Reflections 2011
Series 15
May 23
Midyear Miscellanea


Since returning from the Amazon I’ve been working at numerous projects, mostly online, not the least of which is setting up travel plans over the summer to New England, are still incomplete, and travel plans to Canada in October, which are complete. I’m also pre-preparing website notes, a large operation, which is not yet completed for the New England travel. Within that time, a very mixed potpourri of shorter items of interest have arisen, which I’d like to present at this time. Actually, the original intention of this website was to have each posting be a series of unrelated articles, which is why I always use the term “Series” in the title. However, many postings nowadays end up on just one topic, such as the Amazon, although there is usually a varied series of subtopics within the posting. In any case, the present Series--of unrelated articles--covers: Travelanguist Tenth Anniversary; Michelin Star System; 21 Club; Daniel Radcliffe; Paul Verlaine; Blonde Jokes. As I said, a very mixed bag.


Travelanguist Tenth Anniversary   I can’t believe it either, but this website now encompasses travel and language postings covering ten years, 2000-2010, and now we're moving into the eleventh.


Michelin Star System   I’ve said in the past that, in making decisions about where to travel and what to see and do on arrival, I rely strongly on recommendations. Travel materials that do not rank destinations, usually via a star system, to me are close to useless. The second best are the Frommer guides, which I use for places where the best, the Michelin Green Guides, are not available. I do not follow the stars slavishly. There are locations or destinations within them that are given three stars that I’m not interested in, and there are one-star places that have a special meaning to me, which I do visit. Yet it’s very helpful to have guideposts along the way.


Michelin’s stars in some of their guides are explained this way: 3) Worth a Trip/Journey; 2) Worth a Detour; 1) Interesting, turns of speech that I’ve always thought was the most useful. In other of their guides it’s the more straightforward: 3) Highly Recommended; 2) Recommended; 1) Interesting. Michelin also mentions some locations or sights without stars, which I personally refer to as “zero stars”. They are there for reference and for completion, but in a sense, serve as a fourth level of interest.


A recent area I visited with no starred guide at all were the Pacific Islands, which I’d like to classify according to my feeling as to how Michelin MIGHT classify them. Bora Bora 3; Raiatea 2; Tahiti 1, which pretty much corresponds to my comments at the time. Samoa 2; American Samoa 1; Fiji 1, which is, all in all, less than enthusiastic for some of these island destinations.


The purpose of mentioning this now is to further explain my feelings about the recent Amazon trip (2011/12-13-14), for which I’d done considerable online research, but did not have any guide, starred or otherwise. I think some Worthy Readers (check the Avant-Propos), including fellow ship passengers, might wonder why I felt some places were more--or less--of interest. I’d now like to offer my suggested rankings.


Eight night-trip sailing the Amazon 3; Manaus 3; Opera House 3; Zoo 2; riverboat into the rain forest 2. I’d like to give the Meeting of the Waters 3, but perhaps I’m over-enthusiastic, so I’ll make it a 2. I could not--and still can’t--muster up enough interest for any of the three stops we made along the river. Not having seen them, but having read descriptions, I’d still judge them each to fall somewhere between 1 and 0.


As for the islands before the Amazon, I’d love to give Gustavia on Saint Barts 3, but again, I’m perhaps being too enthusiastic, so I’ll make it 2. From what I’ve seen of Castries this trip and Saint Lucia earlier, they both waver between 1 and 0. Port-of-Spain on Trinidad I could stretch perhaps as high as a 2. After the Amazon, Devil’s Island, based on what I saw from a distance the first time I stopped there plus research, is in all honesty probably not more than a strong 1, because of all the history. Bridgetown and Barbados are each 2, but my fourth stop was too much for me to go ashore again. Roseau and Dominica are each 0; Virgin Gorda pleased me, and is a 2; the beach stop in the Dominican Republic is a 0; Nassau in the Bahamas is a 2.


Using a similar system to rate the ship and people, I’d say that, as a ship--albeit a small one--the Regatta is probably a 3, because it’s so well-appointed and the food is so good, including tea-time. The cruise director was a 3. As for the entertainment, you won’t be surprised if I rate banjoist Peter Mezoian a 3, and the charming string quartet 3, but the in-house singers and dancers to me were mainly razzamatazz pseudo-Broadway flash--as they usually are on cruise ships--and I’ll offer a charitable 2. Although I’ve heard good comedians on ships (John Martin), the feeble offerings of these comedians and magicians I’ll give a 1.


I met some very pleasant fellow passengers that were interesting and a pleasure to talk to, but unfortunately, too many of the passengers I met fell somewhere in the dull-to-vacuous, zero-stars range. I’d say there were more of these than usual on ships; perhaps the length of the trip was a factor somehow. The big exception to that is the nine-member, 3-star trivia team that was formed by pure chance at the time of the first trivia game, with many members of which I had a lot of fun and enjoyed pleasant happy-hours and dinners.


I’ll mention one name on that team in particular. If you recall (or check) 2011/14 “Life on Board”, Bruce and I formed a whizbang team together playing “Name that Tune” that scored way above the other teams. That has since blossomed with friend Bruce into an intense and very lengthy correspondence between New York and Saint Louis, which started with Bruce’s professional origins in printing and typesetting, and later design, and my commenting on how I loved Print Shop at Brooklyn Tech, and had written about Gutenberg’s contribution to printing (2005/17). When I said I’ve been busy since the Amazon trip, these lengthy and enjoyable letters with Bruce on printing, typefaces, alphabet origins, language usage, music, and so on were one factor. Perhaps someday I’ll mine those letters for website material, but for now, my plate is plenty full for the rest of this year.


21 Club   I’d heard of, but had never been to, the 21 Club here in New York, often casually referred to as simply “21”. However, at the end of April, I was invited with some two dozen others to a luncheon (outstanding salmon) in a private, upstairs room there by Eleanor and Owen Hardy of the Society of International Railway Travelers (see 2011/11 for my quote on The Sunlander in their magazine). They had a presentation primarily on the British Pullmans, the Venice-Simplon Orient Express (for both see 2002/2), and the Eastern & Oriental Express (2010/16), which was followed by 21’s very enjoyable speakeasy tour. I plan to revisit 21 in the future for dinner, but it’s worth discussing now.


It had been at three other locations after it first opened in 1922, but reopened on New Year’s Eve, 1929, at its present location, 21 West 52nd Street, just west of 5th Avenue and two blocks from Radio City Music Hall. It occupies three converted townhouses, 21 (hence the name), 19, and 17. One enters a few steps below street level to what does really appear as a gentlemen’s club, which is a marketing problem of theirs, since people often don’t realize it’s a public restaurant and not a private club. The interior has a plush, regal air, heavy with dark, wooden paneling. In addition to the dining rooms, there is a Bar Room and restaurant, whose walls and ceilings are covered with antique toys and sports memorabilia donated by patrons. Every US President but one since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has dined at 21, the exception being George W. Bush. Although gentlemen are still required to wear jackets, I’m very pleased to say that on January 24, 2009, 21 finally ended its long-standing policy of requiring ties. Civilization finally does move forward.


On the outside, the most striking and iconic feature of 21 is the row of brightly painted, cast-iron statues of lawn jockeys on the balcony above the entrance at #21 (Photo by David Shankbone) and continuing along the façade of #19 (#17 is the building on the right protruding further forward). There are so many that some are at street level and can be seen behind the fence and greenery. During the first years of the Club in the 1930’s, rich patrons, particularly ones involved in horse racing and breeding, began presenting the Club with these jockeys painted with the colors of their stables. There are 33 jockeys outside and two more inside the front doors.


A lawn jockey (Photo by Jud McCranie) is a small statue, about half-scale, of a man in jockey clothes, meant to be positioned in a front yard. He holds up one hand with a metal ring, suitable for a horse’s reins, or sometime a lantern. Historically, most were blackface, but today, due to contemporary sensibilities, they are whiteface. Apparently all the lawn jockeys at the 21 Club have been painted consistently whiteface because of these sensibilities, which begs the question if it isn’t reverse racism to go all white, and not integrated, especially given that blackface was the original tradition. O tempora, o mores!


The 21 Club is the most famous place you can visit today that was once a speakeasy, which begs a bit of review. Prohibition in the US lasted 1 1/3 decades, from 1920 to 1933, after the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution was passed in January 1919 and the Volstead Act was passed to enforce it in October of that year. Prohibition only ended when the 21st Amendment was passed, annulling the 18th, in December, 1933. In spite of the Volstead Act, most large cities declined to enforce the law, leaving an understaffed federal service to try to do what it could. During Prohibition, while alcohol consumption did decline, rampant, underground, organized crime rose dramatically, given the great demand for a limited resource. It’s estimated that in New York City alone, there were between 30,000 and 100,000 secret, limited-access speakeasy clubs, with bars and restaurants, including the 21 Club. The “feds” tried to raid them when they could. And thereby hangs a tale.


