Weekly Alibi
 Apr 2 - 8, 2009 
Alibi readers voted on their favorite bars, movies, charities, musicians and more. Find out who climbed to the top of the list in this year's Best of Burque issue.
NEWS/OPINION
An illegal immigrant stays afloat by selling homemade burritos. Plus, notice anything different about your paycheck?
MUSIC
The unusually instrumented jazz quartet Fantastic Merlins summons the freedom of a jazz combo and the daring of an avant-garde aggregation. And Marianne Dissard turns heartache into a cathartic Americana record with big gulps of French lyrics.
FOOD
Brave the inevitable bad breath and order a slice of garlicky, New York-style cheese pizza from Pete's of Brooklyn. And a a bouquet of fresh rosemary will drive you nuts for pecans.
FILM & TV
Che Part One chronicles Che Guevara’s all-star Socialist team-up with Fidel Castro to overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Part Two is more of a downer. And Adventureland jostles between bleak characters and childish boner jokes.
ARTS/LIT
The death row drama Coyote on a Fence avoids becoming polemic and instead focuses on human connection and dignity. And much of UNM's public art is hidden in plain sight.
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Lit Oblivion

The mind-bending imagination of Felisberto Hernández’ Lands of Memory

Felisberto Hernández is one of the rare writers who, through the sheer strength of their imagination, can rewire your brain and melt your perception of reality. I first came across his name years ago in an essay by Roberto Bolaño where he reminisces about authors who were important to him in his youth yet eventually fell into oblivion. And when I read Hernandez’ Lands of Memory, a collection of stories by the Uruguayan author originally published in 1942, it blew my mind.

Despite his decades of obscurity (Lands of Memory wasn’t published in English until 2002, and even in Latin America he remained mostly unread outside elite literary circles), Hernández was a huge influence on several important writers who championed him over the years. In the US, Francine Prose was an early advocate, and wrote the preface for a reissue of another collection of his, Piano Stories. The late Gabriel García Márquez admitted, “If I hadn’t read the stories of Felisberto Hernández in 1950, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today.” And Italo Calvino wrote in 1973, “Hernández is a writer like no other: like no European, nor any Latin American. He is an ‘irregular’ who eludes all classification and labeling, yet is unmistakable on any page to which one might randomly open one of his books.”

Felisberto Hernández
Felisberto Hernández

This “irregularity” might explain his obscurity (and the difficulty categorizing him), but it doesn’t excuse it. Lands of Memory, a mind-bending collection of four short stories and two novellas, confounds what we think we know about reality. Hernández was a pianist who played the smaller concert halls of Uruguay and Argentina, and gave recitals and private performances. His life as a pianist and the human interactions therein inform his work and serve as a foil for the strange abstractions that riddle the prose, as if life itself were an improvised tune full of eerie modulations. In a passage from the opening story, “Around the time of Clemente Colling,” the young narrator is visiting “the long-lived ladies,” three elderly sisters whose nephew was a piano prodigy. “The mystery of that place wasn’t crouched in shadows or in silence. It lay, rather, in certain turns, rhythms or bends that suddenly took the conversation to places that didn’t seem to be part of reality.”

Pianos and performances recur regularly throughout the stories. The narrator might be taking lessons from an eccentric piano teacher whose house becomes a kind of living museum, or serving as a personal musician for a crazy wealthy lady. The hulking instrument might be passive: “The big, black grand piano, like a somnolent old animal crouched on its thick paws, meekly endured the hands that slammed down on its yellow teeth and filled its innards with loud noises.” Or dangerous: “I would try to hang onto that piano as if I were fishing and had caught a shark. Who knew what might happen! Perhaps shark and audience would both be disconcerted by my audacity.”

[Hernández’] life as a pianist and the human interactions therein inform his work and serve as a foil for the strange abstractions that riddle the prose, as if life itself were an improvised tune full of eerie modulations.

The physical world in Hernández’ prose is strangely fluid, with objects taking on a life of their own. It’s as if the physical world has traded places with memory, which, as the title of the collection suggests, takes a central role in the stories, and memory itself becomes the solid form of reality. “Around the Time of Clemente Colling” revolves around the young narrator and a blind piano teacher with bad hygiene who serves as his mentor. In one passage, “The memories come, but they don’t keep still. And some very foolish memories clamor for attention, too. I don’t yet know whether, despite their childishness, these have some important connection to the other memories, or what meanings and reflections memories exchange among themselves. Some seem to protest the selection the intellect claims to make among them.”

In “The Crocodile,” a story about a stocking salesman who finds that his uncontrollable crying jags boost sales, a concerned proprietor of a store where the narrator is making a tearful sales pitch, says, “But compañero, a man’s got to have some spirit.” The narrator replies, “I’m fine, really. I have lots of spirit! It’s just that sometimes this comes over me; it’s like a memory … ”

Finally, in the title story, which concludes the collection, we get a glimpse at the dynamic that fuels Hernández’ narrative. “I was disappointed … by what had happened between my body and me as a result of the performance of a piece of music. At no time could I dismount from my body. And this forced coexistence exposed me to all sorts of risks. I certainly didn’t want to be rid of [my body] or even to neglect it … and my body was also what furnished me with the comforts I needed in order to penetrate the mysteries to which my imagination was drawn.”

It’s that tug of war between mind and body, the imaginary and the mundane, the present fixed world and the fluid landscape of memory that defines Hernández. And thankfully for us, the strength of his creativity saved him from oblivion.

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Ian Wolff is a writer living in Albuquerque. He has two self-published collections of prose available online through the iBooks store, and his prose, essays and a film based on one of his short stories can be found at ianzwolff.com.

Lands of Memory

By Felisberto Hernández
Paperback, $16.95
New Directions
Alibi Picks

Circle in the Trees

Tomorrow YOU will play Sister (407 Central NW). Not necessarily the person reading this preview—although that's certainly possible—YOU is actually a chunky, four-piece outfit from Albuquerque that combines psych influences with blues-inflected rock stylings that are guaranteed to have you alternatively grooving along, reflecting dreamily or yearning for release.

This show at Sister is an album release party, celebrating the outfit’s latest, Ambivalence. This new work is infused with a sound that effectively transits the uncanny valley. The fourth track on Ambivalence, “Young Witch Eternal Gliss,” is a potent psychedelic anodyne, while tunes like “Saturday Night” prove the group can handle bluesy rock with serious aplomb. Baton Rouge, La.-based band Moon Honey—recently produced by Deerhoof—are touring with YOU; As In We and DJ Caterwaul start the evening off with their own brands of sonic intensity. Tickets for this 21-and-up cosmic exhibition are only five silver talents, and the metaphorical curtain rises around 9pm. You should be there. Or be square. Sister • Thu Apr 24 • 9pm • $5 • 21+ • View on Alibi calendar

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The Art of Rabble-Rousing: Reception for WE HONOR

Believers in the power-cum-responsibility of art to change lives, attitudes and public policy, take heart—an exhibit opening tomorrow, wears its ideological zeal on its sleeve. With an impressive range of artists and artistic collectives whose work amplifies public awareness, WE HONOR: The Art of Activism promotes ecological reverence and justice for indigenous peoples. It’s hosted by Honor the Earth and Honor the Treaties, two Native-led activist organizations that invest in and benefit from connections to the art community.

Eminent environmentalist, author and two-time Green-Party vice-presidential candidate Winona Laduke speaks at the opening from 6 to 7pm. Contributing artists include Shepard Fairey, recognized for his iconic red-and-blue Barack Obama “Hope” poster; Gregg Deal, a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe best known for “The Last American Indian On Earth,” a performance piece in which he explodes racial stereotypes by embodying them in mundane settings like grocery stores, shopping malls and restaurants; and Nani Chacon, the local muralist behind the magnificent “She Taught Us to Weave” in Wells Park and co-curator of this exhibit with Kim Smith. Traditional foods will be served during the free opening reception, which starts at 5pm. Everything happens at Warehouse 508 (508 First Street NW); see bit.ly/wehonor for more info. Warehouse 508 • Thu Apr 24 • 5-8pm • FREE • View on Alibi calendar

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