or Capo di minghe!
Up, Down, Appendices, Postscript.
All this talk ... click on this image and take 30 seconds to think about it.
Where is an equivalent image, simple and clear, showing a risk matrix comparing coal, nuclear, and renewable energy sources? Where is it? You will not easily find one - I cannot find one at all. Why not? (This is a large-ish question, really. Don't you think?)
... then I followed my own advice and took a longer look at the CO2 image ... not as clear as I imagined, everybody got spin ... oh well ... still, I can envisage an image which doesn't abuse the person who tries to understand it even if that one is not it ... dunno.
The same guy I have been talking about - the one who saw open space in the Newfoundland of the late 60's and in Dadawa (and in Erik Satie too by the way) - started talking to me about a very strange biological theory in the last few years before he died.
Viz. that there are really two human species: I have mentioned it here before. At the time I thought it was just crazy talk - now I'm not so sure. Homo sapiens is certainly a misnomer; no question about that. Homo erectus probably has it about right but H. erectus is disputed, and in any event was a forerunner, a precursor, a mere ancestor. So ... Homo grǽdum and Homo agapiens then?
oubliette, n. [French oubliette (14th century), from oublier to forget.]
A secret dungeon, access to which was gained only through a trap-door above; often having a secret pit below, into which the prisoner might be precipitated.
Finding the delightful phrase 'into which the prisoner might be precipitated' in this OED definition has made my day.
('Oubliette' crops up in the Pynchon excerpt too by the way. CTRL-F will help you find it if you are running Mozilla.)
I called the office of the Attorney General of British Columbia this week. Now it is Barry Penner, but at the time when I first asked this question it was Mike de Jong. The question is this: What is going on with Richard Peck deciding if Dziekanski's killers will be charged?
A secretary eventually told me, "We have not yet received Mr. Peck’s report so are not in a position to make any announcement at this time." And that's all she would say, full stop. Her name is Gail; she wouldn't give me her last name despite already having my full name and telephone number. Oh well. She did promise to call me with the 'answer' - which she did.
Richard Peck has been on this case since June 2010. It is as clear as a bell that these maggots are just waiting for us to forget. And it seems to be working - must have something to do with educational standards.
So ... what species are Barry Penner & Richard Peck then I wonder?
[Not all roses of course: he also hated Northrop Frye and talked me out of reading Anatomy of Criticism at the time; and I never came to Toronto either to maybe listen until it was too late ... so ... nobody's perfect.]
In Côte d'Ivoire (aka Ivory Coast aka Costa do Marfim) 'os moradores fogem'. The liv'yers are fleeing. The people who live there are running away.
Gwynne Dyer's thoughts are probably not far off the mark. There are some obvious symmetries with Nigeria, Sudan, ... Moslem north & Christian/Animist south. I am tempted to include a previous article of his: Ivory Coast: A tale of two countries; but it is really not necessary. All of Dyer's stuff ends up eventually posted on his website where it seems to stay. Long enough to outlive whatever HTML technology runs this blog at least.
You never really think about things (or I don't at least); 'Death & Taxes' f'rinstance. Religion, politics & bankers.
I have been trying to see into Chimamanda Adichie and her book Purple Hibiscus.
For the last couple of years I have been reading African literature. At first I was flush and just went on-line and bought whatever I wanted. Later on I started with Abe Books looking for cheap second-hand copies.
Now I use the public library (and go for the large print editions when they are offered).
The biggest problem is that I can't just pick up a book and go back through it when I want to; and the library system does not remember what books I have taken out (once I return them) so I don't even have a list ... and my memory is so fucked up ... I am now coming at Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʼo for the second time. I can remember that I read a few of his books last year - beyond that, nothing. A critic without no memory don't wash - even a nutbar wingnut can know that.
[Here it is. Just four months ago. How could I forget? But I did obviously. I was searching for Thiong instead of Thiong'o. Excerpt from Matigari ... I am well and truely fucked!]
Toni Morrison was a mistake. Sorry about that. The Nobel prize thing trips me up with the notion that it might have something to do with the quality of the writing - Wrong! Thomas Pynchon don't have one!
So ... just a suggestion, read what you can find of Chimamanda Adichie, especially her Purple Hibiscus. Maybe if you read Tsitsi Dangarembga's (two) novels too you will see why I think these women are reverse sides of a similar coin, two trajectories, one U shaped and the other an upside down U ... maybe not.
You may wonder why I have put this together with cartoons of banks? Two reasons: one, that cartoons fit my attention span better lately; and, two, that Doonesbury's 'A Banker's Progress' above had me wondering (briefly, until I lost track) if there is a similar 'Writer's Progress' yet to be delineated; and, if so, how Chimamanda's trajectory may change now that she is married. Silly eh?
Thirty-three - age of majority for a Hobbit.
There may even be a trajectory associated with Paul Krugman.
He doesn't seem to get growth yet, but he must be moving in that direction according to this in the NYT last week: The Truth, Still Inconvenient; a-and a brief appearance in Lester Brown's film Mobilizing to Save Civilization (see last week's headline).
People do change. Sometimes for the better.
Richard Goldstone has changed a bit recently too, for the better I think - and he is not afraid to say so publicly. Some NYT pundit is now promoting the notion that he was forced into this change by a conspiracy cabal - you would have to read Goldstone for yourself and see what you think I guess.
If we could just somehow train the police and politicians in general to make their changes as gracefully as Krugman & Goldstone eh? Especially Alberta politicians.
You might think Mel Knight is changing, you might imagine so - but he's not. The latest Alberta government tack on the tar sands, 'shocking' says the Globe: assigning some small percentage of the tar sands territory to be 'set aside' (whatever that means) and possibly even expropriating some leases from the greed-heads; is simply the smallest gesture they thought they might be able to squeeze by with - window dressing. I doubt Mel Knight has changed one iota - he is just beginning to pretend to squirm.
How can you trust anyone with teeth like that?
These demonstrations in Tokyo are remarkable in context. I do believe most Japanese are utterly whacked by the enormity of what has come to them. Not as whacked as Haitians maybe, being an order of magnitude less severe in human terms, but yes, whacked. So it is praiseworthy to me that some hundreds of them can get it together to demonstrate at the Tepco head office and at Nisa; not once, but repeatedly: March 20, 27, 30, & April 3 (that I know of - this story is not being pushed very hard in the press y'unnerstan).
The Spirit Level viewed through Rudy Park.
Here's Lennie Kone to sing us on out'a here with Tower of Song, and a second version replete with interesting schtick. If you search on YouTube you can watch the same line delivered again and again, and the same laugh responding to it from all over the place - ad lib it's not.
"... there's a mighty judgement coming, but I may be wrong" he sings, and of course, he is wrong. A judgement without remorse is lame, and there is no remorse without memory. No, things are simply discarded, and entirely forgotten, and eventually subducted beneath the shifting tectonic plates of the social imaginary ... forever.
Don't believe me? If you are a boomer like me, see what is conjured up in your brains by the phrase 'Mau Mau', and then take the time to see what it was really about. Maybe that will work.
There is some hope that this is really the end of this nonsense this time. See if I can make this stick. This this this this this ... Begone!
Capo di minghe! could mean almost anything: from 'dick head' to 'cunt face' (from V chapter 7, see below). I am sorry about it. Nobody sets out to end up in a place like this.
