Monday, June 21, 2010
Somebody hid Archimedes under a painting.
There's something of my grandmother in my grand-aunt, and of my Papa in my son.
I'm pretty sure I found Emeraude in my Ormonde Jayne Woman yesterday.
I have been fascinated by palimpsests since I was a kid. What a combination of issues: The need to reuse media, and therefore actually *write over* previous text (the idea of writing in, dog earing pages, or cracking the spine of a book was anathema to me until grad school, where suddenly books became giant notepads). The idea that something lay beneath. The literal layering of history. Mysteries to be discovered.
I was just at a family reunion. Happens every three years, and I see people descended from my maternal great-grandparents that I would never get to know otherwise. My own two children, who have no cousins and started their lives with only three grandparents and one uncle find themselves suddenly in a world of large, extended family full of cousins (removed in various ways, but still related) and (grand- and great-)aunts and uncles and bodies and noise and immediately observable similarities and a ream of differences.
At these gatherings, I approach a doorway, and hear my grandmother speaking, even though she has been dead nearly ten years now. I sit behind one of my grand-aunts, and see a gesture that was entirely grandma's from a body six inches taller. The hauntings are very strong and frequent here.
Of course, these hauntings happen all the time. I saw one in the face of my first born when he was two years old, when he looked at a new food and his face flashed "curious/wary/preparing to jump in" in a way I had seen on my Papa and my brother. I see a flash of my grandfather-in-law's impish humor crinkle the eyes of my other son when he prepares to deal out a particular type of joke. In fact, these are often the most powerful hauntings for me--the gestures, rather than the physical replications. The cadence and timbre of speech when they echo a person the child was never able to meet.
I traveled, as usual, with an assortment of perfume samples. The one that I came back to in the thick, humid, 94 degree heat was Ormonde Jayne Woman, which seemed at first would be too thick itself for those conditions. I found myself using it more than once, because it had a delightful "green dust" aspect to it. A little raspy, as I've mentioned I like, suspended in sweetened green.
It ended up being doubly appropriate, because as we were driving home, I could swear I smelled my mother's Emeraude, as I did when I quietly "visited" her darkened bedroom sometimes when she was busy elsewhere and once or twice dared to venture to the perfume and give it a sniff.
It was, of course, the Ormonde Jayne.
Today is one of my favorite days in the calendar, the summer solstice. As opposed to the equinoxes, when day and night are in balance, this is a day that is a physical manifestation of extremes. We here north of the equator get to enjoy the longest term of daylight in the year. In childhood, this was exciting, as it meant rules like "be home when the streetlights come on" were stretched as far as possible. Always, I feel it is like the moment you crest on a roller coaster; you know things are about to start tumbling away, but for this moment, this day, this dusk, this day into night, it is as full as possible. And you get to witness it.
Cultures across the globe and throughout history have had various ways of noting this day. Sometimes I feel that, as I glance up to the sky when day turns to night, whether I am lighting a fire or letting darkness finally fall around me, I am echoing the gestures of people whose language and culture I could not otherwise understand. They could sit behind me, and recognize my behavior.
Looks like it might be an OJ Woman night tonight. Or is it Emeraude?
image is the Archimedes Palimpsest, which contains three layers of content: the painting seen on the right, 13th century prayers, and text by Archimedes. Walters Art Museum image visible at this article from National Geographic, and this sciencewriter.com article, among others. See the Archimedes Palimpsest Project here.