Alejo Carpentier's Second Language
I like to think of literature as a second language—especially the second language of the monolingual. I'm thinking, naturally, about those of us who never systematically studied a foreign language, but who had access, thanks to translation—a miracle we take for granted all too easily—to distant cultures that at times came to seem close to us, or even like they belonged to us. We didn't read Marguerite Duras or Yasunari Kawabata because we were interested in the French or Japanese languages per se, but because we wanted to learn—to continue learning—that foreign language called literature, as broadly international as it is profoundly local. Because this foreign language functions, of course, inside of our own language; in other words, our language comes to seem, thanks to literature, foreign without ever ceasing to be ours.
It's within that blend of strangeness and familiarity that I want to recall my first encounter with the literature of Alejo Carpentier, which occurred, as I'm sure it did with so many Spanish speakers of my generation and after, inside a classroom. "In this story, everything happens backward," said a teacher whose name I don't want to remember, before launching into a reading of "Viaje a la semilla" (Journey to the Seed), Carpentier's most famous short story, which we would later find in almost every anthology of Latin American stories, but which at the time, when we were thirteen or fourteen years old, we had never read. The teacher's solemn, perhaps exaggerated interpretation allowed us, however, to feel or to sense the beauty of prose that was strange and different. It was our language, but converted into an unknown music that could nonetheless, like all music, especially good music, be danced to. Many of us thought it was a dazzling story, surprising and crazy, but I don't know if any of us would have been able to explain why. Because of the odd delicacy of some of the sentences, perhaps. Maybe this one: "For the first time, the rooms slept without window-blinds, open onto a landscape of ruins." Or this one: "The chandeliers of the great drawing room now sparkled very brightly."
Although our teacher had already told us that everything in the story happened backward, from the future to the past, back toward the seed, knowing the trick did not cancel out the magic. The magic did come to an end, though, when the teacher ordered us to list all the words we didn't know and look them up in the dictionary—each of our backpacks always contained a small dictionary, which, we soon found, was not big enough to contain Carpentier's splendid and abundant lexicon.
Was that how people in Cuba spoke? Or was it, rather, the writer's language? Or were we the ones who, quite simply, were ignorant of our own language? But was that our language? We discussed something like that, dictionaries in hand, while the teacher—I don't know why I remember this—typed some numbers into a calculator laboriously, perhaps struggling with his farsightedness.
I reread that story just now, and I again find it extraordinary, for reasons I presume are different. But I get distracted by the melancholic attempt to guess which of those words I didn't know back then: embrasure, denticle, entablature, scapulary, daguerreotype, psaltery, doublet, gnomon, balustrades, licentious, gunwads, matchstaff, epaulet, sentient, décolleté, tricorne, taper, tassel, calash, sorrel, benzoin, sophist, crinoline, ruff, octander . . .
To read Carpentier entailed, first of all, listening to him, and then translating him. First, listening to him the way we listen to a song in a language very like our own but that we don't understand entirely, and enjoying the echoes and contrasts. And then translating him; translating before we knew how to translate, or even that we were translating. Translating him in our own language. For someone who grew up with the Spanish of Chile, reading Carpentier was, of course, to travel to the island of Cuba, but above all it was to travel to the island of Carpentier.
The foreignness of his own language was clear to Carpentier from the start, as the son of a French father and a Russian mother. Throughout his life, he affirmed the official story that he had been born in Havana, but a few years after Carpentier's death, Guillermo Cabrera Infante leaked the juicy tidbit that he had actually been born in Lausanne, Switzerland (a bit of gossip that was never disproven, perhaps because it was supported by a birth certificate). The hypotheses about this lie—or, to put it more kindly, this slight displacement of the truth—are numerous, of course. Carpentier probably wanted to minimize his foreignness, for reasons we do not know, though contemplating them is fascinating. Listening to him in interviews on YouTube, any Spanish speaker would agree that this is a person who speaks the language with unusual dexterity and mastery, with his guttural pronunciation of the 'r' as the sole, though conclusive, mark of his foreignness. And so it isn't hard to believe this new version of his biography, which presents him to us as a Cuban whose mother tongue was not Spanish, though he mastered the language very quickly, with extraordinary proficiency, when he arrived in Cuba with his parents at four or five years old.
