my first night in Vienna, Jonathan Carroll walked me over to the
Danube, where we sat on a flight of steps leading down to the river. The
dog walkers were out in force. Greetings were exchanged with small
movements of the eyes, and the dogs sniffed one another fondly…Jonathan
kept his eye on a woman at the next bridge. She was moving so slowly I
thought she might be leading a dogsled pulled by
escargots. After an hour, the woman walked in front of us, and she
bowed her head in acknowledgment of Jonathan. With great dignity, he
returned the gesture. To my surprise, she was walking two enormous
tortoises, displaced natives from an Ethiopian desert. The woman walked
them every night, and Jonathan was always there to admire their passage.
‘That’s what writers do, Conroy,’ he said. ‘We wait for the tortoises
to come. We wait for that lady who walks them. That’s how art works.
It’s never a jackrabbit, or a racehorse. It’s the tortoises that hold
all the secrets. We’ve got to be patient enough to wait for them.’”