The continuing recurrent image

A couple of weeks ago, in the town of Figueres, as I was about to cross the road by Plaça Catalunya, I spotted a van which bore a familiar motif.

The design was strongly reminiscent of the cover of my book The Vagabond’s Breakfast in its Argentine edition, translated by Jorge Fondebrider and published by Bajolaluna:

I am intrigued, no, obsessed, by the recurrence of patterns, moments of repetition, serendipitous instances that incite one to reflect on the seeming perpetuity of certain images. Especially when those images evoke patterns that have emerged as a consequence of one’s own actions, or, worse, one’s own mistakes.

When the editor at Bajolaluna, Miguel Balaguer, first proposed this design for the book cover I was pleasantly surprised (if a little concerned that it might misrepresent or exaggerate what the book was actually about) that the image already had a precursor in a photograph I had taken around that time. The photo captured a wall of bottles in the celebrated bar Poesia (Poetry) in the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires, the shelves stacked with a fabulous arrangement of spirits and wines; row upon row of colourful bottles, ascending to the ceiling in a most picturesque and alluring way; a display to delight any dipsomaniac. 

The tableau brought to mind a fantasy voiced by Lowry’s Consul, Geoffrey Firmin, in Under The Volcano, sunk in the depths of his own, self-driven desolation. The outburst occurs as the Consul attempts to recall an earlier life in Granada, Spain, and terminates with the terrible realisation – hyperbolic, no doubt, but nonetheless alarming – that somewhere, in one of those innumerable bottles, was the very thing that he had lost, and would never retrieve:

‘How many bottles since then? In how many bottles had he hidden himself, since then alone? Suddenly he saw them, the bottles of aguardiente, of anís, of jerez, of Highland Queen, the glasses, a babel of glasses – towering, like the smoke from the train that day – built to the sky, then falling, the glasses toppling and crashing, falling downhill . . . bottles of Calvados dropped and broken, or bursting into smithereens, tossed into garbage heaps, flung into the sea, the Mediterranean, the Caspian, the Caribbean . . . the bottles, the bottles, the beautiful bottles of tequila, and the gourds, gourds, gourds, the millions of gourds of beautiful mescal . . . How indeed could he hope to find himself to begin again when, somewhere, perhaps, in one of those lost or broken bottles, in one of those glasses, lay, for ever, the solitary clue to his identity?’

6 Comments on “The continuing recurrent image

  1. Have you been drinking too much lately? Or running from reality in a manner similar? Or perhaps you’ve not yet forgiven yourself for a time in the past when this escape set in place an irreversible process; maybe you see it happening to a loved one; maybe you just fear it. Obviously, the psychoanalysis could go on and on.. but I agree that there’s something fascinating about recurring imagery & patterns. Doesn’t everyone feel as though it’s a message coming through the veil – as if there’s meaning behind appearances after all… and we’re the ones responsible for it?! Doesn’t it stop us all in our forward motion and demand a few steps back? And isn’t it a moment of awe when we catch what we just overlooked ?!


    • Ha! Not at all (drinking): as for running from reality, I really couldn’t say as I find reality elusive at the best of times. In any case, Boswell, thanks for your commentary. I like very much the notion of the moment of awe when we catch what we just overlooked (even though it may have been present all along).


  2. Me ha sucedido esa recurrencia de imágenes, o nombres de personas, o palabras & frases. Uno/a puede o (a) buscar refugio en el “modo conspirativo” y creer que están (pero ¿quién? ¿quiénes?) espiándonos todo el tiempo y nos mandan señales (pero ¿quién? ¿quiénes?) solamente para jugar con nosotros/as y confundirnos, o (b) darse a la idea de que existe un diseño desconocido -esas “serendipitous instances”- en el modo en que suceden las cosas, cuyo designio quizás (probablemente) nunca alcanzaremos a conocer. No me inclino por (a), sino por (b). PD: leí tu libro, traducido por Jorge, y también he estado varias veces en el bar Poesía en San Telmo, uno de mis lugares preferidos cuando voy a Buenos Aires. ¡Saludos!


    • Hola Fabián! Estoy de acuerdo en gran parte aunque la idea de diseño asume un diseñador y ahí es donde las cosas vuelven complicadas para muchas personas! Saludos!


  3. I remember when we first moved to just outside Elgin in the early 90s – Debbie was pregnant with Issie, I was driving to libraries all over Morayshire, and every bar and hotel had what appeared to be a Wall of Malt, for we were in the fabled Whisky Triangle, and what were rarities elsewhere were generally available hereabouts in these Pictish parts. In conversation I found it was easier to explain where our small cottage was by a triangulation of distilleries. After a while all these Walls seemed part of some labyrinthine library of glass, label, and gleaming bronze alcohol, and you came to feel – could you just access the correct combination of glasses – you might be admitted to an inner sanctum of whiskies, still occupied by the characters from the Noctes Ambrosianae, Tam o’Shanter and their ilk after centuries, and it would be not dissimilar to the Pictish well at nearby Burghead, accessed down a flight of Dark Age steps on the old sea-eaten promontory, a space that came to rival Knossos for me in its unknowability, shot through with the rumour of a legend that the Picts executed high status captives by drowning – only instead of water, the dark square of bottomless liquid would be the most ancient never-bottled malt.


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