Friday, September 26, 2014

"Hillbilly Bikini Bottom" (a short story) by Stephen Siciliano

This here short story was inspired by a Lynyrd Skynyrd song, "Cheatin' Woman." the scribe misses Lynyrd Skynyrd and what they might have made and said over years of maturity. Neil Young's "Down by the River," had a hand in the inspirational department as did the scribe's own years of university study in Arkansas. And so, without further adieu, "Hillbilly Bikini Bottom," a tale of sex, race, and high school football.

Jefferson Davis was in a fix.

It was towards the end of the fourth quarter already and the natives were getting restless. Bugs swarmed in the high and bright lights and the players' pads were soaked in Indian summer sweat.

Jeff saw Brenda Lee Underwood over by the south end bleachers, just above where they liked to drink beers and nip at each other most nights when football wasn't on.

That bitch was there with the prick with the Camaro from up north of county line and didn't she just love anything with pants on?

"Should've listened to Danny Joe Dean, the Highsteppers' bass player," he told himself, "when we was up at the Collection House and he said she wasn't worth the cheap dress she was burstin' out of."

Darnell Hampton was loping back to the huddle. He saw his mother standing in the north end, hands clenched in prayer, old before her time. There were others from the family and neighborhood standing frozen around her. Aunts and uncles come to see Darnell the Wonder Boy. He didn't need to look to know they'd all be praying, too. Or passed out already from the delirium of the Jaguars' pending defeat.

The football religion was strong on both sides of the tracks and both sides of the tracks were simmering in disappointment.

This was no homecoming crosstown rivalry. It was a little 'ol Catholic school you couldn't even find in the Arkansas state high school football rankings. And here were the Jaguars sputtering toward the final gun, ready to blow a shot at the perfect season in the first warm-up game.

Whitman High took a last time out. Coach called Jeff Davis to the sideline so he could draw up a play. As Jeff jogged in he scanned the bleachers and saw Danny Joe Dean giving him the finger.

Damn he loved that 'ol boy!

Coach whipped up Xs and Os that had a shotgun, a pulling guard, and a wildcat something or other. He sent Jeff back out to hunt with those words, but Jefferson Davis didn't hear a word of it. He just nodded and jogged to the huddle.

His left guard, Ralph Mazzanti looked like something come out of the meat grinder and Henderson, the right side tackle, was useless out of habit.

Jeff Davis looked at Darnell. "You hear that farm boy call you a nigger?"

Darnell looked out at the north bleachers again. The family was still praying for the Lawd to help Whitman High football win. They kept all the stories, the sad stories he had heard. Held them close and whispered them.

Uncle LeRoy was gone, because somebody had to get the chicken and ribs for after the game. That's when they would all rush back to the other side of the railroad tracks to eat and sing and be apart from everything else happening in town.

Darnell was always invited across the track on football Friday nights, but before the clock clanged twelve he was back in the low shacks, a speedy Brougham turned brown pumpkin again.

"Ain't nobody called me a nigger all night 'cause they know I will kick a lot of serious ass if that was the case."

"Like Hayl," Jeff spit. "Number 77 called you a fast country nigger."

Darnell looked into the Maria Regina huddle for a Number 77. "He's black you fool."

"So he's cool?" Jeff asked. "He can say it?"

"Mostly," Darnell practically whispered.

"It's true anyway," Mazzanti said. "The bit about bein' a fast country nigger."

"D'jou just call me a country nigger Ralph?"

"Um, not direct-like. Not like, 'You, Darnell Hampton, are one very fast country nigger as per my word, Ralph Mazzanti.' No. I was paraphrasing."

Jeff knew Ralph picked up "paraphrasing" in Miss Keating's English class, because she wore patch pocket pants and he was focused.

Henderson knew none of those boys cared if one was green and the other blue as long as they could get a miracle touchdown, so he put it out there. "Hayl Darnell, Jeff's just a little hot-and-bothered about Brenda Lee Underwood and her being with that ol' boy from Paragould."

"Henderson you are a useless piece of shit," Jeff Davis shot back.

"Maybe, but it don't change the veracity of what I said none."

Jeff knew Henderson picked up that word, "veracity," from their "principles of dairying" teacher, Doc Hotstetler. He looked over at the south bleachers again and saw Brenda Lee kiss her new beaux.

He'd like to get a gun and kill her straightaway after the game. He thought he'd do it. Get a pistol, shoot all her friends, too. End her world, that fuckin' bitch.

He was drifted back to that night in July down by the river when Tiffany James come up and told Jeff all about how sweet Brenda Lee was on him, and how she was over by the swimming hole with the rope hung on a tree.

"You know the place," she tilted her head at him and pulled on a beer. He almost didn't want to leave.

Jeff Davis went up river and he saw Brenda Lee hanging down from the rope, swinging, her cut-off blue jeans getting pulled up her butt like a hillbilly bikini and this about drove him wild. He watched her swoop out over the water and let loose, landing in the black oily splash. He licked his lips.

Then, like a kinda swamp rat, some guy's head popped up laughing. Brenda Lee squealed and made like she was trying to get out of his arms and that's when she saw him, Jeff, standing there.

"Why Jefferson Davis!" and Brenda Lee looked at him with a kind of challenge in her face, before she turned and kissed that 'ol boy that was in the river with her.

The ref came over. "Break it up," and blew the whistle, waving his right arm around like a whirlybird.

This was the moment. Jeff Davis had never given his troops the play, because he never heard it, and because of Tiffany James and that night down by the river. Same kind of night. Summer night. Bugs and gnats in the air, in your lungs.

He looked over at the bleachers. Again. Brenda Lee pulled herself out of a kiss with the Camaro kid and stared straight at him. Her face had the same challenge in it as that July night by the river. Her button nose pointing skyward.

And he was sparked. Hard. Not by the challenge of a Camaro, or a perfect season, but by the memory of that hillbilly bikini bottom.

Jefferson Davis turned to Darnell Hampton and looked at him across generations of black and whiteness and railroad track and said...

..."Go deep. I'll hit ya!"

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Origin of Vedette's Truth

In this musical spoken-word duet with the marvelous Omar Torrez, I recount how Vedette's father traumatizes her into becoming a truth-teller for life.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

"Ineffable" a poem

"Brooklyn Overpass" (Alessandro Barthlow)


Believe in miracles?


The Miracle.
Thing not explained.

In an inexplicable universe
marred by its recurrence


Saturday, March 08, 2014

highwayscribery book Report: "All the Birds, Singing," by Evie Wyld

Evie Wyld is a poetess of the ugly.

Whether it's a cigarette with a still-lit butt being run under a faucet, a ewe getting her throat slit, or the little pink penis of her protagonist's captor, Wyld employs her marvelous prose to drive bile from one's gut into the bottom of the throat.

There is a place for this in literature: the youth with jaundiced eye, the angry take on a world that has disappointed too early, and the newly minted among us can be particularly rabid about the letdown.
So prepare to be bit.

"All the Birds, Singing," is the story of a woman whose first steps along the path of life are the wrong ones. Very wrong. The device, employed across a number of issues affecting Jake's life, is to let on that something is amiss and keep the reader guessing until the end, which limits the breadth of review so as not to spoil the story.

In any case, the narrative will take you from Australia to England, though it may take time to sort out where you are at first, because the second device employed is the presentation of chapters with no relation to chronology, except for the stacking of issue-resolving revelations at yarn's end.

The publisher, Pantheon Books, is very excited about Wyld, "All the Birds Singing" and the advance reviews ("completely and utterly monumental") focus on the author's crisp and textured prose.

