Liquid Incense

I must say I have never understood what the Playboy bunnies saw in Dr. Kissinger. Perhaps they’re professionally equipped to detect charm and wit where mere men miss it. Who knows, the long fluffy ears may contain hidden sensors programmed to relay subtle messages to secondary brains located in the bunnies’ gluteal powder puffs, which, […]

Fresh Pink Innocence

End-of-term gifts from one’s pupils are a recurrent pleasure of professorial life. Like the boarding-school boy who thanked the aunt for the bottle of cherries pickled in brandy, one enjoys them not only for themselves but also for the spirit in which they are given. Only once have I been given an apple (and then […]

Screw It

Don’t get me wrong. I’m as caught up in the romantic rituals of wine drinking as anyone: the instruments, shining and nearly surgical; the bottle long stored at a tilt; the small effort required to remove the cork; the serious sniff, the careful pour, the sip. But there are times I’m just not in the […]

Echoes of the Empire

I shall spend a lot of this summer reading Polybius. The rise and fall of empires is in the air, and Polybius is the most coherent historian of the rise of Rome—not least because he was a Greek and smart. When Polybius describes how the Roman general Titus Flaminius accomplished his mission in the Second […]

Flowers by Contrecoup

Being brought up in a family with three doctors gives one an odd outlook on life. It was not just the anatomy textbooks, with their foggy monochrome photographs, that rubbed shoulders with the wildflower guides and J.B. Priestley novels in the family library. Nor was it only the medical advertisements that came in triplicate by […]

In Vino Veritas

Take a piece of paper and write on one side: “The statement on the other side of this page is untrue.” Then turn the piece of paper over and write the same thing on the other side. Then apply for a tenure-track position in a university philosophy department, where they will tell you that this […]

Red Heat from Spain

I have often thought that the Forty Martyrs of Sebasteia should be the patron saints of Minnesota. Never mind that they are most likely mythical; they can stand for all the other martyrs the Romans executed in the first three centuries A.D. And the myth is certainly appropriate to our chilly state. The Forty, it […]

Anjou Reviver

Heaven knows the European Community (or whatever they are calling it this week) fails to warm the cockles of the English heart. (How would you like life in Minnesota regulated in detail by a bloated bureaucracy, living on expense accounts in a foreign land?) But one of its pleasanter side effects has been a scheme […]

Light and Holy Drinks

After twelve happy years in Oxford, the happy year I spent in Cambridge was a far greater culture shock than (several years later) coming to Minnesota. The first thing I learned was that in Cambridge, it is not polite to be rude to people. If you say, “I read your book; what a lot of […]

Rouge Almost Noir

If you go down to the woods south of London, you may be in for a big surprise. Not the teddy bears’ picnic—that seems to be what a good many urban folk seem to expect in the countryside these days, as though farms were all film sets and the animals, a collection of animated stuffed […]