Thursday, November 19, 2015

Pablo Neruda Translated

Young Peasant Having Her Coffee, 1881
- Camille Pissarro

I just stumbled upon a book in which Pablo Neruda's sonnets are translated from Spanish into English, by MIT Professor Stephen Tapscott . I'm enjoying it tremendously.

Pablo Neruda was the pen name of a Chilean poet and leftist politician, Ricardo Eliecer Neftali Reyes Basoalto. Despite the fact that he was politically tone deaf (he actually praised Stalin in some of his poetry), he could turn a powerful phrase in Spanish. In 1971 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

I remember reading some of his work in my early 20's and being impressed by it.

My favorite phrase from Neruda is-

"un oro duro como el vino de una copa colmada
llena la tierra hasta sus limites azules."

Which Tapscott translated into English as-

"Like wine in a glass, a hard gold
fills the earth to its blue limits."

Here's a complete sonnet from the book, sonnet #53, translated into English by Tapscott. In my opinion, it captures the fulfillment and quiet joy a man and a woman can possess in their domestic marriage life-

Here are the bread-the wine-the table-the house:
a man's needs, and a woman's, and a life's.
Peace whirled through and settled in this place:
the common fire burned, to make this light.

Hail to your two hands, which fly and make
their white creations, the singing and the food:
salve! the wholesomeness of your busy feet;
viva! the ballerina who dances with the broom.

The rugged rivers of water and of the threat,
torturous pavilions of the foam,
incendiary hives and reefs: today

they are this respite, your blood in mine,
this path, starry and blue as the night,
this never-ending simple tenderness.

Here's the sonnet in its original Spanish-

Aqui esta el pan, el vino, la mesa, la morada:
el menester del hombre, la mujer y la vida:
a este sitio corria la paz vertiginosa,
por esta luz ardio la común quemadura.

Honor a tus dos manos que vuelan preparando
los blancos resultados del canto y la cocina,
salve! la integridad de tus pies corredores,
viva! la bailarina que baila con la escoba.

Aquellos bruscos rios con aguas y amenazas,
aquel atormentado pabellón de la espuma,
aquellos incendiarios panales y arrecifes

son hoy este reposo de tu sangre en la mia,
este cauce estrellado y azul como la noche,
este simplicidad sin fin de la ternura.

Pablo Neruda


Saturday, November 08, 2014

Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso, men's stuff part nineteen.

Let's talk men's watches.

In terms of quiet elegance for daily life, my Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso Grand Taille (pictured left) takes the grand prize over all the other watches I own.  It was a Christmas gift from my wife in 2013 and I've grown very fond of it over the past year. 

As a watch enthusiast I had lusted over the Jaeger Reverso for a number of years, but was on the fence about my next major watch purchase between a Reverso or a PaneraiLuminor 1950 GMT. I had finally decided on the Reverso, and was actively pondering which Reverso model I was going to purchase when my wife gave me the Christmas surprise.

My wife’s choice for me was a simple stainless steel GT with only one complication- a small inside dial for seconds.  The strap is light brown alligator leather with a stainless steel butterfly clasp assembly.  I also have a second alligator strap in black. The watch tastefully understated. It's an inconspicuously branded luxury good that is likely to be recognized only by other watch aficionados/enthusiasts.

For a watch enthusiast, the Reverso requires no introduction.  Its art deco design still shines as brightly today as when it first made its worldwide splash with the café society in 1931. The watch was supposedly designed for British military officers who played polo in British Colonial India.  The polo players kept breaking their watch crystals during play, and the Reverso solved the problem by enabling them to “swivel” the crystal face into a reverse position- exposing only the metal back. Hence the name, "Reverso."

Originally the back was a plain metal surface, but with time, Jaeger LeCoultre began decorating the backs of Reversos with everything from the watch owner’s initials to elaborate designs infused with diamonds, enamel, and other creative resources.  One model, the Reverso Duo, has a second watch on the back that can be used like a GMT for a second time zone.

Today, the Reverso is still considered Jaeger LeCoultre signature watch and is available in multiple models, with a large variety of complications, and ranging in size from the small classic size measuring only (L x W) 38.5 x 23.1mm, to the new large Squadra models measuring a full 50.5 x 34.9mm.

In addition to the Reverso collection, Jaeger sports a number of watch lines on its official website, most of which are in traditional round faces.

The company, Jaeger LeCoultre, has been around since 1833 and has had quite a history with royalty, celebrities, and the infamous.  For example Queen Elizabeth II wore a Jaeger 101 movement on her coronation day, and the scoundrel mountebank Bernie Madoff had a Reverso Dou that was seized and auctioned off after his fraud conviction. 

One Caveat- Size Matters when it comes to choosing your Reverso

Having sang its praises; the caveat with the Reverso is its size.  For many men today, who are used to large watches, the original classic size feels too small- at only 38.5mm by 23.1mm.  I think this is the reason Jaeger introduced the uber-sized “Squadra” Reverso that measure a wrist imposing 50.5mm length and 34.9mm width.

Size then, not the complications, was my main concern when choosing my Reverso.  A couple of online bulleting board comments, from dissatisfied purchasers, had stuck with me.

One disappointed purchaser stated he had had to trade in his classic sized Reverso for a Squadra Reverso, at a significant monetary loss, because he simply could not get used to the small size.  With the classic, he had always felt like he was wearing a ladies watch.  (If you want to see how small it looks on a man’s wrist, Google photos of Mad Men’s Don Draper for the first season.)

A second frustrated purchaser also made a size comment. He complained his Reverso was too long in length, and uncomfortable.  What he meant was that because the Reverso pivots, the watch back case is flat and it does not curve to the wrist upon its length like some square watches do.  As a result the purchaser complained that the watch was always slightly uncomfortable on his wrist, and because of this, he didn’t wear it often.  I believe the model he was referring to was the Ultra Thin model.
From here you can see the flat back back surface, no curvature to the wrist. For the blog photo, I removed the watch's serial number which is etched on the bottom below the emblem.
Lastly, I had personal reservations against a Squadra Reverso because (A), I felt the oversized Squadra Reverso lacked the elegance of a more traditional Reverso, and (B), I thought the Squadra would be too big for my wrist. My wife had the same thoughts about the Squadra models when she was shopping for my watch. 

For me, my wife’s gift of a Reverso Grand Taille (GT) was the perfect “Goldilocks” size for my wrist.  At 42.2mm Length and 26mm Width, it’s both comfortable and elegant, and fits well underneath my shirt cuff.  It’s the opposite of today’s monster sized overstated watches.  At the same time, I don’t feel I’m wearing a woman’s watch.  I think my wife made a great selection with my Grand Taille.

If you want to get an idea of how it looks on a man’s wrist from different angles and distances, catch the 1999 movie “The Thomas Crown Affair.”  In it, Pierce Brosnan's character, Thomas Crown, wears a Reverso Duo, which is the exact same size as the Reverso GT.

As an interesting aside, the Reverso worn by Pierce Brosnan in "The Thomas Crown Affair" was actually owned by him (it's said hes' a big Jaeger fan), but the "Jaeger LeCoultre" lettering in the face was edited-out in close-ups of the watch. Presumably this was because Brosnan had a promotional contract with Omega at the time due to his James Bond films.  
With my pen and reading glasses, this photo provides size scale for the watch.
One last caution- in the online watch review by “The Talking Hands,” one of the online reviewers warned, “They should warn you that these things are made of butter.”  He was observing that just as the watch is extremely beautiful, it is also extremely vulnerable to scratching.  I have found that to be true even of my stainless steel model due to the high polish finish. You do have to be mindful while wearing it.

For more information on these beautiful watches, I've placed below a couple of YouTube Links.  

One is a short 13 minute review of the Reverso by “Talking Hands," specifically the Grand Reserve with an 8 day power-reserve-indicator on the back. This is the one where we are warned about the watch's "butter" like delicacy to scratching.

The other is a simple demonstration of the pivot action of a Reverso GT. Incidentally, it does show the "correct" way to flip your Reverso.  Push it in halfway (left to right), then flip the face to the back, then push the rest of it in sideways until it locks in place (again, left to right). This prevents accidental scratching of your Reverso.

-John P.

If you're a watch enthusiast, here are some additional watch related posts:

Gordon Gecko (Michael Douglas) wearing a stainless steel Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso GT with brown strap in "Money Never Sleeps," the sequel to the classic 1987 movie Wall Street.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A little late summer Rimbaud

With the onset of milder fall weather, I get to use my screened in back porch again for reading. Anticipating this, I began looking at my poetry books and I thought I’d share my favorite poem by Rimbaud.

I first became familiar with Rimbaud after reading a reference to him in Heavy Metal Magazine, and I later became intrigued by the various English translations of his French work.

Albeit admittedly a little risqué, in this poem Rimbaud reminds me of the Cavalier poets who had a much more realistic approach to the wooing game than the Petrarch sonneteers. While the sonneteer wailed and moaned and in general elevated the woman of his passion, the Cavalier poet recognized that the woman he was after was composed of living tissue, and most importantly that living tissue needs living tissue. (“let’s obey the proclamation made for May, and sin no more, as we have done, by staying; But my Corinna, come, let’s go a-Maying.”)  The pretentious elevated “eternal passion” of the Petrarch, was replaced with the new motto of “seize the day!”  Poor Phillip Sidney and his group could have learned from Robert Herrick and Andrew Marvell. 

In this spirit, let me introduce “First Evening,” by Arthur Rimbaud.

First Evening
                 (Première Soirée)

She was barely dressed though,
And the great indiscreet trees
Touched the glass with their leaves,
In malice, quite close, quite close.

Sitting in my deep chair,
Half-naked, hands clasped together,
On the floor, little feet, so fine,
So fine, shivered with pleasure.

I watched, the beeswax colour
Of a truant ray of sun-glow
Flit about her smile, and over
Her breast – a fly on the rose.

– I kissed her delicate ankle.
She gave an abrupt sweet giggle
Chiming in clear trills,
A pretty laugh of crystal.

Her little feet under her slip
Sped away: ‘Will you desist!’
Allowing that first bold act,
Her laugh pretended to punish!

– Trembling under my lips,
Poor things, I gently kissed her lids.
– She threw her vapid head back.
‘Oh! That’s worse, that is!’…

‘Sir, I’ve two words to say to you...’
– I planted the rest on her breast
In a kiss that made her laugh
With a laugh of readiness….

– She was barely dressed though,
And the great indiscreet trees
Touched the glass with their leaves
In malice, quite close, quite close.

               Arthur Rimbaud, 1870

*The painting is Picasso's Le Reve, a portrait of Picasso's mistress Marie-Therese, sitting in a chair, in a pose more suited for a Balthus painting. It was recently purchased by hedge fund manager Steve Cohen for $155 million from casino magnate Steve Wynn.  Wynn had previously agreed to sell the painting to Cohen in 2006 for $139 million, but the sale was cancelled when Wynn accidentally put his elbow through the canvas.  However, Wynn had the painting repaired and the two came to a new arrangement in March of 2013.  Glad it worked out.   -JP