Author Archive: Eamonn Fitzgerald

Ex-pat Irishman keeping an eye on the world from the Bavarian side of the Alps.

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Current reading: Because Internet

Friday, 16 August, 2019

“Whatever else is changing for good or for bad in the world, the continued evolution of language is neither the solution to all our problems nor the cause of them. It simply is. You never truly step into the same English twice. When future historians look back on this era, they’ll find our changes just as fascinating as we know find innovative works from Shakespeare and Latin or Norman French. So let’s adopt the perspective of these future historians and, and explore the revolutionary period of linguistic history that we’re living through from a place of excitement and curiosity.”

A snippet there from the conclusion from the entertaining first chapter of Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch.

Because Internet


It’s the Pattern Day

Thursday, 15 August, 2019

The “drawing in” of the hay was a typical activity around the Pattern Day and a trip to the meadow on the horse-drawn “float” was a really big adventure. On board (right to left): Madeleine, Jacqueline, Helen, Mary, Eamonn and Michael John. Head and shoulders above us all is Father, in his prime.

On the float

Background: Ireland has thousands of “holy” or “blessed” wells. These ancient water sources were attributed mystical powers in pagan times and the related customs and beliefs were incorporated by Christianity when it arrived on the island some 1,600 years ago. The converts assigned a “patron saint” to each well and thus began the custom of the “Pattern Day” (from the pronunciation of the Irish Pátrún, “patron”). The “Pattern Day”, then, is the feast day of a parish’s patron saint and entails a pilgrimage to the sacred well and the saying of specific prayers in a certain sequence. Bottles are filled with the “miraculous” water, which is often applied to wounds or sprinkled on children, visitors, travellers and animals for their well-being.

Ethnologists describe patterns as “community generated festivals”. In 1810, Crofton-Croker counted up to 15,000 people at the Pattern of St. Declan, which is still held annually on the 24th of July in Ardmore, County Waterford. This tradition of vernacular religious practice and the carnivalesque continues in Ballylanders, County Limerick, where the 15th of August, the Feast of the Assumption, is the local Pattern Day.


Churchill flirted with Basic English

Wednesday, 14 August, 2019

In the early 1920s, a rather eccentric Cambridge academic named C.K. Ogden came up with the idea of “Basic English“, which reduced the language to 850 words. One can imagine Winston Churchill, then in his mid-forties, having been shocked by such an idea, but circumstances change cases and, astonishingly, the great orator and author of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples found that Basic English had its war-time merits. The first recorded mention of his support for the notion dates from an Anglo-American summit with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Quebec in August 1943, when he was proposing a closer union between Britain and the United States. Eight months later, in April 1944, having heard nothing from Washington, Churchill wrote to Roosevelt stating: “My conviction is that Basic English will then prove to be a great boon to mankind in the future and a powerful support to the influence of the Anglo-Saxon people in world affairs.”

Filled with enthusiasm for the idea, Churchill formed a Cabinet committee on Basic English and appointed Leo Amery, then Secretary of State for Burma, to chair it. Amery had been a close friend of Rudyard Kipling, a great writer as well as a stout imperialist and, as the late Christopher Hitchens put it in Blood, Class and Nostalgia, “It is hard to think of a man less likely to acquiesce in the reduction of English to 850 words.”

Eventually, Roosevelt replied. Snippet:

“Incidentally, I wonder what the course of history would have been if in May 1940 you had been able to offer the British people only ‘blood, work, eye water and face water,’ which I understand is the best that Basic English can with five famous word.”

Thus, with a deft jab of WASPish sarcasm, Basic English was banished forever from the “Special Relationship”. Curiously, George Orwell was also an early fan of Basic English, but he turned against it and used the concept as the basis for the dreaded Newspeak of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Churchill


Tumbler has fallen

Tuesday, 13 August, 2019

Verizon bought Tumblr in 2013 for $1.1 billion, just two years after buying the microblogging platform as part of its massive $4.48 billion Yahoo acquisition.

Yesterday, Automattic (parent company of WordPress) bought Tumblr for a reported $3 million.

Founded in 2007 as one of the first microblogging services, Tumblr had its moment in the sun when it became famous for its porn services, but that was then. Automattic chief executive, Matt Mullenweg, confirmed the acquisition in a post on his personal Tumblr account and hinted at a fork towards fun: “When the possibility to join forces became concrete it felt like a once-in-a-generation opportunity to have two beloved platforms work alongside each other to build a better, more open, more inclusive &mdash: and, frankly, more fun web. I knew we had to do it.”

Let’s hope Matt knows what he’s doing here.


Augustus: alone, separate

Monday, 12 August, 2019

“I have come to believe that in the life of every man, late or soon, there is a moment when he knows beyond whatever else he might understand, and whether he can articulate the knowledge or not, the terrifying fact that he is alone, and separate, and that he can be no other than the poor thing that is himself.”

John Williams, Augustus

Augustus

The Augustus Bevilacqua in Munich’s Glyptothek, the city’s oldest public museum, depicts the Roman emperor “in sovereign elegance and aloof beauty.” He is pater patriae.


The Irish Unionist’s Farewell to Greta Hellstrom

Sunday, 11 August, 2019

The poem, The Irish Unionist’s Farewell to Greta Hellstrom in 1922, by Sir John Betjeman, is set in west County Waterford, with each stanza closing with the line “Dungarvan in the rain.” Dungarvan is a coastal town and harbour in Waterford and it’s also the administrative centre of the county.

The work recounts the story of Betjeman’s unrequited love for a woman called Greta Hellstrom, but the woman in the poem is, in fact, Emily Sears, a great beauty who later married Ion Villiers-Stuart. Betjeman knew them both. He used to visit them on Helvick Head and stay at The Yellow House fishing lodge, which was then owned by the Villiers-Stuarts. The poet tries to hide the identity of the woman by describing her as Swedish when, in fact, she was American, and by setting the poem in 1922. He was at school aged 16 in that year, and he only got to know the Villiers-Stuart couple in the early 1940s. The final lines of the poem show the poet’s acceptance of Emily’s decision to remain friends and never to be lovers: “You were right to keep us parted:/ Bound and parted we remain,/Aching, if unbroken hearted-/ Oh! Dungarvan in the rain.”

The Irish Unionist’s Farewell to Greta Hellstrom in 1922

Slanting eyes of blue, unweeping,
Stands my Swedish beauty where
Gusts of Irish rain are sweeping
Round the statue in the square;
Corner boys against the walling
Watch us furtively in vain,
And the Angelus is calling
Through Dungarvan in the rain.

Gales along the Comeragh Mountains,
Beating sleet on creaking signs,
Iron gutters turned to fountains,
And the windscreen laced with lines,
And the evening getting later,
And the ache-increased again,
As the distance grows the greater
From Dungarvan in the rain.

There is no one now to wonder
What eccentric sits in state
While the beech trees rock and thunder
Round his gate-lodge and his gate.
Gone – the ornamental plaster,
Gone – the overgrown demesne
And the car goes fast, and faster,
From Dungarvan in the rain.

Had I kissed and drawn you to me,
Had you yielded warm for cold,
What a power had pounded through me
As I stroked your streaming gold!
You were right to keep us parted:
Bound and parted we remain,
Aching, if unbroken hearted –
Oh! Dungarvan in the rain!

Sir John Betjeman


The art of Art Young

Saturday, 10 August, 2019

The American artist and activist Arthur Henry Young (1866 – 1943) invented a new way of seeing life, through trees. In his fifties, Young’s imagination seized upon the human-like states created by the silhouettes of trees at night. He began rendering what he imagined in pen and ink — black-and-white drawings full of feeling, mixing the playful and the poignant. No artist had done anything like this before. Young assembled the best of his silhouettes in 1927 in an out-of-print book Trees at Night.

The  End of Summer


The Elvis Presley Blues

Friday, 9 August, 2019

It’s August, so our thoughts turn to Graceland, where Elvis Presley died 42 years ago this month. Songs such as Mystery Train and Hurt depict a range of emotions, from the elation of his early days to the pain of his final days when, deranged by pharmacopeia, he sought for answers where there are none. But, as Dave Marsh wrote in Elvis, the King stood for much, much more. He was the map, not the territory.

“Somewhere, out of all this, Elvis began to seem like a man who had reached some conclusions. And so he was made into a god and a king. He was neither — he was something more American and, I think, something more heroic. Elvis Presley was an explorer of vast new landscapes of dream and illusion. He was a man who refused to be told that the best of his dreams would not come true, who refused to be defined by anyone else’s conceptions.

This is the goal of democracy, the journey on which every prospective American hero sets out. That Elvis made so much of the journey on his own is reason enough to remember him with the honor and love we reserve for the bravest among us. Such men are the only maps we can trust.”


The company of wolves

Thursday, 8 August, 2019

“Our writer spent 30 hours traveling with arctic wolves and gained a new appreciation for these predators of the tundra.” National Geographic’s Inside the harsh lives of wolves living at the top of the world is memorable for its text by Neil Shea and the photographs by Ronan Donovan.

To get this image of wolves picking at the remains of a muskox, “Donovan placed a camera trap inside the carcass. The pack returned to feed on and off for a month.”

photographs by Ronan Donovan


DA Pennebaker (15 July 1925 – 1 August 2019)

Wednesday, 7 August, 2019

A bit late with this. The American documentary filmmak DA Pennebaker was one of the most important chronicler of Sixties counterculture. The performing arts and politics were his primary subjects and in 2013, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized his body of work with an Academy Honorary Award or “lifetime Oscar”.

Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, approached Pennebaker about filming Dylan while he was touring in England in 1965. The resulting work, Dont Look Back (there is no apostrophe in the title) became a landmark of both film and rock history, “evoking the ’60s like few other documents”, according to film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. The opening sequence alone (set to Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” with Dylan standing in an alleyway, dropping cardboard flash cards) became the role model for modern music videos.


Hong Kong: It’s a Revolution

Tuesday, 6 August, 2019

“In Hong Kong, revolution is in the air. What started out as an unexpectedly large demonstration in late April against a piece of legislation — an extradition bill — has become a call for democracy in the territory as well as independence from China and the end of communism on Chinese soil.” So writes Gordon G. Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China, in The National Interest. Snippet:

“Hong Kong people may be able to inspire just enough disgruntled mainlanders to shake their regime to the ground. If one thing is evident after months of protests, the youthful pro-democracy demonstrators are determined, as are millions of residents of the territory.

In a contest where neither side will concede, anything can happen. Chinese regimes, let us remember, fray at the edges and then sometimes fall apart. It could happen this time as well.”

Note this: “Some of the protest messages were impossible to miss. In Wanchai’s Golden Bauhinia Square, a magnet for tourists from other parts of China, kids spray-painted a statue with provocative statements such as ‘The Heavens will destroy the Communist Party’ and ‘Liberate Hong Kong.'”

Hong Kong revolts