Begone! the goddess cries with stern disdain.
Be well gentle reader.
I was sitting with Ana having a few beers one evening at the Nova Esperança in Icaraí. We used to play house sometimes - shop for groceries together, make moqueca de peixe, she would iron my shirts ... halcyon days. On our way home that night she said, softly, "Sabe querido, ninguém pertence pra ninguém." Some months later on I caught this picture of a fishing boat in São José do Norte.
Vheissu figures in Thomas Pynchon's V as one of the transmogrifications of V itself/herself. Chapters are long in this book and chapter 7 is no exception, 70 pages or so, otherwise I would have scanned the whole thing. It doesn't matter - anyone who knows Pynchon well enough to follow up on this idiot ranting of mine will have a copy already. So I have just put in a few chapter 7 references to Vheissu (there are others in the book as a whole), and only because I want to remember clearly (for a short while) enough of the bones of the story to keep Hugh Godolphin's despair fresh in mind.
There is a method of igloo construction described in a survival manual which I had a copy of years ago; connected somehow with the Canadian Forces - was it the air force? It involves mixing snow of two different temperatures, say, the -40°F snow at the surface of a drift with the 0°F snow a foot or two down (yes, I think this manual was still using Fahrenheit, though I can't be sure any longer). Thermodynamic effects which occur as energy moves from the relatively warmer crystals to the relatively colder ones result in the establishment of tiny ice-bridges between them, so the mixed snow stiffens markedly over the next hour or so as it reaches equilibrium. [I wonder if I mean 'thermal' or 'thermodynamic'? Thermodynamic sounds so much better.] Basically, blow up a baloon or several plastic bags, bury them in the snow (inevitably mixing the snow as you work), wait for an hour, deflate the baloon and Presto! Whiffo! a ready-to-move-into igloo!
I like this process as a metaphor for social cohesion - with temperature replaced by interest. A differential of interest between individuals may lead to an exchange of information of some kind resulting in the formation of tiny bridges ... structure, a house, a ... home. There are shades in this metaphor which I will leave to you to figgure out - or not. But just consider (f'rinstance) McLuhan's famous quip about the stripper who clothes herself in her audience. (And if you are up for recursion, you may realize that I am hoping the relative warmth of an approximately sexual reference like 'stripper' may help transfer this little notion of mine across the great divide.)
Let's see where this metaphor goes if we can bend it through 90°. Does it turn it into anything which might describe interpersonal atomization? Igloo construction is a more-or-less physical process - I think Newton is all you need to understand it. Social reality, however, is not quite like that - there are catalysts and moderators and all sorts of electro-magnetic interference at work; to the end that sometimes, certain modalities of interest actually preclude communication, almost to the vanishing point and beyond. Consider for example my friend Wayne, who sits on a corner near my house singing "Hollywood, Hollywood ... Will you marry me?" as he begs for change (see Paul Quarrington, though Q had got a subtly wrong take on our Wayne I think).
I have not seen Wayne for a week or so. I hope he has not died.
(All v's and double-v's in these few paragraphs are intentional. :-)
Some people really did learn to read with Dick & Jane I suppose. Maybe Toni Morrison was one of them. Not me. When I got to Grade One my seat happened to be against the wall beside the book shelf, and when I was bored (which was most of the time) I would sneak books off the shelf to read. I remember just looking at the first page of Dick & Jane and putting it back. Ugh! Who could ever be bored enough to read that?
She caught me at it, the teacher, Miss Anderson I think her name was, because I got so engrossed in a book I was reading that I forgot to pay attention to her ... busted!
Or, in a similar way, you might watch a Dadawa video and reasonably conclude that this is no more than a bubblegum airhead, and that the open space is rather quite literal than any sense of aetherial or transcendent.
This ain't no 'Free Tie-bet!' is it eh? The next exemplar will be Michael Jackson? Is that it?
"How low can you go," said Chubby Checker, looking at the limbo stick.
1. Endgame in Ivory Coast, Gwynne Dyer, March 29 2011.
2. The Truth, Still Inconvenient, Paul Krugman, April 3 2011.
3. Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and war crimes, Richard Goldstone, April 1 2011.
4. V, Chapter 7 excerpts from pages 161-228, Thomas Pynchon, 1963.
Endgame in Ivory Coast, Gwynne Dyer, March 29 2011.
“The general offensive has begun,” said Seydou Ouattara, the military spokesman of the man who claims to be Ivory Coast’s legitimate president, Alassane Ouattara, on Monday (March 28). “We’ve realised that this is the only way to remove [the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo].” On the same day Ouattara’s troops seized two cities in the west of the country, Daloa and Giglio.
While ragtag little armies surge back and forth along the North African coast like a high-speed replay in miniature of the Western Desert campaign in the Second World War, a much bigger war is getting underway 1,500 kilometres to the south. And although there are 9,000 United Nations troops on the ground in Ivory Coast, quite unlike the air-strikes-only intervention in Libya, the UN troops in Ivory Coast will not intervene to stop the war there.
The UN soldiers, all from African countries, were sent there to police a truce between the Muslim north of the country, which has been in the hands of the rebel New Forces since 2002, and the government of President Laurent Gbagbo, which controlled the largely Christian south. They were also there to supervise the election last November that was supposed to end the division of the country.
Unfortunately, the election didn’t work. Ouattara claimed victory and 3,000 international election observers backed him up, but an ally of Gbagbo’s on the Constitutional Court declared half a million of Ouattara’s votes invalid and said Gbagbo had won. Back to Square One.
Ouattara declared himself president, appointed the commander of the New Forces, Guillaume Soro, as his prime minister, and holed up in a hotel in Abidjan, the commercial capital, with three UN tanks parked out front to deter an attack by Gbagbo’s forces. Gbagbo insisted that he was still president, and threatened to use the army against Ouattara.
The UN troops will not intervene decisively because they were not sent to Ivory Coast to take sides in a large civil war, which is how this could end up. It isn’t just a quarrel between two stubborn men. It is about a probably irreversible transfer of power from the Christian south to the Muslim north in West Africa’s richest country, and there are those in the south who will fight to prevent that.
Christians used to be the majority in Ivory Coast, and they would probably still be if not for the estimated four million illegal immigrants who have poured into the country in the past two decades. Almost all of them came from the countries to the north, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali, which are entirely Muslim. Around a million of them are in Abidjan, but most stayed in northern Ivory Coast—Ouattara’s territory.
Gbagbo’s real complaint about the recent election is not that the vote was rigged but that the voter registration was rigged: that hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants were registered as voters by sympathetic Muslim officials across the north. It may not be true, but it certainly could be. And Muslims certainly did vote overwhelmingly for Ouattara.
There was no hostility in the relationship between Muslims and Christians in Ivory Coast 50 years ago: this is entirely a product of politics. Just as every evolutionary niche is always filled, so is every political niche, including the one inhabited by politicians whose method is to build support in one ethnic or religious community by stirring up fear or jealousy of another.
Ouattara and Gbagbo both belong to that political species, although they would deny it with their last breath. They have succeeded so well that Ivory Coast now stands on the brink of a Muslim-Christian civil war (although the news agency reports hardly ever mention this key feature of today’s Ivorian politics). The normal result would be a hardening of the current partition of the country, but first there will be one last roll of the dice.
