Friday, July 31, 2009

Cooking and television

Michael Pollan:

Maybe the reason we like to watch cooking on TV is that there are things about cooking we miss. We might not feel we have the time or the energy to do it ourselves every day, yet we’re not prepared to see it disappear from our lives entirely. Why? Perhaps because cooking — unlike sewing or darning socks — is an activity that strikes a deep emotional chord in us, one that might even go to the heart of our identity as human beings.

Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch (New York Times)
I’m happy to be part of a family in which everybody cooks.

“An Accident of Time and Place”

Sergeant Crowley and I, through an accident of time and place, have been cast together, inextricably, as characters — as metaphors, really — in a thousand narratives about race over which he and I have absolutely no control. Narratives about race are as old as the founding of this great Republic itself, but these new ones have unfolded precisely when Americans signaled to the world our country’s great progress by overcoming centuries of habit and fear, and electing an African American as President. It is incumbent upon Sergeant Crowley and me to utilize the great opportunity that fate has given us to foster greater sympathy among the American public for the daily perils of policing on the one hand, and for the genuine fears of racial profiling on the other hand.
Well said. Read it all:

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., An Accident of Time and Place (The Root)

Nabokov’s index cards, coming in November

From a Publishers Weekly advance review of Vladimir Nabokov’s The Original of Laura, coming in November:

Nabokov’s handwritten index cards are reproduced with a transcription below of each card’s contents, generally less than a paragraph. The scanned index cards (perforated so they can be removed from the book) are what make this book an amazing document; they reveal Nabokov’s neat handwriting (a mix of cursive and print) and his own edits to the text: some lines are blacked out with scribbles, others simply crossed out. Words are inserted, typesetting notes (“no quotes”) and copyedit symbols pepper the writing, and the reverse of many cards bears a wobbly X. Depending on the reader’s eye, the final card in the book is either haunting or the great writer’s final sly wink: it’s a list of synonyms for “efface” — expunge, erase, delete, rub out, wipe out and, finally, obliterate.
Related posts
Nabokov’s unfinished (On The Original of Laura)
Vladimir Nabokov's index cards

Understocked

From xkcd: “Actually, it seems we’re out of beer.”

Nick DeMaio and the Eldorado

A Bronx tale, of Fordham University and environs:

[T]he one nostalgic oasis of civility in the neighborhood was the old Eldorado Bar on Third Avenue, right under the Third Avenue El. The El was scheduled for demolition by 1972. The bar, which had been a tavern since 1890, had a high, plank ceiling supported by a row of wooden posts, with the big rotating fans that later became fashionable in Manhattan watering holes. It had a pool table with a ripped felt cover, and it served Italian hero sandwiches and hamburgers thrown together in a dingy kitchen in the back. The proprietor was Nick DeMaio, five-foot-six and stocky, in his late seventies, wearing a tie and sometimes an apron. He muttered unintelligible wisdom in a gruff voice with a cigar butt stuck in the side of his mouth.

Nick had bought the place in 1922. Faking it as a flower shop in front, the place had been a speakeasy during Prohibition, but more than anything, with its long, solid mahogany bar and the mirror behind it, it resembled a saloon in the cowboy movies.

Raymond A. Schroth, Fordham: A History and Memoir (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2002), 326.
I’m happy to know something about the Eldorado, or the El D, as it was called, a bar I visited but once, with two friends, in the summer of 1981. The place was vast, like an empty stage, with a dull, smooth wood floor. The only people were my friends and I, some tough customers at the pool table, and the proprietor, a little old man wearing a white shirt, a black tie, a brown cigar, and a barkeeper’s apron. The guy was a throwback, as my daughter Rachel would say. He must have been Nick DeMaio.

The Social Security Death Index lists one Nicholas DeMaio whose dates (1898–1993) and last residence (in the Bronx, just a short ride from the bar) make for the likely proprietor of the El D. I’m amazed to think that I was likely ordering beers from a man who had been serving them during Prohibition.

More Bronx tales
Elvis pretzels
Naked Bronx

Thursday, July 30, 2009

“Take Back the Beep”

New York Times technology columnist David Pogue wants to Take Back the Beep by getting cellphone carriers to drop their lengthy (and revenue-enhancing) voicemail instructions. Until the carriers cave, one can at least skip the instructions by invoking the magical sequence 1 * #. Or even simpler, one can hang up (so to speak) after just a few rings and send a text, saving the person on the other end the work of retrieving voicemail.

I support Pogue’s effort, but I’m secretly hoping that the phone companies keep their instructions. The “1 * #” thing is pretty cool.

(Oops — my hoping’s no longer secret.)

Eric Gill: control, distraction, and tools

Eric Gill (1882–1940), engraver, printer, sculptor, typeface designer, recommended a hand-operated press as the best tool for letterpress printing:

This tool gives the maximum of control with the minimum of distraction. It is most important that the workman should not have to watch his instrument, that his whole attention should be given to his work. A sculptor does not see his hammer and chisel when he is carving, but only the stone in front of him. Similarly the hand press printer can give his whole attention to inking & printing, and hardly see his press.

