Tuesday, August 31, 2021

the last book I ever read (Truman by David McCullough, excerpt twenty)

from Truman by David McCullough:

Until that January, Joseph R. McCarthy, Wisconsin’s forty-one-year-old junior senator, had been casting about for an issue that might lift him from obscurity. All but friendless in the Senate, recently voted the worst member of the Senate in a poll of Washington correspondents, McCarthy appeared to be a hopeless failure. Over dinner one evening at the Colony Restaurant, a Catholic priest, Father Edmund A. Walsh of Georgetown University, suggested he might sound the alarm over Communist infiltration of the government, and McCarthy, who had already made some loud, if unnotable, charges about Communist subversion, seems to have realized at once that he had found what he needed. A month later, in a Lincoln’s Birthday speech in West Virginia, he waved a piece of paper, saying he had “here in my hand” the names of 205 “known Communists” in the State Department. The speech went largely unnoticed, but at Salt Lake City and Reno soon afterward he made essentially the same claim, except the number was cut to fifty-seven, and they were referred to now as “card-carrying” Communists. He made headlines across the country. Back at the Senate he carried on for five hours, claiming to have penetrated “Truman’s iron curtain of secrecy” and come up with eighty-one names.

The charges were wild and unsupported. McCarthy had no names, he produced no new evidence. He was a political brawler, morose, reckless, hard-drinking, a demagogue such as he had not been seen in the Senate since the days of Huey Long, only he had none of Long’s charm or brilliance. The press called him desperate, a loudmouth and a character assassin. His Communist hunt was “a wretched burlesque of the serious and necessary business of loyalty check-ups.” But he was no more bothered by such criticism than by his own inconsistencies, and whatever he said the press printed, his most sensational allegations often getting the biggest headlines. To more and more of the country it seemed that even if he might be wrong in some of his particulars, probably he was onto something, and high time.

Monday, August 30, 2021

the last book I ever read (Truman by David McCullough, excerpt nineteen)

from Truman by David McCullough:

To help guarantee a Dewey victory, J. Edgar Hoover was secretly supplying him with all the information the FBI could provide. Dewey and Hoover were old friends and got along well. Hoover had put the resources of the bureau at Dewey’s disposal months before, in the expectation that when Dewey became President he would name Hoover as his Attorney General. “The FBI helped Dewey during the campaign itself by giving him everything we had that could hurt Truman, though there wasn’t much,” remember an assistant to Hoover, William C. Sullivan, who was one of those assigned to cull the files.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

the last book I ever read (Truman by David McCullough, excerpt eighteen)

from Truman by David McCullough:

In a red-brick auditorium in Birmingham, Alabama, two days later, a hurriedly assembled conference of states’ rights Democrats, “Dixiecrats” as they now called themselves, waved Confederate flags and cheered Alabama’s former Governor Frank M. Dixon as he denounced Truman’s civil righs program as an effort “to reduce us to the status of a mongrel, inferior race,” then unanimously chose Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina to be their candidate for President, and for Vice President, Governor Fielding L. Wright of Mississippi. The Dixiecrat platform called for “the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race.” Their hope was to deny both Truman and Dewey a majority and thus throw the election into the House of Representatives.

Asked why he was breaking with the Democratic Party now, when Roosevelt had made similar promises as Truman on civil rights, Strom Thurmond responded, “But Truman really means it.”

Saturday, August 28, 2021

the last book I ever read (Truman by David McCullough, excerpt seventeen)

from Truman by David McCullough:

Having kept so silent and so uncharacteristically detached during the off-year elections in 1946, only to see his party and himself humiliated, Truman now relished the prospect of taking on the Republicans in an all-out, full-scale championship fight, as he said. He was nothing if not a partisan politician and this was the fight he simply could not walk away from. He had much he wished still to accomplish. And he knew how quickly his own and New Deal programs, the liberal gains of sixteen years, could be undone by a Republican President and a Republican Congress. He felt it his duty to “get into the fight and help stem the tide of reaction,” as he later wrote. “They [the Republicans] did not understand the worker, the farmer, the everyday person… Most of them honestly believed that prosperity actually began at the top and would trickle down in due time to benefit all the people.”

He saw himself battling as Jefferson had against the Federalists, or Jackson staging a revolution “against the forces of reaction.” In the long line of Republicans who had occupied the White House, he admired but two—Lincoln, for his concern for the common man; Theodore Roosevelt, for his progressive policies. To Truman, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt were the giants of the century, and he had no choice, he felt, but to fight for the Democratic heritage that had been passed on to him. “What I wanted to do personally for my own comfort and benefit was not important. What I could do to contribute to the welfare of the country was important. I had to enter the 1948 campaign for the presidency.”

Friday, August 27, 2021

the last book I ever read (Truman by David McCullough, excerpt sixteen)

from Truman by David McCullough:

When and why the Cold War began—whether with announcement of the Truman Doctrine, or earlier, when Truman first confronted Molotov, or perhaps with the eventual sanction of the Marshall Plan by Congress—would be the subject of much consideration in years to come. But the clearest dividing point between what American policy toward the Soviets had been since the war and what it would now become was George Marshall’s return from Moscow. The change came on April 26, 1947, when Marshall, of all men, reported to Truman what Truman had already privately concluded, that diplomacy wasn’t going to work, that the Russians could not be dealt with, that they wanted only drift and chaos and the collapse of Europe to suit their own purposes.

Chip Bohlen, who had been witness to so much—Molotov’s first call on Truman in the Oval Office, the meetings at Potsdam, Marshall’s pivotal session with Stalin at the Kremlin—said the Cold War could really be traced to the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in 1917. It had begun then, thirty years before.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

the last book I ever read (Truman by David McCullough, excerpt fifteen)

from Truman by David McCullough:

Though it seemed so at the time, and would often be so presented in later accounts, the Truman Doctrine was not an abrupt, dramatic turn in American policy, but a declaration of principle. It was a continuation of a policy that had been evolving since Potsdam, its essence to be found in Kennan’s “Long Telegram” and in the more emphatic Clifford-Elsey Report. It could even be said that it began with Averell Harriman’s first meeting with Truman before Potsdam.

But, be that as it may, the Truman Doctrine would guide the foreign policy of the United States for another generation and more, for better or worse, despite any of the assurances by Acheson and Vandenberg that this was not the intent.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

the last book I ever read (Truman by David McCullough, excerpt fourteen)

from Truman by David McCullough:

To no one was Marshall’s presence more reassuring, or inspiriting, than to Truman. “The more I see and talk to him the more certain I am he’s the great one of the age,” Truman wrote not long after Marshall’s swearing in. “Marshall is a tower of strength and common sense,” he noted privately another time. It was admiration such as Truman felt for no other public figure, no one he had ever known, not Roosevelt, not Churchill, not anyone. Nor was he at all hesistant or concened over having such a strong-minded man as his Secretary of State—Marshall, Harriman, Patterson, Forrestal, Lilienthal, Eisenhower, they were all strong-minded. Conceivably, Truman could have worried that someone of such immense reputation as Marshall in so prominent a role would diminish his own standing with the country, that he might suffer by comparison, and Marshall be perceived as more the sort of man who ought to be President. But Truman was neither jealous nor intimidated. He was not so constructed. “I am surely lucky to have his friendship and support,” he wrote, and that was that.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

the last book I ever read (Truman by David McCullough, excerpt thirteen)

from Truman by David McCullough:

On another day Robert Oppenheimer came to see him privately, and in a state of obvious agitation said he had blood on his hands because of his work on the bomb. For Truman, it was a dreadful moment. Oppenheimer’s self-pitying, “cry-baby” attitude was abhorrent. “The blood is on my hands,” he told Oppenheimer. “Let me worry about that.” Afterward he said he hoped he would not have to see the man ever again.

Monday, August 23, 2021

the last book I ever read (Truman by David McCullough, excerpt twelve)

from Truman by David McCullough:

The lunch was sardines on toast. The conversation dealt mainly with the campaign ahead and was not very private or revealing, since the President’s daughter, Anna Roosevelt Boettiger, joined them. Truman would later repeat only one remark of Roosevelt’s. The President told him not to travel by airplane, because it was important that one of them stay alive.

