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.