Friday, September 30, 2011

Eric Clapton / Autumn Leaves

Eric Clapton

Autumn Leaves
English Lyrics by Johnny Mercer
Music by Joseph Kosma

The falling leaves drift by my window
The falling leaves of red and gold
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sun-burned hands, I used to hold

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I'll hear old winter's song
But I miss you most of all, my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I'll hear old winter's song
But I miss you most of all, my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

I miss you most of all, my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Robert Johnson / Me And The Devil Blues

Blues Music and the Devil

The "devil," called "Satan" in this song, appears to be a co-conspirator of sorts. This devil may or may not have a pitchfork, but he's certainly prodding the subject of the song to "beat [his] woman until [he] gets satisfied." The subject of the song feels mistreated by the woman in his life, and the way he returns that mistreatment has something to do with "that old evil spirit." Legend has it that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his musical talents. Perhaps the woman in the song is a metaphor for the blues, and perhaps the blues are the only thing keeping Robert Johnson tethered to this world. When the devil catches up to him, and the woman (read: the blues) leaves him, his body will be buried by "the highway side," so his "old evil spirit can catch a Greyhound bus and ride." That is, he's eternally stuck at the crossroads where the devil bought his soul.
Robert Johnson’s song “Me and The Devil Blues” features an encounter with the devil: “Me and the Devil / was walkin’ side by side.” The physical description of the man and the devil “walkin’ side by side” gives the impression that the two mirror each-other. This feeds into the cultural construction that the Devil is indeed a black man-- same as in the legend. This reminds me of Shakespeare’s “Aaron the Moor” in Titus Andronicus, also referencing the existence of a black Devil. Essentially: dark skin is beyond physical, it could also be seen as an "evil" characteristic.


Robert Johnson
Me And The Devil Blues

Early this morning
When you knocked upon my door
Early this morning, oooo
When you knocked upon my door
And I said hello Satan
I believe it's time to go

Me and the Devil
Was walkin' side by side
Me and the Devil, woooo
Was walking side by side
And I'm going to beat my woman
'Til I get satisfied

She said you don't see why
That she would dog me 'round
(Spoken:) Now baby you know
you ain't doin' me right don'tcha
She say you don't see why, whoooo
That she would dog me 'round
It must-a be that old evil spirit
So deep down in the ground
You may bury my body
Down by the highway side
(Spoken:) Baby, I don't care
where you bury my body when I'm dead and gone
You may bury my body, woooo
Down by the highway side
So my old evil spirit
Can get a Greyhound bus and ride

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tracy Wan / Extricating

It takes a rare degree of mastery to untie knots with the same grace and speed at which you secure them. This is because the knot is usually what we desire, far more than its dissolution: in shoelaces, ties, most boating situations. It’s a skill, something to learn as a child and practice frequently. Knotted, things stay together, and they do not part lest we want them to. The sheer numbers of this life dictate that we are more often apart than we are together; only endeavour, and will, bring people to each other. They separate effortlessly.
In life we “tie the knot” happily, willingly, but when the relationship nears its end, these bonds “dissolve” and “fall apart” — responding to a force that is bigger than us, or so it would seem. We rope ourselves in when it’s good, but are cast away by circumstance when it’s not. I watch this happen weekly. “Things just didn’t work out.” “I don’t know where it went wrong.” “We did all we could.” This was not a narrative that I was going to accept for myself.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Aurelio Arturo by Gilberto Arturo

Aurelio Arturo and his father
Aurelio Arturo
By Gilberto Arturo
Translated by Nicolás Suescún

The poetry of Aurelio Arturo is both a world and a frame of mind. It is a dazzling and intimate world revealed through the poet’s sympathy with nature. It is a self-contained, complete universe in which every object is a living being, defined by its relations with the other beings that inhabit the same world.
It is a world closed to signification but open to transcendence: in its identification with the natural world, where animals and plants are one and the same ‘vegetation’; in its identification with the senses – the tactile, the aromas “only for the ear”, the wild, rustic tastes; and with living, vital, interrelated beings, all of them charged with meaning and sentiment.
In Morada al sur (A home in the south) Aurelio Arturo selected what he considered to be his life’s work; the rest, consequently, is conjecture.
His poetry does not describe the interior world of the poet’s own feelings: love flows from the contemplation of the outside world and from the music of the verse. It travels through different frames of mind as it moves through the various landscapes and places of his environment, meeting their inhabitants . . . the birds . . . the leaves.
In the end, he goes so deeply into himself (and the reader) that what flows from inside is a profound sensation of plenitude and peace, of harmony with the world, with nature – a feeling of tranquil and serene joy, not subject to sudden frights or fears. The words of his poems transport us into a world of enchantment and fantasy.
The strength of this poetry does not inspire reverential awe; nor does it derive from playing with words. It is a quiet strength, like that of the grass in his poem “covering footsteps, cities, years”. His poetry is like a fog that imperceptibly and slowly surrounds and covers us. Words pass before our eyes, following each other; and before we realise it, we are immersed and profoundly moved, surrounded by poetry.
Arturo’s is a mysterious poetry; but the mystery is not about something we don’t quite understand and therefore fear, but about what surrounds us, something we feel but do not touch. “In the mestizo nights that rose from the grass/ young horses, shadows, brilliant curves . . .” and “the murmur of date trees in the wind.”
His poetry is concerned with the enjoyment of life and, although it does not deny the setbacks and sadnesses of real life, it takes them and involves them in the deep experience of the moment.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bohumil Hrabal / The Close Watcher of Trains

Bohumil Hrabal
The Close Watcher of Trains
 by Mats Larsson

"BOHUMIL HRABAL TRAGICALLY DEAD," ran the headline on the front page of the daily Mladá fronta, 4 February 1997. The 82-year-old Hrabal died instantly when, on 3 February, he fell from a fifth-floor window at the Bulovka hospital in Prague. He had been at the hospital's orthopedic clinic since December 1996 for back and joint pain and was schedule to be released soon. According to witnesses, Hrabal was trying to feed the pigeons on his window sill when the table he was standing on tipped and fell.

It's interesting how young poets think of death while old fogies think of girls, Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997) writes in "Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age".

The particular - and almost eerie - significance of the fifth floor in Hrabal's life and work prompts speculation as to whether his death truly was an accident and not suicide. His Prague apartment was located on the fifth floor, and his fear of falling from this floor was known. Moreover, the motive to commit suicide by jumping from a fifth floor reoccurs several times in his writings. Ultimately, his exit made an appropriate ending point for an exceptionally vital and powerful career.
During Hrabal's lifetime, nearly three million copies of his books were printed in his native Czechoslovakia, and he was translated into twenty-seven languages. Among Hrabal's best-selling works, "Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age" (Tanecní hodiny pro starsí a pokrocilé, 1964), an exceptional story written in a single sentence, also came out in more editions than any other of his works. And Closely Watched Trains (Ostre sledované vlaky, 1965), his book about the little train station Kostomolaty under German occupation, is one of many of his novels adapted to film; directed by Jirí Menzel, the movie won an Oscar for best foreign film in 1967. Another of Hrabal's gems, "Cutting it Short" (Postriziny, 1976), also adapted to the screen by Menzel, features Hrabal's mother giving an unforgettable account of life at the brewery in Nymburk and how uncle Pepin came to visit for fourteen days and stayed for fourteen years.

The Swedish cover for ”Cutting it Short”. Hrabal describes the special pleasures of the brewer's wife the night after the butchery and the making of sausages (transl. James Naughton):
”That night I slept alone in the bedroom, cold air streamed in through the open window, on planks between chairs the sausages and puddings glittered on their rye straw, right by the bed on long boards lay cooling the dismembered parts of the pig, the boned and apportioned hams, the chops and roasting-joints, the shoulders and knees and legs, all laid out according to Mr Myclik's orderly system. As I got into bed I could hear Francin in the kitchen getting up and pouring himself some lukewarm coffee, taking some dry bread to chew with it, it had been a tremendous blow-out, all the members of the management board ate abundantly, only Francin stood there in the kitchen drinking lukewarm coffee and chewing dry bread with it. I lay in the feather quilt, and before I fell asleep, I stretched out a hand and touched a shoulder, then I fingered a joint and went dozing off with my fingers on a virginal tenderloin, and dreamed of eating a whole pig. When towards morning I woke, I had such a thirst, I went barefoot to fetch a bottle of beer, pulled off the stopper and drank greedily, then I lit the lamp, and holding it in my fingers, I went from one bit of pork to the next, unable to restrain myself from lighting the primus and slicing off two lovely lean schnitzels from the leg. I beat them out thin, salted and peppered them and cooked them in butter in eight minutes flat, all that time, which seemed to me an eternity, my mouth was watering, that was what I needed, to eat practically the whole of the two legs, in simple unbreaded schnitzels sprinkled with lemon juice. I added some water to the schnitzels, covered the pan with a lid, out of which angry steam huffed and puffed, and now I laid those schnitzels on a plate and ate them greedily, as always I got my nightdress spattered, just as I always spatter my blouse with juice or gravy, because when I eat, I don't just eat, I guzzle ...”

Readers loved Hrabal most of all for his inimitable prose - at times richly orally descriptive, other times sensually lyrical - which so completely captured life: from everyday dialogue - taken directly, it seems, from pubs and workplaces - via lyrical descriptions of nature, to philosophical expositions on the innermost meaning of life. Often, Hrabal fills his texts with odd characters, individuals from the fringes of society - anti-heroes of a sort - who possess a never-ending joy in their existence, a joy manifested foremost verbally. Moreover, Hrabal is a genuinely entertaining writer with a sense for the comically absurd in life. Hrabal stands alone in his ability to tell a story - often with the assistance of the authentic uncle Pepin - which sends the reader into fits of sensual delight:
My cousin was a twin and a real card, he was christened Vincek and his brother was christened Ludvicek, and when they were a year old their mother was bathing them in a tub and popped out to a see a neighbor, and when she got back half an hour later one of them had drowned, and they were so much alike nobody could tell which one, Ludvicek or Vincek, so they flipped a coin, heads for Lucvicek, tails for Vincek, and it came up Ludvicek, but when my cousin Vincek grew up he began to wonder - and he had plenty of time for it, he was always out of a job - he began to wonder who really did drown, whether the person walking around on earth wasn't really Ludvicek and he, Vincek, was up in heaven, which led him to drink and to wander along the water's edge and go in swimming, testing the waters, so to speak, till at last he drowned, by way of proof that he hadn't been the one to drown back then, " (Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age, 1995 . Transl. Michael Henry Heim.)

Bear in mind that all of what Hrabal wrote derived from actual events; nothing is invented, only displaced in time and rearranged. As one of his admirers put it, instead of a brain, Hrabal had hard disk, which stored everything. While sitting amidst his admirers at the pub the Golden Tiger, Hrabal could effortlessly recite long passages from books he had read during his youth-from Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, to Batista's text on matrimonial bliss, and Anna Nováková's book of dreams.
Appropriately, Prazská imaginace, a small publishing house run by Hrabal enthusiast Václav Kadlec, planned to release the nineteenth and last volume of Hrabal's collected works 28 March 1997, Hrabal's eighty-third birthday. Instead, the volume, which Hrabal had already seen in proofs, came out at the beginning of March.
Hrabal's death came at a point when, according to the author, he had said everything he wanted to and could. He had described his years growing up with his mother and uncle Pepin at the brewery in Nymburk, east of Prague, his experiences as a train dispatcher at Kostomlaty outside of Nymburk and from several different occupations (clerk, insurance agent, traveling salesman, steelworker, paper packer, stage hand, and film extra), and he had accounted for his years in Prague and Kersko.
Due to the circumstances of World War II and the normalization of culture under communist rule, Hrabal, who started as a poet, was forty-nine before he had his first breakthrough as a writer of prose with the collection of short stories "A Pearl on the Bottom" (Perlicka na dne, 1963). From 1963 to 1968, he published eight original works including two other collections of stories, "The Palaverers" (Pábitelé) and "An Advertisement for the House I Don't Want to Live in Anymore" (Inzerát na dum, ve kterém uz nechci bydlet), as well as "Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age" and Closely Watched Trains.

After 1968, Hrabal was banned from publishing; only after 1975, when the weekly Tvorba carried his perplexing proclamation of government support, did he regain the right to put out books. Between 1976 and 1979, the writer came out with his first trilogy of memoirs: Cutting it Short, Lovely Wistfulness, and Harlequin's Millions (Postrizingy, Krasosmutnení, Harlekynovy miliony). These works recount Hrabal's early years, the war, the communist take over and the first years thereafter. Nevertheless, several of his most important works could only be published abroad, including the novels The Little Town Where Time Stood Still (Mestecko, dke se zastavil cas) and I Served the King of England (Jak jsem obsluhoval anglického krále), as well as the novella, Too Loud a Solitude (Prílis hlucná samota), about a paper press operator who for thirty-five years keeps company with destroyed books and their thoughts. In 1986 and 1987, Hrabal published his second trilogy of memoirs. In these books, The Weddings in the House, Vita nuova, Vacant Lots (Svatby v dome,Vita nuova, Proluky), his wife Eliska tells of their life in Prague during the 1950s, 1960s, and the first half of the 1970s. After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, a number of Hrabal's previously banned books were published; the first of his collected writings came out in 1991.
Even with the publication of Hrabal's collected writings in nineteen massive volumes - which, since he regularly reworked, revised, and returned to his texts, contain only a fraction of the work he produced during his life - and despite a number of monographs on the writer, research on Hrabal's work can only be considered in its infancy. In Prague, Hrabal devotees are in the midst of setting up a project to post his collected writings on the Internet; at the same time, the question remains what to do with the enormous amount of material left behind by the author.
Meanwhile, fans can occupy themselves with weekend trips to the regions of Nymburk and Kersko to verify local names or track down people included in Hrabal's texts. While there, one can sample the bittersweet Czech pilsner, Hrabal's faithful lifelong companion. The Hrabal research industry is itself truly worth investigation, charting all the enthusiasts who scrutinize his texts or who, in the best of intentions, have built up a court around the unpretentious poet.
For a translator, Hrabal's use of idioms - seemingly lifted directly from eavesdropped conversations - prove an obvious challenge. All the odd characters who figure into his texts acquire their personalities from the verbal play which pepper their speech. And the greatest chatterer of them all is Hrabal's uncle Pepin, whose volubility overflows with military slang, obsolete profanities, and Moravian provincialisms. How, for example, should the unmistakable linguistic features of the Moravian countryside be conveyed? When Pepin opens his mouth, the Czech reader immediately understands what he's about: with the choice of words and special suffixes, he gives away his geographic roots. One prime example is found in the fourth chapter of "Cutting it Short," when he spins a yarn about uncle Metud who was bored and bought a raccoon:

Well now, Uncle Metud over in the Great Lakes he's begun to get a wee bit strange, and one day he read a notice in the paper: Suffer from boredom? Get yourself a racoon. And Uncle Metud, what with having no kids and that, he replied to the ad, and in a week's time the beast arrived, in a packing case. Well that was a thing now! Just like a child, it made friends with anybody going, but there was one special thing about it, you see, the German for racoon is Waschbär, and whatever that racoon saw, it simply had to wash it, and so it washed Uncle Metud's alarm clock and three watches, till nobody could put them together agai,n. Then one day it washed all the spices. And again, when Uncle Metud took his bicycle to pieces, the racoon went and washed the parts for him in the nearest creek, and the neighbours were comimg along saying: Uncle Metud, would you be needing this piece of junk at all? We just found it over in the creek! And after they'd brought him several bits like that, Metud went to have a look himself, and that racoon had gone off with practically the whole bang shoot. [...]
Further translating difficulties ensue from the technical terms related to the various professions and settings found in the books - from a steel mill and a paper recycling plant, to a pork slaughterhouse and a perfume boutique. In closing, a section of Too Loud a Solitude, where the paper press operator Hanta tells of his experiences during World War II, serves as a good example of Hrabal's lyrically invigorating - and often subtly political - prose:
For thirty-five years I've been compacting old paper, and in that time I've had so many beautiful books thrown into my cellar that if I had three barns they'd all be full. Just after the war the second one - was over, somebody dumped a basket of the most exquisitely made books in my hydraulic press, and when I'd calmed down enough to open one of them, what did I see but the stamp of the Royal Prussian Library, and when next day I found the whole cellar overflowing with more of the same - leather-bound volumes, their gilt edges and titles flooding the air with light - I raced upstairs to see two fellows standing there, and what I managed to squeeze out of them was that somewhere in the vicinity of Nové Straseci there was a barn with so many books in the straw it made your eyes pop out of your head. So I went to see the army librarian, and the two of us took off for Nové Straseci, and there in the fields we found not one but three barns chock full of the Royal Prussian Library, and once we'd done oohing and ahing, we had a good talk, as a result of which a column of military vehicles spent a week transporting the books to a wing of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Prague, where they were to wait until things had simmered down and they could be sent back to their place of origin. But somebody leaked the hiding place and the Royal Prussian Library was declared official booty, so the column of military vehicles started transporting all the leatherbound volumes with their gilt edges and titles over to the railroad station, where they were loaded on flat-cars in the rain, and since it poured the whole week, what I saw when the last load of books pulled up was a constant stream of gold water cum pitch and printer's ink flowing down from the train. Well, I just stood there, leaning aginst a lamppost, flabbergasted, and as the last car disappeared into the mist, I felt the rain in my face merging with tears, [...]
Works by Bohumil Hrabal available in English translation: "Cutting It Short"/"The Little Town Where Time Stood Still" (transl. James Naughton), Pantheon, 1993, Abacus, 1994; "Too Loud a Solitude" (transl. Michael Henry Heim), Harcourt Brace, 1990, 1992; "Closely Watched Trains", (transl. Edith Pargeter) Northwestern Univ. Press, 1995; "Closely Observed Trains, a Film" (script written by Hrabal together with Jiri Menzel), Lorrimer, 1971; "Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age" (transl. Michael Henry Heim), Harcourt Brace, 1995; "I Served the King of England", Vintage Books, 1990.


There are two Web sites devoted to Hrabal, with texts almost entirely in Czech: and Further on more original texts by Hrabal will be published here.

This article is © copyright Mats Larsson  1997.
Translated from Swedish by Kathryn Boyer.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Julio Cortázar / 62: A Model Kit

62: A Model Kit

By Julio Cortázar

This dust jacket is so similar in style and lettering to the one used for Hopscotch that you'd think it would have to be by George Salter as well, but Salter was long dead and this dazzling design was in fact by Kenneth Miyamoto. If you didn't look closely you might miss the suggestion of a cityscape with mountains in the distance. The superimposed geometrical forms below the title are actually appropriate, since the novel is set in several real European cities but also takes place in overlapping dimensions ("the City" and "the zone") that are organized more by systems of affinities than by geography.
This is Cortázar's strangest novel, and it took me a couple of tries to penetrate its mysteries. The first thirty pages or so are slow going the first time out, but once you get past that it's a book like no other, aptly described by Carlos Fuentes as "an ironic, sentimental journey through a city plan drawn up by the Marx Brothers with an assist from Bela Lugosi." The reference to Lugosi isn't gratuitous; there's vampirism in the book, among many other things. The title alludes to Chapter Sixty-Two of Hopscotch, in which a prospectus for a novel -- or rather an approach to the writing of a novel -- is set forth. Almost everyone in the book is in love with someone, usually someone who's interested in another person entirely, who in turn... It all ends, sweetly and sadly, with dead leaves (actually a character named Feuille Morte, who has a pet snail) and insects circling a streetlight.
The American edition, from 1972, is jointly dedicated by Cortázar and translator Gregory Rabassa to "Cronopio Paul Blackburn," who had died the year before, and bears these lines from Jorge Manrique's "Coplas por la muerte de su padre":

y aunque la vida murio,
nos dexo harto consuelo
su memoria

Posted by Chris Kearin at 7:11 PM
Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Julio Cortázar / Hopscotch

By Julio Cortázar

In the final paragraph of a letter to Paul Blackburn written from Vienna in September 1961, Cortázar shared a bit of news with his agent and friend. "Last week I finished La Rayuela (Hopscotch, you know). It is, I humbly believe, a very beautiful thing." Blackburn must have expressed puzzlement, because two weeks later the author explained: "La Rayuela is a novel, Mr. Agent. Of about 650 pages." And so it was. It was published in Buenos Aires in June 1963, although the American edition would not appear for another three years. During that time Pantheon's chosen translator, Gregory Rabassa, then a novice at the craft, worked closely with the author, struggling to devise creative solutions to the sometimes nightmarish obstacles the book posed. Years later, Rabassa recalled:
Hopscotch was for me what the hydrographic cliché calls a watershed moment as my life took the direction it was to follow from then on. I hadn't read the book but I skimmed some pages and did two sample chapters, the first and one further along, I can't remember which. Editor Sara Blackburn and Julio both liked my version and I was off and away.
When not busy translating One Hundred Years of Solitude, Paradiso, Conversation in the Cathedral, and dozens of other books, Rabassa went on translate five more of Cortázar's, the last being A Certain Lucas in 1984. His memoir, If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents, was published by New Directions in 2005.
Cortázar, who was himself an experienced multilingual translator, was delighted with everything about the American edition ─ except for this colorful jacket by George Salter, which he claimed to have removed and thrown in the wastebasket as soon as his author's copy arrived.


Sunday, October 03, 2010

Posted by Chris Kearin at 6:37 PM

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Julio Cortázar / The Winners

By Julio Cortázar

The first of Cortázar's books to appear in English, The Winners (Los premios) was published by Pantheon in 1965 in a translation by Elaine Kerrigan. The jacket is by Muriel Nasser.
I really like the JACKET, Sara. Say so to Muriel Nasser, who I hope is not related to that other Nasser. Or is it the same Nasser who works for you under a feminine pseudonym? You never can tell.

I put the jacket on another book, and it looked wonderful. I like it very much, you know. I've never seen such a large photo of me. How young I was when it was taken! In this last three years I've aged a lot; now I can't read for more than two hours in one sitting, and at times I have rheumatism. But the heart is still young, as the bishop said to the actress.
Excerpts from a letter to Sara and Paul Blackburn, December 17, 1964, from Cartas 2: 1964-1968, published in 2000 by Alfaguara. Sara Blackburn was Cortázar's editor at Pantheon; her husband, the poet Paul Blackburn, translated several of his works as well as being his American agent and good friend. The translation of the excerpts is my own, but the portions in italics are in English in the original.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Friday, September 16, 2011

Stasys Eidrigevičius by Chris Kearin

Stasys Eidrigevičius
By Chris Kearin
Sunday, April 24, 2011

There are some disadvantages to living in the shadow of a cultural capital, and one of them is not being sufficiently exposed to work by artists who may have long been well-known in their own countries and elsewhere but who through whatever whim of the art circuits never seem to earn comparable notice here.
Stasys Eidrigevičius is a Lithuanian-born artist who now resides in Poland. His work first came to my attention sometime in the 1990s, when at least three of the children's books he illustrated were published in the US by NorthSouth Books. Those titles, all of which now seem to be out of print, were Johnny Longnose, The Hungry One, and the best of them, Puss in Boots. (At least one other children's book, Little Pig, has been published by Viking Press; it too appears to be out of print.) Children's books, however, represent only a tiny fraction of Eidrigevičius's output, which includes painting, drawing, posters, political art, sculpture, photography, theatre design, and performances. As far as I can gather from the list of exhibitions on his website he has never had a significant show in New York City.
          The images below are, respectively, from Puss in Boots, Johnny Longnose, and Little Pig. The images in the last-named work aren't paintings but photographs centering on painted masks.

There is a distinctive Eidrigevičius look in his picture books, and much of it has to do with the eyes, which are nearly almost wide-open but alarmingly expressionless. As in the stop-motion animation of the Quay Brothers, the worlds of animate and inanimate objects blur disturbingly into one another. Many of his subjects are being held against their will -- perhaps a reflection of his childhood under Communism -- although, as in the images below, it's not always clear exactly who is the captive and who the captor.

It's a fair question whether or not Eidrigevičius's work was ever really marketable for children. I suspect that it may well be in Europe, but perhaps not in the US (though my daughter enjoyed Puss in Boots). It would be nice if the full range of his work could get fuller exposure here.
A Journey Round My Skull has some additional images, and there are many more at the artist's own website. For those with the wherewithal there is a new retrospective collection of his work, Stasys 60, which can be obtained from ABE Marketing in Poland.
I'm not sure what the original purpose was of the image shown at the top of the page, which I found through image searching on the web. The cat's eyes are so mesmerizing that at first I didn't even notice the beaks of the birds, but I think it's the mouth, at once so realistic and so alien, that is the most unnerving.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gabriel García Márquez / One of These Days

By Gabriel García Márquez

Monday dawned warm and rainless. Aurelio Escovar, a dentist without a degree, and a very early riser, opened his office at six. He took some false teeth, still mounted in their plaster mold, out of the glass case and put on the table a fistful of instruments which he arranged in size order, as if they were on display. He wore a collarless striped shirt, closed at the neck with a golden stud, and pants held up by suspenders He was erect and skinny, with a look that rarely corresponded to the situation, the way deaf people have of looking.
When he had things arranged on the table, he pulled the drill toward the dental chair and sat down to polish the false teeth. He seemed not to be thinking about what he was doing, but worked steadily, pumping the drill with his feet, even when he didn't need it.
After eight he stopped for a while to look at the sky through the window, and he saw two pensive buzzards who were drying themselves in the sun on the ridgepole of the house next door. He went on working with the idea that before lunch it would rain again. The shrill voice of his eleven year-old son interrupted his concentration.
"The Mayor wants to know if you'll pull his tooth."
"Tell him I'm not here."
He was polishing a gold tooth. He held it at arm's length, and examined it with his eyes half closed. His son shouted again from the little waiting room.
"He says you are, too, because he can hear you."
The dentist kept examining the tooth. Only when he had put it on the table with the finished work did he say:
"So much the better."
He operated the drill again. He took several pieces of a bridge out of a cardboard box where he kept the things he still had to do and began to polish the gold.
He still hadn't changed his expression.
"He says if you don't take out his tooth, he'll shoot you."
Without hurrying, with an extremely tranquil movement, he stopped pedaling the drill, pushed it away from the chair, and pulled the lower drawer of the table all the way out. There was a revolver.
"O.K.," he said. "Tell him to come and shoot me."
He rolled the chair over opposite the door, his hand resting on the edge of the drawer. The Mayor appeared at the door. He had shaved the left side of his face, but the other side, swollen and in pain, had a five-day-old beard. The dentist saw many nights of desperation in his dull eyes. He closed the drawer with his fingertips and said softly:
"Sit down."
"Good morning," said the Mayor.
"Morning," said the dentist.
While the instruments were boiling, the Mayor leaned his skull on the headrest of the chair and felt better. His breath was icy. It was a poor office: an old wooden chair, the pedal drill, a glass case with ceramic bottles. Opposite the chair was a window with a shoulder-high cloth curtain. When he felt the dentist approach, the Mayor braced his heels and opened his mouth.
Aurelio Escovar turned his head toward the light. After inspecting the infected tooth, he closed the Mayor's jaw with a cautious pressure of his fingers.
"It has to be without anesthesia," he said.
"Because you have an abscess."
The Mayor looked him in the eye.
"All right," he said, and tried to smile. The dentist did not return the smile. He brought the basin of sterilized instruments to the worktable and took them out of the water with a pair of cold tweezers, still without hurrying. Then he pushed the spittoon with the tip of his shoe, and went to wash his hands in the washbasin. He did all this without looking at the Mayor. But the Mayor didn't take his eyes off him.
It was a lower wisdom tooth. The dentist spread his feet and grasped the tooth with the hot forceps. The Mayor seized the arms of the chair, braced his feet with all his strength, and felt an icy void in his kidneys, but didn't make a sound. The dentist moved only his wrist. Without rancor, rather with a bitter tenderness, he said:
"Now you'll pay for our twenty dead men."
The Mayor felt the crunch of bones in his jaw, and his eyes filled with tears. But he didn't breathe until he felt the tooth come out. Then he saw it through his tears. It seemed so foreign to his pain that he failed to understand his torture of the five previous nights. Bent over the spittoon, sweating, panting, he unbuttoned his tunic and reached for the handkerchief in his pants pocket.  The dentist gave him a clean cloth.
"Dry your tears," he said.
The Mayor did.  He was trembling.  While the dentist washed his hands, he saw the crumbling ceiling and a dusty spider web with spider's eggs and dead insects.  The dentist returned, drying his hands.  "Go to bed," he said, "and gargle with salt water."  The Mayor stood up, said goodbye with a casual military salute, and walked toward the door, stretching his legs, without buttoning up his tunic.
"Send the bill," he said.
"To you or the town?"
The Mayor didn't look at him.  He closed the door and said through the screen:
"It's the same damn thing."


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Monday, September 12, 2011

Chris Kearin / Cortázar and Books 2

Chris Kearin

Nine years after Julio Cortázar died in Paris in 1984, his library of some 4,000 volumes was acquired, with the co-operation of his literary executor (and first wife), Aurora Bernárdez by the Fundación Juan March in Madrid. Cortázar y los libros, a slender but genial book published by Fórcola Ediciones and generously illustrated (in black and white), represents a personal tour through Cortázar's library by a Spanish writer and journalist, Jesús Marchamalo.
Cortázar was widely read in at least three languages, and his library thus includes a broad range of titles published in French and English as well as in Spanish. He was a heavy annotator ─what Anne Fadiman refers to as a "carnal" rather than a "courtly" book lover─ who felt no compunction about marking up his volumes with marginal notes, underlinings, objections and agreements, and various doodles and scribbles whose meaning, if any, is unknown. Many of the volumes bear personal dedications from fellow writers such as Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, Pablo Neruda, Elena Poniatowska, José Lezama Lima, Rafael Alberti (whose dedication is woven into a full-page drawing), and the poet Alejandra Pizarnik (a good friend whose progressive mental decline is painfully evident in her inscriptions). A few of the books were apparently borrowed from other writers and never returned, including a volume of Luis Cernuda's poetry with Mario Vargas Llosa's name written inside it and an anthology of Catalan poetry personally inscribed to Gabriel García Márquez and his wife Mercedes. There are some impossible, fictional dedications, including one by Thomas de Quincey, who salutes Cortázar from beyond the grave as "a friend of Mr. Keats, I think?" And there are some mysteries, such as who ─Cortázar himself, a wife or lover, or a previous owner? ─left a number of pressed flowers in a copy of Baudelaire's Fleurs de mal.
The books document Cortázar's reading interests through various phases of his life from the 1930s onward, but there are unexpected gaps in the shelves, and the absence of certain titles in the library of an author who traveled widely and lived in various places shouldn't be taken as evidence that he never read or owned them. There is no Camus, no de Beauvoir, no Duras, no Tolstoy or Turgenev, and surprisingly little by Vargas Llosa (a good friend, despite their political differences) or by García Márquez (no Cien años de soledad, notably). Though he possessed a substantial number of volumes by Borges, whose work he certainly knew well, most of them show little or no indication of being read, and only a copy of Crónicas de Bustos Domecq, which Borges wrote jointly with Adolfo Bioy Casares, bears a dedication ─by Bioy.
Marchamalo's book ─as yet untranslated─ makes no pretense of being a scientific survey (hopefully other hands will take up the task) and raises as many questions about Cortázar's reading as it answers. But for anyone interested in Cortázar's work and character, or in the ways in which readers and writers shape ─and respond to─ their own personal libraries, it will be a unalloyed delight.