Don Demarko’s House of Dictionaries

If a recent study is to believed, Don Demarko is a Dakota-based eccentric whose main claim to fame is that he lives in a mansion built entirely of dictionaries. Other sources suggest that Demarko (age 75, unmarried) started collecting dictionaries in the early 60s after taking a course in linguistics at a local college. His collection grew rapidly, soon filling up all the space in his house. Visitors to the early Demarko residence speak of ‘dictionaries piled up in front of windows, blocking out light’, ‘dictionaries in the bath’ and ‘dictionaries doubling up as seats’.

From living amongst dictionaries, it seems it was only a short step to living in dictionaries. Demarko soon discovered that dictionaries functioned perfectly well as building material. Two or three dictionaries laid side by side could successfully withstand the elements, and a fine range of furniture could be manufactured from the same material. Demarko started building ‘Dictionary Mansion’ in 1978 (strictly speaking, it’s more of a bungalow) and finished about eight years later. Close friends have described the building as ‘habitable’ and ‘not a little damp’.

When asked why he had embarked upon this project Demarko replied, rather surprisingly, that ‘he was at a loss for words’.

The Exquisite

It is related how one day the Prince of Naverges received a call from an artist going by the name of Magassimo. Eschewing the customary bows the perfectly uncouth painter proceeded to ask a favour of his excellency. Four days before, the glorious coloursmith had been caught gambling in bed with the daughter of a local knight. He was wearing a cloak stolen from a mutual friend, consuming illegal foodstuffs and using the kind of language unimaginable to any maiden. The law suggested, with charming leniency, that the man should be hanged by a noose. Magassimo had other ideas.

In any other case our Prince would have dismissed the man out of hand. In any other case the man would never have had the opportunity to present his case at all. But this was Magassimo. You’ve probably seen his work. His Nativity hangs in Lyon. There’s a rather excellent, even touching,  Annunciation in Bordeaux. And those painted vases in Turin? There was never a better example of a painted vase. To see these vases is to catch a glimpse of the divine.

‘All I ask,’ said the scruffy artist, ‘to be made immune from the pounding hand of the law. A simple request, the granting of which will help me enormously in my work’.

The Prince nodded. ‘Please say more’.

‘Remember the sculpture I made last year? Hercules and the lion was the subject’.

The Prince nodded once more. He remembered this piece well. Who wouldn’t? Marble had never been so soft. The lion, in particular, was beautifully done. Exquisitely done. A fine, fine work of art.

‘One of my masterpieces,’ noted the proud sculptor, ‘and no doubt about it. But where would I have been without my transgressions? That sculpture means more to be than a lump of chiselled marble. No, there is so much more to it than that. Do you know how many times I broke the laws during the creation of my Hercules? Let me tell you. There was never a day I didn’t overstep the mark. Rampant fornication, violent behaviour, careless theft: that was the very least of it. An artist requires his inspiration, does he not? Beauty springs, we all know, from blood and sweat. And yet here I am being punished. Punished for doing my job! When will you learn that we artists require immunity from the law?’

‘But if I grant you immunity you will no longer be able to transgress,’ pointed out the Prince. ‘One needs the law to break the law.’

‘But you could at least be lenient! They want to hang me from a noose! It’s ridiculous!’

‘You’re quite right.’

‘So you agree?’

‘I agree that it’s ridiculous. But I also think that you should hang.’

‘But what good will that do my art?’

‘Very little I’m sure. But I’ll make sure other artists are on hand to sketch the scene. Goodbye Magassimo: I’ve enjoyed your work greatly.’

With a short bow the Prince took leave of the artist. Magassimo was hung two days later. Filippo Lorenza’s painting hangs in Mantua. It is, of course, exquisitely done.

Conversation at The Crippled Bee

‘Clothes thrown over an old chair. Not an Arab riding a dragon to work. Bedside lamps – the imagination’s worst enemy’. (Johannes Speyer, Repeated Scrawlings)

*********

Sertin has been drinking – exactly what I do not know. A dark red beer with a heavy head. I think it may be called ‘Goblin’s Delight’ or ‘Bloodmancer’. In either case, it causes hiccups: shameless and continuous hiccups.

‘I read your piece – hup! – the fabric of – hup! – things’

The falling of fabric?’

