Copernique Marshall


Cette page contient le chroniques numéro 11 à 20 (du 4 juin 2012 au 15 octobre 2012)

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Note : les chroniques de Copernique Marshall sont rédigées en français ou en anglais.


11 - 2012-06-04 -  Bars and bars

Let me tell you a story :

A man walks into a bar with his dog. He goes up to the counter and asks for a beer. The bartender says "You can't bring that dog in here. It's against the law !" The man, without missing a beat, says "Not this dog. You see, this is my seeing-eye dog." "Oh, the bartender says, "I'm sorry, here, and that one's on me." The man takes his drink and goes to a table near the door. - Another man walks into the same bar, also with his dog. The first man sees him, stops him and says : "You can't bring that dog in here unless you tell him it's a seeing-eye dog." The second man graciously thanks him and continues to the bar. He asks for a beer. The bartender says "You can't bring that dog in here !" - The man replies : "This is my seeing-eye dog." The bartender says : "No, I don't think so. They don't train Chihuahas as seeing-eye dogs." The man pauses for a half-second and replies : "What?!?! They gave me a Chihuahua?!?"

I like bar stories. They're usually not vulgar and most of the time very funny as opposed to bars who are usually not funny and occasionally vulgar.

Mr. Popp spoke about one about a year ago whose owners couldn't fathom how loud and annoying their place had become since a sound specialist (sic) had installed top-of-the-line loud speakers in their otherwise correct establishment.

I had to go into one of those last week. Couldn't hear myself think. Moreover, I couldn't see anything. Had to walk outside to read the text message the friend who was to meet me there was sending me, to inform me he was stuck in the traffic and would be a couple-three minutes late. - For God's sake, it was four o'clock in the afternoon ! - By what twisted way of thinking did the planner of this bar thought he would attract customers by dimming the light so low, you would practically need a flashlight to go to the toilet. As to the noise, 't'was half-way between disco and that calamity of calamities called Rap.

The waitress was nice looking, if you like long legs, large breasts and tight ass (not necessarily in that order) ; and the drinks were o.k. but on a scale of one to ten, I wouldn't give that bar more than a 2 and a small 2 at that. - O.K., make that 2 and a quarter : the waitress was one of those what create accidents.

At times like that, I keep thinking of Muzak. You remember Musak ? - You heard it in waiting rooms, shopping centers, hospitals, elevators, even in restaurants where, the last time I was in one, it had been replaced by an FM radio station which kept playing commercials about other restaurants. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot !

But you know what it's like, don't you ? Can't expect people whose knowledge of the world is limited to an area two inches above a cash register to know Bill Evans, Nat King Cole or Red Garland at four in the afternoon. It would amount to ask a rocket scientist to know the price of a quart of milk ; a red neck, the difference between mohair and 100% virgin wool ; a Parisian taxi driver, Auguste Comte or, historically, an Insurance Adjuster (or an engineer) to know Joyce, Pessoa, Sophocles and be an authority on Proust...

Takes all kinds, I guess.



12 - 2012-06-18 - A dreadful place

Don't remember how the subject came up the other day but somebody mentioned the village of Haworth, West Yorkshire (UK), one of the most dreadful places on earth. Well not that dreadful but if you're on the verge of mental collapse and it's mid-November, I would strongly advise you not to go there.

Haworth (Webcam) "...where vegetation does not flourish, it merely exists.
(Elizabeth Gaskell) 

Haworth, in case you didn't know, was the birthplace of the Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily, Anne and their unfortunate brother, Patrick Branwell three paintings of whom, despite he, being a a major client of the Black Bull, are still part of the National Portrait Gallery Collection in London.

The Black Bull
Hellen Burrow, photographer)

The sisters, of course, are well know : Charlotte is the author of "Jane Eyre", Emily, of "Wuthering Heights", two of the mostly read and admired novels of all times, while Anne is mostly known for her poetry (although she did write a novel, "Agnes Grey", which has remained in print since 1847 and is considered as on of the first feminist book ever written.).

One family, four artists, two of whom were definitely geniuses, daughters and son of an unusal Anglican clergyman who allowed all four to develop their talents without any barriers whatsoever. In fact, he even participated in their development.

Don't know if this is a legend or not but, apparently, he regularly asked his children to wear masks [2] behind which they became nobody and, being nobody, they were allowed to question anything or ask any question about any subject including that no-no 19th Century oppugn : "Does God really exist ?". - Remember : this was in a presbytery, a parsonage really, attached to a church. - Whether this was one of the sources of the four sibling's talents, or not, you have to admit that it was uncanny and, if wasn't a coincidence, it was a curious way to raise children.

The Brontë Sisters
Oil on canvas
Patrick Branwell Brontë
( © National Portrait Gallery )

Anyway, if you're ever in the mood, go on the WEB, type "Haworth" (see link to Helen Burrow, above) and take a look around. Then pick up Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre[2] and read the first few lines.

I haven't read both in years but I remember distinctly not being able to end a chapter without looking at the beginning of the next, so well both novels are constructed.

You might miss a couple of hours of sleep but you'll thank me.

I still insist, though : Haworth is a dreadful place. It was, at any rate, the day I went there: windy, wet and cold. Perfect weather to stay inside and start working on writing that capital novel you always wanted to write... but wearing a mask... t'is something, I've been told, is now verboten in Montréal [4].


P.-S. : (On my last column) - A reader from Montreal-West sent me a long e-mail stating that my attitute and that of Mr. Popp (towards bars) was prejudiced. "You don't understand that you go there to see young, and usually quite stunning, waitresses not to have a drink or meet people. Costs vary a lot (on an hourly basis), but you'll notice that while you're watching these beauties, they serve you free drinks..." - Of course.

Notes :

[1] The Life of Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell (Penguin Classics, available in e-Reader format)

[2] (On masks) In one of the many biographies writen about Jelly Roll Morton, the man who claimed to have invented jazz (Dead man Blues - 2003 - University of California Press), Phil Pastras says, of masks, (Jelly Roll had many personalities) that they teach us more about the person wearing them than the person himself. 

[3] If you have an e-Reader, both are available on the Project Gutenberg site. 

[4] (Addendum - Sept. 25, 2020) Funny how things change. It is now compulsory to wear masks in closed quarters where distancing betwee people (2 meters) cannot be achieved - consquence of a virus called COVID-19.


13 - 2012-07-02 - John Ruskin (1819-1900)

Those of you who have, over the past few weeks, followed my élucubrations, might have noticed that I regularly curtail my archival activities to board a ship (in a manner of speaking) heading towards that vast continent known as "literature". - My father, an avid reader, thought me tho love literature, introducing me, amongst unknown or forgotten writers, to the great man about whom I am about to write.

First, a true story :

When asked who had most influenced his thinking, Lenine replied : "John Ruskin". - "John who ?" you may well ask as I doubt if anybody still reads Ruskin nowadays ; except perhaps in French, in a translation made by Marcel Proust of his "Bible of Amiens" which is still in print or, at the very least, part of his (Proust's) "complete works", which is a bit sad although his early writing on art and architecture could be considered somehow dépassé.

Took me several months, years ago, to find some of his later works which, sold by the thousands in the late 19th century, but in such a state (they did smell awful) that my wife didn't think it proper for me to bring them into our house. - Yes, I did read some of them outside and others places where they were stored, i.e. : in the garage. - Today, you can find most of his writings, free of charge or for a dollar or two, on the Internet, in various formats : pdf, epub, ebook, etc. (*)

Got to warn you though : 't'is not for the faint hearted because, besides his extensive vocabulary and his mastership of the English language, Ruskin was a queer fellow in all senses of the word. Started off as an aesthete, writing about flowers, gardens, decoration, paintings, architecture, literature (even wrote a book how to draw), before going into socialism, education, wealth distribution and politics.

John Ruskin

His conference on a town hall, to the opening of which he had been invited, remains a model of polite insults. He questioned everything about it asking his audience why they had had erected a Gothic building when the 20th century was around the corner, why they had installed iron gates around it leaving ample space to accumulate garbage, etc., etc. (**)

His failed marriage, his love for little girls, his bouts with depression didn't help but his views on labor, wages, profits were revolutionary. Some of our politicians ought to forced to learn from them.

