Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Illusory Duplication

You sail across a great sea, then a lesser sea, and you dock. Then you take a road through a city, then a country lane, then a path, then you climb.

Up high along the ridges, you can see the hawks swoop down below, and clouds come right at you. There is a well marked trail, but what if you go over the ridge?

You find crags and nestles, is what, and no marked passing of humans, so you continue, and the brush is thicker and there is heat now, dry heat, and so bustles in the hedgerow.

Until you are clear in the valley, before a river and beside it a village like a watercolor from an amateur artist. I mean, there are all manner of styles along the river front, there are ancient adobe cabins and there are two-story gabled farmhouses with stitched Tudor paneling, structures of brick and mortar and stone and tin. Sometimes the houses are begun and then trail off, like a slipping away life, an incomplete picture.

This is a lost, forgotten, unknown land. It's not on any rolls in any government office. When there's something needs doing, I begin to understand, somebody just does it. There are no uniforms anywhere. They have a vigorous trade, duty free, with the outside world because they have a deep-water port nobody but certain shipping lines know about. Over the hill, this is considered wild country, uninhabitable.

There are no names here. No signposts; not on the city or the streets or the stores.

No language that I can understand. When two men encounter, they both give that quick jerk of the jaw up and to one side that says, it's a hard life, ain't it? You bet it is. The only sound from them is the workingman's moan, more like a yawn, "Whoa-ho-hoah." Women smile and nod noncommittally and they laugh with a pleasing lilt. I think of an old Buffy St Marie tune, a verse of it going

Merry Christmas,
Jingle Bells
Christ in heaven and the devil's in hell
Hearts they shrink; pockets swell;
Everybody know and nobody tell

and I always used to wonder. But ... but, if everybody knows, then what's the point of the telling?

I stop in front of an old frame building, peer into the show window. I stand like that for a long time.

Inside is Clayton's, the grocery store of the neighborhood where I grew up. I am astonished. The layout is the same, and the products on the shelves look as if they might be canned goods from the fifties, last century. It's identical to my memory.

From here over a rugged mountain and up a long path and a longer road to a highway to a bayside city and across two oceans and then three mountain ranges after you hit ground and a desert in there too, you'll be where I started, so it is impossible anybody who had been to Clayton's could ever have preceded me here. Nobody could have walked in my footsteps. Yours neither.

What I mean is, what I'm seeing clearly in this old replica of my childhood experience could not be. I blink. It just could not be. What did they - maybe design it from a photo in a magazine? There was never a picture of Clayton's. Of course not. Why take a picture of a small-town market? It would be like the mirrors in the Borges Library of Babel; why an illusory duplication during infinity? When it is going you think it will be ever thus and when it isn't, well, you have much more to miss than Clayton's.

I try the door. It's locked. I look around. Nobody on the street. But then, who would I ask? And how? There is not even a language.

There's a fog from the bay, and it meets the clouds from the ridge, until I cannot tell either from the other.

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