I am so glad that there are now multiple confirmed seals
visiting the Charles for culinary tourism. I like that they haul out on the docks. I expect a boom in selkie stories in Boston. Do you hear me, local folklore?
I wish I had managed to make a post for Wittgenstein's birthday yesterday. Instead I did a bunch of stressful and necessary things, including phone calls about health insurance and nearly seven hours of work with Autolycus on my lap, and then watched Beyoncé's Lemonade
(2016) with rushthatspeaks
. Please enjoy this post
of Anil Menon's about Wittgenstein and Ramanujan nonetheless.
I can tell I am not doing well because in real life I think I would enjoy wandering around a deserted, off-season amusement park by myself, but I don't appreciate dreaming that I went exploring with a bunch of friends who then promptly ditched me and didn't even leave me a map, since I don't own a smartphone and there had been no previous discussion of splitting up. The park itself wasn't frightening. No hauntings, no mysteriously rattling rides. Being left to fend for myself without even an instigating argument felt like well, what were you expecting?
I adore this Dinosaur Comics
So I'm reading a thread about Josephine Tey
over at skygiants
' where people are anti-recommending Miss Pym Disposes
(1946) and The Franchise Affair
(1948) and I don't disagree with them in either case—I've read
the latter and everyone who has ever mentioned the former to me included the caution that it can turn you off Tey for life. It interests me that this happens with authors, the one or two books out of an otherwise enjoyable body of work that need warning against/exorcism with fire and salt. In the case of The Franchise Affair
, it seems fairly clear that the unexamined classism which runs in an undercurrent through all of Tey's work simply rose from the depths and ate the premise alive. That model does not explain Margery Allingham's The Fashion in Shrouds
(1938), since unexamined misogyny does not otherwise afflict the other eighteen Campion novels (but in order to figure out the cause I'd have to re-read the book, so I haven't yet). I recognize that the phenomenon is idiosyncratic—I finally bounced off a novel by Mary Stewart when I read Wildfire at Midnight
(1956) because its mystery is perfectly well-constructed but its romance depends on reconciliation between two people who had really good reasons to be divorced. I'm not really asking for a list of books to avoid, but I'm curious about other people's experiences with the outliers that suddenly bit them. Is it usually the case that a regrettable but generally background tendency comes to the fore because of specific plot conditions and there goes the neighborhood? Is it just that the brain-eater stopped by for a midnight snack and left by the next book in the series? Do you have no idea what happened, but for God's sake don't read that one anyway? Inquiring minds! And then, so as not to be totally down on literature, this literary mixtape
is pretty awesome.
1. My poem "In a Funny Kind of Way" is now online
at Polu Texni: A Magazine of Many Arts
. It was directly inspired by The Petrified Forest
(1936) and takes its title from a line spoken by Leslie Howard's drifter to Bette Davis' artistic, ambitious waitress: "Perhaps you're right. Perhaps we will be happy together, in a funny kind of way." His own death is contained in that agreement, but she has no reason to suspect it—he always sounds ironic, unserious, double-speaking. He's my favorite character in the movie, but if I were Davis, I'd have been furious with him. I might be anyway.
(The illustration is August Macke
), done in watercolor when he was in Tunisia with Paul Klee and Louis Moilliet in 1914, and I love it.)
2. I had noticed that it is now possible to get schmaltz in restaurants, but I thought it was just Bronwyn
: I didn't realize that Ashkenazi food was undergoing a revival
. I will have to pick up Michael Wex's new book
. I don't want to be reminded that his Born to Kvetch
(2005) currently lives in a box with the rest of my library, but it's terrific.
is exactly what happens when I try to take my leave of Autolycus. His eyes are greener, of course. He is a very good cat.
4. I have also been sending this video of a very conscientious kitten
to people who need de-stressing.
5. Damn it, Brattle, please show Psycho
(1960) some weekend other than Mother's Day
. It's a digital screening, so I don't have to care quite so much, but I am beginning to feel that my desire to see this movie in a theater without irony constitutes an actual quest. Everyone has to have one, I guess, but I always thought mine would involve more dead languages and less junk psychology.
I need to review some movies. I need to get some regular sleep. Last week was a disaster: I got eight and a half hours on Friday night after the seder, but the next night I was kept awake by pain until well into the morning. I didn't have good dreams last night, but I had dreams, so that had better count for something.
I just got back from seeing Vertigo
(1958) in 70 mm at the Somerville. I hadn't seen it since high school despite reading the source novel
between then and now. My mother feels this movie would be infinitely improved if James Stewart fell from a great height at the end.
I am rapidly coming to the disgruntled conclusion that it may be impossible for me to see Psycho
(1960) in a theater anywhere in this town and not have the audience laugh inappropriately, because there were people tonight who snickered their way through Vertigo
just as loudly and mystifyingly as they did through The Birds
(1963). Judy's painful, resigned "If I let you change me, will that do it? If I do what you tell me, will you love me?" isn't a comic beat—it's the nightmare of every relationship, that no one loves you for yourself, that you are desirable only if you're a pin-up, a fantasy, a stand-in for the real thing, made in Judy's case even crueller by the fact that the "real thing" was a fiction in the first place. But people laughed. And I screamed a little into derspatchel
's shoulder. He thinks it's the melodrama of the story that people cannot respond to seriously, but I don't understand it. It's like going to the opera and laughing because people are singing. I'm well aware of the values of camp and irony as modes of reinterpretation, but they're not the only filter in the world. I don't find Vertigo
a pleasant story, but that doesn't mean I can't take it on its own terms. Too much of Scottie is believable for it to play as comedy.
I think my mother is probably right, though.
