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Category archive: Europe

Tuesday December 05 2017

Earlier this evening at the Two Chairmen, Westminsters, Adriana Lucas, who grew up in the old Czechoslovakia as was, gave a most eloquent talk about this experience.  She didn’t bang on at length about the usual horrors – prison camps, executions, purges, and so on – although of course these were mentioned.  Rather did she focus on the minutiae of life for the rather less unlucky victims of communism, the ones who got to stay alive.  People adjusted, basically.  Or if, like Adriana’s family, they were dissidents, they learned to be extremely distrustful of almost everyone but their closest and most trusted loved ones.  Being a dissident wasn’t about overthrowing the regime; it was merely about staying sane.

Here are four photos, that I picked out from the dozen or more that I took, and that I just sent to meetings organiser Simon Gibbs, who is to be seen in the first one, introducing Adriana.  The photos I sent to Simon were rectangles, but I actually prefer these square cropped versions.

imageimageimage
imageimageimage

As you can see, this excellent talk was videoed.  Videos are far harder to edit than merely to … video.  So you may have to wait a bit before seeing this one.  But, for those who did not attend this talk and for many who did, it will be worth the wait.

Saturday November 18 2017

I’ve started reading Adam Zamoyski’s Warsaw 1920: Lenin’s Failed Conquest of Europe, the importance of the events described in this book being neatly summarised in its subtitle.  Here is Zamoyski setting the stage for, and then introducing, the Polish leader Jozef Pilsudski.

This was not so much an issue of territory as of Russia’s need to break into Europe and Poland’s to exclude her from it; yet it had brought Russian armies into the heart of Poland, and a Polish occupation of Moscow as far back as 1612. The matter had been settled at the end of the eighteenth century by the partition of Poland between Russia, Prussia and Austria and its disappearance from the map. Despite a continuous struggle for freedom and repeated insurrections, Poland remained little more than a concept throughout the next hundred years, and its champions were increasingly seen as romantic dreamers.

But the partition that had removed Poland from the map had also brought her enemies into direct contact, and, in 1914, into deadly conflict. In February 1917, undermined by two and a half years of war, the Russian empire was overthrown by revolution. In October of that year Lenin’s Bolsheviks seized power, but their grip on the country was weak, and they were in no position to prosecute the war with Germany and Austria-Hungary. In the spring of 1918 they bought themselves a respite: by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk they ceded to Germany Russia’s Baltic provinces, Lithuania, the parts of Poland under Russian occupation, Byelorussia and Ukraine. A few months later revolutions in Vienna and Berlin toppled the Austro-Hungarian and German empires, which left the whole area, still occupied by German and Austrian troops, effectively masterless. The Poles seized their chance.

Under pressure from President Wilson, the allies had already decided that the post-war settlement should include an independent Poland. They had even granted recognition to a Polish National Committee, based in Paris, which was preparing to form a provisional government. But they had no authority in German-occupied Poland, and no influence at all over the Bolshevik rulers of Russia, whose government they did not recognize. It was clear that the fate of Poland would be decided on the ground rather than in the conference room, and with Russia floundering in her own problems, the Poles, or rather one Pole, took the initiative.

imageHis name was Jozef Pilsudski. He was born in 1867 into the minor nobility and brought up in the cult of Polish patriotism. In his youth he embraced socialism, seeing in it the only force that could challenge the Tsarist regime and promote the cause of Polish independence. His early life reads like a novel, with time in Russian and German gaols punctuating his activities as polemicist, publisher of clandestine newspapers, political agitator, bank-robber, terrorist and urban guerrilla leader.

In 1904 Pilsudski put aside political agitation in favour of para-military organization. He organized his followers into fighting cells that could take on small units of Russian troops or police. A couple of years later, in anticipation of the coming war, he set up a number of supposedly sporting associations in the Austrian partition of Poland which soon grew into an embryonic army. On the eve of the Great War Austro-Hungary recognized this as a Polish Legion, with the status of irregular auxiliaries fighting under their own flag, and in August 1914 Pilsudski was able to march into Russian-occupied territory and symbolically reclaim it in the name of Poland.

