“A Half-Open Door”

Pieter de Hooch’s The Mother

Pieter de Hooch’s The Mother

In Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, Charles Swann uses his knowledge of art and music to convince himself that the love of his life is Odette de Crécy. First, he discovers a musical phrase by the composer Vinteuil which Odette also loves. Then there is the matter of the paintings. Listening to Vinteuil, his mind wanders to the work of a Dutch painter:

He would begin with the sustained violin tremolos that are heard alone for a few measures, occupying the entire foreground, then all of a sudden they seemed to move away and, as in those paintings by Pieter de Hooch, which assume greater depth because of the narrow frame of a half-open door, away in the distance, in a different color, in the velvet of an interposed light, the little phrase would appear, dancing, pastoral, interpolated, episodic, belonging to another world. It rippled past, simple and immortal, distributing here and there the gifts of its grace, with the same ineffable smile….

From my own past, I know well that one makes use of bogus comparisons to crystallize one’s growing love for a young woman. I remember one whose facial expression kept bringing the Latin word claritas to mind. It turned out that, like Swann, I was deceiving myself with someone whose motivations were anything but clear. But, such is life.

I am fascinated by Proust’s references to art and would like to recommend Eric Karpeles’s excellent book, Paintings in Proust, to anyone venturing into In Search of Lost Time.

Re-Orienting Myself to Peru

Spanish Colonial Architecture in Peru

Spanish Colonial Architecture in Lima, Peru

Because I place such a high value on traveling with Martine, I thought nothing last December of ditching my plans in an instant to visit Peru so that we could go to France and Italy. At that point, nothing was firm yet—I planned to go in September or October. (I frequently plan in advance by so many months that all my friends think that I have already gone and returned.) But continuing problems with her back, especially where soft beds are concerned, induced her to cancel the European trip.

There is never any guarantee when staying at strange hotels that your bed will be firm or mushy. Fortunately, I can tolerate a fairly wide range; but Martine’s range of acceptability is much narrower. It’s a pity, because her half-sister Madeleine in St-Lô (near the D-Day Beaches of Normandie)  is ailing and cannot travel herself.

In the meantime, I am resuming my Peru reading program, which consists primarily of:

  • Novels by Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru’s only Nobel Prize winner in literature
  • Novels and poems by other Peruvian literary notables, such as César Vallejo
  • Histories of the Spanish conquest of the Incas
  • Other Peruvian histories on subjects including the War of the Pacific, which Peru lost to Chile in the late 19th century
  • A biography of Simon Bolivar and possibly José de San Martín, the two principal liberators of South America

I don’t know how much I can read before the departure date, which has not  been set yet, but I will do my best.

All this preparation is, for me, a kind of courtesy. I do not believe in visiting another country without knowing enough of its language, culture and history to be conversant with the locals. That has helped me considerably in Argentina and Iceland. Plus, it is a pure pleasure for me to prepare a trip far enough in advance—especially during tax season, when there is little else to forward to. I have little truck with those travelers who believe in being “spontaneous” at the cost of making their fellow Americans look like dunces.