Sunday, April 20, 2014

Protocols of the oenophile, revisited

  Access a mound
  of fresh chuck.

  Mold between the
  palms, lightly.

  Sear rare, clasp
  between two buns.

  Hoist to consume
  by hand, dripping
  all over the lap.

This oft-quoted - and, we have noticed, still widely heeded - extract from a culinary dialogue of ancient Sumer, had left for centuries a central, begging question: yes, fine, fine, fine, but with what wine? At last a worldwide up-heaval was held in the mid-20th Century, affording the meditation needed to un-lock the mystery. Only lately, however, has that discovery been published.

Having dealt with Hitler, I returned to England. I saw my friends, cracked several bottles with them, polished off a few items of work, had my mare clipped for the hunting, got up my car, collected some petrol, and motored to Oxford in the highest of spirits.. How de-lightful it seemed as I walked down the Broad again on a clear, cold November day, and allowed my eye to rest on a decaying nose of one of our Roman emper-ors who guard the Sheldonian theatre. How exhilarating is the intellectual life, how buoyant the air of a learned place, how beautiful its architecture and associations. I looked forward to a fresh taste of this half-forgotten flavour, and settled down to enthusiasm to a life in Christ Church.

The first night I sat next to Keith. He expounded his views on the cosmos. 'The outlook is very black', he said gloomily, filling a large glass brimful of port; 'there is no faith, no hope, no morals: and the polit-ical situation is worse, infin-itely worse than in 1938'.. {S]ince he evidently thought Chamberlain a more inspiring topic, I enquired about his researches into the life of his hero. He brightened a little at first; his studies had convinced him, he said, that Chamberlain was an even greater man than he had supposed.. Had he, I asked, heard.. revelations, of which a summary had appeared in the Press, and which bore so vitally on the whole question of Munich? No, he replied.. and looked suddenly bored..

[S]o I turned tactfully to my other neighbour, Michael.. We must understand, he said, that we are now in a new era; that there is to be a new Heaven and a new Earth and a new Christ Church, for the former things have passed away; in future (he emphasised with melancholy relish) there will be no drink and no dances and no gaudies and no pleasure of any kind at all; and as a supererogatory mortification he suggested that the dons should in future have the same food as the undergraduates.. I determined to avoid any contentious subject, and merely asked him about recent contributions to philosophy.. Next morning I turned up for breakfast in a chastened mood..

What a set of old crashers! I said to myself; shall I ever stick it out? And my heart, that volatile organ, sank heavily down towards my stomach, which itself was feeling weak and hollow after a Christ Church breakfast; and I wondered why I had ever returned to this world of disconsolate reactionary gloom. But that night at last I knew there would be a change, for Hookie Hill was coming to dine, whom for four years I had dismissed as dead, but who in fact had been a prisoner of the Japanese, working on the Death Railway in Malaya and Siam, where he had buried most of his companions, but himself had survived. From him at least I could expect a breath of the old world, - and yet, I reflected, could I really be sure? For suffering and captivity work hardly on a man's mind, which fact the clergy.. ruthlessly exploit.

Hookie arrived, and.. he seemed well, and I asked him about his experiences. 'I am a different man now', he said; and I trembled to hear the words. But having begun, I felt I must persevere, and know the worst, so I bade him speak freely of the spiritual experience to which he referred. 'In my prison-camp', he replied meditatively, 'I had leisure to consider many things which I hadn't thought of before'. I pressed him further. To what particular reorientation of his thought did he refer? 

'Well', said Hookie, 'I have now decided that if I were condemned to drink only one wine for the rest of my life, I would choose Burgundy'. A great cloud rolled away from my spirit as I heard this sane answer, and I said, 'but come, Hookie, there are some excellent clarets'. 

'I thought of that too', he answered, 'and I know my answer to that: there hasn't been a decent claret since 1892'.
After that my spirits rose, and when I learnt.. that Hookie had applied as Steward, I decided that if he came here, I could perhaps stay after all.

