Shem, the penman: Musings on headlines and historical truths


King Louis XV ordered and devoured the banquet, Louis XVI paid for it with his head.

Ickes pére (advisor to F.D.R.) rarely slept, Ickes fils (advisor to Clinton) rarely kept awake.

Lucien Freud: Absolute absence of grandad’s super-ego

Reductio ad absurdum of consumerism: Rexona deodorant Ad, couple of beautiful people, both with arms raised, he smelling his armpit.

Smolny Institute (Elite Czarist girls’ school): Bolshevik h.q. Red October: Dora Kaplan* School for Noble Maidens. *unsuccessful assassin of Lenin

Andre?s Caicedo (the writer) – a Colombian who exceptionally kept his promise (to kill himself before he got old).

“Follow your heart” – as Hitler did?

Who am I to blame Henry the Eighth for the disasters which happen when you are led by your pr–k?

L’inutile precauzione (subtitle of the Barber of Seville): The Olympic high jumper who practiced with weights on his legs, leapt rather high considering, but flopped when he took them off.

If Walter Pidgeon, actor, had married Paloma San Basilio, singer, what a columbarium they would have bred!

Is it better to have all the money in the world and no health or all the health in the world and no money?

“Scofflaws-Bogotá” – amazing to find this graffiti on the SITP station, Centro Internacional, when I haven’t heard or read the word for ages.

According to Oppenheim’s brother (in the presence of the man himself, who didn’t contradict him), Oppenheimer didn’t quote the Bhagavadgi?ti? when the A-bomb went off at Los Alamos, but said something like “I guess the damned thing works.”

The Woodstock Festival didn’t take place at Woodstock but on a farm in nearby Bethel, N.Y.

“Let them eat cake”: there is no record of Marie Antoinette having said it.

Bogart didn’t say “Play it again, Sam” in Casablanca but “Play it, Sam.”

The cuckoo clock is a German, not Swiss, invention.

It is not money which is the root of all evil, but the love of money.

Einstein didn’t win the Nobel for relativity, which is only awarded for a theory that has been proven.

Mozart was not buried in a (mass) pauper’s grave, but a common one, as everyone, rich or poor, was under Emperor Joseph of Austria, who imposed it as a public health measure. Nor was he poor or ignored by society when he died. The news was widely circulated at the time, to a nearly universal regret and Constanza found a ready market for his scores.

General Napier did not telegram peccavi (I have sinned) when he conquered the province of Sindh, India. It was a post-facto joke in Punch. A blow, since I always loved it as an example of Raj-type poise.

It is an admission of failure, ineptness or cowardice when a writer writes that something is “indescribable.”

Signs of the (gentrified, touristic) times – guy at the foot of Monserrate selling hormigas culonas with a sign “Big Ass Ants.”

Is India “spiritual,” when millions poured out onto the streets to celebrate its first successful nuclear bomb test, as if they’d won the World Cup?

You can teach a writer craft, not taste.

A nightmare belies “positive thinking.”

To sum up the timeliness and timelessness of Byron: The enemy of any and all cant!

When I expressed my admiration for the fitness of a friend who bikes round Bogota? every day (for business, not pleasure) and remarked how the sole Sunday Ciclovi?a requires me to nap afterwards, he said, “no, instead of getting exhausted one day of the week, it’s all seven.”

“Sistema retención infantil” = car seats for babies. “Puesto de dehidratacio?n” = free drinking water.

Categorization of the late Angelika Helberger (a dear friend and first woman pilot of Jumbos in the Americas) – The lady who would never take “no” for an answer.

Nadal thrives on competition, Federer, on perfection.

Is dogged the best synonym for grimly persistent? Why not mules or horse-flies.

Nabokov being my idol, I am no longer ashamed of being a non-driver.

El mayor denuncia a Dios por ocaso sexual.

Spanglish doggerel verse (Ecopetrol building, opposite Parque Nacional): “Locale por venta y renta.”

To paraphrase Woody Allen: If I were to live my whole life over again, I would do everything the same, except see the movie Rodrigo D. No Futuro.

Fracking is frucking with your children’s future.

In the country of the blind …las rubias in Colombia.

“Sure, I’m a showgirl, but don’t hold that against me, Bishop.”

A recent interview of David Hockney, who points to other great painters who were smokers and lived to a ripe, productive old age. I like his defiance of this totalitarian neo-Puritanism. Chairman Mao, a three or four-pack a day man, so dependent that after periods of forced abstinence in the wilds on the Long March, the first prize looted from a town taken by force were cigarettes. Chou En-lai too, forever holding a meditative cigarette, Freud and Churchill (stogies) and so many writers of the 1st half of the 20th century when their book jacket photo with a cigarette was a badge of seriousness. True, Churchill wound up gaga from strokes, but it was an excess of good living in general, and a sort of metabolic climax to a life of hyperactivity.

Though it was no less theatrical, Cleopatra was carried into Julius Caesar’s palace in Egypt wrapped in a laundry bag, not a carpet (as in Handel’s opera, among many other examples).


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