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

martes, febrero 28, 2006

For Our Cold Norteamericano Readers

Here's something to warm you up. A webcam in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico, and another in Akumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico. I know, I know. It's 10 degrees outside and the wind is gusting at 30 miles an hour. But imagine that it's you sitting there in Mexico. Now isn't that better? And remember this: Spring, believe it or not, begins in 3 short weeks.

lunes, febrero 27, 2006

Our World Cup Favorite

The talk in desde Desdemona isn't the start of baseball spring training in the US. It's this summer's World Cup in Germany, and the possibility that Trinidad and Tobago, the local favorite, will make it to the next round. Forget, if you will, that Der Spiegel says, "Most think that Trinidad and Tobago have no chance in the World Cup. But the Caribbean nation wasn't supposed to qualify either. They've imported both players and a trainer in preparation." How's that? No chance. Not slight chance, not even a long shot. No chance. None. Nada.

Now there's a team you can support! The statistics seem to be against Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad is ranked 50th in the world. It has to play in Group B against Sweden (#14), England (#9) and Paraguay (#30). Only two teams advance from each group. Trinidad has only one star, former Manchester United forward Dwight Yorke, who is now 34. All of the other players are on second level pro teams. The team made the qualifying rounds only after beating Bahrain (now there's a football power) in a playoff for the final spot.

Does any of this seemingly bad news detract from desde Desdemona's support of Trinidad? No way. When you're over 30, guys like Dwight Yorke are the real heroes, not those single name upstarts from Brazil. And anybody who's over 30 and tries to keep playing "the beautiful game" knows that the youngsters are flashy, but it's the guys like Dwight Yorke who are skilled, cunning, and hungry.

martes, febrero 21, 2006

The Reading List (1/06 version)

Without further ado here is a most remarkable booklist for your reading,list-making and pondering enjoyment. Very special thanks to the compiler and to all the contributors, whose names appear at the top. This is a wonderful list!!

Believe that something important was missed? You can post it in the comments or you can, of course, email the compiler. Enjoy, Enjoy, Enjoy!!

Everyone’s Favorite Book List
Chrismukah 2005

compiled by Dianna Goodwin
for the reading pleasure of her beloved son, Jacob Cohen, and others

Contributors to the list: Aleta Albert, Laurie Anderson, Joe Blum, Jim Bogin, Francois Bonneville, Janet Britt, John Broderick, Mike Cassidy, Max Cohen, Rudi Cohen, Michael Cohen, Bobby Cohen, Robert “Grandpa” Cohen, Gavin Cook, Maddy deLone, Bodhi Densmore, Ramon Espinal, Josh Freeman, Frances Goldberg, Scott Goodspeed, Dianna Goodwin, Sarah Goodwin, Cynthia Guile, Betsy Hutchings, Alice Iida, Linda Illingsworth ,Nina Jakobi, Seth Jacobs, Martha Johnson, Susan Johnson, Penny Jolly, Julie Keegan, Peter Kenmore, Kris Kessey, Kristina Lambright, Joel Landau, Mimi Lavin, Satya Madivala, Tina Marlowe and two of her friends and one of her friend’s sons, Jake McCoola, Marika McCoola, Marcie Mersky, Naomi Meyer, David Seth Michaels, Joy Muller-McCoola, Karen Murtagh-Monks, Linda Motzkin, Mary Ellen Natale and one of her co-workers, Elisabeth Nemeth, Titus Nemeth, Mary Ellen Pierce, Russell Pittinger, Spencer Pittinger, Trudi Renwick, Jay Rogoff, Jonathan Rubenstein, Shira Rubenstein, Sean Ryan, Karin Sharp, Sarah Schendel, Joy Smith, Debbie Strod, Eran Strod, Anna Sugarman, Volker Thurm-Nemeth, Andy Turso, Janice Turso, Thilo Ullman, Aldo Vacs, Lin Whittle, Helen Wilson, Mary Withington, and Martina Zobel.
Numbers in parentheses refer to number of people recommending the book.

