“The Things People Get Up To On Their Birthdays!”: Centenary Day.

Happy Birthday, Lawrence Durrell:  27 February 1912 — 27 February 2012.

Time for celebrations, a good bit of wine, and public waltzing in the square!

It was late when we walked back together towards Trafalgar Square in the falling snow. There were few people about and the snowflakes deadened our footsteps. In the Square itself your poet stopped to apostrophize Nelson Stylites in true calf-killing fashion.  I have forgotten exactly what he said, but it was sufficiently funny to make me laugh very heartily. And then he suddenly changed his mood and turning to his sister said: “Do you know what has been upsetting me all day, Liza? Today is Blake’s birthday. Think of it, the birthday of codger Blake. I felt I ought to see some signs of it on the national countenance, I looked about me eagerly all day.  But there was nothing. Darling Liza, let us celebrate the old b. . .’s birthday, shall we? You and I and David Mountolive here — as if we were French or Italian, as if it meant something.”  The snow was falling fast, the last sodden leaves lying in mounds, the pigeons uttering their guttural clotted noises. “Shall we, Liza?” A spot of bright pink had appeared in each of her cheeks.  Her lips were parted. Snowflakes like dissolving jewels in her dark hair. “How?” she said. “Just how?”

“We will dance for Blake” said Pursewarden, with a comical look of seriousness on his face, and taking her in his arms he started to waltz, humming the Blue Danube. Over his shoulder, through the falling snowflakes, he said: “This is for Will and Kate Blake.” I don’t know why I felt astonished and rather touched.  They moved in perfect measure gradually increasing in speed until they were skimming across the square under the bronze lions, hardly heavier than the whiffs of spray from the fountains. Like pebbles skimming across a smooth lake or stones across an icebound pond. . . .  It was a strange spectacle.  I forgot my cold hands and the snow melting on my collar as I watched them.  So they went, completing a long gradual ellipse across the open space, scattering the leaves and the pigeons, their breath steaming on the night-air. And then, gently, effortlessly spinning out the arc to bring them back to me — to where I stood now with a highly doubtful-looking policeman at my side. It was rather amusing.  “What’s goin’ on ’ere?” said the bobby, staring at them with a distrustful admiration. Their waltzing was so perfect that I think even he was stirred by it. On they went and on, magnificently in accord, the dark girl’s hair flying behind her, her sightless face turned up towards the old admiral on his sooty perch. “They are celebrating Blake’s birthday” I explained in rather a shamefaced fashion, and the officer looked a shade more relieved as he followed them with an admiring eye. He coughed and said “Well, he can’t be drunk to dance like that, can he? The things people get up to on their birthdays!”

— Lawrence Durrell, Mountolive (1958)

Read “Lawrence Durrell, le magnifique” — from Le Figaro.

Read “WahrheitVariationen über ein Thema” — from NZZ Online.

 

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