dual personalities

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They don’t make ’em like that anymore — academic edition

Meet Walter Headlam (1866-1908), a Cambridge don and well-known classicist.

Here he is as a student in 1884

A friend, E.F. Benton, described Headlam fondly thus (Read the whole thing. It’s priceless).

“One morning…his water for shaving was not hot, so after breakfast he put a small kettle to boil over his spirit lamp, and as he waited for that, he sat down in the armchair where he worked and casually looked at a note he had made the evening before. It was about a change of rhythm in a Greek chorus or perhaps it was a word in his Herondas, which occurred in no dictionary, but which he knew he had seen before in some scholiast on Aristophanes. But where was the particular book he wanted? His room was lined with bookshelves, books that he was using paved the floor round his chair, and the table was piled high with them. There it was underneath a heap of others on the table, and he pulled it out: those on the top of it tumbled to the ground. He put down his pipe on the edge of the table, and as he turned the leaves, he found not just that which he was looking for, but something else he had wanted yesterday. He made a note of this on a slip of paper and picked up his pipe which had gone out. There were no matches, so he folded up  the paper on which he had made his note, thrust it into the flame of the spirit-lamp and lit his pipe again. Then he found the passage he had originally started to hunt up. Awfully interesting: it was a slang word, not very polite, in use among the daughters of joy in Corinth during the fifth century B.C. These intelligent ladies seemed to have an argot of their own; there were several other words of the sort which he had come across. He became lost in this pursuit, his pipe had to be relit several times, and presently a smell of roasting metal brought him back for a brief moment to the surface of life. His shaving water had all boiled away, and so he put out the spirit lamp. Later in the morning his gyp (i.e., servant) came to see if he wanted any lunch ordered for him: bread and butter, and cheese would do, with a tankard of beer. These were laid and left in the next room, and he wandered there after another hour or two deep in his investigation. The sight of food aroused no association of desire, but he had a drink out of the tankard and carrying it back with him, put it in a nest of books on his table. Presently more books got piled up around the tankard; he absently laid a folio notebook on the top of it, and so it completely vanished. Then he wanted more books from his shelves, in one of these excursions he stepped on his pipe and broke the stem. It did not matter for there were others about, but he forgot to look for them in the heat of this diverting chase. “I shall write a monograph on the slang current in Corinthian brothels,” he said to himself.

It began to grow dark on this early close of the autumn afternoon. There was no electric light in those days, and he fetched a couple of candles and put them on the edge of the table. He was hungry now, and he gobbled up his bread and cheese, wondering what time it was, for his watch had stopped. Beer too: he felt sure he had ordered some beer, but where the devil was it? It should have been on his table with the bread and cheese. He looked everywhere for it, even his bedroom, but it was nowhere to be seen. Then his razor lying ready on his dressing-table reminded him that he had not yet shaved. It was true there was no hot water, but cold water would do, and though it was rapidly getting dark, he had not yet found any matches to light his candles. But one ought to be able to shave in the dark, he thought, for an action, often repeated, became, as Aristotle said, an instinctive process, and it would be interesting to see if he could not make quite a good job of it. He made a fair job of it, there were a few negligible cuts, and finding that he had a box of matches in his pocket all the time, he lit his candles and went back to the ladies of Corinth. Then his gyp came in to see if he would go into Hall for dinner, or dine in his room: he settled to have some cold meat here, but where was the beer he had ordered for lunch? The gyp felt sure he had brought it, but evidently he was mistaken for there was no sign of it. So he brought the cold meat and another tankard and with this comfortless refreshment Walter Headlam pursued the ladies of Corinth till the small hours of the morning. The missing tankard came to light the next day. ” (Quoted in Gilbert Highet’s The Art of Teaching. 1950).

People used to appreciate eccentrics. Nowadays, they’d diagnose poor Headlam with something or other and prescribe drugs to make him function like everyone else, and the world would be a poorer place. Long live old-school, absent-minded intellectuals!

p.s. I couldn’t find out whether he ever wrote his book on Corinthian brothel slang — it would have been a best seller for sure.

So brave a palace

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Well, the wee babes went back to school this week. They were pretty excited about it.

As you can see, Lottiebelle is already co-leading the class…

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Tomorrow the OM and I are heading down to Jefferson City to hang out at daughter #1’s new apartment. (Check out the new video on the JC Visitor’s Bureau webpage–JC is a happening place.) I’m sure we won’t be much actual help unpacking stuff etc, but we can lend moral support and give advice.

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Yeah, that lamp looks swell over there….

I am looking forward to a change of scenery!

Today I start a new, once-a-week chemo routine and I am hoping it is a bit easier than the last rotation. On verra bien.