Today is Shakespeare's four hundredth yahrzeit. According to the flyers all around Highland Avenue, if you walk into the 7 Ate 9 Bakery
and accurately recite a Shakespearean sonnet from memory, they'll give you a free miniature cheesecake. I don't know if I can match that offer, but I did write about Shakespeare in "Anonymity
." I hope the Globe Theatre's Complete Walk
is someday available to be viewed more widely than this weekend on the banks of the Thames. The pictures
Last night we had fifteen and a half people for our seder. That's not more people than have ever come for Halloween or Hanukkah, but it's more than we've ever had to seat around a table in my lifetime. We used two tables, relocated to the living room and placed end to end. Charlotte is still just too young to be taught the Four Questions (and was not present at the time anyway, arriving later with her mother), so Audrey and Peter split the Hebrew and the English between them. We made even more chicken soup than we thought was necessary—and that only for the people who eat chicken rather than the people who eat vegetarian soup with matzah balls—and we still have barely any kneydlakh left. There were lots of macaroons. My brother did a very good voice for Pharaoh. I think it was a success, but man, the dishes.
I don't know why I dreamed of nearly being carjacked with rushthatspeaks
while trying to see a nonexistent movie and then walking home through what was either a major transit breakdown or rumored terrorist activity on the Red Line between Harvard and Inman Squares in a Boston that looked absolutely nothing like itself, names and street signs notwithstanding. There was a subway station in Inman and a view of the sea. There were many more independent movie theaters than exist nowadays. That part I wouldn't have minded being true.
So today I got up on less than two hours' sleep to accompany rushthatspeaks
and Lucien to the latter's vet appointment in Woburn (with a stop in Teele Square for muffins along the way) and then in the late afternoon I accompanied Rush to their PT appointment in Assembly Square (with a stop in Davis Square for gyros
on the way back) and despite two hours' downtime for work and grilled cheese in the midafternoon it has been a rather medical day.
There were two packages on the porch when we got home. I opened them to find that a mysterious benefactor off the internet had sent me a copy of Suzanne Gargiulo's Hans Conried: A Biography
(2002) and a box of protein bars made with cricket flour
. I am absolutely amazed. Thank you,
internet benefactor ladymondegreen
! The cricket bars come in four flavors
and the frontispiece of the biography shows Conried arching an ineffably world-weary eyebrow. These are things that really make my day.
I am in Lexington now, helping my mother get the house ready for Pesach. I have just discovered that my great-grandmother's chopper and bowl are properly a hakmeser and shisl
as seen in the photo at the head of the article, although hers has some very old cloth-backed tape wound round the handle to soften it.
The important things.
I slept less than two hours and had a dreadful morning. I had a very decent afternoon. It concluded at sairaali
's when beckitypuff
came over with assorted berries and maple whipped cream and Saira showed us the first episode of the second season of The Librarians
(2014–), "The Librarians and the Drowned Book." Both of them coped very well with me immediately saying that I'd be disappointed if this didn't turn out to be a Tempest
episode and then shouting things at the screen like "Sixteenth-century Milanese shipwreck! Chess set! Pearls! Category 5 hurricane overhead, what more do you want, a cast list?
" Weirdly, the show it reminds me of most is The Fantastic Journey
(1977) in that it has all the structural qualities of bad television, but something works out in the alchemy and it's delightful instead. I love that the master thief is a geeky-looking East Asian kid, that the scholar of art history looks like a Midwestern bruiser, that the mathematical genius is a perky young woman, that the actual bruiser of the team is middle-aged and female. Any one of them would be the quirky lead of their own show, but all together they make a quirky team. Predictably, I like John Larroquette's Jenkins. Noah Wyle's Flynn is distractable enough to be a Time Lord, but it looks like the narrative might remember to call him on it every now and then. Rebecca Romijn's Eve straight-up stabbed a fictional character with a saber. Would gladly watch more episodes. Need more time to waste on TV. Saira also sent me home with three novels by Anuja Chauhan: I am halfway through Those Pricey Thakur Girls
(2013) and it's terrific, social comedy against the political backdrop of the aftermath of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, with a wry, effervescent, multilingual style. I may try to nap.
My story "The Creeping Influences" has been accepted by Beneath Ceaseless Skies
. To date it is my longest story with a historical setting, in this case mid-1930's Ireland; it has a genderqueer protagonist and a bog body and it is almost certainly the long-delayed result of falling in love in college with Seamus Heaney's North
(1975), specifically his cycle of poems about Irish and Danish bog bodies. I was scared by one of them as a child. I was scared of masks once, too. The title comes from his "Bog Queen
." I am also very happy about the market, which is a new one for me and has published numerous stories I really care about seeing in print, such as Gemma Files' "Two Captains
" and "Drawn Up from Deep Places
," Yoon Ha Lee's "Two to Leave
" and "Foxfire, Foxfire
," and Rose Lemberg's "Geometries of Belonging
" and the Nebula-nominated "Grandmother-nai-Leylit's Cloth of Winds
I will be vocal when it's published and I can link to it.
I am also now in possession of two contributor's copies, collected when I got home from seeing my cats. Not One of Us #55
is the magazine's fire and rain
issue, featuring the fine work of Patricia Russo, Laura Sloan Patterson, Gillian Daniels, Alexander Leger-Small, and others. I contributed "The Choices of Foxes," a flash written for yhlee
. It's mostly romance and blood. The Cascadia Subduction Zone 6.2
contains my Dracula-inspired
poem "Men Who Aren't Crazy," along with poetry by Gwynne Garfinkle and Neile Graham and nonfiction by Julie Phillips. Please enjoy this thematically apropos article about Dwight Frye's Renfield and World War I
I have to be out of the house in four hours; I don't think sleep is going to happen. I'm really not sure how most of this day is going to go.
1. Most recently, I am e-mailing everyone I know with Kelly Stewart's "Rabbit Grass." I have no personal connection to it, but it's one of the nicest trickster stories I've read in a long time.
