Sunday, June 18, 2017

Watering the Bees

Until I read Virgil's fourth Georgic, I had never thought about where and how bees drink. But since that Georgic deals with bees, it tells how to site hives for proper watering:
But let clear springs and moss-green pools be near,
And through the grass a streamlet hurrying run,
Some palm-tree o'er the porch extend its shade,
Or huge-grown oleaster, that in Spring,
Their own sweet Spring-tide, when the new-made chiefs
Lead forth the young swarms, and, escaped their comb,
The colony comes forth to sport and play,
The neighbouring bank may lure them from the heat,
Or bough befriend with hospitable shade.
O'er the mid-waters, whether swift or still,
Cast willow-branches and big stones enow,
Bridge after bridge, where they may footing find
And spread their wide wings to the summer sun,
If haply Eurus, swooping as they pause,
Have dashed with spray or plunged them in the deep.
(Translated by J.G. Greenough, courtesy of the Perseus Project.)  The Macmillan edition of the Eclogues and Georgics has a note to this passage that quotes an English publication to the effect that an artificial basin will do if a stream is not handy.

Last weekend, I dealt with the birdbath in our garden a couple of times: once to fill it, once to adjust the support so that the basin is more nearly level. Both times there were two to four small bees flitting about the birdbath. I was pleased that they did not bother to defend the water. I tried to take a photograph, but found that my phone does not work well for small dull-colored bees against dull concrete.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Enthusiasm

Mme. de Stael's De l'Allemagne ends with three short chapters, in all sixteen pages, on enthusiasm. They nearly exhausted mine, what I can manage on a Saturday afternoon at least. They seem to me to pursue quarrels that have died out or changed forms. Undoubtedly her circles in Paris were too much given to a way of thinking that had much to learn from the Germans of that day; but they and those Germans are gone. What she has to say about Kant, Fichte, and Goethe holds the interest still; the arguments with phantom antagonists do not.

A paragraph in the final chapter speaks of the uses of enthusiasm for national defense, and in a footnote she writes that she had England in mind. Now England, the land of the Mutiny Act and the press gangs, which is to say the small professional military, seems an odd choice. After a little looking, I found in Felix Markham's Napoleon some remarks by the Duke of Wellington:
As to the enthusiasm, about which so much noise has been made even in our own country, I am convinced the world has entirely mistaken its effects. I fancy that upon reflection, it will be discovered that what was deemed enthusiasm among the French, which enabled them successfully to resist all Europe at the commencement of the Revolution, was force acting through the medium of popular societies and assuming the name of enthusiasm, and that force, in a different shape, has completed the conquest of Europe and keeps the Continent in subjection.
(He wrote in October 1809, when Spanish enthusiasm didn't seem to be paying off much.) And Stendhal thought Wellington's Peninsular army the best that ever fought without enthusiasm.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Trends

Today, as on most weekend days, I ran in Rock Creek Park. Along Joyce Road, I saw a young woman walking along a guard rail. In the park these rails are made of treated lumber, six by eights I think. So it is not especially difficult to walk along the rail; but I couldn't tell you when I last saw someone doing so. Then on the way up from Beach Drive to Carter Barron, I saw a young couple walking on the guard rail there.

Why are people now walking along these rails? Is it something on TV?

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Tomato Paste

In the books on our kitchen shelves there are many recipes that call for tomato paste. All that I have seen call for two tablespoons. As best I can tell, the standard American tomato paste can holds about four tablespoons. As a consequence, I have often left half-used cans of tomato paste in a refrigerator, secured with plastic, then found them weeks later with mold growing on them. I do understand that it would not be economical to sell two-tablespoon cans of tomato paste.

We could double the recipes, but then we would be making space in the refrigerator for another casserole, not another small can. We could simply use twice the tomato paste called for by the recipe, and sometimes we do, generally without bad effect. I suppose that the best approach would be to put the remaining contents of a can into a plastic container and freeze that. However, I don't know whether I'd remember to look for frozen tomato paste before opening a new can.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Language of Clarity, and A Neighbor

Noticed in Mme. de Stael's De l'Allemagne:
For objects the most clear in themselves, Kant often takes a thoroughly obscure metaphysics for guide, and it is only in the shadows of thought that he carries a glowing  torch: he recalls the Israelites, who had for guide a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of smoke by day.
(Part 2, Chapter VI, "Kant")
But systems that aim at a complete explanation of the universe can scarcely be analyzed by any speech: words are not suited to these kinds of ideas, and so it occurs that in making them do this work one spreads over everything the darkness that preceded creation, not the light that followed it.
(Part 2, Chapter VII, "The Most Famous German Philosophers Before and After Kant")

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Past As It Would Have Been

As part of my clearance reading, I have just read The Swerve, by Stephen Greenblatt. The book does hold the interest, though I consider that Greenblatt might have done better in further untangling the threads that make it up, which I take to be
  • The biography of Poggio Braccioloni, who first discovered a manuscript of De Rerum Natura by Lucretius and brought it back into European consciousness.
  • The philosophy of Epicurus and its history, both in antiquity and, largely transmitted by Lucretius, in the modern world.
  • To some degree, Greenblatt's own commitment  to Epicurean philosophy.
  • Miscellaneous Renaissance history as it touches on Poggio, his employers, his friends, and his enemies.
What struck me first, though, was the frequent use of "would" and "might". Within a couple of paragraphs of Chapter Two, "The Moment of Discovery",  one reads
.,. Poggio would have dismounted and walked up the tree-lined avenue toward the abbey's single, heavy gate.... The granaries at this point in the winter would still have been reasonably full, and there would have would have been ample straw and oats for the horses and donkeys in the stable. Looking around, Poggio would have taken in the chicken coops, the covered yard for sheep, the cowshed with its smell, and the large pigsties. He might have felt a pang for the olives and the wine of Tuscany, but he knew that he would not go hungry....
 In 1417, if Fulda was indeed Poggio's destination, that ruler was Johann von Merlau. After greeting him humbly, explaining something about himself, and presenting a letter of recommendation from a well-known cardinal, Poggio would almost certainly have begun by expressing his interest in glimpsing the precious relics of St. Boniface and saying a prayer in their holy presence.
I think I understand the excitement that a scholar would find--as Petrarch, Poggio, and Erasmus did--in searching out forgotten works of antiquity, and I can understand an author wishing to convey that excitement to readers who have not considered it. But above a certain density of "would have"s and "might have"s, one starts to resist.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Reading Friedell, Again

Egon Friedell's Kulturgeschichte der Neuzeit ends with about thirty pages devoted to the few years between the end of WW I and the appearance of the book. These give the impression of bewilderment, for Einstein appears next to a metallurgical crank with a glacial theory of the development of galaxies; astrology gets a mention--the Age of Aquarius--and Freud is mentioned with considerable respect, Freudians or simply psychoanalysts with contempt. It strikes me as understandable that a man who had come to maturity before the war would find the world after it baffling.

I suppose that the measure of a cultural history comes down to three matters. There is plausibility: do the points on which one can judge make one confident in the author's account of the rest? Is there the sense of being in touch with a lively mind? And does one come away with a longer reading list to follow up? On all three, Friedell measures up. I don't know that I quite believe in Bismarck as he did, or that I know what to make of his account of Wagner. Here and there he reminds me of the exile in Pictures From an Institution who said that his ambition was to be unjust to Austria. But in the balance these quibbles, even if I were wholly correct in them, seem to me to count for little.

Will I read it again? No, probably not all the way through, for 1300 pages make a long way. Will I pull it off the shelves now and then to refresh my memory of his judgments on this or that figure--Bismarck, Goethe, Flaubert, Luther--or simply to to enjoy the salt with which he expresses them? Almost certainly.