Hannah- The Choir of Ten


A long time ago, in a land now called another name, there was a Monastery known for its choir.  It’s numbers were dwindled; only ten monks in the choir remained, and they were very old.  These ten were unlike their holy Brothers; they sounded, when they spoke, like little boys, and when they sang, like sweet angels.  Now there is a word for men such as this, but then there was none, or if there was, it has been lost to time.  

In those days, a bloody war raged across the countryside. Every man in the nearby village was either dead or fighting, so no one was left to defend the Monastery when Roman mercenaries struck.  By a week’s time stores were depleted, and when there was no food or drink or cattle left the Romans grew bored and, in boredom, violent.  The monks gathered in secret to  plan how to save themselves from their captors.  They decided that the choir of ten would sing for the soldiers, and when they became entranced by song, the rest of the monks, who were younger and swifter of foot, would escape.  

So decided, a concert was hosted, and the Romans came because in their travels they had heard of the magnificent Monastery choir.  The choir sang to their captors for many hours, and the Romans were so entranced by their angelic voices that the other monks escaped the Monastery unnoticed.  When the mercenaries realized how they’d been tricked, they were enraged.  They killed all the monks of the choir, save two.  These two, the soldiers took from the Monastery back to Rome as gifts for their masters.  

It is for this reason that there are castrati in the south, in Italy and Germany and France, but not in the north, not in Norway. It is also for this reason that the oldest hymns of the castrati choirs are Nordic.  Go to Rome, go to the Sistine Chapel, and you will hear.

Excerpt (Accompanied by Yasna New York Bulgarian Women’s Voice Choir: Tri Bjulbjula)

We speak very little.  Our voices, when they are not singing, unsettle our brothers.  We are also old, and leave excitement and fear to the young for carrying.  

Then it is decided, they say.

Yes, they respond, it must be so.

And who will close the wooden doors?

Brother Bruegel will close the doors.

So we will stay? we ask.


Do you understand? brother Bruegel asks us, you will sing while I close the wooden doors.

Us? we ask, and sit there.

Yes, who else?

And when we are done singing? we ask.


We can’t, we exclaim at once.  They wince at our words, at their pitch, so high, like children pleading.

Why not?

Because God won’t know our voices unless we are singing.

Then sing your prayers.

We can’t do that either, we say, we have not rehearsed them.

Quiet, brother Bruegel says, you’re always contradicting.  It upsets everything, all this contradiction.

All right, we say, so we’ll be quiet, so we’ll go sing.

And nobody holds us back, either, as we shuffle, not pushed, towards the Choir screen.

* * *

The soldiers are gathered round the screen, standing or sitting on the floor.  We look neither right nor left but shuffle straight.  Gudbrand, the last of us, carries the thurible.  He swings it so clouds of incense trails us slowly up the steps.  Our feet drag on the floor.  The soldiers make suspicious noises, but why should they, we don’t look much.  The last of us is in line then, shoulder to shoulder.  And we open our mouths towards heaven and close our eyes and listen to the silence, each of us to his own.  And we imagine to ourselves the fields and hearths of old homes, all the places  we’ve been separated from since boyhood, enveloped in our silence.  And then, lilting out of our lungs, past gaps in our teeth, past whiskers, bursts our voice.

Brother Bruegel faces us from the door, behind the soldiers.  It will be the last time he sees us, we think.  A horde of Romans surrounding us, ten grizzled old men with long arms and unrivaled lung power pushing through our small, child-sized vocal cords.  


Gert Hofmann- The Parable of the Blind (1985)


A long time ago–though not so long ago that people were very much different from how they are today–six blind men lived in a barn.  These blind men were travelers; the barn was a temporary residence, as was Pede-Sainte-Anne, the village in which it stood.  They lived in this particular barn because a great painter was going to paint them in a picture.  The six blind men did not know why anyone would want to paint them, but the painter had promised to feed them if they agreed, and besides they had never been painted before, nor knew anyone who had.  Someone told the six blind men that they would be painted stumbling and falling and screaming, but could not say if they should practice ahead of time.  

