Daily Office:


Matins: It’s  Bastille Day — but not in France. In France, it’s “La fête nationale.” What do you say to friends on le quatorze juillet?

You say, “Bonjour, madame,” comme d’habitude.

Lauds: You know, before you even start reading, that Anthony Tommassini is not going to give Rufus Wainwright’s Prima Donna top marks. But if you read between the lines, his review begins to look like a rave.

Prime: Robert X Cringely writes about the MADD strategies of Google and Microsoft, and how, if either of them suffers a mortal blow, it won’t have been aimed by the other.

Tierce: Pardon me, but I’m no longer interested in the Marshall trial’s verdict, whatever it may be. I’m already casting the movie. Who wants to play Brooke Astor, banging her cane as she is “dragged” into the library? Or saying, “I feel like throwing food in someone’s face”?

Sext: It’s very easy to make fun of Town & Country — if you’re not throwing up into an air-sickness bag — but Choire Sicha can be counted upon to do it well.

Nones: We throw up our hands: both sides in the Honduras dispute request American intervention. What a sterling opportunity to make enemies and influence people to hate the United States.

Vespers: At The Millions, novelist Sonya Chung tells us what it was like to meet her new book’s dust jacket.

Compline: Meet the Schweeb. An amusement-park ride for the time being, it may become tomorrow’s urban transport. (Via Infrastructurist)


§ Matins. Beyond the nuances of translation and the difficulty of choosing the correct preposition to follow an infinitive (de? à? en?) there looms the great no-man’s land in which there is not only no equivalent but not even a passable substitute for what you would say in your own language.

It’s true that we don’t — here in New York, anyway — run around saying “Happy Fourth!” to people on Independence Day. (Here in New York, in fact, we don’t even say “Bonjour, madame.” We smile, cock an eyebrow perhaps, or wave, and try to say as little as possible.) But it would have been pleasant to begin this note with a flourishing salutation.

My friend Jean Ruaud is grappling with these problems a lot more strenuously than I am. He has begun writing entries in English (thus annoying his severely Francophone older brother), with a few to polishing his already fluent command of the language.

(As you can imagine, I think that Steven Pinker’s ideas about universal grammar, the functional equivalence of languages, and the adequacy of pidgins and creoles, is a great load of rubbish.)

§ Lauds. The following reservations don’t sound very sincere to me.

In Régine’s revealing first aria, ruminative vocal lines emerge from ethereal orchestral harmonies. But what are we to make of the overt melodrama? In his songs Mr. Wainwright will evoke Hollywood strings, a hint of “Carmen” or a brass band, and the listener goes along for the stylistic ride. But in an opera of some two and a half hours the extended passages in sundry styles make you wonder what is going on. Is it ironic? Cavalier? Intentionally maudlin?

How about all three at once? Anyone familiar with “Between My Legs” would be prepared to go with all three. But Mr Tomassini’s big finish is a lot heartier.

The final trio of “Der Rosenkavalier” peeks through too, complete with soaring Marschallin-like melodic lines for Régine, who is resigned to her maturity and the end of her career, as Mr. Wainwright both honors and gently kids his sources.

During an agitated orchestral interlude Régine, left alone, contemplates leaping from her balcony. But seeing the Bastille Day fireworks, she decides to go on, watching life from her window. The opera ends with a tender aria for Régine, a long-spun melody with a gentle accompaniment riff: in other words, a Wainwright song. Would that there had been more of them.

You could complain all day about wanting more of the good stuff in any Puccini opera. It’s the kind of complain that keeps ’em coming.  

§ Prime. It would be funny, if it weren’t so pointless.

I wish these companies had more guts, that either would make a true bet-the-company investment in changing the world, but they won’t. Google engineers are allowed to spend 20 percent of their time on new ideas — yet of those thousands of ideas, the company can really invest in only a dozen per year, leading to dissatisfaction and defections as the best nerds leave to pursue their dreams.

Not to mention the stuff that we have to do without. Who, really, needs bing?

§ Tierce. Or telling Pearline Noble, “Tell them I will pay them to leave.” What scenes! What dialogue!

Mr. Marshall met them just outside the door to the library, Ms. Noble said.

“I’ll take it from here, Pearline,” Mr. Marshall said, according to Ms. Noble.

