Monday, February 21, 2005

A metastory

You know you have a problem when all the books you're reading start informing on some larger story that you just need to piece together and interpret just the way a soothsayer reads a bird's entrails:

They were riding along, then, the night dark, the squire hungry, and the master with a desire to eat, when they saw coming toward them, on the same road they were traveling, a great multitude of lights that looked like nothing so much as moving stars. Sancho was frightened when he saw them, and Don Quixote felt uneasy; one tugged on his donkey's halter, and the other pulled at the reins of his skinny horse, and they came to a halt, looking carefully to see what those lights might be, and they saw them approaching, and the closer they came the bigger they seemed; seeing this, Sancho began to tremble like a jack-in-the-box, and the hairs on Don Quixote's head stood on end; then, taking heart, he said:

"This, Sancho, is undoubtedly an exceedingly great and dangerous adventure, in which it will be necessary for me to demonstrate all my valor and courage."

"Woe is me!" Sancho responded. "If this adventure has anything to do with phantoms, which is how it's looking to me, who has the ribs that can stand it?"

Eidothea, now,
had slipped beneath the sea's engulfing folds
but back from the waves she came with four sealskins,
all freshly stripped, to deceive her father blind.
She scooped out lurking-places deep in the sand
and sat there waiting as we approached her post,
then couching us side-by-side she flung a sealskin
over each man's back. Now there was an ambush
that would have overpowered us all—overpowering,
true, the awful reek of all those sea-fed brutes!
Who'd dream of bedding down with a monster of the deep?
But the goddess sped to our rescue, found the cure
with ambrosia, daubing it under each man's nose—
that lovely scent, it drowned the creatures' stench.
So all morning we lay there waiting, spirits steeled,
while seals came crowding, jostling out of the sea
and flopped down in rows, basking along the surf.
At high noon the old man emerged from the waves
and found his fat-fed seals and made his rounds,
counting them off, counting us the first four,
but he had no inkling of all the fraud afoot.
Then down he lay and slept, but we with a battle-cry,
we rushed him flung our arms around him—he'd lost nothing,
the old rascal, not of his cunning quick techniques!
First he shifted into a great bearded lion
and then a serpent—
a panther---
a ramping wild boar—
a torrent of water—
a tree with soaring branchtops—
but we held on for dear life, braving it out
until, at last, that quick-change artist,
the old wizard, began to weary of all this
and burst out into rapid-fire questions:
"Which god, Menelaus, conspired with you
to trap me in ambush? seize me against my will?
What on earth do you want?"

She told me that eventually she wanted to become an ambulance driver, and I could picture her doing it, riding on dry land the same waves of adrenaline that she rides now. I spent a lot of time trying to picture where these girls might be in ten years. Hardly any are likely to make it as pro surfers—even though women have made a place for themselves in pro surfing, the number who really make it is still small, and even though the Hana girls rule Maui surfing, the island's soft-shell waves and easygoing competitions have produced very few world-class surfers in recent years. It doesn't seem to matter to them. At various cultural moments, surfing has appeared as the embodiment of everything cool and wild and free; this is one of those moments.

Aw, come on. You know the notion of a metastory sounds a lot more interesting than one more post that says today I read two chapters of Don Quixote, Book Four of The Odyssey, and the surfer girls piece from The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup.

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