You can read all bout him on Wikipedia and I suggest you do. - Fascinating life.

Finally, if you believe you can master his extensive vocabulary, I would recommend two of his works :

  • Unto this Last which he wrote between 1860 and 1862 and which dealt with social and political issues.


  • Time and Tide (1867) made up of a series of letters to a cork-cutter in Sunderland, wherein Ruskin promotes honesty in work and exchange, just relations in employment and the need for co-operation (my all time favorite).

His autobiography ("Preaterita" or "Past Events" - told you he wasn't easy) is interesting but if you want to know more about him, try to get hold of either "John Ruskin - A Life" by John Batchelor (2000) or "The Wider Sea, A Life of John Ruskin" by John Dixon Hunt (1982).


(*) Up until six or seven years ago, the only was you could get his complete works (on a CD) was through the U.C.L.A. (if I remember correctly). The asking price was 1.600 US $ (sic !).

(**) The same thing could be said about Doric front doors and colonnaded wings which Robert Adam (1728-1792) of neoclassical fame convinced English aristocracy to adopt which resulted in the fact that anybody that was anybody lived in something that looked like a bank (James Burke)


14 - 2012-07-16 - Another world : same view.

I had lunch last week with Mr. Popp, affectionately known around the Castor™ as the grumpy columnist. Curiously enough, I found out that we had many things in common. His love of Beethoven's string quartets, for example, literature in general but particularly Latin literature and most specifically the letters of Pliny the Young whom he reads in Latin and I, in a translation by William Melmoth which, as far as he is concerned, is one of the best out there. - We had a great time talking about shoes, ships, sealing-wax, cabbages and kings... well into the mid-afternoon. Over the years, I bought several copies of Pliny the Young's letters in both French and English which I gave to  friends and anyone I happened to mention his name in casual conversations (well not that casual). Today you can find all his letters on the Web.

In Latin :

In English :

In French :

Never got a single feedback . I guess you have to have a special brain configuration to read the correspondence of a lawyer, a magistrate, a quaestor (superviser of government financial affairs), an administrator, an author, and land owner who lived from the year 61 a.d. to circa 112 and who happened to count amongst, his many friends, the historian Tacitus and Trajan, the emperor. - He was also the nephew of Pliny the Elder, a lawyer, author, natural philosopher, military commander, provincial governor... (born23 a.d.) who wrote a 37 volume encyclopedia on just about everything known at the time, one of the largest single works to have survived from the Roman Empire to the modern day. - He, by the way, the Elder, died while - there are two versions - either trying to find out what was happening in Pompeii or attempting the rescue by ship a friend and his family from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that was destroying the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

So what's interesting about Pliny the Young ? His modernity ? Nah : he was an ancient, even old guard, a you-couldn't-be-more-conservative sort of fellow whose main objective, in life, was to become a famous writer (which he did but not for the reasons he thought he would). - His comments on just about anything are, to put it mildly, on the boring side, except perhaps when he asked his friend, the Emperor, in a series of three or four letters what to do with the Christians that lived in his area. - The description he gives of his uncle's death is interesting in that it is just about the only one that gives an idea of what happened in Pompeii in 79 a.d.. - He is, however, fascinating in his day-to-day preoccupations of the life of his contemporaries, shedding lights on how they lived, what they ate, how they treated their slaves, what traveling was like and so on.

The other aspect of his writings is showing how little different the Romans who lived two thousand years ago were from us folks who have to deal with our own little world.



15 - 2012-07-30 - Read and/ou Lire ?

Having a privileged access (sorry for the rest of you folks) to the Napierville University's Library, I do not own many books. A hundred maybe ? Probably less and most likely more but half of which are do-it-yourself stuff - you know : kitchen recipes, how to take care of gardens, computer manuals, etc. - But, of all the books you can find around my house, one seems to annoy my French speaking friends. Every time nasty remarks go out of their mouth in attempst to hit the proverbial fan.

