Cold Knocks

May 4th, 2020

I told him once that I'd always wanted to walk through a city like I owned it; no one on the street, no cars or noise or closed doors.
"I've done that," he said,
"It's easy when you're in a war zone."

The snow that day had no trace of warm tones in it. The sun was smuggling light and heat to and fro somewhere far above the clouds, which reflected the same uncaring blue and gray that were all the banks and blankets of snow had to offer. My legs were already hard and numbing under their thin nylon veil by the time I'd walked the three kilometers to the meeting place, an ugly intersection whose several bus and tram stops marked "The Hammer". I was fifteen minutes early, as was my habit. The time was usually spent preparing my mind for the meeting; sweep off complaints, tidy a few topics, put something interesting to rise in the oven. But there was no oven that day, and the rest of the work was thought through quickly, so I walked a while through the frozen paths that wound around The Hammer's blue-gray concrete apartment blocks.

The meeting time came and went without event. I paced the building's fronts now, eager for a sighting of him. "Any moment now," I told my legs, which insisted on taking more steps, no matter how small, so long as something in them kept moving. "We'll be off in just a moment," I told the rows of pigeons huddling together above the doorways. An hour passed, an absurdity made undeniable in ten minute increments by forlorn references to my phone (which neither rang). Though each minute taxed me, it delighted me all the same with the promise that it couldn't be much longer.

Another hour turned my hope to endurance. I ducked into the decrepit magazin on the corner and pushed myself slowly down each aisle, pretending to consider the junk on offer. It was all TO-CE-HD goods; to be torn open, contents enjoyed, husk discarded, like me. I didn't have what with to pay for any of it, not that I would've wanted it anyway --nor that I'd've been allowed to. I could feel the clerks staring down my suspicious perusal. I made elaborate scripts of finding some (nonexistent) text on my phone, rushing out to meet the sender, not finding them, and going back into the store. But this only worked, inasmuch as it did, a couple of times. Eventually the hostile atmosphere was worse than the biting cold outside.

I traced the snow-capped tramlines two blocks, always circling the focal intersection. My parabolas were punctuated in the landing alcoves of half-crumbled hruschebas, where I turned down several offers from old women sweeping the steps and wiping down the trash cans to let me into the buildings --for the view'd be too narrow, and I'd miss him, and it would only really be two or three degrees warmer in the stairwells anyway.

Finally, like the sun through the mountains, like a first kiss, I saw him, his familiar shell, the outline of a hat and coat, the brisk and even movement that's always identified him past any particulars of shape or size. Had the delay been my fault? It wasn't my fault, but some broken piece of equipment, which was now all settled, and being done, the first point of the agenda was to go to the lawyers'. Except my frozen legs and feet would not cooperate with his speed over the ice, unaccustomed as they were to the slick frost. I grew up on the beach, and to this day don't really know how to walk on snow and ice --especially at anything approaching a normal human pace. So I slipped. I slipped and slipped again, I slid around like an idiot only occasionally catching up with him to hear an admonition or three and then fall behind, panting and barely not wiping out on the sidewalk.

He had enough, and told me to lead him to the nearest cab station. Hadn't I mapped out and memorized the locations of all the (informal, unmarked, a quintessential Romanian strategic delight) cab stations? I hadn't. I had no idea. I had panic, and the complete abandonment of feet from reality --nothing useful. I had nothing useful to give.

He told me to walk to the north train station, another four kilometers or so across town. The rush of my remorse, huge and all-enveloping, was still not fast enough, and he was gone, turned on his heels, before I could say anything more than "okay" (not that anything more would've mattered, as I knew, as I know). I let myself fall into a slow and mournful gait in the right direction. The blue and gray world congealed with brown as I neared the city's center and the traffic sent mud mixing into everything. "He'll meet me there," I said to myself between bitter oaths against the local cabbies. Bitter oaths against myself. Wild but silent protestations against my intentions being so terribly, utterly divorced from what I actually did.

On the right street but still considerably off my target, my phone rang. "Where are you?" A clumsy report, insubstantial on the second pass and finally clear about my insufficiency on the third. "It's been half a fucking hour, how slow are you?!" I should have actually calculated it, but such obvious things weren't obvious to me then. What was obvious to me then was that I was sorry, which is what I said. "Walk to the cathedral downtown". "Which one?" No answer came back. I had heard a gentle music in the background over the call, and drifted into wondering if he was at home, that home that I had never been to, some set of walls that existed somewhere unknown in this city, a nirvana entirely closed off to me, secret and of course tantalizing. What color were its walls and were there plants? Which way would the windows face and how would the light fall in his room, did he have pajamas? I searched after useless, unknowable details, ignoring the very real ones in front of me. I lost my way.

The phone rang again, the adrenaline cutting through my daydream and dividing the warmth of fabricated reverie from my frigid path. I knew where I was; it wasn't right, and it wasn't far, but it wasn't enough. "Jesus Christ, so go to Badea Cartan, and hope you get there before nightfall." Was it almost nightfall? Almost. The crows were beginning their chorus of vespers; the traffic was peaking. Badea Cartan, the market, was far, and I wasn't at all sure I knew how to get there --not from where I was, anyway. Through the stiffness of cold I forced myself to map out how I'd get there from somewhere else, and how I'd get to that somewhere else from here, and how I could trim off excess streets, because by then, at least, I'd understood that if I didn't get to that market before the next phone call I was going to be walking the streets forever.

I tried to shut out the impending sense of doom and focus on walking faster as I moved through less familiar routes. The sky was turning pathetic shades of winter's sunset, and sent along a steady sheet of frozen sleet, soaking my hair and running down into the collar of my coat. The air thickened to stew, the world outside a meter's bubble incomprehensible. I had long since stopped being able to feel much of my legs, or my face, and my fingers hardly knew how to hit the right button when the phone rang a third time. "Well, so are you there?" "No!" was all I could muster, over and over again. The line was dead before I had them all out, before I offered up my fear of being well and truly lost, this time.

But I was only a block away; as I pressed on the market revealed itself through the slurred atmosphere. Really I had been across the street and some short paces away from that open-air sailboat of a building, whose peaks were now obscured in the storm. I wanted to call back but knew I couldn't. I wanted to claim victory, and I hung onto the tiny almost-fact of it as everything else in me slumped towards defeat. I sat down at the bus stop on the corner and took off my fingerless gloves, laying them on my face, trying to feel the softness of their wool against my cheek, and to hide the tears that I'd been fighting back for five hours.

It grew earnestly dark. The sleet crystalized, hardening everything that was wet, clawing deep into my bones, rattling my teeth. The odd car stopped at the intersection next to the bus stop, and people stared at me from inside their warm sedans. I stared back. I didn't want to be in their position, but I didn't want to be in mine --I wanted my living room heater, and a bath, and I wanted to be fast, and intelligent enough to never have to do this again. I wanted not to die at the bus stop by Badea Cartan. A drunk man in winter rags --which is not at all to demean them, they were far more adequate than mine-- approached me and told me I could be his, I was for him. I asked him to leave me alone and after a few circlings-back he did, disappeared to someplace better than my frozen stoop. I waited. And waited.

The phone rang. He asked me if I was going to get better. I said yes. I wasn't worried; I had no doubts. It was too cold. He told me to go home. "You don't have to go fast," he said. I raced back, completing the circle around the city, to my apartment, touching my gloves against the rusted railings of the traintrack overpasses, blessing the cold objects of the place with their promise of impending relief. "I'm going home." It was the sweetest mantra I could imagine, and after I desperately closed the front door behind me, I ran to my living room heater, and spent an hour pressing against it gratefully.

The next morning at six I was sent out to list, map, and memorize every cab station in the city....

The Froth of Our Days: September 13th, 2014

May 2nd, 2020

I pressed the top of the pen a few times just to hear it predictably click. "Next time you have to get the program started the moment I say we're doing something with it." Yes, sir. He might as well be saying "You should anticipate what I'm going to do at any given moment so as to have available any and every function I might require regardless of the cost or the degree to which it fucks you up elsewhere, though I'll still be just as angry if you fuck up elsewhere and apply this lecture to that happenstance instead." He might as well be saying "Fuck you."

I pushed the top of the pen in a few times just to hear it predictably click. A tiny series of victories at having anticipated something correctly. The pleasure of touching something that works was my almost silent rebellion against the tide of broken shit. It worked now, anyway, it would, until one day the ink would run out and the man would want it from me to sign something and he'd inklessly scratch paper. Then the look would come. The look that preceded a different kind of world full of shit. I could anticipate what would come after the look, but there wouldn't be any joy in it. Maybe he'd throw the pen at my head. I clicked a few more times and imagined the man shoving the future inkless pen into my chest. Maybe he'd pull it out and push it in again, maybe he'd fuck my heart a tiny series of holes and kick me in the stomach when I fell, spit in my face and leave me to die on the floor of the post office. Or the lobby at the lawyer's. Or by a bench at the park. The pigeons would move away a few inches but keep on pecking at the dirt. They'd look at me sideways, wary of a broken thing but hopeful I might have had a cracker in my pocket or something.

I made myself dress and went out to preemptively buy water and milk and coffee. It was more than was needed but the security of having it would feel nice, a few more things I wouldn't run out of for a few more days. I liked it outside, for the most part; despite feeling like I was out of my element (what would that be, concrete? I wondered), it was good to see the disinterested faces of uninteresting people, old edifices uncaring about the passage of time, shitty kiosks stuffed with shitty cheap things no one could possibly want but which stuffed the eyes and the mind with low-cost information. It was a world of tchotchkes, some living, some not, some somewhere in between, men going into or coming out of alcoholic stupor slumped up against the doors of theatres paneled with blown-up photographs of tits and ass.

Jabberwock Jaunt

April 30th, 2020

There are plenty of reasons why I'd rather spend the entire paranoia apocalypse in Costa Rica than just about anywhere else, and reasons one through three are about coffee. Nearly as importantly, though, is the fact that a couple hundred kilometers' drive --down a road that knows no rival in any category that matters1-- yields absolute relaxation. I don't know that any particular spot on the Southern Pacific coast is "better" than any other, nor do I think there's much point to the debate; there's too much beauty abounding, and why stick ourselves with the plight of Paris anyway. This particular escape-from-paradise-towards-interestingly-different-paradises settles itself in Dominical.

Where, happily, hospitality is humming along, no shoes no shirt no masks no alcohol in gel no problem. "I hear toucans. Do you have toucans here often?" "Yes, in the afternoon, every day you can see them." Sold. Well, and there are other factors, like a very pleasant, minimally chlorinated pool.

downsouth-1

In the Central Valley pools tend to veer on the brisk to shocking side, but on the coast, it's like dipping oneself into endless silk. Utterly perfect and nearly impossible to leave.

