Saturday, April 30, 2005

Everybody is so talented nowadays that the only people I care to honour as deserving real distinction are those who remain in obscurity.
Thomas Hardy

Friday, April 29, 2005

One cannot stay on the summit forever -
One has to come down again.
So why bother in the first place? Just this.

What is above knows what is below -
But what is below does not know what is above

One climbs, one sees -
One descends and sees no longer
But one has seen!

There is an art of conducting one's self in
The lower regions by the memory of
What one saw higher up.

When one can no longer see,
One does at least still know.

Rene Daumal

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Earl of Oxford
'When Oxford was in Venice, he borrowed 500 crowns from a man named Baptista Nigrone. When in Padua, he borrowed more money from a man named Pasquino Spinola. In Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, Kate's father is described as a man "rich in crowns." Where does this character in Shakespeare's play live? Padua. What is his name? Baptista Minola—a conflation of Baptista Nigrone and Pasquino Spinola.'

Have you ever wondered who William Shakespeare really was?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction.
'If one were to plant woods here,' Chichikov said, 'the view would be more beautiful than --'
'Oh, so you're an admirer of fine views, are you?' said Kostanjoglo with a sudden stern look at him. 'Let me warn you, if you start chasing after views, you'll be left without bread and without views. Always think of what is useful and not what is beautiful. Beauty will come of its own accord. Let the towns serve you as an example: so far the best and most beautiful towns are those which have grown up naturally, where everyone built according to his needs and according to his taste ... Never mind beauty! Concentrate on the things that matter.'

Nikolai Gogol, from Dead Souls, 1842

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Ernest Hemingway
To me heaven would be a big bull ring with me holding two barrera seats and a trout stream outside that no one else was allowed to fish in and two lovely houses in the town; one where I would have my wife and children and be monogamous and love them truly and well and the other where I would have my nine beautiful mistresses on nine different floors.
Ernest Hemingway
great portraits #8

Johannes Vermeer - Girl with a Pearl Earring, circa 1665

Two hundred years separate the Portrait of a Girl by Petrus Christus and Jan Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, but there seems to be some intangible connection between the two. Vermeer would probably have known the Petrus painting, and his 'girl' may even be a homage to it. If so, he must have decided to depict the other side of the coin, because this girl is quite the opposite of her moody, austere fifteenth century counterpart - she's bright, open, animated, smiling and relaxed. The painting has been beautifully restored and probably looks as fresh today as it did on the day the Master of Delft applied the final brushstroke to it.

Monday, April 25, 2005

We must not always talk in the market-place of what happens to us in the forest.
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Brute force crushes many plants. Yet the plants rise again. The Pyramids will not last a moment compared with the daisy. And before Buddha or Jesus spoke the nightingale sang, and long after the words of Jesus and Buddha are gone into oblivion the nightingale still will sing. Because it is neither preaching nor commanding nor urging. It is just singing. And in the beginning was not a Word, but a chirrup.
DH Lawrence

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction.
All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster's autobiography.
Federico Fellini

Friday, April 22, 2005

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction.
The original Lomo LC-A camera has been taken out of production. The Russian factory says it has proved too expensive to continue. It can be bought at its current price till April 30, and then remaining stock will be sold at a higher price. So if you've always wanted a lomo snap one up before it's too late.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction.

spring time, the only pretty ring time,
when birds do sing, hey ding-a-ding ding ...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.
Jack London, from 'The Call of the Wild'

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Yellowbreasted birds
Fly low
Past car windows.
On top of STOP signs,
They are
Sunlit from heaven.

Elaine Logan
great portraits #7

'Portrait of a Young Girl' by Petrus Christus, c1460

Another Flemish masterpiece, this time by Petrus Christus. 'Portrait of a Young Girl' was painted around 1460, and almost certainly influenced Vermeer's famous 'Girl with a Pearl Earring'. All the reproductions show that the paint is now heavily cracked, but I can't help imagining how beautiful it must have been originally, with the skin perfectly smooth and the colours - especially the blue of her dress - more vibrant. I like the simplicity of the composition, but above all I like the sulky, impassive expression on the girl's face. Her averted gaze seems to mask a whole range of feelings - boredom, sadness, suspicion, dreaminess, reserve, self-consciousness; all the conflicting emotions we experience as we pass through the uncertainties of adolescence into adulthood. And I think this is exactly what girls today look like at that stage in their lives. To me, this fragility mingled with a sort of calm self-assurance is what gives the painting its power and durability.

Monday, April 18, 2005

An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
HL Mencken

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Everywhere in life, whether among its coarse, rough, poor and untidy mouldering lower orders or among its monotonously frigid and tediously tidy higher orders, everywhere a man will be sure to meet at least once in his life something that is unlike anything he had happened to see before, something that for once will awaken in him a feeling that is unlike any feeling he is destined to experience for the rest of his life. Everywhere across whatever sorrows of which our life is woven, some radiant joy will gaily flash past, just as sometimes a magnificent carriage with golden harness, gorgeous steeds, and brilliantly sparkling windows suddenly flashes by unheralded past some poor village in the wilds of the country, a village which till then has seen nothing but country carts.

Nikolai Gogol, from 'Dead Souls', 1842

Saturday, April 16, 2005

great portraits #6

 Alessandro Botticelli, Portrait of Dante c.1495. Tempera on canvas

Botticelli painted this portrait of Dante around 1495, by which time the famous Florentine poet had been dead for over 170 years. So it's a homage to the author of 'The Divine Comedy' rather than a life-like representation, but it's still a marvellous painting. is not true that when the heart is full the eyes necessarily overflow, some people can never manage it, especially in our century, which in spite of all the suffering and sorrow will surely be known to posterity as the tearless century. It was this drought, this tearlessness that brought those who could afford it to Schmuh's Onion Cellar, where the host handed them a little chopping board - pig or fish - a paring knife for eighty pfennigs, and for twelve marks an ordinary, field-, garden-, and kitchen-variety onion, and induced them to cut their onions smaller and smaller until the juice - what did the onion juice do? It did what the world and the sorrows of the world could not do: it brought forth a round, human tear. It made them cry. At last they were able to cry again. To cry properly, without restraint, to cry like mad. The tears flowed and washed everything away.

Günter Grass, from 'The Tin Drum'

Friday, April 15, 2005

Günter Grass

I talked myself out of it, saying: 'You know, Mr Bebra, I prefer to regard myself as a member of the audience. I cultivate my little art in secret, far from all applause. But it gives me pleasure to applaud your accomplishments.' Mr Bebra raised a wrinkled forefinger and admonished me: 'My dear Oskar, believe an experienced colleague. Our kind has no place in the audience. We must perform, we must run the show. If we don't, it's the others that run us. And they don't do it with kid gloves.

Günter Grass, from 'The Tin Drum', one of the great novels of the 20th Century.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

great portraits #5

Rogier van der Weyden, Portrait of a Lady.

Rogier van der Weyden, a Flemish contemporary of Jan Van Eyck, painted this stunningly beautiful Portrait of a Lady about 1460.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination.
from 'Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts', 1827, by Thomas De Quincey

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Lomo copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction.
The Greek philosopher Diogenes was seen begging in front of a statue. 'Why are you begging from a statue?' he was asked. 'I am practising disappointment', he replied.

Monday, April 11, 2005


In Mirror I wanted to make people feel that Bach and Pergolesi and Pushkin's letter and the soldiers forcing the Sivash crossing, and also the intimate, domestic events -- that all these things are in a sense equally important as human experience. In terms of a person's spiritual experience, what happened to him yesterday may have exactly the same degree of significance as what happened to humanity a hundred years ago ...
Andrei Tarkovsky

Sunday, April 10, 2005

great portraits #4

Dürer, Self-Portrait in Furcoat, 1500

Dürer was the great master of the northern Renaissance. This painting, dated 1500, is inscribed: 'Thus I, Albrecht Dürer from Nuremburg, painted myself with indelible colours at the age of 28 years.' You can make as much or as little as you wish of it. To me it's just an amazingly haunting self-portrait.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

The beautiful is hidden from the eyes of those who are not searching for the truth ... But the profound lack of spirituality of those people who see art and condemn it, the fact that they are neither willing nor ready to consider the meaning and aim of their existence in any higher sense, is often masked by the vulgarly simplistic cry, 'I don't like it!' 'It's boring!' It is not a point that one can argue; but it is like the utterance of a man born blind who is being told about a rainbow.
Andrei Tarkovsky
great portraits #3

Rembrandt -Self Portrait with beret and turned-up collar, c1659

Rembrandt's 'Self-portrait with Beret' dates from around 1659, when the artist was in his early 50's. It is in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, so it's a painting I know quite well. In fact, I can't imagine visiting the gallery without spending some time in its presence, and I've often gone there for no other reason. Rembrandt painted and drew around 80 self-portraits and I've seen a few of them, particularly in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, but I have never seen one as beautifully painted and affecting as this. What I find strange is that it always reproduces badly. Even on a postcard the Titian (below) looks superb, but the Rembrandt, when it's copied, seems to lose its soul - as if the soft inner glow and the deep melancholy air of the original have evaporated. Maybe this is because in the corner of one eye there is a tiny hint of moisture, a suggestion of a tear perhaps, which you can only see close up.
A Poet's Loving
Oh terrible, beloved! A poet's loving
Is a restless god's passionate rage,
And chaos out into the world comes creeping,
As in the ancient fossil age.

His eyes weep him mist by the ton,
Enveloped in tears he is mammoth-like,
Out of fashion. He knows it must not be done.
Ages have passed -- he does not know why.

He sees wedding parties all around,
Drunken unions celebrated unaware,
Common frogspawn found in every pond
Ritually adorned as precious caviare.

Like some Watteau pearl, how cleverly
A snuffbox embraces all life's matter,
And vengeance is wreaked on him, probably
Because, where they distort and flatter,

Where simpering comfort lies and fawns,
Where they rub idle shoulders, crawl like drones,
He will raise your sister from the ground,
Use her like a bacchante from the Grecian urns,

And pour into his kiss the Andes' melting,
And morning in the steppe, under the sway
Of dusted stars, as night's pallid bleating
Bustles about the village on its way.

And the botanical vestry's dense blackness,
And all the ravine's age-old breath,
Waft over the ennui of the stuffed mattress,
And the forest's ancient chaos spurts forth.

Boris Pasternak, 1917
Translated by Andrew Bromfield

Friday, April 08, 2005

great portraits #2

Titian - A Man with a Quilted Sleeve, 1512

Titian's 'Portrait of a Man with a Quilted Sleeve', may, like the Van Eyck below, be a self-portrait. Both these paintings hang in the National Gallery, London. The sitter, whether or not it is the artist himself, certainly doesn't lack confidence, and is clearly a bit of a dandy. It's the blue quilted sleeve, not the face, which is the real focus of the painting - playing a similar role to Van Eyck's red turban - and it's almost as if Titian is thrusting the expensive fabric in our face, saying 'feel the quality of this'. It's so beautifully painted you feel you could reach out and touch it. A female friend once told me that she found the man's gaze 'disturbing'. The expression on the face is quite challenging, but, to me, the slightly raised eyebrow adds a redeeming note of humour. Perhaps Titian is gently poking fun at the sitter, or else he's having a sly dig at us for being too easily impressed by outward shows of worth. Or both.
Phil the Gardener
Phil the gardener comes every fortnight throughout the growing season to cut the front grass and the communal lawn at the back - always assuming that vandals haven't set fire to his kitchen or stolen his van, both of which have happened in the recent past. Phil has the most beautiful Border collie dog named Suzie, so sleek and nervous and affectionate that I always want to keep her. Anyway, he arrived today, accompanied by an assistant, laden down with strimmers, edgers, hessian sacks and two massive hover-mowers. As usual he rang the bell to ask for the key to the back garden. He loses around two keys a year. Last time he was here in the autumn he left it in the front door, but a neighbour rescued it before it was stolen by a passing house-breaker. I was told to reprimand him for this, but didn't have the heart. I gave him the key, he gave it to his assistant, and I went back to work. Some time later I heard a banging at the window at the back of the house. The assistant had locked himself in the garden. I stopped work again and went in search of Phil, who I found sitting in his van across the road with his boots up on the dashboard, reading the paper and consuming a giant torpedo sandwich and a mug of tea. 'Your mate's stuck in the garden, you'd better rescue him', I said. 'Oh right', replied Phil. Time passed and I heard more banging on the window. I got up and went to see what had happened. The door had banged shut again, and this time Phil and his assistant, plus the dog, were stuck in the back garden. I eventually found my own key, then walked round and opened the doors to release them. This is standard fare when Phil's around, but I don't object. You never know what's going to happen. One day last year he drove off after cutting the grass, then returned half an hour later to ask for the key again. 'What is it?' I asked. He looked a bit sheepish. 'I left Suzie in the garden', he said. Sure enough, there she was waiting patiently for him. If only I'd known. That was my chance. I could have stolen her and hidden her in a cupboard or something.
In 'Henry Von Ofterdingen' a young medieval poet seeks the mysterious Blue Flower. 'It is not the treasures which have awakened such an inexpressible longing in me,' Henry thinks. 'There is no greed in my heart; but I yearn for a glimpse of the blue flower.'

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Lee Miller by Man Ray

The desire of the man is for the woman,
but the desire of the woman is for the desire of the man.
Madame de Stael

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

great portraits #1

Man in a Turban (1433), by Jan van Eyck

No-one knows for sure if this is a self-portrait by Jan Van Eyck, but I like to believe it is. What really makes this painting for me is the startlingly red turban. It's such a bold addition to an otherwise austere image.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The hive bee has perfected the art of making its cells the proper shape to hold the greatest possible amount of honey, with the least possible consumption of precious wax. Indeed, the geometer Professor Miller, of Cambridge, tells me that the shape could not be bettered.
Charles Darwin

Monday, April 04, 2005

In the final moments of the film Bill Murray whispers something into Scarlett Johansson's ear. This moment was improvised, as was the whole scene - including the kiss. It has never been publicly revealed what, if anything, was whispered.

Just Like Honey
Listen to the girl
As she takes on half the world
Moving up and so alive
In her honey dripping beehive
It's good, so good, it's so good
So good
Walking back to you
Is the hardest thing that I can do
That I can do for you
For you
I'll be your plastic toy
I'll be your plastic toy
For you
Just like honey ...
The Jesus and Mary Chain

Sunday, April 03, 2005

I have tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge and often delighted in its taste. But the pleasure did not outlast the moment of understanding and left no profound mark upon me. It seems as though I had not drunk from the cup of wisdom, but had fallen into it.
Søren Kierkegaard
Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

There are seconds, they only come five or six at a time, and you suddenly feel the presence of eternal harmony, fully acheived. It is nothing earthly; not that it's heavenly, but man cannot endure it in his earthly state. One must change physically or die. The feeling is clear and indisputable. As if you suddenly sense the whole of nature and suddenly say: yes, this is true. This is not tenderheartedness, but simply joy.

Fyodor Dostoevsky from 'The Devils', 1873
Matthew Mahon - Photographer
Flash site. Tip: refresh/reload

Friday, April 01, 2005

First Lines
Along the field as we came by
As through the wild green hills of Wyre
Be still, my soul, be still

Farewell to barn and stack and tree
Far I hear the bugle blow
Far in a western brookland
From Clee to heaven the beacon burns
From far, from eve and morning
High the vanes of Shrewsbury gleam

I hoed and trenched and weeded
In my own shire, if I was sad
In summertime on Bredon
Into my heart on air that kills
In valleys of springs of rivers
Is my team ploughing
It nods and curtseys and recovers

Lad came to the door at night
Lads in their hundreds
Leave your home behind
Loitering with a vacant eye
Look not in my eyes
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Now hollow fires burn out to black

Oh fair enough are sky and plain
Oh see how thick the goldcup flowers
Oh, when I was in love with you
Once in the wind of morning
On moonlit heath and lonesome bank
On the idle hill of summer
On Wenlock Edge

Others, I am not the first
Say, lad, have you things to do?
Star-filled seas are smooth to-night
Streets sound to the soldiers’ tread
There pass the careless people
Think no more, lad; laugh, be jolly
This time of year a twelvemonth past
Time you won your town the race
’Tis spring; come out to ramble
’Tis time, I think

Vane on Hughley steeple
Westward on the high-hilled plains
When I came last to Ludlow
When I was one-and-twenty
When I watch the living meet
When smoke stood up from Ludlow
When the lad for longing sighs
White in the moon the long road lies
Winds out of the west land blow
You smile upon your friend to-day

AE Housman
On This Day, 1976
British astronomer Patrick Moore announced on BBC Radio 2 that at exactly 9:47 am the planet Pluto would pass behind the planet Jupiter, and that this alignment of the planets would result in a stronger gravitational pull from Jupiter, counteracting the Earth's own gravity and making people momentarily weigh less. He told listeners that by jumping in the air at 9:47 they would experience a strange floating sensation. Shortly after 9:47 the BBC began to receive hundreds of calls from listeners claiming to have felt the sensation. One woman said she had been seated at a table with eleven friends, and that all of them, including the table, had begun to float around the room. Another complained she had risen so rapidly that she had hit her head on the ceiling.