Wednesday, May 31, 2006


"It's a Boy! " ...

At 12.40, Timotchka erupted into the world, beginning the extra-uterine part of his life on Earth. Hail to the new-borns of this world! May them all be happy! Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Chris Patten / Paul Bowles

To understand the Islamic "Other"...

This is how it all begun, during the ritual reading of "Weekend FT" ... A scholar protests, attacking a point made previously by Chris Patten, also in the Financial Times, after a visit to Fez, that reading Paul Bowles is relevant for understanding contemporary terrorism..

The "Orientalist"-like exotic otherness of the souk in Fez..

That took me to re-reading Bowles's "The Spider's House"...

... and from there to re-visit Edward Said's texts on Orientalism and on the evident flaw of speaking about "West" and "Islam" as almost absolute categories.

Ludwig Deutsch's masterpiece of Orientalist painting...

... and I went back to Said's critics too and to some historical background research on the Independence struggle days against French colonial rule, in Algeria and Morocco ..

French Army against FNLA in the peculiar esthetics of comics books...

... besides, I wanted also to confirm from where Bowles was getting his insights for the Arab character in his novel (and that took me again to the Tangier chronicles).

Literary Renegades? They're mainstream now...

I took some notes and I got some photos about the books I handled during this particular quest. Everything is now ready for a blogtext. But the more I think about it, what each one of us has to say about "Islam" and the "West" is perhaps the most crucial statement of principles one is asked to do in this day and age. I lived near two active "fronts" of the confrontation, the Russian /Chechen and the Israel/Palestine ones. After what I witnessed, what I discussed and what I read, I do have a point of view. But a near-frivolous blogtext won't do. More time is needed. I suspect this post will remain a work in progress..

Will the Fez boy of Bowles's novel become a terrorist?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Fred Astaire

Decoding the signs of your dance partner...

Herr Ingenier's son, Hadrianus, was visiting, having flown from Heathrow Terminal 2 to daunting Barajas Terminal 4, and Malinka and I found ourselves having lunch by the pool. A small gathering, with passport-holders of different frontcover colours.

Now, I have bored to death the right Honourable Reader sometime ago with the importance of the COBRA factor. (COBRA, as it might be recalled, stemmed from the “Crossing the Ball Room” metaphor, that is, the courage to risk rejection). But what about the skills and tactics needed once you have a partner accepting to dance with you?

That was very much the core of a self-indulgent chat by the pool, in another of these lunches hosted and turned into gentle sybaritic events by Herr Ingenier’s charismatic drive and Garbo’s ironical no-nonsense good-sense.

How did it all started, the discussion about dancing technique, I mean? I guess serious historians will have a different view point, but this blogger’s humble view is that it begun when the edge of Asturiala’s skirt flickered with the breeze. On that very moment, when the soupçon of well drawn knees turned into a certainty, that ferormone-full attractive co-guest decided to throw at us that she would rather be a boy. Like she was prepared to get rid of the obvious gifts she had received from Nature in the name of the supposed advantages a man has in a man’s world. With a faux-naïve smile she inquired of the presents if they had never felt the same or the other way around. That’s when I said that on the very first summers of adolescent dancing, boys eager to grope their dancing partners envied them for their monopoly in conceding favours. (We are talking slow, body-to-body dances, to the music of Cat Stevens or similar, certainly not of metallic stuff or hip-hoppish tribal dancing). In our fifteen-years old self, contact through our clothes between respective erogenous zones was the very aim of dancing. And who had the power to go along or refuse it? The girls, and only them. We could be more or less daring, but macho tango-like strong tactics didn’t get you anywhere in those days when young ladies performed the role of timid gazelles ready to jump away at the first threatening move. We could play cunningly, affecting indifference to non-musical matters and holding our partner very loosely in the beginning of the dance. And then working from there, slowly and by stealth, probing the limits of our partner’s acquiescence. But we would invariably get to a point where an elbow or a forearm elegantly but firmly deployed in a certain awkward position would make unfruitful any further progress. Girls who wanted sheer physical thrills, on the other hand, would have only to welcome in their arms the acne-spotted boys and enjoy as much flesh-to-flesh pressure as they could sustain without falling on the floor. How sometimes we wished we were girls to have that power to be sluts!

Around the swimming pool every male guest, with the brightness of nostalgia alighting their eyes, then recalled and demonstrated how girls in judo-like fashion seemed to go for it all, while in fact refusing everything.

I thought: the real achievement was to get more than just something while the girl thought she had not given away an inch. In fact, allowing her refusenik face to be saved while enjoying himself some modest victory.

