Is nature sacred? What might that question mean in a scientific culture? An American photographer, retired from documenting disasters, seeks an answer on a personal quest in the mountains by the French Riviera.
For years Frank traveled the world to wherever human misery was greatest; now he seeks redemption. He photographed evil and wretchedness, now he seeks the good and beautiful in people. He has no home. He is alone, and he has embarked on a quest that frightens him more than danger ever did.
Aurore is a physicist at a prestigious institute who looks for hidden patterns in chaotic systems. She’s beautiful. Her husband is a rising star in a far-right anti-immigrant party. He’s irresistible. They have a five year old daughter who’s very bright. All, in their own ways, are seekers.
Published by Collioure Books in "trade" (high quality) paperback.
"David Vigoda's special strength lies in his ability to take ordinary settings and circumstances and elevate them into accounts packed with extra-sensory life and perceptions.
"Under his hand, the... intersection of very different lives makes for gripping descriptions... that become an irresistibly compelling piece of the story... Truths sparkle like gems...
"The classic love scenario turned upside down, with much to relish in this evocative story of adventurers who seek to reinvent not just themselves and each other, but their worlds."
He had been happy, satisfied, more than satisfied with his life, but after his wife died he had suffered a kind of wasting illness, leading not to death but torpor, a death-in-life against which he had now launched himself toward a constructive death, a death leading to rebirth. He had done his reading, he knew that transformation was not his for the asking, he must earn it; and evidently he had not earned it through the death of his wife. An additional suffering was apparently before him, which he must discover and undergo. It was one thing to say that and another to do it, however.
He drove down the nearby cape to a famous harbor and again walked up and down the quay to observe everyone and inhale the scenery. He loved the high white craggy cliffs that shot straight up out of the deep blue and turquoise waters, the pristine pleasure boats bobbing side by side that made the strolling couples beautiful. He found someone interesting and pretended to rest while studying her. She was sitting at one of the outdoor restaurants across from a man and he imagined being that man. Once she laughed and he actually became jealous.
“What are you doing, mister?” It was a girl about five whom he found staring from a short distance away.
“Nothing,” he replied smiling. “Just watching.”
“What are you watching?”
“Nothing really. Just sitting here.”
“Are you alone?”
“I’m alone sometimes. Papa is always busy.”
“You live with your father?”
“Sometimes I live with my mother and sometimes I live with my father... Do you have a little girl?”
He shook his head. “No, I don’t.”
One of the other children shouted for her and without a word she ran off. ...A short while later to his surprise she reappeared. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“My name is Frank, what’s your name? Why are you laughing?”
“English people have funny names.”
“I’m not English, I’m American.”
“You’re American?” she asked seriously, clearly surprised. He nodded and she observed him carefully.
“You don’t look American.”
“What do Americans look like?” he asked smiling.
“They talk loud and the women dress like men. And they’re fat and wear sunglasses. What’s your name again?” He reminded her and she practiced saying it a few times.
“Nature doesn’t seem big anymore. To understand non-science we have to set aside science. I’m trying to imagine myself back into the pre-scientific world.”
“But why do we want to do that?”
“Because we still depend on non-science to breathe life into existence. Physicists... It used to exasperate my wife when they’d say the universe is inert or dead. Do you do that?”
She hesitated before responding. “It may be a poor choice of words,” she said finally, “but the fact remains that the physical world has no inherent meaningfulness.”
“So you say... Look.” He gestured toward the mountain. “It’s literally staring you in the face. But you don’t trust the evidence of your own experience because you are trained to reject it. You say that’s just subjectivity.”
“We’re so used to distinguishing between the world as we see it and the world as it is—and to assigning a lower status to our experience. Imagine we didn’t do that.”
...He lay beside her, kissed her mouth and eyes and cheeks and forehead and she began to cry.
“Why are you crying?”
“You really love me.”
“Has no one loved you before?”
“I used to think so,” she whimpered, almost like a child.
He leaned over and gently kissed her eyes. “Aurore,” he whispered, “bringer of day, bringer of light. I am going to love you like no one ever loved another.”
She looked at him and smiled sadly. “Please don’t make me hate you for that.”
[They stopped] in Nice’s Arab quarter for gas and directions. As ghettoes go the large blocks of public housing were not that grim, certainly nothing like what he was used to seeing in the US; nonetheless its status was obvious in the stark contrast between its housing and that of the rest of the city, as in the plain fact that only Muslims were to be seen. “What?” he asked pulling out of the gas station.
“He was very willing to be helpful.”
“That surprises you?”
“Not at all. It saddens me. He told me to drive with the doors locked.”
“Yes, I read about that in the guidebook. Someone jumps out of a neighboring car at a red light and grabs your purse.”
“There’s a chasm between us, unfathomable in a way. It seems unbridgeable sometimes. What do you think?”
The boulevard that runs through the fashionable quarter of Nice is lined with beautiful and imposing apartments, offices, and stores, and along it Emmanuelle is promenading with her father Régis who holds her hand. He lives in the neighborhood and loves to be seen on the boulevard on a Saturday morning when so many of the local residents are out for one reason or another. Above all he loves to be seen in the company of another, someone of some importance or celebrity or of course an attractive woman, but his daughter occupies a special place for paradoxically he prefers to be seen with her above all, whom he regards as his jewel, his achievement, his seductive display to the world.
...He greets everyone he passes whether he knows them or not, as if they should know him, as if he were running for election, and they of course will politely greet him back. “Bonjour monsieur, bonjour madame,” he will say with assured formality, inviting them to notice him, this well-dressed attractive man who strolls hand in hand with his charming daughter.