Monopoly (Photography)


By Mike Osborne

Mike Osborne on his series: Monopoly is set in Atlantic City and revolves around the historical connection between the city’s street grid and the iconic board game’s properties. Like Floating Island, which was published in 2014, the project is about the site and its history as well as the use of photography as a means of modeling the world. Originally inspired by “The Search for Marvin Gardens,” a 1972 essay by John McPhee, Monopoly translates the game board’s map into photographs that grapple with Atlantic City’s complicated past and present. This gesture of converting abstractions—the purple rectangles known as Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues, for example—into carefully rendered representations of actual places is mildly absurd but also serious, an oblique means of reflecting on the problems that have plagued many American cities over the last half-century.

Osborne notes that his statement was written well before Trump’s candidacy and election. The project was shot mostly between 2012 and 2014, and looking back, he explains that he “inadvertently tracked the demise of Trump’s casinos. While working on the photographs and a related video piece, Trump Plaza and, more recently, the Trump Taj Mahal closed.”

Mike Osborne is a photographer living in Austin, Texas. His work touches on a range of themes including architecture, landscape, history, and technology, ultimately taking the form of books and exhibitions. His first book, Floating Island, was published in summer 2014. Follow his work on his website here.

Two Reviews of Michel Leiris

Two Reviews of Nights as Day, Days as Night
By Michel Leiris

In her article titledNocturnal Disturbances in Diabolique Magazine, Samm Deighan gave Nights as Day, Days as Night a fascinating (rave!) review. 

A book that largely resists classification, this is a combination of surrealist autobiography (literally, in the sense that is was written by a leading Surrealist and figuratively in the sense that it is predictably and wonderful surreal), prose poem (which is how translator Richard Sieburth refers to it), and dream journal. Anyone who has a fascination with the Surrealists or 20th century Paris will find much to love and the work’s appealing strangeness certainly lingers in the memory — I can’t stop thinking about it.
Spurl’s new volume captures the poetry, absurdity, and beauty of Leiris’s book thanks to a translation from Richard Sieburth. A comparative literature professor at New York University, Sieburth specializes in writing about and translating German and French literature; perhaps I’m biased, because he has translated a number of some of my favorite authors, from Walter Benjamin and Georg Büchner to Henri Michaux, as well as Nerval, and I suspect his knowledge of the latter assisted him here. Regardless, he does Leiris proud.

And in The Pepys of Sleep (in Strange Flowers), Berlin-based writer/translator James Conway talks about dreams and literature; Michel Leiris, Raymond Roussel, and André Breton; and the real-life dream of an Italian game show. A highly recommended read.

As language rests from its customary labours, Leiris takes words apart, comparing them, rearranging them, rousing the associative logic slumbering in their syllables.

You can also read an excerpt from Nights as Day, Days as Night online at The Brooklyn Rail. 

Dreary Town (Photography)

Dreary Town

By Enrico Doria

Enrico Doria’s series Dreary Town was inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities: “Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.” Doria photographed his series with a Holga camera, capturing the towns of Sicily (Trapani and Palermo), Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, Sarajevo, Milano, Johannesburg, and Tallin.

Thanks to Doria’s distinctive look (high-contrast, slightly shaken, and deliberately imperfect), his photographs feel at times like glimpses. The glimpse of a man or woman going to work, or to the train station; a wanderer glancing upward. Yet there is a deliberate sameness to these glimpses, which extends from Johannesburg to Paris. The sameness of modern life, of the memories created by an identical commute. Here the well-traveled city is a receptacle of memories (psychically recorded by workers and travelers), which are all alike. Doria writes that he wanted to portray the “impersonality of the city, showing the cold regularity of some urban architecture and the small places in which many of us are living, sometimes in contrast with the spaces all around.” 

Enrico Doria was born in Palermo in 1978 and received his PhD in Genetics and Biomolecular Sciences at the University of Pavia. He currently works in Pavia. His photographs have been published widely in several national and international magazines, including LensCulture and Lomography. He has exhibited his photography, which he often shoots on medium format film, in various Italian and foreign cities, including at the Spaziofarini6 Gallery in Milan. Follow his work on his website here.

Doria recently prepared a book dummy for his photography series Esprits, which you can – and should! – check out here.

Lost De Quinceyean Dreams (Prose Poems)

Lost De Quinceyean Dreams

By Matt Schumacher

Illustration by Zhenya Gay of Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater

Illustration by Zhenya Gay of Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater


The 1821 revised Confessions were to contain “the crowning grace” of twenty to twenty-five dreams, but nearly all these prose poems were burned or lost. In one of these, De Quincey’s nightmare exiles him to a solemn, ruinous city.  Gargoyles guard its arched entrance, inscribed with a slogan from Ovid: Dolor Ipse Disertum Fecerat. The streets abandoned save for the sense no one lives here. Just when he’s sure no one’s about, a pallid gaunt man in a top hat and long black trenchcoat hurries out a small door and proceeds briskly toward the poet with pure purpose. The pale stranger nears, gray eyes staring maliciously into De Quincey’s. Then, like opiumsmoke, walks right through him.


Le flâneur magnifique, De Quincey dreams that, while walking down Parisian streets, he’s truly gliding backwards. The dream soon has him rushing faster in reverse, then flying head over heels, sire of some cyclonic gyre, flown down and swallowed by a south pole Symmes Hole, tumbling into hollow earth. Shivering high diver into stalictite caverns. Traveler, his sieve-like vessel leaking flames on subterranean rivers of fire. He wakes in the tower of Remedios Vara’s painting Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle. It’s frightening to be suddenly blinded by the glare of his threadbare suit, an incandescent gold. To see his shirtsleeves, now lava flows. His coattails fulgurite. And what a hat! An ash cloud plume, rising from the brim to sublime heights of cumulus. The crown stitched here and there with lightning.


De Quincey dreams of sleeping cities long before electricity exists, cities whose steeples truly knew the moon. Cities seemingly deeply asleep, save for a scant lantern swaying down an alley, or a single flickering, candlelit room. He dreams of sleeping cities, silent cities which won’t let a rustle, not one whisper, slip. Not one hum from Northumbrian lowlands. With closed eyes like locked apothecary doors. A flock of insomniacs resume their posts as woe’s own nightwatchmen. He dreams of passengers restlessly sleeping on trains, perturbed, yet failing to complain, keeping to themselves. He dreams of sleep deprivation’s selling its last estate, sits betwixt narcoleptic auctioneer and hypnogogue who, drifting off, forgets to bid. Cities slide by in shimmering nightclothes, slow Barcelonas, languid Madrids, embark in darkness’s black fabric. De Quincey dreams of new dreams silently settling in, like a scarlet ibis retires to its nest. Strange visions dilate strange eyes, open the white flower of so many nightblooming minds beneath so many thousand eyelids.


He dreams he’s a jockey galloping ahead of all of the other thoroughbreds on a steed named Celestial Hallucination, one of hundreds of horses the Zetas race in the United States to launder millions in fiendish proceeds. The horse gallops faster and faster, murdering the competition, then leaps steeplechase-style over the track and fence, metamorphosing beneath De Quincey into a manyheaded beast. Sudden heads of sabertoothed tigers and tyrannosaurus rex crane their necks to salivate on him. Their gleaming teeth can’t quite reach him. Burying his face in its mane, he grips the chimera tighter. Glancing down, he sees his legs and arms have fused into the beast. His limbs belong to the wild scaffolding and bellows of its wings, hot and loud as a jet engine, part of this monstrosity flying higher into the air, this thing shapeshifting all the while with fangs gaping, slavering jaws wide, soaring somewhere in the stratosphere, trying to eat him alive.

