Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Oscarblogging, Year the Second, Part the First: Towering and Cowering

So yeah, there's these awards.

I want to emphasize again, to anyone who's hopped on this blog-train since last year, that I don't consider the Oscars to be the ultimate in cinematic judgment (since, after all, I'm pretty bloody egotistical about my own). I do, however, consider them an important marker of the social climate for art in America. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is simply an association of artists honoring other artists; for some reason, we're more interested about the honors members of this field bestow upon each other than we are about, say, plumbers or mathematicians. Members of the Academy are part of a field dependent upon audience reaction—read, the social climate of America—for financial success. So the Oscars, while not by any means earth-shattering, are pretty important indicators of the American mindset.

So I'm going to see and blog every Best Picture nominee, probably with some forays into films nominated for other awards. Today, I'll look at the only one I've seen so far: Alejandro González Iñárritu's Babel.

I haven't seen the other two major Iñárritu films, 21 Grams or Amores Perros, so I'm speaking from a position of mild ignorance; however, I've heard that they utilize the recent cinematic vogue of overlapping, seemingly-unrelated stories made to connect, a techniquethat seems particularly useful for Issue Films of various quality, from Traffic to Crash. It makes sense: to explore a social theme as thoroughly as possible, one would reasonably want to show as many facets of it as possible. To make a successful film in such a genre, however, you must have a much clearer idea of your theme than Iñárritu conveys in Babel. Ostensibly, the film centers around the failures of communication in a global society, and I suppose, technically, it succeeds at portraying that. As in, yes, the film follows multiple characters in and of multiple different cultures who, for one reason and another, have tremendous difficulty communicating with the social world that immediately surrounds them. Ultimately, the Westerners—American and Japanese families—get to come through these communication problems with their lives fundamentally intact; not so the Berber and Mexican characters, because the harm the Western world can inflict upon them is much greater than vice versa. And if we didn't already know that, it's unlikely we would have sought out the film. There's substantially more character development in Babel than in Crash, making it by several yards a better film, and the acting is tremendously well-done even by Brad Pitt, but nevertheless Iñárritu fails to provide any insight on the bleak, divided world he portrays.

The movie's first major failing is the Japanese storyline's extraordinarily tenuous connection to the other three. Reviews claim that we don't learn of that storyline's stunning connection to the other three until the very end of the film; I'm telling you now that we don't really learn it, because it barely even qualifies as a connection. Why, by god, there is an international weapons trade. And lo and behold, there are Japanese and American tourists in North Africa who have no idea what the social world to which they are paying a brief and shallow visit is really like. My god, what next. It's a shame, because Rinko Kikuchi very much deserves her Oscar nomination—what she had to do was, honestly, far more challenging than what Adriana Barraza had to do—and the tale of this sexually asea deaf adolescent girl and her lost, well-intentioned father in a Tokyo made even more dizzying on an ecstacy trip could have been a movie of its own. Instead, Iñárritu forced this storyline, because it was also about communication, to connect with the others but couldn't be bothered to make the connection matter. When the anticlimactic link was presented, I felt betrayed. Here I'd thought Babel was trying to tell different sides of one global story that represented an idea, rather than just sides of an idea, which latter makes for some interesting thought but not much of a useful narrative.

The second real issue is, as per our usual agreement, the form-content divide. That is to say, complex storytelling does not necessarily make a complex story, and it was unfair for Iñárritu to behave as if it did. The story would be made complex only by allowing the our understanding of each character to enhance our understanding of another, but they really don't. Bad things happen to the Westerners, but they start and end privileged and that's what saves them from the fates to which we leave the Berber and Mexican characters, even though the latter two had some good times in the course of the film. The journeys in the movie, with the exception of the Rinko Kikuchi story, happen only in the sense of stuff happening, rather than people changing, internally, as a result of stuff happening. Which means that Iñárritu is trying to make the story happen to the audience without having it happen to the characters. Which is manipulation into coming to a conclusion, rather than manipulation into going through a process. We learn no more from going through these harrowing events with these characters than we would from hearing about their results.

Let me say it again: I like Babel better than Crash. Much, much better. You could have changed things that aren't the fundamental core of the concept to make Babel a genuinely good movie; the acting is of a uniformly high caliber and the cinematography really serves the storytelling in an interesting and well-thought-out fashion. It's Guillermo Arriaga's script (he collaborated with Iñárritu on the previous two films as well, but by most reports this plans to be their last) that causes the bulk of the problems; the performers, however strong, can't transcend its limitations because they simply have nowhere to go, and Iñárritu plays into the script's problems, building towards climaxes too foreseeable to be truly climactic.

According to IMDB, the film's tagline is "If you want to be understood … Listen." I never encountered that in its advertisements, but I suppose it makes sense. Literally or figuratively, no one in the movie can really hear anyone else. But its author and director are equally tone-deaf to the nuances of the social world they aim to portray, and as such run from the possibility of any real artistic insight.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mmmm, Journalism

Hey everybody! Read this.

It's dense going, but it's worth it, both for the content and to get to the sentence "Don't take the silence of yams as a sign that they have nothing valuable to say about health."

Read it soon.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Friday Poetry: Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful—
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

For Better and For Worse

This post is in some ways more personal than others, but I also like the ways the personal has really become political and vice versa in my life and thought.

On Saturday I attended a town hall meeting on global warming at Chicago's Whitney Young High School. I hadn't realized, until attending this meeting, how far I've been in the last several years from Political-with-a-capital-P activity. While the meeting certainly had to contend with the everpresent older grizzled white guy wearing some kind of "nature" T-shirt who monopolized Q & A with his prostelytizing—I honestly think it's not a political meeting without that guy—the organizers were able to deal with him and other prostelytizers in a respectful, non-dismissive manner and still keep things on track, and the track they were on really was one of thought and substance. I was excited to hear about the environmentalist activities of all sorts of religious and community organizations in the city of Chicago, to feel that at least some core group of people is really starting to think, and not just think in a knee-jerk, ooh-a-new-cause fashion.

In addition, I had yesterday my first appointment with a fabulous alternative medicine practicioner, and I'm now determined to keep room for such consultations in my budget. What's always troubled me about Western medicine, I realized for the first time, is the way it treats things in isolation, and as such, for me at least, breeds inaction. In fact, I'm going to venture that as a general statement: decontextualization breeds inaction. The more decontextualized an event, or feeling, or pain, the more likely you are to be able to keep it from your reality, the more capable you are of believing it's just some problem, not something that touches you. Western medicine encourages that method of thought, as displayed by endless television commercials rushing through a new prescription medication's often-drastic side effects. It's not treating your body as a system, just as dismissal of global warming or consumption of foods composed solely of chemicals are not treating humanity's place in the environment or the creation, purchase and consumption of food as a system. I'm happy to be treating my body as something where a lot of events work together and balance one another, and I'm happy to feel capable of taking an active role in taking on physical challenges.

The larger systems, though, are beginning to show signs of discontent. Tyromaven sent me this, from South Africa's The Guardian, and this from CTV. (Yes, and she also told me about the town hall meeting. I get all my news from Tyromaven. Except the alternative medicine dude—I learned about him from Maddy. Shut up, at least I use the knowledge I acquire.) The latter's more of concern to my pals on the Gothic Funk Cruise, but the former seems to me of substantially greater concern to the world.

There is gonna be some form of plague, kids. I expect it to come in my lifetime. If I were to believe in a god I certainly wouldn't believe in one vengeful individual, but we're due for something that can do to us, as a globalized world, what the Black Death did for medieval Europe, at a correspondingly gargantuan scale. A tuberculosis epidemic resistant to developed tuberculosis drugs that currently kills 98% of people who come into contact with it would do nicely, particularly if they've previously been made vulnerable to illness by a constantly evolving strain of norovirus.

I say "they," but I'm as likely to fall for it as anybody. Perhaps not; let me qualify that statement. I'm American and was born relatively well-off, which means that for most of my life, until the last couple of years, I've had consistent, reliable access to high-quality health care. That health care, I'm sure, though I didn't realize it at the time, was probably overly dependent on antibiotics and led me to develop vulnerabilities to evolving diseases. I have had the good fortune not to encounter those diseases, because I live in a prosperous country with fairly advanced, if not always environmentally sound, sanitation systems. In addition, my immune system has always been hardy, and I've had the good fortune not to develop or contract any autoimmune diseases. I share a space with a lovely, in my view freakishly clean person, which over the long term might lower my resistance but I think, for the year or two it's going to be going on, is probably going to help more than hurt. I don't flatter myself that I'm the "top 2%" that would constitute humanity should a crazy tubercular epidemic knock out 98% of the population. But it certainly makes me happy that I'm learning to take care of myself without stuffing myself full of antibiotics and creating more inadvertent vulnerabilities.

And of course, the WHO's been thinking about all this more than the general population has, and as such it's probably not going to be XDR-TB, it's going to be something that moves much faster and is even more contagious. It's going to be something that's made itself impossible to contain.

I still don't think it's going to completely destroy the human race or the planet, at least not for a long time, which is why I object to the notion that there's only one Important Issue and all others fall by the wayside. Again, decontextualization breeds inaction. If we're all going to die at once anyway, and our descendents will be wiped out, we can't care. It's not just that we don't, we can't. We don't have the resources and we can't find the point to such caring, reasonably, because there isn't one exactly. Obviously, all this is the sentiment behind the old touchstone "Think globally, act locally" (how old is that touchstone, anyhow?), but I don't mind having it rendered concrete. Society's going to change in the face of all this disaster, just as my body's going to change as I age and the environment I live in continues to show how damaged it is; the point is to give yourself as much strength and agency as possible in the face of it.

Mmmm, relentless optimism. How we love thee.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Oh, the Subject Lines

Recently, I've been receiving political junk mail. Not as in coming from the political organizations to whose listservs I belong, but as in I've received a number of mysterious Emails from mysterious people with strange names, Emails that have such subject lines as "Sadam [sic] Hussein alive and well!" and "Hugo Chavez dead." I haven't opened them yet, and I'm okay with that, but I have to wonder: is this a coincidence, or have such programs begun to deduce what sorts of Emails I'd be most likely to open?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Friday Poetry: Jeremy Cronin

I met this gentleman, a white South African Communist who spent seven years in prison under the apartheid government's Terrorism Act, while I was in Cape Town; he was by that time a member of Parliament (as I believe he still is). My copy of Inside and Out, from which I'm taking this poem, is signed, "To [Ammegg], In the struggle for the desirable -Jeremy Cronin Jan. 2003." I no longer recall the conversation that led to that distinction, but it must have been amazing.

Jeremy Cronin

Now in your cockpit
from your pilot's seat within
test the distant parts of this machine.
Take the tongue-tip and feel up
there, just
behind your upper front teeth
the ribbed shoal that runs back and up
to a solid arch of bone.
Beyond, slide along the soft velum's central crease
peeling back on your tongue's joy stick
until you touch
the stem from which depends
a strange
perhaps forbidden fruit aaaah!
say aaaaah!
working the throttles of your glottis.
And now
to cool a while
let the tongue untwine
returning to its berth.
Let lip touch lip
hmmmmm, mmmmm.
Flick the switch to In
then Out: these
being the two prevailing winds.

Are all systems go?
- Good.
Then let flesh be made words.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Better Far Than a Metaphor Can Ever Ever Be

All right, it's still a stretch to say I'm a sentimentalist—the movie-viewing rule in one circle of friends for several years was "It's not as bad as Ammegg thinks it is, and it's not as good as Megan thinks it is"—but there are many works of art I adore that walk the line, works that people whose opinions I respect repudiate on the grounds that they hate sentimentality. One such is The Fantasticks, which Cassie and I debated via Email a couple of months ago. Cassie, whom normally I accuse of sentimentality because she likes The Phantom of the Opera and Rent and the like, said she didn't like many of the songs because they seemed too show-like, that she dislikes the voices on the original cast recording, and that she thought it was too sappy.

The Fantasticks is, I think, my favorite musical ever, and I'm enough of a connisseuse that that's saying a lot.

It's a fable, a parable: two young lovers, Matt and Luisa, next-door neighbors, fall in love in spite of the fact that their fathers, supposedly enemies, have forbidden them to see one another. The fathers are not, in fact, enemies, but friends who hoped their children would fall in love, and they stage an elaborate kidnapping ("rape" is the word used in the lyrics, though the meaning when the song was written was different), hiring a professional, to engineer their "reconciliation." It works at first, but quickly the lovers and friends become frustrated with one another, and Matt leaves to see the world. His experience of the world is painful, as is Luisa's experience with "her bandit," the hired kidnapper, and they return to one another wounded, wiser and prepared for the reality of being together.

