Cover of a French Edition of the Voyage
Well, not exactly. But he is known to have drunk approximately fifty cups of Java each day. No doubt that helped inspire him to write this hilarious spoof of voyages to exotic locales. It is not until the last couple of pages that Honoré de Balzac writes:
In truth, soon I will be losing no time in taking the stagecoach once again, travelling back to Paris across the fields of Touraine and Poitou that I thought I should never see again. During my first days back in Paris I had a lot of trouble persuading myself that I had not indeed been to Java, so much had that traveller [M. Grand-Besançon] struck my imagination with his tales.
So in the end it is a delightful hoax. Balzac tells a series of tall tales redolent of earlier (unsubstantiatable) journeys full of tall tales about the flora, fauna, and women of the Far East. Not all of it consists of tall tales, such as this realistic warning to travelers to be alert at all times:
Go inside a shop selling precious cloths; bargain, buy some cashmere or a length of tamava … if you turn your back for a moment while the merchant is rolling up your purchase on the counter, wrapping it and tying it with string, the package flies to the back of the shop and is replaced by another containing inferior goods, that an apprentice has been preparing in the corner of the shop to look exactly like the one you were buying. With no explanation for this miraculous metamorphosis, you return to the shop furious at having been duped by the Chinese everybody had warned you about; but his only response is to laugh at you.
I have read virtually all of Balzac as translated into English, but this is by far the funniest of his works. An English edition entitled My Journey from Paris to Java (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2010) is available.
British Poet Philip Larkin (1922-1985)
Considering how much I like him, I wonder why I haven’t written about Philip Larkin before. Today, I read a piece in the Times Literary Supplement by his literary executor, Graeme Richardson, that contained some wonderful anecdotes, among which was the following.
Once Larkin was unable to have me to dinner in college, so we met for lunch instead, in a pub almost opposite Magdalen College called The Aldgate. A degree ceremony was taking place elsewhere in the city, and the bar where we had our beer and ham sandwiches was full of gownwearing graduates and their proud parents. One of these recent graduates (a “sweet girl graduate,” in fact), recognized Larkin and brought across her napkin for him to sign. Despite his reputation as a semi-recluse, and her obvious fear that he might growl and tell her to go away, he graciously did as she asked. As she withdrew clutching her trophy, I said something about her being pretty. “I know,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe what a disadvantage my deafness has been to me all my life. I shudder to think how many women have come up to me and said, ‘Take me, lover,’ only to have me reply, ‘Yes it is rather warm for the time of year, isn’t it.’”
I Scream, You Scream …
Actor Jim Carrey looks to be on the point of starting a brilliant new career, as an Anti-Trump Twitter Troll. The tweet that went with the above picture is:
Even more artistic is this one about General Kelly:
The accompanying tweet reads as follows:
Finally, I couldn’t pass up this attack on the current Speaker of the House of Representatives:
And the tweet thereunto appertaining:
You can see all the pictures by clicking here.
Here Are Some German Terms That Will You Understand the World Trumpf made
The following text appeared in Salon.Com, which was quoting a site from Alter.Net. Since Our Fuehrer’s family hails from the Vaterland, I thought it was appropriate to let you in on it.
Fernweh, or “distance pain,” is like the opposite of homesickness. It’s the feeling of wanting to be elsewhere, anywhere but where you are at this moment. The fernweh many Americans feel today is a bit like wanderlust, minus the glamour, and with the added fear that you may be harshly judged as an American traveling abroad in the time of Trump.
Weltschmerz translates literally to “world pain,” and boy oh boy, does that say it all. It’s the state of weariness one feels at the state of the world. Some of us may have felt a constant state of weltschmerz since Nov. 9, 2016.
If your state of weltschmerz has been really getting to you, it’s possible you’ve put on a few extra pounds of kummerspeck, or literally, “grief bacon.” Know that you’re at least in good company: last year, Barbra Streisand, Judd Apatow and others complained they’d gained a “Trump 10” in the months following the election. Eat your feelings, indeed.
This wonderful heap of syllables evokes chaos or a hopelessly messy, unstructured state. Sounds like the White House as told by Michael Flynn.
This is a state of unfiltered, primal rage. You may have felt it over the past year while listening to any White House press conference, hearing Trump describe Haiti, El Salvador and many African nations as “shithole countries,” seeing the president troll Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on social media…or really, any time at all.
Ever felt ashamed on behalf of a member of the Trump White House? Like the time Kellyanne Conway told Fox viewers to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff”? Or when Trump claimed his inauguration speech literally made the clouds part and the sun come out? That’s fremdschaemen.
