Posts from — March 2011
Swimming In the Whispering
I was not going to be long,
I promised and hoped to die.
I swore on a name no one would say lightly,
without feeling dread.
The same fear one has of drowning,
arms tired of flailing, giving into the undertow,
going under currents, into something
so dark, we do not speak of it.
I went out into the beginning of darkness.
This is before the owls are ready
and the moon is not in ascension.
I went out into the beginning of things,
a screen door swinging behind me
as an afterthought.
where things are never ready
and I was not ready either.
I went into that night-sweat, frosted echo,
into the heartbeat of loss, into things
whispered, things barely beginning
and barely ending, and barely neither,
at the hour when things are closing,
doors are bolted and lights of regret are turned on,
where the trajectory of meteor showers
follows loss, follows the wrenching sun,
where night holds wind against its will,
where the sun is in the given-up. Into this
is where I was headed, without light,
without knowing where I was going,
or how to come back, and not really caring.
I had turned out the light as I left,
locking the way behind me,
leaving the sound of the closing door far behind.
I could have gone to the broken limestone quarry.
There things are blasted into stillness
and reduced into less than themselves.
I could have headed to the smoke station at the peak
with its ladders to Cooper Hawks
and into the streams of cloud cover.
I could have found the headquarters of tenderness, or
gone into remembrance or forgetfulness.
I could have found buoys of walnuts,
or climbed into the dazzlingness.
But, it was solid night as I left,
when no one in their right mind would go
without anything. And I left empty-handed.
I went into the hibiscus moon, into
the eggplant-colored night.
I went out, realizing, I forgot something.
Then I decided it did not matter.
If I was intended to find my way, I would;
If not, then who would care?
When we walk out of the language of ourselves,
what are we looking for? Then what?
Will someone search for us in the sensuous longing?
Into the Whispers?
There are only so many words to step out of.
Only so much drowning in air.
About the poet:
Martin Willitts, Jr., was nominated for two Best of The Net awards and his 5th Pushcart award. He has three new chapbooks: “The Girl Who Sang Forth Horses” (Pudding House Publications, 2010), “Van Gogh’s Sunflowers for Cezanne” (Finishing Line Press, 2010), “True Simplicity” (Poets Wear Prada Press, 2011).
March 31, 2011 2 Comments
Mercy Mercy Us
By Jeff Katz
Here’s how I remember the beginning of April 1984.
It was a sunny spring day; most welcome in Binghamton, one of the ten cloudiest cities in the country. I was a senior at SUNY-Binghamton, in the last month before a clerking job on Wall Street awaited to begin the slow process of sucking out my soul. As general manager of the campus record store, Slipped Disc, I got paid in records, the only currency that mattered to me back then. The day before I’d snatched a three-record Marvin Gaye Anthology and was in the midst of a soulful haze, the strains of “Can I Get a Witness” coursing through my skull.
As I walked toward the union from the library, someone came up to me and asked if I’d heard Marvin Gaye was killed. I hadn’t. In some inexplicable way, blame the butterfly effect, my plucking the Marvin record from the racks sent a blast of cosmic bad vibes from campus to California. Once there, they found a home in the confused brain of Marvin Gaye, Sr., and caused him to fire two fatal shots into his talented and troubled son.
The horrific events of April 1st were revealed over the next few weeks. Marvin, back with his parents in the Crenshaw home he’d bought for them, was in a bad way. Two years after his huge comeback (“Sexual Healing” was a #1 hit), Gaye, Jr. had hit the skids, back in a world of heavy drug use, severe financial distress and depression following a disastrous concert tour. Always a mama’s boy, Marvin sat upstairs with his ailing mother Alberta, when they heard a hellacious ruckus down below. Senior was on the first floor, in a rage as he futilely searched for some insurance documents. Marvin called him upstairs, and the Greek tragedy unfolded.
When the father verbally attacked the mother, the good son interceded. The elder’s rage turned from documents to death, and he left briefly, returning with a .38 caliber revolver in hand. Shot one – a bullet through the heart. Shot two – the father leaned over his fallen boy, pointed the gun at point blank range and blasted prone son in the left shoulder, just for good measure. Then the old man went outside, found a seat on the front porch and awaited the police.
At 44, Marvin Gaye, Jr. was suicidal, a fact well known to his family and friends. He’d told those in his inner circle that he was about to exit the world by his own hand, even going so far as to put a gun to his head at least once in the presence of witnesses. He’d tried to overdose on pure cocaine after his 1976 divorce from Anna Gordy, sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy. Eight years later, in the grasp of heavy cocaine use, exorbitant alimony payments and an IRS induced bankruptcy (the government was looking for $2 million in back taxes), the walls were closing in on the greatest soul voice to emerge from the 1960’s pop revolution.
Though his 1982 return to form had brought him great success, it also led to a return to Los Angeles from a self-imposed exile in Belgium. Marvin was defenseless against the entourage that swarmed his house and the drugs which, after a brief cutback, came back in full force. And there was the ongoing psychological struggle between son and father, with the insecure child desperately attempting to prove his worth to a disapproving dad.
At the time he was pronounced dead at 1:01 PM, Marvin’s had nearly completed his new album, one that he hoped would rival Midnight Love as a return to form. Though his sales had dropped pre-“Sexual Healing,” his quality stayed as high as the man himself. Marvin Gaye had produced a non-stop series of excellent LPs after churning out a catalog of hit 45’s during his first decade of recording in the Motown-dominated Detroit that came to be referred to as Hitsville, USA.
Marvin’s 1970’s work was without peer. What’s Going On is the greatest rhythm and blues social statement ever put to plastic. His studio follow-up, Let’s Get It On, is the sex album, nearly melting itself as it spins on the turntable. 1978’s Here My Dear, a painfully personal account of his divorce from Anna set the bar for breakup records. And, his rendition of the National Anthem at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game has gone done as the ultimate version of the hoary chestnut. Watching it live was one of the most exciting musical events I’ve ever witnessed.
Marvin Gaye blazed the trail at Motown as the house artists sought to mature, much to the chagrin of management. It wasn’t without a struggle. In fact, What’s Going On was delayed in its release because the label’s vaunted Quality Control committee felt it was destined to fail. Instead, it became the biggest seller in Motown history, paving the way for Little Stevie Wonder to become plain old Stevie Wonder and embark on his own slate of stellar, profound and relevant records of the 1970’s. No Marvin, no Stevie.
It’s become a cottage industry to bemoan the loss of John Lennon. That’s fine; I share in that sadness. But let’s not forget that, on April 1, 1984, a void was created that, 27 years later, is no closer to being filled. That loss should make us all wanna holler.
VIDEO: Eric and Mary Ross’s Kurzfassung
Composer Eric Ross, with video artist Mary Ross (USA), present a special concert performance at the Lueneberg Festival of New Music, Germany. Eric Ross performs on piano, guitar and synthesizer and is a master of the Theremin, one of the first electronic instruments. Eric’s compositions include elements of jazz, classic, serial, and avant garde. Mary Ross’s videos, projected in performance, are organized, arranged and edited to his music. In an hour-long performance, both artists presented their most recent work, the Boulevard d’Reconstructie, (Op. 54).
Visit: The Music of Eric Ross
March 31, 2011 Comments Off on Jeff Katz/Music
Writer from the Far North
“… Alaska’s modern-day Jack London”
John Elvis Smelcer is one of the founding editors, and poetry editor, of Rosebud magazine, about to release its 50th consecutive quarterly issue in March. Outgoing, energetic and broadly informed, he is the author of some 40 books, hundreds of articles in scores of publications around the world, and thousands of poems. Smelcer is a Clifford D. Clark Fellow in English at Binghamton University in upstate New York. As this issue was ‘going to press’, Smelcer received notice that his new book, Alaskan, in print for only 10 days, won the gold medal for fiction in the 2o11 eLit Awards for the very best ebooks in America. The following interview by e-mail exchange took place in February and March 2011.
— Mike Foldes
Q: When did you get started writing? What was the spark that set you off?
