Tuesday, May 29, 2007

IN THE COOL OF THE EVENING

“The sky is bright, the night is slow in coming, time lags, life is dull, movement is languid. Beneath shimmering shadows I read and reread my books; I stroll, reminisce, ponder, wonder, yawn, doze, let myself grow old. I'm unable to find any great pleasure in this golden mediocrity despite the invitation and consolation of the poet who has given it his ear.”
—page 1, A God Strolling in the Cool of the Evening by Mário de Carvalho

These are the opening sentences of Carvalho's novel. I love them. I even love the third sentence, which introduces tension with the first two; and, those two are perfect until the third is read. These sentences—each of them—are moments that I can, do, live within.

I think of Carvalho's book whenever a soft breeze lightly rustles the leaves of the cottonwood trees near the river. Such was the case early this evening. The leaves fluttered from green to gold to green sixty feet overhead, as the child and I walked around Bradley Lake. Plenty of other people were out walking, but it still felt quiet and isolated—or, rather, I did.

---

“I came upon Maximus sleeping on some pillows on a stone bench under an arbor. A pruning knife lay on the ground. His arm, resting on the edge of the bench, was moving softly back and forth to the rhythm of his heavy breathing. His head hung down over his chest, and his handsome white hair, which he wore too long, fell over his forehead. He was at peace, far removed from the world, in the land of dreams. I committed the cruelty of awakening him.”
—page 101, A God Strolling in the Cool of the Evening by Mário de Carvalho

The silence is always broken by noise. The rustling of cottonwood leaves is supplanted by a car engine shifting into a higher gear as it crosses the nearby bridge. The song of birds becomes the screaming of children at play. The gurgle of the river is swallowed by the shouting of a father at his young son. Kronos devours even the seemingly solid.

Yet, we ourselves enjoy the “cruelty of awakening” others. We swallow, stones and all, for the satisfaction of control. We gloat in our dissonance, in our triumph over the stillness.

---

“A strange calm had taken over the Moorish encampments outside Tarcisis. From the walls we watched the people going from tent to tent, carts and horses moving about, confused clusters here and there, the domestic activities of hauling water and cooking something or other—we even saw arguments and altercations. They didn't seem to evince any interest at all, now, in the city; they simply stayed put. The horde was still too large, however, for us even to consider trying to wipe them out with a sortie.”
—page 196, A God Strolling in the Cool of the Evening by Mário de Carvalho

What appears calm is not so calm after all. The chaos of daily life, of the little, of the mundane and everyday, gathers energy as it rolls along. The Moorish siege of Tarcisis, at one end of the Roman Empire, is strangely “normal” and “banal” once it becomes an established part of the landscape. It would seem that we are very adaptable creatures.

I like that Carvalho so easily portrays the calm broken by the “noise” of life. It reminds me of the soft spring or summer breeze as it gently nudges the limbs and leaves of the cottonwoods. I can hear the brush of wind over the thin fabric of foliage. I can see the flash of gold amidst green—a beacon of the routine of life broken by the unexpected and then replaced by routine again.

Monday, May 28, 2007

EXHAUSTION

For some time, the wife has been talking about moving the bookcases of our home library to a different room of the house, in order to make a play room for the child. A three day weekend seemed the perfect time to tackle such a task.

Step one: Strip books from, and disassemble, the first bookcase.

Step two: Move the pieces to the new room.

Step three: Reassemble components into bookcase.

Step four: Attempt to stand bookcase back up, only to realize that bookcase is too tall for new location.

Step five: Grumble, curse, stomp around, and brainstorm.

Step six: Disassemble bookcase again.

Step seven: Set up table and tools outside for fun with circular saw.

Step eight: Cut one inch from base of bookshelf sides and front.

Step nine: Reassemble bookcase once more.

Step ten: Repeat appropriate steps for all bookcases, especially focusing on step five, until completed.

Step eleven: Replace all books.

Needless to say, I have been so tired at the end of each of the past three days that I haven't read any of the stories or books in which I am currently immersed. But, at least the library is relocated. I once again have a place to read and relax.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

on THE TAPHANDLE

Liefmans de Boomgaard Kriek, a Fruit Beer by Liefmans

Friday evening meant a visit to Seattle to visit the friend D. Troy's Work Table was invited for dinner and a DVD. It was a wonderful, relaxing time. D. provided the food, and TWT brought some beer to accompany said food.

The first course was spaghetti in a marinara and parmigiana sauce, with a thick slice of artisan olive bread. The second course was a green salad in a balsamic vinaigrette, with another slice of bread. Both were accompanied by a Fire Station 5 Steam Pumper IPA. The third course, following two short films and the main feature—Pedro Aldomovar's Law of Desire—was a chocolate cake "filled with raspberry preserves and amaretto and topped with chocolate icing and toasted pine nuts."

The beer that accompanied the cake was Liefmans de Boomgaard Kriek. This fruit beer poured a brilliant, translucent ruby red with a thick pink head, which quickly diminished. The aroma was heavily of cherries and slightly less so of cereal grains. The mouthfeel was good, although the carbonation was a bit too fizzy. The flavor started strongly as an almost cloying sweet cherry (maraschino), and finished slightly tart. All in all, an interesting beer, and a good choice to complement the cake.

---

"The meta-lesson of both relativity and quantum mechanics is that when we deeply probe the fundamental workings of the universe we may come upon aspects that are vastly different from our expectations. The boldness of asking deep questions may require unforeseen flexibility if we are to accept the answers."
—page 108, The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene

The rest of the evening was spent in conversation, the last couple hours which were grounded in theological matters. Between the devoutly religious (overly-moralistic, fundamentalist Christian evangelicals) and the devoutly anti-religous (fundamentalist atheists), D. and I find ourselves in the middle—D. a "non-believer" and myself a Lutheran-Christian "believer." Our viewpoints and "beliefs" share many similarities. We discussed theodicy and suffering, eventually ending up reading and listening and pondering passages from Annie Dillard's Holy the Firm.

Needless to say, it was a wonderful evening of food, drink, great cinema, great company, stimulating conversation, thought-provoking literature, and friendship. I need to do it more often.

Friday, May 25, 2007

PICNIC


From left to right: The child's picture of Troy's Work Table at the picnic; Troy's Work Table's picture of "the spread."

The child was promised a picnic in the front yard. Therefore, a picnic was had. It was a pleasant, relaxing end to our walk along the Riverfront Trail.

The child was especially intrigued because all of the various foods were present before her. The child could choose what to eat first and what last. The child looked at two plates of "snacks"—carrot sticks, pickles, green olives, black olives, pepperoni, cheddar cheese, mozarella cheese, grapes, Wheat Thins, Ritz crackers, and chunks of a 3 Musketeers candy bar. The child's first impulse was to eat the entire candy bar. This was curtailed to include pieces of candy bar between other foods. The child loved the antipasti buffet, as well as eating outside, under our walnut tree, on a blanket.

The squirrels were also intrigued with our choice of food and location. One of the more bold squirrels would come within a few feet of our picnic to sniff the air. It would also climb the walnut tree on the back side of the trunk and then peek around and down at us.

When we finished eating, the child brought some of her stuffed animals outside. We laid back on the blanket and stared up into the branches and leaves of the walnut tree and talked about the quotidian and small things of the day.

FECUNDITY



"I don't know what it is about fecundity that so appalls. I suppose it is the teeming evidence that birth and growth, which we value, are ubiquitous and blind, that life itself is so astonishingly cheap, that nature is as careless as it is bountiful, and that with extravagance goes a crushing waste that will one day include our own cheap lives, Henle's loops and all. Every glistening egg is a memento mori."
—page 160, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

The child and I wander down the Riverfront Trail. The cottonwood trees fill the air with a flurry of seeds that gives appearance of gentle snowfall. Nature is in bloom, the flora of the area ripe with reproductive fervor.

The child wants to make "snowballs" out of the piles of cottonwood seeds. We do. We throw them at each other.

We wander to the end of the trail and back, watching the river and birds—a cormorant as it flies upstream over the river, swallows in flight, robins, sparrows, goldfinches, towhees.

Cottonwood seeds stick in our hair. Cottonwood seeds stick to our mouth. Cottonwood seeds drift and float without a care.