There is no disputing that Carpentier was born on November 26, 1904, which is not relevant in and of itself, of course, except for readers who are interested in astrology. But I mention it because that is also the birthday of Esteban, one of the protagonists of Explosion in a Cathedral, who in fact becomes a translator—significant, since the book is often understood as a novel about the "translation" of the ideals of the French Revolution to the Caribbean. Although we later come to realize that the beautiful and terrible initial section foreshadows Esteban's importance, the figure of that orphaned, sickly boy seems, in the first chapter, less relevant than his cousins, the siblings Carlos and Sofía, with whom he lives as one more brother in a big house in Havana.
The novel opens with these three teenagers in mourning after the death of their father, a well-to-do plantation owner who had been widowed years before. Instead of returning to the convent where she has been educated so far, Sofía chooses to stay home with Carlos—who is destined, or more like condemned, to take over the family business—and her cousin, whom she tries to care for and protect. The three young people cope with their pain even as they discover the joys of this shared life, "absorbed in interminable readings, discovering the universe through books." Grief becomes, as well, "a fitting pretext to stay aloof from all commitments or obligations, ignoring a society whose provincial intolerance tried to bind existence to ordinary norms, to appearing in certain places at certain times, dining in the same modish pastry shops, spending Christmas on the sugar plantations or on estates in Artemisa, where rich landholders vied with each other over the number of mythological statues they could place on the verges of their tobacco fields . . ."
They are distracted from this intense and entertaining life of seclusion by Victor Hugues, a trader from Marseille of indeterminate age ("thirty or forty perhaps, or maybe much younger"), whose seductive irruption on the scene opens up a promising space attuned to revolutionary idealism and enthusiasm. Rounding out the group is Doctor Ogé, a mestizo physician and Freemason and a friend of Hugues's, who tries to help Esteban as he is in the throes of an asthma attack. There is a crucial scene in which Sofía refuses to give her hand to the doctor, betraying racial prejudices that are typical of her class and time ("No one would trust a negro to build a palace, defend a prisoner, arbitrate a theological dispute, or govern a country"). But Victor Hugues replies categorically, "All men are born equal." And it turns out that Ogé not only treats Esteban's asthma attack, but also cures him completely. This miracle leaves an indelible mark on the characters' values and prospects, especially Sofía's and Esteban's; the latter, now free of his illness and faced with the racing speed of history, dares to embark on a different life.
I don't want to give anything away here about the fate of certain characters who go on to engage directly with the changing and bloody era in which they live. Perhaps it will suffice to say that Victor Hugues and Esteban set out for France, from where Hugues—a historical character adapted by Carpentier from diverse and elusive sources—returns to the Caribbean in a position of power, on his way to becoming the "island Robespierre," while Esteban, after discovering Paris and feeling "more French than the French, more rebellious than the rebels, clamoring for peremptory measures, draconian punishments, exemplary retribution," and moving to Bayonne to translate ineffective revolutionary pamphlets, also returns to the Caribbean, having now become the narrator who, almost without realizing, we met in the novel's preamble. Increasingly disillusioned and guilt-ridden, Esteban finds practically his only consolation to be the appreciative contemplation of nature. As for Sofía, her marriage to Jorge seems to set her up for riches and insignificance, but widowhood and her later reunion with Hugues turn her into the surprise protagonist of the novel's last stretch; her decisions, motivations, and fate have for decades fed an interpretive debate that is perhaps today more current than ever.
"I think I am one of the few Cubans who can boast of having visited almost all of the islands in the Caribbean," said Carpentier in an interview in which he emphasizes that none of those islands is like any other. That cult of the specific inundates each of the minute and vivid descriptions that abound in his work. The beauty of Carpentier's prose can never be emphasized enough, and here it rises to incredible levels, especially in the descriptions of marine landscapes: "Esteban saw in the coral forests a tangible image, an intimate yet ungraspable figuration of Paradise Lost, where the trees, still badly named, with the clumsy and quavering tongue of a Man-Child, were endowed with the apparent immortality of this luxurious flora—this monstrance, this burning bush—for which the sole sign of autumn or springtime was a variation in tone or a soft migration of shadows . . ."