There is, floating about the Internet, a "Ten Things Writers Shouldn't Do" list crafted by American author Elmore Leonard, whose specialty was the noir/thriller mystery.

Among Leonard's scripting sins is the use of adverbs, avoiding anything but saying the subject "said" during bouts of dialogue, and eschewing long descriptions of weather, places or people that a reader can jump over without losing the narrative thread.

"I'll bet you never skip over dialogue," said Leonard, whose big idea was that novelists should avoid "self-conscious writing."

Wyld would probably disagree, because she breaks all of Leonard's rules.

And that's because there is is good storytelling and there is good "writing" with carefully crafted crevices, rises, flatlands and, yes, adverbs. Wyld has chosen this type of scribery over the keep-em-turning-those-pages approach, which is fine, with all due respect to Mr. Leonard. Readers find joy in the revelry of language, too.

Jake has got scars nasty enough to send one of her johns (semi-spoiler) heading for the exits without paying what's owed and, by golly, you will wait good and long before the writer decides to let you in on how they got there.

"Dark," "guttural," "raw": Pick your descriptive for this rural rant that does not offer up a boulevard of broken dreams so much as a gallery of damaged souls; emotional runts who make an art of barely coping.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day: "Studies on Love" by Jose Ortega y Gasset

The Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) made a name for himself in the 1930s with Revolt of the Masses, a book which lamented the industrial era's effect on Western culture. It created, he said, a need for specialization which led to a stunted humanity characterized by mediocrity and the "median man' of which he observed: "This planet is condemned to the reign of the median man. As such, the important task is to elevate the median as much as possible."

Ortega abhorred the dehumanizing effects of science and its handmaiden, reason, upon the life of this world. Nonetheless, as editor and publisher of the El Sol newspaper, and as the leader of his own political party in the years leading up to the Spanish Civil War, Ortega was a logical voice in an era when violent passions would ultimately prevail. While not nearly as seminal a work as Revolt, a collection of Ortega's essays edited from El Sol, and packaged as "Estudios Sobre El Amor" (Studies On Love)(1939), is certainly his most charming. In this collection, Ortega, a professor of metaphysics at the University of Madrid, takes reason and trains it upon that greatest of human mysteries: Love.

Here are the results

Ortega sets out, as a good philosopher, to define his concept and debunks the equating of love with happiness. "Who doubts that the lover can receive joy from the beloved? But is it no less certain that love is at times sad as death, a sovereign and mortal torture?"

He quotes the letters of a Portuguese nun, Mariana Alcoforado, to her untrue seducer: "I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the desperation you have caused me and detest the tranquility in which I lived prior to knowing you."

Love's hypothetical happiness disproved with an example, Ortega bores into his subject. Love, he maintains, is incitement. "Through a pore opened by the arrow launched from an object of affection springs love, actively directing itself toward them...It flows from the lover toward the beloved -- from me to the other, in a centrifugal direction."

As an emanation toward the object, love is not unlike hate, the difference being that love flows toward its target positively, whereas hate proffers negativity. Both, however, generate heat produced in varying degrees. "All love," he notes, "passes through phases of diverse temperature and, subtly, the language of love talks of those relations which 'cool,' and the lover complains of the beloved's tepid responses, of their coldness."

The third aspect to love's definition must naturally, perhaps hopefully, take into account the point at which lover and beloved are united.

Perfect Projection

Ortega insists that love not only errs upon occasion but is essentially an error. "We fall in love when our imagination projects nonexistent perfection upon another person. One day, the fantasy evaporates and with it, love dies."

The idea, like so many around us, is born with the Greeks: Plato to be specific. Ortega points out that for Plato, all love resides in the desire to unite the person who loves to another being blessed with perfection, in the volition of our soul toward something excellent, better and superior. "Let the reader try generating a state of enchantment -- sexual enchantment -- in an object which provides not a single aspect of excellence, and see how impossible it becomes."

Sexual instinct, he points out, may preserve the species, but does not perfect it. Throw love into the sexual mix, however, and enthusiasm for that other being, for their body and soul in union indissoluble, and what you get is a gargantuan effort to improve the breed.

"With the erotic process barely initiated, the lover experiences a strange sense of urgency to dissolve their individuality into the other, and vice versa, to become absorbed by the beloved...This recalls the doctrine of the Saint Simonians, according to which, the true human individual is the loving couple."

Our world, Ortega says, is cluttered with innumerable objects whilst the field of our conscience is very limited. The details of this world engage in a kind of fight for our attention, which supplants one object with another, according to its importance. "Mania," consequently, is a condition of focus extended beyond the limits of normality. Ortega suggests that all the great thinkers have been maniacs. "When they asked Newton how he was able to discover his mechanical understanding of the universe, he responded, 'By thinking about it day and night.'"

Love, our philosopher says, works the same way, represents an anomalous focusing of attention upon another person. "It does not constitute enrichment of our mental life," he points out, "just the opposite. It grows rigid and fixed, prisoner to a single being. Plato called it Theia mania (divine mania). Nonetheless, the person enamored has the sense of life being much richer. In the reduction of their world, it seemingly grows more concentrated."

For a lover, then, the world ceases too exist, having been supplanted completely by the beloved.

Loves Fatal Machinery

Curiously, the evolution of enchantment lacks spirituality, depending as it does upon the paralyzing of our attention -- that which regulates mental activity -- leaving the lover dependent upon a series of automatic, mechanical processes. Love, Ortega reasons, is an imposition which mocks free will. The great heartbreakers know this, that once they've managed to affix someone's attention to them, total preoccupation is possible with a simple tightening and loosening of the string attached to their romantic prey.

The lover falls under a "spell," an "enchantment." These, he notes, are words which point to love's extraordinary character. We resort to religious terminology when trying to describe it.

"The curious sharing of lexicons between love and mysticism leads one to suspect common roots." For Ortega, mysticism is also a phenomenon of attention. In the mystic, "God permeates the soul to the point of becoming confused with it, or the inverse, with the soul becoming diluted in God. Such is the union the mystic aspires to. The ecstatic perceives said union as something definitive and perennial, just as the lover swears eternal love.

"Once initiated, the process of enchantment develops with an exasperating monotony," Ortega points out. "What I mean to say is that all those who fall in love do it the same way - the smart one and the dope, the younger and the elder, the bourgeois and the artist. This fact confirms love's mechanical character."

The only exception to this mechanistic rule is found in the question of precisely what attracts the attention of one person to another. Ortega does not shrink from the challenge.

Naked in Love

By demonstrating an interest in someone, we expose much of ourselves that is hidden. "In the election of his mate, the male reveals his essence, in the election of her man, a female does the same," notes the philosopher. "The type of humanity we prefer in one another being sketches the profile of our own soul. Love is an impetus that emerges from the subterranean reaches of our person, and in traveling to the surface dredges the algae and shells of our interior with it."

Ortega posits that not unfamiliar situation which pairs a gregarious woman of beauty with a man considered low and vulgar. The judgment is usually an optical illusion because of the distance involved. Love, Ortega asserts, is the business of minute detail and the fact is that, viewed from far away, authentic love and false comport themselves in a similar manner: "But let's say the affection is genuine," he asks. "What are we to think?" One of two things: Either the man is not quite so vulgar as we thought, or the woman not so select."

The great error, vigilant since Descartes and Renaissance, is that which views human being as living by the dictates of conscience, "that small part of ourselves with which we see clearly and which operates according to our will." The greater volume of our being, he asserts, is neither free nor rational. "In vain does the woman who would be viewed as exquisite try to fool us. We have seen she loves Joe, and Joe is clumsy, indelicate; caring only for the perfection of his tie and the shine to his Rolls."

