January 11, 2019

The Secret Life of the City Banana

I like reading stories that change the way I look at the world, even if it's only a degree or two. I read Annie Correal's The Secret Life of the City Banana a year and a half ago, and now every time I pass a fruit stand I'm reminded of it. The writing is lively. Worth the read.

January 4, 2019

To a Daughter Leaving Home

"When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you
as you wobbled away
on two round wheels,
my own mouth rounding
in surprise when you pulled
ahead down the curved
path of the park,
I kept waiting
for the thud
of your crash as I
sprinted to catch up,
while you grew
smaller, more breakable
with distance,
pumping, pumping
for your life, screaming
with laughter,
the hair flapping
behind you like a
handkerchief waving

-by Linda Pastan

July 5, 2012

Photography Archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church

I have no idea how I stumbled onto the Photography Archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, but I can tell you they are rich, deep, occasionally odd and well worth the journey.



June 7, 2012

Ray Bradbury


How important has your sense of optimism been to your career?


I don’t believe in optimism. I believe in optimal behavior. That’s a different thing. If you behave every day of your life to the top of your genetics, what can you do? Test it. Find out. You don’t know—you haven’t done it yet. You must live life at the top of your voice! At the top of your lungs shout and listen to the echoes. I learned a lesson years ago. I had some wonderful Swedish meatballs at my mother’s table with my dad and my brother and when I finished I pushed back from the table and said, God! That was beautiful. And my brother said, No, it was good. See the difference?

Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.

Read the entire Ray Bradbury interview at the Paris Review.

December 5, 2011

MFK Fisher's Chapter Headings

My wife is a great champion of the food writer and memoirist MKF Fischer and often reads me excerpts. I've become a fan myself as Fischer's writing is spare, modern, dark and amusing.

These are Fischer's chapter headings (always great) from How to Cook a Wolf, a book published in 1942.

3 How to Be Sage Without Hemlock
10 How to Catch the Wolf
14 How to Distribute Your Virtue
26 How to Boil Water
46 How to Greet the Spring
53 How Not to Boil an Egg
66 How to Keep Alive
72 How to Rise Up Like New Bread
80 How to be Cheerful Through Starving
86 How to Make a Pigeon Cry
121 How to Pray for Peace
133 How to Be Content with a Vegetable Love
138 How to Make a Great Show
145 How to Have a Sleek Pelt
151 How to Comfort Sorrow
163 How to Be a Wise Man
167 How to Lure the Wolf

If you don't know Fischer's writing, I recommend this small except from The Gastronomical Me on the moment she discovered food. The passage also happens to be a nice piece on fatherhood.

Continue reading MFK Fisher's Chapter Headings »

November 29, 2011

Bad Habits

I've always loved the classic Indian educational posters of the Indian Book Depot, Map House. Today I discovered The Indian Book Depot is now online! The site features a fairly comprehensive collection of their classic posters and maps.

You can also find the charts in a beautiful oversized (and now out of print) book called An Ideal Boy.

p.s. How many of you had the Monks 'Bad Habits' start playing in your mind when you saw the title for this post?

October 25, 2011

Art & Exploration


An excerpt from Michael Chabon's excellent Manhood for Amateurs:

"What is the impact of the closing down of the Wilderness on the development of children's imaginations? This is what I worry about the most. I grew up with a freedom, a liberty that now seems breathtaking and almost impossible. Recently, my younger daughter, after the usual struggle and exhilaration, learned to ride her bicycle. Her joy at her achievement was rapidly followed by a creeping sense of puzzlement and disappointment as it became clear to both of us that there was nowhere for her to ride it—nowhere that I was willing to let her go. Should I send my children out to play?

There is a small grocery store around the corner, not over two hundred yards from our front door. Can I let her ride there alone to experience the singular pleasure of buying herself an ice cream on a hot summer day and eating it on the sidewalk, alone with her thoughts? Soon after she learned to ride, we went out together after dinner, she on her bike, with me following along at a safe distance behind. What struck me at once on that lovely summer evening, as we wandered the streets of our lovely residential neighborhood at that after-dinner hour that had once represented the peak moment, the magic hour of my own childhood, was that we didn't encounter a single other child.

Even if I do send them out, will there be anyone to play with?

Art is form of exploration, of sailing off into the unknown alone, heading for those unmarked places on the map. If children are not permitted–not taught–to be adventurers and explorers as children, what will become of the world of adventure, of stories, of literature itself?”

(Thanks Larry for lending me the book)

October 24, 2011



Feuerwerksbuch by Martin Merz details 15th century artillary, siege equipment, and battlements in a series of fantastic drawings. Scans of the entire book written in 1473 are available from the Bavarian State Library. I'm downloading the whole thing to print out for the kids. They'll love it. (via the always excellent BibliOdyssey)

September 29, 2011

Gorey on himself

edward-gorey.jpgPhoto by Richard Corman
"I really think I write about everyday life. I don't think I'm quite as odd as others say I am. Life is intrinsically, well, boring and dangerous at the same time. At any given moment the floor may open up. Of course, it almost never does; that's what makes it so boring."

-Edward Gorey

September 29, 2011

Babar's World Has Really Cool Wallpaper


Are there children's books now with this level of detail?

May 24, 2011

Rifle Kings

From Mrs. Deane, a wonderful set of images of Schützenkönig or Rifle Kings. Click through for more info and many more pictures.

April 26, 2011

Wild Flavor

If you are interested in food, endangered species, epidemiology, or modern China I recommend seeking out Karl Taro Greenfeld's 2005 Paris Review essay on Guangzhou's 'wild flavor' bush meat restaurants. An excerpt:

Now this style of dining, which was once a quaint local custom, had become industrialized. In one cage at Xinyuan I counted fifty-two cats packed so tightly that their guts were spilling out between the wire bars. There were fifty such cages in that stall. There were fifty-two stalls along that row of vendors. There were six rows of vendors in that market. And there were seven markets on that street. A sharp, musky smell overwhelmed me—the excrement of a thousand different animal species mingling with their panicked breath. I saw at least a dozen types of dogs, including Labradors and Saint Bernards, and there had to be at least as many different breeds of house cat. There were raccoons, dogs, badgers, civets, squirrels, deer, boars, rats, guinea pigs, pangolins, muskrats, ferrets, wild sheep, mountain goats, bobcats, monkeys, horses, ponies, and a camel out in the parking lot. And these were just the mammals. The choice of birds and reptiles was every bit as diverse. Predator was sometimes stacked atop prey. Damaged animals—those that had lost a paw, say—were kept alive with intravenous drips. And because wild animals were more valuable than farm-raised creatures, I was told that some traders would slice off the hind paw of a civet or badger to make it appear to potential buyers that the animal had been trapped in the wild.

I had brought a list of banned animals from the Wild Animal Protection Office. I asked for the rare bird species, the monkeys, the tigers.

“No problem,” I was told by a smiling trader with buckteeth who said he was from Guangxi.

“What about the authorities?” I asked.

“No problem.” He pointed to a fellow in a gray and blue uniform sitting on a white plastic chair, flicking his cigarette ashes by a bag of banned snakes.

“OK, how about mountain lion?”

“No problem.”

“Black bear?”

“No problem.”

I decided to push my luck.

“How about panda?”

He shook his head. “You must be sick.”

The entire article is available in this back issue of the review, as a chapter of the excellent
The Best Creative Nonfiction, Vol. 1
, and as a portion of China Syndrome: The True Story of the 21st Century's First Great Epidemic (which I haven't read but plan to!).

April 12, 2011

Fortune Cookie

"I mean, I read it, I read it, and I just instinctively sort of, you know, if it says something like: 'Conversation with a dark-haired man will be very important for you,' well, I just instinctively think, you know, who do I know who has dark hair? Did we have a conversation? What did we talk about? In other words there's something in me that makes me read it, and I instinctively interpret it as if it were an omen of the future, but in my conscious opinion, which is so fundamental to my whole view of life, I mean, I would just have to change totally to not have this opinion, in my conscious opinion, this is simply something that was written in the cookie factory, several years ago, and in no way it refers to me! I mean, you know, the fact that I got--I mean, the man who wrote it did not know anything about me, I mean, he could not have known anything about me! There's no way that this cookie could actually have to do with me! And the fact that I've gotten it is just basically a joke! And I mean, if I were to go on a trip, on an airplane, and I got a fortune cookie that said 'Don't go,' I mean, of course, I admit I might feel a bit nervous for about one second, but in fact I would go, because, I mean, that trip is gonna be successful or unsuccessful based on the state of the airplane and the state of the pilot, and the cookie is in no position to know about that."

-Wallace Shawn in My Dinner With Andre

Related: The Elephant Vanishes, The Screenplay

April 7, 2011

Champion Pigeons of the National Pigeon Association

These portraits of champion pigeons on the National Pigeon Association site are compellingly beautiful (and I don't even like pigeons).




Many more can be found on the National Pigeon Association site. Photos from 2007, 2008, 2009.

Continue reading Champion Pigeons of the National Pigeon Association »

March 31, 2011

The Tsunami - 1896


This National Geographic report on a Honshu tsunami of 1896 sounds remarkably similar to accounts/images of the recent Japanese tsunami.

