The Chumps of Choice

A Congenial Spot for the Discussion of Against the Day, by Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Cornell '59, and Any Other Damned Thing That Comes Into Our Heads. Warning: Grad Students and Willie-Wavers will be mocked.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Unquiet, Malevolent Dead

The Death Pit, Ludlow, Colorado 1914

In this chapter, three monumental things occur. We finally embark on page 1,000 of our tale, The Villain Scarsdale Vibe is murdered, and the culmination of the political saga of Colorado miners reaches its historical apex in the Ludlow Massacre during the Colorado Coal Field War of 1913-14. In case you didn't follow the link in DJ's synopsis last week, please click here to read a short history of the war which is completely fascinating (and it's where all these photos came from). It also confirms that Pynchon is being historically accurate in his background for this week's tales of love and murder.

The section begins on page 1,000 at a hot-springs resort casino "up near the Continental Divide" where Vibe is addressing the greatest acronym since T.W.I.T., the Las Animas-Huerfano Delegation of the Industrial Defense Alliance (L.A.H.D.I.D.A.). Midway through the page, he begins a long soliloquy, "So of course we use them," that is positively operatic. Both Iago in Shakespeare's "Othello" and Claggart in Melville's "Billy Budd" were representatives of ultimate evil whose motivations were never explained by their creators, but in the opera versions by Verdi and Britten respectively, they both get a "Credo" aria to explain their point of view and Pynchon has decided to do the same thing. Like those characters, Vibe's own imminent doom is spelled out mid-aria, in this case, with the aside "He might usefully have taken a look at Foley, attentive back in the shadows. But Scarsdale did not seek out the eyes of his old faithful sidekick. He seldom did anymore." (1001:23)

The next day in his private train The Juggernaut on his way to the "coal war," Vibe encounters a spirit, whose presence usually terrifies him, but this time he's only curious, and after an odd exchange with the spirit, Vibe announces to Foley that he looks forward "to being one of the malevolent dead" (1002:16), which Foley understands from his Civil War experience to be "ghosts...filled with resentments, drifting, or stationed by cemetery gates and abandoned farmhouses where half-mad survivors wuld be mostly likely to see them...not the companionship he would have chosen."

The scene shifts to Frank and Ewball making their way to the striking mining town of Trinidad, where Ewball makes the observation that some of the Balkan-originated strikers must be ghosts (1003:12), "the unquiet dead, geography ain't the point, it's all unfinished business, it's wherever there's accounts to be balanced..." which prompts Frank to say, "Ewball, that is some bughouse talk." When the two get into Trinidad, they immediately notice Foley in front of the Columbian Hotel where Vibe is staying, and make a plan of attack, which includes the sly observation (1004:5), "They say Foley's a born-again Christer, so he can act as bad as he wants because Jesus is coming and nothin a human can do so bad Jesus won't forgive it." The irony of that remark is underlined when Frank and Ewball make a pathetic attempt to assassinate Vibe in the main street. Instead of following Scarsdale's imperious tone of command to shoot the anarchists, Foley instead lines up his Luger "with his employer's heart, and chambered the first round. Scarsdale Vibe peered back, as if only curious. 'Lord, Foley...' 'Jesus is Lord,' cried Foley, and pulled the trigger, proceeeding to empty all eight rounds..."

The Death Special

The narrative turns to Stray, who had been in Trinidad but decided to help out the tent colony in Ludlow filled with striking miner families. While she's dodging random machine gun fire from the militia, her son Jesse shows up after having hitched a ride on a train, which both dismays and warms her. Searchlights on towers are set up by the mining company and "began sweeping the tents all night long" which leads to the suggestion, "The Colorado militia were in fact giving light a bad name...In the tents, darkness in that awful winter was sought like warmth or quiet. It came for many to seem like a form of compassion."(1008:25) There's a welcome return of the Reverend Moss Gatlin, giving yet another great Anarchist sermon (1009:15), and we follow Jesse in his wanderings through the camp and among the militia, being young enough to still get away with it though it comes with the realization that "pretending to have a friendly chat with potential targets of their Death Special was a level of evil neither boy had quite suspected in adults till now." (1010:10)