From An Essay on Typography (1931)
I have no thoughts about printing, but this passage does make me think about tools for writing and searching.

Writing: for a maximum of control and a minimum of distraction — eraser crumbs, dull and broken points — the pencil is an obvious choice. As for pens, a plain Bic offers zero-degree distraction: fountain-pen expert Frank Dubiel used to call the Bic the most reliable pen of all. But Dubiel was willing to sacrifice some measure of reliability for the pleasure of writing with a fountain pen. And anyway, a good fountain pen is extremely reliable, needing little more than occasional refilling and infrequent cleaning. For writing at the computer, one may find a maximum of control and a minimum of distraction by using a text-editor, a much better choice than the typical word-processor, whose hammers, chisels, and dozens of other tools are always competing with words for the writer’s attention.

Searching: there’s no better example of an interface designed to maximize control and minimize distraction that Google’s nearly blank search page. Microsoft’s Bing, in contrast, offers a cluttered mess: the search box is placed (for now) against a panoramic photograph of hikers crossing a rope bridge, with links to first aid info, “Great deals on airfares,” and what’s “Popular now” — the Ferrari 458 Italia, Stephon Marbury, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Carlos Carrasco. Am I here to search, or to lose track of what it is I’m looking for? Self-parody, thy name is Microsoft!

Gill's observations also make me think in a general way of Mac OS X, an operating system that lets me give my whole attention to my work, so that I can “just work,” without the ever renewed effort to figure out what’s gone wrong with the computer now.

[When I requested Gill’s book via interlibrary loan, I didn’t know that the 1931 first edition was limited to 500 copies, each copy signed by Gill and René Hague, who together set the type. I read carefully — very carefully — and returned the book with the suggestion that it never be let out again. The 1936 edition of An Essay on Typography is available as a paperback reprint from David R. Godine (1988). “It just works” is an Apple slogan, a few years old now.]

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The quick brown fox . . .

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. No, really: watch.

Wikipedia has an astute article on the fox, the dog, and their sentence.

(Thanks, Macon!)

Microsoft sans irony

Steve Ballmer of Microsoft:

“Through this agreement with Yahoo, we will create more innovation in search, better value for advertisers and real consumer choice in a market currently dominated by a single company.”
Yes, Microsoft really hates the idea of one company dominating a market.

Microsoft and Yahoo Reach Deal on Search Partnership (New York Times)

Domestic comedy

“You’re plenty plaintive.”

Related reading
All “domestic comedy” posts

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Books, books, jive sugar



Books, plant food, tea, cocoa, books, tea, books, cocoa, cassettes, books, Absolut Brooklyn ad, boom box, books, books, books, books, jive sugar, photograph of the Brooklyn Bridge, honey, tea, books, sugar, photograph of my son Ben, books, three-hole punch, books, books, books, books, books, books.

[Down and across, part of one wall in my office. Photograph by Rachel Leddy.]

"Jive Sugar" is the title of an Earl Hines tune, inspired by a fellow musician who said no to an artificial sweetener: "Don't hand me that jive sugar."

Monday, July 27, 2009

Books and guns

What guns are for some people, books are for me. I’ll never give them up. “Cold, dead hands,” all that.

Nicholson Baker and the Kindle

Nicholson Baker’s consideration of the Kindle in the new New Yorker is unlikely to move many units. A sample:

The problem was not that the screen was in black-and-white; if it had really been black-and-white, that would have been fine. The problem was that the screen was gray. And it wasn’t just gray; it was a greenish, sickly gray. A postmortem gray. The resizable typeface, Monotype Caecilia, appeared as a darker gray. Dark gray on paler greenish gray was the palette of the Amazon Kindle.

This was what they were calling e-paper? This four-by-five window onto an overcast afternoon?
Baker’s conclusion, supported by many other reasons:
Amazon, with its listmania lists and its sometimes inspired recommendations and its innumerable fascinating reviews, is very good at selling things. It isn’t so good, to date anyway, at making things.
A related post
No Kindle for me

“Two large black men,” et cetera

The “two large black men with backpacks” who were supposed to be breaking into Henry Louis Gates’ house last week: where did that description come from? Not from Lucia Whalen’s 911 call. And Whalen’s lawyer insists that she did not talk to James Crowley at the scene.

Google Classic

“Please allow 30 days for search results”: Google Classic.

Beagle Bros disk-care warnings

Founded by Bert Kersey in 1980, Beagles Bros created sophisticated and incredibly useful software for the Apple II. A distinctive sense of humor marked Beagle advertising and packaging — old clip-art, fictional staff (Al Gorithm, Flo Chart), and short BASIC programs that yielded strange, entertaining phenomena when you typed them in. Even the company’s name was surreptitiously funny. Why no period after Bros? No room.

Beagle Bros showed tremendous generosity to and trust in its customers, shipping software with bonus utility programs, stickers, and no copy-protection. I still remember calling Beagle in 1986 with a question about its new program MacroWorks (an AppleWorks add-on). “Would you like to talk to Randy?” asked the person on the other end. So I talked with Randy Brandt, the program’s creator. MacroWorks was my great encouragement, early on, to tinker and tweak, computer-wise.

