Paris Diaries: À la Cherche du Temps Perdu*
"It is thus that we are warned at each step of our nothingness; man goes to meditate on the ruins of empires;he forgets that he is himself a ruin still more unsteady..." Chateaubriand meditating on the Colosseum

Archeology by Katha Pollit

You knew the odds on failure from the start
that morning you first saw or thought you saw,
beneath the heatstruck plains of a second-rate country
the outline of buried cities. A thousand to one
you'd turn up nothing more than the rubbish heap
of a poor Near Eastern backwater:
a few chipped beads,
splinters of glass and pottery, broken tablets
whose secret lore, laboriously deciphered,
would prove to be only a collection of ancient grocery lists.
Still, the train moved away from the station without you.

How many lives ago
was that? How many choices?
Now that you've got your bushelful of shards
do you say, give me back my years
or wrap yourself in the distant
glitter of desert stars,
telling yourself it was foolish after all
to have dreamed of uncovering
some fluent vessel, the bronze head of a god?
Pack up your fragments. Let the simoom
flatten the digging site. Now come
the passionate midnights in the museum basement
when out of that random rubble you'll invent
the dusty market smelling of sheep and spices,
streets, palmy gardens, courtyards set with wells
to which, in the blue of evening, one by one
come strong veiled women, bearing their perfect jars.

I hid for as long as I could in the computer room afraid of how he would respond to this break up. He came into to fetch me for dinner. We ate in silence, but I could barely keep anything down. The whole situation made me sick. It seemed that I was more upset by this turn of events than he was as he amiable chewed away at his dinner. Perhaps it was male bravado, perhaps I imagined myself more important than I really was. Still I managed a few bites, and instead of forcing more food on me when I refused seconds, for the first time he honored the request. After dinner, I was exhausted partially because I was still voiceless and ill, but also from the fact that I no longer had any regular advil and the only way to control my fever was half doses of tylenol PM. After our coffee, he made the bed for me. He would again sleep with his daughter. As I got into bed he sat besides me and took my hand. "Ce n'est pas grave," he said as looked into my eyes. "It is serious for you," I responded in French. If I had better command of the language I like to think I would have said something inspiring or comfortin,g as it was all I could do was blunder through this as I had blundered through everything else.

"Non," he said, "C'est la vie." He looked at me and there was a moment I wanted to kiss and hold him. To tell him that I was sorry, that I never meant to hurt him. That he had meant more to me than he could know. That I had really loved him. If only he had been this understanding before...maybe things would be different...Had I just acted on that impulse maybe things would have changed, but as I sat there wondering if I should hug him, he got up and left the room.

I didn't sleep that night even after taking a Keith Richard's sized dose of tylenol PM. I lay in that bed thinking about our relationship-the first night I spent with him eating chinese food, how he had begged me to stay with him, him telling me he adored me, the Eiffel Tower, Provins, making out at the beach, eating Koring Amande. I looked at the dark room thinking "I was happy here once. Where did that happiness go? Where does love go? We live in the ruins of how many loves? How many past selves? Why can't we get it back?"

I had been reading in In Ruins about a Father LeSueur, who "chose to live in ruins" and claimed to be a "ruins consultant." "Aren't we all?" I thought looking at the yellow brocade material that was stapled to the chair.

I have a basic inability to understand the passage of time. I'll recall some event with amazing clarity and then realize it happened 2, 5, 7, 15 years ago. "How did that happen?" I wonder. "When did all this time pass? How did they not dull the memory of it for just a moment?" We accept the loss of each moment as a given. My students, if they knew I mused on things like how casually we come to accept the loss of each minute, would think me both mad and insipid. "Of course, time passes" they would say. But "How do we accept the quick and fluid way by which we lose each second never to be able to reclaim it? You look around a room and it looks no different than it did 5 minutes ago, yet you can not relive those 5 minutes, not even completely in memory. And this loss seems so natural. But the popularity of the idea of time travek-like in Time Machine or Jack Finney's Time and Again or even Dr. Who suggests that on some level we believe that all those moment still exist just beyond our reach. If only we could step sideways or pull aside the thin membrane that seperates then from now, we could have those moments back.

I lay in that room trying to find my way past that veil, to reach back to that love, but like all of the moments leading up to that one, it was already gone.

* In Search of Lost Time-a rough translation

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