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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Romance Books, My Favorite Hot Parts

What is romance really, hah? Having got through another Valentine's week, we still have little idea how it came to represent romance, especially since the saint it is named for didn't have any head --clearly an ostentation of sentimentality. I am more inclined toward the Roman frolic it replaced, Lupercalia, which took place from February 13 through 15 and included the 14th --our modern Valentine's Day-- as a sort of recess reserved for apologizing to relatives and livestock and trying to stand up.

Plutarch described Lupercalia: "At this time many of the noble youths and magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter, striking those they meet with shaggy thongs." The apt pupil of the human pageant has no difficulty understanding the decline of this strenuous recreation and its replacement by "romance books" --a very popular genre in our less aerobic culture.

One of my favorite romance books is The Romance Of Modern Engineering, by Archibald Williams (also author of The Romance Of Modern Inventions, The Romance Of Petroleum, etc.). It was published in 1904 and contains interesting descriptions of the Panama Canal, Niagara Falls Power Co. and the Bermuda Floating Dock. But we cannot life-longly spend our noses in romance books, can we?

No. We must consider for ourselves what truly comprises the most Romantic technological and engineering milestones of all time. I would choose Velcro, gas-driven airplanes, two-sided paper and "even" numbers.

Velcro, although currently in wide use, was invented by the Romans specifically for early horse-drawn elevators. They needed something to keep the horses' hooves stuck to the vertical sides of elevator shafts. It allowed the horses enough traction and mobility to pull elevators up from floor to floor and back them down again.

Unfortunately, Romans failed to solve other modes of automatic ascension. Nothing short of propellers spun by internal combustion could lift the limitations of the horse-drawn airplane, which was confined to very low altitudes and velocities, but elevators are powered by Velcro-climbing horses to this day.

Romans wrote everything important on scrolls, or a single long strip, which they rolled up onto spools and corded on library shelves. If you check a scroll's table of contents, you'll find all subjects, chapters, everything listed on page one. That is because a scroll technically only has one page. It was not until the invention of two-sided paper that modern books appeared and tables of contents made any sense. Mathematicians were called in to decide what to call the back of page one. They suggested "two" and the even number was born.

Now if that isn't Romantic, I give up.




  1. I choose post it notes and gel pens...I do I do.

  2. You've presented a completely new take on romance and I learned things that I never knew. I'd much rather absorb information and wit from your blog than run through the city naked "for sport and laughter".

  3. You know the song by III Dog Night:

    I is the loneliest number
    That you'll ever do...
    II can be as bad as I,
    It's the loneliest number
    Since the number I...

  4. There's a lot of combustion in romance and if Einstein was right, then the reverse is true also. However, I'm all for laughing people running around naked and hitting people with furry thongs. Bring back Lupercalia!!

  5. Would the record player count? If so, that's what I choose :)

  6. You have one strange mind, my friend.

    As for most romantic engineering feats, I would have to pick the mirror, which in the days of early humans were sheets of slightly concave sandstone which cavemen filled with rain water, staring down at their own reflected image in order to groom themselves and apply makeup based on animal blood and dried feces to their faces.

    (The origin of Valentine's day, in fact, dates back to a prehistoric hunt festival in which tribes wore precisely this kind of makeup before herding primordial bison over the face of cliff.

    To this day, the backing on the modern glass mirror is a mixture of finely pulverized sandstone, of the same type used by prehistoric cavemen, but now mixed with dark resins to produced the reflective backing.

  7. Hmmm, the most romantic engineering feat? How about the lowly straw? There was a time the height of romance could be enjoyed by two enamored people sitting across a table from each other while sharing a milkshake or malted... with two straws in it. Lots of eye contact encouraged, mixed with talk as sweet as the drink. Plus, it was cheap. (Wait, I'm sorry... make that "inexpensive.")

  8. You're a funny man! "Elevators are powered by Velcro-climbing horses to this day" made me laugh out loud.

  9. But we cannot life-longly spend our noses in romance books, can we?

    But why can't we? ;P

    Hilarious! *looks up Modern Romance of Engineering book*

  10. Nothing like a good old fashion naked gauntlet. Ever read about the Indian gauntlets?


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