Let the world dawn on you (influences pt. 2)
I know the houses too. As I walk along they seem to run forward in the streets to look out at me from every window, and almost to say: "Good-morning! How do you do? I am quite well, thank God, and I am to have a new storey in May," or, "How are you? I am being redecorated tomorrow"; or, "I was almost burnt down and had such a fright," and so on.
I have my favourites among them, some are dear friends; one of them intends to be treated by an architect this summer. I shall go every day on purpose to see that the operation is not a failure. God forbid! But I shall never forget an incident with a very pretty little house of a light pink colour. It was such a charming little brick house, it looked so hospitably at me, and so proudly at its ungainly neighbours, that my heart rejoiced whenever I happened to pass it. Suddenly last week I walked along the street, and when I looked at my friend I heard a plaintive, "They are painting me yellow!" The villains! The barbarians! They had spared nothing, neither columns, nor cornices, and my poor little friend was as yellow as a canary. It almost made me bilious. And to this day I have not had the courage to visit my poor disfigured friend, painted the colour of the Celestial Empire.
— Dostoyevsky, White Nights
For many years, to save money, I rented rooms in other people’s houses. Some years were with a lady who lodged me in the sky-lit attic of her Victorian home.
One summer she also housed a sculptor from Greece. On the first morning, after breakfast, this old sculptor said to me simply: “We must go to Wal Mart.” He stressed both syllables of the name. He said it in such a way that I couldn’t tell if he was pleading or stating a fact. Why? I asked. Perhaps we can find what he needed somewhere closer. Was it a toothbrush or something like that?
“We must go to Wal Mart,” he considered the words as he said them, “for atmosphere.”
Everything is an atmosphere. His accent was an atmosphere, so way his way of thinking. Later he asked me to take him to a large flea market, so he could look at all the tools and little objects. By then I understood.
~ ~ ~
I am very affected by place. Actually, I think everyone is. Landscapes, architecture, the sounds of the world — crickets, goldfinches, the nighttime chorus of frogs, cups moving in a cafe, voices, the silence of winter, horns, sirens (both kinds), department store music — these all act on us. The vista, the drop ceiling, the marble arch, candlelight, parking lot fluorescence on wet asphalt — every experience twists and turns our mood, if only a little. The right time and place can even change experiences to make a typically unpleasant sensation pleasant again. Who hasn’t found the right time to really enjoy gas station coffee? (4am, November, you are about to ascend Mt. Lafayette)
Does the ceiling matter?
Places accumulate upon us. Every thing you do or experience repeatedly can become a ritual, whether you notice or not. We have more of these unintentional rituals than we realize, and not all of them are appealing. City people sometimes strike me as especially anxious, and this is no surprise: they must always be locking doors, locking bikes, keeping a watch over their belongings in public. They are required to guard themselves in a world that is less still and more loud. They grow their arrays of defense. This defense is not without its uses! But the rituals change you.