A favorite place after four is now the Plaça Industria, where a pair of white benches remain in the shade for six hours, and people can be seen strolling by endlessly. The town itself is not very large at all, so that I’m beginning to recognize people as I see them for the fourth and fifth time; as if we make it seem larger by all moving around, iterating through the possible combinations of filling the streets so as to portray at each moment a hundred different images of the same town with the same people. I’m sure that on Friday an influx of visitors from the city will come, but the slower pace of the week makes it feel eerily like a dance that pivots around the only unmoving feature: the buildings themselves. If we all stopped, how many would there really be?
People like to smoke here a lot. Sometimes I have this unaccountable feeling of elation, and wonder if the air itself might have a measurable nicotine content by now…
My plans to visit Switzerland have fallen through, so perhaps I will spend three weeks instead in Marseilles. As I read the French on various labels it make enough sense that maybe a quick language class there would be fun. Ne c’est pas? They have the same here in Sitges for Spanish, and Catalán.
Tomorrow feels like a good day for going into the big city (Barcelona). All of my books are read, which certainly changes the character of the day. Without that for a distraction, what will happen? It already makes writing more attractive. The things we’d like to do but don’t, for sake of easier amusement…
A side note: Before beginning this trip I purchased a nice fountain pen, to encourage writing. Now I cannot recommend one enough! It is like drawing with a sixth finger on sheets of silk, the black lines rich and always consistent and smooth, never skipping or blotting. Well, if you are a pen and paper type, the joy of it had to be expressed.
The beach cats’ story
This evening I ran across three beach cats roaming about. It was a delight to see soft and furry shapes moving among the smooth, sometimes shiny, human bodies. One was coal black, the others grey-striped. Since they were very cute, and people do not pay them much attention, I think it falls upon me to tell their story, of Blackie, Stripey and Bandy…
Blackie picked his way along the rocks, many times his size and well away from the blue-green waves. At times he could find small lizards, about a paw’s length, clinging to the rocks and enough for an evening’s meal. But no, that one was too fast. Must find dinner elsewhere.
He trotted onto the sand from the rocks, where the beach merges with the pier. It was just getting cool: he could feel it as a relaxation under his warm fur – often too warm. To left and right were still many of the large, hairless ones who were always around when there was light. They had so many different kinds of smells, and their behavior, capricious. It was well enough to walk by the quiet ones, holding out a giant, bald paw, but noise was a sure sign to stay away.
There, one is holding a paw still in the air. Sometimes that means food. But not, just offering their smell. Sweet, like lilac.
Blackie passed towels, flat and smooth almost like grass, then under broad umbrellas and onto the cement footpath. The cement was becoming cool, but still too hard. Just a short distance more to the patches of grass. Sometimes there were things to eat lurking there.
Ahead he saw Stripey, already at the grass, his head between the leaves of a bush each the size of his head. Had he found something?
“Hola, Stripey, how goes it? Find anything good?”
Stripey lifted his head from the bush, sniffing the air. “Blackie, nothing much, a beetle, a blade of crabgrass. It’s not anchovy.” (Here Stripey used the local word “anchoa”, lest you think he was speaking our dialect).
“Maybe the Señor will have something today?”
“Don’t be so sure. I were you, would not waste my time when a church mouse might be choosing to skip vespers at this moment.” Stripey showed his “knowing” face, as if the doings of the hairless were anything but utterly inscrutable.
“Well”, called Blackie, “Perhaps, perhaps not. Fortune favors the outstretched whisker!”
With that he tromped further into the city, Stripey giving a nod and ducking his head back into the bush. On the other side of the monstrous palm that was growing from the grass patch he saw Bandy, his old friend, with his mouth around something green and succulent – but bloodless. Bandy’s eyes were closed in the rapture of imbibing nutrients, which all of their lean and matted kind sought so constantly. He did not see Blackie going past, and so jumped at least a body-length to the side when he finally looked up.
“Ay, Dios mío, Blackie, you could pick a better time for visiting. Perhaps a heavier tread, or maybe you need a bell, like poor Tigrillo. He will never taste a sea-bird again, poor amigo. Don’t let them put the bell of you, my Blackie! it tolls the anthem of our kind’s sorrow, nor peals any joy but by its silence when we finally lay to rest.”
