Lately…

June 28, 2007

…I have found myself listening to Baccara, the Spanish disco duo prominent in the late 70’s. Is it the accents, the glitter, the squeals of delight they express so pleasantly that charm me? I myself don’t know.

Baccara - Baccara (1977)1.jpg

In any case, here is a very special video of Yes Sir I can Boogie, the single which sold 16 million copies – which made them the highest selling female music group ever up to that time (1977).

Though I prefer the previous song, this video of Sorry I’m A Lady might be more entertaining.

And for those lovers of French, we have Parlez-Vous Francais?


Leopold von Sacher-Masoch: The Letawitza

June 25, 2007

This story was originally intended for an anthology of obscure and semi-obscure authors. The project was scrapped by the publisher, but obviously I still have the material. The translation is not mine, but the bio as well as one of the footnotes are.

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1836-1895)

Austrian lawyer and writer, chevalier of the Legion of Honour, who published also under the pseudonyms Charlotte Arand and Zoë von Rodenbach. As a young man he taught at the University of Graz. In Leipzig he edited the review Auf der Hohe. He then moved to Paris where he pursued a strictly literary career. His grand scheme, probably modelled after Balzac’s Comedie Humaine, was to write a series of 36 novels under the title The Legacy of Caine, but he was only able to complete about a third of the work.  In 1873 he married Aurora von Rumelin, who wrote a number of novels under the pseudonym of Wanda von Dunajew, which is also the name of the heroin of Sacher-Masoch’s novel of humiliation and suffering Venus in Furs, virtually the only novel of his which is still read today. The following story originally appeared in the Revue Des Deux Mondes.

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.jpg

The Letawitza

By Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

Translated by Sarah Dean

It was an unlucky day for the chase: two hazel-hens and a big vulture comprised the whole booty. “It is the fault of that confounded sorceress!” exclaimed the gamekeeper, taking off his hat, and wiping the large drops of perspiration on his forehead on the puffed sleeves of his shirt; then he handed me some brandy in a gourd, yellow and chubby as a Barbary ape.

At dawn we had, it is true, in starting out on our expedition, met a little old woman, all withered up, who was searching for mushrooms in the brushwood; and now evening was falling, and there was nothing left for us but to return to the house. The sun was setting, red and angry, behind the huge blocks of granite that like great crumbling towers overhang the grey, jagged sides of the Carpathian Mountains. Nothing else was to be seen, unless it were an old stunted trunk, which, stretching out from the rubbish over the slippery declivity, seemed to reach towards us its long, gnarled arms. It stood projected against the sky, with its bent back, its hanging chevelure and mossy beard, absolutely like our Jew; but it clings, firm and immovable, to the rock, as he also knows how to hold on energetically to whatever his thin bony hands have once seized[1].

We descended rapidly by a path draped with bilberries and rhododendrons, our dog panting painfully behind us, and passed under the green canopy of pines. The subdued noise of a distant waterfall accompanied us. The tall, green, feathery tree-tops, which shot up toward heaven with solemn majesty, began to mingle with the golden, rosy horizon, while from their slender trunks escaped their amber-coloured resinous juice. Red and purple berries, with the large forest flowers, made designs like a many-coloured embroidery upon the velvety moss which spread among the interlacing roots; and deep shadows fell from above upon the branches, like black drops between the motionless needles.

A few minutes longer, little clouds hovered in the west, bathing themselves in the rosy sea; then a line of purple extended along the horizon. Above the ground the soft, tremulous air was filled with innumerable little flies transparent as spun glass, and vapours, that might have been taken for white veils of an impalpable material, ascended with brilliant reflections from the tranquil valley, already plunged in night. The bushes, the trees, the mountains, seemed to shoot up in the golden atmosphere and lose themselves in the infinite, while their shadows stretched out ever farther. In the west, a star glittered above the pines, which stood erect against the sky like black swords, or like iron pickets around a park. The songs of birds had ceased. Here and there, only, a whistling sound pierced the forest, and some affrighted animal fled among the branches. The pearly sky had become blue, and gradually darkened. The shadows closed around, and at last were inextricably mingled with the impenetrable mass of slowly thickening gloom. Having, at this moment, reached the foot of the wooded hill, we followed a narrow path which wound around between common pastures and potato-fields. Suddenly the dark space between two rocks towards the west was illuminated, and began to flame as if some village were on fire; then, after a moment, the moon unmasked her golden disk, suspended majestically in the obscurity of the heavens, and diffused over the country her mild, consoling light. A current of cool air passed over the stalks, the grasses, the leaves of the trees, and the dismal summits of the pine forest; everything began to swarm, to flutter, to murmur. Far in advance of us the lights of a village gleamed like glow-worms lying in the grass, and overhead the immense vault was strewn with innumerable stars, like the bivouac fires of a grand army. The moonlight lay along the branches like threads of silver, and all the hills, all the ravines, were swimming in this magical reverberating light, which produces in us at the same time such calm and such melancholy.

As we reached a little cluster of birches, a flashing rocket traversed the sky and disappeared in space. The gamekeeper crossed himself, and stopped short. “Too late, the evil has come,” said he.

“What evil?”

“Didn’t you see the star shoot?”

“Certainly.”

“It will be transformed into a letawitza.”

“How is that?”

“In every shooting star there lives a demon which falls upon the earth,” replied the gamekeeper in a troubled voice. “If at the instant when one perceives it he recites a certain formula, the witchcraft is conjured away, but if the star touches the earth it takes the form of a woman of great beauty, with long blonde hair which flows and glistens like stars. This beautiful creature is gifted with a strange power over every human soul. She draws young persons to her in the golden network falling over her white shoulders. At night, when all sleep, she bends over them and embraces them,-embraces them pitilessly, until they fall dead.” Read the rest of this entry »


Film: Three Outlaw Samurai

June 24, 2007

Original Title: Sanbiki no samuraiYear: 1964Director: Hideo Gosha

This is a truly excellent film that I watched night before last.

The story is simple: a wandering samurai takes up the cause of a group of peasants. The star is Tetsuro Tamba, who strikes me as a the Japanese equivalent of Jean Paul Belmondo. The co-stars are Mikijo Hira and Isamu Nagato. Mikijo Hira, best known for his role in Sword of the Beast, is excellent as the completely bored retainer who walks around yawning with his sword over his shoulder while others panic. He is extremely cool in this film. Isamu Nagato plays a sort of samurai hobo, who is proficient in the use of the spear.

The fighting scenes are both frequent and top notch, with a strong sense of realism. When people die, we see them die. And quite a few people do-die.

The camera work is always competent and often remarkable: during a fight scene in a mill, it tilts from right to left, left to right, seeming to simulate the chaos of the situation. In another scene, it is focused on a very small white flower, while in the background a dying peasant claws his way forward. The last scene is very similar to many spaghetti westerns, with dust blowing in front of the camera; we hear a crow cawing in the background.

The score is by Toshiaki Tsushima. Sparse and perfect.

A wonderful, gritty film.

Gosha apparently adapted this from a TV series which I’ll have to track down.

Here is a preview, in which you can see Gosha himself cruising in in a pair of sunglasses, for anyone interested.


To kick things off . . .

June 23, 2007

I’ll post here the first piece of fiction that I ever had published. It is called A Dish of Spouse and was originally published in The Earwig Flesh Factory in 2000:

Le Comique, ennemi des soupirs et des pleurs,

N’admet point dans ses vers de tragique douleurs.

                                                                          -Boileau

     After Mrs. Shapiro had eaten Maurice, her husband, she felt a sense of regret. It was not that he had tasted poorly; no, it was not that. She had taken all the care in the world over his preparation. She had fed him on nothing but milk and cereal for ten days before killing him, despite his childish protestations, and then bled and cleaned him ever so well. It was a good deal of trouble stringing him up by his legs from the fig tree in the back yard, but she had been determined to do things properly. Removing the intestines and innards was unpleasant. All the same, she had to admit to smiling when cutting off his genitals.

