Garcia Marquez, RIP

Somebody — Pablo Neruda? — observed that the late Garcia Marquez was the most influential Spanish writer since Cervantes. Startling, but probably true.

Magical realism was such a great idea that it promptly got overdone. It’s potentially a rather serious matter to have encouraged the likes of Salman Rushdie, and our man will probably face some questioning on the subject at the Pearly Gates. But a guy is not responsible for his imitators, and St Peter will certainly clear him of all charges.

I have no idea whom G M admired among English writers, but it’s easy to imagine him striking up a very good friendship, on the further shore, with Lawrence Sterne.

His death evoked comments from at least three Presidents. Those of Colombia and Mexico were not especially original, but struck a suitable note. Here, however, is Unspeakable Bill Clinton:

“I was saddened to learn of the passing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. From the time I read ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ more than 40 years ago, I was always amazed by his unique gifts of imagination, clarity of thought, and emotional honesty. He captured the pain and joy of our common humanity in settings both real and magical. I was honored to be his friend and to know his great heart and brilliant mind for more than 20 years. My thoughts are with Mercedes and his family, and with his friends and admirers in Colombia and around the world.”

Exactly one hundred words, five of them being first person singular pronouns.

But of course our responses to books always are personal, if they’re real at all. Clinton’s observations are couched in such dull, banal terms that it’s difficult to believe he has any real love for stories and storytellers, or has given much thought to how one is different from another; but perhaps the stump-speech manner has just taken him over.

Perhaps there was a greener day for him, when a book could stir something more in his mind than a little rustling dust-devil of dry phrases, whirled up for a moment like leaves in Vallombrosa. Perhaps he remembered the day he read that wonderful opening(*). Was he really in love with Hillary then? She, with him? Did they still believe, in those days, that the world held better things in store for them than bombing Serbia, and carrying water for Israel, and electrocuting retarded people?

But return, Alpheus: the dread voice is past.

It was Comrade Paine, actually, who suggested 100 Years to me, and I read it on an overnight train, from Chicago to New York. Macondo will always be strangely mixed up, for me, with the little towns of the Hudson Valley, in the gray of dawn, after the kind of sleepless night that leaves you hearing bits of imaginary song in your ears.

(*) “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of 20 adobe houses built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.”

A bas le beret


I blame Mattress Jack Kennedy for these stupid berets. He introduced them for elite troops, if memory serves, and now that all troops are elite troops and heroes by definition, they all have to wear berets. Of course the berets in question are all folded and creased and flopped according to regs, now. The full-face version, as a result, is even sillier than the profile shot above:

Poor devil looks like a stillborn basset hound landed on his head.

Of course, the beret can be worn with style:


NOT an April Fool item


Post on one of my Lefty lists:

I have just ordered Trotsky in Norway, published by Northern Illinois University Press. According to the ad it is “a very significant contribution to the biography of Trotsky” as well as “an important contribution to Norwegian political history in the 1930’s.”

Now I yield to no one in fondness for esoteric topics, but this title made me smile. I couldn’t help imagining it as a musical, or perhaps a ballet.

Maybe I’ll order the book, if only in the hope that it will have a picture of Trotsky on skis.

Where’er the Merkin eagle flies


More Albert Speer architecture envisioned for the Nineleven(tm) memorial. This particular exercise in brutalism will conceal a branch office of the New York medical examiner’s office, where various scraps of human corpses will be kept — frozen, I presume — pending “identification”.

There will be a ‘viewing room’ for the families, who, we are assured, will not be charged admission. The families apparently also have a viewing site of their own over the whole Nineleven theme park — a sort of skybox, I suppose.

The combination of ghoulishness, sentimentality, and grievance privilege exhibited here seems very, very American.

You can see in the picture above that there is to be an inscription on the wall, picked out in — what else? — letters of steel, salvaged from the skeletons of Nelson and David(*).

The inscription is a rather pedestrian translation from Aeneid IX. The poet is addressing the shades of Nisus and Euryalus, two terrorists from Aeneas’ band of settler-colonialist invaders, who embarked on an errand of nocturnal assassination against the native resistance movement led by Comrade Turnus. After slaughtering a number of natives in their sleep, Nisus and Euryalus got their well-deserved comeuppance.

Virgil, of course, knows how to put a good face on this sort of thing:

Fortunati ambo! Siquid mea carmina possunt,
nulla dies umquam memori vos eximet aevo,
dum domus Aeneae Capitoli immobile saxum
accolet imperiumque pater Romanus habebit.

Nicely Englished by my man Dryden:

O happy friends! for, if my verse can give
Immortal life, your fame shall ever live,
Fix’d as the Capitol’s foundation lies,
And spread, where’er the Roman eagle flies!

— though Dryden rather softens Virgil’s bluntness; the last two lines translate literally: “While the house of Aeneas occupies the immovable Capitoline rock and the great Roman father holds his empire.”

“Erase”, I must say, is a rather odd choice of words for ‘eximet’, which doesn’t mean anything quite so graphic; it’s just unemphatic ‘take away’. But ‘memori aevo’ is a lot better than the lame ‘memory of time’; it means something like ‘the remembering age’.

Unlike Nisus and Euryalus, the dead of Nineleven didn’t deserve their fate. Apart from that, there is a certain appropriateness, intended or not, in the choice of quote.

(Mutatis mutandis, as the Romans say.)

The gory tale of Nisus and Euryalus, in Virgil’s genuinely sublime and incomparable imperialist tract, takes its place among the uncompromisingly violent and unapologetically thuggish foundational narratives of Rome. Virgil wants it there; his exegi-monumentum poetic confidence tells him he can place it there; and he makes it stick. We remember Nisus and Euryalus because Virgil raised them a monument more lasting than bronze.

What the dullard plodders contriving Ninelevenland have in common with Virgil is the shared program of legitimating empire. Virgil does it by showing Nisus and Euryalus as bold impulsive gallant fellows — and ardent lovers as well. Irresistible, eh?

But the soul-engineers of Ninelevenland don’t really have this option as regards their Immortals (and probably couldn’t handle it if they did). What they have to fall back on is the rhetoric of American victimhood: poor us. So ill-used; so misunderstood.

Somehow I don’t think that a monument more lasting than bronze can be erected on this basis.

Update: Apparently the compromising context of the original has been pointed out to somebody in the theme park’s management cadre. The response? Drop the word ‘Aeneid’ from the attribution. Hey, if we do that, people will think it’s from the Georgics!

(*) As the two boxy towers were unaffectionately known in some circles — the reference being to the two Rockefeller brothers who ran, respectively, the state of New York and the Chase Manhattan Bank.

Victoria’s secret


For years and years and years, I was desperately attracted, in the sickest possible way, to Hillary Clinton. It’s the same kittenish-dominatrix thing that enslaved Comrade Paine to Margaret Thatcher.

But Victoria has broken the Hillary spell. ‘Fuck the EU!’ Oh Victoria! Say it again. Say it right in my ear, in that silky mezzo register so uniquely your own.