“Bandy, are you watching what you eat? Not every herb that tastes good is worth eating. I think that succulent has left you addled.”
“Ay, Blackie, it’s not the plant but all these nights of ceaseless wandering. To what end? I am still hunting this same stretch of shore, still eking out my days and nights from hairless hands that want always to touch me. I wonder if, as our Shakespaw put it, it is nobler to suffer these slings and arrows – though what those are, don’t ask me – or should I oppose and end them? To sleep in made beds, perchance to dream, to find that country still undiscovered – so different from there grasses, every blade of which I must know by now. But ay mí, the bell. No sooner the bell than like a fatted cow I head for pasture, and there is no more Bandy. The same striped face, sí, but the lights forever out, and no hope to kindle them again. To be a house-cat or not, that is what I ask, Blackie! That is the question! What say you to that?”
“Definitely the succulent, Bandy; stay away from that one, eh? Now I’ve got to find something or start approaching more of the hairless than I care to smell in one night. ¡Hasta luego!”
“Hasta, Blackie. Better luck to you, that these sad dreams may pass you by!”
With a resigned look – though to what outcome Blackie could not see – Bandy turned his head to the succulent, just as Stripey rounded the corner and started sniffing at the same. Blackie, with a significant look to Stripey and a quick shake of his head, trotted past the grasses, across the black asphalt, to another small patch of greenery where larger bushes might hide livelier prey…
Crystallization has come
Tonight, while waiting for rest, the crystallization has come which I knew was on its way. If felt much like the process of salt crystals springing into being from a super-saturated liquid, forming intricate shapes as you watch. This, combined with a feeling of euphoria and freedom, is the real reason why some find the study of philosophy irresistible.
The substance of the discovery itself is hard to put into words, without sounding too much like terminology out of context, but essentially: I had been dealing with the concept of God as within the scheme of subject/object duality, in essence post-Quality, which caused other experiences of quality to take on a competitive character. Viewed as pre-Quality, the same experiences become cooperative, even supportive. The major outcome of this will be to mollify greatly my tendencies toward asceticism, since now the world seems a doorway, rather than a distraction.
Puzzled about unity
Although “unity” remains a mystery, something has opened up that frees me from a misapprehension that has been with me for at least a decade.
First, the understanding that my ideas of God – however undefined they have become – are still, were still, framed in the mythos of the subject/object duality. Thus, any perception of Quality in the world – which must associate with an object, as it gives rise to an awareness of that object – was in a sense competing for my attention to higher ideals. Whereas the way I am seeing it now, if God is outside of the domain of objects entirely, even in the objective sense of an indefinable quantity, one can view quality as the proof of an intentional excellence potential in creation, in which attention pain to quality is the very reason for attention in the first place. Quality is like a brightness, the more of which there is, the more light is seen.
So now objects of quality take on the role, not of competitors, but tokens, conjurations, candles. To behold quality is to see the proof of the essence for which quality is the presence, for which objects themselves are the means of display. It’s then like a picture of one you love: something to carry your focus back to that moment, at which time the experience transcends the medium, while at the same time justifying the medium itself. It leaves me wanting greater and further means of experience Quality in my life.
Purification permits seeing Quality
By purifying the heart, one can see clearly in order to find the evidences of Quality, rather than be beguiled by the speciousness of style…
This will mollify my tendencies toward asceticism. The pursuit of philosophy is the hunt for such joys of discovery! Seeing God beneath the dualism of the subject/object dichotomy…
On the one hand, Search1 is to find Quality: to sift among the “changes and chances” of the world for signs, “footsteps in this wilderness” that recall the True One.
Unity, however, is described as the collapse of all these differences and distinctions. So now, with a more concrete conception of quality, how does the relationship change with dawning of unity?
Quality is that which provokes a perceptible differentiation between the unitary subject/object. “The Mother of All Things”. Things are not enduringly real, as in classical empiricism, but are real in so far as quality makes them distinguished from the substrate of undifferentiated unity. Is this where unity ties in?
Hence, you cannot “see” or even be cognizant of something, unless you participate in this Quality-founded relationship. Further, such “participation” is subject to will, making reality’s degree of realness susceptible to the focusing of attention/awareness. (That awareness begets the world of the perceived harkens back to Sartre).
Instead of debating ontological “reality”, let’s call the moment of Quality participation: experientially real. The degree to which our lives feel real to us is directly related to the awakening of perception through the presence of Quality, a comutual act whose degree is tied to our willingness to experience it.
This is given in such sayings as “to stop and smell the roses”. The idea here is to take a moment to appreciate the quality manifest in the bouquet of roses, the doing of which will not only make them more real for us in at that moment, but will make life itself feels more real, since it is, after all, comprised of an agglomeration of such moments. It might also be described as “intensifying the reality of the present, through a willful experience of Quality.”
Words often heard
Two words that are heard quite often here: “dime” and “vale”. They are both sounded with two syllables, as it “dee-may” and “vah-lay”. “dime” is used to begin interactive conversations, and seems to mean: Hello; can I help you; what would you like; what is your choice? It literally means “tell me”. “vale” covers the whole range of: OK; right; well; see you later; it’s alright; that’ll do; it’s worth it; it fits; thank you; and even sometimes, see you later. I think it literally means “it goes with you”, but I will have to look it up. So a typical exchange in the shop sounds something like this:
Me: Hola He: Dime Me: Dame eso, pro favor He: Bueno, es... (I hand money over) He: Vale Me: Gracias He: Adiós
Quite an economy of words. Many exchanges are not more than one word long from side to side!
Buying a pillow
Right now I am in Barcelona itself, where I’ve come to buy a pillow. It is raining for the first time, which is a good day to sit in trains and subway cars. … Now that the pillow is bought, I’ve decided to stop by a restaurant to try the famous Spanish dish, paella, which looks like sauteéd rice with seafood and another bits of vegetable…
OK, that place must not be known for its paella. In fact, it tasted rather like beef-flavored Rice-a-Roni. And I even prefer the little vermicelli bits in Rice-a-Roni! Not to mention that it cooks in five minutes or less. So, to date that’s Paellas: 0, San Francisco Treat: 1. Hmm… maybe even a market here for Uncle Ben’s Paella? But this weekend a friend is coming to Sitges; I’m sure she will help me find something more representative.
A poem that goes for a Neruda-esque feel:
This matter of Quality reveals a few places that Pirsig did not go in his book. For example, by what standard is something of better quality than another? He does not really go deeply into this, but does object to its being entirely subjective. Perhaps quality is actually a response of pre-existent reality to the function of awareness? The greater, the better the awareness itself, the higher – or maybe finer – the Quality. This implies that the best quality does not inhere to an object or situation, but rather results from the best attempts to experience such quality. However, this belies the fact that some situations do facilitate the perception of Quality more than others. This results in an inherent sense of scale, without identifying the nature of the scale.
Before the moment of quality there is no differentiation – which Sartre might call “the plenitude of being”. Perhaps it is this state that the Zen koans aim at when ask, “What was your face before you were born?” or, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” That is, what is that essence of being which precedes the arising of subject and object?
Finding Atlas Shrugged
An interesting occurrence, which goes to exemplify the way things have been happening on this trip: After reading Zen the book which first came to mind as dealing most directly with the issue of Quality was Atlas Shrugged, by Any Rand. I’d always meant to read it again, but where am I going to find a readable copy in España?
While walking by a photo shop, I noticed they had a very curious selection of books in English, from Austen to Asimov to Tad Williams, a favorite Scifi/Fantasy writer. It was a small selection, most eclectic, but had a copy of Great Expectations, which I’d also been meaning to read for a long time.
I went in to buy it, but it turns out to be some modern novel with the same title. A bit disappointed, I turned the rack to see if there was anything else. Just before the very last set of books, after pretty much giving up on reading anything further here in Spain, was Atlas Shrugged! How odd, I thought.
A first Quality-related poem, after a fine breakfast at La Granja Elsa:
This refers to the Valley of Search in the book The Seven Valleys, by Bahá’u’lláh↩