Footprints in the Sand, Messages in Bottles

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That’s how I think of my social media presence, and really about this blog, too. Will anyone follow the footprints that I leave along the beach? Will they pluck my bottles from the surf? It’s up to you, they’re there to find. It’s haphazard, to be sure, but there it is.

Folks in my circle have been wandering over to Ello, ever since the Facebook “real names” kerfluffle. I don’t know if it will stick (indications right now are that it won’t, with my set), but I was curious, and I wrangled myself an account. The various kinds of social media each have their strengths and shortcomings; I haven’t found one that fits me well, but maybe that’s more about me than anything else.

Anyway, it gave me an excuse to update my “About” page with a more complete list of places to find me (places that have to do with Multo, that is). I’ll add it here, as well.

Twitter: (@MultoGhost) (this button is also on the side). Almost exclusively tweets about things that might be interesting to those who read this blog: new posts, posts from the archives, tweets about what I’ve been reading or watching that others might find interesting. The occasional video.

Google Plus: (Nina Zumel) Notifications about new blog posts to Multo or to my other blogs (ninazumel.com or win-vector.com/blog). I don’t use it for much else.

Ello: (@NinaZumel) Ello isn’t fully public yet, but I think you can see my profile (such as it is) by clicking on the link. I’m leaving this one open to any possible content: about my blogs, about my dancing, random photos and musings. There’s not much here yet; how it evolves depends on whether anyone follows me here, and who they are. I see it right now as “Twitter without the character limit”, and will probably use it accordingly. I would like a place to leave things for you (my readers) that are longer than a tweet, shorter than a blog post. We’ll see…

Yes, I’m on Facebook, too, but I haven’t enabled following on my account, and I don’t plan to.

And if any much of you are on Google Plus, well, I can revive that, as well.

Carlos and Julio (and Monty)

The good news: it was a beautiful weekend to celebrate Non Stop Bhangra‘s ten year anniversary. The bad news: I danced so hard I think I broke my toe. This at least gave me an excuse to sit around all Sunday, finishing up Julio Cortázar’s Blow-Up and other stories.

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Owwwww.

I couldn’t help comparing him (well, this collection) to my recent bout of Carlos Fuentes. Fuentes (or what I’ve read of him, this time around) has a distinct set of preoccupations that permeate all his work. The primary one is the intrusion of the past into the present, or the revisiting of the past in the present. This often expresses itself in his work as reincarnation, ghosts, doubles, history repeating itself. Memory and history are recurrent themes as well, closely related to the first, and also rife with ghost story possibilities. Oh, and there’s sex and erotic longing. The second usually leads to the first, of course — but not always.

If Cortázar has an obsession, then it’s transmigration. Not just in the sense of reincarnation, but more generally in the sense of the transference of essence, of souls. It might be across species (“Axolotl”), across centuries (“The Night, Face Up”, “The Idol of the Cyclades”),  or between people (“The Distances”, “Secret Weapons”, “A Yellow Flower”). One also senses in many of these stories the fear of losing control (“House Taken Over”; the just-released “Headache“, translated into English for the first time by Michael Cisco). There’s a fair bit of longing in his stories, too – the unrequited kind. Perhaps it’s for the best friend’s wife, or even a blood relative (a commenter on The Weird Fiction Review‘s profile of Cortázar mentions the author’s “complicated feelings towards his own sister” — this is the first and only thing I’ve heard about it, but it is true that “House Taken Over” and “Bestiary” both have a weird vibe).

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New Book Review up at The Mantle

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Just a quick note to let you know that my review of A Thousand Forests in One Acorn: An Anthology of Spanish-language Fiction is up at The Mantle. Didn’t you wonder where my sudden plunge into Latin American fiction came from? Well, maybe you didn’t, but this is where.

It’s an enormous volume, but it was well worth the read.

Enjoy.

I May Need an Intervention…

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We had some errands to run on Clement Street this noon, so my husband casually suggested that we stop in at Green Apple Books. For a quick browse, I thought — why not? But no, it was actually because he wanted to see if our book was still on the shelf there…

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It was. This was the first time I’d seen it on a bookstore shelf — one usually buys technical books online these days — so it was a treat. I admired it briefly, took a quick photo, and then turned for the stairs. Bookstores are a wee bit dangerous, for me. But just a quick browse; what could it hurt? I hoped to escape Green Apple unscathed, but nooooooo….