Then someone remembered hardcore stuff. About a practical device apparently very popular in student’s house parties in Central Europe. One would slip a bottle of wine in one's trousers to give to the dancing partner the impression that she was really making a devastating impression... I am sorry.. I do apologize.. I might have gone too far this time.. But a blogger has a duty to report to the Right Honourable Reader what he has seen or heard without self-censorship or diluting embellishment. There was even a farce moment in the discussion just before we all realized that the bottle was supposed to be empty. Asturiala was sure that, once in dancing motion, the bottle would have fallen on the floor by its sheer weight, and no amount of tightly fastened belt under a buttoned up blazer could have prevented the (humiliating) catastrophe. Hadrianus had to explain in very general terms, with a certain amount of attention turned naturally to his lower parts, how his fellow students used to perform that particular trick..

Dancing, in those times, was indeed like being in the trenches of sexual warfare…

Saint Gregorius Magnum

The Four Fathers, Salamanca Cathedral
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'Catedral Vieja', Salamanca

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Keith Richards

Nostalgia for Keef-times...

Replace Mowgli image for that of 62-years old Keith ("Keef") Richards and you'll get the picture

Thanks to the HasselbaldPortraitist, this blogger of yours, together with his highly ballooned Malinka (38 weeks) had the occasion to peep into the mores of a peculiar Madrileña tribe, the Swinging Ibizians. With already close to perfect suntan, sexy good-looks and blasé smiles, many friends of Carlos Martorell had come to the book launch of his novel whose title one could translate as "Caged Memory" (an elegant and successful metaphor for the ravages of Alzheymer).

There was in the sobering comments of the writer about drug consumption in his heyday a "the-party-is-over" mood. Psychedelic summers in Ibiza, when the Stones (or at least Mick J.) were in town are now glorified memories, and the present there is treated with a slightly conservative and grumpy tone. In fact, what one cannot excuse is the Youth one can no longer claim. Harsh comment? Deserved one, I think, when there's a call for moderation directed to their children's generation which I find a bit patronizing, really... Something like "Do what I'm telling you now, Don't do what we have (eagerly) done when we were your age"... Survivors Syndrome, I know, I know.. but what moral legitimacy has a once upon a time happy consumer of chemical excesses to warn the current bright young things against going for it?

No surprise then that the favourite theme of gossip around the room was Keith Richards 's fall from a coconut tree. What on Earth was he doing on top of that tree? A matter of young enough to rock, young enough to coconut picking? There.. There you do have a true guru for the ex-60's flower people... No apologizing for bad behaviour, no Sir ... Sex and drugs and rock&roll.. You just keep on climbing those wretched trees.. Sometimes you fall down and you loose face... So what? ... Rock on..

Some articles on the British media were delightfully bitchy, like this one in "The Independent" : "Once admitted treating his body as a "human chemical laboratory", the veteran rocker Keith Richards has grown accustomed to the occasional unscheduled hospital visit. But in the latest scrape, spectacular even by his standards, he needed a brain scan after falling out of a coconut tree. "Keef", as the Rolling Stone guitarist is lovingly known, was holidaying at the luxurious Club Resort on Wakaya, Fiji, when he and fellow Stone Ronnie Wood decided to explore the same tree. The consequences were spectacular. Half-way up Richards - reformed heroin addict and one-time hellraiser - slipped and fell to the ground, severely banging his head in the process.The concussed musician, who will need no reminding that his band's hits have included "Tumbling Dice" and "Fool to Cry"...

Rephrasing the old adage one might be too young to die but never too old to rock roll...

Carlos Martorell at the Madrid launching of his latest novel

Once I finish “La Memoria Enjaulada” I'll return to "Blue Eyed Charlie", as Carlos Martorell was known at the prime of his Ibiza days (which he has written about in his very cleverly titled first novel, "Requiem for Peter Pan" ) .

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Audrey Hepburn

YLONGOs and Non-Governmental Spleen..

Almost perfect facial bone-structure...

Friday evening we all end up in the “Blue Bar”, a trendy spot where one can spend the “transición”, the difficult and ambiguous period between dinner-time and club-land. (The Right Honourable Reader has not failed to notice the irony of using the same term that in this country represents the transitional period between Franco’s regime and no-strings-attached-Democracy. Let us carry ourselves away at this splendid metaphor. Is the formality of a dinner, stiffed guests around a table, something resembling the conservative and authoritarian Franquista Spain? Is Western-style consumer-friendly Democracy a kind of everything-goes-night at an hip-hop & druggy stuff club? “La Transición” was then indeed something in between, similar to an informal but still subdued atmosphere of a post-dinner bar? End of metaphor).

The “Blue Bar” is where the thirtysomethings belonging to A+ and A sociological strata of Madrid happened to have installed their tent for the time being. For the nomadic life of the Golden “Treintañeros” today’s trendy spot where all caravans converge is just tomorrow’s abandoned outpost. How can this blogger of yours affirm the Caravanserai status for this particular bar? Easy, pizzy.. It passed the Duchess’s Son Test. If that particular Grande of Spain is there (hélas!.. as much treintañero as this blogger of yours..) the place can legitimately claim the “fashionable” label.

