Sunday, October 18, 2009

Herman Melville - The Piazza

When I removed into the country, it was to occupy an old-fashioned
farm-house, which had no piazza--a deficiency the more regretted,
because not only did I like piazzas, as somehow combining the coziness
of in-doors with the freedom of out-doors, and it is so pleasant to
inspect your thermometer there, but the country round about was such a
picture, that in berry time no boy climbs hill or crosses vale without
coming upon easels planted in every nook, and sun-burnt painters
painting there. A very paradise of painters. The circle of the stars cut
by the circle of the mountains. At least, so looks it from the house;
though, once upon the mountains, no circle of them can you see. Had the
site been chosen five rods off, this charmed ring would not have been.
The house is old. Seventy years since, from the heart of the Hearth
Stone Hills, they quarried the Kaaba, or Holy Stone, to which, each
Thanksgiving, the social pilgrims used to come. So long ago, that, in
digging for the foundation, the workmen used both spade and axe,
fighting the Troglodytes of those subterranean parts--sturdy roots of a
sturdy wood, encamped upon what is now a long land-slide of sleeping
meadow, sloping away off from my poppy-bed. Of that knit wood, but one
survivor stands--an elm, lonely through steadfastness.
Whoever built the house, he builded better than he knew; or else Orion
in the zenith flashed down his Damocles' sword to him some starry night,
and said, "Build there." For how, otherwise, could it have entered the
builder's mind, that, upon the clearing being made, such a purple
prospect would be his?--nothing less than Greylock, with all his hills
about him, like Charlemagne among his peers.
Now, for a house, so situated in such a country, to have no piazza for
the convenience of those who might desire to feast upon the view, and
take their time and ease about it, seemed as much of an omission as if a
picture-gallery should have no bench; for what but picture-galleries are
the marble halls of these same limestone hills?--galleries hung, month
after month anew, with pictures ever fading into pictures ever fresh.
And beauty is like piety--you cannot run and read it; tranquillity and
constancy, with, now-a-days, an easy chair, are needed. For though, of
old, when reverence was in vogue, and indolence was not, the devotees of
Nature, doubtless, used to stand and adore--just as, in the cathedrals
of those ages, the worshipers of a higher Power did--yet, in these times
of failing faith and feeble knees, we have the piazza and the pew.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Willa Cather - On the Gull's Road

IT often happens that one or another of my friends stops before a red chalk drawing in my study and asks me where I ever found so lovely a creature. I have never told the story of that picture to any one, and the beautiful woman on the wall, until yesterday, in all these twenty years has spoken to no one but me. Yesterday a young painter, a countryman of mine, came to consult me on a matter of business, and upon seeing my drawing of Alexandra Ebbling, straightway forgot his errand. He examined the date upon the sketch and asked me, very earnestly, if I could tell him whether the lady were still living. When I answered him, he stepped back from the picture and said slowly:
"So long ago? She must have been very young. She was happy?"
"As to that, who can say -- about any one of us?" I replied. "Out of all that is supposed to make for happiness, she had very little."
We returned to the object of his visit, but when he bade me goodbye at the door his troubled gaze again went back to the drawing, and it was only by turning sharply about that he took his eyes away from her.
I went back to my study fire, and as the rain kept away less impetuous visitors, I had a long time in which to think of Mrs. Ebbling. I even got out the little box she gave me, which I had not opened for years, and when Mrs. Hemway brought my tea I had barely time to close the lid and defeat her disapproving gaze.
My young countryman's perplexity, as he looked at Mrs. Ebbling, had recalled to me the delight and pain she gave me when I was of his years. I sat looking at her face and trying to see it through his eyes -- freshly, as I saw it first upon the deck of the Germania, twenty years ago. Was it her loveliness, I often ask myself, or her loneliness, or her simplicity, or was it merely my own youth? Was her mystery only that of the mysterious North out of which she came? I still feel that she was very different from all the beautiful and brilliant women I have known; as the night is different from the day, or as the sea is different from the land. But this is our story, as it comes back to me.

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Book choice: My Antonia

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Liam O' Flaherty - The Sniper

The long June twilight faded into night. Dublin lay enveloped in darkness but for the dim light of the moon that shone through fleecy clouds, casting a pale light as of approaching dawn over the streets and the dark waters of the Liffey. Around the beleaguered Four Courts the heavy guns roared. Here and there through the city, machine guns and rifles broke the silence of the night, spasmodically, like dogs barking on lone farms. Republicans and Free Staters were waging civil war.

