Monday, December 24, 2012

Stille Nacht

Postcard reproduction of a poster for Stephen and Timothy Quay's short film Stille Nacht I: Dramolet (1988). The letters "R. W." in the intricate calligraphy commemorate the Swiss writer Robert Walser, whose body was found in a field of snow on Christmas Day in 1956.

The Museum of Modern Art's special exhibition devoted to the work of the Quay brothers closes on January 7, 2012.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


A song by the young Icelandic musician Ásgeir Trausti. The title, I'm told, means something like "Summer Guest," and the song is addressed to a migratory bird.

Friday, December 14, 2012


From today's New York Times:
Each slaughter of innocents seems to get more appalling. A high school. A college campus. A movie theater. People meeting their congresswoman. A shopping mall in Oregon, just this Tuesday. On Friday, an elementary school classroom.

People will want to know about the killer in Newtown, Conn. His background and his supposed motives. Did he show signs of violence? But what actually matters are the children. What are their names? What did they dream of becoming? Did they enjoy finger painting? Or tee ball?

All that is now torn away. There is no crime greater than violence against children, no sorrow greater than that of a parent who has lost a child, especially in this horrible way. Our hearts are broken for those parents who found out their children — little more than babies, really — were wounded or killed, and for those who agonized for hours before taking their traumatized children home.

President Obama said he had talked to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut and promised him the full resources of the federal government to investigate the killer and give succor to his victims. We have no doubt Mr. Obama will help in any way he can, for now, but what about addressing the problem of guns gone completely out of control, a problem that comes up each time a shooter opens fire on a roomful of people but then disappears again?

The assault weapons ban enacted under President Clinton was deficient and has expired. Mr. Obama talked about the need for "common sense" gun control after the movie theater slaughter in Aurora, Colo., and he hinted during the campaign that he might support a new assault weapons ban, presumably if someone else introduced it.

Republicans will never do that, because they are mired in an ideology that opposes any gun control. After each tragedy, including this one, some people litter the Internet with grotesque suggestions that it would be better if everyone (kindergarten teachers?) were armed. Far too many Democrats also live in fear of the gun lobby and will not support an assault weapons ban, or a ban on high-capacity bullet clips, or any one of a half-dozen other sensible ideas.

Mr. Obama said Friday that “we have been through this too many times” and that “we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”

When will that day come? It did not come after the 1999 Columbine shooting, or the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, or the murders in Aurora last summer.

The more that we hear about gun control and nothing happens, the less we can believe it will ever come. Certainly, it will not unless Mr. Obama and Congressional leaders show the courage to make it happen.
I have little to add to the above because there really is nothing there that can be disputed, nothing there that hasn't been known for years. Over and over the same kind of incident has taken place, and over and other in response we've heard the same empty verbiage from the NRA and its allies, the same tired list of reasons why we shouldn't actually ever do anything effective that might have a chance of preventing these atrocities from happening, atrocities that would set us on a swift path to war if they were perpetrated by a foreign country, but which we're seemingly willing to aid and abet at home. Enough is enough; it's time to draw the line. We don't need "a conversation" about gun control; we need gun control, the stricter the better, the sooner the better. And if you don't agree, don't waste your stale breath on me; try to square your consciences with the families of the victims.

For more information:

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence
Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence
New Yorkers Against Gun Violence
Violence Policy Center
Charles Blow: "A Tragedy of Silence"
Larry Alan Burns: "A conservative case for an assault weapons ban"
Gail Collins: "Looking for America"
Adam Gopnik: "Newtown and the Madness of Guns"
Bob Herbert: "War at Home" (link now broken)
Nicholas Kristof: "Do We Have the Courage to Stop This?"

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Brothel, with Orchestra

I borrowed a copy of this brief study of the Uruguayan writer Juan Carlos Onetti because I was curious to see what Mario Vargas Llosa would have to say about Los adioses, the peculiar, ambiguous novella that is the only Onetti of any length I've read. As it turns out, he devotes only a few paragraphs to it, and I'm going to put off reading the rest of El viaje a la ficción until I've had a chance to read more Onetti, but in the meantime I did dip into a few sections, including the book's somewhat eccentric twenty-page preface, in which Onetti is not referred to at all until the final sentence.

I also came across a few gossipy literary anecdotes, such as the one in which Onetti, while reading Cortázar's "El perseguidor," reportedly smashed a windowpane with his fist when he read of the death of Johnny Carter's little daughter; and the following, in which Vargas Llosa speaks of his own encounters with the Uruguayan:
Only in San Francisco did I have a chance to chat with him a bit, in the smoky, dark little bars in the vicinity of the hotel. It took some effort to provoke him to talk, but when he did it he said intelligent things, though impregnated with corrosive irony or ferocious sarcasm to be sure. He avoided talking about his books. At the same time, behind his gruffness and lapidary jokes, there appeared something vulnerable, someone who, in spite of his culture and his imagination, was unprepared to face the brutality of a life which he distrusted and feared. One night when we were discussing our working methods, he was scandalized that I worked in a disciplined manner and with a schedule. Working that way, he declared, he would not have written a line. He wrote in gusts and impulses, without forethought, on loose sheets at times, very slowly, word by word, letter by letter — years later Dolly Onetti confirmed that this was exactly the case, and that while he worked he sipped glasses of red wine diluted with water — in periods of great concentration separated by long parentheses of sterility. And then he pronounced that sentence which I would repeat many times afterwards: that the difference between us was that I had a matrimonial relationship with literature and he an adulterous one.
A footnote appends two briefer and possibly apocryphal anecdotes to the above. In one, Vargas Llosa writes that "when my novel The Green House won the Rómulo Gallegos Prize in 1966, and [Onetti's] Body Snatcher was a finalist — two novels that centered around whorehouses — Onetti is said to have declared that it was to be expected that I would win, because my brothel had an orchestra and his did not." Onetti is also said to have told an interviewer for a French television program, who seemed fascinated by the fact that the Uruguayan had only one tooth remaining in his mouth, "At one time I had a magnificent set of teeth, but I gave them to Mario Vargas Llosa."

(The translations are mine.)

Update: A passage in one of Cortázar's letters supports the anecdote about "El perseguidor": "Speaking of Montevideo, I had one of the greatest rewards of my life: a letter from Onetti in which he says that 'El perseguidor' had him in a bad way for fifteen days (lo tuvo quince días a mal traer)." (Letter to Francisco Porrúa, August 14, 1961, from the 2000 edition of Cartas, Volume I.)

Monday, December 03, 2012

More Stasys

I don't know if these are actual covers for the catalog of the Vilnius Book Festival or just posters, but either way I am in awe. The artwork is by Stasys Eidrigevičius.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Notes for a Commonplace Book (11)

Leszek Kołakowski:

In short, the word “happiness” does not seem applicable to divine life. But nor is it applicable to human beings. This is not just because we experience suffering. It is also because, even if we are not suffering at a given moment, even if we are able to experience physical and spiritual pleasure and moments beyond time, in the “eternal present” of love, we can never forget the existence of evil and the misery of the human condition. We participate in the suffering of others; we cannot eliminate the anticipation of death or the sorrows of life...

There are, of course, people who consider themselves happy because they are successful: healthy and rich, lacking nothing, respected (or feared) by their neighbors. Such people might believe that their life is what happiness is. But this is merely self-deception; and even they, from time to time at least, realize the truth. And the truth is that they are failures like the rest of us...

Happiness is something we can imagine but not experience. If we imagine that hell and purgatory are no longer in operation and that all human beings, every single one without exception, have been saved by God and are now enjoying celestial bliss, lacking nothing, perfectly satisfied, without pain or death, then we can imagine that their happiness is real and that the sorrows and suffering of the past have been forgotten. Such a condition can be imagined, but it has never been seen. It has never been seen.

From "Is God Happy?," The New York Review of Books, December 20, 2012.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

More Katazome

According to the label, these katazome (stencil-dyed) calendar pages were "made by Haruo Kuriyama in Kyoto" and distributed by Yasutomo Co. in San Francisco. The artist who designed them, however, is almost certainly Takeshi Nishijima. The page for February is missing from this set.

Click on the katazome label below for earlier related posts.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Re-reading Camus

I found revisiting The Plague as La peste considerably more difficult than re-reading The Counterfeiters as Les faux-monnayeurs. I sailed through the first seventy pages or so, then bogged down, though more so in the philosophical passages, some of which are quite long, than in the narrative and dialogue sections. When I referred to Stuart Gilbert's translation, which I kept at hand as a crib (though I mostly relied, heavily, on a dictionary), I was surprised to find that, although it reads well as the English-language novel I first encountered it as some thirty-five years ago, it diverges rather radically from the terse style of the original, even more so than Dorothy Bussy's dated but generally faithful rendition of Gide.

It's hard to read La peste today without very quickly noticing the curious fact that although the novel is set in a predominately Arab country (Algeria), there are virtually no Arabs in it. There are also very few women, and the few that do appear are either kept largely offstage (Rieux's wife) or reduced to entirely passive roles (Rieux's mother, who when not doing housework mostly sits silently with her hands folded, and who is probably based on the author's mother). The half-dozen characters of any consequence — Rieux, Tarrou, Rambert, Grand, Cottard, and Paneloux — are thus all males of European descent. To some extent these omissions are understandable, given what Camus set out to do, which was to write not a social novel but a moral and philosophical one in which the introduction of a social dimension might have been a distraction, although it still might be regarded as peculiar that Camus thought that he could only investigate moral and philosophical matters as they were refracted through one kind of lens.

In the end, however, even though Camus was in fact raised in Algeria and the lyrical passages in the book exude the particular ambience of the city of Oran, the novel is no more about Oran than Kafka's "The Great Wall of China" is about China. That La peste is, at least in part, an allegory about the German occupation of France during World War II has been widely noted, but one could be ignorant of that connection, or even ignorant of World War II, and still grasp the author's essential purpose, which was to consider how one might act in the face of a universe that is not made by us and does not operate for our benefit, but which accords us, or at least some of us, the freedom to make moral choices about how we will respond to that indifference.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Re-reading Gide

When I was in my late teens I went through an intense phase of devouring every single page of modern French literature I could get my hands on. In a fairly short period I read essentially everything that was available in translation by Camus, all of Sartre's novels and plays (but none of his philosophy), the major works of André Gide, and all 2,000 pages or so of Roger Martin du Gard's The Thibaults and Summer 1914, as well as various bits of Malraux, Cocteau, Artaud, Ionesco, and others I've no doubt forgotten about. (Did I actually read, or just own, a copy of Mauriac's Viper's Tangle?) Eventually I took two years of French in college, but I never got to the point of trying any of the literature in the original, and in any case by then I was moving on to other things, especially Spanish and Latin American writers. I read some Zola, Balzac, and Flaubert in and out of college, but after 1980 or so I pretty much went cold turkey on French lit. Over the years, as I needed to thin out my library to make room, I donated just about everything, only retaining The Counterfeiters, The Plague, and the doorstop-sized Martin du Gards, which had been out-of-print and devilishly hard to find in the first place. I put a lot of effort into reading Spanish and let my French go, convincing myself that I just didn't really like the language. As for the literature, the time when the century-old struggles between Catholics and positivists or gossip about the philosophical debates between Camus, Sartre, and de Beauvoir could be viewed as crucial cultural concerns seemed to be long past, and later movements in French letters, most of which appeared to be centered more around philosophy or psychoanalysis, didn't appeal to me.

I can't say that it was entirely chance that led me not only to revisit The Counterfeiters but to attempt to read it in French, even though it's true that I would not have done so had I not found an ancient Gallimard edition on a shelf in the foreign-language section of a used bookstore. The truth is, I'd been thinking about the book on and off, and I had also been thinking about testing out my French on something, which is why I had made a point of looking on that particular shelf. The Gide was, in fact, the only book there that would have been likely to appeal to me. It was fated, clearly; I bought the book home and put it on a shelf for a few weeks while I finished some other things. Then, with some trepidation, a paperback dictionary (which turned out to be excellent for my purposes), and a copy of Dorothy Bussy's translation to use as a crib as needed, I dived in.

I'll leave it to a psycholinguist to explain how one can neglect a half-learned second or third language for thirty years or more without losing it altogether; in my case I suspect that my Spanish, which I work at fairly conscientiously, may have supported the underlying grammar. That, and the fact that English is fairly permeated with French loan words, probably made the difference. Gide writes clearly and is not particularly slangy; I suspect I might have more trouble with a contemporary writer. But in any case, making it through the novel's nearly 500 pages was hard work, but it was rewarding hard work. I rediscovered the qualities that had given me a fondness for the book when I first read it in translation, and found nuances (and one or two excised passages) that deepened my appreciation. In short, a successful experiment, which I hope to repeat soon with La peste, which happens to be the only other novel I currently own in both English and French.