Mr. Marshall grabbed his mother’s hand, Ms. Noble said, and Mrs. Astor widened her eyes and said: “I won’t be pushed into any business. Do you hear me?”

She banged her cane, Ms. Noble said.

With Mr. Marshall holding his mother’s left hand, Mr. Morrissey came from across the room and grabbed her right, Ms. Noble said. Mrs. Astor asked who Mr. Morrissey was, Ms. Noble said, and her son smiled and tried to explain. Mrs. Astor’s legs trembled, Ms. Noble said, and as they pulled her into the room, her legs dragged “because of the way they held her hand, there was no body support.”

§ Sext. I haven’t read the profile yet — Kathleen takes the magazine “for the jewelry ads” (she beads, remember) — but it appears from Mr Sicha’s digest that Rory Tahiri is happily married to nine thousand square feet.

“Since moving downtown, the Taharis spend a lot less of their time at their summer weekend getaway, in Sagaponack, New York, where Rory rides her horse, Chocolate. Says Rory, ‘SoHo is like our Hamptons away from the Hamptons.” I love the construction “x is our y away from y,” particularly because it implies something complicated about the construction of one’s life. But truth be told, we should all have our x’s and y’s! Perhaps yours is your exboyfriend’s rented room in Greenpoint but it’s still your deluxe y away from x. Thanks Town and Country

§ Nones. If Hugo Chávez is playing a game, he’s certainly doing a great job. If he’s asking President Obama to “do something,” you know that we’d just better not. Roberto Micheletti obviously knows how to play hardball, too.

However, one official said that the United States wanted to be careful “not to take a huge public role.” He said the United States indicated that it would quietly make clear to Mr. Micheletti that the $16.5 million it has already suspended in military aid could be expanded to include $180 million in other economic development assistance that is still under review.

Mr. Micheletti’s supporters are pushing back in part by paying hundreds of dollars an hour to well-connected Washington lawyers who have initiated a charm offensive from Washington. On Friday, Mr. Davis was testifying on Capitol Hill in support of Mr. Micheletti’s de facto government.

And, the best part,

And on Saturday, Mr. Davis called reporters close to midnight to notify them that Mr. Micheletti had fired Enrique Ortez, whom he had appointed as his foreign minister, for having outraged American officials by referring in a television interview to President Obama as “that little black guy who doesn’t even know where Tegucigalpa is located.”

From the Coup-er’s Handbook: Hire an irrepressible jerk to be your foreign minister so that you’ll look good when you dump him.


§ Vespers. As a Korean-American writer, Ms Chung was especially sensitive to the clichés of Asian-infused cover art.

In a recent article in Hyphen Magazine, books editor Neelanjana Banerjee expresses a frustration with the easy cultural tropes that are often used for the covers of novels by Asian Americans – fans, geishas (or other painted-faced women in traditional East Asian dress), dragons, chopsticks, lotus blossoms (I would add peonies, cranes, and scantily clad Asian temptresses) – to “mark” the books in an exoticized way and thus, presumably, sell more books to readers attracted to the familiarly exotic – whether or not those tropes best represent the novel’s actual thematic content or storyline.

I don’t mean to charge Ms Chung with shrewdness, but her entry creates an extra level of interest in her novel: “Oh, this is the cover that I was reading about. Do you think she’s white?”

§ Compline. Cool, huh?

Of course, “cool” is just what the Schweeb is not. Even in it’s snowing outside, you’re going to emerge from the pod dripping with sweat. Building a lot of Schweebs seems a lot easier than altering the conditions in which business meetings take place. Would you like to work in a locker room? How many women wouldn’t care what they looked like at work?

From the amusement park, the Schweeb’s next step (if any) is probably the college campus.

2 Responses to “Daily Office:

  1. Jean Ruaud says:

    I’m with you about Pinker! By the way, my older brother is not only a severe Francophone, he is a fanatical Esperanto speaker (and reader) too, wich is a way to deny “the supremacy of English” (real or imagined!). See, hard work to do!

  2. Quatorze says:

    I always wished my French friends Joyeuse Fete de la Bastille; inaccurate more likely than not, but heartfelt.

    Just to clarify, congratulations on French liberty does not excuse the atrocities of the Terror, as the french have made very clear themselves over the years, with the rehabilitation of Marie-Antoinette and the religious collection and re-interment of rifled royal remains into a dedicated crypt at Saint Denis.