First Sentences

“On a typical Thursday afternoon, before the crisis, before the collapse, before hyperinflation, before the bottom dropped out from under the price of oil, before the bolivar was worthless, before your whole monthly salary went to buy a chicken and then just half a chicken and then some chicken parts, before cash disappeared, before everyone left, before the refugees, before doctors and nurses and engineers and managers and workers with skills and time on the job started leaving the country, before the stampede to the exits, before all of that; simply put, before—on a typical Thursday afternoon there would have been three or four operators watching the computer screens in the central control in Caracas that monitored the electrical grid for all of Venezuela.” William Neumann, Things Are Never So Bad They Can’t Get Worse: Inside the Collapse of Venezuela.

“It’s hard to know, ever, where a story begins.” Jennifer Haigh, Mercy Street.

“Seventeen seventy-six was a year of momentous events, not just in retrospect but in the eyes of those who lived through them.” Benjamin M. Friedman, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism.

“In early times, say the Icelandic chronicles, men from the Western Islands came to live in this country, and when they departed, left behind them crosses, bells, and other objects used in the practice of sorcery.” Halldór Laxness, Independent People.

“In Iceland, it’s considered bad luck to start a new job on a Monday.” Eliza Reid, Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland’s Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World.

“She hears him long before she sees him.” Eva Björg Ægisdóttir, The Creak on the Stairs.

“Rose was in existential distress that fateful winter when her would-be earthly master, Robert Martin, passed away.” Tiya Miles, All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake.

“It is never easy to move to a new country, but in truth I was happy to be away from New York.” Katie Kitamura, Intimacies.

“In 1799, the year of the Rosetta Stone’s discovery, Egypt was a sweltering, impoverished back water.” Edward Dolnick, The Writing of the Gods: The Race to Decode the Rosetta Stone.

“The red stain was like a scream in the silence.” Ragnar Jónasson, Snowblind. (translated by Quentin Bates.)

“John Kieran created the public Moe Berg.” Nicholas Dawidoff, The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg.

“There was a time, it says in books, that the Icelandic people had only one national treasure: a bell.” Halldór Laxness, Iceland’s Bell.

Snippets

The news reported about a scientific study, contradicting other studies, that concluded that when genes are taken into consideration, the moderate consumption of alcohol has no cardiac benefits. I, being a good, modern American, did not try to understand the news report but, instead, simply ignored it as I picked up my glass of Single Barrel Bulleit.

At my age, if I sit for thirty-five minutes, only one part of my body doesn’t stiffen.

With the cognitive and physical limitations of my age, I am only good for twenty minutes straight at anything. I can’t tell you how much the spouse laughed when I said that.

Sarah Palin had not run for an elective office in more than a decade, but she has now announced as a candidate in an Alaskan election. Does that mean that she finally learned that her family did not want to spend more time with her?

He announced as he entered the car words familiar to all New York City subway riders: “Ladies and gentlemen, I am sorry to bother you.” He did not tell us he was going to perform or sell candy. His pitch was simple: “I am trying to get enough money to go to New Jersey to attend my ex-wife’s funeral.” I wanted to ask, “You want to make sure that she is truly demised?”

“We often forgive those who bore us, but we cannot forgive those who find us boring.” La Rochefoucauld.

I recently learned that I have played Rochambeau (or roshambo or ro-sham-bo). You have probably played rock paper scissors, too.

The Newsmax host discussed the recent Brooklyn subway shooting and labeled New York City a third-world country. This was strange. The network broadcasts from Manhattan. The host then went on to mock a billboard he said was put up by NYC Mayor Eric Adams that contrasted New York and Florida by saying a person can use “gay” up north. The Newsmax guy then said, “That’s not true. You can say ‘gay’ in Florida and you won’t get shot on a subway in Florida.” Duh! Is there a subway in Florida? Perhaps he was counting the monorail at the Orlando airport. His statement, however, sent me to the internet for homicide rates. New York City had 485 murders in 2021, up from 468 the previous year. This was a rate of 5.5 murders per 100,000 population. The Florida homicide rate was slightly higher than New York City’s. Yes, slightly higher with over 1,500 murders for a rate of 5.9 per 100,000. In addition, more than 3,600 people died in traffic accidents in Florida in 2021. It is the third most dangerous driving state in the country. In 2021, 274 people died in NYC from traffic fatalities. The Florida traffic death rate per capita is about six times higher than New York City’s. You don’t lessen the chances of suffering a violent death by moving from New York City to Florida. You increase them. And, while extolling Florida, the Newsmax person failed to mention Parkland (seventeen murdered) or the Pulse nightclub in Orlando (forty-nine killed).

Eliza Reid, Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland’s Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World wrote that Icelanders have a saying about the importance of knowledge: “Blind is the bookless man.”