Germinal

“This sounded the death knell of small family businesses, soon to be followed by the disappearance of the individual entrepreneur, gobbled up one by one by the increasingly hungry ogre of capitalism, and drowned by the rising tide of large companies.”
― Émile Zola, Germinal

“Working in a Coal Mine” – illustration from Emile Zola’s Germinal.

For three years I have been working my way through the 20 novels of Émile Zola’s Les Rougon-Macquart series. So far:

For all of 2021 I’ve been reading Germinal – reading too slow – I haven’t been reading enough. Over the last few days, however, I took a few days of vacation with the family in Hot Springs Arkansas, and that gave me the time to finish the book.

Germinal is generally considered Zola’s masterpiece and is the most popular of all the volumes in Les Rougon-Macquart cycle. It is the story of the terrible conditions in the coal mines of France during the Second Empire (set in the 1860s). It’s protagonist is Étienne Lantier, the son of Gervaise from L’Assommoir and the brother of Jacques Lantier from La Bête Humaine and Claude Lantier from L’Œuvre. Étienne suffers from the family malady of drunkenness and fits of violent madness, but balances that with a sharp mind and a truly caring spirit.

Suffering from a business slump the owners of the mines keep reducing the pay of the colliers in the pits until they can barely feed themselves. There is a strike, which does not go well for anybody.

The story is truly heartbreaking, both in the terrible conditions in the mine and associated villages – plus the inevitable doom as they all go on strike.

One overarching theme is the philosophical battle between capitalism and socialism (in several various flavors). Zola spills a lot of ink contrasting the struggles of the mine workers with the lavish lifestyle of the bourgeoisie living off their investments in the mines. It is well done and absolutely heartbreaking.

It is interesting to read a book about socialist and communist ideals written in 1885 – long before Stalin, Mao, or Castro. Despite the terrible horrors of the strike there is still a youthful optimism about the struggles that were to come.

Zola ends the novel on a note of hope:

Beneath the blazing of the sun, in that morning of new growth, the countryside rang with song, as its belly swelled with a black and avenging army of men, germinating slowly in its furrows, growing upwards in readiness for harvests to come, until one day soon their ripening would burst open the earth itself.

One other point that I have learned reading the entire Zola cycle is the importance of a good, modern translation. When I started I thought I’d read the free, Project Gutenberg ebook editions. However, those are contemporary and highly bowdlerized translations. I actually read Germinal… maybe forty years ago, in one of those versions and barely remember it. This time I bought the Oxford’s World Classic edition, translated by Peter Collier – and it is an amazing, modern, memorable translation. I highly recommend it (though there are probably other modern translations as good).

I also see that there are several film editions of Germinal. A fairly recent French version is available to stream and I’ll see if I can set aside some time in the next few days to watch it.

Otherwise, it’s on to the next book, Nana. This is about the half-sister of Étienne Lantier and her decent through the underbelly of sexual exploitation in Paris. It’s another one that I read a long, long, time ago and am looking to revisiting a better translation.

It’ll be slow, though. My Difficult Reads Book Club is about to embark on Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 – which will be a good bit of work.

So many book, so little time.

A good article on the book:

Rereading Zola’s Germinal

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Blonde in a Black Corvette by Bill Chance

“The ambiguous role of the car crash needs no elaboration—apart from our own deaths, the car crash is probably the most dramatic event in our lives, and in many cases the two will coincide. Aside from the fact that we generally own or are at the controls of the crashing vehicle, the car crash differs from other disasters in that it involves the most powerfully advertised commercial product of this century, an iconic entity that combines the elements of speed, power, dream and freedom within a highly stylized format that defuses any fears we may have of the inherent dangers of these violent and unstable machines.”
― J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition

(click to enlarge)

Blonde in a Black Corvette

The traffic was the worst Earl had ever seen… and he had seen a lot of really bad traffic. He made the decision to bail off the freeway but he was sleepy and distracted by a stalled bus, made a mistake and found himself forced back on; merging back into the wide endless molasses-slow river of brakelights.

