I was going to post something else, but the pictures came out all blurry (my fault).  I’ll try again this evening; in the meantime this is Misty, taken five minutes ago.

Photo: ROA

Actually, I think it’s a hare.  An article in today’s Guardian shows it, painted on the side of a building in Hackney (east London).

The building’s owners had granted the artist permission to create the piece, but they have been served with a removal notice by Hackney council, warning that unless they “remove or obliterate the graffiti” within 14 days, a council contractor will paint over the wall and charge them for the service.

…Hackney council said in a statement: “The graffiti … is clearly visible from the road and, whilst it is not the council’s position to make a judgment call on whether graffiti is art or not, our task is to keep Hackney’s streets clean.

It’s not my position to make a judgment call on whether Hackney council are a miserable bunch of morons, my task is to expose them for abusing their power.

The Guardian has another article today, about a clock.

…a Monty Python moment; life imitating art.  The following sentence, in Deborah Mitford’s memoirs, about James Lees-Milne:

It is a pity that people reading about him now are told of his sexual proclivities and seem to overlook the work he did for the National Trust during and after the war.

If you read to the end of yesterday’s comments, you know that last night Trond and I experienced the first of this winter’s snow storms.  Well, storm is an exaggeration.  This morning, on the fields, it looked like nothing more than a mild frost and by lunchtime it was all gone .

This evening, while I was driving around, I saw the full moon and the clear blue sky and I thought I’d take some pictures.  As is always the way with my pictures the moon ones weren’t very good, but I liked the other accidental ones.  So here they are.  The first one was illuminated by a bus going past:

In each one, it’s the evening light that makes them interesting.  I want to take some more tomorrow.

It’s not so much a doctor who lives in the trees I need, as one who treats them.  What should I do about the following accident?

This morning, the goats broke into the garden.  Actually, it’s Misty.  She’s figured out how to open the gate.  The others just wait around the corner while she fiddles with the lock, and then they follow her in.

One of them broke a branch of my 3 year-old Bramley apple tree:

Bramleys (cooking apples) are next to impossible to get in Norway, so I want to save it if I can.  You can see it better up close.  It’s not completely severed, just split:

What I did was I wired it back into place:

And I gave it more support (it’s on a steep slope):

Is there any more I can do?

Meanwhile, from a safe distance …

killer goats were watching me.

This is just to alert you to a very interesting post about Taiwan that was published today at the LRB blog.  It’s by Jason Kennedy, alias Pinhut, sometime visitor here, who lives in Taipei.  He has another great post up at his own blog, BookArmor.  Does any one of you erudite lot (besides Jason) know if the name “Pinhut” is a literary borrowing?  I suppose we can just ask him…

A friend of mine has sent me a postcard of a shawl goat from Bhutan, wearing  what looks like a baggy old mohair sweater.  It’s of a watercolour by an Indian artist, Shaikh Zayn al-Din, made in 1779.  The original now sits in the V&A in London as part of the Impey collection.

Here’s my version of a long, repetitive article I found at Abe Books on the Impey collection.  First of all, it should not be confused with a later Impey collection, one of Japanese porcelain made in the 1970s by Dr Oliver Impey — his doctoral thesis had been on the working of lizards’ jaws.  These Impeys, Dr Impey’s forebears, were the first European patrons of Indian natural history painting.  Sir Elijah Impey, a schoolfriend of Warren Hastings, was Chief Justice of Bengal. His wife Mary established a menagerie in the grounds of their house in Calcutta and employed at least three artists to paint the birds and animals.  One of them was Shaikh Zayn al-Din.  He trained in the Mughal tradition of Persian court painters; he was from Patna, and likely migrated to Calcutta in search of work when earlier Mughal patronage dried up.

Here is a lineated barbet, Megalaima lineate, on a juniper tree.  The leaves  look like little wings:

Zayn al-Din liked to show his subjects in profile, painted from life, used vibrant colour and paid great attention to detail. A new style emerged with the work in the Impey collection. Mughal artists previously wouldn’t have had the bird on a white background detached from the landscape.  Thanks to the menagerie Zayn al-Din wasn’t obliged to use stuffed specimens for study; he gave a good deal of vitality to the work, which is considered to be important to the development of European natural history painting, both artistically and scientifically.

And here is a red-whiskered bulbul, Pycnontus Jocosus:

Maybe I’ve got it wrong, but from what it says at Abe Books, the bird pictures seem to be colour plates ripped out of old books.  Each is available for $165,000.00, with an additional $3.00 payable for shipping within the United States.

Sir Elijah Impey’s impeachment was unsuccessfully attempted in the House of Commons, in 1787.  His memoirs are available here.


Today I took Topsy the dog for a walk to see the autumn colours.  We passed Vesla and the others on the way.  They didn’t follow us, they were quite content where they were.

I saw this in the Guardian’s photography series My Best Shot, it’s currently in a show at the Architectural Association in London (click on it to see it at a reasonable size):

It’s by a German artist called Uta Kögelsberger.  It’s from a series called “Getting Lost”, it’s a flare lighting up the desert at night.  That’s the only illumination, which is why the landscape gets darker towards the right hand side of the picture and there’s the pinkish light on the ground below the flare.  Can you see the tiny figure to the right of the centre?  That’s the artist.  The Guardian piece has this explanation:

I took this picture on the Bonneville salt flats on the Utah-Nevada border in 2006. It’s part of a series where I tried to get lost in remote places; I was investigating why we are so fascinated with the idea of “untouched” wilderness. Part of the reason I went to Bonneville was because I heard about the Donner party of pioneers, who got lost there on the way to California in the 1840s. They ended up eating each other.

I’ve always used unusual lighting in my images, and the idea of a distress flare came from another project about getting lost at sea. I arrived in daytime and spent a long time scouting the right location. Then I framed up the shot while it was light, and waited for night to fall, so even though I couldn’t see anything through the camera, I knew what I was getting. I worked out a spot which was about 400 yards in front of the camera, opened up the shutter, and ran to the spot to set off the flare. I left the shutter open for about 15 or 20 minutes, and the aperture was pretty small: f22 or f33. The flare is what’s lighting the landscape. Everything you see is created in camera. There’s no digital manipulation; I’m a purist in that way. If you look very closely you can see a small black smudge on the right hand side: that’s me. It’s deliberate; I had to stand still for about 10 minutes to get something to register.

The whole place was very dry. I could easily have sparked off a fire, so I had to make sure to catch the flares when they hit the ground. Considering that they go up over 1,000ft and get carried by the wind it was pretty tricky. Out of four tries, only two flares actually launched, and out of those only this image worked out.

Though it seemed like a simple idea, I soon realised it was going to be very difficult to set up. Flares are easy to get hold of in Britain, but it’s much harder in the US – they’re classified as a weapon. Once I had managed to buy some, I wasn’t legally allowed to shoot them off. I had to negotiate with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which meant alerting the local sheriff, who in turn had to alert the local search-and-rescue team so they wouldn’t think someone really was lost . . . so the whole idea of actually getting lost didn’t happen. Everybody knew where I was!

I once stayed for a week at that lake near Truckee in the Sierra Nevada that is the last resting place of the Donner party.  I always thought “party” was the wrong word.

Update, 8 October: Thanks to Bruessel’s comment below, we can now see Uta Kögelberger’s website.  She’s really good, I recommend you take a look at her work.  There’s an interesting series she’s done called Paradise which she discusses with an interviewer.


I think we had a brief discussion of horse chestnuts, Aesculus hippocastanum, recently.  They aren’t really chestnuts at all — you can read about them here — but they are known as hestekastanje (hest being the word for “horse”) in Norwegian too.  The driveway up to our neighbour’s farm is an avenue of horse chestnut trees whose branches meet at the top to form a tunnel:

The avenue is just over three hundred metres (or yards) long.  It climbs a hill, and it’s a distinctive and lovely feature of our local landscape.  The leaves of the chestnut trees are just starting to turn, as you can see below:

Here it is from the top end looking downwards, an enormous caterpillar creeping up the hill:

Here is a horse chestnut leaf cluster; they’re very distinctive, with five leaves, almost like a bunch of bananas:

This morning, on the far side of the avenue, we let the actual horses out to graze.

They aren’t used to being in the stables all night and when they first come out they canter round the field a few times.

And have a carrot.

In the background is the chestnut avenue:

Last Sunday, I bought a chestnut of my own.  It’s only about eight feet high:

I’ve planted it to cover up the black hole at the edge of the spruce forest to the north of our house.  It’ll only take about thirty years.

Yes, it’s October!  My favourite time of the year, when everything is 70% off at the nurseries and they’re deserted (I hate crowds).  My chestnut tree was only 180 kroner (£18, $US30, possibly 120 Arg. pesos or 22 euros ); I got lots of smaller green things too, including a Magnolia bush:

I took this immediately after I took the sunset picture in the last post.  Every year after the berries stop coming, I cut off that year’s raspberry-producing canes and give them to Misty, so she can have the leaves.  The others could have them too, but Misty is the goat who seems to appreciate rare foods.  Vesla’d run a mile to avoid eating something new.

We’re having a very nice sunset.  Yes, very nice.  Ooh.  I rush in and grab the camera, come back out again and see the memory card is missing.  The pink is fading, hurry up!   I run back and root around the living room, then the cupboard — here’s my Norwegian dictionary I lost ages ago —  I check my computer, my wife’s laptop, my table, here it is, rush back out, sky’s still there…

My wife says she just stumbled upon this.  She won’t tell me where (“I’ve forgotten.”).  I’ll be very glad when someone figures out a way to google images that isn’t word-based.

Language Hat was kind enough to point out a film being shown at the New York Film Festival, at Lincoln Center, called Le Quattro Volte — “Four Times”, according to google, although there may be other meanings.  It looks quite wonderful, and includes four of my favourite subjects and objects: charcoal, Italy, trees and goats — well, five, if you include the NY Times’s comment that its humour is reminiscent of Jacques Tati’s films.

I don’t know whether it will ever be distributed in  Norway though I saw somewhere that showings are planned elsewhere in Europe; in the meantime, unless you’re in New York, Italy or Cannes, you’ll have to be satisfied with the two short trailers at the European distributor’s site (click on the film there).

Michelangelo Frammartino, the film’s director:

“In Calabria, nature is not hierarchical; all beings have a soul. You can see it when you look into an animal’s eyes. You can hear it in the sound made by charcoal, which sings as if it had its own voice.  You can see it in the tall fir tree swaying in the wind, summoning us all to its side.”

Here’s a synopsis:

In the back-country of Calabria, in the Apennine mountains of southern Italy, an old shepherd leads his flock of goats to pasture along disused hillside paths. Every morning, the church housekeeper trades a handful of church dust for some of the shepherd’s fresh milk. Every evening, the elderly shepherd dissolves the “magic” powder in water and drinks this mixture as a remedy for his aches and pains. One day he doesn’t show up for their trade, and the next day he dies in his bed while the goats keep vigil.

A kid takes his first steps, but he is slower than the rest of the flock and falls behind. He falls into a ditch in the middle of the forest. Unable to climb out, he bleats for help, but neither the shepherd nor his dog hear him. The flock leaves the kid in their wake, leaving him to his fate. When he finally emerges from the ditch, he finds that he is alone. He wanders aimlessly until, as night begins to fall, he stumbles upon a majestic fir tree, where he seeks shelter.

The following spring, the village residents come to fell this tree for the annual “Pita” festivities that have taken place there for centuries. They saw off its branches and carry its stately trunk back to the village where it is erected in the main square.

Once the village festivities are over, the trunk of the fir tree is sold to charcoal burners. It is then cut into logs and used to build the hearth and chimney of the charcoal kiln; it will also be burned  to make fuel. The kiln, covered in straw and clay, is lit and begins to smoke. Once the fire has gone out, this ancient technique, passed down from generation to generation, will have transformed the living vegetable matter of the wood into an inert mineral, brittle and easily crumbled: charcoal.

