Poetic Words: Enzensberger

TLS tipped me off to a poem by Hans Magnus Enzenberg, a polymath author, who, among other works, wrote a charming book on math for kids called The Number Devil.

Here he is in a sharper key.

Short History of the Bourgeoisie

This was the moment when, for five minutes,
without noticing it,
we were immeasurably rich, generous
and electric, cooled in July,
or if it were November,
wood flown in from Finland glowed
in our Renaissance fireplaces. Funny,
everything was there, was flying in,
in a way, by itself. How elegant
we were, no one could bear us.
We threw our money about on solo-concerts,
chips, orchids in cellophane. Clouds
wrote our names. Exquisite.

Scheduled flights in all directions. Even our sighs
were on credit. Like fishwives
we scolded each other. Everyone
had his own misfortune under his seat,
close at hand. That was a shame, really.
It was so practical. Water
flowed from the taps like nothing on earth.
Do you remember? Overcome
by our tiny emotions,
we ate little. If we had only known
that it would all be over
in five minutes, the Beef Wellington
would have tasted quite, quite different.

–Hans Magnus Enzensberger
–Translated by Alasdair King (1990)

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“Culture and possessions, there is the bourgeoisie for you.”
Thomas Mann
and in this case, a little too much red too!

Returns are Easy! Just like Zappos?

Andy Borowitz has inside story on the baffling purchase of The Washington Post by Jeff Bezos:

SEATTLE (The Borowitz Report)—Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, told reporters today that his reported purchase of the Washington Post was a “gigantic mix-up,” explaining that he had clicked on the newspaper by mistake.
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“I guess I was just kind of browsing through their website and not paying close attention to what I was doing,” he said. “No way did I intend to buy anything.”

He should be extra careful now. “You might also like Detroit, Fabrice Tourré, or the U.S. Congress. Look at what we’ve recently added to your wish list!”

Doodles as Info: New Scribes?

One of the fun formats to emerge over the last few years are the “animated lectures” with great whiteboard illustrations — RSA’s the surprising truth about what motivates people is my favorite.

Over at Never Ending Search, a library blog, Joyce Venza calls these kinds of graphics a manifestation of “the new scribes” and links to a bunch of such notes made at SXSW. Wish I had the graphic ability to create them, as they are so intuitively appealing, and seem particularly apposite for capturing the sense of a talk about design.

A new age of scribe is emerging. We’ve seen the work of sketchnoters at the SXSW (South by Southwest) Conference. Their archives at SXnotes Flickr Group, SXnotes on Pinterest, or their Visual Recap artfully capture the big event’s major themes, as well as its conversations.

The Pinterest link with the SWSX notes is cool (and a nice use of Pinterest).

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Minor Infractions: A Crescendo of Disapproval

Screen Shot 2013-08-06 at 10.48.55 AMViolist Miles Hoffman fulminates against “reached a crescendo,” a wrong note to any musician.

All these people, and so many others — oh my goodness, so very many others — have “reached,” or have described events or emotions “reaching,” crescendos. And they not only thought it was O.K. to reach crescendos — they thought, in reaching them, that they were being particularly clever; that they were hitching up their skirts to show flashes of musical knowledge.

But here’s the thing: as God — along with Bach, Beethoven and Mozart — is my witness, you cannot “reach” a crescendo.

I guess it’s proof of the old adage from Aaron Copland,
“If a literary man puts together two words about music, one of them will be wrong.”

Don’t get me started on how to pronounce “it’s not my forte.”

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One of the great crescendos in music, the opening of Das Rheingold

Beautiful Dance: Remembering Freddy Franklin

It’s been a summer of Les Ballets Russes for me. The National Gallery has a spectacular exhibit up of about original company (famed for the creation of Le Sacre du Printemps among much else.) If you are in, or near, DC it’s worth seeing. And if you are a performing arts history fan, it’s worth a special trip.

Trying to find more info on the that company, I stumbled upon Les Ballets Russes, a 2005 documentary, available on Netflix. Initially, I was disappointed as the doc picks up the story post-Diaghilev (he died in 1929 and the company survived, splitting into two at one point and providing work for, among others, a young George Balanchine.)  But it turns out to be wonderful, particularly for candid, and poignant  interviews with stars from the company of the 30s and 40s. The great Freddy Franklin is a standout; unusually, he was a Brit in among the Russians. He danced everything and with everybody, and was active in the dance world until his 90s.  His death was just a few months back, in May 2013.

One of his best-loved roles was in the corny, exuberant Gaité Parisienne, made into a film by Warner Brothers in 1941 as “The Gay Parisian” (the title gives the then 90-year-old Franklin a giggle in the film).  It’s dated, but a fun 20 minutes.

Reasonable Words: The Comfort of Things

Years ago an editor friend and I thought up a feature called “It’s my bag,” in which we stopped people at Copley Square and asked them to share what was in their bag, knapsack, purse, you name it. It would run with a photo and a first-person description.

Like all good ideas, it’s already been done. Photographer Moyra Peralta asked people who lived on the street in London to share their possessions and tell her about them. The resulting photographs, which I found on Spitalfields Life, are poignant and telling.

Moyra Peralta's Worldly Goods

She’s documented street life more fully in a book, Nearly Invisible, text by John Berger (he of the modestly titled Ways of Seeing.)