Thursday, December 18, 2014

How rude

  Prepared my dog's
  dinner last even-
  ing, mixed a cock-
  tail, went to my
  desk, clicked the
  wi/fi, tapped my
  telephone, and 
  saw a letter from
  the wife of my old-
  est friend, saying
  he is dead. I've
  awakened to the
  how rude phase of
  shock, and insofar
  as we dwell in i-
  rony, that's what
  to register here.
  This is a page a-
  bout playing fair.
  And the first of
  these injunctions
  is, to play. 



Monday, December 15, 2014

My station

I had the pleasure again of reading some rather wonderful things this year, as I trust everybody did - the privilege, at least, if not the opportunity. In my way of living the opportunity has generally been plentiful, even if sometimes the graduation from the compulsory to the habitual, may have felt deprived of ceremony. As the poet of my gen-eration said, I was hungry, and it was your world. To some extent this feeling has been a constant with me.

In the ironic realm of gratitude for this, or simple adaptation, I certainly wish to acknowledge the unreasonably generous fount of companionship afforded by way of reading, in something that isn't a book at all. I refer to my priceless subscription to The New York Review of Books, which has joined me in countless lunches throughout the year, with printouts of archived essays of the past 50 years, and lately with tablet-domiciled scrolls of these treasures. In the way we observe the device-borne, treading water by thumb-swipe in the shallows, fleeing patient jellyfish, I undertake a comparably determined, if premeditated study of writers referenced here occa-sionally, and others, enabled by the incomparable frequency with which nearly anything they most wanted one to see, they most wanted to publish there. There is not another publication in which such depth of vertical tastings affords such true rapport with character, and only one's allotment of curious friends can promise superior comfort. But this is already known, and I pray, by them.

That said, the year delivered, through the auspices of this very magazine, a republication of Montaigne in the translation familiar to William Shakespeare. By any rational rubric - ah, but we say metric these days, as if we had invented evidence - the occasion would sweep the field in tweeting, and so it must have been doing. I don't tweet, but somehow this could be metered, surely. Or do all these little flutters just converge, without (like Skinner's rats) proving Deuteronomy?

But now that I've lauded the habitual for the second time in two paragraphs, I'd like to relish discovery. If an older book could have been a book of the year, then a non-book might be a book in process; and such a quarry is the online journal of Luke Edward Hall. I am absolutely boggled to find the genius for unguarded but learned, original and spontaneous responses, which we prize so highly in Boswell and Brenan, Chatwin and Leigh-Fermor, flowing so merrily and confidently from a nimble designer of pillows. Throw out Michelin, by all means, and plop this observant blog into your glove box, right away. A more astute critic of these things than I, would attribute his gift to the severance of the incontrovertible from the bland. You can't possibly enjoy your voyage so well without, at least, his blithe demeanor, to say nothing of his zeal for naps. If only Rory Stewart held the same regard for comfort!

Thus, a book of consequence matures, as Emerson believed, in our experience with it, in an arbitrary limitation of time, and gains a little imperviousness to distraction, even to fashion. This is seldom a coincidence - a dictionary, for example, offers to suit that definition, but then we have Samuel Johnson's, which doesn't. And which is the one we love. 

If I am lunching with literature, I'm touched by the paradoxical intimacy with strangers that tweeting contrives to invert for one's nearest and dearest thousands. Yet again, it's simply a matter of hunger, and what to do about it. I live with a terrible example, in the form of an English dog. He will be 2 years old this week, with the equinox; but precocious as he is, he's not getting the gift of a thousand masters. He's getting one, to mortify him with laughter in Wodehouse, to lull him with the statelier essays, and to tweak his constitutionals with the provocations of real, naughty birds. He's from California. I'm afraid it shows. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Do some years not yield? The book of the year

  Chiefswood is wonderfully beau-
  tiful. Everything, this year, 
  is a month late, so I see it as 
  it normally is at the end of May. 

No garden flowers are out: their time is not yet; but everything is green, and the green is broken, unexpectedly, here and there, by great red and white rhododend-ron flowers, still in bloom, which appear through cracks of space across the sparkling water of the stream. I thought that I would take out the [tractor] yester-day, but when I saw the long grass full of corn-flowers, I had not the heart to cut them, and deferred my action. I am enjoying being here, though alone and feeding on cold ham, kippers and spring onions.

                I am tired of endless committees. 
                Why should I wear out my life sit-
                ting on them, et propter vitam vi- 
                vendi perdere causas? So I wander
                in these delightful glades, and 
                pause to read literature, not agen- 
                da or minutes, and to write to you. 

                We long to see you back. 

An excerpt from what I saw
in the book of the year, a
carrying forward in radiant 
form. I celebrate merely to 
open it.

To Trevor-Roper, Chiefswood
had much in common with Hor-
ace's Tivoli, a retreat for
restoration, from the zenith
of imperial pomp. He writes
to his step-son in America,
regretting his refusal of a
large capital transfer from
his mother, the daughter of
the Earl Field Marshal Haig.
His subjects are the young
man; the distinctions between
practices in pluralism, toler-
ance, faith, and manners in
England and America; and as
we see, the consolations of
onions and the legitimacy of

55 - 138
 Book 8
   "and for the sake of
   living, lose what makes
   life worth living"

Willem de Kooning
1904 - 1997

André Kertész

Hugh Trevor-Roper
1914 - 2003
100 Letters from Hugh
28 June 1969
Richard Davenport-Hines
  and Adam Sisman, editors
Oxford University Press, 2014©

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Creases in the tissue

  .. as you get to know Europe
  slowly, tasting the wines,
  cheeses and characters of the
  different countries you begin
  to realise .. the spirit of
  place. Just as one particular
  vineyard will always give you
  a special wine with discernible
  characteristics so a Spain an
  Italy, a Greece will always ..
  express itself through the hu-
  man being just as it does
  through its wild flowers.

 I don't believe the British
 character, for example, or
 the German has changed a jot
 since Tacitus first described
 it; and so long as people keep
 getting born Greek or French
 or Italian their culture produc-
 tions will bear the unmistakable
 signature of the place.
 Greece, for example, cannot have
 a single real Greek left after
 hundreds of years of war and re-
 settlement.. Yet if you want a bit
 of real live Aristophanes you only
 have to listen to the chaffering
 of the barrowmen and peddlers in
 the Athens Plaka. Even a reserved
 British resident will begin using
 his fingers in conversation..

Landscape and Character
The [Sunday] New York Times
June 12, 1960
Spirit of Place
 Letters and Essays on Travel
Alan G. Thomas, editor
Leete's Island Books
New Haven, Connecticut

Friday, December 12, 2014

The native taste

So many of them went out walking,
so many of them untentative. If a
cadence is native to the English,
is it the footfall, shedding boy-
hood, stamped by Fielding's Joseph 
Andrews, and rich tradition since,
which marks their alien vistas as
domestic nourishment, achieved? 

               My chief object in settling in Spain
               was to educate myself. Four years on
               the modern side of a public school 
               followed by four years spent in the
               war had left me very ignorant about
               many things that I wished to know. I
               had therefore shipped off to Almería
               a number of wooden cases packed with
               books that I had selected with care.

               This immense panorama gave its char-
               acter to the humble village that
               looked out on to it. It could never
               be escaped from and it dwarfed every-
               thing else. In summer when the sun was
               high it became a pulsating jangle of
               reds and yellows and magentas in which
               nothing that was hard could be distin-
               guished; then in the evening the shapes
               reaffirmed themselves while mauve and
               lilac tones gave a look almost of trans-
               parency to the mountains of the coastal
               range. In storms the scene became dram-
               atic with mists swirling by and great
               rainclouds piled overhead, while at
               night.. the stars glittered as fierce-
               ly as they do in deserts.


Gerald Brenan
Personal Record
  1920 - 1972
Alfred A. Knopf, 1975©

Jack Adair-Bevan
Paûla Zarate
Matthew Pennington
Iain Pennington
The Ethicurean Cookbook
  Recipes, Foods and Spirituous
  Liquors, from our Bounteous
  Walled Garden in the Several
  Seasons of the Year
  [The Mendips, Somerset]
    Winter:  Beetroot Carpaccio
    with honeyed walnuts, mizuna,
    purslane, land cress, and flaky
    sea salt
Ebury Press
Random House, 2013©

i   Martin Conte
ii  Brenan at Yegen