Tuesday, September 30th, 2003
Home Improvement day at the theater
Tonight I was watching a movie and decided to bring along to the theater, the table I was working on -- it was nearly done and I did not want to lose the time of working on it. People curiously were not annoyed by my sawing, planing and sanding, or anyway no-one said anything -- there was quite a bit of vocal annoyance directed toward the woman sitting more towards the front of the theater, who was laying some floor tiles.
When the movie was over I saw Gary and Suzie leaving the theater. They came over and said hi, and admired the table. Gary wanted advice about what style of legs to use for a table he was building; stifling an impulse to say "cabriole", I said it was hard to say without knowing what the table looked like and what context it would be in.
Friday, September 26th, 2003
LanguageHat, with all his posting of beautiful poetry, has inspired me to copy the following poem out of "Thank You and Other Poems". It is a very fine book, one which I recommend to you very highly; in addition to "Lunch" it has "On the Great Atlantic Railway", "Fresh Air", "Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams", and many other worthwile pieces. It is copyright 1962 by Kenneth Koch, published on Grove Press's Evergreen imprint.
L U N C H
The lanternslides grinding out B-flat minor
Chords to the ears of the deaf youngster who sprays in Hicksville
The sides of a car with the dream-splitting paint
Of pianos (he dreamt of one day cutting the Conservatory
In two with his talent), these lanternslides, I say,
They are -- The old woman hesitated. A lifesaver was shoved down her throat;
then she continued:
They are some very good lanternslides in that bunch. Then she fainted
And we revived her with flowers. She smiled sleepily at the sun.
He is my own boy, she said, with her glass hand falling through the
sparkling red America of lunch.
That old boilermaker she has in her back yard,
Olaf said, used to be her sweetheart years back.
One day, though, a train passed, and pressed her hard,
And she deserted life and love for liberty.
We carried Olaf softly into the back yard
And laid him down with his head under the steamroller.
Then Jill took the wheel and I tinkered with the engine,
Till we rolled him under, rolled him under the earth.
When people ask us what's in our back yard
Now, we don't like to tell them, Jill says, laying her
silver bandannaed head on my greened bronze shoulder.
Then we both dazzle ourselves with the red whiteness of lunch.
That old woman named Tessie Runn
Had a tramp boyfriend who toasted a bun.
They went to Florida, but Maxine Schweitzer was hard of
Hearing and the day afterwards the judge adjourned the trial.
When it finally came for judgment to come up
Of delicious courtyards near the Pantheon,
At last we had to let them speak, the children whom flowers had made statues
For the rivers of water which came from their funnel;
And we stood there in the middle of existence
Dazzled by the white paraffin of lunch.
Music in Paris and water coming out from the flannel
Of the purist person galloping down the Madeleine
Toward a certain wafer. Hey! just a minute! the sunlight is being rifted
By the green architecture of the flowers.
But the boulevard turned a big blue deaf ear
Of cinema placards to the detonated traveler. He had forgotten
the blue defilade of lunch!
Genoa! a stone's throw from Acapulco
If an engine were built strong enough,
And down where the hulls and scungilli,
Glisteningly unconscious, agree,
I throw a game of shoes with Horace Sturnbul
And forget to eat lunch.
O launch, lunch, you dazzling hoary tunnel
Do you see that snowman tackled over there
By summer and the sea ? A boardwalk went to Istanbul
And back under his left eye. We saw the Moslems praying
In Rhodes. One had a red fez, another had a black cap.
And in the extended heat of afternoon,
As an ice-cold gradual sweat covered my whole body,
I realized, and the carpet swam like a red world at my feet
In which nothing was green, and the Moslems went on praying,
That we had missed lunch, and a perpetual torrent roared into the sea
Of my understanding. An old woman gave us bread and rolls on the street.
The dancing wagon has come! here is the dancing wagon!
Come up and get lessons -- here is lemonade and grammar!
Here is drugstore and cowboy -- all that is America --
plus sex, perfumes, and shimmers -- all the Old World;
Come and get it -- and here is your reading matter
For twenty-nine centuries, and here finally is lunch --
To be served in the green defilade under the roaring tower
Where Portugal meets Spain inside a flowered madeleine.
My ginger dress has nothing on, but yours And the lunchboat has arrived
Has on a picture of Queen Anne Boleyn
Surrounded by her courtiers eating lunch
And on the back a one of Henry the Eighth
Summoning all his courtiers in for lunch.
Everyone getting sick is on it;
The bold people and the sadists are on it;
I am glad I am not on it,
I am having a big claw of garlic for lunch --
But it plucks me up in the air,
And there, above the ship, on a cloud
I see the angels eating lunch.