The barometer gave no warning, no indication of any unusual conditions on June 15, and the occurrence of thirteen light earthquake shocks during the day excited no comment. Rain had fallen in the morning and afternoon, and with a temperature of 80° to 90° the damp atmosphere was very oppressive. The villagers on that remote coast adhered to the old calendar in observing their local fêtes and holidays, and on that fifth day of the fifth moon had been celebrating the Girls' Festival. Rain had driven them indoors with the darkness, and nearly all were in their houses at eight o'clock, when, with a rumbling as of heavy cannonading out at sea, a roar, and the crash and crackling of timbers, they were suddenly engulfed in the swirling waters. Only a few survivors on all that length of coast saw the advancing wave, one of them telling that the water first receded some 600 yards from ghastly white sands and then the Wave stood like a black wall 80 feet in height, with phosphorescent lights gleaming along its crest. Others, hearing a distant roar, saw a dark shadow seaward and ran to high ground, crying "Tsunami! tsunami!" Some who ran to the upper stories of their houses for safety were drowned, crushed, or imprisoned there, only a few breaking through the roofs or escaping after the water subsided.

(via @jenny8lee)

October 7, 2010

NY Times on Colony Collapse Disorder

I suspect the NYTimes writer of this piece on the fascinating and disturbing phenomenon of honeybee colony collapse disorder was having a bit of fun w/ this one:

"One perverse twist of colony collapse that has compounded the difficulty of solving it is that the bees do not just die — they fly off in every direction from the hive, then die alone and dispersed. That makes large numbers of bee autopsies — and yes, entomologists actually do those — problematic."

"The first steps were awkward, partly because the Army lab was not used to testing bees, or more specifically, to extracting bee proteins. “I’m guessing it was January 2007, a meeting in Bethesda, we got a bag of bees and just started smashing them on the desk,” Charles Wick said. “It was very complicated.”

The process eventually was refined. A mortar and pestle worked better than the desktop, and a coffee grinder worked best of all for making good bee paste."

"Another possibility, he said, is a kind of insect insanity."

June 21, 2010

On Aesthetics

There's a poem I come back to every few years titled 'On Aesthetics' by Kenneth Koch. It runs about 20 pages of the book One Train and it never fails to delight. I'm not much of a poetry guy, but I love this poem.

A tiny excerpt:


Invite your best friends
To go out with you in a boat
That's magic and can go anywhere
And sail and talk, and talk and sail,
Until you find Beatrice
Like an endangered species
With luminous antlers
Rising through the Medieval dark.

December 30, 2009

The People of the Book

"We are the people of the book. We love our books. We fill our houses with books. We treasure books we inherit from our parents, and we cherish the idea of passing those books on to our children. Indeed, how many of us started reading with a beloved book that belonged to one of our parents? We force worthy books on our friends, and we insist that they read them. We even feel a weird kinship for the people we see on buses or airplanes reading our books, the books that we claim. If anyone tries to take away our books—some oppressive government, some censor gone off the rails—we would defend them with everything that we have. We know our tribespeople when we visit their homes because every wall is lined with books. There are teetering piles of books beside the bed and on the floor; there are masses of swollen paperbacks in the bathroom. Our books are us. They are our outboard memory banks and they contain the moral, intellectual, and imaginative influences that make us the people we are today."

-Part of a super speech on copyright titled How to Destroy the Book by Cory Doctorow.

August 12, 2009

Tim Berners-Lee on the personal home page circa 1996

"With all respect, the personal home page is not a private expression; it's a public billboard that people work on to say what they're interested in. That's not as interesting to me as people using it in their private lives. It's exhibitionism, if you like. Or self-expression. It's openness, and it's great in a way, it's people letting the community into their homes. But it's not really their home. They may call it a home page, but it's more like the gnome in somebody's front yard than the home itself. People don't have the tools for using the Web for their homes, or for organizing their private lives; they don't really put their scrapbooks on the Web. They don't have family Webs. There are many distributed families nowadays, especially in the high-tech fields, so it would be quite reasonable to do that, yet I don't know of any. One reason is that most people don't have the ability to publish with restricted access."

August 6, 2009

The Laugher

I've always loved the opening paragraph of Heinrich Böll's The Laugher.

"When someone asks me what business I am in, I am seized with embarrassment: I blush and stammer, I who am otherwise known as a man of poise. I envy people who can say: I am a bricklayer. I envy barbers, bookkeepers, and writers. All these professions speak for themselves. They need no lengthy explanation, while I am forced to reply to such questions: I am a laugher. Then I am always asked, "Is that how you make your living?" Truthfully I must say, "Yes." I actually do make a living at my laughing, and a good one, too. My laughing is - commercially speaking - much in demand. I am a good laugher, experienced. No one else laughs as well as I do. No one else has such command of the fine points of my art."

July 12, 2009

How many more times will you watch the full moon rise?

"Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don't know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It's that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don't know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless."
— Paul Bowles The Sheltering Sky

March 27, 2009

Dave Berman (Actual Air)

In the last week a book of poetry titled Actual Air by Dave Berman (of Silver Jews fame) has come up three times in conversation. I re-read it tonight. Such a good way to end an otherwise lousy day.

Here's a sample to inspire you go grab the book yourself:

Classic Water

I remember Kitty saying we shared a deep longing for
the consolation prize, laughing as we rinsed the stagecoach.

I remember the night we camped out
and I heard her whisper
"think of me as a place" from her sleeping bag
with the centaur print.

I remember being in her father's basement workshop
when we picked up an unknown man sobbing
over the shortwave radio

and the night we got so high we convinced ourselves
that the road was a hologram projected by the headlight beams.

I remember how she would always get everyone to vote
on what we should do next and the time she said
"all water is classic water" and shyly turned her face away.

At volleyball games her parents sat in the bleachers
like ambassadors from Indiana in all their midwestern schmaltz.

She was destroyed when they were busted for operating
a private judicial system within U.S. borders.

Sometimes I'm awakened in the middle of the night
by the clatter of a room service cart and I think back on Kitty.

Those summer evenings by the government lake,
talking about the paradox of multiple Santas
or how it felt to have your heart broken.

I still get a hollow feeling on Labor Day when the summer ends

and I remember how I would always refer to her boyfriends
as what's-his-face, which was wrong of me and I'd like
to apologize to those guys right now, wherever they are:

No one deserves to be called what's-his-face.

--David Berman. Actual Air

As a bonus here's a couple of Silver Jews interviews: circa 1989, circa 2002, 2005 & 2008

November 23, 2008

Sounds & Vocabulary

I've just spent the better part of 2 hours listening to dialects spoken in the International Dialects for English Archive. Funny how various accents instantly conjure people and places. Texas One for example, recalls my 4th grade teacher, whereas England 62 recalls a long forgotten friend I made many summers ago in England. Anyway it's an interesting archive, if an incomplete one. The Louisiana page houses only 4 samples whereas it should rightfully hold scores.

More dialect links.


Here are a few words I've learned recently. I love them already. What do you love?

barlafumble - a call for a truce by one who has fallen in fighting or play; a request for a time out.

ephemerist - one who studies the daily motions and positions of the planets.

zenzizenzizzenzic - the eighth power of a number.

xenodochium - A house for the reception of strangers. In the Middle Ages, a room in a monastery for the reception and entertainment of strangers and pilgrims, and for the relief of paupers.

November 3, 2008

My New Favorite Phrase

'Emergency Mind' as in "We are all so worried about her, we all have emergency mind."

-From my Korean mother in law (apparently a literal translation of a Korean phrase).

September 14, 2008

Madeline and the Bad Hat Summarized or Why We Love Madeline

Plot summary of Madeline and the Bad Hat:

-The Spanish Ambassador and his family move in next to Madeline's boarding school.
-The son of the Spanish Ambassador, Pepito, starts to terrorize small animals (and the girls) with his slingshot.
-Pepito dresses up as a bullfighter and invites the girls to see the animals he has trapped from around the neighborhood.
-The girls refuse his invite. This sets him off on a mini rampage.
-The headmaster of the the girls school gives Pepito a toolkit in the hopes it will calm him down.
-He builds a guillotine and starts beheading chickens.
-Later he puts a cat in a bag and takes it out into the countryside so the cat can be attacked by a pack of dogs.
-Pepitio manages to get mauled himself but is saved in the nick of time by Madeline (she also saves the cat).
-A bandaged and repentant Pepito becomes a vegetarian and is so reformed he starts freeing animals from the zoo.
-The girls all love Pepito now and they watch him in his pajamas (and he them) through their adjoining windows.

Children's books are better weird.

Related: Babar Summarized or Why We Love Babar, Freeing the Elephants

July 6, 2008


"I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. They are strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deeprooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest." - - The Moon and Sixpence, W. Somerset Maugham
(via my wife's tackboard)

Semirelated: A Quote by H.G. Wells

June 4, 2008

We real cool

I haven't read or thought about this poem by Gwendolyn Brooks since high school but for reasons unexplained it has been running through my head all day:


We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

-Gwendolyn Brooks

April 18, 2008

Pablo Neruda's To the Foot From Its Child

A child's foot doesn't know it's a foot yet
And it wants to be a butterfly or an apple
But then the rocks and pieces of glass,
the streets, the stairways
and the roads of hard earth
keep teaching the foot that it can't fly,
that it can't be a round fruit on a branch.
Then the child's foot
was defeated, it fell
in battle,
it was a prisoner,
condemned to life in a shoe.

