George Washington’s 110 Rules for Civility and Decent Behavior


In “George Washington’s Extreme Makeover,” novelist Douglas Coupland imagines the first President of the United States of America science-fictionally transported “from atop his horse somewhere in the Virginia countryside into a Level 3 clean room 500ft beneath that exact same spot some 230-odd years later, circa 2014” where “a crew of doctors, dentists and exodontists wearing hazmat suits” would heal his every 18th-century ailment and replace his every failing 18th-century body part. All of Washington’s military and political accomplishments sound even more impressive in light of his lifetime of severe bodily (and especially dental, though not involving wood) discomfort, but even if his admirers can’t yet pull him ahead in time for such thorough physical adjustments, they can, right here and now, pay the best-known founding father tribute by following his recommended behavioral adjustments, codified in his rules of civility.

“As a young schoolboy in Virginia,” says an NPR feature on the subject, “George Washington took his first steps toward greatness by copying out by hand a list of 110 ‘Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.’ Based on a 16th-century set of precepts compiled for young gentlemen by Jesuit instructors, the Rules of Civility were one of the earliest and most powerful forces to shape America’s first president, says historian Richard Brookhiser.” Brookhiser’s book Rules of Civility: The 110 Precepts That Guided Our First President in War and Peace appeared a decade ago, but you can still read the rules themselves (“for ease of reading, punctuation and spelling have been modernized”) below:

1. Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.

2. When in company, put not your hands to any part of the body not usually discovered.

3. Show nothing to your friend that may affright him.

4. In the presence of others, sing not to yourself with a humming voice, or drum with your fingers or feet.

5. If you cough, sneeze, sigh or yawn, do it not loud but privately, and speak not in your yawning, but put your handkerchief or hand before your face and turn aside.

6. Sleep not when others speak, sit not when others stand, speak not when you should hold your peace, walk not on when others stop.

7. Put not off your clothes in the presence of others, nor go out of your chamber half dressed.

8. At play and attire, it’s good manners to give place to the last comer, and affect not to speak louder than ordinary.

9. Spit not into the fire, nor stoop low before it; neither put your hands into the flames to warm them, nor set your feet upon the fire, especially if there be meat before it.

10. When you sit down, keep your feet firm and even, without putting one on the other or crossing them.

11. Shift not yourself in the sight of others, nor gnaw your nails.

12. Shake not the head, feet, or legs; roll not the eyes; lift not one eyebrow higher than the other, wry not the mouth, and bedew no man’s face with your spittle by approaching too near him when you speak.

13. Kill no vermin, or fleas, lice, ticks, etc. in the sight of others; if you see any filth or thick spittle put your foot dexterously upon it; if it be upon the clothes of your companions, put it off privately, and if it be upon your own clothes, return thanks to him who puts it off.

14. Turn not your back to others, especially in speaking; jog not the table or desk on which another reads or writes; lean not upon anyone.

15. Keep your nails clean and short, also your hands and teeth clean, yet without showing any great concern for them.

16. Do not puff up the cheeks, loll not out the tongue with the hands or beard, thrust out the lips or bite them, or keep the lips too open or too close.

17. Be no flatterer, neither play with any that delight not to be played withal.

18. Read no letter, books, or papers in company, but when there is a necessity for the doing of it, you must ask leave; come not near the books or writtings of another so as to read them unless desired, or give your opinion of them unasked. Also look not nigh when another is writing a letter.

19. Let your countenance be pleasant but in serious matters somewhat grave.

20. The gestures of the body must be suited to the discourse you are upon.

21. Reproach none for the infirmities of nature, nor delight to put them that have in mind of thereof.

22. Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy.

23. When you see a crime punished, you may be inwardly pleased; but always show pity to the suffering offender.

24. Do not laugh too loud or too much at any public spectacle.

25. Superfluous compliments and all affectation of ceremonies are to be avoided, yet where due they are not to be neglected.

