Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Recently updated

How to e-mail a professor The Old Reliable, now with a not-behind-a-paywall link to Ben Yagoda’s essay “What Should We Call the Professor?”

[Note to The Chronicle of Higher Education : moving items from one side of the paywall to the other and back again is unfriendly to long-term links.]

For handwriting

New York Times readers strike back: “Why Handwriting Is Still Important.” They’re responding to Anne Trubek’s opinion piece, “Handwriting Just Doesn’t Matter.”

I especially like the windshield-wiper story.

Related reading
All OCA handwriting posts (Pinboard)
Handwriting, pro and con

How to improve writing (no. 66)

A partial sentence from a short piece at The New Yorker website:

I stopped by Three Lives & Company, one of the best bookstores the city has ever made a home for — Zadie Smith, Patti Smith, the late Oliver Sacks, and other luminaries are devotees of the small, elegant, intimate space — to find out that it may have to look for a new home.
There’s a rather odd and awkward problem: the present tense will not work with that sequence of names. A possible revision:
I stopped by Three Lives & Company, one of the best bookstores the city has ever made a home for — Zadie Smith, Patti Smith, and other luminaries are devotees of the small, elegant, intimate space, as was the late Oliver Sacks — to find out that it may have to look for a new home.
But now the distance between “I stopped by” and “to find out” feels vast. And Three Lives & Company, the antecedent of it , seems lost. A better choice is to recast what’s here as two sentences:
I stopped by the bookstore Three Lives & Company, only to find out that it may have to look for a new home. Three Lives is one of the best bookstores the city has ever made a home for: Zadie Smith and Patti Smith are among the devotees of the small, elegant, intimate space, as was the late Oliver Sacks.
You’ll notice that I’ve omitted luminaries , but that’s just me. I hope that Three Lives doesn’t vanish from New York.

Related reading
All OCA How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)

[This post is no. 66 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A short post about Mike Love

A New York Times review of Mike Love’s Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy notes that “boasts and grudges overpower the writing style.”

Boasts and grudges? From Mike Love? Say it ain’t so!

Related reading
All OCA Beach Boys posts (Pinboard)

[Arthur Schopenhauer: “A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.”]

PBS, sheesh

O PBS NewsHour , if you want me to pay attention to the brief essay a writer is reading aloud, don’t play Glenn Gould’s 1981 recording of the Aria from the Goldberg Variations underneath the writer’s voice. Bach — and Gould — are is not for background.


August 31: It’s not the Gould recording. Thanks to Sean at Contrapuntalism for pointing that out.

Related reading
All OCA sheesh posts (Pinboard)

[I liked the background better.]

Robert Walser, Girlfriends, Ghosts, and Other Stories

Robert Walser. Girlfriends, Ghosts, and Other Stories . Translated from the German by Tom Whalen, with Nicole Köngeter and Annette Wiesner. New York: New York Review Books, 2016. 181 pages. $15.95 paperback.

                Famous authors can have a sobering
                effect, whereas a total unknown can
                invigorate us.

                Robert Walser

Who was Robert Walser (1878–1956)? A contributor to newspapers, a writer of several novels, a holder of menial jobs, a man who spent the last twenty-three years of his life in a sanitarium, where his purpose, he said, was not to write but to be mad. Given the ever-growing twenty-first-century interest in his work, one might think of Walser in this way: the total unknown as famous writer.

Walser is made for our time: he presents himself in his short prose pieces as awkward and self-deprecating, irreverent and knowing. If he is, to borrow a melodramatic phrase from James Joyce’s Dubliners , outcast from life’s feast (“It goes without saying I lived eternally alone”), he is happy, still, to notice whatever may prompt incongruous delight: “I may only live on the outskirts, but at least my room has a parquet floor.” His celebration of the everyday and unspectacular can reach hilarious heights: “Early each morning, my Daseinlust , or pleasure-in-being, refreshes itself with the finest Dutch cocoa.” Or he can puncture the pompous and preening with exact description: “Once he had kissed the golden shoes of an artiste. The gold didn't shimmer, instead it simply lay pale, as if applied like a thin, vacuous coating of varnish.” And Walser turns tragedy into self-mocking, Beckettian comedy: “I remember once I had for a time a severe toothache. In order to numb the pain, I ran into the fields and roared there like King Lear.” A life shot through with pathos, a body of work filled with comedic high spirits: Walser reminds me of the American poet David Schubert, another writer who had the misfortune to be too far ahead of his time.

Delight in the ordinary marks Walser as something of a parodic faux-naïf modernist. Again and again he draws upon and reinvents scenes that suggest children’s stories, picture postcards, theater sets: a mountain path, a quaint village, a restaurant, a castle. Familiar figures appear as if on cue: children at play, farmhands, a kindly grandmother. The only figure who cannot be accounted for is he who writes, solitary and forever passing through (to where?), forever noticing what’s odd (a restaurant patron who plays a succession of musical instruments and makes animal noises) or what’s oddly haunting:

I stepped under the roof of a summerhouse that stands on the rocks. Everything green quickly became dripping wet. Down on the street a few people stood under the dense foliage of the chestnut trees as if under wide umbrellas. This looked so strange; I don’t recall ever having seen anything quite like it. Not a single raindrop pushed its way through the densely layered mass of leaves.
And Walser notices women. But there are no girlfriends in this volume, really. Or if there are, they are ghosts, or feminine traces: eyes, feet, voices, faces hidden behind hats. (J. Alfred Walser?) Women, as Walser often imagines them, are remote and powerful, exercising their will benevolently or despotically, as if following a handbook of courtly love. (See the illustration above, by Walser’s brother Karl, with a woman who seems to be awaiting or moving toward someone else, even as she’s being serenaded.) In one prose piece, a goddess sitting on a cloud descends to an elegant main street and surveys the crowd with her “large blue kind eyes.” Elsewhere, a woman notices Walser staring at her and returns “a long and deep look of pride and protest,” which Walser then imagines dropping onto him from above, “dark brown and blazing.” On a rare occasion, things go further, if only in imagination: a “forest woman,” “wild, large, beautiful, unfamiliar,” wearing a straw hat and little more, allows the writer to see and kiss her legs.

