Daily Office:



Che bella giornata!: Another fine day. Good weather really gets better with age.

Gérance dissausive: If you can’t read French, tant pis pour vous. JR’s crime analysis of the massacre of his sister’s chickens by a fox (or some other prédateur forestier),* would make a sort of sense in English, but the loss of  je ne sais quoi would be fatal.

Except that I know perfectly well what the quoi is: the French willingness to call a spatula a spatula. Just because a spatula is more or less a spade is no reason to be imprecise.

Wings: When I grow up, I want to write just like Gail Collins.


Art: My neighbor, Stash, went to an art show in the quartier. On the basis of his photos, better him than me is all I can say.


Cinderella: Far and away the most exciting object on exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt’s “Rococo” Show is Jeroen Verhoeven’s Cinderella Table.

Morning, cont’d 

§ Che bella giornata! I ought to spend the day taking care of household business, which has been piling up whilst I gathered rosebuds (cherry blossoms, anyway). But I’ve got a date for lunch, followed by a visit to the Cooper-Hewitt.  

§ Gérance dissausive. When I got to this phrase here, gérance dissuasive, the Coke would have shot through my nose if I’d been drinking any. There is no English equivalent, not really; and I am not sure that there is a French equivalent. That is the beauty of French: you can say things that no one has ever heard before, and they make perfect sense. I tear out my hair in envy.

I’m not saying that JR means to be funny — although I suspect a certain mischievous industry in the composition of his text (it is quite perfect, beautifully balanced between abstractions and particulars —

Le prédateur s’attaque à une cible qui lui convient et qui présente pour lui, non seulement le moindre effort, mais le moindre risque et le meilleur rapport qualité (ou quantité) / risque. Les malheureuses poules enfermées, dormant la nuit dans une cabane à la lisière des bois et éloignée de la maison présentent une cible idéale pour la martre affamée (ou la fouine, ou le renard).

— and there is not a thought, much less a word, out of place) — and I hope that he will not take my informal explication de texte amiss; but if my sister were the recipient of his thoughtful post-mortem, she’d be working out how to distribute my remains among the other ingredients of the chicken fricasee. Especially after that last line about how les poules de ma soeur ne m’ont jamais vraiment intéressé, I’d be toast. Dormant la nuit dans une cabane à la lisière des bois, I’d be found the next morning with a hefty casserole à braises planted in my skull.

* Madame sa soeur lives in the country, far from the gardiens of Montmartre.

§ Wings. Inspired by Mrs Clinton’s visit to Mount Rushmore (which became a far more normal-looking feature of the landscape after Alfred Hitchcock got through with it), Ms Collins writes,

South Dakota’s enthusiasm for the Democratic primary is in part pragmatic. Tourism is the state’s second-largest business after agriculture, and every little bit of publicity helps. The whole nation knows about Mount Rushmore, but do you realize how much stuff comes along with it? Reptile Gardens, petting zoos, glow-in-the-dark miniature golf, Sitting Bull Crystal Caverns, Christmas Village, Bear Country U.S.A. Every time somebody stops to ride a bumper car, pan for gold or visit the presidential wax museum, an angel gets its wings.

There’s a serious public purpose at work here, too. When you live in a reliably red state with only three electoral votes and no real fund-raising potential, it takes being overlooked in the presidential races to a whole new level. Hillary’s insistence that the fight isn’t over, that there’s still the superdelegates, that Florida and Michigan must be counted, that there’s still a chance she can win, has had the useful effect of making the voters here feel as if they might conceivably have a role to play.

So what better way for her to start her day than with a trip to a monument that reminds us how democracy can, at times, produce extraordinary results?

And, of course, if you’re trying to wrest the presidential nomination from Barack Obama in two final primaries that he’s expected to at minimum split, there’s something very attractive about seeing the happy ending that followed somebody’s decision to try carving four 60-foot sculptures out of the side of a mountain.

Only neophytes will be astonished by the Mosaic nature of the former First Lady’s environmental impact:

On the day before Hillary’s arrival, Mount Rushmore had been enveloped in a cold, damp fog that completely obscured the presidents. It was a bracing 34 degrees, but tourists soldiered through anyway, shivering and snapping pictures of each other standing in front of a big cloud of mist.

“Maybe that’s a metaphor of the national climate,” said Skip Brown, a visitor from Minneapolis who was hoping that when Photoshop got through, the pictures he was taking would bear a faint image of George Washington.

“Earlier, the fog rolled out for a little bit and this cheer erupted,” said Eric Eickhoff from Wisconsin, whose three young sons were happily watching the documentary. The boys had also loved the presidential wax museum.

“Look, there’s a chipmunk!” cried someone on the plaza as a little rodent scampered across. Everybody went for their cameras.

When the idea of visiting Mount Rushmore came up, Hillary must have intuited how perfect it was. Not only the site of an impossible dream come true, but also the place where visitors make the best of the cards they’re dealt, prepared if necessary to stand around admiring an impenetrable fog.

Noon, cont’d

§ Art. Aside from the pretty baubles in the image at the bottom of Stash’s entry — and the handsome ceramics, which don’t fall under my rubric of art — there’s very little to care about in the selection. It seems representative, however, of our confused, polynomial times.

Here’s the conundrum: art was easy to identify until museums began stocking up on it. Its identity collapsed, or shape-shifted, the moment it was released from decorating spaces intended for uses and purposes other than its display.

Night, cont’d

§ Cinderella. There are twenty of these objects, and the V & A has one. The Cooper-Hewitt’s was borrowed from MoMA. I’d be happy to own either, if I had the room. If I could afford the space, I could probably afford the table.

It’s not that the table is very large. It’s rather that the table is a sculpture, designed to be seen in the round, and, probably — not put to use. The images at the V & A site suggest cheap, molded plastic, but in fact the table is wrought of laser-cut birch plywood, and it draws a great deal of its fascinating beauty from the half-natural, half-manmade grain. (The enlarged images go a long way to suggesting the table’s intricate appeal.)

The lower picture shows the table from its “front,” which presents a finely-carved, shell-like wave of swirls on what appears to be a sort of console. At first glance the less interesting aspect of the table, the “front” is nonetheless very handsome; Mr Verhoeven has fabricated lines of compelling grace.

From the “rear” (in the upper photograph), we see the two remaining sides of the triangular table, and at first it all seems to be a joke, for each of the sides obviously traces the silhouette of a piece of rococo furniture — a console (to the right) and a chest of drawers. The dune-like “bottom” of the table appears to be a bridge between the lower lines of each silhouette; so far, so witty. But the contours of the “front” of the table are clearly visible from behind, and they twist, freestyle, against the slope of the “bottom.” Coming round to the “front” again, we see that it, too, stretches a bridge, this time between the two silhouettes’ outer lines.

Far from parodying either of its component rococo shapes, then, the Cinderella Table meditates a metamorphosis of the one into the other, and the “front” turns out to be the table’s more interesting aspect after all. A design that might well have struck rococo designers as too freakish even for their own fanciful taste emerges as effortlessly as a cloud from elements that are in themselves too familiar to us to retain that fancy. Mr Verhoeven thus recreates the éclat of the Eighteenth-Century passion for shells.

Comments are closed.