26. In putting off your hat to persons of distinction, as noblemen, justices, churchmen, etc., make a reverence, bowing more or less according to the custom of the better bred, and quality of the persons. Among your equals expect not always that they should begin with you first, but to pull off the hat when there is no need is affectation. In the manner of saluting and resaluting in words, keep to the most usual custom.

27. ‘Tis ill manners to bid one more eminent than yourself be covered, as well as not to do it to whom it is due. Likewise he that makes too much haste to put on his hat does not well, yet he ought to put it on at the first, or at most the second time of being asked. Now what is herein spoken, of qualification in behavior in saluting, ought also to be observed in taking of place and sitting down, for ceremonies without bounds are troublesome.

28. If any one come to speak to you while you are are sitting stand up, though he be your inferior, and when you present seats, let it be to everyone according to his degree.

29. When you meet with one of greater quality than yourself, stop and retire, especially if it be at a door or any straight place, to give way for him to pass.

30. In walking, the highest place in most countries seems to be on the right hand; therefore, place yourself on the left of him whom you desire to honor. But if three walk together the middest place is the most honorable; the wall is usally given to the most worthy if two walk together.

31. If anyone far surpasses others, either in age, estate, or merit, yet would give place to a meaner than himself in his own lodging or elsewhere, the one ought not to except it. So he on the other part should not use much earnestness nor offer it above once or twice.

32. To one that is your equal, or not much inferior, you are to give the chief place in your lodging, and he to whom it is offered ought at the first to refuse it, but at the second to accept though not without acknowledging his own unworthiness.

33. They that are in dignity or in office have in all places precedency, but whilst they are young, they ought to respect those that are their equals in birth or other qualities, though they have no public charge.

34. It is good manners to prefer them to whom we speak before ourselves, especially if they be above us, with whom in no sort we ought to begin.

35. Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.

36. Artificers and persons of low degree ought not to use many ceremonies to lords or others of high degree, but respect and highly honor then, and those of high degree ought to treat them with affability and courtesy, without arrogance.

37. In speaking to men of quality do not lean nor look them full in the face, nor approach too near them at left. Keep a full pace from them.

38. In visiting the sick, do not presently play the physician if you be not knowing therein.

39. In writing or speaking, give to every person his due title according to his degree and the custom of the place.

40. Strive not with your superior in argument, but always submit your judgment to others with modesty.

41. Undertake not to teach your equal in the art himself professes; it savors of arrogancy.

42. Let your ceremonies in courtesy be proper to the dignity of his place with whom you converse, for it is absurd to act the same with a clown and a prince.

43. Do not express joy before one sick in pain, for that contrary passion will aggravate his misery.

44. When a man does all he can, though it succeed not well, blame not him that did it.

45. Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought to be in public or in private, and presently or at some other time; in what terms to do it; and in reproving show no signs of cholor but do it with all sweetness and mildness.

46. Take all admonitions thankfully in what time or place soever given, but afterwards not being culpable take a time and place convenient to let him know it that gave them.

47. Mock not nor jest at any thing of importance. Break no jests that are sharp, biting, and if you deliver any thing witty and pleasant, abstain from laughing thereat yourself.

48. Wherein you reprove another be unblameable yourself, for example is more prevalent than precepts.

49. Use no reproachful language against any one; neither curse nor revile.

50. Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any.

51. Wear not your clothes foul, or ripped, or dusty, but see they be brushed once every day at least and take heed that you approach not to any uncleaness.

52. In your apparel be modest and endeavor to accommodate nature, rather than to procure admiration; keep to the fashion of your equals, such as are civil and orderly with respect to time and places.

53. Run not in the streets, neither go too slowly, nor with mouth open; go not shaking of arms, nor upon the toes, kick not the earth with your feet, go not upon the toes, nor in a dancing fashion.

54. Play not the peacock, looking every where about you, to see if you be well decked, if your shoes fit well, if your stockings sit neatly and clothes handsomely.

55. Eat not in the streets, nor in the house, out of season.

56. Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad company.

