Subways, Ajumas, etc., “I imitate myself.”

On the subway this morning I was reading about the practices of certain sorcerous prostitutes from the Renaissance, who collected “hair, skulls, ribs, teeth, dead men’s eyes, human skin, the navels of little children, the soles of shoes and pieces of clothing from tombs”, storing them in little boxes and using them to enhance their “personal attractions”, according to Jacob Burckhardt. I came to my stop, shut the book and silenced the voice of the historian in my mind, and saw, on the wide cement stairway, among the usual throngs marching through the miserable gray light, an old ajuma dragging a small two-wheeled handcart behind her. Just then another subway pulled into the station—its wheels on the rails sounding not a little like the Overture to Lohengrin, which I was listening to at the time—and kicked up a terrible wind which billowed in the old ajuma’s dress, lifting it above her ankles and up into the air of the stairway. In the rippling fabric there was something of the Renaissance, something of witchcraft to the sight of this sudden beauty.

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