Friday, May 29, 2009

Back in the Savile again ...

Another Trinity College dinner. Another celeb singing for his supper.

This one almost a contemporary of Malcolm's, overlapping by just the year.

Michael Longley was a feature, nay an ornament, of Trinity before Malcolm arrived. Longley and Derek Mahon were already acknowledged as the coming thing in literary life. They were the arbiters of what was admissible to Icarus, the College literary magazine. They were, to general envy, one of that exclusive circle of "published poets".

For some reason the Belfastmen had a throttle-hold on poetics (rumours of soon-to-be all-conquering Heaney were also rife), while the English immigrants (Ralph Bates, Mike Bogdin, Jo Van Gyseghem, a certain Bill Oddie) cornered the theatricals.

The young Longley was a square-built, clean-cut figure: he looked more the off-duty rugger type, that annually dropped off the Inst production line, than a versifier. The ever-present ciggie and the distant-expression were the only main clues.

Today he is four-square, white-bearded, still quiet-spoken, a solid citizen. Perhaps not quite as tall as Malcolm remembered. He could do the walk-on rôle of generic literary figure, direct from Central Casting, without visiting make-up.


Malcolm suspected Longley would have a receptive, if unsophisticated audience from a moment beforehand, in the Savile library.

Malcolm was struck by a framed autograph letter, on Club headed notepaper, by Thomas Hughes. He remarked upon it. His neighbour wondered who this Brown fellow could have been.

So Malcolm mentioned Tom Brown's Schooldays. No response. No recognition.

The character of Flashman? Sorry: literature and reading are two of my blind-spots, was the depressing reply.


Longley, obviously a veteran of such occasions, did a quick in-and-out on the nature of being a poet, illustrated by snatches of recollection of his time at TCD (W.B.Stanford; peddling Icarus at Front Square; the squalor of Botany Bay ...).

He based this on the two contrasting views of what a poet should be. He obviously preferred to think of himself as "the poet as makar", a good Ulsterman identifying with the likes of Henryson (that plain Dunfermline dominie) and Dunbar. In a quick passing mention, he called in aid the Greek root of "poiētēs". So the "poet" is a craftsman, an artificer burnishing words into a work of art.

At the other extreme, there is the poet as prophet or seer: Longley reached for the word "vatic".

Yeatsian aside

Longley could, but didn't, have embroidered the thought by mentioning Yeats and his Byzantium, where the two views are incorporated.

Yeats, in Sailing to Byzantium (of 1927) been inspired by the mozaics of Theodoric's Ravenna:
O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
When he revisited the conceit in Byzantium (1930), Yeats was struggling, even harder, to overcome the limits and impotence of his ageing body to become:
A mouth that has no moisture and no breath
Breathless mouths may summon;
I hail the superhuman;

I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.
Another way of approaching this dichotomy is to stick with Yeats for a moment.

When Yeats retreated to his Tower at Thoor Ballylee, he saw it as a place of retirement, of separation from the world. It was, partly to draw from James Joyce, his "Omphalos": the stone artefact that marked the centre of his world. Even so, the world and its violence came to Thoor Ballylee in the form of the Irish Civil War:
An affable Irregular,
A heavily-built Falstaffian man,
Comes cracking jokes of civil war
As though to die by gunshot were

The finest play under the sun.

A brown Lieutenant and his men,
Half dressed in national uniform,

Stand at my door, and I complain
Of the foul weather, hail and rain,
A pear-tree broken by the storm.
Yet, inevitably with Yeats, the symbol of the Tower is ambiguous. It may be phallic and male, but also vaginal and feminine, with its "Winding Stair". If it is the "Omphalos", the navel, it is also a "Pharos", a lighthouse: again, the ambiguity of the internal and the external signification.
A Moate defensiue to a house?

Herein Malcolm would see Longley's moment of confusion.

Unlike Heaney, who betook himself from the "Troubles", to Wicklow and further afield, Longley remained in and of Belfast throughout those years. Admittedly, in the benign retreats of the Malone Road and the University Quarter, but in earshot of the events around him.

Contrast that with his former associate and sparring partner, Derek Mahon [right], who escaped, and, from a distance, tried to find connection and empathy:
Perhaps if I'd stayed behind
And lived it bomb by bomb
I might have grown up at last

And learnt what is meant by 'home'.
Longley remains very close to home, but rarely ventures beyond his front door and morning paper for any explicit reaction to the diurnal decay and despair of the Black North.

If we take his best-known reflection, The Ice-Cream Man (which he himself cited at the Savile Do), we are left with this:
Rum and raisin, vanilla, butterscotch, walnut, peach:
You would rhyme off the flavours. That was before
They murdered the ice-cream man on the Lisburn Road
And you bought carnations to lay outside his shop.
I named for you all the wild flowers of the Burren
I had seen in one day: thyme, valerian, loosestrife,
Meadowsweet, tway blade, crowfoot, ling, angelica,
Herb robert, marjoram, cow parsley, sundew, vetch,
Mountain avens, wood sage, ragged robin, stitchwort,
Yarrow, lady's bedstraw, bindweed, bog pimpernel.
Longley's reflection on this poem was to recall that he was touched when a relative of the victim wrote to him, thanking him for the memory, and noticing that the twenty-one wildflowers matched the number of flavours the dead man had sold.

Yet, in this poem, Longley notably detaches himself and the reader from the event. This is done with the different and confusing pronoun points-of-view: "they", "you" and "I". Then he explicitly removes himself across the island to the County Clare.

The outsider

When Longley commented to Dermot Healy:
I have written a few inadequate elegies out of my bewilderment and despair. I offer them as wreaths. No more.
he correctly anatomised his inability more fully to engage with the events around him.

In one particular poem, he reaches out from his personal experience to one of the many horrors of the years of the Troubles. Longley's dying father, Major Longley, Military Cross, first appears with:
two pictures from my father's head
These are the Ulster Division, going over the top at the Somme, and the subsequent battlefield, strewn with corpses of slain Scotsmen in their kilts. Longley associates these received memories with the burial of three squaddies, shot by the IRA in a pub urinal:
Three teenage soldiers, bellies full of
Bullets and Irish beer, their flies undone.
Major Longley had his passing moment at the Savile Club last evening.

Longley recounted his "audience" at Buckingham Palace; and how an equerry had taken him to the spot in the Palace grounds, recorded in a family photograph, where Longley Senior had been awarded his First World War medal. With little sense of irony, Longley Junior then appended his personal story of returning to Ireland, being asked by the security man why he had been in London, and producing from a side pocket the Queen's Medal for Poetry.

Yet Major Longley, post World War One, was an immigrant to Northern Ireland, a war-wounded commercial traveller. While Michael Longley is explicitly of Belfast ("Home is Belfast. Belfast is Home. I love the place."), he still struggles to connnect with it:
For reasons I don't understand, I find it difficult to get Belfast into my own poems -- unlike Ciarán Carson or, to a lesser extent, Derek Mahon.
In short, Longley's problem (one with which Malcolm finds connection) is that a large part of him is the Englishman abroad. His anecdote of the visit to Buck House was prefaced by a remark on the monarch's appeal:
I went into that audience a republican. I came out a convinced monarchist.
How unlike the decided home-life of any dyed-in-the-wool Ulsterman.

A bit of class distinction

Longley's home turf is the prosperous bourgeois enclave around the University. Here, free-thinking decent folk eat organic, bemoan the lack of a Waitrose, read the Guardian, deplore sectarianism and bigotry, and so feel free to vote Alliance and Anna Lo.

He is particularly differenced from Mahon (the lad from Glengormley) and Carson (the Catholic from the Falls) by social class. He, again without too much explicit self-recognition, memorialised that:

Belfast's more prosperous citzens have usually been careful to separate themselves safely from the ghettoes of the bellicose working classes. An odd exception is the Lisburn Road which runs south from the city centre. Intermittently for about three miles workers' tiny two-up-and-two down houses squint across the road at the drawing-rooms of dentists, doctors, solicitors: on the right, as you drive towards Lisburn, gardenless shadowy streets; on the left rhododendrons and rose bushes. Belfast laid bare, an exposed artery.
Yet, in his poem for the TCD 400th, Longley celebrates himself, stewing in the Bath-house (where the present Buttery entrance is), and sharing the Fabian choruses of The Red Flag.

A likely tale.

None of this should imply that Malcolm lacks appreciation of Longley's considerable and distinctive work. Nor that of his wife, Edna, whose critical monograph on Louis Macneice is excellent. Both have that crucial stamina which means that they will remain in the cultural heritage long, long after less-worthies (ahem!) have gone to oblivion.

And it certainly has nothing to do with that cruel rejection note that Malcolm received, all those years ago, from Icarus. That was when Mahon was the editor, any way. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, May 25, 2009

Monday with Billy

Yawn ...

Was it last night's overdose of Cabernet? Or just the idleness of a Bank Holiday morning?

So, what can we find to fight the ennui? Strong coffee helps ...

This ought to do it!

As Malcolm has admitted here and elsewhere, he is a fan of Billy Joel.

This double CD is a juicy relict of Joel's record tenancy at Madison Square Garden in 2006. That's one of the gigs Malcolm, equipped with his time-machine, would want to attend (another is Georges Brassens' final concert at Sète -- Malcolm left the town only that morning; and has regretted ever since).

What is remarkable is that Joel (or whoever guided his selection) largely ignored most of the output after 1986. Yes, there's The Night Is Still Young, The Great Wall of China, a full-blown The Downeaster 'Alexa' (which Malcolm relishes), The River of Dreams, A Matter of Trust, We Didn't Start the Fire, and, as the penultimate, an excellent And So It Goes. That leaves a full two dozen of the earlier classics.

A quick comparison suggests that Joel has dropped the pitch a notch or two: the matured voice is richer and rock-solid as a result.

Ah!, here comes Allentown. Sony have induced YouTube to block access to this from the UK, but it may show:

There is also an "interpretation" available here.

Allentown gives voice to the Rust Belt:
Well, we're waiting here in Allentown
For the Pennsylvania we never found,
For the promises our teachers gave
If we worked hard,
If we behaved.
So the graduations hang on the wall,
But they never really helped us at all.
No; they never taught us what was real --
Iron and coke
And chromium steel.
And we're waiting here in Allentown.
But they've taken all the coal from the ground,
And the union people crawled away.
Every child had a pretty good shot
To get at least as far as their old man got;
But something happened on the way to that place ...
It was that passing mention of Brassens, above, which supplied Malcolm with a satisfying explanation for his liking of Joel. At his best, Joel goes beyond song-writing, beyond being a modern balladeer, to providing narratives in song, as in his celebration of his return to New York:

As the hair and the higher pitch suggests, that's from 1978 (14th March: a Live at the BBC concert).

Or, in true chansonnière mode, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant and Piano Man, which both come towards the end of double CD (the lyrics mainly carried by active audience involvement).

Yep: that's the real wake-up. Sphere: Related Content
Sunday evening with Fred

Astaire, that is.

To accompany a good read, Malcolm dons his Sony noise-canceling [sic] headphones; and cranks up the G4 iPod. That avoids the distraction of the iPodTouch screen waking up with each change of track.

For the occasion he had installed a new Playlist; and settled back to nearly two-and-a-half hours of Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.

Although improved from the original shellacs, sound quality is -- naturally -- hardly hi-fi. But, who cares?

And so time passes.

Pages are turned. Cabernet is sipped. A good evening is had.

Occasionally the surreality of the audio-only of tap-dancing Fred strikes through: as peculiar and irrational as, say, the ventriloquist "turns" that used to "appear" on the BBC Light Programme.

Occasionally, too, the sheer delight of those clever lyrics, in particular those of Irving Berlin, breaks through.

Omaha, Nebraska, twinned with Naas, County Kildare: birthplace of not just Frederick Austerlitz, but also Nick Nolte, Marlon Brando (whose mother first put Henry Fonda on her stage at the Omaha Community Playhouse) ... and Malcolm X/Little. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Pity the poor rich

(A Saturday extravaganza)

A famed snatch of dialogue:
Scott Fitzgerald: You know, Hem, the rich are not like us.

Ernest Hemingway: Nah: they've got more money.
One of the more sublime places on Earth is Cap Ferrat.

The bay of Villefranche to the west, where the big cruising liners moor for the day, so the inmates can briefly escape to Nice. To the east, the monstrous superyachts and the lesser Tupperware© rock gently off Beaulieu-sur-mer. The Mediterranean glitters in all directions, except where the great white bluffs of the Alpine foothills tower to the north, sheltering this peninsula from the worst blasts of winter.

Inevitably Cap Ferrat is an enclave of the very well-heeled, as is attested by the high and impenetrable hedges, the screens, gates and shutters of the grand (and not-so-grand) mansions. Current residents include Paul Allen of Microsoft and the Baron Lloyd-Webber.

They continue the long line of louche and lucrified lay-abouts:
Nicolas II, Empresses Eugénie, Elisabeth of Austria and Marie of Roumania, James Gordon Bennet and especially Leopold II of Belgium and Béatrice de Rothschild have all lived here. The post-war era (1939-45) also brought its lot of celebrities: Charlie Chaplin, David Niven, Elisabeth Taylor, Gregory Peck... Presidents of France were great fans of the Cape: Vincent Auriol, René Coty, Charles de Gaulle, Giscard d’Estaing. Writers also liked to retire here: Somerset Maugham, Blaise Cendras, Armand Lanoux, Alain Decaux, as well as actors and artists: Jean Gabin, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Gilbert Bécaud, Charles Aznavour, Jacques Tati, Bourvil, Jean Marais and Jean Cocteau.
Jean-François Dieterich of the Agence du Littoral describes his potential clients:
Cap Ferrat plays host to the English, Irish, Americans and Russians, and still a few Italians ; to a lesser extent, Belgians, Swiss and Germans.
Ah, yes, the usual reprobates, and even worse:
Jean-François Dieterich puts the recent rise in Irish buyers down to tax changes in their home country.
Changed, all changed!

Chilly winds have swept down from the north:
Last summer, prices reached boiling point when Villa Leopolda, with majestic views over Cap Ferrat from Villefranche-sur-Mer, went on the market. Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, who has several properties on Cap Ferrat, was rumoured to be interested, but then the richest man in Russia, Mikhail Prokhorov, reportedly agreed to buy it – for €500 million (£440 million). The sale would have crowned the belle époque villa the world's most expensive property. But the banking crisis set in, and Prokhorov was forced to pull out, losing every penny of his €39 million deposit. Leopolda's owner, Lily Safra, donated the money to charity.

Post-Leopolda, the French Riviera is an uncertain place. "At the present time we don't have any information about where prices are going to be," says Jean-Claude Caputo of Savills Riviera Estates . "But those who bought in the last two years would probably sell for 20 or 30 per cent less today."
No tears, please, for Prokhorov:
One of Russia’s wealthiest men, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, was taken into custody by French police in a crackdown on a suspected prostitution ring at a swank Alpine ski resort ...

Investigators suspect Russian call girls were brought to the resort in Courchevel, a favored playground of Russia’s rich, to work during the winter holidays, authorities said. Clients allegedly paid the women with gifts from luxury boutiques.
Although he was released, a returning Prokhorov might still be welcomed with open arms -- by the French gendarmerie.

As for Senora Safra, her worth of £650M ranks 49th in the Daily Mail rich list (here with original spelling):
Four times married philathropist
Her life has been dogged by tragedy but 'Gilded Lily' Safra hasn't lost her lustre. The socialite inherited £200 million after her second husband committed suicide and the rest after her fourth husband, banker Edmond Safra, died tragically in a fire in 1999. One of her three children, Claudio, died in a car crash. But she has settled into a life of philanthropy. Her charity donations are legendary - she once gave £8m to Somerset house. Lily, 66, has put her six-storey London house up for sale at £28m and bought a smaller place nearby. She has other homes in France, Switzerland and Monaco. Forbes puts her wealth at £650m and we agree.
Yeah, yeah: it's that "died tragically in a fire in 1999" which really plucks the heart-strings.

It's well-trodden ground, but let's hear Malcolm's swift reprise.

Edmond Safra was suffering from Parkinson's disease. He needed, and could afford round-the-clock nursing care. In the early hours of 3 December 1999, at the Safra apartment in Monaco, the two nurses on duty were Ted Maher and Vivien Torrente.

Allegedly, Maher, anxious to be the hero of the moment, staged an attempted break-in, stabbing himself for effect, then set fire to the apartment. Maher's version was he merely intended to set off the fire alarms to bring attention: it took 2½ hours for the fire service to arrive. Safra and Torrente died in the "secure" room: Lily, in a room at the other end of the apartment, escaped unscathed.

There were no security guards around: Lily had sent them to the Villa Leopolda weeks before.

Maher was found guilty of arson, and went down for ten years. Within a couple of months, he had sawn through the cell-bars and was again free. He was caught in Nice, and went back inside. In 2008 the conviction was overturned, and Maher was freed.

There is a minor branch of the galactic conspiracy industry concerned with Safra's death.

At this juncture Milady Aramintha, la Châtelaine du Knocknamuckly (who has been missing from this blog too long) would cryptically murmur:
'Tis wonderful the workings of a wheel-barrow.
Algernon Moncrieff opines:
Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.
So, really, you see, as with MPs' expenses, the collapse of the Cap Ferrat property bubble, and the devious doings of the rich-and-famous, it's all the fault of us peasants.

We, like Scott Fitzgerald, understand the rich but dimly. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, May 22, 2009

Welcome back, Jack McEvoy!

It's the art of serendipity. Pick up a book, get hooked.

That happened to Malcolm, over a decade ago, with Michael Connelly's The Poet. Fairly early on, Malcolm recognised he was not scanning through yet another teccie or thriller, but thoroughly reading a real honest-to-goodness Novel.

And The Poet (along with Connelly's "Harry Bosch" sequence) is as much of a respectable novel, worthily placed on those elevated shelves marked "Literature", as are the "teccies" of Charles Dickens (think Inspector Bucket's pursuit of Lady Dedlock in Bleak House) or of Wilkie Collins.

This weekend, Marilyn Stasio, for the the New York Times Sunday Book Review is noting the return of the protagonist, Jack McEvoy, from The Poet in Connelly's latest, The Scarecrow.

Stasio's preview suggests a wider dimension. McEvoy is about to be made redundant by the LA Times. He desperately needs to crack the new case to keep his job, and to keep his personal respect. There is the frequent plot-device in a Connelly work: the time limit. As Stasio has it:
Connelly, who has the nerve and timing of a whole SWAT team, gives Jack two weeks to find the creep who’s been raping and killing attractive long-legged women and dumping their remains in car trunks — if his young replacement doesn’t beat him to the story. But this ambitious upstart is too lovely and leggy for her own good, and the smart money’s on Jack. To make the story sexier, Jack picks up a partner — Rachel Walling, the supersmart FBI agent who jeopardized her career for him in “The Poet.” These two follow the Internet trail of identity theft, pornography Web sites, electronic surveillance and industrial sabotage right to its source, a vast data processing and storage operation known as “the farm” and protected by a certain mastermind known as the Scarecrow.
Malcolm notices this is not just a "story", a narrative, it is also a reflection on the days in which we live.

Newspapers are closing. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer died, at least in its printed form, last St Patrick's Day. The San Francisco Chronicle may yet go the same way. The LA Times is in a state of flux: last year 250 jobs were cut; and the paper lost 15% of its pages; this year the cover price rose by half. Yet this is one of the great newspapers of America, arguably about the only one capable of standing comparison with the Gray Lady and the WaPo.

So, as Stasio summarises:
... the damage done by this electronically savvy killer is nothing compared with the slaughter of the nation’s newspapers, which Connelly compresses into the grim fight for life going on at The Los Angeles Times. Once “the best place in the world to work” but now “an intellectual ghost town,” its ominously quiet newsroom is the harbinger of a time when there will be no eyes left to watch the nation or voices to sound an alarm. “In many ways,” Jack says in his chilling requiem for the industry, “I was relieved that I would not be around to see it.”
That review-column is poignantly entitled Mourning Paper.

Malcolm already has Connelly's book for collection tomorrow (it published in the UK on 12th May, but had not appeared in Malcolm's local book-shop last week-end).

But, first, to finish the Susanna Gregory, which has sat beside Malcolm's bed this last month. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Of sokes, wapentakes and hundreds

Here's "" @ 20:19 responding to a thread on conservativehome:
I am a 'nationalist'. My nationality is English with a footprint back to the Wapentake of Domesday and beyond. I am more Anglo-Saxon than a Saxon bloke from Angloshire with a really big shield saying Battle of Senlac Hill Home Match 1066.

A namesake died in the Charge of the Light Brigade and my family fought for Cromwell as part of a Leveller regiment.

But I would sooner vote BNP than pot roast my genitals not because I think that the BNP is the personification of Neo-Nazi Evil but because they play to hate not to hope.
When Malcolm unscrambled that (it seems to be missing a negative and a pair of helpful quoatation marks), he:
  • quite enjoyed the touch of humour;
  • recognised the sentiments; and
  • felt a pang of envy.
For he has been looking for an opportunity properly to use (and he is less than certain that it is used quite correctly there) words like "wapentake" and "wayzgoose".

When Malcolm's dear old Dad lived and voted in the Claro Ward of Harrogate, North Yorkshire, the locality took its name from such a wapentake. Cue the OED:
A subdivision of certain English shires, corresponding to the ‘hundred’ of other counties.

The shires which had divisions so termed were Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Notts, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, and Leicestershire; in all of which the Danish element in the population was large. In Derbyshire there was latterly only one wapentake (that of Wirksworth), the other divisions of the shire being termed ‘hundreds’. In Lincolnshire most of the county divisions were ‘wapentakes’, but a few were called ‘hundreds’ and ‘sokes’. Traces of the existence of the term remained in popular use in other counties, as Cheshire and Cumberland into the 20th cent.
Now, there's Malcolm's point of issue with "". The word derives from Old Norse, and would literally mean "weapon-taking". The assumption is that the assembly approved of a decision by a show of weapons, just as later generations would agree a vote by a show of hands. Yes, we are that close to our distant ancestors.

Yet, it is a term which belongs specifically to those parts of (take your historical pick):
Ænglaland, Anglaland, Englalond, Ængleland, Englaland, Englæland, Engleland, Aenglelond, Englalande, Englelond, Englelonde, Anglenelonde, Engleneloande, Englenelond, Englenelonde, Ængeland, Eangelond, Engelande, Engelond, Engelonde, Enguelonde, Enkelonde, Ingelond, Ingelonde, Inglond, Inglonde, Yngelond, Englond, Englonde, Ingeland, Ynglond, Englande, Ingland, England, Eingland, Eyngland, Yngellond, Inglant, Englone, Engelande, Englande, Englonde, Ingland, Inglande, Yngland, Ynglande, Ynglond, England
where, following the Treaty of Wedmore (AD878), Danelaw applied. That is, the area north and east of Watling Street, where the law of the Danes (rather than the code of the Saxons) applied. Which suggests that "" might have a touch of the fjords about him, and not the true, the pure, the undefiled Anglo-Saxon.

As if it mattered

What this does remind Malcolm is the essential fallacy of that "British" thing, so beloved of the BNP and other weirdo extremists. So, let's resort yet again to the OED:
Briton (noun and adjective):
A member of one of the Brittonic-speaking peoples originally inhabiting all of Britain south of the Firth of Forth, and in later times spec. Strathclyde, Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany, before and during the Roman occupation.
Got that? You're not a true Brit (and "Brett" and "Britt" have some two millenia of usage behind them) unless you have impeccable Celtic ancestry. Ironically, then, all those Ulsterfolk, of both persuasions, are more likely to be entitled to call themselves "British" than the mere Anglo-Saxons of the Home Counties. That, of course, ignores the recent DNA evidence that the genetic make-up of English, Scots and Irish is remarkably similar: only in the Orkneys and Shetlands does the Norse line run more true.

A good night out?

Now all Malcolm requires is a congenial group of journeymen-printers, well financed by their Master, for a booze-up around St Bartholomew's Day (August 24th). Then he could report here on a wayzgoose (or, as the OED suggests, more properly a "way-goose").

He might be hung-over; but he would have fulfilled the ambition to employ that word.

And on a different topic

Prompted by that passing mention of Bartholomewtide, Malcolm hastens to add a bit of reading.

Last Saturday, deserted by his lovely lady, Malcolm betook himself to Highgate for a solitary pint (or two). Never one willingly to pass a book-shop, he entered the Oxfam shop on the High Street. All the usual stuff, with a few titillating exceptions.

Since Malcolm already had Patterson on The Lough Swilly Railway (albeit, now a very tattered copy), he passed up on that.

Now, what's this from the fiction shelves?

It's a Hunter Steele: The Lords of Montplaisir, in a Scottish publication (which, presumably, came before the Macmillan edition).

Steele is a year or three younger than Malcolm, and did some good work in the late 70s (The Wishdoctor's Song) and 80s. Look out for a delightful variation on the usual in Lord Hamlet's Castle.

This one comes from late in that period. It's big, but not cumbersome, plays games with time sequences, has a (nearly) predictable love-interest plot, melodramatic villains, roistering sexuality, and a thoroughly-researched background in sixteenth-century France. Dumas would have been prepared to adopt it as a racier and more readable addition to his own oeuvre. Since one of the grim bits involves the St Balthomomew's Day massacre of the Huguenots, that's the connection with "wayzgoose".

Now that's on its way to join the other Steele novels on the fiction shelves of Redfellow Hovel, Malcolm reckons that was a good two-quid's worth. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The power of the press release

Today, the [London] Times thunders that:
From 2011 Nuovo Transporto Viaggiatori (NTV) will operate a fleet of 25 trains, travelling at speeds of up to 225mph, between cities such as Rome, Milan, Florence and Naples.
And, yes, Queen Anne is dead.

Fortunately, the Daily Telegraph has a more adequate report (under a predictable cliché of a headline, Italian trains fast-forward into the future):
Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori (NTV), the first privately owned high-speed train operator in Italy, is to operate a fleet of 25 futuristic-looking trains, travelling at speeds of up to 225mph.

The new services, called Italo, will launch in early 2011 linking cities such as Turin, Milan, Bologna, Florence[,] Naples, Bari and Rome and will reduce journey times by up to a third. The journey from Rome to Milan will fall from more than four hours to three hours.
Those "futuristic" trains, French-made by Alstom, are a variant of those already running across France and elsewhere. SNCF has an investment in NTV.

As for the news value of this, the contract between Alstom and NTV was signed in January 2008. The most recent development was the announcement that the name ".italo" (yes, the dot and colouring are significant) had been chosen: not, as the Telegraph reports, "Italo". Even that was publicised on 15 April.

As for the arrival of high-speed rail to Florence, there's a damn great electonic count-down outside Stazione Centrale di Santa Maria Novella: it's pretty hard to miss it. Other stations have something similar. The message is Trenitalia's Alta Velocità is coming, on 12th December.

Even now, it's easy to zip the 140-odd miles between Florence and Rome for a day-trip. Train 9311 leaves at 8.24 tomorrow morning; and takes just 1hr 36min. The 6.22 pm service from Rome does the return trip three minutes faster, well in time to spruce up and dine at Coquinarius, just behind the Duomo. And all for less than €80. Book further ahead, and get it cheaper. Take a slower train and do the trip for peanuts. A comparable journey, say from Norwich to London, takes two hours, as near as dammit, for an unblinking £80: and you'll not wine-and-dine as well, or as reasonably, anywhere back in Norwich.

As for the Telegraph crack:
[.italo] will represent a new development for Italian trains, which have a reputation for a lack of punctuality and comfort
Charles Starmer-Smith, the "author" of that cut-and-paste piece, has clearly not travelled enough by Eurostar Italia, or he chooses to confuse the prestige service with the slow-and-easy local trains.

Or he certainly would not assume that the service between Norwich and London represents a comparison for "punctuality and service".

And the Trenitalia web-site (though, obviously, modelled on but not quite in the same league as that of the magnificent DBahn) is a long way in advance of anything the UK service providers put up. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

... by any other name would smell as sweet

A piece in a recent issue of the Economist set Malcolm a-thinking:
THE choice of name for the capital of present-day Lithuania—Wilno, Vilna, Vilne, Wilda, Vilnia or now Vilnius—shows who you are, or were. In the 20th century alone, it has been occupied or claimed by Germany, Russia, Poland and the Soviet Union, with only brief periods of Lithuanian autonomy.
Now, off-hand, where does that remind us of?