I had just asked a whisky from a safe brand (meaning that the risk of next morning’s hangover due to creative beverage manufacturing is relatively low). In a side wall, the glowing square of a TV plasma screen where one was unexpectedly met by the exquisite bone-structure of Ms Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s". Starting enjoying my drink, I remember that Audrey dear was at some point in her life a Goodwill Ambassador, on behalf of UNESCO, I think. A good example, I decide, of that peculiar hybrid of personal chic and non-governmental duties. In fact, I mumble to myself, my dinner companions are AudreyHepburns themselves. After the second gulp of iced and soda-ed Irish whiskey I make up my mind to blog about it.

Who was there at that pleasant off-Velazquez dinner who could be resolutely described as an YLONGO (Young Lady Of Non-Governmental Organization)? For reasons of sex,... sorry, of gender (one cannot be too sexually correct in these current times), I’ll have to exclude Brusskholm, the giant Viking with indeed some features of a PHD in Engineering. I’ll have to exclude MediumAndRare too. He manages “Marie-Henry Beyle”, a nice red and black restaurant, the one in fact where I proposed to Malinka. Off the list dear old Phyl too, the young architect working at the new wing of Prado Museum thanks to whom I got close to an original but perfect plan to rob “Las Meninas” through a hole on the floor. The fourth male guest whose perfect English also betrayed some non-Spaniard DNA was not into charity work, as far as I can remember. Let us consider now the female attendants to that outdoors warmnightish dinner of spleen. What about the Hostess, BlondeLou? Of course! She has almost completed her own self-process of audreyhepburnization. She still works for Government, although in those border-areas involved in aid to development and sustained cooperation where one never knows who is NGO and who’s GNGO (Governmental “Non-Governmental Organization”). She has the chic, the charm, the fashion sense of a very suitable marriage prospect plus the humanitarian instincts, the curiosity towards other cultures and the feminist drive that constitutes the proper mix of a good Audreyhepburnesque activist. What about BeatrixPotter? A financial adviser interested in expanding her clients’ fortunes cannot, by definition, enrol as charity worker... Or could she? An expert fund-raiser perhaps? Malinka, I also see as too tough to be an YLONGO. More likely to defend the cause of a polluting plant generating substantial employment than defending a environmentally-correct scheme with few jobs down the line. And that brings me to AlighieriMuse, the 100% YLONGO present at the dinner. Effortless elegance and MotherTeresian willingness to do good… perfect diction of difficult African family names… missionary humbleness with here and there sparks of toff frivolity.

We had, AlighieriMuse and me, a serious debate about this all-expanding business of NGO activity. Large morsels of Governmental responsibilities are now out-sourced to charities (.. and why do you think Hamas and other Islamists win elections?..) or to NGOs. The old proverb about teaching an aborigene how to fish rather than granting him a fish comes to everybody’s minds. We cannot ignore tragic primary needs though. And so YLONGOS will have a bright future for many years to come.. But still.. How many of them aren’t secretly dreaming of breakfasting at Tiffany’s?

Albert of Saxe-Coburg Gotha

Palacio de Cristal, Parque del Retiro
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Victoria Battenberg

The Cristal Palace of the Parque del Retiro (glass surfaces covered by reflecting material)
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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

César Jiménez

"Viva la Muerte ? "

Nureyev took me once more to Las Ventas, for one of the bullfights of the 30-days-30 long Feria de San Isidro. His generosity with his season tickets is legendary and one of the few possibilities for this blogger of yours to indulge in his under-cover facet as aficionado. The Right Honourable Reader has to bear in mind that it's more difficult to get a ticket to the neo-Moorish bullfight arena of Madrid when, say, El Juli is performing than to acquire an entry to Central Court in Wimbledon when Federer is trashing some poor guy.

Last Sunday everyone in Las Ventas did what is expected of them in a day of Corrida. The general public was eager to have convincing Toros and the experts of " Sector 7" were as ruthless as usual (starting a pateada just as a dissuasive strike to prevent the oreja that seemed quite probable was a particularly nasty trick). The amphitheatre officers, in red scarves that one can see in Pamplona or in a Pioneers demonstration in Red Square, engaged in histrionics to prevent people from abandoning the corrida during the last animal's turn before its death is certain. The weather helped too. Hot as an Andalusian field, without any of the irritating showers or grey ski that are as regular features in San Isidro as near-tropical rainstorms are in the lawns of Wimbledon. The bulls themselves conformed to current expectations about their bravery, meaning that if one in six is brave enough everybody feels quite happy, thank you. The picadores were booed, but that's part of the script too. The matadores tried their best, and sometimes that best is very close to boredom. But sometimes, o sometimes!, dear Right Hounorable Reader, their best is very close to an almost mystical epiphany.

Last week a bullfighter from Madrid, César Jiménez, was determined to be triumphant in San Isidro and he did managed it. He really went for it. Very close to a fatal accident, which would have happened if the horn of the bull that near-touched his body during the choreography had just deviated a few more inches.

Afterwards Jimenez justified in an interview his temerity: " Teñi­a que hacerlo, uno viene a Madrid dispuesto a todo y si la gente no ve que estas dispuesto a morir esto no téndria sentido". (I had to do it, one comes to Madrid ready for everything.. and if people there do not see that you're ready to die all this would make no sense).

Risking life for ephemeral Glory - Hemingwayesque stuff indeed...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Albertino de Figueiredo

Moral dilemmas....

A very successful local entrepreneur whom I've met half a dozen times in the last two years, a man of substance and with a record of philanthropic deeds, is arrested following an investigation by the fiscal authorities. Front page news at the Financial Times (not to mention Spanish media). Horror stories of pyramidal schemes, billions of Euros in capital letters, hundreds of thousands of small investors who might have fallen for a junk brass Eldorado. A journalist from a news agency chats about reactions from people to the event. He asks me: "Can I quote you on that?". (And he was referring to the sense of stunned shock I and many others have felt). I think for a second and I tell him: "I would rather you don't". The phone conversation ends. Then, my moral dilemma starts.
Was I right in running away from controversy? Was it elegant to show myself eager to keep my distances? Isn't any man innocent until proved guilty? I have sensed a bitter taste since then, almost of cowardly behavior. I should have said : "Yes, you can quote me on that. I'm stunned at what happened. I am shocked. We are not talking about a dodgy character here whom one could have suspected that something might have been wrong with his business dealings. No, what we saw when meeting him was a rather modest looking septuagenarian with a incredible energy". So, in a way, by demanding off-record status, I failed a moral test. What would the Right Honourable Reader have done if in my shoes?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

David Fromkin

"1922" was a crucial historical "nodule" ...

There’s too much information out there. Better to stick to a few areas, and among them to a few themes, and then, alright, be thorough, be deep.

Malinka liked my “nodules” concept for a crash course on world history and wants me to elaborate on that. I longed for a similar request from the Right Honourable Reader but to no avail.

To acquire historical knowledge from A to Z is rather tiresome if not physically impossible (considering the average life expectancy of the Homo sapiens). Instead of starting with the Neanderthal, progressing to Oriental and Classical Antiquity, and from there to the European heirs of Rome until this day and age of evil-axis metaphors and near-non-Nonproliferators an alternative methodology might be on order. Less time-consuming and, intellectually-speaking, much more rewarding.

All bores quote themselves and I will have to conform with norm: “I believe in a kind of 'quanta' or Darwinian evolutionary History. More important than a slow chronological flux are some crucial "nodules". I mean by that historical short periods which have critical mass of data, revolutionary energy and political "pathos" (either drama or tragic-comedy) enough to carry us - in a quantum-like leap - into new times.”

I have also bored stiff the Right Honourable Reader enough times already with some of my favourite A-list “nodules”. A good example is the Russian Revolution one, which I could label, to simplify, “1917”. If one tries hard to understand “1917” almost every single political development in XX Century, from Marx to Fukuyama, becomes intelligible. Worth some studying then.

What other “nodules” in the Rosary of History are worth a particular investment, bearing in mind one’s scarce resources of Time, Intelligence and energy? As it is impossible to achieve wisdom on every significant crossroad of the History of men, each one of us chooses personally a couple of “nodules” to occupy his free moments of an otherwise full-agenda hyper-busy day-to-day life.

Those choices are sometimes dictated by professional interest. When I was trying to figure out, while watching successive sunsets in Jaffa, what was the Israeli-Arab conflict all about, I had to concentrate in “1922” (the Versailles arrangement for a semi post-colonial Middle East). For that Professor Fromkin's book (depicted above) was outstanding. I obviously had also to dive into “1948-69-73" and in “1956” too (yes, the demise of British Imperial Power in Suez is a nodule worth studying.. ).

Some times our choices are just guided by our patriotic personal inclinations. A Christian, in a way, is always returning to the nodule “1 to 33 A.D.”.. A French nostalgic of Napoleonic Imperial Grandeur to “1812” – and to achieve full understanding of Waterloo he will have to end up, as all Frenchmen do, in “1789”.. In the westernmost Peninsula of Europe where I was born, “1492” and “1500, plus or minus a couple of decades” are still obsessively revisited.

