27.2.98 The Arch Angel
Linda Marie Walker

I know a writer in London. His name is Gabriel Gbadomosi. He lives in London as if it`s a city he`s still coming to know. Although he`s lived there always, I think. That is, he sees London while he`s showing you London. Even though he knows intimately the place, or park, or hotel, or room, he`s guiding you through - he`s been there often - it`s like he`s discovering it with you. He recited poetry to me in the Russell Hotel. We were sitting in leather armchairs, they might have been green or brown. And it seemed we were both strangers in that lounge; not strangers who sat and stared, but strangers who were already speaking inside the attitude (or tone), the specific accord, of that place. Not speaking about the place, but with the place. And speaking while taking the place for granted, its beauty and hushed ambience. Accepting that one, we, were there, and that one was expected. And so it`s perfectly natural that one `is` there, and the other `is` there, for this brief time in one`s (our) life. As if it was always going to happen. This is annoying too, as while one is `being-there`, present and attentive, the memory of that `being-there` is shifty, slippery, faint too, and it could be that the surfaces, walls, tables, glasses, floors, doors, ceilings, did not register our presence. The surfaces of memory have only been lightly touched then, so lightly that the barest, most delicate, trace remains, but remains in such a position, in such a beautiful fold,that it touches lightly every single other thing. And when he took me to the John Soane Museum, and pointed out objects and patterns, and talked about the people who care for that house, it seemed like he was familiar and unfamiliar with it at the same time. Like he too was still fascinated. And it didn`t seem at all strange. I rang him a few minutes ago, to make sure I wasn`t mistaken about this, and he agreed with me, that as he goes about his business, as he walks through that city, he continually sees things he hasn`t seen. As if, perhaps, he`s passing an `aspect` of some street for the first time, the light being softer, a window open, or someone running. A piece of music, or a scrap of paper. As if glancing at it from another angle, the head on the side. And so it comes, the city, in this sense, new to the eyes, to the mind. Not fast or furious, but slow. Yesterday I thought, as I walked in this city (Adelaide): I`ve never seen these people before. I didn`t recognize anyone. This happens everyday, and I never notice usually. But yesterday a little space opened up, and I felt my feet touch the ground. It might have been my Miss Peggy Cat herself looking back at me, one of her eyes half closed. I might have been, and for the first time, the cat she thinks I am. She has no doubt, she`s not a doubting cat. It`s more that I`m not sure she`s a cat, I doubt. And then afterwards I read this in Joseph Brodsky`s `Watermark`: "The day was warm, sunny, the sky blue, all lovely. And with my back to the Fondamente and San Michele, hugging the wall of the hospital, almost rubbing it with my left shoulder and squinting at the sun, I suddenly felt: I am a cat. A cat that has just had fish. Had anyone addressed me at that moment, I would have meowed. I was absolutely, animally happy. Twelve hours later, of course, having landed in New York, I hit the worst possible mess in my life - or the one that appeared that way at the time. Yet the cat in me lingered; had it not been for that cat, I`d be climbing the walls now in some expensive institution." I`ve often wondered about being a stranger in one`s home town. How to look at the familiar as if for the first time: as if a visitor. There are few opportunities. I mean, there are few that make one stop, stand for what seems forever, dumbly, blank all over, stunned even, that one is `here` at this exact time: 3.48pm. I loved the Formula One Grand Prix for this very reason. It covered everything with its sound and smell (with speed and `glamour`). There was no escape. The total awful thrill of the fighter planes exhibiting their terror was worth the other 364 days and 23.5 hours of quietude. The Festival Of Arts is another chance for self-exile. Even the weather goes weird. It never quite works, this desire, but the effort of trying to fathom this longing (for the elsewhere of `home`) acknowledges (at least) the deep trench or wide plane that one digs or spreads out for oneself. There`s no out, just the dream of being a stranger; no magic, other than the `out` of re-arrangement, of watching leaves blown from the plane-trees pile up along footpaths, and figuring (in a flash) that `somethings-going-on-here`: something is ending or starting.

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