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Me and Sylvia on the canal in Qibao (April 2011)


Jeremy's journal

If you think, “I breathe,” the “I” is extra. There is no you to say “I.” What we call “I” is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale or when we exhale.

Shun Ryu Suzuki

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Saturday, May 14th, 2011

🦋 Perfección

Últimamente publicaba Jorge López unas fotografías increíbles de su viaje a San Pedro de Atacama, y hoy me ha dejado sin hablar con los colores de su imagen de un momento perfecto:

posted morning of May 14th, 2011: Respond
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🦋 The best thing is water.

bust of Pindar: National
Archæological Museum
of Naples
ἄριστον μὲν ὕδωρ, ὁ δὲ χρυσὸς αἰθόμενον πῦρ
ἅτε διαπρέπει νυκτὶ μεγάνορος ἔξοχα πλούτου

-- Pindar, Olympian Ode Ⅰ:
for Hieron of Syracuse

I got interested in this passage yesterday... I was trying to find out more about Œdipus and about Thebes, and one of the references was to Pindar's second Olympian ode. That particular reference* didn't turn up so much of interest; but I found the beginning of the first Olympian ode enchanting. Diane Svarlien translates it as "Water is best, and gold, like a blazing fire in the night, stands out supreme of all lordly wealth." I don't know Greek, but let's see how this works. The Perseus Digital Library makes it easy:

  1. ἄριστον μὲν ὕδωρ: Water is best. This seems clear enough, I know "arist-" from its use in English, and "udor" is close enough to "water" for my ear. What does Pindar mean? That water is the most virtuous/noblest of the elements? It looks sort of like he's setting up water in opposition to gold; the lexicon at Perseus says μὲν ... δὲ can be rendered as "on the one hand... on the other hand" -- this does not come through in Svarlien's translation.
  2. χρυσὸς αἰθόμενον πῦρ ἅτε... νυκτὶ: Gold blazing just like fire at night.
  3. διαπρέπει: It catches the eye.
  4. μεγάνορος ἔξοχα πλούτου: It looks to me like this phrase is meant to modify "gold" -- it's not too clear to me what "meganoros" is meant to do -- maybe in English this could be rendered as "but then again gold, the greatest wealth of great men, catches the eye; it blazes just like fire in the nighttime."
What does it all mean? ...Pindar is setting up some standards of greatness, it looks like, and then he is going to say that the greatest of all is the exploits of the Olympic contestants. Today in the NY Times magazine, Gary Wolf uses a different superlative in a similar construction when he calls gold "the most primitive form of wealth" -- seems like you could argue against that assertion, but anyways it caught my eye on the heels of reading Pindar.

Another sort of amusing detail, for me anyways: AOTW one of the top Google hits for this passage is Belle Waring's post a few years ago at Crooked Timber about the badness of comments sections at various moderate-left political blogs.

* "In such a way does Fate, who keeps their pleasant fortune to be handed from father to son, bring at another time some painful reversal together with god-sent prosperity, since the destined son met and killed Laius, and fulfilled the oracle of Pytho, spoken long before." -- Svarlien's translation

Update: I found my copy of Lattimore's translation of Pindar. (Which also is online at His rendering of the opening lines:

Best of all things is water; but gold, like a gleaming fire
by night, outshines all pride of wealth beside.
rings most pleasantly in my ears.

posted morning of May 14th, 2011: Respond
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Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

🦋 Happy Birthday Dalí!

Everyone's fave surrealist is 107 years old today.He is 66 years and one week older than me.

posted evening of May 11th, 2011: Respond
➳ More posts about Birthdays

🦋 Archæology

Below the fold, something that might become a first paragraph of a longer piece. I'm sort of wondering if it's worth pursuing; if you have any reaction to the piece I would be interested to know what it is. I'll post a comment a bit later concerning where I'm thinking about going with it; my hope is that its rhythm will grab the reader (or a particular few readers) and make him/her/them want to come along wherever I am going with it.

read the rest...

posted evening of May 11th, 2011: 3 responses
➳ More posts about Poetry

🦋 Dream Pillow

by J Osner

Sinking into the warm black pillow of night. I’m dreaming
Masks, new faces, costumes I will wear
Internally, so I won’t know myself,
My face, my clean white tablet lies
There on the pillow looking up at me.
So paint! Draw crazy patterns on your cheeks;
Sculpt horns and wild protuberances, scars
Where your clean virgin skin is lying smooth.
Add blemishes and warts around your mouth,
Sprout tufts of wiry hair beside your nose --

just let yourself go,
make a May Day parade
of masks:

We’ll set them up
For all to see
We’ll let you know
Which ones will work,
Which ones will trick you out obscenely sinister unrecognized and sneaking stealthy sliding past the doorways of your ego lurking dark around the alleys of your childhood memories;
And when I've gone to sleep I’ll see
My costumed armies waiting
And the desolation staging
Where they play.

posted morning of May 11th, 2011: Respond
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Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

🦋 Landscapes

I picked up Ferlinghetti's Landscapes of Living and Dying again this weekend and found myself entranced again by the crystal clarity of his images and by the sparse beauty of his syllables.

For years the old Italians have been dying
all over America
For years the old Italians in faded felt hats
have been sunning themselves and dying
You have seen them on the benches
of the park in Washington Square
the old Italians in their black high button shoes
the old men in their old felt fedoras
with stained hatbands
have been dying and dying
day by day
This old Italian (nearly 60 when he was writing these poems, in his 90's today) paints his landscapes all over America, from Washington Square to Spartanburg, SC, to Washington, DC, Wisconsin, Michigan, Springfield, San Francisco, San Jose... In each location he captures the perfect details to bring the scene to life.

posted evening of May 10th, 2011: Respond
➳ More posts about Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Monday, May 9th, 2011

🦋 Dream Blogging

I am traveling by train in central Europe, with a beehive in my suitcase (packed in Tupperware). My current destination is a town called Letze Oido -- I had thought based on my reading of the timetable that the train I was on stopped there, but it turns out I have to make a transfer, so I'm waiting in the station. A Serbian man is transporting beehives; I open my suitcase to show him my setup and notice that a couple of bees have gotten out of the container and are buzzing around in there among my clothing. He smiles and asks me in decent English whether I speak German; I say "ein Bißchen" and he asks me in extremely broken German whether I know where the bathrooms are. Another passenger sitting nearby directs him. I'm still not sure on which track the train for Letze Oido will be stopping --I notice a train pulling out and worry that I may have missed my train. I make a mental note to write this down in my journal.

posted morning of May 9th, 2011: Respond

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

🦋 Saturday Groovers

Ellen and I went out to a club last night, for the first time in a while, to see a band we had never heard of... What a great time! What a great find! I'm a fan now.

Ellen heard from Shelley on Wednesday that their old friend John was playing guitar with The Shirts on Stanton St. on Saturday, and did we want to meet her. So we did! The opening band was Suzanne Real, backed up by John on guitar and the bassist and drummer from The Shirts. A hot set but not very many people were there yet...

The club really filled up for The Shirts' set though. Ellen and I were surprised to find ourselves dancing, starting early in the set when Artie Lamonica (the guitarist on the left above) sang his new song "Mochaccino" -- an addictive beat and a fun lyric. I was dancing my trademark, spastic I-can't-dance step (which I have not had occasion to use for a long time now), Ellen a more reserved swaying to the beat, but it got us together in the rhythm. And it was all right.

The Shirts played an hour set and I could have listened to them for another couple of hours. I'm listening to their record now (the new one, the one that was on sale at the merch table, the one that John is playing on) and having a blast. Recommend it.

Oh: John was not in the spotlight much during The Shirts' set -- he played some stellar solos, but the lighting guy was not on the ball -- but I got a nicely impressionistic photo of him during the opening set:

posted afternoon of May 8th, 2011: Respond
➳ More posts about The Shirts

🦋 Welcome Budgies!

Today, the readin household has two new members; Sylvia's new pets Woodstock (on the left) and Cheepers. Click through for a closeup.

posted afternoon of May 8th, 2011: Respond
➳ More posts about Sylvia

Saturday, May 7th, 2011

🦋 Dogwood Funeral

One of my very favorite-ever pictures of myself is this one, taken 8 years ago, when Sylvia was 3 and my parents were visiting -- I believe it was their first visit at our new house, the house we live in today. My dad took this picture of 3-year-old Sylvia on my shoulders, entranced by the dogwood blossom.

Every year since then, the dogwood has produced fewer blossoms, fewer leaves; and this year it is well and truly dead.

I spent some time this afternoon cutting off its limbs. For Sylvia's documentation of the process, look at our family album.

Update -- a year later, it is down.

posted afternoon of May 7th, 2011: 1 response
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