Friday, December 26, 2008

The Autumn of the Patriarch

Only then did we dare go in without attacking the crumbling walls of reinforced stone, as the more resolute had wished, and without using oxbows to knock the main door off its hinges, as others had proposed, because all that was needed was for someone to give a push and the great armoured doors that had resisted the lombards of William Dampier during the building's heroic days gave way. It was like entering the atmosphere of another age, because the air was thinner in the rubble pits of the vast lair of power, and the silence was more ancient, and things were hard to see in the decrepit light. All across the first courtyard, where the paving stones had given way to the underground thrust of weeds, we saw the disorder of the post of the guard who had fled, the weapons abandoned in their racks, the big, long rough-planked tables and plates containing the leftovers of the Sunday lunch that had been interrupted by panic, in shadows we saw the annex where government house had been, colored fungi and pale irises among the unresolved briefs whose normal course had been slower than the pace of the driest of lives, in the centre of the courtyard we saw the baptismal font where more than five generations had been christened with martial sacraments, in the rear we saw the ancient viceregal stable which had been transformed into a coach house, and among the camellias and butterflies we saw the berlin from stirring days, the wagon from the time of the plague, the coach from the year of the comet, the hearse from progress in order, the sleep-walking limousine of the first century of peace, all in good shape under the dusty cobwebs and all painted with the colours of the flag.

One Hundred Years of Solitude

"The only difference today between Liberals and Conservatives is that the Liberals go to mass at five o'clock and the Conservatives at eight."
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Some great sites....

Here are a couple of my regular stopping places:

English Russia: a daily entertainment blog devoted to the events happening in Russian speaking countries, such as Russia (Russian Federation), Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Kazakhstan, etc. Everyday something interesting happens in the countries occupying 1/6 of the populated world.

Russian Blog: Language and Culture of the Russian-Speaking World

Russian Reading Challenge 2008: A 12 month reading challenge of all things Russian - novels, short stories, biographies, history, poetry - by Russian authors or by authors about Russia. Challenge begins January 1, 2008 and ends December 31st, 2008. (hope this goes on another year picked up some great tips) Works of Soviet Literature summarized for those unable or too lazy to read them in the original. (that'd be me then!!)

José Saramago - new novel due soon.

