Friday, January 29, 2016

Au Revoir, for now...

Just to see how it goes and to freshen the look a little bit, "Small Wrinkles..." is being put out to pasture, at least for a while. She has been migrated to Wordpress, just to see how it goes. For my followers, perhaps you'd be kind enough to redirect here:

New address and new name: or, click the link.

The puppy says 'thanks'...

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Caesars and Popes

I had never been to Rome, that pastiche of a  city of ancient empire and High Catholicism, where the latest wearer of the shoes of the Fisherman shepherds his billion-strong flock in the hope of maintaining humility amidst magnificent opulence and ceremony. Romans seem determined to build, add to or repurpose almost all of their ancient buildings, and walking through the streets is a living tutorial in history and architecture. Even the Colosseo is being partially rebuilt.
A three or four day tour reveals the tip of one of many icebergs, but little else. We stayed in a hotel adjacent to the University monastery of San Anselmo and listening to Benedictine Vespers with a congregation of three in Capella San Anselmo was quite a delight. The hotel was a converted villa in Aventino, once a very exclusive part of town, far out of the way of the tourist scammers.
Our lodging was a beautiful macédoine of old and new, much like the city itself. After several nights, I still could not discern with certainty how all twelve shower nozzles could be simultaneously turned on, and the jacuzzi settings in the overly luxurious black and white marble bathroom were manifold, various and incomprehensible. Nevertheless, tea and biscuits were served free of charge at four o'clock in the peaceful, old-world lounge, a slightly wistful echo of England.
Much like Florence, the sheer weight of Roman high art is a sensual overdose. Every church seems to have its own private masterpiece, donated by a Pope, a Cardinal or a jurist and there are rather a lot of churches. 
San Pietro, atop the prison-like walls surrounding the Vatican, is, of course, the hugest and most aggressively splendid beast of them all. Piercingly beautiful, exquisitely ornate, the interior gives the impression of emptiness, as if someone very rich and important once lived here but they just... left.
Of course, there are nuns scurrying, sombre monks, hands clasped inside their habits, with that religiously determined walk so many seemed to have, a purposeful swarm between the myriads of corridors to chapels squatting like beehives on its perimeter. The pearl is, of course, La Sistina, Michelangelo's masterpiece of young, athletic and half-naked men in Renaissance poses, body doubles for various Scriptural luminaries. People often forget that it is a chapel not a museum, so a black-clad Nigerian priest was in constant attendance to ensure solemnity. I spoke with him on the subject of confession, and we found common ground.
I have quite a short attention span for fine art, but tracing the sparse, erratic footsteps of Caravaggio to St Augustine's near Piazza Navona is an exercise in humility. This image does no justice to his 1604 masterpiece of chiaroscuro, the Madonna of Loreto, or Pilgrim's Madonna.
She stands, barefoot, just as the two kneeling pilgrims are. The original shows the dirty, wrinkled feet of the pilgrims and the exquisitely worked head of the kneeling woman, old and wizened. The Carmelites, for whom it was originally painted, rejected it in disgust, not least because he had used a famous prostitute as a model for the Virgin.
The swaggering Caravaggio left Milan for Rome in 1592, doing a runner, it seemed, after "certain quarrels" and the wounding of a police officer. He arrived in Rome flat broke and of no fixed address. Eight years later he became the city's most important painter, almost a Tarantino, shocking the public with grossly realistic images executed to perfection and a worthy successor to the mighty Raphael.

No, it wasn't just about art, or food, Caesars or Popes. We both enjoyed the sense of ‘otherness’, the ubiquitous old Latin and Roman numerals, even the drain covers have SPQR - Senatus Populusque Romanus, the Roman Senate and People - stamped on them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sweet and Sour

