Measured Extravagance

02 June 2003 - 1:12 a.m.

Just got back from beer and dinner at Radio Cafe, which celebrated its grand re-opening this weekend (new management, new kitchen - I had a buffalo chicken sandwich and the BYM ordered a bbq shrimp po'boy). Apparently we missed a wild time last night - something about guys in chicken suits mixin' it up.

She grew up in Wilton, Conn., and attributed her crusading temperament to having grown up during the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement and to attending a socially conscious church whose guiding principle was ''Have faith; give service.''

    - Mark Feeney's obituary of Elizabeth Neuffer, a reporter who died in Iraq in early May

One of our congregation members died this morning from cancer. Our minister was visibly distraught during morning songs and had to struggle for composure when she spoke about him after his memorial candle was lit. The closing hymn was changed from "Glory, Glory Hallelujah" to "We Laugh, We Cry": "Our lives are full of wonder and our time is very brief. . ."

I hadn't really wanted to go to church this morning, it being the first Sunday in what feels like months that I haven't had to be there for something or other. But I'd wanted to touch base with the pianist, and it was Jason's last Sunday before heading out to Knoxville for the summer, and a couple other thises and thats that were going to make me more annoyed at myself for skipping out than happy at sleeping in. Not a hardship, of course - just tiredness. (I did end up napping instead of going to the Y.) And since I didn't have to be at both services, I did catch Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, which included a Sue Ellicott demonstration of spitting (!) and a prediction that the menu at Evian would include a dish inspired by the search for WMDs (puff pastry with nothing inside).

In spite of the pall cast by Michael's death, there was actually a fair amount of smiling and chuckling during the service, the scheduled topic being "Play as Spiritual Discipline." The prelude was the "Linus and Lucy" theme from Peanuts. The meditation began with the minister suggesting that we "enter the silence. . .welcoming whatever happens. . ." ... which turned out to be a quintet of jumbo beach balls hurled into the congregation, which were then batted back and forth, occasionally bouncing off the heads of the unwary, and ending with a surge of laughter as the minister pronounced "Blessed be" from the podium.

Segueing into her sermon, the minister asked who had brought toys with them (as requested via the newsletter). The guy behind me held up his sleek new pocket PC phone. "What's that?" "It's what you told me not to show [your husband]," he replied. "Okay, anybody bring any real toys?"

At which point, I spoke up: "Mary Katherine, you haven't lived with an engineer if you think that's not a real toy."

W: " if one is supposed to read Homer's Illiad & Odyssey when learning Latin [*], and Dante's Divine Comedy when learning Italian, what similar work is there for English? . . .Shakespeare?"

Me: "There's no consensus. It certainly wouldn't hurt to be acquainted with Hamlet, King Lear and the sonnets, since so many other writers draw on those works for allusions, etc., but one could make the same argument for the King James Version of the Bible, Pride and Prejudice, and the poems of Emily Dickinson.

(Frankly, I think anyone who wants to consider themselves well-read should just work their way through a Norton Anthology or two. Which I haven't, but I don't consider myself all that well-read. Yet, anyway. If it's someone wanting to test their fluency, periodicals and pop fiction are better bets.)

P.S. If the question is really just 'Is Shakespeare the English equivalent of Homer and Dante?' the answer is yes."

I'm wondering, though:

(1) Are Homer and Dante actually key components (or goals) of learning Latin and Italian? At what approximate point in one's studies is one expected to be able to read their work? I do vaguely remember Don Quixote being the first "real" text for Spanish high school students. (Note the distinction being drawn here. I'm guessing that native Italian and Spanish readers operate with a more extensive system of benchmarks.) What (if any) is the equivalent in French - Le Petit Prince? Madame Bovary? (My M.A. reading exam featured an excerpt from 100 Days of Sodom, but I fancy that's atypical.)

(2) Is there a common perception of a so-called "definitive" author or work of English literature (of whom or which I'm just not aware)? Shakespeare? Mark Twain? Arthur Miller? Mind, I don't really care (if I did, I'd be making a stronger effort to work my way through one of those assorted "greatest" and/or "most influential" book lists, or at least follow the top titles on the NYT charts. I'd probably also still be in a profession where staying tuned into the zeitgeist mattered). But I am curious. Will Michael Chabon or Alice Sebold be on the Modern Library 100 at the beginning of the 22nd century?

(Marymary's recent remarks on attribution reminded me that, especially with Shakespeare, it is expected that a reader will catch many an allusion even when it isn't highlighted (read, "sticking out like a sore thumb") via special punctuation or footnotes. (Of course, me being the backwards sort, what ends up happening is that I sit down with something of Shakespeare's every once in a while and start recognizing other people's titles and paraphrases all over the place.) Which does perhaps suggest that I shouldn't be so quick to throw cold water on the notion of Shakespeare as the benchmark, but still, reading only Shakespeare amongst the classics would be like trying to play tennis with a killer backhand but no other stroke in one's arsenal.

Hm, yes, I'm overthinking the question and I'm babbling. Bed for me.

". . .to go to bed after midnight is to go to bed betimes. Does not our life consist of the four elements?"
"Faith, so they say; but I think it rather consists of eating and drinking."

[*] And as M'ris just pointed out, Homer is in Greek - so for Latin, perhaps the Aeneid?

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