Category — Walter Gurbo
Kilinski statue, file photo courtesy histomil.com
Hurled Into Eternity
By Paul West
Weeks later, as he bled through clumsy necktie tourniquets into the makeshift bed of a big wooden drawer hauled outside by the few surviving Red Cross nurses, Ludwik Czimanski remembered the golden Poland of before, and the bicycle festooned with his suits. The land had been alive with doomed people full of flamboyant bad humor, dryly joking about motor torpedo boats, the famous statue in Warsaw of Kilinski brandishing his saber at the sky with a face of invitational outrage, and the invincible yellow-capped national cavalry whose red and white guidons flapped above their heads like swallows’ wings. How uncanny the sky had been, stunning him like a blue gas his mind’s eye inhaled again and again: the drug from nowhere that wiped out the ills of the land. Everyone had looked upward, inhaling hard (at least as he remembered them), looking not for the first wave of bombers but for scrubbed and rosy refugee camps arranged in vistas tapering infinitely up to that comfy otherwhere in which, as legend said, everything went right.
Ludwik began to finger the five suits, one with satin lapels, one of a tweed perfumed with Baltic heather, a third with two vests of which one was velvet with maroon pearl buttons, while the other two were ordinary and a bit worn at the cuffs and elbows: these two culled from the house, not his own at all, and certainly not his taste, which did not run to tree-bark brown.
“Worn,” muttered Gnonka thickly into his splattered shirt, then added that the gold didn’t amount to much either.
“All there is.” At this they began to argue, the one voice raw with clumsy sullenness, the other clipped-brisk and only letting the words out a little more than it drew them back in again, as if communicating only through tone. What you expect—The bargain—Which was?—Two children—Two!—Two, as he had said the last time, ashamed and half-willing to kill, to walk away at least, as if he had caught himself making overtures to a pig.
“Two’s a lot. Which’s the Jew?”
“You don’t need to worry, squire. They’ve nothing against Poles, why should they? But Poles that have Jews in tow… They sell better things than you in Kazimierz market. Why don’t you go and peddle your suits where they belong?” Gnonka, who had a pea-sized polyp growing either side of his nose where it joined his face, scratched them both now with slow, studious vexation, savoring the gulf between his customer and himself. Then, as he saw the suits go back into their brown-paper, “Well, maybe for a few more. I’ve a busy winter ahead of me, see, I’ll be a man in demand, what with visitors. I can’t be signing milk contracts in my working clothes, can I, my lord?”
“Yes or no? For two?”
“I’ve sacking aplenty.”
Promising to return in one hour, Czimanski rode away on the disencumbered bicycle, eager to breathe a different air, and Gnonka’s German shepherd chased after him until Gnonka slurred a one-syllable command, at which it loped back and followed him, desperate, lumpish, flawed; a man contemplating the scenario of his own end as vaguely as this could hardly accuse himself of being self-centered, but he felt he was, against his will soothing himself with that finality instead of bracing himself with what the Admiral had said: We’ll pick you up in Kazimierz, remember: in Warsaw it won’t work at all, there won’t be any Warsaw left. Just think of it: a million fewer violins!
Right where he was, Major Czimanski wanted to cry, because highly evolved human companionship, sustained across frontiers through several languages over many years in complete accordance with elaborate protocol, should not (he said “must not” aloud and made Gnonka flinch) be subject to something essentially barbaric. It was as if crocodiles were running the world, who could not be swayed, argued with, or bought off; and men of brains and sensitivity found themselves driven to inventing gruesome and unseemly plans, primitives all over again in a world gone mad.
The other plane curved away to watch the Polish one reel flamelessly smoking into a low hill lush with trees. Faltering like a small leaf, the wingtip sailed into the flank of an oblivious cow in Gnonka’s main pasture, causing a minor stampede, after which it sat there on the grass, among the cowflops, arbitrary but final, the size of a breakfast tray, all of a sudden perched upon by haggling sparrows in whose landbound airscape it had become a permanent ramp, already subject to weathering, birdlime, and decay.
