Saturday, June 2, 2012

Transit of Venus

There is something infinitely intimate and at once utterly universal about the transits of Venus across the Sun, those twice-in-a-century matings of the principle of the world and the loveliest of his orbiting partners.  It’s like watching a love story unfold on the widest possible screen – The Same Time Next Year, the Ellen Burstyn/Alan Alda movie comes to mind, a star-crossed, but touching affair – inevitable, sanctioned by the gods, an irreplaceable cog in the wheel of the universe, but predestined to meet only briefly, a sweet and wonderful set-aside among the real workings of their daily lives. 
Venus and Sun, those ancient, but perpetually young lovers, get only seven hours together twice in a century – the last time was in 2004, and before that a hundred years ago, and back and back and back through unknown ages – and yes, although on June 5, 2012, beginning precisely at 3:09 pm in a spectacular rendezvous in the exquisite sky over the South Pacific, those hours will be a whirlwind tour above seven continents and even a splinter of Antarctica.  “Why do they bother when they know they won’t meet again until the year of 2117?” those among us with little romance in our hearts might ask.  And I rejoin, “How could they resist each other – Sun, wildly and reliably aflame with dominance and passion, and Venus, evolution’s main event of love; beauty; romance; harmony; prosperity?”  Love is not in our choice, but in our fate. - Dryden   
Use caution when viewing this coupling lest its lure bring harm upon you for it will burn your eyes and possibly blind you if you observe it directly.  Getting too close to any private love affair will have a similar influence.  These two lovers cloak their surreptitious trysts in protective, hazy cocoons of fire, never meant for the inferior eyes of mortal man.  In 2004, one photographer captured a ménage à trios taking place – that low-caste, corporeal interloper, the International Space Station was of a mind to join in on the fun, or perhaps split them up – one can never predict the runaway ambitions of humankind – producing an unparalled photograph of the spaceship and the circular planet linked in dark silhouettes against a swollen, an angry red Sun.  One wonders if Venus was up to no good eight years ago.  We’ll see if this year the immortal two have returned to the exclusivity of their relationship of former times.  But to find out, be sure to avail yourself of projection techniques such as a camera or other appropriate devices. 
The comings and goings of Venus took hold in earnest in the imaginations of scientists in the 18th Century when astronomer, Edmund Halley suggested that the then- deep mystery of the distances between planets could be solved by observing the transits of Venus from widely-spaced locations on Earth and triangulating the distance to the planet using parallax.  To observe the transit of 1769, the legendary, British explorer, James Cook was dispatched to Tahiti, at that time a place as alien as is Mars in this day and age, an exploration that has been dubbed by some historians as “the Apollo Program of the 18th Century.”  Unlike Apollo, Cook’s undertaking was deemed inconclusive, yielding little more than fuzzy sketches of the difficult-to-see phenomenon.  Real answers, and proof of Halley’s theory, had to wait for the following century and the invention of the camera.  Sealed orders urged Cook onward to search the South Pacific for the then- proposed rich-in-natural-resources southern continent of Terra Australis.  He found it as well as the Aboriginal tribe known as the Gweagal.  And the rest is yet another bloody history of the European expansion far beyond the borders of their homeland. 
Having grown during the following two-hundred years to a place nearly as diverse in population as is the United States, Australia produced, in 1980, a third occasion of a transit of Venus in the 20th Century, but rather than astral in nature, it was in the form of a love story in a book by Australia-born author, Shirley Hazzard, and in its own way, as spectacular as its namesake.  Her The Transit of Venus, the winner of the 1980 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, is one of the best books I have ever read, and reread, and reread as is evident by the well-worn book cover shown in this piece.  It isn’t my favorite book by this, my favorite author, however.  That distinction belongs to another of Hazzard’s love stories, The Bay of Noon, her 1970 novel that was shortlisted for the Lost Man Booker Prize.
A New York resident holding dual citizenships in Britain and the United States, this 81 year old literary giant is proof that it is never too late to follow one’s dreams.  The Great Fire, her 2003 novel, a book on which she worked for twenty years and was published when she was 72 years of age, won the National Book Award for fiction.
Transits of Venus are very rare, as are authors of the caliber of Shirley Hazzard, a storyteller who writes blissfully intelligent prose as if it were poetry, and who invents plots that leave the reader breathless with every possible emotion.  Reading her is not only a primer of great writing, but it is also a seminar on human behavior; culture; history; geography; politics; philosophy, and with all of that, nobody tells a love story like Shirley Hazzard – Venus and Sun would be proud.                  
The following is the link to Linda's latest novel, GUARDIANS AND OTHER ANGELS

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