As to Gide's novel itself, although it is set no later than 1907 and was written in the 1920s, I found that it held up quite well. Gide's analysis of character is profound and plausible throughout (though perhaps slightly less so in the case of some of the female characters), and except for one conversation about psychoanalysis there is little in the book that now seems glaringly dated. The book's structural innovations, which apparently gave the author no end of trouble, still seem fresh and even daring after several generations of postmodernism. This is, after all, a book in which there is an omniscient narrator but much of the action is depicted through the journal of one of the characters, Édouard, and in which parts of the narrative are presented to us as flashback as the journal is read by someone else; it is a book in which that same Édouard is writing a novel, also called The Counterfeiters, which he is basing on the events that take place around him; it is a book in which Édouard reads aloud a few pages of a draft of that novel (complete with ridiculous personal names — Audibert and Eudolfe) to another character in part to find out how he will react so that he can include that reaction in the book he is writing. It is, in its final pages, a book whose violent climax — horrifying but not really surprising, since Gide has been pointing us towards it — so mystifies Édouard that he decides to omit it from his own novel, since he can make no sense of the motivation that lies behind it. The novel shifts focus radically but seemingly without effort; major characters at the beginning (Vincent, Lady Griffith) are ignored for hundreds of pages and then dispatched summarily, while characters seen at first only obliquely, like Laura, emerge into the spotlight only to recede again. Even Olivier and Bernard, the two schoolfellows with whom the book begins, become less important as the book winds on, while Édouard, whom we barely meet for the first hundred pages, becomes more and more the center of gravity. Somehow Gide manages to keep all these balls in the air and still pull it off without letting the machinery interfere with what is, in many respects, a solidly realistic, almost Dickensian, narrative.

As for Gide's influence, re-reading it now I see the traces of Les faux-monnayeurs where I would not necessarily have expected it. It almost certainly had an effect on Julio Cortázar, who translated L'immoraliste and speaks admiringly of Gide in his letters; Édouard's ruminations on the technique of the novel are echoed by the novelist-philosopher Morelli in Hopscotch. It surely influenced The Empire City, the messy but often brilliant novel by Paul Goodman (another admirer of Gide); and its erotic and family dynamics, as well as Vincent's descent into depravity in Africa, may well have influenced Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. And since then? Is Gide much read in the US today, outside of the academy? I honestly don't know. But I suspect that even after the hyperkinetic experimentation of Pynchon, Barth, and David Foster Wallace, this cagey novel still has lessons to teach.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Let the Wind Blow

Personally, I'm all for heading for the nearest high ground, but I do like this new song by Zachary Richard.

The CD version of this song (on Le fou) seems to be slightly different. Some of the "musicians" in the video are apparently actors.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Election 2012

Questo misero modo
tegnon l’anime triste di coloro
che visser sanza ’nfamia e sanza lodo.

Mischiate sono a quel cattivo coro
de li angeli che non furon ribelli
né fur fedeli a Dio, ma per sé fuoro.

Inferno, III

I have rarely employed this blog for political discussions, not because I have no opinions on such matters (people who know me well know that I am, in fact, stridently and perhaps tiresomely partisan), but because this particular space was intended to be, for the most part, reserved for joy, and there is, for the most part, precious little joy or for that matter integrity in the political sphere. But at a certain point it becomes dishonorable to keep silent. I have minimal influence on others and most of what I say here may largely be preaching to the choir, but it must be said nevertheless. I will try to be brief.

It may be surprising that someone like myself, who has no religious beliefs, would adopt the essentially Manichean attitude expressed in Dante's condemnation of those "who were not rebels, nor faithful to God, but who were only for themselves," but I have strong views (though not theological or metaphysical ones) about what is right and wrong, or what, if the terminology pleases you, constitutes Good and Evil. Put simply, compassion and honesty are good, cruelty and lying are evil. In spite of that, I have modest expectations of others, including those who take it upon themselves to lead us. I worship few idols, in politics or elsewhere, and I don't necessarily expect to find perfection or even idealism in public life. It's commendable when one finds a relatively selfless politician, but I don't regard it as necessary. A certain amount of self-interest, in our leaders and in ourselves, is not only forgivable but normal and probably inevitable; it is, in fact, largely how political systems work, by balancing the competing needs of factions that are looking out for their own interests and implicitly doing harm to the interests of others. Saints, when you find them -- and there's that theological language again -- are deserving of recognition, but they are also rare, and expecting sainthood is not only naive but dangerous; history is littered with the victims of self-declared purists.

But if corruption is our natural state (I do not exempt myself), it is nevertheless the case that there are degrees of that particular vice, and that there is a difference between those who through frailty or selfishness allow their motives to become mixed and those who deliberately, relentlessly, systematically manipulate public life and consciously sacrifice the general welfare for the inordinate benefit of a few, or who use fanaticism and bigotry as the tools with which to consolidate their power and privileges. As someone whose own ideology is solidly on the left, I have at times taken issue with the policies of the current administration, but I refuse to be reduced to the trivialization of declaring whether I "support" President Barack Obama's presidency or whether I think his motives and methods are largely "good" or "bad." Like everyone else I have my impressions, but they are ultimately of no importance (and in any case, too complex to be reduced to a simple "yes" or "no"). What is important is that a choice must be made -- by me, by everyone else -- and that how that choice is made will have profound consequences.

That our country's political system is, and has been for many years, a dysfunctional nightmare, is not in question. The size of the country, the vast opportunities it offers for corruption, and our sordid history -- never healed and all-too-often barely acknowledged -- of conquest, genocide, slavery, exploitation, racism, and fanaticism, are all inimical to the spirit of a democratic polis. Even the letter of democracy -- the principle of universal suffrage -- has been increasingly threatened by efforts to suppress the vote. (Always, that is, the vote of certain people, though we have even seen serious suggestions that the right to choose US senators should be taken away from the electorate and returned to the state houses, where it resided before the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment). The fog of disinformation and outright lying perpetrated by right-wing cable outlets and websites has served to confuse and mislead a population already long divided along regional, racial, and social lines, and has encouraged a fatal cynicism about the potential positive role of government and law in promoting the general welfare. Congress, the body that in effect invented the country and which was intended by the Constitution as the ultimate legal embodiment of the sovereignty of the people, is now perhaps the most universally despised institution in the country, on both the left and the right. None of this will be set right in this election, or, most likely, in our lifetimes.

