1st April 2002

Doc jumped up and went to the aquarium and stared into the lighted water. From under a rock an octopus looked out and one of its arms flicked rhythmically, as though it led an orchestra, and the beat was gay and free and fluid - like the swinging thigh and knee and ankle.
Doc put his face in the palm of his hand and pressed blackness on his eyes until specks of green and red light swarmed on his vision. And then he got up and went across the street for beer.

                                        * * *

"I'm going to call my paper 'Symptoms in Some Cephalopods Approximating Apoplexy.' "
"Great God Almighty!" said Mack.

Steinbeck, Sweet Thursday.

Geegaw's cephalopods and their self-awareness reminded me that there are only a few species apart from us that can do the mirror-recognition trick: chimpanzees, orang-utangs and maybe dolphins. It'll be interesting to see what happens when someone finally gets hold of an orang pendek.
I once tried yawn transmission with great apes - can we make them yawn by yawning in front of them, as we can with our own species? - but didn't get very far: the gorilla I was testing it on waited until I was close up to the bars and then took a swipe at me. The tip of one of his enormous leather-upholstered fingers just brushed my nose . . .

2nd April 2002

Ray over at Bellona Times was talking about birthdays, and I can't say how much I'm looking forward to the Will Smith vehicle, The Motion of Light in Water, especially those sweaty summer night scenes where Will leaves his wife sleeping in their apartment and sneaks off to blow some guys in an alley on the East Side somewhere . . .

 So today it's the birthday of Giacomo  Casanova (b. 1725), probably the  most famous librarian of all time  (Philip Larkin? naw), among other  things author of an early science  fiction novel about a journey to the  centre of the earth, and a  mathematical treatise on the  problems of duplicating cubes (that  is, how to construct a cube twice the  volume of another cube, using only  compasses and unmarked  straightedge - thanks Steve).

 With a fast connection and a free evening, you can enjoy the atmospheric and often erotic Leroux  illustrations to his Memoirs.

3rd April 2002

That Friday Feeling

26   Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.
27   And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.
28   Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him.
29   For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor.
30   He then, having received the sop, went immediately out; and it was night.

- John, Ch.13

I was reading the four versions of the Last Supper last Friday, and was struck by the 'and it was night' at the end of this section in John: the bible rarely uses this kind of literary device. Compare the murder of Banquo in Macbeth:

Third Murd.   'Tis he.

First Murd.   Stand to't.

Banquo   It will be rain tonight.

First Murd.   Let it come down.

They set upon Banquo.

Notes from Underground

Man (entering carriage and standing beaming round, before shouting):
'First impressions will fuck you up! First impressions are always wrong! Because . . . you see, really . . . I am a niiiiiiiiiice . . . man . . . '  (sits down and mutters to himself for rest of journey).

Sticker (stuck on various advertising posters on escalator):   

Desire of Wings

. . . the air has become shot silk, the streets are music,
And the ranks
Of men are ranks of men, no more of cyphers.
So that if now alone
I must pursue this life, it will not be only
A drag from numbered stone to numbered stone
But a ladder of angels, river turning tidal . . .
- Louis MacNeice, Autumn Journal

How often does this happen? Two, three times a year perhaps? And what can we do to make it happen more often?

4th April 2002

I love vacant lots.

I love decaying, half-used buildings.

This particular vacant lot is rather special: it's on the outskirts of Phoenix Arizona, and has a rather peculiar history. It was the site of Frank Lloyd Wright's Ocatillo Camp (named after the ocotillo cactus flower - Wright's misspellings of the word have resulted in the camp's being known variously as Ocatilla and Ocatillo), where he and his design team worked on the enormous never-to-be-built hotel project, San Marcos in the Desert. Of the camp's flimsily built studios, Wright wrote:

"Since they will be temporary, call them ephemera. You will soon see them all like a group of giant butterflies - conforming to the crown of the outcropping of splintered rock gently rising from the desert floor."

All there was on the site when I visited it a few years back (after hopping over the fence) were a few pieces of plaster, broken wood and porcelain, and what used to be raw desert is now enclosed by suburbia.

5th April 2002

Diana statue, Albert Bridge, Chelsea Embankment.