Chinua Achebe Things Falls Apart (2)
Douglas Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Purple Hibiscus
Christopher Alexander A Pattern Language
Isabel Allende The House of Spirits
Julia Alvarez In the Time of the Butterfly
Jorge Amado Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon
The American Canon - Emerson, Hawthorne, Poe, Whitman, Twain and Melville -any and all
Kingsley Amis The Green Man
A.R. Ammons Sphere
Jose Arguedes Deep Rivers
David Ariel The Mystic Quest: An Introduction to Jewish Mysticism
Margaret Atwood Cat’ Eye
The Robber Bride
Jean Auel Clan of the Cave Bear
Marcus Aurelius Meditations
Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice
Julian Barnes The History of the World in Ten and ½ Chapters (2)
Richard Bach Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Ingeborg Bachman Darkness Spoken: Collected Poems
Three Paths to the Lake
James Baldwin anything
Pat Barker Regeneration
Giorgio Bassani The Garden of the Finzi-Continis
Frederic Bastiat The Law (available on the internet)
Vicki Baum The Weeping Wood
Simone de Beauvoir The Mandarins
Samuel Beckett Waiting for Godot
Ernst Becker The Denial of Death
Saul Bellow Adventures of Augie March
John Berger About Looking
Once in Europa
Benson Bobrick Angel in the Whirlwind
Giovanni Boccaccio The Decameron
Jorge Luis Borges Collected Fictions (2 - one person recommended the story Dream Tigers)
Paul Bowles The Stories of Paul Bowles
TC Boyle East is East
The Road to Wellville
Taylor Branch Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963
Vera Brittain Testament of Youth
Charlotte Bronte Jane Eyre
Emily Bronte Wuthering Heights (2)
James Brown I Feel Good: A Memoir of a Life of Soul
Norman Brown Life Against Death
Dorothy Bryant The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You
Pearl Buck The Good Earth
Mikhail Bulgakov The Master and Margarita
Anthony Burgess Earthly Powers
Fox Butterfield All God’s Children
Italo Calvino The Baron in the Trees
If By Chance a Traveler
Imaginary Cities
Albert Camus The Myth of Sisyphus
The Plague
The Stranger (2)
Orson Scott Card Ender’s Game
Alejo Carpentier The Lost Steps
Reasons of State
Bruce Catton The Army of the Potomac
Miguel de Cervantes Don Quixote
Anton Chekov The Cherry Orchard
Henry Charriere Papillon
Susanna Clarke Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2)
James Clavell Shogun
Paulo Coelho The Alchemist
J.M. Coetzee Disgrace
Waiting for the Barbarians (2)
Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness (2)
Julio Cortazar Hopscotch
Bryce Courtenay Power of One
Steve Covey The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
A.J. Cronin The Citadel
Clive Cussler anything
Dante Inferno (an annotated prose, not poetry, version)
Kiana Davenport Shark Dialogues
Mike Davis City of Quartz
Jeffrey Deaver Bone Collector
Robinson Davies The Deptford Trilogy, first volume is Fifth Business
Daniel Defoe Robinson Crusoe
Isaac Deutscher The Prophet Armed (2)
The Prophet Unarmed (2)
The Prophet Outcast (2)
Charles Dickens Bleak House (2)
Dombey and Sons
E.L. Doctorow City of God
John Donne Poems
John Dos Passos 1919
Fyodor Dostoevsky The Brothers Karamazov (2)
Crime and Punishment (2)
W.E.B. Dubois The Life of John Brown
Alexander Dumas The Count of Monte Cristo (unabridged)
The Three Musketeers
Barrows Dunham Man Against Myth
Dorothy Dunnett Niccolo Rising
Shlomo Dunour Adiel
Susan Eaton The Other Boston Busing Story
Humberto Eco Baudolino
Blake Edgar William Morris: Man Adorned
David Eggers A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Albert Einstein and
Leopold Infeld The Evolution of Physics
George Eliot Middlemarch (2)
Joseph Ellis American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson
Founding Brothers
His Excellency: George Washington
Jeffrey Eugenides Middlesex (3)
Ann Fadiman Ex Libris
Richard Farina Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me
Paul Farmer Infections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues
William Faulkner Absalom, Absalom
As I Lay Dying (2)
Light in August
The Sound and the Fury (3)
Eva Figes The Seven Ages of Women
Victoria Finlay Color: A Natural History of the Palette
F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby
Jonathan Safran Foer Everything is Illuminated
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Ken Follett Pillars of the Earth (3)
Ford Maddox Ford The Good Soldier (2)
Parade’s End
Paul Michel Foucault The Foucault Reader
