Excerpt of Lost Paradise by Cees Nooteboom
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The pronoun I is better because more direct.
From The Secretaries Guide, in the section
The Writer, New Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the
English Language, 1952
Dash 8-300. heaven knows, Ive flown in all types of
aircraft, but this is the first time I have ever been in a Dash.
Its a small, compact plane, though it feels bigger because
there are very few passengers. The seat next to me is empty.
Apparently not many people are interested in flying from
Friedrichshafen to Berlin-Tempelhof. Our forlorn little
group of passengers walked from the no-frills terminal to
the plane you can still do that here and is now waiting
for take-off. The sun is shining, there is a stiff breeze. The
pilot, already up front, fiddles with the knobs. I hear the
co-pilot talking to the control tower. Empty moments like
these are familiar to anyone who does a lot of flying.
The engines have not been switched on yet. Some people
have already started reading, others are staring out of the
window, though there is not a great deal to see. I have taken
out the in-flight magazine, but am not in the mood to do
more than leaf through it: the usual airline propaganda, a
few facts about the small number of cities this small company
flies to Bern, Vienna, Zurich then a couple of
freelance articles, one on Australia and the Aborigines, with
pictures of rock drawings, brightly painted bark, all the latest
trends. And another on São Paulo: a horizon lined with
skyscrapers, the mansions of the rich and, of course, the
ever so picturesque shanty towns the slums or favelas or
whatever you call the things. Corrugated-iron roofs, ramshackle
wooden constructions, people who look as if they
like living there. I have seen it all. Id better not stare at the
pictures too long, or they will make me feel a hundred
years old. Maybe I am a hundred years old. All you have to
do is multiply your real age by a magic number a secret
formula that includes every journey you have ever made
and the unreal sense of déjà vu that goes with them and
you will find yourself in your dotage. I am not usually
troubled by such thoughts, if only because they are hardly
worth thinking about, but last night in Lindau I had three
Obstlers too many, and at my age a strong schnapps like that
takes its toll. The flight attendant looks outside, evidently
expecting someone, and when she comes through the door,
that someone turns out to be a woman the kind of
woman you hope will be seated next to you. Apparently I
am not that old. But I am out of luck: she has been assigned
a window seat in the row ahead of me, on the left-hand
side of the plane. Actually, it is better this way, since now
I can look at her as much as I want.
She has long legs in khaki trousers a manly attribute
that enhances her femininity and her big, strong hands are
trying to get at a book that has been carefully done up in
crimson wrapping paper with Sellotape. Those big hands are
impatient. When the tape does not immediately come off,
she tears the parcel open. I am a voyeur. One of the great
delights of travel is looking at people who do not know you
are looking at them. She opens the book too rapidly for me
to see the title.
I always want to know what people are reading, though
in this case people usually means women, since men no
longer read. I have learned that women, whether they are
on a train, on a park bench or at a beach, tend to hold their
books in such a way that it is impossible to read the title.
Look for yourself, and you will see what I mean.
I rarely summon up the nerve to ask them what they
are reading, even when I am dying of curiosity. On the title
page of this book, someone has written a long inscription.
She scans it quickly, then puts the book on the empty seat
beside her and stares out of the window. The engines are
revving, which makes the small plane shake, and the sight
of her breasts trembling gently in her tight-fitting T-shirt
is exciting. Her left knee is slightly raised. The light falls on
her chestnut hair, giving it a golden sheen. The book is
upside down, so I still cannot make out the title. It is a thin
volume. I like that. Calvino says that books ought to be
short, and for the most part he follows his own advice. The
plane starts racing down the runway. Especially in smaller
aircraft, there is always a sensual moment during take-off,
when the plane finds a thermal and seems to get an extra
lift, a kind of caress, similar to the feeling you had on swings
when you were a child.
Lost Paradise © 2004 by Cees Nooteboom, English Translation copyright © 2007 by Susan Massotty, and reprinted with permission of Grove Press, and imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.