Blue spectacles

John Wesley Jarvis - Portrait Of A Gentleman (1807)
John Wesley Jarvis – Portrait Of A Gentleman (1807)

As a practicing nihilist, I’m often reminded of the following quote from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot:1

Young ladies have only to crop their hair, put on blue spectacles2, and dub themselves Nihilists, to persuade themselves at once that they have immediately gained “convictions” of their own.

I’d always imagined this to mean “blue-rimmed spectacles”3, but then I came across the following quote in Patrick O’Brian’s4 The Far Side Of The World:

“The other thing that occurred to me,” [Jack] said [to Stephen], turning round, “is that it is extremely awkward talking to a man with hair all over his face; you cannot tell what he is thinking, what he really means, whether he is false or not. Sometimes people wear blue spectacles, and it is much the same.”

And in the next book, The Reverse Of The Medal:

[Stephen] wore a plain blue coat, and as he glanced at the flagship before putting on his blue spectacles they noticed his curiously pale eyes.

Apparently, these blue spectacles are sunglasses. This makes a lot of sense. As a practicing indoor sunglasses wearer, I’ve often remarked on their philosophical value. In fact, Bertrand Russell used them in an illustration in preparation for explaining Kant in Our Knowledge Of The External World As A Field For Scientific Method In Philosophy (1914). This is significant, since the term “nihilism” was popularized by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743–1819) who thought it was the result of thinking like Kant.

Jane Digby

Carl Haag - Jane Digby In Palmyra (1859)
Carl Haag – Jane Digby In Palmyra (1859)

Jane Digby (1807–1881) is a fascinating character. In Europe, she became known for her scandals and promiscuity:

In 1838, Jane found a new lover in the Greek Count Spyridon Theotokis (born 1805). [Her previous lover with whom she had children] Venningen found out and challenged Theotokis to a duel, in which the latter was wounded. Venningen generously released Jane from the marriage and took care of their children. They remained friends for the rest of their lives.

[…] Jane converted to the Greek Orthodox faith and married Theotokis in Marseille in 1841. The couple moved to Greece with their son Leonidas. In 1846, after their son’s fatal fall off a balcony, Theotokis and Jane divorced. Greece’s King Otto became her next lover.

Next came an affair with a hero of Greek revolution, Thessalian general Christodoulos Chatzipetros, acting as ‘queen’ of his brigand army, living in caves, riding horses and hunting in the mountains.

She then moved to Syria, where she married a sheik twenty years her junior:

Jane adopted Arab dress and learned Arabic in addition to the other eight languages in which she was fluent. Half of each year was spent in the nomadic style, living in goat-hair tents in the desert, while the rest was enjoyed in a palatial villa that she had built in Damascus.

[…] She was buried [in Damascus] with her horse in attendance at the funeral. Upon her footstone–a block of pink limestone from Palmyra–is her name, written in Arabic.

In fact, click on the header image (above) to see that the ruins of Palmyra are in the background. Unfortunately, the Islamic State destroyed most of these ruins in 2015.

Related to the idea of traveling far away against social norms, I came across a blog by an Austrian train fanatic, Helmut. In 2008, Helmut traveled from Vienna to Pyongyang by train. He was able to ride the train into North Korea from Russia using a clever visa loophole:

Tumangan [in North Korea] is by default listed on every North Korean visa, despite the fact that KITC [Korea International Travel Company] doesn’t offer this route to tourists.

This was an important information. At least it is not totally illegal to enter at Tumangan…

[…] So if Tumangan is listed on the visa – it could be possible to just book an ordinary trip to North Korea via Sinujiu [from China] but then in reality arrive via Tumangan [from Russia]…. hmmmm

Robert Frost

Robert Frost sitting on a recently-mended wall.
Robert Frost sitting on a recently-mended wall.

While preparing for a poetry club, I learned the following interesting things related to Robert Frost:

  • Robert Frost was born in 1874, the same year that Athens demolished the Frankish Tower in the Acropolis.
  • Robert Frost never graduated from college, although he attended Dartmouth and Harvard for short spells.
  • Robert Frost recited “The Gift Outright” from memory at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy (1961). He composed another poem, “The Dedication”, as a preface, but he was unable to read the text of it at the podium (even with Nixon offering his top hat to shade the page). I found the relevant part in a video of the inauguration:

Also, I find the following poem, “Not All There”, interesting:

I turned to speak to God
About the world’s despair;
But to make bad matters worse,
I found God wasn’t there.

God turned to speak to me
(Don’t anybody laugh!)
God found I wasn’t there—
At least not over half.