June 06, 2012


I strongly recommend The Shadow of the Cathedral by Vicente Blasco Ibañez to anyone visiting Toledo. Half of the book consists of detailed descriptions of the Cathedral that, on the day I first saw and visited it, made me feel like I had been there before. It was great fun looking for the details described by the main character who is supposed to have grown up inside the Cathedral.


"The first storey of the façade was broken in the centre by the great Puerta del Perdon, an enormous and very deeply-recessed Gothic arch, which narrowed as it receded by the gradations of its mouldings, adorned by statues of apostles, under open-worked canopies, and by shields emblazoned with lions and castles. On the pillar dividing the doorway stood Jesus in kingly crown and mantle, thin and drawn out, with the look of emaciation and misery that the imagination of the Middle Ages conceived necessary for the expression of Divine sublimity. In the tympanum a relievo represented the Virgin surrounded by angels, robed in the habit of St. Ildefonso, a pious legend repeated in various parts of the building as though it were one of its chief glories.

On one side was the doorway called "de la Torre," on the other side that called "de los Escribanos," for by it entered in former days the guardians of public religion to take the oath to fulfil the duties of their office. Both were enriched with stone statues on the jambs, and by wreaths of little figures, foliage, and emblems that unrolled themselves among the mouldings till they met at the summit of the arch."


"The riches of the Church, thought Luna, were a misfortune for art; in a poorer church the uniformity of the ancient front would have been preserved. But, then, the Archbishop of Toledo had eleven millions of yearly revenue, and the Chapter as many more; they did not know what to do with their money, so started works and made reconstructions, and the decadent art produced monstrosities like that one of the Last Supper."

"At last he decided to follow them, and slowly descended the same steps leading down into the cloister, for the Cathedral, being built in a hollow, is much lower than the adjacent streets.
Everything appeared the same. There on the walls were the great frescoes of Bayan y Maella, representing the works and great deeds of Saint Eulogio, his preaching in the land of the Moors, and the cruelties of the infidels, who, with big turbans and enormous whiskers, were beating the saint."


"The garden in the midst of the cloister showed even in midwinter its southern vegetation of tall laurels and cypresses, stretching their branches through the grating of the arches that, five on each side, surrounded the square, and rising to the capitals of the pillars. Gabriel looked a long time at the garden, which was higher than the cloister; his face was on a level with the ground on which his father had laboured so many years ago; at last he saw again that charming corner of verdure—the Jews' market converted into a garden by the canons centuries before. The remembrance of it had followed him everywhere—in the Bois de Boulogne, in Hyde Park; for him the garden of the Toledan Cathedral was the most beautiful of all gardens, for it was the first he had even known in his life."


"They crossed the gallery covered by the archbishop's archway and entered the upper cloister called "the Claverias": four arcades of equal length to those of the lower cloister, but quite bare of decoration, and with a poverty-stricken aspect. The pavement was chipped and broken, the four sides had a balustrade running round between the flat pillars that supported the old beams of the roof. It had been a provisional work three hundred years ago, and had always remained in the same state. All along the whitewashed walls, the doors and windows belonging to the "habitacions" of the Cathedral servants opened without order or symmetry. These were transmitted with the office from father to son. The cloister, with its low arcade, looked like a street having houses on one side only; opposite was the flat colonnade with its balustrade, against which the pointed branches of the cypresses in the garden rested. Above the roof of the cloister could be seen the windows of another row of "habitacions," for nearly all the dwellings in the Claverias had two stories."


"His little floral world did not change, its sombre verdure was like the twilight that had enveloped the gardener's soul. It had not the brilliant gaiety, overflowing with colours and scents of a garden in the open, bathed in full sunlight, but it had the shady and melancholy beauty of a conventual garden between four walls, with no more light than what came through the eaves and the arcades, and no other birds but those flying above, who looked with wonder at this little paradise at the bottom of a well. The vegetation was the same as that of the Greek landscapes, and of the idylls of the Greek poets—laurels, cypress and roses, but the arches that surrounded it, with their alleys paved with great slabs of granite in whose interstices wreaths of grass grew, the cross of its central arbour, the mouldy smell of the old iron railings, and the damp of the stone buttresses coloured a soft green by the rain, gave the garden an atmosphere of reverend age and a character of its own."


"He would stop before the chapel of Santiago, admiring through the railings of its three pointed arches the legendary saint, dressed as a pilgrim, holding his sword on high, and tramping on Mahomedans with his war-horse. Great shells and red shields with a silver moon adorned the white walls, rising up to the vaulting, and this chapel his father, the gardener, regarded as his own peculiar property. It was that of the Lunas, and though some people laughed at the relationship, there lay his illustrious progenitors, Don Alvaro and his wife, on their monumental tombs."


""Look well at that image, uncle. Is there another like it in all the world? She is a courtezan, a siren who would drive men mad if she only fluttered her eyelids."

For Gabriel this was no new discovery; from his childhood he had known that beautiful and sensual figure, with its worldly smile, its rounded outlines, and its eyes with their expression of wanton gaiety as though she were just going to dance.

The child in her arms was also laughing and placing his hand on the bosom of the beautiful woman, as though he intended to tear the covering from her breast. The image of painted stone, stuffed and gilt, wore a blue mantle strewn with stars, from whence its name."


"These vaultings caused Gabriel a strange impression; no one could guess the existence of such a place in the upper regions of the building. He would walk through the forest of worm-eaten posts which supported the roof, through narrow passages between the cupolas of the vaulting that arose from the flooring like white and dusty tumours; sometimes there would be a shaft through which he could see down into the Cathedral, the depth of which made him giddy. These shafts were like narrow well-mouths at the bottom of which could be seen people walking like ants on the tile flooring of the church. Through these shafts were lowered the ropes of the great chandeliers, and the golden chains that supported the figure of Christ above the railing of the high altar."



Interestingly, we asked a knowleadgeable Cathedral guard about this bit below and he very dismissively said "We have nothing of the kind in here". It turned out to be a badly damaged fresco on both sides of the Puerta del Mollete.

"In the interior of the Mollete doorway was represented the horrible martyrdom of the Child de la Guardia; that legend born at the same time in so many Catholic towns during the heat of anti-Semitic hatred, the sacrifice of the Christian child, stolen from his home by Jews of grim countenance, who crucified him in order to tear out his heart and drink his blood."


Looked for Sancho of Portugal's grave - my mother's main excuse to go visit Toledo thoroughly - but it seems to be either unmarked of one of the 342 Sanchos buried inside the Cathedral. We took pictures of most of Sancho effigies wearing crowns. More research needs to be done...

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May 25, 2012

Catching up

So much for my online (sort of) diary. I failed to note down a California trip notable only for my failing - for various reasons - to do a short Raymond Chandler pilgrimage in La Jolla (his pipes are on display at the local library and his grave is not very far). My struggle and failure to charm a chihuahua who hates me with a passion, the most recent addition to the menagerie of the Mexican branch of the family. I managed to visit Joe Dimaggio's grave in Colma which was more of an ethnographic milestone than powered by a personal sports preference. Some great Egyptian revival mausoleums at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park. Somebody dumbfounded at my questioning where in the cemetery the older mausoleums stood. Apparently the concept of funerary architecture aficionados is not something Colma cemetery officials are familiar with. Some interesting lectures in Bristol. A zillion rants about things in the world that are beyond my power to solve, as usual. A trip to Amsterdam and The Hague to see friends.


The readings have been half academic and half trashy and I blame Fernando Pessoa for this state of affairs. I went through the catalog of his private library to find out what sort of mystery writers he was reading (he was a failed mystery writer himself and rated the genre highly) and ended up with a collection of books which can only be classified as easy reading time wasters. Very enjoyable time wasters. Which lead to other time wasters Pessoa might have enjoyed too.

- Algernon Blackwood's Weird Tales. I thought I would be the first one to notice that the source for Murakami's city of cats tale in 1Q84 is one of Blackwood's John Silence stories but the critic at the New Statesman beat me to it. I wouldn't think it was my sort of thing, but the stories are well written and strangely engrossing.

- Baroness Orczy's mystery tales. Fun lateral thinking sort of mysteries.

- E. C. Bentley's Trent's Last Case. It was actually a very good mystery with a very decent solution.

- M. R. James's Ghost stories of an Antiquary. So up my alley.

- R. Austin Freeman's mystery novels. Very medicine oriented solutions. But I learned what a Pott's fracture is.

- Mary Roberts Rhinehart's The Circular Staircase. Probably the best of the bunch and very funny too.

- Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu novels which Pessoa probably didn't read but which gave me a terribly guilty, political incorrect, silly pleasure.


With no "modernist poet used to read this so it's ok" excuse this time, I am moving on to french trash. What the hell, it's the summer and, fittingly, I am planning to spend some time in France so I might as well start the immersion early.

- I'm going back to my beloved Arsène Lupin, gentleman thief, inducer of my childhood nightmares. Well, alternatively I can blame my mother for letting me stay up late watching people's fingers being severed on the TV version of the Leblanc novels while waiting for my dad to come home.

- I could almost cry with joy when another vague childhood TV memory turned out to be, after some googling, a version of a trashy turn of the century sci-fi novelist's tale of a mad evil scientist. Yes, I have found Gustave Le Rouge and his Le Mystérieux Docteur Cornelius series. I have a vivid memory of somebody's face being burned by sulfuric acid and Docteur Cornelius using the opportunity to show off his plastic surgery skills with some evil goal in mind. Blaise Cendrars approved of Le Rouge. That is quite something.

- Téophile Gautier's Le Roman de la Momie. I'm guessing this egyptomania novel had something to do with Gautier's friendship with Maxime du Camp who was one of the first people to write Egypt travel books featuring photographs.

- Some of Villiers de L'Isle-Adam's short stories. Trash admired by intellectuals.

- Maurice Renard's Monsieur d'Outremort. We'll see.

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April 14, 2012

Giving In

I have discovered what ereaders are good for: reading erotica in public.

Actually, they're good for a myriad of reasons. I am a reluctant gadget adopter as I tend to only buy them when I have no way out anymore or, obviously, if they seem useful - which is very rare. I still don't understand why people use a GPS when on road trip holidays. The best part is when you get lost! Or why would I like to connect to the internet anywhere so I can look up something quickly rather than wonder, speculate or try to recall - it's bad enough I don't know any phone number by heart anymore.

When ereaders first came out I scoffed at the possibility of having 10000 books at my fingertips. I still do. I wish there were 10000 books I want to read but there aren't. It's like having 300 TV channels. Useless. But I ended up getting an ereader because there were a number of books on gutenberg.org I wanted to read, books which weren't available at my library and that I had no wish to own. In fact, I want to get rid of most books I own as it is - all these boxes we have to schlep around whenever we move. And I just can't read these pdf's and whatnots on a laptop screen. I find myself not attached to the idea of books as objects unless they're gorgeously bound, have beautiful pictures or are signed. Nevertheless, I don't plan on buying any books for my kindle. It's exclusively dedicated to either out of print, extremely expensive antique editions or discardable out of copyright classics - I still love bookshops and have no wish to contribute to their disappearance.

At first it was Fernando Pessoa's fault. He was into crime novels and on his personal library there are all these old fashioned books by writers nobody reads anymore - and there it was, Austin Freeman's The Eye of Osiris at Gutenberg, looking at me and begging to be read. Then it was Eric Rohmer who loved Sax Rohmer's thrillers so much as a boy that he adopted his hero's name. I definitely didn't want a Fu-Manchu adventure sitting on my shelf but I just needed to read it. And then there are all these wonderful retro science books... Centuries year old, inaccurate when not just plainly wrong, non-fiction is the best social history document there is. I've been having a grand time reading psychiatric reports from turn of the century Portugal.

Other than trash literature and faulty science, I managed to get my hands on classics of spanish and french literature I always meant to read and which I would have to order from their native countries and would have to keep even after being disappointed by them.

And lots of John Ruskin. So I can disagree with every line the man writes but not have to see his name on the bookshelf.

Anyway, I'm an addicted semi-luddite and I have no shame.

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April 13, 2012

Easter in Edinburgh

At Edinburgh Books.


St Dunstan's Cemetery, Edinburgh St Dunstan's Cemetery, Edinburgh
Edinburgh has brilliant cemeteries. The 18th century graves at St. Dunstan's are the best ones. Memento Mori galore.


The National Galleries of Art exceeded expectations. The only downside was that the shop had run out of the Companion Guide to the Collection - surprising, to say the least, considering how well stocked they were on every other type of souvenir. On top of that, they don't allow photography in the galleries, the online collection isn't complete and the images available are very small. And I obviously had to fall in love with a minor renaissance painting by an unknown master which isn't mentioned anywhere. I probably will never see it again.

Also, they had a cassone which is further proof for my "Quit romanticizing them, Renaissance Italians were just crass" theory. It's decorated with a painting based on a cuckold/female abuse themed Decameron story. Exactly what you want your virgin daughter/bride to see when she puts away her bridal linen in her wedding chest by the conjugal bed.



In the National Museum of Scotland, looking at the "national heroes" section:

C: Here's Robert the Bruce. Oh, he was defeated by Edward I. Took him a while to get anywhere. He did get Scottish independence. But that sort of ended, didn't it? Last thing he did: defeated by the Irish. William Wallace. Captured and hanged by the English. Mary. Beheaded. James I. Took off to London to be king of the island and only came back to Scotland once. So much for a Scottish king of Britain. Rob Roy. Wounded by the English, defaulted on his loans, imprisoned as outlaw. Bonnie Prince Charlie. Fled from Scotland, defeated by the English. So, all Scottish national heroes are either losers or they didn't care enough?
R: Shhh. Quiet. Yes.

We agreed the Scottish would be better off commemorating all the amazing scientists, philosophers and writers the country has produced rather than these characters of dubious loyalty and accomplishments. They could start by putting J. M. Barrie's striking portrait by William Nicholson in a proper place rather than on one of the walls of the back room of the cafeteria in the National Portrait Gallery.



Like many other things in my life, I'm afraid, I first heard of haggis on a Scrooge McDuck comic book. Inducks.org is failing me but I vividly remember Donald Duck feeling nauseous when a Scottish character carves open a sheep's stomach and an aroma comes out, toxic cloud-like. Being an offal loving person and having had much weirder things to eat in the North of Portugal, I'd say the childhood haggis Disney induced trauma exists no more. I love it.

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March 30, 2012

Useless but Addictive.

What do you do when you find the French state has massive portions of their public records online? You go find birth records of writers and artists, of course.


Marcel Proust. Or Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust. His father was the one who went to register Marcel: "Achille Proust, aged thirthy seven, aggregate at the University of Medicine, doctor of the Paris Hospitals, Knight of the Legion of Honor...". I'm pretty sure all they needed was his profession but it turned out that he had his CV on the tip of his tongue. The witnesses were his uncle Louis Weil and grandfather Nathe Weil.


Carlos Gardel, born in Toulouse as Charles Gardes which is probably why Uruguay still claims him as their own despite the evidence.


André Breton's is a mess. That's because the french add marriages to the record and they ran out of space.


Apollinaire's Death notice. "Type of Death: War wounds".


Utrillo's is a fun one as his paternity was only recognized when he was 8. So, they just crossed out his previous family name, Valadon.

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March 21, 2012


Claudia's Law of Unwise Reading Choices: sitting next to me on a flight from Lisbon was this very nice and interesting Portuguese lady who turned out to be a scholar, prize winning poet and profusely translated at that. We chatted a bit about poetry, art and generally pleasant high brow subjects. When the moment arrived, the one when conversation between two fellow passengers lulls and both want to go back to what they were doing, I realized I had in my hand a trashy crime novel. I, who make a point of carrying philosophy volumes into the hairdresser to avoid frivolous conversation about soap operas or being offered "women's" magazines, was sitting next to a major literary figure holding a trashy crime novel - holding it very stealthily, in a way that unsightly spine and unsightly cover were hmmmmm out of sight. I don't know if it was charity or coincidence but when we started chatting again, the conversation took a twist into crime novels. I could breath again. And, yes, crime novels can be high brow too in many interesting ways but definitely not the one I was half concealing. My life can be so silly at times.

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March 08, 2012


Ludlow Misericords, Shropshire, UK

Misericords. I noticed them in Ludlow one of these last weekends for the first time and I only haven't found them earlier because I've been sitting on them. Misericords are narrow ledges on the underside of tip-up seats, offering support when standing through interminable religious functions. The carved ones are obviously more interesting. Although they exist throughout Northern Europe, only the English ones seem to have, in almost every instance, supporters on both sides of the central carving. I read that, probably because of the part of the anatomy which the misericords were supposed to provide support for, only a small proportion of the carvings are about biblical or overtly religious themes. The majority of the carvings are said to embody some sort of vernacular theology by illustrating moral tales of folkloric origin with models taken from now lost frescoes, bestiaries and popular epics and mystery plays.

There are a variety of themes for the carvings but the "Beware of Women" sexist satire ones seem to be well documented. The mermaid holding a looking glass and a comb (destroyed) - meaning a seductress - above is a later development over the early medieval mermaid holding a fish symbolizing a soul.

The story of the Cheating Ale Wife - the woman who used a false bottomed measuring tankard to cheat clients out of their beer - seemed to have been a rich source probably because not only it proves how wicked women are but also because it deals with a very serious issue - alcohol. The devil on the left is the recording devil, Tutivillus, whose job it is to note down idle chatter by churchgoers or negligently recited prayers. The center has a devil carrying the Cheating Ale Wife (plus tankard) over his shoulder while another one plays some kind of wind instrument. The carving on the right has the wicked women being thrown in the gaping jaws of hell (see Hellmouth) .

Ludlow Misericords, Shropshire, UK

The woman with the horned headdress (and how men should protect against them - see the man on the side holding a shield) is another common theme. This aversion probably derives from St Jerome's diatribes against women's fashions. The Bishop of Paris wrote a poem about it in the 14th century which says>

If we do not take care of ourselves
from the women we shall be slain.
They have horns to kill the men;
they carry great masses of other people's hair
upon their heads.

Ludlow Misericords, Shropshire, UK

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March 07, 2012

On consulting a bibliotherapist

I'm never without a book to read and, despite the periodical frustrations with fiction, I almost always have sucess at finding new authors. Especially through other authors - I just ordered a John Cowper Powys on the strength of a George Steiner recommendation, for instance. It may not work out but until it arrives I live in the anticipation of finding a new favorite. No shortage of ideas or choice, then. Yet, I signed up for Mr. B's Reading Year - I will be the recipient of 11 volumes chosen by Nic at the great Bath bookshop.

The reason why I signed up is twofold: I've never left Mr. B's without thinking to myself how marvelously knowledgeable the staff is over there and, mostly, because I am aware of how terribly prejudiced I am.

There are authors whose nationalities put me off - it's not xenophobia, I promise, just a conditioned reflex which is the fruit of a string of bad experiences fueled by a tendency for pessimistic forecasting. Yes, profiling it is. A pink cover will send me running. The book with too many national newspaper endorsements on its back cover will get scoffed at. Book club endorsements likewise. I end up avoiding any "feminine take" because I'm a woman and I don't really see how having a vagina fundamentally changes my metaphysics. In fact, there is an infinite array of other irrational prejudices for which I can't find even marginally defensible reasons. At least I'm aware of it, no?


Also, I love surprises. These surprises arrive by mail wrapped, sealed and with a little note explaining why my bibliotherapist thinks I might enjoy the book they're sending.

And I got for my first monthly installment... Ismail Kadare. Which is fabulous because I have an irrational prejudice against him and I didn't even mention my prejudices to Nic or my goal to exterminate them - that would be embarrassing in a way that exposing then on a blog post is not, for some unfathomable reason. In fact, I am very aware of having irrational prejudices in general against writers from behind the iron curtain.

I am so aware of this that I made an unnatural effort to read Solzhenitsyn, for example. I'm thinking Kundera was easier because I can read his politics as a backdrop to his more philosophically interesting plots. I think I end up liking the allegorical novel as long as it's not too partisan, too much against communism per se but against totalitarianism in general.

I gave it a little bit of thought and I can only imagine that communism has a different meaning to me which is a personal, emotional meaning with no political connotation. Communism was all pervasive in my childhood. It was the exact opposite reaction to the fascist dictatorship that had disappeared just before I was born. My childhood was one long succession of left wing rallies, red carnations and singing protest songs. One of my first memories is of queuing with my mother for her first opportunity to vote - she obviously voted for the communist candidate. The word communism was some abstract ideal that many people couldn't define but that naively sounded like just something everybody must want - a more equal and just society. The last thing on anybody's minds was stalinism, gulags or that what looked like the exact opposite of the right wing regime would inevitably go down the same path. And so these cautionary tales about the perils of communist totalitarianism always sounded to me as cynical remarks by people who love deflating everybody's balloons. It's not they are not correct. It's just that I refuse to connect "my" communism, my first years of life in an exhilarating time of hope of renewal, with those atrocities. A bit like how the Obama voters must feel when somebody points out to them on whose mandate a major terrorist was murdered without even the pretense of a trial.

In any case, The Palace of Dreams was an enjoyable read even if it felt like it was written by the product of a crossing between Salman Rushdie and Bohumil Hrabal - the Rushdiesque vaguely mystical fantasy with the inventiveness of the oppressed Hrabal. Paradoxically, I ended up finding the novel not daring enough in its subversiveness. It made me realize I'm glad I saved some Hrabal for a rainy day. This means I will definitely choose the Czech over the Albanian whenever I feel the need to smother my prejudice a little bit further. But before reading Kadare like a good schoolgirl on an assignment how could I have known?

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Almost makes me want to go to Milan.

Why am I not going to heaven? Certainly for very good moral reasons, but for much more practical reasons too: I've already been there. What is heaven? It is the Galleria in Milan. I'm sitting with a real cappuccino, in front of me is La Stampa, the Frankfurter Allgemeine, Le Monde and the Times. I've got a ticket to La Scala in my pocket, and coming at me are the ten or twelve complex smells in that Galleria — of the chocolate, the bakery, the twenty bookstores (which are among the world's best bookstores); the sound of the steps of people moving towards the opera or the theaters that night; the way Milan vibrates around you. I've been to heaven, so I'm not getting a second one.

--George Steiner, Paris Review Interview

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March 04, 2012

British weather is character forming

Dorothy L Sayers in her essay "The Gulf Stream and the Channel", from the book "Unpopular opinions":

"It has, I believe, been said that Britain possesses no climate, only weather. The weather of this country has been much abused (...) by ourselves, with no justice at all, (...) for our weather is our character and has made us what we are. (...)

All British institutions have an air of improvisation; and seem allergic to long term planning. Indeed, what else can you expect in a country where it is impossible to predict, from one hour to another, whether it will be hot or cold, wet or dry, windy or still - where every arrangement for an outdoor sport or public function may have to be altered at the last minute owing to uncontrollable causes? "Rain stopped play", "If wet, in the Parish Hall", "Weather permitting" - such phrases punctuate the whole rhythm of our communal life, and compel a general attitude to things which is at once sceptical, stoical, speculative and flexible in the last degree. (...)

The whole aim of the British weather is to make everything difficult and nothing impossible."


This last sentence has been much quoted in this household. When we first moved to London, we lived in a Georgian building overlooking a leafy square where, at the first ray of sunlight, lawns would be covered with pasty white bodies lounging like lizards.

The pair of us, having been brought up 5000km away from each other but sharing the experience of a permanently sunny childhood - R. even more so, living the T-shirt and Shorts Californian life - were unprepared for the whims of the British weather. We'd lazily wake up on a Saturday morning and notice, after weeks of what seemed exceptionally low, dark grey clouds hovering over the city, that it was a sunny day. Cheered up by the prospect of a walk in a sunny park, we'd calmly get ready, shower, cook breakfast, eat and, by the time we were ready to leave the apartment, it would be raining.

So we learned to hastily join the pasty white bodies downstairs in the square at the first glimpse of sunlight but, conversely, we have learned that if you let the weather stop you from whatever you feel like doing, you'll never do anything at all. And so we've come to understand that stoicism is not about sacrifice but about freeing yourself from external hindrances and therefore, if we want to go hiking, there is no rain or wind that will stop us. Because we are free. And also because if we put it off until the day after, the weather may be even worse anyway.

English Golfers
Sussex in July. See what I mean?

The most startling thing is that we've grown fond of the weather. Last Christmas in Portugal we found ourselves commenting how sunny and cloudless it was and realized we were bored by the immutability of it all. Portuguese weather would make for a very uneventful stop motion movie. Sitting back home at my perch over the Frome valley, I find myself making a sport out of figuring out whether I can see the Welsh Black Mountains in the distance or if the tops of the hills around us are dusted with snow or if the cows are lying down -that is always a sure sign of rain to come - or if that gap in the clouds will bring a few rays of sun in a short while. It is truly exciting and suddenly Turner makes sense, in an anthropological way.

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February 28, 2012

At the Movies

The Muppets. Unexpectedly, the level of silliness was below par. It was probably the mixture of nostalgia pangs and "misfit identity crisis" plot which, while never reaching a stage that could be mistaken - not even remotely - for serious psychological or social analysis, did hinder the full blown Muppets surreality somewhat. To sum it up, too much batrachian pathos, not enough nonsense. Still, I loved it.


(We're having a private Jim Jarmusch festival.)


Night on Earth, Jim Jarmusch. I first saw it when it came out. I was a teenager and I loved it. I've never stopped listening to the Tom Waits soundtrack ever since. But what did I love about it? It would have been impossible for me to understand it - there are too many cultural references, socially significant accents and national stereotyping in-jokes. I'm assuming a polyglot teenager stuck in a provincial backwater in pre-internet days must have been dazzled by the cosmopolitanism of it. I still am.


High Heels, Pedro Almodóvar. Another one I watched when it first came out. Teenagerhood must have limited my attention span and all I could remember from it was both Miguel Bosé in drag and Miguel Bosé practically naked. Teenagerhood, or rather, the lack of critical sense that comes from inexperience, must have prevented me from noticing how flabby Bosé's buttocks are. Not that it matters but it comes as a good excuse to my teenage self to say that I fear that is all I'll remember in the future from this non remarkable standard Almodóvar plot with a brilliant kitsch soundtrack. (I also failed to identify the Mexican interior decoration in Marisa Paredes apartment the first time around.)


Ghost Dog, The way of the samurai, Jim Jarmusch. It combines two of my favorite things: it nods to Asian mafia gang war movies and winks at cheap philosophy. Thanks to Ghost Dog, my quite belated new favorite thing is the Wu Tang clan, much to R's chagrin. He has been trying to convince me of the artistic significance of vintage rap or hip hop or whatever it is for years. Well, he should have played The Rza to me a long time ago.


Coffee and Cigarettes, Jim Jarmusch. After a while you start noticing black and white checkered patterns everywhere. It feels a lot like an intimate production done with friends which you are allowed to peep in to try and discover the recurrent themes in the vignettes. And it features the underground icon Taylor Mead who starred in Andy Warhol movies. To turn this post into a homage to C&C's structure of inter-vignette hints and imagining Almodóvar will read this:

Taylor Mead's Ass (1964) is a film by Andy Warhol featuring Taylor Mead, consisting entirely of a shot of Mead's buttocks, and filmed at The Factory. Warhol came up with the idea for the film after reading a review in The Village Voice which said of his previous film "Tarzan and Jane Regained... Sort of" that "... people don't want to see an hour and a half of Taylor Mead's ass."

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February 24, 2012


We spent the weekend climbing to see hidden lakes on top of mountains.

Llyn Cau, Snowdonia

Llyn Cau. It's in a protected area and there was no one in sight. Other than sheep. If it weren't so cold out I would have skinny dipped. They need to install a finnish sauna up there, although soaking in a beautiful free standing tub afterwards at the isolated Old Rectory on the Lake (yet another lake, Tal y Llyn) made up for it. Watching Mynnyd Rugog from our window.

Bedroom view, the Old Rectory, Tal-Y-Llyn

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February 12, 2012

Bath Spa Outskirts: Venetian Fountains and Henry Fielding

Despite living in the much famed Cotswolds, we have as a favorite day trip a jaunt to the city of Bath Spa in Somerset. You don't realize "awarded World Heritage Site status for its outstandingly preserved Georgian architecture" means until you've seen it. The centre is indeed magnificent but once you leave it and start climbing the many hills that surround the city, the architectural sightseeing is still never ending. So, armed with the Bath Pevsner Guide, we took to go see the beautiful villas of Widcombe, bagging Priory Park Gardens and its Palladian bridge in the process.

(as a recently arrived expat excited to find out more about the city where I was living, I went into Foyles on Charing Cross Road and tried to describe these series of books I had seen elsewhere to the bookshop assistant: "Their covers have a black background; they're about the architecture of the different counties; published by a university press, I think". She looked at me as if I were an alien - which was figuratively correct - and said "You mean the Pevsner Guides? Of course we have them!". Now I can't live without them.)

Walk to South Bath: Widcombe and Priory Park

The Pevsner guide describes the smallest architectural features in great detail but often fails to mention signficant places of cultural or literary significance. One of such is the house, Widcombe Lodge, where Henry Fielding wrote most of Tom Jones while staying with his sister. The book "A Henry Fielding Companion" says this story of his stay is a tradition which should be a polite way of saying there is no documentary evidence for it. Tradition also has it that he might have written books while staying next door's at Bennett's Widcombe Manor.

Walk to South Bath: Widcombe and Priory Park

And so, right next to Fielding's Lodge sits Widcombe Manor which, other than the obviously impressive façade, has a late 16th century bronze fountain said to have been taken from one of the Grimani palaces in Venice. The fountain was added by one of the previous owners of the manor, Sir John Roper Wright - a steel tycoon - in the 1920's. Authentic or not (and I suspect that zoologically correct seahorse gives it away), it looks rather exotic in the middle of the English countryside.

Walk to South Bath: Widcombe and Priory ParkAt the top there is a putto riding a seahorse.
Walk to South Bath: Widcombe and Priory ParkBaby satyrs sitting on the rim of the bowl on the second level.
Walk to South Bath: Widcombe and Priory ParkTritons around the Medici family coat of arms and turtles at the base.

The next owner of Widcombe Manor, Horace Annesley Vachell, a prolific novelist and playwright, wrote a family saga entitled "The Golden House, a romance of Bath" using the Manor as a model. Vachell writes in one of his books that Fielding wrote Tom Jones in the lobby of his "Golden House".

Jeremy Fry, the "British inventor, engineer, entrepreneur, adventurer and arts patron" and friend of James Dyson also owned Widcombe Manor from 1955 to 1967 and held memorable parties there - or else, any party attended by Princess Margaret seems to have been memorable judging by the frequency by which mentions of the princess and the phrase "memorable party" appear together in English memoirs.

From there we walked to Priory Park Gardens - built by Ralph Allen with advice by Pope and, unsurprisingly, later coveted by William Beckford - to see one of four surviving Palladian bridges (three are in England and another one is in Russia).

Walk to South Bath: Widcombe and Priory Park

19th century graffitti. So elegant probably because good penmanship was something to be proud of and pocket knives were popular.
Walk to South Bath: Widcombe and Priory Park

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February 10, 2012

Lateral Evidence to Support Fantasy Theories

(quote that proves my theory that the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey is, in fact, a bitchy gay man)

William Beckford in a letter: "I take airings everyday like an old Dowager".

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February 08, 2012

Keeping tabs

Frome banks

Double happiness: it snowed and my favorite spot - I always have one wherever I am, like a cat - will be spared the ignominy of fake beautification (also known as "development" or "progress"). The spot being the ruins of Capel's mill by the river Frome pictured above and "development" being the potential destruction of said ruins by the very retro project of making a 19th century canal navigable once again.


Watching or rewatching Hitchcock's 30's thrillers - The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes. They're a cross between Tintin's adventures and Agatha Christie's novels. A lot happens on trains. Also, Shadow of a Doubt. Trains again.

Billy Wilder's The Apartment. A story about doormats. Nonetheless, I will be using a quote from it:
''Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring --
Nothing --
No action --

Marcel Carné's Les Enfants du Paradis. Jacques Prévert's witty dialogue.

Max Ophul's Lola Montez. I have a feeling he just wanted an excuse to design Bavarian rococo sets.

The Thin Man and its sequels. Highly entertaining; like watching cartoons. Period value too: great jackets with wide lapels, 30's style outlaws and their jargon, gags with pet dogs, beautiful old cars, and general pre war merriment.

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February 03, 2012

Special! Turkish Poet's Abstruse New Song. Scottish Authors' Opinions

Hugh MacDiarmid’s ‘Glasgow 1960’

Returning to Glasgow after long exile
Nothing seemed to me to have changed its style.
Buses and trams all labelled "To Ibrox"
Swung past packed tight as they'd hold with folks.
Football match, I concluded, but just to make sure
I asked; and the man looked at me fell dour,
Then said, "Where in God's name are you frae, sir?
It'll be a record gate, but the cause o' the stir
Is a debate on 'la loi de l'effort converti'
Between Professor MacFadyen and a Spainish pairty."
I gasped. The newsboys came running along,
"Special! Turkish Poet's Abstruse New Song.
Scottish Authors' Opinions" - and, holy snakes,
I saw the edition sell like hot cakes!

Heavy irony, as the Scottish Review of Books - in an article defending the funding of a Museum of Literature by putting an end to the 2.4 million pounds spent in policing football games - put it.

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January 26, 2012

Alexander Historiatus

There must be a person somewhere at Gloucestershire's library headquarters who knows my name by heart at this point. That same person which regularly must say "Which odd, never borrowed before book do I have to go search the reserve stock for this time?". Well, Alexander Historiatus - A Guide to Medieval Illustrated Alexander Literature has a clean bill of borrowings judging by that front page pasted sheet for inserting return dates library books used to have before electronic tags.

Just when I was wondering how up to date this book published in 1963 is, I found "From Alexander to Jesus" through Anthony of Time's Flow Stemmed. It promises to be a great follow up to Historiatus which is mainly an inventory of manuscripts. Considering my knowledge of Alexander's mythology - a very different and rather more entertaining affair than historical fact - was close to nil, I'm happy to consider Historiatus as the ultimate source for now. Other than tracing the literary genealogy of the myths and its iconography, all this book gives me is a list of manuscripts and the libraries that hold them which means there is a lot of room for further readings and picture hunting. I might as well jot down some notes here.

The author, D. J. A. Ross, identifies the Greek manuscripts of the Romance of Alexander by Pseudo-Callisthenes going back to the third century AD as the main source for the Alexandrian legend and he proceeds to describe the main lines of transmission which originated versions of these stories, sometimes with local color added to it, in such places as Armenia, Spain, Syria, France, Germany, the Balkans and Russia (and by the author's own admission leaving out a myriad of asian and middle eastern variations on the stories). The origin of most of western Europe's accounts is Historia de Prellis Alexandri Magni by Bishop Leo of Naples in the mid tenth century which is an interpolated version of the Romance and evolved to include a number of other texts like the letters between Aristotle and Alexander, Orosius Historiarum Adversum paganos libri septem, Pseudo-Methodius, etc.

Ross ventures that the original picture cycle which was supposed to illustrate the original Greek manuscript of Pseudo-Callisthenes survived in Greek, Armenian and Latin illuminated versions and fragments or, at the very least, these illustrations were created as far back as the fourth century AD as two scenes from the cycle can be traced to mosaics from villa Soueidié in Baalbek, Lebanon, from that century (now housed in the National Museum in Beirut).

Source: Yewco on Flickr.

The same author wrote an article interpreting the mosaics by using the Romance of Alexander as his source for the iconography*. The first scene in the mosaics reflects Chapter X of Book I by Pseudo-Callisthenes where Alexander's mother Olympias is impregnated by the exiled Egyptian pharaoh Nektanebos disguised as an astrologer who convinces her to have intercourse with him by pretending he is actually the god Ammon and by mutating into a snake (very phalic, no?). In order to avoid Philip of Macedonia's wrath at arriving home from his battles and finding his wife pregnant, he magically sends Philip a message in a dream telling him a God is the father of his son and that his wife is not to blame. Later, Philip does doubt Olympia's fidelity and Nektanebos turns into a serpent again and shows his affection to Olympia during a banquet by kissing her with his forked tongue. The medieval and renaissance versions of this story translate the snake into a dragon.

Olympias is seduced by Nectanebus in the form of a dragon
Utrecht, c. 1467, in the National Library of the Netherlands (source: renzodionigi)


A few of the episodes of Alexander's life are derived from the Jewish tradition: Alexander's visit to Jerusalem, the enclosing of Gog and Magog and the enclosing of the 10 tribes of Israel variation, the tale of the wonderstone and the visit to earthly paradise.

The tale of the visit to Jerusalem is already in the Jewish antiquities of Josephus and made its way into Historia de Prellis: Alexander, by honoring the high-priest and exempting the Jews from taxation found favor with God who let him conquer Persia.

Faicts et conquestes d’Alexandre de Jean Wauquelin : Arrivée d’Alexandre à Jérusalem. Willem Vrelant, c. 1467, Paris, Petit Palais, ms Dutuit 456, f. 140v.

Josephus identified the evil peoples Gog and Magog - who, according to Ezekiel will ravage the earth with Satan - with the Scythians. Alexander built a wall or a gate to enclose these peoples until the end of the world.

The enclosing of the ten tribes of Israel is a variation on the previous tale where the tribes are enclosed for apostasy and it's the invention of Petrus Comestor on his Historia Scolastica which was a very popular book.

Faicts et conquestes d’Alexandre de Jean Wauquelin : Enfermement de Gog et Magog. c. 1448-1450, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms Fr. 9342, f. 131v.

Alexander is supposed to have visited Earthly paradise where his emissaries were given a stone carved with a human eye. It's impossible to weigh this stone unless it's covered in dust. Only then a feather will outweigh it (or two coins in another version).

Cod. Pal. germ. 336, fol. 149r, Bibliotheca Palatina, Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg


From the Germans come the adventures of Alexander in scientific research: flying and deep sea diving which eventually made their way to the French and Italian versions. The submarine adventure in particular is rather contrived. Alexander goes down to the bottom of the sea on a glass diving-bell taking with him a rooster, a cat and a dog (optional in some versions). The rooster lets him know if it's day or night, the cat's breathing purifies the air and the dog, well, the dog Alexander kills to get back to the surface as the sea won't tolerate a corpse in it. There is a chain for lowering and lifting the diving bell which, depending on the version, gets dropped to the bottom of the ocean either because of the treachery of Alexander's enemies or because his wife is convinced by her lover to do so.

"Le Livre et la vraye histoire du bon roy Alexandre". Roy.20.B.XX.fol.77 v, The British Library, London, Great Britain

Alexander the Great
"Le Livre et la vraye histoire du bon roy Alexandre". Roy.20.B.XX.fol.77 v, The British Library, London, Great Britain


* Olympias and the Serpent: The Interpretation of a Baalbek Mosaic and the Date of the Illustrated Pseudo-Callisthenes, D. J. A. Ross, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes , Vol. 26, No. 1/2 (1963), pp. 1-21

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January 24, 2012


Listening to the very civilized FIP and Monocle 24 radio stations.

Watching old french movies ever since finding out about the fabulous Dimitri Kirsanoff's Ménilmontant from 1926 (which means I should pay more attention to Pauline Kael who named it her favorite movie of all time). Fantastic camerawork and editing. Unusually subtle acting. Narration so perfect it can do without intertitles. So poetic. So well done. I am a fan. Jean Gremillon's Maldone. Rewatching Renoir's The Rules of the Game. René Clair. And so forth.


R has been practicing his jazz chords on the resuscitated piano.

I have been dueling with German grammar.

Planning to visit out of the way lakes in Wales.

Playing Hive. Perfect strategy board game for two.

Missing a Lisbon that doesn't exist. Before the burning down of the building holding childhood Christmas memories. Missing a time before I was born when, for once in their lives, the inhabitants of that silly little rectangle by the sea took matters in their own hands.
(always trying to spot my father in the crowds in these '74 revolution photos with no success)

Visiting Salisbury Cathedral and out of the way pubs serving underrated British food. That would be theBeckford Arms in Wiltshire. Behind it stood William Beckford's folly or Fonthill Abbey, the remains of which are in private property and unreachable to us common hikers.

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January 17, 2012

Read, read, read

El Mármol by César Aira

Too wacky for me. The narrator, a retired left wing man with the usual hangups, finds himself in an adventure with a Chinese young man inside a Chinese shop with extra-terrestrial life and multiple dimensions thrown in. The most interesting part was the narrator's questioning of his left wing egalitarianism when he catches himself making racist comments. Which came right after I had remarked it to myself.


De la elegancia mientras se duerme by Vizconde de Lascano Tegui

This is the favorite of this recent batch. The self-styled Vizconde hobnobbed with the parisian bohemians in the 20's and it shows. It's a sort of diary/autobiography of a murderer but written like nobody could write it today - and even then a pedophilic bit had an addendum by the typographer protesting same. No fears, no compunctions. Death and sex. Savage and poetic at the same time. Here's an excerpt which doesn't add to the story other than establishing the narrator as outside society norms:

I saw the two white she-goats once more. One of them was looking at me. She has eyes like a young woman's. The afternoon was filled with silence and I felt a goat inside me who understood her. Goats are the animals closer to me and I couldn't help but return that gaze and start approaching the more comely of the two - whose pink udder is a woman's breast.


Selections from Delacroix's Journals

It's always comforting when great celebrities of the past sound so silly. Silliness is underrated.


The life of Berlioz by himself

After watching his opera (extremely) loosely based on Cellini's life , I read a short bio of the composer which promised to be as colorful as Benvenuto's own. And sure enough, Berlioz wrote autobiographical texts which are full of drama, exaggeration and exclamation marks.


Mis Dos Mundos by Sergio Chefjec

Chefjec follows the tradition of the philosophical rambling while going on a walk - I see it more as an essay than fiction - which is always such a pleasurable read if you are so inclined yourself. In this case you spend half of the book wondering where it's going and the other half where it's gone. And then you need to reread it because it's short and you can't believe how short it was despite seemingly containing details and descriptions numerous and ample enough to fill a large tome. It's the literary equivalent of fibre in your stomach: a book that expands inside your mind. And then you want to reread it again because there are bits here and there that seem to be paraphrasing other authors - Cortázar, Borges? - but you can't really narrow it down because it's all done so seamlessly. I enjoyed it greatly and the only fault I can find is that I am left wondering why does Chefjec believe he has only two worlds. I don't think he's thinking it through.


Au nord par une montagne. Au sud par un lac. À l’ouest par des chemins. À l’est par un cours d’eau by László Krasznahorkai

It's rather surprising how some authors are able to change their whole general theme - not just the setting for the stories but also their concerns (which they disguise as literature). Most write the same book time and time again with slight variations (Philip Roth or Paul Auster come to mind). This was my first Krasznahorkai but it seems almost impossible to relate this novel to the others that have been translated into English from what I gather from synopses and reviews. This one feels like a long new agey oriental style meditation aid - the visualize a beautiful pagoda type - and I'll readily admit that this judgment is substantially based on a very personal and profound prejudice which prevents me from taking seriously any western take on buddhism. Not that I didn't have pleasure reading it - I even dreamt of Japanese monks one night - but I'm surprised it's not being recommended in yoga classes.


Earthly Visions: Theology and the Challenges of Art by T.J. Gorringe

I don't understand it. It's probably my fault but it seems there is hardly any challenge in seeing God in secular paintings if you are so disposed. The joy of creation, the abundance of God's offerings, Jesus as the image of God creating the precedent for further representations of God's world, the supposed spirituality of abstract painting can be easily channeled into religion-like ecstasy, etc. Didn't finish it.

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January 11, 2012

Trimming Delacroix's 1849 Journal

Saturday, 18 January

I have been reading about an English judge who desired to live to a great age and accordingly proceeded to question every old man he met about his diet and kind of life he led. It appears that the only thing they had in common was early rising and, above all, not dozing off once they were awake. Most important

Tuesday, 27 January

This morning I received a letter announcing the death of Gericault.

Tuesday morning, 2 February

Got up about seven o'clock. I ought to do this more often.

Wednesday, 3 March

It takes a pitchfork to rouse me; I drop off to sleep when there is nothing to stimulate me.

Thursday, 4 March

Fedel came to see me at the studio and we dined together.

Sunday, 7 March

Fielding and Soulier came to the studio.

Tuesday, 16 March

Dined at Tautin's with Soulier and Fielding.

Friday, 19 March

Looked at the Goyas in my studio with Edouard. Then we saw Piron. Met Fedel. We all dined together.

Thursday, 25 March

Went to Saint-Cloud with Fielding and Soulier, and dined there. Evening at Pierret's - punch.

Saturday, 27 March

Pierret came in. Dined with him.

Sunday, 4 April

Everything tells me I need to live a more solitary life.

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January 10, 2012

On Literary Prizes

"Isn't it a necessary condition that the books which change the course of literature are, precisely, illegible at the time? Even more probable is that literary prizes have the peculiarity of not addressing the new but the contemporary, which is precisely its opposite."

--Anibal Jarkowski, in Clarín (2/1/12) on the 70th anniversary of the first edition of Borges's The Garden of Forking Paths which did not win the National Book Prize because it was "an arbitrary brain exercise" among other great things.

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January 08, 2012


My nocturnal procedure is emerging from the search for a harmony between the barbarian and barely legible reality and its antagonist, more readable, but also more artificial for it reads the world as if everything has an explanation.

My procedure is capable of creating precursor methods. Borges’s method could be, with Gombrowicz’s, one of the closest forerunners. I recall that in Ricardo Piglia’s Crítica y ficción, he refers to Borges and talks about his theory of lineages and comments how this writer, by building the genealogy of his own oeuvre, put into practice a reading tactic that harmonized two antagonistic and very distinct Argentinian literary styles (he joined José Hernandéz and his gaucho poetry with Sarmiento) to establish the two strains on which he founded his original poetics, his innovative procedure.

Piglia concentrates on the famous story “Borges and I” and says that it is a paradigmatic piece because it is a sort of microscopic version of the great tradition of the autobiography of the artist, “with a fantastic turn, a sort of literary Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. For Piglia, Borges’s theory of lineages (Borges himself would be the point at which those lineages cross) created an extreme tension around the old dicotomy of Argentinian literature which, by having it as a given that the two writing traditions were radically opposed, made it mandatory to swear allegiance either to Hernández or Sarmiento.

Borges took a shortcut and vampirized the two, he converted himself into the two of them at the same time. Maybe he took his theory of lineages to extremes because he understood that if he opted only for one of the theories he wouldn’t attain the complexity he wished for his work. Borges, we are told by Piglia, is a populist like Hernández who believes that experience is more imporant than books but also, at the same time, somebody who lives behind the closed doors of a library and who thinks that the world is constituted solely by culture and reading: “The remarkable is that, of course, he does not solve the contradiction but instead maintains the two elements alive and present. And for that he had to invent a form, a procedure, a type of fiction which allows him to sustain the tension.”

- Vila-Matas, Chet Baker piensa en su arte (Ficción Crítica). I'm to blame for the translation but that's what VM's publishers get for not going much further than France.

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January 04, 2012

Walking up Calle de Caracas, Madrid

R: So "secretária" in Portuguese means both a desk and the person who works as a secretary?
C: Yes.
R: That's rather sexist for the "secretária", isn't it?
C: Well, there's "secretário" for men but in general means more of a prestigious role... so it does sound sexist.
R: I always loved the Spanish word for desk: "Escritório". Where you do your writing, your "escritos" and so "escritório". It's perfect.
C: Doesn't make any sense to me. It probably comes from the latin scriptorium which was the room where the monks copied books. The Portuguese word for "Escritório" makes more sense because it means office rather than desk. It's the place where "writing" work is done.
R: Well, office in Spanish is "oficina".
C: I suppose it has the same origin in english and in spanish. Something to do with "oficio", professional work? Anyway, "Oficina" in Portuguese means garage, where you take your car to get fixed. Or more generally, a place where manual labor is done.
R: A mechanic's garage in Spanish is "Taller".
C: Hmm. "Talher" is almost homonym and is Portuguese for cutlery.
R: I forget how to say cutlery in Spanish.
C: Good. Otherwise we could go on like this forever.

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January 03, 2012

Moving continents. Readings-wise.

We welcomed 2012 in Madrid. It was a perfect weekend. We are no strangers to the city and there was nothing to do but to walk aimlessly taking in the architecture and to stop randomly for vermouth here, sherry and cheese there and tapas everywhere. Museums were closed solving the problem of checking-out-all-special-exhibitions induced anxiety. On Monday the Prado graciously opened for the Hermitage exhibition - showing the most horrible Matisse I have ever seen, among other things. The mandatory hour inside La Central bookshop at the Reina Sofia - the most cosmopolitan and artistic of bookshops - yielded a nice harvest of future readings.

I had been reading English fiction to keep up with the local zeitgeist and then I realized I don't give a flying fuck about the local zeitgeist. Pardon me for the expletive but it's still milder than the sentiment. Last year I got sucked into reading the Hare with Amber Eyes - I hated it with a passion - so I should have known better than attempt to read any books recommended on best of 2011 lists. Well, stupidly, a couple of recommendations on the TLS got me to Philip Hensher's The King of the Badgers*. That intellectual disaster coupled with Enrique Vila Matas erudite "critical fiction" in "Chet Baker piensa en su arte" made me realize I am wasting my time with anglo fiction. Too much storytelling, not enough introspection. Too much creative writing techniques that aren't even that creative. In short, not enough Art. Not enough Beauty. Not enough Philosophy.

Vila Matas talks about trying to find a path for the novel which sits somewhere between Joyce's Fineggan's Wake, the beautiful and daring unreadable, and Simenon's Hire, quality writing that follows conventions. So, literature that is both artistic and readable. He spends pages and pages commenting on Sergio Chefjec's "Dos Mundos" as an attempt to achieve just that. I had never heard of Chefjec and, somehow, reading reviews and biographies I ended up with Aira and Saer on my to-read list. Quevedo was overdue, recommended by Borges. I can read all these in their original language. What was I thinking wasting my time with badgers?

I was going to inaugurate the Argentinian season with Aira but R snatched it. He says Aira writes like Murakami. I guess he means well written, bordering the surreal trash.

(next stop: old french authors I somehow missed - in french!)

(problem: I love german literature and always stop myself from reading it by conjuring up the fantasy that, some day, my german will be good enough to read in the original. High time to do something about that?...)


*I'm hoping it's an ironic novel. It's a portrait of contemporary England taken from the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Mirror. It's a long succession of tabloid stereotypes: constant fear of crime, pedophiles who are random strangers and kidnap your kids and keep them in basements, council housing people being involved in fraud, brown skinned people selling drugs, gay couples having sex and drugs orgies despite the "normalcy" of being able to get married, dishonest italians, hot gay brazilians, english housewives being pimped by their husbands for free sex, people living above their means and blaming the bankers for not being able to pay mortgages, rude teenagers, american academics on holidays disguised as research projects. The drugs of choice, the slang, the preoccupations are so of today and of such a tiny geographic importance that the novel will be dated quickly. Like the tabloids.

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December 29, 2011


I was sitting down at the table reading the Book of Disquiet while my father dozed off in the couch after a mostly sleepless night of wandering around from room to room in the apartment. I saw his eyes slowly opening and the barely perceptible glint of curiosity in them when he saw me. Unexpectedly, he gingerly stood up and gently snatched the book I had closed down, using my finger as a bookmark. He paged through it, quickly lost interest, and his face brightened up with recognition when he saw the photo on the cover. He said "It's Fernandinho!" as if Pessoa had been his childhood pal or a beloved family member.

Appropriately, I was reading a passage where Pessoa - or Bernardo Soares, his lonely, philosophical heteronym - was saying that to live is to be a new person every day. If you feel like you felt yesterday, you are not feeling at all: you are merely remembering how you felt. Pessoa means well and he's got a good point but he obviously never sat in the same room as somebody with dementia. I was also thinking what an interesting literary illustration to a chapter on Kahneman's "Thinking, fast and slow" - which I just finished reading - the passage is. Kahneman talks about how we have a "remembering self" and an "experiencing self" and how we rely so much more on the former - a study cited showed that most people would go through an important surgery with no anaesthetic if promised that they would have no memory of it. Kahneman says something like memories are all we have from the experience of living and therefore we confuse the memory with the experience itself: a cognitive illusion. Since memories themselves are subject to biases, the decisions we make based on them might be flawed and not lead to our own best interests.

It was almost lunch time and the subject of food - or maybe the hunger is spur enough- is one of the few that my father still has any initiative about. But his brain is like a TV set with all the channels jumbled and showing simultaneously, layered on the same screen. I can divine his intentions from habit and intonation but every sound and image interferes with his speech and what comes out of his mouth is a mish mash of short term memory references and words distantly associated with the subject he wants to approach: "Let's go talk to mother and see if she wants to go carve Fernando Pessoa", he said.

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December 13, 2011

Readin' and watchin'

Handwritten volume 1 of Jane Austen's works at the Bodleian.

Death comes to Pemberley by PD James. So much fun. I read (or re-read) all of Jane Austen's in the past year and was hoping for that headline, you know, the same one I hope to hear about Shakespeare someday: "Treasure trove of author's manuscripts found in grandma's attic." It starts out almost pitch perfect and then loses the Austenite turn of phrase midway, time by which it doesn't matter anymore because you're in the middle of the whodunnit.

The folding star, Alan Hollinghurst. I'm on a Hollinghurst binge. This one's a uninhibited Death in Venice except it takes place in Belgium and there's no death. With the standard Hollinghurst fictional biography of an older gay man thrown in.

Allegory and the Migration of Symbols, Rudolf Wittkower. Essays. Iconography is always entertaining. Didn't know about Carracci's divinarelli pittorici (visual riddles):


(a builder behind a wall showing top of head and trowel, a capuchin monk in his pulpit bending down to take a breath in the middle of his sermon, a knight jousting with his lance behind a wall, a blind man begging right around a corner with his alms box and stick showing.)*

The Bayeux Tapestry by Carola Hicks. I wanted a long description of the tapestry and a short history of it but this book is the precise opposite. Learned there is a 1885 replica of the tapestry in the Reading museum which is only a 1 hour train ride away. That will save me a bit of time.

(I've been meaning to keep a cinema diary but I always forget about it)


The Cave of Dreams, Werner Herzog. Where can I get a print of those beautiful 30'000 year old paintings of lions? I'm not sure I care much about having this movie shot by Herzog - it gives it a quirky feel but that's all. Given the quality of the subject matter, I'd be amazed by any cheapie discovery channel doc about the Chauvet caves.

George Harrison Living in the Material World by Scorsese. Rather odd. George Harrison is not the stuff of legend but then I realized his wife was the producer. Put off by all the new agey superficiality. Surprised - that's unfair but, you know, sports celebrities and all that - by Jackie Stewart's insights. Terry Gilliam looking very non star struck and the only one to point out the irony of calling Harrison an anti-materialist when on his dying days he was buying a house in Switzerland to avoid taxes. I resent having the editing done as if the subject matter is so well known that you need not to give the viewer any other information about the clips they're watching (also, I entertain this hope that in a hundred year's time no one will know who the Beatles were but Yoko Ono will be hailed as a great conceptual artist.)

Filme Socialisme, Godard. I have no idea what was that about. Maybe a long piece of video art. Best line I've heard in a while (maybe it's a quote like most dialogue in the film is) was when the little kid who is painting something we can't see replies to the lady asking him what is he doing: "I'm welcoming a bygone landscape". Than it turns out he's painting a Renoir.

*image and description stolen from:
Annibale Carracci and Invenzione: Medium and Function in the Early Drawings
Clare Robertson
Master Drawings , Vol. 35, No. 1 (Spring, 1997), pp. 3-42
Published by: Master Drawings Association
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1554287)

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December 12, 2011

Super Saints

I saw a painting at the Ashmolean this weekend which reminded me I've been meaning to look into flying saints ever since I saw a Sassetta last year at the Louvre. While saintly flight is well documented, it seems mostly to regard ecstatic levitation rather than engagement in full superman like flight into distant lands to save the faithful from harm.

Saint Nicholas of Bari Rebuking the Storm by Bicci di Lorenzo at the Ashmolean, Oxford. (1433-35)

Saint Nicholas, who when not being Santa is the patron saint of sailors and voyagers, is here performing a posthumous miracle. This painting comes from the predella of an altarpiece from the church of S. Niccolo in Cafaggio, Florence. There are two other paintings from this predella at the Met: on one of them, the giving of the dowries to the poor maidens, he is portrayed as younger and reaching into a high window rather acrobatically thus proving he had no flying powers while alive. Bicci modelled (which is to say copied) these paintings on Gentile da Fabriano's Quaratesi Polyptych.

Blessed Ranieri saving the Poor from Prison by Sassetta at the Louvre, Paris. (1439-1440)

There is no official hagiography for Ranieri - he was only acknowledged as Blessed in 1802 and had always been a sort of saint of the people of Borgo S. Sepolcro - but there is an extant play describing his miracles. A lay franciscan friar, he started performing miracles on the days following his death while his corpse exuded a smell of saintliness.

(I'm realizing this painting is from the predella of the same altarpiece as Berenson's favorite painting, a Saint Francis Sassetta, which we saw at the Villa I Tatti.)

James Banker* found a document where the Franciscans stipulate the iconography for Sassetta's altarpiece which states "Nella predella quatro storie de' Beato Raniero como noi frate Frachesco et frate Michelagnilo ve mandaremo". So, four stories of the Blessed Ranieri would be described by the two friars to Sassetta further on. The Louvre has two, Berlin has another one where the blessed Ranieri is shown in full flight again, this time to let a Bishop know that someone is coming to ask for balm to have his - Ranieri's - body embalmed. According to Baker, this half-body representation is meant to convey that it was Ranieri's soul and not his body that appeared to the Bishop. The same author also says that the escape of the poor was performed while Ranieri was alive. Either that defeats the "half-body as soul" theory or the Blessed Ranieri's soul could detach itself from the living body.

