Sunday, 17 August 2014
Saturday, 16 August 2014
(This story is taken from my book Pussy-Foot)
Leaving books behind
(for my friend Joaquim Malha)
When Bazarov was told the bad news he didn’t call his parents straight away, but he did call his sister a few hours later to tell her about the malignant brain tumour. Maria was living in Brooklyn, living the life of a poet and a teacher, and when she got the call she told Bazarov to be strong because it was the first thing that came to her head, and she said, “Hold in there,” but Bazarov was scared and alone, and he felt as if his world was coming to apart, which, to a degree, was true.
Bazarov was still living in London, working as a graphic designer, his typewriter gathering dust since he hardly wrote a thing, and on the day he found out about the disease he had just bought the new book by his former girlfriend, Xi Ping, who, like his sister, was also a poet.
After he got the bad news, he called in sick at work, and then he went for a long walk. He made his way towards Chinatown, stopping at a café in Charing Cross for a cup of coffee, and while he was there he relived so many memories and found himself missing some of the faces of the past. Not many but a few (faces). Everyone he knew had moved on, or he had moved, and the only people he saw were his work colleagues, and they were good people, too, just like his old friends, or at least some of them were, and he knew he was lucky to work in a place like that, a workplace where he felt at ease.
He left the café feeling a bit better and he made his way towards Chinatown, but once he got there he couldn’t find it in him the strength to go inside any restaurant on his own because the place reminded him of the good times he had with Xi Ping and a few of their university friends, so he turned around and made his way home.
Alone in the bus, surrounded by strangers, he finished reading Julian Green’s Paris and left the book behind. Once he was home, at his studio in Elephant & Castle, he called his sister, and that’s when he told her the bad news. Later on he called his parents too. And his parents called his uncles. And his uncles called his cousins. And Bazarov’s phone kept going on throughout the night while his family told him the same thing over and over again.
Maria took a week off work and then caught a flight to London. On the flight there she read Isaiah Berlin’s Russian Thinkers, having no clue of why she was reading that book or even how she came to be in possession of such a book. But then she remembered Slavoj, her ex-husband, and she wondered if the book had been one of his. Bazarov didn’t know she was coming and the reason why she didn’t told him she was coming to see him was because she didn’t want him to get tired and go and get her from the airport. She was quite capable of handling herself in a city like London; after all, she lived in New York and that place was madness too.
When the plane landed in London, and after she had collected her luggage, she walked to the nearest café, bought a medium cup of coffee and a cheese bagel, and, somehow, maybe due to fatigue or jet lag, she managed to leave Berlin’s book behind. Funnily enough, while riding on the underground, she found a book called Wonderful Town: New York Stories, edited by David Remnick and featuring a lot of writers that she loved.
Meanwhile, Bazarov was at home reading Lover’s Agenda, Xi Ping’s latest poetry collection, and he was trying to put his misfortune behind and put on a brave face, which was a hard task when one thinks about it. Soon he would be doing chemotherapy and some other treatment, and who knows what would happen afterwards. In the meantime, while he waited for the worst, he wrote to friends and started to work on a new project. After all, time didn’t stand still just because he was sick and he wanted to do a few things before his time was over.
Outside the station, Maria saw a man leave a book by Anne Roiphe on a bench and then he walked away, only for someone else to pick it up and leave another book behind.
“What is happening? Why is everyone leaving books behind? She thought to herself.
The sky had turned grey in a matter of seconds and she could tell it wouldn’t be long before the rain started to pour down. Luckily, Bazarov lived close to the station. She hurried on, and on the way to Bazarov’s place she saw a book of poems by Wendy Cope on a bench by a bus stop.
“Strange,” she thought. “Really strange.”
She almost asked a stranger why people were leaving books behind but soon she would be at Bazarov’s place and she would ask him instead.
There was a knock on his door, a soft knock, and when Bazarov went to see who it was, he wasn’t at all surprised to see Maria. One quick look at her and he saw how much she had changed since he last saw her. She had put on a bit of weight but she looked as beautiful as ever. Poetry and teaching suited her well, and she liked to live a simple life away from all pressure and worries. No wonder her marriage didn’t work out. Her ex-husband was too obsessed with making money, travelling, partying, seeing his name in magazines, while Maria was the opposite. She always had been a quiet soul, even when she had been an Olympian, and her calmness showed in her poetry.
They hugged for a long time, their bodies pressing hard against one another, and they looked as if they were afraid of letting go.
Bazarov asked, “What are you doing here? When did you arrive? Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”
Maria kissed his forehead, just as she used to do when he was a child, and she said, “Let’s go inside and talk.”
“Yes, of course. How clumsy of me,” he said.
Then went inside and he put her bag away, and afterwards they went to the kitchen where he made her a cheese omelette. She ate the omelette, followed by an apple, and over coffee she asked, “Why is everyone leaving books behind? Even I, accidentally, left one in a café at the airport.”
“I think it started in Hammersmith. Someone left a book behind with a note saying, “Once you finish with this book, leave it behind for someone else to read it,” and then people started to leave books behind. In the last few months I found books by Edmund Gosse (his classic Father and Son), Renata Adler, Borges, Malcolm Gladwell, and I, too, have left a few books behind.”
“How are you feeling?” Maria then asked him, having until then not touched on his problem.
“Okay, I guess,” Bazarov replied. “Better now for having you here with me.”
“Are you scared?” she asked and touched him softly on the shoulder.
“Not really, just bored,” he replied, and it was true; he was feeling a bit bored of being at home and that’s the reason why he was working on some of his projects. Maybe he would finish some of them, maybe he wouldn’t, but he wasn’t going to stand still and let boredom get the better of him. He smiled at his sister, who smiled back at him, and then they sat silently for a few seconds, wondering what else to say to one another. Outside, the weather was terrible. The rain was falling at a scary speed and Maria and Bazarov sat next to a window to watch the rain fall.
“Reminds me of home, of when we used to sit together with our faces glued to the window,” Bazarov said and Maria nodded. Then they sat there for a few minutes in total silence, just watching the rain fall.
On the next morning, when Maria saw the typewriter, she said, “Nice machine. Do you mind if I use it?”
“Please, go ahead. You can have it if you want it. I haven’t used it in a long time and it’s just gathering dust,” said Bazarov.
During the time she was in London, Maria wrote three poems on Bazarov’s typewriter and a week later she was back in New York, carrying the typewriter with her. She left a book by Borges at the airport and found a book by Lydia Davis in a cab.
Bazarov died two years later. The last book he left behind was Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives and the last book he found was Bolaño’s Amulet.
Life sure is strange, isn’t it?
Pussy-Foot is now available on Amazon
Friday, 15 August 2014
Operation Paperclip was the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) program in which over 1,500 German scientists, technicians, and engineers from Nazi Germany and other foreign countries were brought to the United States for employment in the aftermath of World War II. It was conducted by the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA), and in the context of theburgeoning Cold War. One purpose of Operation Paperclip was to deny German scientific expertise and knowledge to the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, as well as inhibiting post-war Germany from redeveloping its military research capabilities.
Thursday, 14 August 2014
To the Man Who Shouted “I Like Pork Fried Rice” at Me on the Street by Franny Choi : Poetry Magazine
Click on above link to read poem
Click on above link to read poem
Monday, 11 August 2014
Bulletproof Stockings is a Hasidic all-female alt-rock band led by Dalia Shusterman and Perl Wolfe. Based in Brooklyn, they perform to women-only audiences.
I just found out this morning that Robin Williams died in a suspected suicide. My heart goes out to him and his family.
I know how it feels to live in the darkness, to think that you're not good enough for this world.
So sad to think that a man who made millions around the world laugh was living with his own private demons and that there was no one out there who could help him in the end.
So sad to see you going like this, Robin. Rest in peace.
I have already said my prayers this morning for you. I really hope in my heart that you have found your peace.