   «You speak French, you read French, you are French !» 
They ask. «What are you doing with this ?»

The book ? A de luxe edition of Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel .... in English (*).

I must admit that it sticks out like a sore thumb. Why would anybody read in English a book originally written in French when one is familiar with la langue de Molière ? - I'll tell you why :

Because la langue de Molière has, itself, over the years, become difficult to understand and so has the Shakespearian language in which Chaucer was supposed to have been written. Should I mention Dante's Italian or Goethe's German ?. - If we didn't have adaptations in modern French, English, Italian or German, nobody except scholars would be able to read them as if they had wrote their masterpieces in today's French, English, Italian or German.

Read this, for example :

À Moy, comte, deux mots - Parle. / Oste-moy d'un doute. - Cognois-tu bien Don Diègue ?  / Ouy. - Parlons. / Sçais-tu que ce viellard fut la mesme vertu...

Old French ? - Not that old : it's from Le Cid written by Corneille in 1636. Bet you didn't know that Corneille wrote in this strange way. Now go back a hundred years and you'll get to Rabelais who invented words as he went along. Without an old French dictionary, he is practically unreadable ; and, even at that, if one had such a dictionary, one would have to more or less look up every other word. But :

To read Rabelais, either translated or adapted, is a pure delight. Vulgar, here and there. Extravagant to the point of being nonsensical. A regular Monthy Python sketch writer before Monthy Python.

My favorite all time Rabelais' chapters are no. 10. 11, 12 and 13 of his Pantagruel.

It tells the how Pantagruel was asked to look into an obscure and difficult court case which, by the time he showed up had occupied for years every jurist, judge, lawyers and law doctors in Paris. He starts by hearing one party who described a situation which makes no sense at all. Then he listens to the other party who does likewise adding even more nonsense. Then he passes his judgment which his more incomprehensible that the two previous texts. It is written in pure legalize but funny like you can't believe.

If you're interested, you find it in modern English on the Gutenberg Project site beginning at this address : .

The judgment ? - It starts this way :

«Having seen, heard, calculated, and well considered of the difference between the Lords of Kissbreech and Suckfist, the court saith unto them, that in regard of the sudden quaking, shivering, and hoariness of the flickermouse, bravely declining from the estival solstice, to attempt by private means the surprisal of toyish trifles in those who are a little unwell for having taken a draught too much, through the lewd demeanour and vexation of the beetles that inhabit the diarodal (diarhomal) climate of an hypocritical ape on horseback, bending a crossbow backwards, the plaintiff truly had just cause to calfet, or with oakum to stop the chinks of the galleon which the good woman blew up with wind, having one foot shod and the other bare, reimbursing and restoring to him, low and stiff in his conscience, as many bladder-nuts and wild pistaches as there is of hair in eighteen cows, with as much for the embroiderer, and so much for that...»

Now, if you want to try it in French :

«Veu, entendu et bien calculé le different d'entre les seigneurs de Baisecul et Humevesne, la Court [Pantagruel] leur dict : Que, considerée l'orripilation de la ratepenade declinent bravement du solstice estival pour mugueter les billesvesées qui ont eu mat du pyon par les males vexations des lucifuges qui sont au climat dia Rhomès d'un matagot à cheval bendant une arbaleste au reins, le demandeur eut juste cause de callafater le gallion que la bonne femme boursouffloit, un pied chaussé et l'aultre nud, le remboursant bas et roidde en sa conscience d'aultant de baguenaudes comme y a de poil en dix huit vaches, et autant pour le brodeur.»

Very serious funny stuff, I tell you.


(*) Edited by (for) The Franklin Library (Franklin Center, Pennsylvania, 1982). It is, in way, (as it includes drawings by de Frank C. Papé (1878 - 1972) a copy of an edition published in 1927, by The Bodeley Head, printers in London, but with a translation made by J. M. (John Michael) Cohen (1903–1989) for Penguin in 1955) - «De luxe» : non-acid paper, gilt edges, etc. - 19.95$ (price still on it), picked up in a used book shop in New York.


