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Odds and ends.


✥ The Lamp is looking for at least one part-time summer editorial intern. The intern will serve remotely at the direction of the editor and publisher on various tasks related to the production of the magazine (copy and line editing, fact checking, uploading published articles to the website, sending proofs and other correspondence to authors). Exceptionally talented interns may be invited to write for the magazine.

Prospective interns should send a short letter (no more than three hundred words) to or to P.O. Box 219, Three Rivers, Michigan, 49093. We are less interested in résumés than we are in an applicant’s ability to write that word with two acute accents, and we are almost totally indifferent to academic qualifications, grade point averages, and that sort of thing. Instead, use your letter to give us a short autobiographical sketch and a paragraph or two about why you would like to help out with THE LAMP, what other publications you read, and any experience you consider relevant. (Feel free to include one additional sample of writing, published or otherwise.) If we wish to move forward with your application, we will pass along our editing test.

The intern will receive a stipend.

✥ We would like to remind all of our readers that seminarians and those living in vowed religious poverty are eligible to receive complimentary subscriptions. If you or someone you know falls into one of these two categories and would like to receive the magazine, please let us know at Many thanks to those of you who subscribe at the more expensive “Solidarity” rate for making it possible for us to offer gratis subscriptions—when you sign up for the extra sixty dollars, you are quite literally buying a second subscription for a worthy person who cannot afford one.

✥ Many readers will remember the “gray and gap-tooth’d man as lean as death” from Tennyson’s “Vision of Sin,” who unburdens himself of the following, among other cheerful sentiments:

Let me screw thee up a peg:
Let me loose thy tongue with wine:
Callest thou that thing a leg?
Which is thinnest? thine or mine?

Thou shalt not be saved by works:
Thou hast been a sinner too:
Ruin’d trunks on wither’d forks,
Empty scarecrows, I and you!

Fill the cup, and fill the can:
Have a rouse before the morn:
Every moment dies a man,
Every moment one is born.

This inspired an amusing letter that deserves a high place in the annals of literary criticism from the mathematician Charles Babbage:


In your otherwise beautiful poem “The Vision of Sin” there is a verse which reads—“Every moment dies a man, Every moment one is born.” It must be manifest that if this were true, the population of the world would be at a standstill. In truth, the rate of birth is slightly in excess of that of death.

I would suggest that in the next edition of your poem you have it read—“Every moment dies a man, Every moment 1 1/16 is born.”

The actual figure is so long I cannot get it onto a line, but I believe the figure 1 1/16 will be sufficiently accurate for poetry.

I am, Sir, yours, etc.,

Charles Babbage

✥ When I think of a weeklong trip, I think of a sweat-stained back. Traveling invariably involves schlepping luggage around, walking too far, and never having quite the right clothes for the weather. It’s a tiresome enterprise, so it’s only natural that I prefer to do it in my armchair. Many evenings, I pull down from the shelf a volume of travel writing from Bill Bryson, Patrick Leigh Fermor, or Paul Theroux. Sometimes a one-off account such as Rory Stewart’s march through Afghanistan or William Blacker’s sojourn with Gypsies in northern Romania fits the bill. Once I crack one of these books open I am instantly—and comfortably—transported, no bags checked.

And frankly, these writers have had more interesting trips than you could ever hope for today. Their accounts offer a sense of the rustic dignity travel used to have: the economy hasn’t yet globalized, accents persist, and local culture hasn’t yet been diminished by television. In many places they visit, a tourist industry hasn’t sprouted to offer a canned experience to American tourists.

That dignity is passing away, if it isn’t gone already. Headphones and constant wireless internet have made travel far more dull. The possibility of striking up a several-hour conversation with a stranger on a plane is almost nil. More likely than not, your cramped-quarters neighbor will be tapping his phone or inflating a plastic cube to help him sleep. It’s easy to criticize and hard not to do the same. On trains, everyone tries to avert the gaze of everyone else, mostly by looking down. Travel is just that—a head-down endeavor. Vacationers peer down at their phones to find out which way to turn, to discern whether a restaurant is worth dining at, or to learn the history of a monument or town. Visitors can pre-stroll streets on Google Maps to ensure they have a pleasant walk.

Compare this with Bryson’s habit of wandering about late in the evening in search of an inn with an open room and a hot meal or Stewart’s navigation of mountain passes with only the advice of locals to guide him from Herat to Kabul. Sightseers used to carry maps, commit time tables for trains to memory, and ask for directions. They read memorial plaques and nabbed explanatory brochures; they packed light and had their shirts laundered overnight. They wandered through a heads-up world.

It’s a depressing thought that the types of encounters memorialized in these books—Theroux drinking excellent French wine in the sleeping car of a man who claims to be broke as their companion who lost track of time tries to run down the Orient Express as it picks up steam comes to mind—happen only rarely now.

But they do in these books. Escaping to a time before our lives were full of digital clutter is only part of the appeal. These books are also perfect to enjoy while traveling. On a trip to Greece years ago, a fellow traveler pulled out Fermor’s 1958 account of his time in Mani, in the southern Peloponnese. As our tour bus navigated narrow roads through the mountain passes of that harsh region, he read up on what the place had been like sixty years before. Once we reached our destination, the book’s index allowed him to compare what he saw to the author’s account. It was delightfully old-fashioned.

I followed this practice and picked up John Steinbeck’s The Log From the Sea of Cortez to read on a recent trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. As I lounged by the hotel pool, only yards from the torrid currents of the Pacific Ocean, I was able to imagine it as it was in 1940. That year Steinbeck went along on an expedition to the Gulf of California to collect specimens for biological research. At “Cape San Lucas,” which he describes as a “small boy’s dream of pirates,” he found only rotting hammerhead sharks, a tuna cannery, armed government officials, men shooting cormorants, and a sad cantina without ice or electricity full of men aching for someone to buy them a beer, which they couldn’t afford.

The little windswept town he mentioned is now home to some of Mexico’s finest resorts and boasts a marlin-fishing competition with millions of dollars in prize money. His account offered me great historical context, though at bars and restaurants I did find myself longing for the purchasing power that he enjoyed on his journey.

When it came time to leave, our plane lifted off and I found myself erasing the buildings in my mind, right up to the shore. Amazing that in less than eighty years the desolate, rotting desert Steinbeck had seen had become a honeymooner’s paradise. Once home, I stowed my luggage away, sat down in my chair, pulled down a book, and I was off again.

—Mark Naida

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