But there is a difference between illness and death, and in a little over a week we will learn, assuming our creaky electoral machinery doesn't simply freeze up entirely, whether we intend to leave open the possibility that "government of the people, by the people, for the people" is a goal worth striving for that might at some future time actually be achieved, or whether we will simply surrender ourselves once and for all to the barons of neo-feudalism and the armies of hatred, fanaticism, and greed that have gathered around them. There is no middle ground.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Devil's Lexicon

Another video from Gonwards, the upcoming Peter Blegvad - Andy Partridge - Stuart Rowe collaboration, releasing October 22nd from Ape House Records. The whole package has been described as, in part, "a re-imagination of the myth of the Blues," and in this film (by Marina Lutz) this element comes through explicitly. But of course, this being a Blegvad-Partridge project (like the earlier Orpheus the Lowdown), the Devil not only meets the musician at the crossroads, he actually brings him into being out of the raw materials of creation.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Notes for a Commonplace Book (10)

André Gide (in the voice of Édouard):

To strip away from the novel every element that does not specifically belong to the novel. Just as photography in the past liberated painting from its concern for a certain sort of accuracy, so the phonograph will no doubt shortly purge the novel of the reported dialogue on which realists so often pride themselves. Exterior events, accidents, injuries, belong to the cinema; the novel should abandon them to it. Even the description of the characters does not seem to me to properly belong to the genre. No; this doesn't seem to me the business of the pure novel (and in art, as in everything else, purity is the only thing I care about). No more so than it is the business of drama. And let no one argue that the playwright does not describe his characters merely because the spectator is intended to see them recreated in the flesh on the stage — for how often does a stage actor irritate and baffle us because he is so unlike the person our own imagination had figured better without him? The novelist does not as a rule give sufficient credit to the reader's imagination.

(From The Counterfeiters. I have messed liberally with Dorothy Bussy's translation.)

I'm not sure if Édouard's manifesto constitutes good advice or bad advice at this point; it certainly seems to have been prophetic, at least of later tendencies in the French novel. Having just finished reading Bleak House, which would seem to embody, in its glorious way, everything that Édouard wished to jettison, I find it alternately bracing and appalling. What exactly is the role of the novel in a culture in which the dominant forms of narrative are moving pictures? (And remember that Gide put these words in Édouard's notebook in 1925, before talkies and long before television.) Is the novel simply to be (as many novels now are) a transcript of what we would see and hear if we were watching the same story on TV?

On an unrelated note, can there be any doubt that Cortázar's Morelli is simply Édouard under another guise?

NB: Quoted at least twice in Cortázar's letters, including one addressed to Mario Vargas Llosa in 1970: "Toutes choses sont dites déjà; mais comme personne n'écoute, il faut toujours recommencer." (André Gide)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Tales of a Sea Cow

I saw most of this "documentary" by Etienne de France this summer at the Listasafns Íslands (National Gallery of Iceland) in Reykjavík, where it was playing in a continuous loop. As far as I can tell only this trailer is available online.

The Stellar's sea cow is believed to have become extinct in the 1760s.

Friday, October 05, 2012

A Working Museum

I didn't really know what to expect with this one since I only knew Amy Rigby from three songs, which was exactly two and a half songs more than I knew of the work of Eric Goulden a.k.a. Wreckless Eric. But I liked those three songs enough (even though two of them weren't her own compositions) that I plunked down my $15 through Kickstarter and gave it a shot. As it turns out, it's a pretty likeable record. As the song list on the cover implies (it's typed by someone who evidently learned to type using the same method I did, which is to say no method at all), this is very much a homemade production, cranked out by two veteran musicians who have kicked around a bit, have been working together for a while, and who have also been a married couple for the last few years.

Amy Rigby is an American, Goulden a Brit. They're a bit of an odd couple musically, at first glance, Rigby coming across as a typically self-aware, acoustic guitar-toting singer-songwriter, though with an appealingly off-beat delivery and a skewed sense of humor, and Wreckless Eric being more of a '70s punk rocker and looking a bit worse for wear, as do many of us of his vintage even if we weren't ever punk rockers back in the day. They wind up complementing each other quite well, as it turns out; Rigby can stomp around and rock out with the best of them, and Goulden writes intelligent, melodic pop that deserves better than the horrible pub sound systems and rowdy audiences he probably had to endure in his original heyday (aw, but I bet he loved it, at least some of the time).

The highlights here for me are Rigby's "Do You Remember That?," a slightly different version of which I first heard via the Radio Free Song Club, and "Rebel Girl" (which is apparently a posthumous tribute to someone, though I don't know who), and Goulden's "A Darker Shade of Brown" (which contains the plea "Aw, God save us from sanitized sex") and "Zero to Minus One." There are one or two misses, by my count, but really this is a solid record, produced with handmade care without the involvement of the bean-countership, which at this point has pretty much given up on this kind of music anyway.

As for the title, the explanation is in the liner notes:
We've called this album A Working Museum, because at this point, with a combined musical career of 70 years, that's probably what we are. There's something unnatural (though hopefully not undignified) about people our age making pop music and hacking around the club circuit, but that's what we do.
Here, by the way, is a video of Amy Rigby and Wreckless Eric from a few years back, doing a version of Eric's much-covered "Whole Wide World," plus the beginning of "Take the Cash." See if you can tell whether they're having a good time.

Friday, September 21, 2012

From Germ to Gem

A video sneak peek at Gonwards, the upcoming Peter Blegvad - Andy Partridge - Stuart Rowe collaboration, due out October 22nd from Ape House Records. This should be fun.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A poem in the pocket

To follow up my earlier post on Héctor Abad Faciolince's memoir El olvido que seremos, I should mention the same author's more recent book Traiciones de la memoria, ("Betrayals of Memory") which itself is a bit of a spin-off.

