‘This fall was spe­cial. I have never be­fore, of my own phys­i­cal vo­li­tion, flown’

The Guardian - Weekend - - Howard Jacobson -

Ifell over last week. Not the most ar­rest­ing sen­tence I’ve ever writ­ten but there’s fall­ing over and there’s fall­ing over. This fall was out of the or­di­nary. In the first place it was ac­tu­ally my wife who fell, drag­ging me down af­ter her. My fault for be­ing such in­ter­est­ing com­pany that, as we strolled along, arm in arm, she didn’t no­tice the crater in the pave­ment. Down she went, any­way, and down I went af­ter her, ex­cept that I didn’t im­me­di­ately drop. So afraid of fall­ing on top of her was I that I some­how con­trived to fly over her and hover mo­men­tar­ily mid-air be­fore land­ing safely – by safely, I mean safely for her – a foot beyond her. So there’s the first way in which this fall was spe­cial. I have never be­fore, of my own phys­i­cal vo­li­tion, flown. I am an earth­bound man and was an earth­bound boy. As an in­fant I screamed when my fa­ther threw me to my un­cles. At school I wouldn’t high-jump, longjump, som­er­sault or tram­po­line. I was put in de­ten­tion by the gym mas­ter af­ter re­fus­ing to go over the vault­ing horse. For say­ing, “I’m happy to go round it, sir” I was put in de­ten­tion again. And once you’ve got through your school­days with­out fly­ing, you never have to think of do­ing it again. Yet here I was, decades later, sail­ing through the air with the light­ness of a teenage gym­nast.

While I was up there, a line of mis­re­mem­bered po­etry went through my head. “I fell twice be­fore my fall.” Only af­ter land­ing did I re­alise that what I was hear­ing was Emily Dick­in­son’s “My life closed twice be­fore its close”. What I haven’t said is that this was my sec­ond fall in as many weeks. Thank you for ask­ing, but no, there is noth­ing wrong with my bal­ance or my mus­cles and I am not over­drink­ing. It’s just that I have much to think about and the streets of Lon­don are a mine­field.

A fall that re­minds you of a good poem is a fall to be thank­ful for. But it wasn’t only a poem I heard as I flew: I saw a paint­ing, too. Man soar­ing above his wife – what did that re­mind me of? I should have known, since we were on our way to an ex­hi­bi­tion of 50 lith­o­graphs il­lus­trat­ing Shake­speare’s The Tem­pest at the Ben Uri gallery in St John’s Wood. Cha­gall. Of course. Out of pre­cisely that loving con­cern that Cha­gall painted again and again, I’d be­come a bird.

I rec­om­mend the show. Cha­gall was 88 when he pro­duced the lith­o­graphs, so he has a keen feeling for Pros­pero’s farewell arewell to his art. Go and see it. But ut be­ware the craters.

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