Welcome to Letters from Quotidia Postscripts Episode 16– a podcast by Quentin Bega for listeners who enjoyed that Irish phenomenon- the crack! in the Letters, Postcards and Postscripts from Quotidia published since the beginning of 2021. Quotidia remains that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.
I want to talk now about a woman I’ve never met. She’s wearing an olive-green hoodie and she’s sporting a shoulder-length crop of bright-red hair and she’s looking at me with a grim smile from a book of poems from the war in Ukraine. her name is Anastasia Afanasieva. She is a renowned poet with numerous translations and awards. She also, according to my muse, Wikipedia, works as a medical psychologist in Kharkiv. The lines from a poem of hers I’m going to quote are translated from the Russian by Olga Livshin and Andrew Janco. Putin thought that his invasion of Ukraine would see Russian-speaking Ukrainians flocking to his cause. In fact, the opposite happened. Many Ukrainians who have been speaking Russian from birth are deliberately switching to speaking Ukrainian as a mark of defiance. Here’s what Anastasia Afanasieva has to say.
1. We live here,/on the line.//In the devil’s belly,/that’s where// 2. I came back/Barely made it/Took a while to get everyone out/…my parents…brother my sister my/pregnant daughter/I got them all out./ Out of that damned house/…What it took me to get them all out/ you can’t imagine/ one by one/ Right from the belly of the beast/ But I got them all out//And now my daughter/yes, the pregnant one/Says she wants to return/She’s headed back tomorrow/She has someone there/A man she loves/See, he stayed back there/And love, well/You know how love goes/With those young people/You know how it is for them/Anything for love//
Oh, yes. Anything for love. War turbocharges everything: love, death, poetry, you name it. Grotesque cruelty? That too. But I want to foreground what love means in times of war. And Anastasia Afanasieva, with the forbearance of mother’s everywhere, understands, despite everything, what lies behind her pregnant daughter’s choice. And now another story from Kharkiv- this happened just a few weeks ago: a chimpanzee escaped from the zoo there and was wandering the streets. But all was well- the staff found the chimp and after an exchange of hugs between the chimp and its keeper, they draped it in a yellow raincoat and transported it back to the zoo on a bicycle! Stories like this go some way in restoring your faith in human nature, don’t they?
Bruce Springsteen’s Devils and Dust is the something borrowed for this section of the post. I bought Springsteen’s Greetings From Ashbury Park in 1973, acquiring quite a few of his LPs, CDs, and streams over five decades. He is a huge and influential talent and has reached multiple millions with his music and stories. This is the first song of his that I’ve ever sung or recorded- go figure! It’s sort of folky, and I guess it fits the subject matter, too. It’s about a soldier during the Iraq War, reflecting about issues of faith and right and wrong as he processes the death, in battle, of his friend Bob. To preface the song, here is an excerpt from Iraqi-American poet, Dunya Mikhail’s poem The War Works Hard
How magnificent the war is!/How eager/and efficient!/Early in the morning it wakes up the sirens /and dispatches ambulances/to various places/swings corpses through the air/rolls stretchers to the wounded/summons rain/from the eyes of mothers/digs into the earth/dislodging many things/from under the ruins…/Some are lifeless and glistening/others are pale and still throbbing…/ The war continues working, day and night./It inspires tyrants/to deliver long speeches…/it contributes to the industry/of artificial limbs/provides food for flies…/It works with unparalleled diligence!/Yet no one gives it/a word of praise. Here, now, is my take on Bruce Springsteen’s Devils and Dust: [insert song]
For the second time in this Postscript, I wish to talk about a woman I’ve never met- and to do this I need to refer to Letters From Quotidia Episode 41, published on March 22nd 2021, where I featured a song about Rose, my paternal grandmother. In the mid-1990s, my nephew did a little delving into family history and rattled some skeletons in the closet. My grandmother had taken a trip to Germany on a ship captained by her husband in 1914. It would have been the chance of a lifetime back then- and not at all usual. I guess it provided Rose a break from the harsh domestic grind of rural life in the Glens of Antrim in that era. But it was really bad timing- I mean, how were they to know that the war to end all wars would break out as they docked in the port of Hamburg?
As subjects of Britain, they were interned- but separately. However, within a year, perhaps because she was a woman with three young boys waiting for her in Glenarrife, she was returned to Ireland without her husband. The stress and worry broke her mind, and she was confined to an insane asylum in the town of Antrim in the county of the same name in Northern Ireland where she died in 1917 without knowing the fate of her husband. He did survive the war and later remarried. But mental illness was a shameful thing for that generation so the only thing I heard about Rose growing up was, she died early because, she was delicate, highly strung, and other euphemisms of the kind.
My nephew, a journalist, managed to gain access to her medical records through Freedom of Information legislation and I was hurt to read about her pain, set down in clinical prose by the treating physician. In a subsequent email, my nephew informed me: she is still remembered by her kin. Rose has a simple marker in the Bay cemetery, Glenariffe, and flowers are still being placed on her grave. Love, again, trumps all the vicissitudes that war, inevitably, leaves in its wake. The version of the song, Rose, that I feature now is not the guitar-and-voice example of Letter 41, but a Band in a Box/Realband reworking of the material that I recorded a couple of years back: [insert song]
Ever wondered why men predominate as philosophers of despair? If Nietzsche was the stateless exile of the 19th Century, then his 20th century counterpart was the Romanian-born exile to France, Emil Cioran who has a large following among gloomsters of every age and stage. He wrote in 1998 If it is true that by death, we once more become what we were before being, would it not have been better to abide by that pure possibility, not to stir from it? What use was this detour when we might have remained forever in an unrealized plenitude? Samuel Beckett, the Irish playwright, and novelist, also an exile living in France more or less contemporaneously with Cioran, had this to say through the character of Pozzo in Waiting For Godot “They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.”
According to Fernando Olszewski on the website Metaphysical Exile, Cioran wrote in his book The Trouble with Being Born,: “Better to be an animal than a man, an insect than an animal, a plant than an insect, and so on. Salvation? Whatever diminishes the kingdom of consciousness and compromises its supremacy.” According to the philosophy of despair the ideal world would be inhabited by rocks. I am a rock, anyone? So, taking my cue from Paul Simon, I also decided to write a song about alienation-titled Why Bother? Want to hear it? [insert song]
Only the village idiot thinks they belong, asserted Emil Cioran. Oh well, I guess I’d better rummage through my closet for my uniform of motley and set that dunce’s cap upon my pate because against all the evidence presented by the philosophers of despair, I actually think I do belong here. But, like Beckett because the writing is thought-provoking, Cioran is worth reading. One of his aphorisms that I relate to is: What do I do from morning to night? I endure myself. (!) Yeah, I get that. So, until the next postscript drops, from the wild and nihilistic wastes of Quotidia, do please take care and keep the darkness at bay with endurance that only love can give.
Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.
Technical Stuff: Microphone- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text.
For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.