Wednesday, May 21

Two Words I Recently Had To Look Up

Macula: Highly sensitive part of the retina responsible for detailed central vision

Flâneur: An idle man-about-town.

“There is no English equivalent for the French word flâneur. Cassell's dictionary defines flâneur as a stroller, saunterer, drifter but none of these terms seems quite accurate. There is no English equivalent for the term, just as there is no Anglo-Saxon counterpart of that essentially Gallic individual, the deliberately aimless pedestrian, unencumbered by any obligation or sense of urgency, who, being French and therefore frugal, wastes nothing, including his time which he spends with the leisurely discrimination of a gourmet, savoring the multiple flavors of his city."
Cornelia Otis Skinner
Elegant Wits and Grand Horizontals


Both of these words are from James Wood's rave review of Joseph O'Neill's novel Netherland.

The book's been getting nothing but praise, garnering a glowing review from Michiko Kakutani and even a BuzzFeed entry.

I was initially skeptical, but Wood's review includes this excerpt, describing a post-9/11 New York, which totally blew me away:

Around the clock, ambulances sped eastward on West Twenty-third Street with a sobbing escort of police motorcycles. Sometimes I confused the cries of the sirens with my son’s nighttime cries. I would leap out of bed and go to his bedroom and helplessly kiss him. . . . Afterward I slipped out onto the balcony and stood there like a sentry. The pallor of the so-called hours of darkness was remarkable. Directly to the north of the hotel, a succession of cross streets glowed as if each held a dawn. The taillights, the coarse blaze of deserted office buildings, the lit storefronts, the orange fuzz of the street lanterns: all this garbage of light had been refined into a radiant atmosphere that rested in a low silver heap over Midtown and introduced to my mind the mad thought that the final twilight was upon New York.


gigi said...

Wow -- what a paragraph!

Personally I consider myself a raconteur and bon vivant, but sometimes I am a flaneuse. Because it's fun. :)

Johnny said...

Wood also quotes O'Neill's description of a sunset: “The day, a pink smear above America, had all but disappeared.”

I'm glad you feel better, Gigi. Did your pets overcome their Sympathetic Languor?

Guys, check this out:

Ha! (Gigi, seriously, check for gas leaks!)