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« Eulogy to be delivered upon the ASSASSINATION and burial of Frances Fox Pivens: (Norman Costa) | Main | Egypt?...(omar) »

January 26, 2011


Finally the mysterious word 'cronica' is explained. Although the term 'vignette' wouldn't be a bad equivalent, based on what you describe as the predominant characteristics of the cronica.

Incidentally, I have personal knowledge that the Italian customs haven't eased up in the five decades (probably more) since Ali wrote Rosogolla. I recently learnt that they still don't allow anything across the border carried by individuals, that may be ingested by mouth including vitamin supplements, without a doctor's prescription or some kind of import license. But just as every draconian measure comes with a loophole, this too can be circumvented. With the EU regulations regarding border crossing now, you can "land" and go through customs in one of the member countries and "drive" into another without a second customs stop. I inadvertently and successfully carried some food stuff into Italy a couple of years ago (without being aware of the Italian customs' customs about ingestibles) because my port of entry was Amsterdam where I cleared Dutch customs. The rest of the journey was by "domestic" plane (from Amsterdam to Munich) and then by car through Austria and Italy. I did not have to go through customs in any of the other three countries - only had to follow the posted speed limits.

Galeano presents vignettes that are part of a collective whole. I see a difference between that and cronicas, which are free-standing pieces, unrelated to others. Hard to explain, but the difference is not crucial. I have two anthologies in English called sudden fiction that are somewhere between short stories and cronicas, closer to the latter in length. Short stories are from ideas that few people other than the authors may have. Cronicas, are chronicles of the time about chronic conditions (that everyone might know or can relate to). Rosogollas is a cronica of experiences with customs searches. We all have similar experiences that we love to exchange once the subject is broached. In sharing we are tickled by commonalities and differences of what is at base the same experience which lightens what might have been a bad situation. The Portuguese example I mentioned of negotiating fares is also a common experience these days with the crazy quilt of air fares. One has to laugh at the situation if it didn't cause us anxiety, and anxiety too is laughable when the moment is past. Tones range between wit (in language) to ha-ha funny (as in a joke) with a gradation of humor in between. Seriousness and downers don't often work unless it is a new look at a serious issue expessed as opinion and not a complete and balanced exposition. An outraged complaint to the chief of police is not a cronica, making fun of the police chief for some perceived illogic in enforcement is, as would be an idea for redress that no one seems to have thought of. The latter two are apt to be read by more people with interest. Personal experiences are often published as cronicas for their potential to interest others as unique to the author. The article that Ruchira sent us about Bengalis in winter has every aspect of the cronica. Americans would love it too. The art is in captivating a variety and numbers of people by writing on an isolated subject with a modicum of words.
Here are thumbnails of the examples in my anthology
- A growing city causes problems for the mailman
- A young reporter learns a lesson in humility from the bread man
- A newcomer to Brasilia discovers a solution to pedestrians' woes
- Government bureaucracy defeated!
- A chubby lady has a harrowing experience in Copacabana
- The author laments the time he wastes each day
- Routine leads to a misunderstanding at the movies
- A timid gentleman is surprised when he dials the wrong number
- Some ordinary events that newspapers do not usually report
- Family get togethers on Sundays in Copacabana
- Sunday afternoon in a small town
- Problems of a temporary bachelor
- A monkey creates a problem in classification
- Observations on modern technological jargon
- The Brazilian way of procrastination
etc. You get the picture and I bet you can imagine what quirky direction the cronica may take off in. It's all R.K.Narayan in Brazil, with Rio as Malgudi, and a few drops of ink, or a small stub of a pencil, or a single sheet of paper. To give you a clue of #2 ...
The journalist hears a knock at the door and asks "who is it?" The answer he gets is "It's nobody. I'm the breadman", which may be interpreted in more ways than one by someone with too much education. The whole occupies a page and a half. You could find the same linguistic conundrum in everyday Tamil or Malayalam. Ruchira could write a funny page and a half on this call and response as it sounds to someone who knows only English, or Tamil.
Ma : Khokon, ekhene esho! (Khokon, come here / inge vaa da)
Kid : Jai Ma! (Going, Ma / Porein, Ma)
The jewish mothers example is a variation on a common theme.

Thank you for bringing Syed Mujtaba Ali to my attention, Ruchira. I know next to nothing about Indian and Pakistani literature.

Pepito, too bad that not "a single" good translation of Syed Mujtaba Ali is available in English (I don't know if anyone has attempted it in other languages). Otherwise you would give my recommendations as you did with Vargas Llosa and other South American writers. The piece about the Indian sweets and the Italian customs official that Narayan found on the web is a only a pale version of what was written in the original Bengali. But let me see. If I locate some good books with competent translations of Indian / Pakistani writers, I will e-mail you a short list.

Since you mentioned R.K.Narayan, have you read his My Dateless Diary? Those would definitely fall into the category of 'cronicas' as you have defined it. It came with lovely musings on the ubiquitous ads on 60's TV in the US, his review of the terrible coffee that prevailed in the cafeterias of the time, and more. I used to have a tattered,teddy bear of a copy that always sat in my handbag, pulled out at odd moments when I had to wait in a line. I don't know where it has gone now :(

How about Barthes' Mythologies?

Dean :
Your comment proved too cryptic for me. Perhaps you would elaborate a little. I looked at the link. The TOC had entries that suggest cronicas, but what little textual matter was provided went over my head and might be much too serious for casual readers. Instead of Barthes, people who come to mind in this context are Thurber, Perelman, Dorothy Parker, Fran Lebowitz, Russell Baker, Woody Allen, Calvin Trillin, and a host of other wits when they are not going for out-and-out guffaws and side-splitting laughter, but merely warmth and chuckles.
I recommended this book to Ruchira after reading much of it. The translator in her introduction called the essays cronicas, even though is no humor intended and no attempt at brevity. She knows better than I. Antonio Lobo Antunes is always mentioned as the writer who should have got the Nobel instead of Saramago (not to denigrate the dead). The New Yorker article is infinitely better than Wikipedia if you want to know about him. He may be closer to Barthes than those I cited above. I haven't read any Barthes but suspect that he appeals more to lit-academics. You may educate me on this.
Another serious writer whose short essays have been called cronicas is the Brazilian Clarice Lispector. Worth looking into also.
It takes effort, a certain mind-set, and considerable skill to make a point with wit in a page or two - and make the reader smile.

Narayan: You are correct that Barthes' appeal is mostly to literary theory types, and Mythologies is not exactly brimming with humor. But it does have funny passages, the humor prompted by the prosaic academic delivery of an insight so familiar, yet expressed so succinctly and precisely. For instance, in the wrestling piece, there is this: "Thus the function of the wrestler is not to win; it is to go exactly through the motions which are expected of him." Barthes is writing in the mid-'50s of a phenomenon perfectly familiar to those of us born at the end of that decade. Part of the humor has to do with the fact that Barthes gives such serious thought to what we typically regard as a put-on and mindless entertainment.

The Lispector comparison is apt in a six-degrees way. Attention has been drawn to Lispector by, among others, Helene Cixous, a feminist literary theorist working in the Barthesian milieu of the academy, call it "postmodern," if you can stomach that term.

Dean : Thanks. I found Lispector through interest in Brazil. If there is a connection with her I'll try to read Barthes some day.

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