08 April 2012

Out Walking

I'm reading Open City, that overpraised, Sebald Lite book by Teju Cole. It makes me want to reread Sebald and to walk around remembering.

One of the not terribly many things that I miss about Seattle is the saunter from my apartment in Fremont down to Green Lake and back. It was dance music on my headphones, pretty dogs out strolling and just the right stretch for my legs--a near certain activity on a nice weekend afternoon. Here in Oakland the sunny days are more numerous and the best walks are unknown. 

Given my strong preference to travel in loops rather than straight back the way I came, I have to decide how to travel to Lake Temescal (the appropriate theme music "Circle in My Hand" has been downloaded). Such decisions are immediately cast in the light of the Méséglise and Guermantes Ways that are so crucial to Proust's Swann's Way. Do I take the direct but freeway-adjacent Broadway or the windier, longer, but more appealingly named Broadway Terrace? Which route will have the most water lilies?

You'll note I've already put down Cole and approved of Sebald and Proust, so you may now call me an elitist snob (and be correct) but I absolutely think of the Méséglise Way and Guermantes Way each time I start on a constitutional. So there. And it turns out that, to better match the Third Republic era of In Search of Lost Time, neither path I take is entirely paved. 

I decide to save "the Terrace Way" for the second leg. The purpose of my trip to the lake is to find out if this is the kind of park with sprightly children playing soccer or the kind of park with different ethnic groups sport drinking and throwing firecrackers at each other's faces. This Sunday it's the former. I've decided to rename Temescal Brown Lake, as its color is better suited to a river.

Around the bend from charred hot dog picnic and some browsing white beaked geese is a wonderful scene. There's a girl with black hair flat-ironed to a high gloss picking up her feet like a pony and sinking her heels in the lakeside mud. The boy determined to kiss her moves like a shorter boxer who gets inside his opponent's reach and works from below. He sneaks in one peck and smiles to the oiled ends of his grown out, two-toned fauxhawk. As I pass I can't help myself from smiling at them, and I can almost always help myself.

To help the moment last I take the next available seat on a highbacked stone bench. Mr. Cole, take us away with some unrepentant cliché from the beginning of Chapter 17:

In the spring, life came back into the earth's body. I went to a picnic in Central Park with friends, and we sat under magnolias that had already lost their white flowers. Nearby were the cherry trees, which, leaning across the wire fence behind us, were aflame with pink blossom. Nature is infinitely patient, one thing lives after another has given way; the magnolia's blooms die just as the cherry's come to life.

You can give me the "Cole is just writing the thoughts of a straightforward Nigerian doctor" excuse but I don't buy it. There's nothing original there in imagery, diction or sentiment (that this passage comes directly after an unoriginal meditation on gold Buddhas doesn't help). And the "aflame" is unpardonable. 

As a palette cleanser I read an essay in n+1 (by Mark Grief no less! (about Stanley Clavell no less!)). I find it such slow going that I start to worry about how pink my forehead is getting. The only thing that I really enjoy about the piece is the fact that a 17-year-old Grief found the frozen stones at the entrance of a Harvard lecture hall quite slippery. I coast away from the lake having decided it's too small--I went twice around too quickly.

I'd compare the flowers on my walk back to Proust's hawthorns if I knew exactly what hawthorns looked like. The most stimulating colors are the orange poppy blossoms and red-orange toyon berries that lend curb appeal to Spanish-style houses executed with varying degrees of success across this neighborhood and thousands of others in the state.

California poppies make me chortle because, as an elementary school student kicking my way through a landscaped embankment, a school administrator told me it was illegal to kill a poppy because it was the state flower. Though I was never arrested.

I'm forced into the street to navigate around a substantial broken branch. I think of a man whom I'd met a couple of times at literary occasions in Seattle who was struck and killed by a tree limb while walking his dog in a windstorm. A man taken by what you could only call the hand of god. It seems to me more disturbing than a murder--nothing to lock away. Just the thought that if he'd only stepped out two seconds later...

At the bottom of the hill is a bicyclist collapsed on the ground, her lime green helmet set to the side of her head. A group of riders forms a semi-circle around her, dealing hard looks to every passing driver besides the gentleman who pulls the ambulance alongside them in the eucalyptus shade.

It's better to admire the pastels and putts at the Claremont Country Club. At one time I spent enough time golfing that I could shoot as reliably in the low 90s as my father could shoot in the high 70s.

Late in the last August I was compelled to spend with him I set up in the number 10 tee box of our regular course. I would most often hit a semi-controlled hook that I would, at best, start towards the righthand rough and pull all the way over to the left. But when I really caught a drive it would shoot straight, fading right only at the last. I pounded one of these grownup drives almost to the green of the short, doglegged par 4 and exhaled with too much satisfaction for my dad. He stood over his ball, flexing his shoulders and waggling his wooden-headed driver (even then it was almost inconceivable to see a serious golfer swinging such an old-fashioned club but he liked the superior control of steel shafts and wood heads). He flushed it, of course, his Slazenger bouncing a few yards past mine as he met my eyes.

"Not yet."

As I round the last corners home I listen to "Mama's Eyes" by Justin Townes Earle: "I went down the same road as my old man / but I was younger then." He's 60 this week. Which means I'm just about 30.