Archive for the ‘Words’ Category

Little Gobbets

July 22, 2014

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§44 – The key to modern life

November 20, 2013



…and a bun

July 8, 2013

On July 10 Sotheby’s is auctioning Samuel Beckett’s autograph manuscript of “Sasha Murphy”—what would become Murphy (1938). The handwritten, heavily-edited draft fills six school exercise books and is sprinkled throughout with hundreds of doodles, in pen and crayon, “of women with huge, globular breasts, of bicycles, syringes and astronomical figures, of a mermaid and men in bowler hats” along with caricatures of Charlie Chaplin, James Joyce and others. But, to my taste, the best sidebar doodle (noticed by Peter Leggatt in his preview of the manuscript) is a rhetorical question scribbled in the margins:

What is my life but a preference for the ginger biscuit? 

1930s doodles by Beckett, available this Wednesday for anyone with an huge billfold.

1930s doodles by Beckett, available this Wednesday for anyone with an huge billfold.

Animal Punishment

March 30, 2013

Animal Punishment

Memories, Dreams, Reflections: Late Thoughts

March 17, 2013

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Hassan al-Banna & The Flux Capacitor

March 6, 2013

You know that silly internet meme where people locate “time travelers” in old photographs? Well—somewhat improbably—I think I discovered evidence of Muslim Brotherhood time travelers in an old Lehnert & Landrock photo. Check out the name of the ahwa in the classic photo below. The calligraphy is a bit ornate, but, yes, it reads: **Mohamed Morsi Supporter Club**.


Lehnert & Landrock & Morsi. The (literal) signs of his presidency have been in front of us for 75 years!

From right to left in standard font, it’s:

نادي    محمد مرسي    مؤيد

Muy trippy! Nice fodder for a new conspiracy theory…
(Now it’s only a matter of time until we unearth time-travelling evidence of Mohamed Morrissey…)

Please find attached my discontent

February 8, 2013

One of the vomit-piles of modern life is formal email correspondence. Swapping stock phrases with strangers at the unfun costume party called “job”: No Thanks! Was amused then to discover that the ubiquitous Please Find Attached‘s stodgy uncle Please Find Enclosed has long been a punching bag of usage guides.

Bryan Garner writes of enclosed please find, please find enclosed, enclosed herewith, and enclosed herein: “These phrases—common in commercial and legal correspondence—are archaic deadwood for here are, enclosed is, I’ve enclosed, or the like. Interestingly, business-writing texts have consistently condemned the phrases since the late 19th century” and provides a few samples.

“Please find enclosed: A more ridiculous use of words, it seems to me, there could not be.” R.G. White (1880)

Inclosed herewith please find. Inclosed and herewith mean the same thing. How foolish to tell your reader twice exactly where the check is, and then to suggest that he look around to see if he can find it anywhere. Say ‘We are enclosing our check for $25.50.'” Bartholomew & Hurlbut (1924)

Please find enclosed. This worn-out formula is not in good use in letters, either business or personal.” M. Weseen (1928)

“When you read a letter that sounds as if it were a compendium of pat expressions from some old letter book of the goose-quill period, do you feel that you are communicating with the writer’s mind? On the contrary, if you have a discerning mind, you know that you are merely getting a reflex from one who lacks taste and good mental digestion…. When you compose letters, beware these bromides: …inclosed please find.” H. Cramp (1930)

“Business words and expressions borrowed from an earlier generation can make your writing sound artificial and pedantic. Every letter will read like a form letter, and you will sound bored or, even worse, boring. Thinking up substitute phrases is easy if you put your mind to it. Consider some of these revisions: … Enclosed please find [becomes] I am enclosing.” M. Piotrowski (1989)


Superb Owl

February 5, 2013

In recognition of the victory of The Ravens, here is a haunted tidbit related to Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. Written by Gauguin in the Marquesas (tite flag) shortly before the painter’s death, it relates an anecdote from Paris, 1880.

… Do not get the notion of reading Edgar Allan Poe except in some very reassuring place….

Let me tell you a true story. My wife and I were both reading in front of the fireplace. Outdoors it was cold. My wife was reading Poe’s The Black Cat

The fire was about to go out and the weather was cold. It was time to go fetch some coal. My wife went down to the cellar of the little house we had sublet from the painter Jobbé-Duval.

On the steps a black cat gave a frightened jump. So did my wife. But after a moment of hesitation she continued on her way. Two shovelfuls of coal—and a skull emerged from the heap of coal. Shivering with frieght my wife left everything in the cellar, raced back up the stairs, and finally fainted in the bedroom. I went down in turn, and as I shoveled more coal I brought an entire skeleton to light. It was an old wired skeleton that Jobbé-Duval had used and then, when it had gone out of joint, had thrown away in the cellar.

… Beware of reading Edgar Allan Poe.


Yes, beware of reading EAP… especially his godawful poetry. Somehow the French have always thought him a badass. BTW, Gauguin compares Poe’s work to the paintings of Odilon Redon. (p.s. the expression on this “face” is not acceptable!)

Mr. Misr

January 10, 2013

For those who dig the ‘Egypt’ tag on this brog, you may be interested to read doomspirals’ article in the new issue of MERIP. (For those without a subscription, a PDF of the article is here.) The article discusses police violence during the revolution in the Cairo neighborhood of Imbaba (beloved locale & former doomspirals HQ). The article tells the story of a young man killed by the police and follows his family’s pursuit of justice within the wider context of security sector reform since the revolution. The unfinished business of ‘Police Reform’ & ‘Transitional Justice’ are not exactly Hot Topix in the media but, I believe, they are the measure by which we may rightly call the Egyptian Revolution a revolution.

Since the article was written there have been two developments that update the story:


I dont know watt

January 9, 2013

There is a certain charm conveyed in the variant spellings of words in texts written before dictionaries standardized the language. Somehow this charm is doubled when the author is freestyling words from another language. I’ve been reading the journals of John Stedman and quite liked this gem from the French in a passage detailing Stedman’s self-professed prowess with ladies:

I was certainly much beloved amongst the girls, but particularly of a certain sort, not by the best of them… on account of my person which was without vanity allowed to be a lure for most of women species—I had a Je ne say qwoy about me, of the fasquinating kind, which attracted the girls as the eys of the Rattlesnake attrakts Squirls, and unaccountably persuades them to submission. (1786)

Fasquinating indeed.


Rags and Feathers

November 9, 2012

The two of us lazing in the park

with silence sweeping the green,

as a summer day fizzles out

in the static, darkening leaves.

I love how the last line pivots on the two meanings of static: the hissing of summer lawns, and stilling of autumn trees.

Speaking of albums that Tanky spun for us in Canadian nights, here is a diamond in the mine: Nina Simone’s gorgeous version of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”. An incredible arrangement. Her reworking of the phrasing honors the original and yet makes it new (a higher honor to the original).

Nina Simone “Suzanne” (1969). (Cohen’s original was released in 1967.)

(Also glinting in the same mine: Aretha Franklin “Suzanne” (1973). An outtake from the sessions for Hey Now Hey (The Other Side Of The Sky).)


The above poem: “The Nightingale” by Ben Wilkinson

Are we ever meant to read “the nightingale” as the-night-in-gale? The sweet soft spontaneous song of night—but within it the stormy dark? Love & despair in one tangle. Or despair lurking where love lives. Wilkinson’s poem touches this turn; as the summer “fizzles out” he wistfully recalls: “Once, love came easily enough”—and the weight of that ‘once’ is the rub (does it mean ‘once’ as in before or ‘once’ as in one time only?). The poet’s prayer is that it means ‘before, and also again’. And asks his beloved to fend off the clouds & shadows and hear again the clarity. RIGHT! Push back against the gale—TGIF yallz.

In Print: 2 of 3 — Flaubert’s Business Card

October 15, 2012

Maxime du Camp, companion of Flaubert, was the first to photograph the Sphinx.

I’ve found amusement in the psychedelic business cards of Mohamed Ali Street for several years—it’s always nice to establish credentials as a Libra, Mercenary, Horse Whisperer, etc. But visitors making weird jokes with business cards in Egypt is hardly novel.

When Flaubert travelled to Egypt in 1849 in the guise of an oriental adventurer, the famous novelist accompanied his friend Maxime du Camp to the summit of great pyramid. Precluding any sense of a pioneering accomplishment, Flaubert reached the summit at dawn only to find pinned to the capstone… a business card.

