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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR OCTOBER 2011

October  31,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Living is a meatloaf sandwich.

 

--El Dorado by John Ashbery (Poetry, March 2009)

 

[N.B.:  I flagged this line from Ashbery's poem while perusing my copy of Poetry magazine without realizing until later that the editors had also singled out this line and printed it on the back cover.  I think we both recognized it as an arresting metaphor but, whereas the editors no doubt saw this as yet another sign of Ashbery's continuing vitality, I saw it as yet another sign of the bankruptcy of contemporary poetry.  Ashbery, like his contemporary, Bob Dylan, realized that the poet Dylan Thomas had indeed discovered the poetic equivalent of El Dorado by developing the technique of writing poems composed of high-flown phrases that are just obscure enough to appear deeply wise but could actually be interpreted in any number of ways, most of them banal (indeed, Bob was so thankful that he changed his last name in honor of Dylan).  Hence, the true value of this technique is that is provides the poet with plausible deniability if a critic seeks to pin the charge of pastiche or cliché upon him.  And that, my friend, is why the answer really is blowing in the wind.] 

October  30,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

With their superior numbers, the Indians could have annihilated the soldiers.  But no Indian plan of battle in American history ever included sacrificing large numbers of lives to take a position.  That was what white men did, exemplified in attacks later on at places like Little Round Top, Iwo Jima, and Gallipoli.  The Plains Indians' almost universal reluctance to press advantage was, from a tactical standpoint, one of their biggest weaknesses.  It saved countless thousands of white lives.

 

--Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S. C. Gwynne

October  29,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

By late 1838 the new republic had reached a boiling point.  And just at that moment, Mirabeau Bonaparte Lamar was elected president.  The hard-edged Lamar was the perfect counterpoint to the measured, diplomatic Houston, whom he despised as much as he hated the new city on a bayou in east Texas that bore his name.  One of Lamar's first acts was to move the capital from the swamps of east Texas one hundred fifty miles to a new town named Austin at the very foot on the Balcones Escarpment--in other words, right up against the edge of Comanche country. 

 

--Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S. C. Gwynne

October  28,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

His fellow tribe members had names like "A Big Fall by Tripping," "Face Wrinkling Like Getting Old," "Coyote Vagina," "gets to Be a Middle-Aged Man," "Always Sitting Down in a Bad Place," "Breaks Something," and "She Invites Her Relatives."  To others, they were the personification of death.  To themselves, they were simply "People."

 

--Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S. C. Gwynne

 

[N.B.:  As we might surmise, these names were probably considerably cleaned up in translation.  If nothing else, such names suggest a bunch of grown-up fraternity boys giving each other ribald nicknames.  Homicidal fratboys, that is.  And there, Hollywood, is a guaranteed money-making genre with villains that everyone can hate without guilt:  the homicidal fratboy.  And here's the title for you:  The Frat Pack.  And then you could have a mash-up where a bunch of fratboys go back in time and hook up with the Comanches:  Fratboys and Indians.  I'll await my royalty check.]

October  27,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Celtic peoples, ancestors of huge numbers of immigrants to America in the nineteenth century, offer a rough parallel.  Celts of the fifth century BC were described by Herodotus as "fierce warriors who fought with seeming disregard for their own lives."  Like Comanches they were savage, filthy, wore their hair long, and had a hideous keening battle cry.  They were superb horsemen, inordinately fond of alcohol, and did terrible things to their enemies and captives that included decapitation, a practice that horrified the civilized Greeks and Romans.  The old Celts, forebears of the Scots-Irish who formed the vanguard of America's western migrations,  would have had no "moral" problem with the Comanche practice of torture.

 

--Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S. C. Gwynne

October  26,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

It is impossible to read Rachel Plummer's memoir without making moral judgments about the Comanches.  The torture-killing of a defenseless seven-week-old infant, by committee decision no less, is an act of almost demonic immorality by any modern standard.  The systematic gang rape of women captives seems to border on criminal perversion, if not some very advanced form of evil.  The vast majority of Anglo-European settlers in the American West would have agreed with those assessments.  To them, Comanches were thugs and killers, devoid of ordinary decency, sympathy, or mercy.  Not only did they inflict horrific suffering, but from all evidence they enjoyed it.  this was perhaps the worst part, and certainly the most frightening part.  Making people scream in pain was interesting and rewarding for them, just as it is interesting and rewarding for young boys in modern-day America to torture frogs or pull the legs off grasshoppers.  Boys presumably grow out of that; for Indians, it was an important part of their adult culture and one they accepted without challenge.

