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[JUNE 2008.]

Sounds of Spain

The new powerful fan in our bedroom, in concert with whatever other appliances make noise around here, brought some very faint ambient music into the apartment as I was dropping off last night; it sounded like a major chord with a prominent third and fifth, cycling around every few seconds.

For a couple of hours each morning a squadron of swallows wheels around outside the window; they make such high-pitched squeals when they fly, so different from their burbling songs at rest, that I half wondered if they were using echolocation to find bugs. But that can’t be right.

Our host and her mother are in the kitchen, making paella with squid ink. It looks impressively tinted, and has the usual smell of oceanic things.


Gerardo Diego (1896-1987)

Diego, Gerardo. Antología poética. Ed. Francisco Javier Doez de Revenga. Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 2007.

Spanish poet discovered by utter chance today in a Barcelona bookstore. He’s not a consummate twentieth-century master like Lorca, but he is immediately appealing in a whole gamut of forms, from ebullient interbellum surrealism to resigned late lyricism. This sonnet, from the 1941 collection Alondra de verdad (The True Lark), seems to be one of his best known.


Tú y tu desnudo sueño. No lo sabes.
Duermes. No. No lo sabes. Yo en desvelo,
y tú, inocente, duermes bajo el cielo.
Tú por tu sueño y por el mar las naves.

En cárceles de espacio, aéreas llaves
te me encierran, recluyen, roban. Hielo,
cristal de aire en mil hojas. No. No hay vuelo
que alce hasta ti las alas de mis aves.

Saber que duermes tú, cierta, segura
—cauce fiel de abandono, línea pura—,
tan cerca de mis brazos maniatados.

Qué pavoroso esclavitud de isleño,
yo insomne, loco, en los acantilados,
las naves por el mar, tú por tu sueño.

Version: Insomnia (for R.D.)

You and your naked dream. You don’t know it.
You sleep. No. You don’t know it. Sleepless I,
while you sleep on, innocent, beneath the sky.
You in your dream, on the ocean the ships.

In prisons of space, aerial keys
lock me, confine me, rob me of you. Ice,
airy thousand-leaved crystal. No. No flight
will lift my birds to you, raise up their wings.

Knowing you sleep, defined, secure
—faithful dry riverbed, line drawn pure—,
so close to my arms, my manacled wrists.

So awful an exile, surrounded by sea,
insomniac I, mad, on the cliffs,
the ships on the ocean, you in your dream.


Rain in Spain

Taking a walk last night through Barcelona’s old town, we stopped outside a bar and, along with a small crowd, watched through the window as Spain beat Italy on penalty kicks in the Euro 2000 quarterfinals. Exciting! No one had scored in the standard time, so they settled it by taking turns on five sudden-death goals each (I note this for readers who, like me, are ignorant of the fútbol), in which the Spanish goalie came out as the hero. Then there was a lot of shouting “¡ESPAÑA!”, honking horns, running around in the street, fireworks going off, people hanging from the backs of scooting Vespas with enormous Spanish flags in their spread arms. Why did it make me so happy? Something about the fiction of community—or maybe the real community, how do I know—that you get with sports, the sense of being part of the thing you’re looking at. We’ve been here about four days and are just starting to figure out how things work. Today I finally intuited that our little stovetop coffee machine is an espresso machine that employs the upward pressure of steam rather than the downward pressure of water. I don’t even want to tell you the contortions I’ve been going through to make it work the wrong way.

way peripheral, but the shootout wasn't sudden death; it was best of five, so that fourth spanish goal sealed the deal.


The structure of the Dantean monologue, built on a system of organ stops, can be well understood with the help of an analogy to rocks whose purity has been violated by the intrusion of foreign bodies. Granular admixtures and veins of lava point to one earth fault or catastrophe as the source of the formation. Dante’s lines are formed and colored in just such a geological way. Their material structure is infinitely more important than the famous sculptural quality. Let us imagine a monument of granite or marble the symbolic function of which is not to represent a horse or rider but to disclose the inner structure of the very marble or granite itself. In other words, imagine a monument of granite which has been erected in honor of granite and as though for the revelation of its idea. You will then receive a rather clear notion of how form and content are related in Dante.

—Osip Mandelstam, “Conversation about Dante” (Razgovor o Dante), trans. Clarence Brown and Robert Hughes, in the superfine Selected Poems (New York: New York Review of Books, 2004).


Out of his love for man, God gave him the freedom to choose between good and evil. It did not go unnoticed, even to God himself, that he might bear some responsibility for the ensuing nightmare of human history. So he parted with his son in an effort to pay for his mistake, to purge his guilt. He could pass this off as an act of mercy toward the human race he so loved, rather than as one of self-punishment for his original mistake, by conveniently placing the onus of punishment on Christ, who was, however, not taken in by this shrewd deception. He knew when he had been forsaken, and by whom, although he failed, understandably enough, to see just why. God, however, was well pleased with this displaced act of contrition, but just for good measure he sealed it with the Holy Ghost, thereby following self-duplication with self-triplication. Such are the complex self-deceptions and charades required when one tries to be both spectator at and agent in the same drama. It is hardly surprising that some have suspected God’s motives, finding it more plausible that he endowed man with freedom not out of love, but out of a need for entertainment.

—Carolyn Porter, Seeing and Being: The Plight of the Participant Observer in Emerson, James, Adams, and Faulkner (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1981) 130.


The last sentence of this article implies volumes about how fucked things are.


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