Category: E from fiction


this novel is so relevant to the present times , with the london riots.

’interview with christie

I suppose you tke most of your characters from real life?V
An indignant denial to that monstrous suggestion  ’No, I don’t. I invent them. They are mine. They’ve goto
be my characters–doing what I want them to do, being what I want them to be–coming alive for me, having then- own ideas sometimes, but&
only because I’ve made the?
become real.So the author has produced the ideas, and the character!
–but now comes the third necessity–the setting.

’Leadership, besides being a great creativ”
force, can be diabolical . . .

The Author speaks_
The first question put to an author, personally, or throug7
the post, is_
’Where do you get your ideas from?V
The temptation is great to reply: ’I always go to Harrods,V
or ’I get them mostly at the Army & Navy Stores,’ or, snappily
Try Marks and Spencer.The universal opinion seems firmly established that there i!
magic source of ideas which authors have discovered
One can hardly send one’s questioners back to Elizabeth  times, with Shakespeare’s_
Tell me, where is fancy bred
Or in the heart or in the bead
How begot, how nourished
Reply, reply
You merely say firmly: “My own head.
That, of course, is no help to anybody. If you like the look of your questioner you relent_and go a little further  ’If one idea in particular seems attractive, and you fee>
you could do something with it, then you toss it around
play tricks with it, work it up, tone it down, and gradually get it into shape. Then, of course, you have to strt writin$
it. That’s not nearly such fun–it becomes hard work. Alternatively you can tuck it carefully away, in storage, for perhap!
using in a year or two years’ time. A second question–or rather a statement–is then like  to be_
’I suppose you tke most of your characters from real life? An indignant denial to that monstrous suggestionI
’No, I don’t. I invent them. They are mine. They’ve go to be my characters–doing what I want them to do, being
what I want them to be–coming alive for me, having their  own ideas sometimes, but only because I’ve made the?
become reed.So the author has produced the ideas, and the character!
–but now comes the third necessity–the setting. The firs two
come from inside sources, but the third is outside it must be there–waiting–in existence already. You don’invent
that–it’s there–it’s real You have been perhaps for a cruise on the Nile–yo,
remember it all–just the setting you want for this particular story. You have had a meal at a Chelsea cafe. A quarre>
was going on–one girl pulled out a handful of another    girl’s hair. An excellent start for the book you are going
to write next. You travel on the Orient Express.  You go to
tea with a friend. As you arrive her brother closes a book he  is reading–throws it aside, says: ’Not bad, but why on
earth didn’t they ask Evans?  So you decide immediately a book of yours shortly to be   written will bear the title. Why Didn’t They Ask EvansY
You don’t know yet who Evans is going to be. Never  mind. Evans will come in due course–the title is fixed  So, in a sense, you don’t invent your settings. They are outside you, all around you, in existence–you have \only to’lstretch out your&
hand and pick and choose. A railway train, a hospital, a London hotel, a Caribbean beach  country village, a cocktil party, a girls’ schoolI
But one thing only applies–they must be there–in existence  , Real people, real places. A definite place in time and
space. If here and now–how shall you get full information-U part from the evidence of your own eyes and ears? The answer is frighteningly simpleI
It is what the Press brings to you every day, served in your morning paper under the general heading of News
Collect it from the front page. What is going on in the world today? What is everyone saying, thinking, doing? Hold ur mirror to 1970 in EnglandI
Look at that front page every day for a month, make notes, consider and classifyI
Every day there is a killing
A girl strangled
Elderly woman attacked and robbed of her meagre savings
Young men or boys–attacking or attacked
Buildings and telephone kiosks smashed and gutted
Drug smuggling.
Robbery and assault
Children missing and children’s murdered bodies found no

far from their homes
Can this be England? Is England really like this? One feels–no–not yet, but it&
could beI
Fear is awakening–fear of what may be. Not so much because of actual happenings but because of the possible
causes behind them. Some known, some unknown, but felt. And not only in our own&
country. There are smaller paragraph!
on other pages–giving news from Europe–from
–from the Americas–Worldwide NewsI
Hi-jacking of planes
Kidnapping
Violence
RiotsI
HateI
Anarchy– growing stronger
All seeming to lead to worship of destruction, pleasur”
in cruelty
What does it all mean? An Elizabethan phrase echo!
from the past, speaking of Life_
< .. it is a lie”
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
, Signifying nothing
And yet one knows–of one’s own knowledge–how much
goodness there is in this world of ours–the kindnesses done
the goodness of heart, the acts of compassion, the kindness o+
neighbour to neighbour, the helpful actions of girls and boys
Then why this fantstic atmosphere of daily news–o+
things that happen–that are actual factsY
To write a story in this year of Our Lord 1970–you must come
to terms with your background. If the background i!
 

fantstic, then the story must accept its background. It, tooF
must be a fantasy–an extravaganza. The setting must includ”
the fantstic facts of daily life Can one envisage a fantstic cause? A secret Campaig#
for Power? Can a maniacal desire for destruction create&
new world? Can one go a step further and suggest deliveranc”
by fantstic and impossible-sounding meansY
Nothing is impossible, science has tught us thatI
This story is in essence a fantsy. It pretends to be nothin$
moreI
But most of the things that happen in it are happening, or giving promise of&
happening in the world of todayI
It is not an impossible story–it is only a fantstic oneI
aBook K
i;aINTERRUPTED JOURNEa
aChapter N
PASSENGER TO FRANKFUR’
Fasten your seat-belts, please.’ The diverse passengers i#
the plane were slow to obey. There was a general feelin$
that they couldn’t possibly be arriving at Geneva yet. Th”
drowsy groaned and yawned. The more than drowsy ha@
to be gently roused by an authoritative stewardessI
“Your seat-belts, please.V
The dry voice came authoritatively over the Tannoy. It explained in German, in&
French, and in English that a short period
of rough weather would shortly be experienced. Si%
Stfford Nye opened his mouth to its full extent, yawned an@
pulled himself upright in his seat. He had been dreamin$
very happily of fishing an English riverI
He was a man of forty-five, of medium height, with&
smooth, olive, clean-shaven face. In dress he rather liked t(
ffect the bizarre. A man of excellent family, he felt full=

t ease indulging any such isartorial whims. If it made th”
more conventionally dressed of his colleagues wince occasionallyF
that was merely a source of malicious pleasure t(
him. There was something about him of the eighteenthcentur=
buck. He liked to be noticedI
His particular kind of affecttion when travelling was&
kind of bandit’s cloak which he had once purchased i#
Corsica. It was of a very dark purply-blue, had a scarlelining
and had a kind of burnous hanging down behin@
which he could draw up over his head when he wished toF
so as to obviate draughtsI
Sir Stfford Nye had been a disappointment in diplomatiA
circles. Marked out in early youth by his gifts for great things,
he had singularly failed to fulfil his early promiseI
A peculiar and diabolical sense of humour was wont t(

fflict him in what should have been his most serious momentsI
When it came to the point, he found that he alway!
preferred to indulge his delicate Puckish malice to borin$
himself. He was a well-known figure in public life withouever
having reached eminence. It was felt that Stfford NyeF
though definitely brilliant, was not–and presumably neve%
would be–a safe man. In these days of tngled politics an@
tngled foreign relations, safety, especially if one were t(
reach ambassadorial rank, was preferable to brilliance. Si%
Stfford Nye was relegated to the shelf, though he was occa1S

asionally entrusted with such missions as needed the art o+
intrigue, but were not of too importnt or public a natureI
Journalists sometimes referred to him as the dark horse o+
diplomacyI
_ Whether Sir Stfford himself was disappointed with his own career, nobody ever&
knew. Probably not even Sir Stffor@
Page d
Passenger To Frankfurhimself.
He was a man of a certin vanity, but he was als(

man who very much enjoyed indulging his own proclivitie!
for mischiefI
He was returning now from a commission of inquiry i#
Malaya. He had found it singularly lacking in interestI
His colleagues bad, in his opinion, made up their mind!
beforehand what their findings were going to be. They sa:

nd they listened, but their preconceived views were no

ffected. Sir Stfford had thrown a few spanners into th”
works, more for the hell of it than from any pronounce@
convictions. At all events, he thought, it had livened things up. He wished there&
were more possibilities of doing thasort
of thing. His fellow members of the commission ha@
been sound, dependable fellows, and remarkably dull. Eve#
the well-known Mrs Nathaniel Edge, the only woman memberF
well known as having bees in her bonnet, was no fool whe#
it came down to plain facts. She saw, she listened and sh”
played safeI
I

 

adays when it occurred to Sir Stfford that it was a pity th”
paragraph was not true. He was a little–just a little-U
tired of wild flowers and, fond as he was of dear Lucy, he%
bility despite her sixty-odd years to race up hills at toM
speed, easily outpacing him, sometimes annoyed him. Alway!
just in front of him he saw the seat of those brighroyal
blue trousers and Lucy, though scraggy enough elsewhereF
goodness knows, was decidedly too broad in the bea?
to wear royal blue corduroy trousers. A nice little internationa>
pie, he had thought, in which to dip his fingers, i#
which to play about . . I

ir, were really excessively boring.

Journeys all over the globe. How romantic it ought to be
But there was something about the atmosphere of a Passengers
Lounge in an airport that chilled romance. It wa!
too full of people, too full of things to buy, too full of similar
coloured seats, too full of plastic, too full of human
beings, too full of crying children. ?He tried to remember wh(
had said_
I wish I loved the Human Race
I wish I loved its silly face”
Chesterton perhaps? was undoubtedly true. Put enoug7
people together and they looked so painfully alike thaone
could hardly bear it. An interesting face now, thoughSir
Stfford. What a difference it would make.