I can't believe Playska
. I didn't even get a chance to revisit it before it blasted back off to its planet of origin. Where am I going to get my Daniel Pinkwater food
I am starting to lose track of days again, which never says anything good about my sleep. Yesterday I spent the afternoon with sairaali
, first looking at classical depictions of Medusa and Gorgons and then walking from Davis to Union Square, and in the evening rushthatspeaks
and I made steak for dinner with chimichurri and broccoli roasted with cumin and paprika and watched the pudding episode of the first season of The Great British Bake Off
, which left us researching forms of pudding we had never actually heard of at an hour of the night when it was completely impractical to cook them. Tonight gaudior
was around for dinner, so we made a savory bread pudding with half a loaf of challah and various refrigerator-handy ingredients—feta, avocado, sweet potatoes, and last night's chimichurri—after which I ran to the HFA to see Grigori Kozintsev's Hamlet
(Гамлет, 1964) for the first time on a big screen. I had watched
the film on DVD in 2009; the subtitles annoyed me, but Innokenty Smoktunovsky was instantly my favorite Hamlet on film. He inspired my poem "Heaven and Sea, Horatio" (Mythic Delirium #22
, June 2010) and a cycle of drowned Hamlet poems from my friendlist that I still wish someone would collect and publish. He remains my favorite, with his intense, ironic, intelligent face and his vivid movements. I don't like any of the photographs I can find of him because they make him look too handsome. [edit: Got one!] He's not dreamy; he's not romantic. He dies by the sea, as he should: he mused on his death there. The film closes as it opens, with the music of a funeral rite and the whitened waves beneath the bright grey sky of Elsinore; murdered kings and sweet princes come and go, but the sea is always there and someday it will take the stones of Elsinore more finally than any usurping brother or Norwegian successor. I don't care about the cuts to the text. I like the emphasis on politics and public space, on Elsinore as a real place with courtiers inside and peasants outside and visiting diplomats who talk in worried French and German and cold rooms where the sea-draft stirs the tapestries rather than a theater of the mind. I spotted nineweaving
in the audience afterward and we went for ice cream at J.P. Licks. derspatchel
and I have finished the second season of Agent Carter
(2015–) and I really hope there's a third one, because I think the show is just getting better as it goes on. I would really like to sleep more than five hours a night again.
I am very, very tired. In the general way, I am not doing well at all. I think I had a good day. As a result of accompanying schreibergasse
and Peter to the Cambridge Science Festival
's Carnival of the Sciences and Robot Zoo
this afternoon, I—
Watched my ungodson stream the air with enormous soap bubbles and fire off compressed air rockets courtesy of the Inventor Mentor
in a very windy field, meaning that I took very few photographs and dodged a lot. He seemed to be having a wonderful time. I think he spent more of the afternoon with the soap-bubble frames than with anything else except maybe the football, on which more in a minute. Two festival volunteers were using compressed air to fire other items into the air, namely a stuffed animal monkey and handfuls of marshmallows, which were being caught with plastic-lined landing nets. They may have taken special requests from the audience: at one point I saw a stuffed Elmo ragdolling thirty feet above the ground. I was delighted.
Admired a student-built horn antenna
from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
. It was being used to detect the hydrogen line, also known as the 21-centimeter line—the spectral line of electromagnetic radiation at a frequency of 1.42 GHz created when electrons in the vast cold clouds of neutral hydrogen that swirl throughout our galaxy spontaneously flip from a higher-energy state to a lower-energy one, emitting the difference in the form of a radio photon with a wavelength of 21 centimeters. It's called the spin-flip transition because the electron reverts to spinning in the opposite direction from its proton where previously it had been slightly excited enough to align their spins, not unlike a pair of bar magnets that naturally configure themselves north-to-south and only stick north-to-north if external force is applied. Because we live in a spiral galaxy, neutral hydrogen rotates with the rest of the disk around the galactic core; it is distributed evenly enough that it delineates the structure of the galaxy. Which does absolutely jack for us in the visible spectrum, but since the radial velocities of hydrogen clouds at varying distances from the core can be determined by the Doppler shifts of their emission lines, by taking measurements of the hydrogen line from different points along the galactic plane and then comparing the observed wavelengths against the 21-centimeter standard it is nonetheless possible to calculate the rotation curve of our galaxy and from there the distances of the hydrogen clouds in question, leading to a map of the Milky Way, which was the project I did in high school with the homebuilt radio telescope that I have sometimes mentioned. I had a dish, not a horn. (It had been used for satellite TV. I gave it something more interesting to look at.) I got a very small slice of deep sky out of it, because 42° 26' 50" N is not a terrific latitude for this particular foray into radio astronomy, but since I had done the experiment partly to find out whether it would work at all given my resources and location, I still consider it a success. I mentioned it to the professor whose students had built the antenna and he wanted to know all about the technical and programming details that in nearly twenty years I have mostly forgotten (which makes me feel like a moron, by the way), so I promised to get him a copy of my two-year high school science project and now I have to deliver. He is very interested in amateur astronomy. I could at least tell him I definitely didn't have a USB receiver.
Realized my childhood dream of eating a grasshopper, thanks to the sustainable protein efforts of the students at the British International School of Boston
. Also a queen weaver ant and a brownie made with locust flour. The insects themselves tasted toasty and crispy, with a texture unsurprisingly like chewing shrimp tails; if I had been handed it without comment, I would have said that the brownie was made with an alternative flour like spelt or rye, but I wouldn't have guessed anything as protein-stocked as locust. While I was eating the weaver ant, a young man came up and remarked dismissively on the size of the insects on offer, asking if the students had anything really substantial. He was offered a tarantula. He went away.
Was still hungry and got a lamb wrap from the food truck for Couscous Kitchen, I believe. It was the one that had run out of falafel and wasn't from Bon Me
. There was also a truck specializing entirely in whoopie pies
, but we would not patronize it until there had first been some tree climbing and more soap bubbles and stomp rockets and general running around. I ate it sitting on a bench in front of the Cambridge Public Library, remembering how it looked before the expansion in 2009. I knew where to find everything in the old building by kinesthesia. The children's room was around the back, at the basement level; at the top of the stairs was a mural with a diversity poem that did not rhyme (and might not have been meant to, but it bothered me when I was small; I kept trying to make it and it wouldn't). The stacks had black metal grilles underfoot and fluorescent bar lights overhead; they rattled when you went looking for books and hummed when you curled up to read them. The wooden climbing structure on the lawn smelled like a shipwreck after rain.
