Where English Fails

A Word With Too Many Meanings

It is said that the Inuits have some fifty different words for snow, covering snowflakes, frost, fine snow particles, drifting particles, clinging particles, fallen snow, deep snow, and so on almost ad infinitum. And yet, the English language has this one word—love—which covers a whole host of emotions, from liking an inanimate thing, to strong affection for a person, to to attachment to one’s children, to copulation, to a score of zero in tennis, and so on.

When one tells a woman one loves her, it could mean any of a number of things, ranging from a momentary feeling of affection to a lifetime of devotion.

I became more conscious of this lack while reading a fascinating book published in 1942 by Austin Tappan Wright called Islandia. In it, there are four terms for love, with the Greek equivalents in Italics:

  • Apia, sexual attraction (eros)
  • Ania, desire for marriage and commitment (storge)
  • Amia, love of friends (philia)
  • Alia, love of place, family lineage, and the land (heimat)

It is a wonderful book about a nonexistent country called Islandia in the Southern Hemisphere on the remote Karain continent. In it, the hero, an American called John Lang, keeps falling in love with beautiful young Islandian women with numerous misunderstandings due to differences in culture. It is a thousand-page novel of which I have read only some 600 pages thus far,

 

 

Worse Than Al-Qaida

Morgue Overflow Into Hospital Corridor

Today we commemorate the nineteenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack, in which some 3,000 Americans lost their lives in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington DC.

We are fighting another enemy now that has killed 200,000 Americans this year to date, and infected 6.5 million of our countrymen with a virulent disease which we are just beginning to understand. Many thousands of those dead from coronavirus died needlessly, and millions of those afflicted with the virus need not have suffered from it.

Solidly to blame is our leadership in the White House. President Trump persistently downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak (though now he claims he knew back then the danger). Millions of Americans did not know what to think. Many Trump voters now claim there was no pandemic, and that all this is false news. They refuse to wear face masks—largely because their President has sent mixed messages, frequently at variance with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Even people think less of Trump than I do (there must be some, somewhere) are confused as to what to do in the face of the outbreak.

I hold Trump responsible for thousands of deaths and millions of sickened Americans. One of the responsibilities of those in power is to make sure the right information gets to the people. It didn’t, with horrendous results.

Very few other countries had an experience as bad as ours, with so many needless casualties due to misinformation. To cover his ass, Trump lied that we had done better than any other country.

Why do people still believe his lies? I guess it’s a case of misplaced faith, as Mr. Spock explains below:

I’ll Go Along With That

 

It Goes Way Back…

The Roman Senate in Session

Lest you think that what is befalling the United States at present is of recent vintage, I urge you to consider the two great parties of the Roman Republic around 130 BC. There were two main political parties, the optimates (“the best ones”) and the populares (“favoring the people”). The former—consisting of members of the senatorial class and large landowners—were united in opposition to the tribunes Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and his younger brother Caius Sempronius Gracchus. According to Wikipedia:

For about 80 years, Roman politics was marked by the confrontation of these two factions. The Optimates favoured the ancestral Roman laws and customs, as well as the supremacy of the Senate over the popular assemblies and the tribunes of the plebs. They also rejected the massive extension of Roman citizenship to Rome’s Italian allies advocated by the Populares.

How familiar it all seems today! The Republicans, whose entire political platform could be expressed in the phrase “I got mine,” are fearful and apprehensive that the unwashed Democrats and their immigrant allies want a share of their wealth. Like the Optimates, the Republicans are “the best ones,” so whatever they do to hold on to power is quite all right with them.

Yesterday, I ran into an elderly woman at the Farmers Market on Fairfax who was a virulent Trump supporter. She thought that the black and other unwashed Barbarian hordes were after her money. I didn’t bother to try reasoning with her, because she was beyond reason. So I merely insulted her, as did the Afro-American gentleman who was in line with me.

I always thought that the nice thing about having money is being able to spend it in interesting ways. Not necessarily so! At some point, this woman inherited some money, problem from her late husband and decided to build an impregnable fortress around the proceeds against me and my kind.

 

 

My Tragic First Love

Traduced by My First Love

My first love—really, a schoolboy crush—was with Laura Sowinski in the Third Grade at Saint Henry School in Cleveland. She was a pretty little girl with some artistic talent. For some reason, I thought she was Swiss, because Sowinski sort of sounded like “Swiss.” Hey, I was only eight years old. What did I know? Now I would think she was Polish, which was more likely for the neighborhood in which I had lived.

Of course, I had hoped that my feelings for her were reciprocated, though I don’t know how she knew what I felt for her, because I never communicated it.

