Sunday, December 23, 2007

New Tricks from An Old Dog

It is said that a man's home is his castle - and that by extension the heart of his domicile, the commode, is his throne.

I suppose that is why the old-timers called the bathroom mirror the "loo king glass."

Good heavens, the kettle! -

In addition to my own upcoming treatise on the symphony (see below), our publishing outfit has a few other upcoming releases.
With solemn pomp we proudly present the first translation into English of the poetry of the renowned Austrian stylist, Heinrich Kleidermotte, in a handsome volume as slender and sturdy as a caryatid's wrist.

Kleidermotte flourished in Vienna in the latter half of the 19th century; people generally took a dim view of 'flourishing' in those days, and he was prematurely silenced. Our collection of epigrams, villanelles and grocery lists collates nearly all that escaped his tormented nibs, in a pithy and accurate translation by brace of grad students interested in that sort of thing.

Available in carefully-bound, hand-tooled calfskin, as well as the usual vegan options.
Also to be published in the upcoming weeks, the eagerly-awaited magnum opus by our own uncle, Shamael: his long-planned new translation of Gilgamesh, along with the first appearance of certain recently-uncovered Sumerian poems "of a smutty nature," as he explained it.

This stunning bilingual edition has the added attraction of being inscribed in cuneiform (and an equivalent font for the English half) on clay tablets.

Its price is $29.99 plus shipping (estimated at around $500 for domestic shipments). Order yours in advance!

A Reader's Challenge: We've received a missive from a Mr. Norbert of Rhode Island, who shares, "I have recently come into a quantity of chutney - the hot lime stuff. It's fine served alongside the usual roghan joshes and vindaloos, but we only eat that once or twice a month. Do your readers have any unusual suggestions for other applications? Salad dressings? Cocktails?"


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thirty Short Italian Expressionist Films About the Seaside

  • An ailing doctor on curative sabbatical meets a man playing a double-role as the Mysterious Waiter and the Ominous Oyster Salesman (the duality of Eros and Thanatos, but of course).
  • A young witch mixes sand, blood and olive oil for a dawn seaside ritual. The sun rises on a voodoo sand doll.
  • She says no, he says why not, she says well then, he says don't be petty, she says enough of this cosmetic conversation, he says let's sit, she says and wait for what, etc. etc. etc.
  • A gelato salesman is not optimistic about business on this last day of summer.
  • A seaside squall keeps three generations of vacationing women in a beach cabin. Tired allusions to Chekhov ensue.
  • An Angolan lad and a Chinese girl have only a sketchy Esperanto as a shared language, as they dally and tarry amongst the waves.
  • An empty boat sinks. A seagull mourns. Close-up shot of fish entrails.
  • A woman, apparently a recent divorcee, is inconsolable as her mother attempts in turn to sympathize and reason with her, interspliced with time-elapsed shots of ants devouring a peeled orange on the pavement.
  • A hotel banquet is ruined by a nasty tiff between an imperious maitre d' and a long-suffering waiter.
  • Two Armenian businessmen plan a venture of dubious legality while the body of a refugee washes ashore in the background.
  • A wig blows about the beach, briefly changing the personalities of people as it lands on their heads - often with hilarious results.
  • A boy chases after seagulls while his mother entertains the notion of a tryst with a foreign banker in Speedos.
  • An old woman slowly tosses an aged bundle of love letters into the sea one by one while recalling the war years.
  • A fashionable young woman with a haughty Florentine accent causes a scene wearing a bikini made of bananas and diamonds.
  • Three dogs sniff and snoop about the carcass of a giant washed-up fish while a quartet of aging street musicians performs in a ruined building.
  • A mix-up involving two near-identical pleasure boats puts a young man in danger of losing his virginity.
  • A countess finds her reputation ruined by the discovery of a forgotten peccadillo.
  • An aging Colombian novelist and a young Algerian boy muse in French about intransigence.
  • Two hitmen reflect how their lives might have been different, over substandard cappuccinos.
  • The aquarium becomes a garden of delights to a young woman awakening to her potent sexuality.
  • Two old, old women in all-black complain about everything for a long, long time.
  • A sailor gone AWOL tries to get rid of a cache of ivory he's smuggled ashore. The sound of African drums haunts him everywhere he goes.
  • The objects that fall out of beach-goers' pockets reveal intimacies about their owners' lives.
  • Five boys around a midnight beach fire imagine they're castaways and tell ghost stories, until one goes too far.
  • After his near-drowning, a woman realizes her son no longer belongs to her. Music by Puccini.
  • An American lunch-meat magnate decides life is passing him by and resolves to study Renaissance painting.
  • A barber reveals that the condition of most people's scalps disgusts him, and that he can only be aroused by the sight of a woman's hat in an empty room.
  • A strange infestation of stinging jellyfish causes a small resort town to re-examine its past and fear for its future.
  • A successful Kurdish photographer on holiday is slowly driven to madness by what he describes in endless letters to his mistress as "an overabundance of form."
  • The sun rises on a shore that remains resolutely empty for a very long shot. Sounds of gulls and distant machinery. The voice of a gruff young man off-camera picked up by a wind-swept boom mike announcing, "There are no fresh ones to be had this time of year" abruptly ends the film.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Bracing Tonic

