Old Pipes…, 2012, And Beyond

01/29/2012 § Leave a comment

Why, who can be blowing the pipes of Old Pipes?”

-Frank Stockton

It has been over a year and I find myself antsy; longing to exercise my writing and critical thinking muscle. Yes, that one muscle is responsible for both those things. Perhaps this is merely an involuntary response to the Bauhaus song that is quietly and mysteriously storming my eardrums. It’s a possibility.

I do not know with what frequency I will update this blog but I intend to do so at regular intervals. The theme will remain mainly intact, allowing ample wiggle room for anything else that suits my fancy and may require delineation.

Old Pipes and the Dryad by Frank Stockton

Frank Stockton is probably best remembered, if at all, thanks to the efforts of Maurice Sendak. While best known for his wonderful Where the Wild Things Are, it was Mr. Sendak who fell in love with Stockton’s uniquely American brand of  Folklore and, to everyones benefit, illustrated two stories by Frank Stockton; The Griffin and the Minor Canon, and The Bee-Man of Orn. 

What I love most about Frank Stockton is his ability to craft an original tale by blending old traditions with a journalistic simplicity reminiscent of great american writing you might find in Hemingway. There’s a tongue-in-cheek humor found in most of his writing, focusing on the generally selfish nature of everyone, whether they are men growing old, a tree spirit, or a mountain dwarf.

Old Pipes and the Dryad is a simple story of an old man who pipes to bring the animals down the mountain at night for the townsfolk. He gets too old to pipe effectively but, as luck would have it, he finds a Dryad along a mountain path locked in her tree. He releases her and she kisses him. Her kisses of course cause him to grow younger, as kisses from Dryads tend to do, and he can once again Pipe.

There is a villain of sorts, in the form of the echo-dwarf who was enjoying his holiday from echoing Old Pipe’s piping. He’s not all that bad though, just lazy. This story is a great example of what I think Stockton does best. He can create a story in which everyone is sort of likable, and everyone behaves in just the way you want them, but you still find yourself surprised and entertained…..and just when you find yourself content, the last paragraph gives you a tiny tragedy. And while it is a bit deus ex machina, you find yourself not caring and enjoying the characters for saying and doing exactly what you had wanted, but somehow couldn’t have predicted.


Read this year. Also, Blog is 1 year old.

12/24/2009 § Leave a comment

Books/Stories I’ve read (or attempted to read) this past year:


+2 Learned some and enjoyed a great deal.

+1 Glad to have read.

0 Not a Waste

-1 Sort of wish I had that time back.

-2 Unfortunately found no enjoyment or worth in book

The List

King Kong. +0

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. +1

The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman. +0

The Captains Toll Gate. -1

City of the Century. +2

The Worst Hard Time. +2

River of Doubt. +2

The Path Between the Seas. +2

Haroun and the Sea of Stories. -1

Moby Dick. (Again) +1

Cutty, One Rock. +1

Fairy Tales of Herman Hesse. +1

Cosmicomics. +2 (for first story in collection) +1 (for the rest.)

Homo Faber. +0

The Order of Odd-Fish. +1

Gargantua. +1

The Bloody Chamber. +0

Breaking the Magic Spell. +1

The Castle of Otranto. +1

The Club Dumas +0

Edgar Huntley (Lost on Plane to Buenos Aires. Read fifteen pages. Will read when I purchase again.)  (Anticipating +1)

The Gods of Pegana. +0

The Great God Pan. +0

The Gunslinger. +0

H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life. +0

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. +0

Hopscotch. (Abandoned) -2

Lair of the White Worm. +1

Lost City of the Incas. +2

Melmoth the Wanderer.+1

The Monk. +0

Morphology of the Folktale. +0

Mythologies. +0

Phantastes. +0

The Savage Detectives. (abandoned.) -2 (S. American lit is 0 for 2. 😦 But I love Borges ;))

Tree and Leaf. +0

Twilight. (Abandoned.) -2 (Wow. Shockingly bad.)

Also. Happy Birthday Blog!