I  particularly liked this still from the film (there are four others here):


The goats

would never refuse

an invitation

to butt heads.

From the Southern Region train, just before it trundles over the bridge across the Thames and you arrive at Victoria, you can see Battersea Power Station:

It is, or possibly was, one of my favourite buildings in London.  What’s going to happen to it?

It was designed — its appearance, not the box’s innards —  in the early 1930s by the man who also came up with the British telephone box, Giles Gilbert Scott.  In defiance of modernism both Battersea and the red phone box, with its cushioned top and decorated entry, show that forms that don’t look like their prosaic functions are in many ways more interesting than ones that do.

In the case of Battersea, he made the chimneys look like fluted columns; probably he’d seen Adolf Loos’s newspaper column for the Chicago Tribune competition,

Loos's Chicago Tribune Tower competition entry, 1922.

it’s an obvious enough idea, but it just works very well here.  Anyway, the columns (or inverted table legs since they’re at the four corners),

the red brick and its Art-Deco grandeur (some might call it pomposity) are what I like best.

I don’t know why London has let this wonderful old building crumble.  It’s in many ways better than the Tate Modern:

the other former power station designed by Giles Gilbert Scott (with the chimney as a sort of campanile).

I know there was a proposal to turn Battersea into a hotel a couple of years ago; can’t someone save it before it’s too late?

Here are a couple of snaps of the progress of autumn — if progress it is — on the face of it this tree hasn’t altered much in the last week (by the way, the dog run is the grassy area in the distance, immediately to the right of the tree):

Around the far side, looking from the dog run, the orange extends further down:

While I was at it, I took some more dog pictures:

But what I really want to talk about is something else…

Through her interest in horses, my daughter meets a lot of rich young families from the western suburbs of Oslo.  The other day she was with some of these people and their horses, talking to a mother whose smallest and youngest child was called Socrates.

Now Norway has rules about what you can call your children, there are no Dweezels or Moon Units here, so I was kind of pleased to hear that the Greeks are acceptable models.

My question is this: what are Socrates’s siblings called?  Plato and Aristotle?  Is their sister Athena or is she just known as the Delphic Oracle?

Or do their parents introduce them with  “Say hello to young Ken and Janet and our own personal favourite, little Socrates”?

So the reason I was on the roof is that it is actually the main exterior public space at the new opera (the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet).  Oslo’s biggest attraction nowadays is this wonderful building designed by the architectural firm Snøhetta.


Photo:  Christopher Hagelund

I’ll briefly describe the building’s massing: the oak-covered auditorium (below, right) is enclosed by a glass box containing the huge entry space that opera houses traditionally have (the sequence of entry spaces at Garnier’s Second Empire Paris Opera take up as much volume as the auditorium does).  You can see (above) that the glass box is almost bisected on three of its sides by the white Carrara marble roof, which is folded downwards like origami towards the fjord.  Beneath this diagonal roof are the other public interior spaces (restaurants, bookshop, etc.); these have glass walls that on one side of the building overlook the city, and on the other, the fjord.

Walking up to the top of the roof it’s blindingly white in the sun, and vast.  It’s like a fifteen-minute polar expedition.

But I’m not here to talk about architecture.  Every state-funded building in Norway is required to spend money on art, and there were some big international competitions at the opera — an enclosure for the cloakrooms made by Olafur Eliasson, and the curtain in the auditorium, amongst other things.  The last piece was installed in May, eighteen months after the building opened.  This is it:

It’s called She Lies by Monica Bonvicini, an Italian artist.  As it says in Wikipedia:

There has been a lot of controversy around this sculpture. Many people say that it looks like a piece of garbage, while others are exclusively positive, and say it is a beautiful piece of art.

And that’s not a bad discussion to have; people’s opinions of what’s beautiful are usually only spontaneous reactions.   At first I thought it looked broken, but by the end of my visit I was feeling quite pleased with it.  It takes the building’s connection with the Oslofjord and its ice:

and alludes to a painting from 1823,  Das Eismeer (Sea of Ice) by Caspar David Friedrich,

the centre of which it has represented in three dimensions :

The glass and its twelve-metre-high steel framework sit on a concrete raft floating on the water; it’s anchored, and slowly rotates in place according to the prevailing wind and the tide.  Its profile and the reflections, transparency and double reflections off the water vary all the time.

The title of the piece, She Lies, doesn’t really work in either Norwegian or Italian, the artist’s mother tongue, only in English.  Bonvicini  says she means it to be ambiguous and has given possible interpretations: with  “she” being either the piece or the artist, and “lies” referring to both global warming in the Arctic and floating next to the building.  Well, whatever.  There’s always the danger of  a postmodern artist overestimating the potential of their multi-layered ideas — and Bonvicini is no Brunelleschi: not a master builder as well as an artist.  In fact, resolving the technological problems and the logistics  of how to build a painting of ice and then move this 335 ton object to the site was done by the Norwegians, especially the contractor.  Apparently it was a painful process, but it was worth the trouble.





This is a gull I saw on the roof of the opera, in Oslo, one evening.

What was I doing on the roof?

I’ll tell you in the next post…

And now a couple more pictures, showing

that the gull didn’t swallow the bag.

After I took a picture of the ash-or-maple tree last Thursday, we went to the dog run.  But first we took Alex home; he’s sixteen and doesn’t have any teeth left, and although Topsy protects him he’s very scared of the bigger dogs.

There was only one other dog there when we arrived.  It looked like a bear, but it was a sort of doodle, a cross between a labrador and a Lagotto Romagnolo:

The Lagotto Romagnolo is an Italian water dog, and this dog run is by the lake.  Topsy loves water too, she just won’t go out of her depth.

We at the dog run have found that for some odd reason dogs like to sidle up to a person before shaking the water off.  It only works a couple of times, after that the person knows to run away.

What Topsy loves best is being chased, but doing the chasing is better than nothing.

At times, this dog looks like a wild boar.  Apparently his name is Bob, a completely unsuitable name in English.  It reminds me of the otherwise really good 1950s movie Bob le flambeur; that Bob ought to have been called something like “Fernand”.

Anyway, this could have gone on all day:

But then another dog appeared, announcing its presence in the same way that Topsy likes to: by pretending, very obviously, to be stalking the others.

It’s all a big ritual; round and round.

This dog was a cross between a collie and something.

All three were as fast as each other; different sizes, but still a perfect match:

At some point, a Cairn terrier arrived.  It was much smaller than the others, but very game

and it could keep up:

The terriers, Tops and the Cairn, got a bit…

over excited.

Then they’d all just turn round

and plunge in the lake.

These dogs could have gone on playing for ever.  I hope we see them again.

At this beautiful spot overlooking the Delaware River, Robin Damstra and Jim Salant –known to many of us as Caviar & Codfish and as proprietors of The Half Pint Kitchen (purveyors of salted caramel, cinnamon peach pie and fresh mint stracciatella ice cream as well as chocolate sorbet) — are getting married today.  Asked what he would be reading on his three-week honeymoon Jim replied “Well, I’m not sure what will actually be read, but I decided to take Frederick Seidel’s Collected PoemsHumboldt’s Gift, Auden’s Selected Poems, and a biography of Auden”.

We and the goats wish them (and Language Hat, who will be at the ceremony) all the best — and a very happy day.

I want to point out this tree by the lake, it’s always the first to turn.  The orange begins at the very top and over a week or two gradually works its way down.  I’ve never gone up close to it, but every year my daughter and I discuss it as we drive past in the mornings: isn’t it lovely, why that one, why is it always so much earlier than the others and isn’t it perhaps a even little earlier than last year?  I think it’s an ash; in the spring they’re the last to get leaves and they’re the first trees to lose them in the autumn (but in between, you can practically see them growing).  My wife says it’s a maple, that ash doesn’t turn a bright red.  She could be right.

Update. 11 Sept. Armed with empty’s agreement (below) that it’s a maple,  my wife confronted me this morning with a picture of a spisslønn, another Norwegian  kind of maple that goes red from the top downwards.  She says that’s what it is, and I give in.

Yesterday evening at half past eight, Per the farrier came by.  A farrier is someone who shoes horses and trims and takes care of their hooves; whereas a blacksmith is someone who hammers bars of red-hot metal, sometimes into horseshoes and sometimes into wrought-iron candelabra.

Per lives in Sweden, he only comes here to work; he and his family have bought a horse farm.  At the moment they have twelve horses and much free grazing land. He says that it’s no longer economically practical for Swedes to run old family dairy farms with less than 100 head of cattle; all the smaller farmhouses are being sold to Norwegians for second homes and the pastures leased for next-to-nothing to Per.  He says he speaks a new Sworsk dialect.

When he opens the back doors of his van there’s a workshop inside with lighting and all his tools,

including an anvil for hammering the shoes into the correct shape (sorry for the blur):

Now it’s nearly nine p.m. and starting to get dark.  Per wears a little halogen light on his forehead like a late afternoon cross-country skier.

The first thing he does is remove the old shoe and file down the hoof.

A horse’s lower leg has the same structure as a hand.  The horse walks on the equivalent of the fingernails of its index and ring fingers; they and the pad of a very small middle finger are what touch they ground, the little finger and thumb are further up the leg.  The horseshoe is fastened to the hoof (or fingernail) with steel nails.  Because the hoof is growing out all the time, the shoes have to be replaced every six or seven weeks — if you wait longer, they start falling off and then you can’t ride.  Horseshoes can sometimes be reused, but usually they become too worn down in the middle.

He has a little metal stand that the hoof can rest on:

You can see it better here:

After he’d been working for a little while, he brought out more lights from the van.  He took a horseshoe that was the correct size and checked it against the shape of the hoof.  Askur, being an Iceland pony, has small hooves.  Per said that Shire horses require shoes that are huge: roughly six inches (150mm) in diameter.  They cost twice as much as Askur to shoe too, not that he cares — we don’t make him pay.

Then Per hammered it to conform to the shape of the hoof and nailed it through the holes and diagonally into the hoof, bending the nails over where they emerged on the side. I think he used about six nails per hoof.

Betty and Askur don’t seem to mind.  See you again in October, Per…

It seems Dalton Ghetti’s carved pencils have been the subject of lots of newspaper articles and blog posts over the past few years.

Living near the arctic circle, I first saw them this morning when my mother forwarded some pictures to me.

It’s lucky for him he doesn’t have to carve any Ös, Ñs, Øs or Ås, but I’d like to see him try a typeface with serifs.

My favourites are the saw and the hammer.

He seems to have a lot of very old pencils.  Maybe they just look old by the time he’s finished with them.

“Hey, look what’s coming.”

“Holy crap!”

“It’s not very big, really.”

“It’s big enough.  I’m not going anywhere near it.”

And they keep a safe distance, all afternoon.  She’s only  six-weeks old:

and her mother,

who is a Welsh mountain pony, only comes up to my waist.

But at times the foal seems very big

considering she’s so young.

She still hasn’t figured out the best grazing position:

Although that’s not too important yet.

She’s already changing colour to the grey around her eyes.  Eventually she’ll be white.

She still stays very close to her mother.

But they wander about a bit together.

And eventually they go home.

“Very interesting.


I took this picture today in our garden:

The white caterpillar in the middle is a row of the big marshmallows they use to make silage.

Any time after the middle of August in Norway can be reckoned as autumn.  The schools go back and the weather begins to hint that the summer is over.  My wife even went mushroom hunting today and found a few chanterelles (about five, actually), and we had soup for dinner.  I think it’s peculiar, but there’s not much I can do about it.

Most of the apples in the garden still aren’t ripe — excuse the blur, but it was raining.