The title of El olvido que seremos ("the oblivion we will be") was taken from the handwritten text of a poem found in Abad Faciolince's father's pocket when he was assassinated in 1987. That scrap of paper, which is now lost, evidently bore an attribution to Borges, but, curiously, the poem was not to be found in any of the authorized editions of his work. Moreover, when Abad Faciolince contacted a number of Borges scholars and biographers, as well as his widow Maria Kodama, they unanimously dismissed it as a fake, and its origin appeared murky. A Colombian poet, Harold Alvarado Tenorio, would later claim to have received the poem, along with four others, directly from Borges, but then changed his story and declared that he had written them himself and passed them off as the work of the master. (Neither version of his story appears to be true, nor would they be the last Alvarado Tenorio would advance.) Abad Faciolince followed the convoluted trail of the poems back to their original printed source, in a limited-edition pamphlet published in Argentina in 1986 by a press called Ediciones Anónimos, and eventually uncovered what seems to be almost incontestable evidence that they were in fact written by Borges. Traiciones de la muerte includes a number of illustrations of the parties involved and of the various editions of the poems. It's a somewhat bizarre and obsessive but ultimately satisfying exercise in literary detective work.

As for the poem that started all this, here is the original text, followed by the translation that appears in a review of Oblivion (the English-language edition of El olvido que seremos) in the Nation. (The translation is not specifically credited, but is probably by Natasha Wimmer, who translated Jorge Volpi's original Spanish-language review.)
"Aquí. Hoy."

Ya somos el olvido que seremos.
El polvo elemental que nos ignora
y que fue el rojo Adán y que es ahora
todos los hombres, y que no veremos.
Ya somos en la tumba las dos fechas
del principio y el término, la caja,
la obscena corrupción y la mortaja,
los ritos de la muerte y las endechas.
No soy el insensato que se aferra
al mágico sonido de su nombre.
Pienso con esperanza en aquel hombre
que no sabrá que fui sobre la tierra.
Bajo el indiferente azul del cielo
esta meditación es un consuelo.

Already we are the oblivion we shall be—
the elemental dust that does not know us,
the dust that once was red Adam and now is
all men, the dust we shall not see.
Already we are the two dates on the headstone,
the beginning and the end. The coffin,
the obscene decay and the shroud,
the death rites and the dirges.
I am not some fool who clings
to the magical sound of his own name.
I think, with hope, of that man
who will never know I walked the earth.
Beneath the blue indifference of heaven,
I find this thought consoling.
In addition to "Un poema en el bolsillo," which follows the trail of the Borges poem, Traiciones de la memoria includes two shorter pieces, "Un camino equivocado" and "Ex futuros." It was published by Alfaguara in 2009. One of the other participants in the affair, an editor named Jaime Correas, has published his own version in a "non-fiction novel" (which I haven't read) entitled Los falsificadores de Borges. It is said to be supportive of Abad Faciolince's conclusions.

Saturday, September 08, 2012


Nunca acepté resignado la muerte de mi hermana, ni nunca podré aceptar con tranquilidad el asesinato de mi padre. Es cierto que él, de alguna manera, estaba ya satisfecho con su via, y preparado para morir, dispuesto a morir si era necesario, pero abominaba esa muerte violente que evidentemente le estaban preparando. Eso es lo más doloroso y lo más inaceptable. Este libro es el intento de dejar un testimonio de ese dolor, un testimonio al mismo tiempo inútil y necesario. Inútil porque el tiempo no se devuelve ni los hechos se modifican, pero necesario al menos para mí, porque mi vida y mi oficio carecían de sentido si no escribiera esto que siento que tengo que escribir, y que en casi veinte años de intentos no había sido capaz de escribir, hasta ahora.

I'm not going to say much about Héctor Abad Faciolince's extraordinary memoir El olvido que seremos except to say that you should read it, and if you need more reason than that (which naturally you do, unless you are in the habit of taking recommendations from perfect strangers without further explanation), I invite you to read Jorge Volpi's long and thoughtful review in the Nation. The English-language translation, which I haven't examined, is entitled Oblivion; it was published in the US earlier this year by Farrrar, Straus & Giroux.

Briefly noted (Harry Mathews)

An online journal called The Quarterly Conversation is devoting a good part of its Fall 2012 issue (#29) to a special feature entitled An American in Oulipo: The Harry Mathews Symposium, including separate articles about The Conversions, the first three novels considered collectively, Cigarettes, My Life in CIA, and other works. As far as I can tell the journal has no print edition, which is a drag since I find reading more than three or four paragraphs at a time on a computer screen to be uncongenial (says the blogger). Still, it's nice to see that there's still some interest out there in Mathews's work.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Dining with Ólafur

The stone above, which lies on the island of Vi∂ey or Videy in Kollafjörður Bay across from the city of Reykjavík, Iceland, memorializes Ólafur Stephensen, the first native Icelander to serve as the country's governor during the period of Danish rule. In addition to his historical importance, Ólafur was, in the words of the island's official website, "renowned for his hospitality," and an account written by a young eyewitness who would later become one of Britain's greatest naturalists certainly bears this out, though "feared for his hospitality" might be closer to the mark. Here's a bit of background:

In June 1809, at a time when Denmark was officially at war with Great Britain, a British commercial vessel named the Rover arrived off Reykjavík, lured by the prospect of trade with an island that was, as far as the Danes were concerned, strictly off-limits to English merchants. Among the passengers was a Danish native named Jorgen Jorgenson, who in the course of a series of farcical events that ensued that summer would seize control of the capital and proclaim himself "protector" of Iceland, and William Jackson Hooker, who, as a protegé of the great naturalist Sir Joseph Banks, had tagged along on the Rover in order to conduct research on Icelandic botany. Hooker's specimens and journals would be lost on the homeward voyage, but he was able to reconstruct enough from memory to publish a two-volume Journal of a Tour in Iceland, in which he records how Ólafur Stephensen (an old friend of Joseph Banks) entertained his guests.
When we sat down to table, a little interruption was caused by the breaking down of the chair upon which his Excellency had seated himself; but this was soon settled, as there fortunately was still a vacant one in the room to replace it. The arranging of a dinner-table is attended in Iceland with little trouble, and would afford no scope for the display of the elegant abilities of an experienced English housekeeper. On the cloth was nothing but a plate, a knife and fork, a wine glass, and a bottle of claret, for each guest, except that in the middle stood a large and handsome glass-castor of sugar, with a magnificent silver top. The natives are not in the habit of drinking malt liquor or water, nor is it customary to eat salt with their meals. The dishes are brought in singly: our first was a large turenne of soup, which is a favorite addition to the dinners of the richer people, and is made of sago, claret, and raisins, boiled so as to become almost a mucilage. We were helped to two soup-plates full of this, which we ate without knowing if any thing more was to come. No sooner, however, was the soup removed, than two large salmon, boiled and cut in slices, were brought on, and, with them, melted butter, looking like oil, mixed with vinegar and pepper: this, likewise, was very good, and, when we had with some difficulty cleared our plates, we hoped we had finished our dinners. Not so, for there was then introduced a turenne full of the eggs of the Cree, or great tern, boiled hard, of which a dozen were put upon each of our plates; and, for sauce, we had a large basin of cream, mixed with sugar, in which were four spoons, so that we all ate out of the same bowl, placed in the middle of the table. We petitioned hard to be excused from eating the whole of the eggs upon our plates, but we petitioned in vain. "You are my guests," said he, "and this is the first time you have done me the honor of a visit, therefore you must do as I would have you; in future, when you come to see me, you may do as you like." In his own excuse, he pleaded his age for not following our example, to which we could make no reply.