I can argue in favor of its presentational style, but that may not sway detractors; that is to say, it is an easy show to do badly—like Our Town, which, however low my overall opinion of Thornton Wilder, is an astounding play when done right—and that some of its songs, when taken out of context, can understandably be considered trite or sentimental. Its silly, let's-put-on-a-parable aesthetics are incredibly delicate, and genuine sentimentalists who choose to do it because they like it will inevitably destroy it. Its gender dynamics, parable or otherwise, are incredibly dated. But nevertheless, it uses its form, uses the idea of making art, to truly explore the idea of love as something you create. Jones and Schmidt acknowledge the literalness of metaphor as no one else in my experience has.

In the beginning of their parable, Matt serenades Luisa with elaborate, foolish metaphors, and then tells her that she is "Love/Better far than a metaphor can ever ever be." Luisa delights in this, echoing, "I am love." Though "You are love" is in itself a metaphor, it's more direct than the convoluted, ridiculously detailed comparisons Matt offers during the verses, which Cassie scorned because of their idiocy. As far as I'm concerned, the idiocy is the point—"If I were in the desert deep in sand/And the sun was burning like a hot pom'granate/Walking through a nightmare/In the heat of a summer day/Until my mind was parchèd/Then you are water/Cool clear water/A refreshing glass of water" has no merit but its silliness, its deliberate sense of being over the top. The two young lovers are lost both in poesy and the idea of a feeling ever more pure. They recognize the need to create these elaborate, silly metaphors, but also consider their love better, truer than this silliness.

By the end of the musical, though, when Luisa and Matt have lived through betrayals and pain to return to one another, and realize that at some level they lived their own experiences to be able to bring them to one another, they detail, to simple music, the poetic images of their experiences ("When the moon was young/When the month was May/When the stage was hung for my holiday/I saw shining lights . . .") and then sing to one another, "They were you, they were you, they were you." This, too, is a metaphor—they haven't rejected metaphor over time. Quite the contrary. They've found that love is not, in fact, better far than a metaphor can ever ever be; rather, it is itself a metaphor, or it is at the least something that requires metaphor to express itself.

That, for me, is both the beauty of The Fantasticks and the beauty of art-making-love and love-making-art, the beauty and necessity of indirections finding directions out. Metaphor is not something to get beyond, a device used only to express something more important than it is itself. The content of a metaphor is not competing with its form, which is what "better far than a metaphor can ever ever be" would imply. They're mutualistic.

Edna Schwartz, the late founder of my erstwhile summer camp, claimed that "art is life and life is art." It's the reciprocity of that metaphor that we lack in so many discussions of whether or why or how art is important, and it's that reciprocity that The Fantasticks, uniquely, finds.

The Cold Is Back

But even in the seven years I've lived in Chicago, it's been clear that these are less and less the Chicago winters of legend. This one has thus far contained only one serious snow, only one major-league freeze (the worms in my outdoor worm bin survived it), and while there's been a lot of bleakness, I wonder if I only get to look forward to more.

Welcome to a vague, stream-of-consciousness post.

Lately, I feel like the result of An Inconvenient Truth is that "global warming/climate crisis" has become synonymous with "Al Gore." The last line of a Times article about ice fishing industry in Buffalo, where the water is now failing to freeze for the second winter in a row, quoted a local as saying, "We hope Al Gore is wrong." A Sun-Times headline last week inquired delicately, "IS AL GORE RIGHT?" My concern, then, is that the course of action taken regarding global warming by the common American man or woman will be based upon his/her opinion, past and future, of Al Gore himself. Which could well mean once again that this becomes a partisan issue. I recognize partisan issues as an inevitability, but I'm also bloody sick of 'em. New islands have been revealed around Greenland and the North Pole by melting ice, ferfuckssake! This really isn't up for debate anymore. Can we at least move on to debating what actions to take as a result of this truth?

I am sympathetic to the ice fishers and the providers of their supplies in Buffalo and elsewhere; I'm sure this is even scarier than it already would be if your livelihood depends on seasonal conditions that are gradually disappearing. But can't you take responsibility for your role, as a human being, in creating these clearly extraordinary conditions?

There are many seasonal markers now that I really expect will be gone by the end of my life. We're losing myriad metaphors, cultural experiences (as elucidated, sort of, in Lois Lowry's The Giver), regional defining factors. Yes, they'll change into something else, not just disappear altogether. And we can't erase the past or try to go back to it; it's going to be a different climate, a different world, no matter what we do because it already is and always is. We don't get to skip over or eliminate, say, the Industrial Revolution, which is my first impulse of desire whenever I consider our circumstances. But instead of deciding whether we like Al Gore, I want to put some serious thought into "what else."

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday Poetry: Stephen Dunn

I know, I knooooow, there are so many poets out there and here I am posting work by someone I've posted before. Nevertheless, this poem is both important enough in my life in general and enough of what I'm feeling right now that it needs to get up here. I promise someone new next week.

Stephen Dunn
The Carpenter's Song
for Ted Porter

When I'm no longer young
let me be able to make wine
from chokecherries and care enough
to let it age. And when friends come
let them sip it
in a torn-out car seat under a tree.
And let my house smell of books
and pipe smoke, and let its disarray
be the luxury of a man
who makes cabinets.
And after it gets dark
let's move to the room
where the squeeze-box is, sing songs
and talk of Iceland by freighter,
Newfoundland on a whim, all the arrivals
one doesn't plan.
And let the evidence be deep
in my voice, the lines of my face.
And let me call this: style.

Let me rebuild then the lighthouse
my father rebuilt years ago,
and let me know the history
of old houses haunted by rats
and shadows, good people
and bad, and when asked
let me sense what can be redeemed
and what can't.
And yes, let me be able to say
I'm a builder of houses, a man
who works slow and knows
how hard it is
to get the inside just right.
And let my metaphors grow
from that, something lived stretching out
trying to make contact
with something else.
And let me call this: my work.

And when I'm no longer young
let there be poets in my life,
their words aftertastes on the tongue,
and let me speak those words like a man
who has heard a spar snap on a ship,
who has been lost once or twice
and come back.
And let me declare
I've been a lover of women
without declaring it, and feel
I've treated them better than wood,
knowing I've been a husband of wood,
have cared for it with my own hands.
And let my hads be thick
badges of power
rarely used, my fist an inner fist
the size of a heart,
and let this be visible to men.
And let the old deaf dog
sense me coming a long way off,
ready to forgive anything I've done—
and let me call all this: some goddamn luck.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Heavy Lifting

When I was in eighth grade, I was falsely accused of shoplifting at a major trendy chain store in Greenwich Village. To this day I've no clue as to how this transpired: we'd checked our bags and I didn't have any pockets, and a cursory search of me would have revealed that the accusation was ridiculous. But a weird, malicious clerk kicked me and my friend out of the store with the words "I saw what you did, now get out while you still can," and it was years before I developed the courage to enter that location again.

I had, at that point, shoplifted a few times. I was learning two things for most of eighth grade: how to be alone and how to conform. Two very popular girls in my class had been caught shoplifting from Rite Aid at the beginning of the school year, and for several days it had been the talk of the town; interested in sharing the feelings they must have had, I started to palm small objects here and there, though I wasn't fool enough to try it in a major chain store. All I can recall taking are pieces of quartz from a New Age healing store and numerous mint candies from Morgan's Market, though I believe there were more, always without the company of friends or family. It was a thrill, as is any entitled adolescent's minor-league defiance of authority, and once the thrill was gone—within a year or two—I let it alone.

Last month, though, I learned that a friend has pursued shoplifting from the same chain store rather more recently. Though her experience with it ended rather ignonimously, she described the aforementioned thrill, and added that she finds it a good way to demonstrate the disrespect for authority that has become more and more a part of her nature in recent years. My first reaction was flinching, and while I think I may still flinch, I want to look at why and whether I'm okay with why. The spoiler—but it's not a spoiler, because you obviously know what happens—is Richard Linklater's film School of Rock.

Tyromaven once said that she had difficulty purchasing designer clothing from secondhand stores, though she firmly believes in purchasing clothing from secondhand stores, because it didn't solve the problem she was trying to solve—"I still desire these things." That, to me, is the contradiction inherent to construing shoplifting as sticking it to the Man. In the end, you wind up with the very objects you claim to repudiate. If you succeed as a shoplifter, you have acquired objects, have bucked the tenets of the system, but few people know. And it's still a matter of wanting the objects with you. You have cheated, but not really challenged, the system, and as such are accepting it.

Now the thrill. I'd be a fool and a hypocrite to deny the importance of The Thrill. It's not a throwaway concept, it means something. Particularly when one's talking about defying the Man—it's a source of pleasure. Your shoplifting is not going to do the business much harm, but the energy you feel at discovering your ability to defy the business *could* do it some substantive harm, in the long and abstract run. If you get pleasure from it, you'll aim to discover more ways to get that pleasure; you may aim to share that pleasure, explain it to others, encourage it, and others may just be weird enough to want it even if you don't (see my own eighth-grade inspiration above). And there's something somewhat worthwhile to anything you get pleasure or excitement from that doesn't harm anyone. Shoplifting does harm someone, as I just established in a somewhat circular fashion—which leaves the question being, do we care if that particular harm is done?

Some of School of Rock's funniest moments come when pseudo-burnout rock aficionado Dewey, played by Jack Black, attempts to explain the concept of "sticking it to the Man" to prep-school fourth-graders. Linklater and Mike White's attempt to create a world in which kids have never even heard of the idea (I'd accept their never having heard of the term) is kind of laughable on an outside artistic level, but Black's dialogue and delivery, not to mention the kids' deadpan reactions, are pitch-perfect, and the process by which they take in "sticking it to the Man" as part of their education is also spot-on. However cliched, Linklater does succeed in showing a long-term social change based on one character's devoted, limited viewpoint. What that means, though, is that power can be created by the concept of "sticking it to the Man." They create art, and they create social change in their world, and they change their own lives and Dewey's life. The movie immediately establishes that there's no reason to love the Man, the system that Dewey's roommate Ned has bound himself to, that it has in fact actively damaged people and their relationships and will continue to do so with these students and their families, and as such even Jack Black's mildly illegal/rule-breaking actions are justified in the larger sense.

So given that, in order to shoplift in a socially ethical fashion, you'd have to believe that there's something fundamentally wrong with the existence of The Man—in this particular instance, that is to say, with the existence of the business in question. Do I have a problem with the concept of chain stores in general? I do, if their state today is an inevitable otucome of their existence in a capitalist world. Which is to say, I have a problem with their hegemony. Taking what I have outlined above as true, I'd say shoplifting as a movement could present a challenge to that hegemony. Shoplifting isn't a movement.

In that case, how is individual shoplifting different from, say, an individual recycling? Also, how is what Jack Black's character does different from individual shoplifting? To answer the latter question first, and in trite plotting terms, it's about Dewey's journey, how he begins the film as a selfish person eager to get personal thrill from sticking it to the Man and ends as someone with a concrete understanding of how sticking it to the Man can change the lives of individuals he's come to know and love. As to the former, I'd say recycling is inherently a much more contextualized act. We can more clearly visualize the direct results of our actions on the world, even if that isn't substantive, and it will have some impact (though obviously incredibly minor) in a positive direction no matter what. Whereas decontextualized shoplifting, if there is a possibility of a movement—and I think there could be—might do active damage to it.

Who, then, is for a shoplift-in?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Friday Poetry: Catullus

Sorry for the long delay, folks, but I had a lovely vacation and I hope you did as well. This trip home found me cleaning out my childhood bedroom and discovering, among other things, the quotes from my twelfth-grade Latin class. That made me realize that I do, indeed, miss studying Latin, and as such I'm posting an old favorite poem in both languages.

tr. James Michie

Marrucine Asini, manu sinistra
non belle uteris: in ioco atque uino
tollis lintea neglegentiorum.
hoc salsum esse putas? fugit te, inepte:
quamuis sordida res et inuenusta est.
no credis mihi? credi Pollioni
fratri, qui tua furta uel talento
mutari uelit: est enim leporum
differtus puer ac facetiarum.
quare aut henecasyllabos trecentos
exspecta, aut mihi linteum remitte,
quod me non mouet aestimatione,
uerum est mnemosynum mei sodalis.
nam sudaria Saetaba ex Hiberis
miserunt mihi muneri Fabullus
et Veranius: haic amem necesse est
ut Veraniolum meum et Fabullum.

Asinius, you've an ugly way of using
Your left hand when we're deep in wine and jests:
You pinch the napkins of unwary guests.
Do you think it's smart? You're wrong, you imbecile.
It's infinitely cheap and unamusing.
You don't believe me? Well, believe your brother
Pollio, who'd pay any sum of money
To cancel facts and change back what you steal.
(Now there's a humorist with quite another
idea of wit: he knows what's really funny.)
I warn you, either give my linen back
Or massed hendecasyllables will attack.
It's not so much their worth that I regret,
It's that the napkins are a souvenir
From friends in Spain—they're Saetaban, a set
Veranius and Fabullus sent me. Thus
I'm bound to hold them every bit as dear
as my Fabullus and Veranius.