May 15, 2022 7:24 pm

The secret of hourglasses

In my neighborhood, a few blocks from home, there is a watchmaker who, in addition to offering his services to repair old mechanical models (his thing does not seem to be the digital world), builds hourglasses. They are simple and beautiful pieces, made of wood and glass, of medium, large, small size, displayed without major artifice on four or five shelves facing the window. Ever since I discovered them, I have dreamed that one of those clocks appears between books and plants, on my desk or in any other corner of the house. But the dream, until now, proved impossible.

If this were the beginning of a story, it would have to be called “the mystery of the hourglass maker”. Because I’ve already lost count of the times I’ve approached the place, peeked through the glass door that leads to the street, obeyed the sign that indicates to ring the bell and wait… And nothing.

I wouldn’t say it became an obsession, but curiosity is starting to devour me. Although I didn’t do it systematically, I tried to stop by at different times of the day, at different times of the week. Any.

The business does not look abandoned. Someone raises and lowers the metal shutter that protects it on weekends. Someone cleans the glass shelves on which the clocks are so proudly displayed. There is someone there, dedicated to taking care of that small place, to cultivating his plot of art. But for a reason that escapes me, that someone is being elusive.

I went by there today, with the usual zero results. As always, I stood for a few moments looking at the watches, wondering what it is about them that attracts me so much. doWill it be the inevitable echo of Borges? What about “There is a pleasure in observing the arcane sand that slips and declines / and, about to fall, swirls / with a haste that is entirely human”?

Or maybe it’s that I love lost causes, that I have a weakness for the vestiges of what this city once was. And that it is impossible not to sympathize with someone who, in a corner of his flirty and anachronistic window, puts up a sign where, in handwritten letters, he says: “We do the impossible immediately. For miracles, we take a little longer.”

La Grande Librairie, the excellent French television program hosted by François Busnel, dedicated one of its latest broadcasts to happiness. Among those interviewed was Marianne Chaillan, a philosophy professor who published the book Where is the happiness? (something like “So, where is happiness?”).

In a dialogue with Busnel, Chaillan –known in her country for her numerous popular publications on philosophical issues– recalled a scene from the film The death poet Society: the one where the teacher played by Robin Williams, after reading a poem by Walt Whitman (“May the powerful drama continue, and may you contribute a verse”), turns to his students and asks them: “What will be your verse?” ?”. For Chaillan, the answer has to do with the carpe diem so popularized by that film, and above all with what he calls “living poetically”: an exercise more linked to the vital than to pure literature, which would have to do with “making each moment an end in itself”.

What the French writer proposes is to pierce, at least in part, contemporary logic. At a time when the tyranny of productivity impregnates even the most intimate spaces with calculation and exhibition, Chaillan considers that “acquiring one’s own rhythm” and shaping one’s “own verse” (whatever its form and substance) are the ways to touching a contained, personal, non-transferable happiness.

Something tells me that the mystery of the hourglass maker has to do with this: there is someone who found the way around the enigma of time, by dint of watches made for pure pleasure, just because, simple poetry of glass, wood and sand.

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