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Terreson Profile
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Sweeping


Here is an essay written in I think it was '95 and that draws on a month or so spent in Spain in '82. I would like to see the forum a little more active. Maybe I'll have to post material here to see if that helps.


Sweeping

For some reason lately there has kept a kind of ongoing replay of events in my head. They are not events, exactly, but more like scenes, or stills, or like little spots of personal history. Taken as a whole they have little in common with each other, except that they belong to the lifespan of a sometime traveler. Actually, the only feature they share with each other, these pressed spots of memory, is their inclination to play, play again, and replay until I feel forced to stop all of what may currently occupy me and take a reading of some small scene still resounding.

The Romantic, Wordsworth, discovered something he called, “spots of time.” For him these were the visionary moments in which he felt keenly alive within his immediate surroundings; moments also that, because they were so closely felt and clear, tended to be what could give sense and meaning to an existence mostly spent in worry, work, and in contention. Nowadays, of course, what Wordsworth thought of as visionary, what could be chalked up to a kind of druidical experience occurring when one has been surprised, say, by sunlight filtering like water through trees in leaf, nowadays such an experience might be reduced and described as a biochemical imbalance in the brain. And who knows but that we may be better informed about such things than was Wordsworth 200 years ago? But even granting the modern inclination to reductive reasoning, I wonder if anyone is really prepared to ascribe a sensual, physical grasp of sense and meaning to an imbalance in neuro-chemical activity. Besides, Wordsworth felt additionally that these “spots of time” involved the memory, and that, as when a memory is induced by the sight, sense, taste, touch, or feel of something present, the meaning laid out could become a continuously woven thing.

But here I admit to having thrown out a red herring in this little discussion of pressed memory spots. The vignettes and spots of personal history of which I speak are not nearly so grand as Wordsworth’s visionary experience of illuminated moments. I cannot exactly say they give my life meaning. I can only say, once again, they have play and replay until I feel compelled to look at them earnestly and try to body out whatever seed of sense they contain. The tacit assumption being, of course, or what amounts to a working premise, is that, when a memory or an image commands the recurring romp in one’s mental field of play, there is some corner of activity looking to have a share in the main game. And the premise is one I am willing to accept, since, this same mental field of play has never seemed to me to recognize such time lines as what is supposed to separate past from present. Even that there are some activities conveniently, sometimes desperately, assigned to the past that can continue in tandem, effectively living an interior life of their own. In such a way, for example, it does seem possible to view the Modern inclination for reducing all experience, phenomenal or otherwise, to a schematic of mathematical, mechanical, biological, or genetic wiring, to view such a reduction as a kind of primitive’s fetish for imparting efficient meaning to visible parts.

Having said too much about a subject best left to experts and scientific journalists, I would probably do better to just tell the story of one such small spot of history, one that continues to stand out over the flux and field of memory.

Some years ago I took time out from the usual lifeline of work and making one’s way to spend five weeks in the south of Spain. The trip’s ambition wasn’t much. It was simply a retreat from a domestic Saigon, a domestic disaster I had artfully managed to create. Arriving in Madrid I slowly made my way south. I then traveled by bus and train, while stopping in different places, until I reached the coastal province of Andalucia. There I first staid for a week or so in Granada. And most of my time was spent walking the grounds of the last of the Moorish castles to fall to the Spaniards in their reconquest of the Iberian peninsula. The year to remember in that particular chronicle of holy crusading being 1492. Set on a hilltop high above the town, the Alhambra occupies a naturally defensible position. And inside its walls there once flourished a center of learning, art, and the sciences that, by the year of its conquest, had already reached out and influenced the emergence of Europe’s adolescent civilization.

The Alhambra is now a preserved monument visited by busloads of tourists from around the world. But there were days during my visit when the tourists were not so many. And I was able to imagine earlier sights, scents, and sounds of a time when scholars, artists, astronomers, jurists, doctors, and scientists were pushing against the then limits of what was known about the universe. And maybe about the human heart. I could also look through the castle’s northside windows of intricately, femininely carved stone and see Gypsy caves dug into the opposing hillside across the river ravine. The day I left Granada was after discovering how many of the white washed caves had become a Gypsy’s version of tourist shops.

My trip continued south through the Sierra Leone Mountains to a small fishing town on the Costa del Sol. There I staid for several weeks, watching fisherman on the beach from where they worked their long nets, walking hills planted in olive, lemon, and orange, taking in the flourish of hibiscus bushes in flower, reading, drawing on sunlight, and getting a taste of Spanish politics in bars, cafes, and wine houses. General Franco had died only recently, and the uncertainties of a constitutional government, in which free expression could again stretch and play, made for a number of lively scenes enacted between Fascist, Republican, Communist, Anarchist, even the vocal Separatist.

Finally the story comes to the event that, in turn, has become a little spot of memory replay.

