The mansion where Gone with the Wind was written sits up on blocks like a trailer, underpinnings exposed, like a trailer, trucked down a road, relocated from one county to another that also can’t afford its restoration,
a green curtain of vines drawing over the decay. What should stay?
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.
The Alentejo is the landscape of heartbreak. Or at least it was to me. Even its trees are clearly loners, set apart from each other at distant intervals across miles of sere brown fields. The Alentejo is all about waiting, from its numbered cork trees, with their skinned underbellies between harvest years, to the fabled, and perhaps fictional, nun Mariana, writing from Beja to a lover who will never come back. The Letters of a Portuguese Nun have been awaiting an author, an answer, for three and a half centuries now. Once celebrated for sparking a revolution in the European epistolary novel, now considered out of fashion even in Portugal, they remain a literary enigma, the country’s Mona Lisa.
As soon as I saw Katie, I wanted to live there. Concrete steps led up to the front door of the house, past a flower bush, fallen petals caught like fish in a net of branches. She opened the door and said, with her cartoon heigh-ho enthusiasm, “Well, you must be our Emily,” and led me in past the living room, down the stairs to meet James, her boyfriend. I had found the room through a handwritten ad tacked up in the University of London student union, and they had invited me over right away.
James was tall, long-limbed, with dark hair he had to brush away from his eyes before shaking my hand. Katie busied herself cleaning, washing a frying pan whose nonstick surface had burnt off the middle and then rinsing the plates under a swan-necked faucet. She used huge squeezes of soap for each piece and put the dishes onto the drying rack with suds still sliding off. A candle burned in a glass jar by the sink, sending out its perfume like a small, hot bouquet.
If not for the lust of women, there would be no alphabet. Save for the breaking of traffic rules, there would be no Cubism; no fractured light scrutinized from subways or kaleidoscopes in the tool belts of surveyors.