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And there are gooseberries

Tuesday, 18 June, 2019

“Country life has its advantages,” he used to say. “You sit on the veranda drinking tea and your ducklings swim on the pond, and everything smells good… and there are gooseberries.” — Anton Chekhov, Gooseberries

Storyline: Ivan Ivanovich Chimsha-Gimalayski tells of how his brother Nikolai Ivanovich, a government official, becomes obsessed with the idea of returning to the countryside where the two of them had spent their happy childhood. The symbol of this obsession is a gooseberry bush. So, Nikolai buys a farm, plants gooseberry bushes, and when Ivan Ivanovich visits him he’s shocked so see this apparently happy man, now grossly obese, living in what he imagines to be his earthly paradise. Nikolai refers to himself as “We, noblemen” and expresses delight when his cook, as fat and pig-like as he is, arrives with a heaped plate of gooseberries. All this makes Ivan Ivanovich think about the nature of human happiness, which for him is the result of any happy man’s unawareness of how much grief and pain there is in the world.

Gooseberries


A picture from Hong Kong worth a thousand words

Monday, 17 June, 2019

The people of Hong Kong identify far more with their city than with mainland China and they have a very different concept of “freedom” than the autocrats in Beijing. The core values Hong Kongers cherish include the universal values of judicial independence, civil rights and press freedom, but these are listed by China as among the “seven unmentionables,” putting Hong Kongers on the frontline of a dangerous clash between liberty and the Communist Party’s need for total control.

Protest becomes rebellion in the eyes of Beijing when the masses take to the streets to demonstrate against proposed extradition legislation, and this is mortally dangerous because those who took part in the killing of thousands of protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989 are now in a position to send in the tanks against today’s protesters in Hong Kong. Regardless of what happens, however, this remarkable image of people in Hong Kong demanding and defending freedom will remain.

Hong Kong protests

Note: More than 25 percent of Hong Kong’s population of 7.4 million people protested at the weekend. By proportion, these are the largest protests in modern history.


China in Hong Kong

Sunday, 16 June, 2019

What’s going on in Hong Kong? For those of us not completely familiar with the situation, the BBC has created a useful explainer on Hong Kong and its relationship with the People’s Republic of China. The ongoing protests would seem to be about the extradition of “Hong Kongers” to Mainland China for trial, but a more fundamental struggle is taking place on the streets. All kinds of institutions are giving the citizens time and encouragement to demonstrate: small businesses, local bureaucracies and the unions. The teachers’ union is supporting student protesters and the transport union is backing bus drivers who deliberately slow down their service. Shopkeepers are handing out free water to demonstrators, while entrepreneurs are turning up with their employees to defend their civil rights.

Because Hong Kong is a huge economic asset for Beijing, the Communist apparatchiks face a dilemma. The island’s limited autonomy is based on a treaty that the mainland needs to respect to keep the money flowing, but this very autonomy is now undermining central government control. The authority of Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, has been irreparably damaged and it would appear that it’s only a matter of time now before the mandarins order the People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong to carry out its core mission: attacking and killing fellow Chinese.

The United States gave Most Favored Nation status to China in 2000 and soon afterwards helped the country become a WTO member. The appearance of tanks on the streets of Hong Kong running over demonstrators defending democracy would have huge implications for Beijing and China’s Most Favored Nation trade status would be put in jeopardy. That would make the current trade dispute look like a minor matter.

The Atlantic has produced a powerful photo series on the Hong Kong protests. This is what real “Resistance” looks like.

Hong Kong


Stolen sweets are always sweeter

Sunday, 16 June, 2019

The English poet and dramatist Thomas Randolph was born on this day in 1605 at Newnham in Northamptonshire. He was one of the most popular playwrights of his time and was expected to become Poet Laureate after Ben Jonson, but his untimely death at 29 prevented this.

Fairy Song

We the fairies blithe and antic,
Of Dimensions not gigantic,
Though the moonshine mostly keep us,
Oft in orchards frisk and peep us,

Stolen sweets are always sweeter;
Stolen kisses much completer;
Stolen looks are nice in chapels;
Stolen, stolen be your apples.

When to bed the world are bobbing,
Then’s the time to go orchard robbing;
Yet the fruit were scarce worth peeling
Were it not for stealing, stealing.

Thomas Randolph (1605 –1635)


Not baskets of…

Friday, 14 June, 2019

deplorables, as Mrs Clinton haughtily liked to term non-elite voters in 2016, but baskets of meringues on display at O’Callaghan’s Deli, Café and Bakery in Lower Cork Street, Mitchelstown, County Cork.

meringues


The Boris Limerick

Thursday, 13 June, 2019

And they’re off! The 10 rivals for the Conservative Party leadership face the first ballot of Tory MPs this morning. The money here is on Boris Johnson. He’s a winner and he won The Spectator President Erdogan Offensive Poetry competition in 2016 with this Limerick.

There was a young fellow from Ankara
Who was a terrific wankerer
Till he sowed his wild oats
With the help of a goat
But he didn’t even stop to thankera.


Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story

Wednesday, 12 June, 2019

And it’s a story by Martin Scorsese that will be aired tonight on Netflix. According to the blurb, the film explores “the troubled spirit of America in 1975.” That was the same year, by the way, when Bruce Springsteen’s album Born to Run was released, Bill Gates and Paul Allen found Microsoft and Jaws set the standard for Hollywood blockbusters. It was creative, that “troubled” year.


Mailer on the money

Tuesday, 11 June, 2019

A parable from The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing by the late Norman Mailer:

“The story is that Robert Rauschenberg was once given the gift of a pastel from Willem de Kooning. Rauschenberg, with de Kooning’s permission, erased the pastel and then signed it ‘Pastel by de Kooning Erased by Robert Rauschenberg’, after which he sold it. The story bothered me. There was something profound there, but how to get a hold of it? Then it came to me: Rauschenberg was saying that the artist has the same right to print money as the financier: Money is nothing but authority imprinted upon emptiness.”

Willem de Kooning


Summer No. 2

Monday, 10 June, 2019

Because Summer No. 1 isn’t working out that well… so far. This painting, “Summer No. 2”, is by the artist Zhongwen Hu, who divides her time between China and the USA.

Summer No. 2


See Klimt, not #Klimt, in Vienna, not #Vienna

Sunday, 9 June, 2019

With Barcelona and Dubrovnik and Venice groaning under the weight of overtourism, land-locked Vienna has decided to target the dread hashtag, so beloved of hipster tourists. Following the techlash, now comes the #hashtaglash.

“This is an invitation from Vienna — an ideal place for a little bit of digital detox and for creating moments that you, and you alone, can treasure forever. Because Vienna is far more colorful when not seen through the lens of a smartphone camera.”

Vienna


Remembering Paddy Fahey

Saturday, 8 June, 2019

Just getting around now to paying tribute to the East Galway fiddle player and tune composer Paddy Fahey, who died aged 102 years on Friday, 31 May. Fahey didn’t give his compositions names, instead they are simply called “Paddy Fahey’s Jig No.1”, “Paddy Fahey’s Reel No.2”, “Paddy Fahey’s Hornpipe No.3” and so on. He never made a commercial recording, nor did he publish a book of his compositions, but Paddy Fahey’s music, with its beautiful yearning feel, lives on in the playing of Liz and Yvonne Kane.