Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

miércoles, julio 26, 2006

Please Stop

Look at this. It doesn't matter if it's Baghdad, Haifa, Gaza City, Kabul, Tikrit, or Tyre (which this is). It doesn't matter who started it. It doesn't matter how this was done. It doesn't matter who's right. It doesn't matter whose fault it is. None of this matters in any immediate way. People are dying. Some are woman and children and infants. Some are old and sick. Some are utterly innocent of perpetuating violence, others have reveled in destruction. Some will argue about the justifications for this. Some, who really should know better, will debate this. But when you look at this directly, when you contemplate this destruction and death, all of that justifying and all of that talk just doesn't matter. This must stop. Not just immediately, for the next short while, in the few places that show up selectively on TV. This must stop.

Is this unrealistic? Is this idealistic? Is this naive? Is it immature? Is it childish? Is this somehow the wrong thing to say or think? I wonder how many times I am going to have to see this picture or an equivalent one. I wonder how many more people will have to die or be maimed and injured. I wonder when we, you and I, will finally stop.

There is a wonderful story about Angulimala, a murderer who wore a necklace of fingers around his neck, one from each of his nearly 100 victims. Once he encountered the Buddha while the Buddha was begging. The long and the short of their encounter: the Buddha was unafraid and told him to stop. And miracle of miracles he could, and he did. He took the three refuges and became a monk. The murderer's name was changed to Ahimsaka, the nonviolent one.

Who will tell us to stop now? Who among us will listen? Who among us will stop? How can we change our names? Dear G-d, let there be Shalom, Salaam, Peace.

jueves, julio 20, 2006

The World's Greatest Blurb

Last night at 11 pm I was wandering the isles of Barnes and Noble. Don't ask about why. I discovered that Barnes and Noble has nothing, that's right, nothing in the novel section written by Alejo Carpentier. That's ridiculous. I will forgive them that they don't have my book, but Alejo Carpentier? For shame. For shame. Anyway, I did find a new paperback version of Julio Cortazar's Cronopios and Famas (Cortazar is on the left), and on the back was the world's greatest blurb, written by none other than Pablo Neruda (on the right). Here it is:

"Anyone who doesn't read Cortazar is doomed. Not to read him is a serious invisible disease which in time can have terrible consequences. Something similar to a man who has never tasted peaches. He would quietly become sadder... and, probably, little by little, he would lose his hair."

OK. Find me a single blurb that can carry this one's socks, and I'll post it.

miércoles, julio 19, 2006

Hammock Reading (Short List)

Hammock reading is a lot like beach reading, only more off the ground. Less sandy. More like a flying carpet. Cooler. And so without further delay, today's top five, not necessarily in order of preference:

Carlos Fuentes, The Old Gringo
Luis Alberto Urrea, The Hummingbird's Daughter
Alejo Carpentier, The Lost Steps
David Seth Michaels, The Dream Antilles
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years Of Solitude

And, yes, if there's a great number 6 or 7 (or 113 or 114) we all need to know about, please don't hesitate to put it in the comments.

lunes, julio 17, 2006

No Pasaran! No Pasaran!

Albert Camus
Today is the anniversary of the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, when Nationalists launched a military uprising across Spain. In February, 1936, a coalition of left-wing parties had been elected by a very narrow margin. The right-wing Nationalist Party, made up of the rich, the church, and the military, decided forcibly to take back power. General Francisco Franco amassed his army in Morocco, and he invaded Spain from the south.

Hitler and Mussolini supported Franco; Stalin supported the Republicans. Intellectuals, writers, and artists joined the fight against the Nationalists. George Orwell joined a workers' militia in Catalonia. Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos both covered the war as journalists, and both wrote novels about the war. Federico García Lorca tried to remain neutral at first, but he eventually became a supporter of the Republicans, and he was assassinated by the Nationalists. André Malraux recruited a squadron of airplanes and helped lead bombing raids against the fascists.

Dolores Ibaruri

The chief propagandist for the Republicans was Dolores Ibarruri, known as La Pasionaria. It was she who on July 18, 1936, ended a radio speech denoucning the Nationalist uprising by saying, "The fascists shall not pass! No Pasaran". The phrase, "No Pasaran!" became the battle cry of the Republicans.

