Monday 25 April 2016

Reading in Andalucia for a week, inland, in the mountains, and lastly by the sea, demands a book with old-fashioned largesse and a leading rein. Confessions of Zeno by Italo Svevo, since I'm in Italian mode lately, should take me through. He's beguiling enough, a chirpy depressive of nearly a century ago, and I bop along his pages on the beach, in bed, at night, his confessions, as he calls them, less intimate than expansive and headlong, sardonic. If this is what his shrink recommends, as per the book's central conceit, then none of us are having any of it.

We have a beach to lie on and look at the sea for hours on end, suspending the waves then rattling the shingle. Sweeps of light mackerel cloud across the sky; very quiet swimming up there too. Read Svevo and doze off, as if bourgeois Trieste of a hundred years ago were softly and forgettably adjacent behind these hills, this paraje naturel or natural spot patrolled, unaccountably, by a small Spanish navy vessel moving from right to left and left to right; while two art students experiment with a mirror but fall into the sea nymph fallacy, unbuttoning their long red-blonde hair.

How long can you watch the sea, clear water over stones, without feeling so far in you need rescuing?

The last day on the beach I finished Svevo, which, by the end, was as odd and tiring as the shifts of travel. Book and circumstance intertwine, irrevocably: the soul on holiday is the soul at home. Always modern. Svevo was modern in Trieste a hundred years ago, along with James Joyce, who was there too. He was modern, that is, ironical, in relation to the Oedipus complex a psychiatrist was determined to give him; and ancient in his attitude to women, about which his psychiatrist had nothing to say.

For the journey home I found a Patricia Highsmith among the disposable fiction on the stairs at our apartment, and read it on the plane and the day after, tearing along, flailing for the end. But in Patricia Highsmith there are always a few resting places.
Rydal walked into a cafĂ© and had a cup of coffee. It was a dull town, Chania, but Rydal rather liked dull towns, because they forced one to look at things—for want of anything else to do—that one might not otherwise notice. Like the number of flowerpots on windowsills as compared with the number in Athens or in other small towns he had been in on the mainland; the number of cripples on the street; the quality of building materials used in the houses; the variety or lack of variety of the foodstuffs in the market.
At Malaga airport I noticed ugly women and the pathos of families, happy and fat and clinging together, looking over their till receipts, following daddy and striking out for the loo.

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