Friday, December 15, 2006

Lord Kitchener

Classical diplomatic stuff, courtesy Duff Coopper, Esq.



Of all the books this blogger of yours bought in Cambridge University territory while awaiting patiently the end of a daughterly interviewing process, the "Duff Cooper Diaries" is the real treat. Duff Cooper is the very epithome of the diplomat-as-witness-of-History-in-the-making. Plus, he was a top class lady-izer, a sybarite and a charming fellow. As a metaphorical carrot that will make the Right Honourable Reader run to his nearest amazon.com site, I'm considering quoting a couple of nuggets of the said diaries.
Think of today's Mesopotamia (Irak) and just enjoy this entry:


July 11, 1916

(…) Dined at 10 Downing Street (…) At first I felt very uncomfortable , alone with three Cabinet Ministers who I feared would say things I should not hear. But they seem quite unaware of my presence. The talked about the campaign in Mesopotamia. The mismanagement they said was all due to (…) .The decision to attempt the capture of Baghdad was entirely due to the military experts. Kitchener said that we might take it but couldn’t hold it. Even so he thought it worth doing from a political point of view. Curzon said: “Don’t take it unless you can hold it”.. (…)
Deliciously ironical, no?...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Saint John the Evangelist

A most educational trip to Cambridge University...



A young lady who has the stamina and resilience to go all the way to an interview to an Oxbridge institution for Higher Education is in itself something that deserves praise.. When that young lady happens to be a daughter of this blogger of yours, opening therefore a ready-made alibi to one's return to dear England, what can one say?
Father-and-Daughter bonding can't go much better than this...

Stelios Haji-Ioannou



Comics-like graphism in use at an airport near you...

Jonathan Littell

A one-book library on the Holocaust? ...



I've finnished reading "Les Bienvéillantes". One week ago, in fact. No time for a proper blog-reviewing. Just a brief thought. One has to concentrate oneself on a few crucial historical events and try to understand it at some deep level rather than trying to attain an encyclopaedic, inevitably superficial, knowledge of History. I've been trying to understand politics by concentrating on the Russian Revolution, for instance; or I've been trying to understand contemporary international relations mainly by focusing on post-1922 Middle East.
A crucial historic-philosophic interrogation one has to deal with is, obviously, the Holocaust. Sometimes you need literature rather than non-fiction to capture the essence of a given historical period. This book by J. Littell must surely be seen, from now on, as essential reading on the subject...

Stanley Kubrick


The luggage net in the back of an airline passenger seat...

Eugène Delacroix


A tapas-bar in Zafra evoked a laid-back Orientalist sensuality...

Archie C. West


Floor of the Cinema Ideal, when the movie session ends...

( Archie C. West is regarded as the inventor of Doritos)

John Coltrane


An Englishjazzman amongst sextet Spaniards, at the Cafe Central, in Madrid...

François Rabelais

Eating out in Zafra..



The restaurant " La Rebotica" in Zafra ( Badajoz Province), Spain


The creative amuse-gueule, the outstanding foiegras-related starter, the sheer quality of the local solomillo, the refreshing freshness of the merluza, the awesome chocolate postre... All good reasons to return there...
(Not everyday one is attended by the chef himself... The lack of punctuality of the camareros in showing themselves to work that day had something to do with it... )

Adam Smith


Industrial decay ...

Giorgio Armani

Old new trends in morning-coat fashion...


100% Cotton, pure white, size 16, XLS...


One never knows if, shirt-wise, there is a new trendy way to wear the marriage outfit known as morning-coat. Who could be better suited to give a frank opinion than the manager of "Ede and Ravenscroft" at Cambridge? Centuries of "by appointments", a bastion of dress-code orthodoxy...

"Plain white is very much the acceptable thing, Sir" - he said. The advice was duly followed..

The "XLS", one can spot under the label, reminds one of a tunning-prone motorcar but indicates, in fact, the generosity of the shirt-maker in providing Extra Long Sleeves...

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Paul of Tarsus

On the road to Damascus, Syrian Deligts...








A user of the services provided by the workplace of this blogger of yours decided to offer a token of his appreciation for the way he was treated. A chocolate-box, a tray of custar-pies, a Christmas Cake wrapped in Christmas-red: all that we've seen before. But baclava from Damascus? Well worth to blog about it...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Lady Macbeth

The miserable life of an antiques-lover...




