Monday, March 31, 2014

A Gallery of Further Killoyles and Other Adorations and Olympiads

Another cover gallery. Top to bottom: First edition in English of The Great Pint-Pulling Olympiad, Grove Press, 2003; first German edition of The Great Pint-Pulling Olympiad (Rückkehr Nach Killoyle: "Return to Killoyle"), Rogner und Bernhard, 2001; second German edition, Kein und Aber, 2007; first German edition of The Adorations, scheduled by Kein und Aber for 2007; first edition in English as an e-book, Olympiad Press, 2012. 2007; first German edition of The Maladjusted Terrorist (Killoyle Wein und Käse), 2007, second German edition, Kein und Aber. 

Further Excerpt from the Work-in-Progress

More from What a View. The more I reread, the more I want to write more, so rereading is a good motivational tool, as long as I don't reread so much that I get sick of the sound of my own voice. Which has been known to happen. 

In the Sunkissed Meadows trailer park dogs barked, trucks rumbled, country music played, infants screamed, and the aroma of pot smoke drifted on the breeze. The experience exposed Tom to new aspects of his adopted country, starting on his first day, when he was preparing to take possession of his residence only to realize he had the wrong doublewide. As he turned to leave, the door opened and revealed a grinning scarecrow of a man in plaid shirt and jeans, with a tangled beard, nicotined teeth, and a purplish nose.
            ““Howdy, chief! You moving in next door?” The man’s bony hand was enveloped in Tom’s plumper paw as they shook.
            “Oh, sorry. I thought this was my, ah, place. They all look alike.”
            “Yep, Used to happen all the time when that college kid lived there. Some of the girls were pretty nice, too. Hey! I’m Bobby Lee Harris.”
            “Hi! Tom Moylan.”
            “You Jewish?”
            “Jewish? No, why?”
            “Thought you looked kinda Jewish, with that beard.”
            “Well, you’ve got a beard too. Are you Jewish?”
            “Nah, pure Scotch-Irish, East Ohiowa branch. Hey, no problem if you’re Jewish, I’m a big fan of Israel. Shalom!“
            “Ah. Actually, I’m….”
            “Hey! C’mon over for a couple cold ones!”
            Why not? First night in a strange place, and so on. Beers were duly consumed. Conversation lurched spasmodically from this (women) to that (government conspiracies), with a decided focus on Israel, then back again to women, then settled into monologue (Bobby Lee’s) on the allied topics of widowhood and divorce, both of which he had experienced.
            “Women, man. Know what I’m sayin’?”
            “I do.”
            Country music moaned and wailed into the night. Initial cold ones were followed by a dozen more and enormous joints expertly rolled by Bobby Lee and two pints of Old Proofreader’s Special bourbon and some Sloppy Joes, then bacon and eggs and another reefer. Around three a.m., two rotund blonde girls showed up with pizza and more beer, and the black curtain of oblivion descended.
            Since then, Tom had avoided Bobby Lee, who, he surmised, not having seen him again, was also avoiding him: an ideal relationship between neighbors in a place like Sunkissed Meadows which, however you looked at it, was a precipitous comedown from Honey Pot Glade, the tony neighborhood Tom and Doreen and their daughter Maeve had lived in until Maeve graduated and moved away and got married and Doreen went mental and threw Tom out, hard on the heels of the college, too, going mental and throwing him out, albeit with less sturm und drang
             The signs of a failing marriage had been around for awhile, had Tom chosen to look, whereas being fired from the English department, where he had taught Principles of Principled Journalism for ten years, was a fast punch to the solar plexus straight out of nowhere--delivered by, of all people, Asssitant Dean Dean O’Brien, who’d been hired two years earlier by a committee chaired by Tom. He dropped by that fateful day and perched cozily on Tom’s desk.
            “Bad news, Tom, I’m afraid.”
            “What? Did the Menudos lose the championship?”
            “It’s serious, Tom. They’re phasing out your position.”
            “Phasing out? You mean I’m sacked?”
            “Essentially, yes.”
            “Fuck me. Why?”
            “Insufficient funding this quarter. Plus, you’re accused of  ’creating an atmosphere of depression and negativity’ and ‘attitudinizing.’ It’s your attitudinizing, Tom. It’s driving the students away. That’s what the Senate said.”
            “Attitudinizing? What the fuck’s that?”
            “That. It’s that. Your attitude. Your language.”
            “What, you mean saying ‘fuck’? That’s not an attitude. It’s being Irish.”
            “I’m only reporting what the Senate said.”
            “And I’ve been Irish ever since I started teaching here. Ten years ago. “
            “I’m Irish too. I don’t have an attitude.”
            “You’re not Irish, Dean. You’re from Indiana. You’re a plastic Paddy at best. And get off my fucking desk.”
            “Not your desk anymore, Tom. Gotta empty it out.”
            “Shiteballs. Buggerfuck.”
            “Hey, what can I say, Tom. I’m really sorry about this. But I’ll help you carry your things to the parking lot.”
            “I’ll carry my own fucking things, thanks.”

