December 30, 2011


For my family, especially the much too-good-for-me husband, my dear friends, and for you, every last one of you.  Bonne santé!
For the title of the Paul Simon CD: "So Beautiful….or So What.”  Despite all I know, despite all I fear, I’m voting for “so beautiful.” Who wouldn't, really?
For my most enjoyed line in a 2011 Movie: "Light the fuse."  Tom Cruise, at the end of the title sequence of "Mission Impossible, Ghost Protocol."
For the best verbal exchange:
Parent: “If you draw the line, what color do you use?” 
Child (with no need to think): “Revenge Red.”

On to 2012.  Warm(ed) wishes.  I will return, mark your calendars friends.

December 28, 2011

Pandora’s News

This has been quite a year - for philandering.  All of this sordid business ought to have remained personal.  There have been political scandal sheets and prurient pamphlets throughout history. In the United States these reach back to Jefferson, through Jackson, unto Lincoln and beyond.
With the understanding that private matters are private, the responsible parties and those in authority politely overlooked such allegations, even if accompanied by outright proof. Only recently has such reportage been elevated into the atmosphere of legitimate news.
With a voracious appetite for the lascivious and a wider market thereby created for it, modern media opened a Pandora’s Box which has seriously eroded the public square’s foundations.
At least as far back as the Regency era it was reasonable to assume that almost anyone within the upper classes, socially and politically, could very well be one’s own literal cousin (or perhaps closer) by blood, though less frequently by marriage. Contrary to popular belief, this was not restricted to royalty but often encompassed both the aristocracy and commoners who had become notable through deed or talent. One keen example is Lord Nelson and his much maligned Lady Hamilton. Although lampooned by the aforementioned scandal sheets, Sir William Hamilton had no misapprehensions as to the true father of his child by Emma. Neither had he any qualms, it seems.
And why should he? The septuagenarian and his much younger wife lived in agreeable circumstances in a home shared with the national hero, whom Sir William greatly admired. It provided William with a child he never expected to have, and historians agree that this situation was congenial for all concerned.  Back then if a man’s wife found herself pregnant and her husband recognized the child as his own, it was no one else’s affair. Literally. The child’s actual father was no secret in most circles. Yet Lord Nelson still attended and addressed the House of Lords and was later famously called upon to defeat Napoleon at Trafalgar. Would England have been better served had he been politically ostracized and permanently outcast?
Returning to our own time (or very nearly) is Gore Vidal’s excellent screenplay for The Best Man.  The drama is set during a fictional 1960s presidential primary convention.  Upon learning that a candidate is poised to win the nomination, his chief rival chides a kingmaker ex-president that he has evidence his competitor has been unfaithful to his wife. The elder’s response? “I couldn’t care less….A lot of men need a lot of women, and there are worse faults, let me tell you.” And the matter was considered closed. Then, it would have been.
Today it is not. In fact, the entire subject never is closed. Apparently it is everyone’s business to not only comment, but to make sport and profit off what should be delegated to the personal realm. As long as there are men, there will be women.
As in everything, there are exceptions. Relations with young political staffers can hardly be consensual and are close to pedophilic. An official who wanders off to Argentina in the middle of a session is less a case of sexual straying than someone with a serious mental impairment. But these are the exeptions not the rule.
Must weakness of the flesh defeat every other kind of strength? Kennedy had many weaknesses yet for all his detriments one would prefer a president to decide the outcome of a missile crisis rather than a Marilyn Monroe.
An elected official sexual orientation really matters in wider policy except as it can be used as blackmail. If such consenting acts were not so celebrated and aggrandized by responsible-media-cum-tabloid-television, they could not be used with such ease.
This is largely the result of a general fusion between actual news and amateurish behavioral studies which permeates an entire industry. Political policy is news; politicians’ personal peccadilloes are not.
Alas, things seem to be getting worse. The people grow ever more salacious. Who is enlightened by this “news”?  Does it enhance anyone’s lives at all?  No. These revelations are acts of gross destruction which greatly damage, if not ruin lives, many of them blameless.  This is not politics. This is not morality. This is fodder for the coliseum mob.

December 22, 2011


"They'll sell you thousands of greens.  Veronese green and emerald green and cadmium green and any sort of green you like; but that particular green, never."-

December 21, 2011

December 31, 999

As one of the most tumultuous years in recent memory fades into wintry darkness, we face the giant black wall of 2012—The Year It’s All Supposed to End (again).
An Indian guru prognosticates that 2012 will usher in Kali Yuga’s degeneracy, space cadet Terence McKenna prophesied that 2012 would take us to “Timewave Zero,” and a popular interpretation of the Maya calendar says the curtains will forever fall at 11:11AM on December 21, 2012.
Well, well, may I share some historical perspective on doomsday prophecies with you?
The Pope and his two pupils, Robert the Pious of France and the Emperor Otto III, were of one mind. The year 1000 would very likely mean the end of the world, the Day of Days, Christ's return as Judge, long predicted for this fateful date. Pope Sylvester II, the famous Gerbert of Aurillac, the leading scholar of the age and the first Frenchman to occupy the Papal See, was awaiting the New Year in Rome. Otto III, great-grandson of the founder of the ruling house of Saxony, son of the Byzantine princess Theophano, scanned the heavens for portents of terror this same New Year's Eve in Ravenna.
The masses, too, had spent the year in great fear. There had been famine, pestilence, and the horrors of war. Terrible things had happened in Rome and the Papal Palace before Gerbert ascended St. Peter's throne in February, 999. Now men hoped for miracles. Heavenly signs had been seen in many monasteries. Many people had made over their worldly goods to the Church, in order to be able to appear before the Eternal Judge in a proper state. Others had become hermits, or had entered one of the many new monasteries that had arisen in the wake of the movement of monastic revival and reform which had originated at the Monastery of Cluny in France.
A Dijon monk, Radulph Glaber, repeated predictions that had been on people's lips for centuries: "Satan sera bientot deschaine, les mille ans elant accomplis" (Satan shall straight be loosed when the thousand years have run their course). A terrible meteor had appeared in the heavens and men saw fiery armies battling above the clouds.
"Men's belief in the end of the world was aroused by the approach of the fateful date and stimulated by prodigies," concluded Henry Focillon in his book, The Year 1000. "A nameless fear took hold of mankind."
The terror that many had expected of this New Year's Day failed to come about. Some people merely decided to wait for Easter Sunday instead: this year it would be March 25th-at once Annunciation and Whitsuntide. But Doomsday did not come.
The year 1000 was not crucial to world history, and people realized that they had prepared themselves for paradise unnecessarily.
People began to find their way about on Earth again. If God had not annihilated the 1,000 year Reign of Sin during the night of December 31, 999, then He was unlikely to decide on a new date in the foreseeable future. That same Dijon monk, Radulph Glaber, now recorded in his History of the World that "some three years after the year, the earth was covered with a white mantle of churches."
The white mantle of churches grew grey with age. Only their stones remained as witness to the aspirations of a mankind that believed itself redeemed once again. But none who had lived through it ever forgot the fear of those last minutes before the bells tolled midnight on New Year's Eve, the expectation of an implacable Judgment which would find every man hopelessly mired in sin. For in the fifty-ninth minute of December 31, 999, men were afraid -mortally afraid.
All Ages of Man are periods marked by faith and by a guilty conscience.  Ergo, doomsday prognostications always spur the will to repent and quench every other impulse of the human heart.

December 16, 2011

I came across . . .

 . . . the most sparkling definition of decadence by the poet Paul Verlaine.

“I love this word decadence, all shimmering in purple and gold. It suggests the subtle thoughts of ultimate civilization, a high literary culture, a soul capable of intense pleasures. It throws off bursts of fire and the sparkle of precious stones. It is redolent of the rouge of courtesans, the games of the circus, the panting of the gladiators, the spring of wild beasts, the consuming in flames of races exhausted by their capacity for sensation, as the tramp of an invading army sounds.”

December 12, 2011

Cliché, it's French for woman.

I'm off to lunch with a friend I have not seen for more than 20 years. I have been advised that French women are masters of dissimulation.  Apparently when you're at a dinner party with them you actually think they're eating as much as you are but they never are.  Yes, yes it's the oft-repeated portion control bit and all things in moderation, etc.  But what's so amazing is they actually seem to be having a grand time with only one flute of champagne.  Go figure. And yet, Credence insists we must never say "non" to pleasure.  O.K., works for me.
But surely there's more to being a Frenchwoman than not eating a whole portion of anything and knowing who Simone de Beauvoir is, even if you do not, strictly speaking, know anything she ever said.
This enduring cliché of French womanhood is retrogressive and seem to have halted circa Dangerous Liaisons. They are keen on their underwear; they take time to relax and apply their various creams; they do not need to assert themselves as equals to men because they are already three steps ahead and if he appears to be in charge, that is just because he has been distracted by her underwear and hasn't realised he's been stitched up like a kipper.
Of course, this is all bilge. French women, I'm sure, don't think of themselves like this any more than British women think of themselves as foul-mouthed alcopop-hounds who eat a lot of fried food. But you cannot escape the implications — that here is a land where they never had anything as vulgar as a sexual revolution, where women are still, eternally, women, where they get their own way with their cat-like cunning, not with unattractive shouting. And what do you know? They are exactly the same as you; as successful as you, as educated as you, as well-paid as you; they have come to the same endpoint, only they are thinner.
If I haven't potentially ruined your holidays, may I suggest you treat them the way a Frenchwoman would. Indulge within reason and make up for any disturbing variations on the scale in January. January is a rather down month anyway. You might as well go with the flow Eat, Drink and…
just take a long stroll through beautiful Paris.  I think I found the answer to their secret.