Ortega argues that a man likes most women that pass within his periphery, but this instinct rarely strikes at the depths of his person. When it does, when that aforementioned emanation springs forth and toward the other, that is love. "If it is an idiocy to say that love between man and woman contains no sexual element, it is a bigger stupidity to suggest that love is sexuality. The sexual instinct has an ample sampling of objects to satisfy it, but love is exclusivity, selection."


Beauty is that which invites selection and Ortega tackles the concept with particular relish. "More than acts and words, it is best to focus on what appears to be less important: gesture and physiology. Because they are spontaneous, they permit the escape of profound personal secrets and do so with exactitude."

He says that society has its "official beauties," those whom people point to at parties and in the theater, as if public monuments, which in a sense they are. Ortega suggests that such women may pique a man's desire to possess, but rarely gain his love. Their esthetic beauty sets them apart as artistic objects and the distance prevents love.

"The indifferent find beauty in the grand lines of the face and in the figure -- in what we typically call beauty. For the enamored, they do not exist, the grand lines and the architecture of the person which beckon from afar, have been erased. For them, beauty is found in the scattered features, the color of the pupil, the curve at the corner of the beloved's lips, the tone of their voice."

Boys and Girls

Ortega believes that woman is more capable of this all-encompassing, almost mystic state of love. He argues that the feminine psyche is less concentric, more cohesive and more elastic, thus better lending itself to the singular pursuit, or attention, required for love. "The feminine soul tends to live by a single axis of attention and each phase of her life rests upon a single matter.

"The more masculine the spirituality, the more dislocated the soul, as if divided into separate compartments," says Ortega. "Accustomed to living upon a multiple base, and in a series of mental fields with only the most precarious connection, conquering the attention of one achieves nothing since the rest remain free and intact."

Ortega points out how the woman enamored is frequently exasperated by a sense that she never has the entirety of the man she loves before her. "She always finds him a little distracted, as if, in setting out for their rendezvous he has left, dispersed across the world, entire provinces of the soul."

For this reason, even the most sensitive of men is shamed by his inability to attain the perfection a woman is capable of lending to love.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

"The Legend of Carmen Amaya" by Natalia Ramos

Here's a link to a poetic tribute by flamenco dancer and writer Natalia Ramos of Madrid. They are dedicated to la flamenca Carmen Amaya on the 50th anniversary of her death.

Stephen Siciliano, highwayscribery's inimitable and anonymous alter ego, translated two of the poems from Spanish to English.

The presentation was published by Alison Mackie, an author and painter whose work amplifies and defines her passion for the Gypsy peoples.


Friday, July 05, 2013

"Ninfas" por Stephen Siciliano

(a mi prima Pilar)

Ella hablaba con su guitarra
pero ésta cantaba otra canción

Levantó su vestido florentino
tocando al agua, descalza
temblando el río en los rizos
de su cabellera.

Tapaba su boca
tan miedosa subiendo la cuesta
por llantos plañideros
y detrás de ellos
ella, galopando

"¡Soccoro, alguien!"

Y llegó la otra
pero ella le huyó
y durmió
y soño con la canción
de la otra
despertó en el alba
y levantando su vestido
hasta el muslo
tocaba, temblando,
el río.

Ronroneó. Y eso sin saber por que.

Le hablaba la canción a su guitarra
y cantaba cuando se
la devolvio en melodía

Y llegó la otra
pero ella le huyó
bajando la cuesta
con su guitarra.

Notándose un silencio
y dudando que le devolviera
más canciónes
y dudando en volver
a dormir de esa manera.

(dibujo de Jóse Pérez de Lama Halcón)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Anne Theroigne: Portrait of a Portrait of a Lady

Sometimes bit players steal the show.

That is not to say the historical figures of Danton, Desmoulins and Robespierre are upstaged by the sparse appearances of Anne Theroigne in Hilary Mantel's
"A Place of Greater Safety: A Novel," but she certainly adds to the conversation.

This post is both about a fascinating person, and about the author's masterful crafting of a secondary book character.

highwayscribery's own novel "Vedette: or Conversations with the Flamenco Shadows,"and posts like "Birthday Card for Tina Modotti," are evidence of an abiding interest in female revolutionaries. No less sanguinary or egalitarian in action and thought, Anne-Josephe Theroigne de Mericourt fits the bill as a subject of interest here.

The goal is not to conflate the scribe's humble effort with an eminence quite so eminent as Mantel (okay, maybe a little), but to assert his rightful place as an admirer and collector of lady iconoclasts.

Not in the girlfriend sense, let us be clear. They are not conducive to a writer's quiet life.

Throughout this expansive novel, Theroigne surfaces, burns and submerges, resurfaces again, lighting the dank torch-lit streets of ragged and unjust Paris...just a few passages, evocative ones, transmit her flavors.

Late Entry

Camille Desmoulins, pamphleteer extraordinaire of the revolutionary cupola, first stumbles upon Anne at a theater audition where she is being humiliated.

It takes place at page 118 of this weighty literary chronicle: "She was about twenty-seven, he thought; small bones darkish brown hair, snub nose. She was pretty enough, but there was something blurred about her features: as though at some time she'd been beaten, hit around the head, had almost recovered, but would never quite."

They exchange barbs before she submits that her future looks bleak. Desmoulins wants to know what she has done in the past when faced with a dry spell between acting stints:

Answer: "I used to sleep with a marquis."

"There you are then."

"'I don't know,' the girl said, 'I get the impression that marquises aren't so free with their money anymore. And me, I'm not so free with my favors.'"

She then establishes herself as a free-ranging woman when divulging her plan to meet contacts in Genoa.

"She put her cheek on her hand. 'My name is Anne Theroigne.' She closed her eyes. 'God, I'm so tired,' she said. She moved thin shoulders inside the shawl, trying to ease the world off her back."

This is an introduction to someone mordant, socially astute, battered, yet unyielding.

She is being marginalized by fading beauty and diminishing artistic talents. Anne Theroigne is afraid and her future actions reveal she thinks the government, or society, or somebody, should do something to arrest her tailspin into the gutter.

(the scribe does not know this for certain, rather has drawn certain conclusions from these first paragraphs written by Hilary Mantel).

This is Theroigne before the revolution. And this is her France.

Once the deluge is unleashed, Desmoulins is out in the street doing what he does best, rousing the rabble. Among them is a "pretty young woman with a pistol in the belt of her riding habit, and her brown hair tied back with a red ribbon and blue one."

These are the colors the ascendant radicals have adopted and she is with them, flowering, purposeful.

Though she may be fading, Anne has been feted by Paris. Has heard a few stories. She has been at the center of the world and lived off making believe she is other, made-up people.

"Her face seemed luminous in the watery light. Now he saw that she was very cold, drenched and shivering. 'The weather has broken,' she said. 'And so much else.'"

The streets are seething and a few hours later she is a portrait of action.

Made for the Part

Underemployed, she certainly has the time. Dramatically gifted, the troubles of 1879 provide her with a proper stage.

"Another night on the streets: at five o'clock, the tocsin and the alarm cannon. 'Now it begins in earnest,' Anne Theroigne said. She pulled the ribbons from her hair, and looped them into the buttonhole of his coat. Red and blue. 'Red for blood,' she said. 'Blue for heaven.' The colors of Paris: blood-heaven."

You can earn respect by cranking out 749 pages of engaging literature, and sometimes, in one brush stroke, give the whole thing a strident coloring that clings.


The highway scribe is not going to pick apart each of the Theroigne-related passages. He is giving you an idea of how the text was read. Your reading would be something else entirely.

Now back to the revolution. In the earliest phases, action draws the highest premium and the new order has jobs for people like Camille and Theroigne. Their gang, a disparate lot of social maladroits and axe-grinders, is somehow on the rise.

Centripetal forces continue to drive politics in France; Paris in particular and apart. Louis and Antoinette's days are numbered. The politics of the moment revolve around what to do with them. The king does try. He receives a delegation of women and makes promises.

"Theroigne is outside, talking to soldiers," Mantel revives her anti-heroine. "She wears a scarlet riding habit. She is in possession of a saber. The rain is spoiling the plumes on her hat."

Anne can dress the part, although there is usually some element gone awry, screwing up the perfection of the whole, gaining empathy.

Laying Low

And then she is gone, though not for long. As chaotic Paris tries to sort itself out -- going to the theater, dining, sexing it up, and carrying the enemy's head around on a pike -- Theroigne marshals support and plays her hand in the deadly game for power.

The author finds a character who can tell us they are all -- Danton, Desmoulins, Robespierre, Anne and their revolutionary caste -- "virgins."

Soon enough, she reappears before Desmoulins. "Theroigne swept in. She wore a white dress, and a tricolor sash about her waist. A National Guardsman's tunic, unbuttoned, was draped over her slim square shoulders. Her brown hair was a breeze-blown waterfall of curls; she employed one of those expensive hairdressers who make you look as if you've never been near a hairdresser in your life."

Desmoulin rebuffs her sexual play and denies her a job writing for whatever paper he's editing at the moment. She is damaged goods and he's worried about his reputation.

"As far as he knew, Anne was leading a chaste and blameless life; the strange thing was, that she seemed dedicated to giving the contrary impression. The royalist scandal sheets were not slow to pick up on anything. Theroigne was a gift from God, as far as they were concerned."

So she gets labeled the whore while Danton and Desmoulins enjoy the winning revolutionary's celebrity, notching their belts with every belle at every ball in town.

Anne, by opting for a public life, for demanding a voice, gets tarred and good.

And though she's acting, it's not an act. She's a revolutionary having her say and you can't mistake Theroigne for anything but what she is, except for what she's not.

Which is to say there is ambiguity in this portrait, someone we can both like and not like, a person on whom we are still withholding judgment, but find worthy of attention.


The revolution, as most left-wing ventures tend to do, begins consuming itself. First overboard are the dreamers. Mantel tells us, "In May, Theroigne left Paris. She had no money and was tired of the royalist papers calling her a prostitute."

Noblesse Oblige indeed.

"One by one, the "murky layers of her past" had been peeled away to reveal unsavory acts and liaisons that "we've all done when necessity has pressed. It left her open, though, to ridicule and insult."

Anne's plan is to return once the libelers move on, but she suffers the star's burden of being missed: Her scarlet cloak, her "claque" surrounding, pistol swinging as she prowls the National Assembly's corridors looking for deputies to berate.

And so rumors circulated, in her absence, that the Austrians, with whom the revolutionary government is at war (along with the rest of Europe), have abducted her.

"Hope they keep her," is what Lucile, Desmoulins' modern wife and newly minted revolutionary, says. "What gave her the right to be a pseudo-man, turning up at the Cordeliers [that most ferocious of workerist sects] and demanding the rostrum."

Aborted Catfight

Lucille gets a shot at some answers when Theroigne shows up in her tricolored salon. Anne has been released by the Austrians with some money to boot, but she has not come to square-off with a feminine rival. She has come to lament. For her part, Camille's wife is very pregnant.

Their lives have assumed radically different paths, and each prefers the other's.

Theroigne is out of sorts, tattered, not sharp. Lucile can see that the hem is frayed on her scarlet coat, "that the dust on the streets was upon it, that even the red was not so red as it used to be."

Anne is furious that the papers are still spreading lies about her. And Camille is ignoring her.

"He's busy," Lucile covers for her husband.

"Oh yes, I'm sure he's busy. Busy playing cards at the Palais-Royal, busy dining with aristocrats. How can anyone think of passing the time of day with an old friend when there's champagne to be drunk and so many silly, empty-headed bitches to be screwed?"

"Including you," Lucile murmured.

"No, not including me," Theroigne stopped pacing. "Never including me. I have never slept with Camille, or with Jerome Petion, or with any of the other two dozen names the newspapers have named."

The object of a superior social deference, Lucile wouldn't dare stake the same claim.

Theroigne has a particular grudge against a royalist by the name of Louis Suleau, publisher of The Acts of the Apostles who has had his way with her good name in print.

Lucile is miserable in this hellion's company. She explains how Anne's bankrolled release from the Austrians has left her open to the charge of spying.

Theroigne comes a little undone. She admits to having a daughter who died after being left behind. She doesn't know how to write. Things are not going her way, her tribulations multiplying willy-nilly.

Today she has been weak.


But life can turn on a dime, and soon the angriest most radical of the revolutionary factions is literally up in arms, jailing aristocrats left and right, and forcing the king's imprisonment.

Desmoulins is witnessing a riot outside the Royal Palace at Versailles.

“Theroigne had taken charge. Here was her own, her little Bastille.”

She has led an “unfocused rabble” to a place where the royalty are being held against their will, and is breaking in, not to save them, but too...

More revolutionary and feminine portraiture:

“Theroigne wore black; she had a pistol in her belt, a saber in her hand, and her face was incandescent.”

It’s romantic writing, without getting melodramatic. Theroigne is incandescent, but she’s also out of her mind. Camille watches as the fourth prisoner emptied into the mob’s maws is Louis Suleau, the guy who’s been spreading the rumors.

It’s not a heroic moment, but an ugly one. Your own politics determine whether it is necessary.

Leader of the revolution, or some part of it, Desmoulins can do nothing but watch Theroigne, “approach Louis Suleau and say to him something that only he could have heard; Louis put up a hand, as if to say, what’s the point of going into all this now? The gesture etched itself into his mind. It was the last gesture. He saw Theroigne raise her pistol. He did not hear the shot.”

Don't call her a whore.

As all of the revolutionary class learned, direct action is effective, but does have its drawbacks. Among these are constant exposure to committed enemies and overheated throngs.

Some time later, Robespierre asks Camille if he’s heard about “that girl. Anne Theroigne.”

“What’s she done now?”

“She was making the speech in the Tuileries gardens, and a group of women attacked her -- rough women from the public gallery. She’s attached herself to Brissott and his faction, for some reason only she understands -- I can’t believe Brissot is delighted. She found the wrong audience -- I don’t know, but perhaps they thought she was some woman of fashion intruding on their patch.”

She is saved by the dangerous Jacobin scribe Marat, soon to be assassinated himself, at the hands of a “fashion plate.”

Camille laments that she was not killed. “I'll never forgive that bitch for what she did on August 10.”

Robespierre is philosophical. Old schoolmate or not, Suleau “ended up on the wrong side, didn’t he? And then so did she."

Brissot is on the extermination list, so Theroigne’s made a bad political call. It meant Robespierre wouldn't mind taking off her head.

But he does not have to kill Anne, because everyone thinks her own choices are doing it much better. Theroigne, in fact, ended up surviving the stunning violence of her time and living another 25 years.

In the book, Anne is done before the revolution is done. Disappearing as easily as she first appeared, she is an afterthought in the fast-moving paces of a tumultuous situation.