I haven’t commented – much less reviewed – movies in a while. Not because I haven’t seen very many, I have. But, perhaps because too much blockbuster type stuff has had its share of ten-cent reviewers like me and people go to see things because they happen to fit with their other, more pressing schedules. Also, there has been a quite wearyingly predictable newsround in recent times and I am not going to remark on the similarities between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, North and South, right and left, chalk and cheese, sweet and sour.
In reference to polar opposites, I wondered if an iTunes rental of “Still Alice” was going to disappoint if the trailer and plot spoilers were to be believed, but, not so. Being, er, over sixty, thus eligible for certain privileges like a guaranteed seat on the Métro, tends to cast a long shadow sometimes, in particular, the possible, if not imminent threat of some debilitating disease or other. People of my age occasionally give passing thought to being introduced to the grim reaper. Julianne Moore, in the role of a lifetime, plays a successful professor of linguistics, who finds herself initially unable to capture a word, as if it is just out of reach, and she is subsequently diagnosed with a rare familial form of Alzheimer’s disease. I found myself trying to remember how many times I had been caught without the right word, as if it had slipped between the cracks in my memory – a quite normal ‘senior moment’ I suppose we all get from time to time. The story revolves around the inexorable progress of the disease as she tries with less and less ability to hold on to her identity and the reactions of her immediate family. More and more, thoughts drop out of her head, which is both sad and almost unexpected. So, we are led into a solitude of twilight paths we’d prefer not to have to face with a bittersweet, perfectly timed ending.

By contrast – brutal contrast, as it happens - Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” was also showing at the cinema this week. Echoing “True Grit” with broad, snowy Wyoming landscapes and a frontier mindset of careless bloodshed, this would have almost worked as a stage play – Tarantino moves his pieces around virtually a single set as if under stage direction. Again, the intimidating Samuel L Jackson, with improbably perfect dentition, incidentally, provides masterfully adroit manoeuvres around an incendiary and sadistic script, a company of perverse men betrayed by money and false causes. Tarantino imbues each of his characters with a distinct and complex personality, interweaving a plotline of feral brutality and post-Civil War distrust with considerable final trademark blood-letting. As it turns out, this, together with some of the more gratuitously anti-racist themes, is what doesn’t quite work – a flabby ending with dead or dying; the only nice people having a brief candle of a moment before being remorselessly snuffed out.
Two very different takes on departing this life. Both not very reassuring but one much gentler than the other. Your choice.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Skeletal Prose

A week late, but, you get the idea

It’s so well-intentioned of people to resolve to do things differently
Me, I don’t make resolutions for New Year. Mostly. Except, perhaps, one. Polonius’ remark to Hamlet’s parents, is brief, and to the point. ‘…brevity is the soul of wit…your noble son is mad....’ Little room for doubt or misunderstanding, then.
William Strunk. Once heard, a name not easily forgotten. He was a professor of English at Cornell, and had a student, one E B White who enlarged his 1918 magnum opus ‘The Elements of Style’ into almost a set text for authors. If White's name sounds familiar, he wrote ‘Stuart Little ‘ and ‘Charlotte’s Web’. I haven’t read Dr Strunk. But, if I had, I expect he would have taught me the necessity of brevity. He wrote, somewhat caustically: ‘Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.’ Riveting stuff. Keeps you awake till the wee small hours.

Skeletal prose, so beloved of the well-paid writer, not counting James Joyce. Here's a fifty-dollar word, a free gift*, if you like. Pleonasms* are a redundant excess of words, the authors’ revenge on people who pay by the character who’d like them to write less of them. Literature overflows with people who didn’t follow this doubtlessly sound advice. Shakespeare again, this time from the third act of “Julius Caesar”: ‘This was the most unkindest cut of all.’ Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep": ‘Beyond the garage were some decorative trees trimmed as carefully as poodle dogs.’ And finally, Samuel Beckett: ‘Let me tell you this, when social workers offer you, free, gratis and for nothing, something to hinder you from swooning, which with them is an obsession, it is useless to recoil...’ (Molloy).

The law, well known for ponderous prose, has its own little stylistic vices, using little pleonasms like "null and void", "terms and conditions", "each and every" – two-for-one words which say the same thing.

So, therefore, and so forth and so on. This year will see a paring, a slenderizing of the prosaic moi. No more flowers, no more multiply-verbed sentences in close proximity, (ha!) no burbling descent into doggerel. Instead, the crispy meme, the mot juste. Or whatever.