28 fevereiro 2005

25 fevereiro 2005

On Love

Love, sings Carmen in Bizet's opera, is a gypsy child who has never recognized any law. Take guard against him, though it will do no good. Any of us may become his helpless, fated victim, and the old cards of the fortune-teller will alone declare our destinies. Passion leads nearly always to suffering, madness and death. Even the most respectable may grow ardent and reckless, paying no heed to consequences. Who cares about anything else when the sex is hot and sweaty and feverishly intense? There is a cost, though. When jealousy suddenly pierces us like a knife, every affair risks ending up a blood wedding.

Needless to say, Carmen isn't French.

Prosper Merimée, who wrote the short novel upon which the opera is based, set his tale of passion in Spain, not France. Everyone knew then, as now, that sun-baked Mediterranean countries were the places for erotic fatality. Little wonder that Thomas Mann's character Gustav von Aschenbach succumbed to the charms of Tadzio in Venice, not Berlin, or that E.M. Forster's Anglo-Saxon heroines would travel to Italy for a room with a view, and a lover to go with it. But wait: Aren't the French supposed to be the world's most romantic people, just as Paris is almost certainly the world's most romantic city? What of l'amour? What of all those umbrellas of Cherbourg and Chanel No. 5 and Edith Piaf singing "Non, je ne regrette rien"?

In fact, the French tend to be leery of mad passion; they are, after all, a practical, civilized people, brought up on Cartesian philosophy and classical alexandrines. Oh, occasionally when young one might fall into a folie à deux or a ménage à trois, but in general love isn't a matter of flouting the norms of society and flinging oneself with thoughtless abandon into the arms of some deeply inappropriate, albeit good-looking, Latin stranger. No, indeed. Love is one of the cultivated pleasures of life, like good food and wine. It gives zest to the quotidian routine, adds a healthy glow to the skin, encourages one to dress well, stay in shape and keep intellectually engaged.

Obviously, such thoughtful romance is largely impossible for the young. The typical adolescent infatuation may lead to marriage and a family, but intimacy of any sophistication is a matter between mature adults, settled men and women who realize that a well conducted liaison can enrich and refine the spirit like a work of art. At the very least, wit, attentiveness and delicate flattery -- all the social graces -- enhance every encounter, whether over dinner or in bed. Yet though the pleasures of illicit dalliance may be intense, even furtiveness may be sensibly regularized: For many years Parisian lovers traditionally met between 5 and 7, the so-called "cinq à sept." And then went home to their spouses and children. At its best (or its most cynical), the relationship could be less a betrayal of marriage than its safeguard.

Clearly, I exaggerate and over-generalize the polished character of Gallic amour. Ardent Madame Bovary doesn't fit this pattern, nor does Charles Swann when insanely obsessed with Odette de Crecy. Phèdre says love rips her apart, and Racine sums up her agony in the famous phrase: "Venus toute entière à sa proie attachée" -- the image depicting Venus, like a bird of prey, tearing into her victim with claws that will never let go. Nothing civilized there.

And yet if one reads French literature, love is constantly being codified, sublimated into a social grace or party game. Andreas Capellanus, back in the 12th century, laid out the rules in a treatise usually translated as The Art of Courtly Love. In the world of the feudal war-band, the proper lover must suddenly behave not like a Visigoth but like a solicitous Victorian gentleman. He should, naturally, grow pale when in the presence of his lady, and his only aim should be to please her. From the beginning such attachments were of necessity adulterous. After all, marriage, being essentially a political and business arrangement, could hardly allow feelings to interfere with the carefully planned alliances of families or nations. To earn his mistress's favor, then, the aspirant would consequently need to prove his worthiness through rapt obedience and perfect courtesy. The lady would expect her lover to be, as was Lancelot, the very flower of chivalry.

In The Knight of the Cart, Chrétien de Troyes relates how Guinevere was once spirited away to the mysterious land of Gorre, and Lancelot naturally gallops off to rescue her. Early on he loses his horse, but happens upon a dwarf with a cart, really a tumbril, intended to convey criminals to the gallows. The dwarf tells the knight that if he wants to see Guinevere he should climb onto the cart. Lancelot hesitates for a moment, then does so, even though he feels deeply ashamed to be viewed by the mocking populace in such a disgraceful vehicle.

Eventually, after crossing a sword bridge and enduring much suffering, Lancelot reaches Guinevere, who treats him with cold disdain. The poor fellow is mystified. By this point, he's undergone ordeal after ordeal for this woman. Could any lover have shown himself more faithful? Finally, Guinevere explains. She had been locked in a high tower and could observe Lancelot when he encountered the dwarf. So? Didn't he get into the cart of shame? Yes, Guinevere tells him, but no one who claimed to love her would have hesitated for even a moment. It is a long time before Lancelot is restored to the Queen's good graces.

Courtly love, or l'amour courtois, softened the male character, and could only flourish in an urban or courtly society. When Tristan and Isolde finally escape from King Mark's castle, they spend three years living in a cave and soon grow bored with each other. Why, it's practically like being married! Passion requires obstacles, separation and absence to keep up the intensity. As the pitiless 17th-century aphorist La Rochefoucauld observed, "There are good marriages but no delicious ones."

By La Rochefoucauld's time, the aristocratic and well-to-do French were busy charting all the nuances of amorous give and take. The prolific novelist Madeleine de Scudery promulgated what she called "la carte de tendre," the "map of tenderness" that outlined the way to a woman's heart. In The Princess of Clèves, Marie Madeleine de Lafayette examined with microscopic intensity the psychological intricacies of passion -- and the reasoning behind renunciation. The salons of the précieuses established formulae for flirtation, stressing elegant banter and mannered suavity as the preferred forms of foreplay. A bit later, Pierre Marivaux was producing comedies with titles like "The Game of Love and Chance." Pierre Choderlos Lacllos's scandalous Liaisons dangereuses then demonstrated, step by coolly calculated step, just how the predatory might gradually corrupt even the most religious and innocent. Shortly thereafter, the Marquis de Sade turned sex itself into a combinatorial exercise, working out the calculus of every possible kink and coupling among, say, a half dozen or so executants.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the magnificent Stendhal turned his genius to dissecting the emotion that had played so much havoc with his own life. In De l'amour (On Love), the novelist eccentrically tabulates the psychological impulses behind every aspect of eros (not excluding unexpected "failure" or impotence). The most celebrated chapters analyze what happens when we fall in love. A bare branch, Stendhal tells us, may be left in the depths of a salt mine, and after a few months it will be covered with "shimmering, glittering diamonds, so that the original bough is no longer recognizable." A similar "crystallization," he says, forms around an adored mistress, to whom our minds attribute every beauty and perfection. Mathilde may appear quite ordinary to the world's eyes, but to the man in her thrall even her little tics and crotchets are suddenly bathed in a celestial light.

Stendhal's near contemporary, the Swiss political theorist Benjamin Constant, also contributed a bitterly honest analysis of love, albeit focusing on how it dies. In his novel Adolphe, the beautiful Ellenore abandons her children for an ardent young lover. She adores him, lavishes every attention on him -- and slowly Adolphe starts to grow bored. Eventually he wishes to break with this now tedious woman, but can't quite manage to do so. Conveniently, she dies. At first the young man feels liberated, but then gradually falls into despondency as he realizes that he had grown used to his old mistress and that life is utterly empty and meaningless without her.

