Sunday, August 31, 2008

Time for pleasure and for milk

The Dada and Surrealist festival playing on KBOO (Oregon) today lends the perfect atmosphere for our continuing coverage of the new anthology Surrealism in Greece, edited and translated by Nikos Stabakis.

The anthology opens with Andreas Embirikos, a major discovery for me. I am determined to score (put to music, that is, not purchase on the black market) one of his books, either Blast Furnace or Altamira's Tentacle. I prefer "Blast Furnace" as a title, having grown up in a steel town with a locally notorious blast furnace, whereas the name "Altamira" throws me off, at first. It strikes me as a fantasy name, an element of Surrealist literature that does not appeal to me.

But, when I asked Google about "Altamira," I learned that it's actually the name of a cave in Spain where prehistoric paintings were discovered in 1879 by the 8-year-old daughter of an amateur archaeologist. Even in its barest outlines on Wikipedia, the story of the cave and its discovery sounds worthy of a book-length study or novel.

The poor guy whose daughter stumbled upon the ancient paintings of bison, goats and human hands was publicly denounced as a fraud and died before his honor was restituted. When Picasso saw the site, he declared, "After Altamira, all is decadence." (Makes me wish Embirikos' book was titled After Altamira!) Moisture from the exhalations of visitors degraded the paintings, over the years, so now very few visitors are admitted to the cave - there is a three-year waiting list to do so. A Spanish brand of cigarettes has a logo that riffs off the paintings, as does a Spanish cartoon equivalent of the Flintstones. All that - and a Steely Dan song!

Embirikos' Altamira book uses the formal structure, which I adore, of brief, numbered items. Here is a selection of the ones that sang to me, in Nikos Stabakis' haunting translations:


12. A little more sea, a little more salt. Later I would like to roll in the sand with you.

14. Deep wound. On the crater's hill you shake the memory, and, slowly, like dusk absorbing a withering day, you, beloved and falsely forgotten, leave the whirl of oblivion to the five winds - for always, when riots whiz and the grass is sprinkled, you forget, and again you remember, and even though you bear no obligation, you are sometimes saddened and sometimes delighted. You are, I think, a frigate visiting all ports, with no baskets and plenty of beautiful soft gunwales.

23. Acts of elephants, Precious revolvers of ivory. A woman between two stacks is picking up poppies. Finally someone shoots a pistol and all the animals take flight. The trampling of their feet advances like a wave that covers everything.

26. Madness resembles joy or sorrow. Yet it is not a Danaid's sieve, but a group of maids dancing at an Orchomenus orchestra. No voice stirred the crowds so deeply. No dusk spread a deeper sorrow. O, hysterical daughter! Your frisk is an avenue leading to the bridge of your condition and your cry a sharp whinnying piercing the sky's eye.

31. Infant in gentle silence. Only the breeze is singing and the daydreaming wet nurse offers her teat to the happy babe. Time for pleasure and milk. Time for the milky way.

32. Masts stuck on sandhills, joys of children, of men and of women as the ship approaches, clouds, white and light, in the sky, a thousand objects, bright and beloved like lips bleeding or dewy, or like awakended teats, and suddenly you, warm and cool at once, and never small-minded, although your feet and hands are indeed small. Maybe that is why I love you so much. Maybe that is why, asleep, I cry your name.


Picture of an ancient bison painting from Altamira lifted from a post about a bone protein from a website that shines a monthly spotlight on a protein.

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