Wednesday, September 10, 2008


My dad had an old college friend, Tomas Bitter. A Swiss man, swarthy, manic. He and his wife Fran├žoise lived up on a twisty flower-lined road, in a chalet overlooking Lake Geneva. They had a platoon of ruddy children, with a cantankerous, Germanic grandmother who lived in the little house across the street.

They were God-promised Calvinists, and this fact - probably told to me by my mother, so mundane and so derisive, one day, over her shoulder in a car - inhabited their home like some spectral presence. Everything seemed peculiarly clean and quiet, with inanimate objects - chairs and bookcases - manifesting unworldly gravity.

One day I was looking through their album collection - a sad, bourgeois and perfunctory row filling half a shelf as I recall, careful not to crowd the tchochkes. One of the kids had a copy of Bob Dylan's "Saved" in there and I pulled it out, mesmerized by the garish, bleeding hand. I must have been nine or ten - I don't think I knew that this was Christ's hand, reaching down from the heavens to the outstretched hands of his children below. I might have thought it was meant to be Bob Dylan's hand. However, I also knew that this album had something to do with the religion of the people who lived in this house and, more properly, with the solemn, pious spirit they shared it with. But the blood, the flesh; the trembling, outstretched fingers: it was so carnal. The idea that these two things might somehow be connected, I'll never forget.