16 - 2012-08-13 - On languages

I was partially educated in French but also in English - Sort of half and half. - Both were spoken in my family. - There were no discussions as to which was better : everything came naturally. It was just a question of using the language suitable to say whatever one wanted to say. Not uncommon to start a conversation in French and ending it in English.

I don't know other languages except... well Latin which I studied in school, a little Greek (same thing) and perhaps a smattering of Italian, Spanish and German, the later, I understand, particularly useful for insults or swearing (cf. : Jerome K. Jerome [*]). - Probably is (see my example of the word «butterfly», below). All I know is that some expressions just can't be translated from one language to another.

My two best examples are :

From Shakespeare's Henry the VI :

We mourn in black: why mourn we not in blood ? - which doesn't sound at all like that in French, any which way it is translated.

And from Racine's Phèdre :

Ariane, ma sœur, de quel amour blessée,
Vous mourûtes aux bords où vous fûtes laissée.

(Ariane, my sister, wounded by what love,
You died on the shores where you were abandoned.) - Really ?

There are words, also, which, from one language to another, do not express completely the same idea or seem to have additional meanings : "Pluie" (French) sounds like rain when it is pronounced, not "rain", its English equivalent. The same can be said of "slush" (English) and "gadoue" or "neige fondante" (French). - Like, who ever thought up the word "gadoue" for soemething so... "slushy" ? (**)

Worst example of this is the word «butterfly» (a nice sounding name, isn't it ?) which, in French, is «papillon» (better) ; in Italian, it's «farfala» (even better) ; in Spanish it becomes a beautiful, quiet «mariposa»; but in German ? It becomes «Schmetterling» ! - Now who would think of a name like that ? - Walk into a bar and call a waitress a «schmetterling» in front of her admirers and see what happens.

I understand that André Gide - of all the words in the French language - was particularly fond of «hémorroïde», which, you must admit has a very nice sound but refers to a not very nice condition.

And what about «Featherstonehaugh», an English family surname. It is pronounced «Fenshaw»...

Let me sidetrack for a moment :

In my 13th year of schooling, my French Literature teacher was a chauvinistic's chauvinistic. I remember him saying, with a lot of emphasis bordering on madness, that, when it came to world literature, it was universally known that French was the language of choice and that the number of masterpieces written in French widely surpassed any other literature.  Guess he had never heard of Dickens, Shakespeare, Milton, nor Oscar Wilde whose "The Importance of Being Earnest" is considered as the most brilliant play ever written (it is) ; nor James Joyce, for that matter, whose short story, "The Dead", is said to be the greatest ever written (it is).

I was talking to a young lady, last week, about novels and spontaneously, I said it was of form of literature that had outlived its purpose. - Thank God, it didn't start an argument ! In certain high brow cafés, I would have been asked to step outside... But, really, what can be expressed in a novel that hasn't been expressed in, possibly, countless novels over the years ? - Always thought, in that respect, that "Finnegan's Wake" had hammered the last nail on that coffin . And anyone who believes that "À la Recherche du Temps perdu" is a novel ought to read it again.

Which brings me back to the beginning of this column and the languages we spoke at home. You might not agree with what I'm about to say might  but I believe that learning two languages simutaneously, particularly when one is young, is not a good idea. My turn to be chauvenistic or I might have been thick as two short planks back then :

I still have a lot of difficulties writing in French and - well, you ought to know by now - a lot more in English. The right words, the correct phrasing or syntax do not come to me naturally in either languages. Perhaps I am more aware of my shortcomings in English because it is the language I use most of the time.

How many times have I heard it said that I write English in French and French in English!

Reminds me of a fellow I knew years ago. Spoke seven languages. None of them correctly.

In closing :

If you disagee with the way I write about these things, write your own column and send it to me. I'll make sure it's published. The more of us doing so, the better.


[*] Three Men in a Boat (1889), One of the best example of British Humor.

[**] I've just checked it up. «Gadoue» dates back to the 16th Century and originally meant rubish («immondices»). It started to mean «slush» in the 1920's or therabout. No-one knows where it comes from. The dictionnary I consulted said it was «d'origine obscure». Aren't all words ?


