Lockdown Diaries II, Day 8: Precision

In a bus of the S line, 10 m long, 3 wide, 6 high, at 3.6 km from its starting point, loaded with 48 people, at 12.17 p.m., a person of the masculine sex aged 27 years, 3 months and 8 days, 1.72, weighing 65 kg and wearing a hat 35 cm in height, round the crown of which was a ribbon 60 cm long, addressed a man aged 48 years, 4 months and 3 days, 1.68 m tall and weighing 77 kg by means of 14 words whose enunciation lasted 5 seconds and which alluded to some involuntary displacement of 15 to 20 mm. Then he went and sat down about 1.1 m away.

57 minutes later he was 10 metres away from the suburban entrance to the Gare Saint-Lazare and was walking up and down over a distance of 30 m with a friend aged 28, 1.7 m tall and weighing 71 kg, who advised him in 15 words to move a button, 3 cm in diameter, by 5 cm in the direction of the zenith.

(Precision from Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau)

And here’s my effort:

Thursday, 12 November 2020

I got up at exactly 8:00 am GMT in the morning and it took me precisely 9 minutes and 17 seconds to make and drink my tea; my mug holds 200 ml of liquid. I poured the boiling water exactly to the level of the top of the roof of the London bus that decorates the inside of the mug.

There were seven different tasks to get through today, no less, no more. I worked at them diligently all day, paying great attention to even the most minute detail. My GP called me at 11:52; our conversation lasted 7 minutes and 14 seconds. Apart from this, I interrupted my work exactly twice: once at 1:00 pm to take lunch (one frankfurter, fried, plus a half a slice of thin home made white bread, no mustard or other condiments) and for the second time at 3:45 pm, when the doorbell rang. Answered the door in ten seconds flat as I was standing only two metres away at the time. It was a young male male under 30 years old, wearing a blue hoody and faded jeans who delivered a parcel, addressed to Mr Anglo-Saxonist, very light in weight. We exchanged no words, other than me saying “Thank you” to him.

Over to you. 🙂

Recommended reading:
Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau

 

Lockdown Diaries II, Day 7: You Know

Well, you know, the bus arrived, so you know, I got on. Then I saw, you know, a citizen, who, you know, caught my eye, sort of. I mean, you know, I saw his long neck and I saw the plait round his hat. Then, you know, he started to rave at the chap next to him. He was, you know, treading on his toes. Then he went and, you know, sat down.

Well, you know, later on, I saw him in the Cour de Rome. He was with a pal, you know, and he was telling him, you know, the pal was: “You ought to get another button put on your coat.” You know.

(You Know from Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau)

Well, here’s my effort:

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Well, I got up in the morning, like you do, you know, and had my morning cuppa. Young Friend of the Elephants pushed off to school, then I, you know, I had to do some work, it was sort of boring, you know, so I played a bit with my Pomodoro app… 

I had lunch, but had no appetite, you know, because, I mean, who likes to eat alone? You know?

And then nothing happened in the afternoon either, you know, it was one of those boring days, you know what I mean… this whole coronavirus stuff simply sucks, you know, man.

Over to you. 🙂

Recommended reading:
Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau

 

Lockdown Diaries II, Day 6: With Raymond Queneau

I skipped day 5 of the lockdown diary yesterday, because I spent the day with a friend – owing to my circumstances people are allowed to visit me even in lockdown, now there’s a new turn up for the books! – and there was the weekly quote anyway for you to read. 

Nothing else happened. And today didn’t happen anything much either.

The fact that generally speaking even less is happening in this lockdown than in the last one, however, made me muse on the subject of how many times can you write the same thing over and over again without boring your readers to tears.

Well, Raymond Queneau in his Exercises in Style managed to do it a whopping ninety-nine times. (I don’t think I’ve got his talent.)

I first read his book in Hungarian when I was in grammar school – I first read everything in grammar school – and I found it highly entertaining. Decades later I’ve got myself an English copy, and I still find it highly entertaining. The only thing that baffles me is that Mr Anglo-Saxonist, into whose style of reading this kind of smart-arsery really fits, was never willing to read it. But there. You can lead a horse to the water but you can’t make it drink… 

With that I’m handing you over to Raymond Queneau:

On the S bus, in the rush hour. A chap of about twenty-six, soft hat with a cord instead of a ribbon, neck too long, as if someone’s been tugging at it. People getting off. The chap in question gets annoyed with one of the man standing next to him. He accuses him of jostling him every time he goes past. A snivelling tone which is meant to be aggressive. When he sees a vacant seat, he throws himself onto it.

Two hours later, I come across him in the Cour de Rome, in front of the Gare Saint-Lazare. He’s with a friend, who’s saying: “You ought to get an extra button put on your overcoat.” He shows him where (at the lapels) and why.

(Notation, from Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau)

Now if you think that the above excerpt is particularly boring, it’s because it is particularly boring.

Notation is the retelling of an incident, wholly devoid of interest to anybody, and in as bland a manner as possible, so that afterwards Queneau can have some fun in the rest of the book rewriting it in various styles. In ninety-nine different styles, as I said above.

A Writing Challenge – For Anybody Who Is Interested

Well, we’ve got nothing better to do, since we’re all in lockdown and there’s nothing really happening… so why don’t you write up what happened today, in a simple and matter of fact way, and then start experimenting? 🙂 

I’m going to provide you with my boring entry for today… and tomorrow (when I expect nothing more interesting to happen than today), I’ll look for inspiration in Queneau and give you an attempt at describing the big nothing, imitating one of his style variations. If you want to take up the challenge, post a reply in the comments, keeping to the same style. We’ll see how far we’ll get with this. 🙂

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Got up in the morning and went through the usual morning routine: cup of tea, shower, breakfast. Saw Young Friend of the Elephants off to school, then worked on the computer all morning. I experimented with a Pomodoro timer app as I keep forgetting to take breaks; it would have been great if the app actually worked as advertised.

Took my lunch to eat outside in the garden, as the weather was reasonably mild and there was some weak sunshine.

Worked some more on the computer in the afternoon, including on the blog, adding another map to the History of Hungary in a Dozen Maps, maybe I even finish it before the year ends? Only been at it for months.

Over to you. 🙂

Recommended reading:
Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau

 

The View from behind the Waterfall

Our view from behind the waterfall – Plémont Bay, Jersey

We cheated coronavirus last week – risking the swab test and two weeks quarantine in an expensive hotel – and escaped to Jersey for a short break before school reopened for Young Friend of the Elephants. It’s a tiny island of gorgeous beaches and on the second day when we hiked the north coast, we arrived, with the weather closing in and the rain spitting, to Plémont Bay: a sandy beach with caves in the rock face and a waterfall. It put me in mind, immediately, of one of the favourite books of my childhood: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, the second novel of the Leatherstocking Tales, and arguably Cooper’s best book:

“We are then on an island!”

“Ay! there are the falls on two sides of us, and the river above and below. If you had daylight, it would be worth the trouble to step up on the height of this rock, and look at the perversity of the water. It falls by no rule at all; sometimes it leaps, sometimes it tumbles; there it skips; here it shoots; in one place ’tis white as snow, and in another ’tis green as grass; hereabouts, it pitches into deep hollows, that rumble and crush the ‘arth; and thereaways, it ripples and sings like a brook, fashioning whirlpools and gullies in the old stone, as if ’twas no harder than trodden clay.”

(James Fenimore Cooper: The Last of the Mohicans)

For those of you who haven’t read it, the book is set in 1757, during the French and Indian Wars, and in the episode quoted above the main characters take refuge from the pursuing Hurons in an island cave in the middle of some waterfalls – Glens Falls, in the Hudson River. According to his daughter, Cooper actually got the whole idea for the book when showing the falls to some Englishmen, one of whom commented that it would make an excellent setting for a romance. I looked it up on the internet, but there is nothing you can really see nowadays – instead of the wilderness described in Cooper’s story, it’s now a completely built up area. I suppose I hoped that it had been preserved as a national park!

