Sunday, July 25, 2010

Navel Gazing About Diving

No book this week, summer has slowed me down. As I was in deep mediation last week the following came to me and I thought I should share. In my meditative state, I was pondering the results of me diving. Not springboard or SCUBA diving, rather diving to get the ball. This thought came to me as I sat exhausted sitting on the bench gasping for air. As some of you know, I play a lot of racquetball. Most of my fellow players are peers in age and life experience; means old guys. Few young guys come out to play and rarer still are female players. I think the learning curve and dedicated time required to master the skills scares off the generation X, Y and whatevers. (NO HAND CONTROLLERS!!! and it’s "real" and its real hard to get good at it). Lord knows I have been trying for more than 10 years to get good at it. Gregg shows up last week. He is maybe 25, quiet, 150 lbs, 5-9. Nice guy working here for the summer. We play. If you watch “us old guys” play, you would see several things. One thing you would notice. If we are standing in back court and there is a soft front wall lob, you would see us take a few steps and stop realizing we are NOT getting there and it is not worth it. Play the next point. Gregg dives for it. Full extension, arm out, face flat on the floor dive. Sometimes he gets it, sometimes not. The profound thought that came to me was as follows: I could dive, probably not get hurt, but how would I get back up? Can’t ask for help in the game! You only have 1-2 seconds at most to get setup for the return. No, better give up the point than ask for help up off the floor.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Part 2, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez . 1918, 471pages

Ibanez sees the French as honorable, brave and courageous. On the other hand, the Germans are barbarians capable of indescribable atrocity. Ibanez devotes considerable ink describing the ruthless, murderous, plundering, violent Germans while finding the French devoted defenders of all that is good. He barley mentions, and then with derision, the English and the Americans are invisible. Probably in anger for entering the war so late and with frustration that Americans saved France after they were completely defeated. Ibanez’s story of the war is often fantasy describing the rout of the Germans by French bravery and tactics. In reality, in the spring of 1917 after suffering 1 million casualties, almost half of the French army mutinies, leaves the line and is marching away. The Germans do not realize the opportunity and take no advantage. They could have left the trenches and defeated France but the German generals did not believe their intelligence. In another embarrassment to the French, the Australian army came to the defense of Paris as the German advance came in 75 miles of the city. The Australians are not mentioned; instead, it is the French army driving back the Germans. Maybe Oliver Stone took lessons from Ibanez.
Let me quote some passages were Ibanez describes the Germans. One of the Germans tells of
”one of the personages most admired by him was a certain Sultan of the Turkish conquest who, with his own hands, had strangled the sons of the adversary. “Our foes do not come into the world on horseback and brandishing the lance,” said that hero. “All are born as children, and it is advisable to wipe them from the face of the earth before they grow up”.

I understand the Palestinians felt the same way leading them to attack Kibbutz and women and children through bombing and terror attacks. They fell it was easier to kill their enemies as children rather than wait until they were capable of defending themselves.
Another quote to describe what the Germans were doing:
“They don’t understand what modern warfare means. They ignore the fact that our generals have studied the art of overcoming the enemy and they will apply it mercilessly. Ruthlessness is the only means, since it perturbs the intelligence of the enemy, paralyzes his action and pulverizes his resistance. The more ferocious the war, the more quickly it is concluded. To punish with cruelty is to proceed humanely. Therefore, Germany is going to be cruel with a cruelty hitherto unseen, in order that the conflict may not be prolonged. “
“True kindness consists in being cruel, because then the terror-stricken enemy gives in sooner, and so the world suffers less” Don Marcel shrugged his shoulder before the sophistry.

In the end of the book, after all the tragedies had play out Ibanez describes the mental state of the lead character:
“It appeared to him (Desnoyers) that from afar was echoing the gallop of the four Apocalyptic horsemen, riding rough-shod over all his fellow-creatures. He saw the strong and brutal giant with the sword of War, the archer with his repulsive smile, shooting his pestilential arrows, the bald-headed miser with the scales of Famine, their hard-riding spectre with the scythe of Death. He recognized them as only divinities, familiar and terrible-which had made their presence felt by mankind. All the rest was a dream. The four housemen were the reality.”

As the book ends, the horrors of war, the evils of humanity and the lack of fairness and justice in the world darken the mood as black as the first 1/3 of the story was a story of the happy family. Certainly, this is another book, which should be read and considered somewhere in the library of classics.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez . 1918, 471pages Part 1

Part 1 of 2 parts.
“And when the sun arises in a few hours, the world will see coursing through its fields the four horsemen, enemies of mankind….Already their wild steeds are pawing the ground with impatience; already the ill-omened riders have come together and are exchanging the last words before leaping into the saddle.”
“What horsemen are these? Asked Argensola.
“Those which go before the Beast”
The two friends thought this reply as unintelligible as the preceding words. Desnoyers again said mentally, “He is drunk,” but his curiosity forced him to ask, “What beast is that?”
“That of the Apocalypse.”

Revelations 6:1-8. As the first four Seals are opened, four horses of different colors, white, red, black and pale, appear. . (I think the grim reaper got his scythe from this image.) This vision has been frequently depicted in art, most famously by Albrecht Durer. The riders have been assigned certain qualities through the ages. To a Spanish author like Ibanez, the Catholic interpretation seems most likely. Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death are the common attributes of the horsemen. This book is a story of a family of Argentine origin who leaves and moves to Europe in the years before WW1, the Great War. Two sisters separate and one arrives in Paris the other Germany.

Happy times are the story lines of Argentina and Paris. The story carries well and you are lulled into believing you are following a Russian novella bringing in multiple characters only to see them drift off. It is not until well past half way into the story before the Four Horsemen arrive. They appear as a sort of prophecy by one of the minor characters to introduce a foreboding or foreshadowing of the rest of the book.

Written as a historical fiction novel, it was originally in Spanish. I found the translation excellent. I would not have known without reading a disclaimer. The story telling was about romance, friendship, and family until the onset of the Great War. The story sounds autobiographical and is told as if the writer was an eyewitness. The writing was so compelling you are drawn in knowing the whole time it is going to end badly for someone. Ibanez describes the arrogance of the French at the beginning of the War in their marching, bravado, ridiculous fancy uniforms and irrational patriotism. Ibanez depicts France as expecting restitution and revenge from Frances last great defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Apparently, the French believed they had inherited invincibility with this chance at redemption. Since the reader knows how the War turned out for the French, (by 1918 the author knows as well) it is painful to listen as the bands play and the women turn out waving as their men leave for what was expected to be a 3-4 month adventure but which instead is certain death. As the story moves from the beautiful Argentine ranch to the ravages of war, the violence of war is graphic in description even by today’s standards.
Part 2 will have some more excerpts from the text.