Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky. (slithytove) wrote,
Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

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The pursuit of happiness

THE current issue of Forbes ASAP has as its motif 'The Pursuit of Happiness', and contains a large number of essays by various writers themed on that phrase. Many are predictable or forgettable (or both), but a few are worth reading, including George Plimpton's. I'd heard of him, of course, but hadn't read any of his books. His essay rambles a bit, but firms up towards the end, where he described a trip to China a visit to various fireworks manufacturing plants, and viewing of samples of their wares:

The shell names on the rice paper were wonderfully evocative. I jotted down a few: Dragon Skipping a Ball with Report. Spring Wind Makes the Willow Grow. Five Dragons with Flashlight Parasol. Celestial Maiden Welcomes Heroes with Encircling Dews. Running Cur Violates Heavenly Clouds. Monkeys Invade Heavenly Palace and Drive Out the Tiger. 

I cannot say that I saw such things materialize in the evening sky when the shells went up. But I remember envying the individual, sitting there in his bamboo chair, whose job it had been to give a name to what he saw. He would tap his forehead, his pen poised above the paper, and he would say, "I am not inspired. Send that one up again, if you please." 

And I thought, that is what I'd like to do when I can't do much of anything else—pack up a little suitcase and lend myself out to Chinese fireworks companies as a "fireworks namer." True happiness to sit there in the evening in my bamboo chair. I would write down, The Cat Imposes a Presence on the Tea Party, and then crossing it out, I would call to someone down at the dim, distant end of the meadow, "I am not inspired. Send that one up again, if you please."

I agree. True happiness is surely to be found as a Chinese fireworks namer.

If you want to read the rest of the essay, it may be found here.

It's odd, but I think I've actually seen the particular firework known as 'Monkeys Invade Heavenly Palace and Drive Out the Tiger'. It was at a Fourth of July celebration in Philadelphia about ten years ago, when fireworks makers from around the world were invited to show off their wares. The ones I remember best were the Italian fireworks, and the Chinese. The Italian tended to be very flowery and elaborate. I don't have a firm recollection of what the Chinese fireworks were like, but I was quite taken by their names. All I can find on the web is an outfit called 'Neptune FireWorks', which once offered a model called 'Monkeys Violating Heaven's Palace', which apparently didn't sell, because it's no longer in their catalog, and only survives in the Google Cache. Anyone know where the "Monkeys Invade..." name comes from? I suspect it's from a Buddhist legend, but I can't confirm it.

P.S.: It occurs to me that non-American readers may or may not be aware that the phrase 'the pursuit of happiness' is of special interest to Americans because is is enshrined in our Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..." Americans have been trying to figure out what the heck the 'pursuit of happiness' is ever since.

meaning: noon
gozen == a.m.
gogo == p.m.
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