This exuberant prose, which is proudly and decidedly baroque, still manages not to compete with the story. We are carried forward, it seems to me, at a fluctuating speed, and we even, at times, laboriously change ships; the pace is remarkable, as are the pauses, the tricky overall tardiness that opens up emotional spaces and unsuspected storylines. The narrative inhabits us, so to speak. At times we don't really know what we are reading, and, more importantly, for long passages we forget that we 'are' reading. Carpentier works his style in such a way that it is still possible to read this book as a historical novel, even as an adventure tale, although of course he problematizes the idea of adventure ("Esteban knew well the tedium the word 'adventure' could conceal," the narrator says at one point).
It's possible that a pessimistic reading, one that is grounded in the brutality the novel relates so bluntly, is more persuasive than one that fully validates the idea of progress. The world of this novel is—much like our own, in fact —complex, protean, ambivalent, filled with characters who fluctuate between feeling fascinated and repulsed by the present, between heroism and mediocrity, between opportunistic conformity and radical idealism. It occurs to me that, as much for Spanish-speaking readers as for English-speaking ones, the change in title is useful. The original title, El siglo de las luces— something like The Century of Lights in English—is ironic in a way that hangs over the book like a disturbing shadow, while the English title highlights the crucial recurrence in the novel of Explosion in a Cathedral, the painting by François de Nomé that depicts a halted movement, an "endless falling without falling," and, along with the continuous references to Goya's The Disasters of War, gives the novel a constant and powerful visual counterpoint.
Since it was first published in 1962, the novel was initially read, naturally, in light of the Cuban Revolution, with Carpentier already en route to becoming an emblem of a successful revolution, as he was until his death. I don't think that the novel, in and of itself, allows for some of the unequivocal expert readings it was subjected to: there are some critical commentaries that seem to understand it as a collection of the author's badly disguised opinions, which is particularly unfair given its complexity, ambition, and reach. Does this novel express a real hope in revolutionary processes, or rather a radical skepticism? "Esteban's journey is not circular but spiral," notes Roberto González Echevarría in his stupendous book 'Alejo Carpentier: The Pilgrim at Home', a particularly illuminating reading that attends to the nuances of 'Explosion in a Cathedral''s striking monumentality.
'Explosion in a Cathedral' is a novel that, just like Italo Calvino said about classics, has never finished saying what it has to say. Especially to us, who in a way inhabit the future that it foresees or prefigures. Read today, some sixty years since its original publication, at the end of a pandemic, amid wars and totalitarian governments and a radical climate crisis, a novel like 'Explosion in a Cathedral' continues to accompany us, to question us, to challenge and move us, and ultimately to help us in the arduous and terrible exercise of reading the world.
Contrasting the novel with the present could open many a debate, and I imagine them all as vibrant and impassioned. What happens to us when we realize that there are others for whom 'we are the others'? Do we ever truly become aware of such a thing? Is it possible to change history without violence, without thousands of innocent dead? What does this novel have to tell us about colonialism, globalization, feminism, human rights, the rights of nature, transculturation, migration, war?
Perhaps the somewhat irrational wish that Spanish were his mother tongue led Carpentier to build his astonishing version of that language, which takes on, even for Spanish speakers, a music that is old and new at the same time, one that allows past, present, and future to coexist. Literature, at the end of the day, is a complex form of consciousness, which allows us to imagine what we would be like if we were bilingual, or multilingual. And of course that includes imagining what we would be like had we learned the languages that were wiped out in our own lands and in the territories of neighboring countries, the languages that were savaged and erased to create the illusion of monolingualism. Perhaps if we respond to the challenges raised by this novel, if we undertake the countless discussions it permits and induces, it will help us become more humble, less dumb, less deaf.
