Before Midnight / After a Bottle of Wine

The best time to get nostalgic about the summer that’s about to happen.



Greek Mythology Reworked

Ulysses, James Joyce

She would follow, her dream of love, the dictates of her heart that told her he was her all in all, the only man in all the world for her for love was the master guide. Come what might she would be wild, untrammelled, free.

The Secret History, Donna Tartt

It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves?

The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood

I picture the gods, diddling around on Olympus, wallowing in the nectar and ambrosia and the aroma of burning bones and fat, mischievous as a pack of ten-year-olds with a sick cat to play with and a lot of time on their hands. ‘Which prayer shall we answer today?’ they ask one another. ‘Let’s cast the dice! Hope for this one, despair for that one, and while we’re at it, let’s destroy the life of that woman over there by having sex with her in the form of a crayfish!’ I think they pull a lot of their pranks because they’re bored.

The Early Poems, Alfred Lord Tennyson

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew

Endymion, John Keats

Until, from the horizon’s vaulted side,
There shot a golden splendour far and wide,
Spangling those million poutings of the brine
With quivering ore: ‘twas even an awful shine
From the exaltation of Apollo’s bow;
A heavenly beacon in their dreary woe.

The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller

“Name one hero who was happy.”
I considered. Heracles went mad and killed his family; Theseus lost his bride and father; Jason’s children and new wife were murdered by his old; Bellerophon killed the Chimera but was crippled by the fall from Pegasus’ back.
“You can’t.” He was sitting up now, leaning forward.
“I can’t.”
“I know. They never let you be famous AND happy.” He lifted an eyebrow. “I’ll tell you a secret.”
“Tell me.” I loved it when he was like this.
“I’m going to be the first.”


Misreadings in the Garden District


Sundays in spring are usually pretty relaxed. Back in college, I’d wake up late, check my e-mail, maybe gloss over the newspaper. I’d go to the dining hall with my roommate, Leo, and the two of us would have a light brunch—pancakes, fresh fruit, chocolate milk, and occasionally a bagel with cream cheese or lox. Neither of us is very religious, but Sunday is a day for rest. After six days of studies, papers, seminars (and an occasional Thursday night party) Sunday is a day for laziness; for late mornings, late meals and little work.

One Sunday, junior year, I got myself into trouble. On my way back to the kitchen for a second glass of chocolate milk (I had gone for that bagel, and bagels are thirsty work) I ran into a friend. Julie and I had met through Mock Trial and the Human Values Forum, and we were taking a class together on the philosophy of law. We weren’t in the same social circles—she has soft green eyes that turn crystal blue in the right light—but she said hello. I asked how her weekend had been.

Good, she replied. She was planning a short getaway to New Orleans next weekend. It was a trip sponsored by HVF, available to all of its members. She asked me if I was interested. I wasn’t sure. I had known about the trip but never seriously considered it. New Orleans had no appeal to me. “You should come,” she said. “It will be fun.”

It was the polite thing to say, and I didn’t put much weight into it. Instead I pivoted to our philosophy class, and we started talking about Andrea Yates and mens rea. I enjoyed spending time with Julie. She has a particular smile, and I love the way she thinks. We don’t agree much on anything—she’s a utilitarian who likes jazz; I like Kant and prefer the piano—but we seemed interested in each other’s ideas, and I always came away from our conversations with something to think about. Still, we couldn’t stand talking in the dining hall forever, and so I got my chocolate milk and went back to Leo.

Alex sent me an email that night, following up on Andrea Yates. But she ended the email on another note, one sentence, simple and matter-of-fact. “You should come to New Orleans with me.”

I called her. She had been in touch with the HVF group. Only four people had signed up for the trip, she didn’t know the other three, and now she was re-thinking her decision to go. Unless I wanted to come along? I did. I could use the break. New Orleans might be interesting, and spending three days with Julie seemed like fun no matter where we spent them.

A few phone calls later, the trip was set. I met her at the Dinky next Friday morning, and with one backpack and a carry-on between us, we took an airplane down to Louisiana, arguing cheerfully about ethics and law.

We walked up and down Bourbon Street for the next three days, finding hole-in-the-wall bars, orange gardens, large, overgrown trees whose roots cracked the cement sidewalks we walked on. Bourbon Street led into the Garden District, a small neighborhood of mansions dating back to the old French South. They seemed unoccupied. The streets were quiet. It was a lazy spring weekend, 75 and sunny, and the shade under the trees made for perfect strolling.

Julie liked the architecture; I liked that she liked the architecture. At night we’d find jazz clubs and take boat rides down the Mississippi. We stayed up late, talking about other classes, our closest friends, random memories. I asked what her favorite color was, and, with a smile, she said that that was a stupid question. Instead, she told me about her pet, a cat named Walter. I told her that that was a stupid name for a cat; she laughed and blamed it on her dad. Our tastes were day and night apart, but we thought in the same way, and, from two different worlds, I thought we spoke the same language.

We found an old record store on our way to dinner on our last night out. Julie went in and started looking around. I asked her if she was searching for anything in particular. She wanted to see if they had any records by Herbie Hancock, one of her favorite jazz players. We couldn’t find him, but at dinner, jambalaya and two glasses of merlot to a local band, I scribbled herbie hancock on a napkin underneath the table.

I spotted a cigar shop on the way back to the hotel. Leo loves cigars, and I thought he deserved a souvenir. I stumbled around the shop, fingering the boxes and fumbling with the stogies. “Do you know what you’re doing?” Julie asked, amused.

“Sure,” I answered. What was there to know about cigars? You look at the curve on one end and the price tag at the other. She leaned forward and took the cigar that I was holding. “Here,” she held it to her face and inhaled, slowly moving it underneath her nose. She handed it back to me, smiling.

It was that smile. It has nothing to do with her lips—it comes from her eyes. It takes you in and makes you smile in return. You can’t help it, it makes you an accomplice, gives you sure footing in a world you know you don’t belong in.

We landed in Princeton Monday morning, and as we started heading off in opposite directions, I asked Julie if she wanted to have dinner that night. “You mean lunch, after class?” she asked, one eyebrow raised.

“No,” I said, “dinner.”

She was busy.

“Maybe some other time,” I offered.

She shrugged, walking away more quickly now. We were back. I should have stuck to Andrea Yates.