One wintry December day I was in Paris and I had taken a walk along the Seine. I had walked from rue de Grenell to Pont d’Alma and along the river in the direction of Pont Alexandre. It had been raining. It was cold and grey and slightly blustery. I had considered going back to the apartment as early in the walk as the point at which I had first gotten to the river. But I had decided to keep going.
As I came to Pont Alexandre I had stopped to evaluate the effects of the gray day on the gilt work of the bridge’s sculptures and then I had taken a few pictures in an attempt to document what I had seen. As I had expected, the giant golden men shone with the same sort of glow that they had on sunny days. The intensity was just slightly attenuated in the greyness. They seemed to glow in a manner that might have been independent of light conditions.
As I was standing there looking at the bridge, looking at the water and looking at the golden giants my gaze wandered around to the right in the direction of les Invalides, and as I had looked in that direction I had happened to glance down at the ground. The walkway bordering the seawall and its concrete guard rail at that place was made up of the flint gravel that makes up so many of the walkways in Paris. Because of the rain the gravel had turned to a kind of tan colored muddy mixture of small pieces of flint, flint gravel and water. There were highpoints where the mixture became damp, almost wet sandy flint hummocks and low points that could be best described as flint gravel mud puddles. In one of the puddles was something that for some reason had caught my attention. It was black, about the size of a golf ball, but irregularly shaped, and appeared to have a husk or rind that had been partially split with the split showing a crease of creamy white material extruding from the split. It was one of the last of the season’s chestnuts. It was one that had somehow avoided the street sweepers or the traffic or – early in its life on the ground – the questing hands of children collecting the briefly shiny brown prizes of autumn. It was just lying there looking rather forlorn. At least it had looked forlorn to someone to whom the chestnut in all its cyclical forms had constituted a symbol of something transitional, transitory, acceleratingly fleeting and everlastingly significant. With a certain pang of sadness I had walked on, and the day had fled as all days fled – more swiftly than its predecessor.
That night I had periods of sleep interrupted by periods of wakefulness. I had learned in the early years of the mixture of sleep and wake that had taken over my night times, to read during the waking periods.
Those wakeful periods had constituted a huge amount of time available for someone who was a slow reader, who loved to read and who had possessed a reading list probably longer that his expected lifespan.
That night I had been reading Thomas Hardy.
My sleeping periods by that point in my life had begun to be filled with a jumble of dreams, semi-awake thoughts and impressions and semi-asleep memories lapsing into dreams. The jumble always was an absolutely bizarre mix of real and unreal, of plausible and patently beyond possibility and – as had become the case in times of less deep sleep than even the broken sleep that had become normal for me – an additional and enhanced blend of thoughts, things and pictures from the day just past.
That night had become one of those enhanced jumbles.
In one of the waking interludes I had decided to enhance my reading experience by having a glass of calvados. After an hour or so of reading and sipping, that routine had been so pleasant that I poured a second glass of calvados. As was always the case when I read at night in bed I had begun to become pleasantly drowsy – oddly, the calvados had extended the non-drowsy period substantially beyond the norm - and I had put the book away and had lapsed back into the sleep and its associated jumble.Somewhere on toward dawn, but when it was still dark I had awakened again, or had thought that I had awakened. I had just emerged from a strain of the enhanced dream jumble that had been so compelling – about something – that I couldn’t make tangible – that I had felt an overwhelming urge to add to the critical mass of the tale that I had been assembling since it had started under similar circumstances a year earlier. I was so ready to write that I didn’t take the time to boot the computer. I didn’t have time to wait for that process. I grabbed a ballpoint and my ever-present yellow lined tablet and had started writing. When I had finished writing I had gone back to bed and slept more deeply and for a longer period than I had for a long time. When I finally awoke in the middle of a Paris morning it was with a memory of having written quite a lot – about something - not long before. I had some idea of what it was that I had written. But I hadn’t been sure whether what I had written had been about something that had actually happened or whether it had been a response to and an attempt at documenting something that had sprung from what had been for the entire sleeping portion of the previous night an intensely experienced mixture of the real, the read, the imagined, the dreamed and the never could have been. After reading what I had written I was sure that it had never happened, but I was never able to convince myself that it couldn’t, or even shouldn’t have happened.