Friday, February 1, 2013

In Which Captain Nemo Sends A Message

Sunday, January 27th, 2013 

8:30 a.m. I wake up listening to Making Contact on KEXP. The host, a young woman with a pleasing voice, asks “what is green and sustainable about dams and hydroelectricity?” Dams destroy communities and cause people to move into the margins of industrial societies. They destroy floodplains and the loss of soil that rivers carry deplete the fertility of coastal regions, many of which depend on fishing for a livelihood. “The Twentieth Century has seen the production of dams never seen before," she continues, "progress was measured in concrete and steel. Today, two thirds of the world’s rivers are clogged by dams.” She interviews Jason Rainey, an advocate for economic justice and movements for ecological restoration. He remarks that 4% of the methane entering the atmosphere and contributing to greenhouse gas comes from the rotting of forests that have gone underwater as the result of dams. I fall back asleep. I wake again, this time listening to an interview with Derrick Jensen. Jensen remarks, very poetically, that rivers are living beings. Rivers are moving, complex entities that interact with the environment in very complex ways. The trees that line their banks, the soil they carry, the mist, the wildlife, are all interrelated in a delicate equilibrium. Rivers move through the country like snakes. They bend, coil, and meander, and when they leave their banks they and flood the countryside they create new channels that result in new communities. It is a process of continuous reinvigoration. Death and rebirth. Rivers exemplify the complexity of all organisms. Even the human body is made up of organisms that do not carry our DNA, namely, bacteria. We need certain bacteria to live. Dams kill these complex interactions. They kill everything. There are two million dams in the United States. 70,000 dams above 6,000 feet. It is a mass murder of rivers. The Colorado River doesn’t even reach the ocean anymore. “I have a friend in the fisheries community,” he says, “who said something very moving and beautiful. She said that it breaks her heart when a river floods a valley or plain. Frogs, trees, snakes, salamanders, everything dies. But then, when the river recedes, the region’s fertility is greatly increased. In other words, a short-term loss becomes a long-term gain. This is true in so many aspects of our existence. Why do we stay in bad relationships or jobs? It’s because we fear short-term loss, when we could be benefitting from long-term gain.” 

9:00 a.m. I get out of bed. I make the bed. It feels both annoying and good to make the bed. Annoying, because it’s the first chore of the day, good, because the sheets and blankets feel good. It feels nice to yank them up, smooth the wrinkles out. Bring order to disorder. When the bed is made, and all the pillows are back in place at the head of the bed, the day feels as if it has officially begun. I navigate my way to the bathroom, attend to my hygiene, soap my face and splash some warm water into it, brush my teeth, get the hairbrush and make a few cursory sweeps through the chaos that is my coiffure, then stroll into the living room and get dressed. Every time I get dressed Louis the XIV of France comes to mind. I imagine him surrounded by his retinue, a group of 17th century men grouped around their divine king in nervous preoccupation, dressing him, fussing over his flounces and furbelows. How absurd and awkward it would be to have a team of men dress you every day. I also fantasize being an animal that doesn’t require clothes at all, like Toby, our cat 

9:15 a.m. I pour some coffee, dollop some “Chicken Formula” cat food into Toby’s dish, and sit down at the computer. I check email. There is an email from L, asking if Tim the roof man can deduct the cost of replacing the awning he burned a hole in from the roof repair he was planning doing. I write back no. He will need to reimburse us for a replacement. A few days later, an awning specialist names Mike brings a large notebook full of fabric samples.  

9:17 a.m. I go online and visit Litterature Audio. This is a free online service in which texts from all sorts of French literary genre are read outloud, in French, by various people. It’s an excellent way to hear French spoken. I’ve been listening to someone who goes by the Username “Orangeno” read L’Îsle mystérieuse by Jules Verne. I am at Chapter 15 in Part Three. I write down all the words I need to look up later: septentrionales, égueulement, empanacher, madriers, scieries, goélette, cintre, bordage, vaigrage, ferrures, cheville, fenaison. Many of these words are related to shipbuilding. The five marooned men, Cyrus Smith, Pencroff, Nab, Harbert Brown, Gédéon Spilett and the reformed pirate Ayrton and Jup the ape and the little dog Top, receive a mysterious telegraph message from the little house in the corral. They go to the corral, suspecting that the message must be from the mysterious figure who has been providing help since their arrival on the island, including the death of the marauding pirates whose sunken ship they are now cannibalizing to build a ship of their own. When they arrive at the corral, they discover a note urging them to follow another wire. They follow the wire to a huge cavern, and discover that the mysterious figure is none other than Captain Nemo. 

