|This sort of thing takes a deal of training
|Norman Wisdom, "The Joker"|
It does not seem that I slept enough last night to be of any creative use, so instead I am noting random things between Minneapolis and Vancouver.
[Interspersed with commentary now that I am in Vancouver, hoping to lure Mike's cat out from under his bed.]
I hate the atmosphere of air travel. I don't like to shower more than once at night, because my hair takes so long to dry, but the combination of antiseptic office dry-cleaning with other people's inescapably recirculating scents at a temperature higher than my own body heat always leaves me feeling that I have been saran-wrapped in lard. I am hoping it will be raining in Vancouver. [Ave Maria Imbrium, it was and still is: raw, cold, autumnal rain. It was wonderful. Currently I have the fire going for warmth, but I may turn it off and open some windows. I am only sorry it's not a lightning storm.] The inside of my sinuses is an appalling place right now.
I don't believe I've been out of the country since 2004. When they handed around the customs cards, I had to think about whether a homemade ham and cheese sandwich needed to be declared under "meat/meat products; dairy products"—I wondered whether if the answer was yes, it would be cheating to eat it before the plane landed.
[Apparently no one cared. Also it turned out to be irrelevant: Mike met me at the airport and because I had been in one form of transit or another for twelve hours straight, took me to dinner at Dharma Kitchen on West Broadway, a vegan restaurant where I obtained a rice bowl with tempeh, beansprouts, carrots, cucumbers, and spicy peanut sauce. It vanished with mysterious rapidity. I had resigned myself to not being able to try their chai with black pepper and lemongrass when the waiter informed me it was entirely without caffeine . . . I am carnivorous, and I am considering a second visit before I leave.]
The foreword to the Paris Press edition tells me that Bryher wrote Visa for Avalon (1965) out of her experiences aiding refugees in World War II, but to me the novel looks like the first ancestor of M. John Harrison's Egnaro or Viriconium—the country of the fantastic exists, but it is subject to the same banalities and bureaucracies as the fields we know, all the more painfully when we are trying to get there from here. In the vague near future, an equally vague, ominously totalitarian "Movement" has gone overnight from grassroots organization to governmental coup; the plot follows a small but growing group of characters over the course of an increasingly dangerous week as they make, separately or together, the decision to emigrate not to New Zealand or America, but to the much more mysterious, much more magnetic Avalon. None of them have any idea what they'll find there. "The sailors used to talk about it when I came here as a boy. There was a story that nobody who landed there ever returned."—"If I were younger there are other places I might go but as it is, I had better try Avalon. They are not so fussy there about age." Arthurian readers will recognize the ambiguity. Geoffrey of Monmouth had his once and future king go to Avalon to be healed, but in Malory he died among the apple trees there. At the same time, the island employs a consulate that is just as drab, tiring, and quotidian as anything in the British civil service; applying for a visa, Robinson is appalled at the forms in triplicate and the chocolate-colored linoleum on the floor. "Was even Avalon worth this squalid moment of anxiety in a despoiled and hideous room? . . . It was stupid of him, but he had expected the Avalon procedure to be different." His Avalon-born friend, Alex, who turns out to be one of the consular staff, is much more ambivalent about returning to his homeland than any of the English characters about leaving theirs. It is he who speculates bitterly, on being told that their office cannot provide visas for all who need them, that "perhaps Avalon itself is obsolete." And then what does it mean that Avalon is closing down its consulate in London ("the City")? Is this merely diplomatic self-protection in the face of nascent chaos? Is the magic gone out of Britain? I can think of few fantasies that deal so much with roadblocks and passports and checkpoints and queues, with only a single ambiguous glimpse of what might be heaven-haven or the land of the dead or—who knows, they have airstrips and filing cabinets—maybe only another country, no stranger than anywhere else on the map. "But I want to go to Avalon more than I have wanted anything in my life." It is not conventionally reassuring, but it is correct that we never learn what happens to the speaker of this statement when he gets there.
[I got to Vancouver.]