“Homesickness starts with food,” said Che Guevara, pining perhaps for the vast roasts of his native Argentina while they, men alone in the night in Sierra Maestra, spoke of war. For me, too, homesickness for Galicia had started with food even before I had been there. The fact is that my grandmother, in the big house at Aracata, where I got to know my first ghosts, had the delightful role of baker and she carried on even when she was already old and nearly blind, until the river flooded, ruined the oven and no one in the house felt like rebuilding it. But my grandmother’s vocation was so strong that when she could no longer make bread, she made hams. Delicious hams, though we children did not like them — children never like the novelties of adults — even though the flavor of that first taste has remained recorded forever on the memory of my palate. I never found it again in any of the many and various hams I ate later in any of my good or bad years until, by chance, I tasted — 40 years later, in Barcelona — an innocent slice of shoulder of pork.— from the essay Watching the Rain in Galicia, included in Travelers’ Tales Guides: Spain, edited by Lucy McCauley
#amreading: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “Watching the Rain in Galicia,” (translated from the Spanish by Margaret Costa)
Still reading Ukrainian writer Taras Prokhasko, whose essays from FB Galicia are included in the anthology Writing from Ukraine: Fiction, Poetry and Essays Since 1965, edited by Mark Andryczyk.
So glad that I decided to bring this book along during this brief visit to Ireland:
- As for difficult times — they disappear when you fathom that the day is a gift. Because just by possessing that day, you have received something. And you believe that your day is better than other possible similar days. You just need to understand that if you are hungry today, then it is because you were full yesterday and will be full tomorrow. And it is the same with coldness, pain, despair, fear, and other real things, which let you know that you are alive. The greatest wisdom, then, is the simple, daily prayer, given to us, without any expectation of gratitude: Lord! Thy will be done, not mine.
The excerpt below is from an essay in Prokhasko’s series FM Galicia.
- There is no truer method for organizing one’s everyday life than wisely adhering to phenology — to the flow of changes in the seasons. If you implement this methodology, you needn’t worry about your mind — it will be free of confusion. And now everything that you do will contain that special joy of making sense. Food will be better, dreams more interesting, and autumn flowing through you.
Prypiat was a Ukrainian city that was born in 1970 (its founding) and died in 1986 (after Chernobyl). Reason for Death: Acute Radiation Syndrome.
In 1995, the Ukrainian writer Yuri Andrukhovych visited the site.
Most unforgettable that day were . . . the catfish in the canal near the Nuclear Power Plant. They were the size of dolphins, or sharks, and this is nature’s categorically harsh answer to man . . .
Gazing at fish in water is one of my favorite and constant activities. I’ve had very few opportunities to do this in my life. One, for example, came in Nuremberg, another — in Regensburg. I think it was in Nuremberg that I came to the conclusion that Europe is a land in which fish live well. I would not have come to this conclusion if I hadn’t been in Nuremberg precisely at that time, in the summer of 1995. If I hadn’t stood on those bridges time and again and I hadn’t gazed down deep into the river to see how fish slowly move just above its bottom . . . I’m not sure if they really live all that well. But they definitely live long: no one catches them or kills them, in fear of the undeniable danger of radiation. How long is Silurus glanis, a normal (non-radioactive) catfish, supposed to live? According to several sources, up to one hundred years. This fish can live longer than any other fish found in our rivers and waters. Only moss-covered carp can live longer . . .— The Star Absinthe: Notes on a Bitter Anniversary, by Yuri Andrukhovych
The essay, which is quite long, fascinates self with the movement from carp to Ukrainian nationalism.
If Sweden “hadn’t created such a ruckus,” the West wouldn’t have known about the disaster. Also, around that time, “Poland had stopped being a friend and was increasingly turning away, westward. This time it turned away from a radioactive cloud — holding its breath and fastidiously holding its nose.”
Fascinating piece. It’s in the anthology Writing from Ukraine: Fiction, Poetry and Essays since 1965, edited by Mark Andryczyk.
Self has never heard of this French film until she read Essay # 1 in Rachel Kushner’s The Hard Crowd: Essays 2000 – 2020.
It stars Marianne Faithfull (She was today years old when she found out that it’s Marianne Faithfull, not Marianne Faithful) and Alain Delon and motorcycles.
After a desperate visit to a rustic tavern where Marianne Faithfull drinks alone, kirsch after kirsch, brokenhearted over Alain Delon, she gets on her motorcycle, and things start to get weird. She writhes in the seat as if making love to the bike and starts swerving recklessly, splitting lanes on the autobahn. She loses control and slams broadside into a truck, is launched over the cab, and plows forcefully through the windshield of a four-door sedan. She dies, the lower half of her leather-clad body jutting from the front of the car. THE END.— “Girl on a Motorcycle,” Essay # 1 of Rachel Kushner’s The Hard Crowd
Self has apocalypse on the brain.
She’s reading the first novel of the Gone series, by Michael Grant. Because she’s so ornery, she began with Book 4, then worked backwards. She’s now on Book 1. If she’d begun in proper order, she’d have known it was all about a nuclear power plant in the fictional town of Perdido Beach, California. Thank God for this series, which she discovered in June, when she saw a stack of these books sitting on a table in the lower level of the London Review Bookshop.
