Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill

This is really splendid: fiddler Martin Hayes and guitarist Dennis Cahill, from NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series. I love the relaxed intimacy of the performance; it's like having them in your living room.

Hayes and Cahill have played together for years, most recently as part of a superb five-man band called the Gloaming.

Monday, March 02, 2015

On the town

Two men with lit cigars and a third man, seated, whose own smoke is still tucked in his pocket. Though the postcard was never addressed or mailed and the location is unknown, we may be looking at the interior of a nickelodeon or amusement parlor; an advertising sign behind the men, difficult to make out, may read "Isis Moving Pictures" or "Isis Motion Pictures," and the stirrups of what could possibly be a coin-operated horse appear at left. There were establishments bearing the Isis name in various cities. Or maybe we're looking at something else entirely.

"Jack Begley" is probably too common a name to assign to any identifiable individual; "Bedsoe" is a bit more unusual. But like the man in the dark suit, they've had their time.

Velox Real Photo postcard, c.1907-1914.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Nannie Wilson

The young woman whose likeness was captured in this Real Photo postcard image was a schoolteacher in Red Wing (or Redwing), Kansas in 1907-08. The names of her pupils are neatly written on the back of the card:

Harry Hall
Willie Ruble
Amelia Proksch
August Proksch
James Ruble
Matilda Heoffner
Blanch Cliff
Carl Winkle
Joseph Heoffner
Ethel Bailey
  Alloys Heoffner
Dell Wylie
Richard Bailey
Stella Ruble
Regina Smith
Anna Proksch
Rosine Winkle
Isabell Bailey
Joe Proksch
James Bailey

Below the names is the following inscription: "In loving remembrance of days spent to-gether in district 31./ Nannie Wilson / Teacher".

There are twenty students listed but some of the surnames are repeated (there are four children named Bailey, four named Proksch), so Wilson undoubtedly taught a range of ages at the same time, presumably in one room. Amy Bickel, who writes the Dead Towns in Kansas blog and has photos of the area as it looks now, includes Redwing today among the state's more than 6,000 ghost towns.

There are identifiable traces of a number of Nannie Wilson's pupils in census records and other online sources, but I'm not inclined to pursue them. Perhaps in this case I just feel that the stories of these people don't belong to me, that I have no right to them.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Some rocks

for Michael Leddy

Top: Ogdred Weary (Edward Gorey), The Dancing Rock (bound with Dogear Wryde, The Floating Elephant), The Fantod Press, 1993. Shown: cover and sample page. Purchased at the Gotham Book Mart. Bottom: Peter Blegvad, Stones in My Passway, The London Institute of 'Pataphysics, 2002. Shown: cover, title page, and sample page.

Friday, February 13, 2015


"Just a few of our crowd and guess you will know the majority of them. If not will tell you of them later." Mailed from Salina, Kansas to nearby Culver in either 1906 or 1908. The recipient was a Miss Blanche Caldwell.

"Made by Frank E. Mohler McPherson Kans." The Mohler family name was common among the members of the Church of the Brethren, a pietist (and historically pacifist) sect with roots in Schwarzenau, Germany. The individuals in this photo may have been associated with McPherson College, a Brethren-founded institution.

The fact that Frank E. Mohler had his name and address pre-printed on the back of the card suggests that he may have been a professional photographer, at least briefly. His identity is complicated somewhat by the fact that various records mention a Frank Ellis Mohler and a Frank Martin Mohler, both of whom had ties to religious institutions and to Kansas. Frank Martin Mohler, who seems to have been the elder of the two by a few years, attended Washburn College in Topeka and later went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, before serving for a number of years as a Y.M.C.A. missionary in China. The less distinguished Frank E. Mohler was a teacher in McPherson during World War I, but then seems to have headed west; a man by that name is recorded as having sold water heaters in San Diego around 1930, having operated a bookstore there in the later 1940s, and having died in 1960.

The image above, taken by the Garver studio in Dodge City, Kansas, shows the Prough family. The Artura stock on which it was printed was manufactured from 1908-1924. There are various records of that family name in Dodge City during those years, but I haven't been able to identify the family more specifically.

All three of these photographs were printed as Real Photo postcards.

Friday, January 30, 2015

A death remembered

This short novel, published in 1981, is based on an incident that had taken place some 30 years earlier, when a young man named Cayetano Gentile Chimento, a friend of the author, was murdered in the town of Sucre, Colombia by two brothers of a woman he had allegedly "deflowered" in advance of her wedding to another man. The narrative apparently follows the outlines of the actual event fairly closely, even to the extent that relatives of the narrator (who is never himself named) bear the same names as Gabriel García Márquez's own family members, at least one of whom witnessed the killing. (Gerald Martin's fine biography of the author has the full background.)

