Monday, 27 August 2018

Poetry in Advertising

After yesterday posting a video of Les Murray reading a beautiful poem about Australia for a Qantas advertisement, I remembered that another great poet had also got involved in the dark arts of the advertising world. The poet was Marianne Moore and in 1955 Ford, the car makers, asked her to help them choose a name for their latest model. The correspondence that followed can be read here. As much as the suggestions that Marianne Moore came up with, I like the whole tone of the letters to and fro - there is a gentle formality to them that I think is missing from most interchanges these days. It is a pity though that in the end the company did not choose any of Moore's suggestions. And actually, on second thoughts, it is mainly the suggestions I love, coming thicker and faster, increasingly conjured up, (I suspect), from a sense of the comedy of the venture. Is Mongoose Civique my all out favourite? I think, by a hair's breadth, perhaps it is.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

The Beginning

In an entry in his diary dated 26th August, (although some argue it was really 25th August), Captain Cook described the start of his voyage of discovery 250 years ago today:

“At two pm got under sail and put to sea having on board 94 persons including officers, seamen, gentlemen and their servants, near 18 months provisions, 10 carriage guns, 12 swivels with good store of ammunition, and stores of all kinds”

An adventure into the unknown, barely imaginable today, leading to the discovery of the huge island that would become Australia, so beautifully evoked here by Les Murray, the nation's greatest poet (and in my view the greatest living poet in the world today):

Yes, that is an advertisement, but it is also a lovely evocative piece of poetry that evokes the special qualities of the country Cook discovered as well as anything I know. 

Thursday, 23 August 2018


Driving back to Hungary from Britain, we stopped for the night in a pretty old-fashioned inn. In our room was a very nice antique chest and also an antique cupboard:

There was a beautiful old tiled oven:

All the objects that I've shown here suggest that the inn-keeper appreciates well-made, well-designed things. What then drove him to add this weird glass television holder, come desk, come mad paintbrush displayer, to the room? A misguided impulse to seem modern, perhaps or just a mysterious lapse of taste:
I am baffled.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Frankly Outdated

I somehow got sucked into an email argument over open borders and Douglas Murray's book, The Strange Death of Europe, which I haven't read, although sometimes I feel that I have, since a person I live with has told me so much about it. The argument was with a young editor at a large newspaper, and, because of this, I found it particularly dispiriting that, instead of being able to carry on a genuinely thoughtful debate, my concerns, where they diverged from his, were simply brushed aside, with statements such as the following:

"The whole terrorism/Rotheram/fgm thing is just an easy way of signing up to this idea that Europe should be preserved as some kind of judeo-christian monoculture which is frankly a bit outdated."

Just to tease out one of those issues, the "Rotherham thing" - (which has to be seen hand in hand with its counterparts in Telford, Derby, Newcastle, Oxford, Rochdale and possibly other places as well) - indicates a worrying situation for women in countries where people of Islamic origin settle, as does "the fgm thing". While I am definitely not saying that all people of Islamic faith are going to take part in or support such things, a Venn diagram covering those who do get involved and the whole of society would include within it only people of an Islamic persuasion. 

This indicates to me that it is unwise to dismiss without proper attention concerns about such behaviour and the cultural attitudes from which that behaviour arises; apart from anything else, suggesting that we do so seems to me to indicate a lack of concern about women. Rather, it is important and necessary to be alert to possible problems of perspective when people brought up in an Islamic culture arrive in a non-Islamic country. This is not racism; this is about culture and avoiding clashes between people with very different outlooks and beliefs. As a female, I do not want to give an inch on the rights of my sex, particularly if the reason for doing so is the accommodation of religious beliefs that have absolutely no cultural connection to the culture of the countries of which I am a citizen.

But such a view is, it seems, "frankly a bit outdated". 

After that argument, it was cheering for me to spend a Sunday in rural Slovakia and find that many Slovakians are also "frankly a bit outdated" and seem to be naively enjoying their attachment to "some kind of Judeo-Christian monoculture". In every village we passed through it was exceptionally moving to see that the churches were not merely full but absolutely overflowing, and that the locals appeared to enjoy dressing up in their own national costume - none of these places were tourist spots, so what they were doing was motivated purely by their own pleasure in the activity. 

Nationalism is the big sin these days, (this was also made clear to me in the above argument, although once again, worryingly, given our news is in part filtered through this person, my interlocutor did not seem to have been trained by his tertiary institution to articulate the thread of the argument that led to him saying that he had to "completely disagree with" me "that nationalism can be a good thing".  I suppose the argument in his mind must be that the rise of Hitler was an example of nationalism as a terrible thing, but the other side of that coin is that I cannot imagine how Hitler would have been beaten without a reciprocal nationalism emanating from the British Isles).

