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.