When you get to a certain age, which can vary according to the person’s temperament, you start to live more in the past than in the present, if only because you have more years of “past” behind you that you will likely have a “future” in front of you. Of course, being mostly a melancholic (see previous post about the temperaments), I tended even in my youth to focus more on the past than in the future (Pascal observed that humans rarely focus in the present, but either in the past or in the future).

But one thing that happens, I think to everyone, independently of their temperament, is the cementing of their musical taste, at least in what refers to pop music, and the preference for the music of the past, or more exactly of their youth.

For instance, nowadays I tend to listen mostly to classical music, but, if not, to rock/pop from the 60s, 70s and 80s. I know very little about, and have even less interest, in current pop music. The little I’ve heard of it seems awful, vulgar and stupid, but of course, I am not the target audience.

I hate rap and hip hop, which seems to be the most popular genre today, and I am not the greatest fan of electronic music either, with a few exceptions. Rock, for all practical purposes, seems to be basically dead. I mean, the era of the great rock bands finished in the 90s, really. If I think of the country where I grew up, Brazil, there were many great rock bands in the 80s and 90s (Legião Urbana, Ira!, Capital Inicial, Camisa de Vênus). A few of them, following the example of the geriatric Rolling Stones, are still active, but there are basically no new rock bands that are very popular. Most of what is popular are variants of synth pop or hip hop, usually extremely vulgar (i.e. what’s called “funk” in Rio).

Of course, even if there were great rock bands today, I probably wouldn’t listen to them, since Youtube and similar services basically allow anyone to find any song that they used to listen in their youth.

One of those songs, which I listened recently for the first time after decades, was a song by the Brazilian band Camisa de Vênus (which is a poetic name for condom – “Venus’s shirt” – but of course I didn’t know that when I was 13 and the song came out). It was popular in the 80s, and had a chorus like this: “Lena veja o que o tempo faz / com as pessoas que não querem perder o gás”, which could be translated literally as “Lena, see what time does / to those who don’t want to lose their gas”, but meaning really people who don’t want to lose their youth, but end up looking like pathetic middle-agers pretending to be still young and thinking that the things they enjoy and know are still cool, etc.

I don’t think I had this problem, because I wasn’t cool even when I was young… Nor did I care to, very much. Youth is fickle and superficial. Nelson Rodrigues, a famous Brazilian journalist and writer, once was asked what was the best advice he could give to the young, and he said: “Get old .” And that’s what they all did.

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The photographs below (the photographs of photographs) were taken at a shop window in Altenburg, Germany, a few weeks ago. I don’t now what’s the context of the pictures, but I found interesting the juxtaposition of the images of the group of ladies dressed all the same way with aprons (workers in a factory?) with the vintage erotic photograph. The pictures seem to be from the beginning of the 20th century and of course all those people are long dead now.

It was said that certain primitive tribes of the Pacific didn’t like their photographs taken because they believed that “photographs can capture your soul”. Maybe they were right about that… There is something eery about mirror-like images that freeze your aspect in time and can last even beyond your earthly life. But of course, in those initial times of photography (early 20th century), taking a picture was a special event, you didn’t take one every day or every hour to post online as we do now. But what to think of the thousands of images that each of us now will leave for posterity, or at least to the limbo of the digital realm in the “Cloud”…?

I am writing a longer article for publication elsewhere about the “four temperaments”, but for now, this brief introduction will have to do.

The classic theory, coming from the Greeks, was that there were four basic personal temperaments: choleric, sanguine, melancholic and phlegmatic. They were related to the “four humors”: blood, yellow bile, black bile, phlegm.

While the biological aspect of the four humours has lost relevancy, I don’t think that the “four temperaments” did. In fact, recent personality theories are pretty much in agreement with the basic division, except that they are more complicated and call them something else (INTP, INJP, etc), or “The Big Five” personality types.

I don’t know, the old system seems much more intuitive. Also, four makes numerically and symbolically more sense than five or other larger numbers — and it makes it much easier to organize them in a square matrix, such as this one.

The Sanguine personality type is described primarily as being highly talkative, enthusiastic, active, social, and a bit superficial. Quick and shallow excitability – they always look for something new and keep changing their point of view).

The Choleric tend to be more extroverted, independent, decisive, goal-oriented, and ambitious, but also violent, vengeful, and short-tempered. Quick, but long-lasting excitability. They react rapidly and with energy to stimulus.

The Melancholic are introverted, analytical and detail-oriented. Deep thinkers and feelers, creative, but also reserved, indecisive, fearful and often anxious. Slow and deep excitability. They don’t react immediately, but impressions last long and can mark them deeply.

The Phlegmatic individuals tend to be relaxed, peaceful, quiet, and easy-going; they like mostly to eat and sleep and are not anxious at all, but also not so extroverted or filled with lofty ideals. Slow and shallow excitability. They forget things easily and don’t get worked up by most stuff.

A good and more detailed description of each type can be found here. For those too lazy or too phlegmatic to look into it, Wikipedia has the basic info.

According to the classification, I would obviously be a melancholic (although the system allows for a combination of types, so I could have elements of others, too). Melancholics are associated with autumn, with the Earth element, with the color blue (or black), with cold and dry qualities, with introversion and emotional instability, and with “black bile” (the bodily humor). Tendency to insomnia, dark dreams, pessimism, rheumatism. Also generally thin — body type is ectomorph. (More about the health aspects here).

It doesn’t seem to be possible to change your temperament, although you can train or educate yourself to reduce its most negative aspects.

I will shortly publish a longer article about all this, probably in our own magazine that is coming up.

Still thinking about languages and their differences, I was recently reminded that, while English is a Germanic language, and this is reflected in its structure, about 60% of its vocabulary has Latin origin, mostly through French. So that’s why it feels (to me) much more familiar than, say, German or Norwegian, and why I have learned English relatively easily, while I still struggle to pronounce a coherent sentence in German.

This is likely also the reason — together with its relatively easy grammar, and of course its economic importance — for its success and global spread. It is like a bridge between Romance and Germanic languages, or Southern and Northern Europe.

That double source from its words is also what gives it a lot of variety, and why it has become one of the greatest literary languages, rivalling only with French and perhaps Italian. French and Italian sound perhaps more melodious, but English has some other qualities that make it more versatile.

I talked about Jorge Luis Borges before, and Borges was, not only a great fan of the current English language (he once said he learned it before Spanish), but also a student of Old English or Anglo-Saxon, which is much more clearly Germanic than current English, before the influence of Norman (i.e. French) – and therefore, much harder.

A few days ago (August 24th) marked 121 years since the birth of Jorge Luis Borges. I am currently researching a bit about his life, as one of my future projects would be to write a new book about Argentinean literature.

Of course, a lot has been written about Borges, and I’ve read a lot of it. My father is a great fan of Borges and we had all his books at home, plus many other books about him.

And yet, there are always some new things that you can discover about someone, especially in the case of a writer of such importance. One of the things I didn’t know so much about was the period of his youth and the several literary projects during his early 20s, which included a mural magazine called Prisma.

I am also rereading quite a lot of his work. Not only the short stories, but also some essays (although of course, for Borges there is not always a difference between both).

It is always better to read him in Spanish, if you can understand the language, but if not, there are quite a few translations to choose from. Which one is the best? It’s difficult to say. I prefer the earliest ones, but here there’s a more detailed article describing some of the differences in each version, as well as a discussion of Borges’ work with Norman Di Giovanni, the only translator with whom he directly collaborated.

Here there’s one of his last interviews, the day of his 85th birthday, still in Argentina (he would die less than two years later, in Geneva). He seems pretty cheerful.