Got distracted by the hypnotic three-dimensional screen rendering of sound waves courtesy of the audio engineers at iZotope
, who had set up two exhibits in a room off Cambridge Rindge and Latin's Field House: one to provide a visual translation of the frequencies of the human voice and the other to mess around with them electronically. "Who wants to sound like a monster?" one group of incoming children was asked by the guy at the sound board. A small girl shouted instantly, "I want to sound like a monster!" He asked her to record a line; she was so happy when he gave it a reverb-heavy bass snarl. There was an oscilloscope on the table next to the monitor screen. It was not identical to the one we had in the house when I was growing up, but it looked about the same vintage to me. Apparently I find that sort of thing comforting.
Shivered in the bright cold wind for about an hour after the festival ended and did not regret it, watching Peter and a total stranger about his own age learn to throw a football from two young men tossing and catching on the lawn. I never learned any of their names. The older ones looked like students, late high school or early college, the age that my brain mostly processes as "nascent adult" and "younger than me"; they incorporated Peter and then his playmate effortlessly into their game, even when the eight-year-olds decided that the best way to deal with the disadvantage of being literally half their opponents' size was to throw themselves at the older kids' legs in a massively inefficient but compensatingly tenacious semi-tackle, meaning that the student nearer us was intermittently running to make a play with a small child trailing doggedly from his ankle. From time to time there was a spaniel on the field, but no one stepped on it. I think it may have belonged to the stranger kid's family. I invited a third kid to join when I saw him leaning wistfully on the rail, but he had to ask permission from his parents first and apparently they said it was time to leave instead. Eventually we pulled Peter away because I was starting to be unable to feel my fingers, having not realized from the quality of the sunlight that I needed to carry gloves when I left the house, and also dinner needed to happen on a reasonable timeline. The whole thing was adorable, which may be the first time in my life I've been able to say that about football.
Discovered a copy of Ernest Tidyman's Shaft
(1970) in the basement of the Harvard Book Store while Schreiber' was racing his son around Harvard's campus in hopes of burning enough energy off Peter that he could actually sit still for dinner. Of course I took it home. I have no idea how it compares to the film, but by the end of the first chapter it's fascinating. Stylistically, it is perfect hardboiled noir, but its protagonist is a black private eye in 1970 New York and that is such a specific viewpoint that it makes the generic elements of the story pop suddenly into new perspective.
Had dinner with Schreiber' and Peter at Christopher's
because Peter desperately wanted a hamburger. My favorite burger went off their menu sometime last year, so I have been coping by ordering a partial reconstruction of it every time I eat at the restaurant. English muffin, pepper jack cheese, avocado, chipotle mayo, it falls apart as soon as you pick it up, but it tastes great. Extra chipotle mayo on the side for the fries. I can't tell if I am recognizable to the kitchen yet.
Then I came home and gaudior
asked me circumspectly if I knew anything about the carving knife hidden under a pile of bookmarks on the shelf nearest the kitchen. I didn't. That made three of us. Either one of the cleaners in March had unique ideas about filing cutlery or we have a really scary domovoi.
Maybe tonight I can get more than two hours of sleep.
Every year I remind myself to say something when Hans Conried's birthday comes around and every year I forget to, because it's the day after my father's.1
This year would have been Conried's ninety-ninth, so I'm saying something.
He's one of my favorite actors, though I mostly talk about him as though this fact is self-explanatory. I feel it should be. I noticed him first with The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
(1953), because how the hell do you ignore something like that? Especially if you're me, you don't ignore the lanky zany at the center of the insanity with his quick-change voice, his preening eyebrows, and his preternatural ability to wear some of the silliest costumes designed and filmed by humanity. Don't take my word for it
. "Live-action Dr. Seuss" is a contradiction in terms, but Conried looked like one of Geisel's characters, springily etiolated, carrying a supercilious gesture to his very fingers' ends. With his flopping dark hair and his diamond-shaped flexible face, he made me think of Don Quixote even while he was threatening to disintegrate Peter Lind Hayes or cowering from Tommy Rettig's "very atomic" music-fix. He was about a year older at the time of filming than I am now. I had a new favorite character actor.
And as so often happens with character actors, it promptly turned out that I had been seeing—and hearing—him on and off for years. Conried worked most steadily as a voice actor, having started in radio before he was even out of his teens; if not quite as preposterously ubiquitous as Paul Frees, he was a household name through several decades. As the threadbare violinist living upstairs from Marie Wilson and Cathy Lewis on the original radio version of My Friend Irma
(1947–54), he entered every episode with a meek, Russian-Yiddish "It's only me, Professor Kropotkin"; if he didn't originate the role of Dr. Leon Alberts in the original 1937 broadcast of the legendary "Chicken Heart" episode of Lights Out!
, his later re-recording
was the only version that existed until the PMRP
. He worked with Orson Welles, Edgar Bergen, George Burns and Gracie Allen. When radio faded, he transitioned into television; he appeared in films, though rarely in leading roles, throughout. I expect I encountered his ever-dastardly Snidely Whiplash in re-runs of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show
(1959–64) some Friday at a friend's house when I watched the only mainstream cartoons of my childhood. I definitely saw him co-starring with Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen in Disney's Davy Crockett at the Alamo
(1955) as a high-flown dandy of a riverboat gambler who owes drinks all round after Davy catches him cheating at the shell game; he quotes Shakespeare sadly when discovered, even more disconsolately when drunk, and follows Davy all the way to a heroic death at the Alamo, which is the kind of ending that stays with a person after summer camp. I don't like most of Disney's Peter Pan
(1953), but I pray to the small gods of cinema that someday the animators' reference film will surface in an archive in Argentina because Conried's distinctive gestures are all over the blocking of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. The surviving photos are tantalizing
I find it disproportionately hilarious that he portrayed Uncle Tonoose on The Danny Thomas Show
(1953–64), because my father has always used the name to represent any hypothetical relative in a conversation. At the point where I learned that Conried had voiced Thorin in Rankin and Bass' The Hobbit
(1977), I gave up on trying to guess where he would turn up next. The answer, for the record, turned out to be Halloween Is Grinch Night
He had an astonishingly beautiful speaking voice when he played straight with it, softly sonorous and meticulously articulated; in comedy he showed off a lot of grit and racket and reed, with a particular flair for the outraged skid into falsetto. You can hear some of his versatility with the Suspense
episodes "Murder Strikes Three Times
" (1950) and "Rave Notice
" (1954) as well as Gunsmoke
" (1952). He ran a reliable line in European accents, Mittel- and Eastern most popular.3
Playing himself on game shows or hosting Fractured Flickers
(1963–64), he was haughtily or bemusedly mid-Atlantic. His voice sharpened into an acerbic growl as he aged, without ever losing the high-strung edge. It was a loss to Gilbert and Sullivan that as far as I can tell he was never cast as Pooh-Bah. He could sound middle-aged and disdainful in his twenties—the sardonically arched brows helped. I would have paid good money to hear his precisely enunciated "I can't help it. I was born sneering."
I just like him wherever I find him, almost regardless of the film. That means The Monster That Challenged the World
(1957), where his competent scientist is a lot smarter than the movie he's in; that means The Gay Falcon
(1941), where his uncredited, impatient sketch artist is the youngest I've seen him so far; that means Behave Yourself!
(1951), a rather dicey comedy-thriller intermittently redeemed by the presence of actors like Lon Chaney, Jr. and Elisha Cook, Jr. and by Conried's Cockney-accented assassin, delivering his report to gangland boss Francis L. Sullivan while the latter is taking a bath and the former is snacking on grapes with a sort of absent-minded nervousness. He makes a short-lived appearance as a stage magician in Journey into Fear
(1943). I'd have liked him better in Summer Stock
(1950) if some idiot at MGM hadn't decided to dub his singing voice. I could never have seen him onstage in Can-Can
(1953) or 70, Girls, 70
(1971), but I have the original cast recordings with which to enjoy his insufferably pretentious sculptor of the Belle Époque and his contemporary senior citizen helping organize a heist with a patter song. If you watch him on Pantomime Quiz
, he looks like a proto-Ryan Stiles—other contestants get proverbs or well-known lines of Shakespeare to enact while Conried gets handed mishegos like "He who dances must pay the piper—also the waiter, the hat-check girl, the parking attendant, and the doorman" or "Though I tried to be aloof, when you pushed me off the roof, I feel our romance is dead." I haven't a clue what led to the creation of the album Monster Rally
(1959) with Alice Pearce, but it's worth it for songs like "Flying Saucer
" ("The one that's double-parked outside").
I know very little about his life that I can't track through his performances. There exists one biography of him, Suzanne Gargiulo's Hans Conried: A Biography
(2002), and I've been looking for it in used book stores since 2009, with demoralizing unsuccess. Anecdotes suggest he was a sweet person; he certainly interviewed intelligently and interestingly. Quite a lot of the internet likes him—the A.V. Club
analyzed The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
's hypnotism duel
and once referred to him as "the thinking man's Dr. Zachary Smith
." He was sixty-four when he died, which is my father's age as of yesterday, which is too young for fatal heart attacks.
In any case, in his honor, please enjoy the Cuban Boys
' "Ten Happy Fingers
." It is not a remix of the song of the same name from The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
; it is a remix of the movie and it is a tremendous earworm. Hans Conried, wherever you may roam, you will always look to me like a megalomaniacal piano teacher in a very silly hat. We'll always have the Happy Finger Institute.
1. Naturally, due to family schedules this year, not everyone was available to celebrate my father's birthday yesterday, so the observance was tonight. I spent most of my day shopping for dinner ingredients and making a Grand Marnier-brushed orange sponge cake filled with orange-and-clementine whipped cream, glazed with chocolate and candied orange peel. He'd requested something with fruit. What is this top you speak of going over?
2. There are a number collected under the appropriate tags here. Told you it wasn't just me.
3. His father was a Jewish emigré from Vienna; his birth name was Hans Georg Conried, Jr. Supposedly he would meet questions about whether he had changed his name with an incredulous "To this?"
I am delighted to hear that there is at least one harbor seal in the Charles River
. Just because it can't open the locks of the dam with its very own flippers doesn't mean it can't get in from the sea to the sweet, sweet fish of a river that is no longer the spectacular environmental hazard of my childhood.The dam has three parallel locks separating the harbor from the river. Staff members from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation are responsible for opening and closing the locks for various reasons, such as allowing spawning fish to pass through. When the gates come open, the animal, identified as an adult harbor seal, is likely right there, eager for a chance to dine on carp and perch.
"Seals are exceptionally intelligent," [Tony] LaCasse [of the New England Aquarium] said. "They're acting like people queuing on the Zakim Bridge at rush hour—they're waiting to get their turn to make a living in the city."strange_selkie
me next time the family's in town?
I ordered Dana Falconberry and Medicine Bow's From the Forest Came the Fire
(2016) because I had heard two of the songs ("Cormorant" and "Powerlines") and they were very good.
I have played "Alamogordo
" forty-seven times since the CD arrived. It is the closing track and the source of the album's title and it is very difficult for me not to think of it as the song I would have written "The Trinitite Golem
" to if it had existed in the spring of 2014. See lines like the subject header of this post. There is language of forests in the song, but also of deserts and fire: "Oh, Alamogordo, I saw the brightest light . . . I can be still under your sky turquoise / Wait for a call to fit the fire, some elemental noise . . . If my blood brayed, bellowed and bared / And if it boiled in a heartbeat, I would not be scared." That's forty-eight times now. The rest of the album is very fine, with a delicately electronic folk-rock sound and intricate lyrics, but for this song alone, I'm glad to own it.And I will keep a steady eye
Fierce-set upon your fevered sky
When if a light should break
Oh, my mended heart won't quake
1. So it sucks hard vacuum that Johnny D's
closed, but I appreciate that at least they left an assortment of random CDs in a free box on the sidewalk, because I now own in some cases brand new copies of Hector Zazou's Chansons de Mers Froides/Songs from the Cold Seas
(1994), Noe Venable's The World Is Bound by Secret Knots
(2003), Jim Guttmann's Bessarabian Breakdown
(2010), and Ken Waldman's Music Party: Alaskan Fiddling Poet Music from All Over
(2003). I had never heard of either of the last two musicians, which is part of the reason I bought them. I was on my way over to see my cats. It has been quite hard to work with one of them insisting he should be the center of attention instead of my keyboard, but it is worth the purr.
