Sunday, July 29, 2012

Yes, but which one is best?

Good—better—best. Some of us may remember learning in grade school very specific rules about when to use ‘better,’ as opposed to ‘best.’ Same with elder or eldest, older or oldest, younger or youngest. For instance, because I have only one sibling, I am “the younger,” never “the youngest,” of my parents’ offspring.

When I began to think about silly expressions recently, I wondered about “put your best foot forward.” Granted, “put your better foot forward” doesn’t have much of a ring to it, but, still . . . it’s quite an odd saying. So are “piece of cake,” meaning easy, and “piece of work,” meaning crazy. There are hundreds of idiomatic expressions that mean something not obvious, but add in less-than-good grammar, and you have to pity the student of our language.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Divine Barry

One of my literary goals during my fifties was to read James Joyce’s Ulysses by the time I turned sixty. I needed to get up my nerve, however, to begin . . . and the older I got, the more worried I was that I couldn’t make my way through the masterpiece on my own. I wished that I’d studied it in college, but hadn’t been even slightly tempted at that age. The clock was ticking.

One day when I was fifty-nine, I was scanning a bulletin board at my local indie bookseller. There it was, calling to me—a little 3x5 card reading something like, “Want to read Ulysses, but afraid to do it on your own? I’m looking for a group to read it with me again. Whether it’s your first or tenth time through the book, call . . . Barry Devine."

My heart was beating faster. Barry Devine sounded like a fake name, a character from a romance novel, but I jotted down his number and called him the minute I returned home. He called me back. Yes, still had room in his group, which wouldn’t begin for a couple of weeks. I signed up on the spot.

Initially there were eight or nine of us in his group, including my then current boss, a young woman who said she’d always wanted to read Ulysses. (She dropped out after two chapters.) So did others drop . . . and the group was left with five regular attendees—one of whom was my sister. Another attendee wasn’t reading the book, just listening to the discussion.

We spent about eight months reading approximately fifty pages every two weeks. After the initial two or three meetings at the bookstore, we began to gather at my house. Those bi-weekly meetings were a bright spot on my calendar. The book was fantastic; the experience immensely enriching.

Barry was a young man, probably in his late twenties. He was smart, insightful, patient, and fun. He was engaged to a woman named Helena, a beautiful Greek American woman who joined our discussions when she could. Barry’s perspective as a man close to the age of  Stephen Dedalus was insightful. My perspective as a woman familiar with the Catholic church was unique to the group. Readers' reactions to the book were varied, so the discussions were lively. 

I have completely lost track of Barry, although I have never stopped counting the reading of Ulysses (by the time I was sixty!) as one of my own proudest accomplishments.  

Recently I have discovered Frank DeLaney’s podcasts of Ulysses, and I’m discovering the book all over again—through the fresh, literary, droll and Irish eyes of Frank DeLaney. Check it out: DeLaney reads a few lines of the book each week, then deconstructs them. He claims it will take him twenty-two years to finish Ulysses at these five-minute podcasts once a week, but he doesn’t care. Neither do I, because his commentary is superb. Check it out. Ulysses podcasts

Meanwhile, if you ever meet a man named Barry Devine, please let him know of my undying gratitude.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Frick'n Delight

While visiting New York City recently, I felt as though I should be wearing a “slow moving vehicle” symbol on my back. You know the type—one of those reflective triangles. Especially while in the walkways connecting one subway line to another, I was consistently passed by people loping along at a pace about twice as fast as mine. Talk about feeling old . . . and provincial.

 But . . . I fell in love while there—with Henry Clay Frick. I know, I know. That’s like saying I fell in love with a despot—a Morgan, Rockefeller, Carnegie or Vanderbilt. Truth be told, whether or not those gilded-age tyrants were selfish users of men, their taste in art was spectacular. Frick might have been a difficult guy, competitive, demanding and surly, but he sure had an eye for beauty. It makes me wonder if people can be forgiven for their transgressions based solely on their bequests to the public of their art collections.

The Frick Museum has been on my “bucket list” since 1959, although I certainly didn’t use that corny-but-useful expression of bucket list back then. After apprenticing in summer stock theatre, I was invited to be the houseguest of a new friend who had apprenticed, as well. She lived on East 70th Street in Manhattan. She used “the Frick” as an identifier for anyone needing to know where she lived. As I heard her say, “We’re just two blocks east of The Frick,” the responses intrigued me--consistently oohs and ahs from people who were familiar with the Frick. Unlike a Seattle identifier, “We’re two blocks from the gas station,” I realized, even as a nineteen year old girl, that the Frick must be a special place.  

In June 2012, after probably six intervening trips to NYC since ‘59, I finally saw the place for myself! What a gorgeous architectural structure, and what an impressive collection it houses—with masterpieces available for peering close up in every room. It is as spectacular a collection as I’ve ever seen.