On Certain Accursed Days, Metamorphoses, and Toast

So here I am, making French toast and thinking about beautiful women transforming into dragonflies, when I remember that it's May 28, and tomorrow is May 29, 2010, the 557th anniversary of the day when the Turks finally overran the capital of the Roman Empire.

The affective dimension of this realization is sudden but not unexpected. My eyes sting. Something seems to swell in the back of my throat, or between the base of my trachea and my lungs. My lips quiver. I smell gunpowder smoke and for an instant I think I see the city. When I think about it for too long, I start to cry. Not like a little girl, though. I weep like a man, or like Jesus in the shortest verse of the bible. (Quiz question 1: What is the name of this affective state?)

My mind replays the events of May 28 and May 29, 1453: the gathering of the Turks by drum-beat and horn, the last preparations inside the city. Here is the abbreviated form: Once everything that can be done has been done, the last Roman Emperor asks forgiveness if he has ever done wrong to anyone, and then, if the historians who survived the battle didn't lie shamelessly, he gives a short speech to prepare his men to fight to the death. At midnight, the final assault comes, and does not stop until the walls are breached. The last Emperor, Constantine Palaiologos, dies in the melee and is never found.

That's when my mind exits the memory. It identifies with Constantine, I think, so when his story finishes, I can leave. But everything else is compulsive. I enter on May 28 and leave on May 29, turning the whole thing over and over in my mind until it is finished.

It's a chronic condition, this obsession over the end of the Romans. Some of the symptoms are associated with PTSD: the flashbacks, the emotional jaggedness, a certain obsession. Some are not: the willingness to talk about it all, the fact that I did this to myself by reading too many books.

* * *

Women changing into insects and/or machines--this is a more recent fascination of mine, and I blame a certain piece of art nouveau jewelry for it ( http://bit.ly/9spAzu ).

Look at the image in the link, Lalique's Dragonfly Woman corsage ornament. It is a symbol for everything horrifying. Is it a woman transforming from the feet up into a dragonfly? Or is it a dragonfly transforming from the mouth down into a woman? Is it becoming a woman, or is it becoming a dragonfly?

Sometimes I think I see women everywhere transforming into insects. Some people dream of the zombie apocalypse, but I am more afraid of the women-into-dragonflies-and-dragonflies-into-women apocalypse. I imagine all the women I know transforming into insects. Then I imagine all the insects I know transforming into women. At times like that, the skin on my face feels tight and my throat feels tight. My neck stiffens until I can barely turn my head, and the corners of my mouth twist back. My abdominal muscles also tend to spasm slightly. (Quiz question 2: What is the name of this affective state? Quiz question 3: Which is less horrifying--insects transforming into women or women transforming into insects? And why?)

* * *

French toast. Like pancakes, if pancakes were made from bread soaked in pancake batter.

Crisp, golden, warm, buttery on the inside, a perfect vector for syrup and a perfect companion to hazelnut coffee.

Physical affect is a sense of warmth radiating out from the belly and a sensation of sweetness coating the inside of the mouth and the upper esophagus.

It doesn't make up for the fall of the Roman Empire and it doesn't protect women from the coming dragonfly apocalypse. But it's good enough.


  1. I have had so many negative experiences with soggy french toast that I no longer venture to consume it.

  2. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100505/REVIEWS/100509982

  3. Dear god.

    Though when I picture people turning into insects, it's less about grotesque biological horror, and more about the problem of the last two centuries or so: the degradation of the operative into a machine. Insects don't seem biological at all to me somehow, they seem mechanical.

  4. Because of the exo-skeleton?

  5. Yeah. It's all shiny and segmented, like C-3PO.

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