Wednesday, 14 July 2010
Prague, a photograph
It's the day of our anniversary. We drop into an empty courtyard on the way up to Hradcany where there is a little cafe. They serve ice-coffee and bottles of cold water. We do the obligatory, and take photos of each other. Click. Click. There we are. There she is. It is all perfectly normal and yet the most astonishing thing. You press a button and the image appears. The brilliant light of the street immediately comes back. The weight of the bag. The steady procession of pilgrim-tourists heading up and down. The thought of crossing the bridge back in the billowing heat.
The capacity for remembering or forgetting varies. It was blazing sunlight on the day we got married at Swan Road Baptist Church. Photographs show C's father, the minister of the church, in dark glasses. My mother sways in a black dress. In another photo a little girl is trying to lift C's dress to find out where the baby is. There isn't one yet. The reception, like everything else, is simple. C changes out of her wedding dress into her honeymoon dress, long, slender, floating greens and blues, and a car takes us to a railway station. Which one? I can't remember. Then we travel by train from Euston to Crewe where I get out to buy a drink and on my return find the train beginning to move off. The doors did not automatically lock then so I open one and leap on. Then it is night at Liverpool Lime Street. The Adelphi is round the corner. Our first night has been bought for us by the landlord of my digs. We have little or no money so skip breakfast and board the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company ferry. The crossing is long and the sea is rough. We really should have eaten. We survive.
That makes a story but it doesn't make moments. The moments are in the photographs, trapped there with their light, gathering the story to points that lack clear meaning, that never had clear meaning, except for the fact that we were there. It is the being there that is recorded. The meaning is in the being recorded.
You haven't changed, says C. When I look at you as you lie in bed you look exactly the same, she says. What is the exactly that she means? Because I clearly have changed. Time changes one. Change is the meaning of time. I think I have a clearer sense of myself as a finite being now than when I was twenty-one, when death was primarily a dramatic concept, even when it did actually occur, as it was to do to my mother five years after. Concepts, thoughts, imagination. Now death is just the perfectly ordinary completion of a process. Because if time is change it is also death. It is the way things seem to be ordered. Knowing that makes life infinitely more valuable and, at the same time, perfectly disposable. The last time I was in London I brought back my father's ashes. We consider what to do with them. My brother and I consider what to do with them. They are only ashes.
But there she is, and it is a good photograph, in that it is a pleasing photograph. C doesn't look her age in any case, but here she looks even younger. There is no particular age attached to this photo. To be perfectly honest I have always preferred women to girls, loving the sense of time hovering about the soul. I like the beginning of autumn better than I love late spring or high summer. Maybe it is my own sense of being that determines this. I think I have been early autumn ever since I was eighteen. Spring and summer were never quite my style. They were OK, really they were OK, but my soul, if I have one, is an autumn creature. An autumn creature that runs around like a child but knows itself autumnal. I don't think C is autumnal. I think she is springlike, tough as early spring. Neither of us is wintry or summery. Nor is it spring for either of us.
But here we are, it is summer, and we are married. This is the courtyard. There is a table beside C to her left, and the entrance to the courtyard is to her right. It is much quieter in the courtyard than in the street of course. And the light is good here, a less blinding, less harsh light. It holds us and floods the camera in a mannerly kind of way. So there we are flooded into an image. There she is anyway. Me, I'm in the other picture, with dark glasses, or rather clip-on dark glasses over my specs. I look like an actor whose name you can't remember but who was in a film in which... what was its name now? The moment's gone. But this is C in that moment.