August 2nd, 2008

krazy koati

Although I laugh and I act like a clown

The Robert Benchley Society humor award winners, first through fourth place, were named and ... I wasn't any of them. I'm disappointed, of course, although not heartbroken. I'm confident in the quality of what I wrote anyway. I haven't read the other essays; perhaps they were legitimately more funny than mine, hard as that is to imagine. Nevertheless I'm happy I entered, and I'm happy I was a finalist, and I'm really delighted that Bob Newhart read stuff I wrote with the intention of being funny. Don't worry for my bruised ego; and I'm adjusting my CV appropriately.

One last bit of documentary stuff filled out the Vatican Treasures exhibit. For example, they showed off various copies of the Bible as translated into different languages, including into that curious Tamil style with text written on what look like leaves of a paper fan. They also showed a copy of what was billed as the first Bible written in Arabic, which dated to 1671, which seems surprisingly late in the day.

Another room showed off the process of selecting a new Pope, including a short and silent video presentation based on the election of Pope Pius XII in 1939. There were a variety of interesting artifacts such as the silver plate into which the secret ballots are cast -- they're burned just after counting, along with a chemical cartridge (new for 2005) meant to provide white or black smoke as appropriate -- along with a separate lockable plate for cardinals who happen to be absent from the main conclave due to illness. I can't help finding that sort of thing fascinating; I'm a rules-and-procedures kind of person. I wondered who it was had the job of printing up blank ballots, and how long that printer has had the post. It seems credible there might be a Vatican office going back to the 15th century which has done the job.

To my delight in several dimensions, they had the parchments proclaiming the elections of the last several Popes. They're printed up in what I assume is Latin, of course, and there was a curious progression in sizes -- Pius XII's was smaller than John XXIII's, which was about the same size as Paul VI's. John Paul I's was smaller than that, and John Paul II's identical in size. Benedict XV's was larger. Why the changes in size and design was unstated, and I couldn't say how the text varied from one Pope to the next, but I expect part of it is declaring which Pope had recently died and when the conclave was called. But truly delightful to me is that the certificates had a long, empty blank line, with the name of the newly elected Pope written in in pen. It must be that they don't want to take the time to re-typeset the whole thing, particularly in the old days before 1980 when they couldn't run the parchment through the inkjet printer, but it delighted me to see the declaration of Popes had something in common with bowling certificates.

Trivia: For a time the Tower Subway, under the Thames and near the Tower of London, was served by cable cars which could carry twelve passengers simultaneously. Source: Engineering In History, Richard Shelton Kirby, Sidney Withington, Arthur Burr Darling, Frederick Gridley Kilgour.

Currently Reading: The Dragon Masters, Jack Vance.