Sunday, August 30, 2015

Dog days

I showed up.

I photographed poorly.

I cancelled my insurance. 

I laid claim to a glacier.

I toothed and nailed. 

I cracked my gum. 

I stole a pigeon. 

I longed for a cigarette.

I enjoyed touching the sandwich man’s hand when he gave me my order.

I imagined a new way of crossing the border. 

It was the end of August.

I grew tired of myself.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Titus Groan

I finished Titus Groan today, the first book in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy. It was a great reading experience. The mood is melancholy, the descriptions and vocabulary are marvelous, and the  odd characters have evocative names like Sourdust, Dr. Prunesquallor and Lady Fuchsia, to name a few. 

A high point came near the end in the death battle between the servant Flay and the cook Swelter. It was one of the longest scenes in the book, but wonderfully sustained. Near the beginning comes the lightning bolt of a summer storm:

To Flay it seemed an eternity of nakedness, but the hot black eyelid of the entire sky closed down again and the stifling atmosphere rocked uncontrollably to such a yell of thunder as lifted the hairs on his neck. From the belly of a mammoth it broke and regurgitated, dying finally with a long-drawn growl of spleen. And then the enormous midnight gave up all control, opening out her cumulous body from horizon to horizon, so that the air became solid with so great a weight of falling water that Flay could hear the limbs of trees breaking through a roar of foam

The end scene in which Titus is made Earl of Gormenghast was also glorious.

I’m afraid I didn’t make enough checks to mark my favorite passages and sentences. I bought the book used and besides such checks there are just two places where a reader wrote had written a note. 

In the chapter called The Burning, the second paragraph describes a seating arrangement which seems to have an editing flub regarding who is sitting next to whom. An attentive reader notes in the margin: “? Nannie was on Gertrude’s right.”

At the end there’s a scene where Mr. Rottcodd, curator of the so-called Bright Carvings, looks through a window to see there is a new Earl, and realizes that he has seen no one for over a year. He hadn’t known the previous Earl died.

What had happened? As he asked himself the question, he knew the answer. That no one had thought fit to tell him! No one! It was a bitter pill for him to swallow. He had been forgotten. Yet he always wished to be forgotten. He could not have it both ways.

Alongside the paragraph, the reader wrote “yes, you can.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I needed a day off & I took it

It was a good day to finish Brenda Hillman’s Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire.

It was a good day to go with my son to a weight-lifting place he wanted to join, and did.

It was a good day to remove adverbs from sentences.

To inherit a book from my daughter. To listen to Bach. To find the shower gel I bought at the TJ Maxx near my mother's for $7 costs 71 euros in Germany. 

It was a good day to make tomato sauce & meatballs.

It was a good day to see my piece “See Also Fire” published at The Offing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Some observations on my trip to France, from my semi-German perspective

First, France is more beautiful than Germany because its ancient buildings are still standing.
Also, France is more of a mess than Germany because its ancient buildings are still standing.

Germany looks more well off. I looked at the GDP per capita stats, however, and it’s not that much richer, #11 vs #13 in Europe. So why does France look rundown? Is it those ancient buildings, which are painfully charming but also slowly disintegrating?

We visited Semur-en-Auxois, for example, by reputation one of the most worthwhile villages in Burgundy. It’s enchanting from a distance, like outside the town walls or from one of the town towers. But close-up it’s sad. I say it reluctantly. 

Ancient buildings hold 1000x more charm than any efficient modern structure. Ancient buildings pose 100 more problems, and need more care. 

France is more rural and less populated than Germany, which is relaxing when you’re driving through the rolling landscape. Germany has rural areas, too, but its uninhabited areas are often wooded rather than agrarian. 

It is also true that the French are not punctual. As my husband told the man who was supposed to meet us at 4 pm to let us into our apartment but showed up at 5.30, “Roland, la ponctualité est pas votre force.” This after Monsieur Roland was also an hour late for our meeting to return our deposit and reclaim our keys. In fact rather than being ‘just’ 50 minutes late, he was out in the street stretching it out to a full hour with a smoke break - we saw him. 

“Je suis désolé Je suis désolé Je suis désolé,” he protested. Désolé, my ass. 

It is indisputable that the French language is fabulous. I wish I’d stuck to my French lessons. 

Gorgeous place. The well-cared-for abbey of Fontenay brought me to tears. 

Also Proust and Satie and Apollinaire and Matisse. 

But fate has delivered me to Germany, where I am late for work, accompanied daily by Weltschmerz and Bach cantatas.

Herr Camper related that when a missionary painted the flames of Hell to a congregation of Greenlanders in a truly vivid fashion, and described at length the heat they gave out, all the Greenlanders began to feel a strong desire to go to Hell.” - Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Notebook G, The Waste Books
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