One has a beard, another a moustache,
And one has some mustard smeared on his ears.
A couple of them ask me if I want to go to Honolulu,
And I accept -- it's all right --
Another time zone: we'll be able to have lunch.
They are very beautiful and transparent,
My two traveling companions,
And they will go very well with Hawaii
I realize as we land there,
That dazzling red whiteness -- it is our desire --
For whom? The angels of lunch.
Oh I sat over a glass of red wine
And you came out dressed in a paper cup.
An ant-fly was eating hay-mire in the chair-rafters
And large white birds flew in and dropped edible animals to the ground.
If they had been gulls it would have been garbage
Or fish. We have to be fair to the animal kingdom,
But if I do not wish to be fair, if I wish to eat lunch
Undisturbed --? The light of day shines down. The world continues.
We stood in the little hutment in Biarritz
Waiting for lunch, and your hand clasped mine
And I felt it was sweaty;
And then lunch was served,
Like the bouquet of an enchantress.
Oh the green whites and red yellows
And purple whites of lunch!
The bachelor eats his lunch,
The married man eats his lunch,
And old Uncle Joris belches
The seascape in which a child appears
Eating a watermelon and holding a straw hat.
He moves his lips as if to speak
But only sea air emanates from this childish beak.
It is the moment of sorrows, And in the shores of history,
Which stretch in both directions, there are no happy tomorrows.
But Uncle Joris holds his apple up and begins to speak
To the child. Red waves fan my universe with the green macaw of lunch.
This street is deserted;
I think my eyes are empty;
Let us leave
Day bangs on the door and is gone.
Then they picked him up and carried him away from that company.
When he awoke he was in the fire department, and sleepy but not tired.
They gave him a hoseful of blue Spain to eat for lunch,
And Portugal was waiting for him at the door,
like a rainstorm of evening raspberries.
It is time to give lunch to my throat and not my chest.
What? either the sting ray has eaten my lunch
Or else -- and she searches the sky for something else;
But I am far away, seeming blue-eyed, empirical...
Let us give lunch to the lunch -- But how shall we do it?
The headwaiters expand and confer;
Will little pieces of cardboard box do it?
And what about silver and gold pellets?
The headwaiters expand and confer:
And what if the lunch should refuse to eat anything at all?
Why then we'd say be damned to it,
And the red doorway would open on a green railway
And the lunch would be put in a blue car
And it would go away to Whippoorwill Valley
Where it would meet and marry Samuel Dogfoot,
and bring forth seven offspring,
All of whom would be half human, half lunch;
And when we saw them, sometimes, in the gloaming,
We would take off our mining hats and whistle Tweet twee-oo,
With watering mouths staring at the girls in pink organdy frocks,
Not realizing they really were half edible,
And we would die still without knowing it;
So to prevent anything happening that terrible
Let's give everybody we see and like a good hard bite right now,
To see what they are, because it's time for lunch!
Wednesday, September 24th, 2003
Added a new page to our family album:
I found a discussion in Slate of Franzen's rejection of the proffered Oprah Winfrey seal of approval for The Corrections. (That link will take you to part I of the discussion; part II is here.) Snobbery comes up a lot in the discussion in various contexts, and I suddenly think, yeah, a lot of what this book is about is snobbery. I don't have anything more concrete than that right now but will be looking over the discussion some more and try to come up with something. A key statement, from Slate associate editor Eliza Truitt: "I think it's a mistake to translate the sympathy one feels for Enid as a reader to a lack of snobbery on the part of the author."
Update: The final bit of the discussion comes from Jodi Kantor, who writes what I would if I were perceptive enough to formulate my thoughts properly, starting with: "The Corrections is a veritable opera of aspiration and snobbery." Read her whole post; there is no direct link but go to Part II and scroll down to her name.
I finished The Corrections this morning and am a bit sorry it's over. In the second half of the book -- mainly the chapters "At Sea" and "The Generator" -- I was simultaneously enjoying the read and feeling a bit disappointed at Franzen for losing the greatness that the earlier chapters had. But in the final two chapters he was able to pull it together and get back on track.
The great thing in this book is the characters. The portion of the book that is less than great is the part where the characters are neglected in favor of telling a story -- a funny story and interesting, but not beautiful and moving in the way that the rest of the book is.
Monday, September 22nd, 2003
I was reminded a bit of The Life of Pi by this depressing news item from AP (which I saw at the Whiskey Bar):
BAGHDAD, Iraq - A U.S. soldier shot and killed a tiger at the Baghdad zoo after it bit another soldier who had reached through the bars of its cage to feed it, a zoo security guard said Saturday.
