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A narrative about the course of Events
By Du?an ?arotar, Stephen Watts, Rawley Grau
Peter Owen PublishersCopyright © 2014 Du?an ?arotar
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The wind was blowing low above the sea, in the direction of the house I moved into this morning. I was resting on a low twoseat sofa, a fleece blanket over my knees, and listening to the strange sounds the wind was thrusting about, as if words, the creaking of hinges and the rattling of glass in lonely houses in the dark on distant islands had hidden themselves in pockets of the storm and here, in front of the window through which I watched this imagined sea, had tumbled out over the floor. Words were rolling like multi-coloured marbles, the glass eyes scurrying away, hiding beneath the table, ducking out of sight for a moment as if waiting for inspiration, then taking off again; I felt that maybe if I could freeze them, at least for a second, could read their placement in the room, I'd be able to capture the thought, the long sentence that was both hiding and revealing itself to me in seemingly random images. It was cold in the room; it will be a while before I get warm, I thought, although the electric radiator was making popping noises as if a fire burned inside it. The orange light that flickered in the decorative stove beneath the black television helped alleviate the sense of false warmth, and every so often, when I opened my eyes and wrenched myself from my musings, I would bring my dry hands closer to the silent stove in the hope that the artificial logs were at last radiating heat and I could at least get warm in my soul, but it was no good. Then I would go back to staring absently out of the window, looking across the road at the grey surface of the water fissured with low, sharp waves, as a young heir might gaze at a blackened seascape by an unknown or forgotten master in which, after long perusal, when he has internalized the picture and believes it holds nothing more to excite him, he suddenly discovers something that fascinates him utterly, maybe even shocks him, as if in this old maritime genre painting, which has hung on the wall since before he was born – placed there, he assumes, by his grandfather – he suddenly recognizes himself. He is sitting in a long coat, alone in the storm on the black rocky shore; in the distance, a light flashing from a lighthouse is refracted in the rainy fog, while terrible fiery branches of lightning strike at the sea on the darkening horizon; at the golden section point, as if on the point of a knife, a heavy ship hovers in the air, which the observer from the shore can only sense, or maybe he has glimpsed it in the dark nebulous stain, the veiled gleam of the clouds, above which rest the moon and thousands of cold stars, which are the only things shining above the romantic seascape, like a miracle in which we see only one thing. The narrow strip of coast that was visible from my third-floor room, from the Galway Business School to the guesthouse, was already completely black; not even the waves rising like ashes into the sky could drive the joggers in their shorts and wind-puffed anoraks from the seaside promenade, nor were the strollers with their long-haired dogs, which were barking and rummaging on strained leashes for washed-away evidence of the morning walk, taking shelter from the storm. Thick raindrops, or maybe it was the sea preparing for a second universal deluge, were washing, were streaming, down the windows; I couldn't tell any more which direction the sharp, swift wind was blasting from; I felt it entering through the crevices in the window sashes, whistling in the keyholes, the walls getting damp; nothing was flying through the air any more – papers, dog barks, birds, sand, cigarette butts, words, anything that wasn't tied down or rooted in the ground the wind had long ago blown away, scattered or smothered like lies. Beneath a high, rocking, yellowish lamp, which stood alone next to the road like the mast of a sinking ship and gave off a light that no longer reached the ground but was washed away by the rain and extinguished by the wind, the last maddened dogs and drenched, lost joggers were still running, despite the sky having warned them hours before, for the love of god, not to risk their bodies tonight to the mercy of the sky and the durability of their hearts. An exodus, I thought, but I myself will stay here cradling my unfinished manuscript and my longing for home in my lap, cast on the turbulent sea – when the light in the silent hearth went out, too; that's when I first made my vow, for who is the only one able to put out the light of a person lost in icy waves, who can give birth to a word and bestow it on the writer, who accepts it gratefully and in peace and quiet and concentration shapes it into thought and beauty for us all? – that's what I was thinking when I vowed for a second time to describe all of this one day; then, for one last time, before the world and solitude, I vowed out loud, as the wind was tearing the bathroom window from its hinges and the rain was pouring in on the parquet floor in the hall, to write it all down, just as it was and nothing else, the way it had to happen, not according to my will and our will, if I remain on dry land this night. I will remember this night, I will always think of everyone I care for, I will repeat their names like a castaway, just as I do now in this terrible hour, I will not forget, I will remember, with the same ardour and delight with which I gladly remember what is beautiful and good, I kept on