Wednesday, May 31, 2023

the last book I ever read (Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas, excerpt two)

from Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas by Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson:

The liberal arts education at Holy Cross exposed Thomas for the first time to the writings of many of the nation’s best black minds. The works of Richard Wright, in particular, “really woke me up,” Thomas later said. His favorites were Native Son and Black Boy because, as he put it, these novels of trapped and violent racial rage “capture[d] a lot of the feelings that I had inside that you learn to repress.” Native Son, the story of Bigger Thomas, who accidentally suffocates his wealthy white employer’s daughter and is falsely accused of raping and murdering her, struck a particularly deep chord in Thomas. Twenty-five years later, Thomas would echo some of these powerful themes during his Supreme Court hearings.

As his appetitie for Wright suggests, he was already examining the issue of race in America, beginning a thoughtful, iconoclastic search for answers that would occupy much of his life. As a habitual outsider, Thomas rejected many of the orthodoxies concerning racial remedies well before many of his peers; he questioned, for instance, the benefits of affirmative action and welfare long before it was fashionable to do so – almost, it sometimes seemed to his friends, because doing so was unfashionable.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

the last book I ever read (Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas, excerpt one)

from Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas by Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson:

This good reputation was not entirely accidental. Far more than most people realized, Thomas was himself an ambitious political networker. Indeed, he had long been planning for the day he would stand in front of the camera and accept a Supreme Court nomination. During his fiery confirmation hearings, he would angrily declare that “I did not ask to be nominated, I did not lobby for it, I did not beg for it, I did not aspire to it.” But as early as 1981 – ten years before he was appointed, when he was scarcely thirty – a number of colleagues recalled him setting his sights on Marshall’s seat.

“The first day I met him in 1981, he told me he was going to be on the Supreme Court,” said Michael Middleton, who was Thomas’s principal deputy at the Department of Education and went on to be Thomas’s associate general counsel at the EEOC. “He’d point out that Marshall wouldn’t last forever, and that he [Thomas] was the highest-ranking black lawyer in government, that he had a Yale Law degree, and he had Senator Danforth behind him. No one else, he’d say, was in as good a position.”

Friday, May 26, 2023

the last book I ever read (The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner, excerpt ten)

from The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner

Coming in the wake of desegregation, this cultural economy was anticipated by institutions like Preservation Hall, begun in 1961 by Allan and Sandra Jaffe as a racially integrated venue for traditional jazz where the city’s againg musicians could find steady work. Following the success of Preservation Hall, music enthusiasts tried several times to establish a jazz festival in New Orleans, but the city’s continuing commitment to racial segregation proved an obstacle as promoters like George Wein, who ran the Newport Jazz Festival, refused to participate unless there were guarantees that both bands and audiences would be integrated and that visiting artists would have equal access to hotels and restaurants. There were some false starts, but finally, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival commenced in 1970, marking in the minds of many people the beginning of a new era in the city.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

the last book I ever read (The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner, excerpt nine)

from The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner

Along with classic works like Dr. John’s Gumbo (1972) and Professor Longhair’s Crawfish Fiesta (1980), The Wild Tchoupitoulas was one of the albums that made New Orleans music into a genre. Obviously, there had been genres, like traditional jazz or rhythm and blues, associated with the city, but it was not commonplace until the 1970s and 19802 for record stores to have a bin marked “New Orleans.” In which they stocked not only new works by the Rebirth Brass Band but also old albums by Fats Domino and Irma Thomas previously displayed elsewhere. The Wild Tchoupitoulas contributed to this new genre classification in an especially interesting way, as it was recorded in a manner that was effectively agnostic about genre, freely mixing old chants and second-line rhythms with funk, rock, reggae, calypso, doowop, and rhythm and blues. This transcendence of genre, ironically, became the key to the invention of a new genre—New Orleans music—whose consolidation subsequently played a key role in forming consumer expectations, and increasingly, in attracting tourists to a metropolis whose name was synonymous with the music made there.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

the last book I ever read (The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner, excerpt eight)

