Saturday, October 07, 2006

Get Lost

Whenever I travel I like to find a good book to bring home as a souvenir. In that way I have a memento of my journey as recorded on its inside cover and can justify yet another expenditure in books to that category's over inflated bottom line. I bought the book I’ve just finished in Santa Fe this summer. Karen and I took the free day from the week long conference we attended to escape to nearby Taos, as well as the tiny villages along the way, all of which boasted some form or other of art gallery. We investigated an assortment of them including one that wound from the front patio of a small abode home and on through the kitchen, living room, hallways, bedrooms and bathrooms, every square inch of which held an oil painting created by the proprietor’s gray pony-tailed husband. It was a delicious day of wandering, lingering, chatting with locals and borrowing their restrooms, browsing and sampling New Mexican tamales on a brightly sunshined, tiled patio engorged with flowers and vines. We meandered about the historic square in Taos, drinking local coffee and perusing the local bookstore. I picked up a volume, initially drawn by its cover: melancholy blue grays of what could be conceived as skies over a texture of canvas or cloth or paper as backdrop to a shadowy image running along the bottom of the cover suggesting a mysteriously dark, fuzzy, landscape. The edges blur between light and dark. Is the light area absorbing the black into itself like a paper towel absorbs liquid or is the light area staving off encroaching darkness? Are the boundaries fixed?

Appropriate questions for a book entitled, “A Field Guide to Getting Lost” by Rebecca Solnit. I bought the book and stuck it in my bag until it was time for us to head back to Santa Fe. There was a party that night I wanted to attend. We had come out on the high road and as sun set we made our way back, curving around mountains and alongside a river on the low road, and tried to figure out which route we’d liked best. And then somehow as we approached Santa Fe we got lost and found ourselves approaching Santa Fe again, passing the same exit for Santa Fe Opera we had passed some minutes before, now in total darkness. It seemed we circled the town forever without being able to figure out how to get into it, at least the section we were looking for. When we finally got back I had all but missed the party. This happened repeatedly for the next couple of days, constant disorientation and wrong turns in what is really a small and manageable city, especially for one that had recently navigated Houston on a daily basis. I remembered then the book was still in my bag and I blamed it like a bad luck charm. I read only a couple of pages before it was time to pack up and fly back to a town that was not the one I had returned to after every previous flight for 17 years, itself a disorienting reality.

So it was only in the last week or two that I dug the book out again and really started to read it, finding it tremendously gratifying. Solnit writes extensively of New Mexico and of lostness, of wilderness, displacement, transformation, Terra Incognito, of how geography is so much a part of our interior landscapes, all things I have recently been exquisitely made aware of. A favorite motif is “the blue of distance” which Solnit, an art critic as well, tracks from 15th century European painters to contemporary Yves Klein. I made sure I had a pencil in hand any time I picked the book back up.

Solnit's writing is full of poetic leaps and metaphors such as this:

Movies are made out of darkness as well as light; it is the surpassingly brief intervals of darkness between each luminous still image that makes it possible to assemble the many images into one moving picture. Without that darkness, there would only be a blur....It is the terra incognita of film, the dark continent on every map. In a similar way, a runner’s every step is a leap, so that for a moment he or she is entirely off the ground. For those brief instants, shadows no longer spill out from their feet, like leaks, but hover below them like doubles, as they do with birds, whose shadows crawl below them, caressing the surface of the earth....We fly; we dream in darkness; we devour heaven in bites too small to be measured.

I recommend Solnit’s book and whether driving or not, plan on getting exquisitely lost.


Jenni said...

You already convinced me to purchase Karen Fisher and Farnoosh Moshiri, so now I add Solnit to the list.

Karen Miedrich-Luo said...

Your words helped me re-orient. I feel I've been lost since I left Santa Fe. Annie Dillard said: "All those things for which we have no words are lost. " Even that torment of frustration over our lostness is made beautiful by memory through words.

me said...

The most powerfully stunningly honest of all your posts, THANKYOU