John Fowles The Magus
Victor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning (2)
Gerturde Friedberg The Revolving Boy
Jonathan Franzen The Corrections
Richard Friedman Who Wrote the Bible?
Thomas Friedman The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century
Carlos Fuentes Aura
Jostein Gaarder Sophie’s World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy
Neil Gaiman Ananzi Boys
Good Omens
Gabriel Garcia-Marquez Memories of my Melancholy Whores
One Hundred Years of Solitude (8)
Joaquim Gasquet Cezanne
Allen Ginsberg Howl
Malcolm Gladwell Blink
Emma Goldman Living My Life
Nadine Gordimer Burgher’s Daughter (2)
Bernard Gottfryd Anton the Dove Fancier
Stephen Jay Gould The Mismeasure of Man
A Wonderful Life: the Burgess Shale and the Nature of History
Katherine Graham Personal History
Henry Green Back
Romesh Gunesekera Reef
Peter Guralnick Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley
Mark Haddon The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
Bruce Hainley Tom Friedman
David Halberstam The Best and the Brightest
Peter Hamill Forever
Thomas Hardy Far from the Madding Crowd (2)
Jude the Obscure (2)
The Mayor of Casterbridge
Tess of the D’Ubervilles
Marvin Harris Cannibals and Kings: The Origins of Culture
Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches
Kent Hauf Plainsong
Nathaniel Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter
Henry Hazlitt Economics in One Lesson
Ursula Hegi Stones from the River
Robert Heilbroner Economics Explained
Robert Heinlein Stranger in a Strange Land
Joseph Heller Catch-22 (2)
Lillian Hellman Scoundrel Time
Ernest Hemingway The Old Man and the Sea
Sun Also Rises
Hazel Henderson Beyond Globalization
Tony Hendra Father Joe
Frank Herbert Dune
John Hersey The Wall
Hermann Hesse Siddhartha (3)
Maurice Herzog Annapurna
Carl Hiaasen Sick Puppy
Adam Hochschild King Leopold’s Ghosts
Abbie Hoffman Steal This Book
Homer The Iliad (2)
The Odyssey (Robert Fagel’s translation)
Khaled Hossein The Kite Runner (6)
John Irving A Prayer for Owen Meany
Kazuo Ishiguro The Remains of the Day
Jane Jacobs The Economy of Cities
CLR James Black Jacobins
Beyond a Boundary
Henry James The Portrait of a Lady
Julian Jaynes The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
George Jones I Lived to Tell It All
Erica Jong Fear of Flying
James Joyce Ulysses (2)
Sebastian Junger The Perfect Storm
Pauline Kael For Keeps
Franz Kafka In the Penal Colony
The Castle (2)
The Metamorphosis
The Trial )2)
Ryszard Kayuschinski The Shah
Nikos Kazantzakis Zorba the Greek
Jack Kerouac Dharma Bums
On the Road (3)
Satori in Paris
Ken Kesey Sometimes a Great Notion
Sue Monk Kidd The Secret Life of Bees (2)
Stephen King Christine
The Shining
The Stand
Barbara Kingsolver The Poisonwood Bible (4)
Naomi Klein No Logo
Arthur Koestler Thieves in the Night
Thomas Kuhn The Structure of Scientific Revolution (2)
Milan Kundera The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (2)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Hanif Kureishi Intimacy
Jhumpa Lahiri Interpreter of Maladies (2)
Wally Lamb She’s Come Undone
This Much I know is True
Anne LaMott Bird by Bird
Lao Tsu Tao Te Ching
DH Lawrence Sons and Lovers
Ursula LeGuin The Dispossessed
Doris Lessing The Children of Violence series
Denise Levertov Footprints
Primo Levi The Periodic Table
The Reawakening (2)
Survival in Auschwitz (4)
Vargas Llosa The Green House
Malcolm Lowry Under the Volcano
James Lovelock Gaia
Lu Xun Diary of a Madman
Niccolo Machiavelli The Prince
Mad Magazine any of them
Betty Mahmoody Not Without My Daughter
Norman Mailer Armies of the Night
The Executioner’s Song
Miami and the Siege of Chicago
The Naked and the Dead (2)
David Malouf An Imaginary Life
Bernard Malamud The Complete Stories
Andre Malraux Man’s Fate
Heinrich Mann Henry Quartre, King of France
Thomas Mann The Magic Mountain
Herbert Marcuse One Dimensional Man
Marge all Little Lulu comics
Yann Martel Life of Pi
Karl Marx The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
Kyle Maynard No Excuses
James McBride The Color of Water
Robert McCammon Boy’s Life
Cormac McCarthy All the Pretty Horses (2)
David McCullough John Adams
Ian McEwan Atonement
Dennis McFarland Prince Edward
Ian McHarg Design with Nature
Larry McMurtry Lonesome Dove
Herbert Melville Moby Dick (5)
Steven Millhauser The Life and Death of Edwin Mullhouse
John Milton Paradise Lost
David Mitchell Cloud Atlas
