ELIAS Canetti has been among the dead since 1994. If the underworld is anything like it was envisioned in ancient Greek or Chinese mythology – which Canetti found infinitely more “liberating” than contemporary religion – then it’s easy enough to imagine him standing somewhat apart down there, somewhere between the forgotten multitudes and the abiding titans that he venerated in life: Breughel, Pascal, Stendhal etc.
IN the year before the pandemic I got a new gig, a side hustle, guiding tourists around Ernest Hemingway’s old haunts in Madrid. Starting at an ancient tavern and ending at a basement speakeasy, I led a glorified pub crawl across my adopted home town in the wake of a raging alcoholic.
A COWARD may die a thousand times before his death, a morbid kid can be killed over and over in his own mind by phantom Soviet warheads. This was me in the mid-1980s, between the ages of 7 and 12. I spent, or lost, that much of my youth priming for nuclear holocaust, projecting scenarios onto the Republic of Ireland
ON September 13, Spain’s Congress of Deputies voted to expel the bones of General Francisco Franco from his Catholic-pharaonic tomb at the Valley of the Fallen. Not much longer would the great dictator be allowed to repose inside a vast basilica with black marble floors, flanked by chapels dedicated to the patron saints of his army, navy and air force, beneath a simple plate that bears his name but not his rank.
A BOGGLE-EYED pagan god feasts on the headless carcass of his own son. A humanoid billygoat in a monkish cassock bleats a satanic sermon to a gasping congregation of witches. A desperately expressive little dog appears to plead for rescue, submerged up to its neck in a mud-coloured mire beneath a gloomy, void-like firmament of negative space.
E.L. Doctorow died on July 21, 2015, about a month after Donald J. Trump announced and commenced his run for President of the United States. These events were not related, but they have since become fused in my mind. Doctorow was my favorite living writer, and when Trump began his campaign by riding down the escalator to the gold-plated lobby of his tower, I thought the scene could almost have been composed by that great American mythologist.
ON the morning of June 7, a few spectators gathered by the side of the narrow country road that runs through Ballig, a tiny hamlet on the Isle of Man. They waited quietly, listening for engine noise against the pastoral sounds of birdsong, the wind in the trees, a murmuring stream under an old stone bridge. Then a high-performance motorcycle blasted past, at such concussive velocity that it might have been a missile.
AFTER the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011, I worked with a post-disaster clean-up crew in a largely obliterated fishing port called Onagawa. We mostly shovelled mud and debris, and did myriad odd jobs for newly homeless locals packed into evacuation shelters. Everyone had lost someone, and the more talkative survivors told us brutally upsetting stories of wives drowned in waterfront factories, elderly parents dragged away by the wave, entire families killed in their cars while trying to outrun it.
ROCK and roll is roughly 70 years old. That’s just a little younger than Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney. Both of whom are still alive and well, recording and performing, even if most casual listeners only really want to hear the music they made half a century ago. The prancing spectres of his elders have been said to haunt Thom Yorke, the lead singer and songwriter of Radiohead.
THE 21st annual Moby-Dick Marathon was the first to take place in a blizzard. Somehow, the event had never coincided with a major snowstorm before, despite being held every January in New Bedford – a squall-prone seaport on the Massachusetts coast, where North Atlantic weather systems spin like sawblades against the edge of the United States.