Franco was an accomplished general and a brutal leader. The Republicans, on the other hand, were split among their many ideological factions, and they had no central leadership. Franco eventually won the war by March of 1939.

The French writer Albert Camus said, "It was in Spain that men learned that one can be right and still be beaten, that force can vanquish spirit, that there are times when courage is not its own reward."

Credit for much of the above, The Writer's Alamanc.

jueves, julio 13, 2006

Know War

An Iraq War Memorial
2544 American Casualties, 7-13-2006

Know War is a not for profit project that aims to help us understand the reality and the impact of war. The first part of this project is seen above, a photograph of what the American death toll looks like.

In addition to the photographic memorial, Know War's mission is to generate an archive of personal testimony and reaction to war. Many of us feel fundamentally disconnected from the reality of combat. Know War aims to create a forum through which to share our experience. We seek firsthand accounts, essays, combat journals, letters home, interviews, photographs, and any of your thoughts regarding war. Please submit emails or Word documents, PDFs, JPEGs or Quicktime attachments to, and specify whether you request anonymity. All submissions will be posted on

To make a donation to Know War, Please send checks to:
Know War
74 South 1st St. Ground Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11211
718 384 6986 phone
646.452.3390 fax

The image above may be seen more clearly at this web site. I notice I'm having trouble looking at the image, want to turn away from it, want to analyze or judge or think about it, want to go on to the next thing. If this happens to you, I suggest trying to breathe consciously and actually looking at photo. It needs to be seen.

miércoles, julio 12, 2006

Como Una Copa Gengra

Pablo Neruda
Today is Pablo Neruda's birthday. And so, in his memory:

El ser como el maiz se desgranaba en el inacabable
granero de los hechos perdidos, de los acontecimientos
miserables, del una al siete, al ocho,
y no una muerto, sino muchas muertos, llegaba a cada uno:
cada dia una muerto pequena, polvo, gusano, lampara
que se apaga en el lodo del suburbia, una pequena muerto
de alas guesas
entraba en cada hombre como una corta lanza
y era el hombre asediado del pan o del cuchillo,
el ganadero: el hijo de los puertos, o el capitan oscuro del arado,
o el roedor de las calles espesas:

todos desfallecieron esperando su muerte, su corta
muerta diaria:
y su quebranto aciago de cada dia era
como una copa gengra que bebian temblando.

Being like maize grains fell
in the inexhaustible store of lost deeds, shoddy
occurrences, from nine to five, to six,
and not one death but many came to each,
each day a little death: dust, maggot, lamp,
drenched in the mire of subsurbs, a little death with fat wings
entered into each man like a short blade
and siege was laid to him by bread or knife:
the drover, the son of harbors, the dark captain of plows,
the rodent wanderer through dense streets:

all of them weakened waiting for their death, their brief
and daily death--
and their ominous dwindling each day
was like a black cup they trembled while they drained.

From The Heights of Macchu Picchu, III (1966). Translation
by Nathaniel Tarn.

Please don't ask me to explain how "del uno al siete, al ocho" gets to "from nine to five, to six."

martes, julio 11, 2006

Yeah, Right

Please, FIFA, give me a break!
First, we have the FIFA campaign for "My Game Is Fair Play". And then, FIFA gives Zidane the Golden Ball, an award for his most valuable World Cup Performance. And then, as if we weren't confused enough already, FIFA opens an investigation about the headbutt to "to enable [FIFA] to clarify the circumstances surrounding the incident as exactly as possible." Please remind me why we need to be exact about an incident recorded on videotape and shown repeatedly around the world. No. I have a better idea. Can the old dynosaurs at FIFA please stop distracting us and can the rest of us go back to enjoying the game and playing it?

lunes, julio 10, 2006

The Red Card

By now the world has seen the notorious headbutt that removed Zidane from the game. That's the culmination of why it was hard to find an underdog in this game: this kind of brutality is what one has to expect from one of the mechanized, faded, colonial powers. It's all the more ironic that it was Zidane who perpetrated the foul. And no, it doesn't help that some in the press are saying the headbutt may have been in response to a racist remark.

The reportage of the game on ABC was awful. It began with references to Adolf Hitler and Jesse Owens and went downhill from there. Cannot ABC find commentators who know and understand the game? And if they can't, why can't we just have the audio from the BBC's coverage? But that's not all. Last night, the Sundance Channel showed The Battle of Algiers, as if our distaste for the French wasn't already enough.

Personally, I look forward to next Sunday's game in desde Desdemona. Maybe we can get the bad taste out of our mouths, forget about the World Cup for another 3 years, and by playing the game, remember what we love about the sport.

sábado, julio 08, 2006

The World Cup Is Half Empty

Zinidine Zidane
Sunday France and Italy square off in Berlin for the final game of the World Cup. The game will end a month of games that commanded intense attention, stopping commerce in various countries for 2 hours at a time so that everyone could stare at the television transfixed and then afterwards discuss nothing but the game for days on end. But because the finals involve two European powerhouse teams-- the African and American teams were all eliminated long ago-- there is no Cinderella. And no real underdog to cheer on. And no upset in the making. No. Quite to the contrary, the finals engender in desde Desdemona and in me the same feelings that arise from living in the economic and military shadow of the gigantic, bellicose power of the North. The feeling of being dwarfed, outplayed, pushed around, relegated to obscurity, and thoroughly disrespected. So this is how Grenada and Panama felt when they were invaded for their own good. So this is how NAFTA feels to America's neighbor to the South.

I admit that in the beginning, hoping against hope, we supported the Soca Warriors of Trinidad and Tobago, who lost 2 games and magically tied one and were then eliminated. And then we supported Mexico, who advanced briefly, only to be eliminated, leaving behind some fantastic, inspiring beer commercials for Corona and the latest installment of an entire nation questioning whether the team is good enough, Ricardo LaVolpe, the new Mexican coach, notwithstanding. And then we supported Ghana, who advanced from the Group of Death, advancing beyond the US underchievers and slackers, only to be eliminated. And then of necessity we supported Argentina, and Brazil, and finally Portugal, all of whom were unceremoniously eliminated by European teams that played like well oiled diesel engines and with a similar level of excitement. Brazilian fans were, of course, outraged that there was no evidence of "the beautiful game." No kidding. The European corporate juggernaut focuses on bruising defense, artistic flourishes be damned, and if the game resembles a 90 minute abridgment of the Peloponnesian War, so be it. In sum, a lot of what's happened so far was just tedious. And those of us who love the underdog have had to shift our allegiances repeatedly.

This is not to say that there weren't a few moments of utter delight. England, who should beat everyone all the time but has managed to be eliminated early for 40 years now, once again outplayed itself and was eliminated. David Beckham, the captain, demonstrated that, like John Coltrane Ramirez and yours truly, he cannot really run any more, and last week resigned his captaincy in faux regret. The other good news was Mexico. Mexico thrashed Iran in an early game that Iranian women were not permitted to see in the stadium, though apparently watching men with bare legs on television does not offend Sharia as much. Eliminating Iran from the Cup is always a good thing, beating them 3-1, priceless.

Which brings us to Sunday's battle between Pinot Grigot and Cote du Rhone. Both teams are called "the Blues" (in their own languages). Both have some big stars, though France's Zinidane Zidane is the biggest. And so, because the commentators appear now to think that Italy will win this game, all of desde Desdemona has, of course, thrown its support behind the nominal "underdog", the French, behind les Bleus. And how exactly do we do this? On Sunday at 2:30 AT (1:30 ET) we have cold 2004 White Cote du Rhone and baked brie and apples. And some other French food (not French fries, silly people). Pate anyone? Then we turn off ABC HD so that we will not have to listen to the inept, boring, repetitive, dreadful American commentary, and we turn on the game in Spanish. We don't really care what they're saying. We don't really understand every word. It doesn't matter. No. We just do it for the excitement, for the joy of the game. And afterwards, we will sit in the hot tub and argue about the game for a few days if the French lose. And if they win, we will complacently smile and nod and say, "You know, that's not bad." But in our heart of hearts, we're waiting for the World Cup of 2010, and secretly nursing the idea that Ghana, or Cameroun, or Mexico, or even Argentina will finally set the world right.

martes, julio 04, 2006

Happy Fourth Of July