repeating until I sank into sleep. I was dreaming, or maybe was already awake, I'm not sure, when, conscientiously and devotedly, I set about fulfilling my vow, in a manner such as only the most ardent perform their service. It was still raining in the morning, sparse raindrops hovering and spinning in the translucent fog that stretched across the bleak Atlantic. I walked along the shore, neither strolling nor jogging, with a determined but slow step; I was hunched over, leaning forward, as if struggling against the wind or some unknown force that was pushing me back; I pressed on, more for the sake of the view that opened and offered itself to me on every side, although now, when I give it some thought, neither at the time nor now can I see anything but the sea – a rolling, windy sea of indefinable hue, neither brown nor blue, but certainly a different colour from what I know, and also smell, here on the Adriatic; at that early hour, the joggers and dog-walkers were already returning to their homes; it crossed my mind that these were the same refugees I saw leaving the night before, or maybe the exodus had never ended and they were running from their homes, from this drowning world, as their ancestors had once fled the Great Famine, fled on ships, brave mariners transporting them in the hold of fragile half-sinking boats, all of them starving, silent, sick, with big pale eyes that saw, from right where I was standing now with a warm black woollen cap on my head and watching, like those dying passengers on creaking boats, the last lighthouse on the western coast of their now-former homeland. For whoever that day stood on one of the many ships that daily departed these shores, that gave themselves over to icy winds and sharp waves as dangerous as the potato knives that lay in the passengers' empty travel bags and tattered pockets as the only sign, the hope, that their bellies would one day be full again, that person had certainly never returned to see, at least one more time, the pale light at the head of Galway Bay, as I read on a memorial plaque that had recently been placed next to the walkway to the lighthouse, my intended destination that morning, in memory of all the mariners and families who between 1847 and 1853 had crossed the Atlantic to escape famine and death. I read and repeated the names of the hundreds of ships engraved in the stone, kept repeating them, but now, as I write, I don't remember a single one. Go down to the sea. The tall stainless steel gate, already losing its silvery sheen from the slow corrosion of sea and salt, was closed that morning, although I could see a few people walking on the low asphalt causeway that led over the rolling sea to the tiny fortified island where Mutton Light stood, an enormous white lighthouse, the last light of home for the travellers who were leaving for ever, an image still resonating in my thoughts, so I turned away from the locked barrier and set off along the shore in the opposite direction. The man-made causeway with the asphalt road connecting the island to the shore had been created not long before; centuries ago, the lighthouse stood alone in the middle of the sea, as I read on the sign hanging on the gate; until recently, to get to the reef where the lighthouse was, you had to row or sail a boat; now as I moved away from it, the causeway slowly melted into the sea; whenever I turned to take another look at the lighthouse tower, it, too, was shorter and less prominent; after a mile or so, all I could make out in the distance, far from the shore, was the big, black reef, and the waves crashing against it from the open sea, breaking into high white foam and spraying across the lighthouse dome and, even before the next wave rose up, disappearing in the wind like the echoing names of the ships in my memory. I remembered that on my first morning here, when I was going out of the city by car, I had noticed a large, yellowish tower on the shore with lots of concrete platforms for diving into the sea. Right away I had wanted to take a picture of it – it was exciting, bizarre, a structure incongruous with the seascape; only later did I wonder why I was so drawn to the diving tower the first time I saw it; maybe somewhere deep in my memory, like a silent, sleeping image I had been guarding since childhood, something had stirred, something I associated with an image from my Saturday swimming club, where exactly the same sort of concrete diving tower, which I used to dive from in terror, had stood above the Olympic swimming pool; similarly, the mighty concrete colossus I saw from the car that day seemed unusually large and tall to me, which, I thought, must mean that at high tide the sea is deep enough for diving; I would like to see that – even though now, as I walked along the shore, I was wearing a woollen cap and lined windcheater; Gjini, the driver and occasional tour guide who had driven me from the city that first morning, had told me that people bathe in the sea year round here, regardless of water temperature or weather. At the time I did not have a chance to take any photos because we were in a hurry – the forecast wasn't good: occasional downpours with thunder, if I correctly understood the prediction on the radio, but I couldn't envisage it, what that looked like here, since it was my first time in this country; now the morning was bright and clear after terrifying wind and rain the whole night, as if I had arrived at the end of the world – which had been my first impression the night before the car trip, when I stepped out of the airport terminal, where Gjini was waiting to drive me to the Hotel Meyrick.
