Friday, December 25, 2009

L'orange chretien

Every Year, in nail'd & stapl'd Boxes, with a thin plastic Gauze overlaying glossy Skins, Clementines come to the now-crowded Counters of Ordinaries. In the Week passed, VIRGINIA has suffer'd grievously under the onerous, remorseless Burden of Snow. For Days 'pon days, the Snow fell silent as Cotton. This Precipitate has refus'd to budge, & instead become Hindrance to all - a Glare bright enough to demand Opera-glasses at mid-day, a Slick treacherous as walking on winding Snakes, and a naturall Ammunition to the riotous Sort, who are all the more frequent in a Isolatoe such as this.

But, count it as Law, that the more prohibitive Conditions be, the more Citizens burn to challenge them; and so the Ordinaries, by-ways & Publick Houses have been positively stuff'd with every-sort imaginable - the Doctor, haughty with Skill & sated with Rest; the two-tooth'd Meth-man, burning for Sweets & delights to burn in his smeltering Gut; the sweater'd Mother, ever-checking her Lists, accompanied at all Points by the Squawking of Babes & the Crinkling of Plastic bags.

Ned Bearskin & myself were chewing our Pipes over this very Situation, having a hearty Joy at the cozy Fire & our Seclusion from such vapid Bustle. But, as is her Wont, Mme Bainton enter'd & at once dispell'd whatever elusive Glee cou'd be coax'd out of the Evening. "Epaph!" she carped. "Have ye retriev'd the Clementines?"

My Heart went black, my Stomach swoon'd - I had not sent Stubb to do so. But had not she promis'd to obtain them on my Behalf? Bearskin, being Kinsman to my Wife, excus'd himself from the ensuing Discourse; but inevitably, as it must, the Responsibility devolv'd onto me, to retrieve the delicious Golden Apples, Clementines.

Upon entering the Ordinary, I look'd in vain for a Hook to hang my Jacket. But it was Velvet, & scarcely suit'd to be abandon'd in such Company. Predictably the worser Sort had collect'd at various Points thro'out, and even the sturdiest Men seemed entirely distract'd by the Ordeal. When I saw our Burgess crawl 'neath a hooded Sweatshirt, & whimper that he wou'd henceforth refuse any calling-cards, I took my seat in Plastic Storage, & consult'd my weary Interior.

"Oh!" came a low Moan, as from inside a Grave. "Oh!" came it again. I offer'd Salute; rec'd nothing. "Oh!" There it came again. I had no Companion to check my Impressions against, & consider'd the Possibility that my own Brains had been bent. But then unclick'd a nearby Bin, & emerg'd a young man.

His Face was all in Disorder, having recently been in Fisticuffs. His Pants wanted stitching, & the slow Work of Misery had plainly carved Lines round his Eyes. He refus'd any offer of Food, & instead stared, with indifferent Humor, at the noizy Customers all about. In short, he was a Youth, useless in Love.

He had come to the Store some days previous, in search of a Gift for his Sweet-heart; but having lost Hope, he had simply curl'd into a plastic Tub, & wait'd for the Horror-Christmas to pass, as all Things do. But this had not suffic'd, as I had unwittingly bang'd his Tub with my Cane. He queried me, concerning my Quest - I offer'd that I sought the elusive Clementine.

"Oh! The Clementine! The Christmas Orange! A Hesperidium!"

Greece once look'd to the West, for its Mysteries & Pleasures. Old Aigyptos had grown long in Tooth, & her Glamour had rather taken on the Courtezan's Sheen. Likewise, the ancient Phoinikai had disappear'd, dissolv'd away into their thousand Colonies. But Greece remember'd the former Order of Things, when Phoinecia ruled, & the scatter'd Cities of West Europe, blink'd like lonely Candles in an shatter'd Church.

One such Cittie was Tartessos, where Strabo places the Hesperides. Tartessos smelted Bronze, & hous'd Phonecians, Greeks, Tyrrhenians, & the unnumber'd unnamed Races of pre-History. It was Tartessos which was Tarshish, where ignoble Jonah fled, heartless to face Fate.

