Caroline Stockford Reads “The Plague in Bergamo”

Vilhelm Hammershøi, Interior, Strandgade 30, 1906-8. Source: fr.phaidon.com


Old Bergamo lay on the summit of a low mountain, hedged in by walls and gates, and New Bergamo lay at the foot of the mountain, exposed to all winds.

One day the plague broke out in the new town and spread at a terrific speed; a multitude of people died and the others fled across the plains to all four corners of the world. And the citizens in Old Bergamo set fire to the deserted town in order to purify the air, but it did no good. People began dying up there too, at first one a day, then five, then ten, then twenty, and when the plague had reached its height, a great many more.

And they could not flee as those had done, who lived in the new town.

There were some, who tried it, but they led the life of a hunted animal, hid in ditches and sewers, under hedges, and in the green fields; for the peasants, into whose homes in many places the first fugitives had brought the plague, stoned every stranger they came across, drove him from their lands, or struck him down like a mad dog without mercy or pity, in justifiable self-defense, as they believed.

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E.F. Fluff: Josie’s Numbers

Spider and The Bottle, “Hera” from “Father and Six Daughters series”, 2015. Source: gnypgallery.com

30 Second Quickie!

Wet horny college girls waiting for your call now!

Garish, bawdy and downright pornographic ads screamed from the back pages of the magazine. Pausing occasionally to push a wet strand of hair out of her open mouth – fingers shaking slightly – she thumbed through the pages, taking care to choose the right number for tonight. Fingertips slid gently across the buttons, their tinny responding beeps echoing into her dry mouth.

The electronic rotate of the connection signal ran a shiver from the heat of her ear to her mouth.

Bzz,

bzzz,

*click*

“Hi! My name’s Tina! And I’m a slim luscious blonde with firm thirty six double D breasts and I’m a gym instructor. Ever since I was sixteen I…”

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Luciana Erregue: The Ballad of the Spectator-Curator

Youssef Rakha, The Louvre Abu Dhabi, 2020

They are everywhere now. Satellite museums and universities: Guggehnheim Bilbao, Louvre Abu Dhabi, Disneyland Paris, Disneyland Tokyo, NYU Abu Dhabi, Temple University, Tokyo, Saint Louis University, Madrid. They aspire to assert themselves as leaders in the relatively new global business of improving a country’s image and reputation or otherwise giving it the edge.

I live far away from such big cities, and universities. You could say I am not included amongst the experienced customers these satellites target. I have never visited such destinations. I inhabit a no man’s land in the Canadian prairies and, as an art historian, I work roaming the floors of my local gallery, which shall remain unnamed, for obvious ethical reasons. In my private life I am also your average museum visitor. A Doctor Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde persona split does exist in my digital life, though. I post these images alongside presumably witty captions on my Facebook and Instagram feed. As a dutiful digital citizen, I sporadically write on my blog SpectatorCurator (also my Instagram and Twitter handle). I have branded myself, and I have an edge over the Louvre Abu Djabi or the Guggenheim Bilbao – I exist everywhere and nowhere. We know by now we are virtual brands in open competition with the brands and artists of yore, redefining them, submitting them to our capricious gaze. If the Mona Lisa was an example of the quintessential open text, now the whole museum is the viewer’s canvas. It is both an exciting and an uncomfortable instance of negotiation between the self and former colonial models of appropriation. Because our selfies are an extension of our bodies.

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Karissa Lang: New People

Chinese ancestral worship postcard postmarked Shanghai 1908. Source: worthpoint.com

We all descend from someone ancient, and contrary to what is generally believed in the West, they never leave us. Whether you are mystical or logical in nature, the idea sticks. For the former, ancestors spiritually guide us from beyond the grave. For the latter, science now dictates that we genetically inherit their memories and phobias. Either way, an ancestor is someone who passes on information—be it through stories, values, behavior, DNA, or supernatural means—and what distinguishes a good ancestor from a bad one is the quality of this information: a good ancestor hands down wisdom, a bad one gifts us with their pain.

My mother is a bad ancestor and her mother was a bad ancestor too​, a​nd if I can’t be a good one, I’d at least like to be better. I come from a lineage of mothers who did not want children. Mean women, selfish women, indifferent women who resented where they came from and had no idea how to nurture what they’d created. Women who buried their aborted babies in the backyard. Women who abandoned their children to others. Women who raged without really knowing why. Absent women who felt unwanted and unloved and unconsciously groomed every last one of their descendants to experience the same.

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Stacy Hardy: The Empty Plot

The empty lot gapes, yawns and quivers. It exhales dust and sucks the blue out of the sky. It draws her to it, an emptiness that calls out, that whispers and jeers. A wide mouth, that says, come, that dares her.  She has no business with the empty plot. It is a nothing place, a no place, not a place but a gaping, an emptiness that is yet to be filled, something still to come.

It has no address at present, nothing that sets it apart in the neighbourhood. There are so many. Empty stretches of land cleared for some future construction never to come, suspended in the eternal yawning present of oblivion. Plots that have stood so long that they have become part of the landscape, vast parks where rubbish accumulates, some partially developed, deep holes sunk in the earth, now filled with murky water that collects debris, the pokes of steel foundations casting dancing shadows on the surface like the spines of poisonous fish; ruinous scaffold of catastrophic geometries that shade rows of empty buildings, concrete structures looming like theme park wreckage, dark and sullen, windows dust coated, shattered in places, doors padlocked against squatters that never come. The streets that hem them, nearly deserted, monuments to some moment of false hope, a future that dims with each day, grows wary, listless, the air dirty with stalled development.

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Stacy Hardy: The Day the White People Walked into the Sea

Beach and Sailboat c.1843-5 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Joseph Mallord William Turner, “Beach and Sailboat”, 1843–5. Source: tate.org.uk

As the Holy Spirit says, the impious one, the evildoer, flees even though he not be pursued, for he accuses himself and is rendered pusillanimous and cowardly by his own crime.

— Carlos Fuentes, Terra Norsta

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I Saw a Man Hugging a Fridge: Twelve Poems by Youssef Rakha in Robin Moger’s Translation

HAITI. Gonaives. 1994. U.S. invasion.

Alex Webb, Gonaives, Haiti, US invasion, 1994. Source: magnumphotos.com

First song of autumn

 

Joy of my days, come

watch me run

I’ve bought white shoes

and see-through eagle’s wings

I am the clarinet’s mouth

and you the ransomed player

Kneel and guzzle me, set

the sea’s taste in my throat

and make my breast a wave

upon whose mane the sun

sows jewels

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Saudamini Deo: My Heart Doesn’t Want

Rajasthan in four cities

1909 Imperial Gazetteer of India map of Rajputana. Source: Wikipedia

 

1-JODHPUR

My great-grandfather, a feudal landowner in West Bengal, had a troubled marriage with my great-grandmother, who finally left him in 1927 and came to live with her mother in Jaisalmer. Her mother, my great-great-grandmother was one of the few female doctors in the country at the time and was employed with the royal family of Jaisalmer. My grandfather grew up in the royal household but left home one unsettled morning. He left just a note: my heart doesn’t want.

He wanted to be a classical musician. Failure meant that my mother and uncle grew up in dire poverty in the dirty back alleys of the blue city. No one knows what happened to my great-grandfather or the house or the land. I have never seen a photograph, only an image narrated to me by a distant relative: a man on horseback with leather boots and the eyes of a snake.

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They Killed for Love: Michael Lesslie in Conversation with Maan Abu Taleb

José Luis Cuevas, Macbeth, 1987. Source: 1stdibs.com

One of my favourite insults to the person of Macbeth comes towards the end of the play, when the aggrieved Macduff calls out to him: “Turn, hellhound, turn!” It is a testament to Shakespeare’s prowess that even after we’ve witnessed all the atrocities committed by Macbeth, the line jars. “He’s not a hellhound!” one feels like shouting back. The insult agitates us. By then we had already tried to alienate ourselves from Macbeth and his deeds, but we’re too intimate with the depths of his anguish to do so, an anguish not mysterious and beyond our grasp, like Hamlet’s. Macbeth is well within our understanding, his dilemma is laid bare for us to ponder and weigh.