Later, at the 19 Luglio Saloon, "named for the date back in 1900 when an Anarchist named Bresci assassinated King Umberto of Italy," Frank runs into Stray, who is looking like Michelangelo's Pieta while nursing a striker. After he brings up Ewball, she tells him, "Buy me one of whatever that is in your fist and I'll tell you the whole sordid tale." From here, we go through a brilliantly written scene (page 1012) where Stray FINALLY, after being with Reef, bad boy motorcyclists, Ewball, and god knows who else, realizes who Frank is and how he loves her. She invites him to the tent city, he tells her it's about ready to be razed by the militia, and her response is "Guess you better visit us soon, then."

Karl Linderfeldt, Mercenary

During Frank's visit, he catches sight of a real historical character, a truly malevolent proto-Blackwater mercenary named Karl Linderfeldt, who guided the Ludlow Massacre and who also murdered people for hire during the Mexican Revolution. Jesse arrives breathlessly from some adventure involving bullets, uncle and nephew bond over weaponry, and after realizing that "not much Frank could teach him," he starts to talk to Stray, "I wanted to say," Frank said. "Oh you been sayin it, don't worry." He gave her a closer look, just to make sure of her face. "Fine time to be getting around to this." (1014:15) This may be the single most romantic exchange in the 1,000+ novel, with its hundreds of pages filled with time and Frank's yearning for Estrella from the moment he met her.

Frank immediately comes up with an escape plan, the militia attacks, and we're in a scene of confusion and slaughter. After being caught by a militiaman named Brice, Jesse has a moment of grace and is allowed to escape, and the three of them "take shelter with hundreds of the wide arroyo north of town, waiting for some letup in the shooting to get someplace safe. After a hallucinatory moment with Webb's dead hand on his shoulder, Frank wakes up and sees the awful slaughter. And here we come to one of the novel's serious morals (1016:14): "But it happened, each casualty, one by one, in light that history would be blind to. The only accounts would be the militia's." One proof of Pynchon's charge is that I was once again completely ignorant of this fairly essential history until reading this novel.

Ludlow Family

There's a gorgeously romantic section where Frank sends Estrella and Jesse off back home while he joins up with the strikers, "dead on their feet, not half a dozen words of English among them." After it's settled, Frank and Estrella face off. "Their embrace might not have been so close or desperate, but no kiss he could remember had ever been quite this honest, nor this weighted with sorrow." The last line invokes Orpheus and Eurydice "not looking back" once again, just as Yashmeen and Reef didn't look back at Cyprian.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What I Tell You Three Times Is True

pp 976-999

What we've got this week are two chapters, both returning us to the Southwest, and inaugurating another long string of unlikely reunions. For such a vast sprawl of geographic locations, all the same people sure keep running into each other -- and am I the only one at this point who's pretty well lost track of who's shagged who?

In the short chapter on pp 976-981, we pick up with Ewball and Stray, as he brings her home to meet his parents. His father is, to put it lightly, piqued that Ewb Jr's been using extremely rare stamps for potsage on his letters home. It's nice to see someone taking philately so seriously. The mêlée is interrupted by none other than Mayva Traverse, who now works for the Ousts. Mayva and Stray catch up, and talk about Reef, Jesse, and Frank. (No mention of Jesse's new half-sister? Didn't the postcard Reef sent home to Mayva [p. 968] ever arrive? Or did Reef neglect to mention it?)

This chapter reads like something of an intermezzo, tying a number of Traverse story lines together, especially since the next chapter, pp 982-999, returns to Frank, still in Mexico, who we last saw here. He heads for Jiménez, famous for meteorites. He carries one around that speaks when he touches it. "What are you doing here?" it asks. Webb? Is that you?

máchina loca?

