Sunday, December 19, 2010

Roy Orbison on the Working Life

Saving nickels,
Saving dimes,
Working 'til the sun don't shine
Looking forward to happier times
On Blue Bayou.

To earn a little bit of money during this ridiculously long break, I'll be heading out to the ranch where I worked this summer. I'll be there three or four days per week, which will mean fewer opportunities for posting but more time (at night) for reading and writing and thinking. So maybe it'll be a net gain for this blog.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

James Weldon Johnson on Greasy Food and Alcohol

This semester I've been reading James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man--it's a a 1912 novel about a half-white/half-black musician traveling through America and Europe at the turn of the last century. On page 103, describing his first night in Harlem, the narrator takes off on the wonders of late-night greasy food:

I have already stated that in the basement of the house there was a Chinese restaurant. The Chinaman who kept it did an exceptionally good business; for chop-suey was a favorite dish among the frequenters of the place. It is a food that, somehow, has the power of absorbing alcoholic liquors that have been taken into the stomach. I have heard men claim that they could sober up on chop-suey. Perhaps that accounted, in some degree, for its popularity.
Get rid of the dated "Chinaman" and he could be talking about the East Side King stand behind the Liberty Bar. Or any taco truck in the parking lot of any Austin bar. Now I'm going to see if I can find Zora Neale Hurston's thoughts on hangover remedies.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Gonzalo Celorio on Coffee

I'm up all hours these days writing papers*, so I think about coffee a lot.

This is from a Gonzalo Celorio essay from 1976:

"El café que servían en la Facultad era un verdadero veneno, sobre todo si la lengua guardaba en la memoria el gusto del café cubano, acróstico en sus cualidades: Caliente, Amargo, Fuerte, y Escaso."

(The coffee they served at the University was pure poison, especially if one's palate recalled the pleasure of café cubano, acrostic in its qualities: Caliente, hot; Amargo, bitter; Fuerte, strong; and Escaso, scarce.)

Café as an acrostic--I love it. I wonder if you could do it in English. Celorio loved it too, btw, so much that he reused the line in his 2004 novel Tres Lindas Cubanas.

*I want to emphasize it's the papers, not the baby, keeping me up now. Emma is sleeping five or six hours at a time most nights. And she continues to grow like a (beautiful, precious, flowering) weed. She was up to 11 lbs, 2 oz. at her doctor's visit on Tuesday.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hemingway on Parenting

Yesterday I sent my wife this article on the folly of overprotective parenting and the disappearance of adult life into parenthood. A favorite paragraph:

"Can we, for a moment, flash back to the benign neglect of the 1970s and '80s? I can remember my parents having parties, wild children running around until dark, catching fireflies. If these children helped themselves to three slices of cake, or ingested the secondhand smoke from cigarettes, or carried cocktails to adults who were ever so slightly slurring their words, they were not noticed; they were loved, just not monitored. And, as I remember it, those summer nights of not being focused on were liberating. In the long sticky hours of boredom, in the lonely, unsupervised, unstructured time, something blooms; it was in those margins that we became ourselves."

Then, before bed, I was reading A Moveable Feast, and saw this:

"It was wrong to take a baby to a cafe in the winter, though; even a baby that never cried and watched everything that happened and was never bored. There were no babysitters then and Bumby would stay in his tall cage bed with his big, loving cat named F. Puss. There were people who said that it was dangerous to leave a cat with a baby... F. Puss lay beside Bumby in the tall cage bed and watched the door with his big yellow eyes, and would let no one come near him when we were out and Marie, the femme de menage, had to be away. There was no need for baby-sitters. F. Puss was the baby-sitter."

I know, I know: never take a life lesson from Hemingway. But a cat for a babysitter? We've got nothing to worry about.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Great Asides in Latin American Literature

I need to collect all of these somehow. For me, they represent fiction at its most revealing:

"He was at that vodka level where everything began to become magnanimous and everything promised him fidelity and hope." (Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch)

"Coffee is a sexual stimulant. Tea is intellectual. Maté is the bitter primitive residue of a hungover dawn in New York circa 1955." (Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Three Trapped Tigers)

"The truth is, we live our lives putting off all that can be put off." (Jorge Luis Borges, "Funes the Memorious")

"Moved by that peculiar form of laziness which consists in bringing great energy to tasks not precisely those which we should be doing..." (Alejo Carpentier, The Lost Steps)