Sunday 16 December 2007

Three on a beach

One of Orhan Pamuk's essays begins with an iconic image:
I'd been invited to a festival in Australia, and after a long plane trip I arrived. They took me and a number of other writers to a motel. Three of us - the neurologist Oliver Sacks, the poet Miroslav Holub, and myself - then went out to the seashore. The coast was endless, the sky gray, the sea calm and almost gray. The air was still, close. I was standing on the edge of the continent that I had seen as a horse's head when I was a child. Sacks went off to the edge of the sea with his palette. Holub went off to look for stones and seashells and soon vanished from sight. I was left alone on the endless shore. It was a mysterious moment.
How extraordinary! Three figures silhouetted on a beach: the first modern poet I was moved by (found him in my first book on meditation, long before I began to read poetry) and who must have then been near the end of his life; the eccentric lyrical doctor who long ago opened my eyes to unconsidered aspects of being human and whose latest book I can't wait to read, and the impressive, endearing novelist who has taken me of late on journeys to such strange but familiar places.

Had they met before, these three such disparate writers from different corners of Europe? Did each know the others' work? Jetlagged, far from home and strolling together on a beach, did they converse or share a rueful, silent empathy with one another's weary d├ępaysement? Whether or not there was conversation first, clearly each felt the need to acclimatise in quietude and soon sought the solace and grounding of his own thoughts and habits.

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