Jun. 25, 2010

The Ghost of Walter Benjamin Walks at Midnight

by Charles Wright

The world's an untranslatable language
                                                  without words or parts of speech.
It's a language of objects
Our tongues can't master,
                                       but which we are the ardent subjects of.

If tree is tree in English,
                                     and albero in Italian,
That's as close as we can come
To divinity, the language that circles the earth
                                                      and which we'll never speak.

"The Ghost of Walter Benjamin Walks at Midnight" by Charles Wright, from Sestets. © Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1903, Marie Curie, (books by this author) still a doctoral student, announced her discovery of radium, for which she won her first of two Nobel Prizes. That evening, at a party in her honor, the guests went out to the garden and her husband Pierre pulled a little tube out of his pocket. Suddenly the tube started to glow, lighting up the darkness. But the guests could see that Pierre's fingers were scarred and that he was finding it hard to hold the tube. He was holding radium.

On this day in 1908, D.H. Lawrence (books by this author) wrote in a letter to his friend Blanche Jennings from his house in Derbyshire in England where he was living: "I am unwilling to leave this deck-chair; I refuse to swot; let me write to you then, me lounging here on the grass, where the still warm air is full of the scent of pinks, spicy and sweet, and a stack of big red lilies a few yards away impresses me with a sense of hot, bright sunshine. ... It is a true midsummer day. There is a languorous grey mist over the distance; Shipley woods, and Heanor with its solid church are hidden today; no, I can just see a dense mark in the mist, which is Heanor; but Crich is gone entirely. The haze just falls on Eastwood; the church is blue, and seems fast asleep, the very chimes are languid. Only the bees are busy, nuzzling into some wide white flowers; — and I am busy too, of course."

It's the birthday of the man who wrote a big best-seller about a boy and a tiger in a lifeboat: Yann Martel, (books by this author) born on this day in Salamanca, Spain (1963). His father was a Canadian diplomat, and he grew up in Alaska, British Columbia, Costa Rica, France, Ontario, and Mexico.

He was feeling burnt out and had no idea what to do with his life, so he went to India, where he felt even worse. He was lonely, and he tried to write a novel but it failed. He left Bombay for Matheran, a quiet hill station where all motor vehicles were outlawed. And it was there, sitting on a boulder, that he suddenly thought of a book review he had read many years ago. The book was by a Brazilian writer, and its premise was that a German Jewish family who owned a zoo tried to escape to Brazil, but the ship ended up sinking and one family member was left alone in a lifeboat with a black panther. Martel loved the premise, and so he made it his own.

He went back to Canada and wrote a story about an Indian teenager named Pi Patel, who calls himself a Hindu, Muslim, and Christian. Pi is the son of a zookeeper, and his family leaves India for Canada to begin life there. They are shipwrecked, and Pi ends up in a lifeboat with a few animals, and eventually, only a tiger named Richard Parker. In 2001, Martel published the book, Life of Pi,which became a best-seller and won the Booker Prize.

It's the birthday of best-selling children's author and illustrator Eric Carle, (books by this author) born on this day in Syracuse, New York (1929). When he was six years old, his family moved to Stuttgart, Germany, to be with their extended family, and so Carle grew up in Germany during WWII. He went to art school, then moved to New York where he said: "The long, dark time of growing up in wartime Germany, the cruelly enforced discipline of my school years there, the dutifully performed work at my jobs in advertising — all these were finally losing their rigid grip on me. The child inside me — who had been so suddenly and sharply uprooted and repressed — was beginning to come joyfully back to life."

Eric Carle has written and illustrated more than 70 books, including Do You Want to Be My Friend? (1971), The Grouchy Ladybug (1977), and his most famous, The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969), which has sold almost 30 million copies.

He said: "We have eyes, and we're looking at stuff all the time, all day long. And I just think that whatever our eyes touch should be beautiful, tasteful, appealing, and important."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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