Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Social distancing tip


Herodotus:
The Carthaginians also tell us that they trade with a race of men who live in a part of Libya beyond the Pillars of Hercules. On reaching this country, they unload their goods, arrange them tidily along the beach, and then, returning to their boats, raise a smoke. Seeing the smoke, the natives come down to the beach, place on the ground a certain quantity of gold in exchange for the goods, and go off again to a distance. The Carthaginians then come ashore and take a look at the gold; and if they think it represents a fair price for their wares, they collect it and go away; if, on the other hand, it seems too little, they go back aboard and wait, and the natives come and add to the gold until they are satisfied. There is perfect honesty on both sides; the Carthaginians never touch the gold until it equals in value what they have offered for sale, and the natives never touch the goods until the gold has been taken away.

The Histories

Friday, April 03, 2020

Necessary stories (Eduardo Halfon)


Eduardo Halfon:
You won’t write anything about this, my father asked or said, index finger raised, his tone somewhere between a plea and a commandment. I thought about replying that a writer never knows what he’ll write about; that a writer doesn't choose his stories, they choose him; that a writer is but a dry leaf in the breeze of his own narrative. But fortunately all I did was finish the wine in three long swallows. You won’t write anything about this, my father repeated, his tone more forceful now, almost authoritarian. I smelled the alcohol on his words. Of course not, I said, perhaps sincere, or perhaps already knowing that no story is imperative, no story is necessary, except the one we’re forbidden from telling.

Mourning; translated by Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn
Though the Spanish text from which the above was translated appears on the back cover of the original Libros del Asteroide edition of Duelo, it's a "deleted scene" that doesn't appear inside the covers of either the Spanish or the English edition. It was provided by the author to the online magazine Stay Thirsty.

More on Eduardo Halfon.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Brief encounter



If you haunt the woods on a regular basis you get to recognize the sounds animals make when they're disturbed by your presence. No need to turn your head at the light bounce on dead leaves: that's a grey squirrel. Deer, naturally, make a heavier sound, chipmunks a lighter one, generally punctuated by an alarmed "cheep," and predators, designed for stealth, may be all but silent. But when I heard the animal shown above darting along a stone wall, I knew instantly that I was in the presence of something else. I turned and saw a brown form, squirrel-size but unmistakably not a squirrel. In a flash it disappeared and I didn't expect to see it again, but I clicked on my camera just in case, zoomed onto the last place it had been visible, and after a few seconds it popped out and looked in my direction, curious to see what I was about.

Weasels get a bad press; we speak of "weasel words" and "weaseling out" and none of these terms is intended as a compliment. But I think they're admirable creatures, even if I wouldn't want to be one of their prey animals (they are quite fierce). They aren't uncommon but they're rarely spotted alive; I've only ever seen one other in the wild, and that was decades ago. There's some question about which species this one is, but it's evidently either what the Brits call a stoat (and we might call a short-tailed weasel or ermine) or a long-tailed weasel.

Coincidentally or not, I spotted this one just a day or so after watching an enjoyable BBC documentary entitled Weasels: Feisty and Fearless, which may be available in some regions for online viewing. If not, here are a few seconds of video of my own, all I could take before the creature vanished from sight.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Notebook: The Line


Herman Melville:
All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life. And if you be a philosopher, though seated in the whale-boat, you would not at heart feel one whit more of terror, than though seated before your evening fire with a poker, and not a harpoon, by your side.

Moby-Dick

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Notebook: Sunday



There's a strange calm today, with some cloud cover but no wind, and the street outside has been largely quiet all day. We're keeping to the house and the back yard of our 50-foot lot. When I took the dog out I heard a lone airplane passing overhead, one of the few signs that civilization, though wounded, still exists.


Yesterday afternoon, when it was warmer, I went outside to do a bit of garden clean-up and prepare a bed for a handful of peas I'll plant in a week or so. I found a garter snake sunning itself in a patch of thyme, unconcerned with our troubles. It remained frozen while I circled around it, closer and closer, finally kneeling down a couple of feet away to get close-ups. I went back to my chores but kept an eye on it. Eventually it slithered off a bit and coiled up in some leaves, not quite invisible.

This may be our ambit for a while. We received a food delivery today, enough to tide us over for the next few weeks, barring the unforeseen.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Notebook: The Very Thing That Happens


We've had no face-to-face contact with other people for nine days now, and in New York State, where we live (and which now has the highest coronavirus case total of any state), something like a modified lockdown is in effect. I always work at home; whether there will be work at all next week or the week after is in question. The press is still giving undue attention to the vagaries of the stock market (which mysteriously rises at times, at least fleetingly), and the man at the helm is still an idiot. We have sufficient food, sundries, and pet supplies for the time being (and more on the way), although obtaining fresh produce and fish may be a challenge in the weeks to come. In our neighborhood people with children or dogs are still walking around the block, I hear the train whistle downtown, and the temperature has climbed into the low 70s. Yesterday, in what may be our last outing for a while, I took the dog for a hike after work. Driving out of the preserve I saw two people starting out on a walk with a cat on a leash. (The things one does, to retain a bit of normal life.)

Last night we watched Call Us Ishmael, an entertaining documentary about Moby-Dick and the people who love it. I read a few of the later chapters of Fitzgerald's Odyssey. For no particular reason I pulled out Lorius, a CD by the Basque (but also part-Irish) combo named Alboka (after a kind of hornpipe) and listened to it for the first time in years. One of the livelier tracks is below. It serves, for the moment, to get the Talking Heads' "Life during Wartime" out of my head.

The title of this post is from a piece by Russell Edson, which ends, "Because of all things that might have happened this is the very thing that happens."

Monday, March 16, 2020