Jules Feiffer’s latest, the noir-tinged graphic novel Kill My Mother, has just come out. Green Apple had it. Into the shopping bag. I picked up several more enticing volumes, then put them down again, because the Feiffer was a bit extravagant. Just one, just one, I’ll be fine!

Then I saw The Book of Monelle by French symbolist Marcel Schwob, whom I’d recently been reading about at Weird Fiction Review — they’ve put translations of two of his stories online (here, and here). My fingers twitched. Into the shopping bag. Quick, close my eyes, to the register, pay — go!

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Aura and Constancia: Ghost Stories from Carlos Fuentes

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I’m on a Carlos Fuentes kick right now. A Latin American kick, really, but Fuentes seemed like a good place to start, if for no other reason than I’ve been meaning to read The Crystal Frontier for a while, and because I recently read an excerpt from Terra Nostra that blew me away (and another one that, unfortunately, really didn’t). Of course, being me, I didn’t actually start with The Crystal Frontier, but with the 1962 short novel Aura, relatively unknown to English-language readers, but arguably Fuentes’ most popular work among the Spanish-language reading public, and one that a Mexican blogger once wrote me was his favorite of Fuentes’ “horror stories.” Oh, and look: there on my bookshelf, patient and forgotten, is the collection Constancia, and other stories for virgins (1989) — I don’t go down my to-be-read pile in the order of purchase, and, well, sometimes things fall through the cracks. Or off my bedside table, as the case may be.

So, Aura first, Constancia next. This was a fortuitous ordering, because the novella Constancia (the first novella from the collection) is in many ways Aura revisited….

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Reading Pariah Missouri

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Pariah, Missouri – Book 1: Answering the Call
Decade Brothers Studios
Created and Written by Andres Salazar
Pencils by Jose Pescador
Finishes, Coloring, and Letters by Andres Salazar

Writer Andres Salazar contacted me not too long ago, about his new series Pariah, Missouri (Book 1: Answering the Call is due to hit comic book stores this Wednesday, August 28). I don’t normally do on-request reviews, but his supernatural western series sounded fun, and I had a little spare time, so here goes…

First off: this is a beautiful book. Artist Jose Pescador’s detailed yet uncluttered pencils and Salazar’s understated ink washes produce an old-timey, moody, almost noirish feel to the art that matches the story’s era and occult narrative quite well. I like the full-page splash of Marshal Kane, shown above, quite a lot — it’s almost like a woodcut. The use of isolated areas of contrasting colors in otherwise monochromatic panels (Kane’s yellow badge; the boys’ rust-colored trousers) is very effective.

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The narrative setup is fun, too: Pariah is a boom-town along the Missouri River run by a mysterious triad of “founders.” Hiram Buchanan is a young East-coast dandy and grifter who wanders into town, for no apparent reason. Why is he there? Are the sudden disappearances of the town’s Marshal and of two young boys related to a mysterious Punch & Judy show that arrives in town? Buchanan investigates, with the help of the fallen-on-hard-times orphaned daughter of one of the town’s late founders, and several loners with special magical talents…

It’s a good premise, and an interesting, suspenseful story. I like the cast of characters, there’s a lot of juicy drama simmering in the town, and the traveling Punch & Judy show was a nice creepy touch. My one complaint is that it all happens a bit too fast. I wouldn’t have minded if the story had been half again as long to give us more time getting to know the different characters and the town (and the monsters); there’s certainly enough meat here to justify that. For instance, there’s a lot of promise in the Kane character — and yet beyond the (kickass) scene where the splash page above comes from, we hardly see him at all, and he doesn’t really contribute to this episode’s denouement. Hopefully we get more of him in the next book.

And yes, there is a next book: the creators are running a Kickstarter campaign to fund Book 2 ; I’ve contributed, and I’m looking forward to the next chapter.

If you like westerns, supernatural horror, or occult detectives (or better yet, all of the above) — visit your local comic book store (and the Pariah, Missouri Kickstarter campaign) and check it out.

Google Translate vs. Bing Translate

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Just stumbled over a post announcing that Yelp will be using Microsoft Bing (rather than Google) to translate reviews on its iPhone app. I suppose this is noteworthy because one never thinks of Microsoft beating Google at anything (though I must say I like Bing maps better than Google maps, usually).

