Wednesday, February 23, 2011

W. and I are celebrants of rivers, and always feel the need to hail them. —‘The mighty Tyne!’, W. might say, and I might say, ‘the mighty Plym!’ The sight of a river is always an occasion. So, of course, is that of the sea. It’s the ozone, says W., it makes you feel alive.

It does, and in particular the view of the sheet of the sea, just past Exeter. The whole sheet of the sea, viewed from the train, neat Plymouth Gin and ice in your plastic cups. —‘This is happiness’, says W….

W.’s felt ill nearly all his adult life, he says. When was the last time he felt well?, I ask him. He can’t remember. —‘It’s been years’, he says suddenly. ‘Years!’ He used to go for great walks on the moors, he remembers. That’s when he last felt healthy: on his great weekend walks, when he would set off with his walking friend (whatever happened to him?) with no particular end in view. They’d just walk for miles across the moors.

There’s nothing better, he says, than to climb up to the moors, and see the blue strip of the sea in the distance. Are there really big cats up there, panthers and the like? He never saw any, he says. There might be. But his moor walks are long since over. He lacks something, W. says. There’s something missing in him. Why doesn’t he go on his great moor walks any more?, he wonders, as we look out to sea.

It’s important to hail rivers, we both agree, but just as important to hail the sea, although we do not do so by name. We do not, for instance, hail the sea south of Edinburgh as the North Sea, or the sea south of Exeter as the Atlantic (is it the Atlantic?, I ask W. It is, he says.). A simple, ‘The sea!’ is enough. Just as when we see the edge of the moor on our train journeys in Devon, we cry, ‘The moor!’

Ah, the moor! W. is feeling regretful again. How can he become a better person, a better friend? How might he become a better thinker? His life is full of regret, he says, and gets out his Cohen. He’s going to read now, he tells me, and I’ll have to entertain myself.
Lars Iyer, Spurious

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Without moving a muscle, I slowly extend my hand to release the catch on the reel, then give the ultra-light pole just the right flick, unleashing a full five yards of line in an arc above my head to position the Ryman III dry fly with steel highlights absolutely perfectly. Four times, each one just as perfect. But the fish doesn’t budge, too busy watching his little slice of river go by.

Just what I ought to be doing if I ever truly want to understand his motives.

So I cover my body with plaster, let it dry, and then remove the shell in two careful halves. Then melt some tires. Pour a layer of melted rubber into each half. Join the two halves with adjustable leather straps. Insert a clear plastic window at eye-level. Paint the whole thing the color of water.

Attach little balls of lead at the waist and a flexible rubber tube (say a radiator hose) at the mouth. Then slip silently into the current. Anchor myself to the riverbed with a metal stake, stay motionless and watch the river from inside while the fish get used to my presence.

Gaze forever at the little things upstream caught in the transparent block. Study the particular speed of things underwater. They appear quicker from above and slower from below.

Hide the whole thing, after oiling it to protect it, in waterproof wooden box buried near the spot in order to avoid the risk inherent in crossing the lawn in a diving outfit. Which would require me (as a supposed stranger) to say hello.
Olivier Cadiot, Colonel Zoo

Saturday, June 12, 2010

To So-Kin of Rakuyo, ancient friend, Chancellor of Gen.
Now I remember that you built me a special tavern
By the south side of the bridge at Ten-Shin.
With yellow gold and white jewels, we paid for songs and laughter
And we were drunk for month on month, forgetting the kings and princes.
Intelligent men came drifting in from the sea and from the west border,
And with them, and with you especially
There was nothing at cross purpose,
And they made nothing of sea-crossing or of mountain-crossing,
If only they could be of that fellowship,
And we all spoke out our hearts and minds, and without regret.
And then I was sent off to South Wei,
        smothered in laurel groves,
And you to the north of Raku-hoku,
Till we had nothing but thoughts and memories in common.
And then, when separation had come to its worst,
We met, and travelled into Sen-Go,
Through all the thirty-six folds of the turning and twisting waters,
Into a valley of the thousand bright flowers,
That was the first valley;
And into ten thousand valleys full of voices and pine-winds.
And with silver harness and reins of gold,
Out came the East of Kan foreman and his company.
And there came also the “True Man” of Shi-yo to meet me,
Playing on a jewelled mouth-organ.
In the storied houses of San-Ko they gave us more Sennin music,
Many instruments, like the sound of young phœnix broods.
The foreman of Kan Chu, drunk, danced
        because his long sleeves wouldn’t keep still
With that music playing,
And I, wrapped in brocade, went to sleep with my head on his lap,
And my spirit so high it was all over the heavens
And before the end of the day we were scattered like stars, or rain.
I had to be off to So, far away over the waters,
You back to your river-bridge.

And your father, who was brave as a leopard,
Was governor in Hei Shu, and put down the barbarian rabble.
And one May he had you send for me,
        despite the long distance.
And what with broken wheels and so on, I won’t say it wasn’t hard going,
Over roads twisted like sheep’s guts.
And I was still going, late in the year,
        in the cutting wind from the North,
And thinking how little you cared for the cost,
        and you caring enough to pay it.
And what a reception:
Red jade cups, food well set on a blue jewelled table,
And I was drunk, and had no thought of returning.
And you would walk out with me to the western corner of the castle,
To the dynastic temple, with water about it clear as blue jade,
With boats floating, and the sound of mouth-organs and drums,
With ripples like dragon-scales, going grass green on the water,
Pleasure lasting, with courtezans, going and coming without hindrance,
With the willow flakes falling like snow,
And the vermilioned girls getting drunk about sunset,
And the water, a hundred feet deep, reflecting green eyebrows
—Eyebrows painted green are a fine sight in young moonlight,
Gracefully painted—
And the girls singing back at each other,
Dancing in transparent brocade,
And the wind lifting the song, and interrupting it,
Tossing it up under the clouds.
        And all this comes to an end.
        And is not again to be met with.
I went up to the court for examination,
Tried Layu’s luck, offered the Choyo song,
And got no promotion,
        and went back to the East Mountains
And once again, later, we met at the South bridge-head.
And then the crowd broke up, you went north to San palace,
And if you ask how I regret that parting:
It is like the flowers falling at Spring’s end
        Confused, whirled in a tangle.
What is the use of talking, and there is no end of talking,
There is no end of things in the heart.
I call in the boy,
Have him sit on his knees here
        To seal this,
And send it a thousand miles, thinking.

        By Rihaku

Ezra Pound, “Exile’s Letter”

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

There is an ancient story that King Midas hunted in the forest a long time for the wise Silenus, the companion of Dionysus, without capturing him. When Silenus at last fell into his hands, the king asked what was the best and most desirable of all things for man. Fixed and immovable, the demigod said not a word, till at last, urged by the king, he gave a shrill laugh and broke out into these words: ‘Oh, wretched ephemeral race, children of chance and misery, why do you compel me to tell you what it would be most expedient for you not to hear? What is best of all is utterly beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best for you is—to die soon.’

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy Out of the Spirit of Music

Monday, February 15, 2010

Pouget was now once more pleading for reinforcements and ammunition. The calm voice of Vadot sounded like that of an old teacher trying to explain a difficult problem to a somewhat obtuse student:

“Come on, be reasonable. You know the situation as well as I do. Where do you want me to find a company? I can’t give you a single man or a single shell, old boy.”

But that moment, at about 0400, Captain Jean Pouget had about thirty-five men left alive and in fighting condition on the whole hill. Obviously, he thought, further resistance under such circumstances would be completely pointless and he requested from Vadon permission to abandon E2 and to break out in the direction of E3. There are two versions of what followed next. According to Jules Roy, Vadot is supposed to have said: “You’re a paratrooper. You are there to get yourself killed.” According to Pouget himself, Vadot said, after telling him that he had to fight on: “After all, you are a paratrooper and you must fight to the death—or at least until morning.”

There was nothing else to be said between the two men. Dien Bien Phu could no longer do anything for martyred Eliane 2, and Pouget, whose radio operator had been killed, no longer had any need for a transmitter.

“Understood. Out. If you have got nothing to add, I’ll destroy my set,” said Pouget.

The calm voice of Vadot seemed very far away, much farther than merely 400 meters of shell-pocked mud which actually separated the two men. Vadot also stuck to French Army radio protocol. “Out for me also.”

“Don’t destroy your radio set just yet,” said a Vietnamese voice in French. “President Ho Chi Minh offers you a rendition of the Chant des Partisans.” It was the voice of a People’s Army radio operator listening in on the French command channel. And the beloved words which the French Resistance sang in the dark days when it fought against the Nazi occupier could be clearly heard on the command channel. Pouget listened to it, from the first verse which spoke of the black crows—that is, the foreign occupiers—flying over the land, to the very last verse which speaks of black blood drying tomorrow on the roads, and ends on the haunting line: “Companions, Freedom is listening to us in the night…”

Then Pouget fired three bullets into his set and walked out of his command post.
Bernard Fall, Hell in a Very Small Place