There’s an old (1949) British comedy film in which Pimlico, a part of London, becomes the Duchy of Burgundy practically overnight with all the complications that this entails – the kind of complications that Carles Puidgemont, the Catalan ex-president, should have foreseen before he unilaterally declared independence from Spain.
On Tuesday evening the Catalan president Carles Puigdemont declared unilateral independence from Spain – only to suspend said independence in the same breath, the same sentence. This has to be some sort of a record; according to Wikipedia, the next shortest lived sovereign state lasted a full 6 hours.
El martes por la tarde el presidente catalán, Carles Puidgemont declaró la independencia unilateral de Cataluña de España – sólo para suspender dicho independencia con el mismo aliento, en la misma frase. Es una especie de marca; según Wikipedia, el segundo más corto estado soberano duró un total de 6 horas.
Picking up where I left off on Monday night… that is, the problem of re-reading books.
The Dangers of Re-Reading
The Book Vargas Llosa Dares Not Re-Read
A few days ago on Zenda Libros I read the transcript of a group interview with three authors: Mario Vargas Llosa, Arturo Pérez-Reverte and Javier Marías. One of these I’d follow to hell, another won the Nobel Prize and the third one is still on my to be read pile.
I was reading Keats last night:
My spirit is too weak – mortality
Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,
And each imagined pinnacle and steep
Of godlike hardship tells me I must die
Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.
Yet ’tis a gentle luxury to weep
That I have not the cloudy winds to keep
Fresh for the opening of the morning’s eye.
Such dim-conceived glories of the brain
Bring round the heart an undescribable feud;
So do these wonders a most dizzy pain,
That mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude
Wasting of old time – with a billowy main –
A sun – a shadow of a magnitude.
(On Seeing the Elgin Marbles by John Keats)
I have to say it threw me a bit. Not quite as easy as “Then I felt like some watcher of the skies / When a new planet swims into his ken” (On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer also by John Keats). In fact, after much mulling over what some of the phrases actually meant, I had to seek enlightment from Mr Anglo-Saxonist who upon reading it pronounced that it was s**t poem and there was no need to rack my brains about what it meant. (He particularly objected to the sick eagle.) Well, I wouldn’t go quite as far but I have to agree: not one of Keats’s best. Nevertheless I do like the last few lines, in particular:
… mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude
Wasting of old time…
Which is why today we’re going to talk about some Greek grandeur and the rude wasting of old time.
Minus 55 degrees, zero visibility and a raging snowstorm. Nobody at Halley Station should be outside under these circumstances but the station doctor has just discovered that the cold weather gear of one of the scientists is missing from the boot room and according to the sign-in board he has gone to the met tower. Only a hundred metres’ walk but in this weather that’s a lot – and nobody has seen the man all afternoon. Besides, he’s not the meteorologist, so what was he doing there? Perhaps it’s time to get worried!
One of the stereotypes of Spain is, of course, that of bull-fighting. We’ve never been to Spain during the season but there’s a general agreement in the family that if we had the chance, we’d see one. There’s also agreement that we probably won’t like it; certain family members hope the bull would win. (Unlikely.)
Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death…
If you and I sat down to have a cup of coffee right now… well, to begin with, I’d be drinking lemon tea. And despite of all the interesting books that you think we could or should be talking about, chances are we’d end up talking about politics and football.
(Yeah, I know. It pretends to be a book blog.)
But we had a referendum last week and the UK decided to leave the EU. Simultaneously, we reached the knockout stage of the European Championship…
In 2014, as the issue of Catalan independence heated up, Joan Planas, a Catalan film-maker and photographer decided to travel around Spain to talk to people in bars and find out what they thought about Spain, the Catalans and other topics. The resulting book, España desde el bar (Spain from the Bar) was published in April and is well worth the reading – if you can read Spanish, that is, as it has not been translated into English.
A hundred interview subjects, a hundred differing opinions from all over Spain on Catalan independence and half a dozen other current topics, from bull-fighting to corruption.
España desde el bar es un libro de entrevistas, en que Joan Planas, un catalán, dio la vuelta a España de bar en bar y preguntó a la gente sus opiniones sobre España, los catalanes y otros temas.
Para leer mi reseña del libro, e incluso mi entrevista a Joan – cortada y traducida en inglés – y para ver unas fotos, haz click aquí.
Lo que sigue aquí abajo es el texto entero de la entrevista original en castellano:
This is easily the unlikeliest entry that I could ever have dreamed of writing: it’s about a book that I haven’t read yet, a book that hasn’t even been published yet.
Okay, so this has nothing to do with books whatsoever. (You’ve been forewarned.) Although it does have to do with knowing your own bloody (in every sense of the word!) history…
Last night we went out to the late opening of the British Museum. We do this often ever since we discovered how much less crowded it is than during normal daylight hours. On the way back, on the tube, my husband plugged his earphones in and started to listen to a British comedy podcast he had downloaded. And then suddenly he laughed out loud. And when I say, loud, I mean, LOUD.
This is a London tube carriage we’re travelling in here, people. You have to be British to truly appreciate what an awful social gaffe it is to laugh out loud in a tube carriage.
I read this marvellous article in the Spanish cultural magazine JotDown recently (it’s been written a couple of years ago, but that’s the beauty of the internet): Si van a Granada y solo pueden ver una cosa, visiten el Palacio de Carlos V en la Alhambra (If You Go to Granada And Can Only See One Thing, Visit the Palace of Charles V in the Alhambra) by Pedro Torrijos. Even if you can’t speak a word of Castilian, I would encourage you to click through to the article to enjoy the photos accompanying it – far better than mine above.
I read an article in the New Yorker – I steal my ideas from wherever I can, which, according to Pablo Picasso or Steve Jobs, take your pick, makes me a great artist – in which the author Kathryn Shultz made a list of the ten best facts she learned from books this year.
Immediately this struck me as a good way to finish the year for a young book blog.
Today I read an interview with Arturo Pérez-Reverte, a Spanish writer whose books I’m quite fond of. The writer, whom I once quoted because he was very convincing upon the subject of why Homer matters. The writer I’d like to write a book for me.
In Spain Pérez-Reverte is known for not being afraid to speak his mind, and is perhaps even regarded as a little bit controversial. If he is controversial, he was true to form in this interview, floating some ‘politically incorrect’ ideas.
Like that culture is for an élite only…
Thought for the day (okay – night):
“Somos un país cuya transición a la democracia estuvo pilotada por las mismas élites que lideraron la dictadura… y quizá no pudo ser de otro modo, pero es necesario saberlo.
…Porque hablar de políticas de memoria nunca es hablar de pasado, es hablar de presente, es hablar de identidad. La memoria es la capacidad de entender lo que somos y a la vez la voluntad de querer decidir lo que seremos.”
“We are a country whose transition to democracy was piloted by the same elite who led the dictatorship… and perhaps it couldn’t be in any other way, but it’s necessary to know it. It’s necessary to know who we are.
…Because talking of politics from memory is never talking of the past, it’s talking of the present, it’s talking of identity. Memory is the ability to understand what we are and, at the same time, the will to want to decide what we will be.”
My daughter came down to dinner the other day and by way of initiating conversation (it was the first time I saw her that day), asked me, “Did you know that Mario Vargas Llosa punched Gabriel García Márquez?” As this probably strikes you as an odd conversation starter on meeting up, I should explain that she does A-level Spanish and they are reading Crónica de una muerte anunciada – which she likes very much by the way. So did I when she passed it on.
Continue reading “Why Did Mario Punch Gabriel?”
Not so long ago I read a book titled The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson. It is 250 pages long, followed by some fifty pages of notes. Today I read Hector’s Farewell, an article of 809 words (I had the computer to count it, I’m not mad!) by Arturo Pérez-Reverte – and it accomplished, without fail, what 250 pages couldn’t: viz. to convince me that Homer matters.
Not that I particularly needed convincing.
For years I’ve been suffering from rubbish memory: I forget the details of the books I’ve read, the places I visited, the faces of people I met, what we had for dinner yesterday (I remember it was tasty), what the boy my daughter fancies is called. (This last is particularly galling as it took months to worm it out of her.) At some point I got worried that I’m suffering from dementia already, a gloomy thought. But against this was set the fact that I remember all the deadlines at work (there’re galore), don’t need reminders to pay for the children’s school trips in time and just managed to learn a foreign language. Minus the foreign language though this means I’m forgetting everything I actually would like to remember – very annoying. In fact, to top it all, I even forget foreign languages I spent years acquiring as soon as I stop using them.
Continue reading “How Not to Forget Books You Read”
In my experience, no one likes Tolstoy. Not ordinary people, at any rate. Some people like Dostoyevsky, and the rest daren’t confess to never having read Crime and Punishment. But Tolstoy, like Homer, is a persona non grata at the average middle class dinner table. If you like Tolstoy or Homer, you’re in the category of a weirdo, or, if you live in England, where they pride themselves on their tolerance, you’re an eccentric.