Subscribe by RSS

Friday, 17 May 2013

Sounds of silence

Image of a Carl Zimmer quote about viruses to illustrate this story about the Tao of viruses at Friendly Encounters
"I reckon viruses are like wasps," my son tells me, as we walk along a west end pavement, after a meeting in the Centre for Virus Research, looking for a cafe that sells something resembling breakfast, at two in the afternoon.

"Really," I say, pulling up my collar against the chill drizzle that has started falling and has already numbed my head. "Would that be the buzzing or the orange stripes?"

"Don't be stupid," he says. "Viruses are smaller than the wavelength of light. So they don't have any colour. And they sure don't make a noise."

"For an artist you have a fair grasp of physics." I say. "But what the hell are you talking about?"

"I figure if you don't bother viruses they won't bother you," he says. "Same as wasps. It's the Tao."

I push open the door to another glass and steel space and study the menu. "Hummus and pitta bread again," I tell him. "I'm cold, wet and hungry. What do you think? Let's eat."

"I think it's sheep-herder food from another country, sold to sheep in this one at silly prices," he says. "All I want is a fried egg roll. Why's that so hard around here?"

So I turn reluctantly away from the warm interior and stride along the street again, pondering the penetration of Scottish rain. It really is the wettest water in the world.

Next place looks no more promising, but I'm desperate, so I push open the door, weave a path past metal tables, and am astonished to read, high on the blackboard behind the counter, that we can buy, not just a fried-egg roll here, but one with a tattie scone in it, turning a light bite into a meal fit for hard labour in muddy fields - especially if you order two with black coffee, which my son now does.

I have nothing more strenuous than writing planned, so order one roll and a cappuccino, and the two of us take a seat by the window to watch the less fortunate getting wet. 

"Have you noticed how, soon as it rains, half the people on the streets pull out umbrellas and stroll along looking smug?" he says. "Where do they keep them - down their trousers? What kind of person carries an umbrella in their pants at all times?"

"The kind of person who is always prepared, unlike you or I," I tell him. "Cautious, sensible people who plan ahead, wait for the green man and join a pension scheme when they're still at school."

"Well, bugger them," he says. "I like rain."

"What does Tao mean?" I say. "You mention it often these days."

He shrugs and says nothing.

"Is that it?" I say. "Ten years of Tai Chi three times a week and that's the best you can do for explanation?"

He smiles and shrugs again. "You can't put it into words," he says. "Soon as you try, you're wrong. You're talking about a model, not the thing itself. 'Those who know, do not speak,' Lao Tzu said. 'Those who speak, do not know.' Then he left behind a whole book."

He raises a fried egg roll to his mouth and I give him a moment to appreciate the Tao of the tattie scone. "See that's a contradiction," I say.

"Nothing wrong with contradiction," he tells me. "Comes from thinking with words. All they do is create distinctions in your mind that don't exist in the world."

"Like between viruses and wasps?" I say.

"Right," he says. "Distinctions and contradictions aren't real. That's what koans - like the sound of one hand clapping - are about. The Tao is action, not words."

"Give me an example," I say.

"Well the Chinese are expanding into everything and a lot of folk don't like that. So they go, 'Hey China, you shouldn't be buying our banks.' And the Chinese just shrug their shoulders.

"Then they go, 'Hey China, we don't like you taking over our oil companies.' And the Chinese go, 'So?'

"Then they go, 'Hey China, leave our utilities alone.' And the Chinese go 'What you gonnae dae about it, pal?"

He leans back in his chair, takes a long sip of coffee and stares out the window at the shining streets.

"I had no idea the Chinese came from Govan," I say.

"Not many people do," he tells me.

No comments:

Post a Comment