Gbagbo is in deep trouble. The West African central bank has denied him access to Ivory Coast’s accounts, the country’s main cash crop, cocoa, is being boycotted by the international community, and last month he had trouble paying salaries and pensions to civil servants—including the military. Some got part of what was due them, some none at all.
Gbagbo must pay them again this week, and he probably doesn’t have the money. His army has lost every clash with Ouattara’s New Forces since the November election, and he has lost control of the mainly Muslim quarters of Abidjan to the “Invisible Commandos”, essentially an urban branch of New Forces.
So Ouattara is going for broke. Last week he rejected the peace envoy appointed by the African Union, and at the weekend the New Forces launched their final offensive. Or at least they hope it will be the final offensive.
So far they are doing well, and they may just roll over Gbagbo’s disintegrating army and reunite Ivory Coast by force. Even that would leave great bitterness in the south—but it is also possible that Ouattara’s big push will stall after a few days. African armies tend to be weak in logistics, and they usually run out of supplies when they advance too fast. Then it turns into a long, mostly static civil war.
Either way, the old Ivory Coast is finished. What replaces it may be very ugly.
The Truth, Still Inconvenient, Paul Krugman, April 3 2011.
So the joke begins like this: An economist, a lawyer and a professor of marketing walk into a room. What’s the punch line? They were three of the five “expert witnesses” Republicans called for last week’s Congressional hearing on climate science.
But the joke actually ended up being on the Republicans, when one of the two actual scientists they invited to testify went off script.
Prof. Richard Muller of Berkeley, a physicist who has gotten into the climate skeptic game, has been leading the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, an effort partially financed by none other than the Koch foundation. And climate deniers — who claim that researchers at NASA and other groups analyzing climate trends have massaged and distorted the data — had been hoping that the Berkeley project would conclude that global warming is a myth.
Instead, however, Professor Muller reported that his group’s preliminary results find a global warming trend “very similar to that reported by the prior groups.”
The deniers’ response was both predictable and revealing; more on that shortly. But first, let’s talk a bit more about that list of witnesses, which raised the same question I and others have had about a number of committee hearings held since the G.O.P. retook control of the House — namely, where do they find these people?
My favorite, still, was Ron Paul’s first hearing on monetary policy, in which the lead witness was someone best known for writing a book denouncing Abraham Lincoln as a “horrific tyrant” — and for advocating a new secessionist movement as the appropriate response to the “new American fascialistic state.”
The ringers (i.e., nonscientists) at last week’s hearing weren’t of quite the same caliber, but their prepared testimony still had some memorable moments. One was the lawyer’s declaration that the E.P.A. can’t declare that greenhouse gas emissions are a health threat, because these emissions have been rising for a century, but public health has improved over the same period. I am not making this up.
Oh, and the marketing professor, in providing a list of past cases of “analogies to the alarm over dangerous manmade global warming” — presumably intended to show why we should ignore the worriers — included problems such as acid rain and the ozone hole that have been contained precisely thanks to environmental regulation.
But back to Professor Muller. His climate-skeptic credentials are pretty strong: he has denounced both Al Gore and my colleague Tom Friedman as “exaggerators,” and he has participated in a number of attacks on climate research, including the witch hunt over innocuous e-mails from British climate researchers. Not surprisingly, then, climate deniers had high hopes that his new project would support their case.
You can guess what happened when those hopes were dashed.
Just a few weeks ago Anthony Watts, who runs a prominent climate denialist Web site, praised the Berkeley project and piously declared himself “prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong.” But never mind: once he knew that Professor Muller was going to present those preliminary results, Mr. Watts dismissed the hearing as “post normal science political theater.” And one of the regular contributors on his site dismissed Professor Muller as “a man driven by a very serious agenda.”
Of course, it’s actually the climate deniers who have the agenda, and nobody who’s been following this discussion believed for a moment that they would accept a result confirming global warming. But it’s worth stepping back for a moment and thinking not just about the science here, but about the morality.
For years now, large numbers of prominent scientists have been warning, with increasing urgency, that if we continue with business as usual, the results will be very bad, perhaps catastrophic. They could be wrong. But if you’re going to assert that they are in fact wrong, you have a moral responsibility to approach the topic with high seriousness and an open mind. After all, if the scientists are right, you’ll be doing a great deal of damage.
But what we had, instead of high seriousness, was a farce: a supposedly crucial hearing stacked with people who had no business being there and instant ostracism for a climate skeptic who was actually willing to change his mind in the face of evidence. As I said, no surprise: as Upton Sinclair pointed out long ago, it’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.
But it’s terrifying to realize that this kind of cynical careerism — for that’s what it is — has probably ensured that we won’t do anything about climate change until catastrophe is already upon us.
So on second thought, I was wrong when I said that the joke was on the G.O.P.; actually, the joke is on the human race.
Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and war crimes, Richard Goldstone, April 1 2011.
We know a lot more today about what happened in the Gaza war of 2008-09 than we did when I chaired the fact-finding mission appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council that produced what has come to be known as the Goldstone Report. If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.
The final report by the U.N. committee of independent experts — chaired by former New York judge Mary McGowan Davis — that followed up on the recommendations of the Goldstone Report has found that “Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza” while “the de facto authorities (i.e., Hamas) have not conducted any investigations into the launching of rocket and mortar attacks against Israel.”
Our report found evidence of potential war crimes and “possibly crimes against humanity” by both Israel and Hamas. That the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying — its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets.
The allegations of intentionality by Israel were based on the deaths of and injuries to civilians in situations where our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion. While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.
For example, the most serious attack the Goldstone Report focused on was the killing of some 29 members of the al-Simouni family in their home. The shelling of the home was apparently the consequence of an Israeli commander’s erroneous interpretation of a drone image, and an Israeli officer is under investigation for having ordered the attack. While the length of this investigation is frustrating, it appears that an appropriate process is underway, and I am confident that if the officer is found to have been negligent, Israel will respond accordingly. The purpose of these investigations, as I have always said, is to ensure accountability for improper actions, not to second-guess, with the benefit of hindsight, commanders making difficult battlefield decisions.
While I welcome Israel’s investigations into allegations, I share the concerns reflected in the McGowan Davis report that few of Israel’s inquiries have been concluded and believe that the proceedings should have been held in a public forum. Although the Israeli evidence that has emerged since publication of our report doesn’t negate the tragic loss of civilian life, I regret that our fact-finding mission did not have such evidence explaining the circumstances in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted, because it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes.
Israel’s lack of cooperation with our investigation meant that we were not able to corroborate how many Gazans killed were civilians and how many were combatants. The Israeli military’s numbers have turned out to be similar to those recently furnished by Hamas (although Hamas may have reason to inflate the number of its combatants).
As I indicated from the very beginning, I would have welcomed Israel’s cooperation. The purpose of the Goldstone Report was never to prove a foregone conclusion against Israel. I insisted on changing the original mandate adopted by the Human Rights Council, which was skewed against Israel. I have always been clear that Israel, like any other sovereign nation, has the right and obligation to defend itself and its citizens against attacks from abroad and within. Something that has not been recognized often enough is the fact that our report marked the first time illegal acts of terrorism from Hamas were being investigated and condemned by the United Nations. I had hoped that our inquiry into all aspects of the Gaza conflict would begin a new era of evenhandedness at the U.N. Human Rights Council, whose history of bias against Israel cannot be doubted.
Some have charged that the process we followed did not live up to judicial standards. To be clear: Our mission was in no way a judicial or even quasi-judicial proceeding. We did not investigate criminal conduct on the part of any individual in Israel, Gaza or the West Bank. We made our recommendations based on the record before us, which unfortunately did not include any evidence provided by the Israeli government. Indeed, our main recommendation was for each party to investigate, transparently and in good faith, the incidents referred to in our report. McGowan Davis has found that Israel has done this to a significant degree; Hamas has done nothing.
Some have suggested that it was absurd to expect Hamas, an organization that has a policy to destroy the state of Israel, to investigate what we said were serious war crimes. It was my hope, even if unrealistic, that Hamas would do so, especially if Israel conducted its own investigations. At minimum I hoped that in the face of a clear finding that its members were committing serious war crimes, Hamas would curtail its attacks. Sadly, that has not been the case. Hundreds more rockets and mortar rounds have been directed at civilian targets in southern Israel. That comparatively few Israelis have been killed by the unlawful rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza in no way minimizes the criminality. The U.N. Human Rights Council should condemn these heinous acts in the strongest terms.
In the end, asking Hamas to investigate may have been a mistaken enterprise. So, too, the Human Rights Council should condemn the inexcusable and cold-blooded recent slaughter of a young Israeli couple and three of their small children in their beds.
I continue to believe in the cause of establishing and applying international law to protracted and deadly conflicts. Our report has led to numerous “lessons learned” and policy changes, including the adoption of new Israel Defense Forces procedures for protecting civilians in cases of urban warfare and limiting the use of white phosphorus in civilian areas. The Palestinian Authority established an independent inquiry into our allegations of human rights abuses — assassinations, torture and illegal detentions — perpetrated by Fatah in the West Bank, especially against members of Hamas. Most of those allegations were confirmed by this inquiry. Regrettably, there has been no effort by Hamas in Gaza to investigate the allegations of its war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.
Simply put, the laws of armed conflict apply no less to non-state actors such as Hamas than they do to national armies. Ensuring that non-state actors respect these principles, and are investigated when they fail to do so, is one of the most significant challenges facing the law of armed conflict. Only if all parties to armed conflicts are held to these standards will we be able to protect civilians who, through no choice of their own, are caught up in war.
V, Chapter 7 excerpts from pages 161-228, Thomas Pynchon, 1963.
She hangs on the
At Deauville, recuperating after two months of good-natured lechery in Paris, he'd returned to his hotel one evening 17,000 francs to the good and grateful to a bay named Cher Ballon, to find a telegram from Captain Hugh which said: "Hear you were sacked. If you need someone to talk to I am at Piazza della Signoria 5 eighth floor. I should like very much to see you son. Unwise to say too much in telegram. Vheissu. You understand. FATHER."
Vheissu, of course. A summons he couldn't ignore, Vheissu. He understood. Hadn't it been their only nexus for longer than Evan could remember; had it not stood preeminent in his catalogue of outlandish regions where the Establishment held no sway? It was something which, to his knowledge, Evan alone shared with his father, though he himself had stopped believing in the place around the age of sixteen. His first impression on reading the wire — that Captain Hugh was senile at last, or raving, or both — was soon replaced by a more charitable opinion. Perhaps, Evan reasoned, his recent expedition to the South had been too much for the old boy. But on route to Pisa, Evan had finally begun to feel disquieted at the tone of the thing. He'd taken of late to examining everything in print — menus, railway timetables, posted advertisements — for literary merit; he belonged to a generation of young men who no longer called their fathers pater because of an understandable confusion with the author of The Renaissance, and was sensitive to things like tone. And this had a je ne sais quoi de sinistre about it which sent pleasurable chills racing along his spinal column. His imagination ran riot. Unwise to say too much in telegram: intimations of a plot, a cabal grand and mysterious: combined with that appeal to their only common possession. Either by itself would have made Evan ashamed: ashamed at hallucinations belonging in a spy thriller, even more painfully ashamed for an attempt at something which should have existed but did not, based only on the sharing long ago of a bedside story. But both, together, were like a parlay of horses, capable of a whole arrived at by some operation more alien than simple addition of parts.
He would see his father. In spite of the heart's vagrancy, the cerise umbrella, the madcap clothes. Was rebellion in his blood? He'd never been troubled enough to wonder. Certainly the League of the Red Sunrise had been no more than a jolly lark; he couldn't yet become serious over politics. But he had a mighty impatience with the older generation, which is almost as good as open rebellion. He became more bored with talk of Empire the further he lumbered upward out of the slough of adolescence; shunned every hint of glory like the sound of a leper's rattle. China, the Sudan, the East Indies, Vheissu had served their purpose: given him a sphere of influence roughly congruent with that of his skull, private colonies of the imagination whose borders were solidly defended against the Establishment3s incursions or depredations. He wanted to be left alone, never to "do well" in his own way, and would defend that oafs integrity to the last lazy heartbeat.
"Besides which," Cesare put in, "she's so big."
The Gaucho clenched one fist. "How big."
"175 by 279 centimeters," admitted Signor Mantissa.
"Capo di minghe!" The Gaucho sat back, shaking his head.
Support after that was readily available. By prudent saving Victoria had amassed some £400 from a wine merchant in Antibes, a Polish cavalry lieutenant in Athens, an art dealer in Rome; she was in Florence now to negotiate the purchase of a small couturière's establishment on the left bank. A young lady of enterprise, she found herself acquiring political convictions, beginning to detest anarchists, the Fabian Society, even the Earl of Rosebery. Since her eighteenth birthday she had been carrying a certain innocence like a penny candle, sheltering the flame under a ringless hand still soft with baby fat, redeemed from all stain by her candid eyes and small mouth and a girl's body entirely honest as any act of contrition. So she knelt, unadorned save for an ivory comb, gleaming among all the plausibly English quantities of brown hair. An ivory comb, five-toothed: whose shape was that of five crucified, all sharing at least one common arm. None of them was a religious figure: they were soldiers of the British Army. She had found the comb in one of the Cairo bazaars. It had apparently been hand-carved by a Fuzzy-Wuzzy, an artisan among the Mahdists, in commemoration of the crucifixions of '83, in the country east of invested Khartoum. Her motives in buying it may have been as instinctive and uncomplex as those by which any young girl chooses a dress or gewgaw of a particular hue and shape.
Now she did not regard her time with Goodfellow or with the three since him as sinful: she only remembered Goodfellow at all because he had been the first. It was not that her private, outré brand of Roman Catholicism merely condoned what the Church as a whole regarded as sin: this was more than simple sanction, it was implicit acceptance of the four episodes as outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace belonging to Victoria alone. Perhaps it was a few weeks she had spent as a girl in the novitiate, preparing to become a sister, perhaps some malady of the generation; but somehow at age nineteen she had crystallized into a nunlike temperament pushed to its most dangerous extreme. Whether she had taken the veil or not, it was as if she felt Christ were her husband and that the marriage's physical consummation must be achieved through imperfect, mortal versions of himself — of which there had been, to date, four. And he would continue to perform his husband's duties through as many more such agents as he deemed fit. It is easy enough to see where such an attitude might lead: in Paris similarly-minded ladies were attending Black Masses, in Italy they lived in Pre-Raphaelite splendor as the mistresses of archbishops or cardinals. It happened that Victoria was not so exclusive.