Much of 19th-century French literature may be regarded as a warning against the consequences of sexual zealotry. Whereas the 18th-century represented love as an elegant fête galante occasionally touched by a worldly melancholy, Flaubert and Baudelaire anatomized the excesses of romanticism. Frederic Moreau, in L'Education sentimentale, finds that the memory of his unconsummated desire for Madame Arnoux poisons his life. Baudelaire compares the lover inclining over his beloved to a corpse embracing his tomb. The naturalist Emile Zola undercuts every form of physical love, from the Edenically innocent sexuality of the amnesiac Father Mouret to the expensive and récherché delights of the courtesan Nana. Early in the 20th century, Proust further reveals that love is nothing but jealousy and possessiveness under another name. Swann in love is just miserable. He was far happier as a mere coureur de femmes, a sophisticated skirt-chaser.

But in the 20th century a more easygoing attitude toward eros re-emerges. In Les nourritures terrestres (Fruits of the Earth) André Gide chants a prose dithyramb to a free and openly pagan sensibility. (Much later Camus will take up this message in his sensuous essays about summer in North Africa.) Above all, the earthy Colette makes love's varieties and mysteries her perennial theme. Throughout her work, whether in Gigi or Chéri, in Julie de Carneilhan or The Pure and the Impure, she recognizes that to ask too much of love is to destroy it. One must be reasonable, and know when to stop, when to let go. Sex itself is a pleasure, but like all appetites needs to be sensibly indulged and cautiously respected.

Readers of Diane Johnson's "French" novels -- e.g. Le Divorce or L'Affaire -- know that Gallic nonchalance may nonetheless embrace true caring. It's all a matter of balance, a willingness to choose moderation over madness, to savor and appreciate the occasional rather than feel oppressed or sated by the obligatory. Such measured delicacy is probably not for Americans, burdened with a Puritan past and an imperialist character that insists on all or nothing at all.

On Valentine's Day tomorrow we will exchange cards and flowers or chocolates, and treat love as a pink little Cupid. But we should be careful: Gods are not mocked. Better perhaps to keep one's distance from mighty Eros, as the French so often and so wisely do, than to see one's heart served up on a salver.

From the Washington Post

Speeeeeeeed reeeeeeeeeeeeeeading

Despite becoming the subject of more books than she probably ever read, it is Marilyn Monroe who most accurately expresses my ideal reading state. In the song Lazy, she invokes a luxuriously languid day in which she stretches out, yawning, under a "honey lake" of a sky, "With a great big valise full of books to read / Where it's peaceful / And I'm quarantined… being laaaaaaaa-zzzyyyy." And yet, for too many of us, reading has become a rushed affair.

No honey lake skies open up as we gobble down the latest John Grisham or Jonathan Franzen. Books must be polished off before we reach our train station, before the book club next meets, or before they are due back to the library. And there are so many prize-winning, shortlisted andshockingly-pipped-at-the-post masterpieces on which we are expected to have opinions that bibliophiles seem to exist in a perpetual state of guilt over what remains unread or partially digested.

But this isn't a modern paranoia. In the 19th century, John Stuart Mill's contemporaries must have felt a similar pang when he claimed that he could read faster than he could turn pages. The American commentator HL Mencken boasted that he could breeze through a 250-page work within an hour, and it is said that Theodore Roosevelt somehow found time to devour two or three books a day while he was in office.

These people might have been regarded as freakishly fast readers had not a schoolteacher called Evelyn Wood "discovered" speed-reading shortly after the Second World War. Ever since, we have been bombarded with advertisements chiding us for not acquiring the revolutionary technique that could make Roosevelts of us all.

Wood was a student in Utah when she got the idea. She submitted an 80-page paper to her professor and watched in amazement as he read and graded it in under 10 minutes. His "untrained" reading rate was a dizzying 2,500 words per minute, although he could not explain how he did it. Over the next two years, Wood rooted out 50 people of all sorts of backgrounds and ages – from teenagers to an octogenarian – who could read at between 1,500 and 6,000 words per minute, and understand and remember what they had read. By studying their habits, she found that they absorbed more than one word at a time, seeing words in meaningful patterns as they guided their gaze smoothly down the page. Wood taught herself to speed-read by watching them, and in 1959 she opened the first Evelyn Wood Institute in Washington DC.

A Wood course begins by getting readers to follow words along the page by pointing at them, and gradually opening up the field of vision until the reader is taking in pages in widescreen. It sounds like an exercise undertaken by a character in John Irving's novel A Prayer for Owen Meany. He is advised that "instead of following the elusive next word with my finger… I should highlight a spot on the page by reading through a hole cut in a piece of paper. It was a small rectangle, a window to read through; I moved the window over the page – it was a window that opened no higher than two to three lines. I read more comfortably than I had ever read with my finger; to this day I read through such a window."

According to the Evelyn Wood Institute, the average person reads between 200 and 400 words a minute. "By at least tripling your reading speed," it claims, "you would possess a much wider and more flexible range of reading rates and experience for the first time the thrill of dynamic comprehension. It is like watching a movie. As Mrs Wood said after reading a book set in the rain forests of Brazil, 'It was, oh, so wonderful. I had no direct awareness of reading, but I could see the trees, smell the warm fragrances of the forest, feel the touch of the vines and leaves against my skin, hear those magnificent bird melodies. Reading this new way enables me to project myself into the experience, not just read about it.' "

I am not sure that Wood's comments add much credibility. She may have smelled the rainforest, but what was the book about? Did she gain any real grasp of plot, character, prose and theme, or did the 'dynamic comprehension' simply give her the flavour of a dish that would never nourish her more deeply? Her response to the South American novel reminds me of Woody Allen's joke: "I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It involves Russia."

In his Telegraph column last month, Andrew Marr blithely referred to his annual winter ritual of a "swim" through War and Peace. I hoped it was a joke. As the BBC's political correspondent, Marr appears on our television sets most evenings, offering insight into the latest 250-page government report, or the polysyllabic findings of an independent inquiry. He also presents Radio 4's Start the Week programme every Monday morning, on which he cheerily discusses books on politics, literature, science and philosophy with their authors. He also reviews new books for this newspaper. Surely the War and Peace ritual was a joke? It was not.

When I spoke to Marr, he was on his way back from the World Economic Forum in Davos with Tolstoy on his knee. "I just do read fast," he says. "If I'm reading books where I'm already familiar with the argument, I'll certainly concentrate more on the middle of the page than on the edges, but I do make an effort to read every page. Unless something has gone horribly wrong, then if somebody comes on Start the Week I will have read the book."

He doesn't think that speed-reading is especially virtuous, just a useful tool in his profession. He acknowledges different "gears" for different occasions and confesses that "the penalty for fast reading is quick forgetting. People say to me, 'Gosh, you read so much, you must know so much,' and I say, 'Only up a point'."

Professor John Stein of Oxford University's Sensorimotor Control Lab and Dyslexia Unit agrees. "Most speed-read material isn't committed to long-term memory," he says, "unless there is some incentive to store that information. Temporary information – things like seven-digit phone numbers we only need for a morning – pass through the working memory."

Slow readers can take comfort in the fact that there's an awful lot of brain activity involved in the reading process. Stein explains that "it all happens in the cortical [top] part of the brain. You have an auditory system that needs to detect the different sounds and a visual system to detect the different forms of the letters. The visual side of things starts in the occipital [back] cortex, which moves forward to meet the auditory information that's coded just in front of your ears in the temporal cortex. They meet at the angular gyrus.

"Speed-readers work by training their eyes to scan and pick up key words. They have a template in the mind of the visual structure of words they are looking for and they don't read the other words. If you present them with a completely new passage on a subject about which they have no previous knowledge then they wouldn't be much faster than you or I. It's perhaps controversial of me to say this, but in my opinion they're not really 'reading'. They're picking up the gist."

The beautiful phrases Stein uses – "angular gyrus", "occipital cortex", "parietal lobe" – make me want to savour their sounds as I struggle to make scientific sense of them. I feel sorry for the world's fastest reader, Howard Berg, who claims to scoff down 25,000wpm. That's binge reading, surely?

Instead, I find myself envying those the psychoanalytical thinker James Strachey refers to as "sotto voce" readers, "persons who, though not reading aloud, always say every word to themselves as they go on", forever hindered by "abortive movements of the tongue and lips". As Mary Jacobus argues in Psychoanalysis and the Scene of Reading: "The `hindrance' of an auditory imagination is an essential ingredient in poetic pleasure and even understanding."

Simon Armitage seconds that. He says that, as a poet, he does read slowly, measuring words and syllables against each other, seeking musicality. "I think you get used to reading in the way you write. Poetry happens all over the place," he says, "and as a poet I'm always wondering what to pinch." For a literary type, Armitage doesn't read many novels. "Only about 20 a year now," he says, "and I always feel I don't read them properly. I'm sure I skim."

Those who have to read vast amounts of fiction find it a struggle. The MP Chris Smith, who chaired last year's panel of Man Booker prize judges, found the experience "a nightmare". "I've just whizzed through Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, which is a great thriller. But when the writing is really good, as it was for books we read last year, like David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, then I really want to slow down and savour every word. The reading ate up my whole summer. I went on holiday, and while everybody else was out for lunch, seeing the sights and wandering the galleries, I was stuck in a hotel room with a suitcase of books."

As Marr stresses, it is all about finding the right pace for the right situation. Peter Jacobs of Rapid Reading, who teaches speed-reading seminars for professionals, says that the skills he hones are designed only to help us navigate the vast tracts of information we have to deal with at work. His aim is to help us save time, avoid the junk of badly written documents and fish out the bits we need. He has also given seminars for librarians with a limited amount of time to choose which books to stock. "They should be able to make that choice in under a minute," he says. "A bit of skimming and scanning – taking in samples of prose like pondwater."

He talks to me about the fact that the tops of lower case letters tell us most of what we need to know. He says that if most readers can process one word at a time there's no reason the eye can't expand that to three or four. He also reminds me that many people had bad experiences of reading at school, and that fear of the written word prevents those people absorbing the information they need at speeds that would make them most effective. But he doesn't believe skimming and scanning techniques should influence reading for pleasure.

"Mariella Frostrup wanted me to go on Radio 4 and speed-read War and Peace," he sighs, "and Woody Allen was right. That's just a joke."

From the Telegraph

The 10 greatest rock'n'roll myths

1: 'Mama' Cass choking on a sandwich

When 'Mama' Cass Elliot died in her London flat in 1974 at the age of 32, a hasty postmortem suggested she had choked on her own vomit while chomping a sandwich in bed. At 5' 5" and 240 pounds, it was easy to believe that - like a female version of Monty Python's Mr Creosote - Elliot had simply gambled on one mouthful too many. Not so. The coroner's report after her death concluded that Cass died of massive heart failure, brought on by obesity and the strains of crash dieting. Though a sandwich may well have been found at her bedside, the autopsy revealed no evidence of food in her trachea. Tragically, it appears she died peckish.

2: Marilyn Manson starring in 'The Wonder Years'
This fuels every parent's fear that the most innocuous geek-child can go stone bad. Did the young Brian Warner (aka Mr Manson) play Paul Pfeiffer, goofy pal of Kevin Arnold, in the schmaltzy rites-of passage TV show? 'It's kind of irrelevant whether these rumours are true or not,' quoth Manson. Well actually, Marilyn, it's not irrelevant to Josh Saviano, who really did play Paul Pfeiffer.

3: The Beatles' spliff in Buckingham Palace
Sometime after our four young heroes bounced into the Palace in October 1965 to receive their MBEs, John Lennon claimed they'd shared a toke in the loos. Not the most reliable witness - he once claimed he wrote 'Eleanor Rigby' - Lennon later 'fessed up, admitting 'we'd have been far too scared to do it'. McCartney, meanwhile, remembers simply having a 'sly ciggie' with the chaps to calm nerves.

4: Keef's blood transfusion
Keen to clean up for a European tour, Richards reportedly replaced his poisoned old claret with an infusion of healthy blood in a Swiss clinic in September 1973. In reality, it was probably only haemodialysis, which filters impurities from the bloodstream. 'Someone asked me how I cleaned up, so I said I had my blood completely changed,' Richards said. 'I was fucking sick of answering that question, so I gave them a story.'

5: Stevie Nicks having cocaine blown up her bum
It's tempting to believe Fleetwood Mac's queen bee followed her addiction to such deliciously depraved depths - but sadly, untrue. 'That's absurd,' said Nicks in 2001. 'Maybe it came about because people knew I had such a big hole in my nose. Let's put a belt through my nose, because that's how big the hole is.' So she just talks through her arse, then. Maybe.

6: Robert Johnson's pact with the devil
Famously, Johnson sold his soul to the devil in order to play guitar like a demon. You want prima facie evidence? How about 'Me and the Devil Blues', and the fact that young Robert was a poor guitarist whose improvement was remarkable. Actually, he used that little known voodoo technique 'practice', and was tutored by a bluesman called Ike Zimmerman. Not Satan.

7: Jacko and the elephant man
Reports surfaced in 1987 that Wacko had offered $50,000 for the remains of the Victorian patient Joseph Merrick, aka the Elephant Man. The offer may have been genuine, but Jackson doesn't own the bones. Merrick's organs were destroyed in an air raid on the Royal London Hospital during the Second World War. Casts of his head, an arm and a foot survived, but were not up for sale.

8: Sid checks in at Heathrow
Punk romantics believe that Sid's mum scattered his ashes over Nancy's grave in Philadelphia. It's more likely that Ma Vicious arrived back at Heathrow with his remains. Malcolm McLaren claims she knocked them over in the arrivals lounge; hence the fanciful myth that Sid's essence still circulates, wafting through the air vents and moving among the travellers.

9: Richey Edwards lives
Ten years on, Richey's disappearance remains imbued with a Lucan-like mythology by those who love a good mystery. Given the extent of his problems - self-harm, alcoholism, anorexia - and the fact that numerous sightings have amounted to nothing, it's safe to assume he's probably no longer alive, sadly. But don't expect the rumours to evaporate.

10: Led Zep and the mud shark
'A pretty young groupie with red hair was tied to the bed,' claimed Stephen Davis in Hammer of the Gods. 'Led Zeppelin proceeded to stuff pieces of shark into her vagina and rectum.' Not quite. Zep did catch sharks from the window of their hotel, but the pesce in question was actually a red snapper, while the perpetrator was road manager Richard Cole.

Making the law - Graeme Thomson justifies his selection of rock mythologies

Sex, death, drugs, sharks, TV, elephants and the devil himself. Nothing sums up the ridiculous circus of rock'n'roll better than the mythology that both nourishes and devours it, vividly illustrating the impossible feats of self destruction and degradation we would have our 'rock gods' vicariously act out on our behalf.

The fact that Bill Wyman is an authority on the thorny questions of mechanical royalties and overseas tax shelters is all well and good but really, we just want to believe that Keef is a vampire. We might grudgingly acknowledge that Ringo Starr made a decent fist of narrating Thomas the Tank Engine, but it doesn't compete with John Lennon (metaphorically) blowing reefer smoke in the Queen's face. As John Ford once said: 'When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.'

In the end, I omitted the Adam and Eve of all rock'n'roll myths: that Paul McCartney died in a car crash in 1966 and has subsequently been played by an impersonator, who was originally employed by The Beatles.

Why did I leave it out? For one, it would take a degree in Beatleology to adequately comprehend the various bewildering permutations; and anyway, it might just be true. Those listening to the bulk of McCartney's output from 1967 onwards (and yes, let's include the pretty tedious Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in that time-frame, as long as we can exclude 'Maybe I'm Amazed') could be forgiven for entertaining a little confusion on the matter.

Similarly, the tale of Marianne Faithfull and the Mars Bar is so well worn as to be practically dull. I think you'll find Led Zeppelin, or their road manager at least, had a slightly more lewdly imaginative take on that particular format. Or did he?

From The Observer


It is rare, and refreshing, for a book’s title to admit that its aim has failed. But when the author is Peter Carey, the Australia-born, New York resident novelist, two-time Booker Prize winner, stylistic virtuoso and master of the assumed voice, we are put on guard. Was he really wrong about Japan, which he visited with his twelve-year-old son Charley in 2002? If so, why tell us? Or is his title a writer’s ruse, to persuade us to read on? Read on.

As he relates, Carey has in recent years made many trips to see his translator in Japan, where his books have found a wide audience. Inevitably his writer’s curiosity was caught by manga, “random sketches”, the ubiquitous comic books sold, scanned, and left like newspapers on train seats – even in these tense
economic times. Japanese buy, flip through and discard some two billion manga a year. Manga range from syrupy adventures of saucer-eyed children – Eastern equivalents of The Wind in the Willows – to comics for childish adults depicting sex in images of rape, bondage and sado-masochism, furtively read by weary Japanese office workers on the long commute home to wife, kids and mortgage. With their startling perspectives, plotless speed and grotesque characters, manga preserve, by way of nineteenth-century woodblock prints, one of the world’s oldest artistic traditions, descending unbroken from eighth-century Buddhist devotional drawings. Inevitably they have inspired animated cartoon films – anime in Japanese – wildly popular in Japan, and beginning to find followers abroad. One was young Charley Carey, who discovered manga in book and DVD form in the Japanese shops around Grand Central Station in New York.

Carey’s idea was to take Charley on his next trip to Tokyo and to use him as a key to “enter the mansion of Japanese culture through its garish, brightly lit back door”. Charley agreed, with a proviso (today’s kids bargain, in New York as in Tokyo) “No real Japan. You’ve got to promise. No temples. No museums”. This sounds like what a wary novelist’s son (or novelist) might say. Carey père prepared himself by reading new books, mostly by foreigners, about Japan; Carey fils watched DVDs. School holidays arrived, a publisher came up with air tickets, father and son set forth, Carey Snr with a notebook of questions about Japanese artistic ideas, motivations and such. So far, so good. The team booked into a ryokan, a Japanese-style inn in a tourist-tormented quarter of Tokyo, with traditional tatami-mat floor, futon-quilts and nowhere to stow their Austro-American-size suitcases. Predictably, they tittered at their Japanese en suite toilet. Manhattan plumbing is not exactly paleolithic, but the Japanese variety, with warm air drying derrières and fountains gushing hand-wash water are triumphs of sanitary technology, and have nothing in common with the Real Japan. When Charley demurred they skipped the communal bath, although this involves no more than exposing private parts to other males, their multisex prototypes having been banished to remote provinces. Carey Snr’s notebook began to fill with observations that, as his title concedes, are often wrong. Japanese sleeping in cardboard boxes with their shoes neatly ranged outside are not drunk, but homeless; Japan has no public betting shops (he may have misread the establishments where the material prizes from pachinko [pinball] parlours are brazenly, and illegally, traded for cash); anime is not from French, but Japanese and gaijin (“outside [country] person”) does not connote barbarian, but white-skinned foreigner. Carey says he knew more about Japan before he left New York: words both disarming and over- (or mock-) modest.

As his father had hoped, Charley’s vision proved more perceptive, although not perhaps as Carey expected. They had the help of Takashi, a mysterious Japanese friend Charley had made on the internet. This may sound like another novelist’s device, but I recall meeting such ethereal beings when touring Japan with my own children. One of Charley’s dreams was fulfilled when they met Yoshiyuki Tomino, the creator of Mobile Suits Gundam – giant, nuclear-powered robots piloted by children who tramp the earth with superhuman powers. Carey Snr advanced a theory that the Mobile Suits could be a metaphorical empowerment of a Japan crushed by atomic weapons. Tomino-San pondered. “Gundam was launched just to sell toy robots,” he explained through a friendly interpreter, “to create a product that people would buy. There is no real inspiration behind it.” Inscrutable wisdom of the Orient? Keen business know-how? Both? Carey cannot tell. By this time they have given up on Japanese rice, fish and pickles, and are breakfasting at Mister Donut, like a proper Japanese family.

The summit of the father-and-son expedition is reached at an against-all-odds meeting with Hayao Miyazaki, genius of the anime, often called the Walt Disney of Japan although his Spirited Away, in speed, dazzling technique and explosive imaginativeness makes Uncle Walt’s most ambitious work, Snow White, seem ordinary. Through its brilliance, however, the durable manga conventions are seen – a cute little girl who deploys shy innocence against the monstrous machinations of an adult world obsessed with greed and gluttony, the ancient religious symbols, ghosts, demons and freaks that haunt Japanese children’s bedtimes – just as in Stagecoach we can still see a child’s game of good and bad guys riding an eternal range. No wonder Spirited Away was a world hit with both children and adults, and won an Academy Award in 2002.

The summit meeting was not wordy. Miyazaki has almost no English, the Careys no Japanese. The only words in Charley’s critical vocabulary are “bor-ring!” and “cool!”. Carey Snr had no way of asking about motivation or philosophy. Instead, Miyazaki confirmed an old insight – a great artist combines a child’s imagination with an adult’s skills – by showing Charley a book of flip-through moving images based on kamishibai, the “paper theatre” long used by Japanese street vendors to attract children and sell them sweets. Despite his title, Carey has found a world far more mysterious than any real Japan – the prepubescent years before sex has reared its baffling head, the magic land we all passed through and can never revisit, except by art. Charley and Miyazaki closed their encounter with a cool contact of closed fists and a treasured photograph; the anime maestro returned to his drawing board, the explorers to New York. Like his book’s title, Carey’s family portrait of a cool son and his middle-aged dad who never quite gets it is another literary device, and both work. Peter Carey manages to get quite a few things right about Japan, too. Not bad, in a short school holiday.

From the TLS

24 fevereiro 2005

The French were so appalled by the vulgarity of Shakespeare’s plays that it took them 300 years to come near to an accurate translation. The item of Desdemona’s on which the plot of Othello hinges could not be mentioned on stage because mouchoir was too coarse a word to be uttered — or heard — in the Comédie Française. It was not until 1829 that Alfred de Vigny first risked the M-word, but that still left the question of the strawberries with which it was decorated, and fraise was considered an even lower word. The handkerchief was thus referred to as being decorated with “flowers” until well into the 20th century.

SHAKESPEARE GOES TO PARIS: How the Bard Conquered France

22 fevereiro 2005

Six decades ago, not long after being hired by Harold Ross as a copy editor at The New Yorker, a shy young woman, an Oberlin graduate, set to work on a manuscript by James Thurber and soon came across the word “raunchy.” She had never heard of the word and thought it was a mistake. “Raunchy” became “paunchy.” Thurber’s displeasure was such that the young woman barely escaped firing. Later, according to his biographer Harrison Kinney, Thurber wrote that “facetiously” was the only word in English that had all six vowels in order. What about “abstemiously”? the copy editor replied. Thurber, who was not easily impressed, was finally compelled to ask, “Who is Eleanor Gould?

Mustang Sallies
Can America's wild horses survive another four years of Bush?

Since 1971, wild horses and burros have been federally protected by the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Protection Act, a pitched battle piece of legislation won in 1971 by Velma Johnston, aka Wild Horse Annie. (Wild Horse Annie was an intrepid Nevada character who, after seeing blood spilling out of a truck that was hauling mustangs to the slaughterhouse, campaigned for the act.) Legend had it that, apart from the war in Vietnam, Congress received more mail about protecting wild horses than about any other issue in its history.

Now the trucks that caught Wild Horse Annie's attention may be revving their engines again, thanks to a stealth rider attached in November to a federal spending bill. The new law, pushed by ranching interests, Western senators, and Bush's Department of the Interior, probably condemns thousands of wild horses to the slaughterhouse—where they're likely to be made into dinner for Europeans.

Wild horses were indigenous to North America, populating this continent before the Ice Age. They moved north across the Bering land bridge, fanned out from Siberia to the rest of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, then became extinct here. When Europeans reintroduced horses to the Americas in the 16th century, some escaped and formed wild herds. By 1900, there were 2 million wild horses in America. Their major predators, such as the mountain lion, were all but wiped out, and for more than a century their biggest enemy has been man. Horse roundups and massacres went unchecked for decades until Wild Horse Annie came along.

In 1971, when the act was passed and signed by Richard Nixon, perhaps 50,000 horses remained, according to the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of Interior agency in charge of them. It's hard to count horses, but today, according to the BLM, there are 36,000 on public lands. Wild horse advocates dispute that number and say there are no more than 20,000 still roaming the range. Everyone agrees that the numbers are dwindling and most of the horses are in Nevada, which is where the wild mustang is making its last stand. (The state gives the mustang props everywhere—brothels name themselves after it, downtown Vegas features wild horse statues, its picture hangs in every dive bar in the desert—but in real life, it gets no respect.)

Today's fight over wild horses is a strange battle, in which cattlemen and ranchers—the traditional enemies of the wild horse—have inadvertently teamed up with environmental groups, which generally regard wild horses as an invasive, non-native species. Along with the oil and gas lobbies, the ranching industry largely determines BLM policy toward public lands, which is where wild horses and burros roam. Many ranchers who lease grazing land from the BLM for meager fees—a situation opponents call "welfare ranching"—see wild horses as pests that destroy the land and take food from cattle, although study after study indicates that cattle do more damage to the range than horses. Moreover, public lands west of the Mississippi, which is where most of the country's remaining wild horses live, supply just 3 percent of our beef.

Under a myriad of management schemes and subsequent legislation, the 1971 law meant to protect the horses has been gradually weakened in order to deal with what the BLM says are "excess" horses. The BLM established "herd management areas" and "appropriate management levels" aimed not, as the act mandated, at preserving wild horses but removing more and more horses from the range. In 1971, there were 303 herd management areas; today there are 201. According to advocates who gathered recently for a conference in Carson City, Nev., the BLM has been grabbing small herds of horses in surprise sweeps. Periodically, the BLM enforces a policy of "zeroing out" horses, which means completely eliminating horses from a particular herd management area, thus opening it up to drilling and the introduction of more cattle.

Under Bush, slow-motion neglect has been replaced by a vigorous assault on mustangs. The BLM's wild horse removal policy has escalated ferociously. The "gathers," as the BLM calls them, are carried out by helicopter and are reminiscent of The Misfits, the Marilyn Monroe movie about the cruel mustang roundups outside Reno in the 1950s and '60s. Although helicopter roundups aren't as traumatic for the horses as the fixed-wing aircraft roundups depicted in The Misfits, horses can instinctively run themselves to the point of injury, if not death. I witnessed several roundups this summer and saw foals being trampled by frightened mares and stallions once they were inside cramped holding pens.

Horses that survive the roundups face a murky future in the BLM's cute-in-name-only adopt-a-horse program. For $125, you can buy a wild horse at one of the BLM's adoption events held periodically around the country. The BLM tries to make the adoption easy, providing information on mustang training clinics, and lately even in some states offering to drive the horse to you at no cost. Full ownership is not granted for one year, a period in which the BLM may make surprise inspection visits. The problem is that there are many more horses in BLM pipelines than there are adopters, yet the roundups continue. In 2004, almost 4,000 wild horses and burros were removed from Nevada public land. An additional 5,000 at the very least are slated to go this year; the goal is to cut the wild horse population in half by the end of 2005. Wild horse advocates fear that if the government even comes close to these figures, the herds that roam the range will no longer have the numbers to sustain themselves.

But the November rider represents the gravest threat yet to the remaining mustangs—and a triumph for the cattle industry. Many senators and representatives did not know that Montana Sen. Conrad Burns had attached the last-minute rider to the 2005 federal appropriations bill when they approved it before their Christmas break.

The rider probably spells doom for many of the 14,000 wild horses that languish in BLM facilities because they have not been adopted—and also endangers horses rounded up in the future. According to the new law, which took effect in January after Bush signed it in December, any horse that is older than 10 (not old for a horse) or has not been adopted after three tries through the poorly advertised adoption program can now be sold to the highest bidder. "Highest bidder" generally means middlemen who resell the horses to slaughterhouses. The demand for horse meat comes from Europe, Japan, and Mexico, and as fear of mad cow disease escalates everywhere, the appetite for it increases. This combination of increased roundups and sales to meat-packers will devastate the remaining herds.

A few legislators are fighting back. On Jan. 25, Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the House Resources Committee (which oversees wild horse policy on federal lands), introduced a piece of legislation along with Republican Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky to overturn the Burns rider. "Very few icons of the West remain," Rahall said, "and wild horses are certainly a symbol of the frontier era and our nation's spirit. To allow them to be slaughtered without exhausting all other options, such as adoption, is an affront to our history."

Even if the horses aren't immediately sold to slaughterhouses, they face another potentially disturbing fate. They may be bought by a prominent Montana rancher named Merle Edsall, who has planned for months to "repatriate" 10,000 wild horses to a "sanctuary" in Mexico. Edsall says he wants to build a wild horse tourist attraction, but once they move south of the border, it would be impossible to monitor what happens to them. Edsall may also have influenced the Burns rider. The language in the Burns rider was the exact same wording floated by Edsall at a meeting of the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board last February in Phoenix.

Many wild horse advocates are hoping that the Rahall/Whitfield legislation will win additional sponsors and will be enacted quickly in the current Congressional session. But public lands ranchers are a powerful interest group. If the Burns rider remains as law and is carried out, our cowboy President—recently characterized by Burns as "a man who earned his spurs"—may be remembered for eradicating the living symbol of the American West, the very horse he rode in on.

[From Slate]

And after you realized Hitler was dead?

Well, there was perfect silence. We waited. We waited maybe 20 minutes. But Linge was curious. I was curious. I still don't remember whether it was Linge or Günsche who first opened the door to Hitler's rooms, but one of the two. I was really curious and came forward a few steps. Then somebody opened the second door -- I still don't know who it was, probably Linge. And it was then, as the second door opened, I saw Hitler, dead, lying on a chair. Eva [Braun] on the couch completely clothed. In a dark dress and white, white skin. She was lying back.


Right. I'd like to talk a little bit about the new movie portrayal of those last days in the bunker. Have you seen "Downfall"?

Oh, yeah, I've seen it. [Laughs heartily.] Dramatic operetta. It's all Americanized. All that yelling and screaming; it wasn't like that down there in the bunker. The reality -- it was a death bunker. Everyone whispered down there. A crazy screaming scene never happened.

Hitler never yelled?

Well, at least when the generals were down there, discussing military things, they were very quiet. It's a film, with all the freedoms of a film. It's no documentary.

Hitler's bodyguard on Salon

[Gotta admit that I also found Hitler too much over the rainbow in the movie]

20 fevereiro 2005

The British are obsessed with finding the Real Spain but does it exist? And if so, where can we find it? Ask a long-term resident to get some clues.

There seems to be a special report on travelling to Spain on The Guardian these days
[including my homeland state, of course]

18 fevereiro 2005

The large print giveth...

There is a crisis in literature. Readers have stopped reading, drawn instead to other perhaps more modish forms of entertainment. Sales are down, authors are despondent, salons are closing and literary lunches have become drab affairs. But US publishers have come to the rescue. Literature's woes, they have decided, lie in the smallness of the print. "Many people over the ripe old age of 40 are starting to have trouble reading, and reading mass market books has become very difficult," Jane Friedman, president and chief executive officer of HarperCollins told the Associated Press.

The answer is obvious: publishers are to make books bigger, thereby making space for larger print on the page and solving in one swoop the malaise affecting literature. Maeve Binchey, Nora Roberts, Stuart Woods and Robin Cook (no, not that one) will be the first to benefit from the new supersized literature as Penguin launches its Premium range in the US this summer.

"We think it will be a more comfortable reading experience, but still at an affordable price," said Leslie Gelbman, Penguin's president of mass-market paperbacks. The new format, which other publishers also plan to adopt in the US next year, will be half an inch taller than existing paperbacks. Moreover, the books will be printed on higher quality paper and they will sell for a figure between the price of an existing paperback and hardcover book.

A statement from Penguin said: "The improvement is most apparent in the interior design, which has been crafted with the production values of a hardcover book in mind... The result is a much more enjoyable reading experience." A Penguin executive, Norman Lidofsky, added: "We are offering the reader hardcover values at a paperback price." The innovation, the publishers point out, is the first time that the mass-market paperback format has been tampered with for 50 years. It is is their response to the declining book sales in the US. The Book Industry Study Group reports that annual sales in the US have fallen from 600m in 1999 to 535m last year.

The innovation will also come as a relief to those authors who may have mistakenly felt that people were not buying their books because of something they had written Rather than being concerned about such old-fashioned literary gimmicks as plot, character and the careful choice of appropriate language, they must now recognised that the key to successful writing is to change the font size setting on their computer and to invest in some heavyweight paper at the stationers.

[From The Guardian]

17 fevereiro 2005

Bitácora @ Home - Feb 17th, 2005

Escuchando: The Killing Fields OST


In late December I received a call from the White House Office of Presidential Personnel asking if I would be part of a small American delegation representing the president and the nation at the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The dates fell smack at the beginning of the semester. I am loath to miss classes. Nonetheless, I decided that this merited the absence, and my dean agreed.

The delegation, which was being led by Vice President Dick Cheney, included Elie Wiesel; U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos and his wife, Annette, both Holocaust survivors; Fred Schwartz, who had spearheaded the rebuilding of a synagogue in the town of Auschwitz; Feliks Bruks, a Polish American who had been imprisoned by the Nazis in three concentration camps; and me. When I asked the White House official why I had been included, she explained that it was because of my work, especially my legal travails, exposing Holocaust deniers.

So that was how I found myself in the distinguished-visitors lounge at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Tuesday, January 25. We boarded a Gulfstream jet that seemed like it might have seated 40 but was configured for 10 passengers and six crew members. From the outside it looked like a miniature Air Force One, with the words United States of America emblazoned on the side. (Cheney was leaving later that night on Air Force Two, which was on the tarmac nearby.) I was able to answer my e-mail and to blog from the plane.

When we landed in Kraków in a blinding snowstorm, a convoy of police cars, limos, SUV's, and vans moved forward across the tarmac to greet us. The American ambassador to Poland, Victor Ashe, emerged from a car and thanked us for coming. Our luggage was unloaded and placed on a truck that preceded us to the hotel. By the time I entered my room, the luggage was waiting for me. It was all very heady and quite unlike my life as a professor.

But the Sybaritic pleasures were severely tempered by the reason we were there. While I sat in the "control room" -- a hotel suite that had been turned into an office -- dealing with my e-mail, behind me State Department officials vigorously debated the most efficient way to get us to Auschwitz-Birkenau the next day for the ceremony. With the expected crowds and motorcades, the officials were unsure whether it was better to send us in the vice president's entourage or in our own van. After listening for a while, I turned around and observed that there was something surrealistic about discussing how to get to the death camp, the largest "cemetery" in the world, punctually. We laughed uncomfortably.

The next day we sat for three long hours in the falling snow listening to orations and participating in the commemoration. After a while the speeches, many by heads of state, began to morph one into another. What could the statesmen say, surrounded by camp survivors, in the shadow, literally, of the gas chambers? I was reminded of Adorno's pronouncement that "writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric." It seemed to me that on a day such as this, prose fared little better, except for the words of those who had actually experienced the camps.

I tuned out the speakers and began to reflect on those survivors' writings, which were very much with me because I had just finished teaching a course on memoirs of the Holocaust. In Still Alive, Ruth Kluger describes watching an SS guard preening on the other side of the barbed wire with a walking stick that had a loaf of bread stuck to the end. He tormented the starving prisoners by dragging the bread in the mud. Watching the bread destroyed in the dirt hit Kluger "like a blow in the diaphragm because it was such a crudely sarcastic expression of undifferentiated hatred."

Primo Levi describes a similar experience in Survival in Auschwitz, when, during his first days at the camp, driven by thirst, he saw a large icicle hanging outside his window. He reached out and grabbed it only to have a "large heavy guard prowling outside" brutally snatch it away. "Warum?" Levi asked. The guard replied: "Hier ist kein warum." Here there is no why.

Sitting there in my four layers of clothing, heavy socks, special boots, earmuffs, and hat, and nursing a cup of hot coffee, which our minders had kindly provided us, I was thrust back to the final days of the camp, when the Germans, unwilling to let 60,000 surviving Jews fall into the hands of the Red Army, forced them to march through the snow toward Germany, where they were put in concentration camps.

In Speak You Also, Paul Steinberg recalled that as the march began he knew that "one thing is certain: In the days to come, many will die just when their wildest dreams are about to come true. And that will be the cruelest blow of all." And Steinberg was correct. So many people died that the trek entered history as a "death march."

In the final chapter of his memoir, Levi describes in detail the situation at Auschwitz during the days before the arrival of the Red Army. Levi, left behind in Auschwitz's so-called hospital, saw the camp decompose. "No more water, or electricity, broken windows and doors slamming in the wind. ... Ragged, decrepit, skeletonlike patients ... dragged themselves everywhere on the frozen soil, like an invasion of worms. They had ransacked all the empty huts in search of food and wood. ... No longer in control of their own bowels, they had fouled everywhere, polluting the precious snow, the only source of water remaining in the camp."

Levi attributed his survival during those difficult last days to the friendship and support of a small group of men who were in the hospital with him. Their only goal, he told Philip Roth years later, was to save "the lives of our sick comrades." On the night of the 26th of January one of them died. Levi and his friends were too cold and exhausted to bury him. There was nothing to do but go back to sleep and wait for the next day. "The Russians arrived while Charles and I were carrying Sómogyi a little distance outside. He was very light. We overturned the stretcher on the gray snow. Charles took off his beret. I regretted not having a beret."

Sixty years later, as darkness fell over Auschwitz, I turned to one of the members of our delegation and said: "It's really cold. I regret not having worn another layer of clothing." Suddenly Levi's words came cascading back on me. I was embarrassed. And then without explaining why, I stood up in silent tribute not just to Sómogyi, but to the countless nameless others who had died there or those, such as Elie Wiesel's father, who died soon after the death march. I also stood for people such as Levi, who survived but bore the terrible wounds of the place for the rest of their lives.

Despite the sharp wind, I took off my hat. After all, I had one.

[From The Chronicle]

14 fevereiro 2005

Happy Valentine's Day!

This year, say it with words: a carefully chosen poem can spark tender feelings in your chosen valentine. But who to go for - Sappho or Marvell, Yeats or Shakespeare? Just answer a few simple questions about your valentine, and we'll find an appropriate poem to touch their heart.

Take the Quiz :-)

12 fevereiro 2005

Midnight. A knock at the door.
Open it? Better had.
Three heavy cats, mean and bad.

They offer protection. I ask, 'What for?'
The Boss-cat snarls, 'You know the score.
Listen man and listen good

If you wanna stay in the neighbourhood,
Pay your dues or the toms will call
And wail each night on the backyard wall.

Mangle the flowers, and as for the lawn
a smelly minefield awaits you at dawn.'
These guys meant business without a doubt

Three cans of tuna, I handed them out.
They then disappeared like bats into hell
Those bad, bad cats from the CPL.

Roger McGough

Healthier in lungs, poorer in spirit

"You could extend the adult/smoker theory a bit to understand some of Shakespeare's characters on the basis of who might or might not smoke. Lady Macbeth definitely would ('Out, damned spot!'); Macbeth wouldn't. Polonius wouldn't even allow smoking in the family chambers, but his daughter Ophelia might sneak a few puffs each day in back of the castle; and of course Hamlet wouldn't be able either to enjoy the habit or quit. Iago would smoke and like it; Desdemona would smoke on the sly but never with Othello, who - poor dear - must have had terrible asthma. Shakespeare himself? Undoubtedly a pipe-smoker."

11 fevereiro 2005

The New Yorker on the (1st) German movie about Hitler titled «Downfall»

10 fevereiro 2005

When there is talk of 1945, I remember that in the summer of that year my aunt, who miraculously made it through the Warsaw Uprising, brought her son, Andrzej, to visit us in the countryside. He was born during the uprising. Today he is a man in late middle-age, and when I look at him I think how long ago it all was! Since then, generations have been born in Europe who know nothing of what war is. And yet those who lived through it should bear witness. Bear witness in the name of those who fell next to them, and often on top of them; bear witness to the camps, to the extermination of the Jews, to the destruction of Warsaw and of Wroclaw. Is this easy? No. We who went through the war know how difficult it is to convey the truth about it to those for whom that experience is, happily, unfamiliar. We know how language fails us, how often we feel helpless, how the experience is, finally, incommunicable.

More from Ryszard Kapuscinski and

Germany looks to the oldest profession to get people off the dole

A few years ago, prostitutes disappeared from the pages of medical journals; they returned as “sex workers.” Nor did they work in prostitution any more: they were employees in the “sex industry.” Presumably, orgasms are now a consumer product just like any other. As for pimps, the correct term is probably: “brief sexual liaison coordinators.”

The editors who decided on the new terminology almost certainly felt, and probably still do feel, a warm glow of self-satisfaction (one of the few emotions than never lets you down). How they must have prided themselves on their broadmindedness, as they strove to reduce the small-minded stigma traditionally attached to offering sexual services in return for money! How morally brave and daring they must have felt, to fly so boldly in the face of two millennia of unthinking condemnation!

Unfortunately, ideas—or in this case attitudes—have their consequences. If prostitution really is a trade like any other, with no particular moral opprobrium attaching to it, why should women (or for that matter men) who receive state benefits not be coerced into prostitution under threat of losing their benefits, just as they can be coerced into taking any other job that becomes available?

In fact, this is precisely what has just happened in Germany. Government officials have threatened a young unemployed waitress in Berlin with a reduction in her state unemployment benefit for turning down a job in a brothel. Since prostitution is a job like any other, they maintained, she had no right to turn it down.

The young woman in question could still refuse. But what would she live on? It has always been the argument of those who want to destigmatize prostitution that wretched personal circumstances force prostitutes into their sex-work; as is so often the case, this gloomy determinism has now helped to bring about the very circumstances complained of in the first place. Logically, and on exactly the same grounds, there is no reason why the government should not coerce young—or indeed old—men into homosexual prostitution.

The idea of the state coercing its population into prostitution is, of course, repellent. Even the most liberal of liberals would probably agree with that. This means that there is after all a moral difference between prostitution and washing dishes in the local restaurant or stacking supermarket shelves. And that prostitution is both age-old and ineradicable does not make it any less degrading to all concerned.

Once again, the attempt to remake our moral universe by a change of terminology stands revealed as shallow moral exhibitionism: Look at me, see how unfettered by convention, how empathic towards the downtrodden, I am! I think for myself, unlike all those people of the past two millennia, and I don’t accept the burden of the so-called wisdom of the past!

Of course, the German state might not have been in a position to coerce the waitress in the first place, had its social security payments not been so generous, causing 4,500,000 people to be unemployed.

Theodore Dalrymple on City Journal
Touch my hand
It’s only me, listen
I’m here.

Come to stand
In sultry fields
With you.

And now
Old dummy day
I know
Is over this way.

I’m laughing
Saw you gonna kiss me
You see
Yeah as I said.

One day she won’t
A lonely bird

Judgement day
Saw the world it’s gone

Sold the sea
A lot how it feels to me.

I hate the word it’s sad to see
I take your weight
And your heart fades away
Today a renegade
To lay in woods
By the pheasants.

I mean it
You don’t
Force on my head
Kill our nightmare.

A lonely bird, a lonely bird
A lonely bird, a lonely bird
A lonely bird, alone.

Colour me
Cover me in the colour that reminds you

Could make the same mistake
And you would never know
That I am, that I am
Alone, now.

Something, something
Tells me that you
Have something
On, all of us now
You’re heaven
Taking over me now
Colour me hate
Raw little nerve
Colour me and pull us
Only home
Me home.

Hold the sun down
Hold the sun down
Hold the moon down
Leave me to rest
Want the world man
Too the words out
Only relief is
To slip through the nets
Hold a minute
And stop a minute
And go, oh oh
Hold a minute
You said to me
Said to me and
Breath, breath, breath, breath, breath ...
You said it to me
Sometime later.

Sometime Later - Alpha

"The shocking nature of the Brontës' novels quickly faded, but the overwrought images solidified, often conflating the writers' personalities with simplistic views of their heroines': Charlotte must be the proper Jane Eyre and Emily the wild woman roaming the heaths of Wuthering Heights (in her soul if not her actions). During the Victorian era, the prim Charlotte's popularity was highest among the sisters, but in the 20th century she lost ground to the rebellious Emily."

The NYTimes on The Women Behind the Myths

09 fevereiro 2005


El cartelismo tuvo una época de especial florecimiento en los años treinta en Europa como medio para transmitir mensajes e ideas, así como las tendencias artísticas del momento. En España, con la proclamación de la Segunda República, un auténtico ejército de pintores, dibujantes, diseñadores y grafistas al servicio de la causa republicana apostó por un cartelismo de vanguardia que adquirió un valor excepcional.

Los artistas siguieron la senda de la cartelística de la Primera Guerra Mundial, acrecentando la efectividad de los mensajes y recurriendo a la imaginación para ampliar los motivos tradicionales (alistamiento, cautela ante el espionaje enemigo, símbolos políticos), pero también llamadas a la educación, a la higiene, advertencia ante los abusos que proliferan en las situaciones de guerra, etc.

La Fundación Pablo Iglesias, en su sede de la Universidad de Alcalá de Henares, conserva más de dos mil carteles de propaganda que se han convertido en un testimonio extraordinario del cartelismo republicano.

De los fondos de esta colección se han seleccionado para ser exhibidos cerca de doscientos carteles de procedencia diversa (del Partido Socialista Obrero Español, Unión General de Trabajadores, Partido Comunista de España, Juventudes Socialistas Unificadas, Izquierda Republicana, Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, Federación Anarquista Ibérica), así como de algunos ministerios del gobierno republicano y varias organizaciones del periodo que tuvieron su propia imagen.

Los carteles seleccionados ilustran los valores republicanos que tanto el gobierno español como las organizaciones políticas, sindicales y sociales del periodo defendieron contra la sublevación franquista. Asimismo, muestran un auténtico arte de vanguardia. Es para muchos un caso excepcional de fusión entre vanguardia política y vanguardia artística.

Algunos de los autores de los carteles expuestos son anónimos, pero también encontramos autores conocidos, entre los cuales cabe citar, por la singularidad de sus trabajos, a Amster, Bagaria, Ballester, Bardasano, Cañavate, Espert, Renau y Tono.

[Exhibition in BCN]

Smoke: A Global History of Smoking

Reviewed by the BMJ and the TLS

Word power

The isle is full of noises, says Caliban, by way of challenge. It is also full of sights. The writer's job is to use words so skilfully that what is out there - actual, but actually unseen - should be seen, fixed and preserved. Great literature allows us to quote reality. This is Seamus Heaney on the noise and feel of a spade hitting an obstacle: "The plate scrabs field-stones / and a tremor blunts in the shaft / at small come-uppances meeting / the driven edge." This is Kipling on the noise of the bell at Kyoto in Japan: "A knuckle rapped lightly on the lip of the bell - it was not more than five feet from the ground - made the great monster breathe heavily."

(...) "Behold a bunnia's shop. He sells rice and chillies and dried fish and wooden scoops made of bamboo. The front of his shop is very solid. It is made of half-inch battens nailed side by side. Not one of the battens is broken; and each one is foursquare perfectly. Feeling ashamed of himself for this surly barring up of his house, he fills one-half the frontage with oiled paper stretched upon quarter-inch framing. Not a single square of oil paper has a hole in it, and not one of the squares, which in more uncivilised countries would hold a pane of glass if strong enough, is out of line."

(...) "And the bunnia, clothed in a blue dressing-gown, with thick white stockings on his feet, sits behind, not among his wares, on a pale gold-coloured mat of soft rice straw bound with black list at the edges. This mat is two inches thick, three feet wide and six long ... By the bunnia's side is a pouch of green leather tied with a red silk cord, holding tobacco fine cut as cotton. He fills a long black and red lacquered pipe, lights it at the charcoal of the brazier, takes two whiffs, and the pipe is empty. Still there is no speck on the mat."

(...) "A room floored with pale gold and roofed with panels of grained cedar. There is nothing in the room save a blood-red blanket laid out smoothly as a sheet of paper. Beyond the room is a passage of polished wood, so polished that it gives back the reflections of the white paper wall. At the end of the passage and clearly visible to this unique bunnia is a dwarfed pine two feet high in a green glazed pot, and by its side is a branch of azalea, blood-red as the blanket, set in a pale grey crackle-pot. The bunnia has put it there for his own pleasure, for the delight of his eyes, because he loves it."

a Japanese emperor at the Nikko river, trying to compose the scene, feeling it lacked "a dash of colour". First, he tries "a little child in a blue and white dressing gown under the awful trees". Interrupted in his aesthetic pursuits by a beggar, the king absent-mindedly sweeps off the beggar's head with his sword. The blood spilt solves the problem and the king orders a vermilion lacquer bridge to be built. It is a purely aesthetic decision - emphasised by the king's instruction that no one is to step on this red bridge and that another utilitarian grey bridge should be built for his subjects.

The aesthetic instinct is autonomous and imperious. It is also curious and tasteless. Let me explain that last adjective "tasteless": in the interests of aesthetic taste (that vermilion bridge), conventional taste, that is to say, "good" taste, with its moral dimension, has to be set aside. At least initially.

Read what is it all about in The Guardian

Let's imagine that there was a writer who took as his subject World War II. And let's suppose that because of his ability to amass and cite journals, transcripts, paperwork and all manner of documents, he gained a reputation as a meticulous researcher. Now let's say that the conclusion the writer drew from all of his research was an unshakable conviction that World War II never happened. It was, he insists, a massive fraud, and he declares under oath, "No documents whatever show that World War II had ever happened."

Now let's allow things to get curiouser and curiouser.

Read on from Salon (there's a Free Day Pass to click on, it's a simple and quick procedure, I wish all online content would have this option instead of asking us to subscribe :-(

According to Mort Rosenblum's thorough investigation of the world of chocolate, even some of the most exclusive names rely too much on wax and care more about their gift boxes than their taste.

Reading about food generally leaves me with a new appreciation for whatever cuisine is under discussion, even if it's a temptation from which I wish to be delivered. "Chocolate," however, left me feeling that there's less of a there there than I'd imagined.

Rosenblum bounces from South America and Africa to California and New York to Europe; he also bounces among genres: consumer guide here, history there, with liberal dollops of sociology and medical lore along the way.

Some of the "issues" surrounding chocolate turn out, in this book, to be no big deal after all. Remember the buzz about how chocolate was produced by child slave labor in Africa? Not to worry, Rosenblum says; there are children working for no pay on their families' cacao plantations, but their situation is not materially different from that of young sons and daughters in farm families around the world.

If the cacao exchange in Ivory Coast is a mysterious channel from which wealth brought in from overseas buyers disappears before it makes it to poor cacao growers, the author quotes a French bean trader who diplomatically calls the whole process "opaque" and then pretty much leaves it there.

If there are health benefits to chocolate, no one really knows much for sure; research funding tends to go to those studying disease, not the sense of well-being that comes from chocolate.

He has high praise for the chocolate of a handful of (mostly) Europeans (Patrick Roger or Michael Chaudun in France or Pierre Marcolini in Brussels). There are moments of passion here and there, as he identifies cacao growers who really do it right, chocolatiers who refuse to cut corners. And there are some brands he acknowledges as offering good value for money (try Côte d'Or or Leonidas).

But unless you live in Paris (as Rosenblum conveniently does), to absorb the connoisseurship offered in this book is to set yourself up for consumer frustration. On the other hand, maybe I should figure out how to spend Valentine's Day in Paris.

[from CS Monitor]