The Band’s Classic Song, “The Weight,” Sung by Musicians Around the World: With Robbie Robertson, Ringo Starr & Other Special Guests

Robbie Robertson’s “The Weight,” the Band’s most beloved song, has the quality of Dylan’s impressionistic narratives. Elliptical vignettes that seem to make very little sense at first listen, with a chorus that cuts right to the heart of the human predicament. “Robertson admits in his autobiography,” notes Patrick Doyle at Rolling Stone, “that he struggled to articulate to producer John Simon what the song was even about.” An artist needn’t understand a creation for it to resonate with listeners.

A read of the “The Weight”’s lyrics make its poignant themes evident—each stanza introduces characters who illustrate some sorrow or small kindness. The chorus offers what so many people seem to crave these days: a promise of rest from ceaseless toil, freedom from constant transactions, a community that shoulders everyone’s burdens…. “It’s almost like it’s good medicine,” Robertson told Doyle, “and it’s so suitable right now.” He refers specifically to the song’s revival in a dominant musical form of our isolation days—the online sing-along.

Though its lyrics aren’t nearly as easy to remember as, say, “Lean on Me,” Robertson’s classic, especially the big harmonies of its chorus (which everyone knows by heart), is ideal for big ensembles like the globe-spanning collection assembled by Playing for Change, “a group dedicated to ‘opening up how people see the world through the lens of music and art.” The group’s producers, Doyle writes, “recently spent two years filming artists around the world, from Japan to Bahrain to Los Angeles, performing the song,” with Ringo Starr on drums and Robertson on rhythm guitar. They began on the 50th anniversary of the song’s release.

The performances they captured are flawless, and mixed together seamlessly. If you want to know how this was achieved, watch the short behind the scenes video above with producer Sebastian Robertson, who happens to be Robbie’s son. He starts by praising the stellar contributions of Larkin Poe, two sisters whose rootsy country rock updates the Allman Brothers for the 21st century. But there are no slouches in the bunch (don’t be intimated out of your own group sing-alongs by the talent on display here). The song resonates in a way that connects, as “The Weight”’s chorus connects its non-sequitur stanzas, many disparate stories and voices.

Robertson was thrilled with the final product. “There’s a guy on a sitar!” he enthuses. “There’s a guy playing an oud, one of my favorite instruments.” The song suggests there’s “something spiritual, magical, unsuspecting” that can come from times of darkness, and that we’d all feel a whole lot better if we learned to take care of each other. The Playing for Change version “screams of unity,” he says, “and I hope it spreads.”

Related Content:

Stream Marc Maron’s Excellent, Long Interview with The Band’s Robbie Robertson

Watch The Band Play “The Weight,” “Up On Cripple Creek” and More in Rare 1970 Concert Footage

Italians’ Nightly Singalongs Prove That Music Soothes the Savage Beast of Coronavirus Quarantine & Self-Isolation

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

Explore the Entire World–from the Comfort of Quarantine–with 4K Walking Tours

Many of us right now are sheltering in place, or in quarantine, dreaming of that day when we can once again travel the world. And that day will come, friends, that day will come.

But until then, there are already several YouTube channels set up to provide you with a chance to go on walking tours around the world, with only the sounds of the environment in your headphones.

I was alerted to this by good friend Phil Gyford, who found this via Sarah Pavis (via FaveJet), and provided several links to this large selection of virtual traveler. Your mileage my vary, as they say, but here’s some trips I found particularly relaxing in these anxious times.

Above, I started here with this walk through Pimmit View Park in Falls Church, Virginia. Despite an umbrella dipping into view, I found this a relaxing walking in the rain through a verdant wonderland, with occasional pauses to admire the flowing streams. Lovely.

From here I was feeling a bit peckish, so I bopped over to the Phatra Market in Bangkok to have a look at the various foods on offer. LazyTourist, the person who filmed this, never strays too long at any stall, but knows enough to linger.

A YouTuber called 4K Urban Life produces the occasional walking tour of European cities, and here they show us Tuscany, starting in a very non-descript sidestreet until venturing out into the heart of old Italy. This one is nearly four hours long, so bring a bottle of wine but skip the sunscreen. Enjoy the lack of social distancing, and pray for Italy.

Night has fallen and it’s time to venture out into the West End of London in this evocative video from Watched Walker. It’s rainy and wet, but no matter, the streets of London look lovely and this hour-plus takes us through “Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circus, Oxford Street, Carnaby Street and Soho.”

Now let’s drop in on one of New York City’s most popular tourist destinations, Times Square. Wind Walk Travel Videos has a lot of these short (30 mins or less) visits to American locations, and this is one of their most popular. Try not to think about how empty these spaces are now, and enjoy the ambience, sketchy Elmo and all.

Here’s Rambalac walking Shinjuku at night, checking out the side streets and testing out his binaural mic. This is a treat with headphones on, so make this full screen and order in some ramen.

A final thought: recently I’ve been focusing on 4K “remastering” (by way of AI) of turn of the (20th) century films, a look back to a different age. In these above videos, we can see the tradition continues, a fascination in watching life go on as we sit and look into our devices. Think on both those long since deceased folk in the 1900s and a record of our once-normal lives (only a month ago, as of this writing), and keep them both in your hearts.

Related Content:

How Walking Fosters Creativity: Stanford Researchers Confirm What Philosophers and Writers Have Always Known

A 5-Hour, One-Take Cinematic Tour of Russia’s Hermitage Museum, Shot Entirely on an iPhone

Take a Virtual Tour of Brazil’s National Museum & Its Artifacts: Google Digitized the Museum’s Collection Before the Fateful Fire

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Download Classic Works of Plague Fiction: From Daniel Defoe & Mary Shelley, to Edgar Allan Poe

The apotheosis of prestige realist plague film, Steven Soderburgh’s 2011 Contagion, has become one of the most popular features on major streaming platforms, at a time when people have also turned increasingly to books of all kinds about plagues, from fantasy, horror, and science fiction to accounts that show the experience as it was in all its ugliness—or at least as those who experienced it remembered the events. Such a work is Daniel Defoe’s semi-fictional history “A Journal of the Plague Year,” a book he wrote “in tandem with an advice manual called ‘Due Preparations for the Plague,’ in 1722,” notes Jill Lepore at The New Yorker.

In 1722, Defoe had reason to believe the plague might come back to London, and wreak the devastation it caused in 1665, the “plague year” he detailed, when one in every five Londoners died. This was not a story of heroes making sacrifices to save the city. “Everyone behaved badly, though the rich behaved the worst,” Lepore writes. “Having failed to heed warnings to provision, they sent their poor servants out for supplies,” spreading the infection throughout the city. Defoe earnestly hoped to head off such catastrophe. He wrote to issue an admonition, as he put it, “both to us and to posterity, though we should be spared from that portion of this bitter cup.”

The cup, Lepore writes, “has come out of its cupboard.” But so too has the resilience found in Albert Camus’ 1946 novel Le Peste (The Plague), based on a real cholera outbreak in Algeria in 1849. Though fictional, it draws on Camus’ study of historical plagues and his experience as a member of the French Resistance. Camus seems to have found the plague as metaphor particularly uplifting, nicknaming his twins Catherine and Jean, “Plague” and “Cholera,” respectively.

Whether we see it as a story of a siege brought on by sickness, or an allegory of an occupation, Camus wrote of the novel that “the inhabitants, finally freed, would never forget the difficult period that made them face the absurdness of their existence and the precariousness of the human condition. What’s true of all the evils in the world is true of plagues as well. It helps men to rise above themselves.” Defoe might disagree, but plagues in his time were not also accompanied by widespread Nazism, a double crisis that might doubly force us to “reflect on what is real, what is important, and become more human,” says Catherine Camus of the soaring new popularity of her father’s novel.

We can do this through reading in our real-life quarantine. “Reading is an infection,” Lepore writes, “a burrowing into the brain: books contaminate, metaphorically, and even microbiologically” as physical objects capable of ferrying germs. Plagues are mass-existential crises on the level of WWII or the Lisbon earthquake that shook the faith of Europe’s intellectuals. They are also settings for love and terror, from Boccaccio and Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Edgar Allan Poe and Margaret Atwood.

Vulture has published an “essential list” of 20 plague books to read, including many of the classics mentioned above, and a book that is hardly remembered but might be thought of as an ancestor to Atwood’s plague-ridden futures: Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, published in 1826 during the second of two virulent cholera pandemics. In the novel, Shelley claims to have discovered the story in prophetic writing about the end of the 21st century, telling of a disease that wipes out the human race. If you’d rather not indulge that kind of fantasy just yet, you’ll find varying degrees of imaginative and soberly realist fiction and history in the list of plague classics below, all freely available at Project Gutenberg.

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

History of the Plague in London by Daniel Defoe

Loimologia: or, an Historical Account of the Plague in London in 1665 by Hodges et al.

The Last Man by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Plague Ship by Andre Norton

The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe

The Plague by Teddy Keller

The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio

A History of Epidemics in Britain by Charles Creighton

A History of Epidemics in Britain, Volume II 

An account of the plague which raged at Moscow, in 1771 by Charles de Mertens

A brief Journal of what passed in the City of Marseilles, while is was afflicted with the Plague, in the Year 1720 by Pichatty de Croislainte

Cherry & Violet: A Tale of the Great Plague by Anne Manning

Libraries may have shut their possibly contaminated books behind closed doors, bookstores may be deemed nonessential, but reading—and writing—about plague years feels like a necessary cultural activity to help us understand who we are apt to become in such times.

Related Content:  

Why You Should Read The Plague, the Albert Camus Novel the Coronavirus Has Made a Bestseller Again

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


Take a 3D Tour Through Ancient Giza, Including the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx & More

Imagine the pyramids of ancient Egypt, and a vivid image comes right to mind. But unless you happen to be an Egyptologist, that image may possess a great deal more vividness than it does detail. We all have a rough sense of the pyramids’ size (impressively large), shape (pyramidical), texture (crumbly), and setting (sand), almost wholly derived from images captured over the past century. But what about the pyramids in their heyday, more than 4,500 years ago? Do we know enough even to begin imagining how they looked, let alone how people made use of them? Harvard Egyptologist Peter Der Manuelian does, and in the video above he gives us a tour through 3D models that reconstruct the Giza pyramid complex (also known as the Giza necropolis) using both the best technology and the fullest knowledge available today.

“You’ll see we’ve had to remove modern structures and excavators, debris dumps,” says Der Manuelian as the camera flies, dronelike, in the direction of the Great Sphinx. “We studied the Nile, and we had to move it much closer to the Giza pyramids, because in antiquity, the Nile did flow closer. And we’ve tried to rebuild each and every structure.”

Of the Sphinx, this model boasts “the most accurate reconstruction that has ever been attempted so far,” and Der Manuelian shows it in two possible colors schemes, one with only the head painted, one with the entire body painted in “the reddish brown reserved for male figures.” He also shows the pyramid temple of Khafre, both in the near-completely ruined state in which it exists today, and in full digital reconstruction, complete with seated statues the Fourth-Dynasty pharaoh Khafre himself.

The model accommodates more than just the built environment. Der Manuelian shows a model bark with another statue being carried into one of the chambers, explaining that it allows researchers to determine “whether or not it’s big enough or small enough to actually fit between the doors of the temple.” Elsewhere in the model we see a re-enactment of the “Opening of the Mouth ceremony,” the “reanimation ceremony for the deceased king, meant to magically and ritually bring him back to life for the netherworld.” The rendering takes place inside the temple of the Pyramid of Khufu, peopled with human characters. But “how many should there be? What should they be wearing? Where are the regular Egyptians? Are they allowed anywhere near this ceremony, or indeed are they allowed anywhere near Giza at all?” The greater the detail in which researchers reconstruct the ancient world, the more such questions come to the surface.

In the video just above, Der Manuelian explains more about the importance of 3D modeling to Egyptology: how it uses the existing research, what it has helped modern researchers understand, and the promise it holds for the future. The latter includes much of interest even to non-Egyptologists, such as tourists who might like to familiarize themselves with Giza necropolis in the days when the Opening of the Mouth ceremonies still took place — or any era of their choice — before setting foot there themselves. These videos come from “Pyramids of Giza: Ancient Egyptian Art and Archaeology,” Der Manuelian’s online course at edX, a worthwhile learning experience if you’ve got your own such trip planned — or just the kind of fascination that has gripped people around the world since the Egyptomania of the nineteenth century. The technology with which we study Egypt has advanced greatly since then, but for many, the mysteries of ancient Egypt itself have only become more compelling.

via The Kid Should See This

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Human All Too Human: A Roman Woman Visits the Great Pyramid in 120 AD, and Carves a Poem in Memory of Her Deceased Brother

The Grateful Dead Play at the Egyptian Pyramids, in the Shadow of the Sphinx (1978)

A Drone’s Eye View of the Ancient Pyramids of Egypt, Sudan & Mexico

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Foot-Licking Demons & Other Strange Things in a 1921 Illustrated Manuscript from Iran

Few modern writers so remind me of the famous Virginia Woolf quote about fiction as a “spider’s web” more than Argentinian fabulist Jorge Luis Borges. But the life to which Borges attaches his labyrinths is a librarian’s life; the strands that anchor his fictions are the obscure scholarly references he weaves throughout his text. Borges brings this tendency to whimsical employ in his nonfiction Book of Imaginary Beings, a heterogenous compendium of creatures from ancient folk tale, myth, and demonology around the world.

Borges himself sometimes remarks on how these ancient stories can float too far away from ratiocination. The “absurd hypotheses” regarding the mythical Greek Chimera, for example, “are proof” that the ridiculous beast “was beginning to bore people…. A vain or foolish fancy is the definition of Chimera that we now find in dictionaries.” Of  what he calls “Jewish Demons,” a category too numerous to parse, he writes, “a census of its population left the bounds of arithmetic far behind. Throughout the centuries, Egypt, Babylonia, and Persia all enriched this teeming middle world.” Although a lesser field than angelology, the influence of this fascinatingly diverse canon only broadened over time.

“The natives recorded in the Talmud” soon became “thoroughly integrated” with the many demons of Christian Europe and the Islamic world, forming a sprawling hell whose denizens hail from at least three continents, and who have mixed freely in alchemical, astrological, and other occult works since at least the 13th century and into the present. One example from the early 20th century, a 1902 treatise on divination from Isfahan, a city in central Iran, draws on this ancient thread with a series of watercolors added in 1921 that could easily be mistaken for illustrations from the early Middle Ages.

As the Public Domain Review notes:

The wonderful images draw on Near Eastern demonological traditions that stretch back millennia — to the days when the rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud asserted it was a blessing demons were invisible, since, “if the eye would be granted permission to see, no creature would be able to stand in the face of the demons that surround it.”

The author of the treatise, a rammal, or soothsayer, himself “attributes his knowledge to the Biblical Solomon, who was known for his power over demons and spirits,” writes Ali Karjoo-Ravary, a doctoral candidate in Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Predating Islam, “the depiction of demons in the Near East… was frequently used for magical and talismanic purposes,” just as it was by occultists like Aleister Crowley at the time these illustrations were made.

“Not all of the 56 painted illustrations in the manuscript depict demonic beings,” the Public Domain Review points out. “Amongst the horned and fork-tongued we also find the archangels Jibrāʾīl (Gabriel) and Mikāʾīl (Michael), as well as the animals — lion, lamb, crab, fish, scorpion — associated with the zodiac.” But in the main, it’s demon city. What would Borges have made of these fantastic images? No doubt, had he seen them, and he had seen plenty of their like before he lost his sight, he would have been delighted.

A blue man with claws, four horns, and a projecting red tongue is no less frightening for the fact that he’s wearing a candy-striped loincloth. In another image we see a moustachioed goat man with tuber-nose and polka dot skin maniacally concocting a less-than-appetising dish. One recurring (and worrying) theme is demons visiting sleepers in their beds, scenes involving such pleasant activities as tooth-pulling, eye-gouging, and — in one of the most engrossing illustrations — a bout of foot-licking (performed by a reptilian feline with a shark-toothed tail).

There’s a playful Bosch-ian quality to all of this, but while we tend to see Bosch’s work from our perspective as absurd, he apparently took his bizarre inventions absolutely seriously. So too, we might assume, did the illustrator here. We might wonder, as Woolf did, about this work as the product of “suffering human beings… attached to grossly material things, like health and money and the houses we live in.” What kinds of ordinary, material concerns might have afflicted this artist, as he (we presume) imagined demons gouging the eyes and licking the feet of people tucked safely in their beds?

See many more of these strange paintings at the Public Domain Review.

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

Bob Dylan Releases a Cryptic 17-Minute Song about the JFK Assassination: Hear a “Murder Most Foul”

Like an Old Testament prophet with smartphone, Bob Dylan has appeared the midst of catastrophe to drop a new previously unreleased track, “Murder Most Foul,” on Twitter. Ostensibly a 17-minute song about JFK’s assassination, it’s “the first evidence of original songwriting that we’ve had in eight years from one of the most original songwriters of our era,” writes Kevin Dettmar, Professor of English at Pomona College, for The New Yorker.

The move seems like a weird one—“’weird’ with its full Shakespearean force, as in the ‘weird sisters’ of ‘Macbeth.’” Its title, however, comes from Hamlet. Uttered by the ghost of Hamlet’s father, the phrase shows us the murdered king pronouncing judgment on his own death. It is also the title of the third Miss Marple film, released in the U.S. in 1964, the same year (to the month) that the Warren commission submitted its report to Lyndon Johnson.

Is Dylan pulling us into what may be the most bottomless of modern conspiracy theories, with a Shakespearean allusion suggesting we might hear the song as emanating from Kennedy himself? He’s more than aware of what he’s doing with the many specific references to the murder, drawing out the most committed of conspiracy theorists in YouTube comments. As Andy Greene writes at Rolling Stone, “Murder Most Foul” is:

Packed with references only JFK buffs will likely recognize, like the ‘triple underpass’ near Dealey Plaza, the removal of his brain during the autopsy, and the ‘three bums comin’ all dressed in rags’ captured on the Zapruder film that conspiracy theorists have been obsessing over for decades. Clearly, Dylan has spent a lot of time reading books and watching documentaries about this.

There is so much more besides. Dylan weaves densely allusive texts, just as another poet to whom he bears some comparison, John Milton, whose work has been background for Dylan’s songwriting for decades, including a sly allusion to Paradise Lost in 1965’s “Desolation Row,” another prophetic work that stretches over the ten-minute mark (and ends with passengers on the Titanic shouting “Which side are you on?”)

In 2006, Dylan opened an episode of his Theme Time Radio Hour broadcast with lines from the first book of Paradise Lost: describing Satan “hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky.” Dylan has long been obsessed with the Devil, as literary scholar Aidan Day argues in a comparison of Dylan and Milton. Likewise, he is obsessed with apocalyptic falls from grace. Songs abound with images of the powerful brought low, the lowly brought lower, and the whole world sinking like an ocean liner. He returned to the theme in 2012’s “The Tempest,” a 14-minute epic about the Titanic.

Why JFK, and why now? As he vaguely notes, the song was “recorded a while back.” Dettmar estimates sometime in the last decade. Does it live up to Dylan’s earlier epics? Hear it above and judge for yourself. (And see many of its lyrical references at its Genius page.) Dettmar calls its first half “doggerel” and the opening lines do sound like a fifth-grade history presentation: “’Twas a dark day in Dallas, November, ‘63/The day that would live on in infamy.”

Is this cliché or a satire of cliché? (Dylan was fond of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”) Things soon take a darker turn, with lines full of Miltonian portent: assassination becomes regicide: The day they blew out the brains of the king/Thousands were watching, no one saw a thing.

Allusions tumble out, line after line. Once Dylan gets to Wolfman Jack, verse two begins, and “something amazing happens,” writes Dettmar. “We’re presented with another version of the Great American Songbook.”—JFK’s death now prelude for all the cultural shifts to come. “Wolfman, oh Wolfman, oh Wolfman, howl/Rub-a-dub-dub, it’s a murder most foul.” NPR’s Bob Boilen and Ann Powers have compiled a playlist of the dozens of songs referenced in the second half of “Murder Most Foul,” a compilation of the music Dylan admires most.

What is he up to in this track? Is “Murder Most Foul” a summation of Dylan’s career? Dylanologists will be puzzling it out for years. But the last line of his Twitter announcement sure sounds like a cryptic farewell wrapped in a warning: “Stay safe,” Dylan writes, “stay observant, and may God be with you.”

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

What the Iconic Painting, “The Two Fridas,” Actually Tells Us About Frida Kahlo

I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality. —Frida Kahlo

You may be forgiven for assuming you already know everything there is to know about Frida Kahlo.

The subject of a high profile bio-pic, a bilingual opera, and numerous books for children and adults, her image is nearly as ubiquitous as Marilyn Monroe’s, though Frida exercised a great deal of control over hers by painting dozens of unsmiling self-portraits in which her unplucked unibrow and her traditional Tehuana garb feature prominently.

(Whether she would appreciate having her image splashed across shower curtainslight switch coversyoga mats, and t-shirts is another matter, and one even a force as formidable as she would be hard pressed to control from beyond the grave. Her immediately recognizable countenance powers every souvenir stall in Mexico City’s Coyoacán neighborhood, where Casa Azul, the home in which she both was born and died, attracts some 25,000 visitors monthly.)

A recent episode of PBS’ digital series The Art Assignment, above, examines the duality at Frida’s core by using her double self-portrait, The Two Fridas (Las Dos Fridas), as a jumping off place.

Kahlo herself explained that the traditionally dressed figure on the right is the one her just-divorced ex-husband, muralist Diego Rivera had loved, while the unloved one on the left fails to keep the untethered vein uniting them from soiling her Victorian wedding gown. (The vein, originates on the right, rising from a small childhood portrait of Rivera, that was among Kahlo’s personal effects when she died.)

It’s an expression of loneliness and yet, the twin-like figures are depicted tenderly clasping each other’s hands:

Bereft but comforted

Fractured but intact

Lonely but not isolated

Broken but beautiful

Humiliated but proud

Kahlo’s boundaries, it suggests, are highly permeable, in life, as in art, drawing from such influences as Bronzino, El Greco, Modigliani, Surrealism, and Catholic iconography in both European religious painting and Mexican folk art.

As for the new thing learned, this writer was unaware that when Kahlo married Riveraher elder by 22 yearsin a 1929 civil ceremony, she did so in skirt and blouse borrowed from her indigenous maid… a fact which speaks to the end of her popularity in certain quarters.

Related Content: 

A Brief Animated Introduction to the Life and Work of Frida Kahlo

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Visit the Largest Collection of Frida Kahlo’s Work Ever Assembled: 800 Artifacts from 33 Museums, All Free Online

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Cork-Lined Bedroom & Writing Room of Marcel Proust, the Original Master of Social Distancing

Many of us now find ourselves stuck at home, doing our part to put a stop to the global coronavirus pandemic. Some of us are taking the opportunity to write the ambitious works of literature we’ve long intended to. Such an effort of creativity in confinement has no more suitable precedent than the life of Marcel Proust, who wrote much of his seven-volume masterpiece In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu) in bed. The Paris Review‘s Sadie Stein quotes Proust’s biographer Diana Fuss describing him as having written “from a semi-recumbent position, suspended midway between the realms of sleeping and waking using his knees as a desk.”

He did it in a bedroom lined with cork, an addition meant, Stein writes, “not just to soundproof but to prevent pollen and dust from aggravating Proust’s allergies and asthma.” Though the Spanish flu did make its way into France during Proust’s last years, the writer had been worried about his own frail health since his first asthma attack at the age of nine.

He got the idea of lining his bedroom with cork from his friend Anna de Noailles, “a princess and socialite, a patron of the arts and a novelist in her own right,” who also happened to be “plagued with debilitating fears and neuroses.” You can visit faithful reconstructions of both of their bedrooms at Paris Musée Carnavalet, an essential stop on any Proust pilgrimage. So is the Hôtel Ritz Paris, which maintains a “Marcel Proust suite.”

William Friedkin — yes, that William Friedkin — stayed in the Marcel Proust suite, “formerly a private dining room on the hotel’s second floor, where Proust often hosted small dinner parties,” on the Proust pilgrimage he recalls in The New York Times. “I was told by the hotel manager that the room was reserved for Proust to entertain whenever he could venture out from his cork-lined bedroom at 102 Boulevard Haussmann.” No doubt Proust “absorbed inspiration from conversations here, ones that made their way into his writing.” In the last three years of his life, the writing almost entirely displaced the conversation: Proust spent almost all his time in his cork-lined bedroom, sleeping by day and putting everything he had into his work at night. A contemporary photograph of Proust’s cork-lined bedroom appears at the top of the post, as recently included in a tweet by writer Ted Gioia calling Proust the “master of social distancing.”

Just above, you can watch a talk on the writer’s room and hypersensitivities (of both the aesthetic and physical varieties) that put him into it by Proust scholar William C. Carter, author of Marcel Proust: A Life and Proust in Love. What might Proust’s father, the epidemiologist Adrien Proust, have thought about a new epidemic making the people of the 21st century look to his son?  Even if we don’t take him as a model for writing life, this is nevertheless an appropriate moment to read his work (now available free online at the Internet Archive’s National Emergency Library). “What Proust inspires in us is to see and to appreciate every seemingly insignificant place or object or person in our lives,” writes Friedkin, “to realize that life itself is a gift and all the people we’ve come to know have qualities worth considering and celebrating — in time.”

via Ted Gioia

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16-Year-Old Marcel Proust Tells His Grandfather About His Misguided Adventures at the Local Brothel

The First Known Footage of Marcel Proust Discovered: Watch It Online

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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