Friday, January 25, 2013

Depressed.
I have made a damn fool of myself all over town. Missing appointments for the grand job. Bumming smokes. Letting ladies pick up the tab. The thing is, I have for decades  been running for the Grand Genius sweepstakes--while writing like  sausage.
 Why can't I write like Borges?
 
On the burning February morning Beatriz Viterbo died, after braving an agony that never for a single moment gave way to self-pity or fear, I noticed that the sidewalk billboards around Constitution Plaza were advertising some new brand or other of American cigarettes. The fact pained me, for I realised that the wide and ceaseless universe was already slipping away from her and that this slight change was the first of an endless series. The universe may change but not me, I thought with a certain sad vanity. I knew that at times my fruitless devotion had annoyed her; now that she was dead, I could devote myself to her memory, without hope but also without humiliation. I recalled that the thirtieth of April was her birthday; on that day to visit her house on Garay Street and pay my respects to her father and to Carlos Argentino Daneri, her first cousin, would be an irreproachable and perhaps unavoidable act of politeness. Once again I would wait in the twilight of the small, cluttered drawing room, once again I would study the details of her many photographs: Beatriz Viterbo in profile and in full colour; Beatriz wearing a mask, during the Carnival of 1921; Beatriz at her First Communion; Beatriz on the day of her wedding to Roberto Alessandri; Beatriz soon after her divorce, at a luncheon at the Turf Club; Beatriz at a seaside resort in Quilmes with Delia San Marco Porcel and Carlos Argentino; Beatriz with the Pekingese lapdog given her by Villegas Haedo; Beatriz, front and three-quarter views, smiling, hand on her chin... I would not be forced, as in the past, to justify my presence with modest offerings of books -- books whose pages I finally learned to cut beforehand, so as not to find out, months later, that they lay around unopened.
Beatriz Viterbo died in 1929. From that time on, I never let a thirtieth of April go by without a visit to her house. I used to make my appearance at seven-fifteen sharp and stay on for some twenty-five minutes. Each year, I arrived a little later and stay a little longer. In 1933, a torrential downpour coming to my aid, they were obliged to ask me for dinner. Naturally, I took advantage of that lucky precedent. In 1934, I arrived, just after eight, with one of those large Santa Fe sugared cakes, and quite matter-of-factly I stayed to dinner. It was in this way, on these melancholy and vainly erotic anniversaries, that I came into the gradual confidences of Carlos Argentino Daneri.
Beatriz had been tall, frail, slightly stooped; in her walk there was (if the oxymoron may be allowed) a kind of uncertain grace, a hint of expectancy. Carlos Argentino was pink-faced, overweight, gray-haired, fine-featured. He held a minor position in an unreadable library out on the edge of the Southside of Buenos Aires. He was authoritarian but also unimpressive. Until only recently, he took advantage of his nights and holidays to stay at home. At a remove of two generations, the Italian "S" and demonstrative Italian gestures still survived in him. His mental activity was continuous, deeply felt, far-ranging, and -- all in all -- meaningless. He dealt in pointless analogies and in trivial scruples. He had (as did Beatriz) large, beautiful, finely shaped hands. For several months he seemed to be obsessed with Paul Fort -- less with his ballads than with the idea of a towering reputation. "He is the Prince of poets," Daneri would repeat fatuously. "You will belittle him in vain -- but no, not even the most venomous of your shafts will graze him."
On the thirtieth of April, 1941, along with the sugared cake I allowed myself to add a bottle of Argentine cognac. Carlos Argentino tasted it, pronounced it "interesting," and, after a few drinks, launched into a glorification of modern man.
"I view him," he said with a certain unaccountable excitement, "in his inner sanctum..."

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Digging up old Gold...Or do I mean Old Gold Cigarettes"

The trouble with these weekly Cancer Society and World Health jeremiads you get almost every week, about smoking and drinking killing you dead, is that most people don't enjoy these things the way you do. And they're probably less healthy and downright boring. Dare I eat a peanut?

Now we old-fashioned "degenerate" writers know for sure that it's not necessarily the play but the life that is the thing, the great Hemingwayesque drinking bouts, constructing huge sprawling novels in the smoky pubroom air, lying our asses off, bragging, shouting wild promises to the wind, all that sound and fury meaning nothing, but sound and fury all the same. The unaddicted life is not worth living.

Drinking and smoking lend an element to life that is ordinarily missing, magic and it is for magic that we drink and smoke. Who cares about the dull minutia of paychecks, insurance adjustments, having the Joneses over and all those horrors? Drinking can give everything a nice amber patina. The Joneses, non smokers all, and really dull and horrid, can become fascinating, unique people and you yourself may even become more interesting and magical after a few drinks.

In other words, drinking is great...and what is the point of having a drink if you don't have a cigarette to go with it?

The facts and statistics are there for us. We have heard of the horrors of cirrhosis, of lung cancer, emphysema or worse. It's all there on our cigarette packages.

And yet 33 per cent of us seem to drink and smoke no matter what the statistics, and yet everyday poor women of 34 die of lung and breast cancers, abstainers all, while we blithely puff away and imbibe, most of us reaching at least the good old threescore and ten.

Yes, yes, it's trendy today to be on the forefront of anti-drinking and anti-smoking campaigns, certainly politically correct, but face it, these things have been around for a long time and we pay through the nose for our habits, filling federal and provincial coffers, feeding the cirrhosis and cancer crowd, with our taxes and our excesses. And after all is said and done, most of the money goes to tell us not to drink or smoke, a vicious circle that is mostly propaganda and very little research. Ask Wendy Mesley of the CBC. She has done some hard footslogging on this, herself battling cancer and the cancer societies seem to be doing something else, like telling us not to drink or smoke. And spending big bucks, our bucks, on this.

Straight, tee-totaling non-smokers, smug on their prescription drugs, have no idea of how relaxing it is to have a drink. Yes, yes, there are the runners and the joggers. This author has done these things. He has found out that you can yoga-booty and run all day and still feel tense and unsatisfied immediately afterwards. Nothing is as pleasurable as a smoke and a drink, for in an age of aimless longing, you can at least satisfy your desire for a drink and a cigarette.

Yet all this being said, we bad guys do tend to overdo it. That's when the WHO and Cancer crowd gets close to being right.

Do all these things, but not all the time, not to the point of pathology. All things in moderation, the ancient Greeks used to say (while frankly being the most immoderate of people, especially in their sexual habits).

The trick then, is not to quit drinking and smoking, but to cut down, cut down on all these habits, which, quite frankly, if too much indulged, can, as the Jeremiahs say, lead to the insane asylum and the grave, or worse, like having to quit altogether, which, of course, is anathema. Face it, if we were told tomorrow that we did not have cancer after all, the first thing we would do is light a cigarette and feel relieved. Sure you would. Like any other sane person.

So from someone who has gone the whole nine yards, some advice.

To begin with, don't drink in the afternoon any more. It leads, after the first initial high of the lunch to biliousness and drowsiness, quarrels with one's fellows, job dissatisfaction and all these things we think there are real causes for. Drink in the evening, and then only with meals. It is the late evening that you can a cool Bacardi cocktail to bed with you, perhaps even one or two jiggers more if you drink between eleven and one in the morning. It you've got a good buzz-on at one a.m. chances are you won’t wake up at three in the morning and have your entire day ruined by withdrawal and insomnia. Drink is an aid to sleep, but you have to manage it. Self-medicate?

The same is true for smoking: manage it.

Have no cigarettes at all before breakfast and then smoke your brains out over coffee so as to start your day with some feel-good planning; you are in a comfort zone and you're not panicking over everything all the time as you ordinarily would if you didn't drink or smoke at all. Yeah. Slow it down. Even God had to take a day off, though there is no immediate evidence of human vices, of course.

The trick, again, if you can't quit smoking or drinking (who really wants to after they're hooked onto something in life that that hints to the first edge of the Promised Land) is to cut down. Cut down quite a bit.

Use your drinking and smoking as a reward. After a hard day, have three Scotches in your warm bed, but no more, for then there's trouble, arguments with your spouse and hangovers the next day that scream to God. Scotch is not diet pop. It's not. Oh lord, it's not.

With the smoking, always think of the cigarette as the reward. This one for the Newmarket hockey team, this one for having done a good hour's work, this one for our boys in Afghanistan, this one for, well, because I wanna.

To recapitulate, the WHO and Cancer folk are probably right. It's better, probably, not to drink and smoke at all. But you are hooked. You have trouble feeling like you did at fifteen at fifty. Well, even old Gar Mahood, on my taxpayer's dime (get a job, Gar!), will admit that what we have here are addictions. So drink and smoke. But don't drink and smoke so much.

If you cut down, you are as sensible in managing our habits (addictions?) as you usually are in managing the people around you (at least when you're not hung-over). You will live and prosper and hardly suffer any side effects at all.

But if you persist in your overindulgences, you may have to give up these habits altogether, which, in the mind of this writer at least, is utterly inconceivable.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sunday, January 13, 2013

MUSE

MuseBy Ivan Prokopchuk 
You caress the rosewood
of the silver-fretted
cherry-black guitar

It rings
to a thousand life-songs
It sings
Of two lovers frisking
on the bank of a life-bestudded river

It scatters
smatters
of colour and light
-- that other side of sound

As if to mock our inability
to mimic not only life
But steel and wood


Back to Title Page
MuseBy Ivan Prokopchuk You caress the rosewood
of the silver-fretted
cherry-black guitar

It rings
to a thousand life-songs
It sings
Of two lovers frisking
on the bank of a life-bestudded river

It scatters
smatters
of colour and light
-- that other side of sound

As if to mock our inability
to mimic not only life
But steel and wood


Back to Title Page