Archive for June, 2009
Love, love, love Jeff Scher’s video about people walking down the street. It’s simple and stunning.
It’s tough to be a writer today, but then again, it’s always been tough: More than in any other medium, you’ve got to compete with the past as well as the present. Hmm, should I dig into the new Richard Ford novel… or Moby Dick?
Of course, this is the great opportunity, as well. (At least if you believe Mr. Penumbra.)
This is all to say that I absolutely love the fact that an Anthony Trollope novel from 1875 is the top pick on Newsweek’s list of books for our times. In fact, I love the whole list. It’s one of the best I’ve ever seen — broad without being shallow, diverse without being precious.
I’ll offer a strong second to #28 (“Midnight’s Children”) and #36 (“The Dark Is Rising”); in fact, the Newsweek mention has inspired me to go back and read them both again.
And here’s a Kindle bonus: Get your Trollope for free.
I don’t have any answers just yet, but I like Rex’s well-titled “The Death of Writing, The Rebirth of Words.”
(See Roland Barthes’s “The Death of the Author is the Birth of the Reader” and Jacques Derrida’s “The End of the Book, The Beginning of Writing”)
It’s silly to make a CD-length mix playlist in 2009. I stopped listening to CDs altogether when I donated my long-suffering 1996 Monte Carlo a couple of years ago. And curation with limits is out. Why limit yourself to a static 80-minute document when you can have your own blog — hell, your own radio station — curating music all year long? Why not just make a big “favorites” list for your iPod and stick it on shuffle?
So it took the following extraordinary circumstances to get me to put this together:
1. I’m secretly an analog dinosaur. I wrote papers on a manual typewriter until I went to college, and made cassette after cassette of 60, 90, and 120-minute songs I recorded from the radio from the time I was six or seven.
2. I keep all of my music on an external hard drive, which went kaput. I’ve had to scavenge data to my overloaded laptop — which means I mostly have only a few songs/albums that I really want to listen to available to me.
3. It’s hot, and it’s summer, so songs about heat and summer keep coming to my mind. And they’re (mostly) not the obvious ones.
4. There are a few really terrific albums that have come out in the last few months.
5. The death of Michael Jackson has me reaching around in my music archive a bit.
So here’s a playlist of songs preoccupying me for summer 2009. It’s titled “Melting Like Hot Candle Wax.” If you’re really slick, you know where that title’s from already.
1. “Build Voice,” Dan Deacon, Bromst
2. “Two Weeks,” Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest
3. “Boyz,” M.I.A., Kala
4. “Summertime Clothes,” Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion
5. “Not A Robot, But A Ghost,” Andrew Bird, Noble Beast
6. “Another Sunny Day,” Belle & Sebastian, The Life Pursuit
7. “Summertime,” Galaxie 500, This Is Our Music
8. “We Could Walk Together,” The Clientele, Suburban Light
9. “Black Cab,” Jens Lekman, Oh You’re So Silent Jens
10. “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” Michael Jackson, Off The Wall
11. “Postcards From Italy,” Beirut, Gulag Orkestar
12. “Two Doves,” Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca
13. “Too Many Birds,” Bill Callahan, Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle
14. “The City,” Dismemberment Plan, Emergency & I
15. “Here Comes the Summer,” The Fiery Furnaces, EP
16. “35 in the Shade,” A.C. Newman, Slow Wonder
17. “Summer In The City,” Regina Spektor, Begin To Hope
What music, old or new, are you listening to this summer?
For seven months, The New York Times managed to keep out of the news the fact that one of its reporters, David Rohde, had been kidnapped by the Taliban.
But that was pretty straightforward compared with keeping it off Wikipedia.
Fun project: Plot all the routes numbered 001 on various airlines. Please note the continents not visited.
Cross-reference these two:
- Joanne McNeil explains why teenagers read better than you. (“China Mieville, at his talk at the Harvard Bookstore a few weeks ago, said he wrote his YA book ‘Un Lun Dun’ because he’s ‘jealous of the way [young people] read.’”)
- Michael Chabon writes about the lost wildness of childhood. (It made me remember roaming deep in the thickets that curled around my subdivision, ears perking up when my mom called my name from far down the street — because it was time for dinner.)
I think the rumors of childhood’s death are exaggerated. I base this not on any first-hand experience with children — I have none — but rather on my skepticism that mass media, in any format, can ever match, in terms of pure play potential, a glade of trees and some fallen sticks.
See Books I and II here.
But now, O Muse, you must sing of how Sanford, so handsome and competent as to appear on television like unto one of the deathless Gods, and like them possessed by a lust both mighty and confused, came to this pass.
As Dawn rose from her couch beside Tithonus– harbinger of light alike to mortals and immortals– the press met in council and with them, State Senator John “Jake” Knotts, the lord of thunder. Thereon Knotts began to tell them of the many sufferings of Sanford, for while he was Sanford’s enemy, he also secretly pitied him away there in the house of the nymph Maria Belen Calypso.
“O Press,” said he, coyly, “and all you other gods of media that live in everlasting bliss, I hope there may never be such a thing as a kind and well-disposed ruler any more, nor one who will govern equitably. I hope they will be all henceforth cruel and unjust, for there is not one of his subjects but has forgotten Sanford, who ruled them as though he were their father. Now, if there were an emergency in this state of Carolina, there would be none who could rule in his stead; for our Constitution has invested the power only in him. There he is, lying in great moral suffering in Argentina where dwells the nymph Calypso, who will not let him go; and he cannot get back to his own country, for he can find neither ships nor sailors to take him over the sea. At least, this is what rumors have told — no one, not his wife Jenny nor even his loyal security retinue, knows where exactly he may be. Furthermore, wicked people are now trying to keep his only lieutenant governor Andre Bauer, who is coming home from Charleston, where he has been to see if he can get news of the governor, from exercising constitutional authority.”
“What, my friend, are you talking about?” replied Leroy Chapman, editor of The State, “does no one know where the governor is? Because we had heard that he was hiking the Applachian trail, where all princes of Hellas return to clear their head, relieve their burdens, and ejaculate their noblest utterances. Besides, someone should be perfectly able to protect Sanford, and to see him safely home again, before the press has to come hurry-skurrying back to meet him at the airport, or wheresoever he may be.”
When he had thus spoken, he said to his junior reporter Gina Smith, whom he had nicknamed, for reasons of his own, Mercury, “Mercury, you are our messenger, go therefore and tell Calypso we have decreed that poor Sanford is to return home. He is to be convoyed neither by gods nor men, but after a perilous voyage of several hours upon a plane he is to reach fertile Atlanta, the land of the Georgians, who are near of kin to the gods, where you will look for his car, and then surprise him with an interview. He will then take his car to his own country, where we will pay him more attention than he would have brought back from Minneapolis, if he had been named nominee Vice President and had got home without disaster. This is how we have settled that he shall return to his country and his friends.”
Thus he spoke, and Smith, who, I’ve just said, is sometimes known as Mercury, guide and guardian, scooper of Argus, did as she was told. Forthwith, in this telling of the tale, she did not merely look for Sanford at the airport, but she bound on her glittering golden sandals with which she could fly like the wind over land and sea. She took the notebook with which she writes down her interview transcripts or makes notes just as she pleases, and flew holding it in her hand over the Caribbean; then she swooped down through the firmament till she reached the level of the sea, whose waves she skimmed like a cormorant that flies fishing every hole and corner of the ocean, and drenching its thick plumage in the spray. She flew and flew over many a weary wave, but when at last she got to Buenos Aires which was her journey’s end, she left the sea, and the majestic coastline of Buenos Aires, city by the river called by the men of that land de la Plata, and went on by land till he came to the condominium where the nymph Maria Calypso lived.
She found her at home. There was a large fire burning on the hearth, and one could smell from far the fragrant reek of burning cedar and sandal wood. As for herself, she was busy at her loom, shooting her golden shuttle through the warp and singing beautifully. Round her condominium there was a thick wood of alder, poplar, and sweet smelling cypress trees, wherein all kinds of great birds had built their nests– owls, hawks, and chattering sea-crows that occupy their business in the waters. A vine loaded with grapes was trained and grew luxuriantly about the back door of the condominium; there were also four pretty terrific restaurants grouped pretty close together, and turned hither and thither so as to make a kind of outdoor courtyard over which they flowed. It was really, really nice, even for Buenos Aires. Even a god could not help being charmed with such a lovely spot, so Mercury stood still and looked at it; but when she had admired it sufficiently he went and knocked on the door.
