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“We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won’t do harm — yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.” - E.M. Forster, A Room With a View

March 22, 2020 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Irish March

A belated start to my Irish March - the month snuck up on me (came in like a lamb?) partly due to doing much less reading on our Caribbean cruise at the end of February than I had anticipated. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be reading Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy and John McGahern’s By the Lake. It’s been a few years since I last read McGahern (I loved Amongst Women), and am eager to read him again. 

March 10, 2020 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“Hans Andersen slept in this room for five weeks—which seemed to the family AGES!”

Hans Christian Andersen: diva, houseguest from hell, and unrequited bromancer of Charles Dickens. 

March 5, 2020 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"There were no bands greeting them at the stations..."

The opening paragraphs of Hamlin Garland's "The Return of a Private" (from Main-Traveled Roads):

The nearer the train drew toward La Crosse, the soberer the little group of "vets" became. On the long way from New Orleans they had beguiled tedium with jokes and friendly chaff; or with planning with elaborate detail what they were going to do now, after the war. A long journey, slowly, irregularly, yet persistently pushing northward. When they entered on Wisconsin territory they gave a cheer, and another when they reached Madison, but after that they sank into a dumb expectancy. Comrades dropped off at one or two points beyond, until there were only four or five left who were bound for La Crosse County.

Three of them were gaunt and brown, the fourth was gaunt and pale, with signs of fever and ague upon him. One had a great scar down his temple, one limped, and they all had unnaturally large, bright eyes, showing emaciation. There were no bands greeting them at the stations, no banks of gayly dressed ladies waving handkerchiefs and shouting "Bravo!" as they came in on the caboose of a freight train into the towns that had cheered and blared at them on their way to war. As they looked out or stepped upon the platform for a moment, while the train stood at the station, the loafers looked at them indifferently. Their blue coats, dusty and grimy, were too familiar now to excite notice, much less a friendly word. They were the last of the army to return, and the loafers were surfeited with such sights.

Such a contrast between the onset of war, when an excited public rallies behind the departing troops, and the aftermath, when the public has grown weary and indifferent to their return. Reading this, I couldn't help being reminded of the closing verses of Eric Bogle's "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" ("And the band played Waltzing Matilda/As they carried us down the gangway/But nobody cheered/They just stood and stared/And they turned their faces away"), which was so brilliantly covered by the Pogues.

March 5, 2020 in Books, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...a surgeon operating on the fluid body of time."

In 1931, Walker Evans and his friend Lincoln Kirstein set out to document in photographs the Victorian architecture of Kirstein's native Boston. As related in James Mellow's Walker Evans, Kirstein admitted their process was complicated...

"...even aside from the actual sighting, clicking etc. of the camera itself. The sun had to be just right and more often than not we would have to come back to the same place two or even three times for the light to be hard and bright. I felt like a surgeon's assistant to Walker. Cleaning up neatly after him, and he a surgeon operating on the fluid body of time. Some satisfaction in exhausting a given locale of its definite formal atmosphere - so rich, exuberant, gracious and redolent of a distinguished past..."

That meticulous nature - returning several times to get the lighting just right - is one of the things that sets Evans' photographs apart, into the realm of greatness.

February 20, 2020 in Art, Books, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Now time must use him.”

In Ursula K. Le Guin's "Brothers and Sisters" (collected in The Orsinian Tales) Kostant Fabbre has been disabled by a rockslide at the quarry where he works.

Kostant Fabbre was home, and alone all day now that he was able to get across a room on crutches. How he spent these vast silent days no one considered, probably least of all himself. An active man, the strongest and most intelligent worker in the quarries, a crew foreman since he was twenty-three, he had had no practice at all at idleness, or solitude. He had always used his time to the full in work. Now time must use him. He watched it at work upon him without dismay or impatience, carefully, like an apprentice watching a master. He employed all his strength to learn his new trade, that of weakness. The silence in which he passed the days clung to him now as the limestone dust had used to cling to his skin.

Really good book. I'm enjoying it immensely.

February 11, 2020 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“Girl sitting alone in the Sea Grill waiting for a pickup.”

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Photograph by Esther Bubley, 1943, for the Office of War Information. So lonely, so forlorn. I would write a story about her, but I suspect her story has already been written many times before. (Algren’s “Is Your Name Joe?” comes to mind.)

February 5, 2020 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“At first going to hotels seemed exciting and glamorous, but now I find it depressing and lonely. Essentially they are all pretty much the same; there are better or worse. You do your thing and you come back to your hotel. And you get up the next day and it is like you’ve never been there at all. It was interesting to see if I could make something out of that seemingly dead time.” - Eimear McBride

I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a hotel novel, but don’t have enough experience with hotels to make the setting convincing. (I’ve always been more homebody than traveler.) I think the only hotel novel I’ve read is Jim Thompson’s Wild Town.

January 26, 2020 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Verse

The whole season has come to this:
a holding on so that the letting go
might seem to us like chance.
- Frank Ormsby

January 25, 2020 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Heatless Mondays

“Bartenders wearing overcoats, sweaters, and gloves bustled about setting ‘em up for the chilled patrons, who also kept bundled up while they were partaking of the drinks the government had ruled were not to be dispensed.” (Connecting the Windy City, 2nd item)

Pretty cruel to not allow heat in public places, while also not allowing someone to have a stiff drink to ward off the resulting chill.

 

January 20, 2020 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)