     She scraped, parboiled and dressed him, and, with an apron strapped over her healthy chest and a showtune on her lips, stuffed him with a mixture of sausage, bread crumbs, chopped onions and celery, seasoned with a little savory paprika. It was only upon seeing his big green eyes staring up at her that she realized that she had neglected to remove them. So, berating herself mildly for her silliness, her lack of attention, she plucked them out and cut away the lids.

     She sewed him up, skewered his arms and legs into a crouching stance, and stuck a wooden block in his mouth to hold it open. Then she rubbed him with oil and a cut clove of garlic and dredged him in flour. Covering his ears and rump with aluminum foil, she put him in her biggest pan and roasted him, at 325 degrees, until he was tender, basting him every fifteen minutes with drippings. When he was finally done she removed the foil and block of wood, stuck an apple in the mouth and cranberries in the eye sockets and garnished him with watercress.

     The guests all knew Ellen to be an exceptional cook, but they had no idea the trouble she had gone to on this particular occasion.

     They arrived, removed their coats, and sat talking over cocktails in the living room. Many compliments were made on the aroma floating in from the kitchen, and guesses as to the nature of the dish. Mrs. Shapiro smiled good humoredly, stirred her Tom Collins with her little finger, and, like a good hostess, diverted the talk to other matter.

     When it came time to eat the party filed nonchalantly into the dining room. It was only as they seated themselves that Dick Rethause, a long time friend, commented on the absence of the host.

     “Ellen, where in God’s name is Maurice?” he asked, with an appearance of genuine concern.

     “Right here; coming through, coming through,” she replied, wheeling her husband in on a dining cart.

     His skin was a lovely golden glossy brown and, with the apple in his mouth and the cranberries for eyes, he looked quite festive.

     “He’s beautiful,” said the women, clapping.

     Of course it was Dick, the self appointed authority on meat, who did the carving, slicing off generous portions for each guest, and an especially generous portion of the left buttock for himself. The question arose as to what wine would be best drunk with the meal. Red was essential in regards to beef and game, but white often preferable with pork, lamb or poultry. Ellen settled the matter decisively by setting several bottles of a lovely California Burgundy on the table.

     “We bought these on our last trip to Napa,” she said. “It’s a bit heavy, but I think fitting to the occasion.”

     Toasts were made to the host and hostess and knife and fork played their tune. By the guests silence, and the rapidity with which the plates were cleared of flesh, Ellen Shapiro knew her dinner to be a success. When the guests could eat no more, at least not without appearing out and out gluttons, dessert and coffee were served and conversation resumed, voices uttering out of grease shined lips.

     “A really wonderful choice,” said Dick’s  wife, Charlotte. “You’ll have to give me the recipe.”

     “Well, for myself,” chuckled Dick, “this is the kind of meal I would much rather eat at another’s house than have eaten at mine.”

     As the guests filtered out, bellies distended and eyes half closed in torpid satisfaction, they each gave Ellen a hug and final compliment. She stood with her back against the closed door and listened as motors started and wheels turned out the driveway. It was then she felt that vague sense of regret, the after effect of almost any well planned event or party, when all has been done and passed through and little more than enjoyable memories remain.

     She went into the dining room and began to clean up, stacking plates and collecting soiled silverware. The table was scattered with odd orts of meat and stained with splotches of grease and gravy. A bit of bread with teeth marks lay there, as did several half drunk glasses of wine. The remains of Maurice sat devastated on the dining cart.

     “Well,” she sighed, looking at the carcass, still rich with shreds of him, “at least this will make a wonderful bone soup.”


Well, I have been resistant . . .

June 23, 2007

. . . to having a blog. But, let’s give it a try. I have quite a few writing projects in the pipeline, and suppose it is a good thing to have a place where people can go to gather information. I also plan to add other content, such as short reviews of rare films, short stories which have long since gone out of print, and possibly a few translations of antique authors as well. The stories I’ll most likely just leave up for a limited period of time. But we’ll see how it goes.