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Ten O’Clock

Wednesday, 12 April, 2017 0 Comments

In his poem Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock, Wallace Stevens uses the word “ceintures”. A misspelling of “centuries”? Not quite. The etymology shows it as a borrowing from the French ceinture, which is a term in dressmaking for a belt or girdle.

Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock

The houses are haunted
By white night-gowns.
None are green,
Or purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings,
Or yellow with blue rings.
None of them are strange,
With socks of lace
And beaded ceintures.
People are not going
To dream of baboons and periwinkles.
Only, here and there, an old sailor,
Drunk and asleep in his boots,
Catches tigers
In red weather.

Wallace Stevens (1879 – 1955)

Ten


Mr Tillerson goes to Moscow

Tuesday, 11 April, 2017 0 Comments

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits Moscow today and will there meet his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. What makes the trip particularly noteworthy is that it comes after the US strike on Moscow’s Middle East proxy and armaments purchaser, Syria. President Trump has sent an unmistakable message that he is holding President Putin accountable for Bashar al-Assad and red lines mean red lines from now on for the new administration in Washington.

The oleaginous Lavrov learned his trade by in the days of Hafiz al-Assad, father of the current tyrant, and one wonders if Tillerson has prepped for his meeting by reading Assad: The Struggle for the Middle East by the late Patrick Seale. First published in 1988, it has lost little of its relevance despite the passing of time. Indeed, given what’s now going on in Syria, its 552 pages remain ultra- relevant. Despite, or perhaps because of his anti-Israel prejudice, Patrick Seale was an influential commentator on events in the Arab world and he possessed a deep understanding of the Arab mind and how it works. On page 412 of Assad: The Struggle for the Middle East, Seale displays his skills as an observer and writer when describing the cunning of Hafiz al-Assad. Snippet:

Assad “Over the years, Assad had developed a negotiating technique which he frequently used with foreign guests, and [Robert] McFarlane [national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan from 1983 to 1985] was no exception. He would begin by exchanging a few pleasantries. Then he might ask, ‘How is the weather in your country?’ A Western guest would usually reply to the effect that at home it was colder than in Syria , giving Assad his opportunity. ‘Indeed’, he would say, ‘it’s warm here because the United Sates is stoking the fire!’ There were two sorts of climate in the world, he would explain, one given by God, the other by the United States, and step by step he would make his point that the tension, crises and wars in the area must all be laid at Washington’s door. An American visitor would feel compelled to defend himself, starting the meeting at a disadvantage.

Assad’s next stratagem was to be extraordinarily digressive and argumentative. If the name of God were mentioned, this might set him off on a long discourse about Islam, Judaism and Christianity before he could be brought back to the matter in hand. Negotiating sessions would last for hours. More than one envoy who suffered this treatment came to the conclusion that Asad raised all sorts of irrelevant subjects simply to tire his visitors the better to control them. At the end of a wearisome session the temptation was to accept what he had to say simply to escape.”

Like father, like son when it comes to cruelty and cynicism, but Bashar al-Assad remains unable to read the writing on the wall, despite his training in London as an ophthalmologist. Maybe Rex Tillerson can help his patrons see things more clearly.


Apps away!

Monday, 10 April, 2017 0 Comments

As Facebook nears two billion users, Instagram is heading towards a billion. Meanwhile, Messenger and WhatsApp continue to surge onward and upward.

Apps


Our swan sister: white, black, golden

Sunday, 9 April, 2017 0 Comments

“The people who live in a golden age usually go around complaining how yellow everything looks,” said Randall Jarrell, the American poet, critic, essayist and novelist. In The Black Swan, Jarrell explored the colours of the swan spectrum. Excerpt:

When the swans turned my sister into a swan
I would go to the lake, at night, from milking:
The sun would look out through the reeds like a swan,
A swan’s red beak; and the beak would open
And inside there was darkness, the stars and the moon.

Randall Jarrell (1914 – 1965)

Cork Swan


The treasures of Mother’s prayer book

Saturday, 8 April, 2017 0 Comments

The funeral of Pope John Paul II was held on this day, 8 April, 2005. Both my mother and I were admirers of this powerful, saintly historical figure and a recent reading of one of her many prayer books uncovered a range of memorabilia from the time of his papal visit to Ireland in 1979. Two great people, then, who made so many lives better by their presence among us.

Mammy's memories


Pope John Paul II: Rome, April 2005

Friday, 7 April, 2017 0 Comments

Tutto il mondo a San Pietro. That’s the way it was in Rome in early April 2005 as we joined the crowds intending to pay their respects to the saint-to-be, Pope John Paul II, who was lying in state at St. Peter’s Basilica. From that memorable day, here are our notes of a pilgrim’s (sometimes grim) progress in the Eternal City.

10:23 a.m. The sun is in the sky. A fortifying breakfast has been consumed. The major prints have been read. It is almost time to get in line. But let’s have one more espresso before the work begins.

The TV in the corner of the bar here on the corner of Largo Branaccio is showing a huge throng of people filling the Via della Conciliazione, which leads from the Tiber to St. Peter’s Square. The influx has to be seen to be believed and the numbers are almost alarming. More than a million pilgrims are expected to view the body of Pope John Paul II today and the television reporter is saying that 18,000 people an hour are moving through the basilica and past the body.

I suppose one conclusion we draw from all this is that the 1960’s are finally over. Remember? “God is dead!” The pope is, but he’s still acting out the central Christian belief that redemption is there to be sought. Anyway, here goes. Time to enter pilgrim territory.

Would it have been better to have risen at dawn yesterday, instead of dawdling over breakfast? Too late now for retrospect. What follows is the chronicle of a day in the life of a pilgrim in Rome.

11.20 a.m. There’s a shuttle bus service operating from the main station, Termini, to the Tiber. Seems to be free as well. At least no one stamping tickets. Unfortunately, the bus driver decides to call a one-man strike at the Palazzo Venezia and we have to foot it from there.

12.20 p.m. The line is forming south of Ponte Sant’Angelo. The imposing dome of St. Peter’s is visible in the distance. Something about the size of the crowd and the enormous speed with which it is swelling says that getting there may not pan out as expected.

1.20 p.m. Standstill. In the battle for popularity in Poland’s mobile phone market, it is even-Steven between Nokia and Siemens. This observation is based on a quick survey of surrounding pilgrims. The phones are as varied as their owners — big, small, simple, sophisticated. Poland has come a long way and it’s not surprising that its people have stormed Rome to give thanks to the man who gave them back their identity.

2.20 p.m. Along with the Poles, the other major national group represented here is the Italians. They’ve planned for a long day if the variety and amount of sandwiches is anything to go by. My neighbour, Carlo from Salerno, is eating a lovely looking one made with delicate brown bread and filled with sausage and spinach. Panic begins to set in here. What if I miscalculated on the food front? What if this takes eight hours instead of the expected five?

3.20 p.m. Headgear is a must. The sun is beating down, which is better than rain, of course, but not so charming if you cannot move. Another must is a book. Mine is Despair by Vladimir Nabokov. An odd choice, I agree, but the selection in the train station book shop was bizarre. In the English books section it was Nabokov or Michael Moore. “I can readily imagine what Pushkin might have said to his trembling paraphrasts,” Nabokov writes. A new word for the vocabulary, that, paraphrasts.

4.20 p.m. We make it onto the Ponte Vittorio Emmanuel. What’s it now? Four hours? And we’ve covered a distance that would take a slow walker five minutes on a normal day. Except this is a day when more than a million pilgrims are trying to get to see a hero. People still very cheerful, though. City workers are supplying us with bottle of water and the gesture is appreciated.

5.20 p.m. Ah, ha! Oh, oh! Now we can see why progress has been so slow. On the other side of the Tiber, to our left, a huge river of people is pressing forward. What’s it going to be like when we merge with them? Chat to Julia Baker, an English pilgrim. Charles and Camilla. What we’re seeing today suggests to her that the Church of England will fold its tent when William ascends the throne. It’s not a spiritual experience anymore and that’s what people hunger for. The fact that Charles is here means that he knows the game is up, she says.

6.20 p.m. We take the bridge! But a wave of worry ripples through the crowd. Italian authorities are sending out text messages telling people not to join the lines. Apparently, they are worried that it will get out of control. Lots of excited conversation. We are determined to press on, however. There can be no turning back now we tell ourselves.

7.20 p.m. Helen and George are from just outside Seattle. Not exactly young, either, but they seem to be coping well. They get alarmed when we look back at the mass of people we have left behind on the bridge. What if? The only consolation of being stuck on the corner of Borgo S. Spirito and Via S. Pio X is the architecture. Alarm! No more food left.

8.20 p.m. If only we could get onto the Via della Conciliazione. We could then see St. Peter’s. What we can see, though, is a huge screen showing scenes from inside the basilica with people filing past the body. The picture quality is stunning. Wonder what the screen resolution is?

9.20 p.m. Where would we be without our mobile phones? Fingers flying. Messages pouring in from Ireland, England, Germany and Italy. “Did you hear that Saul Bellow died yesterday? “U will get to heaven for this!” “Was JP a footie fan?” “4-2. Blues better.” The Chelsea-Bayern Munich Champions League game has enough goals to keep us alert.

10.20 p.m. Now, we’re getting places. Surging along the Via della Conciliazione we are and up ahead, bathed in light, is the world’s most impressive church. Big screens line the way and thousands are joining in the prayers that pour forth. Along the bottom of the picture, the crawler says “live from the Basilica” and we can see George W. Bush, Laura Bush, George Bush Snr., Bill Clinton and Condi Rice kneeling beside the body, deep in prayer. Jeers go up from the Michael Moore faction but one pilgrim applauds and earns stares. No one challenges him, though.

11.20 p.m. We are in the square! It’s a sea of flags and pennants and emblems borne aloft, mostly Polish, red and white. The imagery is ancient, as if a mighty host of yore was assembling for an encounter that would remake history. Impossible not to be overwhelmed by it all.

12.20 a.m. “Attention! The Basilica will be closed for cleaning between 2 am and 5 pm.” The announcement booming out across the square in Italian, English, French, German, Polish and Spanish fills us with dread. The crowd control has been impressive up to this but it’s not going to be easy to deal with these people if they are locked out within sight of the Grail, to use a Dan Brownism. We are packed against each other now, tired, hungry and thirsty and kept awake and alive by forces beyond our powers.

1.20 a.m. “The Basilica doors will be closing in thirty minutes!” Sprits are high, however. We are certain that our bloc is going to make it. We look back and see thousands upon thousands who won’t be with us. The poor things. How will they endure until 5 am? Where will they get the energy to complete the mission? Pity for them is mixed with satisfaction for our own good fortune. Human vanity and weakness are constant.

1.50 a.m. We enter the Basilica. Too exhausted to appreciate its wonders: The frescoed hallways, the Pieta. Up ahead a blaze of light.

2.10 a.m. Face to face, at last. “What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?” Hamlet (II, ii, 115-117).

Tranquil, he is, despite the bursts of flashes from all kinds of photographic devices. This is how the new pilgrim gathers relics. No piece of the robe, no sliver of bone. A digital image.

Saint John Paul II

Mission accomplished. Time for a quick prayer. No candle to light but the Vatican offers pen and paper where one can list ones wishes for the world and hope that they will be granted. And then we’re out into the morning. Suddenly, one is aware of how sore the feet are and what it is like not to have peed in 15 hours. Time to find a bar, lots are open. Coffee, cognac, a cigarette to round it off. Text a few people, even though they are in bed. No point in sleeping. The need for it seems to have disappeared.


Gramable

Thursday, 6 April, 2017 0 Comments

The adjective Gramable refers to an image that’s suitable to post on the social media platform Instagram. Example: “Ann’s impressionistic photo of the Clontarf seafront was, like, totally Gramable.”

Today, being Gramable is an asset. “When anyone with a steady hand and a Stila eyeliner can find themselves featured on a brand’s Instagram page, professional makeup artists have to find ways to establish their work. An Instagram portfolio is a start.” So wrote Hilary Milnes on Glossy last Thursday in a piece tilted How the ‘Instagram look’ gave rise to a new makeup artist. Miles says that the top Instagram beauty hashtag, #instabeauty, yields 11.8 million results, and adds that Pixability, the video advertising buying and marketing software company, doesn’t differentiate between “beauty influencers” who have professional training or work as makeup artists because it’s almost impossible to tell. Snippet:

“We’ve found there’s no point in differentiating,” says Jackie Paulino, vp of customer success at Pixability. “Brands are interested in looking at who has the most subscribers and who is growing the fastest. From there, they figure out who’s the best fit for their audience and voice. They’re not asking about professional training. Just like a social media star, makeup artists can build their own brands online.”

Message: Be Gramable. (Hat tip for the word: Niamh O’Brien, Hoodman Blind).

Ann's Gram


Blessed are they that mourn

Wednesday, 5 April, 2017 0 Comments

“She was a genius of sadness, immersing herself in it, separating its numerous strands, appreciating its subtle nuances. She was a prism through which sadness could be divided into its infinite spectrum.” — Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated

Mourners


The woman in the lake

Tuesday, 4 April, 2017 0 Comments

“The tide will take you, or the lake will accept it all
as you sink toward the weedy disarray of the bottom,
leaving behind what you have already forgotten,
the surface, now overrun with the high travel of clouds.”

The Art Of Drowning by Billy Collins

The lake


The Galtees

Monday, 3 April, 2017 0 Comments

The Galtees

“Mountains, according to the angle of view, the season, the time of day, the beholder’s frame of mind, or any one thing, can effectively change their appearance. Thus, it is essential to recognize that we can never know more than one side, one small aspect of a mountain.” — Haruki Murakami, A Wild Sheep Chase


Father’s Day

Sunday, 2 April, 2017 0 Comments

Michael Fitzgerald (17 September 1917 – 2 April 2011): “He was a farmer and he was a deep thinker. He loved the land, its history, its substance, its moods and its meaning. He knew why people had fought and died for it and he understood the passions it generated. His hands were shaped by decades of wresting a living from the soil. Possessed of a sense of chivalry that has all but disappeared; he was one of the last representatives of a culture that had its roots in an ancient, a simpler, a lost world. Those who were privileged to know him will miss him greatly. His passing is our loss.”

Father

“Of life’s two chief prizes, beauty and truth, I found the first in a loving heart and the second in a labourer’s hand.” Khalil Gibran