Yes, it's a blog about reading.

Monday, July 10, 2006

New Yorker notes - May/June 2006

I finally finished the 6/12 Summer Fiction issue, featuring soldier stories. I liked Roger Angell's tale of protesting the Vietnam War with his daughter, but I loved Italo Calvino's fictional "Waiting for Death in a Hotel." It was a simple enough story, but it captured something elemental about death. When one of the protagonists realizes that he will be executed the next day, there were in his words "the simplicity of something long feared and now inevitable." This man starts pacing, when others address them, he stares back, bewildered, 'as though having to return from a great distance to focus on what they were saying. Maybe he was thinking of the void, in order to prepare himself for not existing."

When all the men are spared after all, they understand that 'whatever their destiny, whatever violence, cries and exhaustion awaited them, they would nevertheless savor the bloody taste of being alive, of sharing pain like bread.'

I liked the profile of 'the dog whisperer' in the 5/22 (camel cover) and the profile of Patrick Leigh Fermor in "An Englishman Abroad." Fermor recounts a time in 1944, when he and his men are in flight from German patrols towing a German general. As they are climbing Mt. Ida (in Crete?) the General watches the dawn break and murmers from Horace, "Vides ut alte stet nive candidum." Leigh Fermor also knew Horace and continued the quotation, "nec jam sustineant onus, Silvae laborantes, gulque, Flumina constiterint acuto", and so on to the end. Fermor adds, "for a long moment, the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together."

Anthony Lane adds that "it feels like the end of something: the last, companionable gasp of a civilization-- grounded in the knowledge of earlier civilizations, Roman and Greek-- that had not just held sway in Europe for over a thousand years but had done more than any political truce or chicanery to bind Europe together. Both Leigh Fermor and the general had been raised to recognize Horzce odes 1.9, to get it by heart, and to realize that the poem itself is a crystallization of our common feelings." (p. 64). We are so far from this now.

At the end of the article, Lane asks Leigh Fermor how he will get from Crete to the mainland. He decides to take the overnight ferry instead of a flight. Lane offers to book him a cabin, but Leigh Fermor replied that he would prefer a deck chair, adding, "My dear boy, I have a bottle of red wine and a copy of 'Persuasion', what more could I possibly need?" Lane adds that Leigh Fermor was at 83, "taking ship in the company of Jane Austen, one of his few peers in the art of the imperturbable. I could well imagine the pair of them at close of day: side by side, exchanging compliments, taking a little wine, and watching the old world slip away."


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