2. Many of these poems
are good (and a couple I don't like at all, because that happens sometimes), but I love Yvonne Reddick's "Ermine Street." John Foggin's "Norman" feels like one of nineweaving
3. I couldn't find Pauline Kael's 5001 Nights at the Movies
(1982) anywhere around the house, but fortunately her review of Phaedra
(1962) was readily available online
:Phaedra (1962)—Jules Dassin's glossy, novelettish version, set in modern Greece, of the classic story that was dramatized by Euripides, Seneca, Racine, and many others. Here, it's undermined by a lunatic piece of miscasting: when Melina Mercouri leaves her rich, powerful bull of a husband, Raf Vallone, to run away with his skinny young son, Anthony Perkins, the audience can't imagine why. She scoops him up in her arms, like a toy. With its snazzy cars and fabulous jewels that can be casually thrown into the sea, this is like a Joan Crawford picture, only more so. Dassin appears as Christo.
This is exactly what I meant when I talked about critics missing the point of the chemistry. Kael is quite right to notice the difference between Thanos and Alexis—and to draw the sexual implications from it that she does—but she's completely mistaken that it's a movie-wrecking oversight rather than a mythologically appropriate contrast. Hippolytos is the son of an Amazon, already a marginal figure from an Athenian point of view: an unnatural woman who hunts and fights. Taking after his mother does not make Hippolytos a normal young man, reversing her masculine characteristics onto a more societally appropriate actor, it just makes him feminine from strange angles. Like his barbarian mother, he is a hunter, a charioteer, and a breaker of horses, a kind of solitary male Amazon when he should be pursuing the expected social activities of his age and gender and Greek surroundings, Aphrodite included. He should be marrying, at least trying out sex. Instead he has dedicated himself to Artemis, the goddess of wild virgin girls. He enters the play offering her a garland of flowers he picked himself in an untouched meadow, and if that image doesn't shout Persephone—Kore, the Maiden—I haven't got a little cat on my lap trying to add his pawprints to my typing. He even says of himself that he has a παρθένον ψυχὴν, a maiden soul. Phaedra
would fall apart if Alexis were a conventionally masculine type like his father. That Kael thinks he should have been tells me a lot more about her ideas of romance than about the success or failure of Perkins' performance.
(Phaedra does not ever literally pick up Alexis, but I like the image—it makes me think of the little Adonis-dolls dandled and mourned for at the Athenian Adonia or the statue of Eos with Tithonos that so frightens the narrator of Evangeline Walton's She Walks in Darkness
(2013). The goddess with her mortal plaything. I believe it of Mercouri, larger-than-life irresistible force that she was. You try saying no to the Earth Mother, see where that gets you. Oh, man. I have to meet my parents for a movie, but that should be a poem when I get back.)
This afternoon I dropped my grandfather's flat cap
off at Salmagundi
in Jamaica Plain for repair. The proprietor expects to be able to patch it and replace the reinforcement inside the upper portion of cloth, which turns out not to be the same as the visor. It dates from the 1950's and was made by one particular company in New Jersey, although my grandfather could have bought it anywhere. I should get it back in two to three weeks. In the meantime I have no hat and it is very disorienting, not to mention—in the current weather—cold. I will have to figure out something. My broad-brimmed straw hat of the last eight years finally gave up the ghost last winter when Autolycus used it as a bed. There was no way for the duct tape to survive that much fur.
(I had a nice time walking around Centre Street with derspatchel
. We will have to come back for the bookstore on Green Street some non-Sunday when it doesn't close at six o'clock.)
In the meantime, I have learned the reason that sharp flashes of pain have been startling up my left arm from the elbow at frequent intervals since I woke up on Friday: I have somehow strained or inflamed the biceps tendon. I am back to my old friend Ace bandage
and regular application of cold and heat. I keep finding parts of my body I didn't know I could break. I have new books, though, and I don't need two working elbows to read them.
Last night's movie was one I had wanted to see since I was in graduate school and reading Sarah Kane and Seneca: Phaedra
(1962), directed by Jules Dassin from a script by Margarita Lymberaki and ultimately Euripides. It's the only film version I've ever seen of the tragedy. It's one of the most direct adaptations that exists
. It has a contemporary Greek setting, an international cast headed by Melina Mercouri and Anthony Perkins, black-and-white location photography in three countries, and a score by Mikis Theodorakis. It was a box-office failure in the U.S. I loved it unreservedly. I may or may not be able to explain why.
Part of it is simply the fun of retelling: seeing the classical story transposed in clever and even thought-provoking ways. No one in this movie is Greek royalty; they are something better, more glamorous and more personally powerful, the dynasties of shipping magnates like Stavros Niarchos and Aristotle Onassis, who would have been very much in the news at the time. Theseus is not just king of Athens; he is the kouros of Poseidon, cult hero and son of the god whose sea-curse he will call down on his own son at the climax of the tragedy. The jet-setting super-rich are explicitly the new demigods, recognized as such by the scornful wonder of an old woman watching the fireworks that spell out SS Phaedra
on the cliff above the bay: "They are powerful, they speak many languages, and they celebrate with fire in the sky." The newly christened ship's namesake is Phaedra Kyrilis (Mercouri), the second wife of ambitious, toughly handsome Thanos (Raf Vallone), a rising star of the business world with a shipyard in Piraeus. Her father is a modern-day Minos with a fleet of freighters and tankers, his strength at sea so far still greater than that of his challenging son-in-law; his nickname is "the old sea monster." Thanos' first wife, as in Euripides, is long offstage. We never learn her name; she is always "the Englishwoman" or "the foreigner," just as the hero's barbarian mother in Hippolytos
is always "the Amazon." She lives in Hong Kong now, the East that is utterly alien to the ancient Greek world. Thanos left her for Phaedra; perhaps in retaliation, she brought up their son (Perkins) without anything of his father's culture, not even his language. "She thinks all Greeks are savages." He isn't a devotee of Artemis, but he's dropped out of the London School of Economics to become a painter, which is just as bad. His name is Alexis, and as the story begins, Phaedra is delegated to retrieve him from England and reconcile him to his father and the family business. Her maid Anna (Olympia Papadouka) warns her against the trip: "In my dream, two boys were fighting with spears. One was your son. The other, the son of the foreigner . . . Your husband will put the son of the Englishwoman in the shipping. He's building an empire. He needs a prince." It's an appropriate concern in a world as dynastic as theirs, but mythologically speaking, it's not what Phaedra should be afraid of. There is no Chorus, exactly, but there are the black-clad women of the island of Hydra, whose husbands and sons work in Thanos' shipyard and aboard his ships. The gods exist in statues and metaphor.