In German, this means “a face that deserves to be punched.” Insert your own joke here.
Well, What Is It Like Being a Spirit in the Afterlife?
There is a delightful story in Alfred Döblin’s Bright Magic: Stories (New York: New York Review Books, 2016) entitled “Traffic with the Beyond.” The story is about an attempt to solve a murder using a séance. The spirits, however, take a more active role than is expected of them:
With that, the session ended. Incidentally, van Steen’s rage at the beyond is more comprehensible when we realize the job that this man, who so loved life and had lived in such high style here, had on the other side: Garbage collection! That was the usual assignment for a certain kind of new arrival, whose heart still clung to earthly things and who led a wild life on the other (that is, this) side. Conceited bachelors were given that job as well, and famous luminaries such as scientists, painters, tenors, and generals. For there was garbage in the beyond, stemming from the titanic mass of rotten, shriveled, worthless ideas and preferences that everyone brought with them, gradually threw off, and as it were sweated out of their system—things that no longer had or could have any place in the strict, noble, and spiritual other side. This sad latrine duty was assigned to the merry van Steen. He, and others, had to sweep up this daily rubbish and cart it off to be burned. In his affliction he, like many others, simply scattered the stuff back down onto the earth.
The Supreme Court in Washington
I was amused by this post in The Futility Closet website:
The U.S. Supreme Court building is pretty spiffy. It has its own cafeteria, a 450,000-book library and a basketball court on the fifth floor (which staffers call “the highest court in the land”).
It’s so spiffy that when it opened in 1935, some justices were embarrassed. Harlan Fiske Stone called it “almost bombastically pretentious … wholly inappropriate for a quiet group of old boys such as the Supreme Court.” Others called it “the Temple of Karnak” and suggested that justices ought to enter the courtroom riding on elephants.
A New Take on the Ten Commandments
One worrying note: The building’s frieze depicts Moses delivering the Ten Commandments, but his beard obscures some of the Hebrew, so the visible text reads:
But let that pass.
We Are Losing Words All the Time
You can probably tell that I love words. Sometimes I tend to use words are are sesquipedalian (a foot and a half long), even though I risk losing some of my readers. This post is based on a story on the BBC News websie entitled “Twenty-Six Words We Don’t Want to lose.” I won’t throw all twenty-six at you, just the ones I particularly like. The following are from The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities by Paul Anthony Jones:
- Beard-second. The approximate length a man’s beard hair grows in one second. The Jones book pegs this at 5 nanometers. As one who would have no beard hair unless I took my testosterone externally (having no pituitary gland), I can’t believe this is a useful measure.
- Charette. This refers to a period of intense work or creativity to meet a deadline. In French, thy would be working en charette, “in the cart.”
- Finger-post. In 18th century slang, this referred to parsons, as they pointed out the path of salvation to others without necessarily undertaking the journey themselves.
- Mountweasel. I particularly like this concept. According to the BBC website:
Fictitious entries added to a book to set a trap for would-be plagiarists are known as ‘nihilartikels’ (literally ‘nothing-articles’) or ‘mountweazels’, the name of an Ohio-born fountain designer and photographer named Lillian Virginia Mountweazel who was listed in the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia. Despite her renowned photographs of rural American mailboxes and her tragic death in an explosion while on an assignment for Combustibles magazine, Ms Mountweazel never actually existed.
- Proditomania. Here is a good word for Trumpf staffers. It refers to the irrational belief that everyone around you is a traitor—though, in the Executive Branch that belief might not be so irrational.
- Wantum. A blend of “want” and “quantum”—a term invented by Samuel Beckett to mean “a quantifiable deficiency or desire.”
The BBC writers also propose the following useful words:
- Hunchweather. Weather cold enough to make one walk outdoors all hunched up.
- Scurryfunge. The rushed attempt to clean up one’s dwelling place when company is expected imminently.
- Frowst. Extra time spent in bed during a Sunday. This is is 19th century schoolboy slang.
- Shivviness. The uncomfortable feeling of wearing new underwear (especially when that underwear is made of wool).
Finally, here are three odd words—which I have not found reason to use in my fifty-odd years as an adult:
- Medioxumous. Of or relating to the middle rank of deities.
- Septemfluous. Flowing in seven streams, used in certain theological treatises to refer to Christ’s blood.
- Stercoricolous. Inhabiting dung, usually used of certain beetles. This last was once used by a writer friend to describe my housekeeping.
Now, may your writing henceforth be more picturesque!