Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Over the past couple of days, I came up with a possible reason for why--though not an Anglopath by any means--I'm not exactly a huge Anglophile, either.

The reason? I practically grew up in England. An England with yet another dialect...

Monday, December 25, 2006

Qui Tollis Peccata Mundi

I sometimes wish I had a certain kind of faith. But sometimes... it just seems like we're living amongst a whole lotta peccata.

I do still believe in a certain kind of lux æterna...

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Homeward Bound

I'm in such a fuckin rush to get out of the office that I'm starting to get cranky. And I'm running late.

Anyway, I'm heading to NJ through the 31st, and looking forward to it as always. The reasons involve things like pierogi, kielbasa, chrusciki, platki, and other healthful Eastern European delights. Not to mention NJ pizza. Oh, and Mom and Nan.

On the off chance that there's anyone out there in the NY environs who reads this and might want to meet up for coffee, a drink, or suttum when I'm in the city around 12/29-30, drop me an email ( Thought I'd throw that out there.

I thought I'd leave you with the chorus of NJ's lame-assed "unofficial" state song. Seems NJ is the only state without an official state song. Figures. Then again, is one really necessary?

Be proud to be in New Jersey, New Jersey
Stand tall, sing out for New Jersey, New Jersey
From the farms to the sea there's no place I'd rather be
Be proud, New Jersey's proud of me

Friday, December 15, 2006

Doña Clarissa y Yo

"¡Qué zambullida!"

Early on during my stay in San Miguel, I started in on Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. I admit I felt vindicated at first in my decision to put it off for years for fear that it might be a little too stylistically "difficult." No, it's not exactly Middle English Chaucer, but I don't think I'm being too much of a philistine to claim Woolf has her quirks. However, I found myself pressing ahead gamely. Of course I had a vague idea of the plot and what was going on because I'd seen the film version with Vanessa Redgrave about seven years ago.

The sentences! Never having been a lit major, I don't know if the idea of "The Woolfian Sentence" is a well-worn topic, but I suspect the concept has been discussed at length. As is my usual reading habit, I found myself re-reading the same sentences, going back to the beginning and trying to make sense of thm. At some point I realized I needed to stop doing that, or I would never make any progress; so I decided to just read through and allow myself to be content with absorbing the gist—the feeling—of Woolf's convoluted phrases, clauses, and fragments. And yeah, that worked.

An example of what I'm talking about is below (this is all ONE sentence):
It was her life, and, bending her head over the hall table, she bowed beneath the influence, felt blessed and purified, saying to herself, as she took the pad with the telephone message on it, how moments like this are buds on the tree of life, flowers of darkness they are, she thought (as if some lovely rose had blossomed for her eyes only); not for a moment did she believe in God; but all the more, she thought, taking up the pad, must one repay in daily life to servants, yes, to dogs and canaries, above all to Richard her husband, who was the foundation of it—of the gay sounds, of the green lights, of the cook even whistling, for Mrs. Walker was Irish and whistled all day long—one must pay back from this secret deposit of exquisite moments, she thought, lifting the pad, while Lucy stood by her, trying to explain how.
I was in awe. It's almost a mess, but I think it takes absolute genius to write sentences like that. I thought I might try writing a few of my own just "for fun" sometime, but I can't see myself managing to pull off that kind of construction, even as an exercise. I love the idea of trying to throw out so much convention though. Screw whatever your tenth grade English teacher (or present-day anal-retentive proscriptive grammar wonks) tried to instill in you about the "proper paragraph."

I also couldn't help wonder about how revolutionary it might have been for Woolf to be doing this in 1925. Yes, I know James Joyce had been crazily screwing around with convention in the world of letters for awhile by then... so in that context, Woolf's and other Bloomsburians' daring probably makes perfect sense. [Interesting sidebar: just discovered that Woolf and Joyce were both born and both died within 2 months of each other. Hmm.]

However, I was thinking about the fact that I had just recently finished The House of Mirth, and the difference between Wharton's rigid formality and Woolf's language explosion is really striking, given the fact that the works are chronologically separated by only twenty years (and yes, I know, a very significant ocean). It's amazing to me that such a stylistic shift in prose could occur in such a short period of time. I'm sure history is full of radical changes in art that took place in relatively quick succession, but 20 years seems a fairly short interval.

Again, I'm far from a lit expert, but it feels to me that in recent years there hasn't been similar innovation and experimentation in writing that is so obvious. In terms of general American/British literature, most works written in 1980 or 1985 are likely not so radically different from those written in 2005. Or maybe—being out of the loop as I am—I'm incredibly, embarrassingly wrong, and someone who really knows what he's talking about should push me the hell off of this quasi-academic big chair I'm trying to sit in.

The point is that Woolf made me wonder if we've been in a fairly conservative, stagnant period in terms of the risk that writers are willing to take in their "art." Is this the fault of Big Publishing and The Marketplace (even the Woolfs, after all, had to publish themselves independently)? (When in doubt, why not blame the corporations...).

And I know this whole train of thinking is probably not very valid because I'm only comparing two very specific authors instead of looking at a range of writers on a continuum, in separate American and British contexts—and that Wharton was probably more wedded to older conventions as much as Woolf was potentially way ahead of her time. So, please, don't criticize and refute point by point the silly mental diversions that came over me while wading through Wacky Virginia's Headtrip.

In case I didn't say this yet, I enjoyed Mrs. Dalloway—as much for the content as the craft. I'm also realizing the danger of reading some of the "Great Books": in the presence of all that talent and art, the idea that I could ever put "pen to paper" and create something even a fraction as sublime seems... well... ridiculous.

Below is another bit of Dalloway that really pleased and challenged me. Thank you, Mrs. Woolf.

...Clarissa had a theory in those days—they had heaps of theories, always theories, as young people have. It was to explain the feeling they had of dissatisfaction; not knowing people; not being known. For how could they know each other? You met every day; then not for six months, or years. It was unsatisfactory, they agreed, how little one knew people. But she said, sitting on the bus going up Shaftesbury Avenue, she felt herself everywhere; not "here, here, here"; and she tapped the back of the seat; but everywhere. She waved her hand, going up Shaftesbury Avenue. She was all that. So that to know her, or any one, one must seek out people who completed them; even the places. Odd affinities she had with people she had never spoken to, some woman in the street, some man behind a counter—even trees, or barns. It ended in a transcendental theory which, with her horror of death, allowed her to believe, or say that she believed (for all her scepticism), that since our apparitions, the part of us which appears, are so momentary compared with the other, the unseen part of us, which spreads wide, the unseen might survive, be recovered somehow attached to this person or that, or even haunting certain places after death . . . perhaps—perhaps.

The unseen might survive.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Little Trite Hook

"There was a time
you and I were everything...
You'll never know the days and nights
I spent imagining...
But yesterday is the only place we'll ever know..."

Tuesday night's dinner left me feeling happy, with a sense of resolution and even optimism. Our perhaps-not-so-odd friendship feels solid, familiar, and comforting. Finally.

I felt unabashedly joyful and thrilled, even though we were saying goodbye until who can say when...

And of course I was reminded of — if somehow I had ever forgotten — all the reasons I had loved him so crazily and ambivalently once. And yes, I'm convinced there's such a thing as Ambivalent Love. Maybe it's the only kind there is.

Love is still there, but Wednesday morning I considered Fitzgerald's line about there being "all kinds of love in the world, but never the same love twice."

Also, Michael Cunningham's words continue to resonate and will, I believe, nag me forever: "He was the person she loved at her most optimistic moment."

I managed to scrawl a goodbye — some send-off wishes; an inscription in a book — and included a bit of verse of Hafiz:
"I see great parades with wildly colorful bands
Streaming from your mind and heart
Carrying wonderful and secret messages
To every corner of this world"

Has the most optimistic moment passed, or is it yet to arrive?

The most optimistic moment.

I am grateful to know you, I wrote.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Kring Jord som Sol'n Förlät

Happy Saint Lucia Day.

According to Wikipedia, Saint Lucy of Syracuse (b. 283AD) "is one of the very few saints celebrated by the Lutheran Swedes, Finland-Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians, in celebrations that retain many pre-Christian elements of a midwinter light festival."

I've come to realize that Christians were seriously into gore in the martyrdom stories of the saints. I guess it's all kind of exciting in a warped, operatic way. In the case of Saint Lucia, according to the BBC, she "was put to death after suffering various tortures. She was burned alive and came out miraculously unharmed. According to the somewhat fanciful thirteenth-century retelling found in The Golden Legend, despite being stabbed through the neck with a dagger she continued to prophesy the downfall of the governor, the emperor and his co-regent, all of which came to pass after her death. In other versions, Lucy's eyes were torn out and later healed by God, a legend that supports her association with the blind and explains why she is often pictured holding two eyes on a dish." Nice! (And if you think that's bad, you should read about what they did to Agatha...)

Anyway, all that wasn't meant to be the point of this post. The point was meant to be that I've always found the stories I've read about the tradition of Luciadag in Sweden to be sort of quaint and charming. A mid-winter celebration where a girl sticks lighted candles in her hair (how cool -- not to mention dangerous -- is that?) and wakes up her family in the dark early morning with a tray of Lussekatter (a kind of saffron sweet bun).

But my real fondness for the day comes from remembering learning the Luciasång in Prof. Lundell's Swedish class -- ten years ago now, for God's sake! It's the same Neapolitan melody that almost everyone knows, but I find something about it very touching, especially the following line. I think it's the minor key change that gets me all emotional every time...