For us the winds do blow,
The earth doth rest, heaven move, and fountains flow.
     Nothing we see but means our good,
     As our delight or as our treasure:
The whole is either our cupboard of food,
          Or cabinet of pleasure.

          The stars have us to bed;
Night draws the curtain, which the sun withdraws;
     Music and light attend our head.
     All things unto our flesh are kind
In their descent and being; to our mind
          In their ascent and cause.

          Each thing is full of duty:
Waters united are our navigation;
     Distinguishèd, our habitation;
     Below, our drink; above, our meat;
Both are our cleanliness.
  Hath one such beauty?
          Then how are all things neat?

          More servants wait on Man
Than he'll take notice of:  in every path
     He treads down that which doth befriend him
     When sickness makes him pale and wan.
O mighty love!  Man is one world, and hath
          Another to attend him.

          Since then, my God, thou hast
So brave a palace built, O dwell in it
     That it may dwell with thee at last!
     Till then, afford us so much wit,
That, as the world serves us, we may serve thee,
          And both thy servants be.
--George Herbert, from "Man"

Under construction

Well, daughters #1 and 2 continue to live out of boxes — and continue to tackle long work days and special events on top of the chaos!

DN and I will not have internet until Sunday, but we are coping. We are also navigating joint commutes and coordinating our calendars — walking to work independently was certainly a luxury! But as I told my mother, I think driving together will provide precious quality time (once we have a routine) 😉

In the meantime, the farmer’s market continues to provide me with outrageous flower arrangements. Wowsa!

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Here’s hoping Monday’s post comes from the comfort of my unpacked, internet-equipped home!!

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here*

Last Saturday, the DH and I attended the second annual Scottish Festival in Hammond, NY.

It was a blustery but sunny mid-70s day — just perfect for an outing. Those of you who know us will recognize the rarity of the occasion, as our long-standing habit is for the DH to spend Saturdays in the office while I stay home to work and putter.   Since our summer car trip proved so successful, we have vowed to do more, at least locally. The Hammond Scottish Festival marks our first, modest endeavor.

Hammond is a small, farming community a few miles inland from the St. Lawrence River. According to the town web site, it was founded officially in 1827, though the first recorded settler, William McNeill, already lived there in 1812. Soon after, a group of Scottish immigrants moved in and constructed most of the town’s lovely stone buildings. Hammond is named after the original landowner, Abijah Hammond, a New York City merchant who never even traveled to the area. At least he had the sense to sell his land to Scots. The Festival took place at the town museum.

This is the town museum. Photo from https://www.hammondmuseum.com/

We toured the stone house (pictured above on the left) that contains mostly 19th century furniture and artifacts from the area. I like that fireplace.

Photo from museum web site.

The other building houses the museum offices and additional exhibits. Behind the buildings we found a tent-covered stage. Although we missed the pipers, we did get to see this fiddling duo from Heuvelton,

and the Steel City Rovers, a celtic-style band from Hamilton, Ontario, as well as local children performing Scottish dancing.

We watched brawny men in kilts throw weights,

photo from museum web site.

and we even got to see one of our Tai Chi buddies give a blacksmith demonstration. It’s a small world, isn’t it?

Our friend is the one looking small in the background, standing well back from the kilted man.

We enjoyed a low-key afternoon of fresh air and Scottish music. Plenty of people attended but it wasn’t too crowded — the perfect event for two oldies looking for a little adventure. If we attend next year maybe I can get the DH to wear his kilt!

*Robert Burns

Small things

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I did not get to see the wee babes this weekend, but I did see pictures of their visit to the National Museum of Transportation where they seemed to have had a super fun time. This museum has come a long way since we used to visit it as children. They even have a little train you can ride on, like at the zoo.

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I hope they saw the…

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…I can only imagine that the wee laddie would lose his mind over this treasure!

Meanwhile the OM and I had a quiet weekend at home. We only ventured out to take a drive through Lone Elk Park where we saw a raccoon family, a couple of wild turkeys and some buffalo taking a siesta. It was pretty chill there.

“Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.”
― Wendell Berry, Sabbaths 

It is Tuesday now. Put down your phone and look up. Enjoy the small things. None of them are on a computer screen.

Burning down the house.

Well not quite.

Daughter #1 here. Long time, no see! Daughter #2 had a post she planned to write but then realized she and DN cut their internet pre-move. I also have no internet (don’t get me started) so I’m writing from the office (don’t tell).

I survived my move this weekend and made it to Jefferson City. I’m not settled yet, but getting there.

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As with other members of my family, most of those boxes are books!

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I’ve made serious progress unpacking (even if it doesn’t look like it) and even got the magnets up on my refrigerator.