 

He was not going to the party. Literary sherry parties, even distinguished
ones, were not Grant’s cup of tea. He was going to collect Marta Hallard
and take her out to dinner. Policemen, it is true, do not normally take
out to dinner leading actresses who gravitate between the Haymarket and
the Old Vic; not even when the policemen are Detective-Inspectors at
Scotland Yard. There were three reasons for his privileged position, and
Grant was aware of all three. In the first place he was a presentable
escort, in the second place he could afford to dine at Laurent’s, and in
the third place Marta Hallard did not find it easy to obtain escort. For
all her standing, and her chic, men were a little afraid of Marta. So when
Grant, a mere Detective-Sergeant then, appeared in her life over a matter
of stolen jewellery, she had seen to it that he did not entirely fade out
of it again. And Grant had been glad to stay. If he was useful to Marta as
a cavalier when she needed one, she was even more useful to him as a
window on the world. The more windows on the world a policeman has the
better he is likely to be at his job, and Marta was Grant’s ‘leper’s
squint’ on the theatre.

With a policeman’s ingrained habit of inspection he let his eye run over
the crowd between them, but found nothing of interest. It was the usual
collection. The very prosperous firm of Ross and Cromarty were celebrating
the publication of Lavinia Fitch’s twenty-first book, and since it was
largely due to Lavinia that the firm was prosperous the drinks were
plentiful and the guests were distinguished. Distinguished in the sense of
being well-dressed and well-known, that is to say. The distinguished in
achievement did not celebrate the birth of _Maureen’s Lover_, nor drink
the sherry of Messrs Ross and Cromarty. Even Marta, that inevitable Dame,
was here because she was a neighbour of Lavinia’s in the country. And
Marta, bless her black-and-white chic and her disgruntled look, was the
nearest thing to real distinction in the room.

Grant saw the interest in the young man’s face as he looked at Liz
Garrowby, and wondered a little. Liz was a small plain girl with a sallow
face. True, she had remarkable eyes; speedwell blue and surprising; and
she had the kind of face a man might want to live with; she was a nice
girl, Liz. But she was not the type of girl at whom young men look with
instant attention. Perhaps it was just that Searle had heard rumours of
her engagement, and was identifying her as Walter Whitmore’s fiancée.

‘Marguerite? Oh, she was mad, of course.’

‘How mad?’

‘Ten tenths.’

‘In what way?’

‘You mean how did it take her? Oh, a complete indifference to everything
but the thing she wanted at the moment.’

‘That isn’t madness; that is merely the criminal mind at its simplest.’

Grant thought how independable Malta’s ignorances were.

‘It might still be homicide, though,’ Marta said, in the cooing,
considering voice that was her trade-mark on the stage. ‘I could just
stand the thyme and the bullets, but now that he has taken a ninety-nine
years’ lease of the spring corn, and the woodpeckers, and things, he
amounts to a public menace.’

‘Why do you listen to him?’

‘Well, there’s a dreadful fascination about it, you know. One thinks:
Well, that’s the absolute sky-limit of awfulness, than which _nothing_
could be worse. And so next week you listen to see if it really _can_ be
worse. It’s a snare. It’s so awful that you can’t even switch off. You
wait fascinated for the next piece of awfulness, and the next. And you are
still there when he signs off.’

‘It couldn’t be, could it, Marta, that this is mere professional
jealousy?’

‘Are you suggesting that the creature is a _professional_?’ asked Marta,
dropping her voice a perfect fifth, so that it quivered with the
reflection of repertory years, and provincial digs, and Sunday trains, and
dreary auditions in cold dark theatres.

‘No, I’m suggesting that he is an actor. A quite natural and unconscious
actor, who has made himself a household word in a few years without doing
any noticeable work to that end. I could forgive you for not liking that.
What did Marguerite find so wonderful about him?’

‘I can tell you that. His devotion. Marguerite liked picking the wings off
flies. Walter would let her take him to pieces and then come back for
more.’

‘There was one time that he didn’t come back.’

‘Yes.’

‘What was the final row about, do you know?’

‘I don’t think there was one. I think he just told her he was through. At
least that is what he said at the inquest. Did you read the obituaries, by
the way?’

‘I suppose I must have at the time. I don’t remember them individually.’

‘If she had lived another ten years she would have got a tiny par in among
the “ads” on the back page. As it was she got better notices than Duse. “A
flame of genius has gone out and the world is the poorer.” “She had the
lightness of a blown leaf and the grace of a willow in the wind.” That
sort of thing. One was surprised that there were no black edges in the
Press. The mourning was practically of national dimensions.’

‘It’s a far cry from that to Liz Garrowby.’

‘Dear, nice Liz. If Marguerite Merriam was too bad even for Walter
Whitmore, then Liz is too good for him. Much too good for him. I should be
delighted if the beautiful young man took her from under his nose.’

‘Somehow I can’t see your “beautiful young man” in the rôle of husband,
whereas Walter will make a very good one.’

‘My good man, Walter will broadcast about it. All about their children,
and the shelves he has put up in the pantry, and how the little woman’s
bulbs are coming along, and the frost patterns on the nursery window.
She’d be much safer with–what did you say his name was?’

‘Searle. Leslie Searle.’ Absentmindedly he watched the pale yellow neon
signature of _Laurent’s_ coming nearer.

‘I don’t think safe is the adjective I would apply to Searle, somehow,’ he
said reflectively; and from that moment forgot all about Leslie Searle
until the day when he was sent down to Salcott St Mary to search for the
young man’s body.

‘I’ve been in England for holidays quite often, yes. Not often as early in
the year as this, though.’

‘You haven’t seen England at all unless you have seen it in the spring.’

‘So I’ve heard.’

‘Did you fly over?’

‘Just from Paris, like a good American. Paris is fine in the spring too.’

‘So I’ve heard,’ she said, returning his phrase and his tone.

‘Press photography?’

‘Not Press. Just photography. I spend most of the winter on the Coast,
doing people.’

‘The Coast?’

‘California. That keeps me on good terms with my bank manager. And the
other half of the year I travel and photograph the things I want to
photograph.’

‘It sounds a good sort of life,’ Liz said, as she unlocked the car door and
got in.

‘It’s a very good life.’

The car was a two-seater Rolls; a little old-fashioned in shape as Rolls
cars, which last for ever, are apt to be. Liz explained it as they drove
out of the square into the stream of the late afternoon traffic.

‘The first thing Aunt Lavinia did when she made money was to buy herself a
sable scarf. She had always thought a sable scarf the last word in good
dressing. And the second thing she wanted was a Rolls. She got that with
her next book. She never wore the scarf at all because she said it was a
dreadful nuisance to have something dangling about her all the time, but
the Rolls was a great success so we still have it.’

‘What happened to the sable scarf?’

‘She swopped it for a pair of Queen Anne chairs and a lawn-mower.’

By the time they left the hotel the first street lamps were decorating the
daylight.

‘This is when I think lights look best,’ Liz said. ‘While it is still
daylight. They are daffodil yellow and magic. Presently when it grows dark
they will go white and ordinary.’

‘Yes. Every third cottage in the place has an alien in it. All degrees of
wealth, from Toby Tullis–the play-wright, you know–who has a lovely
Jacobean house in the middle of the village street, to Serge Ratoff the
dancer who lives in a converted stable. All degrees of living in sin, from
Deenie Paddington who never has the same weekend guest twice, to poor old
Atlanta Hope and Bart Hobart who have been living in sin, bless them, for
the best part of thirty years. All degrees of talent from Silas Weekley,
who writes those dark novels of country life, all steaming manure and
slashing rain, to Miss Easton-Dixon who writes a fairy-tale book once a
year for the Christmas trade.’

‘It sounds lovely,’ Searle said.

‘It’s obscene,’ Liz said, more hotly than she intended; and then wondered
again why she should be so on edge this evening. ‘

So Mrs Garrowby sat and brooded darkly behind her gracious exterior. She
was not afraid for the Trimmings silver, of course. She was afraid of what
she called the young man’s ‘personableness.’ She distrusted it for itself,
and hated it as a potential threat to her house.

For the introspective Liz, on the other hand, life had become all of a
sudden a sort of fun-fair. A kaleidoscope. A place where no surface ever
stayed still or horizontal for more than a few seconds together. Where one
was plunged into swift mock danger and whirled about in coloured lights.
Liz had been falling in and out of love more or less regularly since the
age of seven, but she had never wanted to marry anyone but Walter. Who was
Walter, and different. But never in that long progression from the baker’s
roundsman to Walter had she been aware of anyone as she was aware of
Searle. Even with Tino Tresca, of the yearning eyes and the tenor that
dissolved one’s heart like a melting ice, even with Tresca, craziest of
all her devotions, it was possible to forget for minutes together that she
was in the same room with him. (With Walter, of course, there was nothing
remarkable in the fact that they should be sharing the same air: he was
just there and it was nice.) But it was never possible to forget that
Searle was in a room.

Why? she kept asking herself. Or rather, why not?

It had nothing to do with falling in love, this interest; this excitement.
If, on Sunday night, after two days in his company, he had turned to her
and said: ‘Come away with me, Liz,’ she would have laughed aloud at so
absurd a notion. She had no desire to go away with him.

But a light went out of the room with him, and sprang up again when he
came back. She was aware of every movement of his, from the small mallet
of his forefinger as it flicked the radio switch, to the lift of his foot
as it kicked a log in the fireplace.

Why?