Rohinton Mistry A Fine Balance (2)
James Michener Chesapeake
The Source
Richard Moody The Black Veil
Elsa Morante History: A Novel
Tony Morrison Beloved (2)
Song of Solomon (2)
Robert Musil The Man Without Qualitites
Vladimir Nabakov Lolita
Pale Fire (2)
NACLA Guatemala - The War is not Over
Azar Nafisi Reading Lolita in Tehran
VS Naipaul A House for Mr. Biswas
Pablo Neruda Memoirs
Friedrich Nietzche The Antichrist
Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Sigrid Nunez The Last of Her Kind
Patrick O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin novels
Flannery O’Connor The Complete Stories
Mary Oliver Dreamwork
Charles Olson Human Universe and Other Essays
George Orwell Homage to Catalonia (4)
Road to Wiggin Pier
Blaise Pascal Pensees
Ann Patchett Bel Canto
Harvey Pekar American Splendor comic books
Gregor Piatigorsky Cellist
Marge Piercy Gone to Soldiers
Walker Piercy The Moviegoer
Robert Pirsig Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (3)
Sidney Poitier The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography
Chaim Potok The Chosen
Randall Price The Stones Cry Out
Howard Pyle King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
Thomas Pynchon Gravity’s Rainbow
Raymond Queneau Zazie in the Metro
Anna Quindlen Blessings
Baba Ram Dass Be Here Now
Ayn Rand The Fountainhead
John Rawls A Theory of Justice
Rainer Maria Rilke Letters to a Young Poet
Lawrence Rinder Tim Hawkinson
Tom Robbins Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates (2)
Skinny Legs and All
Philip Roth American Pastoral
The Counterlife
Salman Rushdie Midnight’s Children (3)
Bertrand Russell Why I Am Not a Christian
Joseph Sacco Palestine
Safe Area Goradze: The War in Eastern Bosnia
J.D. Salinger Catcher in the Rye
Jose Saramago Blindness (2)
Frank Schaeffer Saving Grandma
Rafik Schami A Hand Full of Stars
Bernhard Schlink The Reader
Schoolboys of Barbiana Letter to a Teacher
Penninah Schram Jewish Stories One Generation Tells Another
Andre Schwartz-Bart The Last of the Just
W.G. Sebald The Emigrants (2)
William Shakespeare Hamlet
King Lear (2)
The Merchant of Venice
The Tempest
Neil Sheehan A Bright and Shining Lie (2)
Sharon Shinn Archangel and Jovah’s Angel
Isaac Bashevis Singer In My Father’s Court
Endo Shusaku Silence
Shel Silverstein Where the Sidewalk Ends
Jane Smiley A Thousand Acres
Zadie Smith White Teeth (2)
Art Spiegelman Maus
Mickey Spillane The Big Kill
Alexander Solzhenitsyn Cancer Ward
Susan Sontag Regarding the Pain of Others
John Steinbeck Cannery Row
The Grapes of Wrath (3)
Richard Steins Arthur Ashe
Stephen Stern The Angel of Forgetfulness
Darin Strauss Chang and Eng
Michael Talbot The Holographic Universe
Josephine Tey Daughter of Time
William Thackery Vanity Fair
Sashi Tharur The Great Indian Novel
D.M. Thomas The White Hotel
Dylan Thomas Collected Poems
Thucydides The History of the Peloponnesian War
J.R. Tolkien The Hobbit
Lord of the Rings (2)
Leo Tolstoy Anna Karenina
John Kennedy Toole A Confederacy of Dunces (2)
Leon Trotsky History of the Russian Revolution
Barbara Tuchman The Guns of August
Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev Fathers and Sons
Mark Twain Huckleberry Finn
King Leopold’s Soliloquy (available on line)
Any non-fiction
Barry Unsworth Sacred Hunger
John Updike Rabbit, Run
Leon Uris Trinity
Luis Alberto Urrea Hummingbird’s Daughter
Thorstein Veblen The Theory of the Leisure Class
Voltaire Candide (2)
Mildred Walker The Brewer’s Big Horse
The Quarry
Amanda Ward Sleep Toward Heaven
Evelyn Waugh Scoop
Max Weber Politics as a Science
Politics as a Vocation
T.H. White The Once and Future King (get past first story)
Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass
Benjamin Lee Whorf Language, Thought and Reality
Tom Wicker A Time to Die
Elie Wiesel Night
Daniel Wilkinson Silence on the Mountain
Gershon Winkler Magic of the Ordinary: Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism
P.G. Wodehouse Blandings Castle
Stories - Especially The Great Sermon Handicap and The Purity of the Turf
Christa Wolf A Novel and Four Essays
The Quest for Christa T
Virginia Woolf To the Lighthouse
Orlando (2)
Stuart Woods New York Dead
Malcolm X The Autobiography of Malcolm X (2)
Emily Yoffee What the Dog Did
James Yood William Morris: Animal/Artifact
Marguerite Yourcenar Memoirs of Hadrian
With Open Eyes
Carlos Luis Zafon The Shadow of the Wind (2)
Howard Zinn A People’s History of the United States (2)

