There is a book to be written, for instance, on small errors in subtitles. In the Fred Astaire musical Royal Wedding, for instance, the English girl he falls for, played by Sarah Churchill (daughter of Sir Winston), is engaged to an American, whom we never see but who’s called Hal—like Falstaff’s prince, like a good high Englishman. That English H, though, was completely inaudible to the French translator who did the subtitles, and so throughout the film the absent lover is referred to in the subtitles as Al—Al like a stagehand, Al like my grandfather. If you have the habit of print addiction, so that you are listening and reading at the same time, this guy Al keeps forcing his way into the movie. “But what shall I say to Hal—that I have never loved him?” Patricia says to Fred. Down below it says, “Et Al—qu’est-ce que je vais lui dire?
The sublime moment of cooking, though, is really the moment when nature becomes culture, stuff becomes things. It is the moment when the red onions have been chopped and the bacon has been sliced into lardons and the chestnuts have been peeled, and they are all mijotéing together in the pot, and then—a specific moment—the colors begin to change, and the smells gather together just at the level of your nose. Everything begins to mottle, bend from raw to cooked. The chestnuts, if you’re doing chestnuts, turn a little damp, a little weepy. That’s what they do; everything weeps.
In Darwin's work, time moves at two speeds: there is the vast abyss of time in which generations change and animals mutate and evolve; and then there is the gnat's-breath, hummingbird-heart time of creaturely existence, where our children are born and grow and, sometimes, die before us...The space between the tiny but heartfelt time of human life and the limitless time of Nature became Darwin's implicit subject. Religion had always reconciled quick time and deep time by pretending that the one was in some way a prelude to the other - a prelude or a porlogue or a trial or a treatment. Artists of the Romantic period, in an increasingly secularized age, thought that through some vague kind of transcendence they could bridge the gap. They couldn't. Nothing could. The tragedy of life is not that there is no God but that the generations through which it progresses are too tiny to count very much. There isn't a special providence in the fall of a sparrow, but try telling that to the sparrows. The human challenge that Darwin felt, and that his work still presents, is to see both times truly - not to attempt to humanize deep time, or to dismiss quick time, but to make enough of both without overlooking either.
Ever since, New York has existed for me simultaneously as a map to be learned and a place to aspire too--a city of things and a city of signs, the place I actually am and the place I would like to be even when I am here. As a kid, I grasped that the skyline was a sign that could be, so to speak, relocated to New Jersey--a kind of abstract, receding Vision whose meaning would always be "out of reach," not a concrete thing signifying "here you are." Even when we are established here, New York still seems a place we aspire to. Its life is one thing--streets and hot dogs and brusqueness--and its symbols, the lights across the way, the beckoning skyline, are another. We go on being inspired even when we're most exasperated.
I remember looking out the window of the little maid's room where we had been installed, seeing the lights of the Palisades across the way, and thinking, There! There it is! There's New York, this wonderful city, I'll go live there someday. Even being in New York, the actual place, I found the idea of New York so wonderful that I could only imagine it as some other place, greater than any place that would let me sleep in it--a distant constellation of lights I had not yet been allowed to visit. I had arrived in Oz only to think, Well, you don't LIVE in Oz, do you?
The hardest thing to convey is how lovely it all is and how that loveliness seems all you need. The ghosts that haunted you in New York or Pittsburgh will haunt you anywhere you go, because they’re your ghosts and the house they haunt is you. But they become disconcerted, shaken confused for half a minute, and in that moment on a December at four o’clock when you’re walking from the bus stop to the rue Saint-Dominique and the lights are twinkling across the river–only twinkling in the bateaux-mouches, luring the tourists, but still…–you feel as if you’ve escaped your ghosts if only because, being you, they’re transfixed looking at the lights in the trees on the other bank, too, which they haven’t seen before, either. It’s true that you can’t run away from yourself. But we were right: you can run away.