Friday, August 1, 2014

Who knew, our spooks were smokers?

  The ruin that constantly threat-
  ens them is all the blacker be-
  cause they only doubtfully 'be-
  long'. A duke who has served a 
  prison sentence is still a duke, 
  whereas a mere man about town,
  if once disgraced, ceases to be 
  'about town' for evermore.. 

  He can still commit successful bur-
  glaries, but there is no way back 
  into Paradise.

George Orwell
Decline of the
  English Murder and
  Other Essays
    Raffles and Miss Blandish
Penguin, 1965©

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mountains as they rise ii

"Immobility," the petrol-rationed
scholar wrote, "has its advantages,"
and they are not denied to any so-
cial isolation. "I have now read
The Paston Letters," he was able to
report to Berenson, between members
of a wealthy Norfolk family in the
English Renaissance.

No wonder the civilised Italian envoys from 'bourgeois-capitalist' cities like Venice found the English barbarians!
I was reminded of Morocco - the 
great caïds of the Atlas who built 
up, by ways very like those of our 
15th Century dukes, similar ephem-eral empires of patronage, vio-lence, and corruption .. Really it is to Morocco that our medievalists should go to study feudal life. But alas, they insist on reading only monkish words and build up a ridiculous never-never-land of Christian Unity: kings with folded hands and nuns demurely knitting, in shady cloister pent.

The gift for comparison, we admire as a legacy of learning, is as strained in our fact-denying cultures as the gift of comparison, we value as culture

Somehow the beauty of the one is upheld by the vitality of the other.
Then we have Venice.

Hugh Trevor-Roper
Fellow of Christ Church
Regius Professor of
  Modern History
Letters from Oxford
  to Bernard Berenson
  7 January 1957
Richard Davenport-Hines
op. cit.

Mountains as they rise

  Friends said, No, skip the Carven show.
  It's all about the street. What use is
  that to you?

  I remembered then, seeking Petrarca as
  a youngster, chasing rumors of torment
  to be ready for with words, and leaping
  headlong into his lap, exhausted, OK,
  slow down. He never does. I find I owe
  him, certain peaks:

  Perhaps I could become a stone somehow ..

  adamant, perhaps, or marble - white
  with fear - or else rock crystal that men
  At any rate, the weight I can barely stand

  to carry of my burden of desire
  would lift: I envy Atlas with his light
  load of the sky in Morocco's burning sand.

Sonnets and Shorter Poems
  rima sparse, 51
  ca 1350
David R. Slavitt
Harvard University Press, 2012©

Bram Valbracht
  Carven, 2014

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Lifeguard not on duty

     Possibly we've all seen the Russian
     people endure privation under author-
     itarians enough, not to join our pa-
     per of record in applauding another
     financial attack from the West, on
     another Russian government. But the
     exercise lays bare the futilities in
     retribution's gestures of this kind,
     in which satisfaction is based on
     harming the weakest, to destabilize
     the strongest. 

     This fantasy will not mature in fact,
     and we know it. With this in mind, it
     strikes one as especially disreput-
     able, of the Times to link - can you
     stand it - "the honor of France" to
     its breach of our favorite kind of
     contract, arms sales (and sales of
     naval hardware, at that). If anything
     is as predictable in Western diplom-
     acy as an ostentatious tease with the
     markets, it is this vulgar sort of
     reference to France, which has absorb-
     ed more blood of Western blunders in
     its soil than any land on earth, save
     Russia. That landscape can never re-
     claim its endowments of Nature.

     Another generation of spineless West-
     ern politicians, intimidated into fol-
     ly by the impulsive passions of a pub-
     lic 'roused by unctuous media, bears
     such little resemblance to our addic-
     tion to novelty that, I suppose, all
     that explains it is our forgetfulness.

Julien Benda
1867 - 1956
La Trahison des Clercs

The Editorial Board
Stronger Sanctions
  on Russia, at Last
July 29, 2014
The New York Times©

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The weight of the absolute world, of course, impinged

   Have you been stranded on Paros
   in the middle of an engraver's
   strike, when you had to get the
   place cards in time for a lunch
   on Lycabettus? Very likely, given
   how your rmbl shades give you a-
   way as the 4-year trouper that
   you are. But it's worse (let us
   console ourselves) for Gérard, 

   Later this afternoon, there will
   have been 4 years of this page,
   which ought to have been fair e-
   nough warning of diurnal unrest, 
   with ample time to join in.

   What has held you back? Pace one's
   own polemic of yesterday, the same
   compunction imperils the progress
   of one's own spirit, toward that
   commemoration in Durrell no media
   mariner can refuse. When he jests,

    At the post office I ran into the
    two French ladies. They had had a
    great shock, and they gobbled like
    turkeys as they told me about it.
    As usual they had been sending off
    clutches of post-cards to their
    friends and relations in France -
    they seemed to have no other occupa-
    tion or thought in mind. But peering
    through the grille after posting a
    batch they distinctly saw the clerk
    sweep the contents of the box into
    the lap of his overall and walk into
    the yard in order to throw all the
    mail on to a bonfire which was burn-
    ing merrily on the concrete, apparent-
    ly fed by all the correspondence of
    Taormina. They were aghast and shout-
    ed out to him - as a matter of fact
    they could hardly believe their eyes
    at first. They thought they had to do
    with a madman - but no, it was only a
    striker. He was burning mail as fast
    as it was posted. When they protested
    he said, "Niente Niente .. questo e
    tourismo .."

    To coax their absence with our memory ..


Lawrence Durrell
Sicilian Carousel
  [two fragments]
Viking, 1977©

Monday, July 28, 2014

Tweet us not into temptation

  David Carr at The New York Times has
  raised the subject of social media's
  influence in the dissemination of in-
  formation, and I naturally passed his
  column along to a member of the demo-
  graphic class likeliest to receive da-
  ta in that form, which is to say ine-
  luctably, of that kind. Carr's piece
  put one in mind of remarks David Rem-
  nick attributes to Harold Ross, the 
  most circumspect editor of the pre-
  vious century, on dispatching Flanner
  to Paris in the '40s. Paraphrasing, he
  said to her, I don't want to read what
  you think. I want what to be told what
  the French think.

  Mr Carr sounds almost as aware as Ross
  was, that the wholesale violation of
  this standard of reporting, which tweet-
  ing represents, is not an influence so
  much in the dissemination of news as an
  influence upon its content, at the most
  wanton risk, at best, of its misconstruc-
  tion. I wrote to my young friend, I am 
  Jeffersonian in my appreciation of every-
  one's right to the possession and use of
  information, but Madisonian in sifting it.
  I take to heart Sontag's warning, of the
  risk of diminishing the horrible, but I'm
  greatly more troubled by the certainty of
  suppressing the relevant. Tweeting around 
  editing is not in the interest of cogni-
  tion; it is not even interested in it.

  Tweeting embodies that grotesque defor-
  mity wrought in the Clinton Presidency,
  by victims' statements in the leveling of
  criminal justice. When humanity agreed to
  exchange the volatility of vengeance for
  predictable standards as the foundation of
  justice, it ceded the claims of private
  agony to the legislature to anticipate, 
  the jury to apportion, and the judge to
  administer. It is why we grade papers, why
  we have Mozart to relieve dulness, why we
  breed horses to run. There is little about
  democracy that learning can't ameliorate.
  But the taste for it is vulnerable, and
  always the victim of impulsive ploys.

  We discuss occasionally the horrors of un-
  representative, undisciplined government
  from the top. But demagoguery depends on a
  demos to endure it. I have argued before,
  that taste is a human right. But it is a
  human achievement, not an animal reflex.
  I want to know what the French think; and
  I know, I need them to do it.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The same thing troubled Hockney, as we saw

He lay back comfortably in the flickering light. An odd place. Odd people in Los Angeles. Wonderfully kind. Needing kindness too. The ragtag-and-bobtail, whatever did that really mean, of the human race packed together in an area of two hundred square miles facing the grey Pacific, why did I always think it would be blue? With their backs to a desert.


Dirk Bogarde
West of Sunset
Allen Lane, 1984
Penguin, 1984©

When marketing meant just, marketing, perhaps

  Of all the delightful discoveries
  in internet reading that I've made
  since offering this blog - some of
  which I mean to admire this week,
  marking yet another year of it - 
  Ivan Terestchenko's referral of 
  Mailhos has meant as much to me as
  Valéry Lorenzo's of Lionel André's.
  You will see them there, listed in
  this page's "Context," although I 
  don't think I've ever mentioned it
  to them. These two blogs capture a
  fellow's imagination with the hap-
  piest interplay of complementary
  values: the one, agrarian and his-
  toricist, and nourishingly domes-
  tic; the other, searchingly ad-
  venturous, and holistically phil-
  osophical. I only wish I didn't 
  have to leave them for my page. 
  Or, one could do more shopping?

Bumped into Dirk Bogarde in Fry's splendid vegetable shop in Cale Street. He was fingering oddly shaped tomatoes with a knowledgeable air. He rejected them and cast a dark eye over some frivolous greenery. He finally settled for a big, shiny yellow pepper. I was envious of his concentrated marketing skill.

The media seem to have gathered round the parish pump to discuss the challenge to the Prime Minister, and to speculate .. Not a word about Sarajevo.

Sir Alec Guinness
My Name Escapes Me
  The Diary of a Retiring Actor
  30 June 1995
Penguin, 1996©