Tuesday, September 27, 2005

W H Auden

Will you leap?

Cloakroom lady. Cock Bar. Madrid Posted by Picasa

We had a small dinner at his smart flat. "Light dinner" as he warned us, "pasta and cheese, and that will be it". The windows were large opened (bless the Ciudad for its September to November Indian summer !). One could see the foliage of the trees lining up the quiet streets of the barrio, and the mini-Babylonian suspended flower-beds with obviously happy warm plants. Reflecting the home roots of each of us, places like Rome and Firenze; Split and Dubrovnik; Anjou and the Loire Valley; Lisbon and Sintra, were mentioned.

Now, a "bon vivant" approach to life does not exclude some non-frivolous stuff, I will always believe in that. That night, there would be time later on to just mere fun, aided by Mojitos, Margaritas or very strong Caipirinhas. (At the Bar Cock, where taking photographs inside is forbidden). But at dinner we talked also of pure physical courage, bullfight-related, and then of Poetry, and then, like an Hegelian synthesis of what we had been talking about, of romantic epiphanies and of moral courage. That was when the Roman Streetbiker, our host, jumped from his chair and went out of the room in search of something. He soon returned with a dog-eared paperback, we later understood it to be an anthology of Auden's poems. He looked at us with a boyish excited brilliance in his eyes, and then plunged into the book, starting to read out loud, at table, among the pasta bowls and the half-filled red wine glasses. The exquisite "Leap Before You Look":

The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.

Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
It is not the convention but the fear
That has a tendency to disappear.

The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecrack every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.

The clothes that are considered right to wear
Will not be either sensible or cheap,
So long as we consent to live like sheep
And never mention those who disappear.

Much can be said for social savoir-faire,
But to rejoice when no one else is there
Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one is watching, but you have to leap.

A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear:
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.

We all discussed the poem, its courageous concluding line, and what it implies. We left the apartment and went out in search of Mojitos. The night was warm and we walked.

Brian Friel

Fallen Statues

Anglo-Irish and Roman Catholic Aristocrats Posted by Picasa

As I was writing the blogpost on the parties in Vienna we all cherish in our lifes (with the waltzing title Frederic Chopin) I had an urge to justify my recently acquired digital 5.1 megapixeled creditcard-sized photographic technology.
There you go, fresh from my bookshelves: Mark Bence-Jones' "The Catholic Families"; Brian Friel's "Aristocrats"; a sepia photo of the Irish Volunteeers, prepared to defend Home Rule in Ireland ( the ancestors of the present day IRA cease-firers if one is in an extremely generous mood); Robert Kee's " Ireland - a History"; David Cannadine's "The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy"; David Cannadine's "Aspects of Aristocracy"; Stella Tillyard's "Aristocrats"; sepia photography of the statue of Queen Victoria being removed from Dublin in 1916 (reminds one of the central square of Baghdad upon the arrival of the Coalition Forces, one would say); and Mark Bence-Jones' "Twilight of Ascendancy".
The spectacular fall of Gigantic Statues,Characters and Values.. Twilight, Doom, Decadence, Decay - aren't we all addicted to it?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Frédéric Chopin

' A Party in Vienna! ' ...

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk Posted by Picasa

This blogger of yours is happy to report to the Honourable Reader that in the recent and recently alluded week-end in terror-free London a further slot of theatrical entertainment was managed to be included. I refer to Mr Brian Friel's 1969 play "Aristocrats" at the Lyttelton, part of the irredeemably ugly South Bank Center, where the National Theater has its headquarters. Miss Boots was in attendance.

