Archive for the 'Post-Industrial Nomads' Category

The Lamberts

Lambert-George-AcrossTheBlackSoilPlains-1899

From sometime before 1933 right down to the present day, members of my family have had on their walls reproductions of George Lambert’s 1899 Wynne-Prize-winning painting Across the Black Soil Plains, and so this image is part of my cultural heritage. (Image due to AGNSW.)

George Washington Thomas Lambert (1873-1930) was an Australian artist born, after his father had died, in St Petersburg of an American father and English mother.  The family emigrated to New South Wales in 1887.  In Australia, he is most famous for his painting, Across the Black Soil Plains, now in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which was based on his time living at Warren, NSW.  During WWI, he was an official Australian war artist.

George’s son, Leonard Constant Lambert (1905-1951) was a jazz-age British composer and conductor, and co-founder of Sadler’s Wells dance company.

Constant’s son, Christopher (“Kit”) Sebastian Lambert (1935-1981) was a record producer and manager, and part-creator of rock band, The Who.




London life

ScooterCaffeLowerMarshStreetWaterloo

Scooter Caffe, Lower Marsh Street, Waterloo, London SE1 7AE.




Eggs William S. Burroughs

Eggs William S. Burroughs

Chop one onion and place it into a pan with 1 tablespoon of butter. Brown it.

Take the green part of 1 chicory salad (keep the white part for a salad). Chop it fine and add it to the onion. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Then add 4 chopped hard-boiled eggs, 1 clove of garlic that has been crushed into a little chopped parsley, 2 chopped peeled tomatoes, 1 more tablespoon of butter, 1 teaspoon of meat stock, 1 pinch of pepper, one pinch of salt, and one sherry-glassful of claret. Cook for 5 minutes.

Boil 2 handfuls of noodles for 15 minutes. Strain. Be sure they are free of all water. Place them on the bottom of a baking dish. Cover with the chicory, etc., and bake in a preheated moderate oven of 350°F for 15 minutes. Season to taste.

Source:

Henri Charpentier [1945]:  Food and Finesse: The Bride’s Bible. Privately printed, Chicago, IL, USA.  Recipe here.   From Charpentier’s and Burroughs’ time in Chicago, in the early 1940s.




Paris life

Le-bistrot-des-pingouins-Paris-14

Le Bistrot des Pingouins, Rue Daguerre (off Rue Fermat), Paris 14.




London life

 

FandW




42 again

Following my recent post on the meaning of life, I recalled Georges Perec’s great novel, Life: A User’s Manual, which I first encountered in a 1987 book review by Paul Auster in the New York Times, here.

If anyone can be called the central character in this shifting, kaleidoscopic work, it would have to be Percival Bartlebooth, an eccentric English millionaire whose insane and useless 50-year project serves as an emblem for the book as a whole. Realizing as a young man that his wealth has doomed him to a life of boredom, Bartlebooth undertakes to study the art of watercolor with Serge Valene for a period of 10 years. Although he has no aptitude whatsoever for painting, he eventually reaches a satisfactory level of competence. Then, in the company of a servant, he sets out on a 20-year voyage around the world with the sole intention of painting watercolors of 500 different harbors and seaports.

As soon as one of these pictures is finished, he sends it to a man in Paris by the name of Gaspard Winckler, who also lives in the building. Winckler is an expert puzzle-maker whom Bartlebooth has hired to turn the watercolors into 750-piece jigsaw puzzles. One by one, the puzzles are made and stored in wooden boxes. When Bartlebooth returns from his travels and settles back into his apartment, he will methodically go about putting the puzzles together in chronological order. By means of an elaborate chemical process, the borders of the puzzle pieces have been glued together in such a way that the seams are no longer visible, thus restoring the watercolor to its original integrity. The painting, good as new, can then be removed from its wooden backing and sent to the place where it was originally executed. There it will be dipped into a detergent solution that eliminates all traces of the painting, yielding a clean and unmarked sheet of paper.

In other words, Bartlebooth will be left with nothing, the same thing he started with.

The idea of wasting the second half of your life trying to make sense of all you did in the first half I have found to be increasingly insightful as I age.

FWIW, Auster’s 1987 review appears to have been plagiarized, without any acknowledgement, in this 1999 post.




RIP: IHT

This week the death was announced of The International Herald Tribune, and her replacement by the International Edition of The New York Times.   Born in Paris in 1887, the deceased reached maturity in 1967, when she became jointly and equally owned by The Washington Post and The New York Times.  From then to 2003 were her glory years, perhaps because neither newspaper parent was able to impose their own, provincial culture on the cosmopolitan IHT editorial team in Paris.   Here is Hendrik Hertzberg:

The first time I ever went anywhere outside the United States was in 1960. I was seventeen, I was by myself, and I was in Paris. At the earliest possible moment, I did four things. I sat down at a little table at an outdoor café. I ordered a glass of red wine. I lit a Gauloises. And I opened up my copy, freshly bought, of the Herald Tribune. Only then did I no longer feel like a tourist or a high-school kid. I was suddenly something better: an American in Paris.”

But no marketing manager can stomach a brand he does not control, so the NYT broke up the marriage with The Post in order to take full control of the IHT in 2003.  The IHT was never the same since.  Editorial control seemed to shift from Paris to Manhattan.   The content seemed suddenly to be centred on events in New York, instead of on the world itself.   New Yorkers don’t like to think of themselves as provincial, but they often are.  The arts section is now a mash-up of the NYT arts section, for instance.

And for all their prizes, the editors of the NYT seems to lack some basic newspaper management skills.  Why change the font?   Why, one has to ask, must the cartoon page shift its position in the paper from day to day, like some permanent floating crap game?     Now, in just a few days under its new name, the newspaper’s op-ed page has shifted elsewere in the paper.    It seems that the editors mis-understand the nature of a newspaper – indeed, THIS newspaper – in the life of its readers, if they think we don’t care about such matters.

Now, instead of a paper written for and by English-speaking readers around the world, it has become a paper written by journalists in New York City for readers from New York City.  The world’s loss, alas.




The Yogyakartan Candidate

An explanation of Bam’s aloof style and strategic cunning in terms of the idioms of traditional Javanese kingship, by Edward Fox in Aeon Magazine, here.   Fox could also have mentioned the first-term Cabinet of Rivals as another example of this idiom, absorbing one’s enemies.

An excerpt:

The Javanese have a word for this kind of bearing. They call it halus. The nearest literal equivalent in English might be ‘chivalrous’, which means not just finely mannered, but implies a complete code of noble behaviour and conduct. The American anthropologist Clifford Geertz, who wrote some of the most important studies of Javanese culture in English, defined halus in The Religion of Java (1976) as:

“Formality of bearing, restraint of expression, and bodily self-discipline … spontaneity or naturalness of gesture or speech is fitting only for those ‘not yet Javanese’ — ie, the mad, the simple-minded, and children.”

Even now, four decades after leaving Java, Obama exemplifies halus behaviour par excellence.

Halus is also the key characteristic of Javanese kingship, a tradition still followed by rulers of the modern state of Indonesia. During my period of study in Indonesia, I discovered that halus is the fundamental outward sign or proof of a ruler’s legitimacy. The tradition is described in ancient Javanese literature and in studies by modern anthropologists. The spirit of the halus ruler must burn with a constant flame, that is without (any outward) turbulence. In his classic essay, ‘The Idea of Power in Javanese Culture’ (1990), the Indonesian scholar Benedict Anderson describes the ruler’s halus as:

“The quality of not being disturbed, spotted, uneven, or discoloured. Smoothness of spirit means self-control, smoothness of appearance means beauty and elegance, smoothness of behaviour means politeness and sensitivity. Conversely, the antithetical quality of being kasar means lack of control, irregularity, imbalance, disharmony, ugliness, coarseness, and impurity.”

One can see the clear distinction between Obama’s ostensibly aloof style of political negotiation in contrast to the aggressive, backslapping, physically overbearing political style of a president such as Lyndon Johnson.

Traditionally, the Javanese ruler triumphs over his adversary without even appearing to exert himself. His adversary must have been defeated already, as a consequence of the ruler’s total command over natural and human forces. This is a common theme in traditional Javanese drama, where the halus hero effortlessly triumphs over his kasar (literally, unrefined or uncivilised) enemy. ‘In the traditional battle scenes,’ Anderson notes:

“The contrast between the two becomes strikingly apparent in the slow, smooth, impassive and elegant movements of the satria [hero], who scarcely stirs from his place, and the acrobatic leaps, somersaults, shrieks, taunts, lunges, and rapid sallies of his demonic opponent. The clash is especially well-symbolised at the moment when the satria [hero] stands perfectly still, eyes downcast, apparently defenceless, while his demonic adversary repeatedly strikes at him with dagger, club, or sword — but to no avail. The concentrated power of the satria [hero] makes him invulnerable.”

Even to seem to exert himself is vulgar, yet he wins. This style of confrontation echoes that first famous live TV debate in the election of 2012 between Obama and Romney, in which Obama seemed passive, with eyes downcast, apparently defenceless (some alleged ‘broken’) in the face of his enemy, only to triumph in later debates and in the election itself.

Like a Javanese king, Obama has never taken on a political fight that he has not, arguably, already won

But such a disposition is not just external posturing. Halus in a Javanese ruler is the outward sign of a visible inner harmony which gathers and concentrates power in him personally. In the West, we might call this charisma. Crucially, in the Javanese idea of kingship, the ruler does not conquer opposing political forces, but absorbs them all under himself. In the words of Anderson again, the Javanese ruler has ‘the ability to contain opposites and to absorb his adversaries’. The goal is a unity of power that spreads throughout the kingdom. To allow a multiplicity of contending forces in the kingdom is a sign of weakness. Power is achieved through spiritual discipline — yoga-like and ascetic practices. The ruler seeks nothing for himself; if he acquires wealth, it is a by-product of power. To actively seek wealth is a spiritual weakness, as is selfishness or any other personal motive other than the good of the kingdom.”

 




One day in the life . . .

Khan-Tengri Mountain at sunset

. . . of Boris N. Delone (1890-1980), Russian mathematician, moutaineer, and polymath, member of a famous family of mathematicians and physicists, whose grandson was a dissident poet:

July 6, 1975, Delone spends a cold night (-25 degrees C) in a tent on a glacier under the beautiful peak of Khan Tengri (7000 m, the Tien Shan mountain system, Central Asia) [pictured, at sunset] at a height of about 4200 m.  In the morning a helicopter picks him up to take him to Przhevalsk (now Karakol), a Kyrgyz city at the eastern tip of Lake Issyk-Kul.  From Przhevalsk he takes a local flight  to Frunze (now Bishkek), the capital of Kyrgyzstan, where the heat exceeds 40 degrees C.   After queuing up for a few hours and with the help of some “kind people” and the Academy of Sciences membership card he succeeds in purchasing an air ticket to Moscow.   Late at night he arrives at Domodedovo airport in Moscow, from which he still needs to go to his country house near Abramtsevo (Moscow oblast).   Taking the last commuter train, he arrives at the necessary station at around 2 am; from there it is another three kilometers to his house, half of which are in a dark dense forest.  He loses his way and, after roaming around the night forest for a long time, leaves his heavy rucksack in a familiar secluded place.  Only in the morning does Delone succeed in getting home safely.”  (page 13).

In that year, 1975, Boris Delone was 85 years old.

Delone-Boris-Nikolaevich

Reference:

N. P. Dolbilin [2011]: Boris Nikolaevich Delone (Delaunay): Life and Work. Proceedings of the Steklov Institute of Mathematics, 275: 1-14.  Published in Russian in Trudy Matematicheskogo Instituta imeni V. A. Steklov, 2011, 275:  7-21.  A pre-print version of the paper is here.

 




Shadows

Writer Pico Iyer tells of his life being shadowed by – followed and pre-figured by the spirit of – Graham Greene, here. I’m no fan of Greene’s writing, but the shadowing I can appreciate. Many writers have spoken of similar shadowing and even possession – William Burroughs, Patricia Highsmith, Hilary Mantel, for instance. Highsmith’s Ripley, she came to feel, was a real spiritual presence, existent outside her books and her imagination.