JES: My mother might say I began writing as a seven or eight year old. I wrote a long, 30-page story about elves stealing Christmas way back around 1970 or ’71. I even illustrated it. My mom kept it, and gave it back to me some years ago. I’ve always loved a story (who doesn’t?). But I get letters from people all the time who say they started writing as a child. Heck, we all did. The real question is, when did I decide that instead of reading good literature, I would create it? I didn’t really start writing seriously until the early 1980s when John Gardner and James Michener encouraged me. Michener even encouraged me to double-major in English (I was an anthropology major only at the time). My writing didn’t really kick into gear until the late 1980s.
Q: There was a strong movement of permissiveness in the field of higher education some time ago that may persist even now where professors allowed their students to write anything in any manner without much feedback about what students “should” or “shouldn’t” do to accomplish a certain objective in their writing. The permissiveness came across as a reluctance on the teachers’ parts to influence students to follow in their footsteps, or to assume their style of writing, vs. allowing the student to venture off on their own – like baby turtles struggling to the edge of the sea to Think or Swim. What do you look for in your students’ writing, and just how much do you tell them what they might do to “improve”?
JES: I know of many great writer-teachers who told students it was “Their way or the highway.” One great Iowa-workshop professor comes to mind. It’s a dual-edged sword. On the one hand, I don’t want a student to write the way I do (or the way anyone else does, for that matter). But on the other hand, many students flounder as writers, persisting in defending their right to “write in their own style,” which is sophomoric and unpublishable. As teachers, isn’t it part of our function to guide inexperienced writers toward good writing practices? I know a professor of creative writing who taught for thirty years. At his retirement, he told me, “I’ve graduated an Army of creative writers with MFAs and not one of them ever went on to really become a writer.” Too many graduate students graduate writing exactly the way they did when they began. Don’t students deserve our honest feedback, even when it seems at first to be discouraging news? Don’t we grow from our mistakes?
Q: You write in a lot of different genres. Do you have a favorite, or one that comes more naturally than another?
JPS: It’s funny. I think of myself first as a poet, but that always sounds like saying you’re unemployed. So, nowadays, if someone asks me what I do, I reply, “I’m a novelist.” That seems to impress. However, I always teach students that of all literary genres, we seem to uphold poetry at the pinnacle, which, to my way of thinking is absolutely correct.
Q:What do you think or find is at the core of your writing technique? Does it take you a long time to get into the right frame of mind to write? Do you give yourself, what do they call them, prompts, to get you started?
JES: They say that most writers should create some kind of writing environment, a routine of some sorts. Stephen King, for instance, sits down at his computer at a certain time and for a certain duration, regardless of whether he is productive or not. For me, I go to a coffee house every morning at about the same time. It’s a four minute walk. By the time I sit down, I’m ready to write. It’s a kind of Pavlovian conditioning: “I have successfully written in this place in the past; I shall do so again today.”
Q: How did you happen to know Michener and Gardner? Geographically, weren’t they worlds apart?
JES: My friendship with Michener and Gardner came about in the same semester. I was an undergraduate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where Michener was at the time researching for what later became a world bestseller titled “Alaska”. Though many decades older than me, we became friends, taking lunch together often at the cafeteria in the Wood Center. He read my stories and encouraged me to keep writing. He also gave me a copy of Gardner’s “The Art of Fiction”. During the semester before John Gardner died in a tragic motorcycle accident, I mailed him some of my stories (and some poems) and, in classic Gardner fashion, he generously provided feedback. It was largely because of that connection that I came to Binghamton. Nowadays, I’m friends with his son, Joel, about the same age as I am.
Q: You have an unusual ability to close the six degrees of separation down to two or three. What is it that has enabled you to meet so many people, cover so much ground, and still find time to teach?
JES: As poetry editor and co-publisher of Rosebud magazine, as co-judge of the National Poetry Book Award for a decade, and as guest editor at other journals and magazines, I have communicated with many, many writers. To be honest, I estimate that I have read over 400,000 poems directly submitted to me in the past two decades!
Q: John, you’re the keeper of the fire, so to speak, of the language and culture of your aboriginal forebears. Your accomplishments exhibit a love of life in its many facets that is beyond the realm of understanding for most of us. Where do you get the drive and energy to pursue so many different avenues? Would it be accurate to say what you have done and are doing is a best effort to preserve the history, the heritage, and the memory, of a people?
JES: I’m one of the last dozen or so speakers on Earth of the Ahtna language of Alaska, one of the world’s most endangered languages. Over more than two decades, every elder who spoke pretty much any degree of Ahtna collectively instructed me until I became a living repository of the language. With the help of all those elders, I compiled and published “The Ahtna Noun Dictionary and Pronunciation Guide” in 1998. It is the reason I live. Daily, weekly to be sure, I wake up remembering not only a word some elder taught me, but I can vividly recall the exact moment, hear their voice, smell the moose nose soup simmering on their stove top. Expanding the dictionary with such words is a never-ending process. It will never be finished. The dictionary can be viewed at www.johnsmelcer.com (click on dictionaries). Besides the language, I have done a great deal to document and preserve our culture, especially our traditional myths and stories. I want to leave something behind so others can know the part of our culture that I grew up knowing. Because the handful of other speakers of Ahtna are in their late 70s, 80s, and 90s, I will be the last speaker left within a few years.
Q: What do you say to people who question the authenticity of your heritage, or lineage?
JES: To answer such questions, I have bravely posted official tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs documents on my website. Just last fall, The Ahtna Heritage Foundation sent me a letter in which they thanked me for my continued efforts to preserve our Ahtna language. Indeed, for late 1995 until May 1998, I served as the tribally appointed executive director of that worthy foundation. At the end of my service, the late Ahtna Traditional Chief, Harry Johns, held a special ceremony in Copper Center to designate me a traditional culture bearer, a term usually reserved for elders with immense cultural knowledge. He even presented me with the chieftain beads of the late Chief Jim McKinley. One of the greatest honors of my life was to have served my tribe and to have worked with every living speaker to compile the “Ahtna Noun Dictionary and Pronunciation Guide”.
Q: You mention your brother James “was tormented by years of abuse and despair and shame”. What do you see as the differences between him and you that led him into depression and suicide, while you, with a Caucasian mother, went on against great odds to gain an honored place among the Ahtna people, earn several advanced college degrees, write dozens of books, and, generally speaking, find success as it is widely defined in the Western world?
JES: Do you think it’s okay to re-route this question? Even after 23 years, I don’t talk about my brother’s death. The hurt never goes away.
Q: Your book, “The Edge of Nowhere”, was recognized in the UK as one of The Best Books for 2010, and by Frank McCourt as having “More psychological depth than Robinson Crusoe.” Briefly, what prompted the book, and how long did it take you to write it?
JPS: Edge is doing very well in the English-speaking world outside the US. About 23 years ago, my brother, James Ernest (I called him Ernie) and I went deer and black bear hunting in Prince William Sound. On the first day our boat sank, leaving us marooned on one of the hundreds of islands in the Sound. We survived for a week on whatever we could find: raw mussels and clams, berries, and we caught a salmon, which we ate raw (think sushi). I took that nugget of a story and ran with it, increasing the time, adding a dog, and adding other elements such as dealing with grief and estrangement. A recent radio review in England called it the challenger to Robinson Crusoe’s place in the genre. Cool!
Q: Many people have written about the Yukon/Klondike, notably Jack London and Robert Service. Rod Clark has written that “John Smelcer is by far the best writer to come out of Alaska since Jack London,” and W. P. Kinsella, author of the movie Field of Dreams, wrote that you are “Alaska’s modern day Jack London.” What do you see of these writers in yourself, and what influence did their experiences or styles have on you, and on your writing?
JES: It’s ironic. Jack London is always considered the greatest Alaskan writer for his novels such as “The Call of the Wild” and as well as his short stories, but London never really lived in Alaska. He lived (briefly) in Yukon Territory, Canada. But his stories of man against the unyielding nature of the far north have influenced my own work, especially in my novels, “The Trap”, “The Great Death”, “Edge of Nowhere”, and in my recent short story collection, “Alaskan”. If I am the contemporary Jack London, then I am honored. London is still one of the best-selling authors in the world. I wish I would be so lucky.
