Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 9.1

Benjamin, Walter
The Arcades Project


This is one of those books I flip through from time to time, enjoying the flipping and the reading immensely, but which I have never read cover to cover. I can easily see how Aimless Reading owes something to The Arcades Project, insofar as both are compendiums relating to the memory of a life in books. 

I remember being very excited when I saw that this book was finally coming out. I was visiting my friend Yunte, who was in his first year teaching at Harvard. Either we were walking past the Harvard Bookstore or the office of the University Press when I spotted the advertisement for its imminent publication. 

As we kept wandering around Harvard square, I ran into another old friend, a Russian woman that had dated a friend of mine for several years before she got into Harvard for a PhD, which effectively ended the relationship. We had been close in New York, but our friendship was one of the casualties of their break-up. I was surprised and excited to see her, and I think she was equally surprised, though not quite as excited, to see me. We made plans for coffee the next day, but she called later that evening to cancel and I haven't seen her since.

Once in New York we went to watch guitarist Mike Stern play at Bar 55 on Christopher St. I don't know if he still does this, but he used to play there twice a week -- just jazz standards, tweaked a bit by his fusion sensibility and extraordinary guitar playing. They only charged eight dollars -- and that included two free drinks! Pretty incredible for a guy who used to play with Miles Davis and Jaco Pastorius, especially considering that you could sit two feet away from him in this tiny dive bar while he played.

Anyhow, I took my Russian friend there one evening, and after it was over, I asked her what she thought. At first she didn't say anything, and then finally she said, " Once when I was studying in St Petersburg, a professor invited me over to his house. We sat in his sitting room and drank tea. He held out a box of chocolates and asked if I'd like one. Inside the box there was one special piece of chocolate that was different from all the others -- it was even wrapped in gold paper, while the others were unwrapped. I chose that one with the gold paper, and I ate it, and it was delicious, and I savored each bite; but then I thought to myself that perhaps I should not have eaten that piece. It was the only one, and now it is gone."

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