"Growing old is like being increasingly penalized for a crime you have not committed."
— Anthony Powell (English novelist; 1905–2000)
My friend “G.”, whom I’ve known for over 30 years, called last week to lament a crisis that’s been dogging him, something he calls “The Dreads.”
The Dreads, he tells me, are nighttime anxiety attacks that started almost on cue when he turned 60. These coincided with the death of his favorite hunting dog, a Springer Spaniel named “Junior.”
G. describes the attacks as waking at night with a “dead feeling” while thoughts spin out of control and time rushes into nowhere. Along with this, every present trouble and past mistake rush in to prey upon the spirit. He sums it up as “everything turns brown.”
(I suppose like the aftertaste of an excrement sandwich.)
The Spanish painter Salvador Dalí (1904–1989) was and is the world’s most recognizable surrealist artist. His visage, with its piercing, pop-eyed stare and bizarre double-rapier mustache, startled and mesmerized a public for over six decades. Probably known more for his eccentric looks and bizarre behavior than his art, Dalí indulged a passion for shocking and declared his love for “everything that is gilded and excessive.”
Aram Khachaturian (1903–1978) was a Soviet Armenian composer and conductor. Most consider him one of the Soviet Union’s leading composers, known for, among other works, the theme from the film, Spartacus. However, his best known and most beloved musical creation is the pounding, dazzling “Saber Dance.”
In one chapter of his book, Legends of Nevsky Prospyekt, writer Mikhail Veller recounts the time the two great contemporaries met. The meeting was … revealing.
The following is based on that chapter as well as accounts from “those who know.”
Umberto Eco was a prolific Italian writer and semiologist, probably best known in the US for his novel, The Name of the Rose, later made into a film starring Sean Connery.
Below is my translation of his heartfelt “Letter to My Grandson,” in which he counsels the youth on the incalculable value of historical memory and of memorizing for its own sake—especially in the computer age. The original in Italian can be found here.
Caro nipotino mio,
I would not want this Christmas letter to sound too “old school,” dishing out advice about love for your fellow man, country, the world, and such things. Even if you did listen to me, when the time came to put it into practice (you as a present tense adult and I gone to the past perfect), the value system will be so changed that my recommendations would be outdated.
Still, at the risk of sounding like a lecturing fogey, allow me first to offer one recommendation that you can put into practice right now while surfing on your iPad.
Thanksgiving is here, and that can only mean one thing: It’s time for the Family Reunion.
And, while I can’t speak for other families, I know that our gatherings are not for the halt and the shy. You come prepared to feast robustly, drink valiantly, and weather a storm of caustic jest.
I don’t know why my family excels at wisecrack, but their wit is one that savors the put-down and revels in verbal jousting. It begins the minute you arrive at the event. Grab a drink, head for the shrimp cocktail, and gird your loins. Everyone’s a target.
“Shame is the lie someone told you about yourself.”
My transplanted Ukrainian wife, who clearly remembers Soviet life back in the bad old days, just related an odd incident that took place during the USSR’s waning days.
In the early 1980s the new Soviet President, Michael Gorbachev, barreled into office with a reformer’s zeal to shake up the Communist system and try—again—to make a “new” Soviet citizen.
As some suspected then and all know now, shaking the system would soon collapse it in a big way, which was not Mr. Gorbachev’s intention at all. Oooops.
La bella Italia. Land of antiquity and artistry, mandolina and Cicciolina. Home of sea, sun and serenade… poetry, popes, and pasta. Favored with the grandeur of the Alps and the Amalfi. Mocked by the circuses of Benito and bunga-bunga.
What is it about this rich but contradictory land that made my father leave at an early age and never look back, while tugging his American-born offspring back again and again?
His flight had much or everything to do with a dying economic future within a provincial Italian social structure. He was young and on fire with dreams about breaking with the past.
Yet, we, the eventual legacy of his New World ambitions, shaped and programmed by American novelty and experiment, now yearn to age in the trusted old wine barrel that quenched the likes of Leonardo, Bellini, Dante, D’Annunzio, Galileo, Fellini, Sophia, and the father who left it all behind.
Baby, it’s cold outside. And folks in much of the country are pretty damn cranky and fed up wondering when the glacial cold and snow are going to end.
Who could blame them? This year’s winter blast has broken all misery indices. Jokes about the Donner Party aren’t funny anymore.
That's why I feel a small snowflake of guilt to admit that… I love it.
You see, I never cared for palm trees and coconuts and would easily pass on a languid week in the tropics for one forlorn day in the tundra.
Your career is like a box of chocolates — you never know what you're going to get. But everything you get is going to teach you something along the way and make you the person you are today.
– Nick Carter, musician
If you’re not working your passion then you’re probably wasting your time. Right?
Well, sure, if you’re lucky enough to know your passion and you’re making a fine living working it.
But most of us trod a job path of hit, miss, and discovery that often means taking what comes, fair and foul. And perhaps because of this process, we earn something just as valuable.
Well, the hee-haw circus that defines American public life continues.
And although it’s hard to stay afloat in the crushing cascade of quackery, treachery, and goofiness, a couple of recent items should go into the time capsule.
First, we witnessed the blistering kerfuffle over Hollywood’s Oscar “snub” of the film Selma--a lèse-majesté of unbearable ruffle for those of the always-and-forever-offended class. No chance that it might just be a mediocre film, with a tendentious script and unbrilliant acting and directing. Nope, it’s gotta be racism. And no doubt sexist racism since the director is a woman of color.