Most Recent Posts recent posts.en-usMr. Pretty Much, by Hu Shih, translated from Chinese by Jennifer Quist<p> Mr. Pretty Much</p> <p> Who is China&rsquo;s most celebrated person? You know him, don&rsquo;t you? Everyone everywhere knows his name. His surname is Pretty, his given name is Much. He is in every province, every county, every village. You&rsquo;ve certainly seen him, certainly heard it said of him, &ldquo;Mr. Pretty Much represents all of us in China.&rdquo; Everyone says it.</p> <p> Mr. Pretty Much has a face pretty much like yours and mine. He has two eyes, but cannot see clearly; two ears, but cannot hear well. He has a nose and mouth, but isn&rsquo;t particular about smells or tastes. His mind is not small, but his memory is not very good. He does not have a head for details.</p> <p> He is known to say, &ldquo;There&rsquo;s no need to be so fussy. Everything is pretty much fine.&rdquo;</p> <p> When he was little, his mother sent him to buy brown sugar, but he brought home white sugar. His mother scolded him, but he shook his head and said, &ldquo;Brown sugar, white sugar&mdash;aren&rsquo;t they pretty much the same?&rdquo;</p> <p> He went to school, where the teacher asked him, &ldquo;Which province borders Hebei to the west?&rdquo;</p> <p> Mr. Pretty Much answered, &ldquo;Shaanxi.&rdquo;</p> <p> The teacher replied, &ldquo;Wrong. It&rsquo;s Shanxi, not Shaanxi.&rdquo;</p> <p> Mr. Pretty Much said, &ldquo;Shaanxi, Shanxi&mdash;they&rsquo;re pretty much the same, aren&rsquo;t they?&rdquo;</p> <p> Later, he became a clerk in a money lender&rsquo;s shop. He had learned to write, had learned to work with numbers&mdash;it&rsquo;s just that he was never meticulous about doing either. In printing the character for the number one thousand, he often missed a stroke, making it into the number ten. The lender would get angry, reprimanding him as Mr. Pretty Much smilingly, obsequiously explained, &ldquo;Between ten and one thousand there&rsquo;s only one small stroke too many. They&rsquo;re pretty much the same, aren&rsquo;t they?&rdquo;</p> <p> He once needed to make an important business trip, a trip by train to Shanghai. Rambling all the way to the station, he arrived two minutes too late. The train had already left. Wide-eyed, staring into the distance at the trailing coal smoke of the train, shaking his head, Mr. Pretty Much said, &ldquo;It&rsquo;s all the same to me if I leave today or tomorrow. It doesn&rsquo;t matter. But how could the railroad be so exacting? An 8:30 departure and an 8:32 departure&mdash;aren&rsquo;t they pretty much the same?&rdquo; He slowly, slowly walked home, muttering his disbelief that the train would not linger two minutes.</p> <p> When Mr. Pretty Much fell suddenly, deathly ill, he sent his family to East Street to fetch Mr. Yang, a doctor who could treat his illness. His family scrambled to help, but after a quick search, Mr. Yang was not found. However, on West Street they did find Mr. Wang. He was not a doctor but a veterinarian, a doctor for cows. They brought him back to their sick loved one all the same. From his sickbed, Mr. Pretty Much knew Mr. Wang was not the man he had called for, but sick, in pain, afraid, unable to wait any longer, he thought, &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a good thing Mr. Wang and Mr. Yang are pretty much the same. Let Wang have a go at treating me.&rdquo;</p> <p> Cow doctor Wang approached the bed, using veterinary medicines and methods meant to cure Mr. Pretty Much. An hour had not yet passed before Mr. Pretty Much, alas, died. When Mr. Pretty Much was pretty much dead, able to breath only in faint, fleeting gasps, he said, &ldquo;The living and the dead are pretty-pretty-pretty much the same&mdash;if everything is&mdash;pretty&mdash;pretty&mdash;much the same&mdash;then&mdash;everything is fine. There&rsquo;s no need&mdash;to be too&mdash;too fussy&mdash;is there?&rdquo; He spoke his motto one final time, and breathed his last.</p> <p> After his death, everyone praised Mr. Pretty Much, studied his example, wondered at it. All his life he was never fussy, never exacting. He was truly a man of the finest moral character. He became a saint among the people, known as &ldquo;Master of Flexibility.&rdquo; His reputation spread farther and farther, became greater and greater. Countless, countless people studied his model behaviour. From then on, everyone&mdash;all of China&mdash;became a careless nation full of people like Mr. Pretty Much.</p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p> <strong>Jennifer Quist&#39;s Comments on the Translation</strong></p> <p> I began the task without any sense of its irony.</p> <p> The task was my first literary translation of a canonical work of modern Chinese into English, my native language. As a humble beginner, I chose a text that was short and fairly simple. It was Hu Shih&rsquo;s 差不多先生. Some of my English-speaking classmates called it &ldquo;Mr. Almost.&rdquo; I&rsquo;d seen it rendered in writing as &ldquo;Mr. Close Enough,&rdquo; which is a poor translation, and as &ldquo;Mr. More or Less,&rdquo; which is the best translation. I suppose I was too vain to give my translation the same name as anyone else&rsquo;s, and as I sat at the table where I was supposed to be minding the coffee urn at a university conference, I opened my notebook to a blank page and called Hu Shih&rsquo;s story &ldquo;Mr. Pretty Much.&rdquo;</p> <p> Hu Shih has been called the architect of literary reforms in China in the early twentieth century. His 1917 &ldquo;Suggestions for a Reform of Literature&rdquo; validated and promoted Chinese writing, criticism, and scholarship in common rather than Classical language. He called for changes in literature and also in Chinese society. &ldquo;Mr. Pretty Much&rdquo; is one of those calls. It&rsquo;s a fable, a lesson, a warning against the dangers of failing to safeguard details, especially when carelessness becomes widespread, as Hu Shih believed it was in China.</p> <p> See it&mdash;the irony of a first-time translator choosing as her text a cautionary tale about the need for precision and exactness? From the translation of Hu Shih&rsquo;s very first line&mdash;the title&mdash;precision falters, details slip away, the untranslatable emerges. In this story, the clich&eacute; of material becoming lost in translation doesn&rsquo;t wait one syllable before it disturbs the entire endeavor.</p> <p> Translation may be the most strange and fraught of literary projects. I have never tried to do it between any other pair of languages, but perhaps there is something in the exceptionally vast space between Chinese and English that highlights the problems common to all translation. There is no shared root language here&mdash;nothing providing hunches. The Chinese-English translator cannot, like Walter Benjamin, accomplish her task by standing outside a wood, calling into it, listening for the echoing back of her own voice. In translating Chinese into English, she walks into the wood, moss between her toes, leaves in her hair, branches snagging at her clothes, other voices in her ears, feeling and smelling her way forward, opening her mind and heart to what she may come to understand in pure but too often unspeakable language. There may be no shared hunches and very little shared history but there is always shared humanity. Here, it must be made to be enough.</p> <p> It isn&rsquo;t easy. Hu Shih&rsquo;s story is written in a jovial, teasing tone, mixing formality with familiarity. I like it, tried to preserve it, but worried it might seem like my voice&mdash;the self-conscious translator&rsquo;s&mdash;was inconsistent, not quite invisible enough. In the eight paragraphs of text, untranslatable puzzles come one after another. The foreshadowing in the play on the word 差, inadequacy, vanishes with the translation of the title. A little watered-down Hanyu Pinyin used to romanize the script salvages what would have been lost in a comparison between the pronunciation of the provinces of Shaanxi and Shanxi. But in the next paragraph, there is a distinct loss of elegance with the need to over-explain a plot-point that revolves around a misplaced stroke in the writing of simple numerical characters&mdash;the easiness with which the number ten 十 could be misspelled in Chinese as 千, one thousand. The most difficult problem yet arises with the question of how to convey a subtle visual difference between the characters 王 and 汪 to readers who know nothing about how either character is pronounced or written or what the words means. I resolved it by degrading it, equating the subtle, sophisticated difference to the rhyming of the names Wang and Yang. Hu Shih&rsquo;s original story has no Yang in it. I know it. All of China knows it. The Anglophonie does not know&mdash;will never know&mdash;and I don&rsquo;t know how to tell them without breaching the story, falling into a footnote, introducing it with an essay like this one, a translator&rsquo;s commentary like a buzzing fly on the face of the prose.</p> <p> Thank you for this forbearance&mdash;for waiting this long without swatting me away. Please enjoy Hu Shih&rsquo;s story, or at least, the version I have rewritten&mdash;pretty much a translation.</p> <p> Comments and Translation &copy; 2017, Jennifer Quist</p> <p> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/Quist2015%20Photo%20Sara%20MacKenzie%20hi-res.jpg" style="width: 200px; height: 295px;" /><br /> Jennifer Quist</p> <p> Jennifer Quist is the author of <a href=""><em>Love Letters of the Angels of Death</em></a> (LLP 2013) and <a href=""><em>Sistering</em></a> (LLP 2015), both of which have been honoured nationally and internationally. LLP will publish her new novel, <em>The Apocalypse of Morgan Werther,</em>&nbsp;in Spring 2018.</p> <p> &nbsp;</p> Sat, 12 Aug 2017 13:29:54 -0400The Great Terry Mosher, by Linda Leith<p> Terry Mosher, who publishes under the name Aislin, has published cartoons on many national and international topics, but he is best known and best loved for his work about Quebec in countless moments of crisis, consternation, and joy.</p> <p> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/The%20Wrecking%20Ball_FC.jpg" style="width: 250px; height: 250px;" /></p> <p> These have made him one of the most familiar voices of English Quebec. They have created a comic sense of the look of the English-speaking Quebecer &ndash; whether in full protective gear or in the guise of a mouse on a kitchen floor &ndash; and of our speech and obsessions. In so doing, they have allowed the world inside Quebec and beyond its borders to see an English-speaking Quebec that is brimming with life and vitality.</p> <p> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/WIGFYfrontcover.jpg" style="width: 250px; height: 250px;" /></p> <p> Mosher&rsquo;s characters include everyone from the politician, the corporate executive, the medical professional, and the hipster to the garbage collector, the jock, the couch potato, and the barroom habitu&eacute;. These are just a few of the thousands of recognizable characters Mosher has lived among &ndash; and brought to life in his work. And he has done this not only with great artistry, but also with a sense of humour that few others can rival.</p> <p> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/CCCfrontcover.jpg" style="width: 250px; height: 251px;" /></p> <p> Part of what makes his cartoons so effective is Mosher&rsquo;s full awareness of prevailing stereotypes of English-speaking Quebecers. There are different ways that a member of a minority can react to being stereotyped, most of them ineffective. Mosher doesn&rsquo;t rail against the stereotypes, and he doesn&rsquo;t get angry. Instead, he plays with these stereotypes in ways that make us all think again, in ways that make us laugh at ourselves &ndash; and in ways that bring us all together. Who has not laughed at an Aislin cartoon? And who has not shared it with another and got them to laugh, too?</p> <p> As a cartoonist who has flourished over a long period of profound change in Quebec, Terry Mosher has complicated and enriched the ways in which English-speaking Quebecers are seen and understood, and he has done so with glee. It is a great accomplishment.</p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p> &copy; 2017, Linda Leith</p> <p> Linda Leith, LLP and LL&Eacute; publisher, is the author most recently of <em>Writing in The Time of Nationalism</em> (Signature, 2010; translated into French as <em>&Eacute;crire au temps du nationalisme</em>, Lem&eacute;ac 2014) and the Introduction to Mavis Gallant&#39;s play <em>What Is To Be Done?</em> (LLP 2017)</p> <p> &nbsp;</p> Sat, 12 Aug 2017 13:16:29 -0400Screenings of Icaros: A Vision, by Abou Farman<div id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3393"> <div> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/icaros_1.jpg_h_2017(1).jpg" style="width: 400px; height: 225px;" /></div> <div> &nbsp;</div> <div dir="ltr"> Looking for a miracle, Angelina lands at a healing center in the Peruvian Amazon where shamans minister to a group of foreign psychonauts seeking transcendence, companionship, and the secrets of life and death.</div> <div dir="ltr"> &nbsp;</div> <div dir="ltr"> Her perceptions altered by the ancient psychedelic plant known as ayahuasca, she bonds with Arturo, a young indigenous shaman who is losing his eyesight. In their hallucinogenic journeys together they attain a different sense of their destinies. She learns to accept her fears while Arturo, in turn, realizes that he will be able to see in the dark and sing his ceremonial healing songs, the icaros.</div> <div dir="ltr"> <br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3681" /> Visually inventive and hypnotic in nature, Icaros: A Vision captivates with its meditative look at a little-seen world, punctuated by truly trippy depictions of ceremonial splendour.</div> <div dir="ltr"> &nbsp;</div> <div dir="ltr"> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/icaros2-800450.jpg" style="width: 400px; height: 225px;" /><br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3684" /> <br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3685" /> Cast: Ana Cecilia Stieglitz, Arturo Izquierdo, Filippo Timi, Taylor Marie Milton, Iker Amaya&nbsp;<br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3686" /> Directed by Leonor Caraballo, Matteo Norzi; Written by Leonor Caraballo, Matteo Norzi, Abou Farman; Produced by Abou Farman, Matteo Norzi, Aziz Isham; Co-Produced by Adella Ladjevardi; Edited by &Egrave;lia Gasull Balada; Cinematography by Ghasem Ebrahimian; Sound by Tom Paul.