The day of the painting, the six blind men were led to breakfast. After they had eaten, a boy took them behind a barn to defecate only it was not behind a barn at all but on the village green!  Distrustful of their devious guide, the six blind men decided to find the painters house on their own.  Their designated leader was the eldest of the six (this they deduced because he had the fewest teeth), a man called Ripolus.  On good days Ripolus could distinguish if the sun was shining even without feeling it’s warmth.  For hours they wandered in many directions, and stumbled and hurt themselves, until at last they arrived at the painter’s house. They were greeted by the painters’ maid and the painters’ gardener, who positioned them in view of the painters’ window.  They were told to join hands and stumble, one after the other, off a bridge into a watery ditch.  This they must do over and over again until the painter had captured the most relevant details. It was also important, they were told, to scream.  

For hours, the six blind men screamed and stumbled and fell into the ditch, and become very cold and tired, until the gardener had to lift them from the ditch so that they could fall into it again. The six blind men asked the painter why he wanted to paint them, but the painter said that their question was too big for him to answer.  At last the painter was satisfied with his work, and told the six blind men he did not need them anymore.  Thus dismissed, the blind men again wandered for hours in many directions, until they were returned to their barn.

It is from these events that you see this painting before you, this most magnificent rendering of Matthew the Disciples’ words “Leave them; they are blind guides of the blind. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

Excerpt (Accompanied by : Bach’s Cello Suite #1 in G, by Kevin MacLeod)

So you want to paint them screaming? the good friend says–not to us but in the other direction.

Yes, screaming, the painter says.

And at the window he explains to his good friend that, ever since he was a child, he’s been hoping to portray convincingly one day the human scream, and with a picture like that to make all the other pictures he’d painted forgettable. (Also all the pictures painted by other people.) Into this concluding and ultimate picture he’d like to put everything he had to say about the world, but so far he hadn’t been able to paint a picture like that.

And the scream, what’s the scream? (the friend asks)

Well, the scream is naturally the terror, the cause of which, I willingly confess, the painter says, I haven’t till now looked for patiently enough–and he starts to walk again. But he wants to look for it. And when he wants to paint the scream, he also wants to paint the terror, what can be seen of the terror.  The way, for instance, the mouth changes when it screams, yes, that interests him.  He’s fascinated by the arch of the mouth cavity, the position of the teeth, the condition of the gums, the shaping of the lips, the colorings, the discolorings of the palate.  On the other hand, admittedly, he’d like to have painted a smile sometime, but hadn’t been able to do that, either…

And why does he stress the terror so much, at the expense of everything else?

Terror? Ah, does he really do that? He doesn’t feel it that way at all.  What people call terror is the element he lives in.  Certainly he doesn’t want to give people a fright, far from it, and he doesn’t make too much of it, either, he simply brings together what people, not wanting to think about what’s terrible, fail to see.  On the other hand the friend is right.  He too sometimes wonders, while painting: In what house, in what room, among what people, for heaven’s sake, would your picture be in the right place, be at least endurable? Because at that moment he can’t imagine such a place, such a wall, for the pictures he paints, must paint. Then he asks how things are in Ghent, in the southern provinces.

Slaughter, the good friend says.

And the slaughter in Liege?

Still going on.

You see? the painter says, and probably he puts his hands over his ears, wanting not to hear the details of the slaughter.

So should we scream now? we ask, and we’re probably on the bridge.

Yes, the maid says, scream now.

Aah, we scream, ooh and eeh and no, and no, don’t, and slowly we get into the swing of it, becoming more independent and noisy. And we hear how the screams escape from us and float around us, and, after they’ve settled over us (our shoulders, our heads) and have enveloped us for long enough, spread out across the country and settle over the neighborhood. Of course, this doesn’t stop the world, but it does seem to be listening.

Casey – Notes on the Moving State


Mari Lou, or let’s call her that, had always liked books about runaways, movies about runaways, so it was only natural she should find a soft spot for wandering junkies and other luminaries of the vertiginously decaying aristocracy known as American intelligentsia. In those days she read mostly William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, occasionally Paul Bowles, and she had thought she might want to become a lawyer, or an actuary, but now she wasn’t so sure. Neither major seemed to promise a life full of intense vital experiences.  She had never left the country before her semester-abroad trip to France; half-way into the semester she stopped attending her classes, and seized what she saw anyway as her OPPORTUNITY, and took a train south to Malaga, and then, trembling, bought a ferry ticket and arrived the next day in the Moroccan port city of Tangiers, where sixty years before William Burroughs had, between or in or craving heroin-induced trances, written the notes that would become Naked Lunch.  Morocco was cheap, and, she imagined, small. With no real itinerary, and feeling always as if she were slowly hurling herself, she bought a bus ticket and headed further south, writing in her spiral-bound notebook all the time as, she imagined, a Beat Writer would.



In theory I’m heading to Beni Mellal.  Nothing’s posted at the Gare Routiere. Near the entrance bayers of urban oratorio—Fes!Casablanca! Rabat! Agadir! I interject my destination and more alacritous takes me by the arm to the parking lot out back.  A prple bus, with Fiesta! written in orange along the side. Fare is 60 dirhams. A man with Solid Mustaches says the bus leaves at « onze heures moins cinq » but that’s not for another hour and a half and people are already sitting on the bus as though to imply that departure were slightly more imminent.  I ask another guy on the bus and he says  different numbers.  Looks up. Perks up.  « Journez seul? » 

 Predatory fucking bastard.  So long as I’m going.  Gotta move, gotta go, Go!, that’s what they did those Beat writers, Go! they shout in manic polyphony but it don’t always listen and it don’t always move.

At present we’re 30 degrees off going. Every seat on the bus absorbs passengers, we begin to roll forward, still slurping up more of them, filling the aisle, filling the steps, body heat and sun heat and engine heat, melting passengers so that they soften and mold to one another to let in more.

 (Note: the viscosity of the average human being is lower than you might think. The nomadic peoples of the western Atlas mountain region further diminish their viscosity through the practice of infant compression. After a child is born, the midwife places it into a small vacuum packer, and gently compresses it.  If done properly, the child will eventually resume its original humanoid shape but thereafter retain a malleable, fluid quality, which as you might imagine has all kinds of uses.  If done improperly, the child will die or, in rare cases, appear physically fine but experience a severe emotional compression, predisposing it to unexpected and severe outbursts of anger later in life.)

 Old men with  no luggage spring up from the emptiness to hail the bus, then dismount to evaporate in telluric wastes. We  reach another town  that is the same town in a different place, and here we pick up women in tropical djellabahs, black eyeliner smudging down faces, bleached in homage to European beauty. We gather them from their houses, in front of little coffee bars, on their way back from visiting their cousin. The perseverant Go! shrills desperate within, it’s all  okay as long as we’re moving!

 Is motion itself a drug ?  Does the perpetual « going » that the beats wanted, lunching naked on the road, rushing towards the maximum hilt then pushed to an even further extreme, always a higher high, a lower low, can the effect be the cause, can the high be the drug itself ? Can I go on Go?  

 The Fiesta! engulfs ten more people.  Solid Mustaches squeezes his way down the aisle, collecting fare.  A scrawny boy, not more than twenty years old wriggles in the row behind me and takes the last seat while a woman with a baby has to stand.  Solid Mustaches begins shouting at him to move, I think. The kid won’t budge, he wheedles excuses, and the terrible stress of Solid Mustaches is building, you can see it, he’s reached over my head now to grab the kid by the collar. I press against the window as Solid Mustaches looms over me and closes in on the boy, one yells the other whimpers. A man in the aisle places his hand on Solid Moustache’s shoulder, « Safi, Safi, » he says.  Enough, enough.  

But the midwife squeezed too hard on baby SM. He grabs the boy under his arms and hauls him over my head.  He presses him through the crowd and shoves him head first out through the door.  The boy braces himself in the door frame, two scrawny arms  clutching to stay on the bus like a mindless struggle to GO, but Solid Mustaches is on a righteous crusade, purging the Fiesta (!) of this worm who takes seats from women with babies, of sloth and selfishness, of all which is an affront to the dignity of men.

Joan Yago – No Soy Dean Moriarty (Setting and excerpt)

Based on a performance I saw at the Sala Tú – Resistencia Artística in Madrid, August 2016


An American-style bar and grill in Madrid, rock records and maybe some stuffed deer on the wall, a guitar behind the bar. Two young men in plaid shirts are sweeping up. It’s the end of long day. The customers have left, they’ve turned up the Charlie Parker, soaring, irregular wails on the trumpet, cool and bluesy, then Bob Marley. The hyper one calls himself Dean Moriarty. The other one, more boyish, but also more prone to fits of pragmatism, calls himself Sal Paradise.

They have a game to pass the time, a game in which they pretend to be Sal and Dean from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.  They exuberantly recite whole passages of the novel, improvising at times, describing hitchhiking a ride with a transvestites, a car crash in the early morning hours and then climbing out of the wreck to behold a glistening mythical Denver laid about below them. Then Sal get’s mad when Dean steals his line, and they stop playing. They argue, then Dean switches the music, trying to get Sal to play again, and now they are in New York City, an underground nightclub, rubbing elbows with high-rollers and down-on-their- lucks, thugs and melancholic homosexuals, they order in English and pretend to throw back four shots in a row. Dean, after a sharp intake of breath following the fourth “shot,” tells Sal that he wants him to sleep with his (Dean’s) girlfriend Mari Lou. Sal is reluctant, but the imaginary alcohol (and what stronger kind is there?) begins to do its work, dissolving his misgivings and fueling the spirit of adventure. He concedes, and now they’re acting like they’re in a hotel room. Dean hands him the guitar, a nice smooth hourglass shape to represent the body Mari Lou, and they both start kissing it. Suddenly Sal freaks out, again breaks character, horribly aware that he is pretending to make out with a guitar.

Excerpt (my translation)

“I’m not playing anymore,” says Sal.

“But dude,” says Dean, “this is intense, you are thinking about leaving your life and starting a journey full of obstacles and profound experiences, a trip to the unimaginable SAN FRANCISCO!”

“Listen to Me,” says Sal.

Dean continues: “You’re thinking about getting about signing up on an old cargo ship set to sail around the world, feeding the coal fires in exchange for food, but what you really want is to keep GOING, a constant coming and going all across the SAVAGE AMERICAN CONTINENT! Eating apple pie, nailing Mexican peasant girls —Ay, no manches, buey!–jotting it all down in your little notebooks, preparing the work that will define your ENTIRE FUCKING GENERATION, and suddenly you say uhhh, I’m not playing anymore?”

“….It’s that, I’ve been looking around, and you know how it is when you wake up, thinking about something, and suddenly, it’s three in the morning, and you’re still thinking about the same thing, that in fact you haven’t stopped thinking about, that in a way it’s been the only thing you’ve been thinking about all day, then, well it’s important. Isn’t it? Isn’t it?”

Dean shrugs his shoulders.

“Dude we’re going on a trip,” says Sal.

“Yeah, Denver. We’re going to Denver!”

“No,wait, I mean, we, WE are going. You and me. On a trip. To another country. That’s why we’re still working here, saving, so that we can go on a trip. The two of on. Our life on the open road.”

“All right, all right,” says Dean, “we said we would when we had the opportunity.”