She had gone walking with him through the woods, she had shown him the
village and the church, and always the excitement had been there; in his
gentle drawling courtesy, and in those disconcerting grey eyes that seemed
to know too much about her. For Liz, all American men were divided into
two classes: those who treated you as if you were a frail old lady, and
those who treated you as if you were just frail. Searle belonged to the
first class. He helped her over stiles, and shielded her from the crowding
dangers of the village street; he deferred to her opinion and flattered
her ego; and, as a mere change from Walter, Liz found it pleasant. Walter
took it for granted that she was adult enough to look after herself, but
not quite adult enough to be consulted by Walter Whitmore, Household Word
Throughout the British Isles and a Large Part of Overseas. Searle’s was a
charming reversal of form.

She had thought, watching him move slowly round the interior of the
church, what a perfect companion he would have made if it were not for
this pricking excitement; this sense of wrongness.

Even the unimpressionable Lavinia, always but semi-detached from her
current heroine, was, Liz noticed, touched by this strange attraction.
Searle had sat with her on the terrace after dinner on Saturday night,
while Walter and Liz walked in the garden and Emma attended to household
matters.  As they passed below the terrace each time on their round of the
garden, Liz could hear her aunt’s light childlike voice babbling happily,
like a little stream in the half-dark of the early moonrise. And on Sunday
morning Lavinia had confided to Liz that no one had ever made her feel so
_abandoned_ as Mr Searle. ‘I am sure that he was something very wicked in
Ancient Greece,’ she said. And had added with a giggle: ‘But don’t tell
your mother that I said so!’

Miss Easton-Dixon lived in a tiny cottage on the slope behind the village
street. It had three windows, asymmetrical in their own right and in
relation to each other, a thatched roof, and a single chimney, and it
looked as if one good sneeze would bring the whole thing round the
occupant’s ears; but its aspect of disintegration was equalled only by its
spick and span condition. The cream wash of the plaster, the lime-green
paint of door and windows, the dazzling crispness of the muslin curtains,
the swept condition of the red-brick path, together with the almost
conscientious crookedness of everything that normally would be straight,
made a picture that belonged by right to one of Miss Easton-Dixon’s own
fairy-tale books for Christmas.

In the intervals of writing her annual story, Miss Easton-Dixon indulged
in handcrafts. In the schoolroom she had tortured wood with red-hot
pokers. When pen-painting came in she had pen-painted with assiduity, and
had graduated from that to barbola work. After a spell of sealing-wax, she
had come to raffia, and thence to hand-weaving. She still weaved now and
then, but her ingrained desire was not to create but to transform. No
plain surface was safe against Miss Easton-Dixon. She would take a cold
cream jar and reduce its functional simplicity to a nightmare of
mock-Meissen. In times which have seen the disappearance of both the attic
and the boxroom, she was the scourge of her friends; who, incidentally,
loved her.

She looked at Liz’s sallow little countenance and tried to remember when
she had last seen it so alive; so full of the joy of life. After a little
she remembered. It was on a Christmas afternoon long ago, and Liz had
experienced in the short space of an hour her first snow and her first
Christmas tree.

So far she had hated only Leslie Searle’s beauty. Now she began to hate
Leslie Searle.

Ratoff had at one time been the raison d’être and prospective
star of an embryo play of Toby Tullis’s which was to be called _Afternoon_
and was all about a faun. Unfortunately it had suffered considerable
changes in the processes of birth and had eventually become something
called _Crépuscule_, which was all about a little waiter in the Bois, and
was played by a newcomer with an Austrian name and a Greek temperament.
Ratoff had never recovered from this ‘betrayal’. At first he had drunk
himself into scintillations of self-pity; then he had drunk to avoid the
ache of self-pity that filled him when he was sober; then he was sacked
because he had become independable both at rehearsals and performance;
then he reached the ultimate stage of a ballet dancer’s downfall and
ceased even to practise. So that now, vaguely but surely, the fatty tissue
was blurring the spare tautness. Only the furious eyes still had the old
life and fire. The eyes still had meaning and purpose.

Walter thought with
a mild amusement how scandalised poor Serge would be if he could witness
the treatment to which his adored Toby was being subjected. Toby had by
now discovered that Leslie Searle was a fellow who photographed the
world’s celebrities, and was therefore confirmed in his suspicion that
Searle had known quite well who he was. He was puzzled, not to say
wounded. No one had been rude to Toby Tullis for at least a decade. But
his actor’s need to be liked was stronger than his resentment, and he was
putting forth all his charm in an effort to win over this so-unexpected
antagonist.

Sitting watching the charm at work, Walter thought how ineradicable was
the ‘bounder’ in a man’s personality. When he was a child his friends at
school had used the word ‘bounder’ loosely to describe anyone who wore the
wrong kind of collar. But of course it was not at all like that. What made
a man a bounder was a quality of mind. A crassness. A lack of sensitivity.
It was something that was quite incurable; a spiritual astigmatism. And
Toby Tullis, after all those years, stayed unmistakably a bounder. It was
a very odd thing. With the possible exception of the Court of St James’s,
there was no door in the world that was not wide open to Toby Tullis. He
travelled like royalty and was given almost diplomatic privileges; he was
dressed by the world’s best tailors and had acquired the social tricks of
the world’s best people; in everything but essence he was the well-bred
man of the world. In essence he remained a bounder. Marta Hallard had once
said: ‘Everything that Toby does is just a little off-key,’ and that
described it very well.

Looking sideways to see how Searle was taking this odd wooing, Walter was
delighted to observe a sort of absentmindedness in Searle as he consumed
his beer. The degree of absentmindedness was beautifully graded, Walter
noticed; any more would have laid him open to the charge of rudeness and
so put him in the wrong, any less might not have been obvious enough to
sting Tullis. As it was, Toby was baffled into trying far too hard and
making a fool of himself. He did everything but juggle with plates. That
anyone should be unimpressed by Toby Tullis was a state of affairs not to
be borne. He sweated. And Walter smiled into his beer, and Leslie Searle
was gentle and polite and a little absentminded.

Weekley had been watching them from the bar for some time, and now brought
his beer over to their table and greeted them. He came, as Walter knew,
for two reasons: because he had a woman’s curiosity, and because
everything beautiful had for him the attraction of the repulsive. Weekley
resented beauty, and it was not entirely to be held against him that he
made a very large income indeed out of that resentment. His resentment was
quite genuine. The world he approved of was, as Liz had said, ‘all
steaming manure and slashing rain’. And not even the clever parodies of
his individual style had sufficed to ruin his vogue. His lecture tours in
America were wild successes, not so much because his earnest readers in
Peoria and Paduca loved steaming manure but because Silas Weekley looked
the part so perfectly. He was cadaverous, and dark, and tall, and his
voice was slow and sibilant and hopeless, and all the good ladies of
Peoria and Paduca longed to take him home and feed him up and give him a
brighter outlook on life. In which they were a great deal more generous
than his English colleagues; who considered him an unmitigated bore and a
bit of an ass. Lavinia always referred to him as ‘that tiresome man who
always tells you that he was at a board school’, and held that he was just
a little mad. (He, on his part, referred to her as ‘the woman Fitch’, as
one speaking of a criminal.)

Weekley had come over to them because he could not keep away from the
hateful beauty of Leslie Searle, and Walter caught himself wondering if
Searle knew it. For Searle, who had been all gentle indifference with the
eager Toby, was now engaged in throwing a rope over the antagonistic
Silas. Walter, watching the almost feminine dexterity of it, was willing
to bet that in about fifteen minutes Searle would have Silas roped and
hog-tied. He glanced at the big bland clock behind the bar and decided to
time him.

Searle did it with five minutes to spare. In ten minutes he had Weekley,
resentful and struggling, a prisoner in his toils. And the bewilderment in
Weekley’s sunken eyes was greater than ever the bewilderment in Toby’s
fish-scale ones had been. Walter nearly laughed aloud.

And then Searle put the final touch of comedy to the act. At a moment when
both Silas and Toby were doing their rival best to be entertaining, Searle
said in his quiet drawl: ‘Do forgive me, won’t you, but I see a friend of
mine,’ and got up without haste and walked away to join the friend at the
bar. The friend was Bill Maddox, the garage keeper.

‘For the five hundred and seventh time, I do not eat pickles. I have a
palate, Williams. A precious possession. And I have no intention of
prostituting it to pickles. There was something among Searle’s things that
was a great deal more suggestive than any photograph.’

‘What, sir?’

‘One of the girl’s gloves,’ Grant said; and told him where it had been
found.

‘Well, well,’ Williams said, and chewed the information over in silence
for a little. ‘Doesn’t sound as if it had gone very far.’

‘What?’

‘The affair. If he was still at the stage of stealing her glove. Honestly,
sir, in this day and age I didn’t imagine that anyone was driven to making
do with a glove.’

So the beautiful young man had been sufficiently attracted to steal one of
his beloved’s gloves. Grant found it oddly endearing. An almost Victorian
gesture. Nowadays fetish-worship took much more sinister forms.

Photographs?’ Williams’s ears pricked.

‘Local ones that he has taken since he came here.’

‘Oh. Any of Walter Whitmore’s girl, by any chance?’

‘A very great number indeed.’

‘Yes? Posed ones?’

‘No, Williams, no. Romantic. Her head against a sunlit sky with a spray of
almond blossom across it. That kind of thing.’

‘Is she photogenic, would you say? A blonde?’

‘No, she is a small, dark, plainish creature with a nice face.’

‘Oh. What does he want to go on photographing her for? Must be in love

with her.’

