The Line of Calamity

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Life.

All the Smart Girls

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl i

All the Smart Girls.  Deconstructing Blue van Meer.

I read Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl in June 2010. And this is pretty much when I realized what a real frustration is: when you read about this book which sounds so brilliant and exciting and then google it, only to find that it does not exist! The book, the author and the thrilling synopsis were just the fruits of imagination. A nice post-modern touch of the fiction that exists only within fictional universe. Very nice, but totally frustrating.

Being motivated by the sheer curiosity and the heat wave (+35C and still getting hotter), I feel pretty pedantic to try to deconstruct Blue van Meer – to peel off her abundant references to the existing and non-existing sources. I am not really sure about the aim of such an exercise. Lets just say for the moment, that the process is the goal in itself.

I love to read translated books where translators provide versatile commentary on different cultural/social/political references/names/places. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl made me itch to translate the book, only to be able to add the multitude of the footnotes (“This book does not exist”, “These people are imaginary”, “Quotation Winston Churchill” etc.). But as I have no patience nor enough contacts with the publishers to be bothered with the professional translations, I’d just use this Project to compile the footnotes.


"[...] We thought we were going to die, like those people in the movie when they're stuck in the Alps and forced to eat each other."

"Alive. Before it was a movie, it  was book". p.482

Finally, Blue van Meer refers to the Real Life book and movie.

Piers Paul Read's book Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors (1974) is a non-fiction account documenting the events of the Uruguayan air plane crush in 1972.  And the movie Alive (1993) details the story of a Uruguayan rugby  team who were involved in the crash.  I have not seen the movie, nor have I read the book.

I'll add the book to the Authentic Reading List.

Battle of Gettysburg

[...] or the exact year and month of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1863). p. 476

Battle of Gettysburg July 1–3 1863 happened during the American Civil War.  Is  known for the largest number of casualties in the War and  as the War's turning point.  I'm very ignorant about the US history, so no comments or anecdotes here.

Gettysburg is in Pennsylvania, current population - 7,620 (according to wiki).

Menendez Brother

"We don't think you're like, psychotic, or a Menendez brother," Jade said.  481

I remembered Menendez brothers the first time I was searching for  Holloway Barnes and Eleanor Tilden .

Menendez  brothers (b. 1968 and 1970) killed their parents in 1989 and then over 6-months period until the arrest they had spent over 1 million dollars.  They are sentenced to spent life in prison, and they both got married while in prison (and one of them even managed to do it twice already).

Living in Darkness

It was like being a Prisoner in a Maximum-Security Prison, wanting to know what a Visitor's hand felt like (see Living in Darkness, Cowell, 1967).  No matter how desperate you wanted to know, pressing your dumb palm against the glass right where the visitor's hand was pressed to the opposite side, you never would know that feeling, not until they set you free.  p.481

Living in Darkness, Cowell, 1967 yet another book about prison, that Blue van Meer read. It makes it a third book in the prison theme, all from Imaginary Reading.

We already had Living in the Pit and How to Survive “The Farm”, Louisiana State Prison at Angola .  Does it tell us something about the Blue van Meer character that she had read so much on the subject of Maximum-Security Prison?

Sylvia Plath

"It's like so obvious. Schnerder pulled a Sylvia Plath".  p. 468

Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963) was an American poet, novelist and short story writer.  Committed suicide.

Her relations with Ted Hughes (1930-1998) seemed to be controversial  and he was accused of mistreating her and practically driving her to death.   To this picture adds another scary fact: 6 years after Sylvia Plath's suicide, another love interest of Ted Hughes, Assia Wevill (1927 – 1969), killed herself in similar fashion to Plath by use of a gas oven.   And even more terrifying fact: before suicide Assia Wevill had murdered her and Hughes' 4 y.o. daughter.

And the finally, as if the facts were not grim enough, in 2009 committed suicide Plath's and Hughes's son Nicholas Hughes (born 1962).

Something was really rotten in the kingdom.

Greta van Susteren and Wolf Blitzer

"Stop acting like you're all Greta van Susteren with an eyelift because here's a breaking headline for you.  You're not.  Neither are you Wolf Blitzer." p.468

The girls in Blue van Meer's school, live in our Real World, because they continue referring to the Real Life people!

Greta van Susteren (1954) is an American journalist  and television personality on the Fox News Channel.  2 random facts from the wiki:  van Susteren is sientologist and her husband Coale served as an adviser for Sarah Palin.  No, she is not my type of the person.  I have never seen her, as I don't have US TV channels, but the simple google showed many pictures of what she can do with her eyebrows.

Wolf Isaac Blitzer (1948) works on CNN.  I've seen him on CNN International, though he is not able to grasp my attention as intensively as Anderson Cooper.

Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche

"She's a full-scale lesbian, " sang Lonny Felix that Wednesday during Physics Lab 23, "Symmetry in Physical Laws: is Your Right Hand Really Your Right Hand?" "The Ellen kind, by the way.  Not the Anne Heche kind, when you can go either way." p.467

This is a gossip about the Real Life People!

Ellen DeGeneres (1958, actress and media star) and Anne Heche (1969, actress) relations were most likely widely discussed in the media-gossiping circles.  Anne Heche dated men before and after her relations with Ellen DeGeneres that explain "when you can go either way", while Ellen DeGeneres is known to date only women  - "a full-scale lesbian".

By the way, just the other day I saw the latest Power50 by the magazine Out and Ellen DeGeneres is #2, one position ahead of my all time favourite media persona ANDERSON COOPER

Holloway Barnes and Eleanor Tilden

I couldn’t help but think of Holloway Barnes and Eleanor Tilden, the girls who’d conspired to murder their parents in Honolulu in 1964, subject to Arthur Lewis’ chilling nonfiction account, Little Girls (1988). Holloway killed Eleanor’s parents with a pick-ax as they slept and Eleanor killed Holloway’s with a rifle, shooting them in the face as if playing a game, hoping to win a stuffed panda, and in the photographs section in the middle of the book, there’d been a picture of the girls almost exactly like this one, the two of them in Catholic schoolgirl uniforms, their arms pretzeled, their brutal smiles piercing their faces like fish hooks. p. 213

As someone has commented in the previous post about this paragraph: there were Real Life protagonists for Holloway Barnes and Eleanor Tilden.  I rented the movie Heavenly Creatures (1994) and watched Peter Jackson's account of this case.  I did not expect much of the movie (what can one expect of the story of two girls killing a mother), but it was really imaginative and really chilling.  Thank you, commenter, for letting me know.

Holloway Barnes and Eleanor Tilden were based on Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, infamous for the Parker-Hulme Murder (1954, New Zealand) when they murdered Pauline's mother.  There is the  information website about the movie and the real case, it's a bit difficult to navigate as it seems it has not been upgraded since 1996 when it had been built.  But if one has enough patience, it provides a lot of interesting information.  Like for instance here there are two very interesting pictures:

Pauline Parker & Juliet Hulme leaving Christchurch magistrates' court.

Melanie Lynskey & Kate Winslet recreating the same shot.

Freud, Jung, Frasier

He despised Freud, Jung, Frasier and any person who thought it fascinating to instigate a lengthy discussions of his/her dreams.  p. 459

Sigmund Freud was the father of the psychoanalysis.  Carl Gustav Jung was the god-father of the psychoanalysis.  And Mary Frasier was the grand-grand-daughter thrice removed of the psychoanalysis.  As Gareth van Meer despised the whole family, he would not tolerate any of them in his house, so it seems that Blue van Meer did not read their books.

She was taken from us without warning

Instead, according to The Pack, Hannah had simply "passed"; she'd being playing poker and decided not to take another card.  or reading Havermeyer's spongy wording, one had the sense she'd been seized ("taken from us"), King-King-style ("without warning"), by the gigantic, smooth hand of God ("she's in good hands"). and though such an event was gruesome ("one of life's toughest lessons") everyone should nail a grin to their face and continue robotically with daily life ("we must continue on, loving each day, as Hannah would've wanted").  p.458

All these wonderful euphemisms for "die":  "passed";  "taken from us"; "without warning"; "she's in good hands".  This paragraph remained me strongly of Bernd das Brot episode:

- Dieser Vogel ist tot.
- Nein, der schläft nur.
- Dieser Vogel schläft nicht. Er ist T.O.T. Von uns gegangen. Aus. Ende. Finito. Dies ist ein Ex-Vogel.

Here is the episode on the YouTube from 1:50 is about the dead bird.

Living in the Pit

I understood in full why convicted murderer Sharp Zulett had written in his surprisingly glib autobiography Living in the Pit (1980) (a book I wrongly once thought exceedingly hyper and melodramatic), that "in the fleapit" - the "fleapit" was the pitch-black four-by-nine cell at Lumgate, the maximum-security federal prison outside of Hartford - "you have to make yourself let go of the rope of Time, let yourself float there in the dark, live in it.   Otherwise you'll go mad.  You'll start to see devils.  One guy came out of the fleapit after only two days, and he'd pulled out his own eye" (p.131).  p. 428

Living in the Pit (1980) by Sharp Zulett is Imaginary Reading.  Interesting enough, it is not the only prison-themed book that Blue van Meer read.  How to Survive “The Farm”, Louisiana State Prison at Angola is another one.

In Hartford there is the maximum-security federal prison, but is it specially known for it's cruelty and anti-human conditions?  And what is Lumgate? Google did not bring up any satisfactory search results, so I'm assuming that it's not a Real World's prison.

Another interesting aspect: was in out Real World  any convicted murderer who wrote his/her autobiography about his/her day in prison?  Who this Sharp Zulett is based off?

Questions that require further research.

A Dresden Church

[...] a Dresden church with Byzantine architecture on the eve of February 13,1945 [...]  p.451

The Bombing of  Dresden by the British Royal Air Force and the US Army Air Force (USAAF) happened February 13 and February 15 1945.  So the even of February 13 was the last of Dresden as it used to be.

Blue van Meer had already  made a reference to the Dresden disaster in Dresden Upshot.   A Dresden church with Byzantine architecture is most likely Frauenkirche which as destroyed in the bombing and restored only by 2005. Here is Frauenkirche is all its previous glory painted by Bernardo Bellotto soon after it was built in mid-18th century.

James Cagney

"When we go in March, there won't be bugs.  And if there are, I'll drown you in Off," Hannah said in severe voice (see "1940 publicity still for Torrid Zone," Bulldog in a Henhouse: The Life of James Cagney, Taylor, 1982, p.339).  p.373

Bulldog in a Henhouse: The Life of James Cagney, Taylor, 1982 is Imaginary Reading.  Only Blue van Meer read it.  But let's see what it may refer to.

James Cagney (1899 – 1986) was an American film actor ( Public Enemy, 1931), and the cinema's quintessential "tough guy".  I guess, this character range of Cagney earns him "bulldog" label, as for the 'henhouse' - he definitely played along with lots of beautiful women and according to wiki "In his first performing role, he danced dressed as a woman in the chorus line of the 1919 revue  Every Sailor" [Sailor Moon cross-dressing futuristic cross-reference, anyone?]

Torrid Zone (1940) is one of movies where Cagney was starring with Ann Sheridan.  I have not seen the movie and I have no clue as to what was so special for Torrid Zone's publicity.

Torrid Zone,  James Cagney and Ann Sheridan - from here.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

The dialogue in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Williams, 1955) trembled before my eyes.  "One of those no-neck monsters hit me with some ice cream.  Their fat little heads sit on their fat little necks without a bit of connection..." Maggie the Cat wouldn't withstand such  harassment.  She'd cross her legs in her flimsy slip and say something passionate and shrill and everyone in the room, including Big Daddy would choke on the ice they were chewing from their mint juleps.   p.79

The movie with all charming Elisabeth Taylor made this quote.  And I give extra point to Blue van Meer for using "no-neck monsters" in the school environment.   And couple more extra points for realistic understanding that she is nowhere near as cool as Maggie the Cat.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof gets a mentioning on the Authentic Reading List, as anyone can find it in the Real World libraries and bookstores.

Jimmy Stewart

And the longer you looked at her, the more her shorn head seemed to isolate and float on its own like Jimmy Stewart's in Vertigo, when he suffered from a nervous breakdown and psychedelic colors, the pinks and greens of madness, swirl behind him. p.373

Vertigo (1958), Alfred Hitchcock's movie starring James Stewart and Kim Novak.  And here it is in all it's glory: James Stewart's head in psychedelic colors.

Twin Paradox and Atomic Clocks

After all, I'd been spotting Jade and the others all over the city, and Allison Smithson-Caldona in her relentless study of all things double and dittoed, Twin Paradox and Atomic Clocks (1999), actually tried to scientifically prove the somewhat mystical theory that everyone had a twin wondering the planet.  She was able to confirm this as fact in three out of every twenty-five examined individuals, no matter their nationality or race.  p. 346-347

Allison Smithson-Caldona Twin Paradox and Atomic Clocks (1999)  - no, this book was never written, so the perfect fit for the Imaginary Reading List.

Twin Paradox is a thought experiment in special relativity, in which a twin makes a journey into space in a high-speed rocket and returns home to find he has aged less than his identical twin who stayed on Earth. (wiki)  Some truly brilliant minds were contributing to the theorizing of this highly sophisticated concept.   Atomic clocks are extremely precise devices of time measure which are used in the real experiments to prove time relativity.   The concepts and instruments of this so very theoretical physics is beyond of scope of my understanding, so I will not go into any deliberations on the matter.

The idea of "everyone has a twin wondering the planet" is a popular one, though the swift google search did not bring any book titles that could be suggested as Additional Reading.  The name 'Allison Smithson-Caldona' is surely very poetic, but nothing jumps to my mind that could be connected to it.  As for the results of Mrs Smithson-Caldona's field research "3 out of 25" - they surely sound scientific, but at the same time not really sufficient for any sort of generalization.

I'd love a good book on the subject of the twins: something with fancy speculations and conspiracy theories.  If I find something worthy, I'll it here.

Le Georges

We'd reconvene at 7:30 P.M. at Le Georges, the restaurant on the top of the Centre Pompidou.  p. 344

That night we decided not to go to Le Georges.  p. 348

Le Georges is indeed the restaurant at the 6th floor of  the Centre Pompidou.  Adresse: place de Georges Pompidou,  75004 Paris.  Supposedly, it features very fancy food and very beautiful view of Paris.  Cannot comment on it, as I have not been there.  But Blue van Meer did not make it there either, so there is little importance of this posh place for our research.

Rudolph Valentino

" ... Then came the actual reason we'd ventured to the school - Servo spent an hour trying to get me to ask Florence of the guttural r's to dinner, some femme who was a leading expert in Simone de Beauvoir - of all hellish things to be an expert in - a woman who wore more eyeliner that Rudolph Valentino ... "  p. 350

Rudolph Valentino and the eyeliners.  On yes, I thought.  And Internet did not disappoint me (picture from here).   I believe, it's not only the eyeliner, but also the mascara.  Hell, yes!  I don't think there is any hidden meaning in the Gareth van Meer's words.  This is an unapologetic excuse the post some prettiness.

And two random facts, mentioned in all Rudolph Valentino's bios:  his name was Rodolfo Alfonzo Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla and there was an 'almost riot' of 80000 mourners at his funeral.

Encore une fois

O dear!  I've been neglecting this blog for so long, that it is almost embarrassing...  Good thing that I was writing little notes on the margins of the book about this and that little detail.  Bad thing is that I never posted about them.  Lets try again and see for how long I will last this time.  Well, as long as it entertains me, I will have my little fun in my little corner of the Internet.

West D.

Loquacious cardio

"Sometimes people say things simply to fill silence.  Or as a way to shock and provoke.  Or as exercise.  Loquacious cardio.  There are any numbers of reasons.  Only very rarely are words used strictly for their denotative meanings," I said, and yet Dad's comments from "Modes of Oration and the Brawn of Languages" weren't making the slightest dent in Hannah.  p.314

If I understand the passage correctly "Modes of Oration and the Brawn of Languages" is a text by Gareth van Meer, so clearly it does not exist in our Real World.

I particularly liked 'loquacious cardio' expression.

Merriam Webster enlightened me that:

- The origin of 'loquacious' is Latin loquac-, loquax, from loqui to speak.  The first Known Use: 1663

- 'Cardio' is derived from cardiovascular and as such was first used in 1984.


You couldn't help but think, not only about shortages of food, safe water, shockingly low averages of adult literacy and life expectancy in various developing nations, but also that shopworn thought about how many people were, at this precise moment, being born, and how many were dying, and that you, like some 6,2 billion others, were simply between these two ho-hum milestones, milestones that felt earth shattering while they were happening, but in the context of Hichracker's 2003 edition of the World Geographic Factbook or M.C. Howard's Finding the Cosmos in a Grain of Sand: The Nativity of the Universe (2004) they were ordinary, run-of-the-mill. pp.409-410

My main reason for this quotation is '2004' : so far it's the latest book that Blue van Meer read.

As for these two entries for Imaginary Reading:

There is The World Factbook (CIA World Factbook) - an internet resources compiling maps, flags, and comprehensive geographic information for every country and territory in the world (over 270 entries).  It's in public domain and there are printed versions of the Factbook.   As for the second book, it has a pretty title, but I don't recognize the possible prototype.

And finally on the the existential thoughts of Blue van Meer,  I wonder if she saw the film Amélie (2001), then she would have asked the right (and less shopworn) question:

- Amélie still seeks solitude. She amuses herself with silly questions about the world below, such as "How many people are having an orgasm right now?"
- Fifteen.

Meditations in Adromeda

Noah Fishpost, MD. in his captivating book on the adventures of modern psychiatry, Meditations in Andromeda (2001), mentioned one had to proceed as unobtrusively as possible when questioning a patient, because truth and secrets were cranes, dazzling in size yet notoriously shy ans wary; if one made too much noise, they'd disappear into the sky, never to be seen again.  p.322

Meditations in Andromeda (2001) sounds like a very interesting book, pity that it does not exist.

Google as usually finds some interesting references:

Felius Andromeda's 1967 single, "Meditations," was one of the best British psychedelic obscurities from here.

Though I don't think Ms. Pessle was inspired by this song, still it proves that 'Andromeda' and 'Meditation' fit as well together as 'Solaris' and 'mind-fuck'.

The Valley of the Kings

The musty, forsaken smell doubtlessly was what National Geographic correspondent Carlson Quay Meade was talking about in the account of his excavation of the Valley of the Kings with Howard Carter in 1923, in Revealing Tutankhamen: "I daresay I was troubled of what we might find in that eerie sepulcher, and though there was most certainly an air of excitement, due to the sickening stench, I was forced to remove my linen handkerchief and place it over my nose and mouth, proceeding thus into the cheerless tomb" (Meade, 1924). p.361

This is good one! Lets unravel it.

Howard Carter (1874-1939) was an English archaeologist and Egyptologist, famous for discovering  the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Quoting the wiki:

All of these discoveries were eagerly covered by the world's press, but most of their representatives were kept in their hotels; only H. V. Morton was allowed on the scene, and his vivid descriptions helped to cement Carter's reputation with the British public.

Henry Canova Vollam Morton (1892–1979). He was Daily Express' journalist and in 1923 he achieved worldwide fame for his reports on the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamun, as he successfully out-manoeuvered the official Times journalist who had been given exclusive rights to the story.

Read this exciting  The Times' article about the journalism feuds and scoops.  Though The Times' account does not acknowledges H.V. Morton special role.

Daily Express has an archive of printed editions , I tried to search it for the Morton's articles, but the search did not bring any results, and the archive is paid, so no fun.  Additionally, I tried to find if Morton had a book dedicated to the Valley of the Kings excavations, but found none.  Pity.

Ms. Pessl definitely deserves points for artistic manipulating of facts and fiction-

Battle of Stalingrad

St. Gallway doggedly marched on (see Chapter 9, "The Battle of Stalingrad", The Great Patriotic War, Stepnovich, 1989). p.400

Battle of Stalingrad (July 1942-February 1943)  between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army was the turning point of WWII in Europe with 2 million casualties on both sides.  Lots of blood and brutality.  The Germans had Stalingrad almost captured in 1942, but then the battle was bogged down in house-to-house fighting.

A point to Ms. Pessl for naming a book supposedly written by a Russian author (Stepanovich), that's a very fine detail: in the Soviet and later Russian historical tradition no one calls the battles on the Soviet territory as a WWII, rather it is always The Great Patriotic War.  Adding The Great Patriotic War, Stepnovich, (1989) to Imaginary Reading.

Simon & Garfunkel

[...] hadn't I allowed myself to drift in a pool with a deadpan expression on an inflatable raft wearing sunglasses as Simon and Garfunkel went "Woo woo woo"? p.360

According to wiki Simon & Garfunkel are an American singer-songwriter duo consisting of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.  They started a duo in 1957 and since then had been breaking off and re-uniting on a regular basis.  The name did not ring any bell to me, but it could be I heard some of their music,  there are some chances.

"Woo woo woo" is from the song Mrs Robinson (1968):

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you
(Woo woo woo)
What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson
Joltin' Joe has left and gone away?
(Hey hey hey – hey hey hey)

I admit, this song I heard, but in some band cover version (for the life of me, I would never remember the name of the band, but it's on radio rotation).

What's much more interesting is that the song is a sound-track for the film The Graduate (1967).

The Revenge of Stella Verslanken

[...] because Hollywood was where everyone went when they wanted to reinvent themselves and end up a movie star (see The Revenge of Stella Verslanken, Botando. 2001). p.325

Clearly, this is a non-Real Life book. Though I tried to google if there were a Hollywood star whose real name was 'Stella Verslanken' (you know, another Norma Jeane Baker).  Unfortunately, did not find anything plausible.

As for the title, it reminded my immediately of a novel Betrayed by Rita Hayworth (1968) by Manuel Puig.  It's a post-modern stream of conscience text, and I still wonder how I manged to finish the book.  I guess I kept hoping that the will some sort of  'happening' which never happened.  Read it at your own risk.

Hamlet: the cast

[...] I noticed with horror Hannah was taring at me again, this time expectantly, as if I were playing Ophelia and had gotten so deep into character, into the throes of mental illness, I was missing all my cues, forcing Laertes and Gertrude to ad-lib. pp.419-420

No one in the English writing world is capable of avoiding some sort of remark about or reference to  Hamlet. It will be cruel to ask the writers to forget about Hamlet, as I'm pretty sure it is possible to write a complete book using as the dialogues the rearranged lines from Hamlet.  But Hamlet is never a 'shopworn thought', so I'm not complaining, I only enjoy the Shakespeare's count-down.

Sir William Shakespeare

"Sir William Shakespeare!" shouted Milton.

"He wasn't a sir," said Charles.

"Yes, he was."

"He wasn't knighted."  p.411

Charles is right, Shakespeare was not knighted.  But I'm surprise that Milton is such a rabid fangirl of Shakespeare.  He does not make such impression, but I guess everyone has his/her hidden kinks.  Or did he choose to scream Shakespeare's name, because the Bard is the Very Word of English World?


St. Gallaway students were also the same, rodentlike in their ability to carry on foraging, storing, burrowing and eating a huge amount of plant food in spite of humiliating national scandals and harrowing world events.  pp.400-401

Merriam-Webster does not list a word 'rodentlike'.  Wiktionary defines the etymology of this word as 'rodent  +‎ -like'.  And I think Ms Pessl should get some mentioning for using the word before Natalie Angier's article (2007).

I was curious about this word purely from the translator's perspective.  And as it's not listed in the dictionaries, it will be up to translator's creativity.

As for 'humiliating national scandals and harrowing world events', what date is it?  January 2004?  It must be at least 2004, as on p.410 Blue mentions 2004's book.   Nothing particularly humiliating US scandal comes to my mind.  After Impeachment of Bill Clinton as a courtesy of  Monica Lewinsky (1998) everything pale in the comparison.  If there were any scandals, they must have been mild and forgotten in couple of years.  As for 'harrowing world events' , as Christiane Amanpour there are always “atrocities of war” and “devastation caused by natural disasters”, so any month would have fitted into the description.

Lana and Turner — part 2

After dinner, Hannah [...] sat meditatively on the couch, stroking Lana and Turner.  p. 406

Another cameo of the cats Lana and Turner.  I have already discussed Hannah's maniac tendency to surround herself with all things related to 'Lana Turner' who is an euphemism for 'Natasha Bridges'.

Nothing new to add here, only to mark another appearance of Lana and Turner, just for systematic purpose.

Dresden Upshot

Ms. Brewster's rampage did have some constructive effects, as all disasters and tragedies do (see The Dresden Upshot, Trask, 2002).  p.402

Bombing of Dresden (13.02 and 15.02 1945) by the British and American airforces killed 25000  civilians and destroyed the beautiful city.  Maybe it was not the most numerous as far as the number of deaths, but it became a symbol of war devastation.

The Dresden Upshot, Trask  (2002) is for the Imaginary Reading.

Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)  by Kurt Vonnegut is a must-read.  Vonnegut was a prisoner-of-war in Dresden during the bombing.

I loved the book when I read it.  I loved it even more when I had time to think of it.  An interesting detail:  the Slaughterhouse-Five contains lots of references to real and fictional literature and  metafictional discussions.  I believe Ms. Pessl would have appreciated it.

Hollywood Squares

"If you didn't win Hollywood Squares, you still get a consolation prize." p.387

Hollywood Squares (1965-2004 with breaks) was  an American television comedy and game show in which two contestants play tic-tac-toe  to win cash and prizes.  The "board" for the game is a 3 × 3 vertical stack of open-faced cubes, each occupied by a celebrity (or "star") seated at a desk and facing the contestants. The stars are asked questions and the contestants judge the veracity of their answers in order to win the game. (according to wiki).

Those players who did not win a game received a consolation prize which varied over time and presentation format.

I have never seen the show, so no additional comments here.

Nicolas and Alexandra's legendary toymaker

[...] they looked as if they weren't real, but crafted by Nicolas and Alexandra's legendary toymaker, Sacha Lurin Kuznetzov.  With the most dazzling materials, at his fingertips - velvet, silk, furs -he could craft chinchilla teddy bears, 24-carat dollhouses in his sleep ( see Imperial Indulgence, Lipnokov, 1965).  p.386

In Russia there were 2 tsars named Nicolas - the First and the Second.  Their wives were both named Alexander.

Nicolas I (1796-1855) was married to Alexandra Feodorovna (Charlotte of Prussia)
Nicolas II (1868-1918) was married to Alexandra Feodorovna (Alix of Hesse)

Both princesses were of foreign origins and when marrying Russia heir to the throne they had to be converted into Orthodox church and be baptized with Russian name.  Somehow 'Alexandra' was a popular name for the princesses.

Sacha Lurin Kuznetzov is not real, as this is not even a proper Russian name.  But the idea of imperial toymaker might have some historical references.

There is  the story "The Left-Handed Craftsman"  [1881] pp.212-252 in The Enchanted Wanderer: Selected Tales by Nikolai Leskov.  There we have Nicolas I who needed a Russian craftsman to answer the challenge of the English craftsman.  And he found such who could make the most dazzling toy mechanisms.

Then there is, of course, Peter Carl Fabergé (1846-1920) who crafted famous Fabergé eggs for the Russian imperial house.    Nicolas II had many of them commissioned for his wife and as diplomatic gifts.

Basically, it could be either of the tsars and as there is no additional information, we cannot make a definite conclusion here.

Imperial Indulgence, Lipnokov (1965) will be mentioned on Imaginary Reading.

Cottonwood — part 3

We drove a half hour before swerving down Exit 42 - "Cottonwood", read the sign - barreling across the deserted two-lane road into a truck stop.  p. 176

Finally, the mystery of 'Cottonwood' is solved!  It's not related to Charles Manson nor is it an euphemism for 'crazy'.  In this book 'Cottonwood' is the place where Jade, Leulah and Blue spied on Hannah Schneider picking up strange, old men.

It was one of those skin-and-bone towns Dad and I had driven through a million times, a town wan and malnourished; somehow it managed to survive on nothing but gas stations, motels, and McDonald's.  Big scablike parking lots scarred the sides of the road.  p. 180

And for Blue van Meer 'Cottonwood' became a symbol of  the misery one-night stands at an "awful roadie watering hole" (p.177).

If only I was flipping the book from the beginning to the end, I would have avoided this misunderstanding.  Here in Chapter 10 'Cottonwood' is described, and later in the text refered to.  But as I have a tendency to randomly open the pages, I did not make proper connections.  And then of course, the low cotton contributed to the confusion.

Battlefields of Henry V

[...] I was was sprawled across my bed, trudging through the battlefields of Henry V for AP English [...] p.379

Henry V - I love the play, maybe a little less than Henry IV (Falstaff! Falstaff!), but still I love it.  The battlefields there are Battle of Agincourt (1415) during the Hundred Years' War.

And one of the most famous quote from the play is be about 'the breach'

King Henry:
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger. . . .
Henry V Act 3, scene 1

On the Waterfront

It was an irksome thought, watching On the Waterfront with a woman who smelled like apricot potpourri from a restaurant bathroom (Dad and I rewinding our favorite scene, the glove scene, ten sometimes twelve times, as the June Bug crossed and uncrossed her legs in huffy annoyance) [...] p.381

On the Waterfront (1954) with Marlon Brando.  A saga of masculinity with a strong social message.

I liked the German poster the best (from here).  Die Faust im Nacken (The Fist into the Neck) sound sort of brutal.  And this poster is visual reference to the  working title - The Hook.

A woman's face with nature's own hand painted

June Bug Jenna Parks even toted an unwieldy leather briefcase for her final showdown, which she primly rested on her knees, opened with the clichéd bite of all briefcase openings and, not wasting any time, returned to Dad a bar napkin on which he'd written, in happier days, " 'A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted / Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion.' " p.380

Of course, this is Shakespeare: Sonnet 20.

A woman's face with nature's own hand painted,
Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion;
A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women's fashion:
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue all hues in his controlling,
Which steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.

Hannah Schneider's choice was Sonnet 116.  Any logical conclusions we may draw here?

Debbie Does Dallas

I'll bet by the end of the year we're watching Debbie Does Dallas.  It was ghetto. p.136

Debbie Does Dallas (1978) is a pornographic movie starring Bambi Woods.  The trivia I found rather funny is that the movie spawned a number of sequels and spin-offs including Debbie Does New Orleans, Debbie Does Wall Street and Debbie Does Dallas Again [wiki].  This is a master pattern for an exciting title.

"It was ghetto" expression made me think.  There is nothing racial or segregational in this porno, so I guess it's used as a derogative attribute here.  And look, I found a very fitting description at Urban Dictionary:

word which rich white girls use to describe almost everything that's not clad with lilly polos and pearls.

Jim Jones

Each featured the same carrot-topped woman flashing a banana-grin that walked the fine line between ecstatic and fanatic (see Chapter 4, "Jim Jones", Don Juan de Mania, Lerner, 1963).  p.150

Jim Jones (1931 – 1978)  was the founder and leader of the Peoples Temple, which is best known for a "revolutionary suicide" : 900+ death  (1978)   in Jonestown, Guyana.  Fanatic does not even start to describe this.

The survivors describe the dementia of Jim Jones (Dec. 11, 1978) - a article full of emotions than facts, but nonetheless very interesting.

The book Blue van Meer had allegedly read Don Juan de Mania (Lerner, 1963) could not have described the events on 1978.  In 1963 Jim Jones had already founded the Peoples Temple (1955), Cuba travel (1959), Brazil travel  (1963)

But it was before Peoples Temple in San Francisco or in Jonestown and the following Jonestown massacre.

I guess, in 1963 Jim Jones did look somewhat in between 'ecstatic and fanatic', not yet 'batshit insane'.

Don Juan de Mania (Lerner, 1963) is for the Imaginary Reading, and please, note how classy is the title.

So what's the deal with all the maniac insane cult leader?   First Charles Manson, now Jim Jones...  Is there a message behind it?  If so, then what is it?

The South American Joven Mutiny

[...] I said drearily without looking up from some book I'd yanked off the shelf, The South American Joven Mutiny (Golzalez, 1989).

The South American Joven Mutiny (Golzalez, 1989) is another item fro Imaginary Reading.

Joven in Spanish means 'youth', 'young'.  English word 'juvenile' is closely connected.  So what is it about 'juvenile mutiny' is the South America?  Or is it the juveniles of South American origins uprising in the US?  Street groups, gangs and bands?  Or is it more of socio-political recognition and acceptance?

Here is the book I read: The Freedom Writers Diary : How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them.  Juvenile of different racial and ethnic origins in an American high school: "...we had only three things in common: we hated school, we hated our teacher, and we hated each other."

Tuskawalla Trail Retirement

[...] and some day we'd phone each other to chat about Tuskawalla Trail Retirement Community [...] p.145

Maybe it is obvious for the American readership, but I was not sure what a 'trail retirement community' is.  Wiki and google are my friends, and now I know about the Great American Dream of Happily Ever After Retirement.  Segregation by age, that's what I call it.  Though a happily luxurious ghetto.

'Tuskawalla' is much more obscure.  It sounds like a Finish word to me.   But how about Tuscany + wala ?

Tuscany is a region in Central Italy know for its beautiful landscapes and Renaissance with capital Florence.  A perfect place for retirement.

Wala is 'choice' in Althochdeutch.

A perfect name for a perfect paradise during Life-After-Work.

Polyester blazer

It was always a tiny detailed that made me feel guilty: [...] Willy Johnson's ruby triangle of polyester blazer; caught in the car door, it flapped in terror as she sped down the driveway not bothering to check for oncoming traffic before making the left onto Sandpiper Circle.  p.381

'Polyester blazer' gets the honorable mentioning on this blog, because I've just recently seen Love & Human Remains (1993) - a wacky movies with wicked humor ( and those clothes! they look so eccentric nowadays, but used to be ordinary in 1980s).  And of course, being 1980s the obligatory polyester joke:

Thomas Gibson's character: Some people have a problem with gays and lesbians.

Ruth Marshall's character: Yeah, well some people wear polyester.

Thomas Gibson is very luscious in this movie.

Post 100

This is post #100 on this blog about  Special Topics in Calamity Physics and I guess that's a good reason for some sort of free-talk.

First, despite it's no longer hot, but pouring rain in my part of Bavaria, I'm still having lots of fun with this project.  I'm still not sure where it's going, but so far I like pick on the tiny bids of information I find here and there.  I'm leaving the question of the ultimate aim open, but the process is of great entertainment.

Second, as google is our everything, I'm playing around with the google adsense.  Really, those ads are just for my own curiosity to see how google perceives me in terms of the content, as it's rather an interesting  tool.  I have to admit that I'm not very happy.  I don't like the offers of 'African Girls' (whatever those are), but sometime google manages to grasp a better concept of me:

This I like!  Nice suggestions, google! Keep it up!

I'm thinking of making an experiment and do a month of mentioning something very intellectual in every post.  'Anderson Cooper'  would be nice.  He have the most breathtaking blue eyes and he is intellectual.  And it would be so easy to have him incorporated in each post: simple 'What would Anderson Cooper think of this?' will surface.  I wonder how google will react to such Copper-ization of the blog.   Could be very interesting.

Third, thank you to Marie-Jeanne for her interest in this project and her thoughtful comments!  It's nice to have a playground, but so much more fun to share it with someone.

Finally, I have a huge pile of books I intend to read (see Additional Reading) and I hope to find time for them.  Otherwise, if the pile continues growing, I will have to rename the project into "Who is afraid of Blue van Meer?"

Went Klebold

"She tweaked.  Wouldn't be shocked if she went Klebold" p.136

"Went Klebold" refers to Columbine High School massacre (1999) committed by Dylan Klebold (1981 – 1999) and Eric Harris (1981–1999). I believe, that given from the context, "go Klebold" would mean "become berserk and start killing schoolkids".

