Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Flying South

Up rather early and to the airport in a taxi travelling way too fast and tail-gating sleepy 5.30 am drivers. The airport is only just getting going and I'm almost the first one in the departure lounge. I buy a double coffee which doesn't taste very good. A series of men enter the lounge and sit down at the table beside me, each one, as he arrives, shaking the hand of all the others. One of the men is trying to show the others a green metal window latch, but each time he tries, another man arrives and the round of hand-shaking starts all over again. Eventually there are six or seven men, all standing around the table, looking at the green metal window latch.

The flight is called and I get onto the bus. It's cold and the runways are dark and gloomy. On board the aircraft, I get out the talk I have to give today, rehearsing what I'm going to say in my head. I've been asked to talk for about 45 minutes in French, so I have to think through what I'm going to say. When I've done that, I pull out a book of poetry by Henri Michaux. It's one of his better known books called 'Plume'. Plume is an imaginary character in some of the poems.

Michaux is an interesting writer. There are a lot of prose poems and a sense of dislocation from the real world. He has created his own universe, somewhat magical and perhaps tropical. Michaux was also interested in chinese ideograms and produced paintings which seem to use swarms of these chinese word symbols in a way that suggests crowds of figures crossing the page.

As we fly south down the Atlantic coast of France, the view across the sharply etched wing is dramatic. The sun starts to simmer away on the eastern horizon. It's a brilliantly clear morning and the serrated teeth of the Alps are visible some 350 kilometres away. When we arrive at Pau, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, it's cloudy again, as it often is. We settle through a soft eiderdown of cloud and touch down.

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