a nose by any other name

A few weeks ago, I started reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I have been making slow progress (due in part to a lack of time and wakefulness, and in part due to my slow grasp of who everyone is (the first several chapters are at a soiree, and there are so many characters introduced)), and there is a long way to go, but I’m quite excited to be finally reading it.

Being such an epic novel — both in actual length and in literary importance — I knew at the outset that I would occasionally need other reading material as a break from War and Peace. It just so happened that today my partner showed me a video of a scene from Dmitri Shostakovich’s first opera, The Nose. In this particular scene, there are a number of people (maybe ten or so) dressed as large noses, and they tap dance around the stage.

We were both very baffled by what was going on, and wondered what sort of opera could feature such a strange act. In the interests of edification, as my partner moved on to other things (i.e. work), I Googled it myself, and found that it’s actually based on a novella of the same name. As it so happened, it was written by Nikolai Gogol, one of the other greats of Russian literature.

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quick post, slow lane

On my drive to work in the morning, when traffic is starting to get bad, I’ve noticed that I’ve developed a habit of tracking my progress relative to the cars in the next lane. I think I’ve always had a tendency to read other people’s number plates (being the compulsive reader that I am), but it was just out of interest to see what words or phrases I could come up with, or to see what personalised plates people had.

But in the mornings, after I enter the freeway, I commit a few number plates to my short-term memory, and try to figure out if my usual lane is faster, or if I should switch (and then switch back when needed). Often it’s a bit of leap-frog, and I think the overall difference is not significant enough to warrant manoeuvring through traffic when so many other cars are already jumping between lanes. Sometimes I think that I should have changed lanes, but sometimes I’m quite glad I didn’t.

In recent weeks, when I notice that I’m doing this progress tracking, I stop myself and wonder why I do it. Is it just my competitive side coming out? Is it my need to analyse everything, perhaps with the intent of making my commute more efficient? Or am I just trying to make this repetitive trip more interesting?

Sometimes when I get to these questions, I stop looking at the number plates of other cars, and I just tell myself that I’ll get to work around the same time either way — just relax and enjoy the ride.

stretched

She stretched,
A purr curled up,
In her throat.

In the pre-dawn,
The water boiled,
With a grumble.

She took the stairs,
Two at a time,
Three flights up.

Lights flicked on,
Radio, then log in,
Start again.

Another announcement,
One more report,
Scrolling endlessly.

Down the corridor,
She walked briskly,
With soft footsteps.

Reply,
Question,
Wait.

On the wall,
The clocked ticked,
Second by second.

Small talk,
Interspersed with,
Bigger questions.

A journey home,
Through spotlights,
And moving stars.

Nightfall,
Moonrise,
Stillness.

She stretched,
Across the bed,
To sleep again.

nothing happened

Thinking, wondering,
Curiosity, searching.
And nothing happened.

Anticipation,
Expectation and waiting.
Yet nothing happened.

Scurry and scamper,
Movements filled with urgency.
Still, nothing happens.

Calm resignation,
Acceptance, embracing of
Nothing happening.

keep going

Last week, as I was driving to work along the freeway, I noticed that the car behind me was driving quite close. So close, in fact, that there’s almost no doubt they were intentionally tailgating. I could even see the driver’s impassive face clearly in my rearview mirror.

Maybe they were in a hurry to go somewhere important, for something important, that they only had short notice about, or were late for some other reason, but they were tailgating on a freeway, and that is dangerous driving.

I was already driving at the speed limit, so I don’t know what they wanted me to do. Exceed the speed limit and tailgate the car in front of me? I glanced at the lanes beside me — the other driver was probably avoiding those because they weren’t any faster.

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hold your breath

A few years ago, I drafted a blog post about how I sometimes hold my breath when I walk past bins or smokers or people who, for one reason or another, look like they might smell. I never finished writing this post, and never published it because I thought it was too weird. 

(But I don’t mean to be judgemental. Sometimes it’s obvious that someone has just been to the gym, or maybe I’m out running, and there are other sweaty people out running. And it’s not always body odour — sometimes people who exercise wear too much deodorant.)

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine shared an article that detailed the findings of a Belgian study on the kinetics of exhaled air/vapour during exercise. Specifically, the study looked at walking, running and cycling; and the aim was to determine whether or not it was safe to walk/run/cycle behind or beside someone, with a view to minimising transmission of airborne viruses.

As it turns out, you probably want to stay at least five metres away from other runners, and stay further away from other cyclists, if that is your exercise of choice. 

Recently, I’ve noticed that I hold my breath more and more when I walk past people — perfectly normal-looking people with no suggestion of body odour or excessive fragrance usage, and not even a cigarette in hand.

The other day, I happened to walk past a man in the street, and he turned his face away from me as we passed each other. Perhaps it was just a coincidence, and perhaps he happened to see something interesting across the road, but maybe he was holding his breath too.

Who’s the weird one now, hey?