Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saturday commute xiv

  Doing the reading, 

  is to be in the same
  place on the same   
  slope, acquainted
  with difference.

Quarry studies
Jürgen Bergbauer
  via Lionel André

Friday, January 28, 2011

A lamp for Friday

What should I regret? I won't let you depreciate yourself - make yourself out not good enough for the best. Oh, I know how it happened! But now you shall never think of it again. No; I will not let you. That's the only way you could make me regret

I am going to stay. But on my own terms. I will be bound to you, but you shall not be bound to me.

You doubt me! No; stay. Only give me the chance to show you how different I am from what you think - how different you are, too.

Fine, one's own word for, "yar." Fine people pass through our hands, our hearts, and come back to us on Fridays in two plain, impartial ways: as exemplars of what may be found again, as exemplars of what must be found again. For we live. Our kind, our people, our life has its literature; yet earnestly we resemble every other kind, in two impartial ways: in finding strength in it, and in striving to defy it. But our literature is different from everyone else's in one phenomenal way: it was everyone else's, first. We were in it before they said we were not; we are in it in their own disuse of it. We will stay; and they will come to it to know themselves, and find us there, the same as ever.

William Dean Howells
Indian Summer
New York Review Books, 2004©

L'amour de moy
France, 15th C
Alice Parker & Robert Shaw, arr.
San Francisco Chanticleer
Teldec Classics International, 1997©

An untraceable correspondent wrote in with sadly running nostrils

We had our remedial hands full last evening, with the discovery that Whit was off his feed with a squirrel-y tummy (we do not use the term lightly, here), and that at this page, someone had been saddened to learn there were guys, discussed. I give you the rarity of these distempers as proof of a comparatively sound nutritional program, on the whole; but whereas even in distress, Whitty has gorgeous, big black eyes, our interlocutor had brooded mainly on how to inflict one. A naughty venue for trifling with complaints, this is, considering its ample scale of deficiency.

That was Gstaad, by the way, back there, in case an objection is lodged for relevancy. Think, ample scale, and it should help. But we cite the Tiger Run for its aspect of play, the page's raison d'être in tribute to the archetype it habitually discusses. Here, verbatim, is the indictment:

I imagine there would be quite an uproar if a heterosexual male [sic] were to place gratuitous pictures of women alongside ambiguous, circular, and often merely lovely words strung together without a singular [sic] well thought out message. Would it be viewed as poetry? As art? I wonder.

We are looking upon the semblance of a consciousness aggrieved, feeling unbefriended, by assertions the page has never uttered. We know the reflex well; it's the sound of what the clinicians refer to as homo---ual panic, and is rehearsed from quarterdecks to playing grounds with sniffings of bourgeois indignation. To our left, the plaintiff pleads so evocatively that it's a wonder, he resorts to words. But it isn't for this page's larksome mode that we would rally readers to his aid: it's to recall the tiresome prevalence of the placement of gratuitous pictures of women alongside unthinking messages, that we urge his friends to haul him to the corner grocery.

In fellowship - for who among us, has not felt the sociable tug of bigotry, or sought the shield of hauteur? - we offer him a head, if not the one he came for. Readers must be consoled to know there is at least one perspective on this gratuitous construction which does his noble work. Let the sniffles of his seizure find subsidence in the sword, the descent he must prefer in such treach-erous terrain. He should linger awhile, averting his gaze from this bit of spoof-ery on tummy or that tacky attachment of incendiary entrapment. You never know: a tourist may fumble, Medusa may grumble - they're only in the way. The guy is here to stay. 

Paschalis, 2009

Unbefriended, undated
Dale Johnson via Lionel André

Perseus, Loggia dei lanzi
Cellini, ca 1550

A natural for clavicles

From 1823 through 1832, Johann Peter Eckermann often dined with Goethe, 43 years his senior. Many of us have been there. On February 17th, 1831, he brought with him a manuscript he had just finished editing of the poet's from 1807, littered with aperçus "as hasty remarks of the day." Conscious of the prospect of being wrong in what he might say, but fearless, Goethe's manner was never to repudiate in later years a remark he might no longer agree with, and was consistent in giving every age its autonomous due. We know this because he dined with Eckermann. On that evening, Eckermann says he told him this:

People always fancy, that we must become old to be-come wise; but, in truth, as years advance, it is hard to keep ourselves as wise as we were. Man be-comes, indeed, in the different stages of his life, a different being; but he cannot say he is a better one, and in cer-tain matters he is as likely to be right in his twentieth year..

