Shed Down by the River

Fireplace, JMN, photo. (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

Fireplace, JMN, photo. (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

From the street it’s nondescript: long and low, homely brickwork giving way to corrugated metal, no windows. Flat, pedestrian, a second-rate, seedy, industrial-looking structure on a humble side of town.

Patio and doorways are on the opposite side facing inward to a landscaped city block. Walled and fenced. Graveled islands pocked with blooming sage and firebush. You pass through a high brick arch that Arturo Rodriguez built. He and wife Andrea were the first residents of the original cabin that‘s a rectangular ramble now. Andy would dandle my infant son on her jolly lap: “Let me see that fat baby!”

Inside, it’s a crepuscular cocoon, a Bohemian man-cave — rustic opulence, high ceilings, tile floors, monumental fireplace, a skylight over the easel.

A river runs nearby. I call it the Mighty Wadi Loopy.

I was the only foreigner in my class at the University of Barcelona. Three things there impressed me:

(1) Well-off Spaniards lived modestly compared to their U.S. counterparts. Their apartments nestled in old buildings that gave no external hint of luxury. Men wore the same blazer all week long. The Catalan haute bourgeoisie eschewed conspicuous consumption.

I’ll mention (2) and (3) another time.

My shed has a shoddy, disreputable face. You wouldn’t know it harbors a recluse of proud, lower-middle-class rank.

(C) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

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Requiem for a Walking Stick

Walking Stick, JMN, photo. (C) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

Walking Stick, JMN, photo. (C) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

You sweet bastard. Just two days ago I transferred you from the risky environs of the patio to the security of the Jatropha bush. Now I find you again on the patio inert, apparently expiring. What has hurt you? Or is it old age? You’re fairly large, that’s true. Have you reached the end of your cycle, and if so, did you leave lots of progeny behind? I hope so. You’re one of the most fragile-looking and beautiful critters I’ve stumbled upon. I may have seen three of your kind in my whole life thus far. I’ll monitor you on my work table here in the cool indoors. Make a globule of water available. Maybe you’ll revive. I doubt it. I’ll mourn your passing. If I have anything else to say to people like you, it’s this: If you’re going to come to my attention, be prepared to stick around a little longer. These partings are painful.

(C) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

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Seduction by Menu

King An unassuming Soho restaurant

King, an unassuming Soho restaurant owned by (from Left) Jess Shadbolt, Clare de Boer and Annie Shi, has won wide acclaim for its small menu, which changes every day — twice. Credit Sasha Arutyunova for the New York Times

“The menu should read like a poem,” Ms. de Boer said. “You should seduce the diner. People don’t know they want to eat deep-fried mackerel with aioli, so you’ve got to tell a story and get them on your wavelength.”

(Tejal Rao, “It Takes a Lot of Skill to Make a Restaurant Seem So Casual,” NYTimes)

(C) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

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Make Someone Smile

Artifacts left by American soldiers during World War I

Artifacts left by American soldiers during World War I in underground stone quarries near the Chemin des Dames. Credit William Daniels for The New York Times

“Graffiti is one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing,” the street artist Banksy wrote in 2001. “And even if you don’t come up with a picture to cure world poverty, you can make someone smile while they’re having a piss.”

(Jonathan Bratten, “The History Behind the Graffiti of War,” NYTimes)

(C) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

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Dear Mother… Charles

Mother Pensive With Huge Glasses, JMN, photo. (C) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

Mother Pensive With Huge Glasses, JMN, photo. (C) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

Charles Behlen gave me a copy of his “translation” of Arthur Rimbaud’s “Le bateau ivre” (The Drunken Boat). I put “translation” in quotes because Charles readily admits that his version derives from other English versions of the poem, since he doesn’t know French. This is a common procedure with a lot of poets and has produced some really good English renderings of foreign poems. An example is Robert Lowell’s “Imitations.” He wants me to read his translation against the original French to see what we come to. Charles and I agree that you don’t have to know the original language in order to produce strong and viable versions in English. It’s an accepted maxim among good translators that the most important prerequisite is to be able to write well in the native language, not the “target” (or foreign) language. In other words, a good translator is foremost a good writer in his own language. This is what makes so many translations produced by “scholars” of the foreign language so worthy of neglect. They may be “accurate,” but they are also unreadable.

[JMN, Correspondence, 1987]

C) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

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“Displeasing little man”

Sincere wishes

Sincere Wishes, antique post card.

Soon Proust was disenchanted by his goddesses. As Weber notes, his “idealizing vision of his ladies changed over time into something darker.” To the Comtesse de Chevigné [Laure de Sade, great-granddaughter of the Marquis], he wrote, “What one used to love turns out to be very, very stupid.” She, he told a friend, was just “a tough old bird I mistook, long ago, for a bird of paradise.” No longer infatuated, he mocked even the divine Élisabeth [Comtesse Greffulhe] as superficial, pretentious and shallow. And in old age, she proved his point by remembering him as “a displeasing little man who was forever skulking about in doorways.”

(Elaine Showalter, “French High Society During the Belle Époque,” review of “Proust’s Duchess” by Caroline Weber, NYTimes)

(C) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

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“She’s so competitive”

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“It’s funny when they talk about women, saying, ‘Oh, she’s so competitive,’ and it’s almost a put-down… For me, what’s the alternative? To try to lose, or to not give your best? ‘Competitive’ means you’re concentrating, and you do everything to try to prepare as well as you can, and do your best out there.”

(Martina Navratilova, quoted by Ben Rothenberg, “Martina Navratilova May Be Retired, but She Still Wants to Win,” NYTimes)

(C) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

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