Anyway, here are some photographs from a sunny Sunday in Slovakia, spent among many people who are "frankly a bit outdated". Long may they remain so:

For those not particularly keen on clothing and embroidery, I should add that, as well as traditional costume, I saw what I would call an almost traditional tractor. It reminded me of my brother's story about a farmer who advertised for a wife. The farmer's small ad reportedly read as follows:

"Farmer seeks wife, preferably 25-35 years old, healthy, with own tractor. Please send photograph - of tractor"

For any seamstresses, here is a close up of a traditional Slovakian male trouser, which I hope will assist those keen to try their hand at making a pair at home:

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Trip to London 4 - Secret Women's Business

While in London, we went into a pub called The Grenadier in order to have some lunch. These beautiful anonymous watercolour sketches from the Crimean War decorated the walls of the ladies' loos.

The one that first attracted my attention was this menu for a dinner at Camp Balaklava, March 55, (presumably 1855). The dinner was supposedly given to Lord Rokeby in Colonel Ridley's hut, with guests listed as Lord Rokeby, Colonel Hamilton, Major Ellison, Captain Higginson, one illegible,  (plus a reference to Lord Arth-Hay, possibly as co-host?) I am assuming it is a fantasy dinner - in battlefield conditions would it really have been feasible to produce such a fine meal?

The dishes served, supposedly, were:

Consomme aux Oeufs - Clear soup with eggs (presumably a kind of straciatella)
Petit Pates a la Menshikoff - some kind of pasta (this is the only reference I can find to Menshikoff)
Filets de poulets aux Champignons - Fillet of chicken with mushrooms
Cotelettes de illegible, (Mouton? probably) aux petits pois - Cutlets of some kind with young peas
La Dinde Rotie - Roast turkey
Jambon au vin de Madere - Ham with a madeira sauce
Choufleur, sauce Hollandaise - Cauliflower in hollandaise sauce
Creme au Chocolate - Chocolate cream (a mousse?)
Tarte aux confitures - Jam tart

Then we have a zouave on a cold day, in a place or a set of clothing I cannot make out, dated 12th December, 1854:
a zouave in his daily dress, 11th December, 1854:
and a zouave cloaked up, 13 December, '54
Maddeningly, a woman started banging on the door and shouting loudly, so I had to take the rest of my pictures in a hurry. I did try to go back in later, but, strangely, the same thing happened again, so the writing on the last ones, on each occasion, came out blurred, because I was in a hurry and nervous, so I suppose my hand started shaking, because I am such a shrinking flower (alternatively an incompetent photographer):

I think the caption on the picture abovesays, "A specimen of Private in the Guards, before serving in the Crimea, and afterwards"

As far as I can make out from my shaky photography, the caption on the upper of the two pictures below says: "After coming off night duty in Crimea, with illegible gaiters of his own construction and very warm illegible". "New hooded cloak sent out from England illegible, but rather striking to look at" The lower picture is simply captioned: "At post in Crimea"

This one, I think, says, "A baggage pony, before service and after he has seen service in the Crimea, in this state", with something written at the very bottom that I cannot make out at all - I will have to return to the pub and find out the truth!

Anyway, these little pictures were a quite unexpected pleasure - and they represent to me part of what makes travelling so thrilling.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Modern Masterpieces

Returning yet again to our brief trip to Košice (oh for pity's sake, Zoë, put a sock in it, why don't you - it's a tiny, insignificant place), I realised I had neglected to mention the wondrous architecture that was provided to the city by its post-war masters. Let me set the record straight:

It sings, doesn't it? Makes one proud to be modern. Hem hem, hem hem, hem triple triple hem.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

After the Illusion

Yesterday, I went to Košice and basked in nostalgia for the empire that created it. I suppose I ought to have mentioned the sad traces of what came after that I saw in that very pretty town:

 Outside the now deserted Synagogue, there was this poignant memorial, explaining that in 1944 the Jewish population of the town was deported.
 These are the Synagogue doors, no longer open or used, because the population the doors were made for no longer exist.

And here is an alarming piece of graffiti of recent origin, on a wall near the main square:

One of the many reasons that I admire Franz Joseph of Austria is that his approach to anti-Semitism showed true leadership. As this site says "He was matchless in his friendship to Jews".  This site goes into more detail about exactly what he did to make that true. The persistence of anti-Semitism in Europe is shocking, depressing and completely baffling. To tell the truth, it fills me with sadness and rage.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Treasures of Austria-Hungary - Košice/Kossa

At the beginning of The World of Yesterday Stefan Zweig conjures up the secure world of his childhood, which he spent in Vienna, a citizen of the pre-war Austro-Hungarian empire. Zweig then proceeds to describe how that sense of security he and his fellow citizens experienced was an illusion:

Despite Zweig's persuasive arguments, plus those of quite recent history, ever since I first started visiting the territories that were formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, it has struck me that, the sense of security its citizens felt, the idea that the civilisation that they were part of was something special - possibly even unique in human history - could surely not have been entirely misguided. Even in the depths of Ceaucescu’s rule, the central square of Timisoara, for example, lifted the heart with its hint that things could be beautiful. Today, visiting Košice, Slovakia’s second town - but little known outside the country - I was again overwhelmed by the loveliness of what Zweig’s so-called World of Yesterday has left behind. Here are the photographs I took of just the first fifteen minutes - I promise this is merely the initial impression, no more than the surface - that I spent in the town - and here are a few, if the link does not work, as sometimes links don't, in my experience: