Foureen-year-old granddaughter (astounded): "Grandpa, you still get Netflix through the mail???"
Grandpa: "Yes, it's a tradition. We'e been doing it this way for hundreds of years."
Foureen-year-old granddaughter (astounded): "Grandpa, you still get Netflix through the mail???"
Grandpa: "Yes, it's a tradition. We'e been doing it this way for hundreds of years."
I've been reading Trollope's Palliser novels again -- my third or fourth time through this series of six great big whoppers. It's a familiar tour -- but with enough forgettings and misrememberings on my part to keep me focussed and surprised.
I finished The Eustace Diamonds late last night. I know that I read this novel for the first time in 1961 because it was in the curriculum of a course taught by showman Professor Edgar Rosenberg. I haven't the siightest recollection of that early reading or of Rosenberg's lectures either, but then, sixty years have gone by and larger and larger cavities riddle my porous Swiss cheese brain.
The Eustace Diamonds is rich in both plot and character. In addition to the usual "who is going to marry whom" scenario (three separate instances here) and still another version of the handsome but weak hero who is going to the dogs but redeems himself in the last installment, there's a genuine cops-and-robbers mystery along with three separate detectives (none of them as competent as Mr. Bucket). And then there's also a riotous profusion of characters. Some, like Mr. Benjamin and Mr. Mealyus, products of Trollope's uncontrollable disgust with those nasty Semites, merely disfigure the page. Others are stock characters who appear in novel after novel, the name alone changed: in this case the the patient Griselda figure Lucy Morris. But then there's a glorious almost Dickensian abundance of highly-marked, genuinely individualized and extremely imaginative, credible inventions.
There's Lizzie Eustace, with her fibs, taradiddles and utterly conscienceless lies; George de Bruce Carruthers, who has an eye for the main chance but knows how to protect himself against pretty women; elderly Lady Linlithgow, who's all tart tongue and selfishness; Lord Fawn, a pitiful small-minded aristocrat; and the bustling opportunistic hypocrite Mrs. Carbuncle.
And then there's Lucinda Roanoke, who inhabits a corner of the novel but who is fascinatingly perverse. She's an American, very young and handsome, impecunious, who's being shopped around to snare a husband. Under pressure, and against all good sense, she accepts an offer from the brute Sir Griffin Tewett. Lucinda has no intention of becoming an obedient wife. The engagement becomes a war of attrition between the "lovers." Sir Griffin holds on only because, it appears, he doesn't like to lose and because he assumes that he'll be able to control Lucinda once he's married and has legal authority over her. He looks forward to the only sort of sex that might occur, which woud be nothing less than rape. Lucinda is sex-averse and finds even a kiss to be abhorrent. As the wedding day approaches, she announces that she will never be Sir Griffin's bride. She threatens both murder and suicide. On the morning of the long anticipated day, she simply refuses to leave her room. Trollope tells us that she has gone mad. And that's the end of the affair.
Lucinda doesn't quite fit into the space. On the surface, the episode makes the point that women were offered no place in society except obedient wife. But this is not comedy of manners; it's pathology. Sir Griffin is a sadistic monster. Lucinda does not want to submit, and therefore "chooses" insanity. Trollope does not follow Lucinda into her madness; instead, he dismisses her from his novel in exactly the same way that the English society dismisses such women. Trollope can't make a drop of sense out of the situation that he himself created. Lucinda deserves, and will earn, a novel of her own. But it won't be written by Anthony Trollope.
I should concentrate while shaving, but I fell into a reverie. The subject at hand --the beard. Why? Why do human males grow hair on their faces. What's the point? The beard is completely valueless except to Gillette and Schick.
If the beard kept a guy warm in winter, then why in the world would evolution deprive the gals of equivalent protection?
Do bearded males garner a larger share of the nubile maidens than the beardless? Or a disproportianate share of the wealth. I know of no evidence that they do so.
It's sexual dimorphism without purpose or logic. My guess --and it's only a guess --is that the beard-gene clung to a gene with a useful male purpose a couple of hundred thousand years ago and never let go.
I suppose that sexual dimorphism can sometimes be useful. Those magnificent manes sported by the lions of the Serengeti certainly make a formidable statement -- noli me tangere and by the way keep your paws off the the ladies in my harem. I can see that -- but then, the males of the extinct European lion did just as well without ruffs, and so do the Bengal tigers.
The gorgeous display of the male peacock is exuberant but inessential -- many birds manage to signal their gender and their availability without such a prodigious waste of resources.
I should be relieved that it's only the beard that I have to worry about. Imagine if by some quirk of evolution, males of our species grew a big rack of antlers. Way more inconvenient than a mere beard. I can see myself lodged in a doorway, or lying in bed trying to get comfortable while the antlers scratch the headboard or poke the beloved in the eye.
Perhaps civilization would demand that we disbud the antlers at birth? Or we might go the other route and decorate or color or polish the antlers. "How are you wearing your antlers this winter?" "Natural brown, I think, this year, but with golden highlights."
Better a beard than antlers. Definitely.
It had been a while since I last flew Frontier --the airline with the cute furry anthropomorphic talking mammals on their tails. There have been changes -- all of them for the worse. There's now an extra charge for each piece of luggage. Those free meals are a thing of the remote past. So are the days when you would get the entire can of ginger ale or tomato juice. It's now a splash of juice in a cup of ice. No free TV -- you swipe your card, they swipe your cash. The seats are smaller, too. More rows, less leg room. Wasn't there a time when air travel was glamorous? Now it's just a big Greyhound in the sky, a warehouse on wings.
Not only was my seat compressed, but the back didn't recline. Somehow I had been assigned a seat that backed onto the emergency exit row. In earlier planes, such seats used to recline, but I'm guessing that Frontier has gained a few inches by rendering the backs immobile -- at the cost of my comfort (but not at reduced cost).
Adding to the insult is an unapologetic sign on the back of the seat in front of me inscribed with the words NO RECLINE THIS ROW. I wonder what language the author of this sign thinks he is using. Not English, that's for sure. "No recline this row" does not even come close to parsing. What would it have cost Frontier to affix a sign that read "the seats in this row do not recline." Where do they outsource their signs -- to the writers of 1940s cowboy and faux-Indian movies? No recline this row! Come on, frontiersmen; you can do better than that. If you have no respect for me, at least have a little respect for the language. The talking animals speak better English.
To the chief of sign-makers at Frontier I say, "No hire this job."
There was another sign for me to stare out while I sat there, miserably cramped, watching the clock. "LIFE VEST UNDER YOUR SEAT." Isn't Frontier banging the frugality drum a little too hard? The sentence might have read, "Life vest IS under your seat." How much could a trifling copulative verb cost? If Frontier wanted to be truly prodigal, it could even have raised the cash to provide an indefinite article: "A life vest is under your seat." Wow. A complete sentence!. What a concept!
(Orignally posted 2011: 2013 update: no free beverage at all nowadays; the cart is only for paying customers. I didn't bother to ask how much for the plastic cup of water. My prediction: next time, there will be a charge to use the bathroom.)
On the telephone, The Daughter (as she sometimes calls herself) was fussing about her teen and tween children. "I'm on the warpath (her metaphor) about the mess. I'm tired of cleaning up after them. Right now T. has left a pile of her homework on the kitchen floor. She's at ballet for two hours. What do I do? Walk around it or clean it up. Why does she do this? And O. has left half a sandwich and piece of apple on the table. I failed to train them when they were young and now it's hopeless."
Every parent in North America, and perhaps every parent in the known universe, might make the same complaint.
I tried to console The Daughter. "If you'd like to take ten minutes to vent, I'm here to listen."
She vented for thirty seconds, then fell silent. Frustrated.
I said, "Here's the way I think of it now. You lose every battle, but you win the war."
"Explain," she muttered.
"It's obvious. When you and your brothers were growing up, there was some sort of conflict every day. One of you didn't call and didn't show up for dinner. Whoever was supposed to take the garbage out, 'forgot' to do it. Someone would get into a screaming fit at someone else over nothing signficant. Quarters would be stolen out of pants pockets. Some inches of liquor would mysteriously disappear. Sassy words would be spoken to parents and parents would be devastated. Someone wasn't sleeping at the house where he or she said he or she was going to stay. Mileage on the car speedometer would increase without explanation. There were horrible scenes when someone was asked to do the most minimal chores.
And yet, despite it all, despite the fact that every day I lost the battle, I won the war. Each of you turned out to be what my own father used to call 'solid, taxpaying citizens.' You've all doing good works. All living upright, moral lives. All creating healthy, functioning families. All of you are excellent parents. The grandchildren are thriving.
So in the long run, I won. Lost every battle, won the war."
The Daughter said, "Blog it."
'The placement of the human male genitalia is ridiculous and ill-conceived. What in the living heck are such sensitive and vulnerable organs doing right out there -- in front, dramatically positioned to be bumped by furniture or careless hands, struck by flying objects, or pummelled by grandchildren. In any intelligently-designed universe, the penis would be entirely retractable, making its appearance only when summoned. (Nor would it be a dual-purpose organ. Every engineer knows that dedicated instruments always perform better than devices that combine functions.
Moreover, the testicles would be buried deep inside the body cavity, as, for example, the spleen or the ovaries -- not hanging loose, ungirded and swattable.
Freud once remarked that the male organs of generation have not evolved in the direction of beauty. And therefore not even the crassest male flaunts his stuff to attract a mate. Or never did, not until the coming of the internet. If the parts weren't intended to beautiful, then they might as well have been concealed and protected. But not so.
Why are they where they are? The culprit, obviously, is evolution -- specifically, the shift to upright posture. Four feet on the ground and the apparatus is tucked away behind the hind legs, way back there in the anterior. Protected, inconspicuous, and discreet. Stand up, and there they are just where they shouldn't be. A three-year-old child with a box of crayons could produce a better design than frontward-facing genitalia.
Instead, we're left with either another example of divine under-achievement, or further and supererogatory confirmation that the universe is disorderly, aleatory, and improvisational.
It was when women joined in standing upright that breasts came into prominence. There is no other mammalian species in which the organs of lactation are so clearly displayed. But female breasts had the good sense to evolve into an essential part of sexual display. "Hey, mister, look at these. Look how well I can nurse your babies."
Now there, at last, is an evolutionary outcome that makes sense.One that a guy can bring himself to endorse and admire.
I was thirteen years old when Eisenhower-Nixon defeated Adlai Stevenson. I was of course horrified. In what sort of nation, I thought, could a doddering simpleton with a dark mccarthyite machiavel at his ear defeat an intelligent, educated, humorous progressive. Ghastly, ghastly.
Mullling this over this morning, I remembered that while Truman was still in office, postage stamps would be cancelled (hand-cancelled in those days) with the inscription, "Twenty-five years of Social Security." But right after the Eisenhower inauguration, the slogan was altered to "Pray for Peace."
A message about a concrete program that actually helped people suddenly turned into a meaningless, faux-religious instruction. "Pray for Peace" did not seem then, nor now, like a viable political position. "Pray for Peace" did not speak to me.
Sixty years later and the Republicans are still beating the same meaningless drum, still going backwards.
Not only have the damn Republicans not caught up with the age of reason, but they're still embracing the dark ages. The hole into which they've inserted their collective heads is not only deeper but considerably more vacuous.
Friends of long standing know that Vivian de St. Vrain, alter ego and nom de blague, makes two boasts that go a long way toward the establishment of a substantial worldly identity: a) I've never eaten a McDonald's hamburger, and b) I've read all forty-seven of Anthony Trollope's novels. Old info for old friends, but for you internet pilgrims who've just stumbled upon this website, I know what you're thinking -- what a fascinating personality is Vivian de St. Vrain!! What a heady and disorienting combination of discipline and indulgence and whimsy!!!! What a guy!!
And not only all of Trollope's novels, but most of them multiple times. In facy, I've just now re-read Can You Forgive Her?, the first 800-pager of the six Palliser novels. This would be either my third or fourth reading -- and almost certainly, considering my "maturity," my ultimate passage. And what is my mature judgment, you ask?
I love Lady Glencora more and more. The poor dear was sandbagged into an arranged marriage but she has spunk and grit. She's attracted to the handsome sexy guy from the other side of the tracks and she's not going to let go easily. Trollope doesn't say so in so many words, and perhaps can't admit it even to himself, but she's locked in the classic D. H. Lawrence situation. She's married to a precious dry article in Planty Pall, a refrigerator of a man who can't be much fun in bed, no fun at all we think, and she has yearnings. If it were a Lawrence novel, Lady G. would leave the future Duke and run in the woods with Burgo, thread her mound with flowers, live on berries and celebrate her release in overblown purple prose. But because it's the middle of the nineteenth century, she is saved from disgrace -- narrowly -- and learns to renounce her proto-Lawrencian stirrings. Not without pain. If there's a miracle in the novel, it's that she gets herself pregnant, and by her husband. A deus ex machina last-minute rescue. But we readers wonder, how did that happen? Plodding Planty Pall doing his duty, meeting his sense of obligation to his forebears and descendants? We're surprised that the old stick had it in him, even though, we're repeatedly told, he's not yet thirty years old.
Trollope loves his rebellious women, as long as they don't rebel too much, and as long as they remember their subordinate places. And also, that they not do much reading or acquire learning.
And yet, at the same time, I can't help but think how George Eliot would have taken the same situation and turned it into more than a novel of manners. She would have transformed it into a critique of the entirety of Victorian culture. Trollope does not know enough or doesn't care enough to engage the larger issues But then, no one, except George Eliot, could do so. Well, there's also Tolstoi.
The novel has its dry spots, but the brilliant parts are absolutely brilliant. The conversation between Plantagenet and Glencora after the ball, after Lady G. doesn't run off with Burgo, is utterly scintillating. Trollope is a novelist's novelist.
He's also good with Alice Vavasor, who like Glencora, goes up to the line but never crosses it. I think Trollope overdoes it when he turns George into an out-and-out villain. It's unnecessary and melodramatic. He should have trusted Alice, and trusted his readership also. We knew that George was a rotter long before his resort to violence.
And what shall we say about John Grey, Alice's long suffering on-again, off-again fiance and patient Griseldo. He's just too good for words -- so good that he becomes otherwordly, allegorical. Can a man be so passive and still be admirable and marriageable, even in an era in which renunciation was the virtue of virtues. All in all, John Grey is not credible. Not as a character, not even as an ideal.
Question of the day for Dr. M? Should he go on with Phineas Finn and his Irish friends, or should he stop now?
I think I'll wait and see if I can get someone to tread this path with me. I don't know that I want to go it alone. Some pleasures should be shared.
How are we new-millenium readers supposed to grasp the social significance of nineteenth-century horsedrawn vehicles when even characters in nineteenth-century novels can be easily baffled? True enough that Miss Alice Vavasor and Lady Glencora are both very young ladies, and true also that they've lived marvelously protected lives, but still -- such appalling ignorance:
" [Alice Vavasor] saw a light stylish-looking cart which she would have called a Whitechapel had she been properly instructed in such matters, and a little low open carriage with two beautiful small horses....