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This guy hung out poolside all day, allowing all manner of silly anthropomorphisms as he showed off various poses on the theme of laziness. Friends and enemies --who knows?-- came and went, climbed trees, went about their business in the basilisk recruitment depot I mean mangroves, chomped on yellow orchids...but our friend was committed to the path of most languidity, may he ever prosper (slowly, one toe at a time).

downsouth-3

Have you ever seen an iguana ear?

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Also attendant, wayward baby frogs! Nikki here briefly interrupted her regularly scheduled program of noodling to rescue a tiny guy who was swimming for his life in the deep end.

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All while King Jurassic MiniPok looked on.

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The leaf-cutter ants, perhaps overwhelmed by sheer choice, left emerald carpets wherever their trails marched on.

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And the momeraths outgrabe.

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It might as well indeed've been a Lewis Carrollian dream, giant candycorn fruits fallen from the peaks of plants where ruby-throated lizards rustled and crows impersonated the unpacking, shuffling, and dealing of cards.

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I still don't know what sort of tree this was, but these are its shiv-roots, fully aerated and housing who knows what ecosystems of scaly chimeras.

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But in case anything too terribly gnarly should emerge, there's a very nicely manicured safety zone. Also, for earthquakes.

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...Or Clint Eastwood Octopi.

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The Sealing Wax Palm2. It eats the previous night's sunset and releases it, partially digested, the next evening3.

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Probably the pool iguana's idea.

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"In here, life is beautiful."

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"The girls flowers are beautiful."

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"Even ze orchestra foliage is beautiful."

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Wild chili peppers peeping out from passionflower vines overhanging the reptile reserve. Every outing here has some moment where the fascination and splendor of nature makes one downright incredulous. "Oh, COME ON!" This was it, for me anyway.

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The coming-down passiflora.

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The wee snake dames' room.

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The serenity now.

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And, why not, let's end with an antique dulap, pentru cheful dulapului. I don't know if it's seen better days, but it's certainly seen a lot of them. Likely enough, other, older days offered up to the hysteria of "pandemic" --but not nearly as consumed by it. The cabinet goes on, and so will we, even if our contents are a little rearranged.

  1. The 34 sports: flanking palm groves, ridiculous mountain twists, sudden all-encompassing ocean vistas, scarlet macaw flyovers, multiple roadside fruit vendors, bridges over egretted estuaries, and probably the least amount of potholes as compared to any other road in CR. []
  2. Really its name. I only make shit up like 80% of the time. []
  3. See? []

Audience

April 3rd, 2020

I woke and thought of you, I slept and dreamt of you, you unfinished, silent fountain, glimmering oblivion in stolid repose.

audience-1

I walked along the catalogues,

audience-2

and peered at awful oddities, and rent myself in listless lots, in search of you.

audience-3

Would you believe, for being willing, I found your form in all?

audience-4

The black, the brilliant, broken ghosts, all beauty something you had bade me see.

audience-5

The hallowed halls I entered, the crumbling corridors I left, mere rooms inside your story's speechless lines.

audience-6

And in each crossroads of the endless land I gazed upon your pain.

audience-7

Your glory called to me behind my shoulder, around each corner, in the eyes of strangers, in the salt of my own will.

audience-8

But when I see you, as from nowhere, what is it that I see? Am I even truly seeing you?

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Or dread made manifest, are you a mirror trained upon the hollow of me?

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It never mattered to the ages. It will never matter hence.

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And so I seek to let it pass, and to deny the overburdened synapses, the singeing edge,

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Lifeless, locked in orbit round unasked questions and unraveled seams.

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Pictures taken at Naturhistorische Museum, Vienna, February 2020.

The Good Old Boys Best Spigot Friends Club

February 17th, 2020

spigot-club

GOBBSFC holds spontaneous meetings wherever good spigotry is found to prosper; previous symposia include whether it is better to snooze beneath the nightshade or defy the sandman with midnight cappucino, the importance (or not) of possessing a hat, and traditional ethnic stovetop dancing.

Apply within!

Manage what's important to you with rational tools when you join humanity. Or, fuck mozilla.

February 8th, 2020

I spun up my public toilet machine this morning and met with a rather infuriating ad. Suffer with me:

"A message from Firefox

Our brains are not meant to hold so many passwords. That's science. Manage your passwords with Lockwise when you join Firefox."

If only blockquote tags came with disinfectant. The problem is that if you let that which is evil pass by untouched for the sake of your own internal peace/sense of cleanliness, you risk giving it some measure of implicit support. There's a deal being made: I won't take your entrails out and parade them through the town so everyone knows how much they stink, and you won't attach to me. If that strikes you as bullshit, consider that Firefox presents alongside this ad a guide to making yourself part of this deal: you can "dismiss" the particular message you "don't like" by hovering the mouse on the message's far right, where you'll get a magic "x" that keeps the message hidden. I'm okay, you're okay, right?

There are two main branches of evil in this ad: the first, that every statement made therein is outright false. The second, that it attempts to mould humans to their tools, rather than moulding tools to work for humans. Aside from these, its pretense to authority is offensive as all get-out, and the obvious ploy1 to own what are supposed to be your passwords along with owning your very understanding of what passwords even are is a paragon of the malice most people are used to choking down for breakfast by now. It's galling that these would be asides, and that there's something yet more contemptible to drag under the lamps, but we don't get to choose what's broken; all we have is what we do with it.

"Our brains are not meant to hold so many passwords," the ad begins, attempting at the very start to ingratiate its makers with you. Our brains, you see, we're all human, trust us and we'll forgive you for that time you couldn't get into your email inbox. Nevermind you've no idea who we are and we've no way to meaningfully tell you, either2. In derpspeak, "Lockwise" is an appendage of Mozilla, that group of possibly once-interesting consensus-seekers famous for runaway versioning and lately harping incomprehensibly about "a healthy internet" --that is, apparently, one in which they own the gates and maybe let you hang out if you promise to be polite.

Once past the first few words, a new problem arises: not meant? By whom, god? Guy Lombardo? How could a brain be meant to do or not do something, outside of the context of its being authored or otherwise owned? I guess if Firefox owns your brain, they don't mean for you to have to memorize a lot of passwords. Are you ready to join yet? And now, these out of the way3, we can actually proceed to the broad statement. There's no reason why the average human brain shouldn't be able to recall an appropriate number of sane passwords, provided they're properly committed to memory. Miller's 1956 experiments with working memory, which speak to strings retrieved during sub-minute time periods from their establishment, suggest an average register of seven plus or minus two bits. That's not great in terms of handling multiple arbitrary alphanumeric strings in the low double-digits --or even strings of words, if you swing that way. But that's working memory, you're supposed to use it to carry over a digit or hold a basic conversation, not to perform vault operations (unless you're particularly talented or stuck dealing with unusual scenarios)4.

Long-term memory holds quite a lot more --but importantly, how much more isn't at all clear. Like so many aspects of the human brain, understanding of the capacity for long-term memory still eludes us, which sure, makes it a jerkoff move to suggest you memorize truly endless lists. This works both ways, however; it also makes it a jerkoff move to suggest you can't (or worse, "aren't meant to") memorize a handful or three. The Atkinson-Shiffrin model proposes three distinct stages of long-term memory, even. Other ideas, such as Tulving's, organize memories by their subject rather than their retention time. What's correct? And what's your limit? Nobody knows, but you sure as hell remember more than nine things from more than a few minutes ago.

The real problem at hand is that one's memory craves some reason to remember a given string. You need cause to get something transferred from your short-term, working memory to your long-term memory, or to move information between the procedural and the declarative. Whatever's going on in there, the information's got to be important, and not "because it's a password", but because it's a password for something of personal or objective value. Of course it's nigh on impossible to recall thirty and risin' distinct strings that grant access to things one doesn't care about, even if your personal brand of "because I said so" is especially strong. And of course every tool and service under the electric sun requires setting up an account for no ostensible reason. No ostensible reason, except to make you create and remember yet another password. Perhaps you'd like to store it somewhere? It's so easy.

The identity-less and yet avowedly-authoritative voice then joins in on the general rape of science that's been befouling the land lo these many years. In fact, making a statement without recourse to its proof, discussion, or even its underlying hypothesis is the exact opposite of science. And hiding behind this sort of shit is wilfull mendacity.

As for the third sentence in this travesty, managing does not consist of storage. Perhaps said storage comes with a few options. That's configuration, which I guess Firefox has judged is too large a word for the likes of you. One must know something to manage it. Perhaps not down to the finest detail, but management certainly cannot ever be the purposeful neglect to know the thing being managed. Now, these passwords are qualified; the sentence proposes they're "yours". Naturally, once you've divulged a password to another party, it is no longer yours in the singular sense, but in the plural. The correct statement would be "Store and fiddle with settings on our passwords...". Doesn't sound as good? I agree, but "make it zippy" shouldn't snap to the grid of "lie through your teeth".

A tool is something an agent uses to complete a task. It has no power outside the agent's hand, and is made to suit the needs of the given task according to the agent's specific requirements. A tool is not a sort of totem of worship where agents gather to marvel at its greatness and modify both their tasks and their behaviors to fit the specific requirements of the tool. If you're having trouble remembering your passwords, try turning down the constant demand for account creation volleyed at you from every which way, instead of spending your agency on products and services that have no business being paid in such precious currency.

  1. It is obvious, but then I so often run into people who imagine they're "savvy" as professedly proven by I don't know, that they trade bitcoin, or know java, or went to school, and yet they have no qualms about keeping their passwords stored with some third party. They simply don't consider that handing it over is handing it over, somehow, and moreover they don't seem to want to. It's the herd animal outlook at work, as ever: people have a strong drive to believe that computers are basically a sort of person, just, with the personal interest turned off. Somehow the notion that it's not "the computer" but that shifty fucker Bob down the cul-de-sac who wrote the program and that frigid bitch Sheila who accesses the database whenever she feels like it manages it never makes it to the surface. []
  2. Actually I realized mid-sentence that Mozilla has a signing key, so went to fetch --wherein I found the announcement last year, by one "Chris Atlee", that said signing key was expiring and so "we're" going to switch to a new key. It...wasn't signed. []
  3. Can you believe how much irrational, conniving flotsam has to be cleared before we can even attempt the whole sentence? This thing is a wonder, that fits so many lies and placations into ten words. []
  4. The problem with your valuables being within easy access to others is that you'll then have to rely on your real-time observations and your short-term, working memory to keep them safe --it's not that they're likely to be stolen or tampered with for the mere fact of greater exposure. Yes, it's more likely, but in most circumstances, that doesn't actually push anything enough for you to see it manifest. You simply have to be more alert and better able to react for the same degree of safety. []

The Basilikon Doron, or "Royal Gift", a Constitutional

February 1st, 2020

The Basilikon Doron was written in 1599 by James VI and I1 as a set of instructions for his eldest son Henry, the heir apparent, who was but five years old at the time. The King had seven copies printed and distributed these among trusted members of his court, considering the book his metaphorical will and testament to his heir, as well as the canonical reference point to be used for nearly any question naturally passing from a son struggling with the heavy burden of sovereignty to his experienced father. James advises his son in an epistle dedicatory to regard the book as a treasure and not to lose or forget it, as though it were a stand-in parent of sorts: "Receiue and welcome this Booke then, as a faithfull Praeceptour and counsellour vnto you: which, because my affaires will not permit mee euer to bee present with you, I ordaine to bee a resident faithfull admonisher of you."

