Tag Archives: The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire

Friday finds

In which the pioneering rapper talks up a Los Angeles architectural landmark. Learn more about the Eames House here. Some of Ice Cube’s best raps here, here, here, and here. NSFW, unless you work at Death Row Records.

You know you want to hear Flannery O’Connor reading “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” So what are you waiting for?

Ace thriller writer J.D. Rhoades talks about why he decided to go indie and start publishing new books (and out-of-print backlist titles) as e-books.  His new one, Gallows Pole, will scare the snot out of you.

Madam Mayo, author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, interviews Solveig Eggerz, author of Seal Woman.

When you’re introduced to a fencer, don’t do the squiggly arm thing. Just don’t.

In which Frederik Pohl reminisces about the Battle of the Douchebag, the Battle of the 4-Color Border, and the night spent with Harlan Ellison on Long John Nebel’s talk show.

From Psycho to Casino, from The Man with the Golden Arm to Anatomy of a Murder, it’s a tribute to the title sequences directed by Saul Bass.

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Friday finds

Time for a Tobias Wolff mini-festival, for no reason other than that he’s one of the all-time champion short story writers and I once had the pleasure of hearing him read his story “Smorgasbord” in Princeton, on a double bill with Robert Stone. Up top he reads an excerpt from his story “The Benefit of the Doubt,” here he sings along with John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats and here he reads Denis Johnson’s story “Emergency” and talks about its qualities with Deborah Treisman, fiction editor of The New Yorker. Wolff’s 1997 book The Night in Question is a perfect, gem-studded introduction to his work; his memoir This Boy’s Life (which was made into a pretty good movie) is also a great read.  

C.M. Mayo’s new novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, gets a great review from Bookslut

How Nineteen Eighty-four killed George Orwell.

Rescuing the work of Hubert Harrison, a pioneering Harlem cultural journalist, from obscurity. 

“Final Shtick,” the opener in Harlan Ellison’s 1961 story collection Gentleman Junkie, is about a Jewish stand-up comedian who returns to Gentleman Junkiehis hometown to accept an award, then punks out on his plan to lacerate the crowd with his memories of the anti-Semitism and cruelty he endured as a child there. Apparently Ellison, an Ohio native, was not tempted to reenact that story. Before anyone tries to paint Ellison as an ogre for turning down the Cleveland Arts Prize, it should be pointed out that the award’s organizers don’t come across as terribly well informed — or even very bright, for that matter. Most of the jury hadn’t heard of Ellison, they asked him for help in selling advertising space, expected him to travel from L.A. to Cleveland on his own dime, and then restrict his remarks to a three-minute window. In short, they came across like a bunch of pishers — a word I know from reading Ellison — so it’s hardly surprising the guy told them to get lost.  

How an academic journal can piss away its hard-won reputation, almost overnight. Perhaps some repercussions are in order.

The journey that I’m speaking of starts with the slave days, when slaves had to dig a hole in an inconspicuous place in the cabin, just to keep the food cool. That’s where they would hide the food. The analogy for me is that this album is my potato hole, it’s where I put my goodies, where I have my stuff stored to keep it cool. But you might use your own imagination and go through the changes from then to now. Now there’s an African-American President of the United States, and we’ve come so far so fast. And it’s a good journey. It’s a good direction for a country to be going in.

An Artist’s Guide to Human Typesaverage physical attributes for people around the world, for sketch artists in need of a quick tutorial.

Having seen Jerry Hall in person, I can attest that she’s even better looking in real life than in her pictures. Turns out we won’t be getting a chance to read her reminiscences about Mick Jagger, Bryan Ferry and others.

I’m not worried about the robot apocalypse, à la or The Matrix. I’m rather more worried about the WALL-E scenario, in which robots do all the work — happily — and people become pudgy balls of flesh lolling about all day without the slightest idea of what to do other than eat pureed food because it’s just too much trouble to chew. This is totally realistic. Hell, I spend more than eight hours a day in front of a computer screen as it is, sucking down Coke Zero and being glad there’s only one flight of stairs between me and my fridge. If I had C3PO to get me my Cokes, I might have already fused into my desk chair by now.”

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The capital of nowhere


One of the books I’m most looking forward to getting this week is C.M. Mayo’s new novel The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, set in Mexico during the brief, doomed reign of Maximilian von Habsburg, in the mid-19th century. Mayo is the author of Miraculous Air, a gorgeously written exploration of Baja California, and the story collection Sky Over El Nido, which will turn every one of your preconceptions about Mexico on its head. She also blogs as Madame Mayo, where she offers sound advice on writing and the writing life.  

