stones, arches, bridges: a repost from Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Marco Polo describes a bridge, stone by stone.

“But which is the stone that supports the bridge?” Kublai Khan asks.

“The bridge is not supported by one stone or another,” Marco answers, “but by the line of the arch that they form.”

Kublai Khan remains silent, reflecting.  Then he adds, “Why do you speak to me of stones?  It is only the arch that matters to me.”

Polo answers: “Without stones there is no arch.”

translated  by William Weaver





from Conversations in Sicily by Elio Vittorini

Then, as I was waiting, I saw a kite come up over the valley, and I followed it with my eyes as it passed above me into the sunlight high overhead, and I asked myself why, after all, the world was not A Thousand and One Nights, the way it was when I was seven. I heard bagpipes, the goats’ bells, and voices carrying across the slope of roofs and the valley, and I asked myself this question many times over as I watched the kite in the air. We call them flying dragons in Sicily, as somehow they embody China or Persia in the Sicilian sky, with their sapphire and opal colors and their geometry, and watching it I couldn’t help but ask myself why, really, the faith one has at seven doesn’t last forever.

the opening paragraph of The Way Some People Die by Ross Macdonald

The house was in Santa Monica on a cross street between the boulevards, within earshot of the coast highway and rifleshot of the sea. The street was the kind that people had once been proud to live on, but in the last few years it had lost its claim to pride. The houses had too many stories, too few windows, not enough paint. Their history was easy to guess: they were one-family residences broken up into apartments and light-housekeeping rooms, or converted into tourist homes. Even the palms that lined the street looked as if they had seen their best days and were starting to lose their hair.

from The Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra

Now Julian has a real family, the kind that spends Saturday afternoons doing science homework or watching Tim Burton movies. Daniela has just fallen asleep, and he strains his ears, anticipating his wife’s arrival, but he can only make out, distantly, the hoarse bubbling of the aquarium they set up in the living room a few months ago. Stealthily, Julian approaches Cosmo and Wanda, who continue with their changeless voyage through the dirty water, and he observes them with disproportionate attention, his face to the glass. Suddenly, theatrically, Julian takes on the attitude of a watchman, a fish watcher, a man specially trained to keep fish from leaving aquariums.

from The White Album by Joan Didion

Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true. The tension broke that day. The paranoia was fulfilled. In another sense the Sixties did not truly end for me until January of 1971, when I left the house on Franklin Avenue and moved to a house on the sea. This particular house on the sea had itself been very much a part of the Sixties, and for some months after we took possession I would come across souvenirs of that period in its history–a piece of Scientology literature beneath a drawer lining, a copy of Stranger in a Strange Land stuck deep on a closet shelf–but after a while we did some construction, and between power saws and the sea wind the place got exorcised.

I have known, since then, very little about the movements of the people who seemed to me emblematic of those years. I know of course that Eldridge Cleaver went to Algeria and came home an entrepreneur. I know that Jim Morrison died in Paris. I know that Linda Kasabian fled in search of the pastoral to New Hampshire, where I once visited her; she also visited me in New York, and we took our children on the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty. I also know that in 1971 Paul Ferguson, while serving a life sentence for the murder of Ramon Novarro, won first prize in a PEN fiction contest and announced plans to “continue my writing.” Writing had helped him, he said, to “reflect on experience and see what it means.” Often I reflect on the big house in Hollywood, on “Midnight Confessions” and on Ramon Novarro and on the fact that Roman Polanski and I are godparents to the same child, but writing has not yet helped me to see what it means.