- As Thomas the Tank Engine turns seventy, it’s worth asking: What’s this talking train’s political agenda? A thoughtless pushover, fearful of going off the rails and fixed on his cohort’s industriousness, “Thomas resembles one of those preposterous idealized figures of Stalinist propaganda. Face radiant with a dream of heightened productivity. In fact, Stalin would probably have approved of Thomas, who always does what the Fat Controller tells him and strongly disapproves of other engines who step out of line.”
- If society seems increasingly illiterate to you, person of letters, remember that society relies less on literacy every year: “Most human beings worldwide would rather talk than read. Reading and writing are late inventions in the human story; widespread literacy in most places is only a few centuries old. And the fact that in black-and-white pictures of a commuter train almost every passenger is reading was an artifact of the technological state of things at the time. Today, most of those people’s equivalents are either talking on their phone or listening to music on it. Their forebears in those pictures would have been as well, if there had been devices to allow it.”
- Piero di Cosimo is remembered most for his religious paintings, but he also made “startlingly vivid portraits of individuals … He gave himself the same tests, again and again, though he did not always pass them: for example, depicting feet, which he did in an elegantly detailed manner, down to their splayed toes.”
- “When I began my first novel … I asked my colleague whether writing fiction caused manic-depression or merely mimicked the symptoms of manic-depression. He answered, ‘Yes,’ a cleverly enigmatic but also oddly confirming response.”
- Want a euphemism for motherfucker? Try melon-farmer, mother-fouler, or motorcycle, and have a nice day.
Recently, I went to Bar Pam Pam, a mysterious old-man bar in my neighborhood that I have often passed but never had the courage to enter. My friend Murray and I asked what was on tap, and the owner said, “Vieux Montreal” and stopped there. I liked that—it was like an old-time saloon. What kind of beer do you have? Just beer, stranger. This bar was wonderful, genuine, unmanufactured focus-group atmosphere, no loud music and a welcome refuge from hipsters and young people. The old-man bar, like many old men, is an institution that is dying out. It made me think of all of the other old-man bars that I know and love in Montreal. Come with me, I’ll show you …
Bar Pam Pam
I’ve already told you the appeal of this little gem, mere footsteps from my home! But a few notes from my visit there are worth the telling. A tipsy woman took out her guitar, randomly sang “Me and Bobby McGee” in heavily accented English, put the guitar back in its case, and continued drinking. No one else clapped or even seemed to notice this performance. Later, a heavy, bearded dude came in, and the bartender immediately brought a pitcher and glass to his table.
“Why you bring this? You never see me before,” said the bearded man.
“My friend, every night you come, this I know,” said the bartender, with a smile that was met by one from the bearded man. This was obviously their ritual.