an afternoon sapeur
a cuban cigar
a saxophone, accordion
and sweet saudade voice
a wife too many chats away
and children silent
hip hop tags
communist posters
a coin for the case
two dogs brawl
two gis for Judo
talk along their way
falling off a bicycle laughing
chanting ¡Beso! ¡Beso! ¡Beso!
he does, she smiles
English, German, French, Spanish
textiles over one shoulder
feed the baby on the other
street lights come on
the convent wall blue or yellow
in the end at the hotel
through louvers that can’t be closed
it goes from sobbing to fucking


Orwell’s Honeymoon

I have finally attained the privilege of being a reader of the TLS as it has fallen generously from the table of my supervisor, as a child lets slip gristle to a dog, who, perhaps through some subterfuge of generosity, the most generous kind where the recipient is lead to believe they owe no debt of gratitude, inexplicably found himself regularly sent a duplicate copy. I mention this only because the present edition includes an article mentioning a biography that mentions this extraordinary detail, brief but speaking volumes about a certain writer’s character:

Orwell complained of his honeymoon that he’d only done two days work out of seven. These two days work gave us ‘Shooting An Elephant’.

‘Shooting An Elephant’ is one of his best works, and among the best of English short fiction. This anecdote is framed as a criticism of Orwell’s neglect of his wife, celebrating the fact he was only human and no saint. If he had only realised what a few days with his beloved could produce on return to the desk, how much improved might his oeuvre have been? An alternative inference: if 5 days with his wife could produce ‘Shooting An Elephant’, how many nights of marital bliss went into 1984 and Animal Farm? All cleverness aside, can’t an author know themself all too well and make a joke? What’s more, deep involvement and dedication in works, whatever they may be, is something people may love about each other. Not everyone wants to be their lover’s work.

Semantic Radicals

In Chinese writing there are usually two parts or ‘radicals’ in a character, a semantic (meaning) and a phonetic (sound) radical. If there is a phonetic part, that corresponds to the spoken word, which has a meaning, why would you need a semantic part? There are many homophones in Chinese – words that sound the same but have different meanings. In speech this might be ok, as the specific meaning may be determined by the context of what you are talking about or where you are, or what you are doing, and if there is any confusion you can ask for clarification. But what if you want to just write a short message? One of the main things about writing is that the author is not present, it can be read without them. Writing can also be taken out of its context – the message may appear at any place and time. So the unspoken semantic radical is required to disambiguate the meaning.

Schomburg Fjords vol. 1

Of the most enviable writing there are two kinds. The first is your own writing, written by somebody else. You think, this was my idea but you took it. If only I had spent those extra hours after work, if only I’d known I could get away with it, if only it was me in the publisher’s pocket, if I only had the chance. The second makes you shake your head thinking, I could never have written this, never even imagined. Every page of Zachary Schomburg’s Fjords vol. 1 starts like the first and ends like the second.

Sparing 1 of 7 billion

I just read Ge Fei’s The Invisibility Cloak
Only this and one other novella has been translated.
He is called experimental, but The Invisibility Cloak isn’t.
How interesting his other books must be.
In a world of 7 billion people
can’t one be spared from telesales and IT
to translate Peach Blossom Beauty (人面桃花, Renmian Taohua)?
The lecturer at Oxford’s Bodleian library series
mentions in passing that nobody has bothered to write a dictionary
of written signs in the few precolumbian codices,
these last few that survive of once vast libraries
of a civilisation that developed for thousands of years
in isolation from anything the East, West and South knew about,
and that the people they belong to, the people of the rain,
were amazed to see a copy of them for the first time,
just a few years ago.
In a world of 7 billion people
can’t one be spared from telesales and IT
to make a dictionary for the world’s rarest and most precious manuscripts?

Calvino’s King Listens In Golconda

In Italo Calvino’s Under The Jaguar Sun, a collection of 5 stories each based on one of the 5 senses, is “A King Listens”, a story about a king whose movements become increasingly constrained by the extent of his own power. Unable to move from his throne, at the centre of power, he can only know about his kingdom through what he hears. From reports of his officials and spies to the whispers he hears echoing throughout the castle his world becomes increasingly paranoid and claustrophobic. Could Calvino’s story be derived from Golconda Fort in Hyderabad? Golconda Fort was built in the 16th Century and housed markets for the rich diamond mines nearby. Included in it’s strategic defences against theft and invasion was a sophisticated acoustic design which amplified the sound of the softest footstep throughout the fort.

By NmkuttiadyOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link
By SajjusajuuOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link
By Sanyam BahgaOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Epic Understatement

Understatement of the millenia:
“Carving time out from one’s regular schedule and work engagements to embark on such a mammoth work of translation has been difficult.” – Bibek Debroy on spending only 6 years translating the longest of all world epics, The Mahabharata, unabridged, 73,787 Sanskrit couplets into 2.5 million English words, in 10 volumes, the first of which, in my hands, is just shy of 500 pages. It’s a remarkable achievement not to die before finishing. Not only that it reads well.