Of course, I know Columbine, but I would have never come up with the boys' names on the spot. I think, most of non-Americans would sooner recognize "Columbine" than "Klebold". So how a translator would deal here? How to transfer the allusion? Did they have the footnotes in the translations? Shall check the German edition, at least.

The Tramp

We were supposed to watch The Tramp, but she comes back with friggin' Apocalypse Now, which Mom and Dad would go mental over - the movie's three hours of harlotry. p.136

I guess this is Charlie Chaplin's The Tramp (1915) which is 32 minutes.  Substituting it with Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979) is not really kosher.

The Tramp is named after Charlie Chaplin's  character (otheriwise know as 'Charlot').  Charlie Chaplin had engaged this character in his several silent movies.

I really like this poster (taken from here) featuring Charlie Chaplin as the Tramp.

The Tramp is available for free download at the Internet Archive. Or alternatively it could be watched here.

Go Caligula

"You really think the Bluebloods go all Caligula on the weekends?  I'm not sure if I believe Cindy Willard." p.136

"Go all Caligula":

As Urban Dictionary helpfully offers: Caligula became known for his bisexual incestual orgies.  Dee and Dum are very curious about the possibility of the Bluebloods sleeping with each other in all possible combinations.  Nice and juicy gossips and nice expression.

By the way, is Cindy Willard a character at the school?  I don't remember her...


Obviously at Coventry Academy, at Greenside Junior High, there'd been the popular ones, the VIPs who cruised the halls like an arcade of limousines and invented their own tongue in order to intimidate like fierce Zaxoto tribesmen on the Côte d'Ivoire [...] pp.134-135

Obviously Zaxoto is a made-up tribe of Côte d'Ivoire. But what I have learned about Côte d'Ivoire:

- Since 1985, everyone is supposed to call them "Côte d'Ivoire" and no "Ivory Coast", please.  Not that BBC bothers with it.

- In addition to French, there are 5 native spoken languages - Baoulé, Dioula, Dan, Anyin and Cebaara Senufo.  All belong to Niger-Congo language group and I do not know a thing about such languages.

And I found at wiki: The Leopard Society - a West African society active in the early- to mid-1900s that practiced cannibalism.They were centred in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire.  A very interesting website that has a selection of information sources on The Leopard Society.

Shakespeare & Nabokov

I think it's a high time to have two special tags: one for Shakespeare, another for Nabokov.  Though they are not characters in the book, they are permanent and very exciting crew.

Nabokov is one of Gareth van Meer’s favourite authors and I'm turning a blind eye on the Lolita references many other reviews had while discussing Special Topics in Calamity Physics .

Shakespeare on the other hand is our everything.  So much everything, that I believe there is at least one reference to the bard in each chapter of the book.

In order to make the search easier, I'm adding these two tags and lets see who wins the race

Bonjour Tristesse

No, it was not one of those cure 1950s haircuts labeled by fashion magazines as chic and gamine (see Jean Seberg, Bonjour Tristesse).  p.357

Oh, I know this one - it's Françoise Sagan's Bonjour Tristesse (1954).  All emo schoolgirls of 90s read it.

Remember the characters?

Cécile - a 17 y.o.  smart girl living with her father.

Raymond is a widower, Cécile's father and also a playboy

Anne was a friend of Cécile's mother, then Raymond's lover and then dead...

Is it just me, or do these characters remind of someone else?

Jean Seberg played Cécile in the 1958's film .

I loved the Japanese poster (from here) for the movie :

悲しみよこんにちは [かなしみよこんにちは] - that's Bonjour Tristesse in Japanese.

I wanted to rent the movie, but it is rated 18+ and requires some paperwork and 5 EUR to gain access.  Too much pain.  Maybe sometime later....

Cary Grant

"[...]Even America's most dashing leading man, the circus-educated Archibald Leach, understood it.  He is quoted. in that funny little book we have, what is it, the-"

"Talk of the Town: Hollywood Heroes Have Their Moments," I chirped.

"Yes.  He said, 'I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until I became that person.  Or he became me.' [...]" p. 296

Archibald Alexander Leach (1904-1986) is better know  as Cary Grant.

The photo (from here) features The Bishop's Wife (1947).

The book "Talk of the Town: Hollywood Heroes Have Their Moments" was never written in the Real World. So it will be placed in Imaginary Reading.

But the quote is real.  It is indeed attributed to Cary Grant.

So the final score in this match is 2:1.  Two real entities (one - a quote, another - an actor) and one imaginary piece of book.  I think it's quite a good ration for such a master of fabrication as Ms Pessl.

Gloria Swanson

[...] the sound made my heart throw itself melodramatically against my ribs (see Gloria Swanson, Shifting Sands). p.311

Gloria Swanson (1899 – 1983) was an American actress.
Shifting Sands (1918) - a silent film.

A review on IMBd offers an explanation what sort of heart-throbbing melodrama that film was:

The story is ludicrous - Gloria is a penniless artist who fends off a rape, only to land in prison when the rapist frames her for robbery. Upon release she joins the Salvation Army and meets and marries a wealthy young man. But her past returns to haunt her...

Blue van Meer knows Hollywood too well, she would not miss out such a delicious melodrama trash.

I did not find any pictures from Shifting Sand, but here is photo of Gloria Swanson from the same year (1918).  Here it is suggested that this photo is for Don't Change Your Husband (1919).  Whatever the case, Gloria Swanson is a fabulous woman.

John Barrymore

[...] he did it in a very grandiose way, channeling John Barrymore (see "Baron Felix von Geigern", Grand Hotel).  p. 298

John Barrymore (1882-1942) - an American actor.

Photo from here.   Grand Hotel (1932) - a film with John Barrymore and Greta Garbo.  And Barrymore's character is named The Baron Felix von Gaigern.  According to wiki, in 2007, Grand Hotel was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

The film Grand Hotel is based on the novel by Vicki Baum Menschen im Hotel (1929).  Vicki Baum (1888-1960) was an Austrian Jew which in the 20th century is a story in itself.

Carl von Clausewitz

"There are very few men who have the shrewdness to think and feel beyond the commotion of the present moment.  Try," he commanded, recapitulating Carl von Clausewitz. p. 298

Carl Philipp Gottlieb von Clausewitz (1780 –1831) was a Prussian soldier and German military theorist. He wrote an unfinished book Vom Kriege (On War).

Gareth van Meer does not provide a direct quote, rather a some sort of re-directed manifesto.

What von Clausewitz did write and what's often quoted is

"Open your heart to such emotion. Be audacious and cunning in your plans, firm and persevering in their execution, determined to find a glorious end, and fate will crown your youthful brow with a shining glory, which is the ornament of princes, and engrave your image in the hearts of your last descendants."

This is the ending paragraph of so called Principles Of War (1812, translated by Hans W. Gatzke).  This essay is actually entitled  "The most important principles of the art of war to complete my course of instruction for his Royal Highness the Crown Prince" in original German "Die wichtigsten Grundsätze des Kriegführens zur Ergänzung meines Unterrichts bei Sr. Königlichen Hoheit dem Kronprinzen" and this was the by-leave gift to the sixteen year-old Prussian Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm as von Clausewitz was joining the  Russian army against Napoleon.

Here is the very epic German original:

"Öffnen Sie Ihr Herz einer solchen Empfindung! Seien Sie kühn und verschlagen in Ihren Entwürfen, fest und beharrlich in der Ausführung, entschlossen, einen glorreichen Untergang zu finden, und das Schicksal wird die Strahlenkrone auf Ihr jugendliches Haupt drücken, die eine Zierde des Fürsten ist, deren Licht das Bild Ihrer Züge in die Brust der spätesten Enkel tragen wird!"

If others have their will, Ann hath a way

"Have a swell time with your chicks and charlies," he said and signed theatrically, though I ignored him.  " 'If others have their will Ann hath a way' " p.144

And here we have a direct quote from Ulysses by James Joyce.

Stephan Dedalus on Shakespear's marriage: " He chose badly? He was chosen, it seems to me. If others have their will Ann hath a way." It's a pun towards Anna Hathaway - Shakespeare's wife who was not James Joyce's favourite lady.

I find it rather amusing that Gareth van Meet who "had no taste for Joyce - excessive wordplay bored him, so did Latin" (p.143), quotes Dedalus en passant.

And I'm a bit surprised that Ulysses is not on the Required Reading, but if it's the case, then lets put it on Authentic Reading.

The Imperial Consort of the Dairy Queen

"It is adorable and healthily childlike secretly to believe in fairy tales, but the instant one articulates such viewpoint to other people, one goes from darling to dumbo, from childlike to chillingly out of touch with reality, " wrote Albert Pooley in The Imperial Consort of the Dairy Queen (1981, p.233).  p350

There is no such book, of course.

Dairy Queen is a fast food chain.  Again it shows how much apart am I from the realities of the American lifestyle, as I've never heard of it.  Google hints that Diary Queen is (was) an important feature of the American small towns.

Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections at Sixty and Beyond by Larry McMurtry (1999).  Now, this is a book that might shed some light on the symbolic meaning of the Dairy Queen.  I have not read it yet, but definitely putting on Additional Reading, as the title is so promising.  Mixing together a fast food  and German philosopher could bring up some exciting results.

Walter Benjamin (1892 – 1940) - a German philosopher, connected to the Frankfurt school.  "Frankfurt school" is a brand-name in the philosophy with the focus on social change, institutionalism, critical theory, modern. Jürgen Habermas and his discourse of the modern is what the Frankfurt school offers these days.  So what kind of revelations a notable Frankfurt school theorist could have for a Diary Queen?

Pericles' Funeral Oration

" 'Our love of what is beautiful does not lead to extravagance.  Our love of things of mind does not make us soft' " I said as gravely as I could [...]

"So said Thucydides, Book Two,"  I whispered. pp.343-344

Thucydides (c. 460 BC – c. 395 BC) was a Greek historian and is famous for the History of the Peloponnesian War - a magnum opus of Ancient World (divided by later researchers into 8 Books).  The History recounts the war of 431 to 404 BC between the Delian League (Athens) and the Peloponnesian League (Sparta).

What Blue van Meer quotes is Pericles' Funeral Oration 2.34-2.46. of Book 2.   The speech was delivered by Pericles (c. 495 – 429 BC),  a prominent Athenian strategos, at the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian War, as a part of the annual public funeral for the war dead.  Thucydides does not quote the speech verbatim, most likely it is a compilation of several similar speeches, but it serves the point: pathos and glory are poring from every word.

Ann Reinking

She spoke quickly and for some reason my heart hitch-kicking excitedly in the air as if I were Orphan Annie and she was that wonderful character played by Anne Reinking who Dad said had spectacular legs.  pp. 98-99

Image from here.

This is Ann Reinking (b.1949)  and her spectacular legs.  Ann Reinking played a character Grace Farrell in the musical film Annie (1982).   There is not need for any additional comments, just meditate for a while on these glorious legs.

Other Voices

Driving between Little Rock and Portland, I’d read aloud all of the eye-opening [...] Other Voices, 32 Rooms: My Life as L.B. Mayer’s Maid (Hart, 1961). pp.66-67

In my first entry about the Hollywood secrets revealing books, I did not notice the peculiarity of this title, but later looking through Imaginary Reading, it just cried for attention.

Hart's book title is an allusion to Truman Capote's Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948).

Louis B. Mayer was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) boss through 1930s and 1940s.  And he is said to create Hollywood stardom as we know it.

And now couple of curious questions:

Why 32 Rooms?  Is there any special place with 32 rooms?  And what was the relation between L.B. Mayer and Truman Capote?  They must have socialized in the same circles (stars and socialite), but is there a special history between them?

Abject pity

"The most catastrophic thing to befall any man, woman or child is abject pity," wrote Carol Mahler in the Plum Award-winning Color Doves [1987] [...] pp. 325-324

Carol Mahler is unknown, no Color Doves were published in 1987. They will be listed in Imaginary Reading.

There is no "The Plum Award", though I wonder if there is some sort of "Fruit Award" like "Apple Award" or "Peach Award".  I did not find at the first try, but it does not mean it's non-existent.  I'll keep an eye open.

On the other hand "plum award" might mean "a big prize", for instance as it is used in this context.

A quote about the "pity" reminded me of a completely opposite saying by Luka  in The Lower Depth (На дне) (Maxim Gorky, 1901).

"Жалеть людей надо, Христос–то всех жалел и нам велел.  Я те скажу — вовремя человека пожалеть... хорошо бывает!"

Translation by Laurence Irving:

One must, dearie, be good to some one . . . and we must pity people ! Christ — He pitied all, and so He ordered us. . . I say this — if you pity a man . . . then good comes of it ! (Luka, The Third Act).

So pity or not to pity - that is the question!

In fear, one flees

" 'In fear, one flees,' " I said. p.330

Blue van Meer clearly showed that this is a direct quote, and behold it:

"In fear, one flees. One can pretend to fear, accordingly, by pretending to flee, a vigorous activity in which there may be little visible difference between pretense and reality. In horror, on the other hand, there is passivity, the passivity of presence. One stands (or sits) aghast, frozen in place, or "glued to one's seat." Of course, one can be frozen (or "paralyzed") by fear, but that is when fear becomes horror. Horror involves helplessness that fear evades." pp.125-126

It is from Robert C. Solomon, "The Philosophy of Horror, or Why Did Godzilla Cross the Road?" in Entertaining Ideas: Popular Philosophical Essays, (Prometheus Books, 1992), 119-130.

Mr. Von Trapp

"He looks like what's his name... the father in The Sound of Music," said Lu. [...]

"Right.... Mr. Von Trapp," said Jade, thoughtfully, nodding, "Yeah, I always had a thing for him. [...]" p.140

In The Sound of Music (1955) von Trapp was portrayed by Christopher Plummer (b.1929).  Image from here.

And here is the real Georg Ludwig von Trapp (1880-1947) as a k.u.k. Korvettenkapitän (1917).  Image from here .

Christopher Plummer looks much more glamorous: this is what Hollywood would do even to a Austro-Hungarian Imperial officer.   A random fact: von Trapp's first wife's name was Agathe Whitehead.

Cottonwood — part 2.

"[...] At the very last we should stage an intervention so she doesn't keep going to Cottonwood, 'cause if something happens? [...]" p.362

And again Cottonwood.  In this context I think it means "crazy", "la-la-land" .   But I really cannot find any other examples of Cottonwood in such an inderect context. Everyone else seem to take word "cottonwood" for straight value - a tree and sometimes a specific river in Minnesota.

Why both Blue and Jade use "Cottonwood" as an euphemism for 'out-of-this-world'.  Could this be of some specificity to North Caroline?  What's with the Cottonwood?  Why would Cottonwood imply some sort of distorted reality?


"Very well," he said with a sigh and a pitying look.  He started the Volvo.  "Tallyho, my dear."  p.  140

Jeeves and Wooster implanted in me love for British words like "Tallyho".  Merriam tells me that it's  a call of a huntsman at sight of the fox.

Right ho, Jeeves by Pelham Grenville Wodehouse [1934]:

Endorsement was given to this statement by a sudden shout from the apartment named. I recognized—as who would not—Aunt Dahlia's voice:



"Hurry up with that stuff."

"Coming, coming."

"Well, come, then. Yoicks! Hard for-rard!"

"Tallyho, not to mention tantivy. Your aunt," said Tuppy, "is a bit above herself. I don't know all the facts of the case, but it appears that Anatole gave notice and has now consented to stay on, and also your uncle has given her a cheque for that paper of hers. I didn't get the details, but she is much braced. See you later. I must rush."

I want to squee here like an emo-girl for this British talks is unbearably lovely. Write it down in your Moleskine:

tantivy: at a gallop

yoicks: used as a cry of encouragement to foxhounds


"[...] Tourists make life difficult fir us true Parisians, and Monte's a theme park you can't enter unless you have, what, Soc - one, two million? [...]"  p.340

Oh dear, what we have here - a proverbial slip of the tongue. It's so classic. Though not noticeable in the first read, it just jumps for the attention in any following re-reads.

So in chapter #35 Blue van Meer deduced that Gareth van Meer was Socrates of The Nightwatchmen.   And here in Paris vacation we have almost a signed and notarized evidence, that Gareth van Meer is Socrates. Dr. Kouropoulos en passant calls him "Soc" - surely shortened for Socrates, used by someone accustomed by the nickname.

Genghis Khan

Dad adored all Suspension and Silences, so he could feel everyone's eyes madly running all over his face like Mongol armies in 1215 sacking Beijing.  p. 295

1215 - Beijing is captured and torched by the Mongols under Genghis Khan (probably, 1162–1227). Beijing (at that time known as (Zhongdu) burns for more than a month.

Genghis Khan is allegedly a ancestor of ∼8% of the men throughout a large region of Asia, stretching from the Pacific to the Caspian Sea, and it thus makes up ∼0.5% of the world total. The group of scientists (see The Genetic Legacy of the Mongols, American Society of Human Genetics, 2003) identified a Y-chromosomal lineage with several unusual features that supposedly could have originated in Mongolia  about 1,000 years ago.

So if 0,5% of the world total (~30 million) are descendants of Genghis Khan, then how many children at least did he need to procreate to enable such spread.

~ 800 years - 4 generation per century, makes it 32 generations.  Lets for simplicity consider that all offspring have the same number of offspring, then

x=exp(ln30000000/32).  x=1,7

Which means that if Genghis Khan had 1,7 sons each of who had 1,7 sons each of who had 1,7 sons and so on for 32 generations, then in 800 years there will be 30 million descendants alive.  Surprisingly, no need for the thousands of concubines, only a nuclear family pattern religiously maintained from generation into generation would have sufficed.


"[...] didn't you read, weren't you inspired by Thoreau, Walden?  Didn't you read it in English class?  Or don't they teach that anymore?"[....]

" 'I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,' "  she started to recite.  " 'I wanted to suck all that marrow out of life, and - and afterwards, learn that if I had not lived, that-that I,' what is it, something or other deliberately..."

Her words slumped to the ground and stopped moving.  No one spoke.  She chuckled, but it was a sad, dying sound.

"I need to read it again myself." pp.373-374

Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862).  Later, during the camping Hannah Schneider had chosen to scream his name from the top of a mountain.

