Wednesday, August 11, 2010


It happened on the way back, waiting for the shuttle bus that would take me back to my home city after three weeks abroad.
I was standing in line, reading an English newspaper (what luck...), and looked up to see a seven year old Maghrebin girl in a pleated white sleeveless tunic, shiny silver embroidery around the neck and sleeve openings, silver sandals on her feet, flash by, twirling and chasing her younger brother.
She looked up and our eyes met.
I looked down and offered : "tu es très belle dans ta robe blanche" (you are very beautiful in your white dress), and she looked up and answered... "toi aussi"...
When for an ephemeral instant the Kingdom of God shines through, or.. the Holy Grail, if you prefer, or any other divine that strikes your fancy, anonymous reader.
What did I see as she spun through the crowd ? Ah... the dance...
The white pleated tunic was of our time, probably polyester, not very expensive, something anybody could buy in Wal Mart or the equivalent all over the planet.
And she is of our time too...
But not just of our time.
Three days ago, I was in the British Museum, looking at the marble friezes of procession on Athena's temple on the Parthenon.
Among the ephemeral instants captured forever in stone are a few mostly faceless (now) imprints of white tunics on the bodies of the paideia (?), the young girls who move in spatial rhythms through the frieze, in counterpoint to the horsemen, charioteers, and men on foot.
Herself momentarily suspended, she is at once who she is, and... who she will be in just a few short years, a graceful young woman.
She commands all eyes.
Young men's eyes, old men's eyes, surreptiously greedy watching her like a ripe and unripe fruit. (When they are not too emasculated to allow themselves this pleasure...)
She holds them fast and captive with her promise. And her power.
It is NOT... an innocent promise, because there is no innocence.
She already knows and feels in her body who she is and who she will become.
She may not know that she knows. But she does.
The women watch her with more mixed sentiments, mostly.
Some supercilious. Some envious. Some indifferent. Some amused. Some nostalgic, and regretful. A few Arsinoes to Molière's Célimène.
And why did she say "toi aussi" to me ?
I, over 50, who was wearing old dirty jeans, with a tank top, with spurs that keep me from twirling these days ?
It wasn't a conventional backhand return of a compliment. Didn't sound like that, at least.
Was it my hat ?
Did she see in me some trace of who i was ? (but not at her age...)


Toby said...


As usual from me a question for you:

An epiphany is a revelation or insight, yet here what is revealed to you is a mystery. Although on the surface this is somewhat paradoxical, this seems to match up with the young girl not knowing she knows her power. What is 'knowing' and from that what is 'innocence'?

My younger daughter is very pretty, but afraid of it, or purposefully uninterested in it, studiously so. She will be nine in a little over a month. One of her friends at school is also pretty, but has been indulgently in love with this fact for many years, uses it, enjoys is viscerally. She is nine, and talks often of the troubles (fun though they are) of being loved by so many boys. Sexuality and feminine power are very interesting...

Toby said...

"enjoys it viscerally" I mean...

Debra said...

Innocence and experience ?
Joyce's epiphanies are almost always lost opportunities, or the sudden realization of lost opportunities as I remember, but I may be wrong.
And I don't feel like rereading him to verify this memory.
I see epiphany in our sudden exchange, not necessarily in what I was observing, which as you must know is reconstructed.
What you say about your daughter reminds me of the following :
In Tournon, France last year for an amateur Shakespeare festival put on by adolescent companies, I saw a modern version of the Dream, done by a Maghrebin company, and very well done, too.
The kids burned the stage, they burst with unrepressed but channeled sexuality. And they knew the power of what they were doing (even if they were from so called "underprivileged" backgrounds...)
And the Scottish kids rewrote "Othello" to make it relevant to them...
Poor little "rich" kids. They were so neurotic. In their bodies. In their minds too. It was really sad.
I used to be neurotic that way. Anglo culture encourages it, you know.
And now my 19 year old is pretty neurotic about the whole thing too. Something to do with adolescence, young adulthood. All that self consciousness.
In scientific fashion I say...
around the Mediterranean it's hot and people tend to take their clothes off.
In your homeland, Toby, I ran around in a wool sweater for the whole month of July.
It makes a difference, I think.
A BIG one.

getyourselfconnected said...

Well it could have been a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma!