Friday, June 30, 2023

Andrew Greeley's Happy Are The Clean Of Heart

Lisa Malone is an Irish Catholic girl from the Chicago. She could sing; she was good-looking; so she went to Hollywood and she succeeded. Now it's 1984 and she's nearly 40 and when she comes back to the old neighborhood, they're happy and envious in about equal measure. Make that measure unequal: more envious.

And on her first night back, somebody beats her to within an inch of her life in a hotel. Now she's in a coma.

Her estranged husband is found standing over the body, the cosh in his hand. He 'says' he interrupted somebody. But he's not the only suspect. There's her agent, who felt like he's the one that made her, her understudy for an upcoming Christmas special, her co-star on that special, a woman from the neighborhood, writing a biography with Lisa's approval,  a Mobbed-up bank vice president who administers Lisa's charitable foundation, her jealous older brother, and a nun who knew Lisa as a girl and whose organization is also the recipient of Lisa's charity.

And, well, Fr. John Blackwood "Blackie" Ryan had opportunity, too, and everybody knew he was in love with her when they were in high school. 

Then there's a second and a third attempt on her life in the hospital.

Blackie Ryan is the hero of a mystery series by Andrew Greeley, himself a priest as well as a professor at the University of Chicago. This is the second in the series, though there is an earlier non-mystery novel with Blackie Ryan as a major character. It takes until that third attempt for Blackie to figure out the villain. "Indeed," as Blackie himself might say.

There's some fun things in it for a Chicagoan. Roger Ebert and Richie Daley make appearances. (That's Richard M. Daley, former mayor of Chicago to you.) Richie is Cook County state's attorney that year. The events take place on the near north side, Chicago's Water Tower, the John Hancock building, Holy Name Cathedral, the Drake Hotel, the Playboy Building (as Blackie can barely bring himself to say, not the Playboy any longer). Lisa Malone's daughter plans on St. Ignatius for her high school, my alma mater.

I've read a bunch of the Blackie Ryan mysteries. My dad liked them, and I read them after he did, frequently because I gave him the new one for Christmas or his birthday. I can't say that this was one of the better ones. I find the early ones a bit overwritten, and Greeley's not the psychologist he wants to be. He pared them down later, and they were better for it. Oh, well...

The novel comes out in 1986 and the movie Amadeus has clearly influenced the plotting.

But it was one of the books I put on my Twenty Books of Summer list!

And it counts for Bev's Vintage Mystery Challenge:

Vintage Mystery, Silver, Knife: a knife is used in the third attempt.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Rubaiyat of Jahan Malek Khatun


Four Rubaiyat

I feel so heartsick. Should my doctor hear,
He'll sigh and groan and want to interfere;
Come on now dearest, heal me, you know how
To make my doctor's headache disappear.

You wandered through my garden, naked and alone
(The roses blenched to see their beauty overthrown).
My cheeky love, your body is the Fount of Youth
(But in your silver breast your heart is like a stone).
I swore I'd never look at him again,
I'd be a Sufi, deaf to sin's temptations;
I saw my nature wouldn't stand for it--
From now on I renounce renunciations.
The roses have all gone; "Goodbye," we say; we must;
And I shall leave the busy world one day; I must.
My little room, my books, my love, my sips of wine--
All these are dear to me; they'll pass away; they must.  

-Jahan Malek Khatun (tr. Dick Davis)

These were among the rubaiyat that sent me back last week to reread the ones by Omar Khayyam and translated into English by Edward FitzGerald. They're by Jahan Malek Khatun (1324-1393, approximately). She was the niece of Abu Ishaq, the Injuid king of the area around Shiraz in what is now southwest Iran, at least until his overthrow in 1353.

The ruba'i is a four-line form that rhymes AABA. The third one quoted is thus technically not a ruba'i, and either Khatun or Dick Davis the translator is being a little slack. I didn't mind... 😉

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Sunday Salon


The Salonnière invites you...


I read Harini Nagendra's first mystery The Bangalore Detectives Club. Pretty fun! The characters were charming (except for the villains, of course...) and the setting was fascinating: 1920s Bangalore (Bangaluru). I'll read the next when my library gets it. (They're on order.)

Earlier this week on the blog a review of Eleanor Catton's Birnam Wood. Enjoyable, though I still prefer The Luminaries.

A selection of rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam in the famous translation of Edward FitzGerald.

And another mystery, the classic The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey.

On The Stack

Let's take it from the top. That's:

Billy the Bunny.

Happy are the Clean of Heart, a Fr. Blackie Ryan mystery that I started while I had to wait around somewhere and should finish soon.

John McGahern's Amongst Women. A book I was going to read before our trip to Ireland, but it didn't get here in time. It's supposed to be a classic and so far I kind of think it is.

No progress whatsoever on James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son... 😉

But some progress on Barbara Hamby's On The Street of Divine Love.

The library also delivered Georgi Gospodinov's Time Shelter. It won the Booker International this year and there's no way I'll be able to renew it, so it needs to happen in the next couple of weeks. I've liked the others by him I've read. That will be Bulgaria for this year's European Reading Challenge.


It's strawberry season here!

How was your week?

Friday, June 23, 2023

Eleanor Catton's Birnam Wood

"Birnam Wood was defined in carefully apolitical language as a grassroots community initiative that planted sustainable organic gardens in neglected spaces and featured a commitment to help those in need."

But that's not all it is.

Mira Bunting is the founder and main figure of Birnam Wood, a guerrilla gardening collective in New Zealand. Four years ago, the emphasis was on the guerrilla: anti-capitalist, rebellious. Now most of their vegetable plots are planted with the agreement of the owners, and the produce is shared out.

Part of the reason for the practicality is Shelley Noakes. Shelley rather worships Mira, but also is beginning to feel used, and at the very start of the novel she decides to sleep with Tony Gallos, Mira's ex-one-night-stand as a way to assert her independence. Tony's just appeared on the scene after teaching in Mexico for four years, and Shelley knows perfectly well Mira and Tony have unresolved issues.

Meanwhile there's been an earthquake in the Korowai National Park that killed five people and blocked a major road. This means that an old farm at 1606 Korowai Pass Road is now isolated. It's owned by Owen Darvish and his wife Lucy, and he's just been knighted for services to conservation even though he's the owner of a pest control company. (One of the things he kills is invasive species.) Mira thinks here is the grand coup that Birnam Wood needs: guerrilla gardening on the Darvish estate. Birnam Wood will go to Dunsinane. (1606 is likely the year in which Shakespeare's MacBeth was first performed.)

But one other figure has seen possibilities near Korowai National Park; that's Robert Lemoine, an American billionaire. His money is from a drone startup, but he envisions a different sort of financial coup in New Zealand.

That's our major players lined up. The first two-thirds of the novel is getting to know them, individually and in relation to one another; the last third is quite the thriller as their different goals conflict and their unknowing about each other gets resolved. The conflict is political and environmental.

The novel's at times funny. When I saw Eleanor Catton here a couple of months ago, she read from a passage with one of Tony Gallos' rather over-the-top rants. The audience--the book was brand-new at that point, and almost nobody had read it--were first absorbed in Tony's righteous anger, then laughed nervously, then laughed out loud. Catton can pull that sort of thing off. 

Tony's still kind of a hero, even if he only has the vaguest sense of reality, and the book ends with him:

" that somebody would see it, so that somebody would notice, so that somebody would care, and as the fire began to blaze and crackle up the ancient trees around him, Tony prayed that somebody would come to put it out."

So a pretty fun novel with some serious themes. I did, however, feel that the American billionaire drifted in from a different sort of novel (or film), likely one involving James Bond. I would also say I still think The Luminaries is the one to read. (Though I haven't read her first, The Rehearsal).