She’s also decided to arrange all her literary journals by year. She starts with Granta. She pulls out Issue 133, starts reading the Introduction by Sigrid Rausing. And — damn? Here, see for yourself:
There is an apocalyptic feeling in the air. I write the day after the news that the IS have blown up parts of the ancient site of Palmyra. They had already beheaded the eminent archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad and, according to reports, hung his body from the monuments. Refugees are drowning in the Mediterranean and living in makeshift camps at Calais and in Budapest; the Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov has been charged with terrorism offences by the Russian authorities in Crimea and sentenced to twenty years in prison. “Hang on in there, Oleg,” someone writes. It’s not Darkness at Noon but maybe it should be.
Migration is a self-splitting, one note observes; it’s “psychotic to live in a different country for ever.”— Peter Howarth, in his review of Bhanu Kapil’s poetry collection How to Wash a Heart, “poems addressing the wealthy liberal woman who has taken the speaker, an artist whose immigration status is precarious, into her house.”
Perhaps I can write here again.
A ‘fleeting sense of possibility.’ — K
Germany’s World War I siege of Namur, in Belgium, is described in Essay # 2 of When We Cease to Understand the World:
The Germans’ advance was impeded by a mist that rose up without warning, so thick it it turned midday to night. Both sides were shrouded in darkness and unable to attack for fear of shooting their own men.When We Cease to Understand the World, pp. 50 – 51
“What is it about this strange, chaotic climate of this country that it so doggedly resists our knowledge and control?” the German scientist Karl Schwarzschild, who had been placed in charge of an artillery unit, wrote to his wife.
His superior chose to withdraw the troops to a safe distance and engaged in massive, indiscriminate bombings, firing without care for wasted munitions or civilian casualties, using 42-centimetre ordnance shot from a gigantic howitzer the troops nicknamed “Big Bertha,” until the citadel, which had stood fast from the time of the Roman Empire, was nothing more than a mountain of rubble.WWCTUTW, p. 51
Self finds that so many of the books she’s read this year have a bearing. For instance, the book she started the year with: My Heart, a translation from the Bosnian by Semezdin Mehmehdinovic. The author is one of those displaced immigrants who cannot feel at home, not here in America, even though he has raised a son who is so very American in his nonchalance.
And All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, by Rebecca Donner, about Donner’s great great-aunt Mildred Harnack, who was part of a plot against Hitler and was executed in 1942.
Essay # 1 in her current read, Benjamin Labatut’s When We Cease to Understand the World, is about Fritz Haber, the brilliant Jewish chemist who directed the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry and is credited with the invention of Zyklon.
- Haber had converted to Christianity at twenty-five years old. He identified so closely with his country and its customs that his sons knew nothing of their ancestry until he told them they would have to flee Germany. Haber escaped after them and sought asylum in England, but his British colleagues scorned him, aware of his instrumental role in chemical warfare. He had to leave the island not after arriving. Thenceforth, he would travel from country to country in the hope of reaching Palestine, his chest gripped with pain, his arteries incapable of delivering sufficient blood to his heart. He died in Basle in 1934, clutching the canister of nitroglycerine he needed to dilate his coronary vessels, not knowing that, years later, the Nazis would use in their gas chambers the pesticide he had helped create to murder his half-sister, his brother-in-law, his nephews and countless other Jews who died hunkered down, muscles cramping, skin covered with red and green spots, bleeding from their ears, spitting foam from their mouths, the young ones crushing the children and the elderly as they attempted to scale the heap of naked bodies and breathe a few more minutes, a few more seconds, because Zyklon B tended to pool on the floor after being dropped through hatches in the roof.
There’s still almost an hour before the game begins, so self can squeeze in a few more things. Self’s quote of the day is from Rebecca Thomas, Editor of ms. aligned 3: women writing about men. (Published by El Leon Literary Arts of Berkeley and Manoa Books)
For the past nine years, I have been teaching composition at West Virginia University. I primarily teach freshmen, and one of their first papers is a narrative. In so many of the narratives, students — of all genders — explore issues connected to masculinity, in particular the effects of toxic masculinity. I receive papers about abusive relationships in high school, peer pressure to act a certain way, loneliness in emotionally connecting with peers, and the very real risk and fallout from coming out. My students are young, so it’s natural that they write about their childhood, the childhood moments where they begin to construct their identity. In our class discussions and in their reflections, I see so many grappling with the concept of masculinity. How did it shape their life? How will it shape their life as they journey into adulthood?
In this Me Too era, it’s hard not to think about masculinity and how it can be toxic. Working on a college campus, I know that many of my students have been assaulted. I know that many of them are trying to find the space to talk about it, and I know that many of them are starting to test the waters of self-acceptance, to see if it’s safe to be who they are. Since I am the mother of two young boys, toxic masculinity is something that I have to consider constantly: how do we raise our children in this environment? What conversations do I need to have with my kids?
Contributors to ms. aligned 3, and series editor Pat Matsueda, will be on-hand at an online event hosted by Redwood City Library. Register here.