Saturday, August 2, 2008

Literary Interlude: Kubla Khan (an excerpt)

Something about the previous post reminded me of this part of Coleridge's poem. The entire thing here.

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me
That with music loud and long
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Meanderings: The Safety Pin

I've retreated to the privacy and relative shelter of a railing far removed from other human beings in order to have a cigarette. The warmth of the sun, the cool steel at my back, a potato on the landscape of life, I am enjoying my brief respite. A woman crosses in front of me unaware that I am watching. Her back to me, she has entered my life and set off a chain of associations she will never know.

It's her long shorts or abbreviated pants. I can't decide which. But it's the fringe at the bottoms that evokes memories of shorts cut from Wrangler jeans, their white fringes carefully picked out with a large safety pin. The remembered act of combing out the blue weft or warp reminds me of two girls in my college English classes.

They were from Brooklyn, the equivalent of present day "Staten Island Girls." Back then, those of us growing up in Staten Island were just starting to emerge from the days when we bought our jeans and fringed jackets at Gold Rush on the then Richmond Avenue. And we were fascinated by these young women in their get ups and their eyelashes. These were a wonder to behold, each lash encrusted in an coating of mascara that seemed to defy the laws of physics. Queried one day as to why their lashes weren't gobbed together, they explained that after applying the stuff, they would take a large safety pin and separate each individual lash.

My English professor was fascinated by their shoes, most of which sported three inch heels and open toes or straps. "F___ me shoes," he used to call them. Remember, these were unenlightened times. Funny thing was he never lusted after them, at least not appreciably. No, the pronouncement was delivered with an indulgent, picaresque, and somewhat patronizing smile.

I had thought of him earlier in the day when I came across the magazine his wife had started. I was struck that it had not only survived but become quite successful. Neither he nor she, however, had lived to enjoy it. I remember the first day that I met him on campus. He was my advisor, this professor with his wild hair and extinguished pipe. The only thing I remember from his first lecture was that he was 48 and that when you get to be 48, death becomes a reality. Studying Shakespeare with him was wallowing in the lushness of perception and conception and Cleopatra and God knows what else. The man was inspired.

And all this because of a safety pin.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Why do all the news accounts see McCain as having an embargo problem rather than InBev having a Helms-Burton problem?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Specter of A Cuba Visit

In a "what is he thinking," Senator Arlen Specter has announced that he will visit Cuba and would like to meet with Raul Castro and Hugo Chavez. According to this article, the senator is quoted as saying that he has always believed in "dialogue." Read the first few comments, and you will see the basic fallacy of the whole situation repeated.

In a point that Cuban dissidents have made, a "dialogue" by definition requires two sides. The Cuban government has made clear that the only thing it is interested in is the unilateral lifting of the embargo and the acceptance, if not approval, of their sovereign right to enslave their people. As for the overtures some purport to have seen in regime pronouncements, I fear that they are but olive branches of the mind.

Update: More Troops to Afghanistan?

Thomas Friedman has an op-ed in today's New York Times that voices concern over the effect of sending in more troops. He makes a case that what might be politically expedient in this country could be the wrong solution in that one.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Measuring the Oval Office for Drapes?

Now that he is back home after completing his victory progression through Europe, the candidate Obama has turned his attention to the transition. Yup. Had to share this one. Apparently, it is fairly common for the nominees to do something of the sort. What is unusual is that the Obama camp is talking about it. What seems to be lacking in this well-oiled political machine is a feel for what is seemly. Then again, it could be on purpose. Are these missteps really a way to convey the inevitability of an Obama presidency (Sign of the Cross)? Or better yet, is Barry faking out Mac?

Read about it here and here.

There's Something About Obama and His Speeches

Actually, more like his rhetoric, that is drawing the attention of wordmeisters. When he first burst upon the scene, Obama's speeches- like the waters of the Red Sea- swept all before him on a veritable tsunami of verbiage. As time has progressed, however, more and more commentators have started crying "Wait, we've heard this before." More recently, it seems almost impossible to write about said oratorical exercises without trying to take them apart.

Witness the reaction to the Berlin Speech. In the midst of the many, many, many flattering reports, there are a few that take on the style, as well as the substance. This is the case, surprisingly, with David Brooks in no less a publication than the New York Times:

...he pulled out his “this is our moment” rhetoric and offered visions of a world transformed. Obama speeches almost always have the same narrative arc. Some problem threatens. The odds are against the forces of righteousness. But then people of good faith unite and walls come tumbling down. Obama used the word “walls” 16 times in the Berlin speech, and in 11 of those cases, he was talking about walls coming down.


When I first heard this sort of radically optimistic speech in Iowa, I have to confess my American soul was stirred. It seemed like the overture for a new yet quintessentially American campaign.
But now it is more than half a year on, and the post-partisanship of Iowa has given way to the post-nationalism of Berlin, and it turns out that the vague overture is the entire symphony. The golden rhetoric impresses less, the evasion of hard choices strikes one more.

For me, there has always been something nagging about it all, like something wasn't quite right. I've written about the hyperbole and the repetition. It goes beyond that. So when I came across some of his signature lines, I confess I parsed them a bit:

We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

First, there's the school marm in me that says you don't end a sentence on a preposition. But OK, my membership in the grammar police has lapsed. Still it sounds horribly awkward. That sentence is better the next one. After much thought, I realized what bothered me. "We" stands for people, concrete flesh and blood entities. "Change," on the other hand, is an abstraction. Therefore people cannot be "change." They may represent change; they may be agents of change, but they cannot be "change." Else, I am freedom, sin, stupidity. All of which might be true on a metaphorical level, but this is not poetry.

I find myself wanting like Gertrude "more matter and less art."

Monday, July 28, 2008

More Mini Reads And More Mini Reads!

I confess, I feel like I've been on a shameless bender. This week, I've logged another four.

I won't devote much time to Blasphemy by Douglas Preston, not that it wasn't enjoyable and thought provoking, but because nothing will ever equal the experience of the The Relic which he co-authored with Lincoln Child. That one had the nether regions of the Museum of Natural History and the novelty of abandoned New York Subway tunnels, as well as a fast-paced, hair-raising plot. Still, he had me going on this one. The title I'm lusting after is his new nonfiction book, The Monster of Florence.

Then there was Phantom Prey, another solid mystery/crime story in the John Sanford Prey franchise. I like Lucas Davenport; I can't help it. Still, he seems to be heading into the rarefied circles of Stuart Woods' characters with $2,000 dollar suits. But it's been fun watching him mature. And who'da thought he would turn out to be monogamous?

Now, Jennifer Lee Carrell's Interred With Their Bones is another type of story altogether. A review characterizes it as a DaVinci Code type of book, and in a way it is. In one night, young Kate Stanley loses her directing gig, when the Globe theater burns down, and her once very influential mentor, when the former is murdered, but not before Professor Howard leaves her the first in a tantalizing series of clues. This is very much an intellectual and literary pursuit with murders, Shakespearean lore and chases galore along the way. In sum, an interesting read, nicely written. I wasn't overly fond of the scenes set in 1613, but fortunately they were few. And yeah, people do go really overboard with these literary battles.

What do you do when you're a struggling young Mexican-American wouldbe writer who finds her life becoming enmeshed in life threatening ways with a group of people with a "condition" that renders them sensitive to sun and very fond of blood? When the indomitable Milagros De Los Santos, pun thoroughly intended, finds herself in this predicament, she overcomes it and gets her man. By The Bride of Casa Dracula, the third in the series, Milagros is engaged to marry the super sexy, somewhat vampiric, plastic surgeon Oswald Grant. I won't give away the plot, but I will say that the odd melange of Vampire tradition, wedding planners, and Cuban food make for an interesting romp. Once I hit the second chapter, I was no longer questioning the premise. The characters are memorable and Marta Acosta's style carries you along. Pure fluff. Great beach read.

Got Water?

In last year's July 26th speech, Raul Castro went off on a tangent about milk, a digression the mainstream media managed to miss, maybe it's a language thing. But since almost universally, Cubans quoted in the media have complained that they have not gotten their glass of milk, this year he seems to have lowered his sights.

This year's wonky wending was all about...water. The aqueduct in Santiago should be finished in 2010, about the time Cubans get toasters. Then there are the 15.6 miles of water pipes, the 231.2 miles of major water networks, and the 390.6 miles of secondary water networks. Just some of the scintillating oratory. Get my drift? But lest ordinary Cubans get carried away consuming and splashing about in the as yet fictional water, they were warned they will have to conserve and not hog up all.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sunday Strangeness

This week's entries come near the witching hour when hopefully no churchyards yawn in your neighborhood.

Trust No One. In a somewhat serious vein, Victor Davis Hanson complains that the 60's won't die. Yet another examination of the less than beneficial legacy of the "me first" generation in this one on Townhall. Have to like the "60's petulance."

Cigarette Smoking Man. I knew it was only a matter of time 'til the truth won out. This article from the Sarasota Herald Tribune informs us that longer lives cost more money. Wellness and prevention are nice, but not all they're cracked up to be economically. What was that about smokers?

The Truth is Out There. There might be "no conclusive proof" tying cell phone use to cancer, but according to this piece, the Director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and UPMC Cancer Centers is issuing an advisory to his employees. Heck, I figure, why chance it? I have enough lottery tickets already.

The Lone Gunmen. Speaking of one in a trillion chances, Dr Edgar Mitchell of the Apollo 14 mission says it's true. Aliens have visited the Earth, and the government knows all about it. And yes, they are little men with big eyes. NASA's refutation is interesting. They have a "different opinion." It is what it is or isn't. Read it here.

Tunguska. Or how about in Russia where miners in the northern Kamchatka region are afraid to leave their compound after bears have killed two coworkers? Read the story here.

I Want to Believe. Let's end with another list. This one of religious sightings in unusual places: potato salad, melons, buns. Lends new meaning to finding the divine in everyday life.

Literary Interlude: Written at Lovere, 1755

Wisdom, slow product of laborious years,
The only fruit that life's cold winter bears;
Thy sacred seeds in vain in youth we lay,
By the fierce storm of passion torn away.
Should some remain in a rich gen'rous soil,
They long lie hid, and must be rais'd with toil;
Faintly they struggle with inclement skies,
No sooner born than the poor planter dies.

-Lady Mary Wortley Montagu