WickedEye's Quotient

10/08/2009 at 08:45

Paintings & Pipes, Maps & Territory...Venice & Carbondale

I'm sitting at my kitchen table in the grey of a cloudy autumn midmorning and remembering Venice: the pristine, near-effervescing colors of a sunny morning on the Adriatic coast, with Lombardis and turisti alike raising their faces to the perfect sky.

But this is not an essay on Venice. When I (finally) have time to construct one, it will read like a half-dream- one whose retelling strains at the edges with the knowledge that the dreamer seeks to impart a vision for which language itself has no capacity.


Venice is the utmost, and immaculate, embodiment of tangible magic.


And for someone who has watched a baby elephant peek from behind its mother on an Indian mountainside and swum in a mangrove forest in the Caribbean and sung Compline at the Couvent des Ursulines, that's saying a lot.


The sum of those experiences is a big part of why I'm writing this. One of the many reasons I love traveling is that it gives me so many places to go when I don't like my current surrounds. And yes, I'm fully aware of just how mad that must sound, and I can't be arsed to sterilize the explanation for those who demand strict rationality in their descriptions of thought (and if you are such a person, you may very well find you're in the wrong place).


Mad or not, it's true. When thinking of other things- school, studying, friends, family, reading- I have little leisure to consider where I am and if I like it. But such intense concentration fades with completion of thought or task, and I once again look about me- orient myself to my physical surrounds. Ground myself in my body and the sight and sound of the things around me. And when I do that, that locale doesn't always please me.


I like my apartment; I've gone to great pains, after the last place I lived, to make certain that I can and do enjoy this one. But, rich fabrics and bright colors aside, it's a hell of a lot more appealing on a sunny day than a dull, drizzling October one. The fact that the apartment is located in Carbondale doesn't greatly help, either: I've resigned myself to living in small towns for the near future, and Carbondale has many charming and engaging features. But it is not my preferred environment, and it is impossible to set foot outside my apartment without being reminded of that.


So, Venice, today. And now that I've mentioned them above, Kuttikayam and Guilligan's and New Orleans as well. Places that are part of my mental landscape: a wide world in which I live as surely as my body lives on physical terrain, a world mapped from the mundane but containing experiences, memories, feelings: information that the workaday topographical world can never accomodate.


It does sound mad, I know; but we all do it to a certain extent. There are the things we see in front of us, and the vast rich jigsaw of the place in which they fit inside of us. They are not the same place. For we humans, the map and the territory are often inverted; the images we have in our head, the memories and current assimilations: these are where we live. The physical world is a map to consult. It is a source of input which often fades into the background when we occupy our own internal landscapes.


Differentiating what is real from what is not is important. Is what separates the sane from those who are not. But the things which make us unique are the mental territories we construct, the record of discoveries through which we move. And if those things are not real, then neither are we.


Magritte's painting, 'The Treachery of Images', is a perfect example of this: A large pipe with the legend 'Ceci n'est pas une pipe' ('This is not a pipe') beneath it. Magritte's point is well made: the painting is not a pipe. It is an image of a pipe. It cannot, as Magritte once pointed out, be filled with tobacco.


But it is Magritte's pipe. It is all the pipes he filled with tobacco over the years before his brush spilled their amalgamation onto a canvas. Ceci n'est pas une pipe, c'est n'est pas notre pipe, mais c'est son pipe: It is not a pipe, it is not our pipe. But it is Magritte's pipe, in a much larger sense than that in which he owned the labor of its making and the canvas on which he spent it. It is Magritte's idea of a pipe, and it was as real to Magritte as the image of it is not to the rest of us.

Paintings and pipes, maps and territory. We navigate them constantly.

I occupy a given latitude; whether in Venice or here in my kitchen, I am always somewhere real. But my place of residence changes. In that sense I am a citizen of several different countries: the Here and Now, the Once Before, the Future Dwelling, the Nonexistent Ideal. Their borders are blurry, but they are all distinct. All real.

And the Here and Now, my grey-washed kitchen in Carbondale, is too dim a place for me to stay at the moment. I've no reason to linger.

So I'm leaving it, and you, for a marocchino from Caffe Florian, drunk in the open air of the Procuratie Nuove. For a seat amongst the ghosts of Casanova and Goethe and Byron, for the feel of the warming sea breeze and a view of the scintillant colors of the Piazza de San Marcos. For a place to revel in the endless vibrant jostle of the world surging past me across the piazza.

Arrivederci, Carbondale. For a little while.

Blogger kazfeist said...

I lived in Kane, IL for about 3.5 years a while back. Carbondale's HUGE, in comparison! Good luck with the studies, and write when you can. You have a lovely, lyrical style. :D  

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