This will be counting but

For the first time ever, I have temporarily reached the top of the culture pecking order in France, since I was able to go see “Einstein on the Beach” during its run at the Théâtre du Châtelet in January. This was clearly “the” évènement to attend (even two months or so before, buying two good contiguous seats was almost impossible), and the reactions of the audience suggested that many people were there because of the “the” instead of their desire to see the évènement, and were correspondingly a bit nonplussed by the work. Thus the two people sitting on my right left after a bit more than a third of the opera. (It was clearly indicated that, during the performance, which is a bit longer than four hours and has no intermission, it was allowed to leave and come back as desired, but they did not reappear).

Personally, I knew the music extremely well and it was a great pleasure to finally see the full spectacle. I had already attended two other Robert Wilson stagings, and I like his style (i.e., I have no objection to watching a light pillar move from horizontal to vertical in the space of twenty minutes or so), but it was the first time I saw a full-length Glass opera live, and I’d have paid gladly quite a bit more than I did.

The full staging certainly answers a few of the puzzled questions one might get from the music alone. In particular, the scenes entitled “Dance 1” and “Dance 2” felt more alive when seen as, well, dances. In fact, I arbitrarily decided that the first represents electromagnetism (it begins with a voice saying “Bern, Switzerland, 1905”), and the second nuclear forces (a sinister character crosses the stage and I see it as representing the potential for evil arising from nuclear physics). Einstein would have appreciated that, despite the random-looking evolutions of the dancers, these were certainly not the result of dice throws, since collisions would certainly have been unavoidable otherwise.

One of the Paris representations was filmed, and shown on French television, so that it can be found on the internet. However, I watched it a bit, and the fact that there are many cameras giving different angles of view seems to diminish the full immersive effect of the live show. But that’s certainly better than nothing…

Q.E.D, H.E.Q.D.I, H.E.Q.D.P, Q.D.I, Q.F.I, and all that

Today’s “Word of the day” from the Oxford English Dictionary is quod erat demonstrandum (which prompts the question of the largest number of words in an OED “word”, but let us leave that aside for now).

The full entry shows latin translators of Euclid toiling mightily to catch just the right sizzle of the Greek “ὅπερ ἔδει δεῖξαι” (which, we are told, means literally “what needed to be [shown] has been shown”), just like Joyce or Wodehouse trying to find the perfect mot juste for their latest novel.

So were tried, in turn, hoc est quad demonstrare intendimus (“This is what we intended to demonstrate”, too pedestrian); hoc est quod demonstrare proposimum (“This is what we proposed to demonstrate”, too egocentric); quod demonstrare intendimus (“What we intended to demonstrate”; dashing, but reeks of false modesty); quod fuit propositum (“Which was proposed”, yes, it was proposed, but is it proved?) — and who knows how many other versions which go unmentioned.

I personally think that the Greek sounds and reads much better; this suggests introducing the abbreviation “ὅἔδ”, or the transliteration “OED” if needed, instead of “QED” in the more refined mathematical literature…

À la…

A few months ago, I wondered what could be the largest cluster of foreign words in the Oxford English Dictionary, citing the examples of femme something-or-other and sympathique and company. It turns out that there is a much larger one! Here is the à la cluster:

à la 1579
à la bonne heure 1750
à la broche 1806
à la brochette 1821
à la carte 1816
à la crème 1741
à la débandade 1779
à la fourchette 1817
à la Française 1589
à la modality 1753
à la mode 1637
à-la-modeness 1669
à la mort 1536
à la page 1930
à la roi 1852
à la royale 1853
à la Russe 1775
à la Turquie 1676

That’s no less than 18 items (the date on the right is the first OED citation). It’s interesting that so many have to do with food, and even more that three or four are basically synonyms of “in fashion” (this is what à la page basically means). I have to admit to being partial to à-la-modeness for its translanguage qualities, although I don’t know if I will be able to use it intelligently anytime soon (though one never knows; after all, I did manage to sneak ptarmigan in a recent paper…)

A missing word

From the blog of the rare books collection of the ETH Library, I just learnt that the word for the study and classification of grape species that I was looking for is “ampelography” (ampélographie in French).

(The relevance of this word to my daily life is that the computers on my home network are named after grapes; red grapes are reserved for desktops and white for laptops.)