She arose and walked down the center aisle to the rear of the church. She'd dipped her fingers in holy water and was about to genuflect when someone collided with her from behind. She turned, startled, to see an elderly man a head shorter than herself, his hands held in front of him, his eyes frightened.
"You are English," he said.
"You must help me. I am in trouble. I can't go to the Consul-General."
He didn't look like a beggar or a hard-up tourist. She was reminded somehow of Goodfellow. "Are you a spy, then?"
The old man laughed mirthlessly. "Yes. In a way I am engaged in espionage. But against my will, you know. I didn't want it this way."
Distraught: "I want to confess, don't you see? I'm in a church, a church is where one confesses ..."
"Come," she whispered.
"Not outside," he said. "The cafes are being watched."
She took his arm. "There is a garden in the back, I think. This way. Through the sacristy."
He let her guide him, docile. A priest was kneeling in the sacristy, reading his breviary. She handed him ten soldi as they passed. He didn't look up. A short groined arcade led into a miniature garden surrounded by mossy stone walls and containing a stunted pine, some grass and a carp pool. She led him to a stone bench by the pool. Rain came over the walls in occasional gusts. He carried a morning newspaper under his arm: now he spread sheets of it over the bench. They sat. Victoria opened her parasol and the old man took a minute lighting a Cavour. He sent a few puffs of smoke out into the rain, and began:
"I don't expect you've ever heard of a place called Vheissu."
She had not.
He started telling her about Vheissu. How it was reached, on camel-back over a vast tundra, past the dolmens and temples of dead cities; finally to the banks of a broad river which never sees the sun, so thickly roofed is it with foliage. The river is traveled in long teak boats which are carved like dragons and paddled by brown men whose language is unknown to all but themselves. In eight days' time there is a portage over a neck of treacherous swampland to a green lake, and across the lake rise the first foothills of the mountains which ring Vheissu. Native guides will only go a short distance into these mountains. Soon they will turn back, pointing out the way. Depending on the weather, it is one to two more weeks over moraine, sheer granite and hard blue ice before the borders of Vheissu are reached.
"Then you have been there," she said.
He had been there. Fifteen years ago. And been fury-ridden since. Even in the Antarctic, huddling in hasty shelter from a winter storm, striking camp high on the shoulder of some as yet unnamed glacier, there would come to him hints of the perfume those people distill from the wings of black moths. Sometimes sentimental scraps of their music would seem to lace the wind; memories of their faded murals, depicting old battles and older love affairs among the gods, would appear without warning in the aurora.
"You are Godolphin," she said, as if she had always known.
He nodded, smiled vaguely. "I hope you are not connected with the press." She shook her head, scattering droplets of rain. "This isn't for general dissemination," he said, "and it may be wrong. Who am I to know my own motives. But I did foolhardy things."
"Brave things," she protested. "I've read about them. In newspapers, in books."
"But things which did not have to be done. The trek along the Barrier. The try for the Pole in June. June down there is midwinter. It was madness."
"It was grand." Another minute, he thought hopelessly, and she'd begin talking about a Union Jack flying over the Pole. Somehow this church towering Gothic and solid over their heads, the quietness, her impassivity, his confessional humor; he was talking too much, must stop. But could not.
"We can always so easily give the wrong reasons," he cried; "can say: the Chinese campaigns, they were for the Queen, and India for some gorgeous notion of Empire. I know. I have said these things to my men, the public, to myself. There are Englishmen dying in South Africa today and about to die tomorrow who believe these words as — I dare say as you believe in God."
She smiled secretly. "And you did not?" she asked gently. She was gazing at the rim of her parasol.
"I did. Until ..."
"But why? Have you never harrowed yourself halfway to — disorder — with that single word? Why." His cigar had gone out. He paused to relight it. "It's not," he continued, "as if it were unusual in any supernatural way. No high priests with secrets lost to the rest of the world, jealously guarded since the dawn of time, generation to generation. No universal cures, nor even panaceas for human suffering. Vheissu is hardly a restful place. There's barbarity, insurrection, internecine feud. It's no different from any other godforsakenly remote region. The English have been jaunting in and out of places like Vheissu for centuries. Except ..."
She had been gazing at him. The parasol leaned against the bench, its handle hidden in the wet grass.
"The colors. So many colors." His eyes were tightly closed, his forehead resting on the bowed edge of one hand. "The trees outside the head shaman's house have spider monkeys which are iridescent. They change color in the sunlight. Everything changes. The mountains, the lowlands are never the same color from one hour to the next. No sequence of colors is the same from day to day. As if you lived inside a madman's kaleidoscope. Even your dreams become flooded with colors, with shapes no Occidental ever saw. Not real shapes, not meaningful ones. Simply random, the way clouds change over a Yorkshire landscape."
She was taken by surprise: her laugh was high and brittle. He hadn't heard. "They stay with you," he went on, "they aren't fleecy lambs or jagged profiles. They are, they are Vheissu, its raiment, perhaps its skin."
"You mean soul don't you. Of course you do. I wondered about the soul of that place. If it had a soul. Because their music, poetry, laws and ceremonies come no closer. They are skin too. Like the skin of a tattooed savage. I often put it that way to myself — like a woman. I hope I don't offend."
"It's all right."
"Civilians have curious ideas about the military, but I expect in this case there's some justice to what they think about us. This idea of the randy young subaltern somewhere out in the back of beyond, collecting himself a harem of dusky native women. I dare say a lot of us have this dream, though I've yet to run across anyone who's realized it. And I won't deny I get to thinking this way myself. I got to thinking that way in Vheissu. Somehow, there —" his forehead furrowed —"dreams are not, not closer to the waking world, but somehow, I think, they do seem more real. Am I making sense to you?"
"Go on." She was watching him, rapt.
"But as if the place were, were a woman you had found somewhere out there, a dark woman tattooed from head to toes. And somehow you had got separated from the garrison and found yourself unable to get back, so that you had to be with her, close to her, day in and day out ..."
"And you would be in love with her."
"At first. But soon that skin, the gaudy godawful riot of pattern and color, would begin to get between you and whatever it was in her that you thought you loved. And soon, in perhaps only a matter of days, it would get so bad that you would begin praying to whatever god you knew of to send some leprosy to her. To flay that tattooing to a heap of red, purple and green debris, leave the veins and ligaments raw and quivering and open at last to your eyes and your touch. I'm sorry." He wouldn't look at her. The wind blew rain over the wall. "Fifteen years. It was directly after we'd entered Khartoum. I'd seen some beastliness in my Oriental campaigning, but nothing to match that. We were to relieve General Gordon — oh you were, I suppose, a chit of a girl then, but you've read about it, surely. What the Mahdi had done to that city. To General Gordon, to his men. I was having trouble with fever then and no doubt it was seeing all the carrion and the waste on top of that. I wanted to get away, suddenly; it was as if a world of neat hollow squares and snappy counter-marching had deteriorated into rout or mindlessness. I'd always had friends on the staffs at Cairo, Bombay, Singapore. And in two weeks this surveying business came up, and I was in. I was always weaseling in, you know, on some show where you wouldn't expect to find naval personnel. This time it was escorting a crew of civilian engineers into some of the worst country on earth. Oh, wild, romantic. Contour lines and fathom-markings, cross-hatchings and colors where before there were only blank spaces on the map. All for the Empire. This sort of thing might have been lurking at the back of my head. But then I only knew I wanted to get away. All very good to be crying St. George and no quarter about the Orient, but then the Mahdist army had been gibbering the same thing, really, in Arabic, and had certainly meant it at Khartoum."
Mercifully, he did not catch sight of her comb.
"Did you get maps of Vheissu?"
He hesitated. "No," he said. "No data ever got back, either to F.O. or to the Geographic Society. Only a report of failure. Bear in mind: It was bad country. Thirteen of us went in and three came out. Myself, my second-in-command, and a civilian whose name I have forgotten and who so far as I know has vanished from the earth without a trace."
"And your second-in-command?"
"He is, he is in hospital. Retired now." There was a silence. "There was never a second expedition," old Godolphin went on. "Political reasons, who could say? No one cared. I got out of it scot-free. Not my fault, they told me. I even received a personal commendation from the Queen, though it was all hushed up."
Victoria was tapping her foot absently. "And all this has some bearing on your, oh, espionage activities at present?"
Suddenly he looked older. The cigar had gone out again. He flung it into the grass; his hand shook. "Yes." He gestured helplessly at the church, the gray walls. "For all I know you might be — I may have been indiscreet."
Realizing that he was afraid of her, she leaned forward, intent. "Those who watch the cafes. Are they from Vheissu? Emissaries?"
The old man began to bite at his nails; slowly and methodically, using the top central and lower lateral incisors to make minute cuts along a perfect arc-segment. "You have discovered something about them," she pleaded, "something you cannot tell." Her voice, compassionate and exasperated, rang out in the little garden. "You must let me help you." Snip, snip. The rain fell off, stopped. "What sort of world is it where there isn't at least one person you can turn to if you're in danger?" Snip, snip. No answer. "How do you know the Consul-General can't help. Please, let me do something." The wind came in, lorn now of rain, over the wall. Something splashed lazily in the pool. The girl continued to harangue old Goldophin as he completed his right hand and switched to his left. Overhead the sky began to darken.
Evan — even the boy — had never pressed his father for details. He had been aware that the expedition was a failure, caught perhaps some sense of personal guilt or agency in the droning, kindly voice which recited those stories. But that was all: he'd asked no questions, had simply sat and listened, as if anticipating that someday he would have to renounce Vheissu and that such renunciation would be simpler if he formed no commitment now. Very well: his father had been undisturbed a year ago, when Evan had last seen him; something must therefore have happened in the Antarctic. Or on the way back. Perhaps here in Florence. Why should the old man have left a note with only his son's name on it? Two possibilities: (a) if it were no note but rather a name-card and Evan the first alias to occur to Captain Hugh, or (b) if he had wished Evan to enter the room. Perhaps both. On a sudden hunch Evan picked up the pair of trousers, began rummaging through the pockets. He came up with three soldi and a cigarette case. Opening the case, he found four cigarettes, all hand-rolled. He scratched his stomach. Words came back to him: unwise to say too much in telegram. He sighed.
"All right then, young Evan," he muttered to himself, "we shall play this thing to the hilt. Enter Godolphin, the veteran spy." Carefully he examined the case for hidden springs: felt along the lining for anything which might have been put underneath. Nothing. He began to search the room, prodding the mattress and scrutinizing it for recently-stitched seams. He combed the armoire, lit matches in dark corners, looked to see if anything was taped to the bottoms of chair seats. After twenty minutes he'd still found nothing and was beginning to feel inadequate as a spy. He threw himself disconsolate into a chair, picked up one of his father's cigarettes, struck a match. "Wait," he said. Shook out the match, pulled a table over, produced a penknife from his pocket and carefully slit each cigarette down the side, brushing the tobacco off onto the floor. On the third try he was successful. Written in pencil on the inside of the cigarette paper was: "Discovered here. Scheissvogel's 10:00 P.M. Be careful. FATHER."
Flesh began to crawl on the back of his neck. He had suddenly got the insane notion they were talking about Vheissu. "If your superiors can give a satisfactory explanation," he said, "I am at your service."
The Gaucho nodded again, grinning.
"Then let us start," the balding man said, "by your telling me all you know about Vheissu."
The Gaucho tugged perplexedly at one ear. Perhaps he had miscalculated, after all. "Venezuela, you mean?"
"I thought we had agreed not to fence. I said Vheissu."
All at once the Gaucho, for the first time since the jungles, felt afraid. When he answered it was with an insolence that rang hollow even to himself. "I know nothing about Vheissu," he said.
The balding man sighed. "Very well." He shuffled papers around on the desk for a moment. "Let us get down to the loathsome business of interrogation." He signaled to the three policemen, who closed swiftly in a triangle around the Gaucho.
He had stepped into the confessional and found himself instead in an oubliette.
He turned right and headed toward the Duomo. Tourists sauntered by, cabs clattered in the street. He felt isolated from a human community — even a common humanity — which he had regarded until recently as little more than a cant concept which liberals were apt to use in making speeches. He watched the tourists gaping at the Campanile; he watched dispassionately without effort, curiously without commitment. He wondered at this phenomenon of tourism: what was it drove them to Thomas Cook & Son in ever-increasing flocks every year to let themselves in for the Campagna's fevers, the Levant's squalor, the septic foods of Greece? To return to Ludgate Circus at the desolate end of every season having caressed the skin of each alien place, a peregrine or Don Juan of cities but no more able to talk of any mistress's heart than to cease keeping that interminable Catalogue, that non picciol' libro. Did he owe it to them, the lovers of skins, not to tell about Vheissu, not even to let them suspect the suicidal fact that below the glittering integument of every foreign land there is a hard dead-point of truth and that in all cases — even England's — it is the same kind of truth, can be phrased in identical words? He had lived with his knowledge since June and that headlong drive for the Pole; was able now to control or repress it almost at will. But the humans — those from whom, prodigal, he had strayed and could expect no future blessing — those four fat schoolmistresses whinnying softly to one another by the south portals of the Duomo, that fop in tweeds and clipped mustaches who came hastening by in fumes of lavender toward God knew what assignation; had they any notion of what inner magnitudes such control must draw on? His own, he knew, were nearly played out.
Signor Mantissa glanced up, startled. "Minghe," he said, seeing Godolphin's grinning face. "The old inglese. Let him in, someone." The florist, red-faced and disapproving, opened the rear door. Godolphin stepped in quickly, the two men embraced, Cesare scratched his head. The florist retreated behind a fan palm after resecuring the door.
"A long way from Port Said," Signor Mantissa said.
"Not so far," Godolphin said, "nor so long."
Here was the sort of friendship which doesn't decay, however gapped it may be over the years with arid stretches of isolation from one another; more significant a renewal of that instant, motiveless acknowledgment of kinship one autumn morning four years back on the coaling piers at the head of the Suez Canal. Godolphin, impeccable in full dress uniform, preparing to inspect his man-o'-war, Rafael Mantissa the entrepreneur, overseeing the embarkation of a fleet of bumboats he'd acquired in a drunken baccarat game in Cannes the month before, had each touched glances and seen immediately in the other an identical uprootedness, a similarly catholic despair. Before they spoke they were friends. Soon they had gone out and got drunk together, told each other their lives; were in fights, found, it seemed, a temporary home in the half-world behind Port Said's Europeanized boulevards. No rot about eternal friendship or blood brotherhood ever needed to be spoken.
"What is it, my friend," Signor Mantissa said now.
"Do you remember, once," Godolphin said, "a place, I told you: Vheissu." It hadn't been the same as telling his son, or the Board of Inquiry, or Victoria a few hours before. Telling Raf had been like comparing notes with a fellow sea dog on a liberty port both had visited.
Signor Mantissa made a sympathetic moue. "That again," he said.
"You have business now. I'll tell you later."
The matter of this English lad, for example: Godolphin, alias Gadrulfi. The Italians claimed they had been unable after an hour of interrogation to extract anything about his father, the naval officer. Yet the first thing the boy had done when they'd finally brought him round to the British Consulate was to ask for Stencil's help in locating old Godolphin. He had been quite ready to answer all inquiries about Vheissu (although he'd done little more than recapitulate information already in F.O.'s possession); he had gratuitously made mention of the rendezvous at Scheissvogel's at ten tonight; in general he'd exhibited the honest concern and bewilderment of any English tourist confronted with a happening outside the ken of his Baedeker or the power of Cook's to deal with it. And this simply did not fit in with the picture Stencil had formed of father and son as cunning arch-professionals. Their employers, whoever they might be (Scheissvogel's was a German beer hall, which might be significant, especially so with Italy a member of the Dreibund), could not tolerate such simplicity. This show was too big, too serious, to be carried out by any but the top men in the field.
The Department had been keeping a dossier on old Godolphin since '84, when the surveying expedition had been all but wiped out. The name Vheissu occurred in it only once, in a secret F.O. memorandum to the Secretary of State for War, a memo condensed from Godolphin's personal testimony. But a week ago the Italian Embassy in London sent round a copy of a telegram which the censor at Florence, after informing the state police, had let go through. The Embassy had included no explanation except for a scribbled note on the copy: "This may be of interest to you. Cooperation to our mutual advantage." It was initialed by the Italian Ambassador. On seeing Vheissu a live file again, Stencil's chief had alerted operatives in Deauville and Florence to keep a close eye on father and son. Inquiries began to be made around the Geographical Society. Since the original had been somehow lost, junior researchers started piecing together the text of Godolphin's testimony at the time of the incident by interviewing all available members of the original Board of Inquiry. The chief had been puzzled that no code was used in the telegram; but it had only strengthened Stencil's conviction that the Department was up against a pair of veterans. Such arrogance, he felt, such cocksureness was exasperating and one hated them for it, but at the same time one was overcome with admiration. Not bothering to use a code was the devil-may-care gesture of the true sportsman.
"Ideas are so novel to them. Once they get hold of one, having the vague idea it is somehow precious, they wish to keep possession of it."
Evan turned slowly to face his companion. "But I do believe them," he said calmly. "Let me tell you. About my father. He would sit in my room, before I went to sleep, and spin yarns about this Vheissu. About the spider-monkeys, and the time he saw a human sacrifice, and the rivers whose fish are sometimes opalescent and sometimes the color of fire. They circle round you when you go in to bathe and dance a kind of elaborate ritual all about, to protect you from evil. And there are volcanoes with cities inside them which once every hundred years erupt into flaming hell but people go to live in them anyway. And men in the hills with blue faces and women in the valleys who give birth to nothing but sets of triplets, and beggars who belong to guilds and hold jolly festivals and entertainments all summer long.
"You know how a boy is. There comes a time for departure, a point where he sees confirmed the suspicion he'd had for some time that his father is not a god, not even an oracle. He sees that he no longer has any right to any such faith. So Vheissu becomes a bedtime story or fairy tale after all, and the boy a superior version of his merely human father.
"I thought Captain Hugh was mad; I would have signed the commitment papers myself. But at Piazza della Signoria 5 I was nearly killed in something that could not have been an accident, a caprice of the inanimate world; and from then till now I have seen two governments hagridden to alienation over this fairy tale or obsession I thought was my father's own. As if this condition of being just human, which had made Vheissu and my boy's love for him a lie, were now vindicating them both for me, showing them to have been truth all along and after all. Because the Italians and the English in those consulates and even that illiterate clerk are all men. Their anxiety is the same as my father's, what is coming to be my own, and perhaps in a few weeks what will be the anxiety of everyone living in a world none of us wants to see lit into holocaust. Call it a kind of communion, surviving somehow on a mucked-up planet which God knows none of us like very much. But it is our planet and we live on it anyway."
"Is it not true, then, that the young Gadrulfi has testified to Herr Stencil that his father believes there to be agents of Vheissu present in this city?"
"Gadrulfi is a florist," said Ferrante impassively, "whom we have under surveillance. He is associated with partners of the Gaucho, an agitator against the legally constituted government of Venezuela. We have followed them to this florist's establishment. You have got your facts confused."
"More likely you and your fellow spies have got your names confused. I suppose you are maintaining as well this ridiculous fiction that Vheissu is a code name for Venezuela."
"That is the way it appears in our files."
"You are clever, Ferrante. You trust no one."
He shrugged. "Can I afford to?"
"I suppose not. Not when a barbaric and unknown race, employed by God knows whom, are even now blasting the Antarctic ice with dynamite, preparing to enter a subterranean network of natural tunnels, a network whose existence is known only to the inhabitants of Vheissu, the Royal Geographic Society in London, Herr Godolphin, and the spies of Florence."
Ferrante stood suddenly breathless. She was paraphrasing the secret memorandum Stencil had sent back to London not an hour ago.
"Having explored the volcanoes of their own region," she went on, "certain natives of the Vheissu district were the first to become aware of these tunnels, which lace the earth's interior at depths varying —"
"Aspetti!" Ferrante cried. "You are raving."
"Tell the truth," she said sharply. "Tell me what Vheissu is really the code name for. Tell me, you idiot, what I already know: that it stands for Vesuvius." She cackled horribly.
He did not, he realized, have to ask for explanation: wouldn't have to stammer, how did you meet my father, how did you know I was here, that I would be released? It was as if what he'd said to the Gaucho, back in their cell, had been like confession; an acknowledgment of weakness; as if the Gaucho's silence in turn had served as absolution, redeeming the weakness, propelling him suddenly into the trembling planes of a new kind of manhood. He felt that belief in Vheissu gave him no right any more to doubt as arrogantly as he had before, that perhaps wherever he went from now on he would perform like penance a ready acceptance of miracles or visions such as this meeting at the crossroads seemed to him to be. They began to walk. She tucked her hands around his bicep.
From his slight elevation he noted an ornate ivory comb, sunk to the armpits in her hair. Faces, helmets, arms linked: crucified? He blinked closer at the faces. All looked drawn-down by the weight of the bodies beneath: but seemed to grimace more by convention — with an Eastern idea of patience — than with any more explicit or Caucasian pain. What a curious girl it was beside him. He was about to use the comb for a conversational opening when she spoke.