Calypso knew her at once– for all gods and journalists all know each other, no matter how far they live from one another– but Sanford was not within; he was on the sea-shore as usual, looking out upon the barren ocean with tears in his eyes, groaning and breaking his heart for sorrow. Calypso gave Mercury a seat and said: “Why have you come to see me, Mercury– honoured, and ever welcome– for you do not visit me often? Say what you want; I will do it for be you at once if I can, and if it can be done at all; but come inside, and let me set refreshment before you.”
As she spoke she drew a table loaded with ambrosia beside her and mixed for her a really tasty nectar and ambrosia cocktail, with just a little bit of lime and mint, so Mercury ate and drank till she had had enough, and then said:
“We are speaking as goddesses — and journalists — to one another, and you ask me why I have come here, and I will tell you truly as you would have me do. The State sent me; it was no doing of mine; who could possibly want to come all this way over the sea where there are no Starbucks full of people to offer me mochaccinos or choice cookies? Nevertheless I had to come, for none of us other reporters can cross the Press, nor transgress its orders. We say that you have here the most ill-starred of all those who fought before the state aid of President Obama and sailed home in the fifth month after having refused it. On their way home they sinned against Public Opinion, who raised both heckles and cackles against them, so that all his brave companions perished, and he alone was carried hither by wind and tide. The Press says that you are to let this by man go at once, for it is decreed that he shall not perish here, far from his own people, but shall return to his house and country and give us conferences again.”
Calypso trembled with rage when she heard this, “You gods,” she exclaimed, “ought to be ashamed of yourselves. You are always jealous and hate seeing a goddess (or god) take a fancy to a mortal man, and live with him in open matrimony, of the shacked-up, sometimes long-distance, sometimes quickly in the bathroom kind. So when the rosy-fingered pages sweetly enticed Mark Foley, you precious reporters were all of you furious till you went and defeated his reelection in Florida. So again when Ceres fell in love with Vitter, and yielded to him in a thrice ploughed fallow field, for thrice three hundred dollars, the Press came to hear of it before so long and tried to killed Vitter with their thunder-bolts. And now you are angry with me too because I have a man here. I found the poor creature sitting all alone astride of a keel, for he was lonely, and had no adventures, in the bubble of politics you made for him, while he himself was driven by wind and waves on to my land. I got fond of him and cherished him, and had set my heart on making him immortal, so that he should never grow old all his days; still I cannot cross the Press, nor bring his counsels to nothing; therefore, if he insists upon it, let the man go beyond the seas again; but I cannot send him anywhere myself for I have neither ships nor men who can take him. Nevertheless I will readily give him such advice, in all good faith, as will be likely to bring him safely to his own country.”
“Then send him away,” said Gina/Mercury, “or we will be angry with you and punish you.“‘
On this she took her leave, and Maria went out to look for Sanford, for she had heard the message. She found him sitting upon the beach with his eyes ever filled with tears, and dying of sheer home-sickness; for he had got tired of Calypso, and though he was forced to sleep with her in the cave by night, it was she, not he, that would have it so. As for the day time, he spent it on the rocks and on the sea-shore, weeping, crying aloud for his despair, and always looking out upon the sea. Calypso then went close up to him said:
“My poor fellow, you shall not stay here grieving and fretting your life out any longer. I am going to send you away of my own free will; so go, put some pants on, and use my credit card to buy a plane ticket, coach or business class, that it may carry you safely over the sea. I will put bread, wine, and water on board to save you from starving. I will also give you clothes, and will send you a fair wind to take you home, if the gods in heaven so will it– for they know more about these things, and can settle them better than I can.”
Sanford shuddered as he heard her. “Now goddess,” he answered, “there is something behind all this; you cannot be really meaning to help me home when you bid me do such a dreadful thing as to fly coach. Not even a well-found ship with a fair wind could venture on such a distant voyage: nothing that you can say or do shall make me get on board that plane unless you first solemnly swear that you mean me no mischief.”
