Shem the penman: Sic transit gloria mundi


Poet, pundit, novelist, journalist, our Jimmy Weiskopf presents his third installment of Shem, The Penman with musings on history and lingutic jargon. Thus, passes worldly glory (sic transit gloria mundi).

Listening to the memoirs of Chateaubriand on YouTube, I was curious to learn more. Vain and longwinded as he is a writer, he had an incredible memory, strong gift for description and invented the Romantic mode, in the style of Byron, of “One who inhabits, with a full heart, an empty world”. And if anyone lived what is called “a full life,” it was he: a direct witness of the French Revolution and Bonaparte, acquainted with many of its memorable personages, and in addition, traveler, seducer, journalist, novelist, historian, diplomat, minister, etc. And what do you see when you Google him?: the steak named after him, the recipes thereof, filling the whole first page.

Degeneration of English: the only “issue” I have in my life are my children. Or is it “is”?

Considering the many previous centuries of Muslim rule at the time, Spain, the Catholic country we know, is now no older than the “Latin America” it discovered or conquered.

Riddle: in what country is a Catholic not a Christian? Answer: Colombia, where “cristiano” refers to an “evangélico”, that is, a member of an evangelical Protestant church.

With all these conspiracy theories flying around, do we need an Unofficial Secrets Act?

Genuine folk tale I recorded in Choachí:

Former (Liberal party) president Samper (whose country retreat is at the nearby Laguna de Ubaque) asked a campesino neighbor about the new puppies of his dog. “They were born Liberals, Doctor”. “Congratulations, compadre”. “Not so fast, Doctor. Now that they’ve opened their eyes, they’re Conservatives.”

It won’t do to be too moralistic about the marital entanglements and sufferings of the wives of Robert Lowell and Ted Hughes. The muse drives the true poet to yield to his impulses. Perhaps the lesson is that poets shouldn’t marry poets or painters, painters, though the case of musicians is ambiguous: Daniel Barenboim/Jacqueline du Pré versus Gustav Mahler/Alma Maria Mahler Gropius Werfel.

Has anyone noticed the coincidence of sinister omens of the fall of two dynasties: the Romanovs and that of Louis XVI? The celebrations of the latter´s marriage to Marie-Antoinette featured a firework display in Paris, but the rockets caught fire before the right time and whizzed into the crowd, which was trapped because the main exit from the now Place de la Concorde was full of holes and trenches. There was a panic and crush which claimed 132 lives. Likewise, the outdoor banquet for the populace to celebrate the coronation of Tsar Nicholas and the Tsarina took place in a field blocked by a ravine and many gullies and of course the hunger of the poor attracted an enormous crowd, which, with the rumor that the free beer and pretzels were running out, stampeded and 1,389 people were trampled to death. There is another eerie link, perhaps apocryphal: a story that when the Tsarina visited France shortly before WWI, she insisted on sleeping in Marie Antoinette´s bedroom in Versailles, despite being warned it would bring her bad luck.

When I am skeptical about the posturing of certain indigenous healers, I may be accused of a “neo-imperialist appropriation of a subordinate culture” but I refuse to be backed into a corner where if I say that some of their claims strike me as superstitious or speculative, I either sin against the god of cultural relativism or am forced into the New Age extreme of swallowing anything that seems earthy and primitive whole.

Example of a rhetorical own goal. A documentary on YouTube about the yoginis of Tibet whose reverence and restraint make it credible, insofar as it stresses that their alleged esoteric powers require an almost inhuman asceticism, plus those who know are forbidden to speak of it, except for one anecdote about a lama who, when his remote lamasery was under attack by the Chinese Army, caused a tremendous sandstorm which blinded and choked the soldiers and forced them to retreat. If so, why only there and not all over Tibet, when there were other lamas with the same magical powers? Another demonstration that “spirituality” offers little defense against the evils of the terrestrial realm.

In the 1930s Botero was expelled from his high school in Medellín for writing an article in praise of Picasso. And that is a mild example of the barbaric (Church-led) moralism which prevailed in that city several generations ago, compared, say, to the persecution of Débora Arango for painting female nudes and blunt depictions of the puppeteers of la Violencia. The philosopher Fernando González was also expelled from several schools for reading Nietzsche and other authors on the Index, but, as the maestro of the nadaistas, perpetuated the tradition of free-thinking dissidents there (which continues to this day with Fernando Vallejo). However, despite the chokehold of the autocracy of crozier, sword and land, Medellín was the city which pioneered industry, banking, technology and other innovations in Colombia: thanks to the famous, thrusting, entrepreneurial paisa (not least Pablito). The point is – disproof of Weber’s theory that the Protestant Ethic was the driving force of capitalism (and its attendant liberal modernism).

I was thinking of sending an e-mail with my articles on indigenous plant medicines to Claudio Naranjo, a Chilean psychiatrist who pioneered the field, then a sudden intuition made me check him on the net and I found that he had died. Still, the idea of sending emails to the deceased is intriguing, like casting a message in a bottle on the waters of the beyond. That, in turn, reminded me of the eponymous protagonist of Bellow’s Herzog, who is forever writing letters in his mind (which are never sent) to friends, relatives and famous people, some of whom are dead. In short, the vice of the kind of a writer who always wants to get his own back and/or a proof of the futility of the power of words.

­Loose phrases which came to me, unbidden, in the trance of ambil. Make of them what you will, but don´t blame me, I am not the author:

  1. Don’t let a little incest get in the way of your erudition.
  2. An escutcheon with gall and wormwood.
  3. “I don’t love you,” she traced on the tines of a fork.

“Hades Ladies Academy, Haydée speaking, Don Juan”


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