Nocilla Dream by Agustín Fernández Mallo (tr. Thomas Bunstead). Fitzcarraldo Editions. £12.99, 200 pp.
(Nocilla Dream published from Fitzcarraldo Editions in November 2015)
At the moment when the wind gusts in from the south, the wind that arrives from Arizona, soaring up and across the several sparsely populated deserts and the dozen and a half settlements that over the years have been subject to an unstoppable exodus to the point that they’ve become little more than skele-towns, at this moment, this very moment, the hundreds of pairs of shoes hanging from the poplar are subjected to a pendular motion, but not all with the same frequency—the laces from which each pair hangs are of different lengths. From a certain distance it constitutes a chaotic dance indeed, one that, in spite of all, implies certain rules. Some of the shoes bang into each other and suddenly change speed or trajectory, finally ending up back at their attractor points, in balance. The closest thing to a tidal wave of shoes. This American poplar that found water is situated 125 miles from Carson City and 135 from Ely; it’s worth the trip just to see the shoes stopped, potentially one the cusp of moving. High heels, Italian shoes, Chilean shoes, trainers of all makes and colours (including a pair of mythical Adidas Surf), snorkelling flippers, ski boots, baby booties and booties made of leather. The passing traveller may take or leave anything he or she wishes. For those who live near to U.S. Route 50, the tree is proof that, even in the most desolate spot on earth, there’s a life beyond—not beyond death, which no one cares about any more, but beyond the body—and that the objects, though disposed of, possess an intrinsic value aside from the function they were made to serve. Bob, the owner of a small supermarket in Carson City, stops a hundred feet away. From the nearest to the farthest thing, he enumerates what he can see: first the very red mudflat, followed by the tree and the intricacies of its shadow, beyond that another mudflat, less red, dust-bleached, and finally the outline of the mountains, which appear flat, depthless, like the pictures they had in the Peking Duck Restaurant across from Western Union, which shut down, he thinks. But above all, seeing these overlapping strips of colour, the image that comes most clearly to mind is the differently coloured strata formed by the horizontally layered produce on his supermarket shelves. There’s a batch of bacon fries halfway up that come in with a little gift-like offering of round Danish butter biscuit tins strapped on with sticky tape, the lids of which feature a picture of a fir tree with baubles on (he doesn’t know this). Both trees are beginning to stoop.
One of the biggest problems faced by hotels is the theft of small objects. It’s estimated that, annually, the large hotel chains lose over half a million towels, a loss they simply have to factor in, as they do with the disappearance of pens, ashtrays, shampoo, sewing kits, toothbrushes and all manner of bathroom supplies. But dinnerware and cutlery also disappear, and door knockers, towel rails, mirrors, bedding sets, designer lamps, flower arrangements that make excellent last-minute presents, plants and their pots, rugs and telephones. In exchange, clients forget watches, parrots that speak various languages, urns containing the ashes of loved ones, earrings, necklaces, high quality lingerie, orthopaedic braces, contact lenses, inflatable dolls, books of all kinds, an array of adult toys, reports on the secret services of various nations, and even live crocodiles inside crocodile skin suitcases. The Houses of America chain, after calling an amnesty on everyone who in the company’s 62-year history had left with some object in their suitcase, have decided to try recovering their property peaceably, and to that end have created the first Museum of Found Objects, with headquarters in Los Angeles and Chicago, though the catalogue can also be found online. There a permanent exhibition is held of all the objects forgotten by their clients, so that those who might have some stolen object or other in their houses may choose what they want from the catalogue and in this way permute the one for the other. But, and the sun began to set in the reception of the hotel. Until the penumbra [synthetic repetition of night only accessible by interior phenomena] united the emptiness of the vestibule with the bodies of the people coming in and going out. It took the bellboys by the hand. It procured death. The death of the novel.
