The Business of Literature

Quote of the Week:

Anton Chekhov (1860-1904)

The business of literature is not to answer questions, but to state them fairly.

Anton Chekhov

Return from the War

Quote of the Week:

Robert Graves (1895-1985)

“England looked strange to us returned soldiers. We could not understand the war-madness that ran wild everywhere, looking for a pseudo-military outlet. The civilians talked a foreign language. I found serious conversation with my parents all but impossible.”

(Robert Graves: Goodbye to All That)

Roads to Santiago

Quote of the Week:

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

Ten years ago I resolved to drive to Santiago, and so, eventually, I did – not once but several times — but because I had not written about it, I still hadn’t really been there. There was always something else that needed thinking or writing about, a landscape, a road, a monastery, a writer or a painter, and yet it seemed as if all those landscapes, all those stories of Moors and kings and pilgrims, all my own memories as well as the written memoirs of others pointed steadily in the same direction, to the place where Spain and the oceanic west come together, to the city which, in all its Galician aloofness, is the true capital of Spain.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

El lector de un solo libro (The Reader of Only One Book)

Empezamos el año nuevo con un consejo de uno de mis autores favoritos.

Si piensas en ello…

We start the new year with a piece of advice from one of my favourite Spanish authors.

When you think about it…

La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week:

Arturo Pérez-Reverte (1951-)

“…desconfíen siempre vuestras mercedes de quien es lector de un solo libro.”

“Never trust a man who reads only one book.”

(Arturo Pérez-Reverte: Limpieza de sangre / Purity of Blood)

The Suez Canal

If you thought the Suez Canal was the brainchild of Ferdinand de Lesseps in the 19th century, today’s quote will make you think again. Enjoy this 15th century explanation of the attempted construction of the Suez Canal and its significance from the pen of the German monk, the curious and open-minded Felix Fabri, who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Egypt in 1483.

I particularly like his somewhat dismissive reference to a ‘certain Spanish king in our time’ whose ships failed to get to India but instead discovered… well, America!

Note about the author picture
Unfortunately, I was unable to find a picture of Felix Fabri so instead you get a statue of Anonymus - ie. the Nameless - the unknown chronicler of early Hungarian history from the 1200s. It seemed appropriate, since they were both monks, and their faces unknown. The statue is in Budapest, in front of Vajdahunyad Castle.
⇒ Anonymus on Wikipedia

Quote of the Week:

Anonymus [Photo by Alex Proimos via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0]

In this place, and in the hill-country at the end of the Red Sea, we saw the stupendous works of the ancient Kings of Egypt, who essayed to bring the Red Sea  into the Nile ; wherefore they began to dig through the mountains of the isthmus at the head of the sea, to divide hills, cut through the midst of stones and rocks, and made a canal and a waterway to the city of Arsinoe, which is also called Cleopatridis.

This trench was first begun by Sesostris, King of Egypt, before the Trojan War, at a great cost, and afterwards Darius, King of Persia, attempted to make it, but left it unfinished. Afterwards it was completed with consummate art by Ptolemy II, yet in such a manner that the ditch was closed up and would open to himself alone.

By this work the men of old meant to join together the East and the West, for the Nile runs into the Mediterranean, so that if it entered the Red Sea and the Western Ocean into the Red Sea, the Arabian Gulf, the Persian and Barbarian Sea, even to the Indian Sea in the East. Thus ships from India, Persia, Arabia, Media, and all the kingdoms of the East might freely come to Greece, Italy, France, Ireland, England, and Germany, whereas otherwise ships from the countries of the East cannot come beyond the end of the Red Sea, where Arabia Deserta joins Egypt, neither can ships from Western countries come further than Alexandria, which is the boundary of Asia and Africa; albeit in our own time a certain King of Spain has essayed to find out a way from the Western Ocean – that is to say, from the outer sea, which lies without the pillars of Hercules – into the Eastern Ocean and Indian Sea. But his attempt has been in vain, although he is said to have discovered some valuable isles which hitherto were unknown.

Now, in their attempt to join together the East and West in this manner, the Ptolemies, Kings of Egypt, had two objects in view – first, that they might bear rule over both, being, as they were, in the middle between them; secondly, that there might be a road to all parts of the world for merchants and merchandise, and that the Egyptians might take toll and custom-dues from the merchandise of all the world, seeing that the road must needs pass through their land.

And of a truth it would have been a glorius work if they had completed it ; for then men could have sailed into Egypt from Venice – nay, from Flanders and Ireland – and could have gone up the Nile into the Arabian Gulf, come to the cinnamon country, and reached the exceeding wealthy land of India, whereof we are told among other marvels that it has two summers and two winters in one year, an mountains of gold – real ones, not mere figures of speech – and that there are forty-four different countries in it. Then also through the Indian Sea would have been a way for us Westerns to Persia, Parthia, Media, Araby the Blest, Sabaea, and Chaldaea, and the peoples of the East would have had a way whereby to come to us; and so by this work the three principal parts of the world – to wit, Asia, Africa, and Europe – would have been brought together.

(The Book of the Wanderings of Brother Felix Fabri by Felix Fabri)


La compañía de Cristo (Christ’s Company)

La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week:

Arturo Pérez-Reverte (1951-)

Que ninguna bandera o compañía es perfecta; e incluso en la de Cristo, que fue como él mismo se la quiso reclutar, hubo uno que lo vendió, otro que lo negó y otro que no lo creyó.”

(Arturo Pérez-Reverte: El sol de Breda)

No unit and no company is perfect. Even in Christ’s, which was one he had recruited himself, there was one who betrayed him, another who denied him and yet another who failed to believe him.

(Arturo Pérez-Reverte: The Sun Over Breda)

Lengua e imperio (Language and empire)

La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week:

Antonio de Nebrija (1444-1522)

…siempre la lengua fue compañera del imperio i de tal manera lo siguió que junta mente començaron, crecieron i florecieron i, después, junta fue la caída de entrambos.

(Antonio de Nebrija: Gramática sobre la lengua castellana)

…language was always the empire’s companion and followed it in such a manner that together they began, grew and flowered and, afterwards, they fell both together.

(Antonio de Nebrija: Grammar of the Castilian language)


The Guitar Instructor in Seville

Quote of the Week:

Laurie Lee (1914-1997)

And faced with the beauty of his technique, the complex harmonies, the ease and grace, the supreme mastery of tone and feeling, I would feel like one of the lesser apes who, shuffling on his knuckles through the sombre marshes, suddenly catches sight of homo sapiens, upright on a hill, his gold head raised to the sky.

(Laurie Lee: A Rose for the Winter)


Metafísica (Metaphysics)

Today’s quote is one of the favourite quotes of the Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges. It’s attributed to William Henry Hudson, a naturalist and writer of American origins, who was born in Argentina, then lived and died in England.

La cita de hoy es uno de las citas favoritas del autor argentino Jorge Luis Borges. Es atribuido a William Henry Hudson, también conocido como Guillermo Enrique Hudson, un naturalista y escritor de origen norteamericano, quien fue nacido en Argentína, y luego vivió y murió en Inglaterra.

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

William Henry Hudson (1841-1922)

I undertook the study of metaphysics many times but happiness always interrupted me.

Varias veces intenté el estudio de la metafísica, pero siempre me interrumpió la felicidad.

(Attributed to / Atribuido a William  Henry Hudson)

Pizarro & Atahualpa

Quote of the Week:

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

Pizarro leaves Trujillo with 130 men, forty cavalry and two small cannons…

Pizarro captures Cajamarca during the Inca’s absence and sends a messenger with an invitation to Atahualpa. The latter arrives with 6000 men, and within thirty-three minutes a centuries-old empire lies in ruins. The divine Inca is carried to the main square of the city on a golden litter, the feet of the son of the Sun are not permitted to touch the ground. Servants sweep the street ahead of the procession. But Pizarro has ordered his soldiers to take up positions in the surrounding buildings and he himsef, a towering figure on his horse (an animal unknown to the Incas), rides towards the Inca. The Dominican monk Valverde holds out a Bible to Atahualpa; he doesn’t know what it is and lets the holy book fall to the ground. This is the signal for attack. The two small cannons are fired, the Indians panic, 2000 unarmed Incas are massacred, Atahualpa is taken prisoner.

But it is only in our minds that he was defeated by fewer than 200 Spaniards and forty horses. He, however, was defeated by beasts with feet of silver, creatures that were semi-human, centaurs. Or in the shape of a legend of white gods who were fated to return. His downfall was not brought by the power of his adversary, but by an interpretation, and by the time the Incas realised that it was too late.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

Demonios escondidos por todas partes (Demons lurking everywhere)

La cita de la semana hoy viene de un ensayo que Mario Vargas Llosa escribió sobre Henry Miller.

Today’s Quote of the Week is from an essay that Mario Vargas Llosa wrote about Henry Miller.

La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week:

Mario Vargas Llosa (1936-)

Esta es una de las más importantes funciones de la literatura: recordar a los hombres que, por más firme que parezca el suelo que pisan y por más radiante que luzca la ciudad que habitan, hay demonios escondidos por todas partes que pueden, en cualquier momento, provocar un cataclismo.

(Mario Vargas Llosa:
Trópico de cáncer: Henry Miller El nihilista feliz)

This is one of the most important functions of literature: to remind men and women that however firm the ground that they walk on appears to be, and however brightly the city that they live in shines, there are demons lurking everywhere that, at any moment, can cause a violent upheaval.

(Mario Vargas Llosa:
Tropic of Cancer: The Happy Nihilist)


Seville of Sweet Wines & Bitter Oranges

Quote of the Week:

Laurie Lee (1914-1997)

Seville of sweet wines and bitter oranges, of dandy horsemen bearing their girls to the parks, of fantastic villas and radiant whores, of finery, filth and interminable fiesta centred around the huge dead-weight of the cathedral: this is the city where, more than in any other, one may bite on the air and taste the multitudinous flavours of Spain – acid, sugary, intoxicating, sickening, but flavours which, above all in a synthetic world are real as nowhere else.

(Laurie Lee: A Rose for the Winter)


Desire (Deseo)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

André Gide (1869-1951)

… every desire has enriched me more than the possession – always false – of the very object of desire.

(André Gide: The Fruits of the Earth)


“…cada deseo me ha enriquecido más que la posesión siempre falsa del objeto mismo de mi deseo.

(André Gide: Los alimentos terrestres)

Seeing Clearly (Ver claramente)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Image by PublicDomainImages via Pixabay

Disciple to Master: “How do you see things so clearly?
Master: “I close my eyes.”

(Zen parable,
quoted in Zen Culture by Thomas Hoover)

Discípulo al Maestro: «¿Cómo ves las cosas tan claramente?»
Maestro: «Cierro los ojos.»

(Parábola zen,
citado en Zen Culture por Thomas Hoover)

La verdad de las mentiras (The Truth of the Lies)

Estaba hojeando – figurativamente, porque de hecho se trataba de un libro electrónico – un libro de ensayos de Mario Vargas Llosa anoche, cuando me topé con la siguiente:

I have been leafing through – figuratively speaking, because it was actually an e-book – a book of essays by Mario Vargas Llosa last night, when I came across the following:

Continue reading “La verdad de las mentiras (The Truth of the Lies)”

Octubre (October)

La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week:

Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014)

Durante cincuenta y seis años – desde cuando terminó la última guerra civil – el coronel no había hecho nada distinto de esperar. Octubre era una de las pocas cosas que llegaban.

(Gabriel García Márquez: El coronel no tiene quien le escriba)

“For nearly sixty years—since the end of the last civil war—the colonel had done nothing else but wait. October was one of the few things which arrived.”

(Gabriel García Márquez: No One Writes to the Colonel)

Appreciating Russians

Quote of the Week:

Venedikt Yerofeev (1038-1990)

“So tell us: where do they appreciate Russians more, this side of the Pyrenees, or the other?”

“Well, I don’t know about the other, but there’s no appreciation at all on this side. For instance, I was in Italy, and they don’t pay Russians a blind bit of notice there. All they do is sing and paint. I mean, one Italian’ll be standing singing, and another’ll be sitting beside him, painting the one that’s singing. And a bit further off there’ll be a third Italian, singing about the one that’s painting. It’d make you weep, and they don’t understand our sorrow.”

(Venedikt Yerofeev: Moscow Stations)

Why You Shouldn’t Lose Your Shield (Por qué no deberías perder tu escudo)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Plutarch (c. 46 AD – c. 120 AD)

When someone asked why they visited disgrace upon those among them who lost their shields, but did not do the same thing to those who lost their helmets or their breastplates, he [Demaratus] said, “Because these they put on for their own sake, but the shield for the common good of the whole line.”

(Plutarch: Morals, Vol. III, Sayings of Spartans)

Al preguntarle [a Demarato] alguien por qué entre ellos deshon- raban a quienes tiraban los escudos, y, en cambio, no a los que arrojaban los yelmos y las corazas, contestó: «Porque se revisten de esto para su propio beneficio, pero del escudo en beneficio del frente común.»

(Plutarco: Obras morales y de costumbres, III. Máximas de espartanos)