Frank modifies a train engine, transforming it into a moving bomb, something the locals call a "máchina loca" -- an activity worthy of the Kieselguhr Kid. He then drifts away south to the Capital and, finding himself in an "out-of-the-way" restaurant, runs into none other than Günther von Quassel, who we haven't seen since, oh, the 630s. They discuss Frank lending Günther a hand fixing all of his newfangled machines he's using at the coffee plantation. But Günther's got problems with revolutionaries and re-revolutionaries between the Capital and Chiapas.

So he accompanies Günther to a meeting with someone who will help get them through the troubled regions and back to the coffee plantation. It takes place at the new "Hotel Tezcatlipoca" in a suite overlooking Chapultepec Park, and a new statue of an angel representing winged victory. Frank looks through a telescope trained on its face, and recognizes it. The statue speaks to him.

The plantation is on the extreme south Pacific coast, almost in Guatamala. He meets there a girl with the intense name of "Melpómene" -- her namesake, the muse of tragedy. She tells him of the fireflies in the trees. She shows him one, named Pancho, who blinks on command. Frank realizes this is his soul. Comparisons to the eucharist and Special Relativity are mentioned, as well as instant telepathy.

Watching the tree full of fireflies, Frank falls into a trance and has a vision that is deeply reminiscent of several other episodes in the book, including Jeshimon and the disaster visited up on the nameless city. Seems this vision, and the news Melpómene has for him about the most recent coup, leads Frank to decide finally to quit Mexico.

He heads back to Denver, and, in rapid succession, bumps into Willis Turnstone, Wren Prevenence, and Ewball. He signs on to help them out in the labor struggles at the nearby mines.


Can I just say that I certainly hope Our Mexican Correspondent Sr René López Villamar chimes in at any time? (Will I in the meantime suggest that people consult the Pynchonwiki (which has grown increasingly valuable over the course of this first post-ATD year has progressed) for what has proven to be a lot of useful research points?)

Why did Stray and Ewball run off together in the first place, anyway? Does their parting have more to do with the pair's amicability -- or the subtle amnesia that seems to afflict all too many characters in this book? And does it seem strange that Stray believes, or ever believed, that anarchism and "greater invisibility" might be in any way related -- indeed, does this evoke the Chums' increasingly shadowy and indistinct appearances or am I just whistling dixie?

Given that we as readers have spent considerably more time with her sons than she has, can we agree with Mayva's characterization that Frank is "the patient one in the family"? Is there more than a little bit of that oldtimey Buddhist Karma in what Stray sez at 980:24-6?

Isn't it the strangest sort of insight into Reef's character to think that he, too, could perhaps be described as "a child of the storm," thrilled and hyped up by the St. Elmo's Fire on the stovepipe, and hearing the dynamite blasts, his frown saying "where's the lightning, where's the storm" (981:11-16)?

Did anyone perk up at the mention of both of meteorite fragments and Iceland Spar, especially considering that Frank believes that it was somewhere nearby that he had that other encounter with the spar (391:30-32) which "led him to Sloat Fresno" (983:40)? Isn't that long paragraph starting at the bottom of 984 gorgeous? And funny how it's a bug that brings him "back to the day," isn't it?

When Frank meets up again with Günther, what could Günther mean when he says he hopes "to slip through a loophole in the laws of chance" (987:4)? Since when did chance follow any law? And if it actually does, the Chums of Chance are arbiters or at least monitors of such laws, of course, aren't they? Come to think of it, isn't there an implicit paradox in the idea that there would be a heirarchical organization in the service of Chance? Isn't Chance by definition supposed to be, well, random? Or is this like the common misconception that Anarchy is analogous with anything-goes lawlessness?... (Or, because the word "chance" isn't capitalized when Günther says it, should we assume that he's just talking about "chance" rather than "Chance"?)