"Aristocrats" is set in Summer, mid-70's, at Ballybeg Hall, the home of District Justice O'Donnell, a large and decaying house overlooking the village of Ballybeg, County Donegal, Ireland. The play is the traditional Doom of the Gods' stuff ( the Wagnerians amongst us might care to fastidiously use the 'Gotterdammerung' word instead). About the once brilliant grandee family who now finds himself on its own, no real possible social "compagnons de route" in sight. But it has a twist, though. The big house is not part of the Archipelago of Ascendancy, I mean the "By Appointment" world of Anglo-Irish Protestant large estates, but belongs instead to a doubly pariah lot, the Rome-oriented Catholic Aristocracy. (I must declare a personal interest here. I had for years the task of being a sort of "Northern Ireland Question" desk officer at the Chancery supporting my country's Ambassador to the Court of St James's. And it is indeed ironic to be writing about these faded memories on the day the Provisional Irish Republican Army has apparently taken the extra step in replacing the bullet for the ballot box.)

One of the characters on the play, Tom Hoffnung, is a scholar retrieving bits and pieces of the Ballybeg Hall saga. As he explains at some point:

(TOM) " Well, when we talk about the big house in this country, we usually mean the Protestant big house in this country, we usually mean the Protestant big house with its Anglo-Irish tradition and culture; and the distinction is properly made between that tradition and culture and what we might call the native Irish tradition and culture which is Roman Catholic. " (...) "So what I'm researching is the life and the lifestyle of the Roman Catholic big house - by no means as thick on the ground but still there; what we might call a Roman Catholic aristocracy - for want of a better term. (...) And the task I've set myself is to explore its political, cultural and economic influence both on the ascendancy ruling class and on the native peasant tradition. Over the last one hundred and fifty years - in fact since Catholic Emancipation. (...) ".

I don't want to bother too much the Honourable Reader with the intricacies of the Irish Question, however passionate it might be. What I really want to share with those unfortunates who were not able to attend the performance at the National is the 'party in Vienna' concept.

Andrew Scott playing Casimir, the younger son of the doomed family, has THE moment of the play, eyes shinning, arms strangely twisted and fingers stretched, with the following lines:

(CASIMIR ) " Great-grandfather then O'Donnell then. Yes, you're right: he lived in Europe for six months one time to escape the fever that followed the famine here. A party in Vienna. The expression became part of the family language: anything great and romantic and exciting that had happened in the past or might happen in the future, we called it 'a party in Vienna' - Yes. Very beautiful, isn't it? And there was another detail about that party: Chopin was playing that sonata and Balzac began to sing it and Grandfather told Balzac to shut up and Chopin said, "Bravo, Irishman! Bravo!" Grandfather, of course, was thrilled. Insn't it beautiful (...) "

And I would unashamedly repeat it myself: Isn'it beautiful?

Now, one would like to ask, with arms and fingers stretched and wet sparkling eyes: haven't we had ourselves, in our respective tormented love lives, a 'party in Vienna!' ?

Friday, September 23, 2005

Sienna Miller

Where art thou my sweet Rosalind?

Ms. Sienna Miller and Ms. Helen McCrory Posted by Picasa

I'm afraid I'll have to bother the Honourable Reader with another go at my West End soirée. I should start by saying that Ms McCrory as Rosalind was very impressive but I could not help keeping reminding her as Anna Karenina (in a DVDized mini-series). There were almost "Russian" hysterical desperate traits in her Rosalind that I'm not that sure that it's either justifiable in Tudor comedy or in 1940's France (this production's choice).

Anyway, I want to share with you the latest developments on the "Bay of Portugal" front.

I had commented, in SparkNotes, upon SonnetCLV's interpretation:

bottomless bay of Portugalposted by Moydroog on 9/22 5:18 AM

I do find it an extremely interesting possibility, totally buying the "whole Atlantic Ocean" scenario, only not sure about the chuckle. In that context, two small reservations : "As You Like It" was written in 1598-99 almost one hundred years after the climax of Portuguese Discoveries (India and Gama 1498; Brazil and Cabral 1500), so the "boasting" about the Atlantic Ocean being a Portuguese pond would have to be an enduring one; on the other hand Portugal lost its independence in 1580, meaning that the author would be making humour at the expense of a fallen and beaten (as a matter of fact quite friendly to Britain ) man-country. But what I have more difficulty with is emotions-related - when Rosalind is trying to describe the depth of her love (almost with the bitter-sweet suffering nostalgia in the moment of remembering her love that we Portuguese call "saudade") would she have conjured an image that makes people laugh? W.S. could of course do it (playing in the "chaud froid" effect of antithetical emotions ) but as to Rosalind I doubt it.

