Thursday, November 13, 2008

Violins, Kafka & Poorly Behaved Children

From around the Web:

In The London Times Kate Muir found that her life was transformed by merely carrying around her daughter's violin case. The change begins as soon as she walks out of the music shop.

The violin is in a huge red case with hiking straps. “Wear it on your back and everyone will think you’re a professional,” say the Dots [the music store] staff, and I wonder why. But as I head into the bank to sort a financial glitch…the under-manager’s eyes light up. He speeds me through the queue, commandeers an office and asks me about my musical career. I respond vaguely. He waxes nostalgically about his own classical music past. My finances are suddenly all in harmony.

In the coffee shop queue, people immediately strike up conversations: “Is that a violin or a viola in there?” And when I go to buy a weird Goth hoodie for my goddaughter in Camden Market, the stallholder asks me if I want to try it on. “It’s a present,” I sniff, and add inwardly, “Can’t you see I’m a nagging, ancient mother-of-three on an errand?” But of course it’s the violin: it is code for a different sort of person – artistic, freethinking, single. A wearer of Goth tops, not a person with lice shampoo in her handbag. “Where are you playing tonight?” asks the stallholder, smiling.

I now feel all single women should carry an empty violin case if it has this effect. For a single man, a puppy has a similarly safe conversation-opening effect in the park.

Princeton University Press has just published Franz Kafka: The Office Writings. According to the press release, the book

brings together, for the first time in English, Kafka's most interesting professional writings, composed during his years as a high-ranking lawyer with the largest Workmen's Accident Insurance Institute in the Czech Lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

… These documents include articles on workmen's compensation and workplace safety; appeals for the founding of a psychiatric hospital for shell-shocked veterans; and letters arguing relentlessly for a salary adequate to his merit. In adjudicating disputes, promoting legislative programs, and investigating workplace sites, Kafka's writings teem with details about the bureaucracy and technology of his day, such as spa elevators in Marienbad, the challenge of the automobile, and the perils of excavating in quarries while drunk.

Last but not least – if your pesky children are driving you crazy, calm down, help is on the way. Erasmus of Rotterdam’s 1530 treatise “A Handbook on Good Manners for Children” has finally been translated and published in English. An immediate bestseller when it first appeared (and I’m sure the competition was stiff), the book was the first instruction manual for children ever written in the West. Although originally composed in Latin for one of Erasmus’s 11-year old students, it’s full of good advice. Here’s a sample:

Some people, no sooner than they’ve sat down, immediately stick their hands into the dishes of food. This is the manner of wolves.

Making a raucous noise or shrieking intentionally when you sneeze, or showing off by carrying on sneezing on purpose, is very ill-mannered.

To fidget around in your seat, and to settle first on one buttock and then the next, gives the impression that you are repeatedly farting, or trying to fart.

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