 

--Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S. C. Gwynne

October  25,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

In 1706 they rode, for the first time, into recorded history.  In July of that year a Spanish sergeant major named Juan De Ulibarri, on his way to gather Pueblo Indians for conversion in northern New Mexico, reported that Comanches, in the company of Utes, were preparing to attach Taos pueblo.  He later heard of actual Comanche attacks.  This was the first the Spanish or any white men had heard of these Indians who had many names.  One name in particular, given to them by the Utes, was Koh-mats, sometimes given as Komantcia, and meant "anyone who is against me all the time."

 

--Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S. C. Gwynne

October  24,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

For a brief interlude Moulin was able to lead the life of a bohemian.  He attended life classes at schools such as the Académie Colarossi and the Grande Chaumière; he frequented the Dôme and the Rotonde.  The art curator Jacques Lugand considers that his sketches of this period resemble the work of Pascin, who hanged himself  à la portugaise from the doorknob of his studio in Pigalle in 1930, and who was known for his erotic, sprawling nudes of unusually young models.

 

--Resistance and Betrayal: The Death and Life of the Greatest Hero of the French Resistance by Patrick Marnham

October  23,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The student carnival in Montpellier in 1920 was dedicated to St. Agatha; this was due less less to religious enthusiasm than to the sensational manner of her martyrdom.  The carnival banner decorated with a colorful picture of the saint's breasts being cut off was painted by Moulin.  Laure recalled that on another occasion her brother attended a fancy dress ball in drag, disguised en Arlésienne, that is, in the national female costume of Provence.  In his lace bonnet and ribbons, on the arm of a taller friend, the slim figure of the prefect's assistant enjoyed a marked success among his fellow students before he removed his bonnet and revealed his identity.

 

--Resistance and Betrayal: The Death and Life of the Greatest Hero of the French Resistance by Patrick Marnham

October  22,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

In October 1904 a national scandal broke out known as the affaire des fiches (the index scandal).  A question in the Chamber of Deputies revealed that the Grand Orient had been compiling an index of "untrustworthy" army officers based on the fact that they went to church.  The minister of war was forced to resign, but Louis Laferre, who was the sitting president of the Grand Orient, justified the index, which had been designed to purge the senior ranks of the officer corps of any Catholic connections.  He believed that "an army officer who goes to church cannot be trusted . . . and should not be promoted."

 

--Resistance and Betrayal: The Death and Life of the Greatest Hero of the French Resistance by Patrick Marnham

October  21,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The other was with an even more prominent figure, Louis Laferre, one of the founders of the Parti Radical, also a deputy [in the National Assembly] and a future government minister.  More important, Laferre was president of le Grand Orient, the largest masonic group in France.  The two decades that bridged the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were the golden age of French freemasonry, a period when the majority of government ministers, in whatever ministry, were masons and when the brotherhood, with its 500 lodges and 20,000 to 30,000 members, formed what one historian has called "the only influential political network covering the entire country."  As a result Laferre was one of the most powerful backstage figures in French politics.

 

--Resistance and Betrayal: The Death and Life of the Greatest Hero of the French Resistance by Patrick Marnham

October  20,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Other effects of the occupation were more unexpected.  In Paris the suicide rate dropped from 2,354 in 1938 to 720 in 1944.  Meanwhile, the national birth rate rose from 13.1 percent in 1939 to 15.7 percent in 1943, despite the loss of 1.85 million sexually active men, the POWs.

 

--Resistance and Betrayal: The Death and Life of the Greatest Hero of the French Resistance by Patrick Marnham

October  19,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

So, in Bron, a suburb of Lyon, in the Vinatier mental hospital, during the occupation, 2,000 out of 2,890 patients were allowed to die of exposure and starvation.  Eight hundred died in the first twenty-nine months between July 1940 and November 1942, and 1,200 in the following twenty-two months.  During this period the psychiatrists who continued to supervise their patients noted that their daily calorie level had dropped by forty-four percent, and used the daily ward rounds to gather data for theses which bore titles such as "The Delirium of Want."  Symptoms of this condition included eating the bark of trees in the hospital grounds, eating fecal matter and drinking urine, habits which had not previously been observed at Vinatier.  Starvation was now treated as a novel form of mental illness.  What was significant about this situation was not the shortage of food in the hospitals of Lyon--there was a general and serious food shortage throughout the city for most of the war--but the reaction of the psychiatrists, who attempted to explain away the fact that their patients were starving to death by means of a bland professional formula.

 

--Resistance and Betrayal: The Death and Life of the Greatest Hero of the French Resistance by Patrick Marnham

October  18,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The refugees reappeared, heading in the opposite direction, the Parisians once more distinguishing themselves by their point of view.  One woman, reported Maurice Vidon, had applied to the Kommandantur for permission to steal a car so that she could get home to her Paris apartment more quickly.  "The war seems to have taught the Parisians nothing," wrote the former mayor.  "Some are asking the times of trains to Paris, not having noticed that the rail bridges and track have been extensively destroyed; others have been demanding priority on the grounds that they work in a munitions factory."

 

--Resistance and Betrayal: The Death and Life of the Greatest Hero of the French Resistance by Patrick Marnham

October  17,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Corker looked at him sadly.  "You know, you've got a lot to learn about journalism.  Look at it this way.  News is what a chap who doesn't care much about anything wants to read.  And it's only news until he's read it.  After that it's dead.  We're paid to supply news.  If someone else has sent a story before us, our story isn't news.  Of course there's colour.  Colour is jus a lot of bulls'-eyes about nothing.  It's easy to write and easy to read but it costs too much in cabling so we have to go slow on that.  See?"

 

--Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

October  16,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

"What the British public wants first, last and all time is News.  Remember that the Patriots are in the right and are going to win.  The Beast stands by them four-square.  But they must win quickly.  The British public has no interest in a war which drags on indecisively.  A few sharp victories, some conspicuous acts of personal bravery on the Patriot side, and a colourful entry into the capital.  That is the Beast Policy for the war."

 

--Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

 

[N.B.:  No, this wasn't written yesterday about Libya or the Arab Spring but rather in 1937.]

October  15,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Mr. Salter's side of the conversation was limited to expressions of assent.  When Lord copper was right he said, "Definitely, Lord Copper"; when he was wrong, "Up to a point."

 

"Let me see, what's the name of the place I mean?  Capital of Japan?  Yokohama, isn't it?"

 

"Up to a point, Lord Copper."

 

"And Hong Kong, belongs to us, doesn't it?"

 

"Definitely, Lord Copper."

 

--Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

October  14,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

"It has been my experience, dear Mrs. Stitch, that the Megalopitan can command the talent of the world.  Only last week the Poet Laureate wrote us an ode to the seasonal fluctuation of our net sales.  We splashed it on the middle page.  He admitted it was the most poetic and highly paid work he had ever done."

 

--Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

October  13,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

"I thought it very banal."

 

"You seem to find everything banal."

 

"It is a new word whose correct use I have only lately learnt," said Josephine with dignity.  "I find it applies to nearly everything; Virgil and Miss Brittling and my gymnasium."

 

--Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

October  12,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Nothing could have been worse planned nor worse performed than the coup d'état that now took place.  The most important quality of a coup d'état is speed.  It should be over before those who are likely to oppose it are aware it has begun.  No moment should be allowed for the forces of the other side to organise.  Yet this was deliberately designed to occupy two days.  It should be ruthless.  Men who are smashing a system of government must not be afraid of breaking a law.  But these conspirators were so scrupulous in their observation of forms that they seemed to be attempting to do nothing unconstitutional except destroy the Constitution.  Above all, success must usually depend upon the calmness and decision of the leader.  At the critical moment Napoleon lost his head.

 

--Talleyrand by Duff Cooper

October  11,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The easiest way to destroy a Government is from within.  Talleyrand, having decided upon the destruction of the Directory, and having chosen Sieyès as his agent, proceeded to make Sieyès a Director.  That cold, clever, cowardly man was glad to find that his abilities, which everybody but himself had seemed so long to underrate, were beginning at last to be appreciated.  Mirabeau had once said in one of his finest flights of oratory that the silence and inactivity of Sieyès were nothing less than a public calamity.  But silence and inactivity had saved his life, and when men asked Sieyès what he had done during the Terror, he who had previously incurred the enmity of Robespierre had some reason to be proud of his reply--'I lived.' 

 

--Talleyrand by Duff Cooper

October  10,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

As is usually the case when democratic institutions are failing, the general demand among all classes and in all parties was for one strong man who would sweep away the politicians, who would not pander to the ephemeral powers that were, but would give good government to the majority, who wanted it, and impose firm government upon the few, who did not.  

 

--Talleyrand by Duff Cooper

October  9,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Any reader is at liberty to believe as much or as little of contemporary accounts as he desires, and indeed half the fascination of studying the memoirs of the past is the endeavour, by making allowance for the prejudices and predilections of the writer, to sift truth from falsehood. 

 

--Talleyrand by Duff Cooper

October  8,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

It is one thing to be a paid spy, it is another to be an intelligent traveller anxious to acquire any information that may be of value to your country and, incidentally, to yourself.

 

--Talleyrand by Duff Cooper

 

[N.B.:  Consider the source for this bon mot--it is not a coincidence that this is the only biography written by what some considered the poor man's Talleyrand.]

October  7,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Before Talleyrand left America he had an interview with William Cobbett.  Two more strangely contrasted individuals never met.  Cobbett was at that time earning his living in Philadelphia by teaching English to French emigrants.  He had also plunged recently into political journalism which, for him, meant always bitter polemics and violent personal abuse.  Although he had left England under a cloud, failing to appear as the prosecutor of officers under whom he had served as a private soldier and against whom he had brought charges of peculation, now that England was at war the profound patriotism of his nature prompted him to set his pen at her service and to denounce the iniquities of all her enemies.  So for a short period he was loud in praise of King and Constitution and pitiless in exposure of republicans, revolutionaries, and atheists.  There was nobody whom he had attacked more violently than Talleyrand whom, he says himself, he had called an 'an apostate, a hypocrite and every other name of which he was deserving.'  He was the more surprised therefore when he heard that Talleyrand wished to meet him.  The meeting was arranged, and Cobbett, whose idea of calling on an enemy was to do it with a thick stick, confesses that he was completely bewildered when Talleyrand addressed him with the greatest civility and complimented him upon his wit and learning.  When Talleyrand proceeded to inquire whether it was at Oxford or at Cambridge that he had been educated, Cobbett, who had never seen the inside of school or college, could bear it no longer.  With that suspicion, which never leaves the ill-educated even when they are brilliantly intelligent, that the man of higher culture is making a fool of them, Cobbett burst out with the typically vigorous and bucolic assurance that he 'was no trout, and consequently not to be caught by tickling.'

 

--Talleyrand by Duff Cooper

 

[N.B.:  The kernel of a good movie is in this anecdote--and also a very bad and pretentious one.]

October  6,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

And something of innocence remained.  She was without memory: he had decided that long ago.  She was under no obligation to make a whole of her attitudes or actions.  It was useless, as he had found, to point out her contradictions.  She was not abashed because she was not interested; she owed no one any explanations.  She was only what she did or said at any given moment; she was then what she was.  He had been drawn by what he had seen as her mystery.  But where he had once looked for passion born of violation and distress, he now found inviolability.

 

--Guerillas by V.S. Naipaul

October  5,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

He was not less taken when, switching from charm and girlish incompetence, she had attempted, big eyes going moist, to talk about his book.  It was immediately clear that she did not know his book; it was also clear that she had her own idea of the kind of book he had written.  And she was anxious to put herself on the side of this imaginary author.  She said: "The colonial police are terrible."  He was struck by this sentence.  It was at once glib and spoken with conviction, as though it issued out of a great store of knowledge on the subject.  The anachronism--"the colonial police"--was not deliberate.  To Roche the words suggested less a reading of history than a secondhand intimacy with old events; old conversations overheard, someone else's experience--these things just remembered, a reaction suddenly summoned up.

 

--Guerillas by V.S. Naipaul

October  4,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

She lived in the midst of change, repetitive and sterile; it did not disguise the fact of the greater impermanence.  But she was privileged: she told herself that once a day.  Security was the basis of her privilege.  Yet she saw, with a satiric eye, the people around her as accumulators, concerned about dead rituals and dead forms, unmindful of the approaching catastrophe.  She saw the girls who were her friends as empty vessels, waiting to be filled by men, who in time appeared, their names echoing and reechoing in conversation, Roger and Mark and John, as empty as the girls.  But Roger and Mark and John could have been models for the men to whom she had once giver herself, and in whom she had seen extraordinary qualities.  Out of this contradiction between what she did and said and what she felt, out of this knowledge of her own security and her vision of decay, of a world running down, she moved from one crisis to another.

 

--Guerillas by V.S. Naipaul

October  3,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

"You remember how you stopped the conversation at the Grandlieus'?  You thought you were being so concerned, talking about the shantytowns and the horrible little black animals crawling about in the rubbish.  You thought you were talking about things no one had seen before you.  You thought you were being so much more concerned than everybody else.  But you were saying nothing.  It was just a cheap way of showing off."

 

--Guerillas by V.S. Naipaul

October  2,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

But life goes on and on we go, spinning along the coast in a violet light, past Howard Johnson's and the motels and the children's carnival.  We pull into a bay and have a drink under the stars.  It is not a bad thing to settle for the Little Way, not the big search for the big happiness but the sad little happiness of drinks and kisses, a good little car and a warm deep thigh. 

 

--The Moviegoer  by Walker Percy

October  1,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Do you think it is possible for a person to make a single mistake--not do something wrong, you understand, but make a miscalculation--and ruin his life?"

 

"Why not?"

 

"I mean after all.  Couldn't a person be miserable because he got one thing wrong and never learned otherwise--because the thing he got wrong was of such a nature that he could not be told because the telling itself got it wrong--just as if you had landed on Mars and therefore had no way of knowing that a Martian is mortally offended by a question and so every time you asked what was wrong, it only grew worse for you?" 

 

--The Moviegoer  by Walker Percy