A NEW PRESS STEAMS TO THE FORE: River Boat Books

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I ought to begin with a book coming out from River Boat Books, but as you’ll see there is some sense to promoting the above volume first. It’s still, miraculously, available from Amazon, after about three years, I think, and if you’re smart and not utterly broke you should go order it right now. It’s ten dollars, very heavy, about 400 pages of sheer literary engagement, fun, serious, light, dark, densely made, densely made, written by a group of volunteer readers–never mind; here is what two writers thought of the book:

“Here is a book that makes you feel like you’ve stumbled into exactly the right party for a change, where the guests are all interesting, and some are obviously brilliant, and some are hilarious, and they’re all talking enthusiastically about books they love, from classic novels to edgy work by writers you didn’t know about. It will make you like people you’ve never met, love books you’ve never read. The concept alone is so heartening, people who care about literature should be glad that this book exists-even more so that it’s this great.” -Trenton Lee Stewart, author of the novel Flood Summer and the Mysterious Benedict Society series

“Realizing that one is of an age when one cannot possibly read all the “must-reads” in the years left is a disappointment-every novel given up, a little death-and so I was delighted to see this handy guide to many of the classics that still languish, alas, on my bedside bucket list. I can now cheerfully knock off the 2666 that squats fatly on my bookshelf. Pffft, Mr. Bolaño. Thank you, Rick Harsch. Conversely, reading the three reviews of Middlemarch convinces me to move it to the top of my list. Thank you, Korrick, Medellia, and ChocolateMuse. And that’s the genius of this Fabulous Opera: multiple viewpoints allow you to triangulate a book’s fitness for your reading regimen. Better yet, the reviews are by readers-for-pleasure: little or no academese or critspeak here, thank you very much. A fine democracy, this, treating the gods as fully equal to themselves.” -Prasenjit Gupta, author of A Brown Man; award-winning translator of Indian Errant, stories by Nirmal Verma

 

Right, so Tropic of Ideas is a group of folk on something like Goodreads that is called LibraryThing, who somehow got the idea that had they material available for a brilliant and entertaining book. And they were right.

It so happens I am part of that group, and though a couple of my own reviews were included I am absolutely not among the best of the reviewers in that book. I also take exception to Mr. Gupta’s insinuation that I do not want him to read Roberto Bolano’s 2666. I don’t, not now, not if he’s going to be that way about it, though I did give the book a fairly positive review…but now I think if he’s going to read a fat Latin American novel, it should be The Mad Patagonian by Javier Pedro Zabala. And you’ll see why in a moment. (one reason is that 2666 was meant by the author to be five novels, while The Mad Patagonian was envisioned as is, one 1208 page beast, a friendly beast, but a beast nonetheless) That happens to be River Boat Books‘ BIG book of its roaring return to active publication. A bit of mystery I will let a reviewer describe surrounds the authorship of the book, which is neither here nor there in Mexico, it’s in Cuba, where the book was written, and this book is going to be known as well as any Latin American book ever published. There’s no point in comparing it to my favorites–someone will, and some will consider it better. But I refuse to compare it to my favorite, particularly because an absolute guarantee of an historical publishing event is this same River Boat Books‘ publication of Roberto Arlt’s The Seven Madmen, which was my favorite until I read its second half, finally, nearly 90 years after it was published in Buenos Aires, The Flamethrowers, which ratchets Arltonianisme up a few notches, so that now my favorite book by a Latin American writer is now the real Arlt, The Seven Madmen plus The Flamethrowers.

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This is truly publishing history. And even with relatively little publicity thus far, Altonians are coming out of the woodwork–they became termites in order to survive. One of them I met in Trieste–he had traveled to the national library in Rome to find a copy of The Flamethrowers in Spanish (I don’t think Arlt has been translated into Italian).

The story of this translation is a beautiful Artlonian episode. A poorly educated up-state New Yorker, Larry Riley, formerly of the Coast Guard, then with the US Postal Service, probably a quiet anarchist, somehow became a great reader of great fiction. I’ll have to ask him how that came about some time. He’s an autodidact, we can assume that much. And like many an autodidact, he probably quite often does things because he is free enough not to know better. But moving beyond speculation, what I know is that about 14 years ago Larry read and loved The Seven Madmen, possibly at the same time I did, and like me he saw that at the end of the book, reference was made to its continuation in Los lanzallamos (forty words before the end of The Seven Madmen an asterisk directs the reader to the bottom of the page, where Naomi Lindstrom, the first to translate that first half of a novel into English rendered: “The story of the characters in this novel will continue in another volume entitled The Flamethrowers.“). Like me, Larry looked high and low for the presumably extant translation, became frustrated and, like any monolingual anarchic autodidact would consider, upon finally finding it had never, in fact, been translated, gave some thought to translating it simply so he could read it. And like any neophyte translator would do, he picked up some Spanish language dictionaries, some Spanish-English dictionaries, and a couple years later had read the book in his own translation. What a maniac. During that time, Larry had some contact with Naomi Lindstrom, who proved generous with her time, but when Larry was finished, pretty much told him his effort was commendable but the thing wasn’t good enough. She was right. It wasn’t good enough to be published. And so the manuscript–typewritten, of course–was shelved for Arltonian termites. And they did their job. For after ten or twelve years had passed, somehow or other I became aware of Larry’s translation, and somehow eventually convinced him to show it to me, to send a copy from New York to Slovenia, not such an odd trip for Arlt, as his mother was from Trieste and I live a mere 20 minutes from her old city. I had read into the second page of The Flamethrowers when I realized that I was reading Arlt. I hadn’t read The Seven Madmen for over a decade, but he was immediately back inside me. I was quick to tell Larry that what he had in his hands was a successful translation that merely needed some polishing. I was wrong. I was going to be the polisher, but it turned out the book need to have the mines aired out and some tunnels re-dug, at the risk of explosion some new shafts were necessary, and once Larry got down in there, like any good autodidact, he worked like a fiend to improve the book and as it turned out it needed nearly no polishing at all. The book was ready. The book is ready. Rest easy, Julio Cortazar: someone else has written an introduction this time–Julio wrote the introduction to the second English translation of The Seven Madmen, by Nicholas Caistor, a good enough translation, but hindered by the fact that Lindstrom got there first and took all the best epithets of the characters. NYRB publishes that version, and Larry’s translation of The Flamethrowers quickly got their attention, and from what I know of the correspondence between Larry Riley and the NYRB interlocutor, had he wanted it badly enough, he could have gotten NYRB to take it on. But there was a certain undertone to the correspondence that seemed to require that Larry dismiss the efforts of Lindstrom as second rate–the very real problem would have arisen that Larry chose, for instance, Lindstrom’s translation for the character Arlt named The Melancholy Ruffian, whereas Caistor chose The Melancholy Thug. Poor Caistor. He couldn’t keep all Lindstrom’s names for his own translation…But Larry could. But how to break it to Robert that Larry’s names would be different? Well, they wouldn’t have to because Larry would be broken. But you don’t break anarcho-autodidact translators–you end up like Yossarian punching Aarfy in a dream. And anyway, maybe this other guy, this Mad Patagonian pusher…

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So we come to Peter Damian Bellis, author of The Conjure Man, which disappointed its first potential publishers by having been written by a white man–some of the novel is first person white, some first person black. They really should have asked for a photo before inviting him to the big meeting. Let Mr. Bellis expand on that. In the meantime, while writing a multi-genre African epic that is not yet quite done, Bellis came across, apparently through his father, a literary man himself, a book by a dead Cuban, whose wife, a doctor, had disappeared in Africa a decade or more before he himself died, so that he sat in a small Cuban seaside town, living with his daughter, and wrote one epic book that, amazingly, could not attract the attention of a Spanish language press–the truth is she actually gave it one faint-heated try. The daughter of a melancholy semi-recluse is simply not trained in such matters. At any rate, the book came to Bellis, or his father, I have forgotten, and a translator was found, and I would not say the book killed him but he has in the meantime died, as has Peter’s father, and so, there remains, a doggedly determined, not to say fanatical, Peter Damain Bellis, publisher of River Boat Books, conceived by his father, revamping the press, steaming his press back from Kurtzville, at first for no other reason than to bring Javier Pedro Zabala’s masterpiece to the reading public. It must have been through LibraryThing that we, me and Larry, first met Peter Bellis, but the process began with all of us saying sure, Mr. Bellis, that does sound like a great book, and buying advance copies of The Mad Patagonian and reading it (let me just…here: Middlemarch, 889 pages…next to it Musil…depends on how much you want to read but more than The Mad Patagonian‘s 1208), Larry and I becoming the first two of now at least six LibraryThing reviewers of The Mad Patagonian.

So here’s where it begins to make sense that I hype the collection of reviews A Fabulous Opera, for though the ruffians of Tropic of Ideas have broken out, their escape facilitated in a manner prefigured in The Mad Patagonian, the books will be spreading across the literary landscape, and they will include one of mine that I won’t say much about here because Peter is at least his own madman to the same degree as Larry. I have  a novel coming out as the inaugural book of the the Midwestern press Maintenance Ends, a novel called Voices after Evelyn, a boisterous tale of life in a river city in Wisconsin in the 1950s when the babysitters began to disappear. But a more recently finished novel, The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas, was begging for an outlet, and somehow the whirlpool in which I found myself and Larry and Peter threw this deal out there: River Boat Books would publsih Eddie Vegas…and come to think of it, to hell with NYRB, and no offense at all to Mr. Caistor, Peter’s enthusiasm for Zabala and now his appreciation of Larry’s efforts and my own…why not all three! And while we were all at it, why not do the unthinkable, see if Naomi Lindstrom is still around and get her involved and publish The Seven Madmen and The Flamethrowers together, in one volume, as Arlt would have had he not been in a hurry to get money for The Seven Madmen? Well, I’m not sure what happened, but close enough, Ms. Lindstrom was happy to have her book re-issued, Peter managed to nab it fair and square, and, well, one good thing I can think of with them published separately is that plenty of people have The Seven Madmen already–but NO ONE ON THIS EARTH has Los lanzallamos in English, yet, not until early June…unless advance copies emerge…And me, where in this historic venture will I fit? Yes, The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas is coming, and we can be assured at least that it will have a great cover, but meanwhile, I sent a potential cover for the book to Peter Bellis, and he immediately wrote back, ‘That would work for Skulls, Skulls was great, I think I’ll publish that first if you don’t mind.’ If I don’t mind? This is a publisher? Sure, but a writer first. I hadn’t even recalled that he had Skulls, a copy of it. So the good readers, the great reviewers of LibraryThing‘s Tropic of Ideas, have all given the maximum five stars to both The Mad Patagonian and Skulls of Istria, and though that may seem a small thing, these can be some hard folk–a very nice review of my Arjun and the Good Snake by one of the most esteemed of the Tropic reviewers, one TC Murr, rewarded me a mediocre three stars. Anyway, here and now it’s our measurement. The Maltese translator and literary philosopher who wrote the introduction to Skulls didn’t give me any stars, she just wrote nice things. In LibraryThing stars are the crpytocurrency–five means a lot, but we don’t know what.

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Now this–the publicaton of these four books–is all happening soon, late April to early June. And I don’t know what it compares to, maybe one of the great seasons of New Directions paperbacks, and this isn’t the end–the list for September looks like a pretty spectacular array of books from writers around the world, including the Slavic heir to Douglas Adams and an unknown–really this time, not just some lippy proto-Naipaul–Indian novelist (enjoy the photos provided in the other books, there won’t be one in that volume).

