Katabasis, a Theme for Trieste II

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KATABASIS, a THEME for TRIESTE11

 

By Rick Harsch

 

With Photographs by Jan Skomand

 

 

 

KATABASIS: a Theme for Trieste

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Humans are evanescent; cities are an attenuation of that being-tainted evanescence, a smart ape-group’s struggle against disappearance. Cities outlast us, and that is by nature mystifying, and we know that nothing about the city is humanly known on that very level which is the only one where what it is exists. So we haunt them with their own pasts, pasts of which they are well rid, as cities are the best humans did at approximating nature, which abhors an eternity. Cities are born to die, are ready to die, and they do—all—eventually die. Yet it is no paradox that in their dying cities produce great bursts of life–the metaphor brought to mind is rats taking torches to the armories—the humans in the cities have no urge to measure their currents against the crepuscular flex of the city. Mirrors don’t reflect honest decadence. And if humans be the strangest of earth’s creatures, and they certainly are, and if each city harbors tortoise-like lunatics (always men, for some reason) who persist in splendorous pigeon-cursing pique, insistent that the city must die first, the simple truth is the city will survive them all.

Nature perhaps as well coerces writers into anthropomorphicizing cities, as I have just done. The worst and most often inaccurate example is to call a city less vigorous than it once was a dying city. I need no other example than the subject of this book, Tergeste, Trieste, Trst, a city that has been associated famously with nowhere, and is considered internationally to be a dying city, if not a dead city. This should come as a surprise to the quarter of a million residents of Trieste—a number, after all, great enough to succumb to holocaust—but it is a cliché they live with; or live beside, for in their quotidian it is doubtful Triestini give much thought to the morbidity of their city. I am not a Triestini, but as a New Istrian living nearby in Izola, Slovenia, working in Trieste, visiting often, I am truly sick of the lack of inspiration behind the common misperception of Trieste. I would go so far as to call it inhuman.

The reason for the persistence of an insipid human myth is the lack of a vibrant newer myth. That, simply, is my diagnosis of the problem of humans and Trieste. Once the fevered, international port lost its hinterland—political economy turning a cold shoulder to geography–the city naturally changed dramatically. That it had also become something has been strangely overlooked by outsiders. Every city has its character, every neighborhood its character, and so every city its mischaracterizations. Thus I will make no attempt to determine the character of Trieste. I intend only to posit a theme for a city visited famously, and inarguably, by a unique and violent wind, the bora, a katabatic wind, Alpine air sucked down to replace languid Mediterranean vapors, knocking over old ladies and bicyclists, occasionally flinging a roof tile through a neck (Prague has its defenestrations, surely exaggerated; Trieste its decapitations). This wind is yet more powerful in metaphoric state, as witness the case of James Joyce, the most internationally famous historical Triestine, whose Trieste Katabasis is legendary and was of such force he put the protagonists of his final two books through much the same—Bloom, of course, as Ulysses had no choice whatsoever; and nor did Finnegan, the legendary drinker who went so far as to die so as to get himself a decent splash of whiskey.

I must immediately take a sword to that last paragraph. Off with Joyce’s head—that, too, is katabasis. The finest book on the phenomenon is The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller, who leaves the reader deceived into a state of static euphoria, mopping the forehead with a handkerchief, the journey having gone well. It wasn’t his fault, for Miller knew that katabasis was very much like a carnival ride assembled by the drunk, blind and demonic. For some descent was arduous and rewarding, of course: for others it was a headfirst plunge into a karstic hole, a foiba…And we will indeed get to that perpetual katabasis in time, smrt fascismu! and pace nel mondo.

Meantime I cast ahead of myself, having heard from Mac, the gent from Ghent, who inadvertently warned me off the ratlines to the buried magazines. ‘I have been re-reading the text you sent me more carefully,’ he wrote, referring to just the first three paragraphs; ‘Katabasis was for me, monomaniac mariner, only a wind, a dangerous one, but predictable in its unpredictability, like a Venturi. But that was too easy…I suspected. And suspicious I looked up Katabasis and found that it firstly meant going down (to the underworld) or toward the coast…as opposed to the Anabasis of Xenophon’s fame…’ Naturally, all that Mac suspects of my intentions is true enough…true enough: strong words for modern man. Yet there is also simply Trieste mundane, tramontane, adamantine: within the shell of the turtle, one might say…particularly as my photographer and I began this venture with the intention of violating a minor law for luck (Mac: ‘Chronos castrated his father with an adamantine sickle.’). This involved transporting an invasive species across national lines and releasing the animals in the pond of the Giardino Pubblico at the end of Via Battisti, a park featuring the finest chapter in Claudio Magris’ Microcosmos, in which not only did I learn of the turtles in the pond but also the many busts of writers in particular, Italo Svevo in magnificence, his head having been stolen several times. I read the book more than a decade ago, probably about the time I bought the first turtle, Captain Michalis, for my son. At the time the creature was about the size of my thumb, the shape it would be if it were pounded with a mallet. A year later I bought Bouboulina for my daughter. Gradually the turtles outgrew my capacity to make for them a paradise; though the children did their part by losing interest in them within weeks, one assumes that peace and food security comes to less than that which nature invests within desires of the testudinatal race. A fair amount of swimming, the hunt…But Captain and Bouboulina ‘swam’ eventually in the largest plastic tub I could find, the fresh waters of which began turning green within a day of changing, turbid within a week, and too often were again changed only when a stranger to our balcony noted the smell. It could have been worse: Izola was until recently a fishing town, a tin cannery town, a place that smelled like fish. There’s little doubt that a degree of nostalgia drifted off my balcony as the turtles lived on as we presume reptiles do, they and their odd limb-tips half flipper/half claw, unseen under the muck layer more often than not. I know I know nothing, yet assume that the smaller-brained creatures express stress by dying: and these two always harbored great vigor. Perhaps I merely lack the culture to grow a proper disease. So I cleaned them in the shower, put them in a cloth bag, put the bag in a fittingly plastic shoulder bag, and my photographer and I drove to Trieste and made our way to the public garden. The busts stood in still heft amid more jungly verdance than I recalled, and the pond itself was fed by a spring and narrow falls surrounded by bamboo. This was going to be easy, I thought. Just above the falls was a rounded clearing over-filled with benches, where two Serbian bums were passing the day. The first asked my photographer for a smoke and disappeared once he got it. I decided not to wait for the other to disappear, particularly as he seemed to be taking some kind of interest in what I was doing, having clambered into the bamboo and down a couple stages of rocky aquadescent. I quickly removed Captain and placed him on a stone over which water ran rapidly. He remained withdrawn and the flow did not carry him to his better life. Still the second Serb observed. I took out Bouboulina. What was he looking at, really? The last thing you want when doing something wrong is to appear to be doing something wrong, so I held up Bouboulina for him to see, a gesture he mistook for an offering—‘Ne, hvala’—and I put Bouboulina in the falls, she emerged spry, and was soon out of sight. I nudged Captain a couple times with my foot as if across asphalt, and he, too, was relocated…within the safe confines of Trieste, safely apart from native species.

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Goodbye, Captain.

In his prescient classic The Folk from the Earth (my translation), in the chapter “Katabasis Monterno”, the early 19th century Freiburg philosopher von Schlag (sic?) argued that prison had become the one true church of modern man, the last refuge of hope for redemptive process. As I understand the fragment (as presented by a Danish philosopher of minor repute whose name I no longer recall), von Schlag (sic?) meant to suggest that the lurch of modernity toward industrialization, away from nature, was a permanent shift, and that among the manifest changes in the totality of the life of humans was a deterioration in all aspects of the incorporeal, a degradation of myth, an interment of lore along with banishment of all mysterious in lives of the night. Yet the surpassing need for this incorporeal required that some sort of maladaptation was necessary, and so as regards katabasis, we would have prison. Sparking through intellectual history, with matted coats and corded ruddering tails, ideas provoke an excitement akin to that of the finest poetry, even if their application is a slippery matter. I’m reminded of Spengler’s unforgettable line: you can take the man out of the city, but you cannot take the city out of the man. The very sighting of a truth in that line excites me in precisely the same way I’m uplifted upon sudden glimpse of a hedgehog, or a nutria. And there is no doubt that indeed a prison sentence is an invitation to an exploration of katabasis, even on the mundane level of rehabilitation.

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The Coroneo Perp Walk, Trieste Central, or where a passaggio connects the justice building with the jail.

The resonance was not accidental, for the very process of making this book began as a visit to Coroneo, Trieste’s prison, as an act of homage by my photographer and I to a forgotten wreck of a man, dead three years, likely having committed suicide by mixing heroin with an enormous litrage of alcohol. Štranzo was much despised and more feared, having a penchant and talent for fighting, a dark spirit, a drug habit, and a sensitivity to slight keener than an albino’s to desert sun. He was all the more hated socially for having squandered talents bestowed upon a very few in life: he was a rare artist, the kind of whom it is said perhaps one in a generation passes this way, with an incisive, comprehensive mind. He was invited from his home in Capodistria (Koper) to study fine arts in Ljubljana, where his impact was felt immediately, remaining even as he himself quickly vanished into a life of wandering, heroin, and brutal assaults. By the time I met him he was a new man; his time in Coroneo was enough to prevent him from beating strangers to a pulp for having the nerve to turn their eyes from him as they passed in the street. His sentences often ended with ‘…don’t want to end up back in jail.’ His attraction to me is of no importance, as my whole life I have been singled out by the odd, the lame, the demonic, the deranged, the needy (I could provide example after example: the one guy on that plane, that train…the oddity places me in a class of some sort with a speculative Jesus: For instance, over the span of my 58 years, at least 20 people have had me touch their head injuries, most recently a former Yugoslav reporter who had been shot in Prague by Russians in 1968. That was not yet two weeks ago.). Importantly, I did not fear Štranzo; that was surely one pre-requisite. Another was an interest in literature. My photographer shares these, and he, quite separately, had been a friend to Štranzo. In my apartment, Štranzo was gentle with my children, physically loving to my dogs, and could not help but exude the atomized stigmata of one often forced to leave. He never wanted to be unwelcome in my apartment, and even if he was not one to yield to anything at all he could not prevent my knowing that. Perhaps that has nothing to do with his scattershot tendency to bear gifts—often spectacles of nature like giant donkey ear seashells that washed up one day, impossible plants that, like him no longer could manage an effort to take root. And one night, it was past three in the morning, he buzzed me awake and arrived up the stairs with a holiday display size Italian flag and these words I will never forget, ‘I thought you might want this.’ Humans disguise an incomprehensible nature by a surface complexity, yet when it comes down to it we are no different from dogs sniffing each other’s asses.  On the great dogwalk of life, Štranzo and I sniffed each other and found a short couple years of simpatico available. But he was never happy, and he spoke to me too often of suicide. He was off heroin but hooked on morphine and the last year of his life he kicked morphine but needed all the more alcohol. Suffice to say what would have been required for him to live as an artist was beyond his means. For Štranzo, katabasis was welcome torture from which he emerged with terrifying eyes he covered with sunglasses. Coroneo was easy by comparison. He simply did not want to return and so only engaged in violence far from crowds. He described one of these fights, at a house out in the foothills inland—a butcher knife and another two appliances were involved and he had to restrain himself from killing the man. I am not certain, but I think a woman who didn’t much care who lived through the battle was in the bedroom in a state of low alert at the time, and I think Štranzo intentionally provoked the other guy by having sex with her, that in fact he had sex with her entirely for that reason. He wasn’t a saint. So when he died not many people cared and too many were simply glad of it. A detail from his life that was surely more important than any other was that when he was 21 his twin brother, Branimir, by all accounts a talented and kind young man, leapt from the bells of the campanile in Capodistria in Tito Square. That, too, is katabasis.

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The people will decide if this is a hall of justice or not.

My photographer and I visited Štranzo’s favorite spots in Izola and Koper, but also felt that no day of homage would be complete without also seeing Coroneo. Our directions were vague enough to bring us to the intersection from where this photograph of the hall of justice was snapped. We asked for directions, unaware that were actually at our destination—the prison connected to the building at its rear. The grandeur of the building was lost on me, putting me off only so that I wished to hurry on, and we did, finding ourselves on the other side, where the ‘entrance’ to the prison is hidden behind a row of trees. We found a guard, and as my photographer speaks Italian, ‘we’ asked about Štranzo, who had been out for at least seven or eight years by then. Describing Štranzo’s loose-limbed build began the process of remembrance, but it was the combination of his wild nature and loud voice that finally did it. The guard smiled. Sure, he’d had to club Štranzo a few times. There was genuine affection in his recollection.

I got to thinking and we got to talking. Trieste had been of interest to me since I had seen the last page of Ulysses at a time when the city had far more poetic meaning to me than locational precision; but it was that building, its grandiosity not grandeur, the conceit of any building allowed to label itself justice, it was that more than anything that was the final lure to writing another book about a place. And of course I had never been comfortable with the title of the Morris book, the tendency of Trieste to be known so little for so little and still gotten so wrong, and…I have no wish to be immune from the charms of urban history. Yet the incipient fascination of a naïve writer, in that last exalted stage of any author of profane books, remains an immeasurable lure, a powerful if mundane loci, a bottom toward which to plunge having found myself living on the Gulf of Trieste for reasons having nothing to do with this city that had taken on a mystique particular to my inchoate yearning. Earthly connections are available as stars, and it was a simple constellation for me to label: Joyce, upon landing in Trieste, was arrested within two hours having inserted himself somehow into a melee in Piazza Unita. He did not find himself held in the Coroneo, but neither are the stars of Orion actually neighbors. Another way to express what I am trying to suggest is that nothing arose to prevent the momentum that was gathering toward my writing about Trieste.

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Why did I forget about Zurich and Paris?

 

Last night my daughter, Bhairavi, and I took one of our dogs, Sultan Suleiman, for a swim, on the way running into an adolescent rat just in front of our apartment that our hound had trouble focusing on as he is a creature of habit. The rat was running along the curb of an island of flora where Suleiman tends to relieve himself, and though the creature was scooting along with elaborate ratleggery, Suleiman missed it. Only when the rat sensed my vigilance did it begin to consider the need to escape, and, being a rat, it made a maze of the matter, turning abruptly and running back the way it had come. Only then, at excessive urging, did I get Suleiman to notice. He chased the rat from the labyrinth of its eventual demise, the creature leaping the curb and disappearing into undergrowth. At the beach I found the usual beached-home shell and bit of sea-polished glass with which to decorate the photo, which includes the type of book that I have no desire to write simply because so many already exist. Which is the reason that I asked Juan Vladilo, astrophysicist working in Trieste, if he would give some thought to places in the city that are of some interest yet generally not already covered in books. He promised to do so, and maybe feeling a measure of gratitude, I finally, after knowing him nearly ten years, asked him where his observatory was located. ‘Near San Giusto.’ ‘Where’s that?’ I asked in all my innocence. His eyes widened, which probably came naturally to him as one learns early not to squint when looking through binoculars and telescopes. ‘You’re going to write a book on Trieste and you don’t know where San Giusto is?’

His words had the effect of a sudden flaring match light in a darkened warehouse. Oh yes! Absolutely. Thank you, Juan, thank you, went my silent exuberant writer brain. Yes, that is precisely the way to write about San Giusto. Every book about Trieste includes San Giusto—they must—for San Giusto is indeed among the most important locales in the city, historic, palimpcestual, enduring! Central! Yet this city I love and with which I have now been by degrees intimate for seventeen years has kept San Giusto hidden from me. Certainly Morris wrote of it, though it would not be odd if my intermittent disgust with Morris’ love of empires had me yawning just at that point. And my extensive reading about and around Trieste would have been more focused on questions like why this armpit and not the other (Genoa)?, antipathies from Guelph and Ghibelline to Brit and Yugoslav, motifs like Trieste as serendipitous non-island in Venezian sea and bandits and banditry awash in bandit sea, not to mention the city as one flashpoint of horrors in the 20th century.

With extra attention I proceeded to read all three of Italo Svevo’s novels. What did San Giusto mean to Trieste’s greatest novelist? I had prepared myself for the answer without realizing it, for after six years outside a classroom as a result of a modern drought, what the world of cities calls an economic crash, I had just last year been hired to teach mariners English in a Habsburgh structure on Piazza Hortis, where a full body statue of Svevo presides, and every time I passed him I patted him on the shoulder. The man of the city is as fond as the preceding agrarians of speaking of fate and arguing whether coincidence exists or not. I weigh in here only to mention my luck: teaching in the same square that was chosen for Svevo’s statue! Oddly, I think, in three novels Italo Svevo never mentioned San Giusto. In fact, if Svevo were one’s guide, Trieste was the Corso—and no one seems to know where that now is—the public gardens, and the bourse, not to mention the boudoirs…This, of course, was the answer I sought, which is not to say that Giovanni Vladilo was wrong.

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Dear Italo.

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The acrobat of impermanent emotion given the illusion of permanence is appreciated by the author.

Particularly as there are other explanations. Consider this: when reading about the 4th Crusade one is likely to recall the image of the blind 90 year old doge, Enrico Dandolo, stepping ashore onto a bloody Constantinople rock to the deafening (he was not yet deaf) noise of thousands of men clashing, screaming, heaving, swiping, swearing, dying, bemoaning, of women screaming in terror, or future explosions the battle insistently beckoned, or immediately look up at the wily, acrobatic Venezians, there masts makeshift boarding planks, or mathematically oriented, determine the number of dead required to successfully storm and take a certain tower…What you will not read of is the goings on in the Hagia Sophia. And so when Dandolo began this bizarre, revolting venture by calling on subjects of the Istrian peninsula and citizens of Trieste and Muggia in a panic sought to pacify the old murderer with elaborate shows of humble adoration, one is not likely to imagine the scenes so far as to include San Giusto, even if there is actually some chance that, if the doge were indeed invited ashore to be feted, San Giusto may have been the chosen site for a banquet and obsequies.

And unlike Hagia Sophia, San Giusto does not stand out to most self-sufficient visitors to Trieste. If it did, I would have seen it and asked after it. It is an old castle near shore after all. Quite likely when it was built, this problem was not foreseen. But over time, especially concentrated Hapsburgher time, numerous buildings of bulk and height came to line the shore of the port and move towards the hills, surrounding San Giusto entirely, so that by now the castle is far closer to the sea (where the riva runs a line sw to ne) than to the eastern boundaries of the city. I’ll illustrate this in a moment, but first, to supplement the nature of such oddities I offer this photo for consideration:

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Trieste seen from the first Servola off-ramp.

