Monday, April 30, 2007

Nick! Preth!

Our friends Nick and Preth came to stay.

Nick graciously pretended to fall down the well.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Here is some enjoyable rhino footage.

Monday, April 23, 2007

R.I.P. Boris Nikolaevich

I suppose I should say that this great photo isn't mine, was taken by the eminent Russian photojournalist Aleksandr Zemlianichenko, won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for photography, and is used without any thought for profit. Will that save me from the lawyers?

This is a live-action version of the above (are 'live', 'action' and 'Yeltsin' words permissable in conjunction?); this is BNY with the Great Communicator; this is BNY engaging in holiday slapstick. There was also, on the front page of The Times in about 1997, a triptych of before, during, and after photos of BNY pinching the bottom of some European functionary, but I couldn't find them on the web. They were as good as that description makes them sound.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Current Favourite Sentences

"The result is notable for being arguably the greatest shock of all time. It was the first time a non-league club had beaten a top-flight club in a competitive fixture since Yeovil Town's victory over Sunderland in 1949, a result which is also regarded as one of the greatest shocks of all time."

Friday, April 20, 2007

And Two Hardboiled Eggs

Monday, April 16, 2007


I have just been informed that the plant I identified a couple of posts down as lilac is in fact wisteria. The above is (if you trust the internet), some real lilac, syringa vulgaris. Here, as a further apology, is John Ashbery's poem Syringa:

Orpheus liked the glad personal quality
Of the things beneath the sky. Of course, Eurydice was a part
Of this. Then one day, everything changed. He rends
Rocks into fissures with lament. Gullies, hummocks
Can't withstand it. The sky shudders from one horizon
To the other, almost ready to give up wholeness.
Then Apollo quietly told him: "Leave it all on earth.
Your lute, what point? Why pick at a dull pavan few care to
Follow, except a few birds of dusty feather,
Not vivid performances of the past." But why not?
All other things must change too.
The seasons are no longer what they once were,
But it is the nature of things to be seen only once,
As they happen along, bumping into other things, getting along
Somehow. That's where Orpheus made his mistake.
Of course Eurydice vanished into the shade;
She would have even if he hadn't turned around.

No use standing there like a gray stone toga as the whole wheel
Of recorded history flashes past, struck dumb, unable to utter an intelligent
Comment on the most thought-provoking element in its train.
Only love stays on the brain, and something these people,
These other ones, call life. Singing accurately
So that the notes mount straight up out of the well of
Dim noon and rival the tiny, sparkling yellow flowers
Growing around the brink of the quarry, encapsulates
The different weights of the things.
But it isn't enough
To just go on singing. Orpheus realized this
And didn't mind so much about his reward being in heaven
After the Bacchantes had torn him apart, driven
Half out of their minds by his music, what it was doing to them.
Some say it was for his treatment of Eurydice.
But probably the music had more to do with it, and
The way music passes, emblematic
Of life and how you cannot isolate a note of it
And say it is good or bad. You must
Wait till it's over. "The end crowns all,"
Meaning also that the "tableau"
Is wrong. For although memories, of a season, for example,
Melt into a single snapshot, one cannot guard, treasure
That stalled moment. It too is flowing, fleeting;
It is a picture of flowing, scenery, though living, mortal,
Over which an abstract action is laid out in blunt,
Harsh strokes. And to ask more than this
Is to become the tossing reeds of that slow,
Powerful stream, the trailing grasses
Playfully tugged at, but to participate in the action
No more than this. Then in the lowering gentian sky
Electric twitches are faintly apparent first, then burst forth
Into a shower of fixed, cream-colored flares. The horses
Have each seen a share of the truth, though each thinks,
"I'm a maverick. Nothing of this is happening to me,
Though I can understand the language of birds, and
The itinerary of the lights caught in the storm is fully apparent to me.
Their jousting ends in music much
As trees move more easily in the wind after a summer storm
And is happening in lacy shadows of shore-trees, now, day after day."

But how late to be regretting all this, even
Bearing in mind that regrets are always late, too late!
To which Orpheus, a bluish cloud with white contours,
Replies that these are of course not regrets at all,
Merely a careful, scholarly setting down of
Unquestioned facts, a record of pebbles on the way.
And no matter how all this disappeared,
Or got where it was going, it is no longer
Material for a poem. Its subject
Matters too much, and not enough, standing there helplessly
While the poem streaked by, its tail afire, a bad
Comet screaming hate and disaster, but so turned inward
That the meaning, good or other, can never
Become known. The singer thinks
Constructively, builds up his chant in progressive stages
Like a skyscraper, but at the last minute turns away.
The song is engulfed in an instant in blackness
Which must in turn flood the whole continent
With blackness, for it cannot see. The singer
Must then pass out of sight, not even relieved
Of the evil burthen of the words. Stellification
Is for the few, and comes about much later
When all record of these people and their lives
Has disappeared into libraries, onto microfilm.
A few are still interested in them. "But what about
So-and-so?" is still asked on occasion. But they lie
Frozen and out of touch until an arbitrary chorus
Speaks of a totally different incident with a similar name
In whose tale are hidden syllables
Of what happened so long before that
In some small town, one indifferent summer.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Jon Juaristi (1951- )


Yo la quería mucho, pero entonces
amar y destruir sonaban parecido,
como en los más confusos poemas de Aleixandre.
Nos casamos con otros. Tal vez así perdimos
lo mejor de la vida. Quén sabe. Hubo una noche
en que ambos acordamos que pudo ser distinto
el rumbo de esta historia de culpa y cobardía.
Se quitó el pasador de su cabello oscuro
y me lo dio al marchar, y nunca volví a verla.
Murió. No lo he sabido hasta que esta tarde misma,
varios años después, en su pequeño pueblo
y frente a la serena desolación del mar.
Ahora intento evocarla, pero se desvanece:
No he encontrado siquiera su pasador de rafia.


I loved her very much, but then
to love and to destroy sounded similar,
like in the most complex poems of Aleixandre.
We married other people. Maybe that's how we lost
the best part of our lives. Who knows. There was a night
when we both agreed that it could be different,
the path of this history of guilt and cowardice.
She took the hairpin from her dark hair
and gave it to me as she left, and never came back for it.
She died. I did not know until this afternoon,
several years later, she died in her little village,
and facing the serene desolation of the sea.
I would like to evoke her now, but she has disappeared:
I haven't even been able to find her raffia hairpin.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Getting ahead of myself

I forgot. We spent the day before I went to Lisbon in Seville, which still has enough creepy dolls in the shop windows to turn even the hardiest of heads. Even more spookily, this one was gone when we came back down the same street half an hour later.

Friday, April 13, 2007


I went to Lisbon last week to see my friend Julius, who was there for a meeting. Lisbon has: statues which would make the Bohemian Grove crowd jealous;

one (or more) marketing executives with a certain genius for the strategic deployment of English;

a cheery Italian who, perhaps out of desperation, took his son to feed the pigeons at seven thirty am;

an overpowering scent of lilac;

the amazing Jeronimos Monastery, which contains the tombs of Fernando Pessoa, Ricardo Reis, Álvaro de Campos and a number of other poets;

inappropriate decorations (actually, this is from Faro, on the seven-hour bus journey home - at 25º, it seems a little mocking);

a sense of irony - this closed-down, bricked-up building has a plaque proclaiming it the Higher Technical Institute of Economics;

graffiti which cheered up Julius (from Tübingen);



Sèvres porcelain

and one excellent museum.

Lift Updates

This is the current state of play with the lifts in Marian's parents' block of flats. The sign reads "Lift Out Of Service for Modernisation We Will Try To Be As Quick As Possible. We Ask You To Forgive The Inconvenience. Thank You, Schindler Ltd." So Schindler himself has been called in. However, the one functioning lift only goes up to floor number nine, and doesn't go down at all, except sporadically, to the ground floor, without stopping to pick up passengers. But the stairs are nice.


This road wasn't here two weeks ago.

Monday, April 02, 2007


I have spent a pleasant afternoon reading a Franco-era (1952) encyclopedia for schools. Here are some of the choicest bits, with translations.

Proof that the Francoist dictatorship wasn't socialist:

'Damos el nombre propiedad al derecho que tenemos a usar las cosas que son nuestras, nos pertenecen. El instinto de la propiedad es tan antiguo como el hombre o, mejor dicho, tan antiguo como la vida [...]'

'The right which we have to use things which are ours, which belong to us, we call property. The instinct to property is as old as mankind, or rather, as old as life itself [...]'

Proof that the Francoist dictatorship wasn't nice (this, by the way, is from the section Religion y moral):

'Los pueblos debiles se convirten en esclavos de los pueblos fuertes. Esparta dominó a sus enemigos porque era más fuerte que ellos. Roma dominó al mundo cuando nadie la superaba en fortaleza. Y España fué dueña de veinte naciones mientras su espada fué invencible y sus tercios poderosos.'

'A strong people will enslave a weak people. Sparta dominated her enemies because she was stronger than them. Rome dominated the world whe there was no one who exceeded her in strength. And Spain was the mistress of twenty nations while her sword was undefeatable and her regiments strong.'

Proof that the Francoist dictatorship was muy católico and more than a little narcissistic:

'En las salas de clase de las escuelas - presididas siempre por el crucifijo, la imagen de la Purísima y el retrato de Generalísimo [...]'

'In the classrooms - watched over always by a crucifix, an image of the Blessed Virgin and a portrait of the Generalisimo [...]'

Proof that the Francoist dictatorship couldn't deal with Raymond Chandler:

'Jamás, ni los niños ni los hombres, deben leer novelas detectivescas [...]'

'Neither children nor adults should ever read detective stories [...]'

Proof that the Francoist dictatorship knew how to lay it on with a trowel:

'Entramos con esta lectura en el estudio de España, que es el más hermoso pais del mundo.'

'We will begin this lesson with the study of Spain, which is the most beautiful country in the world.'

Proof that the Francoist dictatorship sometimes got it right:

'Cádiz, hermosa ciudad que es como un pañuelo con el que España dijera adios a los navegantes [...]'

'Cádiz, a beautiful city, like a handkerchief with which Spain wishes goodbye to her sailors [...]'

Further proof that the Francoist dictatorship knew how to lay it on with a trowel:

'Los grandes Estados europeos son: Inglaterra, cuyas posesiones se reparten por todos los rincones del mundo; Rusia, cuyo extenso territorio produze riquezas incalculables; Francia, sede de la elegancia y el buen gusto; Italia, cuna del arte y centro del orbe católico, por residir el sumo Pontífico en Roma, la ciudad eterna.
Pero, sobre todas, España, madre de veinte pueblos, rectora del mundo en siglos pasados, remanso de moral y cátedra de justicia. ¡España, a quien todas las naciones envidian su situación geográfica, su historia, su luz, su cielo y su alegría!'

The great States of Europe are: England, whose possessions are found in all corners of the world; Russia, whose extensive territory produces incalculable riches; France, seat of elegance and good taste; Italy, cradle of art and centre of the Catholic world, home of the Supreme Pontiff, in Rome, the eternal city.
But, above all of these is Spain, mother to twenty countries, the guiding light to the world in centuries past, oasis of morality and seat of justice. Spain, whom all other nations envy for her situation, her history, her light, her sky and her joy!'

Interesting, by the way, that the great States of Europe (excluding Catholic Italy) just happened to be the ones which could provide post-war aid to the impoverished Spanish state. Not envied for her wealth, you'll notice.

Proof that the Francoist dictatorship had its priorities a bit out of whack:

'El capítulo más bello y más noble de la gloriosa conquista de América es la obra admirable de los misioneros españoles.'

'The finest and most noble chapter in the glorious conquest of America is the admirable work of the Spanish missionaries.'

Proof that the Francoist dictatorship was the place where a lot of scoundrels took their last refuge:

'¡Bandera roja y gualda, cuyos labios abiertos al sol de la Historia cantan las triunfales glorias de la Patria, salve!
Todas las banderas son hermosas; pero ninguna tanto como la nuestra, que tiene el color de sol y del oro, el color de la llama y de la sangre: los dos colores más ilustres.'

'Greetings to you, red and gold flag, whose lips, opened to the sun of History, sing the glorious triumphs of the Fatherland!
All flags are beautiful, but none is so beautiful as ours, which shows the colour of the sun and of gold, the colour of flame and of blood, the two most illustrious colours.'

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Books Read in March

Hugo Williams, No Particular Place to Go (1981)
Gitta Sereny, Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth (1995)
Kenneth Grahame, The Golden Age (1895)
Kenneth Grahame, Dream Days (1898)
Rudyard Kipling, The Mark of the Beast and other Fantastical Tales (2007)
Ginette Vincendeau, Film / Literature / Heritage (2001)
John Hooper, The New Spaniards (2nd edition, 1995)
Christopher Ricks, Tennyson (1972)
Tom Bissell, God Lives in St. Petersburg (2005)
"Boris Akunin", Special Assignments (1999, trans. Andrew Bromfield 2007)
Pu Songling, Strange Tales From a Chinese Studio (1679, trans. John Minford 2006)
Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking (2005)
Daniel Kalder, Lost Cosmonaut (2006)
Milan Kundera, The Curtain (2005, trans. Linda Asher 2007)

The books I had thought would be good were disappointing. The books I had thought would be a bit of a struggle, especially Hugo Williams and Gitta Sereny, were great. The books I knew would be good, were good.

One query. "The Tomb of his Ancestors", an excellent story by Kipling from The Day's Work (1898), has a character who is worshipped as a god by some tribesmen in Central India. One of the clues to his godhood is 'The dull-red birth-mark on his shoulder, something like a conventionalised Tartar cloud' - I'm having trouble visualising this. Any ideas?

Those empty moments of the day


We were in Cádiz at the weekend. It is just about warm enough for people to be on the beach. We walked up to town along the promenade, but returned on the beach. This meant that we saw the following thing on the way back.

I said, 'Oh, there's a squid.' Marian said, 'Oh.' (I think I like squid more than she does.) We went closer. I said, 'Is it a squid?' Marian said, 'It doesn't look like a squid. It looks more like a...' We both said, 'Urgh.'

Does this prove that crabs like to eat hair? Or that flat wet hair looks like no hair at all? Or any number of other horrible things?

Safe as Houses

The lift in Marian's block of flats is great. It's made by my favourite lift company - every time I travel in it I can look at the maker's plaque and say, 'Ah, Schindler's Lift!' However, this sign is slightly worrying - who made the decision that the rickety old box was capable of carrying even two people? But, as Marian said when I hesitated before getting in, 'It wants to go down, we want to go down - who's complaining?'

I also like the last manaña sentence: 'It is hoped that repairs will begin on the lifts next week.'


The flowers on the patio we thought were marigolds are dead. These are some more lively ones from by the swimming-pool.


My wife's cousin got married. One of the wedding presents the happy couple were gifted was a puppy. It was very sweet, made no noise or mess the whole afternoon, and felt particularly fuzzy.

What are they building?

It's an old joke, a cliché, that retired Spanish men spend all their time observing worksites and other building projects, wondering what's going on. However, this construction outside our window has had me intrigued for weeks, as well as acting like a candle-flame for the old men of the village. The day a crane came and lifted the black box into the blue hole, I could hardly concentrate on my work. We think it's something to do with the drains.