Could Ibargüengoitia, "the Repairman," really be the "Genevan contact" that Slothrop meets with (GR 384)? And are these appearances of the name an homage to this Mexican satirist?

Whose face do you suppose Frank recognizes in the statue?

I wasn't the only one waiting for the third brother to pass under a third arch ever since Reef went under the Halkata back on page 955, was I? How is Frank's passage through the ceremonial arch on page 993 different from the other two arches? Is it, for example, significant that "Frank," rather than Frank, passes thru it? And why do you suppose it grows more substantial and "takes on a ghostly light" (993:30) once he passes under it? I mean, it can't be an accident that "Frank" passed under an arch too, can it? What do you suppose it means, assuming it means anything at all? And should we now be waiting for Lake to pass through one as well? (Whatever happened to her, anyway? How long has it been since we saw her sorry fundament, or her jittery little shit of a husband?) If Kit's passage was one of transformation (771:16) and release (771:20), and Reef's was one of perpetual love (955:29-30), what is Frank's? Life and death (993:29)? What does that mean? And what might we expect Lake's passage to be, if it ever happens? Did she in fact already pass under an arch of some kind in the deep past of the book, and I just missed it? Or, in fairytales inviolving three sons, does a daughter even count? Should we find it important that both Reef's and Frank's arches are encountered amid swarms of insects (Reef: butterflies; Frank: fireflies), while Kit and Frank are near or on trains when they dream of theirs? Or that Reef's and Kit's were natural rock formations, while Frank's was built by humans?

Would I be lying if I said I hadn't been suffering a bit from "Against the Day" Fatigue lately? Who wouldn't be at this point, as we close in on the end of the first "millennium" and the beginning of the last "century" of the book? Would anyone be surprised to learn that I'm getting a little misty-eyed at the thought that this is my last go-round as moderator? Why can't I stop phrasing sentences in the form of a question, like a gameshow from which I am trying to awake? (And am I the only one who's wondering what snorting coffee powder would be like, or am I sharing a little too much here?)

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Unbearable Lightness of Being -or- Guns 'N Roses

AtD pp. 950-975


Yashmeen Halfcourt, Reef Traverse, Cyprian Latewood and Baby Ljubica lead an idyllic existence in the Rose Valley. After the harvest is in, Gabrovo Slim takes Cyp and Reef on a ramble to see a tower surmounted by a black iron toroidal antenna- in fact another Tesla station. In the radio shack, instead of transmitting power or Q-Rays, the Sparks are listening intently to the received transmissions of the dead. A pack of motorcyclists pulls up and turns out to be Derrick Theign's elite "shadowing" unit, R.U.S.H. led by Mihály Vámos. He and Cyps compare notes and the bikers take Cyp and Reef out to the Interdikt (952). Nobody seems to own the place and it seems to defend itself, but the bikers know the way in, following a weaving cartesian path. Inside they find canisters of phosgene , but instead of poison gas, it is to be used as a light-weapon "a great cascade of blindness and terror ripping straight across the heart of the Balkan peninsula. Like nothing that has ever happened." (953:25). Backshadows of the Vormance Monster and foreshadows of WWI. Oddly, there is no light source. Vámos takes leave without looking back (more on this later).

Time for Cyp, Reef and Yash to move on. They head east toward the Black Sea and Varna, detour to an arched rock formation called Halkata (The Ring). Yashmeen and Reef walk through together ("you will both be in love forever" according to local tradition) and Cyps follows alone ("turn into the opposite sex" 955:33). They reach, to the accompaniment of birdsong and choral music, a remote mountain monastery of a sect descended from the Bogomils, devoted to silence, contemplation and a Manichean/Buddhistic emphasis on duality, light:dark, the ratio and similarity of the part to the whole. They were of course persecuted as heretical until the absorption of the main branch into the Roman church in 1650. Cyprian decides this is just his cup of tea and stays on as a postulant nun, as Dwight Prance did back in Tuva (787). Cyprian has had an epiphany and is permitted to ask the hegumen one question: "What is it that is born of light?" (959:37) and Father Ponko answers with a reference to the hesychasts' (their fourteenth century rival sect) tradition of the light of the Transfiguration of Christ and its equivalence to the inner light perceived emanating from one's middle in meditation (omphalopsychoi). Ponko contrasts this with his sect's perception of light approached through darkness, as the Moon is to the Sun. And asks his own koanic question: "When something is born of light, what does that enable us to see?" (960:14). They part, unlike Orpheus and Eurydice and Mr. and Mrs. Lot, without looking back.

