One of the most pleasant aspects of the Baltic Sea cruise was the chance it gave me to read; I've managed to hold to my resolution regarding Proust. In fact, I've progressed down Swann's Way with so much more alacrity than I expected that I've been dropping into various Norwegian bookstores (all of which well-stocked with English-language novels, in which might lie my problem, considering) looking for In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. I've only found one English copy of any volume of In Search Of Lost Time, and that was the redundant Swann's Way, moreover in the icky unhip Moncrieff translation, though I did see the whole set in Norwegian. And while sometimes while reading variously informative signs I get the impression that Norwegian is just English not even badly spelled but only badly typed, with the occasional manual typewriter strike-through on the o's, I don't think I'll get the full flavor of the Proustian language reading it in a language I only comprehend through bull-headedness and an inflated ego.

But while English-readers in Norway don't seem to be driving up the demand for Proust, I cannot say they are without taste. If popularity can be calculated by the sheer footage of shelf space, then two of the most popular authors in Norway are Paul Auster (ex-husband of Swann's Way translator Lydia Davis, apophenetically) and Haruki Murakami. Apparently there is a Norwegian appetite for existential, pulpish, experimental novels. Hoping to pass off synchronicity as miscomprehension, I bought Norwegian Wood.
One of the few reasons I was glad to leave Finland was the language. I have no facility with foreign languages, but I like to muddle through sometimes as best I can. I'm usually pretty successful finding cognates and deciphering at least the warning signs in the Western branches of the Indo-European language tree. But Finnish is Finno-Ugric and features mostly umlauted vowels; my immediate response on encountering a word in Finnish is to try to solve the anagram. So I've been grateful to reach Russia, where I may not be able to understand the language but where just reading the alphabet feels like a major victory. I can become inordinately proud of myself just for sounding out a word. I missed phonics in first grade (as I could already read) and I suppose I'm trying to make up for it now.

Of course, I can reach that reward all the more quickly when the source text is "Макдоналдс" rather than a long placard on the culture of the ancient Scythians. Yes, I was a little lost in the bowels of the Hermitage Museum this morning, trying to find my way towards more recent cultures. I wasn't quite certain whether I wanted to be touring the world-famous art museum, the Hermitage, or touring the Czar's Winter Palace; one is of course juxtaposed on top of the other but I'm not sure I was able to give either my full attention. We kept circling through the galleries, making sudden jumps in era and subject, striving desperately to see everything and sometimes feeling that we hadn't seen anything. Museum fatigue set in rapidly and we went to a couple of churches: the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in the Fortress and the Church on Spilled Blood. The Cathedral is a reminder of why they shouldn't have held the Baroque era outside of France and Italy; it's a travesty in lavender and chartreuse. I was expecting similar garishness from the Church, as the outside is a turn-of-the-century nationalistic sentimentalization of stereotypical Russian style. But instead the art nouveau interior was soaring and gorgeous, alive with golden and indigo tesserae. It was as though the Byzantine cathdrals of Ravenna had been reimagined by Alfons Mucha. What it lacked in subtlety it acquired in sublimity.

Tomorrow we transfer onto the boat, and I expect that I will finally be weaned from the broadband connection on this trip, so updates may become spare.
Not only is the cause of LeBron James's pulled left pectoral curious, so is his language:
Afterward, reporters were trying to gauge the seriousness of his injury. Asked whether he was 75 percent, James said, "I'm nowhere near close to playing live basketball right now."
Live basketball: it's not only a retronym as yet untracked by William Safire, it's another celebrity endorsement for the Xbox 360.
As some of you are already aware, [livejournal.com profile] rahael suffered an unfortunate keyboard mishap resulting in a loss of functionality of such keys as D, H, L, W and the space bar.

As frustrating as this was for her, it added a bit sport for those interpreting her Instant Messages, but I am glad that this occured right before Beltane instead of Samhain, so I didn't have to test my eye against "iooeouttejacko'anternforteaoeenoiay."

(Note: sample sentence not exactly consonant with actual expressions of [livejournal.com profile] rahael.)
Also (this time from Joyce Wadler's Boldfaced Names):
"What up, G!" shouted MARISKA HARGITAY, elegant in a sleeveless black and white polka dot gown, at ICE-T at Entertainment Weekly's Academy Awards viewing party at ELAINE's.

