Scrapbook #8: Auspicious

Towards the end of Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, the word “auspicious” starts popping up a lot.* The main character, who spends the first half of the book living a much too fabulous life at the Biennale in Venice, starts disappearing into himself while he’s in Varanasi. He invents his own kangaroo god; he baptizes himself in the Ganges. He notices auspicious signs. I like the word auspicious. I like auspicious things; I collect them. Early spring is an especially good time for looking for them, something about the light and the way the air smells. More looking up, less huddling inwards.

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One day you’re in a bookstore in Athens and you buy the collected poetry of a famous Greek poet. You pick poems at random to read, which is usually how you tackle big collections, by introducing this element of chance. It’s admittedly not the most intellectually rigorous approach. You find a poem you like a lot, dog ear the page, forget about it. A few years later you pick up the book again and reread that poem, and it makes reference to mythological characters you’ve never heard of before. You look them up and think, huh, they kind of fit with the writing thing you’re working on. Actually, they give you a lot of clarity on the writing thing you’re working on. You keep writing. You think about the poem more, and start looking for analyses of it to understand it better. You find some; they’re interesting enough. But then you find something lovelier: an essay written by the poet himself, explaining that exact poem. It’s written as a letter to a friend, and it’s chatty and informative and circuitous and when you read it, it’s kind of like you got the chance to meet this dead, Greek poet for coffee.** You keep working on your writing thing.


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Villa de Souvlaki is on Sherbrooke just before the Decarie, on a dreary stretch that also includes a store specializing in Swedish fur hats. It looks particularly dingy from the outside – good Greek places are generally holes in the wall, anyway. It had been recommended a few times, but we only recently got around to trying it out. We ordered food and it looked promising, but what really sealed the deal was the faded poster on the wall featuring the obscure beach we went to last year with our friend Tassos, the beach where we saw dolphins, where we went swimming in cold, clear water, where we watched kids jumping off the big rock into the sea. I took a photo of the poster, emailed Tassos to let him know, and he replied right away with a Will you ever believe I was just talking about you… And if there’s someone who would believe that? Me.

* And with that book I’m official out-Dyered for the moment.

** He also says, bluntly, “It seems to me that any explanation of a poem is absurd.”

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