Thursday, February 14, 2008

Remingtons from Rimbaud

I’ve read some translations of the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud, the enfant terrible of French letters, and, so far, I haven’t caught the magic. But when Paul Theroux in Dark Star Safari, his book on his travel through Africa, makes a special trip to a city in Ethiopia to check out the country where Rimbaud landed after flying from France and literature, I was surprised to discover the fruits of Rimbaud’s new vocation (puts one in mind of the other “Rambo”):

“Harar [a city in Ethiopia] was a place I had always wanted to see for its associations with … the boy genius [the French poet] Arthur Rimbaud: after he forsook poetry and civilization Rimbaud had been a trader there off and on for ten years. In spite of his whining in letters home, he had liked Harar’s remoteness and wildness.

“…It was normally quiet in Dire Dawa [the train stop nearest Harar], but even quieter the day I arrived because of … the 105th anniversary of the Battle of Adwa … The Adwa victory, a sweet one for Ethiopians, an early anticolonial one, was accomplished in 1896, when twenty thousand Italian soldiers, hurrying into northern Ethiopia from Eritrea, met ninety thousand ‘perfervid, battle-hungry Ethiopians,’ commanded by King Menelik II … Trying to group for an attack in the rocky landscape near Adwa, the Italians became lost and disoriented. The Ethiopians, outnumbering them by more than four to one, surrounded them, harried them with spears and arrows, killed more than fifteen thousand, and wounded or captured the rest. They also had rifles – two thousand of them were Remingtons that Rimbaud had sold to Menelik in Entotto in 1887.”

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