<br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3687" /> <br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3688" /> FB site<br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3689" /> <a href=""></a><br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3690" /> <br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3691" /> Official Site<br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3692" /> <a href=""></a><br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3693" /> <br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3694" /> OVERVIEW:<br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3695" /> <a href=""></a><br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3696" /> <br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3697" /> TRAILER:<br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3698" /> <a href=""></a><br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3699" /> <br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3700" /> &nbsp;********<br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3701" /> <br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3702" /> SOME REVIEWS:<br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3703" /> <br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3704" /> NYTimes<br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3705" /> <a href=""></a><br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3706" /> <br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3707" /> THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER:<br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3708" /> <a href=""></a><br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3709" /> <br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3710" /> ESQUIRE<br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3711" /> <a href=""></a><br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3712" /> <br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3713" /> VARIETY:<br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3714" /> <a href=""></a><br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3715" /> <br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3716" /> THE NEW YORKER:<br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3717" /> <a href=""></a><br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3718" /> <br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3719" /> POPOPTIQ:<br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3720" /> <a href=""></a><br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3721" /> <br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3722" /> VILLAGE VOICE:<br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3723" /> <a href=""></a><br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3724" /> <br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3725" /> DIRTY MOVIES:<br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3726" /> <a href=""></a></div> </div> <div dir="ltr"> <br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3728" style="font-family: &quot;Helvetica Neue&quot;, Helvetica, Arial, &quot;Lucida Grande&quot;, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; text-size-adjust: auto;" /> &nbsp;</div> <div dir="ltr" id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3729"> &copy; Abou Farman, 2017</div> <div dir="ltr"> &nbsp;</div> <div dir="ltr"> <p style="font-size: 14px; line-height: 16px; color: rgb(139, 132, 125); font-family: Questrial, sans-serif; width: 600px !important;"> &copy; 2016, Abou Farman</p> <div style="color: rgb(139, 132, 125); font-family: Questrial, sans-serif; clear: both;"> <img alt="" src="" style="padding-right: 0px; padding-left: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; max-width: 650px; width: 220px; height: 197px;" /><br /> <span style="font-size: 10px;">[Photo: Connie Contreras]</span></div> <div style="color: rgb(139, 132, 125); font-family: Questrial, sans-serif; clear: both;"> &nbsp;</div> <div style="color: rgb(139, 132, 125); font-family: Questrial, sans-serif; clear: both;"> <p style="font-size: 14px; line-height: 16px; width: 600px !important;"> Abou Farman&nbsp;is a Canadian artist and anthropologist teaching at the New School for Social Research in NY.&nbsp;He has published widely in the academic sphere as well as the popular press, with essays nominated for a National Magazine Award in Canada, selected for the Best Canadian Essays and twice awarded the Arc Critics Desk Award. His first book,&nbsp;<a href=""><strong><em>Clerks of the Passage</em></strong></a>, was published by Linda Leith Publishing in 2012; a French translation by Marianne Champagne entitled&nbsp;<a href=""><strong><em>Les lieux de passage</em></strong></a>&nbsp;was published Linda Leith &Eacute;ditions in October 2016.