That James wouldn't be entirely accessible to his son (either while ruling or, of course, in the grave) is fine enough a reason for such a text, as is the plain fact that information of import fares a great deal better in writing than in speech --especially as complexity and length grow2. But a possibly unforeseen cause for this very worthy work is the guidance of people in general, both in its contemporary context and for later ages. I say possibly unforeseen because four years after the original septuple-print, the Basilikon Doron was republished and widely sold, though whether this was due to one of the safekeepers leaking the text or the monarch's own decision to make the work public is unclear. Making things muddier is James' second epistle dedicatory, "To The Reader", which awkwardly apologizes for and attempts to justify any unfriendly political or religious slants perceived by his subjects with the excuse that after all, the text was only meant for his son, as a ruler. If James never intended the work to reach beyond a few select sets of eyes, however, why speak to the public at all, much less condescend to reason with it? And yet still, perhaps it was merely the king's good nature and earnest desire to be ascertainable that drove the dedicatory.

In any case, what's left to us, either deliberately or by happy accident, is a piece of real education the likes of which has just about been wiped out of human activity; a pearl of that process of the passing of the torch from one generation to the next, these days feebly and inadequately performed more often by television and happenstance than conscious parenting. James' instructions exhibit the sound structuring of real and honest thought, the scaffolding of primary sources indicative of thorough, fluent scholarship, and even the gentle consideration of the reader's human frailties that belies a genuine fatherly love. What greater thing could a young ruler want than a compendium of answers to his nagging midnight questions as to what he should do, neatly compiled and with a bibliography, even, produced by a fine predecessor? "What do you get for the kid who's got everything," right? This. This book. You cannot gift someone experience, or wisdom, or fortitude, or humility, indeed, but you can meaningfully describe them; you can reason through great nets of choices, you can point out what you've seen work and what you've seen fail, you can recite the best ideas, and if done well, you can produce a thing of lasting value.

For the value of the Basilikon Doron does last, and we need not be kings to appreciate it. There is, as ought to be expected, some measure of the publish date's context that sticks out from the sense like straightpins in a shirt: the forced fusion of scholarship with religion steals some portion of our show, as does a smattering of specificities now irrelevant through fashion, from jousting to codpieces. But neither time nor station block James' advice from relevancy. The text is essentially a primer on how to study, how to reason, how to choose one's friends, and how to conduct in public and in private in the interest of being a competent human (which I suppose could make a useful definition of a king, for our purposes, if the alternatives are "contentedly ignorant farmer", "drunken minstrell", "tunnelvisioned computer fungineer" etc). James gave his son a splendid gift, and gave us perhaps an even greater one, for if we've the leisure and consideration to understand and apply guidance meant for rulers, have we not trod in some part on the hard-worked backs of those who came before us to reach our lofty hammocks?

This text offers more, however, than merely being taken straight, though there's sufficient tonnage of such to warrant its reading. In tandem with Samuel Pepys' diary, which itself spurned my initial interest in the Basilikon Doron, I am satisfied the work is a true organizational trunk of study in the following domains: European (as well as specifically British) History (and therein the Restoration and Reformation), Monarchy, and English and French as well as Classical Literature3. A major problem of (predominantly Western, I think, though I've nothing other than suspicion to suggest things are better anywhere else) intellectual life these days is the tendency to teach by niche interest, declining to convey either the existence or utility of properly-constructed trees. Topics are presented without context, without relation to their predecessors or issue, and so everything is "new"; a shrub in a sad and dusty scrubland, instead of a fresh branch on one of the many well-known trees in a flourishing and ancient forest. Occasionally one finds a text, however, that by its references provides the bigger picture --not important just for being bigger, but for being comprehensive and correctly done. If you follow the links, as it were, of Pepys and Stuart4, you will plant and well-populate your knowledge of the mentioned domains. There are few things more satisfying than researching some unknown aspect of a work and finding discussion of the very reference and source in question, owing to the strength of the relationships5.

The cause of due interest and enthusiasm well-established, then, I hope, let's examine what follows those dedicatories after all. The Basilikon Doron is "devided", as it announces in its title page, into three parts: the first part, "Of a King's Christian Dvetie Towards God"; the second, "Of a King's Dvetie in His Office"; and the third, "Of a King's Behavior in Indifferent Things".

I. The First Booke

The marriage of church and state of the period makes the first book's thick reliance on the bible unsurprising; Henry was being trained to function not only as a political leader, but as a religious one as well, and as such he would've been expected to exhibit cultivated, authoritative belief in god. Constant catfights of varying size and effect in Western Europe between Catholics, Protestants, and Puritans at the time made the role especially fraught, but James refrains from making much sectarian pronouncement, for the most part. Rather, and certainly for our purposes, the bible's role in the Basilikon Doron is as a definitive text with which to work towards useful scholarship, and as a general moral compass. The king's first and oft-repeated counsel is to exercise humility, even in the knowledge of greater-than-average capability, for this only means the capable are obliged to work that much better and harder:

"A moate in anothers eye, is a beame into yours: a blemish in another, is a leprouse byle into you: and a veniall sinne (as the Papifts call it) in another, is a great crime into you. Thinke not therefore, that the highnesse of your dignitie, diminisheth your faults (much lesse giueth you a licence to sinne) but by the contrary your fault shall be aggrauated, according to the height of your dignitie; any sinne that ye commit, not being a single sinne procuring but the fall of one; but being an exemplare sinne, and therefore drawing with it the whole multitude to be guiltie of the same."

In order to arrive at the correct course of action, then, James proposes two necessary components: firstly, to study, and secondly, to humbly "pray for the right understanding". This easily transmutes to "think about it" with the god blinders removed --for the prayer herein suggested is little else than the consideration of one's own fallibility and patterns of wrongness covered by Dunning-Krueger. In the same vein, the king points out that a thinking person fits their head to reality, rather than attempting to fit reality to their own head:

"But aboue all, beware ye wrest not the word to your owne appetite, as ouer many doe, making it like a bell to sound as ye please to interprete: but by the contrary, frame all your affections, to follow precisely the rule there set downe."

Scripture itself is summarized as two imperatives: there is a command to do and a prohibition against the contrary. The king is careful to remind his son that one without the other is useless; doing the right thing doesn't make right that which isn't, nor vice-versa. These points are just about mundane enough, I'd say, to be overlooked and forgotten by the majority of folks otherwise professing to want to study and do good work. As for an example of one who follows both dictums, James proposes himself. Did your father ever tell you to approach such broad horizons exactly as he had? I grant it's possible, but the certainty of the plain statement is marvelous, especially if we take the "never meant to be publicly published" view of the text.

What follows is an ordered and well-explained charting of the bible6. This tree happens to be neither balanced nor binary, but it exemplifies the sorts of constructions featured in the text: simple, succinct, and informative enough to serve as a launching pad. There's also a legend of sorts for using it (and clues for moving outside the scope of the given tree). Check out Ask Jeeves James:

"Would ye then know your sinne by the Lawe ? reade the bookes of Moses con- taining it. Would ye haue a commentarie thereupon ? Reade the Prophets, and likewise the bookes of the Prouerbes and Ecclesiastes...Would yee know the doctrine, life, and death of our Sauiour Christ ? reade the Euangelists. Would ye bee more particularly trained vp in his Schoole ? meditate vpon the Epistles of the Apostles."

Not just what, but also how to read is covered. A simple rule, self-evident and yet so unspoken, undershared, glossed over, and self-esteemed away that the man would doubtless be branded a child pornographer were he writing today: enjoy what's easily comprehensible, but pay special attention to the parts you don't understand! Assume problems of meaning originate in your own head! Of course, we'll have to temper these maxims with the sad reflection of our current circumstances, in which we cannot rely on the basic fact of a thing's being published as evidence of any sort of soundness, correctitude, or authority. Quite the contrary, actually; whereas a book, and especially an old one, had meaning in itself in centuries past, by now a book (and for definitions of "old" that go back less than forty or fifty years) by its nature is suspect. James distinguished, at least, between works "that may best serue for your instruction in your calling" and "foolish curiosities vpon geneaologies and contentions, which are but vaine, and profite not". Even with a much smaller pool of published material to work with, the prince wouldn't be able to read everything; one's stuck having to choose, and hopefully the harder choices are indeed rooted in subject and scope, rather than sanity and trustworthiness. Nevertheless, if and once the problem of literary identification is settled, the importance of insisting on comprehension of the confusing and attributing error first to oneself can't really be understated.

Tailing study, James' conception of thought in the form of prayer is described as "nothing else, but a friendly talking with God". Evidently some people move through life without the anatomical development (or environmentally-supported enlightenment) required for recognizing that thought does not involve an external third party; they're stuck living in a bicameral mind. It'd make sense, then, to consider the process of thinking about what you've read as a "friendly talking with God". It'd more readily be called talking with your own conscience, but either the royal brain structure hadn't quite fully evolved or else the argument for thought as part of study was cloaked in nonsense by wilful stupidity (or political expediency). Such considerations aside, James counsels to praythink when quietest, and always before bed as a daily check-in of sorts. He warns against supplanting honest and frank reflection with formalities ("bee neither ouer strange with God, like the ignorant common sort, that prayeth nothing but out of bookes"), and also against lazily approaching the process without due consideration and respect ("nor yet ouer homely with him, like some of the vaine Pharisaicall puritanes, that thinke they rule him vpon their fingers").

If you achieve what you're after through study and thought, suggests James, it's upon you to be thankful; if you don't achieve it, you must be patient and work harder or better for it. If even so it doesn't work out the prince's commanded to let it go. It'd seem the turn-of-the-Seventeenth-century "it's not for you" is articulated thusly: "that which yee aske is not for your weale". In tandem with the best practices of greeting success and failure in stride, James advises his son to keep his conscience clear, "which many prattle of, but ouer few feele", with the admirably logical reasoning that while he's alive and at leisure, the prince may address any blemishes therein, but he shouldn't want to see his list of deeds ugly on his deathbed.

