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Glad You Asked
Intriguing Names, Facts, and Ideas for the Curious-Minded
By Michael Feldman
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2006 Michael Feldman
All rights reserved.
Feldman's Thoughts On ... Art, Culture, and Pastimes
Art is something you know when you see it, but culture tells you which reproduction to hang over the couch. Does the house cry out for a piece from the Ashcan school, the talented if somewhat morose city-life realists who worked after the turn of the last century and whose ranks included Edward Hopper? In the master bedroom, with its Mediterranean bedstead, wouldn't Diego Velázquez be in order, perhaps Los Borrachos (The Feast of Bacchus), or The Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio if you want to tone things down a bit? I'd avoid the royal portraits unless you have an unusually large foyer. Kandinsky pretty much goes with any décor, but Picasso's Blue Period in the powder room has been done to death. And don't even think about a Calder unless you own the air space.
Although culture started as an opportunity for the wealthy to prove that money can't buy taste, the franchise has been extended now that pop culture has its own department; maybe Keith Haring and Michelangelo had more in common than meets the eye (Haring did not design siege weapons on the side). I think that we all can agree that manga (Japanese for comics and/or cartoons) and illustrated manuscripts were cut from the same cloth. The good thing about popular culture is that there's little to read. The bad thing about it is that it's popular and, therefore, inescapable.
Aesthetics. There, I've said it, and I'm glad. Keats wrote, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," so we'll find little guidance there, but taste is something you can work at. Start with the curtains and don't stop there. Take an adult education course — maybe they'll have nude models. Visit a museum other than one that preserves Indiana high school basketball jerseys or Studebakers (although the one in South Bend is not to be missed the next time you're there to cheer on the Irish — hey, it's all culture). Find a gallery, pick a period you feel comfortable with — for me it would have to be the Expressionists, Otto Müller in particular because I feel like his subjects look — and immerse yourself. Start to dress like a character in early Nabokov (maybe not Humbert Humbert) after first reading all of Nabokov, including his essays, and get back to me. You might want to follow the example of my parents-in-law and join a Great Books sect in Sterling, Illinois, although if it's just a lot of Michener you could be wasting your time. Vow to learn Greek so that you can read the original Euripides, all the while remembering Chico's "You-rip-a-dese, you pay!" Make your next movie one with subtitles, but don't read them aloud. Opera is not out of the question, although probably not the Ring Cycle right off of the bat. But don't go to the opera if you're going to sit there the whole time wondering, "All right already, where's the fat lady?" Try The Merry Widow — it might be as instructive as the following entries on Art, Culture, and Pastimes.
Achebe, (Albert) Chinua (lumogu) (born Nov. 16, 1930, Ogidi, Nigeria) Nigerian Igbo novelist. Concerned with emergent Africa at its moments of crisis, he is acclaimed for depictions of the disorientation accompanying the imposition of Western customs and values on traditional African society. Things Fall Apart(1958) and Arrow of God (1964) portray traditional Igbo life as it clashes with colonialism. No Longer at Ease (1960), A Man of the People (1966), and Anthills of the Savannah (1988) deal with corruption and other aspects of postcolonial African life.Home and Exile (2000) is in part autobiographical, in part a defense of Africa against Western distortions.
Supposed author of a collection of Greek fables, almost certainly a legendary figure. Though Herodotus, in the 5th century bc, said that he was an actual personage, "Aesop" was probably no more than a name invented to provide an author for fables centering on beasts. Aesopian fables emphasize the social interactions of human beings, and the morals they draw tend to embody advice on how to deal with the competitive realities of life. The Western fable tradition effectively begins with these tales. Modern editions list some 200 Aesopian fables.
Aesop, with a fox, from the central medallion of a kylix, c. 470 bc; in the Gregorian Etruscan Museum, the Vatican
(Born Aug. 4, 1901, New Orleans, La., U.S. — died July 6, 1971, New York, N.Y.) U.S. jazz trumpeter and singer. As a youth in New Orleans, he participated in marching, riverboat, and cabaret bands. A childhood nickname, Satchelmouth, was shortened to Satchmo and used throughout his life. In 1922 he moved to Chicago to join King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. In 1924 he joined the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra in New York City; the following year he switched from cornet to trumpet and began recording under his own name with his Hot Five and Hot Seven ensembles. In these recordings the prevailing emphasis on collective improvisation gives way to his developing strength as a soloist and vocalist. By the time of his "West End Blues" (1928), Armstrong had established the preeminence of the virtuoso soloist in jazz. His vibrant melodic phrasing, inventive harmonic improvisation, and swinging rhythmic conception established the vernacular of jazz music. His powerful tone, great range, and dazzling velocity set a new technical standard. He also was one of the first scat singers, improvising nonsense syllables in the manner of a horn. He became something more than a jazz musician: solo attraction, bandleader, film actor, and international star.
(Born Dec. 16, 1775, Steventon, Hampshire, Eng. — died July 18, 1817, Winchester, Hampshire) English novelist. The daughter of a rector, she lived in the circumscribed world of minor landed gentry and country clergy that she was to use in her writing; her closest companion was her sister, Cassandra. Her earliest known writings are mainly parodies, notably of sentimental fiction. In her six full-length novels — Sense and Sensibility (1811),Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park(1814), Emma (1815), Persuasion (1817), andNorthanger Abbey (published 1817 but written before the others) — she created the comedy of manners of middle-class English life in her time. Her writing is noted for its wit, realism, shrewd sympathy, and brilliant prose style. Through her treatment of ordinary people in everyday life, she was the first to give the novel its distinctly modern character. She published her novels anonymously; two appeared only after her death, which probably resulted from Addison's disease.
Orig. Freda Josephine McDonald (born June 3, 1906, St. Louis, Mo., U.S. — died April 12, 1975, Paris, France) U.S.-born French entertainer. She joined a dance troupe at age 16 and soon moved to New York City, where she performed in Harlem nightclubs and on Broadway in Chocolate Dandies (1924). She went to Paris in 1925 to dance in La Revue nègre. To French audiences she personified the exoticism and vitality of African American culture, and she became Paris's most popular music-hall entertainer, receiving star billing at the Folies Bergère. In World War II she worked with the Red Cross and entertained Free French troops. From 1950 she adopted numerous orphans of all nationalities as "an experiment in brotherhood." She returned periodically to the U.S. to advance the cause of civil rights.
Game played with a bat and ball between two teams of nine players (or 10, if a designated hitter bats and runs for the pitcher). Baseball is played on a large field that has four bases laid out in a square, positioned like a diamond, whose outlines mark the course a runner must take to score. Teams alternate positions as batters and fielders, exchanging places when three members of the batting team are put out. Batters try to hit a pitched ball out of reach of the fielding team and complete a circuit around the bases in order to score a "run." The team that scores the most runs in nine innings (times at bat) wins the game. If a game is tied, extra innings are played until the tie is broken. Baseball is traditionally considered the national pastime of the United States. It was once thought to have been invented in 1839 by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, N.Y., but it is more likely that baseball developed from an 18th-century English game called rounders that was modified by Alexander Cartwright. The first professional association was formed in 1871; in 1876 it became the National League. Its rival, the American League, was founded in 1900, and since 1903 (except in 1904 and 1994) the winning teams of each league have played a postseason championship known as the World Series. The Baseball Hall of Fame is located in Cooperstown, N.Y. Professional baseball leagues also exist in several Latin American countries. The champions of leagues in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela compete in the Caribbean Series each February. In Asia there are professional baseball leagues in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Japan has two major leagues, the Central and the Pacific, which face off in the Japan Series every October.
Or Matsuo Basho. Orig. Matsuo Munefusa (born 1644, Ueno, Iga province, Japan — died Nov. 28, 1694, Osaka) Japanese haiku poet, the greatest practitioner of the form. Following the Zen philosophy he studied, he attempted to compress the meaning of the world into the simple pattern of his poetry, disclosing hidden hopes in small things and showing the interdependence of all objects. His The Narrow Road to the Deep North(1694), a poetic prose travelogue, is one of the loveliest works of Japanese literature.
Court game between two teams of five players. They score by tossing, or "shooting," an inflated ball through a raised hoop, or "basket," located in their opponent's end of the court. A goal is worth two points, three if shot from outside a specified limit. A player who is fouled (through unwarranted physical contact) by another is awarded one to three free-throw attempts (depending on the circumstances of the foul). A successful free throw is worth one point. Invented in 1891 by James A. Naismith at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Mass., basketball quickly became popular throughout the U.S., with games organized at the high school and collegiate level for both sexes. (For the first game, Naismith used two half-bushel peach baskets as goals, which gave the sport its name.) Women first played the game under a markedly different set of rules. The game developed internationally at a slower pace. The first Olympic basketball contest was held in 1936, and the Fédération Internationale de Basketball Amateur (FIBA) introduced world championships for men and women in 1950 and 1953, respectively. In the U.S., high school and collegiate championship tournaments are traditionally held in March and generate considerable excitement. A men's professional league was organized in 1898 but did not gain much of a following until 1949, when it was reconstituted as the National Basketball Association (NBA). The first women's professional leagues in the U.S. emerged during the 1970s but failed after a year or two. The current Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), owned by the NBA, was organized in 1997. Club and professional basketball outside the U.S. developed rapidly in the latter part of the 20th century. The Basketball Hall of Fame is located in Springfield, Mass.
British rock group that came to personify the counterculture of the 1960s. Its principal members, all born in Liverpool, Eng., were Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. The group began with the pairing of McCartney and Lennon in 1956; Harrison joined in 1957, and Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best later. In 1960 they adopted the name the Beatles. In 1962 they signed a recording contract and replaced Best with Starr (Sutcliffe had left the group in 1961). The release in 1962–63 of such songs as "Please Please Me" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" made them England's most popular rock group, and in 1964 "Beatlemania" struck the U.S. Originally inspired by Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Buddy Holly, among others, their direct, energetic songs kept them at the top of the pop charts. Their long hair and tastes in dress were influential throughout the world, as were their experimentation with hallucinogenic drugs and Indian mysticism and their involvement with the politics of peace. From 1965 to 1967 the Beatles's music rapidly evolved, becoming increasingly subtle, sophisticated, and varied — ranging from ballads such as "Yesterday" to the psychedelic hard rock of "Tomorrow Never Knows." Their public performances ended in 1966. Albums such as Rubber Soul (1965), Revolver (1966), and The Beatles ("White Album," 1968) set new trends in rock. In 1967 they producedSgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album novel for its conception as a dramatic whole, use of electronic music, and character as a studio work not reproducible onstage. They appeared in the films A Hard Day's Night(1964) and Help! (1965). The group dissolved in 1970. In 1988 the Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Lennon (1994), McCartney (1999), and Harrison (2004) were also inducted as solo performers.
Indian moviemaking industry that began in Bombay (now Mumbai) in the 1930s and developed into an enormous film empire. Bombay Talkies, launched in 1934 by Himansu Rai, spearheaded the growth of Indian cinema. Throughout the years, several classic genres emerged from Bollywood: the historical epic, notably Mughal-eazam (1960; "The Great Mughal"); the curry western, such as Sholay (1975; "The Embers"); the courtesan film, such as Pakeezah (1972; "Pure Heart"), which highlights stunning cinematography and sensual dance choreography; and the mythological movie, represented by Jai Santoshi Maa (1975; "Hail Santoshi Maa"). Star actors, rather than the films themselves, have accounted for most box-office success. Standard features of Bollywood films include formulaic story lines, expertly choreographed fight scenes, spectacular song-and-dance routines, emotion-charged melodrama, and larger-than-life heroes. At the beginning of the 21st century, Bollywood produced as many as 1,000 feature films annually, and international audiences began to develop among Asians in the U.K. and the U.S.
(Persian; "goat dragging") An equestrian game in which riders compete to gain control of a goat or calf carcass that has been decapitated and dehoofed. Buzkashi likely originated as an entertaining variant of ordinary herding or raiding. It is popular predominantly among Turkic peoples in Afghanistan but can be found in the Muslim republics of Central Asia and in parts of northwestern China. Buzkashi has two main forms. The traditional version, tudabaray, has no formal teams and is not played within clearly defined boundaries. Games often involve hundreds of riders, and the objective is to gain sole possession of the carcass and ride it free and clear of all other riders. The modern government-sponsored qarajay style involves two teams of 10–12 riders that contend on a defined field with goals. Beginning in the early 1950s, the Kabul-based Afghan government hosted national tournaments.
Buzkashi, or goat dragging, is a sport American troops found challenging to master while serving in Afghanistan. Persian in origin, the sport's object is to seize and maintain possession of a headless, eviscerated goat carcass from horseback — not quite goat polo. The feat must be accomplished, according to tudabaray rules, without grabbing hair or reins or using weapons, although there is no referee. Teams and boundaries are ad hoc, as they often are in the region, and expert players, chapandazan, are celebrities. The game is won once a player has maintained possession of the carcass while riding "free and clear" of the other riders, although "free and clear" is a judgment call without judges. During the Buzkashi Open in Kabul, the Kentucky Derby of goat dragging, khans back individual riders, making the event as much political as sporting, with status hanging in the balance for tribal leaders. The passing of power from the central authority in Kabul to the mujahideen commanders paralleled the central authority's buzkashi tournament losses to the commanders. — M.F.
Sport of running camels at speed, with a rider astride, over a predetermined course. The sport is generally limited to running the dromedary — whose name is derived from the Greek verb dramein, "to run" — rather than the Bactrian camel. Camel racing on the Arabian Peninsula can be traced to at least the 7th century. Although traditionally overshadowed by horse racing in that region, the racing of camels was long a folk sport practiced at social gatherings and festivals. In the late 20th century it was organized into a formal sport, similar to Thoroughbred horse racing. The sport is popular in India, Australia, parts of East Africa, and especially the Arab countries of the Middle East. A race typically has 25 to 30 entries and covers distances ranging from 2.5 to 6 mi (4 to 10 km).
Excerpted from Glad You Asked by Michael Feldman. Copyright © 2006 Michael Feldman. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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