</p> <p style="font-size: 14px; line-height: 16px; width: 600px !important;"> As part of the artist duo caraballo-farman,&nbsp;formed with his late partner Leonor Caraballo,&nbsp;Abou has exhibited work internationally in galleries, museums and other venues, including at the Tate Modern, UK; PS1/MOMA, NY, and the Havana Biennial.&nbsp;He is the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including a Canada Council for the Arts Grant, a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship.&nbsp;Amongst other film work and credits, he was producer on Iranian filmmaker Amir Naderi&rsquo;s&nbsp;<strong><em>Vegas: Based on a True Story</em></strong>, which was in competition at the Venice and Tribeca Film Festivals in 2008, and is producer and co-writer of the narrative feature film&nbsp;<strong><em>Icaros: A Vision</em></strong>, co-directed by Leonor Caraballo and Matteo Norzi.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> <div dir="ltr"> &nbsp;</div> <div dir="ltr"> <br id="yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1500659844434_3728" /> &nbsp;</div> Fri, 21 Jul 2017 16:47:54 -0400Fire Walkers, by Bethlehem Terrefe Gebreyohannes<p> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/9781927494790.jpg" style="width: 200px; height: 304px;" /></p> <p> <br /> Those who don&rsquo;t know the desert will curse their journey through it.&mdash;Afar proverb</p> <p> <br /> <br /> It was decided quickly that one of the guides, named Ali, would go back to the abandoned car and take it to a garage, supposedly for repair, while we waited for his return where we were, in the middle of the desert. The second guide, Hussein, was thin but muscular. He seemed to be in his forties and was wearing a torn T-shirt and a grey shirit. The third stranger, in a suit without a tie, was introduced to us more formally. &ldquo;This is Mr Lema, the chairman of the Peasant Association of Dire Dawa,&rdquo; Abba said. &ldquo;It was because of him that we didn&rsquo;t get caught,&rdquo; he stated matter-of-factly.</p> <p> &ldquo;I wish you a safe journey. May God be with you and guide you always. I suppose I&rsquo;d better return before I change my mind and escape with you,&rdquo; Mr Lema said with a smile.</p> <p> Abba shook his hand in gratitude. &ldquo;I will never forget your help, Lema. You are a dear friend.&rdquo;</p> <p> &ldquo;You know there is nothing I wouldn&rsquo;t do for you, and this is the least I can do considering all that you have done for me and the people of Assayita,&rdquo; Lema replied. &ldquo;But as I said, I&rsquo;d better leave now.&rdquo;</p> <p> Mr Lema began walking back with Ali.</p> <p> &ldquo;When will we have our car back?&rdquo; Yared asked.</p> <p> &ldquo;We won&rsquo;t be travelling by car anymore. Don&rsquo;t worry, I have something better,&rdquo; my father replied.</p> <p> Confused and angry, Yared asked, &ldquo;What?&rdquo;</p> <p> &ldquo;For now, on foot, but that won&rsquo;t be for long,&rdquo; Abba explained calmly.</p> <p> The thought of walking on foot seemed unbearable. What was this secret means of transportation Abba had in mind? I wished it were a helicopter so the pain of losing our country would not drag on for days.</p> <p> &ldquo;Yes, on foot. We have no choice. You all have to be strong. If everything works out according to plan, we should be in Djibouti in three days.&rdquo; Abba rolled his sleeves up. &ldquo;We cannot wait for Ali here, we are too close to the checkpoint.&rdquo;</p> <p> The stink of the dead camel was still with us. Asrat&rsquo;s face was calm, without a trace of fear or anxiety. Yared was still frowning. If things hadn&rsquo;t happened so fast, he probably would have chosen to stay in Ethiopia to continue the life he knew.</p> <p> Asrat looked at me kindly. &ldquo;Don&rsquo;t worry, I will help you all the way. Three days is not all that long, you&rsquo;ll see.&rdquo;</p> <p> I took in a deep breath of the wretched air. My thoughts raced out of control, fearing the unknown. If we had finished five litres of water in just a few hours, how much more water would we need for the entire journey? If we stumbled onto soldiers, would they let us go? Looking down, next to my shoes, I saw a sharp white bone jutting out from the sand. I bent over and reached for it.</p> <p> I thought of my mother, Tetye. How would she learn of our escape? She would be devastated.</p> <p> I thought of our dog Metew. My father had got her in Kaffa when I was six, to keep all of us, especially my mother, company. When she was a puppy, my brothers and I used to hide from her in the cornfield and we loved it when she came looking for us. We would go further and further into the field to see if she was still able to sniff us out. But she always did. Our arms would be cut by the sharp edges of the corn leaves, but the pleasure of being found by Metew was worth it. She would jump all over us and we would rub her fur, telling her what a good dog she was to have found us in the deepest part of the field.