Showing posts from December, 2010

The Travel Agent

In the world of travel agenting, every place has a code. AVL. CDG. FCO. All the romantic and troubled places in the world are summed up in three letters: BEY, JRS, NBO. My first travel agent job was at the top of the BB&T Building, Asheville's steel and glass skyscraper. The office of Wilcox World Travel and Tours occupied the entire floor with cubicles for individual travel and group travel. I worked in Groups. In our section of the office, the floor was covered with airline-blue carpet. In winter a walk from a desk to the photocopier would generated static electricity. I'd get shocked everytime I touched the machine. I anticipated it. It was a mild form of torture built into the every-day necessities of work. Between trips to the copier, I organized people's adventures. I had three-ring binders for each tour I was organizing. One group was The Beverly Hill Baptist Church Choir's European Tour. The address was Rodeo Drive in the 90210 zip code. Its leader was N

Alchemical Christmas

The intertwining of the alchemical metaphor and Christianity are never quite so pronounced as they are at Christmas. Of course, since the metaphor isn't ever outwardly shared, its resonances with Christmas remain invisible. On my drive out of and back into the city today (because I had to retrieve clean clothes for my daughter's school performance since she'd become a mud-swamp during recess), I listened to Christmas carols. Shepherds watching in fields. Holy infant. Christ is born in Bethlehem. Years ago, before I started researching alchemy, these songs told a story of the birth of Jesus. And they were beautiful. I remember hearing Julie Andrews singing them at the Royal Albert Hall in London when I was four years old. So beautiful. And they're still beautiful. With another level added. In the alchemical metaphor, matter is worked through a series of alternatively soothing and mortifying steps. At the end, it is "killed," then it is left in a "tomb

Reflections on Steve Martin's An Object of Beauty

For a book about surface-appreciation and the nature of beauty, this book's jacket-designers knew the cover would be judged. First of all, using canvas as the book cover is a brilliant idea. The print of oilpaint-like quality is a delight. Moving into the novel, the aesthetic appeal continues. Martin's prose is clear both when he is speaking literally and figuratively. His similes and allusive turns of phrase give the novel striking textures in what could otherwise be a not-so-striking read. He weaves subtlety into the surface elements by stretching our imaginations like canvas across the frame. To increase the license for such figurative speech, he makes his narrator an art writer, Daniel, who, as the Independent notices, functions much as Nick Carraway does in The Great Gatsby. Daniel is the witness who, like Carraway, steps over the line once or twice but for the most part provides a line, if only by doing so. Both men remind us there is a line. When we think of the main

Snow and Solitude

I'm sipping morning coffee, seeing the snow that covers my garden and the neighboring field. The hush of snow, its thick insulation. It bursts my heart with memories of every other snow I weave through in my mind, back to my childhood in Toronto where an enormous blue spruce, though thirty feet high caught it all and became a part of the white. I have an enormous green spruce now, just as tall, outside my living-room window. It, too, catches and holds the weight of it all. I think of the year I lived alone in a cabin in Sequim, Washington, and the week I was snowed in with just my soup and coffee and the poems there were to write then. So many poems. So much solitude I had to hold in my mind, so much it felt I might break under its weight. But then once the week was over, I wanted it to begin again, so comfortable had I become with the world's silences. Sometimes a heron walked the stony shore in front of my cabin, its gray a part of the sky's gray. Its slow steps on fra