Of Thanatos, Ansky’s Notebook and a City in the Desert, a #reading of “2666” by Roberto Bolaño

“Jesus is the masterpiece. The thieves are minor works. Why are they there? Not to frame the crucifixion, as some innocent souls believe, but to hide it.”

2066

“Now what sea is this you have crossed, exactly, and what sea is it you have plunged more than once to the bottom of, alerted, full of adrenalin, but caught really, buffaloed under the epistemologies of these threats that paranoid you so down and out, caught in this steel pot, softening to devitaminized mush inside the soup stock of your own words?”

Gravity’s Rainbow

 

Child in Berlin  -  David Bowie  1977

 

The geography is immense, as the novel meanders through the streets of Paris, Madrid, London or Milan, the ruins of Cologne after the war, the snows of the Austrian border, Venice, Hamburg, the Crimean peninsula, the dark forests of Rumania, Mexico City, and, inevitably, Santa Teresa, the industrious and sinister city in the Sonora desert, still vibrating from the visit of the Savage Detectives.

Is Hans Reiter a reference to the war criminal of the same name? Does the writer’s name, Benno von Archimboldi, hide a deeper meaning? We follow four academics, German literature specialists, united by their obsession with the shadowy writer, Archimboldi. They read, visit each other, Mrs. Bubis, the publisher of Archimboli’s books and his lifelong friend, and try to discover who the writer really is. Their quest finally takes them to the city where girls and young women are butchered by one (of several) sadistic murderers.

Amalfitano, the critics’ host in Santa Teresa, reflects on death and his reasons to have moved o the city, from Spain, where his daughter, Rosa, was born. As he observed the treaty of geometry, hanging upside down from his washing line in his backyard, swept by the desert’s winds and dust, the scholar fears for his daughter, in a city where they kill girls like sparrows. Fate, the reflective journalist from New York, who travels to Santa Teresa for an article on a boxing match, when he is in fact no sports writer, befriends Rosa, and travelled back to New York with her, away from her father and the malediction of the city.

The endless narrative of the murders, spanning four years, unresolved and the investigation of which is plagued by incompetence, corruption and neglect, after all, most of the victims are poor girls working in the sweatshops of the city, or whores, or both, takes three hundred pages of the novel, a harrowing and at times monotonous read. Finally, Klaus Haas, a German-American citizen, is arrested, probably wrongly, for some of the murders.

At long last, we meet Hans Reiter, learn about the house in the forest, the one-eyed mother and the one-legged father. Young Hans is fascinated by the sea and its forests. Unstoppable, the river flows to the beginning of the war. Hans is strong, foolishly brave, visibly with no fear of death. Drafted in a light infantry regiment he picks up an iron cross on his way to Crimea. On a short permission back to Berlin he meets Ingeborg, who after the war would become his wife. Severely wounded Hans is sent to the village of Kosteniko, on the banks of the river Dniepr. There the future Archimboldi meets his future career in a farmhouse that belonged to Boris Ansky’s family, before the village jews were massacred by the Einsatzgruppe C. Hans discovers Ansky’s notebook, the story of an “enemy of the state”, witness of the horror, soldier of the revolution, and genial writer under another man’s name.

Fifty years later, Klaus Haas, son of Lotte, Hans’s sister, is in jail, his trial postponed. Finally Hans, now eighty, and a possible Nobel-awarded writer, visits Santa Teresa, closing the loop.

The book closed, we must read again, as we must reread “Q”, or Gravity’s Rainbow, or the Man Without Quality. In the end we know that Sisyphus trumps Thanatos, even for just a few years.

Image: Child in Berlin  –  David Bowie  1977

Of Fred and Sarah, #quote from Julian Barnes “Levels of Life”

Sarah Bernhardt photographed by Félix Nadar 1865The next evening, he watched her performance, came to her dressing room, and saw many of the same faces. He made sure to pay proper attention to Mme Guérard: having been in foreign courts before, he knew to recognise the power behind the throne. Soon – much sooner than the fiercest optimism could have imagined – she came across, took Barnaby’s arm, and bade her coterie goodnight. As the three of them left, the scrimmage of Parisian dandies took care of not to appear put out. Well, perhaps they weren’t.

From Julian Barnes, “Levels of Life, On the Level” (© Julian Barnes 2013)

Image: Sarah Bernhardt photographed by Félix Nadar 1865

#Promptbox: Une Femme Est une Femme

The AdelphiHis dreams often found him, on islands of darkness, trying to reach out, to long lost lovers, to his parents, and, to her, the elusive woman, the shimmering silhouette. Sometime, he woke up, lost, looking for some way to find, an old phone number, an address, a letter. In the paraphernalia of his sleep he found an extraordinary luxury of details, a Proustian vault of forgotten objects, of rooms once visited, of family occasions, inaccessible under the light of day.

And always, she was there, along the streets of his mind, in cities that were once real, no longer inhabited, other than by her ghost. She walked fast, alone, ignoring the shadows. He wanted to call her, to let her know. In the suburbs of his dreams other things crawled, hardly visible, indeed unseen, perhaps nested in the interstices of another universe. She was not aware, he guessed, of even his existence.

Silent, he was searching, feeling his way, blind to the dawn that would come, for her and for him.

Inspired by “The City & the City”, China Miéville.

ImageThe Adelphi by Bill Brandt, 1939

Weird Paris: Saints and Sinners

Secrets of a most secretive city…

Paris: People, Places and Bling

Whilst traipsing through the Jardin des Tuileries, watch-out for “Le Petit Homme Rouge” ("Spring" by sculptor François Barois, Photographs by Theadora Brack) Whilst traipsing through the Jardin des Tuileries, watch-out for “Le Petit Homme Rouge” (“Spring” by sculptor François Barois, Photographs by Theadora Brack)

Now, let’s go raise some spirits! (La Nuit, T. Brack’s archives)

By Theadora Brack

Calling all saints and sinners: Snuggle tight because it is time to crack open my slim, spellbound volume of spirited adventures in Paris for another retelling. For tricks, I’ve added a few new tales and photographs. I’ve also got the flashlights, pillows, and blankets, along with the marshmallows and bubbly for toasting. Here are eleven of my favorite spooky grounds.

Now, let’s go raise some spirits!

1. The Unknown Celebrity of the Seine

Among the artsy clutter that once adorned nearly every artist’s lair was a plaster face with a mysterious smile. These were cast from a famous death mask called “L’inconnue de la Seine,” made from an unknown 16-year-old who washed up on…

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#VisDare 60: Patience #WritersWednesday

PatienceI thought I recognised him: the steady gaze, the strong hands, the broad shoulders, now a little stooped. Of course he had changed as all of us, all of us still living that is. The long untidy hair was in sharp contrast with the close-shaven head of my memories.

The shabby civilian clothes did not compare with the stiff black uniform he he had worn with pride, then, before the fall. The black uniform of assassins and torturers.

Behind us children were playing, one of the old clocks chimed. The shivering sound reminded me of the present: the war was over, the city was now free.

And yet, it was inhabited by ghosts: those of the traitors and their victims.

#DailyPrompt: A Tale of Two Cities ~ #Berlin and #Paris

If you could split your time…

DSC_0422 dsc_0033.jpg

Your past is both frightening and inspiring; along those avenues and in your museums lie some of the darkest secrets.

We remember, yet, often, today’s visitors are blissfully ignorant. Your beauty has survived the worse hours of Europe’s long history.

Those ghosts are our constant companions as we walk your streets, kiss in your parks, dream awake in the midst of your present…

We love the hopes and courage of your people.  And the souls of those who died to keep you free.

The Edge ~ An evening with friends

Diary writing Prologue

 I know the three of them well, as I crossed their lives at different times, before we met again, that February, in London. How I came to be in possession of those pages is, perhaps, the material for another story. Suffice to say: they trust me, all three, enough to share their most intimate feelings, hopes, and fears.

Above all else, I admire their honesty: what they write in those diaries is really how they see themselves and the others, how they relate to them, what their expectations and frustrations are. But what about me, you might ask. What is my real interest in all this, and why publishing their personal thoughts? Well, they are my friends, and I am a publisher, an entrepreneur if you wish. I admit also to being a crypto voyeur, with a sense of humour, perhaps an admirer of the other Marcel. When I read those pages I felt there was such a spectrum of human dignity, hope and disillusion in them, that I saw literature.

I only appear occasionally in their writing, which is about themselves, and for each one of them, about the other two. The small drama written therein is their drama, or their comedy, depending on how seriously you, the reader, take their words.

Their diaries appear to have been started at more or less the same time, perhaps prompted by the tremendous events of the year 2048, when the narrative begins.

I should add that I have concealed their real names. Just in case you thought you may recognise one of them…

Diary of Céline Jeurève, February 3, 2048

Our evening was full of delights. Charles was in extremely good mood, even by his own standards: I just admired his way with both of us, Monica and I, the perfect gentleman! Et quel charmeur! Monica, dear friend, was just glamour through and through, with this difference that friendship brings to her natural timidity. She was not on the catwalk, but with friends, and what friends! She was adorable, and Charles appreciated her conversation all evening, and so did I, and vice-versa.

We talked about the new fashion season, and Milan, and Paris. Monica’s enjoying her work, and I look forward to seeing her when she’s in Paris, in-between her permanent travels. She was keen to know what Charles and I were planning later in the year – of course we are equally busy, and we promised to keep her posted on our plans.

Then Mars came up, and the intentions of the BRICS Federation. Charles thinks that they will ensure a start of mission this year. After all, they have been working on the ships, around Space Station III, and recruiting and training hundreds of potential colonists on three continents, for the past four years. The Sino-Indian Space Corp. has a fleet of launchers already in Kazakhstan. The North American Union is contributing a strong team of scientists, and of course several rovers. The European Federation has mining experts and engineers lined up. Charles says that the first wave will be no less than two hundred people. We joked about me joining the medical team. Monica says she’d volunteer to be the local clothes designer there!

It is all deadly serious though. Colleagues at the faculty say that an entire surgical block is part of the payload. Someone said that a famous Chinese brain surgeon will be part of the team.

Dinner was just right, I am pleased to say, and Charles was happy with his handy work on the parfait, sweet husband! Monica had brought a bottle of Chassagne-Montrachet, apparently a present from “an admirer”, sublime. The three of us got suitably tipsy, and stayed awake just long enough for Monica’s taxi at two this morning.

Une soirée réussie. I am writing this before going to my eleven o’clock lecture on DNA testing. I must rush. Just one thing: during the evening I saw, at times, my friend’s eyes going a little misty as she was listening to Charles. Is Monica getting tender toward my husband?

Note to myself – Charles Jeurève, 1pm, February 3, 2048

Must send roses to C and M – now. They were perfect. What a couple they are.  And for whose pleasure? Mine! You’re a lucky fellow Monsieur Jeurève. Be good!

Letter to Mr & Mrs Jeurève, dated February 4, 2048, posted from Milan

Dear friends,

I cannot find words to thank you enough for a wonderful evening. As you know I am always nervous before embarking on a new show, and this was a perfect way for me to forget about my professional anxieties. Céline: I want to say that you were so beautiful, that black kimono suits you perfectly, I wish I could wear Asian chef-d’oeuvres like this with your grace, on you it looks magical, on me I’d look like a scarecrow!

Charles made me laugh, he’s such a good story teller, and has such a sense of humour. I write from my little cubicle in Milan, before makeup. It’s chaos here. But when I think of your place, near Vincennes, a haven of beauty and calm, I feel all relaxed again. I love you both, I will write again next week, after the show.

Bises to both,

Monica