Tuesday, September 23, 2008

In Vino Veritas

On the subway back from the Orpheus & Dionysus conference, I found a book on the remaining seat.
Pointing to “Olympus.” I asked the well-dressed man two seats away, “Is this yours?”
“You stole it,” he said, snatching it and leafing through the thick paperback. “This is where I left off,” he said, finding a page at the end folded down at the corner.
“Be honest,” he said to me. “How far did you get?”
He read a line, then mockingly called it “brilliant.” He dropped the book, distracted.
“Are those real Dolce and Gabbanas?” he asked a big blonde with earbuds in, listening to her Ipod.
“Your pants are ruined,” he said of her white bell-bottoms.
She shrugged.
“What the heck is Ilium?” he asked me, leafing through the book again. “Because it appears in every chapter.”
“Ilium is where the Trojan War started,” I guessed wildly.
“No it’s not. That’s the Iliad.”
“The Iliad is about Ilium, dum dum.”
He pulled back his chin, cowed by my confidence.
A breathless man entered the car, saw me holding the book and eagerly grabbed it.
“I jumped the turnstiles to get this.” He ran back off the train just before the doors closed.
“You stole it,” my neighbor lowered his head accusingly. “I should have asked him what Ilium was.”
“Look, I’m coming home late Friday night from a conference on Greek myth. Anything else you want to know about ancient Greece, just ask.”
He opened his umbrella and closed it quickly from a strange angle on his lap.
“So what brokerage house are you from, Merrill Lynch?” I asked.
He blushed.
“Did you know,” I said, “that Hera and Zeus didn’t have any children?”
“I bet he had some fun with his thunderbolt.” He flapped his black umbrella open and closed again.
“Is he from Merrill Lynch?” I asked his friend.
“Let’s just call me Loser and you Never gonna Happen.”
He fluttered the black silk collapsing umbrella.
As we pulled into Hoboken, he held up a fist until I knocked mine against it.
“Ow,” he said. “Softer.”
I tried again, lightly.
“Owww. I bet you could beat up that guy who came back for his book.”
As the train door opened, he left ahead of me and didn’t look back. I gazed wistfully after him.
That was Dionysus, I saw now.

Wisdom is the wage of Experience, and its price

An Anglican bishop from 1100 AD has written on his tomb in Westminster Abbey:
When I was young a free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country.
But it, too, seemed immovable.
As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family and those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it.
And now as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realize: If I had only changed my self first, then by example I would have changed my family.
From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have been able to better my country and, who knows, I may have even changed the world.


"People think that when they get to heaven they will turn over a new leaf," Thoreeau said. As if, once we’re dead, we’ll have the energy to retrace all our steps backwards, like a spiritual Ginger Rogers—in our gown and gold slippers. I grow tired trying to retrace an hour’s steps when I lose something. I usually decide that what’s lost is not worth the time to search.
The church down the street decided to hold a rummage sale and donations filled their entire community room. They sent out a plea for help.
We tried to sort through the drifts of cast-off clothing.
On the news, an old woman was discovered after weeks trapped in her house by her clutter with her husband’s corpse. The firemen dug for hours in protective masks to reach her.
In the debris scattered outside lay a large wooden spoon, the kind sold to tourists on tropical islands.
It reminded me of a Jewish story. A man visited hell, and the people there complained they were tortured by hunger. Banquets of food lay spread out, and long spoons.
“You see how they make us suffer, with these spoons that are too long for us to hold to our own mouths,” the damned wailed.
Then the man went to heaven, and found the same banquet spread. People there laughed and fed each other with the same great spoons.
This morning, instead of rolling feet first out of bed, I slid my head down the edge of the bed and looked upside-down through the window. The tips of the pines bowed with the wind that brought gold-rose clouds swirling. Is that how God sees the world, mostly heaven? For us, our interior life so overwhelms, that we hardly notice sky—is heaven as distracting to God? We think we would be happier if we knew that God paid more attention to us. But maybe the only way to true happiness is to be more like God, and see as he sees.


Ever notice how the faces on coins never look you in the eye? Hades, god of death, is the god of wealth, as well. The only faces that look straight out of coins aren’t human: animals and mythic figures like Victory and Justice. The animals are all conservative in their use of energy, predatory and long-lived: snakes, owls and eagles. No mice or ants need apply, despite their industry.
One tribe had money so large it became symbolic: even when one huge stone sunk in deep water and couldn’t be retrieved, the people still granted its owner the full value.
American money is so ugly that it’s hard to desire it for itself. One wants to exchange it as quickly as possible. With its pale cast, our money reminds me of ice, precarious, able to survive only in the cold, melts through one’s hand.
The gambler struggles with the unreality of money, its lack of satisfaction. How fitting that one of the main Vegas institutions is called “The Mirage.”
Money changes nothing but itself.
Songs have never been designated as money, nor mouths, nor things that have a will of their own, or a fate that may cause them to die unexpectedly.
With money as with words, more doesn’t equal better.
Money can’t hold wisdom, nor can it buy any.

A Brief History of Fools

There were natural or dimwitted fools and artificial ones. Natural fools were more valuable and were sold at monster auctions; the more foolish they were, the more they cost.
Fool was one of the few positions open to women in Medieval times. However, it seems that more men had a gift for it.
Master Henry was King Henry III’s fool; he was also poet laureate.
MaƮtre Jehain was the fool of King John II of France; when the king was imprisoned, the fool went with him.
In 1461, the kings of Bohemia and Hungary grew tired of war and sent their fools to fight each other, agreeing to abide by the results; the Hungarian fool won.