Archive for December, 2009

We are blessed that occasionally a writer emerges who is large in ego and flashy in wit and style.  It almost seems rare.  So when Peter Ackroyd does a prose translation of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales what is one to anticipate?  Well, the naysayers lose this time.

For all of us, and we are legion, who remain Chaucer-challenged from our morose high school experience with the Big C, this book is a blast and complete therapy.  Yes, he is worth the effort and now that you are of age you can read the adult version–the one where you need not struggle.  You will find Chaucer, in the words of my university colleague Art Barlow, a Ben Franklin kind of fellow.

This is officially The Canterbury Tales By Geoffrey Chaucer: A Retelling by Peter Ackroyd, Illustrated by Nick Bantock, an awkward title for a smooth book.  Dress up your guest room with your personal copy.  It may be lifted by your next guest.

If you like to wear your Chaucer then go to zappel.com for more than one selection.  If you want to drink your Chaucer you can shop for Chaucer’s California wines.  I tried ebay for a bobble-head or a porcelain figurine but with no luck.  Charles Marlin

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The World Funky Deviled Egg Plate 2010 Competition entry # 12 from Soul Sweetwater.

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The World Funky Deviled Egg Plate 2010 Competition entry # 11 from Stephanie Sawhney.

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If you have the opportunity to see The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000-3500BC exhibition at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World up until April 25, 2010, do not miss it.  Every person of Eastern European heritage, regardless of citizenship, will feel enormous pride and joy in viewing the exhibition.  Every citizen, regardless of heritage, will be impressed and thrilled in viewing the exhibition.  The pottery, the fertility figurines, the copper and gold objects and tools, and the shell jewelry are all knockouts.

The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World is a “discrete entity” within New  York University at 15 East 84th St, New York NY 10028.  “The location is on the upper east side of Manhattan, just a block from Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  There are many parking garages near the institute and the Subway is close by.”  For more information, google The Lost World of Old Europe.  Free admission and the hours are posted on the website.

To keep as your memento there is a grand coffee table book to accompany the exhibition, edited by David W. Anthony with Jennifer Y. Chi.  It lists for $49.95 but amazon.com now has it at $35.96  It is a bargain regardless.  You may want to get a copy ahead of your visit so that nothing escapes your attention.  Charles Marlin

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The Poetry of Birds, edited by Simon Armitage and Tim Dee, is a comfort book, one to keep within easy reach when you need a quiet moment to yourself away from family, work, and the ever present contact with others.  It is not a book to read cover to cover or rush through for that would be a foolish waste of time.  It is organized a bit like a field guide, so you know how to handle it.  Good luck.

When thinking of a title for this short post, the easy, first choice was Emily Dickinson “Hope” is the thing with feathers– but eventually it came down to two finalists.  I chose Mark Doty‘s line from Flit, but I want to close with the other finalist from Walt Whitman‘s The Dalliance of the Eagles She hers, he his, pursuing.  Charles Marlin

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When I read Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise, published in 2004, sixty-two years after her death in Auschwitz, I was taken by its power and beauty.  When I found The Dogs and the Wolves, a fresh translation by Sandra Smith from the original Les Chiens et les Loups published in 1940, I looked forward to a repeat performance.  It did not happen.

The novel is premised on the kind of ant-semitic beliefs that sent her to Auschwitz.  You don’t make art out of that kind of stuff.  It is trash talk regardless who it comes from or who it targets.  Her tragic death proves it.  Charles Marlin

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A troll on the Bosphorus is not the pleasure a stroll along the Bosphorus must be.  What you get in Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence is a dreary, repetitious story about an unbelievable character who is never worth the effort.  He is neither good or bad, interesting or offensive because there is nothing there to engage the reader.

The style of writing is stilted and will influence a writer only as a negative example.  Turkey and the Noble Committee can keep him.  You can save the $16.92 amazon.com would have charged you.  Charles Marlin

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Small gifts at this time of giving transform into something special that does not happen at any other holiday season.  When everyone is giving and thinking of their love ones, themselves, and especially people in need whom they may not know personally, small gifts seamlessly collect together gaining force and purpose.  We know because we see so many others giving that our small gift will not remain small and incidental.  The collective effort to help others is wonderful.  Far more than the snow and decorations, it is the beauty of the holiday season.

Every gift you give is good.  There are no poor choices when helping others.  And there seems to be an added pleasure in giving to causes you have supported in previous years.  Everyone smiles when they see a loyal friend return again with a gift.

And as the season of giving comes to a close and a new year begins, consider adding new causes to your giving list.  A new cause need not be costly to be a rewarding addition to your life.  The paradox of giving is that the giver is the first to be rewarded and for whom the gift lasts the longest.  Charles Marlin

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Settling down for a pleasant winter evening read of a good article on modern risk management techniques is good only when the article is as well written as Nick Rockel’s “Greed, Fear & Forecasting Doom,” in the November 2009 issue of Institutional Investor.  I know it is well written because I dashed through it like a child born with skates in a land of frozen lakes.  I learned what I knew before.  Watch out for cracks and weakened ice.

There is no denying that risk management experts and practitioners are a sophisticated lot, erudite and confident.  They are accustomed to being richly rewarded for their services, but then their ancestors were of the same expectation.  Their family tree is large and fruity with examples of rain makers, patent medicine men, purveyors of saintly relics, alchemists, blood letters, high priests, and families born to rule.  The problem is that no one in that family tree ever got it right just as their descendents got nothing right in last fall’s crash.

Last fall’s crash was a dramatic set of price changes that eluded standard risk models, what Yale’s Frank Fabozzi calls “fat tails.”  Others call them black swans.  Some say they are a once in two life times occurrence, and others say they happen every couple of years.

Who is a person to believe if the experts are in guerrilla action against each other?  You should follow the advice your mother gave you when you went off to college.  If you don’t understand the game and the players keep changing the rules, put your pants on and go home even if you have to walk the whole way.  Your mother was a smart woman.

The next morning you may wake up tired and in serious need of a shower and fresh clothes, but the important aspect to note is that you are ready for another day at the office.  Your work may not be brilliant but it earns you a paycheck, and no one accosts you in the hall demanding proof that what you do has ever proven useful.  Charles Marlin

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Kati Marton, author and journalist, has written a likeable book, Enemies Of The People: My Family’s Journey To America.  It is likeable as the romance of Endre and Ilona Marton, Budapest residents during a very dark period.  It is likeable as cold war history of Hungary.  It is likeable as a spy thriller with an unusual twist.  It is likeable as a family history rediscovered from the most evil of sources.  It is likeable as a personal narrative of a woman who reconstructs her childhood.  It is likeable as a story of the Americanization of a proud Hungarian family.

The Martons began life under the oppression of the dying Austro-Hungarian Empire, survived youthful resistance to the Nazis, only to find themselves raising a young family under the crushing control of Stalinism.  They became the two goats among sheep as the last independent journalists behind the Iron Curtain until they were arrested and imprisoned.  Their crimes were that they worked as correspondents for the Associated Press and United Press and they were friendly to the American Legation in Budapest as well as many other Westerners.  Their two young daughters witnessed the arrest first of their father and then a short time later of their mother.

Despite the imprisonment and punishment the parents received following the failure of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 they survived to reunite their family.  They were released only because the Hungarian government and their Soviet managers wanted the advantages of trade and travel with the West.  They were finally expendable for a price.

The story continues during the years of Americanization for parents and children.  Putting the whole story together was possible only because the files of the AVO, the Hungarian secret police, and the FBI files were turned over to the author.  She found secrets aplenty but never shame or dishonor.  She was most fortunate of daughters and researchers.  Charles Marlin

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