He fought alongside the Austrians against Russia for the next couple of years, taking care to underline that he was fighting for Poland, not for the Central Powers. In 1916 the Germans attempted to enlist the support of the Poles by creating a kingdom of Poland out of some of their Polish lands, promising to extend it and give it full independence after the war. They persuaded the Austrians to transfer the Legion’s effectives, which had grown to some 20,000 men, into a new Polish army under German command, the Polnische Wehrmacht. Pilsudski, who had been seeking an opportunity to disassociate himself from the Austro-German camp in order to have his hands free when the war ended, refused to swear the required oath of brotherhood with the German army, and was promptly interned in the fortress of Magdeburg. His Legion was disbanded, with a only handful joining the Polnische Wehrmacht and the rest going into hiding.

They did not have to hide for long. Pilsudski was set free at the outbreak of revolution in Germany and arrived in Warsaw on 11 November 1918, the day the armistice was signed in the west. While his former legionaries emerged from hiding and disarmed the bewildered German garrison, he proclaimed the resurrection of the Polish Republic, under his own leadership.

Pilsudski was fifty-one years old. Rough-hewn, solid and gritty, he invariably wore the simple grey tunic of a ranker of the Legion. His pale face, with its high, broad forehead, drooping moustache and intense eyes, was theatrical in the extreme. ‘None of the usual amenities of civilized intercourse, but all the apparatus of sombre genius,’ one British diplomat noted on first meeting him.

Pilsudski felt that thirty years spent in the service of his enslaved motherland gave him an indisputable right to leadership. His immense popularity in Poland seemed to endorse this. But that was not the view of the victorious Allies in the west, nor of the Polish National Committee, waiting in Paris to assume power in Poland. After some negotiation a deal was struck, whereby the lion-maned pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski, who had devoted himself to promoting the cause of Poland in Britain, France and particularly America, and was trusted by the leaders of those countries, came from Paris to take over as Prime Minister, with Pilsudski remaining titular head of state and commander-in-chief. While he allowed Paderewski to run the day-to-day business of the government and its relations with the Allies, Pilsudski continued to direct policy in all essentials. And he had firm ideas on how to ensure the survival of Poland.

Wednesday November 01 2017

Yes, favorite blogger-of-mine Mick Hartley has been checking out, and photoing, the now finished Havenhuis, and has this to say about it:

I noted earlier - before I’d seen it in situ - that “it looks like it’s just plonked imperiously on top of the original building, with no attempt at a sympathetic conversation between the two”. Having now had the chance to look around and check it out for myself, I think that’s still a fair summary.

There follow several excellent photos of the building, of the sort that amateurs like Mick Hartley (and I) have a habit of doing better than the hired gun Real Photographers, because we tell the truth about how the new Thing in question looks, and in particular about how it looks alongside the surroundings it has inserted itself into.  Real Photographers know that their job is to lie about such things, to glamorise rather than to describe accurately.  Their job is to force you to like the Thing.  Amateurs like me and like Mick Hartley take photos that enable you to hate the new Thing even more eloquently, if that’s already your inclination.

And of all the photos Hartley shows, this one most perfectly illustrates that “disrespect” that he writes of.  “Conversation”?  Fornication, more like, inflicted by one of those annoyingly oversexed dogs:

image

I still like this Thing, though.  I mean, time was when any disrespect felt by the architect towards that older building would have resulted in the old building being demolished.  Which is worse?  Disrespect?  Or oblivion?  Perhaps the latter would have been more dignified.  Execution has a certain grandeur, when compared to a further lifetime of potential ridicule.  But I still prefer what happened.

