Chasing the Moon I

Posted: February 7, 2013 by Jollymore in Uncategorized

Chasing the Moon

I’ve been running around for months testing out Paul Bowles maxims on life, specifically, how many times I am going to see the full moon rise in this world – perhaps before going to the moon itself, or another place, or none, as Bowles would probably have it.

This fit of moon chasing rose slowly in me since having viewed his The Sheltering Sky, years ago already, and having it engender another search – this for the book, used of course, of the same name – which seeking lasted, I think, two years and, then, having used in my classroom discussions the quotation which caps the final minute of Kit’s wondering, wandering film-life as she meets on screen the eyes of the then aged, now deceased author himself who utters – mystically, telepathically with no lip movement the now famous, to my mind, prophetic words of conclusion, “Since we do not know when we will die . . . life . . . seems so infinite,” all of which – the full journey of mind, not the utterance – spun round my life and thoughts like the moon sweeping round the earth (sixty-five times in this span) for over five years before I began checking the newspaper for phases and times, before I began planning to be places that would afford a good easterly view,  before I really began to peek over the horizon – a profound drop from my world to his, Bowles’ – of meaning and understanding.  Yes, the mania has lasted five years.  So far.

And without promising the moon now and delivering a cheesy pap by the end, just let me observe that for an itinerant scholar who has dabbled, emphasis all mine, less in the exotic than the esoteric, who would just as soon pick up a hammer and saw as pen and paper on a Sunday, for one who moves through musical instruments like a musician moves through score sheets – always playing the base line – for me who under scientific scrutiny or, just as effective, by a quick observation of a casual reader of popular magazines would instantly be pegged as dyslectic-hyperactive-attention-deficient, for the whirling dervish I am to stick to an idea for so long (the rest of the mania is easily explainable – see above diagnosis) compares well with the accomplishment kindergarten kids on recess make building, launching and recovering Apollo 9; next to impossible.

The continuity that has built – the staying power, maybe of the moon but probably of Bowles’ haunting melodic idea –  tells me I am on the track of something important.  Though Kit – the ill fated heroine of Bowles book, if one can be simultaneously existentialist and ill fated, – thought the same thing.

One. Of course, the earth does not know the turning of the centuries or the anguish of Y-2-K (is that what we called it?), but the hoopla of our supposed movement into the twenty-first century – along with the arguments over which January 1st was truly the beginning of the new millennium (and I cannot now with conviction tell which side won much less which side was right) – all this balderdash at that time moved me from my arm chair to a venue very close to that I write of now, a place dark, lined with redwoods and redwood shadows, hilly and exposing a magnificent vista of the huge wooded valleys – twenty miles broad and, to the eye, forty sleek north to south long – which separate the coastal range by the bay from Mount Diablo – the visual nexus of the lunar rise.

It was the last full moon of the thousand years which had witnessed the melding of Anglo-Saxon and Old French to the poor prose that you now read; the raising of the Aztecan temples, their bloody consecrations and their destruction under the hammer of Cortez y Isabella (por mas glorificciones del Dio); and the spawning of the thousands of names which to us define art, politics, philosophy and, in deference to the bellicose among us, war and mayhem.  Of course, those of the first and previous millennia are with us still  perhaps fewer but of broader penetration at the base of the collective human skull.  This moonrise was to be our last with Chaucer, Tammerlane, Rembrandt, and Napoleon.

Into the last fresh air of my era I sallied warmly dressed,  a flashlight secure in my fleece pocket and in good boots made my way carefully under sombrous Monterey pines stepping over their raised root systems to my chosen vantage point arriving not long before what was for that isolated spot a goodly crowd populated, as is always true on momentous occasions like the last full moon of the millennium, by children in tow of fathers who are convinced that this is something for which it is worth waiting.   And it was, it was worth the wait.  Through the frond-like fog strainers of coastal redwood limbs from thin crowns sweeping down in graceful arcs like gothic arches reversed, over the backdrop of the lone mountains’ mountain, Diablo, Luna rose golden, clear and solitary for the last time over Dante’s Hell and Paradise, too, an icon to the rise and fall of empires and ideas revealing our smallness in the enormity of the sky and in the bigness of our own imagination which, when healthy, is more a whole sphere than a dome.  Our little knot of fifteen, I alone alone, shared the eight minutes in a silence punctuated only by toddler questions answered by parental inanity, but mostly we shared a quiet profound enough to allow the sound of turning terra firma to echo from the slow-to-be-revealed moon and back again.

In some sense that was the real beginning of my moon chase.  I suppose the turning of the century would have been enough, or maybe a harvest or blue moon in less busy times, to get me out in time to see the rise, but it was the giant, licked finger of time, catching the page corner to start its lifting turn as if to throw me – clinging to the edge of that 2000th (or 1999th) page – onto the hillside at the close of what seemed to us all like a thousand years, to witness what Paul Bowles says we see but a dozen or so times.  I wasn’t out to prove him wrong; I  simply wanted to see.

In the two years since the turn of the century, I have really seen the full moon rise but twice.  If Luna were a softball, I would earn a batting average to put me in the minor, minor leagues as a moon chaser, two for twenty-six.   My immediate reaction to Bowles quotation which you see below in full now, was that I had seen the full moon already more than Bowles thought likely – I have always preferred walking at night as it is good for thinking and more solitary – but paying close attention to his words, I had to admit that seeing the full moon, or nearly full moon, did not count as seeing the full moon rise. To arrange one’s day – or evening – around the movement of the moon, it turns out, is much more difficult than might be imagined and, as you will see in what follows, those who run their lives by the clock and mostly live indoors even in the hospitable California climate, must plan ahead and move methodically to witness the lunar reveal as it happens.  This is no well-advertised eclipse.  In some sense it resembles a daily occurrence but, remember, only the moon at its full and coming first into view qualifies in Bowles simple phrasing.  Here are Paul Bowles’s words coming from, in the book, the existential mind and in-amorous mouth of Port, husband of Kit – played in film, you must know, by John Malkovich – but words in the film coming from the forehead of Paul Bowles himself watching Kit enter, survey the Omar bar for something to connect with and not truly wanting whatever that something might be, leaving again.  The words, spoken telepathically, in Bowles own voice:

Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well, yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.

Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky

Now this is not a literary exegesis or even a literary discussion, but the connection between the childhood memory and watching the full moon rise any number of times is a tight one, it must be admitted, though I resolved to deal first with the moon and later with that single afternoon.  Some how the moon seemed more accessible.

There is more to be had of this.  Please comment to make that “more” happen. tj

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