Leatherstocking Tales is a series of five books, following the life of Natty Bumppo (you have to wonder where Cooper got such an odd surname from), and through his life telling the story of the expansion of the American colonies towards the west in the second half of the 18th century – with the last novels set in the by then independent United States. In The Last of the Mohicans I think Cooper got it just perfect: it’s an enchanting blend of adventure, nature, history and romance, with a sad ending to the story which makes all the difference. In fact, all of the Leatherstocking Tales have an air of melancholy about them as Natty witnesses the wilderness he knew in his youth gradually vanish to be replaced by ‘civilisation’ and Cooper’s descriptions of nature add greatly to the atmosphere of the stories.

Natty goes by several names in the stories, given to him by his Indian friends and by his enemies – I mostly think of him as Hawkeye, sometimes as La Longue Carabine (Long Rifle in French) but never as Natty Bumppo. He was always a bit too holier-than-thou for my liking, however, and I always preferred his Indian sidekick Chingachgook, a classic noble savage (was Karl May’s Winnetou inspired by him?), together with his family. Chingachgook’s wife, Wah-ta-Wah, appears in the first novel, The Deerslayer, and their son, Uncas, is the last of the Mohicans. Except, of course, that he… but that would be telling.

Nagy indiánkönyv – J. F. Cooper

I first read the Leatherstocking Tales when I was ten – my mum gave me a book voucher worth 100 Forints for my birthday – an absolute fortune in those time, especially for a ten year old – and then took me to the bookshop in the Pioneers’ Department Store on Rákóczi Street so that I could spend it. At the time I was obsessed with Karl May’s Indian (as in Native American) adventure novels, and when I saw a massive book in the shop titled the Big Indian Book, costing a whopping 72 Forints, I just had to have it. My mother, who probably hoped that I would get a dozen books of worthwhile literature like Sir Walter Scott or Alexandre Dumas, was horrified. But you know what? I’ve still got the book. It is nothing more, nothing less but the full Leatherstocking Tales – quite as worthwhile as Scott or Dumas actually, as my mother probably came to realise in due course. (By the way, I did also get round to read Walter Scott and Alexandre Dumas, and voluntarily, by the time I was twelve, and I warmly recommend them too, along with Robert Louis Stevenson.)

Further Reading:The novels of James Fenimore Cooper on Project Gutenberg

Captain Michales

Freedom and Death by Nikos Kazantzakis: A Book Review

Captain Michales is a wild man. His own family calls him the Wild Boar; and when he invites his companions to one of his drinking bouts – which often last for days – not only they dare not to say no, they dare not to stop drinking either, not even if it makes them miserably sick.

Even so, Captain Michales is no wilder than his country, Crete.

The cover of the 2nd Greek edition in 1955 illustrates the spirit of Captain Michales and the book perfectly [Image via Wikipedia}
Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel, Freedom and Death, is set at the end of 19th century when Crete was still a – reluctant – part of the Ottoman Empire. The island saw  a series of rebellions against Turkish rule throughout the 19th century before eventually it became independent and finally united with Greece in the 20th.

Kazantzakis himself was born in Megalokastro (today’s Heraklion) in 1883 and in his autobiographical book, Report to Greco, he hinted that the figure of Captain Michales was inspired by his own father: in the novel he’s describing the world that he grew up in.

A harsh and chaotic world.

Relations between the two groups of inhabitants of the island, the Greeks and Turks, are turbulent to say the least: ethnically motivated murder is a daily occurrence, family vendettas drag out for decades and law is practically non-existent. This forms the background of the novel, which is a story of friendship, jealousy, murder and vengeance, embedded in the larger story of the fight for Cretan independence.

The hero, Captain Michales, is a larger than life figure from the town of Megalokastro. The other chief characters are his Turkish blood brother and at the same time enemy, Nuri Bey; Nuri’s wife Eminé, who strikes passion in more than one man’s heart; Captain Michalis’s extended family, his rivals, his friends and neighbours in Megalokastro; not to mention the Pacha in charge of the island and the spiritual leader of the Christians, the Metropolitan.

In addition to the actual plot line, the novel is like a caleidoscope of colour about life in Megalokastro in that particular moment, strongly emanating the atmosphere of the time and place – for Kazantzakis writing it must have been like reliving his childhood.

It is a memorable book, but brutal: brutal like the hero, and brutal like the times and the country in which he lived. Not for the faint hearted.

Captain Michales stretched out his hand and raised the severed head by the hair like a banner. A wild light haloed his face, which was filled with an inhuman joy. Was it pride, god-like defiance, or contempt of death? Or limitless love for Crete? Captain Michales roared:

“Freedom or…”

Death.

Lockdown Diaries: Day 60 (Running Away to Sea)

Virtual Escape: Running Away to Sea

It’s such a beautiful day today where I am – blue skies, glorious sunshine… we’re only missing the sea, the sand and the palm trees to make everything perfect.

So I thought today we’re escaping to the sea with a few books…  The first of which absolutely has to be:

Continue reading “Lockdown Diaries: Day 60 (Running Away to Sea)”

Lockdown Diaries: Day 39 (Lassie Come-Home)

Locked Down in London, Day 39: Self-Isolation

If your kids are anything like mine, they’re spending the entire lockdown in self-isolation – absolutely voluntarily. Which is what their normally do anyway, whenever they’re home: ensconce themselves in their bedrooms, facetiming their friends/boyfriend (as the case might be), all – the – bloody – time.

They only come out to eat! 🙂

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 29 (Books That Make You Look Good When Dead?)

Locked Down in London, Day 29: Too Many Books?

A few years ago we had to have some repairs done to our roof and for a few days we had a workman in. On the last day he finished work early and had to wait for a colleague to pick him up with the company van. We sat him down in the living room with a cup of tea, and he looked at the bookshelves and asked: “How many books do you have?”

Well, truth be told, I don’t know. Mostly I feel that not enough. At some point however we did try to catalogue them by using a scanning program and although we never finished and keep forgetting scanning new books in, I was able to make an educated guess.

“About three thousand,” I said.

His jaw dropped. “Three thousand! And did you read them all?”

That made my jaw drop. “Well, of course…” I have read a lot more than 3000 books in my life, actually. The ones on the bookshelves – those are just my favourites.

Continue reading “Lockdown Diaries: Day 29 (Books That Make You Look Good When Dead?)”

Lockdown Diaries: Day 25 (In Space)

Locked Down in London, Day 25: ISS

Sometimes when the weather is nice and the night is clear, I check when the ISS is  due to pass overhead at a reasonable hour and then sit in the garden waiting to spot it. And I think of the people aboard, and of space, and of science and adventure; and I nightdream of a future when mankind will, somehow, crack the secret of travelling faster than light or through wormholes, or what-do-I-care, as long as they will be able to get to the centre of our galaxy and even to far away galaxies and live on other planets.

The ISS is not passing anywhere near me for a while (you’re in luck in North America around the US-Canadian border and in Australia and New-Zealand) but the reason why I mention them is because since this whole lockdown madness started, several of the astronauts on board talked about how they cope with their isolation and being locked into a small space.

So imagine yourselves on board of the ISS, people!

Jessica Meir using a laptop on the International Space Station [Photo courtesy of NASA]
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Lockdown Diaries: Day 24 (The Games People Play)

Locked Down in London, Day 24: Dungeons & Dragons

Last week in Lancashire we found Mr Anglo-Saxonist’s old (Advanced) Dungeons & Dragons books and set of dice in his late parents’ garage. Thank you to the lockdown, today we gave it a go.

D&D dice [Image by Diacritica via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0]
For those of you who don’t know, Dungeons & Dragons is an old role-playing game from the 1970s. I’ve never played it before, and well, what can I say? Setting up the characters alone took a couple of hours… and on our first encountering a new character in a pub, we didn’t know what to do next, until I had the happy notion to invite him for a beer! It seems an incredibly complex game, not helped by the fact that Mr Anglo-Saxonist, who is acting Dungeon Master (a sort of game master and umpire), can no longer remember the rules or even understand the abbreviations in the rule books… But we did kill 3 hours this afternoon, and although it gave him a headache, the rest of us were reasonably entertained. As this is a game that apparently just goes on and on, we’re taken care of for another few weeks of lockdown at least?

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 23 (Christ Recrucified)

Locked Down in London, Day 23: The Police Is Losing the Plot

Earlier in the week, the Northamptonshire chief constable threatened to send his policemen to check on shoppers’ baskets and trolleys because in his opinion going out to buy chocolate Easter eggs is not essential!

What about buying the dye for the boiled eggs?! 🙂

Photo by Boris Manev on Pexels.com

Continue reading “Lockdown Diaries: Day 23 (Christ Recrucified)”

Lockdown Diaries: Day 11 (A Martian’s Guide to Budapest)

Locked Down in London, Day 11: Hungary Loses the Plot

While here all I have to moan about is the Derbyshire police’s dislike of people in scenic spots, in Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, better known by the ordinary citizen as Viktátor, or sometimes as King Viktor, has decided that he can’t have too much emergency powers and he can’t have it too long: he’s pushing through a new bill on the extension of the already existing emergency powers – without a sunset clause.

Meanwhile Hungary’s Chief Medical Officer for Public Health advocates that people soak eggs in bleach before eating them (!) – it’s lucky that apparently you can’t get bleach at the moment.

Continue reading “Lockdown Diaries: Day 11 (A Martian’s Guide to Budapest)”

Lockdown Diaries: Day 9 (The Land of the North-West Wind)

Locked Down in London, Day 9:

Braving the freezing wind and the sudden scattering of hail, gone for a walk with Young Friend of the Elephants. To celebrate the Sunday, we walked to our local beauty spot, from where you can get great views of the centre of London in the distance. It was cordoned off. Why, I’m not sure, because it’s such a spacious area that it was never crowded even in the best of weather. The walk that was meant to raise spirits merely succeeded to reinforce my sense of loss: we can’t even enjoy the views now.

How I miss the great outdoors!

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 7 (Dead London)

Locked Down in London, Day 7: The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker…

The online delivery services now appear to be completely collapsing and there are long – socially distanced – queues outside the supermarkets. But our local tradesmen are bearing up heroically – the little corner shops are full of fresh fruit and vegetables, while our local butcher happily supplied us with 2 pounds of Cote de Boeuf for our Sunday roast after our online shop failed to deliver the topside… (And well he might have been happy, given what Cote de Boeuf costs!)

In any case: we’re having our traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding on Sunday.

Our family 1 – Coronavirus 0.

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 3 (A Walk in Madeira)

Locked down in London: Day 3

Today the health service sent me a text message, saying that as I’m one of the 1.5 million people in Britain who are at high-risk from the coronavirus, I should stay at home for a minimum of 12 weeks, keeping at least 3 steps distance from my husband and daughters at all times. (Where do they think my husband will sleep? In the doghouse?)

I know the health service means well but the text freaked me out. Do they really think I will lock myself into our bedroom (thank you for allowing me to open the window, by the way) and won’t hug and kiss my family for 12 weeks (minimum)? Frankly, I’d sooner die of the coronavirus.

So, a big breath… rant over. Let’s try to hold it together – by going for a walk in Madeira!

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Give a Quarter of a Year to the Mixture and Beat it Until it Cheers Up

No, I haven’t gone insane (yet) due to having to stay at home: the above gem in the title comes from Google Translate. It’s a paragraph from a tarta di Santiago recipe, which I was sharing with family & friends on Facebook, as part of my Lockdown Diaries. (I have to post bilingual on Facebook for everybody to be able to understand and I was too lazy to translate an entire recipe. 🙂 )  

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The Wave (The Anatomy of Mass Hysteria)

A history teacher in a Californian high school finds himself unable to answer the question as to how the German population could allow the holocaust to happen. He decides to start an experiment in class… which quickly spirals out of control.

This is the premise of The Wave, a young adult novel by Morton Rhue which I found abandoned on the coffee table in the living room one evening earlier this week – Young Friend of the Elephants has this annoying habit of abandoning her books and empty tea mugs on the coffee table when she evacuates the sofa. On being questioned about it, YFE, currently aged 14, commented that the story was good but that the quality of the writing would make a moron weep; a summary with which I fully concur after reading it. (But that’s ‘young adult’ for you – it’s too moronic even for a young adult.) 

Continue reading “The Wave (The Anatomy of Mass Hysteria)”