Thursday, October 28, 2010
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Many of the poems are striking. Some of them are particularly evocative because they are damaged. The manuscripts were burned or broken or otherwise maimed, so the translations have brackets everywhere--all along the left side, for instance, or sprinkled liberally throughout, as though the speaker were too shy to say everything out loud. Here is Guy Davenport's rendition of one fragment (§85):
heartThere is so much mystery in the ellipsis, like the mystery in a haiku. Reading these fragmented poems reminds me of trying to form an impression of person by overhearing snippets of their conversation, and by glimpsing them as they go about their day, but never sitting down with them to hear their story. Through the fragments, we see Sappho moving back and forth through life. We hear her cries, as though hearing a neighbor through the wall. We see her spinning and leaping, but only through the gaps in the fence. We can't see the pattern of her steps, and we can't ask her why she is celebrating. But we can see that she is dancing.
may be for me
throws back the light
And then there are a few poems without any holes torn through their text (I think the introduction said we only have three complete poems of Sappho's), which are like brief, brutally honest conversations with a stranger who will tell you exactly how she is feeling right now, but doesn't trust you to actually care. Or they are like conversations with a dear friend who leaves out all the explanations and cuts to the chase, because she knows you know exactly what she is talking about.
I love them all. Some of them scare me, some of them charm me. Some of them tell stories that I don't have the courage to tell for myself. §65 from Davenport:
I.How clearly she speaks! And yet her gods are not my gods, and she doesn't speak my language. She is a wild sister I can never meet.
Percussion, salt and honey,
A quivering in the thighs;
He shakes me all over again,
Eros who cannot be thrown,
Who stalks on all fours
Like a beast.
Eros makes me shiver again
Strengthless in the knees,
Eros gall and honey,
"You, however, are controlled not by the flesh but by the Spirit... Those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God." There isn't supposed to be a Spirit-led part of my life and a self-led part of my life (or rather, an anxious part of my life). If I really let the Spirit lead me, God will also lead me about how much sleep to get, whether it's really a good time to cook dinner, how long to study for Arabic quizzes, and whether to hang out with someone when really all I want to do is get some time to be still.
"Just a closer walk with Thee"--All I need is You, Lord, "and all these things will be added to me as well."
[This blog gives such a bipolar depiction of my life... Oh well, it's the nature of a fragmentary record.]
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Monday, October 18, 2010
[I had Arabic homework to watch two YouTube videos about the street food in Fez, Morocco, and comment on various things mentioned. For whatever reason, I felt like posting what I wrote up in a place that someone would actually read it... Is it strange that I do a better job on the writing for assignments like this, which assuredly isn't going to be graded on its writing quality, than on assignments like my psych paper (well, a 2-page summary & reflection) where it seems like the writing quality should actually matter?]
These two video segments introduced a number of Moroccans from every walk of life: from the professor of linguistics and gender studies (Dr. Fatima Sadiqi) to the man who started selling street food because he couldn't find any other job (Nourdine Alyazami); from the women supporting their families by working in bakeries (such as the bakery run by Soumaya Benkirane), to Jean Pierre Dehut, the largest wine-producer in Morocco; from Danielle Mamane, a Jewish woman whose family fled the Inquisition in Spain, to the Sufis who sit in a circle representing the universe, with the couscous they are all sharing placed symbolically in the center.
Each of these inhabitants of Fez showed some distinctive Moroccan dish, whether it was Lahcen Beqqi's lamb tajine (which looked delicious), the Sufi gathering's couscous, the traditional Jewish Sabbath meal (chickpeas, potatoes with eggs, two or three types of meat, rice or wheat), or the dried meat topped with grease that the rapper Adil Idrissi pointed out to the video's hostess. These diverse encountered illustrated the rich variety in history of Fez, a city where ancient and modern mingle. Fez was established at the end of the 8th c. by the great grandson of Mohammad, and it was the capital of Morocco until French colonial authorities relocated the central government to Rabat. Today, Fez is considered the "culinary capital" of Morocco, as well as its "spiritual heart," according to the video.
Despite its rich heritage, however, Fez today is economically strained, with a very high unemployment rate. Some inhabitants of Fez have found a source of income from food: they sell street-food, or they work in bakeries, or even in the incongruous wine-industry. Others work in the foul-smelling but high-paying tannery, where cow hides are softened with pidgeon dung and dyed with mint, henna, saffron.
The comment on gender-roles was very interesting to me--that women are breaking out of their traditional confinement in the home, but without breaking out of their traditional role as preparers of food, nurturers. This struck me as a graceful transition, contrasting with the aggression and discontentment that seem to me to characterize American feminism. (Granted, there wasn't an extensive discussion of this issue in the video.)
The Sufi circle around the round plate of couscous was also very interesting to me. I thought it was really poignant that they feed each other. The symbolism is its own spice and savor, I think: if I were to taste just one of the dishes in the video, I'd like to try that couscous.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Thursday, October 14, 2010
How It Feels to Need Solitude
The messages never stop
flying in and out,
always in my eyes
so I can never see
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Where did you come from? I have asked. Why are you here? No reply comes. Instead, Longing wraps its arms around me, and rests its head on my shoulder. I can shake free of it for now, but I know it will curl up with me later. It will come to me as I sleep, like a cat that always shares the bed, and I won't have the heart to shove it away when it leans against me, and purrs.
Monday, October 11, 2010
Like Hunger Games, it was hard to put down. The novel is written as the journal of Miranda, a Pennsylvanian sixteen-year-old whose name inevitably reminds me of the ravaged planet in the movie "Serenity." This is a fitting association for a book about the disintegration of life on Earth when a stray asteroid strikes our own Luna, sending her a shade closer to the planet. The moon looms grotesquely and menacingly large overhead, as though it is about to fall out of the sky. It is a relief to Miranda when the vast quantities of ash from the volcanoes that spring up everywhere on the destablized planet obscure the sky entirely. When the ash is thick enough, she can't see the moon's threats. Meanwhile, there are plenty of more direct physical threats wreaking havoc all over the planet: tidal waves, earthquakes, epidemics, food shortages.
This is a book about the narrowing of a life, the shrinking of the known world. This is a book about deprivation and death.
It's also a book about appreciating the little you have. But that appreciation comes only through resignation. Joy sprouts from accepting that things can't better, and in fact they are going to get much worse, so now is the time to extract the little life you can out of the shriveling, withering world. This is a book about hope that comes through blindness, about stripping away false faith, about salvation through asceticism.
Reading this book felt like drowning. When I rose to the surface--when I closed the book and opened my eyes to the clear blue sky and the sunshine streaming down like it would never ever run out--I gulped reality, gasping and heaving, and coughed up despair like water from my lungs. Drowning makes you appreciate air, but that doesn't mean almost drowning is good for the soul. I don't intend to read the sequels to Life as We Knew It. Despair is enough of a temptation in my own world of abundance and faith; living in the head of a teenager in desperate circumstances that cannot improve (in her world) does nothing good for my emotional stability. Distant as the moon is, I am enough of a lunatic.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
I close my eyes, but the leaves keep falling, falling. I can't stop them. Suddenly gravity is calling, and every leaf is falling. Who am I to sing over Gravity's endless music?
Eventually the trees will be sleek and bare. Their spare lines will slice the sky, while their lush leaves fill the earth. Such extravagance, the bright leaves that fall, like expensive gowns shrugged to the ground. Scarlet, violet, russet, gold. So much color spilled heedlessly, because the trees know: When spring comes home, the leaves will grow again. Then no branch will lack for its emerald cloak. But winter is the time for dancing naked.
Why do I keep looking for a rake? What am I really looking for? A mountain of leaves, a landslide of colors. A place to leap.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
How well does your pace of book purchases match up with your pace of reading? Do you read books as soon as you get them home, or do you have a growing stack of books that you're hoping to have time to read someday? If you had to guess, how many unread books are there in your house?My confession is this: no matter how hard I try to stem* the flow of books into my room, I can't. The tide of words keeps rising. The words flood in through armloads of library books, they rain down from the internet (stormbursts of blog posts, New York Times articles). The words keep flowing in, and I can't drink them all.
To answer the questions more literally: My pace of book-buying matches my reading pace all right now, because I pretty much stopped buying myself books a couple years ago. (This drastic step was only taken after I bought over a dozen books really really cheaply at various school library sales, didn't read most of them, and had to conclude that I have an addiction to buying cheap books...) However, people give me books, and I get books from the library, and then there are all those books available for free online. So my reading pace really does not match my book acquisition pace at all. I probably have at least 10 unread books in my dorm room (although to be fair, some of them are for class!), and then 20 or 30 more in my room back at home.
"Quot libris, quam breve tempore."
At least I can say I've read all 66 books in the Bible! as if that were relevant. I delude myself.
*I got distracted wondering what the origin of that expression is, and the OED informed me that the verb meaning 'To stop, check; to dam up (a stream, or the like)' shares a root with the verb "stammer." Cool!