Deeck is an internet-user from Denmark. Not that this matters, internet-users belong to no country. Born and brought up in Copenhagen, at the age of eighteen he moved to an industrial town on a peninsula further to the north, a place supplying manpower to the largest biscuit factory in the country. He does the late shift, spending the rest of his nights online or designing websites for himself—with nothing in mind beyond his own amusement and satisfaction. To him it’s very serious. He lives alone. Now that the smoking ban has come in, he’s become an enthusiastic smoker. He set up one site as a place to exhibit the pictures he makes by sticking masticated pieces of chewing gum onto a canvas. His work divides along two aesthetic lines:
1) Nordic landscapes: snow-capped scenes featuring, at most, the archetype of a city, or a figure in the far distance. The best thing for this, according to him, was technological chewing gum, flat, almost abstract it’s so completely flat, sugar-free, such as mint-flavoured Trident, which once masticated turns near-white, with a slight cream tinge for the dirty snow of the high plateaus, and mint-flavoured Orbit, pale green after 3 minutes’ mastication, for the grass clumps that stipple the snow or the evergreens in the background. Or the special spearmint-chlorophyll flavoured Trident, which after 4 days’ mastication goes a shade of brownish green; the way it turns granular is also perfect for figures that require texture, such as human figures or the cities suggested in the far distance.
2) Explosive blondes: for these a thick kind of chewing gum does the trick, the kind you buy at a newspaper stand, the very sugary kind, for kids [herein the secret of young boys’ liking for blondes, he thought one day before bed]. Thus, among the primary materials used most frequently were: the banana-flavoured Bang-Bang, hardly masticated, for the blonde hair; the Sour Strawberry Chew, much masticated, for the skin on the chest; both together, barely placed in the mouth, taken out almost as soon as the saliva reaction has begun, for the most crimson of legs; and the Coca-Cola flavour for the lips, eyes and nipples. A Technical Data link on the site where he exhibits the pieces provides access to all of this information. But this and all the other sites he’d made he gradually began to abandon in favour of what has since then become the only thing he spends his free time on: found photographs. People from around the world send him pictures over the internet, anything as long as they feature human figures, and as long as they are found photographs, specifying their names and where they came across the photographs. He gets out of bed, it’s 2 p.m. He skips the shower so as not to be late for his shift, which starts at 3 p.m. He sits in the kitchen, the Formica of the chair is freezing; he’s already put the coffee on. He looks at his boots. He didn’t even like them when he bought them. He takes them off and throws them onto the fire in the hearth. After a time all that remains are the bents bits of metal that keep the soles rigid. He pulls apart one of the biscuits they make on the chain, and dunks a layer in the coffee; they’re so buttery a floating archipelago of mirrors appears on the surface. He closes the tin. The lid is marked with an enbaubled Christmas tree. He lights a cigarette.
The binary system of numbers, 0 and 1, is employed as a means of calculation in digital computers and as a means of controlling a considerable variety of machine tools. [ . . . ] Its precursors were Francis Bacon (1561-1626), and Joseph Marie Jacquard (1752-1834), who designed a system of binary-coded punched cards for operating looms. [ . . . ] The great value of the binary system is in operations that are binary by nature: on or off, open or closed, true or false, go or no-go and so on. A given electronic component of a computer is either on or off [ . . . ] That is why the binary system lends itself so effectively to the rapid calculating done by computers. [ . . . ] Binary code means that the fabrics that commonly go to make up the clothes we wear, and electronic circuits, share certain similarities. In woven fabrics, the binary element is the warp/weft: the warp threads run lengthwise, the weft threads crosswise; the binary relation at a given point is whether a horizontal thread or a vertical thread is on top. The binary relation in the electronic circuit is whether a given area of an element is conducting or not.