The Nazi fighter, its pilot unaware that Kazimierz had already fallen, cruised back low over the town and machine-gunned the steeple of a local church, making its bells pong-pang and en passant shredding the skull of an old man in the belfry to repair sections of rope, which he did (and was doing that morning, Nazis or no) by rolling retied sections under the sole of his boot. Next the fighter redundantly shot up a stationary motor coach used for outings to Warsaw, only to pass through a fan of vertically fired rounds from an old-fashioned Lewis gun worked by a wounded Polish soldier cut off from his unit and just waiting for something to do, unable to carry the gun away, reluctant to leave it for the intruder, and uncertain how to immobilize it. Shot through the groin, all the way up into his trunk, the pilot clasped his belly, sagged against the control column, and dived the Messerschmitt right into the post office and the lending library. The gas mains exploded with a gigantic bang, scattering envelopes and stationary far and wide. Books flew through the air as well, more of them leaving the shelves in that second than Kazimierz took out each year. A copy of Gulliver’s Travels done into Polish landed in the Sakal’s back yard with a fluttering plop, just beyond the verandah.
“What on earth was that,” Suzanna said, “I’ll go and get it.”
“Incendiary bomb, no doubt,” Wilson told her.
“I can see it. It’s a book. Or it was.”
“Even so.” He wanted the world to be still, to keep its distance from him, and his mind, recoiling from bangs and shots and bells and distraught women, had fixed on a big bowl of petunias, kept in the house for a month until they began to wilt and fade, then unleashed into full sunlight like a small wild animal incapable of being housebroken, and thereafter blooming a profound purple as never before.
“If it was an incendiary,” Suzanna pursued her point, “then our children are not safe where they are. But it’s a book, it’s just a bit of a book. You won’t have to throw sand on it to put it out.”
With a pout, a toss of her shoulders, and then a gathering snarl she did not quite know how to complete, Suzanna went outside, picked up the half-burned book, brought it in and tossed it into his lap.
“It’s still on fire, Wilson.”
“I’ve read it,” he said proudly. “Long ago.”
Deciding it was her turn to speak, Wanda said something mild and faint about the gift of life, the gift of a book, the way in which a book is the life-blood of a stranger made available for a pittance. “Ludwik’s mother,” she said eventually, “once took a honeybee into her cupped hands and let it sting her, saying, ‘It’s life, it’s life. Why not?’”
“I’m not that disabused,” Wilson scoffed. “Neither was the author of this burnt offering of a book.”
“Disasters,” Suzanna said, “ought to be in winter, not in weather like this. It’s hot, it’s glorious. It’s obscene.”
“A good sky for dive-bombers,” he whispered. “I don’t want to see anybody heading for the door. Stay put. In light as good as this, a pilot can see for miles, and they’ll shoot at any target that offers. I still can’t fathom why they’re shooting up the town after they’ve already taken it.”
“It’s because,” Wanda told him curtly, “because the only people left in town are Poles. They’re having target practice.”
“I don’t want to live in a ravine like a savage,” she told them all. “I wouldn’t know how. Your mother’s better off.”
“You’ll be lucky if you get a chance to,” Ludwik said. “But he’ll find us, I’m sure he will. He’s a man of his word.”
“He sounds might distant to me,” Wilson said loudly. “Maybe we’ll have to join the Nazi party before he’ll do anything at all. They might not be so eager to have Jews with fully paid subscriptions. We’ll take a raving any day. Just lead us in. Now what about the farmer?”
“If you don’t want them to get you,” Izz announced with cantankerous brightness, “hide in a museum, among the statues, still as stone, and someone will bring you a bagel at night to keep your tummy from rumbling during the day.” Shushed, he subsides, but mouths his impatience to Myrrh, who giggles, then says her piece.
“Husband, you haven’t told anybody anything yet.”
“I think he means,” said Izz with an elaborate, cunning look at his mother, “the domestic form of emigration! That’s what the Germans call it, isn’t it? You vanish without going away.”
“The domestic form of evacuation is more like it.” Ludwik looked at his son with unfocused eyes. “How ironic that you have come to know German so well. How elementary some mysteries are.”
“Are we going to take poison,” Izz asked. “Like Socrates.” Heroic nausea made him rub his mouth and then, even as he looked up to watch his parents watch him, halted with his wrist in front of his lips, as if stifling a burn.
“You and Myrrh are going to hide.” Ludwik thought he was going to faint, and abruptly fixed his gaze on Myrrh, who had stood in order to fidget about, and now faced away in profile with one hand on the smudged veneer of the dining table, fingers together in a trowel shape, as if imperceptibly nibbling across the surface to a bowl of grapes. God save us, he thought. How scraggly and golden she has become. She reads Verlaine in French and draws penises freehand with her eyes closed. They think they have secrets, but they have none from me. Imagine a regime, to which I myself have been some kind of cavaliere servente, or go-between, wanting to wipe out the likes of her, just because her mother descends from Shem. It’s unbelievable. The light doesn’t refuse to shine on her. The air allows her to breathe it. Water doesn’t rebel when it enters her mouth. The table reflects her without demur. Why, she looks more Slavic than anything, yet she’s one of the doomed. Look how her lower face falls away from its natural sit, but because she sucks in her mouth and tugs back her chin when she’s lost in thought, as if she’s just swallowed the idea of death and is waiting for it to go down. She could stand there forever against that folded screen, a long black-haired pixie lost in cogitation. She knows. And so does he. They pick things out of the air. They receive our transmissions before we even formulate them. That’s what adolescence is for: the intuition of essentials while the grown-ups shuffle their vocabularies. “Hide,” she said in belated echo. “What are we doing now? Advertising where we are?”
“Underground,” he told her, told the room, with lips like slabs of cement. “Briefly, until help arrives. And then another country where,” he let the limp joke out, “for once I have no diplomatic privileges.”
“Then,” Myrrh said, again sitting, “tell us where, and we can all begin learning the language. Is it where the rivers go uphill and the natives live on liquids only?”
“Cuckoo clocks,” he answered, desperate for something precise, unwilling to admit he didn’t know.
“Or sleds drawn by reindeer?” Izz had come back from a reverie so intense his top lip shone and his incipient mustache looked plastered down.
“Make them grow, Izz. And don’t bite.”
“Like baby lemons,” he gasped, his truant mind on Bantu women who stretch out their bottom lips with a wooden disk, and Bantu men who elongate their penises with a stone tied on.
“If I were bigger,” she told him languidly, “I wouldn’t seem so optional. You’d want me more. And so would other boys.”
I am mouthing inverted daffodils crammed with clay, he told himself. I’ll end up making her sore. No, this is what they’re for. Then he heard a muddled purr begin, and fixed his mind on what he was doing, lost in a rhythm with her, in a spell of things imminent: two actors endlessly repeating their opening lines.
About the author:
The author of 50 books, Paul West has received the Literature Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1985, a 1993 Lannan Prize for Fiction, and the Grand-Prix Halperine-Kaminsky Prize for the Best Foreign Book in 1993. He has also been named a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library and a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government. The Tent of Orange Mist was runner-up for the 1996 National Book Circle Award in Fiction and the Nobel Prize for Literature. His previous work in Ragazine was an essay on Beckett’s Texts: http://old.ragazine.cc/2012/10/paul-west-beckett/
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March 1, 2014 Comments Off on Paul West/Fiction
The Original Chaos
Photos & Interview
By Jorge Alberto Perez
It is rare to meet an artist with so much talent in so many mediums as Gloria Duque, whose extreme modesty and humility is equally impressive. She is just as comfortable working with you-name-it, a camera, paint, scratchboard, bronze sculpture, or even what any of us might consider trash – all to satisfy a workaholic drive to interpret her world. And what an interesting world it is, where permanence feels fragile, and impermanence is palpable, where clouds drop down from the sky heavy as sack of laundry and dollar bills appear to have been dipped in technicolor rainbows. She lives and works in a small apartment in Spanish Harlem in what can only be described as a state of original chaos where only the process of creation matters and materializes endlessly. Obessive, check. Cumpulsive, check. Talented, check. I have always been fascinated by artistic practice, artists’ studios and the process that feeds artistic hunger. Duque does not disappoint. When we first met she mentioned that she can only have one guest at a time in her apartment, so long as one of the two remains standing. I was intrigued. The explanation went on to include a list of materials covering every surface of her apartment: a democracy of things like…egg shells, branches, chop sticks, corks, wires, rubber bands, candy foil, beans, seeds, pods, feathers, dried orange peels, and lot of completed art works stacked everywhere… I thought she was joking, or at least exaggerating. She wasn’t. Her apartment is itself an amazing work of art, impossible to take in, overwhelming and yet calming somehow. I sat down (actually we both stood) with her recently to discuss the nature of her work.
JAP: What is your education/training in?
GD: My training is in architecture and product design. As per my training, my professors encouraged my unique language of observations and motivated me to think beyond the parameters of any dialogue. Understanding the materials one chooses to work with is the most important thing but not just their potentiality but their ability to fail. I was challenged by my tutors to solve riddles, to come up with design answers to almost impossible statements (enunciados), to materialize ideas like The House of the South Wind, to be open to interpretation without representation. During my years in architecture school, I discovered that my hands became more useful tools for expressing ideas than words had previously been. Anything I could perform with them was a magical transformation of ideas into objects… free or mechanical drawing, model making, ceramics, watercolor and later painting and illustration.
JAP: What role does photography play in your artistic practice?
GD: Photography is the most magical aspect of my work, the convergence point where ideas begin to develop. Taking a picture of something in the world that corresponds to a feeling or notion that is still embryonic is the best way for me to move forward with that idea. It is the first step in what might be a long series of steps of process leading to a finished artwork. The camera was my first creative tool of choice to see the world differently. I established my first creative dialogue with this medium while studying architecture. It became a pivotal way to create new interpretations and points of view and at the same time it helped me to keep records and tell my stories, for the safekeeping of my history and memory as many others had done before me. Photography, by its very nature is an invitation to explore the world beyond the common and make fluid our perceptions. Digital has also made it possible for me to indulge even more with its instantaneity. I freeze time, virtually as time is/was, and yet I continue the exercise of observation and as images accumulate the storytelling begins, a destiny I seem to have chosen, I relate it, I take it, I retrieve it … later I transform those conversations mediated by the camera into objects, another translation.
From the Series “Cloud Project” by Gloria Duque
JAP: What is your preferred medium?
GD: My preferred medium is objects, so long as they are palpable with my eyes or my skin, perhaps heard or smelled in connection to their visual presentations. To me, they exist to be placed, misplaced, read … or ignored. Taken in account or not, objects simultaneously offer a proposal of possibility and the challenge of three-dimensionalizing them. This challenge has to do with meaning, with reference. Their purpose is changeable, transmutable. There is an unexpected beauty in each of them and in its relationship with its environment, its context. There are an infinite number of possibilities for the untold significance and impressiveness of each of them. We choose one of their possibilities to transform them into storytellers, messengers of some sort … to provoke a reaction, identify a purpose… a catalyst… a trigger, short or long-lived, who knows. At this point, each object has its own destiny. Objects of desire, I call them. 2D, 3D, B & W, color, palpable by one, two or all of your senses; objects in any sense of the word … as per in the goal to be achieved too … where the object, besides of being what it is, has a purpose … In doing so, something that has no movement of its own, no mind, obtains an intention, it has an objective, a mission. It acquires an imperceptible movement to the eyes and transcendence in other levels. It becomes philosophical in some way. In my eyes it separates itself from interpretation, individual feelings and imaginings; it becomes a proposer. I call that OBJECTIVITY and it all begins with ideas nascent in the process of image capture.
JAP: How many projects are you currently working on?
GD: Do you mean at the actual moment? Time behaves oddly in my studio. Well, besides designing a living space for some friends, there are a few projects I play with constantly and intermittently. Their scale and the time I can dedicate to them are determined by their gravitational pull, my choice, and the emotions seeking for a place in which to be invested. The smaller projects are currently the most visited. They are smaller in scale, but not vastness (cloud project, cows, bodies and constellations, mas allá, after dark, joy and despair, I had it, every thing talks to me, twos & ones). The larger projects, the ones that require more of my full attention, efforts and dedication include: architecture of dreams, canvases, Explorations, grafted graffiti, quilts of guilt, ugly is beautiful, filtered visions, seven, güevonadas and the philosophical component of I had it. Most of my series intersect with one another, or overlap at least, or branches out of each other and back together. I can say all my work is part of a web, a fabric, invisible strings in the middle of which I reside.
