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Thread: The Crossing, by Cormack McCarthy

  1. #16
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Good ones

    Muchos años después, frente al pelotón de fusilamiento, el coronel Aureliano Buendía había de recordar aquella tarde remota en que su padre lo llevó a conocer el hielo.
    Or

    Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
    Cien Años De Soledad
    or
    One Hundred Years Of Solitude

    by Gabriel García Márquez

    I read the English translation of the García Márquez book. My Spanish is only good enough to get what I want in a Mexican restaurant about 3 out of 4 times — Hey, what the heck is that stuff in my burrito?

    The Border Trilogy uses a lot of untranslated Spanish in the dialogue. Both John Grady Cole and Billy Parham grew up speaking both languages. And while it helps to have a little Spanish, it’s not necessary. You can usually suss it out through context. Or if he uses an less common word you usually get it in English in the next paragraph.

    McCarthy broke from that in the encounter between John Grady and a shoe-shine boy in Juarez. Their interaction is too lengthy and nuanced to be written in Spanish for most of us ‘Mercans. At any rate it’s a wonderful little exchange. The two sort of playfully joust with words. Also I’m sure there’s some sort of literary device or another going on there. The boy’s words turn out to be somewhat prophetic. Or perhaps, Danik, in keeping with your idea, it signals the change of an era. When asked, John Grady can’t imagine ever wanting to be anything but a cowboy, a vaquero. The shoe-shine boy decides he’d prefer to be rich or maybe an airplane pilot:

    He brushed the boot and put away the brush and got his cloth out and popped it. John Grady watched him. What about you? What if you could be anything you wanted?
    I’d be a cowboy
    Really?
    The boy looked at him with disgust. Sh*t no, he said. What’s wrong with you? I’d be a rico and lay around on my asss all day. What do you think?
    What if you had to do something?
    I don’t know. Maybe be an airplane pilot.
    Yeah?
    Sure. I’d fly everywhere.
    What would you do when you got there?
    Fly somewhere else.
    Uhhhh...

  2. #17
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Yes, an impressive beginning!

    I read Spanish quite well, though when speaking I'm reduced to a rather awful variant of Portuñol (Many Brazilians believe that they speak Spanish from the cradle, because they understand, what the Spanish speaking folks are saying).
    I don´t know so much about US history, but I couldn't help noticing how many cities in some states have Spanish names and how big the group of US Latinos has become. I think there must have been plenty of Spanish settlements in US in the past, namely in some states like California and Texas, for example.

    To me that haven´t read the book, this short but otherwise charming dialogue points again to the reality of displacement of the cowboys. The protagonist, who somehow represents the boy of the past, exalts the cowboy as an ideal. The boy of the present reacts with horror. The grand thing now is just to have a lot of money and no occupation. Yes, but if you have to have a job? I´ll fly here and there (because I don´t feel at home any more, anywhere).



    Maybe the Latino group is becoming more relevant in, for example, politics these days. So no wonder, there appears that sort of mixed lingo in Cormack´s trilogy.
    #Stay home as much as you can and stay well

  3. #18
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Q. What do you call someone who speaks two languages?
    A bilingual.

    Q. What do you call someone who speaks three languages?
    A trilingual.

    Q. What do you call someone who speaks only one language?
    An American.

    Yuk-yuk-yuk.

    We’re getting better.

    And correct-a-mundo, Danik, just about everything in the southwestern U.S. has a Spanish name, probably on account of it used to being part of Mexico, and in fact that area had been a part of Spain only a few years prior to that. The USA got most of it as spoils of the Mexican-American War in the 1840s.

    Texas, then as now, went their own way. They’d earlier seceded from Mexico to become The Republic of Texas. Its geographical remoteness from Mexico City made it difficult for Santa Anna to govern it anyway. What made Texas so remote aside from distance was the difficulty of the terrain in Coahuila and Chihuahua, the same terrain Billy and John Grady traveled through in the novels. A few years after the Mexican-American War, Texas threw in with the U.S. of A. and became a state, mostly I for protection I think.

    You know, most of the names in the middle of the U.S. up and down the Mississippi River from Marquette to New Orleans are French. President Jefferson bought that area outright from Napoleon in 1801 or there abouts. He got a steal. In a very bloody uprising, sugar-plantation slaves in what is now Haiti had thrown out the French making Port Au Prince unavailable to them as a sea port. And since the shipping of the day couldn’t make it to France from New Orleans without stopping somewhere, all of a sudden the territories in the Mississippi River valley were worthless to the French. Hooray for the people of St. Louis; if not for that event they’d still be wearing stripy shirts and berets, smoking cigarettes, sipping burgundy wine, and smearing stinky cheese on crackers.