from The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner

Jolly died on August 9, 1980. At the funeral, the crown from his last suit was spread over his casket. The procession took the same grand style as the parade for John Scaraface Williams. It was led by the Olympia Brass Band, playing the traditional dirges, followed by an estimated five hundred second liners, who were in turn trailed by an entourage of Mardi Gras Indians, led by Bo Dollis, chanting “Big Chief Got a Golden Crown” as they left Blessed Sacrament on Constance Street and “Hey Pocky Way” as they turned onto Valcen Street, where Jolly’s casket was loaded onto a hearse to be taken to Resthaven Cemetery in Gentilly. As the hearse sped away, the mourners assembled in concentric circles in the street, chanting “Brother Jolly’s gone!” between verses built on the familiar lines from The Wild Tchoupitoulas, doing for Jolly what the second-line mourners had done eight years ago for Williams, ushering Jolly into pantheon of departed leaders by adapting a chant that had been used to eulogize fallen heroes all the way back to Brother Tillman. For the Neville family, for the Wild Tchoupitoulas, and for the New Orleans music community, these hot summer months in 1980 represented a watershed. Professor Longhair had died in January. Norman Bell, who took over as Big Chief of the Wild Tchoupitoulas the previous year, had died in May. It was time to look to the future.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

the last book I ever read (The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner, excerpt seven)

from The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner

Brother Tillman is one of the most famous leaders of the Mardi Gras Indians, and he is still revered, especially among the Uptown tribes. Brother Tillman’s career began in the 1910s and lasted into the 1940s. There are competing accounts of his parentage and early years, but there is agreement that Brother Tillman became Big Chief of the Creole Wild West after the tribe split, with one faction, led by Tillman, moving uptown and keeping the name, and another faction staying in the Seventh Ward, renaming itself the Yellow Pocahontas. Brother Tillman was notorious as a tough man. Police records show dozens of arrests, including on in 1923 after a four-way battle between tribes on Valence and Annunciation Streets, reported in the Times-Picayune under the headline, “Negro Indians Go on Warpath.” There are amazing stories about Brother Tillman, including one told by Paul Longpre, former Big Chief of the Golden Blades, who remembers how Tillman evaded the police in 1927 by faking his own death. There was a wake, with Tillman’s body laid out for display and police in attendance to confirm he was dead. When the casket was on the way to Holt Cemetery, Brother Tillman climbed out and hid in the back of the hearse. When the casket was buried, everyone, including the police, believed Tillman was gone, only to be shocked when he appeared out of nowhere to lead his tribe on Mardi Gras. Brother Tillman is depected poignantly in his later years in a WPA-sponsored folklore anthology, Gumbo Ya-Ya (1945), and exalted in an obituary, “Fabulous ‘Indian Chief’ Laid to Rest,” on the front page of the Louisiana Weekly.

Monday, May 22, 2023

the last book I ever read (The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner, excerpt six)

from The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner

The Wild Tchoupitoulas engages with history in the present tense. The album talks about the Magnolia Bridge as if you could still walk over it, when in truth it had been taken down in the late 1930s. All the territory by the New Basin Canal, whether or not it was technically the Battlefield, was redeveloped in the succeeding decades. The train station opened in 1954. City Hall moved to its present location in 1958. The Pontchartrain Expressway and the Interstate 10 overpass were built in the 1960s, cutting through Central City and destroying an important corridor of black-owned businesses further on down Claiborne Avenue. The Superdome opened in 1975 literally at the same time The Wild Tchoupitoulas was being recorded, completing the transformation of the neighborhood. A state-of-the-art facility and the largest fixed dome stadium in the United States, the Superdome was built as skyscrapers were going up on the neighboring blocks on Poydras Avenue, all part of an effort, led by Mayor Moon Landrieu, to make New Orleans look like a modern and progressive city. At the same time, New Orleans was developing its cultural landscape. Eight blocks in Tremé, for example, bulldozed in the 1960s to make way for a modern arts complex modeled on Lincoln Center, a project never completed, becamse the original location for the Jazz and Heritage Festival before they were repurposed as Louis Armstrong Park. Through the 1970s, local geography, from Central City to Tremé, was changing. The Wild Tchoupitoulas registers these changes in its city and in its tradition even as it also participates in them.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

the last book I ever read (The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner, excerpt five)

from The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner

These lyrics provide a historical map of New Orleans. We start close to home, calling out the railroad tracks along Tchoupitoulas Street in the Thirteenth Ward, and then an itinerary is proposed: “We’re the Wild Tchoupitoulas from the golden tracks / We making Melpomene then we coming back.” He does not say exactly, but Jolly is likely planning on leading his gang up to the stretch of Melpomene Street (pronounced Mel-po-MEEN) in Central City, since renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, hitting popular intersections on the way, like Washington and LaSalle or Second and Dryades, where Indians have always gathered. In this song, Melpomene Street marks the territorial boundary between Uptown and Downtown tribes. The album also references the Magnolia Bridge, a wooden bridge a few blocks from Melpomene where Magnolia Street crossed over the New Basin Canal, a legendary place where Uptown and Downtown tribes met. Crossing over the bridge into rival territory was considered an act of aggression. The Magnolia Bridge was taken down in the late 1930s when its section of the New Basin Canal was closed and filled, but scenes there are described on The Wild Tchoupitoulas as if they were still happening: “Big Gan Standing on the Magnolia Bridge / Early Mardi Gras Morning / Here Come a Gang from the Metairie Ridge / Struck without no warning.” The Metairie Bridge tribe likely comes from somewhere in the vicinity of the Hollygrove neighborhood, but significantly, this is a topographical reference that would have meant as much to the maroons commemorated by the Mardi Gras Indians as it would have to anyone in the early twentieth century, when the song is set, or in the late twentieth century, when it was sung, as the ridge along Bayou Metairie was one of the main avenues in the cypress swamp used by fugitive slaves to access the maroon camps before the area was eventually drained, graded, and divided into residential blocks.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

the last book I ever read (The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner, excerpt four)

from The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner

Much of the album is set on Mardi Gras. Jolly sings: “Mardi Gras morning, we are coming through. I’m sending my gang down, two by two.” Encounters with other tribes are eagerly anticipated. We hear some great boasts (“The only thing gonna make them mad / I got the gang they wished they had”) and wild threats (“Uptown Rulers / Let ‘em come now / I got the gun now / Set ‘em on fire / Fire on the bayou”). Individuals are described acting their rank and status (“Big Chief standing on the avenue / Spy Boy he turned the corner / Flag gave the signal, we’re meeting a gang / Big Chief say do what you wanna”), as the Big Chief boasts about the members of his tribe (“Your Spy Boy eat raw pork chop / My Spy Boy eat liver / Meet you that morning, you don’t stop / He gonna make you jump in the river”). More than once on the album, we move through the entire cycle of the holiday, with Jolly closing it down: “I’ll bring my gang all over town / Drink firewater till the sun go down / We get back home, gonna kneel and pray / We had some fun on the holiday!” Or then two tracks later: “We’re all over town on Mardi Gras day / Now it’s late in the evening / I took them up, took them down / Now the whole damn gang is leaving.”

Friday, May 19, 2023

the last book I ever read (The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner, excerpt three)

from The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner

Across the album, The Wild Tchoupitoulas evokes these ritual circumstances. Consider, for example, its rendition of “Indian Red,” which is often identified as the most sacred song in the repertoire of the Mardi Gras Indians. Notably, “Indian Red” is the only song in the Indian repertoire exclusive to the Big Chief: other songs can be led by other members of the tribe but never “Indian Red.” It is also the only song performed at specific times, traditionally at the close of practices and at the start of the procession on Mardi Gras morning. Finally, “Indian Red” is also the only time when the ranks in a tribe’s hierarchy are formally named. On Mardi Gras morning, these roles are called out in the order of the procession: first, the spy boys who walk ahead and report back if another tribe is spotted; next the flag boys who carry tall pennants to communicate messages to the spy boys back to the tribe; then the Big Chief and associated second, third, and fourth chiefs with their Queens; and the Wild Man who protects the Big Chief and clears space for tribes to meet each other in the street. As ranks are called out by the Big Chief during “Indian Red,” members emerge from the bar or house where the tribe has gathered, displaying their suits and receving accolades from onlookers. During the tribe’s procession through the neighborhood, the choreographed confrontations with other tribes follow this same order as members from each tribe meet their counterparts. In Up from the Cradle of Jazz (1980), a PBS documentary that was also made into a book on popular music in New Orleans, you can see Norman Bell, taking a turn as Big Chief in 1979, singing “Indian Red” as the Wild Tchoupitoulas begins its parade.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

the last book I ever read (The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner, excerpt two)

from The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner

Jolly became even more important to his nephews after their father died from a heart attack and their mother was killed in a car accident. All four brothers have conveyed how Jolly became a spiritual guide during these years as they all continued to struggle in their own ways. When Jolly called them together to record an album, they listened. Charles flew home from New York right away. The idea for The Wild Tchoupitoulas came together quickly. The Meters were still under contract to Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn who made the deal with Island Records and booked the group into Sea-Saint Studio. Jolly broght his arrangments into the studio. The album was done in a few takes, with little strain, everyone recording in the same room, an unusual and deliberate setup for a state-of-the-art multitrack studio, with the Nevilles dubbing heir vocals at the end. Everyone on the album was seasoned. Jolly was sixty-one. Second Chief Norman Bell was in his late fifties. Art was forty. The rest of the Nevilles and Meters were in their thirties. For Jolly’s nephews, it was an album that expressed traditions they had known all their lives, traditions they had sung on stoops and chanted from the stands at high school basketball games before they moved into clubs and studios to start music careers that would only reach their zenith in the wake of the project that Jolly had imagined for them.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

