Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Origins of Wednesday lxiii: Our new deli

    A fantastic growth, it seemed to me,
    every time I looked at the New Delhi
    of Sir Edwin Lutyens, a style without
    ancestry, without posterity, an archi-
    tectural sport; and I compared it, ac-
    cording to my varying mood, now with
    the Pyramids of Egypt, now with the
    great statues of Easter Island, now
    with the megaliths of Avebury or Stone-
    henge. All the same, as my eye sought
    to comprehend that great pink and white
    symmetry of palaces and pagodas, foun-
    tains and obelisks, ornamented ponds
    and regal statues, I couldn't help
    thinking of those Roman magnificos of
    whom Gibbon wrote, who "were not a-
    fraid to show that they had the spir-
    it to conceive, and the wealth to ex-
    ecute the most grandiose designs."

If there is anything that heartens me, on this recurrence of Valentine's Day, it is the promise of the eventual triumph of
a cultivated point of view over a disturbed frame of mind -
two familiar antagonists in the films of Alfred Hitchcock,
and even in the fantasias roiling the American government - 
which we can find in the survivorship of Gibbon, to write 
about Rome at her most hideous, and in the letters and diar-
ies of a 20th Century successor of his, still perhaps too 
warmly controversial for his virtues to be obvious. They 
are more valued with every passing day of trashings of our
point of view by a disturbed frame of mind; but most uncom-
monly beautiful, is his confiding of waging this very con-
flict before one's eyes, in a virile genius for language.

What heartens me is how he lifts himself, not by denial of
what he witnesses, but by refusing it; a benchmark mind,
I am also amazed, by the refreshment in his every return.

         It isn't a mist, - for a mist is a delicious thing
         that creeps down English valleys in the night-time,
         leaving a cool trail of dew, - it's a stinking, pes-
         tiferous miasma that hangs over the city of Basra;
         and as I sat in its chromium-plated hotel, contem-
         plating it, I recognised that whatever disgrunted
         travellers have reported of it is true. Like Bah-
         rain, .. it smells of singed wet flannel; and the
         Euphrates seeps through it, generating dusty palm
         trees and mosquitoes. Was it really here that our
         civilization began? It seemed incredible; let us
         rather give the priority to Egypt, I said to my-
         self, and went in to dinner to escape these morbid
         reflections. And at the same time they issued forth
         from the bar, the European colonists of Basra, 
         mirthless men with paperish yellow faces. The damp
         heat had ironed out their souls, and like the lotus-
         eaters, having drunk the gin-and-bitters of Basra, 
         they wished only to live on there, among the mud-
         houses, and the festering waterways, and the Shatt-
         al-Arab Hotel, with its bed-bugs and its execrable
         local gin. 

         And yet how trivial are these outward things! For
         sitting on a stool at Basra, I learned from a casual
         fellow-passenger that he had once, in the west coun-
         try, bred a pack of basset hounds; and at once the
         miasma parted, the heat and the smell vanished away,
         the gin tasted exquisite, the paper-faced colonists
         sparkled with wit and culture, and the glorious hea-
         ven shown down on Basra, cradle of our civilization.


Hugh Trevor-Roper
The Wartime Journals
Richard Davenport-Hines
Spring, 1944
Literary Estate of Lord Dacre
  of Glanton©
I. B. Tauris, 2012

ii  Margo Davis
     Antigua ruins
     ca 1970

iv  Tassos Paschalis
      ca 2010

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