The most extraordinary encounter with the feminine takes places in “Lake Piece,” which seems to prefigure Wallace Stevens’s “The Idea of Order at Key West.” It is a beautiful summer night:
As I walked over an arched bridge, I heard from below, out of the water, a wonderful voice making its way up to me; it was a brightly clad girl in a gondola who was passing by, and I and perhaps one other, who was also intrigued by the tender voice, bent over the railing to listen with utmost attention to the charming song that, in the amphitheater or concert hall formed by the gentle night, warmly and brightly faded away. We two or three, we who were listening, admitted to ourselves that we had never heard such beautiful singing, and we said to ourselves that the song of the sweet-tempered singer gliding onwards in the almost invisible skiff was tremendous, less through art and magnificent vocal talent than through a wonderful intensity of soul and the rapture of a dear, generous heart.
The singer towers “like a figure into the air,” and as she continues to sing,
The song was like a royal palace growing to a fabulous size, so that one believed one saw princes and princesses dancing and galloping past on splendidly festooned horses. Everything transformed itself into sonorous life and into a sonorous beauty; the whole world was like kindness itself, and one could no longer find fault with life, with human existence.
The beauty of this song is the beauty of a moment, without the grand reordering of reality that follows in Stevens’s poem. This song is not a matter of abstractions in conflict, imagination contending with reality; Walser’s singer is engaged in a battle against “shyness and ordinary behavior.” Her song loses itself “in the distance,” and the writer moves on, to the next prose piece, and the next, and, finally, to his own silence. One of the last pieces in this volume seems to point to the end of Walser’s work in writing: “He was gripped by an illness he could not resist, and leaving memories behind, let it lead him away.”

Girlfriends, Ghosts, and Other Stories includes eighty-eight short prose pieces written between 1907 and 1933, arranged chronologically and translated into beautifully lively English. This book is a major addition to the body of Robert Walser’s work in English translation. Publication date: September 13.

Thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

Related reading
Robert Walser’s Looking at Pictures (my review)
All OCA Robert Walser posts (Pinboard)

[The phrase “outcast from life’s feast” appears in the story “A Painful Case.” Cover image from the publisher’s website.]

Monday, August 29, 2016

Domestic comedy

[Describing an e-mail.]

“It was written in the passive-aggressive voice.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Word of the day: any road

From the Oxford English Dictionary , it’s the adverb any road :

Chiefly Eng. regional (north. and midl. ).

As sentence adverb: at any rate, in any case = ANYWAY adv. 2a. Also used to end a conversation, change topic, or return to a topic after an interruption; = ANYWAY adv. 2d.
There’s a wonderful Beatles clip in which John Lennon introduces “Help!”: “The next song we’d like to sing is our latest record, or our latest electronic noise, depending on whose side you’re on. Any road, we’d like to carry on with it.”

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Henry meets Alfalfa

[Henry , August 28, 2016.]

Having seen a possibility for revision, I could not unsee it.

[Henry revised, August 28, 2016.]

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

“We’re all here”

In The Zen of Bennett (dir. Unjoo Moon, 2012), Tony Bennett talks of his friendship with Ella Fitzgerald and of her affection for his children:

“Every Christmas we'd go to her house, and she'd cook for us and everything. And whenever she saw me, she said, ‘Tony, we’re all here.’ And I never forget that, you know? In the world — that we’re not Italian, we’re not Jewish, we’re not Christian, Catholics. We’re all here. People are all here. And it’s amazing that people don’t realize that. We still have to grow up — the world has to grow up. We still all have to learn the beauty of just being alive and being good to one another. We have to start putting down the greed of the world, ‘I got mine, the hell with everybody else.’ That’s the opposite of the word ‘love.’  You have to think in a human way and say, ‘Is this good for all of us?’”
Related posts
Tony Bennett at ninety : Tony Bennett’s pencil

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Stefan Zweig’s last address book

There’s a website devoted to Stefan Zweig’s last address book, with details on the names therein and facsimile pages.

The address book was published in facsimile form in A rede de amigos de Stefan Zweig: sua última agenda, 1940-1942 , or A Network of Friends: Stefan Zweig, His Last Address Book, 1940-1942 , ed. Israel Beloch (Petrópolis: Casa Stefan Zweig, 2014). That work appears to have been published in Portuguese and in English translation, but the
Portuguese text seems to be the only version available. A bargain too.

Other Zweig posts
Happy people, poor psychologists : Little world : School v. city : “A tremendous desire for order” : Urban pastoral, with stationery

Friday, August 26, 2016

Life with Oliver Sacks

Two memories from his partner Bill Hayes: “Out Late with Oliver Sacks.” Late: that is, late in life.

Related reading
All OCA Oliver Sacks posts (Pinboard)

Handwriting, pro and con

Jessica Kerwin Jenkins, in a contrarian review of Anne Trubek’s forthcoming book The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting :

Though one technology often supplants another, that doesn’t necessitate concession. Considering its rich significance, instead of hustling handwriting off to the graveyard, perhaps what’s called for is resurrection.
Reading Trubek’s recent New York Times piece “Handwriting Just Doesn’t Matter” made me dubious about investing time in the book. Two sentences from the Times piece:
People talk about the decline of handwriting as if it’s proof of the decline of civilization. But if the goal of public education is to prepare students to become successful, employable adults, typing is inarguably more useful than handwriting.
Notice how the first sentence stacks the deck by characterizing those who value the practice of writing by hand as fuddy-duddy doomsayers. As for the second sentence: is the goal of public education to produce “successful, employable adults”? And what does “successful” mean? Here, from John Churchill of Phi Beta Kappa, is another perspective on the purpose of education.

And what about all those people writing in pocket notebooks and journals?

Related reading
All OCA handwriting posts (Pinboard)
On “On the New Literacy”

Pencils in school

At the City and Country School, the eight-year-olds ran a school-supplies store and learned about the things they sold:

They wrote letters to pencil factories asking permission to visit, and were disappointed and at the same time curious when permission was refused because of trade secrets, a mysterious phrase into which they immediately inquired. The manufacturers did send them samples of pencils in various stages of manufacture, and leaflets telling about the graphite mines on Lake Champlain and the Florida cedar wood. Maps were again consulted; some of the children made what they called “pencil maps,” showing the sources of materials and the routes by which they were brought to the factories.

Caroline Pratt, I Learn from Children: An Adventure in Progressive Education . 1948. (New York: Grove, 2014).

Recent photographs in this edition show nine-year-olds running the supplies store, called Pencil Plus. Sign me up.

Also from Caroline Pratt
Art criticism : Caroline Pratt on waste in education : Snow in the city in the school

Other states

In The New York Times , a state-by-state analysis of how many students leave their home states to attend public universities elsewhere: “How Cuts to Public Universities Have Driven Students Out of State”.

Illinois — no surprise — is a big loser: 2,117 students coming to the state to attend a public university, and 16,461 leaving the state to go elsewhere.

Related reading
All OCA Illinois budget crisis posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Rudy Van Gelder (1924–2016)

The recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder has died at the age of ninety-one. Contra this obituary’s headline, he wasn’t a “New Jersey jazz giant.” He was a giant in the world of music who happened to live and work in New Jersey. Consider the Van Gelder Studio’s discography.

