By the time the car stops at the end of the dirt road, we’ve been jolting along for an hour. Before us is the banyan tree we have come to see—its giant trunk surrounded by hanging roots, its distant crown shutting out the sky.
It is summer in Kerala, and the world is liquid and shimmery with heat. The roads and fields are parched, waiting, suspended in a burning delirium for the moment the monsoon will break. My aunt Sudha and I have just driven through miles of sun-blasted paddy fields, but the abrupt immensity of the tree makes the light feel shadowed, as if dusk has fallen at noon. A hushed feeling comes over me as the dark, looming presence asserts itself.
My mother and I are on a chlorinated river that’s somehow simultaneously the Amazon, Congo, and Nile, floating languidly so we don’t run into the boat in front of us and “don’t scare the wildlife”: the kind of joke the Disney guide, in his safari hat and over-pocketed explorer outfit, keeps making.
“I am living permanently in my dream,
from which I make brief forays into reality.”
—Ingmar Bergman, The Magic Lantern: An Autobiography
Erminia danced the Charleston. My friend Gianluca told me how, almost every evening, his grandmother would pause on the threshold of the French doors that opened onto the terrace and trace out the steps. Her arms swinging, legs twisting, a toe to the front, then to the back, a heel swiveling to the side, a toe to the front again. She confined her movements to the doorway as though she wanted to go unnoticed, and yet somehow she demanded the attention of anyone nearby. Whenever I was at Gianluca’s, I always saw her singing softly to herself.
We called him Ísjaki. Few knew his real name. I certainly didn’t when I was charged with being his caretaker during his first visit to New York. Ísjaki meant “iceberg” in Iceland, where this man came from.
I will make this short but not sweet, unlike the chocolate delicacy at the center of this blunder:
Whoever is eating cookies in The Loomery, cease. Did you not see the signs in the hall outside? Did you not read the pamphlets on initiation day? Surely not, because you would’ve noticed they read in large Impact font: DO NOT EAT INSIDE THE LOOMERY.