17 - 2012-09-03 - Serendipity

A couple three months ago, I wrote about Osgood C. Goodell, an obscure scribbler who left his diary to my great grand father, the «Grand Marshall». Continuing the task I was given to classify his boring verses, I happened to stumble upon one of his sibblings whose claim to fame could have been his remarkably remarkable lack of good looks compensated by an equally remarkably remarkable fortune that ran into megabucks (megapounds in his case) : John T. Windsor-Smythe who, literaly, looked like someone who had just stepped out of a coffin. (The «T» in his name, by the way, stood for «Terrazo». Who said that the Windsor-Smythes had no sense of humour ?).

He was bald, short, stout, stuttered and wore glasses the thickness of which could have been favourably compared to bottoms of wine bottles. - And he had very bad teeth. - Yet, despite his also remarkably remarkable disregard for the world around him (and his bad manners), he managed to be one of the stars of the best «salon de l'époque», that of Madame Lessieur who was intelligent and extremely good looking (but foremost good looking) and held what, today, would be called a «not-to-be-missed 5 à 7»'s every other day in her «hôtel particulier», rue Hoche, near Le Parc Monceau. (I did mention he was an expatriate who lived in Paris, did I not ?)

In Madame Lessieur's salon - something which is surprising considering his shortcomings (he had many others) - , he managed to charm, under the disguise of a noble nobody, just about everybody withing earshot with his bons mots and his flamboyant knowledge of French Literature. - Hey, the man may have had an all gloom and sacharine personality but he was somebody that sort of no-one could forget. Unfortunately, he was also a bad poet. (I guess you had to be there.)

Technically (what an awful word to use !), as a poet, he was OK,. I mean his verses rhymed and all but the stuff he wrote about, instead of laying anybody who was anybody in the ailes, seemed to have interested only young women between graduation and children, and even at that, unremarkable (sorry !) young women between what I just said. - Funny thing I guess : he was the last of seven poets produced by a generation of Windsor-Smythes each more uninteresting than the other. 

What did make him remarkably remarkable (last time, I promise) was his superb sense of humour, second only, I understand, to Oscar Wilde's or Jerome K. Jerome's whom I mentioned in my last column and of whom he was a contemporary. I understand he was the creator of the original mother-in-law joke one of which was noted by - of all people - Robert de Montesquiou who, sitting down at one of those diners heard someone said :

«... full bodied, imposing with a nutty base, sharp-bite, fighting and bitter after taste..."

To which John. T. Windsor-Smythe replied : «Are you talking about the wine or your mother-in-law ?»

Maybe he should have stuck to jokes as his career as a poet went toiletwards during his entire lifetime. In short, it wasn't for noodlers like me, writing in a prestigious weekly-forthnighly like this, he would have sanked without a trace into a poetic nowhere, poetically.


P.-S. (In reply to Mrs D. of Beaconsfield (Québec) :

Yes, Madame, I have to confess a fatal weakness for Paris. - Apart from the fact that it is the most beautifiul city in the world and that it has the best bookshops on the planet, it also happens to be the café capital of the known universe. - Some people, I agree with you, might prefer the cafés of Vienna, but, you have to admit, that Vienna is a bit too... «German» (?)


18 - 2012-09-17 - Sartre, happenstance and Paris

I wanted to talk today about yet another obscure writer : James Rundale who, during Cromwell's time was hanged for desertion, treason, defamation and, most likely, being right. Hanged and decapitated. But... due to my undistinguished habit of following the we-have-always-done-it-this-way-crowd, I'm afraid you'll have to satisfy yourself with my ramblings about Paris, Sartre, dices, freedom, free will and luck. So brace yourself.

Sartre ? Well I can't talk much about him because I never read more than two lines he wrote. Has something to do with my obscure writers : I don't read anybody that has won a literary prize be it the Nobel, the Pulitzer, the Goncourt or whatever and I don't read best sellers either. I'm a Léautaud man : Léautaud who said that if he ever was - mind you - nomitated for anything he would feel «déshonoré». Come to think of it, I don't read anything that was published after 1950 or about. I say to myself that if a book is no longer in print after, say 40 or 50 years, it isn't worth reading.