21 was raided by federal agents many times during Prohibition, but the feds were never successful after an early attempt, once special mechanisms and the special wine cellar were constructed. As soon as the feds appeared for a raid, the doorman outside pressed a button as a warning, and the shelves of the bar were activated to tip, sending liquor bottles crashing down through a chute, leaving no evidence behind. There was also a secret wine cellar, which the feds also never found, and which is the center of the speakeasy tour we took that can be arranged--in advance by anyone--today.


The guide brought us through the main dining room and into the kitchen, announcing to employees “Cellar tour!” From the kitchen we went down a very normal-looking flight of stairs to a wide corridor, still in brisk use today. We were in the basement of # 21. We turned to see an alcove, about the size of a large phone booth, in gray-painted brick. It looked totally normal and innocent. After the guide explained the history, he took a thin, 18-inch (46 cm) meat skewer off the wall, and stuck it into a tiny hole in the mortar between bricks on the back wall of the alcove. One heard the bolt of a lock being thrown, but nothing else happened. He asked for a volunteer to push the door open, and I was very quick to volunteer. It required a substantial shove with my shoulder, but the back wall of the alcove swung open. The 2 ½-ton, very thick door proved to be made of massive steel and brick. Walking through the deep doorway, we moved through the foundation wall from the basement of # 21 to the basement of # 19, which was a large wine cellar, with wooden shelves filled with bottles.


There were two wine services of further interest that they did. 21 has a rather unique policy of storing private wine collections of celebrities. I picked up a bottle in the name of Martha Stewart, but it also has stored wine for Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, and Ford, as well as for Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra, Al Jolson, Gloria Vanderbilt, Sophia Loren, Mae West, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Aristotle Onassis, Gene Kelly, Gloria Swanson, Judy Garland, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Marilyn Monroe--and more.


There is another service they are unfortunately discontinuing. Up until now, when a child or grandchild is born, a parent or other relative can purchase and put aside in storage a bottle of wine that will remain until the child’s 21st birthday, at which point he or she can come to dinner and have it served. I understand the last of those bottles will be used up in the next 5-6 years.


Across the wine cellar was a large, irregular hole in the brick wall, which led through the next building foundation to the cellar of # 17, which was elegantly appointed as a special dining room to seat some 20-22 guests. To enter the dining room through the hole, you had to step over a huge pipe in the entrance, which sort of adds to the illicit atmosphere of the whole adventure.


But the best part of it all is the story that comes with that dining room area, which has a small private booth at one end, which VIPs had been allowed to use in Prohibition days. The story goes that once, as a raid by federal agents was starting, a certain VIP was occupying the private booth in the back part of the wine cellar. The feds couldn’t find what they were looking for, but threatened to stay outside in their cars until alcohol was found. As it turns out, this particular VIP was New York’s flamboyant playboy Mayor Jimmy Walker, in office from 1926 to 1932. Not only that, but he was there with a woman who was not his wife. On top of that, the woman was actress Fanny Brice.


Both the Mayor and the Club were nonplussed, until the Mayor asked for a phone. He called the Police Chief of New York, who was also very familiar personally with the workings of 21, and the Mayor asked him to “create some sort of disturbance” outside. The Chief decided to send a group of tow trucks to tow the Feds’ cars away, and during that disturbance, the Mayor and his date stepped out of 21 and walked calmly away down 52nd Street.


I have found an excellent video on YouTube about the 21 Club. It’s a little long at 8:56, but it’s an elegant, professional program put out by Time Warner Cable, with additional interesting stories. Since the door is the most unique feature of the cellar, let me point out that, at 1:02 is a historic picture of it, at 1:07 you see the door today, ajar, and at 1:38, the secret alcove is to the LEFT of the grilled area; you see the left side of the alcove and the door at the back.


Daniel Radcliffe   I recently saw Daniel Radcliffe on Broadway in the latest revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Although I’ve never seen any of the Harry Potter movies, nor do I intend to, I’m as familiar as most people with his work in them, having seen numerous excerpts, and TV interview programs with the Harry Potter cast, plus documentaries on the making of the films. This musical is the third of three performances I’ve seen with Radcliffe, which I would like to discuss.


In 2010/11, when discussing Australian history, I mentioned that I’d seen the previous year on Public Television the two-part 1999 BBC TV version of David Copperfield starring a pubescent, pre-Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe in his very first acting role as the young David Copperfield. He was nine, but turned ten four days into filming. This is an excerpt.


