Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An ingenious Drole

An ingenious Drole, who is since dead (and indeed it is well for him he is so, for he must have starved had he lived to this Day) used to give me an Account of his good Husbandry in the Management of his Learning. He was a general Dealer, and had his Amusements as well comical as serious. The merry Rogue said, when he wanted a Dinner, he writ a Paragraph of Table-Talk, and his Bookseller upon Sight paid the Reckoning. He was a very good Judge of what would please the People, and could aptly hit both the Genius of his Readers, and the Season of the Year in his Writings. His Brain, which was his Estate, had as regular and different Produce as other Men's Land. From the Beginning of November till the Opening of the Campagne, he writ Pamphlets and Letters to Members of Parliament, or Friends in the Country: But sometimes he would relieve his ordinary Readers with a Murder, and lived comfortably a Week or two upon strange and lamentable Accidents. A little before the Armies took the Field, his Way was to open you Attention with a Prodigy; and a Monster well writ, was two Guineas the lowest Price. This prepared his readers for his Great and Bloody News from Flanders in June and July. Poor Tom! He is gone - But I observed, he always looked well after a Battle, and was apparently fatter in a fighting Year. Had this honest careless Fellow lived till now, Famine had stared him in the Face, and interrupted his Merriment; as it must be a solid Affliction to all those whose Pen is their Portion.

Rolling News

My mother commented on my last post, asking whether the cat would be less likely to claw books if it had some wool to play with. That was this morning at about 11am. We went out at 12, and came back at 1.30, by which time the cat had discovered some wool to play with.

The Influence of Environment

Our cat has started work as a literary critic. The book is Penguin's Selections from the Tatler and the Spectator, so I can't fault his taste, but it is a little worrying. Didn't Heine say something like, 'where books are clawed to pieces, eventually so are people'?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Parque de El Capricho

We went here today, which was lovely. The Parque de El Capricho has: pleasantly shaded stone benches;

slimy green pools;

sphinxes in a state of disrepair;

a temporarily closed labyrinth;

gravel that gets between the toes;

brick-bottomed pools that remind me of Stalker;

a tiny fortress for artillery practice;

benches where people make slightly witchy offerings;

trees propped up with canes;

houses covered with canes;

decorative islands;

a wild boar by a reflective pool;

shady avenues;


a glyptotheque;



pretend Egyptian relics;

a rustic house which makes people happy, and

an imposing entrance.

The park is near Alameda de Osuna, which either has a sense of humour or none at all.

You get to it by the metro, and as you can see, it is under-used.

Friday, July 24, 2009

It is astonishingly hot.

And we are commensurately exhausted. It is astonishingly hotter in Murcia, however, where temperatures are predicted to hit 43ºC, or ((43x9/5)+32=) 109.4ºF. Here it is a comparatively balmy 38ºC/100.4ºF.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Blini (2009- )

We've adopted a cat. He was hit by a car when he was a kitten, and has, if you look at the first photo below, had to have an operation to fix his leg where it was broken, which accounts for the little step, or steppe, in his fur. He's also had the trad. operation to mangle his dangly ganglia, which makes him docile and pleasant. The first photo below caught him at a bad moment, but he's a lover, not a fighter.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Francesca Woodman (1958-1981)

Slightly surprisingly, the Wikipedia article on Francesca Woodman is also the best place to start looking at her photos.

The Kilpeck Green Man

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Current Favourite Spanish Idiom

El se cree que ha descubierto la sopa de ajo.
He thinks that he's invented garlic soup.

Said of someone who makes obvious points thinking that he is saying something original.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

More Smollett

After Diogenes's fair a day or so ago, here's another one:

'The great poverty of the people here, is owing to their religion. Half of their time is lost in observing the great number of festivals; and half of their substance is given to mendicant friars and parish priests. But if the church occasions their indigence, it likewise, in some measure, alleviates the horrors of it, by amusing them with shows, processions, and even those very feasts, which afford a recess from labour, in a country where the climate disposes them to idleness. If the peasants in the neighbourhood of any chapel dedicated to a saint, whose day is to be celebrated, have a mind to make a festin, in other words, a fair, they apply to the commandant of Nice for a license, which costs them about a French crown. This being obtained, they assemble after service, men and women, in their best apparel, and dance to the musick of fiddles, and pipe and tabor, or rather pipe and drum. There are hucksters' stands, with pedlary ware and knick-knacks for presents; cakes and bread, liqueurs and wine; and thither generally resort all the company of Nice. I have seen our whole noblesse at one of these festins, kept on the highway in summer, mingled with an immense crowd of peasants, mules, and asses, covered with dust, and sweating at every pore with the excessive heat of the weather. I should be much puzzled to tell whence their enjoyment arises on such occasions; or to explain their motives for going thither, unless they are prescribed it for pennance, as a fore-taste of purgatory.'

Tobias George Smollett (1721-1771)

I'm currently reading Travels Through France and Italy (1766), which is great. I like the bigotry, but have a softer spot for the ornithology:

'The neighbourhood of this fort, which is a smooth sandy beach, I have chosen for my bathing place. The road to it is agreeable and romantic, lying through pleasant cornfields, where there is a rabbit warren, and great plenty of birds so much admired at Tunbridge under the name of wheat-ears. By the bye, this is a pleasant corruption of white-a—se, the translation of their French name cul-blanc, taken from their colour; for they are actually white towards the tail.'

'Another proof of the indigence which reigns among the common people, is this: you may pass through the whole South of France, as well as the county of Nice, where there is no want of groves, woods, and plantations, without hearing the song of blackbird, thrush, linnet, gold-finch, or any other bird whatsoever. All is silent and solitary. The poor birds are destroyed, or driven for refuge, into other countries, by the savage persecution of the people, who spare no pains to kill, and catch them for their own subsistence. Scarce a sparrow, red-breast, tom-tit, or wren, can 'scape the guns and snares of those indefatigable fowlers. Even the noblesse make parties to go à la chasse, a-hunting; that is, to kill those little birds, which they eat as gibier, or game.'

I suppose the second extract is as much bigotry as ornithology.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


The website for the Syracuse University Madrid Campus begins as follows:

'Imagine life where the days are long on sunshine, and the evenings are full of the colors and sounds of people who enjoy life to its fullest.'

The first entry on the list of available courses?


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Déjeuner sur l'herbe

We went to the Retiro for a picnic yesterday. We were Andrés, who has designed the website for Nevsky; Eva, who has designed the logo for Nevsky and who is Andrés's boss; Eva's two sisters Bea and Maria; Eva's boyfriend Joe; Marian and me. We watched the grass grow on the weir, and annihilated all that's made into a green thought in a green shade, and all the other stuff you're meant to do in gardens. Marian's left elbow has a fascination that few can resist.

Current Favourite Sentence

Let me tell you, Scholar, that Diogenes walked on a day with his friend to see a Country Fair; where he saw, Ribbins, and Looking-glasses, and Nut-crackers, and Fiddles, and Hobby horses, and many other gimcracks; and, having observed them, and, all the other finnimbruns that make a compleat Country fair: he said to his friend, Lord! How many things are there in this world of which Diogenes hath no need!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Current Favourite Sentence

It's bullfighting season again:

'Lleva una cornada con orificio de entrada y salida por encima de la rodilla derecha y un puntazo en la bolsa escrotal.'

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Nevsky Prospects

You might want to go and have a look at this

Friday, July 03, 2009


This, according to the caption here, is a black-browed barbet. It seems to me that its black brow isn't its most immediately striking feature.

Current Favourite Sentences

'The USSR was based on socialism, state ownership, collectivisation, the cult worship of Marxism-Leninism, the export of communism and the need for military and political influence in satellite countries and regions. The Russian Federation is based upon very different ideals: namely, capitalism, private ownership, total individualism, the cult of money, the rejection of traditional state paternalism and widespread corruption at all levels of power.'

I just love the fact that 'widespread corruption at all levels of power' is described as an 'ideal'.


Yesterday, for the first time, I did a reading here in Spain. In Spanish. Marian translated the poems, and I was among friends, so it wasn't too stressful.

Our friend Sonia was also on the bill, and people seemed to like the poems: all three of us were very different; Rafa said it was like going to a concert of heavy metal, smooth jazz and prog rock, 'but in a good way'. If there is a good way.

Our friend Raúl was delegated to take the photos. Bless his little cotton socks, but he is much more gifted with words than with images.

However, this photo gives me at least some sense of why my students claimed to be scared of me.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


If Greenland ever gets its independence, its flag will leap up there with my favourites.

Alastair Sim (1900-1976)

The Moon

There was an absolutely amazing red and off-white crescent moon that lit up the whole beach one night, but my camera was too small to provide elegant evidence of the fact. You'll just have to think of it as being as perfect as it was. To paraphrase Roy Scheider, 'We need a bigger lens'. Incidentally, they show Jaws every summer to try to stop beach congestion.