While thinking about Beagle Bros yesterday, I realized that I probably still had some Beagle disk sleeves among my old Apple //c disks. Here’s a scan of the disk-care warnings from the back of the sleeve. Heed them well.



Related reading
The Beagle Bros Online Museum (“Being a tribute to the coolest software company of the 80s”)
Beagle Bros Software Repository (with ads, catalogues, posters)
Beagle Bros (Wikipedia)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Today’s Hi and Lois

In today’s Hi and Lois, camp counselors say goodbye:

“We may never see each other again.”

“Yeah.”

“Have a nice life.”

“You too.”
Pretty tough talk. Hemingwayesque even, style-wise. Chip and C.J. must be the only teenagers in the country who don’t know about Facebook.

[I’m trying smart quotes — “ ” — in this post. If you see anything strange, punctuation-wise, please let me know. Thanks.]

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Blurry blue line

The line of when to put on handcuffs is a personal and blurry one, varying among officers in the same city, the same precinct, even the same patrol car.
In the aftermath of the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. arrest, an examination of varied attitudes toward "what in police parlance is called getting 'lippy'":

As Officers Face Heated Words, Their Tactics Vary (New York Times)

Friday, July 24, 2009

For R.L.

Word and music by Buddy DeSylva and Joseph Meyer, arranged here for four voices.

"How to e-mail a professor" in print

My #1 hit, How to e-mail a professor, appears in the new eighth edition of Barbara Fine Clouse's The Student Writer: Editor and Critic, just published by McGraw-Hill.

Ten good questions follow my piece. I especially like this one:

Explain the reference to Maggie Simpson in paragraphs 10 and 15. Why do you think Leddy includes this reference?

Dorm evolution

From Time: The Evolution of the College Dorm.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"[N]o respect without knowledge"

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. talks with CNN.

I wonder: presented with Gates' Harvard ID and driver's license, what did the police officer who went on to arrest Gates make of these items? Was he unable to see the man in front of him as a Harvard professor standing in his own house? (I think I just answered my own questions.)

I like the following passage from Gates for its suggestion that we may come to see one another as we really are:

Ours is a late-twentieth-century world profoundly fissured by nationality, ethnicity, race, class, and gender. And the only way to transcend those divisions — to forge, for once, a civic culture that respects both differences and commonalities — is through education that seeks to comprehend the diversity of human culture. Beyond the hype and the high-flown rhetoric is a pretty homely truth: There is no tolerance without respect — and no respect without knowledge. Any human being sufficiently curious and motivated can fully possess another culture, no matter how "alien" it may appear to be.

From the Introduction to Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), xv.

Raymond Chandler in Double Indemnity

Raymond Chandler wrote the screenplay for Double Indemnity (1944) with director Billy Wilder. But wait: there's more. As Mark Coggins shows us, Chandler appears in the film as an extra.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Firefox 3.5.1 : )

I'm now a happy user of the very fast Firefox 3.5.1, having figured out that my 3.5 problems were the result of the extension Tab Mix Plus. How did I figure it out? I installed 3.5.1, started the browser in Safe Mode, with all extensions disabled, and found that all was well. I quit and restarted and, on a hunch, tried disabling Tab Mix Plus. My guess was that the problems I had encountered with 3.5 were likely caused by an extension that affected the browser's interface. Sure enough — with Tab Mix Plus disabled, everything was fine.

The download on the Mozilla page for Tab Mix Plus isn't compatible with Firefox 3.5.1. But developer Gary Reyes has posted there a link to a new version: Tab Mix Plus for Firefox 3.5.1.

As many Firefox users already know, Tab Mix Plus is an incredibly handy extension: it has close to ten million downloads. Thanks to Gary Reyes for keeping Tab Mix Plus compatible.

A related post
Firefox 3.5 : (

The Right to Quiet Society

The Vancouver-based Right to Quiet Society opposes the use of what it calls "program audio": "canned music, radio, and television soundtrack, particularly when provided as a 'background' in places where people gather":

Program audio is particularly insidious because it encourages passivity and conformity: like so much else in our modern society, it calls on us to be consumers, mere sponges, rather than thinkers and doers with spontaneous responses.

Even when program audio is pushed on us with good intentions, the underlying assumption is an insulting one: that our empty heads need to be kept filled with artificial stimuli so that we do not become insufferably bored.
I recently learned that the waiting area at my doctor's office now features a television playing FOX News. The next time I'm there — promise — I'll ask someone in "charge" why television — much less cable news, much less the FOX brand — is a good idea for people waiting to see a doctor.

Elaine recently wrote about the background music — or was it foreground music? — in a nearby bookstore. Or, as she would prefer, book store.

102 salads

From the New York Times: 101 simple salads.

I'll add one more: Persian salad.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

SCOTUS breaking up

News from Benjo:

The Supreme Court of the United States will break up at the end of the term, allowing front man and Chief Justice John Roberts to pursue a solo career, sources say.

