Friday, March 16, 2007

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Change one letter

Change one letter in the title of an existing book to get a completely different story. Provide a one-sentence description of the result.

  • All the Pretty Houses: Cormac MacCarthy's verbal tribute to the real estate industry.
  • The Right Stiff: Tom Wolfe explores the growing phenomenon of space burial.
  • A Heartbreaking Worm of Staggering Genius : one man's search for truth in a tequila bottle.
  • Infinite Pest: A talented author loses all control of his manuscript and the footnotes go on forever.
  • The Shops of the Fisherman: To meet the ever-increasing cost of litigation brought by the families of former altar boys, Vatican City is leased out to a multinational shopping mall conglomerate.
  • Lost Verizon : While climbing in the Himalayas, a yuppie is extremely disturbed to find that his cell phone no longer works
  • The Unbearable Tightness of Being : Memoir of an Asthma Patient
  • Lady Windermere's Fin : Inbreeding in Victorian England
  • The Cremains of the Day -- a Mitford-Ishiguro production.
  • The Spoils of Boynton : A lifetime of drawing cute cats has its rewards
  • Eyes on the Pride : A group of tourists on safari are separated from their jeep
  • The Brothels Karamazov : Heidi Fleiss meets Dostoevski
  • The Good Marrow : John Donne wins big at the county fair!
  • Caesar's Garlic Wars : Internecine strife threatens to bring down a pizza-making dynasty

Yes, I did cheat on one of these, resorting to a two-letter change.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square

Clearly, we need more weekly words. And here they are!

bulbul (noun):

A songbird often mentioned in Persian poetry, regarded as being a nightingale. [Origin: Persian]

jugjug (noun):
Conventional representation of nightingale's song in Elizabethan poetry.

Appears a number of times in T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land", in the context of one of the poem's central metaphors -

Above the antique mantel was displayed
As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene
The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale
Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
'Jug Jug' to dirty ears.
And other withered stumps of time .....
Twit twit twit
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
So rudely forc'd.
Tereu ...

According to legend, Philomela, a princess of Athens, was raped by her brother-in-law Tereus. He cut out her tongue to silence her; the gods transformed her into a nightingale, so that she could sing beautifully for ever.

In Ovid's "Metamorphoses", Philomela's defiant speech is rendered as:

"Now that I have no shame, I will proclaim it.
Given the chance, I will go where the people are,
Tell everybody; if you shut me here,
I will move the very woods and rocks to pity.
The air of Heaven will hear, and any god,
If there is any god in Heaven, will hear me."

This legend is the etymological basis for the final (and most beautiful) word of the week.

philomelian: (adjective)
like, or pertaining to, a nightingale

Here is a philomelian musical link, featuring Vera Lynn -

Wednesday : Words of the Week

Real words, not sniglets. Rather than feature one a day, let's try a weekly set, with some common feature. This week's theme -- interesting repeaters.

ha-ha (noun):

A walled ditch or sunken obstacle, such as a hedge, serving especially as a barrier to livestock without impairing the view or scenic appeal. ~1760

beriberi (noun):

a disease of the peripheral nerves caused by a deficiency of vitamin B1, characterized by pain in and paralysis of the extremities, and severe emaciation or swelling of the body. [Origin: reduplication of the Sinhalese word beri, meaning weak,
~ 1700.]

dumdum (noun):

a hollow-nosed or soft-nosed bullet that expands on impact, inflicting a severe wound. Also called dumdum bullet.
[Origin: 1895–1900; named after Dum-Dum, town in India where the bullets were made]

Ballistic root vegetables

Who among us doesn't find the subject of ballistic root vegetables to be inherently fascinating? Indulge your curiosity by visiting this site -

You'll be glad that you did.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


The polar bear up in my attic
Who monitors all things climatic
told me "All of the vapors
from those Iraqi capers
are deadly to creatures aquatic.

For example, there's my cousin Mo
Who lived on a floe down below
But holes in the ozone
Made his floe a no-go zone
And now Mo has got no place to go"

"In Russia conditions are drearier
For instance, in northern Siberia
young baby seals have
been mating with eels
I'd say more, but I don't want to skeer ya

In Bohemia's lush forest groves
People are panicking in droves
Screaming with fright, they're
Fleeing a new nightmare
Babies born with a face like Karl Rove's."

Until now, I confess, climatology
Was as boring to me as mycology
But the words of that bear
Were a genuine scare
And a reason to care 'bout ecology

Earth's fragile, a magical jewel.
Life bubbles in constant renewal
Extinguish the mystery
And go down in history
As earthkillers? No, that would be cruel.

