Monday, September 28, 2009

Tiffany

So: according to a book I have on loan, I Give You My Word, by Ivor Brown:

Tiffany is a form of theophany, which means the appearance of the god. Hence Tiffany was a popular name for Epiphany, which also means a divine manifestation of personality. In the late Middle Ages, Parisians called the Epiphany (of the calendar) "Tiphaine".

For the past several years, ever since seeing the show Passing Strange (six times), it's been difficult for me to read or hear the word epiphany without thinking of part of the song "Passing Phase."

In the show the main character (the Youth) has a modern-day odyssey peopled by nitpicking churchgoers vitally interested in shoes (well, somebody might have to cut them a little slack there. . . ), countercultural artists who are bourgeois at heart (flashback: the photo of father and proud son Mick Jagger after the singer was knighted by Prince Charles in 2003), a mother who needs him to fill her cup instead of letting him fill his own, and a girlfriend whose genuine love he rejects--apparently because he's too young to understand ("Youth is wasted on the young" would come in handy here).

To his younger self, the Narrator sings:

Wish we could talk about how the means will not prepare you for the ends,
How your epiphanies will become fair-weather friends,
How death will make you lower your defenses
The only truth of youth is the grown-up consequencess. . . .


(How your tiffanies will become fair-weather friends?)

Mr Ivor Brown, who was editor of The Observer in London from 1942 to 1948 also notes that in the dress-maker's salon tiffany "used to be a transparent, silky gauze. Was it because the human goddess was thus revealed?" And then he goes on to use the word ecdysiasts.

I wonder if ecdysiasts can be translated into Italian a way that preserves both eye and ear sense.

Cucumbery

From my friend Jeff Cain's comment--all right, who knows how to spell logrolling?--on the word Food-y:

After all, a cucumber that smells like cucumber is not cucumbery so much as it is, in fact, a cucumber.

Jeff has invoked the spirit of the the word Combray (not the spirit of Combray itself, however, and brings to mind iron hinges the length of my hand and a tower made of grey stone set in a green valley. The Duke of Northumberland must also figure in here somehow.

(Thank you, Jeff, for providing such a happy-making [a Beth Bosworth word] eye word.)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Lesiy or Leshy

From Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language (Second Edition Unabridged, 1960), stationed in an upper room at Poet's House.

Lesiy, leshy [Slav. Myth.] A sylvan spirit, or wood demon.

I took the Greenway down to Poet's House on Friday the 25th to walk around its new (and "green"--there's gold in them flushers!) "home" on opening day.

The old space on Spring Street was wonderful. It was cozy. It felt Kunitzean. It felt like a perfect New Yorky living room.

This space is very, very nice. There is light and long sightlines and many windows. Spatially speaking, it feels to me nothing at all like the spirit of Stanley Kunitz--I should mention here that Stanley Kunitz is the unofficial and non-sectarian saint of Poet's House. The presence of light everywhere, though . . . . That's just poetry. That's everybody. Still, where are the small spaces and corners? Those count, too, dont they? Where's the weird desk under the stairs?

It's a beautiful visitor's center of sorts, not quite a home. A visitor unfamiliar with Kunitz's work will likely wonder why so much of the poetry artwork has his name on it. The Children's Room has three typewriters and a large cache of poets on cassette tape. In the future there will be a boulder room of some sort where kids can sit pretend they're reading in the mountains. (In the Hollywood movie, there is an arts center in Wyoming with a New York room outfitted with a bus stop and litter and a lightscape cut by skyscrapers and people chirping banalities into cell phones; here kids can pretend they're reading on a Midtown avenue.)

I suppose the fact that the Battery Park City Authority has leased this space to Poet's House rent-free until 2069 somehow offsets the vileness that the Port Authority inflicted on the city with the Building where the buses leave from. The one Authority taketh away . . . and the other Authority giveth.

The collection is inviting in ways it was not at Spring Street, and something tells me that the comfort of the light is going to make all the difference.

The best sign of the future of the place is that I saw three people writing longhand. Handwriting at the speed of blood (as Sven Birkerts once described the act of reading): makes me happy.

Daffy

From Professor William Dunham's lecture on the mathematician Leonhard Euler (1707-1783), delivered September 17 at The Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination. Professor Dunham, describing the polynomial (below), said:

"It looks daffy."

He spoke particularly about the square roots of the square roots, suggesting these were perhaps the best illustrations of daffyness.

When I looked at this solution, daffy did not come to
mind. In fact, no words at all came to mind.

Certainly math has never looked daffy to me, but it never occured to me that it would look daffy to anybody--even to a mathematician.

My favorite of Euler's formulas, or discoveries, is the Euler Line, which is drawn once one determines the orthocenter, centroid, and circumcenter of any triangle. His Polyhedral Formula is also appealing (and was the starting point for topology and algebraic topology, and a theory of surfaces).

Nothing in these, still, struck me as daffy. Even the idea of his finding so many amicable numbers, which he did, did not rate as daffy.

That a hive in Switzerland (according to Prof. Dunham) is still publishing Euler's papers at the Swiss Institute: this qualifies as daffy. . . . How steadily have they been working? (Those monks copying the Bible for Queen Elizabeth come to mind--they've been working on that for a while, too. . . . Oh to be calligrapher to the Queen. Miles above dish soap and digestive biscuits. But I digress.)

What Prof. Dunham, a noted mathematics professor originally trained in topology, accomplished by describing the above formula (solution?) as daffy provided a bridge between math and English that allowed me to understand (if only in that instance) one mathematician's taste--in language anyway.

If I had to come up with one word to describe all those signs and numbers, I would say "hair caught in the wrong end of a hairdryer, although on a beautiful fall day in a green valley, and with lots of crisply drawn right angles." Honestly, one word just wouldn't be enough. It's a lot of sound, visually speaking. I do like the square roots of the square roots idea, though. That's quite nice.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Food-y

From a posting mainly about Julia Child on my friend Erin Mulligan's Facebook page: (. . . I keep saying to Jim [her hubby] that the food in the states is food-ish as opposed to the food in Europe, which is food-y.)

I sent her a email asking her to elaborate on the distinction, and she replied: "Here's the theory in essence: a cucumber from Costco tastes vaguely reminiscent of a cucumber--it is cucumber-ish. A cucumber in Italy or from a good farmer's market in America really tastes like a cucumber--it is cucumber-y. Same with tomatoes, chicken, cherries, pork, butter, yogurt, etc."

Then we had a little chat. Erin explained that the orgin of her usage was born recently in Italy, while she was staying at a house and cutting cucumbers. From rooms away her daughter shouted, "I can smell the cucumbers." Not a typical experience for us stateside. Certainly at a stand of fruit at the typical supermarket--even at Fairway!--I can spend several minutes trying to inhale from a piece of fruit, no doubt looking like a coke fiend who's lost the trail.

Erin said that if she doesn't have time to go her her CSA or farmer's market, she winds up eating food that (angry language alert) "fuckin' looks the food in Italy. Visually the food in America is food but in terms of the other senses except maybe hearing, it doesn't have those aspects. It's one-dimensional.

"The issue is that the food most Americans eat--the food most people have access to--its food-y-ness has been bred out of it, so it's only foodish. And what do people here in America call people who are really into cooking and food? . . ."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tabloidy

A little bit Bois de Boulogne, a little bit rowdy. From Michael Massing's article "The News About the Internet," in the August 13 issue of the New York Review of Books.

The reports by Ryan Grim on Wall Street's influence in Washington that I found so illuminating were hard to find on The Huffington Post, while you couldn't miss tabloidy posts like "Lindsay Lohan TOPLESS on Twitter."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Cooky

From the dedication page of Eve Pell's recently published book We Used to Own the Bronx: Memoirs of a Former Debutante.

this book is for Cooky

Cooky! This is the way I imagine some tiny children to imagine cookies, as cookys.

It adorabalizes (don't spit) the word cookie, I believe, in the manner of the Cookie Monster's swiping paw or the sweetness of a facial expression found on Mo Willems' piggie. (Today at the Brooklyn Book Festival I wanted to page through Today I Will Fly! but instead read Watch Me Throw the Ball!, a parable about old and new media editorial types disguised as a children's book).

Back to cooky--and dedications.

The thing is, I spent a lot of time when I was a teenager reading dedications. I would stand in a book shop pulling book after book off the shelf reading first the dedication and then the last page. I thought people wrote books not because they had to get something out of their systems or because they had to make a living or part of a living. I thought: You write a book because you get to have a dedication page. To me this seemed the only real reason to write a book. It seemed on a par with getting married (this was before I developed myriad opinions on this subject) in front of the whole world.

I judged and categorized. Dedicating a book with only initials was equivalent to whispering in somebody's ear that you liked them. Dedicating a book to a dead person was perhaps a little maudlin. Dedicating it to entire groups of people was too close to a politician's stump speech. Dedicating it to one's children was pat. Dedicating it to one's family or God was too Academy Awards. Some dedications were too longwinded. A work of fiction without a dedication simply didn't count. Nonfiction was allowed to have no dedication page.

At some point years ago, I realized that people might not be dedicating their books to people in the manner of a gift but literally writing their books for somebody in order to make a (debatably drawn out) point. I don't mean the way Fitzgerald wrote for Zelda (Z: Now will you marry me???). I mean that somebody might have wanted to show a friend or a former friend the size of their demands or the rhythms of their sweetness or the horror of a situation or had to draw a whole world into being to make a nuanced point in order to advance a years-long argument.

A dedication with all lowercase letters and no punctuation to somebody named Cooky with a y? Passes muster.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wembley

From Matt Goldberg's article "Feel Like a Stranger: Why I Put on a Skirt for the Grateful Dead," in the Summer 1999 issue of Hermenaut magazine:

During the London shows at Wembley, at the end of October that year, The Family spent each intermission in a beer-splattered, garishly lit concrete stairwell, sitting in a circle with the new recruits from our student body, eating prayed-over orange slices, holding hands, and engaging in a sort of slow and subtle group massage.

Wembley crowds the head with associations: crumby (Holden, acne, Stradlater), crumbly (the topping of the coffee cake mix that comes with a plastic "mixing" bag in the box), Dombey (Dickens), Wimbledon, Good King Wenceslas, Wallace & Gromit, and the entire British rail system of the late-1980s (putt-putt jitneys churning acrid smoke).