December 10, 2011

The Paris underworld

“…somehow beautiful, as it flits with its lantern restlessly up and down the dark corridors.”
~Virginia Woolf

"Avez-vous vu un fantôme?" I asked the man at the ticket counter.
"Je ne sais pas" was his reply. The man smiled and shrugged his shoulders.  In the eternal night of underground Paris, secrecy is sacrosanct, creating a subculture with its own code and names.

I suppose you know, said Clive the Man about Paris that you are sitting on an underground river.  It turns out he's wrong for once: we may be sitting over underground hot springs, quarries, canals, cemeteries, mushrooms, shrimp and fig trees, but not a river. The age-old story of an underground river that flows across Paris is pure hogwash, according to Georges Verpraet's weird guidebook to subterranean Paris called, naturally enough, Paris: Capitale Souterraine.
Freshwater shrimp live under the Denfert-Rochereau Metro station near Montparnasse, traces of Stone Age mammoths have been found on the Left Bank's Rue Violet, and in 1954 geologists struck oil in the Paris substrata.
The traffic jams on the Boulevard Richard Lenoir cover a mile long underground canal through which over 10,000 tons of barge traffic pass each day. Under the nearby column in the Place de la Bastille lie several heroes, some Merovingian bones that were put there by mistake, and an imperfectly preserved mummy that the Louvre had to get rid of in a hurry.
Under other parts of Paris there are bank vaults, nightclubs, wine cellars, an antique store, offices, and the remains of mineral springs that once made Passy and Auteuil fashionable spas. Under the Marche St. Honore, near the Concorde, lies an up-to-date bomb shelter.

Scholars before M. Verpraet have been fascinated by underground Paris. In the 19th century, archaeologist Theodore Vacquer discovered such important ruins as the baths of Cluny, while in our own time Armand Vire, of the Museum of Natural History in Paris, has found forty-four of molluscs living under the pavements, and many strange mutated creatures that were always white, translucent and blind.  In 1944 two botanists decided to study plant life along the Paris Metro lines. They found no fewer than 200 species. They hit pay dirt under the Jaures Metro stop, where they discovered a veritable kitchen garden of peas, tomatoes, peach, apple, chestnut, date and fig trees-all apparently grown from vegetables and pits that strap-hangers had tossed away. From 1812 to about seventy years ago, the most famous underground flora in town was, of course, the champignon de Paris, the common button mushroom that was grown in disused quarries located in such places as Chaillot and Menilmontant. The quarries, which were in use from Roman times until about 1910, provided gypsum and limestone for Notre Dame and other Paris monuments.
With 300 kilometres of tunnels, the quarries have provided excellent hiding places for criminals, martyrs, magicians and vagabonds.  Marat ducked into the tunnels below Montmartre in 1789 and Louis XIV contemplated hiding with his family under the Tuileries. In 1943, the tunnels of St. Denis served as an escape route for twelve captured British soldiers.
More obvious, there are 2,000 kilometres of sewers under Paris and, of course, the catacombs. Unlike the catacombs of Rome, which served as a refuge for early Christians, these are just 250 years old. They came into being when it was decided, for reasons of public health, to close down cemeteries in the centre of the city.  By 1871, 30 cemeteries had been emptied and workmen had made decorative pyramids from the loose bones. As a result Catholics and Protestants, revolutionaries and aristocrats, Rabelais and St. Clotilde all lie brachium to brachium.
Fascinating, if you dig that sort of thing.

December 8, 2011

Tis the Season for a Ho, Ho, Ho . . .

I always get a bit contemplative this time of year. I suddenly cease to be any fun at parties, preferring to dwell on the year past and my explorations into the world of the Santa Dash have taken an unexpected turn and I have gone to the Dark Side of Christmas.
I was going to share some festive fun with most appropriate carols for a variety of holiday conditions, but couldn't recall where I came across the list.  So here is my idea of a ho, ho, ho.

"The holiday season is upon us, in case the endless Jingle Bell Rock loop at Starbucks hasn’t given it away."
-Jon Stewart


...who can write worth a damn ever writes in peace. ~Charles Bukowski

Paris mon amour

We saw this great picture of Beckett. "Look Beckett laughing, have you ever seen this before ?" Clive asked. 

And of course Steve Jobs everywhere.