The call to keep the conscience clear isn't a vague prosaicism here; James identifies two typical diseases, in fact, that he sees as infecting conscience. The first, "leaprosie", he describes as atheism, though on further reading this resolves to a plain "senselessness of sinne" and careless security. Trusting without verifying, in a word, that happy waking ignorance of self and surroundings that keeps most people practically asleep even when their eyes are open. So long as we're dealing with flesh-eating afflictions in the abstract sense, the prevention's the same as the cure, and here it's described as regular, systematic review. James says to take the time every single day to review all the last day's actions7 and to look for problems both in doing what shouldn't have been done and in omitting what should've been done. Search for these problems, he advises, search for their solutions, do it thoroughly and regularly, and especially do not let yourself off the hook for recurrent problems. These seemingly minor maxims made extraordinary by modern neglect are then crowned by James (by way of Horace) with stoic splendour8: "Remember therefore in all your actions, of the great account that yee are one day to make: in all the dayes of your life, euer learning to die, and liuing euery day as it were you last; Omnem crede diem tibi diluxisse supremum 9."

The second disease of the conscience is superstition, "when one restraines himselfe to any other rule in the seruice of God, then is warranted by the word". Further described as the source of heresy, this ailment speaks to the inutility and potential harm of investing authority in the wrong places. "Yee must neither lay the safetie of your conscience vpon the credit of your owne conceits, nor yet of other mens humors". Instead, James says, that safety must be based on knowledge, identified for his purposes as Scripture, but easily understood as primary source material (like, say, the very text in question). The king offers anabaptists and papists, respectively, as exemplars of trusting too much in one's own authority, or the authority of annointed men, which maps rather neatly, I think, to menalone and pantsuits. History does not merely repeat, it metastasizes; for what else are these atrocities of our age but the same imbalances, split, stretched, and translated over the centuries and social preoccupations?

In concluding the first of the Basilikon Doron's three books, James rests with a few concentrated thrusts: do what is right, not what is fashionable, and do good work because it is good, not as a chip in a bargain, to get something out of it.

II. The Second Booke

Themes of personal responsibility, thoroughness, and good sense follow the first book into the second, where James describes approaches to carrying out the duties of majesty. These duties principally consist of establishing and executing the law, and Henry is expected to lead by example in both pursuits, as people cannot help but mimic their masters monkey-style. Just so, Henry should follow the example of good kings, and know the bad examples of tyrants, and for distinguishing the characteristics and practices of these, James leans heavily on classical authors, arguing from Aristotle and Plato that governments should fear their people, not people their governments; from Xenophon that a good king's greatest honor is to invest his capabilities into facilitation of the welfare of his people; from Cicero that the good king's private interests are accessory to the interests of his subjects, which are to come first, and so forth10.

James argues a while for small government, beseeching his son to hold parliaments only when necessary for the establishment of new laws, because "few Lawes and well put in execution are best in a well-ruled common weale." He advises Henry to be especially careful, when coming to power, to administer and execute laws thoroughly and regularly, as tyrants operate by initial displays of (what people would perceive as) saintliness, pardoning with a large brush and turning a blind eye to concrete wrongs. Beware the Quinquennium Neronis11, James says; as Henry would ascend the throne(s) by hereditary right rather than in precario, without proper title, so there would be no need to placate the people with overindulgence of crime. The king insists on strict justice during his son's initial reign in part because of his own difficulties when coming to power:

But in this, my ouer-deare bought experience may serue you for a sufficient lesson: For I confesse, where I thought (by being gracious at the beginning) to win all mens hearts to a louing and willing obedience, I by the contrary found, the disorder of the countrie, and the losse of my thankes to be all my reward.

It's true, you know. Leadership that consists of flattening power structures by its very definition is not leadership, and the nonsense is palpable to even the lowliest peon. Once the prince has thoroughly demonstrated his ability and will to tightly uphold the law, he may then "mixe Iustice with Mercie", considering such elements as past offenses in his judgements.

Some crimes, however, are unconditionally unforgivable, in James' mind. The list of these is fairly interesting in itself as a window to the culture and mores of the time and place. What were the platforms, the plea agreements, the mulas of the time? Witchcraft, wilful murder12, incest ("especially within the degrees of consanguinitie")13, sodomy, poisoning, and false coin14. James admits he'd also like to put slander against the royal family on the list too, but he acknowledges his own bias. In administering justice for these and lighter crimes, James says, "care for the pleasure of none, neither spare ye anie paines in your owne person, to see their wrongs redressed". Oh brave old world, that has such simple and straightforward notions of justice in it.

James is well aware that people can't well be ruled, judged, nor even much considered without an understanding of their faults and tendencies. He just about writes off the Highlanders (and especially the Highlander islanders) as barbarians not worth attempting to comprehend. As for his other subjects, James describes their vices by estate, in the tripartite sense of the Ancien Regime, in a lengthy passage that reads something like an airing of greivances, though a potentially useful one15: the clergy are prone to avarice, pride, ambition, and imagined democracy, wherein they fancy themselves public tribunes, "leading the people by the nose, to beare the sway of all the rule". These vices, he warns, are liable to make the Scottish clergy, or at least its more agitated elements (particularly the puritans), overcritical of Henry, as they were of James himself. To fight against this, James counsels the preferential promotion of clergymen who know their place, hopefully culminating in the restoration of the first estate to the Scottish parliament, which James says he hopes to at least initiate during his reign16.

Of the nobility comprising the second estate, James says their principal vice is "a fectlesse arrogant conceit of their greatness and power", and as evidence by way of fallout he points to the abundant feuds endemic to this group. He advises the holding of the nobility to the very letter of the law, especially those whom the prince loves best. Indeed the partial treatment of the personally favored is a main node of conflict --but how often do those responsible acknowledge this? Aside from being intolerant of feuds and exercising fairness, James suggests cracking down on guns to ease the ills of the second estate. There's cause to believe the man truly detested them, in fact, as he refers to them as "Gunnes and traiterous Pistolets" here and mightily disdains their use in hunting (one of his favorite activities) while describing proper kingly leisure later on.

As for the third estate, the burghers, James divides the group into merchants and craftsmen, both of which he finds guilty of holding too much esteem in their self-perceived quality and worthiness of profit. Their prices are too damned high, and at the wrong times, and for the wrong reasons! The merchants "transport from vs things necessarie; bringing backe sometimes vnnecessary things, and at other times nothing at all...", and the craftsmen "thinke, we should be content with their worke, how bad and deare soeuer it be, and if they in any thing be controlled, vp goeth the blew-blanket"17. What's worse, the merchants are the hole through which the night of "false coine" comes in. The remedy for each is the same: insist on internationally competitive prices for goods, and invite foreign merchants and craftsmen to participate in the market. No other subject but that of puritans and papists gets the king quite so riled up as the third estate's habits, and yet his advice is sound. It's certainly more sensible than many responses to successful market participants both before and after the time.

Once the people's problems are out of the way, James can get to instructing his son about handling the people themselves. Well, mostly. There are still problems. Commoners left to their own devices are wont to talk a lot of trash about their government, even if it's a just one. As such, James advises the holding of holidays and spectacles within reason, and insists upon visiting the principal parts of Scotland once a year to stay in touch with and in sight of the masses. If Henry acquires other crowns, James bids him visit these once every three years, and to set up councils of men from these very countries in their own lands, judging "principal matters" himself when visiting.

The prince is further reminded that subjects won't only need protection against each other, but from foreign powers as well, "And therefore warres vpon iust quarrels are lawful: but aboue all, let not the wrong cause be on your side". In relation with other princes, of paramount importance is to stand by all of one's promises, to be "plaine and trewthfull" in diplomacy, and to treat all treason and rebellion against them as though it were against oneself. Wouldn't you like to be this man's friend? I would.

Warcraft is explicitly stated as laying outside the scope of this work, moreover, James acknowledges the ample material already published in the field18. Besides, war is better learned by direct experience than study, he says (and indeed, if being led into battle you'd likely rather follow he who knows because he's bled for it than he who "knows" because he's read others' accounts and prescriptions for the bleeding). Armed not with a strategy manual, then, but lines ready to embolden a future king's heart with courage, he says: "Let first the iustnesse of your cause be your greatest strength; and then omitte not to vse all lawfull meanes for backing of the same." Henry is to remember that money is Neuus belli; the muscle of war. He's also held to consider that irredeemable mistakes can be made in war, which makes the enforcement of discipline and order a top priority.

The duty of the king within his own court is introduced by way of another division between thought and action. To rule well, Henry must have some way to mean what he says, and to do it, "for it is not ynough that ye haue and retaine (as prisoners) within your selfe neuer so many good qualities and vertues, except ye employ them." As for doing, he'll have to construct his court, a task rife with opportunities for seemingly small blunders that compound over time. James describes the ideal: in the first place, he'll need young lords to grow with. There's no better method of choosing the young, he says, than simply picking those of the right age, whose families are rather known for virtuousness. These must then be balanced with older, experienced men capable of advising. In either case, legacy is important, and those members of the Jacobean court with further years of service or promising offspring to offer should be duly considered. This is the only type of favor permitted; otherwise, through the abuse of gifts or calculated deals, Henry is likely to run into the same problems his father had in his minority, when the court was arranged by bribe and brown-nosing to no great benefit. James explains, in this particularly lengthy section, that his minority court required continuous shuffling to accommodate his father's tangle of deals, and he was left with men whose goal was to ingratiate themselves with the most favored court members, rather than than to serve the king. Though it's not altogether clear how he would've done things differently, as a child, the stress on these points shows the guyman19 thought that a well-chosen court assembled from the start is crucial.

Servants for offices of the crown and estate must be chosen with extra care; while other appointments largely affect the daily cheer or gloom of the private court, these have direct and significant impact on the whole of his people, so bad choices mean misery even outside closed castle doors. James labors to entirely rip out anything like partiality to schmoozers in his son:

"Choose then for all these Offices, men of knowen wisedome, honestie, and good conscience; well practised in the points of the craft, that yee ordaine them for, and free of all factions and partiali- ties; but specially free of that filthie vice of Flatterie, the pest of all Princes, and wracke of Republicks"

...wherein the prince is sure to be caught, as though his hand were in the cookie-jar, at some point during his rule, righteously tsked by a father well-acquainted with the youthful designs of self-indulgence. The choice of clerks and other money-receivers is expected to be tricky too, primarily because these men must be transparent, and happily so. James advises impromptu, personal review of these positions, to keep them honest, and avoid "mis-thriuing in money matters". In each of these offices integral to the functioning of the realm, a native of the land is preferable over any foreigner, the latter of which, he says, is sure to "stirre vp sedition". In any case Henry's court members should "know no father but you, nor particular but yours". And as Henry is to expect frankness, honesty, and loyalty from his court, he is expected to treat them justly. If people payed a tenth as much attention to the friends they made or the employees they hired as James advises, there'd be far more functional relationships, and far fewer buckets filled with crabs.