Searle had occupied a first-floor room in the battlemented tower that
stuck out to the left of the Tudor front door, so that it had windows on
three sides of it. It was large and high, and was furnished in very
superior Tottenham Court Road, a little too gay and coy for its Victorian
amplitude. It was an impersonal room and Searle had evidently done nothing
to stamp it with his personality. This struck Grant as odd. He had rarely
seen a room, occupied for so long, so devoid of atmosphere. There were
brushes on the table, and books by the bedside, but of their owner there
was no trace. It might have been a room in a shop window.

Of course it had been swept and tidied since last it was occupied six days
ago. But still. But still.

The feeling was so strong that Grant paused to look round and consider. He
thought of all the rooms he had searched in his time. They had all–even
the hotel rooms–been redolent of their late occupier. But here was
nothing but emptiness. An impersonal blank. Searle had kept his
personality to himself.

As he went through Searle’s belongings Grant thought about Liz
Garrowby–Marta’s ‘dear nice Liz’–and her relations with William’s
‘push-ee’. There was never any saying what a woman saw in any man, and
Whitmore was of course a celebrity as well as a potentially good husband.
He had said as much to Marta, coming away from the party that day. But how
right had Marta been about Searle’s power to upset? How much had Liz
Garrowby felt Searle’s charm? How much of that eager welcome of hers in
the hall had been joy at Searle’s imagined safety and how much mere relief
from the burden of suspicion and gloom?

‘No, of course it isn’t too late. It isn’t ten o’clock yet.’ She sounded
weary. ‘Since this happened time stretches out and out. It’s like
having–hashish, is it? Are you looking for anything in particular,
Inspector?’

Grant had asked about their trip down the Rushmere, so as to set him
talking; if you got a man to talk enough he lost his defensive quality.
Whitmore was drawing too hard on his cigarette but talking quite freely.
Before he had actually reached their Wednesday evening visit to the Swan,
Grant deflected him. It was too early yet to ask him about that night.

Grant took this, rightly, as capitulation, and went away to collect
Williams. He liked Williams and liked working with him. Williams was his
opposite and his complement. He was large and pink and slow-moving, and he
rarely read anything but an evening paper; but he had terrier qualities
that were invaluable in a hunt. No terrier at a rat hole ever displayed
more patience or more pertinacity than Williams did when introduced to a
quarry. ‘I would hate to have you on my tail,’ Grant had said to him more
than once in their years of working together.

To Williams, on the other hand, Grant was everything that was brilliant
and spontaneous. He admired Grant with passion, and envied him without
malice; Williams had no ambition, and coveted no man’s shoes. ‘You’ve no
idea how lucky you are, sir,’ Williams would say, ‘not looking like a
policeman. Me, I go into a pub, and they take one look at me and think:
Copper! But with you, they just cast an eye over you and think: Army in
plain clothes; and they don’t think another thing about you. It’s a great
advantage in a job like ours, sir.’

Only Heaven that wrote the scroll of human life
Knows where its beginning is, and where its end—
If end there be. We mortals can not read its writ,
We even \now not whether the text runs down or up.

Yet when a judge is seated behind his scarlet bench
His is the power of Heaven, over life and death—
But not Heaven’s knowledge. Let him—and us!—beware
Lest passing judgment on others, we ourselves be judged.

My senses are numbed by the unbearable pain .

But isn’t it true that when a man has been touched by death, others can see its mark on him ? Every time I come upon one of my wives or concubines in the now deserted corridors, she quickly averts her face. When I look up from my papers in the office, I often catch my clerks staring at me. As they hurriedly bend again over their documents, I know that they covertly clasp the amulets they have taken to wear¬ing of late. They must feel that after I had come back from my visit to Han-yuan I was not merely very ill. A sick man is pitied; a man possessed is shunned.
They do not understand. They need only pity me. As one pities a man condemned to the inhuman punishment of inflicting on him¬self with his own hand the lingering death: being forced by the executioner to cut away his own flesh, piece by piece. Every letter I wrote, every coded message I sent out these last days cut away a slice of my living flesh. Thus the threads of the ingenious web I had been weaving patiently over the entire Empire were cut, one by one. Every thread cut stands for a crushed hope, a thwarted illusion, a wasted dream. Now all traces have been wept out; no one shall ever know. I even presume that the Imperial Gazette shall print an obitu¬ary, mourning me as a promising young official who met an un¬timely death by a lingering disease. Lingering, indeed, lingering till now there is nothing left of me but this bloodstained carcass.
This is the moment that the executioner plunges his long knife in the tortured criminal’s heart, giving him the merciful deathblow. Why, then, do you, fearful shadow, insist on prolonging my agony, you who call yourself by the name of a flower ?

 Who could rule men when himself not a man ? At last I knew there was only one solution.
Once I had taken that decision, I felt at peace. I enjoyed the charming surroundings. On my left the almond trees, laden with white blossoms whose scent hung heavily in the warm spring air. And on my right the silvery expanse of the moonlit lake
“The almond blossoms are out very early, this spring!”
And I said:
“It is the unexpected joys that are the greatest!”
“Are they always?” she asked with a mocking smile. “Come, I shall show you where I was sitting just now.”

“Liu comes from an old family in the capital, and was educated to become an official. But he failed to pass the second literary examination, and that em¬bittered him to such a degree that he gave up all his studies and became a merchant. In that he was so successful that now he is one of the richest men in this province and his commercial enter¬prises are spread over the entire realm. That is the reason why he travels about so much. But please never mention to him that I told you this, for his earlier failure still rankles!”

Judge Dee reflected that Liu himself was probably having a hangover from the wedding dinner. He con¬gratulated him, and added: “I regret to have missed this opportunity of meeting the professor. His conversation would doubtless have been most instructive.”
“A simple merchant like me,” Liu Fei-po said sullenly, “does not pretend to understand classical literature. But I have heard it said that book learning does not always imply a high character!”
There was an awkward pause. Han quickly gave a sign to the waiters, who rolled up the bamboo curtains.

Meeting and parting are constant in this inconstant world,
    Where joy and sadness alternate like night and day;
    Officials come and go, but justice and righteosness remain,
    And unchangeable remains forever the imperial way.

“You could at least have chosen a better district than Peng-lai, that dismal place of mist and rain, far away on the seacoast! Don’t you know the weird stories they tell about that region since olden times? They say that on stormy nights the dead rise there from their graves, and strange shapes flit about in the mist that blows in from the ocean. They even say that weretigers are still slinking about in the woods there. And to step in the shoes of a murdered man! Everyone in his senses would have refused that post if it were offered to him, but you even asked for it!”
    The young magistrate had hardly listened to him. Now he said eagerly, “Think of it, a mysterious murder to solve, right after one has arrived at one’s post! To have an opportunity right away for getting rid of dry-as-dust theorizing and paper work! At last I’ll be dealing with men, my friends, real, living men!”
       “The implications of that fact,” Secretary Liang added quickly, “you know as well as we! It means that the magistrate’s murder has ramifications here in the capital. Heaven knows what hornets’ nest you are going to stir up, and what intrigues of high officials you’ll get involved in! You have passed all the literary examinations with honors; here in the capital you have a great future before you. And you prefer to bury yourself in that lonely place, Peng-lai!”
    “I advise you, Dee,” the third young official said earnestly, “to reconsider your decision. There is still time; you could easily plead a sudden indisposition and ask for ten days’ sick leave. In the meantime they’ll assign another man to that post. Do listen to me, Dee. I am speaking to you as your friend!”
    Magistrate Dee noticed the look of entreaty in his friend’s eyes. He felt deeply touched. He had known Hou only for a year, but had formed a high opinion of his brilliant mind and his exceptional capacities. He emptied his wine cup and rose.
    “I appreciate your solicitude as a further mark of your staunch friendship!” he said with a warm smile. “Both of you are perfectly right, it would be better for my career if I stayed on in the capital. But I owe it to myself to go on with this undertaking. The literary examinations Liang referred to just now I consider as routine; I feel that they don’t count for me. And neither do I count the years of paper work I have had in the Metropolitan Archives here. I have yet to prove to myself that I am really capable of serving our illustrious emperor and our great people. The magistracy of Penglai is the real beginning of my career!”
    “Or the end,” Hou muttered under his breath. He rose also and walked to the window. The gravediggers had left their shelter and were starting their work. He grew pale and quickly glanced away. Turning round he said hoarsely, “The rain has stopped.”
    “Then I’d better go!” Magistrate Dee exclaimed.

“And my advice to you, magistrate,” he said calmly, “is that you carry your sword yourself, else you’ll be caught unawares again.” He turned his horse round, and the two disappeared among the trees.
    As Magistrate Dee took his sword from Hoong and hung it over his own back, the old man said contentedly, “You gave them a good lesson, sir. What kind of people would those two have been?”
    “Usually,” the magistrate replied, “it is men with some real or imagined grudge who choose to become outlaws. But their code is to rob only officials and wealthy people; they often help people in distress, and they have a reputation for courage and chivalry. They call themselves ‘brothers of the green woods.’ ‘”‘ell, Hoong, it was a good fight, but we have lost time. Let’s hurry on.”

