Waiting for the Tooth Fairy
It finally happened last night. The last fragment of one of my baby teeth wobbled free. Now, I've had that tooth for a certain number of decades -- fewer than ten, but more than two. Therefore its value has to be far greater than if I had put it under my pillow when I was kid, like most people do. I started calculating, 25 cents (the old rate, in my boyhood) at, say, 5% compounded over all those years ... But then I lost it! It was such a tiny thing, no bigger than a crumb, and we must have inadvertently swept it up and thrown it out. I'm heartbroken. But I'll get other chances to collect from the tooth fairy. Get your checkbook ready, lady, I still have three more baby teeth hanging on by their tiny roots.
The necessity of European anti-Semitism
Rudolph Giuliani, the man with a simple solution for every complicated problem, tells Europe how it can Stop the Hate of Jews in a NYT op-ed that appeared just a week after An Oxymoron: Europe Without Christianity by Kenneth L. Woodward. If Rudy read his hometown paper before submitting to it, he might see how much more complicated this problem is. I've been researching the Spanish conquest of America (for a book on the history of Latin American architecture and urbanism), and recently completed a novel about the rise of the Ottomans and the last days of Christian Constantinople, so I've been thinking a lot about these relationships. It is clear to me that Europe could not have become "Europe" without Christianity, and anti-Semitism was an inevitable by-product.

Before there was Europe, the Roman Empire had held together the lands all around the Mediterranean by military and commercial might, governing by Roman law but more or less indifferent to the multiplicity of religions. "Europe," without that overwhelming superpower, was able to bring itself together (more or less) by the shared religion. Danes and Irishmen only recently Christianized and older Christians like Spaniards and Italians needed enemies of their faith to remind themselves of their common values. Hence, the ideological urgency of Crusades and pogroms, and in Spain, the Inquisition (with so many languages in the Iberian peninsula, how else could Spain hold itself together?). Europe is past that stage now, one hopes, but until it developed mighty industries and commerce to achieve the same purpose, the common religion was essential to Europe's identity and power.

It should be obvious then that anti-Semitism is a very different, and much weaker, phenomenon in America. It was never essential to our identity. For most of us, the Atlantic Ocean was enough of a barrier between us and the non-Americans. Anti-Semitism here is an import, not as deeply rooted and therefore more susceptible to Giuliani's law-and-order remedies. Here we massacred "Indians" and lynched blacks, but that's another story.


Martin Waldseemüller
He's back in the news, the guy who invented the name "America." The last known surviving copy of the 1507 map he drew, inspired by Amerigo ("Americus") Vespucci's account of explorations, has been sold by Prince Johannes Waldburg-Wolfegg for $10 million to the U.S. Library of Congress.

Don't you love these names? The cartographer's is even better than the prince's, although "Wolfegg" has a certain charm. ("Egge" means "harrow," but that probably has nothing to do with it. Ever seen a wolf farming? I didn't think so.) "Waldseemüller" names both the ancestral occupation, and the approximate address. I may start signing myself Gottfried Dorfschreiber because I live in a village (Greenwich Village), or maybe Grossapfelschreiber or even Großapfelschreiber. What do you think?

Women: Get us while we last!
If I've got this right, we men are on our way to extinction. The Y chromosome, the only thing that keeps Us from being like You, has been decaying ever since the first Homo sapiens (Latin for "smart dude") hooked up with the first Mulier sapiens ("Eve"). So hurry! No telling what will become of us over the next millennium.

The same new study, made possible by the recent mapping of the entire human genome, reveals something I'd always suspected: men are (genetically) as different from women (1.5 to 2% of our genes) as we are from chimpanzees. No surprise there. But chimps may be smarter. Every time I start to pound my chest, I lose my grip on the tree limb. (See today's NYT article by Nicholas Wade.)


William Packard

"What do I myself mean by poetry? The mysterious charge of language that takes place when passion combines with consciousness to create rhythms, the inevitable and intuitive rhythms of the bloodstream, ear and eye and voice." -- William Packard, craft interview, NYQ (The New York Quarterly) 40, reprinted in NYQ 59.

News of Bill Packard's death (Nov. 3, 2002) reached me late -- I don't remember now which of my writer friends told me about it. My memory of him was buried deep among other layers of memory of writing efforts and contacts and barely stirred. But then this weekend, at the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses' "Lit Mag Marathon," I met Raymond Hammond, his successor editor at NYQ, the poetry journal that Bill had founded in 1969, and then read Bill's words in interviews, essays and poems in NYQ 59. Confronting his ghost reminded me of how frightening I had found him, when he came to lecture at the New York University Summer Writers Conference one year when I was also an instructor.

How could such a gentle, love-projecting, wild-eyed, dissheveled old bear frighten anybody? Especially when he was seated behind a desk at the bottom of the auditorium and I was safely seated in one of the back rows? I wouldn't have admitted I was frightened, but now I think that is the only explanation of my confused reactions as examples of poetic devices poured out of him in long heartfelt renderings of passages from the King James Bible, Shakespeare, Auden, Rilke, and maybe a dozen other poets. Bill Packard would look at you and into you, no deeper than he needed to, but far enough to probe your first line of defense, and challenge you like Rainer Maria Rilke's "Apollo" in a poem that Packard translated (also included in NYQ 59): "You must change your life."

NYT obit | NYQ obit (much fuller, and with a wild-man photo that Packard himself liked to use) | Council of Literary Magazines and Presses


Interview with Deborah Treisman
On The Connection with Dick Gordon. For all of us who hope one day to see our work in the New Yorker, this is important.