Borges and Buenos Aires

I once heard Jorge Luis Borges lecture. In 1967 or 8 he came to Harvard, and though I only dimly knew who he was, he impressed me with his uncanny presence, unlike anyone I had encountered. But I tried reading his most well-know work, Labyrinths, I never made much progress. Now I think perhaps it was the fault of the translation, as Larry brought a fat book of his nonfiction writing with him, edited by Eliot Weinberger, and I am finding it wonderful.

But as the most illustrious Argentinian writer who lived and worked in Buenos Aires, we have gone to two cafes that claim his frequent presence. Cafe Tortoni has photos and bronze busts, but Cafe Biela, has this ghoulish tableau of Borges and Casares at the entrance.

After that, we decided to eat in the outdoor area under the shade of a huge banyan tree. The park by the cafe was filled with vendors, strolling families, musicians and a vendor ingeniously displaying his feather dusters. Continue reading

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The many too many

Years ago, reading Ortega y Gasset’s The Revolt of the Masses, I first thought about the age of “mass man.” Yesterday was a holiday here in Argentina, Dia de San Martin, and along with the masses from Buenos Aires, we took an hour train ride out of the city to the delta, to a town called Tigre, named for a jaguar type cat that has long since been hunted to endangered species status.

In its place: an amusement park, McDonald’s, boats large and small–from kayaks to massive ferries spewing diesel. The many varieties of motor boats tote tourists around an hour loop of waterways to gawk at the strange houses on stilts built on the many islands, accompanied by a canned recitation of facts such as that 90% of the wicker used in Argentina is harvested here. The facts are in three languages, Spanish, Portuguese, and English, punctuated by truly awful music.

One of the oddest sites was the former home of D. F. Sarmiento, “Argentine activist, intellectual, writer, statesman and the seventh President of Argentina,” according to Wikipedia, completely enclosed in glass:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not my kind of thing–have you guessed? Nonetheless, the elemental beauty of the river was good to see. I’m sure it will outlast us all.

Which reminds me of a short poem of mine

The earth
as a drop dead gorgeous woman
with bad taste in men.

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Buenos Aires

Because we’d never been to the southern hemisphere we decided to travel to Argentina and Chile. We’ve been in Buenos Aires since Thursday, long enough to have a sense of where we are in the city, to travel the buses and subways, make dumb mistakes, and receive lots of friendly assistance.

The streets here throng with people, and the many, many cafes seem always full of people talking over a cup of espresso or cappuccino. There is a very rushed, chaotic feeling to the streets which are crammed with taxis, busses, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians.

The big boulevards have special bus lanes, and bus service is great except at rush hour, when lines are ridiculously long, and the crush is exhausting. The pedestrians jaywalk like New Yorkers, watching traffic, not lights, and the drivers only yield right-of-way when they have to. As for the motorcyclists, they really seem to be continually risking their life. But people seem genuinely cheerful, if always hurrying.

A friend who lives in Northern Argentina told me he had turned down a prestigious job in Buenos Aires because life is too pressured in the city–too hard a place to raise a family. As a vacation destination, though, it’s fun.

Pizza is the hamburger of Buenos Aires, it seems like there is a pizza place every other block, and it’s a crispy, very thick crust version.  We went to the “Best Pizza in the World,” at Pizza Guerrin, in business since 1932. Lively and delicious.

A chain we’ve seen all over is called Kentucky Pizza. But  of course we haven’t tried  it.

We’ve had one fabulous meal that I found through a site that offers private dinners–sort of pop up restaurants all over the world.  This one was a very intimate, organic, farm to table restaurant that we went to by taxi.   Continue reading

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A sonnet?

Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images for Homefront TV

Troy Jollimore used this poem by A. E. Stallings to illustrate what the modern sonnet can do. Even though the lines are short, and the “turn” comes at line three, it does seem like a sonnet:

 

Fire Safety Drill

It ought to be easy to learn:
Freeze, drop where you stand,
And roll yourself in a rug;
But acting as you’ve planned
When the glib tongue licks your hair
Or rubbles up your sleeve
Is difficult—the tug
Of heat unravels thought—
And all that you were taught
Comes brilliantly undone.
And in the moment’s flare
Somehow you believe
That it can be outrun,
And you’ve got time to burn.

A. E. Stallings

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Making an enemy?

I hope not, but I am going to repost a poem here from the poem-a-day feature of the Academy of American poets. Reading it, I had an idea about what I would suggest were I an editor and this poem came to me. But poets are rarely open to suggestions as radical as mine. Editing others’ work as I see it is part of my belief that poets are all really working on one big quilt of words, and it’s important to be open to others thoughts about one’s particular needlework. Of course, it’s easier to be open to editing others’ work than to accept suggestions about one’s own.

In any case, here is the poem as written, followed by my suggestion.

Early Fall

Rain decays dawn—
everything in the yard

leaning, beaded, broken in.
A lucid dream

the weather
assembles; a pain particular

as light seeping
into an alley

narrowed by overgrowth.
To articulate what slips

the instant
speech moves

to apprehend it.

Cinder blocks stacked
by a metal shed door

totem-like
in haze

of evaporated rain.

Joseph Massey

My suggested edit: Continue reading

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Curinary miscellany

After watching baristas make beautiful designs on my cappuccino, I decided to try it myself.

Larry said it looked like kindergarten cappuccino.  With this particular cappuccino, I made Kenji Alt-Lopez’ BLT, which includes bread sautéed in bacon fat, and thick, salted slices of tomato. Yum!

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Raw

In a workshop once, Marie Howe suggested: write a poem from the point of view of someone who throws trash out the car window. Nobody could. But here Frank Bidart manages a harder task–write a poem in the voice of a pedophile.

Herbert White

“When I hit her on the head, it was good,

and then I did it to her a couple of times,—
but it was funny,—afterwards,
it was as if somebody else did it…

Everything flat, without sharpness, richness or line.

Still, I liked to drive past the woods where she lay,
tell the old lady and the kids I had to take a piss,
hop out and do it to her…

The whole buggy of them waiting for me
made me feel good;
but still, just like I knew all along,
she didn’t move.

When the body got too discomposed,
I’d just jack off, letting it fall on her…

—It sounds crazy, but I tell you
sometimes it was beautiful—; I don’t know how
to say it, but for a minute, everything was possible—;
and then,
then,—
well, like I said, she didn’t move: and I saw,
under me, a little girl was just lying there in the mud:

and I knew I couldn’t have done that,—
somebody else had to have done that,—
standing above her there,
in those ordinary, shitty leaves…

—One time, I went to see Dad in a motel where he was
staying with a woman; but she was gone;
you could smell the wine in the air; and he started,
real embarrassing, to cry…
He was still a little drunk,
and he asked me to forgive him for
all he hadn’t done—; but, What the shit?
Who would have wanted to stay with Mom? with bastards
not even his own kids?

I got in the truck, and started to drive,
and saw a little girl—
who I picked up, hit on the head, and
screwed, and screwed, and screwed, and screwed, then

buried,
in the garden of the motel…

—You see, ever since I was a kid I wanted
to feel things make sense: I remember

looking out the window of my room back home,—
and being almost suffocated by the asphalt;
and grass; and trees; and glass;
just there, just there, doing nothing!
not saying anything! filling me up—
but also being a wall; dead, and stopping me;
—how I wanted to see beneath it, cut

beneath it, and make it
somehow, come alive…

The salt of the earth;
Mom once said, ‘Man’s spunk is the salt of the earth…’
—That night, at that Twenty-nine Palms Motel
I had passed a million times on the road, everything

fit together; was alright;
it seemed like
everything had to be there, like I had spent years
trying, and at last finally finished drawing this
huge circle…

—But then, suddenly I knew
somebody else did it, some bastard
had hurt a little girl—; the motel
I could see again, it had been

itself all the time, a lousy
pile of bricks, plaster, that didn’t seem to
have to be there,—but was, just by chance…

—Once, on the farm, when I was a kid,
I was screwing a goat; and the rope around his neck
when he tried to get away
pulled tight;—and just when I came,
he died
I came back the next day; jacked off over his body;
but it didn’t do any good…

Mom once said:
‘Man’s spunk is the salt of the earth, and grows kids.’

I tried so hard to come; more pain than anything else;
but didn’t do any good…

—About six months ago, I heard Dad remarried,
so I drove over to Connecticut to see him and see
if he was happy.
She was twenty-five years younger than him:
she had lots of little kids, and I don’t know why,
I felt shaky…
I stopped in front of the address; and
snuck up to the window to look in…
—There he was, a kid
six months old on his lap, laughing
and bouncing the kid, happy in his old age
to play the papa after years of sleeping around,—
it twisted me up…
To think that what he wouldn’t give me,
he wanted to give them…

I could have killed the bastard…

—Naturally, I just got right back in the car,
and believe me, was determined, determined,
to head straight for home…

but the more I drove,
I kept thinking about getting a girl,
and the more I thought I shouldn’t do it,
the more I had to—

I saw her coming out of the movies,
saw she was alone, and
kept circling the blocks as she walked along them,
saying, ‘You’re going to leave her alone.’
‘You’re going to leave her alone.’

—The woods were scary!
As the seasons changed, and you saw more and more
of the skull show through, the nights became clearer,
and the buds,—erect, like nipples…

—But then, one night,
nothing worked
Nothing in the sky
would blur like I wanted it to;
and I couldn’t, couldn’t,
get it to seem to me
that somebody else did it…

I tried, and tried, but there was just me there,
and her, and the sharp trees
saying, ‘That’s you standing there.
You’re…
just you.’

I hope I fry.

—Hell came when I saw
MYSELF…
and couldn’t stand
what I see…”

Frank Bidart

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Hats

We made it over to the exhibit of impressionist paintings of all thing millinery today. It was billed as an exhibit of Degas’ paintings about that include hats, but had many impressionists and also glass cases with sample hats from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. You can read about it and see paintings here.  It was great fun, and I was tempted by a hat at the museum store:

But it was $200.  Instead, I kept wearing my blue hat that I bought at a thrift shop this week for $2.

Then I took a couple of pictures of others with good hats:

 

 

 

 

Continue reading

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A poem not just for tax season

Lat time I was at Squaw Valley Community of Writers I discovered that there was another poet not just from my very small town, but who lives on my short block, seven or eight houses down from me. How lucky!

Here is one of her poems:

Discussing Useful Life at the Tax Depreciation Seminar
While Remembering a Line by David Baker

The depreciable life of a parking garage is fifteen, unless its roof

is the floor of the building above it, in which case it’s thirty-nine.

Office furniture is seven, the stove five and the fax machine five.

But if a machine has its wires embedded in the wall behind it,

so they ease through the wall like veins, it can make that wall part

of the machine, thus five, as if there’s a contagion there, a life-changing Continue reading

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On the wall this month

We are rich in broadsides, those page-size, elegant, usually letterpress versions of a single poem designed to be framed on the wall. We keep one up in the guest bathroom and change it out regularly. This one by Charles Simic, so simple, is unusual in that it is a copy of a hand-written poem. I think that this adds to  its power:

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