Thursday, March 09, 2006


I hold no delusions about my public education. Public schools, a couple of years in an expensive private college, then a transfer to a state college because it was CHEAP. It's a cliche, I guess, but the description fits: I was an indifferent student. Got good grades without trying very hard, but wouldn't break a sweat and make that extra effort to get A pluses, when A minuses and B pluses were perfectly okay, and got me into the college of my choice. I spent my high school years drinking, wearing silly clothing, dying my hair funny colors (it wasn't hard to be 'punk' in Maine, just have a little fun with hair dye, listen to the Clash, and maybe wear a studded belt. I wouldn't break a sweat to be nonconformist either, it was faily easy to raise eyebrows and cause alarm.) And I spent my college years - shockingly enough - drinking, wearing silly clothes and dying my hair funny colors. Though college was in Boston, so had I wanted to cause alarm it would have taken more than camo pants and an extra earring hole, so I didn't bother. Yawn.

But at least I have a realistic picture of the progress of history, invention, what technologies were available in various eras, etc.

Anyway, I started this post to talk about something I just remembered from a college Shakespeare class that makes me laugh from time to time. The professor was on about the lack of solid description in some texts, when referring to people like Helen of Troy, or Cleopatra, for instance. "You see," he intoned, "since individual tastes vary, if you describe Helen as a blond, but certain individuals prefer brunettes, or if she is described as 'willowy' but you prefer an athletic or buxom build, then she falls short of the ideal you're trying to represent. But if you simply describe her as 'the most beautiful woman in the world,' then you're all free to picture your own personal ideal of beauty, and imagine what she would look like based on your tastes."

So, he's going on and talking about the play "Antony & Cleopatra," and how we're free to imagine Cleopatra as an exotic, olive skinned or black Egyptian, though we know she was Greek, so some are imagining an almond-eyed, mediterranean beauty, even a short, buxom woman with no ankles and a hairy upper lip, whatever you fancy.

A hand goes up in the front of the class. It's the late 1980's, so if I simply say "80's chick," you're free to picture a pink CK sweat-shirted female, maybe with the collar cut out and on lop-sided over a black tank top, or acid wash jeans and white Reebok sneakers, with hair teased up a couple of storeys. "Are there any pictures of Cleopatra?" she asks.

Class goes silent.


Well, I thought it was funny.


Blogger Chris Cope said...

I took European history in high school and one of the more tedious elements of the course involved keeping track of the continent's constantly changing boundaries. Since Europe's boundaries changed with seasons pre-WWII, we spent a hell of a lot of time staring at maps that went back to at least 1066.

So, late in the year, when we have advanced all the way to the post-WWI boundaries, we are going through our latest maps and a hand goes up from the girl whom I used to refer to as "Hockey Mom" (she seemed destined to amount to little more).

"Uhm," she says with a hint of annoyance, "which is the land and which is the water?"

09 March, 2006 11:23  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even more scary, you could have presented that girl in the CK/Madonna look a still of elizabeth Taylor in the early 60s production of 'Cleopatra', and she'd probably believed that she was looking at the real deal... that gets us back to the question of what Nile's wife, Maris might have looked like on the Sitcom 'Frasier', and that was why she never appeared...We were left to imagine some feature that we would find freaky. One persons freakness is anothers...something.

09 March, 2006 13:31  
Anonymous fritz said...

Imagine a room full of upper-middle class pseudo-intellectual musicians discussing the merits of Einstein's autobiography and the builder (who should have been finishing the kitchen) asks,"So who wrote it?" silence Arrrrrrrg! what I was thinking I do not know, somant abat who translated it or whatever, still so ...arrrrg. Anyway,worked out for the best as I walked home at 2am and the kitchen flooded by 10.
Oh, BTW do you still have that sweatshirt with the collar cut out and on lop-sided over a black tank top?

09 March, 2006 17:51  
Anonymous mfv said...

Gritty MCDuff's Black Fly Stout. MMMM. Seriously now. That's all I'm saying. Would I shite you?

10 March, 2006 09:20  

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