Eternal Happiness

Here’s a guest posting that I hope adds a touch of levity to these last grey days of March:

IMG_0779Walking along the shore of Captiva Island the other day, who should I bump into but my old teacher Linnaeus Zandtdahler. In case the name escapes you, Zandtdahler happens to be the world’s leading shell taxonomist and a figure of such renown in his field that even though he has retired professionally marine museums still keep his number handy on their smart phones. When a shell previously unknown to the scientific community washes up on a beach in, say, Mexico or Australia or South Africa, you can bet that Doc Zandt will be called in to classify it and come up with a name.

     “Doc,” I said, looking down at the tiny white-haired figure stooped over in front of me, “Quamdiu!”
     “Quid est nomen tibi?”
     “Bennett, Doc. Nomen mihi est Bennett. I once took a course with you on shell identification.”
     The old gentleman peered up at me. “Bennett, eh? Sic, I remember you. Your Latin was pretty bad and you had no real eye when it came to telling one specimen from another.“
     “I’m sorry I turned out to be a disappointment.”
     “Noli curare, it was a long time ago. What’s that you’ve got there in your hand?”
     “Not much. Just a little Eupleura sulcidentata*. ”
     Zandtdahler squinted at my palm.
images     “Bennett,” he said, a note of sadness in his voice, “You really haven’t learned much about shells over the years, have you? That’s not the Eupleura sulcidentata, it’s a Calotrophon ostrearum**.”
     “Ignosce mihi,” I said.
     “Why are you still combing a Florida beach at your age?”
     “Well,” I said, “For a very long time I’ve been searching for the perfect shell to match a Latin name I’ve been carrying around with me all of my life. If I don’t find it here on Captiva, I’ll keep on looking elsewhere.”
     He eyed me warily. “What name could that possibly be?” 
     I hesitated for a moment, then I said: “Aeterna felicitas.”
     Zandtdahler sighed. “My boy, Seneca supposedly believed that, yes, ‘Diligentia magna etiam mediocri intelligentiae auxilium***.’ Do you take his meaning?”
     I bowed my head.
     “Feliciter!” said the great taxonomist as he headed away across the gray sands.
     * Sharp-rib drill.
   ** Mauve-mouth drill.
*** Diligence is a big help to someone of mediocre intelligence.

 — Courtesy of W. E. Bennett


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18 Responses to Eternal Happiness

  1. Bill Loeb says:

    I. too, sought “aeterna felicitas” on Captiva. So far, so good !

    Dined with some recent (last Mon.) escapees from the Berkshires the other night. Confirmed “our” rationale for being elsewhere !

    Best, S/ Cowboy Bill

  2. Leslie says:

    Bill, I think your search is noble and romantic! A delightful story. I’m looking forward to more from your colorful life.

  3. annette shear says:

    I don’t twitter but if you want to see a boy Luna and several girl Lunas – you’re welcome to come into the Butterfly exhibit at the Museum of Natural History..
    they are beautiful!
    on occasion we’ll have a “starry night” and usually Owls and monarchs and painted ladies etc etc

    let me know if you need tix

  4. Dear Bill,

    What a delightful and amusing story! My high school Latin was quite helpful. Hope you find the Eupleura.

    Aeterna felicitas, Margie

    • Liza says:

      Luckily, I was able to consult with a Classics scholar who’s our neighbor in New York. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Margie. Thanks, Bill.

  5. Susan Fisher says:

    Bill, My high school Latin teacher would have loved you. She thought Latin was a living language — she even told us to throw out our gum in Latin, and none of us would have dared to ask if they had gum way back then!

  6. judy buck says:

    I am deep into crazy right now, furrowed brows, deep sighs, the whole deal. Read W. Bennett and laughed like a fool. Thank you! I wonder if we could hear more from the heavily disguised W. Bennett?

  7. Max says:

    A lovely and funny story. I agree, more from the mysterious W. E.

  8. Emily Gyllenhaal says:

    Because I am of *** (mediocre intelligence) I have read and continue to read this story over for the meaning meanings and layers it holds. P.S. I had to come back after school for extra help in Latin. I would love to find eternal happiness closer to home…. Liza, please give this guest more opportunities on your blog!

  9. Bill Loeb says:

    Re Lindbergh: You keep coming up with these “connection” references !
    Here in Santa Fe I continue on my “history” binges. Latest is the discovery that Lindbergh (Chas., that is) landed his Spirit of St. Louis here in 1927. I suspicioned that his landing spot might have been somewhere on the “flatland” on the south side of town. (This is important to “us” because The Old Santa Fe Assoc. has a project to resurrect south side history for the benefit of “newcomers” moving into this growth area of the city. Active on this project is a couple from our Berkshire’s Monterey – Helen/Marty Weiss.) Inquiry of 5 “old-timers” as to the location of the rumored airstrip got us 5 different spots. So I took our inquiry to a city GIS expert. Turned out he’s an old Boston guy (aren’t all cowboys from “there”?). Came up with a 1935 aerial photo of the city – and there, lo and behold – is an airstrip, sure enough on the flatlands, now a light industry park. AND it ain’t where any of the old-timers said !
    More details when I return in mid-June via Cambridge (MIT Class reunion). Real consternation there as I signed up for the big row on the Charles. Final word was a reluctant OK, “but you’ll have to sign a medical release”. The story of my life these days. Signoff: Cowboy Bill

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