Archive for November, 2008

Send For Our Free Booklet

Posted in Music on November 30, 2008 by jkiparsky

I was just now reminded of a cute little novelty song called “Send For Our Free Booklet” that I heard about six months ago on KBOO’s “Swingin’ Country” show. A bit of research tells me that it was recorded by Harry Reser’s Orchestra, recording under the name of “The Six Jumping Jacks” on the Brunswick label (1930). Take a listen, it’s a great little number. More recordings can be found at (click here for a selection of his recordings as a banjo soloist- pretty fierce playing!), but not a lot of information is out there on the World Wide Whatsit on the man himself.

Edit, August 2011 – I see that the above link is no longer functional. Please leave a comment if you find a link to the song!

Nicholson Baker: Human Smoke

Posted in Books on November 30, 2008 by jkiparsky

Human Smoke is Nicholson Baker’s non-fiction treatment of the leadup to and the initial stages of the second World War. I found it a bit of a disappointment. While I sympathize with Baker’s inclinations to pacifism and even incline towards his sympathies, the book seems to me a dishonest way to make the case that the pacisfists of the World War II period were “right” (Baker’s word). The text consists of a series of carefully selected excerpts from contemporary documents, none longer than a page or so. The only editorial commentary before Baker’s afterword is the statement of the date at the end of almost every item. Always given in the same form (“It was April 6, 1941”, “It was June 3, 1941”, etc.) this becomes a sort of ticking clock in the book: we all know the end. It’s Hitchcock’s method of scaring the crap out of his audience: put the bomb in the box, give the box to the innocent child, and follow the innocent child through the city until the bomb blows up, catching a glimpse of every clock in the city as you go by it. A great technique for a thriller, but in a history it’s a little loaded. The repeated references to the date really serve no other purpose, as the precise date for the events cited is not as relevant as the context of events, and the context in this book is only that which Baker chooses to provide.
The limited context, in fact, is the basis of Baker’s argument, and this is where I have a real problem with his method. Without an explicitly stated thesis, he presents just those items from the old records that he can find which suggest that the pacifist position was the correct one. In other words, if you read a more complete record, Baker’s argument disappears like smoke.
The question of whether satyagraha might have defeated fascism is a fascinating one. I think it’s not impossible, although surely the human cost would have been inconceivably more vast than even the cost of the war as it happened: if anything can be learned from Hitler, it’s that people will in fact kill and go on kiling because they’re told to, much more often than they will resist those orders. But the question is not given a real hearing in Baker’s book, it is only alluded to. In the end, this amounts to a collection of anecdotes about the second world war, some of them quite good. From the man who wrote Double Fold, not to mention novels like The Mezzanine and A Box of Matches, that’s not much.

Saramago: Livraria Cultura

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on November 30, 2008 by jkiparsky

The following text was written by José Saramago for his journal, “O Caderno de Saramago, and posted on 30 November 2008 under the title “Livraria Cultura

    The Bookstore “Livraria Cultura”

The last image we’ll take from Brasil is of a lovely bookshop, a cathedral of books, modern, efficient, beautiful. It’s the Livraria Cultura, it’s in the Conjunto Nacional. It’s a bookshop where you can buy books, of course, but it’s also to enjoy the impressive spectacle of so many titles arrayed in such an attractive way, as if it weren’t a shop but a work of art that we were dealing with. The Livraria Cultura is a work of art.

My Editor, Luis Schwarcz, of the Companhia das Letras, knew that this wonder would affect me emotionally, that’s why he took me there. I was also quite touched by the Companhia’s bookshop, to see gleaming shelves all covered with books, the classics placed with the other classics and with the new ones. And all together, offered to the reader, who has the diffficult but interesting dilemma of not knowing how to choose.

Farewell to São Paulo. Last night, before dinner at Tomie Ohtake’s house, we went to see the show “The Consistency of Dreams.” We were the last of the 700 people to pass that day to see the exhibit that about this writer the Cesar Manrique Foundation made, and which has already been to Lanzarote and Lisbon. Fernando Gomez Aguilera can be content: his work, on another continent, is equally interesting and close, as precise as a watch, as beautiful as the Livraria Cultura. Sometimes good news adds up. Let’s have faith in it.

Sexual Education

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on November 28, 2008 by jkiparsky

The words which follow were written by José Saramago, and posted on 28 November 2008 to his on-line journal, “O Caderno de Saramago, under the title Educação Sexual.

    Sexual Education

“Sexual exploration is a very important topic for a humanity without hypocrisy. It is necessary to convince parents of the whole world that sexual education at home is as important as food on the table. If we don’t teach sexual education in schools, our children will learn like animals in the streets. It’s necessary to break with religious hypocrisy and this goes for all religions.”

The words of Luis da Silva, president of Brasil, to which I subscribe. He spoke at a world conference, the third, which tries to confront the problem of sexual exploration that children and adolescents are subjected to throughout the world. The queen of Sweden had an appeal that abuse against children be pursued which was put on the internet. Both spoke about serious problems, that affect a part of society and that do harm above all to the population of children and adolescents in the poorest areas of the planet, where schools are lacking, the concept of the family simply doesn’t exist and sends a television that emits violence and sex twenty-four hours a day. Who will listen to the wise words spoken at the Congress against Sexual Exploration?

Finally, I wanted to talk about the presentation of The Elephant’s Journey in São Paulo, but this subject got in the way and has priority. We’ll leave the book for tomorrow.

Two Reports

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on November 24, 2008 by jkiparsky

An entry from the on-line journal of José Saramago. This text was published on 24 November, 2009, under the title “Duas Notícias.

    Two reports

In Brasil, betwen one interview and another, we came to learn two pieces of news: one, the bad, the terrible, that the storm that sometimes descends on São Paulo to leave, minutes of fury later, a clean sky and a sensation that nothing has happened, in the south caused more than 59 deaths and left thousands of people homeless, without a roof to sleep under tonight, without a home to continue living in. Reports like this, although so often read, can’t leave one indifferent. To the contrary, each time that a new natural disaster comes to our voice the pain and impatience increases. And also the question that nobody can answer, although we know it has an answer: how long will we live, or will the poorest live, at the mervy of the rain, the wind, the drought, when we know that all of these phenomena have a solution in a human organization of existence? How long will we look the other way, as if a human being were not important? These 59 people who died in Santa Catarina, in this Brasil where we are now, so many need not have died. And this, everyone knows.

The other report is that the national prize of letters for Juan Goytisolo, which I record today in Lanzarote, with Monique, with Gomez Aguilera, speaking of books and the office of the writer. Monique is not here now, did not see this prize that, in the end, is awarded to Goytisolo, so many years after having read his first book, then recently-published. Juan, an embarce and congratulations.

Saramago: In Brasil

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on November 20, 2008 by jkiparsky

The following text, first published on 20 November 2008, is from Jose Saramago’s journal, “O Caderno de Saramago”. The translation is mine. The original, in Portuguese, may be read at No Brasil.

In Brasil
On the way to Brasil, where a schedule awaits us, as full as a sky threatening rain. I trust however that some channel will be arranged so this conversation won’t be suspended for a week, which is how long our absence will last. It is known that, being in Brasil, there will be no lack of topics to discuss, the problem, if there is one, will be an insufficiency of time. We’ll see. Wish us a good trip, and, even now, do us the favor of watching over the elephant while we’re away.

All the Names

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on November 20, 2008 by jkiparsky

A page from Jose Saramago’s Notebooks, published on “O Caderno de Saramago“, on 19 November, 2008, under the title “Todos os Nomes“.

All the Names
At the publishing house for a good part of the morning, dedicating copies of “The Voyage of the Elephant”. Most of them will remain in Portugal as a gift for the friends and business companions scattered about within the Lusitanian borders, but others will travel to distant lands, like Brasil, France, Italy, Spain, Hungary, Romania, and Sweden. In the last case, the recipients were Amadeu Batel, our compatriot and professor of Portuguese Literature at the University of Stockholm, and the poet and novellist Kjell Espmark, member of the Swedish Academy. When I dedicated the book for Espmark I remembered that he told us, Pilar and me, about the behind-the-scenes of the prize that was awarded to me. The “Essay on Blindness”, then just translated into Swedish, had made a good impression on the academics, good enough that it was practically decided among them that the Nobel for that year, 1998, would go to me. It happened, however, that in the previous year I had published another book, All the Names, which obviously, in principle, should not have been considered an obstacle to the decision that had been made, had the question of scruples not been raised by the judges: “And if the new book is bad?”. Of the response to give Kjell Espmark took charge, in whom his colleagues deposited the resonsibility of proceeding to read the book in its original tongue. Espmark, who has a certain familiarity with our language, completed the mission in a disciplined fashion. With the help of a dictionary, in the month of August, when he would have preferred to be navigating the islands that swarm the Swedish sea, he read, word for word, the story of the clerk, Senhor Jose, and of the woman he loved without ever having seen her. It passed the examination, in the end the book was in no way worse than the “Essay on Blindness”. Whew.

Inundation: A Post From José Saramago’s Blog

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on November 19, 2008 by jkiparsky

I’ve been translating, bit by bit, the entries that Jose Saramago has posted to his “notebook” (O Caderno de Saramago,, and debating with myself about whether to post the translations here. On the yes side, I think there’s some interesting reading there, and if you don’t read Portuguese or Spanish, you can’t read it. On the “why not?” end of the question, he has posted the text to the world at large, so it’s hard to see how there would be any moral or ethical reservations to making it more available. On the “no” side, however, I consider that there might be something a bit forward about just posting my translations, and maybe I should just leave things as they are.
In any case, this one seems worth posting as a special case. It’s a brief and simple message, which I don’t think he would object to seeing spread around.

Posted today, 19 November, here he is in his words:


I’ve just come from the Casa do Alentejo where I took part in a session of solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people for their simple sovereignty against the abuses and crimes that Israel is responsible for. I left a suggestion there: that from the 20th of January, the day Barack Obama takes power, the White House be inundated with messages in support of the Palestinian people and demanding a quick solultion of the conflict. If Barack Obama wants to free his country from the infamy of racism, let him do it as well in Israel. For seventy years the Palestinian people have been coldly martyred with the tacit or the active complicity of the international community. It’s time for this to end.

That’s it. What you think about it, what you do about it is up to you. But that’s what Saramago suggests.

Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic

Posted in General on November 14, 2008 by jkiparsky

I spent two hours this afternoon in a little booth, reading about management of resorts: specifically, reading, very carefully, from the section on management of marinas. Why, you ask, was an otherwise sane, or relatively sane fellow such as myself, reading so carefully and painstakingly about the problems of the placement of parking for the disabled near a marina (where there tends to be a slope, you understand, near the water, so the ramps are tricky…) on a cold and blustery Boston day? Nothing better to do? Temporary insanity? No, not at all: I was recording for the blind and dyslexic, as a volunteer for a group called, well, Recording For the Blind and Dyslexic. Kind of fun, really: I go in, sit in a booth, and practice my radio voice, and they’re really happy to see me and give me cough drops and tea (essential, after talking for two hours straight – although the more unkind readers will have observed that nothing’s ever stopped me from talking for two hours straight before…) and ultimately my recording gets folded into a file with everyone else who records on that book, and people who have disabilities preventing them from using printed text get a chance to learn about… well, the principles of resort management. Okay, but blind people need to study boring things too – we don’t want to prevent people from learning how to manage resorts, just because they’re blind.


Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on November 14, 2008 by jkiparsky

The text below is a translation, or as close as I can come to one, of an entry in Jose Saramago’s “Notebooks”. The original (in Portuguese) may be found at his web site, “O Caderno de Saramago“. The original was posted on 13 November, 2008.
Suggestions of improvements are welcome.


The initials stand for Radio Clube Portuguese [Portuguese Radio Club], I do not think there is a Portuguese who is not aware of this. Today, the 13th of November, which is when I am writing these brief lines, the R. C. P. decided to devote part of its broadcast to the debut of Blindness, the film directed by the Brasilian director Fernando Meirelles based on my Ensaio sobre a cegueira [Essay on Blindness, the original title of the novel]. Pilar, who only come up with good ideas, thought that we should make a courtesy visit to the station and to the presenters of “Janela Aberta” (“Open Window”), which is the name of the program (em causa – ?). We went under cover of the most absolute secrecy and certain that we would cause a surprise that would not be disagreeable. What we didn’t imagine was that our surprise would be still greater. The two presenters were blind, they had their eyes covered with a black cloth… There are moments that manage to be, at one time, moving and pleasurable. That was the case with this one. I leave here the expression of my gratitude and of my deep recognition of the proof of friendship that they gave us.