Chekhov in Siberia

  In 1890 Anton Chekhov set off for Sakhalin to conduct a census of the prison and exile population of the island. He was 30 years old at the time and was already suffering from tuberculosis. His letters and the publication of The Island: A Journey to Sakhalin remain compelling documents of the trip, even…

Hemingway’s Paris

In Paris, we usually stay at Hotel RASPAIL, on Bd Raspail. It is next door to Restaurant Haute Mer, an excellent seafood place at the corner of Bd Raspail and Bd Montparnasse. It is a thriving area that boasts Le Dome, another seafood place, La Coupole, La Rotonde, etc. We have been staying at Hotel…

Heroism in Hombre: Elmore Leonard

  The hero of Elmore Leonard’s Hombre John Russell is a resolute figure who passes from mortality to legendary status in no time at all. When we first meet John Russell we learn that he is at least a quarter Indian and that he has the ways of the Apache. For some one so young,…

Prayer and melancholia

That human life must be some kind of mistake is sufficiently proved by the simple observation that man is a compound of needs which are hard to satisfy; that their satisfaction achieves nothing but a painless condition in which he is only given over to boredom; and that boredom is a direct proof that existence…

Kafka’s Body

I have been in Venice this past weekend, at the Warwick Poetry in Medicine symposium. Even if you've been in Venice before, when the vaporetto comes from the Piazzale Roma onto the Grand Canal, in the bright morning sunlight, everything hangs like a Canaletto (1697-1768) canvas that is three dimensional, vast and alive. On either…

Melancholia

    Our sixth combat is with what the Greeks call ακηδια, which we may term weariness or distress of heart. This is akin to dejection, and is especially trying to solitaries, and dangerous and frequent foe to the dwellers in the desert… (Cassian circa 416 CE)   Ajax, in Sophocles’ play, after slaughtering cattle…

Poems of disquiet

    Sabi is the color of the poem. It does not necessarily refer to the poem that describes a lonely scene. If a man goes to war wearing stout armor or to a party dressed up in gay clothes, and if this man happens to be an old man, there is something lonely about…

Absence of mirrors

  Imagine an absence of mirrors. Without any reflective surface, how would anyone know what his face looked like? Whether or not he is comely? And, what of the link between his facial appearance and his self-identity, his distinctiveness? Everything is then in the eye, in the eye of the Other. In the absence of…

Borges and I

  In ‘Borges and I’ Borges (1899-1986) confronted the deep problems of the self, who we ultimately are, what persists of us when we die, and what our relationship is with the world and with our inner self. He said It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live,…

Trees stand their ground

    Trees stand their ground whatever the weather. Overladen with snow. Chilled to the sap, the pith frozen and aching, trees do not withdraw their roots, fold them and then move to a different clime. They stand. Is this what duty is to trees? Pumping out oxygen so that we  breathe it in and…