From Matt Schumacher’s unpublished collection A Missing Suspiria de Profundis

Matt Schumacher's collections of poetry include Spilling the Moon, The Fire Diaries, Ghost Town Odes, and favorite maritime drinking songs of the miraculous alcoholics. Managing editor of the journal Phantom Drift, he lives in Portland, Oregon.

Egypt in Silence (Photography)

Egypt in Silence

By Violetta Tonolli

Violetta Tonolli on “Egypt in Silence”: Living in Cairo makes me forget the feeling of silence. Living here accustoms us to a continuous and perpetual noise, one which becomes the soundtrack to each and every one of our lives.

Walking through thousands of bodies, which move slowly and continuously in every direction; walking through the cars, the donkeys and their carts, the bicycles, the motorbikes and the microbuses makes me feel part of a stream of life, but at the same time immensely lonely.

The rarity of the experience of silence makes it even more important and precious for me and so I tried to capture the silence of Cairo with my eyes, looking for visual expressions of emptiness which would restore an experience of wellness with my inner self, a positive sensation of solitude.

The aesthetics of silence accompanied me in the desert, where I looked for traces of human life, above all traces of abandonment, which would bring me a sense of inner solitude. This intimate feeling of solitude was linked to the one I felt in Cairo. The experience I uncovered through my camera has helped me to rediscover myself within the context of a conscious solitude; a solitude that has made me feel closer to the deeper parts of myself and, in consequence, more capable of appreciating and understanding the numerous faces of Egypt.

In this compilation, I gather the images that represent the path I walked to attain this feeling of silence.

Violetta Tonollli was born in 1989 and grew up in Milan. At the University of Turin, she read Arabic and English literature and developed a passion for photography, which she then devoted herself to. Following her graduation, she learned from Fulvio Bortolozzo, a well-known cityscape photographer and professor at the IED of Turin. She traveled extensively in Europe and the Middle East and resided for two years in Egypt.

Tonolli now lives in Paris, where she continues her work in cityscape and experimental photography. She has exhibited her project “Egypt in Silence” in the Goethe Institute in Cairo, and the project was published in the photography magazine REST. She received first place in the 2016 “L’anno della luce” photography competition hosted by Phos Turin.


The Fall (Short Story)

The Fall

By Virgilio Piñera

We had scaled the three-thousand-foot mountain. Not to bury a capsule there at the peak, nor to raise the flag of the bold alpine climbers. After a few minutes, we began the descent. My companion followed me, bound, as is usual in these situations, by the same rope that ringed my waist. I figure we had descended exactly ninety-eight feet when one of my companion’s cleated boots glanced off a rock, causing him to lose his balance and somersault ahead of me. Since the rope wound between my legs, it jerked me hard, and to avoid being tossed over the edge, I had to twist around backwards. He, in turn, directed his fall to the spot I had just occupied. His decision was neither ridiculous nor absurd; on the contrary, he was responding to a profound understanding of those situations still unlisted in the manuals. The force of his movement caused a slight adjustment, and I suddenly saw my companion passing like a meteorite between my legs, and then the jolt from the rope—fastened, as I mentioned, to his back—turned me around into my original position of descent. He, undoubtedly obeying the same physical laws as I, and having traveled the distance permitted by the rope, was flipped over backwards, which naturally brought us face to face. We didn’t say a word, but both of us knew that the headlong fall was inevitable. And so it happened that, after an indefinite period of time, we began to fall. Because my sole concern was to avoid losing my eyes, I put all my effort into preserving them from the terrible effects of the fall. As for my companion, his only worry was that his beautiful beard—colored an admirable gray like gothic glass—reach the plain intact, not even slightly dusty. So, with utmost determination, I covered the bearded portion of his face with my hands; he, in turn, placed his hands over my eyes. Our velocity was increasing by the second, as is required in these cases of bodies falling through space. Suddenly, I looked through the slight spaces between his fingers and saw a sharp rock raze the top of his head. Suddenly, I had to turn my own head to confirm that my legs had been separated from my torso by a rock, possibly of calcareous origin, whose serrated edge severed anything that came against it with the perfection of a saw used in the construction of ocean liners. With some effort, it is only fair to admit, we were saving my companion, his beautiful beard, and me, my eyes. It is true that now and then—every fifty feet or so, as I calculate it—a part of our bodies would be separated from us. For example, during five such intervals, we lost my companion, his left ear, his right elbow, a leg (I don’t remember which), his testicles, and his nose; I, the upper part of my thorax, my spinal cord, my left eyebrow, my left ear, and my jugular vein. But this is nothing compared to what followed. A thousand feet above the plain, all we had left respectively was the following: my companion, his two hands (only to the carpal bones) and his beautiful gray beard; I, my two hands (also only to the carpus) and my eyes. A slight fear began to possess us. What if our hands were torn away by another boulder? We kept falling. Approximately ten feet above the plain, a pole left out by a worker capriciously caught the hands of my companion. Seeing my orphaned eyes left totally unprotected, I must confess with eternal, unforgettable shame, I withdrew my hands from his beautiful gray beard to protect my eyes from any impact. I was unable to cover them, for my hands were immediately caught in the same fashion by another pole pointing in a different direction from the aforementioned pole, at which point we were separated from each other for the first time during the entire descent. But I couldn’t complain; my eyes landed safe and sound on the grassy plain and could see, a little ways off, the beautiful gray beard of my companion, shining in all its glory.


This story is an excerpt from Cold Tales, by Virgilio Piñera, translated by Mark Schafer.

Virgilio Piñera (August 4, 1912, Cárdenas, Cuba—October 18, 1979, Havana) was a playwright, short-story writer, poet, and essayist who became famous for his work as well as for his highly bohemian lifestyle. His best collections are Cuentos Fríos (1956, Cold Tales) and Pequeñas maniobras (1963, Little Maneuvers). Piñera’s stories blend the fantastic with the grotesque, with touches of paranoia, and even with madness. [via Britannica

Mark Schafer has translated poetry, novels, short stories, and essays by many Latin American authors, including Alberto Ruy Sánchez, Virgilio Piñera, Jesús Gardea, Antonio José Ponte, and Sonia Rivera-Valdés.

Featured image from the series “Riviera” by John Brian King.

derive (Photography)


By Mattia Sangiorgi

From Jakob von Gunten, by Robert Walser (trans. Christopher Middleton, NYRB):

If I were rich, I wouldn’t travel around the world. To be sure, that would not be so bad. But I can see nothing wildly exciting about getting a fugitive acquaintance with foreign places. In general I would decline to educate myself, as they say, any further. I would be attracted by deep things and by the soul, rather than by distances and things far off. It would fascinate me to investigate what is near at hand. And I wouldn’t buy anything, either. I would make no acquisitions. Elegant clothes, fine underwear, a top hat, modest gold cufflinks, long patent leather shoes, that would be about all, and with these things I would start out. No house, no garden, no servant, yes, a servant, I would engage a good, dignified Kraus. And then I could begin. Then I would walk out into the swirling mist on the street. Winter with its melancholy cold would match my gold coins excellently. I would carry the banknotes in a simple briefcase. I would walk about on foot, just as usual, with the consciously secret intention of not letting people notice very much how regally rich I am. Perhaps, too, it would be snowing. All the same to me, on the contrary, that would suit me fine. Soft snowfall among the evening glow of streetlamps. It would be glittering, fascinating. It would never occur to me to take a cab. Only people who are in a hurry or want to put on noble airs do that. But I wouldn’t want to put on noble airs, and I would be in no hurry whatever. Thoughts would occur to me as I strolled along.