            So: sic transit gloria mundi and all that. But the news sat ill at home.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Killoyle Gallery

I've been posting images on FB of various iterations of Killoyle in its three languages. Here's a gallery of all covers to date. From top to bottom: First edition in English, Dalkey Archive Press, 1997; second, third, and fourth editions in English, Dalkey Archive Press, 2001, 2004, 2007; first German edition, Rogner und Bernhard, 1999; second German edition, Heyne, 2001; third German edition, Kein und Aber; 2007; Handy Pocket Guide to Killoyle City and Environs, Kein und Aber, 2007; first Italian edition, Nutrimenti, 2013. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Cretan Memories

Got enmeshed in Greek memories via a couple of nostalgic FB postings by the excellent George Smith, writer and man of the world. I dove into my memoir, Run Like Blazes, and fished out this excerpt, remembering my first days in Crete.

 There is, I believe, an incarnative function in the light of Greece.                                   George Seferis   
    I glimpsed the wilderness again in Crete. I was at the foot of Mount Ida, after about two hours’ gut-churning trundle in an old bus from Knossos, the wrecked Minoan palace just outside Heraklion. It was a hot morning in September 1970, forty-four years and half an eon ago. I was looking for the cave on Mount Ida in which, it was said (by the D’Aulaires and others), Zeus was born to the goddess Rhea. In that very same cave the philosopher Epimenides of Knossos, the lying Cretan who said, “All Cretans are liars,” is said to have fallen asleep for fifty-seven years, after which he reportedly awoke with the gift of prophecy. I wondered if I could manage the same feat; or maybe, after a quick nap, just the ability to prophesy a few minutes ahead, say as far as what I’d be having for lunch.
    I got off the bus at a dusty intersection—right for Knossos and Heraklion, left for Agios Nikolaos, then still a sleepy fishing village—and started walking. After a few minutes I saw a refugee from another age coming down the mountain toward me: a tall man with piercing eyes and a bristling mustache, wearing a kind of turban and sash and flared red trousers, like a janissary in a Delacroix painting. When he saw me he stopped and stared and returned my muttered greeting with a question I didn’t understand, probably “Where do you think you’re going?” All I could say in Greek with any degree of fluency was “I dislike meatballs” (“the’maressou ne keftedes”), but it seemed inadequate to the occasion, as well as being quite untrue, so I offered no reply. He shrugged and walked on. I walked on, too, in the opposite direction, for an hour or so alongside a narrowing stream, steadily upward, past olive groves and orange trees and orchards and the stone huts of long-gone goatherds. As I slowly climbed the foot of the mountain and arrived on its steeper inclines, the stream vanished into the rocks, and with it vanished all other sounds; in the heat of the sun there was only a windborne silence, pinned to the vast azure above by the whirring of cicadas. The path I was following soon dwindled to little more than a rockfall. The trees became sparse, and the peak of the great pagan mountain soared into a booming blue sky in which eagles or vultures or demiurges slowly wheeled. I stopped and looked around and realized I was sweating more from fear than from the heat. I was about a quarter of the way up and had no inclination to go on. (Mt. Ida is 2400 meters, or about 8000 feet, high, so this was pretty sluggish progress anyway.) There was nothing visible to be afraid of, and at that treeless altitude there were no longer any cicadas. There was no sound at all but the rushing of the wind. There was me, and there was the mountain: in a word, wilderness. Nothing. So, logically, nothing