Friday, July 31, 2015

Watermelon, Dickinson's coconut cake, #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter, Slovenian novel, American paintings: Cultural digest for July 31

Can you spot the differences?

Minuet for Guitar by Vitomil Zupan

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Joan Didion, Clarice Lispector, French director Claude Sautet and mistaken identity in the case of the Brontë Sisters photo: Cultural Digest: July 30

Just three other dour ladies, not Anne, Emily, Charlotte after all

Monday, July 20, 2015

from The Succubus by Vlado Žabot

Mainly, all this stuff in his head just made him feel restless, with a nightmarish feeling of being in a hurry, like flashes and sparks crackling above an unseen fire someone kept poking at, that flare up and down and mean absolutely nothing, nothing you could grasp or understand, since it was simply impossible for a person to find his way under such circumstances, since life and the city and everything else seemed both cheap and harrowing at the same time, since he didn't know how or with what or to what end he might sense of anything, since all of it was making him tremble, making him wish it would just over, one way or another. He had the feeling that all of it - bit by bit and at times distorted beyond recognition, from the street to the buildings to the people - was taking him over, all this rushing about, all these sounds from the television set, all this pointlessness, insignificance, worthlessness, which nevertheless demanded its daily meal every single day; all these appearances and guises, which were in fact forms of despair and bewilderment and confusion; and meanwhile maybe someone jumps or falls or screams, and of course it hardly mattered if one or another person died, if one or another person missed somebody or killed somebody, since all the while on television they just kept on doing what they do and no one was the wiser, neither here nor there nor anywhere. At that point, perhaps, it hardly mattered if you were this or that thing, if for instance you were a goat, or maybe an ant; it hardly mattered if you believed this thing or that thing or didn't believe it; what was important was that the daily meal was served and that nothing got muddled, that for instance all the cars and streetcars and trains didn't collide in one big pile-up, and that everything somehow seemed to run smoothly, so your wife could take her daily dose of tranquillizers and watch the different actors on television chase each other, cheat on each other, stab each other, or discuss healthy and unhealthy diets and diet supplements, which were part of the whole thing and had a positive influence on one's sense of well-being. And at the same time you begin to suspect that you are, in a little way, part of the whole thing and that in fact there is nothing else.

                                        - from The Succubus by Vlado Žabot

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Centre Phi

I'm just going to sing the praises of Centre Phi today. Because I recently moved from  the Plateau to Old Montreal, I had this impression at first (from everything those of us that live in the Plateau think) that Old Montreal was full of tourists and suburbanites looking for shitty pizza.

OK there are tourists and shitty pizza but in addition, there are amazing walkable streets, gorgeous moonlit nights along the river, the canal and, of course, Centre Phi.

This is exactly what the Plateau or Mile End or Park Ex is missing; a centre that presents all kinds of different art, cinema, concerts, exhibitions. Not everything is great but nearly everything is evocative and makes the mind wander, turn, consider, reflect.

Two cases in point: Mayra Andrade, the Cape-Verdean singer, did a short set there the other night which was really amazing. The crowd, a few hundred people, were a mix of Francophone and Anglophone Quebecois, Caribbeans, Europeans and a mesh of all kinds of languages. Andrade herself spoke only in French but sang in French, English, Portuguese, Spanish and the Cape Verdean dialect. The singer was charming and terribly charmed by the crowd who adored her. It was one of those nights that made me love Montreal: its mix of cultures, its love of good music and art and an amazing crowd of people with beers in-hand just enjoying music from the other side of the world.

Then last night, the Centre Phi played an interesting American movie, The Midnight Swim. It was an odd little movie, about three sisters returning home after the mysterious disappearance and presumed death of their mother in a diving acccident. Hints of mental illness and something darker lurk behind the relationship each has with their mother and with each other and the point of view was done in an interesting if not wholly believable way. Not a perfect movie but an interesting one and the kind of experience you turn around in your head afterwards, trying to  make sense of certain images or scenes. The movie is beautifully filmed with shots that are absolutely mesmerizing in their beauty.

All month Centre Phi has film screenings, events on storytelling, in addition to talks/discussions on art, exhibitions, concerts and other things of interest.

Centre Phi in Old Montreal

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Drago Jančar: The Tree With No Name

I was in Slovenia for work recently and a few people recommended Slovenian writer Drago Jančar to me. As we were heading out of Ljubljana and back to Trieste where we were staying, I picked up his novel, The Three With No Name along with a few other books.

I read the novel last week and found it wonderful: it's an interesting play on form but in a very readable and relatable way. The book starts in the thick of WWII when a man wakes up and isn't sure where he is or how he got there. He seems to have no past, or at least not one he shares with the reader, and he knocks on a window for help.

The story starts there, unrequited love for the village teacher, a soldier (her lover) shows up and threatens our narrator, but later befriends him. Then a battle ensues miles from the village.

But suddenly we are transported to the year 2000 in Ljubljana as an archivist sees a bike being pulled out of the river, obviously a very old bike. He thinks it could be the bike which belonged to the teacher in the village and it's here that we learn that this narrator, too, is the same character who 55 years earlier opens the book. Yet he's not the same narrator, too, as he hasn't aged.

Time shifts are slightly confusing but give us a real glimpse into how the past influences the present. The author, too, is fascinated with objects and the values that they are charged with, the ways in which they represent the people who used or loved them.

The book meanders between the past and the present (the year 2000) and as the archivist's marriage collapses under the weight of his discoveries and the ways it influences his mental state, we see a man, a nation, in crisis.

There are great riffs on everything from history to "truth," to the ugliness of base consumerism:

Bloated with dissatisfaction, with endless, relentless inner dissatisfaction that at one minute it tries to fill by racing from store to store, or that it stuffs into shopping bags and carts, that it shoves into the abyss of its own emptiness, amid this noise, in this over-stimulated, superficial shopping center life, where nothing remains, only the dissatisfaction that's been stuffed into bags, stuffed down gullets and bellies, into closets and drawers.

It's a really fascinating book and why Drago Jančar isn't better known in the West is a mystery to me.

The novel is part of an entire series that Dalkey Archive Press has been doing on Slovenian fiction, including poetry by Tomaž Šalamun, Marko Sosič and Andrej Blatnik, among many others.

I've ordered two more of Jančar's novels and he has a new one coming out in January. Got my summer reading lined up!