Archive for February, 2007

Hail To The Etc.

Good grief.

You Are Most Like George W. Bush

So what if you’re not exactly popular? You still rule the free world.
And while you may be quite conservative now, you knew how to party back in the day!

What Modern US President Are You Most Like?

In a way it makes sense. I am barely capable of presiding over my own lunch, and I like fart jokes and stuff.

Pile ’em slightly lower

As mentioned last week, I have obliged myself to read and review a pile of unread books I have accumulated before I buy myself another. Pain, as Freddie Mercury observed, is so close to Pleasure.

The first one up is Eduardo Mendoza’s Mauricio o las elecciones primarias .

I really can’t be bothered writing a full review of this. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the book a lot, but most of what is there on those two links (in Spanish) gives a far better summary of the book than I could hope to.

When it comes to reading in another language, I always find myself mildly unsatisfied when I finish a book, however much I might have been bowled over by it. Part of this is because if you’re not a native speaker of the language in question, you are always aware that there may be lots of things you are missing in the course of reading the book. Even if you are at a level where you can understand the meaning of the words without having to look at the dictionary, you still feel a degree of separation from the words and the subject matter.

To illustrate: if the author is conveying the innermost thoughts of a protagonist from that protagonist’s point of view, you can try and empathise with the protagonist, but since you speak a different language, there is a limit to how much you can identify with his words. If I am reading a story in English about a man who says:

“What yer man needs is a good kick up the hole.”

I will probably be able to infer certain things about what has led that man to say those words at that moment in the story. I might be familiar with the place where the man finds himself, and might be able to judge if the man has issues, whether of class hatred, of inverted snobbery, an inferiority complex, or whatever.

The problem with reading in a foreign language, however, is that unless you’re so acquainted with that language and the culture that has produced the text that you can confidently say “I know why he said that thing there, and I know why the author is making him say this”, then you are saddled with the sensation of missing out on things.

Of course, most acts of reading entail having to put up with this sensation to some degree. The point is that this is heightened when you’re reading in a language that is not your own, and about a culture that may not feel like your own. If a non-native Spanish speaker is able to say of Mauricio o las elecciones primarias:

“Because a) I speak ah, very fluent Spanish and; b) I am well acquainted with the peculiarities of the Socialist Party of Catalonia of the post-dictatorship period, with its worker priests, come-all-ye singers, petits parvenus and so on, and with the spirit of the times in pre-Olympics Barcelona, I am more than able to interpret this book in keeping with the meaning that the author has intended, without missing a single reference.”

they would be either a) a cultural titan; or b) a bit deluded.

This is not to say that you need to be acquainted with such detail in order to get something out of the text. On the contrary: the text -as is the case with Mauricio o las elecciones primarias– might address universal concerns that transcend the specifics of language and culture: love, death, power, politics and so on. And if language constituted a barrier so great as to make it impossible to apprehend the intended meaning of the text, no-one would bother translating anything.

At this point, I’m not quite sure where I am going with this post. I might take up a couple of the loose ends when I write the review of the next book in Spanish – La velocidad de la luz (The Speed of Light). The next book for review, however, is The Discomfort Zone by Jonathan Franzen, which I’m half way through and enjoying very much, thank you.

Victor ‘Mature’

Apparently yesterday’s spectacle at Croke Park was an indication that Ireland had grown up as a nation. The word was ‘mature’, like cheese. Whereas until yesterday a pubescent and acne’d Ireland had been far too snotty and resentful of its neighbour and former occupier, an adult Ireland emerged yesterday evening, all hairy-chested and broad-shouldered, and all right-thinking people were satisfied that it had finally reached maturity, as it stood in respectful silence to God Save The Queen.

Ireland, apparently, is the people who stood yesterday at Croke Park cheering on the team in green. These people are the nation, and under no circumstances should they be mistaken for the ruling classes.

For all the pre-match talk of the possibility of foul irruptions from anti-English troglodytes, it emerged that few, if any such creatures had bothered making any attempt to buy a ticket for the rugby match. Many people thought that the fact England was playing at Croke Park would be enough in itself for these antidiluvian rapscallions to shell out a pile of cash for a ticket for a sport in which they had no interest, then set aside their Saturday evenings in order to go and be offended by God Save The Queen. Or, in what would have been an equally unwelcome event, some lifelong attendees of rugby matches at Lansdowne Road, 4×4 drivers to a man, might have succumbed to the temptation to go native from the heights of the Cusack Stand, and started roaring beastly insults as soon as the band struck up Her Majesty’s Anthem. In the end, no such embarrassment occurred, perhaps in part a tribute to the money spent on policing the event in such a way that the barbarians were kept well outside the gates.