10:00 a.m.  I make scrambled eggs and toast with strawberry jam and pour a glass of grape juice and sit down to watch Sept jours sur la planete, a weekly French news program. The host, Isabelle Malivoir, interviews José Garçon, a former journalist of Libération, who founded and co-hosted an exhibit of 61 Arab artists for an auction at Arab World’s Institute in Paris in support of the victims of the Syrian conflict. 
10:30 a.m. I write.  

1:00 p.m. I call Harald.  It’s his birthday. Harald and I have been friends for 44 years. We first met at San José City College, in 1969. He was 18 and freshly arrived from Bremen, Germany, where he grew up. His wife was a friend of my ex-wife. After our divorces, we shared a small house together for a while on Balbach Street, downtown San Jose’. We talked for an hour. 

2:00 p.m. I go for my usual afternoon run. It’s a wet, cold, gray, gloomy day. It had been raining, but now there is mostly just a fine drizzle. Near the end of my three mile run, I see a couple, a man and a woman of indeterminate age, admiring the view from Kerry Park, which overlooks Elliott Bay and the Seattle skyline. The man is looking through a pair of binoculars. Each is wearing a black jacket. It says “Sunset” in orange letters on the back of the woman’s jacket, and “Polkadot,” in white letters, on the man’s jacket. I can’t see the smaller words beneath, but I imagine these words are the names of taverns, or casinos. “Sunset” makes sense as the name of a tavern, but perhaps not a casino. Who would want to gamble in a casino called the Sunset Casino? Or, for that matter, roll dice and shoot craps at a casino called “Polkadot?”  

4:15 p.m. I turn on TV and immediately get absorbed in a show on TV5 Monde, our French cable channel, about Carlos Coste, who, in 2010, set the longest distance swim underwater in Dos Ojos, a cave on the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan peninsula. Dos Ojos means “two eyes.” I watch as he sits cross-legged on the ground doing Yoga-like breathing exercises, preparing to hold his breath for a period of approximately ten minutes while he glides through the water, making undulatory movements with a uni-fin on his feet, weaving in and out of the columns and rock formations in the subterranean lake. He wears nothing except goggles and a skin-tight latex swimsuit and carries a small flashlight so that he can probe his way past a maze of stalagmites and stalactites. Above ground, with a team of onlookers and photographers and journalists, his wife runs to meet him at the opposite mouth of the cave, presumable the second eye of Dos Ojos. She is full of anxiety. You can see it in her face. You can see it in her two eyes. 

5:30 Roberta makes dinner, piroshky with kielbasa. We watch Questions pour un Champion during dinner, then have desert and watch Jerry Maguire. We’ve seen this movie numerous times but never tire of seeing it. I always enjoy watching Tom Cruise, although I have to make a conscious effort not to think about his weird involvement with the Church of Scientology. Usually, I forget he’s Tom Cruise, and think of him as the character he’s playing: Joel Goodson, Cole Trickle, Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, Lt. Daniel Kaffee, Charlie Babbitt, Ethan Hunt, Jerry Maguire, Bill Harford, Frank T.J. Mackey, John Anderton, or Stacee Jaxx. 

What, I wonder, kind of roles will Cruise play when he’s in his 70s?  

8:30 p.m. I read Les Champs magnetiques and Les Vases communicants for the next several hours, intermittently playing with Toby, and/or talking with Roberta.  

10:30. I clean the next CD of Margaret Atwood’s novel Cat’s Eye, an audiobook which we have checked out from the library. Library CDs tend to be smudged, little telltale fingerprints that show up when I hold it in the bright bathroom light. I get out some Windex, squeeze the trigger and feel a fine spray through the little hole of the CD. It feels good, this liquid. I rub the CD with Kleenex, put in in the player, and get in to bed. 

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