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Smelling salts_ Action plays_ Slow readers_ Rectangle lore_ The lovely words_ Trite talk_

I'm reading Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes in the excellent translation by Edith Grossman. The novel, written some four hundred years ago, remains relevant today. It is sometimes cited as the first of the "modern" novels. Despite its current relevance, I'm struck by the advantages enjoyed by the early novelists in utilizing coincidence. On up and through Dickens, benevolent coincidence allows the author to sweep forward unhindered. Disparate characters, some almost forgotten, miraculously come together to tie up loose ends. Cervantes has his participants almost as astonished by these meetings as is the reader.

At one such unexpected joining, he describes the participant's puzzlement:

"All were silent as they all looked at one another; Dorotia at Don Fernando, Don Fernando at Cardenio, Cardenio at Luscinda, and Luscinda at Cardenio. "

Luscinda, quickly overcoming her surprise, grabs her chance, "Let me go, Don Fernando....See how heaven, in its miraculous, mysterious way has brought my true husband before me."

To Don Fernando this comes as a therapeutic shocker almost miraculously unraveling the intricate labyrinth of associations which has bound him to Luscinda.

Cervantes has lots of swooning ladies. Very useful ladies. Their swoons furnish a graceful exit from many a ticklish situation.

One wonders why little or no swooning goes on these days. What has happened? Even back during my boyhood I can't recall my mother ever swooning, or recall any swooning aunts. But most of them did carry little vials of "smelling salts" in their handbags. (Handbag examination was a favorite childhood learning experience.) As a precaution?

A woman friend maintains that women swooned because they used to wear corsets. My Aunt Helen did. But Aunt Helen, corset-bound or free, was always the life of the party, not the swooning type. She may have kept the smelling salts for her husband, Will, who did not swoon but carried rectitude to the verge of vanishing. When the family party was at its height with Aunt Helen center stage, Uncle Will sat outside at the wheel of his polished black Model A , reading the New York Times. Aunt Helen referred to Uncle Will as the "GOM." She told me that it stood for "grand old man." But she winked - so I don't know.

After my father died (when I was nine) Uncle Will took me to the Bronx Zoo, the Battery Aquarium, and to the .Newark Airport for my first airplane ride in a replica of Charles Lindbergh's "Spirit of Saint Louis." Uncle Will was okay.

But back to my observation about Cervantes's relevance to today. At one point he has a Catholic Canon lecture our man of La Mancha on his foolish excursions in knight errantry. He expresses his disdain of novels of chivalry and of popular stage plays which foster such notions. They are known to be nonsense, he contends, "without rhyme or reason, and despite this the mob hears them with pleasure and thinks of them and approves of them as good, when they are far from being so, and the authors who compose them and the actors who perform them say they must be like this because that is just how the mob wants them, and no other way."

Substitute "action movies" for "stage plays," and see the correlation between then and now.

I suspect that a book like Don Quixote is read only once in a lifetime. It's over nine hundred pages and requires slow reading to do it justice. I have long been an advocate of slow reading so it suits me. I see slowness in reading as a measure of absorption in the writing. I am also a slow talker. My daughters, who listened to my words of advice and counsel with varying degrees of absorption, referred to me as President of the Slow Talkers of America.

I have bought three paintings in my lifetime, had them for years; they hang on my bedroom walls. Each has strong rectangular elements. I became aware of this only recently as I began to recognize the influence of visual rectangular elements in my photography. As I wrote above, I've added a group of photos illustrating this in my Glimpse section. In the frontispiece, I discuss rectangular proportions, specifically aspect ratio (length/width), and the historical "golden rectangle" with a ratio of 1.62.

Because of what I perceive as rectangular disrespect, I seldom watch movies on TV. Only one channel, Turner Classic Movies, shows them in the rectangular frame in which they were shot. Most movies these days are shot at an aspect ratio of 1.72 or greater. Today's widescreen TVs have a ratio of 1.78. Yet, even HBO, which we pay extra money for, shows them all at the old time movie aspect ratio of 1.4! They do show their own movies, those created for HBO, as shot at 1.72. By chance this morning I briefly watched (on my old non-widescreen TV) an HBO showing of "Snow Falling on Cedars," highly acclaimed for its cinematography, in a 1.4 box, its sides clipped off. Awful!

THE LOVELY WORDS - the opening for "Killshot" by Elmore Leonard:

"The Blackbird told himself he was drinking too much because he lived in this hotel and the Silver Dollar was close by, right downstairs. Try to walk out the door past it. Try to come along Spadina Avenue, see that goddamn Silver Dollar sign, hundreds of light bulbs in your face, and not be drawn in there. Have a few drinks before coming up to this room with a ceiling that looked like a road map, all the cracks in it. Or was the people in the Silver Dollar talking about the Blue Jays all the time that made him drink too much. He didn't give a shit about the Blue Jays. He believed it was time to get away from here, leave Toronto and the Waverly Hotel for good and he wouldn't drink so much and be sick in the morning. Follow one of those cracks in the ceiling."

Someone observed that in Leonard's writing there is nothing there that doesn't need to be there. In this he is the antithesis of Cervantes. They are opposites but both are masters.

TRITE WORDS in currency:

"... at the end of the day..." (substitute: "finally")
"Having said this ..." (substitute: "but")
"...going forward..." (substitute: "next")

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