It’s only recently that I’ve been allowed to use a chainsaw. Although I longed for one for years and had many brochures on different models it was forbidden; but then I inherited one from my late father-in-law and so it became a fait accompli.  Last winter I read an Australian book about chainsaws; it had four chapters explaining “kickback”, how to stop different parts of your body from being cut off, how to avoid trees falling on you or rolling on you and the best directions for running away. Of course it said I should always wear a helmet, but then I already always wear a helmet and goggles outside. This spring, I practiced cutting off things around the garden, branches mostly. This weekend I cut down about a dozen spruce and birch trees, some of them very close to our cabin, and I managed to do it without demolishing any of the buildings built by my father-in-law.

In fact, they all fell exactly where I wanted them to.

Here are a couple of pictures of the main house:

It’s kind of rambling.  My father-in-law built it in stages, starting with one room, during the holidays over a period of fifty years (he loved building things).

Continuing the potato theme, here are some recent pictures I was sent by Robin


of Muntz.  Robin of Muntz is a medieval-sounding name.

Here he is watching the World Cup.


And being offered more popcorn.


Muntz is really quite slim, as you can see here:


As long as they’re tall enough,

the answer

is an unequivocal

Hell, yes.

Even if

the gates

are closed.

My wife recently bought us these very nice popadum-like crispy things the size of long-playing records.  The peculiar thing is that on the box it says bakt av potet, or “baked by potatoes”.  When I alerted my wife & daughter, they agreed that it was odd.

A week or two earlier, my daughter pointed out to us a farm sign by the side of the road that said “Potato Eggs”.

A new star has been discovered, the biggest one ever found.  It is 265 times the mass of the sun and ten-million times brighter.  The scientists have decided that it should be called R136a1.

Update (from the Guardian “comments”): It is nowhere near the biggest star ever found, yet the front page story says so. Could someone please correct this?  The biggest star known is VY Canis Majoris, which is at least 1,800 solar radii. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vy_canis_majoris

I like Goofy as a name for this one, although strictly speaking “the planet Goofy” would sound the best.  What would the goats think of this, I wonder?

Tom Clark writes at least one poem every day.    Today, he wrote one for me.


Looking at this picture I have just lately taken of this waterfall

can’t be compared with looking at my earlier picture

of this waterfall

or with being at the waterfall itself,

the philosopher king mused.

At the bottom, you get covered in spray and the rocks are slippery.

It’s wonderful.

Very loud.

Looking at the picture of the waterfall,

you miss all this,

you miss the rushing sound of the water,

you miss the thunderous reverberation of the torrent through the gorge,

you miss the rainbow colours and halos and the diaphanous light,

you miss the delirious sensation of being enveloped in the cascade,

you miss the vertiginous feeling of being tumbled headfirst into the chasm,

you miss the delicious feeling of the foamy backwash upon your body,

you miss the euphoric impression of a water spirit world whooshing and swooshing about you,

though of course if you’ve actually been there

and experienced all these things

even just the once

you can later summon them up in memory

and while that is not as good as the real thing,

said the philosopher king to himself,

it is something.

ⓒTom Clark

Nobody’s ever dedicated a poem to me before.  I’m very happy about it. Read the rest of this entry »

The first time I came to the Rondane mountains — where we have a cabin — was about fifteen years ago.  My wife showed me a waterfall and  I took some pictures.  Then I lost them.  In my mind they got better and better; the best pictures I’ve ever taken, possibly.  Tragically lost.

Last Saturday, we went back.  To get there, you start at in this valley where some very friendly cows are grazing — the place is called Myeseter (a seter is a summer pasture in the mountains) —

and follow the stream.

After a couple of miles, the stream drops into a deeper valley.  The resulting waterfall (here from the far side of the valley) is called Myfallet:

Quite dramatic, but you have to get much closer.  You have to go to the bottom.  It’s  a hike, the same amount of effort as climbing up and down a slippery irregular firestair in the Empire State Building, probably.

There are wildflowers,

these are larkspur (wild delphiniums):

Half way down the undergrowth disappears and the gorge is revealed:

And then you come upon the falls that you’ve been hearing now for several kilometres:

At the bottom, you get covered in spray and the rocks are slippery.  It’s wonderful.  Very loud.  This is my favourite bit:

And there’s a rainbow where the sunshine is refracted through the spray.

Facing the waterfall is another waterfall, a tiny narrow trickle:

These can’t be compared with my first set of pictures; nor, sadly, with being at the waterfall itself.

I’ve been away for a few days. I’ll post something proper soon. In the meantime, here is an amusing little game at the London Review of Books’ blog.

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Here are some of the wild strawberries in our garden.  They are delicious, they grow all over the place and as far as I can see they have no local predators except me.

As soon as the rain starts, all the snails come dashing out:

They’ve all headed in one direction, down

to the bottom of the garden.  It’s a mad snaily panic, like the Odessa Steps scene in Battleship Potemkin …

… past the lavender…

… to my wife’s strawberry bed, where they eat all the ripe ones:

I’d much rather they didn’t eat the strawberries, but it’s almost worth it just to know that snails prefer the taste of cultivated strawberries to almost anything —  certainly to the wild variety, which has a very different flavour — and that they are so determined that they will go all the way to the other end of the garden to procure them.

You might just be able to see that, I think, a bird  has pecked a hole in the shell of the bottom snail. There’s a pale grey mark on the ridge of its back where it’s been repaired.

They were really just small showers.  I hate rain, but these were rather nice.  This is our garden with the sun setting in the northwest.  It was still raining when I took this picture.  I thought I might be able to get some white streaks of rain, like Tom had in the Berkeley photograph.

I got a few earlier on, when I was with the horses in the meadow and it was lighter:

My daughter had just brought her horse back from a show

where she won the gold medal for being the best Welsh cob.  The horse won, but the daughter got the medal.  She was a lot shinier than usual, and her three white socks were whiter than usual.  The horse looked good too.

The other horses didn’t care.

They were just glad that she was back.

Establishing shot:

At this time of year, in the evening and early morning, the north facade of our house is completely illuminated by the sun.  It’s the closest we get to living in the southern hemisphere.  I’m not sure where else this is happening at the same time, besides in the arctic.  Say it’s ten at night in Norway and it’s nine in the morning in New Zealand, then we’d both have the sun.  Is it the same sun?  How do they do that?

It’s eleven o’clock at night.  I just went out with Topsy the dog to collect the goats from the reservoir.  They were nervous on the way home, it’s dark when they look over at the woods, so who knows what might pop out?  The sky is blue with a few pink clouds, but there are no shadows, because the sun has gone behind the hills to the north.  There is the smell of wood smoke, every community has a bonfire on midsummer night.  Sankthansaften is the Scandinavian name for midsummer.  It’s the eve of the birth of St John the Baptist, known in the past in Denmark, apparently, as St Hans.  I’m not quite sure if there’s any other reason why we celebrate midsummer night on the twenty-third of June, rather than the twenty-first like the rest of the northern hemisphere.

From now on, the evenings begin to draw in.

The goats have started their summer job.  Like they did last year, they’re keeping the reservoir up the road tidy.  Eating their way around it.

Sometimes they take breaks up on the roof.

Someone made a comment about six months ago that they hadn’t seen much of the hens recently.

After about ten or twelve years of hen keeping, nowadays we have only two of them.  They seem quite happy.  Champagne, a Buff Orpington, mostly stays inside.  Cloudy is a faverolle, a very friendly breed of hen with feathery feet.  She lays quite small eggs.

Our best rooster was Leopold, who was a Welsummer until he was killed by a dozy chou-chou dog that jumped the fence illegally.  Leopold was a hell of a rooster; very intellegent, he died defending the six hens and Jussi, his assistant, from this enormous and very dim dog-thing.

All hens the world over have the same action:  they scratch the earth twice with one foot, take two steps backwards and watch for bugs or worms to appear.

How do they know to do this?

It’s been raining solidly for three days, and now the hillside is covered with Queen Anne’s lace.  I hope the cows like it.  I don’t know where they’ve gone.

Tonight there’s a gale.  I hope it means the rain is passing, because there’s a lot of stuff coming out on this wildflower bank in the garden.

They aren’t really wildflowers, they’re things I bought cheap at the garden centre — on sale in the autumn — and buttercups.

This is the bank seen from the top.  It’s not visible from inside the house, which is why I need it to stop raining.

Slug or snake?  It was getting dark when we saw it.   It was moving at a snail’s pace, though that was enough to make the picture blurry at the creature’s tail.  It was about 4″ (10 cm) long.  The front end looks the same as Arion lusitanicus, the so-called Iberian slug that reached Norway in 1988 but then took ten years to reach our garden from the other side of the lake (they went the pretty way, along the shore, not through the middle).  The back end is more like the hoggorm, or adder, that has a black-and-khaki zigzag pattern.

Slugs are supposed to be very destructive, but I haven’t ever seen any damage around here that wasn’t caused by either humans (litter) or cows (they like knocking over our garbage cans and going through the contents).  In Norway, Arion lusitanicus is also called the drepersnegl or mordersnegl, the killer- or murderer slug.  I feel quite confident I could take one on.  Snegl is used in Norway to cover both slugs and snails.  We have tons of snails too, and they never seem to eat a thing.  Either they’re all anorexic or it’s a myth that gastropods gobble up people’s gardens.

At this time of year, our garden is encircled by cows grazing.  Every weekday morning someone has to remember to shut the gate when we leave the house.

Some of the cows would just love to come into our garden and eat flowers and berry bushes, even though they have a couple of meadows full of vegetable matter all to themselves (there are only about twenty of them grazing on this hillside):

Anyway, this morning there was one cow opposite the gate, hiding behind a tree.  She was standing there waiting for me to forget to shut the gate (it has happened from time to time).

They’re big for dairy cattle.  I don’t know why they don’t just push it over.

When I came home she’d been joined by some of her friends.

The goats wouldn’t object if I removed the barriers to what I like to think of as my part of the garden.

In the meantime, in order to eat the blackcurrant and redcurrant bushes,

Misty has to proceed like this:

Apparently it’s worth any amount of discomfort,

even dragging your two stomachs over;

your weight pressing them into the wire when they’re already as taut as water balloons.

Gazing at them over the fence, day after day, currant bushes

could easily become an obsession.

John Emerson posted these pictures of lemurs at Haquelebac.  Because of the shape of the moustache, the one on the right reminded me of Groucho Marx immediately,

Stalin and Proust came to me only after a couple of days of agonizing.

The first blossom to come out is cherry.  We usually have it in our garden on Norway’s national day, the seventeenth of May.

Afterwards we have plum and pear blossom, and now all the apple trees are out.  This one below is a Bramley cooking apple (there’s a small beetle on it).

And this is a smallish Japanese crabapple next to the house:

They all have quite different blossom, really.  There’s more to come; lilac and philadelphus, both of which are strongly scented, should be in bloom soon.

Here are some other things that are out.  Cowslips and forget-me-nots,

more forget-me-nots and dandilions

Topsy got stuck.  She got her lead tangled in the long grass down by the compost heap.  It wasn’t a disaster.

This tree stump was once an apple tree.  We sawed through a rotten section,

which was being converted into a desirable residence by a group of ants.  It’s been going on for years.  They do the work by eating their way through the tree-stump and so far they’re about a quarter of the way around.  It’s more open to the rain than they originally intended and much lighter, but they don’t seem to mind.  There’s a nice stalagmite effect, it looks like Arizona from the air; it must be quite dramatic at night if you’re the size of an ant.

Last Saturday, we went to the track.  It’s something I love to do though I seldom get the opportunity.

The racecourse is called Jarlsberg, though there’s no obvious connection with the cheese. Actually, we didn’t go to a race, but to a horse show.  Young horses were being judged on  their appearance, particularly their legs, and on their gaits.

This kind of thing is very important for breeders because the appraisal affects the value of the horse.