To his dismay, Truman noticed that Roosevelt’s hand shook so badly he was unable to pour cream in his coffee.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

the last book I ever read (Truman by David McCullough, excerpt eleven)

from Truman by David McCullough:

Henry Wallace was one of the most serious-minded, fascinating figures in national public life, a plant geneticist by profession who had done important work in the development of hybrid corn and whose Pioneer Hi-Bred Corn Company was a multimillion-dollar enterprise. He was an author, lecturer, social thinker, a firm advocate for civil rights and thorough New Dealer with a large, devoted following. With the exception of Franklin Roosevelt, he was the most popular Democrat in the country. Those who loved him saw him as one of the rare men of ideas in politics and the prophet of a truly democratic America. But he was also an easy man to make fun of and to these tough party professionals, Wallace seemed to have his head in the clouds. They had never wanted him for Vice President. He had been forced upon them in 1940, when Roosevelt threatened not to run again unless he could have Wallace as his running mate. Wallace was too intellectual, a mystic who spoke Russian and played with a boomerang and reputedly consulted with the spirit of a dead Sioux Indian chief. As Vice President he seemed pathetically out of place and painfully lacking in political talent, or even a serious interest in politics. When not president over the Senate he would often shut himself in his office and study Spanish. He was too remote, too controversial, too liberal—much too liberal, which was the main charge against him.

Of the group only Ed Flynn appears to have personally admired Wallace and his ideas, but as the political writer Richard Rovere observed of Flynn, he considered candidates only as good as their chances of winning.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

the last book I ever read (Truman by David McCullough, excerpt ten)

from Truman by David McCullough:

Truman & Jacobson failed in 1922. After much discussion, the partners decided not to file for bankruptcy—and thereby wipe out their debts—but to try to pay off their creditors as best they could, little by little as time went on. The business was approximately $35,000 in the red. Eddie, who went on the road as a shirt salesman, did all he could to meet his part of the debt, but in three years, unable to keep up, was forced to declare himself bankrupt. Some time later, when the two friends met for lunch downtown, Harry, seeing Eddie’s frayed suit, gave him some money and told him to buy some new clothes. Fifteen years after the store went under, Harry would still be paying off on the haberdashery, and as a consequence would be strapped for money for twenty years. But like his father, he never ever neglected appearances.

Friday, August 20, 2021

the last book I ever read (Truman by David McCullough, excerpt nine)

from Truman by David McCullough:

At a different point along the line, a swashbuckling American tank commander, Lieutenant Colonel George Patton, impatient for morning, wrote to his wife, “Just a word to you before I leave to play a part in what promises to be the biggest battle of the war or world so far.”

The bombardment began long before daylight when the air was chill, at 4:20 A.M., the morning of Thursday, September 26, 1918. Two thousand seven hundred guns opened fire all along the front with a roar such as had never been heard before. In three hours more ammunition was expended than during the entire Civil War—and at an estimated cost of a million dollars per minute. The American air ace Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, who took off in his place before daybreak, said, “Through the darkness the whole western horizon was illumined with one mass of jagged flashes.” From Hill 290 it looked as though the sky was on fire—“as though every gun in France was turned loose,” said Harry.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

the last book I ever read (Truman by David McCullough, excerpt eight)

from Truman by David McCullough:

The kind of art that had burst upon the public with New York’s Armory Show of 1913—the first big American exhibition of modern paintings, which included Marcel Duchamp’s sensational Nude Descending a Staircase—had no appeal or meaning for Harry Truman. “Ham and eggs art,” he called it. He liked the old masters. His taste in American art, not surprisingly, ran to the paintings of Missouri riverboatmen and Missouri politics by George Caleb Bingham, or the western scenes of Frederic Remington, who had once owned a saloon in Kansas City.

If Harry Truman had even a little interest in the theories of Einstein or Freud, he never said so. Words like “libido” or “id,” so much in vogue after the war, were never part of his vocabulary. Indeed, he despaired over a great deal that became fashionable in manners and mores. He disliked cigarettes, gin, fad diets. He strongly disapproved of women smoking or drinking, even of men taking a drink if women were present. When after much debate Bess decided it was time she bobbed her hair, he consented only reluctantly. (“I want you to be happy regardless of what I think about it,” he told her.) He disliked the very sound of the Jazz Age, including what became known as Kansas City jazz. Life in the Roaring Twenties as depicted in the novels of F. Scott Fizgerald or John O’Hara was entirely foreign to his experience, as it was for so much of the country. He never learned to dance. He never learned to play golf or tennis, never belonged to a country club. Poker was his game, not bridge or mah-jongg. “It was characteristic of the Jazz Age that it had no interest in politics at all,” insisted F. Scott Fitzgerald, but Harry Truman, in those years, discovered politics to be his life work.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

the last book I ever read (Truman by David McCullough, excerpt seven)

from Truman by David McCullough:

