Márquez and Lehane and Giraudoux

Gabriel García Márquez died yesterday. He forced guardians of literary propriety to accept — even, perhaps, to appreciate — magic realism. And he severely pissed off guardians of socio-political propriety, hanging out with people like Castro and Chavez. Hard to be sure which I admire more.

Probably the literary side of him. One Hundred Years of Solitude has the best opening line since Moby-Dick:

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.

Dennis Lehane may have had that in mind — perhaps it was a deliberate tribute — in the opening of Live By Night:

Some years later, on a tugboat in the Gulf of Mexico, Joe Coughlin’s feet were placed in a tub of cement. Twelve gunmen stood waiting until they got far enough out to sea to throw him overboard, while Joe listened to the engine chug and watched the water churn white at the stern. And it occurred to him that almost everything of note that had ever happened in his life — good or bad — had been set in motion that morning he first crossed paths with Emma Gould.

Long as I’m rambling on about literature and politics… found a short passage in an old notebook. It’s from a play I was in years ago, The Madwoman of Chailot, by Jean Giraudoux. The scene is a business meeting in Paris, among the politicians and businessmen. They’re figuring out how to deal with those who oppose their plans to dig up the city in a search for oil. (I played The Prospector.)

PROSPECTOR. The treasures of the earth, my dear sir, are not easy to find nor to get at. They are invariably guarded by dragons. Doubtless there is some reason for this. For once we’ve dug out and consumed the internal ballast of the planet, the chances are that it will shoot off on some irresponsible tangent and smash itself up in the sky. Well, that’s the risk we take. Anyway, that’s not my business. A prospector has enough to worry about.
BARON. I know — snakes— tarantulas — fleas—
PROSPECTOR. Worse than that, sir. Civilization.
PRESIDENT. Does that annoy you?
PROSPECTOR. Civilization gets in our way all the time. In the first place, it covers the earth with cities and towns which are damned awkward to dig up when you want to see what’s underneath. It’s not only the real-estate people — you can always do business with them — it’s human sentimentality. How do you do business with that?
PRESIDENT. I see what you mean.
PROSPECTOR. They say that where we pass, nothing ever grows again. What of it? Is a park any better than a coal mine? What’s a mountain got that a slag pile hasn’t? What would you rather have in your garden — an almond tree or an oil well?
PROSPECTOR. Exactly. But what’s the use of arguing with these fools?

Sounds like a recent commentary on oil spills and fracking, no? In fact, it was written seventy years ago.


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