“A few weeks ago in the street Lucile and her mother had seen Anne Theroigne. It had taken them both a moment to recognize her. Theroigne was no longer pretty. She was thin; her face had fallen in as if she had lost some teeth. She passed them; something flickered in her eyes, but she didn’t speak. Lucile thought her pathetic -- a victim of the times. ‘No one could see her as attractive now,’ Annette said. She smiled. Her recent birthdays had passed, as she put it, without incident. Most men still looked at her with interest.”

Not this reader fair lady. Both eyes are on the rebel girl.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Two-Tone: An Alternative Iron Lady Obit

I said I see no joy,
I see only sorrow,
I see no chance of your bright new tomorrow.

So stand down Margaret,
stand down please,
stand down Margaret.

The Iron Lady hath finally melted away.

The encomiums have begun for the way she, together with Ronald Reagan, "transformed" the economies of Great Britain, the United States, and the entire international, capitalist enterprise.

There is less commentary on exactly what the transformation resulted in, since the alternative to the current no-pay/low-pay, low-security, highly-policed model would necessarily come from the left, and that can't happen.

The highway scribe lived through the elections and political changes wrought by Thatcher, Reagan, the Chicago School of Economics, and the aptly named Laffer tax curve.

highwayscribery was young and, like most young people, marginalized by society (or at least slumming it). His life was lived on city streets. Music was his inner compass and political weathervane.

The "latest" tunes of those times had been charged by electric currents of reggae and West Indies roots music into a languishing rock 'n roll scene. Clapton and Patty moved to Jamaica. Bob Marley rocked Madison Square.

One result of these artistic novelties was the "two-tone" movement of musicians that mixed white and black players into combos specializing in reggae and its funky step-sister, "ska," all aptly conjured and represented by our black-and-white visual at top.

"Don't call me Ska-Face!"

The Specials led the charge. Others trod the path they'd hacked into our consciousness, such as Madness and Bad Manners. These bands were political, leftist, and organically anti-racist.

The English Beat summarized youth sentiment from Kings Road to Washington Square with "Whine or Grine/Stand Down Margaret," quoted in the opening and here again:

you tell me how can it work in this all white law?
what a short, sharp lesson?
what a third world war?

oh stand down Margaret,
stand down please,
stand down Margaret.

The feeling among young hipsters throughout the western world was one of dread as the New Right took back our parents' benefits, reduced our college grants, leveled our artistic districts for the benefit of corporate development, and basically ended the world as we knew it, in exchange for something sort-of promising in an open-ended way, but more dangerous and less socially cohesive.

Thatcher and Reagan returned to the callous use of violence after it had fallen into discredit as a diplomatic tool. They came with a cure to the "Vietnam syndrome," which the right claimed was afflicting those who'd heeded the sobering lessons of that horrid national experience.

It viewed this new and cautious wisdom as some kind of retreat and gave it a name suggesting illness, rather than an evolution in our collective understanding about war's true costs.

So, those of us in the two-tone movement (and of draft age) did not much care for Maggie and Ronnie, for their policies were directed straight at us. Reagan's America went docilely along with him, but the Labour Party and its union allies stood strong to save their lives.

Now, "The Iron Lady" did not pick up the moniker from a tool she got good at wielding in a laundry shop. She got it for being willing to unleash the police state on those whom she had backed into a corner and forced to grab a pitchfork.

She won, but the rest of us lost.

In her 2012 autobiography, "Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?"  British scribe Jeanette Winterson explained how she, a working class gal with few prospects or advantages, came to vote for Thatcher in May of 1979.

Winterson noted that the Brit left -- the unions and the Labour Party apparatus -- had been slow to equally engage women in their efforts. She liked that Thatcher was a woman and was swayed by her arguments for a society of greater risk and reward.

She recalled an existential apathy on the left, to which the scribe can attest. Although he did not vote for Reagan, highwayscribery was one with the country that some kind of change was needed. That the U.S. was in the doldrums.

As Winterson noted, we were all snookered.

Reagan and Thatcher, she wrote, "broke forever" the post-World War II political consensus that had endured for 30 years. That consensus had both the right and left agreeing that rebuilding Western economies could not be done through, "unregulated labor, unstable prices, no provision for the sick or the old or the unemployed. We were going to need a lot of housing, plenty of jobs, a welfare state, nationalisation of utilities and transport."

The consensus, she opined, represented "a real advance in human consciousness towards collective responsibility; an understanding that we owed something not only to our flag or to our country, to our children or our families, but to each other. Society, Civilization. Culture."

This winning recipe did not, she noted, spring from Victorian values, but from the "superior arguments of socialism."

The demise of this ideal was as sobering for her as it has been for millions worldwide:

"I did not realize that when money becomes the core value, then education drives towards utility or that the life of the mind will not be counted as good unless it produces measurable results. That public services will no longer be important. That an alternative life to getting and spending will become very difficult as cheap housing disappears. That when communities are destroyed only misery and intolerance are left.

"I did not know that Thatcherism would fund its economic miracle by selling off all our nationalised assets and industries.

"I did not realise the consequences of privatising society."

But she does now, as do those who were adversely affected by Thatcher's policies, even if those penning today's remembrances do not.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Brenda Lee en El Barrio" (poetry in motion).

A few months ago the highway scribe did a post about the days and times surrounding production of the feature film "Believe in Eve," for which he wrote the script.

In that post that scribe waxed poetic about a particular scene for which we now have a link: "Brenda Lee en El Barrio."

"For the scribe, the scene of Brenda Lee and Juan Roman walking through the Los Angeles barrio, as Alex Sellar reads a poem from the script to sprightly flamenco music, is a keepsake like no other. Many poems are published. Few are produced and mounted with the glue of music and image.

Brenda Lee Underwood
If I could only catch her
sheet of bright breeze

If I could only manage a smile
for every mile of Loveworld
she lived in.

Oh, Cajun-spiced,
twice as nice,
something to count on
something taken for granted

Watch out!

Leave your wildflower in the wind
and see it be supplanted.

The scene is as lilting as the afternoon it was shot. Javier and DP Juan Carlos Ferro did naught but set a camera up at a street light west of McArthur Park and have Monique and Alex walk through the barrio, towards it. The day was devoid of the usual headaches associated with filming. It was lock, load and shoot. Ian McColl had come to watch the process and wound up playing, with all originality, the drug dealer who briefly accosts them.

The sun set on cue, an Indian woman walked into frame with a tropical plant in her hand, and the city blossomed around the lovers as they crossed the urban landscape, establishing an intimacy no amount of dialogue could have duplicated.

Elegant Mob Films endures as a maker of a dozen beautiful documentaries of radical and social cast. It is run by the director of "Believe in Eve" the aforementioned Javier Gomez Serrano, who has put up a link to "Believe in Eve" for all to enjoy. "Believe in Eve"

Thank you to the director for excerpting this scene for highwayscribery readers.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Student Circles, Street Art, and the Legacy of Bobby Kennedy

The legacy of Robert Kennedy came into full focus as those who carry on his work gathered for a celebration of time, space, and place, at a Los Angeles school site bearing his name.

The symposium "Seeing Through Others' Eyes" was convened by the Ojai Foundation, and Council in Schools, March 10.

"Council" is a program winnowing its way into the Los Angeles Unified School District where and when principals can be convinced of its utility.

"I tell principals the same thing," said Council in Schools, director, Joe Provisor. "You can be a bridgewalker between the vertical axis of authority and responsibility, and the horizontal access of humanity."

Council essentially deconstructs the way schooling is doled out in the public square, by letting students see their fellows' faces rather than the back of their heads, via the formation of a circle.

An act through which, Provisor said, "students demonstrate their willingness to be human."

