‘I noted it down,’ discerning substance in a concrete-free phrase

This week, things have returned to a prior, less solipsistic order, but last week, searching for the words “I noted it down” on one of the larger search engines brought up in the number one spot my post on Casa Azul and its cats, and the role their existence had played in the life of my mind so far.

I spent more than a decade pondering the loss of the list of the names of the cats of the Casa Azul, but now, thanks to the near relatives who went to Mexico City and compiled the list again on my behalf, I am made whole. It’s not the same list of course, but it serves the same purpose, just as the consideration of later front-lines of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (Terence Blanchard and Donald Harrison, for instance) summons to mind their predecessors in the band (Freddie Hubbard and Jackie McLean, let’s say). Reading the names of the contemporary troop of cats brings generous details of my visit from the nineties to mind, but even in those days when list-less, I survived without being able to recall the little beasts’ names, recalling the memory of having made the list would, like a relay, sharply evoke that visit to Coyoacan.

Some googlenaut had actually searched for “I noted it down,” and found my Casa Azul post. I know this because it popped up in the analytics one day last week, and bewildered me to no end. There’s no concrete noun in the phrase: the association that “I noted it down” would entail in someone’s head was opaque to me, in the way that search-engine fodder like “tub girls” is all too transparent.

And when I looked it up myself, it seemed to me that my original post had relatively quite a lot to say about “I noted it down.” There wasn’t, for instance, a great famous quote that had escaped the mind of the search-engine user.

The clip that has replaced mine at the top of the list is this: “He gave me the date and I noted it down. And EXACTLY five years later, it happened.” Here it is the prescience of having noted the date that is being remarked upon (I guess; I haven’t read through the linked page; I prefer not to disturb the perfect opacity of this particular text by reading it).

Here’s the second link:

Then i walked in a shop and bought a diary and two black sketchpens to note the things down that i will do on the day. I was actually not trying to welcome 2009 but i was a little sad for 2008, and i think that is why i was perplexed.…I noted it down in the diary.

—from the first post on http://abhinavyadav.com/blog/

This “I noted it down” quote includes the context of the noting: it’s done in a special diary, with a special pen. I particularly like the idea of perplexity (a word that I will always associate with Professor Cuthbert Calculus) coming on the heels of auld-lang-syne–style sadness. In this case, and strictly for myself, “I noted it down” is a kind of four-word emotion organ emulator, an ALT-text version of some strange invention out of a Jack Vance book, that creates perplexing sense-harmonies from the sequential interplay of different emotions.

So, “I noted it down.” Whatever the object it is, it has somehow returned to mind in the mind of the writer: the phrase laces an episode from the past tightly to the present: “I noted it down then and have returned to it now.” It’s making a list, paying attention, keeping tabs on something.

In the Casa Azul post, I saw “I noted it down” as an identity-building trope: this was something that I did, and that on some perplexing level was a form of identification: I make lists of things that uniquely interest Jonathan, therefore I am Jonathan. Now, I see the phrase as a way to connect the often mystifying present with a clearer, better defined past. I don’t know what’s going on right now, but my clear description of this one certain event in the past can be used as a lens to focus that busy present.

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Maru the most famous cat in Japan gets new digs, peep his blog at http://sisinmaru.blog17.fc2.com

Maru the cat

Maru has moved. His URL is the same as always, but he is living in a new house. To me the most exciting thing about Japan’s most famous cat is not how cute he is (plenty cute), but the interior decoration of his home.

For someone with several cats at home, I’m astonished at how clean and uncluttered Maru’s apartment is. I’ve wondered if he had a filming room with no clutter and no furniture, and if the rest of the apartment behind the camera was full of books, CDs, half-empty tubes of paint and balls of yarn like my mountain cabin here. Maru’s apartment is like the anti-cabin: calm, empty, tranquil.
Now that he’s moving, it’s like Season 2 of a trashy reality show, “Chez Marou,” or whatever. I can’t wait to see the new decor.

Tune in yourself at http://sisinmaru.blog17.fc2.com

‘She bought screwdrivers, iron files, hacksaw blades and hammers; baling wire, nylon twine and bungee cords.’ –M. Connelly

The pleasures of reading mass-market literature extend to the
simplicity with which you can excerpt your favorite parts for later
commentary. As you can see from the first attached picture, forty-nine
out of the 50 chapters of Michael Connelly’s Void Moon remained
in the airplane where I read them. I saved chapter 5, which has the
best writing in the entire book.
The list can function as a shortcut to good writing. It’s all nouns,
and no prescriptivist, not even Elmore Leonard, would suggest that you could improve your
writing by leaving the nouns out. A good list creates a minimal,
dynamic, ready-for-action mood, quite like the mood of Void
that this chapter introduces. Cassie Black has decided to
rededicate her life to crime. Connelly provides one last simile
(though he confuses the role of arteries and veins) before crossing
the Rubicon into list territory:

The charge of outlaw juice was boiling in her blood now, banging through her veins like hot water through frozen winter pipes.

