North Carolina Moments

There are, of course, differences, but one of the first: Arriving just past midnight in Raleigh, driving west back into Chapel Hill, we pull off of the interstate, onto 54, then swing around onto 15-501. Through the car's open windows, the sudden rich smell of the Carolina night. I tell K. that it's different in Los Angeles, you don't have this kind of thick scent in the city. There, the odor of jacaranda blossoms still hanging from the trees or the unexpected brassy scent of rosemary, but the scents are almost always simple, direct, and unadorned. At times clarion. It's different here: It had rained that night before I arrived, and you could smell the damp of the forest, the rot and mulch of stands of oak, ash and maple. Symphonic might be too easy a term, and contrapuntal is perhaps too much Said's term, but there are two kinds of smells here: the immediate, and the latent smells of that which has passed by.

Gathering last night with friends beside a pool out in the country past Chapel Hill, I watched the mist curl and rise off the water's surface into the deepening dusk. That afternoon, the wind had swirled and cut its way from the north, but it had slackened as we drove out. A brief rain shower, and turning west onto Borland, the slick black of the asphalt shone a burnished brass in the late afternoon sun. While we ate, the rain clouds that had been massed to the north broke over the house, and for the first time in months, I listened to the rain fall. We left the house late to drive home, after the rain had slackened. Mist was rising from the blacktop, an easy fog light up by the car's high beams.

And finally, this afternoon: I had lunch at a place I used to frequent often. I used to go there, get a sandwich, a cup of coffee, and write reams of long-hand notes to whatever book I happened to pull off the shelves. There was something broken-in about the place then, grooves worn into the edges of the table, chipped benches, the patina of use. It's a strange thing, to walk into a place cherished for one reason or another, to find it emptied, frayed not by use but by neglect. A used-booked store with shelves left in disarray, gaps. The image suddenly coming to mind is the realm of Fantastica, from the original Neverending Story. There, whole sections of the country would disappear as people forgot to people them with stories. Here, something similar: the shelves in disarray speaking not so much to a bustle and clatter of people but to their absence. The story, though, is common to many things. Already, new buildings are coming up on the ruins of the old. Pamuk wrote a piece I remember dimly about the transformation of the old Istanbul mansions into the new apartment blocks, ultimately arriving at a kind of accommodation with change. J.B. Jackson, I think, argued in a different peice for the necessity of ruins. At the moment, I can speak only to the incongruities of return: an old restaurant lot turned into a pit; foundations for a new building being laid, a parking lot being dug into the earth.


Popular Posts