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Posts Tagged ‘winter’

He Was Always Right, and Other News

January 20, 2015 | by

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James Rosenquist, Floating to the Top, 1964. Courtesy VAGA New York and Paul Kasmin Gallery.

  • Merriam-Webster has undertaken a daunting project: they’re publishing a new edition of their unabridged dictionary, which hasn’t seen a major overhaul since 1961. Their employees are already hard at work: “Emily Brewster has produced anywhere from five to twenty-five definitions a week. Twerking is ready, she tells me in December. Nutjob (which dates to 1959) and minorly are good to go. Jeggings is, too. The new sense of trolling looks promising, she says, ‘but first I have to finish hot mess.’ Brewster is very excited about hot mess. Thanks to Google Books, she found it in a machinists union trade journal from 1899: ‘If the newspaper says the sky is painted with green chalk that is what goes. Verily, I say unto you, the public is a hot mess.’ ”
  • In 1969, the curator Henry Geldzahler convinced the Met to host “New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940–1970,” a show so vast and intensely contemporary that it remains a watershed—so why not just do the whole thing again? “Henry had a fantastic eye. He wasn’t wrong about anything. He was always right.”
  • A mother from an affluent Texas town would strongly prefer her children to read Ayn Rand in school, not The Working Poor, David K. Shipler’s book about poverty. In other news, Oxfam announced yesterday that 1 percent of the global population holds half the world’s wealth.
  • George Steinmetz traveled by helicopter to take these aerial photographs of New York in winter. He and his pilot “frequently flew so low that they passed in between buildings, with Steinmetz and his camera hanging out of the open door.”
  • Remembering Alice K. Turner, who was Playboy’s fiction editor for two decades. “Fiction is kind of a nuisance,” she once said. “The ad sales guys don’t see the point. They would cut it out if they could, except for the fact that it adds a certain respectability … Playboy stories have beginnings, middles, and ends. They have a kind of general appeal. They are not experimental. They are not terribly modern or forward-reaching but they have real quality, or so I hope.”

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The Bleared White Visage of a Sunless Winter Day, and Other News

January 14, 2015 | by

Karl_Hagemeister_-_Havelufer_mit_Kahn_im_Schneetreiben_(1895)

Karl Hagemeister, Havelufer mit Kahn im Schneetreiben, 1895.

  • Which Thomas Hardy novel is the bleakest? A data-driven study looks at such criteria as “bleak events” (unrequited love, grinding poverty, animal genitalia-related injury), “bleakest words” (poor, alone, dead), and “bleakest quotes” (“The bleared white visage of a sunless winter day emerged like a dead-born child”).
  • Let’s keep things bleak and remind ourselves that the Internet isn’t killing the culture—it’s always been next to impossible to make a living in the arts. “‘You can make a killing in the theatre, but not a living,’ the playwright Robert Anderson is reported to have said in the mid-1950s—at the height, in other words, of government intervention and middlebrow respect for art.”
  • Bleaker still: “ ‘Brand’ may be an ugly word when applied to an author, literary agent Jonny Geller acknowledged, but it is only a shorthand for a way in which publishers are attempting to hold on to the reading public at a time when sales of print books are flat and electronic gadgets vie for readers’ attention.”
  • Because we’ve got a theme going, let’s investigate the history of influenza. “Some medical historians say that the virus goes back even further than the sixteenth century and into antiquity. They point to a suspiciously flu-like illness mentioned in writings dating as far back as 412 B.C.  Reports of ‘a certain evil and unheard of cough’ spreading through Europe in December 1173 cause some to believe flu pandemics have been around since the Middle Ages.”
  • And just to send it on home, it’s time to learn about anthropodermic bibliopegy, the art of making books from skin. For instance, “Burke and Hare were two serial killers in the early nineteenth century. They killed seventeen people. Essentially they were posing as body snatchers, but actually they were just killing everybody and selling the bodies to anatomists for dissection. So they’re caught, and Hare turns King’s evidence and Burke goes down for the crime. As added punishment, he is publicly dissected … They also took his skin and created all of these objects from it. One of the objects is a pocketbook.”

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Strange Sights Much Sought, Strange Things Much Bought

December 9, 2014 | by

December through the eyes of an Elizabethan poet.

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Hendrick Avercamp, Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters, ca. 1608.

It is now definitely December. Another November survived, and a grim November it was, too, the month Thoreau used to call November Eat-heart—days “as will almost oblige a man to eat his own heart,” in which “you must hold on to life by your teeth.” “You can hardly screw up your courage to take a walk … If you do feel any fire at this season out of doors, you may depend upon it, it is your own.” Even the life-affirming Nicholas Breton goes dark: “Now begins the Goshawk to weed the wood of the Pheasant, and the Mallard loves not to hear the bells of the Falcon. The winds now are cold, and the Air chill, and the poor die through want of Charity.”

Breton, ca. 1554–1626, was a prolific Elizabethan poet, friend to Edmund Spenser, with a penchant for powerfully balanced rhythms (“Sing a dirge on Spenser’s death, / Till your souls be out of breath”), but he’s justly forgotten today. Justly except for his fantastic Fantasticks: Serving for A Perpetuall Prognostication (1626). Along with lesser vignettes on the elements, seasons, hours, and major holidays, Fantasticks contains twelve little descriptions of the months that deserve to be immortal.