As I get older, I find it impossible to say, Well, he was ninety-one , or whatever ripe old age it may be. Yes, he was. But now he’s not. There will never be another Rudy Van Gelder.


August 26: The New York Times has an obituary.

Teleprompter glitch

On the news, Donald Trump, reading from a teleprompter a few minutes ago:

“She is against school choice. You need your education is a disaster.”
What he must have meant to say, or what someone must have meant for him to say:
“She is against [the?] school choice you need. Your education is a disaster.”
Fascinating to see him switch from the teleprompter to ad libbing and back to the teleprompter. The move back involves not a smidgen of continuity.

Tony Bennett’s pencil

In The Zen of Bennett (dir. Unjoo Moon, 2012), Tony Bennett tells his granddaughter about the mechanical pencil he’s using to sketch:

“David Hockney told me to use these pencils. They’re really like, really like stationery stores for cheap. They’re great, they’re great — it has a great eraser, great eraser. It just works great, you know?”

We later see him sketching at a rehearsal and in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

[All images from The Zen of Bennett (dir. Unjoo Moon, 2012). Click any image for a larger view.]

But what kind of pencil is he using? It’s a yellow-barreled mechanical pencil, black or grey eraser, black at the point, black print on the barrel. Except for the black accents (and the silver sticker (?) in the third image), it looks like a Paper Mate Sharpwriter. Identification might be easier were it not for the tricks with focus that run through the film.

Any guesses about Tony Bennett’s pencil?

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)
Tony Bennett at ninety

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Reinventing philanthropy

Donna Shalala, president of the Clinton Foundation, on the PBS NewsHour tonight, speaking of Bill Clinton:

“The president has reinvented philanthropy in this country.”
And how.

“A tremendous desire for order”

Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday . 1943. Trans. Benjamin W. Huebsch and Helmut Ripperger (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1964).

I don’t need to tell you whom Stefan Zweig is writing about. It’s enough to say that the parallel between the world Zweig writes of and our own is unmistakable.

Other Zweig posts
Happy people, poor psychologists : Little world : School v. city : Urban pastoral, with stationery

[I do not endorse Zweig’s generalization about “the German people.” Nor would I endorse a generalization about “the American people” or any other “people.” People are too various.]

Word of the day: wayzgoose

It turns out that August 24 means something: wayzgoose , the Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day:

An entertainment given by a master printer to his workmen around St Bartholomew’s Day (24 August), marking the beginning of the season of working by candlelight. In later use: an annual festivity held in summer by the members of a printing establishment, consisting of a dinner and (usually) an excursion into the country.
A sample sentence (1875): “The wayzgoose generally consists of a trip into the country, open air amusements, a good dinner, and speeches and toasts afterwards.” A 2005 citation makes clear that the annual festivity continues in the world of printers. Seattle printers will have a wayzgoose in September.

Post-Depression cuisine

Talking on the phone recently, my mom and I got onto Foods of the Past. Here is her best recollection of a week’s meals in her post-Depression girlhood:

Weekday dinners
Monday: chicken soup, chicken
Tuesday: escarole soup, chicken croquettes
Wednesday: meatloaf
Thursday: macaroni (i.e., pasta) and meatballs
Friday: fish

Weekend lunches and dinners
Saturday: pizza, steak
Sunday: chicken, cold cuts

Everyone listened to The Shadow while eating cold cuts for dinner.

Potatoes and vegetables (carrots, green beans, peas, zucchini) accompanied chicken, fish, and meatloaf. Produce came from a fruit and vegetable store. (Gardening in my mom’s family was devoted to roses.) Chickens were freshly killed at a poultry store. Everything was homemade: my mom’s grandmother ground chicken to make croquettes, and she made and cut pasta, even spaghetti, by hand, without a machine, every strand the same.

My mom wants it to be clear that this schedule was not unvarying: lamb chops and pork chops and other dishes came into play. This schedule was more or less a routine — and a pretty nice one, I’d say.

All details used with permission. Thanks, Mom.

A related post
Depression cuisine

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Sense of History

A short film by Mike Leigh: A Sense of History (1992).

As one says in the American midwest, this film is spot on, spot on in so many ways that one finds nothing more to say about it. One should just watch.

Twelve more movies

[No spoilers.]

High Hopes (dir. Mike Leigh, 1998). Classism, socialism, gentrification, adultery, fidelity, aging, hospitality, and rudeness. I think highly of every Leigh film I’ve seen, with one exception: Mr. Turner .


Where to Invade Next (dir. Michael Moore, 2016). Michael Moore’s grand tour, which takes him to nation after nation in search of good ideas to bring back to the United States (ideas that, guess what, originated, at least sort of, in the United States). Other countries, it turns out, are filled with shiny, happy people. And gosh: Iran is a leader in stem-cell research. (Never mind its approach to human rights.) While watching this film, I began to think of Michael Moore as the Garrison Keillor of documentaries: a shambling folksy caricature who must be in the scene at all times. (If you’ve ever heard Keillor pitch in on a song, you should know what I mean.) Moore’s habit of playing the naïf — What, you have windows in a factory? — quickly becomes insufferable.


Populaire (dir. Régis Roinsard, 2012). Love and speed-typing contests, with manual typewriters. From the opening credits to the archival footage that runs in the credits, a delight. Like The Artist (dir. Michel Hazanavicius, 2011), Populaire recreates a style of filmmaking: it’s a 1950s romantic comedy, a loving and knowing imitation teeming with tropes. There’s even a brief homage to Vertigo , with non-1950s nudity. My favorite moment: the boss, having given up on his secretary/beloved, looks at a photograph of himself as a boxer and decides that he must fight. Yes, fight!


What Happened, Miss Simone? (dir. Liz Garbus, 2015). “People seem to think that when she went out on stage that was when she became Nina Simone. My mother was Nina Simone 24/7, and that’s where it became a problem”: Lisa Simone Kelly. This documentary follows the story of an immense talent struggling against racism, domestic violence, and mental illness. With a stunning performance of “I Loves You, Porgy” from Playboy’s Penthouse (not available online).


The Search for General Tso (dir. Ian Cheney, 2014). Who was he? Or did he even exist? The mystery is not one: for some years, anyone with a browser or a library card has been able to get the goods. The real questions: how and why Chinese food became “American.” An engaging, well-paced meditation on otherness, assimilation, appropriation, and originality.


Iris (dir. Albert Maysles, 2014). Iris Apfel, ninety-three when this documentary was made, describes herself as “a geriatric starlet.” She is a woman of fashion and, well, clutter. Iris is enthusiastic, witty, and utterly unconcerned with anyone’s idea of what’s appropriate in clothing or interior design. My favorite moment: at a big event, Iris presses the photographer Bill Cunningham about coming over for dinner, and he blithely dodges her by pointing out that her public is waiting.

