Saturday, July 31, 2010


From a June 11, 2010 posting by Terry Castle in the Forum for PEN America 12: Correspondences, on PEN's website, in response to the following:

1 Write the first paragraph of a letter you’d like to send either to another writer, living or dead, or to a fictional character.


2 Describe your experience with the new technology of correspondence: Twitter, e-mail, Facebook, etc.

The end of the Castle posting reads: Whereas, my sweetest doily, I am terse forever.

Doily is such a darling word, eye-wise especially.

My favorite sentences from farther up in the post include

Infarction it: you have only to endow your head, or cock a snood at me, and I will pull off all your pretty crinklings and creosote, remove your glittering earwigs, and radish you on the spot.

I must say: radishing on the spot! Then there's

Yes, librarians everywhere are coming out of the quonset. It’s a hut!

(slantwise Canadian, there), and

So let me bisque in your charms.

I post all this at the end of a week during which I am considering closing down my Facebook account. On a related note, reading over a journal entry from years ago, I passed a short conversation I had with a man who tried out a cell phone while walking on the street. He said he realized that he had missed everything but everything occurring over the course of four blocks. He told me he was not going to be buying a cell phone. I wonder if he has one now.

Sometimes I also wonder if there are any otherwise regular parents in the city who do not have and use cell phones deliberately (as parents) and whose children also don't have and use them.

I half-expect technology to figure heavily in the next Austen parody, something like Mansfield Cell-Phone-Tower Park.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


This is not such an interesting word, granted. The Times recently ran a run-down of the language used in "Mad Men," how authentic it is or not. For example, in one episode--would I could remember it at the moment--Peggy uses the phrase "I'm in a good place right now," a misplaced expression. How this got on-air I'll never know. One of the best expressions (which isn't really an expression expression) is "I am sorry about that," which Roger says to Don after he lets slip about Henry Francis.

In the meantime, there is the new season. The premiere opened with a line so silly, I thought I was watching the wrong program.

Slate and the Wall Street Journal (sorry, but bring on the pillows for the Journal) have been commenting on the premiere. There was a little something about the slapping prostitute but nothing that nips at Don's self-loathing. Somebody mentioned that Don has no self; that's not so. Go back to his conversations with Anna, for starters.

But I digress. The word is grabby, from Roger's comment to Don: "Jane's friend found you to be charming, although a little grabby in the car."

John Slattery delivers the line in a way that makes grabby sound, well, grabby.

Please note: If the woman is Jane's friend, it's hardly likely she would be surprised.

At the Brooklyn Flea this weekend, I was thumbing through cards of Manhattan cafeterias (personally I miss Mary Elizabeth Tea Room) and wondering when Mr Weiner's crew was going to get around to using one for a set. Some nice bentwood chairs to be shown off.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


From John Comloquoy's photograph titled "Canada."

His caption: An old croft house on the lower slopes of Greeny Hill.

I like the idea of Canada where Canada is not.


From Nigel Slater's June 6, 2010 column originally published in The Observer (on Sunday) magazine:

I made a little rabbit dish this weekend, wild British bunny from the supermarket cut into neat portions, its pale, lean meat browned lightly in hot butter then cooked slowly with tarragon, as you might a young chicken.

It seems to me that the phrase "wild British bunny" could be pressed into service any number of ways. I think John Lithgow would put a good spin on it, with the right line.

Meanwhile, the Brits (and, apparently, Catalans) are much more comfortable eating rabbit than are Americans. What kind of supermarket, though, is Slater talking about--a Tesco or a shop like David Lidgate's? (Although . . . Lidgate puts rabbit and hare season at August to March.)

Post-post note: I think I wrote about bunny in the past, wondering about the origin of the word.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


You don't know who Pietro Yantorny is? Neither did I, until 5 o'clock this afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum's "American Woman" exhibit. He is an Italian shoemaker (b. 1874; d. 1936), and he made some shoes that looked straight out of the court of Louis the Sun King. At least, that's what the shoes displayed at this exhibit reminded me of.

Essentially a costume exhibit about the world of the American woman as described by Condé Nast, the idea is to show off beautiful dresses, skirts, capes, blouses, and shoes (and, okay, tables and lamps) as worn and arranged by the people Veblen wrote about. We know these people well.

Yet: I spot so very few Italian words ending in y that I had to take this one down. It was close enough, an Italian instead of Italian. Among fashion people Yantorny is well known. The Bata Shoe Museum featured him in its shoe of the month podcast last May.

The Met had placed a muster of his creations in a viewing box near the entryway of its Bohemian Room ("Afternoon of a Faun" was playing, and the walls bore a Tiffany motif). The shoes, filled with wooden trees, were sitting pretty on wheat-gold velvet in a case that might have gone on to a second life as a home for a silver service. It's really too bad that shoe trees are so rare these days. They are handy.

