It is a Sunday afternoon on the Grand Canal. We are watching the sailboats trying to
sail along without wind. Small rowboats are making their incisions on the water, only to have
the wounds seal up again soon after they pass. In the background, smoke from the factories and
smoke from the steamboats merges into tiny clouds above us then disappears. Our mothers and
fathers walk arm in arm along the shore clutching tightly their umbrellas and canes. We are sitting
on a blanket in the foreground, but even if someone were to take a photograph, only our closest
relatives would recognize us: we seem to be burying our heads between our knees.
I remember thinking you were one of the most delicate women I had ever seen. Your
bones seemed small and fragile as a rabbit's. Even so, beads of perspiration begin to form on your
wrist and forehead — if we were to live long enough we'd have been amazed at how many clothes
we forced ourselves to wear. At this time I had never seen you without your petticoats, and if I
ever gave thought to such a possibility I'd chastise myself for not offering you sufficient respect.
The sun is very hot. Why is it no one complains of the heat in France? There are women
doing their needlework, men reading, a man in a bowler hat smoking a pipe. The noise of the
children is absorbed by the trees. The air is full of idleness, there is the faint aroma of lilies coming
from somewhere. We discuss what we want for ourselves, abstractly, it seems only right on a day
like this. I have ambitions to be a painter, and you want a small family and a cottage in the country.
We make everything sound so simple because we believe everything is still possible. The small
tragedies of our parents have not yet made an impression on us. We should be grateful, but we're
too awkward to think hard about very much.
I throw a scaling rock into the water; I have strong arms and before the rock sinks it seems
to have nearly reached the other side. When we get up we have a sense of our own importance.
We could not know, taking a step back, looking at the total picture, that we would occupy such a
small corner of the canvas, and that even then we are no more than tiny clusters of dots, carefully
placed together without touching.