(Mostly Black) Humour

Zaragoza. Apart from two nuns and an old lady, I am the only visitor in the Bellas Artes Museum, which has a section devoted to archaeology. The nuns overtake me at the rate of once century a minute and then I am truly alone in the prehistory of Spain.

In 1453, Don Álvaro de Luna, grandmaster of the Military Order of Santiago and prime minister under King Juan II of Castile, received the title of Count of San Esteban de Gormaz. That title still exists – Spaniards don’t like throwing things away, not corpses and not titles either…

…even God sleeps after his midday meal in Spain…

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

—Estás como para un acontecimiento —dijo.
—Este entierro es un acontecimiento —dijo el coronel—. Es el primer muerto de muerte natural que tenemos en muchos años.

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)

By far the most clever member of this government was Galiano, whose acquaintance I had formed shortly after my arrival.  He was a man of considerable literature, and particularly well versed in that of his own country.  He was, moreover, a fluent, elegant, and forcible speaker… Why he was made minister of marine is difficult to say, as Spain did not possess any;… (Continue)

(George Borrow: The Bible in Spain)

They even took me one night to a tenement near the cathedral and pointed out a howling man on the rooftop, who was pretending to be a ghost in order to terrorize the landlord and thereby reduce the rents.

(Laurie Lee: As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning)

Well, anyway, I’ve got to keep on living now. And life isn’t a bore, absolutely not. Life was only a bore for Gogol, and King Solomon. Once you get to thirty, it’s worth having a shot at another thirty, yes, indeed. ‘Man is mortal’ – that’s my opinion. But if we’ve already been born, well, there’s nothing we can do about it, we’ve just got to live a while. ‘Life is beautiful’ – that’s my opinion too.

I’m not a fool. I’m well aware there are such things as psychiatry and extra-galactic astronomy and the like. But I mean, really, that’s not for us. All that stuff was foisted on us by Peter the Great and Dmitri Kibalchich, and our calling lies in an entirely different direction… You can leave all that extra-galactic astronomy to the Yanks, and the psychiatry to the Germans. Let all those Spanish bastards go watch their corridas, let those African shits build their Aswan dam, go ahead, the wind’ll blow it down anyway, let Italy choke on its idiotic bel canto, what the hell!

“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.”

There were three things I fancied a look at: Vesuvius, Herculaneum, and Pompeii. But they told me Vesuvius had gone out ages ago, and sent me to Herculaneum. And at Herculaneum they said: “What d’you want with Herculanium, you prat? You’d better be going to Pompeii.” So I turn up in Pompeii, and they tell me: “What the hell d’you want with Pompeii? Piss off back to Herculaneum!”

And what are borders anyway? Borders are necessary to stop the different nations getting mixed up. In this country, for instance, a border guard can stand there in the absolute certainty that the border isn’t some sort of fiction or emblem, because on one side people speak Russian and drink more – whereas on the other side they drink less and speak non-Russian. But over there, how can you have borders when everybody drinks the same amount, and they all speak non-Russian?

People go off by themselves to cry, but man is not by nature solitary. It’s just that when people cry, they don’t want anybody joining in. And quite right too, since there’s no higher state than being inconsolable.

(Venedikt Yerofeev: Moscow Stations)

The Air Vice-Marshal, with flailing arms, was describing how his fighters had completely broken up the first raid of Christmas Day, while the admiral, in whose dockyard the bombs had actually fallen, listened with all the courteous scepticism of a solid sailor for a romantic airman.

(Nicholas Montserrat: The Kappillan of Malta)

Yesterday, speaking to Lieutenant Gavoille, I had let drop the words, “Oh, we’ll see about that when the war is over.” And Gavoille had answered, “I hope you don’t mean, Captain, that you expect to come out of the war alive?”

Captain Vezin came in with a gloomy look. No pilot ever got off the ground without a dose of Captain Vezin’s gloom. His job was to report upon the position of the German air outposts. To tell us where they were. Vezin is my friend and I am very fond of him; but he is a bird of ill omen. I prefer not to meet him when I am about to take off.
“Looks bad, old boy,” said Vezin. “Very bad. Very bad indeed.”
And didn’t he pull a sheaf of papers out of his pocket, to impress me! Then, looking at me suspiciously, he said:
“How are you going out?”
“By the town of Albert.”
“I thought so. I knew it. Bad business.”
“Stop talking like a bloody fool! What’s up?”
“You’ll never make it. You’ll have to give up this sortie.”
Give up this sortie! Very kind of him to say so. Let him tell that to God the Father. Perhaps He’ll put a curse on our speaking tubes.
“You’ll never get through, I tell you.”
“And why will I never get through?”
“Because there are three groups of German fighters circling permanently over Albert. One at eighteen thousand feet, another at twenty-five thousand, and a third at thirty-three thousand. They fly in relays and hang on until they are relieved. It’s what I call categorically blocked. You’ll fly into a German net. See here…”
He shoved a sheet of paper at me on which he had scribbled an absolutely unintelligible demonstration of his argument.
Vezin had done much better to keep his nose out of my affairs. His pompous categorically blocked had impressed me, confound him! I thought instantly of red lights and traffic tickets. Only, this was a place where a ticket meant death. It was his categorically that particularly galled me. It seemed to be aimed at me personally.
I made a great effort to think clearly. “The enemy,” I said to myself, “always defends his position categorically. Damned non-sense, these big words! And besides, why should I worry about German fighter planes? At thirty thousand feet they would get me before I so much as suspected their presence, and at two thousand feet it was the anti-aircraft that would bring me down, not the fighters. It couldn’t possibly miss me.” Suddenly I became belligerent.
“In short, what you’re telling me is that the Germans have an air force, and therefore my sortie is not altogether advisable. Run along and tell that to the General.”
It wouldn’t have cost Vezin anything to reassure me pleasantly, instead of upsetting me. Why couldn’t he have said, “Oh, by the way. The Germans have a few fighters aloft over Albert”?
It would have come to the same thing.

The major went out, drawing Geley in his wake as if he were a dead fish on the end of a line. It was nearer a week than three days since Geley had been to bed. Like Alias, not only did he fly his sorties, but he carried part of the burden of responsibility for the Group. Human resistance has its limits: Geley seemed to have crossed his. Yet there they were, the swimmer and his burden, going off to the Staff for phantom orders.
Vezin, the sceptical Vezin, asleep on his feet, came teetering over to me like a somnambulist:
“You asleep?”
“I…”
I had been lying back in an armchair (for I had found an armchair) and was indeed dropping off. But Vezin’s voice bothered me. What was it he had said? “Looks bad, old boy… Categorically blocked… Looks bad…”
“You asleep?”
“I… No… What looks bad?”
“The war,” he said.
That was news, now! I started to drop off again and murmured vaguely, “What war?”
This conversation wasn’t going to get very far.

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Flight to Arras)

“Good morning,” said the little prince.

”Good Morning,” said the salesclerk. This was a salesclerk who sold pills invented to quench thirst. Swallow one a week and you no longer feel any need to drink.

“Why do you sell these pills?”

“They save so much time,” the salesclerk said. “Experts have calculated that you can save fifty-three minutes a week.”

“And what do you do with those fifty-three minutes?”

“Whatever you like.”

“If I had fifty-three minutes to spend as I liked,” the little prince said to himself, “I’d walk very slowly toward a water fountain…”

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: The Little Prince)