For more material, I will provide some links and one copy/pasted introduction:

Reviews of The Mad Patagonian: https://www.librarything.com/work/19405243/reviews

Reviews of Skulls of Istria: https://www.librarything.com/work/17985579

River Boats Books (including, if you scroll down, most of the introduction to The Flamethrowers that may further elucidate that extraordinary literary situation:  http://www.riverboatbooks.com/our-books

 

Intro to Skulls:

Skulls of Istria,

River Boat Books (2018)

Rick Harsch

 

It begins as a seemingly aimless chat between two men in a bar taking shelter from the burja (bora) wind. One disgraced American historian with an overwhelming need to talk driven by bottle after bottle of Viljamovka, and the other, presumably a Slovene, simply taking in the stream of booze and words and keeping his uncomprehending silence through the swells and sweeps of both the recent horrors of the Balkan atrocities as well as the ancient terrors whose evidence continues to be encountered in the skulls and debris that will not disappear. This movement, this apparent unburdening of guilt, love, passion, more guilt and self-loathing, unfolds through the telling of one betrayed friendship and two connected love-affairs, through escape and death, to the final pages which reveal the underlying structure of a work that was deceptively free-moving and associative at its surface level.

It is in his associative use of language, echoes of assonance that seem too good to ignore, puns as self-indulgent as a drunken confessor in their reach for connections whether semantic or phonetic, that the spirit of Joyce appears in Harsch’s style. The playfulness in the language draws the reader into following signifiers and associations into labyrinthine pleasures, through ancient myth, historical warfare, sexual passion – and the pure pleasure of the chase.

Of course, Harsch’s geographical positioning in Istria, the Adriatic peninsula shared by the three countries of Slovenia, Croatia and Italy, and within spitting distance of Trieste and Venice, places him within the same linguistic hunting ground as James Joyce which makes the connection between the writers even more evident. Umberto Eco in his fascination with Joyce described him as the true modernist, as the remover of the rational mental structures derived from the medieval summae, and also of the eradication of the ‘well-made plot’ which maintains that each action in a novel is either meaningful with respect to the final denouement, or else is “stupid”. But, as Eco said, “with Joyce we have the full acceptance of all the stupid acts of daily life as narrative material” (39) – and with Harsch also.

We are swept along with these ‘stupid’ acts of daily life driven by sexual attraction, emotional attachment, guilt and pain – as well as the even more stupid and senseless acts of power and domination, destruction and shame that shaped the lives and deaths of too many in the Balkans – and as the short novel seems to be carried forward with an almost burja-driven force, seemingly with no deeper plan, aim or structure than the chase of passion and language – the novel in a few short pages in the final chapter, draws all strings together, all points of view into one overwhelming understanding that there was a point, a direction, a structure and the underlying decision of all story-tellers in love with language and the patterns of memory –  to ‘tell a tale’. And to go back to Eco’s description of Finnegan’s Wake that “to create the impression of a complete lack of structure, a work of art must possess a strong underlying structure” and “a cunningly organized network of mutual relationships.” (67)

Harsch’s Joycean inability to ignore the underpull of words, together with the location of his tale, clearly invite parallels. However, there is also a strong undercurrent in the rhythm of the prose and the subdued music of the language that recall another of his modernist compatriots fled to Europe, T.S. Eliot and his persistent vision of a dry wasteland on the borders of a river. Those souls of the dead, undone, and moving to the unseeing and uncaring bells of St Mary Woolnoth calling to all in a Dantesque nightmare of soulessness. The rivers of blood, the heads on pikes, the senseless slaughter in the wake of nationalist politics, and the highest disregard for human life at the core of the very essence of this Balkan journey unfolding through three bottles of potent pear brandy create another wasteland of human barbarity. The historian-narrator takes the tale deep into the underworld of depravity to re-emerge from the depths of Hades, Orpheus-like, telling his tale and unable to keep entirely within the rules of the game.

Clearly this journey, this short novel with its dense surface associations of sounds, rhythms and signifiers could either be a translator’s nightmare – or else a fascinating game of re-creation and re-writing pushing the rules of literary translation to the edge.

 

 

 

Clare Vassallo, Translator and

Professor of Semiotics and Translation Studies, University of Malta.

February 2018.

 

Quotations from:

The Middle Ages of James Joyce: The Aesthetics of Chaosmos, trans. Ellen Esrock, London: Hutchinson Radius, 1989.

 

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David Vardeman Reviews Skulls of Istria

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Skulls of Istria, review by David Vardeman

 

“Skulls of Istria” is the spoken account of a disgraced historian in search of redemption, which comes to mean, in any sense that matters to him, an appropriate subject.  He tells an uncomprehending drinking companion (the companion doesn’t speak the language, but drinks are free) how he stole his deceased mentor’s work, improved it, and passed it off as his own, to his financial gain but ultimate humiliation when the plagiarism is detected.  A fugitive from the law and the bloodhounds of academic and publishing standards, the narrator escapes with his lover Rosa to Venice, a city that he loathes for its opportunistic role in history, and from there to the Istrian peninsula where he stumbles upon his subject:  one Giordano Viezzoli from Piran.  Viezzoli fought with the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War.  “So this man, this 26 year old man, had left his home, gone directly to Spain and almost immediately been killed.”  He would use the meaninglessness of this young man’s sacrifice on principle to an anti-fascist cause, his freedom to choose, as an arrow “aimed straight into the skull of the Fascists.”  He sees Viezzoli’s “commitment against powerful forces” as “enough to bring down the moral scaffolding upholding Western Civilization” depriving “Western empires of their right to govern.”  In the course of doing footwork research, the narrator literally falls into the underworld.  He meets the dead, skeletal remains in a mass burial site, presumed by him to be Uskok victims of Venetian reprisals in the 17th century.  Despite a strong identification with death, world- and history-weary, hunger drives him back to the world of the living where he learns that an act of charity on behalf of a new lover’s “brother” has allowed this man, whose real identity he subsequently learns is that of a war criminal hunted by Interpol, to elude capture.  His principles betrayed, having ignorantly aided The Enemy, his rage turns back on himself.

For someone whose passion is for the truth, or for a fidelity to truth, which might not be the same thing, the narrator has a checkered past, given his propensity for the theft of intellectual property.  But now he is nothing if not unsparing in his judgment of himself, his fellow students and historians, the empires that have laid waste their conquered provinces, preyed on, betrayed decency, fair and honest interchanges since the historians first sang their accounts of what they’d witnessed or heard.  He has always been not merely suspicious of romantic love but actually contemptuous of it while enjoying the benefits that accrue to him from indulgent Rosa who supports him through the lean years that run into decades and then flees the country with him in his disgrace.

Stripped of nearly all illusions by his close reading of history and observation of his fellows, the narrator spares no one his clear-eyed assessment.  Clear-eyed, yes, except that he allows his passion for “gypsy” lover Maja finally, fatally to cloud his vision.  He doesn’t see what’s coming.  What’s that about knowing history so that you won’t repeat it?  He is being used and betrayed for his resources as surely as any of the empires he loathes betray and steal from whom they will.  Though he has “witnessed” indecency (mild term) countless times in reading history, in reading newspapers, none of that prepares him to encounter something similar on a personal level.  He is a man of thought, not action, as he admits, and when given the opportunity to act, he makes all the wrong choices.  He does not know with whom or what he is dealing.

“Skulls of Istria” is a tour de force of compact rage that is brilliant in every sentence, in every description and nuance of character and movement.  Everything is noticed, and everything means something beyond what it appears to mean.  Whom can he trust in this volatile region of the world?  Everyone plays his or her cards close to the chest.  This novel contains some of the wittiest and most incisive observations of human behavior and human foibles one is likely to find between the covers of a book.  The author is a playful linguist but rarely allows his playfulness to become an end in itself.  Harsch masterfully describes thought life as beautifully and clearly as he does lived life, to the extent that I found myself reading slower and slower and marking sentence after sentence that leapt out at me for sheer rightness and poetry.  No one describes a landscape, topography and the difficulty of traversing it better than Harsch.  No one can write a funnier sex scene than Harsch.  It should give one pause to be able to say, these days, that he or she has run across an original sex scene, given the overabundance of the same in daily life.  But search these pages for just that.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  It is short but profound, angry but funny, truthful as only the fallen one can speak the truth.

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.

6

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.

5

Dear Italo.

4

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,

***

1

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

***

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.

11

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.