To add to the list, please email the keeper of the list at

domingo, febrero 19, 2006

A Great Book

In the mid-1970's I was living in New York City and had a 45 minute subway ride to work, and another one home. I could spend the time looking at my fellow passengers, which was enjoyable unless it turned menacing ("What are you looking at?") or daydreaming (fine until I was distracted and started looking at the other passengers) or I could read. At about this time I happened upon a list by Susan Sontag of 100 greatest books. Time is now playing its usual trick on me: I cannot remember what united the books. Were they 20th century novels? Perhaps. I cannot find the list on the web. I think it was originally in the New York Times or the New York Review of Books, but searching their archives turns up nothing.

At any rate, I decided to read the entire list. After all, if Susan Sontag recommended all of the books, who was I not to read each of them? And so it was in the moving, subterranean reading room that I read Elsa Morante's 1974 novel, History A Novel.

Elsa Morante (1912-1985)
After the book was published, Morante became a recluse.

The reviews of this book are simply astonishing. A brief collection:

"A storyteller who spellbinds." Stephen Spender in The New York Review of Books

"A of the few novels in any language that renders the full horror of Hitler's war, the war that never gets into the books..." Alfred Kazin in Esquire.

"A marvel of a novel . . . all the pleasures that fiction can offer." Doris Grumbach in Saturday Review.
After I read this wonderful book, I recommended the novel to my co-workers. They all read and loved it. But then, over time, I somehow forgot this book. Maybe it was because we had children, moved, started a rural life, started a new office, got involved in so many other things. Maybe it's just because I turned to other writers in other genres. Maybe it's because I just forgot. To my surprise, I even forgot this book so completely that I failed to mention it earlier this winter when I was asked what novels I thought were the best and should be included in a list. I don't think I mentioned this book. I should have.

What brings it to mind now? I was thinking about how stories are carried inside readers. And I was thinking that the best stories are so involving that a reader returns to ponder them over and over again. In fact, sometimes when a reader knows another who is also carrying the story around and wondering about it, the readers talk to each other about the characters. A book has to be really good for this to happen. It has to be so vivid that the characters and their situation have some longevity, and the readers have to have a real concern about them. History A Novel is such a book.

After reading this book, a colleague of mine asked such a question. "Well," she asked out of the blue while we were working on something else, "Do you think he was ever healed? Do you think they found a cure?" I knew instantly who she was talking about. I didn't know the answer. I responded, "I'd like to think so." She nodded in agreement. We both then paused for a moment to feel whether this response may have settled the question.

And so to make amends for my forgetting, and my remembering perhaps too late for the list, you have this post. This is a great book, and I commend it to you.

viernes, febrero 17, 2006


Raymond Queneau (1903 -1976)
A master of zaniness and cheerfulness and playfulness. A literary hero. You don't have to read French to enjoy his work, especially Zazie dans le metro(of which Louis Malle made a wonderful movie) and The Sunday of Life("Le Dimanche de la vie"). These are funny books in which unusual main characters confront "the painful nonsense of life's adventures."

