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Category archive: France

Wednesday September 20 2017

This is how Chapter One, “Chez Meissonier”, of Ross King’s book The Judgement of Paris begins:

One gloomy January day in 1863, Jean-Louis-Emest Meissonier, the world’s wealthiest and most celebrated painter, dressed himself in the costume of Napoleon Bonaparte and, despite the snowfall, climbed onto the roof top balcony of his mansion in Poissy.

A town with a population of a little more than 3,000, Poissy lay eleven miles north-west of Paris, on the south bank of an oxbow in the River Seine and on the railway line running from the Gare Saint-Lazare to the Normandy coast. It boasted a twelfth-century church, an equally ancient bridge, and a weekly cattle market that supplied the butcher shops of Paris and, every Tuesday, left the medieval streets steaming with manure. There was little else in Poissy except for the ancient priory of Saint-Louis, a walled convent that had once been home to an order of Dominican nuns. The nuns had been evicted during the French Revolution and the convent’s buildings either demolished or sold to private buyers. But inside the enclosure remained an enormous, spired church almost a hundred yards in length and, close by, a grandiose house with clusters of balconies, dormer windows and pink-bricked chimneys: a building sometimes known as the Grande Maison.

imageErnest Meissonier had occupied the Grande Maison for most of the previous two decades. In his forty-eighth year he was short, arrogant and densely bearded: “ugly, little and mean,” one observer put it, “rather a scrap of a man.” A friend described him as looking like a professor of gymnastics, and indeed the burly Meissonier was an eager and accomplished athlete, often rising before dawn to rampage through the countryside on horseback, swim in the Seine, or launch himself at an opponent, fencing sword in hand. Only after an hour or two of these exertions would he retire, sometimes still shod in his riding boots, to a studio in the Grande Maison where he spent ten or twelve hours each day crafting on his easel the wonders of precision and meticulousness that had made both his reputation and his fortune.

To overstate either Meissonier’s reputation or his fortune would have been difficult in the year 1863. “At no period,” a contemporary claimed, “can we point to a French painter to whom such high distinctions were awarded, whose works were so eagerly sought after, whose material interests were so guaranteed by the high prices offered for every production of his brush. No artist in France could command Meissonier’s extravagant prices or excite so much public attention. Each year at the Paris Salon - the annual art exhibition in the Palais des Champs-Élysées - the space before Meissonier’s paintings grew so thick with spectators that a special policeman was needed to regulate the masses as they pressed forward to inspect his latest success. Collected by wealthy connoisseurs such as James de Rothschild and the Duc d’ Aumale. these paintings proved such lucrative investments that Meissonier’s signature was said to be worth that of the Bank of France. “The prices of his works,” noted one awestruck art critic, “have attained formidable proportions, never before known.”

Meissonier’s success in the auction rooms was accompanied by a chorus of critical praise and-even more unusual for an art world riven by savage rivalries and piffling jealousies - the respect and admiration of his peers. “He is the incontestable master of our epoch,” declared Eugène Delacroix, who predicted to the poet Charles Baudelaire that “amongst all of us, surely it is he who is most certain to survive!” Another of Meissonier’s friends, the writer Alexandre Dumas fils, called him ”the painter of France.” He was simply, as a newspaper breathlessly reported, “the most renowned artist of our time.”

From his vantage point at the top of his mansion this most renowned artist could have seen all that his tremendous success had bought him. A stable housed his eight horses and a coach house his fleet of carriages, which included expensive landaus, berlines, and victorias. He even owned the fastest vehicle on the road, a mail coach. All were decorated, in one of his typically lordly gestures, with a crest that bore his most fitting motto: Omnia labor, or “Everything by work.” A greenhouse, a saddlery, an English garden, a photographic workshop, a duck pond, lodgings for his coachman and groom, and a meadow planted with cherry trees - all were ranged across a patch of land sloping down to the embankments of the Seine, where his two yachts were moored. A dozen miles upstream, in the Rue des Pyramides, a fashionable street within steps of both the Jardin des Tuileries and the Louvre, he maintained his Paris apartment.