Two weeks and two days after the Armistice, Captain Harry Truman was on leave in Paris dining at Maxim’s. At a nearby table he saw the prettiest woman he had laid eyes on since coming to France and to his delight she was an American with the Red Cross. After dinner he and several other officers went to the Folies-Bergêre, where the “little ladies” clustered about them during the intermission. (Years later he would call the show “disgusting,” but at the time he told Ethel Noland it was about “what you’d expect at the Gaiety only more so.”) He saw Notre Dame and Napoleon’s Tomb. At the Arc de Triomphe, his trench coat belted tight against the November air, he posed for a snapshot beside a captured German cannon. He rode a taxi the length of the Champs-Elysees, up the Rue Royale, down the Madeleine, back up the Rue de Rivoli, over the Seine by the ornate Alexander III Bridge. He visited the Luxembourg Palace, the Tuileries Gardens, the Louvre, strolled the Boulevard de l’Opéra, “and a lot of side streets besides.” All in twenty-four hours.

Monday, August 16, 2021

the last book I ever read (Truman by David McCullough, excerpt six)

from Truman by David McCullough:

The war in Europe that changed the world in such drastic fashion need hardly have concerned Harry Truman of Grandview, Missouri, much beyond what he might have read in the Kansas City papers or some of his favorite magazines. Had he chosen, he could have played no part in it, and nobody would have expected him to have done otherwise. He turned thirty-three the spring of 1917, which was two years beyond the age limit set by the new Selective Service Act. He had been out of the National Guard for nearly six years. His eyes were far below the standard requirements for any of the armed services. And he was the sole supporter of his mother and sister. As a farmer, furthermore, he was supposed to remain on the farm, as a patriotic duty. Upon the farmers of the country, said President Woodrow Wilson, rested the fate of the war and thus the fate of the nation and the world.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

the last book I ever read (Truman by David McCullough, excerpt five)

from Truman by David McCullough:

He could come and go as he pleased now, and mostly it was go, on Blue Ridge Boulevard to Independence. Rolling through the shaded streets of Independence on a spring Sunday, wearing a sporty new cap, a fresh white shirt and proper Sunday necktie, the top down on the car, its brass all polished, he would never be taken for a hayseed. Bess and three or four others would pile into the “machine,” off with him for an afternoon of fishing on Blue River or a picnic at the waterworks beside the Missouri at Sugar Creek. Or Harry would treat them to “a spin” in the country.

He had a gang again, as he had not since boyhood. Besides Bess and the Noland sisters, there were Bess’s two brothers Frank and George and their best girls, Natalie Ott and May Southern. Harry and his car were the center of attention. They would all pose for pictures with the car, Harry at the wheel. Harry was always good company, said May Southern, who would soon marry Bess’s brother George. Harry, she said a lifetime later, never complained about anything unless there were onions in the potato salad. “Harry didn’t like onions.”

Saturday, August 14, 2021

the last book I ever read (Truman by David McCullough, excerpt four)

from Truman by David McCullough:

His years at the National Bank of Commerce were 1903 to 1905. Two months after he went to work came the stunning news that Bessie Wallace’s father, David Wallace, one of the best-known men in Independence, had committed suicide. The story was in the papers. At first light the morning of June 17, while his family still slept, he had gotten up from bed, taking care not to disturb his wife, dressed fully, took a revolver from a dresser, and walked down the hall to the bathroom where, standing in the middle of the floor, he placed the muzzle of the gun behind his left ear and fired. He was forty-three years old and had, in the words of the Jackson Examiner, “an attractiveness about him that was natural and spontaneous.” In addition to his wife, Madge Gates Wallace, and Bessie, age eighteen, he was survived by three sons, ranging in age from sixteen to three. He left no note.

“Why should such a man take his own life?” asked the Examiner. “It is a question we who loved him are unable to answer….” Included also in the story was the gruesome detail that the bullet had passed through his head and landed in the bathtub.

Friday, August 13, 2021

the last book I ever read (Truman by David McCullough, excerpt three)

from Truman by David McCullough:

As a boy brimming with such musical aspiration, his head filled with Shakespeare and noble Romans, as one who had taken teasing in a town where appearances were vital, and where every youngster bore the constant scrutiny of innumerable aunts, uncles, teachers, shopkeepers, and neighbors, he might well have burned to rebel. He might have longed for escape, as had Willa Cather growing up in Red Cloud, Nebraska, or to strike back somehow against the kind of small-town minds and souls that Sinclair Lewis would remember from boyhood in Sauk Centre, Minnesota. But nowhere in all that Harry Truman wrote and said about his youth, or in the lengthy recollections of him by friends and family, is there even a hint of anger or hurt or frustration over his surroundings. Clearly he liked Independence, Missouri, and its people. He liked being Harry Truman.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

the last book I ever read (Truman by David McCullough, excerpt two)

from Truman by David McCullough:

On May 22, 1856, hard-riding Missouri “Border Ruffians” shot up the town of Lawrence, Kansas, an abolitionist stronghold. Two days afterward, a strange, wild-looking man named John Brown, a new Kansas settler, decided the moment had come to “regulate matters.” Armed with broadswords honed to razor sharpness, Brown and his sons descended after dark on three isolated cabins on little Pottawatomie Creek. There they took five pro-slavery Kansas men and boys, none of whom had anything to do with the raid on Lawrence, and chopped them to pieces—“as declared by Almighty God,” said John Brown.

No sooner had the Free-Soilers gained control in Kansas in the next round of elections than Kansas riders came charging over the line into Missouri to take their turn at murder and arson. For years before the Civil War began in the East, this terrible Border War—civil war in every dreadful sense of the term—raged all up and down the Missouri-Kansas line and continued until the surrender at Appomattox. It was like some horrible chapter out of the Middle Ages, with gangs of brigand horsemen roaming the land. They could appear out of nowhere any time, led often by men who were no better than young thugs, some possibly deranged, like the bantam-sized “Doc” Jennison, whose outlaw Kansans were called Jayhawkers or Red Legs (for their red leather leggings), or the Missouri guerilla “Bloody Bill” Anderson, who liked to mutilate his victims. It was a war of plunder, ambush, and uncreasing revenge. Nobody was safe. Defenseless towns were burned. Osceola, Missouri, and Shawneetown, Kansas, were all but wiped from the map.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

the last book I ever read (Truman by David McCullough, excerpt one)

from Truman by David McCullough:

Violence quickly followed. A mob smashed the Mormon printing press, a Mormon bishop was tarred and feathered. On Halloween night armed riders, “without other warrant than their own judgment of the requirements of the situation,” attacked the Mormon settlement on Blue River, driving women and children from their homes. Crops and barns went up in flames, men were dragged into the fields and flogged. Jackson County was in a state of “dreadful fermentation.” In another clash three men were killed.

When, on the night of November 12, the skies ignited in a spectacular meteor shower like none ever seen on the Missouri frontier, many took it as a sign to rid the land of Mormons once and for all. More than a thousand people were forced from their homes and driven across the Missouri River into less settled territory to the north, where their persecutions only grew worse, but with the difference now that they fought back. The governor of Missouri, an Independence storekeeper named Lilburn W. Boggs, called out the militia and declared that for the public good all Mormons must leave the state or be “exterminated.” A religious war was under way, Missouri’s first civil war, and ended only when the Mormons departed for Illinois in 1839.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

the last book I ever read (The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories, excerpt eight)

from The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories by Mariana Enriquez (Translated by Megan McDowell):

At that age there’s music playing in your head all the time, as if a radio were transmitting from the nape of your neck, inside your skull. Then one day that music starts to grow softer, or it just stops. When that happens, you’re no longer a teenager. But we weren’t there yet, not even close, back when we talked to the dead. Back then, the music was at full blast and it sounded like Slayer, Reign in Blood.