I heard he’d been told he should be honored working with actors such as Dame Maggie Smith, Ian McKellen, and Bob Hoskins, and he’d probably never work with their likes again. But no one foresaw Harry Potter, where he did work again with Maggie Smith and most of the elite of British acting, who were clamoring to be part of the project. Here he comments on working with Ian McKellen. Listen to his normal accent. “Knackered”, at 0:50, is Britspeak for “exhausted”.


I’ve already discussed seeing Radcliffe in Equus in London as part of 2007/11, and details can be reviewed there, including discussion of the nude scene. I did not see Radcliffe a second time when he brought the show to New York in 2008-9. This short clip shows views of him in the show. I suggest you mute the sound, since it has nothing to do with the atmosphere of the show, and distracts from the photos.


Finally, the new show. We saw How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying when it first came out in the period 1961-1965, starring Robert Morse as the upwardly mobile and highly manipulative Ponty Finch at the World Wide Wicket Company and Rudy Vallée as Mr Biggley, the president of the company. Music and lyrics were by Frank Loesser, and it won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and seven Tonys. None other than Bob Fosse did the choreography, but he was called in to replace someone, and, not wanting to negatively affect the man’s career, he allowed him to get the credit, with Fosse listed as an advisor. In 1995-6 there was a Broadway revival with Matthew Broderick as Finch. The story is set in the sixties, and needs to stay there, given the highly sexist employment scene with secretaries, all female, in their roles, and executives, all male, in theirs. In this production, Radcliffe plays Finch and TV actor John Larroquette plays Biggley. It’s Radcliffe’s first musical and Larroquette’s first time on Broadway at all. I enjoyed both performances, but was particularly impressed by Radcliffe. He’d had a voice coach to perfect a proper accent, which came out very well. He’d had singing lessons, and presented a fine singing voice. But most spectacularly, he’d had dance lessons, including extensive acrobatic training. Watch this clip. Disregard the one-minute introduction, and pay more attention starting at 1:00.


Larroquette, as much as I like him, is neither singer nor dancer. You’ll note him in the musical numbers sitting on the side, or waving his arms in the background. On the other hand, Radcliffe’s dancing is truly remarkable. There’s a new choreographer, but you can still see the late Bob Fosse’s work shining through. Remember that Radcliffe is dancing in front of professional dancers, and not only equals them, but has steps and acrobatics that outdo them. Pay particular attention to The Brotherhood of Man at 1:00 with the whole chorus line, as well as the duet with Larroquette Grand Old Ivy at 4:41, where you can compare the two musical newbies. I like Larroquette, but Radcliffe is outstanding, all 5 ft 5 in (1.65m) of him. His American accent is accurate, and the bloke never seems to get knackered.


All the physical activity, including the very precise precision dancing, is even more surprising when one realizes that Radcliffe has acknowledged that he suffers from a mild form of a neurological disorder called dyspraxia. It’s a motor learning difficulty that can affect planning of movements and coordination. It can affect speech, fine motor control such as writing, and gross motor coordination, such as walking, running, and jumping. It can result in poor balance, poor timing, clumsiness, poor spatial awareness, and “difficulty combining movements into a controlled sequence”. It certainly must be a mild form he has, since everything he does in this dance work shows his ability as being just the opposite.


Here is an interview with Radcliffe by The Telegraph in the UK, interspersed with the occasional clip of the show. Notice the difference in his Yanktalk and Britspeak.


I was pleased when the play was nominated for a Best Musical Tony opposite Anything Goes; it got a nomination for Best Director, and John Larroquette was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical. But I was surprised when Radcliffe was entirely shut out. In the Times, Ben Brantley described his performance as “tepid”. This is of course why one takes rankings--by Brantley, Michelin Guides, or anyone else--with a grain of salt.


Paul Verlaine   Only recently, in 2011/11, I discussed a French poem by Paul Verlaine, after which I heard from my friend Rita. I’ve known Rita since we were both undergraduates in the Queens College German Department, after which we lost touch for a couple of years. When I met Beverly at the very start of the session of Middlebury College’s German Summer School in 1961, I asked her who her roommate was for the summer, and it turned out to be Rita again. Rita remained her roommate for the year in Mainz, so we were a trio of friends abroad. Anyway, Rita mentioned Verlaine in an email, and pointed out a certain well-known Chanson d’automne / Autumn Song of his that she had learned in her Queens College French class. It turns out that its fame is such that I should have been aware of it, and Worthy Readers might find it of interest as well. This also begs the question if I really did justice to the first Verlaine poem, and I will add further discussion of it below as well, in its entirety, including what its actual name is. I’ve put a cross reference back in 2011/11 to this current entry.


