In August 1856 Turgenev left for France and he met Tolstoy several times in Paris. “Tolstoy speaks of Paris as Sodom and Gomorrah,” Turgenev wrote. “He is a blend of poet, Calvinist, fanatic, and landowner’s son—somewhat reminiscent of Rousseau—a highly moral and at the same time an uncongenial being.”
—V.S. Pritchett, The Gentle Barbarian: The Life and Work of Turgenev
O ye powers! (for powers ye are, and great ones too)—which enable mortal man to tell a story worth the hearing——that kindly shew him, where he is to begin it—and where he is to end it——what he is to put into it——and what he is to leave out—how much of it he is to cast into a shade—and whereabouts he is to throw his light!
—Lawrence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
Book II, Chapter XVI
No ice cream was consumed during the writing of this story, and consuming ice cream of any kind is NOT recommended. If you want something sweet, eat fruit.
One Saturday afternoon my friend and I were walking down the pedestrian-only section of the main shopping district downtown. My friend looked to the left and saw a Mr. Softie vendor selling swirls of soft ice cream in three different colors, with sprinkles of various kinds available at additional cost. “Oooh! Mr. Softie!” he cried, and started toward the stand. “Wait!” I said. “Do you have any idea what’s in that stuff? It’s just air and chemicals and artificial sweeteners and artificial flavors and artificial colors. The only real thing about it is the very real damage you do to yourself when you put that poison in your body.” “I know,” he said. “It’s crap, and it’s really bad for me, but I love it anyway.” And off he went.
Waiting for him amid crowds of shoppers, I began looking around. On the opposite side of the street to the Mr. Softie stand was a Waldorf-Ritz Gourmet Ice Cream shop. The best, most expensive, and most delicious ice cream in the world! Without hesitating I walked through the ornate double doors, already salivating as I imagined a scrumptious bowl of Waldorf-Ritz Rocky Road. The moment I passed through the doors, lights began flashing, celebratory music began playing, and confetti began falling from the ceiling. The store manager rushed straight up to me, smiled happily, and said, “Congratulations, sir! You are the one millionth customer to walk through those doors!” He took me by the arm and led me to a special roped-off table that had been prepared for the occasion. “Please have a seat here, sir,” he said. Then he called to his employees, “Bring out the Prize Ice Cream!” In a kind of procession, the entire staff escorted the master ice cream chef to me as he carried, on a silver tray, a large bowl of ice cream. “There you are, sir!” said the manager. “Three scoops of our unbelievably delicious pistachio ice cream, free of charge, with our compliments. I know you will enjoy it.”
I looked at the ice cream, and then at the circle of happy employees waiting to see me take my first spoonful, and then at the manager. “I really appreciate this,” I said, “but I’m sorry to say that I don’t like pistachio ice cream.” The manager looked shocked, but then smiled. “I think you misunderstand, sir,” he said. “This ice cream is handmade in small batches by our master ice cream chef. All the ingredients are 100% natural, organic, and completely free of any artificial additives or colorings of any kind whatsoever. The cream comes from cows raised in luxury dairy farms where they are treated like movie stars. Nowhere in the entire world will you find ice cream even half as good as Waldorf-Ritz Gourmet Ice Cream!”
“I know that your ice cream is the best in the world,” I sighed. “But I don’t like pistachio ice cream!”
The moral of this sad tale, of course, is that judgments of quality are different from judgments of taste. I may love Mr. Softie ice cream, or I may love a corny movie or a trashy piece of pop music, even though I know that if I judge their quality, they all fail the test. On the other hand, I may admit that Waldorf-Ritz Pistachio ice cream or the novels of James Joyce or the ballets of Igor Stravinsky are all superb examples of ice cream, fiction, and dance, while still not enjoying any of them. In the words of the great American film critic, Roger Ebert, “Does it make a movie ‘good’ because you ‘like’ it? No, it doesn’t, and I have liked a lot of bad movies.” We can put this another way: no one can tell you that your judgments of taste are wrong. No one can say, “You are wrong to dislike pistachio ice cream!” But if someone who knows more than you do about literature and ballet says, “You are wrong to claim that the novels of James Joyce or the ballets of Igor Stravinsky are crap,” he just may be correct.
L to R: George Mitchell (subbing for Gordon Lee), Stan Bock, Tim Gilson, John Nastos, Derek Sims, Renato Caranto. Invisible, behind the drums, the fabulous Mel Brown. Performing at Christo’s Pizzeria Lounge June 9, 2018.
What a joy and an inspiration it has been to hear these master musicians once a month at Christo’s! If you live within an hour’s drive of Salem, Oregon and you miss one of their performances, shame on you.
This wonderful brief video on Facebook shows clearly how printing presses worked in the days of hand-set type, and how the pages were then turned into books.
A few key points are missing, however.
- Notice how the letters must be placed backwards in the press.
- Notice why the printing press was called a “press.”
- The small letters were traditionally stored in a lower-level rack, while the capitals were above—hence our terms “lower-case” and “upper-case” to describe them.
- The paper was printed on both sides, not just one as the video seems to show. Each page had to be positioned so that when the sheet was folded, as you see in the video, the pages were right-side up and in the correct order. Try that at home, and let me know how it goes!
The poet has no talent.
Can’t sing. Can’t dance. Cannot play a musical instrument. Can’t juggle. Can’t paint.
The poet has only words.
And so the poet uses words to sing, to dance, to make music—and other sounds.
Juggles with words.
Paints with words.
Creates motion, odors, tastes, physical sensations of all sorts.
Unlocks our memories. Makes us aware of what we have previously sensed only dimly.
Makes us wonder . . . about so many things.
All of this with words alone.
For the poet, alas, has no talent.
All serious art is being destroyed by commerce. Most people don’t want art to be disturbing. They want it to be escapist. I don’t think art should be escapist. That’s a waste of time.
—Edward Albee, American playwright
On Sunday I went to meet Lu Ping, a wonderful Suzhou artist who works in Beijing but who has just built a country vacation home for himself and his wife in the nearby ‘water town’ of Luzhizhen.
You can see some of his work from the 1990s here:
I bought several of his woodcut prints before I knew who he was. Then the man at the frame shop said, “You really like Lu Ping, don’t you?” I said, “Who is Lu Ping?” Later he said, “Well, I know Lu Ping. Next time he comes to Suzhou I will call you.” And that’s what happened.
His wife He Zhen served us tea, and a pear from the tree in their garden. He showed us some of his more recent work, and we talked about art.
What a treat!
E.M. Forster on the Van Gogh exhibit at the Paris Exhibition of 1937:
Van Gogh . . . is housed in the corner of another palace between maps of Paris and intellectual hopes for the future, and the space suffices him. Well content with his half-dozen rooms, he displays his oddness and his misery to tired feet. “Sorrow is better than joy,” he writes up upon the white walls of his cell. Here are pictures of potatoes and of miners who have eaten potatoes until their faces are tuberous and dented and their skins grimed and unpeeled. They are hopeless and humble, so he loves them. He has his little say, and he understands what he is saying, and he cuts off his own ear with a knife. The gaily painted boats of Saintes Maries sail away into the Mediterranean at last, and the Alpilles rise over St. Rémy for ever, but nevertheless “Sorrow is better than joy,” for Van Gogh. What would the Eiffel Tower make of such a conclusion? Spinning in its alcove for millions of years, the earth brings a great artist to this. Is he just dotty, or is he failing to put across what is in his mind? Neither, if we may accept historical parallels. Every now and then people have preferred sorrow to joy, and asserted that wisdom and creation can only result from suffering. Half a mile off, Picasso has done a terrifying fresco in the Spanish Pavilion, a huge black and white thing called “Guernica.” Bombs split bull’s skull, woman’s trunk, man’s shins. The fresco is indignant, and so it is less disquieting than the potato-feeders of Van Gogh. Picasso is grotesquely angry, and those who are angry still hope. He is not yet wise, and perhaps he is not yet a creator. Nevertheless he too succeeds in saying something about injustice and pain. Can one look through pain or get round it? And can anything be done against money? On the subject of moeny, Van Gogh becomes comprehensible and sound. He has got round money because he has sought suffering and renounced happiness. In the sizzle surrounding him, his voice stays uncommercial, unscientific, pure. He sees the colour “blue,” observes that the colour “yellow” always occurs in it, and writes this preposterous postulate up upon the white walls. He has a home beyond comfort and common sense with the saints, and perhaps he sees God.
—from “The Last Parade” (1937), in Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)