Monday, August 9, 2021

the last book I ever read (The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories, excerpt seven)

from The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories by Mariana Enriquez (Translated by Megan McDowell):

The doorman pulled her from that vaguely soothing world of burnt old women, bringing her back to the landing to inform her that during the week a guy was going to come through and fumigate the apartments. Paula told him great, and then she decided that if she heard the doorball she was going to let the fumigator in. Although there weren’t that many bugs in her apartment, except for the butterfly moths, and she was sure the poison wouldn’t kill them because they didn’t live there, they came in from the street. Nothing lived in her house, not even the plants, which had assiduously died in recent weeks, one after another. She was the only living thing in her house.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

the last book I ever read (The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories, excerpt six)

from The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories by Mariana Enriquez (Translated by Megan McDowell):

When Vanadis used to turn near Constitución, she’d sometimes run into the kids from the prison. Not inmates: these were kids, boys and girls—and a few adults as well—who squatted in the ruins of the Caseros Prison. Those walls were supposed to have been demolished years ago, but there they remained, towering and dangerous, and no one seemed to care except the neighbors. Little by little it had filled up with addict kids, usually hooked on cocaine paste, but also on glue and alcohol. The kids had run off the poor families and homeless people who had settled in the ruins. No one else could live where the addict kids lived. There were fights, overdose deaths, dealers who murdered and were murdered, theft, an abysmal squalor. No one dared walk close by the prison, and the neighborhood around the ruins slowly died. The addict kids usually emerged from the prison at dusk and went out to panhandle nearby.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

the last book I ever read (The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories, excerpt five)

from The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories by Mariana Enriquez (Translated by Megan McDowell):

Outside, she saw a couple talking, each on a lounge chair, holding hands. She hated them. The kids were in the pool even though it wasn’t hot, and a man some fifty years old was reading a book with a yellow cover in the shade. Only a few guests, or at least that was the feeling the hotel gave, silent as it was. This was not a good idea, thought Elina, and she waited an hour, two hours, but no one rang from reception to let her know she had a call. Thirty-one years of so much not knowing what to do. What to do. Twenty more years teaching classes at the university. Twenty more years as an adjunct. Twenty years of not enough money and then dying alone; twenty years of faculty meetings and complaints. She had no other plan. And moreover, if she had to be frank, it was possible she couldn’t even be an adjunct anymore. In her last class, she’d started to cry while explaining Durkheim—what a moron. She’d run out of the room. She couldn’t forget the way the kids giggled, more out of nervousness than cruelty, but how she would have like to murder them. She’d locked herself in the teachers’ lounge and someone found her there, trembling. Someone else call an ambulance, and she didn’t remember much more until she woke up in a clinic—expensive, with charming and unbearable professionals, paid for by her mother. And then the group therapy sessions, and the horrible feeling that she didn’t care about what the others said, and thinking about how to die while she participated in arts-and-crafts activities (“Could I stab myself in the jugular with this paintbrush?”), and the individual therapy sessions when she kept quiet because she couldn’t explain anything, and then her dubious discharge. Her parents had rented an apartment for her so she could be independent, so she could recover more quickly, so she could integrate—all those commonplaces. And Pablo, who hadn’t even asked about her, wherever he was. And going back to the university for a month at the psychiarist’s insistence, though she had managed only two weeks, and then sick leave, and now the beach.

Friday, August 6, 2021

the last book I ever read (The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories, excerpt four)

from The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories by Mariana Enriquez (Translated by Megan McDowell):

When Julieta closed the door to the building, she grabbed her friend by the arm, hard. “I don’t want to go to La Concha and see drag queens,” she said. The shows weren’t what they used to be, anyway, Julieta told her; now they were full of bachelorette parties, and half the time the performers just went around greeting the brides-to-be. There were even little kids who went now. It was going downhill, it was sad. The queens used to be so splendid and ferocious, it was depressing to see them dressed as Marisa Paredes, putting on a show for all audiences. No and no. Julieta wanted to go to a bar. She wanted to talk. She wanted to tell Sofía things she never would have dared say in her emails or letters, or in their rare phone conversations. “I had a rough time of it last year,” she said, and she started to cry in her particular way, suddenly and with big, heavy tears that she’d held back for a long time. Sofía pulled her into the first open bar she saw, and handed Julieta her tissues. The same smell floated around them, stagnant and constant, but Julieta didn’t seem to notice. It wasn’t the right moment to ask her friend if she smelled it too.

They ordered coffee. Neither of them wanted to drink alcohol. Julieta calmed down a bit, and then was able to talk. She’d gone crazy, she said. Maybe from thinking so much about all the crazy people in Barcelona.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

the last book I ever read (The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories, excerpt three)

from The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories by Mariana Enriquez (Translated by Megan McDowell):

It was possible that her stuffy nose—she always caught a cold on planes—was distorting her sense of smell; that had to be it, but once she blew her nose and could take in air, the smell got even worse. She didn’t remember Barcelona being so dirty. At least, she hadn’t noticed it on her first visit, five years ago. But it had to be a cold, maybe the stench of stagnant mucus, because for blocks at a time she smelled absolutely nothing, and then suddenly the odor attacked her and made her stomach heave violently. It smelled like a dead dog rotting beside the road, like rancid meat forgotten in the fridge and turned wine-purple. The smell would lie in wait, and then blasts of it would ruin the prettiest streets, the quaint alleys with clothes on lines from one balcony to another so you wouldn’t see the sky. It even reached the Ramblas. Sofía looked intently at the tourists to see if their noses were wrinkled like hers, but none of them were visibly disgusted. Maybe she was imagining it because she didn’t like the city anymore. The narrow little streets that had seemed romantic before now made her feel afraid; the bars had lost their charm, and now reminded her of the ones in Buenos Aires, full of drunks who shouted or wanted to start up stupid conversation; the heat, which before had seemed so Mediterranean, dry and delicious, was now suffocating. But she didn’t want to talk about these new impressions with her friends; she didn’t want to be the typical haughty Argentine tourist superciliously pointing out all the defects of the paradise city.

She wanted to leave.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

the last book I ever read (The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories, excerpt two)

from The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories by Mariana Enriquez (Translated by Megan McDowell):

They were afraid. They were always afraid. In summer, when Josefina and Mariela wanted to swim in the above-ground pool, Grandma Rita filled it with five inches of water, and then sat in a chair in the shade of the patio’s lemon tree to keep watch over every splash, so she’d be sure to get there in time if her granddaughters started to drown. Josefina remembered how her mother used to cry and call in doctors and ambulances at dawn if she or her sister had a fever of just a couple degrees. Or how she made them miss school for a harmless cold. She never let them sleep over at their friends’ houses, and she hardly ever let them play on the sidewalk; when she did, they could see her keeping watch over them from the window, hidden behind the curtains. Sometimes Mariela cried at night, saying that something was moving under her bed, and she could never sleep with the light off. Josefina was the only one of the family’s women who was never afraid; she was like her father. Until that trip to Corrientes.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

the last book I ever read (The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories, excerpt one)

from The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories by Mariana Enriquez (Translated by Megan McDowell):

Someone, probably Juancho, himself, moved the cart to Tuyutí’s corner and left it parked in front of the house Doña Rita had left empty when she died the year before. After a few days, no one payed it any attention. At first they did, because they expected the villero—what else could he be but a slum-dweller?—to come back for it. But he never turned up, and no one knew what to do with his things. So there they stayed, and one day they got wet in the rain, and the damp cardboard disintegrated and gave off a smell. Something else stank amid all the junk, probably rotting food, but disgust kept people from cleaning. It was enough to give the cart a wide berth, walk real close to the houses and not look at it. There were always gross smells in the neighborhood, coming from the greenish muck that flowed along the gutters, or from the Riachuelo when a certain breeze blew, especially at dusk.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

the last book I ever read (Moments with Chaplin by Lillian Ross, excerpt six)

from Moments with Chaplin by Lillian Ross:

The Christmas card for 1977 arrived just before Christmas Day, which was the day Charlie Chaplin died. The photograph is of Charlie Chaplin alone, and was taken on April 16, 1977, his last birthday—his eighty-eighth. He is sitting in a chair and is wearing a dark suit over a baby-blue cashmere sweater. The white collar of his shirt comes down over the sweater, and there is a white handkerchief in the breast pocket of his jacket. His white hair is sparser but still full and is combed neatly from a side part. His right hand is holding a walking stick. His left hand is raised—a bit of the blue sweater showing at the wrist—and is held in midair to a position over his heart, in the classic gesture of the actor.