She’s fly, she’s fresh, she’s def

In 1979, after he met Jackie O, Bruce Chatwin wrote to his wife, Elizabeth,

Escorting Mrs Onassis to the opera next Thursday. Met her again with the John Russells, and my God she’s fly.1

Best description of Mrs. Onassis ever? I think so. I was surprised to learn that this connotation of “fly” was of so early a vintage, but a writer in a discussion at Metafilter found an even earlier occurence in an O. Henry story of the first decade of the 20th century.

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Thin is in … decent

Thinness is more naked, more indecent than corpulence.

»Charles Baudelaire. (Christopher Isherwood, trans.) The Intimate Journals of Charles Baudelaire. Boston, Beacon Press, 1957.

“this pig snout which represented the war’s true face.”

Surrounded by masked men during a phosgene attack at Verdun, Pierre de Mazenod was reminded of a ‘carnival of death.’ For many, gas took the war into the realm of the unreal, the make-believe. When men donned their masks they lost all sign of humanity, and with their long snouts, large glass eyes, and slow movements, they became figures of fantasy, closer in their angular features to the creations of Picasso and Braque than to soldiers of tradition. [Roland] Dorgelès called the gas mask ‘this pig snout which represented the war’s true face.’

»Modris Eksteins. Rites of Spring : The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age. Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1989.


“The Oscar”

Quoted in Richard Ellman’s Oscar Wilde:

I started as Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde. All but two of the five names have already been thrown overboard. Soon I shall discard another and be known simply as ‘The Wilde’ or ‘The Oscar.’

Thus anticipating his countrymen Bono and The Edge by nearly a century. Oscar was nothing if not ahead of his time.

Nice work, if you can get it

But most of the work he did on his own, just by putting himself in the right place and being smart, genial, attractive, and rich.

»Joan Acocella on Lincoln Kirstein. “Heroes and Hero Worship” in Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints : Essays. New York : Pantheon Books, 2007.

Goethe on Etna

… walks on foot through the most astonishing landscape in the world; treacherous ground under a pure sky; ruins of unimaginable luxury, abominable and sad; seething waters; caves exhaling sulfur fumes; slag hills forbidding all living growth; barren and repulsive areas; but then, luxurious vegetation, taking root wherever it can, soars up out of all the dead matter, encircles lakes and brooks, and extends its conquest even to the walls of an old crater by establishing there a forest of noble oaks.

»Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe. (W.H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer, trans.) Italian Journey : 1786-1788. San Francisco, North Point Press, 1982.

Another kind of crowd

Of course it probably helped that Harold [Brodkey] went to almost every literary party and spent hours on the phone every day with Don DeLillo, Harold Bloom, Dennis Donoghue. DeLillo told him the way to stop worrying about death was to watch a lot of television.

»Edmund White. City Boy : my life in New York during the 1960’s and ’70s. New York : Bloomsbury, 2009.