The suggestion that in reading Macbeth there are things to be learnt about Bashar al Assad, Saddam Hussein, or al Qathafi, is often laughed to scorn whenever I dare mention it in polite company. It is generally assumed that the characters of these men do not rise to the complexity and elevation of a Shakespearean villain, as if villainy excludes finesse. I am told they are mere butchers, with no depth of feeling or capacity for insight. Yet it is exactly that, insight, that I feel the likes of Saddam have, and which allows them to reign in terror for such elongated periods. One can hate Saddam and everything he stood for, but can we in good faith dismiss him as a brute, or deny his sophisticated methods of intimidation? A viewing of the Al Khold Hall footage – where Saddam solidified his grip on power by effectively staging a play, one where murder was unseen, like Macbeth, but real – demonstrates Saddam’s credentials as a connoisseur of terror. His methods of breaking the wills of men require nothing less than a terrible talent.

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Valentina Viene Translates Ali Jazo: This Is Your City

Hans-Lemmen

Hans Lemmen/Roger Ballen, Rendez-vous, from “Unleashed”, 2016. Source: damnmagazine.net

Abandoned bags are tossed about by the noon breeze.

Tree leaves, narrow pavements,

.

children next to shoes,

teens, out of school, are smoking.

The curls on their foreheads are so shiny

they look frozen and stiff.

.

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Anita Nair: Letters to a Man Never Met

ITALY, Fashion story in the mood of Egon Schiele. Katalina.

Ferdinando Scianna, Italy. Source: magnumphotos.com

Murad: Desired

One day, just another still, warm day in February, there was you… Sometimes I wonder why there wasn’t something to suggest the birthing pains of this love: a camel-shaped eyelash, a rainbow above my roof, frogs raining, a tree bursting into yellow bloom overnight, a snatch of a song. But there was nothing. Not even a twitching eyelid or a skipped beat of the pulse. And yet, now when I think of the time before you, all I think of is this grey and metallic sheen of the strangled day and the death-like silence of the night.

Last Sunday the neighbours brought me a glass of something tall, cold and sweet. They had a name for it: thandai.

Did I know there was opium in it? I did. Why didn’t I say no? Probably because I wanted to know where it would lead me. Opium. Melded into milk and almonds and chilled so the sweet creaminess could slide down my throat while a foot soldier in black crept through my veins to the silly point of my brain.

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Robin Moger Translates Saniya Saleh

The Storm Takes the Heart.

LON48844

Ian Berry, Hong Kong, 2002. Source: magnumphotos.com

.What does that glum sun search for in its useless

round and why does its purple body come apart

and endless discs come tumbling down from its

flaming core, followed by black birds

black and crossing over like the storm

whose eyes aglow with tears we barely glimpse, they come

out from the graves of the forefathers and make for Jordan.

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Pauls Toutonghi: The Gospel of Judas

Caravaggio’s "The Taking of Christ". Source: newyorker.com

Caravaggio’s “The Taking of Christ”. Source: newyorker.com

He is arrogant.

Like a Jerusalem oak—growing in the most narrow fissure, the most meager soil—that was his arrogance, at first. There was almost nothing to feed it. It was thin and pale and stood apart from the vast landscape of him—a few dry green leaves that were, at most, a distraction, a distraction from that great and beautiful emptiness. Because that’s what was most remarkable about him—that emptiness—vast and open and almost unimaginable.

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Backgammon in the Ruins of an Old Palace of Saddam Hussein’s: Bezav Mahmod and the Image of Kurdistan

Once, long ago, my mother fled a genocide (the Al Anfal campaign). She fled on foot over massive Kurdish mountains carrying me on her back and my little brother in her stomach.

My grandparents, Kurdish villagers/farmers, were faced with brutal oppression. They were forced into the Kurdish struggle, taking up arms to resist the annihilation of their identity. For 50 years they lived with war and the struggle of the Kurds. My grandfather Selman Mahmod Bamernî became a peshmerga at an early age. He was involved in many bloody battles and lost many comrades in the process. He was seriously injured twice, and twice placed in Iraqi prisons. He was often separated from his family, once for over five years, so long that, when he came back, his youngest children did not recognize their own father. He has devoted his life to the Kurdish struggle. A humble person with honor, compassion and an absolutely wonderful sense of humor. He has made many laugh heartily in his day.

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Imogen Lambert: They tweeted martyrdom with lattes

Tower of Babel

yrakhahipa 6

By Youssef Rakha

And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined…

Night bites my shoulder. I turn to you, through a nylon window

To a state of limbo, there on a map

Under rivers of paper

We never drown, gazing on bridges

Night hugged my waist, like my mother, wailing

Where are our parents?

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