Beggar Old

A strange little childhood memory about Percy Bysshe Shelley and me.

It was 1990 or so. I lived in Moscow and studied in the fifth or six grade in a special school with deepened learning of English, which means that English is taught from the second grade, almost every day, and by good teachers. In case it isn’t clear, it’s very good.

The English teacher asked everyone to choose an English poem, to learn it by heart and to recite it in class. I didn’t quite know what to choose, and my parents suggested I phone a relative who knew English well. He suggested Summer And Winter by Percy Bysshe Shelley:

It was a bright and cheerful afternoon,
Towards the end of the sunny month of June,
When the north wind congregates in crowds
The floating mountains of the silver clouds
From the horizon—and the stainless sky
Opens beyond them like eternity.
All things rejoiced beneath the sun; the weeds,
The river, and the cornfields, and the reeds;
The willow leaves that glanced in the light breeze,
And the firm foliage of the larger trees.

It was a winter such as when birds die
In the deep forests; and the fishes lie
Stiffened in the translucent ice, which makes
Even the mud and slime of the warm lakes
A wrinkled clod as hard as brick; and when,
Among their children, comfortable men
Gather about great fires, and yet feel cold:
Alas, then, for the homeless beggar old!

If it looks very difficult and bleak for a ten year old elementary schools student, then it’s because it is, indeed, difficult and bleak.

I don’t remember how exactly did he get the poem’s text to me. He lived in another neighborhood of Moscow, quite far away. It was 1990, so he didn’t email it, of course. He didn’t photocopy it, either. I remember that it was handwritten. Maybe he sent it as a letter or maybe my parents met him and he gave it to them after manually copying from a book.

I don’t have the slightest idea why did that relative choose this poem. He spoke to me on the phone and explained all the difficult words, but he didn’t explain what’s special about it. Is it famous? Does he love it dearly for some personal reason? Does it have a relevant social message? Maybe—just maybe—we were supposed to choose something related to seasons or weather?

A day later I showed this to my English teacher and she was shocked by the difficulty and offered something much simpler. I don’t remember what it was, but I followed her advice. I did, however, remembered the last line with “alas”, and “beggar old”.

I’d love to speak to this relative some day and ask him what was he thinking.

Speaker for the Dead

I never meant to be a biologist or an advocate of Darwinism, but i just realized that it kinda bothers me that practically i learned all that i know about evolution from a Mormon science fiction writer.

A good writer, though: Speaker for the Dead is the first novel that i re-read in many years.

Who is Albert Sánchez Piñol?

Who is Albert Sánchez Piñol? Let’s look at Wikipedias in different languages, translated into English, ordered by the English name of the language:

Basque: Albert Sánchez Piñol is a Catalan writer and anthropologist.

Catalan: Albert Sánchez Piñol is a Catalan anthropologist and writer who wrote the known works “The Cold Skin” (2002) and “Pandora in Congo” (2005).

Dutch: Albert Sánchez Piñol is a Spanish anthropologist and employee of the Center for African Studies of the University of Barcelona. (The rest of the article describes his work in the field of anthropology. The last sentence says that he writes in Catalan.)

English: Albert Sánchez Piñol (Catalan pronunciation: [əɫˈβɛrt ˈsantʃeθ piˈɲɔɫ]) is a Catalan Spanish author and anthropologist writing in the Catalan language.

German: Albert Sánchez Piñol is a Spanish anthropologist and writer. (Catalan is not mentioned in the article, but the article is included in the category “Literature (Catalan)”).

Italian: Albert Sánchez Piñol is a Spanish writer and anthropologist. (The fact that “The Cold Skin” was written in Catalan is mentioned towards the end.)

Norwegian: Albert Sánchez Piñol is a Spanish author and social anthropologist, writing in Catalan.

Polish: Albert Sánchez Piñol, a Spanish writer, a prosaist writing in the Catalan language. By education he is an anthropologist.

Russian: Albert Sánchez Piñol – a Catalan anthropologist and writer.

Spanish: Albert Sánchez Piñol is a Spanish writer and anthropologist. His literary work is written in Catalan.

(All articles say that he was born in Barcelona in 1965. Only English has an IPA transcription of the name, although it’s probably wrong.)

Lenin 55!

I am sitting in the library of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The complete works of Lenin are on a shelf in front of me. Four shelves, to be precise: Fifty-five volumes plus a two-volume index and the selected works in English – in mere forty-five volumes. I wonder: Did the university actually buy it or did the children of a dead communist donate it to clear some space at home?

Self

I am reading a very bad book.

I am not going to tell which one, because it won’t change much and i will just hurt someone without any purpose.

I think that i am going to finish it, because it’s good to read a bad book every once in a while. To have something with which i can compare all the good books that i’m reading.

Shabtai, Linur and Keret

I opened the article Hebrew literature in the English Wikipedia. It says:

In 1966, Shmuel Yosef Agnon won the Nobel Prize for Literature for novels and short stories that employ a unique blend of biblical, Talmudic and modern Hebrew.

Among other Israeli authors who were translated into other languages and attained international recognition are Ephraim Kishon, Yaakov Shabtai, A. B. Yehoshua, Amos Oz, Irit Linur, Etgar Keret and Yehoshua Sobol.

“Hmm,” i thought, “OK, they put the classics Kishon and Shabtai together with the ultra-modern Keret.”

This is a very dangerous mistake. There’s no “they” in Wikipedia. There’s only “I”. The right approach to Wikipedia is not to believe a word of it and to check every explicit and implicit fact.

And in this case it is particularly ridiculous: Something mysterious bugged me about this sentence, so i checked the article’s history and saw that this paragraph was added by me in 2007. It was left untouched since then.

I don’t think that i would write the same names today, but Wikipedia’s consensus decided that it is OK.

The previous sentence has a very big problem in it. If you don’t see it, you really shouldn’t read Wikipedia.