Some choices for “nodular” historical research are biography-led, though. As I blogged about recently (boring self-quoting activity again): “In each “nodule” there are illuminating biographical case-studies. Among these particular revealing biographies, as code-breakers to certain periods of history, I’ve always had a fascination for gentlemen who incurred in many risks to protect their individual freedoms and beliefs (…) “ . What produces a Free Spirit? What is so precious about Individual Freedom that turns the rise of Freedom in Society into an almost secondary phenomenon? What makes one admire an atheist among a bigot religious society, or a believer in an atheistic regime, more than the glorious struggle of the Masses? Why would one rather fall for Casanova than for Marx? Why will one always tend to prefer Pasternak to Gorky? And what contributes more to the loosen up of strict hypocritical sexual morals, a rebellious serial seducer like Lord Rochester or the Kinsley Report?

- Will this do, Madam?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Samuel Pepys

The Patron Saint of us web-loggers...

Pronounce after me: "Peeps".. That's right.. "Peeps"
After what I have brainloaded these last weeks on "Restoration" I felt comfortable enough to go to my bookshelves looking for the biography on Samuel Pepys (pronounce "peeps") I knew I had bought sometime ago. Not only I found Claire Tomalin's "Samuel Pepys - The unequalled self" delicious reading but I wrote a quite nice blogtext about it. Suddenly, catastrophe! At the very last turn of the publishing process, with checkspelling completed and last editing touches firmly behind me , I had the terror-inducing "system failure" message on the screen.
The text went AWOL, un-saved, in the electronic ether. No matter how many hacker-like techniques I tried to retrieve the bloody text (if the Right Honourable Reader can pardon my French) I failed to resuscitate those eloquent and elegant paragraphs. Joder! I had tried to establish the Doctrine of Diaries-Writing, the Methodology on Private Journals, the ToolBox on Web-Log Memorializing. All that is lost forever. I'm afraid I don't have either the moral stamina or the Alzheymer-free memory brain-cells of my Youth to attempt at writing it again, all over again.
My point was - that at least I can recall - that Pepys cannot be taken as a avant-la-lettre blogger, as some are claiming. Let us not forget that he wanted to be able to write down whatever crossed his mind (including exactly how his mano (sic) and a certain female friend's chose (sic) were establishing contact). He might have liked posterity to acknowledge his literary tour de force but he was careful in preventing his activity as a diarist to be known. His was a secret Journal, not a Rich&Famous diary for a glossy magazine. Nor a writer's Journal for future use (like in Evelyn Waught's technique to start a new novel, for example). And he lacked the social self-assurance and the enormous ego of the former British Cabinet Minister Alan Clark to contemplate a "publish and be damned"-attitude to his personal diaries.
World-wide-webbing one's daily whereabouts requires near-exhibitionist's skills.. I am quite sure Pepys would not have fitted in that mould. He was no blogger then, but rather a highly remarkable specimen of a very close species...

Monday, May 08, 2006

Miklos Jancso

A non-Bolshevik Eisenstein-ish look at the Russian Civil war...

The Main Menu of the DVD edition of Miklos Jancso's master-piece...

Forget Pasternak's "Dr. Jivago", either the book itself or the film and TV adaptations (this week NTV (Moscow) is finally broadcasting a Russian version with Oleg Menshikov).. forget Bulgakov's "The White Guard" (book, play, film or TV series).. forget even "Corto Maltese en Sibérie" !(comics book or animation film).. If the Right Honourable Reader wants one forceful insight about Reds against Whites in the Civil War just after 1917 He has only to look for a copy of this unbelievably powerful fim. Miklos Jancso, an Hungarian film-maker with a classic Soviet schooling, gave us the most credible depiction of military logic and of the heroic absurdity of war this blogger of yours has ever seen .

And some of the images are just to die for:

... like the ball-dressed nurses in the forest of "biriosi"..

...or the cossack uniforms in a abandoned monastery...

... or the Bolchevik light brigade charge ...

Maurizio Gucci

From latest ad for Gucci jewelry..
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Valentino Rossi

motosexual with an hangover?..
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Friday, May 05, 2006

Julie Christie

"Past is a foreign country, they do things differently there" ..

"Woman and Boy looking at a Book" by foremost American photographer Gertrude Kasebier

Malinka now and then confesses herself lacking in stamina to find the ideal next book to read and asks for my help. Her usual technique is to shout from the library-corridor the name of an interesting looking book. I answer back with carefully chosen two-syllables expressions like "Hmm-Noops!", "Hmmm..Good", "Forgerit", "Tooboring" and "Didnlykit". A couple of weeks ago she shouts "What about The Go Between"?. "Nothing is ever a lady's fault " - I reply. "What?" "Past is a foreign country, they do things differently there" - I insist. She emerges in my room with the paperback in her hands. "I guess it's worth reading, then..". I tell her that the book, by L.P. (Leslie Poles!) Hartley was turned into one of my all-time favourite films.. The colours of long English Summer afternoons.. A simple but unforgettable theme music one tried to play on the out-of-tune piano.. And there were big names involved too.. Joseph Losey,the Cannes-laureate Director... Harold Pinter the Nobel-laureate author of the screen-adaptation... And Julie Christie of course. Julie Christie, to die for, in the main role. "Who is Julie Christie?" - asks Malinka. Who is Julie Christie??? Who was the main votive figure of all my generation's adolescent wet-dreams?.. I try to explain that she was even better that Virginia McKenna or Michelle Pfeiffer or Jacqueline Bisset or Charlotte Rampling, although part of that category of out-of-this-world passion-inspiring beauties when in full cinematic lighting and make-up. She had never heard about her . I tell then to my too young "The Go-Between" prospective reader that I will order the film first thing in the morning, so that she can understand what my awe is all about.

Surprise! There is no DVD edition of the film! Fortunately, when I'm about to resign myself to ressuscitate my VHS video player I spot, among the order list, a reference to a second-hand DVD in a cardboard pocket. A vivid e-mail correspondence then follows with a pleasant auctioneer which has for sale a free bonus to a Daily Telegraph week-end edition many years ago . Gerald wants to make sure I understand that it's a freebie and that it's not a video, which is the only format released so far by the producers of the film. I thank him for his gallant concern but I was indeed eager to get a DVD, either bootlegged, downloaded or newspaper bonus, I didn't care.

So I waited for Malinka to finish the book and then.. zzzzwaap! Like a white columbine or a a flower bouquet in the palm of a magician, my DVD cardboard envelope appears in my hand out of nowhere. We proceed to spend a nice couple of hours around the film and our own experiences of Summer manors with posh English accented-aborigines .

Now it's maybe the right time to humbly confess that although I had acquired the book with the firm intention to read it - having loved the glorious film - I had not in fact did it so far. I am now engaged in countering that shameful hole in my reading armour. Having already almost finished that task, I'm most pleased to announce to the Right Honourable Reader that, as it happens time and time again, the novel is immensely more rich than an already enormously satisfactory screen-adaptation.

So, let me act as a Go-Between myself, carrying this time a message from the author to the Right Honourable Reader: please be curious about the most "different" and exotic of all places, the most foreign country of them all - your own Past.

Johnny Depp

Glass in hand...

Mr Depp in the role of Lord Rochester, in "The Libertine"

Will the Righ Honourable Reader be bothered with a rhyme by Rochester that involves Catherine of Braganza, Charles II’s Queen? This blogger of yours is unreservedly grateful…

Legend has that the King and the Wits were discussing to find a word which would rhyme with Lisbon, and our Libertine hero managed, almost in one go, to include Catherine (Kate), Lisbon and his pet hate, Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon (the foremost Minister in Charles’ Council) in a satirical attempt. Rochester proposed:

A health to Kate!
Our Sovereign’s mate,
Of the Royal House of Lisbon
But the devil take Hyde
And the bishop beside
Who make her bone his bone


Rochester was of course a drug-addict which brings us to his rock-star type behaviour of quick descent into physical dependency on ever more large doses of drug-intake. His drug was alcohol, still a quite powerful ticket to fast-forward one’s life. Jeremy Lamb’s biography of Rochester deals a lot with alcoholism, to the point of boredom. He stresses though, brilliantly in my view, that much of our Libertine’s whereabouts cannot be separated from the behavioural patterns of an alcoholic. The alternate moods between creative euphoria and self-hating depression, the bursts of violence, both the aphrodisiac and shut-off properties of ethanol, all is very much there.... The film puts it quite well: Rochester always has a glass in hand, a bit like a pro of the diplomatic cocktail circuit (the joke goes that you recognize a diplomat by his arthritis in his right hand.. from holding the ice-cool gin and tonic all his life..) . And the movie puts it quite well too the other major physical affliction of Jay Wilmot: syphilis (fantastic stuff if you want Johnny Depp to have a chance of convincing a forthcoming Oscar jury about his acting performance).

What we don’t have is a burned-out finale (like Kurt Cobain, Brian Jones or Jim Morrison). He does not OD but has, instead, a rather “silent majority” moralistic end. In his death-bed he turns from atheist into a Catholic, his wife and kids are all around him and he does repent and apologize for his sinful life.. That somewhat surprising decision rises an interesting point: if the impairment of judgement that can be ascribed to a tertiary syphilis brain coupled with all the pathological effects of chronic alcoholism is invoked to justify (that is, attempt at nullify) his bad behaviour, shouldn’t one doubt the mental sanity of his last minute conversion, too?

In any case, it might be interesting to remember that the alter ego of Rochester in Etherege’s play, I mean Dorimant, is not himself a thoroughly radical Don Juan figure. He does not have to face the Commendatore and end up in Hell ( soundtrack by Wolgan Amadeus M.) after repeatedly refusing to repent. Besides, Dorimant and Rochester proper also do not quite carry their utterly ruthless delight in controlling others to the sadistic heights of Valmont or the Marquise de Merteuil. We have here in fact a hybrid. The “rake reformed” pattern plus a “D.Juan”-like biopic. ( For Portuguese consumers only: there is an pious highly-moral equivalent to this hybrid pattern in the figure of Jose Maria Barbosa du Bocage, a XVIII century poet, who also begun as a libertine, a sceptical and a pornographer and ended up conformed and comforted with the Church’s last ointments).

What must surely be stressed in the end is the brilliant quality of Rochester’s writings and the scintillating English of the Restoration play-writers ( Etherege, Wycherley, Dryden, Thomas Otway, the Howards and a few others). Full justice to the supreme wit of their dialogue was done by Stepphen Jeffreys in his modern play (and script). His is a tour de force of bringing to our attention the exceptional life and times of John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Antonio Lobo Antunes

António Lobo Antunes in town. He said one writes fiction better when near brain fatigue..
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Stephen Jeffreys

The 2nd Earl of Rochester: A non-fictional "Restoration" Don Juan...

The poster of a double-bill evening at the Royal Court Theatre, circa 1995

As promised, I will try to share with the Right Honourable Reader the logbook of my recent trip into the universe of "The Libertine". What immediately came to my attention when I first got acquainted with my Lord Rochester was the fortunate conjunction of so many kudos or brownies points in my personal table board. Let's check. Relevant historical period (Restoration), importance of Theatre as the art-form of his Times and a rather first class personification of the myth of Don Juan. Bingo!

Let's take on History first. I hope I've made clear for some time now that I believe in a kind of 'quantic' or darwinian evolutionary History whereby more important than a slow chronological flux are some crucial "nodules", historical short periods who have critical mass of data, revolutionary energy and political "pathos" (either drama or tragic-comedy) enough to carry us, - in a quantum-like leap - into new times. The "nodule" Restoration is a very interesting one indeed. When the exiled son of the decapitated king returns to Britain in 1660, as Charles II, an intense and exhilarating unstable chunk of history ensues. For a brief period, not one single ideology, or political movement, or institution of statecraft, or religion apparatus was strong enough in itself to impose its viewpoint or its solutions. People were fed up with the Puritanical party-pooper's zeal of Cromwellian times and welcomed, at least in London, the soft debauche of the restaured monarchy. And the art form which provided the aptest expression of that age was Restoration drama. Theatre as the key to revisit the inner loins of that period ! (as Cinema is doing for these days and ages) To make it a little more appealing to our patriotic eyes we even have a certain Catherine, a Portuguese Queen, kind but moustachoed, sweet and accommodating but ugly as the Sin. Too crude? My apologies. Allow me to proceed.

In each "nodule" there are illuminating biographical case-studies. Among these particular revealing biographies, as code-breakers to certain periods of history, I've always had a fascination for rebellious gentlemen who incurred many risks in order to protect their individual freedoms and beliefs, and who, to top it all, have left beautifully written accounts of their individual struggle. ( Casanova name immediately comes to one's mind whereas the most evident cases in the A-league of English Literature, the only writers that had lived their art to the same degree as Rochester, are Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde)

As for libertine mores, it will not come as a surprise to the Right Honourable Reader if this blogger of yours confesses a certain obsession with the Don Juan myth. Allow me to quote here Prof John Barnard, who edited the play (Etherege's "The Man of Mode") where the main character (Dorimant) is none other but a thinly disguised Lord Rochester :

"Don Juan, the seventeenth-century creation who stands as a naturalist and rationalist antagonist to précieux idealizing of Courtley Love. (Just as Machiavelli's semi-mythic status reflects the emotional and intellectual crisis consequent upon the discovery of Realpolitik in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and Faustus testifies to the scientific assault on the boundaries of God-given knowledge, Don Juan is a response to related crisis in sexual attitudes). (...) Dorimant is allied to Don Juan and hence to the libertine and skeptical strain in seventeen-century culture, whose most obvious contemporary exemplar was Lord Rochester".

Not everybody's cup of tea? Open to easy attempts at character assassination like this one from Samuel Johnson:

"in a course of drunken gaiety and gross sensuality, with intervals of study perhaps yet more criminal, with an avowed contempt of decency and order, a total disregard to every moral, and a resolute denial of every religious observation, Lord Rochester lived worthless and useless, and blazed out his youth and health in lavish voluptuousness".

Jacob Huysmans's famous painting at National Portrait Gallery, London

depicting Rochester with a monkey

Is this then what made the figure of John Wilmot so appealing to generate one contemporary play (the already mentioned "The Man of Mode" from his good friend George Etherege, later knighted); inumerous entries in contemporary memorial efforts, including in Pepys' diaries; an extensive list of biographers (from the seventeen-century onwards with metronomical regularity, including, in 1974, from Graham Greene himself - "Lord Rochester's Monkey"; and, as the more recent pinnacle, a modern play, by Stephen Jeffreys ("The Libertine" ) It was that play which turned into a movie script gave us Johny Depp excelling in the powerful lines of the Prologue:

"Allow me to be frank at the commencement. You will not like me. No, I say you will not. (...) But later when you shag - and you will shag, I shall expect it of you and I will know if you have let me down . I wish you to shag with my homuncular image rattling in your gonads. Feel how it was for me, how it is for me and ponder: Was that shudder the same shudder he sensed? Did he knew something more profound? Or is there some wall of wretchedness that we alll batter with our heads at that shining livelong moment! That is it. That is my prologue, nothing in rhyme, certainly no protestations of modesty, you were not expecting that I trust. I reiterate only for those who have arrived late or were buying oranges or were simply not listening: I am John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester and I do not want you to like me."

But we do, my Lord, we do..

(to be continued)

D. Bonifacio de Calatrava

An honorary trip to Cáceres ...

"Foro Sur", the ARCO-like art event in Cáceres, Extremadura

What took me to the uppermost beautiful casco histórico in Extremadura was a very peculiar type of protocolar ceremony. One that allows this blogger of yours the utilize the admirable and rarely-used verb to bestow. A decoration, a black and yellow ribbon and the respective cross-like medal, had been bestowed by the HoS to Our Man in Cáceres and I was there to applaud the honour confered upon him and to help in the practicalities of fixing the ribbon around his neck. A most charming and resourceful Consul, his human qualities are admired none better than by his Daschund companion, Don Bonifacio de Calatrava. Thanks to the professional activity of the son of Bonifacio's master, who happens to have ajob at Louis Vitton in Paris, the happy dog has a LV collar, that, for once, is not a made-in-Patpao counterfeit. In his acceptance speech The AbetardaCollector recalled to us, officials and friends, how his father, now deceased, had worked for the good neighbourliness in that Estremadura-Extremadura border. He claimed that his father was much more deserving of a decoration than himself, which made him ask from the Ambassador to allow him to accept the decoration on behalf of his Father too. A touching touch in a wonderful outdoors afternoon at an imposing Parador.

Staying in Cáceres overnight we had a chance to stroll in the ancient church turned into a modern art gallery for the Foro Sur ( Quite amazing stuff. Medieval stone floor and hyper-abstract large canvases really do go well together) . And later on to be initiated into the gourmet features of local-made repápalos, thanks to a generous HoM.

I returned to Madrid with an addition to my collection of stuffed animals, courtesy of the brand new Comendator. A male red-legged partridge, of imposing allure. I consider it though as a kind of appetizer for the serious business we have been discussing. A stork, no more no less, is what I've been aiming at. Totally legal and with the exequatur of the environmental local authorities..and hopefully H5N1- free... :)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Matte Gonzalez

Is there a Female Art World?

Could this be the artistic end-result of a male painter?

The opening of the Exhibition of this blogger of yours' friend Ms Matte Gonzalez was attended by a disproportionate number of female Art-lovers.. That prompted a self-indulgent exchange of soundbites while sipping outdoors, in the calle, the red Rioja in the sadly obligatory plastic cups. Is the late afternoon vernissage circuit a thing for women, to add to the ladies-who-lunch concept? Is this the female equivalent of the happy hour in the local Financial District wine-bar?

Will painters adapt to market research results showing (like it did happen with car-makers) that in a couple the woman will be more and more the initiator of the buying process? What if there will be a special catering for "feminine" tastes in Art (whatever it might be?). After the third green olive and half a dozen cubes of tasty hard cheese someone asks if one can really talk about Feminine Art? (A bit like feminine erotic "good-taste" fiction versus phalocratic XY chauvinistic porcine pornography...). Is Georgia O'Keefe vulva-shaped botanics a precursor of that trend? Is Matte Gonzalez orchideacea-inspired forms something in the same direction?

We all know that when first suggested in regard to books this idea was deemed ridicule. Now, go to any Waterstone's or Barnes & Noble and you'll find gender and sexual-orientation-related bookshelves.. Feminist Literature... Gay & Lesbian Books (on the process of replicating into autonomous areas) ...

So will we have a Feminine Art Gallery by excellence, like a Ms. Peggy Guggenheim's sponsored museum on the Gran Canale, distinct from a mainly male hard expressionism Art Collection? Or, even, following the fashion of third-sex-friendly rooms in book-shops, will we have special areas in National Portrait Centers dedicated to Caravaggio and Hockney more explicit oeuvres?

All of the above is, of course, the kind of tongue-in-cheek gibberish toss one expects in the blog space.. Nothing serious enough to detract viewers curious with these blog- photos of Matte's more recent work from coming to Calle San Pedro,11 and see for themselves...

The most interesting work on show according to this blogger of yours...