The rest of it is the performances. Mercouri at the time of Phaedra
was Dassin's collaborator, lover, and award-winning co-star in the international hit Never on Sunday
(Ποτέ την Κυριακή, 1960); they would marry in 1966. She was a singer, a political activist, and a politician, with an astonishing face—broad-mouthed, lion-eyed—a mane of heavy, Helen-fair hair and a voice so deep and husky, it sounds like the earth itself growling when it drops even further with emotion. She is a force of nature and she has to be, because in the absence of gods who direct and possess the lives of mortals, all of this forbidden love among the rich and famous can come off as shallow, self-absorbed, or even farcical. These are aspects that can be used to devastating effect, as in Phaedra's Love
(1996), the play which introduced me to Sarah Kane—cynical, depressed Hippolytus apathetically continuing to watch TV as a love-demented Phaedra blows him among the expensive squalor of his royal apartments, "one big happy family. The only popular royals ever." Dassin and Lymberaki are going for social criticism with their modern version, but also for genuine tragedy, and Mercouri with her strongly marked face and her theatrical intensity brings an overwhelming, elemental quality to Phaedra that makes the audience believe in love as a form of madness, as a thing so imperative and unmanageable that it must come from the gods, even if there are none to be found outside of museums these days. London is a clever setting for Phaedra's first encounter with her husband's half-English heir with his dismayingly aesthetic ways: they meet in the British Museum, among the marbles that should be in the Parthenon.1
He is sketching them. About five minutes later, I wrote to derspatchel
, "GOD DAMN ANTHONY PERKINS IS AMAZING."
I realize that the rest of the moviegoing public knew this already, but Anthony Perkins is one of the actors for whom I have historically had an incredible fondness despite never actually seeing them in what I would consider a major role. I caught him early on in Friendly Persuasion
(1956); after that we're talking Catch-22
(1970), Murder on the Orient Express
(1974), and bits and pieces of some whacked-out Disney sci-fi that years later turned out to be The Black Hole
I had never seen him as a lead before. He's quicksilver: half the time a tormented homme fatale, deliberately shocking; the other half he's clownish, sarcastic, half-grown. On his first day with Phaedra in London, Alexis invites her to meet his "beautiful, miraculous girl"—a sporty Aston Martin DB4 with whom he does an incredible mime of romance, including trying to cop a lascivious feel of a headlight until interrupted by a sales clerk; he burlesques embarrassment, presses a chaste kiss to his beloved's bonnet, and exits to his stepmother's approving laughter. Because he hated her so as a child, the all-Greek trophy wife who usurped his foreign mother, as an adult he approaches her with exaggerated, ironic flirtation, not yet aware that he means it. He has the lean height of an archaic hero; his eyes are white and dark as a bronze statue's glass. He's not always beautiful, but when he is, the camera makes it count. Perkins is playing a character six years younger than himself, but that isn't the only reason Alexis' apparent age keeps flickering; so does his sexuality. He shows no real interest in women except for Phaedra.3
The film was criticized on release for its supposed lack of chemistry between Mercouri and Perkins. I can actually see where this complaint comes from, but I think it's missing the point. It's not that they don't have any: it's that it doesn't run along conventional gender lines. She is always the lover. He is always the beloved. Their first love scene is weird and fearless, full of gestures that shouldn't work: Alexis is building a fire when Phaedra declares her love for him, kneeling by the hearth as she stands at his back; the thin twist of flame gathers into a blaze as he reaches up one hand to her, his head still bowed; when her fingers slip suddenly between his, it's as intimate and possessive as a sexual act. They make love in a swooningly cheesecake setting—on the floor before a roaring fire as rain lashes the windows of an apartment in Paris—shot so elliptically that it becomes fragmented and elemental, fire between their mouths, the shadows of rain over their backs. Phaedra
is a modern-day movie, but not quite a naturalistic one. People do not speak to one another like plain human beings. They have dreams. They talk to the air and the sea. Anna tells her mistress' fortune with a pack of playing cards; when a bystander at the harbor (Dassin himself, doing a Stan Lee cameo) remarks that the newly imported Aston Martin "looks like a big coffin" in its oversized crate, Thanos laughingly foreshadows, "It's the fastest coffin you ever saw—driven by hundreds of horses." It could feel too clever; at least for me it gets at some of the estranging effect of seeing a classical Greek tragedy performed in modern dress, people you might run into at the bus stop talking seriously about oracles and the burial of the dead.
Then again, I like that the film tells you its ending from the start. Euripides' audience would have known the bones of the story, so why not Dassin's? The title comes up in feverish scratches over the tearing sound of a jet engine and the steam whistle of a male voice screaming Phaedra's name; then the credits themselves play coolly over the white sculpted horses of the Elgin marbles, as clear an allusion as I can imagine to Hippolytos' association with horses and a presentiment of the final wreck to which that dreadful yell belongs. An Aston Martin with a 250-horsepower engine makes as good a stand-in for a chariot as a truck on a cliffside road does for a bull from the sea; both are the fulfillment of a father's curse.4
Hanging is a woman's death in classical tragedy, but these days we have pills and faithful maids who will place a sleep mask over your eyes like Mycenaean gold. The ship that bears Phaedra's name has already sunk off Norway, taking almost all hands with it; her husband knows about the loss to his business, but has yet to discover the losses to his family—the film closes on his recital of the names of the dead to the wives and mothers who wait outside his office, their grief a rising chorus that encompasses, unknowingly, Phaedra lying on her bed and the shrouded body in the courtyard that must be Alexis, brought home from the crash. It is the closest to reconciliation this version of the tragedy will get.
So I continue to like Jules Dassin, and I continue to like Melina Mercouri, and I will have to watch Psycho
(1960) after all, because if it's the role that defined Anthony Perkins for the rest of his life, he's probably pretty memorable in it. I wish this film were out on better DVD than the burn-on-demand available through TCM
, but at least somebody thought it deserved that much. I think it's one of the better contemporary revisitings of the ancient world I've seen. This ivy crown brought to you by my myth-minded backers at Patreon
1. As Minister of Culture for Greece in the 1980's, Mercouri held the first international competition to design what would eventually become the Acropolis Museum.
2. I saw most of my Disney films at summer camp at the Arlington Boys & Girls Club. Technically, I read through most of them, which is why my strongest memory from Sleeping Beauty (1959) is Maleficent turning into a dragon and the only thing I can really sing from Cinderella (1950) is the talking mice's sped-up patter song. I really can't tell if The Black Hole is one of the ones I want to rewatch: everything I have read about the plot suggests that it suffers from a cheese sandwich ending. On the other hand, Roddy McDowall voices a robot. Anyone got an opinion?
3. Late in the film, betrothed to his step-cousin Herse (Elizabeth Ercy) in accordance with his father's plans to consolidate power against his father-in-law ("Separately, one by one, he can swallow us whole. If we get together—indigestible"), Alexis gets drunk at a party, wins an extempore discus throw for the honor of the English, and awards himself his first night with a woman who isn't Phaedra. It seems to be strictly to prove a point: "Why does everybody think they own me? Nobody owns me."
4. The scene in which Alexis speeds to his death, beaten and formally banished by his father and under his curse, is fantastic: he talks to his car, he talks to the radio, he shouts along to a fugue by Bach, his voice strained and wild; it is the same odd animism the film has observed throughout, only now in a terrible key, as if the Furies were riding shotgun with him. "Let's face it, John," he shouts to the dead composer, "she loved me. She loved me like they did in the good old days."
My poem "Men Who Aren't Crazy" is now available in the latest issue of The Cascadia Subduction Zone
. It was written after seeing Tod Browning's Dracula
(1931) at the Somerville in October and accepted on Dwight Frye's hundred-and-seventeenth birthday; it was inspired equally by his performance as Renfield and Helen Chandler's as Mina. I am always invested in versions of the story that recognize the affinity between them, Dracula's intended brides in his new country—I think the effect in Browning's film is accidental, but pointed. Even as she drinks of Dracula's blood and leans in for her fiancé's throat, I cannot remember that the word "vampire" is ever spoken in Mina's hearing, as if she cannot be trusted with the fact of what she is becoming. "Isn't this a strange conversation for men who aren't crazy?" Renfield asks the air as Van Helsing instructs Harker in the niceties of vampire-killing—the "little-known facts which the world is perhaps better off for not knowing" which have heretofore been the matter of the ex-solicitor's delusions. Under the circumstances, it seems a fair question to me. Other poetic contributors to this issue are Gwynne Garfinkle and Neile Graham, so you want to pick up a copy.
 My poem "In a Funny Kind of Way" has been accepted by Polu Texni: A Magazine of Many Arts
. It is my first sale to the magazine; it takes its title and initial inspiration from The Petrifed Forest
(1936) and would probably be a ghost poem if its subject had ever been actually alive. I am delighted.
Today is doing all right. I should visit my cats and then it will be not bad at all. Keep it up, National Poetry Month
So I have just been shown a review of Dreams from the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror
, edited by Lynne Jamneck and forthcoming from Dark Regions Press. According to Alison Lang in Rue Morgue Magazine
:The crown jewel in this collection is "All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts" by Sonya Taaffe, which opens with a female descendant of the legendary Waite family attempting to drown herself in a decrepit bathroom. Told from the perspective of Anson, a proudly queer "child of Innsmouth," the story lovingly describes the fishy attributes of his kin with language more poetic than Lovecraft himself could have imagined. "Over the warm rosewood of her skin, the faint olive tinting of her nascent scales shone like the patina on bronze," begins one passage. Taaffe's story turns the tables on the Lovecraftian skill of describing the ineffable, the awful and the unimaginable and makes it deliriously lovely and wholly human. Through her tale, she affirms that anything can happen when new voices are permitted to run wild in Lovecraft's realm of fearful symmetries. And that's why
Dreams from the Witch House deserves to be read—widely.
I will talk more about this story when it is more widely available, but everyone who knows me can be shocked, shocked that I read "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" and sympathized instantly with the sea-people, the shape-changers, the inheritors of the sea-city that glimmers at the bottom of the narrator's dreams: "Great watery spaces opened out before me, and I seemed to wander through titanic sunken porticos and labyrinths of weedy cyclopean walls with grotesque fishes as my companions." Of course I write of their metamorphosis with envy and admiration: I have singularly failed to grow scales for most of my life, though I taught myself to swim in the Atlantic with my eyes open to the salt. It didn't occur to me until just now, but there are ways in which this story is probably in dialogue with Splash
(1984) as well as Lovecraft. I have wanted sea-change as long as I can remember. I have been disappointed, and hence "All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts."
(Anson is queer, and Jewish, in part because it would have distressed Lovecraft, but also because I am. My fish people will be intersectional or they will be bullshit.)
The e-book is currently available as part of the Cthulhu Mythos E-Book Bundle
; the print version hits shelves and doorsteps later this month
. Contributors include Joyce Carol Oates, Tamsyn Muir, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Gemma Files, Amanda Downum, Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, Storm Constantine, and R.A. Kaelin among others, with illustrations by Daniele Serra that remind me favorably of Stephen Gemmell's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
. It is worth your time.
I should go to bed now, but I'm pretty happy.