Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The W.G. Sebald Effect


like Kafka's essay
on Goethe's abominable nature.

--W.G. Sebald


While at Barnes & Noble, I opened a book of W.G. Sebald's poetry, and got stuck on this page. Sebald's words brought me back to my first interpreting job, with a photographer from Magadan, who had arrived in Anchorage on the first of many chartered flights with a suitcase of photographs. There is a black-and-white snapshot of me at age 18, looking young and bewildered, wrapped in the scarf he gave me, which I wore for years with a black wool coat. 

Many of the photographs--a mound of black-and-white prints--were of boots. Piled in mine shafts. Boots. Unimaginable numbers of boots. How could there be that many abandoned boots?

The photographs, said the photographer, were of many secret sites from the mines around Magadan, including Butugychag, where prisoners of the Gulag had endured terrible hardships to scrape gold from the ground. The estimates are that from 250,000 to one million prisoners died working in this area.

The photographer was feted by gentlemen who bought, especially for the occasion, thin-sliced, stale, expensive and odd-tasting "German" deli rye bread, and pickles, thinking it would impress the Russians. I heard the Russians say: "Where did this bread come from, it tastes like something they ate in Leningrad during the siege." And much vodka was imbibed. 

What they did with the photographs, I'm not sure. Money probably changed hands.

A glint of gold from the Kolyma flashed every time the photographer opened his mouth.

This is me, needing Sebald to write a poem about the boots.


Harlequin said...

Every picture holds a story. Some tell easy, others waiting to be told. An interesting piece.

Iulia Flame said...
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Iulia Flame said...

So true. Thank you!

the song of a shell sapphire melting inside jade a color unnamed Ofra Haza's version of this song defies categoriz...

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