My mother's birthday. At least this time I am on hand. Sad that the
Co-op has run out
of the pink
she likes, though the white version is almost as tasty.
Finished the old copy of
by Christopher Kirwan [from the
the Philosophers' series]
I was part-way through. Not as dry as I remember it
[unless I got drier in the meantime]. The part that really interests me, Augustine's
view that God is outside time, was well-explained but a little unsatisfactory, as
Kirwan mainly looks at logical difficulties reconciling being outside time [or 'before' time]
and yet acting within in it. More a cue for a real discussion of time itself than a
run-through of Augustine's manoeuvres in dealing with it, I'd have thought, but I
suppose the series isn't called Arguments of the Philosophers for nothing. A glossary
of Latin terms used by Augustine, and a few pages outlining roughly what happens
section by section in each of his works would have been nice features for this book.
Paul Johnson's book
Renaissance' is stylishly
readable and beautifully concise. A treat to find
buried under other stuff on my mother's sofa.
A few odd points in the book gave a slightly
overconfident, High-Table feel to this crisp overview.
Johnson stresses the centrality of Florence and Italy,
breezily apologising for the awkward fact that
printing was invented in Germany and oil painting was
invented in the Low Countries. He decisively describes
Christian Europe's first university as Paris [though
Bologna predates it by almost a century] and the
world's first university [Fez, Morocco, founded in the
800s, still teaching] is completely avoided. Even the
Islamic universities in Moroccan-controlled Europe
[Cordoba, Seville etc] which predated Bologna by a
further century, go unmentioned: perhaps a sore point
for the seriously Catholic Johnson. He deals with
Islam in a single paragraph about Arabic commentaries
Clipped biographies of individual artists are the best
thing about this book. Donatello is perhaps the
central artist of the Renaissance, Johnson states
boldly, adding "Here are a dozen ways Donatello
innovated." I couldn't find reason 5, and number 11
appears to be that Donatello had a really nifty way of
doing clouds, but Johnson's love for the subject and
his flair for summing up is undeniable. Only when an
and enamel salt"(sic) that Cellini made in two
years is described as something no individual or team
[Goodness, Paul] could make "in a century" now, do we
detect the role of lashings of black coffee and bottles of
a doubtless wonderful vintage in knocking off this
book. Perhaps no-one at W&N is quite brave enough to
edit the grand old man, and granted, his prose is so
good it needs very little tweaking.
Two pages about how the technical limitations of
fresco painting on wet plaster create the light, clear
colours and sharp outlines we associate with Fra
Angelico, Fra Lippo Lippi and other Florentine artists
are probably the highlight of the book for me. If
anyone can write a useful and attractive book about
Renaissance sculptors, painters, and architects
without any pictures, this is it.
Finished my mother's copy of
'Among the believers'
that I started last year. Engrossing, though the cool
on any religious naivete he encounters
is sometimes almost too cool to bear reading. With
donnishly deceptive gentleness he interviews
Muslims in Iran, Pakistan and Indonesia
and depicts them as well-meaning
but darkly narrow-minded, just as with the Hindu
village-pride activists he takes apart
in his books on India. He finds blinkered
fanatics with genial, sincere, civilised
exteriors. Worrying if he is
misrepresenting them, even more worrying if he is
depicting them as they really are. His chat with two
"brave girls" who earnestly mouth Islamic platitudes
about sexual modesty and covering their own female
bodies, is interesting. Though he mentions the pretty
high-heeled shoes one is wearing, and their admission to
and Boon romances, the
meat is in their confused answers to
his mild questions.
Naipaul's overall claim in much of
his writing is that 20th-century anti-colonialism
despises and blames Western
culture as a magically given world background, even
while using it without apology for its superior
technology, banking system, cultural openness etc. His
soft manner disguises contempt for
Third-Worldism and how it sees Europe and
Sheer rarity of admissions that being invaded
might be a good thing brings back film-director
telling me in the Astoria coffee house
that "of course" Hungary benefitted from the Ottoman
Turkish invasion. Blinking, I asked why. "Contact with
a higher civilisation" he answered wearily. It
is over three centuries since the Turks left Hungary,
and I have not heard in ten years another Hungarian
say this [apart from Edina, a specialist in
Which suggests wounded national
pride can take a very long time to heal. It says
something about our time that Naipaul only gets away
with saying these things because he is [a] elegantly
diplomatic and [b] a dark-skinned Indian man brought
up in the Caribbean during the closing years of the
British Empire. In
the final paragraph he sums up Islamic revivalism as
a kind of neo-socialist provincialism.