Photo by Gloria Duque, Study for “Bodies and Constellations”
From the Series “Bodies and Constellations” by Gloria Duque
JAP: What is your relationship to the materials you use?
GD: I will say extreme. There is no one thing I use that I am not in a deep relationship with. I get immersed into perceptual and verbal conversations with each material I use. We become extensions of each other, and in so doing, we both become storytellers, simultaneously both being the witnesses and that which is witnessed. We become timeless and time makers, meaning that we fuse past, present and future in one existence were the first two components have more and stronger identifiable characteristics than its unpredictable companion. No material that I encounter is exempt from being a candidate for use in art. And I mean anything. I have many collections of things: rubber bands of every shape, color and size, used tea bags, tangerine peels carved into figural shapes, all kind of metallic wrappers rolled into balls, the list is endless… I rescue, recycle and reuse a lot in my practice.
From the series “Twos & Ones” by Gloria Duque
JAP: How does your home as your studio influence your practice?
GD: My home as my studio… I certainly can say that when I make art I feel at home. Whereas I like austerity, cleanliness and the elegance of minimalism – which currently shows more in my designs and photography, I also love abundance and the generosity of the infinite possibilities of interpretation. I could easily live with both, but the city imposes on me one condition: limited space. I could say, I live within the complexity of my thought process and ideas. Of course, they coexist in harmony and with a structural order inherited from my architectural and design practices and processes … I have my own galaxy, perhaps a complete universe of my own to coexist with.
About the interviewer:
Cuban-born artist, curator and writer Jorge Alberto Perez is a graduate of the Bard College / International Center of Photography MFA program in New York City. He is currently the writer-in-residence for the Camera Club of New York, where this interview and photos first appeared. http://cameraclubny.org/ccny_blog/
For more information: http://www.gloriaduque.com
June 29, 2013 Comments Off on GLORIA DUQUE/Art-Interview
The Life (or Death)
of a Food taster
by Mark Levy
Recently, as I lay in bed trying to recover from a horrendous upset stomach and high fever due to an otherwise delicious lunch, I started to think — hallucinate, really — about food tasters. You know, those fellows in Rome during the first century who tasted every meal the emperors were served before the dinner bell rang.
The most famous taster was Halotus (20 A.D. – 70 A.D.), a servant to the Roman Emperor Claudius (10 B.C. – 54 A.D.). It turns out that Halotus may have acted at the behest of Claudius’ wife, Agrippina the Younger (16 A.D. – 59 A.D.). She was the sister of Caligula, by the way, which has nothing to do with this narrative.
So Halotus poisons Claudius with mushrooms so that Agrippina’s 16-year-old son from a previous marriage, Nero (37 A.D. – 68 A.D.), can take over the “emperorcy.” This conspiracy theory is bolstered by the fact that Nero, when he ascended to the throne, executed many, including his mother. However, he did not execute Halotus or even fire him from his position as food taster. Nero may have been one of the worst tyrants in history, but at least he didn’t dispatch his food taster.
A food taster’s job is to make sure no one poisons the boss. This is why I think being a food taster is a pretty cushy job. In addition to the enviable opportunity to taste every meal the emperor is about to eat — the food probably being a notch or two better than the gruel the average slave is served — the food taster is virtually assured that nothing will happen to him. How incompetent would an assassin have to be to attempt to poison a monarch knowing that the trusty food taster would raise the alarm himself by dying first?
I don’t think an actuarial study has been performed, but I’ll bet the life expectancy of a taster rivals that of a teetotaling vegetarian.
I had thought that the occupation of food tasting went out with Romulus Augustus — or Romulus Augustulus, for short — the last Roman emperor whose reign lasted not quite a year. But no, even recent U.S. presidents have food tasters. Although the Secret Service won’t admit it, presidents from Reagan to Obama take people they call White House chefs along to sample the vittles whenever they travel from the White House.
I don’t know if the Pope has a food taster, but isn’t it suspicious that you never see His Holiness with a corned beef sandwich or even an ice cream cone in public? What’s up with that?
About the author:
Mark Levy is a regular contributor of the Casual Observer column to Ragazine.CC. You can read more about Mark in “About Us.”
June 29, 2013 Comments Off on Mark Levy/Casual Observer