Rebekah and I had a chat about Updike and the like as we walked the dogs yesterday. I was surprised that the obit in El Pais listed his books and did not mention Couples. The book came out in 1968, when I was 27, and Franco was still running Spain, so the book may never have been published there. Not much point now, I think. I found it a disturbingly accurate picture of the lives many people seemed to be living, including myself, despite the different continents. Adultery, broken marriages, furtive trysts, assorted scandals - all set in smart suburban houses with polished pine floors, Philip Morris wallpaper, leather sofas and restored Victorian fireplaces. Reb dislikes him as a sexist, along with Bellow, Roth and Co. She sees them, not simply reporting objectively on the subject in the manner of Flaubert, but rolling around gleefully and boastfully in it - like our dogs do in pig shit. Maybe. The less I say, the better.
In the blog before this, I threatened to expound on Lewis Carroll´s losing his belief in God and refusing to admit it, even internally. But as the man himself would undoubtedly not have said, who gives a shit?
So we will look at other facets of this truly extraordinary individual. Below is a photograph he took of the original inspiration for Alice, Alice Liddell. A very curious picture, is it not? A field day for Freudians. Carroll once remarked that he "loved all children, except boys." Apart from the Alice books, he also wrote, Symbolic Logic, and was a mathematician of note. While not an acknowledged philosopher, he would I suspect, have been in sympathy with Wittgenstein on matters of language, perception and logic. The poem below, which is not one of his finest, should really be called something like, "Aspects of Perception Considered as a Hermeneutic of Symbolic Logic." But maybe Carroll´s title is snappier.
A STRANGE WILD SONG
He thought he saw an Elephant That practised on a fife: He looked again, and found it was A letter from his wife. "At length I realize," he said, "The bitterness of life!"
He thought he saw a Buffalo Upon the chimney-piece: He looked again, and found it was His Sister's Husband's Niece. "Unless you leave this house," he said, "I'll send for the police!"
he thought he saw a Rattlesnake That questioned him in Greek: He looked again, and found it was The Middle of Next Week. "The one thing I regret," he said, "Is that it cannot speak!"
He thought he saw a Banker's Clerk Descending from the bus: He looked again, and found it was A Hippopotamus. "If this should stay to dine," he said, "There won't be much for us!"
He thought he saw a Kangaroo That worked a Coffee-mill: He looked again, and found it was A Vegetable-Pill. "Were I to swallow this," he said, "I should be very ill!"
He thought he saw a Coach-and-Four That stood beside his bed: He looked again, and found it was A Bear without a Head. "Poor thing," he said, "poor silly thing! It's waiting to be fed!"
The man who wrote Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass, as we now call them, was born 132 years ago today. His real name was Charles Ludwidge Dodson. To us he is Lewis Carroll. I have a theory about him and his books. I believe that - far from being simple tales to amuse children - they are the expressions of a man sunk in intellectual torment. Carroll as we shall call him, was, by 1865, a man who stood to lose everything that mattered to him - his job, his home, his colleagues, his friends. All he had to do to bring this disaster about was obey the nagging voice of logic and reason in his head. Following the publication of Darwin´s Origin of Species, it had become too apparent to thinking people that religion in general and Christianity in particular, no longer had a logical leg to stand on. Whether Carroll ever admitted this to himself, is not known. I strongly suspect he did not. As a result, his dread keeps seeping up subconsciously, like rising damp, and is constantly voiced by the monsters of his own imagination.
An example: "I can´t believe that!" said Alice. "Can´t you?" said the Queen in a pitying tone. "Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes." Alice laughed. "There´s no use trying," she said, "one can´t believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven´t had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I´ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
No more than any devout believer does every day of his or her life, in fact. Certainly no more than Carroll was accustomed to swallow until Darwin and Huxley came along. And there are many more such examples, but I´m going to stop her for now. I´m beginning to bore myself. But I may return to this topic tomorrow. Be warned.
I still can´t understand what Facebook is all about. When I open it, there are gnomic little items saying things like:
Betty Lou Buggins is cold - brrr! or, Charlie Grogblossom is thinking of playing golf.
Am I supposed to care? Do I demonstrate some fundamental lack of fellow-feeling for my fellow humans? Probably. We shall see.
The handsome chap above (although a bit too similar to the buffoon Tom Cruise for my taste) is Robert Burns who has just turned 250. Or would have, had he not died 213 years ago, aged 37. Fond as I am of the Scots, I have never been all that keen on his stuff. This is almost certainly unfair, as he was not responsible for the dirge-like music that goes with "Auld Langs Syne," or "Coming Through the Rye." At least I don´t think he was. If I am wrong I will swiftly be corrected, no doubt. And, had I known that the latter is a hymn to casual sex, I would have sung it good deal more enthusiastically when such things seemed important. Anyway, here is the ditty, in English, more or less.
Coming Through The Rye.
O Jenny is all wet, poor body, Jenny is seldom dry: She draggled all her petticoats, Coming through the rye!
Coming through the rye, poor body, Coming through the rye, She draggled all her petticoats, Coming through the rye!
Should a body meet a body Coming through the rye, Should a body kiss a body, Need a body cry?
Should a body meet a body Coming through the glen, Should a body kiss a body, Need the world know?
Should a body meet a body Coming through the grain, Should a body kiss a body, The thing is a body's own.
Well, my wife is off to Madrid on the 10.07 a.m. express from Sahagun. She will meet and hobnob with her best chum Jean, The American in Paris (usually). I will loaf with dogs, cat, canary and hens. OK by me, for a couple of days at least.
The news that the aforesaid Kennedy has withdrawn from contention for Hillary Clinton´s old seat, got me pondering. The surprise is not that she withdrew, but that she had the audacity to put her name down in the first place. Clearly, she was utterly unsuited for public office, being unable to communicate verbally in anything more than the contemporary equivalent of grunts - in her case interminable repetition of "y´now" interspersed with every other word, 138 times during one press conference. This does not make her a bad person, of course. But it does indicate that she may be unfitted for this kind of task. I suspect she may have been encouraged originally, not only by the fact that George W. Bush - a "semi-literate polecat" (to steal a fine phrase from Denis Healey, a British politician from my youth) managed to land quite an important job, and that Sara Palin managed to at least make some sort of impression nationally while clearly possessing not even the veriest smattering of ignorance. They seem to have misunderstood the notion of success in American politics. The idea, at least until Bush and Palin showed up, has been that ANYONE might be president, providing they have certain basic credentials. Among these, intelligence, experience, articulacy and ability rate (or ought to) pretty highly. Kennedy seemed to have glommed on to the current buffoonery that ANY DOLT can make it big, regardless. Luckily, she woke up.
I must at least acknowledge the fact that we have a new President. I say "we" deliberately, because, 1: I regard myself as partly American after living there 16 years, 2:, because the decisions U.S. presidents make affect everyone on the planet, as Obama´s predecessor regularly demonstrated. So, best of luck, Barak, Chum. If you can simply make things less ghastly, you will have done plenty. The Onion got it nearly right: BLACK MAN GIVEN NATION´S WORST JOB, except that it should have said, WORLD´S worst job. TODAY´S THOUGHT Revolutions are the locomotives of history. Karl Marx
Farewell poem for Dick Cheney (and Donald Rumsfeld, remember him?) Epitaph on a Tyrant by W. H. Auden Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after, And the poetry he invented was easy to understand; He knew human folly like the back of his hand, And was greatly interested in armies and fleets; When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter, And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
Here´s a story from the BBC today. It needs no comment, I think.
Man refuses to drive 'No God' bus A Christian bus driver has refused to drive a bus with an atheist slogan proclaiming "There's probably no God". Ron Heather, from Southampton, Hampshire, responded with "shock" and "horror" at the message and walked out of his shift on Saturday in protest. First Bus said it would do everything in its power to ensure Mr Heather does not have to drive the buses. Buses across Britain started displaying atheist messages in an advertising campaign launched earlier this month. Mr Heather told BBC Radio Solent: "I was just about to board and there it was staring me in the face, my first reaction was shock horror. "I felt that I could not drive that bus, I told my managers and they said they haven't got another one and I thought I better go home, so I did. Mr Heather said he was shocked at the "starkness" of the advert "I think it was the starkness of this advert which implied there was no God.
TODAY´S THOUGHT Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac? George Carlin
In yesterday´s blog, I ran a poem written in 1933. On reflection, I think it needs a little context. Above is a photograph of it. The story below was lifted from a kind website, without permission. ROCKEFELLER CONTROVERSY The next time you walk into Rockefeller Center in New York City, try to imagine an enormous mural in the lobby area, painted by Diego Rivera. Imagining the mural is all one can do. In 1932, after seeing some of Rivera’s murals, Nelson Rockefeller asked if he would be interested in painting a mural in the Radio Corporation Arts Building in Rockefeller Center. Interestingly, Picasso and Matisse were also asked but both refused the offer. Rivera himself initially rejected the invitation. But Rockefeller finally persuaded Rivera to accept In 1933, Rivera began his work. The painting, Man at the Crossroads, was to depict the social, political, industrial, and scientific possibilities of the twentieth century. In the painting, Rivera included a scene of a giant May Day demonstration of workers marching with red banners with the clear portrait of Lenin leading the demonstration. Rockefeller showed his concern over Rivera including a portrait of the Russian revolutionary leader in his mural. Nelson Rockefeller told Rivera that while the portrait was beautifully painted, it might easily offend a great many people. He asked the painter to remove Lenin’s face and substitute it with some unknown man. Rivera’s assistants told him that if he removed the head of Lenin, they would go on strike. Rivera agreed with his assistants and told Rockefeller that Lenin’s head would stay but that he would be glad to add the head of some great American leader, such as Lincoln, to another section of the mural. As both sides could not reach an agreement, he was ordered to stop and the painting was covered and destroyed in February of 1934.
TODAY´S THOUGHT Can anything be stupider than that a man has the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of a river and his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have not quarrelled with him? Blaise Pascal
Keen-eyed readers will see the blog has a new look. Classier, but a bit pale. Too feeble looking? We shall see. Meanwhile Let me refer you to the following story from Wednesday. 'Joe the Plumber' says war reporting should be 'abolished'
Jerusalem, Jan.14: 'Joe the Plumber', who is now in Israel as a foreign correspondent, says reporting on wars should be completely abolished. "To be honest with you, I don't think journalists should be anywhere allowed war . . . . I liked back in World War I and World War II, when you'd go to the theater and you'd see your troops on the screen and everyone would be real excited and happy for them," he said in an interview with the Associated Press. "Now everyone's got an opinion and wants to down soldiers-our American soldiers, our Israeli soldiers. I think media should be abolished from reporting," he added. Joe - whose real name is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher - is on location in Israel for the conservative Web site Pajamas Media. For his first assignment, he was shown remnants of rockets and other war debris and in the video had difficulty coming up with questions to conduct an interview. "I have thousands of questions but I can't think of the right one," he said.
Clearly, with seekers after truth like Joe stepping up to the plate, American journalism has nothing to fear. Brooding on this while walking the dogs in the snow yesterday, it struck me, that though I have not had the pleasure of meeting the Great Common Man myself, I have met many other people. Some were intelligent, some were dolts. Of the intelligent ones, a handful believed in God, but most did not. Of the dolts, everyone, without exception, believed in God. So, if you have ever met me, and believe in God, be assured that you are one of the handful. Naturally. Does Joe believe in God? I don´t know. I can only surmise.
TODAY´S THOUGHT A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore. Yogi Berra
The picture below is of Diego Rivera A FUN VERSE I PAINT WHAT I SEE (A Ballad of Artistic Integrity) by E. B. White
"What do you paint when you paint a wall?" Said John D.'s grandson Nelson. "Do you paint just anything there at all? "Will there be any doves or a tree in fall? "Or a hunting scene like an English hall?" "I paint what I see," said Rivera.
What are the colors you use when you paint?" Said John D.'s grandson, Nelson. "Do you use any red in the beard of a saint? "If you do is it terribly red, or faint? "Do you use any blue? Is it Prussian?" "I paint what I paint," said Rivera.
"Whose is that head I see on my wall?" Said John D.'s grandson Nelson. "Is it anyone's head whom we know, at all? "A Rensselaer, or a Saltonstall? "Is it Franklin D.? Is it Mordaunt Hall? "Or is it the head of a Russian?"
"I paint what I think," said Rivera. "I paint what I paint, I paint what I see, "I paint what I think," said Rivera, "And the thing that is dearest in life to me "In a bourgeois hall is Ingegrity; "However,... "I'll take out a couple of people drinkin' "And put in a picture of Abraham Lincoln, "I could even give you McCormick's reaper "And still not make my art much cheaper. "But the head of Lenin has got to stay "Or my friends will give me the bird today "The bird, the bird, forever."
"It's not good taste in a man like me," Said John D.'s grandson Nelson, "To question an artist's integrity "Or mention a practical thing like a fee, "But I know what I like to a large degree "Though art I hate to hamper; "For twenty-one thousand conservative bucks "You painted a radical. I say shucks, "I never could rent the offices. For this, as you know, is a public hall "And people want doves or a tree in fall, "And though your art I dislike to hamper, "I owe a little to God and Gramper, "And after all, "It's my wall...."
Reb and dogs on the Camino yesterday. Santiago is in the other direction. NO SHIT Ex-Guantanamo detainees resume terror fight: Pentagon WASHINGTON (AFP) – The Pentagon said Tuesday that 61 former detainees are believed to have returned to terrorism since their release from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a big increase from its last count.
The above is the opening paragraph of a story from Tuesday. The story, which raises many questions, seems to indicate that these 61 are out of a total of 520 ex-inmates who have been released so far. If this is so, it implies that over 400 of them have not immediately gone back to the fray. I find this apparent restraint on their part astonishing. If I had done any time in "Gitmo," as we cozily call it, my first reaction after getting out would be to start killing Americans as soon as possible, regardless of whether I had done before or not. UNRELATED POEM After Reading a Child's Guide to Modern Physics
If all a top physicist knows About the Truth be true, Then, for all the so-and-so's, Futility and grime, Our common world contains, We have a better time Than the Greater Nebulae do, Or the atoms in our brains.
Marriage is rarely bliss But, surely it would be worse As particles to pelt At thousands of miles per sec About a universe Wherein a lover's kiss Would either not be felt Or break the loved one's neck.
Though the face at which I stare While shaving it be cruel For, year after year, it repels An ageing suitor, it has, Thank God, sufficient mass To be altogether there, Not an indeterminate gruel Which is partly somewhere else.
Our eyes prefer to suppose That a habitable place Has a geocentric view, That architects enclose A quiet Euclidian space: Exploded myths - but who Could feel at home astraddle An ever expanding saddle?
This passion of our kind For the process of finding out Is a fact one can hardly doubt, But I would rejoice in it more If I knew more clearly what We wanted the knowledge for, Felt certain still that the mind Is free to know or not.
It has chosen once, it seems, And whether our concern For magnitude's extremes Really become a creature Who comes in a median size, Or politicizing Nature Be altogether wise, Is something we shall learn.
Quite a bit of snow here this morning, though not up to Toledo, Ohio standard yet. Must try to get some pix for tomorrow. Today´s topic. for no particular reason; similies. I have just been reading a couple of old Anthony Powell novels and one or two made me smile. Nothing like a good simile. But I am having problems. I looked for a list of good similies on the web and can´t find one. Will have to make notes as I read and come back to the topic again. But here are a couple as I remember them. The first is Dickens, on the lawyers in Lincoln´s Inn: "Like a lot of maggots in a nut." One from Anthony Powell: "Perhaps," said Bernard, speaking as if he was pushing a heavy piece of furniture acrossthe room, "perhaps it was what she did not do." My favorite so far, paraphrased, I fear, from Nancy Mitford: "When Charles (a handsome man) entered the room, the women´s heads snapped round like those of dogs when they hear someone unwrapping a piece of chocolate." Then a old favorite, very handy, from Anon, "About as much use as a one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest." I will make a point of finding some more. Contributions welcomed.
TODAY´S THOUGHT One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe POEM Me up at does out of the floor quietly Stare a poisoned mouse
still who alive is asking What have i done that You wouldn't have
A fairly normal morning. The chickens have somehow got out of their run and are clustered behind my shoulder on the windowsill outside, muttering and clucking and watching what I write. Una the dog has eaten all Murphy the cat´s food again. It is cold and grey. But, ¡Holin! When I boot up the mighty Wurlizter, I find 20 messages in my email about people becoming friends and poking me on my facebook wall, or suchlike gibberish. This is disturbing for a geezer, causing a little-known medical condition known as "puzzlement." ¿What do I do? (I figure if I have two question marks, I ought to use them) I shall wait and see. I blame Rebekah, now a new friend. TODAY´S THOUGHT What most persons consider as virtue, after the age of 40 is simply a loss of energy. Voltaire
BONUS POEM TODAY The More Loving One by W. H. Auden
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well That, for all they care, I can go to hell, But on earth indifference is the least We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn With a passion for us we could not return? If equal affection cannot be, Let the more loving one be me.
Admirer as I think I am Of stars that do not give a damn, I cannot, now I see them, say I missed one terribly all day.
Were all stars to disappear or die, I should learn to look at an empty sky And feel its total dark sublime, Though this might take me a little time.
I found the following observation in my well-thumbed copy of Montaigne´s essays today. It seems that the Italians have had a reputation for discretion, rather than valor stretching back centuries. This is greatly to their credit. An Italian lord once said this, in my presence, to the disadvantage of his own nation: that the subtlety of the Italians, and the vivacity of their conceptions were so great, and they foresaw the dangers and accidents that might befall them so far off, that it was not to be thought strange, if they were often, in war, observed to provide for their safety, even before they had discovered the peril; that we French and the Spaniards, who were not so cunning, went on further, and that we must be made to see and feel the danger before we would take the alarm; but that even then we could not stick to it. But the Germans and Swiss, more gross and heavy, had not the sense to look about them, even when the blows were falling about their ears.
It reminds me of a supposed incident during the Spanish Civil War, when an Italian regiment took to their heels as a battle got nasty. The soldiers later explained to their Nationalist allies that it was simply a mistranslation. They had heard the order, "¡A las cañones!"("To the canons!") and interpreted it as, "¡A las camiones!"("To the trucks!") Which was why they had all jumped in and smartly driven off in the opposite direction. If only the Germans had been a bit less gross and heavy during that sorry conflict.
TODAY´S THOUGHT There are two things that one must get used to or one will find life unendurable: the damages of time and injustices of men. Nicolas de Chamfort
This picture is from the Summer and has nothing to do with the day´s blog below, but somehow it seems to encapsulate life here.
Snow now in Moratinos these last few days. Only a dusting here. Along with it, a handful of pilgrims. Thursday, Jack DeGroot, a Dutchman with a taste for poetry in general and Lorca in particular, stopped by. He has written a book entitled, Intertextuality Through Obscurity: The Poetry of Frederico Garcia Lorca and Luis de Gongora. Blimey. But he is a nice man.
Intertextuality Through Obscurity might be a good new name for this blog, though.
Yesterday evening, two tired young ladies arrived. They had walked from Carrion and hed expected to stay in Terradillos, but found the refuge still closed for Christmas. Our place was a nice surprise. One pilg is from Norway, one from Korea. It all makes a nice break in a bleak midwinter.
MEDIA WATCH A headline from Yahoo this morning: Tom Cruise on death of Travolta´s son: ¨It´s horrific.¨ Well, thanks for that, Tom. I wasn´t sure what to make of it myself.
TODAY´S THOUGHT I'm completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death. George Carlin
The numbers of people participating in the traditional British folk dance are dwindling whilst the age of the dancers is increasing, according to the Morris Ring, an association representing over 200 Morris troupes across Britain. It is warning that "unless younger blood is recruited during the coming winter months, Morris dancing will soon become extinct". Charlie Corcoran, Bagman of the Morris Ring, said: "There's a distinct possibility that in 20 years' time there will be nobody left. "It worries me a great deal. Young people are just too embarrassed to take part. "This is a serious situation. The average age of Morris dancing sides is getting older and older. Once we've lost this part of our culture it will be almost impossible to revive it." Paul Reece, chairman of the Advisory Council of the Morris Ring, said: "There is still time for new blood to get ready for the Spring fertility offensive. "Such customs and activities were once a common sight around the country. Today they are carried out by an ever-dwindling stalwart band of enthusiasts who are determined to keep them alive. "But there is a serious danger that, in less than a few decades, Morris dancing will be confined to the history books."
In these sordid days, it is heartwarming to be able to pass on a bit of optimistic news. Within some of our lifetimes - not mine I suspect - the degrading and revolting spectacle of bearded, middle-aged ¨men¨ capering about festooned with ¨bells¨ and ¨ribbons¨ and brandishing ¨sticks¨ may be no more than a real ale induced memory. It may not be much in the face of recession and world unrest, but it´s start. TODAY´S THOUGHT Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. Voltaire
Just another news story below from Tuesday´s Guardian, but I was impressed by the use of the word ¨helpful¨ in the fifth line. I think Orwell would have been, too. A little gem of Doublespeak. And the notion that the foreign press should have been in place before there was a story at all - or else forget it - is one that should resonate with the Bush mob. ¨If only we had thought of that before Iraq and Katrina,¨ the likes of Cheney must be soberly pondering over their cornflakes.
Plans to allow journalists into Gaza were aborted yesterday after Israel's military said it was too dangerous to keep staff at the Erez passenger terminal to allow people to cross into the besieged territory. Israel argues that excluding the international media from Gaza is helpful because foreign journalists are unethical and biased in their reporting. Foreign journalists are "unprofessional" and take "questionable reports at face value without checking", said Danny Seaman, who heads Israel's government press office, which vets and issues permits to foreign correspondents. Seaman said it was not Israel's responsibility to give foreign media access to Gaza. "They should have been there in the first place," before Israel began restricting access on 6 November, said Seaman. "We are not going to endanger the lives of our people just to let journalists in."
TODAY´S THOUGHT We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don't know. W. H. Auden
One of the several thousand pleasures of retiring from newspapers is that I won´t have to organise any more Year´s end quizzes. I was thinking this while reading about the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Why anyone would want to remember what happened last year, or practically any year, come to that, let alone answer questions voluntarily about it, is mysterious. Still, Gaza is the Year´s first big story, I suppose, since Sarah Palin´s daughter´s baby arrived a little prematurely for the quiz compilers.
Despite, or possibly because of, all the above, I am groundbreaking by running 2010´s first end of the Year Quiz a bit early. Quiz Question 1: Who was the first person in 2009 to say "We do not seek war.¨?
Quiz Question 2: What was the next word he used?
Quiz question 3: Who will be the last person to say ¨We do not seek war.¨? Quiz Question 4: Given that Sarah Palin´s daughter´s name is clearly rhyming slang, is the new baby´s also? Quiz Question 5: If so, for what?
(Some of this may be obscure for U.S. readers, so here are some clues. The Palin daughter is Bristol, her baby is Tripp. Didn´t help much, did it?)
Answers will be published here on January 1, 2010, however I can reveal the answer to question 2 was ¨but.
TODAY´S THOUGHT Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind. Albert Einstein