Provisor and Council were not at the RFK Community Schools Paul Schrade Library by chance. It is one of the local institutions that weaves the circle into its curriculum.

The library also happens to be constructed over the footprint of the place where Kennedy gave his last speech.

"To see that event unfold here was devastating and changed my life," he recalled. "This is where that event took place. We stand on that sacred ground. He gave the acceptance speech here that night and this was the entry to the pantry where we lost him. But certainly not the spirit of what he represented."

The gathering, Provisor said, was convened to honor union man Paul Schrade's vision and efforts "to keep this a sacred place," through "bulldog activism." And also to honor Baca, whose two murals at each end of the library, Proviso said, "remind us who we've been and what we can be, through courageous recollection and self-expression."

Finally, the gathering was intended to honor the vision of Council in Schools, "This wild idea that we are going to shift the paradigm from the triangle to the circle, a simple vision of what learning can be when we're truly receptive to one another, to the natural world, and to the truth of our own experience."

All of which could have made for a rather disjointed event were it not for the conceptual links between council, Bobby Kennedy, and street art.

Paul Schrade

The 88-year old Schrade, a former United Auto Workers official, observed that circles are nothing to new to education or democracy, and that his union posted one a mile long around North American Aviation in Los Angeles during a strike years and years ago.

Schrade was one of the people shot along with Kennedy that fateful night of June 5, 1968.

"This beautiful room doesn't bring back the memories of that night, but it brings back the legacy of Robert Kennedy and what he stood for," Schrade said. "So many good things can happen in this room for students. And that's its great value."

Schrade detailed his long struggle to determine what happened in the pantry right behind the podium at which he was speaking

"We always knew there was a second gunman in the pantry with us that night," he told his audience. "Not just Sirhan Sirhan. I'm not trying to exonerate Sirhan one bit. He tried to shoot Robert Kennedy. He shot me and he probably shot four other people. But he never got a shot into Robert Kennedy."

The good news, Schrade said, is that after 44 years, an important piece of evidence supporting the idea of a second shooter has been found. There were, he explained, no television cameras and no tape recorders in the pantry that night...except for one in the FBI's possession recently uncovered by a CNN reporter.

Mural at South Wall of Paul Schrade Library

According to Schrade, the tape, currently undergoing forensic testing at an FBI lab in Quantico, Virg., reveals the possibility of double shots being fired and presents an opportunity to determine the make and model of the gun(s) used.

"So fortunately, we are in that position now," he continued, "because Robert Kennedy was trying to find out who killed President Kennedy right up until the day he died. He knew he had to become president to get behind [then-president] Johnson, and [FBI director] Hoover, and the CIA in order to find out. And he died trying."

Judy Baca discussed the mental processes behind the giant murals she created at each end of the notorious "ballroom" where Kennedy died.

Judy Baca

"My entire life has been about public memory," she explained. "About the land's memory. And I think that comes from my indigenous grandmother who knew that memory resided in place. No matter who you are in the world, what culture you come from, or where you live, or what experiences you had, you go to the place where the events occurred and you stand there to understand them, to feel them, to have them come into your body so that you can understand exactly how that battle was won on the fields of Gettysburg or to the Wailing Walls, or to all the places we stand at, at the edge of our river that has turned to stone, hardening the arteries of our land. You must go to the river to understand."

She quoted Kennedy's famed Day of Affirmation Speech delivered in South Africa, 1966: "Each time a man stands for another man's lot, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. Taken from a million different centers of energy it will bring down the mightiest walls of oppression."

This is a feeling, Baca observed, that we understand, but it was her challenge to conjure what it might look like. She opted for the interpretation of an iconic depiction placing Kennedy atop the hood of a car, touching at multiple hands reaching up for him.

"So I tried to imagine," Baca said, "what we kept seeing every time we looked at the campaign. Every time we saw Robert Kennedy in the public environment, people reached for him, the crowds circled him, they wanted to touch him. They stole his cufflinks, they were constantly crowding him. And Bobby was not a person who kept them away. He allowed them near him."

Kennedy was a man in transition at the time of his murder, Baca noted. "He said, 'I come from tons and tons of questionable wealth'. He understood that he had an obligation beyond that wealth...

"And he was in this transition of really understanding how to come from the darker recesses of mire, into the blooming. He was transforming himself as a leader."

The second mural at the north end of the library, above the entrance, had special meaning on this day, because its focus is an image of Kennedy breaking bread with United Farmworkers leader Cesar Chavez after a long hunger strike the latter had endured on behalf of the California field laborer's plight.

Detail of North Wall Mural

It was the 45th anniversary of that happening. Baca described in detail her attempt to render the problems youth will confront as they are launched into the world: war, health care challenges, environmental degradation, and put a person's face on each.

Mural at the north wall

"This is how we learn compassion. In the specificity of the human story," she declared.

Those attending what was also a fundraiser for Council in Schools were treated to a short documentary film, "Seeing Through Other's Eyes," on the concept, which they then experienced in practice, turning inward at their tables to express their sentiments on the afternoon's revelations.

Student Luis Rivas provided an overview of the RFK Youth Council Club on the multi-schooled campus.

"That is one of our primary goals," explained Monica Chinlund, an associate director for Council in Schools. "To develop Youth Council Leaders who will become the organizers of the community and, in doing so, manifest RFK Schools' core vision: turning out global leaders who address the world's problems while considering the perspectives of others by 'seeing through others' eyes'."

Omar Torrez returned from Mexico City for the tribute, and was scheduled to head back a day later. Despite a two-hour plus program, the Latin Hendrix kept attendees glued to their seats.

Torrez tipped his hat to Mexican sensibilities with a spare rendition of "La Llorona," sowed anarchistic sentiments with "Burn It Down," and fortified, what he believed to be, an underrepresented quotient of "aggressive masculinity" by getting everyone to sing his pirate song, "Marina."

This blog specializes in the sardonic, the satirical, the sophomoric, and other low-grade, low-risk literary endeavors, but you have to believe in something, and Bobby Kennedy has always been good enough for that. Every year we run a memorial on the anniversary of his death.

Bobby still speaks clearly through the years with his novel pledge to "make gentler the life of the world."

He rendered politics in poetic terms and so -- as a blog that celebrates the intersection of politics, poetry and prose -- we take the time and space and place to recall him once again.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Sean Hannity: Payment Due

In "All Hail the Fact," (Nov. 7, 2012), highwayscribery noted, "One has to wonder what Fox's credibility will be going forward with the true believers who kneel daily in its church. For months it posted news and facts from an alternative universe that never ceased to insist the president's coalition was coming undone and that red state redemption was just around the corner.

"Fool them once, shame on Fox. Fool them twice, shame on them."

Well, the bill has been passed to Sean Hannity sooner than later. It is being reported in various outlets that Hannity has lost exactly half his audience since President Obama's reelection.

One account says he took a particular hit in the 25-45 demographic, which is the one that pays the bills and is known as the "money demo." The pieces suggest Hannity's prognostications left his gullible fans "stunned" on election morning, thereby sparking the exodus.

It was difficult to watch Hannity in days before the election as his reports strained to explain away a steady stream of polls pointing to an Obama victory.

After the election, the grasping continued. An unfortunate Staten Island woman who'd lost everything in Hurricane Sandy was proof "Obama's Katrina" was around the corner.

The pre-election banging of pots over the nefarious murder of American diplomats in Libya continued, Sean confidently promising, "this isn't going away folks" while peddling a notion the unfortunate incident was reason enough to drive Obama out of office.

Hannity palavered and caviled furiously from his not-inconsiderable perch in the court of mass media, laboring to alter the course of American politics. A classic example of overreach from a media pundit soused in his own self-importance.

In the end, it became clear the carnival barkers can't alter the course of national events as well as they can influence (or delude) their own followers.

Obama's photograph is here posted, because Hannity's look just doesn't fit the visual "story" highwayscribery strives for, and because the president's the winner in this mano-a-mano with a snarky gadfly who has made a living insulting Americans that share the commander-in-chief's values.

Hannity made a bet on those who pined for an Obama defeat in 2012, stoking their anger and lifting their hopes. That wager delivered short-term benefits, but now its flaws have become painfully clear.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Poem: A.M. Session

Bell propelled
into gray
ray light
morning flight
ritual of rubber
free emptyways
point to
slippery rock
frigid fears
bracing baptismal
clasped universe
foam tumbler
Sandpaper slam
we arrive as
watery One

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Letter to the Qatari Ambassador

H.E. Mohamed Bin Abdulla Al-Rumaini
Ambassador of Qatar to the United States
2555 M. Street N.W.
Washington D.C. 20037-1305

Your Excellency,

I am deeply concerned about the fate of poet Mohammed Ajami, who has been sentenced to life in prison for his work, "Jasmine Poem." I read about his plight in our "Los Angeles Times."

My suggestion that he be released, in the dark of night by a back door to the prison, would result in a win-win situation for all parties involved.

Mr. Ajami gets to go home, the Qatar government avoids the negative of appearing completely medieval in its administration of justice, and the poem takes on the importance all political poems enjoy when ignored by those in power. None.

You should try this. As a poet I can tell you it works great here in the U.S.

But seriously, the emir must be a very special guy if no one can speak a truth or, as you would have it, an untruth about him. Life in prison for some scribblings? Surely sir, your country adheres to a standard of justice more in line with a sense common to people the world over.

To wit: You kill somebody, you go to jail for life. You write a poem, you get a lifetime at a coffee shop and some pocket change to launch the literary effort.

You can't put up a wall around your kingdom and force its denizens to live in the past. Why, for example, I could get a large list of e-mail addresses in your country and, from my perch in California, pen "The Emir Really Sucks."

The emir lives in fear
he doesn't like to hear

the impact of his policies
on Qatari families

He doesn't give a fuck
if his subjects' lives suck.

And then I could send it to as many Qatari citizens as possible and everyone would know the truth about the emir: Which is that he can't hear the truth about himself.

What will you do? Arrest and sentence me to life in prison as well? Or would you empty the jails given that the secret is out?

Just some things for you to think about while you're informing the emir of our country's general embarrassment for him.

Warmest Regards,

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Monipodio's House: A Consideration of Cervantes' Villain

Back in the early 1990s, highwayscribery lived in Spain where he'd gone to write his novel "Vedette or Conversations with the Flamenco Shadows."

When the book was finished and the money gone, the highway scribe moved to Seville from Malaga to start a newspaper with Jose Pérez de Lama Halcón and Angel Delgado.

It was called "La Otra Orilla" and covered that part of Seville located on the right bank of the Guadalquivir River. The district was made up of two barrios, Los Remedios and Triana.

The latter whimsically declared itself a republic independent of the bigger burg while claiming to be the cradle of flamenco and the bullfight arts alike.

There are other barrios in other Spanish cities making like claims. But that's not the point. If you're from Triana the truth there is that they started "los toros" and "el flamenco" in Triana. Case closed.

The barrio was nothing if not historic and many locations were posted with ceramic-tiled signs explaining a particularly noteworthy event that had occurred there, or a person who'd resided and made art in the space.

"La Otra Orilla" ran a series called "Triana by Plaque" (Triana por Placas) wherein a reporter would flesh out the person or event highlighted with greater detail.

In the piece below highwayscribery, together with Jose Pérez de Lama Halcón, set out to determine whether a location claiming to be the place where Miguel de Cervantes' "Rinconete and Cortadillo" was inspired, was in fact that place.

Specifically, the plaque (pictured at right) claimed the Andalusian patio contained within served as headquarters for the den of thieves run by the novela's primary character, Monipodio.

We scribes turned to the actual text to determine the claim's veracity and have a little fun with literature in the process.

Monipodio's House

Obligated to Stay in Seville at the Service of Philip II, Cervantes Traveled the Nether Regions of the Imagination

According to the plaque which concerns us this week, the house found at the corner of Betis and Troya served as redoubt for a brotherhood of thieves led by the infamous Monipodio of Miguel de Cervantes novela, "Rinconete and Cortadillo."

It is enough that a student of local cultural, such as our own staff writer Marco Severo, says that this is not the case for a brief investigation into the claim to be launched.

You'll see that this investigation did not permit us to reach a sure conclusion, but did invite an engaging comparison between the Triana and Seville of today with that of Don Quixote's creator.

Cervantes came to Seville against his wishes. His petition to King Phillip II for a post in the Indies having been rejected, the writer was sent to Seville with the charge of gathering provisions for "The Invincible Armada" that would suffer a famous route in the English Channel.

Requisitioning wheat and olive oil from an unwilling populace was apparently a disagreeable task. According to his biographer Professor Valverde, Cervantes was subject to such indignities as being thrown into wells and "other tiresome pranks."

In 1597, the bank where Cervantes kept his ducados went belly-up and he found himself, not for the first time, in jail. If his incarceration in Algeria did little to dim his passion for adventure, his majesty the king was no more successful in dampening his lust for life.

In jail, Cervantes did not travel to distant locations, rather to the boundaries of his own imagination. Perhaps it was in jail where he learned the peculiarities of Sevillan thievery so wonderfully detailed in the novela.

"Rinconete and Cortadillo" is written by an outsider with the understanding of a person who has lived their entire life in Seville. En these two lads, about whom we know, among other things, "that neither one or the other exceeded 16 years of age, both of good humor, but very raggedy, broken, and maltreated."

It is no surprise for anyone familiar with Seville that the boys' first lesson upon arrival in the Andalusian capital is that it is far from an open field. In fact, it is just the opposite. Even in the world of robbing and mugging there are customs and a tax, in this case the monopoly is Monopodio's (El monopólio de Monipodio).

Having just committed their first bit of pilfering, the pair are pinched by a youth under the command of the King of Thieves who recommends they go and "register" with Monipodio and if not, "that they avoid stealing without his blessing for otherwise it would cost them plenty."
Rincón and Cortado (whose names will later be refined by the very same Monipodio), decide to take the youth's advice and depart with him from Plaza de El Salvador toward a destination unidentified by characters and author alike.

Triana is not mentioned in the ensuing discussion, nor does the Guadalquivir River, which one must cross to get there, although Cervantes informs us that the walk lasted as long as the speech by Monipodio's pawn, Ganchuelo, "which was long."

The trip is one across the surface of the soul, eschewing descriptions of the actual landscape. Ganchuelo explains to them that he, too, is a thief, but "one who serves God and good people."

"It's news to me that there are thieves in the world to serve God and good people," responds Cortado and thus it would appear that in the 16th century, as much as today, those who come from beyond quickly learned the extent to which Seville is steeped in Catholic ways.

Finally, at Monipodio's retreat, Rincón and Cortado are left to wait "in a small brick courtyard, so white and scrubbed that it emitted the richest carmine scent. To one side was a bench three feet in height and the other a broken jar with a pitcher on top that was in no better condition. Elsewhere was some matting made of cat's tail and in the middle of it all, a flower pot with basil growing.

"The youths," Cervantes writes, "looked attentively at the treasures of the house as Monipodio came down. Marking his slow pace, Rincón dared to enter one of the lower apartments accessed from the courtyard and saw two fencing swords, two shields of cork hanging from four spikes, a giant chest with nothing covering it, and more Cat's tail mats laid about the floor. On the front wall was stuck an image of Our Lady, one of those low-grade reproductions. Lower still hung a wicker basket and encased in the wall was a basin. Rincón reasoned that the first was for charity and the second for holy water. And this was true."

It was Cervantes' intention through his first draft of "Don Quixote" to pen a simple novel during his stay in Seville. If "Quixote" is, in part, a parody of the wealthy society upon which artists of his time so desperately depended, it's not out of line to suggest we find a little bit of the same in "Rinconete and Cortadillo."

The epic tale about the Madman of La Mancha was dedicated to a Sevillan aristocrat in an effort to curry favor, although it apparently did little to achieve the author's goal.
Rincón and Cortado find that the household of Monipodio is organized like that of a gentleman of the time, around a courtyard, mise en scéne and architectural symbol of the small aristocratic courts that marked the city.

In him they encounter a man who carries the contradictions of life itself.

Writes Cervantes, "The pair were in awe of the obedience and respect everyone in the house had for Monipodio, a man who was barbaric, rustic, and heartless."

Nonetheless, this Monipodio is capable of receiving guests "with much contentment and courtesy, because he was extremely well-bred."

And it is precisely with Monipodio that Triana possibly emerges for the first time in the story, because the man encompasses the same contradictions as the barrio that treasures both holy virgins and the flamenco ghost.

"And Escalanta, removing her clog, began to beat it like a tambourine. La Gananciosa took a palm broom laying about and began scratching it against the floor, making a sound that, although rough and grating, kept time with the clog. Monipodio broke a plate in two pieces which, placed between his fingers and clicked with grand dexterity, carried a counterpoint to the clog and broom."

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

All Hail "The Fact"

Aside from representing a sweeping progressive victory, the elections stand as a reassertion of the American faith in science and The Fact.

It turns out that just saying something over and over again doesn't mean it's true, nor will it fool everyone.

The durability of The Fact began to impose itself even before last night's results swept away the counter-narrative cooked up on the right 'lo these many years.

It played loudly in the debate cycle when the premise cooked up in the Republican bubble, that Obama did not consider Benghazi a terrorist attack, was put to rest by the moderator, who noted that the president had, in fact, characterized it as so.

The wall against obvious and verifiable truths began to crumble even as Republicans, faced with a television graphic quoting the president on this matter, chose to deny what was before their very eyes.

The American people did not. If you have a tape and transcript of the president saying something, it's fair to accept that he said it, based on the evidence.

Then there were the polls, those science-based thermometers cooked up by liberals to mislead voters about The Fact of a new and silent majority in America. A multicultural, youthful, sexually tolerant, weed-supporting mass that does not caterwaul much, does not parade, and did not go in for political kitch and lawn signs this time.

But they came out to vote, just as the polls predicted they would.

All of which brings us to the further diminished status of the untruth wurlitzer itself, Fox News.

On Election Eve, the highway scribe soaked up the Fox Team's frustration and marveled at the herd of experts predicting a Romney landslide in contrast to what the Non-Fox Media ("The NFM" as per Anne Coulter) was saying.

Trapped in their own ghetto, convinced their hatred was national and universal, the Foxies banged pots and hammers about Bhenghazi and "Obama's Katrina" to the general indifference of everybody else.

The image of Karl Rove campaign hacking from his perch on an election night panel at Fox was a new low in the Fair and Balanced bull chips the news operation serves up.

The guy had a ton of skin in the game and yet there he sat, posing as an expert whose objective opinion should be respected. Days before, Rove too, predicted a Romney landslide in a major American newspaper owned by the guy who signs his checks at Fox.

One has to wonder what Fox's credibility will be going forward with the true believers who kneel daily in its church. For months it posted news and facts from an alternative universe that never ceased to insist the president's coalition was coming undone and that red state redemption was just around the corner.

Fool them once, shame on Fox. Fool them twice, shame on them.

For the second election cycle -- this one spent attacking the president 24 hours a day -- Fox has been unable to impact the final outcome of either the Republican nominating process or the general election.

For a time, its reign as the first partisan news operation gave it a leg up. But its diversion from American journalism's long striving for objectivity led to the establishment of a similar enterprise at the opposite political pole.

MSNBC, while equally harmful to older journalistic traditions, does a nice job of articulating and packaging progressive views into palatable, televised messages and debate. It helped.

The center-left network's existence erases the old Fox advantage at partisan mind-bending while serving as effective check on its ability to manufacture its own truths out of whole cloth.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Black Swan Sandy

A Black Swan is defined by writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb as "an event that is both unpredicted by some observers and carries massive consequences."

As Sandy blasted ashore on Monday night, the usually ham-handed Chris Matthews of MSNBC asked if such a Black Swan, affecting the election, swam in the storm's maelstrom.

It was a reasonable question at the time, which now can be answered in the affirmative, and it signifies the president's reelection.

Prior to the storm, the people of the United States were cultivating, for better or worse, an expanding personal crush on Mitt Romney. He'd handled his coming out party at debate number one with panache and they wanted more, not less.

He gave them less in the next two debates, choosing to ride a rising crescendo of media accounts about his momentum. A comprehensive economic speech was slated for big-time play across the American newscape and due weighty consideration, given Romney's enhanced status.

The storm came and the shrill tone both parties cultivated throughout the campaign became suddenly and obviously off-note. The president had work to do and Mitt Romney didn't, which left the former woven into the ensuing headline stories and the latter to sit around and cool his heels.

Momentum requires continued movement. You stop momentum, it doesn't kick-in when you re-start. Usually, it swings.

Enter Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey. The Atlantic Ocean having taken a sliver of his state for itself, Christie needed help and knew where to get it. Obama was ready. They got together and, like two grownups, set about resolving the misery of millions.

In cooperating with Obama, the governor made the rest of his party look like the small-minded twits they are; challenged them to do their habitual best at putting politics before the good of the country.

When some Fox News talker asked if Romney was going to visit New Jersey to see all the devastation, Christie sent him straight to hell, asserting that this was no time for presidential politics.

Except that it is and Christie praising Obama's competence under fire was naught but a rank betrayal to the cause of no government.

Christie's a loose canon, but the GOP elevated him promptly to national status anyway. They can sit and ponder the wisdom of that move, but they will do so in silence.

The mood is somber and respectful now. Nobody will step forward to criticize a pair of men for doing their jobs. Obama and Christie met at the crossroads of devastation and tried to put an upended community at ease.

Romney was in Florida trying not to sound too political, toothless, robbed of his right to attack with full ferocity. Fox News was working overtime on cooking up a Benghazi scandal, now that the plan for removing Obama at the ballot box is unraveling.

But they will confront some heavy lifting for, like a true Black Swan, Sandy's impact goes beyond the loss of media time and the switching of a national narrative away from rake Romney's progress.

This watershed event has already empowered powerful politicians to reintroduce the need for a real climate change policy and yank the debate away from the no-nothings who have hijacked it for too long.

The storm has further revealed the rickety nature of our infrastructure and highlighted the fact that we are, in terms of development and building, an old country now.

Sandy has been a theater for government assistance and cooperation at all levels, a real-time display of what tax revenues buy, and what a lack of them doesn't.

In one felled swoop of terrible violence, the storm has put into relief the primary issues of American political life and resolved them in favor of those who prefer a country of neighbors and civic officials to one of individuals and ideologues.