The past week’s train commute has been enlivened by the CD edition of “From Mexico to Miramar, or, Across the Lake of Oblivion,” Mayo’s engrossing account of her trips to Maximilian’s old haunts in search of insights and information. This passage is from her account of a visit to Miramar Castle, Maximilian’s former seacoast residence in Trieste, described as “the capital of nowhere” by travel writer Jan Morris:

The morning was gray when we drove the few minutes up the coast to Miramar. From the parking lot, we caught a peek of the castle: sober-looking in this diffused light, but nonetheless fantastic, as if it had risen straight out of the sea: A rectangular tower with porthole-like windows and topped with a square crown of crenels. It was medieval-looking, but too new, too white, too sharp-cornered perfect. The evil thought occurred to me that it might have made a neat-o attraction at Disneyland. “Ivanhoe,” or something like that.

A. had become very quiet. Our shoes crunched on gravel. Rising up on our right was a hill thick with pines. Overhead, seagulls whirled and honked. There were a few other tourists: in Michelin-man down jackets and jeans, cameras slung around their necks. I didn’t recognize their language; was it Croatian? Czech? A tiny girl in a pink coat and tennis shoes skipped ahead.

On the other side of the gate a long path took us between the forested hill and the water, and then, all of a sudden, we found ourselves drawn inland into the circular drive of the castle’s entrance. Neither of us wanted to go into the castle yet, for this was in itself a strange-feeling space. There was the castle, a massive white block; behind us, stairs leading up into the gardens, so dense with pines they looked almost black; and then, in the open sweep below, the small harbor enclosed by the jetty that ended with a sphinx that was, perhaps, the size of a Great Dane.

The little sphinx was one of Maximilian’s souvenirs from a cruise to Egypt, and it did indeed appear, as his secretary Blasio fancifully put it, to be “interrogating the Adriatic.” Blasio had come here with the Empress Charlotte in 1866. Maximilian’s empire was nearing its end, but Charlotte would not accept it. She was strangely agitated when she met with Louis Napoléon in Paris, and in the Vatican she raved before the Pope and refused to leave. By the time the empress arrived here at Miramar, she was in the full throes of a ferocious psychotic breakdown.

The faithful secretary Blasio, Maximilian himself… I could not but think of all the many people who had climbed up from their rocking rowboats onto those stairs and rested their hand on that cold stone head of the sphinx: Charlotte, despairing at the riddle of her broken life; but only a few years earlier, Don José María Gutierrez d’Estrada, the exiled diplomat with his tender hopes that this Austrian Archduke might accept his proposal of the Mexican throne. General Juan Nepomuceno Almonte, another exiled diplomat, with his letter from Louis Napoleón promising money and an army. One Mr. Boudillon, special correspondent for The Times, who assured Maximilian that, though full of thieves, Mexico was, by Jove, one of the richest countries on earth! And it was from this jetty, on April 14, 1864— the very same unlucky day President Lincoln would be shot one year later— that Maximilian and Charlotte left for Mexico. A great crowd of Triestini watched their launch move out to the waiting Novara. A band played the Mexican anthem, and Maximilian, who had once written that the Atlantic Ocean is so wide “it is like a lake of oblivion,” began to weep.

Now only a seagull bobbed on the water. With our digital camera, A. snapped photos of me in front of the sphinx.

Inside the castle the first thing we came to was the gift shop, and it was exactly as awful as our friend Samuel had said: there were the Maximilian ball-point pens, Maximilian bookmarks, Charlotte ball-point pens, Charlotte pencils, Maximilian and Charlotte notebooks, key chains, mouse pads, pendants, even a glass case with tote bags and silk scarves and demi-tasse cups with Maximilian’s monogram, the overlapping “MIM,” for the Latin Maximiliano Imperator de Mexico.

A. said, picking up a baseball cap with the “MIM,” “Want one?”

“What would I do with it?”

“You could wear it when you ride your bike.”

“Just the thing,” I said. He chuckled as he tossed it back on the pile.

At the ticket counter, we rented the audiocassette tour, but before the clerk would hand over the apparatus, one of us had to leave a driver’s license.

“Leave yours,” A. said.

I didn’t want to have to dig mine out of the bottom of my pack. “You leave yours,” I said.

A. whispered into my ear: “I don’t want them to see that I’m Mexican.” I laughed, but he said, “Just do it.”

I recognized at that moment what I should have long before, that Maximilian, for my husband, represented something that I, for all my careful research, as an American, had never before encountered. There is no parallel to Maximilian in the United States. If some German prince had been put into our White House, and we had shot him on, say, field outside of Philadelphia, what would I be feeling to have come here, into the foyer of his castle? It was a Gordian knot of a question to contemplate, but already we had our earphones on and were being instructed to follow the signs around a corner.

The picture at the top of this post is one of Mayo’s snaps of Miramar — there are plenty more photos of this remarkable spot. If you want a taste of her advice on writing, the Web site Work-in-Progress has this valuable piece offering 12 tips for finishing your novel.

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