Dog's Dinner

"You're not loved because you're lovable, you're lovable 'cause you're loved."

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Bread with Lard

Needless to say, I've had a number of lapses from the fish-salad-soup regime I laid out herein some weeks ago, but I don't regret any of them, as it was never meant to be an absolutist regime: "Moderation in all things, including moderation," is my creed. A goulash here, a stuffed cabbage there... and in due time we return to the Golden Fish. "If You Lose Your Mind, Come Back" was the slogan of Shambhala Sun Summer Camp.

I try to avoid drinking in the afternoon, but the pub on the corner of the street where I live offers free slices of bread with lard until 5 PM, and today I simply couldn't resist having a pint of beer and a few slices of larded bread as I read another few pages of King Jesus by Robert Graves, a secular, but fanciful account of Jesus' life, full of dry yet intriguing arcana: it reads like another addendum to The Lord of the Rings, written by the Oscar Wilde who wrote "Salome," on quaaludes.

Speaking (I was a minute ago) of "Food, Glorious, Food," in a fit of whimsy I looked up Mark Lester, the actor who played Oliver in the film Oliver! (though he first achieved wide acclaim as "Jiminy, who stuttered" in Our Mother's House), on IMDb. It turns out that like most child actors he dropped acting after a few years and is now an osteopath, married to another osteopath. How lovely! I then looked up Jack Wild, who played the Artful Dodger-- he stucked with acting, but it's been a rocky road. You may have seen him as "Much the Miller's Son" in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The only film I had seen him in besides Oliver!, though I don't remember his part, was Jacques' Demy's The Pied Piper, one of my absolute top 20 or so favorite films, though I've only seen it once (don't think it's yet available on video or DVD). You definitely have to see it if you get the chance. It's the saddest, truest fairly tale you'll ever see on the big screen.

On another note: Jesus, the execrable music in this internet cafe is, quite simply, intolerably loud and intrusive. I completely forgot the brilliant segue I had planned... sorry.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Now I Do Repent Me of My Fury

If there's anyone self-satisfied and self-aggrandizing, I suppose it's me, in particular in the pages of this blog so far. So while I have no worthwhile way of making amends to my students who don't know I've insulted them herein, I can offer something to Jesus, whether he reads this blog or not, to show that I see the worth in his way. It comes from Oscar Wilde (who else?), from his De Profundis... it touches on the place, the wound I should say, where all faiths meet:

... For the secret of life is suffering. It is what is hidden behind everything. When we begin to live, what is sweet is so sweet to us, and what is bitter so bitter, that we inevitably direct all our desires towards pleasures, and seek not merely for a 'month or twain to feed on honeycomb,' but for all our years to taste no other food, ignorant all the while that we may really be starving the soul.

I remember talking once on this subject to one of the most beautiful personalities I have ever known: a woman, whose sympathy and noble kindness to me, both before and since the tragedy of my imprisonment, have been beyond power and description; one who has really assisted me, though she does not know it, to bear the burden of my troubles more than any one else in the whole world has, and all through the mere fact of her existence, through her being what she is-- partly an ideal and partly an influence: a suggestion of what one might become as well as a real help towards becoming it; a soul that renders the common air sweet, and makes what is spiritual seem as simple and natural as sunlight or the sea: one for whom beauty and sorrow walk hand in hand, and have the same message. On the occasion of which I am thinking I recall distinctly how I said to her that there was enough suffering in one narrow London lane to show that God did not love man, and that wherever there was any sorrow, though but that of a child, in some little garden weeping over a fault that it had or had not committed, the whole face of creation was completely marred. I was entirely wrong. She told me so, but I could not believe her. I was not in the sphere in which such belief was to be attained to. Now it seems to me that love of some kind is the only possible explanation of the extraordinary amount of suffering that there is in the world. I cannot conceive of any other explanation.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

This Was A Man

Did you know that JFK gave his entire salary to charity, from the time he entered Congress in 1947 to the time he died? Just learned this from reading Ben Bradlee's Conversations With Kennedy. The charities were: the Girl Scouts, the Boy Scouts, the United Negro College Fund, Boys Club of America, National Association for Retarded Children, Girls Club of America, and Federation of Jewish Philanthropies. And Paul Johnson in his History of the American People said Kennedy was "mean," as if he'd known him. Of course Jackie wasn't too happy about it...

Anyway, makes you think.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Varian and the Bulgarian

More thoughts on finding another personality through a second language, et al.

When I was working as a secretary at the United Methodist Office for the UN (UMOUN) in the Church Center for the UN, across the street from the UN itself, a job I acquired thanks to my passable French, I decided to avail myself of the Russian classes available at the world institution. I had already studied Russian on and off for about 6 years, but was deeply dissatisfied with my progress, plus I had an ulterior motive: I was thinking about applying to graduate school in either History, Area Studies, or Slavic Languages and Literatures, so I knew it would help me to brush up on my grammar and hopefully learn some new words. As usual, there were students of different levels together in one class (Level 7), so things moved slowly. But it was all worth it for the charming story that we read and listened to in class one day about a low-level Bulgarian office worker, one Vylnarov, who went to Lisbon as an interpreter for a tour group and became something of a celebrity there. The source of his fame: without knowing a word of Portuguese to begin with, he had memorized all the words in the phrasebook:

The guide greeting the newly arrived tour group addressed them in Portuguese:
"How do you feel after the long flight?"
The tourists looked at Vylnarov. He replied, without missing a beat:
"Wonderful, good, not so good, bad, tired, sick."
The guide and the others greeting them noted his clever joke with appreciation. Two beautiful brunettes presented Vylnarov with roses.
"Is this medicine to be taken internally or externally?" Vylnarov asked.
He was rewarded with another burst of laughter. The director of the tour agency was immediately informed that a famous comedian had traveled incognito with the tour group.
....... [then, in the restaurant:]
"What would you like, sir?" the waiter asked respectfully.
This question was familiar to Vylnarov. He answered, without a pause:
"I will have one (two, three, four) steak (schnitzel, roast beef, lamb, chicken, sausage with cabbage)."
The director laughed heartily and raised his glass to the health of his dear guest:
"I wish to welcome the famous Bulgarian humorist," he said.
"I am an engineer (metallurgist, miner, farmer, singer, ballerina, dental technician..."
Laughter and applause drowned out his words.

The story ends on a note of melancholy, however. When poor old Vylnarov comes back to Bulgaria, he feels like just another ordinary working slob again. Around the time that we read that in class I read something on the internet about Varian Fry, the American diplomat responsible for saving numerous European cultural luminaries from the fires of the Holocaust. Like Vylnarov, Fry had been placed in a uniquely wonderful position in his exile (with the difference that he provided the joy not of laughter, but of survival), and when he returned to some desk job in America he felt once again like quite the ordinary, unexciting fellow whom he was, a profoundly depressing experience for him.

I am fascinated by the way that another language, another country, another gender, or another identity of any kind can awaken a sleeping tiger of hidden potentialities in a person: look at Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, Johnny Depp in Donnie Brasco and Dead Man, Michael Redgrave in The Captive Heart, Tatsyuda Nakadai in Kagemusha, Kim Novak in Vertigo, Keanu Reeves in Point Break, Gerard Depardieu in The Return of Martin Guerre, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like it Hot (and look at Shakespeare's As You Like It, Twelfth Night, etc.), among many others. I've talked with my brother Nick about these films as being "films about acting," and if you go back to the origins of theatre in Dionysian rite, you find that the very source of it was this blurring of identity, this rejoicing in the collapse of the barrier between Self and Other, which is at the crux of these films. The superhero myths also, that is, Batman and Spiderman, not Superman (who as Clark Kent is a tragic hero descending to farce, as discussed in Kill Bill, vol. 2), trace a similar trajectory.

But surely it's unhealthy to seek release or power in escaping from the self? Yes, as unhealthy as deluding oneself that one's "proper self" isn't susceptible to change.