A Month of Short Stories 2014, Day 24 – A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twenty four – A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Read it online here:

A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

Magical Realism is a tricky and mysterious thing. When done badly it is horrific. When done well, it is a thing of wonder. And, of course, nobody does it better than Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I remember reading A Hundred Years of Solitude for the first time. It is a massive tome – but I was so enthralled at the text I never wanted it to end.

Reading magical realism in a short story is different than reading it in a long novel. If you spend enough time in that colorful world you get used to it and wonder why every day isn’t like that. But in a short story it comes as a shock – like gazing through a peephole into another universe.

Though you never find out who the very old man is or why he has those enormous wings (surely he is an angel – but what a decrepit one) and you never understand his speech – you feel for the poor wretch. Dragged from the mud and exhibited in a chicken coop until the owners become rich from the admission (and finally outshown by a spider woman) he still exhibits patience and understanding. It isn’t until his duty is done that he….

Well, read it and find out.

The curious came from far away. A traveling carnival arrived with a flying acrobat who buzzed over the crowd several times, but no one paid any attention to him because his wings were not those of an angel but, rather, those of a sidereal bat. The most unfortunate invalids on earth came in search of health: a poor woman who since childhood has been counting her heartbeats and had run out of numbers; a Portuguese man who couldn’t sleep because the noise of the stars disturbed him; a sleepwalker who got up at night to undo the things he had done while awake; and many others with less serious ailments. In the midst of that shipwreck disorder that made the earth tremble, Pelayo and Elisenda were happy with fatigue, for in less than a week they had crammed their rooms with money and the line of pilgrims waiting their turn to enter still reached beyond the horizon.

Brief Encounters with Che Guevara

There’s so little in the world we can be sure of, and maybe it’s that lack, that flaw or deficiency, if you will, that drives our strongest compulsions.

—- Ben Fountain, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara

After finishing the massive collection of J. G. Ballard’s fiction, I’m cruising my Kindle, finishing off some fiction that I have started and slacked off on.

From the first time I stumbled across a description of it – I was irresistibly drawn to Ben Fountain’s collection Brief Encounters With Che Guevara. First, he is an author that shares a city with me. Originally, from North Carolina (I was born there – in the first of many burgs I lived in with the word “Fort” as its prefix) he has a law degree from Duke (where my son goes to school) and then moved to Dallas to practice real estate law.

He struggled for years before he finally was able to publish this book. Malcolm Gladwell even wrote about his delayed genius. Finally he is recognized as a great writer and has gained additional fame for articles published in the aftermath of the Haitian Earthquake (I know a little about Latin American Third World Earthquakes).

There are eight stories in the book:

  • Near-Extinct Birds of the Central Cordillera (my favorite)
  • Rêve Haitien
  • The Good Ones are Already Taken
  • Asian Tiger
  • Bouki and the Cocaine
  • The Lion’s Mouth (really excellent story of Sierra Leone and the compulsions of aid workers)
  • Brief Encounters with Che Guevara
  • Fantasy for Eleven Fingers (odd story… reminds me of Campion’s “The Piano” – even before the end)

I absolutely loved the first story – Near-Extinct Birds of the Central Cordillera – set in Columbia, a country Fountain has no experience with.

He says in an interview:

“It’s better to go. It would have been better if I had gone to Colombia, it would have been better if I had gone to Sierra Leone. You never know what you’re missing. You never know what you don’t know until you go. But you can’t always go. You don’t have unlimited time and unlimited money. And so you do the next best thing—you try to imagine yourself into these places. The way I did it was to read everything I could get my hands on and to talk to other people who might have information. If there were helpful movies or documentaries, I sought those out. I was just trying to soak it all up and imagine my way into it using that basic research and my own experience in similar places or similar situations.

I actually think his distance from Colombia helped the story. It’s the story of an ornithologist kidnapped by Colombian rebels. While in captivity he discovers a natural prize of infinite value – though nobody else really understands. In the end, it is he who does not understand. It is the confusion of the ornithologist when confronted with the fatal mysteries of the third world that forms the backbone of the story.

It is this discord between the first and third worlds… this frission when confronted with something that is older, more passionate, and raw than anything you have ever thought possible – and then the dawning of the realization that this jewel of wonder is wrapped in impenetrable layers of horror and death, doom and madness… and there isn’t anything you can do about it – that’s what it likes to be exposed to the third world.

Believe me, I know.

Fountain seems to feel this in his stories and skirts it without completely diving in – but he comes closer than most anything I’ve read since the simple Ray Bradbury story, The Highway.

I would love to read his work as it continues to mature… to see him dig closer to the heart of darkness. Unfortunately he seems to be seduced by politics and moving more away from what I want to read. We’ll see, I won’t give up on him. I won’t give up looking for what I want.

On the other hand, I guess if you want something done, if you want to read something different, maybe you have to do just dig in and do it yourself.

Addicted to Haiti by Ben Fountain

After the Earthquake, but Before the Flood  by Ben Fountain

 What to Read? Ben Fountain Recommends

Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, Ben Fountain

Hot Zones

Better Late Than Never: A Review of Ben Fountain’s Brief Encounters With Che Guevara

Arroz con Pollo!

One of the best things about a big food truck fair is that the huge crowds will attract food trucks from other cities. Not surprisingly, some of the best ones drive up from Austin.

At the last big fair I went to I was walking around looking for trucks I hadn’t tried before, with a special eye out for trucks from other towns, I spotted a food truck that offered Colombian food. It was called Sabor Colombiano on Wheels and is based in San Antonio. It looked different from the other trucks which are mostly based on large, boxy, UPS-style bodies. This one was a converted RV.

There wasn’t much of a line waiting to order, but more like a large clot standing off to the side. Their menu was simple: Chicken and Rice, Fried Plantains, and Beef Empanadas. I ordered the arroz con pollo with the platanos fritos on the side. They explained that the food came out in big batches and that was why everybody was standing in a group.

So I pushed into the crowd and waited. After a while, the orders started coming out. There was a little table with some sort of relish and a pinkish sauce. I have no idea what these were, but I knew I wanted some. When my order came up I pushed the crowd back so I could get to the little table and ladle on plenty of the two mystery sauces.

The food was really good. It wasn’t too pimped up or fancy… simply good hearty Colombian peasant fare. I really like the arroz con pollo – it was just right. I’ve eaten a lot of platanos fritos in my day, and everybody makes them differently. These were slices of plantain smashed flat and fried crisp, which was very good.

So, if you are in San Antonio and looking for a bite, look up Sabor Colombiano on Wheels on facebook and see where they are at.

Oh, and the sauces… I still have no idea.

The Colombian Food truck was a converted recreational vehicle.

A simple menu.

Arroz con pollo, platanos fritos, and some mystery sauces