“Here it is! says Sal, excited, and he hands Dean the paper. “It’s everything. Everything I’ve been planning the last few weeks. Look: this is how much a trip to Italy costs, this is what it costs if we buy it this week, and you say, wow that’s quite a difference, and that’s because this company has a deal. And why to Milan? Well it is the cheapest destination. Once we’re there we can buy a ticket for national travel. There are eight different classes of travel, we need to talk but from what I’ve researched the best one for us would be the 7th: Italy, Greece, Slovenia, Turkey, Turkey dude, imagine how wild. The thing is that the trip would cost about 400 euros one-way, and we would be able to catch ferries between all of the Greek islands, with some exceptions, it’s super great. it’s really great. And look, here’s the itinerary, lodging, some pictures of some places that we might want to visit, so you, this, there it is. And I’ve planned the whole thing assuming that we’ve both saved the same amount but if you haven’t I can loan it to you or whatever and you can pay me back, the thing is that we both have to go, the two of us, what I’m trying to say is that money should not be an issue here. Anyway the special expires tomorrow, so after work we’ll bring our passports, do the paperwork, and in two weeks we will be in Italy. But we have to decide now, if we let it go by the special offer won’t be valid and we’ll be back to where we started.”

“Okay, okay. You’ve done a good job,” sighs Dean, after a prolonged silence. “A really good job.But can I ask you? Do you think that now is really the time. I mean we’ve had a long day, we’ve both worked hard, we’re both tired, and i just don’t think now is the moment to talk about this. Can’t we talk about something more interesting right now?”

“But I already explained to you…and we’ve already waited so long,” pleads Sal.

“Fine you want to talk about it now. Fine. When I’m talking about our OPPORTUNITY, I wasn’t referring to this. This does not seem like our OPPORTUNITY. This is not exactly our OPPORTUNITY. This not our OPPORTUNITY in any way whatsoever. This is one of those travel packages for lonely old ladies! I thought we had set some of the terms, I thought we had understood each other well enough. When I’m talking about our OPPORTUNITY, I’m talking about the absolute present.

“The abysmal present?,” scoffs Sal, incredulous. “That moment in which a window opens in the heavens and a fleet of fighter planes or avenging angels descend and…?”

“And you bring me a special offer from a travel agent with a complete itinerary and, like, a packing list–‘comfortable clothing, hiking boots, sunglasses and/or a hat, mosquito repellent, a small handheld flashlight…’I thought we were talking about something grander than this. And that is what I mean when I say, can’t we talk about something more interesting right now.”

“If I bring you this,” Sal replies, “it’s because it was what was available given that we are limited by certain factors.”

“Let me ask you,” says Dean. “Do you think that our OPPORTUNITY and a special offer are the same thing? Do you think that ‘special offer’ is in any way an interesting phrase?

“You know what these are?” says Sal, now incensed. “These are specific plans. Look, I mean, it’s just a little push to get going, and then once we are on our way, we’ll see what happens. Who knows? It’s a base. And then we can improvise on top of it. I want to take a trip. I want to do it. For real.”

“You are terribly confused,” responds Deans.  “In the moment in which we define our base, our life project, we began our journey. The moment in which we started playing here, pretending, we began our journey. Every night, when we cross the fucking continent of American at 60 mph, we are beginning our journey.”

“It’s not true!” exclaims Sal. “I mean, it’s not real! You are talking about things that aren’t really happening. Our life’s plan was not to stay here talking and then make out with a guitar! Yes, we said we would live in the present, but in first person. We said we’d finish school and then we’d go. And we finished school and we said we’d finish college and then we’d go. And we finished college and then we said, we’re ready, we’re on the brink of starting our life, let’s get to work, let’s save up a little, and then let’s go, let’s travel the world, and we’ve saved up and…we haven’t done anything.”

“What do you mean we haven’t done anything?”

“I mean,” says Sal, struggling to find the words, “we haven’t visited any places”

“We haven’t seen visited any places? Okay, now I understand. You want to visit places, you want to go to a ton of places, taking photos in front of statues, buying pens in the museum gift shops, all that shit? And the Mexican peasant girls?”

“You’re an idiot.”

“You don’t want to travel,” says Dean“You want to tour. You want…to move from places to place. There’s a big difference, you know. You want to go to the places where everyone else has already gone so that you can say, ehh  ehh, look here, this is the Cathedral of Who Knows Who…

“You’ve gone way overboard”

“I want to be a bohemian NOW! I want to embark on a voyage of personal discovery NOW! I want to be Dean Moriarty and I want to be him NOW NOW NOW!”