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John Palcewski's Journal

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A long train ride from Napoli to Portofino. A couple kilometers from the station I found the meandering mountain trail that led to the village of Camogli. A few hours later, in late afternoon light, I sat at a restaurant’s table, sipped my aqua minerale and scribbled in my notebook. I wanted to capture as much as I could about my most recent encounter with Harold.

We were in his study. Rain rattled against the window, like tossed pebbles.

“When I was a young man I had a blue point Siamese named Don Quixote,” Harold said. “One day I found him out by the side of the road, dead, with his skull crushed. I put him in a box. My wife watched me dig a hole in the back yard. She had tears in her eyes as she told me she knew how much I loved that cat, and was sorry that it happened. She said she understood how bad I felt about it.

“But the strange thing is that my expressions of sadness over Quixote's death was bogus. I found myself merely acting and talking in a way that I knew she expected.”

“So you’re saying you didn’t really love him?”

“Actually I loved Don Quixote very much. But by that time I had become highly skilled at keeping strong feelings—especially painful feelings—at a great distance. I always protected myself by becoming fully absorbed in my studies. Losing myself in the tediousness of footnotes rendered precisely in accordance with the Chicago Manual of Style, for instance. Writing hundreds of file cards of notes from piles of obscure, inpenetratable books. Essays, critiques, reviews, endless exegeses.

“Addiction is the only word for it. I was like an alcoholic. I was consumed by my academic work, nothing else came before it. And this addiction kept me from experiencing pain directly. The psychologists say this sort of avoidance of the shocks of life keep you locked in place, unable to grow, to mature. Under that theory I may be in my early 60s, but I have the emotional makeup of a 30-year-old. Which might, by the way, account for why I feel so comfortable in our friendship!”

I laughed. “I’ve never thought of you as old.”

“Thank you. Actually in a way I envy you, James, because it’s clear to me that you aren’t fully insulating yourself from the shock of your losses, and even this current crisis with Vittoria. At least not to the extent I have for most of my life.”

I thought for a moment. “The unexpected death of my parents changed me,” I said. “And now the Vittoria thing is changing me further. But it feels like a diminishment, not a growth.”

“No, James, I think what’s going on here is that you’re more in touch with your mortality. Now you are seeing directly what we all have to face sooner or later. Before these traumas, you enjoyed the youthful luxury of thinking it all happens to someone else.”

“Maybe so,” I said. “But I used to think that disappointments and losses were anomalies, a departure from the norm. Now I’m thinking that the true anomaly is happiness.”

“Perhaps this feeling will pass,” Harold said quietly.

“Maybe it will.” I said. "If I'm lucky."

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(Deleted comment)
Yes, it was in an earlier entry, part of Book II of Vittoria's Island, which I have decided to rewrite. What's coming forth now is the new version.

Great post - I love this kind of conversation, which I take to be a condensed melange of many real conversations you have had or overheard. Pleased you raised the Vittoria's Island point. If I want to understand the story references, should I be starting with your website or from a particular date on your LJ?

Thanks for your comments. Well, the LJ posts are all over the place and out of chronological sequence. Some are part of my short fiction collection, the others are ongoing in Vittoria's Island, a trilogy. The Vittoria story is outlined in the synopsis that's on the website...here.

This really is a beautiful photograph.... it's difficult not to stare at it for long moments, lost in the reflection of the sun through the wine in the glass.

Thanks, I'm delighted that I can share these things. It made an impression on me when I was there, that's for sure!

Now I’m thinking that the true anomaly is happiness.


That is a gorgeous photo. I'd like to sit right down in that chair, sip some wine and look out on that view.

And don't forget the spaghetti with "frutto de mare," a tomato sauce with clams & shrimp...mmmmmm. You must remember that on seafood sauces one NEVER sprinkles parmigiano...

Thank you for the beauty you bring to us. I feel the peace. Its a joy to wake up and see your work.


The great satisfaction of making art is that one's experiences can be shared...thanks.

great place!!!!great photo!!!!!!!!!

To me the entire COUNTRY is great! Thanks.

i've never commented before but i have indeed felt myself lost in your writings and photographs for some time now. you really do have a way with storytelling that is quite rare and extraordinary... though i don't quite know what it is about this particular entry that i find so appealing. perhaps it is your use of dialogue that leaves so much unsaid, like the control of negative space in a painting. it is really quite wonderful.
there is a journal by a very intelligent photographer that i'll recommend to you... myredself. her stuff is absolutely brilliant and more formal while yours is very rich in content. i think you might really enjoy it as one who has a keen eye for beauty.

Many thanks, I deeply appreciate your nuanced perception of my work. And thanks also for steering me toward myredself. Yes, her work is powerful, evocative. Perhaps you'd be kind enough to provide an introduction.

i would love to, but unfortunately she deleted her journal today. it is quite sad...
but you can still see some of her stuff at www.myredself.org. i believe there is an email address on there too.

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