the last book I ever read (The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner, excerpt one)

from The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner

After the Second World War, New Orleans became a national hub for rhythm and blues as well as one of the incubators for rock ‘n’ roll. No institution in the city was more important to this music scene that J&M Studo (1945-56), a bare-bones outfit behind an appliance store on Rampart Street managed by Cosimo Matassa. This was where Roy Brown made “Good Rockin’ Tonight” in 1948, Fats Domino made “The Fat Man” in 1949, Lloyd Price made “lawdy Miis Clawdy” in 1952, and Little Richard made “Tutti Frutti” in 1955. J&M Studo was responsible for countless chart hits, engineered by Matassa and arranged by Dave Bertholomew, the leader of the studio band, who together achieved an elementary but elusive signature sound that session musician Mac Rebennack (later known as Dr. John) described as “strong drums, heavy bass, light piano, heavy guitar, light horn, and a strong vocal lead.” If you were an aspiring musician hoping to land a gig singing backup, outside J&M was the place to hang out, and in fact, this is how Art and his friend Issacher would up singing behind Little Richard on “The Girl Can’t Help It,” the theme to a movie starring Jayne Mansfield. Matassa eventually moved his studio operation to Cosimo Recording (1956-68), a converted warehouse in the French Quarter, which was where Art and Aaron began their careers as solo artists in the early 1960s.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

the last book I ever read (The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, excerpt fourteen)

from The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Could you but know, Phoebe, how it was with me, the hour before you came!” exclaimed the artist. “A dark, cold, miserable hour! The presence of yonder dead man threw a great black shadow over everything; he made the universe, so far as my perception could reach, a scene of guilt, and of retribution more dreadful than the guilt. The sense of it took away my youth. I never hoped to feel young again! The world looked strange, wild, evil, hostile;—my past life, so lonesome and dreary; my future, a shapeless gloom, which I must mould into gloomy shapes! But, Phoebe, you crossed the threshold; and hope, warmth, and joy, came in with you! The black moment became at once a blissful one. It must not pass without the spoken word. I love you!”

Monday, May 15, 2023

the last book I ever read (The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, excerpt thirteen)

from The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

This one mystic branch hung down before the main-entrance of the seven gables, so nigh the ground, that any passer-by might have stood on tiptoe and plucked it off. Presented at the door, it would have been a symbol of his right to enter, and be made acquainted with all the secrets of the house. So little faith is due to external appearance, that there was really an inviting aspect over the venerable edifice, conveying an idea that its history must be a decorous and happy one, and such as would be delightful for a fireside-tale. Its windows gleamed cheerfully in the slanting sunlight. The lines and tufts of green moss, here and there, seemed pledges of familiarity and sisterhood with Nature; as if this human dwelling-place, being of such old date, had established its prescriptive title among primeval oaks, and whatever other objects, by virtue of their long continuance, have acquired a gracious right to be. A person of imaginative temperament, while passing by the house, would turn, once and again, and peruse it well;—its many peaks, consenting together in the clustered chimney; the deep projection over its basement story; the arched window, imparting a look, if not of grandeur, yet of antique gentility, to the broken portal over which it opened; the luxuriance of gigantic burdocks, near the threshold;—he would note all these characteristics, and be conscious of something deeper than he saw. He would conceive the mansion to have been the residence of the stubborn old Puritan, Integrity, who, dying in some forgotten generation, had left a blessing in all its rooms and chambers, the efficacy of which was to be seen in the religion, honesty, moderate competence, or upright poverty, and solid happiness, of his descendants, to this day.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

the last book I ever read (The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, excerpt twelve)

from The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

As they proceeded on their strange expedition, she now and then cast a look sidelong at Clifford, and could not but observe that he was possessed and swayed by a powerful excitement. It was this, indeed, that gave him the control which he had at once, and so irresistibly, established over her movements. It not a little resembled the exhilaration of wine. Or it might more fancifully be compared to a joyous piece of music, played with wild vivacity, but upon a disordered instrument. As the cracked, jarring note might always be heard, and as it jarred loudest amid the loftiest exultation of the melody, so was there a continual quake through Clifford, causing him most to quiver while he wore a triumphant smile, and seemed almost under a necessity to skip in his gait.

