The Dogs of Fianarantsoa


A half dozen dogs are barking. Now, there is only one left, but he won’t stop. Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof!! We are in the Soafia hotel, right in the middle of the town of Fianarantsoa, across from a Total gas station. The hotel is a mix of Chinese, kitsch colonial, and other unidentifiable proto-baroque styles. The building juts out in every direction – towards a garbage dump and an open stream of sewage, towards the filth of the street, towards the eternal sky over this gateway to the South. Ewen is dead, he’s gone, I can see him staring down the barrel of that .270, it swivelling round like a periscope targeting eternity, the scream of a woman running towards him STOP! And Ewen, unshakeable, true to his demonized soul, responding deadpan.

“I can’t do that…”

Click, and an explosion, and as world rotates on its axis and has changed forever, the great man breathing deeply, already in the sleep of pre-death.

The stink of the Fianarantsoa sewage rising to the room, and the stink of Ewen’s death asphyxiating me. I’ve just dropped off a hundred and fifty million francs malgaches into the baksheesh-stained pockets of a Crédit Lyonnais banker. And, now mission completed, the money deposited, only to find the 500 day Dantean exploration of Ewen’s aboriginal soul has crashed to a halt. And for some reason, all the books kaleidoscoping through the mind, all those tomes I have read and read and read – Dostoievsky and Tolstoy at age twelve, the beats at 14, Solzenitsyn at 18, Spengler, Mumford, Rabelais, Boehme, Eckhart, Balzac, Zweig , while listening to the cantankerous orders of the Pater Familias, and the warped designs of those skirted brothers and the intoned mantras of the jurists and the whispered threats of the wrong kind of women. I have read under bedsheets, in stairwells, at bus stations, while drunk or wired on LSD or looking with a clear mind over the South China Sea. I have read and it got me here to this pit of a town at the end of the red island, and not a single of those words or all of them together could stop the velocity of that bullet coming out of the barrel.

Ewen’s last missive to the world scrawled across a torn page of looseleaf in that log cabin:

“There are no heroes left.”

I have written, and have dared to write, endlessly, ceaselessly, and always when I should have been doing something else – working, studying law, travelling through every country on this sordid planet – and none of my writing was for sale. First, I wrote about myself, then my observations, but it was no journal. Only to see what a pen could do – to see how ideas emerge onto a page, to calculate and fathom their frequencies and modulations of thought from the cerebellum to the joints of the hand, and then, onwards through the flow of real ink onto foolscap. To see how the mind itself bends when confronted with the dribble of time granted to us by the gods, to feel the urge tell the story of how women can tear your guts out and ruin you before family, friends, and the world, and while doing it, give you a glimpse into the infinite. To feel, wrongly, that you’ve finally understood something, when your flawed soul brings you again and again the precipice and whispers “jump you worthless fool, jump.”

And, then finally here, rotting in this Hotel Soafia room, where my pen finally fails me, here at the gateway to the extreme Southern highlands.