Monday, March 12, 2007


  • splurgeon : an extravagant sawbones with an insatiable appetite for caviar
  • vanatee : a conceited sea-cow, or an Irish landlady who resembles one
  • slobster : an untidy crustacean, a messy mobster
  • burnt umbrage : color shade favored by angry painters
  • panicillin : a potent, very broad-spectrum antibiotic, first isolated from moldy breakfast rolls
  • tinternabulation : a rare psychosomatic condition, characterized by the sufferer hearing imaginary voices in the head, incessantly declaiming the poetry of Wordsworth. Rapidly lethal, if left untreated.
  • porcubine : a prickly consort
  • solmon : a very wise fish, famed in Irish mythology as being the source of Fionn McCool's omniscience
  • celebetude : the state of being a dull celebrity; exercise taught at celeb wannabe academies (e.g. exiting a limousine in a way that garners maximum exposure); the attitude given off by a particularly dull celeb, such as a hilton sister
  • wicissitude : kerfuffle resulting from misinformation posted on Wikipedia. The alternative spelling wikissitude is sometimes used

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Does this post smell funny?

Nobody has ever accused me of being the world's most charitable person. The phrase "doesn't suffer fools gladly" has been used. Not without justification - I definitely belong on the "if you don't have anything good to say about somebody, come sit next to me" bench.

I do, however, try. Every year I resolve to be a little kinder, to aim for a mellower reaction to life's inanities, to live and let live. In a good year, I can generally keep it up until February at least. But, invariably, sooner or later, a target presents itself to which the only possible reaction is mockery and ridicule.

Today's New York Times provides an irresistible target. Included as lagniappe with the main paper is the noxiously-scented "Men's Fashion Spring 2007" section. As always, I am deeply ambivalent about the men's fashion supplement. Its evils are manifold and obvious:
  • it stinks (quite literally, the result of a particularly foul-smelling fragrance insert)
  • it is packed throughout with idiotic ads peddling the false promise of retail therapy
  • text and images are fatuous beyond belief.

Redeeming social value? Zilch! But the eye candy sure is hard to beat, whether it's the smoldering eroticism of those sulky Herb Ritts boys, or the sultry Richard Gere collage towards the end of the magazine.

Now, I recognize that admitting to a state of drooling concupiscence induced by the parade of boytoys on display pretty much invalidates any righteous indignation I might be tempted to express in response to the magazine overall. No fair to mock the prose while leering at the pictures, however tempting:

Is the future as yellow as a newborn chick? Or does it come in space-age silver?

Or to take issue with the taste level of a photo-spread where the model is decked out to look like a homeless person in assorted $1,000-4,000 outfits. Nope. Not mocking that either.

But then - right there on page 102 - it's the latest episode of "Whiff Notes", by Chandler Burr. Something to which the only conceivable response is ridicule. Leavened with a touch of rue, that the newspaper of record has apparently come to this.

Based on a perfunctory google search, Chandler Burr appears to be a really smart science writer and journalist, the author of two well-reviewed books, one on possible biological origins and explanations of homosexuality, the other on scientific efforts to decode the sense of smell. I've heard one radio interview with the guy, and he came across as both articulate and intelligent.

So it's a bit of a disconnect to realize that, since August 2006, he has also been the official perfume critic for the New York Times.
Leading to columns such as today's

Whiff Notes

Or crimes against the language like this : Perfume Satire

If he's able to convince people to pay him to write this kind of stuff, I'd say Chandler's got a pretty good thing going on.

If you found the experience of reading this post similar to opening a perfect, linear, quietly masculine, masterfully constructed sock drawer, please be sure to check back for further updates. Quietly masculine, masterfully constructed prose, with the underlying steely tension of a cheetah, poised for the kill, is what this blog is all about.

Having it my way in Seville

Sevilla : June, 2003

  • Time between arrival in Spain and first decision to skip class: 1 week, 2 days, 3 hours.
  • Time between this decision and arrival at local Burger King outlet: 6 minutes.
  • Time to inhale "el whopper" con patatas frites "gigantes" & Fanta-limon: some items are best left undocumented.
  • Estimated number of Americans in restaurant indulging in similar guilty pleasure: > 5
  • Time taken concealing evidence of aforementioned inhalation procedure (e.g. concealment of "Whopper-breath" through purchase of tiny mints): 12 minutes.
  • Time taken fabricating elaborate tissue of lies* to excuse absence from class which explained exciting use of subjunctive to express desires, wishes, dreams etc: 35 minutes.
  • Amount of remorse experienced: 0 IUR´s.

* aforementioned tissue of lies constructed to the best of Spanish ability, involving copious use of subjunctive to express desires, wishes, dreams etc.
IUR: international unit of remorse.

Nobody said the truth would be pretty. As one of my compatriots put it, "I can resist everything except temptation".

Why bring this up now?
Because, next Saturday, Saint Patrick's Day, I finally get to go back to Spain. This time for six months, rather than six weeks. Since living an unexamined life is apparently no longer a viable option, I have opened this blog to document my Spanish adventure.