Archive | February, 2014

The Mardi Gras of Greece

28 Feb

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This weekend is the big Carnival weekend in Greece. Don’t let New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro get all the glory. Patras is the number 3 for Carnival.

Usually you can make it to more than one Carnival because Greek Orthodox follow the Julian calendar, while Catholics use the new, Gregorian, calendar. However, this year our calendars coincide.

Carnival is basically a time to many go wild right before the seriousness of the 40-day fast of Great Lent leading up to the Crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday and His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Though it’s certainly tied to Orthodox Christianity, practicing Orthodox believers don’t participate in its more reckless aspects that are tied to Dionysus. The parades and floats, though? Those are fun!

Clip: Scripps Magazine Features “Burning Furiously Beautiful”

27 Feb

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If you flip — or scroll! — to page 40 of Scripps Magazine you’ll see me featured in their regular column of alumnae authors, “ManuScripps.”

The column talks about how Scripps, the women’s college of the Claremont Colleges, fostered my education in the Beat Generation. …Which just goes to show you that feminists can like the Beats!

Special thanks to the Scripps Magazine and the Scripps College Alumnae Association for their support of my writing.

And if you missed it, here’s a post on the New York chapter of the Scripps book club reading Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”

Lack of Translation in America Is “Shameful,” Says Lahiri

26 Feb

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Jhumpa Lahiri criticized the American literary world as “shameful the lack of translation, the lack of energy put into translation in the American market.” The Indian American author said this on the panel about global literature at the Jaipur Literature Festival that I blogged about earlier, when I remarked on Xiaolu Guo’s sentiments that American literature is “overrated.”

I agree with Lahiri that our reading preferences in America are too inward focused. Ideally, we’d all be able to read in at least a second language, like Lahiri, who apparently hasn’t read anything in English in over two years. Good for her, but I’m a Greek school dropout. When I was in high school, I used to read Spanish decently, but I unfortunately haven’t kept it up and nowadays only read the Spanish advertisements in the subway station. Sometimes I tell myself one day I’ll go back to school to really study a language, but that day hasn’t come yet. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important. It’s that I know my limitations, and as horrible as it is to admit this learning another language just isn’t a priority at the moment.

That pains me especially when it comes to contemporary Greek literature. I am quite curious about the literary trends in Greece right, particularly in how they treat the economic crisis. I’ve read some translations of contemporary Greek works, but the truth is they’re hard to come by.

Translation in general is, as Lahiri pointed out, not a priority for American readers. Maybe because for many, reading isn’t a priority. With the difficulties the publishing industry has faced, it feels sacrilegious to condemn them for not publishing more translations. I do want to applaud one publishing house I’ve been keeping my eye on for the past few years: Europa Editions. Here’s why:

Europa Editions was founded in 2005 by Sandro Ferri and Sandra Ozzola Ferri, who are also the owner-publishers of Rome-based Edizioni E/O, one of Europe’s most prestigious independent publishing houses. Our idea was to capitalize on Edizioni E/O’s decades-long experience to bring fresh voices to the American market and provide quality English editions of international literature by enlisting some of the best translators in the business. Our appearance would be distinct, incorporating both European and U.S. jacket design standards, reflecting our conviction that books today must be pleasing to the senses as well as to the mind.  Our catalog  is eclectic, for we believe that dialogue between nations and cultures is of vital importance and that this exchange is facilitated by literature chosen not only for its ability to entertain and fascinate, but also to inform and enlighten.

Also, can I make a bit of a suggestion for those interested in translation? If there’s a note from the publisher or translator, read it! It’s fascinating and eye opening to read about the decisions the translator grappled with when bringing a foreign-language work to an American audience.

What contemporary Greek authors should I be reading right now? Where’s a good place to find Greek works translated into English?

Also, you might enjoy:

 

This Year, Our Calendars Unite!

25 Feb

“Are you in a cult?” my friend once asked me.

My friend and I led a Protestant ministry for young adults, and I had mentioned that I actually celebrate Easter on a different day than most Protestants. Growing up, I had always celebrated Easter at the Greek Orthodox Church. Granted it was the only time of year my family went to the Greek Church (we went to a Protestant church the rest of the year), but we were pretty adamant about that being Easter.

No, I’m not in a cult, I sighed, aggravated that she would think that. In fact, there’s much more tradition and practical reason for celebrating Easter when I do.