Starting in January, when “Time begins to turn the wheel of his Revolution,” Breton’s vivid natural and social descriptions march steadily through the year: “the Squirrel now surveyeth the Nut and the Maple, and the Hedgehog rolls up himself like a football”; in June, “the little Lads make Pipes of the straw, and they that cannot dance, will yet be hopping”; in September, “the winds begin to knock the Apples’ heads together on the trees, and the fallings are gathered to fill the Pies for the Household.” Each month ends with a kicker as balanced as a brace of oxen: May “is from the Heavens a Grace, & to the Earth a Gladness. Farewell.”

Here is December: Read More »

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I Scream

August 7, 2014 | by

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Photo: Zechariah Judy

As a child in suburban Connecticut, I had always considered the purl of the Good Humor truck to be more closely akin to a cricket’s chirp or the sound of summer rain: a seasonal gift, wreathed in sweet associations … [but] it is a grave error to assume that ice cream consumption requires hot weather. If that were the case, wouldn’t Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield have established their first ice cream parlor in Tallahassee instead of Burlington, Vermont, which averages 161 annual days of frost? … Wouldn’t John Goddard, an outdoorsman of my acquaintance, have arranged for a thermos of hot chicken soup instead of a half gallon of French vanilla ice cream with raspberry topping to be airdropped to him on the summit of Mount Rainier? And wouldn’t the Nobel Prize banquet, held every year in Stockholm on the tenth of December, conclude with crepes Suzette instead of glace Nobel? As the lights dim, a procession of uniformed servitors marches down the grand staircase, each bearing on a silver salver a large cake surrounded by spun sugar. Projecting from the cake is a dome of ice cream. Projecting from the dome is an obelisk of ice cream. Projecting from the obelisk is a flame. When the laureates—who have already consumed the likes of homard en gelée à la crème de choux fleur et au caviar Kalix and ballotine de pintade avex sa garniture de pommes de terre de Laponie with no special fanfare—see what is heading their way, they invariably burst into applause.

—Anne Fadiman, born today in 1953, from her essay “Ice Cream”

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“Snow Is a Hat Worn By Mountains”

February 13, 2014 | by

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Some might suggest that for a literary blog to feature three snow-related posts in a day is excessive. Well, tough. The weather has always been a great common denominator. And to our credit, we’ve refrained from calling this “Winter Storm Pax” or “the snowpocalypse.” We have standards.

Here, then, are seven poems from our archives fit for a snowy night. I won’t claim they’ll warm or comfort you—they’re poems, not pap—but they’re terrific reads, and they will be of some help. Next time you share an elevator with a distant colleague, you’ll use the weather as a conversational crutch, as one does; but instead of saying, “Man, it’s cold out!” you’ll say, “Snow is a hat worn by mountains.” You’ll make a lasting impression.

Note, too, that the majority of these poems were published in the spring or summer: a reminder that what’s unendurable now will be desirable in a few months’ time.

Debora Greger, “To the Snow” (from The Paris Review No. 154, Spring 2000)

Snow, let go. It’s late,
You are cornmush. You are cold.
Let me cover you with this white sheet.
No one will know.

Agha Shahid Ali, “Snow on the Desert” (from No. 107, Summer 1988)

the sliding doors of the fog were opened,
and the snow, which had fallen all night, now
sun-dazzled, blinded us, the earth whitened

out, as if by cocaine, the desert’s plants,
its mineral-hard colors extinguished,
wine frozen in the veins of the cactus.

Read More »

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Ice—It’s More Than Just Frozen Water!

January 8, 2014 | by

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Lower Glacière of the Pré de S. Livres, 1865, an illustration from Ice-caves of France and Switzerland.

 

If ice has lost all its wonder and the world feels to you like little more than a refrigerated truck, spend a few minutes with Ice-Caves of France and Switzerland: A Narrative of Subterranean Exploration, George Forrest Browne’s 1865 account of his journeys into the glacières of Chappet-sur-Villaz, La Genollière, and other such exotic Continental locales. The book’s tone is, as its title might suggest, implacably British, and Browne makes for an almost risibly agreeable narrator. The man simply loves to describe ice.

It did not separate under the axe into misshapen pieces, with faces of every possible variation from regularity, that is, with what is called vitreous fracture, but rather separated into a number of nuts of limpid ice, each being of a prismatic form, and of much regularity in shape and size.

A contemporary reader might expect some harrowing brush with fate, but this is not Into Thin Air. Browne is largely content to stay out of harm’s way:

It would be very imprudent to go straight into an ice-cave after a long walk on a hot summer’s day, so we prepared to dine under the shade of the trees at the edge of the pit, and I went down into the cave for a few moments to get a piece of ice for our wine.

And lest you tire of his meticulous accounts of ice formations, you’ll find relief in the more mundane details of his travelogue:

A counter-irritant appeared in the shape of a fellow-traveller, whose luggage consisted of a stick and an old pair of boots. The man was not pleasant to be near in any way, and he was evidently not at all satisfied with the amount of room I allowed him. He kept discontentedly and doggedly pushing his spare pair of boots farther and farther into my two-thirds of the seat, and once or twice was on the point of a protest, in which case I was prepared to tell him that as he filled the whole banquette with his smell, he ought in reason to be satisfied with less room for himself.

 

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