Little by little without light
it got acquainted with the world in its own way
without knowing the other imprisoned foot
exploring life like a blind man.

Those smooth toe nails
of quartz in a bunch,
got harder, they changed into
an opaque substance, into hard horn
and the child's little petals
were crushed, lost their balance,
took the form of a reptile without eyes,
with triangular heads like a worm's.
And they had callused over,
they were covered
with tiny lava fields of death,
a hardening unasked for.
But this blind thing kept going
without surrender, without stopping
hour after hour.
One foot after another,
now as a man,
or a woman,
through the fields, the mines,
the stores, the government bureaus,
outside, inside,
this foot worked with its shoes,
it hardly had time
to be naked in love or in sleep
one foot walked, both feet walked
until the whole man stopped.

And then it went down
into the earth and didn't know anything
because there everything was dark,
it didn't know it was no longer a foot
or if they buried it so it could fly
or so it could
be an apple.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
translated by Jodey Bateman (the original after the jump)

Continue reading Pablo Neruda's To the Foot From Its Child »

April 17, 2008

Jonathan Franzen on today's Shanghai

"The week before, when I'd arrived in Shanghai, my first impression of China had been that it was one of the most advanced places I'd ever seen. The scale of Shanghai, which from the sky had presented a dead-flat vista of tens of thousands of neatly arrayed oblong houses—each of which, a closer look revealed, was in fact a large apartment block—and then, on the ground, the brutally new skyscrapers and the pedestrian-hostile streets and the artificial dusk of the smoke-filled winter sky: it was all thrilling. It was as if the gods of world history had asked, 'Does somebody want to get into some really unprecedentedly deep shit?' and this place had raised its hands and said 'Yeah!'"
-Jonathan Franzen in the April 21, 2008 New Yorker

More on Franzen's trip to China here (audio link).

March 13, 2008

The Corpse Walker

Liao Yiwu has a knack for capturing stories from everyday people in China that manage to be both poetic and funny. I first encountered Yiwu's work via the Paris Review in this story about a peasant who in 1985 declared himself emperor of Sichuan province.

Yiwu has recently released a book titled The Corpse Walker which is a collection of interviews of people in the bottom rungs of Chinese society-morticians, lepers, professional mourners, etc. This short excerpt of an interview with a mortician is a good example of his writing:

An excerpt:

"Beauty doesn't last. It's bound to be destroyed. So many kind, good-looking people die each day. I work on their bodies, hoping to temporarily preserve and enhance their beauty before they are gone forever. I don't want to lose anyone anymore. The scariest part of life is not death but the loss that comes with death. My former boss died at the beginning of this year. He was not even seventy. I did the makeup for him. This guy had one hobby when he was alive. He collected wedding invitations when he was young, and when he turned fifty, he began to collect obituaries. His whole room was filled with his collections. He used to say that all obituaries sounded the same and that we Chinese people lack imagination in the use of language. He wanted his own obituary to be unique, so he began to compose it when he was still alive. He printed hundreds of copies and stored them in a drawer with his bank statements and his will. After he died, his friends showed one to Old Wang, the new Party secretary at the funeral home. Old Wang, who was going to preside over the memorial service, read it aloud to several people during rehearsal. Nobody could understand what the obituary was about. It was so archaic, it sounded like haiku. I didn't know half of the characters. It was handwritten. He must have read it hundreds of times before he died, hoping those would be the last words he left for the world. But the new Party secretary didn't think the obituary reflected the revolutionary spirit of the new era. So he composed a new one filled with modern political jargon, in a style that our past director had despised. Oh well, what can you do? This is China. You don't have much control when you are alive. When you die, you won't have control over your obituary either. "

September 25, 2007

A Theory

proust-on-his-deathbed.jpgProust on his deathbed by Man Ray
I've long held a little theory (unpopular amongst my friends) that great artists have only one story to tell and once they've told the perfect version of that story they are doomed. Nothing they do from that point on will ever be as good, their story has been told. Some artists escape by fashioning alternate versions of their story, never actually telling it perfectly, always leaving a bit of mystery in the center, always working their way around and around the one truth they know, but maybe these artists are doomed too as they will always fall short...

Anyway, tonight I happened upon something by Proust that suggests he had a similar conviction, "The great men of letters have never created more than a single work, or rather have never done more than refract through various mediums an identical beauty which they bring into the world."

Now he could have been saying that the great writers basically create a single universe, and that all his work is a shade of that universe, but given his other writing about the despair that comes from success I stand by my interpretation...

Don't know why I'm thinking about this at 3:14 in the morning. Enough. Goodnight.

March 18, 2007

Babar summarized or why we love Babar

Babar's mom is shot and killed by a hunter. He runs away the city where the little old lady adopts him. She hands him a purse full of money and marches into to a department store to buy a green suit and derby. With his fancy clothes he becomes something of a dandy, popular at dinner parties. By chance, he runs into his young cousins Celeste and Arthur who have run away from the jungle and takes them back home. On the same day he returns the elephant king eats a bad mushroom, turns green, and dies. Cornelius the oldest elephant anoints Babar king. Babar promptly marries his young cousin Celeste. On their honeymoon they are captured and almost eaten cannibals (of course strictly speaking cannibals eat each other while in this case they looked like they were going to eat Celeste, but you understand...). The honeymooners escape but are soon sold into slavery in a circus. Luckily they are saved by the old lady. On returning home they find the elephants are at war with the rhinos. With Babar's help the elephants defeat and humiliate the rhinos putting them in small cages. Eventually Babar builds a city of elephants (Well mainly elephants, Cornelius becomes the old lady's gentleman friend). Eventually Babar's wife has triplets while he's out smoking his pipe and shortly after their births the children are a) almost choked, b) accidently sent over a precipice and c) almost eaten by crocodiles.

As it was for me, this is one of my kid's favorite children's books.

February 27, 2007

The Leopard Muses on His Spots

I cannot change them,
I am told by you people
who apply the rule of leopards
to the two-legged ape
who fancies himself better
then those who go about on four.

Why would I wish to change them,
though they do little to blend
me to the gray walls of my cage?
I am not gifted to ask
myself or others what a spot is
or what a spot is not.
We are given what we have
and left with what we've got.

by Paul Ruffin
From Issue 169 of the Paris Review

December 13, 2006

The Other Shore

Gabriel García Márquez on marriage in Love in the Time of Cholera:

"Together they had overcome the daily incomprehension, the instantaneous hatred, the reciprocal nastiness, and fabulous flashes of glory in the conjugal conspiracy. It was time when they both loved each other best, without hurry or excess, when both were most conscious of and grateful for their incredible victories over adversity. Life would still present them with other moral trials, of course, but that no longer mattered: they were on the other shore."

September 26, 2006

Aesthetics of Being the Youngest of Four Sisters

Take a day off
While your sisters are working
Work on a day
When your sisters are taking off
Be bright in the kitchen
Be sullen in the pantry
Whey they listen to music, cough
Whey go to their lovers, be sultry
There is no solution
To being the youngest sister
The hottest summer day
To you is the most wintry
Take your shirt off
And read a while.

-Kenneth Koch

related: Maria Del Mar

September 25, 2006

John Hodgman on home towns

"Well, to some degree I was speaking of all home towns. In that, to the person who comes from a particular place — let us call it "Town X" — it is the most unique and interesting and important place in the world. It’s where you first experience most of the common stories that we all experience in life. So it has something of a mythic, novelistic quality to it. But then as you get older, you realize that you share experiences with a lot of older people. You also appreciate that every town is not only the most interesting place on earth, but also the most banal place on earth. Because everyone, more or less, has shared experiences that they go through that make a town seem important."

The full Phoenix interview, Radar Interview
Related: Daily Show Correspondents on the web, Mongolian Death Worms

September 21, 2006


I draw these letters
as the day draws its images
and blows over them
and does not return.

- Octovio Paz

August 10, 2006

Email from Tbone

"Once, a mangy groundhog meandered across a hundred yards of barren lawn to arrive at the feet of my father, brothers, and our family dog. The dog was the last to notice the new addition to our party. When the dog finally growled, the groundhog let out a terrifying, human scream, slumped to the ground, and was dead before anything touched it.

The scream bothered all of us for days."

July 5, 2006

Post Positive Adjectives

My friend JP plays an addictive little game coming up with phrases with post positive adjectives, adjectives that come after the noun, princess royal for example. As many of the phrases are of French origin, there is speculation the first of these were Normanisms that became an acceptable English form. Indeed many these phrases are legalisms which would make sense as many legal concepts became codified into English law shortly after the Norman conquest (The Normans added a hefty dose of bureaucracy and centralization to Anglo-Saxon legal affairs).

An interesting side panel on both the plural form and the proper hyphenation of court martial can be found in the middle of this page.

Some examples of phrases with post positive adjectives:

ambassador plenipotentiary
bar sinister
fiddlers three
judge advocate general
time past
mother superior
rhyme royal
chaise longue
moment supreme
battle royal...

