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Robert Altman Week


In Which This Concludes The List of Phrases You Sent Me

Green Bay to Turin

The correspondence of Cesare Pavese, here with his American friend and distinguished conductor Antonio Chiuminatto, betrays a man living in an increasingly fascist country whose interactions with America constitute the major part of his optimism. For men of his and various succeeding generations, the freedom of America represented an ideal contrast to a growing climate of censorship that pervaded Europe and Russia at the time. Forced by the barest offerings of Italian libraries and bookstores to beg Antonio for English language editions of contemporary writing, Pavese had an insatiable desire to learn more about the United States. Chiuminatto even made lists of American slang words in books from authors like Sherwood Anderson and William Faulkner.

Green Bay, WI

December 26th, 1929

Dear Mr. Pavese:

This concludes the list of phrases you sent me. You will probably note that there are two or three phrases that I have not explained, but there are reasons, to be sure. I noticed that these two or three phrases which I omitted are of no importance to slang, and by this, I mean that they are phrases used in one instance only - and as such I was unable to find a solution. I hope you will pardon my lack of English, at least, in this case! I shall remember these phrases, though, and if ever I come to know what they mean, be sure that you will hear from me about them. Negro slang is about the hardest to understand, for we hear so little of it and on the other hand we get so much of it in writing!

This kind of slang would be as well known to me as the pure American slang were I a resident of the negro states, such as Missouri or Alabama. Even at that, though, I consider myself fairly well versed in it - and am always glad to be of some service to you.

I shall finish my letter here in slang. See if you can translate it.

Say, darby, your letter was a card; you know it? Your scratching is about as bad as mine and that is why I use a machine. Don't let this remark get your nanny, though; I was perfectly able to wad right through your whole letter!

Christmas is over at last and, ye gods, I'm perfectly tickled to death. I called on a few of my friends yesterday afternoon and managed to burn some sigars and some candy. I suppose Max struck you for a present, too, didn't he? But did he get it, that's the question! On Christmas Eve I was over town but there was so little doing that around ten thirty I began to mosey home. (Say, I hope you don't get all balled up now!) On the way home I met a couple of keen mamas and took them home and then I came straight home myself to tune in on the radio a while! Talk about your damn tommyrot!! All Christmas carols which sounded like sleep-songs to me! And so I hit the bed!

I just mailed your other comments and the book so you'll be getting this all in a pile! Well, you see, I'm a fast man when it comes to friends like Mr. Pavese! Ya! I hope it'll be O.K. with you, though; at that you'll be down to brass tracks. By the way, if you run across that book entitled All Is Well on the Western Front by some Frenchman, try to send me it, will you? Gee! yes, in French.

Well, Mr. Pavese, so long, for this time! Write me again as soon as you can and tell me how you came out with these comments. I hope you get them straight alright! Best wishes to Max and you from your friend

Antonio Chiuminatto


January 12th, 1930

Dear Mr. Chiuminatto:

I'm befuddled, all in a daze, with your titanic kindness. I'm now seeing the world only through a veil of pink sheets, all bristling with slang-phrases which are meddling together re-echoing and staring at me from everywhere. I've got now I can no more take a pull out of a bottle together with my gang, without thinking I'm going on the grand sneak. And how flip I get sometimes! And how many keen mamas I'm looking after! And how ... so on. My whole existence has got a slang drift now. You could almost say I'm a slang-slinger. (Ha!)

But I must, for the first thing, give utterance to a whole row of thanksgiving for your long-yearned, hard-hoped, fast-sent and all-surpassing answer to my criminal letter. Criminal and murderous, I say, was that letter, with all its flippancy and hardboiled guyness, but you were so widely christian as to ship your hand, to the poor sinner hearkening to him.

I repeat, I'm yet befuddled, all in a daze, with your kindness.

Certainly, all your explanations are quite, well, easy, clear, better than any would have dream'd of (I'm studying them by heart), but I wonder, whence did you get the time to put them down? And, more, being such a work intended for a fellow you remembered scarsely perhaps? There is something of witchcraft in it. I can only stare at such a sight, bruit aloud your praise, go capering about and ... continue to get the most out of you. I'm sure I'll find no bottom.

Really, I went capering the day before yesterday on receiving your letter and yesterday on receiving the comments. Forewarned by the former, I was already thinking about something wonderful, darby, whizy and what not, but the latter, when on my desk here, got me flabbergasted.

All is useful and masterful in your items, and so abundant is the treasure there one is almost dumbfounded, not by lack of clearness but by dint of wealth. I've not to pardon you, as you say, for your shortcomings - certainly you cannot be acquainted with the queerest phrases a writer was contriving, the more so having you got these phrases detached from the context - but rather I must thank and thank again and praise you for your kindness and skillfulness and sound knowledge. Besides, you'll better understand my full satisfaction thinking (the scoundrel!) what impudent hurry I'm sending you another list.

But we are agreed - you'll explain and send it only when, and if, you'll be able.

Now, proceeding, I'll tell you that reading your letters I got an idea should like to let you know.

You speak always of slang as of a special language or dialect, which exists by itself and is spoken only on certain occasions or places and so on. Now, I think, slang is not a diversified language from English as, for instance, Piedmontese is from Tuscan, so that a word or a phrase can be told to belong to a class or another.

You say: this word is slang, and this is classic. But is not slang only the bulk of new English words and expressions continually shaped by living people, as for all languages in all times? I mean, there is not a line to be drawn between the English and the slang words, as two different languages usually spoken by different people and only in certain cases used together.

That book you know, Dark Laughter, for instance is written in English but there are numberless slang-expressions in it and they are not as French words in an Italian book, but they are a natural part of that language. And I said always English, but I should have said American for I think there is not a slang and a classic language, but there are two diversified languages, the English and American ones. As slang is the living part of all languages, English has become American by it, that is the two languages have developed themselves separately by means of their respective slangs.

My conclusion is then that there are not a slang and a classic language but there is an American language formed by a perfectly fused mixture of both. Have I succeeded in getting this before you? Write me something about this also, if you'll have the time.

I should also like, were it possible, to have something written down by the curious young lady-friend of yours, about American literature or whatever else there is of common interest. Would she be interested in it, I would gladly inform her about our modern Italian writers and culture. As for me, I would have her speaking about Edgar Lee Masters or Vachel Lindsay whose works also (Spoon River Anthology by the former, and methinks The Congo - The Chinese Nightengale - The Golden Whales of California by the latter) I should pray you to look for, whether there is a cheap edition of them.

But there are other troubles for you. Would you be so kind as to go fetch them, I should pray you to send me a copy of Waldo Frank's City Block and something of Ernest Hemingway (The Sun Also Rises - Men Without Women - Farewell to the Arms) or whatever else is attainable of him. Especially about the latter there is much talk now here, but no editions of it are seen.

And still there are scores of modern American books I should like, someone really I need: by J. Dos Passos, by E. Cummings, by W. Carlos Williams, by Countee Cullen, by Eugene O'Neill, by Robinson Jeffers, by Carl Sandburg, by Sherwood Anderson, etc. They are numberless. To buy them by means of an Italian bookseller, there is the danger of finding himself gratified with a cheap edition of five dollars. You see how you christian help is here necessary for me. We'll digest those books little by little, in future letters. Each time one or two among them, and you'll seek for and mail them, together with your bill. Now let us begin with Frank and Hemingway.

Do you know? I found an American library in Rome very rich with American works such as historical and critical ones. Some classics also, such as Thoreau and Howells. I'm borrinwg two volumes a fortnight by it. But as for modern, living productions, there is nothing. There is only your help there yonder.

Accordingly, I send you now the Drolarie by Arnulfi, you wrote about and A l'ouest rien de nouveau, which you are wrong in believing a French book. It is by a German author, as you'll see perusing it, for it is worth while. As I don't know whether you are conversant with German language, I don't send you the German text, nor the Italian translation which does not exist by way of a legal prohibition. It seems that this book has the wrong to describe the war how it is really, an atrocious thing, and naturally we Italian babies are defended to know it by means of a direct translation. We could become too moody and refuse the next war. Mr Chiumminatto, we also wonder how Fascism will fan out.

But I must leave off. I wind up my yarn with a final thanksgiving for the book you kindly sent me. I'm waiting for it, and I assure you hardly I'll have received it, by the by, I'll read it notwithstanding my many scholarly occupations and I'll write you something about it.

And still I beseech you to undergo the expounding of my shameful Babbitt-list only when you'll have nothing else, really nothing else to do. You're so kind I should feel sorry to bother you again.

Now I'll slip you the accustomed glove and am

Yours sincerely

Cesare Pavese

October 7th, 1930

Ciau Cesare

Say, Max got me all wrong my feelings towards America. I merely wrote him my impression of Chicago and life as it is here. I have no kick to make personally save in a very general way. What Anderson says of America, what you say and what I said is all perfectly true - but that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm disatisfied. I'm merely looking at the condition from a cultural standpoint, if I may be permitted to say so. To be personally dissatisfied would be an injustice to thousands of real people, thousands of educated people, thousands of artistic souls right here in Chicago!

I'm all hot and bothered about these damn Sicilian gunmen who have never done a damn thing but ruin the reputation of Italy. They are pimps, procurers and brothel keepers; they are assassins, usurers and musclemen, which means that they use threatening means to an end; they have become listed in America as 'public enemies.' Racketeers, just about all of them, they traffic in dope, liquor, women and whatnot!

It's all well and good for you to remind me that Italians are distinctly in two classes, the Northern and the Southern. But who the hell knows that but us Italians and about 10% of Americans? The general conception of the Italian in Chicago today is not so pleasant; people look at you askance when they know you are Italian, as much as to say, look out! And the general run of America will tell you that they are afraid of Italians, that they would not even rent rooms to an Italian. How do you like that, eh?

Last week I was beyond myself with indignation, damn it! The police department openly published a list of 26 public enemies who were to be arrested on sight - and believe it or not, Buddy, old boy, 22 of them were Italians. And this is the case in every metropolis in America. I have the list here which I am going to send to Miss Franchi, as usual, but I'll quote it to you with the qualifications. Here goes:

'Scarface' Alfonso Capone - Commander-in-Chief of Chicago rackets and responsible for at least fifty gang killings.

Antonio Volpe - Capone gangster with several killings to his credit.

Ralph Capone - brother of Al and beer boss of Cicero, Illinois.

Fracesco Rio - a Capone watch-dog and notorious hoodlum.

Giacomo Gherbardi - Capone machine-gunner.

Giacomo Belcastro - Capone pineapple-man.

Rocco Fanelli - Gunman and bomber, a terrorist.

'Wop' Lorenzo Mangano - Boss of the Capone gambling syndicate

Giacomo Mondi - Secretary of the Capone gambling interests.

Giuseppe Gennaro - proficient murderer, hi-jacker, bomber and what have you?

Samuele Campagna - One of Capone's toughest.

Filippo D'Andrea - City Hall agent of Capone.

Carlo Fischetti - a Big Shot in rackets.

Giovanni Gennaro - brother of Giuseppe and of the same caliber.

Solomone Visione - Graduate of the Giacomo Zuta school of hotelkeeping.

Francesco Nitti - Director of the Capone murder squads.

Domenico Aiello - Lieutenant of the booze rackets.

Giuseppe Aiello - brother of Domenico and boss for the Moran gang.

Ernest Rossi - another two gun man of Capone.

Giovanni Armondo - A pleasant boy from Maxwell Street at anyone's orders.

Domenico Bello and Domenico Brancato - Aiello gun-men.

Hot stuff, isn't it, eh? And the list keeps growing day by day with the lovely surprises that two out of every additional three are Italians. Isn't that a swell list, though, with swell recommendations, to be published in every newspaper of prominence in America? Who wouldn't feel hurt - indignant? This is why I kick to Max - and not for myself.

There is no deep cultural atmosphere, here, either, of which I probably kicked a little in writing to Ma, too, but that did not mean that I was dissatsfied. I was merely commenting. My possibilities in Chicago are very promising, to say the least, and I love the city for its opera, its concerts, its lectures, its debates, its museums, its library - and God knows for what else! Mine was merely the indigination of an Italian over what I have just told you.

Anthony Chiuminatto

From Chiuminatto's February 1932 letter to Pavese:

I had to buy a copy of As I Lay Dying by Faulkner, since it was impossible to get a copy in any other way. I still have some forty pages to read and then I'll mail it to you. The reason why I am reading it is because I discovered that you're going to need some comments on the English, which is all in the Southern drawl, dialect - and poor English, at that! Southern conversational English, is what it is!

While the rest of the world may accuse Faulkner of being a genius, I can't say that I DO! not from this single reading, st least. I consider him an excellent writer - even profound - but I don't like his choice of subject matter. However, that's for you to decide! Books are an avocation for me - not a profession!

Cigar store Indian - busto di pelleroso in legno che trovavasi sul marciapede davanti al tabaccaio. Quasi sempre una figure di vecchio pellerosso austero, solenne. Da lontano si vedeva cosi il tabaccaio. La figura si usava allora forse perche nei primi tempi furono i pellirossi a fumare - che gia conoscevano l'uso del tobacco.

say-so - il dire

'On my say-so' (sul mio dire - sulla mia parola)

Swapped - da 'to swap' (fare lo scambio)

tom-boy - dicesi delle donne che hanno l'andamento maschile

miscue - da 'cue' che e il bastone da bigliardo. 'Miscue' si dice quando il basto scivola dalla palla, facendo un colpo irregolare.

ourn - per 'ours' (il nostro)

sho - per 'sure' (sicuro!) detto alla maniera dei negri

durn - per 'darn' - esclamativo come sarebbe 'accidenti,' ecc

dassent - il volgare per 'to dare out' (non osare) i dassent - per 'I dare not.'

durn nigh - quasi, quasi!

to aim - to adopera qui nel senso di 'fare conto di' 'I aim to do it' (faccio conto di farlo)

holp - per 'help' (aiutare)

Laid-by - messo a posto!

outen - per 'out of' (fuori di).

Old Master - Old Master (Vecchio Padrone)

et - ate - (mangiato).

gittin' - per 'getting!'

hit - per 'it'

That ere - per 'that there' (quello la)

keer - care (cura)

sich - such

sot - set (fisso)

Paw- Pa - (papa) alla moda del Sud.

kilt - killed - (ucciso)

Git - get - come imperative vuol dire ('va!')

hit want - it wasn't

to hitch the team - metter la coppia dei cavalla [sic] al carro.

to give someone the creeps - dare i brividi. Far paura.

swole-up way - Swollen-up way (nel modo di gonfiato).

To dicker - pasticciare, litigare per certe piccolezze


You can find more of the writing of Cesare Pavese on This Recording here.

"Basement Scene" - Deerhunter (mp3)

"Helicopter" - Deerhunter (mp3)

"Fountain Stairs" - Deerhunter (mp3)


In Which I Never Was Much Of A Romantic Couldn't Take The Intimacy

Don't Worry About The Government


What is the difference between success and failure? Time (and ideally, talent). What is the difference between Don Draper and Kenny Powers? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Although it turns out Kenny P has a way healthier ability to self examine than Don D does. Would that we all had a Dick Whitman or Stevie The Cockfighter to blame all our indiscretions and bad decisions and moments of most extreme weakness on.

Seriously though, Eastbound & Down came back and it was so thematically similar to Mad Men that I'm still not a hundred percent sure which one featured its protagonist jerking off to a faculty photo in a yearbook. Volume 5 of my Eastbound & Down mix is coming (fucking) soon so keep watching this space. Hope you like rock flute!

If Don does end up making a break for it to escape his problems now that he's been forced to deal with them again, let's hope he makes a run for the border and ends up cockfighting with Kenny like a couple of cable TV character hobos. When the going gets tough, just bail on your life! There's no way that could possibly not work out for the best! Sorry Don, there's no witness protection program for assholes!

Cool panic attack Don. I am well versed in anxiety attacks. That is my dark secret, and I just revealed it on a blog, for all the world to see! Interview me now Department Of Defense I have nothing to hide! I haven't actually had a panic attack in a few years since I decided to buckle down and deal with it, but believe me I tried to avoid it for as long as humanly possible. Even Kenny Powers knows that avoidance never works.

Don's shirt-rippping panic attack was also a backdoor audition for Jon Hamm for the role of every superhero ever, which uh, THE PART IS ALL YOURS. Whatever superhero Jon Hamm likes, let him play it. Actually, superhero movies generally suck, so maybe let's keep him away from the embarrassing hair and costume styling that has already befallen his ex-wife Bets. Please cast Vincent Kartheiser as a supervillain though.

What has been this season's best costume? Joan's pajamas and glasses ensemble? Trudy's sexy mod pregnancy lingerie? Lane's steak belt? Peggy's birthday suit? Don Draper's blowjob face? Don's BJ face looks like this : D and this week we found out about its evil other half, Don's "please stop trying to make me be emotionally intimate with you" face, which it turns out looks exactly like this sideways face emoticon : /

Dr. Faye's romantic plotline with Don embodies the other theme of this season, that people tell us who they really are and we ignore them. First impressions are usually telling, but we still get disappointed when people's actions live up to our immediate preconceptions. Finding out you were right the first time is hardly satisfying.

Joan was T.C.B., Taking Care of 'Bortions. Peggy was nowhere to be found, most likely because she would have died by death from eye-rolling if she had witnessed any of the old boys' shenanigans. The oldest boy of all, Lane Pryce's evil British father, pimp caned the fuck out of Lane for his impropriety. Lane, progressive that he is or wants to be, still could not shake it off by the end. I cheered when he semi-promoted Joan. 

Roger is getting old, yall. It's not just his increasing public tenderness towards Joan, which is starting to border on embarrassing. A child of privilege, he is headed into the senior home kicking and screaming. You can't be at the height of your powers forever Rog, sad but true. There's an inevitable decline. Just be glad you didn't peak earlier.

Also embarrassing, Don's boner for Megan the secretary. No Don, don't do it! Danger danger! I know she's brunette but she's an idiot child like Roger's anorexic wife! It's Dr. Faye you want! People are so easily fooled by hair color. As a ginger it's not like I ever really had a choice in life about whether I wanted to be perceived as feisty.

I like how they're trying out a different new stylistic device every week, and then abandoning them. It's super sixties cool of them, because it's very French New Wave. This week was Roger dropping the f-bomb, and sort of breaking the Mad Men 4th wall in that drawing attention to sound editing draws attention to means of production. Do you think it'll be uncensored on the DVD? Can we get an all Roger voiceover season?

Keeping with the sado-masochistic theme of the season Donald Draper took what seemed like a big step towards opening up by telling Dr. Faye his real deal, and then put up a big psychic blockade between them the next day. Is that what keeps Don's relationship flames burning? His own inner mysteriousness? Is Matt Weiner determined to punish us, the masochistic viewer, for wanting to see Don emotionally mature?

As Tess Lynch, the author of 500 Days Of Hat put it: "Don can't love because he's not real. Only Dick is real. He can only love when he ACCEPTS Dick. He gets panic attacks when he's confronting it so he ran, because he can only stay Don as long as he's with someone who reflects Don back to Don! Especially since Faye is so insightful, it's like she can strip him away and when she does he throws up like, REJECTING HIS INSIDES."

Man did I ever think those Beatles tickets weren't gonna come through. I'll bet Sally's favorite Beatle is John Lennon because he is brooding and handsome and tortured and a genius and a hilarious dick and seems like he could secretly become a feminist if the right Japanese fluxus artist were to come along and teach him how to love again.

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She tumbls and twitters.

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"The Fight" - Sia (mp3)

"Clap Your Hands" - Sia (mp3)

"You've Changed" - Sia (mp3)


In Which It Was The Best of Times For The Astral Projection That Is Don Draper

ML's Life in Advertising

When appraised by trained scientists Molly Lambert (ML to her staff, Marly Guthrie to folk fans, Lambo to people who don't know her brother) was determined to be composed of 22 percent Pete Campbell, 51 percent Dick Whitman (I cannot call him by his fake name) and 17 percent Bethany Van Nuys. It is a verifiable fact (I think this was established after some Caltech bong rips) that we are all at least 12 percent Bethany Van Nuys and some of us are over 80 percent Bethany Van Nuys. This is getting off topic, but the record for most Bethany Van Nuys was recently set by our own Will Hubbard. In the immortal and alcohol soaked words of Lucille Bluth, isn't it fun to talk this way?

Although some suggested a book version of Molly's informed journaling/cultural critique of Matthew Weiner's ideas about how to treat his employees, how could the print medium capture a mind spinning through a dream world of the past and readjusting it according to her own life struggles? Enjoy the season so far:

Get Your Own Damn Coffee

Don, finally ready to be emasculated, goes over to Peggy's place and gives her a weird sort of condescending lecture about how he wants her to come because he views her as part of himself? Basically it's still all about Don. Then he claims they both understand personal trauma because la la la secret baby/identity. Don tells Peggy that even if she negs him a third time, he will spend the rest of his life trying to get back in her work-pants. Notice how the women were wearing pants this episode? Subtle.

A Very Draper Christmas

A Don Draper with no swag is a Don Draper that's a hell of a lot easier to root for. Desperation is never a good look, but "divorced loser Don" is certainly more relatable than "absurdly suave Don." Who among us hasn't passive aggressively done something incredibly hurtful to somebody we didn't really mean to hook up with?

California Dreams

Don's side trip to California is also the return of Deus Ex Machin-Anna Draper, a character whose lack of interior function belies a severe bone cancer eating her polio riddled fictional bones from the inside. Seriously, what is the deal with Anna Draper? Why does she pimp out Don/Dick to her stupid proto-hippie niece so hard? What exactly does she get out of being so selflessly mothering to Don? A shitty paint job?

Did You Get Pears?

Peggy's cool downtown party was perfect. I swear I went to that party last weekend. The guy with the bear head turned out to be a bear. Telling a lesbian that your boyfriend rents your vagina is the kind of flirty neg cool art dykes live for.

Sally Masturbates to the Man from U.N.C.L.E. And Is Later Incepted

There is no change without acknowledgement. Maybe even Don is ready to admit that the "old" Don Draper, which was Dick Whitman's conception of a sort of ideal man, kind of fucking sucks. Since that life phase is over anyway, why not let go of it completely so that a better more zen Don Draper might emerge? It's like Inception.

A Heaping Bowl of Life Cereal

There's an old saw about telling smart girls they're hot and hot girls they're smart, but the real point Peggy was making was that women getting compartmentalized into those categories, which are always enforced by the likes of Douchebag Art Director Guy, has absolutely nothing to do with what they are really like as human beings. Unfortunately it seemed like Peggy's attempt to demonstrate that the Madonna/whore construct is a falsehood/duality didn't exactly go over/make a dent in that guy's thick skull beyond giving him a confused and unattended to erection. Let's just say that sometimes it's hard to have arguments about serious things with total idiots.

Don & Peggy: A One Act

I think the theme of this season especially, as Don mentioned, is the line between brilliance and stupidity and how it is very often just chance that makes some people into life's winners and others into losers. I've got excuses for everything on Mad Men, except for the ghost of Anna Draper, and the line about leaving the door open (groan). I hope Peggy's doofusy fiancé is gone to the Bobbi Barrett character consignment pile.

Draper Starts a Journal

The gender wars, like the wars on terror and drugs, are endless but also imaginary. For the current battles in the gender wars, you needed to tune over to MTV, where Kanye West and Taylor Swift were greco-roman oil wrestling for control of America's heart at the VMAs. Based purely on taste metrics, Kanye won. And like Peggy Olson in tonight's episode, Taylor just made herself look like a humorless bitch by comparison.

Miss Blankenship's Empire

The only dude who handled his shit in the face of crisis was Pete Campbell. Somehow that little fucker remains the most feminist minded of the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce frat pack, if only by default, and he is a rapist! Is Mad Men going to gradually indoctrinate the straight men who idolize it with feminism? Don't mind if they do!

You can read all of This Recording's Mad Men content here.

The Ads of Mad Men

It's Just Nice To Be Close To The Ones You Love

"Remember When" - Gucci Mane ft. Ray J (mp3)

"Weirdo" - Gucci Mane (mp3)

"Trap Talk" - Gucci Mane (mp3)