Well, in alphabetical order:
Banba; Britannia Parva; de Ould Sod; Éire; Ériu; Erin; Fóhla; Hibernia; Ierland; Ierna; Ierné; Inis Ealga; Irenlandt; Irlanda; Irland; Irlande; Irlanthia; Irlanti; Irorszag; Irska; Irsko; Ivernia; Iwerddon; Juverna; Northern Ireland; Ogygia; Overnia; Paddyland; Poblacht na hÉireann; Saorstát Éireann; Scotia; Southern Ireland; the Black North; the Emerald Isle; the Four Green Fields; the Four Provinces; the Forty Shades of Green; the Free State; the Irish Free State; the North; the Republic of Ireland; the Six Counties; the South; the Thirty-two Counties; the Twenty-Six Counties ...
... and counting.

Many of those terms should offend someone, somehow, somewhere.

Which is why Malcolm addresses the topic now, and why, in previous posts, he has considered the different threads ("Irish", "Anglo-Irish", not forgetting and any other hyphenations) through previous posts.

Then there are those extraordinary locales. For an obvious example, try "Irishtown". There's one sandwiched between salubrious Sandymount and less-so Ringsend, in south-east Dublin. A town of Irish, in Ireland? Quelle surprise! yet it's there because of the Statutes of Kilkenny, when the English of Dublin had a pogrom and drove the Irish out of town.

There's another one in Mayo: presumably for similar reasons. That Irishtown was the original base for Michael Davitt's Land League; and so highly symbolic in its name.

Derry and Downpatrick (and numerous other towns in the old Plantations) have an "Irish Street", often with an "English Street" or a "Scotch Street" (that one's a direct reverberation from the Ulster Plantation) not far away. Cue Louis Macneice:
I was born in Belfast between the mountain and the gantries
To the hooting of lost sirens and the clang of trams:
Thence to Smoky Carrick in County Antrim
Where the bottle-neck harbour collects the mud which jams

The little boats beneath the Norman castle,
The pier shining with lumps of crystal salt;
The Scotch Quarter was a line of residential houses
But the Irish Quarter was a slum for the blind and halt.
Geddit? And if you didn't, Macneice spikes the message home with a point that comes down to the late twentieth century:
I was the rector's son, born to the Anglican order,
Banned for ever from the candles of the Irish poor;
The Chichesters knelt in marble at the end of a transept
With ruffs about their necks, their portion sure.
Ah, yes: the Chichesters, their portion sure.

Malcolm thinks of them any time he is passing Dunluce Castle. The predictable Malcolmian aside on the Irish origins and history of the Chichesters (who amply illustrate the cultural confusion) must await another posting.

Declan Kiberd invents an alternative history

Kiberd introduced Inventing Ireland, his 1997 post-colonialist history of literary history with a magnificent and rhetorical question:
If God invented whiskey to prevent the Irish from ruling the world, then who invented Ireland?
He instantly discounts the notion that the Irish had anything to do with it; and comes up, mischievously with:
a second answer ... that the English helped to invent Ireland, in much the same way as Germans contributed to the naming and identification of France. Through many centuries, Ireland was pressed into service as a foil to set off English virtues, as a laboratory in which to conduct experiments, and as a fantasy-land in which to meet fairies and monsters.
That is delightfully
paradoxical and provocative ; but let's stick with the etymology for a moment.

Curiously, the Oxford English Dictionary chooses to define "Ireland" only in terms of the Classics Prize at Oxford University. As for "Irish", a quotation from 1250 shows that even then it was an insult-word:
Thu chaterest so doth on Irish preost.
However, in this connection the OED ventures to suggest:
The stem ír- is no doubt from OIr. Ériu Erin (see HIBERNIAN); but the phonological relation is not clear.
When we then refer to HIBERNIAN, we find this:
f. L. Hibernia, a corrupted form of Iverna (Iuuerna, Iuverna, Iuberna) = Gr. , = OCeltic *Iveriu (acc. *Iverionem, abl. *Iverione), whence Ir. Eriu, acc. Eirinn, Erinn Erin, later MIr. nom. and acc. Eri (whence OE. Yra-, Iraland) Ireland.
So that's involved:
  • the Romans. Sure enough, there's "Hibernia" in Caesar's Gallic Wars and in Pliny ... oh, and also in Tacitus on Germania.
If "Hibernia" is a nice confusion from "hibernus" (= Winter), then we also find:
  • the presumably more-correct "Iverna" in the first century AD geographer, Pomponius Mela, and Iuverna in Juvenal.
And that clearly brings in:
  • the Greeks, or at least Strabo, with his Iernē.
Then we really are out in the cold, looking for a hypothetical Phoenecian connection, which may be quite conceivable, since Strabo hailed from what is now Turkey.

Strabo on Ireland

There's a continuing translation of Strabo on the University of Chicago web-site, ripped from the Loeb parallel text edition. Here is Strabo on our topic for today:
Besides some small islands round about Britain, there is also a large island, Ierne, which stretches parallel to Britain on the north, its breadth being greater than its length. Concerning this island I have nothing certain to tell, except that its inhabitants are more savage than the Britons, since they are man-eaters as well as heavy eaters, and since, further, they count it an honourable thing, when their fathers die, to devour them, and openly to have intercourse, not only with the other women, but also with their mothers and sisters; but I am saying this only with the understanding that I have no trustworthy witnesses for it; and yet, as for the matter of man-eating, that is said to be a custom of the Scythians also, and, in cases of necessity forced by sieges, the Celti, the Iberians, and several other peoples are said to have practised it.
The sex-and-violence there suggests that anti-Irish feeling goes way back. And it provides us with the usual problem:

It confuses "Ireland" and "Irish"

Kiberd and his generation of critics and historians are quite correct to see "Ireland" as a "cultural construct" (which is how Professor Willy Malley put it, for the opening essay in the symposium Ireland in Proximity).

Since it is the people, not the geography, who make the curious mixed-identity that is this "construct", perhaps it is time for a break for refreshment, further thought and deep breathing exercises before Malcolm leads into Part Two of this discussion.

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Down among the sweltering palms

Carl Hiaasen provides one of the annual (or so) treats in Malcolm's life. Those light satirical thrillers, with a message, are a proverbial Chinese take-away: enjoy one now, and you'll be hungry for another in two hours' time.

The essential message is environmental.

From that, Hiaasen expounds, oh so lightly, on the corruption and spectacular rape of southern Florida, where little old widow ladies and alligators (the reptile variety is the safer) vie for territory, in a locale for events:
... way beyond anything in a Tom Clancy novel ... the one place in the United States where the bar for bad behaviour is so high that nothing we do will be noticed, where we can walk into a flight training school and hand the guy six grand in cash, and ask to use the 747 simulator, except not for taking-off and landing, just for flying in circles, and they won't ask any questions... And they picked the right place ...
That's at 4:10 in this clip:

Is it all about to change?

First, as a result of the continuing efforts of thousands of decent folk (including Hiaasen himself) there came (flourish of trumpets!) the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). Now CERP would cost $20 billion.

Of course, back in 2000, this was estimable, generally deemed "a good thing", worthy of joint federal and state funding. For the eight years of the Bush Presidency, something significant happened: it effectively amounted to nothing, nada, zilch.

"Change that matters"

Now, curiously, inexplicably, magnificently, the ground rules have changed:
... the $279 million in federal funds earmarked largely for Glades restoration projects mark the single-largest amount that Congress and the White House have allocated since the joint federal-state project was approved in 2000. It's a start, finally.

The money comes from two sources. There is $183 million in a spending bill approved by Congress last month and $96 million from the federal-stimulus package for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers work. Together, these funds will get stalled projects started, such as restoring wetlands in the 55,000-acre Picayune Strand in Southwest Florida and building a reservoir to improve the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Palm Beach County. There also is funding for repairs on Lake Okeechobee's dike and an upgrading of the Tamiami Trail, though not enough to elevate the road, which is the best solution to impairment of sheet flow.

"Sheet flow"? Am I sure I heard that right?

Don't knock it:
There also is $25 million to help Monroe County replace its antiquated cesspool and septic tanks with a central-sewage system.
Hiaasen would probably reckon (and, until now, however surreal, he's been on the button), there's already some smart guy in southern Florida skimming the till.

So, Malcolm resolves:
  • To pray for a new Hiaasen novel;
  • To refer to Hiaasen's less-regular columns on line at the Miami Herald; and
  • To lie back, and -- thinking of England and his Lady's weekly golfing exploits -- wait for delivery of the only two of Hiaasen's published books not already on his shelves:

Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Missing from action

The next issue of Time Magazine does its annual 100 Most Influential People. The first section is "Leaders and Revolutionaries". They are (in order of the listing):
  • Edward Kennedy ("Uncle Teddy" has his biography written by Arnold Schwarzenegger);
  • Gordon Brown (biography by his "friend", J.K.Rowling);
  • Christine Lagarde;
  • Hillary Clinton;
  • President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (of Indonesia, since you had to ask);
  • Nicolas Sarkozy;
  • Angela Merkel;
  • Wang Qishan;
  • Sheriff Thomas Dart of Cook County (who is redefining the terms for house repossession);
  • Avigdor Lieberman;
  • Joaquí Guzmán;
  • Nouri al-Maliki;
  • Boris Johnson (biography by ... Conrad Black. Oh dear!);
  • Norah al-Faiz ("the first woman minister in Saudi history");
  • Elizabeth Warren (who is Overseer of the US TARP program);
  • President Paul Kagame of Rwanda;
  • Vice-President Xi Jinping;
  • General David McKiernan, who is making sure the US and its allies don't lose in Afghanistan;
  • Army General Ashfaq Kayani, the Pakistan Chief of Staff;
and, obviously,
  • Barack Obama (the biography by ... Gordon Brown).
Notice anyone missing there? Sphere: Related Content
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