"Dear Alice, I'm so glad you've come.... Your maid can go in the dog-cart with your things!" -- it wasn't a dog-cart, but Lady Glencora knew no better."
A dog-cart was not pulled by dogs. It was an informal vehicle with a recessed box or cage in which dogs were transported. Trollope lords it over his Lady Glencora for her ignorance of such plebian matters. And a Whitechapel? There's no footnote in my edition of Can You Forgive Her and neither google nor wikipedia hazards a guess (though Wik is well aware of a "deathcore" band of the same name), so I'll just go with "light stylish cart."
And now add "Whitechapel" to the list: barouche, basket carriage, berlin, britchka, brougham, buckboard, buggy, cabriolet, caleche, cariole, carryall, chaise, chariot, clarence, concord wagon, coupe, croydon, curricle, cutter, daumont, dearborn, dennet, diligence, dog-cart, fiacre, fly, fourgon, four-wheeler, gig, go-cart, governess cart, hansom, herdic, jaunty car, jersey-wagon, kibitka, landau, patache, phaeton, pill-box, post-chaise, rockaway, shandrydan, shay, sociable, spider-phaeton, spring-van, stanhope, sulky, surrey, T-cart, telyezhka, tilbury, tarantass, trap, troika, victoria, vis-a-vis, wagonette, and wurt.
I'm enchanted by a sentence in Othello that is spoken by Desdemona's lady-in-waiting, Emilia. She's helping Desdemona to undress and the two women are engaged in informal chat. Desdemona, perhaps wondering why she had the misfortune to fall in love with exotic Othello, allows her mind to wander. It comes to rest on a countryman of hers, a good-looking man named Ludovico. And then her interlocutor Emilia praises this newly-invented handsome Ludovico in words that should compel every sentient being to gasp in astonishment and admiration.
About Ludovico, Emilia makes a remarkable claim: "I know a lady in Venice would have walked barefoot to Palestine for a touch of his nether lip."
All that needs to be said is, wow! But let me try to explain why the sentence so transfixes me.
It's hyperbole, but not the ordinary hyperbole of largest or smallest or coolest or most awesome. It's a hyperbole beyond hyperbole. A lesser writer might have said, "I know a lady who would have walked a long way to make love to him." Not Shakespeare. For "a long way," Shakespeare give us "barefoot to Palestine"; for "make love" he offers "a touch of his nether lip." It's extravagant and wheeling.
A hike, barefoot, to the holy land, would have been a long and exacting journey. The evocative word "Palestine" infuses religion and sanctity into a sentence about sex and desire -- and therefore generates a love-longing that is as powerful, as silly, and as ill-planned as a crusade. And for what aim? Not even, for this mythical lady hiker, a big, zonking, mouth-filling kiss; simply for the merest contact of lips. No, not even lips, just one lip -- the lower one. It's an hyperbole of minimalism.
In the poetry that Shakespeare knew from childhood, it was men who would make the vows and undergo the trials to court their beautiful ladies. But this lovely sentence reverses the convention. It is, so to speak, Sadie Hawkins day in Venice.
Emilia elsewhere asserts that women have desires as strong as lovers of the other sex; here she demonstrates that women's love-longing can be as ridiculous (and as powerful) as men's.
And everyone who knows Othello will hear in the word "Palestine" an intimation of the violent act that once, many years ago, shook Aleppo.
The new Much Ado is a charming, understated success. The actors are not trained Shakespeareans; they're tv series folk, and they say the lines conversationally and casually, paying scant attention to the verse or to the mannered prose rhythms. It works, on the whole, although some of the great lines are delivered so unemphatically that they're swallowed and lost. Whoever would imagine that Benedick's "the world must be peopled' could slip by an audience without e'en a giggle. The text is judiciously pruned -- the only major omission the nighttime ceremony for presumably dead Hero -- but that's a scene that has always made me uncomfortable so I wasn't sorry to see it go. The Dogberry-Verges sequence is a brilliant deadpan triumph. There's very little added business, thank you, but what there is. is choice. The actress who plays Beatrice (Amy Acker) has borrowed so much from Emma Thompson's delivery (in the last filmed Much Ado) that if you were to close your eyes, you'd think that you'd time-traveled back to 1993.The director, whom I had never heard of but is apparently famous, is Joss Whedon. Thanks, Joss.
I've seen many many modern films in which hero and heroine don't get on at first but little-by-little find themselves in love and in marriage. But Shakespeare was there first. Beatrice and Benedick are the mom and pop of a half-a-zillion subsequent comedies. It's good to see them as alive and thriving as they are in this realization.
Some years ago, I was doing time at a world-famous research library. One of the other inmates posed a problem to the assembled denizens. A Frenchman, he was translating an American novel into his native tongue and there was a passage in the book that he could not understand. He thought it might be a joke but he couldn't make heads nor tails of it. He read us the passage. "Two men are in a bar. The first man asks, 'What do you do with a giraffe who has three balls on him.' The second man answers, 'Walk him and pitch to the elephant.'"
As I remember, everyone in the room "got it," but no one could suggest a good solution to the translation problem. Word-for-word wouldn't do and an equivalent was impossible to indentify. I don't know what the poor fellow decided. Something elegant, I hope.
There is an ocean of difference between colloquial conversation in real life and the dialogue that appears in Shakespeare's works, even when his plays are at their least artificial and most mimetic.
In its most ordinary use, the word "conversation" means nothing more that the talk in which real men and women engage in the greater part of their social lives. These conversations might include formal or semi-formal events such as oration, debate, interview, negotiation, interrogation, official inquiry, ceremony , arbitration, sermon, lecture etc. -- all of them linguistic interactions that are governed by specific although for the most part unarticulated rules. "Colloquial" conversation, on the other hand, refers specifically to the wave of informal, unplanned, unregulated and unrehearsed exchanges that occur over dinner, on the street, by the water-cooler, at the tavern. Such conversations, although not incapable of eloquence, are on the whole disorderly, sprawling and haphazard. They are brimful of uncompleted or suspended thoughts (or thoughts introduced by one interlocutor and then either completed or re-directed by another), with syntactic collapse and improvisation , with references to shared experience that may seem to be grand leaps of logic to an eavesdropper but that are perfectly intelligible to the participants, with mumbles and grunts, extended pauses (some meaningless, some momentous), with apparently inexplicable ellipses, with overlaps in which a number of participants speak simultaneously, with unmediated zigzags from the profound to the trivial, with repetitions and backtracks, with mis-speakings, mis-hearings, clarifications, false starts, fragments, non-verbal but sometimes significant ecphoneses or "response crises" (ooh-ooh), and with a flotilla of other very ordinary and very natural curiosities. Real colloquial conversation is spontaneous; it is the activity of two or more intelligences working together to shape meaning. Real talk is essentially untranscribable, and students of conversation who have made an effort to set such interactions down on paper have had perforce to resort to elaborate and imperfect diagrams and codes.
In strong contrast, dialogue in Shakespeare's plays very seldom attempts to approximate colloquial conversation. And with good reason: Elizabethan dramas seldom stoop to represent the casual situations in which conversation is likely to occur. Instead, the circumstances upon which the plays dwell are typically formal or ceremonial, and the dialogue in which they are enacted consists for the most part of speeches that delineate an emotion or moral response to a conflict, of debates over the proper course of action, of reports on past or distant events, as well as judicial or ritualistic confrontation, soliloquy, meditation, prayer, boast, threat and counter-threat and various other kinds of regulated discourse in which the artless and random quality of ordinary talk would be entirely inappropriate. The dialogue in comedies, though in a different register, is equally artificial, consisting as it does, of wit-combats, jests, and the conceits that clownage keeps in pay. Shakespeare's most colloquial exchanges, unlike real-life conversation, are on the whole orderly, sequential, composed in intelligible syntax and in complete thoughts. It goes without saying that dramatic dialogue is, with the exception of the rare improvisational moment, not spontaneous at all but the studied product of a single controlling intelligence.
During the first years of his career as a playwright, Shakespeare experimented with a variety of revolutionary ways to compose dialogue (not generally, but on propitious occasions) that, although not in any real sense congruent to actual spoken conversation, nevertheless managed to create the illusion of a natural and colloquial sound. The employment of dialogue that might pass for real utterance was not an inheritance from earlier dramatists but was a craft that Shakespeare had to develop on his own. The fabrication of such dialogue is an unobtrusive art that does not call attention to itself -- in point of fact, colloquial conversation is most successful when it is least noticeable. While the great leviathan examples of Shakespeare's rhetorical mastery have been subjected to exhaustive analysis, colloquial conversation is so small and so inconspicuous a fish that it has managed for hundreds of years to slip the nets of critical analysis.
There is a finely-crafted instance of seemingly-natural colloquial conversation in Othello.
As Emilia helps Desdemona prepare herself for bed, the two women gingerly feel their way toward an issue of great sensitivity -- the domination of women by men. It is a relaxed and intimate conference, all the more obviously so because it follows in the wake of an anguished and highly-wrought -- and rhetorically elevated -- scene in which Desdemona has been slandered as an adulterer and as a daughter of the game.
What techniques does Shakespeare employ to make the exchange between Desdemona and Emilia appear quite so marvelously natural?
Attempting to console her sorrowful mistress, Emilia offers the opinion that it would have been better if Desdemona had never known Othello. Desdemona contradicts her serving-woman:
Des. So would not I: my love dost so approve him,
That even his stubbornness, his checks, his frowns
(Prithee unpin me) have grace and favor.
"Prithee unpin me" comes as a genuine surprise because it is syntactically discontinuous from the sentence in which it is embedded. It's a separate topic. Dialogue in Elizabethan drama ordinarily deals with issues sequentially rather than simultaneously, but dialogue begins to sound a bit like conversation when the interlocutors engage more than one subject at at time. That the two themes of the discourse are located on different rhetorical levels (the rather formal series of nouns in parallel -- stubbornness, checks, frowns-- in contraste to the offhand parenthetical instruction), suggests that something interesting and different is about to occur.
The progress toward real or realistic-sounding conversation, initiated with "unpin me here," continues when Emilia's response engages neither Othello's mysterious anger or Desdemona's unpinning, but introduces a third subject: "I have laid those sheets you bade me on the bed." With this sentence Emilia does more than simply resume a discussion of so ordinary a matter as bedclothes, she also replicates a common feature of colloquial conversation -- its practice of referring without overt signal to a past mutual experience -- i.e. "you bade me."
Now Desdemona drifts off in a direction of her own.
All's one: good faith, how foolish are our minds?
If I do die before, prithee shroud me
In one of these same sheets.
"All[s one" -- with its variant "all's one for that" is a common Elizabethan demotic catch phrase: here it serves a meaningless filler. Desdemona's meander from death to shrouds to sheets is designed to reflect her own private, internal non-volitional synaptic leaps. Her apology - "how foolish are our minds" - reflects both Desdemona's and Shakespeare's knowledge that the sentences violate the habit of dramatic dialogue in that they are ordered not by logic but by association.
Emilia's mild but polite rebuke ("Come, come, you talk") is followed by a sentence in which Desdemona introduces the fourth separate and distinct subject of this unfolding conversation.
My mother had a maid called Barbary.
She was in love, and he she loved proved mad,
And did forsake her.
Desdemona has fallen into a reverie in which she re-lives an experience of the childhood that Shakespeare has newly and spontaneously invented for her. In these two-and-a-half lines, Shakespeare audaciously allows Desdemona to introduce three new but extremely pertinent characters: Desdemona's mother, hitherto unknown to the audience, her mother's forsaken maid Barbary, and the maid's lunatic and inconstant lover. The effect of Desdemona's brief but poignant recollection is to reinforce the illusion that she is an autonomous speaker, giving shape to her sentences as they precipitate out of her battered and not-entirely-disciplined consciousness. An astute audience (or readership) will certainly notice that Desdemona projects her own plight onto these imaginary meta-beings, and although the psychological ramifications of their creation are rich indeed, Shakespeare's use of these improvised beings to mimic the habits of real talk is as fully wonderful.
She (.e. Barbary) had song of willow.
An old thing 'twas, but it expressed her fortune.
And she died singing it. That song tonight,
Will not go from my mind. I have much to do
But to go hang my head all at one side
And sing it like poor Barbary.. Prithee dispatch.
To enforce the quotidian quality of the dialogue, Shakespeare invokes a phenomenon familiar to every reader or hearer: the tune that seems to repeat of its own accord in one's mind. The result: Desdemona has been provided with a memory, and her memory holds a song, and that song is now apparently going to sing itself independent of the character's own will. But what occurs is not only the illusion that Desdemona reveals an inner experience; it is also that these reflections are cast in such courageously monosyllabic language. And just to assure us that the characters not not float from their dock in the material universe, Desdemona's instruction to Emilia --"Prithee dispatch" - sustains the exact colloquial mode initiated by "Prithee unpin me" and anchors both women in the real present.
Both song and reverie are now shunted aside as the conversation comes to a small climax. The two ladies contineu to imitate the randomness of real talk:
Emelia. Shall I go fetch your nightgown?
Desdemona. No, unpin me here.
This Ludovico is a proper man.
Emilia. A very handsome man.
Desdemona: He speaks well.
Emilia: I know a lady in Venice would have walked barefoot to Palestine for a touch of his nether lip.
Desdemona and Emilia drift from topic to topic: nightgowns leads by some unarticulated but easy-to-imagine route to Ludovico and his masculine allure, thence to Ludovico's habits of speech and at last to the very vivid and memorable 'lady in Venice" -- a colorful personage who springs from Emilia's fabricated pre-history, and who flashes across the stage in a hyperbole of brilliant but unstressed beauty (and whose inexplicable passion asserts that women can prosecute love-longing fully as irrationally as men). And then, just when it seems as if the maid Barbary has been left in the lurch and forgotten, the conversation turns back upon itself and Desdemona breaks into the song of the poor soul who sat sighing by a sycamore tree. To reinforce the apparent spontaneity of the moment, Shakespare makes Desdemona repeatedly interrupt (and even amend) her own singing : "Lay by these"... "Prithee high thee; he'll come anon"... "Nay that's not next. Hark who is't that knockes." This broken series of syntactically independent units, periodically intruded into the song, are invented for the sole purpose of giving emphasis to the naturalness and immediacy of the moment.
Shakespeare has therefore created the appearance of spontaeous conversation by forsaking the straight path of normative dramatic dialoge. Desdemona and Emilia intertwine present and past, real and fanciful, public and private, high language and low, song and speech, understatment and exaggeration, syntactic coherence and syntactic collapse, all within a context of shared knowledge and almost sisterly intimacy.
The colloquial moment is fleeting, for even before the scene comes to a close, Shakespeare returns to a more traditional dramatic idiom. Nevertheless, the episode has done important work: Emilia's great feminist manifesto ("Let husbands know,/ Their wives have sense like them") which will follow immediately after this exchange, has been so effectively grounded in a real, earthy, and contemporary context that it must stir every sensitive intelligence with its grand appeal to equity.
It has long been acknowledged that the exotic Moor speaks in a highly particularized, elaborate, and picturesque idiolect of his own - the music that sweeps in with the icy currents of the Pontic sea and allows the Moor's great dignity to find its expression. Desdemona and Emilia sing a far calmer but more original song, and their impromptu domestic duet is surely no less and perhaps even a greater artistic achievement than Othello's stupendous arias.
On the whole, Fowles, as befit his name, was a birder rather than a "snaker," so I don't know how he stumbled upon Clifford Pope's The Great Snakes. I am not surprised that the one fact that Fowles gleaned from Pope's herpetological knowledge that "snakes copulate for hours, sometimes a day at a time." A very Fowlesian piece of information.
I am surprised that he also reported in his journal the same snake anecdote that Dr. Metablog noted right here on this very blog. Back in 2006, Dr. M. made mention of the instructions provided to early African missionaries on the proper response to meeting one of those 25-foot-long, 300-pound reticulated Burmese pythons. I found it in a book called Man the Hunted. Here's the story:
Remember not to run away; the python can run faster. The thing to do is to lie flat on the ground on your back with your feet together, arms to the sides and head well down. The python will then try to push its head under you, experimenting at every possible point. Keep calm, one wiggle and he will get under you, wrap his coils round you and crush you to death. After a time the python will get tired of this and will probably decide to swallow you without the usual preliminaries. He will very likely begin with one of your feet. Keep calm. You must let him swallow your foot. It is quite painless and will take a long time. If you lose your head and struggle he will quickly whip his coils around you. If you keep calm, he will go on swallowing. Wait patiently until he has swallowed about up to your knee. Then carefully take out your knife and insert it into the distended side of his mouth and with a quick rip slit him up.
In 2006, Dr M. wrote: "Well-meant advice, I'm sure, but perhaps difficult to follow. Suppose you're just not in the mood to allow the python such liberties with your person. Suppose you've forgotten to bring your knife; suppose the python decides to start with your head rather than a foot. Suppose you involuntarily wiggle just a teensy bit. Suppose you just don't feel that it's a good day to be engulfed." Fowles' comment is shorter but equally pertinent. He writes: "And spend the rest of your life in an asylum."
When I realized that Fowles and I had a common interest in giant man-eating snakes, I decided that the least I could to honor his memory was re-read The Magus. Which I did, at first with enthusiasm and then with increasing dismay as the the novel's flaws began to overwhelm its beauties. The Magus is too contrived, too obvious. Nicholas Urfe, the naif, is so unsuspicious that he is fooled by Conchis, the magician, over and over again -- many more times than is remotely credible. The reader (the 2013 reader, that is, not the 1965 reader) catches to the repeated gimmickry. But then after Urfe realize that he's been sadistically manipulated, he stockholm-syndromes his tormentors far too rapidly and cursorily. It should take as much time to heal as to be harmed. As a result the book is out of balance -- too long in the middle, too short in the resolution. And then on top of that there's the heavy-handed Jungstuff and the grade-school pop Freudianism!! O my gosh. I was embarrassed. And in addtion, there is the deeply, unliberated Victorian attitudes toward sexuality in a book that claims to be "advanced." Anyway, it just did not work this time through. What a disappoingment.
And I'm disappointed in Fowles as well. I began to read his journals in the hope that he would be complex and philosophical and aware, but, no, he was just like me -- simple, defensive, insecure.
And what a snob: so much and so often worried about his bourgeois background and so ashamed of his well-meaning parents.
Most unforgiveable is not that he ran off with his best friend's wife, but that he wouldn't let Elizabeth keep her daughter. He made her choose between him and her own child. In my view, a man should never come between a parent, a mother, and her offspring. It's a violation of the natural order, if there is such a thing as the natural order.
Nevertheless, I'm clinging to my most positive memoriesof Fowles The French Lieutenant's Woman, which I still believe to be a novel that will last. But frankly, I'm just a tad frightened to re-read it.
Amnesia movies continue to thrive. This latest, The Vow, made a bunch of money but was widely panned. And should have been. It's a sad sad day when the amnesia is more credible than the male lead.
The Vow purports to be based on the story of Krickitt (sic) Pappas, who lost the memory of eighteen months of her life in a automobile accident. Her husband re-courted her. and re-won her; they lived happily ever after. They're sticking to the story that she never regained her memory of those lost months.
i have no particular reason to doubt the tale, improbably though it might seen. The brain is another country; they do things differently there. And Rachel McAdams, who plays Krickitt, is the most persuasive amnesia-victim I've yet encountered. Because she doesn't take the amnesia for granted, Hollywood-wise, but struggles to figure it all out, she seems to be genuinely afflicted.
Nevertheless, it's incredible that she should be in love with that lump of all lumps, the lumpish Channing Tatum, who turns his character, Kim Carpenter, into a affectless lump. I've encounted talentless actors in my life, but Tatum is something special.
Nor do I believe that the lovers either met or were reunited at the "Cafe Mnemonic."
The Vow is pure, unashamed soap opera, although it is more credible about the disease than most amnesia offerings, perhaps because it offers no cooked-up, nonce oversimpliication of what's going on in the brain.
Shakuntala Devi, who died in India a week or so ago, was an incredible arithmetician. She once "accurately multiplied two random 13-digit numbers in a few seconds." "On a visit to this country, an American psychologist set her two problems: the cube root of 61,629,875, and the seventh root of 170,859,375. Shakuntala Devi gave the correct answers - 395 and 15 - even before he started his stopwatch."
No one knows how she did this. No one has even advanced a persuasive theory.
It's difficult for me to remember a thirteen-digit number. I don't think I could remember two thirteen-digit numbers. It's beyond my imagination to think about multiplying them (to produce the correct twenty-six digit answer).
I'm wondering whether Devi's abilities seem so astonishing because she's out there all by herself. If there were a cohort of people who could easily multiply 8, 9, or 12 digit numbers it wouldn't seem so wonderful that she could do 13. But she's unique.
But then I'm intimidated by Mozart, whose feats are also beyond imagining.
I wonder whether Ms. Devi carried some sort of genetic mutation. Is remarkable proficiency at mental arithmetic an inheritable trait? Which makes me wonder, when did homines sapientes acquire the ability to learn the times table? When did the mutation for that trait first appear?
I telephoned my consultant on such matters, the blogger Political Mammal. He says that the ordinary brain, yours and mine, does so many calculations just when we walk down the street and compare this storefront to the one that went out of business and to the similar one on the next block that, well, we should be just as astonished at quotidian events as at mental arithmetic. I see his point. Who knows how many synapses are firing now, even as I'm writing this simplicity-itself post.
But writing a few words is a commonplace miracle; extracting seventh roots -- now, that's something else.
It had been a long time since I'd read a decent hyena book, so I opened Mikita Brottman's Hyena (London, 2012) with great anticipation.
I'm sorry to report that it was a bit of a disappointment: not nearly enough biology and too much undigested "reception history." Yes, it's true that hyenas are regarded with almost universal fear and revulsion. perhaps because they dig up corpses and run off with young children. But I knew that. And although Brottman mentions the unusual sexual apparatus of female hyenas, which causes so much difficulty with copulation and childbirth, she neglected to remind us that hyena males lack a baculum.
Good pictures, however. Here's one.
I've seen a lot of stuffed animals in baby's cribs, but I've never seen a cute stuffed hyena. Merely a sampling error, it turns out. Stuffed hyenas suitable for your newborn are available on the internet,
Nevertheless, I a bit skeptical that hyenas will ever outsell the bunnies and puppies.
Now only one of my teachers survives -- and then only because he's a centenarian. Steve Parrish, next-to-last, who was very kind to me back there in the 1950s, died a year ago at the age of 90. News travels slowly. I now realize that Steve was only a couple of years out of grad school when I met him (his career started late because of two Navy stints, one in WWII and one in Korea). He was disarmingly casual, but nevertheless learned and intelligent. In retrospect, I am stunned that he was able to listen to my adolescent blather with a straight face. I also remember a dinner at his home where his genial demeanor was taxed by the ferocity of his then-wife. Of his famous grandfather,I tried but never got him to say a word. Letters and postcards from him were appropriately signed, "Affably, SMP. I remember that he helped me with my undergraduate thesis, helped me to win a Wilson, and wouldn't let me quit the "large Eastern university" to which he had sent me when I wanted to come back home to the alma mater far above Cayuga's waters.
I should have thanked him. Too late.
We were not always the earth's sole hominid. Neanderthals (and Denisovans, and Homo floresiensis (if they were truly distinct species) overlapped our time. Here are two skeletons, one of ours and one of theirs.
The first Neanderthals appeared perhaps a quarter of a million years ago and certainly by 170,000 years BP. They seem to have supplanted Homo heidlebergensis, a more distant cousin of ours, and they flourished from Spain to Israel, as far north as Finland, and possibly as far east as the Altai mountains in Siberia. In order to live in cold climates, they would have clothed themselves, though of course not a trace of a garment has survived. Neanderthals, it's been newly determined, carried a gene associated with pale skin and red hair. Their brain cases were slightly larger than ours, but shaped differently -- bulging at the sides and protruding in the back. Their rib cases flared at the bottom and their pelvises were broad, which meant that their strides necessarily involved a lot more hip rotation than our straightforward gait. They were more robust than we, with heavier bones and muscles, and they were much stronger. They ate more than we did and matured more rapidly -- their wisdom teeth developed at six years of age. Earlier Neanderthal populations appear to have been scavengers, but later ones were predators, capable of taking mammoths and wooly rhinoceroses. The plaque of Neanderthal teeth reveal traces of phytoliths which occur in the roots and leaves of plants. It's known that they ate dates, barley and legumes. Both meat and plants were cooked. There is some fragmentary evidence that they practiced cannibalism, but, I'd prefer to think, only "survival cannibalism." Neanderthals lived in bands or perhaps 8 or 10 members. They occasionally buried their dead, but left behind no evidence of ritual or ceremony. They knapped chert and flint into scrapers and hand axes and the knew how to bind stone to wooden handles with adhesives and sinew, but they did not make use of bone tools.
They were gone from the earth about 20,000 years ago, displaced by homines sapientes and perhaps reduced by changes in the climate or by other destructive natural events.
Humans of European origin (but not of African or Asian) interbred with Neanderthals, so that as much of 4% of human DNA is Neanderthal. On ther other hand, no Homo sapiens DNA has been discovered in Neanderthal populations. No one knows why the one and not the other.
This report is filched from Ian Tattersall's Masters of the Planet (2012), an excellent book that brought me up to date on human origins. I recommend it with genuine enthusiasm. It's learned, clearly written, and sensible. And it displaces the cartoon history I grew up with in which monkeys lead to apes and then to Piltdown (!!!) man and then to insurance salesmen in tie and jacket. The modern picture is more complicated and far more fascinating and also replete with unsolved puzzles.
In the beginning there was Tonto, the "faithful Indian companion" and there were "renegades" who didn't want to live on the reservation. I was a perfectly naive urban lad, and of course I bought the whole package.
In my defense, I early developed serious qualms at the Saturday westerns where buckskinned redskins were regularly drilled by six-shooters to fall picturesquely from pinnacles or palaminos. My first serious movie, Red River, featured a memorable and even-then-revolting scene in which redskins were remorselessly and shockingly slaughtered.
I'm proud to say that early on I started to identify with the underdogs. Renegades indeed? But some of my sympathy was bought with eroticized stereotypes of women (such as Debra Paget in Broken Arrow). And then there were Rudy York and Allie Reynolds, who were real people. How to reconcile the stereotypes to the facts? Beyond my childhood abilities.
It's astonishing how much of my view of our native cousins was generated by the movies. And by Fenimore Cooper as well, although at this present moment the only clear remembrance of the Leatherstocking saga that remains in my mind is a gruesome scene in which fiendish Mohawk "squaws" torture a white captive.
In school there were maps of territory inhabited by the Navajos and the Iriquois and the Comanche and the Pawnee. All very exotic but I for one had no concept that these names signfied people with lives and identities and histories. P. S. 217 textbooks certainly did not use the word "genocide."
In the 1960s, I read perhaps a hundred "captivity narratives." And also Theodora Kroeber's very moving biography of Ishi. Exposure to these books opened my mind.
And since then I've visited the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde and read about the vast city of Cahokia. But my knowledge remains literary, rather than experiential. Although I live in the great west (and just two blocks from Arapahoe Avenue), I've rarely encountered genuine native Americans -- they're mighty scarse in these parts. And the few folks whom I've met who claim Indian "blood" are far blonder than I.
Because he plays with infectious enthusiasm. Because he's undersized for his position but unfazed. Because he plays a better game today than he did last week. Because he's so often the first man down the floor, outrunning and outhustling his opponent. Because he's not the most gifted athlete in the league, but he makes the most of his abilities. Because he plays within himself and doesn't force up bad shots. Because he can score fifteen or twenty points a game without a play being called for him.
Sure, he's occasionally out of place on defense.True, he hasn't yet learned how to play the pick and roll. His offensive games is limited to putbacks and short jumpers. And sometimes he has a bad game because the opponent is bigger and better.
But he's learning. He's coachable.
And because he's the first NBA player to pledge support for gay rights. (Kenneth has two mothers and he "loves them both.") Congratulations, Kenneth Faried, for speaking out.
I remember that my first and until yesterday sole viewing of Bergman's The Seventh Seal took place in August of 1958 at one of those big old downtown Brooklyn movie palaces. I was in the company of Leigh Anderson and Alice Bruno, who might not remember the day -- or remember me, for that matter.
It was a memorable occasion because Bergman mattered, or so it seemed at the time. Like everyone in my age-cohort, I had grown up on westerns and crime and horror and musicals. I knew what to expect in a movie theatre. A beginning, a middle and an end, for one thing. A resolution. But then along came Fellini and Kurosawa and Bergman and the rules changed. It was exciting and puzzling and like other observant college kids, I was trying to figure it all out. Movies had been Saturday entertainment; I did not know that thee could be "intellectual."
The Seventh Seal took me by surprise in all kinds of ways. It was episodic and the episodes didn't tie together into a linear narrative. Its emotional range -- from sexy to sordid to brutal to picturesque to ruminative -- was more than I could fathom or follow. It didn't have a Hollywood plot -- no one ended up with the money or the girl. And then there were these long brooding silent shots in which the point lay in the cinematography (I word I didn't wouldn't learn for twenty years). I had no vocabulary to help me understand what I saw -- I didn't even know the word "allegory", or if I did, I didn't connect it with movies.
Last night, The Seventh Seal came around again, this time not in a palace but right there on the big hdtv. I was hoping it would still be as magical as it was in the 1950s, but alas, not so. It seemed, I'm sorry to say, stagey and contrived and pretentious. The allegory -- the despairing knight's search for meaning in a godless universe -- came across, last night, as shallow. The discovery that there ain't a god out there does not shock this born and raised atheist, although I do feel for Bergman and all those others whom it cost so dearly to surrender the illusion.
My mild animosity toward the sexual silliness of our ancestors originated in my childhood. My father, though in most things a font of good common sense, was, sexually speaking, very much a old-fashioned dyed-in-the-wool Victorian. Whenever a discussion of sex or anatomy or reproduction would arise in our house, he would immediately turn red and stumble out of the room. Early on, I learned not to ask. On the few occasions when my poor papa mumbled something before he bolted, his information was always uninformed, frequently wrong, and occasionally dangerous.
My father inhabited an earlier psychological universe and he couldn't possibly have imagined how the invisible worm has turned. If he were alive today, he couldn't watch movies or TV or read novels. Too much gross language, too much frankness, too much nudity, too much casual coupling. He would have been aghast and embarrassed.
Nevertheless, repression has its compensations. It is absolutely clear to me that people of his generation and earlier experienced pleasures that cannot be realized now. The brave new libertine world of hooking up and sloppy drunken sex and XXX sites gratifies the instincts, but at significant cost.
Return we now to the last years of the nineteenth century, when Helen and the great poet Edward Thomas went a-courting. In their young twenties, a couple of years into their anguished relationship, they (in Helen's words)
were sitting in the undergrowth of a little copse in a remote part of the common. Edward had said that he had never seen a woman's body, and I do not remember quite how it came about, but I quite naturally and simply without any feeling of shyness, knelt up in our secret bower and undid my clothes, and let them fall about my knees so that to the knees I was naked. I knew my body was pretty, my breasts wre firm and round and neither too small nor too large, and my neck and shoulders made a pleasant line, and my arms were rounded and white, and though my hips were small, the line of the waist was lovely. I was proud of my body, and took the most innocent pleasure in its lines and health and strength. So we knelt in the grass and dead leaves of the copse opposite to each other, he silent and I laughing with joy to feel the air on my skin, and to see his enraptured gaze. For as he knelt he gazed wonderstruck and almost adoring, quite still, quite silent, looking now and then in my eyes with a serious ecstatic look, his eyes full of tenderness and love, searching mine for any sign of regret or shyness. He did not touch me, but just knelt there letting hie eyes take their fill of the beauty that was filling his soul with delight. When, without a word, I lifted my clothes about me, he helping me, he only then said, 'Helen, I did not know there was such beauty.'
Scoff as you will, ungentle readers.
I know -- it's prettified and romanticized. But it's an innocence that cannot be invented. And I'm not scoffing. I don't think that there's a person on our continent or in our century as naive as Edward Thomas was in England in 1898. Nor do I think that there's anyone who could say what he said, and say it with such bedazzled and wonderful sincerity: "Helen, I did not know there was such beauty."
It's a world that we have lost.
(Helen Thomas unveils in her memoir, Under Storm's Wing).
As far as I can remember, and I've read the stories many times, Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes never had to deal with amnesia, which in those days of reading and writing had not yet become the most routine of plot devices. The Holmes of Billy Wilder's movie runs into amnesia straight off the bat, when Gabrielle Valladon, a handsome though mighty bedraggled woman, appears at 221-B Baker Street apparently suffering a loss of memory precipitated by both a bump on the head and a near drowning in the Thames. But there's a gimmick within the gimmick: Mme. Valladon's amnesia is totally fraudulent. The lady is in "fact" a German spy pretending loss of memory in order to insinuate herself into Holmes' sympathies.
The audience falls for it, which is not a surprise, because we watchers have been indoctrinated to willingly and enthusiastically suspend our disbelief at the slightest hint of film's most common malady. But that Holmes should succumb -- well, that's a bit of a disappointment. Fictional Holmes would have been a lot more discerning, amnesia-wise, than filmic Holmes.
When I saw Ingmar Bergman's Persona in 1967, I was pretty much baffled. Oh, I understood the translated dialogue, and I understood the general idea that the two women were similar and possiby melding into one, whatever that might mean, but I didn't understand what it all signified, or how the "plot" was related to the repeated abstract collages and to the heavy-handed religious symbolism. It's hard to recall whether I was intimidated by the film or resented it -- I think both, alternately and sometimes simultaneously. Did I mumble under my breath, "pretentious fraud?" I can't say for sure.
I saw Persona again last night. I would like to tell you all, faithful readers, that I have grown and matured into a discerning viewer, and that the once-opaque film is now transparent. But I can't. It's still just as mysterious as it was almost fifty years ago. And I'm just as slow, or insensitive, or unaesthetic.
Even the "self-reflexive" moments -- i.e. when the audience is allowed to see the camera -- seem obvious and not especially clever. Everyone has always known that films are films. So what?
Inasmuch as I've seen many more films by Bergman (and many that I admire tremendously), I am prepared to indulge the auteur. I think Persona is just so personal to Bergman that it doesn't communicate. Whatever else it might be, it's astonishingly self-indulgent. I confess that, at heart, I'm still suspicious of the people who claim to understand and who are eager to explicate.
To the MGM DVD of Persona, an interview with Bibi Andersson, who spoke almost all the film's dialogue, was appended. Ms. Andersson said that she knows that some people considered Persona to be Bergman's masterpiece, but that she herself didn't understand it.
I admire her candor.
At about this time last year, I posted, right here on this blog, pictures of a couple of objects that I thought would make good birthday presents for yours truly. Those of you who are skeptical that I did so can access the link here.
But what a washout -- not one person took the hint. There was not even an inquiry, even though my suggestions were eminently sensible.
I'm going to try again this year. After all, the economy is picking up, and there's more loose change out there.
So -- friends, relatives, fans of Vivian de St. Vrain, and Vrainites everywhere -- what about a castle in Ireland? There are many for sale, and they're quite reasonably priced, as castles go.
For example, here's Ballindooley, a "starter" Castle in Galway.
Even though it's small, it has undeniable "curb appeal." The realtor claims that it was built toward the end of the 15th century in the Norman style and probably for the DeBurgo family. The realtor also notes that there's "a new stone parapet and that there have been recent repairs to the machicolations"
Inasmuch as I wouldn't dream of owning a castle where the machicolations were all busted up, I'm happy for the reassurance. The price: a bargain at a mere 950,000 euros.
Though I wouldn't turn up my nose at Ballindooley, I would certainly prefer Killaghy Castle at Mullinahone in Tipperary.
It's a better value. The original castle was built, the realtor claims (I haven't seen the documentation) in the first decade of the 13th century, a "long house" was added during Tudor times, and two more buildings were attached during the 18th century. So it's already been updated.
Plus there are two walled gardens with "excellent mature specimen trees." An ominous note though: "price upon request."
So, loyal readers, it's time for you to chip in your pennies and farthings and join together for one big happy birthday for me.
And please, don't forget that in order for me to care for your gift properly, I'm going to need a bit of an endowment -- which I do not see as much of a problem. Plus furnishings.
And by the way, for those of you who are not "in the know" about castles, a "machicolation" is a "projecting gallery at the top of a castle wall, supported by a row of corbeled arches and having openings in the floor through which stones and boiling liquids could be dropped on attackers."
I like a castle that says, "everybody welcome."
Before there were dikes there were terpen.
I was disgracefully ignorant of terpen until I read Robert Van de Noort's North Sea Archaeologies: A Maritime Biography, 10,000 BC to AD 1500 (Oxford, 2011). Van de Noort devotes many pages to terpen, which are artificial islands constructed between 500 BC and 1000 AD in parts of the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany. The earliest terpen were simple mounds on which a house was built; later several or more would be joined together to form small elevated villages protected against high tides and flooding. They might be as much as forty feet high. With the coming of dikes (c. 1000-1200 AD), terpen ceased to be constructed.
Here's a terp, viewed from above.
And here's another, photographed from ground level.
I've been to the lowlands and might have seen these peculiar topographical features with my own eyes, but I certainly didn't register them. Even if I had, I might have confused them with the grave barrows or tumuli that are common in Scythian Bulgaria, or even with drumlins, which have a similar look to the uneducated eye -- although drumlins are natural rather than man-made.
I love it that "terpen" retains its ancient plural, along with words such as oxen and brethren. There aren't many such words in the language (children is a reduplicated plural, the original "-er" plural supplelmented by an -en plural -- and some day to be superseded, I predict, by "childrens").
Van de Noort's book is fascinating reading for those who like terpen and bronze-age sewn plank boats and such. It's rich in detail but might have been even richer if the author hadn't felt the need to waste space by calling the seashore a "place of liminality" and shipboard "a heterotopia sailing upon the Deleuzian ocean" -- and also indulge himself with many unconvincing speculations dependent on such peculiar, modish, transitory vocabulary.
When it comes to odd words, give me the old ones every time. Here are some satisfying lovely words that were as new to me as terpen: saltern (an area in fenlands set aside for salt manufacture); cofferdam (a temporary dam), thwart (a seat in a rowboat), leister (a two-pronged spear for fishing), dromond (a medieval galley) and broch (a dry-stone tower).
Mountain lions frequently wander from the foothills right into the heart of town. It's routine for them to "take" a pet cat or dog. A full-grown mountain lion can jump over the 8-foot chain link fence behind which you've sequestered your golden retriever, kill it, and then grab it with its mouth and bound back over the fence. The young lion pictured above has found itself on someone's back deck. Good thing that there are no children enjoying themselves on the swings to its left.
The lion doesn't seem to be fazed by her near-cousinhood to behind-glass-door domesicated kitty. Stay inside, Muffy! You'll have a better day. .
A few months ago, wildlife officers killed a lion that had followed the deer downtown and "showed no fear of humans." More commonly, officers shoot the lions with tranquilizer darts and then banish them deep in the mountains west of town.
Mule deer are totally at home in our city. They're so common that no one pays them much mind, except when they eat the shrubbery and the early spring flowers. They're so acclimated to humans that they don't even shy even when you come right up to them. They just stare right back at you and go on eating your tulips.
Black bears are also frequent visitors. They patrol unsecured garbage cans, especially in the fall when they're fattening up for hibernation. Recently, one of them became quite a celebrity:
It was shot with a tranquilizer dart and dropped from its perch in a tree on to a mattress, and was then transported back into bear country.
We have another celebrity animal this week, but the story behind it is not so felicitous. A bull elk has been hanging out, for the last few years, right at the western edge of town. He's become a friend, or perhaps a totem, to his human neighbors. But for some stupid reason, two police officers (one of whom owns a taxidermy studio) decided to kill it. Which they did, with a shotgun. The "Mapleton Elk" has been mourned with a candlelight vigil; the police officers have been charged with "suspicion of forgery, tampering with physical evidence, attempting to influence a public official as well as unlawful taking of a trophy elk, conspiracy, killing an elk out of season, unlawful use of an electronic device to unlawfully take wildlife and first degree official misconduct." I'm not proud of them.
Our local coyotes have also been in the news. Although we've always known they were around, they've been discreet. But lately, they've taken to harrassing joggers on the Creek Path.
Be sensible, coyotes! Stay out of sight. No nipping at the heels of strollers or bikers.
I listened to an interview with Markwayne Mullin, a new member of the House of Representatives, and had a hard time believing my ears. It wasn't that he was inarticulate or stupid. It was that he was so utterly smug, so absolutely and entirely certain of himself. He has no doubts. He knows exactly what ails the country -- too much government -- and he knows how to fix it -- lower taxes, less regulation, more free untrammeled capitalism. He does not seem to be aware that the United States of America is a big, complicated, multi-faceted country. Markwayne Mullin possesses all the arrogance of ignorance, in spades.
Here's some proverbial wisdom: "For every complex problem, there's a simple solution, and it's wrong."
My father, who was not a military man, always liked to vote for people who had served in the Army or Navy. "At least," he would say, "they have met people from other parts of the country. Maybe they've served abroad and seen something of the world."
Markwayne Mullin hasn't served in the military and there's no evidence on his website that he's traveled far from his home of Westville (population 1596) in Adair County in eastern Oklahoma. Here is Main Street, Westville:
He went off to college (Missouri Valley College, which, curiously, doesn't teach foreign languages) but didn't stay long. His website says he's a successful businessman, a plumber. More precisely (and I'll let his prose speak for itself), "Mullin is proud to have turned a family trade into a thriving business. Mullin Plumbing is most recognized due to its advertising and the more than 100 employees known for their hallmark red vans visible servicing Oklahomans across the state. For his part, Markwayne personally promotes the company through television and radio advertising. One of his favorite jobs is to produce and host the radio call-in talk show “House Talk.”
His positions are straightforward and clear (and red, red, red) -- an entirely unoriginal litany of right-wing simplicities and pieties.
We are taxed enough. Cutting spending, not raising taxes, is the answer to paying down debt.
The 2nd Amendment is crucial to ensuring our freedom.
Excessive government regulations, like those promulgated by the EPA, harm job growth.
We must restrain an out-of-control bureaucracy.
Life — from the moment of conception to natural death — is sacred. I am a 100 percent pro-life conservative.
Our United States troops must NEVER be under control of the United Nations.
We spend too much on foreign aid. Our challenges here at home must come first.
Private industry creates jobs. The government creates dependency.
Traditional marriage, between one man and one woman, is a sacred institution that must be preserved. Strong, healthy families are the heartbeat of our nation.
Parents should have final decision-making authority in the education of their children, because they know better than Washington, D.C., bureaucrats how to best educate their children.
ObamaCare must be repealed.
Ensuring access to quality, affordable health care is one of America’s greatest challenges today. The free market will meet the challenge if the government will get out of the way. We must cautiously seek comprehensive reform that protects the solvency of Medicare and Medicaid.
We must protect America’s borders to stop illegal immigration. Amnesty proposals should be rejected.
Penalties should be strengthened against illegal immigration and law enforcement given the resources for enforcement.
If it had been one of those call-in radio shows, I would have liked to ask Mr Mullin a couple of questions, such as, how are we going to get the lettuce picked and the roof fixed without all those immigrant laborers? How come life expectancy is lower in the US than in socialist Europe, even though we spend more on health care? How much do we actually spend on "foreign aid"? Who exactly wants to put US troops under the control of the United Nations? Are people like me, retired teachers who worked only for the government, really all that dependent? and compared to whom? Who's attacking your traditional marriage that you need to get all in a twist about other people's marriages? How come when a not-for-profit hospital is taken over by a for-profit hospital, the mortality rate immediately rises? To whom should we turn when the cantaloupe is contaminated? Should we worry about global warming? Should we be concerned by the concentration of wealth among the top 1% of families.What happens when a big hunking tornado rips through Adair County?
My hope is that Markwayne Mullin, who as he begins his congressional career is superficial to the very core of his being, will come to Washington, meet some folks from different parts of the country and from different ethnic backgrounds, learn a little about the world, come to an appreciation of the complexity of things, and grow up to be a useful broad-minded compassionate public servant. It's not impossible, but it's not going to happen until Mullin realizes that he doesn't know everything about everything, and that the practices that made Mullin Plumbing such a success may not be the same practices that will promote the general welfare over all of the US of A.
I'm hopeful, but frankly, I'm not at all optimistic.