Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Paris Review interviewed Isak Dinesen in 1956:


I live on the North Sea, halfway between Copenhagen and Elsinore.


Perhaps halfway between Shiraz and Atlantis?


. . . Halfway between that island in The Tempest and wherever I am.

(Waiter takes order; luncheon is served.)


I'll have a cigarette now. Do you mind if we just stay here for a while? I hate to change once I'm installed in a décor I like. People are always telling me to hurry up or come on and do this or do that. Once when I was sailing around the Cape of Good Hope and there were albatrosses, people kept saying, “Why do you stay on deck? Come on in.” They said, “It's time for lunch,” and I said, “Damn lunch.” I said, “I can eat lunch any day, but I shan't see albatrosses again.” Such win

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

    "However," observed the composer of ballads, who previously had opened his mouth only to gulp down whatever was put into it, "I know men of talent who actually commend the judgment of 'our good Parisians.' I myself have some reputation as a musician," he added modestly, "which at present I owe to no more than my little vaudeville tunes and the success of my quadrilles in the salons; but I fully expect to compete, in the near future, a requiem mass composed for the anniversary of Beethoven's death, which I believe will be better understood in Paris than anywhere else. Will monsieur do me the honor of coming to hear it?" he inquired of Andrea.
    "Thank you," the count replied. "I am not endowed with organs requisite for the appreciation of French vocal music. But if you were dead, monsieur, and Beethoven had written the requiem, I should not fail to come and hear it."

- Honoré de Balzac

Saturday, September 25, 2010


The quest for the lost and the beautiful. Cornell-Orpheus in the city of the soul, the invisible city which occupies the same space as New York.

De Nerval said: "Man has little by little destroyed and cut the eternal type of beauty into a thousand little pieces." Cornell found them in the city and reassembled them. What being is for philosophers, beauty is for Cornell. He writes:

All day long, week in-week out, I look across from my studio table at the forbidding drab gray facade of the huge Manhattan Storage and Warehouse building with its symetrical row after row of double metal blinds, every night, promptly at five, uniformed guards appear simultaneously at each of the myriad windows drawing in the ponderous rivet-studded shutters for the night. But this summer evening at the appointed time the ethereal form of Fanny Cerrito, breathlessly resplendent in gossamer of ondine, appears in each casement to perform the chores of the guards. So guilelessly, with such ineffable humility and grace, is the duty discharged as to bring a catch to the throat. Her composure and tender (slow fade-out) glance rebuke regret as she fades from view.

This is extraordinary.


There was a movie theater here once. It played silent films. It was like watching the world through dark glasses on a rainy evening.

One night the piano player mysteriously disappeared. We were left with the storming sea that made no sound, and a beautiful woman on a long, empty beach whose tears rolled down silently as she watched me falling asleep in my mother's arms.


In the smallest theater in the world the bread crumbs speak. It's a mystery play on the subject of a lost paradise. Once there was a kitchen with a table on which a few crumbs were left. Through the window you could see your young mother by the fence talking to a neighbor. She was cold and kept hugging her thin dress tighter and tighter. The clouds in the sky sailed on as she threw her head back to laugh.

Where the words can't go any further--there's the hard table. The crumbs are watching you as you in turn watch them. The unknown in you and the unknown in them attract each other. The two unknowns are like illicit lovers when they're exceedingly and unaccountably happy.

- Charles Simic

Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell

Thursday, September 23, 2010

My name is Etah, he said, with an h at the end. Understood, I said. And you are Father Urrutia Lacroix. The very same, I said. Beside me, Mr Raef was smiling and nodding without a word. Urrutia is a Basque name, isn't it? It is indeed, I said. Lacroix, of course, is French. Mr Raef and I nodded in time. Do you know where the name Etah comes from? I have no idea, I said. Take a guess, he said. Albania? You're cold, he said. I have no idea, I said. Finland, he said. It's half-Finnish, half-Lithuanian. Quite, quite, said Mr Raef. In times long gone there was a good deal of commerce between the Finns and the Lithuanians, for them the Baltic Sea was like a bridge, or a river, a stream crossed by innumerable black bridges, imagine that. I am, I said. And Mr Etah smiled. You're imagining it, are you? Yes, I'm imagining it. Black bridges, oh yes, murmured Mr Raef beside me. And streams of little Finns and Lithuanians going back and forth across them endlessly, said Mr Etah. Day and night. By the light of the moon or the feeble light of torches. Plunged in darkness, guided by memory. Not feeling the cold that cuts to the bone up there near the Arctic circle, feeling nothing, just alive and moving. Not even feeling alive: just moving, inured to the routine of crossing the Baltic in one direction or the other. A normal part of life.

- Roberto Bolaño
By Night in Chile
An old drawing-master who had taught my grandmother had been presented by some obscure mistress with a daughter. The mother died shortly after the birth of the child, and the drawing-master was so broken-hearted that he did not long survive her. In the last months of his life my grandmother and some of the Combray ladies, who had never liked to make any allusion in his presence to the woman with whom in any case he had not officially lived and had had comparatively sparse relations, took it into their heads to ensure the little girl's future by clubbing together to provide her with an annuity. It was my grandmother who suggested this; several of her friends jibbed; after all, was the child really such a very interesting case? Was she even the child of her reputed father? With women like that, one could never be sure. Finally, everything was settled. The child came to thank the ladies. She was plain, and so absurdly like the old drawing-master as to remove every shadow of doubt. Since her hair was the only nice thing about her, one of the ladies said to her father, who had brought her: "What pretty hair she has." And thinking that now, the guilty woman being dead and the old man only half alive, a discreet allusion to that past of which they had always pretended to know nothing could do no harm, my grandmother added: "It must run in the family. Did her mother have pretty hair like that?" "I don't know," was the old man's quaint answer, "I never saw her except with a hat on."

- Marcel Proust
Within a Budding Grove

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Choiseuls are everything you could want; they spring from a sister of Louis the Fat; they were real sovereigns down in Bassigny. I admit that we beat them in marriages and in distinction, but the seniority is pretty much the same. This little matter of precedence gave rise to several comic incidents, such as a luncheon party which was kept waiting a whole hour or more before one of these ladies could make up her mind to let herself be introduced to the other. In spite of which they became great friends, and she gave my mother a chair like this one, in which people always refused to sit, as you've just done, until one day my mother heard a carriage drive into the courtyard. She asked a young servant who it was. 'The Duchesse de La Rochefoucald, ma'am.' 'Very well, say that I am at home.' A quarter of an hour passed; no one came. 'What about the Duchesse de La Rochefoucauld?' my mother asked, 'where is she?' 'She's on the stairs, ma'am, getting her breath,' said the young servant, who had not been long up from the country, where my mother had the excellent habit of getting all her servants. Often she had seen them born. That's the only way to get really good ones. And they're the rarest of luxuries. And sure enough the Duchesse de La Rochefoucauld had the greatest difficulty in getting upstairs, for she was an enormous woman, so enormous, indeed, that when she did come into the room my mother was quite at a loss for a moment to know where to put her. And then the seat that Mme de Praslin had given her caught her eye. 'Won't you sit down?' she said, bringing it forward. And the Duchess filled it from side to side. She was quite a pleasant woman, for all her . . . imposingness. 'She still creates a certain effect when she goes out,' said my mother, who was rather more free in her speech than would be thought proper nowadays. Even in Mme de La Rochefoucauld's own drawing-room people didn't hesitate to make fun of her to her face (and she was always the first to laugh at it) over her ample proportions. 'But are you all alone?' my mother once asked M. de La Rochefoucauld, when she had come to pay a call on the Duchess, and being met at the door by him had not seen his wife who was in an alcove at the other end of the room. 'Is Mme de La Rochefoucauld not at home? I don't see her.' --'How charming of you!' replied the Duke, who had about the worst judgement of any man I have ever known, but was not altogether lacking in humor.

- Marcel Proust
Within a Budding Grove

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

-   Scotch-taped to my mother's scrapbook is a thumb-sized lavender picture viewer, which, when you look through the eyehole and hold it up to a light, magnifies a tiny picture of her and Jacob Fish on New Year's Eve at a big hotel in the Catskills. On the outside of the viewer is printed in gold script, "Kiamesha Lake, N.Y.," and there is a small gold chain attached to it, so you can hang it somewhere or twirl it around your fingers. Inside of it, when you peer through, my mother is standing next to Jacob Fish, both done up like prom royalty, my mother in a strapless apricot dancing gown, her hair piled up on top of her head, fastened with pins and one pale rose, and Jacob Fish, short and tow-headed, just about her height, with a navy blue bow tie, a kindness and graciousness in his face, which, I can tell, made my mother happy, made her smile, timelessly holding his arm in the little lavender capsule.

- Lorrie Moore
from "What Is Seized"
Self-Help: Stories

Saturday, September 11, 2010

BOMB Magazine interviews César Aira:

MM The poet Arturo Carrera, who is also from Pringles and was going to the same libraries, took note of you as a reader because one day he went to ask for something by Kafka and you had it out. It was the first of Kafka’s works for him, but you had already been through the whole gamut.

CA My intellectual contact with Arturo began in our adolescence, but he’s a different reader. I’m a narrative reader who searches for a good story, and he’s a poetic reader who searches for a good word. I recommended a Balzac novel to Arturito, he read it a bit reluctantly and later said to me, “I loved the part where it says ‘the little salted spoon’!”