Archive for the ‘Decay’ Category

The Book of Faces

I had been planning a post about Facebook, and wrote some thoughts down, but then a few weeks ago, somebody I knew in high school posted nearly 200 photographs he’d taken of people in the halls and in classrooms, and a second post emerged. I’ve divided them up, because they represent two different ways of looking at it.


I find the faces of people I knew when I was a child or a teenagers. Sometimes the person I knew is hiding behind behind the skin, peering out from the eyes. We are all approaching 40, and all, to varying degrees, showing the signs of age.

I wonder what they think when they see me. I’ve put on a little weight, which shows in my face more than anywhere else. There’s a freshness gone from my skin, but generally I don’t think I’ve aged much in the past twenty years. I look at pictures of myself back then, and I just seem thinner.

But there are some people there I can barely recognise. And it’s not because their present faces don’t conform with the faces that had been frozen in eternal youth in my mind. In most cases I can’t remember how they looked back then. The only moment of recognition is when when I see their names. The faces are strange, someone else, barely the shadow of who they once were.

And yet others remain very much as they were when I knew them, as if they have only changed their haircuts. I wonder why some have aged more quickly than others. Have they not treated themselves well, or even abused themselves? Has luck been not as kind to some? Too much stress and worry can make them look old and tired and can lead to being overweight.

Have some of us refused to age emotionally too? I still feel as I felt 20 years ago. (I feel more confident and less anxious than I did then, so perhaps I even feel younger. Only my body feels older, more sore in the morning when I get out of bed. And there’s a bit of grey in my hair.)

I began to imagine a real face book, a sort of atlas of a person’s life, built up over time, where you could turn the pages and see on each one how a person’s face progressed and aged and decayed. Before I got my digital camera, I planned to take one picture of myself every day, to record those changes, the fluctuations in weight, or how my skin grew dark or pale through the seasons. But I never did. Or at least not yet.

I think I’m more interested in seeing change after it has passed unnoticed, in being surprised by it. I want the process removed, with only the results to show. A.W.’s father, a photographer, had come up with the idea of having all the residents of a street stand out in the front of their houses as someone drove down and filmed them all. The idea was to put the film away and see how many people were still there ten or 20 years later.


There are faces of those I haven’t even thought about in years, faces I’d forgotten until I saw them again, but they are different now. It can’t be a trick of memory because my memory hasn’t been exercising itself on them all these years. They’re younger and fresher and more alive. Why would I expect them to be otherwise? Did I expect them to be pictures of Dorian Gray? Did I expect their faces to grow older on film as mine has in reality, in life, since then? I must have. Why else would I be so surprised to see them now?

Or is it because I felt so much wearier and older then (I’m sure we all did) that I’m surprised to see what fresh children we actually were on the outside? I look as deep into the eyes as I can now for signs of the corruption I was so sure was eating us up inside, but it’s not there. Just sweet lovely youth.

If those faces could see us now, if those children could see the 40-year-olds we’ve become, would they also be fooled, see age and weariness in our faces and think them a reflection of our souls?

It occurs to me though that it was all in my head; I had projected that sense of corruption on others. They would all say to me now, “What are you talking about? You’ve got it all backwards. We always felt young and free and fresh.” It makes me sad. I want to go back and get it right, to open the windows of my poor misspent youth and let in the light and fresh air, the light that I later followed here and which has come to fill my life. My face is not among those I see, but if it was, I would apologise to it. For years I had blamed my youth and said it was black. But wasn’t my youth — it was me all along. I was green and didn’t know it. I don’t want to go back, but I want to give myself happier memories. I want to put myself in those pictures among all those faces I wish I had known better.

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A Handful of Rain

I’ve been thinking about the rain a lot lately. I’ve always liked it it. I like listening to it fall, especially when there’s a tree outside the window and you can hear it patter on the leaves. I know of no other sound I would rather go to sleep to. One of the things I miss about Canada is how it could sometimes rain for over 24 hours. You could go to sleep to it and in the middle of the night it would still be there when you woke up. It would still be there in the morning too. It was great if you didn’t have anywhere to go.

But I like walking in it without an umbrella. I bought a pair of good waterproof boots about a month ago. I like when the rain gets into my coat, yet not enough to reach the clothes underneath.

When I was a child the sound of somebody taking a shower would make me feel sleepy. There’s something womb-like about being in a room with all that water outside.

I love all those water scenes in Tarkovsky’s films, especially the one in Nostalghia when Gortchakov lies down on the bed in his hotel room and the rain begins to fall outside. You watch it stream down the decaying wall outside the window, collect on the sill, and spill onto the floor.

I think about how our children and grandchildren will value rain a great deal more than most of us do. N. and I are moving to Crete, which scientists predict will soon become a desert. Scientists have been predicting lately that all or most of the Mediterranean will become desert. It doesn’t surprise me, but it does sadden me. Greece is already a dry place, where vegetation seems to struggle to grow. But this struggle always seemed eternal to me. I wanted to think it would always be that way. I wanted it to stay eternal.

I went out for a short walk in the rain tonight. I wore a hat to keep my head dry. I only needed to go out and get a few things at a shop a couple of blocks away, but I wanted to keep walking for hours. I wanted to get drenched. I wanted to carry some of it home in my hands and put it on the table or on one of the bookshelves. I want to lie down and sleep with the window open and not care if the papers and notebooks on my desk get wet. I want to sleep for a long time to that sound and have my dream enter the room, like Gortchakov’s dog, which came and lay at the foot of his hotel bed. In my dream I am 17 or 18 again, walking along Queen Street again late on a Sunday night, in the rain, as far as the old Fox Theatre to see the poster behind the glass, with all the films that are playing that month. Behind the doors the lobby is empty and dark except for the weak yellowish light behind the snack bar. I am young still, with the illusion that I am old already, instead of old already, with illusion that I am still young. I walk back home, past the closed shops, each as dark as the lobby of the empty Fox Theatre, as dark as only memories and dreams are. I am impatient to be older, to start my real life, far from there, in a place where there is heart-breaking light on mountain and sea, and nothing my young mind could ever imagine as a desert.

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When I go to the centre of Iraklio, I like walking through Lakkos, a poor area just inside the city walls by the Bethlehem Gate, by the Kommeno Bendeni area. The gate is actually seldom referred to by its name; people just call it Kommeno Bendeni. During the Ottoman Occupation it was also known as the Dark Gate (Σκοτεινή Πύλη), or Karanlik Kapi in Turkish. The traditional centre of Iraklio is a large fort or citadel, and the walls are still up.

Lakkos was traditionally a red-light district and a neighbourhood for refugees from Asia Minor, at least in the early twentieth century. N. gave me a book about the area written by someone she knows, and it has some pictures too. I haven’t read it yet. I can only imagine what the area was like even ten years ago, perhaps even five years ago. A lot of the low houses are being torn down and apartment buildings being put up in their place.


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