Arabic has so many more words with which to describe things than we do, but … justice. What happens, though, when the language becomes all tottery with euphemism? When it becomes debased with all manner of friendly fi re? What I believe he refers to is good literature. Shakespeare’s is a language of infi nite justice. Although the circumstances of which the Iraqi speaks are vastly diff erent from mine, fi stfuls of terror as opposed to puff balls of peace, it was here, in London, that I came to appreciate for the fi rst time the moral ascendancy of the long sentence as opposed to the staccato bursts that comprise the language of everyday North American experience. Th is is not to say the other is without value. American English has got its jive. Also it can be as sinewy, as beautifully wrought as the best English written here. What I’m saying is the language as ordinarily used, when reduced to the monosyllabic or else to a spluttering of arrested similes – like, like – only serves to abbreviate experience.
A few years ago, I went to an exhibition of El Greco at the National Gallery and seeing there his painting of Toledo, which is more spirit world than townscape, I felt something leap within me. I knew those turbulent skies from somewhere deeper than knowledge. Th ere was a small print of it in my parents’ house. What those skies represented was perhaps spiritual in nature, certainly troublesome, and sometimes I think I’ve moved beneath them ever since. Th ere was also, at home, a reproduction of the Mona Lisa from whose steady gaze I tried to hide. I would barricade myself behind the sofa but no matter how often I tried to catch her out before she caught me her eyes were always ready to meet mine. Years later, when I helped my parents move from Jig Street to Kemptville, I checked one last time to see if everything from the house had gone. I climbed a cupboard and there, lo and behold, on the top shelf, lying face-down, serving as a lining, was the Mona Lisa. I found a hammer and a single nail, a three-incher, which may seem an overstatement but it was the only one available, and, hardly able to see for tears, I hammered the image to the wall, precisely in the spot where it had played hide-and-seek with me more than forty years before. What did the incomers make of it, the only object in an otherwise empty house?