"What up, gangster!" Mr. T responded.
To be fair, Boldface Names is as much an ironically distant comment on gossip columns as it is a gossip column, and it is quite likely that this is as much a comment on as an example of the Times's tendency of calling the singer Meat Loaf "Mr. Loaf" on second reference; however, isn't the preferred style not to split up hyphenated names? I mean, I'd pity the fool who called Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakoff "Mr. Korsakoff."
Yesterday's icon made me expand my wishlist. Making complex animations would go a lot easier if only I had my own East Asian sweatshop. After all, the producers of Futurama have their Korean animators, and they're able to get forty-five frames of a scene; by myself, I can manage only twenty-two. Yes, I definitely will be looking into this unfair labor practice idea. Maybe I could take on an unpaid iconing intern.

Speaking of unfair labor practices, my favorite quote in today's New York Times comes from this article on Wal-Mart's successful resistance to unionization:
Cody Fields, who earns $8.10 an hour after two years, said that he had originally backed the union "because we need a change" but that the videos had been effective. "It's just a bunch of brainwashing," Mr. Fields said, "but it kind of worked."
I guess it did.

Personally, I have no problems boycotting Wal-Mart; I find shopping there unpleasant and I am glad to avoid it. It's just that all the standard complaints about Wal-Mart can also be levelled against Target, which is often non-union, drives out local mom-and-pop stores, etc., and I love shopping at Target.

Also in today's Times is an article on some Alaskan bacteria that were revived after lying frozen in a pond for, possibly, 32,000 years. There's a techno-thriller plot in that; Michael Crichton might have to revise his stance on global warming.

And finally, the Times also contained an ad: "My kingdom for your old jewelry!" it proclaimed, above an etching of Henry VIII. "Henry VIII loved jewelry, and he didn't care about the cost. Windsor Jewelers is like him in this respect." Windsor Jewelers, Inc., apparently wants very much to associate itself with the British Crown and isn't too particular about those who wear it being distinct individuals.

Today I assembled a rolling tea cart from a cheap, drugstore-bought kit. The last line on the page of instructions was the boldfaced "CAUTION: Do Not Injured Yourself When Installing." That should hold up in court against any claims of liability. My East Asian sweatshop will have better proofreaders!
I had made one New Year's resolution: to update my journal at least once each day. However, yesterday came and went, and today has squirmed and struggled its way towards freedom, so I believe that resolution can be consigned to the recycling bin. I have considered treating the resolution to be as binding as Ramadan-fasting -- i.e., not in effect while travelling -- but I've only gone so far as Michigan and I don't do much but sit in front of the computer anyway.

I had another of my rural Michigan misreadings today. Outside of the Felpausch Food Center, where I had secured the last available New York Times between Jackson and Kalamazoo, a group of local students had erected a table. Painted on the posters wrapped around the front of the table were the words:

MARSHALL MIDDLE SCHOOL
POP CAN DRIVE &
BAKE SALE

This made me immediately think, "My father can drive too, but you don't see me crowing about it."

Now by geography, you'd expect that I'd be more familiar with the term pop as applied to soft drinks, but I've always respected the brand names; Coke to me is just "Coke." Sprite is "Sprite" and Pepsi is just not imbibed in polite society. And while eighty percent of my county calls the stuff "pop," I suspect that my neighborhood was a linguistic outlier. Most of my friends had grandparents in the New York area: solid "soda" territory. For my own part, my mother's home county is over 50% "Coke"-speaking; my father's over 80% "soda." (I may have picked up Coke from my mother, but my y'all is all affectation.)

The link to the map, by the way, was taken from I read the comics so you don't have to; the author uses it to figure out where Snuffy Smith really lives.

See y'all next year!
Last night, I went downtown to see North By Northwest, preceeded by two of Chuck Jones's Merrie Melodies, at Cinema At The Square. I knew that the people behind me were trouble when, during "Little Beau Pepé," one of them loudly exclaimed "Oh my God!" when the black and white cat rubbed up against the freshly-painted ladder and ended up with a white streak down her back. I don't know what sort of cultural illiterate is surprised when, during a Pepé Le Pew cartoon, the cat ends up with white paint on her, but I hope that some sort of LiveJournal community exists to make her feel ignorant. These women continued to offer helpful commentary throughout the movie: when the bad guys have propped an intoxicated Cary Grant behind the wheel of a car on a precariously windy seacoast road, another woman said, "I think they're going to drive him off the cliff." And when the movie got to the establishing shot of the Indiana cornfield, and one of them said, "That's no man's land," I wanted to turn around and say, "For the next ten minutes, the movie will take place with practically no dialogue. Let's see if we can do the same." But I didn't, because I'm polite, genteel and cowardly.