We devoured with difficulty our eggs and cream; but had no sooner dismissed our plates, than half a sheep, well roasted, came on, with a mess of sorrel (Rumex acetosa), called by the Danes scurvy-grass, boiled, meshed, and sweetened with sugar. It was to no purpose we assured our host that we had already eaten more than would do us good: he filled our plates with the mutton and sauce, and made us get through it as well as we could; although any one of the dishes, of which we had before partaken, was sufficient for the dinner of a moderate man. However, even this was not all; for a large dish of Waffels, as they are here called, that is to say, a sort of pancake, made of wheat-flour, flat, and roasted in a mould, which forms a number of squares on the top, succeeded the mutton. They were not more than half an inch thick, and about the size of an octavo book. The Stiftsamptman [governor] said he would be satisfied if each of us would eat two of them, and, with these moderate terms we were forced to comply. For bread, Norway biscuit and loaves made of rye, were served up; for our drink, we had nothing but claret, of which we were all compelled to empty the bottle that stood by us, and this, too, out of tumblers, rather than wine glasses. It is not the custom in this country to sit after dinner over the wine, but we had, instead of it, to drink just as much coffee as the Stiftsamptman thought proper to give us. The coffee was certainly extremely good, and, we trusted it would terminate the feast. But all was not yet over; for a huge bowl of rum punch was brought in, and handed round in large glasses pretty freely, and to every glass a toast was given. If at any time we flagged in drinking, "Baron Banks" was always the signal for emptying our glasses, in order that we might have them filled with bumpers, to drink to his health; a task that no Englishman ought to hesitate about complying with most gladly, though assuredly, if any exception might be made to such a rule, it would be in an instance like the present. We were threatened with still another bowl, after we should have drained this; and accordingly another actually came, which we were with difficulty allowed to refuse to empty entirely; nor could this be done, but by ordering our people to get the boat ready for our departure, when, having concluded this extraordinary feast by three cups of tea each, we took our leave, and reached Reikevig [sic] about ten o'clock; but did not for some time recover the effects of this most involuntary intemperance.
Occupied since the 10th century, Vi∂ey is no longer farmed, but the farmhouse in which Stephensen entertained his guests still stands on the island, and there is now a small café inside it which serves excellent food, though not, to be sure, on the scale described above. There is a large hearth in a back room that may well have been used to prepare the meal served to Hooker and Jorgenson. Most of the island now looks like this:

The island may be the quietest place on earth, the only sound being the cry of an occasional shorebird startled by our footsteps. It is easily accessed by passenger ferry from Reykjavík, and is well worth a visit.

Sir William Jackson Hooker became the first director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew; his son, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, who succeeded him at that post, was a great friend of Charles Darwin's. Jorgen Jorgenson's entire extraordinary career is admirably recounted in Sarah Blakewell's The English Dane: From King of Iceland to Tasmanian Convict.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Reykjavík Blues

If more proof were needed that the best things often turn up by accident, during a brief ride on a passenger ferry in Reykjavík the captain switched on a recording of what was, as far as I could tell, someone singing the old Don Gibson country tune "Oh Lonesome Me" in Icelandic. When the boat docked, several tunes later, and I went to ask the what the record was, someone had already beat me to the punch, and the captain gave us both an introduction to Kristján Kristjánsson, better known as KK (pronounced "Cow Cow"), and his frequent collaborator Magnús Eiríksson, who usually goes by Maggi Eiríks or just plain Maggi.

22 Ferðalög, the CD that was playing on the boat, includes Icelandic-language versions of a number of old pop and folk chestnuts, including "Freight Train," "Daisy Bell" ("A Bicycle Built for Two"), and "Baby Face," as well as some songs I recognize but can't put a name on. As far as I can tell (knowing virtually no Icelandic), none of the melodies are new, and the "translated" lyrics may have at best only a rough fidelity to the original. The songs range in style from Tin Pan Alley to country to calypso to Hawaiian, and all are played with deft, swinging arrangements on two guitars. KK, who has the better voice, takes most of the vocals, with Maggi apparently playing the lead lines on guitar. The record was reportedly a big success in Iceland, and has led to two sequels (which I haven't heard), Fleiri ferðalög and Langferðalög. If I'm not mistaken, "ferðalög" means travelogue, and the record is, in fact, perfect traveling music, ingratiating without ever being sappy.

I didn't actually catch up with 22 Ferðalög (via download) until I got home, but before I left I did find a copy of Þrefaldur ("Triple"), a relatively inexpensive set that includes three earlier CDs by the pair, Ómissandi fólk, Kóngur einn dag, and the live album Lifað og leikið, dating from 1996 to 2000, and displaying a harder, more rock-oriented side to their work. Except for some American blues covers on the third CD (sung in English), most of the songs here seem to be originals, and good ones at that. Again, it's hard to judge songs without knowing the language, but the tunes and musicianship are first-rate. The live CD is more of a mixed bag stylistically than the first two discs, but it includes two of KK's best songs, the lovely road song "Vegbúi" and the haunting "Grand Hótel," as well as an eight-minute version of "Everyday I Have the Blues" that lets Maggi air it out on guitar.

KK (on the right in both photos) was born in Minnesota in 1956, though his parents were evidently Icelanders and the family moved back to Iceland when he was ten. He later studied music in Sweden. I haven't found much information on Magnus Eiríkson. It appears to be very difficult to obtain the pair's CDs in the US (and I don't know whether they ever tour here), but their music can be downloaded as mp3s from [No longer active]. There are a few YouTube videos of KK out there, with or without Magnús, but the sound quality on most isn't great, though this version of a song called "Dalakofinn" seems to have been taken directly from a CD.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

In Suðarsveit

Thórbergur Thórdarson, or Þórbergur Þórðarson to use the Icelandic form of his name, was born in 1888 on a turf farmstead named Hali in Suðarsveit, an isolated district on the southeast coast of Iceland. Said to be too frail for farm work, he moved to Reykjavík, where he tried his hand at various occupations before taking up the pen. He eventually became one of Iceland's most important modern writers, though his name is scarcely recognized outside of the country. The Stones Speak, a memoir of his childhood, which has been published this year in an English-language translation by Julian Meldon D'Arcy, suggests that he deserves to be more widely known.