The Grande Maison itself stood between the convent’s Gothic church and the remains of its ancient cloister. Meissonier had purchased the pink-bricked eighteenth-century orangery, which was sometimes known as Le Pavilion Rose, in 1846. In the ensuing years he had spent hundreds of thousands of francs on its expansion and refurbishment in order to create a splendid palace for himself and his family. A turret had been built above an adjoining cottage to house an enormous cistern that provided the Grande Maison with running water, which was pumped through the house and garden by means of a steam engine. The house also boasted a luxurious water closet and, to warm it in winter, a central heating system. A billiard room was available for Meissonier’s rare moments away from his easel.

Yet despite these modern conveniences, the Grande Maison was really intended to be an exquisite antiquarian daydream. “My house and my temperament belong to another age,” Meissonier once said. He did not feel at home or at ease in the nineteenth century. He spoke unashamedly of the “good old days,” by which he meant the eighteenth century and even earlier. He detested the sight of railway stations, cast-iron bridges, modern architecture and recent fashions such as frock coats and top hats. He did not like how people sat cross-legged and read newspapers and cheap pamphlets instead of leather-bound books. And so from the outside his house - all gables, pitched roofs and leaded windows - was a vision of eighteenth-century elegance and tranquillity, while on the inside the rooms were decorated in the style of Louis XV, with expensive tapestries, armoires, embroidered fauteuils, and carved wooden balustrades.

The Grande Maison included not one but, most unusually, two large studios in which Meissonier could paint his masterpieces. The atelier d’hiver, or “winter workshop,” featuring bay windows and a large fireplace, was on the top floor of the house, while at ground level, overlooking the garden, he had built a glass-roofed annexe known as the atelier d’été, or “summer workshop.” Both abounded with the tools of his trade: canvases, brushes and easels, but also musical instruments, suits of armour, bridles and harnesses, plumed helmets, and an assortment of halberds, rapiers and muskets - enough weaponry, it was said, to equip a company of mercenaries. For Meissonier’s paintings were, like his house, recherché figments of an antiquarian imagination. He specialised in scenes from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century life, portraying an ever-growing cast of silk-coated and lace-ruffed gentlemen - what he called his bonshommes, or “goodfellows” - playing chess, smoking pipes, reading books, sitting before easels or double basses, or posing in the uniforms of musketeers or halberdiers. These musicians and bookworms striking their quiet and reflective poses in serene, softly lit interiors, all executed in microscopic detail, bore uncanny similarities to the work of Jan Vermeer, an artist whose rediscovery in the 1860s owed much to the ravenous taste for Meissonier - and one whose tremendous current popularity approaches the enthusiastic esteem in which Meissonier himself was held in mid-nineteenth-century France.

Typical of Meissonier’s work was one of his most recent creations, Halt at an Inn, owned by the Due de Morny, a wealthy art collector and the illegitimate half- brother of the French Emperor, Napoleon Ill. Completed in 1862, it featured three eighteenth-century cavaliers in tricorn hats being served drinks on horseback outside a half-timbered rural tavern: a charming vignette of the days of old, without a railway train or top hat in sight. Meissonier’s most famous painting, though, was The Brawl, a somewhat less decorous scene depicting a fight in a tavern between two men dressed - as usual - in opulent eighteenth-century attire. Awarded the Grand Medal of Honour at the Salon of 1855, it was owned by Queen Victoria, whose husband and consort, Prince Albert, had prized Meissonier above all other artists. At the height of the Crimean War, Napoleon III had purchased the work from Meissonier for 25,000 francs - eight times the annual salary of an average factory worker - and presented it as a gift to his ally across the Channel.

“If I had not been a painter,” Meissonier once declared, “I should have liked to be a historian. I don’t think any other subject could be so interesting as history.” He was not alone in his veneration of the past. The mid-nineteenth century was an age of rapid technological development that had witnessed the invention of photography, the electric motor and the steam-powered locomotive. Yet it was also an age fascinated by, and obsessed with, the past. The novelist Gustave Flaubert regarded this keen sense of history as a completely new phenomenon - as yet another of the century’s many bold inventions. “The historical sense dates from only yesterday,” he wrote to a friend in 1860, “and it is perhaps one of the nineteenth century’s finest achievements.” Visions of the past were everywhere in France. Fashions at the court of Napoleon III aped those of previous centuries, with men wearing bicorn hats, knee breeches and silk stockings. The country’s best-known architect, Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, had spent his career busily returning old churches and cathedrals to their medieval splendour. By 1863 he was creating a fairy-tale castle for the emperor at Pierrefonds, a knights-in-armour reverie of portcullises, round towers and cobbled courtyards.

This sense of nostalgia predisposed the French public towards Meissonier’s paintings, which were celebrated by the country’s greatest art critic, Théophile Gautier, as “a complete resurrection of the life of bygone days.” Meissonier’s wistful visions appealed to exactly the same population that had made The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas père, first published in 1844, the most commercially successful book in nineteenth-century France. Indeed, with their cavaliers decked out in ostrich plumes, doublets and wide-topped boots, many of Meissonier’s paintings could easily have served as illustrations from the works of Dumas, a friend of the painter who, before his bankruptcy, had lived in equally splendid style in his “Château de Monte Cristo,” a domed and turreted folly at Marly-le-Roi, a few miles upstream from Meissonier. Both men excelled at depicting scenes of chivalry and masculine adventure against a backdrop of pre-Revolutionary and pre-industrial France - the period before King Louis XVI was marched to the steps of the guillotine and the old social relations were destroyed, in the decades that followed, by new economic forces of finance and industry. “The age of chivalry is gone,” wrote Edmund Burke, a fierce critic of the French Revolution who lamented the loss, after 1789, of “manly sentiment and heroic enterprise.” But the age of chivalry had not entirely vanished in France: by the middle of the nineteenth century it lingered eloquently in Dumas’s novels, in Viollet-le-Duc’s spires and towers, and in Meissonier’s jewel-like “musketeer” paintings.

Still, the subject matter of Meissonier’s works accounted only partly for their extraordinary success. What astounded the critics and the public alike was his mastery of fine detail and almost inconceivably punctilious craftsmanship. “It is impossible to comprehend that our clumsy hands could achieve such a degree of delicacy,” enthused Gautier. Meissonier’s paintings, most of which were small in size, rewarded the closest and most prolonged observation. After purchasing one of his works, the English art critic John Ruskin would examine it at length under a magnifying glass, marvelling at Meissonier’s manual dexterity and eye for fascinating minutiae. A critic once joked that Meissonier was capable of putting the Prophets of the Sistine Chapel on the setting of a ring. No one in the history of art, it was said, ever possessed such a superlative and unerring touch with his brush. “The finest Flemish painters, the most meticulous Dutch,” claimed Gautier, “are slovenly and heavy next to Meissonier.” ...

Tuesday September 19 2017

This evening I started contriving what I hope will be the first of quite a few excerpts from The Judgement of Paris, the book referred to in the previous posting.  But it all took far longer than I had thought it would.  Those Frenchies and their accents!  Also, lots of numbers referring to endnotes had/have to be removed.  It has a lot of endnotes.

So, meanwhile, another photo taken by me in Paris, in the frigid February of 2012:

image

That’s one of the modernistical buildings of La Défense, reflected in another of the modernistical buildings of La Défense.  (Even organising those accents was a bit of a bother.)

Monday September 18 2017

Today I finally got to the end of The Judgement of Paris.  I have now started making a list of some short bits of it that I hope to reproducing here.

Meanwhile, by way of a small celebration, here is a Parisian photo I took, in Paris, way back in February 2012:

image

It’s the Tour Eiffel, of course, photoed from under it.  Tour Eiffel is pronounced “Tour F L”, rather that “Tour I Fell”.  Which reassures me that I know how to pronounce the leading historical character, Ernest Meissonier, in the above book.  “May sonni eh” rather than “My sonni eh”.

Anyway, a big and very interesting interruption has stopped interrupting me and my life, and I’m very glad about that.

Monday September 11 2017

My recent life has been seriously deranged by this book, which is about French painting and painters during the nineteenth century.  It’s by Ross King.  Never heard of him until I acquired and started to read this book of his, but the loss was entirely mine.  (Sounds more like a boxing promotor than an Art write.) This is one of the most engrossing books about Art I have ever encountered.

I am learning about several subjects that greatly appeal to me.  There’s French painting, obviously, which I have always wanted to know more about, in particular the rise to pre-eminence of Impressionism, which is what this book is about.  There are fascinating little titbits about the rise of sport, the 1860s being one of the most important decades for that, because of railways.  There’s French nineteenth century history in general, which this book, bless it, contains a lot of.  In particular there is stuff about the 1870 war against the Prussians, and then the Paris Commune.  There is French geography also, French geography being something that many of the more affluent French (including the more affluent artists) were getting to grips with properly for the first time, again because of those railways.  There is a glorious few pages about a big bunch of artists going on strike!  There are huge gas balloons.  This is not the sort of book about paintings that is only about the paintings.  Which means that it is much better than most books about paintings, because it explains their wider context.  It explains what the paintings are of, and why.

I particularly like that the role of the media is well described.  Tom Wolfe did not (with this book) invent that.  Art critics, then as now, were a big part of the Art story.

But, although I know that I will be a much improved human being when I have finished reading this book, I am finding the actual reading of it rather tough going.  For starters, there’s a lot of it, nearly four hundred closely printed pages, and my eyesight isn’t what it was.  But worse, there are constant references to people and to things that a better educated person than I would already know a bit about.  Who, for instance, was Charles Blanc?  I feel I ought to have known this kind of thing, at least a bit.  And then there’s the difference between Manet and Monet, which is all explained, concerning which about the only thing I knew beforehand was that they were indeed two distinct people.  But, I feel I should have known more about exactly which of them painted exactly what.  I could have whistled it all up from the www, but I do most of my reading away from my computer, because that way my computer does not then distract me.  Ross King never assumes any knowledge, and introduces everyone and everything very politely, but I am still struggling to keep up.

Another problem is that this book is packed with little stories about excitements of this or that diverting sort, any one of which could have been the basis of an entire book, but in this book often get just one or two paragraphs.  (I’m thinking of those titbits about sport, especially horse racing.) Accordingly, I find myself wanting to stop, to contemplate whatever fascinating little yarn I have just read, rather than dutifully ploughing on.

But plough on I am determined to do.  Until I finish, you here must make do with inconsequential postings, based on things like my inconsequential photos, which I happen to have been trawling back through in recent days.  But when I finally do finish this book, there may be some rather better stuff here.  I promise nothing, but I have in mind to pick out some of those diverting little stories, and maybe also sprinkle in some pertinent paintings.

I also hope (but promise nothing) to do a more considered review of this book for Samizdata.

Monday September 04 2017

A few weeks ago, Patrick Crozier and I recorded a conversation about the First World War.  Patrick’s short intro, and the recording, are here.  (It would appear that Croziervision is now back in business.)

The “If only” of my title is because we talk about the question of “what if” WW1 had never started.  What might have happened instead?  The unspoken assumption that has saturated our culture ever since is that it would surely have been far, far better.  But what if something else just as bad had happened instead?  Or even: something worse?

We discuss the reasons for such pessimism.  There was the sense of economic unease that had prevailed since the dawn of the century, resulting in a time not unlike our own.  And, there was the fact that Germany, Austria, Russia and Turkey were all embarked upon their various journeys from monarchy to democracy, and such journeys are always likely to be, says Patrick, bloodbaths.  Whatever happened in twentieth century Europe, it surely would not have been good.

Wednesday July 12 2017

Everything involving computers is easy if you know how to do it and you do it often.  Everything involving computers is hard, if you only want to do it very occasionally, and if you don’t know (or don’t remember (which comes to the same thing)) how to do it.  Words like “intuitive” and “user friendly” are thrown about a lot when people like me say things like this, but they are bullshit.  It’s either very easy, or nearly impossible.  “User friendly” just means being presented with an incomprehensible lump of informational overload, in prettier letters and prettier colours and more prettily designed.

Why are computer things hard?  It is because computers can do so many things.  This means that whenever you are trying to persuade your particular computer to do something in particular, that it doesn’t usually do, you have to thread your way through a multi-page questionnaire, in the course of which you tell it: no, I don’t what that, or that, or that.  I want this.  And at any point in this Q&A obstacle course, you may find yourself confronted by a page of things to pick from none of which seem to have anything to do with what you are trying to tell the damn computer to do.

In the Army, I believe, they used to (and perhaps still do) call this: dumb insolence.  Dumb insolence is the offence of taking every word in the orders you have been given with extreme literalness and just waiting, dumbly insolent, to be given different orders, and meanwhile carrying on with what you had been dumbly and insolently doing, even though you know (because of the shouting) that this is not what is really wanted.  You shout at the computer to just use a bit of common sense.  I want this, you moronic machine.  Nothing.  Just the same old screen, and if you click on any of it, you get another page of irrelevance, or perhaps the right page but the exact same dilemma.  None of it seems to have anything to do with what you want it to do.

The fact that the more computers can do, the more there need to be people around who know how to tell the computers to do whatever very particular thing is actually required, rather than all the other things that the computer is now capable of doing, bodes extremely well for the employability of humans in the months and years and decades to come.  But meanwhile, if you happen not to know how to get the computer to do what you want, you can only hope and pray that at some future moment, the answer will drop into your lap.  Someone will tell you.  Your computer will suddenly, out of the blue, volunteer something relevant.  Or, it has been so volunteering all along, but because of all the other garbage it was also volunteering, you didn’t notice, but then, miraculously, you do notice, and bingo.

What brought all this on?  Well, my computer recently had some attention from the Guru and also some upgrades, and in among all this the computer changed its way of opening photos, which for me is a big deal.  I open a lot of photos from my archives, in fact I do this every time I am doing a quota photo posting, which is a lot, and when I do this I am usually in a hurry.  So, just when I really don’t need my computer to be misbehaving, it has been misbehaving.  The problem has been that instead of using “Windows Photo Viewer” to show me a photo that I click on, it instead decided to use something called “Photos”.  Quite different and lacking one crucial ability, which is the ability to take me from a photo up on my screen in “Photos” to the directory the photo is in.  “Windows Photo Viewer” can do this.  “Photos” can’t, or not in any way I know how to make it do that isn’t immensely complicated, every time.

How to correct this?  For about a week I couldn’t.  The internet, as so often, was no help at all.  It said that this was easy if blah blah, but if blah blah blah bah, then contriving the answer I wanted was really difficult and involved blah blah blah blah blahdy blah blah blahdy blah.  If you get my meaning.  (Which turned out not only to be incomprehensible, but also wrong.  See next paragraph.)

And then, the answer dropped into my lap.  I saw a page I didn’t recall seeing, with a question that I hadn’t noticed before.  I was allowed the option of opening a photo “with” a different programme.  But then crucially, I was also presented, in a way that I either hadn’t been shown before or that I hadn’t noticed before, with the option to put a tick in a box saying: always open the photo with this progranne that you have just chosen to switch to.  Problem solved.  My computer now opens photos, just as it always did, with Windows Photo Viewer, unless otherwise instructed.  Which I now know how to do, but will soon forget.  Which won’t matter.

The idea that computers are getting steadily more “smart” is a half truth.  Yes, they can do steadily more and more with each passing year.  But the more they know how to do, the stupider they get at actually doing it for you.

And oh look.  Just before posting the above, I was checking out an SD card that I used in my camera today, having forgotten to put my regular SD card back in it.  And this irregular SD card turned out to have a bunch of photos on it that I took in the summer of 2014, in France.  And it turns out that the French also have something that sounds to me a lot like Dumb Insolence, although I think it’s more like “polite rudeness” than that in your face deadpan British sneer.  You decide:

image

Whatever the exact translation, I bet this “douce insolence” is how French personal computers behave, when you a trying to make them do something new, and they just won’t be told.

For some reason, that was on the front window of a shop, called “Agatha”, in the Rue Gustave Thomas de Closmadeuc, in the town of Vannes, on the south coast of Brittany. A perfume perhaps?

Sunday June 25 2017

I’ve been reading Adam Zamoyski’s book about Chopin.  So far, I love it.  And I love learning so much about a fascinating man, of whom I knew just about nothing besides his music, and the fact that he was Polish and is a very big deal in Poland, but that he lived mostly in France.

I have, in particular, learned just exactly how Polish Chopin was, and was not.  His father, Nicholas Chopin, was French.  But when the Polish aristocrat for whom he worked went back to Poland, Nicholas went with him.  In Poland Nicholas married a Polish woman, and Frederick was thus born in Poland, but with his French-sounding name.  It sounds French because it was French.

So far, I have reached the stage where Chopin has played his first few concerts at which he performed, to great acclaim, his first few compositions, most of them for piano and orchestra.  (I am very fond of these pieces, the two piano concertos and the various other one movement works for piano and orchestra.)

As for how Chopin played, Zamoyski supplies this especially pleasing quote, from an unnamed Warsaw newspaper critic:

He emphasised but little, like one conversing in the company of clever people, not with the rhetorical aplomb which is considered by virtuosos to be indispensable.

But Chopin found it difficult working with orchestras, and I’m guessing that this is partly why that stopped, and he concentrated henceforth on solo works.  But as I think the above quote reveals, that probably suited his manner of playing better.

Monday May 08 2017

For the last few days I haven’t been out much, and today I was confined to my barracks by email malfunction, and then by being required to wait next to my computer, waiting to be told what was what by The Guru, after I had failed to make sense of it.  If you can’t send or receive email, modern life doesn’t work and all else is insignificant.

So, once again, my posting is about remembering sunnier times, this time those sunnier times being this time last year.  In France.

And nothing says France quite like an entire shop, in an impossibly picturesque seaside town, devoted, in its entirety, to tinned fish:

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Here, for the benefit of those who can read French, is a closer-up view of the sign:

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Sardines, the queens of … well according to the internet, “conserverie” means: canning factory.

I bought fish paste:

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The fish paste is long gone, but I have kept the cans as souvenirs.

Things like this are utterly ordinary, if, for you, they are ordinary, which they would be if you lived in France.  But I live in London SW1, where I cannot buy such things, and I find them beautifully exotic.  If I could buy these exact sorts of French tins in Sainsbury’s or Tesco, they wouldn’t be worth a second look or a first mention here.  But, I can’t.

Saturday March 04 2017

Here are some more quotes from Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography.  (See this earlier posting, with another quote (about the Arctic), at the top of which I list all the earlier quotes from this book that I have displayed here.)

These ones are about what happens when European Imperialists ignored geography (p. 146):

When the Ottoman Empire began to collapse, the British and French had a different idea. In 1916 the British diplomat Colonel Sir Mark Sykes took a chinagraph pencil and drew a crude line across a map of the Middle East. It ran from Haifa on the Mediterranean in what is now Israel to Kirkuk (now in Iraq) in the north-east. It became the basis of his secret agreement with his French counterpart Francois Georges-Picot to divide the region into two spheres of influence should the Triple Entente defeat the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. North of the line was to be under French control, south of it under British hegemony.

The term ‘Sykes-Picot’ has become shorthand for the various decisions made in the first third of the twentieth century which betrayed promises given to tribal leaders and which partially explain the unrest and extremism of today. This explanation can be overstated, though: there was violence and extremism before the Europeans arrived. Nevertheless, as we saw in Africa, arbitrarily creating ‘nation states’ out of people unused to living together in one region is not a recipe for justice, equality and stability.

Prior to Sykes-Picot (in its wider sense), there was no state of Syria, no Lebanon, nor were there Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Israel or Palestine.  Modern maps show the borders and the names of nation states, but they are young and they are fragile.

So, what happens if you ignore geography like this?  Answer: geography comes back to bite you.  More to the point, it bites all the people upon whom you have inflicted your indifference to geography (p. 148):

The legacy of European colonialism left the Arabs grouped into nation states and ruled by leaders who tended to favour whichever branch ofIslam (and tribe) they themselves came from. These dictators then used the machinery of state to ensure their writ ruled over the entire area within the artificial lines drawn by the Europeans, regardless of whether this was historically appropriate and fair to the different tribes and religions that had been thrown together.

Iraq ...

To name but one.

… is a prime example of the ensuing conflicts and chaos. The more religious among the Shia never accepted that a Sunni-led government should have control over their holy cities such as Najaf and Karbala, where their martyrs Ali and Hussein are said to be buried. These communal feelings go back centuries; a few decades of being called ‘Iraqis’ was never going to dilute such emotions.

Time I finished my review of this book.

Tuesday December 27 2016

The Londonist logo looks like this:

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But under this logo, here, is an illustrated piece about how that logo might have looked rather different.  London, says the piece, might have acquired itself an Eiffel Tower of its own, at Wembley.  Seriously, the various towers that were apparently under consideration include at least two that look remarkably like the Parisian original, despite Eiffel himself not wanting to be involved:

Towards the close of the 19th century, rail magnate Sir Edward Watkin was intent on all manner of ambitious schemes, including a tunnel under the Channel (it’ll never work). He also dreamt of a gigantic tower, to rival the wonder of Paris and draw tourists to his rail network. Gustave Eiffel was himself unsuccessfully approached to design the behemoth, before the commission was eventually opened out to competition. Some of the entries are presented below.

The illustrations that follow are well worth a look.

In this age of primitively simulated 3D reality, superimposed upon dull old reality itself even as you wander about in reality, the day is surely approaching when you can wander around a city and see it not as it is, but as you would prefer it, at any rate as far as more distant buildings are concerned.  It might be rather hard to walk along a street that has been obliterated by a huge skyscraper, or to visit a skyscraper that was never built.  But your preferred view of St Paul’s could be preserved from a distance.  Or, you could insert a London Eiffel Tower, and see how you like that.

Sunday December 25 2016

The idea was that, all alone in my snuggery, I would do lots of tidying up.  I have done some, but mostly I have been reading Anthony Beevor’s book, misleadingly entitled ”D-Day”, and unmisleadingly subtitled “The Battle for Normandy”.  For Beevor’s story goes from the early agonising about whether (because of the weather), and if so exactly when, the landings would be launched, right up until the German catastrophe that was the Falaise Pocket.  Then as now, despite much behind the scenes agonising, the short-term weather forecaster got it spot on, despite having far less to go on than his equivalents have now.

There’s nothing like the misfortunes of others to cheer you up.  Which is a terrible thing to say and I wouldn’t say it if there was any chance that my bad attitude was able to reach back into the past and make the sufferings of those soldiers, and all those French people caught up in the fighting, even worse.  But it won’t do that.  And anyway, what I mean is, I am really just acknowledging how much worse things were for that generation than they have been for mine.

And then, come Christmas time, there was the Battle of the Bulge for all the participants in this book to put up with, if they’d not already been killed, or injured and stretchered off.

I haven’t been reading this book solidly, in its correct order.  I have been dipping into it, reading about this or that episode, pretty much at random.  Today I was reading about how Brittany was liberated, which until now I knew very little about.  It helps a lot having been to all the towns and cities that get a mention.

Earlier, I read about what those Hawker Typhoons did, known to me until now only as an oil painting.  What the Typhoons did was destroy a hell of a lot fewer counter-attacking German tanks than they claimed at the time and ever since, but they scared the hell out of the German tank guys, which was almost as effective.  The counter-attack was duly snuffed out.

And when that book has finished entertaining me, I have another book, full of more evidence concerning how nice my life has been, this time about something that happened a year earlier.  Kursk.

Saturday December 24 2016

How to say that I am at home alone over Christmas without you feeling sorry for me?  I can’t do it, but please: don’t.  In exchange, I won’t feel sorry for you that you are reading this instead of having “fun”.

Each to his or her own, but I love it that holidays, for me, really are holidays, rather than just burdens of a different sort to the more usual ones.  Don’t get me wrong, burdens are often well worth bearing, as when I visit GodDaughter 2’s family in Brittany, and must bear the burdens of living in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar facilities and unfamiliar routines and with the fear of inflicting various sorts of offence and inconvenience upon everyone, with them being too polite to say.  But, these are still burdens.  This Christmas, as is my usual habit, I have been ensconced in my little snuggery, with no burdens at all.

I haven’t been fobbing you people off with nothing but silly old photos because I’ve been gadding about around town, catching up with friends and family and attending swanky functions.  No gadding about.  I’ve been fobbing you off with photos because I have been relaxing, even more than usual.

Here’s another silly photo, to wish you all a Merry Christmas.  I haven’t found any Merry Christmas messages out in the streets lately, so here is a Christmassy photo that I think I took in Oxford Street, definitely in December 2008:

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Which tells me that I was fascinated by Bald Blokes Taking Photos for quite a while before I had worked this out in the fully conscious part of my head.  I love how green he is.

On Christmas Day itself I will not be alone, for I am to have a Christmas lunch with friends.  This will bring with it the burden of having to travel across London on Christmas Day, which basically means two very long walks.  (I don’t know how to Uber, since you ask.  I’d rather walk.) If I come across any Merry Christmas messages while walking, and manage to photo them, I’ll pass them on.

Tuesday November 22 2016

While searching yesterday for Brittany lighthouses, I came upon this photo of some Brittany sea:

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Judging by the other photos taken at the same time, this one was grabbed through the window of a moving car.  If that’s right, not bad, although I attempted some straightening, with rather imperfect results.  Those programmes that can rotate in 0.1 degree increments, rather than just in 1.0 degree increments, have a definite edge, in my opinion.

Mostly, when I try to photo very bright light, my camera either tones the bright bit down or it turns everything else far too dark, one way or another trying to balance everything, and the effect is lost.  By which I mean, it is not anything like what I saw.  But sometimes it seems to know exactly what I wanted, and this time was, I think, one of those.

I hope to do something rather more substantial here tomorrow.

Monday November 21 2016

For the last week or two or more, I have been unable to reach the 6k blog, which is one of my favourites.  I’ve been able to reach everything else I wanted to, but not 6k.  Odd.  My computer has been behaving strangely in recent weeks, so it’s almost certainly me rather than him.  Or maybe, as The Guru suggests, it might be my internet provider. Whatever the reason, it’s been a frustration and a worry.

But today, for no reason that I can think of, I clicked on 6k yet again, and back it came, like it had never been away.

To celebrate, here are some more lighthouses, something which 6k likes, and which in a more ignorant and casual way I do too:

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That’s a crop from the middle of a hastily snatched shop-window shot, full of reflections and general confusion.  Memo to self.  Next time I visit my friends in Brittany: better lighthouse shots.  Of postcards, of toy lighthouses like these ones (I seem to recall entire walls of lighthouses in tourist crap shops), and of actual lighthouses.

image6k likes lighthouses so much that the little square graphic at the top of the window where his blog is windowed, or whatever is the word for that, is a red, white and blue square from a red and white lighthouse picture.

Friday October 21 2016

Friday was the day here for cats, but now I have widened it to all kinds of creatures, cats included.

This week, a snake!  On a vintage car!

I took these pictures in the square next to Quimper Cathedral, in the summer of 2008:

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The snake is most clearly to be seen in pictures 1.2, 2.1, 2.2 and 3.3.  I think it must be some sort of air intake, for the engine, or for something.  But what do I know?

Berliet seems to be an enterprise that makes lorries these days.  But if you scroll down through the images you get when you type “berliet” into google images, you start to see vintage cars, in among the more recent lorries.

If you scroll down at this site, you get to something that looks like the above vehicle.  And if it is the same vehicle, or something very similar, then it is a 1907 Berliet C2 Double-Phaeton, or something very similar.

There’s a number plate on the front of my Berliet, which says: 1909 VS 29.  I thought that might be a clue, rather than, you know, a number plate, so I tried “Berliet 1909 VS 29” with google images, and guess what I found.  A Berliet “Double Phaeton” at a car museum in Malaga.

I even found a photo of the car in question, with a ludicrously long internet address attached to it, which I now offer you, in the hope that it works

Well, the link does seem to work, but if it doesn’t, take my word for it.  Although this is not the same car as my one above, it is very similar.  So similar that the car in the Andalusian museum also has, just like my car has, attached to its side, with its mouth wide open, sucking in air, … a snake.  Weird.