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My dear sister has the hard part ahead of her today–so keep Daughter #2 and DN in your prayers. Early reports indicate the movers have arrived…an hour late!

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That’s like half of it. Woof.

Vanity of vanities; all is vanity*

The other night I watched Kurosawa’s 1950 masterpiece, Rashomon, for the first time (yes, I know that’s hard to believe but it’s true).

It did not disappoint! Rashomon inspired many deep thoughts (I promise) but in this post I’m going to discuss the fashion depicted — specifically, hikimayu, the odd Japanese practice of shaving women’s eyebrows off and replacing them with two, thick smudges higher on the forehead.

According to Wikipedia, hikimayu started in the 8th century and kept going until the practice was banned in 1870  along with ohaguro, blackening the teeth. Apparently, the government saw the ban as a way to force the modernization of Japan. 

Well, at least they didn’t bind anyone’s feet. It’s interesting how different cultures develop different beauty standards, some of which last for centuries. Certainly the west has had its share of uncomfortable fashion habits, the extremely restrictive corset being one. No wonder women needed fainting couches.

In the case of extreme women’s fashions, people often blame the patriarchy, but  it seems to me (and notwithstanding the government interference noted above) that the women themselves have always used fashion as a way to project class and rank and exclude those lacking the means to follow along.

Whether you see fashion as self-expression or a manifestation of the herd instinct, it’s here to stay — as powerful a status marker as ever.


In theory, it can also represent rebellion. Alas, tattoos and piercings, which seemed to start as a means to rebel against the norm, have now gone mainstream. You can even get your teeth tattooed.

Ye gods, what next?

This post has wandered from the sublime to the ridiculous, but that’s the way I’ve been operating lately — all over the place. Just bear with me.

Later this morning the DH and I are off to a Scottish Festival in Hammond, NY where we expect to encounter nothing stranger than men in kilts. I’ll report back on Wednesday. In the meantime, wear whatever you want and don’t do anything permanent to your body (no piercings or tattoos) until you’ve consulted your fashion advisor!

*Ecclesiastes 1:2 (KJV)

“For he shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.”*

This weekend I plan to do nothing but rest.

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O heavenly Father, you give your children sleep for the refreshing of soul and body: Grant me this gift, I pray; keep me in that perfect peace which you have promised to those whose minds are fixed on you; and give me such a sense of your presence, that in the hours of silence I may enjoy the blessed assurance of your love; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.–BCP

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Both daughters #1 and #2 are moving to new apartments this weekend and I wish them well. I wish I could help. I will be thinking of them from my couch.

This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.

Just a reminder that the Book of Common Prayer is a wonderful source for good prayers!

And here’s a little end of the week inspiration from Casting Crowns–love this new song:

Have a good weekend!

(Paintings are by John Singer Sargent,  Jacques-Louis David and Hippolyte Berteaux

*Psalm 91:11

The sun shines to-day also

While this has been the summer of Melville celebrations, I am switching gears today. Last week, in the midst of a conversation about re-naming the honors program I’m now “managing,” I thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature. It is so, so good.

Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.

[…]

Nature is a setting that fits equally well a comic or a mourning piece. In good health, the air is a cordial of incredible virtue. Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances, — master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.

Personally, I thought we should name our program HONORS EYE-BALL. Do you think bright young freshmen would live up to the motto, “I am nothing; I see all”? And hello, we’d have a mascot ready to go!

Nineteenth-century illustration by Christopher Pearse Cranch

You can read (or skip around in) the complete Nature here.

Buckle up, fat boy*

Is it Wednesday already? Since my Saturday post, I haven’t done much unless seeing Hobbs and Shaw at the movies counts as an adventure — which it should. It’s a fun movie and a great antidote to the end-of-summer-the-world-is-crazy blahs. The film checks all the right boxes, but amusing banter and a good message are the only ones I care about. Physics defying action isn’t my thing,

though I do love a Samoan haka!

Interestingly, one of the main plot elements hinges on the fact that the villains have control of the media and consequently “control the narrative” to make our good guys appear to be bad guys.  Though a typical action movie plot device, it seemed pointedly to remind viewers not to take the news at face value. Everyone has an angle.

My solution? When you read/watch the news, always ask two vital questions: What do they want me to think? What are they leaving out? The second one is harder, but definitely worth the effort. Think about it.

Switching gears, I give you a happy reading newsflash: Amor Towles has published a new short story, The Line, at Granta.  The story offers a timely reminder of the irrepressible human spirit.  Towles always sees the best in his characters and pushes his readers to think. His innate optimism is contagious, and I don’t know about you, but I need that right now. Read the story, watch a fun movie, and question the news. (Better yet, ignore it!)

*Shaw (Jason Statham) to Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson).