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Author Archive: Eamonn Fitzgerald

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Feather Tongue

Saturday, 19 April, 2014 0 Comments

Didn’t get tickets for Kate Bush at the Apollo in Hammersmith? Lots of other people didn’t, if that’s any consolation. For those seeking solace, there’s always Lyla Foy, who’ll be playing in Chicago tonight and in Kilkenny in May. The young Londoner does not disguise her adoration of Kate Bush in Feather Tongue, which exudes the kind of retro romanticism that made the composer of Wuthering Heights so famous so long ago.

A multitude of thorns

Friday, 18 April, 2014 0 Comments

Thorns

“Listening to the Gospel on Palm Sunday, it struck me that many people criticise Pontius Pilate for his role in the affair while letting the multitude go scot free. Pilate did what little he could to dissuade them from the extremely unpleasant course of action on which they were set, but the multitude kept shouting for a crucifixion. Pilate could not have done more without provoking a riot. The crucifixion when it happened was a victory for direct democracy against the effete, liberal paternalism of Pilate.

If I am right, and the crucifixion be seen as an early victory for the principle of direct democracy, then it must follow… that good men should struggle to confound and frustrate the multitude whenever possible.” Auberon Waugh (1939 — 2001)

Calculating Easter

Thursday, 17 April, 2014 0 Comments

One of the most fascinating figures in the history of Easter is Nicholas of Cusa, a lawyer from Trier and a true Renaissance man, whose driving ambition propelled him all the way up from a non-noble birth to being made a cardinal by Pope Eugenius IV.

Nicholas established his reputation at the Council of Basel, which began in 1431 and went on for 18 years. He arrived in the Swiss town to argue the case of the disputed bishopric of Trier but made history by helping to broker an agreement in a bloody dispute between Rome and the Hussites. Then Nicholas turned to a matter that required enormous competence in law, mathematics and religious observance: the calendar. As John Mann writes in The Gutenberg Revolution:

Nicholas of Cusa “The Church was deeply concerned with the calendar because of the need to calculate the date of Easter. A thousand years before, the Council of Nicaea, laying out the ground rules of Christian practice, had decreed that Easter should fall on the Sunday following the full moon following the vernal equinox, one of two dates (in spring and autumn) on which day and night were of equal length. But the calendar of the time contained two errors. It’s year (365.25 days) was 11 minutes and 8 seconds too long, which over 1,000 years amounted to seven days; and the calculations that predicted the lunar cycle were way out as well. Actually, Roger Bacon, philosopher and scientist, had pointed this out seventy years before, but it was considered so intractable a problem that the papal authorities averted their eyes. In his De Reparatione Calendarii (On Revising the Calendar), presented to the Council in 1437, Nicholas expertly reviewed the evidence and proposed the only possible remedy: to adopt a new lunar cycle, leave out a week in the calendar — he suggested Whitsun, because it was a moveable feast and the general public wouldn’t notice — and then, as a final piece of fine tuning, omit a leap year every 304 years. This would have to be done not only with the agreement of the Greeks in Constantinople, because the were co-religionists, but also of the Jews, who would bear the brunt of revising all financial agreements.”

Given the fractured state of the church at the time, nothing was done, however. Reform had to wait for another 80 years when Pope Gregory XII introduced the “Gregorian” calendar, as we now know it. Still, the structure that measures our years and guarantees sweet indulgences in Spring owes an enormous debt to Nicholas of Cusa.

Thermonuclear review

Wednesday, 16 April, 2014 1 Comment

In the annals of acidic reviewing, nothing beats Truman Capote’s flip dismissal of Jack Kerouac’s work: “That’s not writing, that’s typing.” Still, the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs magazine does not do too badly when it comes to Thermonuclear Monarchy by Elaine Scarry, Professor of Aesthetics and General Theory of Value at Harvard. Snip:

“This curious book addresses what Scarry describes as the incompatibility of nuclear weapons and democracy. But her knowledge of nuclear matters is superficial, and she says very little about the weapons, other than to draw attention to their awfulness and to the fragile, illegitimate, and dangerous structures that govern their possession and potential use.”

By the way, here’s now Gore Vidal dissed Truman Capote: “He’s a full-fledged housewife from Kansas with all the prejudices.”

#nota notandi

Tuesday, 15 April, 2014 0 Comments

The Latin Letters Office in the Vatican Curia is said to be the only modern workplace where the language of Cicero is still the lingua franca. Part of the day job is tweeting. Since Pope Benedict XVI started the Pontifex Latin Twitter account in January last year, it has gained 235,000 followers and Chicago native Monsignor Daniel Gallagher, who’s tasked with keeping pontifical reflections within the 140-character limit, told USA Today of the challenges facing him when he has to turn this…

… into this …

Gallagher’s approach: “The word ‘taboo’ comes from a Tongan/Fijian word that means ‘forbidden, prohibited.’ The Romans had a similar, even stronger, concept in Latin with nefandae, which comes from nefas, which comes from ne-fari, which means ‘not to be mentioned.’”

The Goldfinch

Monday, 14 April, 2014 0 Comments

Alex O’Connell in the Times said it was “a heavyweight masterpiece”, but in the Observer Julie Myerson wrote that she was bored by it, calling it “a Harry Potter tribute novel”. On one hand, Kamila Shamsie in the Guardian called it an “astonishing” achievement, but on the other, the Sunday Times‘ Peter Kemp wrote: “No amount of straining for high-flown uplift can disguise the fact that The Goldfinch is a turkey.”

So is latest Donna Tartt worth reading? Well, those who are lonely, or who are outsiders, or who love the paintings of the Dutch Masters, will find much in the 771 pages to comfort them. But above all, for boys who love their mothers, living or dead, there’s a lot to ponder. Snippet:

“How was it possible to miss someone as much as I missed my mother? I missed her so much I wanted to die: a hard, physical longing, like a craving for air underwater. Lying awake, I tried to recall all my best memories of her — to freeze her in my mind so that I wouldn’t forget here — but instead of birthdays and happy times I kept remembering things like how a few days before she was killed she stopped me halfway out the door to pick a thread off my school jacket. For some reason, it was one of the clearest memories I had of her: her knitted eyebrows, the precise gesture of her reaching out to me, everything. Several times too — drifting uneasily between dreaming and sleep — I sat up suddenly in bed at the sound of her voice speaking clearly in my head, remarks she might conceivably have made at some point but that I didn’t actually remember, things like Throw me an apple, would you? and I wonder if this buttons up the front or the back? and This sofa is in a terrible state of disreputableness.”

The Goldfinch

Their innocent faces clean

Sunday, 13 April, 2014 0 Comments
Their innocent faces clean

Twas on a Holy Thursday The children walking two & two in red & blue & green Grey-headed beadles walkd before with wands as white as snow, Till into the high dome of Pauls they like Thames waters flow Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song Or like harmonious […]

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Inspector Norse calls

Saturday, 12 April, 2014 0 Comments

On Tuesday this week, the first album by Todd Terje was released. In typical Terje style, it’s titled It’s Album Time. The man from Mjøndalen has a way with words. Whateverest is one of his clever coinings, as is Eurodans. But his greatest success, to date, has been Inspector Norse, which took the dance scene by storm two years ago and which is sandwiched between Oh Joy and Johnny and Mary on the new 13-track recording.

Journalist of the day: Robert Bruce Lockhart

Friday, 11 April, 2014 0 Comments

When the Russian Revolution broke out in early 1917, Robert Bruce Lockhart was the Acting British Consul-General in Moscow. Working for the Secret Intelligence Service, he set about creating a network of undercover agents, but he and fellow British spy Sidney Reilly were soon arrested. Robert Bruce Lockhart Instead of getting the expected 9mm of lead in the back of their necks, however, they were exchanged for the Russian diplomat Maksim Maksimovich Litvinov. Lockhart wrote about his experiences in Memoirs of a British Agent — a bestseller that was made into the film British Agent in 1934.

11 April 1929: “Priceless story of Lenin and the death of his mother-in-law (Krupskaya’s mother). Krupskaya tired of watching at the death-bed asked Lenin to sit by her mother while she slept. He was to call her if her mother wanted anything. Lenin took a book and began to read. Two hours later Krupskaya came back. Her mother was dead. Lenin was still reading. Krupskaya blamed him: “Why did you not let me know?’ Lenin replied: ‘But your mother never called me!’ Still, Lenin was not inhuman.” Robert Bruce Lockhart (1887 — 1970)

And thus ends our week of journal entries. It’s good for mind and soul to keep a journal says Oliver Burkeman: “Write about your most profound fears, your feelings of loneliness, of regret and grief. Then hide it somewhere where nobody will ever find it, don’t tell a soul…”

Journalist of the day: Kenneth Williams

Thursday, 10 April, 2014 0 Comments

The English actor and comedian Kenneth Williams was one of the main characters in the popular Carry On films. He lived alone and had few friends apart from his mother, and no significant romantic relationships, but his journals contain references to homosexual liaisons, which he describes as “traditional matters.” His last words in his diary were “Oh, what’s the bloody point?” The cause of death was an overdose of barbiturates.

10 April 1966: “Michael C. [Codron] told me this story about Lady Dorothy Macmillan saying to Mme. de Gaulle at the Elysée Palace. ‘Now that your husband has achieved so much, is there any particular wish, any desire you have for the future?’ and Madame replied, ‘Yes — a penis.’ Whereupon Gen. de Gaulle leaned over and said, ‘No, my dear, in English it is pronounced Happiness.’” Kenneth Williams (1926 — 1988)

Tomorrow, here, we end our week of journal entries with one that documents what happened when Lenin spent a night beside his mother-in-law’s death bed.

Journalist of the day: Vera Brittain

Wednesday, 9 April, 2014 0 Comments

To understand the pacifism of Vera Brittain it is imperative to know that her brother Edward, her fiancé Roland Leighton, and her two dearest friends, Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow, were all killed during World War I. Thirty years later, she was vilified for speaking out against the saturation bombing of German cities during World War II, Vera Brittain but her position was seen in a different light when, in 1945, the Nazis’ Sonderfahndungsliste G.B. (Special Search List G.B) of 2,820 people to be immediately arrested in Britain after a German invasion was shown to include her name.

9 April 1942: “At tea-time went to Mayfair Hotel to see demonstration of ‘Liberty cut’ sponsored by the Ministry of Health as an anti-typhus measure. New line of country for me; place crowded with hairdressers; representatives of the Press (mostly hard-working women plainly dressed), and fashionable ladies in mink coats looking as if they’d never heard of the war. Several leading hairdressers talked on the importance of shorter hair for women in present crisis. Demonstrations of ‘Liberty cut’ on different girls followed, including a showing of the ‘cut’ itself. The number of men present interested me; it showed how much money there is to be made out of women’s hair.” Vera Brittain (1893 — 1970)

Tomorrow, here, Mme. de Gaulle mispronounces “happiness” and Kenneth Williams gleefully pounces upon the double entendre.