Saturday, December 7, 2013

Saturday commute xcvi: send in the gondolas

The two gondolas that the Venetian
senate had given Charles [II] the
year before were brought down [to 
Hampton Court] on 6 June, and the 
king and queen floated blithely on
the canal.

I fear, I illustrate with a handsomer
account of things than they were. It
is a defect of being one's own editor,
and almost epidemic in the era of ret-
inal screens. In fact, this was one of
the sorrier honeymoons since Oedipus
bedded his mother, but there's something
about a guy who can commission his gon-
dolas to be sent downriver, to soothe
a spouse's jealousy of his lover, which
seems symmetrically Saturday, somehow.

Beyond that, the rise of the English bar-
oque was a really cool time for another
aspect of its recurring pertinence: its
exuberant inequality portrayed a confid-
ence that nothing could seem expensive,
ever again. Why, only the other day, an
entertainer in our baseball industry was
placed under contract at the replacement
cost of the Plaza Hotel; and with that,
one can float pretty blithely on the canal.

Jenny Uglow
A Gambling Man
  Charles II's Restoration Game
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009©

Mathias Lauridsen for Lanvin and van Noten

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nikolaus Harnoncourt is having a birthday

From out of nowhere, my natural
domain, the local, rural Nation-
al Public Radio affiliate broad-
cast Haydn's 60th, Il Distratto,
in the performance by Concentus
Musicus Wien, under their found-
ing conductor; and mentioned by
the way, that this is his birth

It's a thrilling work, and it
is a ripping performance, dir-
ected by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
Decades of musical exultation,
amazement, learning and convic-
tion at his behest rebound in
a listener's mind, on hearing
this extravagantly cheeky, vir-
ile, and profane masterpiece,
smacking the pavement with its
cane. Music is having a birth-
day today, and all its myriad
mendicants are mobilised to
dance. Such a night for noise.

Rural electrification



George Packer
The Unwinding
  An Inner History
  of the New America
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2013©

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Light burden

Nelson Mandela

              This is the place where Jove
              Kindly permits the spring
              To last for a long time
                And kindly permits the winter
              To be as mild as can be.
                Septimius, Tarentum
              And the blessed hills around it,
                The countryside of my childhood,
              Summon you and me.

The Odes of Horace
  To Septimius
  ii, 6  [fragment]
David Ferry, translation
op. cit.

Listening at the Monteleone iii

In our family, as far
as we are concerned,
we were born and what
is myth.

    I have long been interested in those whom God has helped.
    It seems often to be the case,
    e.g. with saints or martyrs,
    that God helps them to far more suffering than they would have
    without God's help. But then you get

    someone like Lazarus, a man of no
    particular importance,
    on whom God bestows
    the ultimate benevolence, without explanation, then abandons
    him again to his nonentity.

V.S. Pritchett
A Cab at the Door
  A Memoir
Random House, 1968©

Anne Carson
Men in the Off Hours
  TV Men: Lazarus 
Random House, 2000©

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Entre deux guerres, a grander tour

An English youth, with little
more than time and his senses
on his hands, undertook a hike
in 1933, from Holland to the
Hellespont. This was before 
Laurie Lee famously walked 
out, and before Eric Blair
set out for Catalonia, never
for its capital to be forgot-
ten by the young; and Wystan 
Auden and Herr Issyvoo, with 
Spender scanning Aryans, de-
camped to the renascent Reich.

In 2013, the Balkan phase of
Patrick Leigh-Fermor's adven-
ture was published under the
astute guidance of his liter-
ary executors, themselves and
their families household words
in English letters and nobility.
Again the amazements of the
boy are what shine through,
and the natural trilogy of a
profoundly fertile inner trek
is no longer truncated. It is
neither hard nor easy to dis-
tinguish these writings - all
in the Aegean in which he un-
forgettably distinguished his
command and himself - from the
brilliant cultural icon he was
seen to be, in Greece and Eng-
land in the last 60 years of
his life. Not hard, not easy;
simply irresistible. This vol-
ume is rmbl's book of the year.

The writing is that bright, the
life is that elated to be lived.
You can tell a forager from the
flâneur by the cut of his jeans.
2013 gave us several urgently
notable or gorgeously recaptured
works, from the uncollected poems
of Frank O'Hara, to dialogues on
our living history, to squabbles
and simmering fiction, still be-
ing absorbed.

But, improbably, only one hung-
over kid in Bucharest at dawn,
nothing but his language to
preserve that sure awakening.
Is there any other choice?

The next fragment of memory - a morning beam falling across half-empty glasses and a disorder of [gramophone] records - filled me with a hollow feeling of distress and calamity; morning all over again.. But the light also rested on two spurred feet projecting from the end of a divan covered with peasant rugs that indicated a warrior taking his rest, then two crossed and gleaming black cylinders with small gold rosettes at the knee, tight dark blue breeches embroidered with foliating black galloons of braid, scarlet braces, a white shirt, and finally the sleeping and disheveled head of the young officer; and in another armchair, the crumpled frame of the French journalist. When the red-haired girl, who seemed to live there, emerged with coffee, it transpired that the hard exhibition-ist core had stayed the night, which made things a bit better. 

When Pierre, the young officer, returned from shaving, I watched him with some envy, slowly and painfully reassemble: struggling shakily with the hooks and eyes of the high astrakhan collar of his astrakhan-cuffed blue tunic, flattening the hussarish soutaches across the chest, arranging the fall of empty sleeves of the black and blue pelisse he slung on heavy cords across his left shoulder, and correcting the diagonal slant across his back.

He polished his beautifully cut boots with a cushion, and then peered in a looking-glass at the fragile, resplendent cornet reflected there and shuddered, 'Do you think', he asked sadly and slowly in English, 'that I look like an officer and a gentleman?' I said he did indeed. 'Let's hope so,' he murmured lugubriously. He was half Scottish; his mother, he told me, had been a Miss Douglas; rather surprisingly he had an Everyman copy of the Pickwick Papers in the pocket of his pelisse.

Patrick Leigh-Fermor
The Broken Road
  From the Iron Gates
  to Mount Athos
Artemis Cooper and
  Colin Thubron, editors
John Murray, 2013©

Laurie Lee
As I Walked Out
  One Midsummer Morning
André Deutsch, 1969©
Penguin, 1971©

George Orwell
Homage to Catalonia
Beacon Press, 1955©
Eleventh Printing, 1967©

Stephen Spender
World within World
Modern Library, 2001©

Monday, December 2, 2013


         The girl reaches out to
         take the boy's hand. Hello, 
         young man! she says. He is 
         your grandson?

         Not my grandson, not my son,
         but I am responsible for him.

I think there's an ethical ques-
tion inscribed there which looks
backward.. Is history about, as
Aristotle said, what Alcibiades
did and suffered? Or do sources
from the past merely provide raw
material which we turn to polit-
ical or intellectual ends?

J.M. Coetzee
The Childhood of Jesus
Viking, 2013©

Tony Judt
Timothy Snyder
Thinking the Twentieth Century
op. cit.

ii  Recession of the last funeral
     of a soldier of the Great War
    Wells Cathedral

Sunday, December 1, 2013

I suppose what one reads, relates to one's dreams

On holiday weekends, at the
least, I don't doubt, it is 
so. It's funny, though. One
may be willing to entertain
a Jackson Pollock - please,
don't be more hip, just now
-- and yet venture very lit-
tle from Austen, in the com-
mitment of literary senses.

Of all the channels of dif-
fusion of the self, poetry
is the most interminably re-
constituted. It doesn't dry,
as poets do, but waits.

   How marvelous to have done it and then left
   It in the lost property office of the loving mind,
   The secret whisper those who listen find.
   You show us all the way the great ones went,
   In silences becalmed, so well they knew
   That even to die is somehow to invent.

I want nothing more than to speak simply, to be granted that grace.
Because we've loaded even our song with so much more music that it's slowly sinking
and we've decorated our art so much that it's been eaten away by gold
and it's time to say our few words because tomorrow our soul sets sail.

Lawrence Durrell
Selected Poems
Peter Porter, editor
op. cit.

George Seferis
An Old Man on the River Bank
Edmund Keeley and
  Philip Sherrard, translation
The Greek Poets
  Homer to the Present
op. cit.