Another book actually from my 20 Books of Summer list!

And, as it turns out, it's my first Big Book of Summer. When I signed up for the challenge, I didn't have a copy of the book in hand and didn't realize, but as it turns out it's 432 pages and so qualifies. I still hope to read a few other monsters. Thanks to Sue and Cathy for hosting!

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam



A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou
  Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,
Came shining through the Dusk an Angel Shape
  Bearing a Vessel on his Shoulder, and 
He bid me taste of it; and 'twas--the Grape!

One Moment in Annihilation's Waste
One Moment, of the Well of Life to taste--
  The Stars are setting and the Caravan
Starts for the Dawn of Nothing--Oh, make haste!

The Moving Finger writes, and, having writ,
Moves on; nor all your Piety nor Wit
  Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
-Omar Khayyam (tr. Edward FitzGerald)

The volume of Shirazi poets I finished recently included several rubaiyat by that group of poets. So that took me back to the most famous of rubaiyat in English, those of Omar Khayyam translated by Edward FitzGerald.

Omar Khayyam (1048-1131) was a noted astronomer in Nishapur, Iran, who also wrote poetry. He's two centuries earlier than the Shirazi poets, and from the other end of the country.
Fitzgerald's translations are supposed to be pretty free. He was serial rewriter of his own work, and there are five editions of the Rubaiyat. I selected the version I liked the best and paid no attention to edition...

Two of these are among the most famous of them and the other two were ones that just struck me on this reading. The illustration is by Edmund Dulac (illustrating the first quatrain quoted) and comes from an edition that was my father's.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time

"Truth is the daughter of time."
-Old proverb

Inspector Alan Grant is stuck in hospital after he fell through a trap door in pursuit of a criminal. For now, he can do nothing but lie on his back and look at the ceiling. Nurses, friends, acquaintances bring him flowers, sweets, books to pass the time. None of them particularly engage.

One friend, more astute than the rest, brings him portraits of historical criminals. These portraits include King Richard III, famous for supposedly murdering his nephews, the 'Princes in the Tower.' Grant thinks, that doesn't look like a murderer's face, and becomes interested in the evidence for King Richard's guilt. He gets his friends to bring him a bunch of history books, and eventually Brent Carradine, a researcher. Grant applies his Scotland Yard techniques to working out a solution, while Carradine gathers the evidence.

Now all I know about the case comes from Shakespeare's Richard III: there Richard's a thorough-going villain, and the ghosts of all of the people he'd unjustly killed gather round his bed the night before Bosworth Field and chant, "Tomorrow in the battle think on me." I was prepared to believe he didn't kill his nephews. It turns out Shakespeare got his information from Sir Thomas More, still a child at the time of the supposed murders, and later a partisan of the Tudors, at least until he wasn't. If you've read Hilary Mantel, you'll have no problem imagining More as untrustworthy, but in Tey he's the 'sainted' Thomas More, and Grant has some convincing to do.

Would it be a spoiler to reveal Grant's solution? Well, I won't. Tey, in the person of Grant, makes a pretty good case, but not perfectly convincing. Her evidence amounts to cui bono, who benefits--that was the best part for me--but also she makes considerable use of the absence of evidence. (If X happened, Y should have happened, but there's no record of Y. But the events were in the 1400s. There may just be no record any more.) Still very enjoyable. It would have helped if I'd known more about the period.

It's a celebrated novel--and justly so. Though the British Crime Writer's Association voted it the best mystery of all time in 1990 and that seems a little excessive. (Not The Maltese Falcon, The Murder on the Orient Express, The Hound of the Baskervilles!?!) But it is certainly a classic mystery...

For the challenge I'll go with:

Vintage Mystery, Gold, Castle or Ruin. The Tower of London is about as classic a castle as you can find.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Sunday Salon


One last salon-ish Ireland photo

On the Blog

Diligent week on the blog. I wrote up Cousin Bette, a book from my Classics Club list. Then I posted a Barbara Hamby poem I like, and last Biography of X, from my 20 Books of Summer list, which was OK, but I didn't like it as well as I hoped I would. 

I also finished Josephine Tey's classic mystery The Daughter of Time, which I should write up soon.

On the Stack

The library delivered Eleanor Catton's Birnam Wood much faster than I thought it would. It's still popular and I'll have to read it soon. The same is true of The Bangalore Detectives Club by Harini Nagendra.

I think my next Classics Club book will be James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son. And I continue to make my way through Barbara Hamby's book of poetry.


It's asparagus season here! One of our favourite uses:

I first came across the idea of shaved asparagus pizza at Smitten Kitchen, but I've fancied it up a bit. She uses just cheese for the base, but I now do a garlic cream sauce. You see I've added some diced salami on half (for thems whats wants it... 😉). A slice of prosciutto works, too. To go all in, some shaved truffle pecorino is a treat, but that requires a trip to a special cheese store for me, and I didn't get there last week...

Hope you all had a great week!

Friday, June 16, 2023

Catherine Lacey's Biography of X

X is a downtown New York artist (performance, fiction, painting, music, critic--she's amazing; she does it all!) from the 1970s until her death in 1996 when she's only in her early 50s. There's a biography that her widow did not cooperate with and does not like which comes out after X's death; the widow decides to correct the record, and produces her own Biography of X.

And yes, I did say, her widow. We quite rapidly realize we're in an alternative American history, one in which gay marriage was legal already soon after WWII. At least in the northern states; the South has taken advantage of the dislocation of the war to secede and form a theocratic dictatorship. They surround themselves with a wall (like the Berlin Wall) and attempt to keep their own people in, and keep others out. Eventually this fails and by the time of the main events of the novel, the North and the South are reunited, with a Reconstruction-like program going on in the South. 

X had various aliases in her past and previous affairs and marriages, before she settles on X as her alias and C. M. Lucca (the widow and our author, ostensibly). Lucca's attempt to figure out who her wife slept with before they were married is as ill-advised as it sounds--the only case I think of that working out is Scott Pilgrim--but that doesn't mean it's unrealistic or a poor premise for a novel. The novel's getting a lot of buzz and I had hopes.

But I don't think it really worked. Three problems for me: first, the alternative history. I'm OK with that in principal, but Lacey spent too much time building it up. The obvious comparison here is The Handmaid's Tale, and Atwood handles it much better. Atwood spends almost no time on how her theocracy comes to power; Lacey would have been wise to do the same. If you lay out a series of nits, somebody's going to feel the need to pick them. (Could the South have succeeded in a rebellion just because US armies were in Europe? The Irish Easter Rising failed in 1916. Etc., ) She should have just postulated her world.

Second, related. She uses a lot of actual historical figures, but changes their role in history. Emma Goldman is governor of Illinois and in FDR's cabinet. Kathy Boudin blows up buildings in the South, not in the North, Frank O'Hara is run over by a jeep on Fire Island, but survives; Brianna (!) Eno. This is sometimes funny and I think it's meant to be. But it's overdone, especially when she gets to NYC types I had to look up to figure out what the joke was, it began to feel more showoff-y than funny, amusing perhaps to Lacey's artist friends. (Some actual people get their history altered and become major characters, folk singer Connie Converse in particular. That's a bit different.)

All of that would have been OK, though, if I'd cared more about the central figure. X is obviously meant to be a woman of mystery, a real shapeshifter. But there's too many shapes.  She's given a fairly horrific childhood background, but the line between that and her adult life didn't feel worked out through all those shapes. Her genius is demonstrated by what people think of her, of her art, of her books, of her paintings. In a novel about an artist, that's kind of the way it has to go. And because Lacey has allowed herself to use real people, when she wants to demonstrate X's bonafides as a music producer, she can have Tom Waits and David Bowie testify to it, who know something about the subject. But mostly her genius doesn't entirely convince. Here's an example. X is at an art gallery with a famous gallerist, Ginny Green:
"She said--'He didn't put anything in the paintings because he doesn't know how. He doesn't know anything about art, and worse, he doesn't care.' Now, of course I was accustomed to criticism--I even welcomed it on occasion--but no one's opinion ever made me as doubtful as hers." [p.240]
Now, I don't know, your mileage may vary, but that brief, rather platitudinous, ad-hominem attack wouldn't convince me about an artist, and should convince Ginny Green even less, since the artist was someone Green had already selected for exhibition. A lot of X's pronouncements came across like that. We're told they convinced other people. They didn't convince me, in and of themselves. X is meant to be a bit monstrous, and that's OK in a novel; people are fascinated by monsters; but she is meant to be fascinating, the novel kind of depends upon it, and I didn't entirely find her so.

Anyway, it's buzzy, it reads pretty quick, but I was hoping for more.

I've read a few books so far this month, but this is the first one actually from my Books of Summer list!

Thursday, June 15, 2023

17 Dollars

17 Dollars

That's how much the man who owned DuBey's gave me
  for my books that time you insisted
they were taking up space and we needed the money.
  We were poor, sure--you a painter,
me a student--but 17 dollars? I remember looking at it--
  a ten, a five, and two ones--and thinking
how little it was compared to the cardboard box
  you'd lugged into the store that afternoon,
all the days and nights those people--Russian aristocrats,
  English ladies, Southern dingbats, Irish wild men--
taught me how to be human: flawed, yes, but with aspirations
  of divinity. Where were Prince Myshkin,
Dorothea Brooke, Hazel Motes, Stephen Dedalus?
  We could maybe buy groceries for a week
or go to the café down the street for dinner or lunch,
  but how could I get by without my Borges
or Wuthering Heights? When I think back on that day,
  that's when my heart hardened in my chest
like a walnut gone bad, so when another man
  told me he loved me, I looked at him
and didn't ask myself would he love me forever
  but would he love my piles of books.
When they began to grow by the bed, teeter on every table,
  and topple to the floor, would his mouth
become thin and his voice rise like an accountant's 
  with a ledger? I handed you the money
and walked away. You ran to catch up,
 said, "We can take it back," but I felt
like the poor mother who has given her child
  to the rich couple because they can buy her
frilly dresses, give her piano lessons, send her to fancy schools.
  I couldn't take care of my Jane Eyre,
Molly Bloom, Anna Karenina, but maybe some else could.
  Even now I go to the shelves to look for The Trial
or The Day of the Locusts or Thus Spake Zarathustra,
  and when I can't find them, I know
they were in that box. What did we do after? Walk home,
  eat dinner at the cheap Chinese place,
where you picked the shrimp out of the eggrolls and asked,
  "Is that pork? It tastes like pork." Later
a French couple bought the building, ripped out the red silk
  dragons, the lanterns with gold tassels
and turned it into the bistro my new husband and I went to
  most weekends when we were first married,
where I learned to drink wine, eat escargots and bitter greens.
  Now it's the parking lot of the federal courthouse,
and I can't drink red wine without sneezing. Why did I keep
  The Manifestos of Surrealism, which I haven't opened
in thirty years? Where are The Moviegoer, Nightwood,
  Tender Buttons, Wise Blood? Years later,
both married to other people, you said you were sorry
  for making me sell those books. We were standing outside
your studio in Chicago. It was summer and you were holding
  your daughter's hand, and I said it was nothing,
but even that day long ago I knew it was everything and it was.

-Barbara Hamby

This is from Barbara Hamby's new and selected collection, On The Street of Divine Love, which came out in 2014. (It's no longer the newest and there are two volumes since then.) This is from what was then the new section, and the poem first appeared in the literary magazine Agni. She's the writer-in-residence at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

I like her poems a lot and have read a couple of other volumes. They're mostly in this style, and she calls them odes as a rule, though not this one. An alternation of long and short lines, they might also be thought of as elegiacs. (Though that suggests elegy, instead of Propertius, and that's certainly not right.) They're funny, but also with some heft, at their best. (Hazel Motes a dingbat?  Maybe!) 