Celebrating its 50th issue, Rosebud magazine is one of the nation’s premeire literary journals, distributed internationally on the shelves of over 1,700 Barnes & Nobles and Borders bookstores in the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The Boston Globe once called it “the best literary quarterly in America.” Click on www.rsbd.net to learn more
March 31, 2011 1 Comment
“We are all Khaled Said.”
Think graffiti under fire!
By Hala Salah Eldin Hussein
Albawtaka Review editor
(This article appeared in somewhat different form in Alahram weekly newspaper.)
You don’t come across such eloquent voices of objection every day, not in Egypt anyway. It was the celebration day: February 11, 2011, former vice president Omar Suleiman announced that Hosni Mubarak was to step down from office. Crowds had flocked to Tahrir square, already crammed full of people, to rejoice in their victory.
“Egypt, you are my splendid mother.”
Trying to push my way through throngs of people in jubilant mood in the Square, or rather, swept along with the crowds till I reached the nearest exit on Sheik Rehan St. – you don’t choose where you are heading with a multitude of one million souls in one place – I was struck by these brilliant graffiti, probably woven within earshot of bullets or among tear gas, by unknown citizens.
In random blurry lines, or in brightly professional ones, these artists – probably talented young people who never scribbled graffiti before – have woven paintings that they must have known municipality workers will probably paint away. In fact, they could not even have known for sure whether their demands — now glaring with articulated statements on the wall, screaming to topple the corrupt regime and introduce political liberties and social justice — would be met.
No doubt some of these young artists have been met with beating, massive arrests, and killings. Yet they continued to paint within a short distance of the Ministry of the Interior building. Future retribution was possible, which might explain lack of signatures, whereas several names accompanied those on a wall in Mohamed Mahmoud St. bringing out Egyptians’ joy of freedom in all its splendor.
One graffito remembered Khaled Said, a young man killed by brutal policemen in June 2010, in Alexandria. You could tell that graffitists are internet users, engrossed in the Facebook revolution and social-networking sites since the words “We are all Khaled Said” written in one part of the wall is actually a Facebook group demanding legal action against those guilty of killing the young man. However rural backgrounds can be detected. Rudimentary scenes from the Egyptian country are lucid, too, pigeons, verdancy, country walls, footprints, in all colors, illuminating part of the wall. It’s uncertain when these drawings took place. They must have been drawn in stages, from the first sparkle of protests till the triumph, “He is down,” says one graffito. Another graffito would mark a new post-revolutionary change in Egyptian behavior, “From now on this is YOUR country,” it said. “Don’t throw garbage in the street. Don’t give bribes. Don’t forge documents. Don’t submit to injustice or tyranny. Make a complaint against any service that fails to fulfill its duties.”
One can only imagine how difficult it must have been to smuggle paints and brushes into this turmoil of unprecedented demonstrations. These markings — initials, slogans, and drawings, written, spray-painted, or sketched — are evidence of the artistic spirit of the revolution. Somehow amidst all the clamor and bloodshed, young artists came armed with their brushes and paints, pallid colors and shiny ones, to light up the wall with pride and determination, “Revolution till victory,” one design read, and another, “Hold your head high, you are an Egyptian.” Some designs glorified a particular day, “This is what happened on 25” while others portrayed scenes reminiscent of rural origins. They have expressed gratitude, “Glory to martyrs”; rage, “Leave, NOW” and its future outgrowth, “Seeking revenge for martyrs”; joy, and the longing of joy.
These graffiti, in political perception, were much like statements proclaimed by the leaders of non-violent protest movements. They were mature, vigilant, and passionate, street art forever shedding light upon political spontaneity and patriotism, as in the words, “25 January, oh, how sweet is my country.” They represent the true beat of the streets, all over, free as air, sending a message to all.
About the author:
Hala Salah Eldin Hussein is the editor of Albawtaka Review, an Arabic independent (non-governmental) non-profit online quarterly concerned with translating English short fiction. In January 25, 2011, the Egyptian people went into the streets to topple the regime, and in 18 days, after 30 years, they did it. Says Hussein, “I used to wake up every morning telling myself, ‘This day I’m going to do it. I will topple the regime.’ Now we are free. We are planning to re-build the nation from scratch, and the sky is the limit.” Alahram weekly is only distributed in Egypt.
More photos at: http://albawtaka.com
March 31, 2011 2 Comments
Everything I Knew
A visit to Ghana turns the imagined world
into something unimaginable, and real
Photos and Article by Roscoe Betsill and Steven Keith
Roscoe: Even though I read everything I could get my hands on prior to our trip to Ghana, it was clear, shortly after landing in Accra and approaching customs, that somehow everything I knew was different. There was one line for Ghanaians, another for residents of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and a third much slower moving queue for the All Others – a designation that we as Americans are not accustomed to. Right out of the gate, we were greeted by hawkers offering a wide assortment of wares and services. We were traveling with our host, a very self-possessed Ghanaian woman, who now lives in the states. Pearlene assured all of those vying for our attention that we did not need any of what they had to offer.
It was actually because of Pearlene, that my husband, Steven, and I decided to spend our Christmas holiday in Ghana. She was my late mother’s (extremely over-qualified) home care professional and became a true friend to her and to me. Mom, who passed away a few months ago, had traveled extensively. One of her most memorable and life changing trips was to Ghana, nearly 20 years ago. Traveling to Ghana seemed a good way to spend the holidays and to honor her.
Before heading to Pearlene’s house on the outskirts of Accra in the village of Gbawe, we stopped to check out two hotels that we were considering for later in the week. Even though it was a fairly short distance, because of heavy traffic, it took an hour and a half to get to the other side of town, where we were to spend our first several days. This was by no means a boring voyage. We ended up taking it many times and each time we were thoroughly entertained by the constant parade of vendors, who took full advantage of the slow moving traffic. There were folks selling drinking water, handkerchiefs, homemade plantain chips, peanut butter brittle, pastries, hair care and beauty products, soccer balls, hammers and hatchets, telephones, flashlights, batteries, shoes and shoe brushes almost always piled on trays or on platforms or in small cases – sometimes with doors and glass windows – and these perched and balanced ever so perfectly on the vendor’s heads. I would love to have the posture, not to mention the stamina, to perform such a feat. The street vendors work long hours in the equatorial heat of the day. Because we were there during the holidays, we also saw folks dressed in elaborate costumes and intricately detailed wire mesh masks collecting donations for either charity or next year’s costumes, depending on whom you asked.
Steven: Pearlene’s family compound measures about 40 by 60 meters. When you enter the compound, after enduring the dusty and bumpy ride of the “rough road”, all becomes clean and calm again. The 3-meter high wall on the right is nicely decorated on the inside with small trees set in well-swept red earth. The first of these is half white and half green, the result Pearlene said, of two trees that just happened to collide and soon were inseparable. The ground underneath the car is paved in a smooth mix of rocks and concrete, also swept clean.
Directly ahead was the house boy’s house but we were transfixed by the main house on our left, which was also stucco and featured a wide and deep front porch of cream and tan terrazzo flooring, wide curved steps, and two neo-classical columns. An orange dog had been lying on the cool terrazzo but jumped up as soon as we entered and made her way back toward the house boy’s house. I remembered hearing, on some cable TV dog program, that if all dogs in the world were left to breed on their own, then soon all dogs would be the sort of medium-sized brown dog commonly found in Africa. And here she was! We soon realized that almost all the dogs in Accra looked just like this one. All week we tried to sweet-talk this beautiful bitch into letting us touch her and, while she was intrigued, she never accepted our offer.
Roscoe: Ghanaians are very religious, whether Christian, Moslem or Animist. In the capital, Accra, they tend to be Christian and every manner of business is a means of expressing this. Taxis, hair salons, hardware stores and markets were likely to have names like By His Grace or The Lord’s Venture. Several people we met had names with religious or poetic significance – The pious Delali (there will be a savior), the sweet Sedena (word of God) and the radiantly smiling Sunrise.
When, by the grace of God we finally reached the house, which turned out to be a compound actually, we were seated in the main room and offered glasses of cool water, which is a standard and much appreciated welcoming gesture (it was about 95 degrees, inside and out). We met a number of members of the immediate and extended family, including relatives we met previously in Ohio and the twin brother, Atsu, we had heard so much about. It was a large house and filled with lovely and generous folks. We had taken Pearlene at her word when she said that there was plenty of room and that we would not be an imposition, but I started to wonder. We were then shown to our quarters, which turned out to be a separate house behind the main house with it’s own kitchen, bath, sitting room and a large porch.
Steven: The space between the blazing blue sky above and the orange red-clay ground below was teeming with color, colors of all sorts, but often red, gold, yellow, and green, bright blue, blinding white, and orange, brown, and purple (sometimes all in one jazzy patterned shirt). There was little black or gray to be found, except for the proudly displayed Black Star, found on Ghanaian flags, soccer shirts, and beer bottles. The national colors – gold red, and green – were well represented, such is the real pride the citizens of Ghana take in their 50-year old nation. Large and small adverts for cell phone services, soul-saving churches, promising politicians, and thirst-quenching drinks were all around, hiding the trees and demanding a future. The streets were lined with wooden open-front shops that were filled with everything that one might need or want, including handkerchiefs, snacks, sandals, hand tools, head wraps, light bulbs, disco balls, toilet paper, and small plastic bags that each contained one shot of gin or rum. “Cold Stores” sold water, fruit juices, soda, and beer.
Roscoe: We were fortunate enough to be able to get tickets for the 25th Anniversary concert of the famous High-Life musician Abrantie Amakye Dede. High-Life music fuses traditional African sounds with jazz and soul influences. All of Accra seemed to be there, dressed in its very fine finery, including the former President, John Kufuor. It would have been well worth the price of admission to see this even had there not been performances by several of the nation’s top entertainers.
Steven: We decided to do the most obvious site-seeing first: a visit to the mausoleum of the founding father of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah. In fact there were five more of these founders, who with Nkrumah were called the Big Six; all of them appear on the paper money (cedi notes) in Ghana.
The mausoleum museum was in rather bad shape, having had its maintenance funds slashed by the current free-market-oriented government. This was told to us by the young adults working there as guides; they encouraged us to make donations for the upkeep of this final resting place of their Marxist hero. History is very much alive in Ghana and is being made every day. Perhaps most notable at the Nkrumah Museum, besides the carefully preserved (plastic draped) dormitory furniture used by the great man at Lincoln University, is a bronze statue outside of Nkrumah, which is missing its head and one arm, vandalized during a military coup that ousted him in 1966. While we were there, it was announced that Konadu Rawlings, the wife of the murderous Jerry Rawlings (President from 1981 to 2002) planned to run in the next Presidential election. Upon hearing this, one friend of ours said, “over my dead body”, and this expression seemed more real to us than ever before.
Roscoe: I woke up very early on Christmas morning. There were on-going services at two nearby open-air churches, which I heard clearly from my room. The singing at one was harmonious and a pleasure to listen to (the other service was a bit rough but nonetheless sincere). Roosters crowed and other birds, some singing harmoniously (others less so) always started their songs well before dawn. I walked out into the courtyard where I met Achu, who asked me if I’d ever seen a goat killed.
What a way to start the day. The throat slitting and blood letting was every bit as graphic as you might imagine. I helped with the scraping off of the coat, once it had been sufficiently scorched by the open fire. A lot of the cooking that day was done in the courtyard, where there were a number of braziers set up for a variety of preparations. There was a hearty goat stew that consisted of innards cooked in blood and there was the more appealing -to my taste – goat light soup, tender goat meat simmered in a flavorful broth that was the perfect accompaniment to fufu- cassava and plantain pounded into a paste. I had never managed to taste this staple of West African cuisine. The first mouthful felt very odd, but once I gave in to the texture and coated it with pepper sauce, I was able to enjoy it.
Steven: After the coup, Nkrumah went to live in exile in Guinea, where he was revered not only for his nation-building but also and especially for promoting Pan-Africanism as the only successful way forward for the people of sub-Saharan Africa and of the African Diaspora. Similarly, the great American scholar WEB Du Bois spent his last years in Ghana, a guest of the government. So, off we went to the Du Bois Memorial Centre. A much more modest version of the Nkrumah Mausoleum, this one included an Ashante-style wood pavilion for the tomb and the preservation of Du Bois’ last home. The library there was particularly compelling, with wood louvered shutters on the window and wood shelves filled with books by African writers from all over the world, including Du Bois’ extraordinary Encyclopedia Africana, which he was working on when he died. The young man working there, a scholar himself, earnestly recited one of Du Bois’ most famous speeches at the gravesite and it was hard to imagine a similar heartfelt performance by an American college student.
Roscoe: We considered taking a long and potentially uncomfortable bus ride to the coastal towns of Cape Coast and Elmina, each featuring a fort at which many thousands of people, who were captured and enslaved, were held captive awaiting their journey to the new world. At Pearlene’s suggestion we hired a car and driver and with the charming company of her daughter Ama and friend Sara, we were able to make much better use of our time. On the way, we visited the splendid tropical rainforest Kakum National Park. It was breathtaking to take the canopy walk, a network of wood and rope bridges suspended between trees at a height of 40 meters above the forest floor. Being able to drink the juice of a freshly macheted coconut was a fitting recompense for having completed the journey. We went on to Cape Coast and had a delicious lunch of freshly grilled tilapia, snapper and lobster with banku, a fermented cassava and corn meal mixture steamed in a banana leaf that I found irresistible, at the Mighty Victory Hotel. By now we were accustomed to the fact that in Ghanaian restaurants everything is prepared to order. We were well rewarded for our patience.
On to the coast of this fishing village there were fisherman untangling nets, vendors and a bustle of activity that one might have seen a century or 2 or 3 ago. The Cape Coast Fort above was a foreboding structure with canons perched along its perimeter. It was not until we arrived there that I realized that one of my Mom’s favorite photos from her trip to Ghana, of her with her arms around 2 young boys, was taken there. I shuddered a bit, but shuddered more as I experienced being in the dungeon with only the slightest glimmer of light coming in, and again as I passed through the ‘door of no return’. I had a moment of prayerful meditation for ancestors who passed through these gates. I am extremely grateful to have had this experience, painful though it was.
We spent our last few days at The Golden Tulip, in a fancy hotel in the center of town. I enjoyed the swimming pool each morning, up to the point that I found it occupied by carpenters who constructed an impromptu fashion runway and dance floor over the pool for what was to be a spectacular New Years Eve bash. At the splashy bash, we wore shirts that Pearlene’s sister-in-law’s tailor had made for us, after surreptitiously sizing us up when we had gone to her house for a visit.
The people we shared our time with in Ghana were extremely generous with us – giving of their time, their knowledge, their kindness and their good humor. I have rarely felt more welcome – anywhere. Weeks later, I am still feeling the glow.
Better to drink gin …
Yes, one needs to be very careful with the water. We only drank bottled water and we were careful about eating salads or any uncooked food, likely to be washed in water unsafe for foreigners. Our hostess made her ice cubes from bottled water. And the hotel had potable water throughout. But out at a bar or restaurant, one is advised to just avoid ice. Most places serve juices, soda, and mixers from bottles straight out of the fridge, so ice is not needed anyway.
The locals drink ‘purified’ water that is sold in sealed plastic bags (see photo). Our Ghanaians friends advised us against drinking it, as some of these bags were likely to have been filled up from the tap at home. As it is hot most days, some people enjoy a nice cold beer in the afternoon, bought from a Cold Store. There were also these nifty little one shot plastic bags of booze – gin or rum – that sold for about 25 cents!
About the travelers:
Roscoe Betsill (left) is a New York-based food stylist, recipe developer and writer. His clients include The New York Times, Bon Appetit, O (the Oprah Magazine), and Field and Stream. His web site is: www.roscoebetsill.com
Steven Keith is an architect and political activist. He’s been married to Roscoe for one-and-a-half years, but has known him for over 19 years.
They have a red dog named Ruby, and divide their time between New York City and the Hudson Valley.
March 31, 2011 Comments Off on Ghana/Travel
The garden at Soekershof
Jody Joyner’s Land Art & The Amazing
Botanical Gardens of South Africa
With Yvonne de Wit & Herman van Bon
In the narrow meaning of the word, a nest is the spot in which birds lay their egg(s) and hatch. In the Germanic languages it is also used as a name for a sleeping spot or a place where two lovers please each other. In the more natural sense of the word, ‘nest’ means ‘house’. And at home you feel yourselves at home in your own protected surroundings or shelter. People nowadays have simply attached themselves to comfort which modern technology offers us and that actually detaches them from the natural surroundings.
Why then not a nest made of natural material from its own surroundings? Simply to attach to the vicissitudes of nature and to repair your own ecobalans?
This idea is the basis with which Land Art artist Jody Joyner from Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A., has been playing from the end of December at Soekershof; Private Mazes & Botanical Gardens in South Africa, also named Green Cathedral of South Africa.
JOYNER LAND ART
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Joyner recently completed work on a giant nest (woven of hibiscus twigs) at Soekershof, in Robertson, Western Cape. She was inspired by the numerous weaver bird nests in the old stretch of the Klaas Voogds River, which runs through the gardens.
A studio art major from Tucson, Ariz., she was awarded a Thomas J. Watson Foundation fellowship for her project, “The Art of Place: Where We Are.” She is traveling to the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, Japan, and Canada to study how artists visually convey their perceptions of, and connections to, the natural world, how their artwork reflects knowledge of local geographies, and whether art cultivates a sense of place.
Before beginning work at Soekershof in December 2010, she was involved in Landartgenerator in Dubai and a project in the Louvre in Paris. From South Africa she will fly first to Australia to be involved in a project with aboriginals, and from there she will create an object with Inuit in the North of Canada. Her assignment in South Africa was part of Land Art project in South Africa, an initiative of Soekershof, a private initiative without governmental grants and/or subsidies.
Green Cathedral of South Africa
View larger photos from the gallery please enter the FS button.
About the gardeners: Yvonne de Wit & Herman van Bon
Who we (me and my wife Yvonne) are? Well, best is to google ‘soekershof’ or ‘green cathedral of south africa’. Be aMAZed and feel Welcome. We don’t pretend to be scientists (we just make use of those in a mutual beneficial way) and we are considered as ‘weird’ by some of our neighbours.
OK, visiting Soekershof is a bit of a whimsical experience, but also the proof that a garden does not have to be “boring”. It’s entertaining with a very serious undertone.
And what more: there is an outdoor collection of over 2500 different, registered, species/subspecies/cultivars/etc. of succulent plants from all over the world and we are very proud of that.
It also explains why representives of the SANBI gardens (Kirstenbosch, Karoo, etc.) in South Africa do not want to know about us, but we play nicely with some university gardens, nurseries and collectors around the globe.
You are Welcome!
For more information: http://soekershoflandart.wordpress.com/
March 31, 2011 Comments Off on Land Art Project/S. Africa
Review: Dhobi Ghat
By Zaira Rahman
Dhobi Ghat is a short movie – barely 90 minutes of an interesting work of art. The movie is written and directed by Kiran Rao. It was her first effort as a director. She has worked immensely hard on the details, and the script is definitely one of the strongest parts of the movie.
The film is about four characters belonging to different social classes. All of them get a chance to interact with each other in different circumstances in Mumbai. The movie revolves around their interactions and how their relationships will develop, even though they belong to very different social classes.
Aamir Khan plays the role of Arun — a renowned painter and recluse. Arun keeps to himself, not even making appearances at his own exhibitions. Aamir Khan, one of the most talented actors of Indian cinema, is Rao’s husband and producer of the film. He didn’t disappoint his fans in this portrayal, brilliantly essaying the role of a reclusive painter by delivering extremely natural dialogue that sets him apart from tmany other actors in India who are way too loud, flashy and commercial.
Prateik on the other hand is a poor dhobi guy — Munna. He works in the dhobi ghat (an open air laundromat) during the day, and as a rat at killer at night to earn extra money. But he likes to work out, dress up well and dreams of working in Hindi movies. Munna seems to be a Salman Khan fan – as he worked out regularly, there was a Salman Khan poster in his house and he also wore a replica bracelet, similar to what Salman Khan wears in both his real and reel life. Prateik is a born artist and truly represents the fact that acting runs in his blood. Like his parents Smita Patel and Raj Babbar – he delivers dialogues in a natural flow and gives apt expressions as and when required. Although he portrays the role of a poor boy, his character is quite sorted out and hard working from the beginning till the end.
Monica Dogra plays the role of an American banker (Shai) who has come to Mumbai while taking break from work. She belongs to an elite family. She believes in equality and becomes friendly with Munna despite their huge class difference. She asks Munna to show her the dhobi ghat and other places so that she could photograph them. She and Arun have a few romantic sparks. Arun, however, becomes agitated quickly before their relationship could go any further and there a gap develops between the two. Shai does think that there is an unfinished business between them and wants to sort things out. Monica Dogra’s character is an integral part of the movie, but her over all screen presence and appearance is not that memorable. Though as you watch the movie, you do get used to seeing her.
The fourth character is played by Kriti Malhotra – another new comer. She plays the role of Yasmin. Arun finds a few tapes in his new flat in which he sees Yasmin talking to her family. She was a young girl who recently got married, missed her family a lot and was always alone. Arun is inspired by her natural way of expressing things. He felt her emotions, her pain, her loneliness and tried to understand her life through her tapes. Yasmin lived in the same flat in which Arun lives now. Kriti Malhotra had a very inartificial way of conversing. The way she goes on talking about the things that we often ignore in our daily lives is very thought provoking.
For Kiran Rao’s first directorial work she did well. The story and the script were quite well thought out. Aamir and Prateik were fantastic to watch. Though before the movie was released, it was promoted that it is Prateik’s film, but if you watch closely, almost all the characters are equally important. The girls were relatively unknown actresses and performed well in this niche film. The cast selection was impressive, as each actor did a good job of portraying his or her class. “Dobi Ghat” is a clean movie, and not at all commercial. Most art film fans and people who look for movies with some depth will like it.
About the reviewer:
Zaira Rahman is the author of “Pakistani Media: The Way Things Are”, available through Amazon.com, and “If Mortals Had Been Immortals & Other Short Stories.” Rahman is a writer, blogger and human & animal rights activist in Karachi, Pakistan. She writes frequently about Bollywood film productions.
March 31, 2011 Comments Off on FILM/Bollywood Report
“Artworks That Represent Women
As They See Themselves”
Photographer Guenter Knop was born in Germany in 1954. He began his commercial career working as first assistant to photographer Charlotte March, in Hamburg, from 1979-1981. After a year of travel around the world, he came to the United States to work as first assistant to Henry Wolf, Henry Wolf Productions, where he continued to build a commercial portfolio doing television commercials, still lifes, catalogues, portraits and advertising. Since 1989, he has conducted his own business as a commercial photographer for advertising, cosmetics and editorial. His resume includes dozens of exhibitions and scores of publications. His photographic and artistic love is the female nude. The following interview was conducted in an e-mail exchange in February and March 2011.
— Mike Foldes
Knop on Knop:
Twenty-five years ago I was asked by the world famous art director Henry Wolf to come to New York and work for him. I left Germany and built a new life in New York City which includes two daughters, Camille and Caroline. Today, Kristin and Maximilian.
After assisting Henry Wolf for eight years I went on my own. Commercial work of different kinds paid the bills, but my focus has always been on the female nude. The concept stayed the same. I wanted my subjects to be real women — not models.
Nudity can be a touchy subject and at first it was hard to find volunteers. Soon I had a selection of photographs to show, which made it easier for women to understand my intentions. When I meet or see a women that I think would be a good subject, I hand out my card and briefly explain the concept. They can visit me or my gallery’s website and see for themselves.
The response has always been favorable.
I compiled all the pictures that are with collectors in one book. “Guenter Knop on Women”. This is a book about women for women!!! Sixteen people of different backgrounds volunteered to write comments about what they see in my book.
My goal is and will always be to photograph real women for their own display and to convert ideas into artworks that represent women as they see themselves.
Q: The work in your Art portfolio comes across strong and focused on taking the human form, primarily female, and creating vexing images. When and how did you discover the power of photography to capture your erotic imaginings?
GK: My father instilled the love of photography in me. Like many parents’ fate, the children will follow the path that the parents would love to have taken.
I am what my father wanted to be.
My mother wanted to be a vet. My sister is. My other sister travels all over the world and leads people to amazing places — a joy that my parents shared.
As a child I saw “photomagazin”, a German photography monthly. Mesmerized by the beauty of my aunt Hella, who was very, very pretty and running around me naked when she got ready for a date, I started enjoying the female body. Looking at my work, my father only criticized once for showing too much. This stayed with me until today. The privacy has nothing to do with a nude. The architectural elements I added later and got encouragement from Achim Moeller, an art dealer in New York. With every woman that volunteered, I got more excited to pursue this way of portraying women. My wife and muse is a good example of a good combination between the photographer and his model.
Q: Guenter, you have a beautiful family. Thanks for sharing this photo. When did you come to the states, and did you meet your wife here?
GK: I have two lives. My first one is in the past and won’t be discussed.
I came in 1982 to be hired by my mentor and friend Henry Wolf (art director and photographer). I worked for him for about 10 years.
In that time I started a bad relationship which created two very smart young girls and ended in a disaster out of which my wife Kristin saved me. I don’t think I could have survived without her. We have Maximilian, our beautiful son, and building our lives together. I met Kristin, like all my models, on the streets of Manhattan (53rd Street and Lexington Ave) . She was born in upstate New York to a black mom and a white father. Part of her family is in San Francisco and the other still in upstate New York.
Not only was I excited about Kristin as a model but also as a rep for my art. She understands me and my work. From the moment we met she worked hard to update my website and expose me to the internet. Getting to know my circumstances she left me just to decide later to continue to work with and for me. Out of this developed a relationship where we both realized that we had what the other was longing.
That is what made us decide to stay together and have Maximilian.
Q: Do you have an academic background in the arts or photography?
GK: No, I am an autodidact. When I quit studying Agriculture I went to the best fashion photographer at that time and asked her to assist. She agreed and from then on it was learning the trade.
Q: I notice you say you will shoot digital or film. A lot of photographers these days say film is too expensive to reproduce for digital imaging (scanning cost, etc.), and too slow (hours for results vs. immediate), especially when clients want to see their product “on the spot”. How much demand do you see in the commercial world for film? What do you shoot ‘for fun’?
GK: Digital or Analog is not a choice. My art is done on film. I like the grain and what you can do with film for example double exposures.
I tried to get the grain of the images of Drtikol (ed. note: FrantišekDrtikol, Czech photographer, March 3, 1883 January 13, 1961), but could not get it as sharp as he did. So with every period there is something gained and something lost.
Q: Do you have a preference for printers when you’re doing digital reproduction?
GK: When I saw my printers first try to print one of my Art Deco pieces I was amazed!!!! It had all the detail in the black and all in the light parts of the picture. I promised myself I will never ever suffer through a day of bad fumes in a darkroom. I gave up a $12,000 machine and I am happy. I shoot film (35 mm) and scan it on my Imacon scanner. Then my printer prints it digital on Hahnemuhle paper on an Epson 43-inch huge printer. For my taste that is perfect.
For clients I shoot only digital. They have different expectations and time concerns.
Besides, digital has advantages. It is very sharp and instant. Connected to your camera via computer the client can see the result instantly. Soon there will be cameras that run consistently so you just stop the camera and pick your picture. The postproduction is tedious.
Film is not expensive if you know what you are doing. If you shoot 10 rolls of film on one position you should not photograph. If you don’t have it in 36 frames you don’t get it in 360. Yes, it take time to develop the film and scan it, but for that you get a different look. You can’t rush a good thing.
Q: What kind of camera(s) do you use? Which do you prefer? Any preference for lighting?
GK: I always liked and used Canon cameras. I love Elinchrome and Norman lighting.
What I like is when the composition and the lighting leads your eyes to the point of focus. I like contrast in pictures so you feel the three dimensions . In most cases I don’t like flat lit pictures. The master of light in my eyes is Horst P. Horst . His work lives through his lighting. But also Herb Ritts , Frantisek Drtikol, Mappelthorpe, Man Ray and a man that very few people know, Aubrey Bodine.
Q: Do you have other creative outlets, besides photography and family? For example, painting, music, etc.?
GK: Inspiration I get from going to galleries and museums . For example, the W. Turner show at the Metropolitan Museum inspired me to do two pictures with my muse and wife.
I myself don’t paint or play an instrument but I enjoy a lot of different styles. I listen to Classical music, Jazz, Reggae, Bues, French music, Mexican music, Cuban music and Rock and Roll.
Q: Do you have any advice for younger people who want to pursue careers in photography?
GK: My advice for younger people is: If you like photography learn Graphic Design. Photography is only a tool and the tool does not need very many skills today.
Digital made photography easy and instant. For what it is used and what is expected you can’t make a living with it. The combination of graphic design and photography has a future. Even better when you learn film direction. In the future you won’t have single shot cameras but movie cameras that will take a sequence of movements that you can freeze and you select the picture out of it. Graphic design gives you the opportunity to present your photography in a way that is right in your eyes. If you are good, you will be successful.
Going back to pinhole cameras or even glass plates is a gimmick to sell (most of the time) images that are not even worth shooting with a Polaroid camera. That is the same as if you walk from Boston to New York on your hands. Hard work for what? Nobody cares.
Seeing women as they see themselves...
Guenter Knop/Seeing Women
Seeing women as they see themselves...
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For more of Guenter Knop’s works, and information about the photographer, please visit:
March 31, 2011 4 Comments
Food for Thought
By Sophia Brittan (foodie) & Emma Piper-Burket (filmie)
Copyright the contributors/Used with permission
We decided to write our Twice is Nice Column as a Food for Thought, instead of as our usual blog. The recipe we made, Corzetti con Maggiorana e Pinoli, came from The Geometry of Pasta by Jacob Kenedy and Caz Hildebrand. The dish is a simple combination of “corzetti”, which resemble embossed coins, with butter, pine nuts, and marjoram leaves. According to the book, this Ligurian pasta shape dates back to the 14th Century, and was shaped with hand-carved wood stamps, usually of the family coat of arms. I must be honest and admit that I outsourced this recipe to my grandmother, as I had too many things on my plate (pun intended), and needed some help last week. We had some whole wheat penne in our cupboard, and so that is what we used instead of the corzetti. I later learned that Emma put me to shame (see below). My grandmother followed the recipe exactly, and the results were delicious. Marjoram is a particularly strong herb. It is not something subtle that merely enhances a dish, but rather dominates whatever it seasons. Though it can be combined with thyme, oregano, and a few other Mediterranean herbs, I usually see marjoram on its own. The pinenuts were a good match for the herb, and though the sauce was light and simple, the flavors were strong and forthright.
Emma’s Notes (pictured): We made a night out of this recipe and made the pasta at home. My boyfriend came over iwth some wood-carving tools and carved a stamp out of a piece of firewood so that I could emboss the pasta discs. It worked amazingly well, though we only embossed the pasta on one side and not two. The pasta turned out a bit hearty, but it was a hit nonetheless. . . we ate it with Caesar Salad and beets from our friend’s garden.
Emma and Sophia met in their first year Arabic class at Georgetown University in 2001. Being the only two people in the class without a Middle Eastern background, they bonded over their inexplicable love of Arab culture. In the years following, they ventured to desert oases, went bowling on the Nile, and drank avocado juice with honey and cream by the Mediterranean Sea. After graduation, Emma turned her focus to film, and was off to Greece to direct her first movie. Meanwhile, Sophia decided to go to New York City to attend culinary school and study nutrition. In the fall of 2006, they found themselves together again, and were inspired to combine their passions. The result of this collaboration is Kitchen Caravan. Taste more at http://www.kitchencaravan.com.
March 31, 2011 Comments Off on Kitchen Caravan/Food
Chained by Law
Excerpt from the novel Cronica Teodoreştilor/Chronicle of a Lost World
Translated by Loredana Andreea Matei
University of Bucharest
* * *
On a bright and sunny day, in the early autumn of 1950, when each Romanian, breathless, expected the Americans’ arrival, and Groza Dej’s days seemed more numbered than ever, Stelian’s Teodorescu, a former inspector of the Cooperation Institute who retired before the end of the war and moved to the countryside for good, received an unexpected letter from Bucharest letting him know that, since he owned 10 hectares of land that he worked with sharecroppers, the so-called Ministry of Labour and Social Provisions, by means of a special committee formed only for this purpose, decided to cancel his right to retirement pension.
After he had folded up the document, whey-faced, Stelian Teodorescu had watched his wife without uttering a single word, then stood up slowly from his chair and went out of the house. For the first time in a long time, he urgently felt the need to smoke a cigarette, but as he had quit smoking before it became habit, he made do by merely breathing deep the cool air of evening. Walking quietly, he headed for the fence. He nodded at his neighbour who stood by the front gate, as if waiting to start a conversation with someone, then headed backwards to the other side of the yard, where a barn was under construction, filled with memories, but almost redundant for the last years since mandatory agricultural taxes were imposed. Incidentally, he glanced at the barren place nearby where a long time ago there was Fănel Trifu’s old house, an orphan boy who overnight had sold his small fortune and was lost trace of somewhere in Bucharest. In his turn, the new owner hurried himself to destroy the decrepit house, but did not hurry to build a new one for reasons known only to himself.
He stopped near the massive, gnarled trunk of an old mulberry tree, which was there forty years ago when he had gotten married and come as a young teacher in Vărăşti, Elvira’s native village. Stelian Teodorescu leaned one hand against the barrier fence and looked faraway to the barren place — empty and sad as a graveyard and over which, once evening came, the bats had begun to fly freely. The unexpected trouble which ended the summer and the quiet period of the last five to six years, time in which he had gotten used to his retired life, saddened him as much as got him worried. He had thought many times of the inconveniences he might have had with the “comrades” who ruled the country and brought in their political regime riding on Soviet tanks, but had not really imagined that his trouble would be caused by the very patches of land scattered in four villages — in the Argeş and Sabar river meadow — that all in one place meant not even a quarter of real estate. For decades these places had been given to work “in part” and never had the people who worked them shown any complaint about anything; quite the contrary, year after year they were the ones who had asked to be allowed to work those lands, a sign that they were earning money. Moreover, he had been very indulgent when, on the more distant lots, the wheat and maize crops had arrived to Vărăşti in a smaller quantity than had been previously arranged through agreement or contracts. And now, those who unexpectedly hit him, were pleading for these very lands from which those men who willingly offered their “manpower” had gained plenty of benefits, and who had no reason to complain that things did not go right. The truth was that until then, he himself, Stelian Teodorescu, had felt somewhat sheltered, as he had never taken the side of any of the governing parties in the ’20s or ’30s, nor was he the man of Carol the Second or Antonescu, never minding about anything but his own job for the state’s benefit.
Distressed and wracking his mind trying to think if who was to blame so that he could better understand what was about to happen to him, he was startled by a nearby noise. Moving from the fence, he turned around and cast his eyes over Aphsint, his dog, who had lain in the grass at his feet and stared at him with his moist eyes, as if it understood what tormented his soul and wanted to do something to help him, if it could. His large head with his long black ears and nose gave him a solemn and respectable look of a shepherd dog devoted to his master.
“Did you come to see if I use my hands to lean on this fence?” the man said to him, forgetting for a moment that he had to be careful of what he said even in his own house. Then he immediately began to cough hard and explore the surroundings, but no one seemed to be nearby, to hear his unwise words. “Go under the shed, Absinth!” he added in a hurry, intentionally raising his voice and saying its name low-voiced. From behind the quinces and the plums, which grew on the limed, tinkered grooves of the neighbour’s fence, he heard a short bark, followed by an oath. Then a relative silence covered the whole place, and Absinth left with his head down to sprawled under the barn’s roof with his head on his feet.
About ten years ago, in spring, one of the people who worked their land had brought to them a young shepherd dog, with black hard palate and cut tail. Elvira, with her endless birthday grace, together with her son Virgil, had decided to call him Stalin, to their friends’ and neighbours’ amusement. In the village alleys, then, marched the well-armed Wermacht’s troops, while the war in the East was about to begin so that the name of the Bolshevik dictator in the Kremlin seemed proper for a dog in Romania. Even some of Virgil’s friends, who had whelps at their homes, finding this gesture appropriate and spiritual, had followed his example in their turn. Stalin’s name became in this way to have a double meaning: dog, literally and figuratively. However, several years later, when the frightening roar of the Soviet tanks was heard on the streets of Romanian capital, what seemed to be appropriate and spiritually suddenly became inappropriate and stupid, and many of the quadrupeds Stalins were taken and slaughtered in the bottom courts. Meanwhile, on the road that until recently resonated with sound of German boots, were walking the Ivans who loved vodka and Kalashnikov. When it did not stink, the release could happen to break your eardrums or to make your skull feel like it had been smashed. As far as he was concerned, Virgil had spared the life of the poor quadruped, calling him by his new name, Absinth. The new name had been adopted quickly and intelligently by the dog, as he hadn’t grown so old that he couldn’t adapt to the times in a rapid and hallucinatory movement. Only the neighbours and close acquaintances used to snigger when they heard the Teodorescu family calling the dog by his new name. And the truth was that its new name was a perfect disguise of the old one, now inappropriate and dangerous.
When he returned home, Stelian found his wife asleep besides the lit lamp with the medicine bottle on the night table, and a small Bible, which for the last couple of years she read from before bedtime. He looked at her old face, tired of worries. The woman had trouble breathing, and in her dream called on their small daughter Cristiana, who died in Bucharest after the bombing from 4th April 1944.
ÎNLĂNŢUIT DE LEGE
Într-o zi însorită de la începutul toamnei anului 1950, când toată România aştepta cu sufletul la gură venirea americanilor, iar zilele regimului Groza-Dej păreau mai numărate decât oricând, lui Stelian Teodorescu, fost inspector în Institutul Cooperaţiei, retras din activitate înainte de sfârşitul războiului şi stabilit definitiv la ţară, îi parveni pe neaşteptate o scrisoare de la Bucureşti, prin care i se aducea la cunoştinţă că, întrucât era posesorul a zece hectare de pământ, pe care le lucra cu „braţe salariate”, ministerul zis al muncii şi al prevederilor sociale, prin intermediul unei comisii special constituite, luase decizia de a-i anula dreptul la pensie.
După ce împăturise la loc documentul, palid la faţă, Stelian Teodorescu îşi privise soţia fără să spună nimic, apoi se ridicase încet de pe scaun şi ieşise afară din casă. Pentru prima dată după multă vreme simţea imperios nevoia de a pufăi dintr-o ţigară, dar cum se lăsase definitiv de fumat înainte de a deveni un fumător inveterat, se mulţumi să tragă adânc în piept aerul răcoros al serii. Cu paşi lipsiţi de grabă se îndreptă spre gardul de la drum. Răspunse cu o înclinare din cap la salutul unui vecin, care stătea în faţa porţii aşteptând parcă să înceapă o conversaţie cu cineva, apoi o apucă înapoi spre partea din dos a curţii, unde se înălţa construcţia solidă a unui pătul, plin pe vremuri, dar devenit aproape de prisos în ultimii ani, de când fuseseră instituite cotele agricole obligatorii. În treacăt, privirile îi căzură pe locul viran de alături, unde până de curând se înălţase casa bătrânească a lui Fănel Trifu, un flăcău tomnatic fără părinţi, care peste noapte îşi vânduse bruma de avut şi îşi făcuse pierdute urmele pe undeva prin Bucureşti. La rându-i, noul proprietar se grăbise să dărâme ruina de casă, dar nu se arăta deloc grăbit să construiască alta, din motive numai de el ştiute.
Oprindu-se lângă trunchiul zgrunţuros şi masiv al unui dud bătrân – care era deja mare şi în urmă cu patruzeci de ani, când se însurase şi venise, ca tânăr învăţător, în Vărăşti, satul natal al Elvirei – , Stelian Teodorescu se sprijini cu o mână de gardul despărţitor şi rămase cu privirea pierdută spre locul viran de alături – pustiu şi trist ca un cimitir – peste care, o dată cu umbrele serii, începuseră să zboare în voie liliecii. Neprevăzutul necaz cu care se sfârşea vara şi perioada oarecum mai liniştită a ultimilor cinci-şase ani, timp în care avusese răgazul de a se deprinde cu noua viaţă de pensionar, îl întrista tot atât de mult pe cât îl îngrijora. De câte ori se gândise la neplăcerile pe care le-ar fi putut avea cu „tovarăşii” care veniseră la cârma ţării şi cu regimul lor politic adus pe tancurile sovietice nu-şi imaginase în mod serios că ele s-ar fi putut să-i fie pricinuite tocmai de acele petice de pământ risipite prin vreo patru sate – în lunca Argeşului şi a Sabarului – care toate la un loc nu însemnau nici măcar cât un sfert dintr-o adevărată moşie. De zeci de ani aceste locuri fuseseră date la lucru „în parte” şi niciodată oamenii care le munciseră nu se arătaseră nemulţumiţi de ceva, chiar dimpotrivă, an după an ei fuseseră cei care ceruseră să li se dea să lucreze pe mai departe acele pământuri, semn că socoteala le convenea. Mai mult, el închisese ochii cu îngăduinţă atunci când de pe loturile mai îndepărtate recoltele de grâu şi de porumb ajunseseră la Vărăşti mai mici decât ceea ce era stabilit prin învoială ori prin contracte. Şi iată că cei care îl loveau acum pe neaşteptate invocau în mod justiţiar tocmai aceste pământuri, de pe urma cărora nişte oameni care îşi ofereau benevol „braţele salariate”, avuseseră destule foloase de tras şi nici un motiv de a se plânge că lucrurile n-ar fi mers aşa cum trebuie. Adevărul era că până atunci el, Stelian Teodorescu, se simţise oarecum la adăpost, căci nu făcuse niciodată politică militantă în serviciul vreunui partid de guvernământ din anii ’20 ori ’30 şi nici nu fusese omul lui Carol al II-lea ori al lui Antonescu, văzându-şi în mod onest de slujba lui la stat şi atât.
Pe când se frământa astfel, scormonindu-şi mintea, ca să-şi descopere vreo vină, care să justifice ceea ce era pe cale să i se întâmple, tresări auzind un zgomot prin preajmă. Clintindu-se din locul de lângă gard, întoarse capul şi dădu cu ochii de câinele Pelin, care se întinsese la picioarele lui în iarbă şi îl fixa cu ochii săi umezi, de parcă ar fi înţeles ce griji îl apăsau pe suflet şi ar fi vrut să-i fie cu ceva de folos, de s-ar fi putut. Capul mare cu urechi ciulite şi bot negru prelung îi dădeau o înfăţişare solemnă şi respectabilă de câine ciobănesc devotat stăpânului.
– Şi tu ai venit să vezi dacă nu mă folosesc de braţe salariate, ca să mă sprijin de gardul ăsta, mă, Stalin? îi vorbi omul, uitând pentru câteva clipe că trebuia să fie atent la ce spune, chiar şi la el acasă. Apoi imediat el începu să tuşească tare şi să cerceteze împrejurimile, dar nimeni nu părea să se afle prin apropiere, ca să-i audă vorbele nu tocmai prudente. Marş sub şopron, Pelin! se grăbi să adauge, ridicând intenţionat glasul şi rostind apăsat numele Pelin. Din dosul gutuilor şi al prunilor, care creşteau pe lângă ulucile spoite cu var ale vecinului din cealaltă parte a locului viran, răsună un hămăit scurt, urmat de o sudalmă a cuiva, apoi se aşternu o linişte relativă, iar Pelin se retrase ascultător sub acoperişul pătulului, unde rămase tolănit şi cu capul pe labe.
Cu vreo zece ani mai înainte, când unul din oamenii care le lucrau pământul le adusese, într-o primăvară, un pui de câine ciobănesc, cu cerul gurii negru şi cu coada retezată, Elvira, cu nesfârşitul ei har onomastic, împreună cu fiul său Virgil, se grăbiseră să-l boteze Stalin, spre amuzamentul cunoscuţilor şi al vecinilor. Pe uliţele comunei mărşăluiau pe atunci trupele bine înarmate ale Wermacht-ului, în vreme ce războiul din Răsărit stătea să înceapă, astfel că numele dictatorului bolşevic de la Kremlin părea tocmai bun să fie purtat de un câine din România. Ba chiar câţiva dintre prietenii lui Virgil, care aveau pe acasă căţelandri, găsind oportun şi spiritual gestul, se grăbiseră la rândul lor să îi urmeze exemplul. Numele Stalin ajunsese astfel, pentru o vreme, să aibă o semnificaţie dublă: câine, la propriu şi la figurat. Câţiva ani mai târziu însă, când tancurile sovietice aveau să-şi facă auzit huruitul de şenile puţin încurajator pe străzile capitalei României, ceea ce păruse oportun şi spiritual devenise deodată inoportun şi stupid şi mulţi dintre stalinii patrupezi ai satului fuseseră în grabă luaţi şi căsăpiţi prin fundul curţilor. În acest timp, pe şoseaua pe care răsunaseră până nu de mult cizmele nemţeşti se scurgeau ivanii cei iubitori de vodcă şi de Kalaşnikov. Când nu duhnea, eliberarea se putea întâmpla să-şi spargă timpanele sau să-ţi găurească scăfârlia. În ceea ce-l privea, Virgil cruţase viaţa bietului patruped, rebotezându-l în grabă cu inocentul nume de Pelin. Noul nume fusese adoptat rapid şi cu inteligenţă de către câine, care nu apucase să îmbătrânească atât de mult, încât să nu se mai poartă adapta vremurilor în rapidă şi halucinantă schimbare. Doar vecinii şi cunoştinţele apropiate ori rudele mai zâmbeau cu subînţeles, atunci când îi auzeau pe cei din familia Teodorescu strigându-şi câinele pe noul său nume. Şi adevărul era că acel nou nume îl disimula perfect pe cel vechi, devenit inoportun şi primejdios.
Când reveni în casă, Stelian îşi găsi soţia adormită, cu lampa aprinsă alături pe masă şi cu flaconul de medicamente pe noptieră, alături de o Biblie mică, din care îşi făcuse în ultimii ani obiceiul să citească înainte de culcare. Preţ de câteva clipe, el îi privi chipul obosit de bătrâneţe şi de griji. Femeia respira anevoios şi articula prin somn numele Cristianei, fata lor mai mică, moartă la Bucureşti, în urma bombardamentului de la 4 aprilie 1944.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daniel Dragomirescu (born in Bucharest, in 1952) is a Romanian writer, literary criticist and journalist. Member of Writers’ Union of Romania (Uniunea Scriitorilor din România, USR). Published books: The Last Minstrel and Other Stories / Cel din urmă rapsod şi alte povestiri (2002); novels: Nothing New Behind the Iron Curtain / Nimic nou după Cortina de Fier (2003), Chronicle of a Lost World /Cronica Teodoreştilor (2008) etc. Published articles and short stories in cultural and literary magazines from Romania and some other countries. Nomination to annual literary prizes of USR Iaşi in 2009 for the novel Chronicle of a Lost World. Editor-in-chief of “Contemporary Literary Horizon”, a multicultural magazine, published in Romanian, English and Spanish languages.
Read Dragomiresscu’s review of Elfriede Jelinek’s The Piano Player, in Books/Reviews .
View larger photos from the gallery please enter the FS button.
ALBERT DORSA, Photographer
Albert Dorsa, a 30-year resident of St. Croix, has never strayed far from the arts. A lifetime photographer and designer, he’s been involved in projects ranging from publishing a magazine to patenting an invention to recently hanging a camera from a very large kite to make aerial photographs with a radio-controlled device, which he built. Currently, Al is using a technique called High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography that blends multiple exposures of the same scene to recover detail lost in shadows or highlights. Usually three or more exposures ranging from underexposed to overexposed are combined using special software to create the effects you see in his imagery.
These photographs appeared in the 24th Annual Caribbean Fine Art Exhibit Feb 18-21 at the Good Hope School in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. All were processed with HDR software to extract detail from shadows and highlights that would be impossible to capture in a single exposure.
For more information, including how to purchase prints, see: aldorsa.com
For thePHOTOGRAPHYspot submissions, please see guidelines at ragazine.cc/submissions/
March 31, 2011 Comments Off on Daniel Dragomirescu/Translation