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Posts Tagged ‘love’

The Physiology of Marriage

May 20, 2014 | by

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This man could save your marriage—or ruin it. A portrait of Balzac, based on an 1842 daguerreotype

It’s Honoré de Balzac’s birthday, making this as good an occasion as any to investigate one of his stranger works, 1829’s The Physiology of Marriage—an extraordinary kind of precursor to the self-help manual. Balzac was thirty when it was published, and already he felt he knew enough about the institution of marriage to advise others on the matter. And maybe he was: though he hadn’t married yet, he’d already perfected the art of the aphorism. This book is full of them: “To saunter is a science; it is the gastronomy of the eye. To take a walk is to vegetate; to saunter is to live.” “A man ought not to marry without having studied anatomy, and dissected at least one woman.” And “Marriage is a fight to the death, before which the wedded couple ask a blessing from heaven, because it is the rashest of all undertakings to swear eternal love; the fight at once commences and victory, that is to say liberty, remains in the hands of the cleverer of the two.”

The Physiology of Marriage is a series of meditations on the more quotidian aspects of loving and living with another—many of which arrive at the rather contemporary conclusion that marriage is an exceedingly difficult arrangement, liable to end in adultery. The book has moments of surprising candor about men and women, and Balzac clearly knows a thing or two about, you know, the Human Comedy. But he’s also full of lousy counsel, and he loves playing power games. Here, for instance, are some excerpts from Meditation XII, “On the Hygiene of Marriage”:Read More »

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Hoosier State

April 29, 2014 | by

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Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture, on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Fifty-Fifth Street.

Once, when I was working as a waitress, a mother came into the restaurant with her two little boys, whom we’d seen before. I must say, they were not particularly appealing children—they were wild and hard to control, and frequently cruised around the interior of the restaurant on scooters. On this day, one of them, about four years old, climbed atop an empty table and wouldn’t get down.

I said, “Honey, you have to come down from there.”

To which he said, “Fuck you!”

So I lifted him down bodily.

He ran to his mother in tears, screaming and whining. His mother said, “Sweetheart, the lady only did that because she loves you.” Read More »

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Growing Up Together

March 11, 2014 | by

Love through the lens of Fellini.

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Fellini and Masina on the set of La Strada, 1954. Photo: Studio Patellani

Among the central occupations of Fellini’s work is what he wants from the women in his life. Near the end of , his alter ego speaks of a kind of Ideal Woman: “She’s beautiful … young, yet ancient … child, yet already woman. Authentic, complete. It’s obvious she could be his salvation.” Between the breathy declaiming and ’s famous layers of metafiction, you get the idea that even Fellini sees this isn’t exactly a healthy attitude.

Still, throughout his work, the search for an ideal of womanhood is represented in a series of large and buxom temptresses: Anita Ekberg, Sandra Milo, Eddra Gale in an especially memorable dance sequence as La Saraghina. But pulling his films off the shelf one by one, my wife and I agreed the problem was most nearly solved, onscreen and in life, by his wife and best collaborator, the tiny and brilliant Guilietta Masina.

For any of this to make sense I’ll have to say a little about what Lola, the woman in my life, is like. To start, she’s French. She’s small and she likes to refer to herself as my little wife, but she’s solid too, and fit, with strong legs: in the WNFL she’d be a halfback. When she gets excited she bounces on her toes and hugs me around the waist, looking up at me. She’s far from graceless but she sometimes moves with a child’s gracelessness, like Masina—that physicality, impetuosity of expression and utterance, a mischievous delight in small wonders and small triumphs. On the other hand, when she has to enter or pass through a dark room, she stands for a moment at the threshold looking in with narrowed eyes. Anyway, I’m guessing the comparison to Masina will please her; she’s herself an actress, the kind whose outsize physical presence lends to rather than diminishes the subtlety of her performances. She comes from a family of film people, and all manner of moving image can transfix her: Tarkovsky, or Ozu, or Maya Deren. She sleeps deeply, dreams bodily, and uses cuddle as a transitive verb, one of the few early solecisms she’s done me the kindness of preserving. She cuddles me. Read More »

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R. S. Thomas’s “Luminary”

February 14, 2014 | by

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Photo: André Mouraux, via Flickr

I wrote in my journal, “It is Valentine’s Day. Very good weather. I walked through Central Park feeling lonely and benign and so happy for everyone I saw who was in love, or starting to be in love. I have come to accept that that kind of thing is not meant for me, but that is not a sad thought: there are many ways to love, and be loved, and live a rich life anyway. I will be okay!” I was eighteen.

