Many things have been said about Fiona Apple, and I’ll not repeat them here. I will say, however, that she has put out some of the most consistently interesting music over the years. From her introspective pop to her lavishly orchestrated pop, to the two mixes of her last album (one official, the other leaked), I’ve enjoyed all of it.
This is her first song in some seven years. And it doesn’t skimp on what makes Fiona Fiona. Specifically, it really showcases her voice. And that’s because it is practically a capella. The music is very spare–simple instrumentation (which sounds like a music box) and it more or less simply keeps the pace for Fiona’s voice (which sounds more full and powerful than ever) which creates the wonderful melody. This may sound like a weird comparison, but I actually hear a bit of Eddie Vedder in her voice, too.
It’s a haunting song and the arrangement is curiously cool.
And I’ll share it here (well, actually I won’t share it, I’ll give you the link because it doesn’t want to embed):
[READ: April 18, 2012] Varamo
Varamo is the most recently translated of César Aira’s hundred or so books. It was written in 2002 and translated by Chris Andrews. So far it is my favorite of the Aira books I’ve read.
It’s a fairly simple premise, although like most of Aira’s books, the premise isn’t exactly followed from start to finish. And like his other books, there are fun avenues of detours. But unlike his other books, it is a remarkably consistent story. Except of course, that even though the book is set on the day that Varamo writes his famous poem, we never even get to see him entering his house to do so.
Well, I’m going to quote from the beginning because it really summarizes the “plot” of the story:
One day in 1923, in the city of Colón (Panama), a third-class clerk, having finished his work, and, since it was payday, passed by the cashier’s desk to collect his monthly salary, left the Ministry in which he was employed. In the interval between that moment and the dawn of the following day, ten or twelve hours later, he completed the composition of a long poem, from the initial decision to write it up to the final period, after which there were no further additions or corrections. The self-contained nature of the interval emerges more clearly still if we take into account the fact that never, in all his fifty years, had he written or felt any inclination to write a single line of poetry, and nor would he ever again…Even so, this episode would have remained private and secret had its protagonist not been Varamo, ha it not produced that celebrated masterpiece of modern Central American poetry, The Song of the Virgin Child.
And that is pretty much exactly not what happens in the book. We never get to witness the miraculous creation of the poem. But we do see everything that leads up to it. The narrator gives us the idea that this isn’t going to be “just” a story, because it’s more of an exposition: “The aim of this narrative is to lay out the events as they unfolded, one after another, in a causal sequence, from the moment at which he picked up the bills to the completion of the poem.”
The narrator pops in from time to time to reintroduce the formalities of writing this book. Which leads to interesting thoughts both internal to the story and about writing in general. But they are brief enough to not distract from the story.
Varamo’s day doesn’t seem that unusual, except for little things that stick with him all day.
The first is that Varamo is paid (from his government clerk’s office) in counterfeit bills. He sees it right away, but he doesn’t say anything. And as soon as he puts the money in his pocket he knows that he is screwed—no one will believe him at this point.
The second is that a car nearly runs him off the road to give him his mothers’ gambling winnings (1 peso).
He’s freaked out by both monies and he needs a blood sugar jump. So he stops for a snack but only has the 1 peso note (that his mother will freak about if he breaks it” she keeps very strict records of her gambling). But when he goes to pay for the sweet with the 1 peso note, the woman is distraught at the thought of making change. This actually leads to an interesting question:
Where was it written that the low denominations had to be represented by costly coins and not by cheap paper bills? Couldn’t it be the other way around? Wouldn’t it be more logical? (13).
He finally gets home, where he can try out his hobby-embalming small animals. (He’s terrible at it). But then he hears a madman yelling his name. Sadly it tuns out to be his mother. She is pretty clearly insane and acts that way. Eventually (after much argument and discussion) he feeds her and she seems to settle somewhat.
Later that night he goes to the bar—his nightly trip. This walk proves to be very eventful. First there’s a car accident involving the Treasurer. The explanation of the car accident is that there is a race going on called a “regularity rally.” In a regularity rally the cars are meant to maintain a predetermined speed and the winner deviates the least from that speed from start to finish (there are random checkpoints around the city). It is suspected that this driver didn’t want to change his pace and so crashed into the Treasurer’s car. (There is a lengthy back and forth about these rallys and whether the driver is involved in it, which is quite fun).
The accident happened in front of the house of the Góngaros sisters.
They were mysterious women about whom few details were known, including how they made their money and just how many there were. Varamo helps to bring the Treasurer into their house and the mysterious Góngaros sisters recognize him. It’s then that a strange subplot of the story comes to the fore—he has been hearing voices in his head for ages. And it turns out that the sisters are behind the voices (the details of this are absolutely wonderful).
He finally gets to the pub where he meets three pirate books publishers. There is such a demand for books in Panama that they don’t even fight—indeed, they each take a certain section of the market. They tell Varamo that they would love to publish a book by him. He says that he has never written anything–he has never even thought of it. Surely you can write something, they say. And he thinks about writing a manual for how to embalm animals. They jump with excitement at the chance to publish it and will give him 200 pesos. He should go home right now and write the book!
As the book ends, we see the last things that Varamo sees before he heads home to write his famous poem.
Aira crams so much into this 89 page book. It’s funny, thoughtful, bizarre and magical. It’s this one that will make me want to read the next one that gets translated.
For ease of searching, I include: Gongaros, Cesar Aira