North By Northwest is still one of my favorite movies; I was reminded last night that it, much more than the novels, set the framework for the James Bond movies. And there were some lines I didn't remember. Cary Grant saying to James Mason, Eva Marie Saint and Martin Landau "The three of you together -- now, that's a picture only Charles Addams could draw," at least had the ring of familiarity, but I have absolutely no recollection of ever before seeing Mason, captured by Leo G. Carroll and watching as the park ranger shoots Landau, saying, "That wasn't very sporting, using real bullets."

On a completely unrelated subject, I was tickled to read today's New York Times Magazine and find that it contains an "On Language" column by William Grimes which mentions Chez Panisse but not Alice Waters and a Food column which mentions Alice Waters but not Chez Panisse. I don't imagine that the Times is running some sort of hidden contest where you're supposed to match obvious pairs, setting "Curtis Sliwa" with "Guardian Angels," or "The Bell Jar" with "Sylvia Plath," or "colossal embarrassment" with "U.S. Men's Basketball Olympic team," and then counting the pages in between the references for some sort of Kabbalistic frisson. Perhaps it should.
A few entirely random thoughts:
  • Libertarian-standing-tall Jim Henley calls "libertarian"-on-his-knees Eugene Volokh out for his complaint that the Supreme Court has created the possibility that "our enemies may use our freedoms against us." At the end of his post, Henley refers his readers for more to presumptive neoliberal Brad DeLong, the Social Democrats and academic Marxists over at Crooked Timber, and that extradimensional crustacean with plans for world domination, Fafblog's Medium Lobster. Politics really does make for strange blogfellows.

  • While driving down a rural highway in Michigan today, I saw a rickety shed made of saplings strung together with a hand-painted sign attached to it. I only read the top part of the sign, which must have read in full "Hunting blind for sale," but my urban/suburban conditioning led me to expect from the first lines that the complete message would be "Hunting blind can cost lives. Be sure to hunt only with a properly trained guide dog." I suppose, though, that the sign would be effective only if it were in braille.

  • The top story in the Arts section of Wednesday's New York Times treats the new bevy of skyscrapers going up over London. In my last couple of trips to London I've been flabbergasted by the new arrivals on the skyline -- I had thought that there was a municipal regulation preventing buildings from standing taller than the city's most famous and revered landmark. The article is accompanied by a spectacular computer rendering of the Thames behind Tower Bridge, surrounded by all the proposed new skyscrapers (though the Vortex, my favorite of the batch of unrealized buildings, is not to be found, the Times taking a more skeptical view than the Guardian on this issue at least).

    Walking between [livejournal.com profile] rahael's house and her local supermarket, one must take a pedestrian bridge over one of the major motorways. This bridge affords a great view of the Gherkin, London's most recent hot skyscraper; on a clear day I could see even St. Paul's and the Millennium Eye. Rah and I got into an unintentional habit of timing our return from grocery shopping to coincide with sunset, though our last shopping expedition had us leaving the store just as the summer rainstorm ended and the sky was filled with a gigantic double rainbow, arching clear and completely across the eastern sky.
I currently have 4 books and one CD in my Amazon shopping cart, and I was looking at Amazon's blurb for "The Page You Made," when it struck me that the top two items were The Road To Disunion, based on [livejournal.com profile] rahael's recommendation, and Donald E. Westlake's new Dortmunder caper, The Road To Ruin. I thought that was an interesting synchronicity, though not powerful enough to make me go crazy or anything. Instead, I will have to overstate the relevance of Nick Montfort's Twisty Little Passages, which, in juxtaposition with the others, suggests that while we may be headed to some bad ends, we're going to take our own sweet time getting there.

The CD is Prince's new Musicology; my unfortunate tendency, if left alone with a word, to pronounce it in an atrocious mock-French accent has led me to wonder about the etymology of ponce. My Oxford Shorter gives the derivation as "perhaps POUNCE," which I find inconclusive. Citations date back to the late 19th Century, when, rumor has it, at least one Prince of Wales was associating with prostitutes. Other princes may have been, for all I know, slightly effeminate. It's a tempting induction, suggesting that ponce might derive from "prince," but folk etymologies are often tempting, and always wrong.
I'm not doing [livejournal.com profile] aliera9916's vocabulary meme, because I'm feeling pressured somehow to be witty and playful and whatnot, and just repeating a lot of pizza jokes will become quickly tiresome; however, "2. The thing you push around the grocery store?" I call that "Grandma."

