Thursday, November 17, 2011

Le Monde 100: Froth on the Daydream

This is what I've been waiting for.

Not only has this book been my favorite book on Le Monde's 100 Books of the Twentieth Century, but it's possibly my new favorite book OF ALL TIME.

Boris Vian sets the stage by underpinning the entire book with a haunting song by Duke Ellington.

This song is so unique that Vian invents a dance that can only be danced to it and one other song called the "oglemee," a dance that requires dancers to undulate a certain distance away from each other at a certain tempo in order to create "a system of waves that present, as in acoustics, nodes, and antinodes, which contribute more than a little to the ambiance on a dance floor." As one advances their skill at the "oglemee," they can, in time develop the skill to produce "parasitic waves by separately putting certain of their limbs into synchronic vibration."

This is all very interesting but the beauty and concepts of music are taken to a more insane level with the invention of the Pianocktail.

I have no doubt that if someone built a Pianocktail in Brooklyn right now, they would dominate the cocktail scene.

Basically, a pianocktail is a piano that has different liquors, spirits, flavorings, and mixers attached to every key. Depending on the length of the note played, these drink parts are dispensed into a glass. So, every song will have a unique drink signature. Amazing!

Here is a rough sketch of a pianocktail.

Honestly, Froth on the Daydream is so good you don't want to end. It's exuberant in its anthropomorphication of everything without coming off as dopey. Plus, the cartoonish quality only amplifies the love story at the center of it.

It's the first book I've read that I've immediately wanted to re-read.

Instead, I'll just watch this pianocktail video.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Le Monde 100: Le Grand Meaulnes (The Lost Estate)

What's wrong with Romanticism?

I failed a certain test of childhood that was presented to me when i was around eight years old. My father worked for a few months on the sprawling estate of Godfrey Rockerfeller. It was a place right out of a Merchant-Ivory film with endless gazebos, stables, and fox hunts. The older couple who were the caretakers were quite taken with me and gave me all sorts of trinkets from the vast stores of left-over throwaway items, buried in the corridors of the basement of the manor. An ornamental jar of vintage marbles makes a particularly vivid memory In my brain.

As I was poring over these colorful orbs with my father, he saw what was perhaps an obsession forming in my eyes about the estate and the mansion, both of which seemed endless. He said to me "The couple who live here like you so much that they asked me if they could adopt you from me." To this day, I don't know if this was true or not.

"They did?", I replied.

"Oh yes. They want you to come live here on the estate. Do you want to do that? Do you want to leave Mom and me and come live with them?"

"Oh yes!" This was without hesitation.

Don't get me wrong. I loved my parents but, at the time, the pull of the estate seemed like the right decision. The look on my father's face taught me a big lesson in maturity and I instantly regretted it. I think that was probably an uncomfortable ride home.

When the Enlightenment sprouted up in the world with its enormous klieg lights shining on reality, it resulted in a certain bleakness that developed in society. The mysteries of life that gave it a certain spirit and soul were disappearing and taking a sense of the divine away from man.

This phenomenon happens to everyone on a smaller scale as they grow older and become more realistic about their ideals. This results in higher intelligence and better decision-making. But, the trade-off for matured wisdom is often a muted passion or, at the very least, an internal fire that is less visceral.

An older man I knew who had just had his first child told me once that the purpose of existence was to have a childhood. No matter how long you live, you can never go back to the state of wonder you have when you first start to coalesce into a conscious being.

This place in ones life is turned into an amazing chateau in Le Grand Meaulnes, where Meaulnes a young boy witnesses a magical fete and encounters a mysterious girl before returning to his real life at school.

He obsesses about returning to the chateau and meeting her again but he has lost the way back to the estate and bemoans his regular life afterward.

Fortunately, he finds the virtues of adulthood and the beauty that can exist outside of perpetual awe. But, it's odd to think of the diminishing returns that come from dreams as they draw closer to reality.

I guess whats wrong with Romanticism is that some people never escape from the bubble that it puts them in. Ideals should be expected to bloom and then fade into reality. Accepting the beauty of both is the way to happiness.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Le Monde 100: For Whom The Bell Tolls

The closest thing I have had to a Hemingway Experience was with my friend M in Eastern Europe. We stumbled upon what I'm pretty sure was a murdered body in the dark, just outside the reach of one of two street lamps on the clay street outside the tenement house where we were living in the basement. At the same moment, the other streetlamp framed the lurking shadows of two men whose demeanor smacked of the all-pervasive Russian Mafia and who we were fairly sure were the murderers of said body.

They were looking right at us.

As our friends encountered the same situation, having to go so far as to sell their cars and move out of the city, we were waiting for this exact thing to happen.

For Whom The Bell Tolls was included in the Le Monde 100 for the impression it made on its readers, which, in this case, impressed them with the theme of man's relationship with death. Hemingway could speak of death so intimately because he was, no doubt, quite acquainted with it due to the fact that, not only was he an ambulance driver and a soldier who was seriously injured, he also miraculously survived a plane crash. When you look death in the face so often, it may become a friend or, at least, a respected acquaintance. The fact that Hemingway ended up killing himself testifies to his recognition of the usefulness or the lack of fear of death.

Thus, his characters in For Whom The Bell Tolls face death as a necessary part of life. Robert Jordan, the main character who meets the love of his life 24 hours before he is fairly certain that he is going to die, is commited to living the embodiment of an entire lifetime in that one day. The gypsies and mountain people, both men and women, are committed to dying in the name of duty against the fascists and in the name of the common good.

This is an amazing mirror of the viewpoint of Hemingway. However, it also counterpoints my complete estrangement with death. M's coping skills and my own were revealed as we hid in the dark hallways of a completely strange house while waiting for morning, cursing each other and ourselves in this new and strange face of death.

Our coping skills had come to light and found severely lacking. My only hope is that the next time I come so close to death I will recognise and be much more comfortable with its presence.