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September 21, 2019 | Rome, Italy

Optics

By | 2018-03-21T19:49:21+02:00 April 3rd, 2016|Area 51|
When a left eye feels like a volcano, call it Stromboli.
W

ithout my glasses my doctor looks like Galileo. Or Copernicus. Or Mr. Morgan, who taught 12th-grade English. I’m certain he’s one of the three or a combination of them. He — this doctor who is an amalgam of familiar faces — places my chin on the soft ledge of an instrument equipped with wonderful blue and red lights, like a bank of traffic light but seen from close up. He narrows this light into tall slivers but all I see is a grand blur of greenish red, the moody colors shifting around to make a throbbing stain. When he asks me to close my eyes and reopen them, I do as I’m told. In my mind’s broken eye I become a character in a fairy tale being hypnotized into climbing to the balcony from which the beckoning princess waves. She’s always there, waiting.

The doctor then asks me to sit back and examines my milky marbles with a new instrument I call the magnifying wand, since as he brings it closer it seems to double in size, blurring what little wasn’t blurred before and making a forest of prisms appear magically.

He then sighs — it’s a nice sigh — and puts droplets of liquid into each eye, favoring the left one, whose name, I tell him, is Stromboli (the right is Vesuvius). He asks me how I came to choose these names and I explain the obvious: Vesuvius is dormant, placid, bland, steady; Stromboli is so taken by its own colorful eruptions it can’t see for all this boiling over. The problem, he tells me, is with Stromboli, which I already knew.

But I’m fond of volcanoes. I always have been. As I child I dreamed of climbing one and descending into its hottest crater, like a boy into a girl (but before I knew about such things), poking around for molten amber and feeling my way through the shape of the cavity. If I kept on going I’d make it to the center of the earth, if not China, perhaps even Alaska, or someplace I’d be fantastically pleased to discover. I’d plant my Christopher flag and imitate the little dance Nuñez de Balboa did when he found the Pacific, thinking at best he’d stumbled on a great lake. There was no Instagram then. He could only write home, in cursive, about this found liquid and its long tides.

Without my glasses, and some other repairs, I will have troubled seeing, says my doctor, but these, he adds, are the wages of age and maladies, neither of which are unusual. It’s part of life, and I nod fearlessly.

When he’s finished and sends me away I’m sad. I want more. I want another instrument, call it the carrier lobe, this one inserted more deeply into the retina so that I can see Saturn, and then Andromeda, and finally the wall at the end of the universe where the ladder to the princess really is, a kind of rope ladder, with each step softer than the other, inviting the visitor to climb up, to make to the very, very top, the lip of things, after which the fairy tale begins.

And Galileo, Copernicus and Mr. Morgan are all there to applaud.

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner
Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.

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