His Unconquerable Enemy (an old fashioned tale of quadriplegic revenge)

12/20/2009 § Leave a comment

Oh, the desperate, insane thirst for revenge which could have unhinged so clear and firm a mind.”

-W.C. Morrow

It is not really my intention to keep posting about stories from the Library of America’s American Fantastic Tales (though they all merit inclusion), but I’m too lazy to read other stuff right now, and this story by W.C. Morrow is too good to ignore.

It’s a pretty straightforward story of revenge. It’s only a few pages long and details a quadriplegic’s plot against the man who had his limbs amputated, the rajah. So this rajah has his limbs amputated and then places him in a cage high above a grand ballroom with an open top, to make feeding time easier for the guards. Then, in the rajah’s increasing perversity he just stops by the punished man’s cage all the time and hangs out in the room with him. They sort of watch each other with decreasing interest.

And just when you think revenge isn’t going to happen, revenge happens.

The story goes quickly, told with a sense of urgency. The unbelievability of the whole thing is lost in the blurred confusion of the descriptive language and hurried pace.

Just read it. After reading such an outrageously impossible and disturbing story you’ll be surprised at the inexplicable smile across your face.

The Tartarus of Maids

12/05/2009 § Leave a comment

“Then, shooting through the pass, all alone with inscrutable nature, I exlaimed–Oh! Paradise of Bachelors! and oh! Tartarus of Maids!”


I’m admittedly not as well read on Melville as I feel I (and also the rest of humanity) should be. I’ve read Moby Dick and Bartleby, like every other jerk who went to college. And I’ve wanted to read Typee, Omoo, and Mardi but have yet to actually do so. I certainly will whenever I recieve the book from Library of America but until then I’m sure other things will pop up and seduce my interest.

Recently I recieved a boxed set of American Fantastic Tales. I had been geeking out about it for months and finally broke down and purchased it a few weeks ago. I’m maybe a hundred+ pages into it and have read selections from the likes of Charles Brockden Brown, Washington Iriving, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and W.C. Morrow.

The Poe story “Berenice” is a great little nugget about cousins in love and the dude goes crazy and obsesses about old girls teeth.

The W.C. Morrow story is about a guy who has his limbs removed because the Raja thinks he’s bogus, then he plots and stews for a long time and finally exacts his revenge, all while being a quadrapalegic. Really really great stuff.

But the Melville. Ah! That is a real gem, a diamond among costume jewelry (and I love costume jewelry). It is a simple story. And nothing much happens. The quote at the top is actually the end of the story. Let’s just call it the climax, though, there really isn’t a climax. In typical Melville style the story is full of lovely description about isolation and travelling &tc. It’s sort of a slow build that never really picks up steam and then ends abrubtly. It’s like the drone of white noise.

Why is this good and worth writing about? I have no idea. I suppose it’s because when you become accustomed to the white noise and then it disappears, you kind of miss the white noise.

It is really the story of a seed merchant who changes suppliers of envelopes. That’s the hook.

Then he travels in the dead of winter to some distant mountainside paper mill in a place called Devil’s Dungeon. The descriptions are superb and evoke a mood that borders on frightful but never crosses the threshold into horror. Devil’s Dungeon  is occupied by nothing but ghost-like maids who float about tending the mill quietly and sullenly. They are watched over by a man they call “Old Bach,” short for “bachelor,” not Bach, and an odd little man who attends other things named Cupid.

The imagery and metaphors are totally obvious but somehow perfect in their own special way. And like I said nothing happens and it never crosses into something more, leaving the reader to draw his own conclusions about basically everything.

The Sword of Wellerran, or Lord Dunsany Revisited

11/18/2009 § Leave a comment

A few years ago I read The Gods of Pegāna by Lord Dunsany.

I sort of had a tough time with it. It may have been because in my minds voice I pronounced it as a rhyme for vagina. This possibly contributed to the weirdness I felt after reading what turned out to be a dry, structureless, no-plot, biblical (-esque) collection of stories (or anecdotes). It is probably something more like peg-anna, but there is nobody around to tell my minds voice the correct pronunciation.

So that was problem one and two. The vagina rhyme and the dry, structureless, &tc.

Problem three is sentences like this: When Māna-Yood-Sushāi had made the gods there were only the gods, and They sat in the middle of Time, for there was as much Time before them as behind them, which having no end had neither a beginning.

And this: Time is the hound of Sish.

And countless others.

Aside from those things, I like the incomparable weirdness of Dunsany… as did Lovecraft and Tolkien. Seriously. There really is nothing like Dunsany.

It had been a while since I had first read The Gods of Pegāna in the Penguin Classics collection I own. Because of my first experience with him I have had very little inclination to pick up the collection I own since, but thanks to the horrible service of Chicago’s postal system I was in need of something until the three new books I ordered arrive at my doorstep.

Yesterday afternoon I read a story called The Sword of Wellerran. So far so good. Can’t rhyme any of those words with privates, male or female.

It is the story of an ancient city with a long history of epic battles and heroes. It begins after the heroes have died and says that the town is practically sleeping because all memory of them has turned into legend. With limited exposition Dunsany creates a harsh reality for the inhabitants of this dreaming city. It feels dirty, cold, and tired, with little to no description of the environment.

Through dreams the heroes of old rouse the folks in the town to defend their city.

It’s short and sweet. It really made me change my opinion of Dunsany.

Plus, he’s a Lord. Like, for real. Pretty awesome that someone with such a noble family line decided to create mythologies and write something that is to this day considered nerdy. He must have been super nerdy. King of the nerds. Or at least Lord of the Nerds.

Orlando Furioso: Canto 2, 31-45

10/23/2009 § Leave a comment

“This thief-whether he was a mortal being

or infernal fiend I cannot say-.”

Next up are many stanzas exalting Bradamante and stuff. But the gist of it is that she is celebrated throughout the countryside and sister to Rinaldo. She is held in as high esteem as her brother Rinaldo. She is loved by Ruggiero whom she has only met once. The crusades definitely seem like they were a bogus time for love.

So Bradamante wanders through the woods and leaves one weeping knight (which was Sacripante whom she bested earlier in the first Canto)  near a river only to discover another. She comes upon a white knight who laments and whines about how his love was stolen by a knight on a winged horse. Also he thinks that Bradamante is a man by her outfit.

Turns out that the knight was leading some cavalry to meet King Charles. He was also escorting a lady; a lady he loved. And lo! in the air he saw a knight in armour on a horse with wings circling high above.

The flying horse swoops and the knights scurry away like cockroaches when a light is turned on. The lady, startled, is snatched into the air. The valiant knight missed the whole thing and didn’t realize what had happened until her screams came calling from up above.

Then, this is the best, though he knows he can’t follow a winged horse from the ground he abandons his army and leaves it leaderless. So he just starts wandering aimlessly looking for his love who was snatched by Pegasus’ uncle. Then, after six days he finds a valley and a mountain beyond with a castle on top. The castle is made of steel “forged in the fires and chilled in the streams of hell.”

No stairs. No door. Just sheer castle walls. He lingered and cried and wept and just at that moment, as if he had been singing the Smiths Please, Please, Please, when his despair was at it’s greatest, two cavaliers escorted by a dwarf came into sight. The knights were none other than Gradasso and Ruggiero!

*sorry no 8bit pictures today. Next time.

The Griffin and the Minor Canon

10/17/2009 § 1 Comment

“I have had a contemptible opinion of you ever since I discovered

what cowards you are, but I had no idea you were so ungrateful…”

The Griffin

Lately I have been moderately obsessed (if one can be moderately obsessed) with American writers. Add this to my regular obsession of fairy-tales and I’ll practically flip my lid. So when I discovered Frank Stockton a while back one might have mistaken me for a human shaped Tupperware with an upside down lid. Needless to say I’ve been reading a lot of Frank Stockton…along with my regular regimen of literature which currently includes City of the Century and Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, which is, to my happy surprise, quite good. I’ll try to post about both when I finish.

I wish I could say that Stockton wrote tales with the beautiful, whimsical, heart-breaking quality in which Oscar Wilde fashioned his tales, because that’s what I always want with more recent fabulists, but I cannot say that. Few people can write like that. However, whatever Stockton lacks in ornate prose he more than adequately makes up with originality and sheer likability; and also some good old fashioned American sense.

The Minor Canon, one of the titular characters in the story is a well-liked, average, member of the clergy, just trying to do the best for his town. Just a regular guy really. Then along comes this Griffin who has never seen what he looks like but hears of a carving of himself in a village. He heads to the village and the townspeople freak out and hide. The Minor Canon is the only one to face him and after his initial fear, which never truly subsides (for it isn’t often one confronts a Griffin), he finds the creature somewhat exasperating as the Griffin decides to follow him around constantly, enjoying his kindness and common sense which much of the village lacks.

The story is fun. Lots of fun. The plot is fun. Basically, everything is fun. The sparse dialogue is always entertaining, being made up of little quips that the two characters often exchange.The ending is abrupt and kind of sad, and even though kind of out of left field, made me like the story more.

Of his stories it is my favorite, though all of them are worth a read. A Tale of Negative Gravity is also unique and parochial (as I’m sure the Nobel Lit board would agree with). What’s wrong with parochial? The Bee Man of Orn, is also a good and quick read. Both of these have illustrated editions by Maurice Sendak.

Buenos Aires

07/27/2009 § Leave a comment

So I’ve been terribly negligent of updating this blog. That’s what happens when I try to do two things at once. Shouldn’t have tried to do my regular blog posts and talk about our trip. It left me like the donkey who found himself equidistant between two carrots; unable to move at all.

And between a job I hate and trying to write a book and summer with all its usual distractions I have found little time to work on this blog. So until I allot some real time to craft a post I’m going to post some of my favorite pics from the trip. Here they are.

Me on a bus tour!

Me on a bus tour!

Recoleta Cemetery

Recoleta Cemetery

The Quixote.

The Quixote.

La Boca.

La Boca.

One of the best meals ever. Sweetbreads.

One of the best meals ever. Sweetbreads.



Taking the train to Tigre.

Taking the train to Tigre.

Waffles of the World.

Waffles of the World.

Lighter I bought for a few pesos.

Lighter I bought for a few pesos.

Another great meal.

Another great meal.

Last night out. Listening to traditional Tango. Drinking Quilmes. Photo courtesy of Peter.

Last night out. Listening to traditional Tango. Drinking Quilmes. Photo courtesy of Peter.

Only Jerks in the World to look for Brewpubs in Buenos Aires

06/17/2009 § Leave a comment

“We must be the only two jerks in the world to fly to Argentina and look for brewpubs.”

I said that to Gemma. At least in my memories I said it, while searching travel guides and internets for info. I think I probably said several times that we were the only two jerks to do “X” when we traveled. Guess it was my schtick…..and her’s also. She was the Laurel to my Hardy.

In any event, these two vaudeville stars did manage to find two brewpubs to enjoy in Buenos Aires. The first was called Cosssab. The second, Antares.

I believe it was our second or third evening that we did manage to make it out to Cossab. Cossab is situated in the West. It was on Carlos Calvo, which happened to be the same street as our B&B. We were initially excited about this, thinking we could maybe walk, and then realized it was about five miles to the West.

Gemma and I have no beef with walking five miles. We do it in our native land of Chicago and we even did it while we were there. But walking in the evening with a belly and head full of frothy South American beer was not a good idea…..so we took a cab.

Since nothing opens until 8 in Buenos Aires we waited outside for Peter to show up. The place was open but just, and we didn’t want to be the first jerks in the place. Especially because conversation would have been, ahem, strained to say the least. And I would have probably said something stupid like, “Quiero cerveza un chopp….” which is totally fine, but then since I would have wanted to say something else to showcase my stellar spanish skills I would have said “btw, estoy el diablo blanco.” And I would have thrown in the webspeak too. It was good Gemma was there to keep me in line.

Peter showed up about four minutes later and we went in. It was a dark pub. Beer cans and coasters covered the walls. We felt right at home. We took a seat by the window and waited for Paola and Arturo. Pao had been buying a space heater for the winter and Arturo had been sleeping, I think.


Our friends arrived shortly after and we sampled their house beers, most of which, sadly, were unavailable. The blonde was good. The porter was good. I think those are the only ones that made an impression. The rest were drinkable but nothing exceptional. We ordered food.

They love pizza down in Buenos Aires but most of it is a strange sort of Frankenstien version of what we think of as pizza. Strange white cheese and whole green olives….sometimes raw onions thrown on top, &tc. We drank Stella and Quilmes and even some Guiness I believe. Arturo and I became better friends while chainsmoking all evening outside the front. We left at about 3 or 330am.

Outside Cossab. Left to Right: Me, Pao, Peter, Arturo.

Outside Cossab. Left to Right: Me, Pao, Peter, Arturo.

Smoking is technically banned in Buenos Aires bars but it is a loose sort of ban. Some bars just don’t care. Some are strict about the policy. Some specific rooms in certain bars are smoking rooms. Some upstairs areas are smoking if the place is big enough. Generally we just took a quick look around to see if others were smoking and if not we went outside.

The other brewpub we went to, Antares, was in Palermo. Palermo is a very nice area. It is filled with shops and fancy restaurants and lovely streets and beautiful homes and hotels. Antares is among the fancy places.

Antares Brewpub, Palermo.

Antares Brewpub, Palermo.

Gemma and I had wandered around Palermo all afternoon looking for a restaurant we had read about. We found it. It was closed and lots of people were inside cleaning intensely. Our hunger pulled us away too quick to discover what what had caused them to close for lunch. We wandered a bit. We were thrown. When our plans fail we often starve. Not due to lack of restaurants but due to indecision. Restaurants were everywhere we just had a hard time deciding. We found a traditional parrilla place that ended up being the best meat I had while there. Not the best meal. The best meat. I intend to write about our food on another post.

After our Palermo shopping adventures, in which niether Gemma or I made a single purchase (again the indecision thing….it amazes me we got to South America!), we stopped at a bar. I got made fun of for ordering a “disco drink,” which I took to mean a girls drink.

Girl Drink

Girl Drink

It was tasty though, so whatever. And full of bourbon…which is why I got it. And honestly, you can only drink so much Quilmes.

Then we texted Arturo and headed to Antares. It was getting chilly but I wanted to sit outside to smoke. I got readdicted while there. Hard not to when the packs are 5 pesos; roughly $1.80.

Beer Flight.

Beer Flight.

Gemma and I sampled their two dark beers before Arturo showed up. When he arrived we got the flight. It was all good and we were, I think, all very impressed. The bar, which is one of five or six scattered about Argentina, was lovely. The decor and clientelle definetely reflected the neighborhood in which it was placed.

Antares Interior

Antares Interior

When we all got too cold we went in and had another pint. Draft beer is called “chopp” there. It was just the three of us and Arturo told us about his mother country Columbia. We would have loved to stay there all evening but it was Tuesday and we had a date with a dive bar and a traditional tango singer later. We met up with Pao and Peter enjoyed more Quilmes at our next bar which was not a brewpub but which merits it’s own post in the near future..

Arturo tells the gang a story.

Arturo tells the gang a story.

Return from South of the Equator

05/28/2009 § 1 Comment

Gemma and I have safely returned from the autumnal lands of South America. I have been working nonstop since our return but will continue with the saga of Orlando and Angelica soon. I have much to say regarding our trip and intend to write a fairly long entry with some photos; hopefully starting today.

We had a wonderful time visiting with our friends Peter, Poala, Arturo, and the millions of other folks who are down there. I learned a lot, drank a fair amount, and even picked up a few folktales I was unfamiliar with.

To tide you over here is a photo of a not-so-old folktale that is being produced for the stage in Buenos Aires. Alas, Gemma and I did not have time to see it; one of our many regrets. Too little time.


El Joven Frankenstein