The strange and the beautiful

img_1961Yesterday I went out – to avoid the cleaners of the apartment, who are friendly but inevitably want the freedom to clean without me here – and had a walk along the banks of the river Arve, which runs nearby. This simple act turned out to be remarkable for three reasons.

The first is that I smoked my pipe outside with impunity, for the first time. Everyone smokes here it seems, and even when I eyed a young couple who passed me, they were no more non-plussed of me than I of them. I integrated perfectly, quickly unworried that I might be judged. Not remarkable in the scheme of things, but for me a moment I’ll remember. Similarly, I’ve yet to venture outside with my new trilby. The idea, I think, is to do so immediately on arriving in a new place, lest your neighbours think it is an afterthought, an affectation.

Second, on the other side of the street the immense trees were shedding their pollen, creating what appeared to be a snow-storm in the middle of a sunny day. I tried to photograph it, but the slightness of the pollen is all but missing in the photos. It had an unnerving quality, not least because of this fleeting and insubstantial quality, but one of wonder too, to find this unseasonable ‘weather’. It quite set my up for the third event.

As I basked in my new-found pipe-smoking freedom I was surprised to see a man – not unlike me in dress, shape and age – on a manual scooter (that is, without an engine, like a child’s plaything) being pulled along by his spotted dalmatian, attached by a scruffy rope. They moved at some speed and unselfconsciously, bold even. I whipped out my iPhone to take a picture but alas I was too late. You’ll have to trust me. I felt a unity with a woman who spied him too, and we shared a moment laughing before moving on. It was so memorable I felt an uncanny sense that I had seen this before, but I had tricked myself: instead I had misremembered the closing paragraph to Carson McCuller’s unnerving short story ‘Wunderkind’, which ends with the scene of a dog running backwards:

An hour later, Mr. Brook sat looking out of the window of his office. The trees along the quiet Westbridge street were almost bare, and the gray buildings of the college had a calm, sad look. As he idly took in the familiar scene, he noticed the Drakes’ old Airedale waddling along down the street. It was a thing he had watched a hundred times before, so what was it that struck him as strange? Then he realized with a kind of cold surprise that the old dog was running along backward. Mr. Brook watched the Airedale until he was out of sight, then resumed his work on the canons which had been turned in by the class in counterpoint.

Rather than ‘cold surprise’ I was left with the uncanny sense that these three events would somehow reappear again, in a perhaps altogether configuration, and not just in their writing here.

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