There were lots of different kinds of  horse.  The ones above and below are Welsh cobs.  The lower one had her foal with her (they weren’t for sale).

She got very high marks.  Here they are posing with their owner.  They departed later in the space craft.

I saw several foals.  These are curly horses; they are hypoallergenic.

And there were Shetland ponies no bigger than large dogs.  The man in the bowler hat and carrying a riding crop was a judge.

A judge of horses, that is.  I thought they were an unlikely-looking group, the judges.  Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? well, they didn’t give a good overall impression. They had bad posture and gaits, their coats weren’t shiny, and I wasn’t enthusiastic about their legs.  Some had put in no effort at all.

More than the other goats, Misty likes to explore

every opportunity

to get hold of branches

of young leaves.

It’s not always easy.

But, on the other hand,

she’s not really

that busy.

I suspect these are young midges, small mosquito-like insects that swarm in the evening.  If you click on the picture, you’ll see they came out as dots and straight lines, and if you were a midge you would probably think that cameras are rubbish.  Imagine if people came out as either dots or straight lines.

To the left, the cabin Wittgenstein built near Skjolden, in Norway (the graphic reconstruction was done by me). It was at the head of the enormous and dramatic Sognefjord, on the west coast.

Sognefjord in Russian (it has the best pictures).

I got an interesting letter from Rik Kabel about the title of the blog:

I recently came across your blog at abadguide and noticed the line attributed to Wittgenstein. The date given is 1946. You can probably move that date back a bit after reviewing the page (taken from Wittgenstein’s Lectures On The Foundations Of Mathematics, Cambridge, 1939 by R. G. Bosanquet and others, edited by Cora Diamond, U Chicago Press 1976, 1989). It does appear that he used the metaphor in various forms.

I suppose that he said it in English, although I get the impression that he relied on native English speakers for more careful, idiomatic translations from German, as Ogden for_Tractatus_. If you know of a German statement of it by him, I would enjoy learning of it.

Rik explained his interest:

I have a thing about quotations (and pretend to be writing a book about it). I find many are inaccurate in body or attribution, including many in the standard quotation dictionaries. I also don’t really think that translations should be considered quotation as much as allusion. So, I just had to check out the Wittgenstein. It is a bad habit, but like all bad habits, it provides great pleasure.

I like to see the quotation in a slightly different form like the one Rik links to, but that he was repeating the same metaphor years later — isn’t that a little disappointing?  Middle-aged Wittgenstein is usually portrayed biographically as a man rethinking his ideas and coming to bold new conclusions, but this seems more like the bloke down the pub who says “Stop me if you’ve heard this one…”.  I don’t like to think of him repeating himself — however, Wittgenstein was a university teacher and he probably did.  And the truth is I’m quite happy to be rereading it a year after I first put it at the top of the page.  It implies that I might have a master plan that will reveal itself over time; and who knows, perhaps I do and perhaps it will.  At the moment I’m very interested in Language Hat’s recent Goats From All Over; there’s no connection, but they complement quite well, say, our three-day binge of ice cream shop naming.  The Wittgenstein quote reassures me, and hopefully others, that it’s quite okay.

To return to Rik’s question; in a note about the book, Wittgenstein’s Lectures, it says:

For several terms at Cambridge in 1939, Ludwig Wittgenstein lectured on the philosophical foundations of mathematics. A lecture class taught by Wittgenstein, however, hardly resembled a lecture. He sat on a chair in the middle of the room, with some of the class sitting in chairs, some on the floor. He never used notes. He paused frequently, sometimes for several minutes, while he puzzled out a problem. He often asked his listeners questions and reacted to their replies. Many meetings were largely conversation. These lectures were attended by, among others, D. A. T. Gasking, J. N. Findlay, Stephen Toulmin, Alan Turing, G. H. von Wright, R. G. Bosanquet, Norman Malcolm, Rush Rhees, and Yorick Smythies. Notes taken by these last four are the basis for the thirty-one lectures in this book.

I believe that at this stage in his life Wittgenstein did his own translating.  Yorick Smythies — one of a long line of Yorick Smythies, according to google — typed  some of Wittgenstein’s handwritten notes, possibly those  translated by the author into English for the postwar version of Philosophische Untersuchungen. Unfortunately he died in 1978.  Like Rik, I’m interested to see if anyone knows of an earlier attribution of Wittgenstein’s “bad guide” metaphor in either English or German  There will be a special prize for German, perhaps a guided weekend tour of A Bad Guide’s technical workshops and studios, culminating in a working lunch with the goats at the reservoir, where any day now they are due to start their summer job…

One advantage of Norway’s state religion is the remarkable series of public holidays we have in May:  there’s Mayday, Ascension day, 17th May (the anniversary of the drafting of the Norwegian constitution), Whitsun.  Holiday mondays and fridays dissolve into weekends and there are some three-day work weeks. Yesterday was Whit Monday.  We went to try out a horse called Lady Macbeth — known as Betty — she is a young Welsh cob, 144 cm high.

We were in a flattish region very close to the Oslofjord.  Growing raps, or rape, is a recent development in Norway according to my wife.  I saw lots of it in Germany twenty years ago.  It’s only May, it has grown so quickly.

I liked the idea of this rather nice little house directly overlooking a paddock.  It’s an ideal home for a teenaged girl, but the horses must be a pleasant distraction for the whole family:

After walking round and round, other gaits were tried out:

Lady Macbeth has a shiny chestnut-coloured bottom and three white socks.

There was more toing and froing:

and some galloping:

Later I saw these, there are lots of wild violets at the moment:

Picture by Klem

“I have not got a bean to my name.  I’m a taxpayer, a British taxpayer, and I left the royal family for freedom, and in freedom it means I am bereft. I’m hopeless.”

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York.

The first of our late-flowering tulips is out, next to the out-house.  I’m not much good at flower photography.  Studiolum very kindly gave me some tips yesterday — his and Kata’s pictures of their Hungarian garden are superb — and I’m going to try some new moves (this isn’t one of them, obviously).

I spent a couple of hours this afternoon pulling up stinging nettles in the goats’ part of the garden  I had heard that goats eat nettles, but they’ve never done so here until today.  I found that Misty, who’s the most willing to experiment with new foods,

would eat them once I’d pulled them up .  Maybe there’s less stinging that way, I don’t know.  I get very stung and it still tingles, but I take a primitive delight in finding the red and yellow shallow roots and ripping them out.  It’s approximately the same satisfaction as I’d have if I were George Smiley and I’d discovered a nest of Soviet spies.  This is more like Studiolum’s marvelous technique:

although he takes them by the dozen and crops them much more.  Oh, well.

Yesterday evening we finished shearing the last goat, Misty.

My daughter says the clippers are now completely blunt.

I’m guessing that both Misty & Holly are feeling much better.

This is the sheared Holly:

I don’t think we’ve ever been this late with the shearing before.

My daughter did some work on Holly and Misty yesterday. She’s planning to finish it today. She’s very busy with school at the moment.  Unlike my Australian forebears who could have done them both in five minutes, each goat takes us several hours to shear.

After she’d finished they looked pretty odd, but they seemed pleased to be less warmly dressed.

We had seen a beautiful afghan hound earlier in the day, and I think that may have been the look that the hairdresser was trying for:

Holly as a scary monster:

It’s two weeks since Vesla was sheared.  She’s looking better now her coat has grown out a little bit.  Here she is about to …

… butt Holly:

She’s a good little runner:


A picture of a picture of a polar bear at night.

I got an email from my friend Jamessal of  Caviar And Codfish:

…Robin and I [just] decided to start an ice cream business.  The woman who runs the wildly popular Stockton Farmers Market said that a restaurant  was selling an ice cream maker for about twenty percent of its value and that if we wanted to buy it and learn how to make good ice cream  […] tomorrow we’re going to wake up and start calling plumbers and electricians.   More details to come. Right now, we’re desperately trying to come up with a name for our business. Feel like helping? Relevant info: the market is on Bridge Street, it’s right next to the Delaware River, we’ll be using mostly local ingredients, and of course the town is Stockton.

Any suggestions?  I like The Jersey Cow (it’s in New Jersey) and we’ve discussed Scoop Til You Poop, but rejected outright my daughter’s suggestion, Frozen Fat.  Since Robin is a gourmet cook, I kind of think the name ought to mention the homemade angle, but that’s only my opinion.

I figure the winner should at least win an ice cream cone in the mail.

Two weeks ago right after we had sheared Vesla she came inside for a shower.  Then we toweled her dry and gave her some oats as a reward for being tolerant.  As always she had shown passive resistance to being sheared by lying down and going all floppy, like Gandhi.  But she enjoyed the shower.

Her horns got very clean.  The blue marks are gentian violet; we applied it because she’d been taunting Misty on the other side of some wire fencing and the horns had got a bit scratched.  You can see her worn-out-looking knees; goats develop hard skin there from kneeling (I think we’ve discussed it before).

She ate quite a lot of oats.  Then there was the sound of the front door,

and Topsy the dog bounced in.  Vesla wasn’t expecting this.

She’d had enough fun and games for one day without being confronted by a bloody dog.

Topsy didn’t know what she’d missed, she’d been out shopping.

So Vesla made her aware.  It wasn’t a very hard butt.

But Topsy wondered what the hell was going on.

Vesla presented horns again, but Topsy was already scampering over to me sitting on the sofa.

So, while Topsy figured out what food was being passed out …

Vesla stumped out.

1st prize

1st Prize: Koukichi Sugihara's Impossible motion: magnet-like slopes (Meiji Institute for Advanced Study of Mathematical Sciences, Japan).

2nd prize

2nd Prize: Counter‐intuitive illusory contours, by Bart Anderson (University of Sydney, Australia).

Here are a couple of interesting little projects devised by mathematicians — and when I say “little”, there’s one project that illustrates a man’s life’s work.  Anyway, these are two entries in a Scientific American magazine competition called “Illusion Of The Year”. Here are the winners,  I found the first two quite intriguing; especially the second one, because nobody knows why it happens.  You’ll have to use my link to go and play the videos to find out what they’re about.  You can find out more about Koukichi Sugihara’s work at his website.

For the past couple of years we’ve had windflowers growing in clumps, one or two metres in diameter, in our garden.

As you can maybe just make out below on the left, they seem to have spread from the meadow and woods next door.

Windflowers are a kind of anemone.  According to Wikipedia they’re deadly poison, but the goats love them.

Once we had so many, I was able to see that they got their name from the way the white flowers shake and shimmer in the slightest breeze.

Like a Futurist manifesto on Pop art, these Japanese kimono textiles from the 1930s are both every schoolboy’s dream outfit and at the same time quite shocking.  Even though it’s on the television news every day, the juxtapositions of cuddly toys with exploding missiles are, nowadays, blatant  provocation to our refined sensibilities.  If we learnt anything from graphic art during the twentieth century it was that sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.  James Rosenquist, who was an advertising billboard artist in the ‘fifties before he painted F1-11 during the Vietnam war, knew this *:

F1-11 (detail). 1964-65. James Rosenquist.

Although on one level the textiles also remind me of works by Jeff Koons or Takashi Murakami — to mention just one of the current Japanese artists who’re using comic imagery for their own purposes — the difference is that these earlier artists were pushing war as a good thing, just as some comic genres have always romanticised  and aestheticised warfare **.  One irony of this, compared to the deliberate irony in Rosenquist’s F1-11, is that the work was made in 1937; in other words, it’s exactly contemporary with the Japanese army’s Rape of Nanking.

It’s extraordinary that they managed to get the images to work so well as textile designs.  It’s difficult to print or weave large figurative images and still be able to call the end product a piece of cloth and not a painting.  I’ve tried it myself and I know what I’m talking about.  These Japanese kimonos work by combining the pictures with flat colours and small patterns made into bold stripes and circles.

