Tirade Against Sightseeing (Oh Come On Jerry!); or At Least Juliet’s Balcony
On the whole I’d say I’m still “battling.” So that means I haven’t given up, I haven’t been “defeated.” I’m in there fighting. The battle sways back and forth; it’s hard but sometimes it feels like I’m “winning” (and sometimes the other way). Once in a while I feel “above the battle,” I see it in perspective. As though the battle is only one battle going on in a far corner of the world, there are many battles throughout the universe, but they are all subsumed in what I can very dimly perceive as a kind of overarching ‘peace.’
So what’s all that got to do with “Sightseeing” or even “Juliet’s Balcony”? We [your audience, remember us?] already guessed which Juliet this is but where’s the rub?
Okay, okay people, keep your goddamn shirt on. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Yes I know, clichés won’t save me either but I’ve got to calm you down if you’re going to be receptive to anything I say, right? Doesn’t matter if you agree or not, I know that that is true. No, I’m not going to start on another one of my “Truth” rants. Easy does it…
Good. Now, picture yourself in Verona. The Verona of today, not the fictional one. People — yes, Sightseers — go to “Juliet’s house” and, on the ground floor, outside, they rub the brass Juliet’s right breast (well, whichever one is ten times as shiny as the other) which is said to bring good luck in love, or something more specific about your current love, or maybe a future one. People have written love notes, or just notes, and pinned them in the archway.
But one floor up, on the right, is Juliet’s balcony. This is supposed to evoke Romeo’s courting, though my own mind finds this little courtyard hard to transform into any of the gardens I’ve seen in actual stage productions or any of the images generated in the brain itself, based on those lines I read, or somebody’s comments, or some-other-body’s produced version.
Whatever. We’re not yet at the crux here.
Now it turns out you can enter this so-called Juliet’s house and climb the stairs to her balcony. Very good. But beyond that it turns out you can keep climbing to other parts of the house. In fact the balcony is on only a low floor. I walked up and up and there were six floors. Finally I found myself on this upper floor looking down over the courtyard and the balcony.
What’s it mean? It means perspective. From this high floor, in perspective, what does Juliet’s balcony and Juliet’s story look like? Whew! From here it is a smaller story, subsumed in a world of tragedy, in turn subsumed in a world of comedy, in turn subsumed in a universe with a bias that is altogether beyond our understanding, beyond our notions of “waves” and “particles,” which are the rags of time and only simple models for what we cannot grasp even in the skeletons that comprise our equations, subsumed in a vastness that is at once devoid of all meaning and at one and the same time includes all possible imaginable and unimaginable meanings.
You literary types out there, may I have permission to quote real literature? Like W.H. Auden’s 1938 poem “Musée des Beaux Arts”?
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.