Monthly Archives: November 2011

Notes from My Journal: the Chicago-Indianapolis Book Tour (Part 1: A Quixotic Adventure)

Passionate Nomads“According to The Oxford English Dictionary, quicksotic sentiments: “If … our Quixotics seem foolish or extravagant.” Our foolish extravagances, then, our quixotics, or quixotries, or quixotisms, are simply quixotical. By extravagantly emulating the grand Quicksote himself, the don Quicksote of Cervantes’s novel that we may or may not have read, we become our own Quicksotes, sinking into the quicksand of our lofty, unrealizable idealisms: “Thus the Quixots of this Age fight with the Windmills of their own heads.” But to our mind quixotics is more than foolishness to be forgotten; it is a different way of knowing things, of perceiving the deeper realities that are hidden by their plain surfaces. We declare this definition boldly, without apology to this world’s wise or to the editors of dictionaries, who looking at us askance, smiling out of the sides of their mouths, are wondering if at last we would just stop quicksotizing, or quicksoting, and accept the realisms they proffer.”

– BAS, “Quicksotics,” from the chapbook Quixotics

Thursday, November 17

 The drive up to Chicago today was smooth, sunny skies all the way, brisk cold air. We drove up in a 2012 Chevy Sedan 200 XL, a rental from Enterprise in Jasper, so we were comfortably warm except for the moments standing in the brisk wind pumping petrol gas, as the Brits would say. (I’m channeling Cat Stevens, his song “Where Do the Children Play?”) Anyway, the ride was good until we hit the toll road toward Chicago and I missed a quick turn and ended up going east and then south again for a good twenty minutes or more before I could even find a way out of that mess to turn around. Studied the directions and took it more slowly the second time, and made it into Chicago well enough, but the ride was rather harrowing and we were both a little shaken by it. Now tomorrow to find our way out.

Indiana Windmills

A modern La Mancha in northwestern Indiana?

Before we hit the concrete jungle, anyway, in the northern Indiana that is mainly corn fields and open spaces, I had a rather Quixotic experience, almost as if I were in a new, more modernized La Mancha, driving toward a bunch of tall, sleek windmills. “Anita! Look! Giants!” I shouted. “I have to attack them.” She replied that I should just knock myself out then, but first park and put her in a safe place. Oh, Sancha (yes, I called her Sancha, not Anita), I should have reproved you for your lack of faith and valor, but not being knighted herself I would let her watch and learn. As we drove further into this vast wind farm, planted here and there in impressive symmetrical rows, and still the windmills as far as I could discern in front and to either side, I just felt a kind of awe, a quixotic rapture, as it were. This, if our governments have the wisdom and foresight to prioritize such projects over bombs and military adventures, here is what our future ought to look like, sleek, modern, high-tech windmills dotting the country from shore to shining shore. It occurred to me too, though, that Don Quixote, were he somehow re-vitalized (like Mansilla in María Rosa’s brilliant novel), he would be totally bewildered by the spectacle, the remarkable stretch of giant after giant after giant, an army so vast that, well, where could he start? The new age therefore must require a new Quixote borne from this Midwestern stretch of North American flatlands and prairie, someone riding – driving – an old nag of a car, perhaps climbing head and torso out the window and shooting them up, sitting in the open window while his Sancho or Sancha reaches over from the passenger’s seat and tries to steer well enough to keep from crashing itno those big metal trunks. Would the bullets do any harm to these modern behemoths? Would the ricocheting projectiles just turn back on knight and metal steed? Perhaps putting out a window or taking off an ear or striking the good don’s shoulder, knocking him out of the car and flat on his middle-aged back? Oh, the possibilities!

Anita, Maria Rosa, and Brett in Indianapolis

Anita, Maria Rosa, and Brett in Indianapolis

I will save more detail of the book event itself for another writing, but suffice it to say that it went rather well, though the turn-out was not huge. Those who were there, perhaps a dozen or so beyond hosts and participants, were a rapt audience. Afterwards there were empanadas and alfajores, and publisher-editor Jay Miskowiec and his adult son, a grad student in Chicago, helped me haul a couple boxes of books to the trunk of our sleek and relatively gas-efficient car before rushing back to the Instituto Cervantes and off to the Weber Café, just around the corner from the Institute and at a couple blocks from our hotel, with María Rosa, Jay, and his son – Professor Rosa Tezanos-Pinto, who introduced María Rosa and me to our audience, had to hurry away for her bus back to Indianapolis, where Anita and I and María Rosa will see and probably dine with her tomorrow.

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New Publications: “The Gentleman of the Willow” and “Minimal Autobiography of an ‘Exiled Daughter'”

You’ve heard, I’m sure, the expression “when it rains it pours,” by which usually we mean misfortune fast upon misfortune. But sometimes, too, it pours good fortune; in this instance, publication upon publication. Fast upon the June release of Passionate Nomads (see previous blog), in October both an excerpt from that novel and my translation of an autobiographical essay by its author appeared in print!

Essays on Memory and Human Rights in the AmericasMaría Rosa Lojo’s “Minimal Autobiography of an ‘Exiled Daughter’” appears in Chilean exile, poet, and human rights champion Marjorie Agosín’s anthology Inhabiting Memory: Essays on Memory and Human Rights in the Americas, published by Wings Press of San Antonio, Texas. This project, initially set for publication three or four years ago, was delayed indefinitely by the ravages of the global economic downturn and the literary publishing industry’s consequent agonies. But the final product is well worth the wait, and not just for María Rosa’s essay. The contributions range, geographically, from the United States and its border with Mexico, to Guatemala and El Salvador, and to Chile and Argentina and Uruguay, during and after the “dirty wars” that killed and “disappeared” tens of thousands of those countries’ populations.

But these essays are not all or even mostly about horror but about the creative acts of memory that allow a people to witness of those crimes and then shape them into an improved if not utopian future. A particular bonus for me is the fabulous Argentine writer Julio Cortázar’s little essay (written at the time of Argentina’s rejection of military dictatorship and embrace of democracy) “A New Praise of Folly,” which updates Erasmus of Rotterdam’s original Praise of Folly which so influenced Miguel de Cervantes in his creation of the character and novel of his “mad” knight and ours, Don Quixote of La Mancha – who, in Walter Starkie’s translation, “had the fortune in his age / to live a fool and die a sage.”

Cortázar  witnesses of the heroic folly of the “mothers and dear grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo” who almost single-handedly, by the persistence of their protests over untold disappearances of children and grandchildren, brought an illegitimate military regime to its knees; and to unnamed “people of the pen and of the word, exiles from within and from without,” who have subsequently helped broaden the campaign for greater accountability and revelation of the secrets of State terrorism. “Argentines,” he writes, “let’s continue in our folly: there is no other way to put an end to that reason that vociferates its slogans of order, discipline and patriotism. Let’s continue hurling the doves of the true country into the skies of our motherland and into those of the whole world.”

María Rosa’s essay, touching tangentially on that saga of los desaparecidos of the late 70s and early 80s, focuses more particularly on the legacy of memory bestowed in particular by her father, self-exile from Spain after having fought on the Republican side against the victorious fascist regime of the Generallisimo Francisco Franco. She writes of his memorializing of the now-mythic land of his Spanish Galicia, which it was the duty of the exiled daughter to carry within her being until the time of return. Her parents, by the time of the dictator’s death, were too old and ill to make any such journey, so it was left to her, who eventually did make the symbolic return to that land she had only inhabited in imagination. By then, comfortable within the particularities of a life now rooted on American soil, she only “returned to pay homage to memory, not to stay.” She writes: “I did not renounce any of my lands, any of my histories. I have fully accepted my dual identity, just as I have my dual citizenship. The initial schism, the ambivalence, have been transformed into intricate riches. I can look at Spain from Argentina and at Argentina from Brett with RosebudSpain.”

The past month’s other publication, “The Gentleman of the Willow,” appears in the Fall 2011 issue of Rosebud: The Magazine for People Who Enjoy Good Writing, and is excerpted from Passionate Nomads, my translation of María Rosa’s 1994 novel La pasión de los nómades. This excerpt from her unique and charming historical fantasy contains the unlikely meeting of the water fairy Rosaura dos Carballos, emigrant from Spanish Galicia, and Lucio V. Mansilla, recent escapee from Paradise, 19th-century Argentine jack-of-all-trades and author of a book about his nation’s Ranquel Indians. For a different excerpt from the novel, see last month’s blog.

As for this new publication, let me briefly sing the praises of Rosebud, that distinctive little magazine that could, edited and co-founded by Rod Clark, jewel among literary magazines. Rosebud, no respecter of genres but publisher of lively stories, essays, and poetry from science fiction and fantasy to strictly literary works, all of it richly elegant and accessible, has published poetry from the likes of Ursula K. LeGuin, Stephen King, and in the present issue a rare piece by General George S. Patton; as well as prose by known entities like Ray Bradbury and a vast array of writers whose names are not well known but perhaps should be. The present issue contains, among its numerous worthy pieces, a second translation, by Thomas Feeny, of a comic story by Italian writer Alfredo Panzini; poetry editor and speculative fiction writer John E. Smelcer’s “The Girl Who Killed Custer”; and a deeply moving, melancholy story with a Spanish title by Margaret Benbow.

It also contains Appendix I and Appendix II from Clark’s science fiction “micro-novel” Redshift: Greenstreem, originally published in 2000 and just re-issued by the Cambridge (WI) Book Review Press. (It is available from the publisher and from amazon.com.) The book is being touted as “a minor cult classic,” and having just purchased and read a copy I can see why. It has much to say about the present economic crisis (about which it is highly prescient) and about the need for something like the Occupy Wall Street movement that is currently sweeping the nation. Say what you will about the merits of these occupations, the need for concern that they highlight – over the wildly increasing gap between rich and poor both at home and abroad – seems hard to seriously question. Maybe, by some creative mix of rhetoric and protest, we can still save our children and grandchildren from the ill fate prophesied in Clark’s dystopian narrative.