I sat beside the gas fireplace in a café, in summer, and I bought the same t-shirt I always buy when I visit Virginia. I wanted to find Catherine’s tree, and I needed to walk Rugby Road in the aftermath of the Rolling Stone debacle and with REM in my head. And I wanted to figure out which house was Phi Kappa Psi, because, well—the names never meant much then—but I wanted to try and remember whether I’d been there too. I wanted to see if my memories were accurate down to the hedge and the tree on the left a dozen yards from the next standing lamp. I wanted to walk the ways I walked 25 years ago—but a lot has changed. The theatre is in the same hollow, but the paint on the bridge is beyond the inch thick.

Later, I repair to the Lawn under cover of twilight, and as in the daytime took photographs that largely pretended I was alone. It is not a hard thing to make a crowd invisible, in the dark and between the street lamps and the louvered effect of the colonnades, the way ghosts are.

There was a day on the boat last month I took a break from the winches and the Mustang suits, the nets and rapt/worrisome gawking at sea ice and walrus, polar bears and the distillation of chlorophyll and zooplankton meat—maybe half an hour, about the same amount of breathing I spent with Catherine’s tree once I found it. I’m not sure what led me from the Arctic Ocean to the Charlottesville photographs, but perhaps it was a way to get, just briefly, off the boat. Maybe the folders on the laptop were near to each other. Perhaps I needed to expose more for strangers stumbling from the edge of the frame than those I had put front and center. Maybe I needed to escape the ice and fog and water, the vaporous horizon, and find the firmer edges of twilight. Maybe the bright red mooring floats and the falling snow over bird-less grey water reminded me of winter berries and trail lamplight, even in the thick of summer.

Maybe I was possessed by a residual reverence for these things, bright now, and digital—which is exactly what architecture is meant to do, the machine nature of a village where none of the photographs escape the fact this place is once again under construction, once again an evasive thing, transforming itself in an effort to remain exactly the same. A fence runs across in front of the Rotunda, as scaffolding enveloped Monticello 25 years ago—and Catherine’s tree? It’s girded by gates and signs I ignore to get to it. I report to Hyong that the memorial plaque is gone now—we hope temporarily, until the latest repairs to the village are over and done with. Her name will return before the light of the barbecue, before the fall. Repairs to the village. Yes. That is why.


You spawn in a bar next to a second, freshly minted character. You don’t know where in the world she lives, but she is here now. She buys a drink. You buy two. She passes hers to you. You return the favor twice over. She tells you she likes the description of the bartender. She teaches you how to look. She shows you how to look at yourself. You’ve poofed into being with a dagger and 10 gold pieces in a purse on your belt. The purse is closed. You ask how you have a dagger and she has a sword. “Random,” she says. Then she admits she stole the sword, successfully, from you, about thirty seconds ago. She left you the dagger because you bought her a drink. You try to steal her socks, but apparently she is not wearing any. “Drink up,” she says, “and let’s go kill something.” She does not seem to care what.

Not all friendships are born in publics, bars, and gardens—and when you spawn side by side with your impromptu, serendipitous date, sometimes the room needs to be a cathedral—or a bookstore—or a road junction where three cross and ten feet into the weeds there are two bodies half hidden. If you inspect them you find they are dressed exactly like the both of you. Sometimes you are sitting in the back of a horse-drawn coach traveling between towns. You can stop the driver at any time. Sometimes you inhabit the back row at a festival where a woman is singing ballads and two jugglers are about to set a man on fire for volunteering before they become famous and really get their act together. Sometimes you order coffees instead of whiskey, cheese curls instead of unshelled peanuts. Sometimes you find yourself on a boat, or at a hostel. Grab a night’s rack. Scout a deserted building. There are square feet missing, and you’ve all but forgotten how you came here. Sometimes you must build the room first. Then the furniture. The table is a supporter. The table has a top. The top can be removed. The table is a container. It contains a drawer. The drawer is a container. It is opaque, closed, openable, locked, and cannot be taken. The lock requires a bronze key. The key is in the drawer.

You remember your name and learn how to do simple things, like picking up a stick, lighting a lamp, and opening a door. Sometimes breakfast is served, and the fire has crisped the skin of a rabbit. Coffee and yellow light warm the hollow between the trees and the rock. And sometimes you chat into the long hours at a table in a restaurant that stopped serving ages ago. You’ve been playing games with the beer mats and the spoons. The window panes are frosted, and you can’t open the front door without bruising the shoulder of a homeless man who thought it his turn to warm the dry tiles. Everyone apologizes. Everyone means it. “We’re going to remember that,” you say, on the way to the car. “Yes,” she agrees.