Friday, February 24, 2017

Tout va (très) bien

I'm in the early stages of a long slow re-read of Cortázar's Hopscotch, and this time I'm making a point of annotating some of the many allusions scattered through the pages of the novel, allusions which would have been time-consuming to identify in the pre-internet when I read it for the first time (c.1978?), but which can now generally be tracked down in a matter of seconds. (There's even at least one Spanish-language blog specifically devoted to the task, Mi Rayuela.)

More on that project, perhaps, another time; this morning I looked up a scrap of French that can be found in Chapter 71: Tout va très bien, madame La Marquise, tout va très bien, tout va très bien. Here's a performance of the song from which those words were taken: [Video no longer available]

For those with no French or whose French is as creaky as mine, the gist of the song is that Madame la Marquise (here played by a man in drag) has been away from home for a few weeks and calls her servants on the phone to check on things. Everything's fine, they assure her, well, except for one little incident: her gray mare has died. How did this happen?, she asks. Well, it happened when the stables burned down. In succeeding verses we learn that the stables caught fire when the château burned to the ground, and that the château in turn was set ablaze by the candles her husband knocked over in the process of killing himself, having discovered that he was ruined financially. Other than that, tout va très bien!

The song was new to me, but not the comic routine, a staple of American folklore, renditions of which I heard various times when I was growing up. A version from Missouri, for example, begins as follows:
An old Missouri farmer hardly ever leaves home. He is one of those people who doesn't trust the world to keep on turning if he doesn't keep an eye on it. But this one time he must go to the city for a few days. His first evening in his hotel, he calls home, and his hired man answers. And our farmer says, "So, everything all right at home?"

"Jus' fine, Boss, 'cept you know your dog? Ol' Shep got holt a some dead horse meat, and it kilt 'im."

The farmer is upset, of course, that dog was a good old friend. But then it occurs to him to wonder, "Where did Shep get holt of dead horse meat?"

"Well, Boss, the horses died when the barn burned, and ol' Shep got holt a some dead horse meat, and it kilt 'im."
In the US the candles that set the fire are usually on the coffin of the mother / husband / mother-in-law of the person who has been absent.

To round out this story, a few moments after I identified the source of Tout va très bien, madame La Marquise, I visited (as I do regularly) a nice slice of tororo shiru, the blog maintained by a French copain who writes under the name Tororo, and read his most recent post. The subject was a dream he had in which someone dear to him died; the title of the post: Tout va bien.

Update (2022): There's a passing reference to the song in Georges Perec's novel La vie mode d'emploi. In Chapter 44, Perec describes how, during the liberation of Paris, a young member of the resistance, Olivier Gratiolet, receives and transcribes what are supposedly encoded messages using a clandestine radio receiver hidden in the basement of the apartment building where he lives. The messages include (in David Bellos's translation) the likes of "the presbytery has lost none of its charm nor the garden its splendour," "the archdeacon is a past master at Japanese billiards," and (in the original) "tout va très bien, Madame la Marquise."

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"No Amount of Walls"

"At the extreme, if climate change wreaks havoc on the social and economic fabric of global linchpins like Mexico City, warns the writer Christian Parenti, 'no amount of walls, guns, barbed wire, armed aerial drones or permanently deployed mercenaries will be able to save one half of the planet from the other.'" — Michael Kimmelman, "Mexico City, Parched and Sinking, Faces a Water Crisis," the New York Times, February 17, 2017

Also this week, Mike Males writes, in the Los Angeles Times:
Over the last two decades, California has seen an influx of 3.5 million immigrants, mostly Latino, and an outmigration of some 2 million residents, most of them white. An estimated 2.4 million undocumented immigrants also currently live in the state...

And yet, according to data from the FBI, the California Department of Justice, and the Centers for Disease Control, the state has seen precipitous drops in every major category of crime and violence that can be reliably measured. In Trump terms, you might say that modern California is the opposite of "American carnage."...

Before the early 1990s, California had one of the country’s highest rates of violent death. It has since fallen by 18%, and did so as the average rate of violent death across the rest of the country rose 16%. Overall, Californians are 30% less likely to die a violent death today than other Americans.

In fact, compared with averages in all other states, California now has 33% fewer gun killings, 10% fewer murders overall, and 30% fewer illicit-drug deaths. When overdoses from illicit drugs rose 160% in the rest of the country, between 1999 and 2015, they rose only 27% in California.

In nearly every respect, California’s statistics contradict the image of America painted by Trump in his inaugural address — a place of rampant violence, drugs and crime, all stoked by liberal immigration policies.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Refuge (Harry Mathews)

The attractions: solitude and secrecy—the orchard in the hills like a kingdom, the forbidden manufacture of liquor a prowess all my own, blessed with the contemplation of fir and beech, wild plum and cherry, and the company of the shy marten and jay as well as of cocky wrens and wagtails; the challenges of hiking, labor, and barter; the relief of exhaustion; the reassurance of a smartly contracted horizon; the refuge of my dwelling, small, neat, and warm, with its pots of flowering wallpepper and thyme, my pet dormouse staring around the thyme, and the new ikon over my writing stool whose wood shines in the clear frame of stenchless fresh oil; soft if short hours in the lamplight, pen in hand, showered with the random amber of phantasmal summers, abundances, triumphs of art; visits from the widow.
The title section of the late Harry Mathews's Armenian Papers: Poems 1954-1984 purports to be an adaptation of an Italian translation of a lost Armenian original, "a manuscript of medieval poems that had mysteriously and irrevocably disappeared during the decade preceding the First World War," whose existence was revealed to Mathews, Marie Chaix, and David Kalstone in 1979 during a visit to the Armenian monastery of San Lazzaro in Venice by a certain Father Gomidas. San Lazzaro does in fact exist, and the three writers may well have made such a visit; the rest is made up out of whole cloth, perhaps inspired by a package of papier d'Arménie.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Beasts of the Northern Wild

This morning I crossed paths with a foraging possum. I'm not sure which of us was the more startled (the trail was otherwise deserted), but I took my pictures and went on my way.

Elsewhere, I found the decaying skeleton of a great horned wood-beast.

Saturday, February 04, 2017