Monday, March 25, 2013

At What Point Do You Figure It Out?

When do you get acclimated?

Modern-mountaineering-for-money theory (defined as short-roping rich people up the side of Everest) suggests a couple of weeks at 15,000 feet before taking the plunge.  Which might be the wrong word for an Everest assault, but we're talking metaphors, not actualities.  Ideally.

I bring this up because I just walked into the studio, half my mind thinking about Hubert Humphrey, and was startled by the presence of Uncle Sam.  Standing there.  Staring at me.  Accusingly, one might say, but that could be me layering my own baggage on top of an already alarming situation.  Startled as in saying "Oh shit!" and noticing a significant change in heart rate.

For the record, he's bigger in real life than the photo makes him seem.  He's the size of a very small adult human with a massive hat.  But he's been in my studio for at least a month now, and still, every once in a while, he scares the shit out of me.

By the way, do you read Jon Krakauer's stuff?   He's up and down for me, but when he's on his game, as he was for his Everest book, "Into Thin Air" -- from the reading of which I learned the term 'short-roping' -- he's really good.  Likewise Vladimir Nabokov, although he's in a different league than Krakauer.

I have a shortish bit for you to read.  It will make you laugh.  It starts ...

I wandered into Lit 311 at the beginning of my sophomore year at Cornell in September 1954. It was not that I had any interest in European literature, or any literature. I was just shopping for a class that met on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings so that I wouldn’t have any Saturday classes, and “literature” also filled one of the requirements for graduation. It was officially called “European Literature of the Nineteenth Century,” but unofficially called “Dirty Lit” by the Cornell Daily Sun, since it dealt with adultery in Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary.

The professor was Vladimir Nabokov, an émigré from tsarist Russia. About six feet tall and balding, he stood, with what I took to be an aristocratic bearing, on the stage of the two-hundred-fifty-seat lecture hall in Goldwin Smith. Facing him on the stage was his white-haired wife Vera, whom he identified only as “my course assistant.” He made it clear from the first lecture that he had little interest in fraternizing with students, who would be known not by their name but by their seat number. Mine was 121. He said his only rule was that we could not leave his lecture, even to use the bathroom, without a doctor’s note.

Professor Nabokov, with his distaste with rubbing shoulders with the younger generation, should not be confused with Ms. Rubeo, the graduate student who taught me calculus at The University of Virginia.  The Nabokov story can be found in its entirety here.  It's not very long and it is a chuckle.

The best line from Lolita goes ...

“It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.”

But the most famous passage, which is also a massive winner, goes ...

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.” 

Wow.

Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

Wow.

Of course the best line about girls ever written goes ...

To see her in sunlight was to see Marxism die.

A line about which Nabokov had nothing to do.


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