Francis: Pope of a New World
She told me: “Father [Bergoglio], I can’t believe it, you make me feel important. . . .” I replied, “But Señora, where do I come in? Jesus is the one who makes you important.”Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar
Why don’t you take the plane? the Georgian had asked me. Because—I thought when I was in the corner seat of my railway compartment—airplanes are a distortion of time and space. And you get frisked..
Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We LiveThe predictable regularity of humdrum domesticity is perfect for writing: monotony is the writer’s friend. People said to me, “You’re always away!” But it wasn’t true. I loved being home, waking in my own bed beside my wife, watching the news on TV, spending half the day writing, and then cooking, reading, swimming, riding my bike, seeing friends. Home is bliss.Travel means living among strangers, their characteristic stinks and sour perfumes, eating their food, listening to their dramas, enduring their opinions, often with no language in common, being always on the move towards an uncertain destination, creating an itinerary that is continually shifting, sleeping alone, inventing the trip,
One of the biggest bones of contention, so to speak, about hunter-gatherers versus agriculturalists is that the latter work too hard, in terms of both the time spent on subsistence and the intensity of the labor required, or at least they work harder than people who do not farm. Wells puts it this way: “As hunter-gatherers, we were a species that lived in much the same way as any other, relying on the whims of nature to provide us with our food and water.”14 And the whims of nature are presumably easier to cajole than the rocky soil or recalcitrant cattle of the farm. Agriculture, then, is sometimes seen as bad because it is just plain too difficult. It is true that at least some hunter-gatherers spend less of their day “working,” defined as engaging in activities necessary for subsistence, than do many farmers. Richard Lee’s classic 1960s studies of the Kalahari desert people found that they needed two and a half days per week to collect enough food;
the apes, spend even less time foraging? Should we be yearning for the days before tool use? And how do we balance time against effort? Is it better to mindlessly munch grass, which requires little effort but takes a lot of time to down, one determined mouthful after another, or to spend less of the day fashioning a complex fish trap that may yield no catch? Choosing agriculture as the point at which we all started to go downhill because we began to work too hard is simply not defensible.
one of the clearly undesirable effects of agriculture is the proliferation of new diseases, both infectious and noninfectious. Here, then, we can point to an unmitigated downside to settling down and farming: infectious diseases,
Regardless of whether the people existing after agriculture were happier, healthier, or neither, it is undeniable that there were more of them.
more people means more kinds of diseases, particularly when those people are sedentary. When those groups of people can also store food for long periods, the opportunity arises for sequestering that food, creating in turn a society with haves and have-nots.
neither the benefits of human population growth, such as the flowering of genetic potential or cultural complexity, nor the more dismal consequences of agriculture, were directed. Spencer Wells looks at the advent of farming as akin to humanity diving off a cliff. Humans, he says, “divorced themselves—and us—from millions of years of evolutionary history, charting a new course into the future without a map to guide them through the pitfalls that would appear over the subsequent ten millennia.”27 He rues the “unintended consequences” of the establishment of agriculture. The problem is, all of evolution’s consequences are unintended, and there are never any maps. Arguably, apes, by moving from trees to plains, made their world spin just as out of control as we did when we began to grow crops. Either way, no one was aiming anywhere.
Evolution is continuous, but it is not goal-oriented. It is not as if we were on a predestined path toward enlightenment when agriculture suddenly threw a plow into the works and made us deviate into obesity and disease.Burning the Page: The eBook revolution and the future of reading
Your brain is used to having a dialogue, if you will, with the typographer and page layout artist of the book you’re reading. That’s why the occasional use of a new font or a drop-cap—or heck, even an italicized word—helps you stay focused. It keeps your brain from yawning and switching to something else. With e-readers, though, this dialogue often stutters. The digital page is often bereft of nuance, of any anchor besides a list of monotonously formatted words, like plain black beads on an invisible string. When you talk to neuroscientists about how the brain works, they’ll tell you that a book is meaningless if you don’t actively engage with it. That’s why poets use unexpected word combinations, or why Friedrich Nietzsche used irony, or why David Foster Wallace used footnotes. These touches disorient you as you read, forcing you to put 10.5 watts of energy into the reading process to actually focus on what you’re reading. Why did I say 10.5 watts?
It’s so much easier to tweet a passage in an ebook we read than to call someone up and talk about it. Digital books are in some ways hastening the lazy, solipsistic narcissism of our culture. We use our gadgets as proxies for other people and genuine human interaction.NW: A Novel
Years too disconnected from everything else to feel real. Edinburgh’s dour hill-climb and unexpected-alley, castle-shadow and fifty pence whisky chaser, WalterScottStone and student loan shopping.
Sweet stink of the hookah, couscous, kebab, exhaust fumes of a bus deadlock.
Leaflets, call abroad 4 less, learn English, eyebrow wax, Falun Gong, have you accepted Jesus as your personal call plan?
A hundred and one ways to take cover: the complete black tent, the facial grid, back of the head, Louis Vuitton–stamped, Gucci-stamped, yellow lace, attached to sunglasses, hardly on at all, striped, candy pink; paired with tracksuits, skin-tight jeans, summer dresses, blouses, vests, gypsy skirts, flares. Bearing no relation to the debates in the papers, in parliament. Everybody loves sandals. Everybody. Birdsong! Lowdown dirty shopping arcade to mansion flats to an Englishman’s home is his castle.Harvard Square: A Novel
Leah mounts a mild defense, thinking of the smell of the censer, the voluptuous putti babies, the gold sunburst, cold marble floor, dark wood carved and plaited, women kneeling whispering lighting candles InterRailing nineteen ninety-three.
I wanted to share with him and bring back all of my old postcard moments: the day I crossed the bridge in the snow while friends ran across the frozen Charles and I thought how reckless; the first time I entered my beloved Houghton Library and sat waiting for the librarian to hand over my very first rare book written by Mademoiselle de Gournay, Montaigne’s adopted stepdaughter; the aging face of my long-gone Robert Fitzgerald who taught me so much in so very few words; my last drink at the Harvest bar; down to the stifling reluctance to head out to class on a cold November afternoon when all I’d rather do was curl up with a book somewhere and let my mind wander. I wanted to walk the cobbled lanes leading up to the river with him and, in a spellbound instant, seize the beauty of this sheltered world that had promised me so much and in the end delivered much more. The buildings, the feel of early fall, the sound of students thronging to class every morning—I couldn’t wait for him to heed their call and their promise.
For now, it was the magical after love I wished to convey. It had stayed with me all those years and yanked me back to days I missed a great deal but knew I would never for a minute wish to relive again.
How to explain this to a seventeen-year-old without destroying the carousel of images I’d shared with him since his preschool days? Cambridge on quiet Sunday evenings; Cambridge on rainy afternoons with friends, or in a blizzard when things went on as usual and the days seemed shorter and festive and all you wanted to imagine was tethered horses waiting to take you to Ethan Frome places; the Square abuzz on Friday nights; Harvard during reading period in mid-January—coffee, more coffee, and the perpetual patter of typewriters everywhere; or Lowell House on the last days of reading period in the spring, when students lounged about for hours on the grass, speaking softly, their voices muffled by the sounds of early summer.