Thursday, November 04, 2004

To Begin in the Middle

Could it begin anywhere else? Yes; as Romans had a term for the right way to tell a story — in medias res — they had one for ungainlily beginning from pure scratch: ab ovo, from the egg. I've heard two exegeses. One says that Roman feasts began with eggs and ended with salads. The other makes it ab ovo Ledae. Told that way, the Trojan War starts with the abduction of Helen, shellmate then sister-in-law of Clytemnestra (Castor and Pollux nestled in the next ovum over), conceived in their mother Leda's rape by the usual Zeus in the unusual getup of a swan. And that happened because . . . No beginning, though endless beginnings. This one grows tedious already, as I knew it would. As a child I doted on new notebooks but dreaded sullying that first page. Luckily or not, I ignored the high drama long enough to get something written, and never quit. Or rather I quit again and again, but have never stayed stopped.

A story, then. London, June 2004. On the Tube, a late-middle-age Japanese couple, retirees, broadcast absurdity and delight. They talk to absolutely everybody, devoting much of their thousand-watt attention to engaging an English family (blond, blonde, and blond) in ecstatic scrutiny of the route map, intermittently in turn stroking the cheeks of the youngest. I miss overhearing their destination — Temple Street, some magic kingdom near Soma-setta Housa. As they leave the car they actually wave, in unison, at a blank-faced woman to whom they have not spoken simply because she just boarded — wave twice, once from the doorway and again from the platform. If contempt shadows the smiles around them, all up and down the car, it costs them nothing. I would like to remember this.


Post a Comment

<< Home