Sunday, January 29, 2012

Featured book: Letters of Blood and Other English Writings

We recently learned about the publisher Open Book Publishers and the release of the book Letters of Blood and Other English Writings of Göran Printz-Påhlson, edited by Robert Archambeau. This book is a collection of criticism, prose, and poetry by Printz-Påhlson, the Swedish born but internationally known critic, essayist, translator, poet, and teacher. We suggest taking a look at Letters of Blood (read one of the poems excerpted below) and other offerings from the publisher.

Raining no longer. (Water like a mirror)
The words are all bright in your mouth.
White light on the wet pavement. Language a mirror
Or another way of breathing outside your mouth?
We are speaking and the words are all white.
The wind speaks to the rain and the rain to the sea
And the wind is blowing, though just a bit.
Do you think language is anything like the sea?
The rain is wholly adequate and one can see
That the wind is precise. Words rain into the sea
And no words are drowning.
We gather here in groups. In the blowing
Wind words whistle pure and tender:
The sea forgets what everyone cannot remember.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Book review: Herge, Son of Tintin

During my vacation over the recent holidays, I had a chance to see the movie The Adventures of Tintin. I am admittedly only nominally familiar with the comics, but since I really enjoyed the movie, I've thought about reading more about them and their author. A recent biography on Georges Remi (aka, Herge) written by Benoit Peeters and translated by Tina A. Kover has been published by John Hopkins University Press. A review appeared today in the New York Times Book Review (see link below). If you've read the book or plan to read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Featured Author: Tomasz Kamusella

Our newest featured author is Tomasz Kamusella with an excerpt from his story Limits.

Tomasz Kamusella is a Central European scholar based in St Andrews, Scotland. He believes that literature and delving into the past have much in common. The bottom line is telling stories, really, though in fiction we make do without footnotes.

‘It was ridiculous, totally ridiculous’ Ozymandias thought.

He liked the absence of Maria, the nice cleaning lady. From Belarus, he presumed. She was hired by him personally, without alerting the human resources department to this informal arrangement. A nice little perk, courtesy of his contract with the bank. She did not provide any references, nor did he need to commit his signature to paper. An honest working agreement. Ozymandias met her only once, when she was being interviewed and briefed on her tasks by his personal assistant. The main point was that Maria was expected to take good care of the office when he vacated it, regardless of his highly irregular hours. She observed this point religiously, always alerted by the security system which bleeped her on her mobile whenever he left for the night. Maria then had the space of an hour or so to vacuum, dust, spruce things up and to do whatever necessary, as instructed.

Maria’s absence meant she had already left the office pleasantly fragrant and fresh, as if her youthful and eager femininity had rubbed off onto the walls and furniture. A sort of radiance pervaded the air. At best, Ozymandias liked walking into his office at nine am, sharp. Evening cocktail parties, which it was his duty to attend, rarely permitted him this luxury. But when he was in luck, he relaxed in his versatile recliner that appeared to those not in the know to be an old-fashioned money-lender’s chair, made of hardwood and adequately austere, a polite adjective for uncomfortable. ‘Where would we be without protestant ethics’ mused Ozymandias, recollecting his MBA days when he was assigned to read something by the French economist Maxime Wehber. A brainy fellow, though apparently a catholic himself. ‘Perhaps, his father-in-law introduced him to the true ways of down-to-earth capitalism?’

He put his palms down on the smooth surface of the elegant teak desk, warm to the touch. Ignoramuses praised Ozymandias on his environment-friendly choice of easily renewable and economic pine. Fools. No profit of serious proportions can be generated on the cheap. It is essential that the mind of a financial wizard is freed from everyday concerns and irritations like ugly, aged, or simply worn out pieces of furniture. To think of the abstruse and complicated structures of global finance, one needs a crystalline clarity of thought. Everything must be subjected to evoking this unique state of mind, so strenuously difficult to achieve, so easy to miss. Artists cursing the fickle muse do not know what they are talking about. Their arty muse is like a loose woman, not always available, but often enough. They pretend. No real need for arts councils. They should try corralling the goddess of high finance, or is it a he?

The top of the desk was polished and empty of the clutter that is so typical of lesser minds. In the middle sat a large computer screen, placing Ozymandias at the center of the bank’s nervous system. He saw himself as the head crowning the spinal cord of the institution. Following the post-crisis near-nationalization of the bank, it zombie-walked, because for months on end it remained headless, like Belgium without a government. ‘Then I arrived’ Ozymandias smiled to himself. It was the best thing that could have happened to the bank. He made good on the taxpayers’ investment. During his almost two years in office the bank already operated once in the black for two consecutive quarters. Who would not like to have such a splendid return on their investment in these difficult times, eh?

The more irritating it was then to receive unsolicited email messages. What were the guys in the security unit doing? More layoffs and restructuring were necessary. Ozymandias began to jot down an appropriate memo to this end. By the week’s end the matter would have been resolved. Then a well-earned weekend at a golf course near Varna. They assured him that it was the poshest sporting destination at present. Membership cost him a lot, but the place was apparently organized to the most exacting standards. No wonder as it was privately run by a mooltee-grupa, a euphemism, he was informed, for a joint venture between civil servants and postcommunist mobsters. Brussels made good on the developmental promise of integration, pumping billions into similar schemes that attract high-flying jetsetters from all over the globe to Eunion’s poorest member. ‘We save the state’s economy and the citizens’ bacon,’ Ozymandias thought, ‘we are the real Europeans, come what may.’ In return for their world-saving efforts, while concentrating on the tee, they could enjoy the splendid nature reserve, the last unspoiled stretch of land, from which non-card-carrying natives were barred by the electrified security fence, posted with guards brandishing automatic firearms. Menacing, but only appropriate.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

My French Film Festival

The second edition of My French Film Festival began yesterday and runs through February 1. Sponsored by uniFrance films and, the online only festival features ten films and ten shorts by French creators. You can rent the films individually or through a package from the website. The films are available in fourteen languages. After viewing, you can score the films and leave comments. Six prizes will be awarded and the winning films will be shown on Air France flights. Along with the films, you can also view trailers and interviews with the films' directors. Like them on Facebook or visit the website at to learn more.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

An Absinthe Manifesto?

Ingmar Bergman
At Absinthe we enjoy a good manifesto as much as anyone and we've been working on one of our own. But instead of depending on our own clever lines we've decided to enlist the collective wisdom of some of our favorite European artists, writers, & filmmakers to succinctly reflect Absinthe's vision and mission.    

We’re looking for suggestions before we finalize our list. Here are a few that we’re considering now:

  • Only through art can we emerge from ourselves and know what another person sees—Marcel Proust

  • The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion—Albert Camus

  • Of all that is written, I love only what a person has written with his own blood—Friedrich Nietzsche

  • Lilies often grow out of carcasses' arseholes—Ingmar Bergman

(Ok, my co-editor has vetoed the Bergman quote!)

What are your suggestions?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Featured Author: Lodewijk van Oord

Happy New Year!
Throughout 2012, Absinthe will feature selected authors on the blog, so if you are interested, feel free to send selections of your works with a short bio and author photo to the editor or please contact Anne Marie Sumner at

Our first featured author is Lodewijk van Oord with an excerpt from his work Thesmophoria, translated by Paul Vincent.

photo by Jennie Frampton
Lodewijk van Oord published short stories, poems and essays in a number of literary magazines in Holland. The original Dutch version of Thesmophoria first appeared in the Dutch literary magazine KortVerhaal in June 2010, and won the Dutch New Prose Prize for emerging writers in 2011. Born in Madrid, Lodewijk van Oord lived in a number of different countries, most recently in the UK, where he taught at Atlantic College. He currently lives in Swaziland, where he works at Waterford Kamhlaba UWCSA.

Paul Vincent is one of the most renowned translators of Dutch literature. His translations include novels by Harry Mulisch, Louis Paul Boon and Willem Elsschot. He was the first recipient of the David Reid Poetry Translation Prize for his translation of Hendrik Marsman's poem 'Memory of Holland.'


