Sunday, January 29, 2012

Rébecca Dautremer / The Secret Life of Illustrator

Rébecca Dautremer
The Secret Life of Illustrator

The art of French illustrator Rebecca Dautremer is like stepping through paper windows into miniature, rouge accented worlds of wonder. Dautremer has a legacy as an illustrator with a soft spot for fairytales touched by a sense of humor.  She has worked on such children’s book titles as The Secret Lives of Princesses and collaborated with her husband, author Taï-Marc Le Thanh, on an adaptation of the notorious child-napping ogress of Slavic-lore, Babayaga. Dautremer has recently brought her design talents and also her love of folklore to life in the animated salute to storytelling entitled Kerity: La Maison des Contes (the English title is Eleanor’s Secret). Kerity, directed by Dominique Monféry, is about a young boy named Nathaniel who inherits his aunt’s library and the real life stories contained within the books. The caveat to this imaginative inheritance is Nathaniel’s illiteracy which is relentlessly mocked by his bratty sister and the impending collapse of his aunt’s dilapidated house. Despite Rebecca Dautremer’s renown, I sadly found very little mention of her in the U.S. aside from the incongruously English dubbed version of Kerity (the sister sounds like a digitized Brit and the parents seemed stocked with awkward dialogue).  

Rébecca Dautremer was born in 1971 in Gap in the South of France (Hautes Alpes). She attended classes in the ENSAD of Paris and got a degree in graphic edition in 1995. She afterwards became a graphic editor and illustrator. A few years ago, she started to write books of her own. Now living in Paris with her husband Taï-Marc Lethanh and their three children, she also works for the press for children (Milan-Presse and Fleurus-Presse), school publishers, and in advertising.

Her picture books are very poetic, with a hint of humour. Inspired by fairy tales, she offers new and more entertaining stories, featuring Babayaga, an ogress, a funny Cyrano.
Rébecca Dautremer was born in 1971 in Gap in the South of France (Hautes Alpes). She attended classes in the ENSAD of Paris and got a degree in graphic edition in 1995. She afterwards became a graphic editor and illustrator. A few years ago, she started to write books of her own. Now living in Paris with her husband Taï-Marc Lethanh and their three children, she also works for the press for children (Milan-Presse and Fleurus-Presse), school publishers, and in advertising.

Her picture books are very poetic, with a hint of humour. Inspired by fairy tales, she offers new and more entertaining stories, featuring Babayaga, an ogress, a funny Cyrano, and weird princesses like P?tsec and Quart de Lune. Rébecca's recipe is : warm colours and precise drawings. Her books are a real success for children between 3 and 11 years old. L'Amoureux, a story she wrote herself, is a moving tale about love and children, that was recently adapted for the stage and performed by children.
It was awarded the "Prix Sorcière" (Witch Prize) in 2003.

Gautier-Languereau Publishing:
- Cyrano, Taï-Marc Lethanh (author), Rébecca Dautremer (illustrator) (2005)
- Babayaga, Taï-Marc Lethanh (author), Rébecca Dautremer (illustrator)
- Le Ciel n'en fait qu'à sa tête, Jean-Luc Moreau (author), Rébecca Dautremer (illustrator) (2005)
- Lily la licorne, Christian Ponchon (author), Rébecca Dautremer (illustrator) (2005)
- Le géant aux oiseaux, Ghislaine Biondi (author), Rébecca Dautremer (illustrator) (2005)
- Les deux mamans de Petirou, Jean de Monléon (author), Rébecca Dautremer (illustrator) (2005)
- Les Princesses, Philippe Lechermeier (author), Rébecca Dautremer (illustrator) (2004)
- L'amoureux, Rébecca Dautremer (author, illustrator) (2003)
Flammarion - Père Castor:
- Nasreddine, Odile Weulersse (author), Rébecca Dautremer (illustrator) (2005)
Bilboquet-Valbert Publishing:
- Sentimento, Carl Norac (author), Rébecca Dautremer (illustrator) (2005)
- Lili la libellule, Florence Jenner-Metz (author), Rébecca Dautremer (illustrator) (2004)
- Le livre qui vole, Pierre Laury (author), Rébecca Dautremer (illustrator) (2003)
Magnard Publishing:
- Je suis petite, mais mon arbre est grand, Christine Beigel (author), Rébecca Dautremer (illustrator) (2003)
- Les fables de la Fontaine, Jean de la Fontaine (author), Rébecca Dautremer (illustrator) (2001)


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Diego Rivera at the Museum of Modern Art

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo

Diego Rivera at the Museum of Modern Art:

Then and now—revolutionary art for revolutionary times

By Clare Hurley
21 December 2011
Diego Rivera murals for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City
November 13, 2011 through May 14, 2012

The Museum of Modern Art’s curators could hardly have known that Occupy Wall Street protesters would be evicted from their encampment in downtown Manhattan the same week that their exhibition of Mexican artist Diego Rivera (1886-1957) opened in November, but the coincidence has been widely commented on.
               Rivera’s name has become virtually synonymous with epic murals of social revolution in the first decades of the 20th century. Given the appropriate update, his image of a soldier lunging, sword drawn, across a woman and child to attack a crowd of workers in The Uprising, might have been drawn from today’s news.