Tuesday October 31 2017

I have been collecting all of Martha Argerich’s, formerly EMI and now Warner, CD boxes of performances at her annual Lugano Festivals.  These sets have contained an agreeable mixture of familiar and unfamiliar works, and are also amazing value.

image

The latest and, we are told, last of these boxes (the Lugano Festival itself is coming to its end) contains a major surprise in the form, first up, of a solo piano performance by Argerich herself.  The surprise being because Argerich, a long time ago now, said that she would not be performing any more piano solo music.  She prefers to play along with other musicians.  Concertos are fine.  This is not an I-don’t-like-being-centre-stage thing.  When playing a concerto, she is playing along with a conductor and an orchestra.  She just doesn’t like playing on her own, without anyone else on the platform.

Until now.  From the sleevenotes:

Among the many inviting prospects was a performance by Argerich herself of Ravel’s solo-piano Gaspard de la nuit. She had also performed it the previous month in Beppu, Japan, and this marked a return for the first time in 33 years to a piece that had been associated so closely with her during her early career. She ingeniously bypassed her ban on solo performance by inviting her daughter Annie Dutoit to read the poetry by Aloysius Bertrand that inspired Ravel’s hallucinogenic and technically daunting piano suite.

Ingeniously?  That’s one way of putting it.  Tortuously might be another, not to say: bizarrely.  Anyway, I am listening to the suitably Halloweeny Gaspard now, and it sounds very good.

There are enough wondrous pianists around, still emitting wondrous solo piano CDs, for one more or less not to be a colossal issue.  But, it would be nice if Argerich recorded some more solo piano works.  All that will be needed will be for daughter Annie to provide a suitable reading of something or other to go along with each solo performance, so that Mother Martha could pretend she isn’t playing solo.  Or, here’s a plan, she could just say: from now on, I think I will do some more solo stuff.  Only a few internet idiots would complain.

My guess is that what Argerich is really put off by is not the solo performing, but all the hours of solo practising that she would feel the need to do.  After all, when she performed Gaspard, to an audience, she was absolutely not alone.  There was an audience.  I’ve just heard their enthusiastic clapping.  (Now I am listening to Busoni’s Violin Concerto, I’m pretty sure for the first time.  This is the kind of thing I especially like about these Lugano boxes.) No, it’s the endless solitary confinement of practise that she got fed up with when she had to do it, all the time, and dreads returning to.  Now, she presumably still has to do lots of private practise, but at least she can have fun rehearsing with others, as well as performing.  And chamber music is cheap enough on the salary front to enable hours of rehearsing, and also something that rewards such practise, come the performance.  It’s an ideal fit for Argerich.

So sadly, my guess is that this Gaspard was an exception that proves the rule rather than any sort of more lasting breaking of the rule, an abberation rather than a harbinger of more solo things to come.

On the other hand, now I come to think of it, on CD2 of this box there is a performance, which I have yet to hear, of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, for piano, orchestra and singers.  I love this piece.  But more to my point here, much more, it starts with quite a big chunk of piano solo stuff, before the orchestra and singers join in.

So, maybe Argerich really is feeling the need to do more solo playing.

Monday October 23 2017

GodDaughter 2 has fixed for me and her to go to a dress rehearsal of Rodelinda, at the ENO, tomorrow evening, for free!

So, what is Rodelinda about?

Rodelinda is a dramatic tale of power, anguish and love. When Grimoaldo takes Bertarido’s throne, Bertarido flees abroad, leaving behind his grieving wife Rodelinda. The usurper tries to force Rodelinda to love him, but when the exiled king returns in disguise, everyone is put to the test.

One of Handel’s finest operas, Rodelinda is filled with intense drama told through ravishingly beautiful music. ...

Good, good.

But then, this:

Award-winning director Richard Jones brings his distinctive theatrical imagination to this production, which sets Handel’s bitter political drama in Fascist Italy.

Well, maybe it’ll be okay.  Not all such productions are ridiculous.  And when it comes to Handel operas, my impression is that they are mostly pretty ridiculous to start with, wherever you set them.  This particular opera is ...:

… based on the history of Perctarit, king of the Lombards in the 7th century.

Those Lombards are:

Not to be confused with the modern inhabitants of the region of Lombardy, Italy.

The Lombards were:

… a Germanic people who ruled most of the Italian Peninsula from 568 to 774.

Blog and learn.  Or in this case, blog and go to the opera, and learn.

My worry is that although Rodelinda will be sung “in English”, it will be sung in standard operatic fashion, i.e. the words might as well be in Swahili for all the sense they will make.  But, because all this indecypherable gibberish will be “in English”, there will be no big signs, foreign movie style, to tell me what the hell they are singing about, like there are at the Royal Opera House, where they sing operas mostly in such languages as Italian or German, or they do if you’re lucky.

In short, my fear is that I will get what I pay for, although here’s hoping I get more.

GD2 will definitely get more, because she is studying to do this kind of thing for a living.  Insofar as it’s good she’ll learn about how to do it.  If it’s not good she’ll learn about how not to do it.  Win win.

Saturday October 07 2017

From Michael J:

Is there anything better than sitting in a bar in one of the prime selfie taking spots in the universe?

Well, maybe I can think of a few things, but I get the picture.  To be exact, I got this picture:

image

But where might this be?  I scrutinised the “properties” of this photo, in particular some numbers with the words “latitude” and “longitude” next to them.  So far as I could work it out, this was somewhere on the island of … Momix?  No, not Momix.  The island of: Rhodes.  But, that could easily be out by several thousand miles, given Michael J’s travelling habits and my analytical abilities.

Meanwhile, the most exotic place I’ve been to lately was the place where this photo was taken, by my friend Adriana:

image

How cool is that?  And I’m not talking about the fact that this is ice cream.  This was my pudding when I feasted with Adriana and her Plus One here.  The ceilings were so far away you could hardly see them.  There were oil paintings beyond counting, often with no labels to identify the personages in them, presumably because People Like Us all know who they are without having to be told.  Or, they are all so posh they don’t care.

I left my stuff, including my camera, at the front desk, photography not being permitted.  Fair enough.  Don’t want any oiks casing the joint.  But her photoing an ice cream wafer, Adriana said, wouldn’t make waves.  Besides which, these days, how can you tell if someone is taking a photo, if all they are doing is waving a smartphone.

Friday October 06 2017

Gerald Elias, in this piece linked to from Arts & Letters Daily, demolishes the claim that the use of vibrato by classical string players is only a recent thing.

The evidence against this idea is so overwhelming that the question is, why do anti-vibrato fanatics like Sir Roger Norrington get the time of day from orchestras?  Probably because, just as Leopold (father of Wolfgang Amadeus) Mozart apparently grumbled back in his time, string players now tend to use vibrato rather too much.  (As do opera singers now, in my opinion).  So, hearing some symphonic warhorse without any vibrato at all can yield otherwise unhearable felicities, however absurdly inauthentic such a performance as a whole clearly is.

But enough of vibrato.  Elias is right, and although he chooses not to name any of these fools, the likes of Norrington are wrong, and that’s that.  At which point in his piece Elias says something else that strikes me as far more interesting, if only because, unlike all the stuff about vibrato, the thought had never occurred to me before:

Sorry to go on ad nauseum about vibrato. Time to move on to a different thought. How many of you have traveled through a hilly country like England or Italy? Have you noticed the change in people’s spoken accent when you wend your way from one village to another? Hell, you go from Brooklyn to the Bronx and it’s like another language. Now, go back two or three hundred years, when the sole possible means of verbal communication was person-to-person and most people rarely left the confines of their natal valley. Just imagine how much that linguistic phenomenon would be magnified! Don’t forget, it wasn’t until Italy’s unification in 1870 that they started thinking about a national language.

My point is, do you really think that there was only one way to play music in that day and age? Do you really think no one (or everyone) played with vibrato? My guess is that the variety of techniques and interpretations was much more vibrant, colorful, and creative than it is now, when easy international travel and instantaneous mass media give us a thoroughly homogenized concept of what well-played music is “supposed” to sound like. So much for the orthodoxy of the Historically (Mis)Informed.

Good point.  You often hear critics complaining about how orchestras now all sound the same.  Well, why would we believe that this process of performance style convergence is only a very recent one?  (Any more than we would believe that vibrato is only recent?)

Wednesday September 13 2017

Yesterday was a complicated day for me, and when I went out to dinner it got more complicated, because I got swept up in this:

image

I was jammed in a no-standing-room-either tube carriage, on my way to dinner at my friends, and at West Brompton someone who’d been sitting got out and a seat became available.  Me being Old, I was invited to have it.  At first I was reluctant.  “I’m getting off at the next stop”, I explained.  I’d be stuck further inside the carriage with more shoving when I got out than if I stayed where I was.  “Oh that’s okay,” said the guy.  “Everyone’s getting off at the next stop.” Eh?  How did he know?  Was he psychic?

He was not psychic.  He was a Chelsea supporter.  And so, as he well knew, were most of the other people causing the train to be so strangely packed.  Above is my photo of us all waiting to get out from the rather unfortunately named Fulham Broadway tube station, which is right near the Chelsea ground, but not nearly so near to the Fulham ground.

And here is a photo I took of Chelsea stuff that was being offered to the throngs:

image

They had a special scarf to commemorate this one game, which I’m guessing they do for lots of games.  Good thinking.  The game was against something called Qarabag.  Chelsea won comfortably.

Earlier, sport also forced itself upon my attention, in the form of these flags in Regent Street:

image

The Americans are coming.

Chelsea crowds at Fulham Broadway
Me and Patrick Crozier talking about WW1: If only?
Kobelco excavator
Another Wonder Woman
Just how Polish Chopin was and how he played
The Roman Empire as a tube map
Beautiful sea
Our Sea (and the trade we did in it)
Lincoln Paine on how Rome mastered the sea by turning sea battles into land battles
Barcelona photoers 2005
Barcelona Big Things (and Barcelona Big Thing graphics)
Mr Ed has some metaphorical fun
Anti-BREXIT demo signs
Azure Window broken
Signs
World War One questions
A new stadium for Chelsea
Somebody needs to invent electronically changeable paint
Scum?
I never thought that we could win
How Brexit has unified the Conservative Party
Bridge in Germany with houses on it
On comments – and some commentary on some Brexit comments
Brexit graphics
Referendum day graphics
The Union Jack’s near death experience(s?)
Some thoughts on the Izzard effect
A good morning
Brexit - the movie - here!
Brexit Kenny photos
Incoming horizontality from Simon Gibbs
Feline Friday at Samizdata
My latest meeting went fine
Looking in at the Zaha Hadid Design Gallery in Goswell Road
Van Art
Steven Johnson on how technology (such as the Magdeburg Sphere) grows science
Brexit as a clash of pessimisms
Toegangsbeveiligingsproducten
Barcelona owl
Anti-drone drones
Cat and cubs
Bike fishing in Amsterdam
Syed Kamall MEP wins by playing five and losing five
Matt Ridley on Epicurus and Lucretius
Four towers joined together by two bridges
Ronald Harwood on Karajan
A viadukt and a tunnel
Jim Glymph gets Frank Gehry past the limits of what is buildable
Another The Wires! Building in Japan (plus more Dezeenery)
London Biggin Hill “Jet Centre”?
William Hague on the collapse of the centre left
Cranes and a bridge (but not in a good way)
Londres
How David Irving put himself on trial
Paul Johnson on Mozart and Da Ponte
Paul Johnson on what the young Mozart was up against
Strange London buses
A forgotten war
Richard J. Evans on how evidence can become more significant over time
Big cat scan
Photo-drones fighting in the Ukraine and a photo-drone above the new Apple headquarters building
Non-faceless architecture in Rome
Marginal Eurostar economics
Pictures of Guy Herbert
The “colorful and curvilinear forms” of Herr Hundertwasser
Michael Jennings at the Rose and Crown
PID at the Times
Cat photo and cat news
Football comment
Umbrellas!
Brazil 0 Germany 5 after forty minutes
GARBAGE SHED AND JUMP INTO THE SEA IS PROHIBITED
Emmanuel Todd talking in English (about how the Euro is doomed)
Bennett and Lotus on how Emmanuel Todd’s family provoked his Grand Theory of Everything
Lego bridge in Germany
Movable bridges
Michael Jennings photoes Cape Bojador
Friend on telly
Michael Jennings photos the bridges of Porto
Relocating the Porto bridge
Eurostar before St Pancras
Sperm Bike
Art gallery made of scaffolding
Craig Willy on Emmanuel Todd
Emmanuel Todd links
Pictures from Georgia and Warsaw
Michael Jennings - pictures of globalisation
Steven Pinker’s description of The Enlightenment
Michael Jennings on how the taxis at Skopje airport are an evil racket and what he did about it
Malta Day procession
Outage
More shiny new headquarters buildings
76 operas and a monument in the wrong place for Hermann the German
Friday link dump
Gormley’s South Bank Men
A Spanish geography lesson
A Spanish high speed train bridge and a Spanish aqueduct
Delayed action Dubrovnik cat
The Brusio spiral viaduct also looks like a toy train layout
303 Squadron in the movie and on the telly
Two bridges in Portugal
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom blog posting title of the day
Two real cats sighted in Spain!
My sleep and luggage and bus and fluid travel hell
In Alicante
Possible holiday interruption
How some cats are dividing Cyprus
Reds against Blues in Munich
Stepping forward into the abyss!
Luxembourg church in hill and Luxembourg footbridge
A great Johnathan Pearce Britain-can-dump-the-EU blog posting - and the value of informative titles
Polish anti-semitism - a history lesson at last night’s dinner
Making the IOC feel important with a personal lubricant
Changing faces of Europe
Daniel Hannan and the shape of the media to come
“Vivid characters, devious plotting and buckets of gore …”
Toys and big toys
Sheep under wolf’s clothing
Might Gordon Brown pull an EU referendum rabbit out of the hat?
Africa is big
Mahler’s 9th in Vienna in 1938
Photo of some foodski
Switching from dumb bombing to smart bombing
The new Lowe look
Terence Kealey on the Wright brothers and their patent battles
I predict that Germany will win
Computer blues
What I have seen so far while abroad
Nanpu Bridge in Quimper
Keyboard blues
Were any of them really that nice?
Eurovision sense from Squander Two
Wired bridges
The IPL is a new face for India but Harbhajan slapping Sreesanth is no big deal
The Messina Suspension Bridge is on again
Eusociality
Billion Monkey Alan Little?
Dominic Lawson on Herbert von Karajan
Brian Hitler!
Theodore Dalrymple on the menace of honest public officials and much else besides
Underground art
Eurostar says goodbye Waterloo hello St Pancras
On the appeal or lack of it to Young Europeans of “capitalism”
Old cranes - new cranes
Free trade explains the success of the Swedish Model
Gatito
Another link to a friend and that’s your lot today
Other people’s photos (2): New architecture in Hamburg
Geoffrey Blainey on Ivan Bloch - the man who predicted World War One
Tourists on the move
The extreme memes spread by moderate Muslims
I’m back
Antoine Clarke talks with me about votes for women (and teenagers) – and about Sweden
Brian and Antoine democracy mp3 number twelve
I also miss Transport Blog
Brian and Antoine mp3s now into double figures
The latest Brian and Antoine mp3
Election Watch podcast number three
“What on earth gives every computer owner the right to exude his opinion, unasked for?”
4th Generation Warfare in the middle of an advanced Western Country