Monday, July 31, 2006

From our procrastinating correspondent comes (among other things) Early Stuart Libels. Avaunt you giddie-headed Multitude!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Struwwelpeter: a collection of hideous German children’s rhymes, clearly intended to edify, appall and delight the younglings simultaneously. Edward Gorey fans will be delighted. Bugs Bunny fans may be pleased as well.

Oh yes, almost forgot, Magic Flute review. To put it succinctly, it was bloody good, not afraid to have fun. Natalie Dessay was excellent as Pamina, particularly in the Act II Finale. The real star, however, was the snake at the very beginning, jolly fine snake, Tamino proclaiming helplessness from well inside its jaws. Es lebe die Schlange!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My whereabouts will continue to be obscure: they shall include a notorious canyon, a notorious supervolcano, and one or more mountain ranges in Utah and/or Wyoming. I shall be back in mid-August; Odious and his bees shall have to provide entertainment till then.

My other recent locations have included Colorado's Sangre de Cristo mountains:

A rather soggy marmot

Explaining myself:

Blogging has been somwhat sparse lately. Surely our loyal readers are desperate for news of our whereabouts. Well, Odious has been treading the path of virtue, which appears to involve multiple bee-stings. I, on the other hand, have been treading a path of frivolity, which for me runs to high altitudes. My whereabouts:

The Truchas Peaks

Which contained very trusting bighorns

As well as baby bighorns!

DO NOT miss this collection of entries for the photo contest of the 11th International Deep-Sea Biology Symposium. (Via Deep Sea News.)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Here is allegedly the world's most dangerous road. I dunno, I've driven a few that were pretty similar. They were not, however, major conduits for inebriate Bolivian truckers; only for inebriate Oregonian loggers.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

I've been following the movement to make English the official language of the U.S. with great interest. It seems to me that both sides make an excellent case.

On the one hand, it is important for the people of a nation to share certain values. A common language is vital to this end.

On the other hand, it doesn't seem fair to make everybody speak English just because most of us do.

So I propose that a) we do, genuinely, need a National Language, and

b) there's no reason we can't pick the most logical language in the galaxy and make everybody learn that, rather than privileging certain groups.

One major problem is that most writers on Vulcan linguistics approached Vulcan from an Earth of the 20th Century point-of-view. Also, they neglected to consider that there must be more than one major language in use on the planet Vulcan. These people acted as if their language was the only "real" version and refused to accept anyone else's work. We have had people react to us this way. Considering the hundreds of languages on Earth, it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that many languages did and still do exist on Vulcan. We all have to remember that the Vulcan languages are alien languages. They are not related to any of the languages of Earth! Trying to fit them into a human mold is most illogical. Our research has been conducted as a professional, scholarly project.
UPDATE: But what do I know?
Created by a french music instructor named Jean Fran├žois Sudre, Solresol remains, despite its practical disappearance, the most beautiful and perfect language ever created by one man. It consisted of just seven syllables, the notes of the scale — Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, and Si (which we now call Ti) — that could be combined according to the rules of an orderly grammar to form a vocabulary of 11,732 possible words.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Also, for Peculiar (after the final parenthesis in his recent post), is this little excerpt:
O noble age who place their only bliss
In being heard until the hearer die,
Utt'ring a serpent's mind with serpent's hiss!
Then who will hear a well authorized lie
(And patience hath), let him go learn of him
What swarms of virtues did in his youth fly...
The breed is not exclusive to Santa Fe; I believe their range is expanding. The observation is not, I think, a failure of filial piety on the part of the observer, but a simple truth. I have met any number of pleasant, wise, and fair Nestors (my grandparents come to mind, among others). I wish they would, as we cannot, tell the serpents to bugger off.
I'm reading Sir Philip Sidney's work The Old Arcadia, which can only be described as charming. Pyrocles, a young adventuring prince, has fallen in love with the image of Philoclea, a beautiful princess. In order to penetrate her father's lands (he has, after the advice of an oracle, gone into seclusion and forbidden his daughter contact with any man besides the shepherds of Arcadia), Pyrocles becomes Cleophila, an Amazon. She loves Philoclea; Philoclea's mother Gynecia divines zir true sex and loves Cleophila; Basilius, Philoclea's father, does not and also loves zir; and Philoclea herself is not indifferent to the Amazon's charms, but is rather confused by her attraction. All very Shakespeareanly gender-blent, and full of passages like:
But therewith he [a lion molesting the party] fell down, and gave Cleophila leisure to take his head to carry it for a present to her lady Philoclea, who all this while, not knowing what was done behind her, kept on her course, as Arethusa when she ran from Alpheus, her light nymphlike apparel being carried up with the wind, that much of those beauties she would at another time have willingly hidden were presented to the eye of the twice-wounded Cleophila; which made Cleophila not follow her over hastily lest she should too soon deprive herself of that pleasure.
After the princess is caught and calmed, the shepherds, as is a good Arcadian shepherd's wont, pronounce eclogues. Which contest is accompanied by the following nota from Sir Philip:
The rules observed in English measured verses be these:

Consonant before consonant always long, except a mute and a liquid (as refrain), such indifferent.

