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The Autumn of the Patriarch

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The Autumn of the Patriarch

Post by dwdunn(akaDan) on Thu 24 Jul 2014, 8:33 pm

Currently I'm slowly but surely reading through some impressive historical writing, in honor of which I thought I'd post the following recently-recovered excerpts that I had typed out and posted at a previous forum on 14 July 2008. They are from Gabriel Garcia-Marquez's The Autumn of the Patriarch, a satire of a Latin American dictator who never seems to die. (Translation by Gregory Rabassa)

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Re: The Autumn of the Patriarch

Post by dwdunn(akaDan) on Thu 24 Jul 2014, 8:35 pm

....Previously, during the occupation by the marines, he would shut himself up in his office to decide the destiny of the nation with the commandant of the forces of the landing and sign all manner of laws and decrees with his thumbprint, for in those days he did not know how to read or write, but when they left him alone with his nation and his power again he did not poison his blood again with the sluggishness of written law, but governed orally and physically, present at every moment and everywhere with a flinty parsimony but also with a diligence inconceivable at his age, besieged by mobs of lepers, blind people and cripples who begged for the salt of health from his hands, and lettered politicians and dauntless adulators who proclaimed him the corrector of earthquakes, eclipses, leap years and other errors of God, dragging his great feet of an elephant walking in the snow all through the house as he resolved problems of state and household matters with the same simplicity with which he gave the order take that door away from here and put it over there for me, they took it away, put it back again for me, they put it back, the clock in the tower should not strike twelve at twelve o'clock but two times so that life would seem longer, the order was carried out, without an instant of hesitation, without a pause, except for the mortal hour of siesta time when he would take refuge in the shade of the concubines, he would choose one by assault, without undressing her or getting undressed himself, without closing the door, and all through the house one could hear his heartless panting of an urgent spouse, the craving tinkle of his gold spur, his dog whimper, the surprise of the woman who wasted her time at love in trying to get rid of the squalid stares of the seven-month runts, her shouts of get out of here, go play in the courtyard, this isn't for children to see, and it was as if an angel had flown across the skies of the nation, voices were muffled, life came to a halt, everybody remained stone-still with a finger to his lips, not breathing, silence, the general is screwing, but those who knew him best had no faith even in the respite of that sacred moment, for it always seemed that he was in two places at once, they would see him playing dominoes at seven o'clock at night and at the same time he had been seen lighting cow chips to drive the mosquitoes out of the reception room, nor did anyone harbor any illusions until the lights in the last of the windows went out and they heard the noise of the three crossbars, the three locks, the three bolts on the door of the presidential bedroom, and they heard the thump of the body as it collapsed from fatigue onto the stone floor, and the breathing of a decrepit child that grew deeper as the tide rose, until the nocturnal harp of the wind silenced the cicadas and their fiddling and a broad big sea wave swept through the streets of the ancient city of viceroys and buccaneers and poured into government house through all the windows like a tremendous August Saturday that caused barnacles to grow on the mirrors and left the reception room at the mercy of the sharks and it rose higher than the highest levels of prehistoric oceans and overflowed the face of the land and space and time, and only he remained floating face down on the lunar water of his dreams of a solitary drowned man, in his denim private soldier's uniform, his boots, his gold spur, and his right arm folded under his head to serve as a pillow.... (pp. 13-15)


The second time he was found, chewed away by vultures in the same office, wearing the same clothes and in the same position, none of us was old enough to remember what had happened the first time, but we knew that no evidence of his death was final, because there was always another truth behind the truth. Not even the least prudent among us would accept appearances because so many times it had been a given fact that he was prostrate with epilepsy and would fall off his throne during the course of audiences twisting with convulsions as gall froth foamed out of his mouth, that he had lost his speech from so much talking and had ventriloquists stationed behind the curtains to make it appear that he was speaking, that shad scales were breaking out all over his body as punishment for his perversions, that in the coolness of December the rupture sang sea chanties to him and he could only walk with the aid of a small orthopedic cart which bore his herniated testicle...but the more certain the rumors of his death seemed, he would appear even more alive and authoritarian at the least expected moment to impose other unforeseen directions to our destiny.... [H]e knew that he was a man without a father like the most illustrious despots of history, that the only relative known to him and perhaps the only one he had was his mother of my heart Bendicion Alvarado to whom the school texts attributed the miracle of having conceived him without recourse to any male...a strange woman of uncertain origins whose simpleness of soul had been the scandal of the fanatics of presidential dignity during the beginnings of the regime, because they could not admit that the mother of the chief of state would hang a pouch of camphor around her neck to ward off all contagion and tried to jab the caviar with her fork and staggered about in her patent leather pumps...nor could they bear the fact that at a diplomatic party she had said I'm tired of begging God to overthrow my son, because all this business of living in the presidential palace is like having the lights on all the time, sir, and she had said it with the same naturalness with which on one national holiday she had made her way through the guard of honor with a basket of empty bottles and reached the presidential limousine that was leading the parade of celebration in an uproar of ovations and martial music and storms of flowers and she shoved the basket through the window and shouted to her son that since you'll be passing right by take advantage and return these bottles to the store on the corner, poor mother. That lack of a sense of history would have its night of splendor at the formal banquet with which we celebrate the landing of the marines under the command of Admiral Higginson when Bendicion Alvarado saw her son in dress uniform with his gold medals and velvet gloves...and she could not repress her impulse of maternal pride and exclaimed aloud in front of the whole diplomatic corps that if I'd known my son was going to be president of the republic I'd have sent him to school, yes sir.... (pp. 45-49)


[H]e visited her every day while the city sloshed in the mire of siesta time...he lamented that the other day the captain of the battleship came to the presidential palace with some kind of land astronomers who took measurements of everything and didn't even say hello but put their tape measure around my head while they made their calculations in English and shouted at me through the interpreter to get out of here and he got out, for him to get out of the light, and he got out, go somewhere where you won't be in the way, God damn it, and he didn't know where to go without getting in the way because there were measurers measuring everything down to the size of the light from the balconies, but that wasn't the worst, mother, they threw out the last two skinny concubines he had left because the admiral said they weren't worthy of a president, and he was really in such want of women that on some afternoons he would pretend that he was leaving the suburban mansion but his mother heard him chasing after the maids in the shadows of the bedrooms, and her sorrow was such that she roused up the birds in their cages so that no one would find out about her son's troubles, she forced them to sing so that the neighbors would not hear the sounds of the attack, the shame of the struggle, the repressed threats of quiet down general or I'll tell your mama, and she would ruin the siesta of the troupials and make them burst with song so that no one would hear his heartless panting of an urgent mate, his misfortune of a lover with all his clothes on, his doggish whine, his solitary tears that came on like dusk, as if rotting with pity amidst the cackling of the hens in the bedrooms aroused by that emergency love-making in the liquid glass air and the godforsaken August of three in the afternoon, my poor son. That state of scarcity was to last until the occupation forces left the country frightened off by an epidemic...they broke down the officers' residences into numbered pieces and packed them up in wooden crates, they dug up the blue lawns in one piece and carried them off all rolled up like carpets, they wrapped up the rubber cisterns with the sterile water sent from their country so that they would not be eaten up inside by the water worms of our streams, they took their white hospitals apart, dynamited their barracks so that no one would know how they were constructed...but before bearing off that portable paradise of war in their flying trains they decorated him with the medal of the good neighbor, rendered him the honors of chief of state...but they left, mother, God damn it, they've gone, and for the first time since his head-down days of occupation ox he went up the stairs giving orders in a loud voice and in person through a tumult of requests to reestablish cockfights, and he so ordered, agreed, that kite-flying be allowed again, and many other diversions that had been prohibited by the marines, and he so ordered, agreed, so convinced of being master of all his power that he inverted the colors of the flag...because after all we're our own dogs now, mother, long live the plague. (pp. 50-52)


....and with that conviction he called together the high command...he took his time scrutinizing the eyes of each one, one by one, and then he saw that he was alone against them all, so he kept his head erect, hardened his voice, exhorted them to unity now more than ever for the good name and honor of the armed forces, absolved them of all blame pounding his fist on the table so that they would not see the tremor of uncertainty and ordered them as a consequence to continue at their posts fulfilling their duties with the same zeal and the same authority as they had always done, because my supreme and irrevocable decision is that nothing has happened, meeting adjourned, I will answer for it. As a simple means of precaution he took the children out of the harbor fort and sent them in nocturnal boxcars to the least-inhabited regions of the country while he confronted the storm unleashed by the official and solemn declaration that it was not true, not only were there no children in the power of the authorities but there was not a single prisoner of any type in the jails, the rumor of the mass kidnapping was an infamous lie on the part of traitors to get people stirred up, the doors of the nation were open so that the truth could be established, let people come and look for it, they came, a commission from the League of Nations came and overturned the most hidden stones in the country and questioned all the people they wanted to and how they wanted to with such minute detail that Bendicion Alvarado was to ask who were those intruders dressed like spiritualists who came into her house looking for two thousand children under the beds, in her sewing basket, in her paintbrush jars, and who finally bore public witness to the fact that they had found the jails closed down, the nation in peace, everything in place, and they had not found any indication to confirm the public suspicion that there had been or might have been a violation by intent or by action or by omission of the principles of human rights, rest easy, general, they left, he waved goodbye to them from the window with a handkerchief with embroidered edges and with the feeling of relief over something that was finished for good, goodbye, you horse's asses, smooth sailing and a prosperous trip, he sighed, the trouble's over, but General Rodrigo de Aguilar reminded him no, the trouble wasn't over because the children were still left general, sir, and he slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand, God damn it, he'd forgotten completely, what'll we do with the children. Trying to free himself from that evil thought while a drastic formula was taking shape in his mind he had them take the children out of their hiding place in the jungle and carry them off in the opposite direction to the provinces of perpetual rain where there were no treasonous winds to spread their voices...he ordered them taken to the Andean grottoes of perpetual mists so that no one would find out where they were...he sent them quinine tablets and wool blankets when he found out they were shivering with fever because for days and days they had been hidden in rice paddies with mud up to their necks so that the Red Cross airplanes wouldn't discover them...he had them fumigated from the air with insecticides so that fat banana lice would not devour them, he sent them showers of candy and snowstorms of ice cream from airplanes and parachutes with loads of Christmas toys to keep them happy while a magical solution could occur to him, and in that way he was getting out of the reach of their evil memory, he forgot about them, he sank into the desolate swamp of the uncountable nights all the same of his domestic insomnia, he heard the metal blows strike nine o'clock, he took down the hens who were sleeping on the cornices of government house and took them to the chicken coop, he had not finished counting the creatures sleeping in the scaffolding when a mulatto servant girl came in to collect the eggs, he sensed the sunlight of her age, heard the sound of her bodice, he jumped on top of her, be careful general, she murmured trembling, you'll break the eggs, let them break, God damn it, he said, he threw her down with a cuff without undressing her or getting undressed himself...he slipped, he fell into the illusory vertigo of a precipice cut by livid stripes of evasion and outpourings of sweat and the sighs of a wild woman and deceitful threats of oblivion, on the fallen woman he was leaving the curve of the urgent tinkle of the shooting star that was his gold spur, the trace of saltpeter from his wheeze of an urgent spouse, his dog whine...but at the bottom of the precipice there was the shitted slime again, the hens' insomniac sleep, the affliction of the mulatto girl who got up with her dress all smeared by the yellow molasses of the yolks lamenting now you see what I told you general, the eggs broke, and he muttered trying to tame the rage of another love without love, write down how many they were, he told her, I'll take it out of your wages, he left, it was ten o'clock, he examined one by one the gums of the cows in the stables, he saw one of his women quartered by pain on the floor of her hut and he saw the midwife who took from out of her insides a steaming baby with the umbilical cord wrapped around its neck, it was a boy, what name shall we give him general sir, whatever you feel like, he answered, it was eleven o'clock, as on every night during his regime he counted the sentries, checked the locks, covered the birdcages, put out the lights, it was twelve o'clock, the nation was at peace, the world was asleep, he went to his bedroom through the darkened building across the strips of light from the fleeting dawns of the beacon turns, he hung up the lamp for leaving on the run, he put up the three bars, ran the three bolts, closed the three locks, sat down on the portable latrine, and while he was passing his meager urine he caressed the inclement child of a herniated testicle until the twist was straightened out, it fell asleep in his hand, the pain ceased, but it returned immediately with a lightning flash of panic when in through the window there came the lash of a wind from beyond the confines of the saltpeter deserts...........  (pp. 105-108)

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Re: The Autumn of the Patriarch

Post by Terry W. Martin on Fri 25 Jul 2014, 3:20 am

Dan,

Enjoyable read as was your latest blog entry.

Having read "Liberty Lobby" years ago (until I got too frightened... do people really have that workd view?) I can understand that type of thinking to some degree.

As Stan Dane quipped, "Haters gonna hate."

Ascribing the label of "evil" to a special group is so much easier than trying to figure out what parts of the group actually are evil. Whether they blame the Jews, the Illuminati, the Masons, the Bilderbergers, or the CIA, it is the lazy way out.

Most people, it seems, are not suited to deep thinking in this arena. It's gonna take several sets of Dragos to figure it out, not simply point at one group and claim them guilty.

It would be easier, I suppose, if all the good guys donned white hats and the baddies wore black. Unfortunately, what we would see would be an ocean of gray headgear.

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Re: The Autumn of the Patriarch

Post by Stan Dane on Fri 25 Jul 2014, 6:45 am

It's best for me to read something like this passively—don't overly think it, just let it come to you. If it were possible to express this as a painting, I envision a large, impressionistic ceiling fresco by van Gogh.

"Look on my works, ye Lowly, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level saltpeter deserts stretch far away.
But what the fuck gives?
The dictator still lives!

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Re: The Autumn of the Patriarch

Post by Terry W. Martin on Fri 25 Jul 2014, 7:12 am

Stan Dane wrote:It's best for me to read something like this passively—don't overly think it, just let it come to you. If it were possible to express this as a painting, I envision a large, impressionistic ceiling fresco by van Gogh.

"Look on my works, ye Lowly, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level saltpeter deserts stretch far away.
But what the fuck gives?
The dictator still lives!

Very good, Stan.
Poetry that reads like Van Gogh!

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Re: The Autumn of the Patriarch

Post by greg parker on Fri 25 Jul 2014, 10:23 am

Very good, Stan.
Poetry that reads like Van Gogh!
'ear 'ear!

_________________
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I offer him embarrassment and my usual excuses
While looking down the corridor
Out to where the van is waiting
I'm looking for the Great Leap Forward

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              Me

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Re: The Autumn of the Patriarch

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