"John has felt like the Court has really been holding him back creatively," said Edward Stapleton, a former clerk for Roberts who is close to the Chief Justice. "He does believe there are a lot of strong justices on the Court, don't get me wrong; but he is clearly the most talented. And he's definitely got the star power to make it as a solo justice."

The Supreme Court has been together for 220 years, and has had rotating lineups throughout that time. Indeed, the Court currently includes none of its founding members, but has nonetheless continued to adjudicate under the original Supreme Court name.
Benjo is a very funny guy. Read the (also funny) rest:

Chief Justice Roberts To Break Up Supreme Court, Pursue Solo Career (benjoblog)

"No, wait, thirty seconds"

Windows file copy dialog comedy from xkcd.

Love Is Like Park Avenue

When I asked about it in a bookstore last month, the snarky young people at the front desk made fun of the title. (Jerks.) I'm looking forward to this book's publication next month:

Alvin Levin, Love Is Like Park Avenue (New Directions)
Declan Spring, On Alvin Levin (Seminary Co-op Bookstore)

"Tech-free classrooms"

A study published in the April issue of British Educational Research Journal found that 59 percent of students in a new survey reported that at least half of their lectures were boring, and that PowerPoint was one of the dullest methods they saw. . . .

Students in the survey gave low marks not just to PowerPoint, but also to all kinds of computer-assisted classroom activities, even interactive exercises in computer labs. "The least boring teaching methods were found to be seminars, practical sessions, and group discussions," said the report. In other words, tech-free classrooms were the most engaging.
From a piece by Jeffrey R. Young on the role of technology in college classrooms. Read it all:

When Computers Leave Classrooms, So Does Boredom (Chronicle of Higher Education)

Little sponges

From the back of the Cheerios box:

Think of oats as sponges that can help soak up some cholesterol and naturally remove it from your body.
Appetizing! Not!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fresh cookies, fresh ironing

Danny dug into the crock in the pantry and brought out two large, soft, still-warm cookies. He poured himself a glass of milk and sat down at the kitchen table.

"Mmm," he said, dreamily. "I love the smell of fresh cookies and the smell of fresh ironing. I guess you're right. We do have to learn some history. But it's so dull — all those names and dates."

Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin, Danny Dunn, Time Traveler (1963)
The sentence about cookies and ironing has stuck with me from childhood, which is why I got hold of the source text (in a dopey-looking 1979 edition) via interlibrary loan.

Danny Dunn grew up to write À la recherche du temps perdu.

Related reading
Danny Dunn (Wikipedia)
Out of the past (On reading books from childhood)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite



[Walter Cronkite commenting on Richard Nixon's resignation speech, as seen on a Washington, D.C. television set, August 1974. Photograph by Gjon Mili (1904–1984). From the Life photo archive. Walter Cronkite died today at the age of 92.]

Amazon and Orwell

One more reason not to buy a Kindle: Amazon has erased copies of 1984 and Animal Farm from customers' Kindles. Granted, these were bootleg copies. But still. Amazon sold (rented?) them, and has now taken them back. One reader's story:

Justin Gawronski, a 17-year-old from the Detroit area, was reading 1984 on his Kindle for a summer assignment and lost all his notes and annotations when the file vanished. "They didn’t just take a book back, they stole my work," he said.
Read more:

Amazon Erases Orwell Books From Kindle (New York Times)
Some E-Books Are More Equal Than Others (New York Times)

A related post
No Kindle for me

Portrait of Billie Holiday and Mister



[Portrait of Billie Holiday and Mister, New York, c. February 1947. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb (1917–2006). Via American Memory, from the Library of Congress.]

"[T]hree days after Bastille day, yes"

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine

Frank O'Hara, lines from "The Day Lady Died"
Three days after Bastille Day, fifty years ago today, Billie Holiday died.

Things to do:

Read Frank O'Hara's poem. Read the New York Times obituary. Listen to Billie Holiday: "Fine and Mellow," "I Loves You, Porgy," "These Foolish Things," "Travelin' Light," "What a Little Moonlight Can Do."

[A note for the fan: "Travelin' Light" seems to be a very rare bit of film footage.]

A related post
On December 8

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Poems, "made of words"

"Now you notice what I said: there is no subject that the modern poem cannot approach. There is no selected material. It's what you do with a work of art. It's what you put on the canvas and how you put it on that makes the picture. It's how the words fit in. Poems are not made of thoughts, beautiful thoughts. It's made of words, pigments, put on. Here, there, made, actually."

William Carlos Williams, to an audience at Harvard University, December 4, 1951
PennSound at the University of Pennsylvania is an audio archive for poetry. It offers, among other treasures, what appear to be all extant recordings of William Carlos Williams.

{The above passage is my transcription.]

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"Plenty of stationery"

Pip and Herbert prepare to take stock of their debts:

We ordered something rather special for dinner, with a bottle of something similarly out of the common way, in order that our minds might be fortified for the occasion, and we might come well up to the mark. Dinner over, we produced a bundle of pens, a copious supply of ink, and a goodly show of writing and blotting paper. For, there was something very comfortable in having plenty of stationery.

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (1861)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

NYPD typewriters

Remember the All in the Family episode in which Archie unwittingly insults a police officer and is made to wait while the slowest typist in the precinct pecks out a report? Typewriters are still in use in the NYPD:

New York Police Department officials said the city is spending nearly $1 million to purchase and maintain typewriters for the police force.

City officials signed a $982,269 contract last year with New Jersey typewriter manufacturer Swintec for the purchase of manual and electric typewriters during the next three years and last month the city inked a $99,570 deal with New York's Afax Business Machines for maintenance on the typing machines, the New York Post reported Monday.

NYPD sources said the vast majority of the typewriters are for use by police.

Most of the city's arrest forms have been computerized, but property and evidence vouchers printed on carbon-paper forms still require the use of typewriters.
Carbon-paper forms!

The Swintec site is worth a look. No carbon-paper forms for sale, but you will find clear typewriters ("especially designed for inmate use") and a $1678 Word Processing System that boasts "60K Large Working Memory" and "Unlimited Document Storage on 3 1/2" Floppy Disks."

André Gregory tells a story

It concerns Jean Lenauer, who played the waiter in My Dinner with André (1981). "Louis" is Louis Malle, the film's director. "Wally" is Wallace Shawn.

The first day of shooting, Louis wanted to fire him, because of course he wasn't a waiter [laughs], so he didn't know what to do with the serving of stuff. So Wally and I, who grew up on the upper East Side [laughs], been to these restaurants, we stayed up all night with Jean, coaching him on being a waiter.

And he was amazing. In fact, Wally and I were coming from a rehearsal, I think of The Master Builder, a couple of years ago, and this guy ran up to Wally and said "My Dinner with André! I've seen it eight times! What an amazing movie! You were great! God, I love" — you know. And Wally after a while said, "I suppose you know my friend." And he looked at me and said, "I don't think so." And I said, "I was the other guy." And he said, "Oh." And he went back to talking with Wally and then shook his hands and went off down the street, and then he came running back, and he grabbed me by the arm. He said, "I'm so sorry — you were the waiter. I didn't recognize you." [Laughs.]
André Gregory tells this story to filmmaker Noah Baumbach in a video interview included in the Criterion Collection edition of My Dinner with André. A thousand thanks to Criterion for giving this film the digital transfer and DVD edition it deserves.

A related post
"Nil admirari in stone, the waiter"

Monday, July 13, 2009

REHC SÈRT SAP

In today's Hi and Lois, Hi and Lois seem to be preparing to drink themselves under the table (or sous la table — it's a French restaurant), in which case they will find themselves on a pink floor. Note that Lois, sober, cannot tell a cap from a cork.

But what really caught my eye in today's strip is the lettering on the window. It's ETATSE LAER all over again.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Pre-Socratic fragment



[Pencil on cardboard.]

"Of practical wisdom these are the three fruits: to deliberate well, to speak to the point, to do what is right."
My son Ben (philosophy major) left this bit of Democritus on our kitchen countertop not long ago.

(Thanks, Ben!)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

"Secrets of the Post Office"

Dave Gathman wondered how the mail works:

Every time I dropped a letter into a mailbox (usually a bill payment that had to get there fast, or my interest rate would shoot up to 33 percent), questions lingered. Would the letter get there just as fast if I mail it at the corner "blue box" as it would if I mailed it at the post office? Would a letter mailed in the little Hampshire post office arrive as soon as one mailed in downtown Elgin? Is it true, as someone once told my mother-in-law, that "mail doesn't move on weekends?"

So we did some experimenting.
Read all about it:

Secrets of the Post Office (Elgin Courier News)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

So gangsta



From a Flickr photoset by Quinn Dombrowski:

University of Chicago: Library Graffiti

[Photograph licensed under a Creative Commons License.]

A related post
Graffiti (in Hyde Park)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Joyeux anniversaire, M. Proust

"His demeanor is both proud and slightly confused, as he squints against the bright sunlight."

William C. Carter, Marcel Proust: A Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 753.

[Marcel Proust, photographed April 21, 1921.]

Related reading
All Proust posts (via Delicious)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ernest Forssgren, Proust's Swedish valet

William C. Carter, ed., The Memoirs of Ernest A. Forssgren, Proust's Swedish Valet. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. $50.

This story constitutes a small part from the life of a sad, embittered old man who wasted his life, who lives ONLY by virtue of a still vigorous sense of HUMOR.

Ernest A. Forssgren, in the epilogue to his memoir
It has been a strange pleasure to read this bit of Proustiana. Ernest Forssgren was with Marcel Proust briefly in 1914 and 1915, before leaving France for the United States. His memoir, "The Mysterious Visit," ninety-three double-spaced typed pages, written in English in 1965, draws its title from a failed attempt to arrange a last meeting with Proust in 1922.

Forssgren does nothing to reveal Proust's character or working habits, but he does reveal his own character — curmudgeonly, misanthropic, obsessive, resentful, and a bit cracked, a combination of Henry Darger and Charles Kinbote. Running through the memoir is Forssgren's hatred of England, its people, its language, and that language's spelling. These matters form the stuff of purported conversations between the author and just about anyone he meets, including, yes, Proust. Here is an excerpt from a conversation between Proust and Forssgren:
"That charming little story you wrote about you and your sister getting lost in the woods, picking berries, the thunderstorm that frightened you, and you saving your sister from drowning — it is such a charming little story I would like to have it published. When you wrote it did you have to consult the La Rousse [Larousse] (dictionary) for the spelling? I noticed that it was perfect."

"No, I did not. That is the great advantage of the Latin languages; after you have learned all the rules thoroughly, you need never consult a dictionary, like you constantly have to do with the idiotic English spelling. Once you have learned the orthography of a Latin language and its grammatical rules you have no need of a dictionary. As for the English language, it reflects the character and nature of its people. Like the French reflects a refined, cultured and artistic people. It is said that language reflects a nation's psyche, its soul and character. English reflects a conservative nation reluctant of change, and though the language like all languages has gone through changes, the English have been slow in following up with reform in spelling. As an example, the obsolete GH was the Saxon's equivalent of the German CH, but was eventually slurred over and dropped, but the spelling retained. The Scotch humorous, 'it is a brah bright moonlight night tonight' is an example of the correct spelling and the original punctuation."

"Where did you learn all that"? MP asked.

"At Prince Orloff's I came across a volume dealing with the origin of language. I looked it over rather superficially. I am not too well versed, but I shall take it up again in connection with my further studies."
Carter's reality-based corrections and notes form an amusing counterpoint to Forssgren's errors and fanciful tales. Here, for instance, Carter corrects "La Rousse," points out Forssgren's habit of misspelling French words, notes the absence of any evidence that Proust took an interest in Forssgren's writing, and comments on Proust's use of French dictionaries and his translations of John Ruskin. "A conversation about English versus French with Proust would have been quite different from the one Forssgren relates," says Carter, dryly.

Elsewhere, Forssgren undertakes an extraordinary digression to present his proposal for spelling reform, "THE AMERICAN STANDARD PHONETIC ALPHABET," "a purfekt soluuqun ty xu speling problem." Sae wut?

This memoir though has a less comic aspect. Troubled by the presentation of Proust's sexuality in George Painter's two-volume biography, Forssgren, himself homosexual, evidently feared outing by association. Painter's biography doesn't mention Forssgren, and according to Carter, Painter didn't even know about Proust's Swedish valet. Still, Forssgren wrote to set his story straight, as it were, denying any knowledge of Proust's sexuality, claiming never to have read Proust's work, and presenting scenes in which private moments with his employer are consistently interrupted when housekeeper Céleste Albaret barges in. "See? Nothing could have happened," Forssgren seems to be saying.

But Albaret says in her memoir Monsieur Proust that she never went into Proust's bedroom unbidden: that was an absolute rule of the household. And there's reason (in the form of a letter from Proust to Reynaldo Hahn) to think that something did happen between Proust and his valet. As Carter asks, "Was Proust falling in love with Forssgren or did he simply desire him?" That question adds a genuinely mysterious and poignant overtone to this curious memoir.

Yes, it's an expensive book. Thank you, ILL (interlibrary loan).

Related reading
All Proust posts (via Delicious)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

And then there were four

"There are only four outdoor phone booths left in Manhattan — and they're all on West End Avenue. That's it: four."

(via Daring Fireball)

Charles Dickens on print and printers

A note in Edgar Rosenberg's Norton Critical Edition of Great Expectations led me to look up Charles Dickens's address to an anniversary meeting of the Printers' Pension Society, April 6, 1864. Dickens begins:

I do not know whether my feelings are exceptional, but I have a distinct recollection (in my early days at school, when under the dominion of an old lady, who to my mind ruled the world with the birch) of feeling an intense disgust with printers and printing. I thought the letters were printed and sent there to plague me, and I looked upon the printer as my enemy. When I was taught to say my prayers I was told to pray for my enemies, and I distinctly remember praying especially for the printer as my greatest enemy. I never now see a row of large, black, fat, staring Roman capitals, but this reminiscence rises up before me. . . .

But this feeling of dislike to the printer altogether disappeared from the time I saw my own name in print. I now feel gratified at looking at the jolly letter O, the crooked S, with its full benevolent turns, the curious G, and the Q with its comical tail, that first awoke in me a sense of the humourous. The printer and myself are, and have been for some time, inseparable companions.
Dickens closes by paying tribute to the printer's role in "press[ing] the tyrants and humbugs off the face of the earth":
The printer is the friend of intelligence, of thought; he is the friend of liberty, of freedom, of law; indeed, the printer is the friend of every man who is the friend of order; the friend of every man who can read. Of all inventions, of all the discoveries in science or art, of all the great results in the wonderful progress of mechanical energy and skill, the printer is the only product of civilization necessary to the existence of free man.