& yet why flee to another Port, when there were so many? For the Hesperides, that magic Garden, tended by Nymphs - whom we must understand as a sort of Vestal Virgin, consecrated to their delicate Task. Gardens were the Wonders of the Ancients - look to Babylon, where the Terraces contain'd all the Colour & Scent of Nature. & notice too, that our Word "Paradise" comes only for the Persian, for "Garden." But what held this Garden?

Hercules knew well enough. As one of his last Labours, exhausted Herakles had to steal the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. Greeks kenned what a common pomme was - the Fruit abounded in Asia. So Reason wou'd insist that the Golden Apple is a different Fruit entire, if indeed it exists.

But I count it a Wisdom of Science, that the Clementine is classed as a Hesperidium - for it carries hesperidin, that sweet, citrus Sugar that charms the Tongue into lazy Longing for more, more. Can we count it fair, that the Clementine shou'd be consider'd the Golden Apples of Antiquity? Wou'd Herakles retrieve Clementines from a secret Garden, when I cou'd not manage to grab them from the Shelf of an Ordinary?

"I shall never retrieve my Gift," came the disconsolate Moan. Lost in Speculation, I had forgot of my young Friend, the Squire whose Love burn'd so Hot he cou'd not Sleep. "I shall ever founder in this listless state, & never call her mine. Suitors approach, recieve dirty lookes; men race her scorn but when she already stands at the finish-line - her heart - what hope?"

I wearied of his Tub-Tale, & wish'd for a quick Conclusion. We two journey'd, & quickly stole away a Packet of luscious, robust Clementines. "See here, friend," said I, " take these Clementines, & give them to yr belov'd. Once Hippomenes threw these self-same Golden Apples before Atalanta, & even the proudest Virgin turn'd aside from her Stride to touch the glorious Fruit. Ye shall be assur'd, tis no dame alive now wou'd out-pride Atalanta."

Shrugging, the Youth went home, & I to my Fireside. Bearskin had retired, so I gave Stubb an awful Beating, & made him drink a Pint of Piss for his Indiscretion. A Gent. shou'd not have to journey into Inclemency for his Clementine!


I can add now only one Postscript, that this Christmas day I rec'd a most unusual Wreath, cover'd o'er in Clementines. Attach'd, the note - "Truer advice never given, & a better friend, though unsought, never found. Thank ye."

So Proof, then, of the Golden Apple's derivation. & after all,

"is not Love a Hercules, Still climbing trees in the Hesperides?"
-Berowne, Love's Labour's Lost.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Where is now your sourquydrye and your conquestes?

Winter chokes up Virginia like Pneumonia. The Sun, drained of summer Quickness, totters to southerly Climes, & the sweet Haze off the blue Ridge evaporates. Each day-light blanches what it reveals, bestowing a weary & sickened Kingdom on the Eye.

& yet Consolation comes, cheery & inconstant as a Wench. I journey'd to Winchester, a Citadel of Folly, where Iniquity & Tradition seat side-by-side, jostling each other for the Favours of that gruesome Capital, Washington. So far has the noble Name of Winchester fallen, to Whore as Bedroom-community for that Babylon on the Potomac!

For the Romans knew Winchester. From Venta Belgae - the Market-place of those savage Belgae, whom Caesar found spread thro'out wild Gaul. As the golden Tongue of Tully & the Gracchi decay'd to Barbarism, Belgae disappeared, and the bearded Saxons spoke only of the Venta Castra - the Market-Camp. "T" slid into "Ch", and the liquid "V" coagulated to "W."

So perhaps it shou'd be no Surprize that yr humble Epaph found himself quaffing Spirits & talking unseasonable late into the Night, dissecting with whate'er clouded Acuity possible the Problem of Preservation - how to hold back the Horde of Hacksaws, Shovels & Hammers that pound regular at the Door of Aniquity. In Staunton young Counsellors, full-up on Bachelor'd Learning, live in the rennovated Madhouse, & Richmond sees her Warehouses re-lit as Cells for lunatic Youth. In the last Days of Rome, Architects degenerate cut from old Monuments the Marble they would use for new Palaces - mutilating the ancestral Memoriae, to preserve themselves from the Labor of extracting new Stone from the Earth.

Such Problems twist'd the Knot of my enfum'd Brain. Not till an Hour before the cruel Crow of the Cock did I lay to Rest - & my Dreams haunt'd me that I wou'd miss the next Day's Appointment. For I had volunteer'd for an onerous Duty - to journey with a Train of Privy Counsellors (hence, Privies) to school them in the gentlemanly Ars Belli. We cross'd Mountains, Rivers, & even broke the State-line - into vicious, base Mary-land.

Enmity betwixt myself & this State being well-establish'd, I shall offer no further Comment thence. Only one Jewel offer'd Redemption for the diseas'd State, a Gymnasium of War, a University of Combat - Medieval Tymes.

Scoff tho' you may, Reader; chortle tho' you must, with yr knowing Glances & Smirks, much Wisdom derives from this Carnival. For the Solemnity of Rite only chokes the naturall Chuckle of unconvinc'd Humanity - & our Jollies contain subtler Philosophy than the learn'd Logic-Choppers of Wm. & Mary College.

A spindly Gent. welcom'd us to our Tickets. He point'd, with his poney-tail, and gestur'd to our Seats. At our Seats, we were treat'd to a Serving-wench. Now, I have had Occasion to describe such Personages in my various Post-Mails, but never, not even in my Days in whorish Williamsburgh, have I heard a Wench say the Following:

I am yr Serving-Wench this eve, & yes, you are to call me yr Serving Wench.

They are proverbial for their Liberality, but never had I encounter'd such generosity as this. We were to cheer the Red & Yellow Knight, a foppish Youth of some twenty&eight Years at the Most. His butterfinger'd Use of Sword gave Shame to the worthy Works of European Duellry, and a long time he gamboll'd about, showing little Pluck & less Skill. I mutter'd to my Companions a very dry Species of Drollery.

When all at once the Serving-wench return'd, and gave us such poor Eatings as I have never seen! Half a chicken, a tomatoe soup, slices of garlick'd Bread, several Ribbs of sauc'd ham, and a flakey apple-pastry of a Lightness much ador'd by the French. Such middling fare I accept'd, tho' did not relish - for what Man cou'd expect to be nourished by such a Poverty of Delight?

Altogether I was asham'd. We had dragg'd the young Councillors to an iniquitous Place, such as Mary-land undoubted is, given them a Presentation of the most effete Sort, and not e'en satisfied their Hunger - arous'd, surely, by the misleading Pungency of the Food!

I approach'd my previous poney-tailed Acquaintance. I spoke to him in subdued Tones, so as not to excite him - for he seem'd poised on the Edge of some aweful Precipice. I had no need for his squealing Excitement to overwhelm my Message. These people must be instruct'd in the proper Uses of the Sword. Sword-work, more than any other Qualification, makes a Gentleman. Now, Parisian Passions have made Sentiment the tubby Emperor of our Time, but what good will a Stack of Love-letters do, when facing an outrag'd opponent?

Sir, said I, I have certain Skilles that wou'd be most useful for yr Enterprise. He look'd intrigued, shifted to another Foot. "How do you know my enterprise?"

I have seen it readily displayed, and I am ready to offer my Services for yr Undertaking. I am well-skill'd in such Practices & shou'd have no Trouble instructing any Novice ye shou'd wish upon me.

He look'd upon me dubious now, and tapp'd his girlish Chin. "Follow me," he spoke. We came past various Barriers, paint'd quite well to appear as Rock. Finally, after succeding Hallways of Curtaines & Gowns, we came to a Dressing-room, where a burly Scalawag rubb'd his Belly, chewing on a long-exhausted Straw.

"Another one?"
"Yes," Poney-Tail replied.
"Sure about this one?"
"Yes. Look at him - none shall stop him at a Check!" They both look'd me over, curious & scornful in their Observation.
"Well, show him his Task."