My mother's Taschen photograph book
'High Gothic' is
lovely to look through. Perhaps it was a little bit of
a mistake to actually read it, though there were lots
of interesting things to learn from
slightly list-like text. He convincingly dismisses the
idea that the cathedrals in themselves encapsulated a
philosophy, and emphasises the role of northern France
in pioneering most of the stylistic innovations within
Gothic. I would have liked more line diagrams to help
explain the photographs, and especially a diagram or
diagrams at the start showing all the special
architectural terms [instead of a diagram at the back
showing a quarter of the terms]. This would have
complemented a better-compiled glossary, rather than
the confusing and incomplete one you get. For example,
Black and white photographs would
have better brought out the textured detail of some of
the most encrusted surfaces, such as
cathedrals' detailed facades.
Robin & I drive up to Yorkshire where I arrive at my
mother's and he continues up to
Pop into jaded London to do some market research for Nigel
at the bookshops.
arrived, Dillons bought by
depressing as ever, though their politics
assistant was very helpful.
On Nigel's computer, reading about
Very hard to recharge a
Pannon GSM phone with a
say 11 or 12 local phone-card shops. In
fact very hard to even phone [seamless voicemail menu overlooking my case, which hung
up each time I tried to obtain a live adviser] or e-mail [no e-mail address, online form refuses to
let me send query without a UK mobile phone number] Vodaphone for help. How odd
such shoddy work goes uncorrected everywhere. Later,
Nigel invites me out to a fine noodle house round the corner, where he tells me about
an English friend of his who at 28 is already married to his 3rd Japanese wife.
Breakfast with Ralph & Robin. Ralph shows me a book about the
After some tile dealers I go back to Nigel's, meet Rigo.
Get into town to meet Robin at
Christie's for a
Hungarian Cultural Centre show about
Philip de Laszlo.
With Nora meet modest Bea and mysterious Dodo. Ralph
puts Robin, Dodo & me up at his for the night.
I get very excited by a large picture book of Christian's about
shows us the latest at his gallery. The alarming visions of
will stay in my dreams a while, for sure.
ferry crossing. Once in south London, Nigel
& Fiona welcome me with copious servings of chilli-flavoured vodka.
We bid farewell to Johannes & Anna (+ Mario, Jacintha & Florina),
in their Eifel retreat. A
dealer replaces the spare tyre and rearranges the other tyres for the snow. At
Cologne we meet Christian & Andre.
Christian tells us how he has to think in feet & inches to work
with French film directors, and startles us enthusing about
how they divide space up more organically than metres. Well, yes.
One French director, he says, enjoys declaiming that
"an inch is an inch!". Gosh.
A rather wet evening ensues going round the
Cologne Furniture Fair's various locations round town, in the rain. At the
cheese, the best carrot cake I've ever
eaten, and little moist, bendy gingery things far too tasty to
deserve the name 'biscuit'. Shame about the furniture designers.
A long day driving and a puncture as darkness falls in
a front wheel under a streetlight outside a
garage door with a talking treestump painted on it. Three
miles later we reach
Annaīs. During a late dinner, Jacintha, aged three, introduces me to her fluffy
stuffed snake. Then we watch a film by Matthias, `Be gottī, on video. Haunting use of didgeridoo
music and beautifully-placed camera shots. Some nifty tricks in the story.
With Puedi, we walk the two dogs by the
Morning at Puedi and Axel`s, waking to the sound
of a busy local
In the afternoon
brings his Austrian-American bride-to-be
Ilona and their large fluffy dog. Later
Axel & Patrick arrive for merriment.
Wake up in
Assunta and Matthias`s house,
unrecognisable from last year. In place of a
collection of small rooms with wooden stairs next to
an old barn, is a tasteful white-walled
apartment, the kind that sprawls across architecture magazine
picture spreads and soul-music videos. By the evening we make it to
having, just like last year, got ourselves
lost driving round Munich for a couple of hours first.
In the kitchen, Puedi &
Elke are discussing life.
Superb day. Gorgeous, bittersweet winter sunshine.
Pieces of puzzle fall into place while on bus to
Marion invites me down the road for coffee &
pogacsas. I get e-mail jobs done on the school
computer. Meet up with Tim for drinks while we wait
for Robin. Robin & I drive out of town and make it to
for a wonderful dinner. Her
husband Matthias hypnotically explains over red wine
his advertising-film production job and why he got rid
of the television from the house. He sees me as an old
monk, and regards monasteries as engine rooms of
Tiring. Running around asking help from
kindly Steve. Esther sweetly invites
me out for a late drink. We bump into the charming
Miracle! Both Hussam & Sari voluntarily pay
Sunday wondering what will happen.
Since Vicki the
is on heat and slipped her lead for 1/2 an
hour after dark, a very cross Georgina takes me into the garage and
holds the poor thing upside down by the back legs while I pour a
bottle of dilute vinegar down her little whatsit. Apparently,
Hungarian boasts no fewer than six distinct verbs for a female
animal being on heat. According to
the splendid list is as follows:
kecske [= goat]
kutya [= dog]
[= pig] bug
lo [= horse]
[= cat] & nyul [= rabbit]
tehen [= cow]
& szamar [= donkey]
without any dots & ticks of course.
After I manage to wheedle no less than three painkilling
injections out of her, Eva removes one of my
Yes! Am naive again!
After dozing, finish
History of Islamic Spain'
and Cachia, an appealingly stern-looking Edinburgh University
Press paperback from the 70s. Still find Arabic names
muddling, but at last seem to be getting clear that
Averroes is Ibn Rushd's
euroname. The survival of
a separate Islamic kingdom in the south for another two and a
half centuries after the rest of the country had gone Christian
is probably the one fact that will stay with me. Not too
much on the
Sufi influence on courtly-love troubadours,
the heart of what Romance means for Romance Europe, but
at least I wasn't imagining I'd read that somewhere else.
'Hayy ibn-Yaqzan' sounds intriguing if it really
did prefigure Rousseau's much-praised
'Emile' by six
centuries. Odd to see Toledo as the big town in the centre
of Spain, with no Madrid on the map. Also the
at least in grainy black and white photos, looked rather uglier
than I expected, but am probably missing something.
had lost to the Moroccans/Moors in 732
near Poitiers? Might France & Spain never have emerged?
Particularly striking that in
expelled its Jews, forced conversion of its Muslims, had an
Italian expedition discover America for it, and pushed the
Islamic kingdom of Granada into final surrender. Busy year.
An opening at
APA for two Finnish painters.
Bruno Maximus, a mix
of Salvador Dali and the
Dr Seuss illustrations,
was quite fun.
Robin print. 2
fluffy giraffes watch from the office sofa.
The Sexy Dentist
looks in my mouth. Says 1 of my fillings has unfilled.
Starting to recover. On telly, Dutch children playing
ache & I get heavy headcold. Fab.
Toothache but a lovely afternoon at Diana's with Szabolcs,
Janos & Virag. Diana kindly gives the children & me a quick
spin on one of her horses. Janos tells
Robin & me that a
founding musician in the
Galloping Coroners group
is also an
astronomer who has proved that periodicity in alignments of
the planets causes our sun's
11.5-year sunspot cycle.
Venetians Giovanni & Margerita drop by with 6 other jolly
Marianna. Not enough
time to get to know them, sadly.
Georgina reminds me how to make
Then Zsuzsa & I make some.
Others get bored, leaving me alone in the kitchen with only the
hiss of the gas-ring. The bowl of creamy liquid becomes a
slowly mounting stack of warm, floppy yellow discs.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
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