Saturday, January 28, 2012

A string is a string in Maupassant, perhaps ..

You know they're checking us out, of course.

Ew, gawd, Milton. When do they not?

Yes, well, Gérard. I was rather hoping you could sort of peel off in about 20 yards or so?



    A surprising violence in the sky
    inspired me to my first public act
    nubile and pretentious but growing pure

    as the whitecaps are the wind's
    but a surface agitation of the waters
    means a rampart on the ocean floor is falling

    And will soon be open to the tender
    governing tides of a reigning will
    while alterable noon assumes its virtue

Frank O'Hara
The Collected Poems
  of Frank O'Hara
  It seems far away and gentle now
Donald Allen, editor
op. cit.

Friday, January 27, 2012

With the usual advertisements of Friday now pouring in

We feel even less urgency than predicted in the previous posting, to leap to any conclusions about how to commemorate the day. As in all such matters, we ask ourself, What would Philip do? Might it not be fun, after all, to improvise a windowless bungalow, to welcome the late arrival - a Stella, possibly, in the bagno?

The great number who refresh themselves here do not care for play in the verses of the Augustan giants. 

The question, posed jestingly above, is pertinent. The same man, this Philip, has moved from the play of planning his estate to the strenuously earned dynamic of en-joying it. Now, impeccably creased and Sea Island-cottoned and Pateked as he may be, he's just going to take a solitary fling in his garden with his Herald Tribune and let a weekend come up about himself. He does not have the project to amuse. He does not awaken to recommend, he awakens to enjoy and (I doubt very much if he ever used the word about himself) to think. A man would like to use his space to do that.

Suppose it were Friday liii: I think I would let it come to me

While many a merry tale, and many a song,
Clear'd the rough road, we wish'd the rough road long,
The rough road then returning in a round,
Mock'd our impatient steps, for all was fairy ground.

The foregoing simple, ironic
verse, is offered by Johnson in
discussing Pope's challenging
dictum in the Essay on Criticism,
"the sound should seem an echo 
to the sense." It's a parody of
a verse from Pope's translation
of the Odyssey, which Johnson
wrote to propose this easier 
hypothesis, Motion may be in 
some sort exemplified; and yet 
it may be suspected that in such 
resemblances the mind often gov-
erns the ear, and the sounds are 
estimated by their meaning.

Johnson's poetical arguments
suit these opening two images
very well, I think. They are,
we could say, up to each other.
That will leave us with Pope,
in an example of his own proof,
which Johnson is good enough
to give us, with his blessing.

   With many a weary step, and many a groan,
   Up the high hill he heaves a huge round stone; 
   The huge round stone, resulting with a bound, 
   Thunders impetuous down, and smokes along the ground.

What animates this laid-back, somewhat contrarian view of Friday, and strikes me as well substantiated by both of these verses, is not a sense that it is to be wasted, but a sense that it is not, and can be. This impression I owe entirely to two photographs I'm not going to reproduce, which Valéry Lorenzo currently posts of the same seaside roadway in early morning. In the first, a couple of distant figures are discernible in the fog. In the second, they are appreciably closer, and joined by a bicyclist and a dog, scaring a seagull. They constitute very impressive evidence for a style of his, of letting the picture come to him. 

Anyone who is advanced enough in life for Friday to seem to matter, is certainly as equipped as M Lorenzo is to make photographs, to make sense of it with patience. Reasonable steps can be taken, and one of them prudently is, to keep a watchful eye for it. But one doesn't want to lose flexibility with it, as Sisyphus did with his pet rock; and one doesn't want to rush it so hard as to miss it, even busily. Again, we find the 18th C judging the tempo for such things quite knowingly. Now that I see it's proposed, I'm not above con-ceding that a nice bath could lay an amiable predicate. It's worth a try, I think, to let Friday come to us for a change.

Samuel Johnson
The Complete English Poems
J.D. Fleeman, editor
Yale University Press, 1982©

Samuel Johnson
Lives of the English Poets
  A Selection
John Wain, editor
J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1975©

Alexander Pope
Odyssey [Homer] 
  XI, 735-738
Cited in both, supra

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Quiet foot



Sent down from Oxford 
part-way through his 
second year, Quennell 
thought to accept the 
Sitwells' invitation 
to Amalfi. His father 
had heard good reports 
of the brothers' hard-
working lives.

The Sitwells loved Amalfi, and no doubt I should have enjoyed it myself had the winter skies occasionally cleared. But, alas, storm after storm pursued one another across the Gulf of Naples, blotting out the horizon and drenching the narrow ledge on which our hotel stood with incessant sheets of rain.

This very nice man went on to edit History Today, dine well, and write about every Englishman who wrote or made love before he did. I like him and I enjoy reading him still. His small study of Pope is a sweet book-end, alongside Edith Sitwell's.

But I was given him when I was rather young, so he is also a link to that time. I find myself anxiously hoping now, that he ever did wonder, what was the weather like, off the narrow ledge?

Peter Quennell
The Marble Foot
  An Autobiography, 1905-1938
Collins, 1976©

iii, vii  Carl Mydans

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I thought to warn my oculist ii: I'd entertain a scary story

In an entry for this past Monday morning, the question was raised, what are you reading, which had to do with the figures in the field but which I left open to readers' responses. I reckoned, without quotation marks in the heading, readers would sense the invitation. A couple of thousand people have now seen that question, and the returns of the steadfast are in. I owe it to one of them to have lent me the grit to pluck a small collection of Daphne du Maurier stories from a shelf here, and open one with the title, The Blue Lenses, an optical curiosity I had committed myself to addressing with Vermeer, in the adjacent entry of this date. 

I admit, I have never taken the necessary steps to enjoy being frightened by narratives, whether in literature or in cinema. I suppose these preparations include the hearing of ghost stories on childhood camping trips, but as these were always told by sympathetic mentors, the requisite loneliness was entirely absent. To this day, I am preferentially unable to see Mr Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), even though I could probably storyboard every frame of it for you. All put together, it gives me fear, a kind of handling I dislike.

Du Maurier's The Blue Lenses (1959) has the same sense as my posting, of the prospects for salutary optical intervention in this hue; but there, traumatic blindness is healed for an apparent revelation of the hideous and the absurd, with delicious literary credibility. A frightening world, in short, is bestial after all. Well, my dear reader. We have easier demagogues for that principle, and assuredly, if we could choose between our lit-erature and our politics, the ghost of Ms du Maurier would achieve unanimous ascent. But I am grateful to her; because Vermeer won Dickie Hakluyt with blue lenses, and hers are natural for other ponderers we know.

      Why do they try to take

      God from us, Hercule?

      Because they have to
      preach something one
      can't believe, Auguste.

Daphne du Maurier
Don't Look Now
New York Review Books, 2008©

I thought to warn my oculist, I am to see Vermeer

Mind you, he had been so good as to gauge my tolerance for the Aegean, that summer with Tassos, that I knew better than to hazard my gaze at the Fitzwilliam this week on any old impromptu precautions. And so it was that he immediately demanded to know which of the canvases I expected to be studying, warning of subversive variation in that scale we rudely engross as blue. Yet I put it to him, why shouldn't I simply be fitted with as many spectacles as it might take, given the broad range on view and the variable state of their preservation? And so we compromised on a bifocal distribution of filtering, given that I was ill-prepared to prescribe for myself on the spot. 

Leonard, who has been drawing my bath since we lost Gielgud, agreed to test these lenses with me in a variety of salts, to acclimate me to the shock of the canvases. I think I can say, the glasses elicited an unwintry warmth in my servant that I'd not have considered authentically Dutch. The master's yellow, however, was well served. 

I thought it best to subject Leonard to a brief immersion, as a test of these impressions, because one couldn't be driven up to Cambridge with the consequence of being able to see only the Vermeers. And what should I find, but my own reflection in this experiment, superimposed upon the now neutralised if still translucent flux in which he lay. I wondered how often I could depend upon this quaintly mythological vision - if, for example, the renowned reflective surfaces in Her Majesty's Vermeer might, upon my study, show only me? Whence it is plain I must borrow Leonard for the day, to bring a torch along, and stay on the line with my oculist in case I should get lost in my inspections.

I'm emphatically cautioned against this, on the grounds that Leonard basically hasn't left the bath in some time now, except when I require it; and none of us really does know, how he'll take to drying off. But I dare say, he'll understand it's a great deal more expedient to have a dry manservant at the Fitzwilliam, than having to explain a wet one. We'll pack a flask of lemon spirits.

ii, iv  Mikel Marton photography

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

We are not here to discuss the chromaticism of Scarlatti ii

the gorgeous Tapp

.. but of course, we might. Barragán's brilliant pastel fountain wall, rough of texture, warm in any light, loofahs us with tonic vividness. His architecture of emotion brushes us awake, expansiveness corresponding with a bravery in its blaze, intersections with its promise.

    to name is to colour.

    And the intrusion, 
    the allusion of the 
    name dissolves as a
    presence: here to-


Luis Barragán
Folke Egerström House
  and Stables
Mexico, D.F., 1966-68

Sunday, January 22, 2012

When Whit and I went out last night, we heard a crackling sound

     We quickly heard the crack-
     ling sound of snowfall on 
     our coats,  but as we looked, 
     and looked again, we could 
     see nothing dancing off our 
     sleeves, or settling on the 
     ground. The constant shower
     of cracks persisted, but no-
     thing fell, even as we did
     feel it; and as we looked
     about, we could see every
     branch encased in ice, ach-
     ing in their sudden casts,
     all but snapping in their
     helplessness. You can hear
     a tree in pain, and feel it
     as innocuous little blows.

Inevitably, Whit, who enjoys crouching in the shelter of a branch at various times, plunging his inquires where they carry him, simply sheared one off in passing under-neath. It couldn't be helped, but he withdrew from his little fortress as if it were still there, deferring to its memory, it seemed - but probably to his own, of how he got there. He is the gentlest of beings; we all are. But there is ice at times, isn't there?