Things Self Learns From Reading THE NEW YORKER of 28 November 2011

  • “For new adulterers, reduced circumstances are just another part of the romance.  Each attempt to avoid detection —  the cheap hotel rooms, the seedy restaurants, the run-down vacation spots —  is a novelty, even a return to youth.” —   From the “Briefly Noted” review of Anne Enright’s fifth novel, The Forgotten Waltz.
  • Helen Dunmore, author of The Siege, about the long siege of Leningrad in the Second World War, has written a sequel called The Betrayal, a novel in which “the effects of repression replace those of deprivation . . .  “
  • The issue’s short story is by Alice Munro (maybe her 50th appearance in this magazine —  BWAH HA HA!)
  • John Lahr, The New Yorker’s theater critic, begins his review of a new play with:  “Alan Rickman is the go-to actor for supercilious.”
  • There is a teensy ad on p. 83  for Austen Riggs Center:  “A distinctive psychiatric hospital:  Intensive psychotherapy in an open community.”  On the same page, an ad for Gunderson Residence of McLean Hospital:  “Highly specialized residential treatment for women with BPD” (Of course everyone knows what BPD stands for!  Everyone who reads The New Yorker, that is)
  • Jane Birkin is appearing LIVE IN CONCERT.  There was a time when self knew this woman as an actress.  That time was long long ago.
  • The show “2 Broke Girls” is “a genuine ratings hit,”  according to New Yorker writer Emily Nussbaum.  Self watched a few episodes on the plane to New Delhi.  Oh, yeah.  Yeah!  You go, Kat Dennings!  Self loved all your scenes in “Thor,” you stole them from Acknowledged Beauty Natalie Portman.  Now Dennings gets to be called (by Nussbaum) “a baby Roseanne.”  This is because Dennings plays “a waitress who insults her customers, a poor girl who walls herself off with defeatist sarcasm.”
  • Self encounters the term “sardonic brunette” for the first time.  According to Emily Nussbaum (again), the “sensibility” of the sardonic brunette “echoes back to Rosalind Russell.”  Modern incarnations of the type are:  Roseanne, Janeane Garofalo, Sarah Silverman, Sandra Bernhard, and Tina Fey.  In the era of Lucille Ball, “it was exciting simply to see a woman clown, even if she always lost, even if she was literally spanked for her rebellion.”  A little further in the same piece, self learns what a “dead joke” is:  “I’ll say I’m ugly before you can.”  She also learns that this kind of joke is “from an older style of female comedy.”  And boyfriends can be considered guilty of such a thing as “a thought crime”: glancing at another girl.  Also  the hit show Glee “likes to insult fat people and then sing songs about how wrong it is to bully them.”  Another show, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, is “hilariously filthy.” The guy who was being sexually harassed by Jennifer Aniston in “Horrible Bosses” is here:  self really likes the way he whines.  His voice reminds self a little of Joe Pantoliano.
  • Self also learns (again via Nussbaum —  Nussbaum is an absolutely brilliant writer!) that there are contexts in which a sense of “entitlement” can function as “a kind of superpower” because it makes a person believe that she deserves “a better life.”  Okay, self can definitely buy that.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

And, Back Once Again to CAESAR: LIFE OF A COLOSSUS

Self is on p. 308 of Adrian Goldsworthy’s Caesar:  Life of a Colossus.  At first, she couldn’t imagine herself finishing it, the early portions are so dense (and dull, if self may say so: a compendium of reasons why a) Caesar could not be a homosexual; or b) why he so compulsively seduced the wives of prominent Roman senators, and other similar trivialities).  Ever since self arrived at descriptions of the many battles Julius Caesar fought on behalf of the Roman Empire, however, she can’t seem to put the book down (And there are still hundreds of pages to go!  This is an extremely heavy book to tote around, as the tiresome and constant ache in self’s right shoulder will attest)

Logistics was key to military success, as it is even today.  There must be a way to bring enough food for a long campaign, for example.  In an earlier battle, the Gallic tribes had amassed a huge army, but Caesar kept them at bay until the winter, at which point the tribes began running out of food and decided to disperse, returning to their respective provinces, where food was readily available.  Caesar knew it would take time for the enemy to gather its forces again, and he had no intention of giving them that time.  So he began his campaign against the tribes, taking them down one by one.

Today’s enemies are a tribe called the Menapii.  Caesar set out with “five legions with minimal stocks of food and heavy equipment and led them against the Menapii . . .  As usual, the Menapii avoided contact and relied on the inaccessibility of the forests and marshes of their land for protection . . .  ”

Goldsworthy writes:

Caesar divided his force into three independent columns, each of which began clearing a route into tribal territory, constructing bridges and causeways as necessary.  Such was the engineering skill of the legions that there were few places where they could not go if they were led with determination.  Dismayed to realize that they were not as safe as they had believed . . .  the Menapii sent in envoys and surrendered.

The Roman army marched to the Rhine and built a bridge only a short distance away from the one they had constructed and then destroyed in 55 BC.  Caesar did not bother to describe the design in any detail, but noted that having performed the task once before, his legionaries completed it very quickly.  Bridging the Rhine in 55 BC had been an exciting foray into unexplored country, but now it was simply a matter of routine.  That was essentially the point of the operation, to make it absolutely clear that the river was no barrier to the Romans and that Caesar could attack the Germans in their homeland whenever he wanted.

And now, back to reading.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

And In the Meantime, Self Is Still Reading CAESAR: LIFE OF A COLOSSUS

Switching back and forth between her readings on the ancient Maya (via Victor von Hagen) and on the battle exploits of the Roman Army led by Julius Caesar (via Adrian Goldsworthy), self is nothing if not dizzy.

Anyhoo, here is the section of Caesar:  Life of a Colossus that self has just begun reading.  A Gallic tribe called the Nervii have just risen in rebellion against Rome.  Caesar, fresh from his British campaign, has no time to rest.  He has to ride to the relief of one of his generals (a man named Cicero, who self keeps confusing with Cicero the orator), whose small Roman garrison is being besieged.  Caesar quickly dispatches a message to Cicero that he is coming to his aid:

A Gallic cavalryman was persuaded to take a message through the lines.  It was written in Greek characters, which it was believed the Belgians would not be able to read.  Unable to get into the camp, he did as instructed and tied it to a spear, which he then hurled into the camp.  For two days no one noticed the usual attachment on the spear stuck into the side of one of the towers, before someone spotted it and took it to Cicero.

Pause for self to express suitable astonishment:  OMG!!!  OMG!!!  OMG!!!

The legate paraded his men and read out the contents, which informed them that Caesar was on the way.  Confirmation came when they sighted columns of smoke rising in the distance —  a sign that a Roman force was advancing, setting fire to ‘enemy’ farms and villages along its route in the normal way.

And now comes a bit that reveals how wily a general Julius Caesar was.  To draw off the tribes from their siege of Cicero’s camp, Caesar has to lure them into attacking him.  He therefore creates a ruse:  He orders the construction of a camp that is “deliberately smaller” than usual.  He knows the enemy is watching him, and he hopes they will come to “despise his army.”

During the day, the two armies stared at each other from opposite sides of the valley, and only the cavalry went forward to skirmish.  At dawn on the next day the same thing happened, but Caesar ordered his auxiliaries to give way before the enemy.  The Nervii had few horsemen and these did not have a good reputation, so it was doubtless especially encouraging when these chased Caesar’s cavalry back to their camp.  To add to the impression of fear, the Romans made the ramparts of this higher than usual . . .  The Nervii took the bait and came across the stream to the Roman side of the valley.  Warily, they edged closer and closer to the enemy camp, lured on by deliberate displays of panic.  The legionaires even abandoned the walls as if terrified of the approaching warriors . . .  After a while the Nervii came up to the ramparts, and some began to tear down the turf walls blocking the gates.  Only then did Caesar order an attack.  The column of troops that had been waiting behind each gateway now charged . . .

Brilliant!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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