Saturday, April 18, 2020

Monday, April 13, 2020

Monumenta slavica

More than fifteen years ago I posted a brief note about the Balkan folk-song "Mečkin Kamen" (The Bear's Rock) and its commemoration of the 1903 Illinden uprising in what is now North Macedonia. I included an image of the spomenik (monument) at Kruševo, which memorializes the same events. Today I discovered that an American biologist named Donald Niebyl has spent several years compiling a lavishly-illustrated database of similar monuments throughout the former Yugoslavia.

Unlike the Illinden spomenik (which he includes), most of these memorials (one example is shown above) commemorate the anti-fascist struggle in the Balkans during World War II. Constructed largely between 1960 and 1990, these oddly-shaped Brutalist structures are now often in disrepair. Sometimes atrocious in isolation, they can be uncannily evocative when viewed in their surroundings.

A related book, Spomenik Monument Database, is available from FUEL Publishing.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

"Humility and Authority"

Ireland's TG4 has broadcast a superb documentary about the master uilleann piper Liam O'Flynn, a beloved figure whose modest manner coexisted with a deep sense of responsibility to the musical tradition that he inherited and expanded. Presented in Irish (with subtitles) and English, and featuring commentary from his wife, band mates, and friends, as well as a generous sampling of his music, it will be available online for the next month or so. Don't miss it.

Update: TG4 now seems to be making this available indefinitely.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Social distancing tip

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.