I am thrilled to realize after all these years that Old World Weavers, the textile importer my friend Aldo Carrasco worked for in 1984 and 1985, was Iris and Carl Apfel’s company. Aldo worked for Iris Apfel! He sent telexes to Elaine at her day-job in Boston (a sample) and sent us beautiful fabric ends that we turned into curtains.


Pete Kelly’s Blues (dir. Jack Webb, 1955). A movie about jazz musicians directed by and starring Jack Webb? Yes, and there was also a radio show: Webb had a genuine love of jazz. There is a startling and beautiful beginning at an African-American burial service, and fine musical moments from Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee, but the core of the movie, a musicians-v.-hoodlums story, lacks energy and interest. Interesting to see a young Martin Milner, who would go on to appear on Dragnet and star in Adam-12 . I didn’t know that he and Webb went back so far.


The Paper Chase (dir. James Bridges, 1973). I know that lawyer-types love it. I prefer the television series, which has more warmth and camaraderie. (Maybe that explains why I’m not a lawyer.) At the center of the movie is a bafflingly dysfunctional, claustrophobic love story between first-year student James Hart (Timothy Bottoms) and Susan Fields (Lindsay Wagner). All Hart can talk about is Professor Kingsfield (John Houseman). Casual, unexamined sexism is everywhere, with sensitive-looking long-haired guys (Hart, Susan’s ex) staking their claims to a woman. Or not. One of the movie’s taglines: “You have to choose between the girl you love and the diploma you’ve worked for all your life. You have 30 seconds.” You ? Girl ?

Look for Blair Brown as a student in Contracts. She speaks with a southern accent.


A River Runs Through It (dir. Robert Redford, 1992). Pretty good but pretty predictable. And just plain pretty. Pretty natural scenery. Pretty water. And a pretty good fight scene with sardines.


Paul Williams: Still Alive (dir. Stephen Kessler, 2011). He co-wrote, among other songs, “Rainbow Connection,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” and “We’ve Only Just Begun.” He was everywhere on television. And he’s still alive, still performing, now sober and happy. “My life is pretty interesting right now,” he says. But there’s this guy following him everywhere wanting to make a documentary. Most revealing moment: Williams, appalled, watching a videotape his younger self — high, arrogant, crude — on a talk show.


Teacher’s Pet (dir. George Seaton, 1958). We thought this might be a good follow-up to Populaire . Not exactly. Did viewers really find the pairing of Clark Gable and Doris Day appealing? Mid-century, what was wrong with you? It reveals little to point out that the teacher is Day; Gable is the night-class faux-student who grabs and kisses her in her office. Jeez, this movie was awful. And there’s Mamie Van Doren, “The Girl Who Invented Rock and Roll.” Day later offers a reprise. Jeez, this movie was awful. Did I say that already?

One odd detail: Day’s character is a college instructor (not professor). Yet she has her own office, with an assistant (Marion Ross) who manages the opaque projector in the classroom and answers the telephone from her own outer office.

Okay, fambly, now we know where Parker Posey’s song in Waiting for Guffman (dir. Christopher Guest, 1997) came from.


The Winding Stream: The Carters, the Cashes, and the Course of Country Music (dir. Beth Harrington, 2014). The story of the Carter Family, A. P., Sara, Maybelle, their many descendants, and their relations by marriage (who include Johnny Cash). Placards pop up to fill in details of fact: a welcome alternative to what could too easily have been a Ken Burns-like voiceover. With Louis Armstrong, Charley Patton, Jimmie Rodgers, and Bessie Smith, the Carters are in the DNA of vernacular American music.

What would you recommend?

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Fourteen more : Thirteen more : Twelve more : Another thirteen more : Another dozen : Yet another dozen : Another twelve : And another twelve : Another twelve

Monday, August 22, 2016

Gotham tumblr

The Gotham Book Mart Project is a tumblr devoted to the inventory of Manhattan’s defunct Gotham Book Mart. The books and other materials are now in the collections of the University of Pennsylvania.

I thought it would be fun to browse the tumblr for something I bought at the Gotham and quickly found John Bernard Myers’s anthology The Poets of the New York School (1969). In the mid-1990s, I bought a copy from a stack of a least a dozen. Price: $8.50. If, as legend had it, the Gotham never threw away a book, the store was also not always much concerned about repricing older inventory. $8.50! I remember a poet of my acquaintance perking up when I mentioned my find. He didn’t buy every copy, as there was at least one left when the Gotham closed in 2007.

A related post
A Gotham bookmark, by Edward Gorey

[Found via Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York.]

Modest proposals

[Exceedingly modest proposals to improve college. I regret that I did not develop them in time for fall 2016 implementation.]

~ Goodbye to Big Sports. The NBA and NFL can subsidize their own farm systems. Convert the money that supported Big Sports into increased adjunct pay, new tenure-track positions, increased academic support services, and need-based scholarships. Current players retain their scholarships.

~ Goodbye to minor administrators, who can step back into lower-paying faculty positions. Convert the money that funded those administrative positions into increased adjunct pay and new tenure-track positions.

~ Use Peter Drucker’s 20:1 salary ratio to cap salaries: the highest full-time salary on campus should be no more than twenty times greater than the lowest full-time salary. Note: there will be no basketball or football coaches to complain about drastic reductions in pay. Presidents will have to deal.

~ Goodbye to all busy work assigned by administrators to faculty. Not all elements of program review and assessment, just the busy work.

~ Establish some version of tenure or, at the least, long-term contracts for adjunct faculty of some years’ standing.

~ Reduce doctoral programs to plausible numbers of students, in proportion to the realities of the job market. Then again, creating substantial numbers of tenure-track positions may make doctoral study increasingly plausible.

~ Require all first-year students to attend a convocation about academic endeavor. No cheers, no dance-offs, no face-painting, no door prizes. The convocation should include a faculty member who says something like this: “You are not here to learn how to make a living. You are here to learn how to make a life.” Emphasis should fall on the ways in which college will differ from and be more difficult than high school.

~ Require faculty and all first-year students to read (with appropriate background material and study questions) a work of some weight and difficulty over the summer. (Not an inspiring memoir or a work with a plain and unimpeachable message.) I nominate Sophocles’s Antigone , which raises every question one might want to consider about conscience, civil disobedience, gender and power, isolation and community, morality and law, competing claims about what’s right, conflict and negotiation. Utterly relevant to our present condition. The convocation should include some consideration of the reading.

~ Require all students and faculty to participate in small-group discussions of said work. These can take place during what so many (too many) students mistakenly think of as “syllabus week”. There should be some measure by which to determine that students have in fact done their reading: a brief written quiz and participation in a discussion. The faculty-student ratio will determine the size of the groups. In a school with, say, a 20:1 ratio, each faculty member can be responsible for two groups of ten students, two hour-long meetings. Students who are unprepared will be given additional opportunities to complete this work.

~ Require writing — genuine writing — in all courses. Class sizes will be small enough to allow for careful evaluation of students’ written work.

That’s all for now. Any questions?

[“You are not here,” &c.: something I heard at my freshman orientation. I’ve never forgotten it. I haven’t forgotten the high cost of college either. My proposals here aim to improve institutions. We must also make access to institutions more affordable.]

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Harlem 1958 interactive

From the New York Daily News , Stoop Summit, an interactive version of Art Kane’s famed photograph Harlem 1958 . Click on a musician and you get a YouTube video and a link to a relevant website. Smart choices: the videos lean toward live performances rather than recordings. See and hear.

Custom notebooks in Japan

“Stationery options are so plentiful that a designated paper concierge is on hand to advise customers on selecting the just-right weight, texture, shade, sheen, and thickness”: from a brief report on custom notebooks in Japanese stationery stores (Quartz).

Thanks, Elaine.

Nancy snag

Sluggo has explained to Peewee that “There’s been someone along here before us.” How can Sluggo tell? “By dis broken twig --- they stepped on it.” So when Peewee sees this tree:

[Nancy , August 20, 1949.]

Peewee needs to work on reining in his imagination and expanding his vocabulary.

[Nancy revised , August 20, 1949. Yes, made with the original lettering.]

Giants anagrams into “Snag It,” but that’s a King Oliver tune and has nothing to do with the subject of this post.

You can read Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy six days a week at GoComics.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Recently updated

Spinning and pitching Now with Stefan Hagemann’s patient deconstruction of a Trump-campaign metaphor.

Snow in the city in the school

At Caroline Pratt’s City and Country School, seven-year-olds built and rebuilt and ran a “play city,” with roads, waterways, “little people” (wooden figures), and buildings made of blocks. And the children sometimes staged performances:

One of the most charming I remember was nothing more than the representation of a snowstorm in the city. There were two scenes with backdrops painted by the children on large sheets of brown wrapping paper. The first showed the New York waterfront without snow; the second reproduced the same scene, but covered now with deep white drifts. In the first scene the children were snowflakes, improvising their own dance and finally falling to the ground. In the second scene, workmen came with snowplows and opened up the streets by pushing the fallen snowflakes aside. That was all there was to it!
Caroline Pratt, I Learn from Children: An Adventure in Progressive Education . 1948. (New York: Grove, 2014).

A few days ago I was reading about adolescents finding their city far more educational than their school. And now I’m reading about children whose schoolwork is to build a city of their own.

Also from Caroline Pratt
Art criticism
Caroline Pratt on waste in education

Friday, August 19, 2016

Spinning and pitching

Amy Kremer, co-chair of Women Vote Trump, on the news earlier this afternoon, spinning a three-part metaphor to explain why Donald Trump is now on his third campaign manager:

“You have your starting pitcher, your middle reliever, and your closer.”
There must be a joke about screwballs in there somewhere.


Stefan Hagemann (who’s made many an appearance in these pages, most notably here) tore the metaphor apart in a comment on this post:
The second item hints at why this is a poor metaphor: relief pitchers relieve. They don’t fire and replace the previous pitcher. Beyond that, the closer’s role is to maintain the lead, not to recapture it. The closer doesn’t pitch when the team is losing, and since pitchers don’t bat (American League) or hit well, usually (National League), the bullpen is unlikely to help a team come from behind.

Maybe the screwball joke is that one of the most famous and successful screwball pitchers, Fernando Valenzuela, is Mexican and would not be welcome in Trump’s America.
Thank you, Stefan.

Related reading
All OCA metaphor posts (Pinboard)

Urban pastoral, with stationery

Stefan Zweig describes Paris, which he visited as a young man, before the Great War:

Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday . 1943. Trans. Benjamin W. Huebsch and Helmut Ripperger (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1964).

N.B.: “stationery which was supplied free of charge.” Garçon, plus de papier, s’il vous plaît!

Other Zweig posts
Happy people, poor psychologists : Little world : School v. city

School v. city

At fourteen and fifteen, Stefan Zweig and his classmates came to realize that Vienna had more to offer than school did:

Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday . 1943. Trans. Benjamin W. Huebsch and Helmut Ripperger (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1964).

The World of Yesterday is a grand tour of a gone world. Our household prefers this dowdier (1943) text to the recent translation with the Wes Anderson/Grand Bupadest Hotel promo on the cover (also from the University of Nebraska Press). Caution: Amazon’s Look Inside tool will show the older translation, but Amazon will send the new one. The older translation can be had from Advanced Book Exchange or Alibris. The translators Huebsch and Ripperger are uncredited in both the 1964 and original 1943 editions.

Other Zweig posts
Happy people, poor psychologists : Little world

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Making a Murderer

Steven Avery, tried for one crime and then for another:

“Poor people lose. Poor people lose all the time.”
Dean Strang, one of Steven Avery’s attorneys:
“In some ways to be accused is to lose — every time. What you can hope to get is your liberty back, eventually. That’s all you can ever hope to get.”
The Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer (dir. Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi, 2015) is compelling viewing. Especially now. If you haven’t followed the Steven Avery story in the news, don’t start now. Watch the series first.

Thanks, Rachel, for persuading me (finally) to watch.

Cheap shoes

Elaine and I bought two pairs of these shoes at our friendly neighborhood multinational retailer. They’re cheap plastic — $6.99 a pair — so cheap that I can’t find a single photograph online, from any retailer.

We keep our shoes by the back door. Until the weather turns, they’re perfect when taking out the trash or watering the crops (herbs) — easy on, easy off. The shoes have excellent traction and would serve well in any setting that tends toward the messy: with an old pair of socks they’d be a good choice for household painting.

Neither the shoe nor its price tag identifies a manufacturer. The sole says that the shoe is made in the United States “with over 75% U.S. parts.” I hope so.

[Garner’s Modern American Usage : “The preferred plural of pair is pairs .” Click the shoe for a larger size. Correction: I first wrote that the sole says the shoe is made from “75% recycled materials.” Then I looked at the sole again.]

Word of the day: snag

Go out walking in nature preserve. Spot new specimen: snag . The Oxford English Dictionary explains:

snag: N Amer. A standing dead tree.
Webster’s New International Dictionary , second edition, is more expansive:
Forestry. A tree from which the top has been broken. A rampike, esp. one tall enough to be an extra fire hazard.
And Webster’s Third:
A standing dead tree from which parts or all of the top have fallen; esp.: one that is more than 20 feet tall.
The Third directs the reader to stub :
the part of a tree or plant that remains fixed in the earth when the stem is cut down or broken off.
So a snag is taller than a stub.

Following the history of snag in the OED , it’s easy to see how a word having to do with trees came to signify an unexpected complication. The earliest meaning of snag (1577–87):
A short stump standing out from the trunk, or from a stout branch, of a tree or shrub, esp. one which has been left after cutting or pruning; also, a fruiting spur.
Later (1807):
A trunk or large branch of a tree imbedded in the bottom of a river, lake, etc., with one end directed upwards (and consequently forming an impediment or danger to navigation). orig. U.S.
And shortly thereafter (1830):
fig. An impediment or obstacle. Also, a disadvantage, a hitch; a defect.
Followed in 1904 by “N Amer. A standing dead tree.”

The nature preserve in which I went walking had a sign on a trail with vocabulary. A dead tree on the ground: log . A dead tree still standing: snag .

As for rampike, Webster’s Second says:
A dead tree; a pointed stump or partly-burned tree; a tree broken off by the wind leaving a splintered end to the trunk.
I know that visitors are not supposed to take anything with them from a nature preserve. But I think that taking the word snag is okay.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Henry , gum, hair, Lacan

[Henry, August 17, 2016. Click for a larger view.]

Yet another gum machine. But this time with long hair. Today’s strip, like April’s “New Math” strip, is strong evidence that our Henry re-runs, however anachronistic they may otherwise appear (BOY WANTED signs, icemen, etc.), date from the 1960s.

I like Henry’s response to the experience of the mirror stage. So you’re bald? Just whistle.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

And more gum machines
Henry : Henry : Henry : Perry Mason : Henry : Henry : Henry : Henry : Henry : Henry : Henry

Audrey Hepburn and sardines

[Audrey Hepburn as Sabrina Fairchild in Sabrina (dir. Billy Wilder, 1954). Click for a larger view.]

Linus Larrabee (Humphrey Bogart) has been looking through the cabinets in the company offices. There must be something to eat. Tomato juice, puffed rice, sardines, tomato juice, tomato juice. Sabrina appears lost in meditation as she holds a can of sardines.

Related reading
All OCA sardines posts (Pinboard)

Newhart sardines

Dinnertime. No one has shopped. The only thing Bob and Emily Hartley have in the house is a can of sardines. Bob is not a fan:

“I thought we were saving them for a special occasion — like a famine.”
From The Bob Newhart Show episode “The Separation Story,” October 5, 1974. Written by Tom Patchet and Jay Tarses, the latter of whom created The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd . We always like seeing Jay Tarses’s name on our television.

Related reading
All OCA sardines posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Sam Ervin, Mongol user

Watching Dick Cavett’s Watergate on PBS tonight, I was startled to see Senator Sam Ervin (D, North Carolina) holding a Mongol. I went looking online.

[“Watergate.” Photograph by Gjon Mili. Washington, D.C. August 1973. From Google Arts & Culture. Click for a larger view.]

[“Watergate Hearings.” Photograph by Gjon Mili. Washington, D.C. June 1973. From Google Arts & Culture. Click for a larger view.]

[My caption: “Speak folksily and carry a sharp Mongol.” From U.S. News & World Report. No identification, but clearly from the Watergate hearings. That’s Samuel Dash to Ervin’s left. Click for a larger view.]

Related reading
All OCA Mongol posts
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)

Clara Cannucciari’s Depression cooking

A YouTube series with the late Clara Cannucciari: Great Depression Cooking. Heard in the episode The Poorman’s Meal: “You know, I had to quit high school, ’cause I didn’t have stockings to wear. And that’s a fact.”

See also the website Great Depression Cooking with Clara.

Depression cuisine

Jane Ziegelman:

“Freshness was not necessarily a virtue in the 1930s. This sort of infatuation that we have with food that’s fresh, just off the farm and crisp and sweet — that didn’t really hold much water for Depression-era cooks, who were more entranced with modern, frozen foods. That was the miracle food.”
From an interview (my transcription) with Jane Ziegelman and Andy Coe, who have written A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression. Listen: “Creamed, Canned and Frozen: How the Great Depression Revamped U.S. Diets” (NPR).

Thanks, Rachel, for pointing your ma and pa to this interview.

[Note to self: must read.]

Bobby Hutcherson (1941–2016)

The vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson has died. The New York Times has an obituary.

Here are three Hutcherson performances of his “Little B’s Poem”: 1, 2, 3. I first heard this tune as recorded by Tete Montoliu and have loved it ever since.

Monday, August 15, 2016

elementary OS

[Click for a much larger view.]

The screenshot above shows an old (2007) MacBook now running elementary OS, a rather Mac-like variety of Linux.

When I tried starting up this MacBook recently (curiosity, curiosity), I found myself getting nowhere. The hard drive was fine. RAM cards, fine. But my Mac could last only a minute or two before freezing up. I tried reinstalling OS X (why not?). But the problem remained, and remained a mystery.

Time to experiment: I added some RAM (4GB, $30) and installed elementary OS (wiping out OS X in the process). Installation was easy: I downloaded the 1.15GB file, burned it to a DVD, booted the old Mac from its optical drive, and followed the prompts. (The computer is too old to boot from a USB device.) In a couple of hours, I had a new-old spare laptop for basic computing.

If you visit the elementary OS website, you may too quickly conclude that the operating system is for purchase only. Not so: like other varieties of Linux, it’s available at no charge (add the custom price of “0”). Wikipedia’s article about elementary notes that the “Purchase elementary OS” strategy is controversial. If I find myself using elementary OS with any regularity, I’ll be happy to make a contribution. My greatest problem in using elementary OS thus far: forgetting that familiar key combinations (⌘-S, ⌘-T) don’t do what I think they’re going to do.

Invaluable in getting elementary OS to keep its cool, at least on my old MacBook: indicator-cpufreq. Adding it as a startup program makes a world of difference.

Mystery actor

[Click for a much larger, more mysterious view.]

Do you recognize her? Do you think you recognize her? Leave your best guess in the comments. If necessary, I will add a hint.


11:50 a.m.: A first hint: this actor is best known for a television role.


12:50 p.m: A second hint: the actor and that television character have the same first name.


1:10 p.m.: The answer is now in the comments. That’s Marion Ross as Katy Fuller in Teacher’s Pet (dir. George Seaton, 1958). Ross went on to play Marion Cunningham in Happy Days (1974–1984).

More mystery actors
? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ?

[Garner’s Modern English Usage notes that “support for actress seems to be eroding.” I’ll use actor.]

