07 July 2011

Opening the Shades

I saw Aharon Appelfeld at Tmol Shilshom tonight, talking about his writing and reading from his new book, "Mighty Waters."  I've never heard him read before and it was particularly gratifying to hear him read and speak in Hebrew.  Because he didn't grow up speaking the language and only learned it when he arrived in Israel after the war, a refugee from the Carpathian mountains, there is a concise yet other-worldly quality to his language, a poetry rendered as prose, a mysteriousness set in the stable structure of a tree trunk's wood. 

Anyway, there was one story that Appelfeld told near the end of his talk that I wanted to share--it seems particularly poignant, given that my own meager ideas are conveyed through the glowing translucence of a screen.

Someone in the audience asked him about his writing process (authors always get those questions) and his answer was beautiful.

"Let me tell you a story," he said.  "My grandfather, whom I often watched pray in the morning, once told me that before he can pray, he opens the shades to the house.  This way, there is no separation between himself and the Creator.  Therefore," Appelfeld continued, "when I write, I do so with a pen and paper.  Art is a totally organic process.  And paper along with pencil or pen are as close as I can come to a totally natural process that has no "shades" drawn between me and my creation--like a computer screen."  No separation indeed.

He then held his hands in the air.  Hands which have written his books that I've read.  Hands I'd never seen gesture before until tonight; hands that led a boy of eight to flee when the Nazis arrived; brought him to Israel; became the tools of a trade that would lower the shades to his past, looking through his grandfather's eyes, out an imagined window in the Carpathian mountains, conjuring stories of meaning and memory to those of who were not there.

His eyes sparkled; his hands gestured; his trunk was sturdy and strong.  The wind of fate--the Hebrew language--blowing through his branches.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you. It is a treat to vicariously experience an interaction with a favorite writer--and fascinating that he talks of lifting the "shades" between him and his work when he usually (and magically) uses the shadow of dreams and fantasy to help make meaning from dark reality. Thank you for allowing us into the story, in such an evocative way, and "conjuring...meaning and memory to those of us who were not there." Shabbat Shalom.