The Stone Speaks begins with the stranding of a French schooner in 1886, a momentous event in local history which provided local farmsteads with an unaccustomed bounty of such luxuries as French bread, red wine, and cognac, as well as more utilitarian items like fishing tackle, rope, and nails. It proceeds to the wedding of his parents shortly after, and his difficult birth two years later, and then examines in detail the farm buildings, livestock, and the rugged but beautiful terrain, caught between the sea and the glaciers and volcanoes of the hinterland. If the book were only that it would be of great historical and anthropological interest, for the precarious way of life of the farmers and fisher folk of the southeast coast had in many ways remained all but unchanged for centuries. In a region where supplies of wood were limited to what washed up on the shore and where horticulture was marginal at best, the inhabitants of Suðarsveit lived in houses constructed from turf and stone, cooked and heated with dung, relied on midwives and herbal remedies for medical care, and ate whatever their livestock provided or what they could harvest from the sea.

It quickly becomes evident, however, that Thórbergur is no mere documentarian, but a vivid and imaginative recreator of his own childhood self in all its idiosyncracies. (An Esperantist, socialist, and occasional nudist, Thórbergur was accounted a great eccentric by his contemporaries.) He captures not only the strange otherworldliness that was part and parcel of rural life, including a belief in the active presence of ghosts, "hidden people," and other supernatural entities, but also what Joseph Campbell called "the spontaneous animism of childhood," in which not just farm animals but natural features of the landscape and even everyday objects were seen as possessing souls and characters of their own, and in which personal names and even ordinary nouns and adjectives held potent and uncanny visual associations:
With the adjective 'mad,' an elliptical stone used for weighing appeared hanging in thin air before me, but with the adjective 'crazy' there appeared a sheep's head with horse-shoe shaped horns on a living sheep butting its right horn under something, a bar in a gate for example, with its head leaning over a little to the right. When someone was said to be 'mad and crazy,' the weight first appeared and then the sheep's head immediately after. A rather large sheep's head with horse-shoe-shaped horns also appeared in association with the man's name Ari, but then the sheep didn't butt anything. It stood still, or was moving, and I saw its face from the front at an oblique angle.
The Stones Speak is only the first of four volumes, collectively entitled Í Suðursveit, which Thórbergur devoted to memories of his childhood; the remaining three are as yet untranslated. As far as I can tell, the only other of Thórbergur's books to have been translated into English, long out-of-print but not difficult to obtain second-hand, is In Search of My Beloved, which is an abridgement of Íslenzkur aðall. There is also a slender volume, which I haven't seen, called In the Footsteps of a Storyteller, comprising excerpts from his writings (mostly, I think, from The Stones Speak), accompanied by photographs. Though the text is in English and German, it is, like The Stones Speak, barely obtainable outside of Iceland.

There is now a museum at Hali devoted to Thórbergur; its dramatic exterior wall takes the form of a uniform edition of his writings. The district is no longer as isolated as it was in the past, as Iceland's ring road now runs through it, and there are guesthouses as Hali and nearby farms. An evocative if somewhat romanticized video shows scenes from Suðarsveit today.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Artist unknown (Views of Iceland)

The Listasafns Íslands (National Gallery of Iceland) is currently exhibiting a group of some fifteen paintings by an unknown artist or artists, possibly done in Denmark before 1785, and purporting to depict the volcanoes and other natural features of Iceland. The paintings are rarely shown and appear not to have been reproduced in any form except for the single image above, which is taken from the museum's website. They are part of an excellent small exhibition called Inspired by Iceland, which includes everything from 19th-century landscapes by recognized Icelandic masters to contemporary video and multimedia presentations.

According to information available at the exhibit (but apparently not on the museum's website or anywhere else), the canvases were donated to the museum in 1928 by the heirs of Baron Tage Reedtz-Thott, who was prime minister of Denmark from 1894 to 1897. They were probably once owned by Count Otto Thott, a noted 18th-century antiquarian distinguished by a bequest of 200 Icelandic manuscripts to the Royal Library in Copenhagen.

Though the paintings are inscribed with identifying place-names, their topography doesn't correspond to the real world, and it is thought to be unlikely that the artist or artists ever actually set foot in Iceland at all. In addition to the fifteen pieces that are currently displayed, there are apparently nine others in the museum's collection; numbers inscribed in the corners suggest that they may have once been part of a series of 32 or more.

The example shown, while striking, is somewhat atypical in its use of livid red; its strangeness, however, is shared by the entire series. As in many or perhaps all of the others (I am working from memory so I can't be sure), some tiny human figures have been included, perhaps to provide scale, but most of these figures have their faces obscured or turned away. This may or may not have been because drawing faces was beyond the technical skills of the artist(s), but in any case the effect is distinctly uncanny. One of the more interesting examples shows three white conical forms, which seemingly spiral up like the Tower of Babel; I'm not even clear what these forms are supposed to be — ice mountains? giant stalagmites?.

The Listasafns has wisely shown great restraint in restoring the paintings, which are presented unframed. They are pockmarked and blemished here and there, and the canvas on some is frayed a bit where it attaches to the backing, but if anything these reminders of their age and previous neglect only increase the impact of the images. Pending further research (which is reportedly underway), it's too soon to classify these works with a facile label such as "naive art," but it's not too soon to declare that they are both very beautiful and very, very odd. Hopefully the entire series will be fully annotated and reproduced before too long.

Update (February 2013): Below are thumbnails of two other images in the group.

These two were taken from a document entitled "List of objects proposed for protection under Part 6 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 (protection of cultural objects on loan)" prepared by the Compton Verney Art Gallery in preparation for an exhibition in 2010.

Friday, July 27, 2012


He found some leftover pizza in the fridge, tossed it into the microwave, and watched it revolve on the glass plate like some slow-motion juggler’s trick. It tasted like cardboard when he pulled it out but he didn’t much care. The hunger was there, but appetite was another story; still, the beer he had opened to go with it didn’t taste half bad. Bill had lived on his own long enough that he could manage for himself in the kitchen if he had to, but mostly it wasn’t worth the dishes or the bother. Living mostly on take-out took a chunk out of his budget, but since it was pretty much his only indulgence he could swing it without any problem. He had never entertained in his apartment, except when his family flew in for a visit, and even then mostly they wanted to go out on the town while they were there.