Yash, Ljubica and Reef head off West toward the Adriatic as the First Balkan War breaks out, pegging the time as October, 1912. Skirting the fighting, Reef picks up a Madsen gun and bouquets of wildflowers for Yashmeen and Ljubica. They pause to send postcards with weird multi-alphabet stamps to Yz-les-Bains, Chunxton Crescent, Gabrovo Slim and Zhivka, Frank and Mayva in the U.S.A., Kit Traverse and Auberon Halfcourt, Hotel Tarim, Kashgar, Chinese Turkestan (968:17) and enter Albania, which everyone had warned them to avoid. After a scrape with some local highwaymen, Reef is rescued by Ramiz, his buddy from the Swiss tunnel. Next thing you know they are invited home and playing clarinets in harmony and drinking rakia. Through more idyllic scenery and family bonding, they make their way to the coast and catch a lift on a fishing boat to Corfu.

Here walks into a cafe where Yash and Ljubica are sitting none other than Auberon Halfcourt (973:11). He got their postcard from page 968. He has deserted his post, made a fortune in jade (Yashmeen's namesake mineral) and having encountered Kit Traverse tending bar in the Deux Continents in Constantinople, Auberon hooks up with Umeki Tsurigane, of Q-Weapon fame (974:21). They go and find Reef in a taverna, teaching the locals Leadville Fan-Tan and all have a jolly meal of "tsingarelli and polenta and yaprakia and a chicken stoufado
with fennel and quince and pancetta" from an ancient Venetian recipe with lashings of Mavrodaphne (975:17) and all wind up doing the karsilamás. Auberon explains to Yashmeen "For me Shambhala, you see, turned out to be not a goal but an absence. Not the discovery of a place but the act of leaving the futureless place where I was. And in the process I arrived at Constantinople." "And your world-line crossed that of Miss Tsurigane. And so." "And so." (975:29).

Notes & Commentary:

p. 950: tobacco patches- Eastern Rumelia (Thrace) is the home of yenidje tobacco and Balkan Sobranie cigarettes. Smokes, as typical in wartime, are mentioned as items of trade and baksheesh.

p. 953: Phosgene may be synthesized by combining carbon monoxide and chlorine catalyzed by sunlight, hence the name "born of light." Aside from all the other light-themery in the work, there is Lucifer, bearer of light in Manichean opposition to Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine of the Nicean credo. A light-weapon strikes me as fanciful and impractical when we can contemplate orbiting thermonuclear-
pumped X-ray lasers.

p. 956: The Bogomils drew on local Pythagorean and Orphic sources. That they were Early Protestants in the opinion of L.P. Brockett in 1879 seems to me to be biased and a bit of a stretch. So the dualistic tradition, music of the spheres, the tetractys tattooed on the abbot's head, interdiction of beans in the diet and not looking back on parting. Don't think twice, it's all right (B. Dylan). Additionally, the solution to the Pythagorean triangle of Reef, Cyp and Yash. In Ljubica, Fr. Ponko recognizes from a previous metempsychosis the mooned
planet.... the planetary electron. Self-similarity (fractals) and karmic cycles (961:11) and for Joyceans out there, "Who's he when he's at home?"

p. 969: Sheltering in a farm outbuilding, Ljubica seems to converse with a macedonian šarplaninec sheepdog. Turns out to be a buddy of Pugnax and the Chums are just out of sight, directing them away from danger and keeping an eye on things. At this stage of the book, not at all surprising, but the way this information is revealed sticks out like a sore thumb. "It would be many years before he learned that this dog's name was Ksenija..." (969:34) - instead of linear narrative, the Author steps into the spotlight as the omniscient eye, very out of character and a self-spoiler to let us know the future life of Reef. Perhaps TRP saw that the book was already pushing page 1000 and didn't have the heart to write what is a minor episode into context. Perhaps he (and all of us) are a bit tired of the Chums.

H. Rumbold, Master Barber

Monday, October 08, 2007

Strategic Balkan Musicology and Anarchist Golf

PAGES 930-950

Having left our peyote glimpse into the ancient meso-american (anarchist?) village of Casas Grandes we fly now on the winds of prose to Frank's brother Reef, who with Yashmeeen and Cyprian has stumbled upon an anarchist spa called Yz-les Bains . The spa village is in the foothills of the Pyrenees with a secret path into Spain. There is a real Aix-le Bains hot springs resort town in western France, but Pynchon has given the reader a preWW1 anarchist counterforce in these less determinate y, z coordinates, where lefties are gathered for a little R&R, strategic Balkan musicology and a few games of anarchist golf.

Ratty McHugh is there, inspired by Cyprian's disposal of Theign, along with many others, to leave Whitehall . On his way out he kissed his secretary, Sophrosyne(moral sanity)Hawkes, who has joined him along with his wife in a merry menage, oppositely gender weighted to Reef, Yash and Cyp. That gender balance is significant as he introduces the newcomers to the community and they discuss among other things the all-male structures like T.W.I.T. that "blighted the hopes of anarchism for years".

As Pynchon introduces us along with Ratty, Reef and Cyprian to the comic delights of anarchist golf I would like to suggest that Yz-le-Bains is a probable stand-in for Esalen , the Big Sur birthplace and resort of new age and counter culture ideas, practices and voices like Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, Abraham Maslow, Fritz Perls, Gregory Bateson, Hunter Thompson and Joan Baez . There are many parallels, the founding in sexual openness and role reversal, the western-edge geography, the eclectic spirituality and theorizing, but I think the clincher is The importance of the psychic dimensions of golf to Esalen founder Michael Murphy, author of Golf in the Kingdom . Also, in response to Reef's eager suggestion of the possible use of explosives, the anarchists say they are following a path of" co-evolution"as an alternative form of resistance to anarchist bombs. This kind of use of the word co-evolution is definitely from the west coast 60s ala Stewart Brand, Paul Erlich, Esalen.

While golfing , Ratty tells them about a map , "purportedly the Belgian Congo" but really thought to be the Balkan Peninsula in Code. Later we are introduced to Coombs De Bottle with whom they and the ladies examine and discuss the map in detail, which points toward the coming European War, along with details like a poison gas minefield. Everyones abilities and experience contributes to a cumulative understanding.

Yashmeen asks the question "why not let them have their war?"implicit in her question that war would be self destructive of the corrupt monarchies and powers. Others argue persuasively that war reinforces the worst aspects of nation states and industrial corporations and would destroy the growing discontent with nationalism and the interest in alternatives. They consider unpromising ways to disarm the phosgene, and Yashmeen , who seems to be internalizing the horror of the situation along with a committment to act, says "this is terrible". Cyprian perceives her plans to accompany a mission and he and she have a gentle disagreement about the risks of giving birth in such circumstances. Cyprian, struggling with an inner vow not to return to the Balkans, reluctantly asks the group "How should we go in?", perhaps ready to "relax into his fate".

Here we are introduced to Professor Sleepcoat, an ethnic musicologist, who is concerned about the drastic absence in Balkan recordings of music in the Lydian mode ( Sleepcoat uses example of F to F on white keys with a b natural instead of b-flat.) . He also mentions rumors of a neo-pythagorean cult with particular aversion to the Lydian. This is the 2nd reference to Pythagoras(T.W.I.T. first) and also introduces the myth of Orpheus who used the Phrygian mode(E to E on white keys) favored by the pythagoreans.

So they form a plan to explore the Balkans as song collectors - a practice already historically underway(Bartok, Vaughn Williams) as Euro folk cultures were already stressed and threatened. This shift from geopolitics to song collecting at first struck me as comical but I think it is really pretty serious, carrying the thoughts deep into the question of what makes life precious, what is worth preserving . There is an article in newest Harpers about the Congo; the author found that most Congolese have no historical memory of the Belgian colonial rule, the same loss of history taking place in the US, whole languages disappearing rapidly.

At this point Reef is associated with the anarchist enterprise through "class hostility", Cyprian is without political faith, but Yashmeen feels at Yz -les- Bains a re-awakening of transcendent hope.
"This is our own age of exploration" she declared "into that unmapped country waiting beyond the frontiers and seas of Time. We make our journeys out there in the low light of the future, and return to the bourgeois day and its mass delusion of safety, to report on what we've seen."
The sexual limits among Yash ,Cyp and Reef continue to fall and Reef muses with genuine amazement how he feels no jealousy and has become very fond and respectful of Cyprian.

They join Sleepcoat(the name reminds of Josephs dream coat of many colors; his concern for the losses of traditional song as though colors are disappearing from the dreams of the culture) and Sleepcoats's helpers in Beograd( Belgrade) and make their first stop for research in Sofia.
One night they hear 2 lovers sing a duet across a valley, and it is

as if the division between the singer were more than the width of the valley, something to be crossed only through an undertaking as metaphysical as song, as if Orheus might once have sung it to Eurydice in Hell.
Later they share thoughts on Orpheus's failed rescue.

R ,Y and C start to look for the Interdikt line(phosgene gas or?), people shut down and say you don't find them they find you. They go to a dance and C runs into Gabrovo Slim who invites them to his house when Yash has the baby. He tells Cyp that what he thinks are Germans have been burying black cable and bringing dynamos and military equipment to the area. Powerful local Mafia types tried to steal some and disappeared without inquiry. He offers to show them what he can.

They part from the discouraged Sleepcoat and go to Slim's rose farm, where his wife does hybrid experiments. Here we have one of the best one sentence summaries of Children ever.
The farmhouse was teeming with children, though when Cyprian actually counted, there were never more than two.

Zhivka talks with her roses and Cyprian hears them talk back ; he shares with Yash that the flowers foretell a girl. Cyp feels himself estranged from locals and disinterested in erotic adventures.
The baby was born during the rose harvest, in the early morning .....into a fragrance untampered with the heat of the sun. From the very first moment her eyes were enormously given to all the world around her. .....named the baby Ljubica ( Serbo-Croatian for violet, perhaps a reference to Yugoslavian composer Ljubica Maric b. 1909)..
(Cyprian's ) nipples were all at once peculiarly sensitive, and he found himself almost desperate with an unexpected flow of feeling, a desire for her to feed at his breast..... "I knew her once-previously- perhaps in that other life it was she who took care of me- and now here is the balance being restored-"
"Oh , you're overthinking it all ," Yashmeen said, " as usual."

In Colin Turnbull's The Forest People there is a lovely passage where he describes a pygmy ritual in which the father of a newborn holds the baby to his breast to show that he too is to nurture the child tenderly. This last passage, which concludes this section , reminded me of that . There is a lot of funny stuff in this section and there is an interesting combination of lust , friendship, growing intellectual and personal respect, all pushing toward the deep need for an integration of the male and female, the aggressive and passive, the Phrygian and the Lydian, the upper and lower, the past and the future.