Mattia Sangiorgi (1975–) lives in Ravenna, Italy. He studied Photography at the Academy of Fine Art of Ravenna and at IUAV University in Venice, where he met Guido Guidi and started to collaborate with him. He is currently interested in ordinary anthropized landscapes. You can see more of his work on his website.

Sangiorgi photographed derive in Ravenna. The series is available as a book from Osservatorio Fotografico at this link.

Amsterdam, 1900 (Essay)

Amsterdam, 1900: Guided by Monsieur de Bougrelon

By Sander Bink

This essay first appeared in Dutch at

In a decadent villa in Amsterdam North, on our crowded desk at the rond1900 offices, for a while a nice little book was waiting for us to review: Monsieur de Bougrelon by Jean Lorrain, for the first time in English translation. You, the well-read Decadent, of course already know of this gem of a novella, which was first published in 1897 and is set in fin-de-siècle Amsterdam. If you are a good Decadent you have read it in the original French in a first or early edition, or otherwise you might have read it in the 1978 Dutch translation Denkbeeldige genietingen (Imaginary Pleasures). Although this translation by Jeanne Holierhoek is, as far as we can judge, quite good, it was still made some forty years ago and a new translator might do it just a little differently today, thus keeping the text alive for a new generation of readers. Unfortunately in our small country it seems to be quite uncommon to translate classic French Decadent writers, let alone translate one of their texts anew. Dutch literary publishers seem to have very little interest in the French Decadents in general, despite their lasting modernity and literary value.

So we recommend that you buy this recent edition by the delightful new independent publisher Spurl, to keep your Lorrain collection up to date but also because it is a good-looking book and the modern translation keeps the text fresh and sparkling. Their site also links to the justly unanimous rave reviews of Bougrelon, which contains a detailed afterword by the translator Eva Richter.

And since quite useless details are our specialty here at rond1900, we wish to add something to that already-quite-interesting afterword. As you might know, Lorrain is one of our favorite writers, whom we wrote about earlier. But the reason for this review’s delay is that we wanted to tell you all about Lorrain’s stay in Amsterdam and to what extent he fictionalized this experience in his novella. That Lorrain visited Amsterdam in 1896, together with Octave Uzanne, is a fact, but we would like to know in which hotel he stayed, with whom he had contact, which places he visited exactly. Did he, for example, visit our decadent Amsterdam North? In Bougrelon the North Holland Canal is mentioned, as well as Monnikendam, and did Lorrain himself visit the nowadays-very-hip Tolhuistuin, which is mentioned in Chapter Six? That would be a nice literary coincidence, as about the same time Gerard van Hulzen immortalized this location.

That Lorrain must have at least had some Dutch connections we hope to have shown in a previous article about Wilde’s favorite painter Leonard Sarluis for The Oscholars (no direct link available). Lorrain was part of a Dutch-French social circle that must have included Alfred Jarry, Carel de Nerée, Antoon van Welie, Louis Couperus, and Sarluis. Unfortunately we have not found any documents or letters that could have shed more light on Lorrain’s stay in Amsterdam and his possible (literary) connections there. Some of his stories were translated for the avant-garde periodical De Kroniek, so he was possibly in touch with main editor P. L. Tak.

But we did find, thanks to the digitized historical newspapers, a very curious case of the reception of Jean Lorrain in the Netherlands. In or around 1900, Van Holkema and Warendorf published an Illustrated Guide to Amsterdam and Environs. Its anonymous author appears to have been a great fan of Monsieur de Bougrelon but deems it necessary to introduce the work to his readers, as apparently it was not that well-known.

This guidebook, nowadays a rare book itself, is one of the earliest Dutch mentions of Lorrain’s masterpiece. Maybe even the very first, but regardless it is the most extensive mention.

In Chapter Nine the author takes the liberty of borrowing Lorrain’s character to guide the reader to some of Amsterdam’s hot spots, like Kalverstraat and Buffa the art dealer’s gallery. It makes for some interesting and amusing reading. For your reading pleasure, we here translate and quote the first part of that chapter. The entire book can be read (in Dutch) here.

Illustrated Guide to Amsterdam and Environs

Chapter Nine

Walks through Amsterdam
Guided by Monsieur de Bougrelon.

Do you happen to know the hero of the amusing little book that Jean Lorrain wrote about Amsterdam and which bears its hero’s name as the title, Monsieur de Bougrelon?

As I look at you, rows of national tourists seeking joy as well as comfort, who each year set out to see the world’s eighth wonder, which is to be found in the world’s ninth – our great capital, right? – and if I would browse through your city bags, purses, suitcases, florid valises, travel baskets, German baskets, coffrets, sacks, pompadours, satchels, and bahuts with the curiosity of a landlady looking through the belongings of a new tenant who is already a month behind on the rent, then I would probably find a copy of Warendorf’s Travel Library, which you have been reading as compensation for the monotony of the journey, or an illustrated magazine like Die Woche, but I won’t even find mention of Monsieur de Bougrelon’s name in the newspaper that is wrapped around your “sandwich for the road,” a sandwich that is a symbol of the tenderness of a mother, sister, wife or girl, but which is nevertheless doomed to never reach its destination.

The “sandwich for the road” has become like the Chinese man’s prayer, which keeps existing but has no more meaning. Like the tragic remains of ancient times, of carriages and track boats, it has survived, a gray old man with a wrinkled face, a stranger amid modern comfort and modern luxury. The “E pluribus unum” of each station has become an epitaph for that “sandwich for the road,” as Amsterdam offers so many opportunities for one to refresh oneself well and at little expense that you are right to offer it to the boy who sells you The Nieuwe Rotterdamsche, Weekblad, Telegraaf, and Handelsblad, thus stopping his vocal trumpet. You are right to rush to a restaurant as soon as you arrive. Well, no, you are not right: why would you want to do that without our great friend, Monsieur de Bougrelon?

Look at him standing there in his long fitted frock coat, a large top hat bought at Meeuwsen’s Hat Shop rather crooked on his head, a truncheon-like walking stick in his hand, a pretty scarf tied around the most gracious of collars, a pair of Dent’s gloves from Mr. Sinemus’s store on Leidsestraat, and with a face you swear you have seen someplace before.

He already took hold of us, already joined us, already introduced himself, already pointed out the way around the tunnels of the Central Station to us, which is built too high, as compared to the museum, which is built too low.

Monsieur de Bougrelon, placing his walking stick with force into the ground that comes from the seas, leads the way to the Hotel Van Gelder on Damrak. This is quite a suitable place for you to stay, as your fellow Dutchmen possess three characteristics that make them excellent for hotels: they are solid, simple, and tidy. Look here, does not everything shine brightly? Look at this glassware, washed the way it should be, with a cold bath afterward, to get the pure lucidity that reminds one of jewelry. Ah, decency is the sister of tidiness! Really, you could swipe a finger underneath the cabinet and the bed and then swipe it on the white sheets without sullying them.

Rising already, Bougrelon glances at a large collection of bottles of “Kaiserbrunnen,” the most excellent of mineral waters, which had just arrived at the hotel again, and then you are obliged to follow him down Damrak, across Dam Square to Kalverstraat while he unfortunately only verbally burns down the new Stock Exchange and lavishes praise on the Royal Palace, whose silvery chimes ring out above the head of the lonely virgin who, he thinks, has done wisely by turning her back to all the ugliness that is behind her.

“The aorta of the city,” he says, “this Kalverstraat, which is only narrow so that no modern electrical tram shall disfigure it with its rows of gallows, whereupon beauty has been hung by executioners. We do not need a tram in this street. One walks through it like one walks through a beautiful and interesting book, and it is over before you realize it.”

Monsieur de Bougrelon suddenly stops in front of one of the big plate-glass windows of a stately house with a high façade.

“Beauty originates in the south. Here you are standing in front of the art trader Buffa’s gallery, one of the great attractions of your capital. The De Medicis brought the fine arts from Italy into my beloved France. But the Italians traveled farther north and it is the Lurascos, the Cossas, the Grisantis, the Boggias, the Valciollas, and the Buffas who brought art to your ancestors at the beginning of the nineteenth century, which was badly deteriorated by then. The Buffa brothers originally traveled to fun fairs with their etchings. The Venice of the North appealed to them and they settled here, on the Weesper Square, right near the Amstel. The sons expanded their father’s business and soon Buffa and Sons was of eminent importance in Amsterdam.

In 1836 the firm came into the hands of another son of the land of Dante and Petrarch, Mr. Caramelli, and today Mr. J. Slagmulder and Mr. P. J. Zúrcher are the owners of this booming art gallery, built across three houses on Kalverstraat.

“But you need not stand outside merely looking at the windows displays, although there is plenty of beauty to find there already. The rooms inside are free for anyone to enter and give an overview of the most beautiful and best Dutch painters, old and young, and more; beside the Israelsen, Marissen, Mesdags, Voermans, Witsens, and Mauves, you will see Daubignys, Montecellis, Daumiers, Henners, Ziems, Decamps, Millets.

“Quite often, when my old heart longs for the art-loving shores of the Seine, in whose wide stream the Louvre is reflected, I wander in front of this sanctuary of the arts and never do I leave unconsoled.”

(pp. 143-146)

Sander Bink is a Dutch scholar on fin-de-siècle art and literature, specializing in Decadence and Symbolism. He is the main contributor to He is currently working on a full biography of the Dutch Symbolist/Decadent artist Carel de Nerée (1880-1909).

To read more by Sander Bink, check out his articles on Jean Lorrain, Gerard Van Hulzen, and Jean Lorrain in the Netherlands in Dutch, as well as his piece on Carel de Nerée and Oscar Wilde in English.

Last House Standing (Photography)

Last House Standing

By Ben Marcin

Ben Marcin on “Last House Standing”: One of the architectural quirks of certain cities on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. is the solo row house. Standing alone, in some of the most distressed neighborhoods, these nineteenth-century structures were once attached to similar row houses that made up entire city blocks. Time and major demographic changes have resulted in the decay and demolition of many such blocks of row houses. Occasionally, one house is spared — literally cut off from its neighbors and left to the elements with whatever time it has left.

My interest in these solitary buildings is not only in their ghostly beauty but in their odd, almost defiant, placement in the urban landscape. Often three stories high, they were clearly not designed to stand alone like this. Many details that might not be noticed in a homogeneous row of twenty attached row houses become apparent when everything else has been torn down. And then there's the lingering question of why a single row house was allowed to remain upright. Still retaining traces of its former glory, the last house standing is often still occupied.

Most of Ben Marcin’s photographic essays explore the idea of home and the passing of time. “Last House Standing” and “The Camps” have received wide press both nationally and abroad (The Paris Review, iGnant, La Repubblica, Slate, Wired Magazine). More recently, Marcin has been exploring the myriad structures of the urban core in series like Towers, Streets and Stairwells. His photographs have been shown at a number of national galleries and venues including the Baltimore Museum of Art; the Delaware Art Museum; The Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, MA; The Center for Fine Art Photography in Ft. Collins, CO; The Photographic Resource Center in Boston; and the Houston Center for Photography. Last House Standing (And Other Stories) was featured in a 2014 solo exhibit at the C. Grimaldis Gallery in Baltimore. Marcin's work is also in several important collections including the Baltimore Museum of Art. He is represented by the C. Grimaldis Gallery in Baltimore, Maryland.


French Writers We Love (Art by Félix Vallotton)

Thank you for making 2016 a very decadent year for us!

We released Jean Lorrain’s fever dream of a novella, Monsieur de Bougrelon
“A singular and intoxicating experience” – James Conway
Barbara Payton’s absurdist, seedy memoir I Am Not Ashamed
“A dime store (in the best sense of the term) Notes from Underground – the bellowing of the underground woman” – Kim Morgan
And John Brian King’s arresting second photography collection Nude Reagan
“Both a grotesque imposition and an ugly seduction” – Moze Halperin

And in March 2017, we will publish a brilliant work by French God-of-letters Michel Leiris:
Nights as Day, Days as Night
Translated by Richard Sieburth, with a foreword by Maurice Blanchot

See you in 2017!

Authors pictured from left to right, top to bottom: Comte de Lautréamont, Alfred Jarry, Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, Félix Féneon; Jean Lorrain (the man himself), Joris-Karl Huysmans, Rachilde, Jules and Edmond de Goncourt; Pierre Louÿs, Stendhal, Honoré de Balzac, artist Félix Vallotton. – Illustrations by Félix Vallotton (1865–1925). 

Gasworks (Photography)


By Nikos Markou

Nikos Markou’s aesthetic – black-and-white film, shot with available light, stark yet intimate – is the perfect complement to the space of the Gasworks and those who work there. Unlike the Bechers, he goes past the building’s façade to catch glimpses of capitalism’s inner workings: men showering, relaxing, laboring in this plant that looks like it came out of a 1940s prison movie. In fact, Markou took these photographs in 1982–1984 at the Athens Gasworks, right before it ceased its operations, and years before it became the museum it is today. His photographs show the plant in its last iconic gasp.

Markou writes about this series, “What urged me to start working on this project was originally the look of the factory itself which, back then, had a dry unique character. I was interested in getting to know the workers so I started visiting them regularly, watching them work and depicting their lives any way I could. What I experienced throughout this process was definitely much more powerful than what is depicted in the photos, yet I hope that these manage to express, to a certain extent, the hardships that these people had to endure trying to make a living.”

Nikos Markou was born in Athens in 1959. He studied mathematics in Athens. He first entered the photographic scene with the publication of Perama in 1980 while also commencing his professional career in advertising and teaching photography (1985–1998). His interest focuses on the Greek landscape and people, and he has published two photographic monographs (Geometries, 1999, and Cosmos, 2003). He works with magazines, publishing houses, and large-scale export companies, while at the same time his works belong to private and public collections. He lives and works in Athens. Learn more about his work here.

You might also like…
Nikos Markou’s Perama
John Brian King’s LAX: Photographs of Los Angeles 1980–84

The Autopsy (Short Story)

The Autopsy

by Georg Heym

The dead man lay alone and naked on a white table in the big room, in the oppressive whiteness, the cruel sobriety of the operating theatre, where the cries of endless torments still seemed to tremble.

The midday sun covered him, and awakened the death-spots on his forehead; it conjured a bright green out of his naked belly and blew it up like a big water-bag.

His body was like a giant shimmering calyx, a mysterious plant from the Indian jungles, which someone had nervously laid at the altar of death.

Splendid red and blue colours grew along his loins, and in the heat the big wound under his navel slowly split like a furrow, releasing a terrible odour.

The doctors came in. Two friendly men in white coats with duelling scars and golden pince-nez.

They approached the dead man, and looked him over with interest, talking in scientific terms.

The took their dissecting equipment out of the white cupboards, white boxes full of hammers, bone-saws with strong teeth, files, gruesome batteries of forceps, small sets of giant needles like crooked vultures’ beaks forever screaming for flesh.

The began their ghastly handiwork, looking like fearsome torturers, with blood streaming over their hands. They delved ever deeper into the cold corpse, and brought forth its inside like white cooks disembowelling a goose.

The intestines wound around their arms, greenish-yellow snakes, and the excrement dripped onto their coats, a warm, foul fluid. They punctured the bladder; the cold urine shimmered inside like yellow wine. They poured it into large bowls; it had a sharp, biting stench like ammonia.

But the dead man slept. He patiently allowed himself to be torn at and pulled about by the hair, this way and that; he slept.

And while the hammer-blows rang down on his head, a dream awakened in him, a remnant of love which shone into his light like a torch.

Outside the big window, a great wide sky opened up, filled with little clouds swimming in light in the stillness of the afternoon, like small white gods. And the swallows circled high above in the blue, shimmering in the warm July sun.

The black blood of death ran over the blue decay of his forehead. It evaporated in the heat into a horrible cloud, and the dissolution of death crawled with its gaudy claws all over him. His skin began to fall apart. His belly grew as white as that of an eel under the greedy fingers of the doctors who dipped their arms elbow-deep in his wet flesh.

Decay pulled the dead man’s mouth apart, he seemed to be smiling; he was dreaming of a glorious star, a sweet-smelling summer evening. His decomposing lips trembled, as if touched by a fleeting kiss.

“How I love you! I have loved you so much. Shall I tell you how I love you? As you moved through the fields of poppies, yourself a flame-red fragrant poppy, the whole evening was swallowed up in you. And your dress, which billowed around your ankles, was like a wave of fire in the setting sun. But your head bent in the light, and your hair was still burning and flaming from all my kisses.

“So you went on your way, turning all the time to look at me. And the lantern swayed in your hand like a glowing rose far off into the twilight.

“I shall see you again tomorrow. Here under the chapel window, here where the candlelight falls from within, turning your hair into a golden wood, here where the narcissi brush your ankles like delicate kisses.

“I shall see you again every evening at twilight. We shall never leave each other. How I love you! Shall I tell you how I love you?”

And the dead man trembled softly with happiness on his white table, while the iron chisels in the doctors’ hands broke open his temples.

This story is an excerpt from The Thief and Other Stories, by Georg Heym.

Georg Heym (1887–1912) was the son of a Prussian military lawyer and rebelled against his conservative family to become one of the outstanding poets of the Expressionist generation in Germany. His first volume of poetry, Der ewige Tag, was published in 1911 to great acclaim. In January 1912 Georg Heym drowned when he fell through the ice while skating on the Havel river in Berlin.

Susan Bennett is a freelance filmmaker, writer, and translator.

Beautiful Boy (Photography)

Beautiful Boy

By Lissa Rivera

From Mademoiselle de Maupin by Théophile Gautier (Penguin 2006):

Just imagine not being able to grow by a single particle, a single atom. Unable to make the blood of others flow in your veins. Seeing always with your own eyes, neither more clearly, nor farther, nor differently. Hearing sounds with the same ears and the same emotion. Touching with the same old fingers. Perceiving a variety of things with an organ that is invariable. Being condemned to the same tone of voice, always the same accents, the same phrases and the same words, and not be able to go away, to hide from yourself, or escape to some place where you cannot be followed; forced to put up with yourself for ever, to dine and sleep with yourself, to be the same man for twenty new women, to drag around an obligatory person in the midst of the strangest episodes of your life’s drama, when you know your role by heart; to think the same things, to have the same dreams, what torture, what boredom!

Lissa Rivera is a photographer based in Brooklyn, NY whose work has received multiple grants and honors and been exhibited internationally. She grew up near Rochester, New York, home of Eastman Kodak, where as a child she was exposed to the treasures at the Eastman Museum. After receiving her MFA from The School of Visual Arts, Rivera worked professionally in collections, including the Museum of the City of New York, where she became fascinated with the social history of photography and the evolution of identity in relationship to photographic technologies. Beautiful Boy, Rivera’s latest project, takes her interest in photography’s connection with identity to a personal level, focusing on her domestic partner as muse. Lissa is represented by ClampArt in New York. Visit her website here and follow her on Instagram.

Current and upcoming exhibitions:

Centre Never Apart (Montreal)
October 5, 2016 – January 14, 2017

The Photo Review 2016
Gallery 1401, Philadelphia University of the Arts
November 4 – December 7, 2016

Portraits 2017
The Center for Fine Art Photography (Fort Collins, CO)
January 14, 2017 – February 25, 2017

Suicide Machine (Photography)

Suicide Machine

By Dan Wood

How did you choose the term “Suicide Machine” to describe this series? Once you chose the title, did it have an impact on what or how you photographed? Did this title affect the way people have responded to your series?

Originally the project was about the skateboard scene/culture in Bridgend (I’m an ageing skateboarder) and the narrative was going to be about how skateboarding saves lives – metaphorically.

I had already made a series about the South Wales skateboard scene, so I decided that I would step out of my comfort zone and make something completely new, with a new narrative. My wife was pregnant with our first child at the time so I wanted to focus it around that. The title did have an impact on what I shot. At first I found myself shooting mostly depressing scenes which were photographic cliches, and I was determined to avoid that. So I found myself going out on sunnier days and looking for more colourful scenes (this was my first ever colour project). The narrative was evolving all the time and I found myself constantly learning new things too.

The response to the series was generally good, although I was accused (on Twitter) a couple of times of glamourising suicide and being insensitive, which really made me angry as they obviously hadn’t read the project synopsis and were jumping to conclusions due to the title. I did feel though that I was entitled to make a series about my hometown and call it whatever I liked, and it was this that carried me through most of the time. The project was not directly about the suicides, it was about a town synonymous with suicide, and I kept having to explain that.

What was your experience like of publishing Suicide Machine?

The whole experience was pretty straight forward. I was very lucky in fact. The series had been featured on a popular blog called Another Place Magazine and the blog creator, Iain Sarjeant, emailed me out of the blue to tell me that he was starting a publishing house called Another Place Press – which would publish small, editioned, high quality, affordable photo books – and asked would I be interested in Suicide Machine being one of the first titles. Of course it was a no-brainer, the only downside being that we had about 6 weeks to put it all together, which was a test of character, especially as I had a trip to Iceland planned. But thankfully everything fell into place without incident and we managed to make the book exactly how I wanted it. I had just finished the project after 3.5 years working on it, so it was perfect timing; the book sold out within a month.

How has the modern omnipresence of photography influenced your artistic choices?

I’ve been constantly taking pictures for over 20 years and it’s something I will do until I die. I have to take pictures every day. The world is drowning in photography and I love it and hate it at the same time, but for me, putting a roll of film in a camera and going for a wander is what keeps me sane, and now that my daughter is old enough to come wandering with me, it’s just perfect.