to be afraid of. But it was this very absence that so frightened me, as if the wilderness had opened wide its maw and exhaled malevolently, like an immense serpent. (Of all the writers whose work I know, Algernon Blackwood describes this sensation best: see “The Willows.”) I felt abandoned yet scrutinized, as if Zeus himself were on his way to strike me down, with vengeance in his heart. Or as if Pan might jump out from behind a rock, grinning his humorless satyr’s grin; for I suddenly felt panic, in panic’s Grecian birthplace. My knees buckled. I turned and walked away, slowly at first, then faster; then, once I’d recovered the use of my knees, I gave up all thoughts of continuing with my quest and ran as fast as I could, stumbling down the mountain, and half-walked, half-ran down the long white dusty road to the intersection and hailed the first bus back to Knossos. A German backpacker offered me his canteen, from which I took a long, grateful drink.
    “You are OK?” he inquired.
    “Thank you, yes.”
    “I like to meet peoples,” he said.
     That evening as I sat at a café in the main square in Heraklion, getting pie-eyed on retsina, the tall bloke I’d seen coming down the mountain strode by in front of me, carrying three or four plastic Spar Market shopping bags bulging with loaves of bread, boxes of cereal, bottles of wine, garlic sausages, cabbages, and other staples. He was heading for the bus stop, and I deduced that he’d just come into town to do a bit of grocery shopping and was now on his back to his home or cave on the side or summit of Mount Ida. Shrines to Zeus and the presence of Pan never occurred to him; he was probably more worried about the TV reception up there and getting a decent slice of prosciutto. He no doubt made the journey weekly, or even daily; he was a commuter who happened to live in a wilderness from which I’d fled, never to return, driven off by my middle-class panic. One man’s wilderness is another’s home sweet home.
    So I laughed off the whole foolish experience and turned to my neighbor at the café table, an Australian girl named Jan Whelan, and proceeded to elaborate how best she and I might become better acquainted. The results were, shall we say, mixed; I remember receiving both a kiss and a slap across the face from that particular Tasmanian devil, a globetrotting auburn-haired temptress with strong Irish antecedents that had bequeathed her a deep thirst for strong drink, a powerful backhand, and a hearty laugh, even at my lame one-liners. I have fond memories of sitting on a hotel balcony with her, gazing at Heraklion’s Oriental rooftops incarnadined in the setting sun. And the two of us atop the windy city wall at Kazantzakis’ tombstone, on which the old wanderer’s epitaph is carved: Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα. Δε φοβάμαι τίποτα. Είμαι λεύτερος. I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Old Brutes vs. the New Agers

In all the uproar about Russia's annexation of Crimea, I've detected more hypocrisy and deception, and sheer incompetence and provincialism, on the Western side than on Putin's. On his side there's brute force and a driving historical ambition far beyond anything any Western leader would recognize. He's a throwback. He is, after all, the leader of the world's most enigmatic, paranoid, and dysfunctional nation; he's the incarnation of his country, as his people expect him to be. Russian leaders have always been underestimated or just misunderstood by the West, which lacks their "Asiatic" ruthlessness. (Sorry, but Churchill's words: think of Stalin and FDR. Winston was more of the realist.)
Plus, Putin's an ex-KGB colonel. No touchy-feely stuff there. Realpolitik is the name of the game.  
Anyway, I thought Peter Hitchens made an excellent point in his blog, and came up with the first really good historical parallel I've yet heard:

