The Lacuna

The central character in this
book
is the son of a US bureaucrat and a Mexican woman. He
lives in both countries growing up, and in Mexico city ends up
working for Diego Rivera; his wife, Frida Kahlo; and their
houseguest, Leon Trotsky. Later he becomes a best-selling
novelist and is hounded by the House Committee on Un-American
Activities.

For some reason, the reviews I read of it are lukewarm, but
since I’m both a Barbara Kingsolver fan and interested in those
characters, I read it anyway. I think the reviews are what
always happens when someone is famous — it’s easier to say the
book is a falling-off from earlier work than to really describe
how good it is, so they say it’s a falling-off.

I wouldn’t recommend it as the place to start if you haven’t
read Barbara Kingsolver before. That would be
Prodigal
Summer
if you like novels,
or Animal,
Vegetable, Miracle
if you prefer nonfiction and are interested in eating local,
non-industrial foods. Both of these books are set in the
Appalachian south where Kingsolver grew up.

But I thought it was certainly up to the standard of The
Poisonwood Bible
, also about a disfunctional family
in an unfamiliar setting.

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Following up on last August’s arrest

I spoke to my neighbor who was arrested
last August when a neighbor called the police because his dog
was barking.

He’s still not completely out of the woods, but his lawyer made
a motion last month to have the evidence thrown out on the basis
that the breakin was improper, and the judge granted the
motion.

So the DA can still go through appeals and drag it out, but
they may just drop the case, if they accept that they don’t have
any admissible evidence.

I asked him if that meant he would get his computer back, and
he said he’d asked that too. His lawyer said the next thing the
police would do is apply for “destruction of the evidence”, which
will certainly apply to the alleged marijauna plants, and might
apply to the othe items seized in the breakin. (Not just the
computer, but his camera, printer, monitor…)

I can see claiming that a hard drive is evidence, but I really
don’t see how a printer can be.

Anyway, the lawyer’s advice is that he can fight the
destruction of evidence application, but he advises against it,
on the grounds that it might well cost more time and money than
the equipment is worth.

I’m glad I set up my offsite backup system.

How the Burns party went

I’m just now getting to hear the recordings from the concert on
January 30, so I’ll write about that later. Yesterday’s Burns
birthday party was quite pleasant.

My sister, the hostess, read an article from the Manchester
Guardian pointing out that the custom started within a few years
of Burns’ death, when there were still people around who had known
Burns. She discussed the history of the 19th century parties
where the guests provided the entertainment. At the Burns
parties, everybody contributed, whether professional or not.
Later, at the parties where Chopin played and George Sand read her
works in progress, it was the professionals who performed, but
they were doing it in their own social context. Later still, the
professionals were asked to perform for other people, and either
were paid, or felt they should have been.

There was an animated discussion of the “Question” — Resolved:
that candidates for public office *should* want to stand in the
cold outside Fenway Park and shake hands. Everyone agreed that
Coakley had not been a good candidate, but none of the
political activists in the room wanted to discuss my point
that there had been no Get Out the Vote.

People enjoyed my selections from Judith. A friend who has
usually played recordings of folksongs he likes this year sang an
Irish lullaby from the Clancy Brothers’ repertoire, and turned out
to have quite a pleasant voice. Someone read a newly discovered
poem by Burns, and someone else sang his setting of a lullaby by
Yeats. I got a chance to play my Mexican Polka with piano
accompaniment. My sister read the whole of the Wordsworth poem on
the death of Lord Nelson that President Obama had quoted the last
three lines of in his eulogy of Edward Kennedy.

The food and drink were all good. Monte began the procedings
by making off with the whole wedge of the most expensive cheese.
After that it was mostly humans enjoying the food they’d cooked
for each other, including “neaps and tatties”; a casserole with
barley, shrimp, and chicken; and lemon squares.

More Judith

I had to spend most of the morning producing the handout for
the
party
, so I’ll give you the rest of it today.

I’m reading parts of two sections — the one I gave you
yesterday about Holofernes cutting off the water supply to
Bethulia, and the one about the death of Holofernes.

Here’s the version in the Apocrypha:

And Holofernes was made merry on her occasion, and drank exceeding
much wine, so much as he had never drunk in his life.

And when it was grown late, his servants made haste to their lodgings,
and Vagao shut the chamber doors, and went his way.

And they were all overcharged with wine.
And Judith was alone in the chamber.
But Holofernes lay on his bed, fast asleep, being exceedingly drunk.

And Judith spoke to her maid to stand without before the chamber, and to watch:

And Judith stood before the bed praying with tears, and the motion of her lips in silence,

Saying: Strengthen me, O Lord God of Israel, and in this hour look on the works of my hands, that as thou hast promised, thou mayst raise up Jerusalem thy city: and that I may bring to pass that which I have purposed, having a belief that it might be done by thee.

And when she had said this, she went to the pillar that was at his bed’s head, and loosed his sword that hung tied upon it.

And when she had drawn it out, she took him by the hair of his head, and said: Strengthen me, O Lord God, at this hour.

And she struck twice upon his neck, and out off his head, and took off his canopy from the pillars, and rolled away his headless body.

And after a while she went out, and delivered the head of Holofernes to her maid, and bade her put it into her wallet.

The version from the program notes for last June’s concert is
interrupted by two soliloquies, so I’ll give it to you straight,
first:

Holofernes was barely able to stand
on his feet, and sleep did overtake him.
Bagoas closed the tent and ordered the others to leave.

Holofernes’s strength melts away,
the filthy deeds of lust dilute it,
The bed was in the middle of the chamber,
soft, clean, white.
Entering, Holofernes collapsed upon it,
he began to snore louder than a sea lion,

Judith moved aside the curtains of the bed
while her heart beat fiercely,
She joined hand to hand,
fell to her knees, poured forth tears;
and prayed to herself:
O God,
remove from me all fear, guide my arm
that it accomplish what my mind has plotted!

Now, now I pray, free Your city Jerusalem,
smite the arrogant who elevate themselves,
give peace to the virtuous who humble themselves,
Give me Your power, and deign to assist me.

This she said, then silently she took the sword from the pillar of
the bed,
and drew it; with one hand she seized Holofernes’s hair,
with the other she smote him.
He groaned, shuddered, lying on his back, then
he expired; he had no strength; from his throat dribbled blood:
thus the hero perished, thus he closed his eyes.

He lay there like a log,
God did help Judith
that her work was not in vain,
she struck him again and took off his head.

I believe these soliloquies are not from the original epic, but
are what were called “Agonies” in Croation poetry. The first one
is inserted between Judith’s prayer and her actually taking the sword in
her hands:

[At that moment, the mind of Judith got up and spoke to her soul]

Why are you so sad, my soul, and why are you confusing me…

The soul answered: oh, how greatly you confused my heart…
I have been given to the body to live with it, and the body
cheated me…

The mind: My soul, your excuse isn’t good,
Because your body is made of earth, and you are made of wisdom…

Therefore I am so surprised that your heart is so petrified…
Overcome your body…

Then the soul said: Woe to me, I hoped to receive from you a
consolation, and instead I received even bigger sadness… You
know that I have been living on this world for many years… I
cannot overcome my body. It is older, cannot move, and cannot do
any good…

O, my soul, how bitter are your words, don’t lose hope if you are
losing your mind, I pray you… weep and fall upon your knees…

And then there’s one for Holofernes right after he dies:

[Then, Holofernes’s soul stood up and spoke ot his body angrily:]

Where are your lands and vineyards?

Where the pearls and Stones?

Where are your golden rings?

Where all the money that was your god?

Where are the delicious spices, that you prepared and forgot about
the poor?
There is no more fowl or wine on your table, now you are the drink
of disgusting worms,
that will crumble your body into dust.

It will be God’s decision,

do you want to cry in this chaber, where you lie with your nose
up?

Your beautiful eyes now stay closed,
your tongue is now silent, speechless.

[Then the evil Holofernes’s body, parting from the world, started
lamenting in a death rattle:]

Alas, where is my pride,
alas, where is my life?
Alas, where are my friends?

Alas, where are all my riches?

Oh, my dear companions, look at my body which lived with you
not fearing death,

My arms are still here,
but they don’t help my soul.
My eyes are closed
and all my arms killed.

Why has God created me?

Cursed be the day when I was born;
cursed the place when I was fed!
Be lost the paths that I crossed!

The Book of Judith

I’m going to a Robert Burns Birthday Party tomorrow, where
people read poetry that’s impressed them. We’ll also song some
Burns songs and read some of the standard Burns, but people
mostly pick poems that mean something to them no matter who the
poet is or
when they were written.

I thought over what poetry I’ve run into this year, and what
impressed me most was the Croatian
poems based on the Book of Judith
that I heard at last
year’s Boston Early Music
Festival.

I’m going to just read a couple of short passages from a Bible
translation, and some slightly longer passages from the
translation in the BEMF booklet. But I’ve been looking at some
of the information on the internet about the original, and why
it’s in Apocrypha.

Here’s an article
about how it’s been perceived in several religious traditions,
and here’s the Wikipedia
article
, which includes a list of literary, musical, and
artistic works based on the story, including the Croation Juditha,
which was part of the basis for the concert last June.

My brief summary is that the Rabbis who decided on the Hebrew
Canon decided not to include it because it was clearly not a
contemporary account. It seems to have been written during the
time of the Maccabees, and set during the reign of
Nebbuchadnezzar. So it’s a historical novel.

One of the aspects of it that struck me last June was the
description of the Assyrian atrocities against the civilian
population, like this one from chapter 7:

Now Holofernes, in going round about, found that the fountains which supplied them with water, ran through an aqueduct without the city on the south side: and he commanded their aqueduct to he cut off.

Nevertheless there were springs not far from the walls, out of which they were seen secretly to draw water, to refresh themselves a little rather than to drink their fill.

But the children of Ammon and Moab came to Holofernes, saying: The children of Israel trust not in their spears, nor in their arrows, but the mountains are their defense, and the steep hires and precipices guard them.

Wherefore that thou mayst overcome them without joining battle, set guards at the springs that they may not draw water out of them, and thou shalt destroy them without sword, or at least being wearied out they will yield up their city, which they suppose, because it is situate in the mountains, to be impregnable.

And these words pleased Holofernes, and his officers, and he placed all round about a hundred men at every spring.

And when they had kept this watch for full twenty days, the cisterns, and the reserve of waters failed among all the inhabitants of Bethulia, so that there was not within the city, enough to satisfy them, no not for one day, for water was daily given out to the people by measure.

The Croatian version of this is shorter and more vivid:

Holofernes approached Bethulia and diverted the water that
flowed into the city.

The water finished, there was thirst in the town,
Nothing to moisten their mouths,
their tongues began to dry out,
their lips to crack, and people waxed pale.

Sent a movie back unwatched

I don’t usually do that, and it’s not that it’s a terrible
movie.

It’s called Hands
over the City.
It’s about urban development politics, which I expected to be
interested in, but in this case I just wasn’t. I tried twice,
and I just couldn’t get interested in any of the characters
enough to even recognize them when they came back in later
scenes.

There is a good scene at the beginning when a building
collapses, injuring several people. You expect that kind of
European film to have a lot of visual interest even if you don’t
like the characters, but I think one of the points of this one was
how ugly the development was making Naples, and there were an
awful lot of ugly shots of skyscrapers.

So I can’t really tell you not to watch it, because it could be
if I’d persevered there would have been all kinds of catharsis.
But I can tell you I found the first 50 minutes or so pretty boring.

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