Trying to get noticed these days is tough, but in some weird way this has helped me, as I now prefer to dig in deep and just make work regardless of the fact if anyone sees it or not. I’m done with constantly spending time on social media when the time could be used constructively. I saw a quote once that said “If a project is good enough, people will discover it” and that has been my mantra for a while now. I truly believe if work is good enough it will float to the top regardless of social media presence. This inspires me to just do the best I can and if certain projects of mine don’t get noticed, then they’re obviously not good enough.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a project called “Gap in the Hedge – The Bwlch,” which is well under way. The series explores a mountain pass that connects Bridgend to the South Wales Valleys. It is a reflection of a journey I made with my mother every Saturday to visit relatives when I was little. The pass itself was built in the 1920s and provided a lifeline for those “stuck” in the valleys, especially when it came to employment opportunities. I’ve also decided to include the immediate villages on each side of the pass in the project, so I think it’s going to be interesting to engage with the people of these villages and find out more about the pass and how they feel it has benefitted them in whatever way. I’m giving myself 2-3 years to complete this.

Born in 1974, Bridgend, South Wales, UK, Dan Wood – a self taught photographer – discovered photography in 1995 through skateboarding and the culture that surrounds it. Inspiration comes from a wide subject matter and although diverse, he considers himself predominantly a documentary photographer – shooting stories in both traditional and contemporary approach. His work has been featured in many publications including CCQ, Ernest Journal and Black & White Photography. He has participated in over 45 exhibitions both nationally and internationally; including 5 solo shows. Visit his website here.

A Dandy in Aspic: Review of “Monsieur de Bougrelon”

Contemporary caricature of Jules Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly by “L’Héritier” (Romain Thomas)

Contemporary caricature of Jules Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly by “L’Héritier” (Romain Thomas)

Head on over to STRANGE FLOWERS for James J. Conway’s remarkable writing on the most “eccentric, extravagant and extraordinary” personalities of the last 200 years. One of these extravagant dandies is Jean Lorrain, author of Monsieur de Bougrelon. Conway has written about Lorrain before, and his review of Spurl’s forthcoming translation is both insightful and entertaining:

But as his siècle hastened to its fin, Lorrain wasn’t going to cede the floor before offering a minor (and perhaps not even that minor) masterpiece: Monsieur de Bougrelon.
Monsieur de Bougrelon is the original dandy in aspic. Lorrain’s book is an archive that arrests life at its moment of greatest beauty, preserved in vitrines, suspended in solutions, arrayed in filigree caskets like saintly femurs and the many foreskins of Christ.
It is a reliquary, in other words, and this is precisely the term that the astute Rachilde, loyal companion to Lorrain and fellow adherent of Barbey d’Aurevilly, applied to Monsieur de Bougrelon. The Decadent’s very vocabulary is a collection of lexical curios, recherché jewels here lovingly transferred to an English setting.
It’s a singular and intoxicating experience that ends all too soon. When the ‘old puppet’ departs the stage, you may well elect, as I did, to leaf straight back to the Café Manchester and wait for his silhouette to fill the doorway once more.

And of course we love this sentiment about our books: “These prose works come with the thick black frame of a cigarette health warning or Sicilian funeral notice.

“Caveat lector.”

Monsieur de Bougrelon by Jean Lorrain

Trade paperback, 128 pages, translated from French with an afterword by Eva Richter. Free domestic shipping.

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Gifts from Spurl Editions

Get excited, because now you can show the world how refined your taste is in literature while looking stunning at the same time! Our store features a screen-printed tote bag so that you can carry your books to the French château you live in with panache, and an I AM NOT ASHAMED t-shirt that will quickly take over as your one true vestiary love.

I Am Not Ashamed T-shirt

This glamorous unisex t-shirt from Spurl Editions features the cover of Barbara Payton’s I Am Not Ashamed on the front, and the Spurl logo on the back. It was screen-printed locally by Windmill City Screen Printing on Next Level-brand shirts. Wear this shirt, and announce to the world: YOU ARE NOT ASHAMED.

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Spurl Tote Bag

This tote bag from Spurl Editions features a quote from Jean Lorrain’s Monsieur de Bougrelon on one side, and the Spurl logo on the other side. It was screen-printed locally by Windmill City Screen Printing. Wear this shirt, and announce to the world that you are a DECADENT MARVEL.

I am an idea in an era that has no more of them.

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The Seven Madmen (review)

The Seven Madmen, by Roberto Arlt

a review by Matthew Spencer

Now might be a good time to talk about Roberto Arlt. New York Review of Books recently published a translation of the Argentine’s second novel, The Seven Madmen, giving present-day students of the confidence game a rich source for comparative historical analysis.

Bamboozle an entire nation: that’s the mission Remo Erdosain (cuckold, small-time embezzler) sets for himself. The scheme proceeds by its own tortured logic. First, Erdosain must kidnap his wife’s cousin, Gregorio Barsut, and extort his life savings from him. Then, with the money as a seed investment, Erdosain will found a secret society under the direction of a man named The Astrologer, his patron and confidant.

Like many of the novel’s characters, The Astrologer simply appears in the narrative, with no other introduction than an epithet. His relationship to Erdosain is obscure. He lives at a weekend ranch on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, meeting with fellow charlatans and reactionaries. He occasionally does an astrological chart. For whom? That goes unsaid. Arlt’s characters do what they do without any apparent motivation but the will to power.

As Julio Cortázar points out in his introduction, the parallels between the author and his creation are salient. Born to an immigrant family in the slums of Buenos Aires, Arlt lived a life radically removed from mandarin contemporaries like Silvina Ocampo or Jorge Luis Borges. Without critical acclaim, inherited wealth, or a government sinecure, he struggled his whole life to achieve financial stability and the esteem of others.

Failure is palpable from the first sentence: “As soon as he opened the frosted glass door to the manager’s office, Remo Erdosain wanted to turn back; he realised he was a lost man, but it was too late.” Today, someone might use the term “radical vulnerability” to describe the near-constant soul baring that happens in The Seven Madmen. But the world Erdosain lives in has no reward for weakness. It crushes it, without pity. One can reasonably assume this was the case for Arlt as well.

In an early chapter, as Erdosain’s wife is about to leave him for her lover, Erdosain describes how his father instilled a lifelong sense of humiliation in him.

“When I was ten and I had done something wrong, he would say to me: ‘tomorrow I’m going to thrash you.’ That’s what he always said: ‘tomorrow.’ What d’you think of that? Tomorrow…so that night I would sleep awfully, like a sick dog, waking at midnight and staring fitfully at the window to see if it was already day, but when I saw the moon clipping the transom I would force my eyes shut, and tell myself ‘there’s a long time to go yet.’”

The omnipresence of failure seems to be drawn from Arlt’s own life. Finding little success in literary ventures, Arlt sought, like his creation, to make his fortune by patenting different inventions. When he died of a heart attack, at age 42, Arlt was working on a formula for run-free women’s stockings.

The novelist’s life as a part-time crank shows up again and again in The Seven Madmen. Erdosain has a scheme to make money by coating flowers with galvanized metal. He enlists a poor family to manufacture these tchotchkes, fully aware that they will probably lose everything for believing in him. As the novel closes, Erdosain visits them at their shack on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. He reacts with disgust at their state—the father Eustaquio is deaf and dying of tuberculosis, the daughter Luciana is in love with the feckless inventor. “I hope they all croak and leave me in peace,” Erdosain says to himself.

None of the conspirators really believes in what they are doing. Yet all are confident that events will play in their favor, perversely upending the famous dictum of Marxist politician and intellectual Antonio Gramsci: “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” This shared delusion is the glue that holds Erdosain’s would be revolutionary cell together. Each member believes that he stands to gain more than the man sitting next to him. In the end, little is accomplished except for a kind of collective self-mugging.

Does it need to be said that this novel, written in 1929, presaged a great deal? Only a year later, a coup d’état was staged against the President of Argentina, Hipólito Yrigoyen, ushering in what came to be known as the Infamous Decade: years of violence, corruption, and economic crisis. This is to say nothing of Fascism and the horrors of the Second World War. Now, with almost ninety years of history behind the novel, a reader can see the rise of demagogic movements through its oracular lens. But this is a stupid way to think about Arlt’s work.

The Seven Madmen succeeds precisely because it cannot offer the illusions of moral clarity that hindsight gives us. The narrative is just as constrained as its characters, just as subject to the same impersonal forces. Erdosain is benighted and Arlt forces us to live in the dark with him. Now, when moral righteousness is both the substance and currency of cultural politics, Art’s novel inspires empathy and contempt in equal measure, understanding and rejection, a feat that seems beyond the ken of today’s politically engaged writers.

Matthew Spencer is a writer and visual arts curator based in Seattle, Washington.

Imitation of Life (Photography)

Imitation of Life

by Ofer Wolberger

“I considered that the homes that people live in exactly describe their lives. They are always behind those window crossings, behind bars or staircases. Their homes are their prisons. They are imprisoned even by the tastes of the society in which they live. In All That Heaven Allows this woman is imprisoned by her home, her family, her society. They are imprisoned in two ways – by their personal habits, and by the class to which they belong, which is slightly above the middle class. The middle class is more anonymous. For instance, in All I Desire, it is the academic society which is another prison. The drama teacher is in love with the guy, but he can’t make a move. He wants his goddamned promotion. He’s in his prison, too. This goes all the way up to Written on the Wind. There they are imprisoned by wealth. They are the kaput haute bourgeoisie. They have gone from the simple society to complete decadence. But in between, in the upper middle class, there is upper middle class elegance only. That living room in All That Heaven Allows has a certain elegance. I worked for UFA as a set designer, you know. I believe my pictures reflect this, even in a sort of continuity. In Written on the Wind the mirrors that run throughout are marbelized. They are not clear mirrors anymore. Even the reflections have become clouded.

“In All That Heaven Allows the town is shown as being arranged around the church steeple. You don’t see them going to church, because that would be too much on the nose. But even that church is a prison, just like the homes, which are their cages. People ask me why there are so many flowers in my films. Because these homes are tombs, mausoleums filled with the corpses of plants. The flowers have been sheared and are dead, and they fill the homes with a funeral air.”

– Douglas Sirk

Ofer Wolberger currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 2001 with a Masters Degree in Photography and Related Media. In 2012, he completed 12 Books, a series of self-published artists books and was awarded the Printed Matter Award for Artists. In August of 2013 he was a resident at Light Work in Syracuse. Last year he published a book of photographs titled Billie and in February 2015 he will have a solo exhibition of his recent paintings at Stene Projects in Stockholm, Sweden. Visit his website here.


Oh Serafina! A Fable of Ecology, Lunacy, and Love (Fiction)

Excerpt from Oh Serafina!

by Giuseppe Berto

translated by Gregory Conti


In which, as Signora Palmira
remains rather frustrated,
another character leaves us.

He left, as is only natural, for his wedding journey. He had told the bride that, for their honeymoon, they would be going to the city of the Saint, and she had asked him if by chance he was referring to Padua, the city of Saint Anthony, which she had never seen but which she didn’t have much desire to see, and he had replied that it wasn’t Padua, and so she, a bit audaciously, had thought of San Remo, where at that very time they would be holding the Song Festival that ever since she was a little girl she had watched on TV, all three nights, before some obscure oversight committee had imposed on an entire country to do without two of the three. There, she thought, her strange and in many ways gloomy husband, by taking her to San Remo for the Festival, was fighting the arrogant callousness of people who, their own hearts having hardened, wanted everyone else’s to harden too. Fascists, Palmira called them, even though now, by matrimony and wealth, she was no longer a proletarian.

But, instead of San Remo, the city of the popular songs, Signora Palmira came to find herself in the city of Saint Francis of the downtrodden, Assisi, where, shit, there was a festival of sacred music going on.

However, it wasn’t for the sacred music that Augustus the Second had made the long journey to a place that was, all in all, out of the way, nor for the olive trees that “made the slopes pallid and smiling with sanctity,” nor for the clear sky and breathable air. He had pushed himself all the way there for the sole purpose of admiring, in person and up close, the famous painting by Giotto whose photographic reproduction he had hung in the Administration, on the wall opposite his desk.

Indeed, upon their arrival in the town so sweetly perched on its hills, Augustus the Second, even before going to drop their bags at the “Sister Moon” pension, where he had reserved a double room with bath, ran, holding his recent bride by the hand, to steal his way into the Upper Basilica, where he effortlessly discovered his painting. Nobody had ever told him so, but he knew that it was right there where indeed it was.

He stood before it, immediately fascinated, but then also a bit amazed and bewildered, not so much because of the extraordinary nature of the deed represented, for to him there was nothing extraordinary about it, but rather because, voila!, through the art of a consummate painter, something so fundamentally normal as chatting with a few songbirds was portrayed as sacred, or even miraculous, and in the end he felt, not without trepidation, caught up in the sacredness. And as this sort of spiritual uplift pervaded him, he kept on holding his recent bride by the hand, maybe out of distraction, or maybe because unconsciously he was hoping that even she, perhaps helped in some way by the flux of emotion that he himself was undoubtedly emanating, would rise to the sphere of superior perception and supernatural relation that we are accustomed to calling mysticism. But Signora Palmira, on account of her nature and constitution, was not cut out for such celestial journeys, and anyway the thing couldn’t even get off the ground due to the intervention of a humble Franciscan friar who came to say, so the lady was dressed in a way that was a bit too revealing, fine; so instead of praying she was constantly working her chewing gum, fine; but the transistor radio, crackling with the silly songs of that profane festival, had better be turned off.

“If that’s the way it is, we’ll go outside,” replied Palmira, full of decorum, and she put the accent on “we” so the little friar would understand that she would also be depriving the cult of Saint Francis of her husband who, if he had married her without so much as discussing it, must be the kind of jerk who did everything other people wanted him to do.

But her husband, without taking his eyes off of the sacred painting, replied, “You go outside, and don’t break my balls.”

Signora Palmira looked at him, at first incredulous but then very quickly indignant, hating him more than she had hated him up to that moment, because she could see perfectly well that the jerk would not be moved. So she stiffened her back and, still working her gum and listening to the radio, went out to the square in front of the church where, little by little, her anger waning but her self-pity waxing, she began to think that their marriage, which she had firmly desired not to say plotted for, might actually be a calamity if the man she married, instead of taking her to the San Remo Festival, had brought her to this place for losers that made her feel so sad.

Eight days they stayed in Assisi, and she never again set foot in the Basilica, where that friar had treated her so discourteously. She stayed in bed with her trusty radio and her thoughts, or, still listening to the radio but with fewer bad thoughts, she would go sit in the sun at a table in some outdoor café.