Cities of broad shoulders and industry, cities of industrial birth and skyscraping adolescence, even premature sulfuric old age, suffer little aesthetic damage from incongruity. After admiring the finest skyscapers of Chicago, one does not find the related conglomeration of plants built to convert raw materials into gold turning the skies of Gary, Indiana, death-greened colors that mirror Lake Erie’s cast just before the fire breaks out. Old cities don’t have that luxury. The modern stands out as in the above picture of the back of a grocery store, a plain brick building, sports stadia with their lights, apartment blocks, a relatively modern hospital in the back ground. It is by no means a pretty picture. (Fear not entirely for the vagaries of the sea plump for the ghosts of their land structures, imbue them with ghostly wonder.) Yet ugly that picture may be, Servola is integral to Trieste, as I found when I began driving there three or four times a week to meet people whose son and my own engage in an obscure rite I am not at liberty to reveal.  But that particular picture is here in relation to San Giusto for it includes a remarkable structure I only recently identified. That brick building is the Risiera di San Sabba, the only operative crematorium in Italy during World War II. This is upsetting to many Triestini, quite naturally. In fact, one necessary acquaintance, Normanno, became highly agitated when I explained that I had procured the photo, taken by my photographer. ‘I will invite you and your entire family to dinner and then take you to San Giusto…’ he objected. He did not understand, he claimed, why this building had a place in my book. Interestingly, two days later I just happened to discover that he had once taken his daughter to Risiera di San Sabba as an object lesson of some sort. (You think your life is bad…) Of course, I had read much about Risiera di San Sabba, and knew it was somewhere within a couple miles of where it is and had intended to visit at some point, when this book dictated. After all, the worst sort of katabasis may be either dying in such a place or surviving confinement there. Yet I found out it was part of my routine in a sense during the whole time I was meditating on San Giusto and what it meant that I had never focused on the place. Normanno argued that Risiera di San Sabba may as well not have been there at all. ‘The Germans did that, not the Italians.’ Now this is sensitive topical territory we will negotiate often in this book. For now, I will say that yes, Germans did, predominantly, ‘do’ that; but they did that with their own SS, Ukrainian SS, Austrian SS, and Italian SS. Why so disturbed so nationalistically? The gauleiter of the littoral at the time was Odilon Globocnik, a murderous swine who was half-Slovene and half-Hungarian. I can’t speak for Hungarians, but I know that no Slovene feels shame or complicity because of the involvement of the bloodthirsty Globocnik’s paternity. The engineer in charge of building the crematorium at the old rice husking plant was German, a serious man known for his many human-killing ovens, chiefly in Polish territories, Erwin Lambert. I suggest that for Normanno a walk through the Risiera di San Sabba would serve as a healthy katabatic experience, and given the torments endured at the risiera, the child’s skull kicked in, the elderly man beaten to death, the slaughtered, gassed, humiliated, rat-bitten, burned alive, the permanently traumatized,

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A necessary pause for beauty that survived all the monstrosities visited upon Trieste and those people in, out and throughout the town.

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the raped, stabbed, shot, beaten to death with shovels, gun butts, bricks, the cremated, partially cremated, the gassed, Normanno might come to distantly if perhaps only subconsciously understand what the Dante he certainly has memorized once endured.

Clearly, then, cities all have their secrets, multitudinous, and selective in the subjects who will receive their revelations. I showed the photo of the Risiera to a French Triestine who had somehow, despite a restless and exploratory nature, not yet been to see it in nearly ten years residence in Trieste. ‘That is the Risiera?’ he exclaimed. He had seen it more often than I had and yet had never seen it. This is a very simple explanation for my own ignorance of San Giusto, as you can see. I was told that on Molo Audace, the nearest pier to Piazza Unita, you can see San Giusto, but even there lies a problem.

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The Ugliest Building on the Riva.                                                                                                    I have yet to decide whether to expose the hideous frontage of the building seen above facing the sea. The orange and brown monstrosity is so ugly that it has become for me the most recognizable lump of Trieste. The Audace pier lies off the riva perpendicular to that building, and it is between that building and its neighbor that one can spy sections of the castle of San Giusto. Yet such is the hideous nature of that building, its dull brown haircut and bland, not to say uninspired, façade, that the eye is either drawn to it perversely—directly–as the stomach churns or seeks desperately a sight far off in any other direction. This is perhaps the only time when one such as I could appreciate Mussolini’s victory phallus to my left, or, the other direction, the more humble lighthouse near the old train station. The last possibility is that my eyes would linger on the building, retaining their sensitivity, their desire, in order to alight on some wonder beyond.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter from Uzbekistan: Sex Tourism