"Relax! Go on, have a drink, that'll make you feel better." They drank, and Valentin made a face. "You're certainly the first Frenchman I've ever seen make a face drinking Pernod," said Houssette. "It's because of all those watsits I caught in the colonies," said Valentin. "Ought to have had something else, then." "I wanted to see whether it was still bad for me."

It's a three day weekend in the United States. A great chance to read these two wonderful works. If you can find them...

For many years, I have wandered the literature sections of independent bookstores. In this odyssey I was looking for Calvino, Queneau, Amado, and my other heroes. Borges. Marquez. Vargas Llosa. Whenever I found these authors, I always complimented the store. I cannot tell you how many times my search for these authors was in vain, and how disappointed I was to find that their work was missing. But I don't dwell on that. Instead, I remember the good times, like when I found four novels by Queneau in a tiny bookstore. Was it Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard? I cannot remember the place, only the joy, the delight of this discovery.

domingo, febrero 12, 2006

On Searching Your Dreams For desde Desdemona

Italo Calvino (1923-1985)

desde Desdemona resides in The Dream Antilles, where the undulations of the Caribbean are constantly revealing or obscuring it. You can get there in two days from anywhere, but no quicker. If you cannot make the journey yourself, something sure to be a disappointment to you, you might send an envoy to experience desde Desdemona and report back to you. Which brings us to Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, one of my favorites, a book I recommend over and over again to anyone who will listen.

Calvino writes,

The Great Khan has dreamed of a city; he describes it to Marco Polo:
"The harbor faces north, in shadow. The docks are high over the black water, which slams against the retaining walls; stone steps descend, made slippery by seaweed. Boats smeared with tar are tied up, waiting for the departing passengers lingering on the quay to bid their families farewell. The farewells take place in silence, but with tears. It is cold; all wear shawls over their heads. A shout from the boatman puts a stop to the delays; the traveler huddles at the prow, moves off looking toward the group of those remaining behind; from the shore his features can no longer be discerned; the boat draws up beside a vessel riding at anchor; on the ladder a diminished form climbs up, vanishes; the rusted chain is heard being raised, scraping against the hawsepipe. The people remaining behind look over the ramparts above the rocks of the pier, their eyes following the ship until it rounds the cape; for the last time they wave a white rag.

"Set out, explore every coast, and seek this city," the Khan says to Marco. "Then come back and tell me if my dream corresponds to reality."

"Forgive me, my lord, there is no doubt that sooner or later I shall set sail from that dock," says Marco, "but I shall not come back to tell you about it. The city exists and it has a simple secret: it knows only departures, not returns."

Such are the difficulties of this kind of journey. We all know as Heraclitus taught that you cannot step in the same river twice. But there are some rivers (and islands) you cannot step in even once. It is these seeming difficulties that make the journey even more essential. These obsess the traveller, compel the traveller to persist in the journey even when common sense or, worse, the bright light of waking consciousness erases our mental map and plunges the ultimate destination into impenetrable obscurity. Destinations like these are often sought and the craving for them can easily be felt in that yearning that clenches the throat, but only something akin to grace lets us ever arrive.

sábado, febrero 11, 2006

The Fisherman, An Excerpt

Once upon a time in a country with palm trees and a turquoise sea, there lived a fisherman. He had not always lived by fishing, and his home had not always had palm trees surrounding it. Many years before he was a poet, employed in a city where trees lost their leaves and rivers turned to ice. This is the story of how he became a fisherman.

One day the poet awoke early. It was a Thursday like any other. He had to go to town to buy bread and onions. And he had to write a poem. A poem filled with rhymes and the sounds of howling wolves and the stillness of falling snow and images of the faint blue light cast by a frozen star. This poem he would bring to the prince on Friday and read to the Prince’s Court.

All the rich and powerful men would nod at how well he commanded the language and how clever he was. And the hearts of the beautiful and rich ladies would beat a little faster and a slight blush would come to their faces at the depth of his sensitivity and the glimpse he gave them of his passion for life.

The poet went to town and bought bread and onions. He did this because the onions symbolized the depth of earth and the surprises he lived by. And the bread symbolized the magic he loved, the yeast mysteriously turning dry flour and water to rich crusty bread. He put the onions to boil for soup and sat in his chair to write the poem.

But alas, after 2 or 3 hours of patiently waiting, no poem came to him. Had the muse of his poetry gone on vacation? Was the poet within him on strike? Had someone picked all of the poems off his poem tree while he slept? What was wrong? He had no idea what was the matter.

