There was once a time, in high school, when I thought I might be an athlete. Cleaning out the attic the Christmas Break of my freshman year, I came across a faded, musty photo of my great-uncle’s rowing team. They were all tall and toned and stared grimly at the camera, gripping their oars, their faces determinedly blank and pupil-less. The introductory meeting for my high school’s novice crew team was held at the boathouse down on Kelly Drive: dozens of similar photos cluttered the walls, sepia against wall-paneled oak. There is a quiet exclusivity to a sport that needs a river: I felt its tug of history and decided to enroll.
The Schuylkill was our playing field, bordered by the Victorian gables of Boathouse Row that lit up at night like gingerbread houses. Our dock was the second-to-last and closest to the waterfall dam; a line of ropes stretched out just in front to cling onto if we drifted too close. It wasn’t a real harbor—the Schuylkill curved into the Delaware, which turned south before the Atlantic—but it was the point of departure and the place of return for our creaky but sturdy eight.
i. What makes us want to take photos of things whose Google image results are already numerous?
ii. I was reading Chekhov’s notebooks on the plane to Bombay last week and under the sway of those errata (ex: “love letter with a stamp enclosed for reply”; “A bedroom. The light of the moon shines so brightly through the window that even the buttons on his night-shirt are visible”; “The character keeps a library, but he is always away visiting; there are no readers”). I have lapsed indefinitely into squirreling out minute observations instead of, you know, actually writing. Surely, I think, any detail that alights on my finely-tuned consciousness will also prove itself a Chekhovian story-germ. A week into an internship at a South Bombay magazine, I’ve tried, and mostly failed, for four days now, to explore these environs alone, before the imminent arrival of insta-friends from college.
The Mount, a lichen-like stone promontory. Not a promontory to be exact, but not an island either. When the tide is out, a fleshy mudland connects the Mount to the shore, and a delicate concrete thoroughfare rises, complete with besmirched scales. Continue reading
I follow the man wearing red. He walks up the footbridge, down the footbridge. Then another. He turns right, right again. The city is gold. He crosses under the promenade, climbs into the blue clocktower. Hands approach, numbers rise directly overhead, chimes sound their intervals, the stone lion holds the stone book. I change directions, no light on either side of me, open one door, enter the room covered with maps, hear the mapmaker starting to speak. Continue reading
I am introduced to someone who has just come out. Not to his family or community at large, but to a few trusted friends. The friend I’m staying with is one of those people, and she translates for me, telling him I’m interested in sexuality, that I study it at school, that we can talk. We talk and drink along the cobblestoned main drag lining the bay, the two of them feeling good in their irreverence—drinking beer midday during Ramadan—hair tousled by the Aegean breeze. The promenade resembles the center of a European city, Milan maybe, but smaller, less organized, less shining-clean, with the feeling that something has fallen through the cracks.
I ask him, “What is it like here?” The friend I am visiting translates.
“It’s bad,” he says.
This month, we will be featuring a series of short memoir posts centered on the theme Harbor. Blog editor Kevin Hong ’15 describes our vision for this theme below.
“The boat that lands there with a cargo of ginger and cotton will set sail again, its hold filled with pistachio nuts and poppy seeds …. ”
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities