Thursday, February 09, 2006

Divertissement Deux

A few more interesting notes from recent reading:
On the backstretch early each morning men guided teams of horses on circuits of the barns, shoveling the mucked-out manure into wagons and driving the teams up the hill behind the backstretch, where they would dump it. The pile had been accumulating since 1917, and because the city received little rain to wash it down, it was enormous. ...

Sometime in the late 1920s, after extraordinarily heavy rains, swollen streams running off the nearby mountains backed up into a ravine, then exploded over the banks. Howling through Tijuana, the wall of water crashed into the racetrack, hurling houses, barns, and bridges along with it.

... the irresistible force of the flood met the immovable object of the manure pile. The water won. The mound, a marvel of solidity for a decade, was uprooted whole and began to shudder along in one murderous mass. It rolled over the San Diego and Arizona railroad tracks that fed the racetrack, tearing them out. Moving as if animated with destructive desire, it gurgled down the backstretch, banked around the far turn, bore out in the homestretch, and mowed down the grandstand. It made a beeline for the Monte Carlo Casino, crashing straight through its walls and cracking it wide open. Then, like a mighty shit Godzilla, it slid out to sea and vanished.
--Laura Hillenbrand, Seabiscuit
(The book is much better than the movie, partly for the fascinating sidelights such as this.)
You might sometimes see a mother dancing behind a casket containing the body of her own dead son, with tears of grief running down her face. Most funeral traditions in our society are there to remind us that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. In New Orleans the funerals remind us that Life is bigger than any individual life, and it will roll on, and for the short time that your individual life joins the big stream of Life, cut some decent steps, for god's sake. ...

They say nothing lasts forever, but how, one might ask, do they know? ...

The "underprivileged" people of New Orleans spun a culture out of their lives -- a music, a cuisine, a sense of life -- that has been recognized around the world as a transforming spiritual force. Out of those pitifully small incomes and crumbling houses, and hard, long days and nights of work came a staggering Yes, an affirmation of life -- their lives, Life itself -- in defiance of a world that told them in as many ways as it could find that they were, you know, dispensable.
--Tom Piazza, Why New Orleans Matters
(A delightful book for his gushing memories of food and fun in his adopted home, but the essence of his argument is above: one you will either feel or not, and which will not convince you if you lack breadth of soul or a sense of joy.)
Whether I liked it or not this was determined by those who carried guns. He who carries a gun always has the right to give orders, and the one who has no gun always has the damn duty to obey. And that has been the law since that memorable day when the archangel Gabriel with his flaming sword in hand chased two naked people out of the Lord's vegetable garden. Had they had a machine gun, everything would have turned out entirely different and giving orders or obeying them would have taken a different road. ...

Of course I knew quite well that a real doctor would have done everything I did entirely differently. For that reason he has a license and a partnership in an undertaker's establishment.
--B. Traven, "Midnight Call", in The Night Visitor and Other Stories
(Fascinating tales, two of "magical realism" and the others of the plain old cynical realist variety, from an author I hadn't read before but certainly will explore more of.)


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