‘The – hup! – fabric of falling – hup! – things, yes. I passed my – hup! – eyes over the substance of it – hup! – the other night.’

‘I’m glad to hear you read my blog.’

‘Well, you read myhup! –  rubbish.’

‘Compliment taken. Go on.’

He pauses to sip another centilitre.

‘News – hup! – papers,’ he begins again: ‘Newspapers are – hup!my fabric, I think. My – hup! – drapery. My – hup! – tumbling cloth.’

‘Oh yes?’

‘Oh yes indeed. I live off the chaos of the humble – hup! – newspaper. The mad and random stories flung hap – hup! – hapzardly together. Nonsense united – hup! – by the day on which it – hup! – happened. The crazy paving of the modern – hup! – magazine provides me with endless – hup! – inspiration. This next to – hup! – that and that next to – hup! – this. Whenever I’m lost I turn to the newspaper. I seek it’s – hup! – godawful realities and godblessem fantasies. I fall into its jerky journalistic rhythms, trapped in its ever – hup! – whirling cogs.’

‘Oh yes?’

‘Indeed oh yes. The careless tick-tock of the – hup! – daily paper keeps my own pen pressed to the precious paper. Cannot live without my newspapers and my magazines, my journals and my flyers, my supplements and my annuals. Endless cheap stimulation. Thrown all over my floors. Need them. Really need them’.

He pauses.

‘Glad to see the hiccups have gone,’ I venture.

‘Th – hup! – nks,’ he says.

I order myself a whisky.

Super-Daft

[A so-called seasonal poem from J-P Sertin:]

There’s a daft bar called Bohemia,
I never entered, but I know:
Daftness hangs ’round all the bars that called themselves Boho.
So there he said, and I agreed
So off we duly went
And in Boho a super-daft old afternoon we spent.

At the very least this explains why Sertin hasn’t been seen around The Crippled Bee for a few weeks now.

Last Night at the Imaginary Band Tent

[courtesy of my wife’s nephew, I present to you the following review. See here for context.]

The Imaginary Band Tent is on the furthest field, pitched between two great oaks who’ve seen it all before. Two weeks ago, a solitary bull took morning strolls, afternoon snoozes and evening sulks along this grass. The bovine struts may still be seen, but the cow himself has gone, exiled to some lonely shed, with a couple of burger baps for headphones.

First up: Leopard Number, a new band from northern climes; heavy jowled and fuzzy of beard, playing slow, melodic dirges that erupt, if you wait long enough, into something that goes beyond noise; something that enters your body through the soles of your feet and shakes your internal organs into a soft jelly. You are a vibrating atom. You are the ship’s mast in the centre of an unholy storm. You couldn’t imagine silence, however hard you tried. The rumbling, thudding and thumping is all. And then, almost without noticing, the song is over – and half a dozen lazy-looking men in their thirties take an uncertain bow. You clap with your eyes. You are in no state to judge whether you enjoyed yourself or not.

Next up: Frippery Beads, playing what can’t only (but must) be described as ‘skittish electronic jazz-dance’. How many in the band? I can’t rightly say. Two of the members are so slim they might be halves of the same man, split apart by the the necessity of the music. No one can stay on any instrument for too long: one man  moves from a saxophone to a xylophone, from a sampler to a tin drum, from a pan pipe to a pipe organ. I feel like a thousand hummingbirds are chirping in my ear. It isn’t unpleasant – at least, not until it is.

Thank God, therefore, for Dogless Venus: a rather more languid outfit. They will never erupt into a lava flow of noise, however long you wait. Everyone they do, it seems, is slow: barely even awake at times. The face of Sophie, the singer, is painted like a clown by Picasso. Her dress reminds one of a black labrador come in from a rainstorm. She coughs lazily into the microphone and weaves a morbid, melancholy tale or two, drawing always to the same, wonderfully uncertain close. If she hears the cheers she doesn’t show it. Was she ever there at all?

