1.02.02 – Friday
Of interest to me today:
- Nations with land bordering China, clockwise from lower right: Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia, North Korea.
- Nations with land bordering the US, clockwise from lower right: Mexico, Canada.
- Pushing great sheets of ice off of cars; they slide so beautifully, cracking into myriad irregular pieces before crashing to the pavement.
2.02.02 – Saturday
Read Zelda Fitzgerald’s novel; one gets the sense of scene and character, but the plot does not hang together particularly well and the flourishes can be heavy-handed. Immensely clever, but lacking something, some artistry, some polish, some ineffable thing, which might have made it very good indeed. Poor kid.
Listening to Haydn string quartets as. Reminds me of the glass in a divided light, glinting with ice in the sun. Also lemon yellow streaks of light running down the wall, and salmon pink upholstered chairs in some distant and forgotten house.
A curious feeling, that of having ever so many things to discuss, ideas to muddle, and such like, but lacking the appropriate audience. A vaguely useless feeling, as though wading through yards of unruly tulle.
But I am becoming fantastical. However:
‘If you approve, headmaster, I will stay as I am here as long as any boy wants to read the classics. I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world.’
‘It’s a short-sighted view, Scott-King.’
‘There, headmaster, with all respect, I differ from you profoundly. I think it the most long-sighted view it is possible to take.’
—Evelyn Waugh, ‘Scott-King’s Modern Europe’
4.02.02 – Monday
Granulated brain, vocabulary running free like an hour-glass’s sands.
To study, to know a thing, is to internalize it and make it one’s own; in short, to memorize it. In a different age, the classical education required massive rote memorization of poetry, prose – you know, the classics. Everything then becomes allusive, words acquire a mnemonic savor. Lime blossom tea and Proustian madeleine. And all that.
Have decided to re-read Bleak House – first read at age seventeen, at Christmastime, in Arizona. How comforting to find oneself in thrall to a capable narrator – it has been such a long time since I read something with such a natural, comfortable rhythm to it, a style definable, personal, and familiar. One feels it in the very opening:
London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes – gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.
6.02.02 – Wednesday
‘Yea, honey, you know I don’t love you, but I just want to f—k you,’ and you know I’m just saying, ‘I’m sorry, but you’re not even going to get to do that,’ if you know what I mean.’
‘Yea, I totally understand. They always try to control relationships; they’re so selfish. I mean, I’m just trying to sort things out and they’re all like…’
‘Yeah.’ (with a bitter edge to it)
‘Women.’ (this last a not quite incoherent splutter)
9.02.02 – Saturday
Listening to The Marriage of Figaro (broadcast live from the Met). Which reminds me of one of my less savory moments (which, naturally, I shall relate): having waited outside of the other Met for nearly half an hour (for I am notoriously prompt, if by prompt one means invariably too early – you know, the sort that John Irving, in that horrid book, described as ‘the early nerds’), my acquaintance at last arrived. After some hedging and indecision, we decided, or rather chanced, to take a walk, it being a sunny October day. As courtesy required, he asked about the general tenor (pardon the pun) of my visit, the purpose of which had been to see Wozzeck, Idomeneo, and, of course, him. Idle nothings were all I could manage. I even, I think, managed to call Mozart both great and vulgar. In the same sentence. Alas.
11.02.02 – Monday
Fevered. Sit in bed and scribble and sip water and stare out at the falling snow. Sibilance. A certain slowness of wit.
12.02.02 – Tuesday
It arrived. ‘With reference to your application for graduate study at Oxford, I am glad to inform you that the Faculty of Ancient History has provisionally agreed to admit you as an M.Phil. student with effect from Michaelmas Term 2002.’
Someone once complained that students ought not to set aside their studies in order to attend to the arts or go to concerts. It may be an early reading of Emerson talking, but I rather think transcendent experiences are to be encouraged. Besides, some forms of music are lessons in themselves and so of greater intrinsic value than all the tiresome and ill-written textbooks now in existence. I mean, to compare a Bach cantata with some millennia old lecture notes (read: Aristotle’s Athenaion Politeia) is patently absurd.
13.02.02 – Wednesday
Stopping by the grocers for a carton of yogurt, I chanced to be behind a small red-haired woman who held up her young son for the clerk’s inspection. Aforementioned Son steadfastly averted his eyes from aforementioned Clerk, and snivelled. ‘Say you’re sorry. We’re not going until you say you’re sorry. I’m telling you…’ Son began to wail. Clerk laughed nervously. Mother bounced child momently and seemed prepared to leave without Son proferring apology. Son whispered in Mother’s ear. Mother returned, still holding son. A pause. ‘Come on, then, say you’re sorry.’ Son whispered. ‘No, not later – now.’ Pause; then, very softly, eyes downcast: ‘I’m sorry.’ As anyone could see he was; not, of course, that he had knocked over the display of expensive lotions, making a rather larger mess than was strictly convenient for the staff, but that he had been caught and had to apologize.
21.02.02 – Thursday
The house where I grew up was small and angular, striving for modernity but never quite attaining it. A model structure of middle class suburbia. Just down the street was another house built from the same plan; it was painted a different color. I always wondered, as I cycled past, what those people in that house had done with my room.
22.02.02 – Friday
One would not hesitate to call her pretty; I wouldn’t, at any rate. Neither would one doubt that she was what some might describe as ‘a woman of opinion’ much as one might say that Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Agatha, in the Wodehouse stories, is ‘a woman of opinion.’ It should come as little surprise, then, that I found it nearly insupportable to share the lift with such a one, even for a few minutes. I took the stairs.
23.02.02 – Saturday
The smell of roses; melting ice; a warm room.
Also. Books; dust; wool; ink; the faint metallic, mechanical savor of a fountain pen.
Can one compose oneself?
A lack of order.
27.02.02 – Wednesday
Hmm. Tired. Woke this morning to the smell of perfectly toasted bread and scrambled eggs – from someone else’s apartment.
- ‘I only like art that I agr-ee with…’ – the words ‘art’ and ‘agree’ being intoned through the nose.
- ‘And yeah, like, Harvard is really cool and everything, but I just don’t know… and, you see, I’m a male feminist and that really makes me stand out, you know… I mean, it’s weird, I’m from Minnesota, you know, but I don’t, like, have much of an accent now, but like, when I go home, I don’t have, like, a Boston accent, but some almost surfer-dude type thing, you know?’ These last, I kid you not, were the words (verbatim!) of an Amherst boy on the bus towards Hampshire; he’d just found out that he’d been accepted to law school, even though, ‘I mean, I haven’t really done any cool internships, or even extracurriculars… (a Smithie interposed: ‘But you have good grades’ to which Amherst boy’s radiant silence marked assent) …but, you know, I just really took a different track with my personal statement…’
So in German today we learned a past tense; in Chinese history we learned about the Han dynasty and the emotional needs of the professor’s dog; and in Latin, Aeneas scrambled about on the roof of Priam’s palace and Pyrrhus was likened to a glistening snake having just shed its skin – the verb finally appeared ten years later, which I don’t much mind in Cicero, but strikes me as more than a little annoying in ‘poetry,’ which the Aeneid purports to be.
28.02.02 – Thursday
Note: I can no longer see
where the pillow was stained
when you spilled coffee on it.