Posted by: gdevi | November 4, 2012

A grotesque universe

I am reading Anne Raeff’s exquisite novel Clara Mondschein’s Melancholia. I will post a full review later, but I wanted to note this now–the eerie ways in which sometimes books mirror life. In the chapter entitled “Eclair” (named after a Hungarian restaurant in New York city frequented by Jewish immigrants in the novel) the young girl Deborah Gelb is attacked by a menstruating dog while she is out looking for her mother who decides to vanish while the family is visiting Madrid, Spain. The dog follows her around and rubs her blood over the girl’s clothes.

In 2006, I was in Madrid on a university workshop engagement, and one evening my friend Nic and I were walking around Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol after the workshop meetings, when a short dark Spanish man started to follow me. I am not the sort of woman that men pay attention to, but I had felt someone looking at me and I had turned around and seen this short, dark, Spanish man who had an intense expression on his face. I didn’t say anything to Nic–I didn’t want to worry her–but I made Nic walk faster and faster through many many curving narrow ancient streets, and everywhere I turned, this short, dark, Spanish man would be inches away from us. I looked around and noticed where the police were standing in case I needed to call them.  In my mind, I was repulsed by the thought that this man would touch me or expose himself to me. I could not understand at all why this man was following me. I often get mistaken for Iranian or Lebanese–some sort of European subaltern–so I thought maybe it was some sort of racial stalking. So anyway, finally we walked into this department store and I was standing at one of these circular stand things on which you hang clothes and you can spin the thing around and I suddenly saw this short dark Spanish man across from me. I asked him then in English, “Can I help you?” His response surprised me. He muttered something very weakly in Spanish–he had a very weak voice–and walked off. I never saw him after that. I had often thought about this experience. I could not understand at all why this man followed me through those streets. In my mind, I always likened that experience of walking for minutes on at end through narrow Madrid streets trying to get away from this short dark Spanish man as equivalent to falling in a pit of excrement.

I was reading Anne’s novel where the dog follows the girl, and suddenly it struck me that we live in a grotesque world where feral dogs leave their blood on you, and where strange men follow you in strange cities. There is no other reason. A grotesque universe. What a great novel.


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