</p> <p> We found out that Meskerem had arranged for her sister, Mimi, to look after the house while we were &ldquo;on vacation.&rdquo; Would she take care of Metew?</p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p> &copy; 2017 Bethlehem Terrefe Gebreyohannes<br /> See the website of&nbsp;<a href="http://Mawenzie House">Mawenzi House&nbsp;</a>for more information on her book&nbsp;<a href="http://Mawenzie House">Fire Walkers</a>, which was published in November 2016.</p> <p> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/Beth_photo.png" style="width: 200px; height: 295px;" /><br /> <span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family: arial, helvetica, sans-serif;">Photo credit: Asrat Gebreyohannes</span></span></p> <p> Beth Gebreyohannes was born in Addis Ababa, a direct descendent of Emperor S Menelik II and Haile Selassie. After her family&rsquo;s escape and arrival in Canada in 1981, they settled first in Lethbridge, Alberta, where she finished high school. She lives in Toronto with her family.</p> Thu, 13 Jul 2017 10:26:17 -0400Remembering Derek Walcott, by Ingrid Bejerman<p> I couldn&rsquo;t imagine a more special invitation. From the moment they founded the Julio Cort&aacute;zar Chair of Latin American Affairs at the University of Guadalajara, Mexico, in December 1993, Gabriel Garc&iacute;a M&aacute;rquez and Carlos Fuentes had carefully prepared a list of the most brilliant minds on the planet &mdash; novelists, heads of state, musicians, scholars, poets &mdash; to teach a brief course and deliver a magisterial lecture. For each potential chairholder, Fuentes and Gabo drew up a very special, very personal letter, which they signed together.&nbsp; And it was my job, as the director of that Chair, to make sure it reached the mind in question.</p> <p> Derek Walcott topped the list of guests for the year 2000. In mid-August of 1999, I dialled the top-secret number of his home in Greenwich Village to send him his letter, by fax. His wife, Sigrid Nama, a beautiful German goddess whose initial charm is her warm and witty voice, answered the phone instead. I told her this was an invitation to stay at the Casa Cort&aacute;zar in Mexico for a week, surrounded by wonderful people and the best food in the world. And that of course, although this was very important and highly intellectual, I was also looking forward to taking her shopping: jewelry, handicrafts.&nbsp; Sigrid accepted immediately, and we scheduled their trip to Guadalajara right then and there: March 7, 2000. It was all quite convenient, as they&rsquo;d be coming from the University of Texas in Houston, where Walcott was a visiting professor that term.</p> <p> Then Sigrid passed the phone to her husband. He answered, giggling, &quot;what kind of trouble are you getting me into?&rdquo; I told him that Sigrid and I had already arranged everything, and that all he had to do was give me the topic of his lecture, which had to be unique and prepared in the spirit of Cort&aacute;zar:&nbsp; &ldquo;He liberated us as he liberated himself,&rdquo; I read the description by Fuentes, in my improvised English version, &ldquo;with a new language, airy, capable of all adventures: Hopscotch is one of the great manifestos of Latin American modernity. In it we see all our greatness and all our miseries, our deficiencies and our opportunities, through a free, unfinished verbal construction which never ceases to call on its readers in order to stay alive and endless.&rdquo;</p> <p> I heard a sigh at the other end of the line. &ldquo;Very simple,&rdquo; Walcott told me. &ldquo;I will talk about the Hispanic presence in contemporary English poetry.&rdquo;</p> <p> During the months between that conversation and their trip to Mexico, we spoke often. Neither Derek nor Sigrid had email, and at that time there was no Skype or WhatsApp.&nbsp; Long-distance calls between Guadalajara and Castries, the capital of Saint Lucia, where Walcott was born and where they spent most of their time, were prohibitively expensive. But we gave ourselves the luxury of talking for a little bit, between consultations about his lecture, the scheduling of interviews with the press, putting together their social calendar.</p> <p> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/Walcott%202.jpg" style="width: 250px; height: 166px;" /><br /> <span style="font-size:10px;">Derek Walcott in Guadalajara, with Ingrid Bejerman (left)</span></p> <p> I had also lived in the Caribbean &mdash; in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia &mdash; and I was in love with the narrative of that region, the idiosyncrasies, novel to me, but also strangely familiar.