The light increases. There are two things: the dry desert behind us, and before us an immense, delightful expanse of green, furrowed by endless canals, dotted here and there with tufts of palms; then, in the background, a little to the left, the minarets of Cairo and especially the mosque of Mohamed Ali (imitating Santa Sophia), towering above the others. On the side of the Pyramid lit by the raising sun I see a business card: ‘Humbert, Frotteur’ fastened to the stone.

The card gave a Rouen address, Flaubert’s hometown. It had been placed there as a gag by Maxime.

And lest you ever accuse Egyptians of being odd—as Flaubert often did—consider this extra detail. Recounting the Humbert episode in a letter to his mother, Flaubert admitted that the uncanny card was actually his—he had brought the card from France for the purpose of the gag. Double weird?: The morning of his ascent, Flaubert had misplaced the gag prop. But the card was discovered by Maxime, who, surmising Flaubert’s prank, scurried ahead to the top of the pyramid and positioned the card. Thus when Flaubert arrived at the summit, he was surprised to find the business card that he was supposed to be “surprised to find”.


In Print: 1 of 3

October 15, 2012

In keeping with doomspirals’ recent foray into self-promotion, I thought to mention that I have an article in the current issue of Print Magazine­. The article isn’t available online, but the magazine is well worth a tiptoe to the bookstore or your local internet.

The article describes the hectic printing district in Cairo—along Mohamed Ali Street—where for years I’ve gone with friends to order bonkers-looking business cards. If you have to hand out business cards, it’s best to give yourself a worthy title: Helicopter Pilot, Jazz Expert, Shaman, etc.

The editor at Print, Mr. M. Silverberg—whom an overwhelming majority of women polled recently in Toronto found to be “dashing”—had come across some of these psychedelic business cards and asked if I’d write an article explaining their background. Twas very grateful for the happy opportunity.

The article describes the mash-up aesthetics of the cards, but also the fascinating neighborhood where the printing district is situated. Mohamed Ali Street was once a fabulous boulevard, part of Pasha Ismail’s 19th century designs to make Cairo into a grandiose modern city to rival the capitals of Europe. Ismail’s vision for the city has long faded, built over by succeeding generations. The remnants of Ismail’s city are layered against remnants of other Cairos; a wild combination of Fatimid tombs, Mameluke minarets, Nasser’s elevated highways, Mubarak-era improvised housing. Like the business cards, the city today is incongruent, loud, crowded, charming.

But the stamp of Ismail’s modernist scheme is still evident. Indeed, Tahrir Square was created as the anchor of Ismail’s city. (It was originally named Ismail Square, until Nasser changed it in his effort to remake the city.) Thus, Cairo’s downtown is explicitly Modern—it has a symbolic & functional center, from which the major arteries radiate. This is what lent such weight to the January 25 revolutionaries’ original gesture—they had taken the center of the country. (And why the revolution had an emphasis that was spatial as well as ideological.) (One wonders what a revolution would look like in a scattered, un-centered city like, say, L.A.) (And one wonders if the Occupy Movement, modeled after Tahrir, is a bad copy/translation—for what is the significance of Zuccotti Park?)

Anyway! Some choice bits & extraneous details didn’t make it into the final cut, so I thought to share them here in the brogosphere. Forthcoming: (1) Flaubert’s Egyptian business card. (2) Henri Baron’s telling painting of Ismail, “Dinner at The Tuileries” (1867).

Don’t Fake it Baby, Lay the Real Thing On Me

October 11, 2012

Bowie has said that “Moonage Daydream” was his attempt to write T. Rex’s “Telegram Sam”—a huge radio hit in the UK during the gestation of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars. But there’s another interesting music reference in “Moonage Daydream”. That skronking riff that comes in at 1:50 (produced by the wacky pairing of baritone sax + pennywhistle) is Bowie seeking to crib the sound of an older doo-wop song, “Sho’ Know A Lot About Love” by The Hollywood Argyles. Huh. OK!

“Moonage Daydream” is colored-out with great lines, but there’s a lovely ambiguous one that depends on where you place the comma. Ziggy, the androgynous alien descending from space to save mankind, sings:

The church of man, love

Is such a holy place to be

But, of course, it’s also

The church of man-love

Is such a holy place to be

Girlfriend in a Coma / Boyfriend in a Comma

Continue Reading

“perning in a gyre”

September 20, 2012

Morning, noon & bloody night,

Seven sodding days a week,

I slave at filthy work, that might

Be done by any book-drunk freak.