Excerpt from The Elephant’s Journey

There is no wind, although the mist seems to form slow whirlpools as if boreas himself were blowing it down from the far north and from the lands of eternal ice. However, to be honest, given the delicacy of the situation, this is hardly the moment for someone to be honing his prose in order to make some, frankly, not very original poetic point. By now, the people travelling with the caravan will have realised that someone is missing, indeed two of them will probably have volunteered to go and save the poor castaway, an action that would be most welcome if it weren’t for the reputation as a coward that will dog him for the rest of his days, Honestly, the public voice will say, imagine him just sitting there, waiting for somone to rescue him, some people have no shame at all. It’s true that he had been sitting down, but now he’s standing up and has courageously taken the first step, right foot first, to drive away the evil spells cast by fate and its powerful allies, chance and coincidence, however, his left foot has grown suddenly hesitant, and who can blame it, because the ground is invisible, as if a new tide of mist had just begun to roll in. With his third step, he can no longer see his own hands held out in front of him as if to keep his nose from bumping against some unexpected door. It was then that another idea occurred to him, what if the road curved this way and that, and the direction he had taken, in what he hoped would be a straight line, led him into desert places that would mean perdition for both soul and body, in the case of the latter with immediate effect. And, O unhappy fate, without even a dog to lick away his tears when the great moment arrived. He again considered turning back to ask for shelter in the village until the bank of mist lifted of its own accord, but now, completely disoriented, with as little idea of where the cardinal points might be, as if he were in some entirely unfamiliar place, he decided that his best option was to sit down on the ground again and wait for destiny, chance, fate, any or all of them together, to guide those selfless volunteers to the tiny patch of ground on which he was sitting, as on an island in the ocean sea, with no means of communication. Or, more appropriately, like a needle in a haystack. Within three minutes, he was fast asleep. What a strange creature man is, so prone to terrible insomnias over mere nothings and yet capable of sleeping like a log on the eve of a battle. And so it was. He fell into a deep sleep, and it’s quite likely that he would still be sleeping now if, somewhere in the mist, solomon had not unleashed a thunderous trumpeting whose echoes must have been heard on the distant shores of the ganges. Still groggy after his abrupt awakening, he could not make out just where it was coming from, that fog horn come to save him from an icy death or, worse, from being eaten by wolves, because this is a land of wolves, and a man, alone and unarmed, is helpless against a whole pack of them or, indeed, against one. Solomon’s second blast was even louder than the first and began with a kind of quiet gargling in the depths of his throat, like a roll on the drums, immediately followed by the syncopated clamour that typifies the creature’s call. The man is now racing through the mist like a horseman charging, lance at the ready, thinking all the while, Again, solomon, again. And solomon granted his wish and let out another trumpet blast, quieter this time, as if merely confirming that he was there, because the castaway is no longer adrift, he’s on his way, there’s the cart belonging to the cavalry quartermaster, not that he can make out details because things and people are nothing but blurs, it’s as if the mist, and this is a much more troubling idea, were of a kind that can corrode the skin, the skin of people, horses, even elephants, yes, even that vast, tiger-proof elephant, not all mists are the same, of course, one day, someone will cry Gas, and woe betide anyone not wearing a tight-fitting mask. The ex-castaway asks a soldier who happens to be passing, leading his horse by the reins, if the volunteers have returned from their rescue mission, and the soldier responds with a distrustful glance, as if he were speaking to some kind of provocateur, because, as a quick flick through the inquisition’s files will confirm, there were plenty of them around in the sixteenth century, and says coolly, Wherever did you get an idea like that, there was no call for volunteers here, the only sensible course of action in a situation like this is to do exactly as we did and sit tight until the mist lifts, besides, asking for volunteers isn’t really the commander’s style, usually, he just points, you, you and you, quick march, besides, the commander says that when it comes to heroics, either all of us are going to be heroes or none. To make clearer still that he considered the conversation to be at an end, the soldier rapidly hoisted himself up onto his horse, said goodbye and galloped off into the mist. He was displeased with himself. He had given explanations that no one had asked him for, and made statements he was not authorised to make. However, he was consoled by the fact that the man, although he didn’t really have the physique, probably belonged, what other possibility was there, to the group of men hired to help push or pull the ox-carts whenever the going got rough, men of few words and even less imagination. Generally speaking, that is, because the man lost in the mist certainly didn’t appear to lack imagination, just look at the way he had plucked out of nothing, out of nowhere, the volunteers who should have come to his rescue. Fortunately for the man’s public credibility, the elephant is a different matter altogether. Large, enormous, big-bellied, with a voice guaranteed to terrify the timid and a trunk like that of no other animal in creation, the elephant could never be the product of anyone’s imagination, however bold and fertile. The elephant either existed or it didn’t. It is, therefore, time to visit him and thank him for the energetic way in which he used his god-given trumpet to such good purpose, for if this had been the valley of jehosephat, the dead would undoubtedly have risen again, but being what it is, an ordinary scrap of Portuguese earth swathed in mist where someone very nearly died of cold and neglect, and so as not entirely to waste the rather laboured comparison with which we chose to encumber ourselves, we might say that some resurrections are so deftly handled that they can happen even before the poor victim has passed away. It was as if the elephant had thought, That poor devil is going to die, and I’m going to save him. And here’s the same poor devil heaping thanks on him and swearing eternal gratitude, until finally the mahout asks, What did the elephant do to deserve such thanks, If it wasn’t for him, I would have died of cold or been devoured by wolves, And what exactly did he do, because he hasn’t left this spot since he woke up, He didn’t need to move, he just had to blow his trumpet, because I was lost in the mist and it was his voice that saved me, If anyone is qualified to speak of the works and deeds of solomon, I’m that man, which is why I’m his mahout, so don’t come to me with some story about hearing him trumpet, He didn’t just trumpet once, but three times, and these same ears that will one day be dust heard him trumpet. The mahout thought, The fellow’s stark staring mad, the mist must have seeped into his brain, that’s probably it, yes, I’ve heard of such cases, then, out loud he added, Let’s not argue about whether it was one, two or three blasts, you ask those men over there if they heard anything. The men, whose blurred outlines seemed to vibrate and tremble with every step, immediately gave rise to the question, Where are you off to in weather like this. We know, however, that this wasn’t the question asked by the man who insisted he’d heard the elephant speak and we know the answer they were giving him. What we don’t know is whether any of these things are related, which ones, or how. The fact is that the sun, like a vast broom of light, suddenly broke through the mist and swept it away. The landscape revealed itself as it had always been, stones, trees, ravines, and mountains. The three men are no longer there. The mahout opens his mouth to speak, then closes it again. The man who insisted he’d heard the elephant speak began to lose consistency and substance, to shrink, then grow round and transparent as a soap bubble, if the poor-quality soaps of the time were capable of forming the crystalline marvels that someone had the genius to invent, then suddenly disappeared from view. He went plof and vanished. Onomatopoeia can be so very handy. Imagine if we’d had to provide a detailed description of someone disappearing. It would have taken us at least ten pages.