F. G. HEATH
Now she finishes making the beds, and as she clears the breakfast table she keeps on glancing at the clock in the kitchen. She’s put on matte red lipstick to match the print on her dress. Her high heels, brown, recently purchased, pinch her feet. She sits down in the vestibule and waits. Paul shows up half an hour late in the company GMC. He drives two blocks further along and waits for her, engine idling; the town development is in its third phase there. This is the best place to wait for you, the bricklayers aren’t working today, he says as they pull away. Like every Sunday, they go and eat at a city on the Nevada border called North River, where you can get the best trout in the West. With a mound of fried fish before them, eating with their fingers, they tell jokes, anecdotes from the week, and neither of them laments not being able to live together. Afterwards they kiss and the grease on their lips is a reminder that for her will last the whole week and for him until he uses the serviette. They’ve driven a different way today and instead of following the meal with a trip to the small hotel on Washington Street, they decide to go a number of miles south to take a look at a spectacular canyon on the outskirts of the town of Ely and soon Paul exclaims, Look! The shoe poplar! They pull over. They try counting how many there are but the sheer quantity, and the tangle, makes counting impossible. Get me down those movie star shoes, she says, or even better, those ski boots, for when we go skiing. If you want, says Paul, I’ll get you these ones down, they’re nearer. No, she says, not more climbing boots, no thanks. He looks at her and asks, How’s little Billy doing. Really good, she says, he’s such a joy, even more as he gets older. He and his dad have gone to Boulder City for the rock climbing competition. A familiar silence between them descends. Then he slaps her on the back, by the clasp of her bra, and with a Let’s get out of here! he takes her by the hand and leads her to the car, and they carry on to the canyon. With the windows down and the radio on, says Paul, lighting a cigarette, the GMC’s like the spaceship out of Star Trek. Sure, she says, with a bad tempered flick of the hand: she’s got blisters from her shoes, she’s undone the straps. Reclining the seat, she thrusts one leg out of the window. The wind hits her foot and carries away the shoe. They both laugh. Out in the middle of the asphalt, like a rabbit without a litter, the brown high heel is lost almost immediately in the desert dust; neither 2, nor 4 nor 6, but 1, the odd number par excellence. She stares at Paul for several minutes as he hums a version of a version of another version of a Sinatra song.
To the south of Las Vegas Boulevard, as you cross the several mile stretch above the casino part of town, just when you look back and see the last casino glimmering on the horizon in the rearview mirror, like in The Green Flash, you find yourself in front of a two-storey building, a Budget Suites of America aparthotel. A poster announces discounts for anyone staying a week or longer, sheets not included, and there’s also the news of a teenage girl from Puerto Rico who had to have three toes amputated from her right foot after they froze the previous winter; it seems she was made to regret having used a very expensive varnish to paint her nails the previous day, one she’d bought in Puerto Rico with the idea of looking radiant at her job interviews. Had she been Japanese, this attenuation of the foot would have signified divine intervention, the kind only Geishas have access to. Had she been a New Yorker it would be a sign of immense wealth, like that of the 5th Avenue ladies who maim their own little toes so they can fit into an extremely pointy pair of Manolo Blahniks [placing the results of the mutilation in formaldehyde, or something similar, to show off to any visitor upon whom they want to impress particularly clearly their socioeconomic status]. There’s a scattering of station wagons and mobile homes in the car park. It’s turned into a small settlement by now. Every day poses new challenges to the promise that all these people, one way or another, made when they arrived here: that they would prosper in Las Vegas. The welter is equivalent to the wagon trains of those pioneers and dreamers that would draw together and form a circle at nightfall. In the last five years this place has become the real frontier: beyond this point you’re in the promised land. The whole place is so saturated with dreams that it’s turned magical. Rose looks after her three children in a 30m2 bunker. Each day she goes around the church food halls and the cut-price casino buffets. The utensils they eat with, and the assortment of items that goes to make up the dinner set, were found in bins. One of the boys, Denny, was working in a photocopying shop for sex trade flyers, but got the sack for masturbating too much on the job; the others haven’t got jobs. The oldest sister Jackie had done alright for a while, when she was living with an ex-boxer called Falconetti. He’d blown in from San Francisco, having just been discharged from the army, and was taking a chimerical route on foot, inverting Columbus’s expedition. He stayed with Jackie for a couple of months and before he left she gave him a tatty pair of Nikes as a memento of the day they met, when she’d been wearing them; they’d both been hitchhiking on opposite sides of the highway and began talking because no-one was coming by. In this, the definition of a postmodern city, where, as is obligatory in everything that is post-, even time is unanchored from history, the percentage of adolescents involved in crime, drug addiction and sex has risen to 30.75 per cent in the past three years. At Las Vegas Boulevard the roads break off in a hundred different directions, flourishing outwards arborescently into the desert, and, as they unfurl, those magical aparthotels sprout along them like a sort of fruit. They’re watching TV and Denny reaches a hand into his pocket and takes out a small newspaper package he found in a bin. His mother and siblings look as on he opens it and lays three toes out in the pool of lamplight, a sparkling, opalescent purple hue to them, and nails painted red.
Augmented Reality: via the appropriate combination of the physical and virtual worlds, the missing information can be obtained, as happens in the recreation of the view of an airport that a pilot would have if it weren’t for the snow.
A long time ago [so long it seems like centuries] there was a very important and famous author called Italo Calvino who invited us to imagine a very beautiful city formed solely of water pipes. A mess of snarled piping which [according to Calvino] rises vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be. At the ends of the pipes white bathrooms can be glimpsed, showers and bathtubs where women luxuriate in the water. The reason [according to Calvino] is that these women are nymphs and these pipes were for them the optimum means of getting from place to place so as to live free and unobstructed in their natural aquatic realm. What he did not invite us to imagine was that within each of us another, even more complex city exists; the system of veins, vessels and arteries around which blood circulates; a city with neither taps, nor apertures, nor drainage pipes, only an endless channel whose constant return consolidates the ‘I’ we hope might save us from the fatal scattering of our identity across the Universe. We all bear inside ourselves a desert, something immobile; a period of time that has mineralized, is at a standstill. Hence the ‘I’ may consist of an immovable hypothesis, one assigned to us at birth and that, until the last, we’re seeking to demonstrate, unsuccessfully .
The true identity of a certain Polish, Chicago-based musician, still unknown, is hidden under the alias of Sokolov. He came to the U.S. at the age of ten to be raised by his grandmother. Following the death of his parents in a gas explosion in their building in Tarnów, near Kraków, this was the easiest way for his Polish aunt to rid herself of the boy. The reason he survived was that, at the moment of the explosion he found himself, as usual, down in the basement making recordings of all kinds of exciting sounds to add to the on-tape cosmogony of his childhood. Hitting a spoon on the table while breathing heavily, turning the drill on and simultaneously reading aloud, without understanding a single word, fragments from the copy of Das Kapital he found lying forgotten among his father’s tools—these are the kinds of things he liked to tape on the old KVN recorder. They pulled him out after three days, three days without food or water, by which time he’d already been announced among the dead. In Chicago he grew up fitting in easily, like all musicians, to a civilization like the American one, where time predominated over space. His own grandmother was surprised at how easily he adapted. After several years studying electronica and playing synth in local post-rock groups, he became interested in the same things he’d been drawn to in childhood, like abstract music and noise, and with this reversal, this ramification, he was soon to be seen frequenting different Chicago neighbourhoods, going around armed with recording equipment and field mics, discovering all manner of textures in unexpected urban instruments: from the classic clack clack of cars driving across imperfectly fitting manhole covers, to the gushing sound emitted by a graffiti artist’s spraycan. He’d then remix and sample these sounds among other recordings—his own or other people’s—and thus began making his first CDs, which he then distributed around shops and local markets, this in turn generating a certain renown for him as a vanguardist musician. Miraculously enough, when the accident in Poland took place, he had a recently recorded tape in his pocket, one he’s conserved. He often uses it, extracting from it and inserting parts into his current sound pieces, pieces that would otherwise never have existed in North America.