ALEJANDRO ZAMBRA TRANSLATED BY MEGAN MCDOWELL
* * *
Last night, I saw the Machine rise up again. It stood on the prow like a door opened against the vastness of a sky that was already carrying the scent of land across a sea so placid, so assured in its rhythms, that the ship, slightly elevated, seemed to drift off to sleep as it pressed on, poised between a yesterday and a tomorrow that traveled with us. Time froze between the North Star, Ursa Major, and the Southern Cross. I don't know, it's not meant for me to know, if these were indeed the constellations, so copious that their vertices, points of light on orbital paths, grew confused and glissaded over one other, shuffling their allegories around a full moon frosted by the pallor of the Way of Saint James . . . The Door-without-hinges rose up on the prow, a meager frame with a set square, an inverted gable, a black triangle, and fixtures of cold beveled steel. The structure, naked and abrupt, loomed like an apparition over the dreams of men—a warning to each and all. We had left it on deck, far off in the April mistrals, and now it soared up once more on that same prow, at the fore, like a way-finder, like (in its implacable geometry, in the requisite exactness of its parallels) a giant apparatus for navigating the sea. No longer was it encircled by pennants, drums, or rabble; it knew neither excitement, nor furor, nor grief, nor the drunkenness of those who, back then, back there, had closed in on it like the chorus of an ancient tragedy as tumbrils creaked toward the thundering of drums. Here the Door was alone, face turned to the night, vertical over the tutelary figurehead, diagonal blade shimmering in the wooden casing that opened onto a panorama of stars. The waves rose in attendance, sundered and stroked the ship's flanks, and closed again behind us with a sound so measured and continuous that its permanence soon resembled the silence a man believes to be pure silence when he hears no voices like his own. Living silence throbbing, uniform, not yet resonant with severation and rigidity . . . When the blade dropped, diagonal, with a transitory whistle, and the lintel was painted as scrupulously as a proper threshold should be, the Vested One, whose hand had set the mechanism in motion, murmured through clenched teeth, "We need to protect it from the salt air," and he sealed the Door with a broad tarpaulin lowered from above. The breeze smelled of earth—humus, manure, resin, ears of grain; of the soil of that island placed centuries before under the protection of a Lady of Guadalupe. Her figure, held aloft by an archangel in Cáceres, in Extremadura, and in Tepeyac in the Americas, floated above the arc of the moon.
I had left behind an adolescence whose family landscapes, after three years, had grown as remote to me as the wounded, prostrate self I had been before Someone came to us on an evening ringed by a racket of door knockers—as remote as the witness was remote from me now; the guide, the illuminator of days past, predecessor to the sullen Sovereign who, reclining on the gunwale, was meditating—beside the black rectangle in its inquisitory envelope, quivering like a balance to the rocking of every wave. Now and then, the water flashed with the gleam of scales or an errant wreath of gulfweed.
Behind him, in mournful diapason, the Executor turned once more to his reckoning of the exequys, cross-bearer, oblations, vestments and tapers, cloths and flowers, requiem, registration of the death—and who had come in pomp, and who had wept, and who had said that we were nothing . . . And yet the idea of death seemed not quite so glum aboard that ship that crossed the bay beneath a torrid midafternoon sun, the light of which, nourished by foam and bubbles, reflected off of the waves and flared under the awning, penetrating eyes and pores, tormenting the hands seeking rest on the gunwales. Draped in makeshift mourning, smelling of old dye, the adolescent looked at the city, which bore, at that hour of reverberations and long shadows, a strange resemblance to an immense baroque candelabrum; its windows—green, orange, and red—shed their colors on a motley rocaille of balconies, archways, spires, belvederes, and glassed-in galleries with drawn blinds—all of it resting on scaffolds, crossbeams, gallows, and poles, from the days when building fever had overtaken the residents, grown rich after the recent war in Europe. It was a country subdued to the air that swept through it, thirsty for the winds that blew from sea to land and back, shutters, shades, jalousies, hollows all open for the first cool draft. Then came the clink of chandeliers and girandoles, fringed lamps, bead curtains, unruly weathercocks, announcing the occasion. The fans—of palm, painted paper, Chinese silk—would suddenly fall still. But at the end of this momentary respite, the people would return to the task of thrashing the inert air, dormant again inside the rooms' high walls. Here, light congealed into heat, the hasty sunrise thrust it into even the remotest bedchamber, where it seeped through curtains and mosquito nets; even more so now that the rainy season had come, and the brutal midday showers—a veritable deluge, with thunder and lightning—hurriedly voided their clouds, soaking the roads, which fumed when the torrid heat returned. However much the palaces flaunted their incomparable columns and blazons sculpted in stone, in