He spent a long, long time behind a blonde driving a black Corvette convertible. Her hair was long and she brushed it for what seemed like twenty minutes. She took some phone calls and worked on her makeup – it looked like she put new blush on and redid her mascara. Her car had giant rectangular exhausts – dual. They belched blue exhaust smoke. The license plates were temporary – dealer’s plates. It was cold and drizzly outside – her fabric top was up. Finally, Earl reached the next exit down and was able to bail. She pulled out before him, turned right and sped away. Earl drove a lot slower than she did, especially in the morning – going to work.

In less than a minute she was gone, moving past a curve through a fog of exhaust smoke.

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Alma Mater by Amy Barnes

“Time was passing like a hand waving from a train I wanted to be on.

I hope you never have to think about anything as much as I think about you.”

― jonathan safran foer

Young dancers on the reflecting pool at the Dallas String Quartet concert.

From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, September 10, 1999:

Summer is supposed to be over. The awful killer heat is gone, but still the sun beats down mercilessly. I had to work outside a lot today, sweating through my flame resistant lab coat.

All I could think about was looking up through high tree branches, the green leaves stopping the hot sun, letting the dappled cool rays through.

It was such a relief to get home, change clothes, and take a relaxing shower.

And today’s flash fiction:

Alma Mater by Amy Barnes

from Indigo Literary Journal

Amy Barnes Twitter

What I learned this week, April 23, 2021

Chipotle Sourdough
Finished loaf of Chipotle Sourdough Bread. A little too much Chipotle, it made the dough a bit wet and it came out very spicy. Still Delicious. There are kids over and it was gone in five minutes.

How To Make Pita Bread at Home

I went through a home made bread phase. It was fun and delicious but the carbs almost killed me. Maybe pitas – small and unassuming – might be doable.


Campsite, Lake Ray Roberts, Texas

Everything You Need to Know About Sleeping Pads


Anna Karina

How to think like a detective

The best detectives seem to have almost supernatural insight, but their cognitive toolkit is one that anybody can use


Awning stretching out from the Opera House, Arts District, Dallas, Texas (Click To Enlarge)

Aria Code


Sheaffer Pens
Sheaffer Pens

Writing in pencil > writing in pen


Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, My heart has given me the slip again by B. Tyler Lee

“Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.”

― Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose

Heart of Texas Red, Craft Beer Logo, Four Corners Brewing Company, The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, September 5, 2002:

I was walking along Mockingbird back to the train, dodging the heavy rush-hour traffic when I noticed a chunk of gravel arcing overhead and bouncing down into the street. As I watched, a couple others followed it, one hitting asphalt, but the other pinging off of an expensive SUV. I looked closer and saw a homeless man in the center of a clump of bushes. There was a big transformer in there (probably related to the electric train) and the guy had a bed made up next to it. He was really pissed off at a crow sitting on the wires overhead, and was cursing, screaming, and throwing gravel at it. Of course, the gravel was missing the bird and landing out in the traffic.

I tried to think of what to do – but luckily, the bird flew away and the man immediately stretched out and went back to sleep.

All I could do was shake my head and go back and catch my train.

And today’s flash fiction:

My heart has given me the slip again by B. Tyler Lee

from Okay Donkey

B. Tyler Lee Twitter

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, How We Coped with the Giant Robots by Anna Cabe

“Aimless extension of knowledge, however, which is what I think you really mean by the term curiosity, is merely inefficiency. I am designed to avoid inefficiency.”

― Isaac Asimov, The Caves of Steel

Bikes and Robots Hickory Street Dallas, Texas

From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, February 15, 1999:

Shit, what a long, tiring day. Oh, look at the top of the page, it’s a Monday. No wonder.

I sat the morning through a two hour Lotus Notes class, a professional trainer, twenty years younger than me explained in excruciating detail everything I already knew and displayed his ability to scrunch up his nose when I asked a question.

Meanwhile, the hourly folks in the class had a lot of trouble. I really felt sorry for them, the instructor would rattle off, “click here, go back, minimize.” He would always say click when he should have said double click. Not that the poor hourly guys can double click anyway. They are used to terminal emulators with tacked up dog-eared Xerox copies of lists of odd key combinations. They’ll be alright, they’ll get gooey eventually. Those tough callused hands trying to push a mouse around, that look of confusion; it’s a difficult world.

I spent most of the class leaning slightly forward with my eyes closed rubbing the corners of my lids.

The rest of the workday was meetings. More lid-rubbing.