Bobby Conn – You’ve Come A Long Way

Pan’s People

I watched Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno) last weekend. It was very good, and not at all what I had been erroneously led to expect, which was some sort of Spanish Harry Potter (Quique Alfarero?). Instead, it was a bloody and shocking dramatisation of post-Civil War Spain, with echoes of Greek mythology, the Bible, and Alice in Wonderland-style surrealism. Goya and Dalí are also obvious influences in the young girl’s fantasies of labyrinths and mythic beasts.

The film switches between two ‘worlds’: the outer world of fascist Spain in 1944, and the inner fantasy world that a young girl (Ofelia) enacts.


The relation between the two worlds is largely left to the imagination of the viewer, although it is hard to escape the conclusion that the monsters conjured forth by Ofelia correspond to the fascist authoritarianism of the outer world, embodied by Captain Vidal, a macho thug who -when not enjoying torture- is using Ofelia’s mother as the vessel for the continuation of his family line of masculine heroes.


(Images:Rotten Tomatoes)

Vidal is in love with death, in particular the death of his own father, which defines his own life. Just as his father (a miltary hero in North Africa: echoes of Franco) threw his timepiece against a rock at the moment of his death -in a manifestation of irrationalism par excellence- so that his son would know the exact time when it happened, Vidal carries his own timepiece in preparation for the same. The scene depicting the moment of Vidal’s death is nothing short of remarkable.


When I was at primary school, we went to swimming classes once a week, and we used to do this thing called the Red Hand of Ulster. It consisted in sneaking up on some unsuspecting child in his swimming togs and delivering a resounding slap! to his bare back, leaving a reddening handprint.

The first story I learned about the Red Hand of Ulster was that there was a race to stake claim to a piece of land, somewhere in Tyrone, I think. The last obstacle in the race was a river, and at this point one competitor was lagging a bit behind the other, who was already making his way across the river. So, the story went, the brave and boul’ straggler hacked off one of his hands and flung it across the river, thus winning the race and the land, at the expense of a red hand. Such underhand tactics have been an inspiration to many ever since. Indeed, the Red Hand appears, among other places, on the Tyrone GAA jersey.

Other fans of the Red Hand include some Rangers supporters, who performed some sort of ‘Red Hand salute‘ at a match in Tel Aviv, which led some to believe, not unreasonably, that it was a Nazi-like gesture. But it turns out that UEFA has decided not to take action, since the salute made the ‘sign of the red hand of Ulster’.

No doubt UEFA could do without the hassle. But there is no reason why the Red Hand of Ulster could not be used in a Nazi-like, or fascistic, gesture. You could take any symbol and put it to fascist purposes. In the case of the Red Hand, one of its original myths – of the bloody hand laying claim to land- suggests that it would lend itself quite readily to an ideology of Blood and Earth (Blut und Boden). This is not to say it is a fascist symbol in all situations, but in the context of a quasi-miltary salute on a football terrace, its purpose is bloody obvious.

Coping With Piles

I had a look at my bank statement the other day. Apart from a distinct lack of zeroes, it seems I have been spending lots of money since before Christmas, with nothing to show for it save a load of books.

I’ve been rather conscientious about reading most of the books bought since Christmas, but somewhat backward about attacking the unread books previously accumulated.

So I was thinking. I’m not going to buy another book until I get through my current pile, and as a means of motivation, I’m going to write a review of each one as I go along.

The pile:

Jonathan Franzen – The Discomfort Zone

Ronan Bennett – Havoc, In Its Third Year

Kazuo Ishiguro – Never Let Me Go

Javier Cercas – La velocidad de la luz

Juan Rulfo – Pedro Páramo

Brian Dillon – In The Dark Room

Sara Roy – Failing Peace – Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

David Mitchell – Black Swan Green

Roberto Bolaño – Los detectives salvajes

Eduardo Mendoza – Mauricio o las elecciones primarias

I reckon I can do one a week, which means I can go out and buy myself another book for May Day. I’m also cheating somewhat here, since I have included neither the books given to me by other people (I may not finish Sholokhov’s mammoth Quiet Flows The Don this side of fifty) nor those I have started but left unfinished.

The first one up for review is the last one on the list.

I, Sandwich

I never had any feeling for writing my own poetry. The best I can say about my ability is that I was always able to recognise that my efforts stank.

This critical faculty vanished, however, one morning in 1986, after receiving for homework the task of writing a poem about ‘Poverty’, which my teacher thought very high up in the very very bad stakes, competing only with the Russians for first prize.

I can’t recall the entire poem now, but I do remember that the first verse rhymed ‘money’ with ‘funny’. What has stuck in the mind, however, is the last two lines, which from time to time crease me up with terror:

An apple core, a bacon rind,

A sandwich someone left behind.

This was, I recall, the fate of someone in poverty: condemned to sift through the contents of public litter bins for a bite to eat. Today I was mulling over the final line, which despite its awfulness, could have its meaning radically altered by a well-placed comma:

An apple core, a bacon rind,

A sandwich, someone left behind.

Through this, the poem’s last action is to linger on the fate of poverty’s victim: someone left behind. That, or ‘someone left behind’ is the last item on a desperate menu.

More interesting is this:

An apple core, a bacon rind,

A sandwich someone, left behind.

What is a ‘sandwich someone’? I don’t know. Maybe one of those guys who walk around in sandwich boards, now down on his luck and in for a spot of bin hoking. Or maybe it’s a poor person, so deprived of real food that they have turned into a sandwich, like the figures of Irish literature who spend so much time riding their bikes that they become the bike and the bike becomes them. Who knows?

I’m going to be rather busy for the next few days, so there may not be too much posting going on.

Behind Him All The Way

I know, I’m a filthy cur, and it isn’t even funny, but it’s Friday and I have lost the will to do anything of import, and when I first spied it I thought it a story with a certaine Chauceriane qualitye.

Spotted here.

All Apologies

Peter Hain has apologised for Northern Ireland’s role in the continued occupation of Iraq:

the man who commanded the FRU during the height of its depredations — Lt. Col. Gordon Kerr — is in Baghdad now, heading the hugger-mugger Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), a large counter-terrorism force made up of unnamed “existing assets” from the glory days in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.

No, wait a minute. Did I say Iraq? Sorry, he actually apologised for Northern Ireland’s role in slavery. Dammit, this not wearing a proper pair of trousers on a Friday can affect one’s grip on reality.

Like Shoe Business

At times I frown at the depths of my own cynicism. A couple of months ago I went into a shoe shop that sells only one particular brand of shoe. I don’t know if the shop is a franchise or owned by the manufacturer, but that’s not important right now. I tried on a couple of different pairs, and picked out one pair. It so happened that I was wearing the same brand of shoe that the shop sells, and when I approached the counter to pay for the shoes I had chosen, the girl behind the counter said:

“So, are you a fan of (the brand name which shall remain brandless)?”

To be fair to the girl, I am now sure this was just her way of making polite conversation, just as other people talk about the weather, or the number of people in town or what have you. Yet, and this is where the cynicism comes in, I immediately took her words to be part of some sort of pre-rehearsed butter-up-the-idiot-customer spiel. So, rather than smile and nod, or whatever it is that you’re supposed to do when asked a dumb question, I paused. Then I raised my eyebrows (I can’t do only one eyebrow). And I peered at her over the rim of my imaginary pair of glasses and said:

“Well, if it’s somehow possible to be a fan of a shoe, then I suppose I must be.”

Which was neither witty nor particularly nice. She smiled, but behind the smile was a poorly concealed “oookay, whatever, asshole”, which was probably justified. But -and this is the point- would it have been any better for me to have simply said, yeah, I’m really a fan of your shoes? I think I’ve reached a stage where I can’t bear conversations like this anymore, where people talk openly and honestly about love for mass manufactured items. I have nothing against such items, but people blathering on about them make me feel like I’m suffering brain death by a thousand stupid cuts.

Small talk – the weather, the roads, the, ah, weather- is fine, I suppose, and there’s nothing wrong with saying ‘your coat looks fabulous’ but people getting unduly excited about stuff -or, even worse, cool stuff– and rhapsodising about how wonderful it is, that just does my nut.

I would prefer not to be this way, especially as I’m starting to feel like I’m from another planet.

I on Twitter

February 2007