A literature book that I used to teach from in the 1970s when I taught mostly 10th grade had a short story by Herman Melville, called “The Piazza.” Notice that I said the book “had” the story—I didn’t say I actually taught it. Even in those days, there was more literature in a text than could be taught, and frankly, Melville ranks as my most-hated classic American author. I did, however, read the story myself, and while there are probably many interpretations and symbolic meanings that can be applied by those wishing to do so, let it be said that the story involves a narrator who has settled in a house on the edge of a valley with a mountain on the other side. (Of course, if there’s a valley, there’s a mountain on the other side. But if I can’t be overly wordy when writing about Melville, when can I be?) There is a piazza on the side of the house (title justification). On occasions when the light is just right on the top of the mountain, he can see a clearing with the light reflecting off something shiny. After much reflection (It’s Melville, much is much. Notice the pun with “reflection”?), the narrator decides the golden sheen he sees at the top must be some sort of beautiful palace, so he undertakes a journey (better description than just “climbs”) to the palace. When he gets there, it’s an old ruined house with light hitting on the broken windows. I’m not going to discuss possible meanings of the story here. Possible meanings of Melville always depress me. (I once was forced into having to give my opinion of the meaning of the whale in Moby Dick after a lengthy, rather pontifical discussion in grad school—pontifical as only a bunch of graduate assistants could be. I failed to “pretty up” my answer and suggested that I thought the whale represented revenge because after the critics had given Melville such a hard time about his earlier works he had written an unjustifiably long book and thrown in every contradictory symbol or possible symbol he could think of just to give them something to rant about.)
For some reason, this story popped into my head on Saturday. I found that rather scary, frankly. A couple of months ago, my son and I were driving in Amarillo after dark and noticed the lights of a restaurant in a rather unusual spot. There was only a car or two, but the name was exotic—started with a “P,” don’t remember how to spell it—and the view in the windows looked dark and mysterious with low hanging lights. We did not stop to investigate because we were on the way to the car wash. A few weeks later, I drove by in daylight and noticed that neon had added “Thai-Chinese Cuisine.” Now understand that I like Chinese food and that I live where it is not available, or was not available until a few weeks ago. My husband will tolerate it if it is a buffet. My son doesn’t particularly care for it. My daughter has that fish allergy that makes it entirely too risky. But on Saturday, I found myself eating lunch alone, just me and my audio book. I made a mad dash of my errands, getting a haircut and shopping for groceries in 47 minutes flat and headed to the restaurant. It was supposed to open at 11. It was 11:20. The door was locked. However, when they heard me try it, they did come and open the door. I was anticipating an exotic atmosphere. It turns out that the mysterious atmosphere was just the tinting in the glass; the tables and chairs were early café. The menus were somewhat sticky. In short, there was no ambiance at all. It was obviously a quickie lunch place, which is probably a better business choice for their location, but it had looked so different that night. I must admit however, that the food was plentiful and quite tasty, even if it was not the best I’ve ever had. The service was attentive as well. Now you can see why the incident reminded me of the story. I’m not sure that there is any meaning to be drawn from the relationship of the two whatsoever, but I get some satisfaction in feeling that if Melville knew I was calling attention to the parallel, he would be tremendously irritated.
Knitting note: I’ve lost a sock! This may be a crisis. I lost it somewhere in the house, and it is half-finished with a metal size 1 1/2 circ sticking out of it. I’m hoping it is not stepped on or sat on until I find it!