Monday, October 27, 2008
Trees and Leaves and Owls
Just back from dinner, where on my walk home down Sixth Avenue, I couldn't but notice the emptied stores and restaurants. A clerk or two, looking out toward the door, bored. A waiter leaning against a post with aloof face and crossed arms. I know a coastal storm is in the forecast, and I know there's baseball on tonight for those who care about such things, but--what happened? The whole Carrie Bradshaw fantasy--which was being played out right and left by tourists in our neighborhood for years--looks so wrong when you see it these days that it feels painful.
At least on a Monday night.
Anyhow, Mark has one more full day in London, so I am thinking London myself tonight. London: extraordinary city. This is one of my favorite passages in literature, from Virginia Woolf's essay, "Street Haunting." Has there ever been a more pastoral reading of urban life? Trees and leaves and owls. It doesn't get any better than this.
How beautiful a London street is then, with its islands of light, and its long groves of darkness, and on one side of it perhaps some tree-sprinkled, grass-grown space where night is folding herself to sleep naturally and, as one passes the iron railing, one hears those little cracklings and stirrings of leaf and twig which seem to suppose the silence of fields all round them, an owl hooting, and far away the rattle of a train in the valley. But this is London, we are reminded; high among the bare trees are hung oblong frames of reddish yellow light--windows; there are points of brilliance burning steadily like low stars--lamps; this empty ground, which golds the country in it and its peace, is only a London square, set about by offices and houses where at this hour fierce lights burn over maps, over documents, over desks where clerks sit turning with wetted forefinger the files of endless correspondences; or more suffusedly the firelight wavers and the lamplight falls upon the privacy of some drawing-room, its easy chairs, its papers, its china, its inlaid table, and the figure of a woman, accurately measuring out the precise number of spoons of tea which-- She looks at the door as if she heard a ring downstairs and somebody asking, is she in?