Tuesday, May 31, 2005

More books...

Siss' post reminded me of this picture I have of my grandfather while he was studying at the Geneva medical school, in the very early 1900s.

Lots of books there too...

Monday, May 30, 2005


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It has been said that one sure way to spoil the illusion of any writer’s originality is to elucidate the resemblance between his (or her) work and his book collection. But perhaps the opposite is true(r): that whatever books and ideas and experiences we’ve collected, each according to one's own inclinations, and some small serendipities of time and place, are exactly what makes us each unique and original, as writers or thinkers or lives.

There was a man named Torfinn Stahl (Finn to friends) who served for many years as the Swedish Consul in the town where I live. He died recently, an old man, leaving behind an amazing accumulation of books and art and other objects, crammed into a huge house bursting at the seams with all the things he had collected to the very end. Unfortunately, he died alone, and for some reason, the city became heir to his house and all of the legacy within it. Someone suggested donating some of his books to the city library and others to the local Scandinavian cultural association. The books were refused; no one was interested. Somehow, the owner of a local bookshop was appointed to go through the house, to get rid of everything, selling what he could.

I spent hours last week, combing through those information-dense rooms with a friend, treasure-hunting, speculating, piecing together what must have been a fascinating life, giggling at some finds and finding ourselves moved to silence by others. The guy had eclectic tastes. He had books in Swedish, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Hungarian, German, Japanese, and I don't know what other languages. He had whole libraries, multilingual all of them, on every possible subject: language, literature, poetry, religion, travel, politics, psychology, sociology, death and dying, gay porn. He had a picture book about Boy George, all kinds of dictionaries and maps, all of Proust in French and Grass in German, My Mother, Myself, and at least two copies of I’m Okay, You’re Okay.

Exercising restraint, I chose the following 15 books, listed in order from least sexy to most:

· Poetry: A Modern Guide to its Understanding and Enjoyment (1959)
· Language in the Modern World (1960)
· Omnivore: The Role of Food in Human Evolution (1971)
· Edge of Awareness: 25 Contemporary Essays (“provocative views of man in a complex world by distinguished modern writers”) (1966)
· The Dictionary of Misinformation (“amazing facts to astonish your friends and annoy your enemies”) (1975)
· Thirst for Love, by Yukio Mishima (1969)
· On Life and Sex, by Havelock Ellis (1931)
· The Undergrowth of Literature (“a fascinating dip into the pornographic underworld, a well-documented study of current sexual fantasies and fetishes as displayed in books, magazines, and modern advertising”) (1967)
· Italian Short Stores (Penguin Parallel Text) (1965)
· Vicious Circles and Infinity: An Anthology of Paradoxes (1975)
· Lying on the Couch, by Irvin D. Yalom (1996)
· When Nietzsche Wept: A Novel of Obsession, by Irvin D. Yalom (1992)
· Seeing Voices, by Oliver Sacks (1989)
· Adventures in the Skin Trade and Other Stories, by Dylan Thomas (1960)
· Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero, by Charles Sprawson (1992)

The books are still stacked neatly on my desk, a source of pride, and I’ll read them all eventually. But the experience itself, the dusty hands, the invitation-only sense of collusion, that great old house near the port, those tall walls, covered with shelves and covered with books, the life of a man I would have liked to have known – those are the things that have made my collection(s) all the richer.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Down memory lane...

Jazz is not really my thing. But in joints like that, it took on a totally different meaning.

Too bad they closed it down...

test case

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a tap, a tip, a palindrome

As to the matter of the test last week, it was more trouble than I thought. It was also a great opportunity to get into trouble of a different kind, the kind you don’t really pass or fail: you just live it and assimilate it later.

The test consisted of four parts: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. (There were several additional components to the trouble, which is being discussed elsewhere.) I know Greeks like to think that their language is the richest, most complex, and most difficult language on earth to learn. I don’t know of any objective standard for such a claim, and I don’t have experience in enough languages to make meaningful comparisons, but I find the Greek language, if not the Greek people, reliably rule-based and reassuringly routine – in everyday matters, at least. I was even teaching it, until my student moved away.

Some parts of the test were easier than others. I found synonyms, completed paragraphs, took notes on dance therapy and cinema for schoolkids, discussed the principles of a proverb and the virtues of vegetarianism. I wrote a letter to a friend who wanted to run for mayor and an essay on unemployment. What I couldn’t do was distinguish the “myths of alcohol” from the realities, or correct the gaffes of Greeks (τα λεγόμενα μαργαριτάρια). I probably made a few my own (ας τις πούμε πατάτες καλύτερα). I also couldn’t keep my face from burning or my hands from fluttering, ice cold.

