Nothing Doing

forest protest

Invited to participate in São Paulo’s biennial art exhibition in 1973, French artist Fred Forest found a unique way to protest the censorship imposed by Brazil’s ruling junto: He organized a group of marchers to carry blank signs through the city. “Instead of calling on dissidents or students who could have been arrested and tortured, Forest hired fifteen men to carry the signs,” writes Karen O’Rourke in Walking and Mapping. “As professional sandwich-board men who work at street corners in the heart of São Paulo, they could not be held responsible for the content of their signs.”

The press published the marchers’ route, and the public understood that the blank signs reflected the government’s repression. Although it was against the law for more than three people to congregate in the street, Forest’s march attracted nearly 2,000 followers, and onlookers showered them with ticker tape from their balconies.

The police arrested Forest for holding up traffic, but he was protected by his status as a foreign artist. After several hours of questioning, they let him go.

Regrets

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In 1922 J.M. Barrie wrote to A.E. Housman:

Dear Professor Houseman,

I am sorry about last night, when I sat next to you and did not say a word. You must have thought I was a very rude man: I am really a very shy man.

Sincerely yours, J.M. Barrie

Housman wrote back:

Dear Sir James Barrie,

I am sorry about last night, when I sat next to you and did not say a word. You must have thought I was a very rude man: I am really a very shy man.

Sincerely yours, A.E. Housman

He added, “P.S. And now you’ve made it worse for you have spelt my name wrong.”

Match Making

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Coleridge is said to have described the happiest possible marriage as “the union of a deaf man to a blind woman.”

The eccentric Lord Berners’ requisites for a happy marriage: “A short memory, a long purse, infinite credulity, no sense of humor, a combative nature, the man should be a man and the woman a woman or vice versa.”

“In the old days I demanded or perhaps pleaded for three things in a wife. She should have enough money to buy her own clothes, she should be able to make incomparable Béarnaise sauce, and she should be double-jointed. In the event I got none of these things.” — Ian Fleming, quoted in Ben MacIntyre’s For Your Eyes Only

Boswell: “Pray, Sir, do you not suppose that there are fifty women in the world, with any one of whom a man may be as happy, as with any one woman in particular?”

Johnson: “Ay, Sir, fifty thousand.”

Boswell: “Then, Sir, you are not of opinion with some who imagine that certain men and certain women are made for each other; and that they cannot be happy if they miss their counterparts.”

Johnson: “To be sure not, Sir. I believe marriages would in general be as happy, and often more so, if they were all made by the Lord Chancellor, upon a due consideration of the characters and circumstances, without the parties having any choice in the matter.”

Breathless

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This looks exhausting — flirting signals, from Daniel R. Shafer’s Secrets of Life Unveiled, 1877:

“Handkerchief flirtations”:

Drawing it across the lips: Desiring an acquaintance
Drawing it across the cheek: I love you
Drawing it across the forehead: Look, we are watched
Drawing it through the hands: I hate you
Dropping it: We will be friends
Folding it: I wish to speak with you
Letting it rest on the right cheek: Yes
Letting it rest on the left cheek: No
Letting it remain on the eyes: You are so cruel
Opposite corners in both hands: Do wait for me
Over the shoulder: Follow me
Placing it over the right ear: How you have changed
Putting it in the pocket: No more love at present
Taking it by the centre: You are most too willing
Twisting it in the left hand: I wish to be rid of you
Twisting it in the right hand: I love another
Winding it around the forefinger: I am engaged
Winding it around the third finger: I am married

“Glove flirtations”:

Biting the tips: I wish to be rid of you very soon
Clenching them, rolled up in right hand: No
Drawing half way on left hand: Indifference
Dropping both of them: I love you
Dropping one of them: Yes
Folding up carefully: Get rid of your company
Holding the tips downward: I wish to be acquainted
Holding them loose in the right hand: Be contented
Holding them loose in the left hand: I am satisfied
Left hand with the naked thumb exposed: Do you love me?
Putting them away: I am vexed
Right hand with the naked thumb exposed: Kiss me
Smoothing them out gently: I am displeased
Striking them over the shoulder: Follow me
Tapping the chin: I love another
Tossing them up gently: I am engaged
Turning them inside out: I hate you
Twisting them around the fingers: Be careful, we are watched
Using them as a fan: Introduce me to your company

“Fan flirtations”:

Carrying in right hand: You are too willing
Carrying in right hand in front of face: Follow me
Carrying in left hand: Desirous of an acquaintance
Closing it: I wish to speak with you
Drawing across the forehead: We are watched
Drawing across the cheek: I love you
Drawing across the eyes: I am sorry
Drawing through the hand: I hate you
Dropping: We will be friends
Fanning fast: I am engaged
Fanning slow: I am married
Letting it rest on right cheek: Yes
Letting it rest on left cheek: No
Open and shut: You are cruel
Open wide: Wait for me
Shut: I have changed
Placing it on the right ear: You have changed
Twirling in left hand: I love another
With handle to lips: Kiss me

“Parasol flirtations”:

Carrying it elevated in left hand: Desiring acquaintance
Carrying it elevated in right hand: You are too willing
Carrying it closed in left hand: Meet on the first crossing
Carrying it closed in right hand by the side: Follow me
Carrying it over the right shoulder: You can speak to me
Carrying it over the left shoulder: You are too cruel
Closing up: I wish to speak to you
Dropping it: I love you
End of tips to lips: Do you love me?
Folding it up: Get rid of your company
Letting it rest on the right cheek: Yes
Letting it rest on the left cheek: No
Striking it on the hand: I am very displeased
Swinging it to and fro by the handle on left side: I am engaged
Swinging it to and fro by the handle on the right side: I am married
Tapping the chin gently: I am in love with another
Twirling it around: Be careful; we are watched
Using it as a fan: Introduce me to your company
With handle to lips: Kiss me

(From Elizabeth Aldrich, From the Ballroom to Hell: Grace and Folly in Nineteenth-Century Dance, 1991.)

Things to Come

In 1899, preparing for festivities in Lyon marking the new century, French toy manufacturer Armand Gervais commissioned a set of 50 color engravings from freelance artist Jean-Marc Côté depicting the world as it might exist in the year 2000.

The set itself has a precarious history. Gervais died suddenly in 1899, when only a few sets had been run off the press in his basement. “The factory was shuttered, and the contents of that basement remained hidden for the next twenty-five years,” writes James Gleick in Time Travel. “A Parisian antiques dealer stumbled upon the Gervais inventory in the twenties and bought the lot, including a single proof set of Côté’s cards in pristine condition. He had them for fifty years, finally selling them in 1978 to Christopher Hyde, a Canadian writer who came across his shop on rue de l’Ancienne-Comédie.”

Hyde showed them to Isaac Asimov, who published them in 1986 as Futuredays, with a gentle commentary on what Côté had got right (widespread automation) and wrong (clothing styles). But maybe some of these visions are still ahead of us:

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Wikimedia Commons has the full set.

Happily Ever After?

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The Essex market town of Great Dunmow keeps alive a curious tradition: It awards a flitch of bacon to any married couple who can swear after a year and a day that they have not regretted their marriage. The custom goes back to the 13th century and perhaps even earlier; Chaucer mentions it as a well-established tradition. A similar ceremony used to be held at Wychnoure — two neighbors had to hear this oath and agree it was true:

Hear ye, Sir Philip de Somervile, lord of Whichenoure, maintainer and giver of this Bacon, that I, (husband), syth I wedded (wife), my wyfe, and syth I had her in my kepyng and at wylle, by a Yere and a Day after our Marryage, I would not have changed for none other, farer ne fowler, richer ne powrer, ne for none other descended of gretter lynage, sleeping ne waking, at noo time; and if the said (wife) were sole, and I sole, I would take her to be my wyfe before all the wymen of the worlde, of what condytions soevere they be, good or evyle, as helpe me God, and his Seyntys, and this flesh, and all fleshes.

Sadly, almost no one gets the bacon. Horace Walpole noted in 1760 that the Whichnoure flitch had not been claimed in 30 years, and records show that between 1444 and 1751 only six couples managed to win the Dunmow flitch.

But it’s not too late to try. The tradition had nearly died out when novelist William Harrison Ainsworth revived it with The Flitch of Bacon in 1854, and Dunmow has kept it alive since then. The modern trials are held each leap year, so the next one is in 2020. You’ll be cross-examined, and the case will be decided by a jury. But win or lose you get to visit Dunmow. As Walpole wrote, “If you love a prospect, or bacon, you will certainly come hither.”

Alternate Route

In 1989, a real estate developer applied to build 300 homes in Bolton, England, over the objections of the residents. The application was rejected twice, but then a government minister overturned the decision and told the firm to go ahead.

The borough council’s deputy leader, Guy Harkin, told the Bolton News, “We were scratching around to prevent a big national company dumping an estate on Bolton which the people didn’t want. After the government minister gave it the go-ahead, the only thing we had control over were the names of the streets.”

So they named them Hitler Avenue, Belsen Crescent, and Goering Drive.

“I thought if we could come up with the most nauseous names, it might prevent Barratts from building the estate,” Harkin said. “We wanted to do anything to prevent it being built, rather than force people to live on streets with horrible names.”

“Unfortunately the lawyers said although we were legally able to do it, we would have lost it on appeal. So it was never put forward as policy. The estate was built with normal street names.”

(Thanks, Raphy.)

Room 101

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2003/nov/13/art2

In 1941, the BBC established an Eastern Services Committee to discuss programming in India. The meetings were held in Room 101 at 55 Portland Place in London. George Orwell attended at least 12 meetings there and was asked to convene a subcommittee to consider organizing drama and poetry competitions.

Orwell scholar Peter Davison writes, “In Nineteen Eighty-Four O’Brien tells Orwell that the thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world. The understandable impression is that this is something like drowning, death by fire, or impalement, but Orwell is more subtle: for many, and for him, the worst thing in the world is that which is the bureaucrat’s life-blood: attendance at meetings.”

In 2003, when the original building was scheduled to be demolished, artist Rachel Whiteread made a plaster cast of the room’s interior (above). It was displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum later that year.

(From George Orwell: A Life in Letters, 2013.)

Scene

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In a London paper, of the last week, is the following curious apology for a hasty accusation — ‘A paragraph in our last paper, rather precipitously accuses, with ingratitude, a gentleman who gave two-pence as a reward to a waterman for risking his life in saving a lady who had fallen in the River; but had the writer of that paragraph been acquainted with all the particulars, he probably would have suppressed his censure. — The lady to whom the accident happened was the gentleman’s wife.

Public Advertiser, Aug. 20, 1790

Podcast Episode 153: A Victorian Stalker

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Between 1838 and 1841, an enterprising London teenager broke repeatedly into Buckingham Palace, sitting on the throne, eating from the kitchen, and posing a bewildering nuisance to Queen Victoria’s courtiers, who couldn’t seem to keep him out. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the exploits of Edward Jones — and the severe measures that were finally taken to stop them.

We’ll also salute some confusing flags and puzzle over an extraterrestrial musician.

Intro:

Tourists who remove rocks from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park face a legendary curse.

Periodicals of the 19th century featured at least two cats that got along on two legs.

Sources for our feature on “the boy Jones”:

Jan Bondeson, Queen Victoria’s Stalker: The Strange Case of the Boy Jones, 2011.

Joan Howard, The Boy Jones, 1943.

Lytton Strachey, Queen Victoria, 1921.

John Ashton, Gossip in the First Decade of Victoria’s Reign, 1903.

Thomas Raikes, A Portion of the Journal Kept by Thomas Raikes, Esq., from 1831 to 1847, vol. 4, 136.

Paul Thomas Murphy, “Jones, Edward,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessed April 22, 2017).

“The Boy Jones,” Examiner 1750 (Aug. 14, 1841), 524-524.

“The Boy Jones,” Court and Lady’s Magazine, Monthly Critic and Museum 21 (September 1841), 223-225.

Punch, July–December 1841.

“Occurrences,” Examiner 1793 (June 11, 1842), 381-381.

“The Boy Jones,” Reynold’s Miscellany of Romance, General Literature, Science, and Art 17:424 (Aug. 23, 1856), 56.

“The Boy Jones,” All the Year Round 34:814 (July 5, 1884), 234-237.

“The Latest News of the Boy Jones,” Examiner 1902 (July 13, 1844), 434-434.

“Palace Intruder Stayed 3 Days and Sat on Throne,” Globe and Mail, July 21, 1982.

“Strange Tale of the First Royal Stalker,” Express, Nov. 6, 2010, 14.

“Story of Boy Jones Who Stole Queen Victoria’s Underwear,” BBC News, Feb. 2, 2011.

Helen Turner, “Royal Rumpus of First Celebrity Stalker,” South Wales Echo, Feb. 3, 2011, 26.

Jan Bondeson, “The Strange Tale of the First Royal Stalker,” Express, Nov. 1, 2010.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, “Chad–Romania Relations” (accessed May 12, 2017).

“‘Identical Flag’ Causes Flap in Romania,” BBC News, April 14, 2004.

Wanderlust, “10 of the World’s Most Confusing Flags — and How to Figure Them Out,” Aug. 9, 2016.

Erin Nyren, “‘Whitewashing’ Accusations Fly as Zach McGowan Cast as Hawaiian WWII Hero,” Variety, May 9, 2017.

Kamlesh Damodar Sutar, “Highway Liquor Ban: Bar Owners Say They Will Be Forced to Commit Suicide Like Farmers,” India Today, April 3, 2017.

“Government Officials Rush to Denotify Highways Running Through Cities,” Economic Times, April 4, 2017.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Greg Yurkovic, who sent this corroborating link (warning: this spoils the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

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You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!