Headlining this evening’s entertainment are Seven Uncles. Call that rampant irony: the band consists of four women and a  man (who is not, by my reckoning, anyone’s uncle). What do they play? Whatever it is, it always becomes something else. It starts like my worst nightmare: countryfied and bland – fierce as a feather duster. Before I know it I’m singing along. Such is the majesty of Seven Uncles. They have me despite myself. They know the magic of music. They call it a hook, that cruel musical phrase that refuses to take the first exit and lingers, meanly, in the mind for ever more. It is well named. Harmonies from those three girls will never find their way out of my head. They are so many cockles stuck to my rock. Seven Uncles will be with me till I die. Bless their jangly guitars, tinkling pianos and, from what I could tell on the second row, their cotton socks too.

[My wife suggests this should become a series. I’m not sure I approve…]

The Leopard Number (and other modern musical outfits)

Those who know me well (all four of you) will understand me when I say that popular music is ‘not my thing’. I cannot wrap my elastic mind around its squalling guitars and thumping drums; its precious bleeps and piercing beats; its mawkish melodies and cumbersome chord changes. The only interest I have in modern music, really, lies in the literature that surrounds it: the words with which we choose to describe it – or, more often than not, the words with which it chooses to describe itself.

To note one example: band names. These have always fascinated me. Writers, bless them, tend to produce art under their own names. Sometimes they opt for pseudonyms – but these are rarely imaginative. George Orwell is better than Eric Blair, but not much better. ‘Sir Eric and the Beefsteaks’ on the other hand… But I am getting ahead, aside, or somewhere askance of myself. To put it briefly: band names reveal an intriguing literary bent, regardless of what it is they stand for (most of which is, to my own dear ears, unbearable).

Some band names, of course, reveal a very obvious debt to literature. ‘Eyeless in Gaza’ is the name of one such musical outfit. To cite a more recent example, I hear that an Icelandic foursome have named themselves ‘Gdansk Haunting’ in honour of Wdj Szesz. Long may such partnerships – arms stretched from one art form to another – continue.

With this in mind, allow me to make a proposal. I have, as you will have noted, recently re-published a set of ‘intercuttings’ by Pierre Monceau and Jean-Pierre Sertin, all of which come with intriguing two-word titles. My wife’s nephew (who is infinitely more ‘hip’ than I am, or will ever be) has pointed out to me that many of these titles would work equally well as names for modern musical outfits. I am inclined to agree. My proposal, therefore, is this: should any young band/solo performer/instrumental group feel themselves in need of a new name, perhaps they might like to consider the following options:

Leopard Number

Frippery Beads

Cabinet Light

Seven Uncles

See here for still more.

A Wolverine in Bulgaria

To no one’s surprise, least of all my own, I have been flooded with responses to my last postage. Readers (yes, it is plural) seem keen to pick up on two particular points.

All in all, there is general dissatisfaction with the evidence I present in favour of Lurgsy’s wolverine. ‘Fourteen poems doth not evidence make,’ writes one disgruntled individual. It’s a fair point. Fourteen poems doth not evidence make. But then I never suggested that these fourteen poems made up the entire evidence. There are letters also, full of references to the wolverine. There is Birovnik’s daily journal.  There is even a photograph. Granted, it’s terribly blurred – and the wolverine might as well be a plump stoat, or a fur jacket rolled into a ball; but these are minor quibbles. The body of evidence is not as weak as you might think it is.

Point number two: wolverines in Bulgaria? From whence did this wolverine come? What was an orphaned wolverine doing so far south? All perfectly good questions, to which I have no obvious answer. It’s an anomaly, I won’t deny that. But then, life is full of anomalies, just as our cities are full of tigers and chimpanzees. Animals get places: it’s a fact. Strange people pack them up and drag them across the world. When someone gets bored with something, they don’t take it back to its birthplace. They leave it wherever it happens to have ended up.

Consider this.  A circus comes to Sofia. There are hundreds of animals on board, including a couple of ferocious wolverines. They’re smaller than lions, but they pack a punch: too much of a punch. One of them is especially ratty – and will attack anything, literally anything. It had a go at one of the elephants the other day. By the time the circus reaches the next city, the trainers have decided to let this wolverine go. Not in the city: that would be foolish. No – they’ll push it out of the trailer once they get into the countryside. Let it wreak havoc in the wilderness.

Little do they know, this frustrated wolverine is pregnant. Soon after being dropped in off the woods of western Bulgaria, it gives birth. Bulgaria has wolverines. One day their feisty mother decides to take on an axe-wielding farmer. Bulgaria has orphaned wolverines.

Enter Tomas Lurgsy…