Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Villiers de L'Isle-Adam / The Torture of Hope

by Mariano Gabriel Pérez

by Villiers de L'Isle-Adam
from Nouveaux contes cruels
MANY years ago, as evening was closing in, the venerable Pedro Arbuez d'Espila, sixth prior of the Dominicans of Segovia, and third Grand Inquisitor of Spain, followed by a fra redemptor, and preceded by two familiars of the Holy Office, the latter carrying lanterns, made their way to a subterranean dungeon. The bolt of a massive door creaked, and they entered a mephitic in pace, where the dim light revealed between rings fastened to the wall a blood-stained rack, a brazier, and a jug. On a pile of straw, loaded with fetters and his neck encircled by an iron carcan, sat a haggard man, of uncertain age, clothed in rags.
   This prisoner was no other than Rabbi Aser Abarbanel, a Jew of Aragon, who--accused of usury and pitiless scorn for the poor--had been daily subjected to torture for more than a year. Yet "his blindness was as dense as his hide," and he had refused to abjure his faith.
   Proud of a filiation dating back thousands of years, proud of his ancestors--for all Jews worthy of the name are vain of their blood--he descended Talmudically from Othoniel and consequently from Ipsiboa, the wife of the last judge of Israel, a circumstance which had sustained his courage amid incessant torture. With tears in his eyes at the thought of this resolute soul rejecting salvation, the venerable Pedro Arbuez d'Espila, approaching the shuddering rabbi, addressed him as follows:
   "My son, rejoice: your trials here below are about to end. If in the presence of such obstinacy I was forced to permit, with deep regret, the use of great severity, my task of fraternal correction has its limits. You are the fig tree which, having failed so many times to bear fruit, at last withered, but God alone can judge your soul. Perhaps Infinite Mercy will shine upon you at the last moment! We must hope so. There are examples. So sleep in peace tonight. Tomorrow you will be included in the auto da fe: that is, you will be exposed to the quemadero, the symbolical flames of the Everlasting Fire: it burns, as you know, only at a distance, my son; and Death is at least two hours (often three) in coming, on account of the wet, iced bandages with which we protect the heads and hearts of the condemned. There will be forty-three of you. Placed in the last row, you will have time to invoke God and offer to Him this baptism of fire, which is of the Holy Spirit. Hope in the Light, and rest."
   With these words, having signed to his companions to unchain the prisoner, the prior tenderly embraced him. Then came the turn of the fra redemptor, who, in a low tone, entreated the Jew's forgiveness for what he had made him suffer for the purpose of redeeming him; then the two familiars silently kissed him. This ceremony over, the captive was left, solitary and bewildered, in the darkness.
   Rabbi Aser Abarbanel, with parched lips and visage worn by suffering, at first gazed at the closed door with vacant eyes. Closed? The word unconsciously roused a vague fancy in his mind, the fancy that he had seen for an instant the light of the lanterns through a chink between the door and the wall. A morbid idea of hope, due to the weakness of his brain, stirred his whole being. He dragged himself toward the strange appearance. Then, very gently and cautiously, slipping one finger into the crevice, he drew the door toward him. Marvelous! By an extraordinary accident the familiar who closed it had turned the huge key an instant before it struck the stone casing, so that the rusty bolt not having entered the hole, the door again rolled on its hinges.
   The rabbi ventured to glance outside. By the aid of a sort of luminous dusk he distinguished at first a semicircle of walls indented by winding stairs; and opposite to him, at the top of five or six stone steps, a sort of black portal, opening into an immense corridor, whose first arches only were visible from below.
   Stretching himself flat he crept to the threshold. Yes, it was really a corridor, but endless in length. A wan light illumined it: lamps suspended from the vaulted ceiling lightened at intervals the dull hue of the atmosphere--the distance was veiled in shadow. Not a single door appeared in the whole extent! Only on one side, the left, heavily grated loopholes, sunk in the walls, admitted a light which must be that of evening, for crimson bars at intervals rested on the flags of the pavement. What a terrible silence! Yet, yonder, at the far end of that passage there might be a doorway of escape! The Jew's vacillating hope was tenacious for it was the last.
   Without hesitating, he ventured on the flags, keeping close under the loopholes, trying to make himself part of the blackness of the long walls. He advanced slowly, dragging himself along on his breast, forcing back the cry of pain when some raw wound sent a keen pang through his whole body.
   Suddenly the sound of a sandaled foot approaching reached his ears. He trembled violently, fear stifled him, his sight grew dim. Well, it was over, no doubt. He pressed himself into a niche and, half lifeless with terror, waited.
   It was a familiar hurrying along. He passed swiftly by, holding in his clenched hand an instrument of torture--a frightful figure--and vanished. The suspense which the rabbi had endured seemed to have suspended the functions of life, and he lay nearly an hour unable to move. Fearing an increase of tortures if he were captured, he thought of returning to his dungeon. But the old hope whispered in his soul that divine perhaps, which comforts us in our sorest trials. A miracle had happened. He could doubt no longer. He began to crawl toward the chance of escape. Exhausted by suffering and hunger, trembling with pain, he pressed onward. The sepulchral corridor seemed to lengthen mysteriously, while he, still advancing, gazed into the gloom where there must be some avenue of escape.
   Oh! oh! He again heard footsteps, but this time they were slower, more heavy. The white and black forms of two inquisitors appeared, emerging from the obscurity beyond. They were conversing in low tones, and seemed to be discussing some important subJect, for they were gesticulating vehemently.
   At this spectacle Rabbi Aser Abarbanel closed his eyes; his heart beat so violently that it almost suffocated him; his rags were damp with the cold sweat of agony; he lay motionless by the wall, his mouth wide open, under the rays of a lamp, praying to the God of David.
   Just opposite to him the two inquisitors paused under the light of the lamp--doubtless owing to some accident due to the course of their argument. One, while listening to his companion, gazed at the rabbi! And, beneath that look--whose absence of expression the hapless man did not at first notice--he fancied he again felt the burning pincers scorch his flesh, he was to be once more a living wound. Fainting, breathless, with fluttering eyelids, he shivered at the touch of the monk's floating robe. But--strange yet natural fact--the inquisitor's gaze was evidently that of a man deeply absorbed in his intended reply, engrossed by what he was hearing; his eyes were fixed--and seemed to look at the Jew without seeing him.
   In fact, after the lapse of a few minutes, the two gloomy figures slowly pursued their way, still conversing in low tones, toward the place whence the prisoner had come. HE HAD NOT BEEN SEEN! Amid the horrible confusion of the rabbi's thoughts, the idea darted through his brain: "Can I be already dead that they did not see me?" A hideous impression roused him from his lethargy: in looking at the wall against which his face was pressed, he imagined he beheld two fierce eyes watching him! He flung his head back in a sudden frenzy of fright, his hair fairly bristling! Yet, no! No. His hand groped over the stones: it was the reflection of the inquisitor's eyes, still retained in his own, which had been reflected from two spots on the wall.
   Forward! He must hasten toward that goal which he fancied (absurdly, no doubt) to be deliverance, toward the darkness from which he was now barely thirty paces distant. He pressed forward faster on his knees, his hands, at full length, dragging himself painfully along, and soon entered the dark portion of this terrible corridor.
   Suddenly the poor wretch felt a gust of cold air on the hands resting upon the flags; it came from under the little door to which the two walls led.
   Oh, Heaven, if that door should open outward. Every nerve in the miserable fugitive's body thrilled with hope. He examined it from top to bottom, though scarcely able to distinguish its outlines in the surrounding darkness. He passed his hand over it: no bolt, no lock! A latch! He started up, the latch yielded to the pressure of his thumb: the door silently swung open before him.
   "Halleluia!" murmured the rabbi in a transport of gratitude as, standing on the threshold, he beheld the scene before him.
   The door had opened into the gardens, above which arched a starlit sky, into spring, liberty, life! It revealed the neighboring fields, stretching toward the sierras, whose sinuous blue lines were relieved against the horizon. Yonder lay freedom! Oh, to escape! He would journey all night through the lemon groves, whose fragrance reached him. Once in the mountains and he was safe! He inhaled the delicious air; the breeze revived him, his lungs expanded! He felt in his swelling heart the Veniforas of Lazarus! And to thank once more the God who had bestowed this mercy upon him, he extended his arms, raising his eyes toward Heaven. It was an ecstasy of joy!
   Then he fancied he saw the shadow of his arms approach him--fancied that he felt these shadowy arms inclose, embrace him--and that he was pressed tenderly to someone's breast. A tall figure actually did stand directly before him. He lowered his eyes--and remained motionless, gasping for breath, dazed, with fixed eyes, fairly driveling with terror.
   Horror! He was in the clasp of the Grand Inquisitor himself, the venerable Pedro Arbuez d'Espila, who gazed at him with tearful eyes, like a good shepherd who had found his stray lamb.
   The dark-robed priest pressed the hapless Jew to his heart with so fervent an outburst of love, that the edge of the monochal haircloth rubbed the Dominican's breast. And while Aser Abarbanel with protruding eyes gasped in agony in the ascetic's embrace, vaguely comprehending that all the phases of this fatal evening were only a prearranged torture, that of HOPE, the Grand Inquisitor, with an accent of touching reproach and a look of consternation, murmured in his ear, his breath parched and burning from long fasting:
   "What, my son! On the eve, perchance, of salvation--you wished to leave us?"

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Octavio Paz / My Life with the Wave

My Life with the Wave
by Octavio Paz
Translated by Eliot Weinberger

Octavio Paz /  Mi vida con la ola (A short story in Spanish)
Octavio Paz / Ma vie avec la vague (A short story in French)

When I left that sea, a wave moved ahead of the others. She was tall and light. In spite of the shouts of the others who grabbed her by her floating clothes, she clutched my arm and went off with me leaping. I didn’t want to say anything to her, because it hurt me to shame her in front of her friends. Besides, the furious stares of the elders paralyzed me. When we got to town, I explained to her that it was impossible, that life in the city was not what she had been able to imagine with the ingenuity of a wave that had never left the sea. She watched me gravely: “No, your decision is made. You can’t go back.” I tried sweetness, hardness, irony. She cried, screamed, hugged, threatened. I had to apologize.

Monday, April 14, 2014

James Salter / Comet

Jackson Pollack
by James Salter

Philip married Adele on a day in June. It was cloudy and the wind was blowing. Later the sun came out. It had been a while since Adele had married and she wore white: white pumps with low heels, a long white skirt that clung to her hips, a filmy blouse with a white bra underneath, and around her neck a string of freshwater pearls. They were married in her house, the one she’d gotten in the divorce. All her friends were there. She believed strongly in friendship. The room was crowded.

James Salter / An Interview


An excerpt


For decades, mere mention of the name James Salter has been a kind of secret literary handshake. He is one of the most highly respected contemporary American stylists but also a writer “who particularly rewards those for whom reading is an intense pleasure,” as Susan Sontag wrote. A graduate of West Point, Salter served in the U.S. Air Force and flew more than one hundred combat missions during the Korean War, the subject for his first novel, The Hunters, published in 1956. After his second novel, The Arm of Flesh (revised in 2000 as Cassada), Salter left the military to write full-time. The novels that followed—A Sport and a PastimeLight Years, and Solo Faces—are among those that Salter considers his best. He is also the author of the short-story collections Dusk and Last Night, as well as a book of travel writing, There and Then, and a memoir, Burning the Days. In 2000, Salter was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
I interviewed James Salter in New Orleans on November 9, 2010.

KR: In Burning the Days, you write about beginning your literary life while still in the air force and later on, when you were recalled: “I had three lives, one during the day, one at night, and the last in a drawer in my room in a small book of notes.” You’ve said that writing felt like a “queer thing to be doing” at that time but that something kept you going. What did you hope to achieve with The Hunters?
JS: I hoped that it would be published. And I hoped it would be well known but that the writer of it would be unknown. I had some ideal of anonymity at the time. Beyond that, I knew the novel was accurate and there was nothing written quite like it.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

James Salter Interview / The Most Famous Writer

James Salter

James Salter Interview: The Most Famous Writer You've Never Heard Of

Posted: 06 / 13 / 2013
by Michael Stewart
Huffintong Post

When I look over a friend's bookshelf, I look for A Sport and a Pastime, or Light Years, and when I find them there is a sort of secret handshake exchanged. It is like discovering that you have both traveled to a rare and special place--a place that can't help but haunt you. James Salter is the most famous writer that you have never heard of: his sentences are crisp and taut, his endings surprising, sometimes cruel, unforgettable. He recently won the Windham Campbell Award, and in 2012 he received the PEN/Malamud prize.
He is also a former fighter pilot, an epicurean, a traveler, but he is mostly known as a writer's writer, a term he despises.
A couple of weeks ago I met James Salter at Molyvos in New York. He was sitting in the corner booth wearing a dark suit and a dark, oxford shirt. His nails were well manicured; he had the relaxed confidence of a man who is a master of his craft. We talked briefly about his most recent novel, All That Is, some of his past work, and that hated term.

James Salter / Life is Meals

Life is Meals
by James and Kay Salter
OUR HOUSE IN ASPEN, Colorado, dated back to the mining days, and the kitchen was small—about ten feet by twelve—with not much counter space and a worn floor, but it was cozy and comfortable to be in. The dishes were kept in a wooden display case, and the pantry was a shallow closet with no door.

It was in this kitchen that we began cooking together when we moved into the house in about 1976. Neither of us had had much cooking experience, and there was no real decision to do it, it just happened naturally. We cooked side by side or back to back if necessary, following recipes, James Beard’s or Mireille Johnston’s, which were among our early favorites.

James Salter / Novelist

James Salter
James Salter
Wa Liu

At 88, novelist James Salter has written five novels, sixteen screenplays, two short story collections, and a memoir—and as of this week, has received one of the best-funded awards in the literay world, something he likens to a lifetime recognition plaudit. Salter’s Windham-Campbell prize citation states that his “elegantly natural prose has a precision and clarity which make ordinary words swing wide open.” WEEKEND caught up with Salter on Thursday about the award, his writing methods and how many people (hint: none) he’ll show work to before he’s done with it.

Q. Have you enjoyed all of the events surrounding the prize?
A. Well, reading can be pleasant. The audiences were receptive here, and that made it a pleasure.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Grimm / Little Snow-White

Charlize Theron
By Brothers Grimm

Translated by Margaret Hunt

Once upon a time in the middle of winter, when the flakes of snow were falling like feathers from the sky, a queen sat at a window sewing, and the frame of the window was made of black ebony. And whilst she was sewing and looking out of the window at the snow, she pricked her finger with the needle, and three drops of blood fell upon the snow. And the red looked pretty upon the white snow, and she thought to herself, “Would that I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood of the window-frame.”
Soon after that she had a little daughter, who was as white as snow, and as red as blood, and her hair was as black as ebony; and she was therefore called Little Snow-white. And when the child was born, the Queen died.

Grimm / Cinderella

By Brothers Grimm

Translated by Margaret Hunt

The wife of a rich man fell sick, and as she felt that her end was drawing near, she called her only daughter to her bedside and said, “Dear child, be good and pious, and then the good God will always protect thee, and I will look down on thee from heaven and be near thee.” Thereupon she closed her eyes and departed. Every day the maiden went out to her mother’s grave, and wept, and she remained pious and good. When winter came the snow spread a white sheet over the grave, and when the spring sun had drawn it off again, the man had taken another wife.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Grimm / The Seven Ravens

By Brothers Grimm

Translated by Margaret Hunt

There was once a man who had seven sons, and still he had no daughter, however much he wished for one. At length his wife again gave him hope of a child, and when it came into the world it was a girl. The joy was great, but the child was sickly and small, and had to be privately baptized on account of its weakness. The father sent one of the boys in haste to the spring to fetch water for the baptism. The other six went with him, and as each of them wanted to be first to fill it, the jug fell into the well. There they stood and did not know what to do, and none of them dared to go home. As they still did not return, the father grew impatient, and said, “They have certainly forgotten it for some game, the wicked boys!” He became afraid that the girl would have to die without being baptized, and in his anger cried, “I wish the boys were all turned into ravens.” Hardly was the word spoken before he heard a whirring of wings over his head in the air, looked up and saw seven coal-black ravens flying away. The parents could not recall the curse, and however sad they were at the loss of their seven sons, they still to some extent comforted themselves with their dear little daughter, who soon grew strong and every day became more beautiful. For a long time she did not know that she had had brothers, for her parents were careful not to mention them before her, but one day she accidentally heard some people saying of herself, “that the girl was certainly beautiful, but that in reality she was to blame for the misfortune which had befallen her seven brothers.” Then she was much troubled, and went to her father and mother and asked if it was true that she had had brothers, and what had become of them? The parents now dared keep the secret no longer, but said that what had befallen her brothers was the will of Heaven, and that her birth had only been the innocent cause. But the maiden took it to heart daily, and thought she must deliver her brothers. She had no rest or peace until she set out secretly, and went forth into the wide world to trace out her brothers and set them free, let it cost what it might. She took nothing with her but a little ring belonging to her parents as a keepsake, a loaf of bread against hunger, a little pitcher of water against thirst, and a little chair as a provision against weariness.

Grimm / The Frog-King

The Frog-King, or Iron Henry
By Brothers Grimm

Translated by Margaret Hunt

In old times when wishing still helped one, there lived a king whose daughters were all beautiful, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun itself, which has seen so much, was astonished whenever it shone in her face. Close by the King’s castle lay a great dark forest, and under an old lime-tree in the forest was a well, and when the day was very warm, the King’s child went out into the forest and sat down by the side of the cool fountain, and when she was dull she took a golden ball, and threw it up on high and caught it, and this ball was her favorite plaything.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Grim / The Fisherman and His Wife

The Fisherman and His Wife
Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm

There was once a fisherman who lived with his wife in a pigsty, close by the seaside. The fisherman used to go out all day long a-fishing; and one day, as he sat on the shore with his rod, looking at the sparkling waves and watching his line, all on a sudden his float was dragged away deep into the water: and in drawing it up he pulled out a great fish. But the fish said, 'Pray let me live! I am not a real fish; I am an enchanted prince: put me in the water again, and let me go!' 'Oh, ho!' said the man, 'you need not make so many words about the matter; I will have nothing to do with a fish that can talk: so swim away, sir, as soon as you please!' Then he put him back into the water, and the fish darted straight down to the bottom, and left a long streak of blood behind him on the wave.