 

A torrential rain came pouring down. They took shelter under a high tree on a plateau by the roadside, overlooking the fertile green peninsula on which the district of Peng-lai was located.
    While they were eating a cold snack Ma Joong told with gusto some stories about his adventures with farm girls. Magistrate Dee took no interest in ribald tales, but he had to admit that Ma Joong had a certain caustic humor that was rather amusing. But when he began on another similar story, the magistrate cut him short saying, “I am told that there are tigers in these parts. I thought those animals favored a drier climate.”
    Chiao Tai, who had been listening silently to the conversation, now remarked, “Well, that’s hard to say. As a rule those brutes keep to the high wooded land, but once they have acquired the taste for human flesh they’ll also roam about in the plains. We might get good hunting down there!”
    “What about those tales about weretigers?” Magistrate Dee asked.
    Ma Joong cast an uneasy glance at the dark forest behind them. “Never heard about it!” he said curtly.
    “Could I have a look at your sword, sir?” Chiao Tai asked. “It seemed a fine antique blade to me.”
    As he handed him the sword, the magistrate said, “It is called Rain Dragon.”

There, you’d better show me the tribunal.”
    Tang first took them to the spacious court hall. The tiled floor was swept clean, and the high bench on the platform in the back was covered with a piece of shining red brocade. The entire wall behind the bench was covered with a curtain of faded violet silk. In its center appeared as usual the large figure of a unicorn, symbol of perspicacity, embroidered in thick gold thread.
    They went through the door behind the curtain and, after having crossed a narrow corridor, entered the private office of the magistrate. This room was also well kept: there was not a speck of dust on the polished writing desk, the plaster walls were newly whitewashed. The broad couch against the back wall was of beautiful dark green brocade.

   “Your honor’s predecessor was a gentleman of considerable charm and culture. Perhaps a bit easygoing at times and impatient about details, but very precise in all things that really mattered, very precise indeed. He was about fifty years old, and he had a long and varied experience. An able magistrate, your honor.”
    “Did he,” Judge Dee asked, “have any enemies here?”
    “Not one, your honor!” Tang exclaimed. “He was a shrewd and just judge, well  liked by the people. I may say, your honor, that he was popular in this district, very popular indeed.”

“He was an enthusiastic devotee of the tea cult, your honor, and most particular about all its details. He always insisted on fetching the water himself from the well in his garden, and he also boiled it himself on the tea stove in his library. His teapot, cups and caddy are all valuable antiques. He kept them locked away in the cupboard under the tea stove. On my instructions the coroner also made experiments with the tea leaves found in the caddy, but those proved to be quite harmless.”
   

The coroner, Dr. Shen, was a dignified elderly man with an intelligent face. Tang whispered to the judge that he was the best physician in the district, and a man of noble character.

 

Judge Dee leaned back in his chair and took a folding fan from his sleeve. Fanning himself vigorously, he said with a contented smile, “Well, Hoong, I have now a fairly clear picture of the murdered man’s personality. I have glanced through the volumes with his own poetry it is written in exquisite style but rather shallow in content. Love poems predominate, most of them dedicated to famous courtesans in the capital or other places where Magistrate Wang served.”


    Judge Dee nodded, “That brocade folder cou gave me a few moments ago,” he said, “contained nothing but erotic drawings. Further, lie bad a few score books on wine, and the way it is made in various parts of the empire, and on cooking. On the other hand, he had built up a fine collection of the great ancient poets, every volume dog-eared and with his own notes and comments written in on nearly every page. The same goes for his comprehensive collection of works on Buddhism and on Taoist mysticism. But his edition of the complete Confucian classics is in as virgínal a state as when he purchased it! I further noticed that the sciences are well represented: most of the standard works on medicine and alchemy are there, also a few rare old treatises an riddles, conundrums and mechan-ical devices. Books on history, statecraft, administration and mathematics arc conspicuous by their absence.”
    Turning his chair round, the judge continued.
    “I conclude that Magistrate Wang was a poet with a keen sense of beauty, and also a philosopher deeply interested in mysticism. And at the same time he was a sensual man, much attached to all earthly pleasures-a not unusual combination, I believe. He was completely devoid of ambition; he liked the post of magistrate in a quiet district far from the capital, where he was his own master and where he could arrange his life as he liked. That is why he didn’t want to be promoted–I belive that Peng-lai was already his ninth post as magistrate! But he was a very intelligent man of an inquisitive mind-hence his interest in riddles, conundrums and mechanical devices-and that, together with his long practical experience, made him a fairly satisfactory magistrate here, although I don’t suppose he was very devoted to his duties. He cared little for family ties; that is why he didn’t remarry after his first and second ladies had died, and why he was content with ephemeral liaisons with courtesans and prostitutes. He himself summed up his own personality rather aptly in the name he bestowed on his library.”
    Judge Dee pointed with his fan at the inscribed board that hung over the door. Hoong couldn’t help smiling when he read, “Hermitage of the Vagrant Weed.”
        “In any case,” he said, “I’ll study this at leisure, though it is of course by no means certain that it concerns affairs that are connected with his murder. But inconsistencies are always worth special attention. Anyway we have now a good picture of the victim, and that’s, according to our handbooks on detection, the first step toward discovering the murderer!”
        
  

 

books

http://www.hindu.com/lr/2011/05/01/stories/2011050150080300.htm


The Wandering Falcon; Jamil Ahmad, Penguin India, Rs. 399.  Seldom does a writer take you by the hand and lead you into a hidden world with such sure-footed ease. Jamil Ahmad does precisely that as he takes you deep into a folded land of hills and valleys straddling the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Occupied by a tribal people united under the banner of Islam but governed by a more ancient code of conduct, this is a dark world of abject poverty, deprivation and want, but one that is also lit from within.

Translucent beams of Life irradiate it. The will to live, the zeal to carry on with dignity and grace, the inherent desire in human beings — no matter how lowly or brought low by fate and circumstance — to rise above the human condition permeates this seemingly dark domain that could have been wretched but is inexplicably not in the least wretched. A deeply ingrained sense of honour, justice and loyalty permeates a world that is as harsh and unforgiving as it is inscrutable to the outsider.

 

Set in the decades before the onset of talibanisation, The Wandering Falcon allows us to wander, like the falcon that soars high over hill and dale, but takes in the minutest detail of life on the ground with its razor-sharp gaze. Appropriately enough, it has a boy protagonist, Tor Baz or the hunting falcon, the outsider looking in who connects the series of inter-linked stories that comprise the book.

While each chapter can be read as a self-contained short story, together they narrate the rite of passage of a boy — whose lineage is unknown, whose parents were a run-away couple killed in cold blood to avenge the family honour, who belongs to neither this tribe nor that — as he learns to survive in a world that is both cruel and gentle, harsh and loving, fragile and unrelenting, timeless yet changing.

The notion of honour and its concomitant principles of loyalty, fidelity and truthfulness string the stories together as much as the coming of age of Tor Baz from infancy to adulthood.

Winters of misery and desperation followed by the short-lived spring of hope and the summer months of wandering are leavened by a highly codified set of principles that govern every moment from birth till death.

 

 For a writer who has debuted at the age of 78, Ahmad writes with a surprising ease and confidence. Simple, spare and stark, his words are unembellished by rhetorical flourishes, his sentences shorn of even a trace of artifice or artfulness. There are no fancy turns of phrase, no verbal acoustics, no play upon words, nothing in fact to draw away from the stories he wants to tell in as straightforward a manner as possible. Here is writing – the finest one has read in a very long time in English by a South Asian writer – that ebbs and flows with such effortless ease and conveys the essence of the story in such few words that it catches you unawares with its freshness.

OUT OF AFRICA – 2

The Masai, the nomadic, cattle owning nation, were neighbours of the farm and lived on the other side of the river; from time to time some of them would come to my house to complain about a lion that was taking their cows, and to ask me to go out and shoot it for them, and I did so if I could. Sometimes, on Saturday, I also walked out on the Orungi plains to shoot a Zebra or two as meat for my farm labourers, with a long tail of optimistic young Kikuyu after me. I shot birds on the farm, spurfowl and guineafowl, that are very good to eat. But for many years I was not out on any shooting expedition.

Still, we often talked on the farm of the Safaris that we had been on. Camping places fix themselves in your mind is if you had spent long periods of your life in them. You will remember a curve of your waggon track in the grass of the plain, like the features of a friend.

Out on the Safaris, I had seen a herd of Buffalo, one hundred and twenty nine of them, come out of the morning mist under a copper sky, one by one, as if the dark and massive, iron like animals with the mighty horizontally swung horns were not approaching, but were being created before my eyes and sent out as they were finished. I had seen a herd of Elephant travelling through dense Native forest, where the sunlight is strewn down between the thick creepers in small spots and patches, pacing along as if they had an appointment at the end of the world. It was, in giant size, the border of a very old, infinitely precious Persian carpet, in the dyes of green, yellow and black brown. I had time after time watched the progression across the plain of the Giraffe, in their queer, inimitable, vegetative gracefulness, as if it were not a herd of animals but a family of rare, long stemmed, speckled gigantic flowers slowly advancing. I had followed two Rhinos on their morning promenade, when they were sniffing and snorting in the air of the dawn,–which is so cold that it hurts in the nose,–and looked like two very big angular stones rollicking in the long valley and enjoying life together. I had seen the royal lion, before sunrise, below a waning moon, crossing the grey plain on his way home from the kill, drawing a dark wake in the silvery grass, his face still red up to the ears, or during the midday siesta, when he reposed contentedly in the midst of his family on the short grass and in the delicate, spring like shade of the broad Acacia trees of his park of Africa.

Out in the wilds I had learned to beware of abrupt movements. The creatures with which you are dealing there are shy and watchful, they have a talent for evading you when you least expect it. No domestic animal can be as still as a wild animal. The civilized people have lost the aptitude of stillness, and must take lessons in silence from the wild before they are accepted by it. The art of moving gently, without suddenness, is the first to be studied by the hunter, and more so by the hunter with the camera. Hunters cannot have their own way, they must fall in with the wind, and the colours and smells of the landscape, and they must make the tempo of the ensemble their own. Sometimes it repeats a movement over and over again, and they must follow up with it.

When you have caught the rhythm of Africa, you find that it is the same in all her music. What I learned from the game of the country, was useful to me in my dealings with the Native People.

The love of woman and womanliness is a masculine characteristic, and the love of man and manliness a feminine characteristic, and there is a susceptibility to the Southern countries and races that is a Nordic quality. The Normans must have fallen in love with the foreign countries, first with France and then with England. Those old Milords who figure in the history and fiction of the eighteenth century, as constantly travelling in Italy, Greece and Spain, had not a single Southern trait in their nature, but were drawn and held by the fascination of things wholly different from themselves. The old German and Scandinavian painters, philosophers and poets, when they first came to Florence and Rome, went down on their knees to adore the South.

A queer illogical patience towards an alien world came out in these impatient people. As it is almost impossible for a woman to irritate a real man, and as to the women, a man is never quite contemptible, never altogether rejectable, as long as he remains a man, so were the hasty red haired Northern people infinitely long suffering with the tropical countries and races. They would stand no nonsense from their own country or their own relations, but they took the drought of the African Highlands, and a case of sun stroke, the Rinderpest on their cattle, and the incompetency of their Native servants, with humility and resignation. Their sense of individuality itself was lost in the sense of the possibilities that lie in interaction between those who can be made one by reason of their incongruity. The people of Southern Europe and the people of mixed blood have not got this quality; they blame it, or scorn it. So the men’s men scorn the sighing lover, and the rational women who have no patience with their men, are in the same way indignant with Griselda.

As for me, from my first weeks in Africa, I had felt a great affection for the Natives. It was a strong feeling that embraced all ages and both sexes. The discovery of the dark races was to me a magnificent enlargement of all my world. If a person with an inborn sympathy for animals had grown up in a milieu where there were no animals, and had come into contact with animals late in life; or if a person with an instinctive taste for woods and forest had entered a forest for the first time at the age of twenty; or if some one with an ear for music had happened to hear music for the first time when he was already grown up; their cases might have been similar to  mine. After I had met with the Natives, I set out the routine of my daily life to the Orchestra.

My father was an officer in the Danish and French army, and as a very young lieutenant at Düppel he wrote home: “Back in Düppel I was officer to a long column. It was hard work, but it was splendid. The love of war is a passion like another, you love soldiers as you love young womenfolk,–to madness, and the one love does not exclude the other, as the girls know. But the love of women can include only one at a time, and the love for your
soldiers comprehends the whole regiment, which you would like enlarged if it were possible.” It was the same thing with the Natives and me.

The Natives have, far less than the white people, the sense of risks in life. Sometimes on a Safari, or on the farm, in a moment of extreme tension, I have met the eyes of my Native companions, and have felt that we were at a great distance from one another, and that they were wondering at my apprehension of our risk. It made me reflect that perhaps they were, in life itself, within their own element, such as we can never be, like fishes in deep water which for the life of them cannot understand our fear of drowning. This assurance, this art of swimming, they had, I thought, because they had preserved a knowledge that was lost to us by our first parents; Africa, amongst the continents, will teach it to you: that God and the Devil are one, the majesty co eternal, not two uncreated but one uncreated, and the Natives neither confounded the persons nor divided the substance.

The Natives were Africa in flesh and blood. The tall extinct volcano of Longonot that rises above the Rift Valley, the broad Mimosa trees along the rivers, the Elephant and the Giraffe, were not more truly Africa than the Natives were,–small figures in an immense scenery. All were different expressions of one idea, variations upon the same theme. It was not a congenial upheaping of heterogeneous atoms, but a heterogeneous upheaping of congenial atoms, as in the case of the oakleaf and the acorn and the object made from oak. We ourselves, in boots, and in our constant great hurry, often jar with the landscape. The Natives are in accordance with it, and when the tall, slim, dark, and dark eyed people travel,–always one by one, so that even the great Native veins of traffic are narrow footpaths,–or work the soil, or herd their cattle, or hold their big dances, or tell you a tale, it is Africa wandering, dancing and entertaining you. In the highlands you remember the Poet’s words:

Noble found I

ever the Native,

and insipid the Immigrant.

The Colony is changing and has already changed since I lived there. When I write down as accurately as possible my experiences on the farm, with the country and with some of the inhabitants of the plains and woods, it may have a sort of historical interest.

The geographical position, and the height of the land combined to create a landscape that had not its like in all the world. There was no fat on it and no luxuriance anywhere; it was Africa distilled up through six thousand  feet, like the strong and refined essence of a continent. The colours were dry and burnt, like the colours in pottery. The trees had a light delicate foliage, the structure of which was different from that of the trees in
Europe; it did not grow in bows or cupolas, but in horizontal layers, and the formation gave to the tall solitary trees a likeness to the palms, or a heroic and romantic air like fullrigged ships with their sails clewed up, and to the edge of a wood a strange appearance as if the whole wood were faintly vibrating. Upon the grass of the great  plains the crooked bare old thorn trees were scattered, and the grass was spiced like thyme and bog myrtle; in
some places the scent was so strong, that it smarted in the nostrils. All the flowers that you found on the plains,  or upon the creepers and liana in the native forest, were diminutive like flowers of the downs,–only just in the  beginning of the long rains a number of big, massive heavy scented lilies sprang out on the plains.

The views  were immensely wide. 

 Everything that you saw made for

greatness and freedom, and unequalled

 nobility.

The chief feature of the landscape, and of your life in it, was the air. Looking back on a sojourn in the African highlands, you are struck by your feeling of having lived for a time up in the air. The sky was rarely more than pale blue or violet, with a profusion of mighty, weightless, ever changing clouds towering up and sailing on it, but it has a blue vigour in it, and at a short distance it painted the ranges of hills and the woods a fresh deep blue.

In the middle of the day the air was alive over the land, like a flame burning; it scintillated, waved and shone like running water, mirrored and doubled all objects, and created great Fata Morgana.    Up in this high air you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart. In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.

The wind in the highlands blows steadily from the North North East. It is the same wind that, down at the coasts  of Africa and Arabia, they name the Monsoon, the East Wind, which was King Solomon’s favourite horse. Up  here it is felt as just the resistance of the air, as the Earth throws herself forward into space. The wind runs  straight against the Ngong Hills, and the slopes of the hills would be the ideal place for setting up a glider, that
would be lifted upwards by the currents, over the mountain top. The clouds, which were travelling with the wind, struck the side of the hill and hung round it, or were caught on the summit and broke into rain. But those that took a higher course and sailed clear of the reef, dissolved to the West of it, over the burning desert of the Rift Valley. Many times I have from my house followed these mighty processions advancing, and have wondered to see their proud floating masses, as soon as they had got over the hills, vanish in the blue air and be gone.

We grew coffee on my farm. The land was in itself a little too high for coffee, and it was hard work to keep it  going; we were never rich on the farm. But a coffee plantation is a thing that gets hold of you and does not let you go, and there is always something to do on it: you are generally just a little behind with your work.In the wildness and irregularity of the country, a piece of land laid out and planted according to rule, looked very
well. Later on, when I flew in Africa, and became familiar with the appearance of my farm from the air, I was filled with admiration for my coffee plantation, that lay quite bright green in the grey green land, and I realized how keenly the human mind yearns for geometrical figures. All the country round Nairobi, particularly to the North of the town, is laid out in a similar way, and here lives a people, who are constantly thinking and talking of planting, pruning or picking coffee, and who lie at night and meditate upon improvements to their coffee factories.

Coffee growing is a long job. It does not all come out as you imagine, when, yourself young and hopeful, in the streaming rain, you carry the boxes of your shining young coffee plants from the nurseries, and, with the whole number of farm hands in the field, watch the plants set in the regular rows of holes in the wet ground where they are to grow, and then have them thickly shaded against the sun, with branches broken from the bush, since obscurity is the privilege of young things. It is four or five years till the trees come into bearing, and in the meantime you will get drought on the land, or diseases, and the bold native weeds will grow up thick in the fields,–the black jack, which has long scabrous seed vessels that hang on to your clothes and stockings. Some of the trees have been badly planted with their tap roots bent; they will die just as they begin to flower. You plant a little over six hundred trees to the acre, and I had six hundred acres of land with coffee; my oxen dragged the cultivators up and down the fields, between the rows of trees, many thousand miles, patiently, awaiting coming bounties.

There are times of great beauty on a coffee farm. When the plantation flowered in the beginning of the rains, it was a radiant sight, like a cloud of chalk, in the mist and the drizzling rain, over six hundred acres of land. The  coffee blossom has a delicate slightly bitter scent, like the blackthorn blossom. When the field reddened with the  ripe berries, all the women and the children, whom they call the Totos, were called out to pick the coffee off the trees,together with the men; then the waggons and carts brought it down to the factory near the river.

It is impossible that a town will not play a part in your life, it does not even make much difference whether you have more good or bad things to say of it, it draws your mind to it, by a mental law of gravitation. The luminous haze on the sky above the town at night, which I could see from some places on my farm, set my thoughts going,  and recalled the big cities of Europe.

And it was a live place, in movement like running water, and in growth like a young thing, it changed from year to year, and while you were away on a shooting Safari. The new Government House was built, a stately cool house with a fine ball room and a pretty garden, big hotels grew up, great impressive agricultural shows and fine flower shows were held, our Quasi Smart Set of the Colony from time to time enlivened the town with rows of quick melodrama. Nairobi said to you: “Make the most of me and of time. Wir kommen nie weider so jung–so undisciplined and rapacious–zusammen.” Generally I and Nairobi were in very good understanding,and at one time I drove through the town and thought: There is no world without Nairobi’s streets.