It may have been a mistake to take the test. I know that my perception of a good day or a bad one depends on how much Greek I get to use or have to use, and how good or bad it comes out. (Inside my head, it’s always pretty good.) That morning, that day was full of promise. But by evening, I was speaking in English, if and when I spoke at all.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Two's company

sea salt

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The whole Mediterranean – the sculptures, the palms, the gold beads, the bearded heroes, the wine, the ideas, the ships, the moonlight, the winged gordons, the bronze men, the philosophers – all of it seems to rise in the sour, pungeant taste of these black olives between the teeth. A taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water.
-- Lawrence Durrell, Prospero’s Cell: A Guide to the Landscape and Manners of the Island of Corcyra, 1945

The other thing about the Mediterranean is the water itself. Sometimes I wonder if I had ever drunk (much less tasted) water, at all, before I came to Greece. I have no memory of it. The olives, I’m sure, were Spanish, pitted and pimentoed, tasteless. To be eaten and immediately forgotten. That first summer in the village, freckled and burnt, black, and blonde, like never before or since, I fell in love with olives, real olives, tiny and black, native and not for export, salty like the sea, like all that water… that marooned me on this island, left me high (and dry)… long enough to forget what I had left behind.

Saturday, May 21, 2005


I remember several years back when I went to a specialized audio equipment store in northern London to buy my first "serious" stereo amp. The guy had a really cool testing room in his basement, we brought down a couple of different set ups he recommended, I already had with me a few CDs with the sort of music I usually listen to (he had asked me to bring them), and we started fooling around, full volume and all that. Extra cool stuff!

After a couple of trials, he said we needed something with more "umph"! He explained to me that to give a sound more "umph" (or "body"), it was essential to amplify different frequency ranges at different levels. It turned out that the sound with the appropriate "umph" for me was the result of amplifying the lowest and highest frequencies considerably more than the mid-range ones.

My interpretation of this phenomenon is the following:

The lowest frequencies carry the "base" of the music, its underlying fundamental qualities, its rhythm, its foundations, what is required to make you feel that it is "for real".

The highest frequencies contain the information about instantaneous changes, the culminations, climaxes, the moments of abrupt state changes, the points of discontinuity.

The mid-range frequencies carry the rest of the song, in a sense its "every day" life.

So, as it happens, you (well, I!) can have a perfectly fulfilling and complete (acoustic) experience based on the lows and highs only.

The "everyday" stuff is of much lower importance.

At least that's how I feel about it.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Sexy boy

The music, in itself, is quite amazing.

But when you add to it this incredibly original hip-pop style, you have something quite unique.

Air captured my interest since the release of (one of) their first single(s) "Sexy Boy" (I am still totally obsessed with the Etienne de Crecy & The Flower Pistols remix), and I think that their work (and style) since then has been equally impressive.

Worth looking into, if one has not.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A man of many words and few teeth

(Alternate title: If I should fall from Grace with God)

Give the guy a break. He's a genius, if there ever was one.

"Streams of Whiskey"
[Shane MacGowan]

Last night as I slept, I dreamed I met with Behan
I shook him by the hand and we passed the time of day
When questioned on his views on the crux of life's philosophies
He had but these few clear and simple words to say

I am going, I am going
Any which way the wind may be blowing
I am going, I am going
Where streams of whiskey are flowing

I have cursed, bled and sworn, jumped bail and landed up in jail
Life has often tried to stretch me, but the rope always went slack
And now that I've a pile, I'll go down to the Chelsea
I'll walk in on my feet but I'll leave there on my back

I am going, I am going
Any which way the wind may be blowing
I am going, I am going
Where streams of whiskey are flowing

Oh the words that he spoke seemed the wisest of philosophies
There's nothing ever gained by a wet thing called a tear
When the world is too dark and I need the light inside of me
I'll go into a bar and drink fifteen pints of beer

I am going, I am going
Any which way the wind may be blowing
I am going, I am going
Where streams of whiskey are flowing

Monday, May 09, 2005

Ελικοδρόμιο blues...

Ντης (Τ/ΠΒ) Τζαβάρας

Ντης (Τ/ΠΒ) Διαμαντόπουλος

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Είμαι εγώ, ο ναύτης του Αιγαίου...

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

consummate desire

The promise of something is usually sweeter than its fulfillment; desire is at its fiercest before it is acted upon or slaked. There were endless exchanges before the fact. Everything had a meaning. Among the negotiations, from opening salvo to the last safe step on the slippery slope, there were also stories, of summers abroad, loves and decisions irrelevant to ours, jobs, beating his own best time in the pool. In other cultures, the ending is all that matters. But at what point can you say that something has ended? Distance is an optical illusion: it’s often easier to feel alienated from those who are the closest and closest to those who are impossibly far. Time, too, is indistinct: there are some feelings that time cannot corrupt or erode, and some minutes, hours, moments that feel like an era. At what point did it start, and when did it end? Was it over when he said goodbye between the park and home? Or was it that other goodbye that seemed more real? There were many goodbyes, but it was that word in the middle of the conversation that really killed you. What’s next, his friend asked. Nothing, he answered. You knew it already, somewhere inside, but hearing it came swiftly and sharply, as subtle as an axe. You felt almost nothing at all. But once the blood starts flowing, it’s hard to staunch. You wanted more than sex, but you wanted that too. What possibilities are open to you now? None of it is a coincidence; you hope he’ll see that too. Less, you've seen it said somewhere before, is a possibility. He even gave you the book. You know it’s true, and he never once condescended to you. But still. You don’t want less. You want more.