At the time, I didn’t know the poem “Luminary” by R. S. Thomas; I wish I had. A friend would introduce me to his work the next year. This poem, which so captures a certain wistful quality, came to me even later; it is one of the “rediscovered poems” anthologized a few years ago with Thomas’s other uncollected works.

Those who know Thomas will recognize certain tropes: the elevation of the natural, the suspicion of institutions and “the Machine.” But it is, first and foremost, a love poem. “My balance / of joy in a world / that has gone off joy’s / standard.”

Romantic, yes, but as even I recognized as a melodramatic spinster of eighteen, romance and love can coexist quite comfortably. This poem, to me, conjures both. Read More »

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That’s a No-No

February 14, 2014 | by

Choosing your own erotic destiny, or trying to.

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Panel from Secret Hearts No. 111, April 1966.

A few nights ago, I was in a world-class sushi restaurant, holding a radish shaped like a rose and contemplating my next move. Koji, the head chef, had carved the radish-rose for me moments ago, after a game of strip poker that ended with him fucking me in the dining room. Earlier that night, I’d adjourned to a lavish hotel suite to suck tequila from a rock star’s navel; a renowned fashion photographer had taken pictures of my genitals and gone down on me in his darkroom, where I’d blurted without thinking, “God, I’m so wet!”; and I’d indulged in a little tasteful S&M with my friend’s older boss, spanking his firm, muscled, George Clooney-ish buttocks with a schoolteacher’s ruler.

Now I felt trapped, denatured, and sort of bored.

A Girl Walks into a Bar is a new choose-your-own-adventure-style erotic novel in which “YOU make the decisions.” YOU, in this case, was me—I was calling the shots in this vale of thrills. I’d picked up Girl in pursuit of cheap gender-bending laughs, but I also had what you might charitably call an anthropological curiosity. In the wake of Fifty Shades of Grey, I wanted to see: What did a mainstream erotic novel look like?

Written by three South African women under the pseudonym Helena S. Paige, A Girl Walks into a Bar markets itself as an empowerment agent. “YOUR FANTASY, YOUR RULES. YOU DECIDE HOW THE NIGHT WILL END,” its cover says. (Another new novel with a similar conceit, Follow Your Fantasy, suggests, “Even if you choose submission, the control is still all yours.”) But by promising refuge for the powerless, the publishers reveal something much sadder—the subtext of these proclamations is that control, especially for women, is simply too hard to come by in the real world. One might as well get one’s kicks elsewhere. When you print “YOU DECIDE HOW THE NIGHT WILL END” on the front of a work of fiction, you imply that women are not often afforded the pleasure of doing so. Read More »

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Love in a Cold Climate

January 6, 2014 | by

Photography: Sebastian Dooris

Photo: Sebastian Dooris

I moved to Greenpoint, in North Brooklyn, on the heels of a breakup, and although I lived there for years, in my memories it is always somehow winter. While I was hardly a pioneer in the neighborhood—a recognizable mumblecore actor lived one fire escape away—ten years ago it was still a far cry from today’s full-on Girls-level gentrification; friends still griped about taking the unreliable G train to come visit, and more than one said that the rent had better be pretty cheap to justify the schlep. It was.

To those who know the area, this was just off of Monsignor McGolrick Park, a twelve-minute walk from the Nassau Avenue station. At first glance the apartment was unprepossessing, but after I had pulled up the stained carpet, painted the walls a vivid blue, found a copper leaf sculpture at a thrift store, and sewn a gaily-patterned bark-cloth curtain to separate the bedroom, I fancied it was cheerful, in a vaguely retro-modern way. There was also a fire escape large enough for a table and chairs, not to mention a few pots of nasturtiums and some basil in the summer, even though, again, my primary memories involve snow.

I had chosen the neighborhood because it was one of the few where I could both afford to live alone on my shopgirl salary and also feel safe walking alone at night. But I had not been living there long when I met M., and he kind of just moved in by osmosis. It was never a formal arrangement, but I didn’t like going to his roommate-filled bachelor pad three trains away, and we were young enough that this sort of thing seemed normal. Read More »

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