Monday, July 11, 2011

"Alors soyez gentils!"

Sometimes, I come across a piece of music that I just can't stop listening to. Right now, it's the Adagio from Arcangelo Corelli's Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 8. The piece is exquisite, striking in its cleanness of melodic movement and lack of excessive ornamentation. The simplicity of the melody combined with the harmonies of the various strings is indescribably beautiful. It feels both tragic and content at the same time, hinting at a certain understated nostalgia; it does not rage against the dying of the light, but merely accepts that some things have passed on and feels grief at their loss, not inconsolable grief but still noticeable.
In Cities of the Plain, in a conversation between an aging man and a young cowboy, Cormac McCarthy writes:
...There's hard lessons in this world. [says the old man]
What's the hardest? [replies the cowboy]
I don't know. Maybe it's just that when things are gone they're gone. They aint comin back.
While this is unmistakably true, it's not really complete. All the things that we miss once they have passed away would simply become garish and monstrous if they remained forever. An end is perhaps the greatest (and most painful) blessing we have been given. Even the loveliest piece of music or the most delicate flower would become nauseating and dull if it continued indefinitely.
At the end of Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery writes, "
Ca c'est pour moi, le plus beau et le plus triste paysage du monde. C'est le même paysage que celui de la page précédente, mais je l'ai dessiné une fois encore pour bien vous le montrer. C'est ici que le petit prince a apparu sur terre, puis disparu. [That is for me the loveliest and the saddest landscape in the world. It is the same landscape as the preceding page, but I drew it a second time so you could see it well. It is here that the little prince appeared on earth, then disappeared.]" The landscape is beautiful, not just in itself, but because of what transpired there. All good things must end, but because they end, they stay beautiful.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

And Lot lifted up his eyes...

As a remedy (or perhaps an irritant) for my homesickness, I started reading Cormac McCarthy's perfectly crafted novel, Cities of the Plain. As a Texan currently confined to speaking only in Russian, it's refreshing to read McCarthy's quintessentially Texan dialogues and smile at his characters' use of unexpected similes, the kind of things I hear while sitting in my grandmother's living room. But, it's also a bit frightening. The violence and corruption of McCarthy's Western, set near the Texas-Mexico border in the 1950's, could easily be events taking place today. Just this evening, I read a New York Times article about more than 20 people shot dead in Monterrey. Alejandro Poire, Mexico's national security spokesman, hardly broke the surface of this issue when he commented that this "violence is the product of this criminal rivalry, characterized by mistrust, vengeance, the intent to control all illegal activities of a community and profit not just from that activity but also the possible control of drug shipments to the United States" (quoted from NYT article). What Mr. Poire would be wise to admit is that this violence is the product of much more than just criminal rivalry. In Cities of the Plain, McCarthy describes the 16-year-old prostitute, Magdalena, who was "sold at the age of thirteen to settle a gambling debt" (139), ran away from her pimp first to a convent which gladly returned her for a little cash and then to the police who, after raping her, sold her back to the pimp. The point of referencing this is not to shock the reader with the horrors of human trafficking, but to point out that corruption is not simply the result of "criminal rivalry," but of an entire society. It is not just the pimp that keeps Magdalena in her horrific situation; it is the Mexican society that for a little cash gladly winks at the horror, but equally important, it is also the society across the border that helps pay for the corruption. When we look at Mexico and think how we need to improve border security, perhaps we should instead look inwards. The violence that wastes Mexico right now is not just the product of Mexican corruption, it is also the product of "upstanding" Americans who succumb to this corruption by paying bribes when they are obliged to work or travel to Mexico. It is also the product of all of us who simply think of the violence across the border as "their problem." It is our problem as well, and we have helped perpetuate it by our complacence.