57. In walking up and down in a house, only with one in company if he be greater than yourself, at the first give him the right hand and stop not till he does and be not the first that turns, and when you do turn let it be with your face towards him; if he be a man of great quality walk not with him cheek by jowl but somewhat behind him, but yet in such a manner that he may easily speak to you.

58. Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for ’tis a sign of a tractable and commendable nature, and in all causes of passion permit reason to govern.

59. Never express anything unbecoming, nor act against the rules moral before your inferiors.

60. Be not immodest in urging your friends to discover a secret.

61. Utter not base and frivolous things among grave and learned men, nor very difficult questions or subjects among the ignorant, or things hard to be believed; stuff not your discourse with sentences among your betters nor equals.

62. Speak not of doleful things in a time of mirth or at the table; speak not of melancholy things as death and wounds, and if others mention them, change if you can the discourse. Tell not your dreams, but to your intimate friend.

63. A man ought not to value himself of his achievements or rare qualities of wit; much less of his riches, virtue or kindred.

64. Break not a jest where none take pleasure in mirth; laugh not aloud, nor at all without occasion; deride no man’s misfortune though there seem to be some cause.

65. Speak not injurious words neither in jest nor earnest; scoff at none although they give occasion.

66. Be not froward but friendly and courteous, the first to salute, hear and answer; and be not pensive when it’s a time to converse.

67. Detract not from others, neither be excessive in commanding.

68. Go not thither, where you know not whether you shall be welcome or not; give not advice without being asked, and when desired do it briefly.

69. If two contend together take not the part of either unconstrained, and be not obstinate in your own opinion. In things indifferent be of the major side.

70. Reprehend not the imperfections of others, for that belongs to parents, masters and superiors.

71. Gaze not on the marks or blemishes of others and ask not how they came. What you may speak in secret to your friend, deliver not before others.

72. Speak not in an unknown tongue in company but in your own language and that as those of quality do and not as the vulgar. Sublime matters treat seriously.

73. Think before you speak, pronounce not imperfectly, nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.

74. When another speaks, be attentive yourself and disturb not the audience. If any hesitate in his words, help him not nor prompt him without desired. Interrupt him not, nor answer him till his speech be ended.

75. In the midst of discourse ask not of what one treats, but if you perceive any stop because of your coming, you may well entreat him gently to proceed. If a person of quality comes in while you’re conversing, it’s handsome to repeat what was said before.

76. While you are talking, point not with your finger at him of whom you discourse, nor approach too near him to whom you talk, especially to his face.

77. Treat with men at fit times about business and whisper not in the company of others.

78. Make no comparisons and if any of the company be commended for any brave act of virtue, commend not another for the same.

79. Be not apt to relate news if you know not the truth thereof. In discoursing of things you have heard, name not your author. Always a secret discover not.

80. Be not tedious in discourse or in reading unless you find the company pleased therewith.

81. Be not curious to know the affairs of others, neither approach those that speak in private.

82. Undertake not what you cannot perform but be careful to keep your promise.

83. When you deliver a matter do it without passion and with discretion, however mean the person be you do it to.

84. When your superiors talk to anybody hearken not, neither speak nor laugh.

85. In company of those of higher quality than yourself, speak not ’til you are asked a question, then stand upright, put off your hat and answer in few words.

86. In disputes, be not so desirous to overcome as not to give liberty to each one to deliver his opinion and submit to the judgment of the major part, especially if they are judges of the dispute.

87. Let your carriage be such as becomes a man grave, settled and attentive to that which is spoken. Contradict not at every turn what others say.

88. Be not tedious in discourse, make not many digressions, nor repeat often the same manner of discourse.

89. Speak not evil of the absent, for it is unjust.

90. Being set at meat scratch not, neither spit, cough or blow your nose except there’s a necessity for it.

91. Make no show of taking great delight in your victuals. Feed not with greediness. Eat your bread with a knife. Lean not on the table, neither find fault with what you eat.