    Voila!

    I’ve often wondered what would have happened if Jefferson had bought Cuba as well. He wanted to badly, and in fact tried to buy it several times from the Spanish, but no dice. Havana was a powerhouse back then and had Cuba become a state of the U.S., it seems to me, everything changes. The power dynamic between English-speaking and Spanish-speaking North America is upended. We might even be a bonafide bilingual country today, people speaking equally fluently with a southern drawl and a rapid-fire, rat-a-tat-tat Caribbean Spanish.

    Boggles the mind.
    Uhhhh...

  4. #19
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    We had a similar case here. Until 1825 when the territory got its independence, Uruguay was called Provincia Cisplatina and part of Brazil. Seemed a good solution after all as their identity was closer to Spanish America. But in the South the lingo still is full of Spanish words.

    If there aren´t more old Spanish settlements, this is because of a curious treaty Portugal celebrated with Spain in 1494 called Tordesillas which divided the then known world like it was a birthday cake:
    "The Treaty of Tordesillas,[note 1] signed in Tordesillas, Spain on 7 June 1494, and authenticated in Setúbal, Portugal, divided the newly-discovered lands outside Europe between the Portuguese Empire and the Spanish Empire (Crown of Castile), along a meridian 370 leagues[note 2] west of the Cape Verde islands, off the west coast of Africa. That line of demarcation was about halfway between the Cape Verde islands (already Portuguese) and the islands entered by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage (claimed for Castile and León), named in the treaty as Cipangu and Antilia (Cuba and Hispaniola).

    The lands to the east would belong to Portugal and the lands to the west to Castile. The treaty was signed by Spain, 2 July 1494, and by Portugal, 5 September 1494.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Tordesillas"

    The treaty was largely respected, but they forgot the Bandeirantes about it, groups of armed men that where sent to the interior in quest of Indians and precious stones. These groups didn´t set limits to their expeditions and ended up by enlarging Brazil´s borders thus giving the country the form it has today.

    Maybe another dominating country would have been better for Brazil. Portugal was to interested in her riches to care for her development.
    #Stay home as much as you can and stay well

  5. #20
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    It does seem that foremost on the minds of the early explorers was riches, getting the goods from the new world back to the old world. The Spanish in particular were always looking for El Dorado - the City of Gold. The native peoples were attuned to this fixation of the Conquistadors and kept telling them - Oh yes, City of Gold, I’ve seen it with my own eyes, it’s over there, on the other side of those mountains, just keep going, that way, long ways away, happy travels. Coronado chased all over the terrain of the Border Trilogy novels looking for El Dorado.

    But it wasn’t just the Spanish. As you mentioned, Danik, it was the Portuguese as well…and the English, and the French, and the Dutch. So when the Europeans built infrastructure in the Americas it was all pointed towards the ports, aimed at exporting stuff, not at staying and building a society. There were exceptions, the pilgrims in Massachusetts for instance. They planned to stay. They couldn’t go back on account of they’d been run out of Europe because of their odd religious beliefs. So they stayed to enjoy religious freedom, and of course to enjoy imposing their religious beliefs on anybody else who wanted to live there, but that’s another story. The point is they built their cities and roads to interconnect and self sustain on the North American continent.

    I think a lot of the newly independent countries in the Americas struggled to build a stand alone society in part because the infrastructure wasn’t built with that purpose in mind. Anyway it’s a theory. I didn’t think it up on my own. I read it somewhere.
    Uhhhh...

  6. #21
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    You are quite right, Sancho, specially in regards to Latin America. I think, US was more lucky in that aspect, because the Pilgrims that arrived there, were badly in need of a new home. For the Indians that was bad as what happened anywhere else, because they lost their domains anyway. But the forefathers built a solid beginning to what became US.

    Our beginnings are more problematic. It is said the Portuguese landed here by accident. They wanted India, in fact, because of its spices. There is a classic picture of the celebration of a first Mass, with the Indians assisting in the background(and probably thinking what the heck these people are doing there). Pero Vaz de Caminha, a sort of ship secretary wrote home and told the king that "in that soil everything you plant will grow" to justify the landing and, of course, to ask a private favor of the king. So there we were. Portugal became interested in the riches promised by Caminha´s letter and began to send people to populate the new found domains. Some of these peoples had to chose between prison and Brazil, or maybe even the gallows and Brazil. So there we were. Other countries became also interested in Brazilian riches, France and much later Holland, but the Portuguese managed to throw them all out again with the help of the Indians.

