Letter to the Silent Duchess from a Relative

  • Your second daughter Giuseppa allowed herself to be found in her husband’s bed with her cousin Olivo. The two men challenged each other to a duel. They fought, but neither of them was killed: two cowards who abandoned their weapons at the first drop of blood. Now the beautiful Giuseppa is expecting a child and no one knows whether it is her husband’s or her cousin’s. But it will be accepted by her husband as his, because otherwise he would have to kill her and he certainly has no wish to do that.

Appointment in Samarra Redux

Both of self’s parents were readers. The living room was lined with bookshelves, and there were always books on her parents’ nighstands.

Dearest Mum liked Yasunari Kawabata and Yukio Mishima.

Dear Departed Dad liked John O’Hara and John Updike.

One of Dear Departed Dad’s John O’Hara’s books was Appointment in Samarra. Self remembers loving it. The appointment in O’Hara’s novel is the same as the one in the excerpt below from The Silent Duchess, with O’Hara using Samarra as the stand-in for Samarkand. In both versions, the irony is delicious.

This morning, 6:30 a.m., self is racing to the end of The Silent Duchess.

She reads, on p. 226:

  • One does not truly escape by always escaping. Like that character in The Thousand and One Nights, who lived in Samarkand. She cannot remember whether it was Nur el Din or Mustafa. He was told, “Soon you will die in Samarkand,” so he galloped full speed to another city. But right in that unknown city, while he was walking peacefully along, he was assassinated, and as he died he saw that the square in which he attacked was called Samarkand.

Curfew takes effect in her area tonight: everyone must stay home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Hate-Mongering: Thanks for Everything, Mitch! Thanks, Lindsey!

. . . the white backlash to Mr. Obama, which Donald Trump rode to the White House, was not inevitable. It was engineered, a product of unprecedented obstruction from the Republican establishment in combination with relentless slander of the president . . .

The Economist, 21 November 2020 (Lexington: Audacious and Obstructed, p. 28)

The Death of Uncle Husband

A death self was not at all prepared for, for he seemed to be in the prime of health. But anyhoo, he has died. He and the Silent Duchess were married when she was 13, and he approximately 30 years older. The Duchess is now (self guesses) in her late forties. They had eight children, of whom the first was born when the Duchess was just 14. Four of the children lived to adulthood.

The Duchess is left alone with the body in the family chapel:

Marianna brought her eyes back to the naked body of uncle husband stretched out before her. But why had they left her there on her own? Perhaps so that she could give him a last farewell, or possibly to reflect on the frailty of the mortal body? Oddly enough the sight of his forsaken limbs reassured her; he was so different from the other bodies surrounding her, so fresh and tranquil, distinguished by the veins, eyelashes, hair and full lips that characterise the living. Those waves of grey hair preserved intact the memory of sunlit countryside; the cheeks still retained a few gleams of pink candlelight.

The Silent Duchess, by Dacia Maraini, translated from the Italian by Dick Kitto and Elspeth Spottiswood

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Sentence of the Day: Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker

25 November 2020

  • Putin warns that the U.S. is on the verge of being controlled by Americans.

That is all.

August in the Bay of Palermo

All over the water in the Bay of Palermo are hundreds of boats: gozzi, caiques, feluccas, each festooned with its array of lights, each with its seating for the nobility and places for the oarsmen. The sea is calm, the moon hidden behind small ragged clouds edged with violet, the boundaries between sky and water invisible in the dense blackness of a calm, still August night.

Soon the firework scaffold that rises imposingly on the shore will explode with Catherine wheels, rockets and fountains of light that will rain down over the sea. In the background Porta Felice seems like a Christmas crib all strewn with oil lights. To the right the Cassaro Morto, the dark outline of the Vicaria, the low houses of the Kalsa, the massive facade of the Steri Palace, the grey domes of Santa Maria della Catena, the square wall of the Castello by the sea, the long stark building of San Giovanni de’ Leprosi. Suddenly from a maze of dark crooked lanes thousands of people are pouring out towards the sea.

The Silent Duchess, by Dacia Maraini, pp. 118-119

BOOK LAUNCH: Seize, by Brian Komei Dempster

San Francisco Book Launch for Seize, Brian Komei Dempster’s new collection (Four Way Books)

Join Brian for a dynamic reading/book launch and listen to him share poems from his new collection!

When: Saturday, 5 December 2020


Hosted by the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (JCCCNC)

Online Event: http://bit.ly/seizebooklaunch

Tickets: bit.ly/seizebooklaunch

Story Today: The Imaging Center, by Erin McGraw (One Story, Issue No. 170)

Pete had hoped the subject of her year in Bloomington might arise in couples therapy, but she stopped going before he could swing the conversation around to old disappointments. There were so many current ones to ponder.

The therapist asked if they had married because marriage seemed easy, and Pete barked with laughter. “Easy?”

“Probably,” Katherine said.

“Honey, here’s some late-breaking news: nothing about you is easy.”

Erin McGraw is the author of five books of fiction, most recently The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard. Her fiction and essays have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Kenyon Review, Story, Allure, The Southern Review, Good Housekeeping, and many other journals.

How To Get Rid of Ants: THE SILENT DUCHESS, p. 81:

Balance a board between two chairs, the legs of both chairs immersed in saucepans filled with water. Put the enamel jars of sugar on the wooden board, cover each jar with a soup plate filled with vinegar.

You’re welcome.

The Silent Duchess’s Youngest Child

This novel is incredibly, incredibly complex. So many notes. Sometimes self gets so enraged — especially at the marriage of the 13-year-old to her uncle.

In the end, the Duchess develops affection for her husband, who she refers to throughout as “uncle husband.” He is an ineffably diffident man, who several years into the marriage begins spending longer periods of time in Palermo (Self thinks: Mistress!)

Anyhoo, the Duchess spends the years between 14 and 30 having babies. The last child, born when she is 30, is a sickly boy named Signoretto. She feeds him by hand, “little pizzas filled with minced chicken, pasta made with egg-yolk and cheese, and egg-flip with orange juice: everything that . . . ‘makes good red blood.’ “

p. 74:

Signoretto got no fatter, but he grew taller and taller, acquiring the neck of a stork and two small thin arms like a monkey’s, which were openly ridiculed by his brother. At two he was taller than Agata’s three-year-old. Although he did not gain any weight, he shot up like a plant in search of the sun. Neither his hair nor his teeth came through. His head was like a wooden ball and she covered it with embroidered bonnets turned up and puffed out at the edges.

The Silent Duchess, by Dacia Maraini, translated from the Italian by Dick Kitto and Elspeth Spottiswood

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

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