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Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky - Always On My Mind

I have written several times about the influence on me of Paul Bowles' remarkable novel, The Sheltering Sky. This post perhaps explains best my fascination with the book.

Tonight I am thinking of two of my favorite passages, which I have quoted before. The first is this, which upon reading the first time, literally changed the way I thought about life:

"Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don't know when it will
arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It's that terrible
precision that we hate so much. But because we don't know, we get to think
of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of
times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you
remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so
deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life
without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more
times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all
seems limitless."

Photograph Copyright © 2010 Alexander Chow-Stuart.

The second is this, which I posted after a moonlight swim I made very early in the morning (perhaps 3am) on Sunday September 26 2010 (and posted to my blog the following day):

The impulse to swim at night always reminds me of Paul Bowles' magnificent novel, The Sheltering Sky - and in particular a passage where Kit finds herself, at night, looking into a garden at a wide pool, surrounded by graceful palm trunks:

"She stood staring at the calm dark surface of the water; straightaway she found it impossible to know whether she had thought of bathing just before or just after seeing the pool..."

Her swim becomes a revelation:

"She stepped out into the moonlight and waded slowly toward the center of the pool. Its floor was slippery with clay; in the middle the water came to her waist. As she immersed herself completely, the thought came to her: 'I shall never be hysterical again.' That kind of tension, that degree of caring about herself, she felt she would never attain them any more in her life."

From Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky

Debra Winger in Bernardo Bertolucci's film of The Sheltering Sky.


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