The Speeches of Charles Dickens, ed. K.J. Fielding (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960), 323–324, 325, 325.
Founded in 1827, the Printers' Pension Society was supporting seventy-six pensioners in 1864. Dickens earlier addressed the Society in 1843.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Awful Library Books

Because "'Books-that-should-be-reconsidered-under-interpretation-of-current-collection-development-policies-and-retired' is not a fun name": Awful Library Books.

(Thanks, Rachel!)

Proust model reader

In today's New York Times, a photograph of a lovely model reading Proust.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Early Beach Boys Hit Song Topics



Early Beach Boys Hit Song Topics, #5 In A Series Of Pop-Cultural Charts (via Submitted for Your Perusal)

Robert McNamara's lessons

The Wikipedia article on Errol Morris' documentary The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003) has capable summaries:

Eleven life lessons from The Fog of War
Eleven lessons from the Vietnam War
Ten additional lessons

The Fog of War is perhaps the most compelling documentary I've seen. And yes, history repeated itself, with Donald Rumsfeld starring as Robert S. McNamara.

Ex-Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara Dies at 93 (New York Times)

Fineline erasers

[If you’re visiting from the Carnival of Pen, Pencil, and Paper, welcome! Please feel free to look around. You can find all stationery-related posts via Delicious.]



[1 11/16" x 7/16".]

This tiny metal vessel for Sheaffer erasers is a delight to the eye. Or my eye (or eyes). The design — from the 1940s? 1950s? — seems to prefigure the bold and cheery goofiness of the best Pop Art. I like the tipsy cursive and the bumpy ride that one must take to take in the main idea: "3 Fineline ERASERS." I like the idea of three erasers selling for nineteen cents. I like the inscrutable "T," which sits like a mystery planet at the edge of the Fineline solar system. And I like thinking of the "3" as residing on a dark distant planet whose form is indistinguishable from deep blue space.

I found this item (holding two not three erasers) some years ago in a now-defunct stationery store. I made up the rest.

[This post is the fifth in an occasional series, "From the Museum of Supplies." The museum is imaginary. The supplies are real. Supplies is my word, and has become my family's word, for all manner of stationery items.]

Also from the Museum of Supplies
Dennison's Gummed Labels No. 27
A Mad Men sort of man, sort of
Mongol No. 2 3/8
Real Thin Leads
Rite-Rite Long Leads

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Webster's Third New International

"Permissive," "subversive," "a very great calamity": the 1961 publication of Webster's Third New International (Unabridged) caused a stir. Read all about it:

David Skinner, Ain't That the Truth: Webster's Third: The Most Controversial Dictionary in the English Language (Humanities)

I've had a Webster's Third since 1986 (thank you, Elaine). A fourth edition is now underway.

"No idea what to do"

A 1993 high-school graduate:

"I was told, growing up, that I could do whatever I wanted, and I fully believed I could. And therefore I had no idea what to do."
Chris Colin, What Really Happened to the Class of '93: Start-ups, Dropouts, and Other Navigations Through an Untidy Decade (New York: Broadway Books, 2004), 56, quoted in Jean M. Twenge, Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before (New York: Free Press, 2006), 226.

Amazon is down



I checked with Down for everyone or just me?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

July 4, 1939



["A Fourth of July celebration, St. Helena Island, S.C." Photograph by Marion Post Wolcott (1910–1990). Click for a larger view.]

Look carefully and you'll see two Texaco stars below the forty-eight stars of the American flag.

The Library of Congress has made this photograph available via Flickr.

Related reading
Marion Post Wolcott (Wikipedia)
The Photography of Marion Post Wolcott (University of Virginia)
Saint Helena Island (South Carolina) (Wikipedia)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Smooth jazz

The Weather Channel is no longer playing smooth jazz.

Something's coming

With a click, with a shock,
Phone’ll jingle, door’ll knock,
Open the latch!
It's difficult to see how a midterm resignation creates a good foundation for a presidential campaign. And if resignation is meant to create that foundation, why announce it on the Friday before a national holiday? Politicians wait for Fridays to announce what they would prefer be ignored.

I suspect that something's coming, some deep complication, personal or political. Perhaps not in the form of a phone call at 6:00 a.m., as with my ex-governor, the inimitable Rod Blagojevich. But somehow, some day, somewhere in Alaska.

{With apologies to Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.]

Update, July 7, 2009: Elaine thinks that the ex-governor-to-be wants to chair the Republican National Committee.

QuoteURLText

QuoteURLText is a handy Firefox extension by Jay Palat that copies online text to the clipboard with page title, URL, and date. The extension's formatting options allow the user to arrange any or all of these elements to taste.

I find QuoteURLText's formatting options helpful in working with online material that I want to quote. I have QuoteURLText configured like so:

Let's say that I wanted to quote Jonathan Rauch's recent observation about blogging and introversion. Here's what QuoteURLText would yield:
There's still some cleaning up to do to get the title right, but using QuoteURLText is much simpler than copying and pasting the quotation, copying and pasting the URL, and copying and pasting the page title in three separate steps. (Or is it six?)

Three — no, six cheers for QuoteURLText. I hope that it will soon be working with Firefox 3.5.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Firefox 3.5 : (

I just installed and removed Firefox 3.5 from my Mac — ten minutes or so with this new version had me in a sea of troubles. When starting up, no home page appeared. Not even the familiar "Congratulations! You have updated to . . ." appeared. Trying to customize the toolbar caused the browser to freeze up. The master password I use to manage passwords would no long work. I could not install a theme (GrApple Luscious) from a non-Mozilla site. And several crucial extensions were incompatible. (One of which I was just planning to write about.) Granted, non-working extensions aren't Mozilla's fault, but over weeks or months, the absence of those extensions would compromise 3.5's usefulness to me. It's extensions that keep me using Firefox and not Safari.

Going back to 3.0.11 on a Mac was easy: I found a Mozilla page with older versions of Firefox for download. I moved 3.5 from Applications to the Trash and installed 3.0.11. My bookmarks and extensions (all parts of my Profile) stayed safe and sound in a Library folder. I did though back up the bookmarks and inventory the extensions before uninstalling.

I'm just one user speaking, but my advice would be to wait a while before trying Firefox 3.5. Then again, you might be having a great time with 3.5 already. Wish I were there.

A related post
Firefox 3.5.1 : )

Dave Brubeck, on the road

"I don't think the average person would want to do what I've been doing."

Despite serious medical problems, pianist Dave Brubeck, eighty-eight, is back on the road.

More from The Book of Tea

On art appreciation:

Our very individuality establishes in one sense a limit to our understanding; and our aesthetic personality seeks its own affinities in the creations of the past. It is true that with cultivation our sense of art appreciation broadens, and we become able to enjoy many hitherto unrecognized expressions of beauty. But, after all, we see only our own image in the universe — our particular idiosyncrasies dictate the mode of our perceptions. The tea masters collected only objects which fell strictly within the measure of their individual appreciation.

One is reminded in this connection of a story concerning Kobori-Enshiu. Enshiu was complimented by his disciples on the admirable taste he had displayed in the choice of his collection. Said they, "Each piece is such that no one could help admiring. It shows that you had better taste than had Rikiu, for his collection could only be appreciated by one beholder in a thousand." Sorrowfully Enshiu replied: "This only proves how commonplace I am. The great Rikiu dared to love only those objects which personally appealed to him, whereas I unconsciously cater to the taste of the majority. Verily, Rikiu was one in a thousand among tea masters."

Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea. 1906. (Boston: Shambala, 2001), 68–69.
A related post
From The Book of Tea

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Brain food!

When my daughter Rachel pointed out the new old-time Cracker Jack box, I had to buy a three-pack. I wouldn't have guessed that one box would contain a piece of popcorn resembling a human brain.

As Elaine says, "Candy-coated popcorn, peanuts, and a brain, that's what you get in Cracker Jack!"

According to Jack himself, July 5 is Cracker Jack Day.

The Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies

Behold: The Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies.

The most Proustian item for me is the ruling pen — my dad had one when I was a kid. Touring the MoFAS has inspired me to add an exhibit next week to my own modest Museum of Supplies.

(via Boing Boing and BrownStudies)

Karl Malden (1912-2009)



[Karl Malden (Father Barry) and Marlon Brando (Terry Malloy) in On the Waterfront, dir. Elia Kazan, 1954.]

Karl Malden, Actor Who Played the Uncommon Everyman, Dies at 97 (New York Times)

"Old-world skillz"

Mike Brown at BrownStudies likes Mark Patinkin's piece on outdated skills and has written a fine post collecting several more. Go read it: Old-world skillz.

Some skills that have come to my mind (from my student and stock-clerk days):

Calculating how many lines to leave for a footnote (yes, with a manual typewriter).

Operating a mechanical cash register.

Operating an "imprinter," the gadget once used to process credit-card charges (it involved a bar pulled across a carbon-paper form).

From The Book of Tea

Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.

*

Tea with us became more than an idealization of the form of drinking; it is a religion of the art of life. The beverage grew to be an excuse for the worship of purity and refinement, a sacred function at which the host and guest joined to produce for that occasion the utmost beatitude of the mundane. The tea-room was an oasis in the dreary waste of existence where weary travellers could meet to drink from the common spring of art-appreciation. The ceremony was an improvised drama whose plot was woven about the tea, the flowers, and the paintings. Not a color to disturb the tone of the room, not a sound to mar the rhythm of things, not a gesture to obtrude on the harmony, not a word to break the unity of the surroundings, all movements to be performed simply and naturally — such were the aims of the tea-ceremony. And strangely enough it was often successful.

Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea. 1906. (Boston: Shambala, 2001), 3, 26–27.
"This impossible thing we know as life," "the utmost beatitude of the mundane": pretty Proustian to my ears. The Book of Tea, a book of aesthetics and philosophy, is available in many print and digital editions.