              In this context, the modest scale of the exhibit at MoMA might be a disappointment, especially when compared to the exhaustive retrospectives that the museum regularly awards to major artists from the modernist canon. (Coinciding with the Rivera exhibit, a much larger show of Abstract Expressionist Willem de Kooning took up the museum’s entire sixth floor.)
              However, the impact of the Rivera murals, under conditions where the first significant social struggles in several decades are erupting in the United States, is not diminished by the exhibit’s size.
              It has been an ongoing challenge to show murals outside of their original physical context. MoMA’s current exhibit reprises the solution arrived at in 1931 when the newly founded museum proposed to feature Rivera in its second one-man show. Rivera devised these “freestanding murals,” painted on movable slabs, to reproduce frescoes that were impossible to move—literally embedded in the walls of the Ministry of Education (Secretaria de Educación Publicá) in Mexico City and other municipal buildings constructed in the early 1920s by the Mexican nationalist government of President Álvaro Obregón. Indeed, the very conception of the murals as a structural part of cultural life for the Mexican population—secular, revolutionary responses to church frescoes—was the antithesis of a travelling art show.
            By the late 1920s, Mexican muralism was at a decisive juncture—just reaching the peak of its influence as an art movement internationally, which no doubt was one of the attractions for the new museum in New York, while the political currents that it was bound up with were in fact turning.
            Something of this contradiction comes across in the exhibit itself, though it is beyond the organizers to address these issues adequately. The powerful appeal of socialist politics following the Russian Revolution was felt by broad layers of the population, especially with the economic collapse of 1929, and could not be ignored.
           Furthermore, Rivera’s connection with socialism was more than just a vague “sympathy with [Leon] Trotsky,” which is the exhibit's only note of the relationship. The power of Rivera’s work was integrally bound up not just with the radical nationalist Mexican Revolution, but more fundamentally with the establishment of the first worker’s state in Russia in 1917 and the sharp political struggles that arose in the subsequent decade.
          It is not a secondary matter that Rivera came out in support of Trotsky and the building of a new revolutionary international in opposition to Stalinism, before succumbing to the pressures of the bureaucracy later in life. The Mexican painter’s independence from the Stalinist orbit allowed him to treat life and society in a dynamic and fresh manner in the 1930s, unlike those who were following the dictates of “socialist realism” and other suffocating doctrines.
         The Museum of Modern Art’s first curator, Alfred H. Barr, met Rivera while in Moscow in 1927, where the already renowned painter and member of the Mexican Communist Party was a guest of honor at the festivities honoring the tenth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. (Rivera’s marvelous sketchbook from the event is also included in the exhibit.)
         Some have found it ironic that Barr, who represented not only MoMA, but its founding patrons, wealthy socialite Abby Aldrich Rockefeller and her husband industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. invited—all expenses paid—an artist known for his Communist views to come to New York to paint murals for the museum.
         In addition to the fact that the American ruling elite no doubt had more enlightened artistic views than its counterpart today, figures such as Abby Rockefeller still had the confidence to associate themselves with what they considered the most progressive artistic trends of the time—to a point, as we shall see. Today, such an association would not be so much ironic as inconceivable.
        Rivera, always known for his prodigious artistic output, produced five “portable frescoes” for the MoMA exhibit in the course of just six weeks in November, working with a team of assistants in an unheated space in the museum. (The lack of heat was to keep the plaster slabs on which the murals were painted from drying too quickly.)
       These panels reproduce images from Rivera’s well known fresco cycle in Cuernavaca, Mexico, which depicts Mexican history in sweeping breadth: Sugar Cane, Liberation of the Peon, Indian Warrior, and Agrarian Leader Zapata were included. But instead of trying to recreate their original scale, Rivera indicated that these images were lifted from the much larger work through close cropping.

                 For example, Indian Warrior is no larger than a traditional painting, and seems almost too small to contain its subject: a peasant in a jaguar suit straddling a fallen Spanish conquistador. The large impassive eyes and white fangs of the mask emphasize the brutal determination of the man inside the suit as he plunges a knife into the armored man beneath him.
                Rivera was not only a productive but also somewhat unpredictable artist to work with. The original number of panels agreed to may have been eight, maybe six. In fact, the MoMA show opened in December 1931 with five panels, but Rivera continued working after the opening to produce three additional panels of New York scenes.
              Perhaps feeling he had given the museum the Mexican panels they wanted, Rivera turned his attention to what he considered his real subject and intended audience, in this case the American population.
Inspired by his experience of New York City, these panels show a modern metropolis at the height of a building boom made possible by the legions of available labor during the Great Depression. The skyscrapers that came to define the city’s iconic skyline all went up in a staggeringly short period of time. The Empire State Building, the tallest building in the world at the time, went up in just over a year, and was completed in 1931 while Rivera was in the city.
              But Rivera was responding to more than just the protean feats of modern industry. While American artists of the time, such as Charles Sheeler, painted pictures of factories as though no one worked in them, Rivera’s panels Pneumatic Drill and Electric Power, as well as his preparatory sketches of construction sites, emphasize the essential agency of human labor—man and machine seem as one—to these technological achievements.

