Somehow I ended up on this page about fabliaux, Medieval French comic tales. Naturally, I wanted to read about “the knight who made cunts and arseholes speak”. There’s a short verse excerpt, after reading which I went searching for, and found, the whole thing, translated into English prose by Dr Helen Nicholson. Heartily recommended to lovers of ribald comedy!
I wasn’t that happy with Hearts & Guns as a title for the story collection. It’s snappy, but doesn’t give any sense of fantasy or strangeness. I’ve decided to use a line in one of the poems and call it That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote.
I’m getting there with the beta edits. Maybe one day they’ll name a snail after me.
Also, reading Mary Doria Russell’s Doc, a historical novel based on the life of Doc Holliday, mainly when he was in Dodge City, before Tombstone. A great pleasure to read, will be sorry to finish it.
The Brass Gardens of Winterhouse Street
is a book that begins and ends in Winterhouse Street, where the sky is draped in clouds, and the houses robed in ivy.
Very often, the reader is wearing gloves—of, for instance, white velour stitched with brilliants, or of grey kid that has absorbed an odour of buring lavender, or of navy-blue silk, once having belonged to a surgeon-priest, and delicately soiled with the overflow of sacrificial operations.
The book dreams of the reader’s gloves. One could say the book has a fetish.
If the reader’s hands are bare, the book will imagine a suitable integument in which to encase them, such as the velvet of a peach or the caecum of a saint.
The book is really a demon, as all grimoires and many books of sacred scripture are.
It is bound once in black leather and twice in chains.
Bookbinders, too, have their fetishes.
The book, or demon, contains the whole of Winterhouse Street, and the gardens, which are named for the statues of brass that the demon once swallowed, having been tricked into thinking they were human beings.
The human beings of Winterhouse Street are retired, or just tired, functionaries of the demon’s immune system. They are prone to being prone; they prune a little, and swear by prunes.
Strangers roam the gardens, always wearing gloves of fine or strange stuff, always looking for a way out that does not lead to Winterhouse Street, always forming secret societies with claims to privileged understanding of the world, for which knowledge they torture one other in sport and in earnest.
The pale functionaries, watching if they happen to be awake, are as entertained as their constitutions permit.
Some of the foreigners adopt outwardly the custom of Winterhouse Street and spend their days in bed, in desperate silence, attempting to free themselves by means of astral projection.
I’m looking forward to this:
The synopsis on YouTube says:
The Chinese animation film Da Hai (Big Ocean) tells a fantasy story set in a mythic land where no outsider has ever set foot. The spirit-like dwellers there, however, know us mortals well. They are responsible for human emotions and desires, for seasons, weather, the elapsing of time… in short, for all the principles that govern human life and the running of the world. Our protagonist, a spirit girl named Chun, has just turned sixteen and goes in the form of a dolphin to explore the earthly part of the sea, to see what the human world is like. While cruising at sea, Chun gets caught in a storm and finds herself enmeshed in a fishing net. A human boy spots her and comes to her rescue, trying to free Chun from the entanglement. By accident, the boy drowns, leaving Chun wretched and heartbroken. Da Hai tells an absorbing and bittersweet story of sacrifice and redemption when Chun is determined to bring back to life the boy’s soul, now in the form of a little white fish. The film deals with the difficult issues of death, love and maturing emotions with empathy and nuance, within a universe and mythology deeply rooted in Chinese culture and folklore. The project began as 7-minute short animated by B&T Studio, who decided to expand it into a feature-length film.
Mrs River was a character I came up with when I was trying to write another book after The Etched City. She’s an old lady who decides to run away to sea. She was inspired by Marian Leatherby in Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet, who has adventures in a strange institution for the aged. I wrote quite a lot about her, but couldn’t think of a plot. I got in a tizz, then in a funk, and discarded her story.
I recently went digging for Mrs River material. I think she might live in the world of Saving the Gleeful Horse, with the White Ma’at and Prince November, and chalk downs and market gardens and canals. And I have some tenuous ideas for a plot, which might see her doing something other than running away to sea.
This is first-drafty, but I like it. I had forgotten how much I did like it.
It was so easy, Mrs River thought, with things in the garden. Just put seeds in, and something remarkable would grow. She wiped her eyes on her apron, looked up, and saw the full moon and the Gillespie sign glaring at each other across the sky. And as she looked from one to the other she suddenly felt the woozy sway of vertigo. Her left knee bent, her gumboot slipped, and, arms flailing, she fell backwards onto her bottom on the grass.
That did it. She wasn’t hurt, but the shock brought on tears. As she sobbed she talked to herself. ‘Just have a good cry,’ Mrs River advised herself. ‘Have a good cry, you great big silly sausage. Silly, weak old sausage.’
When the crying eventually stopped, like a clockwork mechanism winding down, she hauled herself up with the help of a thick, low branch of the peach tree.
As she rose, her gaze met the flowers of the datura, glowing with a thin and bitter prettiness in the moonlight.
‘And what are you gawking at?’ she snapped. ‘You sly, you bad-hearted… Lord Ichabod.’ Still gripping the branch for support, she turned her attention to the prickly pear. ‘Or you, Old Bother?’ She even rounded on the peach tree, which had helped her. ‘Or, for that matter, you, Lady Burden?’
Unable to imagine from where these peculiar names were coming to her tongue, but finding a queer sort of fascination in uttering them, Mrs River stood and addressed the plants of the back garden. Firstly, feeling bad about having spoken to them in such an angry way, she gave apologetic smiles to the datura and the prickly pear, and patted the trunk of the peach.
‘Now you,’ she said to the aloe, ‘are Old Penance. Blood plums, you must be Lady Luncheon and… John Torn of the Heart. You morning glories are the Queen’s Ears, and you geraniums are obviously the Queen’s Fleas. Hibiscus, I think you are Lorna Peru. And lawn, if you can hear me, you are the Lagoon of Venus.’
Other objects started to draw her attention. She moved away from the tree and stood in the centre of the yard to speak to them. ‘Compost, you are certainly Old Blimey. Watering can, I know you’re Beckoning Darcy. And you, rake and hoe, you are Calypso Jake and Adagio Joe.’
Once started, she was utterly unable to stop. She walked around to the front garden, and instantly knew that the guelder rose was the Gluewife, the carnations were collectively the Canticle of Soap, and the roses the Phrygian Prophets. It took her a minute to think of something for the hydrangeas, but she was pleased with the name when it came to her: they were Evening Cheeses.
When eventually she went back indoors, and after she had taken a moment to change into a clean dress, Mrs River went around the house. She bustled in and out of the rooms, She bustled around the house, words banging on her tongue like unexpected visitors at her front door. They were so rapid and so many she had trouble keeping up with them all. The roses on the wallpaper in the hall became the Fortunes; the rose-glass goblet was the Praise; Black Toby already had a name; the ivory horse became Saltimblessed, the bisque children the Quadrascals, the galleon on the plate the Speed of a Star; the sitting room clock was Mrs Whoop-de-do, and the wooden clock in the kitchen was the Emperor Botulism. All mirrors in the house were the Misters. The white toilet, receptacle of reverence past, could be the Mother of God, Mrs River carelessly decided.
It was necessary for her to find a notebook, in which she wrote down these names and all the others she came up with. The notebook itself she named the Importance, and knew instantly that the pen she wrote with was called Mirabila. She felt less that she was guiding the nib than that the funny words were dragging it along.
The word ‘words’ didn’t feel quite right.
They didn’t feel exactly like ‘names’, either.
They were… they were…
…Sudds, she wrote, and felt so satisfied with that that she penned the initial ‘S’ and the last ‘s’ with swashbuckling flourishes.
It was well past midnight when she finally fell into bed, worn out by her work.
More work by the Slovak artist who did the engraved hairscapes. I especially love the one below. It’s a lithograph called French Conversation, 1979, dedicted to Anne and Jacques Baruch, on whose Baruch Foundation website it and other works by Eastern and Central European artists can be found. I came across it first on Marcelo Gallegos’ Monsterism blog — well worth checking out for its eclectic collection of uncanny and fantastical art, including Gallegos’ own.
The copious but softened detail and the depth of the landscape appeal to me, as does the dreamy oddness of the towering bouquets, seemingly weightless, one without a bowl, looking as if it might slowly float away — it’s an image that suggests a whole world, and a story. (Cick for bigger size.)
It seemingly alludes to the Last Supper and the fête champêtre genre, and one can look at the bouquets as floral still-lives returned to nature, the outdoors-brought-indoors brought outdoors again — but while these are a few lines of thought to take as a sort of initial pamphlet guide into the landscape/garden, I think they are only suggestions; the picture transcends its allusions. I see it as an invitation to converse, explore, imagine, discover, and to experience mysteries. The woman might be a muse, a friend, a goddess, a lover, a guide, or an interesting stranger. We’re free to respond in our own way. It’s a generous picture, in the way that good conversation is generous.
It’s also a bit botheringly asymmetrical: my eye wants more landscape on the left, though my mind disagrees and says the asymmetry is a factor in the image’s eerie charm. (As far as I can tell, the woman is in the middle of the picture but not the middle of the table; the off-centre perspective of the table is subtle and I think my brain keeps auto-correcting it so that I don’t see exactly what’s there.)
Last night I had either very minor food poisoning or a bad reaction to a creamy sauce and took about 3 hours to get to sleep. When I did get there, I dreamt I was at a restaurant where they served hash cake. I ate the hash cake and a ganja candy and felt a little woozy. When I got home, there was a mysterious copy of The Etched City on my bookshelves. Without my permission, someone had made a comic-book version of the story in which the characters were furry animals. As well as the usual word balloons, there was English text mixed with Japanese and Chinese at the bottom of the pages. I didn’t take a good look at the pictures, as for some reason I was more interested in reading the front matter. There was a pile of forewords and introductions by various people, none of which seemed to have anything to do with the book. Different artists had worked on the project, which seemed to be from the UK. The furry animal theme disappeared at some point.
Then this nerdy-looking kid with dark hair and glasses came into my room and asked if I wouldn’t mind him giving me some advice. He told me that Gunpowder Tea obviously wasn’t going to work, and I should concentrate instead on the story where I had a lot of countries on a coloured map. (I don’t have any such story, though it gave me an idea when I thought about it on waking.) Then he went outside my house to catch a train. The train went to Pest — as in, the Pest half of Budapest — which surprised me, as I thought we were in Bangkok. He laughed and said something to the effect that the train just went in that direction. (Maybe I thought he was a pest?)
While I was reading the introductions, the dream did a detour into what I think was a kind of visual representation of the feeling the introductions gave me. It was a scene that felt like a model, with odd plastic figures in a little booth or kiosk. One of them was larger than the others and looked a bit like a tall, thinnish, zombie version of the Michelin Man. It had a very nasty mouth. There was a sign saying something like “We make the kind of kind and wiry body we like to make” — referring to the white figure.