Losing One’s Train, by Vernon Lee

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In this classic essay, Vernon Lee shows us how life and discovery are phenomena that occur while we are busy running after trains. Lee (1856-1935), a member of the Aesthetic Movement, lived long before our current digital age of high tech toys, but she nevertheless already realized its implications. As she wrote in one of her essays:

There is an unlucky tendency … to allow every new invention to add to life’s complications, and every new power to increase life’s hustling; so that, unless we can dominate the mischief, we are really the worse off instead of the better.

Losing One’s Train, by Vernon Lee (8:49)

A Place to Hang Your Hat, by Bruce Chatwin

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Man’s real home is not a house, but the Road, Bruce Chatwin wrote in his book The Songlines in 1988, and … life itself is a journey to be walked on foot.

I’m inclined to agree with him, because who, as Pascal would say, is content “to sit in a quiet room alone”? And yet, if I were hunting for a pied-à-terre in London, I’d set about it the way Chatwin did – and hire the same decorator.

A Place to Hang Your Hat, by Bruce Chatwin {14:56}

Marrakech, by George Orwell

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George Orwell was always ahead of the curve when predicting the future course of the twentieth century – not only in his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, but also in this brief but chilling look at French colonialism in Morocco, and the hell on earth it both created and helped to perpetuate. He published this essay in 1939 after spending several months in Marrakech to recover from the throat wounds he received in the Spanish Civil War.

But there is one thought which every white man (and in this connection  it doesn’t matter twopence if he calls himself a Socialist) thinks when he sees a black army marching past. “How much longer can we go on kidding these people? How long before they tum their guns in the other direction?”

Marrakech, by George Orwell {15:32}

A Message to Garcia, by Elbert Hubbard

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Elbert Hubbard’s classic essay, dashed off in just a few minutes and first published in 1899, is in many respects a product of its jingoistic and boosterist times, but it still packs a certain punch today. You can read the original essay HERE. The actual eyewitness account of Lt. Andrew Rowan, the man who, at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, risked almost certain death by actually carrying a message from US President Willliam McKinley to the rebel general Calixto Garcia in the mountains of Cuba, and surviving to tell the tale, is a fascinating read in itself. The core message of the story, and Hubbard’s inspirational take on it, lies in this passage:

In instances of this kind, where one’s reputation, as well as his life, is at stake, it is usual to ask for written instructions. In military service the life of the man is at the disposal of his country, but his reputation is his own and it ought not be placed in the hands of anyone with power to destroy it, either by neglect or otherwise. But in this case it never occurred to me to ask for written instructions; my sole thought was that I was charged with a message to Garcia and to get from him certain information and that I was going to do it.

You can read the entire account HERE.

Dealing With the Dead, by Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan

This might not be something you’ve given a lot of thought to, but I’ve often wondered at how some people, instead of hauling it all to the second-hand shop, adopt the leftover clothing of their deceased loved ones and wear it proudly, often without benefit of dry-cleaning. I suspect this behavior goes beyond mere recycling. It seems to have a sort of talismanic quality, reminiscent of the bearskin coats of the ancient berserkers, or the latterday bearskin caps of the palace guards in London, where the wearer is hoping to absorb some of the essence of the original owner. Tonight’s essay touches on this singularly touchy topic, which I’ve never seen written about anywhere else.

Dealing With the Dead, by Jennifer Egan {7:26}