July 30th, 2010


Jack Butler Yeats, O’Connell Bridge.

Dublinesque by Philip Larkin:

Down stucco sidestreets,
Where light is pewter
And afternoon mist
Brings lights on in shops
Above race-guides and rosaries,
A funeral passes.

The hearse is ahead,
But after there follows
A troop of streetwalkers
In wide flowered hats,
Leg-of-mutton sleeves,
And ankle-length dresses.

There is an air of great friendliness,
As if they were honouring
One they were fond of;
Some caper a few steps,
Skirts held skilfully
(Someone claps time),

And of great sadness also.
As they wend away
A voice is heard singing
Of Kitty, or Katy,
As if the name meant once
All love, all beauty.

July 30th, 2010

David Teniers The Younger has tagged you in a photograph

This interior of a public house by Flemish artist David Teniers The Younger, reminds me of an amateur photographic snapshot, so candid and honest is the scene. The expressions are perfect. I especially like how the smoking man’s eyes evoke that now-familiar, rabbit-in-the-headlights image of someone looking directly into the camera lens, caught unawares; he seems all the more real for it and the picture all the more truthful.

The painting resides at the Brukenthal palace in Romania.

Click the image to expand.

July 29th, 2010

nationality, language, history and literary tradition in Ireland

Seamus Heaney on discovering a sort of birthright to the language of the Old English epic Beowulf:

Sprung from an Irish nationalist background and educated at a Northern Irish Catholic school, I had learned the Irish language and lived within a cultural and ideological frame that regarded it as the language that I should by rights have been speaking but I had been robbed of. I have also written, for example, about the thrill I experienced when I stumbled upon the word lachtar in my Irish-English dictionary, and found that this word, which my aunt had always used when speaking of a flock of chicks, was in fact an Irish language word, and more than that, an Irish word associated in particular with County Derry. Yet here it was surviving in my aunt’s English speech generations after her forebears and mine had ceased to speak Irish. For a long time, therefore, the little word was – to borrow a simile from Joyce – like a rapier point of consciousness pricking me with an awareness of language-loss and cultural dispossession, and tempting me into binary thinking about language. I tended to conceive of English and Irish as adversarial tongues, as either/or conditions rather than both/and, and this was an attitude that for a long time hampered the development of a more confident and creative way of dealing with the whole vexed question – the question, that is, of the relationship between nationality, language, history and literary tradition in Ireland.

Luckily, I glimpsed that possibility of release from this kind of cultural determination early on, in my first arts year at Queen’s University, Belfast, when we were lectured on the history of the English Language by Professor John Braidwood. Braidwood could not help informing us, for example, that the word ‘whiskey’ is the same word as the Irish and Scots Gaelic word uisce, meaning water, and that the River Usk in Britain is therefore to some extent the River Uisce (or Whiskey); and so in my mind the stream was suddenly turned into a kind of linguistic river of rivers issuing from a pristine Celto-British Land of Cockaigne, a riverrun of Finnegans Wakespeak pouring out of the cleft rock of some prepolitical, prelapsarian, urphilological Big Rock Candy Mountain – and all of this had a wonderfully sweetening effect upon me. The Irish/English duality, the Celtic/Saxon antithesis were momentarily collapsed and in the resulting etymological eddy a gleam of recognition flashed through the synapses and I glimpsed an elsewhere of potential that seemed at the time to be a somewhere being remembered. The place on the language map where the Usk and the uisce and the whiskey coincided was definitely a place where the spirit might find a loophole, an escape route from what John Montague has called ‘the partitioned intellect’, away into some unpartitioned linguistic country, a region where one’s language would not be simply a badge of ethnicity or a matter of cultural preference or an official imposition, but an entry into further language. And I eventually came upon one of these loopholes in Beowulf itself.

What happened was that I found in the glossary to C. L. Wrenn’s edition of the poem the Old English word meaning ‘to suffer’, the word þolian; and although at first it looked completely strange with its thorn symbol instead of the familiar th, I gradually realized that it was not strange at all, for it was the word that older and less educated people would have used in the country where I grew up. ‘They’ll just have to learn to thole,’ my aunt would say about some family who had suffered through an unforeseen bereavement. And now suddenly here was ‘thole’ in the official textual world, mediated through the apparatus of a scholarly edition, a little bleeper to remind me that my aunt’s language was not just a self-enclosed family possession but an historical heritage, one that involved the journey þolian had made north into Scotland and then across unto Ulster with the planters, and then across from the planters to the locals who had originally spoken Irish, and then farther across again when the Scots Irish emigrated to the American South in the eighteenth century. When I read in John Crowe Ransom the line, ‘Sweet ladies, long may ye bloom, and toughly I hope ye may thole’, my heart lifted again, the world widened, something was furthered. The far-flungness of the word, the phenomenological pleasure of finding it variously transformed by Ransom’s modernity and Beowulf’s venerability made me feel vaguely something for which again I only found the words years later. What I was experiencing as I kept meeting up with thole on its multi-cultural odyssey was the feeling that Osip Madelstam once defined as a ‘nostalgia for world culture’. And this was a nostalgia I didn’t even know I suffered until I experienced its fulfillment in this little epiphany. It was as if, on the analogy of baptism by desire, I had undergone something like illumination by philology. And even though I did not know it at the time, I had by then reached the point where I was ready to translate Beowulf. þolian had opened my right of way.

From the introduction to his translation of Beowulf. The rest of the introductory text is online at the publisher’s website.

July 28th, 2010

urban sketching

I went out and painted in the centre of Ghent today. At first it was uncomfortable — people swarming around you, cars, trams, bikes. Ok perhaps not swarming. Milling.

But once I got into it, I forgot where I was and what time it was, and enjoyed it a lot. Drawing urban scenes is completely different to drawing the natural forms of the countryside.

I was almost finished when I was approached by an old man who talked to me about painting. That was nice. He said he was thinking himself of sitting in that position but with a different subject. And he was politely complimentary about my picture. It was a nice exchange and I thought: that’s something that wouldn’t happen in the countryside.

The picture above is taken from a poor angle using my camera as I don’t have a scanner here. Maybe I can get a proper scan of the image at a printshop.

July 26th, 2010

Would you like the fish, or the fish?

And interesting question from an old article at The Straight Dope:

Why didn’t Eskimos get scurvy before citrus was introduced to their diet? They have a traditional diet of almost entirely meat and fish. Where did they get their vitamin C?

And the answer:

This calls to mind a question I’ve dealt with before: Why do the Eskimos (or Inuit, as those in Canada and Greenland generally prefer to be called) stay there? It turns out that the people of the north have a highly evolved physiology that makes them well suited to life in the arctic: a compact build that conserves warmth, a faster metabolism, optimally distributed body fat, and special modifications to the circulatory system. One marvels at the adaptability of the human organism, of course, but still one has to ask: Wouldn’t it have been easier just to move to San Diego?

Much of what we know about the Eskimo diet comes from the legendary arctic anthropologist and adventurer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who made several daredevil journeys through the region in the early 20th century. Stefansson noticed the same thing you did, that the traditional Eskimo diet consisted largely of meat and fish, with fruits, vegetables, and other carbohydrates–the usual source of vitamin C–accounting for as little as 2 percent of total calorie intake. Yet they didn’t get scurvy.

Stefansson argued that the native peoples of the arctic got their vitamin C from meat that was raw or minimally cooked–cooking, it seems, destroys the vitamin. (In fact, for a long time “Eskimo” was thought to be a derisive Native American term meaning “eater of raw flesh,” although this is now discounted.) Stefansson claimed the high incidence of scurvy among European explorers could be explained by their refusal to eat like the natives. He proved this to his own satisfaction by subsisting in good health for lengthy periods–one memorable odyssey lasted for five years–strictly on whatever meat and fish he and his companions could catch.

Read further at The Straight Dope.

July 24th, 2010

tree climbing or skinny dipping?

Last October I posted Elaine Morgan’s TED talk, in which she argues quite compellingly in favour of the “Aquatic Ape Theory”, a theory suggesting that there was an aquatic phase in our evolution.

Yesterday I discovered that there was a BBC documentary made in 1998 about Elaine and her championship of the theory. It’s on youtube in its entirety (Part 1, above).

It’s a good summary of the basis of the theory, and it also includes criticism of the theory by scientists.

July 22nd, 2010

intimate cucumber photography

Inside Insides blog has a collection of fruit and veg porn: MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) photos of fresh produce, animated in sequence to reveal a kaleidoscopic beauty.

Above is a cucumber from top to bottom. More at Inside Insides (via kottke).

July 22nd, 2010

Rush hour, Utrecht.

There are more bikes, busses and trams than private automobiles! It’s almost balletic. (via paigeandmodern).

Posted in Green, Ha!, Video | No Comments »
July 21st, 2010

something for nothing

I was curious as to how much money actors and directors make in Hollywood simply out of royalties alone. The royalty percentages are apparently quite tightly regulated by unions.

I found a rather tidy and enlightening summary of the history of royalties (or “residuals”) in American radio, tv and cinema. A snippet:

“The first broadcasting residuals were paid in 1941, and concerned the medium of radio. Radio performers would perform the show twice (once for the Eastern time zone, then again for Pacific time zone). When ways were found to record the first performance and broadcast it a second time, the union of radio performers (AFRA, American Federation of Radio Performers) insisted on the payment of residuals.”

More at Google Answers: History of Actor Royalties/Residuals.

And for some insight into what these percentages actually mean to the likes of Stephen Spielberg and Daniel Radcliffe, there follows below a list of the 40 top earners in Hollywood from last year (2009). Snip:

Stephen Spielberg
Estimated 2009 earnings: $85 million

-$50 million: Universal theme-park royalties and consulting fees (ongoing deal signed in 1987)
-$20 million: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (fee for producing and directing upcoming 2011 release)
-$10 million: Other back-end revenue, royalties from older films
-$5 million: Transformers: R.O.T.F. (back end as executive producer)

The numbers are dizzying. I imagine him forgetting entire projects that are still pumping millions into his reservoir of income! And he’s not even number 1 on the list.

Vanity Fair Top Hollywood Earners.

(Image: Tom Hanks in Catch Me if You Can [Spielberg, 2002])

July 21st, 2010

Rosemarie is for remembrance, between us daie and night

An unhinged Ophelia (Kate Winslet) recalls that rosemary is
traditionally for remembrance, in Hamlet (Kenneth Branagh, 1996).

A rose by any other name:

The botanical name Rosmarinus is derived from the old Latin for ‘dew of the sea’, a reference to its pale blue dew-like flowers and the fact that it is often grown near the sea. (Garden Guides)

Rosemary for memory:

Rosemary is said to stimulate the memory; both Greek and Roman students wore garlands of Rosemary to further learning in their studies. Rosemary also has a strong association with marriage and it was traditional for brides to carry sprigs of Rosemary in wedding bouquets; this was originally for its aromatic properties. Today, Rosemary is also associated with death; some European countries carry Rosemary at funerals and throw the herb into the grave. (Suite 101: Rosemary)

To wear a wreath of rosemary into an exam would be a fun tradition to uphold, I think.

I was looking for some kind of natural mosquito repellent and I read online some claims of rosemary to that effect. So I steeped a heaped teaspoon of dry rosemary in about 3/4 a mug of hot water, for an hour or so — maybe a bit longer. I strained the solution into a small atomizer in order to spray it on my skin before bed. And, lo and behold, I haven’t gotten a bite since, except for a night when I forgot to use it. I admit that’s hardly conclusive scientific evidence, but so far so good.

Rosemary in English folklore:

Rosemary was also popular as a Christmas decoration, an all-purpose disinfectant, and even as a hair rinse. As late as the 1990s people were still calling it the ‘friendship bush’: ‘You always had to plant rosemary in your garden so that you wouldn’t be short of friends’ (Vickery, 1995: 318). Nevertheless, a parallel belief states that rosemary only thrives where the woman of the house is dominant. A much older tradition, reported by Nuttall, holds that rosemary plants never grow taller than the height of Christ when he was on earth, and that when they are 33 years old their upward growth stops. (answers.com)

As for Rosmarine, I lett it runne all over my garden walls, not onlie because my bees love it, but because it is the herb sacred to remembrance, and, therefore, to friendship; whence a sprig of it hath a dumb language that maketh it the chosen emblem of our funeral wakes and in our buriall grounds.

— Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) (Suite101: Remembering Rosemary)

More info about rosemary’s alleged medicinal uses at suite101.

Rosemary at Wikipedia.

July 18th, 2010

sofa or settee?

David Mitchell ruminates on the relationship between the way we use language and the way we see ourselves and others. I’m enjoying these videos a lot — Mitchell’s is like that endearingly curious and sometimes overly analytical voice in my head that has to be kept in check.

Check out his refreshing opinion on climate change, and the rest of his youtube channel. Thanks Aengus for bringing this to my attention.

July 15th, 2010

everything you didn’t know to ask about saltpetre

What’s saltpetre, I don’t hear you asking. Potassium nitrate:

Potassium nitrate is a chemical compound with the formula KNO3. It occurs as a mineral niter and is a natural solid source of nitrogen. Its common names include saltpetre (saltpeter in American English), from Medieval Latin sal petræ: “stone salt” or possibly “Salt of Petra” and nitrate of potash.

Sounds dull but you’re probably more familiar with it’s many uses than you thought. Apart from providing a natural source of nitrogen in fertilizers, it has the following uses also:

In the process of food preservation, potassium nitrate has been a common ingredient of salted meat since the Middle Ages, but its use has been mostly discontinued due to inconsistent results compared to more modern nitrate and nitrite compounds. Even so, saltpetre is still used in some food applications, such as charcuterie and the brine used to make corned beef. Sodium nitrate (and nitrite) have mostly supplanted potassium nitrate’s culinary usage, as they are more reliable in preventing bacterial infection than saltpetre. All three give cured salami and corned beef their characteristic pink hue.

Potassium nitrate is an efficient oxidizer, which produces a lilac flame upon burning due to the presence of potassium. It is therefore used in amateur rocket propellants and in several fireworks such as smoke bombs. It is also added to pre-rolled cigarettes to maintain an even burn of the tobacco.

Potassium nitrate is the main component (usually about 98%) of tree stump remover, as it accelerates the natural decomposition of the stump.

From wikipedia.

July 15th, 2010

Liszt — Valse Impromtu

Blissful. Thanks Alice!

July 14th, 2010

i know they want me to … enter eyedroppers and invade pills

The poetry of Jayne Cortez is based on the principle that there is an inherent music in words. It comes across like free word jazz when she performs her work, though the words are preconceived. The associations she conjures are sometimes cryptic or surreal but always expressive, contributing towards a greater image and meaning through a mesmeric shifting of perceptions and gradual layering of images. A good example is “I am New York City”

Another rendition can be found here, including further performances of her poems (…and a ghastly introduction sequence, especially dangerous for epileptics).

More on Cortez and her poetry in Heroism in the New Black Poetry @googlebooks.

July 5th, 2010

a lesson in meanness

I don’t have a scanner here so this reproduction isn’t very good. (It’s a photo.)

I’m in Ghent! I went for a walk yesterday to relax a bit, and I took my watercolour gear with me. I found an interesting subject beside the river and sat down on someone’s stoop to begin sketching. After a basic sketch I was ready to create the details and the atmosphere with the paint itself. That’s when I realized I’d brought everything except the paint.

Getting ready to leave, I began to pack away my things. And I noticed there was still a skin of old dry paint on my palette, from the last painting I did, in Mallorca. I had to be very mean with the application of paint, and very creative with the colours I had, in order to save the picture. In the end I also used grass to colour it. The picture isn’t perfect but I was delighted to have found a solution, and to have learnt quite a lot about layering and texturing using watercolour paints.

July 4th, 2010

ah, we meet again, breakfast dishes.

Psyblog has an article following the theory that self-forgiveness can put an end to procrastination:

Another way of thinking of this is in terms of approach and avoidance behaviours. Because we tend to avoid things that make us feel bad, pent up guilt about a task will make us avoid that task in the future. Self-forgiveness, though, may reduce guilt and so make us more likely to approach the task.

This explanation highlights the fact that we don’t just have emotional relationships with people, we also have them with tasks. Some tasks we like and look forward to like trusted old friends, while others feel more like muggers stealing away hours of our lives.

More here.

I can’t get enough of this blog, actually. Two other recent articles that are fascinating to me (on abstract/creative thinking devices): One, two.

July 2nd, 2010

soul beneficiary

Coleman speaks like he plays the sax, apparently; he looses his thoughts freely and uninhibitedly, so much so that in both speaking and playing he seems to display a gentle modesty in conforming to any grammar of sound at all.

And yet he’s right, there’s still enough meaning to be read into the sounds he makes with his mouth if you’re prepared to listen and make it your own. What do you hear?

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