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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR FEBRUARY 2012

February 29,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

In 1340, Edward III of tiny England assumed the title of King of France, and effectively destroyed the French fleet at Sluys, off the coast of Flanders.  His troops landed virtually unopposed on the Cotentin Peninsula of Normandy, just where Eisenhower's Americans would land almost exactly 600 years later.  In 1346, the English longbowmen--employing the most advanced weapon in all Europe--won one of history's decisive battles against the ponderous French cavalry at Crécy on the Somme.  All that Philippe Auguste had won for France at Bouvines now seemed lost.  In a historic scene, recorded not least by Rodin, the burghers of Calais surrendered to Edward with halters round their necks.  England was to hold this vital foothold, this arrow pointed at Paris, until the days of Elizabeth I more than two centuries later.

--Seven Ages of Paris by Alistair Horne

February 28,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

To palliate the hardship of medieval life, entertainment was of the highest priority.  Parisians of all ranks loved a party, especially a good wedding feast, where minstrels would perform.  The principal instrument of the visiting jongleur would be a viele, a flat-bottomed fiddle, vaguely triangular, with three strings worked by a concave bow that was a little awkward to handle.  The music of the times was, it seems, seldom in unison.  The jongleur would first of all strike a note on his viele, and then chant; the much loved, heroic Chanson de Roland could take as long as five hours to perform.  With his knowledge of Jerusalem, the Siege of Antioch, of Arabs and Babylonians, drawn from the Crusades, and his tales of heroes who would give up all in the case of the Faith, the well-travelled jongleur was a much sought-after figure.  Though the chansons de geste such as Roland, with their attachment to a chivalry that was heroic to the point of suicide and absurdity, were arguably to help France lose the Battle of Crécy in the next century, they now kindled in Parisians for the first time a patriotic feeling of intense love for la douce France--principally identified with the immediately surrounding Ile de France.

--Seven Ages of Paris by Alistair Horne

February 27,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

By the end of the first century A.D., Christianity had arrived in Paris, followed shortly thereafter by the first martyrs.  Dionysius, of Denis, came from Rome and was probably Greek.  Aged ninety, he was arrested for denying the divinity of the Emperor, imprisoned on what is now the Quai aux Fleurs, close to the modern Préfecture de Police, and then dragged up the Roman highway that still bears his name northwards from the Seine.  On top of a hill overlooking the city where stood a temple to Mercury, he and two supporters were decapitated.  According to legend, he picked up his head with its long white beard, washed it in a nearby stream, and continued walking for "six thousand paces."  The spot where he finally dropped and was buried became a holy place.  Eventually the cathedral of Saint-Denis was built on its site, subsequently to become the burial place of French kings from Dagobert onwards.  His place of execution became the "Mons Martyrum"--or Montmartre; and the city annals chalked up their first revolutionary martyr as well as their first bishop.

--Seven Ages of Paris by Alistair Horne

February 26,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

'But we shall muddle through.  It is an English characteristic, to give the old country its due.  Not because we are muddle-headed, but because no other race is clear-headed enough to perceive how muddled they are.'

--Doom by William Gerhardie

February 25,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Patriotism,' said Frank, 'is like wine--a good thing when you haven't had too much of it.'

'You don't understand,' said the Frau Pastor.  'Only a German can understand what we feel about these things, only a German who has gone through what we have gone through and who knows what we know.'

There is a limit to an intelligent person's enjoyment of the irony of being regarded as an imbecile by fools.

--Doom by William Gerhardie

February 24,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

When he listened to one German after another who told him that if Germany had been arming it was because the Entente Cordiale was stifling them by a tightening ring of alliances (to whom he had said that if the Entente Cordiale was stifling them by a tightening ring of alliances it was because Germany had been arming), who were convinced that we had started the war as we were convinced that they had done so, the thought struck him :  'Of course they must be convinced.  When A is roused to a pitch where he will do B in, and take the risk of being done in by B in the doing, he is sincere in believing B to be in the wrong.  This is the shady side of faith.'

--Doom by William Gerhardie

February 23,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Frank waved away the flies.  'If I were God I would consign all flies to the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.  For don't tell me that they know what they do!'

Eva looked at him reproachfully.  'You are so stupid, darling.  You wave and shout at the flies.'

'But they do go away.'

'It's not because you shout, but because you wave that they go away.'

'H'm, that's possible.  I never thought of that.  I admit I am impractical.'

The secret of a successful picnic, in view of its invariable discomfort, is that it should be as short as possible.  They--all of them towny people--discovered this very soon and rose as if by mutual consent.

--Doom by William Gerhardie

February 22,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Frank returned to Half-Moon Street, which Cynthia, by the way, it occurred to him had deserted some days ago, in more buoyant spirits.  He did not resent her disappearance.  A man who had failed to provide his horse with a stable, the stable with a manger, the manger with fodder, would, indeed, be unreasonable to object to his horse's grazing outside in the field.  and in this harsh and difficult world Frank was not unreasonable.  He watched, contentedly, her grazing on the greenest and most flourishing fields of London, Paris, and New York.  He walked about in the flat, inspecting the shelves in the kitchen containing things in tins bought with her money; and in applying them to their uses drew on his common sense and such powers of divination as he possessed; and reflected that man's needs were few, and woman's less.

--Doom by William Gerhardie

February 21,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

She recalled having read somewhere that in ancient Rome the slaves were not allowed to wear a distinctive dress lest they should recognize each other and learn their numbers and their power.  So, in herself, she discerned for the first time instincts and desires, which, mute and unmarked, had gone to and fro in the dim passages of her mind, and now hailed each other with a cry of mutiny.

--The Reef by Edith Wharton

February 20,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Madame de Chantelle looked plaintively at her sturdy monitress.  "You don't expect me not to ask if she's got a family?"

"No; nor to think the worse of her if she hasn't.  The fact that she's an orphan ought, with your ideas, to be a merit.  You won't have to invite her father and mother to Givré!"

--The Reef by Edith Wharton

February 19,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Darrow, as he continued to observe the new-comer, who was perched on her arm-chair like a granite image on the edge of a cliff, was aware that, in a more detached frame of mind, he would have found an extreme interest in studying and classifying Miss Painter.  It was not that she said anything remarkable, or betrayed any of those unspoken perceptions which give significance to the most commonplace utterances.  She talked of the lateness of the train, of an impending crisis in international politics, of the difficulty of buying English tea in Paris and of the enormities of which French servants were capable; and her views on these subjects were enunciated with a uniformity of emphasis implying complete unconsciousness of any difference in their interest and importance.  She always applied to the French race the distant epithet of "those people", but she betrayed an intimate acquaintance with many of its members, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the domestic habits, financial difficulties and private complications of various persons of social importance.  Yet, as she evidently felt no incongruity in her attitude, so she revealed no desire to parade her familiarity with the fashionable, or indeed any sense of it as a fact to be paraded.  It was evident that the titled ladies whom she spoke of as Mimi or Simone or Odette were as much "those people" to her as the bonne who tampered with her tea and steamed the stamps off her letters ("when, by a miracle, I don't put them in the box myself.")  Her whole attitude was of a vast grim tolerance of things-as-they-came, as though she had been some wonderful automatic machine which recorded facts but had not yet been perfected to the point of sorting or labelling them.

--The Reef by Edith Wharton

[N.B.:  Just like Henry James, Edith Wharton is such a great writer that she obeys the rules of the Masters to "tell not show" as opposed to the rules of the creative-writing scribblers to "show not tell."  The ways of God are not the ways of men and are unknown to them.]

February 18,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Darrow had already guessed her to be a person who would instinctively oppose any suggested changes, and then, after one had exhausted one's main arguments, unexpectedly yield to some small incidental reason, and adhere doggedly to her new position.

--The Reef by Edith Wharton

February 17,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

He knew that most wrongdoing works, on the whole, less mischief than its useless confession; and this was clearly a case where a passing folly might be turned, by avowal, into a serious offense.

--The Reef by Edith Wharton

February 12,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Darrow, lighting a cigarette while she sucked her straw, knew the primitive complacency of the man at whose companion other men stare.

--The Reef by Edith Wharton

February 11,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Even in his first moment of exasperation it struck him as characteristic that she should not have padded her postponement with a fib.  Certainly her moral angles were not draped!

--The Reef by Edith Wharton

[N.B.:  This is Wharton's "naughty book" and has been mostly forgotten--but it shouldn't be!  If you're looking for a literary, yet tawdry, diversion, this is it.]

February 10,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

"There is no such thing as natural law.  Such terms are nothing more than ancient twaddle, worthy of the public prosecutor who was hunting me, the other day: his grandfather's wealth came from a forfeiture in the days of Louis XIV.  There are no rights, unless there's a law forbidding you to do this or that, or else you'll be punished.  Before there's a law, there's nothing natural except a lion's strength, or the needs of someone who is hungry, who's cold--who, in short, needs. . . . No, those we honor are simply rascals who've been lucky enough not to get caught with their hands in the cookie jar."

