A Kilometer Zero Production
Author Archives: Jeremy Mercer
It’s hard not to admire a good simile. They make literature more evocative: ‘Elderly American ladies leaning on their canes listed toward me like towers of Pisa.’ (Nabakov from Lolita.) They add venom to political bite: ‘He looks like a female llama surprised in the bath.’ (Churchill on De Gaulle.) And they help etch the cry for social justice into a nation’s memory: ‘We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’ (Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream.)
Inspired wordcraft such as this is enough to leave you dizzy. But, alas, this is not the time to praise good similes but to bemoan the bad ones.
Anybody who’s spent time in front of a gaping white page knows that expressing oneself in a clear, original, and incisive manner is Herculean chore requiring both persistence and wit. Similes are a particular gamble because a good one can invigorate your work, while a bad one can leave readers unmoved, or worse, wincing. (Would students across America be memorizing King’s speech if he spoke of justice rolling down like a stray tennis ball on a uneven court?) Continue reading
Friends of KMZ Pia Copper-Ind and Christopher Ind have launched a new venture, Horizon Editions, which will publish quality art and photography books about the Middle East and Asia. To mark the upcoming release of their first title, Mao, Christopher reflects on the genesis of the company and the fraught but fecund world of modern publishing …
Strangely, as many things, Horizons grew out of necessity and hardship. I left my job in London where I had worked for many years as a Middle East publisher and I wanted to move to Paris with my fiancé Pia. I was offered a strange and inconclusive job proposal in Dubai for which I never received any money. As a result, we had shifted our entire lives to Dubai. But, out of necessity grows opportunity. My now wife and I, Pia, decided to found our own publishing house as we had been spending our own moneys running after sponsors in the Gulf region to finance books on the palaces of Syria, the architecture of Sanaa, Yemen, the new architecture of Qatar, the Haj pilgrimage, etc… The Orient was my domain of predilection and of expertise as I had travelled widely through Iran, Oman, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi, etc. where I had the good fortune to meet Pia in Tehran at a cocktail party. Continue reading
Those who’ve followed the literary wanderings of Sparkle Hayter know she’s had some peculiar adventures in her life. Just consider a short list of the locales where she’s lived and written: Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion; the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan; a seven-storey art squat near the Paris opera house; a Bollywood apartment in Mumbai.
Still, even with this exotic track record, Sparkle’s latest exploits almost defy belief. During a writing sejour in Delhi, India to complete the latest installment of the Robin Hudson mystery series, she took a side trip to Nepal to get her visa renewed. While in Kathmandu, she happened across a bedraggled, half-starved puppy with to-die-for eyes. And, you guessed it: Sparkle cracked, adopting the dog and naming her Alice. She’s now spent the better part of six months raising money and negotiating the convoluted Nepali, Indian, and Canadian bureaucracy in an attempt to get Alice to a safe home. Continue reading
Name of Species: Latin: Lucanus cervus; French: Lucane cerf-volant; English: Elephant Stag Beetle
Location Found: On a wall of an Auchan mega supermarket in Avallon. Out of the hundreds of articles and things that I have brought away from that store, this beetle is by far the best.
Incidence: The Elephant Stag Beetle is becoming more and more rare throughout Europe and is, from what I understand of the bureaucratic labeling, a protected species. It is the largest beetle in Europe and is listed by some sources as the largest ‘terrestrial insect’ in Europe.
Release Into Wild: In the Morvan forest, Burgundy, across the street from our house. Perched on my hand, he smelled the strong odors of bark, leaf, and soil, opened his wings, and flew off to the amazement, delight and awe of my children and me.
Those lurking about Paris in the early aughts might remember an aspiring young filmmaker by the name of Jethro Massey. He was a pale, bespectacled sort who spoke an abundance of languages and buzzed with an extravaganza of ideas. Ring a bell?
Well, catching up with Jethro today, it seems we can safely scratch the word ‘aspiring’; judging by all available evidence, the fellow has fully and magnificently aspired. (Is that even a word?)
Over the past decade, his short films and music videos have been of an ever-more mesmerizing quality. (Warning: Don’t visit the ‘Showreel’ section of his website unless you’re ready to get swept into an hour or so of compulsive video watching.) At the same time, his work has been receiving ever more acclaim. How about having admirers such as David Lynch and Duran Duran?
One of the delightful-est portions of Mark Forsyth’s delightful book The Etymologicon is his detour into the wonders of antanaclasis. This five-dollar word describes the lexical trick of using a single term with different meanings multiple times in the same sentence. One of the most famous examples of antanaclasis is the remark attributed to Benjamin Franklin, ‘We must all hang together or most assuredly we will all hang separately.’
In The Etymologicon, Forsyth explores the summit of antanaclasis, the wholly antanaclasic phrase. For instance, he cites the Latin sentence Malo malo malo malo, which apparently translates into ‘I would rather be in an apple tree than be a bad boy in trouble.’ But the true gem of English antanaclasis is a phrase conjured up by William J. Rapaport, who, most fittingly, is now a professor at the University of Buffalo:
Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.
When I play tennis, I serve with my right hand and generally volley with my left hand, although on occasion, when a deep ball is unplayable with my backhand, I will flip my racquet to my right hand, giving me an extra 50 centimeters of reach and an added chance of making the shot. In reality, this limb confusion means my serve is less powerful than a true right-hander and my volley is less powerful than a true left-hander because neither hand is actually dominant. Which also means I am destined to remain a mediocre tennis player whose enthusiasm (and on-court sartorial elegance) far outpace his actual game.
But in my mind! Oh, in my mind I am an ambidextrous monster who, by magically switching my racquet from hand to hand can bewilder opponents and reach the most unreachable balls. How many times, while rallying at my local club, have I slipped the racquet into my right hand to make a shot and heard the awed announcer at Roland Garros gasp, ‘Mercer has done it again! The amazing ambi-man is on his way to another French Open title!’
So, prone as I am to such fantasy, you can imagine my intrigue when I stumbled across the Edinburgh Handedness Inventory. The test was designed in 1971 by R.C. Oldfield of the Speech and Communication Unit at Edinburgh University. Continue reading
Pia Copper-Ind writes:
The world sees few men like George Whitman. In the harsh capitalist world of today, George’s morals and his motto “Live for humanity” almost seem a thing of the past. For so many people, 37 rue de la Bûcherie, Paris was so much more than a bookstore, it was home for a few months, a place to dream, to write and be inspired in front of one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world, Notre-Dame, a site Whitman referred to as “Kilometer Zero”, the ultimate address.
Many thousands of twenty-something men and women from all over the world, would-be writers and artists, were served up George’s pancakes and his strawberry ice-cream while they strove to become the next Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway or James Joyce. Whitman would tell people to ‘read a book a day’ and ‘write the next great novel’ upstairs. Everyone had to write their biography and leave it for posterity. And there were writers. Lawrence Durrell was one of George’s greatest friends, Richard Wright was a regular, Henry Miller called the place a “wonderland of books”. His companion-in-arms was Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who also came to Paris in the postwar years with POW money and then started his own bookstore in San Francisco publishing the “Beats” who drifted between Paris (Shakespeare and Co.), Tangiers and Big Sur. George was even rumoured to be a “Don Juan” of the arrière-boutique, seducing the mysterious Anais Nin. But perhaps he was more of a Prince Myshkin or a Don Quixote, as he liked to call himself: a man of books and letters more than a man of passions. Anais Nin called him “a saint among his books, lending them, having penniless friends upstairs in his Utrillo house, not too steady on its foundations, small windows wrinkled shutters.”
For those who lurked about the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in the early 2000s, Kolya, or Nicholas as many of us knew him, was a familiar face. He was a sans-papiers from Eastern Europe with a entrepreneurial flair that boggled the mind. He devised elaborate hustles to fleece department stores of money, recruiting many an empty-pocketed Shakespearean to abet him along the way. He resold cheap Chinese jewelry to tourists at a 1,000 per cent mark up. He painted henna tattoos on the legs, backs, and breasts of the young and foolish at the Les Halles park for 50 or 100 francs a pop, often using KMZ friends Tom Pancake or Ryan McGlynn as a sidekick. And, yes, suspicions were rife that perhaps he lifted a book or three from Shakespeare and sold them down the road.
Well, like most everybody from that time, Kolya moved on from Paris. He drifted to America where, once again living without papers, he lived for a long time by selling contraband punk rock T-shirts. Now, he has surfaced again with a Kickstarter project that seems to defy logic. Kolya, the man of the thousand scams, has discovered a love for tapestry.
From what we can tell, Kolya hopes to create a series of contemporary tapestries and donate them to modern art museums across the United States. ”Coming to America, I was excited to explore native American tapestry as well as contemporary tapestry,” he writes. “[U]nfortunately I was also disappointed that such great tradition was somewhat shunned away by commercialization of the art scene.” Continue reading