Sartre  and his grande sartreuse, Simone de Beauvoir, who reads them nowadays ? - You might say that he refused the Nobel prize and therefore... It doesn't matter : he was eligible. And why, you might ask, am I about to quote him ? Long story :

It has something to do with a young correspondent I have, in France, who is about to embark on a three or four year series of courses on political sciences in Paris and who asked me where he could stay, where he might be «at home», etc. - I told him I wouldn't know even though I know Paris like the back of my hands. Reason for this is that Paris, as far as I'm concerned is a city one has to discover on one's own. It is unlike London, New York or even San Francisco, a city in which you cannot say : «I will visit the Louvres this morning then go on to the Eiffel tower and have dinner on Les Champs Élysée». If you try to do that, it will frustrate you, even kick you back and you'll be very sorry. Paris is not a city one visits : it is a city of «flanneries». Go anywhere, sit you down at a corner café. Wait. Look around. Do nothing. Just walk. Then you'll discover its grandeur.

And now, back to  Sartre :

I was told that he once said that the only real freedom mankind has is playing. Playing in the sense that one sets one's rules and decide to abide by them regardless of the consequences. Makes sense. And this is how I told my correspondant to visit Paris :  first, carry a pair of dice or even three cards out of a deck ; walk down a street and at the next intersection, roll out your dices or pick up, at random, a card and follow these simple rules : (three cards) Queen, go right, King go left, Ace keep on going. - You will have a ball !

Now apply this to anything you do. - Picking up a magazine in a newspaper shop. Buy a CD, a book or even a pair of pants.

Who said life couldn't be fun ?

And now, back to James Rundale, a boring writer like you don't want to know.



19 - 2012-10-01 - Another column on not, again, an obscure writer

I wanted to write, again, this week, about James Randale who - I told you two weeks ago - was hanged (and decapitated) during Cromwell's time ; particularly about his newly discovered and never published monograph on frog retinas, the most definite book on the subject, which, if a publisher gets a hold of, will become, I assure you, an international best seller (watch out Stephen King... watch out Mary Higgins Clark...)...

But something showed up :

A letter from a French-Canadian lawyer out of Québec city who informed me that he is perfectly bilingual and quite educated and that, until recently, every time he picked up his copy of Le Castor™, he had to look into one or two dictionaries to find the meaning of, at least three words, sometimes four and that he found that slightly amusing but since I began writing this column, he now had seven, eight, sometimes ten words to deal with and that he was beginning to find that a bit annoying. - «What's wrong with you people ?», he asked, in closing.

Well, first of all, cher maître, in case you hadn't noticed, this weekly-fortnightly electronic organe is that of l'Université de Napierville and, unless, I have been misinformed, an Université is an institution dedicated to learning. And secondly, I collect words - rare, strangely written, unpronounceable, all kinds of words - as well as expressions - old fashioned expressions, new expressions, all sorts of expressions - and whilst (see) I admit some of them may, at times, seem odd and misplaced, I do have a ball noting them.

Look at a few I gathered lately :

  • One of those people you love to hate and who have made Hitler look normal.

  • And to crown his undistinguished career, he inconveniently died.

  • Bombastic ramblings.

  • When the police got within a mile too close for comfort...

  • A cool cat on cool cats (also : he was hot stuff on hot stuff, or : a big whig, a big cheese, etc.)

  • He would have impressed the pants off...

  • Underwhelming [as opposed to] overwhelming.

  • They got along like a house on fire.

  • Fear, surprise and a fanatical devotion to the pope (Monty Python's Inquisition sketch)

  • In the middle of bucolic nowhere (also : middle-of-nowhere, near Drummondville, Québec)

  • A life filled with duels (which he never fought) and lawsuits.

  • A monopolistic-never-consult-the-client company. - I love that one !

  • An unstable, jump-off-the-bridge, girlfriend.

  • The swirl and eddy of serendipity.

  • Three cards short of a full deck.

  • An accident waiting to happen.