Normally, I use Google Translate, but just for fun, I typed the passage from the Garcia Lorca poem pictured above into both Google and Bing to compare. The poem, by the way, is called Casida del herido por el agua (Casida of the one wounded by water). According to Wikipedia, a casida (or qasida) is “a form of Perso-Arabic lyric poetry.”

From the translation by Paul Archer:

I want to go down to the well,
I want to climb onto Granada's walls
to gaze at the heart impaled 
on water's hidden spike.

It’s a lovely piece, though a mysterious one.

Here are the two machine translations:

Google:

Want to go down the well,
I want to climb the walls of Granada,
Heart to look at the past
By the dark waters of the punch.

Bing:

I want to go down to the well,
I want to climb the walls of Granada,
To watch the last heart
By dark waters punch.

Granted, poetry is especially hard to translate, and neither is very close on the last two lines — why do they both associate oscuro (dark) with las aguas (the water) instead of with punzon (punch, awl, or pick, according to my dictionary)? Still, comparing the two, I’d say Bing did the better job.

Unfortunately, Bing doesn’t translate Filipino (Tagalog), or any other Filipino languages, so I can’t give up on Google translate yet. And clearly, it will be a while before machine translation will do as well as a human translator. Mostly, it’s handy for gaps in your vocabulary.


Image: A plaque on one of the exterior walls of the Alhambra, Granada, Spain. It’s a tribute to Garcia Lorca on the centennial of his birth. Photo: Nina Zumel

Chac Mool

I’ve been awash in translations of Spanish-language literature lately (more on that in a future article); it’s been fascinating reading. One of the things I’ve learned in my reading is that Carlos Fuentes wrote quite a few short stories. In fact, his first book was a collection of fantastic fiction called Los Dias Enmascarados (The Masked Days), which, to my knowledge, was never translated into English. Given the general preference of the reading public for novels over short stories, I’m not surprised, and such early writing would probably be considered only a minor work of his — not the optimal candidate for the effort of translation. But hope springs eternal, and so I had to look around….

Sure enough, a little digging uncovered an English rendering of the short story “Chac Mool“, translated by Jonah Katz, currently a professor of phonetics and linguistics at West Virginia University. “Chac Mool” was first published in Los Dias Enmascarados in 1954, then again in the 1973 collection Chac Mool y otros cuentos (Chac Mool and other stories — also never translated).

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A chacmool is a particular form of Mesoamerican sculpture: a figure of a man reclining on his back, upper body supported by his elbows and knees bent. His hands are on his abdomen, holding a dish or a bowl for accepting ritual offerings. His head is facing to the side. Chacmools have been found throughout central Mexico and the Yucatan, down into Central America. Chacmools are often associated with the Aztec rain god Tlaloc or with the similar Mayan rain god Chac (or Chaac). Both these rain gods are associated with human sacrifice (the bowl the chacmool holds is often a cuauhxicalli: a bowl to receive human hearts).

In Fuentes’ story, the protagonist, Filbert (Filiberto in the original), buys a chacmool (or as the story puts it, a replica of the Chac Mool, used as a proper noun) from some little junk shop, and brings it home. After the Chac Mool arrives, the water pipes mysteriously burst and the roof springs leaks in the rain. Filiberto discovers that in all this moisture, the stone idol seems to be turning into flesh — a rain god coming to life. Slowly, the Chac Mool turns Filiberto into his slave….

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Musings on The Bone Key

From my readings of his work, and about his life, M. R. James seems to have been a warm and gentle person, well-liked, with a joyous enthusiasm for his research, his writing, and other related interests (folklore and detective stories among them). I admire his ghost stories, his essays about ghost stories, and what I’ve read of his scholarly work, and I think that I would have liked him as a person.

I also get the impression that he was rather conservative in outlook. He didn’t seem particularly warm to the idea of women in academia. I think I would have liked him, but I’m not entirely sure that he would have approved of me.

So I find it interesting that some of James’ most prominent (and scholarly) fans are women: Rosemary Pardoe, certainly, and Jacqueline Simpson for the folkloric aspects of James’ work. And now we can add Sarah Monette.

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