At 6 p.m. Falconetti pitches up at the poplar that found water, halting in the shade, dropping the green backpack and using it for his pillow as he lowers himself to the ground. He gazes upwards. Finding the swaying of so many shoes hypnotic, he begins to doze off. Night has fallen, practically, by the time he wakes. Not a single light on the whole radius of the horizon, save the camping stove he uses to heat a powdered jerky soup. It seems it was past its sell-by-date when the man in the supermarket sold it to him. He dumps it. Inside his sleeping bag, he goes to sleep gazing at the shimmer and sparkle of so many buttonholes above his head. He’s woken by the sun. He takes a pair of small Nikes out of his backpack, ties them together and throws them up into the tree. They catch against a pair of blue and red ski boots. As he goes through a round of his morning exercises he notices, on the currently shaded portion of the trunk, a used condom.
The words organization and organism aren’t actually very closely related. An organism is an entity, sea mineral, animal, vegetable or socio-cultural, which lives and develops independently, according to complex dictates that are internal to them, and almost always spontaneous; in all cases an organism can be considered a living being. An organisation is a bureaucratic entity, sea mineral, animal, vegetable or socio-cultural, and it depends on external agents to dictate its development; never is an organisation a living being.
Of all the manias, without a doubt the most widespread is morning lovemaking. Men always want to at this hour, and end up persuading women. Not a problem if one lives sheltered within the four walls of a house. So let’s imagine a homeless couple that sets up on some parcel of open ground or out in the desert; for them the act requires taking cover under the shade of a tree or a bush or a wall. In time the mechanical thrusts and shoves will inevitably begin to mark on the ground, and in the end there will always be some person devising theories that link these marks with spacecraft landings. This is what happened with Kent Fall, the mayor of Ely, who on a morning in 1982 saw very deep marks in the shade of the poplar that found water, deep and gestural and arithmetic, bored into the earth. Above, hanging from one of the branches, he found two pairs of shoes.
For a time, Sherry was the only girl available at the Honey Route. The regulars weren’t spending so freely, and it was down to guys who stopped by, passing custom, the kind who, once they’d come in and got a beer in hand weren’t going to blink. Every Monday a trucker named Clark, the spirits guy, called in. A while back he’d said to her, It wouldn’t take you a minute to pack your bag—it isn’t as if you’ve got much stuff—and you could come away in the truck with me. The delivery drivers do their rounds before dawn, and so the sun still hadn’t come up when Sherry put her bag in the truck, while Clark cracked open a beer. He started telling her about a friend of his, an Argentine who worked in a club in Las Vegas, and Las Vegas being pornstar central, he’d be sure to find her some work, they’d enquire. He felt the impulse to kiss her just at that moment, for the first time, but didn’t. Sherry had been up the whole night and went through into the back of the cab to lie down, picking up a book she found among the beer cans and skimming before putting it to one side again, of all the books I have had printed none is, I believe, as personal as this collective and disorderly compilation. J. L. Borges. Buenos Aires, 31 October 1960. The sun was up by now and Clark opened another beer and handed it to Sherry, followed by another and another until they were onto their eighth, at which point they stopped for a rest, pulling up next to a poplar covered in shoes. Sherry had heard a lot of talk about the tree, and of the supposedly extra-terrestrial origin of some marks on the shady side of the tree at dawn, but she’d never seen it for herself. Maybe all the shoes are an offering to the aliens, said Sherry, hopping down from the cab, From here to California all you got is cults. One time a bunch stopped at the Honey Route, and they fucked without fucking, it was weird, all they did was watch me, but they swore they were doing it, and they had me there for hours, beats me, but anyway they paid. They were lying beneath the tree now, he had his arm around her and was fixating on the rise and fall of her large breasts, made all the larger by the combination of the silence and the beer, but he still hadn’t kissed her. Then, visibly moved, he spoke of a book by Jorge Luis Borges that he’d been given by his Argentine friend. I’ve got it in the back of the cab, he said, I’ll show it to you later, it’s called The Maker.
