Before The Fall
It was a halcyon time. That time when woman, wrought from the rib of man, walked in Eden, unaware.
I see her still.
As the lush grasses and fronds on her trail give way, she pauses; catching a glimpse of an indolent bird-of-paradise here, hearing a trickling brook wash over green and succulent mosses, there.
Approaching the destined tree, she becomes aware her man. He is a little distance away, engaged in some trivial matter, as men will be wont to do.
The golden hour of morning is hers, and she pursues her ambition. With serpentine ease, she presses her midriff to the tree, all the better to find its gnarly outgrowths. Deftly, she climbs.
He is behind her now, watching closely. Neither following nor supplicating; he is hungry for adventure too.
Twisting from trunk to branch, she extends her limbs in the most beautiful tree-dance of Time. Eden glows with an aura so divine, books will be written in its name.
At last, her hand rounds upon the glistening fruit. She pauses, then plucks it from its perch.
She bites. Then hands it to him. He bites too.
Dawn drops calamitously into dusk, and dark. The apple is scarred, and their world forever changed.
The story of Adam and Eve is one told in retrospect; a sort of nostalgia tale of a time when perfection reigned, only then to be erased.
It belongs to the canon of great human stories, told and retold in prose, rhyme, painting and song. Notice how often the tale is recounted, from varying perspectives…
Haydn’s setting of The Creation (1798) plays the theme on the nose, but in reverse. It is the story of Adam and Eve, sung first by angels and then the duo themselves. But this Creation ends before The Destruction. The music culminates with Adam and Eve in love. Its dramatic effect is deepened by our own foreknowledge. We know they are soon to fall.
Guernica (Picasso, 1937) – a tableau of violent cataclysm – is a hymn to the pretty little town obliterated in the Spanish Civil War. By the time we witness its horrors, the only thing that remains is the beauty of its name.
Some of the world’s most celebrated living artists play in the nostalgia sandbox, too.
Boulevard of Broken Dreams (Helnwein, 1984) re-interprets Hopper’s mid-century Nighthawks, inserting Bogart, Monroe and Dean as the diner’s late-night patrons and Presley as its affable barman. There is fan-fiction delight in this perhaps-once scene, made more tender still by our omniscience, and their fates.
Joni Mitchell, an exquisite purveyor of cultural angst, captures the sentiment in lines from ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, under a rant over urban sprawl:
“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone? They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot…”
I have long been fascinated by all that is ‘prelapsarian’ – those things that persisted before the ‘lapse’ of man’s original sin, in the Garden Of Eden.
Perhaps I am coded for such romance, compelled to find healing in times past during moments of withering cold. Moments such as this: this Covidial Winter the world is now experiencing, in the Spring of 2020.
In the absence of cure or vaccine, Coronavirus can temporarily be held at bay by indulging in prelapsarian thinking.
Welcome to my Spiegeltent of fantasy, in which I fetishise the simple pleasures of life before lockdown.
Let me offer you an amuse bouche:
I have a carnal lust for a café. Any café.
And through Spiegeltent conjuring, I am there now.
So, let’s take it nice and slow.
I first experience the humid warmth of others (sweet, sweaty perfume of life!) as I open the café’s door. There is bustle and murmur of the patrons’ conversations.
I march towards the barista, and join a queue. As in, a line of people.
Two other customers, less than twenty centimetres from my shoulders, stand there and pay not a jot of attention to me.
Twenty centimetres? That’s ten times into the danger zone.
But screw it – this is Eden, and I don’t care. I will follow the snaking aroma of caffeine simply because I dare.
My next step is outrageous.
I proclaim, in clear and steady tones, that I would ‘like an Americano; regular, two thirds full’.
My words fly directly across the counter to his ears. No mask mitigates these declarations, and the barista does not flinch as my moist sound waves reach their destination. (Enquiries after the fact will affirm that, indeed, tiny spittle was spat).
The barista jauntily sends back a reply, pen in hand.
His question suggests that there may be a cram of people awaiting their beverages at then end of this; that we may have to enter a melée to retrieve that which we have ordered.
I am dizzy with excitement. This may be too much.
‘Brian’, I respond loudly, realising that I am happy for the whole café to hear it.
‘I am Brian’.
Because without knowing a sinner in this place, I love every single one of them.
Suddenly, my fetish dream is over. The Spiegeltent is closed. I am returned to regular life. Distanced. Safe. Alone.
I have never felt so thirsty for the ordering of a coffee, and for its enjoyment in the company of strangers.