92. Take no salt or cut bread with your knife greasy.

93. Entertaining anyone at table it is decent to present him with meat. Undertake not to help others undesired by the master.

94. If you soak bread in the sauce, let it be no more than what you put in your mouth at a time, and blow not your broth at table but stay ’til it cools of itself.

95. Put not your meat to your mouth with your knife in your hand; neither spit forth the stones of any fruit pie upon a dish nor cast anything under the table.

96. It’s unbecoming to heap much to one’s mea. Keep your fingers clean and when foul wipe them on a corner of your table napkin.

97. Put not another bite into your mouth ’til the former be swallowed. Let not your morsels be too big for the jowls.

98. Drink not nor talk with your mouth full; neither gaze about you while you are drinking.

99. Drink not too leisurely nor yet too hastily. Before and after drinking wipe your lips. Breathe not then or ever with too great a noise, for it is uncivil.

100. Cleanse not your teeth with the tablecloth, napkin, fork or knife, but if others do it, let it be done with a pick tooth.

101. Rinse not your mouth in the presence of others.

102. It is out of use to call upon the company often to eat. Nor need you drink to others every time you drink.

103. In company of your betters be not longer in eating than they are. Lay not your arm but only your hand upon the table.

104. It belongs to the chiefest in company to unfold his napkin and fall to meat first. But he ought then to begin in time and to dispatch with dexterity that the slowest may have time allowed him.

105. Be not angry at table whatever happens and if you have reason to be so, show it not but on a cheerful countenance especially if there be strangers, for good humor makes one dish of meat a feast.

106. Set not yourself at the upper of the table but if it be your due, or that the master of the house will have it so. Contend not, lest you should trouble the company.

107. If others talk at table be attentive, but talk not with meat in your mouth.

108. When you speak of God or His attributes, let it be seriously and with reverence. Honor and obey your natural parents although they be poor.

109. Let your recreations be manful not sinful.

110. Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, aesthetics, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Paul McCartney Offers a Short Tutorial on How to Play the Bass Guitar

It sounds like a cliché, but if I learned anything in grad school, it’s that I know very little. I apply the same insight to music. While I’ve played guitar—six string and bass—with some consistency for over twenty years, I’d be the first to say that my room for improvement is infinitely large, and I’m always keen to sit at the feet of a master and beg, borrow, or steal whatever I can. So when I discovered that Paul McCartney had an instructional video on Youtube I leapt at the chance to see what I could pick up.

Rightly renowned for his mastery of every rock instrument, McCartney plays nearly all the parts on most of his solo albums (and on many Beatles tracks as well). He does so on “Ever Present Past” from 2007’s Memory Almost Full, and he released tutorial videos for each part of the song as part of the promo for the album. In the video above, Sir Paul teaches the bass part, casual in jeans and t-shirt and wielding his classic Hofner violin bass (“me little baby”). The overarching lesson? Keep it simple.

As McCartney says, the bass part is “really simple,” and gloriously so. While McCartney has written some very complex music, his playing style is on the whole very straightforward and melodic. On “Ever Present Past,” he plays mostly root notes on the bass, eschewing flourishes and “fiddly bits,” though he encourages you to add them if you wish. First, he shows us the notes on bass alone, and an inset in the video shows their position on the fretboard. Then, a full track comes in, and he plays along (hear the studio version in the official video above).

The tutorial was produced by “Now Play It,” a “new and exciting way to learn and play your favorite songs” by artists like KT Tunstall, Blondie, Coldplay, Radiohead, and many more, often with the original musicians as teachers. You’ll have to pay for most of the content on the site, though there are some nifty free previews. Unfortunately, it appears that the full “Ever Present Past” lesson—with McCartney teaching his drum and rhythm and lead guitar parts—is no longer available on the “Now Play It” site (you can see a teaser trailer here). But you can watch a snippet of the acoustic guitar lesson above. And if you’re eager to see more of McCartney’s range of instrumental skill, check out the clip below from a 1997 episode of Oprah in which he plays the song “Young Boy” from that year’s Flaming Pie, while projected on screens behind him are three more McCartneys on bass, drums, and lead guitar.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Curious Story of How Bootlegged Hollywood Movies Helped Defeat Communism in Romania

Chuck Norris helped defeat Communism in Romania… or at least the black market VHS tapes of his movies did. That’s what Romanian filmmaker Ilinca Calugareanu argues in her New York Times Op Ed piece and in a related documentary short, which you can see above.

Nicolae Ceausescu‘s regime was notoriously brutal and oppressive, even by Warsaw Pact standards. In his mad efforts to eradicate all foreign debt, he impoverished his people while building a massive, opulent palace for himself in the heart of Bucharest. He shut down all radio stations outside of the capital and restricted all television broadcasts to a mere two hours a day. And what was programmed was, by all accounts, pretty dull unless you’re a fan of Communist propaganda.

So it isn’t a suprise that when an enterprising entrepreneur began to flood the black market with bootleg VHS tapes of Hollywood blockbusters in the mid-80s, they were met with great illicit excitement. “It was amazing to do something illegal during Communism, something not Communist. Watching imperialist movies,” says one interviewee.

Movies like Flashdance, Taxi Driver, and Missing in Action became hits. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and, yes, Chuck Norris all became underground stars. Yet while Romanian audiences were wowed by the spectacle of car chases, machine gun fights and exploding helicopters, they were equally transfixed by things that Western audiences might overlook — the relative luxury of a typical American abode, for instance.  It was a powerful reminder that things were far better in the West than at home. “You could see what those people had, what they ate, what freedoms they had, how they spoke to one another,” says another interviewee. “It was completely different. And somehow, underneath it all, you felt … what freedom was.”

Yet the peculiar thing about all these VHS bootlegs is that they were all dubbed by the same person, a young translator named Irina Margareta Nistor. “As Hollywood movies became ubiquitous through the black market, this voice became one of the most recognizable in Romania,” writes Calugareanu. “Yet no one knew who she was.”

Nistor understandably worked in secret, conscious that a brutal crackdown could happen at any moment. But one never came. Ceausescu’s regime met a swift and bloody end on Christmas Day, 1989. As she looks back on her time as a translator and an unwitting underground celebrity, Nistor beams with a quiet pride, explaining that her actions were “a way to trick the Communists. That was my biggest satisfaction.”

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.


How To Think Like a Psychologist: A Free Online Course from Stanford

free-course-how-to-think-like-a-psychologist-In early January, we brought you a set of 15 tips to help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions, straight from The Willpower Instincta bestselling book by Dr. Kelly McGonigal. Today, we’re highlighting a course that McGonigal organized for Stanford’s Continuing Studies Program, entitled How To Think Like a Psychologist. The premise is simple: McGonigal introduces prominent Stanford psychologists, who proceed to discuss their research and explain precisely why their field happens to be so fascinating, after which McGonigal leads a short discussion with the guest. An audience Q&A session follows.

Each of the course’s six lectures is a neatly packaged primer on a researcher’s area of expertise: Greg Walton gives a detailed talk about his work on academic stigma, and the role it plays in the achievement gap so evident in American education, while in later lectures, James Gross discusses his research on emotional regulation, and Bridget Martin Hard explains the benefits of studying animals to better understand humans. The strength of the course lies both in its accessibility, and its level of depth: one does not need a background in science to learn something tangible about current psychological research. What’s more, one gets a sense of how relevant psychology is as a practical science, governing every fleeting thought and social interaction.

How To Think Like a Psychologist is currently available on iTunesU. You can find it listed in our collection of Free Online Psychology Courses, part of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture and science writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman, or read more of his writing at the Huffington Post.

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Raymond Chandler’s Ten Commandments for Writing a Detective Novel


Promo portrait photo of author Raymond Chandler, via Wikimedia Commons

Raymond Chandler – along with his hardboiled brethren like Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain – sandblasted the detective novel of its decorousness and instilled it with a sweaty vitality. Chandler, through the eyes of his most famous character Philip Marlowe, navigated a thinly veiled Los Angeles through the desperation of those on the low end of society’s totem pole and through the greed and venality of those at the top.

Instead of creating self-contained locked room mysteries, Chandler created stories that looked outward, struggling to make sense of a morally ambiguous world. He dedicated his career to the genre, influencing generations of writers after him. His very name became synonymous with his terse, pungent style.

So it isn’t terribly surprising that Chandler had some very strong opinions about crime fiction. Below are his ten commandments for writing a detective novel:

1) It must be credibly motivated, both as to the original situation and the dénouement.

2) It must be technically sound as to the methods of murder and detection.

3) It must be realistic in character, setting and atmosphere. It must be about real people in a real world.

4) It must have a sound story value apart from the mystery element: i.e., the investigation itself must be an adventure worth reading.

5) It must have enough essential simplicity to be explained easily when the time comes.

6) It must baffle a reasonably intelligent reader.

7) The solution must seem inevitable once revealed.

8) It must not try to do everything at once. If it is a puzzle story operating in a rather cool, reasonable atmosphere, it cannot also be a violent adventure or a passionate romance.

9) It must punish the criminal in one way or another, not necessarily by operation of the law…. If the detective fails to resolve the consequences of the crime, the story is an unresolved chord and leaves irritation behind it.

10) It must be honest with the reader.

These commandments are oblique jabs at the locked room whodunits popular during the Golden Age of the detective novel during the 1920s and 30s. Chandler delivers a much more pointed criticism of these works in his seminal essay about crime fiction, The Simple Art of Murder.

After taking thoroughly apart the murder mystery The Red House by A. A. Milne (yes, the writer of Winnie the Pooh), Chandler rails against detective stories where the machinations of plot outstrip any semblance of reality. “If the situation is false, you cannot even accept it as a light novel, for there is no story for the light novel to be about.”

He goes on to trash other British mystery writers like Agatha Christie and particularly Dorothy L. Sayers, who Chandler paints not only as a hypocritical snob but also as boring. “The English may not always be the best writers in the world, but they are incomparably the best dull writers,” he quips.

Chandler then offers praise to his hardboiled colleague Dashiell Hammett who infuses his stories with a sense of realism. “Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish….He was spare, frugal, hardboiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.”

Whether conscious or not, this passage is a fair description of Chandler as well.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.

Beat the Devil: Watch John Huston’s Campy Noir Film with Humphrey Bogart (1953)

Beat the Devil (1953) poster

What came out when John Huston, Humphrey Bogart, Gina Lollobrigida, Jennifer Jones, Peter Lorre, and Truman Capote collaborated? You wouldn’t expect a farcical, nearly improvised study in eccentricity, but here we have it. Beat the Devil, which you can watch above, simply confused audiences when it opened in 1953, but humanity has since — with, for better or for worse, the thoroughgoing senses of unseriousness and irony we’ve cultivated — come to appreciate it. This story of would-be uranium pirates stranded in an Italian port on their way to Kenya began, like Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, as an adaptation of a high-minded, stone-faced novel, in this case an eponymous one by Claud Cockburn (father of the late Alexander Cockburn, author of, yes, The Nation‘s “Beat the Devil” column). Also like Dr. Strangelove, it took a dose of absurdity somewhere in pre-production, turning from drama into comedy.

Bogart, not just one of the film’s stars but one of its major investors, thought he’d signed up for a Graham Greene-ish thriller but wound up in what many consider the first “camp” film. He must surely have come to understand the scope of his misapprehension by the time Truman Capote turned up on set, rewriting a whole new script — if the proud midcentury film industry would have dignified it with that term — on the fly, throwing together new and more ridiculous scenes each day. This and other unconventional production strategies have all become part of the body of Beat the Devil lore, which Roger Ebert examines in (speaking of ultimate validation) his “Great Movies” essay on the picture. He includes a telling quote from Huston, who supposedly told Jones, “Jennifer, they’ll remember you longer for Beat the Devil than for Song of Bernadette.” Adds Ebert: “True, but could Huston have guessed that they would remember him more for Beat the Devil than for Moby Dick?”

Beat the Devil has been added to our collection 635 Free Movies Online. It also appears in our list of Free Noir Films.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, aesthetics, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Hear Italo Calvino Read Selections From Invisible Cities, Mr. Palomar & Other Enchanting Fictions

The Travels of Marco Polo—tales told by the Venetian explorer to Italian romance writer Rustichello da Pisa—purportedly describes in great detail Polo’s encounter with “The East,” a place in the medieval European mind as alien and fantastical as the interstellar realms of science fiction. Like other travel narratives of the period (notably the spurious Travels of Sir John Mandeville), Polo’s stories mixed accurate geographical and cultural information with folklore, myth, and Orientalist misapprehension. While the appearance of monsters and marvels seems capricious to the modern reader, these elements may have felt almost mundane to Polo’s contemporaries. Or maybe not. After all, the Italian title of Polo’s travelogue—Il Milione—may refer to Polo’s reputation as the teller of “a million” lies.

But let us leave the puzzles of authenticity to historians. As readers, we get lost in these fascinating romances because the worlds they describe are both so strange yet so unsettlingly familiar. Medieval travelogues like Polo’s open up the possibility of fairy kingdoms with outlandish customs thriving almost within reach. These tales of strange and unknown lands were, after all, prominent inspiration for C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books. (Listen to the Chronicles of Narnia in a free audio format here).

For grown-up readers, no author better evokes the uncanny geopolitics of the medieval imagination than Italo Calvino, whose Invisible Cities imagines Polo’s supposed journey to the imperial seat of Mongol ruler Kublai Khan. In Calvino’s novel—more a collection of prose-poems—Polo regales Khan with his accounts of 55 exotic cities, while the busy emperor’s functionaries come and go. “At some point,” says author Eric Weiner, “you realize that Calvino is not talking about cities at all, not in the way we normally think of the word. Calvino’s cities—like all cities, really—are constructed not of steel and concrete but of ideas. Each city represents a thought experiment.”

Similar observations can be made of any of the author’s oddly enchanting allegorical fictions—Seamus Heaney called Calvino’s stories “fantastic displays” inspired by “symmetries and arithmetics.” In the audio above, you can hear the author read selections from several of his works, including Invisible Cities and Mr. Palomar, a work of “even more archness and architectural invention.” Do not be daunted by Calvino’s Italian. I find it very pleasing to listen to, even if I do not understand it all. But if you’d rather skip ahead to the English portion of his reading—recorded at the 92nd St. Y on March 31st, 1983—it begins at 8:40 where Calvino reads from a section of Invisible Cities called “Thin Cities.” In this excerpt, Polo tells Khan of a place called “Armilla”:

Whether Armilla is like this because it is unfinished or because it has been demolished, whether the cause is some enchantment or only a whim, I do not know. The fact remains that it has no walls, no ceilings, no floors: it has nothing that makes it seem a city except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be: a forest of pipes that end in taps, showers, spouts, overflows […]

 You can read the remainder of the “Armilla” section here, along with other selections from Invisible Cities. A portion of the text of Mr. Palomar is available here. Calvino’s reading is long—nearly an hour and a half—and very rewarding, both for the rich musicality of his accented English and the spellbinding charms of his philosophical fictions. And if you are so inspired, you may wish to read Calvino’s short essay “Why Read the Classics?” to which I often turn for a fuller grasp his wide-ranging literary inheritance.

via The Paris Review

Related Content:

Experience Invisible Cities, an Innovative, Italo Calvino-Inspired Opera Staged in LA’s Union Station

Watch a Whimsical Animation of Italo Calvino’s Short Story “The Distance of the Moon”

John Turturro Reads Italo Calvino’s Animated Fairy Tale

550 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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