I didn’t really do anything, did I? I sure was exhausted when I came home. My head was splitting, my right ear isn’t working again, I should have gone to a cycling class, but I booted. I should have played with the kids, worked on the garage, written some stuff, read some chapters, but I didn’t.

All I managed to do was flounder around horizontally, watching some sports on TV.

And rubbing the corners of my eyelids ’til the headache finally went away.

And today’s flash fiction:

How We Coped with the Giant Robots by Anna Cabe

from Gordon Square Review

Anna Cabe Homepage

Anna Cabe Twitter

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, There are Beaches in Michigan by Deanna Baringer

“Each year, we rent a house at the edge of the sea and drive there in the first of the summer—with the dog and cat, the children, and the cook—arriving at a strange place a little before dark. The journey to the sea has its ceremonious excitements, it has gone on for so many years now, and there is the sense that we are, as in our dreams we have always known ourselves to be, migrants and wanderers—travelers, at least, with a traveler’s acuteness of feeling.” –from ““The Seaside Houses”

― John Cheever, The Stories of John Cheever

Crystal Beach, Texas

From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, January 1, 2003:

The weather for New Year’s Day at Crystal Beach was absolutely perfect. The sun came out warm and the wind dropped down to a dead calm. The low tide fell even lower and uncovered a long stretch of Bolivar Peninsula sand near our beach house that was scattered with interesting, unbroken seashells. As we picked them up, we discovered that many contained hermit crabs. Nicholas has been bugging us to buy him a hermit crab for a pet and I told Lee (Nick was still inside reading – he was on the home stretch of Return of the King and wanted to finish) that we’d pick out six crabs and take them back with us.

After a bit, Nicholas rode up on his bicycle (with the cry of, “I have news from Gondor!” – he’s terribly obsessed) and was tickled pink with the crabs. He’s found a plastic container and built a little habitat for them. I don’t know anything about these things – I hope they survive for a while. When we get back to Dallas I’ll do a web search and find out how to care for them.

Later, I went for a long walk, to the north this time, passing miles and miles of huge, beautiful beach houses. It was dark when I made it back to our humble rental unit and Lee was concerned that I had been gone so long.
“I was getting worried, Dad.”
“What, Lee, did you think I’d get lost?”
“I don’t know… I was just worried.”

Lee has been collecting driftwood sticks this whole trip and had accumulated a little stack of them. He explained that he only wanted to keep three of them (his walking stick, one he pretends is a sword, and one he has whittled into an arrow of sorts) but wanted to start a fire on the beach with the rest of them. Every night somebody has a fire going out on the beach, usually a too-big one, but Lee wanted to give it a try.

Lee walking in the surf at Crystal Beach. I checked my old blog entries – this was December 29, 2002. Almost twenty years ago.

The problem is, we didn’t have any matches or a lighter. I lit a leftover fireworks punk on the stove and took that out on the beach where we had prepared a campfire with the sticks and some crumpled newspaper. I couldn’t get a flame, though, only smoldering paper.

I thought for a bit, then dug out Candy’s citronella candle she bought to discourage bugs. I lit a strip of newspaper on the range top (after removing the battery from the smoke detector) and used that to light the candle. Then, using my jacket as a windscreen, I carefully walked backwards out the door, down the stairs, and out onto the beach without letting the candle go out. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to get the thing lit.

It was a nice little campfire on the beach. The wind whipped the fire and the driftwood sticks gave a good flame with strong, hot coals. Nick (he finished The Return of the King this afternoon and is very proud), Lee, and I sat around the fire for a bit, enjoying the stars, the cool sand, and the sound of the nighttime surf.

When it was time to go in Lee and I spread out the coals and buried them with damp sand. It was a really nice last evening on the beach. Tomorrow, we pack up and head back to the city.

And today’s flash fiction:

There are Beaches in Michigan by Deanna Baringer

from Feed

Deanna Baringer Twitter

Homeward Bound

I’m sittin’ in the railway station
Got a ticket to my destination
On a tour of one-night stands
My suitcase and guitar in hand
And every stop is neatly planned
For a poet and a one-man band

—-Paul Simon, Homeward Bound

The view from the parking lot as I go home from work. Dallas, Texas

I was driving in to work – I often listen to podcasts in my car, but today I had KXT 91.7 (listen here) on the radio. I always love that station – no commercials, no stupid DJ yakking yet DJ curated, and a wide variety of tunes. As I pulled into my parking spot and began to put my mask on the Simon and Garfunkel chestnut Homeward Bound came on. A great song. I sat there and listened to it before trudging across the parking lot.

