30 maio 2007

What’s the Point of Books?

On Sunday, Rachel Carson would have been a hundred years old. This got me thinking about a couple of books just out, written with the same indignant passion that drove Carson.

It can be agreed that Carson’s “Silent Spring,” which sparked environmentalism, has had a great impact on the world. What kind of impact, though, can a book have like Vincent Bugliosi’s “Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy”?

Mr. Bugliosi spent 22 years building what will likely be the most definitive case possible that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. The case required 1600 pages — forget doorstop; his new one could be practically a whole door.

Because a book of that length will be read cover to cover almost exclusively by people utterly obsessed with the assassination, in its wake, the suspicion among much of the general public that Kennedy’s murder was driven by a conspiracy will stay put.

Oliver Stone’s film, “JFK” will always be a more vivid and memorable statement than any book will be. Add a human predilection for grand-scale narrative and justified vilification of the Cold War CIA, and the idea that there must have been something more to it than one lone nut job, will live on.

Meanwhile, can we really imagine that even the diehard conspiracy buffs will read Mr. Bugliosi’s book and then just pack up their bags and go home? Unlikely. For one, the book requires close engagement with sustained argumentation, and that is not natural to human cognition. It requires training that not all people get, and also jibes with some individuals’ psychologies more than others’.

This is in contrast to the way we talk, for example, in little packets of seven or eight words at a time, strung together like beads on a string. Carefully plotted exposition cast in long sentences is an artifice, a stunt, allowed by writing that can be found in Mr. Bugliosi’s book. Almost no one casually talks that way, and as such, we do not naturally think that way. Word packets are great for scoring points, building crescendos — but not for getting across the long arc of a dense argument.

As Mr. Bugliosi has noted elsewhere, it’s hard to get juries to keep in mind that a case is not like a chain, where if one link breaks all is lost, but like a rope, where even if a strand or two snap, the rope remains intact. JFK conspiracy buffs labor under this assumption, as Amazon book reviews of Mr. Bugliosi’s book are already showing. For these fanatics, pursuing this conspiracy is like a religion. Their belief will not die.

And on religion, I am also bemused by Christopher Hitchens’s “God Is Not Great.” It is currently near the top of the Times’ best seller list, but in the end, what could this and the books of its ilk written lately by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett change?

Mr. Hitchens’s book is, unsurprisingly, great writing. But the number of people who will contact Mr. Hitchens thanking him for writing about the logical error in the religious faith they were raised in and trying to convince them to become atheists will be very, very small. People do not give up their religious faith on the basis of suasion. The faith is, by definition, beyond the reach of logic.

So for all of its entertainment value, how could the book affect the world beyond that? There have long been prominent religious skeptics. In the Gilded Age, orator Robert Ingersoll was titillating audiences declaring, “toilers are paid with the lash, babes are sold, the innocent stand on scaffolds, and the heroic perish in flames” and “yet we are told that it is our duty to love this God.” Yet, these days, religion is on the rise in America. Ingersoll changed nothing.

From what I see, the effects of books like “God Is Not Great” will be to make nonbelievers feel more confident in expressing their views. But they will not convert believers, which means that these anti-God books will serve mainly to elevate the rancor in our public discussion.

These books will certainly stand as evidence for human beings’ capacity for reason. All this reminds me of an academic book I wrote long ago on how creole languages develop.

It remains the book I am proudest of, but people studying creoles had different interests than mine, such that virtually none were inclined to engage 250 pages of longlined arguments on this topic. Exactly six people read it. Two of them were reviewers. The book changed nothing.

Life goes on, but I gain faint comfort from the fact that in a hundred years some futuristic fellow in a unitard may read my book closely and be convinced of its argument. I suspect Messrs. Bugliosi and Hitchens feel the same way, in which case, I currently view both with a combination of awe and consolation.

Mr. McWhorter is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

Catholic Church Reconsiders Limbo

The Catholic Church has ruled that, contrary to previous church doctrine, unbaptized children do not spend time in limbo until the End of Days. Here are other doctrine decisions the church has made recently.

Lifted ban on having sex with the lights on and your eyes open

Swiffer® officially validated as a miracle

Accepted the Freemasons' softball league invitation

Acknowledged that the Spanish Inquisition probably could've been handled better

Celibacy for clergy now optional, but those who remain chaste eligible for fantastic monthly prizes

Size of collection plates increased

Habits may now be tie-dyed or carry the logo of a nun's favorite sports team

Reconsidered belief that there's an invisible, all-powerful man in the sky who created everything

29 maio 2007

Divine Comedy

The Greeks understood that comedy (the gods' view of life) is superior to tragedy (the merely human). But since the middle ages, western culture has overvalued the tragic and undervalued the comic. This is why fiction today is so full of anxiety and suffering. It's time writers got back to the serious business of making us laugh.


4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days wins Palme d'or in Cannes

Romania, during the final days of Communism. Otilia and Gabita are students; they share a room in a hall of residence in Bucharest. Gabita is pregnant. The girls arrange to meet a certain Mr. Bebe in a cheap hotel. He will perform Gabita’s illegal abortion. But Mr. Bebe refuses their money and demands to be paid in kind.

Paul Newman Says He's Too Old for Acting

Paul Newman says he's given up acting. "I'm not able to work anymore as an actor at the level I would want to," Newman, 82, told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Thursday. "You start to lose your memory, your confidence, your invention. So that's pretty much a closed book for me."

Newman, star of films such as "Hud," "Cool Hand Luke" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," added: "I've been doing it for 50 years. That's enough."

He has other plates spinning. Newman plans to focus on the Dressing Room, his new organic restaurant in Westport, Conn., and his Hole in the Wall Gang camps for critically ill children.

His Newman's Own brand of dressings, pasta sauces, popcorn and salsa has raised more than $200 million for charities.

Newman, who won an Oscar for his leading role in 1986's "The Color of Money," was last seen _ or heard, rather _ as the voice of Doc Hudson in the 2006 animated feature "Cars."

Cortiça para a Frente!

The Rainforest Alliance raises a glass to Willamette Valley Vineyards, which is set to become the first winery in the world to use cork stoppers harvested from responsibly managed forestlands certified by the Rainforest Alliance to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards. The winery, based in Turner, Oregon, was recently awarded FSC Chain-of-Custody certification by the Rainforest Alliance.
The Rainforest Alliance was responsible for awarding FSC certification at each step throughout the process, beginning with certifying the worlds first cork forest in 2005, later certifying the cork manufacturing facilities, owned by the Amorim Group, and now certifying Willamette Valley Vineyards to help achieve this global first in the wine industry.

Carlos de Jesus, marketing and communications director for Amorim & Irmaos S.A., the world’s largest cork processor and the first FSC-certified cork company, congratulated Willamette on its certification. “We would like to emphasize the unique role that natural cork plays in responding to the market demands for environmentally and socially responsible wine closures,” de Jesus said. “The wine industry is responding to a demand by informed consumers that is resulting in the conservation of fragile ecosystems and the reduction of the industry’s carbon footprint.”

The wine industry plays a critical role in maintaining the economic value of cork and the cork oak forests. Unless the commercial value of cork stoppers is maintained, there is a risk that cork oak landscapes could face an economic crisis, loss of biodiversity and an accelerated desertification process. Cork oak landscapes cover about 2.7 million hectares of land in Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia and France. The cork forests in the Iberian Peninsula produce more than half the cork consumed worldwide. They are a biodiversity hot spot, home to endangered species and one of the last natural forest ecosystems in Western Europe. They also provide a vital source of income for tens of thousands of people.

Willamette Valley Vineyard’s cork stoppers will come from one of four currently FSC-certified cork forests, three of which were certified by the Rainforest Alliance, the first of which being Fruticor – a group of small landowners and managers – that was certified by the Rainforest Alliance in early 2005 in the Alentejo region of Portugal.

Why choose cork? Find out more here:

See photos of cork harvesting:

22 maio 2007

The Translator as Invisible Writer

O Escritor Invisível - A Tradução Tal Como é Vista Pelos Tradutores Portugueses, de Jorge Almeida e Pinho, um ensaio que pretende enquadrar a actividade da tradução em Portugal e constituir-se como uma compilação de elementos para-textuais relativos ao processo de tradução, será lançado no próximo dia 25 de Outubro, quarta-feira, pelas 17.00h, na Sala de Reuniões, Piso 2, da Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto. A apresentação da obra estará a cargo do Professor Doutor Gomes da Torre.