The poet became afraid. What would the rich and powerful men and the rich and beautiful ladies say if he had no poem? Worse yet, what of the prince who depended on his poems to inspire his guests and to impress them with beauty?

He began to think of the ice, the deep black ice of lakes, and how the geese returning in early Spring sighed disappointment when they could not land on water and wheeled in the sky slide onto the ice. He thought of the wind, sharp as a razor, and how it lashed the faces and froze the beards and brought tears to the eyes that froze like diamonds on the tips of eyelashes. He thought of the wails of wolves as they cried at the blue sun for warmth and water and green but huddled instead in their frozen holes, hungry, to wait and dream of a new season. He could not find a single poem in any of this.

Instead, his heart spoke to him of blue seas and hot suns, that somewhere, far away in a distant country, there was always fruit on the trees and no need for coats and no real need for fire or quilts or heavy woolen cloth or skins. Could he tell this poem to the prince and the Court? Would they banish him? After all, it was his charge to write a northern winter poem for a northern winter prince and a northern winter court.

Then a smile came to his face and immediately a poem appeared on the paper before him:

I stand on a white beach,
A hot sun and a turquoise sea
Filled with fish before me.
The blue sun, howls of wolves
Are a distant almost forgotten
Memory. And snow has never been
Dreamt of here.
I am a poet who can turn small
Children to sparrows. But I could
Not melt the black ice of lakes
And I could not make the frozen rivers
But I could dream of the
Place, far away, where
There is always fruit and
Fishermen need no shoes.

When he finished reading this poem, instead of the usual applause and cheers and shouts of delight, there was a great, deep, cavernous silence. You could hear a distant clock tick.

Eventually, the prince, wearing rich ermine, rose and spoke. "These are thoughts that are forbidden in this country because they make us weaker in the face of extreme winter. The usual penalty for such speech is death. But I will spare this poet because of his many years of service, and I order him to be banished to the land he dreams of. May no further mention of this evening be made on penalty of death."

As he stood before his home on a beach with palm trees and a turquoise sea, the prince's speech was only a distant memory, as was the four month sea voyage and its many ports, each one warmer than its predecessor. A smile came to his browned face, and he laughed out loud.

From The Dream Antilles by David Seth Michaels, copyright 2005

lunes, febrero 06, 2006

An Extreme Form Of Literary Criticism

This is Salman Rushdie. I've been thinking about him a lot today. You'll recall that after he published his novel, Satanic Verses, Ayatollah Khomeni issued a fatwa condemning him to death. It seems that Satanic Verses appropriated the prophet Muhammad as a character and attributed what some thought were insulting things to him. Later, VS Naipaul, one of my heroes, described the fatwah as "an extreme form of literary criticism."

It may be difficult to tell what will insult readers and even make them throw rocks. As Rushdie wrote in The Ground Beneath Her Feet,

"Insults are mysteries. What seems to the bystander to be the cruelest, most destructive sledgehammer of an assault, whore! slut! tart!, can leave its target undamaged, while an apparently lesser gibe, thank god you're not my child, can fatally penetrate the finest suits of armour, you're nothing to me, you're less than the dirt on the soles of my shoes, and strike directly at the heart."

Which brings me ever so cautiously to today's literary and rock throwing news. The New York Times' story is as frightening as it is hard to fathom.

Alas, I have worried that not enough people would read my book, The Dream Antilles. After all, Amazon has it ranked in the 400,000's today. But that seeming problem, a mix of ego, marketing and personal finance, pales compared with the idea of thousands and thousands in the streets around the world trying to maim and kill people because of the perceived affront of certain cartoons. I just don't get it.

I will admit only that I did smile when Mario Vargas Llosa had crowds attack the radio station in Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter because of insults to Argentinians. I thought that was a riot, and I laughed aloud. But I am not laughing at today's news.

sábado, febrero 04, 2006

A New Literary Hero

Meet Luis Alberto Urrea. I am simply captivated by his novel The Hummingbird's Daughter, which according to the flap "took twenty years of travel, research, and study among the healers to write." I believe it. There's a lot more about the book right here. Suffice it to say, it is a wonderful and beautiful book set in Mexico.

Urrea also has a blog which is great reading.

I've been reading the book in the sauna. And almost everywhere else. It's that good. You can get it at your local bookseller (which I recommend) or from Amazon, which will also let you read some excerpts for free. Please get it. You won't be disappointed.