Saturday, August 28, 2010

"And we gazed upon the chimes of freedom, flashing"

Far between the finished sundown 
an' midnight's broken toll

We ducked inside the doorway, as
thunder went crashing

As majestic bells of bolts
struck shadows in the sounds

Seeming to be the chimes of freedom

  Flashing for the warriors
  whose strength is not to fight
  Flashing for the refugees
  on the unarmed road of flight

  And for each and every underdog
  soldier in the night

  And we gazed upon the chimes
  of freedom flashing

Through the city's melting furnace,
unexpectedly we watched

With faces hidden as the walls
were tightening

As the echo of the wedding bells
before the blowin' rain

Dissolved into the bells of the lightning

Tolling for the rebel, tolling for the rake
Tolling for the luckless, abandoned and forsake'

Tolling for the outcast burnin' constantly at stake

And we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail 
The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder 
That the clinging of the church bells blew far into the night 
Leaving only bells of lightning and its thunder

Striking for the gentle,
striking for the kind
Striking for the guardians and
protectors of the mind
And the poet and the painter
who lights up his rightful time

And we gazed upon the chimes
of freedom flashing

In the wild cathedral evening the rain unraveled tales
For the disrobed faceless forms of no position
Tolling for the tongues with no place to bring their thoughts
All down in taken for granted situations

Tolling for the searching ones
on their speechless seeking trail

For the lonesome hearted lovers
with too personal a tale

And for each unharmful, gentle soul
misplaced inside a jail

And we gazed upon the chimes
of freedom flashing

Starry-eyed and laughing,
as I recall when we were caught

Trapped by no track of hours
for they hang suspended

As we listened one last time
and we watched with one last look

Spellbound and swallowed
till the tolling ended . . 

And we gazed upon the chimes of freedom

Lyric, Bob Dylan and many good carilloneurs

Friday, August 27, 2010

A tower of tandem pursuit

Observation Tower River Mur, Austria

Approaching an entire month (can you stand it) of existence, a blog may lay aside pangs of guilt for weeks of play, to get one thing right for the sake of the children. Not, of course, one’s known readers. Rather, those inquiring, hypothetical relic-sifters of our stalwartly busy generation, mediating between themselves and context, their entitlement.

Naturally, on short notice one turns to another blog, where an announcement was lately made of a new edition of Scott Fitzgerald, which was met with a convivial conversation. Here, one title is reproduced for anyone’s enticement, who can accept metric emphasis on precisely the wrong term in both phrases, that least Fitzgeraldian of gestures. But the quality of the news in this case is that fine literature is restored in fine new editions, not that the Scribners ever let their writer or their reader down. 

To anyone attached to the relevance of metre in American prose, as in Hawthorne, Melville, or Capote, the emergence of Scott Fitzgerald did not come 90 years ago or last week, it came yesterday as an unstoppable current, it came today, and it will come tomorrow. Fitzgerald is to prose as the sommelier's insight is to wine: it doesn’t matter how it tastes, what matters is how it behaves. Fitzgerald is our master of metric currents and cross-currents, and The Beautiful and Damned (1922) is a triumph of that flux.

Famously a novel on the pursuit of fortune, precariously including love, the story is structured as two pursuits, Gloria’s and Anthony’s, in awkward juxtaposition. To Anthony’s is given Fitzgerald’s gaudiest laments, to Gloria’s his most austere, and their interplay in dialogue, internal monologue, and in separated sections of the text makes for a tower of extravagant risk on each side, and of course for great dramatic interest in its resolution. Repeatedly, Fitzgerald allows these pursuits to loose themselves under their own power. I’d wager there isn’t a child born within a hundred years of this text who will not remember Anthony’s rush to Gloria at the Astor ballroom, or hers to the rail bridge on a rainy night.

Now we are given the daring structure of this literary tour de force in a physical construction elsewhere, and the world of design has taken abundant notice. Several happier allusions can be drawn from this tower than its resemblance to a forceps, but if its recollection of good writing is unintended, it can’t be dismissed as undeserved. This is not one's Granny’s circular staircase; this is 2 staircases illuminating each other and not entirely without stimulating dissonance of pace and tendency at any given moment, yet plainly fated to seek reconciliation.

For the reader of The Beautiful and Damned it is as if almost every stanza of the staircases evokes one of the book's hottest passages of pursuit - one Anthony’s, the other Gloria’s. Nobody will be able to feel he has climbed these 27-some metres until he’s climbed to the top, both ways; and nothing could be more plain than the treasuring of each stanza of progression as a work in itself. There is F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is not about gossip of friends in the luggage trade, of hacking in Hollywood, of sanitorium, and early death, any more than this Observation Tower is about the cabbage in the lunch of its builders. This is writing for the young.

Shall we hear what they will hear?

First, Gloria in the rain, Book II, Chapter 2: Symposium


She shut her lips tightly to keep from screaming, and increased her gait. Before she had gone another hundred yards the woods disappeared, rolling back like a dark stocking from the leg of the road. Three minutes’ walk ahead of her, suspended in the now high and limitless air, she saw a thin interlacing of attenuated gleams and glitters, centred in a regular undulation on some one invisible point. Abruptly she knew where she would go. That was the great cascade of wires that rose high over the river, like the legs of a gigantic spider...

“Gloria! Gloria!” ...

The siren soared again, closer at hand, and then, with no anticipatory roar and clamor, a dark and sinuous body curved into view against the shadows far down the high-banked track, and with no sound but the rush of the cleft wind and the clocklike tick of the rails, moved toward the bridge - it was an electric train. Above the engine two vivid blurs of blue light formed incessantly a radiant crackling bar between them, which, like a spluttering flame in a lamp beside a corpse, lit for an instant the successive rows of trees... The light was tepid, the temperature of warm blood.... The clicking blended suddenly with itself in a rush of even sound, and then, elongating in sombre elasticity, the thing roared blindly by her and thundered onto the bridge, racing the lurid shaft of fire it cast into the solemn river alongside....

Silence crept down again over the wet country; the faint dripping resumed, and suddenly a great shower of drops tumbled upon Gloria.... She ran swiftly down a descending level to the bank and began climbing the iron stairway to the bridge, remembering that it was something she had always wanted to do...

There! This was better. She was at the top now and could see the lands about her as successive sweeps of open country, cold under the moon, coarsely patched and seamed with thin rows and heavy clumps of trees. To her right, half a mile down the river, which trailed away behind the light like the shiny, slimy path of a snail, winked the scattered lights of Marietta.... The oppression was lifted now -- the treetops below her were rocking the young starlight to a haunted doze. She stretched out her arms with a gesture of freedom. This was what she had wanted, to stand alone where it was high and cool.”


Now, Anthony in the maelstrom, Book III: A Matter of Civilization

“Where’s the Armistice Ball?”
“At the Astor.”

Anthony hung up sharply and rose. Who was Mr. Crawford? And who was it that was taking her to the ball? How long had this been going on? All these questions asked and answered themselves a dozen times, a dozen ways. His very proximity to her drove him half frantic.... Then he found something that made him stop suddenly and sit down on one of the twin beds, the corners of his mouth drooping as though he were about to weep. There in a corner of her drawer, tied with a frail blue ribbon, were all the letters and telegrams he had written her during the year past. He was suffused with happy and sentimental shame....

In the Astor lobby he was engulfed immediately in a crowd so thick as to make progress almost impossible. He asked the direction of the ballroom from half a dozen people before he could get a sober and intelligible answer. Eventually, after a last long wait, he checked his military overcoat in the hall.

It was only nine but the dance was in full blast. The panorama was incredible. Women, women everywhere - girls gay with wine singing shrilly above the clamor the dazzling confetti-covered throng; girls set off by the uniforms of a dozen nations; fat females collapsing with dignity upon the floor and retaining self-respect by shouting “Hurraw for the Allies!”; three women with white hair dancing hand in hand around a sailor, who revolved in a dizzying spin upon the floor, clasping to his heart an empty bottle of champagne.

Breathlessly Anthony scanned the dancers, scanned the muddled lines trailing in single file in and out among the tables, scanned the horn-blowing, kissing, coughing, laughing, drinking parties under the great full-bosomed flags which leaned in glowing color over the pageantry and sound.

Then he saw Gloria. She was sitting at a table for two directly across the room. Her dress was black, and above it her animated face, tinted with the most glamourous rose, made, he thought, a spot of poignant beauty on the room. His heart leaped as though to a new music. He jostled his way toward her and called her name just as the gray eyes looked up and found him. For that instant as their bodies met and melted, the world, the revel, the tumbling whimper of the music faded to an ecstatic monotone hushed as a song of bees.

“Oh, my Gloria!” he cried.

Her kiss was a cool rill flowing from her heart.

Tower Photographs: Abitare & Dezeen
Dust Jacket: The Diary of a Wandering Eye

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

π the paragon

For William Feay Shellman, Jr
Professor of Architecture
Princeton, 1941-1986

This peristyle - an array of the lower limbs, spontaneously formed, framed, and disassembled in dressing rooms ever since the dawn of sport - is not known to have served as the model for the Greek letter, “π,” but it is familiar enough to deserve some such designation, and ancient enough to embrace this one. Moreover, because the structure of this letter does confirm the disposition of the columns vis-à-vis each other, not only in framing an enclosure but in being capped with an entablature at right angles, there can be no doubt of the germaneness of the architectural term in defining this architectonic arrangement of admittedly volatile elements.

∏, this edifice is, then, for the sake of further reference. The structure is widely credited with many virtues, but the elegance of its own interval of existence - unforgettable as it plainly is - is likely not to be among those most often cited. This paradox stamps π as an epitome of that famous gesture of the unintended consequence, form follows function, in which the architect likes to be able to boast that the elevation of the Guggenheim (for example) is only the most plausible and innocuously logical imprint of the delirious absorption of art. Coulda fooled Frank Gehry, but there you are: who’s to doubt, that architecture implies some capacity, 
if not some act?

In π, however, capacity is simply a cascade quite longer than the proverbial arm. No doubt, the peristyle’s familiarity in commerce or society, as in the Agora, or in devotion or shelter as in an Attic temple or a Shinto gate, are brought to mind in its flickering past one’s gaze at any given moment. But it’s in the contemplations of the dressing room where the design is most prosaically explained. Even there, all of sport is circumscribed in its compass, all of motion except in air anticipated in its means. The manifest splendour of this enormously fluent and versatile structure, however, is magnified almost infinitely in the deformations to which it modestly yields in the enactment of these capacities.

It is not for nothing, as we turn to our left sometimes in preparing for sport, or to our right, that we remark how the contingencies to which we might respond have probably only begun to be perceived.  

Who can think we’ve more than begun to see our buildings, either.

Erechtheion, Caryatid Porch, Athens

Akira Kurosawa, Director and 
So Matsuyama, Art Director, Rashomon, 1950 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Iliad, Book IV: The Frontiers in Belgium

The infantryman with his bandolier recalls the last 4 days in Belgium, 96 years ago, No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. Still, great progress is made. The immutable enemy is prodigally laid waste, always on a scale of thrilling new efficiency. 

Instantaneous monstrosities of statuary, rhetoric, music, poetry compete to adore carrion that soothes inadequacy, exalting treachery.

He does not dine at Thiepval. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

A dialogue of need and nourishment

Victoria Thorne has published this extremely wonderful photograph in passing along advice on gracious compliments, which I disallow myself in public as suspiciously tinged with self-promotion - or worse, with the venial sin of soliciting. It seems to me that a blog can busy itself with only so much advice at one time, and we have chosen ours. But she did find this screaming masterwork and I did not, so that's that
One has been surprised by these fusiliers before, and can well sympathise with the torsion exhibited here, to say nothing of the confession stenciled so eloquently between the shoulderblades. On the placement of the hands, the solar plexus is our source. 

But this is a rare occasion of modesty, is it not; and I was rather hoping that anyone despairing of this space's intermittent allusions to guytummy, would get the word out that there is no such thing in this entire entry. No tendentious hammering on that tympanum of virtue, that escutcheon of discipline, that catapult of genius, that fulcrum of fluency, that funnel of fecundity, nor indeed that resort of empathy. On the contrary; we are safely restored to the resort of art at its most transparently beholden. Seldom have we encountered a genius who so implores us to look at him, his need projected as our nourishment, for all our curiosity about what he might have wrought.

But I stray. A blog on the matter of nourishment can scarcely not indulge a pause before this work. Is one alone in suffering a frisson of disillusion, though, in the manner and mode of attending to the soup course suggested here - never forgetting for a moment, that often the most eligible dining companion is discovered in just this concentration?

Now, you may say this is rank subject-changing, and you'd be right; but in that low association of ideas where we began, the shift is commensurate with the rapt attention of the viewer. At last the gaze can rest upon something having to do with nourishment, the unaccountable solace for which this vacant space has been exposed. So now you have met him, and his name is Whit.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

It has begun

For Tassos, estivating on Paros

Hatzidakis vineyards, Santorini

In the viticultural regions of the shorter growing seasons in the northern hemisphere, as in the Greek islands, the wine grape harvest has begun, while acids are at their vivid, structuring best and before sugars cost the fruit its character. There's a murmuring in the earth quite near to me, in earliest mornings and often now at night, to take the fruit in optimum coolness. This is obdurate work, this husbanding of vines, but now a sécateur relieves the frond of its weight, and fills the grateful hand with its gift.

Vigil of the Farmer ~ Collection Laurent
These are the days, the gathering, anxious weeks, to pick in proper coolness, which will infuse us with their time and place, and savour of the vigil of the vintner in the Georgics, this year and forever.  

Alcohol levels in these wines will be moderate, and radiantly food-friendly - that tautology of jargon that would contemplate a place with us for bellicose, unlucullan wines - but in exchange for brevity of finish and of life in bottle, our oysters will be lapped in proper vibrancy, salinity absolved of sting, and virgin oils requited in their glazings of our pasta. The fisherman at Santorini has his Assyrtiko, the bargeman on the Loire his Sancerre, the Venetian, Pinot Grigio, to place them in their care. 
It has begun.

One has to cite two translations of Virgil's poem, whose second book contains the narrative of the day. The 1st is David Ferry's for FS&G, one of the ornamental houses left standing today. Ferry's is not only persuasive and conspicuously scrupulous in metre, this printing contains the Latin text on the facing page, where everyone can resort for the refreshment of its music. Even if we've forgotten it all, the juxtaposition makes for a vigorously illuminating appreciation of this work - which is certainly the greatest book on viticulture ever written.
The other, depicted above, is Janet Lembke's: extremely beautiful, superlatively annotated, sweetly bound and something else - to thrill a partisan of Pope in a maxim published yesterday at Little Augury, Taste preserves. Her project was financed, and feels that way, by an undergraduate society, Scroll and Key, sometimes seen as aloof. Such are our aspirations of the vine, that ingratitude to youth would be an astounding paradox. This volume is a husbanding of civilisation in every sense. One is the last to make excuses for Yale, but there it is, a beneficence as pastoral as one found in Serse ~

Ombra mai fù
di vegetabile
cara ed amabile
soave più . .

Never was the shade
of any plant
more dear and lovable
or more sweet.

Monochrome Portrait of the Baron, Chouzy
Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1945