278 Seize the twentieth day

The last of 274 columns that first appeared in Dutch, in Loekie Schwartz’s translation, in Het Financieele Dagblad. Schwartz and his Loekie discover together the ancient feast of Epicurus and decide to celebrate it from now on. Epicurus was a champion of moderate pleasure as a way to find peace.

During a recent visit to the fabulous department of Roman sculpture in the Louvre, my wife and I were grabbed by a double portrait of two bearded men, attached to each other at the backs of their heads. The older man is the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 B.C.) and the younger his disciple Metrodorus (331-278 B.C.). The label said that the followers of Epicurus honored him and his philosophy with monthly feasts on the on the day of the month when he was born, the 20th.

This immediately struck us as an excellent idea. Epicurus was an admirable person and thinker. Aside from his theories about atoms and causality, he is best known for his teaching that pleasure is good. In the wise words of Wikipedia: “Epicurus believed that the greatest good was to seek modest pleasures in order to attain a state of tranquility and freedom from fear.” I entered the word Epicurus Day in my electronic agenda for the 20th day of every month, from here to eternity. Over the past months we have taken philosophical care to pursue pleasure on those days, and even though the pleasures we prefer might not all meet Epicurus’s notion of modesty, we are nonetheless looking forward to increased tranquility and freedom from fear as we get the knack of true Epicureanism. I pass on to you the recommendation to try it out.

My first column for Het Financieele Dagblad appeared in the weekend edition of 6&8 September 1997. “Pictures of Lady Di” discussed the life and death of Princess Diana in terms of images and image worship. It began: “Whatever else contributed to the accident that killed the Princess of Wales, Dodi al-Fayed and their driver, one of the causes was the power of the image. The photographers who pursued her were after pictures to sell to newspapers and magazines. The more a picture revealed of the private life of the princess, the higher the price that would be paid for it. A recent photograph of Diana in a bathing suit, beside Dodi, brought in three million pounds. This is more money than the Rembrandt portrait that was sold last year at the Maastricht Fine Arts Fair for four million dollars.”

Since then, with thanks to Het Financieele Dagblad, I have had the privilege of writing 247 bi-weekly columns for you, including one on the secret story of that Rembrandt sale (“The TEFAF Rembrandts: now you see ‘em, now you don’t,”; 11 March 2006). Because the newspaper now needs for other purposes the space I have occupied for the past nine-and-a-half years, this will be the last one. In taking leave, I would like to call one important point to your attention. My native language is English, and even after forty years in the Netherlands I still write better English than Dutch. I therefore write my columns in English; they are translated into Dutch for the paper by my wife, Loekie Schwartz. Reading her outstanding translations has been one of the greatest pleasures of writing the column. Her texts have presented me to you in better and more lively form than I could achieve. They remind me of the Turkish saying “Bir lisan, bir insan”: one language, one soul. Loekie is the co-author of the personality, as well as many of the ideas and turns of phrase, that you have been reading in this space.

© Gary Schwartz 2007. Published in Loekie Schwartz’s Dutch translation in Het Financieele Dagblad, Amsterdam, 21 April 2007

Loekie and I celebrated the April 2007 Epicurus Day in an exceptional way. One of the reactions to Schwartzlist 276: Non-Jewish museums, came from Sven Schütte of the archaeological service of the city of Cologne. Schütte is in charge of what is called with careful neutrality the Archäologische Zone, which turns out to be nearly coterminous with the former Jewish quarter, in the middle of which stands the town hall. This anomalous situation came into being because the Jews who settled in the city in the Roman period and Middle Ages huddled around the government center, which provided protection for them. The current project to restore the area therefore conjoins – or pits against, depending on how it is handled – the Jewish and non-Jewish history of the city.

Cologne, Archaeologische Zone, 20 April 2007

Loekie Schwartz and Sven Schütte, on the right, crossing the square in the center of Cologne where the Jewish quarter stood. Beneath the pyramid is the mikva adjoining the synagogue. In the background is the town hall. Beneath this area is an immense underground presentation of Roman and medieval Cologne, now being enlarged and reinterpreted.

We visited Schütte and spent an evening and a day visiting his city with him. Filled out with the occasional meal underway, it was the most perfect Epicurus Day imaginable, filled with historical, esthetical, intellectual and culinary delight. That the visit came about thanks to a column of mine, on the day when the last installment appeared in Het Financieele Dagblad (the issue of 21st is distributed to subscribers on the 20th) reconciled me to this turn of events, providing some of the promised tranquility. The responses to Schwartzlist 276 convinced me that I put my finger on an important issue, which I will have to follow up. I have not yet decided how.

Time to think about it is in short supply at the moment. Sunday Loekie and I will be flying to Los Angeles, where on May 10th I will open a sales exhibition of Rembrandt etchings at Galerie Michael at 430 North Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills. We will be in Los Angeles for a week, from Sunday until the following Monday, the 14th.