Yesterday at the FERIARTE, the XXX Feria de Arte y Antigüedades, this blogger of yours had one of the most sad and unpleasant episodes of his life as an antiquities-hunter. Having spotted a most neglected fragment a rather remarkable French 18th XVIII century tapestry I proceed to engage in the traditional seduction process. The tapestry in rags (see photo) was being used as a an advertising panel in the stand of "Atalnte" for their side-business of restauration of old tapestries. I talked for almost twenty minutes with a most charming gentleman, one of the co-managers of the stand. We discussed the shared affection for objects about which one can tell a little story. I told him that I wanted to do a large collage with different textile fragments. We were both refraining from the first step of flagging up a price, any price. After a lot of coreographic refusals to go first , I ended up submitting a figure. The reaction was good ( My bargaining interlocutor almost doubled the price, but it was allright, something in between might be reached in the end). Just told me to check with his wife, who would be back in the stand any minute now. I walked around, already excited with where I was going to put it, against what type of background (linen? painted wood? a white wall, pure and simply?).
Ten minutes later, with my best smile, I meet the Wife. "What?? - she says. That fragment?.. I will never sell it. " "But?" - I confusedly mumbled, and told her of my pre-deal with her husband. "I am very sorry - she replied with the womanly firmness of a Lady Macbeth - that fragment is not for sale".
I am sending this blogtext to "Atalante" (www.atalante-art.com ) at the e-mail address provided by the very nice gentleman atalante@atalante-art.com .
The story might not be finnished yet, who knows?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Friday, November 24, 2006

Pierre Gemayel

Bikfaya revisited...





Yesterday, at mid-morning, I’m informed that the cocktail of the National Day of Lebanon, due to take place that same day, was cancelled. I was expecting that, in fact. Beirut was in serious political turmoil with the assassination of Pierre Gemayel. And in mourning too.

When I heard about the funeral in Bifkaya, the stronghold of the Gemayels, I remember to have read a reference to that village in Edward Said’s memoir (“Out of Place”). All was still very fresh in my head, since it was just last week I’ve finished reading it. There, I found it:

“In the early days, there was often a decrease in the number of cars as we climbed the dramatically hair-pinned road to Bifkaya, the large town just below Dhour that I knew for its famous peaches and a fantastic red-and-tinsel-colored toy shop, “Kaiser Amer”. It was only later, in the 1970s, that I knew it as the family seat of the Gemayel family. Pierre Gemayel., impressed with the German black-shirts he saw at 1936 Olympics, was the founder of the extreme-right Maronite party, the Phalanges Libanaises, and was father of two Lebanese presidents - Bashir, whose assassination in September 1982 unleashed the massacre at the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camp perpetuated by his pro-Israel henchmen, and Amin, who ran a regime drenched in corruption and incompetence. Bifkaya then acquired a sinister reputation as rabidly anti-Palestinian, and I have avoided it and Dhour for almost two decades”.

Said, a Liberal (in American political lexicon) and a Left-wing scholar (in European labeling) had the right to his own, Palestine-oriented, view-point. His positions ilustrate a point I'm very keen on: Political History is never in Black and White - or "Red" and "White" (Krasnii vs Bielii in Revolutionary Russia; or "Red" and "Black" (in the 20s and 30s in Italy and Spain). Everything is so much more complex than the “Us and Them”.

Let us bear that in mind before we rush to quick conclusions about the whodunit in the case of the more recent political murder in Lebanon...

Jonathan Littell

"Les Bienvéillantes" - Reading Notes ( I)


I censored this photo, keeping the historical core but avoiding the death-pornography...

I promised regular reporting on the progress of my reading of "Les Bienvéillantes". After completing the first quarter (roughly 200 pages) what were the most striking points that troubled my peacefulness as a reader?

I think - sadly - that descriptions of the cruelty and savagery of mass-killings by the SS have no longer the same potential to shock us as when we are first confronted with it. So, what shocked me as a reader is not the images per se but, if you want, the philosophical implications of these literature-generated images.

That the narrator finds himself in the middle of a landscape alien to humanity as a consequence of his thirst for radicalism and absolute - that's what is really problematic for my reading self. Besides, I had never realized before (it didn't occur to me as personal assimilation of the fact) that places like Kiev or Crimea, where I was happy, where I was in love and made love like a chinchila, were also places of SD butchery and Conradian horror.

The discussions on Hitler's orders to include women and children in the until then adult males-only mass executions are an incredible feat of literary brilliance.


After the first 200 pages I can only say that I'm going to beg my children to read this book as soon as they attain a reasonable age. This is not the universe of Hollywood vulgata, however well-intentioned some Holocaust-related films and TV series might be; this is not "Sophie's Choice" league either; but an altogether different path to understand a crucial moral and historical turning point.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Isabella Steward Gardner

We will always have Venice...
The book on Bostonian-Venitians...

Prompted by the magnificent painting currently in Thyssen's "Sargent-Sorolla" temporary exhibition I decided to refresh my brain data-bank on the Palazzo Barbaro, Gran Canale, Venice. Apart from Barbaro-related Henry James's books ("The Wings of the Dove"; "The Aspern Papers", the "Letters from PalazzoBarbaro") it's Sargent's painting of the Curtises in their Venetian grand domesticity that evokes the best that bygone era. After a quick Amazon.co.uk research, some electronic flashing of one's visa card and the traditional half week of mail-waiting, I got a brand new copy of "Gondola Days - Isabella Steward Gardner and Palazzo Barbaro Circle". In fact the catalogue for the exhibition Russkaya and this blogger of yours visited last winter during the engaging-ring trip to Venice.

Bottom-line: one should allways try to progress from connoiseur to antiques collector and then to founding patron of a private museum.

On that coffee-table book you can find a remarkable example of one tridimensional space converted, in successive atempts, into a two-dimensional image, both in photography and paintings. The State Room, so to speak, of the Palazzo - the Salone or Cameron, to use its correct designations - has been photographed in 1888 ten years before John Singer Sargent finished "A Venetian Interior".

So the following photo can be seen as the starting point of our visual inquire:

Unknown. The Curtis family in the Salone ofthe Palazzo Barbaro ca. 1888. Gelatin silver print. Private Collection.

Now, let's see four different view-points on that very same room. Clock-wise: a recent colour photography; Water Gay 's 1902 oil painting; B&W photo of the Cameron (with paintings by Sebastiano Ricci and Giambatista Piazetta); and Sargent's masterpiece of 1898.

Does not the Right Honourable Reader feel a overwhelming urge to depart for Venice? .. I thought so..

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sexton Blake

Long before Double O Seven...

This blogger of yours shared with Edward Said, Esq. a youthful passion for comics books featuring Sexton Blake... A quick search in the world's favourite search engine ( that broke the 500 $ /share ceiling yesterday in the NYSE) brought these front-covers back from long-buried memories..

Edward Said

Ramallah Diaries in all sorts and shapes...



"Out of Place - A Memoir" by Edward Said. If one has to read one non-fiction book about Arab-British P-2-P (people to people) interaction in pre-1948 Palestine, this is the one. The Proustian-like recalling of school days is a very powerful sub-genre of quasi-biographycal literature. If done with honesty and frankness it's like a psychoanalitical key to the author's positions and ideology. Not that what we are or what we defend is a crude result of our chidhood troubles as seen through the spectacles of Professor Freud . But it helps to explain (to ourselves and to third parties) some of the emphasis we choose to put in our discourse. The emotional underscoring, so to speak, of one's political bettings.

I read Said's auto-bio back to back with another book (" Sharon And My Mother-in-Law - Ramallah Diaries") by another American-educated Palestinian, this time centered on Ramallah during the the Second Intifada. Ms Suad Amiry is an eloquent example of the smiling gentle hard-nut toughness of women who have to deal with politics. This blogger of yours is a social machista by geographical birth but a born-again political feminist after experiencing how crucial the contribution of women can be in changing things and societies for the better..

That takes me to a third book, "I Saw Ramallah" by Mourid Barghhouti, about which I've blogtexted about last year. http://praiagrande.blogspot.com/2005/05/mourid-barghouti.html




A nice Tercet of Palestinian Chamber Literary-Music...

Friedrich Nietschze

Can J. Littell write something new about barbaric evil?





I've started yesterday the reading job of the year. Jonathan Littell 's "Les Bienvéillantes". 894 pages. I'll kept the Right Honourable Reader posted about my progress in this task. First impressions ( three pages before Tymka's bath) are overwhelming. Last time I had this feeling of having "found" a tremendous perfectly mature new voice was when I first set my eyes on Houellebecq. Shell my gut reactions be proved right? Well, more about it at a later stage ...
(French-speaking readers might wish to go to http://passouline.blog.lemonde.fr/?name=2006_08_un_premier_roma to what Pierre Assouline has written about the "bienveillantes" in his blog La République des Livres.)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006

Boy George


The invitation for the night Boy George was a DJ at Club Shamballa, Moscow...

Gianni Versace


The leopard-pattern plague in Autumn-Winter 2006 fashion, as seen in Rastro

Charles II

Roman Catholic Englishmen Abroad



The "Colegio de Los Ingleses", in St. George's Church, where under Jesuit supervision Young English Catholics studied between 1665 and 1767


How to make some sense out of the 1665-1767 mentioned as lifetime of the Jesuit school in St George's Church? The politico-religious war in the British Isles is too complex for a mere blog. Suffice to say that Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660; that by an Act of Parliament of 1678 all Catholics were barred from parliament; that the Toleration Act of 1689 excluded Catholics and Unitarians from his target-audience; that the 1701 Act Of Settlement barred Catholics from ever occupying the English throne. 1707 is the year of the Act of Union (ending Scottish-originated turbulence) . The United Kingdom adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752. George II becomes king in 1760. In 1763 the Seven Year War ends.

Fulgêncio Baptista


Inspired by the facade of the new Melia in Plaza Sant' Ana, Madrid

Thomas Chippendale



Half-instalation/ half-antiques display, at a new gallery/shop in Rastro...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Anthony Wedgwood-Benn

The Queen in pre-Revolutionary times...


Helen Mirren's acting talents are mind-boggling...



One of this blogger of yours more striking memories of his half-decade spent in London was, beyond reasonable doubt, a lecture by a lionized Tony Benn. A Labour Party conference fringe meeting or a Quakers-organized lunch, can’t remember. But I do remember the title: “A Case for a British Republic”. Anthony Wedgwood-Benn was the Prince Kropotkin of the British ruling class. Very much a member of the higher echelons of the gentry by birth and schooling, he went on to consistently attack the Crown as an un-democratic stain at the heart of the British political system. On that lecture he warned that the British masses in a revolutionary moment - when the deference wall would have collapsed - would act as sans-culottes, metaphorically parading the heads of the Lords in their spikes.
It didn't turn out that way in the end. The escalating and retaliatory violence of class-war has been kept at bay (and does not infect the British political arrangement) by the tremendous brilliance of a few politicians who understood the risks.. Mrs Thatcher with her “popular capitalism” agenda delayed the Jacobin irruption and Mr Blair, with “New Labour” reforms in fox-hunting and the House of Lords, completed the job.

Why boring the Right Honourable Reader with all this stuff? Well. Let’s call it background reading for an entertaining masterpiece in the political film category. Go and see Stephen Frear's “The Queen” with a Ms. Helen Mirren more real as Lillybeth than that, you die. The “Courtiers” (from Buckingham, St. James’s L.C.O. or Balmoral) and the Sovereign Herself had to be rescued from pre-Bastille troubles by a political leader who showed a remarkable sang-froid. Blair was for a few days the successful Lafayette that Marie Antoinette, helas, never got.

Okay, the Monarchy was never at risk of sudden overthrow but one still has the words of Tony Benn echoing in one’s ears...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Luciano Benetton



Barrio de Las Letras, Madrid

Catherine of Braganza

Goa is not just trance-music...


A Goan Cemetery...



Mr. D.J. Madan, from Mumbai 400 026, India, send a delicious Letter to the Editor, in this Saturday's FT regarding an old graveyard in Goa for British soldiers ("The Goan cemetery and the activist prime minister"). He recalled a visit to the area in 1983 from Mrs. Thatcher, who fumed when she realized in what poor shape the graveyard was. The iron baroness-to-be ordered HM's High Commissioner to do something about, no later than immediately. Writes Mr. Madan:


" There was much speculation as to who these British soldiers were and how they came into a territory that was Portuguese from early in the 16th century, particularly as there is no record of warfare betweeen Britain and Portugal in Goa. A clue can be found in an old Bombay Gazetteer which records that although Bombay was cede to the English by the Portuguese in 1641 following the marriage of Charles II to the Infanta Catherine of Portugal, the local Portuguese and their priests who had been in possession of Bombay for a century or more, refused to part with the territory putting forth all sorts of procedural difficulties.


Some of the English ships, which had come for the takeover, sailed back but a couple were sent off to Goa where they were denied entry and the crew banished to an unoccupied island, Anjandiv, "12 leagues to the south of Goa" where they are said to have perished one by one in a few years, due to lack of proper food and an unfamiliar climate. It is possible that the graveyard the then prime minister visited was of those unfortunate sailors."


I rush to calm the Right Honourable Reader who might have found himself under the impression that this blogger of yours cannot disguise his nostalgia for Imperial times. This story merely represents a very proper and well-behaved way to remind a lost era, when crews of ships of Her Britanic Majesty could be banished to the Anjandivs of this world by Europeans less choosy in their dietary habits and less susceptible to climate-change...

Monday, November 13, 2006

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch


Window under repair in ETRO shop...
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Artur Alves Reis


The bill was treated with less than full respect...
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Olga Chekhova


With amazon.co.uk everyday can be Xmas...



Delivered this morning, fresh from the on-line bookshop...

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Ian Fleming

James Bond re-revisited...


UST between Miss Moneypenny and James...


Kate Westwood has been writing a sequel to Fleming's set of characters, from the view point of the butler... sorry, the trusted secretary, Miss Moneypenny. Good fun. Aside from the obvious commercial reasons for doing it, there is an almost childish frisson in make-believe stories involving Bond, James Bond. He has an iconic dimension that exerts the same kind of attraction for a novel writer than "Las Meninas" for a Spannish painter or James Brown's "The Sex Machine" for a rapper sampler. The teasing around in "The Moneypenny Diaries" about the near physical relationship between Jane Moneypenny and James Bond was already part of the original Fleming sub-context. As they say in Hollywood, nothing sells more than UST (Unresolved Sexual Tension)...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida

Sorolla: Costa del Sol painting...



" The Two Sisters", 1909, oil on canvas. The Art Gallery of Chicago.

(Beach of El Cabañal,Valencia )

Landscape painters from Britain and other realms of Mid-Europe look down on peripheric artists from the South when it comes to painting skies. No real stuff, clouds, masses of grey or strange blueish shapes in Southern skies, they say... How could one get good at painting it? Want a serious ski? Stay in England or Atlantic France.. Go for Constable, or for Corot at the most. But what about painting the punnishing sunlight in a beach shore on Southern Europe, say Greece, or Valencia or Portugal? You have to be a Southerner yourself, you must have spent your youth jumping in and out of the sea to really get it.. Sorolla shuts all the stif-upper-liped Constables of this world.. An area of brightly-lit beach.. Figures bathed in light.. The 'optical pleasures offered by the play of sun and shadow'.. 'vivid, sun-drenched colour'.. 'sunlit sparkle'.. Light!.. And more light!.. And more light still!..

The Right Honourable Reader should rush to Madrid, to the Thyssen and to the Fundacion Caja Madrid... Or failing to visit this magnificent exhibition, he should go to dear old Sorolla Museum.

Diego Velazquez / Eve Sussman

Adding new dimensions to "Las Meninas"...

The Master's studio is meticulosly reproduced...


The front-cover of "89 Seconds At Alcazar"...


Annotations for the choreography. Clue: "V." means Velazquez...


The video-screen shows the space that was once the stage for a painting...

I told the Right Hounorable Reader about Ms. Sussman before. She had the brilliant idea of imagining the "characters" in "Las Meninas" moving in three-dimensional space in two-dimensional video up to the sacred snap-shot immortalized by Velazquez in his painting. I just bought a book about that video/performance-art stunt. It adds a sense of the fourth dimension (time) in one's enjoyment of that image. Next time the Right Honourable Reader goes to Prado he will understand what this blogger of yours means...