i discovered lawrence durrell in a dusty old used bookstore on clark street in chicago around 197_. the title, justine, captivated me for some reason–i know of no justine in my life that might have had some correlation to the feeling i had for that word and its possibility, its shades of meaning. i flicked through the pages, scanning words, but not the thoughts behind them, that came later, once i’d gotten home with it and sat down by the window in my tower. i read it. and then i read it again as soon as i had finished it the first time–fearful that there was much i had missed; i was right.
on a subsequent visit to the same bookstore, i looked for other books by durrell and found balthazar and its inside cover revealed that it was part of a larger work, the alexandria quartet, of which justine was but the first of four novels, characters all interwoven in the dry streets of alexandria, as durrell said, “the sackcloth of reality.” since then, i’ve read those four books at least three more times, you might say that it’s become a ritual (and you would be right.)
p.s. i was going to call durrell’s travel writing ‘lighter fare’ but then i remembered sicilian carousel which if you haven’t read it, i highly recommend, both for its whimsy and its scholarship.
p.p.s. every garden should have at least one yellow rose.