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Stockhom Terror

Dear Rick,

Iv’e been anxiously waiting your letter fixing my letter to President Donald Trump about the centerpiece of our vamp (vamp is right?) tourism. And I have to admit to you Ricky that I was maybe a little angry because you were so slow. Then this horrible truck driving in Stockholm. I tell myself maybe Mr. Harsch knows more than he tells me or maybe Rick is right to wait, to move slowly. You are very wise. Please if you could make the letter bigger enough that you can expose yourself to Mister President Trump that this terrorist is a bad actor. He was a pimp who overbeat girls and one even could have died (his name is in other registered envelope–youse your own discreet). Yes, boiling alive is bad. But is it better to beat alive to death? Mr. Trump should know two things: one, that in concordat with his policy of exluding bad actors this perp (is good, no?) was only recently shown Ubekistan door, denied visa from United States (Bravo Mr. Trump), and now look what is happening to liberal country with open door policy? Of course you see how very much we are in alinement with Trump policies and ideas and desires.

Thank you and looking forward to your letter,

Arslan Levantinov

                                                          Minister of the Interior,                                                                Uzbekistan

Letters from Uzbekistan: Sex Tourism

Dear PresidentTrump,

First, old business. We have photos of the subjects your representative mentioned at every border in the country and have closed all taxi access pizza parlors. (Note to RH: parlors is ok here?).

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Quickly on to new business, and happily so. Our offer has expanded ten-fold since the false revelations regarding a practice that has already been, we would like to think, brought to its highest level of artistry in our country, what we call the ‘Gulna Torrent’. Historically the art has had many names.

We have also taken your advice and expanded the range of our offer so that we now have the utterly (Rh: absolutely?) exclusive (Presidential Primo, Corporate Cameo, Diplomat Dip) all the way down to the, as your man said to me in private, which I am sure is on the tapes, the ‘freestreet’. Our Pigalle!

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We have also revised our slogan to a more globally, yet nationally appropriate verse. As I explained to your man, Uzbekistan is geographically endorheic, which means that what flows in never flows out. So try this: What Spurts (RH: drips? seems, you know, weak. Maybe you can think of something else?) in Uzbekistan Stays in Uzbekistan!

Mr. Mirzyoyez looks forward to your visit, which can be arranged to coincide with that of any other state leader!

Best,

Arslan Levantinov, Minister of Tourism

(Note: I received this letter just a few days ago and have yet to get to the changes. RH)

 

 

 

Letter to Arslan of Uzbekistan

 

 

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Dear Arslan,

 

Well you’re certainly in a pickle, aren’t you? Of course I will respect your wishes to refrain from publishing your missive…your massive missive, if I may. But some of it will be…elicitable from this response, of course. And you’re right, the day filled with its minutefull hours is quite long, especially given the ticking seconds of those old fashioned clocks that clutter the whorehouses of Tashkent as well as, apparently, your government offices, while history moves like a hurricane. In this case Hurricane Islam. How could you be prepared? Good question, yet you are prepared. By a series of accidents, sure, but prepared nonetheless. And please do not use the word extraction again, for that is from the movies, and I have no such powers. I am what you rapidly figured me to be—a relative nobody with a particular interest in your country and in you. I have no special powers but to reach virtually every country in the world with the good news of the thriving sex industry in your country. In the last week, word has reached, aside from the usual US, Canada, and Slovenia, Indonesia, Sweden, Chile, Venezuela (yes, finally some inroads in the lower half of that hemisphere!), India, UK, Australia, Poland, Uzbekistan of course (sorry my statistics don’t have breakdown by region or city), United Arab Emirates, Switzerland!, Nigeria, Bahrain, Italy, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Russia, Germany, Turkey, Finland, Saudi, France, Norway, South Korea, Oman, Greece, Croatia, Tunisia, Vietnam, Somalia!, that mysterious European Union(?) (probably Luxembourg—rich, corrupt, and horny—moyen indeed ladies!), Kuwait, Spain—All in one week, Arslan. Do you think they visit my page for my comments on dictators? Only you my friend, only you. They are grasping at…forget the metaphor. They come for the sex that you and yours provide. They don’t give a rat’s anal about boiling: take any burger of the Lux and tell him she’s yours for 200 shekels but tomorrow she boils and you’ve got yourself a deal.

Your position, I mean to say, is unassailable. No shake up is going to shake you up. No, Karimov’s touch was no golden wand, but the golden wands of the tourists are indeed tapping your noggin. Your position is secure. And I will do whatever I can to secure it, write whoever, open my books: you will see, Arlsan, there is no doubt: they come for the sex. Yes, a very few come for the literature, particularly the Vietnamese, bless their memories and intransigence. But the rest come for you and your Open City, your ten thousand Uzbeki Anna Magnanis.

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So don’t fear. As for the rest, THE question. No Hague for Karimov, but as you imply, what sort of Hague, what sort of lonely cells, without Kissinger, Bush, Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice, Bolton (I’m actually not sure what he is guilty of besides that moustache), Wolfowitz, Powell, Clinton, Cheney, Cheney and Cheney, Obama, and…you get the idea. You got the idea. And besides, had it turned out differently, were this another world (silly flash: Condi Karimov!), they would have mocked him in the game room even though he could beat them all at chess, and even though he would have been able to teach them bridge. Or not. Tall order. Cheney maybe, but a born cheater. Powell? None too bright. Clinton? Yes. But you need a fourth. Obama. Wouldn’t be able to keep his mouth shut. Kissinger? Couldn’t teach him war and he’d throw the cards first time he lost at uno. Yes, the world would be better off if only…And we may still hope, though my friends ridicule me for my unflagging (entendre double) attempts to get Henry on a plane for the lowlands. But the Boiler is now in a better place, and let us leave it at that, shall we?

All my love and support, dear Arslan (Levantinov! Long die the ich!),

Your friend in bad times and good if they arrive,

Rick

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I like this photo because to me it depicts his slow fall…

 

3 Novels from Rick Harsch now available on Amazon. Read Harsch’s Adriatic and Balkan novels–prices quite low, if I may say so…

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SKULLS OF ISTRIA
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Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01HNAXX62
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01HNAXX62

Kramberger-version2

KRAMBERGER WITH MONKEY
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Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01HMZE6OG
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01HMZE6OG

Adriatica

ADRIATICA DESERTA
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Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01HMZ30XE
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01HMZ30XE

About these novels:

 

In his USAmerican books, Rick Harsch examined the miasma of the lost souls adrift in empire. In his Indian books, he explored the nature of the foreigner gone deeper into the philosophical chaos of India than any known predecessors. Now in his Balkan/Adriatic books, he finds universals in the thrumming persistence of the harmonics of history, perpetual conflict, and delirious outbreaks of calm.

In Skulls of Istria, a tavern confession novel, a tale told by a brilliant defrocked historian whose first step into the Balkans finds history an active volcano and relates his story in an Adriatic seaside tavern to a man whose only shared language is that of drink, a story that ranges from the Spanish Civil War to seduction and the recent Yugoslav wars.

His recovery he recounts in Requiem for a Suicide, Volume 1, called Noir Slovenia, in which language itself, the Inert, and absurd action suggest a way out for the lost man of the deserts beyond post-modernity – though the second two volumes of the trilogy – works in progress – will perhaps find otherwise, as they will seek to buttress the most extreme notions of their characters, who long for an end to history while forced to search for its very beginnings.

In Kramberger with Monkey, a comedy of assassination, Harsch proves that innovative, experimental fiction can be more entertaining than detective stories, depending largely on the fate of the narrators perhaps, as he probes the surface of humanity’s darkest of jokes only to find the nexus of simian predecessors and exalted artifice.

Adriatica Deserta, an absurdist fable that brings together a mix of eccentric strangers in Zadar, Croatia, is concerned with the more recent politically lurid, occurring during the early days of US war in Afghanistan, an oddity that is perhaps explained by some simulacrum of an eternal fascism, if indeed that is what we are to take from the mysterious tale of the South American fascist Nestor Falco that intrudes on the simpler narrative of a man who has come to take up a position at an office on a street that doesn’t exist.

If there is a palpable thread connecting Harsch’s Balkan/Adriatic books, it is their unpredictability in regard to his delight in the bizarre, his range of expressions of rage, and the tendency throughout for the narration to find purchases on odd excrescences of universals, all of which leave readers space for much laughter and a choice as to degrees of chagrin.

The books can be read in any order, though it is suggested that Skulls of Istria be followed by Requiem for a Suicide Vol. 1. Volumes 2 and 3 of that trilogy are forthcoming, volume one will be out in the Fall.

 

 

Letters From Uzbekistan: Tashkent Nights

 

 

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Dear Rick,

Thank you so very much for all you have done for me and my agency and the nation that owns it. Since your efforts to promote our country we have received evidence of increased interest (and actual investment) in visiting our country, particularly Tashkent. A total of 19 European nations have shown interest/booked flights and hotels, including one secret one that goes by the moniker »E. U.« Isn’t that strange. (Here’s another odd one: We had a group from Puerto Rico fly in and they were listed separately in the computer from the United States yet carried United States passports. I guess you can imagine how long they were clearing customs…) 18 Asian/Middle Eastern nations showed increased interest and actual investment as well, even within Uzbekistan. We had five caravans from Karakalpakstan alone in April and the first half of May! None going the other way, but I attribute that to the season. Australian visits are up nearly 50% over last year, and we received our first governmental delegation of ‘Kiwis’, I hope it i sall right to call them. In a big city, of course, there will be some problems and perhaps over time we will be sufficiently savvy in tourist matters that we will never put the Kiwis with the Indonesians again. I know Geography about as well as the next person on a flight were I on a flight, but I never realized they shared an island with Indonesia! And apparently unhappily. Wait—oh, my assistant, L., points out that the Puerto Ricans actually never did clear customs and were sent on the first flight back. I have so many questions for you, Rick, and let that be one of them, if you could shed light on that. But primarily I write to thank you, tell you how well the work is going, how happy my superiors are with me, and finally to ask you to allow me to withdraw my permission to be in your novel or any novel you may write. And please do not ‘fictionalize’ me. I ask this as your friend, knowing I could never stop you no matter how many favors our Montenegrin guests come to owe me (astonishing how much like Russians these people are, and I mean that they share the finest qualitites!).

Of course, things may change,

And until then, or before then even, I will remain

Yours,

Arslan Levantinovich

P.S. If you post this on your blog, please consider ‘Tashkent Nights’ and if you could use the attached photo we would much appreciate the gesture.49105-tashkent-nightlife-tours

The Appearance of Death to a Hindu Woman (excerpt)

All dogs long since asleep, I sleep until the dogs are small like rats and when I wake it’s a rat I remember. He had climbed up the drainpipe into the second floor bathroom, where I sat one dysenteric night. When I saw the rat I stood slowly, my lungi collapsed limply at my feet. He was cornered near the door; I was between him and the drainpipe. We approached each other warily, intending no harm, each choosing the wrong direction in a brief, panicked dance of evasion, leaping at the same instant, meeting in the air, fangs withdrawn, violence far gone into fear. He fled down the drainpipe, but we could still feel each other, where our bodies met, and I was surprised how quiet it had been. And I sit in this bloodred chair in which Sushila loved to sleep, her legs drawn up, her chin resting on her knees, a cup of heavily sweetened coffee on the arm. Sometimes her brother Gautam would be playing his guitar. I sit and look at Kali and try to feel Sushila’s warmth beneath me, but it is the rat I feel, and then I refuse not to imagine myself as I once did, a plague rat carrying the disease I desperately fled, unaware that it as well arrived before me to those shores radiating from a Madras throbbing in the heat. Perhaps the series of fevers and dysenteries left this wretched self-image, rendered me incapable of sequential reason, clarity of memory—still, I look back and I do not see much of a man.

The rats flee with a rat’s health, leaving fever. I left here in deliberate pursuit of fever, that Sushila might find me accustomed to her land. I would then wait for Sushila, who could have come here only for me; Sushila, who had left her mother—and her mother, who was not looking for an orphan, an exile, a son; her mother, who unfolded herself like Maya, opening before me a universe of delirium, which Sushila had tried to prepare me for by chanting a mantra of coconut groves, by burning away in her passion the remaining accretions of my own civilization. Now I beseech Mother Kali to take me back, to return Sushila to me. I had had a taste of fever and it was like drinking of desire, like jewels located in a dream held in the palm under the last light of the moon before coming fully awake, the dream gone, the mind still in its sway. Perhaps I left Sushila for Madras certain that in a land where the malady is fever one wakes from the dream without having returned its gifts. Alas, fever is not so generous to strangers. My fevers began almost immediately, increasing in their intensity until the profusion of images that pleased me were flattened into a shifting, hallucinatory dimension, until in the fumbling hands of a more capricious time and space all my nights became a day, a hot day in which past and future were compressed and then stretched to rising horizons enveloping the sky; a drenched, tumid day of temperamental gravity, of faltering geometry, that would burst out of itself like flowers of madness; Sushila’s cool lips covering my burning eyes, shh, she said, like Mother, her susurrations expanding like an approaching train into a roar trapped against the walls of my skull, and she was gone, and the walls of my room mocked me, held themselves at impossible angles, leaning, laughing, in league against me, Sushila again 10,000 miles away; and as I concentrated, endeavoring to focus in vain attempt to take the first immeasurably short step toward comprehension, another day or two passed, a letter arrived from America in response to the one I had sent with the maid that morning, the maid returned, set the letter by the window, then stood before me, her vermilion sari a garment of blood, remaining in flames when she left the room. How may times in those days of fever her face loomed before me, my head oppressed by the weight of the sea, how many times I longed for Sushila’s face, my mind lightened by the attenuation of the desert.

I don’t know how many days were burned up by the sun inside me before the proximity of the sea prevailed, before the sea lifted and a distant, profound will put the smell of salt into the miasmic air of my room, luring me like a sleepwalker from the resignation of fever’s hot equilibrium. The burning was so well attuned to the sultry days and nights, it may never have occurred to me to rise again had it not been for the nearby Bay of Bengal. The waves playing against the coast exerted upon me the influence of a second world, or third, one in which a man could drown or be devoured rather than wither dishonorably in a bed of his own effluvia. I lay in bed, far from Sushila, and the sea was telling me that the death I was ready for was not ready for me.