She walked to a point about halfway between the Battersea and Albert Bridges and sat down on a bench between a Chelsea pensioner and an Eldorado hokey-pokey man, who had dismounted from his cruel machine and was enjoying a short interlude in paradise. Artists of every kind, writers, underwriters, devils, ghosts, columnists, musicians, lyricists, organists, painters and decorators, sculptors and statuaries, critics and reviewers, major and minor, drunk and sober, laughing and crying, in schools and singly, passed up and down. A flotilla of barges, heaped high with waste paper of many colours, riding at anchor or aground on the mud, waved to her from across the water. A funnel vailed to Battersea Bridge. A tug and barge, coupled abreast, foamed happily out of the Reach. The Eldorado man slept in a heap, the Chelsea pensioner tore at his scarlet tunic, exclaiming: "Hell roast this weather, I shill niver fergit it."
- Samuel Beckett, Murphy

8th April 2002

This is the 1948 sculpture 'Lazarus' by Epstein. When Kruschev saw it on a visit to Oxford in 1956 (it's in the chapel at New College) he referred to it as 'a degenerate piece of rubbish' (he must have been a great guest - so polite), but was disturbed all the following night by nightmares about it. On hearing about this Epstein commented:
'Tell (him) to keep off art criticism, which he does not understand, and stick to his own business, which is murder.'
It's a great sculpture, and one wonders whether he's actually going to make it back to life, or if he even wants to return to the world. The ambiguous orientalism of the figure's face reminds me of the East Wind sculpture in Jarrell's Pictures From an Institution (and a day without mentioning this book is, of course, a day wasted), about which the narrator says:
'I remembered . . . a German historian's grotesque theory, Ur-men who, many thousands of years ago were parasites of the wild horses of Asia, clinging to their sides and nursing like foals, or opening a vein and drinking from it and closing it - and all the time the horses ran on, never stopping.'

9th April 2002

A confession:  I've never read Ovid's Metamorphoses.
I'd like to read it, but I think it must be the Penguin Classics edition that I own preventing me (don't click on the link, don't buy the book) - somehow it's terminally dull, and I desperately hope it's the translation and not the original.
What I do like is this Bonnard Rape of Europa. The dune she's sitting on is caught in the act of transformation, and no-one has yet noticed, except for the figure on the extreme left . . . and look at that sea! Pass me my trunks.

12th April 2002


Everything is far
and long gone by.
I think that the star
glittering above me
has been dead for a million years.
I think there were tears
in the car I heard pass
and something terrible was said.
A clock has stopped striking in the house
across the road . . .
When did it start? . . .
I would like to step out of my heart
and go walking beneath the enormous sky.
I would like to pray.
And surely of all the stars that perished
long ago,
one still exists.
I think that I know
which one it is -
which one, at the end of its beam in the sky,
stands like a white city . . .

- Rilke (translated by Stephen Mitchell)

15th April 2002

Manaus on the Hudson

photo: Jerry Dantzic, 1950s

This photograph conjures up a number of emotions, not least worry: surely an immersion in the East River requires/d subsequent hospitalization?

16th April 2002

Here hare here

Someone has been hare-spotting.
Strange how the hare is one of those animals which humans feel is somehow close or connected to them, having more human characteristics than other creatures. It seems to be a Jungian archetype, figuring in the mythology of most cultures:
In Egypt, the hare hieroglyph signified being, existence.
The Algonquin indians had a creation myth in which the Great Hare made the universe; it was then the ruler of the winds and the guardian of the people.
Hares have often been thought of as hermaphrodite, or able to change their sex at will.
A buddhist story has a hare offering itself as a sacrifice before a priest. The Chinese refer to the 'hare in the moon' rather than the 'man in the moon'.
The hare as trickster: Kalulu in west Africa, Brer Rabbit in his transatlantic incarnation (I've seen him outside his burrow in Kenya, deep in thought, oblivious to my approach).
The hare as witches' familiar, or animal into which witches, shamans and shape-changers transform themselves. In parts of Great Britain, a hare is still referred to as 'puss'.

Utter this one prayer
In praise of the hare
That he may better fare:
'The hare, the hare-kin
Old big-bum, old Bouchart,
The hareling, the frisky one,
Old Turpin, the fast traveller,
The lurker in ditches, the filthy beast,
The slink-away, the nibbler,
The one it's bad luck to meet, the white-livered,
The one who doesn't go straight home, the traitor,
The friendless one, the cat of the wood,
The stag with the leathery horns,
The animal that dwells in the corn,
The creature that all men scorn,
The creature that no-one dare name.'

- Anon, middle english

17th April 2002

Stories of the Monsoon - No. 2

One of the strangest stories to come out of the Indian Ocean was that of Malindi's giraffe, which was sent as a gift to Bengal, and then to China. Malindi is now a small quiet town on Kenya's coast north of Mombasa, but it used to be the hub of a sizable little empire. The local potentate in 1414 sent a giraffe by sea to the ruler of Bengal as a gift to strengthen trading ties, when who should arrive from China but none other than Zheng He, admiral of China's vast fleet of exploration. The Chinese were staggered on seeing the animal: at this time in Chinese mythology there was a creature known as the qilin, a tall spotted horned beast, supposedly appearing only in times of tranquility and prosperity, and to have one of these appear in the flesh must have been earth-shattering. The Chinese persuaded the Bengalis to send the giraffe to their Emperor at Nanjing (one would love to have been present at these negotiations - 'you've just got to', they must have longed to shout) and the animal was received in China with great pomp and rejoicing.
Following this a voyage was made to East Africa, to return home the Malindian ambassadors, and 'celestial horses' (zebras), 'camel-birds' (ostriches) and a 'celestial stag' (oryx) were brought back to the imperial court.

18th April 2002

19th April 2002

Duffa Rex


King of the primeval avenues, the municipal parklands:  architect of the Tulse Hill Poetry Group:  life and soul of the perennial carousals:  minstrel:  philatelist:  long-serving clerical officer:  the friend of everyone who's anyone.

'Pack it in,' said Duffa, 'and buy me a drink.'


He digs for the salt-screw, buried in crepitant spud-slivers. Speaks of his boyhood in the gruntler's yarg, the unworked cork-bundles, coagulations of nurls.

The mockery of his companions is unabated. It is the king's round, they urge. His hoard is overripe for commerce.

One by one he draws coins to the light;  examines them:  exemplary silver, his rune stones. Treasure accrued in a sparse week, to be invested in precious liquid.

- Wendy Cope

22nd April 2002

music is feeling then, not sound

The birds are in from Africa . . . heard the first chiff-chaff of the year in Richmond Park at the weekend - then checked and found that 'chiff-chaffs arrive in the UK from early March onwards' . . . still, that little bird started my summer.

Approaching Hammersmith tube station, there was sound coming out of the subway, a warm drone. A busker sat in the passage, an old man with just an acoustic guitar, but drawing from it such music, a bass drone with treble ostinatos over the top: he'd found some resonance with the tunnel, some harmonic, and the result was amazing. I walked past wearing a big silly endorphin grin, and as I dropped coins into his guitar case he turned to me a face as long and mournful as Albert Einstein's, and gravely nodded.

"Now i'm lying by the phone in the dark,
Lying all alone in the dark,
I turn on the radio
It's another singer I don't know
But she sings to me sweetly and softly and so, I close my eyes
I close my eyes
I close my eyes . . ."

- Rinde Eckert, One of Those Mysteries

23rd April 2002

small things make a big thing

These ants are up to something special. They seem to have stumbled on an evolutionarily stable strategy of co-operation (humans please note): it could end up so that each world continent has just one ant supercolony, albeit one vulnerable to parasites. Looks like pouring boiling water down a hole in your garden just won't work any more - we won't be able to beat 'em. So let's join 'em.

big thing makes a small thing

Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries have/has produced among other amazing things this story, a test of speed-reading synchronised perfectly to its musical accompaniment, which must be beautifully tiny as it plays fine over my meagre 33 kbps at home. And yes, that's Max Roach on drums. Go! (via Danelope).

big thing does a petty thing

Pop-up on the screen at the easyeverything cybercafe today:

NO SLEEPING.  Internet access tickets do not give customers the right to sleep at workstations. For the safety comfort (sic) of all customers, persons found sleeping will be asked to leave the store. Persistent offenders will have accounts locked banned (sic).

24th April 2002

Over at gawville, us little diabloggers are being quizzed on the contents of our purses. My wallet has, apart from the dull financial stuff, library cards for three London boroughs (two probably expired), passport photographs of several people I was at college with, some of whom I never see, and a ticket from the Penmaenpool Bridge Co., Pedestrian Toll, One Penny.
Here's my favourite fictional purse:

Before (Suzy) picked up her suitcase she opened her brown purse of simulated leather. In it were mirror, comb with two teeth missing, Lucky Strikes, matchbook that said "Hotel Rosaline, San Francisco", half-packet of Peppermint Life Savers, eighty-five cents in silver, no folding money, lipstick but no powder, tin box of aspirin, no keys.
If there had been a murder that night Joe Blaikey could have written all that down, but now he wasn't even aware that he knew it.

- Steinbeck, Sweet Thursday

29th April 2002

the objective gaze

Samuel Palmer, self-portrait, 1826Stanley Spencer, self-portrait, 1913


In the time when Dendid created all things,
He created the sun,
And the sun is born, and dies, and comes again.
He created the moon,
And the moon is born, and dies, and comes again;
He created man,
And man is born, and dies, and does not come again.

- Dinka song, Sudan

home ~ retrobhikku