And, we wander through this "spring snow," observing, resting, running, laughing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

SHORT REPORT: LAKE OF THE DEAD

"The boy, however, hears. He can't stand the voices of the cuttlefish, and so he kills them. Hundreds each day. Even when he crushes them, even when the cuttlefish are in the belly of a canary, he hears them, puckering."
—page 64, "Cuttlefish," Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead by Alan DeNiro

Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead is a very smart collection of short stories. I was lead to it by stumbling upon The Written Nerd blog, which linked to the Litblog Co-op, whose collective membership's recommended the book as their spring 2007 Read This! choice. Based upon what I read there, I picked up a copy of the book, and am very glad I did.

I have read the following stories, so far:

*"Our Byzantium"—One world, one time, one empire crashing into another, or perhaps crashing into a relationship, or perhaps two relationships, or perhaps all of the above. "We, all of us, are mosaics of venom and balms." (page 14)

*"Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead"—This is a college entrance essay from a youth in the suburb of Suddenly in a future Pennsylvania. He starts dating one of the "deaders" who live in the parking garage island in the nearby lake. He footnotes his essay. Simultaneously humorous and sad.

*"If I Leap"—A man who leaps off of buildings to divine disasters meets his spectator girlfriend. He bleeds the sky. Will she follow in his footsteps? Can she?

*"The Fourth"—My favorite story of those I have read. It is an effective, over-the-top satire of homeland security, surveillance, and the bureacritization of the government. It reminds me of David Sedaris's "Christmas Means Giving" and George Saunders's "In Persuasion Nation" in tone, although I think it works even better than those two stories.

*"The Centaur"—A weird tale of war and death. The reference to the mythological creature reminds me of Karen Russell's use of the Minotaur in "Children's Reminiscences of the Westward Migration." The Centaur and the Minotaur in both stories are displaced from Greek mythology, only to find themselves in an America past, and in unfamiliar roles.

*"Cuttlefish"—A strange little tale about the small things of creation and madness. I kept looking over at my two cockatiels as they played in their cage, next to their cuttlefish "chew." I could almost hear it talking to me.

This book has me hooked. I must continue to read.

Monday, May 21, 2007

SHORT REPORT: A LONG WAY GONE

"I jumped over the gutter, sat against a tree, and, throughout the night, thought about my uncle and then my father, mother, brother, friends. Why does everyone keep dying except me? I walked up and down the road trying not to be angry."
—page 211, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah.

A sick child that needs plenty of downtime and rest allows me to finish a book within 36 hours of beginning. Considering sleep, preparation of meals, and care of the child—along with the fact that I am a fairly slow reader, by choice—I raced through A Long Way Gone. The book was harrowing and horrible to read. It is filled with tales of wholesale slaughter, starvation, warfare, drug addiction, rape, violence. The author and narrator of the book, Ishmael Beah, is caught in the crossfire of civil war in his country of Sierra Leone. He is forced to become a soldier in the Sierra Leone army at the age of thirteen due to circumstances that leave him no other choice, except for that of death.

He writes of the destruction of his village. He writes of his wanderings through the countryside of rural southwest Sierra Leone. He writes of his unwilling conscription. He writes of his easy adaptation to a life of killing. He writes of the use of methamphetamine, cocaine, and brown brown—a mixture of cocaine and gunpowder—that makes him feel little pain, and rather immortal, in the midst of combat. He writes of his eventual "release" and rehabilitation.

He is given opportunities that allow him to survive where others around him do not. Chance? Luck? Destiny? The guidance of the hand of God? If the latter, then how can he explain the untimely deaths of many around him?

This book tackles many of the same topics raised in What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng by Dave Eggers. I don't know how many of these stories the world needs to hear before it acts to end the wars that create these stories. When will the fighting end in Sierra Leone and Sudan and Lebanon and Afghanistan and Colombia and Iraq? When will nations of the world say no more to arms dealing and smuggling? How many more men and women and children need to die?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

AMERICAN NIGHTMARE

Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation sits unread upon my bookshelf, a gift from the brother. I know that I need to read it. I know that I need to stop eating at McDonald's and its kin. And, the child and I end up at McDonald's for lunch anyway, after Drawing Space and a trip to Elliott Bay Book Company, because it is easy and convenient and on our way home.