This goes on till I kick the bucket:



-Philip Larkin, 1968


(Or book-sober, as the case may be.)

“In truth, this gentleman is a luxurious Ottoman”

September 19, 2012

<<<Excuse the administrative exercise—trying to learn how to use what Blog Artists call a page jump—in the small hope of lessening the burden on your blog eye>>>


An humorous tangential chapter, No. 88 of Moby Dick, in which the author discusses caddish interlopers in schools of female whales.


In cavalier attendance upon the school of females, you invariably see a male of full grown magnitude, but not old; who, upon any alarm, evinces his gallantry by falling in the rear and covering the flight of his ladies. In truth, this gentleman is a luxurious Ottoman, swimming about over the watery world, surroundingly accompanied by all the solaces and endearments of the harem. The contrast between this Ottoman and his concubines is striking; because, while he is always of the largest leviathanic proportions, the ladies, even at full growth, are not more than one-third of the bulk of an average-sized male. They are comparatively delicate, indeed; I dare say, not to exceed half a dozen yards round the waist. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied, that upon the whole they are hereditarily entitled to embonpoint.

It is very curious to watch this harem and its lord in their indolent ramblings. Like fashionables, they are for ever on the move in leisurely search of variety. You meet them on the Line in time for the full flower of the Equatorial feeding season, having just returned, perhaps, from spending the summer in the Northern seas, and so cheating summer of all unpleasant weariness and warmth. By the time they have lounged up and down the promenade of the Equator awhile, they start for the Oriental waters in anticipation of the cool season there, and so evade the other excessive temperature of the year.

When serenely advancing on one of these journeys…

Sweetmeat Addendum

September 7, 2012

Yesterday, when cruising the web curious for other instances of “sweetmeat motto” I stumbled upon a wondrous newspaper column from Australia. “FASHIONS. From Our London Lady Correspondent”, Western Mail, Perth, Saturday 23 April 1887. The column, reviewing the latest home décor baubles, must’ve been an exquisitely excruciating read for prim ladies dragged to the frontier by the gold rush (or whatever misadventure brought them to the arid edge of the empire). I’ll quote the whole article below because the language is as incredible & florid as the fashions described. Reporting from a visit to the stationery corner of a shop in Picadilly, our penwoman informs us unfortunates marooned in the Outback that “Letter-weights have given rise to all sorts of fanciful designs and grotesqueries—birds, bees, blossoms, and, to be alliterative, beasts in every vagary of nature are there”. To keep us abreast of this season’s trend in “surprise valentines” she tells of a ghastly excitement I can hardly believe she’d allow at her own table. “A melon is served at desert, with a fuse burning from the stalk end. At the right moment there is an explosion, the melon is in fragments, and the table is strewn with every kind of delicious sweetmeat, motto, and verse”. My dear woman, you have carelessly revealed that you are in possession of a wild side!




From Our London Lady Correspondent.

At the time when the decorations on the dinner table seem more important than the menu itself, and when the china glass, and silver pressed into the service are not only of the costliest description but fashioned according to the canons of high art, it is refreshing to be able to describe an arrangement—that word is so delightfully comprehensive—which, when producing a striking and really beautiful effect, costs literally only a few shillings. A certain hostess had taken a number of small dark green wicker baskets of the roughest manufacture, shaped somewhat like a tube lily, and had twisted them into a graceful form. These she filled with flowers of red shading, and placed them at intervals along the table. Small liberty scarves of various tones of red were formed in front into a sort of cornucopia, in which was the menu card; the remainder was gracefully draped. Between each card was a divided space, occupied by a fairy light of the faintest tone of red. The effect was soft and harmonious in the extreme. Speaking of menu cards, the new armorial stand seems likely to be the favourite of the season. As the name indicates, the coat of arms, or simply the crest, is reproduced in silver, and fixed on the base of a stand, behind which the card is placed. I saw at a large shop in Piccadilly a set of six in a handsome case just being sent off as a bridal gift. Another novelty I saw at the same establishment was a fitted writing tray on stand for use in bed. Every requisite for the pen was there in handy form. At a touch the legs of the stand fold under, and as the fittings are easy of removal, it can be used for other purposes. Her Majesty ordered 18 for Windsor. A soft leather-lined basket also attracted my notice and roused my acquisitiveness. This had everything a professional penman, or penwoman either, could desire—scissors, paste, pens galore, and all the little etceteras we of the craft require at our elbow. Letter-weights have given rise to all sorts of fanciful designs and grotesqueries—birds, bees, blossoms, and, to be alliterative, beasts in every vagary of nature are there.

I must find room for a word about the Rhys’ valentines in sweetmeats. You open a fancy box, and lo, a lovely fan, all of almond paste, carried out in every detail. Another box discloses a heart, with a flame issuing from the top, and on one side a tiny cradle with a Baby Bunting in it. But the surprise valentines are the greatest novelties. A melon is served at desert, with a fuse burning from the stalk end. At the right moment there is an explosion, the melon is in fragments, and the table is strewn with every kind of delicious sweetmeat, motto, and verse. A “bomb” is another surprise, and this I am told, explodes with a force that gives quite a shock. I interviewed the collection, and felt in the wonderland of a “Zoo.” From Bismark and his Kaiser, in chocolate, full length figures, to the useful porker in almond paste, the range was varied. I carried off a porker from mere admiration of his well-moulded parts. The best and prettiest model, however, was a Jubilee bust of Her Majesty the Queen, in white sugar. The likeness is perfect.

A very useful riding novelty is the Russia leather strap-bracelet, with a tiny watch in the centre.


Western Mail, Perth, Saturday 23 April 1887

“Sweetmeat Motto”

September 6, 2012

In Dead Souls Chapter VIII, our charlatan hero Chichikov, recently the intrigue & delight of the provincial capital, receives invitation to the Governor’s ball.

Everything extraneous was immediately dropped and dismissed from Chichikov’s mind, and all his energies were directed towards preparation for the ball… It may well be that ever since the very creation of the world never has so much time been expended on a toilette. An entire hour was devoted solely to an examination of his face in the mirror. He attempted to impart a multitude of different impression to it: now important and dignified, now deferential but with a faint smile, now simply deferential with no smile. Several bows were rendered to the mirror, accompanied by vague sounds that bore a slight resemblance to French, although Chichikov had absolutely no knowledge of French.

Once at the ball, flitting about the local gentry, flirting indiscriminately, Chichikov’s performance is no less comically ridiculous.

He exchanged easy and fluent pleasantries with some of the ladies, approached one or another in tiny tripping steps, or, as they say, with mincing gait, in the manner of those aged little fops known as ‘mouse-stallions’, who trot so briskly on high heels round the ladies.**

Love it. Anyway, onto our point! When Chichikov encounters the Governor, the reader encounters a strange word: “The Governor, who meanwhile was standing near the ladies, holding a sweetmeat motto in one hand and a lapdog in the other, on catching sight of Chichikov threw both motto and lapdog to the floor….”

Da funk is a “sweetmeat motto”? The translator tells us it’s a “slip of paper containing a line of poetry, inserted inside a fancy sweet-wrapper”. Sort of like a high society fortune cookie. The OED refers to this 19th century bon mot bon-bon as a “motto-kiss”. It is probably time to resurrect this practice. Would not the world be improved if Tristan attended parties armed with lavender origami paper rolled & pinched at each end like saltwater taffy that, unfurled, reveals a choice couplet from the Pied Piper of R&B?

It should be added that “sweetmeat” refers to confectionary treats, like dried/sugared fruits, cookies, or cakes. From the archaic form of “meat” which means any kind of foodstuff. We’re not talking about tangy teriyaki beef jerky here. A blueberry Slim Jim wrapped in a few lines of Dryden presumably would not produce the desired effect. Outside a Ren Faire tailgate party, that is.



** Further: “After mincing in rather adroit turns to the right and to the left, he scraped a foot, in the process describing a little tail or the semblance of a comma. The ladies were most gratified, and not only discovered a host of pleasant and amiable qualities in him, but even began to descry a majestic expression on his face, something even Mars-like and military, which, as is well known, is very pleasing to women.”

Ah yes, Chichikov’s investment in preparation has returned a most delicate yield!

Booke 1, Page 1 of “The Consolation of Philosophy”

August 25, 2012

America is Killing its Youth

July 31, 2012



Ghost Rider (live @ Max’s KC 1976)

Keep Your Dreams (orig. version)