We repair'd to yet another Room, and left the Scalawag to his Musings. If I had known then what I have learn'd since, I wou'd have broken my Knuckles across his moldy Brow. But instead, I continued down the useless Path towards Shame. Poney-tail stopped me ominously, before a Brief-case. He open'd it, and remov'd what appear'd to be a Sausage-sleeve enclosing a Sea-Cucumber.

What is this?
"You swallow it. You can only swallow - well, you cd swallow perhaps 5. But if they break, you'll die."
Why wou'd I swallow them? Why wou'd I die?
Fluster'd by my stupidity, he yelp'd, "You wd overdose!"

I leapt from the Room and fled, insensate, back to the Carriage waiting for to take us across the Mountains yet again. & that Night I slept sound, in the Knowledge that my Belly was Mule to no Man.

Friday, December 11, 2009

On Thieves, pt. 1

"A plague upon it when thieves cannot be true one to another!"

-Sir J. Falstaff, Henry IV, pt. 1

For ever the Road has claimed me. Sundry Travails & Exploits have taught me that peculiar Art of Dromomancy, - id est, the reading & Interpretation of Roads.

For Years before count, Men have peer'd at Creation, fumbling & muttering over its Signs like a Child at his Grammar-book. Man peel'd apart the hollow Bones of Birds & mapp'd the Course of his Fortune in slick Entrails; he gave Ear to the senseless Provocations of Delphi; he roll'd Dice in Joppa & drew Lots in Macao. He look'd for Fate's ghostly Figure in Rings of sacred Smoke, and guess'd fondly at writhing Flocks of Birds - tugg'd as they are by some cryptic Thread.

Lining out this String of Fate, we draw Squibbles & Doodles on the Land, our twisting Legacy. It is these that I read - for what can a Bird tell us of a Man, except in what way he felled it? What cou'd a priestess tell, but that her Nose has been stuff'd with sooty Incense? Human Labor, from one end to another, has made a Road - surveying, geologizing the Territory, the civil Institutions concern'd with land & its acquisition, the Sciences of grading & establishing road-bed, the Hopes that lead us to climb across a Horse's back & saddle Desire to Will.

I remember, when courting Mme Bainton, that I wou'd walk Home at night along a winding by-way. The last Spring, before we married, I took Tea at her House, and en famille we proceed'd thro' her Mother's Gardens. Her mother was rightly proud of her Work, Beds rich in Scent & Colour: snap-dragons, lillies-of-the-valley & other trifling bits, Tulips tenderly array'd, & a wild, untutor'd rose in the Corner. From this I pluck'd rose-hips whilst my future Wife peck'd at me for wasting her mother's Plants - for her father adored them in his Teas. After, when her Brothers went inside, I wou'd sit awhile with her and her Sister, as the Sun slipp'd under the Horizon-line. We bid good-bye, for the Evening, in the slate-blue Shadows of leafy Boughs.

& in that dusty pastelle-light I wou'd think of the Heroes land'd before me here - John Rolfe greeting the Summer with his new Bride Rebecca; noble Bacon, on Errand to the Accaneech, to slay their iniquitous Numbers; solicitous Byrd, crossing the elephantine James to dispute the Boundary-line. Then did my Archaeology a pied enrich my Heart.

But if it was such a Purse, that I cou'd fill it at will, I find now that each Outing leaves me decidedly thieved - a little less than I was before.

Does a Gentleman, if he deserve the Moniker, belong anywhere near the Road? Let us admit frankly that any publick Thoroughfare deserves its wretched Reputation. From the drafty publick House & Ordinary, crust'd with the greazy Remnants of Humanity, to the colonnaded Congresses of the Demos, that stink of haughty Rabble & whorish Grandees - there is little to commend the Places of publick Traffick.

I must contrary-insist, tho', that a Gentleman may make his Way, no matter what peanut-shells he may find beneath his buckl'd Shoe. I count myself such, despite my most recent Excursion to the Air-port of Charlottesville.