Calypso smiled at this and caressed him with her hand: “You know a great deal,” said she, “but you are quite wrong here. May heaven above and earth below be my witnesses, with the waters of the river — and this is the most solemn oath which a blessed god can take– that I mean you no sort of harm, and am only advising you to do exactly what I should do myself in your place. I am dealing with you quite straightforwardly; my heart is not made of iron, and I am very sorry for you.”
When she had thus spoken she led the way rapidly before him, and Sanford followed in her steps; so the pair, goddess and man, went on and on till they came to Calypso’s condo, where Sanford took the seat that Mercury had just left. Calypso set meat and drink before him of the food that unadventurous Americans eat; but her maids brought ambrosia and nectar and delicious tapas for herself, and they laid their hands on the good things that were before them. When they had satisfied themselves with meat and drink, Calypso spoke, saying:
“Sanford, noble son of, um, Sanford, so you would start home to your own land at once? Good luck go with you, but if you could only know how much suffering is in store for you before you get back to your own country, you would stay where you are, keep house along with me, and let me make you immortal, no matter how anxious you may be to see this wife of yours, of whom you are thinking all the time day after day; yet I flatter myself that at am no whit less tall or well-looking than she is, for it is not to be expected that a mortal woman should compare in beauty with a super-hot Argentinian TV reporter.”
“Maria,” replied Sanford, “do not be angry with me about this. I am quite aware that my wife Jenny is nothing like so tall or so beautiful as yourself. She is only a woman, whereas you are an immortal. You have a particular grace and calm that I adore. You have a level of sophistication that so fitting with your beauty. I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificent gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curve of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of the night’s light — but hey, that would be going into sexual details…”
“While all the things above are all too true — at the same time we are in a … hopelessly impossible situation of love. How in the world this lightening strike of Zeus snuck up on us I am still not quite sure. As I have said to you before I certainly had a special feeling about you from the first time we met, but these feelings were contained and I genuinely enjoyed our special friendship and the comparing of all too many personal notes…
“Nevertheless, I want to get home, and can think of nothing else. If some intrepid reporter wrecks my political future when I am on the way to the airport, I will bear it and make the best of it. I have had infinite trouble both by land and sea already, so let this go with the rest.”
Presently the sun set and it became dark, whereon the pair retired into the inner part of Maria’s condominium and went to bed.
To Be Continued…
Sotheby’s is auctioning a palimpsest manuscript of the New Testament (and parts of the old). It’s written in 8th-c. Greek, 6th-c. Aramaic, and overwritten in a 9th-c. Syriac script.
Apparently the sixth-century scribes who wrote it were living in what was then Judea, somewhere in present-day Israel. The document was taken to the Sinai desert in Egypt and stowed away for 300 years at a monastery called St. Catherine’s, at the foot of the mountain where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments.… Then in the ninth century, a new set of scribes dug through St. Catherine’s looking for parchment, which was very expensive in those days. They pulled pages from eight different books–six in Aramaic and two in Greek–and did their best to erase the original writing. They then turned the pages upside down and wrote over the ancient text in jet-black ink. The newer text, in Syriac, is a copy of instructions on how to run a monastery, originally written by a sixth-century monk named John Climacus.
This happened all the time, and was one of the best advantages of writing on parchment. It was expensive — anything made from animals rather than vegetables always is — but you could scrape the top layer off and use it again and again.
There’s a whole aspect of monastic discipline and spirituality that’s tied up with manuscript and parchment culture. Preparing vellum for writing was hard, physical work — and the scraping of the parchment became a kind of allegory for spiritual renewal and an ascetic’s soul. You’re literally mortifying flesh, scraping it clean, in order to fill it with wisdom and the words of God.
But at the same time, it was prosaic and practical:
“It was like using yesterday’s newspaper to wrap up your fish and chips,” says Bolton.
I love the description of the appearance of multiple scripts in the document:
The resulting palimpsest looks like a pirate’s cipher for buried treasure, written in several mysterious scripts. The Aramaic writing, in a pale, faded brown, appears loose and fluid, with the odd curlicue swirling outside the margin. The black Syriac is careful, tight and slanting. It’s not exactly a key to a puzzle written in code, but it sure looks like one.
H/t to Gerry.