                However, it has been Frozen Assets, an image of the social relations that underlie capitalism’s achievements, which has drawn the most attention at the time, and in today’s social context.
                The painting inventively takes a vertical slice of the city to expose the layers beneath its towering skyscrapers: first, masses of workers lined up on a subway platform, beneath them, a barracks of sleeping homeless people, and, finally, under it all, a guarded bank vault where the wealthy are waiting to check on their loot.
                It is hard not to think that the criticism leveled at this mural in particular has less to do with aesthetics than irritation at its accuracy. Who fails to notice the resemblance to today’s banks hoarding the trillions received in bailout funds while the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression continues for millions of people?
               But, the bluntness of Rivera’s criticism has always rankled those who prefer their depictions of social relations to be more “nuanced”—i.e. refracted through the artist’s experience into personal, sometimes painful, often enigmatic imagery, found, for example, in the work of the Surrealists and others, such as Rivera’s wife, Frida Kahlo.
                Another section of the exhibition is devoted to the ill-fated mural Man at the Crossroads. While at work on the MoMA murals, Rivera received the commission to create one for Rockefeller Center, then under construction, which appears at the center of Frozen Assets.
               Abby Rockefeller’s son, Nelson [the youthful future governor of New York and US vice president], and his advisors determined the mural’s subject: “Man at the crossroads and looking with uncertainty but with hope and high vision to the choosing of a course leading to a new and better future.” The pompous ambiguity of the theme was echoed by similar verbiage in Rivera’s proposal. He then proceeded to design a mural showing humanity’s liberation from tyranny and war through what seemed at the time to be fantastical technology. The mock-up for the mural includes cinema cameras, televisions, space ships, etc.
                 Lest the point be missed that this rational, humane, egalitarian society would be a socialist one, Rivera planned to show a progression from a decadent party scene of millionaires, including a possible likeness of the famously teetotalling John D. Rockefeller, Sr. on the left to one of Lenin leading the working class to victory on the right.
               Despite what Kahlo described as “Mrs. R.’s radical taste,” this proved too much for Rivera’s “enlightened” industrialist patrons to take. There’s been debate over which straw actually broke the camel’s back. But in his letter objecting to the inclusion of Lenin, Nelson Rockefeller got to the gist:
“If it were in a private house it would be one thing, but this is in a public building, and the situation is therefore quite different.”
              When Rivera refused to replace Lenin’s likeness with that of an “unknown man”, the Rockefellers decided it was time to call a halt to their flirtation with “Red” artists, even as social tensions in the United States entered a far more explosive stage.
             In May 1933, Rivera was fired from the project, and mounted police were stationed outside Rockefeller Center to break up the demonstrations that erupted in response. In February 1934, the fresco was chiseled off the wall, only months before a strike wave broke out, spearheaded by the Toledo Auto-Lite and Minneapolis and San Francisco general strikes, led by Trotskyist and left-wing forces.
             However, before Rivera returned to Mexico, where he was able to recreate Man at the Crossroads in the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, he completed twenty-seven magnificent murals in an interior courtyard at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) between April 1932 and March 1933. Apparently Rivera considered these his finest murals.
             Rivera’s degree of artistic influence was subject to shifts in socio-political conditions. In the 1930s, his conception of large-scale public artwork was absorbed by many artists who were employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to paint murals in US post offices and other municipal buildings, among other tasks.
             Stylistically, Rivera’s work is quite distinct from Stalinist “socialist realism,” with which it is often mistakenly and sometimes maliciously associated. Rivera’s work remained free of both aesthetic and ideological rigidity. Its power lies in this—that confidence in the historical process and social revolution flows freely through his veins and his brush.
            Rivera remained profoundly and unashamedly influenced by the experimentation of the Cubists and the early moderns from the decade he spent in the bohemian milieu of Paris in the 1910s, as well as by the Constructivist artists he met in Russia. While these artistic trends moved toward greater and greater abstraction, Rivera’s work maintained its figurative roots, but with a modernist sensibility.
           Just as in the early 1930s, the appreciation of Rivera’s murals and the struggles out of which they arose have potentially far-reaching consequences well beyond the realm of art.
           Rivera’s show at MoMA in 1931 set attendance records, even with an admission of 35 cents ($5 in 2011 dollars) during the Great Depression. The wider layers of the population whom Rivera considered his primary audience would be hard-pressed to pay today’s MoMA’s admission of $25 (Fridays after 4 pm are free).
          Nonetheless, the present show and the continuing power of the work are a vindication both of Rivera’s artistic approach and his orientation to the October Revolution and the possibilities it disclosed.
Photo Credits:
Diego Rivera. The Uprising. 1931.
Fresco on reinforced cement in a galvanized-steel framework, 74 x 94 1/8” (188 x 239 cm). Private collection, Mexico
© 2011 Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, México, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Diego Rivera. Indian Warrior. 1931. Fresco on reinforced cement in a metal framework, 41 x 52 ½” (104.14 x 133.35 cm). Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts. Purchased with the Winthrop Hillyer Fund SC 1934:8-1. © 2011 Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, México, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Diego Rivera. Frozen Assets. 1931-32.
Fresco on reinforced cement in a galvanized-steel framework, 94 1/8 x 74 3/16 in (239 x 188.5 cm). Museo Dolores Olmedo, Xochimilco, Mexico
© 2011 Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, México, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tobias Wolff / A sense of unease

A sense of unease:

Tobias Wolff’s recent fiction collected in Our Story Begins

By Sandy English
10 August 2010
Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008, 379 pp.

Over the past thirty years, Tobias Wolff has produced several collections of short stories, novels, including Old School, and popular memoirs, especially This Boy’s Life, made into a film by Michael Caton-Jones in 1993, featuring Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio, as well as In Pharaoh’s Army, about his service during the Vietnam War.
           Wolff himself has had his share of difficult experiences. He came from a poor family and moved around a good deal as a child. His father was a pathological liar and con man, a figure he has detailed in This Boy’s Life. Tobias himself lied his way into a prestigious boarding school as a teenager. Lying is a motif that appears in many of his stories, particularly the more recent ones.
           This element is not simply rooted in personal experience. The lying and the violence of the American establishment that Wolff encountered as a young Army Special Forces officer in Vietnam has had an enduring impact on his outlook on life.
           Wolff is sometimes associated with a variety of early 1980s’ American fiction come to be called “dirty realism,” along with novelist Richard Ford and fellow short-story writer Raymond Carver. Although they had a personal bond, Wolff himself downplays the literary affinity with Carver and Ford.
Other writers sometimes grouped together in this category include Bobbie Ann Mason, Annie Proulx (who wrote the short story on which the film Brokeback Mountain was based), Larry Brown and Jayne Anne Phillips.
          The exact contours of “dirty realism” always remained indistinct, but there is little doubt that after a spell of extravagant, self-conscious “postmodern” fiction in the 1960s and 1970s (John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, William Gass, Donald Barthelme, John Hawkes), a trend in American literature emerged that looked more closely at the lives of working-class and middle-class families, often when they were the most vulnerable or dysfunctional.
         This ‘school’ of fiction generally treated its subject matter in an unornamented style and was clearly influenced by Ernest Hemingway and the dark vision of Richard Yates (Revolutionary Road, 1961).
This neo-realism was the product of and made possible by the postwar boom, when a far broader social range had access to higher education in the United States than ever before, including many people from humble backgrounds who came to write fiction. Writers found that they could support themselves by teaching in burgeoning creative writing programs. The careful (and sometimes, in its own way, self-conscious) focus in this fiction, especially Wolff’s and Carver’s, on literary suggestion and irony occasionally has an academic cast to it.
          In addition, the traumas generated by Cold War anti-communism in the 1950s, resulting in the purging or marginalization of left-wing figures and conceptions, helped to shift fiction away from associating everyday life, especially the life of ordinary people, with politics and history. This characteristic, which is notable in most of the dirty realists, has been reinforced in subsequent decades by the general trend of arts criticism, especially postmodernism, for whom only the microcosmic, the individual and the subjective exist.
         Such social and artistic tendencies help explain Wolff’s work and to some extent define it—however, he is anything but a typical representative of the trend. He tends to be the exception rather than the rule in recent American fiction.
        This is because Wolff’s stories often tell us something about the deep-seated social, emotional and moral crisis that has developed in the US since the 1980s. One of the things that can make Wolff’s work powerful is his ability to take on historical issues as they rise up with immediacy in people’s lives.
         Wolff’s Our Story Begins is a selection of 21 older stories and ten recent ones. All of the work is technically accomplished, often shifting from characters’ immediate surroundings to their fantasies and memories and then back to reality. Wolff seems not only to have absorbed the masterly technique of Anton Chekhov, the great 19th century Russian writer, but also the latter’s deep sensitivity to human suffering.
         Of the older stories included here, “In the Garden of the North American Martyrs,” in my opinion, is among the most praiseworthy. A middle-aged professor, who has become quite settled in academic routine, loses her job when her institution goes under (“It seemed that ... the financial manager had speculated in futures and lost everything.”). She applies for various positions, and one day an old friend invites her to interview for a job and give a talk to showcase her work.
        She discovers that she has been invited to apply for the job not because she has any chance of getting hired—that decision has already been made—but to only fill a quota of female applicants. The situation is sad—and vividly recognizable—but Wolff fixes this experience in history, and implies much more than he says.
        In an incident that the author barely touches on, we learn that this woman, as a student, had remained silent during an anti-Communist witch-hunt, partly because she was developing a career as “an interpreter of history.” She kept her head down and went on to become an academic.
        The professor reacts to the dishonest academic culture, which she has helped to create, with a savage description of torture during the colonial era. It is an affecting story on first reading, but one gains even more by following it through again closely.
        In “The Night in Question” a devoted adult brother and sister, children of an abusive father, visit and talk with one another. He tells her about a sermon he heard: a railroad switchman finds himself forced to choose between saving his child or a trainload of passengers. This simple story unleashes a flood of emotions in his sister. She had saved her brother from their father—would he now save her? The present, the destructive past, and the story of a worker’s life are tightly integrated here. There is oppression and there are moral choices to make in life, although here, as in so much of the fiction of the last 30 years, they exist only at a personal level.
         “Bullet in the Brain” is one of Wolf’s most anthologized stories, and has all the hallmarks of contemporary fiction, which is not necessarily a good sign. The story plunges quickly into the action and has a quirky, somewhat extreme situation. A bank robber shoots Anders, a literary critic, in the head after he says something snide and sarcastic while he is in line to make a deposit. As the bullet passes though Anders’s brain, we see the images—most of them memories gone from his conscious mind—that occupy the man’s last few seconds.
       They form an astonishingly sympathetic account of the man’s life, mostly made up of things he has forgotten: respect at a college classmate’s first publication, the suicide of a woman that he witnessed, and the slow years of disappointment that turned him into the arrogant, sneering person who gets himself shot. The one thing he does remember is a hot summer’s day playing baseball as a boy when he was “strangely roused” and “elated” by the Southern dialect of an acquaintance.
        Wolff’s strength lies in his ability to locate optimism and kindness in a generally over-stressed and false America, without dismissing or hiding people’s shortcomings. Often in his stories, one encounters a sense of poverty, deprivation, and estrangement dominating life, but he dives a little deeper and we find that the situation is seldom simply grim. His people often surprise us.
        The last decade has seemed to sharpen the critical side of Wolff. There is less of a focus on the self-contained family in his work. A more despairing and disturbed America tends to overshadow his individual characters. Wolff seems to have become less sure of the state of things and more opposed to the given conditions of life.
          Among his newer stories that exhibit some of these qualities is “The Chain,” which begins with a breathless scene of a father rescuing his little girl from an attack by a dog.
         The protagonist, Gold, tries to hold on to his sense of justice and proportion—but he is pressured by his lack of success, envy, resentment, and the search for emotional support and personal satisfaction. A friend wants to fight back against the injustices of life, but in a vengeful and disturbing way. The story is composed of a chain of accidents, and it feels contrived in that respect.
        But the emotional truth-quotient is high. The feelings of anger, helplessness, confusion, and social isolation with which the United States seethes are all there. They don’t strike one as particularly well worked out, but they are powerfully expressed.
        “The Deposition” depicts Burke, a lawyer deposing a witness in a malpractice suit in a decaying, former industrial town in upstate New York. He goes for a walk and looks around and is disgusted that the people in America “voted for the robbers instead of the robbed.”
        There is a hint of contempt at the population because “nobody is fighting back,” but a large dose of sympathy, too. He admires the sacrifices his client has made to fight back. As he strolls around, he surprises a young woman (and himself) with a lascivious look. Soon the police and the locals are involved, and Wolff lets us sense the built-up popular anger directed at the lawyer, an upper middle-class professional.
         One of the most powerful of Wolff’s new pieces here—indeed, one of the best stories yet written about how thoroughly the Iraq war has shaken up American life—is “A Mature Student.”
        A career Marine sergeant has retired from the military and enrolled in college. While she is outside a classroom smoking, she meets her art history professor, a somewhat cold European intellectual. The professor asks her if she has ever been under fire, and then proceeds to tell the former soldier about her own betrayal of her friends to the Stalinist police under interrogation—quite realistically depicted—as a student in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s.
        In a particularly insightful contrast of historical experiences, brought forth in real people, Wolff shows how the ex-Marine’s attention turns to her son who has enlisted in the Marine Corps and is now serving in Iraq. A fear arises in his mother of what he might become.
        Wolff is not alone in trying to grapple humanely with the feelings that the events of the last decade have produced. Mary Gaitskill, in particular, caught a sense of it in her recent book of short fiction, Don’t Cry, which also includes attempts to deal with, among other things, the impact of the Iraq war. But Wolff has delivered the most artistically precise expression of the smoldering social anger in the American population so far.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Jorge Luis Borges / Paradise

Jorge Luis Borges

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.

Jorge Luis Borges
Siempre he imaginado que el Paraíso será una especie de biblioteca.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ernest Hemingway / A Letter to Ursula Hemingway

El joven Hemingway
Italia, 1918

Ernest Hemingway

A Letter to Ursula Hemingway


Dear Ura,
You must be having a whangleberry of a time with that sledding, I’m glad you’re such a good sport about getting hurt and I'm sure that the boys appreciate it too. I’m in very bad with all the old maid school teachers here because a young teacher, aged twenty name Donley asked me to take her to the teachers party and ball and I went with her and she wanted to shock them because she is going away this week for good. So we shocked them all right, we didn’t pull anything rough at all, but just danced cheek to cheek, you know etc. Not a thing that you couldn’t get way with at home but all the old maidens who dance three feet away from each other and count, one, two, three, four, and then run eight, and one dances out to the side of the other! Well we gave them an eye full of the modern dances as they are stepped at the Friar’s Inn and the Folies Bergere. And they commented rather freely.
I’m enclosing $5.00 and I want you to go to Mrs. Snyder’s on Mich. Boulevard, you know where it is, and get me two boxes of candy and parcel post them to me up here. Get what ever kinds look the best to you. Those marshmallow nuts all over ‘em things are good. All of her candy is good. Get the same amount of different kinds of candy for each box, I want them for Christmas for Marge and Pudge. Do this right away will you please Ura? I’ll do something for you sometime. Mrs. Snyder’s candy runs around .90 a pound so you ought to be able to get at least two lbs and a half apiece. Have them wrap them each separately and thentogether. Then send them to me here. Will you do that right away? If there isn’t enuf kale supply it and I will make it upwards to you. You see Pudge and Mrage have been awfully good to me here and I ought to give them something fairly decent.
I’m sending you Six rocks to get something for each of the kids and dad and mother. It won’t buy anything decent of course but I’m low on kale and get ‘em each some kind of a trinket. Will you do this for me old thing. The reason I8m getting Marge and Pudge something that costs more than what I get for you all is just because I am under obligations to them and you know how it is. You know I love you anyway. And I’m one christmas ahead of the family anyway.
Tell the famile tht they can’t see this letter because it is about Christmas presents. I expect to be home for the fourth of January. Don’t break your kneck! And have a good time, but you’ll have that anyway won’t you, kneck or no kneck. I’m going to Toronto, Can to be there the tenth of Jan. I have a good job and a chance to keep on with my writing. I’ll explain it in a letter to Dad. I’m going to write him tonight. I hate to leave here as I’ve had a bludy good time and written some really priceless yarns. You know sometimes I really do think that I will be a heller of a good writer some day. Every once in a while I knock off a yarn that is so bludy good I can’t figure how I ever wrote it. I’ll bring the carbons down to show you all. Everything good takes time and it takes time to be a writer, but by Gad I’m going to be one some day. Well do this for me will you old Kid?

Shoot up the candy and screed the writer ir write the screedr
Lots of Love.

Excerpted from
 The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 1: 1907-1922,
edited by Sandra Spanier and Robert W. Trogdon,
 published by Cambridge University Press.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bessie Smith / Yellow Dog Blues

Bessie Smith, 1936
Photo by Carl Van Vechten

(1894 - 1937)

Sometimes referred to as The Empress of the Blues, Smith was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s. She is often regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era and, along with Louis Armstrong, a major influence on subsequent jazz vocalists.
              Bessie Smith began her professional career in 1912 by singing in the same show as Ma Rainey, and subsequently performed in various touring minstrel shows and cabarets. By the 1920s, she was a leading artist in black shows on the TOBA circuit and at the 81 Theatre in Atlanta. After further tours she was sought out by Clarence Williams to record in New York. Her first recording, Down-Hearted Blues, established her as the most successful black performing artist of her time. She recorded regularly until 1928 with important early jazz instrumentalists such as Williams, James P. Johnson, and various members of Fletcher Henderson's band, including Louis Armstrong, Charlie Green, Joe Smith, and Tommy Ladnier. During this period she also toured throughout the South and North, performing to large audiences. In 1929, she appeared in the film St. Louis Blues. By then, however, alcoholism had severely damaged her career, as did the Depression, which affected the recording and entertainment industries. A recording session, her last, was arranged in 1933 by John Hammond for the increasing European jazz audience; it featured among others Jack Teagarden and Benny Goodman. By 1936, Smith was again performing in shows and clubs, but she died, following an automobile accident, before her next recording session had been arranged.
              Smith was unquestionably the greatest of the vaudeville blues singers and brought the emotional intensity, personal involvement, and expression of blues singing into the jazz repertory with unexcelled artistry. Baby Doll and After You've Gone, both made with Joe Smith, and Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out, with Ed Allen on cornet, illustrate her capacity for sensitive interpretation of popular songs. Her broad phrasing, fine intonation, blue-note inflections, and wide, expressive range made hers the measure of jazz-blues singing in the 1920s. She made almost 200 recordings, of which her remarkable duets with Armstrong are among her best. Although she excelled in the performance of slow blues, she also recorded vigorous versions of jazz standards. Joe Smith was her preferred accompanist, but possibly her finest recording (and certainly the best known in her day) was Back Water Blues, with James P. Johnson. Her voice had coarsened by the time of her last session, but few jazz artists have been as consistently outstanding as she.

Bessie Smith

Ever since Miss Susie Johnson
Lost her jockey Lee
There has been much excitement
And more to be

You can hear her moanin'
Moanin' night and morn
She's wonderin' where her
Easy rider's gone

Cablegrams goes off in inquiry
Telegrams goes off in sympathy
Letters came from down in Bam
Everywhere that Uncle Sam
Is the ruler of delivery

All day the phone rings, it's not for me
At last good tidings fills my heart with glee
This message came from Tennessee

Dear Sue, your easy rider struck this burg today
On a southbound rattler beside the Pullman car
I seen him there and he was on the hog

Oh, you easy rider's got to stay away
She had to vamp it but the hike ain't far
He's gone where the Southern cross the Yellow Dog

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Luisa Valenzuela / The Art of Fiction

Luisa Valenzuela
Guadalajara, 2007
Fotografía de Triunfo Arciniegas
Luisa Valenzuela
The Art of Fiction 

Interviewed by Sarah Lee, Ksenija Bilbija

Winter 2001
The Paris Review No. 160

A manuscript page from "El Río"

Luisa Valenzuela, the oldest daughter of a prominent Argentine writer, Luisa Mercedes Levinson, was born in Buenos Aires in 1938. The Levinson home was a gathering place for Argentina’s literary community—Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar, among others, were frequent guests—and Valenzuela, an omnivorous reader, started writing at an early age. She published her first story, “Ese canto,” in 1958.
Later that year, having married a French sailor, Valenzuela moved to Paris, where she worked as a correspondent for the Argentine newspaper El Mundo. Her daughter, Anna Lisa Marjek, was born in France. In 1961, Valenzuela returned to Buenos Aires and went to work at another Argentine newspaper, La Nación. She penned a regular feature on the provinces, “Images for the Argentine Interior,” for the paper, and continued to write fiction—her first novel, Hay que sonreír, was published in 1966 and a collection of stories, Los Heréticos, appeared the next year. The two books were translated into English and published as Clara: Thirteen Short Stories and a Novel in 1976.
Having been awarded a Fulbright grant to participate in the International Writers Program at the University of Iowa, Valenzuela left Argentina again in 1969. While in the program, she wrote El Gato eficaz—portions of that novel have been published in the States as Cat-O-Nine Deaths. After Iowa, she spent a year in Mexico and a year in Barcelona. “I am traveling everywhere. I am too much a gypsy,” the author has said. She returned to Buenos Aires in 1974—the year of Juan Perón’s death and Isabel Perón’s ascent to power—and published a second collection of stories, Aquí pasan cosas raras (Strange Things Happen Here), in 1975. With the 1976 military coup, the political situation deteriorated further—repression became more pervasive, and Valenzuela, whose work until then had escaped the ire of the military, found her next novel, Como en la guerra (He Who Searches), censored.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Open Lines / Ethan Frome

Edith Wharton

I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.
If you know Starckfield, Massachusetts, you know the post-office. If you know the post-office you must have seen Ethan Frome drive up to it, drop the reins on his hollow-backed bay and drag himself across the brick pavement to the white colonnade: and you must have asked who he was.
It was there that, several years ago, I saw him for the first time; and the sight pulled me up sharp. Even then he was the most striking figure in Starckfield, though he was but the ruin of a man. It was not so much his great height that marked him, for the ‘‘natives’’ were easily singled out by their lank longitude from the stockier foreign breed: it was the careless powerful look he had, in spite of a lameness checking each step like the jerk of a chain. There was something bleak and unapproachable in this face, and he was so stiffened and grizzled that I took him for an old man and was surprised to hear that he was not more than fifty-two. I had this from Harmon Gow, who had driven the stage from Bettsbridge to Strarckfield in pre-trolley days and knew he chronicle of all the families on his line.

Edith Wharton
Ethan Frome and Other Short Fiction
New York, Bantam Books, 1987

Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton

Esta historia me la contaron, fragmentariamente, varias personas y, como suele suceder en tales casos, cada vez era una historia distinta.
Si conoce usted Starkfield, Massachusetts, sabrá dónde está la oficina de correos, tiene que haber visto subir hasta allí a Ethan Frome, soltar las riendas de su bayo de hundido lomo y cruzar cansinamente el suelo de ladrillo hasta la columnata blanca: y seguro que alguna vez se ha preguntado quién es.
Fue allí donde le vi por primera vez, hace ya varios años, y la verdad es que me impresionó mucho su aspecto. Todavía era el personaje más sorprendente de Starkfiield, pese a ser ya sólo una ruina de hombre. No era su elevada estatura lo que le hacía destacar, pues los «nativos» se diferenciaban claramente por su flaca altura de las gentes de origen extranjero, más bajas y achaparradas: era aquel aspecto vigoroso e indiferente, pese a una cojera que frenaba cada uno de sus pasos como el tirón de una cadena. Había algo lúgubre e inabordable en su rostro y estaba tan tieso y canoso que le tomé por un viejo y me sorprendí mucho al enterarme de que no tenía más de cincuenta y dos años. Me lo dijo Harmon Grow, que había conducido la diligencia de Bettsbridge a Starkfield en los tiempos en que aún no había ferrocarril y que conocía la crónica de todas las familias del trayecto.

Edith Wharton
Ethan Frome
Barcelona, Ediciones B, 1997

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Open Lines / The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’

F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby
Great Britain, Penguin Books, 1950

F. Scott Fitzgerald

En mi primera infancia mi padre me dio un consejo que, desde entonces, no ha cesado de darme vueltas por la cabeza.
«Cada vez que te sientas inclinado a criticar a alguien —me dijo— ten presente que no todo el mundo ha tenido tus ventajas…»

F. Scott Fitzgerald
El  gran Gatsby                                
Barcelona, Plaza y Janés S.A. Editores, 1971

Monday, January 2, 2012

Open Lines / Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck

A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool. On one side of the river the golden foothill slopes curve up to the strong and rocky Gabilan mountains, but on the valley side the water is lined with trees—willows fresh and green with every spring, carrying in their lower leaf junctures the debris of the winter’s flooding; and sycamores with mottled, white, recumbent limbs and branches that arch over the pool. On the sandy bank under the trees the leaves lie deep and so crisp that a lizard makes a great skittering if he runs among them. Rabbits come out of the brush to sit on the sand in the evening, and the damp flats are covered with the night tracks of ’coons, and with the spread pads of dogs from the ranches, and with the split-wedge tracks of deer that come to drink in the dark.
There is a path through the willows and among the sycamores, a path beaten hard by boys coming down from the ranches to swim in the deep pool, and beaten hard by tramps who come wearily down from highway in the evening to jungle-up near water. In front of the low horizontal limb of a giant sycamore there is an ash pile made by many fires; the limb is worn smooth by men who have sat on it.

Evening of a hot day started the little wind to moving among the leaves. The shade climbed up the hills toward the top. On the sand banks the rabbits sat as quietly as little gray, sculptured stones. And then from the direction of the state highway came the sound of footsteps on crisp sycamore leaves. The rabbits hurried noiselessly for cover. A stilted heron labored up into the air and pounded down river. For a moment the place was lifeless, and then two men emerged from the path and came into the opening by the green pool.
They had walked in single file down the path, and even in the open one stayed behind the other. Both were dressed in denim trousers and in denim coats with brass buttons. Both were black, shapeless hats and both carried tight blanket rolls slung over their shoulders. The first man was small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features. Every part of him was defined: small, strong hands, slender arms, a thin and bony nose. Behind him walked his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, with wide, sloping shoulders; and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags in paws. His arms did not swing at his sides, but hung loosely.

John Steinbeck
Of Mice and Men
New York, Penguin Books, 1993

John Steinbeck

Unas millas al sur de Soledad, el Río Salinas se ahonda junto al margen de la ladera y fluye profundo y verde. Es tibia el agua, porque se ha deslizado chispeante sobre la arena amarilla y al calor del sol antes de llegar a la angosta laguna. A un lado del río, las doradas cuestas de la ladera se van curvando y trepando hasta las montañas de Gabilán, fuertes y rocosas, pero del lado del valle el agua está bordeada por árboles: sauces frescos y verdes con cada primavera, que en las junturas más bajas de sus hojas muestran los rezagos de la crecida invernal; y sicomoros de troncos veteados, blancos, recostados, y ramas que se arquean sobre el estanque. En la arenosa orilla, bajo los árboles, yacen espesas las hojas, y tan quebradizas, que las lagartijas hacen un ruido como un chisporroteo si corren entre ellas. Los conejos salen del matorral para sentarse en la arena, al atardecer, y los húmedos bajíos están cubiertos por las huellas nocturnas de los coatíes, y por los manchones donde se han revolcado los perros de los ranchos, y por las marcas como cuñas partidas dejadas por los cuervos que llegan a abrevar en la oscuridad.
Hay un sendero a través de los sauces y entre los sicomoros, un sendero de piso endurecido por el paso de los niños que vienen de los ranchos a nadar en la profunda laguna, y por el de los vagabundos que a la noche llegan cansados desde la carretera a levantar campamento cerca del agua. Frente al bajo tronco horizontal de un sicomoro gigante se alza una pilada de cenizas, resto de muchos fuegos; el tronco está pulido por los hombres que se han sentado en él.

El atardecer de un día cálido puso en movimiento una leve brisa entre las hojas. La sombra trepó por las colinas hacia la cumbre. Sobre la orilla de arena, los conejos estaban sentados, quietos como grises piedras esculpidas. Y de pronto, desde la carretera estadual, llegó el sonido de pasos sobre frágiles hojas de sicomoro. Los conejos corrieron sin ruido a ocultarse. Una zancuda garza se remontó trabajosamente en el aire aleteó aguas abajo. Por un momento estuvo sin vida el lugar, y luego los dos hombres emergieron del sendero y asomaron en la abertura junto a la laguna.

John Steinbeck
De ratones y hombres
Buenos Aires, Editorial Sudamericana S.A., 1953