You may want to be careful about trying this at home and unsupervised, but I fooled around improvising in the Lydian Mode on my flute. It didn't seem that discordant, more moody and unresolved. I rather liked it. Sorry if the precis is a bit lengthy. Trying to put out some bait for further discussion and possible digression.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Frank & Wren's Love Nest

     [pp. 919-930]
Well, I suppose some Chumps may be reluctant to leave the certain fragrance of the previous section, but it's time to switch stories again. But, hey, you never know ... things could get a little spicy in this section, too.
This time, it's back to Chihuahua, Mexico, to pick up with Frank, who's been shot fighting in the Mexican Revolution. A shaman visits him in the makeshift infirmary to let him know Estrella (Stray) is in town looking for him. She's with the "impossibly good-looking Mexican dude," Rodrigo (himself a look-alike -- double -- for "some federal big shot"). Stray tells Frank she's somewhat of a diplomat, gives him some smokes, and leaves as he drifts off.
She returns the following day, this time with Ewball Oust (for whom she'd literally traded Rodrigo). He'd like Frank to help procure some decent mobile arms, such as the Krupp mountain gun (interesting link about that, courtesy of the ATD Wiki). I particularly liked Ewball's observation on 922:
... when all the real nihilists are working for the owners, 'cause it's them that don't believe in shit, our dead are nothin but dead, just one more Bloody Shirt to wave at us, keep us doin what they want, but our dead never stopped belongin to us, they haunt us every day, don't you see, and we got to stay true, they wouldn't forgive us if we wandered off of the trail.
In yet another "and who should walk in but"-type scenario, we see Wren Provenance once again. (Visit Axiomatic's summary  from -- [*gasp!*] -- last February for a, well, summary of their original meeting.) Seems she's been doing some local archaeology, etc. Ewball asks Frank's permission, more or less, to put the moves on Stray. Wren has her fun with the boys, including a lively exchange of "doll-tits" and "puppet-pecker" (see the wiki) with Ewball.
Brief account of the next few pages:  Frank then takes a peyote trip (written, appropriately, in a long stream-of-consciousness narrative), Stray runs off with Ewball, and in no time Wren and Frank are fucking like wild animals (well, amid wild animals, anyway).
Page 927:  Another significant skyward event... This time it's an airplane, possibly the first ever seen by those below (though the Indians, paradoxically, apparently knew what it was). Can't be a good omen... but we'll have to wait until later to know what comes of it.
The shaman gives Frank a (possibly magical) cane and, in no time, he's much better again. He rides off to the Cases Grandes dig with Wren where they discuss and theorize vis-a-vis the history of the people who'd lived there:
[Frank] understood for a moment...that the history of all this terrible continent...was this same history of exile and migration, the white man moving in on the Indian, the eastern corporations moving in on the white man, and their incursions with drills and dynamite into the deep seams of the sacred mountains, the sacred land [928-29].
For, oh, a half-year or so (until late October), it seems Frank and Wren "inhabit the joys of domestic fucking" [929], having shacked up in Wren's little cottage near the dig. Although, Frank "knew that in her unspoken story of long pilgrimage and struggle he only happened to be on the same piece of trail for the moment" [929]. 
El Espinero knows this as well; but, he also tells Frank that Wren will always "see" him -- meaning, I suppose, think fondly of their brief time together (though it's also a play on visibility vs. invisibility).  Yet, she does leave at the end, as expected. 
Also notable on 930 is a brief yet strong, arguably counter-intuitive, critique of the railroad system.  And that's about all for this rather short section.
Just to give some idea of where we're at... From this web page:
One lasting symbol of the history of Chihuahua Mexico is the Chihuahua Pacific Railway. The Railway connects the capital of Chihuahua with the Pacific coast city of Los Mochis, a sixteen-hour train ride that traverses some of the most compelling and rugged scenery in the Americas. Construction of the railway began in 1898, and wasn't completed until 1961. With a dizzying 86 tunnels, 37 bridges, and multiple switchbacks that drop from an elevation of 7,000 feet down to sea level in just 120 miles, the railway is an engineering marvel.