This morning it rained in the mountains. And there is nothing I like better than seeing the low clouds enveloping the landscape. The magical atmosphere always reminds me of my mother. She was good at delivering life lessons with aplomb and promptitude. One of her lines came to my mind, as I was sipping my coffee on the porch and getting ready to see some children's art: “never tell people to do what they've got to do, when you know that they can do better.” In her scheme, the presupposition that a man's got to do what a man's got to do did not have positive connotations. I remember dissecting her line and saying that the condition for telling people that they can do better is that they are willing to listen. But then she would say: “whether they listen or not, you will have done your part.” “Yes, yes,” I'd insist, “and the condition for all this doing is tied to your own willingness to invest energy in something that may be desired to be devoid of such investment.” And so we would go as we could never settle it.

Later today, while enjoying the painting variations on an old photograph of the Norwegian national poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, I thought of how mother invested a lot of energy in my sister and me even when we resisted. There was a time, for instance, when we started wondering why we preferred going to the mountains instead of anywhere else. This preference has remained unchanged to this day. And it's all because of her. She used to drag us to spa places in Romania where she would have one more esoteric treatment than the other. We were also fascinated by the images of decaying bodies floating around in thermal waters. They are still vivid in my mind, and my sister and I now swear that that must have done it. The age average in those places used to be around 75, that is, until the three of us would ruin it with our presences. So, we would go from mountain to mountain all the way through the 70s and 80s, and all the spa places without exception smacked of nostalgia. The kaiser und kirche Habsburg tradition of taking a vacation in the mountains to sooth your nerves or bones that was prevalent at the turn of the century was very much alive in communist Romania. Although the times were though, now I praise myself for having experienced such belatedness that only people in their 90s can remember. Some things have a way of disappearing, but not their traces inscribed in our memories in the form of smell, touch, and gazing.

The children's art was pretty good, and made me think that if I weren't such a traditional being, insisting on topping the mountains, I'd be in New York reviewing the play, A Disappearing Number, that my friend Rainer Hanshe, the editor of Hyperion asked me to do. It's a story about the friendship of two mathematicians, and the notion that infinity is a beautiful way to think of when it informs interpersonal relationships: “Infinity,” Simon McBurney, the director of the play says, “is a way to describe the incomprehensible to the human mind. In a way it notates a mystery. That kind of mystery exists in relationships. A lifetime is not enough to know someone else. It provides a brief glimpse.” Viewed in this perspective, perhaps mother was right—as she often was—that we can always bank on individual mystery and its potential to reveal itself unto us, if we gave it a chance. We cannot betray the game of the ineffable. It is the role of infinity to hide the disappearing numbers, and yet it is our role to guess their function. We can thus sentence ourselves to doing what we've got to do if and only if we cannot do better.

Here are some lines from Bjørnson's Mountain Song on men's ways all going to the top, and all doing what they've go to do by listening to prophetic voices. The voice of the other within.

When you will the mountains roam
And your pack are making,
Put therein not much from home,
Light shall be your taking!
Drag no valley-fetters strong
To those upland spaces,
Toss them with a joyous song
To the mountains' bases!

Birds sing Hail! from many a bough,
Gone the fools' vain talking,
Purer breezes fan your brow,
You the heights are walking.
Fill your breast and sing with joy!
Childhood's mem'ries starting,
Nod with blushing cheeks and coy,
Bush and heather parting.
If you stop and listen long,
You will hear upwelling
Solitude's unmeasured song
To your ear full swelling;
And when now there purls a brook,
Now stones roll and tumble,
Hear the duty you forsook
In a world-wide rumble.

Fear, but pray, you anxious soul,
While your mem'ries meet you!
Thus go on; the perfect whole
On the top shall greet you.
Christ, Elias, Moses, there
Wait your high endeavor.
Seeing them you'll know no care,
Bless your path forever.


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