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This report is taken from PN Review 179, Volume 34 Number 3, January - February 2008.Luminous Interference
In the kitchen area of the small attic flat, just above the work surface at the sink, there's a tiny triangular window. Very rarely does one go over there - to the taps, or perhaps the fridge - without leaning across (it requires a slight effort to get really close) and looking down to the busy street, through adjacent obstructions of wall and roofing. Doing so, one feels completely invisible - almost the perfect spy.
Once more, one notices the familiar features: a Savings Bank, a tree, pedestrians, a stretch of pavement, a clock, a fountain. Yet, perhaps the most striking detail of all is a wide first-floor window built out over the street, providing cover for an open-air seating-area. When lighting conditions allow, one can see right into the café/restaurant/pizza-parlour, and follow most of what's going on at a dozen or more tables.
So, whenever one, say, puts down a good book and returns to the kitchen to refill one's glass, one might for instance chance to notice that a lone youth, or a couple of women, or a trio of sober-suited office colleagues, are seated at a table which was unoccupied on a previous inspection. Or, alternatively, that they too have vanished. Or that a meal is largely over, the jackets are off, wine has been drunk, everyone is unexpectedly expansive and relaxed.
A bit of a shock this - to look out and find that a large, obviously well-established group which had been there a long time, had almost become part of the local experience, has completely vanished. What? Absolutely no warning? Nobody keeping a tally? Has the rise and fall of these local dynasties nothing whatsoever to do with me? But I missed it anyway, sitting on my rickety chair just out of sight, perhaps reading one of yesterday's foreign newspapers. Or maybe it's entirely the opposite: someone who looked eminently fragile and transient - but who for some reason or other has put down stubborn roots. As a view, I think I almost prefer it to the nearby Schloβ - and I speak as one who loves the dilapidated Schloβ nearby.
At night, that view vanishes, its place taken by a strange reflection of pavement-level shops on our own side of the street. They look a little creepy, left to right, almost unrecognisable. (Since they specialise in cosmetics and fashion I've never set foot inside either of them.) But the opposite façade now has subtler compensations to offer. The strangely evocative inner wall over there, for instance, entirely covered by shelves of books. (German books, I suppose. I've never noticed anyone taking one away, or bringing one back - though I dare say it must happen all the time.) Or the dazzlingly bright interior of a dentist's suite while the cleaners are in. (I once sat waiting, for at least half an hour, inside one of the duller rooms at the back.) And, most of all, up in the far corner every night, a subdued light where a couple of plants and a vase can be dimly made out, with a dark, heavy piece of furniture lurking just beyond.
Something about that glimmering room seems to talk to me of - well, of what? Of the infinite possibilities of the ordinary? Is this how my own life should have been? Is this, indeed, how it is? It looks to me like a sort of temple to the mysterious glory of everyday existence. More than once, it has - quite genuinely - crossed my mind to go over there, find out who the (never seen) occupant is, and thank him (or, just possibly, yet another him) for the enticing background music that his dark little flat has provided to my latest stay over yonder - yes, just behind that small triangular window, see it now, a tiny bit up the road? No? (No, no, no - the other one.) How, on my final night, unable to sleep, I gazed across at that light with a ridiculously intense feeling closely resembling love. It stood in, I suppose, for the beauty of people just getting on with it more or less everywhere - here; back where I was going; and at all points in between. (However, isn't it well past time to go to bed over there too?)
But this, of course, also palled soon enough. So I crossed to the back of the big room and looked out of its much larger window, set diagonally into the severe slope of the ceiling. It was darker here. Great shoals of stars were suddenly and almost hideously clear. I looked straight up through the glass, to be as free of luminous interference as possible - and to my amazement, I at once saw a very large, high source of brightness, which it took me a moment or two to identify.
But it was only a simple reflection of the smaller window, throwing a perfect triangle of street-light up into the quite unnecessarily extensive sky. A rich mix indeed. Endless dark space; countless stars; a detergent bottle; the figure of a toy (lederhosen-wearing) bear; even a hint of the façade of the main street. By rights, I thought to myself, I ought to keep standing here at least until dawn - while one star after another wheels its way through a tiny and perhaps trivial excerpt of our momentary local architecture.
This report is taken from PN Review 179, Volume 34 Number 3, January - February 2008.