The shoes themselves were made of "silk satin, silk velvet, cream Venetian gros-point lace, metallic sequins, and glass beads." Cream Venetian gros-point lace? What is that, exactly?

It's difficult in an era when flip-flops are considered shoes--and fashionable shoes at that--to walk through the exhibit and not become just a bit wistful. American women have so little left of what might be termed Kimono Culture. True, it's nice to pull on jeans and a t-shirt and slouch across the city, but there is also something worthwhile, I think, in devoting time and attention to assemble and layer and juxtapose in order to create something fine. We can't all be Garanimals. We can't all be Lady Gaga. I like putting on a cocktail dress every once in a while. (I watch "Mad Men" to see people wearing actual clothing on any given day. "The Light in the Piazza" was satisfying this way, as well.)

For dress-dreaming purposes, the exhibit had some excellent candidates. There were two Charles James dresses that appealed to my penchant for gathers, fluting, pleats, and ruching. There was also two Madame Grès (née Germaine Emilie Krebs) gowns along these lines.

The dress I had trouble stepping away from seemed appropriate for a night on Gramercy Park c. 1910, or a celebratory feast in a deep green forest in Russia or Sweden--possibly Germany. Musicians, oysters, a long table, and a bowl of punch would figure in somehow.

When looking at dresses, I imagine most women (and some men) tend to try them on. Oh, I could wear that. I'd like to wear that. I would wear that. (A woman looking at the Yantorny shoes said this last.)

The feast dress was so pretty, though, it seemed to me that one doesn't put it on or wear it. At the risk of sounding like a Patek Philippe ad, I would say that the dress calls for a word like array or bedeck. It's the kind of dress Lady Godiva wore invisibly as she rode.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Looks like a suffix, but in regional speech it means seaweedy.

I came across it while rummaging around in a site and finding out about the marteloio.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


From an excerpt of Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time of Gifts in an old Knopf guide to Vienna (Fermor dilating upon the Turkish influence):

There were quivers and arrows and quarrels and bow-cases and tartar bows; scimitars, khanjars, yataghans, lances, bucklers, drums; helmets damascened and spiked and fitted with arrowy nasal-pieces; the turbans of janissaries, a pasha's tent, cannon and flags and horsetail banners with their bright brass crescents.

The guide says that Fermor "journeyed on foot to Constantinople from the Hook of Holland in 1993 and passed through Vienna on the way."

I know nothing about Fermor. Did he wear out his knee cartilage the way Thesiger did? Note: I know little about Thesiger, but he is entrancing.

Of course, the unknown has dropped off the face of the world map since his death. At this point, I would think that the best travel "destinations" are ones where there is no cell-phone service, no television, and no surveillance cameras. I imagine that people visiting such places would relax--truly, interiorly (word?)--exponentially more than they would by going to places wired and screened to the hilt. Maybe one day a nature preserve will be just this--plus some trees, flora, and shubbery, and small creatures.

Monday, July 12, 2010


From "A watershed moment," by Gaynor Aaltonen, in the July 10/July 11 2010 issue of the Financial Times:

Legends seep through the area and one maintains that Kerr's house stands on ley lines and therefore has the "right energy"

The article is about a man who has installed a personal power plant at his family home in Alhampton (in Somerset) using the technology of the Archimedes screw. Apparently the British government's Environment Agency calls the screws "pescalators", because they are "fish-friendly". I wonder how, exactly.

I don't know that I would set ley near key.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


A funny old spelling of the word mighty.

What it might mean if it didn't mean mighty:

A.) The kind of smudge one of those grime bugs makes when you kill it on your arm
B.) Common phlegm
C.) A nonsense word having to do with the way a knish is eaten

Friday, July 2, 2010


From the post One Year Gone, on Rebecca Moore's blog What would the Wertis say?

The dark bathrooms stank of Dettol disinfectant, an unkind, Band-Aidy (Elastoplast) smell.

It's just a charming, ponytail swing of a y word.

Rebecca also happens to be the author of a passage I copied into the front of my 2009 datebook (the passage is from a short story she published some time ago):

We must be in Mercury retrograde, I thought. It was an astrological condition my Mom's boyfriend, Wayne, told me about, a reversal of luck, good or bad. Wayne explained it like you're on a train and when another train is passing, going in the same direction, it looks like it's going backward. He says Mercury retrograde is a time when it's impossible to judge distances. If you know when it's going to happen, you can get yourself in the right mindframe and it doesn't totally screw you up. That's how, when the trains start sliding backward, you know which way they're really going.

A fine passage, I say.

Even if I hadn't copied down that passage, I wouldn't have forgotten Rebecca. Many years ago, when I was living in my first Brooklyn apartment and having a ball teaching small, very bright, and sophisticated children, she came to a birthday party of mine bearing those bright-colored candy "fruit" slices. Nobody had ever given me those fruit slices before, and, somehow, it seemed a very Rebecca thing to do.