25 December 2013

Ancient of Days

Filed under: Fiction, Genesis 1, Reflections — ktismatics @ 9:15 am

“I no longer recall precisely when I first arrived in this place,” the old man began, “but if the cobbled clatter of my stick had momentarily distracted you from more ethereal concerns you would have given little heed to the greybeard canted slightly forward like a man carrying a heavy burden uphill – and so I felt myself to be, but that is of no concern… The fact of the matter is this: I could have been a brigand or a prince, a troubadour or a contriver of schemes, and you would have paid me no more mind than if I had been one of these wretches.”

Reaching out a crabbed hand the old man snatched by the scruff a dog that had been snuffling about at the hem of his robe. The scrofulous cur, used to ill-treatment, cowered, its whimper inaudible to all but his canine fellows skulking silently to the other side of the room. With one hand the old man pulled the dog’s muzzle up and forward while with the other he swabbed a piece of bread through a mostly empty bowl of soup. The abbé, whose soup it was, shrugged and muttered a common but colorful French obscenity. The old man dropped the sop to the floor and released his canine captive. The dog quickly gulped down the morsel before slinking between the tables and through the kitchen door. In a trice three other dogs moved to the speaker’s side.

“What if I were to tell you,” he continued, “that that stooped old fellow hobbling along the road was a figure of legend, a traveler from a land unknown even to those who have traded in the silk bazaars of Samarkand or passed among the floating spice islands of Shikoku or gazed upon the unveiled faces of the blue women whose footsteps leave no trace in the endless desert – a man as ancient as the world he walks, one for whom the times to come are even more tediously familiar than the times that have already been, one for whom there had been neither direction nor destination until that unreckoned day he passed unnoticed through the city gates and happened upon this particular inn?”

“I would say,” said the Trappist without looking up from the ball of string he had been unraveling, “that I would never have known.”

“Precisely,” remarked the old emissary.

“And your point is what, precisely, my dear Sage?”

The Sage considered whether this question, posed archly by the smartly-dressed young Westerner, constituted an invitation or a challenge. Neither, he decided. A gangly acolyte passed through the Great Room ringing the sacristy bells, alerting the gathered scholars and contemplatives that sabbath services in the town would begin soon. “Which summons shall we heed this morning?” the old man asked of no one in particular.

“But it was my understanding…”

“Yes of course. However, my dossier instructs me to respect the local customs.”

“A man of legend holds no portfolio,” challenged the Antipodean.

“This is the usual objection,” the Sage acknowledged as he hoisted his coat over his shoulders. “It is not obligation but curiosity that impels me.”

Without restraint the bitter wind scattered the voices of the cloaked and cowled theologians, figures from an unremembered dream who drifted toward their appointed but unstated destination.


This book has been finished for nearly four years now, and until this month I hadn’t given it much attention since then. “Let the beginning serve as the annual Christmas story,” the Sage suggested in a precative mood, and it was so.



  1. An old man walks, hunched and slow. He pauses from time to time, leaning heavily on his staff, to regain his strength perhaps, or to survey his surroundings. A stranger, he passes unhailed yet unmolested through the marketplace and between the workhouses. The dwellings of the outlying district, spaced farther and farther apart, eventually disappear altogether. The road takes him past farm and prairie and forest. The world has begun to tilt upward now; now the old man steps off the pavement and onto the gravel trail that winds its way into the distant peaks. As the snow begins the hobbled figure recedes into the featureless distance. Soon enough the old man exists only in memory, from which he is already fading away.



    Comment by ktismatics — 1 January 2014 @ 7:55 am

    • BEAUTIFUL! ‘The world has begun to tilt upward now’ is fantastic. And it’s true that there is that ‘death of even the memory’ too. I remember someone telling me that ‘even Mozart will die finally’, and I understood something from that. In the digital world, Mozart is still very apparent, but he’s already died more too, much more than he had back in the early 70s, when this Greek painter told me this. His wife was Danish, they lived next to me, and I spent every Sunday with them, they were marvelous. In that ‘oswald spengler’ that Nick introduced me to in the Asia Times, there was back in 2009 an article about the hugely successful pianist Lang Lang. I had heard Lang Lang play in 2002 with the New York Philharmonic, he played the Rachmaninoff 2nd Piano Concerto, and it was a kind of ‘gorgeousness’, but he had killed the piece as it used to be in any case, making of it these large pieces of ‘affect’ and ‘categorized sensibility’ which made the cliches sound new in a way, and maybe that’s the best that can be expected. I also remember that this was a big morning rehearsal, with the full piece played without stopping to ‘fix things’, and that after it was over, and everybody was leaving, including from the balcony where I was sitting, I found that I was sitting totally alone in a wholly empty Philharmonic Hall. The playing was that powerful, although strangely I never think of it as beautiful really, not nearly as beautifully as Ivan Davis’s or Sviatoslav Richter’s recordings are. I never have bought Lang Lang’s recordings, and don’t even listen to him on YouTube, which I can’t explain, since there was definitely impact. That’s never happened to me before nor since. The ‘spengler’, (his identity was unknown for a long time, finally was known, I think is Jewish in New York, it was on Nick’s bleug some months ago, but I forget) went into a long paean to Lang Lang. Very postmodern post-industrial sound. At Juilliard, you often heard these LOUD PIANISTS with a big sound I thought of as somewhat ‘industrial’. I guess that made sense then too, I remember that one of them was also involved with impact, but hers was more raucous-loud. Yeah, I hadn’t thought that one of the things about Lang Lang was how LOUD it was. Yeah, it was TOO LOUD.


      Comment by Patrick — 3 January 2014 @ 7:35 pm

  2. The LOUD offers the desired contrast to this old Sage walking unnoticed into legend — the homeopathic essence remaining after memory has been fully diluted. Presumably the impresarios encourage their proteges to get LOUD if they want to get noticed.


    Comment by ktismatics — 4 January 2014 @ 11:17 am

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