Monthly Archives: March 2007

Sofia Barbosa

Here are Sofia Barbosa and Joana Melo, contemporary fado singers, on “Povo que lavas no rio.” I am a great admirer of Barbosa, and of her dress – I could use one just like that.

The song is by the immortal Amália Rodrigues. It is addressed to the “Countryfolk who wash clothes in the river / And cut with your axes / The boards for my casket.”

Povo que lavas no rio
E talhas com o teu machado
As tábuas do meu caixão.
Pode haver quem te defenda
Quem compre o teu chão sagrado
Mas a tua vida não.

Fui ter à mesa redonda
Bebi em malga que me esconde
O beijo de mão em mão.
Era o vinho que me deste
A água pura, puro agreste
Mas a tua vida não.

Aromas de luz e de lama
Dormi com eles na cama
Tive a mesma condição.
Povo, povo, eu te pertenço
Deste-me alturas de incenso,
Mas a tua vida não.

Povo que lavas no rio
E talhas com o teu machado
As tábuas do meu caixão.
Pode haver quem te defenda
Quem compre o teu chão sagrado
Mas a tua vida não.



Filed under Songs

Local Color

This video presents a good deal of the scenery in which I participate during my commutes. It will have to stand in for me over the next few days, as I am abandoning my usual orbits to attend this conference. I will return by the end of the month if not before.

Here to keep you company are the Pinko Feminist Hellcat’s excellent suggestions on how to combat global feudalism, Geoffrey Philp on the preservation of digital memory and access to reading material for one and all, Derek Walcott on NPR, which I know about from Philp, and Lorca’s “Sorpresa,” from Poema del cante jondo (1921).

Muerto se quedó en la calle
con un puñal en el pecho.
No lo conocía nadie.
¡Cómo temblaba el farol!
¡Cómo temblaba el farolito
de la calle!
Era madrugada. Nadie
pudo asomarse a sus ojos
abierto al duro aire.
Que muerto se quedó en la calle
que con un puñal en el pecho
y que no lo conocía nadie.

[He lay dead in the street with a dagger in his chest. Nobody knew him. How the lantern trembled! Mother. How the little street lamp trembled! It was before dawn. No one was able to lean out over his eyes, open to the hard air. For he died in the street with a dagger in his chest, and nobody knew him.]



Filed under Songs

St. Lucy and St. Lazarus II

Saint Lucy was a beautiful young girl from Syracuse.

She is painted with two magnificent ox eyes on a tray.

She suffered martyrdom under the consul Pascasian, who had a silver mustache and howled like a mastiff.

As do all saints she posed and resolved delicious theorems, before those whose plate glass windows the apparatuses of Physics break.

In the public square she demonstrated, to the surprise of the populace, that a thousand men and fifty pairs of oxen are powerless to move the luminous dove of the Holy Spirit. Her body, her great body, turned to compressed lead. Our Lord, with His crown and scepter, was surely seated in her womb.

St. Lucy was a tall young woman with small breasts and opulent hips. Like all fierce women, she had overlarge, masculine eyes, with a dark and disagreeable light. She expired in a bed of flames.

The market was at its zenith, and the beach of the day was full of conch shells and ripe tomatoes. Before the miraculous cathedral façade I understood perfectly how Saint Raymond Nonnato, mounted on his cape, could cross the sea from the Balearic Islands to Barcelona, and how the ancient Chinese Sun grows furious and jumps, rooster-like, on the musical towers of dragon’s meat.

People were drinking beer in the bars and multiplying accounts in the offices, while the + and x signs of the Jewish bank sustained an obscure battle with the sign of the Cross, full of brine and extinguished candles. Pouring over the city from the cathedral’s fat bell was a rain of little copper chimes, which attached themselves to the stupefied streetcars, and to the horses’ nervous necks. I had forgotten my Baedeker and my field glasses, and I began to look at the city as one looks at the sea from the sand.



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St. Lucy and St. Lazarus I

I have begun to translate this long prose poem, a text I discovered by chance. I got a new Research Insight from it, which I think I should work on for other venues. But it was the first time in a long time I had had this type of Research Insight: a spontaneous one. Lately all of my papers have been invented because someone wanted me to write papers that would fit in with other papers. All of them are on topics I know something about and in which I have an interest, but the formulation of the topics have been motivated by circumstances. This came right on target, by chance and out of nowhere, in a pure flash.

Readers of Spanish and stylists in English, let me know what you think:

At midnight I arrived in the city. The frost was dancing on one foot. “A girl may be dark or light-haired, but she should not be blind.” The innkeeper was saying this to a man brutally cut in two by a broad waistband. The eyes of a mule dozing on the threshold threatened me like two onyx fists.

Give me the best room you have.

There is only one.

All right.