I remembered that the next morning Gjini, wanting to give me a brief introduction to the local sights we drove past, had mentioned the Aquarium, a big glass semicircular building where big, terrible sea creatures were on display – I was passing it now on foot – and that was when, from the car, I first caught sight of the old, enormous yellow pier with the diving platforms, just as I did now. I crossed the road and started running towards my goal. Amazingly, at that very moment the sun came out from behind some high, scattered clouds and lit up the seemingly abandoned municipal bathing site. Just beside the road, beneath the concrete pillars which the sea had been gnawing at, washing away their once-red plaster with decorative yellow stripes, which were still visible on the shady side, were the changing rooms: no cubicles, doors or partitions, just hooks protruding from the wall, with trousers and shirts hanging on them, and beneath a bare concrete bench men's and women's shoes were arranged, socks folded neatly inside them; maybe the clothes had been left behind, I thought when I saw the deserted changing area, by people who had never returned from the sea, like the ones they had erected the memorial to in front of the lighthouse at the other end of the promenade. People are really swimming, I thought and was delighted by the chance of seeing somebody dive into the cold, rolling Atlantic Ocean, although at the thought of swimming I felt a chill, in spite of the sun, which was glowing like a white spot on a blue eye. I sat down on the wet, black rocks beneath the pier and watched a sparse procession of bathers, both male and female, all older townspeople who had probably been bathing here since childhood; they walked in silence, backs straight, with the practised poise of swimmers, the men in simple blue linen knee-length trunks, the women in black one-piece swimsuits, everyone with close-fitting rubber caps on their heads; they walked one after the other, and, in fact, you could sense a certain restraint in their step, as if by the strength of their will and thought they had slowed down gravity, which became weaker with every movement of their body as they approached the edge of the pier; by now they should be able to run or dive far beyond the world's horizon, but the old, veteran swimmers suddenly slowed their step, not because they feared the cold sea but because, I thought when I was still seeing them in my mind, there was in their attitude towards the sea, and towards the world, something ritualistic, ceremonial, aristocratic and free, all at the same time, something that had surely been inscribed in the bone and muscle, in the soul, of these early-spring swimmers even before they had ever jumped into the sea, so that now, as I lay on a rock beneath the pier and observed them, the bathers walked along the concrete platform as on a promenade intended for no one else and nothing else but exercise, of the body and of the spirit, and delight in the sea; that is how I still see them today in my mind, just as I did then, when I was first watching them, as they walked to the rusty iron ladders that dropped sharply into the rolling sea. A moment later, without hesitating or gasping at the touch of the icy sea rushing at their unprotected bodies, each of them, one after the other, descended bravely into the dark waves. Soon they were swimming; I saw only their caps, rising above and dipping below the surface. They didn't swim far, just a few strong, slow strokes, turned, floated for a moment on their backs with their arms spread wide, dead men and women, and then with the same indomitable poise climbed up the ladder out of the sea and into the cold wind. They undressed in the changing area without shame or vocal comment, put on their city clothes and with their hair still wet left the swimming pier and returned to their everyday chores, just as they had probably been doing for years, for decades. The sun again hid quickly behind the clouds, the dark shadows of the sky were swimming among the waves, which rushed relentlessly across the pier, and instantly the tower with the diving platforms, which nobody had dived from today, lost its summer magic, its holiday languor and reverie, and in their place a smell of dereliction rose to the surface, of rancid seaweed lying in heaps on the sand, all of which enveloped this day – for me a day of celebration, which I had decided to spend quietly – in a very different atmosphere, I thought as I stood up, muddy and chilled from the sea sand and from the sea, which was spraying across the pier, and it had started raining, too, even before the last bathers had disappeared; today I am forty-five years old, I thought, and will have something to remember the day by. I saw a large tanker immersed in the choppy sea moving slowly out of the bay; by evening it would be far out in the open sea in the middle of the bottomless plain, far from the last lighthouse of home, but this ship would certainly return one day, I was sure of it. The red Toyota in which Gjini drove me to Clifden (when I first saw the diving tower), where I was going for a few days to finish my manuscript in peace, was constantly losing its way on the narrow, winding road that rose and fell, flanked by low stone walls, through the bleak, scorched and empty Connemara landscape.
Excerpted from Panorama by Du?an ?arotar, Stephen Watts, Rawley Grau. Copyright © 2014 Du?an ?arotar. Excerpted by permission of Peter Owen Publishers.
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