Friday, July 21, 2006

Borges and I

The great Jorge Luis Borges usually begins thusly:

"As everybody knows, the Fourteenth Caliph of Malabar, Akbar III, was greatly distressed upon finding on the road to Khartoum, a certain spiritual desolation. "It has been forteeen days since I have purified myself with dung. My enemy has entrapped me in a labyrinth, and it is only through prayer that my god can help me."

I am parodying the master, of course, but how deftly can the late Mr. Borges describe some labyrinth we find ourselves in.

Well, in Mexico, finding myself in a labyrinth partly set up by an increasingly rebellious wife and her lover, I went to purify myself not in a dungheap, but a hot spring. The hot springs of Tabuada.

I had been warned about the Mexican quest. This was no journey through Hindustan, nor a fabulous allegory of
Borges.
I met in Mexico a man who claimed he swatted flies once for Howard Hughes. I wondered about his advice, as the lawyers for Hughes proved him a liar. Here is what he told me:

"There are only two choices for you here in Mexico, this apparently sleepy but dangerous country: A woman or a bottle."

I took both.

She was lying face down on her terrycloth towel, a breeze toying with her fine blonde hair. I reached out to stroke that hair, so spanking clean and the woman turned to face me with her full pale blue eyes, wide apart and a little crazy, the high California cheekbones and a mouth as wide and pretty as an idyll's.

We were lying in the grass before a Mexican spa, one of a dozen in the central plateau, the hot springs of Tabuada, lush and tropical in a benign late- February sun.
Before us steamed a pool, hot as a bathtub, fat old tourists squatting therein like latterday versions of souls being cleansedin Dante's purgatory.

What a far cry this was from frosty Canada, from the sense of hopelessness and death the comes every February, when nothing seems to break the gloom, the threatening darkness, the pallor of one's skin. Canadians are more like Finns and Norwegians, not at all in temperament like the "slow Americans" that someone labelled them.

Like the Finn, the Canadian drinks to excess in the course of a long and oppressive winter; he entertains gloomy and destructive thoughts on the worst of the snowy or slushy days, building up a slow, smoldering resentment agains on's wife, one's children, one's dog.

I hope I didn't come to Mexico just to escape winters, I was thinking, my close study of Borgesian texts not meaning very much at all. How I had longed to be a Borges scholar, Borges, who can say more in a paragaph than a whole novel, doing this as if the novel already existed and he was making brief commentaries.

"I love you," I am saying to the bikini-clad long-legged, slightly knockneed but pert form lying beside me, and I play with her hair. I am, I know, perhaps the thirtieth lover. Times change. This is not the Fifties, where an entire generation seems to have spent its life in a penal colony.

But tonight there will be this new me, this Pierry Trudeau, getting his blowjob from Margaret, as the CBC so artistically portrayed in a Trudeau documentary aired just yesterday. Who cared who had come before me, and who will come after me. Sanity right now was balance, and balance was a woman. And later that evening, there would be the bottle.

I felt myself still in a labyrith though, and it would be quite some time before I got out.

"Go home, go home to L, said Clifford Irving.

Yet the labyrinth was so intricate that I found myself dreaming of rooms within rooms, dreams of the past, dreams of the future where entire families of gorgons wanted to stare me into dry ice.

It was not until I got back to Canada, recovering in a place that had all the warmth and security of a madhouse, that I would have to fashion a straight labyrinth, the deadliest kind to wreak upon my enemy.

Not for nothing was Akbar mentioned by Borges.
Not for nothing did I have to purify myself with...dung.

5 comments:

DoubtingThomas said...

Your words are very evocative, IP. When you relate your time in Mexico, I think of Malcolm Lowry and Paul Rimstead, both travelers in that sleepy and dangerous country. Maybe you are under, not a volcano, but a funnel cloud?

Now, about the dung....

ivan said...

Tom,
Funny you should mention Paul Rimstead again.
He did indeed visit the hot springs
of Tabuada and actually wrote about the experience for the SUN.
Not sure it was l979?
I have give Tabuada a mystical cast, while Rimstead just saw it as a pretty good little spa.
It was in one of his columns just before his untimely death.

Malcolm Lowry was a genius.
Compared to him, I roll in shit.

Family motto: Semper in Excreta.

ivan said...

Doubting Thomas:
A bit more on my fascination with Borges. Other writers may be intrigued by Borges finding libraries to be labyrinths, just as books themselves were labyrinths--he didn't live long enought to see the Web--and there is a quote of his that certainly applied to one of my manuscripts.

Borges: No one realized that the book and the labyrinth were one and the same."

...No wonder I kept getting stuck in the middle of my "Hat People", a book partially on the Bildebergers and other secret societies. I was entering a labyrinth that soon began to affect my entire life. The writing bug. A fine madness.

Maybe we should leave literature alone?
But then Borges was brave enough to face the ineffable, even though, eventually, he was blinded.
Maybe some things should be left alone?
Messing with the kaballah and invoking the various names of God.
Scary stuff.
Good thing I'm a lightweight.

DoubtingThomas said...

Borges again. Not accessible by me at the local library, but can be ordered. Lots of books about hockey though. (the horror!) Have a few irons in the fire right now, but will pursue Senor Borges in the fall. Because you have piqued my curiosity. Ivan the teacher.

You have touched briefly on the matter of the ethos of Northern peoples. Brooding, standoffish, ultimately self-destructive. The winter brings discontent? Winter curling and curling winter? "Hurry hard!" Introspection. What then of Northern people who migrate to Southern climes? Cohen went to Greece to create, so did Haney and Abbott, proving it was not a trivial pursuit. Uber migrations; you can't drive to Greece, you can drive to Mexico.

You hint at the internet as being a labyrinth. One of the finest, perhaps. It's all in the mind, after all.

ivan said...

Q.E.D.