Afterward they said, “Homeward Bound, an early Simon and Garfunkel tune, from 1966.”

1966. I was nine years old. I remember 1966. I wasn’t listening to very much music then and don’t remember Homeward Bound when it came out. But I was starting. I do remember a television documentary on the burgeoning folk scene featuring interviews with Simon and Garfunkel. I didn’t know who they were and wondered if I’d ever hear anything from them. Four years later Bridge Over Troubled Water was released and I remember the exact spot where my father’s car was when I first heard it on the radio.

Sitting down and looking through the hit songs from each year – I started listening in 1967. My family was not musical and I had to pick it up on my own, mostly from friends. By 1968 I was listening to the radio a lot and by 1969 I eagerly awaited every Friday and that week’s top forty announcement on WHB (the wet hamburger station) out of Kansas City.

So I guess I can say I started listening to popular music in 1966 or so. That was fifty five years ago.

It doesn’t seem like that long. Things have changed (especially the digital revolution) but 1966 wasn’t that much different. One way to look at it was they were playing a song from 1966 on the radio on my way to work and nobody thought much about it.

I was born nine years earlier, in 1957. That does seem like a different age. The sixties were a real watershed – where things changed in a significant, permanent way. But still… there was rock and roll, at least the stirrings of rock and roll, in 1957 (Rock Around the Clock came out in 1954).

But go in the other direction – fifty five years before 1957 was 1902. That’s hard for me to comprehend. One year before the Wright brothers first flew. World War I was a decade away. The Roaring twenties two decades – the depression and dust bowl three decades away. WWII a nightmare far into the future. Now, I did look at the top songs of 1902 and was shocked that I was familiar with a few of them – and the #18 song won an Academy Award in 1974 and rose to #4 on the charts at that time….

But still, I can’t even imagine 1902. My grandfather wasn’t born yet. Yet it’s the same distance in time from my birth as Homeward Bound is from today. Years and years.

Every day’s an endless stream
Of cigarettes and magazines
And each town looks the same to me
The movies and the factories
And every stranger’s face I see
Reminds me that I long to be

Homeward bound

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Sam I Am by Bill Chance

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Sam I Am

It was only this morning when I first saw her. It seems like a hundred years ago. The worst thing is that I don’t even know her name. I haven’t forgotten, she never told me what it was – never mentioned it.

Everything started when I came out of Todd’s Comic Book Store walking with a spring in my step. I had just bought a new Jedi Bounty Hunter action figure, on the day it was released. It cost a good hunk of my paycheck, but I had been drooling over the advance ads for this excellent hunk of plastic for months.

“Hey, Sam!” she shouted. She was gorgeous, drop dead perfect, a God’s Vision chiseled in female flesh. I couldn’t stop staring at her and it took me a long minute to realize she was talking to me. Of course my name is Andrew, not Sam, but I was not going to disagree with someone that good looking. So Sam I am.

“Hey you!” was all I could muster. Who was this woman? I’m not the best with faces and names but I would remember her. If she thinks she knows me, even if she has my name wrong, maybe I’ll play along until I can figure out what’s up. “It’s been… a bit of water under the bridge, hasn’t it?” That was the most noncommittal thing I could come up with.

The woman looked a little confused but still, she replied, “Yup… I suppose it has.”

She saw the bag in my hand with its logo – Todd’s Comics. “What do you have there?”

“Oh, that’s the new Jedi Bounty Hunter action figure. It was released today.”

She looked at me as if I was a toad, a smashed flat one at that. “Why do you have that? Are you into…?”

“Oh no,” I lied, thinking fast. “This is a present for… my nephew. Yeah my nephew Brad. He’s really into this stuff and when I saw this was a new release I knew I had to get it for him. Cost… ridiculous, but I’ll do anything for my favorite nephew.” I hoped my tone of voice wouldn’t convey that my favorite nephew Brad did not exist.

Suddenly I thought of an opening. “How’s the family?”

Her eyes flared. “Jesus! I can’t believe you brought that up. When you made that pass at my sister… She was so drunk… I’m not sure if I will ever forgive you for that.”

I glanced around. There was a bar right there, The Anchor. “Well, I’m sorry, you know that. Why don’t we go into The Anchor and I’ll buy you a drink. We can talk about it… maybe I’ll be able to make it up to you.”

“Sam, dammit! You know I can’t drink.”

“Well, I hear The Anchor has the best Diet Coke in town. Let’s go for that.”

And now, here I am, walking around her thirtieth story apartment stark naked at four in the morning trying to be quiet. It’s a really nice, expensive place. I’m looking for something, anything, that will tell me who she is and what she is up to. The only clues so far is a satchel stuffed with about sixty thousand in hundred dollar bills stashed behind her couch and a pair of loaded handguns in her top dresser drawer. What I really need to know is who am I – or who does she think I am – and what does she want from me…. I probably should get dressed and sneak home. Pretty soon she’s going to wake up and figure out I’m not Sam… I can’t believe she hasn’t already. And… well, she’s going to be super pissed off.

I need to find my clothes and get the hell out of Dodge but I can’t. First, she is so goddamn beautiful. Plus, I can’t find my clothes. I had them on when I came here. But where are they now? I was sleeping pretty hard, maybe she woke up and folded them somewhere. But where?

Now I know this is not going to end well, not for me, probably not for anybody.

Tokyo Nightmare

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”
― T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph

The Wave that Washes us all
The Wave that Washes us all

The last few days I have been haunted by the same nightmare. It’s the same because when I go to sleep my dream starts up right where the last one ended, when I woke up. This has been happening not only at night, but if I try and sneak in a nap.

I’m in the dream, of course, but the person in the dream isn’t exactly me. I’m someone else, though I don’t know who.

The dream is set in Tokyo, sort of. It’s Tokyo but not the real one. It’s a dream nightmare Tokyo (and no, I’ve never been to Japan). The city itself isn’t as big or crowded as the real Tokyo is – it feels sort of like an American mid-sized city… maybe Lubbock. It’s definitely Dream Tokyo, though, I know that, I remember taking a long dream flight to get there.

I don’t know why I’m in Dream Tokyo. There is some sort of work that I am supposed to do. I have a vague feeling that my job is very important, but don’t remember what it is that I am doing.

Dream Tokyo is a coastal city with a very complex harbor, with several peninsulas and inlets. The border between land and water is very important to me.

The most obvious feature of Dream Tokyo is a highway bridge that links two parts of the city across a wide bay. This bridge is what gives the dream its nightmare edge. It’s not a regular bridge, of course. It’s very, very wide and extremely high. A huge arch reaching up into the sky. It is visible from everywhere in the city and dominates the horizon. Not only is it wide, but the edges simply end. There are no guardrails or other barriers along the side.

It should still be safe, though. It is so wide, almost like a field in the sky (it is green in color and covered with a very short grass, like a golf green) and not heavily used, so you could drive right down the middle with no risk of going over the edge.

That’s not how it works for me, though. I go off driving through Dream Tokyo (I know I wouldn’t ever actually drive in Real Tokyo, but here, there isn’t any mass transit) and I get confused on the poorly-labeled complex highway interchanges. All of a sudden, here I am, driving up the ramp to the vast grassy sky bridge even though it’s the last place I want to go. There is no turning back, I have to cross.

It is horrifying. I can see the sea off to each side and the blue water with the green bridge surface fills me with absolute terror – something about the open spaces sends me into panic (and no, in real life I do not suffer from agoraphobia in any way). I clutch the steering wheel with white, sweaty knuckles and drive quickly, almost with my eyes closed.

I do make it across. That was very odd – the road, despite being amazingly wide and crossing what must be a multi-billion dollar bridge, simply ends. The road narrows and ends in a short stretch of old, cracked tarmac that peters out at the water’s edge. Here the shoreline is paved and the water is dark and full of trash.

There was no clear path forward. I had to drive my car (a rental, I seemed to know that) over a curb and down onto a narrow paved alley that ran along the water and curved off into a neighborhood of run-down warehouses.

That’s the point where I woke up this morning. When I go to bed tonight will I be back in the car, entering the warehouse district? I doubt it. Writing the dream down will certainly kill it.

I’ll be somewhere else, somewhere completely different. A different city, a different seaside, a different bridge.