So, even if you're not munching on Lussekatter, I give you Sankta Lucia, the song, and hope that everyone has a day full of whatever it is that lights you up...

Natten går tunga fjät,
runt gård och stuva.
Kring jord som sol'n förlät,
skuggorna ruva.
Då i vårt mörka hus,
stiger med tända ljus:
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

Natten var stor och stum.
Nu hör det svingar,
i alla tysta rum,
sus som av vingar.
Se på vår tröskel står
vitkläd, med ljus i hår:
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

Night stomps with heavy feet
Through farm and steading.
Round the earth, which sun forsakes,
shadows are spreading.
Then on our darkest night,
Comes with her shining light
Sankta Lucia! Sankta Lucia!

The night was huge and still.
Hark! something's stirring!
In all our silent rooms,
Wingbeats are whisp'ring!
See on our threshold there,
White clad, lights in her hair,
Sankta Lucia! Sankta Lucia!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Easy for Them to Say...

Thanks to Language Log.

Gringo con Flores

November 1, 2006

Featuring my second favorite word learned during the trip to San Miguel: cempazuchitl (alternately spelled cempaxuchitl, which I like better, cuz I've always been enamorado en equis). Pronouced 'sem-pah-SOO-cheel'. It's the word for marigold, the primary flower on Day of the Dead ofrendas.

[by the way... the reason some of these photos look like shite is that, ever the economizer, I used a few old rolls of film, thus some pics appear underexposed. And I don't have access to Photoshop. As grandma might say, "cheap is expensive."]

Friday, December 08, 2006

Dia de Muertos

November 1-2, 2006

Slowly but surely, I'm hoping to post more of these pics from S.Miguel de Allende....


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Discovery of the Day

Via Ultrabrown, was turned on to the Indian comic strip "This is Our Life" by Rajneesh Kapoor. Very worth checking out.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Cube - 6pm

This is what I get for blogsurfing all day.

Gotta get that website done...

Also had to test out the new cellphone cam.

And it's cold out. And dark.

Yeah, winter does exist in SoCal.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Dimarts: No ho entenc

I enjoyed this article from yesterday's LA Times about linguistic treachery in España.

I kind of giggled (and also sighed) at their description of Catalan as "a kind of French-sounding Spanish."

Of course, we could really go off on this...
- Norwegian: "a kind of Swedish-sounding Danish"
- Ukrainian: "a kind of Polish-sounding Russian"
- Macedonian: "a kind of Serbian-sounding Bulgarian"

They touch on the origins as "born of 11th century vulgar Latin," but don't bother to go into Occitane, la langue d'Oc, or any of that stuff -- which is, I guess, fine for an article of this scope.

Most of us know by now how touchy the Catalan/Basque autonomy issue is, but this piece was interesting in pointing out how this is politically and practically playing out. I thought lots of parallels could be drawn with Quebec, where I've heard English can get a fairly icy reception in certain areas. However, it seems a bit extreme to say that a national author would be greeted with cries of "fascist" when arriving to deliver an address, merely because of speaking Castellano.

All this is obviously proof of the adage about the consequences of oppressive dictatorship often lasting a long, long time. However, I find some of the Catalan and Basque tactics and attitudes to be just plain nuts (let's hope the thrill of pyrotechnics is permanently gone for ETA). I respect and agree with minority rights' movements and linguistic rejuvenation, but some of this stuff is as far out as the Chicano "Aztlan" scheme (which, incidentally, I think gets blown out of proportion by right wingers).

I'm not sure if this whole situation wasn't exaggerated a bit by the journalist; it would be interesting to talk to some barceloninas to find out how widespread this problem is. It does seem extreme if people "have to grovel to be served in Spanish, whether at the bank, the telephone company or other public offices," especially in a major cosmopolitan city like Barcelona, where there are surely huge numbers of migrants from around Spain. As the article says, a little over half of BCN residents are monolingual Spanish-speakers, so as a majority, how put upon can they be? Is this a tempest in a tassa, perpetrated by a hardcore fringe of independistas?

When I visited in 2003, it seems I definitely heard as much, if not much more Castellano being spoken than Catalan. And maybe we were immediately pegged as tourists, but I don't remember anyone being anything less than helpful when we spoke Spanish, and never once tried to address anyone with "Dispensi" because it would have seemed... I don't know... gratuitous?

That being said, I love listening to Catalan and still sometimes tune into Radio Catalunya on the internet just to hear it, even though I understand squat. I think it just takes me back to dreaming about Barcelona, the one city that, given the opportunity (which means to me a whole raft of silly requirements like, say, a job, legal status, and a certain level of economic security), I would move in one minute, without a bit of thought, deliberation, or hesitation. Yeah -- I'd be there tomorrow if I could. Hummmm.

[Later -- found another interesting commentary on this here:]