The rupture—and yes, there was a rupture—came when I was sick at home for a few days. In the Catholic school system of Cleveland in those days, there were often days off with little advance notice. When I got better from my cold or whatever it was, I dutifully walked to school the next day. (In those days, we walked to and from school.) To my surprise, the school building was all locked up. I turned around and returned home.

My unexpected free day came to an end the next day, so I trudged to school the next day. Being the age I was, I told everyone I showed up to school on a free day. In a week or two, when the next dittoed edition of the St. Henry Golden Knights news sheet came out, the whole last page was a drawing by none other than Laura Sowinski of me walking up to the school when it was closed. The caption read “James Paris Going to School on a Free Day.”

I thereupon turned several shades of vermilion and thought of my great love as wrecked on the rocks. I don’t think I ever spoke to Laura again. Not that I had ever spoken to her before.

On the Day the World Ends

“On the Day the World Ends/A Bee Circles a Clover”

One of my favorite Eastern European poets of the 20th Century is Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004). A winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature, Milosz lived for many years in California; consequently, he poems have a special meaning for me. Here is one of my favorites:

A Song on the End of the World

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.

 

Serendipity: Flowers and Bugs

In Order for Flowers to Exist …

Lately, I hav been reading two old books by naturalist Joseph Wood Krutch: The Forgotten Peninsula, about Baja California, and The Voice of the Desert. I found this interesting paragraph in the latter. I sure do like his writings!

Gardeners usually hate “bugs,” but if the evolutionists are reight, there never would have been any flowers if it had not been for those same bugs. The flowers never waste their sweetness on the desert air, or for that matter, on the jungle air. In fact, they waste it only when no one except a human being is here to smell it. It is for the bugs and for a few birds, not for men, that they dye their petals or waft their scents. And it is lucky for us that we either happen to like or have become “conditioned” to liking the colors and the odors which most insects and some birds like also. What a calamity for us if insects had been color blind, as all mammals below the primates are! Or if, worse yet, we had our present taste in smells while all the insects preferred, as a few of them do, that odor of rotten meat which certain flowers dependent on them abundantly provide. Would we ever have been able to discover thoughts too deep for tears in a gray flower which exhaled a terrific stench? Or would we have learned by now to consider it exquisite?

 

 

Cineconline

A Precursor of King Kong?

Over the last ten years, I have spent much of the Labor Day Weekend in Hollywood watching movies at Grauman’s Egyptian Theater as part of the annual Cinecon festival. This year, because of the coronavirus quarantine, the management of Cinecon decided to make the show available online at no charge—except for several please to donate (which I did).

A Well-Crafted Silent Film

The films typically screened for Cinecon are rarities. One doesn’t encounter the classics with which everyone if familiar. In fact, most of the titles are fairly obscure. The four features that were screened online this year are:

  • The Fourth Commandment (Universal 1926), directed by Emory Johnson
  • Without Pity (Italy 1948), directed by Alberto Lattuada and co-written by Federico Fellini
  • Sherlock Holmes’ Fatal Hour (England 1931), directed by Leslie S. Hiscock
  • Lorraine of the Lions (Universal 1925), directed by Edward Sedgwick

A Decade before Basil Rathbone’s Sleuth

I particularly liked Without Pity, an Italian Neo-Realist film with a very advanced subject: The love between a black G.I. and a blonde Italian woman who has lost everything in the war. It was made in 1948 at a time when no American film would be so daring on the subject of interracial love.

Also shown was a two-hour program of rare kinescopes (“Kinecon on Cinecon”) from the earliest days of television including Jan Murray, Bob Hope, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and Milton Berle.

A 1948 Italian Film About Interracial Love

In addition, there were the usual silent and early sound shorts with such capable but relatively unknown stars as Billy Bevan, Al Jennings (a train robber become Western star), Edward Everett Horton, Lige Connelly, and Andy Clyde.

I did not see all the short films. After all, life must go on. But what I saw only whetted my appetite to see what they have scheduled for next year.

 

Serendipity: Soviet High Society

Stalin and Members of the Politburo 1925

I have just finished reading Italian writer Curzio Malaparte’s The Kremlin Ball (Material for a Novel), a book that attempts to cover the high society of the Soviet Union as if it were Marcel Proust’s fin de siècle Paris. It is a strange book, probably because Malaparte was never able to finish it after numerous visits to Russia up to 1957, when he died. It makes it a tricky read, as one is never sure exactly what period the author is talking about in a particular chapter. Still, I loved the following picture of all those figures whose lives depended on the whim of Joseph Stalin.

Of that era’s Soviet high society, corrupt, always thirsty for pleasure, greedy for money, glory, and power, proud and snobbish, capable of any infamy in order to maintain their ephemeral power, ready to betray the people, the Revolution, communism, Russia, to deny their own revolutionary past, in order not to have to renounce the honors and privileges of their position, of that Soviet nobility corrupted by Trotskyism and Bonapartism, almost no one was still alive. L’ancien régime of the Communist Revolution, the new nobility that had emerged from the communism of the war and NEP [the New Economic Plan], made up of men who believed themselves to be Marxists and were actually nothing but krasni burjui, red bourgeois, who believed that they were the guardians of Marxist and Leninist theory but were instead Bonapartists, who believed they were leaders of the proletariat but were really leaders of the Trotskyite counterrevolution, had by then given up their positions to the élites of the Stakhanovites and the Udarniks [shock workers], and to the Stalinist élites who were tough and lean but nevertheless more human and born of the Five Year Plans. Of all the merveilleuses of the communist ancien régime, of all those men corrupted by ambition, hatred, jealousy, comfort, pleasures, and privileges, all that remains is memory: the “snapshots” firing squads caught of them in their supreme, ultimate moment, their pale faces turned toward the rifle barrels, their hands clenched in fists, their eyes widened, their brows enraged, the great wind of death unobstructed in the cold, squalid, magnesium light of the camera flashes that lit up, from some invisible height, the scenes of execution in modern Europe.

NKVD Firing Squad

Ice Storm

It Was a Very Slippery Celebration

My sixtieth birthday fell on January 13, 2005. My brother Dan decided to help me celebrate the date by flying up to Portland, Oregon, with me and taking me for a $100 shopping spree at Powell’s Books, which touts itself as the world’s largest independent bookstore.

We landed at Portland International Airport on my birthday and took a Portland Streetcar from PDX to our hotel, which was located in the center of town (I forget the name of it). Unfortunately, with our arrival there was a giant ice storm which crippled vehicular traffic and made walking on the sidewalk without crampons and ice axe quite iffy. We saw the cars swirling around in the streets, and we were lucky in not breaking any bones on the icy sidewalks.

Yet we managed to get around on foot … slowly.

Powell’s Books was fabulous. The last time I had visited a multi-story bookstore was Foyles on Charing Cross Road in London in 1977, on my way back from visiting Hungary and Czechoslovakia. I could have spent days—and a fortune in purchases—at Powell’s, but I managed to stay within a $100 limit, buying such books as Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, a book about the Middle East by Freya Stark, and three or four other titles.

My only regret was that when my brother turned sixty, I was unable to return the favor in a timely way. I was working in an accounting firm, and April 5 (his birthday) comes during tax  crunch time, when I had to work seven days a week to meet the April 15 deadline. Now that I am retired, I would like to find some way to return the favor, because what he did meant a lot to me.

 

The Cancer Deal with the Venusians

Downtown Dallas Skyline

It is the opening of William Burroughs’s Nova Express:

“Listen to my last words anywhere. Listen to my last words any world. Listen all you boards syndicates and governments of the earth. And you powers behind what filth consummated in what lavatory to take what is not yours. To sell the ground from unborn feet forever—

“Don’t let them see us. Don’t tell them what we are doing—

“Are these the words of the all-powerful boards and syndicates of the earth?”

“For God’s sake don’t let that Coca-Cola thing out—”

“Not The Cancer Deal with The Venusians—”

“Not The Green Deal – Don’t show them that—”

“Not The Orgasm Death—”

“Not the ovens—”

Whenever I think of these lines, I think that Burroughs, in his own way, saw the cancerous growth of modern civilization. I have already written of the crazed commercial and residential real estate construction during the coronavirus epidemic.

Almost two hundred years ago, Henry David Thoreau writing in Walden saw where it would all lead, even before the first skyscraper was ever erected (or did the Tower of Babel not count?):

Men have an indistinct notion that if they keep up this activity of joint stocks and spades long enough all will at length ride somewhere, in next to no time, and for nothing; but though a crowd rushes to the depot, and the conductor shouts “All aboard!” when the smoke is blown away and the vapor condensed, it will be perceived that a few are riding, but the rest are run over,—and it will be called, and will be, “A melancholy accident.”

I saw this quote from Thoreau at the end of Joseph Wood Krutch’s The Forgotten Peninsula: A Naturalist in Baja California written in 1961. This was almost sixty years before the massive development of Los Cabos and La Paz changed the state of Baja California Sur forever.