They met few people abroad, even on passing from the retired neighborhood of the House of the Seven Gables into what was ordinarily the more thronged and busier portion of the town. Glistening sidewalks, with little pools of rain, here and there, along their unequal surface; umbrellas, displayed ostentatiously in the shop-windows, as if the life of trade had concentred itself in that one article; wet leaves of the horse-chestnut or elm-trees, torn off untimely by the blast, and scattered along the public-way; an unsightly accumulation of mud in the middle of the street, which perversely grew the more unclean for its long and laborious washing;—these were the more definable points of a very sombre picture. In the way of movement, and human life, there was the hasty rattle of a cab or coach, its driver protected by a water-proof cap over his head and shoulders; the forlorn figure of an old man, who seemed to have crept out of some subterranean sewer, and was stooping along the kennel, and poking the wet rubbish with a stick, in quest of rusty nails; a merchant or two, at the door of the post-office, together with an editor, and a miscellaneous politician, awaiting a dilatory mail; a few visages of retired sea-captains at the window of an Insurance Office, looking out vacantly at the vacant street, blaspheming at the weather, and fretting at the dearth as well of public news as local gossip. What a treasure-trove to these venerable quidnuncs, could they have guessed the secret which Hepzibah and Clifford were carrying along with them! But their two figures attracted hardly so much notice as that of a young girl, who passed, at the same instant, and happened to raise her skirt a trifle too high above her ancles. Had it been a sunny and cheerful day, they could hardly have gone through the streets without making themselves obnoxious to remark. Now, probably, they were felt to be in keeping with the dismal and bitter weather, and therefore did not stand out in strong relief, as if the sun were shining on them, but melted into the gray gloom, and were forgotten as soon as gone.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

the last book I ever read (The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, excerpt eleven)

from The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

“How you hate everything old!” said Phoebe in dismay.—“ It makes me dizzy to think of such a shifting world!”

“I certainly love nothing mouldy,” answered Holgrave. “Now this old Pyncheon-house! Is it a wholesome place to live in, with its black shingles, and the green moss that shows how damp they are?—its dark, low-studded rooms?—its grime and sordidness, which are the crystallization on its walls of the human breath, that has been drawn and exhaled here, in discontent and anguish? The house ought to be purified with fire—purified till only its ashes remain!”

“Then why do you live in it?” asked Phoebe, a little piqued.

“Oh, I am pursuing my studies here; not in books, however!” replied Holgrave. “The house, in my view, is expressive of that odious and abominable Past, with all its bad influences, against which I have just been declaiming. I dwell in it for awhile, that I may know the better how to hate it. By-the-by, did you ever hear the story of Maule, the wizard, and what happened between him and your immeasurably great-grandfather?”

“Yes indeed!” said Phoebe. “I heard it long ago from my father, and two or three times from my Cousin Hepzibah, in the month that I have been here. She seems to think that all the calamities of the Pyncheons began from that quarrel with the wizard, as you call him. And you, Mr. Holgrave, look as if you thought so too! How singular, that you should believe what is so very absurd, when you reject many things that are a great deal worthier of credit!”

Friday, May 12, 2023

the last book I ever read (The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, excerpt ten)

from The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Do you write for the magazines?” inquired Phoebe.

“Is it possible you did not know it?” cried Holgrave.—“ Well; such is literary fame! Yes, Miss Phoebe Pyncheon, among the multitude of my marvellous gifts, I have that of writing stories; and my name has figured, I can assure you, on the covers of Graham and Godey, making as respectable an appearance, for aught I could see, as any of the canonized bead-roll with which it was associated. In the humorous line, I am thought to have a very pretty way with me; and as for pathos, I am as provocative of tears as an onion! But shall I read you my story?”

“Yes; if it is not very long,” said Phoebe—and added, laughingly—“ nor very dull!”

Thursday, May 11, 2023

the last book I ever read (The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, excerpt nine)

from The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

“I want my happiness!” at last he murmured hoarsely and indistinctly, hardly shaping out the words. “Many, many years have I waited for it! It is late! It is late! I want my happiness!”

Alas, poor Clifford! You are old, and worn with troubles that ought never to have befallen you. You are partly crazy, and partly imbecile; a ruin, a failure, as almost everybody is—though some in less degree, or less perceptibly, than their fellows. Fate has no happiness in store for you; unless your quiet home in the old family residence, with the faithful Hepzibah, and your long summer-afternoons with Phoebe, and these Sabbath festivals with Uncle Venner and the Daguerreotypist, deserve to be called happiness! Why not? If not the thing itself, it is marvellously like it, and the more so for that ethereal and intangible quality, which causes it all to vanish, at too close an introspection. Take it, therefore, while you may. Murmur not—question not—but make the most of it!

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

the last book I ever read (The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, excerpt eight)

from The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The second of Chanticleer’s two wives, ever since Phoebe’s arrival, had been in a state of heavy despondency, caused, as it afterwards appeared, by her inability to lay an egg. One day, however, by her self-important gait, the sideway turn of her head, and the cock of her eye, as she pried into one and another nook of the garden—croaking to herself, all the while, with inexpressible complacency—it was made evident that this identical hen, much as mankind undervalued her, carried something about her person, the worth of which was not to be estimated either in gold or precious stones. Shortly after, there was a prodigious cackling and gratulation of Chanticleer and all his family, including the wizened chicken, who appeared to understand the matter, quite as well as did his sire, his mother, or his aunt. That afternoon, Phoebe found a diminutive egg—not in the regular nest—it was far too precious to be trusted there—but cunningly hidden under the currant-bushes, on some dry stalks of last year’s grass. Hepzibah, on learning the fact, took possession of the egg and appropriated it to Clifford’s breakfast, on account of a certain delicacy of flavor, for which, as she affirmed, these eggs had always been famous. Thus unscrupulously did the old gentlewoman sacrifice the continuance, perhaps, of an ancient feathered race, with no better end than to supply her brother with a dainty that hardly filled the bowl of a teaspoon! It must have been in reference to this outrage, that Chanticleer, the next day, accompanied by the bereaved mother of the egg, took his post in front of Phoebe and Clifford, and delivered himself of a harangue that might have proved as long as his own pedigree, but for a fit of merriment on Phoebe’s part. Hereupon, the offended fowl stalked away on his long stilts, and utterly withdrew his notice from Phoebe and the rest of human nature; until she made her peace with an offering of spice-cake, which, next to snails, was the delicacy most in favor with his aristocratic taste.

We linger too long, no doubt, beside this paltry rivulet of life that flowed through the garden of the Pyncheon-house. But we deem it pardonable to record these mean incidents, and poor delights, because they proved so greatly to Clifford’s benefit. They had the earth-smell in them, and contributed to give him health and substance. Some of his occupations wrought less desirably upon him. He had a singular propensity, for example, to hang over Maule’s Well, and look at the constantly shifting phantasmagoria of figures, produced by the agitation of the water over the mosaic-work of colored pebbles, at the bottom. He said that faces looked upward to him there—beautiful faces, arrayed in bewitching smiles—each momentary face so fair and rosy, and every smile so sunny, that he felt wronged at its departure, until the same flitting witchcraft made a new one. But sometimes he would suddenly cry out—“ The dark face gazes at me!”—and be miserable, the whole day afterwards. Phoebe, when she hung over the fountain by Clifford’s side, could see nothing of all this—neither the beauty nor the ugliness—but only the colored pebbles, looking as if the gush of the water shook and disarranged them. And the dark face, that so troubled Clifford, was no more than the shadow, thrown from a branch of one of the damson-trees, and breaking the inner light of Maule’s Well. The truth was, however, that his fancy—reviving faster than his will and judgement, and always stronger than they—created shapes of loveliness that were symbolic of his native character, and now and then a stern and dreadful shape, that typified his fate.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

the last book I ever read (The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, excerpt seven)

from The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

How patiently did she endeavor to wrap Clifford up in her great, warm love, and make it all the world to him, so that he should retain no torturing sense of the coldness and dreariness, without! Her little efforts to amuse him! How pitiful, yet magnanimous, they were!

Remembering his early love of poetry and fiction, she unlocked a bookcase, and took down several books that had been excellent reading, in their day. There was a volume of Pope, with the Rape of the Lock in it, and another of the Tatler, and an odd one of Dryden’s Miscellanies, all with tarnished gilding on their covers, and thoughts of tarnished brilliancy, inside. They had no success with Clifford. These, and all such writers of society, whose new works glow like the rich texture of a just-woven carpet, must be content to relinquish their charm, for every reader, after an age or two, and could hardly be supposed to retain any portion of it for a mind, that had utterly lost its estimate of modes and manners. Hepzibah then took up Rasselas, and began to read of the Happy Valley, with a vague idea that some secret of a contented life had there been elaborated, which might at least serve Clifford and herself for this one day. But the Happy Valley had a cloud over it. Hepzibah troubled her auditor, moreover, by innumerable sins of emphasis, which he seemed to detect without any reference to the meaning; nor, in fact, did he appear to take much note of the sense of what she read, but evidently felt the tedium of the lecture without harvesting its profit. His sister’s voice, too, naturally harsh, had, in the course of her sorrowful lifetime, contracted a kind of croak, which, when it once gets into the human throat, is as ineradicable as sin. In both sexes, occasionally, this life-long croak, accompanying each word of joy or sorrow, is one of the symptoms of a settled melancholy; and wherever it occurs, the whole history of misfortune is conveyed in its slightest accent. The effect is as if the voice had been dyed black; or—if we must use a more moderate simile—this miserable croak, running through all the variations of the voice, is like a black silken thread, on which the crystal beads of speech are strung, and whence they take their hue. Such voices have put on mourning for dead hopes; and they ought to die and be buried along with them!

Monday, May 8, 2023

the last book I ever read (The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, excerpt six)

from The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

After arranging matters to her satisfaction, Phoebe emerged from her chamber, with a purpose to descend again into the garden. Besides the rose-bush, she had observed several other species of flowers, growing there in a wilderness of neglect, and obstructing one another’s developement (as is often the parallel case in human society) by their uneducated entanglement and confusion. At the head of the stairs, however, she met Hepzibah, who, it being still early, invited her into a room which she would probably have called her boudoir, had her education embraced any such French phrase. It was strewn about with a few old books, and a work-basket, and a dusty writing-desk, and had, on one side, a large, black article of furniture, of very strange appearance, which the old gentle woman told Phoebe was a harpsichord. It looked more like a coffin than anything else; and, indeed—not having been played upon, or opened, for years—there must have been a vast deal of dead music in it, stifled for want of air. Human finger was hardly known to have touched its chords, since the days of Alice Pyncheon, who had learned the sweet accomplishment of melody, in Europe.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

the last book I ever read (The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, excerpt five)

from The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Who can it be?” thought Hepzibah, who had been screwing her visual organs into the acutest focus of which they were capable. “The girl must have mistaken the house!”

She stole softly into the hall, and, herself invisible, gazed through the dusty side-lights of the portal at the young, blooming, and very cheerful face, which presented itself for admittance into the gloomy old mansion. It was a face to which almost any door would have opened of its own accord.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

the last book I ever read (The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, excerpt four)

from The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The child—staring with round eyes at this instance of liberality, wholly unprecedented in his large experience of cent-shops-took the man of gingerbread, and quitted the premises. No sooner had he reached the sidewalk (little cannibal that he was!) than Jim Crow’s head was in his mouth. As he had not been careful to shut the door, Hepzibah was at the pains of closing it after him, with a pettish ejaculation or two about the troublesomeness of young people, and particularly of small boys. She had just placed another representative of the renowned Jim Crow at the window, when again the shop-bell tinkled clamorously; and again the door being thrust open, with its characteristic jerk and jar, disclosed the same sturdy little urchin who, precisely two minutes ago, had made his exit. The crumbs and discoloration of the cannibal feast, as yet hardly consummated, were exceedingly visible about his mouth!

“What is it now, child?” asked the maiden lady, rather impatiently.—“ Did you come back to shut the door?”

“No!” answered the urchin, pointing to the figure that had just been put up.—“ I want that other Jim Crow!”

Friday, May 5, 2023

the last book I ever read (The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, excerpt three)

from The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Now, she is almost ready. Let us pardon her one other pause; for it is given to the sole sentiment, or we might better say—heightened and rendered intense, as it has been, by sorrow and seclusion—to the strong passion of her life. We heard the turning of a key in a small lock; she has opened a secret drawer of an escritoir, and is probably looking at a certain miniature, done in Malbone’s most perfect style, and representing a face worthy of no less delicate a pencil. It was once our good fortune to see this picture. It is the likeness of a young man, in a silken dressing-gown of an old fashion, the soft richness of which is well adapted to the countenance of reverie, with its full, tender lips, and beautiful eyes, that seem to indicate not so much capacity of thought, as gentle and voluptuous emotion. Of the possessor of such features we should have a right to ask nothing, except that he would take the rude world easily, and make himself happy in it. Can it have been an early lover of Miss Hepzibah? No; she never had a lover—poor thing, how could she?—nor ever knew, by her own experience, what love technically means. And yet, her undying faith and trust, her fresh remembrance, and continual devotedness towards the original of that miniature, have been the only substance for her heart to feed upon.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

the last book I ever read (The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, excerpt two)

from The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

But the Puritan soldier and magistrate was not a man to be turned aside from his well-considered scheme, either by dread of the wizard’s ghost, or by flimsy sentimentalities of any kind, however specious. Had he been told of a bad air, it might have moved him somewhat; but he was ready to encounter an evil spirit, on his own ground. Endowed with common-sense, as massive and hard as blocks of granite, fastened together by stern rigidity of purpose, as with iron clamps, he followed out his original design, probably without so much as imagining an objection to it. On the score of delicacy, or any scrupulousness which a finer sensibility might have taught him, the Colonel, like most of his breed and generation, was impenetrable. He therefore dug his cellar, and laid the deep foundations of his mansion, on the square of earth whence Matthew Maule, forty years before, had first swept away the fallen leaves. It was a curious, and, as some people thought, an ominous fact, that, very soon after the workmen began their operations, the spring of water, above mentioned, entirely lost the deliciousness of its pristine quality. Whether its sources were disturbed by the depth of the new cellar, or whatever subtler cause might lurk at the bottom, it is certain that the water of Maule’s Well, as it continued to be called, grew hard and brackish. Even such we find it now; and any old woman of the neighborhood will certify, that it is productive of intestinal mischief to those who quench their thirst there.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

the last book I ever read (The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, excerpt one)

from The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Old Matthew Maule, in a word, was executed for the crime of witchcraft. He was one of the martyrs to that terrible delusion which should teach us, among its other morals, that the influential classes, and those who take upon themselves to be leaders of the people, are fully liable to all the passionate error that has ever characterized the maddest mob. Clergy men, judges, statesmen—the wisest, calmest, holiest persons of their day—stood in the inner circle roundabout the gallows, loudest to applaud the work of blood, latest to confess themselves miserably deceived. If any one part of their proceedings can be said to deserve less blame than another, it was the singular indiscrimination with which they persecuted, not merely the poor and aged, as in former judicial massacres, but people of all ranks; their own equals, brethren, and wives. Amid the disorder of such various ruin, it is not strange that a man of inconsiderable note, like Maule, should have trodden the martyr’s path to the hill of execution, almost unremarked in the throng of his fellow-sufferers. But, in after days, when the frenzy of that hideous epoch had subsided, it was remembered how loudly Colonel Pyncheon had joined in the general cry, to purge the land from witchcraft; nor did it fail to be whispered, that there was an invidious acrimony in the zeal with which he had sought the condemnation of Matthew Maule. It was well known, that the victim had recognized the bitterness of personal enmity in his persecutor’s conduct towards him, and that he declared himself hunted to death for his spoil. At the moment of execution—with the halter about his neck, and while Colonel Pyncheon sat on horseback, grimly gazing at the scene—Maule had addressed him from the scaffold, and uttered a prophecy, of which history, as well as fireside tradition, has preserved the very words.—“ God,” said the dying man, pointing his finger with a ghastly look at the undismayed countenance of his enemy, “God will give him blood to drink!”

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

the last book I ever read (Bliss Montage: Stories by Ling Ma, excerpt seven)

from Bliss Montage: Stories by Ling Ma:

“So what you want is not necessarily to quit. You want to take a leave, maybe an extended vacation.” He was always willfully misinterpreting her. “We were supposed to take a vacation together,” he said, almost to himself.

“Sure.” Even didn’t want to rehash their broken plans. At one point, they had planned on traveling overseas together, for a tour through parts of Asia. But since his idea of a good time was touring Civil War battlefields, she should have seen that he would eventually back out. Someone who found eating pad thai too “challenging” probably wouldn’t adapt to traveling so far afield.

Monday, May 1, 2023

the last book I ever read (Bliss Montage: Stories by Ling Ma, excerpt six)

from Bliss Montage: Stories by Ling Ma:

Ice cream is my favorite food. I write these words in the journal my mother gives me to record my first days in the US. English is just a play language to me, the words tethered to their meanings by the loosest, most tenuous connections. So it’s easy to lie. I tell the truth in Chinese, I make up stories in English. I don’t take it that seriously. When I’m finally enrolled in first grade, I tell classmates that I live in a house with an elevator, with deer in the backyard. It is the language in which I have nothing to lose, even if they don’t believe a thing I say.