Single consonants commonly short, but such as have a double sound (as lack, will, till) or such as the vowel before doth produce long (as hate, debate).

Vowel before vowel or diphthong before vowel always short, except such an exclamation as oh; else the diphthongs always long and the single vowels short.

Because our tongue being full of consonants and monosyllables, the vowel slides away quicklier than in Greek or Latin, which be full of vowels and long words. Yet are such vowerls long as the pronunciation makes long (as glory, lady), and such like as seem to have a diphthong sound (as show, blow, die, high.

Elisions, when one vowel meets with another, used indifferently....

Particles now long, now short (as but, or, nor, on, to).
And Sir Philip goes on to write sapphics with his newly-stated rules.
If mine eyes can speak to do hearty errand,
Or mine eyes' language she do hap to judge of,
So that eyes' message be of her received,
Hope, we do live yet.
Not wholly successful, I think, but certainly not to be despised.

Anyway, I mention this particularly to les autres pyrates. It's been a while since we've had a new form, having done limericks to death, resurrected them, and then buried them alive all during sophomore year. Double dactyls (higgledy-piggledies?) retain their bloom, but I, for one, am stuck on "Emily Dickinson". So I propose sapphics according to Sir Philip Sidney's rules.

(Someone else can start.)
Sorry, sorry! But this will cheer me up for months:

Oh, the huge manatee!

The Santa fe opera season has recently opened, and we attended Carmen last night. It was something of an opportunity for me, inasmuch as I was improbably unfamiliar with either the story or the music (beyond Habañera and Toreador, of course). I was looking forward to imprinting my first impressions of a nice, classic, rip-snorting, belt-it-out warhorse of an opera, starring Anna-Sophie von Otter, live onstage.

Unfortunately, I never felt like the performance got very far off the ground. I may as well be blunt: I blame the staging. The sets and costumes were supposedly intended to portray Franco-era, fascist Spain: lots of olive uniforms, ill-fitting suits, plain dresses and aprons. All the sets were bland, urban, industrial. I have no idea how such a setting was expected to improve the opera: class struggle, tyranny, politics are not major themes in Carmen as far as I can tell. The main social tension in the libretto is between civil society, i.e. Don José's family and military career, and the freedom and exoticism of the gypsy life. But the gypsies were every bit as dreary and unappealing as everything else in the staging. The Act III smugglers' camp was a stack of intermodal shipping containers under a dingy hanging lightbulb. All the sets were claustrophobic, the only development in costuming was Escamillo's standard-issue bullfighting outfit in the final act. The only surprising moment was a capital bolt of lightning (Santa Fe's opera house is open to the air) at the exact moment the orchestra began the overature.

Less tangibly, it just didn't seem like anyone was having fun. Some momentum started to build in the Act II tavern scene, but it didn't last. All the vocalists were fine (especially Santa Fe apprentice Jennifer Black as Michaela), but they never quite let it all out. I'm well aware that there are such things as off nights, and this was only the second performance; nevertheless, I've a notion that the cast may not have found the staging any more inspiring than I did.

Carmen is often alleged to be a very sexy opera. My hopes went unfulfilled. Anne-Sophie von Otter is a rather odd choice for Carmen, and though I was more than willing to see what she might do with the role, perhaps she is indeed too cerebral a singer for all that gypsy harlot music. But again, what with the drab costuming, an inattentive and uninformed observer might never have guessed that gypsies played a role in the story. Without much to distinguish her from the many, many chorus ladies, without any exoticism, Carmen often came across as merely the bitchiest of the local strumpets.

Sorry, sorry, I didn't mean to be this negative. We did have fun. Our only really onerous irritation was overhearing a barrage of petty, lickspittle complaints from some very ill-feckit oldsters at intermission. (What's the matter with so many old folks these days? Frankly, lots of them are simply not good role models, lacking in manners, patience and generous spirit, especially in Santa Fe.) I guess I'm just perplexed why anyone would mount a miserly, austere production of a famously fun opera, for the opera house's 50th anniversery season, starring the season's headline singer. If they didn't have anything really stunning up their sleeves, cheesy gypsy costumes and castanets would have been a reliable default setting. But no doubt I'm a philistine: I came to Carmen to have fun.

Oh well. Coming soon: Die Zauberflöte, with Natalie Dessay!

Monday, July 03, 2006

One of my co-workers suggested, with unalloyed seriousness, that the shuttle launch should be delayed because Mercury goes retrograde on Tuesday.

"The harquebus doth more endamage, the stiffer metal."

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Languagehat quotes extensively from a C.S. Lewis essay on Gawin Douglas' 16th Century translation of the Aeneid into Scots. Apart from sharing my delight that so improbable a translation exists at all, I should add that Lewis, predictably, has much to teach the reader about productively approaching literature in foreign idioms.
I am glad that the question of quaintness should cross our path so early in the book; let us get it out of the way once and for all. To the boor all that is alien to his own suburb and his 'specious present' (of about five years) is quaint. Until that reaction has been corrected all study of old books is unprofitable. To allow for that general quaintness which mere distance bestows and thus to be able to distinguish between authors who were really quaint in their own day and authors who seem quaint to us solely by the accident of our position—this is the very pons asinorum of literary history...

[W]hen Douglas speaks of the Salii 'hoppand and siggand wonder merely' in their 'toppit hattis' it is easy to remember that 'top hats', in our sense, were unknown to him. But it is not so easy to see aright the real qualities of his Scots language in general. Since his time it has become a patois, redolent (for those reared in Scotland) of the nursery and the kaleyard, and (for the rest of us) recalling Burns and the dialectal parts of the Waverley novels. Hence the laughter to which some readers will be moved when Douglas calls Leucaspis a 'skippair', or Priam 'the auld gray', or Vulcan the 'gudeman' of Venus; when comes becomes 'trew marrow', and Styx, like Yarrow, has 'braes', when the Trojans 'kecklit all' (risere) at the man thrown overboard in the boat race, or, newly landed in Latium, regaled themselves with 'scones'. For we see the language that Douglas wrote 'through the wrong end of the long telescope of time'. We forget that in his day it was a courtly and a literary language...

Virgil describes Aeneas, on hearing Turnus's challenge, as laetitia exsultans; Douglas says 'he hoppit up for joy, he was so glad'. To get over the low associations of the verb 'hop' in modern English is the first adjustment. But even when this has been done, there remains something—a certain cheerful briskness—in Douglas which may seem to us very un-Virgilian. Here is another example; Virgil writes:

Quamvis increpitent socii et vi cursus in altum Vela voccet, possisque sinus implere secundos. (iii. 454)

Douglas translates:

Ya, thocht thi fallowis cry out, Hillir haill! On burd! ane fair wind blawis betwix twa schetis!
[Hillir hail - a nautical cry; On burd - "aboard"]

It is admirably vivid; but it sounds very unlike the Virgil we knew at school. Let us suspend judgement and try another passage.

lumenque juventae
Purpureum et laetos oculis adflarat honores. (i. 590)

Douglas says that Aenaes' mother made him 'Lyk till ane yonkeir with twa lauchand ene' [lauchand ene - "laughing eyes"]. The picture is fresh and attractive; somehow unlike the Aeneas of our imagination. But is that because Virgil has never said anything about the beauty of Aeneas, both here and in other places? On the contrary, Virgil quite clearly has told us that his hero was of godlike beauty. There has been something in our minds, but not in the mind of Douglas, which dimmed the picture; our idea of the great king and warrior and founder apparently shrinks (as Virgil's and Douglas's did not) from the delighted vision of male beauty. Douglas shocks us by being closer to Virgil than we are. Once a man's eyes have been opened to this, he will find instances everywhere. Rosea cervice refulsit: 'her nek schane like until the rois in May'. Do you prefer Dryden's "she turned and made appear Her neck refulgent"?

But refulsit cannot possibly have had for a Roman ear the 'classical' quality which 'refulgent' has for an English. It must have felt much more like 'schane'. And rosea has disappeared altogether in Dryden's version—and with it half the sensuous vitality of the image.

I have noted before my preference for translations with such quaintness, even awkwardness if necessary. The joy of reading such literature is in discovering scenes I would never imagine, not in populating my own stale imaginations with the names of Romans, Finns or Narts.

"The 'Beaverslide was invented and patented by two Big Hole Valley ranchers, Herb Armitage and Dade Stephens in 1910, under the name 'Sunny Slope Slide Stacker.' Because of the swampy ground commercial equipment has never worked very well in the Big Hole, and so locals have been creative in adapting devices to suit their needs. Use of the Beaverslide spread throughout much of the western US and Canada, but the Big Hole is now one of the few places where it is still commonly used."

From Hay in Art: the definitive website on the subject, I've no doubt, an encyclopedic treatment of a worthy topic. I've always loved driving around Wisdom, Montana, the last refuge of traditional haystacks.

Thanks to Prairie Mary.

From our recent trip to visit Steve and Libby: a rather dated photo of Ataika and her puppies. At the time, they had just opened their eyes and were beginning to squirm. I don't doubt that now, two weeks later, they are considerably less sedate. Genetic gold, there! Their only fellow Asian tazis on the continent were lying in the next room with their mother Lashyn.