Arrival in France
We get a little lost in London, miss the turnoff for the South Circular. Double back, find it, and eventually reach Clapham, where JR is leaving the sitar with a friend. He doesn't want to take it all the way to Germany, where he's giving a workshop, but he'll need it afterwards for a gig in England. The sitar is dropped off and we find our way out of London again, head for Dover. The ferry is a fast one, rather small, with two forward prows like the horns of some snail-like creature, testing the waters it's about to sail through.
Not much more than an hour later, we're in France. The roads are empty, there's an enormous vista of green fields all around and the evening sun throws long thin shadows of plane and poplar trees, over the fields. The landscape undulates, the shadows are pencils, threads, dark lines that go on and on, find the horizon and keep going. Something about these lines, the way they dip and curve with the land, the way they stretch and shiver, turn into snakes, turn over, bask in this long evening light, takes me with them, horizontal shadows grow in me too and I am stretched over the hills, the thundering motorway traffic, the narrow crowded little island left far behind. We expand into this enormous evening light, into the green waves of hills, all empty and quiet, like being released from a tormented madness, into a blessed peace. The hills dip and rise, dip and curve slightly, rained on with that special light of late evening, that seems to fold a little, to follow the landscape's curves, folds like something almost material, woven out of light with slender shadow seams.
Have you noticed I say, how as soon as one is on the mainland of Europe, the horizon becomes much much bigger? It expands so far that you think that you can see almost to where the land ends, almost to the sea?
JR has not noticed. He is about to denounce this as a perceptual illusion, I can tell by a kind of stiffness he emanates into the air around him.
It's to do I say with an air of authority, with the physical landscape, which extends or contracts our perception. On any large land mass, Europe, Asia, America, you can simply see further. On an island, it's like being in a room, you can't see further than the walls, can you? You can only see what's in front of you, you are consumed by detail, which is fine for arguing existence's finer points, for following the patterns of needlework or Fair Isle knitting designs or tattoo patterns of Pictish woad but here on the mainland, your eyes can stretch themselves, they're not confined any longer they can extend to their full capacity and its such a relief, like being able to stretch your body after being in a confined space.
I can tell by the air going soft, murmuring a little, turning choppy like the waves of La Manche, that JR has decided not to enter into an argument that he realises cannot be won. Instead, he approaches from an oblique angle that is neither agreement nor opposition.
How is it he says, that in Cornwall the sky looks closer?
Because it is closer, I say.
But there's nothing in the sky, its empty, right?
I explain that the sky is not empty, that there is an atmosphere around the earth, a blanket of soft sussurant something, that we give names to, such as oxygen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen etc. And that this atmosphere is closer nearer the poles (I'm not sure that this is true, but it fits my argument), so that the further north in the northern hemisphere you go, the sky is closer. Hence blue-er. (Well, that is true. Look at those pale pale southern skies, where the sky is so very far away, and the clouds as distant as memories of childhood).
He accepts this argument.
And we drive on through the evening light, the shadows slender as the seams between thoughts, inky lines like the troughs between waves, the landscape's copperplate handwriting.
The western sky grows pink, the cloud rafts dusty purple. We stop in Montreuil sur Mer, whose sea is entirely imaginary, a whiff of salt only, sliding along the banks of its green river.