Do any more come to mind?

May 28, 2006


I've been enjoying a bit of Hemingway tonight... A few first paragraphs...

Trout Fishing in Europe, November 17, 1923
"Bill Jones went to visit a French financier who lives near Deauville and has a private trout stream. The financier was very fat. He stream was very thin."

A.D. in Africa: A Tanganyika Letter, April 1934
"To write this sort of thing you need a typewriter. To describe, to narrate, to make funny cracks you need a typewriter. To fake along, to stall, to make light reading, to write a good piece, you need luck, two or more drinks and a typewriter. Gentlemen, there is no typewriter."

On the Blue Water: A Gulf Stream Letter, April 1936
"Certainly there is no hunting like the hunting of man and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never really care for anything else thereafter. You will meet them doing various things with resolve, but their interest rarely holds because after the other thing ordinary life is as flat as the taste of wine when the taste buds have been burned off your tongue. Wine, when your tongue has been burned clean with lye, feels like puddle water in your mouth, while mustard feels like axle-grease, and you can smell crisp, fried bacon, but when you taste it, there is only a feeling of crinkly lard."

May 13, 2006

Frank Sinatra Has A Cold

Square America has posted some fantastic vintage nightclub photos over at Swapatorium.

The images brought to mind "Frank Sinatra has a Cold" by Gay Talese which is often cited as one of the all time greatest magazine stories. The piece originally appeared in the April 1966 Esquire. If you don't know the article, I recommend first listening to Act IV of the This American Life show titled Sinatra featuring Mr. Talese reading an excerpt from his essay. Then when you are done, read the full article (pdf download, web version). Once you've heard Mr. Talese, you'll read the article with his rich voice and word cadence in your head. The article is fairly long so I recommend the pdf version.

May 8, 2006

Lisa's Seutonius Series

Tonight I discovered the blog of Lisa Eisenbrey and I did something I rarely do which is read it all the way through. (Hello there Lisa if you happen to be reading this, you made me a) laugh b) miss Austin). The whole blog is great, but I was particularly taken by her Seutonius series (Caesar V, Caesar IV, Caesar III, and Caesars I & II) which distills The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius into amusing lists. (More on Suetonius at livius.org).

Often historians interpret these emperors' erratic actions as madness or inbreeding and of course that was sometimes undoubtedly what was going on, but my thought is this: Is it possible to look at the lives of these some of these emperors and not see madness, but a kind of extreme logic born of a life in which you are told you are a living god ruling over the known world. Aren't many of the extravagences and cruelties of these men simply the capricious whims of the id unchecked by the ego? Don't all ugly bald men like Caligula secretly want to kill the handsome well coifed men they encounter?

February 9, 2006

I always forget how much I love Raymond Carver

Two Worlds

In air heavy
with odor of crocuses,

sensual smell of crocuses,
I watch a lemon sun disappear,

a sea change blue
to olive black.

I watch lightning leap from Asia as

my love stirs and breathes and
sleeps again,

part of this world and yet
part that.

-Raymond Carver

December 2, 2005

Happy Palace

Boing Boing calls Happy Palace, a blog of found images, music, and text hypnotic. I agree. The editor has a keen eye (and ear).

found in the archives:

Poem by Lawrence Raab, originally published in The Virginia Quarterly Review.


I can't remember how old I was,
but I used to stand in front
of the bathroom mirror, trying to imagine
what it would be like to be dead.
I thought I'd have some sense of it
if I looked far enough into my own eyes,
as if my gaze, meeting itself, would make
an absence, and exclude me.

It was an experiment, like the time
Michael Smith and I set a fire in his basement
to prove something about chemistry.
It was an idea: who I would
or wouldn't be at the end of everything,
what kind of permanence I could imagine.

In seventh grade, Michael and I
were just horsing around
when I pushed him up against that window
and we both fell through -
astonished, then afraid. Years later

his father's heart attack
could have hit at any time,
but the day it did they'd quarreled,
and before Michael walked out
to keep his fury alive, or feel sorry for himself,
he turned and yelled, I wish you were dead!

We weren't in touch. They'd moved away.
And I've forgotten who told me
the story, how ironic it was meant
to sound, or how terrible.

We could have burned down the house.
We could have been killed going through
that window. But each of us
desereves, in a reasonable life,
at least a dozen times when death
doesn't take us. At the last minute

the driver of the car coming toward us
fights off sleep and stays in his lane.
He makes it home, we make it home.
Most days are like this. You yell
at your father and later you say
you didn't mean it. And he says, I know.

You look into your own eyes in a mirror
and that's all you can see.
Until you notice the window
behind you, sunlight on the leaves
of the oak, and then the sky,
and then the clouds passing through it.

November 11, 2005

The Motel Chronicles

I'm a big Sam Shepard fan. This is an excerpt from the Motel Chronicles, a book I reread now and then:

They caught him with a stolen print of a cottonwood tree. He was in the parking lot cramming it into the bed of his pickup. When they asked him why, he told them he wasn't sure why. He told them it gave him this feeling.

He told them he saw himself inside this picture lying on his back underneath the cottonwood. He said he recognized the tree from an old dream and that the dream was based on a real tree he dimly remembered from a long time ago in his childhood. He remembered lying down underneath this tree and staring up through the silver leaves.

He remembered voices from those leaves but he couldn't remember what the voices said of who they belong to.

He told them he was hoping the picture would bring the whole thing back.

May 22, 2005


I'm not much on poetry, but I found this one cut out from the New York Times Book Review dated 2/16/91. I had used it as a bookmark in a dictionary (it was in the W's) and I kinda like it.


My favorite in the box of 64
Was Prussian Blue, rich with its hint
Of green, blue enough to suggest
An exotic 19th-century
Militaristic world.

I'd have colored everything Prussian Blue-
Except tree trunks, hands and faces -
But it had to be carefully rationed
Lest, its paper cover stripped away,
It would wear down to nothing.

Without it: prosaic Umber and Sienna,
Yellow-Green, the all-but useless White.
Adult life, I assumed, is when you own
All the Prussian Blue you'll ever need
To color anything you want.


April 30, 2005

Maria Del Mar

I found this picture today of my grandparents, my dad and his sister on vacation in Tampico. Nobody looks like they are having much fun, but I remember my grandmother talking about this trip with great fondness despite having to endure many meals with the smell of fish. My grandmother, a product of the desert and inland ranchers, was a great hater of fish.

Does anyone else find it sad that these types of photo places with painted backgrops are dissapearing? Like drive in movies and a good malted they are tokens of another age.

Here is another one of these images, one of my favorites, a famous one featuring Lorca and Buñel. Lorca appear to be rather serious. Perhaps Buñel bullied him into posing.

There is a poet I like named Kenneth Koch. He has a long series of short poems called Aesthetics. They are all just a few lines... for example:

Aesthetics of Saying Goodbye to a Friend

Walk her to the place
Where she can get a taxi
And say good-bye
If she is wearing
An overcoat
Place one hand
On her shoulder-or if she is not
Shake hands, embrace

Aesthetics of Harshness to a Horse

You should never be harsh
To a horse. A horse is always doing
Its best. Otherwise it is a bad horse
And harshness has no effect.

anyway one is titled the Aestetcs of Lorca and I rather like it:
Aesthetics of Lorca

Federico Garcia Lorca stands alone
Luna, typewriter, plantain tree, and dust
The moon is not just watching him, it is watching over him.

April 12, 2005


I was scanning a children's book I picked up in Mongolia for some of the illustrations, when I began to notice that the images taken together give a portrait of a somewhat harsh life:

. . . .


Notes on the Bashgali Language by Colonel J. Davidson of the Indian Staff Corps, Calcutta 1901, a collection of 1,744 common Bashgali sentences with English translations. The sentences give a disturbing impression of life in Chitral at that time. I originally came across these in Eric Newby's excellent travel adventure A Short Walk in The Hindu Kush.. Chitral is in current day Pakistan/Afganistan.

Some of the sentences in Notes on the Bashgali Language

-If you have had diarrhoea many days you will surely die.

-Don't drink water; a snake will grow in your bowel.

-I saw a corpse in the field this morning.

-Thy father fell into the river.

-I have nine fingers, you have ten.

-The dwarf has come to ask for food.

-I had an intention to kill you.

-A gust of wind came and took off all my clothes.

-An eagle came down from the sky and took off my cock.

-You are a very jabbering man.

-Why do you kick my horse? I will kick you.

-Why do you push me? I will kill your son.

-I will sleep now. If you try to kill me I will curse your children's children.

-How long have you been a leper?

The book ends with a short section of dialogs. They also are slightly unsettling. An example:

-I have seen your yellow dog by the river.

-My dog is spotted and is scared of water.

-That spotted dog maimed my child.

-Your child is stupid and should not have provoked it.

September 10, 2004

The Irresistible Beauty of all things

A recent issue of Harpers turned me on to a book titled Sebastian's Arrows: Letters and Mementos of Salvador Dali and Federico Garcia Lorca. I happened to find an advance copy. While Surrealist writings don't usually do it for me, Lorca's lecture "Imagination, Inspiration, Evasion" alone is worth the cost of admission.

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