There is something post-decadent about Versailles in winter. The fountains are off; there are not many tourists. Everything is still fiercely geometric and over-the-top, but in this gray, expired kind of way, at least for most of the day; sunset, and the crisp, clear chill of nighttime being the exceptions. Most of the sculptures are covered with tarps, and tertiary destinations like the amphitheater and “outdoor living room” are gated off entirely. As at all times of year, there is remarkably little furniture, the bulk of it having been moved to the Louvre in the name of égalité. I spent the first five years of my career working in grand museums, and this has always been one of my favorite things about them: that they are bastions of opulence that seem morally defensible, inclusive and elite at once. Because Versailles too is now a museum, the awesomeness of its grandeur has been contextualized into an argument against itself, its ostentation forgiven as a public good. At moments it feels almost Soviet, and you can’t help but be reminded that if you trace the political spectrum far enough left or right you end up in effectively the same place.
For the past few days, I’ve vacillated between panic, helplessness, and feeling like a prophetic, burning witch. I spent the first two months of this year watching the pandemic take hold of China—from the arrest of Dr. Li WenLiang for spreading “false rumors,” to Wuhan and the whole country going into lockdown, to my friends mailing masks back home to their families in China—sitting in my NYC apartment as the virus swept across Korea, Iran, Italy, making its way across the globe towards me.
Hebe Uhart’s “A Trip to La Paz” is delightfully misleading in that we never arrive at our destination; we never see the city that touches the clouds. This essay is concerned with a different kind of beauty—the getting there, the buzzing potential of travel. It encapsulates why we embark on grueling car rides, on flights, on long train journeys, in the first place.
Without italics, you might be tempted to think that’s a typo or just bad copyediting; that I mean to say she “is married to a douglas.” But, on the off chance you are of West Indian heritage, you know exactly what I mean. You know dougla is a real word and you know it means the new Vice President of the United States of America is half-Indian and half-black.
Sulfur: odor of rotten eggs, matchhead, volcanoes, gunpowder, and Lucifer down there in Hell’s fire and brimstone.
Also the smell that pervades thermal spas. Along with minerals such as sodium chloride, iodine, and calcium, sulfur is a key component of manytherapeutic waters. Linked as it is with fire and corrosion, sulfur also has a storied association with the healing of numerous ailments, particularly respiratory and skin-related ones.
GOD Almightie first Planted a Garden. And indeed, it is the Purest of Humane pleasures. It is the Greatest Refreshment to the Spirits of Man; Without which, Buildings and Pallaces are but Grosse Handy-works.
—Francis Bacon, from his 1625 essay, “Of Gardens”
I open the garden on the morning of November 4, after sixteen hours of poll work the day before, sure Trump will be re-elected. The lawn is scattered with red and yellow leaves. The late roses are wan and bedraggled as chiffon ballgowns after a hard night of dancing. Shocking purple aconitum are the finale—their hood-shaped blossoms (hence their popular name, monk’s hood) visible from fifty feet away. The twisted apricot tree is filled with warblers; this English garden in Brooklyn makes a classy pit stop on their way to Guatemala.
It was mid August when my mom and I made the trek into South Central Houston to visit Sidney. We wound through the dense medical district towards the massive complex of 5 buildings making up MD Anderson Cancer Center where Sidney, my mom’s former student, was being treated. As we made our way out of the parking garage, groping toward centralized air conditioning, I marveled at the sheer number of cars from all over the country occupying what was only a single corner of MD Anderson’s campus. I shouldn’t have been surprised. After dethroning Memorial Sloan Kettering as the U.S. News & World Report‘s best hospital in cancer care in 2015, MD Anderson boasted around 140,000 patients a year and rising.
“It’s Borges, the other one, that things happen to,” wrote Borges. This is a statement that makes me think of my other self, the other Laughlin who lived in another world, another time, as another self in another country—as we’re always another when we live outside our native land.
Lusophones love to tout the uniqueness of their (our) language, and in even the most roundabout of metalinguistic conversations, all roads eventually lead to saudade. But aside from a vague quasi-mysticism about loss that surrounds the word, the meaning is straightforward—saudades tuas, I miss you. Saudades de Portugal. I miss Portugal. Loss, longing. We have tools in English that serve to get the point across quite easily.
It’s July 2020. I am supposed to be in Portugal for the tenth edition of the DISQUIET International Literary Program. Instead I’m at my home in Amherst, Massachusetts, about half a mile from the very common the magazine that you hold in your hands is named after.