On precedent, I feel, increasingly that one has to look at Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus. I’ve no doubt that Turkey had a case for this, and that it was popular with Turkish Cypriots, and I can quite see why the USA never took serious action against Turkey about it. But the fact that Turkey is a NATO member, and remains one, has not been frozen out of this body ( a much more  coherent and significant gathering than the G8) and has not been subject to sanctions, knocks all the stuffing out of the objections to Russia’s seizure of the Crimea. You simply cannot condemn one without condemning the other, or excuse the one without excusing the other. The parallel is made all the stronger by the fact that Turkey imprisons far more journalists than Russia, holds political show trials, is aggressive to its neighbour Syria, fomenting rebellion there,  kills anti-government demonstrators, is spectacularly corrupt, and has an increasingly autocratic head of government.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Happy Returns, A.E.; Alf Thou Never Wert


Today's the birthday of Alfred Edward Housman, known as "A.E." (but I wager never as "Alf"), born on this date in 1859. 

What a poet for the melancholic and nostalgia-minded Anglophiles among us; apoor man's Hardy... Or is Hardy a poor man's Housman?  

Anyway, here's a somber poem of A. E.'s,  from "A Shropshire Lad." I once     heard John Gielgud read this, with just the right catch of sentimentality and a   deep homesickness for what he never knew, and what maybe never was.

Shot? so quick, so clean an ending?
  Oh that was right, lad, that was brave:
Yours was not an ill for mending,
  'Twas best to take it to the grave.

Oh you had forethought, you could reason,
  And saw your road and where it led,
And early wise and brave in season
  Put the pistol to your head.
Oh soon, and better so than later
  After long disgrace and scorn,
You shot dead the household traitor,
  The soul that should not have been born.
Right you guessed the rising morrow
  And scorned to tread the mire you must:
Dust's your wages, son of sorrow,
  But men may come to worse than dust.
Souls undone, undoing others, --
  Long time since the tale began.
You would not live to wrong your brothers:
  Oh lad, you died as fits a man.
Now to your grave shall friend and stranger
  With ruth and some with envy come:
Undishonoured, clear of danger,
  Clean of guilt, pass hence and home.
Turn safe to rest, no dreams, no waking;
  And here, man, here's the wreath I've made:
'Tis not a gift that's worth the taking,
  But wear it and it will not fade.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Markers of the Past

I remember this old marker on the Swiss-French border from my youth, when I lived nearby. I've lived on both sides of the border at various times. From 1957 until 1973 my home base was our house in Geneva proper. From 1973 on, my mother made her home in Ferney-Voltaire, in France, on the other side of the border, not far from this marker. Her house remained my retreat and haven until she threw me out and I suddenly found myself alone and adrift in the New World. 

The striation on the top marks the actual frontier. The stone dates from 1818, as it says on the side; post-Napoleon, which is why the French face bears the fleur de lys of the Bourbons, not the "N" of the Empire. The other face bears a "G" for "Geneva," not an "S" for Switzerland, because Geneva didn't feel especially Swiss, yet (and still doesn't, in many ways). 

In 1818, three years after Napoleon was exiled to St. Helena and the Congress of Vienna decreed that Geneva should become Swiss, the city of Calvin and Rousseau was still more aware of herself as a city-state and republic than as a Swiss canton. Only slowly did that national sentiment come, and in the religious wars of the 1840s, when Geneva threatened to secede, it could easily have all fallen apart, and Geneva, having reverted to city-state status, could have become a kind of European Singapore. There are those of us who think that might not have been a bad thing at all.

In the woods thereabouts there are, or were, foxes, badgers, and owls. An enchanted place. But it's not all historical and bucolic: two miles away is Geneva International Airport, and directly underfoot runs CERN's Large Hadron Collider, wherein the Higgs Boson was detected.

