Monday, June 27, 2016

The Door

He climbs the wooden stairway, his advancing shadow traced by sparse incandescent bulbs that emit, out of their little prisons of wire mesh, a faint whiff of singed insects. The banister is damp to his touch and he lets go. At each landing a hallway branches off; he pauses for breath but barely raises his eyes. He reaches the top storey. At the end of a long corridor there is a single door with a panel of unlettered frosted glass, diffidently backlit from within. He walks along the worn floorboards until he is within reach of the knob. As he lifts his hand to turn it he feels fingers grasp his shoulder from behind.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Clearing

One of the paths I often walk is bordered on one side by inpenetrable swamp, but today I spotted a place where I could cross easily onto an island of slightly higher ground. No one goes there. For whatever combination of reasons — light, water, chance — the understory that covers much of the edge of the swamp is absent here, nor is the spot as barren and brown as the deepest and oldest woods just a few yards away. Instead, there are nearly pure stands of ferns, a few patches of wispy grass, and here and there a fallen trunk.

At the base of a tree I found the sole remnant of some creature's successful hunt.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Gregory Rabassa (1922-2016)

The translator Gregory Rabassa has died, according to a notice from the Associated Press.

Rabassa was a professor for many years at Queens College, but it was his work as a peerless translator of modern Latin American literature that secured his place in the literary firmament. Beginning in 1966 with an English-language version of Cortázar's Hopscotch (itself a daunting feat, given that novel's linguistic fireworks), he produced dozens of translations, including more than a few that, taken individually, would have been sufficient to secure his reputation: José Lezama Lima's Paradiso, Mario Vargas Llosa's Conversation in the Cathedral, Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, and on and on and on. That he not only managed to translate such challenging, verbally sophisticated works at all but did so with scrupulous care and endless creativity is simply astounding. We owe him a very great debt.

Translator Susan Bernofsky has a nice appreciation.

Update: The New York Times now has a full obituary.

(Photo of Gregory Rabassa from the jacket of Rabassa's memoir If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents, published by New Directions.)

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Hundred-Acre Wood

I got up early and set out on foot for the local park in search of a family of barred owls who either weren't around today or were keeping themselves out of sight. Though a light rain fell, beneath the leafed-out canopy I felt scarcely a drop. I can walk the trail that circles the wooded section of the park in ten or fifteen minutes, but this time instead I turned off into the interior of the woods, following a network of little trails that branch off here and there through sparse growth beneath tall beaches and tulip-trees and past parallel ridges of outcroppings, some topped with little cairns. Somewhere high above a single bird was calling plaintively, always the same five-note refrain — wee-HEE-heee, WEE-he — but even as its source seemed to drift from treetop to treetop I could never catch a glimpse of it. Four deer eyed me warily but held their ground; maybe they're used to me by now.

There were no other walkers today. There's a tacit fellowship of sorts among those mad enough to get up and walk the woods before work, but it's a reserved one, respectful of the cathedral-like atmosphere of the canopy as well as of the privacy of strangers whose reasons for needing to be there are their own.

On the leaf litter beneath some young beeches I found a pale white mushroom the size of a small melon — or of a brain, which in its convolutions it half-resembled. Perhaps the rest of the body lay still vertically interred, the eyes staring forward through the loam, awaiting its time. A host of tiny flies circled around it.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Cloud Chamber

Thomas Hardy:
Then these children of the open air, whom even excess of alcohol could scarce injure permanently, betook themselves to the field-path; and as they went there moved onward with them, around the shadow of each one's head, a circle of opalized light, formed by the moon's rays upon the glistening sheet of dew. Each pedestrian could see no halo but his or her own, which never deserted the head-shadow, whatever its vulgar unsteadiness might be; but adhered to it, and persistently beautified it; till the erratic motions seemed an inherent part of the irradiation, and the fumes of their breathing a component of the night's mist; and the spirit of the scene, and of the moonlight, and of Nature, seemed harmoniously to mingle with the spirit of wine.
Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Monday, May 02, 2016

The Gloaming: 2

The ensemble known as The Gloaming (Thomas Bartlett, Dennis Cahill, Martin Hayes, Iarla Ó Lionáird, and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh) has released its second CD, entitled simply 2. While perhaps not as groundbreaking as the group's first release, it's still a very enjoyable record. My favorite track so far is the concluding one, "The Old Favourite."

A somewhat different version of one track, "Casadh an tSúgáin," is featured in the movie Brooklyn, where it is sung on camera by Iarla Ó Lionáird. The cover image, as was the case with the first Gloaming CD, is by the artist-photographers Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison; it's called "Flying Lesson."

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Water-Cure

Daniel Defoe:
I heard of one infected creature, who, running out of his bed in his shirt, in the anguish and agony of his swellings, of which he had three upon him, got his shoes on and went to put on his coat; but the nurse resisting and snatching the coat from him, he threw her down, run over her, ran down stairs, and into the street directly to the Thames, in his shirt, the nurse running after him, and calling to the watch to stop him; but the watchman, frightened at the man, and afraid to touch him, let him go on; upon which he ran down to the Stillyard stairs, threw away his shirt, and plunged into the Thames; and, being a good swimmer, swam quite over the river; and the tide being coming in, as they call it, that is, running westward, he reached the land not till he came about the Falcon stairs, where landing, and finding no people there, it being in the night, he ran about the streets there naked as he was, for a good while, when, it being by that time high water, he takes the river again, and swam back to the Stillyard, landed, ran up the streets to his own house, knocking at the door, went up the stairs, and into his bed again. And that this terrible experiment cured him of the plague, that is to say, that the violent motion of his arms and legs stretched the parts where the swellings he had upon him were (that is to say, under his arms and in his groin), and caused them to ripen and break; and that the cold of the water abated the fever in his blood.
A Journal of the Plague Year

Defoe, in the person of the Journal's purported author, H. F., notes that he can not vouch for the veracity of the incident.