He heard the bell, Lieneke opening and exchanging a few pleasantries, footsteps in
the corridor, a zip being opened, a sniff.
The door was pushed open and Taziri Azulay came in. He quickly went up to her.
‘Doctor Snelman,’ he said. ‘It’s been ages.’
She shook her head.
‘Since you’ve been here. It’s almost fifteen years.’
‘I can’t remember,’ she said cautiously. She smelled of cigarettes, a scent that
Snelman, as an ex-smoker, could still appreciate.
‘No, no, of course not,’ he laughed, ‘I understand.’ He pointed to the patient’s chair
and holding her scarf in her hand she sat down. As Snelman closed the door and
walked behind her back to his chair his eyes scanned her head and back. He saw how
around her ears and at the back of her neck her dark-brown curls burst out of a tight
dark-purple headscarf. She wore a light green coat with a slight sheen.
He sat down and looked at her. Her eyes were chestnut brown, her eyebrows
sharply etched. The purplish lipstick she wore matched her headscarf perfectly,
fashionable colours that recurred in her nail varnish and in the scarf that was now
lying in her lap.
‘You’re still living with your parents in Bentincklaan?’ asked Snelman in a
friendly tone. As soon as she confirmed this he circled the address on her card, and
wrote ‘OK’ beside it.
‘And you’re still at school?’
‘I am at university,’ she said gruffly.
Snelman looked up, and laughed awkwardly. ‘And how are your studies going?’
‘Your Dutch is excellent.’
Taziri’s lips formed a suspicious grin, and crow’s feet appeared around her eyes.
‘I’ve lived here since I was two.’
‘Ah,’ sighed Snelman. ‘And what exactly are you studying, if I may ask?’
‘Archaeology, in Leiden.’
‘That’s wonderful! I assume you’ve already chosen your special subject?’
Taziri nodded, and for the first time she smiled. ‘Classical Greek. I actually went
on a dig in Athens this summer.’
Snelman’s mouth fell open with enthusiasm. ‘Greece is marvellous! Those Ancient
Greeks fascinate me enormously! And did you find anything interesting?’
‘We certainly did,’ she answered calmly, ‘we uncovered a cave we suspect was
used for the Thesmophoria. That was an important festival in antiquity, a kind of
Snelman nodded and said that he’d read about it in the past.
‘We mainly found lots of pig bones.’
‘Oh,’ said Snelman in surprise, ‘and was that unpleasant for you?’
‘Oh no, it was very instructive. I’d never done it before.’
‘That’s terrific, terrific,’ muttered Snelman, after which the conversation petered
out. A few seconds later he said in a serious voice: ‘Right, let’s get down to business.’
She looked at him in silence and with her left hand briefly scratched her right calf.
From reception Snelman could hear Lieneke emptying the dishwasher and rinsing the
coffee jug.
‘Not that I’m not enjoying talking to you, but of course that’s not why you’re here.’
She still said nothing, and looked him straight in the eye.
‘So…’ he continued, ‘what’s wrong?’
She had to digest the question for a moment. ‘Nothing’s wrong exactly,’ she said,
‘it’s more that we have to put something right.’ She paused and then said confidently:
‘I want to be a virgin again.’
The front door closed with a bang. Lieneke had gone.
‘Well, well,’ muttered Snelman. He crossed his arms, pushed his back against the
chair and looked at her indulgently. ‘And what exactly do you mean by that?’
Snelman had been a GP for almost thirty years, and only very occasionally did
someone appear at his surgery with an ailment he’d never treated before. Taziri
Azulay was one of them.
‘It’s a long story, actually.’ Taziri shifted in her chair. In six weeks’ time she was
getting married to Ab, her fiancé, and they liked the idea of having her hymen
restored for the occasion.
‘The two of you like the idea?’
She nodded.
‘Are you marrying here, in Rotterdam?’
She shook her head. ‘In Tétuan, where our parents come from.’
‘So is Ab Moroccan too?’
Taziri burst out laughing and explained the misunderstanding: ‘Abdelrahim! His
name’s Abdelrahim, but everyone calls him Ab.’
Snelman joined in the laughter. ‘Are you doing this for your parents? Do they think
you’re still a virgin?’
‘Of course. Actually I’m not quite sure what they think. The whole subject is a
non-starter, you see.’
Snelman pointed to her headscarf and asked if she was still a Muslim.
‘I go to bed with Ab, just as I did with my previous boyfriends. I go out and
sometimes I get drunk, and though my father works in a halal butchers I could eat one
of your pork sandwiches without any guilt.’ She pointed to the sandwich that lay half-
eaten on the desk. ‘This headscarf is not some kind of statement. Here…’ She pushed
the head scarf back with both hands, her wavy hair freed itself and leapt up in all
Snelman looked in astonishment at the wild mop of curls. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘I
wasn’t trying to interrogate you.’
‘You’re not. For women like me the headscarf is more practical than a matter of
‘But,’ said Snelman hesitantly, ‘to be quite honest with you, I don’t understand. I
don’t know what it is you want.’
‘I want to become a virgin again,’ she said for the second time. ‘It’s called
hymenoplasty. All you have to do is refer me to the Erasmus Hospital, nothing else.’
‘You know all about it, I see.’
Taziri laughed in embarrassment, and told him that she had surfed extensively on
the internet. She had found scores of websites and forums, which discussed the pros
and cons. ‘This is a hot topic with us, you realise.’
‘Tell me about it,’ he said, ‘I’d like to know what considerations you’re taking into
‘We want to do it mainly for the wedding guests. After the wedding night they
hang out the bloody sheet, so that everyone can see the deed has been done. It’s the
tradition there, you see. We don’t want to deny them that pleasure.’
Not even if it’s fake, Snelman was about to ask, but he kept the idea to himself.
‘And what about Ab?’ he asked. ‘Have you discussed it together?’
Taziri turned up her nose and said: ‘A bit. But to tell the truth, he doesn’t like
talking about that sort of thing. As far as he’s concerned we can simply fake it. We
prick our fingers and let a few drops trickle onto the sheet.’ She laughed, as if she
could see it in front of her.
‘Basically,’ said Snelman, unfolding his hands, ‘basically hymen restoration is also
faking things.’
She looked at him understandingly. ‘Perhaps. But if we’re pretending anyway, you
see, I want to make it as real as possible. It’s playacting of course, like the rest of the
marriage. I want to play it as realistically as possible.’
Snelman reached for his notepad. ‘Fine,’ he said gravely, ‘but before I give you a
referral, I shall have to examine you. Just to be sure.’
Taziri asked what he had to be sure of.