Still, Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a work of fiction, not reportage, and one that remains tense and compelling throughout even though we know the outcome from the very first sentence (not to mention from the title). As the book progresses we learn the reasons behind the killing (although some important things are never explained), and we follow the fatal chain of events that, far from being inexorable, could have been interrupted at any number of points. In fact, the killers, reluctant to carry out an act that "honor" compels them to perform, seem to go out of their way to make the final result preventable. The death is not just "foretold" in the sense of being predicted; it's announced (anunciada) in advance to virtually everyone the killers come across. The victim is one of the few people not to get the message.

For a book that runs to only 193 generously spaced pages in its Spanish text (120 in Gregory Rabassa's translation), there are an astounding number of named characters. That's a key to the nature of the book, which is not simply about a tragic series of events involving a few key participants, but about how an entire community witnessed, participated in, and remembered those events, which the narrator reconstructs years later. Here, from my notes, is a by no means complete dramatis personae:
Santiago Nasar; the victim
Plácida Linero; his mother
Victoria Guzmán; their cook
Divina Flor; her daughter

Angela Vicario; the bride
Pablo Vicario; her brother
Pedro Vicario; Pablo's twin, six minutes his junior
Pura (Purísima) Vicario; their mother
Poncio Vicario; their father
Prudencia Cotes; Pablo's girlfriend

Bayardo San Román; the groom
Gen. Petronio San Román; his father
Alberta Simonds; his mother

María Alejandrina Cervantes; a prostitute
Clotilde Armenta; the proprietress of a grocery store
Rogelio de la Flor; her husband
Flora Miguel; the victim's fiancée
Nahir Miguel; her father
Cristo Bedoya; a friend of the victim
Carmen Amador; a priest
Lázaro Aponte; the mayor of the town
Dionisio Iguarón; a physician
Leandro Pornoy; a policeman
"the widower Xius"; the former owner of a house purchased by the groom

The narrator
Luis Enrique; his brother
Margot; his sister
Another sister; a nun
Jaime; another brother
Wenefrida Márquez; the narrator's aunt (who makes an appearance even though her namesake was already dead at the time of the events)
Mercedes Barcha; the narrator's future wife (and the author's wife's real name)

And on and on through to the very last pages; various townspeople:

Yamil Shaium
Indalecio Pardo
Sara Noriega
Celeste Dangond
Meme Loiza
Polo Carillo
Fausto López
Hortensia Baute
Faustino Santos
Aura Villeros
Próspera Arango
Poncho Lanao
Argénida Lanao

Plus a bishop, an unnamed judge, and present only by allusion, the ghosts of Col. Aureliano Buendía and Gerineldo Martínez.

The delight that García Márquez felt in inventing names is evident. It will be noted that several of them, including that of the victim, are Arabic in origin; these are members of the town's population of second- or third-generation Arab immigrants, sometimes referred to as "the Turks," a reminder of Latin America's complex ethnic heritage.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Visiting professor

Clases de literatura: Berkeley, 1980, published in 2013, presents the transcription of a series of seminars that Julio Cortázar conducted (in Spanish) during one of his infrequent visits to the United States. Cortázar was not a professional academic (he had done some teaching in his native Argentina before emigrating to France), and was quite upfront about being neither a literary critic nor a literary theorist. For that reason, some of the ideas preserved here, such as his thoughts about the differences between the fantastic and the realist short story, may seem a bit half-formed and arbitrary, but not so his comments about his own works and writing methods, which include a discussion of Rayuela that is likely to be seen as indispensable to any future readings of that much-discussed work, even if some of the points he makes are repeated elsewhere. Here, for example, is his explanation of how that novel's interpolated "expendable chapters" were put into sequence:
I ought to say that many critics have devoted many hours to analyzing what technique I might have used to mix in the chapters and present them in their irregular order. My technique wasn't what the critics have imagined: my technique was that I went to the house of a friend [Eduardo Jonquières] who had a kind of large studio the size of this room, I put all of the chapters on the floor (each one was fastened with a paper clip, a fastener) and I started walking around through the chapters leaving little alleyways and letting myself follow lines of force: where a chapter connected well with a fragment that was made up of, for instance, a poem by Octavio Paz (one is quoted), immediately I attached a pair of numbers and went on connecting them, assembling a package that I hardly modified. I thought that in that manner chance — what gets called chance — was assisting me and that I had to let chance come into play a little: my eye might notice something that was one meter away but not see something that was two meters away which I would only see later. I don't think I was mistaken: I had to modify two or three chapters because the action started to go in reverse instead of forwards, but overall this ordering into different levels worked in a sufficiently satisfactory manner for me and the book was published in that form.
(I have changed two verbs in the above translation from the present tense to the past in the interests of consistency.)

Each seminar included a question-and-answer session in which Cortázar was asked about various topics, from the fairly predictable (the Padilla affair) to the unexpected (whether he wrote his works in Spanish or in French), but also prompting interesting evaluations of such figures as Boris Vian and José Lezama Lima. The transcription includes various excerpts from Cortázar's writings which he read to the class, one or two of which I don't recognize. No word thus far on a possible translation into English.