    And, it´s not an accident that, for a long time the only educators in the new country were the Jesuits. So there we were again.
    #Stay home as much as you can and stay well

  7. #22
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Well we’re all where are now, eh Danik? Might as well make the best of it. As they say - wherever you go … there you are.

    Speaking of going places, I haven’t been to Brazil in about 10 years, but I used to go there regularly in the 00’s. And while in Brazil I was always treated well. In your town, Danik, we used to stay in a Crowne Plaza a block or two off Paulista in the financial district. It was by a women’s hospital, I think the hotel has been converted into apartments now. Anyway that area seemed to have an open-air cafe on just about every corner, a luncheonette. I liked to sit at the counter and order an empanada and smoothie and just sort of hang out. Inevitably somebody would sit on a stool next to me and strike up a conversation. My Portuguese stinks worse that my Spanish, but we’d always manage. That sort of thing rarely happens in the U.S. of A.

    In fact all through South America I found the people very cordial. Los Portaños could be a little snooty, but hey, that’s their reputation so I’d be disappointed if they didn’t look down their noses at me a little bit. Just like I’d be disappointed if I went to Manhattan and the New Yorkers treated me with patience and deference and nobody was hurrying anywhere and was instead just moseying around town. It makes me laugh to think about people moseying around Midtown Manhattan. It can’t be done. At least it’s never been tried.

    So I’ve been thinking about the border trilogy, which is a good thing because I’m couple of books down road from these books and still thinking about them. It’s the sign of a good book. (I’ve read Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles and Dave Egger’s The Circle since I finished McCarthy’s Cities of the Plain.)

    There’s a scene in Cities of the Plain where the cowboys are trying to eradicate a pack of wild dogs that have been taking down a few of the herd’s calfs. It’s the kind of scene that McCarthy writes well, brutal and vivid. It’s worth the price of the book. And not just for the fast-paced action of the hunt, but the whole process of figuring out that it’s dogs killing the calfs, not wolves or a mountain lion or a bear. At one point Billy and John Grady come upon a dead calf. Mama cow is standing there looking at it. One of the cowboys makes a comment about her parenting skills - doesn’t have a scratch on her - cows are only good for two things, to eat and sh*tting.

    So I get it. Cows are domestic animals and it’s a well known fact of animal husbandry that the best way to get a real tasty critter that’s docile is to only let the fattest and stupidest ones breed. After a couple of generations you’ve got a dim witted, but well marbled animal. By contrast the pack of wild dogs has figured out how to survive and thrive on the their own in an inhospitable environment, much like the pack of wolves in the previous book. They’ve de-domesticated themselves. I suppose the cowboys are facing domestication as well. It goes hand-in-hand with your idea about the loss of the way of life on a small ranch, but has subtle differences. Billy of course is undomesticable. He just drifts around until he’s an old man. <<spoiler alert>> John Grady tries to domesticate himself. He falls in love with young Mexican woman, and goes so far as to fix up an adobe house for both of them, but then buys it in a knife fight.

    I’ve gotta say though, McCarthy took a cheap shot at mama cows. As fat and stupid as they are, they’re still good mamas. My neighbor back in Georgia had Black Angus cows. Mama Black Angus always protect their babies. And here’s a weird thing, also a gross thing. One year there was a young calf, and for some strange reason all the other cows in the herd liked to poop on this particular little cow. I don’t know why. Additionally my neighbor had planted the wrong kind of forage grass for Black Angus because that season they all had runny poops. Anyway I’d look out in the pasture and there’d be all these black cows and single little brown one. And mama cow would be dutifully standing there licking the poops off her baby cow, making him black again. And that takes a helluva lot more courage that chasing off a pack of wild dogs, in my opinion.
    Uhhhh...

  8. #23
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    I don´t live far of the area in São Paulo you describe. Yea that was quite it, long before pandemics. One went to a luncheonette for a coffee and soon talking animatedly to a prefect stranger (sometimes the stranger turned up being a neighbor). Brazilians often don´t speak other languages, but they are very empathic. And as you seem to be too, I don´t doubt you had very interesting conversations, where neither speaker spoke the language of the other. I don´t know if it´s still that friendly.

    I went two times in my life to New York. The second time I stayed around the streets that were named 50 something and there were several emigrant groups. What astonished me: they didn´t mingle, each foreigner kept to his own square, as one would say today. I went to a small self service shop, kept by someone of one of the Arab countries. A group of tourists arrived and asked for a drink. The store owner pointed in the direction of the drinks. He was the only one in the shop. The tourists who obviously expected to be served, said something rude and left. I went to the counter with my yogurt where the shop owner went his anger in his native language. I made a casual remark about the rudeness of the tourists, as I would have done here, and suddenly there came a big hand across the counter to shake mine. This happened about 30 years ago.

    About the animals in Mc Carthy. One motive I avoid his books is the cruelty to and of animals they probably all describe. But as the animals are part of ranch life (even the wild animals in a sense) they are probably all very much affected with the changes, in fact they are part of it.

    And that cow is really admirable. Maybe this calf was weaker than the other ones or had some illness. Animals can be very cruel too, sometimes. This cow mother was really valiant!

    PS: Speaking from a strictly cowy point of view, though, I think for cows poo isn´t as disgusting as it is for humans. It probably rather something that doesn´t belong to ones calf´s fur and therefore has to be cleaned.
    Last edited by Danik 2016; 10-01-2021 at 06:08 AM.
    #Stay home as much as you can and stay well

  9. #24
    The Wolf of Larsen WolfLarsen's Avatar
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    I miss Latin America so much. Tenho saudades. Me extrano mucho. I currently live in the American Midwest. The people here are so cold, so conservative, so close-minded that it makes New Yorkers seem open. Not to get into a political discussion, but the people here in the Midwest make a big to do about their liberal politics, but I’ll tell you they are as conservative as hell. I swear these Midwesterners have personalities of ice. I never lived in São Paulo. But, I’ve lived in the north of Brazil. I miss it so much. I miss most of Latin America. The only place in Latin America I didn’t like was Panama. The gringos sure stomped their personality into Panama. In Panama, you might as well be in the USA. But I miss the rest of Latin America so much. I miss the people. I miss the culture. I miss the openness.
    "...the ramblings of a narcissistic, self-obsessed, deranged mind."
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  10. #25
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Wolf! Good to hear from you.

    I thought you were up in Alaska, but now I find out you’re in the middle west. Well, as they say - wherever you go … there you are. You know, I’ve had Great Fun in the Great Lakes States. I went to a Polka festival in Milwaukee once and the parts of it I remember (it was also a beer festival) were a hoot. Here’s something Midwesterners share with the Latino culture, Mexicans anyway - love of the accordion.

    So never to miss a chance at sexual innuendo:

    Mama’s got a squeeze box she wears on her chest
    And when daddy gets home he never gets no rest
    — The Who
    Uhhhh...

  11. #26
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    I gotta agree, Danik, violence towards animals is difficult to read, particularly when it’s well written as in a McCarthy novel. There are scenes in these books that will stick with me until the day I die. The dog at the end of The Crossing. Billy’s horse, Bird, as he rides (is chased) away from him. The wild dog John Grady and Billy rope. The she-wolf in the pit.

    Speaking of wolves, and since Wolf Larsen checked in on the thread, and since I associate him with the great state of Alaska, and since his name is, well, Wolf, there’s another scene I read a while back that is stuck in my mind for good. T.C. Boyle’s Drop City is a novel about an enclave of hippies who run off to Alaska and try to make a go of it in the harsh interior of Alaska. Boyle wrote a scene in that book where a wolf has his foot stuck in a leg-hold trap and although I don’t remember the exact words, I can still “see” it. The wolf is stuck and hurt and is going to have to chew his leg off to get get free, and he can’t quite understand why the world has turned against him.

    Now I’m going to have to dig that book out of cardboard box in basement and reread that passage to see what I remembered right and what I remembered wrong.

    Anyway I found Paulista to be a nice area. I was there once when all my coworkers took off somewhere so I had some time to kill by myself. I wound up buying a Multipass on the subway and riding it around for most of the day to see how much of the city I could see. Turns out the subway system in São Paulo, like the city, is expansive. Lotsa cool places to see. I walked out of the station at Liberdade and for some strange reason found myself in Tokyo.
    Uhhhh...

  12. #27
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Yea, I think that was McCarthy's aim: make these scenes unforgettable. A book that doesn´t leave impressions isn´t good at all.

    Yes, Paulista is the avenue where so many things happen. It is closed for cars for the most part on Sundays now, so that people can move freely around. They bring their kids and even their dogs from all parts of the city and just walk around enjoying the street music shows.
    And yes, Liberdade is our Tokyo. People speak Japanese, cook Japanese, eat Japanese. One feels somewhat as a foreigner there. Years ago they didn´t like the presence of the non Japanese so much. This is their quarter. But I think this has changed now because so many people from other parts of the cities come to their festivities. And that brings money and visibility to Liberdade.
    #Stay home as much as you can and stay well

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