I recently called in upon an old friend, a florist, to see about procuring a bouquet for the St. Lucy's Feast table setting. His atelier is a singular domain; armed with aught but the tiniest of anvils and the most diminutive hammers, petal by airy petal he painstakingly crafts each flower by hand in a fashion quite forgotten since the time of our fathers' fathers.

He even makes his own pollen on site - fresh every morning! - according to a top-secret family recipe. I gather it's something like a sourdough-starter; the batch they've got going now was started some 113 years ago by the grand-pere.

Quite extraordinary!


Last night I was up until the ghastly hours painstakingly editing the final draft of my upcoming (towering) tome on The Symphony. Less a history of the genre than a philosophical conversation with the symphony, if you will. It seemed the correct approach to that most public and discursive of musical forms.

What is it about a composer's symphonies that we inevitably view them as a cycle? No other musical output is subjected to the same psycho-biographical analysis. Your Tom Quill can slop any number of sonatas out of his inkwell; we rate them for charm and effect, sure enough, but it never occurs to us to divine the scribbler's life story in their crabbed notes. But let him set his mind to work on what was (once) that most mundane of tasks, creating a symphony, and the game is afoot!

Yet the hardest thing of all is to write one's First Symphony. And the hardest part of that is starting it. Once you've got a few notes down (how herculean that towering achievement itself is, how rarely the audience knows!) the rest comes about of its own accord, which is to say, according to the ever-shifting rules of the game.

The difficulty in beginning one's first symphony is precisely due to the previously-noted fact that one's symphony-cycle is the grand vehicle which will carry the weight of its author's life story. The nature of one symphony directly impinges upon and forms the nature of the next in the series.

For example: if one's first symphony takes on a titanic, triumphant air (finally, I've got the damn thing done!), by rule the second symphony must be lyrical, quite personal in tone. It follows then that one's third symphony must wear an austere mantle, formed of cold counterpoint, so that one's fourth symphony may sing in simple spring airs. Then one's fifth symphony must perforce strike a tragic (O lacrimae rerum!) chord (it helps if there's been a war or some local skirmish recently) so that one's sixth symphony in balance may express some deeply civic joy, if not outright pomp.

And so on.

Of course it follows that if your First Symphony is rather a tender love letter to an illicit mistress (or mister) filled with secret, merry allusions and the sounds of shifting chemises, then your second symphony must answer that in no uncertain terms of Love Undone; drafty garrets; Dostoevskian cynicism; the dying embers of life's flame. Only to be alleviated by a neo-classical Third. And so on.

In short, the careful listener will always find a certain affinity (albeit on ever-higher vibratory planes) between a composer's various odd-numbered symphonies, and a certain (other) correspondence betwixt his (her) even-numbered ones.


I suppose we have that Grand Sire of the Ball, Mssr. Haydn, to blame for all this symphony mess, even if his enviable inflorescence is rarely read biographically. The task would be herculean, of course.

While the master's prolific output is well-attested, what is not generally known is that Haydn in fact has continued to compose the things, even after his death. The most recent tabulations estimate that there are now somewhere in the realm of 27 trillion Haydn symphonies, bearing nearly every conceivable nickname (affectionately applied by various admirers): The "Doorknob" Symphony, the "Lobster Thermidor" Symphony, the "Glass of Water" Symphony, and so on.

It has likewise been estimated that the sheer weight of Haydn's symphonies thus constitute the single largest body in the known universe - were they to be collected in one spot, of course.


I was discussing the final draft of my soon-to-be-published discourse on (with) the symphony with a colleague at the office, when the charwoman, laboring within earshot in the background, ceased her scouring perambulations, leaned upon the mop and fixed me a hard stare.

"And I suppose your book has precious little to mention about the symphonies of Honegger?" she pronounced in her heavily-accented "English."

I confessed that there was in fact precious little mention of the set, beyond a brief account of Karajan's celebrated battle with a few of 'em.

"They never mention Honegger..." she snorted, and returned to her moppery.

I had quite forgotten that in the Old Country, she had been a countess (or perhaps a baroness, I forget) whose family was known for entertaining various artists at their craggy chalets overlooking various moraines, back in the more felicitous decades of the previous century. Doubtless le Honegger was one of the more distinguished guests. Perhaps he dandled the young countess on his knee and laughed as she recounted one of the merry folk songs of her native land.

The smell of pipe-smoke never fails to bring him back to memory!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The soft sough of tires on wet asphalt...

The squelch of thick brown puree of leaves underneath leaky shoes. Umbrellas bobbing in the air like unfurled fruit-bats. The stunned, incessant tapping of the Last Fly of Autumn against the dirty pane. December!


A Mrs. Evelyn Jones of Carmathen, Wales responds to yesterday's prematurely vernal epigram in the Anglo (Saxon) with a seasonally-appropriate rejoinder in the tongue of her elders:

Eiry mynydd, gwynn pob tu;
kynnevin bran a chanu,
ny daw da o drachyscu.

Roughly put: "Snowy mountain, everywhere white; the raven is used to singing. No good comes from sleeping late."

That lapidary little tercet is to be found firmly lodged in that weighty tome of Celtic bard-dom, the Red Book of Hergest. The translation was supplied us by Mrs. Jones herself; if you can propose a better one, be hergest!


A new product from the Ramen City Literature Laboratory tentatively trods its first steps from the bubbling beakers to the palettes of a discerning public. An ultra-compressed, quizzical form of short story for our hurried times' harried readers. Here is our soft-narrative developers' first example of this new genre:


Do you see that you may read the story from left to right, or from top to bottom and arrive at the same conclusion? We shall open the floor to vigorous theological debate as to whether the Essenes could conceivably be the sort of persons aroused by dream colors.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Nu scylun hergan...

Winter sceal geweorpan
weder eft cuman
sumor swegle hat,
sund unstille
deop deada waeg
dyrne bid lengest.
Holen sceal inaeled
yrfe gedaeled
deades monnes.
Dom bid selast. the Da used to say.

But enough of these premature presentiments of Spring. It's been quite a bustling month already at the Ramen City International Headquarters; copy editors scurrying along the ramparts and battlements, fresh galleys in hand; presses squealing like a linguist who's just discovered a new fluid-s language tucked away on a forgotten peninsula.

Still, your editor finds the time to uncork a youthful madeira through whose tawny medium he views the world's vagaries with bemusement. Not to mention viewing our dear readers' letters.

First on our pile of reader's letters is this rather curious missive: "Chazzakh! Kit tebs mawf ash-shagh ariko vanda stems khanta? Tarraf ad-kumat'ia."

Fortunately I've retained in my possession a most singular monocle, ingeniously crafted by perfidious warlocks. Hewn from a single sheet of golden mica
of an uncertain provenance and prepared under strict qabbalistic jiggery-pokery, it allows me to decipher the archangelic sigils in which the above-cited epistle was cunningly wrought.

In short, our reader asks, "Sir, could you provide us with a recipe extolling the virtues of the herb tarragon? I don't mean a Bearnaise sauce, either."

With pleasure: I enjoy a fillet of sole cooked in lemon juice flavored with mushrooms, green onions, paprika and a liberal dose of fresh-chopped tarragon. The essence of lightness and zest.

In our second letter, a young Zlatko Altandziev of Kalinkovo village, (People's) (Republic of) Macedonia requests that we "provide further examples of native English speakers' embarrassingly public errors involving misuse of vocabulary - for our general edification."


Take this from a recent edition of Yahoo News:

"The League already took on the movie world in 2006 to denounce the blockbuster "The Da Vinci Code" and its central tenant that Jesus Christ had a child by Mary Magdalene..."

While the Messiah's apartment may have been located in the center of His housing estate -I'm no expert on sacred geomancy- surely it's within the central tenet of the aforementioned dubious tract we are to understand the illicit tryst to have occurred. Or not.

Our final letter today wends its way softly to us from a Mrs. Joseph Leighton of Tulsa, OK, who asks that we "see your way to supplying us with a brief description of the noted Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu's cantata The Prophecy of Isaiah."

Nothing would give us greater pleasure; one of Martinu's final works before his untimely passing, an aura of gloomy resignation enshrouds the work, not unlike that we find delicately wreathed about the Mozart Requiem. An ominous trumpet snakes its way throughout the piece, tolling funereally like a submerged bell from some cathédrale engloutie.

The text, notably, contains no citations from Moravian folk poetry this time 'round, but is supplied entirely from the Bible. It is for male chorus. Curious readers eager to hear highlights of this terminal masterpiece may catch me down pub of a Friday eve (the later the better), when a warm, personal recital will be provided upon request.