those months they abided in mud that clung to their bodies like an incurable illness. If a carriage should pass, they were immediately soiled, doors and barred windows spattered from the puddles sinking all round, washing away the dirt beneath the pavement and emitting new fetors as one drained into another. Though adorned with precious marble, mosaics, coffered ceilings with rosettes—with grillwork so distinct from crude bars, it was as if lucid iron vegetation were clinging to the windows—not even the mansions of the wealthy could escape the silt that rose from the former marshlands no sooner than the roofs began to drip. Many of the attendees, Carlos thought, would have had to cross at the street corners on boards laid in the mud, or jump across large stones to keep their shoes from sinking into the hollows and getting stuck there. Foreigners praised the color and good humor of the population, after spending three days at their dances, gambling dens, and bars, where the bands enlivened the spendthrift sailors and set the women's hips aflame; but those who suffered life there for a year knew how the dust and grime and saline breezes left a verdigris sheen on the doorknockers, ate into the iron, made the silver sweat, spread mildew on old engravings, and clouded the panes of glass in frames over drawings and aquatints at whose centers the figures, warped by humidity, seemed swathed in fog brought in by the north wind. On the San Francisco wharf, a North American vessel had just moored, and Carlos spelled its name out mechanically: the 'Arrow' . . . And the Executor went on painting his picture of the funeral, which had been magnificent, no doubt, fit for a gentleman of such virtues—with plentiful sacristans and acolytes, finery, solemnity; and the workers from the warehouse had wept discreetly, manfully, doing honor to their sex, from the psalms of the Vigil to the Mass for the deceased . . . but the son remained as though absent, vexed and fatigued, after riding since dawn over royal roads and shortcuts that never seemed to end. No sooner had he reached the estate, where solitude gave him the illusion of independence—there, he could play his sonatas till daybreak, by candlelight, bothering no one—than he heard the news that forced him to turn around, pushing his horse to extenuation and still arriving too late to attend the burial. ("I don't want to enter into embarrassing details," the other man says, "but we couldn't wait any longer. Your blessed sister and I kept vigil, and we were so close to the coffin . . .") And he thought about mourning; about that mourning that would, for a year, condemn his new flute, purchased where the finest instruments were manufactured, to lie still in its case lined with black oilcloth, while he was forced to respect, in others' presence, the idiotic notion that where there was pain, there should be no music of any kind. His father's death would deprive him of much that he loved, alter his plans, expel him from his dreams. He would be condemned to administer the firm—he who understood not the first thing about numbers— in a black suit behind an ink-stained desk, surrounded by bookkeepers and wretched underlings too well acquainted to bother uttering a word. And he bemoaned his fate, swearing he would escape in the coming days, without qualms or valedictions, on any vessel fit for a fugitive. Amid his lamentations, the ship moored by a bollard where Remigio was waiting for him crestfallen, a mourning ribbon on the brim of his hat. When the carriage turned onto the first street, throwing mud to the left and right, the scent of the sea vanished, swept away by the breath of vast buildings filled with leather, salted meat and fish, wax and brown sugar in cakes, and onions left so long in the cellar that they sprouted in dark corners beside green coffee and cocoa that had spilled from the scales. A clangor of cowbells filled the afternoon, accompanied by the usual migration of the newly milked cows to the pastures outside the city walls. Everything smelled powerfully at that hour, on the edge of a twilight that would brighten the sky for a few brief minutes before dissolving into night: the poorly lit firewood, the trampled manure, the wet canvas of the awnings, the saddlers' leather, and the birdseed in the canaries' cages hanging in the windows. The damp roofs smelled of clay, the still- moist walls of moss, the corner stalls of fritters and French toast, of boiled oil left too long in the fryer; the coffee roaster smelled of bonfires in the Spice Islands, giving off dun smoke that wheezed and belched toward the austerely classical cornices, lingering between wall and wall before dissolving like a warm mist around some saint on a bell tower. The salt beef, though, smelled unmistakably of salt beef; stored in every basement and backroom, its acrid stench reigned over the city, invading palaces, impregnating curtains, overpowering the church's incense, seeping into the opera halls. The salt beef, mud, and flies were the curse of that emporium, visited by ships from across the globe, a place where—Carlos thought—only the statues could be at ease, immobile on their pedestals splashed with russet mud. As though an antidote to that stench, there suddenly emerged, over a dead-end street, the noble aroma of tobacco piled in lean-tos—bound, packed, bruised by the knots that cinched the bales in their palm bark wrappings, tender bits of green still in the dense leaves, bright gold eyes in the supple layers, still live and vegetal amid the meat. Breathing an odor that for once he welcomed, that alternated with the smoke from a new coffee roaster nestled in the sloping walls of a chapel, Carlos thought with anguish of the routine life that awaited him—doomed to live in that city across the sea, an isle on an isle, his music stilled, the closed ocean holding any possible adventure at bay. He would find himself enveloped, a corpse in its death shroud, in the reek of salt beef, onions, and brine, the victim of a father he reproached—however monstrous it was to do so—with the crime of having died prematurely. In that moment, the young man suffered as never before from the sense of captivity borne of living on an island; of being in a land without roads to other lands a man could reach on wheels, on horseback, on foot, crossing borders, sleeping every night in a different inn, wandering with no sense of north beyond one's inclinations, the fascination felt for a mountain scorned once you've caught sight of another mountain—or for the body of an actress encountered in a city you'd never heard of the day before, then followed for months from stage to stage, sharing the desultory life of the entertainer . . . After tilting to round a corner presided over by a cross stained green by the sea breeze, the carriage stopped before a studded door with a black ribbon hanging from its knocker. The alcove, the vestibule, the courtyard were carpeted in jasmine, spikenard, white carnations, and houseleeks with sagging crowns and stems. In the great room, haggard, twisted—draped in mourning clothes a size larger than her own that seemed to immure her like a paper prison—waited Sofía, surrounded by Clarist nuns filling decanters with water scented with lemon balm, orange blossom, salts, herb infusions, in a sudden show of industry for the new arrivals. The chorus raised its voice, commending valor, obedience, resignation to those left below while others came to know a Glory that never failed nor ceased. "Now I will be your father," the Executor moaned from the corner where the family portraits hung. The bell of the Church of the Holy Spirit struck seven. Sofía took leave with a gesture that all present understood, withdrawing to the vestibule in rueful silence. "If you need anything . . ." Don Cosme said. "If you need anything . . ." the nuns chanted in turn. Every latch on the main door was locked. Crossing the courtyard where, in the midst of the eddo, the trunks of two palm trees rose like columns, clashing with the architecture surrounding them, crests mingling in the incipient night, Carlos and Sofía walked to the room by the stables, the darkest and dankest in the house, perhaps, and yet the only one where Esteban could manage to sleep a full night now and then without suffering one of his crises.
But there he was ed, hanging on one of the window's uppermost bars, writhing gauntly from the effort, crucified, crestfallen, torso stripped bare, ribs rippling in relief, his lone garment a shawl curled around his waist. His breast exhaled a dull whistle, oddly tuned to two simultaneous notes, which died off at times in a groan. His hands searched the grating for a higher bar to hang from, as if his body, marked by violet veins, wished to stretch itself ever thinner. Impotent before an affliction that defied all potions and poultices, Sofía passed a cloth soaked in cool water over the sick man's forehead and cheeks. Soon his fingers released the iron, slipping down the bars, and Esteban, aided by brother and sister in his descent from the cross, tumbled into a wicker chair, staring through dilated black pupils, absent despite their fixity. His nails were blue; his neck vanished into shoulders raised so high they almost hid his ears. Knees splayed, elbows thrown forward, the texture of his anatomy waxen, he looked like an ascetic in a painting by one of the Flemish or Italian primitives, entirely absorbed in some monstrous mortification of the flesh. "It was the goddamned incense," Sofía said, sniffing the black garments Esteban had left in a chair. "When I saw him start choking in church . . ." But she fell silent, recalling that the incense, the scent of which the sick man couldn't bear, had been burned during the solemn funeral rites of a man the Parish Priest had described in the eulogy as a dearly beloved father, an exemplary gentleman, the very image of benevolence. Esteban threw his arms over a sheet knotted into a noose between two rings set into the wall. His sorry plight grew crueler there amid the things Sofía had tried to use since childhood to distract him from his fits: the little shepherdess atop a music box; the band of monkeys with the broken cord; the balloon with the aeronauts hanging from the roof that rose and fell when you tugged on a string; the clock with the frog that danced on a bronze dais; and the puppet theater, its stage like a Mediterranean port, where Turks, gendarmes, waitresses, and bearded men lay scattered—one with his head askew, one with his hairpiece chewed away by roaches, another without arms, the butcher's boy vomiting termite dust from his eyes and nose. "I won't go back to the convent," Sofía said, shifting to let Esteban rest his head in her lap; he had fallen to the floor softly, seeking the frigid safety of the flagstones. "This is where I need to be."