Saturday, May 12, 2007

Blue like an orange

Here I am, back on the western shore of the
Atlantic, stuck in the Philadelphia airport
with all flights to my next destination
a good two hours late. Finding a booth in
the whole airport, where to send an email
to warn the friend who was coming to pick
me up of the delay, proved to be a challenge.
No email in terminal F (as in f..), bus to
terminal C, walkway to terminal B, roundabout
way around the security checks, and finally
a "laptop connect" shop appears. Another
few minutes in line and then ten seconds
to send an email: total time 25 minutes.
No wireless of course. So is the high-tech

I finished two Strugatsky's novels on
the flight: "Hard to be a god" and "The
second Martian invasion".

Трудно быть богом

"Hard to be a god" is one of the brothers'
early novels, with "progressors" from an
advanced and enlightened socialist Earth
of the future observing and studying the
path of history on other worlds. The
scientistics of the "Institute of
experimental history" are disguised among
the population of a medieval society which,
in contrast to the theories on the development
of feudal societies they have been sent to observe
and validate, takes an unexpected turn towards
a fascist society, complete with witch-hunts
directed by a violent and obtuse religious militia
against intellectuals. The overall tone, despite
the dark and gloomy portrait it offers of the
unfolding of this alien (but perhaps not so alien)
history, remains more optimistic and hopeful,
in the portrait it offers of the terrestrial
observers, than many later novels. As close to
an action-adventure story as a Strugatsky novel
will ever get.

A nice detailed review and commentary of this
novel is available on Wikipedia:
Hard to be a god

Второе нашествие марсиан

"The second Martian invasion" is a short novel,
set in a small town in the Russian countryside,
where everybody has a name from Greek mythology.
Mysterious explosions in the night, followed by
movements of troops, announce the beginning of
the "Martian invasion" (it is never quite clear
throughout the story whether Martians have indeed
anything to do with it). Soon everything is quiet
again, but one infers from the unfolding events
that whoever the invaders might be, they have
taken over, or at least blended very efficiently
with the pre-existing power structure of the
local and national governments. People appear to
be largely unconcerned, save for the general
preoccupation of what changes of bureaucratic
rules and regulations the new powers might impose.
Soon, the official media start to advertise a new
brand of crops, which are a shiny blue color (a
reference, it seems, to Khrushchev's maze expansion
program) as well as a mysterious call for people
to donate their gastric juices, which are in high
demand with the alien rulers. The "Martians" pay
good money for gastric juices and for the replacement
of crops with the new blue corn, and this fact
seems sufficient to win over the majority of the
population, though nobody seems particularly
interested in the purpose of all this. That's
somehow the main line of the story, with different
characters showing varying degrees of dissatisfaction,
acquiescence or rebellion.

La terre est bleue comme une orange
Jamais une erreur les mots ne mentent pas
ls ne vous donnent plus à chanter
(Paul Éluard)

I'll spend some weeks hopping around
the US, and maybe I'll make some other
attempts at finding a more permanent
solution to my wandering existence.
I am harboring serious doubts that
it'll ever settle anywhere, but why
not give it another try?

Six hours later, I still haven't managed
to leave the Philadelphia airport, on what
was supposed to be a quick local connection
on a commuter plane. The plane never arrived,
was eventually (two hours after the scheduled
departure) replaced by another machine.
It got off the gate and spent the next two
hours waiting at the end of the runway, until
it burnt up all the fuel without taking off
(so much for reducing carbon emission),
it had to taxi back to a gate to refuel,
thus missing the window of opportunity for
departure ... and so on. That's what one
gets flying crappy domestic airlines.

All the while, what bothered me most was the
fact that I didn't have enough books with me
to read. With the two Strugatsky novels finished
by the time I got off the international flight,
I was left to wonder at how to spend the time.
I am not the type who can work in airports, but
I did manage to do a little thinking for lack
of anything better to do, and maybe prove a lemma
or two. The moral of the story is don't get caught
bookless in a groundstand: bring enough good stuff
to read for at least a whole day when you fly even
a local hopper. One never knows.