Saturday, December 27, 2014

Has the rage for washing gone too far?

We all awoke to happy news of our 
dear Yale, a university near water, 
in Connecticut. Sterling Library has 
been scrubbed spanky clean, which cuts 
down considerably on the lighting bill, 
as you can see; but there were those 
who wondered if the glare were very 
wholesome, or especially conducive to 
reading. That said, The Times illus-
trated the triumph of the bucket bri-
gade with a portrait of undergraduates, 
browsing in laptops in the eaves. Even 
happilier, this was free money anyway.

Somberer, however, is the
heart that greets Martin
Filler's latest alarm -
so fresh, from our losing
battle for Park Avenue -
of the scrubbings gone
amok at Chartres. And, yes, I do mean that Chartres, not in Connec-ticut at all, whose dis-covery we attribute to a Harvard man. Now a cabal of that college is dis-covered, veritably bleaching the place, rectitude again drowning faith in its own cradle. 

Now we don't think unclean, a rev-
erence that's enhanced by manifes-
tations of permanence. An artist,
a generation, is entitled to an
idea, but not to its immunity. To
repair is one thing. To eliminate
centuries of dialogue and its con-
text from our experience of such
things, is a cremation of their
extant life. This seems arrogant.

Just sayin'. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

My jacket for winter

     and how I like to
     hang my shirt out 
     in the wind 

Tom Wells

Thinking outside the Arsenal

When was it, last year, the
year before? I was standing
in front of the Arsenal in
Venice, looking at your sta-
tue. You nearly always stand
slightly turned away in your
statues, looking to one side,
as though you wish to avoid 
a conversation.. That after-
noon I had read something a-
bout the divine in a book a-
bout Plato, about how the
Greeks, in moments of terrify-
ing catastrophe or delirious
joy, those moments when every-
thing about our lives becomes
dazzlingly visible in a light
of almost unbearable intensity,
would have an experience of the
divine.. Some gods are still
feared and worshipped, others
languish in books and museums..
they can still rely on their
beauty, but no longer on their
power. Where did the problem be-
gin for you Olympians? With Soc-
rates, who, by constantly think-
ing aloud, began the process of
removing magic from the world,
even though he believed in the
immortality of the soul? 

Or was it earlier, with Xeno-
phanes, who accused Hesiod and
Homer of having given the gods
all manner of negative human 
habits - adultery, jealousy, 
deceit ..? Did you ever devote
any attention to such thoughts?

Of course, that means my writing
to you is a paradox, because the
letter assumes you still exist,
but please allow me my questions..

 Cees Nooteboom
 Laura Watkinson
 Letters to Poseidon
   Letter xx [fragment]
 Maclehose Press, 2014©

Thursday, December 25, 2014


  of swells.

  Astound me
  with some-
  thing obvi-


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

My stocking stuffer

  Ethernet des-
  ert boots and
  languid laces.

  Lawrence, eat
  yr heart out.


Frederik Ruegger
Banana / Paris

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Season for stories

I've been asked to be a
book reviewer, and I've
been asked to be a book
writer, but I've never
been asked to be a book
seller. By all means it
calls for the highest
refinement of our more
admirable capacities,
and I think the tenden-
cy to test this postu-
late is at its most in-
tense in Advent because
of our heightened sen-
sitivity to the seduc-
tiveness of stories. To
gauge their comparative
power and appraise their
taste in means, for spe-
cific thirsting strangers 
is a gift, situating lit-
erature where it belongs,
and weaves a gratitude no
sommelier or tailor can a-
spire to. Now this Christ-
mas my bookseller reveal-
ed the reason for this to
me with stunning panache:
a tolerable progression
toward one's bethlehem of
knowing is the measure of
our pleasure. I demur from
any revelation's blazing
terminus, but I greatly
enjoy the journey, and its 
offer of becoming closer.

On the telephone with him
the other day, admitting
one was shopping only for
oneself, I requested four
or five diverse attrac-
tions from the shop's sea-
sonal list, balancing ex-
perience with a writer or
a subject with an assess-
ment of probabilities for
a "tolerable progression,"
interlaced with frames of
gastronomy and similar ar-

I then allowed, this would
all be fine with me, but
that I hadn't yet asked if
he thought I might be over-
looking something I should

Ah, yes. Well, he's an in-
teresting figure, Scott
Moncrieff, and there is a
fine study of him now -- .

And then, well, of course
he sounds a little familiar,
but in a way he isn't: Homer.

Gorging myself on chunks now 
of both recommendations, I'm
refreshed by pure generosity.
Here the character of lyric-
ism, itself, is approached
with a physical persistence,
revealed as a moral function.
I think if E.M. Forster had
been weaned from Cambridge,
he might have made a jour-
neyman bookseller. Possibly
this is what he's trying in
A Passage to India and How-
ard's End. He's asserting, 
with diffidence; he's meter-
ing out his invention to se-
cure a taste for it, not a 
habit. But the bookseller 
knows something that nobody
ever suspected of Forster, 
who never cared for teaching. 
He knows how I can be quieted.

Merry Christmas, in every-
one's own generous way.

Jean Findlay
Chasing Lost Time
  The Life of C.K. Scott Moncrieff
  Soldier, Spy and Translator
Chatto & Windus, 2014©

Adam Nicolson
The Mighty Dead
  Why Homer Matters
William Collins, 2014©

Monday, December 22, 2014

Glad is the man in comfy pants

  Same ample cut, 
  same public signage,
  same housing estate,
  found in de Sica,

  Same virile cut,
  same public signage,
  same urban semaphore,
  found in Visconti,

  Stride in Rossellini.


We dined in the hotel courtyard under 
the plane trees. A small party .. very 
quiet, well-dressed .. arrived. One
of striking beauty, was dressed superb-
ly in a fawn-coloured suit of marvelous 
cut. Totally simple. It made everything 
you see in a Bond Street shop-window 
look like glittering vulgar trash.

Vittorio de Sica
Ladri di biciclette

Luchino Visconti
Rocco e i suoi fratelli

Roberto Rossellini
Viaggio in Italia

Sir Alec Guinness
My Name Escapes Me
  The Diary of a
  Retiring Actor
op. cit.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A loft of one's own

Cinque .. dieci .. venti .. trenta

I never wished for you to have to know about this, Martin. Now I sup-pose it can't be helped. You know that dreary way that da Ponte opens the first act of Figaro for Mozart, with a plodding low-life pacing off his nuptial garret? Well, the Met were broadcasting the matinée yes-terday and Gérard, heaven help us, caught it all, coming in from JFK. And as we speak, he's scouring Corcoran's listings for a loft in the garment district. Of course if there's anything seedier than a man who'll live above himself, it's one who goes the other way. And just when we spent all summer, persuading him to invest in Capri.

Now I wonder if I shouldn't blame myself in this, because I was the one who wanted to show him the view from Malaparte's. Well, you were there, you remember. All he could talk about was how japon-esque it was, to bring the window so low to the floor, and how with a frame like that, one could make one's own view. I tell you, mon cher, we've never given proper weight to his vulnerabiities. I fear he's taking Beaumarchais literally in that opera, and I must say, Martin, I love him but I ask myself, can he be helped?