The first time ever I saw your face

As I was looking over the contents page of Orhan Pamuk’s The Black Book last night wondering what kind of post to write, I caught an echo of this song, popularised by Roberta Flack and most recently by David Cook. There’s a link to the first chapter of Pamuk’s novel, which is “The First Time Galip Saw Rüya”. The rest of the novel pretty much describes how Galip misses his wife and his cousin Celál (the two have disappeared together) and almost goes mad looking for them, all the while interspersing the action with Celál’s imaginative and wide-ranging columns. In the spirit of Celál’s writing, here’s a riff on The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.

The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the empty skies my love.

The first time ever I saw your face … in real-life was at the Seattle coffee shop in Durbanville. It was a Saturday afternoon and you were wearing your favourite red top and blue jeans. When you saw me your blue eyes lit up with a mixture of relief, anxiety and possibly admiration. My eyes lit up too and in those first few moments I could tell that there was a mutual attraction. That first date was nine hours long and included a slightly iffy movie (What Happens in Vegas) and a lot of first impressions over coffee, drinks and dinner.

“The first time ever I saw your face” makes me think of love and relationships. What’s it like the first time a mother and baby catch sight of each other? The baby sees only in parts so it’s not like there’s a flashbulb moment – “Aha, so that’s my mom” – but at some point that flashbulb moment does happen and it lights up its whole face. Scientists have mapped a mother’s brain chemistry when she sees her infant smile and it’s quite amazing. I’d be interested to see what happens with fathers and the random control group!

But “the first time ever I saw your face” also makes me think, quite appropriately for The Black Book, about faces and mirrors. We know that mirroring is an essential part of parenting. The infant’s self-concept develops out of the self that is mirrored back to him/her. And if it wasn’t so hot in this office I’d find some links to self psychology and the development of the self concept. But while on mirrors and mirroring, there’s another song that springs to mind. When Michael Jackson sings that he’s talking to the Man in the Mirror, who exactly is he talking to? Is it the (black) Michael that he was or the new, supposedly improved (white) version? Which reminds me of this: “The most powerful man in the world and the best golfer in the world are both black men. Michael Jackson must be kicking himself.”

The first time I ever saw your face … At what age do we first see ourselves in the mirror? And at what age do we notice for the first time that if you hold up a mirror to a mirror then you have an endless series of reflections? Perhaps it’s the same way with our imaginations – an endless series of reflections and projections.

Looks like I’m all riffed out for the day. But if you want the link to David Cook singing his version then you’ll find it here.


8 Responses to The first time ever I saw your face

  1. Natalian says:

    That ‘moment’ when I first saw my Hubby and my boys are cemented into my memory – I’ll never forget it – maybe that is due to both an emotional and physiological reaction within a split second. My face always appears unchanged in the mirror until I find a photograph of my 18yr old face staring back at me! Eeek!

  2. Evie says:

    Reading this post, I immediately thought of that wonderful story in The Black Book of the competition between the artists of the East and the West to determine whose art was greatest. Pamuk has so much to say in The Black Book, that I got the impression I must have missed some of his ideas the first time around. I’m going to have to reread it one day. That Nobel Prize of his is well-deserved :).

  3. doctordi says:

    Poor Michael Jackson… but glad to have you back posting, Pete. I was close to a “Okay, enough with the celebrating, where the hell are you?” jab.

  4. Litlove says:

    This makes me think of a graduate confusion I used to have (probably still do) with Lacan’s account of the mirror stage. He claims that babies understand the concept of ‘self’ by looking either in the mirror or in their mother’s faces. And I always thought – surely there’s a big difference? Surely you can’t just lump the two together like that? But your post is an interesting play on the ways that maybe you can.

  5. doctordi says:

    Maybe (it’s all a little hazy now…) what Lacan was identifying with the mother is that first encounter with the Other – a child’s recognition that they are now detached from the mother, and therefore an independent self. And the figure in the mirror is that self more fully realised via a discrete reflection. Maybe.

  6. Pete says:

    Natalian – I usually don’t like myself in photos but have generally made peace with the reflection in the mirror. And I know what you mean about the 18-year old face. It’s like a whole other person. (And thanks for sharing re your husband and boys.)

    Evie – Yes, that mirror scene was very good. I also loved the way he wove in previous stories – about the Beyoglu gangster that landed up in the Bosphorus, and then Alaadin’s shop etc. Quite different to what I expected but I would definitely read him again.

    DoctorDi – Yes, it was a cheap shot re Michael Jackson. I wanted to go back and take that stuff out. But I’m going to blame the heat here for frying my brain. Who can post in 32 degree heat? Or read, or do anything but get through the day?

    Litlove and DoctorDi – you’ve both made me want to read some Lacan on mirroring. That’s an interesting point about the child needing to realise that s/he’s separate from the mother to be able to recognise themself in the mirror.

  7. doctordi says:

    Sometimes I really miss what I used to know. Lacan and I used to be kind of tight, but now we don’t speak… send my regards!

  8. doctordi says:

    p.s. I still love the Jackson Five. Their music makes me jump around.

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