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Be afraid. Be very afraid.

15 Aug

If you haven’t known trepidation (a disquieting fear, not the terror found in a book like The Shining) while reading, then you might want to pick up a copy of W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz. Normally I wouldn’t write about a book while only halfway through it, but I am reading it so slowly that I’m not sure I’ll even finish anytime soon.

I’m not even sure it’s a novel. It is, rather, a meditation on inner and outer decay, on decline, loss, memory, and the gradual effacement of even the most extraordinary of things. I half expect the book itself to vanish or crumble between my fingers while I’m reading. Certainly it reminds me of a book I read earlier this year — Teju Cole’s Open City. Published a decade earlier, Austerlitz (so far) greets us in Belgium as Cole’s novel does, and also in Wales and in London. The settings are intensely and intimately described, yet the novel also seems to take place within Sebald’s memory. There’s a term I’m reminded of: “umwelt” — a German word often translated as “a self-centered world”. Weirdly, I began a short story titled “Umwelt”, also set in London, which has dragged on and on…

And it’s the passages about the inner workings of our selves that seem most familiar. Here, at length, is Austerlitz describing the process of writing and reading:

But now I found writing such hard going that it often took me a whole day to compose a single sentence, and no sooner had I thought such a sentence out, with the greatest effort, and written it down, than I saw the awkward falsity of my constructions and the inadequacy of all the words I had employed….However much or little I had written, on a subsequent reading it always seemed so fundamentally flawed that I had to destroy it immediately and begin again.

As always, things seem connected. Between readings I’ve been listening repeatedly to the first track on what I think what may end up being one of 2011’s more under-appreciated break-up records. The same disquiet stirs.

Go ahead and be my world, and everything will be ok. Just hide there in plain sight, too big to see.

A Last Walk in Firenze

15 Feb

Quiero hacer contigo lo que la primavera hace a loz cerezos.

This is what is written slightly above eye-level in a narrow street in Firenze.  Pablo Neruda.  All quiet and cobblestone in the dark winter months here, a city of trapezoids and rectangles and of course, Brunelleschi.  Warmth and spring seem distant.  I wish to do with you what Spring does to the cherry trees.

Behind the desk at the hotel, as I gather myself for the walk, is Gurpreet.  From the country.  Hair well-oiled and pulled back, but no turban.  Maybe they are not ready for that here, yet.   I look at him and want to ask, are you that guy from — ?  He looks at me the same way.  Neither of us is that guy.

In the Piazza della Signoria Cellini’s Perseus raises Medusa’s head.  In the darkness the bronze contrasts sharply with the larger, reflective, marble statues, most of large men, uncircumcised, with power contained elsewhere in their thighs, fingers, and torsos.

Near the Uffizi, a young American with a guitar, a voice like Jackson Browne, and a girlfriend.  A folk song.  Had he chosen a better location, he would not need the amplifier.  Back to a night over a decade gone, at a corner of an empty piazza in Venezia, listening to two young students of jazz, one holding an upright bass and the other a saxophone.  Such music under the same blue-black sky!

Portraits of the baby Jesus always with an aged face, often a likeness of a patron or person of prestige.  Not symbolism nor enlightenment, but man’s narcissism, characterizes the Italian Renaissance.

In a modern lounge bar called Oibo, the realization it is time to put the modern lounge bar to death.  With a flourish, the bartender (“save water, drink champagne” says his t-shirt) shows off a long, triangular bottle.  A boutique vodka.  He says it is called Pinky and that it is very strong.

It is the freshness of the pasta and the mannered, acceptable portions.  All pasta should be eaten in a room with dark wooden beams that complement the color of wine barrels.

Modernity is seeing the portals high up on the Duomo and thinking instantly of the Death Star.

This will be the last visit.  A 2009 dirge.  Listen here.

Piazza Farnese

1 Feb

The final words uttered by anyone dying in Rome should be, “The Light!” Continue reading

Short Stories Worth Reading

1 Jul

A River Runs Through ItIf you don’t go back far enough you tend to think your ideas are somehow original.  I have to remind people, for instance, that history is longer than the past eight years of the Bush Administration, and that there was a time before September 11, 2001 when people did f***ed up things to the world. Continue reading

é o fim da guerra

12 Jan

There’s a light.

One light.

WILCO – “What Light”

Yes. We. Can.

3 Nov

“But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.”

Just Can’t Function No More

25 Feb

I’d estimate that in 50% of U.S. college dorm rooms in the late 20th century you could find “The Kiss” tacked to a wall. Yes, including mine for a time. One poster I had that deserved better was an immense one of Joy Division, a group from Macclesfield, England (close to Manchester) and about whom the Anton Corbijn’s 2007 movie Control was made. The picture, in b&w like the film, was of the band but really it was four kids standing above the banner “Here are The Young Men.” I bandied that phrase about in my head constantly — it somehow captured what I felt like in college. I was a young man. And like Joy Division, I too looked at something in the distance, not really caring, just existing. I could enjoy being a young man, but the future was too close to ever feel comfortable. Continue reading