Tho' loath to return to a Cittie of such grievous Harlotry, lest it in some way afford hygenic Release, I had to make an Exception, for one of my People was expect'd across the Mountains, in Ohio-country. In that Land of Greenery it is said that Abundance has wed to Ease, and their Child Joy reigns as Prince of the Long-hunters. My companion, a Woodsman who first met with me on the Chikahominy R., spoke with me of the Pastures overflowing with Bird, Hind, Bear, the Fields madly Fecund, and a general Opulence of the sort that I wou'd scarcely believe.

In the midst of these earnest Disquisitions, I notic'd my Friend had grown frothy 'round the Mouth. This is not unusual for Men of the Frontier - the parch'd Condition we habitually endure forces certain occasional Miseries & Embarassments on us all. But he had a Wildness of Eye - they began to roll like Marbles, and their Colour oscillat'd from blue, to green, to a brown like dried Blood, or a bestirr'd River. He clutch'd at my Lapels, demanding, have ye the faintest clew, the empire you shove away when you live in Virginia?

He rifled over my Belongings & investigat'd my every Expression, for Proof that I might have turned my Interest elsewhere. "But I must away," said I, "for I need make Water."

Rattl'd, tho' somewhat mollified, he quak'd & shook in his Seat, crying after me, Remember that the World is alive! That Virginia is nothing more than an ancestral Ash-can!

I scuffled into the Bathroom, hurrying to the nearest Privy Stall where I might have a Moment's Respite - for I had no real Use in the Privy, but for Contemplation, & Reflection over my madden'd Friend's insensate Claims. I remov'd my Jacket, placed it on the Door, and began to scribble at my note-pages. What was left to Virginia, any more? to become tumor'd o'er by the sickly Castes of the Capital? to become a Fairy-tale Attraction, a Ginger-snap history, a wistful Solace for exhausted Interstaters? to become, in short, prey to the vague Grumbles of foreign Bellies?

Unconcluded I open the Door & immediately notic'd that I had been join'd in the Bathroom by an unannounc'd Visitor - a Custom I have never adjusted to. One shou'd announce one's entrance, viz., "Now enters Epaphroditus Bainton, Gent., & I proceed into this Lavatory to make Havock & rest my toilsome Back from Labour." But this bootless Peculiar had not.

I say bootless, for indeed he was. Moreover, he held his Feet in the Sink, scrubbing with a detach'd Joy, a dreamy Pleasure, at his hidden washing. I shudder'd at the Sight, which must have caught his Attention, for he suddenly look'd up, and drew back his Lips over a single, long, yellow Tooth, which hung from his Skull like a diseas'd Stalactite. His Eyelids rippled in queer Contractions, and he seem'd to not see me.

I shuffl'd past him quickly, back into the window'd & bright Rooms of the Air-port. Wide enough to accomodate a Virginia Reel, yet quiet except for the Mutterings of Clerks & the Snores of delayed Passengers, the Room fill'd with Light, like a Cathedral. For another Age built their Churches to shelter, to detain a while; we build ours to dispose, to shuffle off.

My Long-hunting Friend had disappeared. As had my note-pages - the Book! left in the Bathroom! I hurried, found my Book, and shuddered at the Memory of the Snaggletooth. His greazy Countenance seem'd lather'd all across the Counter. I approach'd unsteadily, and saw the rings of Dirt, the Traces & leavings of Hair, the spent Matches, and moved yet closer, to peer into the Sink, which gave off a queer Sort of Light. As I stepped over the Lip of the Basin, I found not water, but a crust'd Rim of Dirt, a Wrapper, and, filling it to the Brim, with treacly Drips, a glassy Pool of water'd Blood.

Such a Sight shakes the Senses of Someone unaccustom'd to Perversion, Crudity. I return'd to my Carriage, gain'd Purchase on the Running-boards, and for a Moment gazed at the far Mountains. Over that Lip remain'd Misery, perhaps - but such is eternal, is the Legacy of Man. But there also lurk'd, report'd only in Whispers, scarcely trust'd, the Joy of a newe Life.