Some people say “Bohemia”

And others say “Bavaria”.

In this post, I wondered about the origins of Bavaria, suspecting that –var– was cognate with the Old English –ware “people of”. I was right. The people themselves, the Boii, were originally Celts.

In a similar vein, I was wondering about Bohemia this morning, and who the “Bohems” might be. Again, I was suspicious because that first part, Bo-, suggested that I’d run into the Boii again. I was right. Again. According to the wikipedia entry about “Bohemian”, the word is a compound of Boii and the (Proto-)Germanic *haim-a– “[> OE hām > MnE] home”.

I wonder what other traces the Boii have left behind of themselves in Central Europe. Is there a Boset (cf. Somer-set and Dor-set with the element -sǣte “people of”) to go with Bavar and Bohem?

The Chinese Characters Dictation Competition Is a Test Few Could Pass –

The Chinese Characters Dictation Competition Is a Test Few Could Pass –

Linda and I watched this programme when we were in Shanghai as a bunch of (junior?) middle school students were tortured with various characters.

The particular word for “toad” given on the page is not in my big dictionary. That gives 癞哈蟆 (làiháma; with 癞虾蟆 given as a variant), but when I type the characters in, I get 癞蛤蟆, which, ignoring the final character, is the expected word in the programme.

This very much looks like a matter of contrary orthography so that the word which is given in the programme is no more correct than any of the others. The first character, 癞, means “leprosy” while 蛤 means “clam”, and 虾 (here pronounced há) appears to be a bound morpheme in this case, otherwise being xiā, the word for “shrimp”, which is much more familiar to me.

It’s a pity that I don’t have an etymological dictionary of Chinese because I’m also wondering whether this word has been borrowed from another language.

A Confederacy of Dunces

By John Kennedy Toole.

The Pulizter Prize which Toole won for this book in 1981 was posthumous because he had committed suicide in 1969 after failing to get the book published. I don’t know what sort of person Toole was, but I have been wondering to what extent he is part of his novel’s odious and malodorous anti-hero.

Ignatius J. Reilly is a flatulent, obese egotist who has an abusive parasitic relationship with his mother, Irene. After a close encounter with the police, Ignatius and his mother end up at the Night of Joy, a seedy club, where she has one too many, and crashes her car on the way home. The resulting bill of US$1,000 is well beyond her pocket, and forces Ignatius to seek employment.

He first works at Levy Pants which is managed by the cautious Mr Gonzales, who is required to employ the elderly, somnolent, and senile Miss Trixie on the orders of the owner’s wife. Ignatius blunders into the business and rapidly gets himself promoted. He writes an abusive letter to one of the companies suppliers, and he tries to organise a protest against the manager, but it goes badly wrong, and having been fired, he must seek a new job.

That job, which he finds by chance, is vending hot dogs, most of which he eats himself, and is haemorrhaging money as a result until he gets inadvertently caught up in a network distributing porn from the Night of Joy.

While he is on his rounds, he also decides to found a political party comprising homosexuals, but it turns into a disaster when he finds himself at an actual party, where he is not appreciated by the other guests, who regard him as a novelty.

After finding the pornographic postcards in his hot dog cart, Ignatius sets off to the Night of Joy because he believes that the woman in question is, like him, a fan of Boethius. The evening turns into a complete disaster with Ignatius ending up unconscious and hauled off to hospital.

His mother decides that Ignatius needs to be in a special hospital for special people, but just as the net is closing in, his so-called girlfriend, Myrna Minkoff, arrives from New York and he flees with her.

What is Ignatius supposed to represent? Is he meant to be America – fat, oblivious, demanding, and destructive? As I wondered at the start of the review, is Ignatius a reflection of Toole, being egotistical and convinced of his own genius? There is nothing likeable about Reilly, and there is, I think, a good chance that many readers hope that he will come to a sticky end.

Throughout the book, Ignatius displays a talent for destroying other people’s lives. In the opening of the book, Ignatius attracts the attention of Angelo Mancuso, who ends up arresting Mr Robichaux, an old man who is obsessed with Communiss [sic!]. Mancuso ends up being given the worst assignments, and is at risk of losing his job when Ignatius ruins the life of Lana Lee, the owner of Night of Joy, and she is arrested for pornography and prostitution.

There are large parts of the novel which merely served to increase the production of ink for printing and the felling of trees to manufacture paper. The chapters in which Ignatius writes the journal of his work experience tend to be tedious. Most of the characters scream responses sooner or later. The word may only be on the page, but its frequency makes it noticeable.

A Confederacy of Dunces is an amusing book, but Ignatius is wearying and lacking in any redeeming features. His escape at the end is anticlimactic. He should be incarcerated; he should be left rotting insanely in a padded cell utterly unaware that he is completely delusional; he should believe he is escaping only for the reader to hear his mother saying, “Ain’t that awful?” as she watches him, strapped to the bed in his cell, before she goes off with Mr Robichaux.

The one character in the book who was sympathetic was Angelo Mancuso, the policeman who seems doomed only for the curse of Ignatius to damn Lana Lee just at the right moment.

I suppose Mancuso has been revolving on Fortune’s wheel, which is a theme of the novel. Most of the time, the wheel is mentioned with reference to Ignatius, but it’s the officer’s first encounter with this fat menace that leads to his fall just as he leads to his rise. I assume that Toole was trying to be clever. Ignatius is perhaps the unwitting instrument of Fortune as well as being one of her toys.

A Confederacy of Dunces is a long book which isn’t without some entertainment value, but it outstays its welcome by two-thirds. It’s easy to imagine publishers rejecting it because of its length, because the main character is so vile, and because the book ends without him being satisfactorily resolved.



It was so bright and clear in the morning that it was impossible to lie in. In fact, there should’ve been no lying-in at all because Linda and I needed to have been at the station about an hour ahead of the departure of the train.

Fortunately, when we got to the station, some nice person let Linda push in at the front of the queue, and we got to the gate as the train was being boarded. There were stops in Suzhou and Kunshan, and about an hour later, we arrived in Shanghai.

It was quite easy to get to Sichuan Beilu Station via Hailun Lu, although we had to get the Line 4 train that was going in the right direction before switching to Line 10. (Line 4 is Shanghai’s equivalent of the Circle Line.) When we got out of Sichuan Beilu, we got in a taxi, but the driver explained that because Zhapu Lu was behind us and the hotel was not that far away, there was no need for him to ferry us there.

We walked down the street to Zhapu Lu, went across the first main intersection, and arrived at the Hanting Hotel soon afterwards. There was a wedding in progress, and shiny confetti was being blown along the street. Our room had a view of the building next door, which was separated from the hotel by a narrow alley.

Young Allen Building, Zhapu Lu, Shanghai (2013)Zhapu Lu is a lively, old and somewhat dirty street with plenty of relics from the time the city was mostly run by foreigners. On the opposite corner from the hotel was the Young Allen building, which was built in 1923, and there was a Hindu temple at the northern end of the street. (A lot of the buildings in Shanghai have plaques on them, explaining what they used to be.) The south end of Zhapu Lu was dominated by restaurants (and the street is marked in the Lonely Planet guide as a food street). There was a very popular Hong Kong-style place which did pre-cooked meat outside of which there was almost always a (long) queue. (Even yesterday morning [06.10.13] as we passed it, there was a small group of people waiting for it to open.) We went to one particular restaurant several times, although I’ve forgotten its name.

Our search for the Bund took us on a wild goose chase because when we got to the Russian embassy, it appeared that we should’ve gone straight ahead. In fact, it was to the right across the bridge beside the embassy, and we walked some way before eventually asking a security guard at the entrance to a passenger terminal for directions. I suppose we ought to have followed the hordes across the bridge; or the city council could’ve erected a sign. (I note that the signs for tourists are unrelentingly in Chinese, which is a minor bother for me, but doesn’t help foreigners find their way about.) We got back to the embassy just as the guard was being changed.

The weather was a real nuisance. It was very clear in Shanghai, but windy and cloudy at the same time. When the sun was hidden by the clouds, the temperature dropped; when the sun blazed down, the temperature shot up. Half the time, I wished I had been wearing something a little more substantial, and half the time, I was fine.

Nanjing Donglu, Shanghai (2013)We crossed the bridge where we, and everyone else, took photos of the buildings on the far side of the Huangpu. We then made our way along the Bund until the sun drove us to seek some shade closer to Zhongshan Lu. At Nanjing Donglu, we saw huge numbers of shoppers flowing (literally) along the street in both directions. The ones from the street streamed across, and up the steps onto the Bund. The sensible thing would have been to close the street to cars, but sense will forever remain in short supply here. After going a little further, we went back and joined the masses on Nanjing Donglu, turning aside when we reached Sichuan Beilu and making our way back to the hotel.

We had a much-needed snooze in the afternoon because we’d done a lot of walking not only in Shanghai, but also in Wuxi the previous day when we’d been on a long walk through the park and over to the island, which provided us with some brilliant shots as the sun set.

We roamed around for tea, eventually finding a branch of KFC where the service was less than competent. In addition to that, Linda burnt her mouth on the soup she ordered. We then went back to our favourite Chinese restaurant down Zhapu Lu where we had soup dumplings while the local bore banged on at a couple of people sitting at the table beside ours. I’m sure he would’ve started on us, but we left.

Oh, lordy, he’s heading for the microphone

And he’s going to make a speech.

Yes, it’s that time of the year once again when back in 1949, Chairman Mao stepped up to the microphone and announced the opening of the People’s Republic of China, and the audience departed from Tiananmen Square in a sea of lively chatter: “Who was he? What was he talking about? Did I vote for him? What about the workers? I hope they remember that violence doesn’t legitimise them. Oh, bugger, I left the gas on.”

The week leading up to this year’s National Day Holiday really was a week, fraught with anxieties about the contrary weather and the maddeningly transitory forecast for Sunday which veered from heavy cloud to light to moderate rain and back to heavy cloud again – and then ended up being sunny spells. If the weather had been bad, we might’ve had a nine-day week.

The centre of the city gets worse with one of the busiest sections of 人民路 being narrower than ever and now congested by cars, electric scooters, and pedestrians. Motorised traffic really needs to be directed away from the centre of Wuxi while all the work is being done on the Metro, but that would be sensible.

That section was especially bad yesterday because the mall beyond Parkson was having some sort of grand opening, and there were a lot of people around there. The bike park outside Parkson was completely packed. I could see somewhere to park my bike, but it was a row in, and I had to carry my bike over my head to get in and out.

I still haven’t been into Centre 66 yet to see this fabled supermarket with its Western goods. I need to reconnoitre the area to find somewhere to leave my bike, but there seems to be nowhere to do that along 人民中路. I might just have to park outside the Xinhua Bookshop instead.

The Ferrari-Maserati shop is under wraps at the moment while they no doubt make it look pretty for the arrival of all its odiously wealthy customers. In fact, the whole complex looks to be yet another paean to the massive wealth disparity in the Empire. The poor may be less poor, but the rich are vastly richer.

Anyway, Linda is arriving tomorrow to spend a few days with me. Hurrah!