The room had a mirror, and I, half a comb in my pocket. “I like it.” (I saw my “I like it” in the green mirror.) The inkeeper closed the door. Then, my back turned to the frozen quicksilver [pasture], I exclaimed once again, “I like it.” Below, the mule was puffing and blowing. That is, he was opening the sunflower of his mouth.

There was nothing to do but go to bed. And I did. But I took care to leave the shutters open, because nothing is more beautiful than to see a star surprised and fixed in a frame. One. We must forget the others.

Tonight I have a capricious, irregular sky. The stars group themselves together and extend themselves in the windowpanes, like the cards and portraits in the Japanese [pond].

With the new sun my gray suit returned to the silver of the dewy air. The spring day was like a hand fainting on a cushion. In the street people came and went. The fruit-sellers passed, and those who sell fish from the sea.

Not one bird.

With my rings clanking against the iron balcony I sought out the city on the map, and saw how it stayed asleep in the yellow field between rich veins of water, far from the sea!

In the patio, the innkeeper and his wife sang a duet in violet and [thorn-tree]. Their dark voices, like two runaway moles, stumbled against the walls without finding the square exit of the sky.

Before going out to take my first walk I went to greet them.

Why did you say last night that a girl may be dark or light-haired, but should not be blind?

The innkeeper and his wife looked at each other in an odd way.

They looked at each other… confused. Like the child who raises a spoon full of broth to his eyes. Then they burst into tears.

I did not know what to say and I left in a hurry.

On the door, I read this sign: “Saint Lucy’s Inn.”




Filed under Poetry

Bane of the Week

Even when it is actually wise, conventional wisdom is oppressive when misplaced, because on these occasions it interdicts further analysis and thought. Repeating it in such instances, is one of the main forms of bullying which exist in academia. Condescension is a principal attribute of this form of bullying.

Some of the more famous pieces of conventional wisdom are brilliant exercises in denial. Obvious examples are that ease of access to books is no longer necessary for research in the humanities, that “we can do research from anywhere these days,” and that all departments are equally problematic. It is often considered “professional” to believe these and related pieces of conventional wisdom.

However, the Bane which takes the cake, I am declaring Bane of the Week: the idea that if you are not suffering, you are not doing top work. I do not know the origin of this concept but I remember T.A.s and professors from the East trying to inculcate it in us where I went to school. “You look too healthy, happy, and relaxed to be smart, and yet you appear to be smart, I do not understand it.” I always wanted to respond, “If an unhappy, unhealthy look is necessary to intelligence, then you are not bright enough to justify your poor looks.”

I am opposed to the continued existence of this Bane of Virtuous Suffering. Did we not get into our fields of study because they were interesting and fun? If work has been converted into a Space of Pain, is that not a problem? Whence this dour ethic?



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Another Type of Whiteman

This conversation took place about five years ago, but I am still slightly amazed by it.

WM: Whereas you are in my opinion very good-looking; whereas you are not Catholic and will therefore not have Catholic hangups; whereas you are from California and should therefore be very liberal; and whereas we are friends; I hereby propose that we convert this friendship into Friendship With (Limited) Benefits.

PZ: Whereas I would only be interested in either a Wildly Romantic Affair or an Actual Relationship; whereas we have a certain friendship or at least camaraderie I would prefer not to ruin; and whereas not having Catholic hangups and being very liberal does not mean I am willing to provide services on demand, I hereby decline your rather stingy and self-serving offer.

WM: All right. Now, I am not arguing, and I want you to do what is best for you, but I am just curious. Why is an affair all right, whereas Friendship With (Limited) Benefits is not?

PZ: Because in the Business Model you propose, you are the one who decides how and where the lines are drawn. My refusal is not about Catholic Morality, it is about mutuality and freedom, and about not liking half measures.

WM: Not about morality … that is interesting and new to me. I still do not understand why, if a Wildly Romantic Affair would be all right, a Friendship With (Limited) Benefits would not. But … women are mysterious, I will think about it.

Anyway, I am friends with this whiteman. I believe I could explain why, although we are an unlikely pair – indeed, unsuited for either a Relationship or a Wildly Romantic Affair. Today I discovered that he owns six rifles, six shotguns, and a pistol. I think he is the most exotic friend I have ever had. I may ask him to teach me to shoot.


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Filed under Da Whiteman


If the globalized labor market is as good for people as its advocates claim, then why must films about globalized workers be shot on the sly?

Films I would like to see include H-2 Worker, on the Florida cane fields, Mardi Gras: Made in China, on the conditions in which Mardi Gras beads are fabricated, and China Blue, on those who sew blue jeans.

A truly great film I have seen recently is Quilombo Country, on the over 2,000 maroon villages, founded as long ago as the sixteenth century, which still exist and thrive in northern Brazil.



Filed under Bibliography