The Unbearable Lightness of Being -or- Guns 'N Roses
AtD pp. 950-975
Yashmeen Halfcourt, Reef Traverse, Cyprian Latewood and Baby Ljubica lead an idyllic existence in the Rose Valley. After the harvest is in, Gabrovo Slim takes Cyp and Reef on a ramble to see a tower surmounted by a black iron toroidal antenna- in fact another Tesla station. In the radio shack, instead of transmitting power or Q-Rays, the Sparks are listening intently to the received transmissions of the dead. A pack of motorcyclists pulls up and turns out to be Derrick Theign's elite "shadowing" unit, R.U.S.H. led by Mihály Vámos. He and Cyps compare notes and the bikers take Cyp and Reef out to the Interdikt (952). Nobody seems to own the place and it seems to defend itself, but the bikers know the way in, following a weaving cartesian path. Inside they find canisters of phosgene , but instead of poison gas, it is to be used as a light-weapon "a great cascade of blindness and terror ripping straight across the heart of the Balkan peninsula. Like nothing that has ever happened." (953:25). Backshadows of the Vormance Monster and foreshadows of WWI. Oddly, there is no light source. Vámos takes leave without looking back (more on this later).
Time for Cyp, Reef and Yash to move on. They head east toward the Black Sea and Varna, detour to an arched rock formation called Halkata (The Ring). Yashmeen and Reef walk through together ("you will both be in love forever" according to local tradition) and Cyps follows alone ("turn into the opposite sex" 955:33). They reach, to the accompaniment of birdsong and choral music, a remote mountain monastery of a sect descended from the Bogomils, devoted to silence, contemplation and a Manichean/Buddhistic emphasis on duality, light:dark, the ratio and similarity of the part to the whole. They were of course persecuted as heretical until the absorption of the main branch into the Roman church in 1650. Cyprian decides this is just his cup of tea and stays on as a postulant nun, as Dwight Prance did back in Tuva (787). Cyprian has had an epiphany and is permitted to ask the hegumen one question: "What is it that is born of light?" (959:37) and Father Ponko answers with a reference to the hesychasts' (their fourteenth century rival sect) tradition of the light of the Transfiguration of Christ and its equivalence to the inner light perceived emanating from one's middle in meditation (omphalopsychoi). Ponko contrasts this with his sect's perception of light approached through darkness, as the Moon is to the Sun. And asks his own koanic question: "When something is born of light, what does that enable us to see?" (960:14). They part, unlike Orpheus and Eurydice and Mr. and Mrs. Lot, without looking back.
Yash, Ljubica and Reef head off West toward the Adriatic as the First Balkan War breaks out, pegging the time as October, 1912. Skirting the fighting, Reef picks up a Madsen gun and bouquets of wildflowers for Yashmeen and Ljubica. They pause to send postcards with weird multi-alphabet stamps to Yz-les-Bains, Chunxton Crescent, Gabrovo Slim and Zhivka, Frank and Mayva in the U.S.A., Kit Traverse and Auberon Halfcourt, Hotel Tarim, Kashgar, Chinese Turkestan (968:17) and enter Albania, which everyone had warned them to avoid. After a scrape with some local highwaymen, Reef is rescued by Ramiz, his buddy from the Swiss tunnel. Next thing you know they are invited home and playing clarinets in harmony and drinking rakia. Through more idyllic scenery and family bonding, they make their way to the coast and catch a lift on a fishing boat to Corfu.
Here walks into a cafe where Yash and Ljubica are sitting none other than Auberon Halfcourt (973:11). He got their postcard from page 968. He has deserted his post, made a fortune in jade (Yashmeen's namesake mineral) and having encountered Kit Traverse tending bar in the Deux Continents in Constantinople, Auberon hooks up with Umeki Tsurigane, of Q-Weapon fame (974:21). They go and find Reef in a taverna, teaching the locals Leadville Fan-Tan and all have a jolly meal of "tsingarelli and polenta and yaprakia and a chicken stoufado
with fennel and quince and pancetta" from an ancient Venetian recipe with lashings of Mavrodaphne (975:17) and all wind up doing the karsilamás. Auberon explains to Yashmeen "For me Shambhala, you see, turned out to be not a goal but an absence. Not the discovery of a place but the act of leaving the futureless place where I was. And in the process I arrived at Constantinople." "And your world-line crossed that of Miss Tsurigane. And so." "And so." (975:29).
Notes & Commentary:
p. 953: Phosgene may be synthesized by combining carbon monoxide and chlorine catalyzed by sunlight, hence the name "born of light." Aside from all the other light-themery in the work, there is Lucifer, bearer of light in Manichean opposition to Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine of the Nicean credo. A light-weapon strikes me as fanciful and impractical when we can contemplate orbiting thermonuclear-
pumped X-ray lasers.
p. 956: The Bogomils drew on local Pythagorean and Orphic sources. That they were Early Protestants in the opinion of L.P. Brockett in 1879 seems to me to be biased and a bit of a stretch. So the dualistic tradition, music of the spheres, the tetractys tattooed on the abbot's head, interdiction of beans in the diet and not looking back on parting. Don't think twice, it's all right (B. Dylan). Additionally, the solution to the Pythagorean triangle of Reef, Cyp and Yash. In Ljubica, Fr. Ponko recognizes from a previous metempsychosis the mooned
planet.... the planetary electron. Self-similarity (fractals) and karmic cycles (961:11) and for Joyceans out there, "Who's he when he's at home?"
p. 969: Sheltering in a farm outbuilding, Ljubica seems to converse with a macedonian šarplaninec sheepdog. Turns out to be a buddy of Pugnax and the Chums are just out of sight, directing them away from danger and keeping an eye on things. At this stage of the book, not at all surprising, but the way this information is revealed sticks out like a sore thumb. "It would be many years before he learned that this dog's name was Ksenija..." (969:34) - instead of linear narrative, the Author steps into the spotlight as the omniscient eye, very out of character and a self-spoiler to let us know the future life of Reef. Perhaps TRP saw that the book was already pushing page 1000 and didn't have the heart to write what is a minor episode into context. Perhaps he (and all of us) are a bit tired of the Chums.
H. Rumbold, Master Barber