Monday, August 7, 2017

Roberto Bolano's Woes of a True Policeman

Roberto Bolano

Woes of a True Policeman: Review
By Armando Ortiz

In Woes of a True Policeman, Roberto Bolano gives the impression that he is beginning to develop ideas for his novel 2666, but the book itself gives a different dimension to the overarching story or theme of both novels. Woes of a True Policeman ultimately stands independent to the bigger novel because it includes or introduces to the read a new character- Padilla. In this novel, Bolano touches on the lives of characters that appear on 2666; Professor Amalfitano, the professor of literature that for the moment is a professor Santa Teresa. We then get a peek into his daughter’s life; Rosa Amalfitano who is becoming a young independent woman. Bolano moves on to talk about the illusive writer Archimboldi, whom we get a detailed bibliography of his work, and we finish the journey with the young and fearless officer Pancho Monje. Throughout the novel we find Padilla, Amalfitano’s ex-lover who is a writer and who might be suffering from a serious disease.
Woes of a True Policeman
The overarching story line is between Professor Amalfitano and Padilla, and they make their appearances throughout the whole book. Prof. Amalfitano is an accomplished academician who has taught in many parts of the Spanish world. He was once married to Edith Liebernam with whom he had a child. We see that he deeply loved his wife and was a committed husband, though with unusual tendencies, but nonetheless faithful. After he loses his wife, he loses his emotional and in many ways spiritual well-being. Finding himself in what others see as forbidden relationships. Through his travels we discover that he is a leftist professor. Being a revolutionary or leftist leaning has made it hard for him to maintain a lifestyle that he is comfortable with, so he is forced to resign from several posts, traveling from one Latin American country to another, and moving around in Europe.
            Next, we have a section on Rosa Amalfitano who is slowly coming of age. She spends time having conversations with Jordi Carrera with whom she’s struck up a friendship in Barcelona, and then exchanging letters after she leaves Spain and moves to Mexico. We get hints that she is becoming more familiar with her new home and its people. As she becomes accustomed to life in Santa Teresa she begins to find her path with every merging she does with the crowds. One day she discovers that her dad likes men, she comes home early and things get awkward. Furthermore, she starts being followed by a young officer who is supposed to be following her father, due to her father’s “suspicious” activities. She heads out of her home and walks down the tree lined streets, and like smoke disappears into the daily traffic of life slowly becoming her own person.
            Archimboldi, in this novel, is a prolific author and well written. He’s made it big in Europe and is making headway into the Americas. We get reviews of the novels, essays and stories that he’s written. In addition to his literary output, we get a glimpse into his hobbies and some of the things he spends time doing when he isn’t writing. Finally, we see the social network that Archimboldi belongs to and the enemies that he has made. In many ways we get more info on the writer, but the person himself, still remains just as elusive as in 2666.
2666
            We have the young officer, Pancho Monje, who has withstood the test of adversity. Being of a lineage of women who suffered from rape and poverty, but stoically have kept living their lives, loving their seeds and pushing forward in life has made Pancho both stoic with a strong work ethic. He is the first male descendant from a long line of women who have been born into the family. He grows up in a household of three generations of women. He is studious and brave, and soon is recruited as an officer. His recruitment comes after being a body guard to the wife of a powerful politician in the town, and saving her live in a shootout with assassins. He is a rising star within the force because he is both fearless and follows through the orders he receives, except that on his last assignment, he discovers Rosa. He is spellbound.
            In this story the one character that seems to be the most developed and makes a constant appearance throughout the different chapters is Padilla. We find that he is writing a novel, and Amalfitano is continually being encouraging him to continue working on the story. We see that he lives a life of a desperado, having fear of no one, wandering the streets at night, and meeting outcasts from all walks of life. He lives a destructive life, but makes up for it with his poetry. He is an ominous figure, who Amalfitano seems to obsess about. Communication between the two takes place in a time where the internet was just an idea, so the pauses and reading between the lines of letters is something they do habitually.

            The book is an extension or addendum to 2666 where the main characters of the novel appear there too. But now we see more detail on the characters, discovering the dangers and situations that they unwittingly put themselves in. The driving force behind all of this being able to develop one’s art, to meet likeminded individuals who unfortunately might be putting their lives at risk by losing themselves in the raw life of an artist/poet. In many ways Amalfitano’s lover is the main character of the story, because all the other characters are already familiar to those that have read 2666. He might very well represent an ominous precursor to all the events that later happen to the characters. Padilla, as it turns out, is dying of a terminal disease, which shakes Amalfitano, but then again we see that Pancho might have also caught a type of virus that those that discover true beauty in a being can catch. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Sinchon, Seoul: Figaro


Figaro
By Armando Ortiz
            I listen to the piano keys, the slow tempo of Tchaikovsky emerges from the speakers, and for a moment the wind plays its passing sound of placid branches slightly swaying. I recall Figaro, a clown. She sold balloon sculptures to people in Sinchon- the area to go “play” if you we’re in your twenties and living in Seoul. She once told me that she had studied piano in college and had hoped to become a pianist. She never explained how she became a clown, instead gave me evasive answers or silent pauses. I bumped into her multiple times, and in all those breaks we talked English, my Korean was still basic. She was like a cat that has no owner, and freely visits you at night, crouching and observing for an hour or so. Perhaps once in a while will take some of your left overs that one places on a plate, but quickly leaves as you move your arm to try to make contact with your palm, only the tips of two fingers brush against a few soft hairs.
One day, an American decided to make a pass on her, and for unknown reasons, maybe the placement of the stars and universe, I happened to be passing bye with some of my friends. I saw the happy red face that was painted as she ran towards my way with scowl. She grabbed the arm and pulled my body to where the potential opponent was. For a part of a quickly passing second, I saw the reflection of her desperation on the Plexiglas of the convenient store. As I was being pulled she was telling me how he had disrespected her. We ended up arguing for a bit, with brief posturing but he eventually left with his pals disappearing into the passing crowds of people.
I recall another time when I was coming back from the Ewha subway station which is on the hill. It was around half past three in the afternoon, and the weather was pleasant. The leaves on the maple trees that lined the streets were a bright green, not yet fully reaching their late summer darkness. It must have been early in the summer, prior to when the World Cup swooped on to the country. The metro was located midway up a hill, like it is almost everywhere you go in Seoul. She was placidly walking up the slope. Her steps were steady as she moved towards my direction. From afar she looked like Renoir’s The Clown, but with livelier pastels. Approaching, she appeared to be a multi-colored penguin, and with each step placed to the ground looked as if her polished red over-sized boots slapped the ground. We briefly talked. Korea being a mostly homogeneous nation has such a wide ranging conservative standard that there is a tendency to dress conservatively in public, though the young people are a bit more casual in their attire. She was an odd one out- no stylish pumps or purse to carry.
She was not the only odd person in that area, but she certainly was no gutter-punk like the ones you found in Heundae or even a troubled youth that hung out near the play area of Sinchon. She was a clown, with big paddle shoes, like the burger clown back home, and she worked alone. The multicolored clown suit made her look twice her width. She was petite, a clown none the less, and if you were drunk enough she looked like a beach ball from afar.
The only exposed areas were her hands, which I had quickly noticed. She had small palms, but perfect for her size. Her nails were not manicured, but lotion kept them soft. They were swarthy but not as dark as my own, and they still looked young, maybe she was in her mid to late 30s- about ten years older than me.
When she found out that I’d be returning to the states she told me to go to a small shop located near the main avenue that partitioned Sinchon and Heudae.
“Go down that street and there will be store with a green sign, go in and tell them that Figaro sent you.” Maybe what she said was, “come with me to this small shop I want to give you something.”
She gave me a wallet, and inside was a photo of us standing together. Now, I wonder where that wallet is and under what boxes, and piles of papers that photo could be. Figaro, a piano player who sold balloons, that was her name, and before I left Korea, gave me a present.
What might she be doing? Does she still go around making pouncing dogs or splendid flowers out of balloons? Does she talk to the other foreigners that walk down the alleys perusing shops in search of a good maekju spot or a cheap dak-galbi place? 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Interstellar Trail: Short Piece


Interstellar Trail
By Armando Ortiz

Buddhist teaching,
word and symbol,
Vajra standing
on paper still.

Diamond sutra
hemp on plaster,
hand moving faster
laying a path of ink.

Holy priest floating
riding on tiger clouds,
dismembering ego
promising redemption.

Horse of the Great Plateau
rumbling into war
chariot of fire
demolishing walls.

Flying creature
found in white clouds
on frozen blue sky
protects the spirit trail.

Ancient pilgrim
walking through desert
passing through gorges
finding knowledge in the sacred.

Old Tibetan libraries
under constant repair
after years of cultural warfare
on silent mountain valleys.

Ring the bell
of present chant,
the setting sun
washed in corral dye.

Sketched masterpieces
capture the moment
the violet sky turns onyx
revealing the source of clamor.

Palace of refuge
with dining hall
where longing gets quenched
in a banquet under Guanyin’s eye.

Master’s imagination
sketched on paper
for blind men to follow
the pattern of the shining
interstellar ember.

Sutras kept alive
on blue print scrolls,
four sided walls repeating

the devine cycle that’s law.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely


Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely: Review and Reflection
By Armando Ortiz
Dunbar Hotel, 1930's.
Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely is a quick reading novel that takes place in the late-1930's, and begins along Central Avenue in Los Angeles. There the private detective Philip Marlowe finds himself in front Florian’s, a hotel that’s lost its glitter and now is mostly a seedy gambling den. For one reason or another, he is in search of a missing person when he is swept up by a chance encounter with a man who is also looking for someone. This part of Los Angeles is now considered the historical Jazz corridor of the city, which back in the day, between the 1930’s through the 1950’s, was a place where African Americans were allowed to own businesses. Marlowe becomes a quasi-accomplice to a murder that happens in the building. The crime is eventually solved though to get through to the end one goes through a roller coaster ride of intrigue, action, racism, mystery and emotions. Chandler manages to capture Marlowe’s ebb and flow as a heavy drinker, and also gives the reader a glimpse into a Los Angeles that was less populated, where its streets and traffic were barely beginning to have congestion. More important to the landscape, Marlowe swims in the midnight waters of the deep underground where gigolos, con-artists, gamblers, gangsters, former convicts and corrupt officials mingle in hidden dens, within canyon mansions or boats that are anchored a few miles from the coast.

Marlowe’s office is located in Hollywood, but he is constantly zipping to the beach, police stations around downtown L.A., and driving up desolate canyons that today are riddled with multi-million dollar mansions.  He describes places, like Central Ave where now the majority are Hispanic, but that back then was a place where African-Americans made up the majority, but this was mainly due to laws that segregated them to a specific area of this urban oasis. Through his literary lens, Chandler gives the reader a context to the different waves of residents that the city has encountered throughout the years since its establishment, while at the same time showing us a glimpse of how crime was treated back in those days. According to the novel, if a white man killed a black man it would only be considered a misdemeanor, which in a very interesting way sheds light into the manner the media sees crime in Los Angeles.
Santa Monica early 20th century.
Some of his descriptions are flawless. The beach which is at the edge of Bay City (Santa Monica, CA) is described in a very beautiful manner, making it at once the delicate bracelet of a Hollywood starlet, as seen from a boat that floats in the ocean from a mile away, but also as a place where the smells of tar intertwine with the coastal breeze. He makes you stand at the top of a hill, maybe somewhere along a ridge in Temescal Canyon allowing you to see what he saw. The once desolate canyons are now secluded enclaves for the rich with foreign people that continue to serve the residents there and make the daily commute from the forgotten pockets of L.A. that never make the evening news. In recent times it has been in the canyons of Los Angeles where dismembered body parts have been found, most recently in 2012.
Central Ave today.
The apartment buildings and its front gardens are similar to the ones I saw while growing up in Los Angeles and continue to see in some of the older areas that have yet to be touched the bulldozers or replaced by mega-luxury apartments that are completely enclosed and exclusive. Art-deco structures built with walls that could hide a bed with a slight lift from one end, and iceboxes that were built into the wall of a kitchen, though no longer functioning makes one wonder what could be found in the more moderns structures of today. Places like Central Ave that were slowly going through a transformation is where you now find people that are mostly of Hispanic heritage, walking along its much more rundown side streets and who drive up and down the avenue that’s lined with small ranch markets, discount stores, church congregations, shamans, tattoo parlors, seedy beauty salons and mechanic shops. African Americans, now are an old remnant of the past, having spread out to different parts of the city, just like the white folk that peppered those areas when Chandler was alive.  
Santa Monica.
Sage is natural feature that is a prominent in the story as it engulfs Marlowe when he visits the surrounding hillsides of the city. You know you are entering or have arrived at a more solitary place because the artificial lights and neon signs disappear, the sky becomes particularly darker, and again, the smell of sage hovers and blankets the uninhabited areas of future suburbs. The sounds and smells of the ocean also become accentuated by the more desolate areas of Bay City, making the reader appreciate what once was but that which continues to endure though maybe now you have to drive a bit father to encounter what he saw, like the city’s long arid coastline, and canyons that in spring give birth to many types of wild flowers, though more sparsely now than before.

Chandler left behind a literary gem that future travelers, residents and readers of Los Angeles will one day find themselves experiencing as he too explored the city and retold those meanderings through Marlowe’s narration. Reading his novel is like reading a series of vignettes that keep getting your attention, hooking you with his entrancing character descriptions and unique blend of metaphors and word play. His paragraphs seem to be complete scenes that say everything that must be told, but leave enough to have you reading more.  It lets you uncover facets of LA that you might not have been aware of by peeling away at some of the things that sometimes we ignore, like the fine mud pellets that are created by late-summer morning drizzle or like the humming birds that feed off of ruby bottlebrushes. It’s a good read and well worth the time for anyone wanting to read some good literature, but also for anyone that wants to be transported back to a time when city was just beginning to become a major urban center.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities: Review


Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities: Review
By Armando Ortiz
In Italo Calvino’s novel Invincible Cities we find Marco Polo sharing with Kublai Khan, former king of China and of the Mongols, his recollections of the cities he came across within the realms of the Khan’s kingdom and those on its margins. Marco engages the supreme leader of the steppe peoples in conversation over games of chess, while strolling through private gardens, and discusses ideas and theories over lavish dinners. In many ways Calvino takes us through cities that could not only exist in the realm of the material but also within the minds of our collective unconscious. The conversations are brief and what we are mostly treated to are descriptions of magical places that seem to just be suspended in a universe of imagination and possibilities. His cities have shadows, and those shadows also make a symphonic cacophony of life that exists there, be it a simple howling wind, the hustle and bustle of nameless bazaars, the smell of burning oil lamps, and the crashing of water onto the rocky coast of a city. Animate and inanimate mirages combine to become places where you find crystal palaces, cities that function as desert oasis to wanderers and travelers alike. The sewer systems of a city, its catacombs and chandeliers also become places where beings gather to create and imagine, and those people in many ways become reflections of other realities.
At one point Marco Polo reflects on the cities that he has encountered and comes to realize that quite possibly he’s been describing different facets of his own hometown, Venice. We might very well be from a place that we think we know well, but when we dissect its different realities we come to realize that maybe what we thought was our city is actually a collection of invisible experiences known to no one else but ourselves. Our backyard isn’t everyone’s block and neighborhood, but in fact just a spec of amazing orbits that make up a larger whole. At one point Polo describes a city that exists suspended in midair and in another recollection, the images that reflect off the water make up the independent realities that those reflections have independent of its originators. It is a world of unlimited possibilities, and through his novel we come to discover we might very well be living in an imaginary city ourselves.
The possibilities presented in Calvino’s book are the limits to our imagination and to our capabilities. Though we might be invisible to others, we still dream and if you imagine it may come to be, and if you desire to explore you might very well realize that this whole earth has been your realm of exploration, like an endless excursion of what has been and what is becoming. We not only are the traveler but also the lord of the things that transpire. Though not the Khan, Marco has managed to captivate the lord’s imagination whose only desire is to bring peace to its inhabitants and become familiar with his kingdom. All kinds of characters make their appearance in the novel and the mythical lives of spirits and gods are discussed, and yet at the end of the novel all we have are two characters one who recounts and tells of his travels, and the other who listens entranced by the tales entering and conquering his mind. Calvino takes us on a journey of dreams that become real and so too our dream can become invisible cities where anything is possible.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Stansport Tent: Denali II Two Person Backpacking Tent


Stansport Backpacking Tent: Reflection and Review
By Armando Ortiz
Spring 2009, first camping trip with tent.
I bought my first camping tent back in 2009 at a surplus store in Moss Landing, California. It was in the back of a huge military storage container tucked in between other larger items, ammunition boxes and wool blankets, where I found the portable ten. It was blue and gray Stansport Denali II two person backpacking tent that I bought that day and since then this living space has given comfort and protected me from different weather conditions that have arisen in my travels. I’ve used the tent mostly to camp in California, along the coast, inside the redwood forest, up in the mountains, and have also used it at local music festivals.
Valley of the Rouge State Park
The tent has held up well, keeping its integrity despite a nick on the floor from grounds that have been covered in rocks, sticks and pine-cones. Nonetheless a good tarp or footprint has provided an extra layer of protection, but as any camper I’ve made sure to clear up areas I choose to hunker down on. The two aluminum poles continue to work fine along with the zippered doors. You can set up the tent in a couple of minutes and move it to a better spot if need be, before the stakes are hammered into the ground to give it better stability. Because it is so light, and can be moved around after the tent is pitched, as you break up camp it’s easy remove sand or debris that makes its way inside by simply picking it up and giving it a couple of good shakes.
I also discovered how versatile this tent can be, with the rainfly helping to keep my shoes and backpack water and dust free, while keeping things separate from inside and yet easily accessible, at arm’s length. The vestibule also has allowed me to redirect air flow into the tent more freely by letting me roll up different parts of the rainfly. The doors of the domed tent can also be rolled up, allowing for more air flow from any direction and yet a high level of privacy is maintained. It conveniently lets me roll my tent doors so that the mesh doors protect me from bugs, giving me a chance to nap in the day time.

Roasting corn.
During my camping trip to Southern Oregon and Northern California this past summer my seven year old tent withstood late spring rains at Valley of the Rouge State Park, kept me warm and cozy at Harris Beach State Park and MacKerricher State Park where the cold coastal winds bring in the summer fog to the camping areas and the temperature drops to the chilly upper 40s. It protected me from the clouds of mosquitoes that hovered over Standish-Hickey State Park and Hendy Woods State Park, turning a nuisance into an opportunity to relax and a book while resting inside comfortably. Because it is backpacking tent, it is very light weight and is kept in the trunk of my car. Its portability makes it ready for any well planned trip or one that has been made at the spur of the moment. It continues to do its job, to protect me from the elements, and is still enduring the test of time. I continue to look forward to returning to the wilderness or of simply finding an excuse to go car camping. I know that this Stansport tent will hold up and continue to give me shelter.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Roberto Bolano's Amulet: Book Review

Roberto Bolano

Roberto Bolano’s Amulet: Book Review
By Armando Ortiz
            Migration of birds come and go every season, during the summer months, they fly north to the plains and plateaus of North America, and return south to the Caribbean and southern parts of Mexico during the winter months. At one time these movements of birds might have created visuals in the sky of ever moving dancers, and clouds could have been metamorphosing into splatters. Imagine farmers and hunters, just four generations ago, shooting buck shots into the air and seeing hundreds of birds just fall to the ground. Mix with that years of polluting fumes and oil spills. Now, all we see are glimpses of things that were, the sounds that we hear are just an acoustic tune to the symphonic sounds that the wildlife of the America’s once breathed. We wake up, and might not put much care to the sounds that emanate from outside of the window. Its background noise that disturbs our waking life, like a squeaky wheel that demands attention, whether you like it or not, it’s there, like the small birds that make tiny dust bowls on the ground of local parks, that is what remains, a forgotten memory mixed with the present.
1968 Summer Olympics, Mexico City.
That is what we have in Roberto Bolano’s Amulet who brings that into focus through Auxilio Lacouture, the main character and narrator of the novel. She is an imaginary figure that survived the Mexican military’s take over the UNAM in 1968, a few months before the Olympics were hosted in that city. By chance she finds herself in the women’s bathroom that’s on the 4th floor of the philosophy building. She claims to be the mother of Mexican poetry, while some characters in the book might contend that she is the mother of all American poetry. Hiding in the 4th floor for several days marks her and those memories become intertwined her legendary status throughout the novel.
We can feel her breath, the passing of time, the withering of her body, but also the hopes that emanate from her spirit. We learn more about her by what she reads, but this is also a way for Bolano to introduce us to more authors, different artists and music that we might not be familiar with from the two Spanish poets that appear at the start of the story, two writers that have very different political views, but similar talents in poetry, to artist like Remedios Varo a surrealist painter who created some amazing pieces of art, and music from Spain. She lives a harsh life, spending time at bars and cafes with fellow writers and artists. She’s is a free spirit, born in Uruguay, living illegally in Mexico City and always doing odd jobs for professors and writers alike. Living a true poet’s life, one that Roberto Bolano probably lived. Though she has not had “success” she is a definite presence amongst the literary crowds of the city, and it is through her encounters with other writers and artist that we also learn and gain insight into the richness of the Spanish language and its legacy in the Americas.
Roberto Bolano and Inferalists from Mexico.
Spending most of the time roaming the streets with fellow artists she is known by the underground and is a close friend to recently returned from Chile poet Arturo Belano, the author’s alter ego. She finds affinity for the young writer because he too has experienced hardships, he too has traveled and walked through the different valleys of Spanish speaking Americas and he too has hopes and dreams like she does.  Bolano shows us how even without her papers being in order, Auxilio is able to navigate herself and intermingle with Mexico City’s creative currents that interact with the seedier sections of Mexican society. She sees the different facets of an artist’s life and the hacks that exist amongst the crowds; she lives a few months in a room and moves on. Her life is a continual ebb and flow of experiences, but poetry and the culture that surrounds her gives her sustenance, which in many ways is a metaphor to Bolano’s life as a writer and testament to his travels throughout the Spanish speaking world. As she reflects on her passing of time and the moments spent in the restroom of the 4th floor it all becomes clear that the only reason to live is to hope for another day of ecstasy where she gets to live through the night again and welcome the rising of the sun and see the inhabitants of the city wake up to a hustle and bustle.


Amulet by R. Bolano.
Towards the later part of the novel Auxilio has a vision or dream where she is walking a tall mountain and she seems a sea of humanity converging into one, and from that crowd emerge a migrating sparrow and the elusive quetzal, indigenous to the Americas, there are defeats and victories, and within that a new hope, a new tomorrow, and a new rise, essentially the forging of a new culture and the dream of having the art of writing nurtured by those who roam the night and write their thoughts on paper. Another way of looking at Roberto’s vision is by looking at a map of the world and seeing that the Spanish world continues to exist and that the influences that each valley, nation, and region have over other Spanish speaking communities is still significant and relevant, with a culture that is flourishing and vibrant.