A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Thursday, March 31, 2011 :::
Sic Transit

Gloria Mundi

A Mind That Suits has always wonered who Gloria Mundi was.  Moreover, why should we be interested in her transit, and why what was wrong with the spelling?

Well, yes, A Mind That Suits confesses to having read a lot of P.G. Wodehouse in his day, and Bertie at his dimmest might have wondered thus.

But the hoary old phrase about the glory of the world came to mind as he took what was perhaps his last turn around the once mighty Borders at 18th and L in Washington, the very heart of Gucci Gulch.  What is amazing is how quickly the glory has transited.  This was one of the first megabookstores, back when the strategy seemed to be to have one per large metropolitan area, which surely would have worked.

Ah, but the expansion of Borders was the brainchild of someone at Kmart, which itself began a self-defeating superexpansion in the 1990s.  Both companies--which eventually split--completely Starbucksized themselves.  But people can always be tempted by that extra cup of coffee.  That extra book--well, you only have to have shelfspace for one cup of coffee at a time.

People talk of the demise of the book.  A Mind That Suits actually ordered five books on Amazon before he stopped into Borders.  It's not "the book" that is going; it's one extremely dumb corporate strategy.

So Borders was a bright, shooting star of one stop cultural self-improvement in downtown DC for only 15 years, and soon it will be gone.

Certainly, nearly all of the good books are gone.  The initial 20% off sale meant that all those Kenneth Cole-shod lawyers could scoop up a lot of things they were planning on buying, leaving those of us who waited for the 60% off sales to pick through the detritus.  That, in turn, vividly illustrated a more enduring truth about bookselling:  10 or 20 percent of the books that are published sell enough to pay for the other 80 to 90, depending on how one counts.  Few people in publishing have a sense of what book will sell, so publishers publish a lot.

That said, A Mind That Suits did pick up a spiffing picture book on tanks, the few collections by worthwhile poets that were left, and one of those illustrated reference books by a firm (HH) that copies the excellent DK format.  This one was "The Complete Illustrated History of the Aztec and Maya."  A Mind That Suits finds those cultures fascinating, and the romanticism of their admirers peculiar.

This book is --thank heavens for small favors--honestly romantic.  A Mind That Suits did not know that those oddly shaped reclining statues have flat hats on so the still beating hearts of human sacrificial victims could be offered to the god represented--emphasis on the lower case "g."  But what seems to thrill the writer is how "The relationship between the fields and the clouds, the land and the sky, the earth and the rain, is of prime importance." 

The relationship of one human being to another, not so much.

The author continues,"Even the demand for sacrificial human blood by Huitzilopochtil and other deities was driven by the desire to guarantee the fertility of the earth....This religious understanding was given symbolic form in sacrifices to the Aztec spring and vegetation god Zipe Totec, whose victims were often shot with arrows rather than despatched (note: after, presumably, they had previously been spatched) by another method of sacrifice.  They were tied to frames and as the blood flowed from their wounds, it dripped on to a stone that symbolically stood for the thirsty earth..."

Of course, there are less gruesome ways of feeding the thirsty (and hungry) earth, involving irrigation, crop rotation, and manure.  But, you see, that is very rightbrained, and not holistic.  So much better to view everything as One.  That way, no particular parts--those pesky other human beings--carry too much weight.

It seems to A Mind That Suits--an unapologetic Roman Catholic--that they could have kept far more human beings alive and quite well fed if they had simply used the heads that God (upper case) gave them, separated the plants from the earth when using those heads, and figured out the best food for the plants--what they were really concerned about, though they did not know it.  In fact, they managed to live in one of the most fertile places in the world and not know where little plants come from.  (Little babies, they thought, came from subjugated tribes, or at least pubescent teenagers did.) 

They also didn't figure out the wheel. 

However, they were all one with the world and all that.

A Mind That Suits is glad he has the sumptuously illustrated book, with a text that both informs about ancient cultures and current multiculturalists.  He is glad indeed all that can be had between two covers for only $5, and sad indeeder that it won't be for much longer...at least, not at 18th and L Streets NW, Washington, DC  20006.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 6:26 PM



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