A spy wants to send a message saying, ‘The nuclear weapon is situated in . . . ’ To make a secret code of it he switches letters out at random: e’s instead of h’s, l’s for k’s, a’s for v’s, and so on. The message ends up as: ‘hk vjtvhbil bñwkhvj . . . ’ Now, if the enemy were to intercept the message, would they have any chance of decoding it? The answer is yes, if the message is sufficiently long. The reason being, in every language, the frequency with which each letter appears is fairly fixed. You only need to count the number of times each letter repeats in the coded message, and make it correspond with the letter that, in the normal language, repeats with the same frequency.
Jorge Rodolfo Fernández is Argentinian, living in the Budget Suites of America aparthotel at the point where the last casino on Las Vegas Boulevard glimmers on the horizon. His room, situated at the front of the building, though built from demolition materials, is one of the most decent; it belongs to the series that was built with horizontal windows and a rationalization of space in the style of Le Corbusier—The International Style, as it came to be known. The window looks out across the parking lot, its caravans and mobile homes forming a sort of chromatic crossword of magic and misery, he thinks; the thing is, though his job is collecting empties in a club, really he’s a poet. Unlike his neighbours, who fill their rooms to bursting with all manner of useless detritus and colourful plastic objects they find in bins and at derelict theme parks or hotels, his room is the closest thing in the whole of the U.S to a monk’s cell. Painted a light grey suggestive of concrete, it has a rickety metal frame bed, a night table which also serves as his dining table, a stripped down cooking range, a cupboard he made from some leftover plywood, and a wooden chair. Above the night table hangs a framed photograph of Jorge Luis Borges. He doesn’t work Mondays, so he got up this morning to boil rice for the week, which he divides between Tupperware containers, and he’s sitting reading by the window, making the most of the single bit of sunlight he’ll get, because of his hours, all week. Some of his neighbours walk by; they’re carrying buckets and have their dogs with them. Hey, they say. He reads the same Borges passage he reads every day at midday before going to work, happy in the certainty that he’s found the perfect spot in which to pass his days, Borges’s secret location, because, as well as being a poet, he is (as he himself will attest) ‘a seeker of Borgesian fiction-places’ . . . In this empire, the art of cartography was taken to such a peak of perfection that the map of a single province took up an entire city and the map of the empire, an entire province. In time, these oversize maps outlived their usefulness and the college of cartographers drew a map of the empire equal in format to the empire itself, coinciding with it point by point. The following generations, less obsessed with the study of cartography, decided that this overblown map was useless and somewhat impiously abandoned it to the tender mercies of the sun and seasons. There are still some remains of this map in the western desert, though in very poor shape, the abode of beasts and beggars. No other traces of the geographical disciplines are to be seen throughout the land. With the last light of the last casino of the Empire in view, Jorge Rodolfo shuts his eyes and gives thanks to the Maker for allowing him to inhabit the ruins, to him alone revealed, of this map.
It’s getting warm in the station wagon, that’s what makes these old ones such a drag, says Kelly, pointing to the bag on the right of Christina, who’s driving, so she can take another look at the bikini. She bought it at a service station in Santa Barbara, and isn’t convinced: she tried it on in the bathroom in front of a mirror barely 30 x 50cm2 and eaten away at by the gases that ferment the moment they contact the salty humid air blowing in off the Pacific. The other two girls, surfers like her, are asleep. All four are blonde, two of them bleached-blonde. None of them are wearing shoes, surfers don’t need shoes. As they pass mudflat after mudflat, power line succeeding power line, a sense of deferred conviction is generated inside Christina, who accelerates: in the distance, at the end of all these power lines, it must follow that a person will be there. Kelly strips from the waist up and fastens the bikini catch; her modest 22-year-old breasts weigh down the elasticated frabric. She considers herself in the mirror of her sunglasses, which magnify her breasts, Like Pamela Anderson, she says to herself. The TV lifeguard responsible for transmitting the Californian surfing bug since the beginning of the 90s. They pass a sign for a detour onto U.S. Route 50, she takes the bikini bottoms in her hands, slips her fingers inside, pressing on the Lycra and, against the light, on top of the greenish- blue of the print, her hands resemble seaweed under water, she thinks, the rhizomey, arborescent structures which, when she fell from her board, she’d observe until forced up to the surface for air. Not nowadays, she’s turned into a very good surfer now, and for a moment, as she shifts her gaze towards the roadside gutter, she feels a pang for those beginnings. What her hand really resembles beneath the Lycra is a surgeon’s glove, but she doesn’t know that yet. The sun’s been up for a while and the sky’s starting to cloud over, dark spirals of air forming in the distance. Kelly thinks the successive power lines that stretch from post to post are like the waves of a now skeletized, seaweed-less, ocean; nobody knows what caused the drying out. The CD of Radiohead’s Karma Police is playing. She imagines herself catching waves in the Indian Ocean, and falls asleep holding the bikini bottoms. Her breasts turn softer.
At the time that Niels’ and Frank’s destinies were joined in a University of Arizona laboratory, neither of them could have known that their alliance would take them all the way to Mozambique. Niels, a Danish zoologist specializing in animal behaviour, studying with support from an intercollegiate scheme, was looking into ways of training miniature dogs to sniff out anti-personnel mines. Progress was scant. According to the computer simulations of the problem, the dogs always exploded. Too heavy. Frank, a DHL deliveryman at the time, was the one bringing items to the lab. Their relationship was limited to the signing of Niels’s signature on Frank’s delivery sheets. Until one day Frank said to Niels, I’ve got a way to solve your problem, it’s rats you need not dogs, come over to my place and I’ll show you. Niels made the near-150 mile trip to Nevada, where Frank lived with his wife and three children in a robust, well-put together wooden house, complete with a lawn. He was taken down to the basement, and there witnessed the rat spectacular Frank had assembled for his family’s entertainment. Joined together by long enough pieces of string, and being made to pass through all manner of balance tests, they never pressed down more than was safe on any of the levers, and could smell perfectly the decoy: gunpowder from a cartridge. They’re ideal, he said: Cheap, easy to come by, once they’ve got a scent they just won’t give up, plus they weigh under 1.2 kilos—which, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I read that’s the minimum weight to set off one of those gizmos of yours? From then on they worked so closely together that Niels arranged for Frank to be given a role as an assistant at the University. Now they’re in Mozambique. The second the sun comes up they’re out there with their fifteen Gambian rats, which make their way frenetically out into the prairielands attached to pieces of 50-foot long string; when they pick up the scent they start squeaking, and once they’ve found the supposed spot where the mine is, they stop by it, sit down, and settle down. One day a letter was wrongly delivered to their improvised field tent and Frank, who to this day hasn’t recovered from the tic of needing to deliver items as quickly as possible, decided to redirect it himself. Seeing as it wasn’t far, he decided to walk, and Niels said he ought to take a couple of rats along as a safety system. Not long after he set out, the animals became extremely unsettled and began to emit the squeak: mine. They tugged and tugged and wouldn’t stop until they reached the foot of a tree, and when they settled again, they each stopped and cast their snouts upwards. From the branches of the tree, held there by lianas of some kind, hung a multitude of bones belonging to an animal that was never identified.
