Surely You Must Be Joking

la folie s'apelle vendredi

Our favorite faune, Jardin de Luxembourg. photo/jg

You’ve had news up to here, most of it bad, definitely too much information, too much world. (The world, as philosophers prove, is not a fact. It’s an interpretation.) We made it to another Friday, although many of us aren’t really sure what day it is anymore.

Follies comes from folie, French for madness, insanity, lunacy, the most famous example being les années folles, the Roaring Twenties to you. There is also folichonner, folâtre, fou, foudroyer and many others.         

French has a nice pile of words for going out of your head or around the bend.

There were a few serious things on the desk but it seemed like a drag, like overkill. I was going to write about the latest kerfuffle in the world of the PC warriors, the perfect people who never stop pointing out other people’s imperfection. They’re constantly at us to climb the next hill because on the other side is the promised land where all shall be just and fair while they load ever heavier baggage on our shoulders and harangue us non-stop. Quelle drag, as a friend used to say. No one told me I had to write about it.

It reminded me of a scene in Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, where a man is out hiking in the hills in the Philippines and he encounters a group of pilgrims going to the pure land over the hill where the cocunuts fall from the trees fully opened and everything is easy. They urged the stranger, a priest if I remember correctly, to join them. They kept insisting on how beautiful it was. The man didn’t care for this crowd of believers and merely replied, «Go there if you want to» and they finally took off after much badgering.


Søren Solkær is a photographer, mainly of celebrities on both sides of the pond, which doesn’t interest me. But he does others things, too, lesser known and here’s one. It may even produce a state of artless contemplation bordering on rapture. Sometime in September or October he went to the marshlands in his country and watched the starlings do their collective ballet and he filmed it. A sight for sore eyes, non ? I wonder if we humans could imagine doing something like that ? Or do we do it already and don’t know it ?



So far I’ve resisted writing about the young, black poet who made such an impression reading at the American inauguration, who’s about to be translated into several European languages. Amanda Gorman chose her Dutch translator herself, only it didn’t work out so well for the translator. Marieka Lucas Rijneveld is Dutch and female, a prizewinning writer and proudly non-binary, although that wasn’t enough to outweigh the fact that she is white. An article in Volksrant and a tweet by the activist Janice Deul used all of the tropes of aggrieved parties who are really involved in a power struggle. ‘An incomprehensible choice,’ Deul fumed. Rijneveld and the publisher Muelenhof caved and Rijneveld is out.

The case proves nothing. Still, fascinating. I may be wrong but to my knowledge it’s the first time a translator, that self-effacing behind-the-scenes player, has become a political hot potato in the identity wars. So now Deul has her first ‘kill.’ Matt Taibbi calls them ‘Twitter Robespierres who move from discipline to discipline torching reputations and jobs with breathtaking casualness.’ The publishing house didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory here. But enough ! It’s Friday.


In front of the Odeon, o5 Mars 21. photo/jg

As you read this, stagehands (intermittents) occupy the grand Theatre Odeon between Jardin Luxembourg and St-Germain des Prés in Paris. They seized it Thursday afternoon around 3 pm and put out the call for a demonstration this afternoon at 2, to be followed by an assemblée generale, in which members of the union would debate the next step. If you read Wednesday’s column, you know they’ve been out of work for the last year, and their unemployment benefit is about to be reduced again. The stagehands - workers of all kinds involving in mounting spectacles - have barricaded themselves in, demanding that Prime Minister Castex work with them to reopen the theatres, something the government has given zero consideration to.

“Culture is essential food” says the big sign but the little one is witty : “Neverending Intermission” photo / jg


            Here’s a poem to hurry spring along. The warm weather was here for a few days this week and then it ran back south and we’re shivering again. It’s five degrees now in Paris, which is warm for Moscow. I think everything should end and begin with a poem. Basically we get to do our individual version of the big poems, Birth and Death, but all the rest is a kind of prosy improvisation, we aren’t really prepared, it’s over quickly and we’d like to ask for a second take. This poem is by Bertolt Brecht, from my apparently unpublishable book of Brecht’s « erotic » poetry. Erotic, you know ? People talking to each other, going on record with things they can only say in poems, or very, very quietly in the middle of the night with very few people around. But that’s touchy, at the present moment. It’s okay if the same stuff shows up in a self-help magazine, or a lonelyhearts column in the lifestyle section but in a poem, people aren’t really sure you should be saying it or maybe they want to know who’s saying it and to whom. So we’ll choose an easy one, just so we don’t set anybody off. The book is called Secret Bertie, Love All Sizes and Shapes. It’s pretty good.     


                        Spring is back in town –

                        Boys and girls give each other the eye,

                        Lovers know where to find the one they’re looking for.

                        The touch of his hand

                        sends a shiver through her chest.

                        One glance from her, and he falls apart.

                        Everything looks different

                        In the spring hills strewn with lovers

                        High overhead the birds are taking flight,

                        The air heats up

                        And the days stretch out,

                        The field is lit for hours on end.

                        Trees and grass get carried away

                        In the Springtime

                        Everything’s incessantly fertile –

                        Forest, meadows and fields.

                        The earth is begetting new life

                        without a care in the world.

Enjoy yourself. This piece was supposed to go up on Friday night and I think I just made it, Alaska time.

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