  Who could have known, as this
  vital deposition was being tak-
  en, the vines of Bordeaux would
  yield a vintage to dissolve the
  dispute with effusive amity? It
  was not always the case for this
  diarist, who yet lifted spirits
  exceedingly diversely, higher
  than he found them, as he would.

  Denys Vivian Hill became Steward.

Hugh Trevor-Roper
Student [Fellow] of
  Christ Church
Major, SIS
Regius Professor
Master of Peterhouse
Lord Dacre of Glanton

Clearly defined borders

Rapture of schoolmarms,
currency systems, and a
shower of safety glass:

I like to discover dis-
tinctions, don't you a-
gree? Not cut myself on
an arbitrary intrusion.

                       I see a valley of moist Montale plus                                myself plus George Herbert.
                       Wait here. Stay alert.

                       When the red apples are ready on
                       the trees,
                       Don't you feel like saying, 
                       "Apples, please .."

  Time and again, a light will
  elicit respect for a border
  shaped by nature - which, e-
  ven in error of application,
  is unforgettably worth pursu-
  ing. For this I am grateful:

  He was no democrat, no pacif-
  ist, no martyr (if these are
  pure professions); and the in-
  tellectual clarity he achieved
  was the clarity not of suffer-
  ing but of disillusion. But
  truth is independent of the
  stimulus that has provoked its
  discovery, and the conditions
  that have guided its expression.

Frederick Seidel
  Sweet Day, So Cool,
  So Calm, So Bright

Hugh Trevor-Roper
Student [Fellow] of
  Christ Church, Oxford
The Last Days of Hitler
  i: Hitler and his Court
op. cit.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


  Anyone who undertakes an inquiry
  of such a [forensic] kind is
  soon made aware of one important
  fact: the worthlessness of human
  testimony. It is a chastening
  thought to a historian to consider
  how much of history is written on
  the basis of statements no more 
  reliable than those of Admiral
  Doenitz .. If such statements had
  been made and recorded with refer-
  ence to the disputed death of the
  Czar Alexander I in 1825, plenty
  of historians would have been ready
  to take them seriously. 

         What might I be ready
         to take seriously, if
         not a gentle teaching
         that frees me from a-
         lienation of distrust?


Hugh Trevor-Roper
Student [Fellow] of
  Christ Church, Oxford
Late Regius Professor 
  of Modern History
The Last Days of Hitler
  Introduction to the 
    Third Edition
University of Chicago Press 
  Sixth Edition, 1987©


Friday, April 18, 2014


 Florentino Ariza, who had never lost
 the timidity of a novice even in com-
 fortable circumstances, risked a super-
 ficial caress on her neck with the tips
 of his fingers, and she writhed and
 moaned like a spoiled child and did not
 stop crying. Then he kissed her on the
 same spot, just as softly, and he could
 not kiss her a second time because she
 turned toward him with all her monumen-
 tal body, eager and warm, and they roll-
 ed in an embrace on the floor. The cat
 on the sofa awoke with a screech and
 jumped on top of them. They groped like
 desperate virgins and found each other
 any way they could, wallowing in the
 torn albums, fully dressed, soaked with
 sweat, and more concerned with avoiding
 the furious claws of the cat than with 
 the disastrous love they were making.

  But beginning the fol-
  lowing night, their
  scratches still bleed-
  ing, they continued to
  make love for several

Gabriel Garcia Márquez
Love in the Time of Cholera
Edith Grossman
Knopf, 1988©

ii Photograph Laurent
    Leica M-6, 50mm Summicron
    op. cit.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Docile carousel

Rock-lavender full of small pious birds
On precipices torn from old sky,
Promiscuous as the goddess of the grove.
No wonder the wise men listening pondered why
If speech be an involuntary response to stress,
How about song, then? Soft verbs, hard nouns
Confess the voice's submission to desire.
A theology of insight going begging.

Lawrence Durrell
Sicilian Carousel
  Birdsong: Erice
op. cit.