Of all those comprising Henry's future courtly company, the king promises his wife will be the "principall blessing". And "because I know not but God may call me, before ye be readie for Mariage; I will shortly set downe to you heere my aduice therein", James says20. The well-informed choice of a bride is paramount, as the union will prove either "the greatest earthly felicitie or misery", and the prince should endeavor to "prepare himself" by keeping his body clean21, because it belongs to his future wife, and besides, Henry has a duty to populate posterity with legitimate sons. That preparation must also include careful study of potential matches to ascertain their ability to serve "the three causes [wherefore Mariage was first ordeined by God]": the "staying of lust", the "procreation of children", and "that man should by his Wife, get a helper like himselfe"22. She should possess beauty, riches, and advantageous friendships by alliance; James calls these "the three accessories", blessings which if abused will become curses. To bolster and make good use of these, then, these Henry must look for strong traits of fecundity, wisdom, and honesty. Once she's been chosen, his wife should be strictly limited to the economic affairs of the house, having no involvement in governmental administration, her attendants and other company must be chosen for their chastity, and at no point is Henry to be angry at the same time as his wife, lest they create a positive feedback loop. If Henry has children, James advises him not to coddle them; to love them, but to show it "as the gentlenesse of their nature will deserue". As feuds are certain otherwise, Henry is also advised to keep the principles of primogeniture intact. Have you selected your chosen family because they're nice to you? And are you nice to the family you're stuck with because you're supposed to be? Did you ever consider that these are strategic choices, and treating them otherwise merely employs the "strategy" of ignorance, spelling, alllmost-guaranteedly, your doom?

In all relationships, the king is to set the example.

"And as your company should be a paterne to the rest of the people, so should your person be a lampe and mirrour to your company: giuing light to your seruants to walke in the path of vertue, and representing vnto them such worthie qualities, as they should preasse to imitate."

Of these worthy qualities temperance takes James' spotlight. It is by being moderate and balanced that Henry will thrive and encourage the realm to do the same. Though justice was discussed in the first book in terms of its desired treatment during the prince's establishment, it gets a more thorough examination in this second book where temperance in office is covered. A straightforward warning against the rot sinking the United States' "justice system"23 is offered:

Lawes are ordained as rules of vertuous and sociall liuing, and not to bee snares to trap your good subjects: and therefore the lawe must be interpreted according to the meaning, and not to the literall sense thereof".

This, this they call Early Modern. Instead of the much more apt Just Before Things Fell Off a Cliff. Tell me, did this come out of the most rockin' time, The Golden Age of Derpland? People regularly died of Typhoid Fever, you know. Or was this guy so ahead of his time we've had to go backwards before we can even approach the correct direction towards his dictum's rightful setting? Oh, it's an ancient idea, by no means his, he just read some books and had the really unfair advantage that they burned and tore easily and missed pages and who knows what language you're going to get even and "looking something up" likely involves a long hike or a complicated gift exchange and it's not like he had to spend sixteen hours a day to choose between talking into the clown mouth at the drive-thru or else thumb through lolcat pics waiting for the delivery pizza and...? Yes, the Basilikon Doron contains simple, old ideas. The fact that humanity has lost them twice now means you'd better treat them with the reverence of novelty, and continue "discovering" them at regular intervals.

Speaking of study, James reiterates that it ought to be undertaken not for the mere sake of knowledge, but for the ability to use one's office well. Akin to noticing only what you've done that you shouldn't've without reflecting on what you haven't done that you should've, and choosing a rich wife who isn't also wise, there are indeed a lot of half-measures available to the well-meaning, and James evidently seeks these out to quash them with extreme prejudice. Serving in the office of a king necessarily means attending parliament, and as much as James hints at its being a nuissance, he counsels fighting against the feeling: "delite to haunt your Session", he says, and observe carefully, remembering that the job of the king therein is to do justice and nothing else. To do justice well, Henry must "learn to discerne betwixt Iustice and equitie"; James draws upon the account of a young Cyrus the Great24 to illustrate this point also meanwhile very well lost on the masses. Ancient people25 learned these lessons as children, you realize. We're stuck with adults who still don't understand what happened there.

Clearly, reading's required for ruling well. James entreats his son to also be familiar with the histories of all nations, and especially the histories of his own. He's careful to exclude the "infamous inuectiues" of Buchanan (an historian particularly unfriendly to the House of Stuart) and Knox (a Scottish Reformation leader instrumental in the eventual execution of James' Catholic mother, Mary, Queen of Scots). For explicit recommendation, James gives the Commentaries of (Julius) Caesar, which he says are as good for the pleasantness of the prose as for the relevance of the subject matter; he furthermore chooses Caesar as the "farthest excelled" emperor.

Henry is expected to become proficient in liberal arts besides history too, though he's warned against pressing himself to mastery in these, as it's bound to distract him from the duties of his office. He wouldn't want to be interrupted like Archimedes, says James, by the enemy's victory over the town26, while buried in his work. Nevertheless, Henry must make at least "an entry" into mathematics, because it is instrumental in waging war. Henry won't be able to design camps, lead battles, construct fortifications, place batteries, and so on without it. I wonder when last it happened that a mentor told their protege, when inevitably asked why they'd need to know math "in real life", that it was necessary for wasting their enemies.

The second book is tied together with the extolling of constancy, liberality, and wisdom, with a few practical applications described with the brevity and haste of a man attempting to keep his advice from breaking any dams. Henry is advised to honor his parents and teachers, and is expressly forbidden to war against his mother, a common thing among young princes left to handle a power vacuum once the king their father has died; nevertheless, he says, if the son wishes to earn his father's blessing, he should earn his mother's in the king's absence. The prince must learn to feel the sting of life's unpleasantries, but never to let such feeling cloud his judgement or impede his action. He must cultivate the wisdom to discern truth from falsity by considering the messenger, asking whom the message may serve, and accurately identifying its likelihood --pursuits necessary for the sound fulfillment of just about any office superceding that of a grunt. Thus armed against the challenges of his work, Henry can move on to those he'd encounter in, for the most part, his private life.

III. The Third Booke.

Be carefull then, my Sonne, so to frame all your indifferent actions and outward behauiour, as they may serue for the furtherance and forth-setting of your inward vertuous disposition.

The minutious scrutinization of kings would mean all manner of innocuous comments and mannerisms get magnified and interpreted, potentially even swaying public opinion or, more's the point, influencing the behavior of the people themselves. This obnoxious if unavoidable fact of accessible leadership stretches even into "indifferent actions", James notes, but what exactly are those? The king has made a neat division: indifferent actions are either necessary or unnecessary (though convenient and lawful). The necessary class includes the daily inescapable: eating, sleeping, clothing27, speaking, writing28, and gesture. The convenient and lawful, but not necessary: pastimes, exercises, and the "using of company for recreation"29.

The mores and norms of the royal table are foremost on this list for the reason that they reach a larger amount and a wider variety of people than any other. Eating in groups is to be embraced. One of the marks of tyranny, says James, is the tendency to prefer eating alone, not to mention its suggestion that the diner seeks solitude for the sake of greedily overindulging in a manner that would bring him shame were there an audience. James is fairly ascetic in his advice regarding food itself; sauces, he says, are more like medicine than food30. The king warns against gluttony, recalling the aspersions cast on the ancient Athenian Philoxenus31. Business, the king notes, should never be conducted at the table, and "pleasant, quicke, but honest discourses" are preferred. It's by now quite a common complaint that people spend more time eating alone, or at the table but not talking, or merely gossiping and making each other hate the holiday meals that serve as the last remnants of communal feasting.

Correct conduct in the bedchamber likely doesn't strike quite so many modern nerves, though I'm sure it's still contrary to the daily experience of many. It revolves around learning to fit sleep and fatigue to one's affairs, not fitting one's affairs to the cycles of sleep. James notes that such discipline is especially needed in times of war. He dismisses the supposed importance and meaning of dreams, advising against the attempt to interpret them. The need for trustworthy and discreet attendants in the bedchamber is revisited; Henry must insist that those who wash and dress him are "without blemish". And in dressing, James prescribes a bevy of rules mostly consisting of what not to do, in a strange departure from his usual care to enumerate goodness. In fact the passages addressing costume bear the biggest contextual crutch, which is impressive given the heavy and overt religious overtones. With stern admonitions to shun over-complicated, wrongly-accentuating clothes, you'd almost expect James to appear in something like a wool-lined, plain pyjama with "Ye King" embroidered over the chest. And yet,

james-fashion-week

But I guess fashion's fickleness is nothing new. Good security, however, is eternal. James says to have good arms and armor about himself at court, and to take special care to avoid and forbid "toilsome" weapons and "traiterous defensiue" armor, like "plate-sleeues and such-like unseen" pieces. The old Scots fashion32, he asserts, is best.

Speech and writing mark the return of advice more likely to be of broad utility; both call for plainness of form. Oration is broken without gesture, neither of which should rest on artifice --advice plenty of current "speakers" who seem to be stuck pushing around imaginary boxes while intoning after Philip Glass could use to serious benefit. Specifically, "iowking"33 and nodding are fashionable orational gestures to be avoided, characteristic as they are of "aspiring Absaloms"34 than "rightful kings". James plainly indicts effeminate and mignard terms in speech and writing; girly men, we presume, ought to get back in the kitchen and make him an unsauced steak35. He marks that the language of reasoning is very different from that of official pronouncements and writs, but notes that this does not mean the latter should not be reasoned about first. Unofficial writing, if Henry wishes to publish such, should be edited by skilled men, and the prince is entreated to write in his own tongue, as "there is nothing left to be saide in Greeke and Latine alreadie". And if approaching poetry, of which James himself published some, Henry should remember that the rhyming itself is not what's important, but the quality of devices, such that if "shaken sundrie in prose", would still be good.

Only the unnecessary, indifferent activities are left to us. Admire how this category, minor in name as well as substance, comes last, as well it should, and wonder with me: is the serene appreciation of proper structure a blessing of comprehension or a curse of otherwise rotten environment? At any rate, James encourages exercise principally as a means to ward off the evils of idleness, and also as a means of keeping the royal body limber for travel and war. Good exercises include palle maille (Pall Mall, a precursor of croquet), dancing, leaping, and field games. Best of all are those performed on horseback, especially the tilt, the ring, and low-riding for handling of the sword (various types of jousting events). Hunting is good, but is to be done with hounds, as guns and even bows are the tools of thieves. Hawking is inferior to hunting, James says, because it is less like warfare, and worse still, apparently, can be very frustrating36 --but it's still permissible.

Cards, dice, and other "sitting house-pastimes" aren't forbidden, because while some men find their ruin therein, and the games train neither mind nor body, they at least prevent the horror of idleness, and so present an acceptable activity in times of rain or moodiness. Chess, however, James describes as overly wise and philosophical, too smart for its own good; Henry would be better off considering his affairs of state. Gambling at any game is to be done only for fun, and the sums wagered should be written off mentally at the time of the wager, and constitute no more than the gambler would be happy to tip someone. To these broadly wise and oft-neglected rules James adds the instruction never to cheat, and ultimately, if the prince cannot abide by each of these points, he should abstain from gambling altogether.

James calls upon his friend Guillame de Salluste Du Bartas37 to illustrate why Henry should not seek to play musical instruments and especially not those which lay people use to make their livings: "Leur esprit s'en fuit au bout des doigts" (their spirits fly from their fingertips). Acting is similarly frowned upon as is keeping comedians and dancers in the royal retinue. It seems Thalia and Melpomene were thoroughly devalued by "Tyrans" who "delighted most in them", and so they're tucked away from acceptable Scottish court life. Possibly the performing arts were simply too rife with loose women, and would make James' warning against them too difficult to follow: "And chiefly abstaine from haunting before your mariage, the idle companie of dames, which are nothing else, but irritamenta libidinis". James had a series of prettyboy favorites, who supposedly helped him circumvent this rule. It's not that one couldn't see the attraction, especially in the countenance of the most prominent, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham --but why not teach his son this trick?

James reservedly anticipates that his son will eventually sit on the English, as well as the Scottish throne, and so counsels that the prince follow the indifferent customs of whatever land under his rule which he deems most civil, trusting that proper adoption among the people will take place over time through the intermingling of the kingdoms --forcing cultural assimilation is out of the question. He notes the "inuiolated amity" between himself and (his cousin) Queen Elizabeth at that point, viewing it as a foreshadowing of pleasant coexistence and the healing of old wounds.

Whether the prince's present actions are indifferent, exercised in his office, or as part of his quest to understand the world and himself, James reminds him to let his actions belie the righteousness and virtue of his heart. Writing from a reign that saw considerable, objective turmoil, James tells his son to be constant in his resolution. To achieve this, he must think of the body as a microcosm for potential of action: he has two eyes to discern, two ears to hear both sides of a dispute, and yet one tongue to plainly pronounce; one head and heart to stay himself, and hands and feet with many digits for swift execution of his decisions38. The king's greatest glory, he says, is to advance the good within his land, a precept useful to all. Should Henry wish to think himself fully in his father's favor, he is to always remember the gravity of his duties, and to make their carrying out with sincerity and justice the chief aim of his efforts. James signs the work with encouragements from the Aeneid's Anchises telling his son Aeneas how to steer himself:

"Excudent alij spirantia mollius aera,
Credo equidem, & viuos ducent de marmore vultus,
Orabunt causas melius, caelique meatus
Describent radio, & surgentia sydera dicent.
Tu; regere imperio populos, Romane, memento
(Hae tibi erunt artes) pacique imponere morem,
"Parcere subiectis, & debellare superbos."

Which we'll let Williams give as

"Let others melt and mould the breathing bronze
To forms more fair, --aye! out of marble bring
Features that live; let them plead causes well;
Or trace with pointed wand the cycled heaven,
And hail the constellations as they rise;
But thou, O Roman, learn with sovereign sway
To rule the nations. Thy great art shall be
To keep the world in lasting peace, to spare
humbled foe, and crush to earth the proud."

Anchises gave this counsel to his son in the Elysian fields; for all James' seemingly genuine belief in Christianity, he was wise enough to spare his son the journey towards hell to find his own guiding words. Seasoned with some measure of bias owing to the time and place, the Basilikon Doron nevertheless provides a useful collection of ideas; ideas that are old, ideas that are basic, but ideas which are honest and considered, preserving their breath of life and making them a treasure for modern readers just as they were doubtless treasures for James' successor.

A well-structured read, drawn from the bitter experience and sublime repose of James himself and a litany of rulers and wise men before him, the text is essential for any endeavor to understand its time in the stretch of history, or the meaning of able, effective guardianship. For while parents may not choose the ways in which their children prosper (or fail to do so), they may form the latticework for greatness. If they are lucky, they may be followed by people worthy of their wisdom. And if they're not, perhaps still, in lines less linear, they may find willing prosperity reaching out to receive their gifts in barren times, in trying lands.

* * *

  1. Of Scotland and England, respectively, though this work predates Elizabeth I's death and James' subsequent ascension to the English throne by a few years. []
  2. Consider the logs: what if, horror of horrors, we had been sitting at table together this entire time, speaking but not writing? Even if we still had the deeds on record, and blog articles were set down in ink, what would you do if you had to make a speech at, say, a heathen bitcoin gathering? What if you wanted to write a v-patch for the first time, or the first time in a while? What if you were considering a journey at sea? You're going to remember all of that, seriously? Yes, it was important at the time, and behold that there were even parables and other devices to help you recall. And yet.... []
  3. Admittedly this last is squarely in the Basilikon Doron's purview; Pepys rarely if ever ventures more than a coincidental snippet of Latin. []
  4. James Stuart, forgive the equivocation for the sake of surnominal uniformity if you will. []
  5. A pleasure well-known, of course, by any diligent Trilema reader --and I hope the similarities between the titular work and Popescu's far more encompassing, ongoing opus aren't lost on anyone. Treasure those sources that insist on regular, correct reference, and which do not shy away from discussing the uncomfortable or inconvenient. They are the legacy of their time for posterity, and whatever personal opinions you imagine you have are utterly irrelevant. []
  6. My attempt at organizing the prose:

    "Scriptures"

    I. "Olde Testament"

    a. Is concerned with the "Lawe"

    i. Which man cannot keep, and which

    ii. "Sheweth sinne", and "containeth iustice", given in

    ii.a. The ten commandments,

    ii.a.i. the obedience and disobedience of which is given in the Histories

    ii.a.ii. and as related by Moses

    ii.a.ii.i. as he is interpreted and applied by the Prophets

    II. "New Testament"

    a. Is concerned with Christ

    i. Whom god send to save man, and who

    ii. "Pardoning sinne, containeth grace",

    iii. And whose birth, life, death, and resurrection is contained in the four histories,

    iii.a. found in the Epistles of the Apostles and

    iii.b. the practice of which is found in the Actes

    []

  7. Note the implicit distinction between actions and ruminations. Note also the weight of this implicitness; whereas it didn't need to be stated that feelings weren't of much interest at the time --even in a broad didactic work--, I can recall being coddled and coerced into "considering my feelings" as some sort of conscience mod-podging activity from a pretty young age, and I'd wager most contemporaries can say the same. []
  8. Do you think this is an oxymoron? []
  9. Believe all days that dawn upon you are the last. []
  10. These draughts upon antiquity, by no means limited to this section, are already well-documented in the source text linked above, and I see no reason to be selectively redundant by reproducing them --but inasmuch as the Basilikon Doron is proposed as a sturdy trunk for study, these all make excellent choices for further investigation. []
  11. Trajan is said to have described the first five years of Nero's reign as being better than that of any other emperor, a contention fairly perplexing given Nero's populism and generally accepted incompetence. James seems to use the reference as an egregious example of broadly-appeasing yet ultimately doomed attempts to appear clement. []
  12. The man has a preoccupation with the distinction between treatment of bad things done on purpose and bad things done without the intention of doing harm, which I suppose pervades in the difference, say, between punishment for murder and manslaughter. Given that he's the land's supreme font of justice, it stands to reason that he'd be so preoccupied, though somehow his advice to his son that he enact mercy on those who commit wrongdoing in the absense of premeditation stands to my eyes in great contrast against the reasoning of the rest of the work. Perhaps it's simply the form of the idea, or the lack of greater detail, that yields this effect, but in any case I was struck by the (multiple) appeals of forgiveness for otherwise unqualified "rash" evil while reading. []
  13. On one hand, one wonders what fuck (pun intended, tax me) incest is supposed to be if it's not about consanguinity. On the other, this'd seem a pretty tall order, given his paternal grandmother was the half-sister of his maternal grandfather. The quick and I'm sure correct way to resolve both of these lies in scope: it must be the case that consanguinity for the context means siblings, and that incest also involves cousins, and that otherwise half-relations don't count, or at least, they don't count once or twice removed. I'd be surprised if there wasn't a large body of work at the time on who may have sex with whom and how, but beyond the amusement of this shallow snippet I don't really have much interest. []
  14. Heh. []
  15. Check out Reformation-era anger management strategies here! []
  16. Catholic clergymen were booted from Parliament in the mid-sixteenth century following the Scottish Reformation; laymen landed in the vacuum created by the wealth of Catholic monasteries, and though they sat for parliament, there was no denying their belonging to the second estate, the nobility. Some sprinkling of Protestant bishops remained, but the paradigm was broken, and despite attempts to restore the first estate's footing, James didn't manage. []
  17. The blue flag of the Incorporated Trades Guild. It seems James had union problems. []
  18. Sadly, and uncharacteristically, he does not see fit to cite or recommend anything in particular to this end. []
  19. I carried over this faux pas from my hand-written notes, where I had absent-mindedly written "guy" and immediately felt the coincidental but still very strong insult to the author it implied. "A penny for the guy", that bit of harmless beggary by children dressed up in masks and hoping for a spot of spare change with which to buy fireworks for Guy Fawkes' Night is where the epithet originated. And who was Guy? Remember, remember, the guy who did, by all accounts, an exemplary job of standing up to inquiry and torture following his involvement in one of the many plots to murder...King James VI and I. And his family. And his parliament. Oops. []
  20. I suppose this is as good a place as any to point out, as some will doubtless recall and others will know for the first time within a context fully supportive of the fact's sadness, that young Henry died before coming into his throne. At eighteen years of age, with his parents still well, and during the marriage celebrations of his sister, Henry contracted typhoid fever and ruined the hopes of a great many of his would-be subjects (and, of course, those of his father). By all accounts, he was an accomplished student, possessed of the curiosity and conscientious fortitude that foreshadow a good monarch. In short, he seemed the ideal pupil of and for this text, but it was his misfortune to live in a time when handwashing wasn't much understood or prioritized. Allegedly, King James refused to attend the funeral. Henry's younger brother Charles became James' heir. []
  21. Had this reduced to actual, sound advice in washing, rather than the implicit interdict against fucking, possibly Henry would've been alive and crowned and with a satisfied wife? The irony here's a little too thick to avoid this moral anachronism, I can't help it. In fact, if anything could be said to counter the true gift of this text, I'd propose it's this line --blameless, in context, as it knew no harm by simple reason of humanity's failure by that point to have discovered sanitation, but still at fault. I suppose I see, after all, why I ought to judge "unwilfull" crimes with mercie. Fancy that! []
  22. Hey, they do wear matching hats, I can see it. []
  23. If you imagine the quotation marks are snarky or cute or at any rate think they're anything other than dead serious, go re-read The Crime of Being American. Yes, that means twice, if it's new. Do you still live there? Read it again. []
  24. Cyrus the Great, King of the World, among his many other titles, founded the first Persian Empire in 559 BCE. Xenophon's Cyropaedia, written a couple hundred years later, is a delightful account of the ruler's deeds and their context. Xenophon includes rather compelling cause to have written (and in turn, naturally, for you to read) the work:

    "...We were inclined to conclude that for man, as he is constituted, it is easier to rule over any and all other creatures than to rule over men. But when we reflected that there was one Cyrus, the Persian, who reduced to obedience a vast number of men and cities and nations, we were then compelled to change our opinion and decide that to rule men might be a task neither impossible nor even difficult, if one should only go about it in an intelligent manner. At all events, we know that people obeyed Cyrus willingly, although some of them were distant from him a journey of many days, and others of many months; others, although they had never seen him, and still others who knew well that they never should see him. Nevertheless they were all willing to be his subjects."