The view from his balcony wasn’t so much of the river as over it, although naturally that wasn’t the way they put it in the real estate listings. The city had grown up along both shores, leveling hills and filling in marshes and brackish pools, abolishing the topography as it went. There had to be hundreds of thousands of living human beings, right at that moment, just in the buildings that were visible from where he stood. They were out there in the projects, in the office towers where people were still working late at their desks, at the stadium in the distance that was lit up for a home game, in the cars whose headlights were moving soundlessly along the encircling expressways, and yet he knew barely a soul among them. He had felt the same way once before, years ago, peering through the window of a Shanghai high-rise, when he realized that no one in that unimaginably vast metropolis knew his name or what had brought him there, that he was a stranger from another country who barely spoke the language and had no real reason for being there that he could clearly articulate, even to himself, that whatever his life was going to be about was of infinitesimal concern to the people whom he passed in the street or who waited on him in the crowded markets, that he was only of flickering interest even to his teachers and fellow students in the university where he attended classes five days a week. He had reconciled himself to the fact of his irrelevance and made it safely through, just as he would make it through tonight, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that something, somewhere deep down in his gut, was slowly, relentlessly hollowing him out from inside. No one around him would notice, of course, because it wasn’t necessary for you to have anything inside you in order to get by, in fact it made it easier, you fit in better with everyone else who was in the same predicament, showing up on time, keeping your head down and your desk in order, breathing in, breathing out, going through the motions. He had abandoned some indispensable part of himself somewhere along the way, but one of the symptoms of the disorder — maybe the hardest of all to bear — was that he could no longer remember clearly just what it was that was now lost to him forever. All he knew was that it wasn’t somewhere lying ahead, in his future, waiting to welcome him with fanfares and open arms when he finally landed on the shore. It wasn’t even in his past, for if he had ever truly been the person that he now knew that he would never become, then there would always be a piece of that being tucked away somewhere deep within, no matter how scarred over or neglected it became, something he could call on in his darkest moments, if only to have it reproach and mock him him for forsaking it. But even that was to be denied him. He knew that now.

He flipped the TV on with the remote and lay down on the bed, still wearing the same pants and shirt he had worn to work, setting the half-empty bottle on the nightstand. He flipped from channel to channel, watching the news. In the other room his BlackBerry chimed every few minutes but he didn’t bother to get up and answer it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


The police had cordoned off the sidewalk and were beginning to make arrests. Something in the air was making Héctor’s eyes water, and the cops were wearing masks that made them look like giant grasshoppers and which might have made him laugh if he hadn’t been so frightened. A dozen or so protestors had planted themselves on the sidewalk and were refusing to move, waiting for the cops to come and put plastic handcuffs on them and drag them off to the waiting vans. Héctor didn’t know which way to turn but whenever he saw two or three cops coming he moved off in the opposite direction as quickly as he could. He remembered some minnows he had seen once in a store, how they darted from one end of the tank to the other, desperately trying to avoid being scooped up in the net, as if they knew that their fate lay in being impaled on a fisherman’s hook. The strobe lights on the police vans kept flickering, making him woozy and even more terrified than he already was. He wished that he had never decided to go for a walk, that he had never let his curiosity get the better of him. Whatever this protest was about it surely wasn’t his business to get mixed up in, and now if he got arrested he was certain they’d find out he had no papers and send him packing. How could he pay back what he owed the polleros for bringing him across the border if he couldn’t stay in the city and work? How could he ever come north again, with no money? His cousin was going to be furious when Héctor called him from jail. Maybe they’d stick him in some prison and let him rot, surrounded by strangers. Héctor had never been in prison but he’d heard the stories. If you were lucky, they said, you only got beaten by the guards; if the other inmates went after you, you were finished.

A voice was issuing from a bullhorn, shouting insistent commands, but Héctor couldn’t understand what it was saying. There were screams from across the street, a concussion, and then the mist of whatever it was that was stinging his eyes suddenly hit him head-on, blinding him, burning his nostrils and throat. He bent over, choking and retching, and as he stumbled someone running by struck Héctor’s head hard with his elbow in his haste to escape. He dropped to his knees but immediately forced himself up again. Unable to see, he staggered away from what seemed to be the center of the fumes and the noise. People were rushing past, shoving, grasping, crying, and through his closed eyelids he sensed the pulse of the strobe lights, the shadows of figures moving all around him. He trod on something soft that he thought must have been a human hand, but whoever it belonged to was evidently either unconscious or simply oblivious to the pain.

He struck something hard with his shoulder and knew at once that it was the wall of the building that soared above. Feeling his way along its surface, clambering over fallen bodies, he bashed his leg hard against a standpipe and let out a cry. He touched one of the building’s glass doors, tugged desperately at the handle, but found that it was locked tight. He could hear the sickening sound of a truncheon being struck against a body, no more than a few feet away, and winced in anticipation of the coming blow, but it didn’t arrive. As he reached the corner of the building something jutted against his chest and he realized that it was the cordon set up by the police. He grasped it with one hand and ducked underneath, then slipped away down the side street, still unseeing and in terror for his life.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Blick auf die Unterstadt

This postcard "view of the lower town" of Eupen, Belgium, was printed by Kunstverlag Ferdinand Schweitzer in Aachen, across the German border, probably between 1935 and 1940.

Once part of the Duchy of Limbourg, Eupen was incorporated successively within France, Prussia, and the German empire. Transferred to Belgium by the Treaty of Versailles, it became a hotbed of pro-German and pro-Nazi sentiment between the world wars, and was annexed to the Third Reich in 1940. Having survived fierce fighting during the Battle of the Bulge and the loss of a substantial portion of its male population to conscription into the German Army, the town was once again returned to Belgium at the end of the war.

"Luftkurort," in the lower margin, is, according to Wikipedia, "a title given to towns or cities ... which are health resorts which have a climate and air quality which is considered beneficial to health and rest."

Below, from, is an advertising label produced by the Schweitzer company.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Honest Badger Thief of Lubeck

Kahn + Selesnick are at it again, with a new project, Truppe Fledermaus. Worth keeping an eye on. Sly Frank Zappa reference below: