Sunday 28 June 2015

May-December marriage

This one is from the 16th century:
Once a very old man fell in love with a young woman. He ran after her for a long time. He spruced himself up and said: If you are willing truly to be mine and honour me all your days, you will benefit from my death. I will see that you are well compensated and you will gain great wealth and be held in honour. You can buy whatever your heart desires. I will be nice and loving to you. If one servant isn’t enough, I’ll get you another, as long as you always treat me well – let me know if that suits you.
The young woman understood the matter well and looked with favour on the old man and promised everything he desired. She would love and honour him (she meant his cash). She said sweet words to him, and put a fool’s cap around his neck and led him around by a fool’s leash, which happens to quite a few old men.
Old and young don’t go together!  

(Source: Anonymous poem printed by Hans Adam, first half of 16th century, my trans)

Thursday 25 June 2015

Gregoire Delacourt, author of The List of My Desires
GrĂ©goire’s Delacourt’s The List of My Desires is the story of a woman who wins the jackpot – 18 million euros. How would you spend that much money?
You could get:
An island. A facelift. A diamond. A Santos Dumont ladies watch from Cartier. A hundred pairs of Louboutins and Jimmy Choos. A pink Chanel suit. Pearls, real pearls, the kind Jackie Kennedy wore, oh, wasn’t she just lovely?

Maybe you should get yourself a nice man. I mean, we are nearly forty. If we don’t meet a nice guy this year we’re all washed up. And if he isn’t nice? If he is a man with balls but no brain, whose ignorance is vast and possibly tragic?

You could end up being very unhappy, suicidally unhappy. In which case, don’t rely on advice from your friends. At least not your Facebook friends.
A young girl wanted to die. She told her 237 Facebook friends in advance, and no one reacted: What did you say?
In any case, think carefully, about how to kill yourself. There are many options. For example:
Throwing yourself off a railway bridge as a train is passing. You couldn’t miss and there wouldn’t be any pain. Or: Cutting the veins in your wrists. Because there is something romantic about that. The bath, the candles, the wine. My body would slip down, my face would sink and I would drown in dense, comfortable liquid red velvet; like a womb.

Maybe there is no need to go that far. A diet might solve your problems. Just don’t do anything radical. You lose weight and become a hard woman, colder, more angular, like the grieving heroine of The List of My Desires: My merciful curves melted away. The ice was taking shape, and it had a cutting edge to it.

Sunday 21 June 2015

House of Juliet, Verona

Advice from the theologians to the City Council of Strasbourg, 1536:
  • Experience teaches us many things. Thus we counsel and advise the magistrate to forbid secret marriages.
  • Cohabitation between a man and a woman is a civic matter and ought to be agreed upon in a public act and before God. The rest is just filthy desire.
  • Everyone involved must consent, those who are being united and those in whose power they are…and an unmarried woman is under the authority of her father.
  • Why should a man be allowed to marry a young woman without her father's permission? The laws return a lost chicken to his owner. Should it be permitted in law to abduct fraudulently a daughter who has been educated with much effort and is the heiress of her parents’ possessions?The law protects my money from thieves by hanging them, and ought my dearest token of love be exposed by the same laws to the deceitful desire of any man? A young woman cannot sell her father’s possessions without his consent. The surrender of her body would be like selling her paternal inheritance.
  • Besides marriages that are entered for no better reason than love don’t last. What we usually see is that such marriages are full of trouble because they have been contracted under the sponsorship of Satan.
  • And the worst scenario of all: a man seduces a young woman with the promise of marriage. She stupidly believes him on account of her sex and age. Soon the imprudent youth becomes tired of her and leaves his old love for a new one. Result: She has lost the better part of her dowry – the flower of virginity, so that she can no longer be married off.

(Source: The Correspondence of Wolfgang Capito, my trans.)

Thursday 18 June 2015

THE NEXT THOUSAND YEARS OR SO. A forecast by mathematician, Chandler Davis

Chandler Davis-Science for Peace

In addict lingo, society has some monkeys on its back. To survive, we’ll have to get rid of them.
First of all, I'm assuming we'll somehow get the military monkey off our back.  In recent history, but especially since the 1970s when the Pentagon escaped from civilian restraint, weapons have exceeded any possible use by eve the most bloodthirsty armies.  These huge oversupplies, though they benefit military contractors, are irrelevant to strategy.  Having ten thousand weapons does not make an army more fearsome if a hundred of them could annihilate the enemy, but the autonomous power of the military contractors dictated that the weapons go on accumulating. These rows on rows of nuclear weapons, nerve gas bombs, and the like, and these thousands of military bases on hilltop and atolls around the worlds -- when the world's rich country, and especially the United States, dispense with them, they will suddenly have enormous reserves of materials and personnel available for more constructive uses.

Second, I'm assuming we’ll somehow get the profit monkey off our
back. You may not want to call it the capitalist system, because you can
see the Communist Party of China pursuing African copper and rare earths
as destructively as Barrick Gold does… Whether we call it capitalism or not, the insensate competitive scramble for growth is threatening our survival…We know that the oil barons must abandon the race to extract and burn more hydrocarbon fuels than the next guy (even Mark Carney knows this now), and that means that
Gazprom must abandon it along with Exxon Mobil.

Davis predicts that there will be less mining in future centuries and that the richest mines in the future will be our scrap heaps.

Other predictions:
--Population will decrease
--Languages will continue to disappear…and we will create new languages.
--Human beings will still look like human beings do now.
--We may search for new habitats in the universe or stick to one planet and make our garden grow.
Whatever the future, Davis says: I have great confidence in the resourcefulness of our descendants.

(For the full text of Davis’ talk, check forthcoming bulletins of www.scienceforpeace). 

Sunday 14 June 2015


My dislike for the family business – your creation – pained you, and you sweetened it with the statement that I had no business sense, that I had more exalted ideas in my head, and so forth. My mother was of course pleased with that explanation, which you forced on yourself, and I too in my vanity and need was influenced by your statement. But if “more exalted” ideas had been the only or the main thing that turned me off business (which I now – and only now—truly and actively hate), they should have manifested themselves in a different way than allowing me to glide through high school and legal studies quietly and anxiously, until I finally landed at an office desk.

If I wanted to flee from you, I had to flee from my family as well, even from my mother. I could always find protection with her, but only in a way related to you. She loved you too much and was too loyally devoted to you to be for any length of time an independent intellectual power in a child’s battle….Over the years my mother became even more closely tied to you. She preserved her independence only in the smallest compass, nicely and gently without hurting your innermost feelings. Yet, as the years passed by, she adopted your opinions and your verdicts about your children more fully and blindly, accepted them emotionally more than intellectually, especially in the difficult case of [Kafka’s sister] Ottla. Of course one must always remember that Mother’s position in our family was exhausting. She laboured in the store and in the household, she was a co-sufferer when anyone in the family was sick and suffered twice as much, but all that was exceeded by what she suffered being squeezed between us and you…

Elli Kafka

Elli is the only example of succeeding almost completely in breaking away from your circle. I would have expected it least of all from her in the early years. She was such a gawky, weary, timid, sullen, guilt-ridden, overly submissive, spiteful, idle, close-fisted child with a sweet tooth. I could hardly stand looking at her or talking to her. She reminded me too much of myself. We were so similar, being under the curse of your training. Especially her meanness disgusted me because that vice was even greater in me if that is possible. Meanness is the surest sign of deep unhappiness. I was so uncertain in all things, that I felt I owned only what I held in my hands or in my mouth or what was on its way there, and that is what she particularly liked to snatch away, even though we were in a similar situation. But all that changed when she left home as a young woman – young, that is important—when she married, had children, and became cheerful, carefree, courageous, liberal, unselfish, and full of hope.
(Source: Letter to my Father, text on; my translation)

Thursday 11 June 2015


As long as our business was a street-level store, it should have been interesting for me, especially in my childhood. It was so lively when it was lit up at night. I could see and hear a great deal, was able to help here and there, to excel, but most of all, to admire your great business talents – the way you sold things, treated people, joked with them, were indefatigable, made instant decisions in doubtful situations, etc.

It was a spectacle worth watching when you wrapped up goods or opened a carton. All in all, it wasn’t a bad teaching experience for a child. But because you scared me in everything, and I identified the business with you, I was no longer comfortable in the store. Matters that seemed normal to me at first tormented and embarrassed me, especially your treatment of the personnel. I don’t know whether it was like that in most businesses (in the Assicurazioni Generali, for example, the treatment of the staff was quite similar in my time; when I resigned, I gave the director an explanation which wasn’t quite truthful, but not altogether a lie. I told him that I could not stand the scolding, which by the way was not directed against me personally; I was too painfully sensitive to begin with), but other businesses did not concern me in my childhood.

I heard and saw you shouting in the store in a way that was unparalleled in the whole world (at least that’s what I thought at the time). And I witnessed not only your rants, but also your tyranny in other matters. For example if there were goods you did not want to have confused with others, you shoved them off the counter in one sweep, and your employee had to pick them up from the floor. The only excuse for your behaviour was the impulsiveness of your anger. Also, there was the phrase you constantly used about an employee who suffered from pleurisy: “That sick dog -- let him bite the dust!” You called your employees “paid enemies”, as they were indeed, but before they turned out like that, you were the “paying enemy”. In your store I also learned that you could be unjust. I would not have noticed it in my own case because I had amassed too much guilt, and always justified you. I corrected my youthful opinion a little but not radically, thinking there were people in your store, who were not part of our family, who worked there and had to live in constant fear of you. Of course that was an exaggeration because I assumed that you instilled the same fear in those people as you did in me. If that had been the case, their lives would have been unbearable indeed. But they were adults in perfect control of their emotions. They shrugged off your rants without effort, and in the end that kind of behaviour harmed you more than them. As for me, it made the store unbearable because it reminded me too much of our relationship. You were so superior a businessman…that the work of your employees could not satisfy you, and in a similar way, you were always dissatisfied with me.

(Source: Letter to my Father, text on; my translation)

Monday 8 June 2015


Now we have Auri and the whimsical, lyrical prose of Patrick Rothfuss’ The Slow Regard of Silent Things. Here is a taste:
In the ancient passageways deep inside the earth, there are whispers of dim light.
Something vital up above was all alack, Auri thought, and the waiting grit on her.
The air was thick and shuddersome. The walls were full of spite. The stones begrudged her every step. All everything was snarling allapart.

The atmosphere in the underground changed from day to day. Burning days were flickersome. Too frangible by half. Other days were trumpet-proud. They heralded like thunder.

And how does Auri pass the time?
She sweeps the floor of her room, swingling wildly about, making the shadows spin and skirl.
She makes a smooth, curved dome of pale, sweet soap. It felt wicked and delicious. It was the color of fresh cream with just a single drop of blood.
She makes a sorrel colored candle pressed with lavender. It smelled of bay and bees. It was a perfect thing.
Auri’s mood is changeable. Sometimes her heart is stiff, at other times she had no crying left. She was full of broken glass and burrs. Then again, she felt dry as paper written on both sides.

Readers expect certain things, Rothfuss says about his book. They are going to read this and be disappointed. It doesn’t do what a normal story is supposed to do.
Right. But some people like paranormal.

Thursday 4 June 2015


#amreading Showey Yazdanian’s hilarious new book Loopholes, which hits lawyers very hard.
It begins with a page of Terms and Conditions:
Reading Loopholes (hereinafter “the novel”) constitutes a legally binding agreement… The print on the page becomes progressively smaller, ending with half a page of blah,blah,blah. So like all the publishing contracts I signed unread!
Other quotable bits:
The top one percent of law students shot across the border to the big new York law firms within five minutes of graduation, renouncing their citizenships during layovers in Chicago.
This is no reflection on Canada. It’s not personal, it’s just freezing up here.
But of course you don’t have to go to America. You can make a handsome living on Toronto’s Bay Street or work for the government in Ottawa, conveniently located mere steps from the North Pole, where literally everyone works for the government, so rush hour starts at 3:45 p.m and maternity leave lasts for seven years.
The hero of the novel, Walter Roger, passes the first year of his studies with flying colours thanks to outsourcing his essays and take-home exams to a guy called Basu in Kolkata.
Unfortunately Basu dies in the hero’s second year. The rest, as they say, is history. I’m throwing this sentence in because this blog is supposed to be about history.
Upon graduation, Walter ends up articling with a Bulgarian law firm in a suburban strip mall where the burbling rill of Cyrillic-only clients always paid cash.
For the rest of his adventures, read Loopholes published by Quattro.

As the Terms and Conditions state: No lawyers were harmed in the writing of this work of fiction.