Walden (1854) is a book by Thoreau which describes two years of living in a cabin he built near Walden Pond (Massachusetts).  I doubt that I would read this book: it rather sounds astonishingly boring.  It belongs to Authentic Reading, as at least Hannah Schneider read it.

And the complete quote:

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to five a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to ‘glorify God and enjoy him forever’"

Horace Lloyd Swithin & post-modern

The late great Horace Lloyd Swithin (1844-1917), British essayist, lecturer, satirist, and social observer, wrote in his autobiographical Appointments, 1890-1901 (1902), “When one travels abroad, one doesn’t so much discover the hidden Wonders of the World, but the hidden wonders of the individuals with whom one is traveling. They may turn out to afford a stirring view, a rather dull landscape, or a terrain so treacherous one finds it’s best to forget the entire affair and return home.” p. 335

As we have just found out -  Horace Lloyd Swithin (1844-1917) is a totally fictional persona.  But he is quoted (Thurgauer Zeitung, 22.12.2009) in all the honest as a reliable source of wisdom:

Auf langjährige Bindungen trifft zu, was der britische Essayist und Satiriker Horace Lloyd Swithin übers Reisen sagte: «Wenn man ins Ausland reist, entdeckt man weniger die Wunder der Welt, sondern vielmehr die verborgenen Wunder der Individuen, mit denen man reist. Sie können sich als aufregende Aussicht zeigen, als langweilige Aussicht oder als derart tückisches Terrain, dass man die ganze Sache abbläst und wieder nach Hause fährt.»

[What a British essayist and satirist Horace Lloyd Swithin said about the travel, concerns as well the long-lived bonds:  **direct quote from p. 335 **]

No reference to Ms Pessl whatsoever.  The author of the article  does not sound tongue-in-cheek, so I assume it's a bad case of not checking the reference material properly.  Sloppy job on the part of the author and his editors.

But for the purpose of our deconstructive  pursuit,  it's a marvelous contribution.  We already had a case of  a fictional  Hernando Núñez de Valvida being quoted in a non-fictional research book, and now a Horace Lloyd Swithin is treated as if he lived, traveled and wrote in our Real World.

I love  this post-modern of mixing the Real World and the Fictional World!  And I love how Ms Pessl through her AU persona  contributed to the post-modern Spiel.

Henry David Thoreau

She took a deep breath. "Henry David Thoreau!" p.410

Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)- American philosopher, one of the prominent figure of American Transcendentalism.  He was an abolitionist and promoted ideas and conduct of civil disobedience.  I don't know anything of him and never read any of his papers - he does not sound fascinating enough.  Only this civil disobedience angle could possible be interesting to look more carefully into.  Might do it later.

Horace Lloyd Swithin

The late great Horace Lloyd Swithin (1844-1917), British essayist, lecturer, satirist, and social observer, wrote in his autobiographical Appointments, 1890-1901 (1902), "When one travels abroad, one doesn't so much discover the hidden Wonders of the World, but the hidden wonders of the individuals with whom one is traveling. They may turn out to afford a stirring view, a rather dull landscape, or a terrain so treacherous one finds it's best to forget the entire affair and return home." p. 335

As Swithin wrote in State of Affairs: 1901-1903 (1902), "Whilst man is in one location, he thinks of another. Dancing with one woman, he can't help but long to see the quiet curve of another's nude shoulder; to never be satisfied, to never have the mind and body cheerfully stranded in a single location — this is the curse of the human race!" (p.513).  p. 338

"The gifted traveler can't help but affect a traveling persona," notes Swithin in Possessions, 1910 [1911].  p.345

"As far as one journeys, as much as a man sees, from the turrets of the Taj Mahal to the Siberians wilds, he may eventually come to an unfortunate conclusion - usually while he's lying in bed, staring at the thatched ceiling of some substandard accommodations in Indochina," writes Swithin in his last book, the posthumously published Whereabouts, 1917 [1918].  "It's impossible to rid himself of the relentless, cloying fever commonly known as Home. After seventy-three years of anguish I have found a cure, however. You must go home again, grit your teeth and however arduous the exercise, determine, without embellishment, your exact coordinates at Home, your longitudes and latitudes. Only then, will you stop looking back and see the spectacular view in front of you." pp.352-353

Lots of quotes, and hopefully I catch them all.  Let me introduce you:

Horace Lloyd Swithin (1844-1917) - a British essayist, lecturer, satirist, and social observer.    He lived, traveled, and wrote only in the fabulous world of Blue van Meer's Universe , not in the Real World.  And Blue van Meer shared with us quotes from his 4 books:

Appointments, 1890-1901 (1902)

State of Affairs: 1901-1903 (1902)

Possessions, 1910 [1911]

Whereabouts, 1917 [1918]

All four deserve a memorably mention on Imaginary List.  Pity, we will never read them.

A crowd's eyes have a touch like silk

[...] I thought I understood, completely, what Hammond Brown, the actor in the 1928 Broadway hit Happy Streets (known throughout the Roaring Twenties simply as The Chin) meant when he said "a crowd's eyes have a touch like silk" (Ovation, 1952, p.269). p.156

IBDb does not know Happy Streets , nor Hammond Brown, nor The Chin.

I really know nothing about Broadway to  speculate who and what could be alluded to here.  The bits of information I found are too dispersed to be the matching puzzle bits-

There was Chin Chin musical (1914-1915).  There was Easy Street musical (1924) - a total failure by the way with 12 performances.

The crowd's eyes are open wide
And many a mouth is agape,

- Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Act 1

Portrait of Henry VIII

The girls were fraternal twins, Eliaya and Georgia Hatchett.  With curly auburn hair, stout frames, shepherd's-pie potbellies and alehouse complexions, they resembled two oily portraits of King Henry VIII, each painted by a different artist (see The Faces of Tyranny, Clare, 1922, p.322). p.135

Once upon the time (1536-1537), Hans Holbein the Younger has created a mural at the Palace of Whitehall, London. The palace burnt down in 1698 and the mural disappeared. But that was a very special mural: it depicted King Henry VIII and Queen Jane Seymour as well as the King's parents, King Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth of York (according to this). While the mural existed, numerous artists made copies of the portrait of Henry VIII (1491-1547).  Any source on the subject mentions that this is an iconic portrait of Henry VIII.  Henry VIII seems like a charismatic male who gets great pleasures from good food and alcohol.

HERE one can see 25 copies. They do look like fraternal twins.

The Faces of Tyranny, Clare, 1922 will be mentioned on Imaginary Reading.

In Low Cotton

[...] if the world insinuates you're a Dog That Don't Hunt, a Cowboy With No Shit Kickers, In Low Cotton, you tend to believe it's true. pp.326-327.

After  Cottonwood I'm vary of the 'cotton' saying.  And here is a new one "in low cotton".  This time it's however a much easier puzzle.   At least some online dictionaries knew the expression:

in low cotton
Rur. depressed. She was in low cotton because her dress got torn. Jed is in low cotton because his favorite hound is dead.

low cotton
Person of the lower class. Ill refined. Base. Living a white trash lifestyle.
Look at that Janet. She is seriously livin' in low cotton.
low class, bas clas, white trash, base trashy

I guess, in the company of "a Dog That Don't Hunt", and  "a Cowboy With No Shit Kickers" "In Low Cotton" both meanings "depressed" and "living a trashy lifestyle" would fit.   It will be up the translator to choose.  If it were up to me, I would go for "white trash" and play around with the words to fit it nicely with "dog" and "cowboy".  I'll check the translated editions, to see how they dealt with it.

There is also a "high cotton".

"Summertime" from Porgy and Bess (1935).  Lyrics  by DuBose Heyward, music by George Gershwin.

Summertime and the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin', and the cotton is high
Your Daddy's rich and your Mama is good lookin'
So, hush, little baby don't you cry

Here, "the cotton is high" means (as it becomes clear from the context), that the life is wonderful and crops are growing splendidly and Daddy will be even more rich.


[...] she'd been privy to every defamatory chat, banter and tête-à-tête, including the one in which Jade accused her of Mansonian ties, and the one from my head, when the reality of Cottonwood smashed into the reality of Zach Soderberg and I was temporarily manslaughtered.  p.310.

I confess, I'm lost here.  I do not understand the "Cottonwood" reference.  Was Charles Mason in any time of his life in Cottonwood town?  Is 'Cottonwood' an euphemism for something?

Merriam Webster on 'cottonwood':
any of several poplars having seeds with cottony hairs; especially : one (Populus deltoides) of the eastern and central United States often cultivated for its rapid growth and luxuriant foliage.

In the US there 11 'Cottonwood' towns.

Googling "cottonwood + charles manson" did not clarify anything.

But none of it brings any light into was "reality of Cottonwood" vs. "reality of Zach Soderberg" means.  Obviously, "reality of Zach Soderberg" implies everything normal, ordinary, mundane, boring (Blue van Meer does not like Zach Soderberg - her loss).  But what "reality of Cottonwood" implies?  Is it a secret code for something?  A play of words?  A hidden reference?

I admit a complete defeat here.  If I were a translator, I would not have a clue what sort of meaning I'm supposed to transfer here.   Actually, that's a great idea - I will check translations and see how they dealt with the issue.

Das unglaubliche Leben der Wolfgang Becker

Individuals could live through almost anything (see Das unglaubliche Leben der Wolfgang Becker , Becker 1953). p. 327

This a perfect candidate for the Imaginary Reading.  What I want also to point out here is this book:
Ich hab' gelebt Mylord. Das unglaubliche Leben der Edith Piaf by Simone Berteaut.  That's the translation from French, but only the German edition has such fancy title.  The first part is allusion to the song "Mylord".

2 random questions to the editors: Is it that difficult to find a native speaking German in New York working in the publishing industry?  Wolfgang Becker is clearly a male name, then why is the article feminine (der is Genitive of "die")?

Coco Suite

"[...] I booked something at the Ritz."

"The Ritz?"

"A suite au sixième étage.  Sounds quite electrifying."


"I wanted the Coco Suite, but it was take.  I'm sure everyone wants the Coco Suite" p.336

Coco Chanel (1883 – 1971) lived in the Ritz for many years. After she had returned to France in 1954, she stayed in Ritz as it was close to her Fashion House and she did not have a Parisian apartment and it was there she died from the heart attack.

Photo and information from the Ritz website.

Coco Channel Suite:

Suite - 144 m²
Room 1 : 53 m²
Le Salon : 52m²
Room 2 : 42m²
2 ou 3 bathrooms, Jacuzzi
Place Vendôme
7700 € -9000 €

Glory is a million frightened eyes

The legendary Spanish conquistador Hernando Núñez de Valvida (La Serpiente Negra) wrote, in his diary entry April 20, 1521 (a day he allegedly slaughtered two hundred Aztecs), "La gloria es un millón ojos asustados", roughly translated as, "Glory is a million frightened eyes." p.134

As we have discussed , Hernando Núñez de Valvida (La Serpiente Negra) never slaughtered any Aztecs, never wrote anything in a diary, simply because he never lived.  Not on April 20, 1521, not on any other days.  There were many other Spanish conquistadors and they slaughtered many Aztecs.   Hernando Núñez de Valvida is fiction.

The google never fails to entertain me.  Here is the screenshot of the books search for "Glory is a million frightened eyes".  Book is Supergenes: What Really Makes Us Human by Craig Mackay (2008) [complete text is available here.].  From the summary of it, it's anon-fiction with some sort of scientific approach.   It has an aim, a hypothesis, a State of Art, a method and even some model.

Now, could Hernando Núñez de Valvida be a reliable reference in a non-fiction semi-scientific book?  Is he an appropriate State of Art?

It is sort of amusing, in a post-modern sense.  Except, if in my glorious TA days I received a paper that cited a fictional character as if he were a real historical source, I would have took off lots of points.  References! Always check your references!   And never mix the Real World with the Fiction.

Ms Pessl gets bonus points for a successfully fabricated fraud.

Spanish conquistador

The legendary Spanish conquistador Hernando Núñez de Valvida (La Serpiente Negra) wrote, in his diary entry April 20, 1521 (a day he allegedly slaughtered two hundred Aztecs), "La gloria es un millón ojos asustados", roughly translated as, "Glory is a million frightened eyes." p.134

Hernando Núñez de Valvida sounds like a decent name for a Spanish conquistador.   Maybe he is not so legendary in the Real World, as there are no traces of him on google, but he fits the bill for Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire.

Hernán Cortés (1485-1547) was in charge of conquering Aztec Empire (February 1519 - August 1521). The Siege and Fall of Tenochtitlan (the capital of the Aztec Empire) happened in 1521.  So the date "April 20, 1521"  is within the appropriate historical time frame.

As I do not know Spanish at all, I had to ask a couple of native speakers.  They suggested to add "de" to make the phrase grammatically perfect. "La gloria es un millón de ojos asustados".

Balzac on Paris

"Didn't Balzac write in Lost Illusions that the only way to see Paris is on your own?" (Balzac wrote nothing of the kind.) p.344

Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) wrote Lost Illusions (Illusions perdues) was written between 1837-1843.

Shall we believe Blue van Meer that Balzac wrote nothing of the kind about Paris?

What  he wrote in Lost Illusions was:

"You are are somebody at your own country, in Paris you are nobody."

"Paris is Paris, and the provinces are the provinces."

Adding Lost Illusions to Authentic Reading, Blue van Meer obviously had read it.

The Last Uniform

"Experience, intellectual prowess, forensics, fingerprints, footprints - sure, they're important," wrote Officer Christina Vernicault on p. 4 of The Last Uniform [1982].  "But the essential element of crime solving is a fine French Roast or Colombian blend.  No murder will be solved without it".  p.566

Coffee addition is such a cliché  of the crime genre!

The Last Uniform [1982] sounds like a crime fiction with Office Christina Vernicault being the main investigator.   Or it could be some sort of memoir of the police detective.  Whatever it is, it was never written (adding to Imaginary Reading).

Does anyone think there is a connection between The Last Uniform and The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle [1968]?  I did not think of it myself, but google brought up this suggestion.  The Last Unicorn animated film was released in 1982.  That's already something, so I'm adding it for the Additional Reading, in case the Unicorn was also a coffee addict.

Mae West

And as Mae West is quoted in the out-of-print Are You Just Happy to See Me (Paulson. 1962): "Y'ain't nobody 'til you've had a sex scandal." p.135

Mae West (1893-1980) is real!  And the photo a-la Liberty is from HERE -  a really fabulous blog about Hollywood.

GoodReads has a few Mae West's quotes and though 'sex scandal' thing is not listed, it would have fitted rather well.

"Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" is attributed to Mae West and Paulson [1962] book is definitely alluding to it.    The biographies listed on amazon aren't so creative when it comes to the title.  Rather boring, methinks, compared to this catchy Imaginary Reading book.

What surprised me was:

"When I'm good, I'm very good. When I'm bad, I'm better."  And here I was thinking that Johnny Weir was original with this pick-up line for
Be Good Johnny Weir. What?  I love figure skating - men in tights!

Scio me nihil scire

Scio me nihil scire. p.301

Oh dear! Gareth van Meer is quoting Socrates.  "I know that I know nothing".   Nothing special about a Political Science professor quoting Socrates, except when some 300 pages later we read about the Gareth van Meer's position in The Nightwatchmen, Socrates is here again.

Dad was Socrates, otherwise known as The Thinker according to - of course, he'd be Socrates - who else would Dad be?  p.631

Well, at least we now know that he had got 'Socrates' name not for nothing.  Gareth van Meer knew his Socrates and effectively operated with that knowledge even on the most mundane daily level.

The Way of the Moth

"There's been a grave error in judgment regarding the case," I said with authority.  It was essentially the same thing Chief Inspector Ranulph Curry announced at the beginning of Chapter 79 in The Way of the Moth (Lavelle, 1911).  pp.486-487

Very obviously, The Way of the Moth (Lavelle, 1911) is not a real book, but

how about The "moth" Murder by Lynton Blow (Holt, 1932)?    On amazon there is a 2010 OCR reprint.

There is a complete scanned version available - HERE.

HERE there is an interesting description with few fascinating details:

In Moth a burning plane crashes to earth near a coastguard station on Bournemouth Bay; the pilot, sole occupant, is burned to a crisp.  Inquiries and an autopsy reveal that the victim is the famous airman, Charles Stafford, who took off with a female passenger (now vanished), and that the corpse died not of incineration but of a bullet in the brain. Inspector Hunt of the Yard also has other puzzles: a second plane, piloted by the wife of Stafford’s passenger, took off at the same time and vanished without a trace – and a policeman was murdered on a rural road not far from the Stafford crash site on the same night.  And more: Stafford’s heir turns up at the dead man’s home, stays a night, then disappears; there seems to be a curious link with a London drug gang; and then there’s that suitcase full of money...  The U.S. dust jacket is criminally revealing, so avoid it, but not the book, which is fun 1930s reading.

I am pretty happy with this finding.  Ranulph Curry is still a puzzle, but the Moth book is too fabulous to pass on.  In to the Additional Reading.

We are under an invincible blindness as to the true and real nature of things

"We are under an invincible blindness as to the true and real nature of things," he said. p. 334

Gareth van Meer is quoting here George Berkeley (1685 - 1753).  In the Penguin Classics edition of  Principles of Human Knowledge and Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous you will find the quote on p.90.

I really do not have anything exciting to add to the matter.  No refreshing anecdotes, no fitting quotes.  George Berkeley is not someone who inspires much ado.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

There was a poem Dad was quite fond of and knew by heart, entitled "My Darling," or "Mein Liebling", by the late German poet Schubert Koenig Bonheoffer (1862-1937).  Bonheoffer was crippled, deaf, and only one eye, but Dad said he had been able to discern more about the nature of the world than most people in possession of all their senses.  p.101

Anyone who wishes to dispel the mystery of "Schubert Koenig Bonheoffer" comes up with the references to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945).  He was a German pastor, theologists, later on a participant of German Resistance involved into plans of Hitler's assassination.   His theology was philosophical, his death was martyrdom.  He definitely falls into category of people who are able to discern about the nature of the world, particularly, the metaphysical side of it.  But then, the metaphysics for such people define their 'Bewusstsein'.   And Bohnoeffer in addition to his 'talk'  also 'walked his walk'.

Letters & Papers from Prison are for Additional Reading.


"Or we could stone her like thy do in that short story.  When all the town people descend and she starts to stream."

" 'The Lottery' " I said, because I could not help myself (Jackson, 1948).  p.547

The first time short story The Lottery was published in The New Yorker, issue June 26, 1948.  The New Yorker's online archive offers the scans of the back issues, including the first print of the story:

page 25 , page  26page 27 , page 28

For the Authentic Reading:


Schubert Koenig Bonheoffer

There was a poem Dad was quite fond of and knew by heart, entitled "My Darling," or "Mein Liebling", by the late German poet Schubert Koenig Bonheoffer (1862-1937).  Bonheoffer was crippled, deaf, and only one eye, but Dad said he had been able to discern more about the nature of the world than most people in possession of all their senses.  p.101

Surprisingly or maybe not, there was no poet Schuber Koenig Bonheoffer (1862-1937).   Which is a great dismay, because here we have a name, date of birth and death, the physical description and even a poem, but all is a fiction.  So should Ms Pessl have credits for "My Darling"?

Name "Schubert Koenig Bonheoffer" is a story in itself.

Schubert: In Germany it is exclusively a surname.  Unless of course, your mother is crazily fond of Franz Schubert (1797 –1828) and would name you after him.  But in 1862 the chances of being called "Franz" or "Josef" or "Heinz" are much-much higher.

Koenig: it is a fairly popular surname with quite a few famous representatives.  My favourite is Alexander Koenig (1858-1940) - a German  naturalist and zoologist.   Museum Koenig in Boon is named after him.

Bonheoffer: it looks like a misspelling of Bonhoeffer.  [On the sort of related note: does anyone know how often a newly born child's name is misspelled?]  The best match here: Dietrich Bonhoeffer - German pastor and member of Abwehr. He is a very special character in German history.

The dates of birth are quite interesting as well, they coincide with the lifetime of Edith Wharton (1862 – 1937) whose The Age of Innocence (1920) is one of my favourite books.   Wharton also wrote poems - it's definitely worthy to look into them as well.

The Farm

Sure, it was a brutal thing she'd done, to purposefully abandon me in the dark, but when people were desperate they did, with little conscience, all kinds of brutal things (see How to Survive "The Farm", Louisiana State Prison at Angola, Glibb, 1979). p.528

According to wiki, 'The Farm' or 'Angola'  is a prison, located in Louisiana, USA.  Of all American prisons, Angola has the largest number of inmates on life sentences in the US.   And it's a gender equal opportunity employer with half of the guards being female.


"Once a year, they say Einstein had to blow off steam by getting to inebriated on hefeweizen, he was known to go skinny-dipping at 3:00 a.m. in Carnegie Lake," Dad said.  p.241

Hefeweizen, das  is made of   Hefe, die - yeast and  Weizen, der - wheat.   One might wonder if one part of the word is die and another der, then why in all linguistic holy, the complete word is das.  Because it's German, and because it is das Bier.

Hefeweizen is the beer widely brewed on the South of Germany.  Einstein was born in Ulm (currently Baden-Württemberg, but then it was Kingdom of Württemberg).  And though he moved quite a lot during his lifetime, he did not live in any particularly Hefeweizen addicted regions (like München, for instance).   But it does not mean anything, he could have just acquired liking for Hefeweizen in Zurich or Prague.

According to Reinheitsgebot (1516)  only of water, barley and hops could be used for beer-production.  The problem with Hefeweizen is that neither "wheat" nor "yeast" are allowed.   i think, it had to do with wheat being scare resource and not to be wasted on anything insignificant, and yeast's function for the process of fermentation was not yet discovered then.

So, I go into my kitchen and dig out the first bottle of Hefeweizen (I live in Bayern, after all - there is always Hefeweizen on my stock shelves).  It's Paulaner Hefe-Weißbier.  On the back label, it reads:  "Gebraut nach dem bayerischen Reinheitsgebot von 1516"  - Brewed according to the Bavarian Beer Purity Law, 1516.   It makes good publicity - traditions and supposedly bio-proceeding is so much "in" these days.    And as Reinheitsgebot had no binding power, putting it on the label is similar to using saying "According to Grandpa's receipt".  They could have just put in German "Wie damals" ('like before') and it would have had absolutely the same legal and moral implications (which means - none).

Neilsen Rating

Charles smiled like a talk show host with Neilsen Rating and Lu never said a word.  p.138

Neilsen Rating is Nielsen Media Research Rating.  It's close enough to recognize and still not precisely to be a trade mark infringement.   Nielsen Rating is being measured since 1950s.  And guess what program  finished with the highest average Nielsen rating in the last 6 television seasons (since 2004)?   American Idol.   I wonder if I confess that I have not seen a single minute of the show, what impacts such an admission will have on the social standing of my blog?


Dad had a small black book he kept on his bedside table, Words of a Glowworm (Punch, 1978), which he turned to at night, when he was tired and craved something sweet the way some women craved dark chocolate. It was a book of the most powerful quotation in the world. [...]
" 'We are all worms,' " I said carefully, " 'but I do believe I am a glowworm.' " p.549

It is Winston Churchill who said about the glowworms.  An interesting book review from Times Aug. 16 1982 Glowworm:

As a boy, Winston made few friends at Harrow or Sandhurst, but his self-confidence remained unshaken. At 32, the young Under Secretary of the Colonial Office stated, "We are all worms. But I do believe I am a glowworm."

This book is perfect fit for Additional Reading list.   Churchill: Young Man in a Hurry (1874-1915) by Ted Morgan [1982] seems to out of print everywhere, so library is the only place to find this book.

Soap opera

She was Dynasty, As the World Turns; one felt something fantastically bitchy was about to happen.  p.99

Dynasty (1981-1989) and As the World Turns (1956-present) are big-names soap operas.  As the World Turns currently has 13825 episodes: the number is so mind-blowing, does anyone ever re-watches that monstrously huge series?

I have never catch more that 30 seconds of either of the series while changing channels, but there was one infamous soup opera I used to follow religiously for a year or two in my early teenage years.  Santa Barbara (1984-1993) was my addition and introduction into a bitchy world of snark-families.  I stayed with them until they killed the nun Mary with a letter "C" from the hotel sign.  After that we parted, but I still think with the warmest feeling about the incredibly non-Earth logic of it.  And I just realized that Channing Capwell, Jr. was gay (or at least bisexual) and that fact was a cause of his father's coma.  How 1980s!

Stork Club

Dinner at Hannah's was a honey-bunch tradition, held more or less every Sunday for the past three years.  Charles and his friends looked forward to the hours at her house (the address itself, a little enchanting: 100 Willows Road) much in the was New York City's celery-thin heiresses and beetroot B-picture lotharios looked forward to nose-rubbing as the Stork Club certain sweaty Saturday nights in 1946 (see Forget About El Morocco: The Xanadu of the New York Elite, the Stork Club, 1929-1965, Riser, 1981). p.102

Stork Club was a famous New York hang-out place for famous people and famous wanna-be's.  El Morocco was also in New York and also a posh nightclub.  Their glorious years overlap  - 1930s-1950s and into 1960s for Stork Club.  I don't know of the relations between the clubs, but could very possibly that they were competitive and each with a loyal circle of celebrities.

Xanadu - an idyllic, exotic, or luxurious place.  Etymology: Xanadu, locality in Kubla Khan (1798), poem by Samuel T. Coleridge

Kubla Khan is a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, completed in 1797 and published in Christabel, Kubla Khan, and the Pains of Sleep in 1816.  Gareth van Meer has cultivated love in Blue van Meer for Coleridge (Christabel, Happiness), so when she has to come up with a catch title for fabulous book, Blue van Meer cannot help but insert an allusion to the favorite poet.

Forget About El Morocco: The Xanadu of the New York Elite, the Stork Club, 1929-1965, Riser, 1981) was never written and hence, gets to be mentioned in Imaginary Reading.

Masterpiece Theatre

"Don't sell yourself short.  You're more Masterpiece Theatre."  p.99

Masterpiece Theatre (1971-present) is TV series anthology.  And they aired my favourite series ever (and the only one I've ever seen completely and even bought a complete DVD set) Jeeves & Wooster with fabulous Hugh Laurie & Stephen Fry.

I think it's rather a flattering complement, to be compared to Masterpiece Theatre.

How to Have a Healthy Sexuality

I was twelve when Dad wordlessly presented me with various tomes to read and reflect upon, including C. Allen’s Shame Culture and the Shadow World [1993], Somewhere Between Puritans and Brazil: How to Have a Healthy Sexuality [Mier, 1990], also Paul D. Russell’s terrifying What You Don’t Know About White Slavery [1996]. p.165

These three books belong to Imaginary Reading list as only Blue van Meer had a pleasure to read them.   Instead, here is the list of the books that my parents gave me when I was 13 or something, you know  "to read and reflect upon":

Candide [1759] by Voltaire.
Love and Orgasm [1965] by Alexander Lowen
A Natural History Of Love [1984] by Diane Ackerman
Sex and the Bible [1983] by Gerald Larue

Funny thing, despite moving countries on average every 3 years, I have just found all the books on my current bookshelves.  I must became really attached to them.


"Serious mafuglies - just as I suspected," Jade said [...] p.144

Merriam-Webster did not know word "mafugly", but google did!

Here is helpfully suggested that "mafugly" is a shortening for "mother fuckin ugly".  Who would have thought!   It made me think, how did they translate books before the Internet?!  I have tons of different printed dictionaries, but for the words like "mafugly" they are of no help.  You either heard them on the street or you have a very versatile native speaker at your 24/7 disposal.

Chokes Alone

Leading criminologist Matthew Namode wrote in Chokes Alone (1999) that individuals who suffer a serious trauma - a child who'd lost a parent, a man who'd committed a single brutal crime - "may often, subconsciously or no, obsess over a lone word or image that may be directly traced back to the incident" (p.249). "They repeat it when they're nervous, or idly doodle it in the margins or a piece of paper, write it on a windowsill or in the dust along a shelf, often a word so obscure it may be impossible for outsiders to discover the shattering ordeal at its root" (p.250). p.581

Matthew Namode is not real and his book is Imaginary Reading, but bonus points for the title Chokes Alone which alludes to an Arabian proverb "He who eats alone chokes alone".

As for the idly doodling after some trauma, here is a historical flashback Blue van Meer used to love so much.

In December 1825 in Saint Petersburg there was an attempt at a coup-d'etat (so called Decembrist revolt) which failed within 1 day. In summer 1826 5 leaders of the revolt were hang.  Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) was in the exile at the time of the revolt and execution and was banned from traveling to the capital.  His frustration and trauma of the events manifested in may doodles of the gallows with 5 bodies all over his draft of Eugenie Onegin (The drafts are archived in the Russian State Library, Moscow).   Most of the researcher on Pushkin's biography regard it very likely that he would have been in the coup-d'état, if at the time of the revolt he were in  St. Petersburg (Lotman, 1995.  Pushkin.  St. Petersburg).

Lana and Turner

"Somewhere around here are the cats," she continued, "Lana and Turner, and in the study we have our lovebird. Lennon.  I'm in the desperate need for an Ono [...] " p.106

[...] she yawned into her fist, stood up, and stretched in the lazy royal way of her own white Persian cat - Lana or Turner, I wasn't sure which - who. with a heralding thrash of tail, strolled out of the darkness beneath the piano bench and meowed. p.324

What is it with the fixation on Lana Turner? Lana Turner is not only on the poster and in Gareth van Meer's memory of Natasha , but now also two stray cats are "Lana" and "Turner". Is there any conclusion we could draw from Hannah's strange (bordering with schizophrenic) intent to surround herself with all things "Lana Turner"?  Was it of the same significance as Valerio (Vallarmo)?

Very-very eerie.


There was no way of knowing for certain if, on September 19, 1987, the blond spotted with Gracey in a Lord's Drugstore parking lot in Ariel, Texas, was the same blond pulled over by a State Trooper on a deserted road off Highway 18 outside Vallarmo. [...] [A]s she climbed from the driver's seat wearing blue jeans and a black T-shirt, she pulled out a RG .22 handgun, commonly called a Saturday Night Special or Junk Gun, and shot him twice in the face.  p. 577

Vallarmo is supposedly a town in Texas.  Of course, there is no such town.  I know nothing of Texas topography, but even to me it sound pretty Texas-ish. It has the similar ring with Alamo.

[... ] the word Hannah unknowingly scribbled all over the notepad by the telephone [...] [p]erhaps it had not said "Valerio", but "Vallarmo", the Texan  town where Hannah had killed a man. p.581

A criminal scribbling down the place of crime is a good  plot-devise.  How else a sleuth would pick up on the connection?  I wonder how much the subconscious doodling technique argument would withstand the psychology research.  Lacking any knowledge, I cannot comment on this, but might look it up on an occasion.   Yeah, the next time I'm in a bookstore I'll ask for a crimi where a major clue is been revealed through some scribbles.

Anton Chekhov

[...] I was trying to think of someone with a decent name, someone who deserved this privilege of being sent into the wind.  Chekhov, I'd been about to say him, but he seemed to stilted, even if I added the first name. p.411

Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) -a Russian writer.
Blue could have scream "Anton Pavlovich Chekhov" - that is not that stilted. Or "Antosha Chekhonté" - one of his cutest pseudonyms for humorous short-stories. That would have sounded great in the wind.

My favourite of all Cheknov's plays will be Three Sisters [1901].  I have a life-long connection to this play...

Imagining you're a long-lost member of the Vanderbilt family

I'm obliged to reveal an old trick: implacable self-possession can be attained by all, not by pretending to look absorbed in what's clearly a blank spiral notebook; not by trying to convince yourself you're an undiscovered rock star, movie star, top model, tycoon, Bond, Bond Girl, Queen Elizabeth, Elizabeth Bennet or Eliza Doolittle at the Ambassador's Ball; not by imagining you're a long-lost member of the Vanderbilt family, not by tilting up your chin fifteen to forty-five degrees and pretending to be Grace Kelly in her prime.  p.77

Speaking of Vanderbilt family, I watch CNN International only when Anderson Cooper is on air - his blue eyes keep my captivated, not his serious politics talk.  Yes, I'm shallow like that.  And I vehemently hope that the talk about Cooper moving to another channel is just a groundless gossip.

And here is another quite infamous member of Vanderbilt family: the daughter of the American billionaire, Vanderbilt from "The Twelve Chairs" by Ilya Ilf and Evgeniy Pertov (1928).  She is infamous for being a rival to Ellochka the Cannibal - one and only wife to a modest Soviet engineer.

The Twelve Chairs

Translated from the Russian by John Richardson (Northwestern University Press, 1997)

from Ch. 22 Ellochka the Cannibal:

A dangerous enemy was ruining the household more and more every year. Four years earlier Ellochka had noticed she had a rival across the ocean.  [... ] She [Fimka Sobak] brought with her the icy breath of January and a French fashion magazine. Ellochka got no further than the first page. A glossy photograph showed the daughter of the American billionaire, Vanderbilt, in an evening dress. It showed furs and plumes, silks and pearls, an unusually simple cut and a stunning hair-do. That settled everything. "Oho!" said Ellochka to herself. That meant "she or me".

The next morning found Ellochka at the hairdresser's, where she relinquished her beautiful black plait and had her hair dyed red. Then she was able to climb another step up the ladder leading her to the glittering paradise frequented by billionaires' daughters, who were no match for housewife Shukin. A dog skin made to look like muskrat was bought with a loan and added the finishing touch to the evening dress.

Mister Shukin, who had long cherished the dream of buying a new drawing-board, became rather depressed. The dog-trimmed dress was the first well-aimed blow at Miss Vanderbilt. The snooty American girl was then dealt three more in succession. Ellochka bought a chinchilla tippet (Russian rabbit caught in Tula Province) from Fimka Sobak, a private furrier, acquired a hat made of dove-grey Argentine felt, and converted her husband's new jacket into a stylish tunic.

The billionaire's daughter was shaken, but the affectionate Daddy Vanderbilt evidently came to the rescue.  The latest number of the magazine contained a portrait of the cursed rival in four different styles: (1) in black-brown fox; (2) with a diamond star on her forehead; (3) in a flying suit (high boots, a very thin green coat and gauntlets, the tops of which were encrusted with medium-size emeralds); and (4) in a ball gown (cascades of jewellery and a little silk).

Ellochka mustered her forces. Daddy Shukin obtained a loan from the mutual-assistance fund, but they would only give him thirty roubles. This desperate new effort radically undermined the household economy, but the battle had to be waged on all fronts. Not long before some snapshots of the Miss in her new castle in Florida had been received. Ellochka, too, had to acquire new furniture. She bought two upholstered chairs at an auction. (Successful buy! Wouldn't have missed it for the world.) Without asking her husband, Ellochka took the money from the dinner fund. There were ten days and four roubles left to the fifteenth.

Lauren Bacall

While most of teachers' hair at the end of the day resembled crusty windowsill plants, Hannah's - dark, but rusting a little in the late-day light - posed provocatively around her shoulders like Lauren Bacall in a doorway.  p. 98

Lauren Bacall (b.1924) - a Hollywood actress and icon.  Image from here. In her later carrier, she played in Lars von Trier's films.

So if Natasha Bridges is Lana Turner, is the relation between Lana Turner and Lauren Bacall of any significance?  Was there at all any relation between the actresses?  Did they star in any movies together?