Do first of all be aware that Paul Verlaine led a complex and tortured life, including having abandoned his wife and son to run off on a year-long escapade as part of an on-again off-again affair with poet Arthur Rimbaud; being imprisoned; going off to teach in England and in the US (Boston); descending at the end of his life into drug addiction, alcoholism with absinthe, and poverty. He died at age 51 in 1896, the year this picture was taken.


Verlaine was an early leader in the new symbolism movement. Symbolists believed art should represent truths that are only described indirectly. Precise statement was replaced by subtle suggestion, via metaphors. Moods and feelings were evoked through techniques such as repeated sounds (pleure, coeur, pleut, langueur, coeur) and meter.


CHANSON D’AUTOMNE Verlaine’s first published collection of his poems, in 1866, was Poèmes saturniens (Saturnine Poems), which established his reputation. Saturnine, literally, “born under the influence the planet Saturn”, means moody, melancholy, gloomy, morose, grave, which is certainly typical of the two following poems, although the second is from a later collection. Poèmes saturniens has five sections, the third being Paysages tristes (Sad Landscapes), a name again highly indicative of mood. One of its poems is Chanson d’automne (Autumn Song), which will shortly follow below.


The purpose of my English translation below is primarily to present the meaning and meter of the original French version as closely as possible. To me this does not include any attempt at rhyming the English version. Verlaine consistently uses here a rhyme of AABCCB, and one should try to appreciate that in the original if at all possible. I feel that, while duplicating a poem’s meter is attainable, it’s a fool’s errand to try to rhyme translated poetry, which will usually have a grotesque result having little to do with the original, but if you are interested in seeing some attempts, take a look at this website.


Each of the sixteen lines in the original poem contains four syllables, when read in the rather distinct style in which poetry is read in French. What I did do is to alter my literal translation, indicated in parentheses on each line beside the final translation, to try to fit it to four syllables per line as well. If you know French, compare all three versions. If you do not know French, do consider the differences in both English versions, and then read aloud the final English version, noting the four-syllables per line in iambic dimeter (da.DUM x 2). Here is Verlaine’s Chanson d’automne (Autumn Song):

 Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l'automne
Blessent mon coeur
D'une langueur

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l'heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure;

Et je m'en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m'emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.
The long laments (The long sobs)
Of violins (Of the violins)
Of autumn, bleak (Of autumn)
Invade my heart (Wound my heart)
With spiritless (With a languor)
Monotony. (Monotonous.)

All overwhelmed (All suffocating)
And ashen, when (And pale, when)
The hour strikes,
I call to mind (I remember [wrong stress])
Days years ago (Former days)
And then I weep; (And I weep;)

A dismal wind (And I depart)
Blows me away (On a dismal wind)
And carries me (That carries me)
From here to there, (Here, there,)
Just like a dead (Just like the)
And brittle leaf. (Dead leaf.)

Verlaine’s symbolism here is straightforward: he uses autumn to gloomily view growing old. “Autumn” is sad and monotonous. When the bell tolls for each of us (pardon the Hemingway/John Donne reference), we remember our younger days, and are then blown away like autumn leaves.


There is more than literature associated with this poem, it also figured in momentous history. In 1944, a few days before D-Day (6 June), Radio Londres / Radio London broadcast to one of the networks of French Resistance fighters “Les sanglots longs des violons de l’automne”, which had been established to indicate to them to attack rail targets within the next few days. Late on 5 June they then transmitted “Blessent mon coeur d’une langueur monotone”, meaning the attack was to come within 24 hours.


There’s also an interesting variation to this poem. Popular singer Charles Trenet set this poem to music as a popular song, but he made one change. Trenet sang the fourth line Blessent mon coeur (Wound [Invade] my heart) as Bercent mon coeur (Soothe my heart [a berceau is a cradle]), perhaps feeling there was less violence this way and it was more agreeable. Later singers returned to the original when singing Trenet’s song, or other musical adaptations of the poem, but the line today is often misquoted. I believe the original was quoted on D-Day, but I’ve seen the D-Day quote both ways.


If you now think you have the meaning settled in your mind, listen to this presentation on YouTube.


ARIETTE III Eight years after he published his first collection of poems, Verlaine published his second, in 1874, called Romances sans paroles (Romances Without Words). Romances were medieval adventure stories of heroes performing great deeds. It’s best to understand what they were when you picture Cervantes writing Don Quixote as a PARODY of romances, since they were by then well out of style. One wonders if the Romances referred to might include Verlaine’s earlier escapade running off with Arthur Rimbaud. The collection, published while Verlaine was imprisoned, has four sections, the first of which is Ariettes oubliées (Forgotten Ariettes). Just as a small kitchen is a kitchenette, a short “aria” is an ariette, though “aria” here wouldn’t be a lofty operatic aria, but instead an “air”, so we can call this section “Forgotten Little Airs”. The third ariette is by far the most famous, and is usually referred to by its first line, but it’s actually Ariette III. The same translation comments apply as for the previous poem. As for meter, I will change what I said in 2011/11, now that I’ve seen all four verses. I had thought I saw a blend of iambs and anapests, but looking at the entirety of the poem, I can see that each line in actuality has six syllables set up in two anapests (da-da-DUM), so instead of iambic dimeter as above, here we have anapestic dimeter. My translation will now change accordingly to fit that meter. Here is the complete version of Verlaine’s Ariette III:

 Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville;
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénètre mon coeur?

Ô bruit doux de la pluie
Par terre et sur les toits!
Pour un coeur qui s'ennuie,
Ô le chant de la pluie!

Il pleure sans raison
Dans ce coeur qui s'écoeure.
Quoi! nulle trahison? . . .
Ce deuil est sans raison.

C'est bien la pire peine
De ne savoir pourquoi
Sans amour et sans haine
Mon coeur a tant de peine!
There’s weeping in my heart (It cries in my heart)
As it rains on the town; (As it rains on the city;)
What is this listlessness (What is this languor)
Penetrating my heart? (That penetrates my heart?)

Oh, sweet sound of the rain
On the ground and the roofs! (On the ground and on the roofs!)
For a heart that is bored,
Oh, the song of the rain!

It rains without reason
In this disheartened heart. (In this heart that is disheartened.)
What! There’s no betrayal? . . . (What! No betrayal? . . .)
This grief has no reason. (This sorrow is without reason.)

The worst pain is for sure (It’s surely the worst pain)
That I can’t understand (Not to know why)
Without love, without hate (Without love and without hate)
Why my heart hurts so much! (My heart has so much pain!)

While I always understood the rain in the first stanza literally--and I’ll continue to do so, since rainy days always bring these lines to mind, I now see, given Verlaine’s prominence in the symbolist movement, that the rain is in actuality inside his being. He talks about listlessness, boredom, disheartenment, betrayal, grief, pain. Although he is without hate, he is also without love. It is unclear if the love--and hate--is in connection with his wife, or with Arthur Rimbaud. Or with both.


As earlier, if you now feel you have the meaning settled in your mind, listen to this presentation on YouTube.


For those who want just a bit more, look at this website. Click on the blue buttons. Some attempt to translate this poem in rhyme. See what you think. One German one is better than the other. The Italian one isn’t bad, and may be the best of the lot.


Blonde Jokes   We now go from the sublime of Verlaine to the ridiculous--literally--of blonde jokes, but we still encounter them here within a language and cultural context. After the seriousness of Verlaine, a little humor can’t hurt. While I was doing some general research online, a database of jokes in German somehow came up, broken down into various categories. It was pointed out on the database that, in the month of May, the favorite category was blonde jokes, with 6.9% of all inquiries. But I also found some inter-German (German, Austrian, Swiss) humor, which I want to start with. I’ve tweaked many of the jokes to polish them, and the English translations are my own.


Americans have Polish jokes, Canadians have Newfie jokes about Newfoundlanders, German-language speakers often joke among themselves. However, within Germany there are jokes about Ostfriesen (East Frisians). The Frisian islands run along the North Sea coast, the West Frisian Islands being Dutch and the East Frisian Islands being German. The people living on these islands tend to be a butt of humor because of various perceived characteristics, one of which is their propensity for drinking tea instead of coffee. But let’s start with the Swiss.

 Ein Schweizer liegt im Krankenhaus, alle möglichen Knochen gebrochen. Sein Nachbar fragt ihn: "Wie haben Sie denn das gemacht?" - "Ja, ich bin Bärenjäger." - "Und? Was ist passiert?" - "Ich stand an einer kleinen Höhle und sagte: ‘Huchu Bärli’. Und dann kam ein kleiner Bär heraus, den habe ich laufen lassen! Dann bin ich zu einer mittelgroßen Höhle: ‘Huchu Bärli’, da kam a mittelgroßer Bär, aber immer noch zu klein. Dann bin ich zu einer großen Höhle: ‘Huchu Bärli’." - "Und dann?" - "Dann kam der Alpen-Express."

A Swiss man is in the hospital with all his bones broken. His neighbor asks him: “How’d you do that?” - “Well, I’m a bear hunter.” - “So? What happened?” - “I was standing at a small cave and said: ‘Yoo-hoo, Little Bear’. And then a small bear came out, but I let him go. Then I went to a middle-sized cave: ‘Yoo-hoo, Little Bear’, and a middle-sized bear came out, but was still too small. Then I went to a big cave: ‘Yoo-hoo, Little Bear.’ - “And then?” - “That’s when the Alpine Express came out.”

Moving on from the Swiss, let’s try this:

 Wo ist die Grenze zwischen Genie und Wahnsinn? Irgendwo bei Kufstein . . .

Where’s the border between genius and madness? Somewhere near Kufstein . . .

Sorry. That wasn’t fully fair. But those who’ve traveled in Central Europe, plus most German speakers, are now rolling on the floor because they recognize Kufstein as the major road and train border crossing between Germany and Austria. This is one example of the importance of cultural context in humor.

 Warum haben die Ostfriesen immer ein blaues Auge? Weil sie beim Teetrinken vergessen, den Löffel aus der Tasse zu nehmen.

Why do the East Frisians always have black eyes? Because when drinking tea they forget to take the spoon out of the cup.

This also has a cultural context, but I’d pre-explained that. Now let’s have one that’s a transition into blonde jokes.

 Was passiert, wenn eine deutsche Blondine nach Österreich auswandert? In beiden Ländern steigt der durchschnittliche IQ.

What happens when a German blonde emigrates to Austria? The average IQ rises in both countries.

Think about it for a minute to see where and how the insult falls. Now purely blonde jokes.

 Stromausfall im Hochhaus. 20 Personen stecken im Aufzug fest, dazu zwei Blondinen auf der Rolltreppe.

Power failure in an office building. 20 people are stuck in the elevator, as well as two blondes on the escalator.

Was sagt eine Blondine. wenn der Arzt ihr mitteilt, dass sie schwanger ist? "Sind Sie sicher, dass es meins ist?"

What does the blonde say when the doctor tells her she’s pregnant? “Are you sure it’s mine?”

Was sagt die Mutter zur blonden Tochter vor ihrer Verabredung? Wenn du um 12 noch nicht im Bett bist, komm nachhause.

What does the mother say to her blonde daughter before her date? If you’re not in bed by 12, come home.

Was denkt eine Blondine wenn sie in 10m Entfernung eine Bananenschale auf der Straße liegen sieht? Scheiße, gleich flieg ich auf die Schnauze!

What does the blonde think when she sees a banana peel in the street 10 meters in front of her? Dammit, now I’m gonna fall flat on my face!

Zwei Blondinen fand man erfroren in ihrem Auto im Autokino. Was war geschehen? Sie kamen, um den Film zu sehen "Im Winter geschlossen".

Two blondes were found frozen to death in their car at the drive-in. What happened? They came to see the film “Closed in Winter”.

Wie macht eine Blondine Marmelade? Sie schält einen Berliner!

How does a blonde make jam? She peels a jelly donut!

We can interject here that in some places, English speakers call jelly donuts berliners, too, using the German name.

 Eine Brünette, eine Rothaarige und eine Blondine gehen in eine Bar. Brünette: "Ich will ein B und C." Barkeeper: "Was ist ein B und C?" Brünette: "Bourbon und Cola." Rothaarige: "Und ich will ein G und T." Barkeeper: "Was ist ein G und T?" Rothaarige: "Gin und Tonic." Blondine: "Ich will ein 15." Barkeeper: "Was ist ein 15?" Blondine: "7 und 7 !"

A brunette, a redhead, and a blonde go into a bar. Brunette: “I want a B and C”. Barkeeper: “What’s a B and C?” Brunette: “Bourbon and Cola.” Redhead: “And I want a G and T.” Barkeeper: “What’s a G and T?” Redhead: “Gin and Tonic.” Blonde: “I want a 15.” Barkeeper: “What’s a 15?” Blonde: “7 and 7 !”

Da ist eine Blondine, eine Rothaarige und eine Brünette an einen Lügendetektor. Jeder (Peep) bedeutet eine Lüge. Die Brünette sagt: "Ich denke, ich bin hässlich!" (Peep) Die Rothaarige sagt: "Ich denke ich bin schön!" (Peep) Die Blondine sagt: "Ich denke . . ." (Peep) (Peep)

There’s a blonde, a redhead, and a brunette at a lie detector. Every {Peep) means a lie. The brunette says: “I think I’m ugly!” (Peep) The redhead says: “I think I’m beautiful!” (Peep) The blonde says: “I think . . .” (Peep)(Peep)

Eine Blondine verdächtigt ihren Freund der Untreue und überrascht ihn zuhause im Bett mit einer anderen. Sie zieht eine Pistole und will ihn erschießen, doch plötzlich überwältigt sie die Traurigkeit und sie hält sich die Wumme an den eigenen Kopf. Ihr Freund ruft noch: "Tu es nicht!" Und sie antwortet: "Halt’s Maul, du bist als nächster dran!"

A blonde suspects her boyfriend of being unfaithful and surprises him at home in bed with another woman. She pulls out a gun and is about to shoot him, but is suddenly overtaken by sadness and she points the “piece” to her own head. Her boyfriend shouts: “Don’t do it!” And she answers: “Shut up, you’re next!”

While Radcliffe used everyday British slang, this joke uses German police or gangster slang, where a gun is called a “Wumme”, corresponding to calling it a “piece”.

 Drei Blondinen stehen ratlos vor einem reißenden Fluß und wollen auf die andere Seite. Plötzlich kommt eine gute Fee und sagt, jede hätte einen Wunsch frei. Die erste Blondine sagt, sie hätte gerne Schwimmflügel. Ihr Wunsch wird erfüllt und sie schwimmt ans andere Ufer. Die zweite wünscht sich einen Schwimmreifen. Auch ihr wird der Wunsch erfüllt und sie schwimmt hinüber. Die dritte Blondine wünscht sich, sie wäre brünett. Die Fee erfüllt auch ihr diesen Wunsch, worauf sie als Brünette drei Schritte flußaufwärts und über die Brücke geht.

Three blondes are standing cluelessly in front of a roaring river and want to go to the other side. Suddenly a genie appears and says each one would get one wish. The first blonde says she’d like water wings. Her wish is granted and she swims to the other shore. The second wishes for an inner tube. Her wish is also granted, and she swims over. The third blonde wishes she were a brunette. The genie grants her this wish as well, whereupon as a brunette, she takes three steps upstream and walks over the bridge.

There’s a cultural context of a different nature here. In this type of situation, German refers to a gute Fee (good fairy), while it’s much more common in English to refer either to a fairy godmother, here not appropriate, or a genie. On reflection, it’s strange how the Arab concept of a genie, as in Ali Baba, has become so commonplace in English-speaking Western culture.

 Eine Blondine kommt freudestrahlend nach ihrem ersten Schultag nach Hause. "Mama, Mama, heute hatten wir Rechnen und ich kann schon bis 20 zählen, alle anderen nur bis 5. Woran liegt denn das?" - "Tja, mein Kind, das weiß ich auch nicht", sagt die Mutter. "Liegt es vielleicht daran, dass ich eine Blondine bin?" - "Ja, mein Kind, das wird es wohl sein!" Am nächsten Tag kommt sie wieder freudestrahlend nach Hause: "Mama, Mama, heute haben wir das ABC gelernt. Ich kann schon bis S buchstabieren, die anderen nur bis J. Woran liegt denn das?" - "Tja, mein Kind, das weiß ich auch nicht", antwortet die Mutter. "Liegt es vielleicht daran, dass ich eine Blondine bin?" - "Ja, mein Kind, das wird es wohl sein." Nach dem dritten Schultag kommt sie wieder nach Hause: "Mama, Mama, heute hatten wir zum ersten Mal Sport. Beim Umziehen habe ich gesehen, dass die anderen Mädchen gar keinen Busen haben. Dabei trage ich schon seit vier Jahren einen BH. Liegt das vielleicht daran, dass ich eine Blondine bin?" - "Nein, mein Kind. Das liegt daran, dass du schon achtzehn Jahre alt bist."

A blonde comes home beaming after her first day at school. “Mama, Mama, today we had arithmetic and I can already count to 20, but all the others only to 5. Why’s that?” - “Well, my child, I don’t know”, says the mother. “Could it be maybe because I’m a blonde? - “Yes, my child, that’s probably it”. The next day she again comes home beaming: “Mama, Mama, today we learned our ABC’s. I can say them up to S, the others only to J. Why’s that?” - “Well, my child, I don’t know that either”, answers the mother. “Could it be maybe because I’m a blonde? - “Yes, my child, that’s probably it”. After the third day of school she comes home again: “Mama, Mama, today we had gym for the first time. When we were changing, I could see that none of the other girls had a bust. But I’ve been wearing a bra for four years. Could it be maybe because I’m a blonde?” - “No, my child. It’s because you’re eighteen years old.”
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