Creamsickle has a bite above his eye which needs to be treated with antibiotics, so I am not visiting my mother in Michigan this weekend; this affects the lot of you because the last time I went to Michigan, I was inspired to write my last LJ post of any substance. So don't expect any substance out of me in the near future. Or perhaps you should expect me to gain a great deal of substance after all: I'm investigating comfort foods at the moment. I picked up some English Clotted Cream on the way home from the vet's, and there may be a trip to P.F. Chang's in the offing. Mmmmm . . . pan-fried Peking Dumplings, Kung Pao Chicken, Spicy Eggplant. It's a notion.
Yeah, I took the "What's Your 'Once More With Feeling' I.Q.?" test, just like everyone else, and just like everyone else, I scored the "obsessed psycho freak." I fully expect that this will be one of those tests like "How British Are You?" where everybody I know gets a perfect score, though this time I think it will be legitimate. Frankly, if you're in my general LiveJournal circle and you don't get "obsessed psycho freak," either you're Samuel Pepys or I'm going to worry. (Strangely, Pepys was revealed to be only 47% British.)

I'm not that fond of the picture, and while I take all the tests, I don't like posting about them, so no cutting-and-pasting HTML here tonight. But I would like to call attention to the ad I got on the Results page. It looked something like (and was spelled exactly like):

Ivy Leage Excellence Online
Get the Education You Want
Without the Atitude


I think that just about speaks for itself.
Borders just called; the two copies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Rah and I reserved on Saturday are now available. Rah's been reading every review and every spoiler she can and she is almost more keyed up for this than I, so as soon as I post and shower we're going shopping! The kind of shopping I like! (Rah's also become very envious of my mp3 player. I'll get her into the gadget stores yet!)

Anyway, despite the utter failure and rejection Rah and I underwent trying to buy Phoenix on Saturday, Scholastic still managed to reap the take from selling 5 million copies on the first day in the US alone, which is astounding. The Times points out that last year's best-selling hardcover novel, some Grisham thing (Grisham's law: bad books drive out good books, except I'm far too impressed with the ability of Borders and Barnes & Noble to not only stock but promote a healthy back catalogue that I start to wonder whether or not it should be "bad books subsidize good books"), sold half that in a year. To look at this number another way, and compounding one's vague guesses at enumeration, if you assume that the average sale price was twenty dollars, that means that every person in America, on average, spent four bucks on Harry Potter on Saturday (which doesn't make me feel any better about Rah and me being denied the chance to spend $34). $100 million in one day? Has any movie done that sort of business? I think the $100 million opening weekend is still the holy grail in movie sales, and generally films that come close to that need a three-day weekend (or even five days, if they do a Wednesday opening, as is traditional for the big July Fourth film -- which is usually an expensive action blockbuster like Independence Day or Men in Black but in a strange and pleasing turnabout this year is Legally Blonde 2). Astounding.

Much has been made of the darker and more mature tone of the new novel; this gives me some hope that Rowling knows what she's doing (or, more accurately, knows what I want her to be doing). I have, since reading the first four books straight through twice three years ago, entertained the notion that not only will Harry age a year for each installment, but the readership will too. The Plain Dealer today made the most recent of many Tolkien comparisons I've seen, and I'm starting to wonder if we can bracket off Philosopher's Stone and Chamber of Secrets as Rowling's The Hobbit, whereas with Azkaban we could see her as moving into a deeper, darker, more adult, Lord of the Rings-style epic. Judging from the polaroids of ankle-biters in capes and forehead scars on display on Saturday, the morning after Borders's midnight release party, I may be alone in this (of course, I first attempted Lord of the Rings when I was nine), but I have my hopes. Just spare me her Silmarillion.

Were Scholastic to recognize the more adult turn in Rowling's story, it might decide to finally curtail the bowdlerizing of English idioms that has so marred the English releases and that Masq and oyc have commented on. Phoenix will be the first of the novels since Stone that I've read in the American version, and I'm not looking forward to seeing sweater where jumper belongs. Still, the Americanization has had its defenders. I remember a discussion I had with mundus: he thought the American title was an improvement; I responded by emphasizing the actual historicity of the quest for the Philosopher's Stone, the long history of that name, the actual existence of Nicholas Flamel, and the fact that my first knowledge of the Stone came from Carl Barks's wonderful Uncle Scrooge and the Philosopher's Stone and if a freaking talking-animal comic book can respect my intelligence enough to expect that I won't be scared by the word "philosopher," so can the largest textbook publisher in America; to which mundus responded, "Yeah, man, but dig the alliteration!" I think he won.

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April 2009

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