The Greek Orthodox Church follows the old calendar system, the Julian calendar. Protestant and Catholics later decided to follow the new Gregorian calendar. What this means, though, is that sometimes Protestants and Catholics celebrate Easter before Jewish observers celebrate Passover. And if you know anything about these religions at all, you know that that doesn’t actually make a lot of sense since Jesus’ Last Supper is suggested to be a Passover meal.

This year, however, our calendars happen to coincide!

…I guess that means no discounted Easter candy for me this year.

Resources:

  • For a very thorough explanation on the calendar differences by an esteemed authority, I recommend this article by Dr. Lewis J. Patsavos.
  • For a more conversational approach yet also thorough, I recommend “A Tale of Two Easters” by Borgna Brunner.

I’m Leading a Free Writing Workshop Today

24 Feb

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I’m leading a free writing workshop today with my friends Nana and Maurice. We’ll be over at the Redeemer Offices, 1359 Broadway, 4th Floor, Main Conference Room. The workshop starts promptly at 7pm and will go til 9pm. Please bring 1-2 pages of your writing for critique.

Remembering Hunter S. Thompson

20 Feb

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Sometimes it’s strange how you get introduced to an author’s work and what you end up associating with them. I’ve had people make assumptions that I got into Jack Kerouac because I was trying to impress boys, which is far, far from the truth. I got into Kerouac after discovering The Portable Beat Reader in the pages of Seventeen magazine, an unabashedly teen girls’ magazine. It never even crossed my mind that Kerouac might be associated as a guy’s book or that reading his book or any book might make me popular with guys. I mean, when you’re in high school, you don’t really think that reading is going to make you sexy. You think lip gloss will. Lip gloss and CK Be.

But when I think of how I first encountered Hunter S. Thompson’s work, I remember watching Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in college with a boy I liked. A boy that liked my friend. She had a boyfriend and was not interested in this boy, and yet he remained puppy-dog in love with her, barely noticing me. But we did watch Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas together. And so now whenever I think of that movie, I think of that time, insignificant as it may have been.

Hunter S. Thompson was alive at that time, and I don’t remember his passing, but he passed away on this day in 2005 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. In his typewriter was a sheet of paper with the words “Feb 22 ’05” and “counselor” typed on it. You can see the police report on The Smoking Gun.

How did you first come across Hunter S. Thompson‘s work?

The Smell of Meat Lofting in the Air

20 Feb

 

Mmm… smell that smoky aroma? It can only mean one thing! Today is that special Greek holiday known as Tsiknopempti. Literally, it’s Charred Meat Thursday.

Yes, that’s right. We have a whole holiday devoted eating meat. Tsiknopempti is the preamble to Great Lent. Basically, you eat a whole lot of meat now because you’re going to be fasting for a long time. Longer, in fact, than the 40 days of Great Lent, since the meat fast starts ten days before that.

Do you fast?

Previous posts on Tsiknopempti:

Happy Tsiknopempti!

Hello, Carnival; Good-bye, Meat

 

I’m with Guo: American Literature IS “Overrated”

19 Feb

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“Nowadays all this narrative [literature is] very similar, it’s so realism, so story-telling driven … so all the poetry, all the alternative things, have been pushed away by mainstream society,” said Chinese British author Xiaolu Guo, speaking about the effect American literature has had on Asian reading habits, on a panel about global literature at the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Oh, and she called American literature “massively overrated.”

I kind of agree. I love American literature, but when I was getting my MFA and started attending writing conferences I began to get frustrated by the push toward what I’ll call commercialism. What I mean by this is that a lot of the feedback I received had to do with creating scenes, telling a story, writing a memoir that reads like a novel. I suppose that’s good feedback because that’s what people want to read…

—Except, I don’t. Much of contemporary fiction seems so contrived to me. Worse, it’s lacking in Art. It’s straightforward, it’s fast-paced, and it’s even enjoyable, but in the same way a sitcom is. Now, I’m not one for magical realism, so I’m not saying I want to venture as far away from the American tradition as Guo might be suggesting, but I think a little messiness, a deeper dive into postmodernism, some stream of consciousness, less obviousness, more layered meaning would do our literature some good, would give it a little more heart, a little more authenticity, more rigor.

What do you think? Which American authors are you particularly enjoying right now that you think would change my mind?

Kerouac Goes Missing in Mali

18 Feb

I ran across a story of a dog named Kerouac that’s too good not to share.

If someone names their scruffy dog Kerouac, you know they’re an adventurer. Such is the case of Stephane, a Frenchman who doesn’t pay attention to those pesky travel warnings about dangerous countries. With Kerouac in tow, Stephane travels the world in search of On the Road-inspired adventures.

In Bamako, Mali, though, Stephane ran into trouble. Kerouac apparently ran off just as Stephane’s envoy was leaving, and the two got separated. What follows is the story of a journalist and the director-general of Mali’s national gendarmerie, and a happy ending despite the journalist’s fears of Malian government corruption.

You can read the full story on Global Animal.

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Surrealist Film at Pravda: Thoughts on Breton’s Automatism and Kerouac’s Spontaneous Prose

17 Feb

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Pravda ran a Surrealist and Experimental film night series over the summer, and although I’m terribly late in posting about it, my friend and I had such a great time that I figured better late than never. One night of Surrealism can lead to many more!

Pravda is a subterranean Russian speakeasy in Soho, near two of my favorite bookstores, Housing Works and McNally Jackson. They serve delicious food and have a fantastic vodka selection. I cannot recommend the horseradish-infused vodka enough.

Occasionally they host special events, such as Salon Dinners, Roaring Twenties Parties, and Surrealist & Experimental Cinema of the 1920s & 30s. The film nights are such a treat! The films are actually silent, and they hire a musician to play live piano music!! I was enthralled. Inspired. They showed films by Man Ray, whom I’d studied at Scripps College, as well as other artists.

A little background::: Surrealism developed out of Dada during World War I in Paris. André Breton is the key player here. Using Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic methods on soldiers, the French poet worked at a neurological hospital. In 1924, he wrote the Surrealist Manifesto, a work that defined the cultural revolution:

“Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express — verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner — the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.”

While Surrealism affected all the arts, I want to pause right here to focus on the connections between Surrealist literature and the Beat Generation. The idea of Surrealist automatism is key here. Automatism is the practice of writing without self-censorship. The Oxford University Press defines it as:

Term appropriated by the Surrealists from physiology and psychiatry and later applied to techniques of spontaneous writing, drawing and painting.

“Spontaneous writing.” Sound familiar? Jack Kerouac wrote a writing manifesto called “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose.” In it, Kerouac wrote, for example:

Not “selectivity” of expression but following free deviation (association) of mind into limitless blow-on-subject seas of thought….

I haven’t yet done any extensive research into this to see if the connections are accurate, but there is a cultural connection to Kerouac and automatism. On Wikipedia (obviously not a true source to go by, but one that can be a launching pad for actual informed research) I read:

The notion of Automatism is also rooted in the artistic movement of the same name founded by Montreal artist Paul-Emile Borduas in 1942; himself influenced by the Dadaist movement as well as André Breton. He, as well as a dozen other artists from Quebec’s artistic scene, very much under restrictive and authoritarian rule in that period, signed the Global Refusal manifesto, in which the artists called upon North American society (specifically in the culturally unique environment of Quebec), to take notice and act upon the societal evolution projected by these new cultural paradigms opened by the Automatist movement as well as other influences in the 1940s.

Remember that Kerouac’s parents were from Quebec, and he and his family used to travel back and forth to visit relatives. The Automatism of Quebec happened in 1942, when Kerouac was already an adult, having graduated from high school and moved to New York by that time. Still, it’s possible that the seeds were planted in both Kerouac and Borduas around the same time and place, in at least the small point that they spoke French, the language of Surrealism.

In “Earwitness Testimony: Sound and Sense, Word and Void in Jack Kerouac’s Old Angel Midnight” for Empty Mirror, Gregory Stephenson makes the claim:

Indeed, in method and intention, Old Angel Midnight could be said to be closer to the sound poetry of the dadaists, Hugo Ball and Kurt Schwitters, and to the automatic writing practiced by the surrealists, André Breton and Philippe Soupault, in their book-length exercise in textual autogenesis, The Magnetic Fields, originally published in 1919.

There’s much more to be said about Surrealism, Automatic Writing, Spontaneous Prose, and Surrealist Film, and the evening at Pravda whet my appetite.