The soldiers had been drinking beer when they entered the zoo Thursday night after it closed, said the guard, Zuhair Abdul-Majeed. "He was drunk," Abdul-Majeed said of the bitten soldier.
After the man was bit, the other American shot the tiger three times in the head and killed it, Abdul-Majeed told The Associated Press.
Billmon thinks it makes a fine metaphor for the US intervention in Iraq, and I am inclined to agree with him.
Sunday, September 21st, 2003
sylvia is helping me write this post -- the first she has helped with; and she typed all the letters of her name in the first word of the post.
Today was Sylvia's birthday party, with a Clifford theme. All of her friends from her playgroup came, plus some cousins and other assorted friends. Clifford came to say hi to the kids and take pictures together -- this was Sylvia's birthday present from Ellen's friend Shelley. As I was driving Gary and Suzie to the train station after the party, I reflected that it was about the most ambitious party Ellen and I have ever thrown, at least since our wedding. A good time was had by all and the weather was beautiful.
More typing from Sylvia: big reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedddddddddddddddddddddddddd dddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddooooooooooooooooooooofgg
(Sylvia digs the autorepeat feature of the computer's keyboard.)
Thursday, September 18th, 2003
Another note about authenticity of baked goods -- Ellen bought a loaf of bread at the Whole Foods in Millburn that was sold as "ciabatta" but in fact bore only a very slight resemblance to that style of bread. I am however having a hard time getting worked up about this, because it was a very good loaf of bread -- probably the best I have had from any bakery within a half-hour drive of my house. Still, I wish they would have called it by a different name -- "peasant bread" might work.
Wednesday, September 17th, 2003
Over at LanguageHat (among other places) I am used to seeing prescriptive* grammar trashed; and while I don't feel as strongly about it as some, I generally sympathize with the trashers -- from what I can understand of the argument, it seems more useful to start with the goal of describing language than of controlling it. (The gist of it: "prescriptive grammar" = grammar viewed as a set of rules for composition; "descriptive grammar" = grammar viewed as a description of how people use language.) Yesterday and today however, in the yeasty intersection of language and food, I found myself taking an unambiguously prescriptive stance.
A little background -- there is in South Orange a small bakery that makes only bagels and muffins, and makes them both very very well. The hand-rolled bagels are, as is proper, boiled before they are baked; and they come out dense and chewy, with a thick crust -- in a word, "bagels". So when Ellen suggested last night that I should buy some bagels Sunday morning for the parents of Sylvia's friends, who will be coming to her birthday party, I naturally said "Okay, I can stop by the bagel shop on my way back from Kings", which is the supermarket where I will be picking up Sylvia's birthday cake; that, however, was not what Ellen had in mind.
Ellen thought I should buy bagels from Kings while I was there. Bear in mind that the pastries sold by Kings under the name "bagels" are something quite different -- they are rolled and shaped by a machine, and baked in a steam-injected oven; and they come out soft, with little crust and less flavor. Ellen's argument in favor of these non-bagels was that many people prefer their bagels not to be chewy. I was in the end able to talk her out of it; but I have been fretting all day about her point. Is my anti-soft-bland-bagel stance just empty snobbery? Should the word "bagel" mean what it is used by the general population to mean, regardless of authenticity? My hunch is that the answer to both of these questions is "yes".
* I am to this day not sure if I should be talking about "prescriptive" or "proscriptive" grammar -- the former seems a little closer to the meaning of the phrase as I understand it. [Update: KF of Planned Obsolescence says my intuition was correct in this regard.]
Monday, September 15th, 2003
Today I started the chapter entitled "The More he Thought About it, the Angrier he Got", in which Gary is introduced -- and as soon as I started it I felt a huge wave of disappointment. "So this is where it stops being a wonderful, insightful portrait and turns into a well-written, amusing, predictable parody of middle-class materialism and neurosis... Oh well, it was great while it lasted..."
I plodded my way through about 10 pages and gradually stopped plodding -- 15 minutes later I had forgotten my complaint and was gripping the book like it was a life preserver -- Gary's character is on one level the subject of broad satire but (a) the satiric points are not the ones I expect (not all of them at any rate), and (b) Franzen is not using him to draw satire -- he is (another) fully human character in his own right*.
I described the book to Gabe as "mind-blowing" and that is exactly what it is doing to me. Even without the eerie, radically imprecise parallels with my own life and family, I think The Corrections would be making me reconsider how I think about my life and how I go about my daily business.
*This makes me think in a funny way of magical realism -- it is just marvelous to me that Franzen can lampoon Gary in such a way and yet keep him substantial, connected to the reality of the story.
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