They say no-one can get inside your mind.  Bullshit.  They’ve been inside mine so often there’s nothing left .

Suffer In Me. Suffer With Me. Through Suffering Alone Shall
Ye Find Redemption. The Kingdom of the Mind is the Ladder to
the Stars. Post-hippy bullshit of the purest ray serene, piped
out at a precisely calculated assimilation rate on a frequency
even my brain can’t black out. Sense-enhancers to stop me fighting it. And an authentic InnerLife program – one of  thousands – to verify my enlightenment ratio. Get your head  round that, sis. Or whatever.  Fact is, brain matter’s in short supply around here. Even such lowgrade matter as mine has to be refined and  recycled. Twenty years ago – inasmuch as time still matters  nowadays – we did something, don’t ask me what, split  the wrong atom, shifted the wrong antigen, pressed the  wrong button, screwed with Cosmic Forces and infected *™  the species. Result? Near-total wipeout. I was mostly out of  my skull at the time so I wasn’t taking much notice, and nowadays I’m out of my skull all the time. I was Chosen. You too, perhaps. Yippee.

Punters pass me by without a glance. They are wholesome,
noisy, red-faced, parting around me to merge again
into a hot river. In my time amongst the narrow streets and
the Whitby fogs I’ve almost forgotten how healthy the
living can be. And yet there’s something about them all, a
kind of family resemblance. Something a little too bright,
too glowing to be real. I remember the old familiar holidaymakers
in Whitby, the thin young people in black, their
sad, strained faces, their greyness, their dull expressions.
None of these people are dull, all of them touched with a
lustre I begin to recognize . . . The ruddy complexions. The
sagging waistlines. The open faces. The brimming illusion of
life. So this is where they go, the wrong sort; pushed here by
market forces. This is where they belong, among the bright
lights and the arcades, the fish shops and roller coasters.
Indistinguishable from the real thing. Better, some might
say. Never dying, never changing: cheery holidaymakers
on a trip that never ends. Slowly I pick myself up and
head back through the crowd that gluts the pier. Heads
turn to follow me. Delicate fingers flutter against my skin.
Dimly I wonder how many of them there are, by how many
they outnumber the living. Ten to one? A hundred? A  thousand? Or are they now so many that they prey on each other, bloodlessly, greedily, shoulder to shoulder in rough,
grinning comradeship?  The lights of the pleasure beach are gaudy as a fisherman’s
lure skipping across the dark water. Life, they promise. Heat and life. Too weak to wander far from that  distant hope, I make my way wearily back towards them,
trying not to meet myself along the way; just another sucker  slouching back down the long dark road to Bethlehem.
In these days of Botox, body piercing and failed cosmetic surgery,
it is tempting to fantasize about other times and places, which we
think of as being more romantic than our own. Dream on. 
IT WASN The UNTIL I CAME TO COURT THAT I REALIZED HOW much rich people stink. If anything, the rich more so than  the poor; in the country, at least, we have less excuse for  not washing. Here, to have a bath is to disrupt everything.
The water must be heated, then carried up to the room
with sponges, brushes, perfumes, towels and countless other
impedimenta; not to mention the bath itself- cast-iron and
heavy – which must be brought out of storage, cleaned of
rust, then dragged by footmen up countless flights of stairs
to Madame’s boudoir.  There she waits, en deshabillee.

But Madame is wealthy; her household boasts so much
linen that her maids need wash it only once a year, on the
flat black stones of the laveraie, by the bank of the Seine. It
is September now, and the linen room is only half full; even
so, the growling musk of Madame’s intimates carries up the
steps, across the corridor and into the morning-room, where
even four vases of cut flowers and a hanging pomander fail
to mask the stench.  Nevertheless, Madame is a famous beauty. Men have
written sonnets to her eyes, which are exceptional, so I am
told. The same cannot be said of her rotten teeth, however;
or indeed of her eyebrows, which are fashionably shaven,
being replaced by mouse-skin replicas, stuck with fish’glue
to the centre of her forehead. Fortunately the smell of the
fish-glue is slight, compared with the rest, and does not
disturb her. Why should it? Monseigneur uses the same aids
to beauty, and he is one of the most highly regarded gentlemen
of fashion of the Court. The King himself (no rose
garden, His Majesty) says so.

‘Kennedy?’ That had been his name, long ago. But he’d
thrown it away with the rest of his life: with his notebooks
and stories, his films and comics.

CARDS ON THE TABLE – christie

They are four widely divergent types; the motive that drives each one of them to crime is peculiar to that person, and each one would employ a different method. The deduction must, therefore, be entirely psychological, but it is none the less interesting for that, because when all is said and done it is the mind of the murderer that is of supreme interest.

It was a soft purring voice a voice/used deliberately as an
inStrument–nothing impulsive or unpremeditated about it.
Hercule Poirot swung round.
He bowed.

The door of Mr. Shaitana’s flat opened noiselessly. A grey-haired butler drew it
back to let Poirot enter. He closed it equally noiselessly and deftly relieved the
guest of his overcoat and hat.

The man who came in did so with a kind of parody of a brisk bedside manner.
He was a cheerful, highly-coloured individual of middle age. Small twinkling eyes,
a touch of baldness, a tendency to embonpoint and a general air of well-scrubbed
and disinfected medical practitio/er. His manner was cheerful and confident. You
felt that his diagnosis would be correct and his treatments agreeable and
practical “a little champagne in convalescence perhaps.” A man of the world!

“In real life people don’t bother about being too subtle, Mrs. Oliver,” said the
superintendent. “They usually stick to arsenic because it’s nice and handy to get
hold of.”
“Nonsense,” said Mrs. Oliver. “That’s simply because there are lots of crimes
you people at Scotland Yard never find out. Now if you hada woman there
“As a matter of fact we have ”
“Yes, those dreadful policewomen in funny hats who bother people in parks. I
mean a woman at the head of things. Women know about crime.”
“They’re usually very successful criminals,” said Superintendent Battle.
“Keep their heads well. It’s amazing how they’ll brazen things out.”
Mr. Shaitana laughed gently.
“Poison is a woman’s weapon,” he said. “There must be many secret women
poisoners–never found out.”
“Of course there are,” said Mrs. Oliver happily, helping herself lavishly to a mousse of foie gras.

The firelight gleamed on the crystal stoppers. Always an artist in lighting, Mr. Shaitana had simulated the appearance of a merely firelit room. A small shaded lamp at his elbow gave him light to read by if he so desired. Discreet floodlighting gave the room a subdued glow. A slightly stronger light shone over the bridge table, from whence the monotonous
ejaculations continued.

“It’s impossible!” cried Mrs. Oliver. “Absolutely impossible. None of those
people can be criminals.”Superintendent Battle shook his head thoughtfully.”I wouldn’t be so sure of that, Mrs. Oliver. Murderers look and behave very  much like everybody else. Nice, quiet, well-behaved, reasonable folk very often.” “In that case, it’s Dr. Roberts,” said Mrs. Oliver firmly. “I felt instinctively that there was something wrong with that man as soon as I saw him. My instincts  never lie.”
“Didn’t get any extra change out of her,” commented Battle. “Put me in my place,
too. She’s the old-fashioned kind, full of consideration for others, but arrogant as
the devil! I can’t believe she did it, but you never know! She’s got plenty of
resolution.

“I should have kept him to the end,” said Mrs. Oliver. “In a book, I mean,”
she added apologetically.
“Real life’s a bit different,” said Battle.
“I know,” said Mrs. Oliver. “Badly constructed.”

And just because you’re old and celibate doesn’t give you the right to act however yod
want, lady. I’m of un certain age and celibate (not by choice, of course) and still manage to get along in polite society^

I guess you could call Trixie ( dog) my third best friend because no matter what I do, what I say, or the kind of day I’ve had, she loves me unconditionally.

People who have been married have a sort of telepathy and now we were communicating without saying too much.

I chewed and thought about his question. Was it time to move on? I didn’t know. I did know that I missed Crawford terribly and hoped I would hear  from him. I wished I was more twenty-first century and could pick up the phone and call him myself, but I always hesitated; I don’t know why.

The thing that saved me was the fact that I was bilingual, having been raised in a French-speaking household, and I could sometimes figure things out without killing too many brain cells.

What I remember about Peter was that he was always trying to get me to ride in his Trans Am and that I always declined. Even then, when I should have been throwing caution to the wind and living the life of a carefree coed, my common sense ruled. I had been right about him all along but it still didn’t explain to me why this seemingly bright, attractive woman had ended up with him.

It would take about forty-five minutes to get to Boscobel, and factoring in picnic time, I figured we should leave my house a little before five. I told   her that I would buy dinner and prepare it.”Of course you will. If you leave it up to me, we’ll be eating stale Wheat Thins and drinking flat Diet Coke.” She hung up without saying good-bye.that’s her trademark. No beginnings and no endings.

I tried to think about something sad, willing tears to my eyes. The best I could conjure up was the feeling I get when I watch the first Rocky .Between his love for mousy Adrian and his inability to form a complete, cohesive thought, I was a sucker for his plight. I thought about Rocky in his boxing shorts and my eyes welled up. Thinking about Sylvester Stallone’s post-Rocky career probably would have produced more genuine sadness and tears but that didn’t occur to me at the time. It wasn’t exactly an award-winning performance but the doorman looked at me with something approaching sympathy.

