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


Escherville in Barcelona

Monday, 5 August, 2019

The Catalan artist Cinta Vidal Agulló says: “I have been drawing since I was a kid. I studied at Escola Massana in Barcelona and when I was 16, I started working as an apprentice in Taller de Escenografia Castells Planas in St. Agnès de Malanyanes where I learnt from Josep and Jordi Castells to love scenography and the backdrop trade. Regarding illustration, I have never stopped experimenting.”

Escherville


Roger Ebert: media coverage of mass shootings

Sunday, 4 August, 2019

On 7 November 2003, the late, great film critic Roger Ebert reviewed Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. Said Ebert, the film is “a record of a day at a high school like Columbine, on the day of a massacre much like the one that left 13 dead. It offers no explanation for the tragedy, no insights into the psyches of the killers, no theories about teenagers or society or guns or psychopathic behavior. It simply looks at the day as it unfolds, and that is a brave and radical act; it refuses to supply reasons and assign cures, so that we can close the case and move on.”

And then Ebert recalled the following:

“Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. ‘Wouldn’t you say,’ she asked, ‘that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. ‘But what about Basketball Diaries?’ she asked. ‘Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?’ The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. ‘Events like this,’ I said, ‘if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.’

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of ‘explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.”


The River Holds Its Breath

Saturday, 3 August, 2019

The River Holds Its Breath is the title of the new album from the outstanding Irish fiddle player Colm Mac Con Iomaire. His playing, say critics, is “exquisitely expressive.”


Butts

Friday, 2 August, 2019

The Urban Dictionary has its own set of descriptions and examples, but we have to scroll down to the seventh definition to find “butt” in the sense of “the remaining end of a smoked cigarette”. Ass is in there, of course, but we have to jump from there to find “bootie“, the butt word of our time. The OED offers 14 entries for butt as a noun and the most common is: “The thicker end of anything, esp. of a tool or weapon, the part by which it is held or on which it rests; e.g. the lower end of a spear-shaft, whip-handle, fishing-rod, the broad end of the stock of a gun or pistol.” According to the OED, the meaning of butt as the “remainder of a smoked cigarette” was first recorded in 1847.

Butts