I put the book on my Books of Summer list, but am making my way through it slowly, and so can't yet count it. But I expect I will soon! (And might have more to say then.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Balzac's Cousin Bette

"I am a man of my time; I respect money."

Balzac doesn't necessarily approve. 

Lisbeth Fischer (Cousin Bette) is in the title of the novel, and is in some ways the catalyst for events, but she main not even be the main character, and Balzac's picture of society is quite broad.

Hector Hulot, later Baron d'Ervy, was a military quartermaster in Alsace during the Napoleonic years. He was good at his job, and his older brother was a Marshal favoured by Napoleon. Hulot was a rising man and married Adeline, a beautiful peasant from the region. Adeline's father and uncles supplied forage and wood to Hulot and succeeded as he did.

It's Adeline, whose cousin Bette is.

By 1838, Hulot's a respectable upper civil servant, with what ought to be income enough, except he will spend it all on kept mistresses. At the beginning of the novel he's about to lose Josépha, a celebrated actress, to someone even richer. But Hulot had earlier stolen her from Crevel--it's Crevel I quote above, but the sentiment would be true of many--and Crevel is plotting revenge for that 'theft.' Crevel, much richer than Hulot, though a tradesman, is also the father-in-law of Hulot's son Victorin. Crevel's idea of revenge is to seduce someone attached to Hulot, and his first target is Adeline, who's unapproachably virtuous. Or is she?

Got all that? But that's only the start. Hulot can't do without a mistress, so quickly finds another: the grasping Madame Marneffe, who lives in the same cheap apartment block as Bette, and is married to a dissolute rake, with whom she does nothing except plot how to get rich. (I think Marneffe codes as having syphilis, but my translation isn't explicit, and probably Balzac isn't either.)

Meanwhile Bette is looking after a Polish refugee with a budding talent for sculpture. She's fifteen years older than him, and can't quite decide in her own mind whether Wenceslas Steinbock, her adoptee, is her son or her lover. But when Hortense, Hulot's daughter, falls in love with Steinbock, at first without even seeing him, Bette is quite sure that is another 'theft' and she, too, is plotting revenge against all the Hulots, Hector, Adeline, and Hortense. (She's already resented Adeline's beauty and success for years.)

Who gets revenge? Who doesn't? There are a couple of other people out for revenge, too, by the end, all of which results in two murders. The novel has several references to Shakespeare's Othello, in particular Iago. '...all these Iagos', says a Brazilian, just before he's about to be compared to Othello. Bette is a sort of Iago, her need for revenge is her everything. (Crevel less so, though in fact he's more successful in his revenge, just not how he thinks at first.) "The joys of gratified hatred are the fiercest and strongest the heart can know." We're in Bette's consciousness when that line is delivered, but it could apply to more than one character.

It's a dark story, but not all is dark. Balzac strikes me as capable of anger, and if you can get angry, it's because you think things could be better. Hulot does a lot of damage in his quest for money for his mistresses, but that ugly quest for money is representative of his time. At one point, needing two hundred thousand francs, here's Hulot, sending Adeline's uncle to Algeria as quartermaster for the French occupation there, describing a plan to cheat both suppliers and consumers enough to acquire the needed amount:

"There is a great deal of fighting over the corn, and no one ever knows exactly how much each party has stolen from the other. There is not time in the open field to measure the corn as we do in the Paris market, or the hay as it sold in the Rue d'Enfer. The Arab chiefs, like our Spahis, prefer hard cash, and sell the plunder at a very low price. The Commissariat needs a fixed quantity, and must have it. It winks at exorbitant prices calculated on the difficulty of procuring food, and the dangers to which every form of transport is exposed. That is Algiers from the army contractor's point of view.
    "It is a muddle tempered by the ink-bottle, like every incipient government. We shall not see our through it for another ten years [Ed. note: it took a little longer than that]--we who have to do the governing, but private enterprise has sharp eyes. -- So I am sending you there to make a fortune..."
Cynical, but not exactly an endorsement of empire on Balzac's part.

But then I was amused (though maybe horrified?) by the near-tenderness with which Balzac treats Hulot. This is Josépha, long after she's thrown him over for her richer lover:
"Is there a man among you who ever loved a woman--a woman beneath him--enough to squander his fortune and his children's, to sacrifice his future and blight his past, to risk going to the hulks for robbing the Government, to kill an uncle and a brother, to let his eyes be so effectively blinded that he did not even perceive that it was done to hinder his seeing the abyss into which, as a crowning jest, he was being driven?...I never but once even saw the phenomenon I have described. It was...that poor Baron Hulot."
Now this is a bit undercut by the context in which Josépha says it, but at the same time, at the end of the novel, it's only Baron Hulot who gets to carry on with his (low-down) ways.

Jealousy and revenge; greed and corruption. There's one other theme, which I will only mention: the fact that an artist needs to work at it. (Balzac had a famous work ethic.) We're told Steinbock has real talent, and we see it, but after he joins in the general dissipation of pursuing adulterous affairs, he has no time for work and his talent is lost. "Perpetual work is the law of art." Artists make interesting appearances in other Balzac tales as well.

But I'm no expert in Balzac. I've read two other novels (Pére Goriot, The Chouans), and some of the stories. I now think this might have been the one to start with. I read it in the Modern Library edition, translated by James Waring, who translated the entire Comedie Humaine in the late 1800s. It read pretty well, I thought, but I do wish the edition had notes.  Here's one I wanted somebody to explain:
"Dessert was on the table, the odious dessert of April."

It was such a weird thing that I went and looked up the French (the Other Reader's copy shown above--I did NOT read it in French). Here's the French:

"Le dessert, cet affreux dessert du mois d'Avril."

Waring's translation seems reasonable. (Awful or atrocious says for affreux) What the heck is an odious dessert? It's probably early for berries in Paris in April, but, hey, who'd object to a nice gateau? I'm personally of the opinion that no dessert is odious. 😉

This was my spin book, and here I am blogging about it on the day the next spin is announced. Ouch! I was doing pretty well, but then Covid stopped me from reading anything serious for a bit, then I had some library books I wanted to read so I could return them, and by then I thought I'd better start over again. So here we are a month and a bit late...still it's another book off my Classics Club list, and a good one at that.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Sunday Salon (Toronto's Doors Open)


St. Lawrence Hall, Toronto


I finished Balzac's Cousin Bette. I should have a post up soon.

I also finished Vaclav Smil's Numbers Don't Lie. A friend strongly recommended this, and he was right. Smil was a Czech emigré (he got out after the 1968 invasion), got a Ph.D. in Geography, and is a professor in Environment at the University of Manitoba (now emeritus). The book is a collection of columns he wrote for Spectrum, the IEEE (engineering society) magazine. 

Pretty fascinating stuff, with both useful and surprising numerical observations. Useful: the thing we can do that's fastest and surest to help with global warming is improve insulation. Surprising: it's now the Spanish who east the most meat per capita in Europe. (Though after our trip to Spain a couple of years ago, maybe that doesn't surprise me all that much.)

Occasionally a little too contrarian, but fun, interesting, and a surprisingly easy read.

Doors Open

Toronto has a festival
Of things architectural
So I hopped upon my bicycle,
Prepared to travel cyclical...

First, formerly industrial,
Now with music experimental.
(Inside unphotographable...)

Array Space, now home for electronic music

Next up, a location nautical,
Watching the Lakes for the piratical! (well, not really...)

HMCS York, the Canadian Naval Reserve base in Toronto

The captain was there to show people around

It also was a location musical:
(Still rhyming? Surely it's not possible!)

Now it's on to the aeronautical:

For emergencies that are medical,
Ontario has helicopters Orangical
To rescue you from locations difficult.
(Plus mono-rhymes? C'est ridicule!)

Ornge [sic] emergency transport helicopter at Billy Bishop Airport

For emergencies that could be terrible,
(But won't be!) the airport has vehicles
Where you might wear head-gear protectorial:

The airport fire station. These would not actually fit me, but they were popular.

Skyline view from the airport, which is on an island in the harbour.

End of Saturday (calendrical).
Now Sunday (weather still unproblematical!)

First up, a reopened venue musical,
(A repeat rhyme! Error rhythmical!)
Once visited by a wife prime-ministerial,
Partying with a band diabolical.
Open again, after a renewal structural.


El Mocambo or El Mo. The sign looks like the original, but was remade.

The rebuilt stage. The old sign was saved, but moved inside.

Photo of the Rolling Stones at El Mo. El Mo's a bit touting their glory days, but don't we all...

And I may have spent some time there myself back in the day. Just not with Sir Mick...

And lastly, it's St. Lawrence Hall
(For picture of inside see above this all.)
A place for things oratorical,
Once talked at by a figure royal.

Done at last? Oui. C'erait la grande finale!

Anyhoo...Toronto has this event, Doors Open, where sites that aren't usually open to the general public are for one weekend. I go see several things pretty much every year. I should have written this post last weekend, but I've been a lazy blogger of late... 😉

How was your week?

Linking up Sunday Salon at Readerbuzz:

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Hafez (Wine, Boys, and Song)


My Love Has Sent No Letter

My love has sent no letter for
  A long time now--I've heard
No salutations from him, no
  Inquiries, not one word;

I've written him a hundred times,
  But that hard-riding king
Has sent no emissary back,
  No message, not a thing!

I'm wild with waiting, crazy, but
  He's sent no envoy here--
No strutting partridge has turned up,
  No graceful, skittish deer.

He knows my heart must now be like
  A fluttering bird, but he
Has yet to send one sinuous line
  To lure and capture me.

Damn him, that sweet-lipped serving boy
  Knows very well that I
Need wine now, but he pours me none
  Although my glass is dry.

How much I boasted of his favors,
  The kindnesses we share--
And now I've no idea at all
  Of how he is, or where.

But this is no surprise, Hafez;
  Calm yourself, and behave!
A king can't be expected to
  Write letters to a slave.

-Hafez (tr. Dick Davis)

Hafez (1325-1390, roughly) was a Persian poet, largely based in Shiraz. He enjoyed the patronage of Abu Es'haq (transliterations vary) of the Inju dynasty who ruled in southwestern Iran until Abu Es'haq was deposed in 1353. Abu Es'haq tolerated wine, liked poetry, but his replacement Mobarez al-Din was a more conventional Muslim, and Hafez was forced into exile, at least until Mobarez al-Din was subsequently overthrown a year later.

I've read other translations of Hafez (Robert Bly, others), but I've been quite taken with Dick Davis', which was done for Penguin. There are two other Shirazi poets in the volume--Jahan Malek Khatun, the niece of Abu Es'haq, and Obayd-e Zakani, but I haven't gotten to them yet. Given Hafez' reputation, I felt a glass of wine should stand by his side.

But wine, women (or boys), and song isn't all there is to Hafez. He's sometimes read as if he were writing drinking songs, and sometimes read as if he were a mystic. Davis is insistent that both interpretations are valid, and neither be dismissed, and this poem struck me as a good example of one that could be read either way. It was apparently a convention of Persian poetry of the time to treat one's lover as royalty and one's self as base, so it's not certain that the king mentioned is actually kingly. But it is equally possible that Hafez is thinking of someone altogether more Lordly, who's not responding to Hafez' entreaties.