Sunday, April 20, 2014

Look What the Easter Bunny Dragged: Pedacitos of Literary Greats

Olga Garcia Echeverria

I don't have much to say about Easter. Like Thanksgiving and Santa Claus Day, it's a holiday that makes me feel awkward and rebellious. Pastel colors and Catholic mass make me nauseous. I've never been into wicker. I hate fake grass. I confess I have in my lifetime eaten my good share of chocolate bunnies and yellow marshmallow chicks, but nowadays I mostly feel resurrected by the literary word. Here are a few treats to sink your teeth into on this Easter Sunday. Enjoy!
Marquez On Writing from Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Life by Gerald Martin 
(Alfred A. Knopf 2009).
GGM on his 1st Birthday
     I am a writer through timidity. My true vocation is that of magician, but I get so flustered trying to do tricks that I’ve had to take refuge in the solitude of literature. Both activities, in any case, lead to the only thing that has interested me since I was a child: that my friends should love me more.
     In my case, being a writer is an exceptional achievement because I am very bad at writing. I have had to subject myself to an atrocious discipline in order to finish half a page after eight hours of work; I fight physically with every word and it is almost always the word that wins, but I am so stubborn that I have managed to publish four books in twenty years. The fifth, which I am writing now, is going slower than the others, because between my debtors and my headaches I have very little free time.
     I never talk about literature because I don’t know what it is and besides I’m convinced the world would be just the same without it. On the other hand, I’m convinced it would be completely different without the police. I therefore think I’d have been much more useful to humanity if instead of being a writer I’d been a terrorist.
David Sedaris: An Easter Excerpt
One of the funniest stories I have ever read is "Jesus Shaves" by David Sedaris. His entire collection Me Talk Pretty One Day (Little, Brown and Company 2000) is hilarious and highly recommended. In "Jesus Shaves," Sedaris describes his experience as an adult second language learner in a French class in Paris, France. In their limited French, Sedaris and fellow students attempt to explain the meaning of Easter to a Moroccan Muslim classmate.  
    The Italian nanny was attempting to answer the teacher’s latest question when the Moroccan student interrupted, shouting, “Excuse me, but what’s an Easter?”
     It would seem that despite having grown up in a Muslim country, she would have heard it mentioned once or twice, but no. “I mean it,” she said. “I have no idea what you people are talking about.”
     The teacher called upon the rest of us to explain.
     The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. “It is," said one, “a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and …oh, shit.” She faltered and her fellow country-man came to her aid.
     “He call his self Jesus and then he be die one day on two…morsels of …lumber.”
     The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.
     “He die one day and then he go above of my head to live with your father.”
     “He weared of himself the long hair and after he die, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples.”
     “He nice, the Jesus.”
     “He make the good things, and on the Easter we be sad because somebody make him dead today.”
     Part of the problem had to do with vocabulary. Simple nouns such as cross and resurrection were beyond our grasp, let alone such complicated reflexive phrases as “to give of yourself your only begotten son.” Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self respecting group of people might do. We talked about food instead.
     “Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb,” the Italian nanny explained. “One too many eat of the chocolate.”
     “And who brings the chocolate?” the teacher asked.
     I knew the word, so I raised my hand, saying, “The rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate.”
     “A rabbit?” The teacher, assuming I’d used the wrong word, positioned her index fingers on top of her head, wriggling them as though they were ears. “You mean one of these? A rabbit rabbit?”
     “Well, sure, “ I said. “He come in the night when one sleep on a bed. With a hand he have a basket and foods. “
     The teacher sighed and shook her head. As far as she was concerned, I had just explained everything that was wrong with my country. “No, no, “ she said. “Here in France the chocolate is brought by a big bell that flies in from Rome.” 
     I called for a time-out. “But how do the bell know where you live?”
    “Well,” she said, “how does a rabbit?”
     It was a decent point, but at least a rabbit has eyes. That’s a start. Rabbits move from place to place, while most bells can only go back and forth-and they can’t even do that on their own power. On top of that, the Easter Bunny has character. He’s someone you’d like to meet and shake hands with. A bell has all the personality of a cast-iron skillet. It’s like saying that come Christmas, a magic dustpan flies in from the North Pole, led by eight flying cinder blocks. Who wants to stay up all night so they can see a bell? And why fly one in from Rome when they’ve got more bells than they know what to do with right here in Paris? That’s the most implausible aspect of the whole story, as there’s no way the bells of France would allow a foreign worker to fly in and take their jobs. That Roman bell would be lucky to get work cleaning up after a French bell’s dog-and even then he’d need papers. It just didn’t add up. 
     Nothing we said was of any help to the Moroccan student. A dead man with long hair supposedly living with her father, a leg of lamb served with palm fronds and chocolate; equally confused and disgusted, she shrugged her massive shoulders and turned her attention back to the comic book she kept hidden beneath her binder.

Adios Querida Doris Pilkington Garimara author of Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence

Doris Pilkington Garimara and her mother Molly

It's midnight, Easter Sunday, and I've just heard that author Doris Pilkington Garimara passed away last week of ovarian cancer. Among the many books she wrote, Pilkington Garimara documented her Australian aborigine mother's escape from a government camp and her amazing 1,500-mile trek home. Her book, Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence, brought to light the systematic racist policies to forcibly assimilate Australian natives by tearing them away from their families. Her book was later made into the highly acclaimed film, Rabbit Proof Fence. Like all great literature and art, Rabbit Proof Fence is a story that touches the heart in powerful and timeless ways. Through the years, I have returned to it numerous times--for its bravery, its mastery, and its poetic resilient spirit.
Last but not least, and in honor of our recently departed Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Doris Pilkington Garimara, I leave you with a few lines from one of my favorite Pablo Neruda poems. What is there not to love about Neruda?
This excerpt is from "Ode to a Few Yellow Flowers," which is translated by Ilan Stavans in All The Odes: Pablo Neruda.   
Polvo somos, seremos.
Ni aire, ni fuego, ni agua
solo tierra
y tal vez
unas flores amarillas.
We are dust, we shall become.
Not air, or fire, or water
we shall be
mere earth
and maybe
a few yellow flowers.


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