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Day (and Night) in a Scribbler's Life

A little parenthesis on the writing process as practiced by me. I feel guilty every day that goes by without adding at least a sentence or two to the current work-in-progress, and of course the longer I wait--blogging, or posting on Facebook, or starting another review, or job-hunting--the mushier the whole thing becomes. This eventually necessitates ruthless measures: turning off Internet access, spending a couple of days elsewhere, and a straight-through reread of at least a third of the whole. 

If I'm entertained by what I read, I find that an internal momentum has been created that will carry me over another fresh page or so, and so onward. 
But it's crucial not to get hung up on the number of pages: "150" looks like a grand, serious number, "137" less so; but if the intervening 13 pages are rubbish, it's vital to hit "delete." Computers make this very easy. 

They also make it easy to cut the brilliant but redundant parts and paste them elsewhere, in a folder titled "leftovers," so you can pretend you're not wasting any of your immortal prose but merely storing it for future use. I have half a dozen folders full of leftovers, none of which I've ever ended up using: subplots that went nowhere; prolonged bouts of dialogue whose main purpose, it becomes evident, is to fill blank pages; characters intended as mere walk-ons who for some reason insist on hanging around and taking up the space rightfully inhabited by the five main characters (five, never more); dull descriptions of things I don't care about, like furniture, or clothes, or sports... And remember the golden rule: If you don't care, the reader will know immediately, and won't care, either. For one thing, you've probably cribbed the description from someone who does care and who has an entirely different style.

My current novel-in-progress What a View! is about 130 to 150 pages long now, and I've had to do a whole series of straight-through reads. After the last one I was a little disturbed to discover a couple of subplot plug-ins that either have to be plugged in immediately, necessitating major changes, or discarded. No decision yet, but I thoroughly approve of a sudden, major alteration in plot trajectory that came to me at my usual insomnia hour of 3 a.m. and actually had me laughing out loud, then coughing boisterously, then laughing again. "There he goes again," mutter the neighbors. Sorry, neighbors, but it'll be worth it. At least for me.

More from "What a View!"

Further excerpts from the burgeoning masterpiece.

“He was highly analytical of his subjects and perceived them as different shapes that could be placed together to make an overall form. He created his works slowly, building on each previous figure with a new outline, and using meticulous and somewhat heavy brush strokes, in a manner reminiscent of his friend Cézanne.”
            In his otherwise exhaustive book, Zoran alludes only sketchily to Tonnerre's supposed complicity in the assassination of the French Socialist leader Jean Jaurès on 31 July 1914, an accusation made repeatedly by Tonnerre's enemies despite the fact that Tonnerre and Jaurès had grown up together in the South and had remained good friends, even in the face of Tonnerre's professional decline and heavy drinking, which only got heavier; indeed, says Zoran of the fateful night, "On je bio napijamo na vreme i da nema ideju šta on čini" ("He was drunk at the time and had no idea what he was doing"). In fact, Zoran had researched the incident meticulously at the Bibliothèque Nationale, where he assembled a voluminous collection of forgotten accounts of the murder in long-defunct newspapers. Poorly written, with an undertone of hysteria, they nevertheless pointed a colossal collective finger at a drunken Tonnerre ushering the gunman onto the premises and virtually steadying his arm for him while the assassin pumped bullets into Jaurès. But no legal action ever ensued; the story was lost under the avalanche of World War I, and Zoran thought it should best be withheld until it might help increase the market value of Tonnerre's work...after all, wouldn't you pay more for a painting by the putative co-assassin of one of France's great men? It would be like owning a suit that once belonged to John Wilkes Booth.
            In any case, one way or another, Zoran was determined to get the Tonnerres out there to share in the sunshine of Cézanne--the genuine ones as well as any fakes that might be lying about, for it was the market that determined how convincing a forgery really was, and never mind the so-called experts. If you needed a fake to be real, it was. For instance, it was widely rumored in the trade that a certain eminent New York museum had long known that two of its prized Primo Baldacci paintings, including the famous Triptych, were forgeries; but, having paid millions for them, and having thereby driven up the going price of Baldacci’s works in other prestigious museums around the world that were equally reluctant to lose their lucrative share of the great man’s market value, the museum’s board struck a discreet agreement with their counterparts overseas to chant in unison, whenever challenged: Our Baldaccis are real!(Whereas in reality they'd all been painted in a basement flat in Islington by a bloke named Ted Barnaby, now comfortably retired on the Costa del Sol. And open to reasonable commercial overtures, or so it was said.)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

From "What a View!" (work in progress)

A blog is as good a place as any to take a new novel out for a test drive. Or parts of it. Here, art professors Doreen and Zoran are chatting in the faculty meeting room of the Art Department at Ohiowa State.

Seduction? It seemed absurd. First off, she didn’t know how old Zoran was, but she was pretty sure he was a good ten years younger than she was, and she’d be fifty-six next November. Second, sure, she was in fairly good nick, she’d never had most of Tom’s bad habits (standard Irish ones, nothing exotic: fags, booze, strong tea, eggs and rashers daily) but she’d certainly never seen herself as a femme fatale, just a typical fat-arsed North Side girl who’d let herself go a bit in her fifties, but she knew some fellas went for that kind of thing. Skinny fellas usually, like Zoran. At least according to the novels, and one or two old friends back home.
            Third, she was by no means recovered from twenty-five years with Tom Moylan, and probably never would be. In a way, he dominated her life now more in his absence than he had when he was coughing and muttering in the next room.
            “Are you happy, being divorced, Doreen?”
            “Happier than I was. Happier than Tom is, I wager. But he never was, really. Happy, I mean. Not his thing, happiness.”
            A man of the land of mist and gloom and early failure, a life mitigated by what made it worse, usually from a bottle. Life was a passing silhouette on an empty street in the rain. At night.
            “He is living here?”
            It was important for Zoran to know the lie of the land.
            “Here? In Macropolis? Yes, as far as I know, he’s living in a trailer outside town in a place called Sunlit or Sunkissed something or other. Meadows or Fields. Meadows, that’s it. Sunkissed Meadows, for Heaven’s sake. I’ve never seen it. We were going to get together for Memorial Day weekend, but I decided against. Trailers. Brrrr,” she gave a mock-shiver.
            “A trailer? Good God. Like the Roma caravans we have in Srbska, full of brown people with many children and dogs always barking? With accordion music, too?”
            Doreen chuckled at the image of Tom with curly black hair and beard, gaudy bandana, and an earring, pumping away at an accordion, teeth agleam....
            “Well, no, they’re regular houses, you know, only much cheaper because they don’t have a foundation, so that’s why they’re called ‘trailers’ or ‘mobile homes,’ you see, because you can just move them around. Lots of Americans live in them. Rather downscale. I’m not sure Tom feels at home….”
            “Ah yes? I know the kind of places. Many kids, always. And dogs. And sometimes drugs. Sunlit Meadows, eh? Ha!”
            “Sunkissed, actually. I’m pretty sure. Yes, Americans do rather go in for these dreamy names for boring places. Deep down, they all miss the Old World, whether they know it or not.”
            “And you? You have your own immobile home? Ha ha?”
            “Ha ha. Yes, I got the house, it’s not grand but you know. Not bad.”
            “My first wife got the house. But she got everything else, too. Everything.”
            “That’s unfair. We divvied up pretty fairly, I reckon. He got the truck, well, that was his anyway…. No, he got a lot more than that. He got our Irish bank account, half our stock portfolio, our Waterford crystal, his books, clothes, music, and all that. And a Tonnerre painting, and his computers, top of the line they were….”
            Zoran blinked rapidly.  

            “A Tonnerre painting?”