Sal Mineo – cameo nr.3

I wondered if that kid, far end, third row, red shirt (oddly gnawing his fists and frowning at me with James-Deanian intensity), if he knew I was an impostor [...]  My god, Red Shirt, hands clamped over his mouth, biting his fingernails, he was now sitting so far forward, his head was nearly a flowerpot on the sill of Sal Mineo's shoulder.  I didn't know who he was.  I'd never seen him before.  p. 653

Red Shirt was walking quickly toward me.  Instantly, I recognized him - [...] because it was Zach Soderberg, sure, yet, I'd never seen him before in my life. p.657

I did wonder if we would have James Dean, and in the final chapter, here he is!   I'm not sure if it is of any surprise that it is Zach Soderberg.  Sal Mineo's final cameo is fitting setting for introducing James Dean.  I have to admit that I liked Zach, I liked him in all his appearances and in the final scene I rather admire him.  He is maybe the only character in the book, who got his growing and development and he is now an annotated translation of Truman Capote's Other Voices, Other Rooms into Basque language with extended commentary and footnotes.

Blue never liked him.  She could not overcome her own superiority and disdain for all things unsophisticated, but then it's her loss.


Nabokov, Dad would have approved, but no one, Dad included, seemed certain of the pronunciation. ("NA-bo-kov" was incorrect, the pronunciation of amateur who bought Lolita under the impression it was a bodice ripper; yet "Na-BO-kov" fired like a defunct pistol.)  pp.411-412

As we know Gareth van Meer's favourite book was Nabokov's Ada or Ardor, so he would have approved his daughter's choice to yell into the wind.    However, I find it strange that even he was not sure of the correct pronunciation.  It's obviously Na-BO-kov and no other way.

Sal Mineo — cameo nr.2

Sal Mineo noticed the difference too, and if he noticed, it had to be Agonizingly True.

"You should be careful," he said to me during Morning Announcements.

I glanced over at his intricate wrought-iron profile, his soggy brown eyes.

"I'm happy for you," he said not looking at me [...].  Sal swallowed and his Adam's apple, which pushed against his neck like a metal coil in an old couch, trembled, rose and fell.  "But they only hurt people."

"What are you talking about?" I asked, irritated by his ambiguity, but he didn't answer, and when Evita dismissed the school to class, he flew out of the aisle, quick as a wren off a lamppost.  pp. 156-157

Is he talking from the experience?   It sounds so -  all those suppressed emotions.  Did Bluebloods hurt Sal Mineo?  The clue will be accidentally dropped by Milton in the post-coital state of bliss.  In the purple prose, isn't always the post-coital bliss when the uttermost true is revealed?

"Nigel feels stuff.  He still feels bad for ditchin' that kid last year, what's his name, sits next to you in Mornin' Announcements [...]" p.519

So is this the mystery of Sal Mineo?  He was going out with Nigel Creech and it did not work out: most likely leaving Sal Mineo with a broken heart and sad soulful eyes.  Is there more to Sal Mineo than just some high-school dating drama?

And the real Sal Mineo (the actor who together with James Dean appeared in Rebel Without a Cause [1955])  admitted that he was a bisexual (at least according to wiki).  At the age of 37 he was stab to death.  Some claim it to be gay-bashing, the others - an accident of being in the wrong place to witness another crime.

Happiness is a hound dog.

"[...] Remember - God, I can't remember who said it - 'Happiness is a hound dog in the sun. We aren't on Earth to be happy, but to experience incredible things'."
This happened to be one of Dad's favorite quotations (it was Coleridge and Dad would tell her she'd butchered it; "If you're using your own words it isn't quite a quotation, is it?"). p. 126

Google tells me that the real quotation is: "Happiness is a hound dog in the sun. We are not here to be happy, but to experience great and wonderful things"  by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) - English poet and philosopher.

Sal Mineo — cameo nr.1

I was next to Amadeus and some sad kid who was the spitting image of Sal Mineo (see Rebel Without a Cause).  p.78

This Sal Mineo sitting next to Blue van Meer in Morning Announcements is a side character, who will be dropping hints of Great Importance.  His rare appearances will most likely mark some sort of significances.  Not yet clearly what exactly, but very likely something we need to watch out for.  So lets do the count of his cameos.  And then a bit later here he speaks.

"So how do you know Charles?" asked Sal Mineo next to me as we reached the glass doors.

"I don't know Charles," I said.

"Well, you're lucky because everyone wants to know him."


Sal looked troubled, then shrugged and said in a soft regretful voice: "He's a royalty."   Before I could ask what that meant, he skipped down the cement steps and disappeared into the crowd.  Sal Mineos were always talking in spongy voices and making comments that were as vague as the outline of an angora sweater.  Their eyes weren't like everyone else's but enlarged tear glands and extra optic nerves.  I thought about hurrying after him, letting him know by the end of the movie he'd be acknowledged as a character of great sensitivity and pathos, an archetype of all that was lost and injured about his generation, but would be gunned down by trigger-happy police if we wasn't careful, if he didn't come to an understanding about himself and who he was.   pp.83-84

Plato (Sal Mineo's character in Rebel Without a Cause) was shot down by the police.   Though I feel his death is cheapen out as a step-stone to allow Jim (James Dean) to reconcile with his parents and for his all-American happy end with Judy (Natalie Wood).

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments!" she screamed.  p. 410

This is Sonnet 116 [1609] by W. Shakespeare (1564-1616).

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Rebel Without a Cause

I was next to Amadeus and some sad kid who was the spitting image of Sal Mineo (see Rebel Without a Cause).  p.78

Sal Mineo (1939-1976) was an actor and  Rebel Without a Cause (1955) was probably his best known movie.  It also has  James Dean starring, so obviously the movie is an eye-candy.  Will there also be a James Dean in Blue van Meer's school?

And here are James Dean and Sal Mineo - angsty and moody in Rebel Without a Cause [photo from here].

Why porn stars have names starting with "J"?

"Jenna Jameson?" shouted Charles.

"Is it a question or an answer?" said Hannah.

"Janet Jacme!" p. 411

Jenna Jameson (b.1974) is a porn star and Janet Jacme (b.1967) is another porn star.  So Charles knows his porn stars!   It's sort of sweet that Charles is screaming porn stars' names at the first given opportunity.  I was worried for him for a while, but this proves that he is an absolutely normal teenager.

She walks in beauty like the night

"She walks in beauty like the night," Dad shouted through the unrolled window as I climbed from the car. "Of cloudless climes and starry skies; / And all that's best of dark and bright / Meet in her aspect and her eyes'! Knock them dead, kiddo! Teach them what educated means." p.76

She Walks In Beauty like the night a poem by Lord Byron (1814).

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!


Mendelshon Peet wrote in Loggerheads [1932], "Man's wobbly little mind isn't equipped for hauling around the great unknowns." p. 133

This is an addition to Imaginary Reading list, as only Blue van Meer read the book.  Still it is a worthy cause to investigate what's a loggerhead.

First, according to wiki, there are loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta), or loggerhead.  They live in the oceans throughout the world. It is a marine reptile, belonging to the family Cheloniidae.

Second, there is a film Loggerheads (2005).  Independent production, with unknown director and actors; was dragged around the festivals.    I was immediately sold.  Ordered it.

Third,  an expression "at loggerheads" - unable to agree; opposing; in dispute with. Searching for this expression I stumbled upon this interesting article.  And here are two very fascinating quotes I want to borrow:

Shakespeare's quote from Love's Labours Lost (1588 )  "Ah you whoreson logger-head, you were borne to doe me shame."  Quoting Shakespeare always increases credibility of any research.

And a real gem here: the first known use of the phrase in print is  "They frequently quarrell'd about their Sicilian wenches, and indeed... they seem... to be worth the going to Logger-heads for."  In The English Rogue (1680) by Francis Kirkman (1632 - c. 1680).

And now please, pay attention - the director's name of the independent movie Loggerheads is Tim Kirkman (b.1966).   Coincidence or fate?   I have already decided that in the sleuth for conspiracy, there are no coincidences, how ever innocent they look.  Everything is Significant.     Maybe  'Mendelshon Peet' is still unrevealed, but the connection between Francis Kirkman and Tim Kirkman is via 'loggerheads'.  And that's important.  On some level.  I'm just not yet completely sure on which exactly....


"Love, Christabel" p.103

"Have you eaten, Christabel?" he asked. p. 257

"Christabel" is a poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (part 1 written in 1797, part 2 in 1800).

Gareth van Meer was very fond of  Coleridge  - one of his favorite quotation was by Coleridge.  So it  is of no surprise, that the father and the daughter used among themselves the Christabel-code, for she was, as Coleridge had written:

The lovely lady, Christabel,
Whom her father loves so well

Goodnight Moon

He was smiling at me.  I expected him to be a no-neck monster, but to my shock, he was a Goodnight Moon (Brown, 1947).  p.80

Goodnight moonWhen I read this passage, I expected Goodnight Moon to be a romantic love story here, not a children's book.   We are talking about Charles Loren here  - "the gold-limbed kid Fitzgerald would've picked out of the senior class photo and described with sun-soaked words like "patrician" and "of eternal reassurance." (p.9)

I was surprised to find out that actually the book is an innocent bedtime story.  And again cultural differences in upbringing - I did not hear about this book till today, though it seems that American readers would have an immediate recognition.     Well, I was raised upon different books...

Goodnight Moon is to be listed into Authentic Reading, as this one is not a result of Ms Pessl's imagination.

Humphrey Bogart wore platform shoes

"Humphrey Bogart wore platform shoes throughout the filming of Casablanca", someone said.  p.65

"Though he wasn't Einstein or Truman," she said, "I don't think history would be the same without him.    Especially  if he had to look up at Ingrid Bergman and say, 'Here's looking at you, kid.' "  p.66

This trivia is even on IMBd, so it's obviously very trivial trivia.   Blue van Meer was not impressed either with Hannah's "crumb of trivia" (p.66).  Blue van Meer has read "countless of celebrity biographies, authorized and unauthorized" (p.67) and to her the Bogart's platform shoes comment sounded more like a bad pick-up line.

According to same IMBd,  Humphrey Bogart was 1,73 m and Ingrid Bergman was 1,75m.  So the platforms did not need to be that high, but then there is an issue of Ingrid Bergman's heels which she surely wore.

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman during the filming of Casablanca (1942).

There are tons of screenshots from Casablanca to be found in Internet,  I like this making-movie moment - Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman during the filming of Casablanca (1942, found here, credit -Warner Bros/The Kobal Collection).

Gran Horizontes Tropicoco Uprising

Never has there been a rebellion more anticlimactic and second rate, except perhaps the "Gran Horizontes Tropicoco Uprising" in Havana 1980, which, according to Dad, was composed of out-of-work big band musicians and El Loro Bonito chorus girls and lasted all of three minutes.  ("Fourteen-year-old lovers last longer," he'd noted.)  p.97

This so-called "Gran Horizontes Tropicoco Uprising" was really short-lived.  Neither google nor wiki know anything of it. It must have been limited to people who have neither twitter, nor facebook, nor even LJ.   Or wait, it supposed happen in 1980, there was no wide-used Internet, nor online addictions to post just about everything.   I do remember life without Internet brand-width, I managed to finish my undergrad in those ancient times...

But back to the Havana rebellion - methinks Gareth van Meer made it up.  Quite possibly he knew of some Real Life similar occurrences on which it could have been based.   It was passionate Havana in crazy 1980s after all, they could ate and drunk rebellion, but only strictly after fiesta.

I cannot help, but insert the random tidbit of information here that the shortest war (the Anglo-Zanzibar one of 1896) lasted 45 minutes, which is 42 minutes longer than Havana Uprising. But seeing as it were a war not some undercover rebellion, it needed those 45 minutes. The UK won.

Why Hollywood Should Cease Committing the Son of God to Screen

Driving between Little Rock and Portland, I'd read aloud all of the eye-opening Thugs, Midges, Big Ears and Dentures: A Real Profile of Hollywood's Leading Men (Rivette, 1981), and Other Voices, 32 Rooms: My Life as L.B. Mayer's Maid (Hart, 1961).  Between San Diego and Salt Lake City I'd read aloud countless celebrity biographies, authorized and unauthorized, including those of Howard Hughes, Bette Davis, Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant and the highly memorable Christ, It's Been Done Before: Celluloid Jesus from 1912-1988, Why Hollywood Should Cease Committing the Son of God to Screen (Hatcher, 1989). pp.66-67

Behold the exciting list of the books-that-were-not-written:

Thugs, Midges, Big Ears and Dentures: A Real Profile of Hollywood's Leading Men (Rivette, 1981)

Other Voices, 32 Rooms: My Life as L.B. Mayer's Maid (Hart, 1961).

Christ, It's Been Done Before: Celluloid Jesus from 1912-1988, Why Hollywood Should Cease Committing the Son of God to Screen (Hatcher, 1989).

If there is any book which non-existence I bemoan, then it is  Christ, It's Been Done Before: Celluloid Jesus from 1912-1988, Why Hollywood Should Cease Committing the Son of God to Screen.   That's a pity that Mel Gibson did not have a chance to read this book before producing his The Passion of the Christ (2004), it might have saved the world the 2 hours tormenting hours of botched-up Aramaic language with the additions of strange Latin and Hebrew.   It still avoids me what was the purpose of that exercise, as the languages in which the script was translated are the artificial language produced by the modern linguistic professors.  The ancient Aramaic (supposedly Jesus' languages) is a dead-dead tongue, and there is no one alive to reproduce it with any degree of credibility.  And why Latin, if everyone and their dog knows by now that it should be Greek?  Gibson's argument, that Latin is a nice phonetic contrast to Aramaic is just such blunter towards any historical accuracy.  What's the point of making the characters speak strange languages if (a) you don't know how those languages sounded and (b) they actually spoke different language? Let me quote Joseph Amar, a classics professor specializing in Christian Aramaic at the University of Notre Dame, who strongly criticized the endeavor, saying there is no way to know how similar the Aramaic spoken in Jesus' time is to the forms preserved today : "It has no intellectual integrity. The very enterprise is bogus."

And the crash course of Aramaic for small talk initially aimed at movie-goers, but really could be used in almost any situation:

Da'ek teleyfoon methta'naanaak, pquud. Guudaapaw!
Please turn off your mobile phone. It is blasphemous.

Enaa mqatreg naa l-Ruumaayey.
I blame the Romans.

Jane Goodall

I'd like to say I was the Jane Goodall, a fearless stranger in a stranger land doing (groundbreaking) work without disturbing the natural hierarchy of the universe.  p.27

I was as familiar with the First Day of School as Jane Goodall her Tanzanian chimps after years in the jungle.  p.76

While reading Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl the first time around, I real the quote on page 76 aloud to my husband, and complained that it's frustrating not to understand the cultural context.  He was thoughtful and then suggested: "Well, a girl, Tarzania, chimps.  Could be Jane, the Tarzan's girl?"  I liked that guess.   Turned out, it were completely wrong:  Jane, the Tarzan's girl, was Jane Clayton, Lady Greystoke (née Porter).

Jane Goodall (b. 1934) is , British primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist. Considered to be the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees (according to wiki).   She is the founder and the head of  The Jane Goodall Institution .

I sort of feel embarrassed for mixing up Jane Porter and Jane Goodall (my husband suggested that, but I was all for it), my only excuse is that I do not like chimpanzees.  I always skip their areas in any zoo as well as the most of apes.  The only time I willingly spent couple of hours in the apes' section was in Berlin Zoo - they have absolutely charismatic orangutans.

Here is the latest book by Jane Goodall, I could be curious enough to pick it up in the library.

Dick Van Dyke

"I'm good", he said, animatedly rubbing his hands together like Dick Van Dyke. p.61

Dick Van Dyke. What an unfortunate name, I thought. Surely, he is not real. Wrong. He is an American actor. And according to his IMBd page, he is quite productive. Not that I've seen a single one of his movies.  But I guess, in the context of the American TV, the way he rubs his hands is rather famous.

This made me think how many American pop-culture references are lost on an innocent foreign reader.  You might learn the language, but if you do not follow the American TV and movies rigorously, you miss out all the little quirks and references.  I've already given up without even trying.

We have around 200 channels, and the only (sort of) American is CNN International. The rest are Europeans, Asian and Middle East (my husband loves watching Press TV).  My husband used to watch CNN International with Christiane Amanpour. Now that she moved to ABC, we do not get her crazed-out glint.  And if Anderson Cooper indeed moves to another American channel, then his blue eyes will be lost for us forever.

On Sunday morning we get  The Daily Show: Global Edition with Jon Stewart. He surely has some unique facial expression, and I surely want to laugh, but 90 per cent of time I have no clue who he is talking about. That's the Global Edition, for global sake! Why are they taking about some Republicans in North Dakota? Give me some global jokes! There are global politicians, who make stupid of themselves on daily basis: Nicolas! Silvio! Angie! Dima!

Even though the world outside of the US is not only "atrocities of war" and "devastation caused by natural disasters" (Amanpour, 2009-2010), does it necessarily mean that the US should care about that?   As well as do I really need to care for who Dick Van Dyke is?

The Nightwatchmen: a Russian exercise — part 2

In 1982, Gracey’s radicals – now purportedly going by the name Nie Schlafend (also проснитесь в ноче according to, Russian for “awake in the night”) [...] p. 575

Continuing the analysis of the Russian name for The Nightwatchmen. If you were a Russian brunch of The Nightwatchmen, how would you call yourself? "Бодрствующие в ночи" [bodrstvuyushchie v nochi] or "бдящие в ночи" [bdyashchie v nochi] might not be your first choice, with all the tongue-twisting. And one does not necessarily want to stick with "Never sleeping" option, if there is a very nice Russian phrase for Night Watch - "ночной дозор" [nochnoy dozor].

In 1998 Sergei Lukyanenko published a Russian novel Ночной Дозор which evolves around a confrontation between two opposing supernatural groups and the impending  doomsday.   The book became a bestseller, got translated into several languages and made a movie.  There is a fandom and lots of online buzz about the supernatural Night Watch.  And this will be a useful cover-up for the political Nightwatchmen: all the RPGs, information sites, forums, fanfiction will dilute the trace of The Nightwatchmen.  A perfect decoy.   As theory goes, it's as plausible as any.   So Lukyanenko's book is on the Additional Reading as we do not have any evidence to rule it out as a pure coincidence.  Well, there is no evidence to  prove that it's indeed a decoy; but the rule of the thumb in a conspiracy sleuth: everyone is suspicious, unless they have a notarized Indulgentia, but then they are the part of the Catholic conspiracy.

The Nightwatchmen: a Russian exercise

In 1982, Gracey's radicals - now purportedly going by the name Nie Schlafend (also проснитесь в ноче according to, Russian for "awake in the night") [...] p. 575
The Nightwatchmen have always gone by a variety of names - Nächtlich, or "Nocturnal" in German, also Nie Schlafend, or "Never Sleeping". p.564

After the Japanese fiasco (1 and 2), lets check the other alias of The Nightwatchmen. At least those that I understand. This time is Russian and this is the language I know quite well.

проснитесь в ноче supposedly mean "awake in the night"

Lets start with the obvious part:  "в ноче" is a clearly grammatical mistake.  The declension of "ночь" (night) goes as following (from wiktionary):
nominative   --   ночь
genitive       --   ночи
dative         --   ночи
accusative   --   ночь
instrumental  --  ночью
prepositional -- о ночи
locative         -- в ночи
As we can see - there is not a single declension form  which would be "ноче".  Moreover, it is a locative case and it should  be "в ночи".

Our next stop is Merriam: awake: (1) not sleeping or able to sleep — see wakeful; (2) paying close attention usually for the purpose of anticipating approaching danger or opportunity — see alert 1.

wakeful: not sleeping or able to sleep . Synonyms awake, sleepless, wide-awake

alert: (1) paying close attention usually for the purpose of anticipating approaching danger or opportunity.

The English "awake" refers to the non-sleeping state (that correlates well with "never sleeping" concept).  Russian "проснитесь"  refers to the condition when someone was asleep and then woke up and in addition it is imperative, basically "wake up!".  Well, "wake up in the night!" changes the political focus of an organization.  Those who are "awake" they exercise vigilance and promise out that nothing escapes their focus even in the darkness.   Those who call for waking up make a different point, they want to draw attention to some issues.  The Nightwatchmen were rather those who stayed alert and watchful and under the cover of the darkness were doing their deed; they did not need to call upon the whole world with their agenda.

What would be then a proper Russian word for "awake"?  There is of course an adjective "бодрствующий" (not-sleeping, wakeful) and then a good analog for "alert" - "бдящий".

If you are a Russian organization, will you be then called "бодрствующие в ночи" or "бдящие в ночи"?  Well, if I was to decide - neither!  Try to pronounce  "bodrstvuyushchie v nochi" and "bdyashchie v nochi".  It breaks one's tongue.  These are surely powerful words, but try to imagine a fearless leader calling the name like this on a rally, or how people cheering and chanting these tongue-twisters.   But then again, The Nightwatchmen did not have rallies and were not cheered by their supporters, so maybe for them it would have worked.

Once again, I have to conclude that this is a mistake on the part of the Author and her Editor(s).  I cannot stress more, how important it is for an author not to include blindly into the text any unknown data.  With all that globalization, the share of non-native speakers reading original English books is something to think about, and it would save lots of embarrassment to proofread all the foreign words (and not, google-translate will not do!).

Trust in God, but lock your car

Though proficient in other languages, Dad actually knew no Russian at all except, "На бога надейся, а сам не плошай", which meant, "Trust in God, but lock your car", a well-known Russian proverb. p.264

Though not a word-by-word translation, the English version pretty much convey the meaning. The Russian proverb "На бога надейся, а сам не плошай" is considered to be an analog of the French "Aide toi et le ciel t'aidera" [English almost direct wording - "Help yourself, and heaven will help you"].  Despite this translation-in-circles game, we still have not lost the original meaning.  And what a fancy that Aide toi et le ciel t'aidera (1827-1834) was the name of a French Jacobin association.  They opposed ultra-royalists in the years of Bourbon Restoration, so that marks them revolutionary enough.

As for the Russian proverb, I am more fond of an  "Господь не выдаст, свинья не съест" which is somewhat an antithesis of  "На бога надейся, а сам не плошай".  Used in the situation where there is nothing left to do and one can only rely on the mercy of the God.

Here a fancy example:
"Бог милостив: солдат у нас довольно, пороху много, пушку я вычистил. Авось дадим отпор Пугачёву. Господь не выдаст, свинья не съест!" (А. Пушкин. Капитанская дочка, 1836)

And two alternative translations:

"The Lord is merciful. We have soldiers enough, and much, powder; I have cleared the cannon. Perhaps we may be able to defeat this Pugatchéf. If God do not forsake us, the wolf will eat none of us here." ( Translated by Mrs. Milne Home, available at Gutenberg)

"God willing, all will be well. We have soldiers enough, plenty of gunpowder, and I have cleaned the cannon. We may yet keep Pugatchov at bay. Whom God helps, nobody can harm." (Translated by Natalie Duddington, available at amazon).

Little Girls

I couldn't help but think of Holloway Barnes and Eleanor Tilden, the girls who'd conspired to murder their parents in Honolulu in 1964, subject to Arthur Lewis' chilling nonfiction account, Little Girls (1988). Holloway killed Eleanor's parents with a pick-ax as they slept and Eleanor killed Holloway's with a rifle, shooting them in the face as if playing a game, hoping to win a stuffed panda, and in the photographs section in the middle of the book, there'd been a picture of the girls almost exactly like this one, the two of them in Catholic schoolgirl uniforms, their arms pretzeled, their brutal smiles piercing their faces like fish hooks. p. 213

It's rather sad that this story sounds absolutely realistic: it takes no effort to imagine being reported on the 5 o'clock news.  In fact, I was pretty sure that there is wiki entry "Barnes and Tilden", the same way as there is wiki page Leopold and Loeb.    These Holloway Barnes and Eleanor Tilden are, however, fiction.  Even if they are fiction, they still had some sort of the motivation.  Were the girls are Raskolnikov wanna-be (Dostoevsky, 1866. Crime and Punishment) like Leopold and Loeb, or were they after parents' money like Menendez Brothers? Arrr, the subject is too depressing to look for the possible Real Life counterparts of Holloway Barnes and Eleanor Tilden, so I'll leave it here.

Arthur Lewis' Little Girls (1988) was obviously never written. But I got some hints as for what would have inspired such title.  In my search I found very interesting blog  True Crime Book Reviews and two entries hold my special attention:  Such Good Boys by Tina Dirmann and   Hush Little Babies by Don Davis.  The both are nonfiction accounts of the real murders, and there is something about the titles of both books, which make them sound so eerie.  Little Girls (1988) would have fitted perfectly into this bookshelf.

Little Girls will be listed on the Imaginary Reading; Such Good Boys - on Additional Reading; and I'm not sure I could stomach Hush Little Babies...

Charles Manson

It was a gray book with the photograph of a man on the front, its title in orange letters: Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night: The Life of Charles Milles Manson (Ivys, 1985). The cover and pages were extremely tattered.
"So?" I asked.
"Don't you know who Charles Manson is?"
"Of course." p.286

I did not know who Charles Manson is. Jade's words were ringing in my head and I felt I had to excuse myself for not knowing who Charles Manson is.  Google is my friend.  And no, I no longer felt apologetic for not knowing an American criminal.  Really, my world is not America-centric.  Europe has enough of the local criminal families.  Oh, I just recently saw a documentary about the Ovechkin family - a mother with 10 children (varying from 31 to 9 years old) hijacking an airplane.  9 dead bodies in the wake.

But back to Charles Manson,  this book Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night: The Life of Charles Milles Manson sounded so promisingly thrilling, that I just had to google it right away.  And the great disappointment: the book does not exist.  Being denied of an interesting book is such a let down....  It will get a memorable mention on Imaginary Reading.

The only interesting piece of information that search brought up is about the Beatles.   In the Beatles' lyrics Charles Manson found a proof that "the Beatles knew about Charlie, knew that he was in Los Angeles and were urging him to speak out, to sing the truth to the world" (Will You Die For Me? On-line book, ch.11).  The would-be-biography uses the line from Blackbird (The Beatles, 1968): Blackbird singing in the dead of night/ Take these broken wings and learn to fly/ All your life/ You were only waiting for this moment to arise.  According to Will You Die For Me? wiki and other online source the hidden message behind the lyrics is the upcoming upraise of the "true black race".

Will somebody, please, write an  article Decoding the Revolution Manifesto: Reinterpretation of the Pop-Culture Texts ?

The Nightwatchmen: a List

I was entertaining an idea of making a List of The Nightwatchmen  Strictly for the methodological point.  From that particular methodological point, it would be better to point out that a List is by no means extensive or does not necessarily mean more that Blue van Meer's vivid imagination.  It could be Blue van Meer's Imaginary List of The Imaginary Secret Organization Members.  For the sake of the methodological purpose it would be all the same: as long as Blue van Meer believed them to be Revolutionist, A List is valid, for the methodological purpose.  So  I  started to type it down:
Dr. Gareth van Meer aka Socrates
Dr. Michael Servo Kouropoulos aka Baba au Rhum aka George Gracey
Hannah Schneider aka Catherine Backer aka Die Motte

And then as I was flipping through the chapter #35 where happen most of the revelations about  People Who Blue van Meer Knew Through 17 Years of Her Life and Who All of Sudden Turned Out To Be a Part of A Secret Revolution Seeking Organization to find more of the names, and I had the most livid déjà-vu of Il pendolo di Foucault (Eco, 1988) "Everyone was [a Templar], except us. Thank God we've caught on. Now we’re a step ahead of them."   For the sake of the methodology, it does not matter who we put on A List, as long as it's everyone, except us.  This renders A List utterly useless and non-instrumental for any methodological purpose.

Putting Foucalt's Pendlum on the Additional Reading.

Wie schafft man ein Meisterwerk

[...] I discovered not a rare, underground edition of Wie schafft man ein Meisterwerk, or The Step-by-Step Manual for Crafting Your Magnum Opus (Lint, Steggertt, Cue, 1993) [...] p.58

Obviously the books do not exist,  I shall not despair, as this is a wonderful opportunity to trace the life of another fascinating Meisterwerk :

From Brunau to Vienna:
The roots of Power
Michael Young, MA MPhil

This is a "neatly squared, magnificently, obscenely thick" (p.11) Meisterwerk from Making History by Stephen Fry (1996).  Michael Young had a creative approach to wring a thesis, his academic adviser was not impressed:  'Colour? Drama? In an academic thesis? Seek the shelter of a rehabilitation centre before it is too late, lad!' (p.89).  Michael did the revisions following the advise "to type it all out again, this time omitting all fictitious and speculative impertinences" (p.90).  But that did not make Michael happy:  "Das Meisterwerk was there. With corrections. All properly done. I started to read it and gave up, frantic with boredom, after the second paragraph" (p.543). After his special out-of-history experience Michael had much better argument to his academic adviser:

'Angus Fraser-Stuart.'
'Oh, hello Doctor Fraser-Stuart. It's Michael Young here.'
'How may I serve?'
'That thesis of mine
'You have the corrections for me?'
'Well, I know now that you weren't really doing it justice.'
'Your pardon, sir?'
'Do you still have it?'
'The original? I believe so, yes. In a desk somewhere.
Wherefore do we ask?'
'Well I wonder, if it isn't too much bother, if you could take it out and have a look at it.'
He tutted and dropped the phone and I could hear drawers opening, and in the background, strange game- Ian music plinking, plonking and plunking away.
'I have it before me. What new thing am I supposed to see in it? Are there historical brilliances written in the margin in invisible  ink that have only now emerged? What?'
'I'm sorry, I should have asked you to do this weeks ago...'
'Do what, young Young? My time is not wholly without value.'
'If you take the first twenty-four pages
'First twenty-four pages ... yes. Done. Now what? Set them to music?
'No. What I want you to do is to roll them up very, very tightly until it forms a tube. Then I want you to take that tube and push it right up your fat, vain, complacent arse and keep it there for a week. I think that way you'll appreciate it more. Good afternoon.'
I dropped the receiver onto its cradle and giggled for a while.

Michael Young is a sweetheart, and I'd love to read his original Meisterwerk with all the drama, color and atmosphere.

Encyclopedias of the Physical World

Over the years, Dad's surprises, large and small, had been scholarly in nature, a set of 1999 Lamure-France Encyclopedias of the Physical World translated from the French and unavailable for purchase in the United States. ("All Nobel Prize-winners have a set of these", Dad said.) p.57-58

There is Larousse that published French dictionaries and encyclopedias,  Larousse is for the French language, what Duden is for the German.

There is nothing interesting came up in the search.  I could not find if the Nobel Prize-winner received any special encyclopedias on the award ceremony.  Neither could I find any encyclopedia that were translated into English.   Nor was their any trace of an encyclopedia 'unavailable for purchase in the United States'.

But just for the references sake, 2 French and 1 German.  These are online versions, but they all have printed editions:
Encyclopédie Universalis
Le Grand Larousse encyclopédique
Brockhaus Enzyklopädie

And I can understand the excitement of Blue van Meer over the encyclopedia. My favorite past-time in my school years was reading randomly 65 volumes of La Grande encyclopédie soviétique (1st edition 1926-1947).

Acid Rain on Gargoyles

I had to confront him.  Otherwise, the lie could were me away (see "Acid Rain on Gargoyles", Conditions, Eliot, 1999, p.513).  p.61

My initial thought was that Conditions is a scientific journal like Nature or Science and guess what? I was right. There is a magazine Conditions .  An article about the impacts of acid rain on gargoyles could definitely be featured in a magazine on architecture and urbanism.   A perfect fit.  Except that issue 1 of this magazine was in 2009.   It was after the book "Special Topics in Calamity Physics" was published...  Which I think is an thrilling post-modernistic occurrence.

I'm itching to write an article on acid rains and gargoyles into that magazine.  Does anyone know anything about gargoyles?  My husband know everything about acid rains, being into the atmosphere chemistry research.  And I feel we could do a fabulous cooperation here.  All I need is some date on the condition of  the gargoyles in the various parts of the world.  Or we could stick to Europe - France, Italy, Germany, Belgium maybe Spain and Portugal (not sure about those two).  And then we will run the correlations against the acid rains data in those regions (I'll get that from my husband). And I bet, we will be able to draw some beautiful graphs.

How to Be a Shogun Assassin

"Never retreat unless death is certain," wrote Nobunaga Kabayashi in How to Be a Shogun Assassin (1989). p.501

Guess what I've done after seeing this quotation?  Right - google it.  This is the moment where I feel very sad, because the book like this was never written.  From the quote it sounds like some sort of biography-based account and it would surely make a thrilling reading.

The google brought up some results.  There was an Shogun Assassins is the title of the English language compilation of 2 Japanese movies about Tokugawa era Japan. The Japanese  movies (there were actually 6 of them) are based on the manga Lone Wolf and Cub by  Kazuo Koike (writer) and Goseki Kojima (artist).  The Japanese movies and manga share the title - 子連れ狼 --
子連れ [こづれ] (n) taking one's children along (to an event, into a new marriage, etc.)
狼 [おおかみ(P); オオカミ] (n) wolf (carnivore, Canis lupus)
Literally, it means "the wolf taking his child along" which sound really peculiar, but that's Japanese language for you.   The manga is 28 volumes and was licensed in the US by Dark Horse Comics and all 28 volumes are available in English.  US release: Lone Wolf and Cub: volumes 1-28

It was a rather interesting discovery in terms of Japanese grammar, but I'm afraid it will not provide much insight on Blue van Meer.   There is nothing, but to add How to Be a Shogun Assassin to the Imaginary Reading and moan the loss of such a promising book.

Cassius Blue

[...] Cassius Blue was the only butterfly Natasha could catch (see "Leptotes cassius", Butterfly Dictionary, Meld, 2001 ed.) p.17

Nabokov's butterfliesRemember which was Gareth van Meer's one of "the most beloved books"?  Ada or Ardor by Nabokov. Nabokov was not only a novelist, but also a lepidopterist.  And he is quite famous in the specialized circles, for identifying, naming and describing another blue butterfly - Karner Blue (Lycaeides melissa samuelis).

Google search brought extremely  interesting results this time.  First, a REAL book, that sounds as exciting, as those read that Blue van Meer read to cause jealousy in us.   Nabokov's Blues: The Scientific Odyssey of a Literary Genius - I'm definitely adding it to Additional Reading and actually reading it.

And a breathtakingly fascinating quote:

“Nabokov was a serious taxonomist,” Pick says. “He actually did quite a good job at distinguishing species that you would not think were different—by looking at their genitalia under a microscope six hours a day, seven days a week, until his eyesight was permanently impaired.”  From (Colloquy: The GSAS Alumni QuarterlyColloquy. Spring 2005. p.11)

And here is a quote on Natasha's attitude towards her Lepidoptera research:

"I told her not to work so hard on the bugs," Dad said.  "After all, they were only a hobby.  But she insisted on working through the night on those display cases, and she could be very bullheaded.  [...]" p.18

I'm not drawing any conclusions now, but this brings a new level of interesting...

The Karner Blue was first identified and named by novelist and lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov. The name originates from Karner, New York (located half-way between Albany and Schenectady) in the Albany Pine Bush), where it was first discovered. Lupine blooms in late May.

Ada or Ardor

I remembered, because her name was one of Dad's most beloved books, Nabokov's Ada or Ardor [1969]. p. 553

AdaAda or Ardor was Nabokov's sixth English novel.  It does not surprise me the Ada or Ardor gets such a special status in Ms. Pessl's book - it's Gareth van Meer (!) beloved book.  The author of Special Topics in Calamity Physics must love Ada or Ardor, because that book is a such a web of misleading connection, interlining meanings, interweaving references.  And there are extensive commentary published to discuss the illusive allusions and (in)significant connections.  Well, I'm footnotes addicts, I love the books which need to be deciphered.  And I also love the books which intermingle different languages.  **adding it to Authentic Reading**

I do like Ada a lot, but my most beloved book by Nabokov will be Laughter in the Dark [1938 ] (Kamera Obscura [1933] ) - both English and Russian versions of it.  The English version is in the Required Reading (ch.16), so I guess Blue van Meer is not partial towards this book either.

Judgment Day resistant

Now tell me your gut reaction to the following words: Colonial.  Dellahay.  Wood.  Patio. Five Pieces.  Sun resistant, wind resistant, Judgment Day resistant.  Amazing value at just $299.  p. 49

This quote is only to admire the Judgment Day resistance quality description.  I cannot think of anything that would resist that particular blast, but as for the nuclear war (a close proxy for the Judgment Day), cockroaches are believed to have high chances of surviving.  That reminds of the wonderful alien race Blattellan from Cheesecake and the Art of Political Warfare :

Blattellans were the dominant race on a shithole of a planet known as Xlkik'hik IV. As a race, they had survived three nuclear wars and the subsequent nuclear winters, two ice ages, five geography-altering meteor impacts, four Enberian Flu pandemics, and their own sun going nova. If Adam were to carry out his threat of ripping Greg's head off, the rest of Greg's body would probably survive about two Earth months, after which it would finally die of starvation. Aside from the fact that they could look the average human in they eye when they stood up on their hind legs, Blattellans bore more than a superficial resemblance to the Earth insect scientifically known as Blattella germanica.
Or in layman's terms:  "--a fucking cockroach."


Cecil Roloff

"So my father's a minister at the First Baptist Church.  And when he did one of his sermons last year,  'The Fourteen Hopes', there was a man in the congregation visiting from Washington, D.C.  A guy by the name of Cecil Roloff.  Well, this guy was so inspired he told my dad afterward he was a changed man."  Zach pointed at the painting.  "So a week later this came by UPS.  And it's real. You know Turner, the artist?" [...]

"It's called Fishermen at Sea," Zach said.  p.262

My first hypothesis was that this Cecil Roloff use to be involved into art forgery and this Fishermen at Sea he donated to the minister is one he had forged. Now as a converted man, he no longer wants to have the fruits of his misdeed around. So he sends them per UPS to various Church members.

I googled Cecil Roloff and there was nothing relevant (only Beny Roloff, but he seemed more into creating new art than forgery of the Alter Meister), then I googled  some more and then Der Spiegel 42/1997 article:

"Wie starb Uwe Barschel vor zehn Jahren in seinem Hotel in Genf und warum? In die Schweiz flog er, um angeblich einen Mann namens "Roloff" zu treffen, der sich als Bekannter Reiner Pfeiffers ausgegeben habe und ihm Entlastungsmaterial liefern wolle."

My rough translation: How did Uwe Barschel die 10 years ago in his hotel in Genf and why?  He flew in Switzerland in order to meet a  man named "Roloff", who identified himself as an acquainted of Reiner Pfeiffers and wanted to deliver defense evidences.

Well, this is a totally unexpected turn of the events, because Uwe Barschel and Reiner Pfeiffers, really?   Barschel-Affäre - one of the biggest political scandals in Germany, and less then 10 days after the resignation Uwe Barschel is dead.  But before that he was supposed to meet "Roloff".  It does not look like the art forgery anymore, but dare I whisper...  The Nightwatchmen... ? But what Fishermen at Sea has to do with it?

I think I will be reading the details of Barschel-Affäre for the next couple of days. In the conspiracy sleuth every coincidence is a valid lead.

Fishermen at Sea

"So my father's a minister at the First Baptist Church.  And when he did one of his sermons last year,  'The Fourteen Hopes', there was a man in the congregation visiting from Washington, D.C.  A guy by the name of Cecil Roloff.  Well, this guy was so inspired he told my dad afterward he was a changed man."  Zach pointed at the painting.  "So a week later this came by UPS.  And it's real. You know Turner, the artist?" [...]

"It's called Fishermen at Sea," Zach said.  p.262

J.M.W. Turner indeed had painted Fishermen at Sea: it was his first oil painting, exhibited at Royal Academy of Art in 1796.  Currently, the painting is in the British Museum, London.

This is what the British Museum has.  And here is the description of the painting hang hang in the hallway next to Zach's bedroom:

This painting was an oil, yet dark. depicting a tiny boat seemingly lost in a storm at sea, painted in hazy grays, browns and greens.  There were slurpy waves, a wooden boat forceful as a matchbox, a moon, was and small and a little bit of an acrophobe as it peered fretfully through the clouds.  p. 262

Is it just me, or is it the description of the painting owned by the British Museum?

So, the first oil painting by J.M.W. Turner (end of 18 century) sent by UPS?  Ha. Ha, again.  Real J.M.W. Turner outside the safe wall of the highest security facility or the British Museum.  Ha-ha-ha.  And I'm not going to even speculate of how much such painting would cost (if the British Museum would ever decide to part from it)  because the numbers will be around the stratosphere.

What I will speculate is about that guy - Cecil Roloff.   He sends an invaluable painting by UPS to a man who had converted him.  Well,  the explanation that pops up to my head immediately: he was into art forgery and had this  Fishermen at Sea forged,  and now being "a changed man", he starts a new life and get rids of the previous misdeeds.

I wonder why the we were given the name of the guy, maybe I should google him next.

J. M. W. Turner

Obviously I was familiar with the "King of Light" otherwise known as J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851), having read Alejandro Penzance's eight-hundred-page X-rated biography of the man published only in Europe, Poor and Decayed Male Artist Born in England (1974). p.262

Lana Turner was not the only Turner mentioned in the book, J. M. W. Turner is the artist whose painting Zach discusses with Blue van Meer during their failure of a date.

J. M. W. Turner - the name sounded familiar, but I was sure I've never seen his paintings live.  Some research proved the initial assumption right - his name was definitely mentioned in the History of Arts classes, and I've never seen him live as most of his works are in London or in the US.  In the US I was only in the Smithsonian and I've never been to London.  After some more searching I found out that Landscape with Distant River and Bay c. 1840-50; Oil on canvas, 94 x 124 cm;  is at Musée du Louvre, Paris.  Putting it in my moleskin for the next time I'm in Paris.

The book Blue van Meer refers to as her knowledge source about J.M.W. Turner sounds as thrilling as many other books read by Blue van Meer. A X-rated biography is not something to pass on. If only it were written! Unfortunately, the book was never published (not even in Europe). Pity, this one is to be added to Imaginary Reading.

The search of the would-be-biography brought up some interesting bits of information about the origin of the title. "In his will he [J. M. W. Turner] provided that the bulk of his fortune to be sued for "Poor and Decayed Male Artists born in England and of English Parents only and lawful issue".  (Clement Greenberg, ed. John O'Brian "The Collected Essays and Criticism: Modernism with a vengeance, 1957-1969".  University Of Chicago Press, 1995. p.233 at google books.)  I think I might enjoy this essays collection, so it goes to Additional Reading. I'd see if I could check it out in the library.


"Hideous names on beautiful women tend to rumplestilskin quite nicely," Dad said. p.113

What did Gareth van Meer actually mean here? It sounds sort of witty, but at the same time quite vague.

Rumplestilskin (spelling that I found in the other sources - Rumpelstiltskin) - according to the Brother Grimms, was a dwarf alike who taught a miller's daughter to spin straw into gold in exchange for her first-born. When the child was born, the girl wanted to bail out from the bargain. The dwarf's condition was to guess his name (which being Rumpelstiltskin is not that easy). Girl's luck it were that she had overheard the dwarf's pompous song and thus could provide the real name.

Rumplestilskin is a hideous name, but as long as a beautiful woman did not know it, the dwarf had powers over her and her offspring. And if I continue any further, I'll come up with the Freud&Jung et al.'s interpretation of 'dwarf is penis', 'gold is virginity', 'straw is a bed'.   Ewww, lets stay out of the psychoanalytical crap.

Additional readingFairy Tale as Myth/Myth as Fairy Tale by Jack Zipes (1994). The implications of the fairy-tales and archetypes for our identities - mmmm, sounds very exciting.

Hunting for Godot

Dad used to joke that in my sleep I could pound out the book Hunting for Godot: Journey to Find a Decent School in America [...] p.26-27

Waiting for Godot (1953, originally written in French En attendant Godot and was translated into English by the author) is  a play by Samuel Beckett.  The Godot play always fascinated me not for the content, but for it being such a symbolic entity for the postmodern literature.  Modernisierung der Modernisierung.   It was modern in itself, but right after it were written and debuted, Godot started to modernize the literature. Everyone and their June Bug have a burning need to re-apply Godot, to integrate Godot into their scheme and re-invent Godot for their Estragon &Vladimir.   As teenager rebellion is a necessary part of any coming-of-age roman, so waiting/searching/hunting/longing/craving/yearning/pining for Godot is now an unavoidable part of any newfangled text.

The Japanese translation is entitled ゴドーを待ちながら - godoo o machinagara.   Not that it is of any importance, it's just pretty.  And here is  French/English edition of the play for the Additional Reading .

Lana Turner

Natasha's dress had a tendency to change colors in his memory.  Sometimes she was "wrapped in a dove-white dress accenting her perfect figure, which made her as arresting as Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice."  p.14

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) with Lana Turner was on of the posters in Hannah Schneider's classroom.  Well, the Spanish-Italian version of it.   Can we make this coincidence look meaningful given the history between Gareth van Meer, Natasha Bridges and Hannah Schneider?  The triangle!  The murder!  What are the odds that Hannah Schneider will daily gaze upon the image that in Gareth van Meer's opinion alluded to the perfection of his deceased Natasha who might have been betrayed by both her husband and her best friend?

I googled Lana Turner's pictures in the movie, and here found couple of very nice shots.  And this is my favorite: John Garfield, Hume Cronyn and Lana Turner.  The posture and the looks are just burning with the tension.

El Cantero Suena Siempe Dos Veces

The Visual Aid 14.0 (Hannah Schneider's classroom) on p.284 has another full size poster. That one has a seemingly  Spanish title El Cantero Suena Siempe Dos Veces starring Lana Turner and John Garfield.  The only movie where Lana Turner and John Garfield were starring together and which is entitled as something about El Cantere is The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946).  Nice guess, only IMBd lists the Spanish release title as El cartero siempre llama dos veces.
How come then Hannah's poster is entitled somewhat different?  The IMBd is being helpful here as well: the Italian release is entitled Il postino suona sempre due volte.   Surprise-surprise, the Hannah's poster is a patchwork of  Spanish and Italian:

El Cantero Suena Siempe Dos Veces -
"El cartero .... dos veces" is Spanish  +  "suona sempre" is Italian.
My knowledge of Spanish is non-existent,  my Italian is very limited, so no profound comments here, however this somewhat a liberal approach to  mixing up languages is rather entertaining.

Private Life

Visual Aid 14.0 p. 284 (Hannah Schneider's classroom) has 2 movie poster in full size and one partially visual.  That's already lots of information at the first glance, except once we start verifying it, it all of a sudden becomes very illusive.

Lets start with the Japanese poster.   It's clearly Japanese, not Chinese, as there is hiragana on the bottom.  The big kanji 私生活.

私生活 [しせいかつ] --shiseikatsu -- (n) one's private life;
So the movie's title should be something along the lines of Private Life. Google and IMBd searche, no matter how extensive and profound, did not bring any movie titled  "私生活" or "Private Life" or "Shiseikatsu" that would have a poster similar to the one on Hannah's classroom wall.  The poster does not look like a Japanese movie, rather a lush Hollywood.  The hiragana is really unintelligible and there are no names or any other clues as for the actors.  It will be a really lucky move to stumble upon a poster that would have allusions to the actors and have a title with something about private life. The pure luck will  at be, as I have rather limited knowledge of glamorous Hollywood.

The Nightwatchmen: a Japanese exercise — part 2

Following this, at my Japanese language study group, we had several rounds of consultations concerning 決して眠った as in

[...] The Nightwatchmen (or "Mai addormentato", as they were called in Italian and apparently 決して眠った in Japanese). p. 567

After all the uproar "how come there is not negation after  決して!" only two suggestions seemed constructive enough to provide possible meaning of the phrase

1. when not followed by negation 決して can have a meaning of   必ず or きっと.  Ref. here, for instance.
きっと - (1) surely; undoubtedly; almost certainly; most likely (e.g. 90 percent); (2) (arch) sternly; severely;
必ず [かならず] -  always; without exception; necessarily; certainly; without fail; positively; invariably;
This would make  決して眠った - something like "Always Sleeping" or "Deeply Sleeping".
This suggestion was not very well accepted, as it seems that 決して is so rarely used in this meaning, that no one was really sure if it's applicable.

2.  決して  is derived from 決する
決する [けっする]--kesuru-- to decide; to determine;
Therefore, 決して眠った would mean "To decide to sleep", "To make up one's mind and sleep".

Then two native Japanese speakers came aboard and said: "Silly people! This phrase has no meaning whatsoever!" Though the phrase seems to be grammatically sustainable, the words just do not add up together to constitute any agreeable meaning. Thus, concluded the vigorous discussion about the meaning of a meaningless thing and we moved on discussing 決める in relation to 決して.

After some further pondering, I do not have any other choice, but to pronounce 決して眠った to be a mistake on the part of the Author and her Editor(s). Judging from the content, the Japanese name for The Nightwatchmen should be "Never sleeping" - 決して眠らない.
決して眠った is just mistakenly written.   It's always a pity to see such a negligent mistake in the otherwise very thorough book.  I wonder if the later editions of the book were corrected **might check when in the bookstores.**

And please note, that I still think katakana would have been better suited here - ナイトウォッチマン, for instance.

The Nightwatchmen: a Japanese exercise

[...] The Nightwatchmen (or "Mai addormentato", as they were called in Italian and apparently 決して眠った in Japanese). p. 567

My Italian is very rudimentary, so cannot really comment on Mai addormentato, but the Japanese term made me curious.

So 決して眠った  read as [けっしてねむった] - keshitenemutta.
決して [けっして] (adv) never; by no means; decidedly; indisputably;
眠った[ねむった] - from 眠る - to sleep
what does it sum up? nothing much... It'd be nice if it were "Never sleeping", but for that it should be double negation -rather  決して眠らない [けっしてねむらない] - keshitenemuranai.  Google seems to like the word  決して眠らない  and it is used exactly as "never sleeping".   As for the  決して眠った I'm a bit at loss here.  I'd need some additional native language expertise to understand if it's a grammatically incorrect structure, or if there is some hidden meaning here.

"Never sleeping" would actually have been a wonderfully fitting term, if only it were grammatically correct, for there is a very nice quote that supports the translation.

The Nightwatchmen have always gone by a variety of names - Nächtlich, or "Nocturnal" in German, also Nie Schlafend, or "Never Sleeping". p.564

Leaving the fine grammatical points of the Japanese language aside, what bothered me the most here is the usage of the kanji for the foreign word. And then will they really use the kanji for the name of the foreign (international) organization?   This is something one is being drilled in Japanese classes - that the kanji will not be used to for the foreign things, simply because the kanji are reserved for purely Japanese things. So katakana be it.
"Nightwatchmen" should be then  ナイトウォッチマン, where
ナイト --naito -- means "night" and is derived from the English word;
ウォッチ-- uotchi -- means "watch" also derived from the English word;
マン -- men -- means "man", again an English word.
All the three words are listed in dictionaries and seem to be used on the normal basis in the Japanese language.

And the wiki has a nice offering  - ナイト・ウォッチ - That's a movie called in English Night Watch and the Japanese translation used exactly the words ナイト and ウォッチ.

The use of the kanji in the organization name could be actually a hint that it were originated in Japan and then spread elsewhere in the world.  It would be a very interesting hypothesis that would change our perception of the history of The Nightwatchmen (re-shape it so irrevocably, that it would be a completely different movement, hence, not of particular interest for us).   From this perspective (of no practical implications, as what's the point of chasing an re-structured possible model of an illusive possible organization?) and only from the theoretical perspective of playing with the words, the Japanese name was primary to the English tern and  "Nightwatchmen" is a translation from the Japanese.  Then what that Japanese term could have been?

This is a very beautiful 2 kanji term:  夜警 [やけい] (n) night watchman
That's exactly the Japanese name for  De Nachtwacht or "Night Watcher" (1642) - a painting by the Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn.   So why did the Japanese give a name to a foreign painting using their precious Japanese kanji?  Lets speculate a bit here.  During more than the 200 years of isolationism Sakoku (鎖国) - the Dutch were the only European foreigners permitted into the Japanese sea ports. Hence, all the things Dutch were among the first to enter the secluded country. And then the Japanese were still entertained with the novelty of the overseas things, to come up with the kanji terms. Such as for many of the countries' names (and nationalities) there are Japanese kanji equivalents. Only few are still used, but they are still listed in dictionaries. Mr. Rembrandt was a Dutch superstar painter of the 17th century and it is of no surprise that his paintings were introduced into the Japan and his painting was bestowed a kanji-name.  This explanation is good as any.

Here, it'd be nice to include a quote where De Nachtwacht is sited as a Dutch term, but I do not have it at hand right now.  Will need to flip through the pages for it....

And what did we learn from this linguistic exercise? A lot as for digging the evidences that the Nightwatchmen are just everywhere, but still very little as to the point of the exact meaning and origin of  決して眠った. An additional consultations will be required.

Ice Cream

"America's greatest revelation was not the atom bomb, not Fundamentalism, not fat farms, not Elvis, not even quite astute observation that gentlemen prefer blondes, but the great heights to which she has propelled ice cream"
"New York Super Fudge or Phish Food?" asked Dad. [...] "There's always Half backed, I suppose," he was saying. "Oh, look. Makin' Whoopie Pie.  I believe that's a new one, though I'm not sure how I feel about marshmallow with what, devil's food.  Seems a bit overwrought."

It's +35C and still getting hotter and the Radio Lady had just told me about the multitude types of ice-creams.

UN Human Development Report 1998 ( English version) says that Europeans spend on ice cream $11 billion annually.  It could be the greatest American revelation, but it's the greatest European splurge.    Many of those who quote the $11 billion ice cream consumption, also like to add that the Americans spend on cosmetics $8 billion annually. Then they continue: $19 billion combined would be enough to cover basic education for all ($6 billion) and installation of water and sanitation for ($9 billion) with some odd billion to spare.

As for me, looking at the numbers, I was somewhat awed by $35 billion spent on business entertainment in Japan.**just imagining**