All of the packaging of the food is a sickly green as a tie-in to the third Shrek film—green milk jug, green straws, green plastic bag of apples. Shrek is everywhere. The child notices that the top of our table is also the same sickly green as the current ad campaign. I keep thinking of the color of the fourth horse of the Apocalypse: sickly green.

Appropriately, after we are home for about two hours, the child begins to vomit forth all of her McDonald's. Twenty minutes later, it is followed by breakfast. Twenty more minutes, bile is all that is left to exit the child's stomach. The rest of the day and early evening are spent attending to the child's needs and making sure that she is comfortable. She dry heaves every so often.

Sleep is fitful for the child, which means that it is also fitful for me. I sleep on the couch, in order to attend to the child as she wakes throughout the evening and early hours of the morning. My dreams are sickly green.

Friday, May 18, 2007

LAWRIMORE DREAMS

The child and I wander up to Seattle to see the latest installation/gallery show from Lead Pencil Studio. It is housed in Lawrimore Project, which inhabits a small non-descript warehouse space. The space has been transformed into multiple rooms to display and view various art pieces and media. Today's journey northward is to view Drawing Space.

When we arrive, we are the only visitors. The only other person in the gallery space is Scott Lawrimore, owner of Lawrimore project. He is affable and charming. He is attentive to the child. He brushes Charged Column for the benefit of the child. He starts up the digital projector so that we can view Maryhill Double: Extended Approach and Maryhill Double: Aerial Analysis in the Black Box, whereupon he excuses himself and retreats to his office in order for us to commune with the art.

The child is most fascinated by two pieces: Arrival at 2AM (wood, glass, filament, string, steel) in the Main Space and Charged Column (government grey nylon, static electricity) in the Hallway. Arrival reminds the child of a harp. The charged fibers of Column move toward the child's uplifted hands.

I am most facinated by Maryhill Double: Walking Analysis, another short film of the Maryhill Double. It most intrigues me because it helps to explain some of our day visiting the Maryhill Double in September 2006. Dan Mihalyo, one of the architects/artists of Lead Pencil Studio (along with Annie Han), was circling the Double counter-clockwise. He would take a photograph, move two steps to his right, and then take another photograph, and then take two more steps. Upon completion of a full circle he would move two steps closer and begin the process again. These photographs have become the "frames" of the video of Walking Analysis. It gives the film a jittery, paranoid feel as the Double is presented.

We spend 45 minutes looking at various films, photographs, sculptures, and drawings in the collection before the child becomes restless. We chat with Scott for a few more minutes and wander back into the city.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

SHORT REPORT: VOYAGE ALONG THE HORIZON

"The second reason is simpler and perhaps less noble: nobody would want to listen to the litany of his bloody exploits, which range from robbery to dismemberment, rape, slave trafficking, betrayal, murder, torture, criminal fraud, embezzlement, defamation, libel, and calumny."
—page 101, Voyage Along the Horizon by Javier Marías

I just completed Book Five of Voyage Along the Horizon. The main protagonist Victor Arledge speaks the above words about Captain Kerrigan to his object of interest Hugh Everett Bayham at its beginning. It is a hilarious statement, that seems to be adhered to for the first half of this section. However, about half-way through Arledge begins to detail most of the items on the list of Kerrigan's vices and crimes, along with a few not listed. After almost forty pages of stories about Kerrigan, as told to Arledge, and now relayed to Bayham, Arledge abruptly ends the tales and starts "to walk toward the dining room in the hope that it wasn't too late to get something to eat."

Things are now more tense between Arledge and Bayham, between Branshaw and the person he is reading to, between Marías as author and I as reader, than they have ever been since I first opened the book. Three more Books to go, and many uncharted territories to discover.

Monday, May 14, 2007

TLÖN DREAMS

-1-
"Chapter three has a similar orientation, relatively free of a palimpsestic layering of images, though it introduces one of the book's many leitmotifs, Jorge Luis Borges's "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," for reasons that readers of that story will find obvious."
—from "A Short Walk Through The Rings of Saturn" by Rick Moody, page 9 of The Believer, May 2007

-2-
"In Borges's "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," the narrator navigates a standard Borgesian labyrinth of encyclopedia entries and letters in an attempt to learn about the region of Uqbar, a place with uncertain borders thought to be located somewhere between Iraq and Asia Minor."
—from "The Codex Seraphinianus" by Justin Taylor, page 21 of The Believer, May 2007

-3-
"A contrite and self-deluding believer in a Many Worlds type of ontology narrates Borges's 1941 short story "The Garden of Forking Paths."
—from "Death Comes (and Comes and Comes) to the Quantum Physicist" by Rivka Ricky Galchen, pages 40-41 of The Believer, May 2007

The three "main" articles of the May 2007 issue of The Believer each contain references to short stories of Jorge Luis Borges found in his collection The Garden of Forking Paths. One reference is to the eponymous story, and two are to Borges's strange tale of layered mythical lands "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius." I suppose the fact that these texts are referenced in each of these essays in The Believer could have been due to editorial assignment, although I find that highly unlikely. Perhaps, it is simply a case of Jungian synchronicity. Or, more likely, Tlön is simply resonating at a frequency received by all three authors; the Ursprache of Tlön is seeping out from its imaginary realm and making itself felt, manifest.

I read each of the three essays back to back in the wee hours of the morning last Thursday. Borges referenced once usually perks up my ears. But, Borges referenced three times unsettled me. I had to go pull my copy of his Collected Fictions off of my bookcase and read "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," in order to refresh the tale in my memory. So, what do W. G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn, Luigi Serafini's Codex Seraphinianus, and Hugh Everett III's "The Theory of Universal Wave Function" have in common? In this case, "juxtaposed" with one another in three essays on different subjects—dense, poetic, associative prose fiction; "impenetrable," yet available "text" and art; and, quantum mechanics—they have the "association of ideas" that is one of the cores of Tlön:

The perception of a cloud of smoke on the horizon and then the countryside on fire and then the half extinguished cigarette that produced the scorched earth is considered an example of the association of ideas.
—from "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," by Jorge Luis Borges, page 74 of Collected Fictions

I am unsure that it is any more than that: ideas associating with one another for their own sake, or, perhaps, for my/our sake.

---

But, where does the association of ideas end?

Tonight the child and I were wandering around when we passed a cage of Blue Rhino propane tanks. The child told me that she saw a "hippopotamus with fire coming out his nose." Sure enough, before me is a blue rhinoceros logo with a flame where its largest horn should be. Then we passed a woman who was smoking and the child told me that "her has fire coming out her nose." I informed the child that the woman was smoking, and the child concurred that "she is smoking her candles." And, there in the hand at her side rested a cigarette.

From "cloud of smoke on the horizon" to "countryside on fire" to "cigarette that caused the scorched earth" to "smoking her candles" to "hippopotamus with fire coming out his nose" to what? How? Why? Where does the imaginary realm of Tlön begin? Where does it end? When is an electron's x-spin both up> and down>? (Not when we measure them, as I learned in the article on Everett. When measured and observed, an electron's spin is one or the other, although quantum mechanics claims otherwise.)

There is so much we are uncertain of, and yet, the imaginary, the mythical, the unexplainable connections can resonate at levels of depth we can barely fathom. We just need to be aware of our limitations, especially on a linguistic level. Once those limitations are acknowledged, then we can skirt them, and see things anew, like a woman smoking candles that makes fire come out her nose.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

THE BELIEVER BOOK AWARD

Cormac McCarthy won The 2006 Believer Book Award for The Road. The third annual award was given to the best book published in 2006, as chosen by the readers of The Believer. The two previous awards had gone to the best books of 2004 and 2005, as chosen by the magazine's editors. Congratulations to Mr. McCarthy on his win.

I guess the people love their post-apocalyptic "survival" stories.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

INFERNO PIZZA

The child and I found ourselves wandering among the stalls of the Puyallup Farmer's Market this morning. It is only 10:20 and people are stuffing their faces with donuts and hotdogs and burritos and pizza. I am incredulous that people are eating "lunch" at such an early hour, which means that I am muttering about it under my breath.

Then, as we continue to wander, somewhat aimlessly, I catch the scent of burning wood and cooking pizza. At 11:00 I am eating a great slice of pizza. Inferno Catering of Black Diamond made me a slice of authentic Neapolitan pizza in about two minutes. The pizza was placed in their mobile wood stove, turned four or five times to consistently heat it, and then lifted up toward the flames for about half a minute. My slice was liberated from the pizza and off we wandered again.

The child and I shared our piece of pizza, and, under my breath, I had to take back everything I previously had muttered about the other people—at least those who were eating pizza. The only thing that would have made it better would have been a nice pairing with an India Pale Ale.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

SHORT REPORT: VOYAGE ALONG THE HORIZON

“This effectively dissuaded Arledge from trying to cultivate a friendship or even a conversation with Bayham; for that, he would have either had to learn very boring rudiments of card games or make idle chitchat with two people to whom he had never been introduced, thanks to Handl's illness as well as the notion—held by all the passengers except for the one who actually thought about such things—that all the people on the boat were already somehow intimately acquainted with one another.”
—page 44, Voyage Along the Horizon by Javier Marías

I am halfway through Voyage Along the Horizon, originally published in Spanish in 1972, and reissued in English in 2006. I find the book fascinating for many reasons.

First, it is a novel about a novel that is being read to someone. Within the novel being read there have been some additional writings that further distance me, the reader, from the characters, and, possibly, the truth. (The truth I am "closest" to may not necessarily be entirely reliable either.)

Second, there are elaborate, potentially unwieldy sentences, like the one quoted above, that actually dance upon the tongue or the mind as they are read. And, some of the sentences really do beg to be read out loud.

Third, for a story that is ostensibly about a book being read by one person to another, after meeting at a dinner party—and, the plot of the book being read mostly happens on a rather boring voyage by ship along the Mediterranean coastline en route to Antarctica—there is a lot of tension and strange goings-on. There is the unexplained disappearance of the boatswain, whose body turns up later. There is the unexplained behavior of Kerrigan, first officer of the ship, who is obsessed with Manchurian ponies aboard the ship. There is a duel, where we do not see the action that results in dire consequences for one passenger. There is the quirkiness and obsession of the main character, Victor Arledge, who is the purported author of the book being read, even though he is written about in third person in the book. These oddities of event and personality keep the narrative moving forward. These moments of the absurd and unexpected burst forth from the rather stilted conventions, manners, and language of the characters, showing us the roiling “id” beneath the “superego” of their social milieu.

Fourth, the language, even in translation, is rich and full and magic. I can only imagine what it reads like in the original Spanish.

At this point, the book is very intriguing, keeping me reading, as I desire to know more, as I want to comprehend what secrets drive these characters.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

ELUSIVE SIGNS


Left: Bruce Nauman's None Sing Neon Sign, 1970, as sketched by Troy's Work Table
Right: Bruce Nauman's None Sing Neon Sign, 1970, as sketched by the child

The child and I visit Bruce Nauman's Elusive Signs at the Henry Art Gallery. Like Carsten Höller's Neon Circle, these are manipulations of light and space, mostly constructed of neon tubing. These are portals to other places. Liminal zones. Simulations of reality, but not reality. They are not quite fantasy, either, but very real.

---

Helman Gallery Parallelogram is flooded with the sickly light of green fluorescent bulbs. This is the color of the fourth horse of the Apocalypse. This is death. The skewed structure of the walls adds to the queasiness. The parallelogram is difficult to enter, with its doors squeezed into "hallways" that almost disappear before you can enter. Claustrophobia is key.

---

The child has a better handle on the sketching of these signs than Troy's Work Table. The child's colors dance and flow, like the neon in the tubes itself. These sketches are electric, alive. They tell a story. They speak an experience.

Troy's Work Table's sketches are rudimentary, childish, perfunctory. Once again, this is death.

Monday, May 07, 2007

NEON CIRCLE


Left: Carsten Höller's Neon Circle, 2001, as sketched by Troy's Work Table
Right: Carsten Höller's Neon Circle, 2001, as sketched by the child

The compulsion of the child is to run around me, counter-clockwise, each time we enter the circle. It doesn't matter where in the circle I stand—dead center, off-center—the compulsion is the same. I grab her occasionally to halt her movement. She stops, even though I can feel the tension in her body. She needs to run, to circle me. I release her and she runs. And runs. And runs.

I grab her hand and pull her out of the circle. Once outside, she no longer runs. We return to the circle and she runs, always counter-clockwise. Ritual? Protection? Gravitational pull? Centrifugal force?

---

The "white" tubing flashes. Tubes alternate their pulse. One, then the next. One, then the next, then the next. One on, one off. Half of the neon circle is always on. Half is always off. Yet, it appears that they overlap. Soon, it is hard to determine that they are even flashing—the rhythm becomes so fixed that it focuses my breath, my pulse, the blinking of my eyes. The flashing is hypnotic.

I see blue and pink columns of neon. The child sees green and orange.

---

The descriptive plaque on the wall speaks a foreign language: "Gestalt psychology," "phi phenomenon," "multi-stability," "ambiguous spatial perceptions." These words and phrases mean little to me, less to the child. I am compelled to research them, to learn more. The child is compelled to run inside the circle—a moon to my planet to the Neon Circle's universe.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

SIEGE DREAMS

Sarajevo is a cemetery by night, but the intermittent crackle of gunfire shatters the enclosed peace.
—page 46, from "Europe's Shame" in Landscapes of War by Juan Goytisolo

Nobody can emerge unscathed from the descent into the hell of Sarajevo.
—page 51, from "Goodbye Sarajevo" in Landscapes of War by Juan Goytisolo

The voices of a siege are myriad and multivalent, even though we are usually only treated to that of the victor—either the voice of the army that finally storms the beleaguered city or the collective voice of the citizenry that successfully repels the besiegers. Rarely do we hear the voice of the military commander of the impotent and inept International Mediation Force. Rarely do we hear the voice of the victim of fatal sniper or mortar attack. Rarely do we hear the voice of one enduring the siege, attempting to navigate bullets and a "war" economy. Yet, these are exactly the voices that we hear in Juan Goytisolo's novel of war-torn Sarajevo, State of Siege, in addition to the voice of one who has been in the city to observe and write about it (as Goytisolo has).

His novel is a Möbius strip of narrative. There are at least three main interconnected narratives woven into one seamless story that falls in on itself again and again. A character in one of the narratives reads about himself in another; a character in that other narrative reads about himself in the prior. The absurd, claustrophobic, paranoid existence of a siege is perfectly captured by Goytisolo.

---

Nobody seems to give a damn about the siege and bombardment of our district! If all this were happening in the Balkans or the Arab world, I'd understand perfectly, but, answer me this, my friend, how can they tolerate such atrocities in our own country!
—page 46, State of Siege by Juan Goytisolo

The siege in this case is one of the districts of Paris. Goytisolo weaves this "fantasy" narrative into the "confusion" of the main narrative. His point is well taken, however. The world can effectively ignore the modern-day sieges of some of the world's largest cities, with their extensive, rich histories—Beirut, Jerusalem, Baghdad, Sarajevo—precisely because they are populated by the Other. We can turn off our television and walk away when confronted with the poverty and violence of a city of the South, such as Bogotá, once again because it contains the Other. But, attack one of our cities, London or Paris or New York, or even Oklahoma City, and we enact a swift revenge.

The US siege on Baghdad continues, even as the violence escalates, even as the Green Zone we have established, purported to be one of the most secure areas of the city, increasingly comes under attack. We hear little about it on the evening news, and what we do hear we have become numb to, desensitized. It is Over There. There is, admittedly, more coverage in our national daily newspapers, but few of us read.

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Sarajevo used to boast the finest, most sophisticated cuisine in Yugoslavia before the JNA decided to starve the city out.
—page 162, The Fall of Yugoslavia: The Third Balkan War by Misha Glenny

Those who feasted on delicacies perish in the streets; those who were brought up in purple cling to ash heaps.
—Lamentations 4:5

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I am dreaming, not for the first time, of the war. I am walking down the streets of Sarajevo. Grenades and mortars are exploding in close proximity but I sense no danger to myself. It is bright and sunny, other people are out on the streets.
—page 174, The Fall of Yugoslavia: The Third Balkan War by Misha Glenny

I too have dreamed of war—the siege of Sarajevo, the siege of Baghdad—because of the works of authors like Goytisolo and Glenny. The nightmare of existence when you know that your mortal enemy awaits you at every open space, at every opportune moment, haunts me. The modern siege becomes not one of a city struggling to survive behind its walls while an enemy camps outside, but a siege from within and without, enemies at every turn. Perhaps, even yourself.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

MAY DAY

Happy May Day to all the workers of the world!