Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Imprecise beings

I wonder what thoughts would cross Flaubert's mind were he here today. Gustave Flaubert - the author of Madame Bovary and other novels - was a French writer who was apparently obsessed with finding the perfect words for expressing particular thoughts,situations or descriptions. I can relate on a small level. There are times when the perfect word is used in conversation or writing and I get a giddy burst of excitement. Fortunately, most of my good friends share this little love. It's not uncommon for one of us - in the middle of a conversation - to nod, grin, and say, "Nice...good choice."

Flaubert is a writer that other writers tend to admire. It seems that every great literary figure from his time until now has written about him or expressed their admiration of him.

A good portion of the admiration that he reaps is due to his devotion to the craft of writing. He wrote, and re-wrote, and tore out hair, and re-wrote until a phrase turned just so, or a description finally clicked into sharp focus. And maybe even more important than this dedication, is the fact that it wasn't something that was easy for Flaubert to do. He wasn't a writer who could toss off a handful of pages and head down to the pub for a quick one knowing that those pages were just what he wanted to say.

Flaubert was also - well - a bit of a conceited prig too. He was disgusted by the lack of intelligence, contempt for beauty, and baseness he saw when he looked at his fellow men. The bourgeois were particularly appalling to him. One quote seems to sum up his disdain:

"To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost."

But this cynicism didn't decrease his ability to clearly see the world around him - and to comment on it - and to see himself. Clues to that come out in quotes like this:
"That man has missed something who has never left a brothel at sunrise feeling like throwing himself into the river out of pure disgust."

Surely, no prude could say something like that. Obviously there was some brothel visiting in Flaubert's life.

Anyway, I was surfing about the internets and one tube led me to some Flaubert quotes. As I read some of them it made me wonder what Flaubert himself would have made of them. There were quite a few from a passage in Madame Bovary. They were all in English - so they were obviously translated from the original French. The irony of the words of a man obsessed with finding "le mot juste" ("the precise word") being translated in so many different ways struck me like a sharp clap on the shoulder. I don't think there's a clearer example of the imprecision of our communication to be found. Not even the the myriad translations of "the sacred, perfect words of God" in the many different publications of The Bible have struck me in the same way.

"...exaggerated turns of speech conceal mediocre affections: as if the fulness of the soul might not sometimes overflow in the emptiest of metaphors, since no one, ever, can give the exact measurements of his needs, nor of his conceptions, nor of his sufferings, and the human word is like a cracked cauldron upon which we beat out melodies fit for making bears dance when we are trying to move the stars to pity."

"Language is like a crack'd kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity."

"The human language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out a tune for a dancing bear, when we hope with our music to move the stars."

"Human speech is a cracked cauldron on which we knock out tunes for dancing bears, when we wish to conjure pity from the stars."

I think that those words simply brushed onto canvas would make for a great painting. The original French surrounded by the many ways of translating it - nothing fancy, just words - would perhaps be enough to convey the irony.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I love good bookstores

So...instead of picking up the trade paperback of 'The Exterminators', I ended up with something completely different. This is the risk you run when you shop your local bookstore instead of the mega-box near the mall. Don't get me wrong - I'm not taking sides on this one at all. I love both kinds of book stores.

What is it that makes a book store awesome though? Is it a huge selection? A hyper-specialized selection? Great staff? Awesome prices?

I'm pretty much of the opinion that it's all the above. The more a store has all of those qualities, the more awesome it is. But can a store really have all of them?

Ummmm...yeah. And that store is Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon. If you're ever, ever, ever in the Portland area you must stop there. It is Mecca for book lovers. I would stack Powell's against any book store in the world and it would never let me down.

First off, the place is enormous. It's a city block large with multiple floors. They give you a color-coded map when you walk in and you'll need it. Big can be daunting, but in the case of Powell's it's more of a wondrous marvel. Everything is just where you would suspect it of being - which is a very nice surprise indeed.

All those books also means that you're very likely to find what you're looking for. Out of print? Probably not much of a problem - they'll likely have it stocked.

They have both new and used books too. And, unlike most places, they shelve them together. Looking for Tom Sawyer? You'll have your choice of buying a new copy or picking one of several used copies. You have no idea how cool that is until you're standing there picking books off the shelf - adjusting your running total in your head as you go. You can often double or triple the amount of books you walk out with just by buying used.

They're also the place to go if you need to find a book on - let's say - the structural engineering specifications for bridge building, or how to build your own sailboat, or the collected writings of some obscure romantic poet.

The staff is great too. They all know books and they know their store. I've never had rude treatment there in my many trips either. There are a lot of places that could take some lessons in customer care from Powell's.

They're online too and every bit as slick as Amazon, but I would rather give my money to Powell's. In my mind, Powell's is the original and everyone else is a pale imitation - including Amazon, I might add.

Anyway, this whole spiel came from nothing more than starting with the idea that I bought a book by Ethan Hawke - 'The Hottest State'. I'm not done with it yet, but I'll let you know. So far, it seems to be a nice little story about first love. It's got angst and all that good stuff, so we shall see. One of the links I found for it was Powell's site. So, there it is - a rather imperfect circle.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Markets, floods and comics

Went down to the farmers market this morning. There was certainly a harvest time feel this week. We're well into the autumn bounty now - pumpkins and squash leading the produce parade.

Picked up a bag of veggies and wandered around.

I was particularly proud that I remembered to bring down my own bag this time. That made me feel just green enough. Add to that the fact that most everything I picked up - lettuce, striped red peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots - came from the organic stand, and I'm practically a hippie.


Went disc golfing last weekend. I would say that I threw like a girl, but it was pointed out on the course that I was indeed throwing worse than a girl.

Most of the way through our second round, though, I switched to throwing sidearm. Turns out that's the way I should have been tossing all along. It was far more natural for me.

Now, I just need to get some more practice with it and perhaps find I don't suck completely.


Had an ever so wonderful experience yesterday. About 20 minutes before I had to leave for work, I had a deluge in my bedroom.

The radiator heater in the place upstairs started a gushin' and I was the lucky one to receive its bounty. A torrent - and I'm not stretching things to call it a torrent - poured through my ceiling.

'You have got to be kidding me!' might have come from my mouth. There might have also been some other rather colorful words. I'll leave that to your imagination - think sailor or trucker and multiply by 100.

It's still wet in there and my clothes are in a heap on the far side of the room. The wet stuff is out on my porch. It looks hillbilly out there now, but I can't say I care much about that. The neighbors can complain as soon as they come over and help dry the carpet.

Thinking about hopping in the car and driving to the book store. I want to pick up a graphic novel or two.

I really want to read a new book that collects the first issues of The Exterminators - a really cool sounding Vertigo book.

I downloaded issue one and it's as crazy as I imagined. The story is basically about a whacked out exterminator and his equally whacked crew. Toss in a bit of Scully and Mulder and you'll get the idea.


Still waiting to hear about any jobs out there. Interviewed the other day for a job in town. It went well, but you never know with these things. Hopefully, I'll hear on Monday. I'm tired of waiting - and very impatient.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

This and that...

Went on a pub crawl on Saturday. I sometimes forget just how fun the big city can be.

Drove down to my friend Gregg's restaurant - the Anaba Tearoom - and had a tea up on the garden rooftop. It was a beautiful day for something like that. We decided it was too nice to pass up the chance to do some wandering about in Milwaukee. So we started a trek through the city - starting on the south end and working our way up north.

Found some great little spots early on. That was a lot of fun. There's a great joy to be found in discovering cool little spots you never knew about before. Had a margarita and some rice and beans at a dumpy little Mexican restaurant to start out and then had some outstanding wine at a tapas place.

Along the way, it became important for me to try Pimm's cups at as many places as possible - just to see how they stack up to my local bar. Just so you know...I didn't have a good one all night, but that wasn't the point anyway.

We stopped at the 'longest bar east of the Mississippi'. It's at Buck Bradley's and it is pretty damn long. On an interesting note, it's only about six or eight feet longer than the one at my pub here in town. So close...and yet so far away.

The Hofbrauhaus next door was a good stop too, but the bartender there didn't know anything about the Hofbrauhaus in Cincinnati and only a little bit about the original HB joint in Munich. That seemed like something he should have known - you know, part of the basic course.

There were a couple of other stops, but it got a bit hazy after the HBhaus and didn't clear up much until after the worst gyros I've ever eaten. I can say that a fun time was had though - although a question that sounded something like, 'what kind of retard leaves his wallet in a bar?' was asked. I'm going to point out at this point that I don't actually carry a wallet. You can do the math.


Two Days in Paris was an okay movie. I was going to sort of review it, but now I realize it really doesn't need much of a review. It was a quirky little romantic comedy that was entertaining but never really went beyond that.

The best parts of it were Julie Delpy, her parents, and the fact that two old couples actually walked out of it. It was an early show, so I was the only one there under about 60.

Apparently, the sex talk was tad too raw for the oldsters in the theatre.


I've been looking for a new job and have an interview tomorrow at the local newspaper. It's a sports job and sounds pretty positive. We shall see. It would be nice to feel both challenged and rewarded at my job - things that have been sorely lacking where I'm at.

I've got a couple of resumes out - including a couple of foreign ones - but I don't want to jinx them, so mums the word.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Big day?

"The cock is crowing
The stream is flowing
The small birds twitter.
The lake doth glitter...
There's joy in the mountains;
There's life in the fountains;
Small clouds are sailing,
Blue sky prevailing."
- Wordsworth
It's a nice day out today. My bird is whistling the the theme from the Andy Griffith Show in the next room. My coffee tastes pretty good. The sky is looking clear and blue. I think I will hop in my car, make the trek into Milwaukee, grab a bite and maybe catch a movie.

I really want to see Two Days In Paris. It's only in limited release, so I have to go into Milwaukee to see it. But, since I'm a sucker for the chick flicks and I love Paris and Julie Delpy, I guess I can jump through a few hoops to see this one. It looks like it will be a lot like the Before Sunrise/Before Sunset movies that Richard Linklater did. Delpy co-starred in both of those. This is her directing debut and it looks like she shares some movie making sensibilities with Linklater. I was also kind of interested to find that her parents in the movie are really her parents. I'll let you know...

Now...if I can just get moving, maybe I can get this day going.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The opposite of hate is love, the opposite of war is peace

"Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive."
- The Dalai Lama

"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible."
- The Dalai Lama

"My message is the practice of compassion, love and kindness. Compassion can be put into practice if one recognizes the fact that every human being is a member of humanity and the human family regardless of differences in religion, culture, color and creed. Deep down there is no difference."
- The Dalai Lama