Archive for May, 2008

Monday Morning Read

Monday, May 19th, 2008


¶ Le rouge et le noir — fini. And what a shambolic finale! Whole chapters of attitude and reflection compressed into paragraphs of two sentences. Mathilde de La Môle decays into drama queenery before our eyes. Julien stoic, Julien pathetic — Julien, revolted by “le mauvais air du cachot,” cracking jokes worthy of Woody Allen:

Le pire des malheurs en prison, pensa-t-il, c’est de ne pouvoir fermer sa porte.

This novel is great fun, but even greater fun to have done with. (more…)

Open Thread Sunday: Astor at Home

Sunday, May 18th, 2008


The Urban Outdoors: At Blogger Hill

Saturday, May 17th, 2008


For all the prediction of lousy weather — and the lousy weather that we had yesterday — this afternoon was glorious, and Central Park was a wonderful place to be.


Friday Movies: Reprise

Saturday, May 17th, 2008


Erik watches Phillip. We should be watching Erik. Joachim Trier’s Reprise feels like the last chapter of a Bildungsroman, but one written today, not a century ago: Woody Allen has worked his way into the germ stream.

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, May 16th, 2008


¶ Matins: One of these days, I’ll figure out how to write about the state change that overcomes a regular business company when it becomes what we loosely call “a big corporation.” Everybody knows that such a change occurs, but the law is ignorant of it. In any case, that day has not arrived; I am still in the preliminary rant phase.

¶ Tierce: WTF? Clyde Haberman works an entire column, today, out of the refusal of the Miss Grundys at The New York Times to print the word “fuck,” on the grounds, no doubt, that it is unfit.

¶ Nones: I guess it’s raining only in New York. They say it never stops raining in Seattle, but Karcher lucked out with a clear day for taking photographs of its Space-Needle cleaning project. Caution: do review these images within half an hour of lunch. (via Kottke. org)


Nano Note: Ear Candy

Friday, May 16th, 2008


Does anyone out there know Terry Riley’s amazing electronic toccata, A Rainbow in Curved Air? I strongly recommend downloading this piece (for only $1.98 at Amazon), if you haven’t already got it on disc. (If you’ve got it only on LP, download. It’s time.)

Forever, practically, Rainbow has been the diagnostic with which I test a newly hooked-up stereo system. If everything’s working, the echoing bong in the bass that sounds within the first minute (at :57, to be exact) seems to bounce between the speakers like a laser frisbee. Meanwhile, two upper registers are furiously busy with what slowly emerges as a chorale. Over time, the wilder runs have come to sound the most baroque. It’s as though you were catching Dietrich Buxtehude fooling around when he thought everyone was out at the Lübeck class picnic. And those bongos at the end, man!

I had already heard this piece, which is occasionally quite hushed, on every known variety of “personal stereo,” but only the Nano does it justice. Must be something about no-moving-parts.

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, May 15th, 2008


¶ Matins: After a marvelous evening of theatre — Itamar Moses’s The Four of Us, the very first play that I have ever felt captured by, as in, “it was about me”; it was really just about creative, brainiacky young men generally, if you can generalize about such a demographic, and the prickly, clandestinely competitive arrangements that take the place of friendship in their lives. (If they’re lucky, they outgrow this awkwardness, but I’ve met many who didn’t.) Hey, enough about me! — what do I come home to find but an email responding to an old blog entry from over three years ago:

If anybody out there knows a sixtyish Greek woman née Katerina Koini, tell her to give me a shout. Kathy (as we called her) was a vibrant exchange student at Bronxville High when I was in tenth grade, and I’m still profiting from the things she taught me, such as, for example, Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet.

¶ Sext: Every time the pundits predict that Mrs Clinton is hors de concours, I remember the words of M le Neveu: “These are people” — the Clintons — “who come back from the dead.”


Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008


¶ Matins: This week’s Book Review is without a doubt the best issue in all the time that I’ve been peering at it through my reproving lorgnette.

¶ Tierce: The good people of Juneau cut power consumption by 30% — because they had to. There’s nothing like an avalanche to get everybody’s attention.

¶ Sext: At her apartment on Sunday, Megan handed me a bag of books that I had given her years and years ago: time to make room for Ryan’s library. I was very glad to get my second copy of this back.


WednesdayMorning Read

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008


¶ In the Decameron (IX, iv), an anecdote rather than a tale, involving actual Siense gentlmen, contemporaries of Dante: the two Cecchi, very dissimilar men who were united only in their given names and their hatred of their fathers. The story will put readers of a certain vintage in mind of Eddie Haskell.

¶ In Aubrey, two Lives: Ben Jonson and Ralph Kettell. The second gent, who served as the second President of Trinity College, garners quite a few more pages than rare Ben does. Of the latter’s celebrated career, Aubrey write “I need not give any account.” Whereas Kettell, who would have been lost to time, emerges very clearly as a sort of gangly Monty Woolley, born at forty, more able administrator than scholar — an amiable loose-leaf with regard to everything but discipline. And the quality of the beer at Trinity, which was so excellent that the scholars “could not go to any other place but for the worse.” Surely another college president must have given Kettell’s theory about excellent beer a try — surely?

¶ Returning to Merrill, dipping into the “Previously Uncollected Poems” at the back of the book. From “En Route”:

Tank dry, this eerie, by now selfless power

Was bearing me beyond
The windblown kids with signs
Upheld in hope: New Haven, Providence …
Their mouths worked. But a wand
Had grazed me. On I drove
Under the curse or blessing of no love.

¶ In Le rouge et le noir, I gallop through the final titled chapters toward the finale. That leaves four to which Stendhal couldn’t be bothered to affix titles. Once I’ve done with them — I already know what’s going to happen — I shall read the introductory material with hopeful interest, in search of an explanation for Stendhal’s manifestly fading interest in this project. Could it have been the tumult of the Revolution of 1830, which replaced one branch of Bourbons with the other? More anon …

¶ Clive James, rather briefly, on Nirad Chaudhuri, according to him the “most distinguished” Indian master of English prose. I have added Chaudhuri’s The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian to my reading list.

Chaudhuri’s prescience was about a future that had not yet happened, and is happening only now. By the mere act of writing such a richly reflective prose, he suggested that a civilization continues through the humane examination of its history, which was its real secret all along.

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008


¶ Matins:  My idea was to mention the video that we watched this evening, after LXIV reminded us that JKM had strongly recommended it when we visited her in the place where, in the Ealing Comedy, at least, you could get a Passport to Pimlico. It’s an adorable movie, and I’ve just spent £9.95 ($100,000) on shipping to make sure that I have my very own copy of the DVD, which is not available in the U S of Movies, within the next ten minutes.

¶ Lauds: Speaking of Édouard (and this will make sense only to those of you who clicked through at Matins), I was very touched by a comment that Jérôme posted at the latest Sale Bête entry. The end of incognito?

¶ Tierce: Nice fix-it columns in the Times: Clyde Haberman on the Rockefeller Drug Laws, and Andrew Ross Sorkin on Kenneth Griffin, a hedge-fund whiz kid who thinks that Wall Street let the young ‘uns have too much fun with the car keys.

¶ Compline: Another season of  Orpheus at Carnegie ended last Saturday night. At first, I thought I wouldn’t be able to go, so I gave the tickets to LXIV. Then I could go, and he didn’t have a taker for the other ticket — and I went. But I let LXIV play host and sit in the aisle seat.


Reading Notes: 123 Meme

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008


Tom Meglioranza has tagged me with the 123 Meme. Here’s how it works: you open the book nearest to hand, turn to page 123, find the fifth sentence, and quote it, together with the next two sentences, on your Web log. Then you tag five blogging friends and see what they come up with.

As I had just stowed my Morning Read library, there was no danger of French, Latin, or Italian making an unwelcome intrusion. The book nearest to hand was Harold McGee’s On Food And Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (Second Edition; Scribner, 2004). It’s always nearby, because Kathleen and I often dip into it at the dinner table to answer a question or settle an argument. (This makes, if not for Slow Food, at least for Long Dinners.) Here are the fifth, sixth and seventh sentences on page 123:

In the 1870s a wider distrubution of fresh meat, especially beef, was made possible by several advances, including the growth of the cattle industry in the West, the introduction of cattle cars on the railroads, and the development of the refrigerated railroad car by Gustavus Swift and Philip Armour.

Today, with one fifteenth of the world’s population, the United States eats one third of the world’s meat. Meat consumption on this scale is possible only in wealthy societies like our own, because animal flesh remains a much less efficient source of nourishment than plant protein.

That can’t be news to regular Daily Blague readers; nor, perhaps, is the synchronicity startling: I had just finished reading Bee Wilson’s “The Last Bite,” in the current issue of The New Yorker. I’ll have more to say about that on Friday. For now, I’ll just point out that it isn’t wealth alone that permits our massive meat consumption, but a corporate organization that churns out hecatombs of  the substandard foodstuffs that critic Michael Pollan famously dismisses as “foodish.” So, while we’re eating a lot of beef, the bulk of it is junk that we’d be better off avoiding. The problem, of course, is that we eat with our eyes and ears, where the advertisers get us.

I hereby tag Édouard, George, Migs, JR, and Tony. (I’d tag Mig as well, but I suspect that he has already been through this one.)

Tuesday Morning Read

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008


Quis mihi nunc tot acerba deus, quis carmine caedes
diversas obitumque ducum, quos aequore toto
inque vicem nunc Turnus agit, nunc Troius heros, expediat?

Now what god can unfold for me so many terrors?
Who can make a song of slaughter in all its forms —
the deaths of captains down the entire field,
dealt now by Turnus, now by Aeneas, kill for kill?

¶ Done. I have finished, forever, with the Aeneid. Or perhaps I have just begun. Virgil’s elegant Latin is but the silver husk of the grisliest barbarity. Not once in this epic have the ends of war been justified — much less the means! If this disgusting bloodlust is an inescapable part of our human nature — and I do not believe that it is; rather, it is an aristocratic affectation — then we can do the universe no swifter favor than immolating our human race in a final holocaust. (more…)

Daily Office: Monday

Monday, May 12th, 2008


¶ Matins: Sunday on Orchard Street, on the Lower East Side, is still a big shopping day, but I have cropped all of that out of the photograph because I was more interested in the bishop’s-crook streetlamp. And we weren’t there to shop.

¶ Prime: You may have heard that the nation of Belgium is on a course to split in two — Flanders (where they speak a kind of Dutch) and Wallonia (where they speak a kind of French — and also, just to keep things simple, a kind of German). Wallonia used to be rich, in the way of extractive economies, but is now poor; while Flanders used to be poor, in the way of rural economies, but is now rich. Brussels, the French-speaking capital, lies within Flanders.

¶ Tierce: Glorioski! We must be back in the Fifties — because that’s the last time that anybody capable of being published on the Op-Ed page (or its equivalent in those days) produced anything as goofily unsophisticated as Edward N Luttwalk’s argument against Barack Obama: “President Apostate?

¶ Sext: Earthquake in China: Schadenfreude alert.


Monday Morning Read

Monday, May 12th, 2008


¶ In the Decameron, more rather unsophisticated humor. Rushing off to scold the beautiful nun who has been caught with a handsome young man in her room, the abbess gropes in the dark for her veils but instead dons the breeches of the priest who is visiting her. Now, I’d like to see that get past the censors in today’s Hollywood — and don’t think that there aren’t any!

Open Thread Sunday: Vue Touristique

Sunday, May 11th, 2008


Nano Note: Going Baroque

Saturday, May 10th, 2008


Although I do not yet own a Red Nano, I have already begun compiling an iTunes playlist entitled “Red Nano,” and when it gets big enough to fill 8 Gs, I’ll see to it that the name makes sense. The “Red Nano” playlist is comprised almost exclusively of instrumental works from the Baroque. I’m building it up by effectively dumping every Baroque-period CD that I own — and I own quite a few — into my new computer. In idle moments, I move things around, so that, when I’m done, I won’t be listening to two concerti grossi by Heinichen (a contemporary of Bach and Handel) in a row. Not to mention the dozens of Scarlatti sonatas that Scott Ross selected for his three-disc anthology, drawn from a colossal recording of all of them. (more…)

Friday Movies: The Visitor

Saturday, May 10th, 2008


This very beautiful movie, full of small brilliant moments, is so beautifully cast that you will be far too lost in the characters to resent any “messaging.”

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, May 9th, 2008


¶ Matins: Jason Kottke is attending The New Yorker Conference — not to be confused with the New Yorker Festival, which takes place in the Fall. The Conference is a pricey event — $1200 last year (meals included); $2000 this. Kathleen has encouraged me to go, but I’ve worried that I’d feel like a rich kid whom the big boys were tolerating even as they milked me. On the other hand, getting in on Davos-for-brainiacs while it’s still cheapish (and requires no serious travel) appeals mightily. So I am following Mr Kottke’s every word.

¶ Nones: I’ve seen a number of movies in the past five years that have made me ashamed to be an American, but The Visitor is the first film to make me ashamed of being a lawyer.

¶ Compline: What I really wanted to do late this afternoon was to start in on the weekend tidying. I’m on a roll in that department: every time the apartment is swept by my attentions, things are not only better-organized, but there are fewer of them. Instead, though, I dutifully digested Thomas Powers’s review of recent books about our Iraqi misadventure, for this week’s Friday Front.


Friday Morning Read

Friday, May 9th, 2008


¶ The Ninth Day of the Decameron begins with a Laurel-and-Hardy prototype, as two Florentines, unknown to one another, are charged with a very unpleasant task by the lady from Pistoia whom they both admire but who wishes to be rid of their “importunities.” If the story is not Boccaccio’s most successful, that is because its blend of comedy and Gothic horror no longer emulsifies. It’s not that we can’t have fun with dead bodies anymore — just think what Boccaccio might have done with the recent tale of Virgilio Cintron. But, perhaps because romantic comedy has come to be our foremost celebration of life, we find the odor of death unpleasantly incongruous. By our lights, the lady from Pistoia’s plot is in very poor taste. (more…)

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, May 8th, 2008


¶ Matins: Lately, I’ve been so busy that I haven’t known where to begin. The answer, I now discover, is nowhere. Do not begin. Take the brilliant time-saving tips of billionaires from all walks of filthitude in Gordon Bennett’s droll report at W. Who would know better than a billionaire what a colossal waste of time merely living can be!

¶ Lauds: Instead of going to bed like a good boy, I get down to working on the Words branch of Portico, something that I’ve been meaning to do for a long time,  by inventing a new page: Workshop.

¶ Tierce: At the moment, it looks as though next week’s primary in West Virginia is actually going to mean something, possibly.

¶ Sext: Kathleen and I have been invited to a fiftieth-birthday party this evening, and we’ve decided that a nice bottle of port is what we’d like to give. So, I’m off to Sherry-Lehmann in a little while.