Friday, December 25, 2015

All the good

..  they were still 
sixty-five kilometres 
from Périgeux, on a 
winding back-country 
road, and beginning to
get hungry. The land-
scape was gilded with
the evening light.

On their way to the
restaurant where Jer-
ry Richardson had told
them, he'd had the best
meal of his life, the
Ormsbys experienced a
flat tire, their 7th
in their drive from
Vézelay, in the lug-
gage-laden Renault.

The whole of William
Maxwell's story, of
the Ormsbys' journey
to duplicate those
impressions of another
palate, is digestible
in a matter of minutes,
and can be counted on
to remain with one for
years. He writes so
delicately of mislay-
ing what to keep, it
would be improper to
say what to taste for.

I received a message
yesterday from an an-
cient friend, asking
how to send me some-
thing. I told him he
just had.

Christmas, everyone.

William Maxwell
Early Novels
  and Stories
  The Pilgrimage
    The New Yorker
    August 22, 1953
The Library of America, 2008©

Photo Laurent

Thursday, December 24, 2015

It could happen

A gallant and generous 
blogger from the Péri-
gord, La Pouyette, has 
framed a Christmas post
from the perspective of 
the handsomest way of an-
ticipating its arrival. 

Apart from Heraclitus' 
perfect perch, of a 4-
posterful of infant sib-
lings, a Christmas story  
works best in manifesting 
its miracle, in a vacancy 
rather than in an author-
ity of prophesy. I think, 
"Who knew," is its pitch, 
and that only untrumpeted, 
is its interlineation in 
the incidents of everyday 
life, a possibility. 

Prophesy didn't cause it, 
couldn't define it, can't 
help it. Now, there's pow-
wer without force.

I expect to be wrong, but
I still can be glad.

Joonas Paraviainen
Kathmandu, 2012

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

If Paris is worth a Mass

could one spare
one's pants for
a Mouton?

She'd met the French Rothschilds because 
Jacob Rothschild, of the English Roths-
childs, was the son of Barbara Hutchinson 
by her first marriage and Maro's mother 
knew her; and Jacob had introduced Maro to 
his cousin Beatrice, when she had gone to 
Paris to study. One day, Wolfgang Reinhardt 
came for drinks at the Rothschild house on 
the Avenue Marigny. Wolfie was a film pro-
ducer, said Maro. Her mother had had an af-
fair with him when John Huston was shooting 
his movie on Freud [with Montgomery Clift, 
need I say; Ed.]. 

When Wolfgang appeared, 
Beatrice told Maro that unfortunately she 
couldn't stay for lunch, because she was 
wearing trousers. Her parents always in-
sisted that women wear skirts at meals. 
Wolfgang told Maro: come with me and I'll 
give you lunch with Sartre instead.

Matthew Spender
A House in St John's Wood
  In Search of my Parents
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015©

Michelangelo Antonioni
Monica Vitti
Alain Delon

Evan Harman

Wishbone in Baccarat
Photo Laurent

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Christmas Cracker

Readers who are not disarmed
already by this year's Christ-
mas Cracker from the Mayfair
bookshop, Heywood Hill, are
welcomed to revisit previous
seasons of its writer's wis-
dom, here. The post is bound
to reach us all eventually,
with mirth of 5th Form rib-
aldry, from the perspective
of a very well-traveled ton-
gue in cheek. His Sicily, A
Short History was our runner-
up as book of the year, and
would have won, if the men-
aces commingled in its sub-
title held a candle to the
winner's merry tribe. Alas, 
mere gangsterism is not e-
nough in times of high re-
ligious dudgeon, to Cruz 
our barren dungeon as a lad-
der day saint, which is not 
the same thing (in any way)
as Gérard's rehearsal for a 
redeeming ladder day upon 
the earth. Somebody's always 
campaigning above his rank.

Each day I hesitate to
turn the key in my post
office box, in hope of
my Cracker's arrival, is
a day precariously rele-
gated to my own imagina-
tion. Mine can only wan-
der in this season, to
Norwich's adopted Venice,
and we know why: for the
perfection of the perman-
often construed as peril.

Expecting my Cracker, I'd
cite another traveler on
this necessary principle,
with an eye for simile we
value so much in Norwich,
in whom a spree of mis-
chief always bares a sim-
ple offer of delight, un-
campaigned as an embrace.

Merry wishes, in all the
ways we truly wish them.

        The music subsides; its twin, however, has risen,
        you discover upon stepping outside - not signif-
        icantly, but enough for you to feel reimbursed for 
        the faded chorale. For water, too, is choral, in
        more ways than one. It is the same water that car-
        ried the Crusaders, the merchants, St Mark's rel-
        ics, Turks, every kind of cargo, military or plea-
        sure vessel; above all, it reflected everybody who
        ever lived, not to mention stayed, in this city,
        everybody who ever strolled or waded its streets
        in the way you do now.

        Small wonder that it looks muddy green in the day-
        time and pitch black at night, rivaling the firma-
        ment .. It really does look like musical sheets,
        frayed at the edges, constantly played, coming to
        you in tidal scores, in bars of canals with innum-
        erable obbligati of bridges, mullioned windows, or
        curved crownings of Coducci cathedrals, not to men-
        tion the violin necks of gondolas.

Joseph Brodsky
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1992©

John Julius Norwich
  (né Cooper)
  A Short History from the
  Ancient Greeks to Cosa Nostra
John Murray, 2015©

Monday, December 21, 2015

Hanky-panky in the book of the year

I realize, I am offering a
nomination too late to max
out its sale, but the book
of my year would not, in a
town with our pity, draw a
large audience, anyway. It
is Nick Stargardt's second
popular history of the war
in Europe, 1939-1945, from
the perspective of Germany
- a ringside seat, if ever
there were one.

For readers in this field,
The German War, adorned as
it is, by not one, but two
whole subtitles, makes for
necessary reading, even if
some will find it disturb-
ingly familiar.

Some years ago, in another
publishing house, our Nick
brought forth Witnesses of
War, with no more than one
subtitle; but the book won
attention, deservedly. Af-
ter Rossellini (Year Zero
and Grass (Tin Drum), some
historian of childhood was
bound to write of Germany.
It was very well done, and
I'm a little surprised, to
have omitted mentioning it.

But who knew, that in this
new text, I would have the
chance to praise the first?

     I think we all understand, when a guy repeats himself in a long political campaign. We tolerate these regurgitations as the stump speech, the spiel that would simply be ungenerous not to be sure we were fed. We know the refrain in song, we know the prior work's return, in footnotes or selected quotations, on the same page or in an appendix. How often do we appreciate, in fact, the trail-blazing provenance in an anthology's list of prior publication, to say nothing of the convenience of corralling Trevor-Roper between two covers? What we sort of don't like to think we might undergo, is the word-for-word redumping of entire blocks of text, from the copyright of Knopf, 2005, to that of Basic Books in 2015, without so much as a wave of the referring hand, an admission in the introduction, an assertion of right on the title page.

     It isn't that we're finicky. But of course it's one thing, for a guy to steal from himself, and something else, to adduce the same tissue of words to represent a different investigation. Is there so little connection between the work of selection and statement of evidence for A, that selection and statement can be abandoned as a warfare accomplished for B, ever after? I don't suggest laziness in this, I wonder about the risk of critical lethargy; and I certainly don't care, that he holds an Oxford chair. Some of our neediest cases did the same.

     The thrust of the book for Knopf was the description of the diversity of suffering of children under the Nazis in Germany and in the East. The thrust of the book for Basic is how Germans, self-identified as subjects of the regime, conducted their lives and sustained their minds in that same period. The Germans were Germans in both books; but they were miles apart in identity, under these two distinct vantage points.

     What are the conditions of the evidence, swapped from this burner, when evolved on that burner, without the same predicate, the same seasoning, the same destiny? What on earth is the structure of discussion doing, playing musical chairs with suggestive fragments? The risk in fiction, we recognize as blinding; but is this because we distrust fiction? Or do we hold history in worse contempt? In both, something greater than narrative elegance is at stake. Interpretation and judgment travel very, very badly when they change trains without notice. That is not a politician's redundancy. That is diagnostic mayhem, in any thought involving words.

     And this is regrettable, because a book doesn't rise to this level of consideration without extraordinary felicities. Stargardt's hunger to understand shines through his haste to explain, and for me - guardedly, but decidedly - this instinct closes gaps that his own weaknesses might open. For readers in this field, no return to it can be undertaken with pleasure, but it can be rewarded. The reward in this extremely humane book rises to a par with literature which really is implicit in the conduct of history. We think it strange, to be exemplary despite contradiction. But it is not strange at all, if you were German, and this were 1942. And we are not strange. 

     We just have an alarming politics. To endure its infinitely fatuous assertions of common sense, its grotesque temptations to excess, its monstrously vulgar seductions to force, a little leavening in history's registry of experience is not amiss. This citation comes from page 210 of the book of the year. It had 360 more pages to go:

     The farmer's son confessed to his diary in order 'to
     keep a balance of my life, to consider what is right 
     and wrong and to keep perspective'. Fumbling in the
     cold to get the words down, Albert Joos concluded,
     'Very rarely are people subjected in their lives to
     such brutalisation [Verrohung] and forced to live in
     such primitive conditions .. the continual lying in
     wait for the enemy, in order to do him in at any op-
     portunity, that lets one become properly harsh [roh]'.
     Existential fear now turned Nazi propaganda about
     Jewish-Bolshevism, treacherous civilians and danger-
     ous partisans into common sense. However nagging the
     lingering scruples of individuals, who recognised 
     with distaste how 'hard', 'harsh', 'brutal' and
     'coarse' they had become, the collective self-trans-
     formation of the eastern front was complete.

Nicholas Stargardt
Professor of European
  History, Magdalen

Witnesses of War
  Children's Lives under
  the Nazis
  Cf., Klaus Seidel's story,
  pp. 229-231
Alfred A. Knopf, 2005©

The German War
  A Nation under Arms, 1939-1945
  Citizens and Soldiers
  Cf., Klaus Seidel's story
  pp. 366-368
Basic Books, 2015©