For the gamers among you, there is a new periodical on your horizon: Senet, a name borrowed from an ancient Egyptian board game, often found in tombs, for the deceased to enjoy wiling away their eternal hours in the afterlife. I acquired a couple issues and am more than a little intimidated. With a little more courage, I’ll send a letter-to-the-editor, seeking some guidance on the notion of adapting Agincourt as a board game.
My track record for engaging strangers in the Project is a mixed bag; most “solicitations” have gone unanswered. At least no one has replied with suggestions for institutionalization. Yet.
There’s an old greeting card box, probably older than me, which is filled with family photographs; it may be in the roll-top desk. I know they are family because I recognize two or three people. But certainly not because there are any names pencilled on the back. Why would anyone do so foolish a thing? “Everyone knows that’s Aunt Toodie” — until everyone who knew Aunt Toodie is dead.
I suppose that explains the number of unidentified “real photo” postcards on the auction site that dare not speak its name. Nameless faces, faces that at one time had meant so much to others or they’d never have been photographed, are a waste of perfectly good visage. So I buy them — often at $3–$5 each — and sketch the lives they might have lived in a small Iowa community a hundred years ago. Some are fleshed out more than others; many are just a name.
And don’t claim I have better things to do with my time. This is a far higher calling than some I could identify.
It came to me this morning that this young man is Hobart; no surname or family yet. But there is a disconcertedness on Hobie’s face that belies his young age. Clearly this photo op was an interruption in his otherwise purposeful day.
“Schadenfreude: when simple envy isn’t enough.”
During the Cold War, there was the joke about the English speaker (by which I mean American english) feeling superior to the Russian who did not have a word for peaceful coexistence in his Russian vocabulary, and had had to borrow “detente”. The humor lies in the truth that neither does American English; though we use the French detente — not so much since the C.W. is past — for that same deficiency in our own tongue. And so it is, I suppose with Schadenfreude.¹
It is made up of two German words: Schaden, which means “harm” or “damage,” and Freude, which means “joy.” Hence Schadenfreude is the phenomenon of taking joy or satisfaction from the bad fortune of another. A self-satisfied sort of “Told ya so!” As I’m not an etymologist, the distinctions between schadenfreude and karma are subtle. But what of schadenfreude in Agincourt?
¹ Why did this remind me of Dankmar Adler, onetime partner of architect Louis Sullivan? Adler’s mother had died in childbirth and, so, was given the name Dankmar, meaning “sweet sorrow”. How sad to be reminded each day of the circumstance of your birth. And the painful joy it had brought to another.
[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]
PHALEN, Florence A. (née Craig) [1891–?]
Winter’s Eve, New Snowfall
oil on board / 10 inches by 8 inches / signed
The former Florence A. Craig married John J. Phelan in 1911 and established their family in St Louis, Missouri. Mrs Phelan was, apparently, self-trained, a hobbyist who painted solely for personal satisfaction, for family and friends. This charming winter scene came into the possession of an Agincourt family related to the Phalens.
The painting is an example of Arts & Crafts simplicity displayed in an Aesthetic Movement frame of twenty-five years earlier. Since one movement grew from the other, the relationship is entirely appropriate. This is on anonymous long-term loan to the collection.
…and creating something to write about.
“[A] city is more than its physical landmarks: it is how it interacts with its people. They know a city needs more than signature buildings and retail, leisure and investment opportunities. It needs remembered pasts, closely-observed presents, imagined futures, and some collision of all three. It needs maps not only of the city’s streets, but of the skies above it, the tunnels beneath it, and the rivers and canals which run through it, of the things that are there only if you listen, only if you look carefully enough, only if you read the book you now hold in your hands.” — C.D. Rose, from the Introduction to Birmingham (2020).
This pair of imaginary urban plans comes from a 2018 calendar by Italian artist Federico Cortese (born 1971) — not to be confused with another Italian artist of the same name [1829–1913], nor with the current music director of the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra; popular name in Italy, apparently. I’m still looking for a copy of that calendar but in the meantime someone on the WWW has put all the images on pinterest. These and others in that collection are inspiration for the map I’ve been trying to create for the Agincourt city directory.