mad in pursuit notebook


The Lost Scrolls of Desire


Ethiopian Magic ScrollsIt must have been around 1980. Jim and I were best buddies, but still firmly committed to our own private lives and pursuing our independent passions. I was studying calligraphy and became intrigued with scripts from different cultures. Jim had a few African things from his travels. One day we were in his study and he showed me a little treasure: tiny scrolls, filled with prayers and healing texts in the strange ge'ez language, interspersed with little talismanic paintings. Wow. I was immediately enchanted. I coveted them. MINE! But I was polite and respectful. And Jim put the scrolls back in their place.

Years passed.

Jim moved. I moved. We got married. But I never forgot those scrolls. Now living under the same roof, with me taking charge of excavating closets and drawers, I asked Jim about them. He was vague. Couldn't quite remember where he put them or whether he still had them at all.

Now in 2012, there are few secret hidey-holes left. Collections have been inventoried and reorganized or sold. With every new mystery drawer, (no lie) I had thought, Maybe I'll find the ge'ez scrolls in here. No luck.

Strange feeling to miss something you never had. An odd longing. A puzzling nostalgia.

fragment of Ethiopian scrollThen the other night, I found myself in Jim's study getting some stuff off the floor and rearranging shelf space. It's become kind of our junk room, all 10 x 10 of it. In a crowded corner, on a bottom book shelf were a pile of reprints and catalogs that looked like candidates for the recycling bin. On the top was a pamphlet about a conference on Ethiopian health care. When I stretched past the filing cabinet and reached deep into the dark shelf, around the glass sliding door that never quite closes, my hand found a small plastic bag. OH! The scrolls!

I knew immediately what they were. The bland little package was right where Jim had once thought appropriate -- on top of some pamphlets about Ethiopia. Of course. I felt light-headed. That mythical big old fish, who I lazily thought about every time I tossed my line in the water -- that elusive flash quickly disappearing out the corner of my eye -- where did you go? -- that rascal was mine. Surprise! The day had ended with magic.

I ran downstairs to show Jim. We unwound them -- just a little. [See photo.] The leathery vellum is stiff from age and from being so tightly curled for more than a century. But we saw the strange liturgical script, which looks a bit like Hebrew, and a few of the charming paintings. Oh, the thrill of it.

I went to bed basking in the magic of it all. Feeling like Indiana Jones.


Aug 31, 2012