He, on the other hand, outfitted with a hunting stool he had bought for himself, spent the whole day, until the light grew too dim, sitting in front of his fresco, apparently a dullard but actually searching, although confusedly and at bottom without a lot of torment, a more uplifting justification for having found himself in the world talking to birds. Who knows, maybe he would have managed to find that more uplifting justification, or rather, in plain words, he might at least have gotten closer to his own state of holiness, but for the fact that in him, as in any other being, but in a form certainly more exalted and distinct, there was both good and evil, the wolf and the little boy, so that, after all that daytime uplift, when darkness fell, in a sort of schizophrenic dichotomy, he was overcome with lust and wantonness. So, in the double-room with bath at the pension “Sister Moon,” he threw himself like a mad man on the body of his bride.

He relished that body to the point of delirium, not only its perfectly modeled buttocks, but also everything about it that was soft and curvaceous. And there was plenty to relish. Abundant, firm breasts, round tummy, raised pubic mound, glorious hips, shoulders and arms and feet. He gazed at it, caressed it, kissed it, licked it, all the while emitting sounds of sensual gratification.

The bride, gum in her mouth and radio at her ear, let him do as he wished. Only sometimes, when it seemed to her that he was dragging things out a little too much, she would intervene to ask, “But when are we going back home? We can’t spend all this time away from the factory!”

“Signorina Rosa will look after the factory,” he answered, still grazing.

And she took offense. “She’s deaf, blind, old, and brainless. What do you mean she’ll look after the factory.”

“She’ll look after it. She knows how things were done in my grandfather’s time, bless his soul.”

Signora Palmira would have liked to tell him exactly what she thought about his blessed grandfather and his entire family of nut cases, but she held back, waiting for a more opportune time. She felt, how to put it, as though she were expanding.

Anyway, the time eventually came for them to head home.

As soon as they arrived, Augustus the Second went to the door of the bedroom where his mother had shut herself in, and said, “I’m back, Mama. Everything went fine.”

He got, obviously, no response.

Signora Belinda, as everyone knew by now, was not doing well at all. Her personal physician, Doctor Bardi, had come to examine her a few days ago and he was worried. Unable to come up with a diagnosis, he had advised hospitalization, but the patient had said no, and had refused to allow the doctor to examine her again. So her personal physician was kept outside the door too, asking her questions that never got an answer: Had she had a bowel movement? Did she have a fever? Feel pain, nausea, dizziness? Nothing.

A few days later, however, she sent for her son. She didn’t even look at him. She waited for him to come to the side of the bed, and said to him, “You’re the one who wanted me to die.”

Augustus the Second did not comment.

After a long pause, Signora Belinda added, “Your father was a halfwit, you’re a total nitwit, and your wife is a whore.”

Even then Augustus the Second made no comment.

Signora Belinda let an even longer silence go by, summoned her energies, and concluded, “The child that will be born is not yours. The father is Carlo Vigeva. And now, get out of here, let me die in peace.”

She died during the night, without any further disturbance.

Giuseppe Berto (1914-1978) started writing novels when he was a prisoner of war in Hereford, Texas, from 1943 to 1946. He went on to write some seven novels, as well plays and many screenplays, including several based on his own novels. He won all of Italy’s major literary awards, two of them in the same year for his masterpiece Il male oscuro (1964). All of his novels except La gloria (1978) and Oh, Serafina! (1973) have also been published in English.

Gregory Conti recently translated The Fault Line: Traveling the Other Europe, From Finland to Ukraine, published by Rizzoli Ex Libris. In addition, Conti has translated works by Rosetta Loy, Mario Rigoni Stern, Tiziano Scarpa, and Alessandro Barbero. After growing up in Pittsburgh and studying at Notre Dame (B.A. in American Studies, 1974), at Yale (M.A. Am. Studies, 1976), and at Yale Law School (J.D., 1980), he immigrated to Italy and now teaches at the University of Perugia. Follow his work on his website

The Black Sheep (Fiction)

The Black Sheep

by Gaurav Monga

I remember him sitting on a rock. We spent our shortened childhood among the poplar trees—features of an anonymous landscape so natural to a fabricated environment like the short story.

Our love for each other had not so much to do with any particular interest or affinity we shared but with the fact that we had the same nose, lips, cheeks, buttocks, although people, friends, would often say that he looked better than me.

I was the black sheep and I made sounds like one when I laughed. It has become increasingly difficult to refer to him when he is not around, which is why I have begun to draw pictures of him.

The person who has the same nose as me grew like a beanstalk in the same room I grew up in. I tucked him in the warm quilts of winter while he was asleep.

He has been away for many, many years, which is why I carry this image with me everywhere I go, because when I start speaking about him, no one, except for childhood friends and cousins who visited us in our room and played with our toys, knows whom I am talking about.

He sent me a telegram only yesterday saying that he was coming back home but that itself might take many, many years.

In the meantime there is a lot to do here, while waiting for him in the neighborhood. I must spread rumors about myself, showing photographs to even the old. I showed them his image. Then a photograph of me.

How is it that people who speak the exact same language don’t know each other already? We talk to each other as if we don’t know each other from a long, long time ago, speaking in the same language.

The man with the stick nose who grew up in the same room looks like me. Do you think we look alike because we grew up in the same room? A room is composed of matching furniture.

When he returns, he will carry on his face all the rooms he has been shacked up in. He will speak in a language I don’t understand.


He arrived yesterday afternoon at the doorstep of our house while I was looking for something. I was upset—I have spent much of my life looking for things and being upset—and could not give the attention I always wanted to give to this moment. What a stupid way of arriving. Should I have forgotten all about what I was looking for or should I have forgotten that he had arrived.

I continued looking but, distracted, forgot what it was.

I hopped around the porch while this tall, thin giant, whose nose had been pulled out even further, stood towering over my head in silence.

The moment was almost over, could have already been over, had we not suspended it so stupidly.


It was already morning and the image of our little blue house was now comprised of two noses sticking out of the windows on either side. Our mother had given birth to us on this bed. We still kept the same sheet, which both of us were born into, in one of the closets.

The umbilical cords were withering in my father’s drawers—as children we used to blow hot air into them—along with pens, visiting cards, pipes, pipe cleaners and dust. He spent the whole day inspecting the house, its articles, and didn’t pay attention to me. He stuck his nose into everything. He was probably wondering why nothing had happened here. 

Had it not changed at all?

Why did he not inspect me instead?

Did he not want to ask me how things were going with my new girlfriend?

Long noses are symbols of arrogance, everyone knows that. My grandfather had a squashed nose and was an extremely modest chap.

This man who grew up like a beanstalk in the same room as me began raising his voice and puffing hot air out of his nose and finally spoke, but his speech was soon disturbed by a burst of hiccups.

Before leaving, he loitered about on the front doorstep uselessly while I was busy looking for something.

Gaurav Monga studies East European cultures and Jewish studies at the University of Basel and teaches at the International School Basel. For the last five years he taught creative writing at schools and universities across South Asia. This current work is a part of a collection entitled Raju and Kishore. Some of his other work can be read at Birkensnake, Zero Ducats, Juked and Philistine Press. He has forthcoming work in the Fabulist and Hardly Doughnuts. He is the founder of a fledgling publishing house called Pan’s Library that specializes in books that explore the diverse relations between text and image and can be reached at

Featured Image: Two Children in Blue, attributed to Mary B. Tucker, American, 19th century, about 1840, Watercolor and graphite