Here There Was Once a Country
By Vénus Khoury-Ghata
Translated by Marilyn Hacker
Here there was once a country
fire withdrew from women's fingers
bread deserted the ploughed furrows
and the cold devoured all children who wore daffodils on their shoulders
Here there was once a wall
which reproduced itself in prosperous times
became rectangle square but never circle
so as not to humiliate the fountains
which held the rights to day's roundness
Here there was once a hunter
who knocked down his house to go into the forest
and verify that his shots pierced the eardrums of the rocks
Here there was once a pebble
which turned into a gravestone at the mere sight of a passer-by
Here there was once an infinitely white night
an infinitely black tree
which pulled its bark up to its chin
when noon lengthened shadows down to the ravine
Here there was once the echo of another echo
and the horns of great cattle which melted when even a wing passed overhead.
From Poet's Choice by Edward Hirsch in the Sunday Washington Post Book World. Khoury-Ghata, a Lebanese poet who writes in French and calls herself a bigamist, being both a Francophone and an Arab. "She carries the rich language of her childhood to the more austere language of her education...there is an element of fable, a quasi-surreal, mythic quality to everything Khoury-Ghata writes."
We ate lunch at home early and got to Philadelphia in the early afternoon. Our hotel was at Penn's Landing right on the waterfront -- our tenth floor room overlooked Camden, New Jersey and the Ben Franklin Bridge just north of Market Street (very near the area near Independence Mall and The Bourse where much of National Treasure takes place). We walked down the waterfront, which I've never done in all the years I lived in and visited Philly -- the schooner Gazela, which we saw at the Alexandria Waterfront Festival, is docked here, as are riverboats, historic military vessels and a tall ship that has been turned into a restaurant. It had been drizzling all day but while it was overcast, it did not rain at all from the time we started walking, and by the time the sun set we could see it peeking through the clouds.
We walked down to South Street, past the Ritz Theatre on Walnut, places we often used to spend Saturday evenings while students at Penn. I dragged the hubby into all the artsy, exotic and occult stores, including Mineralistic, TLA Video and Garland of Letters (the first metaphysical bookstore I ever shopped in and the place I bought my first George Winston tape -- this was before widespread sales of CDs -- on a windy autumn afternoon in 1984). From there we circled through the stone statues between those three high rises between Walnut and Spruce -- I don't know what they're called but anyone who has spent time in Philly will know what I mean -- and walked up Second Street to Serrano, the restaurant downstairs from The Tin Angel. I had the pumpkin ravioli (you were so right Mel!), hubby had chicken wrapped in bacon, and we had this thing called a Mounds Pie for dessert that involved chocolate mousse in a toasted coconut shell with whipped cream. As if this were not enough to die from, The Tin Angel had a one-drink minimum per person, so I had an amaretto sour as well...well, part of one, as I can't hold my liquor for shit.
October Project was amazing...music live is almost always ten times as powerful as on a CD, and even without Mary Fahl (who is no small loss -- Marina has a very pretty voice but Mary's is utterly unique) they sounded wonderful. In the old days Mary sang lead and Marina sang backup; now Marina sings lead and Julie sings backup, and while her voice is also pretty enough, her range is so close to Marina's that there's just not the same kind of harmonizing. On the other hand, Marina was always clearly the backup singer to Mary in what footage I've seen of the old OP, while Marina and Julie sang side by side and made lots of eye contact and touched hands and commuicated -- it's quite apparent that they're old friends (college roommates I believe) and that each can tell when the other is moved or nervous or about to crack up. They opened with three old OP songs, "Deep As You Go," "Sunday Morning Yellow Sky" and "Paths of Desire," which made me so happy -- they also did some new songs including a devastating one about Julie's mother's death and some songs I've only ever heard from live November Project recordings with Maryann singing. (Julie and Emil's 8-year-old son is in charge of running their merchandise table, so it really feels like a family event.)
Julian notwithstanding, The Tin Angel is a 21-and-older club which is the big reason we did not bring our kids this trip, so they did make some adult jokes -- at one point introducing a relatively new song from their EP, "The Mind's Eye," Julie whispered the title so quietly that people were asking what she said, and Julie and Marina started joking that everyone was saying, "Did she say 'penis'?" which got Emil and then the manager going (he threatened jokingly to kick them offstage and turned out all the lights). Emil also broke Julie's keyboard and could not play a B flat which they needed for the last song, so they transposed it on the spot and it actually sounded wonderful. They had left the stage without performing "Return To Me," but of course they came back for an encore and of course they did that one and "Falling Further In." The former made me bawl -- it was cathartic but also somewhat shattering to discover that a song could break me like that. I have many associations with it connected to fandom and LiveJournal and particularly to my birthday, and you know how sometimes happy memories can tear you apart much more than unhappy ones? It was that kind of moment, especially listening to a song with lyrics like that. Hurts a lot but the only way past it is to feel it, I think, not ignore it.
Being in Philly is always a nostalgia trip for me. I spent four very happy years in college here, but as much as I enjoyed school and living in the city, those were hugely important years for me -- I think I grew and changed more during those four years than any other continuous four years of my life. My college roommate, who is now one of my best friends, always tells me that she envies my memory because I tend to remember the good stuff and completely block the bad, not out of any conscious denial or design but just because at the end of the day I tend to think of things that made me happy and my short term memory moves those associations into my long-term memory rather than the negative stuff. As a result I tend to think of myself as a fairly happy person even though those close to me probably think I bitch and moan and it's probably that much more annoying when I say that actually I'm happy. I have conscious memories of things that cause me pain -- I fell in love the most intensely of my life in Philadelphia, and it lasted nearly two decades and affected everything from my choice of career to how I defined my sexual orientation, and this was two years before I met my husband which was a totally different kind of falling in love, more the kind that makes you comfortable with who you are than challenge everything about it...
Gah, I'm babbling. Anyway, when we got back to the hotel, LOTR: FOTR was on TNT. I have close associations between that movie and a couple of October Project songs, so this made me cry more, but in a good way. I keep thinking about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Bruce Almighty was on HBO the other day and we hadn't seen it before and our whole family loved it and it made me really appreciate Jim Carrey's range, watching the two movies back to back like that). I'm so glad I remember happy, and the temptation to want to forget or avoid things has such a short shelf life. apaulled drew me a hilarious, slashy Remus/Sirius birthday card that I will scan and post when I am near my scanner...he also burned me some concert CDs...we agreed no expensive presents this year for either of us because we are going to England right before his birthday, and besides, I may be getting a new computer in which case he will inherit mine which is bigger than his. Have not looked at anyone else's journal or previous comments in mine...when I get home tomorrow, I shall do that. In the meantime:
Penn's Landing -- Olympia, Moshulu, Liberty Belle, Spirit of Philadelphia