Monday, October 27, 2014


In his autobiographical memoir, Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov, (my obsession for whom predates my current one for Andre Aciman), says, " One is always at home in one's past...." Andre Aciman, in "Becket's Winter" (from his collection of essays, "False Papers") speaks about the lie of the memory:
"... all we have in the end is ourself, our loneliness – not even our memories but how they've lied to us...."

Earlier in that same piece, Aciman includes a 17-line single sentence worthy of Proust, but infinitely easier to follow. After seeing the film, "Becket," for the first time as a teenager in Alexandria, he viewed the film countless times, in three other countries and in my three favorite languages, French, English, and Italian. The last few words of the long sentence I mention state that, like King Henry in the movie, "... I, too, one day would have to learn to be alone again, but in the end the work of memory is the work of loneliness."

I tend to feel very in tune with what Aciman says about most things, and I have loved teaching both the text of Anouilh's play, "Becket" and the film version. But with respect to memory as a lie and as the work of loneliness, I'm not so sure. 

Take this "unloved" kaki/cachi (pronounced cah-kee) fruit, for example. No one can even settle on a spelling for it. I found it along with three others in the discounted, bumped-and-dented, past-prime section of our local market. 

If you think you've seen this bowl before, you're right. It was featured in the August 2012 post  A TRIUMVIRATE OF PEACHES:THIS IS A CONTEST!

I also call it an unloved fruit because of how many ghostly, frosted ones I see abandoned, hanging from the trees every winter in Umbria. (Now that I think of it, I saw a kaki tree for the first time on the property of a friend in France. The name sounds unfortunately like the French word, "caca," and my friend seemed to think it about as desirable.) At first I had mistaken these orange globes for magic lanterns.

But when we needed a tree to anchor a rocky landscape feature on the property of our renovated ruin in Umbria, the architect suggested a kaki, which she considered beautiful in every season--especially in autumn after its colorful leaves have fallen around the base of the tree.

Our own fledgling kaki, now age 5, has not done so well, but I'm not giving up on it, even though it hasn't born any fruit. Further, I've not yet been here at the right time to see those beautiful colored leaves on the ground.

Despite all this evidence of potential unlovable-ness, it was only today, when I was eating this perfectly ripe fruit that I had a flashback to my first encounter with a kaki.

My doctor dad was the eldest son of Russian immigrants who had a tiny corner grocery store in Minnesota. His self-effacing, scholarly father worked as a grocer, but his hobby was translating Shakespeare into Yiddish. While helping out in the store when he was a kid, my dad gained some knowledge about fruits, and many years later, wanted to teach me about the joy of a ripe persimmon. But in his excitement, he rushed to cut into it only to discover it wasn't fully ready. We were both disappointed--he because he had wanted to share something delicious, and I because although I could sense it, I didn't know what I was missing.

The pungent taste of an unripe persimmon is unloveable, indeed, but the one I had today was sublime. As Shakespeare put it, "ripeness is all."

Even many decades later, I can still taste that first acrid bite and feel the truth of this memory. And rather than it making me feel lonely, I feel happy to have had this moment of reconnection with my elusive father, who left for good 3 decades ago.

The lie of memory? Memory as the work of loneliness? Did that memory return because I needed a reminder of my father?

While waiting for my kaki tree to fruit, I intend to think about this a bit more.

Envoyé de mon Di-phone !

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