"How strange tonight, this city. As if something trembled below its surface, waiting to burst through."
"Oh I've felt it. I think to myself: we are not, any of us, in the Renaissance at all. Despite the Fra Angelicos, the Titians, Botticellis; Brunelleschi church, ghosts of the Medici. It is another time. Like radium, I expect: they say radium changes, bit by bit, over unimaginable spaces of time, to lead. A glow about old Firenze seems to be missing, seems more a leaden gray."
"Perhaps the only radiance left is in Vheissu."
He looked down at her. "How odd you are," he said. "I almost feel you know more than I about the place."
She pursed her lips. "Do you know how I felt when I spoke with him? As if he'd told me the same stories he told you when you were a boy, and I had forgotten them, but needed only to see him, hear his voice, for all the memories to come rushing back undecayed."
He smiled. "That would make us brother and sister."
She didn't answer. They turned into Via Porta Rosa. Tourists were thick in the streets. Three rambling musicians, guitar, violin and kazoo, stood on a corner, playing sentimental airs.
"Perhaps we are in limbo," he said. "Or like the place we met: some still point between hell and purgatory. Strange there's no Via del Paradiso anywhere in Florence."
"Perhaps nowhere in the world."
Old Godolphin and Rafael Mantissa sat out in back in the garden, at a small table, while the wind from the river played chilly about their mouths and the wheeze of the band frolicked about their ears, more absolutely alone, it seemed to them, than anyone else in the city.
"Am I not your friend?" Signor Mantissa pleaded. "You must tell me. Perhaps, as you say, you have wandered outside the world's communion. But haven't I as well? Have I not been ripped up by the roots, screaming like the mandrake, transplanted from country to country only to find the soil arid, or the sun unfriendly, the air tainted? Whom should you tell this terrible secret to if not to your brother?"
"Perhaps to my son," said Godolphin.
"I never had a son. But isn't it true that we spend our lives seeking for something valuable, some truth to tell to a son, to give to him with love? Most of us aren't as lucky as you, perhaps we have to be torn away from the rest of men before we can have such words to give to a son. But it has been all these years. You can wait a few minutes more. He will take your gift and use it for himself, for his own life. I do not malign him. It is the way a younger generation acts: that, simply. You, as a boy, probably bore away some such gift from your own father, not realizing that it was still as valuable to him as it would be to you. But when the English speak of 'passing down' something from one generation to another, it is only that. A son passes nothing back up. Perhaps this is a sad thing, and not Christian, but it has been that way since time out of mind, and will never change. Giving, and giving back, can be only between you and one of your own generation. Between you and Mantissa, your dear friend."
The old man shook his head, half-smiling; "It isn't so much, Raf, I've grown used to it. Perhaps you will find it not so much."
"Perhaps. It is difficult to understand how an English explorer thinks. Was it the Antarctic? What sends the English into these terrible places?"
Godolphin stared at nothing. "I think it is the opposite of what sends English reeling all over the globe in the mad dances called Cook's tours. They want only the skin of a place, the explorer wants its heart. It is perhaps a little like being in love. I had never penetrated to the heart of any of those wild places, Raf. Until Vheissu. It was not till the Southern Expedition last year that I saw what was beneath her skin."
"What did you see?" asked Signor Mantissa, leaning forward.
"Nothing," Godolphin whispered. "It was Nothing I saw." Signor Mantissa reached out a hand to the old man's shoulder. "Understand," Godolphin said, bowed and motionless, "I had been tortured by Vheissu for fifteen years. I dreamed of it, half the time I lived in it. It wouldn't leave me. Colors, music, fragrances. No matter where I got assigned, I was pursued by memories. Now I am pursued by agents. That feral and lunatic dominion cannot afford to let me escape.
"Raf, you will be ridden by it longer than I. I haven't much time left. You must never tell anyone, I won't ask for your promise; I take that for granted. I have done what no man has done. I have been at the Pole."
"The Pole. My friend. Then why have we not —"
"Seen it in the press. Because I made it that way. They found me, you remember, at the last depot, half dead and snowed in by a blizzard. Everyone assumed I had tried for the Pole and failed. But I was on my way back. I let them tell it their way. Do you see? I had thrown away a sure knighthood, rejected glory for the first time in my career, something my son has been doing since he was born. Evan is rebellious, his was no sudden decision. But mine was, sudden and necessary, because of what I found waiting for me at the Pole."
Two carabinieri and their girls arose from a table and weaved arm-in-arm out of the garden. The band began to play a sad waltz. Sounds of carousing in the beer hall floated out to the two men. The wind blew steady, there was no moon. The leaves of trees whipped to and fro like tiny automata.
"It was a foolish thing," Godolphin said, "what I did. There was nearly a mutiny. After all, one man, trying for the Pole, in the dead of winter. They thought I was insane. Possibly I was, by that time. But I had to reach it. I had begun to think that there, at one of the only two motionless places on this gyrating world, I might have peace to solve Vheissu's riddle. Do you understand? I wanted to stand in the dead center of the carousel, if only for a moment; try to catch my bearings. And sure enough: waiting for me was my answer. I'd begun to dig a cache nearby, after planting the flag. The barrenness of that place howled around me, like a country the demiurge had forgotten. There could have been no more entirely lifeless and empty place anywhere on earth. Two or three feet down I struck clear ice. A strange light, which seemed to move inside it, caught my attention. I cleared a space away. Staring up at me through the ice, perfectly preserved, its fur still rainbow-colored, was the corpse of one of their spider monkeys. It was quite real; not like the vague hints they had given me before. I say 'they had given.' I think they left it there for me. Why? Perhaps for some alien, not-quite-human reason that I can never comprehend. Perhaps only to see what I would do. A mockery, you see: a mockery of life, planted where everything but Hugh Godolphin was inanimate. With of course the implication ... It did tell me the truth about them. If Eden was the creation of God, God only knows what evil created Vheissu. The skin which had wrinkled through my nightmares was all there had ever been. Vheissu itself, a gaudy dream. Of what the Antarctic in this world is closest to: a dream of annihilation."
Signor Mantissa looked disappointed. "Are you sure, Hugh? I have heard that in the polar regions men, after long exposure, see things which —"
"Does it make any difference?" Godolphin said. "If it were only a hallucination, it was not what I saw or believed I saw that in the end is important. It is what I thought. What truth I came to."
Signor Mantissa shrugged helplessly. "And now? Those who are after you?"
"Think I will tell. Know I have guessed the meaning of their clue, and fear I will try to publish it. But dear Christ, how could I? Am I mistaken, Raf? I think it must send the world mad. Your eyes are puzzled. I know. You can't see it yet. But you will. You are strong. It will hurt you no more — "he laughed — "than it has hurt me." He looked up, over Signor Mantissa's shoulder. "Here is my son. The girl is with him."
What sort of mistress, then, would Venus be? What outlying worlds would he conquer in their headlong, three-in-the-morning excursions away from the cities of sleep? What of her God, her voice, her dreams? She was already a goddess. She had no voice he could ever hear. And she herself (perhaps even her native demesne?) was only ...
A gaudy dream, a dream of annihilation. Was that what Godolphin had meant? Yet she was no less Rafael Mantissa's entire love.