jacktellslies: (opium den)

A brief train ride the other day brought me to Haarlem, a small city, older than Amsterdam, and beautiful. It seemed at first to be all shops: bland, modern, expensive things. Their content may have bored me, but the buildings themselves certainly did not; even the McDonald's was ensconced in an architectural work of art, something from the early 1600s. I wondered for a moment if it were blasphemous, and decided that the degree to which I enjoyed the idea likely indicated that yes, it was.

I'd heard tell of an old science museum there. I enjoy such things a great deal, so I hoped that I might run into it. While wandering one of the canals I stopped to admire a truly grand building, and I took three pictures before I noticed the flag bearing the name of the museum for which I had vaguely been looking.

The outside was a suitable shell. The inside was spectacular. I entered into a room of marble, columns, and stately wood, flanked by classical statues and carvings of cherubs engaged in the sciences and the arts. (That ever there was a culture that could make a representation of such a thing not only appear to be serious, but even noble, is delightful. Score one for humanity.) It contained a ticket and information desk that looked as if it belonged there. Such a thing is no small feat for a museum. In fact, I doubt I'd ever seen it correctly executed before. It looked into a round chamber capped with a dome, warm, glowing, and golden. Next one comes upon the museum proper, beginning with the natural history section, then rooms devoted to antiquated scientific instruments, followed by two art galleries. It was another one of those private collections that eventually became a museum proper.


With every new space I entered I gasped, not only impressed, but actually moved. I've never seen a museum I loved so instantly, so intently. Not only the collection, but also the space itself, were everything I could have asked such a place to be: gentlemanly, tasteful, inspiring, and beautiful. I photographed everything. I wanted desperately to give you some sense of the place, so thrilled was I to find it. This place moved beyond simply archiving certain achievements of human culture, a high aim in itself. It became one of those achievements. It was a palace of art.

I found this place on the day on which the Large Hadron Collider was first activated. I hope those of you who have been listening to me sing about it for some time will forgive me for mentioning it one last time before October arrives and my love affair begins again, but I'm afraid that I now intend to discuss it in a bit more depth.

I enjoy the Large Hadron Collider as a symbol as much as I appreciate its use as a tool. I'm pleased with the panic into which it seems to have thrown some people, and not simply because it is amusing. It is very human, I think, not only to fear the end of all things, but to expect to see it. Every generation has its apocalypse, it's ever-present threat of destruction. We anticipate some distant failure or attack; we wait to be important and frightened and final. I might be so bold as to suggest that our fear is a longing for a personal and internal spiritual destruction. We want to be confronted with something immense, alien, and devastating, to be laid bare by it, scraped to the bones. We want to fight it, or be taken or changed by it. Surviving the zombie invasion and being taken in the rapture mean the exact same thing. To expect it to be an external, collective thing, indeed, to expect it to be done to and for us, strikes me as slightly childish, but perhaps I oughtn't judge.

The fear surrounding the LHC is warranted, not because it might destroy the world, but because it might destroy the universe as we know it. This is the same fear felt when the earth lost its place at the centre of a created, clockwork dome, and when the sun became another small star. And I do propose that such fear is legitimate. I hesitate to describe science as truth. The frequency with which it is replaced and augmented and endlessly perfected and scrapped and perfected in some other way demonstrates that it isn't truth as much as it is a particular narrative, or the best we can do at the time. And that is precisely why it is so terrifying. Science means admitting that we are not searching for truth, that we cannot search for truth. It means peeling back the veil to learn the smallest of things. It means dedicating lives, obliterating ourselves again and again, to discover minutia that will certainly one day be replaced, and then be replaced again. I can think of few pursuits more worthwhile, and admirable.

And obviously, modern science having constructed a great circle with which to raise up energies that will help us to cross boundaries humans were not meant to cross, to peek into the inner workings of all things, to risk destruction in the name of knowledge, would appeal to me.

Still, I think something is lacking. My fascination with antiquated science relates once more to the spirit of these faded enterprises rather than their usefulness. These are artefacts from a time when brilliant men, dabblers, collectors, and scientists, sought not simply to probe, but to seduce a mysterious universe into revealing its hidden charms. Modernity disappoints me. I still cannot bring myself to silence my repeated complaint: given the systems and materials required to produce things with an ease never before known to the world, we've turned to ugliness, to functionality and nothing more. Science was beautiful once. The seduction was carried out with the use of pretty devices, as all seductions ought. Specimens were gathered not simply to be labelled. They proclaimed that the complexity and variety of the natural world rivals our art, but that arranging them and displaying them and attempting to understand them could be an art in itself.

I returned to Amsterdam that evening in order to visit the absinthe bar where I intended to raise a glass or seven to science. It was a dark place, underground, and nearly empty when I arrived. It only meant that I quickly befriended the Surinamese barkeep and the other patron, a gentleman from Jakarta. As the place filled up I somehow managed to remain the closest thing to a lady present. So I spoke to nearly everyone there, and enjoyed it a great deal. The flame and sugar filled concoctions with which I toasted the Large Hadron Collider's first adventure were often bought for me, as a result. Of the several varieties available my favourite by far was a caramel flavoured absinthe, which sounds improbable, but was actually delicious.
jacktellslies: (ladies)
Friends! Following a thoroughly successful day of adventures with Krys including, but not limited to: an examination of the medical oddities of the famed Mutter Museum, the sampling of oft and deservingly praised crepes at Beau Monde, missing a magpie, the exploration of most of the city's great antique shops, the acquisition of the second top hat of the week and a kneeler to accompany the Fort's church pew, a great feast occurred. Long lost friends gathered at The Fort for a grand tea party, at which we tasted a mirage of teas from the antipodes, watercress sandwiches, fine cheeses, strawberries, pears, and grapes (even in winter!), and wine. We spoke of art and politics! We wore hats! And, most important of all, we noted, as we have all been long aware, that all of the existing terms in the whole of the English language for, shall we say, the naughty bits, are painfully inadequate. So we made new ones. Below is a partial list. Please review, amend, and advise.

the teacup of Venus
the Spear of Destiny
the horn of the unicorn
his quivering tower
Christopher Walken
his Spanish cigar
her secret grotto
her dark cavern
her mysterious pocket
her blushing apple blossom
her chastity and virtue
her secrets and lies
her cavern of jewels
his divining rod
her flowing cup freshly remembered
his beautiful hookah
ein übermensch
her jar of fine ointments
his proud peacock
her unlit room
his devil's tower
his calvary and artillery
le croquet
his devastating cannon
the devil's wineglass
his swift rapier
his plus three mace of increased strength
The Nautilus (I think this works equally well for most people's bits, actually.)
his gentleman in a bowler
his bright candlestick
her snuff box

And a few for the act:

to throw one's gauntlet
once more unto the breech dear friends
with a led pipe in the conservatory
sailors fighting in the dance hall

Some of these are absurdly insular, and such in-the-moment drivel that come morning even I won't remember exactly what we'd been raving about, but they're still a good deal better than the alternatives. More, more!

And thank you for your attention to this matter.
jacktellslies: (opium den)
While shopping with my friends John and Bernie, John managed to find this amazing old pipe, dark wood and bone, with a bowl covered by a little silver lid on a hinge. I held it in my hand and pondered things, longing for wildly thrashed violin strings and the contents of a Persian slipper. Before the purchase was made, Bernie explained to John the importance of the pipe: it couldn't be an understated thing. It was the one allowed element of flash for a gentleman because, and here my aforementioned love affair with colonialism rose up like a blush and I interjected, "It was your last remaining luxury." I said it in a voice not my own, a dandy prophet, and then promptly fainted. I woke up in another stall in the antique bazaar on a two-hundred year old yellow sofa which did not, alas, match my tie, and facing a remarkable old phonograph to which I proposed marriage immediately.

I've been considering this for some time: small luxuries, a bit of civilization one can carry forth into a stupid world, and hence, a fetish.

Finn sent me this collection of notes on perfume, and it nearly killed me, it was so good. Perfume, I hate to admit, is not a subject on which I'm particularly knowledgeable. I know what I like to wear, I'm even a touch fussy about it, but I lack the words to adequately discuss it. So this is, to me, an exoticism, another language entirely. I haven't the slightest clue what it means when it gets to specifics, but it sounds magnificent. There was an early entry on this topic exactly, which, I hope no one minds, I'll quote in its entirety here. )

Meredith told me of a friend who always carried good chopsticks with her, and almost never ate with anything else. What a charming insistence upon one's own tastes! As for myself, I'm on the lookout for an appropriate tin or some such thing in which I can carry emergency rations of good tea. Some ply spirits with tobacco; the ones with which I converse, I find, make slightly different demands upon my hospitality.

What, if I may ask, are your little indulgences, then? What do you need on your transcontinental excursions, or whenever you step out of your house? Have you ever heard of any other good ones? Whatever their origin, I'd love to hear of them.
jacktellslies: (geroges barbier mermaid)
Parker bought me an antique sewing machine, a New Home, still attached to its table. It still works. The pedal is on the side, meaning that it is meant to be pushed with your thigh. It all folds up into itself, modest as well as beautiful, like all technology should be. You'd barely notice the hinges if you didn't know what was hidden inside. I've spent the morning looking at it and reading Swinburne.

Even were my new pet not A PERFECT MACHINE, which it is, I'd recognize the advertisement as a great literary achievement. I've found ridiculous late Victorian praise poetry to the New Home in the style of the epic, and I've confirmed that its makers, being, as they were, wise in all things, possessed truly magnificent facial hair.

Today I also read about the lovemaking of oysters. When the oceans warm in early summer, eager young males open their shells and release their seed into the sea. When they've gotten older and their energy stores are greater, these same oysters can take on the task of becoming female, thus jettisoning huge numbers of eggs into the waters. If, for some reason, an oyster which has become female needs to reserve its strength, it can revert to male and later change again, and again, if it so chooses. Oyster beds can cloud the waters of entire bays in their spawning. I encourage you to take from this tale what morals you will. As I'm sure you've noted, this method is not entirely dissimilar from my own, thereby proving that oysters and myself are equal in our wisdom, sensual nature, and willingness to give oneself fully to the poetry of simple chemistry.
jacktellslies: (opium den)
Augusta Smithers, upon whose back has been tattooed Mr. Meeson's will, is obliged to display it in court.

"Poor Augusta colored up, and her eyes filled with tears as she slowly undid the dust-cloak which hid her shoulders (for, of course, she had come in low dress). She took off the cloak and the silk handkerchief beneath it, and stood before the court dressed in a low black dress.

"'I am afraid that I must ask you to come up here,' said his lordship. Accordingly she walked round, mounted the bench, and turned her back to the judge in order that he might examine what was written on it. This he did very carefully, with the aid of a magnifying glass, referring now and again to the photographic copy which Doctor Probate had filed in the registry."

There are the facist anarchist boys, the ones for whom everything is too far gone, and everything deserves to be destroyed. Obviously I have major qualms with Western culture, human nature, et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum, but I like James Joyce, buttons, Foucault, church architecture, and tea.

Virginia Woolf went to a luncheon at Oxbridge, noted the sole and pheasant eaten, saw a Manx cat, and realized that at a party in nineteen-thirteen, everyone could have said the very same things, but that they would have meant something else entirely. She remembered Tennyson and Christina Rossetti. But there were very real trenches that separated such poets, such sentiment, from modern poetry.

There is the absurdity of the aristocracy. Take the ancient rapist warlords and highwaymen kings, leave them on a low heat to simmer until reduced. The resulting confection is frail but gentile. John Douglas, the Ninth Marquess of Queensberry, and his son, Lord Alfred Douglas, also called Bosie, were ancestors of the Black Douglas. All a family needs do is breed enough, and a warrior of seventy battles, a brave knight of the Crusades, can become the creator of the Queensburry Rules, which I suppose is well enough, but also a family known for suicide and madness, for flying into ineffective rages at the smallest perceived offense, for threatening to whip their enemies in cafes.

However, at the very same time that all of that nonsense was going on, the German and Austrian aristocracies were busy going to university, learning to fence, and butchering the hell out of one another. Dueling was different, there and then. Opponents took turns hacking at each another, five moves for the first man, five moves for the other, repeat, repeat, repeat, until one of them had to end it. The point was not a dance of blocking and progressing. The goal was to stand one's ground, to demonstrate bravery and a high threshold for pain, to show that the hearts of the ancient warriors still beat in the chests of these sons of privilege. More importantly, the point was to be cut, and the point was to be scarred. The Renommierschmiss, the dueling scar, was the permanent visible symbol of all of this, a badge of class and of masculinity. Due to the proper dueling form, the scars all accumulated on one side of the face. Young men could thus appear embattled and traditionally attractive all at once. The Renommierschmiss was the gentleman proving himself a warrior, and the generation desperately, weakly attempting to maintain that they were not different from their greatest grandfathers. The scar was the line where two irreconcilable ethea met.

I am thinking of the boundary between culture and its end, the mark an era makes when it is in its death-throws and insisting upon itself. I am thinking of Hadrian's wall, which was Rome's creation, of course, the stamp of an empire upon a land conquered, but also that empire's edge, proof that something else existed and worked. It was the symbol of dominance, but more so of vulnerability. I'm thinking of Ota Benga, of all of the savages displayed to civilization: taken from their homes, put in "tribal" dress just as foreign to them as to those who would be viewing them, and shown to the public for pennies as a mark of what the land of the conqueror was not. Americans do not pierce their noses, stretch their lips, fail to wear proper trousers. Americans are not black or small. Americans do, however, kidnap people. They put freaks in circuses where they belong, and put human beings in zoos, in cages with apes, for the World's Fair. Conversely, you can find pictures of black men in circus broadsides, dressed in suits and hovering above headlines that proclaim the impossible existence of a dark skinned individual able to speak the King's English. The act of trying to prove the difference between civility and savageness inverts them.

Culture has seduced me through my very distrust of it, and I want to hold that line. I want to cheer on the fall of civilization, but I also want to gather and guard its artifacts, proof that there was good, or at least beauty, in it. Virginia Woolf knew it: "the beauty of the world which is so soon to perish". And perhaps it is as much a prayer as a map: it isn't exactly wondering if it will die if we treat it as if it were dead. It is celebrating the death and rebirth of every society we've called our own. It is going to the funeral of the king specifically to influence succession with our polite conversation. It is collecting the king's bones for use in the spell with which we control the new regime. Bag ladies, junkyard men, and diamond dogs rule the universe thusly.
jacktellslies: (Default)

The Palace was a small and, I suspect, a rather shabby theatre; but when I see it in my memories I see it still with my oyster-girl's eyes — I see the mirror-glass which lined the walls, the crimson plush upon the seats, the plaster cupids, painted gold, which swooped above the curtain. Like our oyster-house, it had its own particular scent — the scent, I know now, of music halls everywhere — the scent of wood and grease-paint and spilling beer, of gas and of tobacco and of hair-oil, all combined. It was a scent which as a girl I loved uncritically...


Dec. 10th, 2005 01:20 am
jacktellslies: (cafe terrace at night)
today began with a phone call that i'd missed, but a message from finn, a boy i dated forever and an ocean ago. i'd forgotten how terribly pretty his voice could be. and i walked in the snow today. finn called because he'd sent me money he's owed me for the last thousand years, so i stopped in some shops. i visited what is, thus far, my favourite antique shop in all the world: there are bird cages there, and specimens of taxidermy, and tiny victorian ladies' underthings, and cuff-links, and photographs, and religious statues, and gloves, and lace, and printing blocks, and boxes, and pianos, and stained glass, and there is very little method to it. it is cluttered and full and exactly the way such things should be. i complimented the woman working there, and she thanked me far more sincerely than i'd expected. i came home and made a dinner that did not turn out particularly well, and visitors stopped in, like they do in this house, and i drank a few glasses of wine, some white, and some red.
jacktellslies: (fakir)
every vibrator in my house is dead.

this is a lie: there is the nineteen-fifties hand-strap one that shoots sparks, and there is the nineteen-thirties one that was, once upon a time, the greatest invention on the face of this earth, until my electrocution. neither of us have been the same since.

and it is december, and i've bought a total of two winter gifts thus far. and i have thirty dollars to my name until friday. and i won't really get paid much, then. i work two days a week in a grocery store.

the gift situation i've been too overwhelmed to speak about. but this is simply a travesty. )


jacktellslies: (Default)

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