According to my old professor of Biological Anthropology, Erik Trinkaus, from whom I took several of the most amazing courses I ever had during my graduate career, Ice Age Humans (Neanderthals or Cro-Magnons) in France, Europe, and the Near East did not typically live as long as I have to date (53 years). In fact, life expectancies were probably less than 30 years for both males and females, and if we have more burial data from older individuals, it is because anyone who lived beyond 40 was practically a godlike object of ancestor worship (OK, that’s my embellishment, not anything Erik ever actually said. But for what Erik Trinkaus’ “thumbnail” summary opinion was, see an article which cited him in the New York Times, just for a casual and basically random example: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/11/science/11obneanderthal.html?_r=0).
So it is with shock, awe, and dismay that I realize now that I graduated from the College of Arts & Sciences at Tulane University 33 years and one week ago as of May 18, 2013. That day is also illuminated by the following historical trivia:
Saturday, May 18, 2013
On this date:
Montreal, Quebec, was founded in 1642
The Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, began in 1863
Plessy v. Fergusson was decided in 1896
Haley’s Comet Passed by the Earth in 1910
Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933
Apollo 10 blasted off in 1969
Mount St. Helens’ Volcano in Washington Exploded in 1980
I graduated from Tulane University on May 11, 1980, 33 years and 1 week ago today—Oh yeah, I guess I already mentioned that….
Montreal being founded was a good thing. Montreal is a really nice city (lots of cute little French-Canadian girls up there, and the food is great too). I hear Vicksburg was OK before the siege, but it got kind of boring afterwards. As for the TVA—well, I have heard the TVA was such a success that they never dared to repeat it, which is just as well, because it was essentially just another Communist-Marxist-Stalinist 5 year plan that has now lasted 80 years…. Now that’s a REALLY long time for a 5 year plan to go on….. Aside from the Federal Reserve Banking System, the TVA is the United States Government’s largest “privately” owned corporation. That is confusing, isn’t it: how can the U.S. Government own anything privately? Well, the TVA is set up as a private corporation, it’s employees are not US Government employees, but it is wholly owned by the Government. In other words, the TVA operates as even even more of a “private, closely held” corporation than (a) the Virginia Company, (b) the Massachusetts Bay Company, (c) the Hudson’s Bay Company, or (d) the British East India Company ever was until after the Sepoy Mutiny let to the annexation of India to the Crown as an “Empire.” But the sole owner of the TVA is the U.S. Government, so it’s a private corporation owned by the largest and most powerful public entity (the U.S. Government) in the world.
Anyhow, I deeply resent the passage of time. As “the Preacher, the son of David, King in Jerusalem” wrote in the Book of Ecclesiastes:
2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
3 What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?
4 One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
5 The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
6 The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
7 All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
8 All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
10 Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.
At least verse five gave Hemingway a good idea for a memorable title for one of his novels….some obscure travelogue about Spanish Bullfights in Pamplona. I think there was a precociously slutty British socialite, a Rich American Jew, a War Veteran, a couple of drunken Scots, an underage Spanish Bullfighter who ends up with the aristocratic slut……
There’s also a holographic mirror at Antoine’s Restaurant in one of the private side rooms (in the New Orleans French Quarter on St. Louis) called “All is Vanity“—it’s a picture of an exquisitely beautiful young lady, probably a close relation of those French-Canadian girls from Montreal mentioned above, whose face when seen from a different angle turns into a rather frightening death’s head skeletal neck-on-shoulder with skull still in place. And like unto that image, the inscription over so many rural Mexican cemeteries: “Aquí se Acaba el Orgullo Mundial” (Here Endeth Earthly Pride—compare also “Under the Volcano“—both the book and the movie).
As of the 33 years that have passed since my graduation Phi Beta Kappa, Magna cum Laude, from Tulane. Well, “what profit” indeed have I to show for my labour? I suppose I have learned a lot. But have I put it to good use? Continuing from the first Chapter of Ecclesiastes:
13 And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.
14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
15 That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.
16 I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.
17 And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.
18 For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow
Have I accumulated a large estate? No and No. I suppose, in all honesty, thanks in large part to my failed marriage and related matters: I have BLOWN a large estate sky high. That’s an accomplishment of sorts I guess, which certainly not everyone has had the opportunity to do.
I finished a doctoral dissertation at Harvard which was immediately accepted for publication but I didn’t get around to publishing it in a timely manner and now the Peabody Museum isn’t willing to publish it under the original terms as Peabody Memoir 20 unless I completely rewrite it and resubmit it and get it approved for publication. In other words, essentially, if I do my doctoral research (why not my doctorate?) all over again.
At the end of my 52nd I got a chipped tooth and developed dental problems which remind me of the human osteology class I had with Erik Trinkaus, using Gray’s Anatomy (the Classic Medical School Anatomy text and reference book, not the TV soft-porn prime-time soap opera series). I developed this broken molar problem in New Orleans. That’s the only saving grace. I’m finally living back in my favorite city in the USA, albeit as something of a perpetual tourist rather than a real resident (at least I go to Church more regularly than most tourists who come here, I dare say).
And in that connexion, talking of Church, today was the Feast of the Pentecost, and I have to say I think that Christ Church Cathedral on St. Charles did a better job of making Pentecost memorable than I have ever seen anywhere. They had red-ribbon banners and parasols (and/or Chinese lanterns) representing the tongues of fire through which the Holy Ghost entered the Apostles, giving them the ability to speak in tongues. The Church was generally draped in Red, and since I was a very small child, Red has basically been my favorite colour (my exceedingly conservative grandmother Helen worried that I might turn out a communist—but I didn’t).
And the Psalm today I noticed on Thursday when I went to the mid-day mass on my first day back from Florida. It was Psalm 104 and it was not appointed for Thursday, but for some reason I opened the Book of Common Prayer and fixated on that Psalm, and it was the Psalm for this beautiful Sunday Service after the reading from the Book of Acts concerning the first Pentacost and the first spontaneous translations of the Gospel by the Apostles….:
104 Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty.
2 Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain:
3 Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind:
4 Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire:
5 Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever.
6 Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment: the waters stood above the mountains.
7 At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away.
8 They go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys unto the place which thou hast founded for them.
9 Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth.
10 He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills.
11 They give drink to every beast of the field: the wild asses quench their thirst.
12 By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches.
13 He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works.
14 He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth;
15 And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart.
16 The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted;
17 Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house.
18 The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the conies.
19 He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down.
20 Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.
21 The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God.
22 The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens.
23 Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening.
24 O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.
25 So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.
26 There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.
27 These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season.
28 That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.
29 Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.
30 Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.
31 The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works.
32 He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he toucheth the hills, and they smoke.
33 I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
34 My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord.
35 Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless thou the Lord, O my soul. Praise ye the Lord.
There’s that wonderfully melancholy but self-absorbed song in Jesus Christ Superstar about the spiritual transformation of the 12. It’s called “Always Dreamed that I’d be an Opossum” or something like that (they’re all drunk while Jesus is waiting to be arrested). A totally appropriate thought for Pentecost, I suppose….
Equally blasphemous is my question about Psalm 104: WHY would God have created “the Leviathan….to play therein?” (or in a more modern translation “the Leviathan, who thou created just for sport”). Some passages in the Bible are so hard to deal with…. But on the whole Psalm 104 is so beautiful, and so evocative of the natural balance of the world. All those lions eating other creatures at night and stuff—“It’s the CIRCLE, the Circle of Life….”