Cars and Cartomancy
‘The wall moved.’ ‘No, it didn’t.’ ‘Yes, it did, a few millimeters, and it was in my way. That’s why I crashed.’ This is Ayrton Senna talking, explaining why he couldn’t finish a car race in Dallas when he had all the odds with him. As reported by race engineer, Pat Symonds, someone had hit the far end of the concrete block resulting in the track swivelling, so that the leading edge of the block was standing out by a few millimeters. That was enough to make the difference. How could Senna see that? Sense that?
I like this story so much about Ayrton Senna, the legendary Brazilian Formula One driver and god of precision, because it made me understand why, when he died in 1994, the Japanese cried the hardest. This in spite of the fact that Senna at that point was no longer associated with the Japanese, racing for Honda.
Although no one has ever wondered about it, I like to think of a reason. As the Japanese are invested in the concept of kokoro, or the things done with the heart from a standpoint of no compromise, of a death resolve, I like to see how this kokoro crosses national borders, making everyone a samurai, that is to say, if they are able to display it. Senna could. He was just like the most famous swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, who understood timing and precision in the context of death. You draw the sword too early, you’re dead. You break too early, you’re dead. You lose the competition. You break too late, you’re also dead. You lose your life. There’s a lot of mastery that goes into knowing the difference. The masters who possess such knowledge also raise this difference to the status of art. This means that they get inscribed into my book of conjurations. I call on their dead souls and ask them to teach me how I can risk being blown off course, yet without losing it.
As it happens, I’m not into cars and Formula One drivers, except for the fact that I got a taste for it when, in the early ’80s, I watched the French film Un homme et une femme by Claude Leloush (1966), featuring the love story between a car racer who lost his wife to suicide and a widow who lost her husband to an accident. But as I drove through town and the quiet Danish landscape yesterday, I had Senna on my mind. When I get behind the wheel I call on him, as I’m always curious to know how he’d compete when there’s no competition around, for I’m sure he’d find something to race against.
I pay for this privilege: I smoke a pipe and eat Brazilian chocolate. I dedicate the hedonism to Senna. I also read the cards. As Senna was an inveterate Catholic who regularly performed bibliomantic seances by reading verses from the Bible at random that he would then take as the oracular voice of the divine guiding him through the day, I think that he would approve of the Devil’s work here, the name cartomancy happens to go by.
To keep it with the martial arts kokoro, today I offered Senna my Mars pipe, a sweeter chocolate than I personally prefer, and the Sergio Toppi Tarot in the form of a haiku. He got these cards: Justice, the Devil, and Force.
As this reading was a way to thank him for all he did, and also for accompanying me on my own car trips, giving me instruction even as I have to suffer through plodding along at the lowest speed behind some geriatric – myself joining that club soon enough – I saw these cards as a representation of what he was like: a man of justice and a daredevil of great caliber. In the form of a haiku, however, here’s what I see:
When the time is right
The hot Devil rides once more
Helmet of ardor
I like Senna because he operated with simple truths. He knew what his own justice was. His triumvirate was made up by determination, dedication, and competence. Justice here is the woman of method. Competence stems from methodical awareness and self-reflection. Force has the helmet of overcoming obstacles on. The Devil says, ‘if you want it badly enough, then resolve to go for it. Go all in and give it your all without compromise.’
I can’t think of better cards for Senna. The Chariot in the Tarot, the car, didn’t present itself on my table, as one might have expected. But then I wasn’t surprised, as he was done with that. What we got here instead is the exactitude of ‘neither too much, nor too little, but precisely as much as it’s necessary.’ There’s no space for the unnecessary millimeters that push our walls off track and chance. We can’t afford to crash because of it.
I don’t drive the car very often, but I think I might take my kokoro for a spin again tomorrow, commune with Senna again and hear what else he has to say.