Nothing says sexy like someone who reads obtuse Irish writers
“‘Love loves to love love. And this person loves that other person because everybody loves somebody but God loves everybody,'” he said, a faint  blush appearing on his cheeks as it may have occurred to him that quoting Joyce was either a show-offy move or one that would give me the wrong impression of our first date .Neither possibility crossed my mind. “I’m impressed,” I said, and it was the truth. Not only did he quote correctly, but it was a quote from well into the text.

She nodded and took a long sip from her water glass. “I’m all right with everything.” She smiled, a little sad, but resigned to the truth: her parents were better off apart. And as divorced, or almost-divorced, families went, theirs was pretty functional. Neither parent used Meaghan or her sister to their own gain, they saw their father as much as they possibly could given his crazy work schedule, and their parents seemed to genuinely like each other, ever if they didn’t love each other anymore. There were no financial issues to speak of; their father took very good care of them and made sure they wanted foT
nothing. There was no ill will or resentment in the air when their parents spoke. As she tried to tell Erin, it could be much, much worse. She gave her father a punch in the arm. “And frankly, Dad, you need a woman. You’re getting awfully cranky.

Our school has an unwritten motto: “Keep your alumnae close and your rich alumnae closer.

I was also upset that I seemed to be falling apart. I had always thought of myself as a relatively strong person: I had weathered the deaths of both my
parents before I was thirty, endured a marriage to a man who humiliated me with his actions at least once a year, put myself through graduate school while  working full-time, and gotten a doctorate in the shortest amount of time possible. Now, I was involved in something totally out of my realm of experience and the thought of it made me sick and more than a little crazed.The weather was beautiful: bright, sunny, and clear, and in direct contrast to my mood: dark, cloudy, and complicated. I was furious at Max for leaving  me on Broadway, and I was mad at myself for allowing her to convince me to do something I knew wasn’t right.Kathy’s death also weighed heavily on my  mind. Parents sent their children to our school thinking they would be safe: a Catholic institution, a long tradition of graduating strong, independent women  (and a few men), and a peaceful setting all contributed to a feeling of safety and well-being.

We spent an hour or so stocking up on cosmetics and hair accessories at Sephora, the large cosmetics retailer on the bottom floor. Max’s hair was only a few inches long, but she bought some jeweled barrettes and some kind of turban that she said was essential to making home facials successful. We wandered around the bath aisle, finally picking up some kind of shower gel that promised, “serenity, sensuality, and a feeling of well-being.” Whatever. I[
smelled like coconut. I also picked a lipstick called Jennifer, which was a muted peachy brown and not nearly dramatic enough for Max who stuck heO
tongue out in disgust when I showed it to her.

The waiter arrived and we placed our order: me, the usual, and Max, a medium cheddar burger with fries and a chocolate shake. She looked at me and said, “I didn’t have breakfast,” as a way of explaining her large order. She’s one of those people who eats to excess and remains a size four; if I hadn’t witnessed her hedonism over the last twenty years, I wouldn’t have believed it myself. But she ate and drank to excess five out of seven nights never exercised, and still looked amazing.

I wasn’t feeling so lighthearted. I looked around the restaurant, feeling vulnerable, exposed, and a bit sad. Max was like Teflon–everything slid off her\
She didn’t seem affected by anything and found humor in almost everything. And right now, she wasn’t even sensitive enough to shut her trap and notice
that I was scared.

I guess she wasn’t as dense as I thought. She had been right there with me, all the time.

“Are you always this controlling?” I asked.”Are you always this stubborn?” He drove to my house and pulled up in front.

I could become a beer drinker in my new life as a single thirtysomething. I imagined myself at singles’ parties, hoisting beers, a big grin on my face, telling  jokes and meeting lots of other single people. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. As long as I had beer and a few single friends, I could live the life of a single woman.

She popped the trunk from inside the car and got out to retrieve her packages and her computer. Based on years of experience, I knew that we would be having a fashion show later when she modeled all of her new purchases.

Very Useful Rules for Living Stolen from Olivia Joules

1

Never Panic. Stop, breathe, think.

2

No one is thinking about you, They’re thinking about themselves, just like you.

3

Never change a haircut or colour before an important event.

4

Nothing is either as bad or as good as it seems.

5

Do as you would be done by, eg, thou shalt not kill.

6

It is better to buy one expensive thing that you really like (and can afford) than several cheap ones that you only quite like.

7

Hardly anything matters. If you get upset, ask yourself: “Does it really matter?”

8

The key to success lies in how you pick yourself up from failure.

9

Be kind and honest.

10

Only buy clothes that make you feel like doing a small dance.

11

Trust your instincts, not your overactive imagination.

12

When overwhelmed by disaster, check if it’s really a disaster by doing the following: a) think “Oh f*** it”; b) attmpt to turn it into an amusing anecdote. If none of the above works, then maybe it is a disaster, so turn to items one (1) and five (5).

13

Don’t expect the work  to be safe or life to be fair.

14

Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

15

Don’t regret anything. Remember there wasn’t anything else that could have happened who you were and the state of the world at that moment. The only thing you can change is the present, so learn from the past.

16

If you start regretting something and start thinking, “I should have done…”, always add: “But then I might have been run over by a runaway lorry. Or crushed by a falling grand piano.”

lluvving vespas…………

I put the pen down and looked up via Veneto, the street that the restaurant faced. It was a wide, stately avenue flanked with regal appartamenti decorated with stone balconies and potted plants. It ended at the Piazza Barberini. A hotel sat at one side of the piazza. Its unimaginative brick front looked more like an American hotel, but surrounding it were stuccoed buildings painted brick-orange, their windows and shutters thrown open. Taxis and scooters and the tiniest of cars zipped around the circular piazza. And not just any scooters. Vespas! Rome wasn’t just the capital city of Italy, it was the capital city of Vespa country. They skirted the fountain and shot up via Veneto. I itched to get my fingers on the handgrips of one of them.

I kept thinking about the summer I’d spent in Rome years ago. It was during that time that my friendship with Maggie solidified into sisterhood. Maggie and I immersed ourselves in Roma, in our fellow students, our professors, the tenets of international and comparative law, and it was as if a happy bubble had sprung up around us. Of course, there were the usual traveler’s woes—blisters adorning our feet, having to wash your underwear in a dorm sink—but I loved every bit.
But if the architecture and the setting were somewhat unremarkable, the feel of the place—the energy—wasn’t. Rome is a seen-it-all kind of place. No matter how much the Italians delight in things—food and wine and sex, to name a few—the fact remains that their cultural DNA includes a world weariness of it all. And yet the American students who studied at Loyola were visiting Italy, and sometimes Europe, for the first time. They were wide-eyed, eager to see, to learn, to live. And so the campus with its otherwise sleepy appearance hummed with that energy. It vibrated at a low level but with a certain light that colored everything a pretty ochre, that made the place soothing and yet made it sing.

I kept studying the book, hoping I could divine the gallery Elena had mentioned, the one where she was working and which she said was close to her heart. The problem was, I didn’t know Elena very well. I didn’t know what moved her heart. Come to think of it, I wasn’t sure what moved my own heart these dayWhen I was last in Rome, if a reasonably attractive woman stopped on the street to consult a map or much less ate alone at a restaurant, as I was doing, it would invite a torrent of male attention. The men would literally surround you—touching you, shouting come-ons in a desperate mix of Italian and English. It became one of Italy’s few liabilities.
Maggie very much wanted a family. It was the husband part of that proposition that was causing her trouble.

Only one other person was in the salon when I entered, a man lying on his back on one of the four gray chaises in the middle of the room. I sat on another chaise, then feeling a little cautious, I lay back, too. The fresco, called Divine Providence, depicted historic figures frolicking across a luminous, heavenly blue sky. I thought about my father, who always resided in a similar place in my mind—in a beautiful, warmly lit other-universe where he floated about, with no worries, but always able to see Charlie and me, always watching us.

“As you can see, most of the works here are not from famous artists,” she said. “But that wasn’t the point of the Palazzo Colonna. These were amassed to give a collective impression of beauty. The intention is that one doesn’t need to be an art historian to appreciate this place. You don’t need to study each little brush stroke, every inch of gold.” She waved her arm and spun around, and in that moment I could see her as a young girl, joyous and inquisitive and free of any sadness. “I think it is important what this place teaches,” she said. “I am not a historian, but I learn from the palazzo every day. It teaches you to look at the whole. Not one individual masterpiece.”

“Exactly,” she said, clearly pleased. “That is why I love Rome, too, and that is what keeps me here.” She pointed to the cannonball and smiled. “The flaws are many when you look. Mistakes have been made. And yet the overall effect is one of true beauty, a beauty that transcends any mistakes.”
I looked in her eyes. “Do you believe the same about people?” I asked. “That they can be flawed and make mistakes and still have a transcendent beauty?”
She nodded. “Yes, a beauty inside them, not just out.”

“He was curious like you,” Aunt Elena said.
“That sounds more like my brother, Charlie.”
Elena gave me the slow grand shrug Italians have mastered. “Maybe. Christopher wanted to know everything.” She held up a finger. “Correction. He wanted to understand everything. There is a difference.” She looked at me for a sign of comprehension.
I nodded slowly, thinking about what she’d said. “There is a difference between knowing something or memorizing it, and truly understanding it.”
“Yes, that’s right. And true understanding requires a much deeper curiosity, a willingness to seek for motivations and appreciate subtleties. But that kind of curiosity can be dangerous.”
“Why?”

“Because you begin to think that maybe the world isn’t so black and white, maybe people aren’t, either. You don’t realize that some people truly are black. Just black.”