Three lessons learned this week: 1) That being sick in exotic locales may feel passively adventurous, but being sick at a hotel in suburban Sacramento is the very mockery of the gods. 2) That in Sweden pickled sprats are anchovies and anchovies are sardines, or something like that. 3) That Jansson’s Temptation should be succumbed to whenever possible.
One of my coworkers is married to a retired chef, a Swede. Anders must be seventy. He walks with a stoop and wears a pink shirt unbuttoned at the top, white-blonde hair slicked back, a golden ouroboros round his neck. An oak from the yard fell onto the house last year and Anders made the repairs himself. Re-tiling the bathroom, he set a massive trilobite fossil into the wall. He pulled the bulbs and wires from the chandelier to use candles instead.
Bottle after bottle of wine appears. Dish after dish of lobster, scallops, veal, and salmon vanishes. We talk about Knut Hamsun’s troubled politics, Stieg Larsson’s posthumous fame. Anders promises to read me Solzhenitsyn in Russian if I visit again. ‘Now drink this akvavit,’ he says, ‘to help with your cold!’ …It doesn’t. The happy dream over, I wake next morning on the blasted heath of my hotel bed with a pounding headache and cough.
Tobacco, divine, rare, superexcellent tobacco, which goes far beyond all the panaceas, potable gold, and philosopher’s stones, a sovereign remedy to all diseases. A good vomit, I confess, a virtuous herb if it be well qualified, opportunely taken, and medicinally used; but as it is commonly abused by most men, which take it as tinkers do ale, ‘tis a plague, a mischief, a violent purger of goods, lands, health; hellish, devilish, and damned tobacco, the ruin and overthrow of body and soul.
~ Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy
Now that it’s cold again I take my pipe and whisky and sit on the porch to blow smoke in my children’s faces from the other side of the window. My enthusiasm for tobacco had stalled over the summer. I’ve taken it up again for the sake of my health on the mithridatic principle that deadly things in moderation make for strength. The king sips small doses of arsenic as a hedge against poisoning. The infant gets immunity by exposure to a weakened virus. If only life (the deadliest thing of all) could be taken in small amounts, I might live forever.
There we grow early gray, but never wise;
There form connections, but acquire no friend;
Solicit pleasure, hopeless of success;
Waste youth in occupations only fit
For second childhood, and devote old age
To sports which only childhood could excuse.
~ William Cowper, The Task
Riddle me this: Ring of Folly or Facebook?