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Posts Tagged ‘disaster’

Inside the Volcano

September 16, 2016 | by


“Ash had fallen. Perhaps it had fallen the night before or perhaps it was still falling. I can only remember in patches.”

In 1976, three years before she died, Jean Rhys published “Heat,” an autobiographical story about the 1902 eruption of Martinique’s Mount Pelée volcano, which destroyed Saint-Pierre, then the largest city on the island. Some thirty to forty thousand people died; Rhys, who grew up nearby on Dominica, would have been eleven at the time.

Some said the disaster was divine retribution for Saint-Pierre’s moral depravity; not only was the city a haven for loose women, it had a theater and even an opera. But in the immediate aftermath, an air of grave concern fell over the region. “Nobody talked in the street, nobody talked while we ate, or hardly at all,” Rhys writes in “Heat”: “They all thought our volcano was going up.” The night after the eruption, the narrator’s mother points out the black clouds hovering over Martinique. “You will never see anything like this in your life again,” she says. When the narrator’s friends offer her a bottle of ash, she refuses to touch it. Read More »

Fear of Heights

September 17, 2015 | by

From a 1952 edition of “Monte Verità.”


Those who go to the mountains must give everything. That’s all there is to it. —Daphne du Maurier, “Monte Verità”

Everest is opening in theaters across the country, bringing with it much CGI, apparently stunning vistas, and the sort of relaxation that can only come from knowing the worst from the outset. For those of us who like a different sort of thrill, I recommend another mountain-climbing story: Daphne du Maurier’s “Monte Verità.”

Originally collected in 1952’s The Apple Tree, “Monte Verità”—really a short novella—can now be found in Don’t Look Now and Other Stories, with a trenchant introduction by Patrick McGrath. “Monte Verità” is about mountain climbing and about spirituality and sexuality, any more than that would be giving it away. Writing about the story, the late Roger Dobson put it this way: Read More »

Letter from Coney Island

November 7, 2012 | by

I spent the night in Coney Island and there are no mermaids on Mermaid Avenue right now, but the machinery of New York’s recovery from Hurricane Sandy is everywhere to be seen. The streets teem with Con Edison and Verizon workers fixing overhead wires. One out of three buildings has some kind of light—from either portable generators or power lines. Relief workers, professional and volunteer, hand out goods to needy residents. A FEMA distribution center in a church parking lot includes a bank of Chase ATMs that shine like blue and white corporate beacons. Police cars sit, blue and red lights flashing, at almost every intersection, on the look out for looters and other bad actors. The weather remains on everyone’s mind—another storm is predicted today, less severe than Sandy but not insignificant, with a four- or five-foot swell. Ordinarily, that would not breach the seawall, but the fear is that the damage from Sandy has left this neighborhood much more vulnerable to another flood. In fact, the FEMA center and the temporary police headquarters packed up and moved in anticipation.

Coney Island, the sharp southwestern corner of Brooklyn, was hit hard by Sandy. Read More »