Saturday, December 13, 2014

Creases in the tissue

  .. as you get to know Europe
  slowly, tasting the wines,
  cheeses and characters of the
  different countries you begin
  to realise .. the spirit of
  place. Just as one particular
  vineyard will always give you
  a special wine with discernible
  characteristics so a Spain an
  Italy, a Greece will always ..
  express itself through the hu-
  man being just as it does
  through its wild flowers.

 I don't believe the British
 character, for example, or
 the German has changed a jot
 since Tacitus first described
 it; and so long as people keep
 getting born Greek or French
 or Italian their culture produc-
 tions will bear the unmistakable
 signature of the place.
 Greece, for example, cannot have
 a single real Greek left after
 hundreds of years of war and re-
 settlement.. Yet if you want a bit
 of real live Aristophanes you only
 have to listen to the chaffering
 of the barrowmen and peddlers in
 the Athens Plaka. Even a reserved
 British resident will begin using
 his fingers in conversation..

Landscape and Character
The [Sunday] New York Times
June 12, 1960
Spirit of Place
 Letters and Essays on Travel
Alan G. Thomas, editor
Leete's Island Books
New Haven, Connecticut

Friday, December 12, 2014

The native taste

So many of them went out walking,
so many of them untentative. If a
cadence is native to the English,
is it the footfall, shedding boy-
hood, stamped by Fielding's Joseph 
Andrews, and rich tradition since,
which marks their alien vistas as
domestic nourishment, achieved? 

               My chief object in settling in Spain
               was to educate myself. Four years on
               the modern side of a public school 
               followed by four years spent in the
               war had left me very ignorant about
               many things that I wished to know. I
               had therefore shipped off to Almería
               a number of wooden cases packed with
               books that I had selected with care.

               This immense panorama gave its char-
               acter to the humble village that
               looked out on to it. It could never
               be escaped from and it dwarfed every-
               thing else. In summer when the sun was
               high it became a pulsating jangle of
               reds and yellows and magentas in which
               nothing that was hard could be distin-
               guished; then in the evening the shapes
               reaffirmed themselves while mauve and
               lilac tones gave a look almost of trans-
               parency to the mountains of the coastal
               range. In storms the scene became dram-
               atic with mists swirling by and great
               rainclouds piled overhead, while at
               night.. the stars glittered as fierce-
               ly as they do in deserts.


Gerald Brenan
Personal Record
  1920 - 1972
Alfred A. Knopf, 1975©

Jack Adair-Bevan
Paûla Zarate
Matthew Pennington
Iain Pennington
The Ethicurean Cookbook
  Recipes, Foods and Spirituous
  Liquors, from our Bounteous
  Walled Garden in the Several
  Seasons of the Year
  [The Mendips, Somerset]
    Winter:  Beetroot Carpaccio
    with honeyed walnuts, mizuna,
    purslane, land cress, and flaky
    sea salt
Ebury Press
Random House, 2013©

i   Martin Conte
ii  Brenan at Yegen

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Escape from the helix

               My first letters about finding and mov-
               ing into my house were vivid, but then
               as I settled down to my hermit's exis-
               tence they became more tedious and pro-
               lix.. I only wrote well when something
               was happening that interested me.. I 
               became an articulate letter writer many
               years before I could compose a tolerable
               paragraph - I imagine because I found it
               easier to communicate what I felt to a
               person I wished to amuse and please than
               to compose something of an impersonal sort
               for a faceless public.

I was always divided in my loyalty
to 'Bloomsbury', considered as a
group. There could be no doubt a-
bout the high level of their in-
telligence, while their cult of
good conversation made them very
stimulating people to know. But I
thought that Maynard Keynes' de-scription of them as water spiders swimming gracefully on the surface of the stream contained a good deal of truth.. This attitude was illustrated for me by their opin-ion of Joyce's Ulysses.. They lived by good taste and I saw with regret that I was being carried along the same road and being obliged to live by it too.


  However anything I write
  on Hemingway must be mere
  speculation. I did not see
  him often enough to speak
  of him with any conviction.
  I will only add, he exuded
  vitality. One did not have
  to read his books to feel
  his greatness as a man.

Gerald Brenan
Personal Record
  1920 - 1972
Alfred A. Knopf, 1975©

Xavier Serrano

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Now, now, Class, we mustn't make fun


There are lights
in which none of
us is at our best.

   Stuart Hampshire observed that S.I.S.
   values information in proportion to
   its secrecy, not to its accuracy. They
   would attach more value, he said, to a
   scrap of third-rate and tendentious mis-
   information smuggled out of Sofia in the
   fly-buttons of a vagabond Rumanian pimp
   than to any intelligence deduced from a
   prudent reading of the foreign press.
   And of course he's quite right.

Hugh Trevor-Roper
Major, S.I.S.
Regius Professor, Oxford
Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge
Lord Dacre of Glanton
The Wartime Journals
April, 1943
op. cit.

Monday, December 8, 2014

What is your book of the year?

For me, it would have to
be an improbably good book,
to have anything to do with
a year just ending, a fash-
ion just emerging, a hagio-
graphy just congealing. A
just book is suspect, even
unto the next extinction.

I find the book of the year
a carrying forward, not by
principle but by genetics.
I didn't invent the criter-
ion, it came up from the
pages - and yes, they are
pages, not pixels, to be
sat beside and with, struck
by knowing it will not be

What is your book like this?

Some chapters ago, this week

  Straying from customary context,
  and leaping whole hedgerows of
  principled discernment in cock-
  tails, one could not miss that
  Amanda Hesser had included in
  her updated Claiborne the news-
  paper's recital of ingredients
  for the Vesper apéritif, named
  for the enchantress of Casino
  Royale, who introduces herself
  in the dining car of the VSOE
  wagon-lit with the demure con-
  fession, I'm the money. Never,
  since Eva Marie Saint correct-
  ed Cary Grant's introduction
  in North by Northwest, had any
  repast of the rails aroused 
  such a staggered, fiery thirst, 
  even among the plenteously in-
  fused patrons of an academic

I witnessed the screening 
of this film in the col-
lege down the road, in the
company of a paid-up sub-
scriber to its tuition, 4 
years after the newspaper 
published a cocktail Bond
ordered in Montenegro. Now,
I'm in no position to say,
that the gasp which swept
through the cineplex as 
Vesper identified herself, 
was for Her Majesty's Trea-
sury; readers will recog-
nize, rather, the bibulous 
responses we resort to, in 
deference to climate change,
indeed the lengths to which
we'll go, to keep its secret.

3 oz vodka
1 oz gin
1/4 oz Lillet
twist of lemon

Amanda Hesser
The Essential New York
  Times Cookbook
  Classic Recipes for a
  New Century
    The Vesper
William L. Hamilton
Shaken and Stirred
  East Meets West
December 15, 2007
The New York Times, 2010©

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Convulsive encores

There were moments, as I was wind-
ing up a Wodehouse this weekend, 
when I turned to Thorny in alarm
at my convulsions, to warn I might
not make it through the rapids of
hilarious currents that held me.

Our well-educated dread of the
ill-named holiday season has been
burnished this week by convulsion
left and right, as one of the or-
naments of American letters endured
a distasteful mutiny, a benchmark
blog announced it was fed up with
its mission, Republicans sallied
forth with tropical-tie repugnancy,
and rapists were heartened by lazy
reporting on their game. I didn't
list the justice system's exposure
on Staten Island because our soci-
ety's propagation of its crimes was
brilliantly reflected in a memoir by
Tom Ricks at The New Yorker. This
all comes in when the very question
of what a book is, and what it is
for, is plaguing our publications -
and this one - with annual demands
to be answered. It's not a test to
be shirked, and it won't be, here.
Yet there's a book we keep on writ-
ing that we still don't read.

              Inside the bunker, one of the grunts
              has been saying hideous things in his
              sleep, laughing a bad laugh and then
              going more silent than even deep sleep
              permits before starting it up again,
              and it is more terrible in there than
              any place I can even imagine. I got up
              then and went outside, any place at all
              was better than this, and stood in the 
              dark smoking a cigarette, watching the
              hills for a sign and hoping none would
              come because, shit, what could be re-
              vealed except more fear?

Salvador Dali
Portrait ..
St Petersburg

Michael Herr
  Khe Sanh 
Alfred A. Knopf, 1977©

P.G. Wodehouse
Heavy Weather
op. cit.