&nbsp; I told Derek that for Gabo, the Caribbean was both a real and an imagined region, which &ldquo;began&rdquo; in Salvador da Bahia in my country, Brazil, and &ldquo;ended&rdquo; in New Orleans, Louisiana. He loved that idea, which inspired the first paragraph of the lecture that he would deliver in Guadalajara:</p> <p> &quot;I have no Spanish, which is unremarkable anywhere else, but which, in a Caribbean context, as an islander, is unforgivable, first because of the proximity of so many large Spanish-speaking countries in the arc of the Caribbean ocean, too big to be called a sea, and because of the three-act history of the New World, the drama of exploration, conquest and independence that all our nations, some, like mine, the size of rocks, have shared.&nbsp; What I have, residually, about the Spanish language is that instinct of parody, of melodrama, exaggeration and flourish which my own language instilled in me, or rather, tried to, even if it was against the temperament of my island, Saint Lucia. The generic parody of the Englishman is of a cold-blooded passionless person, monadic in expression, of a gentleman who doesn&rsquo;t wave his arms around to make a point.&nbsp; This judgment may be as true of the Spanish, i.e. Latin poetry and prose as it is in its caricature of politics, its clich&eacute;s of blood-letting, of duende, of revolution and gesture.&rdquo;</p> <p> I sent that passage to Gabo.&nbsp; Gabo told me that they thought the same &mdash; but that Walcott had said it much better.</p> <p> Not long afterward, I received the full lecture &mdash; half typed on a typewriter, half written by hand &mdash; and my staff and I were filled with excitement and joy, with the date of his arrival fast approaching.&nbsp; But on Tuesday, March 6, Sigrid called me at the office.</p> <p> &ldquo;Roderick, Derek&rsquo;s twin brother, has just died,&quot; she told me.</p> <p> I found myself speechless, but I managed to speak through the lump in my throat.&nbsp; &ldquo;We will do whatever you want,&rdquo; I told her.&nbsp; I do not remember how the conversation went on, but in the end they did decide to come to Guadalajara after all, that it would be better for them, good for all of us.</p> <p> Seven unforgettable days followed.&nbsp; Derek, like Gabo, loved being surrounded by youth.&nbsp; Derek also spoke of Fuentes, and told me a very funny story.&nbsp; Once when they met in the lobby of a Miami hotel where they were both attending a literary event, Walcott bowed down to Fuentes as a joke.&nbsp; And Fuentes, in reverence for the Nobel Prize recipient for Literature, threw himself to the ground.&nbsp; There was the Cort&aacute;zarian spirit, the &ldquo;dialogue of humours&rdquo; which Fuentes spoke of: laughing, the Caribbean poet referred to his Mexican host as a great writer with a great sense of humour.</p> <p> <img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/Walcott%203.jpg" style="width: 317px; height: 224px;" /><br /> <span style="font-size:10px;">Ingrid Bejerman and Derek Walcott, Guadalajara</span></p> <p> We stayed in touch.&nbsp; Years later, in 2006, Sigrid and Derek came to Blue Metropolis, the international literary festival here in Montreal, where I work in programming. It was as if not a day had passed. Derek kept asking me about Canada, about Quebec: what was special, unique. I tried to tell him, but to each example I offered, Derek said no, that everything I mentioned was not really from here. It all came from somewhere else.</p> <p> But wasn&rsquo;t that also the case with Spanish?</p> <p> &ldquo;Vowels and mustaches are the clich&eacute; of the Spanish personality, those, and subliminally, an audible guitar in the metre of Spanish poetry, whether it is elegiac or furious, elegiac in the reflections of Machado and Vallejo, and both in the temperamental black yet sunlit gypsy rhythm of Lorca.&rdquo;</p> <p> It was his, too, that sunlit gypsy rhythm.&nbsp; While he may have insisted that he had no Spanish, I believe that the whole Hispanic universe was contained within him.</p> <div> <span style="font-size:14px;">Copyright &copy; 2017, Ingrid Bejerman</span></div> <div> &nbsp;</div> <div> <span style="font-size:14px;"><img alt="" src="/app/webroot/uploads/images/Bejerman-Ingrid-XY1A4560-m.jpg" style="width: 150px; height: 225px;" /><br /> <span style="font-size:10px;">Photo: Daniel Mordzinski</span></span></div> <div> &nbsp;</div> <div> <table cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0"> <tbody> <tr> <td> <p> Ingrid Bejerman is Programming Associate for Spanish and Portuguese at Blue Metropolis, the Montreal International Literary Festival. She teaches courses in journalism theory at Concordia University, and coordinates the Canada in the Americas initiative at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.</p> </td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> <div> &nbsp;</div> <div> &nbsp;</div> Sun, 09 Apr 2017 12:38:50 -0400