They are from an exhibition in St Petersburg, but if you can’t get there very many of the extraordinary images (better than these, even) can be seen at Poemas del rio Wang.

* Not to belabour Rosenquist’s point, but some of the same companies that were producing light bulbs and hair dryers and plastics for the American market were also bombing the shit out of Vietnamese children and making nuclear weapons.

** There’s also a lot of Tin-Tin-like imagery, including a couple of dogs next to the lower image that you can see properly at Poemas del rio Wang.

August Kleinzahler has written a short piece  in the LRB blog about a movement to replace the image of President Grant on the obverse face of the $50 bill with one of Ronald Reagan.  He shows an artist’s impression of what this change might look like.  The Republican congressman who is pushing Reagan said, according to Kleinzahler, that “every generation needs its own heroes”.  It’s not a bad idea, and I propose reworking the entire US monetary system’s hall of fame, starting with Thelonius Monk on the dollar bill:

He will be replacing George Washington, a man with wooden prosthetic teeth.  You can see that Monk had a brilliant smile, and why should spending money be a miserable experience?  This change could encourage spending; it might in a small way help the US economy.

Recent pictures of the Queen meeting with Mr David Cameron at Buckingham Palace expose the enormous height discrepancy between the monarch and the new prime minister.  Experts who believe that the Queen is shrinking say that it is


Artist’s impression of the shrinking monarch.

still too early to predict whether she will vanish and collapse in on herself, creating the first Royal Black Hole.  A spokesman for the metropolitan police expressed “cautious optimism” today over hopes that the Royal Black Hole could ease rush-hour traffic in the vicinity of The Mall and Constitution Hill.

"Nice day."

"Mmm. Delightful."_____________ "Holy crap! What's that up there?"

"What are we staring at?"___"Sinéad O'Connor, I presume?"____ "Is this some kind of sick joke?"

"Are you talking to me!"__________________"Never mind."____"Never mind."

__________"No, but seriously. Can I have another look?"__ "This is nuts. I'm off!"

We’ve been having a very good scilla year in our garden.

They are wild, as are the beautiful groups of windflowers in the lawn, which goes to show that you must never put weedkiller or anything like that on your grass (or anywhere else); heaven knows what you’d be killing off.  These pictures are for m-l, who said she hadn’t ever seen them in France or Canada.

The column of Saint Theodore of Amasea, in Venice. Teodoro is standing on a crocodile or dragon.

You might think I’m in competition with Studiolum, what with the crocodile and the bestiary.  His latest post at Poemas del Rio Wang is called Bestiary, and I recommend it to everyone, but I’m thinking of Kenneth Rexroth’s poem that Jamessal sent me today.  Here’s one verse:


G stands for goat and also
For genius. If you are one,
Learn from the other, for he
Combines domestication,
Venery, and independence.

Here is some more:

for my daughters, Mary and Katherine

The lion is called the king
Of beasts. Nowadays there are
Almost as many lions
In cages as out of them.
If offered a crown, refuse.

Someday, if you are lucky,
You’ll each have one for your own.
Try it before you pick it.
Some kinds are made of soybeans.
Give it lots to eat and sleep.
Treat it nicely and it will
Always do just what you want.

The raccoon wears a black mask,
And he washes everything
Before he eats it. If you
Give him a cube of sugar,
He’ll wash it away and weep.
Some of life’s sweetest pleasures
Can be enjoyed only if
You don’t mind a little dirt.
Here a false face won’t help you.

The trout is taken when he
Bites an artificial fly.
Confronted with fraud, keep your
Mouth shut and don’t volunteer.

Uncle Sam
Like the unicorn, Uncle
Sam is what is called a myth.
Plato wrote a book which is
An occult conspiracy
Of gentlemen pederasts.
In it he said ideas
Are more nobly real than
Reality, and that myths
Help keep people in their place.
Since you will never become,
Under any circumstances,
Gentlemen pederasts, you’d
Best leave there blood-soaked notions
To those who find them useful.

St. Thomas Aquinas thought
That vultures were lesbians
And fertilized by the wind.
If you seek the facts of life,
Papist intellectuals
Can be very misleading.

Let Y stand for you who says,
“Very clever, but surely
These were not written for your
Children?” Let Y stand for yes.

I’m not sure where to find the complete poem except, as Jamessal says, in Rexroth’s Complete Poems.  Jim added “He’s not big on cat owners”, which certainly makes me want to find the whole thing.

Remember: If offered a crown, refuse.

Marie-Lucie  told me about this goat tower.  It’s at a South African vineyard:

It was built in 1981 with room for six or seven goats.  There are more pictures of the tower & its residents, as well as a short video, here and you can read about the herd here. I’m sure that goats would love to live in a tower; I wonder if there are fights about who gets to live at the top?  Perhaps the goats climb up every evening, stopping when they reach the first empty room; though that kind of order seems too fastidious for your average goat.  Although there are 750 female goats, it’s only billies who live in the tower, I’ve no idea why.  It could be that the males prefer sleeping on their own; we’ve never kept males, so I don’t know.

Since 1981 more goat towers have been built; there’s one in Norway and one in the United States.  There was a recent outbreak of serious illness at the Norwegian one, I’m not sure if it’s still going.  The American farmer who built his own goat tower claims to have the tallest goat tower on earth: thirty-one feet to its peak, with the potential to install a revolving observatory in the roof (I’m guessing we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for this, for some reason he just seems to be preoccupied with not letting birds roost in the roof).  I like the South African one the best, they are milking goats (it’s the only one where your landlord doesn’t end up eating you). Here are some more milking goats who live, if not in a tower, at least upstairs.

One interesting structural feature that the American man mentions is that his steps are made of (sort of) reinforced concrete, which stiffens the tower sideways against the wind.  He used 5,000 hand-made bricks, no two of which are alike.  It’s not clear to me that there is any advantage in that.

The first three look exactly the same.  I think the next builder could work on the appearance of his or her goat tower.  There are precedents for this building type:

I’m surprised to see that Plains Indian Drawings 1865-1935, Pages From A Visual History, edited by Janet Catherine Berlo (1996 Abrams) – a wonderful book – is out of print, so I’ll show a few of the pictures here.

I know very little about the history of the Plains Indians, but it seems that after the US civil war many of them were imprisoned at Fort Marion camp, near St. Augustine, in Florida.

Poster, 1938. The Spanish fortifications were completed in 1695.

In a guide to Florida published in 1875 the poet Sidney Lanier wrote about Fort Marion:

For, alas ! and alas! the old lonesome fort, the sweet old fort, whose pyramids of cannon-balls were only like pleasant reminders of the beauty of peace, whose manifold angles were but warm and sunny nooks for lizards and men to lounge in and dream in, whose ample and ancient moat had converted itself with grasses and with tiny flowers into a sacred refuge from trade and care, known to many a weary soul,—the dear old fort is practically no more: its glories of calm and of solitude have departed utterly away. The Cheyennes, the Kiowas, the Comanches, the Caddoes, and the Arapahoes, with their shuffling chains


and strange tongues and barbaric gestures, have frightened the timid swallow of romance out of the sweetest nest that he ever built in America. It appears that some time about the middle of 1874 the United States Government announced to the Indians in Northwest Texas that they must come in and give a definite account of themselves, whereupon a large number declared themselves hostile. Against these four columns of troops were sent out from as many different posts, which were managed so vigorously that in no long time the great majority of the unfriendly Indians either surrendered or were captured. Some of these were known to have been guilty of atrocious crimes ; others were men of consequence in their tribes; and it was resolved to make a selection of the principal individuals of these two classes, and to confine them in old Fort Marion, at St. Augustine.

And so here they are—”Medicine Water,” a ringleader, along with “White Man,” “Rising Bull,” “Hailstone,” “Sharp Bully, “and others, in the terrible murder of the Germain family, and in the more terrible fate of the two Germain girls who were recently recaptured from the Cheyennes; “Come See Him,” who was in the murder of the Short surveying – party; “Soaring Eagle,” supposed to have killed the hunter Brown, near Fort Wallace; “Big Moccasin” and “Making Medicine,” horse-thieves and raiders; “Packer,” the murderer of Williams; ” Mochi,” the squaw identified by the Germain girls as having chopped the head of their murdered mother with an axe. Besides these, who constitute most of the criminals, are a lot against whom there is no particular charge, but who are confined on the principle that prevention is better than cure. ” Gray Beard,” one of this latter class of chiefs, leaped from a car-window at Baldwin, Florida, while being conveyed to St. Augustine, and was shot, after a short pursuit, by one of his guards. “Lean Bear,” another, stabbed himself and two of his guards, apparently in a crazy fit, when near Nashville, Tennessee, en route, but has since recovered and been sent to join those in the fort. One of the Kiowas died of pneumonia shortly after arriving at St. Augustine, leaving seventy-three, including two squaws and a little girl, now in confinement. Their quarters are in the casemates within the fort, which have been fitted up for their use. During the day they are allowed to move about the interior of the fort, and are sometimes taken out in squads to bathe; at night they are locked up.*

* The Indians were released in May, 1878, by order of the War Department and turned over to the Interior Department, by which the older ones were sent to Fort Sill, Indian Territory, and the younger ones to Hampton (Va.) Normal Institute to be educated and taught different trades—an experiment that has so far proved very successful.

They have a passion for trying their skill in drawing, and are delighted with a gift of pencil and paper.


Criminals as they are, stirrers-up of trouble as they are, rapidly degenerating as they are, no man can see one of these stalwart-chested fellows rise and wrap his blanket about him with that big, majestic sweep of arm which does not come to any strait-jacketed civilized being, without a certain melancholy in the bottom of his heart as he wonders what might have become of these people if so be that gentle contact with their white neighbors might have been substituted in place of the unspeakable maddening wrongs which have finally left them but a little corner of their continent. Nor can one repress a little moralizing as one reflects upon the singularity of that fate which has finally placed these red-men on the very spot where red-men’s wrongs began three centuries and a half ago; for it was here that Ponce de Leon landed in 1512, and from the very start there was enmity betwixt the Spaniard and the Indian…

They were turned much against their will into respectable members of society.

Inspection of Indian Prisoners, Fort Marion, Fla 1876-77. Artist: Making Medicine (Cheyenne)

Here is one of the saddest pairs of before-and-after pictures you’ll ever see:

Tom Torlino (Navajo) 1885.

I confess I’ve never read the text, I love this book for its pictures. They depict the lives that the artists and their fellow tribesmen had led including their recent encounters with the United States soldiers.  The first ones here are Cheyenne:

Cheyenne warriors count coup on Sioux women & a Crow counts coup on a Cheyenne 1890

Here’s the Wikipedia explanation of the phrase “to count coup”:

Counting coup refers to the winning of prestige in battle by the Plains Indians. Warriors won prestige by acts of bravery in the face of the enemy, and these acts could be recorded in various ways and retold as stories. Any blow struck against the enemy counted as a coup, but the most prestigious acts included touching an enemy warrior, with the hand or with a coup stick, then escaping unharmed. Counting coup could also involve stealing from the enemy. Risk of injury or death was required to count coup. Coups were recorded by notches in the coup stick, or by feathers in the headdress of a warrior who was rewarded with them for an act of bravery.

The artists are known to us collectively as Ledger Artists.  They were drawing in army accounting ledgers, sometimes on pages that already had sums or lists of supplies scrawled on them.  The names of some artists aren’t known.  Of those names we know we have either the English version of their actual name or the incongruous English name they were assigned instead. “Frank Henderson”  is an example of the latter.

A close encounter with a soldier 1878-81 (Cheyenne) Artist unknown.

Attack on a teamsters’ camp 1878-81 (Cheyenne) Artist unknown.

A Cheyenne Warrior Confronts The Pawnee c.1890

Counting Coup on a Crow Man & Woman 1871-76 (Cheyenne) Artist Unknown

Last Bull Captures a Horse 1871-76 (Cheyenne)

Here are three Arapaho drawings:

Artist: “Frank Henderson”. 1882 (Arapaho).

Little Shield. c.1876 (Arapaho).

Kiowa portraits, 1877. By Wohaw.

Warrior Engages Enemy. 1871-76.

I probably ought to read the text.  Some overlapping of images and the even continuous lines around the horses (most of them) make me think the artists were cutting out stencils and tracing their outlines.  They got more movement into their battle scenes than many European artists have achieved.  Uccello’s horses are chess pieces or rocking horses by comparison.

Paulo Uccello. Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino at the Battle of San Romano, c. 1438–1440

I have photographed pages from the book here.  There’s a dreary greyness in the reproductions that isn’t helped by the work having been drawn in old accounts ledgers. Try and imagine the work as it was when it was first made 140 years ago: the colours were brighter and the lined brownish paper wouldn’t have intruded on the image, making it look a bit like a palimpsest.

There’s a 1997 article by Janet Catherine Berlo here.

On the influence of the Plains Indians’ ledger drawings, MMcM directed me to Paul Tsosie’s delightful “Horse Race”, made sixty years later. I believe it’s in the collection of the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture’s Laboratory of Anthropology as item #53970/13 (though this reproduction of it is from a Santa Fe cookbook).  It’s so much a 1930s American  image as well as being in the tradition of the ledger artists.

Horse Race, by Paul Tsosie (Navajo). 1937.


Thanks to Language Hat, we have this great poem by the great Australian, John Kinsella.  Kinsella is a vegan.  It is published in this week’s New Yorker magazine.

Goat gone feral comes in where the fence is open
comes in and makes hay and nips the tree seedlings
and climbs the granite and bleats, through its line-
through-the-bubble-of-a-spirit-level eyes it tracks
our progress and bleats again. Its Boer heritage
is scripted in its brown head, floppy basset-hound ears,
and wind-tunnelled horns, curved back for swiftness.
Boer goats merged prosaically into the feral population
to increase carcass quality. To make wild meat. Purity
cult of culling made vastly more profitable. It’s a narrative.
Goat has one hoof missing—just a stump where it kicks
and scratches its chin, back left leg hobbling, counter-
balanced on rocks. Clots of hair hang like extra legs
off its flanks. It is beast to those who’d make devil
out of it, conjure it as Pan in the frolicking growth
of the rural, an easer of their psyches when drink
and blood flow in their mouths. To us, it is Goat
who deserves to live and its “wanton destruction”
the ranger cites as reason for shooting on sight
looks laughable as new houses go up, as dozers
push through the bush, as goats in their pens
bred for fibre and milk and meat nibble forage
down to the roots. Goat can live and we don’t know
its whereabouts. It can live outside nationalist tropes.
Its hobble is powerful as it mounts the outcrop
and peers down the hill. Pathetic not to know
that it thinks as hard as we do, that it can loathe
and empathize. Goat tells me so. I am being literal.
It speaks to me and I am learning to hear it speak.
It knows where to find water when there’s no water
to be found—it has learned to read the land
in its own lifetime and will breed and pass its learning
on and on if it can. Goat comes down and watches
us over its shoulder, shits on the wall of the rainwater
tank—our lifeline—and hobbles off
to where it prays, where it makes art.

Gaspar de Guzmán y Pimentel, Count-Duke of Olivares. A relatively youthful Olivares in 1624, three years into his time in power. By Velazquez.

I know it’s a bit late, but I was thinking in the bath today of ideas for the British election campaign.  Everyone — well, really, it’s just John Lanchester of the LRB, but I trust him —  thinks there will have to be massive public spending cuts in Britain by whoever wins, and it’s going to be horrible all round.  Well, I had an idea:  why not scale back British defence spending to the level of Norway?  Britain spends ₤36 billion a year on defence, while Norway uses a mere ₤3.6 billion.  What does Britain get for the extra money ?  Nothing at all.  All they really need is the changing of the guard for the tourists and a couple of butch  young men with assault rifles at the airports.   Britain could save ₤32 billion a year!  They could funnel the former soldiers into teaching, gardening and major public works.  If nobody likes that idea (I’m betting the Tory party will be against it), Britain could always just privatise the military: sell it off, like Mrs Thatcher & co. did with the railways and the water supply.

The Count-Duke Of Olivares. Velázquez, 1634.

I was going to take some pictures of Cloudy, our beautiful Faverolle hen who has feathers on her feet:

But goats love to know what’s going on,

and Misty got very interested.

Recently I’ve been noticing her horns

How long they are getting.

The dark brown colour towards the tip is caused by the build up of lanolin grease from their wool.

Now their wool is so long that grass seeds get stuck in it.  It’s very irritating.

My intention in my previous picture of him had been to put John Stuart Mill in the clothes of a contemporary liberal philosopher, and when that turned out to be a suit I thought it worked quite well with Mill’s other job as a Liberal MP.  But then someone said that he looked like a bank manager, and that didn’t sound quite right. So I consulted Wikipedia, and: at the age of fourteen Mill spent a year in France with the family of Sir Samuel Bentham*. The mountain scenery he saw led to a lifelong taste for mountain landscapes.

*Jeremy Bentham’s younger brother, Samuel, was a noted English mechanical engineer, inventor and  naval architect who was at one time employed by Catherine the Great.

Update: Thanks to modern technology, we can now see (as Martyn Cornell has pointed out below) that Mill is the spitting image of Anthony Barber, the late half-Danish Tory 1970s Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I suppose I ought to also do AC wearing AC’s clothes, but you can look that up yourselves.

The great man as he might appear today.  Here he is, having had a shave and wearing a modern liberal philosopher’s outfit, complete with backstage pass.  Mrs Mill chose his tie.

Three Victorians:

John Stuart Mill,

Frank Lloyd Wright


James McNeill Whistler,

have in common first names that cannot be used without a second.  You can’t simply say “John Mill” or “Frank Wright” or “James Whistler” *.  But these aren’t hyphenated Roman Catholic names (John-Paul, for example) and they aren’t double-barreled last names.  Wright — a very vain man (you see it in the photograph: look at the side-lighting and the necktie) — was always known (perhaps even to his parents) as “Mr Wright”;  I’ve certainly never heard of anyone who addressed him as… “Frank”.

There are some others where the reason for the extra name is clear:  Charles James Fox (a little earlier) was presumably named after the Stuart king from whom he was illegitimately descended.  Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s name was always begging to be recited in full.  Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s first names are linguistically related to his pen-name, Lewis Caroll.

I expect there are loads more — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, isn’t he one?  Am I right that this is mostly a 19th century thing, and can anyone supply a convincing reason why it’s done?  Why not “John Mill”, why is the “Stuart” necessary? Did his wife call him John Stuart?   Reciting the extra name is, after all, an enormous waste of energy and time.

* (I don’t include George Bernard Shaw on the list, because he is also known — at least in Britain — as Bernard Shaw).

Yesterday we walked in a different direction. There were still blåveis leaves to eat.

Contrary to what most people think, dogs don’t eat only meat. They always grab some vegetables when we’re out for a walk.

We passed two old men who seemed astonished to see the goats walking behind me.  I was preoccupied with my camera and I wasn’t paying anyone any attention.  Vesla obviously regretted that we missed the chance for a chat.

The small dog isn’t used to going this way and the rocks are much bigger than him, but he’s up for anything; he’s very game for a sixteen-year-old.

These boulders have tumbled down from the cliff of the escarpment behind our house.  It’s hard to see quite how big they are; these two were about seven feet high.

This area is protected.  It’s not like a city park: nobody comes to clear away the fallen trees, and the birds and animals and insects who live here make use of the pieces.  Every time we come to a fallen tree, we have to decide whether we’re going to scramble over the top…

…or crawl underneath.

I used to somehow block out the fallen trees — something about them being dead, I think — but I’ve come to love the amazing jumbled-up expressionist compositions they make,

and their contrast to this kind of landscape, right next door:

There were some extraordinarily puffy looking clouds yesterday.  My daughter says they may be Icelandic volcano droppings.

The lake is still frozen, if only just.  It’s freshwater and it takes some weeks to unfreeze after the winter.

The dogs & I went around one side of this big rock.  The goats went around the other side.

Look what they found: an exercise class paying obeisance to the volcanic ash.

What the hell is going on?  says Holly.  In the background is another civilization, our local town.

I’ve somehow lost half the photographs I took today, including a beautiful one of Vesla jumping over a stream.  They’ve just disappeared into thin air.  There will now be a short pause while I consolidate my remaining shots, and I leave you with this picture of a bowl of some sort of ranunculæ on our dining table.  As you see they’re past their best, and that’s when we like them best …

If you want to hear a really great piece of singing, take this link to Julia’s site, Meliora Latent, where you can hear her younger brother, Carlos d’Onofrio, sing  “Nessun dorma” from Turandot, by Pucini, with the St. Petersburg State Chamber Choir and the St. Petersburg Festival Orchestra, conducted by Kristofer Wahlander …

The weather’s beautiful, and we are doing this every morning.

My wife took some pictures on Saturday, up in the mountains.  They’re of Ringebu stave church (partly 13th century), which is near our cabin but a thousand feet lower down the hill.  I’m not quite sure why the tower is painted red, it was added 1631.

Anyway, it has a shingled roof.  I like these diamond-shaped ones:

The belfry next door has a slate roof.  The building’s called the støpulen, a word hitherto unknown to my wife:

On the church’s website there’s another building section that shows substantially more bracing of the structure than the last one did.  I don’t know if it will satisfy Sig; the column footings are quite small, but I suppose the flooring stops the columns from slipping off.

Except for the scale and the post & beam structure, the section is not really very different from an early-Christian basilica, with very compressed aisles:

Also on the church’s site is this, which answers Marie-Lucie’s question about the masks at the tops of the columns in the last church, it says

Stave churches were built at a time when paganism was giving way to Christianity. In several churches one can see paintings of what we believe represent the figures of norse gods high up at the top of the pillars [i.e. columns] under the roof. In this church two runic inscriptions, two animal drawings and the figure of a man have been found crudely carved in the wall.

Here’s a rather nice gravestone in front of Ringebu church:

And the notice at the gates (click on it to get it big enough to read):

Mail deliveries have been stopped to a house after postal workers were attacked by an elderly cat, Royal Mail said.

Nineteen-year-old Tiger has attacked three people delivering at his home recently. Now Royal Mail has told owner Tracey Brayshaw her pet is aggressive and it will not be delivering post to the house in Farsley, near Leeds.

The black-and-white cat, which is aged 93 in human terms, sleeps for 20 hours a day, Mrs Brayshaw said.

The 43-year-old pharmacy dispenser said she cannot believe her cat has now been labelled a health and safety risk.

She told the Yorkshire Post: “If Tiger climbs up a tree he is done in for the rest of the day. We’ve had him since he was a kitten. He has never done anything like what they say he has done before.”

The service has been suspended for two weeks and Tiger’s trick of pouncing on postal workers and chasing them down the garden path is forcing Mrs Brayshaw to collect her mail from the local sorting office.

She said: “It was funny at first but it is going a bit far now.”

In a statement Royal Mail said : “We are sorry for the inconvenience to Mrs Brayshaw and, as we want to resume delivery of mail to her address as quickly as possible, we’re trying to agree a way to do this and avoid our employees suffering further nasty injuries as has happened three times already.”

From today’s Guardian.

One trademark of modern architecture is the free plan.  Instead of using walls to bear the weight of a building, the load comes down to the ground on columns.  Freed of bearing loads, walls can be placed where they are needed, saving space and material; you can even have a continuous strip window when there’s nothing to bear on the glass.

Villa Savoye. Poissy, 1929. Le Corbusier. (© k+NAP)

Despite its association with modernism, the free plan has been around for a long time; for example, here’s a post-and-beam structure, a Norwegian stave church in Oslo.  It’s from the twelfth century;  it’s no longer used, it’s part of an outdoor museum of traditional buildings called the Folkemuseet:

The buildings at the Folkesmuseet have been brought there from different parts of the country when they’ve outlived their usefulness.  This stave church is not huge.  You can see from the person in black standing on the left that it’s only about the height of a three-storey building – easily within the range of a bearing-wall structure – but the Vikings chose to use a kind of  free plan (see: it too has a kind of strip window wrapped around the ground floor).  Look at the inside:

The space is enclosed by walls, but there are objects inside the room – columns – carrying the roof load and the other various loads down to the ground.  See how thin the walls are, from this nineteenth-century section drawing, they’re just a layer of paneling:

It must have been awfully cold in the winter.  Here’s a plan drawing of a very similar stavkirke (stav means post, kirke is church):

The walls are independent of the structure.  If you still need proof that what you can see on the outside is mere paneling, here’s a picture of the Oslo church before they moved it to the museum, it looked completely different:

Stavechurch at Gol in Halingdal. Drawing by Hans Gude, 1846.

They disassembled it and moved it in winter, on sledges, but they only reused the frame.  The exterior had undergone changes in 1664 and 1802 and the sponsor of the project, the so-called Society for the Preservation of Ancient Norwegian Monuments, decided to remake the exterior to appear more medieval.  To do it they copied the exterior of Borgund Stavkirke at Sogn, on the west coast of Norway (the plan & sepia-coloured drawing above are from Borgund):

Left: Borgund (photo Glaurung). Right: Oslo.

(One influential precedent for fudging the past, which we find so shocking, was Viollet le Duc’s work at Nôtre Dame de Paris and at other gothic sites in France.  He was interested in creating what he considered to be perfect gothic structures and saw no irony in making them less authentic in the process.)

Siganus Sutor who is a structural engineer thinks stave churches look unstable, like a house of cards, as if they might blow over in the wind.   Not all old Norwegian wooden buildings conceal their structure.  Next door to the stave church at the Folkesmuseet is the building below, you can just see the cantilevered ends of the wood beams under the roof:

It’s a stabbur, a building to store food on a farm, raised above the ground to keep rodents at bay.  The building rests on a wooden above-ground foundation: huge massive beams, tree-trunks that have been carved and fitted together like a rubik’s cube sit simply supported on eight squared-off boulders:

There are still lots of stave churches left in Norway, although many others have burnt down.  A little while ago, Nijma pointed out the stylistic similarity between Norwegian stave churches and temples in Thailand.

Update, Thursday 8 April: Language Hat is up and running again.  Previously, on Language Hat, The Post:

If you can’t get hold of Language Hat at the moment it’s because the service is temporarily down.  Hopefully the problem (caused by the Language Hat domain name having expired) can be resolved today; however, don’t forget that most North Americans don’t get up until after lunchtime–dinnertime, in some cases–so it still might take some hours before service resumes.

Russian soviet-era test card.

Apparently this happened once before.  In Language’s own words:

On April 04, 2007, I wrote on LH:

While I’m here, let me apologize for the outage this morning; my domain had expired (warnings were sent to a defunct e-mail address, it’s a long story), and I had some anxious moments before gandi.net, my domain name provider, fixed things, excellent fellows that they are. I was terrified some internet vulture was sitting around just waiting to scoop up my helpless domain and I’d never get it back; I had to contemplate the horrible prospect of Life Without Languagehat. It made me realize how much a part of my life you are, Gentle Readers, in your capacities as charming players of conversational badminton as well as providers of nuggets of elusive fact—and I seek those nuggets as eagerly as my cat Pushkin seeks lost corks and artificial mice, I claw at Google and reference works as assiduously as he claws at the gap under the refrigerator (where such things so often wind up), and I am as grateful to those of you who provide them as Pushkin is to my wife when she fetches the broom, sweeps the handle under the fridge, and pulls out the ardently desired playthings. And if in aught I have given offense, I do heartily repent me. I seem to have lost at least one internet pal of whom I was inordinately fond, owing to some pronunciamento I don’t even remember pronouncing, and I’ve had enough friends and acquaintances drift away in the course of my life not to want to lose more. I grew up arguing with brothers and friends, and self-assured ideamongering is the stuff of lively conversation to me, to be enjoyed as sportier folk enjoy a good game of handball; I tend to forget that when the ball bounces wrong, people can get hurt. If bluff and bluster be a fault, God help the wicked! No, my good readers; banish Kos, banish Wonkette, banish Instapundit: but for sweet Languagehat, kind Languagehat, true Languagehat, valiant Languagehat, and therefore more valiant, being, as he is, old Languagehat, banish not him your company!

I just found these pictures of Vesla.  It says they are from last Whitsun, or pinse as they call it in Norway; Pfingsten in German.

I’d certainly forgotten about them.

And, if I posted them last year, I hope you have too.

Without my glasses, sometimes Topsy looks like a goat. (How she got hold of my glasses… etc.)

The Large Hadron Collider started working again at CERN this morning for the first time in eighteen months.  You can follow the full coverage here, live from CERN.  The Guardian is putting out an edited version, here.  Not all live events are interesting, certainly not the same ones for everyone;  I prefer this to live sports coverage.  Is there a Small Hadron Collider?  Trond and Canahan report, below.

Last night we put the clocks forward.  Past the equinox, it seems quite late to be doing this.
Holly is today still in the same position as when you last saw her, still waiting for the snow to finish melting.

She is getting quite irritable.  You can see the footprints of one of the huge crows that I would dearly love to photograph.  They’ve always flown away by the time I’ve fetched the camera.

The snow is still about a foot deep:

Yesterday my daughter asked me to take pictures of her galloping.

Well, I suppose it’s Askur who’s doing most of the galloping.

At the top of the road is next winter’s pile of birch logs waiting to be sawn and split.  They are enormous, something you can’t see from this picture.

And then round the next bend are the young cows, who would also probably like to be outside by now.  I think I mentioned this greeting, where we yell MOOO! at each other as loud as we can.  My daughter pointed out that the one on the right has a 7 on her face.

And then just past the fjøs is where the horses graze, if that’s the right word; they’re eating silage and hay that have been sprinkled on the snow.  The Shetland pony is Lisa.  Beyond Gimondi, the thoroughbred on the right, is the Oslofjord in the distance.

Language Hat has a post, Millrind, about English and Russian technical terms for the parts of a millstone.  I wrote in a comment: I love that broken millstone that’s now being used as paving. It reminds me of a lovely little device Lutyens used in a garden he designed with Gertrude Jekyll. He placed small bull’s-eye decorative circles in an area of sandstone paving. He made them from the concentrically-placed rims of different-sized broken clay flower-pots, filling the gaps with sand. I can’t find any pictures on the internet, unfortunately.

But I have a picture in a book*:

Now I’m not sure if it’s Edwin Lutyens or Gertrude Jekyll who invented it, not that it matters very much.   As I thought, it’s at Hestercombe (the house is now occupied by the Somerset Fire Brigade). Jekyll & Lutyens used millstones too, here at Munstead Wood, Jekyll’s home:

and elsewhere:

I like the tile edges in the bottom one. Apparently Robert Louis Stevenson got the name of his novel Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde from Gertrude’s brother, who was a friend of his.  I suppose it ought to be pronounced “Jee-kill” like their name, but it’s too late now.  I remember a modernist professor at my architecture school complaining that another professor, a postmodernist, was preoccupied with the work of third-rate British architects (meaning Lutyens).  I thought at the time that that “third-rate” was unfair and nothing has changed my mind since.  The modernist died having produced nothing that comes remotely close in quality to Lutyens’ work.  Neither, for that matter, has the post-modernist.

*A Photographic Garden History, by Roger Phillips & Nicky Foy.

The two lower pictures are from Gardens Of A Golden Afternoon. The story of a partnership: Edwin Lutyens & Gertrude Jekyll, by Jane Brown

Robin has sent me this picture of Muntz: a beautiful cat and a perfect photograph.

If you want to see just how much he’s grown, compare it to one of the earliest pictures of Muntz, taken just after Jim rescued him, last spring:

In the last post, I mentioned the man with the marvelous name of Ravilious: Eric Ravilious. Here’s a picture of his that shows a typical pre-war train-seat pattern–apparently the late nineteen-thirties’ London art world was obsessed with train seats–he didn’t depict the light accurately (it’s much too light inside the carriage); but if he’d done it correctly, he wouldn’t have been able to show the seat fabric pattern so clearly, and that would be a shame since it covers about one-third of the picture surface.  I like the faint reflection in the glass of the seats.  Note the draught-stopping piece of moquette on either side of the door, piping with a barber’s-pole pattern.  I remember it, also the leather strap that suspended the window when it was opened.

Later, he did a lot of dark 2-colour prints for London Transport, but I suppose this picture was used to advertise the railway to the west country.  If the 3 stands for third class, then it looks good value for money.

In my last post I linked Eric Ravilious to a picture of his called Chalk Paths, I think it’s a watercolour:

I would like to have painted it myself.  With its very high horizon you look down across the contours of the ground; they are very precisely shown by tone, oblique grass patterns, the road, the paths and the fence.  The fence, the windswept bushes and the diminishing size of the trees show the scale of the receding landscape; without them, in other words,  you couldn’t judge the size of the hills.

Here are some more of his landscapes of the Downs in familiarly filthy weather.  That must be the Uffington White Horse at the brow of the hill; it’s very old (800-1200 B.C.) and it’s unusual for facing right:

The Westbury Horse has a little de Chirico train puffing across the background:

This is The Wilmington Giant, framed by enough wire to weave the cables of a suspension bridge:

But the first one is my favourite.

Eric Ravilious was killed in the second world war.  His son James Ravilious died in the ‘nineties.  He was a photographer, who documented life in a north Devon village.  I love his pictures too:

I have a book of them.

All the Eric Ravilious’s work I’ve shown is Copyright of the Estate of Eric Ravilious.

I came across a blog from 2005 about Marianne Straub, the Zurich-born textile designer. I believe she studied at the Bauhaus, though her Wikipedia entry doesn’t mention it. I remember getting a guest crit from Marianne Straub when I was a student at Camberwell in the mid-1970s. She was a nice woman, rather serious, and she was introduced to us as the London Transport seat designer.   Under someone called Frank Pick, London Transport had a reputation for using high quality art and design. Man Ray did a poster:

Paul Nash and, later, Eric Ravilious did posters (these are by Nash):

and Edward Johnston made their famous alphabet.

Marianne Straub told me it was hard to get diagonal stripes to work on vertically hanging textiles, like curtains, unless they were at least as steep as 45 degrees. This inspired me to try much shallower ones. I don’t think she was right, though it was an interesting observation.

Apparently this has been around for a while, but I didn’t find out about it until today.  It’s a rap explanation of what the Large Hadron Collider’s doing at CERN.

After you’ve watched it, you can read the text again here.

See it in Portuguese here.

Or in Spanish here.

There are more physics rap videos by the multi-talented Kate McAlpine here.

This is Nikolai Boldyrev.  He’s unlocking the door of the Muromtsev Dacha Museum, which he founded.

On a wall inside is a sketch of the original Muromtsev dacha:

The dacha was on the edge of the enormous Tsaritsino park in southern Moscow.  It was situated pretty much in the park, at 3 Fifth Radial (the neighbourhood has a radial site plan) and is named for its owner, Sergei Muromtsev, legal scholar and president of the first Duma in 1906.  Here the so-called  Muromtsevsky Constitution was drafted and during its early years the house held regular underground political gatherings for pioneers of Russian parliamentary democracy.

Construction of the summer house started on 15 June 1893.  It cost 19,800 rubles, paid by Muromtsev’s wife Maria Klimentova, a singer who was Titania in Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin at its premier in Moscow in 1879. Ivan Bunin, the first Russian to win the Nobel prize for literature, spent his summers in the area and was a frequent guest at the house–in fact he met his second wife, Muromtsev’s niece, there in 1906.  In his writing Bunin commented on the dacha’s Swedish style (seen from the tower’s mansard roof) and he described its lilacs and the allé of lime trees that are still in the garden.

Muromtsev died a hundred years ago, on 4 October 1910, leaving the property to his widow and benefactress.  During the first world war she sold it to a merchant’s widow, Raisa Ivanovna Vlasova, but it was seized on 25 September 1918 by the Military Commissariat and, like many other Tsaritsyno dachas, it was nationalized.  It subsequently became an elementary school, popularly called “Vlasivka”, and after a proper brick school building was built in 1937 it was turned over to the teaching staff as housing.  During the second world war it was close to Moscow’s largest grain silo, a target of German bombing, and in 1941 a bomb exploded in the pond near the house. One wall was damaged and a corner of the house fell in, but the teachers continued living there.

Below is the house that is today known as the Muromtsev dacha:

It was rebuilt in 1960 on the concrete foundation of the old building.  Timber is mutable but masonry is largely not;  the stoves and chimney stacks were reused from the old dacha and stood at 3 Fifth Radial until 7 March 2010.  Twenty years after the rebuilding, in 1979, the house was declared uninhabitable due to dilapidation.  It was handed over to the Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine “to accommodate special equipment” for a period of five years, after which the demolition of the building and improvement of the area was foreseen by the Soviet Academy of Medical Sciences. However, the lease was continuously renewed until 1989.

The fireman below is sitting in an antique Thonet bentwood rocker taken from the dacha on the night it burnt down in January of this year.  The chair disappeared later that morning, along with a brass microscope from 1864 and other valuables that hadn’t burned.  According to at least one tenant, the above-mentioned physicist Nikolai Boldyrev, they were looted by the firefighters.

Photo Ekaterina Deeva, http://galchi.livejournal.com/

The Muromtsev dacha was wooden, and on the evening of 2 January the fire department was called to put out a smallish fire on the ground floor.  Natalya Samover works for Archnadzor, an organization formed to protect significant buildings in Moscow: “The fire started on the ground floor in an unoccupied flat where there was no electrical equipment.  The window is the one closest to the entrance, so the residents are absolutely convinced that it was arson. When they went outside, they saw that the window had been opened. It was -20c. outside; no one was going to open a window.”

The firefighters, whose station is five minutes’ walk away took half an hour to arrive, but they immediately set to work.   Soon the police and some city officials drove up and spoke to the senior fire officer.  Nikolai’s son Kyril Boldyrev, a 24-year-old physics graduate of Moscow Technical University who also lived in the house, said “Personally, I distinctly heard them say: ‘We do not want this house.'”  After that, the firemen broke all the ground-floor windows letting oxygen in to help the combustion.  They did nothing more to extinguish the flames until after midnight when the building’s roof had fallen in and the interior was gutted.

Maxim Martem'yanov, Частный Корреспондент

The dacha’s most celebrated postwar tenant was Venedict Yerofeyev who lived and wrote there on and off during the 1970s and ’80s during a period when it was an unofficial cultural centre.  Yerofeyev (sometimes he’s transcribed as Benedict Eeroveyev) wrote Moscow-Petushki. Also called Moscow To The End Of The Line in English, it’s a prose poem about a drunken journey on a suburban train in which the hero recounts the events of his life, including the declaration of war on Norway and leading a crew of alcoholic telephone-cable layers (he’s fired for making a chart of their different drinking habits).

A later tenent was Forbes magazine editor and investigative journalist Paul Klebnikov, who was murdered outside his office in Moscow in 2004.  Klebnikov was a friend of the Boldyrev family and once saved the dacha from being turned into a brothel.  In 1996, a local police officer started harassing the family, asking for half of the house to use as a brothel. After Klebnikov wrote an article about the situation the harassment stopped.

There were three families at home in the house on 5th Radial at the time of the fire, among them the Boldyrevs (family members have lived there since 1938).   Despite having qualifications in physics and optics and having been offered jobs elsewhere, Nikolai Boldyrev, who has lived there since 1959, chose in the 1980s to become the genius loci, the protector of the Muromtseva dacha.  He turned part of the ground floor into the Muromtsev Dacha Museum, with artifacts and photographs related to Yerofeyev and the building’s earlier history.  Boldyrev’s  grandmother, a former teacher of geography lived in the dacha when it was teachers’ housing. She is still alive, 103 years old.  Below you can watch Nikolai Boldyrev with his 24 year-old son Kyril and young daughter Anfisa showing visitors around in the summer before it burned (in the museum you can even catch a glimpse of the Thonet bentwood rocker).

Who owned the Muromtsev Dacha?  The federal government previously owned Tsaritsyno but handed it over to the city in a deal in 2005. The Boldyrevs, who had been there since before World War II, have no documents of ownership. “Once the Tsaritsyno park complex became Moscow city government property, our house came under attack,” said Nikolai Boldyrev. “The city authorities were determined to make us move out.” In an attempt to protect their home, the six resident families filed an ownership application. The Civil Code allows anyone to claim ownership if they have lived in a building continuously for more than 15 years. The court rejected their appeal despite the testimonies of eight witnesses and phone-bill evidence that confirmed the length of their residency.  “After the court session, we filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, but soon afterward the Tsaritsyno police came to the house in the middle of the night, threw one of the kids out of the bath, started breaking windows and telling us to get out,” Boldyrev said. “They said that if we don’t move out, the house might ‘accidentally’ burn down.”  At the time of the fire there was a court battle being fought to obtain preservation status for the property on grounds of its historical significance.

At 6:30 a.m. on Sunday 7 March bulldozers escorted by a police unit and OMON riot police arrived  to officially “remove construction debris”.  In fact they removed the families, who after the fire had been living on the property in contractors’ cabins (two people ended up in hospital, having been thrown out of windows).

Photo Vladimir Astapkovich. Copyright ITAR TASS

Then they knocked down the remains of the dacha, including the 1893 chimney stacks.

Kyril Boldyrev said it was an “illegal operation”; police wearing masks “refused to identify themselves or show us any documents.”  Natalya Samover of Arkhnadzor also called the action illegal.  She said “the only document that we are told exists, but was not shown on Sunday, is an order from the local prefect to remove rubbish”.  The actual work, which took all day, was carried out by immigrant labourers who can be expelled from Russia any time the mayor feels like it.

This is what the site of the Muromtsev dacha looks like today:

Photo: Ilya Varlamov

Many cities in the Northern Hemisphere had a bitterly cold winter this year, it even snowed in Barcelona.  Even so, how desperate could southern Moscow be for new snow-plough storage that the authorities resort to knocking down people’s houses?  Come to think of it, isn’t the dacha on the edge of a vast piece of parkland?  Everyone in Moscow knows this property won’t get a snow-plough garage unless hell freezes over.  What’s probably going to be built here is a luxury apartment building, five-star smoked-glass vulgarity in an ancient park setting, and what scum these people are who run Moscow for their own profit.

In January, Moscow’s Mayor Yury Luzhkov dismissed opposition politicians’ calls for an investigation into the dacha fire.  He called the building a “cabin” and disputed its cultural significance.  It is Luzhkov’s ally, Deputy Mayor Vladimir “His only hobby is labour” Resin who oversees Moscow construction.  On 15 March The Moscow Times reported that Resin had hired former Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin as an “unsalaried advisor”. Pronin was fired by the Kremlin after a drunken police officer went on a shooting rampage killing two people in a supermarket last year.

Update: Here is a very informative video I was sent.  Do take a look.  It’s translated into English from a Vesti television report:

Addendum: I’m not much use at translating the Russian language and there may be errors in this article, though I vouch for the gist of it.  From the few English-language sources that exist I gleaned the most from Languagehat’s additions to the Muromtsev Dacha’s English Wikipedia entry, from The Moscow Times and from three well-illustrated articles on the Muromtsev dacha at Poemas del rio Wang whence also came four of the photographs.

This too is a bit of filler, but I saw that the New York Times has come up with a new technique  for sniffing-out stories. They get one of their reporters to pose questions to his or her local plumber or handyman and publish the result as some of the gnus that are fit to print.  This is the second time I’ve seen this sort of article of theirs rocket to the top of their “10-most-cherished in the past 24 hours” list  (I see today it’s at number five, half way down on the right, but I promise you it was number one yesterday).  To be fair, the article does contain a very, very small quantity of useful information about washers and dryers, and I’m certainly not planning to climb inside our washing machine again.

Please hurry over to Poemas del rio Wang, where you will find, as MMcM says, a most  informative discussion about the Bär aus „Pisam”.  As always Studiolum, who is by training an art historian, has some wonderful photographs–this time from Vienna and Bern.

And More Bad Taste:

As a bad-taste follow up to mab’s Pictures To Make You Puke (about Moscow’s building frenzy), Julia, a sometime contributor to Poemas del rio Wang, has at her other blog, in Argentina, Meliora Latent, some really extraordinary photographs from la Pampa, in Argentina, including a peculiar International Style cathedral.  In contrast to the Moscow buildings, which are the kind of thing you can see all over the place nowadays (just worse), the la Pampan ones are very local and all the more interesting for that.

Only one child in ten in Britain believes that the queen invented the telephone.  Apparently the other nine had bizarre explanations: some said it was invented by  “a Scotsman”.  This is according to a survey of primary and secondary school children in the UK cited by the BBC.  I am shocked.

In the comments about the last-but-one post, Trond raised doubts about the construction date of the icicle building opposite mab’s.  He asked how in the world could such a building be as young as your host, AJP Crown?  It’s a reasonable question, we sure weren’t building this kind of thing in 1953.  Mab has kindly sent us this additional picture:

She says,

to prove that the building next door is a Stalinist style classic, here’s a shot on today’s overcast day. Aren’t the overland pipes attractive? They appeared a long time ago, and after about 5 years were dismantled. Then they put it all back. I’m afraid we’ll have to live with them forever.

I like the two pointless giant* columns that support tiny balconies.  They are tacked on both ends of the building like handles.

*Classical giant order = multi-storey.

If you don’t find the phrases “property developer” and “tasteless buffoon with powerful connections” completely incompatible, you might enjoy mab’s series on Moscow’s unfettered construction frenzy.  They’re called “Photos To Make You Puke “.

This ugly grey box might be located anywhere:

and look at this, across the street:

For some reason the developer wasn’t able to destroy the pink building, so they’ve just built around it.  The architect created a groovy bricolage of old and new, and thoughtfully tied it all together with grid-lines in brown brick; perhaps as a metaphor, or simply as a reminder of brown shiny unbreakable plastic parcel-tape.

Addendum by Mab:

And this is just one outrage of many. Sometimes protected buildings disappeared from the list and were torn down in the night. What I call pan-European glass office buildings went up in their place. In two cases they tore down the old buildings and “rebuilt them” according to the old plans with modern materials. Everyone thinks this was just a way to steal more money. In other cases they’ve done this kind of thing — smashing a new building on top of and around and old one. Or they leave the first and second floor walls and build up, adding “modern” glass turrets that are supposed to look “olde.”

What kills me is that they’ve destroyed what was Moscow’s “selling point.” After the Stalinist-era changes and a few under Khrushchev, the center of the city wasn’t touched. Walking down little streets was like an architectural tour of the ages: a little classical city manor house, a 19th century style moderne apartment house, a turn of the century old Russian revival mansion… lots of little squares and pocket parks, trees and bushes and flowers. And they’ve destroyed that to make it look like any European city.