--The Red and the Black by Stendhal (tr. Burton Raffel)

February 9,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

In fifty years all there will be, in Europe, is the presidents of republics--not a king left.  And when those four letters--K-I-N-G--disappear, so too will all the priests and all the gentlemen.  All I can see is candidates paying court to dirt-covered majorities.

--The Red and the Black by Stendhal (tr. Burton Raffel)

February 8,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

(The author would have preferred, at this point, to insert a page consisting of nothing but ellipses.  "That would look awful," said that publisher, "and, for such a lightweight book, looking bad is, quite simply, death." -- "Politics," the author replied, "is a stone tied around literature's neck, and in less than six months, it sinks under the weight.  Politics set among the imagination's concerns is like a pistol shot fired at a concert.  The noise mangles without energizing.  It does not harmonize with the sound of any instrument in the orchestra.  Politics will mortally offend half your readers, and bore the other half, who would have found the discussion fascinating, and wonderfully lively, in the morning newspaper. . . ." --  "If your characters don't talk politics," responded the publisher, "they'll cease to be the Frenchmen of 1830, and your book will no longer be a mirror, as you claim it is. . . .")

--The Red and the Black by Stendhal (tr. Burton Raffel)

February 7,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Ah, my dear sir: a novel is a mirror, taking a walk down a big road.  Sometimes you'll see nothing but blue skies; sometimes you'll see the muck in the mud piles along the road.  And you'll accuse the man carrying the mirror in his basket of being immoral!  His mirror reflects muck, so you'll accuse the mirror, too!  Why not also accuse the highway where the mud is piled, or, more strongly still, the street inspector who leaves water wallowing int he roads, so the mud piles can come into being.

--The Red and the Black by Stendhal (tr. Burton Raffel)

February 6,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

"We no longer have genuine passions, in the nineteenth century.  That's why there's so much boredom, here in France.  We do the most incredibly cruel things, but without cruelty."

"So much the worse!" said Julien.  "At the very least, crimes ought to be committed with pleasure.  That's the only good about them: How can we even begin to justify them for any other reason?"

--The Red and the Black by Stendhal (tr. Burton Raffel)

February 5,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Nothing can so distinguish a man as a death sentence," thought Mathilde.  "It's the only thing one can't buy."

--The Red and the Black by Stendhal (tr. Burton Raffel)

February 4,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

At the Père Lachaise Cemetery, a most obliging man, and even more assertively a liberal, offered to show Julien the tomb of Marshall Ney, Napoleon's general, to whom wise politicians have denied an epitaph.  But after leaving this liberal gentleman, who embraced him tightly, tears in his eyes, Julien no longer had his watch.

--The Red and the Black by Stendhal (tr. Burton Raffel)

February 3,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Remember, even financially speaking, it's better to earn four hundred francs in the solid timber business, where you're your own boss, than to get four thousand francs from a government even were it that of King Solomon.

--The Red and the Black by Stendhal (tr. Burton Raffel)

February 2,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Beyond six rivers and three mountain ranges rises Zora, a city that no one, having seen it, can forget.  But not because, like other memorable cities, it leaves an unusual image in your recollections.  Zora has the quality of remaining in your memory point by point, in its succession of streets, of houses along the streets, and of doors and windows in the houses, though nothing in them possesses a special beauty or rarity.  Zora's secret lies in the way your gaze runs over patterns following one another as in a musical score where not a note can be altered or displaced.  The man who knows by heart how Zora is made, if he is unable to sleep at night, can imagine he is walking along the streets and he remembers the order by which the copper clock follows the barber's striped awning, then the fountain with the nine jets, the astronomer's glass tower, the melon vendor's kiosk, the statue of the hermit and the lion, the Turkish bath, the café at the corner, the alley that leads to the harbor.

--Cities & Memory 4 from Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

February 1,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

In vain, great-hearted Kublai, shall I attempt to describe Zaira, city of high bastions.  I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and the degree of the arcades' curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs; but I already know this would be the same as telling you nothing.  The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past: the height of a lamppost and the distance from the ground of a hanged usurper's swaying feet; the line strung from the lamppost to the railing opposite and the festoons that decorate the course of  queen's nuptial procession; the height of that railing and the leap of the adulterer who climbed over it at dawn; the tilt of a guttering and a cat's progress along it as he slips into the same window; the firing range of a gunboat which has suddenly appeared beyond the cape and the bomb that destroys the guttering; the rips in the fish net and the three old men seated on the dock mending nets and telling each other for the hundredth time the story of the gunboat of the usurper, who some say was the queen's illegitimate son, abandoned in his swaddling clothes there on the dock.

--Cities & Memory 3 from Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino