Friday, May 25, 2012

A travelers' weekend

For this holiday weekend that will find so many people traveling, a brief post built around a passage from Andres Neuman's Traveler of the Century. The speaker is a young man on the verge of the first real love of his life; the parenthetical interpolation is the voice of his friend, an aged organ grinder:
I've always thought of love as pure movement, a sort of journey. . . . For me there's no greater joy than being reunited with a friend I've not seen for a long time. What I mean is, we also go back to places because we love them, don't you think? And loving someone can be like a homecoming (being older, I think that love, love of places, people or things, is about harmony, and harmony for me is to be at rest, to observe what's around me, being happy to be where I am.)
The first 200 pages of Neuman's novel, which is about the intellectual, emotional, and social life of that young man, newly arrived to a small town in Germany just after the defeat of Napoleon, were almost too slow and meandering for my taste. I nearly put the book down, but the underlying charm of Neuman's voice kept me reading through the digressive intellectual debates and salon banter.

But then the young man finds love, and the novel takes on a dreamily romantic character that is incredibly engaging, even seductive, as Neuman convinces us that this pair of hot-pantsed young lovers really are falling as much for each other's minds as for their bodies. And because of that, we begin to care about, and feel that there's really something at stake in, their heated, semi-nude discussions of poetry and translation, all shadowed by the knowledge that their idyll can't last. I've been quoting from the book all week over at the Annex and on my Twitter feed; it's been a real joy.

As for the tension between movement and stasis, searching and contentment . . . well, longtime readers know where I fall on that one: home is home is home and you make your happiness there. And now, work having let out early for the holiday weekend, the prospect of watching a summer afternoon slip away while sipping iced tea on my back steps beckons. Enjoy the holiday, folks.

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