Now, unrelenting, SonnetCLV has answered back:

the bay of Portugal posted by SONNETCLV on 9/22 12:47 PM

You make good arguments to defend your position, which may be proper. I would have used the same arguments to rattle my proposition. But in the absence of an actual "bay of Portugal" and based upon the documentation of ships such as the Tyger which were "lost" in the "bay of Portugal" while on their way to Virginia by way of the Canary Islands, one can surmise that the Atlantic was indeed this very bay.
Could the memory have endured for a number of years? Certainly. The year 1498 was not so far away from Shakespeare's era and the time of As You Like It. The documents that did exist were few in comparison to today's glut of information, and so everyone shared what information there was. Too, as I am witness to here in my own country, the memory of prejudices lives long. It should not be unusual for an Englishman of Shakespeare's time to refer to the Atlantic as Portugal's pond, had this been an expression from former times. One thing Elizabethan England could boast of was its spirit of nationalism. Few Englishmen, probably, sad though it may be, cared much about what happened elsewhere in the world. The kind of empathy we're used to today was hardly part of an age that could, for instance, condemn and burn witches, physicists, and Bible translators for heresy. Portugal, after all, did not share Elizabeth's religious persuasion. That alone could keep any old jokes alive and well.
Remember that the expression "bay of Portugal" might well have been an English invention in the first place. ThePortuguesee themselves may never have used it. I have not read anyPortuguesee sailing documents of the era, so I cannot attest to what terms were or were not used. But the term shows up in English papers, and it may have been used derogatorily by a people who took great pride in their own advances as a sea power.
The analysis of Rosalind's motivations within the context of her character prove more problematic. You're right to question whether Ros would make such a joke to Celia in the context of her profession of love. She is a wit, to be sure, and she is a braod ranging personality. But one must also consider that her words are from the playwright, and the playwright often plays with his character's words to put in mouths things for the audience's sake. I'm convinced that Shakespeare's characters often do not know the fullest meaning of what they say. They can only speak from the context of their own world.
But Shakesepare and his audience can understand their language from another context -- their own world. Which is why in Macbeth Macbeth can proclaim "Horrible sight" at the very entrance of the spirit king who represents James. Even James did not understand the full implications of the proclamation. Macbeth certainly did not. But Shakespeare, and a privy few in the audience, had to chuckle at this most serious moment in the play, for it is making fun of King James who is, for those Englishmen who hated him, a true "horrible sight." Of course, I'm speculating here. But I am fond of this speculation nonetheless. It makes sense to me, and I do not believe it is "off the wall", as we say. As You Like It is a vast play, as are all of Shakespeare's plays, and it relies heavily upon allusions from a wide range of sources.
Rosalind, Shakespeare's greatest female, is a beloved character who would have captured the hearts of her English audience. That she might perpetrate the "old joke" of the "bay of Portugal" is not something that would alienate her from that audience.
Any Rosalinds left out there?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

William Shakespeare

The Bottomlessness of Romantic Love...

WestEnding in London... Posted by Picasa

In order to broadened the mind of the Honourable Reader, and for other small reasons one does not want to share with the virtual space's population, this blogger of yours has decided to spend a weekend in London. As usual, Theatre was up there in the top priorities' list.

Internet-booked from home, sometime ago, I ended up, to my surprise, attending the final night of the most recent "As You Like It" in the West End, which is in itself a charming thing. (All the staff of the theatre - program sellers, ice-cream-providers, cloakroom girls and good-spirited bartenders included - came to the front rows after the finale, applauding the actors with what looked genuine bonding; Ms. Sienna Miller could not hide her tears - as her first foray into the West End world was coming to an end).

My general state of enchanted beatitude during the performance was pierced by the word "Portugal" on a line from Rosalind in the end of Act IV :

ROSALIND: O coz, coz, coz, my pretty little coz, that thou didst know how many fathom deep I am in love! But it cannot be sounded: my affection hath an unknown bottom, like the bay of Portugal.

Having decided to investigate further this (inexistent) "Bay of Portugal" mistery, my googling efforts were nil. In desperation, I turned to a Barnes & Noble friendly study guides' service called SparkNotes. To log in I had to choose yet another password. This time I used "Moydroog", as a private joke between me and Miss Boots. Finally I was able to put on my enquiry:

The bottomlessness of the bay of Portugal posted by Moydroog on 9/20 5:51 AM

Saw "As you like it" last week in the West End and get acquainted to the line, by Rosalind, "how many fathom deep I am in love! But it cannot be sounded: my affection hath an unknown bottom, like the bay of Portugal.". As Portuguese I would like to know what made WS choose that particular metaphor to bottomlessness (shipwrecks?, common knowledge among mariners?. No amount of googling got me there yet. Any hint?
The following day I got an answer from Clif:
Apparently the Bay of Portugal is unusually deep, and would have been unsoundable by the plumbing methods of Shakespeare's time. But also, there would have been many Portuguese living in England in Shakespeare's time and he surely would have met some of them, and would have been impressed by the emotional depth of Portuguese in general, and especially of the women, in matters of the heart.
How about that?!
Well, I thought I had enough material for my blogpost on this "As You Like It" and I had already started to pen-push it when I had a "breaking news" e-mail alert from Gmail telling me someone else had SparkNoted me. Bingo!
That's what SonnetCLV wrote:
Where, exactly, is the Bay of Portugal? I was prompted by this query to re-read Scene 1 of Act IV of As You Like It, still my favorite Shakespeare comedy (and one which I've had the pleasure to both direct and act in, on separate occasions). I found the quotation near the end of this delightful scene, a scene which features my favorite line in the play, a line again spoken by the inimitable Rosalind: "Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love." Rosalind is a wit, and IV,1 reveals her wit to its highest nature. Even when the comedy shifts to the more serious tone at the end of the scene, instigated by Orlando's exit and Celia's comment to Rosalind "You have simply misused our sex in your loveprate," Rosalind maintains her wit. She can say of Cupid: "...that same wicked bastard of Venus that was begot of thought, conceived of spleen, and born of madness, that blind rascally boy that abuses every one's eyes because his own are out -- let him be judge how deep I am in love." Yet, she immediately adds: "... I cannot be out of the sight of Orlando. I'll go find a shadow, and sigh till he come." I present this rather antithetical nature of Rosalind to demonstrate that it is difficult to determine if she is serious or punning when she says to Celia: "My affection hath an unknown bottom, like the Bay of Portugal." I take the first part of her remark as the serious, but the second part I see as a sort of snipe against the Portugese themselves. Which brings me to ponder: where and what is the bay of Portugal? Is there such a place? Or was Shakespeare thinking of something altogether different? Did Shakespeare's audience get a chuckle from the line? I think so. Relations between Portugal and England had its ups and downs through the English Tudor years. At one time allies, the two countries ended in disputes when Spain conquered Portugal. Spain remained no strong friend to Elizabethan England. The battle of the Spanish Armada says much. But what of Portugal? Portugal had long been a leader in exploration of the seas. Since the days of Vasco de Gama, the Portugese led exploration. They were commanders of the sea, stronger than both Spain and England when at their strongest. Portugal ruled the waves. Shakespeare was a fond reader of the journals that resulted from the various sea farers journeys. We know he made references to the happenings of these journals in various plays. (I believe I once posted at SparkNotes on the topic of the ship the Tiger in the play Macbeth, a post relating to this topic.) Indeed, some scholars speculate that As You Like It is a play themed on new world exploration. (You'll find notes on this very topic on the internet. ) Some of the extant journals from Shakespeare's era make mention of "the bay of Portugal". (You'll find a couple of these on the internet, too.) In any case, where was this bay of Portugal? My own sense is that the English refer to "the bay of Portugal" as a sarcastic term to represent the Atlantic Ocean itself -- the body of water between Portugal and the Canary Islands and Virginia in the New World. I take it as a derogatory term, as if the Portuguese, who indeed were once a major sea power, claimed that the entire Atlantic were their personal bay. If you look at old maps, you'll see that the Portuguese commanded the African and South American coasts. Thus, the waters between them make a sort of great bay. It is very deep, and was unsoundable by any methods Elizabethan seamen had at their disposal. I think Rosalind solicits a chuckle from her English audience when she mentions "the bay of Portugal." The English take the term to mean the Portuguese pretentious claim of the ocean as their own. This idea would fit well with the temperament of Rosalind and the context of her line. In any case, it brings a chuckle to me.
I hope the Honourable Reader might be leaning to agree with me that the Internet is much more than a cheap tool to have access to pornography or a dismal source of unsolicited heavy-junked mail.
As to the fatidic line that started it all, I can only speculate further. When will we find the robotic miniSubmarine-like device equipped with the right type of "sonar" technology that will be able to probe the depths of one's true great love?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Salmand Rushdie

Non-Amazondotcom purchasing of books is very much alive...

bookshopping weekend in London Posted by Picasa

Multi-exposure photo-manipulation technology: the just-published newest Houellebecq - where a 40-something has a love affair with a 20-something... ( private joke) - bought at closing time in the FrenchBookshop in SouthKen; the more recent appraisal of Stoppard's output acquired in the delightful bookshop of the National Theatre, at SouthBank; and a couple of hardbacks, including Uncle Salman's latest, as a result of a visit to the much cherished "Waterstone's" at Old Brompton Road..

Stella McCartney

Street drunkards from privileged backgrounds...

Victoria and Albert Museum grounds, London 18th September Posted by Picasa

On the eve of London Fashion Week, after a pre-opening event, one could see some evidence of traditional drinks-related rude behaviour.. Only that this time, instead of the usual beer cans littering the street near the pub where your Premiership team has just been trashed by the Blues, you have an un-solicited advertising for Moët & Chandon...

Edward, Prince of Wales

Edwardian Values

Keep Hunting, Shooting, Fishing and Fucking Posted by Picasa

A "Countryside Alliance" pro-Hunting bracelet is the latest fashion accessory for all lovers of bloodsports...

Friday, September 16, 2005

Nancy Mitford

Insider's socio-anthropological view of the upperclass

Upward mobility Posted by Picasa

Mr Fellowes - the man who gave us the script of delightful Gosford Park, has written a novel about an endangered species, the aristos who are not yet totally National Trust-dependent. He actually knows people from that rarefied upper-stratum of British society and that insider's knowledge, so to speak, shows. Ms. Nancy Mitford started the genre, I think, and "U and Non-U" is still obligatory reading when you want to laugh at the subtleties that separates greedingly ascending upperclass and land-owning blueblood. It all comes, in the end, to language and accent. (An example of that non-Marxist "class war" literature is Ms Jilly Cooper, of course, but from a below stairs perspective, I'm afraid).
A more serious point is whether the "range" of a writer mirrors his social background or if he can transcend it. Tolstoy has upper nobility characters in his books, and they sound credible, because he was part of that same social set; Dostoevsky never risked going beyond petty nobility, he knew his shortcomings. The spectrum of writing material cannot go too far, in fact. It's frustrating, I know. There goes the fiction that a great writer can bring to live a character from whatever background he chooses.
In Politics something similar happens.You can be a Socialist or a Communist but you'll never be able to "read" well what goes on a Extreme Left mind unless you've been there yourself. The Bourgeois Right cannot understand a practicing Extreme Right skinhead, either. Or, you have to be a former football hooligan in order to write anything meaningful about that phenomenon.
Put it that way, Landowning Aristocrats are extremists.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Gomes de Amorim

Arab room, upstairs, Sintra 2003Posted by Picasa

Red colour and Sun light, can't ever have enough of it...

Monday, September 12, 2005

Antonio Banderas

A Mexican party, the best alibi for drinking Margaritas...

Live-Music at the Door of Iron... Posted by Picasa

The Honourable Reader if at all a follower of this humble blog might remember a pleasant lunch by a swiming pool in Puerta de Hierro, reported about last 11 July, posted under "Mark Spitz" title. Well, I returned to that wonderful spot and I am happy to confirm that even at the heart of the serious Imperial capital of Castilla there are fancy parties going on, just like in the British World, albeit in smaller doses. The cosmopolitan couple I mentioned before, Der Ingenieur and Garbo, throw a early post-Summer theme party each year , eagerly attended, and this time the invitation mentioned "Fiesta Mexicana".
I must confess I had something of a dilemma at hands. Should I ignore the implicit request to fancy-dressing myself, should I timidly include some Mexican detail in an otherwise casual chic outfit or should I go all the way, more Mexican than me you die? (A trilemma, rather). The Honourable Reader is quite acquainted with the mechanics of my psyche by this time of this Blog's existence and no doubt guessed that I went for the third option.

After some telephonic research conducted by an efficient member of my staff (at work, not at this Blog, which is a purely one-man show, if one can use this word), a theatrical rent-a-dress joint was found in a slightly seedy part of town (I counted a number of peepshows and erotic establishments walking down the street, on the way back home). A first floor in an delerict building, with Habsburg velvet coats, StarWars helmets and Jacobean wigs, was the almost underworld place where I was told a Mariachi outfit could be found. Evita, the generously bodied Venezuelan assistant wanted me to carry pistols as an essential item to enact a hotblooded Mexican, while a shy-looking member of the public, in town to sing Medieval romanzas, would rather have me gun-less. After some undressing and dressing in a cubicle under fluorescent lights that ruin a 4-weeks Atlantic Coast suntan, I opted for a dark blue velvet outfit I was assured to be used by the most discerning Mariachis. (I suspect it belongs rather to the "Goyesca" family of fancy-dressing but I'm not in the mood to peruse further into Clothes Taxonomy).

A last problem remained. The outfit asks for a wide sash round the waist (like the black satin "cummerbund" on a dinner-jacket) and there was none of it, except for a pitiful sky-blue ersatz. I had, then, to pay a visit to Zorilla, a kind of Madrid's Peter Jones in what regards pieces of cloth for economy-conscious upper class ladies on the hunt for material for their new season dresses. I bravely defied the suspicious looks of a customer eager on Armani-like soft fabrics (at the tenth of the price) and I acquired two meters of dark-blue satin that seemed to do the trick, rolled around my burgeoning belly with a turban-like technique.
A last minor problem to solve were the riding boots. My own were dry as some fins of salted cod forgotten in the backyard of a grocery, so I had to go out again to purchase some horse grease, in order to, with energetic concentration, make it soft and shiny.
At the party itself, the margaritas were consumed with abandon, and the champagne, under the circumstances, was drunk more in a way of the glasses of water one sometimes have to indulge in to delay the no-return point of acute alcoholism. When, after the real Mariachis, the salsa arrived, I tried to dance with Central-American poise and Iberian furia, but my efforts were somewhat marred by the ever falling bloody "cummerbund"..
I was lucky enough to be seated next to a Roxanna whose blondiness and general good looks comes not from Celtic Asturian blood but from Austro-Hungarian ancestry. That gave the party a spice that one would rather expect in the sauce of the, obviously excellent, Mexican food.
(Note the accessories of the true Mariachi outfit: the satin "cummerbund" and the blonde girl with sombrero (optional) )

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Carlos da Gale

Post-Summer Blues

Praia Grande, 2nd September 2005 Posted by Picasa

On the water the waiting surfers look like submerged crocodiles. The Green Ray is about to fail us once again. A Girl passes by, with urgent steps. Glasses are scattered around after a missed vigorous toast.