Saturday, January 23, 2010

A mixed, if ripe, bag

The vet warned me: "Do not spill this, it smells like ferret."
"What does ferret smell like?"
Easing off the cap, she waves the wee bottle under my nose, like a saucy red.
"Holy smokes, that's Mustelidae, alright."
The Missus, despite my warnings, had to yank off the cap; now the kitchen smells like a mink farm. I think fire will be the only recourse...

There is a novel about the sense of smell : Perfume, by Patrick Suskind, translated from the German. It takes place in pre-revolutionary France, and is about a creature named Jean-Baptiste Grenouille,"one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages". He was born to a fishwife in Paris, and he had no scent at all: no baby smell, nothing. He has a gift, though: a gift of a perfect nose, able to discern the smallest components of a scent, especially perfume. Once he grows up, he becomes a serial killer so he can extract a personal scent. Pretty wild stuff.

My brother used to work for SB Thomas, a baking company that makes English muffins, pita bread ("Know what pita means, Scott? Pain in the a**"! Apparently, a tricky process involving air..), and other bread products. I used to enjoy my brief visits to the plant, as the smell of cooking bread brought memories back, memories of bread baking in our house. Scent is a great trigger. I found a bottle of English Leather, an aftershave big in the late sixties and seventies ("All my men wear English Leather, or they wear nothing at all"), in a box in the guest bath. One whiff and I was on the way-back machine, back to those heady stylin' days. Further rummaging (in another room) yielded a can that held 'Balkan Sobranie', my favorite pipe tobacco (Latakia gives it that tar smell) when I used the stuff.

Talk about memories. I am having great fun re-acquainting myself with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I last read him in my early twenties for a seminar on he and Wordsworth . One of my prized possessions is a rock from Skiddaw. The recent cold snap has made me dig out my Everyman Coleridge and his masterpiece "Frost at Midnight", amongst others. His words warm me. It is interesting to approach authors at different stages of one's life (except for Thomas Wolfe: that is another screed ). The passage of years has yielded publication of STC's 'Notebooks' . They are chock full of aphoristic scribblings,proposed writings (STC had many plans which did not come to fruition), etc. which illustrate the depth and power of STC's mind.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

"Out of true" moments

OC it may be, I have to have sharp pencils before I start rabbiting away, even when the bulk of my work is done on the computer. I dislike a dull pencil when a sharpener is an armlength away. First pencil grinds away, too long a time. Second, the same. The points are unevenly sharpened, with more lead/graphite showing on one side than the other. I remember what Henry Petroski said in his book on the pencil: the lead is off center, out of true....Is this another sign of the Decline of the West? Lazy manufacturing processes, or is my 'lectric sharpener going rogue?

We lost "Doc" from rehab over the holidays. Charlie, who has been attending rehab for over ten years, told me Doc had Gone West. I did not know Doc well: we exchanged greetings. He was over 80, carried an O2 bottle around through rehab. Gotta admire those old guys, they press on with a minimum of fuss.

C. Aubrey Smith, team captain of the Hollywood Cricket Club, looks like a fellow who would do little fussing. Caught him in von Sternberg's Scarlet Empress last night. A fascinating film: I had never seen it, I am ashamed to say. Sets by Hans Dreier (thank you, IMDB! ), who got his start in Germany and worked on over 500 films, were gorgeous, as were the uncredited (Travis Banton )costumes. Freakish sculpture by Peter Ballbusch lent a creepy feeling to the interiors. And of course, there was Marlene, Josef's little pal since Der Blaue Engel; beautifully shot by Bert Glennon the cinematographer, though with von Sternberg's rep as an early auteur, I'd say he had a thing or two to do with some of those shots. Sam Jaffe, in his screen debut, was cast as the half-wit heir to the throne. The film is a beautiful depiction of an out of true royal court.