    Xenophon describes the stages in which men are trained and put to use in the Persia of Cyrus' youth. Up until the age of puberty, boys are schooled together in the "free square" wherein the various government buildings, including the palace, are located. They arrive each day at dawn, and learn justice, "just as in [Greece] they say that they go to learn to read and write". They spend their time launching charges at one another, and learn from older men how to judge and punish them, and indeed they are punished according to the findings. The passage James refers to in order to illustrate the difference between justice and equity is found in section 1.3.17, in which Cyrus' grandfather, the King of Media, invites the boy to come live with him, and when his mother asks how he will learn justice if he's away from his school, Cyrus states he understands it thoroughly. "How so?", his mother asks.

    "'Because', said he, 'my teacher appointed me, on the ground that I was already thoroughly versed in justice, to decide cases for others also. And so, in one case', said he, 'I once got a flogging for not deciding correctly. The case was like this: a big boy with a little tunic, finding a little boy with a big tunic on, took it off him and put his own tunic on him, while he himself put on the other's. So, when I tried their case, I decided that it was better for them both that each should keep the tunic that fitted him. And thereupon the master flogged me, saying that when I was a judge of a good fit, I should do as I had done; but when it was my duty to decide whose tunic it was, I had this question, he said, to consider --whose title was the rightful one; whether it was right that he who took it away by force should keep it, or that he who had had it made for himself or had bought it should own it. And since, he said, what is lawful is right and what is unlawful is wrong, he bade the judge always render his verdict on the side of the law."

    Two thousand years ago. Rounding down. You know? []

  25. Nobility, royalty, make whatever protests you wish; ancient historians describing these deeds only considered as "people" those who owned land and sat as representatives, which is why Xenophon reports the population of the entire Persian Empire to be around 150k. Much like the morons responsible for the collapse of the ROTA would like to imagine they're "people" on the basis of I don't know, having held some bitcoin, or that they "tried", or whatever. []
  26. Plutarch, in his Life of Marcellus, accounts that Archimedes was studying "some problem with the aid of a diagram" while the Romans sacked his native Syracuse after a two-year siege during the second punic war. So absorbed by his work was Archimedes that he was neither aware of the battling nor the city's impending demise. []
  27. I'd class this with the "unnecessary though convenient", as that's exactly what it is unless one lives in extreme climates. []
  28. And I'd say he's right, here; clothing is an unnecessary convenience, but writing is necessary. []
  29. This is later described in terms of playing cards and the like. Do you think James mentally counted sex in this category, or the other? Or maybe (likely, even) he never even tried to fit it into this scheme, god and wifery making it something other than "indifferent"? Do you suppose this mis-categorization has anything to do with the truckload of bizarre assumptions and hangups people have with sex? []
  30. A notion dominant in the description of the admirability of Cyrus' ancient Persians, offered in part as explanation of their superiority over Media etc. James notes the Romans similarly regarded sauce as vice. []
  31. An infamous gourmand hated for his habit of roving from home to home with a train of condiment-bearing slaves, seasoning others' dishes to his own taste and consuming them, as well as for what James calls "his filthie wish of a Crane-craig", a bird's nest delicacy. I sank a good hour into attempting the deciphering of this last bit until giving up and petitioning Mt. Popescus, which mulled it over a half-beat or so and promptly sent the answer back in a lightningbolt of whoa. []
  32. By which is meant a maille hauberk and some manner of helm, lest someone imagine the whole kilt-socks-and-golf-hat caricature is seriously proposed. []
  33. From its usage in contemporary Scots works I take this to mean "yoking", something akin to the very movement I described above with imaginary boxes; two necks are joined together with the hands in that emphatic, usually meaningless dance of the hands. []
  34. The biblical Absalom, King David's hot and populist but ultimately traiterous son. []
  35. I wouldn't recommend the filet mignon. []
  36. I wonder if this means this rather enchanting portrait evoked for James annoyance rather than the great fun it looks to me:

    james-mini-hawk

    . []

  37. Du Bartas' La Sepmaine, a poem describing the creation of the world, was wildly popular on the continent, and his success in Scotland and England is largely due to James' appreciation and invitations to his court. []
  38. Considering the body in this way would likely bolster talent in acting and playing instruments, sadly. Perhaps, after all, James' injunction against such sports was rather akin to his disdain of chess; being too distracting and ripe with opportunities for wandering off from daily duties, these pursuits were not a good match for heavily burdened officers. []

Post-Operative Gemini

January 4th, 2020

Incidentally, the following is probably my review of Pedro Almodovar's "Todo Sobre Mi Madre", in a roundabout sort of way.

"I don't even know if this is my real nipple. You understand? This could be someone else's nipple."
"Well what, aliens could have come in the night and swapped out your legs."
"But I mean, they were there, on the surgical table, my nipples, taken clear off, with a scalpel--"
"Active electrode."
"Right, but just sitting there, unattached to anything, for a while. What if someone knocked one off like onto the floor or whatever, and bam, it's ruined, gotta get the replacement nipple?"
"Do you think there's replacement nipples in plastic surgery theatres?"
"Probably."
"Why would your nipple be 'ruined' if someone knocked it onto the floor?"
"I don't know man, it's just an example, say it's no longer sterile or someone stepped on it and messed it up."
"Don't you think they would tell you if something unexpected happened and they replaced your nipple?"
"Maybe. Maybe it's cheaper to not say anything about it, maybe they expect you won't be able to tell."
"So are you worried that you can't tell?"
"I'm not worried about it! I just wonder sometimes. I can feel the right one, but the left...when I touch it, I only know I'm touching it because my finger feels it. It's weird."
"So you conclude it's not really your nipple?"
"No, they said the feeling might never come back. And it looks something like it used to. I mean, it's not obviously not-mine. The funny thing, though, is that the more I think about it, the more I realize I'm not entirely sure what it used to look like."
"Don't you have any pictures from before the surgery?"
"Yeah. I mean the subjective looking-like though...know what I mean? That subconscious here's-the-thing-I-know sense that a picture doesn't really capture, which I think is how you get those reactions to seeing pictures of yourself; 'Oh my god, I look like that?!'."
"You're saying that your post-op nipple doesn't subconsciously seem to you like your pre-op nipple? Of course it doesn't, it was excised, trimmed, and reattached."
"Oh shit, I just realized-- maybe they're both mine, but they switched the right for the left!"
"I don't think you're listening to me, you just like the drama of the possibility of uncertainty."
"Fine, be a bitch."
"Kay."

Broken Sesame

December 23rd, 2019

The packing was done with an oscillating admixture of excitement and dread. What do you take on a road that might lead you straight to the Golden Horn, but which also might weave a few weeks' worth through the Dalmatian coast, to Greece, and in either case quite likely through Syria, and in Jordan, and Egypt, and further points unknown? For weeks, for months, you don't know, you've got one bag: go.

sesame-1

The unpacking takes a lot less time and is done under a veil of melancholy, the excitement all wrung out and left in pockets here and there along the way, where some investigation lead to nowhere, or a playful hope was laughed away, a desperate attempt condemned. I have stood at the gate of the Orient and been denied. My soul's been weighed, if not against a feather, perhaps against some paragon of quality; I've been centrifuged and found constituently lacking, sick without illness, an impotent item incapable of claiming either stake or asylum.

It sucks, and that's all I can really bring myself to say about the rime or reason of this cut-short trip, for now. Unpleasant as unfurling the corpse may be, there's yet the rank dissection to be done, and then who knows what rituals and rites to come. Let no one tell you failure is an easy route.

On then, instead, to assorted observations, which are the currency of the broken and approximate.

I. Belgrade, Serbia

Pain-in-the-ass "demonstrations" are weekly by now. Exactly as in Buenos Aires, the Look, ma! rilers are a lot more about volume than substance, and trudge through the downtown streets to block traffic and prevent sleep. Why are loudspeakers cheap? Why are the apparent leaders of the agitated universally tone-deaf?

A strange bedfellow of the foregoing is the shallow luxury of Belgrade. Like gold, but plating, a pleasant kiss with no desire, a suite of rooms in the town crown jewel kept for a week with spas and sweets and soft piano music is a dream for a day or two until you want something real, which is I guess to say, inadequate for practical, rather than constructed, reasons. You'll never fit in someone else's complex vision of "the best". If you don't bring something ample of your own, the cast will ache, and itch, and irritate.

sesame-2

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sesame-5

II. Nis, Serbia

A fifteen year old waiter faced with well over a hundred patrons at half that many terrace tables tallied our bill in his head, on demand, a thing that makes most other servers shut down. He blushed and then offered a number. "Wouldn't it be terrible if he got it wrong, and was too shy to say anything about it, it's really like 70% of the actual cost, and now instead of a tip he has to dip into his check to cover it?" So we found a menu and checked him. It was right, a big thing in a small world.

Not incidentally, Nis keeps its oldness out in the daylight, and invites you to touch and trample.

sesame-6

sesame-7

sesame-8

sesame-9

sesame-10

sesame-11

sesame-12

sesame-13

III. Sofia, Bulgaria

There is literally nothing to recommend this place. I feel for the snow-tipped crags in the distance, that do not yet have what with to cover this shameful valley. I never saw a bird, or a breath of life, or a trace of thought, or a mote of grit. The most prominent advertisement (for some subsistence concern shop, naturally) is of Гeopги Эвpэшмyk in his mass-market "casual" polyesters high-fiving a beagle with inexpertly enlarged eyes.

sesame-14

IV. Edirne, Turkey

The cats began, and then the seagulls, the stray dogs, the genuine smiles beholding something different. The first Adhan, at dusk, washed over the loose stones and tiny shops, uneven pavement and sudden bursts of roses, making everything sparkle in the early winter mist. There is incompetence, but there is no pretense. In Edirne I feel myself a human among humans, and alien enough to appreciate it.

sesame-15

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sesame-17

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V. Istanbul

Driving in, the nothingness breaks open to give height and vibrance to modernity as only a place still excited about reaching it can render. Glistening cubes of glass, obsidian in the night, rise from the plain kilometers out, getting denser, their lights and quirks of design growing more and more beguiling. Then suddenly, the swelling stops and you're in the center of everything, cross of all crossings, testament of all times. You stop for fresh pomegranate juice and while someone hands you a napkin (for they've noticed the falling drop faster than you) you wonder why the simple joys of Istanbul must be so particular to the city itself, and so foreign outside it.

Seated two streets down from the Galata Tower, a tiny cross-street intersects with what serves as the main, narrow and precarious as it may be, a curled ribbon fraying under loving daily use. Cars pass, entering intricate negotiations for clearance; cats zig-zag on the cobbles now trustful, now terrified. A row of preschool chairs and tables line the alley, where large adults balance themselves over ubiquitous parabolas of tea. A short old man makes the turn, plank longer than himself across his shoulders, anchoring on one end a tin tun of tea, a plastic box of sweets and paraphenalia on the other, calling out the çay شاي чай. I tell myself to remember him when the work at hand seems tedious.

Moments later a blind woman robed in the pinks and purples of girlhood rounds the curve and starts to climb, her flailing stick miraculously hitting nothing on the busy street, as though the bustle paused for her ascent. She's followed by a fellow sweeping carefully with broom and pan, without any obvious sequence or plan.

Laleli's plazas and faculties are fully guarded, half with would-be red-tape heroes, half with mere observer posts that wouldn't dream of blocking access. The youth, the female youth, is conspicuously busy, overpainted, flushed beneath the powder somewhere, palpably. They are not doers, but reporters, reporting others' deeds. They say they study economics and worry about safety, and I worry if I'm too late, I wonder if I've lost out. It's a ridiculous thought in this faultless place. The other side of the balance rings true: I'm not ready.

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sesame-27

The thought thus choked out, my head and heart and throat an aching tangle, I'll stop, except to note a simple irony: sesame is one of the hardiest crops on earth, resistant to just about everything.

A Little Bit of TinyScheme, a Lot of Cozonac

November 25th, 2019

There are few things as quintessentially Romanian, to my mind, as cozonac; the golden, nut-swirled, babka-like pastry dolled up and drummed out into the daylight for the two major Eastern Orthodox holidays. Then again, I'm not even so sure it's actually Romanian. Cozonac's one of those things that most states in the region boast as being their own, right up there with moussaka, smoked eggplant salad, goulash, and stuffed cabbage rolls. The diacritics and thus pronunciations may change, but not much else does. I guess it's proper, then, to introduce cozonac as an Eastern European thing, and to point out its specific spelling is Romanian.

Now that we've gotten there, we can promptly throw out a good half of what Romanians, and Eastern Europeans at large for that matter, think they know about cozonac. There are two main problems: the first's that folks don't put nearly as much of the awesome chocolate-walnut filling in their loaves of cozonac as they ought to1, and the second's that they put way, way, WAY too much sugar in it. A fairly common artifact of modern processed diets, the whole "dessert means heaps of sugar laced with occasional other ingredients" fanaticism is a hoary old positive feedback loop.

Thus armed with spite and sparseness, we can proceed to actually make some of this stuff. Except that I wanted to try out Mircea Popescu's image processor for blog articles, and also jfw's version of the same. Except! It turns out the box I'm using for publishing doesn't have Image Magick, required for both tools. An' I'm not happy about installing things --at all, much less things I don't know much about to "just get it to work". I do have Gimp, though, which was what I'd been using to process my pictures manually. And! It turns out Gimp uses TinyScheme, which wouldn't be a total waste of time to muck in a little as it's an interpreter of a dialect of Lisp, and maybe not too many layers removed from relevancy to learning to use some tools likely to survive the Republic's reckoning, thereby.

The following gets saved as batch-scaler.scm, to be placed in the ~/.gimp2/scripts directory:

(define (batch-scaler pattern
			new-width
			new-height)
	(let* ((filelist (cadr (file-glob pattern 1))))
		(while (not (null? filelist))
			(let* ((filename (car filelist))
				(image (car (gimp-file-load RUN-NONINTERACTIVE
								filename filename)))
				(drawable (car (gimp-image-get-active-layer image))))
			(gimp-image-scale image new-width new-height)
			(gimp-file-save RUN-NONINTERACTIVE image drawable filename filename)
			(gimp-image-delete image))
		(set! filelist (cdr filelist)))))

Note that I've put extraneous spaces between all multiple parentheses; you'll have to take these out. If someone has a better idea for preventing MPWP's cannonical footnote plugin from interpreting lisp parentheses as footnotes, please write in. The very MP in question has a fix for this in the comments, works splendidly.

Running it goes like so, from the directory where your selected but otherwise raw pictures are:

gimp -i -b '(batch-scaler "*.JPG" 1024 638)' -b '(gimp-quit 0)'

I scale my images when I re-size them, so I grabbed gimp-image-scale from the "Script-Fu Procedure Browser" and worked it into a batch processor, which goes through a glob of files according to the pattern given when running it (as long as the glob isn't empty) and then without loading the Gimp GUI, loads the pictures themselves, selects the drawable part, scales them according to whatever's set when running, saves them, and deletes the originals.

Some important problems: this only works for landscape-oriented images; you could pick out portraits, put them in a different folder and run this on them with different size parameters, but that's not so efficient. If I figure it out, I'll update this article, otherwise if anyone would care to modify this, please do. Ideally the width should be set to 1024 while preserving the aspect ratio, rather than manually specifying the length, too, regardless of orientation. Another thing to consider is that this creates one set of images, not a display size and larger size pair as in MP's process. Further, this just overwrites the images and saves them as such; the file-jpeg-save function takes fourteen, FOURTEEN, parameters, and I really can't be assed. So once the above is done,

ls -v | cat -n | while read n f; do mv -n "$f" "cozo-$n.jpg"; done

Then you can proceed to upload them as normal.

Anyway, I was saying: let's make cozonac. The instructions below are for two loaves, because who does this laborious stuff one output item at a time?!

First comes the filling. I typically make the filling the night before as it needs to cool completely before being used, otherwise it'll make steam pockets in the dough and fuck up the whole thing. Grind about a half kilogram of walnuts3 and add them to a saucepan in which you've dissolved about a tablespoon of brown sugar into 150ml or so of milk over low heat. Keep stirring; you want a paste-like consistency, for which reason you may use a little more or a little less milk. After it's thickened admirably, stir in a little rum.

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And five or six tablespoons of unsweetened dark cocoa. Zest an orange or three and stir in the zest, too. Your mixture should be fairly thick, and very nicely scented. Set it aside, or put it in the fridge if you're saving the rest 'til tomorrow.

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For the dough, melt 150 or so grams of butter into another 150ml or so of milk. Dump two more tablespoons of brown sugar in there, and once everything's dissolved and incorporated take it off the heat and zest two oranges and a lemon into it, and add some vanilla; either scrape the seeds into it or steep a pod in the milk while it heats, or better yet, do both.

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Also while you're waiting for the temperature to drop, get something like 2/3rds of a kilogram of bread flour into a big bowl, add a pinch of salt, a teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg, a handful or so of the best raisins you can find, and plenty --that's around 6 grams-- of dry yeast, and distribute it all evenly.4

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Once this concoction's cool enough to touch but still warm, break three eggs into it and stir.

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Now dump the wet stuff into the dry stuff, and knead it until it's pliable and doesn't stick to your hands too much. You might need to add a little more flour; not too much though, or your dough will be too tough. Once you're done kneading form the dough into a ball and let it rest in a warm kitchen under a slightly damp towel.

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If your kitchen is cold, heat your oven for a few minutes, then turn it off and put the bowl in there. Leaving dough to rise in a cold place is begging for disappointment.

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Once your dough has doubled, which should take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half or so, prepare a workspace for rolling. Your filling should be room temperature, either because you've let it cool for several hours or you've taken it out of the fridge a few hours before --note that very cold filling is no good here, as it'll cool the dough for its second rise and you'll be stuck waiting f o r e v e r to get your loaves in the oven.

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Oil your countertop/foil-lined table/friend's back/whatever surface, and do the same with your rolling pin/wine bottle. Generously butter two loaf pans and sprinkle them with flour.

Divide your dough into quarters. For each loaf, roll out first one quarter and then the other into rectangles, until they're quite thin but not too thin to pick up. Spread each with a quarter of your filling, leaving small margins at the edges.

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Roll these up lengthwise, then twist them together to make a floppy, unwieldy helix; immediately plonk them into the loaf pans before they get any unwieldier.

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Brush them with an egg yolk beaten with a bit of milk, and let them rise another hour or two, until they've started to threaten the edges of the pans. Then bake at 200C, preheated if you're stuck with an electric oven, for just about an hour. After fifteen minutes or so in the oven, lightly cover the loaves with aluminum foil to keep the tops from burning.

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Let them cool for a few minutes after taking them out, then remove them from the pans and cool them completely, resting on their sides, and switching sides occasionally. There's a delicate juxtaposition of dense chocolaty nuts and light, puffy dough inside --it has to cool down gently and evenly, hence all the elaborate dancing.

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Once they're cool, slice and enjoy. Cozonac also freezes very well, and can even be eaten as frozonac, for the adventurous. All in all this is a rather heathen recipe, unlikely to be approved of by most Romanian cooks, who tend towards the strict and unexaminedly-traditional side. It is however highly praised by those whose opinions I actually care about, and owes something to the instruction of Ellie, whose basic discussion of procedure managed to somehow break through very heavy Hallmark-isms, Jesus worship, cups and cups of sugar, and other incompatibles to teach me something.

  1. "Ought to" maps, of course, to as much as MP would like, here. []
  2. I'm using 2.8, fwiw. []
  3. You can also add some measure of pecans, almonds, pistachios, or macadamias, though walnuts are the traditional, and really the best for this recipe. []
  4. You can also use fresh yeast, which imparts a pleasant flavor for those with a taste for it. It'll also cause your dough to rise a little faster, which isn't a bad thing. To do this, mix eight to ten grams of crumbled fresh yeast into the warm milk mixture after you mix in the eggs, which are coming. []