I have just received a package from Santorini. In addition to a letter it contains a bottle of the island's storied signature wine, Assyrtiko, the great treasure of this volcanic Cycladic terroir. Uniquely, the vine is cultiv-ated in a basket weave, as if clawing its nourishment from the barren, windswept slope, hastening ripening.

An Assyrtiko is meant to be drunk young, but this one is designated a Reserve and has evidently been en-dowed with barrel aging. Banish any thought of residual sugar: it con-fesses to an almost New World 15 percent ABV. These qualities elevate its already impetuously acidic sea-food demands to swordfish stratos-pheres, and a cuttlefish paella would not be off the mark. Whisk up your most unctuous aioli, and don't stint on the tapenade for the crostini. 

Racy enough for Eckermann, ironic enough for Goethe. Sender, we should have them to dinner.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Peter Eckermann
Conversations with Eckermann
Margaret Fuller, translation
John Oxenford, editor
North Point Press, 1984©

Paros tiller, Paschalis

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Oracles, Second Opinions, and The Separation of Powers

Visitors have been blogging rather better below the fold of late, than original postings have probably warranted, and who could not be grateful. David Toms started this, as no one should be arrested for antic-ipating. This gainful balance is the touchstone of our format's superiority over tumblr's and others, which eschew this fertile interaction - never forgetting, there are those who like it that way, and for them an unremarked flow of stimuli may take its place as a stream of consciousness few mortals have ever mastered. At the same time, the versatility of our format is a bestowal of powers not to be invoked lightly, but to be arrayed in rapport of light as well as mass.

The practice of balance puts one in mind of the conservative genius of The Federalist, in striving for a proportionate separation of powers in a well-ordered state. Only today, our lyricist of the Cyclades ran off a series of Polaroid snaps for us, of which more than one evokes this principle with such illuminating pectoral precision that it would be indecent not to circulate his argument. The same practice is so indispensable to the vitality and longevity of any good wine, that the senses speak of it long before the mathematics are appreciated. Who can mind to play the part of one integer in an equation which is sound?

Alexander Hamilton,
  James Madison, John Jay
The Federalist, 1788, 1802, 1819
Jacob E. Cooke, editor
World Publishing, 1961©

Franz Josef Haydn
Trio in F, Menuetto
Beaux Arts Trio
Philips Classics, 1970-79©

ii  Lasse Pedersen
iii Harry Goodwins

Annals of surveillance i

For all the fuss engendered, by daily reports of identity theft on a rapine scale, the gathering efficiencies of surveillance probably owe less to chic new search engines than to the extin-guishment of our dissimilarities. Whenever these happy circumstances are discovered and their origins, marvel-lingly sought, the path of spiritual conformity and intellectual obliter-ation is less likely to lead to the Cotton Mathers of the AM dial than to the spiralling oligopolism of Hobbes, whose hounds were unleashed under Mr Reagan, never to let go of our ankles again. Where, in the 1930s, it required 4 full-time employees of the WPA to spy on the entire watershed of the Shenandoah River, the eradication 
of small towns, native trades and characterful callings, in favour of the consumer's divine right to the shabbiest offshore manufactures at very little more than the indigenous price, has allowed internal espion-age to downsize payrolls by 75 percent, simply by concentrating commerce at the nearest Sleazemart. Artisans now sweep floors on the swing shift, without benefits worthy of a Bob Cratchit, and schools are sold for scrap as the brain drain from Dixie accelerates its flight from the menace it spawned. Mean-while, a spy's only recourse to the society of like minds is exhibition in the arid sidewalks of the web.
Bubbled Southern guyfeet respond to the intrusive new surveillance regime irrepressibly, even with unflagging elation, despite the enervation of their underlying myth. Much more than the glossy beast of equine affectation (Thackeray's impression of Virginia), buffed and burnished guyfeet like Phidippides' have carried the news of Dixie through more literature than we've seen from any other corner of the continent. Always vulnerable to replacement by the pick-up truck, Southern metatarsals have their work doubly cut out for them now, to coax narrative nuance from an aisle of Asian brooms at the box store 10 miles away. If it's there, they'll find it.

In a region where dissembling counts for half of every act, until the degree of a stranger's Yankee-ness is ascertained, the custom of seeming to place oneself under surveillance, by feigning exhibition, is well established. If one were to observe this conduct, say, on a boardwalk at Asbury Park, it would be unambiguously unseemly. But in Dixie it is only routine to run into a friend, playing the Prince of Denmark to investigate a new-comer. Moreover, the concentration of national espionage installations in the Old Dominion, alone, is less a residue of the late Occupation than a tribute to sportive curiosity. We see it in what's left of the schools, in every rural corridor. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern would understand.

Beyond doubt, the front porch remains Dixie's formative cradle and bulwark of surveillance practice. No idle play distracts the front porch sentry. Enter any leafy street below the Potomac, and you will find yourself under surveillance from rocking chairs to floorboards, the squint of xenophobia furrowing the placidest brows, like trenches in the Petersburg campaign. Where once their forebears may have waved Crosses as voodoo dolls, to hustle a Yankee on his way, any youth's dexterity with multi-tasking texting can alert a village without his missing a trick. Best not to stop for lemonade today.
But we stray, perhaps, to address techniques of surveillance at the expense of its latent Southern purpose: the sustenance of literature. The fine line separating that nourishment from gossip and its gathered mass, memoir, has never been more poignantly navigated than by our young friend from the delta garden.

Our Antaeus, to concede that his gift was never the same when lifted from his ground, is not to ignore that it was attuned superbly to it. There can't be a better insight into Capote than Cartier-Bresson's, or a more promising sign, than that his garden's still in use.  

Works Progress Administration
US Department of the Interior
  Shenandoah National Park

Henri Cartier-Bresson
  Truman Capote
Magnum, 1947©

Marshall Bartholomew
  & James Erb, arr.
San Francisco Chanticleer
Chanticleer Records, 1994©

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Facing Delos

Young men praise Tempe and praise the island of Delos,
The birthplace of Apollo, and praise Apollo's
  Shoulder that wears the quiver
  And the lyre his brother made.

What must come to anyone, to understand anything of Apollo, is the war one's own mind has waged to compel his choice between these im-plements. On behalf of the one side, we have suggested, lie the sure-fire schemes of seducing boys - selecting them with exquisite care for their suggestibility - and on the other are only the ar-guments of information and of civilisation. But we have proposed, from an impromptu class in dance in an art museum in the snow, to a tour of sailors' quarters in a Russian training ship, a question to resolve this tired antithesis:  Do you love them?  

Apollo guard us from the wretched plague,
From hunger and from war the cause of tears ..

Odes, I, 21
David Ferry, translation
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1997©

Jeremy Young

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A plush and zippy towel snap

The other day, I posted some Raeburns, biting my tongue a little as I discovered that a certain blogger who banishes red from his Christmas celebrations at home has only been exposed to the wrong hues. Portrait after portrait in Raeburn convinced me that a path lies open to his liberation, always assuming he can endure another. The blush of innocence is surely not too red for Darlington, I reasoned, and not so obvious as to feel like a capitulation; but then I hadn’t reckoned on the house’s mode of distributing that condition as a gift of gracious liberality.

If this “style” does not account for his blog’s intensely active following, I would count it vain in oneself to attribute it to discernment. I awoke this morning to find a note of warning that this page had been tapped for an SBA, at the very moment, indeed, when such a loan of disbelief had crossed one’s mind as a pretext for its continuance. 

The windfall of a nomination for “stylishness” by the blogger at Reggie Darling is just that, a sweet dispensation of encouragement coupled with a very guylike towel snap of chastisement. (I do hope, at this stage, that no reader will believe I condemn such venerable play). Ordinarily, such favours do not and should not befall our juniors. This blog is still not ready for compliments; it is not even ready for recognition by its own writer. But they might attract enough further benison of correction, to help it reach what it might be. Then, I hope it will help others to be offered one’s nomination for engaging readership.


A word about that latter prospect, which would not have come up but for the unflagging trust of this page’s self-sought godmother, who endorsed Reggie’s act at his blog. Knowing nothing of blogging, knowing nothing of its obligations, I happened in a cursory tour d’horison upon a blog called Little Augury

And, in one's way of never doubting anyone would love to hear from me, I wrote to the blogger to say, I thought she had put together a really nifty model. I remember, it was her discussion of a film based on Thackeray, which prompted this message. From that idle note then poured heartening and persuasive encouragement to precipitate a page of one’s own. 

Heaven help us, I often say to Whit, there’s someone who believes in us, so we’d better make this work.

What a way we have to go, Pa.

La febbre dell'oro

I have an etching of the Piazza di Campo dei Fiori from the 20s, a gift from Ambassador Kellogg of chilly Minneapolis to my maternal grandmother, on her second marriage. I'm very glad he didn't wait for her third, which never took place, because I like this little thing very much. At its center, a banner is inscribed with the title for this entry, a happy indication of the times. It's a pleasing augmentation of my sense of consanguinity with a woman I never met. As I study her dissolving germanic beauty in a desk-sized silver frame, engraved Dorothea by her mother who survived her, I feel a dialogue with sweetness and with humour in her pictures, and yes, a little bravery. I search for their descent.

A relief from many things, humour is assuredly the best defense against beauty, as anyone who listens to Mozart will tell you better than I. To urge laughter is to suppress it, to elicit its labial predicate is divine. One has to see this portrait as a field of flowers or it would seem to defy contemplation without a smile. It is almost pitiably floral in an incontestably vibrant, nearly lurid blaze; yet how it reeks of flashing glory in a readiness to play. This rude, unpresentable and garish garden is the oft-contested ground of Homer's Iliad, and invites the gaze to gauge what's here to save. To me, the screening of La Febbre dell'Oro in this piazza, like the Italian translation of the title, goes to the heart of the vulnerability in this image.

The Gold Rush is a snow flick - by definition, our ultimate snow flick. Where the drifts in which the spirit of these times would only sink so readily, and in the name of entertainment if that can be believed, Chaplin disports in the nearest available bed of fallibility. Winter's tracklessness is his screen for hilarity, the tramp's own constant flux. His snow will offer scale to his humanity. If one has the wit to read the Iliad as a poem both of love, and - as Simone Weil so brilliantly did - of force, these facets give a choice of how to live. How brilliant the difference, between our age of stentorian virtuosity, and the buoyant smile within the silver frame.

Snow torso

Lionel André, adaptation

Monday, January 24, 2011

Making sense of limestone

Wearing something 
for Dunhill.

Christian Plauche

Making use of winter

Does anyone forget his own puerile lamentations, so widely subscribed not long ago, on the suspension of Summer for a few alternative seasons? They don't wear well, and it's seemly for them to have been muffled by visual awe at the present interval, for which refreshment we naturally turn to Valéry Lorenzo or the places he goes. As we've seen repeatedly, he is a nimble but not a facile guide to gorgeousness of one kind or another, as a recent hike down his blogroll brought home to me this past weekend. Please welcome Lionel André to our "Context" and enrich your domestic discourse by sharing the discovery of his poetry and pictures.

Or, rather, as I may be the last to discover, André has given himself the distinction of a career as mountaineer's "accompanist" and traveler in southern France and northern Italy, while giving his publisher and galleries imagery and commentary of acute witness to paradox and to beauty. "La rapide," he writes of a stream he photographs extensively, "est une langue." He treats this roadway with that perception in reverse, as a receptor of utterances changing constantly.
There are worse seasonal afflictions than a tendency to remain indoors, and to devote oneself to the contemplative absorption of a companionable sensibility. For rather a long time, I've imagined this impulse to have been Franz Schubert's in much of the music of his that we love, quite apart from Die Winterreise. I recall the San Francisco Ballet's magnificent performances of Ashton's choreography for the Wanderer Fantasy, which as much as anything else hints at the dance's supremacy in the projection of music. Plainly, winter, in that very way of giving form to temperatures, is interpreted as well as observed as more than weight and stillness in his pictures.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"As long as you're up, bring me a sunset"

As a single man, I have spent a good deal of my time in noting down the infirmities of Married People, to console myself for those sup-erior pleasures, which they tell me I have lost by remaining as I am.
                                         Charles Lamb

I don't know that their conjugal liber-ation is going to be remembered as the worst thing about co-tenancies in the emerging era of equal protection. Such an anti-climactic concession works a mere fillip of unfairness, when the guilty perks of combination, per se, already oppress the single man in more intimate ways - the loss of soci-ety of not one but two amatory pros-pects; the overweening inflationary effects of the two-income garçonnier; the preferential absorption of every-thing requiring reservations; the wage-free availability of a sympathetic servant; the motivated drawer, indeed, of one's bath; the keeper of a spare wardrobe; the pourer of one's Sherry.

Only in blogging does the direst reach of conjugal inequality make itself known. You may thrash about in your moleskine, for any legible notation of your walk through the rain in Rome, only to suffer the eradicating effect of humidity -
unless, be it said, you have a side-Celt with a camera, to cover your embarrassment. 

Again, however, without even having to dwell on that handicap of bach-elorhood, which exposes an honest blog to disdain for its pictures, the discrepancy becomes even more invidious when the subject of the household trash is taken up, in blithe exemption from protest. At what point does one's gender so shear itself of fellow feeling, as to flout Mother Nature's own Anti-trust Division, on the fair competition of guyblogs? Mind you, one's own Context list is awash with Brahmins of the fair sex, but it's more than needling, for the unfair to pile on in this way. Even Nixon got credit for his spaniel.

And do you hear them, allowing more than a footnote of confession? It would be one thing, if there were so much as an ampersand in their titles, to warn of collective blogging; a cluster of avatars and a full-blown Almanach of profiles would scarcely go too far. Not even washing their hands of their exploitations, these blogs will regale us with their exploits with only the most radiant and rare of all imagery, thanks to their unsung photographers. It's hard enough, that there's an Ivan, a Claude, a Valéry out there to take a picture, fair and square. That there's a Celt, and a Boy Fenwick, would call for fury, if they were not so generous to our reading. They could move here!

by kind permission of ~

Boy Fenwick, i, iv, v
The Celt, ii, iii, vi

Charles Lamb
A Bachelor's Complaint
  of the Behaviour of Married People
Elia & The Last Essays of Elia
Jonathan Bate, editor
Oxford University Press, 1987©

Tenacity of landscape i

Eucalyptus farewell

In youth there are such frames for solitude that their true subject is how necessary, solitude is, and how defining they are. Timely, natural courtesies extend invigorating em-braces, without mediation of other faculties or, sometimes worse, of higher learning. In time, where leniency's unlimited, or learning can be worn as lightly as one likes - the prolongation of infancy - a perfectly spiffy sentimental imitation can be improvised. But with his tree a boy has a structur-ing domicile, more than a refuge, where nothing intercedes, where texture, scent, warmth, strength, and shade - generous, you say? - bestow his sense of the immaculate.
And of the authentic.

1st Bacchante:

Night - will it ever come
When what we know is done?
I seek release to a calm
Of green hills, white thighs
Flashing in the grass
The dew-soaked air kissing my throat ..

2nd Bacchante: 

But gently, as the dance of the young deer, swathed
In emerald meadow, when the terror of the hunt is past
The leap over knotted nets, the hunter's shrieks
Forgotten. Let the new order bring peace ..

Wole Soyinka
The Bacchae of Euripides
  A Communion Rite
Norton, 1974©

i another country