Thursday, March 31, 2022

Night haul

The tackle creaks as the net is pulled in. On the lantern-lit deck the crew plant their feet and strain at the rope.

Spilled out on the boards, the finned and tentacled creatures blink and gape, but even as the men gather around them their irridescence fades and their jewel-like colors dim. Outlines blur. The seething multitude becomes still, then melts away into brine and breeze.

They cast the net out again and sail on, dragging the dead dark sea towards morning.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Honest Things

Eleanor Clark, on the Oysterman's Cooperative building in Brittany, where "there is just about everything there you could ever need in oystering, from women's dark blue canvas pants and the beautiful fishermen's blouses up to the heaviest cable":
A lovely store, in which nothing has been advertised, nothing is packaged, no patronage is solicited, no brainwashing is done, no profit is to be made and therefore it is most unlikely that anything bought will break or otherwise go to pieces the first time it is used. Oh, the long-lost delight of this decency! For the general American public there is nothing left that begins to approach it but the small-town hardware store, where a nail is still a nail and had better be a good one, and there is apt to be a good deal of junk and vanity even there. Besides, in this place with its crude heavy counters and air of a warehouse, the aura of the single trade, of the beau métier with all its sea-depths and adventure, hangs around every item, for not a bolt or rope or pair of gloves there is meant for any other purpose, and it is remarkable what beauty it casts over everything. Beauty depends after all on what you come from, what you are being cleansed and relieved of, and in the pass we are in nowadays an American lady of the buying type might be tempted to come away from this place with a batch of pulleys, the way her grandmother acquired a little replica of the Venus de Milo.

But no, that wouldn't do, would it? The beauty of all these honest things, aside from their fine conjunction of textures, is in their being together and being there, not somewhere else, in the above-mentioned association, in the simple appropriateness of it all. It is not to be bought; the poor lady will have to go back to the square, with its tasteless souvenirs.
Clark was writing in the early 1960s, and no doubt many things are different now. Except for The Oysters of Locmariaquer and Rome and a Villa, her books seem to have gone out of print. She moved in Trotskyite circles for a time and apparently knew the man himself, if briefly, in his Mexican years; later she married Robert Penn Warren. The Vassar Encyclopedia has what seems to be the best summary of her life and work.

Monday, March 14, 2022

"This is my city"

Sergio Borschevsky, the translator of Borges, Cortázar, Neruda, García Márquez, and other writers into Ukrainian, is staying put in Kiev with his wife. From an interview with the Argentinian news website Infobae:
Why should we have to leave? This is my city. It doesn't belong to Putin or to his general staff or to the Russian Ministry of Defense... This is my city and my apartment. I live here. When I was a boy I saw all this destroyed by German Nazis. I saw it, because I was born in 1946 and I saw Kiev in ruins, I was born a year after the war. And now when I see these images of cities destroyed by the Russian Army, I remember my childhood. And I can tell you that I'm not thinking of leaving. I will die in this city. Now or later? I don't know, but in this city.
The full interview (in Spanish) is available here.

Update: A version in English, though imperfect, can be read here.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Carlos Barbosa-Lima 1944-2022

A good friend let me borrow this LP of Scarlatti transcriptions for the guitar when we were in high school and I've always remembered it, in particular the last track, the Sonata in G major*, K.380, which still strikes me as one of the most perfectly poised pieces of music I know. The record has never been issued on CD, but at least we have this uploaded version.

The Times has an obituary of the guitarist, Carlos Barbosa-Lima, who died in São Paulo on February 23rd.

* Scarlatti's original key seems to have been E major.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Briefly Noted

Some news items of potential interest to readers of this space.
The translator Edmund Keeley has died. Known for his versions of the work of modern Greek poets like Yannis Ritsos, George Seferis, and C. P. Cavafy, he taught for many years at Princeton University, where he directed the creative writing program. The New York Times has an obituary.

Musician and songwriter Peter Case is the subject of a new documentary by Fred Parnes entitled A Million Miles Away, which is premiering at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival this month. No word yet on wider distribution.

Hayao Miyazaki's 1983 graphic novel Shuna no tabi (Shuna's Journey) will finally have an authorized English translation when it is published this fall by First Second Books. The translator is Alex Dudok de Wit. A news report can be read here.

Saturday, March 05, 2022

Stasys Eidrigevičius: "Ukraina"

A pastel artwork by Stasys Eidrigevičius, donated by the artist to an auction to benefit Ukrainian refugees, of whom there will be many. More information (in Polish) is available here. The auction closes March 9th.

Eidrigevičius, who was born in Lithuania but has lived in Poland for many years, works in many media but is particularly known for posters and (in the US) for illustrations for children's books. In his work, objects, animals, and human figures mingle and morph, caught up in mutual webs of dependence. His website is here.

Thursday, March 03, 2022

From the Archives: A Letter

The post below was posted in a different venue in 2006; I'm dusting it off in honor of Michael Leddy's post at Orange Crate Art.

I've never read Rose Macaulay's novel The Towers of Trebizond and I suspect that I'm never going to get around to it. But I still have the hardcover copy that I bought at a used book sale a number of years ago, and I'm not quite ready to give up on it. That's only partly because everything I've ever heard about the book is positive; when you come down to it, I suspect, the book is probably not really my thing at all. The real reason I'm hanging onto it is the following letter, which I found neatly folded inside the front cover when I bought it.



April 6, 1959

Mr. James H. Sachs
Bedford, New York

Dear Jimmy:

            It was so sweet of you to think of us and to introduce us to the Schaffners. As the result of The Tower of Trebizond we are going to get a wonderful trip to Europe.

            We are sailing with them on the Giulio Cesare on the 9th and will see Ravello, Sicily and trans-Appenine Italy. Mr. Schaffner thinks that he can enjoy me more completely on board. I don't know just what it means but it sounds alarming. Thanks so much. If I survive maybe I will send you a postal card.

Sincerely yours,


Rose Macaulay

At first sight this seems like the kind of witty missive a cosmopolitan, well-educated older British woman like Macaulay might have written to a social acquaintance in the mid-20th century. The hint of naughtiness in the second paragraph, the learned reference to “trans-Appenine Italy,” the British “postal card,” instead of “postcard,” all seem fit to type. But there's a problem: the date. Rose Macaulay died on October 30, 1958, a full five months before the letter was supposedly written. Moreover, as far as I have been able to determine, she was not in New York at any time in the last months of her life, making a simple dating mistake of a year or so (but how likely would that have been anyway?) less than probable.

The closer I examine the letter, the less genuine it seems. The date is in American style, not British. The title of the book is wrong — it's Towers not “Tower,” and in fact what the correspondent originally typed was “Trevizone”; the correct spelling is overwritten in pencil. (It's true that the errors involve contiguous pairs of letters on the keyboard, so it's possible she — whoever she was — was simply a bad typist.) And why would the real Rose Macaulay write gratefully of the prospect of “a wonderful tour of Italy” as if she were not a seasoned, independent traveler herself?

If the letter is not really by Rose Macaulay, and it seems very doubtful that it is, then two possibilities come to mind. The first one, unlikely but consistent with the signature, is that it was written by another woman named Rose Macaulay, who somewhow, as the “result” of the odd coincidence of her name with that of the famous author, was invited to see some of her namesake's old stomping grounds.

The other possibility is that the writer of the letter was not named Rose Macaulay at all. She was simply a woman who, perhaps as the outcome of a conversation about The Towers of Trebizond, was invited to Europe by a wealthy couple she had just been introduced to. The signature, then, would have been just a little joke for the benefit of “Jimmy.”

In either case, I wonder if she survived the trip.

Update: The James H. Sachs to whom the letter was addressed appears to be the individual of that name who was one of the founders of Newsweek and later a publisher of Horizon magazine. He also donated a few acres of land to a preserve where I occasionally hike. If the identification is correct he died in 1971. The New York Times obituary is here.