Saturday, December 29, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 31.1 (Virginia Woolf)

To The Lighthouse
Woolf, Virginia
To the Lighthouse


I probably bought this at the Fordham University Bookstore. I read it first for a course I took on the modern novel or something along those lines. It's pretty beat-up, but could probably withstand another reading or two.

I want to return to Ecuador. As I was writing about Veronica day before last, I was trying to remember the name of one of my other favorite students. Like Veronica, I also have black and white photo her that I took during one of our tutoring sessions. In fact, I think I began tutoring her after Veronica was reassigned to another teacher.

Unlike most of the photos I took of kids, which I usually shot from a low position looking up at their faces, I took this one at eye level or slightly above. She is staring straight into the camera. She is wearing a baseball shirt with dark sleeves and a white body. Her still, sharp figure dominates the foreground, while the background is slightly blurred, like captured motion. I never really learned how to use the camera, so I can't take credit for this effect. It just happened.

I had been trying to remember her name for the past couple of days without success. I had it written down across the back of the photo. It's in a closet because we have yet to prep enough walls in our new house to hang art on. I could even picture my handwriting, but for whatever reason I wanted to try to remember myself, to call up her name without the aid of an external cue.

This morning I woke up and there it was: Gladys Gavilanes.

I remember her being somewhat difficult. Math drove her crazy. She was very emotional. Some days she would inexplicably cry through the whole session without ever explaining what was wrong. She was about 10. She had long black hair, thick eyebrows, black eyes, and the rich, dark skin of indigenous Ecuadorians. Her mother was a stout Latacungan who wore the traditional felt fedora and woven wraps of that region.

I once traveled to an annual festival in Latacunga, a town a couple of hours south of Quito, near the base of Cotopaxi, the dramatic, snow-covered volcano visible from the city on most clear days. My most vivid memory of a man in colorful dress selling food. Arrayed in a half-moon shape on his back were a dozen wooden sticks, each wrapped in festive tissue that fluttered in the wind. On the end of each stick was a roasted local delicacy called Cuy. Cuy is roasted guinea pig. I passed on the opportunity to try some.

I taught Gladys throughout the year. I never quite had the connection with her that I did with Veronica, but I would miss her just the same after I left. I gave her a print of the photo I took when we said goodbye.

Two years later, in the midst of a terrible depression, I visited Ecuador again. I stayed at the center for a few days and then traveled around Ecuador the rest of the time. Many of the children and their families had departed from the center by the time I returned. But I remember seeing Gladys. I was standing in the courtyard watching on of the volunteers teach gym class. Gladys walked pass me on the way out of the showers. When she saw me, she leapt up and threw her arms around my neck and wouldn't let go.

As I open To the Lighthouse today, it dawns on me that it was this book, not Mrs. Dalloway, that my friend had called me about. I remember his words, which were confusing at the time. He said, Mrs. Ramsay just died, thanks for not telling me. I still remember this as if I were on the subway when he called me. I think it was at Astor Pl. This, of course, is still impossible, but it's what I remember.

from To the Lighthouse

Had there been an axe handy, a poker, or any weapon that would have gashed a hole in his father’s breast and killed him, there and then, James would have seized it. Such were the extremes of emotion that Mr Ramsay excited in his children’s breasts by his mere presence; standing, as now, lean as a knife, narrow as the blade of one, grinning sarcastically, not only with the pleasure of disillusioning his son and casting ridicule upon his wife, who was ten thousand times better in every way than he was (James thought), but also with some secret conceit at his own accuracy of judgement. What he said was true. It was always true. He was incapable of untruth; never tampered with a fact; never altered a disagreeable word to suit the pleasure or convenience of any mortal being, least of all of his own children, who, sprung from his loins, should be aware from childhood that life is difficult; facts uncompromising; and the passage to that fabled land where our brightest hopes are extinguished, our frail barks founder in darkness (here Mr Ramsay would straighten his back and narrow his little blue eyes upon the horizon), one that needs, above all, courage, truth, and the power to endure.

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