Saturday, August 13, 2016

NBC, sheesh

“Germany has played flawless.”

No, flawlessly . There is such a thing as a flat adverb — “an abverb that has the same form as its corresponding adjective” — but flawless isn’t one. Fast and slow are.

Related reading
All OCA sheesh posts (Pinboard)

[Definition and examples from Garner’s Modern English Usage (2016).]

Corn, dropped

Verlyn Klinkenborg:

“August,” The Rural Life (Boston: Back Bay Books, 2002).

Related reading
All OCA Verlyn Klinkenborg posts (Pinboard)

Friday, August 12, 2016

Smoke and ink

Walter Benjamin:

If the smoke from the tip of my cigarette and the ink from the nib of my pen flowed with equal ease, I would be in the Arcadia of my writing.

“Fancy Goods,” in One-Way Street , trans. Edmund Jephcott (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016).
Other Walter Benjamin posts
Benjamin on collectors : Handwriting and typing : Metaphors for writing : On readers and writers : On writing materials

Zippy pens

[Zippy , August 12, 2016.]

Seminar then moves on to mechanical pencils. He prefers them to wooden pencils. Does Softlite? “I guess so . . Now get your hand off of my thigh.” By the third panel, they’re married, with two children. It turned out so right, for strangers on a train.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[The saddest writing-instrument sight: a cup of uncapped ball-points next to a cash register.]

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Green beans, from an old family recipe, such as it is, or was, or may have been, remembered and recreated long after the fact

Elaine and I have been tending to a friend’s garden. Thus we have an embarrassment of green beans on our hands, or in our refrigerator. And so I remembered a dish that my mom used to make, green beans in tomato sauce. Very simple:

Chop an onion and brown in olive oil.

Add tomato sauce and oregano.

Add cooked beans and let them simmer for a while.
Thus green beans are made not only edible but delicious. The oregano is the secret. Exact proportions? Who knows? One 15 oz. can of tomato sauce and two or three teaspoons of dried oregano will take care of a good number of beans. I use no-salt-added sauce and add pepper and just a little salt.

I have always associated this dish with Brooklyn’s Hamilton House, a wonderful restaurant of my childhood. (London broil, anyone?) I always thought that my mom was recreating the Hamilton House dish. But no: as she told me a couple of days ago, she was making a dish that her mother made.

If you search for green beans tomato sauce , you can find much more complicated recipes. Perhaps something is missing from my ingredient list, but I don’t think so: my grandmother leaned to recipes with a handful of ingredients.

If you, too, are beset by an embarrassment of green beans, tomato sauce and oregano might be of help.

[Embarrassment is the collective noun that applies to green beans. Embarrassment : green beans :: gaggle : geese.]

Some sardines run through it

A fish fight! Norman and Paul Maclean (Craif Sheffer and Brad Pitt) comes to blows over sardines in A River Runs Through It (dir. Robert Redford, 1992).

I know the name Skeezix from the comic strip Gasoline Alley . And now I know why he has that name: skeezicks means rascal. The word skeezicks is older than Skeezix.

Back to fish.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Names and things

Winona LaDuke, founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project and two-time Green Party vice-presidential candidate:

“Julius Caesar’s calendar is something that belongs to one culture, and I always have this problem with naming large things after small white men. Like, you know, who was that guy? Why do we have one whole system of time named after him?”


“I don’t mean to repeat this, but I have a problem with the naming thing — big mountains after small men. This whole continent is badly named.”
From the Kitchen Sisters’ podcast Fugitive Waves , episode no. 51, “Harvest on Big Rice Lake.”

Fitzcarraldo in Vermont

From Vermont Public Radio:

A nearly 200-year-old schoolhouse has been moved back to its original site in the Orleans County town of Brownington. . . .

Thousands of Vermonters cheered as 44 oxen pulled the two-story Orleans County Grammar schoolhouse up a hill nearly half a mile.
[George Bodmer let me know that the real Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald appears in a recent New Yorker article. Thanks, George.]

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Chrome changes

I was wondering about Chrome this morning: the Back and Forward and Reload arrows looked thinner, and the Omnibox’s drop-down list of URLs had entries in blue. What? Yes, Chrome had changed. The new design is flatter; tabs are a bit taller and have sharper corners, and then there are those blue URLs. Chrome does updates automatically: thus these changes may catch the user (or me) unawares.

It’s easy to get the old look back, at least for now: Type chrome:// flags in the Omnibox and look for “Material Design in the browser’s top chrome.” Select Non-material from the drop-down menu and relaunch.

If you choose to make further changes on the flags page, leave a trail of breadcrumbs as you do. In other words, write down what you’re doing so that you can undo easily if something goes wrong.

Things to like in today’s Zits

[Zits , August 9, 2016. Click for a larger view.]

Left to right: Adolescent sprawl and self-absorption. Speech balloon and arm breaking panel wall. Comic-strip furnishings: vase, stand, painting. Charlie-Brown-shirt zigzag pattern on vase. (That pattern shows up everywhere in Zits .) Speech balloon and arm breaking another panel wall. Stylized but immediately recognizable Tide bottle. Comic-strip laundry basket. Speech balloon and arm breaking yet another panel wall. Middle-aged sag.

But especially the laundry basket, which follows some unnamed principle of comics: a pattern is best suggested, not worked out in its entirety. Consider the clapboards and bricks in the first three Nancy panels on this page.

[The line of Jeremy’s arm makes this little scene a panel in itself.]

Related reading
All OCA comics posts (Pinboard)

From One of Ours

Willa Cather, One of Ours (1922).

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

Monday, August 8, 2016

NPR, sheesh

From an All Things Considered story about Olympic athletes who are already done: “While her U.S. teammates are angsting about their events, she’s free to chill.”

Elaine reacted to the sentence before I did.

Related reading
All OCA sheesh posts (Pinboard)

[The NPR text-version: “While her U.S. teammates are full of angst about their events, she’s free to chill.” The story as broadcast has angsting .]

Parker Jotter sighting

[Populaire (dir. Régis Roinsard, 2012). Click for a much larger view.]

I know: Populaire means typewriters . But that’s a Parker Jotter. Attention must be paid.

The Jotter was introduced in 1954. The metal tip at the end of the barrel was added in 1955. The T-Ball came along in 1957; the arrow clip, in 1958. History courtesy of this page. Populaire is set in 1958 and 1959.

Other T-Ball Jotter posts
Five pens (My life in five pens)
Last-minute shopping (1964 Jotter ad)
“Make My Jotter Quit!” (1971 Jotter ad)
“The Reliable Parker Jotter” (1963 Jotter ad)
Thomas Merton, T-Ball Jotter user
Watch, lighter, pen (1963 Jotter ad)

Happy people, poor psychologists

Stefan Zweig, The Post-Office Girl  , trans. Joel Rotenberg (New York: New York Review Books, 2008).