 She began by changing her body clock, dramatically shortening her sleeping hours and pushing them well into the morning. She offset the sleep deprivation with a regimen of energy-enhancing vitamins…Within a week she had dropped from seven to four hours of sleep per night.…

 After carefully making a list of every conceivable thing that would help her overcome any obstacle on a job, she memorized its contents and destroyed it…

 She bought screwdrivers, iron files, hacksaw blades and hammers; baling wire, nylon twine and bungee cords. She bought a box of latex gloves, a small tub of earthquake wax, a Swiss Army knife and a painter’s putty knife with a three-inch-wide blade. She bought a small acetylene torch and went to three hardware stores before finding a small enough battery-powered and rechargeable drill. She bought rubber-tipped pliers, wire cutters and aluminum shears. She added a Polaroid camera and a man’s long-sleeved wetsuit top to her purchases. She bought big and small flashlights, a pair of tile worker’s knee pads and an electric stun gun. She bought a black leather backpack, a black fanny pack and belt, and several black zipper bags of varying sizes that could be folded and carried inside one of the backpack’s pockets. Lastly, in every store she went to she bought a keyed padlock, amassing a collection of seven locks made by seven different manufacturers and thereby containing seven slightly different interior locking mechanisms.

 You couldn’t write an entire book like this, but it makes a nice
change from the following paragraph, which in its subjunctive mood is
echt Connolly. His characters are always introspectively
calculating the angles and predicting their lots thereby:

If the tool satchel were ever discovered by Thelma Kibble or any other law enforcement officer, Cassie would have a degree of deniability that might keep her out of lockdown. The car was not hers. Without prints on the tools or evidence of her having purchased and made them, it ultimately could not be proved that they belonged to her. They could hold her and sweat her but they would eventually have to let her go.

One of these days I am going to crack open Jacques Ellul’s The
Technological Society
again and drawing on his distinctions between
craft and technique, write a big academic treatise on the false
techno-realism of thriller novels. If I knew so much about what it
took to break into a Las Vegas hotel room, I would be doing it myself
and not writing novels about it. Luckily the march of progress makes
books like Void Moon, from the late 90s, seem as hopelessly
anchored in the past as Sherlock Holmes’s exploits in Arthur Conan
Doyle’s The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans

Vote for Sedre the kitten at #twtpets: http://twtpets.com/1x7svb

I entered my kittycat Sedre on the twtpets.com site, which is an “Am I
hot or not” for one’s pets. So far so good: she’s 11-1, with three
undecided. Vote now!

Françoiz Breut, ‘L’origine du monde’ for that first cup of stor jente Valentine’s Day coffee

From the Valentine I ought to have sent:

My love, every time I hear this song I feel like waking up. Perhaps it
comes on instead of your seven alarm clocks, and as I rise to make
stor jente caffe, big-girl espresso coffee for your
rising-from-sleep needs, the chorus thrums in my ears and the cats
circle my ankles, jostling for attention or tunafish, I don’t know


Identity and lost lists

Bombon, Murros, Silvestre, Chupa Chupa, Tita, and Monica

These are the names of the six cats at Casa Azul. There’s a story here.

When I went to Mexico City the first time, in 1995, I stopped by Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo’s house in the Coyoacan neighborhood. It’s a pleasant dwelling, with a copy of Inside Europe by John Gunther on the bookshelf (same as in my house!), and a pre-Columbian pyramid, scaled down and painted blue (not the same as in my house).

There were also several cats prowling around. I asked one of the groundskeepers what their names were, and I assiduously copied them down in my little pocket notebook. In the fourteen intervening years, the notebook has been lost, and with it this important historical record.

The fact of losing the list placed it front and center in one of my better literary efforts, “La liste de listes perdues.” I wrote this up as the last entry to date in La fièvre Madiaba, my French-language blog from earlier in the decade. For those of you who can’t read French, in 2006, while in Paris, I struck up an acquaintance with this French author who was putting together a book about lists. I thought for a couple of days on the subject, and then came up with my idea: a list of lost lists. There are 10 of them, some of which have since been found and others which remain in a state of latency.

So when the folks went to Mexico City and asked me for suggestions, I thought for a minute and said, “Hey! Here’s something that you can really help me out with. I lost my list of names of cats at the Casa Azul. Can you visit and get me the current list?”

Et voilà! Bombon, Murros, Silvestre, Chupa Chupa, Tita, and Monica.

But now, three years since “Liste de listes perdues” and 14 years since the visit to Casa Azul, I am reconsidering the whole list-making enterprise as something very dear to me and my identity. I was there, at the Casa Azul. I made an observation (cats!) and noted it down.

This is the same thing I’ve been doing with my cycling: I was there, out back of the airfield, riding fast (how fast?), and I noted it down.

But what is the identity-building part? Is it the object (the thing listed), the subject (my list-making habits), or the verb (the act of making the list) that makes me feel more thoroughly myself?

picture via flickr.com from Sophie Cunningham

‘Another lost day away from you’

This post’s title popped up as a suggestion in the ‘Subject’ box after I typed the word ‘another.’ Repetition seems to be a popular motif for me; I had four different subject lines starting with ‘another’ to choose from.

Today (Saturday) looks like an auspicious day for travel. Yesterday as you are aware I managed to have a pleasant day off, sleeping until noon and watching the tennis match. After dinner I returned to the airport tent for the evening roll-call, and I left at midnight on foot, frustrated that the overnight flight schedule hadn’t been posted in the three hours I’d been waiting. When I got back this morning, I was kicking myself to see that I’d missed two scheduled flights back to my secret city, one at 2 am, the other at 5 am, and that the 2 am flight had had open seats. I felt better after I saw one of my fellow travelers still sleeping in the same chair and heard the same six names (including mine) called from the roll-call roster that had been called last night.

This morning, in contrast, the full schedule was available, and there are four flights on tap back to the secret city, one which allegedly has open seats. Maybe I’ll sleep there tonight.

Last night’s entertainment, apprehended in the airport lounge while waiting in vain for the flight schedule to be posted, was necessarily watching television films. Last night brought a double feature, A Lot Like Love and Mrs. Harris.

A Lot Like Love is an awful film that seems to turn up again and again on television, like a bad penny or an infomercial. Its first scene takes place in an passenger aircraft, and despite the years of experience that Hollywood has earned in building authentic-looking passenger-aircraft sets, this one managed to seem completely fake and cheesy-looking, like a sitcom set that had been pressed into emergency service when the original, finely detailed set burned down in an accidental fire set by a dropped cigarette.

The action then shifts to an airport, which looked nothing like LaGuardia (and nothing like any real airport in the US), further alienating this careful viewer. By the time the two main characters end up on a no. 7 train elevated platform (that’s how I know it’s meant to be LaGuardia), even the subway looks fake, as if they used the F train platform at Ditmas Ave in Brooklyn instead. The by-the-numbers set design flattens out the fluky aspects of the two leads’ relationship, which is what the movie is allegedly about: a man and a woman who realize after six years of acquaintanceship that they are meant for each other. I watched the female lead (green-eyed Amanda Peet) move between multiple fully decorated and furnished apartments and wondered why she needed this particular man (Ashton Kutcher) when it was obvious from her décor that her life was so together.

That film was followed by the sleeper Mrs. Harris, a made-for-TV movie from 2005, with the fantastic Ben Kingsley and Annette Bening doing their thespian best in great costumes in front of gorgeous sets. It’s the story of the doomed Jean Harris–Herman Tarnower romance. The Tarnower bedroom set is fantastic, a softly-lit love den in gold and Chinese red, sporting two incongruous twin beds with matching mustard coverlets beneath a boldly patterned double headboard. In general the movie uses costumes and sets to advance the drama and make it seem more cinematic and exciting.

Today’s somewhat blurry photograph is of the secret-village cat; I took it this morning during my second encounter with Tabby. I had seen the animal chasing around the night before last, and thought that it was an ordinary aloof stray. Then this morning I found it in the entryway to Tent 2, mewling and looking all adorable. Seeing this little feline just makes me miss Ella, Sedre and Farkas—my cats at home—even more deeply.

Kittycine, Farkas reel

Hey kids, it’s Farkas cat!

 Check this one out:


 “Are you coat?” at 0:27 has become an instant classic line for me
ever since I first saw the video last week. I love the subtly menacing
monologue. She could do it, too: make a little cat-coat. I saw a guy
named Farkas the other day but hesitated before showing him and his
buddy the video: I didn’t want him to be nicknamed “little cat-coat”
for the rest of the day.