Saturday, January 18, 2020

Saturday commute clxxvii: Going once


I don't know what I may seem to
the world. But as to myself I
seem to have been only like a 
boy playing on the seashore and
diverting myself in now and then 
finding a smoother pebble or pret-
tier shell than ordinary, whilst 
the great ocean of truth lay all 
undiscovered before me.


David Brewster
Memoirs of the Life,
  Writings and Discoveries
  of Sir Isaac Newton
Cambridge University, 1855©

Friday, January 17, 2020

I find that I'm with Queen Victoria

 As hereditary an authority as
 one could summon to mind, on
 the dual risks of removal
 from office - for an oddity
 of the head, or for simply
 having one attached to one's
 neck - her perplexity with a
 system of popular government
 was incurable, especially in
 view of who'd determine that.

  These are trying moments,
  and it seems to me a
  defect in our much-famed
  constitution to have to
  part with an admirable
  government like Lord Sal-
  isbury's for no question
  of any importance, or any
  particular reason, merely
  on account of the number
  of votes.

 To whose predicament is Her
 Majesty's aperçu now more
 applicable, than those to
 whom the burden falls, of
 tidying up the government
 of the United States, from
 the top? Far from querying
 the prohibitive immensity
 of his popularity, the jan-
 itors need merely to act on
 the oddity or the existence
 of his head. All else is
 bound to fall into place,
 without all this unseemli-
 ness of constitutionality.

 No stranger to internation-
 al treachery in the miscon-
 duct of states, Her Majesty
 clarified entirely how to
 adjust to such interventions.

John Julius Norwich
More Christmas Crackers
  Citing Peter Vansittart
    In Memory of England
Viking, 1990©

Monday, January 13, 2020

Couldn't they maybe go somewhere else?

Once again, we're all old enough to
remember the late Mohammed Reza Pah-
lavi, Shah of Iran in the good old
days of CIA-bespoke hegemons around
the world. Enthrallingly rich, ag-
onizingly beautifully spoused, and
about as interested in whose money
he was taking as any upstart pro on
the PGA tour. People will say, the
legitimate second son of the Prince
of Wales conjures more the profile
of his regal late great-great-uncle,
Edward VIII for a few weeks, quitter
par excellence for the woman he en-
deared himself to, with promises
neither one of them wanted to keep.

But I think the feebleness which
hangs about his proposals now re-
calls much more the nuisance fac-
tor of the late Shah, than the
lamentable maladjustments to roy-
alty of which the present Duke
is so archly proud. We remember,
how anxiously a retired fixer of
all things diplomatic, Henry Kis-
singer, attempted to gain for the
deposed Shah, persona non grata
and security risk incarnate, per-
mission to enter the United States
on the compassionate excuse of our
having doctors, whose care he was
said to require. (Disclosure: my
father-in-law was one of them).

Allowing the deposed Shah
access to any of the facilities 
of the City of New York would not
only have held our greatest con-
centration of population hostage
to recriminations from the reform
government of the mullahs; no one
could get around the streets with
any predictability, much less di-
gest the evening news without an
immense amuse bouche of his day's
progress through the shops and
suites of highest expense. For
this is admittedly the agenda of
the impossibly coddled couple who
wishes to be financially indepen-
dent - and don't everybody howl
with laughter at once - scarfing
up endorsements worth quite a
lot more to them, than their be-
smirched Royal Warrant could ever
bear to a Tate cube of demerara.
(Search "Tate sugar The 39 Steps"
and their portraits already appear).

That said, even the most besotted
groupies of Edward VIII (a matin-
ée-idol prince if ever there were
one) never pretended that he might
endure being royal while dressed,
and a free-range industrialist and
tastemaker while in Nike mufti
What this modernist desires is
much more beholden to the example
of the late Shah, or Virginia Hill
in Bugsy -- whatever he wants,
whenever he wants it -- and, like
his late mother, to spend the rest
of his time urging everyone to
mock the fount of his prestige. 

Didn't Aesop do a fable on this?

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Whose pendulum is this, anyway?

As if one were some President of
the United States, it can be aw-
fully challenging to respect the
spectrum of incentives for aging
when protracted infancy beckons.

Now that all 20 of our centuries
have thrust us into our 20's, it
heartened me no end to find this
comparatively recent report from
the frontiers of great age, in a
note to the Editor of The Times,
London, from November 11, 2002 -

   As you grow old, you lose interest
   in sex, your friends drift away,
   your children often ignore you.
   There are many other advantages
   of course, but these would seem
   to me to be the outstanding ones.

Oh, "Give me antiquity or give me shame," must have been the vow that won the popular vote in the Continental Congress, losing only to that favoritism to the slave states which saw "Liberty or Death" carry the day in the Electoral College. Fortunately no choice so ironic has survived into the present era, not that anyone has had the temerity to propose retiring the slogan. It's telling, though, that sex and offspring remain the rage in the unpopular states, which doesn't mean they still insist on slavery, only that by their practices in family matters, one can't be so sure.

Matty Carrington
  swing player

Mr Richard Needham

John Julius Norwich
The Ultimate Christmas
Julian Fellowes
John Murray, 2019©

Friday, January 3, 2020

Suppose it were Friday clxxii: The night they invented champagne

The phrase comes from an obscure
Broadway musical from an equally
unremarked century, the previous 
one. But we take heart, the wine
is still recognized, even as the
turtleneck and the pea coat have
vanished, with much more finali-
ty than the male waistline. Hope
for a song extolling long pants,
then, if you favor your moorings
in the present era. Now the pro-
fession of basketball is the on-
ly serious threat to the reputa-
tion of champagne, but while its
pants do keep getting longer, it
asks too much to expect to see a 
break concealing an endorsement.

But LVMH, who produce more cham-
page than anyone else, also cer-
tainly hawk shoes as well, so we
must soon see our czars of cham-
pagne consumption sipping from a
shoe with the same logotype. Dom
Pérignon sneakers are inevitable.

How providently, then, we subdue
the past. Back when we had Gigi,
the aromatics of a gym shoe were
thought to signify a wine fault.
How elegantly our status symbols
ascend from the soles of virtue. 

Mathias Lauridsen
  Cerruti 1881

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Origins of Wednesday cvii: Motivated to meet

A new acquaintance is seldom undertaken
entirely on one's own terms. Those that
are, can still remain interesting, when
of one's point of view. I have been en-
joying screwball comedies from the '30s
and '40s again, which acknowledge anar-
chy less as a structuring principle and
more as a consequence of its resistance.

I could have been reading Euripides in-
stead, whose Bacchae is really not fun-
ny, but which acknowledges this paradox
pretty vividly. But now I have lost the
certainty of reach which depends upon a
life with one's books in an established
if quaintly disorderly location, having
moved house in the last quarter of 2019.

This inflicts a loss of fluency in con-
nectedness among influences on the mind
which I wouldn't wish on anyone. I deny
that it is refreshing, because connect-
edness comes first, propinquity second,
except if anarchy encounters resistance.

This glimpse of things was brought home
a learnèd mentor's stupefaction, that I
proposed to consider water for its link
between the cinema of Jean Vigo and the
movie, If.., by Lindsay Anderson, where
there isn't any. No, there is gymnastic
exercise, though, whose incidence marks
connectedness with mesmerising fluidity.

The screwball comedy exhibits instabil-
ity as the price of a compulsory order-
liness about as well as if dull reform,
itself, had kept my translations of the
Bacchae all in one place, instead of in
the general terrain of each translator.
A more desolate outlook for the mind is
no pleasure for me to imagine. Give one
the connectedness of dark with light, a
sense of procession without fences, but
of genial collaboration, such as we ex-
perience in Henry Miller's intuition to
travel to Greece by way of the Dordogne
to Marseille - a passage ordered freely
by expectancy, astonishment, and nature.

So I packed my valise and took the train for Rocamadour where I arrived early one morning about sun up, the moon still gleaming brightly. It was a stroke of genius on my part to make the tour of the Dordogne region before plunging into the bright and hoary world of Greece. Just to glimpse the black, mysterious river at Dômme from the beautiful bluff at the edge of the town is something to be grateful for all one's life. To me this river, this country, belong to the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. It is not French, not Austrian, not European even: it is the country of enchantment which the poets have staked out . .

Henry Miller
The Colossus of Maroussi
New Directions, 1941©

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The name one has

             So that I could mark it, the continuance of
             quality could in some way be that, the time
             of accord. For us, as beneath the falling water
                      we draw breath,
                      look at the sky.
             Talking to the man hitching a lift back
             from the hospital, I was incautious in sympathy:
             will she be back soon I was wishing to
             encourage his will to suppose. I can hardly
             expect her back he said and the water
             fell again, there was this sheet, as the time
                      lag yawned, and quality
                      became the name you have,
             like some anthem to the absent forces of nature.
             Ethnic loyalty, breathe as you like we in fact
             draw it out differently, our breath is gas
             in the mind. That awful image of choking.

The present American government has
challenged the latent ecumenicism in
every honest and inquiring heart, to
recoil into denial of both qualities.
At this, it is said to have succeed-
ed; but how hollowly, how transitor-
ily does that intimidating edict a-
chieve our hearing, given the dial-
ect of the voices which give this
verdict. It is not of the languages
of our continent -- French, Swahili,
Sioux, Spanish, Dutch, German, Gael-
ic, Italian -- but of our illiterate
merchants of obliteration as revenge.

We do not risk choking on the breath
of our descent, but on its aliena-
tion from others who would comprise 

J.H. Prynne
The White Stones
  Concerning Quality, Again
  first verse
New York Review Books, 2016©

Carlo Scarpa

Ivan Terestchenko
  Beach fire