“Each new city was a prospective new shirt, a transcendence, a conquering of the pain, but in each transcendence – a red-haired woman looking at you in London, a candle burning on two embracing cupids in Paris, a restaurant in Rome with fishnets on the wall which gave bills of yellow with burgundy lines – what was most beautiful about the place you came from.” – A Farewell to Prague
I have been sporadic with posts of late, but sometimes other happenings get in the way. These mid-winter days have been filled with walks through bare-treed parks (and a two-week interlude in the south of Spain where the walks unravelled along a cerulean-swept coastline). I have also been affected by a book in a way that has only befallen me a handful of times. This book was A Farewell to Prague.
In keeping with the posts below, I have continued to read the work of Desmond Hogan. When one of my travelling companions in Spain arrived and produced the purchased books I had asked be delivered to his house, we were tickled by the fact that the second-hand copy of A Farewell to Prague that I unwrapped was an ex-Brooklyn Public Library book with the bar code crossed out. Someone trying to make a quick buck there, and being quite overtly indiscreet.
It took me time to finish A Farewell to Prague. Hogan’s prose is rhythmic and intensely detailed. Situations are minutely observed, recorded, treated with reverence. Every sentence is insightful. Perusing this work of literature required energy and concentration.
In A Farewell to Prague, the narrator, Desmond, has reached a nadir in his existence. He is emerging from a nervous breakdown and has travelled to Eastern Europe, discovering “an illumination beyond the loneliness, the greyness – coloured constellations”. The book is a collection of interweaving memories of places, people, reached and left behind, but always alive as imprints on the soul.
Desmond moves because “running creates its momentum. If you keep doing it a bravery comes which is meaning, a cohesiveness in itself”. Journeying helps him to come to terms with the Ireland that has spurned him, but that he constantly carries inside.
Much in literature, as in life, depends on time and place. I read A Farewell to Prague at a moment, this current moment, in which I am in a state of flux, seeing places and people, leaving them, but striving to remember. Hogan uses language in a way that transmits what he describes to the reader more perfectly than if the reader were seeing it with their own eyes. He has a rare power this man, he enchants, he changes the course of people’s lives. He has changed the course of mine.
In Spain the wind brought warm air from the desert across the water. Iced tea made these times delicious. Here is the recipe for a bitter iced tea, partly inspired by sweltering afternoons on the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia.
2 L water
2 tbsp tea leaves
3 tbsp sugar or to taste
1 sliced lemon
Heat the water in a saucepan with the lid on. When it is boiling, turn off the heat, add the tea leaves, place the lid over the saucepan and allow the tea to infuse for 3 to 4 minutes. Sieve the liquid into a jug, add the sugar and lemons and leave to cool in the fridge. Once cold add the ice.