Friday, July 24, 2009

Isla Negra: Pablo Neruda

Yuko & I visited Pablo Neruda's first & last home at Isla Negra, about a 1.5 hour drive from Santiago. It's a fantasy home built only a few meters off the shore and filled to the ceilings with items Neruda collected from all around the world.

The Night in Isla Negra
Ancient night and the unruly salt
beat at the walls of my house.
The shadow is all one, the sky
throbs now along with the ocean,
and sky and shadow erupt
in the crash of their vast conflict.
All night long they struggle;
nobody knows the name
of the harsh light that keeps slowly opening
like a languid fruit.
So on the coast comes to light,
out of seething shadow, the harsh dawn,
gnawed at by the moving salt,
swept clean by the mass of night,
bloodstained in its sea-washed crater.

- Pablo Neruda

Monday, July 20, 2009

Nazca Astronaut: Come Fly With Me

"Come fly with me, let's float down to Peru
In lama land, there's a one man band
And he'll toot his flute for you"
This is a photo Yuko shot to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. It's the Nazca "Astronaut" from southern Peru predating the 1969 Apollo landing by about 1500 years or so...

Everywhere you go, everyone wants to fly!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Eduardo Galeano: Dangerous Memory

"There is no frontier between past and present when you can revisit the past and make it alive again..."
Memory can be a dangerous thing, especially when it's kept alive by incendiary writers like Eduardo Galeano.

By simply retelling events without ostentation or adornment, Galeano illuminates the injustices that still ravage the present. As he has said, "Reality is a great poet...roses don't need perfume." It was his classic book, Open Veins Of Latin America, that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez presented to President Obama last April at the Summit of the Americas in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.

Galeano shifts perspective from the usurpers to the usurped and succeeds in presenting history as a moral imperative with human rights at its core. It's a searing intro into the exploitation South America's indigenous and later populations suffered at the hands of European/Yankee gringos. As a Canadian I can relate when Galeano says, "We are America also...the name 'America' has been kidnapped by the United States."

Yuko and I are flying to Peru this week and then traveling on to Chile and Bolivia. I've packed my Neruda and Vallejo, downloaded Victor Jara's songs to my iPod and have reread the accounts of Túpac Amaru's Inca uprising near Cusco, Peru and Che Guevara's last stand in Bolivia. Galeano provides the context, if not the rationale, for all these and the other revolutionary struggles that have originated in America del Sur.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sukiyaki Song: David & Yuko Sing!

Here we are serenading our Japanese nephews - Kai & Koh - with Sakamoto Kyu's classic, "上を向いて歩こう (Ue Wo Muite Arukō)" aka "Sukiyaki Song." "Ue Wo Muite Arukō," translated as "I'll Walk With My Head Held High," means keeping your spirits up, even when times are bad and you might be feeling lonely. Originally released in Japan in 1961, it became a North American Number 1 hit in June 1963, the first (and last) Japanese song ever to do so.

Sadly, Sakamoto died in a Japan Airlines crash near Gunma - where we lived for a year in 1999-2000 - on August 12, 1985 at 43. Here he is singing the original in 1963:

Monday, July 06, 2009

Fitzcarraldo: Conquistador Of The Useless

"If we're gonna do this...let's do it in style."
Director Werner Herzog's 1982 film - Fitzcarraldo - was based loosely on an actual person - Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald, a Peruvian rubber baron who died at the end of the 19th century. Klaus Kinski delivers a typically intense performance bringing an element of Teutonic sangfroid to his character's dizzying passions. It's a brilliant film and won Herzog the Palme d'Or at Cannes.

Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, or Fitzcarraldo as the natives pronounced it, had a head full of dreams and only wanted to bring the famous Italian opera tenor - Enrico Caruso - to the Peruvian jungle. But first he had to build an opera house...

...and to do so would require loads of cash. Can the end justify the means? Can it ever be acceptable to exploit a native culture or pull a 300 ton boat over a mountain in the name of "civilization"? Herzog thought this was analogous to film making and he adopted Fitzcarraldo's moniker "conquistador of the useless" in his vain pursuit of artistic perfection.

Eventually, the best laid schemes of mice & men are overtaken by events and in an ironic commentary on colonialism, Fitzcarraldo ends up being manipulated by the very natives he thought he had subdued.

But in the end the film gets made, the boat makes it to the other side of the mountain & the show goes on...and on...and on...

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Miriam Toews: A Complicated Kindness

I recently read A Complicated Kindness, the 2004 Governor General's Award winner, a moving, first person account of life in a desolate Mennonite village in southern Manitoba told from the perspective of 16-year-old Nomi (né Naomi) Nickel.

What Toews succeeds in doing so well is activate a voice that is at once authentic and recognizable. Nomi sounds like a girl I grew up with - she's familiar and believable - but she is also absolutely unique, unlike anyone else I've ever known. In fiction her predecessors are Holden Caulfield and more recently Chappie from Russell Banks' Rule Of The Bone. She's sardonic, cynical and aching to be anywhere else but here.

"One day, when I was nine years old, I got up early and went for a walk around town. I wore a thin white cotton T-shirt, navy-blue polyester pants to resemble real denim, and North Star runners with no socks. I walked around and around and I felt so good. I felt happier than I had ever felt in my entire life, perfectly content and absolutely carefree.

When I got to school I told my teacher I was on cloud nine. I told her I was so happy I thought I could fly. I told her I felt so great I wanted to dance like Fred Astaire.

She said life was not a dream. And dancing was a sin. Now get off it and sit back down. It was the first time in my life that I had been aware of my own existence. It was the first time in my life I had realized that I was alive."
This is the type of particular beauty that I'm aiming to bring to my novel. It's also in the first person and involves a main character struggling to realize his own identity against insurmountable odds. Much of it is also set in a religious community with its members at odds with each other...stay tuned.

In the meantime, here's Fred and Ginger alive and kicking in Swing Time: