My little traveller and my favourite book

Have you read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace?

The opening scene has Hal, one of the protagonists, attending an interview for admission to the University of Arizona. He remains silent for the most part while his uncle speaks for him. The panel become distrustful and frustrated and ask his uncle to leave.

At the start he remains silent. ‘I have been coached for this like a Don before a RICO hearing.* … I’d tell you all you want and more, if the sounds I made could be what you hear.’

The panel have documentation that describes Hal as a savant of some type, intelligent beyond his years and a proven, outstanding, tennis player. Yet he sits silent before them.

‘Look here, Mr. Incandenza, Hal, please just explain to me why we couldn’t be accused of using you, son. Why nobody could come and say to us, why, look here, University of Arizona, here you are using a boy for just his body, a boy so shy and withdrawn he won’t speak up for himself, a jock with doctored marks and a store-bought application.’

‘I cannot make myself understood’ is Hal’s last thought before beginning to speak and then he tells them everything they need to know.


“‘What in God’s name are those…, ‘ one Dean cries shrilly, ‘… those sounds?

Wallace then proceeds to describe the scene that takes place. I’ll let you read it if you choose to. There’s something so sublime about his writing that if I could recommend only one more book in my lifetime, then this would be it.

The slightly futuristic or just technologically alternative setting and the descriptions, stripped of sentimentality, provide a style reminiscent of Philip K. Dick. Only the words, the thoughts, the actions are left to provide proof of the human condition.

That sentence spoken by one Dean stayed with me for a while. When I was flying back from Athens to Bristol, especially, it resounded my head from the time I was on the plane until I arrived home. My tired 10 month old daughter, Mersina, who I had been carrying for nine hours, and who had been cooped up with me in our narrow plane seat, when she wasn’t in her baby carrier, happened to be the source.

She had managed the initial ride to the airport. We enjoyed a muffin and coffee at Starbucks before flying from Bristol to Amsterdam and going through one security check at each end of that journey. An additional three hours in the air to Athens were then followed by five days at my mum’s apartment.

Mersina met a cat. Mersina scared a cat. Mersina spent time with my mother, which was lovely. She met her great grandmother for the first time, which was wonderful. She had a mostly fun trip and even saw from which locations Elgin stole the marbles from the Parthenon. The Acropolis museum is spectacular, by the way, and I will write more about the actual trip itself on Ephemeral Baby and post some pictures.

The tough part however was the trip back home. Because of the time difference we didn’t get back until it was around 1.30am for her. She had begun screeching and screaming at infrequent but not too spaced apart moments on the three hour and 15 minute, fully packed, flight from Athens to Amsterdam. She punctuated the sounds by bursting into tears as the passengers all stood, once we landed, in a queue to exit the plane. The ones around us very sweetly tried to cheer her up by clapping and whistling and waving but to no avail.

She had some space to play with her toys from Amsterdam to Bristol so that wasn’t too bad but once in Bristol it all felt too long. She was hungry and tired and kept screaming while we waited for the bus and I couldn’t find my ticket. A fellow passenger asked why I was running back inside and I told her. She then explained to the bus driver and he let me on without one. Amazing. I ended up nursing her while we were on the bus and she was in her carrier strapped to my front.

Athens is not really that far away and we had a lovely time. However, at the very end of it all, before arriving back with wasabi cheese, Glenfiddich whisky for me and a comfortable and familiar bed for her, there were ‘those sounds’, as the Dean said. It was just those sounds.

*Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (18 U.S.C. § 1961)

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