On a rooftop near O'Connell Bridge, a Republican sniper lay watching. Beside him lay his rifle and over his shoulders was slung a pair of field glasses. His face was the face of a student, thin and ascetic, but his eyes had the cold gleam of the fanatic. They were deep and thoughtful, the eyes of a man who is used to looking at death.

He was eating a sandwich hungrily. He had eaten nothing since morning. He had been too excited to eat. He finished the sandwich, and, taking a flask of whiskey from his pocket, he took a short drought. Then he returned the flask to his pocket. He paused for a moment, considering whether he should risk a smoke. It was dangerous. The flash might be seen in the darkness, and there were enemies watching. He decided to take the risk.

Placing a cigarette between his lips, he struck a match, inhaled the smoke hurriedly and put out the light. Almost immediately, a bullet flattened itself against the parapet of the roof. The sniper took another whiff and put out the cigarette. Then he swore softly and crawled away to the left.

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Book choice: Famine

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dear You

I’ve been here in Chiang Mai for more than two months already and time just seems to have flown by. I’m glad however that I do have a lot of it to spend; more than ever before. And, truth be told, I do spend it in a constructive way: reading and writing a lot, and making plans for the future, or rather paving the way for it. I’ve already written a short story collection and I’m now half way through the re-writing of my first novel. In fact I’m so much into writing “mode” right now that I just had to Make myself take a break. Anyway, if everything goes fine I hope to finish it by the end of the month and then start working on a new one; my first crime novel. I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time, but I guess up till now I’ve never felt ready to dive into the deep waters of crime fiction. Time can only tell if I can make it.
Apart from the above, life seems to be as simple as ever; taking a few walks, having a few drinks, meeting with friends etc. Nothing to get really upset or excited about I guess. I just wish that it rained more though. Unless I’m mistaken this is the most dry rainy season of the past decades. Let’s just hope that things will get better as it draws to its end.
And I guess that just about wraps it up for today.

p.s. I’m now reading two completely different books at the same time: “The Buddha Tree” by Fumio Niwa and “An Unkindness of Ravens” by Ruth Rendell.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Edgar Allan Poe - The Assignation

Stay for me there ! I will not fail.
To meet thee in that hollow vale.
[ Exequy on the death of his wife, by Henry King, Bishop of Chichester .]
ILL-FATED and mysterious man ! - bewildered in the brilliancy of thine own imagination, and fallen in the flames of thine own youth ! Again in fancy I behold thee ! Once more thy form hath risen before me ! - not - oh not as thou art - in the cold valley and shadow but as thou shouldst be - squandering away a life of magnificent meditation in that city of dim visions, thine own Venice - which is a star-beloved Elysium of the sea, and the wide windows of whose Palladian palaces look down with a deep and bitter meaning upon the secrets of her silent waters. Yes ! I repeat it - as thou shouldst be . There are surely other worlds than this - other thoughts than the thoughts of the multitude - other speculations than the speculations of the sophist. Who then shall call thy conduct into question ? who blame thee for thy visionary hours, or denounce those occupations as a wasting away of life, which were but the overflowings of thine everlasting energies ?
It was at Venice, beneath the covered archway there called the Ponte di Sospiri , that I met for the third or fourth time the person of whom I speak. It is with a confused recollection that I bring to mind the circumstances of that meeting. Yet I remember - ah ! how should I forget ? - the deep midnight, the Bridge of Sighs, the beauty of woman, and the Genius of Romance that stalked up and down the narrow canal.
It was a night of unusual gloom. The great clock of the Piazza had sounded the fifth hour of the Italian evening. The square of the Campanile lay silent and deserted, and the lights in the old Ducal Palace were dying fast away. I was returning home from the Piazetta, by way of the Grand Canal. But as my gondola arrived opposite the mouth of the canal San Marco, a female voice from its recesses broke suddenly upon the night, in one wild, hysterical, and long continued shriek. Startled at the sound, I sprang upon my feet : while the gondolier, letting slip his single oar, lost it in the pitchy darkness beyond a chance of recovery, and we were consequently left to the guidance of the current which here sets from the greater into the smaller channel. Like some huge and sable-feathered condor, we were slowly drifting down towards the Bridge of Sighs, when a thousand flambeaux flashing from the windows, and down the staircases of the Ducal Palace, turned all at once that deep gloom into a livid and preternatural day.

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Book choice: The Works of Edgar Allan Poe - Volume 1