  • An addiction waiting to be taxed.

  • A bunch of wannabees.

  • Tantalizing boredom.

  • To be in deep and potentially fatal doo-doo.

  • She looked like a well kept grave.

  • The biggest garden this side of Babylon (also : somebody who built more roads and bridges than anybody this side of the Romans).

  • He did have a better reputation than dreadful.

  • It was jump-out-the-window time.

  • She was plain looking, well educated, intelligent but mainly rich.

  • On a feodal tone.

  • As the result of which nothing of note happened.

  • Wouldn't win a two mile race even if you gave him a three mile headstart.

  • Things went internationally ballistic (also : everything hit the Vatican fans).

  • In spite of the minor inconvenience of being black, blind and deaf.

  • Bashful to a degree bordering on disease.

  • Missed it by a zillionth of an inch.

  • A swashbuckler for whom things had gone badly unbuckled.

  • In mosquito hell near lake Erie.

  • Something between a Victorian boudoir and the palace of Ramses II (with extras thrown in).

  • Member of a club where : a) you had to be an aristo and b) had crossed the Alps in search of culture.

  • A propeller-headed person all dressed up and going nowhere.

And my favorite (this week) :

  • [An interior decorator] who would transform your suburban standard-flavor-of-some-year-built-by-the-thousands-three-bedroom-plus-a-basement house into an instant Decor-Mag-ready-flavor-of-another-year... for a price.

Hope you enjoyed.


P.-S. : Mr. Pérec sent me this one (in French) : «Pendant que je dénouais le noeud gordien de mon courrier...»


20 - 2012-10-15 - And back to my obscure writers...

I was having lunch last week in a fast-food restaurant in New York, eating salt, cholesterol, fat (both kinds) and lotsa other stuff I can't even pronounce... to which was attached a variation of Montreal's Smoked Meat called Pastrami and thinking, as one does in such situations, about my favorite for-the-last-five-six-weeks obscure writer (see my last two columns) whose obscurity, it seems, at first glance, was due to the fact that nobody read him (makes sense doesn't it ?).

Problem was : why did nobody read him ? - The way I figured it is that, first of all, he was boring and then he wrote in an rather unusual way.

Years ago, I was in touch with a young woman in San Francisco on a subject it would take me four columns to explain and who insisted to write to me in French because, she said, she knew the language, having lived an entire year in Paris. Every letter she wrote took me a couple of hours to read because she was using a vocabulary dating back to the late nineteen century and I had, literally, to decipher sentences that made no sense in the twentieth. - If you want to know what I'm talking about, read Anatole France or a bad translation of John Ruskin. - And then, one day, I realized that she was writing to me in English but translating everything to French. - Correct (actually admirable) grammar, proper sentence construction down to that dreadful «concordance des temps» on which one could write 6 000 pages just explaining what it's all about.

In a nutshell that is what distinguished my boring latest literary interest, the one and only James Randale who lived at the time of - I said it before - Cromwell, that well known protector whose body was exhumed, after the restoration of monarchy in England, and hanged for people to see what happened in you were against royalty.

He wrote in Latin. Well not in Latin really but very close to. Like instead of using the standard who-what-to-whom, he wrote all his sentences in the who-to-whom-how-when-and-then-what. It wasn't «Last week, John gave an apple to Mary». Nope. It read : «John, to Mary, last week, an apple, gave.» - Now keep that up for a page, two pages and then a whole book and you're bound to annoy people. Which he did.

And then, there was the stuff he wrote about - sorry : and then the stuff about which he wrote...

Let me put it this way : he was a you-name-it-and-I'll-write-about-it sort of fellow, including an essay on essays and of course Cromwell whom he seemed to have particularly disliked. Which is what got him killed and decapitated.

But speaking of decapitation, did you know that, in 1933, Adolf Hitler had a guillotine constructed and tested. He was impressed enough to order 20 more and immediately put them into service. It was his favourite way of disposing of his political enemies. Between 1934 and 1945, it is said that he had more people guillotined than the French executed during the reign of the Terror... Scary, ain't it ?

Hope you enjoyed.



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