Monday, January 31, 2022

"On shanks' mare" in the "shank of the afternoon"

In Tennessee Williams's 1945 play "The Glass Menagerie", I noticed the phrase the "shank" of the evening to mean "the beginning or the main part" – a phrase which was unfamiliar to me. Then in his 1961 play "Night of the Iguana", I noticed another use of "shank" I hadn't heard before: going "on shanks' mare" to mean "on foot". As I've discovered, this expression, which is less common in American English than in other varieties, can also be "on shanks' pony" or "nag", among other equine terms. I plan to use it some time when I walk along beside Luisa or Sara when they're riding "in the shank of the afternoon". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 January 2022)

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Rafael Nadal and his thirteen years between titles at the Australian Open

Something struck me about Rafael Nadal's second Australian Open win: it came thirteen years after his first in 2009. So I did a bit of research: only Ken Rosewall had such long breaks between victories at individual Grand Slam tournaments – fourteen years between US Open titles (1956-1970), fifteen years between French Open titles (1953-1968), and sixteen years between Australian Open titles (1955-1971). But Nadal played all but one of the Australian Opens between his two wins (he missed the tournament in 2013). After Rosewall turned professional in 1957, he did not play the Grand Slam tournaments again until the Open era began in 1968, when he promptly won the French Open. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 January 2022)

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Robinson Crusoe, Rip Van Winkle, and Charles Dickens

I wrote last year about Charles Dickens's references to Robinson Crusoe. Daniel Defoe's novel "Robinson Crusoe" was published in 1719. By the time Dickens was born in 1812, Crusoe was a cultural reference independent of Defoe's novel. At the beginning of Dickens's 1852 novel "Bleak House", another such reference appears: "Both the world of fashion and the Court of Chancery are things of precedent and usage: oversleeping Rip Van Winkles [...]." Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle" was published in 1819, one century after Defoe's novel, when Dickens was seven. For the adult Dickens, Crusoe and Rip Van Winkle were figures "of precedent and usage" available as objects of such passing references. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 January 2022)

Friday, January 28, 2022

The figure of a "Swiss snow-drift" on a summer evening in David Copperfield's childhood

When young David Copperfield runs away from London to Dover to search for his aunt Betsy Trotwood, he keeps going through a summer night even after he loses all his possessions: "In the midst of my distress, I had no notion of going back. I doubt if I should have had any, though there had been a Swiss snow-drift in the Kent Road." In this context, the "Swiss" nature of the imaginary show is appropriate in itself as a figure of the drift's size. But as an adult, Copperfield spends three years in Europe, mostly in Switzerland, so the adult is narrating his childhood experiences with figures from his adult life. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 January 2022)

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Agnes Wickfield and the nineteenth-century heroine's unspeakable love

When, in Charles Dickens's "David Copperfield", David's aunt Betsy Trotwood says she thinks that Agnes Wickfield is to be married, he resolves to keep his love for Agnes to himself. But when he goes to ask her to confide in him, she refuses to do so: "If I have any secret, it is—no new one; and is—not what you suppose. I cannot reveal it, or divide it. It has long been mine, and must remain mine." Like Agnes's predecessor in Jane Austen's "Persuasion", Anne Elliot, with her love for Captain Wentworth, Agnes can only tell David the secret of her unspoken love for him after he has spoken first. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 January 2022)

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

David Copperfield's "father-in-law"

When David Copperfield in Charles Dickens's novel returns to England from three years abroad, he stays at the Coffee-House at Gray's Inn, where his friend Thomas Traddles lives. After surprising Traddles and his bride Sophy, he returns to the Coffee-House and encounters a figure from the beginning of the novel, Mr. Chillip, the doctor who attended his birth. Among other things, Mr. Chillip mentions that he is a neighbor of Copperfield's "father-in-law". At first, I was puzzled, since Copperfield's late wife Dora's father Mr. Spenlow had died many years ago, but then I remembered that "father-in-law" once also meant "stepfather". Hence, it refers here to Mr. Murdstone, David's mother's second husband. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 January 2022)

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

A change in mask-wearing practice from November to January, at least at two concerts in Basel

When I saw the Brad Mehldau Trio on 14 November, I could only enter the Volkshaus Basel with my covid certificate as proof of vaccination, recovery from covid, or a negative test in the previous 48 hours. (I got in because of vaccination.) But once people were in their seats, they were allowed to take their masks off. I kept mine on, but people around me had mostly taken theirs off. At the Cécile McLorin Salvant concert at the Stadtcasino in Basel the other night, everything was the same – except that everyone I could see from my seat wore a mask throughout the set. What had happened in the meantime? Omicron. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 January 2022)

Monday, January 24, 2022

Cécile McLorin Salvant and Sullivan Fortner at the Stadtcasino Basel: Brecht and Weill's "Pirate Jenny"

When singer Cécile McLorin Salvant announced the third song of her duo concert with pianist Sullivan Fortner at the Stadtcasino Basel last night, she said that it was by Kurt Weill, but apologized that her version was in English, not in German. For some reason, I immediately hoped it would be "Pirate Jenny" ("Seeräuber Jenny") from Weill and Bertolt Brecht's "The Three-Penny Opera" ("Die Dreigroschenoper") – and something in Fortner's introduction confirmed my hope even before Salvant began her extraordinary performance of the song I've loved since I was a small child (from Judy Collins's version on her 1966 album "In My Life"): "You gentlemen can watch while I'm scrubbin' the floor." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 January 2022)

Sunday, January 23, 2022

"Widow" and "widower" as gendered terms

In an essay, a student referred to a man who had lost his wife as "a widow". I wrote a note explaining that a man who loses his spouse is a "widower", while a woman who loses her spouse is a "widow". I briefly wondered what term might be used for a surviving partner of a same-sex marriage, but of course the term refers to the gender of the survivor rather than to the gender of the lost partner, so the extension of marriage to same-sex couples is not enough to make it necessary to change this terminology. Still, a non-binary person who loses a spouse might find neither term appropriate. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 January 2022)

Saturday, January 22, 2022

"David Copperfield" and "A Picture of Dorian Gray"

In Charles Dickens's "David Copperfield", when David moves to Dr. Wickfield's house, he first sees a portrait of the doctor's late wife and then the doctor's daughter Agnes: “On her face, I saw immediately the placid and sweet expression of the lady whose picture had looked at me downstairs. It seemed to my imagination as if the portrait had grown womanly, and the original remained a child.” Forty years after the novel's publication in 1850, this figure for the daughter's resemblance to the mother was forever altered by the publication of Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray", in which David's imagination of a painting that ages becomes Dorian Gray's reality. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 January 2022)

Friday, January 21, 2022

"Assassination of Archduke Will Have Grave Consequences. Austrian Army Mobilized": A headline in John Dos Passos's "Manhattan Transfer"

John Dos Passos's "Manhattan Transfer" seems to be set in the present time of its publication in 1925, but it is vague about dates, the passage of time, and when things are happening. The references I discussed to the song "Mother McCree" (which was published in 1910) and the sinking of the General Slocum (which took place in 1904) establish the scene they appear in as taking place sometime after 1910 – but then the lawyer George Baldwin reads a newspaper headline a few pages later: "Assassination of Archduke Will Have Grave Consequences. Austrian Army Mobilized." The assassination was on 28 June 1914, but Austria only mobilized its army on 28 July.  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 January 2022)

Thursday, January 20, 2022

The "General Slocum" in John Dos Passos's "Manhattan Transfer"

A few lines after being called "Mother McCree" by the man behind the lunchroom counter, the unnamed woman in John Dos Passos's "Manhattan Transfer" complains to Joe Harland (whom she has just met) about how she's being treated and then offers a fragment of her story: "Oh mister if my poor husband was aloive, he wouldn't let em treat me loike they do. I lost my husband on the General Slocum might ha been yesterday." Like "Mother McCree", the reference to "the General Slocum" is another rabbit hole to go down: it was a paddlewheel steamboat that sank in the East River on 15 June 1904; over a thousand people died. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 January 2022)

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

"Mother McCree" in John Dos Passos's "Manhattan Transfer" and the song "Mother Machree"

In John Dos Passos's 1925 novel "Manhattan Transfer", the "man behind the counter" at a lunchroom challenges an annoying customer: "Look here Mother McCree I'll trow ye out o here if you raise any more distoirbance." I've only known that name from the jug band Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, an early incarnation of what later became The Grateful Dead. But "Mother Machree" was a song written in 1910 for a show called "Bally of Barrymore", and the Corpus of Historical American English contains other references to "Mother Machree" that suggest that the expression was used as an exclamation and an insulting term for a woman in the 1920s and 1930s. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 January 2022)

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Conservative misquotation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As a Twitter search for "content character MLK" reveals, many conservatives in the United States spent Martin Luther King Jr. Day quoting Dr. King's 1963 March on Washington speech: “People should not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But Dr. King actually said something more specific: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” That is, he dreamed that his children – and by extension Black people – would no longer be subject to racism in America. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 January 2022)

Monday, January 17, 2022

Wordle, Mastermind, Jotto

At first, when people began posting Wordle results, I had no idea what it was – although I was able to conclude that it is a word game. The images people posted did not give me a sense of how the game works, but then an article in the Washington Post explained it. And I was surprised to discover that it's just the 70s board game Mastermind, but with words and letters instead of colorful pegs. With its five-letter words, it's also reminiscent of a game my family played back then, which we called Jotto, but unlike Mastermind and Wordle, we only counted correct letters and not the position of the letters. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 January 2022)




Friday, January 14, 2022

Vaccination in Tennessee Williams's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"

There are two references to vaccination in Tennessee Williams's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof". The first is a simile in a stage direction that describes Maggie Pollitt as shutting her eyes "tight as a child about to be stabbed with a vaccination needle." But actual vaccination appears in the dialogue when Mae Pollitt, Maggie's sister-in-law, lists the shots her children have received, "their tyyy-phoid shots, and their tetanus shots, their diphtheria shots and their hepatitis shots and their polio shots, they got those shots every month from May through September." The polio reference is striking: the play premiered in March 1955, and the Salk vaccine was announced a month later. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 January 2022)!!-:strip_icc-!!-/2011/03/12/3/192/1922398/101aa27de292fdc2_Elizabeth_Taylor_Dies_014_wenn1672497/i/Elizabeth-Taylor-circa-1958-Cat-Hot-Tin-Roof.jpg
Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie in the 1958 film of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"


Thursday, January 13, 2022

Learning to drive in 1982 and 1988

I didn't learn to drive until the summer after high school in 1982 – my mother warned me that if I didn't take driver's education at school it would be expensive later. But I hardly drove at all until summer 1988, when I traveled the country with my friend Paul Baer. We met up in Chicago, and he drove us to Toledo, where we stayed at my father's house. The next morning, Paul taught me how to drive stick shift in a parking lot. So I drove quite a bit that day on I-80 East – until there was a huge traffic jam, and we changed drivers in the middle of the highway. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 January 2022)

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

A 1934 boycott of Will Rogers for his use of the N-word on his radio show

In his New York Review of Books essay on two books on comedy, Ian Frazier recounts a 1934 incident from Will Rogers's radio show, when he referred to a song's melody as an African-American spiritual – but used the n-word three times in discussing the song (Billy Hill's 1933 song "The Last Round-Up", which was a hit at the time). If the incident occurred today, the radio presenter would be roundly criticized, while some would lament the criticism as "woke" or "cancel culture". Yet even in 1934, as Frazier points out, the sponsor of Rogers's show was boycotted by African-Americans – part of the long history of resistance to racist images and slurs. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 January 2022)


Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Dense fog in and around Basel, and fog in narratives

Late last night, I looked out the rear window of our apartment and saw only fog. Late this afternoon, I drove Luisa to her riding lesson in nearby Rümmingen, Germany, and the fog was back, and even thicker at the somewhat higher elevation. While the fog meant that I needed to be careful while driving, it didn't really mean anything in particular, unlike in literature and films, where fog is always significant. If someone is out in night-time fog in a story, then something is always about to happen, as when Camilla Treadway Sheffield runs out of the fog and meets her future lover Link Williams in Ann Petry's "The Narrows". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 January 2022)

Monday, January 10, 2022

Meridian lines in European churches, the date of Easter, and the use of Copernican mathematics: J. L. Heilbron's "The Sun in the Church"

Over twenty years ago, I read J. L. Heilbron's "The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories." The Catholic Church's concern for the correct date for Easter led to the installation of a single hole in church roofs through which sunlight would shine on a "meridian line" on the floor at noon every day. This identified the vernal equinox and thus Easter (the first Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox). Heilbron also pointed out that the Church actually encouraged the use of Copernican mathematics in astronomical calculations – as long as no claims were made that the heliocentric system actually corresponded to the physical structure of the universe. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 January 2022)


The meridian line at Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, Rome
The meridian line at Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, Rome

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Joshua Kimmich of Bayern Munich as a model for Novak Djokovic

Last October, after Joshua Kimmich of Bayern Munich was revealed to have not been gotten a coronavirus vaccination, he insisted in an interview after a match that he was neither a "corona denier" nor against vaccinations; rather, he had concerns about the lack of long-term studies of the new types of vaccinations used for coronavirus. After he first had to be quarantined because of exposure to teammate Niklas Süle and then contracted Covid-19 himself, Kimmich had trouble breathing and expressed his regret at his decision not to be vaccinated. Kimmich could serve as a model for Novak Djokovic about how to admit to a mistake without losing face as a result. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 January 2022)

Saturday, January 08, 2022

Stephen Colbert, President Biden, and not referring to Donald Trump by name

Since the American presidential election in November 2020, Stephen Colbert of The Late Show has never used Donald Trump's name. In April 2021, Colbert asked his audience to suggest nicknames for Trump (my recent favorite: "My Little Phony"), and if Trump's name appears in a quotation on screen, it says "T****". In his speech on 6 January 2022 commemorating the attack on the United States capitol one year ago, President Joseph Biden had to refer to Trump and his involvement somehow, so sixteen times, he called him "the former President" – and never once said "Donald Trump". Yet "King Liar" still said Biden "used my name to try to further divide America." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 January 2022)

Thursday, January 06, 2022

"Keeping an army in Nicarauga": The trope of Jews, the stock market, and American intervention abroad in "The Sound and the Fury"

In "April Sixth, 1928", the third section of William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury", Jason Compson's fury about losing money in investments triggers a rant about New York, "the market", and "these dam jews ... with all their inside dope" that also mentions "them up there in Washington spending fifty thousand dollars a day keeping an army in Nicarauga or some place." In January 1927, the United States intervened in a civil war and occupied Nicaragua for six years. The connection between Jews, the New York stock market, and American intervention abroad gives an American isolationist spin to the trope of an international Jewish financial conspiracy that dominates the world. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 January 2022)

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

A flat tire in Prague in summer 1991

In summer 1991, my girlfriend and I rented a car from Europcar in Paris and drove to Prague for a few days. As we arrived in the morning, we discovered we had a flat tire. After getting the car's small spare tire on, we found Europcar's Prague office, but it had only recently opened in post-Soviet Czechoslovakia and could neither fix nor replace the tire! Leaving late the next night, then, and never going faster than 80 kilometers per hour because of the small tire, we drove 300 kilometers on country roads to Nuremberg, where we got a full-sized tire in the morning and returned to Paris as planned that evening. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 January 2022)

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Novak Djokovic and medical exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination regulations in Australia

Novak Djokovic received "an exemption permission" from Australia's coronavirus-vaccination regulations to play at the 2022 Australian Open. The tournament itself described the blind application process for exemptions, with "the redaction of personal information to ensure privacy for all applicants." The responsible organization, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, grants exemptions for "inflammatory cardiac illness", "an acute major medical condition", "PCR-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection" within the last six months, a "serious adverse" response to a COVID-19 vaccine, or "individuals with behavioural disturbances". While Djokovic's behavior during the pandemic has been disturbing, the likely reason for his exemption is previous infection – except his positive test in June 2020 was over eighteen months ago. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 January 2022)


Sunday, January 02, 2022

Scattering the Deer on the Highway: The allegory of climate catastrophe in "Don't Look Up"

As a camera pans up an aerial view of an empty six-lane highway in winter, a car can be heard. Just after a small herd of deer appears on the highway's left-hand side, the car appears on the right, and the deer scatter. The film is "Don't Look Up", with its story of earth threatened by a comet and American politics being played as usual. This moment provides a foundation for the allegorical reading of the comet catastrophe as climate catastrophe: on the highway of the human remaking of landscape that animals have to come to terms with, the car barrels along as a pervasive danger the deer must flee from. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 January 2022)


Screenshot from "Don't Look Up", at about 1:48.18 into the film.


Saturday, January 01, 2022

The unpredictability of ski jumping

Ski jumping is fascinatingly unpredictable. I admit I'm a dilettante about why someone suddenly starts jumping five meters further than everyone else and then just as suddenly loses that advantage – but even the experts and the athletes themselves seem at a loss to explain such unpredictable shifts in performance. At this year's Vierschanzentournee (which I watch every year), Austria's Stefan Kraft, who won the tournament in 2014-2015, had been having a good season so far but even failed to qualify for today's final in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, while Slovenia's unheralded Lovro Kos, who had never finished higher than eighth in a World Cup event before, has finished sixth and then third so far. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 January 2022)


Lovro Kos tretji v Garmisch-Partenkirchnu
Lovro Kos at Garmisch-Partenkirchen today