sense of incommensurability not only with life of such a different order as landscape but even with life of his own order, even with the life—one feels looking at the self-portrait in the Tate, not the Cézanne chauve but with the big hat—operative in himself.
—Beckett, letters to Thomas McGreevy
Dear College Preparatory School Alumni Newsletter
Sun in Cancer, and the nostalgic vapors and exhalations of spring all dried up for the scorched-grass season. I’d like to go slack under the hot sky, like my daughter, but we have tasks.
I published my book (and mouthed off about it elsewhere so I don’t have to do it here). I don’t want to make it out to be more than it was, and really don’t want to minimize the efforts of everyone who helped it along. I know what the next one will be, another novel (possibly I’m not cut out for anything but novels), but for the last few months I’ve been making sketches at the edge of the diving board rather than fish out a paragraph I could admit to.
Circumstances have abetted. Our little duplex by the train tracks got sold out from underneath us to a couple from Albany, who seem to have paid an actual million dollars for the privilege of being our new landlords. Why on earth? Apparently the answer is that they’re going to tear out the back and rebuild it on a more expensive scale. Everyone wants three bedrooms (only cowards stop at one child). But before the city permits get approved, we are fled, and after some very fast talking have landed three miles north at the extreme heliopause of BART service and KALX reception. We bought the place—a fact so fraught in this area, where it’s so depressingly certain that every time you meet someone new, the conversation will turn to the cost of housing within ten minutes. I always see it coming and I can never head it off. Anyhow, for my petty qualms I get a proper office at last, a yard overlooking a church parking lot where they're installing a preschool, on the other side a hill where the rooftops pile up like Cézanne’s views of Gardanne. In this neighborhood houses are priced by their “views,” and we don’t have one of those views, but our slope is high enough that when you go outside you find the wind tossing around tree canopies with great freedom.
(This is boring, the cult of the house is boring. Also satisfying, and therefore dangerous.)
So inside we decorate, filling it with ourselves—and just the other day I was complaining that the coastal metropolises are now enormous arenas in which to meet yourself over and over. You can’t be surprised. But in the house I do get surprised. After so many years packed in with everyone breathing on everyone else, it’s weird to lose track of the other organisms (now two humans, one cat) that share the larger space—they might have gone outside, or gone to sleep, or installed themselves in some new closet, without any of it showing up on sonar. The long, narrow interior corridor has no windows of its own, and I enter the dim space never quite confident of what I’ll find at the end.
I also went to Japan, but wait a moment.