I left the coast early one morning by bus. Traveling again through the mountains, one of the bus’s many local stops was to let out a young man on the roadside. The stop was high in the mountains. The surroundings were sparsely treed, the ridges were rocky and sharp, and there were two houses flanking a severe switchback in the road. The houses were small, made of stone and mortar, and, between building and road, the dirt was packed hard and flat. So hard packed was the ground that the immediate area, with its turn in the narrow road, must have supported generations of human settlement. And as the young man stepped off the bus, I noticed a matron in front of the nearer house. She was a small woman, without shape, wearing a faded black dress, and she was occupied in a tradition belonging to Spanish peasant women of indeterminate age. She was sweeping. The fellow approached her, walked past her, and entered the house. And she never looked up to greet him who may have been a son, a familiar visitor, or at least a man who had business in her home. She never smiled or stopped, and she never cut short in her even strokes of the broom. She continued to sweep the hard packed dirt that looked so smooth.

Due to a shortfall in capital the last three days of my stay in Spain were taken up in the Madrid airport. There, much of my time was spent watching the paramilitary police with their automatic pistols, making their rounds and avoiding eye contact. And while waiting to return to America I was putting final touches on a firm and certain plan to repair the damages to lovetime’s promise I had left. Not that it matters, except as a footnote on the foolishness of firm and certain plans, but my Spanish retreat amounted to an uneasy peace. I suppose no one ever can know ahead of events what greater defeats there can be when you just can’t leave the field.

It’s difficult to say when exactly the still of the matron sweeping began its play, replay and replay again. By now I have reenacted the scene probably a few thousand times. The bare ridges, the sharply winding highway, the two stone houses, the hard packed dirt, and the woman in black who is methodically, evenly sweeping the ground. A young man may visit from town, political passions can be argued over and fought for, the bull’s blood get sacrificially spilled, security maintained in a world-class cathedral of transportation, Gypsy guitarists and dancers can leave the freedom of the road for pocket change, love can be lost and lost twice, and all the while a small woman without an age still silently concentrates on the really important business of sweeping the approach to her home. And what I have finally decided about the thing, even though it doesn’t amount to much, is that the silence of the scene is what keeps it in replay. The silence of one in front of whom passions of love and hate, of making one’s way, and of firmly held convictions, swing back and forth like a metronome whose only stop occurs when the biological spring runs down. While the small woman keeps silent and she keeps sweeping. Keeps swinging. Keeps swinging.

Terreson
Jan/4/2010, 11:17 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: Sweeping


Beautiful writing, Tere. I enjoyed the insights leading up to the recaptured memory itself. I am reminded of Vonnegut's notion of getting unstuck in time, of being transported out of the present to another place and time, repeatedly. What I like here is that the remembered scene is a small one, neither heroic nor horrific, with a capital H, and the yet the scene is seminal in some way, has weight of individual and collective history behind it. There is something both mysterious and familiar about the scene as you've depicted it.
Jan/8/2010, 10:23 am Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
ChrisD1 Profile
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Re: Sweeping


I couldn't say it better (or as well) than Kat. Thrown out as a way of activating this forum, huh? You set a high bar. But now you've got me roaming around for similar memory/images of my own, though I realize we don't have to conform to your theme.

Thanks for this, Tere. A thought provoking pleasure.

Chris
Jan/8/2010, 1:10 pm Link to this post Send Email to ChrisD1   Send PM to ChrisD1
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Sweeping


Thanks much, Kat and Chris, for taking the time to read and for registering a response. I well remember the late winter night the essay's idea came to me. I was living in a deep forest environment, what couldn't have been more different from the south of Spain. What came to me first was the quiet metaphor of seeing that woman sweeping the approach to her cottage on a switch-back mountain road. You know what it brings to mind for me? The mothers are always watching us without letting on they see a thing.

And I would love to see some of what you both can do. Every so often I get a glimmer or a hint of your pleasure in narrative.

Tere
Jan/8/2010, 8:40 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: Sweeping


Terreson,
Yeah, this is an essay. For some reason, I tend to think of the essays we had to read in high school, though I can't remember any particular one. This is a good one, though. Not dry. A couple of ideas come to mind: 1) The Buddhist idea I read about, that the Buddha achieved a state, or breakthrough, where linear time stopped, and he could see it all happening at once, and 2) the unstuck in time that Katlin or someone else mentioned. The woman you mentioned, well, it's hard to tell, she may have been sweeping, or she may have been in her alpha waves. Referring to your earlier comment, regardless of how science explains it biochemically, it doesn't stop the "experience" and the "art" from being what they are, apart from the science. Maybe you were trying to get at that. And maybe you did, though I'm not sure I saw it overtly stated. Thanks for the good read, Zak
Feb/6/2010, 7:19 am Link to this post Send Email to Zakzzz5   Send PM to Zakzzz5
 
Terreson Profile
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Thanks back at you, Zakman. The points you raise are good ones. And, yes, this is precisely what I wanted to say, just chose to say it without actually saying it: "Referring to your earlier comment, regardless of how science explains it biochemically, it doesn't stop the "experience" and the "art" from being what they are, apart from the science. Maybe you were trying to get at that. And maybe you did, though I'm not sure I saw it overtly stated."

Tere
Feb/6/2010, 2:12 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Sweeping


So I just linked the essay to FB. It has occurred to me the story reduces to a stock Hemingway's one great idea. It's the metronome of the sweeping scene.

Tere
Jul/28/2013, 4:24 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 


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