Jorge Almeida e Pinho é docente do Ensino Superior desde 1991, leccionando várias disciplinas na área da Tradução e Interpretação no ISAI, Porto. Tendo concluído, em 1998, o primeiro mestrado português em Estudos de Tradução, é, actualmente, director da Licenciatura em Tradução e Interpretação do ISAG, director da revista científica Génesis e um dos representantes eleitos pelas instituições de Ensino Superior no Conselho Nacional de Tradução, para além de manter actividade regular de tradutor.

No ensaio agora publicado, que prossegue no panorama editorial português o pioneirismo do autor relativamente ao estudo da tradução no nosso país, descreve-se um procedimento possível de execução de uma tradução, partindo das reflexões teórico-práticas de alguns tradutores sobre cada passo desse mesmo processo, indicando os métodos e os eventuais contextos teóricos seguidos. Do conjunto de excertos apresentados ao longo do ensaio, fazem parte as observações de tradutores conceituados na área da criação literária, como Jorge de Sena, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, João Gaspar Simões, David Mourão-Ferreira ou Vasco Graça Moura, entre outros.

Resenha do Portal da Literatura
Um livro QuidNovi

E obrigada ao Carlos, pois não dei por nada desta publicação
de Setembro de 2006,
e as propostas do Google são quase todas do Brasil.

Need I say more?

21 maio 2007

Rethinking the Art of Subtitles

Early on in the 2004 supernatural Russian thriller Night Watch, the protagonist, trying to prevent a witch from casting a spell on his unborn child, yells at the top of his lungs in protest. For English-speaking audiences, the subtitles do more than just translate the literal meaning: the words "no" and "stop" with three exclamation points are shown on different parts of the screen in large, moving letters. In another scene, as a swimming character hears a voice in his head causing his nose to bleed, the words "come to me," appear in red letters that dissolve like blood in the pool.

"We discussed with the studio [Fox Searchlight] how to make the movie more entertaining for English-speaking audiences," says director Timur Bekmambetov of the first in his three-part epic trilogy. "We thought of the subtitles as another character in the film, another way to tell the story." Times have certainly changed since the frustrating days of unreliable, white-on-white subtitles, randomly unreadable and restricted to art house films.

Over the next week and a half, some 65 films from 34 countries will screen at the Cannes Film Festival, all subtitled in English, French or both. The subtitles that will allow non-native viewers to follow the stories are crucial because no matter how flashy or impressive a movie may be, it's the subtitles that can stifle or showcase its quality. Although many audiences around the world, most of whom see foreign films dubbed, consider them the cinematic equivalent of Brussels sprouts, subtitles remain an unsung yet essential tool of moviegoing. And with technology improvements, more people speaking foreign languages and the modern habit of multi-tasking, the traditional aversion to watching a film while reading it just might be on the wane.

If subtitles "aren't invisible, you fail," says Henri Béhar, subtitler of a wide swath of notable films such as Brokeback Mountain, Boyz in the Hood and Good Will Hunting. "The titles should subtly give people the impression that they are understanding the characters speaking, not reading words on the screen." Trying to translate one language to another in the course of a film has challenges and limitations that apply to dubbing as well as subtitling — unlike literature which has the safety net of footnotes, film subtitlers have to make it work in the moment, all while trying to adapt wordplay and cultural references. "Characters in Boyz in the Hood talked about Amos n' Andy," says Béhar. "Well, in France that wouldn't mean anything. I went with Laurel and Hardy, but of course all the racial and political significance was gone. Sixteen years later, I'm still trying to find a better alternative."

Once in a while, subtitlers do get their due. Jacqueline Cohen, responsible for all of Woody Allen's films since 1989's Alice, says that "whenever Woody comes to town, he always mentions that the reason his films are so successful in France is thanks to the person who does the subtitles." No quick task, considering the talky nature of the prolific filmmaker's almost annual releases. "Action movies average about 700 subtitles — Woody's, between 1,500 to 2,000," says Claude Dupuy, the director of subtitling at LVT Laser Subtitling, which handles more than 600 films per year.

Dupuy, giving a tour of LVT's large facility in Malakoff, a Paris suburb, explains the process of laser engraving pioneered by the company in 1988 that burns translucent holes through the film's coating. Previously, subtitles were the result of applying a protective coating of paraffin wax, then stamping the words onto each frame in a zinc strip. This was followed by a bleach bath that dissolved away all parts of the emulsion not protected by the paraffin (the zinc-stamped subtitles), leaving the words in white on each frame. It was an unreliable, error-prone process.

Behind Dupuy are a several bulky machines, each equipped with a green laser that etches English subtitles one frame per second onto the French drama Lemming. Each frame clicks as it goes through the machine's gate, the same two-line sentence being engraved some 30 times until with a whir it advances to the next subtitle. It's a methodical, precise sequence that will take about 10 hours per print.

But the engraving of the subtitles is the last step in a process that begins weeks earlier. At LVT and other companies, a person watches the film scene by scene, doing what's known as spotting — marking time according to the timecode, the film's official clock — the start and end point of each spoken line of dialogue. Then the subtitler goes to work, balancing the challenge of conveying meaning accurately within the confines of space and the roughly 1.5-second-long display allotted per subtitle. The reality is that despite the reputation of subtitling over dubbing as a form of cultural purity, the eye reads slower than the ear hears, meaning that more than a third of a film's dialogue is sacrificed for what is most essential. The general rule is no more than 45 characters per line, even though widescreen movies could fit longer sentences (says Dupuy, "it shouldn't be like watching tennis").

There are logical rules as well, such as finishing a subtitle when a character stops speaking and not extending it over a cut, which can be disorienting. Good subtitles work with the rhythm of the scene, based on accurate spotting that captures that timing. Whereas now a subtitler can refer to the film on cassette or DVD throughout his or her work, in the old days, they'd see the film just once before writing the subtitles sometimes weeks later based on the spotting list, without a description of the context — a recipe for inaccuracy that probably contributed to dislike of subtitles in the first place.

"Each time you confront another culture," says the director Bekmambetov, whose sequel Day Watch will be released in the U.S. next month, "it gives you the motivation to create something different, to rethink your film in a way." In this Internet-chatting, newscrawl-reading multicultural era, when filmmakers can thematically incorporate subtitles into the story, a corner may have been turned. It's happened before; remember only a few years back when everyone believed that letterboxing was blocking part of the screen? Now it's hard to find DVDs that aren't letterboxed. Still, for subtitling, it might be slow-going: as a response to his trilogy's international appeal, Bekmambetov is planning to shoot the final installment in English.

18 maio 2007

In Japan, When Word Was Wed to Image

The 18th-century painter and calligrapher Ike Taiga was something like the Pablo Picasso of Japan. The comparison, while superficial, is hard to resist as you wade into the dazzling, almost daunting retrospective of Taiga’s work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and begin to absorb the many sides of his achievement.

Our Daily Bread

I am just theologian enough to know that "Give us this day our daily bread" carries metaphorical meaning. But it has a literal sense too, of course, and one that would have made sense to every citizen of a wheat-eating culture until very recently, when the idea of daily baking all but disappeared. This book gives an account of the painful 20th-century demise of perhaps the world's greatest baking tradition, that of the French, and then its sweet and unlikely second rising toward the century's end. Along the way, Steven Laurence Kaplan raises powerfully important questions about the proper scale for an economy—about how big is too big, and how small is impractical—that go well beyond both France and bread. Indeed, Kaplan's book spurs thought about what a postmodern economy might look like, and whether it might be possible for it to deliver satisfaction instead of simply piles of stuff.

The book doesn't raise these questions explicitly. Alas, it is either badly written or badly translated (or both). The writing is often a parody of academic cluelessness ("Encoded both as a material object and a symbolic object, bread constituted a complex multiple register on which social, biological, and spiritual destinies operated simultaneously"). More fundamentally, the book never manages to provide a straightforward chronology of the story Kaplan is trying to tell, and hence manages to provide both endless repetition and frustrating gaps. But since, as I say, the material is potentially of great interest, I will try to reassemble the tale as best I can.

In the beginning, bread was enormously important to the French. At the time of the Revolution, the average Frenchman may have eaten three pounds a day of the stuff. If it ran short, or the quality was bad, riots resulted; the very language reflected its ubiquity (think too of the English "bread-winner"). And of course there were all the associations linked with the Eucharist. "This is my body," Christ said, and in Kaplan's words "the model of the Eucharist undoubtedly reinforces the conviction that bread alone can perpetuate life in its deepest sense: that food only acquires providential force and status when it takes the form of bread."

Even today, says Kaplan, the French "have trouble imagining a real meal without bread." But they can apparently imagine a meal with a lot less of it—the average consumption is a sixth what it was in those older times. Much of the reason is that the French got richer, and as that happened "cereals were supplanted by foods long considered the prerogative of the well-to-do classes: fresh vegetables, fruit, cheese, fish, and especially meat." (Indeed, the French equivalent of "bread-winner" became "gagne-bifteck," or steak-earner, in the wake of World War II.) And this was a liberation in more than nutritional terms: as Kaplan documents extensively, the life of the urban baker up through the start of the 20th century was hard: hours of manual kneading in cramped cellars, the sweat from the forearms flavoring the dough.

As machinery replaced that monotony, however, another reason for the decline of bread appeared: it started tasting of less and less. Ever-bigger industrial bakers learned all sorts of tricks—chemical leavening agents, for instance, or the direct injection of yeast to replace sourdough. From an essentially living food, bread was becoming an industrial project, its makers obsessed with stressing the hygiene of their product even as consumers worried about its healthiness. It's a story that could be told about a wide variety of products in the Western world, their production rationalized at the expense of everything that made them special. In America and England, for instance, the best parallel is probably with beer: from thousands of breweries at the turn of the century, the few hundred that survived Prohibition were soon consolidated into a few dozen, who in place of dozens of styles of ale and lager brewed the same thin and fizzy golden swill.

But the reaction to bad beer began to set in, first in England, in the 1970s, when the Campaign for Real Ale launched the first widespread consumer reaction to modernist homogenization (a campaign that soon spread across the Atlantic, and produced the explosion in locally made craft beers here). Not long after, something of the same began to happen in France, with the re-emergence of artisanal bread makers fixated on quality. The best passages in this book are profiles of some of these Parisian baking stars—Kaplan has also written an eater's guide to the best bakeries of the capital, and in some of his descriptions you can almost taste the crackle of the crust, the chewy, nutty density of the crumb:

The baguette of the Boulanger de Monge … is a pure marvel. The crust, fine but crispy, is beautifully gilded and without defects. The crumb is equal to and in perfect harmony with the crust. Pearly in color, the crumb is denser than in most other good baguettes, with a texture that is at once silky and resistant, round and fluffy in the mouth… . The crust's aromas of toast and caramel go perfectly with whiff of country freshness emanating from the crumb. The taste lingers in the mouth, revealing several layers, with touches of crushed cereal, dried fruits, and winter vegetables with edible roots.

It's enough to make you toss your Pepperidge Farm loaf straight in the trash.

One of the more interesting parts of the story is the way that the French big box groceries—especially the dominant player, Carrefours—have tried to jump on this trend, hiring the best bakers to provide recipes and train workers at many stores in the artisanal techniques. There are now thousands of "bake-off terminals" in stores around France—and in groceries around the United States as well. Bread dough arrives frozen, and the staff heats it up in their ovens. The aroma hangs in the air, the bread is fresh in the wrapper. Kaplan writes that much of it tastes pretty good, but this is perhaps the spot where his aesthetic obsession cuts him off from more interesting investigations. Because the deepest questions about postmodern food have as much to do with community as they do with taste.

A local farmers market, for instance, is not only about providing fresher food than a supermarket can offer (and doing it with much less use of energy, an increasingly important factor in a world starting to fret that long-distance food plays a more-than-trivial role in causing climate change). It's also about rebuilding the local agricultural economy so that small farmers no longer have to sell their products as commodities at prices set by the most efficient, largest operations. And it's about rebuilding communities: one sociologist last year followed shoppers around farmers markets and supermarkets, and discovered that they had ten times as many conversations at the former. In a lonely society, that's an encouraging statistic.

Along these lines, Kaplan misses what may be the most interesting bread story in all of France. A few years ago, in the inland Normandy region known as La Perche, a refugee from one of the big industrial bakeries took over a small mill. He recruited local farmers to plant traditional varieties of wheat, and then recruited local bakers from around the region to follow a single recipe. Now, every day, more than a hundred stores bake the baguette du Perche, a delicious rope of bread that is rebuilding some of the frayed ecological and economic infrastructure of this corner of France. The central government has helped the process, mostly by granting the makers an A.O.C. certificate—the appellation d'origine controlee mark previously reserved for wines and cheeses. It means this bread can only be made in this place with these ingredients, and it has spurred a fierce local pride. For after all, we eat not only with our tongues but with our minds as well.

The same kind of experiments need badly to be undertaken in our own country. Rural areas in terminal decline might be nurtured back to health, and tasteless meals given new life. It needn't be haute cuisine—the Northwest's Burgerville chain has prospered using only local ingredients for its burgers, fries, and huckleberry shakes. But it does require conscious thought—about bread, and about life.

17 maio 2007

Ora Toma!

A wolf and a donkey share a cage in the northwestern town of Patok in Albania, about 40 km (25 miles) from capital the Tirana, May 9, 2007. The donkey was brought into the enclosure to be fed to the wolf, which was caught in the northern Albanian mountains four months ago. The animals have since become attached to each other, cohabitating in the cage for the last 10 days, and attracting curious villagers and local media. [Reuters].

Portanto, digo eu, as gentes que trataram disto
podem estar a fazer mais dinheiro com o espectáculo
que nem previram nem merecem,
do que fariam só com o lobo, sabe-se lá em quê.

15 maio 2007

Foodporn, from Tastespotting

Surreal to reel – Dali at the movies

In the summer of 1936 Harpo Marx, the beaming, curly-headed buffoon and the most anarchic of the Marx brothers, made a visit to Europe. One of his admirers was the Surrealist painter Salvador DalÍ, who considered the Marx Brothers film Animal Crackers to be the “summit of the evolution of comic cinema”.

DalÍ travelled to Paris specially to meet Harpo at a party. The meeting was a success and the two men, both wildly flamboyant showmen, remained in touch. A few months later, DalÍ sent Harpo a handmade Christmas present. It was a harp, decorated with gilded ornamentation, but with barbed wire for strings and teaspoons and forks for tuning knobs, all wrapped in Cellophane.

Harpo was delighted had a photograph taken of himself seemingly playing it, with bandages on his fingers as if he had injured himself while plucking the strings. This was sent to DalÍ with an invitation to visit him if he were ever in California.

Within a month DalÍ was in Hollywood, where he announced to reporters that he intended to make a portrait of Harpo. For years DalÍ had been entranced by Harpo’s hyperactive character on film and his stunts, such as bringing a steaming hot cup of coffee out of his trouser pocket or producing a candle lit at both ends from inside his coat. To DalÍ, Harpo’s surrealist humour perfectly matched his own carefully cultivated image as the living embodiment of Surrealism.

On DalÍ’s arrival Harpo rose to the challenge of shocking the artist. Their meeting took place in the garden of Harpo’s Los Angeles home. DalÍ later wrote: “He was naked, crowned with roses, and in the centre of a veritable forest of harps (he was surrounded by at least 500 harps). He was caressing, like a new Leda, a dazzling white swan, and feeding it a statue of the Venus de Milo made of cheese, which he grated against the strings of the nearest harp.”

DalÍ declared that he was entranced by Harpo’s beauty during the portrait sittings that followed, and Groucho Marx later joked that DalÍ “was in love with my brother – in a nice way”. The friendship grew. With DalÍ’s wife, Gala, acting as their interpreter (talking in German with Harpo and translating into French for her husband and vice versa), they began collaborating on an idea for a Surrealist film that would star the Marx brothers and possibly the artist himself.

Although the film was never made, some of the images and ideas that the artist worked on with Harpo still exist and can be seen in a major new Tate Modern exhibition, DalÍ & Film,which explores the close relationship between cinema and the paintings of Salvador DalÍ. The story of DalÍ’s unexpected collaboration with Harpo Marx is told in the essay by Michael R. Taylor that appears in the accompanying book of the same name.

With a chronological display of more than 60 of DalÍ’s paintings as well as the artist’s major film projects and associated drawings, photographs and manuscripts, the exhibition reveals the extent to which cinema contributed to DalÍ’s understanding of both the power and the uses of illusion. DalÍ’s fascination with the medium was deep and persistent. He was passionate about films, embracing not only the more elitist modernist films but also the films of popular mainstream cinema.

In essence, what appealed to him seems to have been the poetic magic of film and its ability to transform the reality we see before our eyes into something more imaginative. He emphasised the transformative powers of film: “A lump of sugar on the screen can become larger than an infinite perspective of gigantic buildings,” he wrote. In one of his late films he tried to film gooseflesh close-up on a female breast, attempting to transform it with this odd perspective into some fantastic other object that was altogether different from reality.

Naturally, DalÍ loved Hollywood, where the border between reality and fantasy merged. During his first trip there to see Harpo Marx in 1937 he sent a postcard from Los Angeles to his fellow Surrealist André Breton, saying: “I’m in Hollywood, where I’ve made contact with the three American Surrealists, Harpo Marx, Disney and Cecil B. DeMille. I believe I’ve intoxicated them suitably and hope that the possibilities for Surrealism here will become a reality.”

DalÍ’s generation, born in the 1900s, was the first to grow up with the cinema. By the 1920s Hollywood was dazzling cinema audiences all round the globe. Dreams wafted upwards in the darkness to join the mirages of silver light. And particularly for DalÍ, it created irresistible illusions, like an opiate.

The Hollywood community of the motion picture industry, with its lavish social events, also appealed to the theatrically minded DalÍ, who took full advantage at all times of opportunities for self-promotion. By the time of his 1937 visit DalÍ’s was already a household name. He had had exhibitions at the Levy Gallery in New York, and had sold a painting to the Museum of Modern Art. He had been on the cover of Time magazine, and his theatrical antics tended to make headlines in the newspapers.

When his dealer, Julian Levy, put on a DalÍ show in Los Angeles, DalÍ himself hosted a masquerade party in Pebble Beach which was attended by several members of the Hollywood elite, including Bob Hope, Ginger Rogers and Bing Crosby.

A few months later Twentieth Century Fox signed DalÍ up to work on a nightmare sequence for a film called Moontide, starring Jean Gabin and Ida Lupino and directed by Fritz Lang. DalÍ contributed a selection of deeply disquieting paintings and drawings, but the whole project was doomed because a fortnight after filming began, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

By 1944, however, DalÍ was signing up with another Hollywood director, this time Alfred Hitchcock. “My movie agent and excellent friend Fefe [Felix Ferry] ordered a nightmare from me by telephone,” he wrote in his shamelessly self-promotional publication, DalÍ News. It was for the film Spellbound. DalÍ had appeared in Life magazine six times over the previous 12 months, and his name was considered to be a bankable asset. But Hitchcock wanted him for the vividness of his depictions of dreams.

“All DalÍ’s work is very solid and very sharp, with very long perspectives and black shadows . . . All dreams in the movies are blurred,” he said. “It isn’t true. DalÍ was the best man for me to do the dreams because that is what dreams should be.”

For one scene for Spellbound, DalÍ had designed a set involving hanging grand pianos from the ceiling, with a trick perspective to show dancers in silhouette beneath. When he arrived on set he found that the studio had built miniature pianos and hired 40 dwarf performers. He was furious and the scene was scrapped.

In the finished film, DalÍ’s dream sequence, seen in the form of painted backdrops, created a highly disturbing atmosphere and his work was generally well received by the critics.

DalÍ came into contact with Walt Disney during the filming of Spellbound in 1945.

They met at a dinner party at the home of Jack Warner. During the 1940s DalÍ’s work as a painter had been relegated to second place behind his role in Hollywood as a writer, scenographer, clothes designer, creator of advertising campaigns and collaborator on cinematographic sequences.

On January 14, 1946, DalÍ signed a contract with Disney Studios to work on a six-minute episode combining real images with animated drawings for the film Destino. For several months he went in to work every morning to the animation studio on Dopey Avenue in Burbank, just like any other studio employee. DalÍ produced the principal images for the film, about 15 paintings and 135 sketches as well as images on lined paper to be used as a visual guide to the unfolding action of the film. As Felix Fanes points out in his catalogue essay: “It can therefore be said that DalÍ was responsible to a large extent for the visual aspect of the film.”

Destino was never fully realised at the time because of financial problems, but years later, Disney’s nephew, Roy Disney, working with the original animators, produced a fully realised version in 2003. “I believe they [Walt Disney and DalÍ] influenced one another,” says Roy Disney. “Disney films can be seen as being incredibly surreal, and I imagine that is why DalÍ was attracted to them. But also I think they worked well together because, above all, they were both incredible optimists.”

The experience with Destino was typical of DalÍ’s track record in Hollywood. Very few of the film projects he worked on were ever realised. But DalÍ never gave up the struggle to work in film. Having enthusiastically embraced the medium in the late 1920s, he explored animation, proposed documentaries, sketched scenarios and generally ran around Hollywood wanting to get involved.

As Professor Dawn Ades, the director of the Centre for Studies of Surrealism and its Legacies, points out, film was a medium in which he could draw both on his visual and his verbal skills in the service of his imagination. He could indulge his fantasies.

In the end, the story of his work in film is one of disappointment overridden by boundless optimism. In telling the story of his love affair with the medium, this exhibition and its catalogue shine a light on an area of DalÍ’s life that has to date been little known.

DalÍ & Film is at Tate Modern (020-7887 8888; www.tate.org.uk) from June 1 to Sept 9, in collaboration with Fundació Gala-Salvador DalÍ, with support from the Spanish Tourist Office.

Wish you were here, by Paul Theroux

At the height of European imperialism, exotic postcards were an enticement to far-off lands that, thanks to the colonialists who sent them, would never be the same again. By Paul Theroux

It seems as natural to dream of the exotic as to dream at all. We are born with an impulse to wonder and, eventually, to yearn for the world before the Fall in which we may be the solitary Crusoe, the guiltless adventurer, the princeling with a jewelled sword. Because the dream's perfection suggests that it is unattainable, man searches for proof that it is not. And whatever fantasy one has reveals one's peculiar hunger. It might be very simple: the sunny island paradise. Or it might be complex: the oriental kingdom of silks and plumes.

However ornate or imposing the architecture, the monuments, the palaces, they are the background; in the foreground of the exotic are people. Much of the lure of what we know of the exotic springs from photographs. In the beginning, photo-graphy was the proof that the exotic was not the confidence trick of the travelling painters or the sketchers on board the ships of discovery. What is it about a photograph that is so convincing? Perhaps, however fudged or posed, such photographs possess an accidental truthfulness, resulting from the undiscriminating lens rather than the selective human eye. They are representations of a complete world that is utterly different from that inhabited by people in whose dreams this exoticism was prefigured. Photographs of the exotic enlarge the meaning of the word.

Each such picture is an excitement, an invitation to the exotic and seems to repeat in its strangeness that this is a world that awaits further discovery. It holds out the promise (which is also the promise of pornography, a genre on which some of these images overlap) that you can enter this picture.

The first postal card - just a card for a message - was issued in Austria in 1869. By the end of the century this artifact had evolved into the picture postcard that was briskly used in the way it is now, as a hello, an I'm-all-right signal, and frequently a boast. Because it can so easily be read by a stranger, the message on a postcard seldom contains anything intimate or important, nothing crucial, never a secret, nothing you wouldn't want the postman to see. Why do travellers send postcards? To get a rise out of the people at home - to shock them, tempt them, one-up them. To deceive some people; to make them envious. To confirm their stereotype of the Other, to emphasise distance in a journey. Busy people send them. They are like very slow telegrams. They are a traveller's expedient, demonstrating economy of effort.

The apotheosis of picture postcards occurred at a time when the lure of the exotic was at a peak. They were sent in great numbers and variety at the height of European colonialism, in the decades before the First World War, when Britain, France and Germany ruled half the earth. The imperial powers exploited their colonies without improving them much, putting in railways and roads only where they made it easier to export a product. Most of the indigenous people were untouched by these efforts. So postcards such as those reproduced here represent the pretensions of a period of idealised innocence, when few outsiders travelled to these parts of the world; when it was possible to dazzle the people at home with such images. It was not a golden age but seemed to be. And it was a universe of almost inaccessible places. Scribbled on the back of one postcard, from Noumea on New Caledonia, is a reference to 'Notre long voyage de 45 jours'.

The paradox in the portraits of the warriors here is that though they are fierce-looking they are obviously conquerable. The Kik-uyu, the Ethiopian ('Cavalier abyssin'), the Tuareg in full battle gear, the Masai moran, the martial-looking Fijian, the soldierly Maori, all with shields and spears and clubs; none of them seems dangerous, only colourful and outdated.

One of the great cultural transformations of the present has been the abandonment of traditional dress in favour of cheap clothes made in India and China. These postcards represent a vanished world of peculiar costumes, maybe the last gasp of such dressing up - Korean wedding garb; the Nepalese girl with five necklaces; the 'Indian woman' (hardly more than a young teenager) completely decked out; the Chinese mandarin; an assortment of complex coiffures; 'Chérifa - Jeune fille Somali', enigmatic in her silk dress, the leopardskin beneath her feet, the apparel of chieftainship; and royalty, kings in formal regalia, like the Oba of Benin in his drum-like skirt, or the boy-child Kabaka of Buganda; the covered-up Moroccans, the Guatemalans in robes, a world of accessories and costumes.

In great contrast to the impenetrable thicknesses of age-old costumes and brocades, there is nakedness. The postcards are a record of the naked body around the world in all its postures. This is a reminder that the lure of the exotic is bound up with the world of bare, always brown breasts - Tunisian, Laotian, Ifugao, Samoan, Tahitian. Many of them are labelled, with a wink, 'Une beauté' or 'Jeunes femmes', 'A Zulu beau'. But we know them to be schoolgirls, dancers, musicians, brides and obvious prostitutes, amounting almost to vignettes, many of them subtly beckoning.

Here is 'Head hunter's home, Luzon', and the trussed and ghoulish-looking shrunken head from Ecuador, the 'Kaffir Wizard', who doesn't look dangerous, and the 'Dyaks, wild men of Borneo', who do look fairly menacing.

'Le maroc pittoresque' is the rubric on one postcard. That says a lot. Many of these images could be described as 'pittoresque', for that's one of the exotic's main qualifications. Because they are posed and so deliberate, many of these portraits unintentionally depict people as sculptural forms - the heap of marmoreal-seeming robes with one eye peeking out, 'Maur-esque de Blida'. They could easily be elaborate carvings.

There is no question of the authenticity in the modes of dress, and the weapons, the finery, the jewellery. I can speak to the Pacific clubs, which I have studied. Each form of Oceanic club shown here has a specific name and function - the short Maori patu for close combat, the Fijian kiakavo for breaking bones, the Samoan toothed club for cracking open the enemy's head. Some pictures of them exist, but these photographs give function and vitality to their ownership.

Ultimately this narrative of a lost world is less about the subjects than the ones intended to be thrilled or titillated or tempted to drop everything and leave home to crouch in the fo'c'sle. They say everything about the people who need to be furnished with images for our dreams. That would be us, the recipients of the postcards.

Inside the Hobbit House

Asked to design a fitting repository for a client’s valuable collection of J.R.R. Tolkien manuscripts and artifacts, architect Peter Archer went to the source—the fantasy novels that describe the abodes of the diminutive Hobbits.

“I came back my client and said, ‘I’m not going to make this look like Hollywood,’” Archer recalled, choosing to focus instead on a finely-crafted structure embodying a sense of history and tradition.

The site was critical too—and Archer found the perfect one a short walk away from his client’s main house, where an 18th-century dry-laid wall ran through the property. “I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful to build the structure into the wall?”

Not only did the wall anchor the cottage, but stones from another section were used in the cottages construction. “It literally grew out of the site,” Archer said.

Perhaps stranger things have happened in Tolkien’s world, but few houses in this one go to such lengths to capture a fictional fantasy in the context of architecture.

BBC to screen Ewan bike odyssey

The BBC is to screen Ewan McGregor's latest motorcycle odyssey, Long Way Down.

Actor McGregor and friend Charley Boorman will travel 15,000 miles from John O'Groats to the southernmost tip of South Africa.

Their trip will be turned into a six-part documentary series for BBC2.

Long Way Down is the follow-up to Long Way Round, which saw them circumnavigate the globe and was screened on Sky One.

McGregor, 36, said: "Long Way Round changed us all - it bonded us together and made our dreams come true - and it's not often something like that happens. So to be given another opportunity to do something like this is amazing."

The series raised over £100,000 for Unicef and Long Way Down will also raise money for charity.

It will last three months and take in 20 countries.

Most of the journey will be spent in Africa and McGregor hopes to highlight the continent's mounting problems of Aids, hunger and malaria.

McGregor and Boorman set off this weekend and the series will be broadcast in the autumn.

Their progress can be followed via blogs and video clips of their travels will be posted on YouTube.

Live Earth

Artists Performing in Sydney

Crowded House
Jack Johnson
The John Butler Trio
Missy Higgins
Eskimo Joe

Sneaky Sound System
Paul Kelly
Toni Collette & the Finish
Blue King Brown

The U.S. show will feature live on stage:

Kanye West
Kelly Clarkson
KT Tunstall
Alicia Keys
Bon Jovi
Sheryl Crow

Melissa Etheridge
Dave Matthews Band
Fall Out Boy
Roger Waters
Smashing Pumpkins
John Mayer
The Police

Live on stage in London will be:

Beastie Boys
Black Eyed Peas
Bloc Party
Corinne Bailey Rae
Damien Rice
David Gray
Duran Duran
Foo Fighters

James Blunt
John Legend
Paolo Nutini
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Snow Patrol

Soldier boy

As a 13-year-old fighting in Sierra Leone's civil war, Ishmael Beah was forced into a drug-fuelled life of bloodletting and revenge. Now, having fled to America, he has written a cathartic - and bestselling - memoir.

A Long Way Gone is by any measure an extraordinary book, by turns intensely harrowing - he spares nothing in his descriptions of the horrors of war and his own role in it - and deeply inspiring. If there is one abiding theme it is this: it is easy to cross the line from humanity to barbarity; far, far harder to cross back.

Interview and Extract from The Telegraph

O Processo

1. Um espécime humano é preservado temporariamente para parar a decomposição.

2. O espécime é dissecado para apresentar sistemas e estruturas específicos.

3. A dissecção é imersa em acetona para evacuar toda a água do corpo.

4. Desidratado, o espécime é colocado num banho de polímero de silicone e selado numa câmara em vácuo.

5. Em vácuo, a acetona sai do corpo em forma de gás e é substituída pelo polímero de silicone até ao mais profundo nível celular.

6. O polímero de silicone endurece com a cura.

7. O espécime preservado permanentemente, com a estrutura intacta, está preparado para ser examinado e estudado.

De Maio a Setembro de 2007

Palácio dos Condes do Restelo - Rua da Escola Politécnica, N. 42, 1250-102 Lisboa
Coordenadas GPS :
38º 43' 02.27" N
9º 08' 59.47" W

Why Women Make Better Spies

A few years after leaving MI6 I bumped into a young woman who had worked with me on a particular mission. We had only a few moments of snatched conversation on a crowded platform, but when I asked her how the job was going she told me that she had left the service. I looked surprised because she had been very good at the job, but she simply shrugged and said: “Well, it’s just a game for big boys, really, isn’t it?”

This is part of the problem for the Intelligence Services in attracting female applicants today. There is a sense of Boys’ Own adventure which first interests many men (including myself) in the idea of working as a spy. For women, this is often not enough – and there are other problems as well.

MI5 has already had two female director-generals (Stella Rimington and Eliza Manningham-Buller) , but there has been no sign of a woman at MI6 even at director level, the grade below chief. This is partly because MI6 works overseas, where all the usual problems of being a spy are often worse for a woman.

A female officer must have all the qualities of her male counterpart – courage, ingenuity, resourcefulness – but she must also deal with the fact that in most nonWestern countries she will be a woman working in a man’s world.In many parts of the world a woman, especially a good-looking one, attracts attention – the last thing a spy wants. In Muslim countries this attention may be openly hostile if she is unaccompanied, and there may be other practical problems: for instance, if she is sent to Saudi Arabia, she will not be allowed to drive a car. There are also the risks of being mugged or worse, and sadly spies are not allowed to carry guns as often as the movies lead us to believe.

Even in more civilised areas, although a pretty face may help an officer to gain access to a target, there is often a sense of disappointment when the target finds out the reason for her interest in him – and that can make it even harder to recruit him as an intelligence source.

All this is coupled with the fact that being a spy can be a very lonely life – few partners are prepared to follow their wives around the world.

Of course, it is possible to be a very successful female spy. A woman with the strength of character and qualities to become a spy will find a way around the difficulties: it may not be possible to recruit a Muslim terrorist but his wife might be prepared to talk, especially to another woman.

The very fact that other societies often underrate women may also allow a female officer to gain access to a target where a man would come under suspicion and fail. There are certainly two successful female spies currently sitting in the House of Lords: Baroness Park of Monmouth, who later became principal of Somerville College, Oxford, and Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale, who sits on the Intelligence and Security Committee that oversees all the intelligence services. Both are remarkably strong characters and you cannot imagine either of them allowing a man to take the lead.

This impression is backed up by another female spy: Sandy Williams, a former officer who worked with me on the BBC Two series Spy.She is absolutely clear that to be a successful spy today, a woman must be “self-contained, self-reliant and must have the sense never to rely on a man to get the job done”.

Being a female spy has never been easy, but a determined woman will still find ways to “get the job done”.


The author is a former MI6 officer,

the author of Kilo 17 and

presenter of the BBC Two series Spy.

The wartime spymaster

On the Employment of Women as Agents By Maxwell Knight, 1945

There is a very longstanding and ill-founded prejudice against the employment of women as agents, yet it is curious that in the history of espionage and counterespionage a very high percentage of the greatest coups have been brought off by women.

It is frequently alleged that women are less discreet than men, that they are ruled by their emotions and not by their brains, that they rely on intuition rather than on reason, and that Sex will play an unsettling and dangerous role in their work. My own experience has been very much to the contrary.

During the present war we have investigated probably hundreds of cases of “loose talk”, and in by far the greater proportion of these cases the offenders were men. In my estimation this is due to one principal factor: it is that indiscretions are committed from conceit. Taking him generally, Man is a conceited creature while Woman is a vain creature. Conceit and vanity are not the same: a man’s conceit will often lead him to indiscretion in an endeavour to build himself up among his fellow man, or even to impress a woman; women, being vain rather than conceited, find their outlet for this form of self-expression in their personal appearance, dress, etc.

It is not entirely true that women are ruled exclusively by their emotions, and it is to be hoped that no officer, when selecting a woman for training as an agent, will choose the type of woman whose make-up is overemotional. On the other hand, the emotional make-up of a properly balanced woman can very often be utilised in investigation; and it is a fact that woman’s intuition is a direct result of her rather complex emotions. That a woman’s intuition is sometimes amazingly helpful and amazingly correct has been well established, and, given the right guiding hand, this ability can at times save an Intelligence Officer an enormous amount of trouble.

On the subject of Sex, in connection with using women as agents, a great deal of nonsense has been talked and written.

The first consideration for choosing any agent, man or woman, should be that the individual in question is a normal, balanced person. This means that, in connection with Sex, they should not be markedly oversexed nor undersexed. If oversexed, it is clear that this will play an overriding part in their mental processes; and if undersexed, they will not be so mentally alert and their other faculties will suffer accordingly.

It is difficult to imagine anything more terrifying than for an officer to become landed with a woman-agent who suffers from an overdose of Sex, but as it is to be hoped that no such person would be chosen for the work, there is no need to go further into this point.

It is true, however, that a clever woman who can use her personal attractions wisely has in her armoury a very formidable weapon. Closely allied to Sex in a woman is the quality of sympathy, and nothing is easier for a woman than to gain a man’s confidence by the showing and expression of a little sympathy. This cannot be done by an undersexed woman.

However, it is important to stress that I am no believer in what may be described as Mata Hari methods. I am convinced that more information has been obtained by woman-agents by keeping out of the arms of the man than ever was obtained by sinking too willingly into them, for it is unfortunately the case that if a man is physically but casually interested in a woman, he will very speedily lose his interest in her once his immediate object is attained, whereas if he can come to rely upon the woman more for her qualities of companionship and sympathy than merely for those of physical satisfaction, the enterprise will last the longer.

The aforegoing rather cold-blooded statements must not lead an officer to ignore the possibility of a woman-agent genuinely falling in love with an opponent. There is always an outside risk of this, but I can state quite definitely that in 20 years’ experience, I have never known a case of this occurring.

The last Miss Moneypenny recalls her war

Peggy Harmer never asked to be a spy. One day in 1941 she was a pretty and vivacious 22-year-old secretary, heading up to London for her first job. The next, she found herself inducted into MI5’s “Double Cross” team, the top-secret wartime unit responsible for intercepting Nazi spies, turning them into double agents and using them against the enemy.

“I never said I wanted to join MI5,” laughs Harmer, pictured above as a young woman. “I thought it was just a secretarial job.”

In 1941 she was one of the youngest recruits to an organisation whose very existence remained a closely guarded secret until the 1970s. Today, at 88, she is the last survivor of the Double Cross team and the only person left who can describe, from first-hand experience, the extraordinary role it played in helping to win the war.

Harmer’s career in MI5 began when she was sent to prison. The daughter of an army officer, she had just completed a secretarial course when a friend of the family asked her mother if her daughter would be interested in working at the War Department. No one asked Peggy’s opinion.

A few days later a letter arrived at the family home in Fleet, Hampshire, marked “Most Secret and Confidential”, instructing her to report to Wormwood Scrubs prison in London.

“I took the number 15 bus to the prison,” she recalls, as we sit together in the kitchen of her home near Banbury in Oxfordshire. “I walked in and these great big iron gates clanged behind me. It was quite daunting. Then I was taken up an iron staircase to a cell.” She pauses with a giggle as delightful and girlish as it must have been 70 years ago. “It was just like being in Porridge.”

In the cell was an officer, who instructed her to sit down and begin taking dictation. “It was bizarre; he kept referring to ‘Snow’, ‘Tate’ and ‘Summer’. I had no idea what was going on. I thought I was in a madhouse.”

Peggy would soon discover that Snow, Tate and Summer were all codenames for double agents, and that she was now part of a fledgeling counterespionage unit based in the grim London prison.

The Double Cross System created by MI5 during the Second World War would prove to be one of the most successful espionage operations of this or any other war. Back in 1936, a Welsh electrician named Arthur Owens, who travelled extensively in Germany, had been recruited by the British Secret Service and given the codename Snow (as a partial anagram of his name). Owens had provided some useful information, but it transpired that he had also made contact with the Abwehr – German military intelligence. When confronted, Owens agreed to work as a double agent against the Germans.

“Snow” was only the first of dozens of agents recruited by the Germans to spy on Britain but then intercepted and turned – or “doubled”, in spy parlance. From late 1940 the Abwehr began pouring agents into Britain: they came by rubber dinghy, U-boat, seaplane and parachute; they came disguised as refugees, workers, farmhands and seamen. Some were professional spies, some Nazi fanatics, some the victims of blackmail; most were quite hopeless. And every single one was captured. What the Nazis never discovered was that the code used by the Enigma encryption machine had been broken by the brilliant cryptographers at Bletchley Park. By reading the Abwehr wireless traffic, the British secret service learnt where and when every agent was due to arrive, and lay in wait.

Captured spies were taken to a secret interrogation centre in Richmond codenamed Camp 020 and grilled by its commander, Colonel Robin Stevens, a particularly terrifying figure nicknamed “Tin-Eye” on account of the monocle that he never removed.

Offered the choice between execution and cooperation, most Nazi spies readily agreed to work against their spymasters and were then handed over to a new sub-section of MI5 codenamed B1A, responsible for running double agents: the so-called Double Cross system.

This was the world into which Peggy Harmer was plunged when she entered Wormwood Scrubs on that spring morning in 1941. While MI5 officers (exclusively male) coordinated the elaborate task of deception though the growing team of double agents, Harmer and the rest of the (exclusively female) secretarial staff carried out the more humdrum but equally vital task of record-keeping: taking dictation, filing, transcribing interrogations and passing information between the different sections and agent-runners.

“I hate to say it but I found the war really exciting,” says Harmer. Despite a series of strokes, her memory of those days is as sharp as ever, and her face lights up with the recollection. “There was a wonderful atmosphere; such camaraderie. We all had a common enemy. That made a huge difference.”

The Double Cross team came under the direct command of Colonel Tommy Argyll Robertson, known as “Tar” from his initials, a charismatic young officer of the Seaforth Higlanders who wore tartan trousers in the office and was universally adored by his staff. “Tar was very good-looking,” says Harmer. “Terrifically well organised, but in a relaxed way. He was delightful.”

Robertson was also a brilliant spymaster with a knack for recruiting gifted amateurs who instinctively understood the intelligence game. Section B1A, which eventually moved from Wormwood Scrubs to rather more refined surroundings at 58 St James’s Street, included lawyers, academics, an industrialist, a circus owner, an artist, an art dealer and a poet.

For young Peggy Harmer, fresh from the Home Counties and secretarial school, it was thrilling to find herself part of a secret society, fighting an underground war of which even her family was unaware. “We didn’t talk about it at all: not to friends, not to anyone. I didn’t tell a soul. We were so secretive. If I ever met boyfriends for lunch, afterwards I would walk in the opposite direction [from MI5 headquarters] in case I was being followed.”

The Double Cross system was an overwhelming intelligence success. In the words of John Masterman, an Oxford academic who played a crucial role in liaising with other war departments on behalf of B1A: “By means of the double-cross agent system we actively ran and controlled the German espionage system in this country.” Intercepted wireless messages, decoded at Bletchley Park, proved how thoroughly the Germans had been bamboozled. Even today Harmer is triumphant: “Every day in B1A we got the typescripts from Ultra [decrypted German messages] and we knew from these if they were believing our double agents. Now that was brilliant, wasn’t it?"

Some 480 suspected enemy spies were detained in Britain during the war. Perhaps a quarter of these were used successfully as double agents, of whom perhaps 40 made a significant contribution. Only a handful of Nazi fanatics refused to cooperate. One of these was Karl Richter, who was tried “in camera” and hanged at Wandsworth. Harmer recalls: “He was killed because he wouldn’t work for us. We all hated it in the office. I think it was a horrible occasion.”

Some of these double agents are now well known, such as Juan Pujol, the agent codenamed “Garbo”, and Eddie Chapman, the British crook recruited by the Abwehr who would become “Agent Zigzag”.

A few, such as Chapman, managed to delude their German handlers until the end of the war: sending false information, diverting resources, misdirecting the doodlebug bombs and, perhaps most importantly, convincing German Intelligence that its spy network was working well when in reality it was working for the British.

The finest hour for the Double Cross team came with Operation Fortitude, when double agents were used to send false information that helped to persuade Hitler that the D-Day invasion of France was aimed at Calais, not Normandy.

Occasionally, to her delight, Harmer was entrusted with courier work and made personal contact with the double agents. On one occasion she was sent to take some documents to Tor Glad – double agent “Jeff”, one half of a pair of Norwegian double agents nicknamed Mutt and Jeff after the cartoon characters. “I was supposed to meet him in Piccadilly Tube station. We wore red carnations, I seem to remember, for recognition.” She laughs, not out of embarrassment at the theatricality but from sheer pleasure. “I suppose we were all taking part in the adventure. One got quite sort of blasé about it all.”

In a way, Harmer’s role was that of a Miss Moneypenny – vital to the success of the counterespionage operation but operating principally behind the scenes. In the Bond stories, Miss Moneypenny’s love for her spy is always unrequited. The same was not true of Peggy, for while she was guarding MI5’s secrets assiduously, she was also keeping an important secret from MI5.

Soon after arriving at Section B1A she was assigned to work with an agent-runner named Christopher Harmer, a young lawyer recruited by Tar Robertson and a rising star within the section. They fell in love but told no one else.

“We were very secretive. I don’t know why. I think we were embarrassed. We were well trained, you see. We didn’t want people to know we were going out together, so we pretended. Funny old business.”

One night the two young lovers were dancing in a nightclub when they were rumbled. “We were spotted by someone from the office. Then everyone knew.”

In 1943 Christopher and Peggy Harmer were married, beginning a long and happy marriage but ending her career at MI5. “There was a rule that married couples were not allowed to be in the same section,” she recalls, with just a wisp of regret. “I was moved to another section which wasn’t nearly so interesting.”

After the war, both Christopher and Peggy left the security service: he to return to the law, she to bring up their young family.

Every year the veterans of B1A would meet up to recall their wartime exploits. Slowly, over the years, their numbers dwindled. Tar Robertson died in 1994. Christopher Harmer died two years later.

“I’m terribly old. They’re all dead now,” says Peggy Harmer. “I seem to be rather all on my own. More cake?”

The survivor’s remark is utterly English, offered without a trace of self-pity. Indeed, as we talk, with the afternoon drawing on, Harmer might be 22 again, dashing through the blitzed streets of London, taking dictation from a handsome MI5 officer and fighting her own secret war.

The events that she recounts are now on the farthest tip of living memory but described as if they happened yesterday, by a young woman who came to London expecting to be a secretary and make tea but ended up in the company of spies, making history.

A good day on the treadmill

As answers to obesity go, the idea two American scientists dreamed up could transform our notion of work.

Instead of having the overweight walk to walk, the pair have designed a desk that enables them to walk at work.

The walking desk - or "vertical workstation" as the researchers prefer to call it - is fixed to a treadmill which enables the office worker to kill two birds with one stone - send emails, check invoices and write reports and burn calories at the same time.

Professor James Levine and Jennifer Miller of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, say using their device for a couple of hours a day could help obese employees shed up to 30kg in a year.

They tested the contraption on 15 people who had sedentary jobs and never did any exercise.

The participants set the speed of the treadmill themselves, and carried on working at the computer fixed above it on a frame with two adjustable arms.

One arm carried the screen, the other the keyboard and mouse.

The participants burned more than twice as much energy at the walking desk as they did at their usual workstation. Their energy expenditure was measured while they walked and worked for 35 minutes out of an hour and compared with the amount of energy used while working seated at an ordinary desk.

There were no falls or injuries and no unsteadiness.

The participants enjoyed using the device and needed only minutes to get used to it, the researchers said.

The results showed the average energy burned while seated was 72 kilocalories an hour, and that burned at the walking desk was 191 kilocalories an hour. The participants' walking speed was 1.6km/h.

The authors say using the walking desk for a couple of hours a day could boost energy expenditure by 100 kilocalories an hour. That could translate into a weight loss of 20kg to 30kg in a year, they say in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

A big reason for the expansion of waistlines over the past 30 years is the increase in sedentary work. The hammer and the shovel have been replaced for millions by the keyboard and the mouse.

Strategies to persuade office workers to be more active - by avoiding the lift and climbing the stairs, for example - have had limited success because the time involved is too short. Extra commitment, such as exercise classes at lunch time, are not encouraged by employers because they involve staff leaving their desks. But the walking desk promotes productivity and health - satisfying employer and employee.

So successful was the experiment that after the study was over the participants asked if they could continue using the equipment.

The desks cost about $2700 each and are designed to slide over a standard treadmill.

By 2010, it has been predicted, more than half the workforce of developed countries will be working at computers.

12 maio 2007

Lost in Transylvania

Mati the blacksmith was worried. A Romanian gypsy, he was usually in lively good humour, but today he was distraught. Recently men from a television company had come to his village, offering to install satellite dishes for free, and his daughter had taken one. Now he had been sent a bill for renting it, and he didn't have the money - or a television. His daughter had gone to work in Hungary and taken it with her. So he feared the worst. Would the police take him to prison?

His neighbour, a local councillor, read the contract and reassured him. All he had to do was tell the company he didn't want the satellite dish, and they would take it away. Mati beamed. Life was simple again.

The incident a couple of weeks ago highlighted a clash of cultures deep in the rural heart of Romania, where a way of life that has been virtually unchanged for centuries is struggling to adapt to the demands of a new age.

In Mati's village, five miles from the nearest paved road, rush hour begins soon after dawn when people lead cows and horses from cobbled yards outside their kitchens, past gaggles of geese, ducks and chickens, to where a herdsman waits to take them to communal pastures for the day. At dusk the process is reversed, to the tinkling of bells and shuffling of hooves, as the animals are led back to their byres and stalls for the night.

In between, not much happens in the village. Depending on the season, most people are in the fields tilling or harvesting small plots of hay, oats and potatoes with horse-drawn implements handed down through generations. The most common form of transport is the horse and cart, designed to carry crops, logs, people, sheep, tools, and pretty much anything else that needs to be moved.

Like England before the land enclosures of the 18th century, there are no walls or fences, and the hillsides are common land. The scene is reminiscent of a Thomas Hardy novel, and in truth it lays fair claim to being a fragment of a rural idyll lost in most of modern Europe.

This is southern Transylvania, a high plateau of wooded hills and valleys shielded by the Carpathian mountains, where Saxon settlers and their descendants have farmed, traded and fought to preserve their land and traditions for more than 800 years.

They came in the 12th century from Flanders, Luxembourg and the Moselle valley at the invitation of a Hungarian king, to defend the mountain passes from marauding hordes from the east, and they built fortified towns and more than 200 villages that safeguarded their communities until the second world war.

Then the Russians came, 30,000 German-speaking Saxon men and women were bundled off to Siberian labour camps, and barely half returned. Another exodus followed in the 1990s with repatriation to newly unified Germany, and today about 50,000 remain in villages with Romanian and gypsy neighbours.

Now their polyglot communities face fresh challenges with Romania's entry into the EU earlier this year. In hamlets where women still draw water from wells and shepherds guard their flocks by night from wolves, there is confusion and concern over impending rules and regulations that threaten their livelihoods.

Subsistence farmers with a couple of cows are worried by reports that they must buy milking machines, they may not sell their home-made (and highly prized) cheeses beyond a 20-mile radius, and they may no longer keep livestock in their back yards. One bizarre suggestion was that shepherds be issued with GPS devices to ensure they kept flocks away from planned new highways. When a local journalist showed one to a shepherd, he was told: "Go away with this thing. You are scaring my sheep."

None of this is apparent to the few visitors who ignore the over-hyped Dracula myth and explore genuine vestiges of an older Europe, far from the madding crowds of Bran Castle. The road to Mati's village, Viscri, is a rough track that passes through a gypsy settlement and then meanders through countryside that those of us of a certain age remember from childhood, when wildflowers brightened meadows untainted by chemicals.

Over a hill the red tiled roofs of Viscri appear in a valley beneath the distinctive towers and ramparts of a fortified church, a common feature in a land exposed for centuries to the slings and arrows of outrageous neighbours.

The church and most of the farmhouses around it were built by descendants of Saxons who arrived in 1142, and the lay-out is unchanged - a broad dirt road flanked by pear trees and houses in medieval half-timbered style, with gates between them wide enough to take a loaded hay wagon.

Throw in water troughs for the livestock, and wooden benches for people to sit and watch the world go by, and you have the essence of a traditional Saxon village. Viscri has a couple of small general stores that also serve as bars, one of which has wooden tables by the door. This is a perfect place to sample local cheese, and observe the owner and her friends knitting socks, a cottage industry in the village. When people have little money, barter economies flourish. The current rate for hiring someone's car for the day is three pairs of hand-knitted socks.

Before the last exodus there were 300 Saxons in Viscri, now there are 25 in a population of 450. In an old school building there is a faded photograph of a brass band, featuring 34 men posing seriously with their instruments, an image of a bygone age when the village would gather for music, dancing and revelry fuelled by home-made plum schnapps.

One of the few who remembers those days is Sara Dootz, 70, who shows tourists around the church and maintains a centuries-old tradition of ringing its bells at noon. "We had a very rich cultural life," she says in the Low German dialect of her ancestors. "The band played at concerts, tea dances, weddings that lasted for days, and even we had theatre. The actors were the ones with the big mouths."

When the Berlin Wall fell, a young priest advised the Saxons to leave for Germany, saying there was no future for them in their villages. "The old people who left regret it now, but they are too proud to come back," Sara says.

But many of them do return, once every two years, for a week-long reunion when old instruments are dusted off and played at a dancing circle around a lime tree in the grounds of the church.

That they still have a viable community to come back to is due in part to the Mihai Emenescu Trust, a British-Romanian charity dedicated to preserving the culture and traditions of Saxon villages threatened by depopulation and lack of resources. So far, it has restored hundreds of historic buildings, trained local craftsmen in traditional building skills, and helped villagers to set up small business ventures.

One of the schemes is low-key tourism, renovating decaying farm buildings for guesthouses. I slept in a room with a wood-burning stove and an antique box-bed that slid from a chest of drawers. My stay coincided with one of two nights of the year when legends warn that vampires prowl, but all that disturbed me was a crowing cock with a befuddled sense of time. The room was typical of village guest houses, clean and simply furnished, with an authentic back to basics air. Hearty soups and stews are the order of the day at most meals, and there is a farmer's wife in the village of Crit who produces arguably the world's finest pork sausages.

Caroline Fernolend, Saxon resident and a director of the trust, says Viscri can accommodate 60 French or 30 English visitors: "The French will share a room, the English prefer not to. I always have to ask."

One English visitor who had a room to himself is Prince Charles, an enthusiastic patron of the trust who has bought a property in the village to be donated as a guesthouse. Following one of his visits, he wrote: "The area represents a lost past for most of us - a past in which villages were intimately linked to their landscape."

He probably came to this conclusion after walking a seven-mile trail from Viscri, over pastures and through wondrous woods of oak and hornbeam, to the village of Mesendorf. A less strenuous alternative is to arrange for Sorin Popescu the wood-cutter to take you in his cart, and show you scars on a trees made by bears climbing to nests of honey bees, the footprints of wild boar, and dens of foxes. From a high ridge in the forest there is a panorama of green hills dotted with sheep, smoke drifting from shepherds' camp fires, and in the far distance, hazy like a mirage, the snow-capped peaks of the Transylvanian Alps filling the horizon. It is the kind of place where you want to sit in the shade of a tree, melt into fragrant grass, and not go anywhere for a long time.

Milu the shepherd knows this feeling. It is a yearning that comes on him every spring, when it is time to take the sheep of his village to summer pastures in the hills, where he remains with them until autumn. "I can't wait to come here, to hear the birds singing in the morning and the dogs barking at night," he says. So does this land make poets of shepherds.

A guide takes us to his sheepfold, a rudimentary hut of wood and corrugated iron that he shares with two other shepherds and a pack of dogs as fierce as the wolves they fight to protect the sheep.

Milu's wife has come to prepare lunch over an open fire, and her four-course meal of flavourful meats and aromatic cheese would put classy restaurants to shame. They are vaguely aware that EU regulations may soon intrude on their lives, yet it could be argued that instead of meddling with these traditional farming practices - which are as organic as they get - we might learn from them.

Patrick Holden of the Soil Association, a patron of the Mihai Eminescu Trust, suggests the old Saxon ways of Transylvania could be a model for the development of green agriculture throughout Europe.

For now Milu, looking forward to summer in the hills with his sheep and dogs, is sanguine. "We are still optimistic, life goes on," he says.