Also from this novel
Little world

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Planet Melba

[Always smiling. Click for a larger (though still small) view.]

If Bob Ross were here, he’d call it a “happy little planet.” But then Neil deGrasse Tyson would come in, all spoiler-y, and say, “No, no, it’s a piece of Melba Toast. It’s much too small to be a planet.” But then Bob Ross would let Neil deGrasse Tyson play with Peapod the pocket squirrel, and Neil deGrasse Tyson would say, “Oh, okay, it can be a planet.” Which it is. Hail, Planet Melba!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

A find

“Georgie and I call this the ultimate family love song”: so said Mel Tormé, introducing “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” (Oscar Hammerstein II–Jerome Kern), on the recording A Vintage Year (Concord, 1988). “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” was a favorite song of my dad’s. We played an older recording of it at his memorial (also by Tormé). But I didn’t know this version, with its spoken introduction, until I put on my dad’s CD this morning.

You can find the song at YouTube.

[“Georgie”: George Shearing.]

Dad, i.m.

My dad, James Leddy, died a year ago today. Last night I dozed while watching the news and dreamed that he was there watching, wearing a plaid short-sleeved shirt. I’ll listen to some of his records today (as I do most days), call my mom (as I do every day), and have a piece of dark chocolate (his favorite). He was a good man, and he’s never out of mind, or heart.

Here is what I wrote about my dad last August.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Pelikan sighting

[Viridiana (dir. Luis Buñuel, 1961). Click either image for a larger view.]

Don Jaime (Fernando Rey) is about to write an important note. His fountain pen’s cap’s distinctively tall captop and two gold bands shout (or whisper) Pelikan . I had to notice these details: I’ve been writing with a Pelikan since 1998.

A related post
Five pens

Separated at birth

[The actresses Victoria Zinny and Molly Ringwald. Zinny appears in Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana (1961), recent viewing in our house. Click either image for a larger view.]

Also separated at birth
Nicholson Baker and Lawrence Ferlinghetti : Ted Berrigan and C. Everett Koop : John Davis Chandler and Steve Buscemi : Ray Collins and Mississippi John Hurt : Broderick Crawford and Vladimir Nabokov : Ted Cruz and Joe McCarthy : Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Gough : Jacques Derrida, Peter Falk, and William Hopper : Elaine Hansen (of Davey and Goliath) and Blanche Lincoln : Harriet Sansom Harris and Phoebe Nicholls : Ton Koopman and Oliver Sacks : Steve Lacy and Myron McCormick : Fredric March and Tobey Maguire : Michael A. Monahan and William H. Macy

Twelve more movies

[Twelve movies, three sentences each, no spoilers.]

Yum, Yum, Yum! A Taste of Cajun and Creole Cooking (dir. Les Blank, 1990). More Les Blank, more Marc Savoy, more food, more music. I like the repeated scenes of people loading up their plates: a lump of rice, a hunk of something else. Supporting cast: red pepper, black pepper, salt.


Gap-Toothed Women (dir. Les Blank, 1987). Minding the gap, from the Wife of Bath to Lauren Hutton and Sandra Day O’Connor. Not the essay in objectification I thought it would be. But neither does it pass the Bechdel test: each gap-toothed woman speaks only to the camera.


The Lost Weekend (dir. Billy Wilder, 1945). Ray Milland as Don Birnam, writer and alcoholic, with Jane Wyman as his long-suffering girlfriend, and Phillip Terry as his long-suffering brother. Markedly different from the novel (Don’s sexuality, the ending) but excellent on its own terms. I recommend the novel too, which begins with a sentence from James Joyce’s story “Counterparts”: “The barometer of his emotional nature was set for a spell of riot.”


Fitzcarraldo (dir. Werner Herzog, 1982). “The act of territorial acquisition is done step by step.” Klaus Kinski as Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, known as Fitzcarraldo, a white-suited fanatic attempting to realize his dream of opera in the Amazon. My favorite scene: Caruso v. Jivaro drums.

[Klaus Kinski as Fitzcarraldo broadcasting Caruso. Click for a larger view.]


Burden of Dreams (dir. Les Blank, 1982). The making of Fitzcarraldo is a story of determination against all odds. Werner Herzog was his own Fitzcarraldo, mastering an environment, or attempting to. The heart of darkness is here the heart of art.


Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (dir. Les Blank, 1980). The story goes that Herzog promised to eat his shoe if Errol Morris ever completed his film Gates of Heaven (1978). Morris did, and Herzog did. With help from the chef Alice Waters.


Ramona and Beezus (dir. Elizabeth Allen, 2010). In our household Sarah Polley is the one and only Ramona Quimby, but we’ve been reading Beverly Cleary, and when we saw a few minutes of this film by chance, we had to get it. It’s sweet, funny, and good for the whole family. A wonderful touch: not a cellphone or computer in sight.


The Grand Budapest Hotel (dir. Wes Anderson, 2014). Perfect for anyone who just happens to be reading Stefan Zweig. A beautiful, deliriously detailed treat, with moment after moment that calls for pausing and zooming. I would say what Umberto Eco said of Casablanca : The Grand Budapest Hotel is “the movies,” with all the delights to be found therein.

[“Who’s got the throat-slitter?” A Courtesan au chocolat from Mendl’s bakery, cut and shared with cellmates. Click for a larger view.]


Viridiana (dir. Luis Buñuel, 1961). A novice leaves her convent to visit her uncle. She’s a live ringer for his long-dead wife. Celibacy and lust, purity and degradation, with strong overtones of Vertigo and a Brueghel-like Last Supper.

[Click for a larger view.]


Grand Hotel (dir. Edmond Goulding, 1932). Great Garbo, John and Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, and Wallace Beery, all sojourning under various names or guises. This is the film in which Garbo famously said that she wanted to be alone. Is it heresy to think that Crawford steals the show?


Joy (dir. David O. Russell, 2015). A plucky mother of two (Jennifer Lawrence) invents a new and better kind of mop and triumphs on QVC. A thoughtful depiction of creativity against the backdrop of a complicated, imperfect, often unsupportive family. But the final thirty minutes feel like a contrived attempt to create further drama when the story has already come to an end.


Tickled (dir. David Farrier and Dylan Reeve, 2016). Much of what’s here has been on record for some years. No matter, though: Farrier and Reeve are figuring it out for themselves. What begins as a light look into a quirky online subculture turns into a story of immense cruelty, shame, and sorrow.

What would you recommend?

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Fourteen more : Thirteen more : Twelve more : Another thirteen more : Another dozen : Yet another dozen : Another twelve : And another twelve