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I have enough trouble as it is in trying to say what I think I know.

Samuel Beckett

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Sunday, January 31st, 2010

🦋 Vision

Aquella noche Jacinta vio a Zacarías de nuevo en sueños. El ángel ya no vestía en negro. Iba desnudo, y su piel estaba recubierta de escamas. Ya no le acompañaba su gato, sino una serpiente blanca enroscada en el torso. Su cabello había crecido hasta la cintura y su sonrisa, la sonrisa de caramelo que había besado en la catedral de Toledo, aparecía surcada de dientes triangulares y serrados como los que había visto en algunos peces de alta mar agitando la cola en la lonja de pescadores. Años mas tarde, la muchacha describiría esta visión a un Julián Carax de dieciocho años, recordando que el día en que Jacinta iba a dejar la pensión de la Ribera para mudarse al palacete Aldaya, supo que su amiga la Ramoneta había sido asesinada a cuchilladas en el portal aquella misma noche y que su bebé había muerto de frío en brazos del cadáver. Al saberse la noticia, los inquilinos de la pensión se enzarzaron en una pelea a gritos, puñadas y arañozos para disputarse las escasas pertenencias de la muerta. Lo único que dejaron fue el que había sido su tesoro más preciado: un libro. Jacinta lo reconoció, porque muchas noches la Ramoneta le había pedido si podía leerle una o dos páginas. Ella nunca había aprendido a leer.

That night, Jacinta again saw Zacarías in her dreams. The angel was no longer clothed in black. He was nude, and his skin was covered with scales. And he was no longer accompanied by his cat; instead a white serpent twined around his torso. His hair had grown down to his waist, and his smile -- the caramel smile which she had kissed in the cathedral of Toledo -- appeared to be cut through by triangular teeth, serrated like those she had seen in some fish of the high seas, their tails writhing at the fish market. Years later, the girl would describe this vision to a Julián Carax eighteen years old, remembering that on the day when Jacinta was leaving the Ribera boarding house to move to Aldaya's mansion, she learned that her friend Ramoneta had been murdered, stabbed in the doorway that same night, and that her baby had died of exposure in the corpse's arms. On learning the news, the tenants of the boarding house got in a screaming fight, throwing fists and scratching in a row over the dead woman's meager possessions. The only thing left was what had been her most cherished treasure: a book. Jacinta recognized it, for on many nights Ramoneta had asked if she'd read a page or two. Herself, she had never learned to read.

A key bit of plot development occurred at the end of Chapter 28, which was that Daniel had his first sexual experience*, with Bea. This seems to have opened up the book a lot, for the time being at least (as of Chapter 31) -- Daniel seems like a much better narrator for his experience. Daniel and Fermín's visit to the asylum has been gripping (though the detail about the old man's making Daniel promise to find him a hooker seemed a little silly.) The mysticism in Jacinta's story is seeming much more authentic to me than the mystical bits in the first half of the book.

Maybe the most striking thing is, the construction of the book is getting less transparent -- in the first half of the book, it has often been too blindingly obvious, just where Ruiz Zafón is going with each detail of the plot. As Daniel and Fermín move through Santa Lucía and listen to Jacinta's story, it is refreshingly hard to see where they're going.

* Or, well, nix that -- I was reading too much into the ellipses. But they kissed passionately, which for the purposes of this story seems to come to about the same thing.

posted evening of January 31st, 2010: Respond
➳ More posts about La sombra del viento

🦋 The Boys of Blue Hill

Here is a recording I made of "The Boys of Blue Hill":

-- by way of comparison, a recording I found on YouTube. This is James Galway and Matt Molloy, in 1977:

Update -- as long as I'm recording some fiddle tunes -- I added a take of "The Growling Old Man and the Carping Old Woman" to this post. And here is a tape of Graham Townsend playing the tune:

posted morning of January 31st, 2010: Respond
➳ More posts about The Boys of Blue Hill

🦋 Étude/Song

I spent a lot of time practicing my fiddle tunes yesterday. These tunes -- generally Irish or Appalachian tunes, mostly in 4/4 time, mostly with two sections of 8 or 16 bars each -- I mostly play as a sort of étude, just getting used to playing the violin fast and clear and with a constant beat; something nice can happen when I have played a tune enough times, become familiar enough with it, that it will metamorphose from a practice tune into an actual song... when this happens it is as if I start hearing actual expressed meaning in the notes rather than just the bouncing melody. That transformation took place yesterday with the Irish song "The Boys of Blue Hill" -- suddenly that song is a part of my consciousness, not just a melody in my ear. Here are the fiddle tunes I feel familiar enough with that I think of them as songs:

  • Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine
  • Bonaparte Crossing the Rocky Mountain
  • Bonaparte's Retreat (almost -- I still don't totally understand the B section)
  • Old Joe Clark
  • The Irish Washerwoman (the odd man out -- this song is a jig, in 3/4 time)
  • The Growling Old Man and the Carping Old Woman
  • The Boys of Blue Hill
The transition from étude to song seems to have a lot to do with rhythm -- when I am playing a tune for practice I am very focussed on playing it straight, with beats falling at the correct place and durations of notes accurate, etc. When I am playing a song there is more room for syncopation and swinging.

I am thinking I should try and build a songbook of fiddle tunes, similar to what John and I are doing with our songs. (I am wanting to do recordings of some of these, hopefully before to long I will upload some mp3's.) Below the fold, a list (in no particular order) of songs I am working on, that are getting close to inclusion in the songbook.

posted morning of January 31st, 2010: 3 responses
➳ More posts about Fiddling

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

🦋 Going to

If nothing else, La sombra del viento is certainly broadening my understanding of Spanish tenses. For instance, I did not know there was a present continuous in Spanish -- and it does not seem to be very common, certainly not as ubiquitous as in English, but occasionally a character will say something like "¡Lo está inventando!" ("You're making that up!")* -- Daniel said this to Fermín a few chapters ago, I've forgotten just what the context was. And today I see for the first time something that looks a lot like the English future progressive** ("going to ...") when Fermín says "Me parece que va siendo hora de que nos dejemos de remilgos y de picar al portal como si pidiésemos limosna. En este asunto hay que entrar por la puerta de atrás." -- which I am reading as, "It seems to me that there's going to come a time when we will need to leave aside our squeamishness and stop knocking on the door as if we were begging for alms. In this matter it's necessary to enter through the back door." And a little later, he says "Pues vaya desempolvando el disfraz de monaguillo" -- something like "Then go dust off your altar-boy disguise" but expressed with that same combination of ir + -ndo, "You are going to dust off." In English you can say "You are going to" do something in an imperative voice, maybe that's what is going on here.

In general Fermín's language is a lot more flowery than that of the other characters, and harder to read without a dictionary. I believe Daniel remarked on this at some point right around the time Fermín was first introduced. I'm thinking Fermín is Ruiz Zafón's nod to Picaresque literature, he is intended as an archaism.

* More precisely, "¡Todo esto se lo está inventando usted!" -- the context is that Fermín is telling him the indigent hospital's hearse wagon had been donated "by a company from Hospitalet de Llobregat specializing in butcher products, of dubious reputation, which years later was involved in a scandal." Fermín replies in turn that his "gifts of imagination do not extend so far."

** Is this the correct name for what I'm talking about?

posted morning of January 30th, 2010: 2 responses
➳ More posts about Language

Friday, January 29th, 2010

🦋 First cut

John and I had a good time practicing tonight -- we will be playing at the open mic at Menzel Violins on Thursday, the songs we play will most likely be "Man of Constant Sorrow", "Meet Me in the Morning", and "Walk Right In" -- here is a recording we cut of "Walk Right In". Sound quality is still pretty ragged but it is nonetheless, I think, a fun song to listen to. (And to play, of course.)

Another song we played that was a lot of fun, was "The Battleship of Maine," by Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers. Same tune as "Up on Blueridge Mountain," this is an anti-war song from the '20's.

posted evening of January 29th, 2010: Respond
➳ More posts about Jamming with friends

🦋 Reading difficult books

At The Millions, Garth Hallberg discusses Nabokov's Ada, or Ardor -- the "Difficult Book par excellence"; in the course of this discussion he describes the experience of reading difficult books with marvelous concision: "A willingness to let things wash over you can be the difference between sublimity and seasickness." Yes! I love this; I am adding it to my list of epigraphs for the site.

(via Conversational Reading.)

posted evening of January 29th, 2010: Respond
➳ More posts about Ada

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

🦋 Salinger

What do I have to say about Salinger? Not much really -- I loved reading his books as a young man, they have not stayed with me very much though, except for a couple of his short stories. A great writer certainly, but not someone I have spent very much time thinking about in my adult life. I don't want to let the occasion of his passing go unmentioned though -- the books felt extremely important at the time I was reading them, and they definitely played a role in my growing up as a reader. So I'll link to a couple of other bloggers who have more to say about him than I.

  • Alvy Singer looks forward to "the upcoming war between New York publishers over thousands of unpublished items for the pleasure of completists (us)."
  • Manosuelta recalls reading "The Laughing Man".
  • SEK draws some parallels between reading Salinger and reading Zinn. (...And Hilobrow imagines the History of the United States told by Holden C.)
  • Michael Sweeney reprints a piece he wrote last year, thanking J.D. for his books.
Also, the New Yorker's archivist John Michaud posts links to every story Salinger published in the magazine. (The stories themselves are, however, only available to subscribers.) And the best obituary comes (of course) from The Onion.

posted evening of January 28th, 2010: Respond
➳ More posts about Readings

🦋 Dumpsters

At The Great Whatsit today, I read S. Godfrey's photoessay about his friend Finley decorating garbage cans with wallpaper, with a link to an NY Times article about it. What a great idea!

Finley has a gorgeous web site of her own, natch, where you can see some more of her junk-themed art.

posted evening of January 28th, 2010: Respond
➳ More posts about Pretty Pictures

🦋 A Stone Raft Sailing to Haïti

The Saramago Foundation announces that a new edition of The Stone Raft will be published, with all profits given to the Red Cross's relief efforts in Haïti.

Update: no, I misread that. The foundation is not donating all profits to the Red Cross, but rather "the entire 15€ purchase price of the book" -- rather more substantial a commitment.

posted morning of January 28th, 2010: Respond
➳ More posts about Saramago's Notebook

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

🦋 Bright Stupid Confetti

Today at Paul Habeeb's Latest Research, I find a link to the site of Jim Kazanjian -- whose otherworldly photography makes me think of nothing so much as of Escher, as if Escher had come back to life and gotten himself a digital camera and a graphics workstation...
So, wow; that is nice to know about. But on a whim I follow Mr. Habeeb's via link, to Christopher Higgs' journal bright stupid confetti -- and find myself overwhelmed by the insane quantity of beautiful, interesting pictures -- paintings, photography, posters... surrealistic videos... lectures on poetry (in English) by Borges... I'm pretty much blown away by this site.

Update: More info about Jim Kazanjian at, where he was profiled last month.

posted evening of January 27th, 2010: 2 responses
➳ More posts about M.C. Escher

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