i just got back from boulder, co. whenever i travel to places where i know almost no-one, my trips end up being more about books read than things done. this time, the trip was bookended by barry lopez's crossing open ground and fernando pessoa's the book of disquiet. fittingly, i'd purchased the book of disquiet while deeply introspective in rio de janeiro. the streets were full of people with whom i couldn't speak, the sun had set and it was dusky as only the tropics can be, and there was mist of rain wetting the stone pavements. there was really no recourse but to seek the solace of books; in the traveler's library many others had clearly had the same idea. the wide, open expanses of colorado seemed particularly suited to lopez, who writes about light, space, and time, and what happens when we forget about them. over lunch one of the days, jeff mentioned that he'd once driven down to horseshoe canyon and was stopped abruptly on the trail by an enormous cliff face covered in ancient petroglyphs from the archaic culture -- the great gallery; on the flight from LAX to denver, i'd begun reading lopez's essay on a stone horse (built in the same way as, but on a much smaller scale than, the nazca plateau figures). he writes
I traversed the stone plain as directed, but, in spite of the frankness of the land, I came on the horse unawares. In the first moment of recognition I was without feeling. I recalled later being startled, and that I held my breath. It was laid out on the ground with its head to the east, three times life size. As I took in its outline I felt a growing concentration of all my senses, as though my attentiveness to the pale rose color of the morning sky and other peripheral images had now ceased.
we felt much the same way last june when we made it, finally, to the top ridgeline of packer's peak. we'd spent the morning clearing brush and fixing plumbing down at big flat, and then took off at noon for the mountain. for a long stretch of the uphill, it was switchbacks through dense coniferous forest; my breath only came in short gasps. then we broke through the treeline and into a long path that sloped away and up the side of the mountain through a field of gravel and small rocks. luminous fence lizards sat on rocks and branches and watched us pass. at the top, the snow had not yet melted from the winter, and a bottle of water thrust into the snowbank became cold in minutes; the sun was light, clear, and penetrating. squinting against the brightness, we could see to the north and east the cone of mount shasta and, in the distant south, the haze of san francisco.
on thursday, after a short nap, i walked out into a warm boulder night to find dinner. the pearl street mall is almost too well-curated to be true -- it seethes with prosperous, healthy, happy people and galleries of conceptual art. eventually, i was drawn back to the kitchen, which seemed a good place for pessoa. the dining room was whitewashed exposed brick, and it was full of people and talk. i sat at the bar in a pool of light. when they brought the basket of bread and the triangle of butter, i'd just read this
I look again, with real terror, at the panorama of those lives and, just as I'm about to feel horror, sorrow and revulsion for them, discover that the people who feel no horror or sorrow or revulsion are the very people who have the most right to, the people living those lives. That is the central error of the literary imagination: the idea that other people are like us and must therefore feel like us. Fortunately for humanity, each man is only himself and only the genius is given the ability to be others as well.
when the food came out, i gave up on pessoa: it was a pork chop an inch and a half thick, on a bed of cabbage, onion marmalade, and soft polenta. a glass of grenache/syrah, spicy, to go with -- i especially liked it that the bar recommended the cheaper wine. then yukon gold potato doughnuts fragrant with lemon and orange zest, with a steaming cup of spiced hot chocolate alongside for dipping. the napkins were freshly-laundered cotton kitchen towels with the pale blue stripe, the chairs were those aluminum ones, you know the kind, and the bar was long, thick planks of reclaimed pine, full of nail holes and splits, embedded in polished casting resin.