Weekend Note:
Global Crazy
27-30 April 2012

Where did April go?

I was about to go to the movies just now, but I’d have been a bit early, so I sat down and here I am. I’m going to see The Five-Year Engagement, largely because I adore Emily Blunt. She is always winsome — even in The Devil Wears Prada, there are moments of extreme winsomeness. What will become of this quality when the actress outgrows it? Or will she? Winsomeness is a special kind of dreamy hope about the future that makes young women beautiful and men of any age rather fatuous, unless they’re extremely frail-looking and marked for early death. (Who is marked for early death anymore? Tant pis pour la poésie.) Jason Segel, Ms NOLA told me, was asked to lose thirty pounds of avoirdupois for this movie. Which means that he may actually have a figure. His appearance in Jeff, Who Lives At Home was just this side of animated, and I don’t mean lively. I should note that I made up my mind to see the film on the strength of A O Scott’s really rather warm review in today’s Times.

Okay, now I can go.


The Five-Year Engagement is so good that I am STILL CRYING. All right, only when I think about it. But when I think about it, the waterworks start pumping! This wouldn’t be the case if the movie hadn’t ended happily, with possibly the ideal wedding, all things considered. (And all things were considered, which was the problem to begin with.)

The immediately foregoing is, I realize, evidence of my insuperable difficulties with Twitter. If I can’t have roughly 350 characters in which to say something, I won’t say anything.


Oh, the plans. I wanted to write about principles, as distinct from habits, and much less useful. I seem to have engaged in a project of discrediting the non-aesthetic legacy of the classical world, by which I mean, primarily, philosophy, a realm of thought that I don’t expect to survive the Cognitive Revolution. I believe that “acting on principle” is almost invariably childish; the phrase itself means nothing if it doesn’t mean acting against instinct and intuition. This isn’t to say that the objects of principles are unimportant, but rather to say that, if you’re refraining from murder as a matter of principle, then I hope that we’re not friends. I understand that principles help us to see over our immediate desires and short-sighted objectives. But they just as often make us do pigheaded things (the entire brain-dead scheme of “zero tolerance” comes to mind, as does “three strikes and you’re out”), and we ought to be able to be good without their aid. That would be adult.

Aristotle was right about habits, though; they’re tremendously important. When I was young, I thought that habitual acts were inauthentic. So I stopped saying “thank you.” We all go through such a phase; if we’re lucky, it lasts for only a few days. Flaubert had it right: you have to behave as regularly as possible so that your inner fire can burn as fiercely as possible. Without habits, we would live in chaos, and chaos is uninhabitable on the long term.

I also meant to deal with the refrigerator, but I couldn’t face it, so I spent the afternoon organizing my EMI CDs, of which there are of course many. The EMIs were the first discs to be “broken down” — the discs themselves inserted in labeled sleeves and tucked alongside their paperwork (booklets, back matter), and the jewel boxes thrown away — and I didn’t have a system for organizing the results; in fact, I hadn’t grasped the importance of the “tucked alongside” part. So two hours were devoted to re-uniting discs and booklets. It was just the kind of busy work I needed this afternoon, and I enjoyed listening to the Karajan Ring while I plowed through it.

You really really really couldn’t pay me to see the Ring at the Metropolitan Opera, something that a number of friends are doing this weekend and into next week. I love Wagner far too much to put up with Robert Lepage’s planks. The ideas people have!


Where to begin — that’s not the question. Where to end is the question. The weekend is technically over, but it left behind a bit of baggage that I’d like to dispose of before getting on with the week. I feel rather bad about not spending any time here. I was detained by a full array of excuses, ranging from hyper-efficient busyness on the housekeeping front to a sidewinding hangover that was stamped by the image, drawn from Friday’s movie (The Five-Year Engagement), of Jason Segel stumbling through a snowy woods, wearing socks, a muffler, a jacket, and a cap, and nothing else.

It was a different sort of hangover. It struck very early in the morning, at about five. I didn’t wake up still a little bit drunk (oh, that wasn’t so bad). I was gripped, at the metabolic level, by an existential anguish so intense that I had to get out of bed. I had a terrible headache, yes, and I felt vaguely poisoned throughout, yes; but I was wretchedly disappointed with myself. What had I been thinking, going out with a large group of men to dinner at the Knickerbocker. The situation ensured that all my manic buttons would be pushed at once, transforming me into a master bon viveur. And that, just as suddenly, the effect would be undone, and I would be sprawled in a gutter of senectitudinal shame. It had been so long since my last misbehavior that I’d quite forgotten how it might all work out. By the same token, it had been so long since that last time that it never occurred to me, even in my wildest exilharation, to drink anything stronger than sauvignon blanc. I drank a lot of wine. Then I got into a taxi and came home and went to bed. There was no public disgrace, no nakedness in the woods, no amputation of toes, no breaking-up of longstanding engagements. There was none of that. This hangover was confined entirely within my body.

For relief, I turned to Bruce Donaldson’s Colloquial Dutch (Routledge). In my chair by the window, I deployed the familiar but never-mastered points of Nederlands grammar in a scheme to jam the outgoing messages of bleak despair. It was imperative, it seemed, that I learn how to speak Dutch immediately. For I was going to Amsterdam after all. That had been settled the previous morning, after Kathleen, having read some fine print somewhere, conducted a ninety-minute transaction with a bookings agent and secured comfortable transatlantic passage for me (and for herself as well) on a flight leaving Newark for Heathrow (the coach ride from there to Schiphol was never a problem) in two weeks.

As the clerk in the electronics shop where I was buying a small radio said when I told him that I was trying to learn his language said: Why? With whom am I actually going to speak in the local language? And how far is this conversation going to proceed before it breaks down? Colloquial Dutch is about as well put-together a language course as you will find in one volume (Teach Yourself Dutch is also very good), but, perhaps because it’s designed for people who are actually going to live in the country for a while, its narrative premise, its cast of characters and representative dialogues, is that of family life. Piet and Pauline (she’s English) have two children, Marius and Charlotte. Marius is said to be seven years old (he celebrates a birthday — hij is jarig), but he behaves like a death star of adolescent self-absorption. His parents seem to get on one anothers’ nerves. It’s all usefully realistic — if you’re going to be living in a Nederlander household for a while. It really doesn’t sample the kind of things that I’d be likely to say.

Which would be?

On our way home, we’ll stop in London for a few days, so that Kathleen can check up on some clients. What will I say in London that requires advanced language training? To whom will I reveal my mastery of subordinate clauses? Come to think of it, when do such interactions occur here in New York? They don’t.

The hotel that we’ll be staying at is in De Pijp, a neighborhood southeast of the Museum Quarter, on the Jozef Israelskade. I believe that, in order to walk to the Spui (where the bookstores are), all I have to do is turn right at the hotel door, turn right again into Ferdinand Bolstraat, and keep walking (and walking), crossing the Singelgracht and proceeding to the Munt, where I’ll turn left along the Singel. I doubt that I’ll need to ask anyone for directions. The Rijksmuseum is almost on the way. All this I can see from Google Maps — what I didn’t already know, that is, from my last visit, when we stayed about a block away from the museum. If I feel very brave, I will ask for a taxi at the hotel and go to the Central Station, where I’ll catch a train for The Hague, where I can see Vermeer’s View of Delft and, of course, The Girl With the Pearl Earring. (Talk is cheap.)

I’ll certainly understand television broadcasts better than I did the last time, and I’ll be able to read more signs. But in Amsterdam, at least, it is not hard to find someone who speaks English. And in any case Bruce Donaldson’s exercises distracted me from the pain of detox until I was able to fall back into bed for a snooze. A late brunch with a law school classmate who’s in town for the Ring cycle was pleasant (Sancerre), but I took things very easy, ordering Chinese on the very early side and turning in not much later.


I hope to see The Five-Year Engagement again soon. I want to take Kathleen to see it, but, between our Amsterdam trip and an intervening visit to her father in North Carolina, Kathleen isn’t going to have a lot of free time in the next two weeks. Engagement is a wonderful picture, studded with beautifully-timed quirks and brought to life by a top-notch cast. Judd Apatow is going to wind up with his own studio one of these days. I jest, perhaps, but I do seriously begin to see parallels with a hiterto nonpareil: Preston Sturges. Qua moviemakers, that is; their movies themselves are not at all alike, beyond being funny. If I get hit by a bus before I have a chance to talk about The Five-Year Engagement at greater length, at least I’ll have noted the brilliant riff of taking Elmo and the Cookie Monster hostage as a way of “speaking French” in front of children.