It was ultimately decided that this project was not to be the one they were going to use to separate uranium. We were told then that we were going to stop, because in Los Alamos, New Mexico, they would be starting the project that would actually make the bomb. We would all go out there to make it. There would be experiments that we would have to do, and theoretical work to do. I was in the theoretical work [ . . . ] Well, when we arrived, the houses and dormitories and things like that were not ready. In fact, even the laboratories weren’t quite ready [ . . . ] So they just went crazy and rented ranch houses all around the neighbourhood [ . . . ] When I got to the site the first time, I saw there was a technical area that was supposed to have a fence around it ultimately but it was still open. Then there was supposed to be a town, and then a big fence further out, around the town. But they were still building [ . . . ] When I went into the laboratory, I would meet men I had heard of by seeing their papers in the Physical Review and so on. I had never met them before. ‘This is John Williams,’ they’d say. Then a guy stands up from a desk that is covered with blueprints, his sleeves all rolled up, and he’s calling out the windows, ordering trucks and things going in different directions with building material. In other words, the experimental physicists had nothing to do until their buildings and apparatus were ready, so they just built the buildings—or assisted in building the buildings.
RICHARD P. FEYNMAN
So, we’re in agreement with the idea that Heine is an Austrian journalist, a correspondent for the Kurier in Vienna, and that he’s lived in Beijing for the last six years married to Lee-Kung, a Chinese woman. Their block of flats looks made of concrete, but no. It’s only a conglomerate of sand and iron shavings extracted from low grade Turkish mines, later pressed and solidified with the use of a glue called SO(3). Inside this structure, the marriage collapsed long ago. He’s fascinated by the boom that China has experienced following the freeing up of markets. The reports he sends back to Vienna are almost all analyses of the future power of the markets here. For instance, Chinese enthusiasm for purchasing cars has debilitated the automotive industry worldwide, with a knock-on threat to oil reserves. The same with washing machines, video games and Tampax. There’s no keeping up. Lee-Kung, unemployed, spends a great deal of time cutting out photos from the free North American magazines Heine receives. She scans the images and saves them onto her Apple Mac before beginning with her modifications, copying and pasting in Chinese motifs. She’s had a chat relationship for the past year with someone called Billy, an American citizen from the state of Nevada who, it turned out, was an expert in rock climbing, a sport she knew nothing about. When they write they always talk about one day seeing each other. Heine’s favourite pastime, after paedophilia and betting at the clandestine rat races out the back of the Versace store that opened the previous year just a stone’s throw from his office, is going out and filming what he calls ‘Pekinese road movies’, using a small camcorder; these, as we know, bear no resemblance to their North American namesake. The most important element in any road movie is the horizon; it has to feature sooner or later, signifying something in and of itself; a far off point that comprises the spirit of the film in question. As any number of studies have demonstrated, in European cinema the horizon signifies loss or melancholy; in North American cinema, it’s hope, the magnetizing element for pioneers; and in Chinese and Japanese films it means death.
Agustín Fernández Mallo is a qualified physicist and since 2000 has been collaborating with various cultural publications in order to highlight the connection between art and science. His Nocilla Trilogy, published between 2006 and 2009, brought about an important shift in contemporary Spanish writing and paved the way for the birth of a new generation of authors, known as the “Nocilla Generation.” He has also published a book of stories, El hacedor (de Borges), remake, and the essay Postpoesía, hacia un nuevo paradigma. His poetry is collected in the volume Yanadie se llamará como yo + Poesía reunida (1998-2012) and his latest novel, Limbo, was published in Spain in 2014. Thomas Bunstead’s translations include work by Eduardo Halfon and Yuri Herrera, Aixa de la Cruz’s story “True Milk” in Best of European Fiction (Dalkey Archive, 2015), and A Brief History of Portable Literature by Enrique Vila-Matas (a co-translation with Anne McLean; New Directions, 2015). A guest editor of a Words without Borders feature on Mexico (March 2015), Thomas has also published his own writing in the Times Literary Supplement, the Paris Review Daily, and >kill author.
Excerpt courtesy Fitzcarraldo Editions
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