At least in these cases Saints in full flight seem to be an indication of posthumous intercession, the soul being represented by the body in flight. Or the half body.

*The Program for the Sassetta Altarpiece in the Church of S. Francesco in Borgo S. Sepolcro
James R. Banker
I Tatti Studies: Essays in the Renaissance , Vol. 4, (1991), pp. 11-58

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December 10, 2011

On Emily Dickinson's Birthday

I dwell in Possibility--
A fairer House than Prose--
More numerous of Windows--
Superior--for Doors--

Of Chambers as the Cedars--
Impregnable of Eye--
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky--

Of Visitors--the fairest--
For Occupation--This--
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise--

*I've always thought that had Wallace Stevens been a secluded spinster in the 1800's, he would have written this.

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December 01, 2011

Favorite bits from Kafka's Diaries.


June 1: Wrote nothing.

June 2: Wrote almost nothing.

June 7: Wrote nothing today. Tomorrow no time.

July 6: Began a little.

July 9: Nothing written for so long. Begin tomorrow.

August 7: Long torment.

August 10: Wrote nothing.

August 11: Nothing, nothing.

August 14: In a letter: I am enclosing the little prose pieces you wanted to see;

August 15: Wasted day.

August 16: Nothing, either in the office or at home.

August 30: All this time did nothing.

September 25: By force kept myself from writing.


May 2: The uncertainty of my thoughts.

May 3: The terrible uncertainty of my existence.

May 4: Nowhere a welcome.

June 21: The anxiety I suffer from all sides.

July 1: The wish for an unthinking, reckless solitude.

June 21: Only dreams, no sleep.

August 13: I shall gradually pull myself together, she will marry.

August 14: I love her as far as I am capable of.

August 15: Saw only solution in jumping out of the window.

August 21: [Kierkegaard] bears me out like a friend.

August 30: Where am I to find salvation?

October 15: To sit in the corner of a trolley, your coat wrapped around you.

October 20: The unimaginable sadness in the morning.

October 21: Lost day.

October 22: Too late.

October 26: "Who am I then?" I rebuked myself.

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November 30, 2011


The dates for a long weekend in Copenhagen had been determined determined once we got a reservation for lunch at Noma.

The days were short, the wind was cold but, nonetheless, we took long strolls through the various neighborhoods - amusingly, the ethnic neighborhoods where cool things are advertised to be happening felt very white.

We visited the Copenhagen museum and Assistens Cemetery so I could satisfy the fetishistic nerd impulse by looking at the last vestiges - private possessions and grave - of Kierkegaard. Did the same for R. (physics instead of philosophy)and his chosen Danish dead person, Niels Bohr.

Copenhagen Nov 2011

Found a very entertaining 17th century painter at the National Museum of Art named Cornelius Gijsbrechts who painted a very modern trompe l'oeil back of a painting and saw a few Caspar David Friedrich paintings set against those of Dahl's. I wonder if the Museum already had a Hammershoi room before Michael Palin discovered how good he is. (sarcasm).
Copenhagen Nov 2011

It was very silly but we bought a Villa Matas book, in spanish, at Café Rayuela. I suppose it was a consolation buy after entering a danish bookshop and feeling sad we weren't able to read Piet Hein's Grooks.


Noma was fun. It's an experience. In the end, I'll probably remember best the food design that the actual taste of the dishes. The chefs seems to be young and everybody there is relaxed and happy. We got the Noma guide to Copenhagen and the suggestions by all the people who work there are pretty much hipster off the beaten path recommendations. Considering this is the best restaurant in the world and not horribly expensive but not exactly cheap, it's a bit surprising to feel that the Noma philosophy seems to be to create a bubble away from the commercialism, mass production, high street entertainment without appealing to a sense of luxury. On the contrary, it feels like they're proud to share the neighborhood with Christiania - the social anarchist experiment - as if eating meals over engineered to look simple was a step into non-conformism.

Lunch at Noma

An apple deconstructed to be joined with Jerusalem artichokes and to be made to look like an apple again. It was described to us as an apple fallen from a tree, landing in the grass.

It was fun to be momentarily part of a creative gastronomy zeitgeist but congratulations go mainly to the genius at Noma who thought of making fudge with bone marrow rather than butter.

Lunch at Noma


In the student district, a Norwegian man named Mats at Galleri Krebser/Krebsegaarden put together for us (it took him quite a while and he'd come back from the kitchen periodically to very excitedly report on his progress) the ultimate danish cheese tasting board which included the best cheese of 2010 of which only 14 roundels are produced each year. I will think of him with respect for his Phd in Cheeseology for the rest of my life.

Krebse Gaarden Cheese plate


Also, Copenhagen is the place where jazz musicians come to die.
Copenhagen Nov 2011

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Max J Friedlander, On Art and Connoisseurship. The Netherlandish art equivalent of Berenson. Adviser to Goering. Wondering if Goering did really have any taste or artistic sensibility or was this guy doing the curating for him? There is a book out about Goering's collection but, at the price of 250 dollars, I don't think I care enough.

Letters of Paul Cézanne. The man couldn't write but he could paint.

Orthodoxy by Chesterton. Amusing to watch him bend over backwards to find logical arguments for his non-rational choices. I love Chesterton even when I disagree with him. Actually, the first chapter has one of the best descriptions of psychosis I have ever read. I wonder if he was a good dinner guest or if his apparent verbal fluidity and wit was reserved for the written page.

The Stranger's Child, Alan Hollinghurst. That was extremely enjoyable. Clever structure. After reading the Swimming Pool Library and finding out I enjoy gay erotica mixed in with well written prose and a taste of social history, I went for the most recent novel. I like how his main thesis seems to be that, once you reread a person's biography knowing they were gay, everything suddenly makes sense.

The Girl with a Green Gown, Carola Hicks. Despite the cheesy title and reminiscence of other art inspired fluff, this is an enjoyable non-fiction read even if not academic enough for my taste. I now know more about the Arnolfini portrait that I ever wanted to and wonder why the Spanish government doesn't reclaim it back as it was plundered from the royal collection. I suppose having the Brits liberate them from the claws of Napoleon would make the claim look ungrateful.

The Swerve, How the Renaissance began, Stephen Greenblatt. I'm not sure he makes a good point - Lucretius de Rerum Natura being a sort of enlightened book which would have saved humanity from the dark ages had it not been relegated to oblivion or how Christians tried to suppress Epicureanism with catastrophic effects for human progress - but it was immensely entertaining. Other than one ranting chapter where he goes on and on about the role of self-flagellation as diametrically opposed to pleasure (a bit naively if you ask me), the whole book tells a wonderful tale of libraries, copyists, popes and humanists.

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November 11, 2011


Some people do meditation, some attend yoga classes and others swear by the Dalai Lama's words. I find myself planning to read John Climacus' Ladder of Divine Ascent during Lent.

I am, in all likelihood, the most devout faith impaired person around.

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November 03, 2011

Snippets. San Diego. San Francisco.

My father in law's nickname for me: "Mi flaquita de oro". So sweet.

Uncle P buying me Uchepos - had no idea you could get them outside Mexico - after I complained how much I missed them.

Brother in Law frying bacon in the morning, R and I coming from upstairs half asleep but entranced like cartoon characters following a scent.

Aunt B hugging me and calling me "Mi sobrina" after making sure what my "raza" was.

Narco stories from their village in Mexico. Which I hope to visit next year without getting murdered.

Carrying a fake parrot into Karl Strauss Brewery in Carlsbad.

Seal watching at La Jolla cove.

Nephew hugs. Nephew as victim of racial profiling by San Diego traffic cops who think they have the right to ask him where was he born and where is he going and coming from.

Nortena band hired for birthday party. Hopefully the neighbors didn't pay attention to the lyrics of the Chapo Guzman narcocorrido. Police paying visits about complaints for excessive noise but not doing anything about it. Mother in Law: "In Mexico your neighbors would come by to wish you a happy birthday on hearing a live band. Here the Americans call the police on you."

Bought a $2 Moby Dick at Book Tales in Encinitas where R used to buy his books as a kid.

Dia de los Muertos altars at San Luis Rey Mission.
Dia de Los Muertos Mission San Luis Rey


If Wallace Stevens had lived in San Francisco:
13 Ways of Looking at a Burrito
(seen at City Lights bookshop but erased my SD card, so using Electric Stove's instead)

I could have spent my whole time in San Francisco sitting at the table at Brenda's Soul Food. A food trip to Louisiana is long overdue.

Richard Serra's drawings at the SFMoMA. Meh.

Walking in the gritty Tenderloin. Dodging drunks, drug pushers and latino gangs but still managing to admire this wonderful showcase of San Francisco architecture. Congrats to the bunch of people who managed to enter more than 400 Tenderloin buildings into the National Register of Historical Places and thus making real estate developers weep. I hope.

Yet another earthquake. My first earthquake was in San Francisco in late 2007 sitting at Bourbon & Branch, a prohibition times style speakeasy where you need to know a password to get in. My second earthquake was at the hotel Nikko a couple weeks ago. And on the same day by the evening, there I was again at Bourbon & Branch being pushed off my bar stool by tectonic plaques.

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October 15, 2011

Velazquez, Los Borrachos
Amadeo de Souza Cardoso and friends, Paris, 1908 from Biblioteca de Arte.

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October 14, 2011

The readings

Gore Vidal's Palimpsest which should be renamed "Why I am superior to Jack Kennedy". Learned everyone lies except Vidal.

Pytheas the Greek by Barry Cunliffe is highly entertaining. Pytheas circumnavigated Britain 2300 years ago and his book about the adventure is lost but several authors quote him. Cunliffe uses this lost book to imagine - more than imagine since he is an archaeologist and specialist in Atlantic people's pre-history - what Pytheas might have seen in his voyage.

Julian Barnes' A sense of an ending. I loved it. If Rohmer was mildly British (and ignoring the fact that he didn't care a fig about people over 30) he could have written this.

Joe Orton's diaries. I have an affection for Orton. Even when he goes on his neocolonialist sex vacations and despite women bashing diatribes. Go figure. What puzzles me is why anybody has doubts about why Kenneth murdered him after reading that diary.

Hayek's The Road to Serfdom. It was overdue. I think I should have read it in college but my university was Keynes leaning (when not right-down marxist). I could have lived with the wikipedia summary only.

Games for Actors and Non-Actors by Augusto Boal. I picked this up because I chatted with a theatre director at a Brecht conference and she had told me the work she was doing with Boal's techniques in a shelter for battered women. Now I'm realizing I played most of theses "games" in theatrical expression classes I attended in my childhood. Boal worked as a madeleine. I hadn't thought about these classes in ages.

The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh. So sad.

A field guide to melancholy. Theoretical justification for my "overmedication of sadness" and "tyranny of happiness" and "prozac is killing artistic genius" rants. Cf. Van Gogh.

Suetonius Lives of the Caesars. Long overdue. It's mostly gossip and hopefully projections of sexual fantasies by commoners onto their leaders. I really didn't need to know Tiberius had blow jobs performed by babies who were still breastfeeding. Because now that's all I remember about him. Still, fun read. Why was Julius Caesar worried about pulling down his toga to preserve his modesty while suffering knife blows? So, Caligula was schizophrenic and they took 3 years to realize he wasn't fit to be an emperor? I have the feeling Claudius was a misunderstood genius with a wicked sense of humor. Could Nero really sing? At all? Augustus shaved his legs. The problem is I have the memory of a Parisian concierge in charge of a building inhabited by adulterers. Only the sordid details remain in my brain.

Teju Cole's Open City. It's beautifully written but I'm underwhelmed. I'm having a hard time reading fiction when I feel my real life is painfully calling for deep philosophical analysis and, in a very selfish way, imaginary angst looks trite by comparison. Or as the cliche goes, facts are stranger than fiction. I enjoyed Barnes though. Maybe it's just a more youthful writing that isn't striking a chord or maybe Cole is too much of my generation to show me anything I don't know already.

Szymborska's Collected Poems. Every five years or so I remember her and pick up one of her books.

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September 30, 2011

Nevada Stoody, Chapman, Hayes, Agnew, Van Valkenburgh...Duchess of Oporto?


I love secondary characters and by that I mean real people who hold minor historical roles or who simply, as Wilde said, put their genius into the art of living. Those who albeit having existed, sound so novelistic that they couldn't possibly be true. They leave practically no work of art, no great deed behind to be remembered by other than having lived in remarkable, colorful, artistic ways. I think the first time I realized how product-less lives could be fascinating was after I watched a film essay about Arthur Cravan.

Which brings me to a personal little frivolous treasure I am the keeper of: a book with a connection to a very entertaining minor character. It all started with a visit to Maggs Bros and seeing that they proudly displayed a certificate signed by Manuel II, King of Portugal, appointing the famous bookseller as their official provider of antique books. At first I ranted about the sham of it all: it was from the 1920's and Portugal was a republic by then, so there was something pathetic about clinging to the title of King.

In any case, I started reading on what was the disgraced and exiled royal family up to in the years following the birth of the Portuguese Republic and ended up researching Dom Afonso - brother of the late king Carlos and the uncle of the last king of Portugal - who found himself as a potential pretender to the throne if his childless and crown-less nephew would die before him or didn't have the nerve to go back and fight for the restoration of the monarchy. I was immensely entertained to find out he had married an american "gold digger" who had been married three times before. Or at least that's what most Portuguese accounts say. I looked for Afonso's memoirs online and the only one instance of that book I could find was advertised as being signed by the author. Which was ridiculous as the book was published after his death. Little did I know.


I ended up buying a first edition of HRH the Duke of Oporto's Memoirs signed by his widow, Maria Pia de Bragança - Crown Princess of Portugal. Supposedly. Also known as Nevada Hayes. She claims to have changed names when she converted to catholicism and took her husband's mother's name. But not even that is certain. In fact, almost nothing about this woman is certain. The only thing I can say is this book is dripping with wishy-washy sentimentality and at times is painful to read.

I wondered how much information I could get about her from the comfort of my armchair. A lot, it turned out. This is the age of online census, passenger lists and newspaper archives so I had a serious good time undoing the knots in the threads of Nevada Hayes' life (and her many other pseudonyms). Having turned into a time traveling stalker, If I learned anything from this is that trying to track somebody's life through society pages makes little sense - the contradictions and rumours abound to an extent that it turns Nevada's life pretty much into a fiction. I still don't know what she was up to in France. That's a project for the next months if I get around to it. This stalking side project has been going on for some time already.

And as for gold-digging and general southern european chauvinism... as Príncipe Afonso said, he was poor as a church mouse and she was known as the 10 million dollar widow. Enough said.

(A monarchic friend commented that she wanted a title as she already had the money. Royal title-digger it is then.)

(chronology after the fold)

More..."Nevada Stoody, Chapman, Hayes, Agnew, Van Valkenburgh...Duchess of Oporto?"

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September 27, 2011

Whoever you are, prisoner in Gloucestershire: good luck.


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September 26, 2011





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August 11, 2011


francisco_joaquinaMy maternal grandfather would have been 100 years old today. Odd to think about it. I was only 7 when he died and yet I have so many memories of him. I blame him for my xenophilia. He made my early childhood so much more interesting with tales of exotic and distant lands, of chinese girlfriends and epic descriptions of closely won football matches. Absurdly, I have a distinct picture in my mind of a scar made by a Hong Kong football player who left a permanent impression of a boot stud on my grandfather's leg. That scar which he would always proudly show at the end of a tale as a corroboration like some soldier who narrowly escaped alive from a battle would. He's one of the few people who are gone but whose scent and tone of voice I can still bring up if I close my eyes.

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August 10, 2011


I have only so long to live - so many books to read, so many ironies to contemplate, so many meals to eat.

Nero Wolfe says in Rex Stout's "Too many cooks"


Artusi prematurely died at the age of 91 due to an overdose of good food. There is no great cuisine (or health) where there is room for margarine, seed, palm, or coconut oil, processed fats and "light" cheeses, or other disgusting abominations. This is sensorial squalor... It occurs when butter (a great deity among foods), lard, rendered pig cheek, and rendered lard (why not?) are ostracized. You cannot live to be almost one hundred if you allow yourself to be ground up by nutritional whims, by fears of lipids and cholesterol. These are diseases of the soul.

Emanuela Djalma Vitali quoted in the introduction to Pellegrino Artusi's La Sciencia in Cucina


Our sensibility is a single entity. Who cultivates it, cultivates the whole of it, and I insist that he is a false artist who is not also a gourmet, and a false gourmet who can see no beauty in a color and no emotion in a sound. Art is the understanding of beauty throug the senses, through all the senses, and in order to understand the dream of a Vinci, or the inner life of Bach, one must, I repeat, be capable of adoring the scented and fugitive soul of a passionate wine.

Dodin-Bouffard claims in Marcel Rouff's The Passionate Epicure

The eclectic readings of the past weeks have included a lot of food related books.

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July 29, 2011

The funny bits

(The emblem of Jersey is the toad and that of Guernsey is the donkey. Jèrriais - the Jersey dialect - is strangely reminiscent of Queneau's Zazie dans le métro colloquial language.)

Dgèrnésiais au Jèrriais:
J'crai qu'j'éthons d'la plyie,
car j'vai qu'les crapauds sont sortis!

Jèrriais au Dgèrnésiais.
J'n'ai pas d'peine à l'craithe,
car j'entends les ânes braithe!

Guernsey man to Jersey man: "I believe we'll have rain for I see the toads are out!" to which the latter replies "I have no trouble believing it for I hear the donkeys braying!"

(in the TLS)


After the Resurrection, Christ can be shown going to Emmaus, appearing to his disciples, and sitting with them at supper.(...) But the bread, which was divided by Christ's divine hand, should not be shown cut into equal parts, as if sliced in half by some sort of razor, for this seems to endorse the absurd view that the Savior was recognized because of his miraculous ability to bisect bread perfectly.

Frederico Borromeo in Sacred Painting, 1624

Marco Marciale, Supper at Emmaus, 1506

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July 28, 2011

Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights

Among many other delightful things, Bath has one of the best bookshops I have ever set my feet in. I am a cynical, jaded creature who disdains prizes and accolades - bookshops who win prizes around here seem to be all about author events or book clubs and I couldn't care less about hearing authors speak or what my neighbors think about some provincial prize winning fluff novel. Grumpy anti-social reader, yes, that's me. Reading the Bookshop's website in advance, I was put off by Mr. B's "reading spa" and thought their seemingly "squash the competition by coming up with novel services" strategy was the only way to cover up the fact that they were selling the same books as W.H. Smith. Even I am amazed at how malevolently prejudiced I am.

Then I entered the bookshop, grudgingly, saw the fantastically curated selection of books on display and had to let my pride stay in the way of my enjoyment of finer things in life for some moments more by trying to find an objectionable title on the shelves while muttering "Bah, humbug!". Finally swallowed it when I saw the stair case wall covered in Tintin album pages. They even have books in spanish and french. Not many, but they're there. That's unheard of. Also, the green armchair did me in. Can't resist cozy and good books.

Claudia at Mr B's emporium bookstore in Bath

Now I'm even considering signing up for Mr B's Year of Reading Delights which I previously considered the work of the illiterate devil. It's a miracle conversion and didn't even take any proselytizing. I just saw the light on my own. Mr. B's Year of Reading Delights will get me 11 books - 1 a month - picked by the staff according to a questionnaire I need to fill in. I'd sooner let Bernard Madoff run my finances than have anybody pick books for me. This is to show how confident I am that Mr. B will introduce me to wonders my sickly snobbish soul would certainly overlook.


We came out of Mr B's carrying Christopher Lloyd's "In Search of a Masterpiece - An Art Lover's Guide to Great Britain & Ireland". It's a wonderful book and a very personal one. It doesn't feature the most famous works in each museum but rather the author's personal preferences with short essays describing the reasons for his choices and a background of the artist. I can't say I share the author's taste but it is a great introduction to a lot of (mostly) British painters I have never heard of and whose merits are expertly expounded.

It got me thinking about which works would I pick if I had to write a similar guide. I was trying to remember which paintings did I really enjoy at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, for instance. Despite the collection of Monets, there were a few Welsh and English painters unknown to me who managed to find a drawer to file themselves away in my memory of beautiful things. The Monets get filed in the important-things-that-everyone-expects-me-to-know-about section.

John Armstrong, A Farm in Wales, NMW

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July 11, 2011

(saving these because they were so important at one time to the point of causing trouble and also turned out to be premonitory)

"But is not an event in fact more significant and noteworthy the greater the number of fortuities necessary to bring it about?

"Necessity knows no magic formulae -- they are all left to chance. If a love is to be unforgettable, fortuities must immediately start fluttering down to it like birds to Francis of Assisi's shoulders."

Milan Kundera, Unbearable Lightness of Being

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July 06, 2011

Twin Souls & hikes & readings & cookings

I finally read the latest John Waters and, as I suspected, we are twin souls. Not only do we share a love for weirdly striped socks, fascination by non-famous people leading quirky lives, contrarian views on high profile criminals and intellectual curiosity for the aesthetics of retro gay porn, he also writes things like this:

"Would he be appalled at the crucifix cigarette lighter on my living room table? (...) The leather bound Baader-Meinhof wanted poster kit, carried by all german police at the height of these hippies radical's reign of terror, that I show proudly to all my visitors? Would he gasp at the Alberto García Alix photo of Nacho and Michelle that hangs blatantly on the wall of my top floor? Would he understand the happiness of Michelle as she wraps her legs around her head, totally nude, showing her perfectly formed vagina and asshole as Nacho, also nude except for a pair if white gym socks, holds her legs in porn arrogance and dignity?"

I read this out loud to R. and his only reaction was a vehement "No." guessing (correctly) that I was hinting at novel decoration ideas. Even though I would still prefer a Jeff Stryker poster and some creative taxidermy, the crucifix lighter is soooo me. But I have to resign myself to a home devoid of kitsch for the sake of conjugal harmony.

Tintern village

It's official that Tintern is, so far, my favorite place in England. Surprisingly, it isn't exactly the abbey that does it for me (even though it's a fabulous ruin) but the bend of the river, the seaside-ish feeling, the row of houses against the steep hills behind and... Stella Books. We got there after hiking the Wye Valley from Monmouth and took Offa's Dyke path to Chepstow after spending the night in Tintern. 35 km, including a detour to Lancaut Nature Reserve to go see the ruins of St. James church.


Trying to read Dante properly - and as an excuse to get side tracked by theological and philosophical minor questions - so I got a bilingual edition and will be looking into Yale's online course.


That I'm almost running out of the corn grits I got in California made me realize how corn-poor Europe is. Polenta is a poor sibling. American corn is one of the things which makes that country great along with Southern and Louisiana cuisine, Mark Rothko, Woody Allen and Sequoias. Sadly, the "anyone can be president" and "the land of opportunity" slogans are myths easily debunked by social mobility statistics. But, still, the corn. Amazing.

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June 06, 2011


These northern latitudes and their 9pm sunsets have been reminding me of Virginia Woolf. I read the last two volumes of her diaries recently and it was both sad and exasperating to realize how bitter and joyless the woman was. Very few things seem to have given her pleasure, emotional pleasure that is - plenty of relatively appreciative literary judgement in there. And yet, despite the gloom and the apparent burdensome chore life was to her, there were times when she seemed genuinely enthralled: when she had walked in Hyde Park and had seen the sunset, violets and reds and golden clouds bewitching her. Sunsets have become such clichés. I blame the 1970's poster design aesthetics and the tiki revival.


In love with Primo Levi's short stories. And with the Penguin mini modern classics which are the literary equivalent of bitesize delights; amuse-bouches in print.


For the past year I have been reading Jane Austen on and off, finally finishing the last of the six novels last month. Now I am mourning the loss of an anxiety free, witty - at times hilarious - companion.


Intrigued by the Sufragettes and their acts of terrorism against works of art. Torn between admiring the sparing of human lives while still using violence - I'm afraid I'm with Sartre on this one - and having chills down my spine when contemplating the possibility of a knife through a Piero della Francesca. But in the end, like the "terrorist" said, it's just a picture.

Attacks on Works of Art in 1914 as reported by the Times in June:

March 11 – National Gallery, ‘Rokeby’ Velasquez damaged.

March 16 – Birmingham Cathedral, Burne-Jones window defaced

April 10 – British Museum: Porcelain exhibits smashed

May 5 – Royal Academy: Mr. Sargent’s portray of Mr. Henry James damaged

May 13 – Royal Academy: Sir Hubert von Herkomer’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington damaged

May 18 – Royal Academy: Mr. Calusen’s ‘Primavera’ damaged

May 23 – National Gallery: Five Italian pictures damaged

May 25 – Royal Scottish Academy: Mr. Lavery’s portray of the King mutilated

May – 25 British Museum – Attack on an exhibit

Rokeby Venus, symbolically murdered.


There's a short story in here somewhere:

"St Albans clock tower reopens- It is thought the clock tower was built as a result of tension between the people of the town and those at the nearby abbey. Councillor Sheila Burton, portfolio holder for culture and heritage at St Albans District Council, said: The consensus of opinion is that the merchants of the town got together [to build it because] they were fed up of being ruled by the abbey. They [people at the abbey] controlled the clock and rumour goes that they would stick another 10 minutes or half an hour on the time, just so that the people working in the fields worked a bit longer if it was a nice evening. So it was put up in defiance of the abbey really."

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June 01, 2011

Virginia Woolf substituted by Laurie Lee at half time

We left leafy Bloomsbury Square and the Duke of Bedford's hospitality for a converted Victorian cloth mill in the Cotswolds. Neither of us has lived in the countryside before but, in reality, the countryside isn't what it used to be. With fast railway connections, airports close by and broadband there is little we are missing right now by living surrounded by hills where cows graze, where a vast sky suddenly can be seen dramatically changing and where there is actually a proper horizon to be gazed at.

(Gloucestershire's library catalogue is pretty good so not even in the book front is there a problem; only a need to think ahead and have reading material ready rather than going out on a whim to buy a book. Hay on Wye is not that far away either.)

The walks by canals and clear brooks are immensely relaxing and I'm in better shape just by walking uphill almost every day. Better shape for me means I'm not panting after mild exertion. This sudden immersion into nature made me realize how much my natural history knowledge is lacking...

We are living in a peculiar small town which the neighboring villagers seem to be a bit snotty about. Maybe it's the hippies that roam the high street, the vegetarian cafes, the new grassroots movements that spring up every other week, the constant art shows (and two huge art supply stores) and the survivors from anarchist commune shipwrecks that ended up here. It is certainly not provincial. It's not exactly a melting pot either but you have the feeling there is a high tolerance for quirkiness and alternative lifestyles. The real estate man who showed us our place called the locals "those sandal-wearing, tofu-eating hippies". We don't eat tofu or wear sandals but we appreciate misfits. Moving a brown skinned husband and a decidedly foreign looking me deep into BNP land wouldn't be pleasant but this is just about right, sociologically-wise. There's a Waitrose, so all is well.

Coincidentally, I was reading GB Shaw's essays on Ibsen and Wagner (and marvelling at the modern, open minded stance of the man) and he quotes Wagner on moving to the countryside:

"Believe me, I too was once possessed by the idea of a country life. In order to become a radically healthy human being, I went two years ago to a Hydropathic establishment, prepared to give up Art and everything if I could once more become the child of nature. But, my good friend, I was obliged to laugh at my own naivete when I found myself almost going mad.".

Ruskin Mill pond
(nearby Ruskin Mill)

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May 17, 2011

Ephemera II

(Well, not really ephemera but an inscription inside a book which prodded me into doing a bit of bookish sleuthing on the other side of the world.)

On my quest for the odd and the bizarre and while looking for some historical literary figures in San Diego I ran across Jesse Shepard. Or Francis Grierson as he was later called. Shepard was an all around fraud but in a good way. In the fashioning-a-life-aesthetics-philosophy-and-living-by-it kind of way. He was born in England in the mid 1800's but grew up in the USA; started off his minor celebrity days as a musical wonder touring the european courts and playing for the crowned heads of Europe, claiming to be untrained and only able to play guided by spirits from deceased composers; convinced some gullible locals into building him a gorgeously oddball gothic villa in San Diego - the Villa Montezuma which can be visited once refurbishment works end - where he lived with his life partner Lawrence Tonner and held séances; moved to England and changed names to start off his writing career; lived in Richmond while writing books and articles for magazines; ended up and died in penury in Los Angeles. He was a typical neo-romantic, new age pioneer of the beginning of the 20th century, offering up mysticism as the alternative to the "materialism" of the world.

In any case, at one point he was considered one of the most important writers of the century - mostly by fellow spiritualists - and he did write a book about Lincoln and his childhood memories of one of his speeches which is a (very) minor classic of americana. There was once a time when his name would be mentioned in the same sentence as Strindberg, Edith Wharton and, um, George Gissing. And then he went into the oblivion due to second rate, celebrities of the moment.

He went to Vermont to meet Blavatsky and even she thought he was a fraud. That's how bad he was.

The Richmond apartment house where Grierson later lived and wrote while Tonner worked as a tailor.

I was planning on making my brother in law drive me to the Villa (it's ok, he doesn't read the blog so he can't see how calculating I am) on our next trip to San Diego and so the name Jesse Shepard kept running in the background in my brain. Next thing I know, I was buying a book in french signed by Jesse Shepard from a Madrid bookseller.

The inscription reads: "To Doña Patrocínio de Biedma, etc, etc, Paris, July, 1889).

After a bit of investigation I found out that Shepard did publish his first book "Pensées et Essais" in Paris and in French. Supposedly, Grierson had good friends in the parisian literary salons, hobnobbed with Dumas and Maeterlinck called him his twin spirit.

The dedicatee of the book turned out, surprisingly, to have been a minor celebrity in her own right. Doña Patrocínio de Biedma was a spanish writer and journalist, a defender of women and of peace.

I was mystified by how improbable it was that these two people ever met (I got HP Simonson's biography of Grierson and apparently he never travelled to Spain; Biedma seems to not have been the travelling type). My first guess at how these two people were connected was the Princess Rattazzi, a third minor character - a sort of fake noble, journalist and intellectual - who was portrayed in one of Grierson's essays about parisian celebrities but who was also a friend of Biedma, the two ladies having founded a literary magazine in Cádiz together.

Through HP Simonson's biography I found out there was an unpublished autobiography of Grierson which is now housed at the San Diego History Society Archive. So, I did what every biblionerd would do and contacted them to see if I could read it on my next visit to California in hope of finding the connection between my two minor celebrities. The librarian at the archives was extremely helpful and once I was there showed me one of the files that contained the manuscript. I didn't learn anything amazing about the man - the text was a muddled affair consisting of random excerpts from his old essays; the only well written, thoughtful sounding bits were the ones written by his partner Tonner. I think I can safely guess who the brain of the duo was.

I turned then my attention to the file with his correspondence from Europe. After a brief shock (and momentarily burning cheeks since literary fetishism is hard to control) when I deciphered the handwriting and realized I was holding a letter signed by Arthur Conan Doyle - a mere postcard thanking Grierson for who knows what spiritism piece of information - I finally found what I was looking for. There it was: a letter from Biedma thanking Grierson for his book Pensées et Essais which had been brought to her by Prince Wisniewski. The letter was written in Spanish, dated from July 27th 1889 and also asked for the permission to translate some of the essays to Spanish to be published in a magazine. Hooray!


Double hooray when I searched the wonderful Hemeroteca Digital at the Spanish National Library and found this (the newspaper is La Correspondencia de España, July 30th 1889 edition):


It says that the russian (!) writer Jesse Shepard has dedicated his book Pensée et Essais to Biedma and that Prince Wisnievski, his fellow countryman (!), (an admirer of the glories of Spain, sent a letter saying that Shepard and Biedma had coinciding thoughts. Then they quote from the letter where the most cliche metaphors are used (you know... stars orbiting, fertile fields, immortal flame, etc.).

On August 21st of the same year, "El Correo Militar" publishes this:


One of the essays from Shepard's book (the one about a visit to the czar of Russia which sounds totally fabricated) translated by Biedma!

It would be so exciting to think I'm holding the book from which she made this translation if the people involved were not extremely minor characters in the history of literature. Nonetheless, lesser intellectuals have their charm, don't they? And the sleuthing was rather entertaining.

(remaining mystery which I don't care enough about to pursue: who the heck was Prince Wisniewzki?)

(also, there was another letter from Biedma but dated from 1909 asking Shepard to write something on a postcard to be auctioned off for charity. I suppose he was well known then if she was expecting to make money out of it.)

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April 30, 2011

Emblems & Etc

A visit to Portugal isn't complete until we spend some days in semi-desertic, southern Alentejo (my mother and R. always conspire against my North bound travel tendencies) and this time we ended up staying the night in a 15th century convent turned hotel in Redondo. We slept in converted monk's cells and the hallways and corridors were magnificently and profusely covered in blue & white tiles depicting biblical scenes and episodes from the lives of saints. The convent belonged to the hermits of the order of Saint Paul of Egypt, the first hermit, and legend tells of the existence of a religious dwelling here back to the 4th century. But realistically it is all very 16th-17th century, especially the tiles. It's known as Convento de S.Paulo or Convento da Serra d'Ossa.

As it was storming outside, we bought the scholarly guide book to the fabulous convent and went admiring pretty much all the 50.000 tiles. At the top of a steep staircase - on the walls the history of the lives of St John the Baptist and of Saint John unfold as you climb the steps - there was a landing with some shields, emblems, assorted monks and biblical verses which the guidebook couldn't help interpreting as it informed that its meaning was still being ascertained. The tiles might be by António de Oliveira Bernardes and/or his son Policarpo de Oliveira Bernardes, master azulejo painters.

I just can't resist an iconographic (or is it emblematics?) mystery so I did a bit of research and found a book which has all the meanings of the symbols and inscriptions. In latin. Which only added to the fun. Mundus Symbolicus was first published in 1653 and written by the Augustinian Filippo Picinelli in Milan. There's a scanned copy at the Internet Archive.

All the shields but one have on top the word "Prelate" (prelatus). I'm assuming the mottos and emblems are related to virtues or funtions of the prelates either of the order or of the church in general.

On the left side, the shields containing an elephant and a diamond:
Azulejos Convento São Paulo

On top of the shield it reads "Prelatus" and above the elephant the inscription is "Neque Vorax Neque Rapax" - "Neither voracious nor rapacious".

As far as I understand from Picinelli, Johannes Ferrus (a canon from Milan where Picinelli himself lived most of his life ) is the source for the motto that accompanies the elephant. What I understand from the text is that, quoting Saint Anselm, a priest or bishop should not be voracious in the sense that they should not succumb to the vice of drinking "wine and strong drinks". He says that the apostles themselves order us to live a sober life yet live "highly". Like a tall elephant, I guess. Nor should the priests be rapacious in the sense that they shouldn't be greedy. Priests and Bishops should follow Samuel's example on that one. As a side note, Picinelli refers to 1 Tim 3:2: "A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;"

The bible verse is from Luke 11:21 "Cum fortis armatus custodit atrium suum, in pace sunt ea quæ possidet" - "When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace" (KJV).


Azulejos Convento São Paulo

On the diamond shield it reads "Durum Duro Frango" - Sort of "Breaks the hardest hardness" or "Hardness is broken with something hard". Picinelli quotes Amos 7:7 - "These things the Lord shewed to me: and behold the Lord was standing upon a plastered wall, and in his hand a mason's trowel." (Douay-Rheims) but mentions that the Vulgate version of the verse mentions diamonds: "ecce Dominus stans super murum adamantinum et in manu ejus adamas". Picinelli quotes Cornelius a Lapide's interpretation of the verse which states that the diamond stands for the hardness with which God castigates those who oppose him even though they are hard and adamant themselves on their opposition. Picinelli compares the motto to Jerome's quote from Letters to Oceanus "Malo arboris nodo, malus cuneus requirendus est" - "An ill knot requires but an ill wedge to split it."

The accompanying verse and illustration to the diamond (I'm presuming) is this one:

Azulejos Convento São Paulo

It's Psalm 91:13 - "super aspidem et basiliscum ambulabis et conculcabis leonem et draconem" - "Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet." (KJV)


On the right there is a shield with Neptun and another one with a horse.

Azulejos Convento São Paulo

The Neptune motto is "Tumida Aequora Placat", from Virgil's Aeneid : "Sic ait, et dicto citius tumida aequora placat, collectasque fugat nubes, solemque reducit." - "Thus he speaks, and swifter than his word he clams the swollen seas, puts to flight the gathered clouds, and brings back the sun." Picinelli quotes Saint Basil who says that the heart is like the sea, uneven and full of passions but the ship is the soul or the mind that like a merchant ship, despite all the adverse conditions and the demons/pirates, keeps itself from becoming a prey. So the prelate should be like the captain of the boats of the souls of those he guides.

The biblical verse is from Song of Solomon 4:4. The complete verse reads "[Sicut turris David collum tuum, quæ ædificata est cum propugnaculis;] mille clypei pendant ex ea, omnis armatura fortium." - "[Thy neck like the tower of David builded for an armoury,] whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men." (KJV)


Azulejos Convento São Paulo

The Latin motto associated with the horse is "Amore et Timore" - "Love and Fear". This one's more obvious, the prelate or the prince should inspire love and yet fear from his subjects (the source is D. Diego de Saavedra Fajardo who, on his The royal politician represented in one hundred emblems, suggests on Emblem XXXVIII that the prince should make himself beloved and feared by all men and presents the horse emblem with the spanish motto "Con Halago I con Rigor").

The biblical passage is from Psalm 110:6 - "[Judicabit in nationibus: implebil ruinas,] conquassabit capita in terra moltorum" - "[He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies;] he shall wound the heads over many countries." (KJV)

And there's Jesus on a cloud with a hammer ready to hit the heads of those hurting religion. Very literal.

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March 31, 2011

Lurking: Ephemera 1

London used book fairs are dominated by gentlemen in tweed suits who flip over the first pages of the book they're handling, check for the edition number and, not being a first, put it back where it was. The latest charity book fair I went to added a family of iphone powered abebook price searchers to the usual treasure hunting troupe. They just sat in one corner with a pile of books and punched ISBN's into their phones.

It's always odd to feel that I'm the only one there looking for books to read. This last time, not only did I find some good reads for a pound each, I had also the satisfaction of picking up a tattered book without a spine - attracted by the marbled paper covers and beautiful, worn out binding- which nobody had looked twice at and finding inside it a letter with a BBC Scotland header, dated of 1931 and addressed to Catherine Carswell. The book itself, an 1858 edition of a comparison of a french poem to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim Progress, falling apart, worthless, is inscribed "Catherine Carswell from Daniel, 1938".

Catherine Carswell was a scottish writer and journalist infamous for writing in 1930 an uncanonical biography of Robert Burns for which she even got death threats. She was also the first woman to get a divorce on grounds of (her husband's) insanity. She was one of the few women who were part of the Scottish Literary Renaissance and "She was rebellious, determined, intellectual, and no stranger to conflict." as a recent biography announces.
bbc scotland letterhead 1931

On the other side of the letter, there are scribbles in black ink which I can only decypher as being themes and off the beaten path stories related to Scotland. I'm assuming these constituted her notes for the "ideas for a series of shows" which the letter requested of her. Another blank piece of stationery inside the book has a London address. On the other side of the sheet there is a childish pencil drawing that I like to imagine was either a memento of her daughter who died at 12 of pneumonia or by her son and editor John.

I payed a pound for it and came home with my own (most likely not very financially valuable) treasure. Everybody knows treasures can only be found when you're not looking for them.

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March 21, 2011


Q: You’ve said that it’s easier to write literature in a dictatorship than in a democracy.

A: That was too sweeping a statement, but there’s a truth to it. Because I didn’t write what the communist government wanted to see, I was cut off and alone with my work. I never thought my book would ever be published, and so I had the freedom to write as radically as I wanted, to go as deep inside as I wanted. In a democracy you have to find a market niche, make sure a novel is “interesting” and “spectacular.” That may be the toughest censorship of all.

(interview with Imre Kertesz, stolen from the Second Pass)

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March 18, 2011

GAF & etc. or where Claudia rants to make herself feel better

If there is a Stendhal Syndrome causing physical effects from seeing too much good art there must exist its opposite effect. For me there is a Gossaert Affective Disorder: a depression caused by seeing too many Gossaert paintings, especially if they're being labeled as masterpieces by a major National Gallery. It's a mixture of physical pain caused by too many unsightly portraits and a melancholy caused by a feeling of alienation from your fellow human beings who write exaltedly of what looks to you like a feeble attempt at trying to be "modern" in the renaissance sense. An experience which disengages you from what you love best in the world is utterly disheartening.

The gift shop was a further source of estrangement. I found myself wondering why would anyone buy postcards of the portrait of a woman with a head stuck on somebody else's neck, misaligned eyes, an arm shorter than the other and a ear floating above her hair.


"Look at the poet Samuel Coleridge, writes Piers Steel, the Calgary professor who’s becoming known internationally for his insights on procrastination, in his new book The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things off and Start Getting Stuff Done. The poet spent 25 years writing the poem Kubla Khan. His excuses were legendary. For other people, Steel writes, the pain of procrastination “is about diets postponed, late-night scrambles to finish projects and disappointed looks from the people who depend on you.” -- from Macleans.

Why anybody would think poetry should be efficiently written is beyond my comprehension. Or that people in poor health who become opium addicts (legendary excuse?) should just get things done, for that matter.

"Days earlier, Hachette Book Group and Patterson’s representative, the Washington lawyer Robert Barnett, hammered out the terms of a new 17-book deal. (Forbes reported that the contract is worth at least $150 million, though Little, Brown and Patterson dispute the number.) “Don’t you need to be home writing?” I joked with Patterson. He told me matter-of-factly that he’d already started 11 of the 17 books, and even finished more than a few of them." -- NYT

I rest my case.

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Where Claudia posts pretty pictures to cheer herself up

Yellow always brightens my day and I also love paintings that look like failed photographic snapshots. Degas is my man today.


My short attention span in the past couple of weeks meant that the new lovely collection of Penguin Mini Modern Classics was just the right thing for me. I am now a devoted fan of Primo Levi's (very) short stories, especially The Magic Paint.

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I had things to write about but (outer) life got in the way.

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February 24, 2011

Snippets of the past weeks

Raymond Queneau's Zazie dans le metro, bought at a quai bouquiniste last month in Paris in another episode of Uncle M.'s adventures - the bouquiniste, a philosophy teacher, had been in Lisbon in pre-revolutionary days so my uncle and him had a long discussion about how the leftist dream of their youth had gone up in smoke. Zazie has made me laugh out loud and insist on reading passages to R repeatedly.

Still in Paris, a special, erudite guided tour by M&M - who seem to turn into locals just minutes after having moved in - made me realize what blessing it is to have interesting friends.


Superbowl Sunday in North County San Diego at Aunt J's. 30 people eating, drinking, dancing and occasionally falling into melancholy singing about how life is worthless ("la vida no vale nada")- you need Octavio Paz' Labyrinth of Solitude to get that one. Nobody paying that much attention to the giant TV screen set up in the garage door. Mexicans will use any excuse to party. My father in law grilling medium rare meat just for me and him - "everybody else likes it burned to cinders", he said disapprovingly. While the bbq was going and my brother in law, the family's DJ, blasted rancheras from the stereo on the front lawn, I was wondering what curses the Japanese family next door was hexing on us, their silent bamboo curtains and blooming cherry trees oozing disapproval.

Learned the very useful - when you become a member of a mexican family - expression "pachangueada" - "partied out".


In Berkeley, two homeless young men begging for money with a sign that said "For Random Projects".


In London, T. sitting at our dinner table after a couple of glasses filled with good Port wine - courtesy of my mother's choice and superior palate - trying to convey the meaning of the word Genießen, giving up his austrian scented english and resorting to a very convincing mime act of a man having substantial, sophisticated pleasure out of the good things in life.


Finding a letter by Arthur Conan Doyle at the library of the San Diego History Society in the middle of a file full of worthless scraps, my cheeks set on fire once I deciphered the signature. Nerdy, literary fetishism induced pleasure is very hard to defend. But I should write more about my visit to the library.


Meeting E&J, who live minutes away from my in-laws, the heartwarming reunion of R with his childhood unofficial computing mentor. Serendipitously, they turned out to be inspiring people in many other aspects of life. They make their own cheese which in my book is an ability that ranks you at the level of demi-god.


My father on the phone: "Gaddafi needs to find a new place to set up his tent." Not only funny but important for more than one reason.

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February 19, 2011


I just had a Charles Swann moment - speaking of which, I'm planning to reread Recherche:


Durão Barroso, President of the European Commission and Monsieur de Norvins, diplomat and government official who worked for Napoleon (by Ingres). Didn't participate in the peninsular war, however.

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February 03, 2011

(i just wanted to save this where i can find it again and my bookmarks are a mess)

If anything in this life can puncture the fantasy that we have some control over our lives, dementia may be the ultimate reminder, not just of its unpredictability but of its incomprehensibility. And its absurdity.

When, before these last months, I thought about why it's so hard for us to learn from the experience of others, I would have said that it's because we live in a society built on the myth that we're in control, a "can-do" society and a culture that believes anything is possible, that to be "forewarned is forearmed," even that we can continue to extend our lives well into our second century with no cost, social or personal.


(or why I hate the expression "battling cancer" which makes the dead losers; it's a whole attitude to sickness and death and the semantics that goes with it which brings no consolation to anybody; I'm not sure it derives from arrogance (being in control) or is simply a lack of imagination)

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February 02, 2011

San Francisco. Again.

A little bit less than six years ago I visited San Francisco for the first time and, following the cliche-ridden song, I left my heart there. I went back there an unreasonable amount of times for a couple of years after that first visit but never went back to the piers until last week. I did the same walk I had done years ago and once again ran into that Deena Metzger poem on the sidewalk that had made me so happy. Lo and behold, it made me happy again.

deena metzger


Having pretty much exhausted the tourist sights in San Francisco and having made the mandatory visit to Moe's in Berkeley, I went on a mini tour of Silicon Valley by Caltrain. In San Jose I visited the Egyptian Museum set in the Rosicrucian Park - even though I knew the complex was composed of buildings modeled after existing egyptian monuments I was still taken aback by the sheer oddity of the sight.


The highlight of the trip, however, was to be found in Palo Alto. The Stanford campus grounds are a zoo. Literally. I may be becoming britishized and therefore overexcited with natural history, but! in the space of a minute: I was trying (unsuccessfully) to take a picture of a dark brown squirrel when I noticed something moving right near my feet. I looked down and there was a little creature compulsively sticking its head out of a hole and going back in at such a speed that, no matter the settings on my camera, it came out as a blurry spot. That was my first groundhog. While I was trying to photograph it, I heard a sound of wood being hammered behind and above me. I knew it was a (my first) woodpecker before I even saw it.

The Cantor Center for the Arts (previously the Leland Stanford Jr Museum) is a very nice art museum with pieces from different points of the globe and a reasonable art collection. Yet, the best part is the Stanford Family room. I was overjoyed with the tacky pioneering capitalist value of the family's memorabilia and hagiographic descriptions plastered on the walls - the Stanfords, having lost their only child at a tender age, gave away part of their fortune to be used for education founding the University on their own 650 acre ranch.

I had recently been watching Berger's "Ways of Seeing" and realized he would have a field day in this room - he has a penchant for identifying, a bit too obsessively in my view, sexual exploitation and capitalist propaganda in all art as it is and this room would prove him right. I also had been reading about Ambrose Bierce and his fight against the railroad tycoons so it was incredibly amusing to read this:


In reality, the big four railroad tycoons of California, Stanford, Huntington, Hopkins and Crocker, built their empire on funding and land grants from the Federal Government and with little of their own capital invested and using Stanford's political influence for their own private benefit. When the time came to pay back the federal loan they tried to get a bailout claiming they would be bankrupt if they had to pay it (San Francisco newspapers conveniently listing at this time how Stanford was buying his wife $100k jewelry and spending millions on an university and race horses). Legend has it that Ambrose Bierce - who called the university founder Stealin' Landford - confronted Huntington who tried to buy his silence on the lobbying for a railroad bailout law on the steps of the Capitol. Bierce replied that his price was 130 million dollars and that he could pay it to his friend, the US Treasury. In the end the bill did not pass and the big four were still rich anyway.

Also, remembering Berger's assertion that many a landscape painting is only a commissioned work for a landowner to show off his property, I didn't wonder much what he would have made of the painting commissioned by Mrs Stanford to catalog her jewels. In your face. Has any european aristocrat done this? It looks so nouveau riche.


Another interesting piece of trivia was that Stanford was a keen horse collector (the preserved ears of his favorite trotter are in this room also) and he was the one who payed Muybridge to do a study of horse's movements. At the time there was a dispute among horse lovers whether horses flew (as in, kept their four legs off the ground while trotting or galloping). I'm supposing this painting from his collection was a result of that. Stanford was one of the "unsupported transit" party so this should be a sort of trophy or maybe a conversation piece:

"What an odd painting Leland, it looks like the horse is flying!"
"And it is! Let me show you these photos I commissioned of a horse in motion."


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January 12, 2011

Nor Here Nor There

Against the propaganda of terror and the propaganda of luxury, have you a nice simple answer?

-- Ezra Pound, 1962, Paris Review Interviews


Picture 33.png

(National Gallery, Lent by the Trustees, Stansted Park Foundation, Stansted House, Hants, © Private collection.)

The coziest painting in the National Gallery in London. A lady pouring hot chocolate with a footwarmer beside her, a painting of an interior of a dutch church inviting contemplation. (Liotard)


Perhaps you should say “factualist” rather than “realist.” (...). Literalism, factualism, will smother the imagination altogether.

--Saul Bellow, 1966, Paris Review Interviews


There are nineteen words in Yiddish that convey gradations of disparagement, from a mild, fluttery helplessness to a state of downright, irreconcilable brutishness. All of them can be usefully employed to pinpoint the kind of individuals I write about.

-- SJ Perelman, 1963, Paris Review Interviews


His mistress at that time - indeed the very concept "mistress" for him - was French.

-- Anne Carson, The beauty of the husband


The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction and that you believe in it willingly.

-- Wallace Stevens, Adagia, Opus Posthumous

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January 11, 2011

Photobiography based on Minor Childhood Memories - Chapter 2

One of my favorite comic books when I was barely able to read was a collection of Donald Duck comic strips which were no more than illustrations of very simple jokes. I loved re-enacting those cartoon strips - as I still love re-enacting comedy skits, I suppose - and there were two particular ones which my father and my mother would willingly and repeatedly be the co-stars in.

Just like one of Donald's nephews, I had a little fish tank with several, indistinguishable goldfish and my father, reading the Donald Duck lines, would point at one of them and ask me what was its name. I'd answer "Jack", my father would reply "How do you know?" and I'd deliver the punch line: "Because I named them all Jack". To this day, both me and my father go through the routine whenever we go to an aquarium or seafood restaurant with a lobster tank.

My mother's role was the nephew instead (a very small part) on the re-enactment of a comic strip where Donald and his nephew are at a museum looking at what seems to be a classical statue entitled "The Reader". Donald climbs up the statue to look at the book the old sage is reading and when he comes down the nephew asks what was written on it. Blushing, Donald answers "Curiosity killed a cat".

Serendipitously, a statue with comic-strip-re-enacting-potential existed on a street near where my mother worked and, luckily, it never occurred to me that the moral of the story was that I wasn't supposed to go read the book she was holding. In fact, I always interpreted it as "what I'm reading is none of your business" rather than "it' dangerous to go around reading everything just out of curiosity". More to the point, I took it for a condemnation of prying rather than a censorship of intellectual curiosity. Lucky, naive, 5 year old me.

While searching for the origin of the expression - it seems to be as recent as 1898 but a similar phrase was employed by Jonson and Shakespeare using "worry" rather than "curiosity" - I found another, more poetic, animal friendly, version: "He that pryeth into every cloud may be struck with a thunderbolt" (John Clarke, in Paroemiologia, 1639).

Similarly, Saint Augustine is quoted (by reputable sources even!) with saying "God fashioned hell for the inquisitive". It's easy to make church men look like bigots and yet theologians live for the challenge of coming up with tortuous answers to difficult questions. If you bother to read the entire passage you can see how unfair this particular quote is out of context:

How, then, shall I respond to him who asks, “What was God doing before he made heaven and earth?” I do not answer, as a certain one is reported to have done facetiously (shrugging off the force of the question). “He was preparing hell,” he said, “for those who pry too deep.” It is one thing to see the answer; it is another to laugh at the questioner--and for myself I do not answer these things thus. More willingly would I have answered, “I do not know what I do not know,” than cause one who asked a deep question to be ridiculed--and by such tactics gain praise for a worthless answer. (Confessions, Bk. XI. Ch. XII)

(I said I had a weakness for Saint Augustine so I couldn't let this one pass, could I?)

(Arquivo Fotográfico de Lisboa)

In the old days of post-revolutionary Portugal, it was fairly common for civil servants to take their kids to work once in a while. I used to have fabulous play days visiting people on the other departments, being given candies by old ladies and smearing my hands with a violet ink pad while playing with official rubber stamps. Not to mention the crush I developed for the computer programmer - the computer being an enormous machine, more like an A1 printer, with multi-colored switches - or my introduction to the fascinating world of microfilm. But the fun had a limit and, once it was time to go home, we'd climb a steep street in the heart of Lisbon where a statue of a woman reading on the doorstep of a bookshop was begging to take part in a little comedy - Rua Nova do Almada pictured above in 1965 and where a bit of the window of the bookshop can be seen on the bottom left corner.

These days the bookshop is still a bookshop but has a different name - Luso-Espanhola turned into Coimbra - and a different specialty - Medicine and Science gave way to Law - and the reading lady is now inside, safe from the wrath of the elements and, above all, safe from graffitti.



I found one of the donald duck comic strips on the fantastic INDUCKS website.

Sculpture by Maria Helena Matos.

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January 10, 2011

Mary Beard's Parthenon

Finished reading Beard's Parthenon and decided to go inspect and share some of the details she points out as being relevant to the discussion of the unauthorized Duveen cleanings in the 1930's (he was the maecenas behind the building of the Parthenon galleries; he wanted the friezes to be squeaky clean and therefore didn't bother to ask permission to the BM) which, according to some, did irreparable damage by destroying archaeological data. It turns out the patina he had had chiseled off is actually a vestige of the ancient greek's base for the application of paint or a treatment to reduce the natural glare of the marble.

As Beard says, on the left side room that precedes the galleries, a few broken pieces from the pediment have the orange-brown (honey or golden as others put it) coating/patina much discussed in the book.



Having seen that, it's easier to spot it on the friezes as in this case (East Frieze).


Compare to this piece of the west frieze which has been cleaned:



I always wondered what these seemingly cement drippings on the surface of the marble were and Beards explains them as being the ridges of harder stone that stand out as the softer stone erodes (Metope XXVII)



The trace of original paint (also known affectionately as "the brush stroke of Phideas") was easy to spot: it's on the statue on the left, underneath the rectangular cutting: a sort of horizontal brush stroke turned black by weather and time.



The "tide-mark" on the thigh of pediment figure G took me a while to figure out but finally got it. Manipulating the photo for exposure and contrast makes it easier to see where the cleaning process was halted. Above is dirty, below is clean.


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January 06, 2011


"Falsehood and insincerity, unsuitable as they seem to the dignity of public transactions, offend us with a less degrading idea of meanness, than when they are found in the intercourse of private life. In the latter, they discover a want of courage; in the other, only a defect of power: and, as it is impossible for the most able statesmen to subdue millions of followers and enemies by their own personal strength, the world, under the name of policy, seems to have granted them a very liberal indulgence of craft and dissimulation."
--Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

I am enthralled. I started by picking up an (abridged) copy of Gibbon's monumental work at the bookshop wondering if it was readable and found that I couldn't put it down. Ended up getting the first two (unabridged) volumes edited by David Womersley for Oxford. Riveting. And so many themes to follow up on thanks to the fantastic footnotes.

(meanwhile, R is reading Les Misérables so I think we're out of the book market for a few months as there's a biography of Thomas Hardy and the complete collected fiction of Borges waiting on the sidelines)


Looking back at 2010, I am amazed by how much we saw in Florence and environs with my parents. I'm looking back fondly at our visit at Bernard Berenson's Villa I Tatti which was such a special treat. And visiting cell after cell at San Marco finding Fra Angelico frescoes felt like opening a box of candy, unwrapping sweet after sweet. But R and I agreed that the surprise of the year was the Savoy and the magical Annecy lake. We had the most amazing lunch at Bernard Gay's restaurant, completely empty save for the pair of us. The table we sat at overlooked a snowy peak and the hours we spent being fed flavorful dishes while gazing at the swift movement of the clouds over the mountains must have been the 3 most relaxing hours of 2010.
View of the town of Talloires


Christmas by the sea in Ericeira, sleeping with the window open to listen to the waves crashing was pretty much zen-like too.

Ericeira, Portugal

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December 30, 2010

Photobiography based on Minor Childhood Memories - Chapter 1

Let me start with a non-memory. My parents tell me that as they were driving away from the maternity hospital where I was born - which was in a narrow, shady, curvy street leading into a large avenue - the car was suddenly in the sun; it hit my newborn face and I sneezed for the very first time in my life. Or rather, for the very three first times in my life.

The corner of USA Avenue and Rome Avenue where I sneezed.Photo from the Lisbon Archives, 1980's.

I remembered this little piece of Claudia's trivia - which, surprisingly, my parents still mention fairly often and on cue as I still sneeze when coming out of the shade and into the sun - recently as I was signing up to have my DNA examined. On the long list of potential ailments and odd characteristics that my genes will eventually disclose to some scientists in Silicon Valley figures the susceptibility to sneezing when coming from relative darkness into bright light - what they call the Photic Sneeze Reflex. I was amazed: there is a gene for it. I am in awe of this gene as I love pointlessness and have a Chestertonian grudge against evolution. Nobody knows what triggers this reflex but one of the theories says that it might be the result from an over stimulation of the trigeminal nerve which is the nerve responsible for sensation in the face. This would make sense as plucking my eyebrows also sends me into a sneezing fit.

Sneezing aside, I love to plot my first car trip for the same reasons I love reading my horoscope. What motivates me is not so much a belief in fortunetelling but a feeling that any sort of prediction is a pathway to introspection. When my horoscope predicts my day will be filled with social obligations that usually makes me think about my social life and how I am neglecting this or that friend or how I should make time to meet up with someone I enjoy spending time with. Likewise, plotting the names of the first streets I ever travelled on is a sort of introspection exercise. I should start my own school of divination and call it "School of Topomancy".

I was born on a street named after a portuguese friar who belonged to the order of the Augustinian Hermits- Tomé de Jesus. I am proud of that as he was part of one of the most defining events in the Portuguese collective psyche. He was a member of the group of people who accompanied the king, Sebastian, to Alcacer Quivir. The king was supposedly killed (but secretly every portuguese person believes he will come back in a foggy morning) but Friar Tomé was captured and imprisoned. While in prison he wrote a book on the sufferings of Jesus which was supposed to make his fellow captives feel better. It just occurred to me I should read his book. Also, he was the initiator of reformations in the order to lead it into further self-abnegation. As for myself, I practice my own variant of self-abnegation. My writing has just been interrupted as R. - a professed hedonist - and I just had a brief row over the correct ratio of gin in a Dubonnet cocktail. R says it's 2/3 and I say 1/3. I rest my case. But I do have to mention that I longed to be a hermit when I was about 10 years old. And I have a weak spot for Saint Augustine.

The street where I was born in is a one way street that leads into the United States of America Avenue. This is the proof my topomancy divination method is infallible as I am happily married to an american citizen who insists he is mexican.

From there, you turn right into Rome Avenue. I've been to Rome twice and unless this is some sort of hint at my love affair with catholic theology, I'd say there is something waiting for me over there. I do have to say that my favorite monument in the world is the colosseum.

Further down, you turn right again into the street where my parents lived at the time and which was named after a portuguese air pilot. He was the first portuguese pilot to die in combat - and the only one so far. He was trained in England where he lived for a while and he died over France during World War I. As I live in England, let's just say I'm not that keen on flying over France anymore.

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December 08, 2010

McCarthyism, The Theatre, The Messiah

I suppose the best description for Tom McCarthy's novel "C" would be that of a retro futurist novel. Not neofuturist as that would imply a similar aesthetics regarding contemporary technology but retro in the sense of being imbibed by nostalgia for a future which is now in the past, a past future that the author didn't experience and therefore romanticizes. Which has its dangers. If you read C without realizing it is the literary embodiment of the Necronautical society's Declaration on the Future (which would deserve a post in itself since I couldn't disagree more with it and yet I love the darned shameless french theoretician name dropping piece of drivel) it ends up being either

an historical novel if you consider that it's a recreation of an era that the author researched and describes to such a degree that real people are mentioned (the egyptian antiquities officer Lacau comes to mind) and even real places whose historical accuracy is of no consequence figure in it (there was indeed a dairy shop on Rugby street which is now a jewelery store - it's supposed to have been the building where Serge lived),


an anachronistic attempt at writing a late 19th century/early 20th century novel complete with country doctors in carriages, sojourns in eastern european spas (inexplicably the spa town doesn't seem to exist in reality or was it supposed to be Podebrady?) and adventures in exploration of exotic lands (I object to the comparison with bildungsromans as there is no "bildung" of any sort to be seen anywhere, Serge dies as apathetic and oblivious as he was born, caul or no caul),

a young adult novel hyped for adults where the flat, dull main character is a device for introducing non expert knowledge à la Sophie's World or Theo's Voyage, facts and more facts, detailed descriptions of physical objects and mechanisms and very little humanity (as the author intended or so he says on his anti-humanist rants)

or, if you're so inclined, take it as a sort of puzzle for the obsessive compulsive. You can have a notebook close by and write down every place name or important object that begins with C and the recurring themes: poison, crypts, insects, lack of perspective and the like. Or note down the allusions to Freud's Wolfman case or Ballard's Crash. Lists, lists, lists.

At one point I got a bit annoyed with the novel and I suppose what set me off was that moment when I was relaxed, reading leisurely and these were the sentences my brain paid attention to:

"The wooden blocks have geometric figures painted on them (...) On a single side of each block (the side that were they dice, would bear the number six)" several of these figures had been combined...

While my eyes were already on the next paragraph I quickly thought "If all the sides of cube were figures how can you know where would the six go?". And then I reread the paragraph and realized it was one of those IQ measuring questions turned into literary description:

"The wooden blocks have geometric figures painted on them, like numbers on dice: squares, triangles, circles and other, more complex forms. On a single side of each block (the side that were they dice, would bear the number six) several of these figures had been combined..."

I like my novels complex but this is more of a party trick than, say, a deep ethical conundrum. Also, the geometric figure representing the number 2 seems to be missing from the sequence. The more I realized this book was a feat of engineering rather than some artistic endeavor (in the reactionary sense, McCarthy would probably say), the further I abused it by finding parallels between it and bad hollywood movies. That's the risk you take by making it clear a novel is borrowing themes and symbols. Some freak might come along and find all the wrong references. For instance, Sophie's lab covered in newspapers headlines making up messages in a secret code that only she could understand was supposed to be Burroughesque of sorts but it also reminded me of "A brilliant mind" and there's nothing like Russell Crowe creeping into your brain for literary turn off. I went totally heretical when I found echoes of Top Gun in the WWI airplane training section. The main character's partner is named Steadman (Cruise's nemesis was Iceman and there was a Wolfman too) and their juvenile adventures while training in England evoked the whole Top Gun callous stunts. Actually a younger Tom Cruise would make a great Serge in a hollywood version of C since he too has only a limited range of expressions.

Anyway, it's a book that needs to be read more than once to get all the clever allusions but I wasn't excited enough to do it as a very enticing biblical studies volume was patiently waiting for my attention.

I'm hoping Tom McCarthy will consider rewriting Hamlet in C style. Maybe entitle it H. Have Hamlet describe in excruciating detail the chemical composition of the poison that killed his father, the physics involved in Ophelia's drowning, the decomposing process that lead Yorick to that poor state and bore his friend Horatio to tears by giving long lectures on what he learned in the university in Germany. For maximum C-like effect, he would leave out all the angst.

(It might not sound like it, but I am grateful for the existence of a Tom McCarthy in the island where books with absurd titles like "Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper" win prizes and where John "Trains and Buttered Toast" Betjeman is considered a great poet.)


The theatre:

Alan Ayckbourn's "Seasons Greetings" at the National Theatre was extremely enjoyable if you are the type who appreciates long sitcoms played live. I am.

Tennessse William's The Glass Menagerie and the Young Vic. One of those cases where I go into a theatre with zero knowledge of the play and come out thinking there was something not quite right with it - the main character does warn in the beginning that we are about to see truth masked as illusion. Then it hit me that Laura's disability was only a metaphor for difference and that the whole play was about homosexuality. And suddenly everything fell into place. From Tom's outings to the movies to the absurd moment when the gentleman caller does that self-conscious homophobic stunt of coming up with a never before mentioned girlfriend when he realizes he fell in love with the "wrong" type of person. It's all very subtle and the directing doesn't help at all. Makes it look like it's all about mommy issues.


Thomas L Thompson's The Messiah Myth was clearly given the title by a greedy publisher - not that the author doesn't treat all religious literature as myth while giving good reasons for it, but it was clearly intending to create some controversy. It's a very interesting and well documented account of the influence of ancient literature (egyptian, assyrian, greek, ugaritic) on the old testament and of the latter on the new testament. From a comparative literature perspective is fascinating.

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December 07, 2010

In which SHE reveals that she is a Manichean

There is no justification for the creation of a bad poem: it is always better for such a poem not to exist than for it to exist. Bad literature isn’t merely, as a Thomist might say, an absence of good literature; rather, it is, as a Manichean might say, an active presence of aesthetic Evil.

Stanislaw Baranczak, Ocalone w Tlumaczeniu (Rescued in Translation).

Unashamedly stolen from the original Manichean.

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December 02, 2010

Best academic paper ever.

Full pdf can be obtained here, via Mindhacks.

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December 01, 2010

Uncle Milan's Encounters

Kundera's essays are usually easy reads and I don't mean it in a demeaning way. Maybe conversational would be the right term as I picture him as someone who has used wisely the gift of time and therefore has not only interesting larger points to make, but can fill the skeleton of his theory with meaty tidbits of minor or personal history that I wouldn't otherwise have encountered.

For instance, I totally missed Fellini's attacks on Berlusconi's TV strategies and subsequent almost pornographic exploitation by Berlusconi's TV channel of Fellini's death. Now I need to watch Ginger and Fred again.

I loved the short essay on a lecture delivered by Vera Linhartova: the practical, direct way she addressed the myth of the writer in exile. Indeed, more than saying that writers are not bound by borders or belong to any one place, maybe exile is a valid artistic path that should be sought. It provides a freedom from provincial constraints, a widening of the linguistic possibilities. Look at Beckett, Nabokov, Milosz, Conrad.


Kundera got me into a El Lissitzky mood. In my head El Lissitzky and El Greco have funny conversations in painterly heaven regarding their spanish exile. Obviously El Lissitzky has no clue what El Greco is talking about.


I want to save this Francis Bacon quote which I presume to illustrate my own description of self-stereotyping theoretical author: the ones that fall into a formula, eruditely conceived, and end up writing what feels like parodies of themselves. Crystallized oulipians. You use one formula once and it's art, you spend your whole life doing it and it becomes just a job, a technique.

"I wonder if Beckett's ideas about his art didn't end up killing his creativity... there's something too systematic and too intelligent about him.. in painting, you always leave too much in that is habit, you never cut enough out, but with Beckett I often get the impression that because he wanted to hone down his text, nothing was left, and in the end his work sounds hollow."


Kundera's mention of Danilo Kis sent me searching for a book by him I knew for sure I owned and hadn't finished. In the middle of the search I ran into Daniil Kharms and for a moment I thought my terrible, xenophobic memory for any name outside the portuguese-anglo-french realm had tricked me again. Daniil Kharm's "Today I wrote nothing" was one of those instances of books bought by R. that get re-shelved after he's done with them, escaping my to-read pile. Kharms is perfect for hit and run reading: short absurd stories, poems and plays which run from the silly tragic fable to the absurd thesis to the hilarious dialogue.

Let us suppose that one comlpletely naked authorized apartment resident decides to settle in and surround himself with objects. If he starts with a chair then he'll need a desk to go with the chair, and a lamp for the desk, the a bed, a blanket, bed sheets, a dresser, underclothes, outer dress, an armoire, then a room to put it all in, etc. Here, at every point in this system an unusual little system branch might manifest itself: The desire might arise to place a doily on the small round table, then to place a vase on the doily, then to shove a flower into the vase. Such a system of surrounding oneself with objects, in which one objects snag another - this is an incorrect system, because, if the flower vase has no flowers in it, then this vase is made meaningless, and if the vase is taken away, then the small round table is made meaningless; (...) The annihilation of one object disrupts the whole system. And if the naked authorized resident were to put on rings and bracelets and to surround himself with spheres and celluloid lizards, then the loss one or twenty-seven objects wouldn't make any essential difference. Such a system of surrounding oneself with objects is the correct system.
--Daniil Kharms

Obviously this gives me ideas for interior decoration which R. won't approve of even when confronted with a theoretical basis like this one... I kid but I do love the celebration of the non-utilitarian character of art implied. Also, I have no idea where to get a celluloid lizard.

I did find my Danilo Kis but just doesn't work for me. Maybe I need a french translation.

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November 30, 2010

The usual random stuff

Those were the great days of excavating. Anything to which a fancy was taken, from scarab to an obelisk, was just appropriated, and if there was a difference of opinion with a brother excavator one laid for him with a gun.
---Howard Carter in "The Tomb of Tu.ankh.Amen" regarding the days of Belzoni, an earlier fellow excavator who was more of a grave digger and prize hunter than an archaeologist.

I imagine sentences like this mustn't have helped to advance the cause of keeping Egyptian antiquities in the British Museum from being repatriated.

(Carter not as good as Layard, but entertaining nonetheless)



Gorgeous book art as window decorations at Tiffany & co on Bond street.


I've been collecting random sentences I hear while walking around in London. I like the out of context, no follow up situation where I'm left wondering what could those people have been talking about.

In a pub, a clean shaven boy in his 20's to his mates, eagerly.

- It's all a big show, isn't it? Like Odysseus.

In a throng of people on Oxford street, a man to presumably his wife who looked a bit annoyed.

-... I'm no connoisseur but...

Near the Barbican, two 60ish old men in suits, one using his hands to demonstrate.

- ...the most perfect breasts...

Or more prosaically, a sentence by a passer by to his friend that sent everybody inside Neal's Yard Dairy cheese shop in Covent Garden into a fit of giggles.

- It smells like my socks out here!


'Tis the season to feel guilty about ignoring contemporary books this year: Tom McCarthy's C is sitting right here next to me, waiting for an opening in the archaeological adventures mania. Also looking forward to reading Kundera's Encounter and De Waal's The hare with amber eyes.

Waiting for the Economist's top 2010 books to get recommendations for "serious" nonfiction. I always end up keeping up with the times though I try to be a hermit. I'm more like a semi-detached hermit. Still, top of my to-read list, ignoring everything else, will still be Max Mallowan's memoirs.

Abraham sacrificing Isaac (China, Jingdezhen 1750) at the overwhelming, gigantic, jaw dropping ceramics gallery at the V&A.

Other than the western centric surprise caused by the apparent incongruity of seeing a biblical scene re-enacted by asiatic looking characters - and reflecting the brainwashing performed by western art that makes you believe that a blonde, blue eyed jesus christ is perfectly normal - what makes me marvel at this one is how Abraham doesn't look like it's much of a sacrifice to butcher the pesky looking little kid. In fact he looks quite keen on it. Maybe it's the grabbing the kid by the eye. Maybe it's this feeling he might as well have been chopping the head of a chicken. The standing instead of laying Isaac on a sacrificial table doesn't help. As if a sacrificial table made things less violent by giving it a sacred context. Odd.

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November 25, 2010

Neither good nor bad

"I mean", said Miss Marple, puckering her brow a little as she counted the stitches in her knitting, " that so many people seem to me not to be either bad or good, but simply, you know, very silly."
-- Agatha Christie, The 13 Problems


Some years ago I found out I had a somewhat famous homonym. Small posters announcing a performance by a Portuguese choreographer were all over Lisbon. The poster had my name on it in bold lettering and under it there was a photo of a naked woman, a brunette, her face not really that discernible. I had the shock of my life. It was like having a one-second nightmare in broad daylight - one of those where you find yourself naked in the middle of the street reaching out for discarded newspapers to cover yourself while the passers by seem oblivious of your nudity. I was reassured by looking more closely and finding that those were definitely not my breasts and by my quick reasoning that my carefully curated ex-boyfriends are such honorable souls that they wouldn't resort to that sort of extreme revenge - had I ever grieved them. Once in a while I get twitter notifications of something cultural going on in Portugal where my homonym is said to be presenting a new piece of work somewhere and for a fraction of a second I panic as if I had deadline to come up with a choreography and had forgotten all about it. I hate her.


Today is the anniversary of the death of Freddy Mercury. This is definitely silly: Freddy and Nureyev were the only two celebrities for whose death an embarrassed tear escaped my eye. What can I say, two gay men shaped my childhood aesthetics. I would listen to Queen albums nonstop as soon as I found out how the record player worked and I also wanted to be a ballerina like every other girl in the early 80's. Except that I wished I had been born a man to be able to do what Nureyev did. Also, he had those neo-assyrian legs.


Which brings me to my guide for identifying the author of any early Queen song using the album Jazz. Later Queen is a bit more complex because they all got better.

- If it's camp (Jealousy), operatic(Mustapha) or upbeat (Don't stop me now), chances are it's Freddy's. If it sounds silly it's Freddy's and it's because there's some sexual innuendo, bitchy subtext or gay slang reference, eg Bicycle Race for bisexuality.
- If it sounds american (Fat Bottomed Girls, Dreamer's Ball) or is heavy on the guitar side and fast paced (Dead on Time), chances are it's Brian May's.
- If it is a standard subpar rock n' roll song (More of that Jazz) or features somebody singing over drums only and sparse guitar riffs (Fun it) chances are it's Roger Taylor's.
- If it sounds like a sentimental song Freddy could have authored but it's not camp or complex enough (In only seven days) or if it sounds like a nice rock n' roll song sometimes a bit on the hard rock side (If you can't beat them), chances are it's John Deacon's.

The conclusions can be extrapolated to any other albums. Take "A Night at the Opera":

- Death on Two legs: bitchy subtext: Freddy's.
- Lazying on a Sunday afternoon. Camp, camp, camp. Freddy's.
- I'm in love with my car. Although it's silly, it's also a subpar rock song. Taylor's.
- You're my best friend. Sentimental but not complex enough. Electric piano makes it not camp. Deacon's.
- '39. Sounds american folksy. May's.
- Sweet lady. Lots of guitar and fast paced. May's.
- Seaside Rendez-vous. Camp, camp, camp. Freddy's.
- The Prophet's Song. It's just weird. Doesn't matter who wrote it. I want to forget it.
- Love of my Life. Sentimental. Could be John Deacon's but it's too good. The harp gives it a camp flavor. Freddy's.
- Good Company. A banjo? It's May's.
- Bohemian Rhapsody. Operatic. Freddy's.
- God Save the Queen. It's like Hendrix's Star Spangled Banner and it's all about the guitar. It's May's.

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November 19, 2010

Pinorama, Assyrian bliss, etc.

I've been reading Giuseppe (Pino) Orioli's Adventures of a Bookseller and Pinorman, a memoir by Richard Aldington of his times with Pino Orioli and Norman Douglas. It's been immensely entertaining - even though I had a goal in mind related to a "sub plot" in a research I was doing and of which I hope to write more about in the future. Orioli's memoirs - edited/censured by Douglas some say - are filled with those vitriolic jibes, stereotypically gay at times, that turn any memoir into an airing of dirty laundry.

(Orioli is probably better known for being the first publisher of Lady Chatterley's Lover.)

This was before I started my Faulkner: Light in August. It wasn't going badly until I got sidetracked by an acquisition at a London antiquarian books fair: Layard's accounts of his discoveries at Nineveh. It's so exciting, such a page turner, I can't put it down. Layard wins my heart whenever he quotes passages from the Bible or Herodotus that match the things he's discovering, even though he downplays how thrilling it must have been to find these biblical sites.

I am continuously enthralled as I read it especially as I am an odd British Museum visitor in that I tend to ignore the Egyptian and the Parthenon sections and go directly into Assyria. I am in such awe of Layard's descriptions that I am now fantasizing about the Greeks getting their friezes back so the BM has space to show the Assyrian wall reliefs properly, in order and as they were found with reconstructions, drawings, ...the works. Transformation of the Parthenon galleries into a mock Nineveh/Nimrud - that's my dream. It's time for a Mesopotamian revival.

This also means I am looking forward to reading the newly published The Mythology of Kingship in Neo-Assyrian Art by Mehmet-Ali Ataç...

Assyrian soldier using an inflated animal skin as a floating device.


I will go back to Faulkner shortly but I'm at a point where I don't appreciate the prose enough to care what happens to Christmas. Paradoxically, I think I need to read more non-fiction for pleasure and less fiction for education. I drudged through Henry James's Portrait of a Lady before all this. Periodically I go for James. And periodically I am reminded how I can't see the point of the plots and get tired of the pretentious, meandering, long descriptions and digressions. Trying - unsuccessfully, it seems to me - to be George Eliot. Poor man's Middlemarch.

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November 12, 2010

La Bovary

I've been feeling totally mystified by the hype around the new Lydia Davis translation of Madame Bovary. Being a cynic and seeing that many bookshops are now prominently displaying Davis' novels and advertising them as "by the translator of Bovary" while adding praise for that translation made me even more suspicious. I imagined that finding pleasure in reading Flaubert would make you want to read more Flaubert and not the translator (no matter how much of her personal style she put into it or not). Reading that Davis' didn't even like the novel to begin with raised in me that personal aversion for technocrats - I have no ideas supporting my decisions, I just want to do a good job. Maybe, but especially in art, you want some passion. Or I do. The problem is I don't feel the urge to read Davis translation: I've read Bovary both in french and portuguese (a very apt language for translating french into) so I'll go on with my cynical prejudices, I suppose.

And so I come to Julian Barnes' essay in the LRB. There are a great many things I don't like about his writing, but when it comes to discussing Flaubert you have to get out of his way and let him run away with it. He's passionate. And an englishman passionate about french culture is something you don't see everyday. In the essay he proposes a little exercise which I duly completed.

"Take a simple sentence from the first pages of Flaubert’s novel. In his early years, Charles Bovary is allowed by his parents to run wild. He follows the ploughmen, throwing clods of earth at the crows; he minds turkeys and does a little bell-ringing. Flaubert awards such activities a paragraph, and then summarises the consequences of this pre-adolescent life in two short sentences which he pointedly sets out as a separate paragraph: ‘Aussi poussa-t-il comme un chêne. Il acquit de fortes mains, de belles couleurs.’

The meaning is quite clear; there are no hidden traps or false friends. If you want to try putting this into English yourself first, look away now. "

My own version:

"And so he throve like an oak. He developed strong hands, handsome colors."

Thrive because plain grow is not commensurate with the strength and volume of an oak tree. Developed because we're talking about growing and "acquiring" has too much of a monetary or value connotation for me that the french version doesn't. I suppose I mean that I don't see the verb acquire that often in referring to a personal and physical growth process in english. Maybe I just wasn't paying attention but, alas, that's how little linguistic prejudices develop. Growing strong hands makes me imagine a little hand coming out of a stump and getting bigger. Which is freaky. Handsome because it felt more masculine and healthy - not forgetting that "couleurs" is feminine but that shouldn't really matter. Handsome also because that's how I'd describe the colors of an oak tree. Kept the spliced comma to sound poetic, for it sounds poetic to me in french. Kept the plural of colors because, well, I imagined Flaubert was describing all of Charles' body colors changing in the open air, in the sun: his skin, his hands, his complexion, his hair. Amazing how many personal choices which I can't really defend neutrally go into one single sentence.

Here are the other translations, 125 years worth of them, the last one being Davis'.

1) Meanwhile he grew like an oak; he was strong of hand, fresh of colour.

2) And so he grew like an oak-tree, and acquired a strong pair of hands and a fresh colour.

3) He grew like a young oak-tree. He acquired strong hands and a good colour.

4) He throve like an oak. His hands grew strong and his complexion ruddy.

5) And so he grew up like an oak. He had strong hands, a good colour.

6) And so he grew like an oak. He acquired strong hands, good colour.

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November 08, 2010


Found this at the wonderful blog over at Ptak Science Books:
(Jordi Teixidor in his studio)

Which looked eerily similar to this postcard of Mark Rothko which I happen to look at every day as it's on my fridge door.

I'm guilty of never having heard of Teixidor before but this line from his biography was... unsurprising to say the least.

One of the most important abstract painters of his generation in Spain, Jordi Teixidor identifies with the intentions, strategies and content of the work of Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt and Barnett Newman.

I don't even know this guy's work and already it feels like a pastiche (he was born in 1941). First impressions and all that.

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November 03, 2010

Whatever happened to modernism?

Apparently not much. If modernism is, for Josipovici, that periodical rupture with tradition in which art and the artist put into question their value and their possibilities or that which refuses to be absorbed either into realism or abstraction, for whichever reasons (individual or collective disenchantment with the world and so on), there's no reason to think modernism ended. Maybe we have to wait another hundred years for the next rupture. As much as I have enjoyed this book (and felt secret relief to find a compelling justification for my own literary preferences, or rather, sensibilities), I still have the feeling Josipovici suffers from that anxiety (or is it wishful thinking?) that you can nudge out of the current society a literary genius in your own lifetime. One that everybody will agree upon and that will match your own personal choice. Mostly, because we should be able to recognize it if we are erudite and cosmopolitan enough. We surely won't be finding the next modernist work in the New York Times top 10 books list. It's more likely that 50 years from now somebody will find an amazing work of literature that some crank self published on lulu.com.

The use of art criticism made by Josipovici was extremely clever; art criticism tends to be more self critical, more meta - the problem of what is art is always there whereas literary critics and authors tend to take for granted what literature is. J. seems to equate art with painting though and the challenges of art these days are way beyond mere painting. So, I'd love to know Josipovici's views on where are the Jacques Rancières and Boris Groys of the literary world. There aren't enough philosophers around, I suppose.

The last pages of the book are mostly rants. I sympathize. They are my rants too. In fact, I recall ranting about the 3 for 2 book promotions on this very blog years ago.

This tendency of ours to think that everything is more evil, more commercial, less literate than it used to be, is obviously a mere error of perception. For example, I was - naively - a bit shocked to find out, while reading a paper for a side project, that Liszt toured Iberia in the 1840's playing on a Boisselot piano and advertising it constantly. Conveniently, the son of the piano maker travelled with him. With the order book ready I suppose.

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October 31, 2010

R says he is the keeper of sanity

I am a big fan of Polly Morgan's work. I first saw her pieces at Haunch of Venison a couple of years ago and, naturally, when I saw last weekend that the same gallery had some of her prints for sale, I asked for prices. I noticed R. looking a bit panic stricken and slowly walking backwards towards the exit while I waited for the attendant to ascertain availability. I figured he wasn't interested in the print as much as I was.

C: So, you don't like it?
R: I like it, I just don't want it hanging in my living room. It's fine in a gallery.
C: But why not?
R: Because it' creepy.
C: Creepy? It's beautiful.
R: There's dead birds heads.
C: Arranged as a bouquet.
R: It's creepy.

C gives what she thinks is a bit of a convincing art spiel, rambling about memento mori, the innovative uses of taxidermy, symbolism, etc.

R: No.

C tries another strategy.

C: But I had this vision of Polly Morgan hanging on the wall next to a poster of Jack Wrangler.
R: Who?
C: Jack Wrangler.
R: Who's that?
C: An iconic gay porn actor from the 70's.
R: Your knowledge of retro gay porn is frigthtening.
C: Anyway. It would make a fantastic statement on the transience of lust and physical beauty.
R: What? No.
C: Come on.
R: No.
C: Ok.

C looks sad and hopes R will fall for the "the lesser of two evils" strategy. He doesn't.

C: What about the Polly Morgan minus Jack Wrangler?
R: I'm not falling for that one.
C: Darn it!


C: So, if the print featured whole birds rather than just the heads it wouldn't creep you out, would it?
R: That's a good point. No.
C: So, it's the dismemberment that ruins it?
R: Correct.
C: But dead chicken with their heads still on like you see in chinese supermarkets creep you out?
R: It's the heads that do it, severed or not.
C: I should ask Polly Morgan to make one of those with bird's bottoms then.

Much later.

C: Wouldn't having it hanging in your living room and seeing it every day numb your reaction to it?
R: Probably.
C: You'd get used to it and not find it creepy anymore.
R: But guests would be creeped out and I'd have to explain. They'd come in and say "Hey, nice apartment you guys got...", turn around and go "Whoa, what's with the dead birds?"
C: It could be a nice conversation starter.
R: I don't want to spend my life explaining something I don't like to every single guest.

C gives up. But she is still looking for a graphically appealing gay porn poster.

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October 29, 2010


A little note to remind myself of that bit from Woolf's diaries that sent shivers down my spine (ignorant as I was of Eliot's political ideas which tend to be hushed, I found):

Monday, May 30 1938
Tom (TS Eliot) came... very friendly & elaborate description of his triumphal progress through Portugal as Brit. Rep. on some prize giving commission.

This was the Camões prize for foreign literary and scientific works about the country, awarded for the first time in 1937 but only given away in 1938. Yet another piece of totalitarian propaganda - as the main regime strategist put it on his book "Literary Prizes", the portuguese regime's "spiritual politics" aimed at battling every work of art which is ugly, evil, sickly either because of sheer sensuality or satanism. It was awarded to a swiss count - a right wing intellectual who defended authoritarianism, monarchy, nationalism and the Catholic church - Gonzague de Reynold, who wrote a book entitled "Portugal". The bits I've seen are a bit frightening: he thinks Portugal's political model is the right one but the people are weak because they don't exercise enough and because they have been mixed up with exotic races - too many africans were welcomed in the land and Salazar should be careful about preserving the white race. Double shiver. Also, 60% of the population being illiterate was not a problem. The problem would be if they were taught the wrong things. Anyhow, this all sounds terribly familiar and I'm afraid I have a visceral reaction which usually puts a brake on detached analysis so I'll stop.

I wonder if dear old Tom read the book or was just smug about getting invited for a free holiday? He probably did read it as he was also the coordinator for the translation of portuguese propaganda materials into english and of their publishing by Faber. He also suggested that Salazar's collected speeches should be entitled "The Rebirth of a Nation". Even Salazar thought this was too much and it ended up as "Doctrine and Action".

Just in case I follow up on this:

*Gonzague de Reynold's correspondence.

*Article: T. S. Eliot and the Premio Camoes: a brief honeymoon and anointment of Portuguese fascist politics.(Critical essay) Article from: Yeats Eliot Review Article date: June 22, 2009 Author: Silva, Reinaldo

*A Master's Thesis which cite Eliot's involvement in propaganda translation efforts - João Pedro Cotrim


I browsed Woolf's 1920's diaries and read that bit - which someone else had mentioned on a comment on this blog - where she says that Ulysses/ Joyce is basically juvenile. But I do have another thing in common with Virginia: we both think he is a good writer but whereas she says to TS Eliot that Joyce is "virile, a he-goat", I more crudely remarked to R. that "Joyce was a horny bastard". We can't all be poets.


Philip Forest, Le Siècle des Nuages - Got this book at a wonderful bookshop in Lyon - it just came out. I paged through it and miracle of miracles: it was well written and it sounded Sebaldian - you know, fact and fiction intermingled with erudition. Minus the photos. Very excited about it but postponing pleasure until I have the mind to sit down and read a big chunk of it. Note to self: consider turning to french contemporary literature when everything else fails, although Villa-Matas in spanish is also a good backup plan. Anglo-saxons too concerned exclusively with their pointless navels, Portuguese authors always write the same (serious, deep, sad, allegorical) novel, they're like a collective Paul Auster. I need to learn more languages.


Got Josipovici's What Ever Happened to Modernism? If nothing else, he mentions some authors I've never read, some literary theorists I've never heard of. And yes, I wonder whatever happened to modernism. Also, very happy to see he mentions Muriel Spark as one of the few modern anglo-saxons and who, as far as I'm concerned, is one of the geniuses this island has produced. Which reminds me I've been meaning to blog about my pet theory regarding "The driver's seat". So brilliant I could reread it again and again.


Other things to follow up on:

Chesterton's rejection of Darwin on humanistics grounds parallels much of the contemporary scientific community rejection of studies on the evolution of the human brain in the last 10k years on fears of racial discrimination. Compare to linguistics taboo about some societies having more complex grammars than others and the study that said that the ancient greeks were color blind.


I'm considering Faulkner.

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October 28, 2010

A Suicidal Writers Literary Tour of Torino

"Turin: Ville belle, alignée, droite, ennuyeuse, stupide;" Gustave Flaubert (Voyage en Italie)

Despite Flaubert, who evidently never tasted agnolotti del plin or set eyes in the da Vinci drawings housed at the Biblioteca Reale, Torino still rests high on my private top cities in Europe list. Another visit, prolonged visit that is - courtesy of french train service strikers - and yet another few days of gastronomical and architectural bliss.

While on vacation, I usually try to squeeze in some detour to see the house of a writer or a town that served as background to a novel - they are often out of the way and serve as an excuse to explore lesser known neighborhoods or regions. It was so with the visit to Rabelais cottage near Tours and Lawrence Durrell's villa in the Languedoc. So, in preparation for the Piedmontese sojourn I ran into an interesting piece of trivia: I found three writers who committed suicide in Torino. All of them in different circumstances and times - Cesare Pavese of barbiturates overdose in 1950, Primo Levi of a fall from a third floor in 1987 and Emilio Salgari from harakiri (no, really) in 1911. And thus the urban hike began.

Hotel Roma, Piazza Carlo Felice. A porticoed piazza, home to some excellent book and sweet shops where not only I found a lovely edition of Cesare Ripa's Iconologia but also replenished my domestic Leone pastilles stock at Confetteria Avvignano.

The first stop was immediately outside the Puorta Nouva train station, in the Piazza Carlo Felice. The Albergho Roma (now upgraded to "Hotel") still exists and it was there, on the second floor, that Pavese took a dose of sleeping pills and finally escaped "this longing for death". His was not a surprising death if you have read his diaries - not only suicide is mentioned and ideated several times, it's drenched with melancholy. Or as someone else described it, it's a portrayal of existential solitude. The diaries have been used in one medical/word analysis study which concluded that

"The proportion of words related to positive emotions and optimism increased over the last year of Pavese's life, and the entries became less complex and more self-oriented.
The results confirm the changes in mood documented in diaries and letters from suicides in previous research."

But there's hardly anything optimistic about his last sentence in that same diary: "All this provokes disgust. Not a word. A gesture. I shan't write anymore".

Urban legend has it that Pavese, while prohibited from publishing his works because of his anti-fascist activities, was for some months teacher of italian to the young Primo Levi in the Liceo d'Azeglio.

Primo Levi's birth and demise place: Corso Re Umberto, 75, a long, elegant street with tall buildings, many in art nouveau style or, as the italians say, stilo Liberty. Famously, on one bench on this avenue, students from the same high school that Levi would attend, formed the Juventus Football Club in 1897.

Primo Levi's case is thornier. Most people wouldn't question the news that an Auschwitz survivor suffering from recurring bouts of depression while being a long term carer for both his elderly mother and mother-in-law took his own life. And yet, despite the coroner's opinion, many doubt the suicide thesis as he left no suicide note and, being a trained chemist, he'd probably find a more interesting way to go than to throw himself down a stairwell. We'll never know. Coincidentally, Primo's homonymous grandfather also took his own life but by jumping out of a window.

Primo Levi recalled how his father would buy him any book he wished as long as it wasn't one of Emilio Salgari's swashbuckling adventures. Well, it isn't exactly highbrow literature, but Sandokan's adventures are great fun. There was a Salgari revival when I was a child and there were a number of TV series and comic books based on his works. At least in Southern Europe.

The yellow building at 215 Corso Casale, South of the river Po, a very distinct setting from the two previous suicide spots. Surely a middle class or worker's neighborhood in the early 1900's. The church of the Madonna del Pilone in the back, probably Salgari's church if he did attend it. A long walk from Piazza Vittorio Veneto, it feels as if Torino ends there; as if Salgari's is the last house before hitting the woods and the hills.

Salgari's harakiri was motivated by the classic reason for suicide. As he put it on the suicide note to his children: "I am a loser". Having his wife committed to an asylum and a father who took his own life probably had something to do with it too. Despite the success of his books, he found himself constantly struggling financially and left a note to his publishers demanding they pay his funeral since they were getting rich at his expense.

Whatever the reasons, Salgari, true to his histrionics and keen interest in all things exotic, walked into the woods near his house and, with a barber's knife, disemboweled himself. Two of his children followed the same path. That of suicide, that is.


While in Torino I read the last volume of Virginia Woolf's diary which ends some weeks before she walked to Southease and drowned herself. I didn't plan it that way, but it ended up being a very appropriate read: fitted the theme, so to speak.

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October 13, 2010

Claudia's world log #34561

I'm off to Torino to lounge around in fin-de-siècle cafés, deeply immersed in Savoyan splendor, and to indulge in Piedmontese cuisine. Then off to the Rhône-Alps for a driving trip around Lyon and Geneva. It will be a peripatetic, extended joint birthday celebration as my own birthday was last week and R's is coming up shortly. I turned 35. I remember turning 30 and being immensely excited about it as if leaving the 20's behind was the equivalent of a coming of age which would give me admittance to a more select member's club. Believe or not, I was right. These have been, despite recent family vissicitudes, some of the happiest, tranquil, studious, loving, wise years of my life.

For the good reason that a librarian bothered to go roam a dusty basement reserve stock to find it for me, I'll be taking volume 5 of Virginia Woolf's diaries on this trip. The woman could write, couldn't she? Damn her and her informal yet exquisitely phrased diary.


Finished Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling and am halfway through Origin of Species. The former illuminated the part of my brain that didn't understand faith and the latter made me wish Mendel was born or published earlier to fill in the gaps. Euclid's Elements arrived in the mail and will make for good nerdy entertainment for winter evenings.

R's been reading Chesterton out loud to me. We started out with Father Brown's stories which are always food for theological thought - when they're deeper than mere catholic ranting - but I can now wholeheartedly recommend the overlooked The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond.


My plan to make Seneca achieve world dominance posthumously advances. I peddled - translated, edited, adapted and stealthily sent off, that is - Consolation to Marcia to a grieving friend with highly successful results.


I love that TLS last page Christmas feature where J.C. goes hunting for overlooked authors or books under 5 pounds in London's thrift shops and used book stores. The problem with replicating this project yourself when you're not british is that it's hard to get excited in situ at some parochial author that nobody has heard of and who writes about specific cultural events that are of no consequence to you nor do they evoke any type of nostalgia.

I ended up buying Roy Strong's Feast and Revel's Culture and Cuisine - can't resist gastronomic erudition - at My Back Pages outside Balham station. It seems to be a locals bookshop; lots of people coming in greeting the owner by name and vice versa. I was precariously perched on a high stool trying to read the titles in the theology shelves when a relatively wide man - wide enough to block the way out of the little nook that is the religion section - sternly said to me "You're in my section". And then smiled happily and said: "It's the first time I've seen anyone in my section." I obviously and quickly moved to the adjoining politics nook even though I had not the slightest interest in it. I'm sure he's a lovely person and was happy at finding a like minded soul but as Seinfeld says "Strangers have a bad reputation".

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September 24, 2010

Arundel & more

My uncle is probably the only tourist who leaves London saying the food is marvelous and the city is peaceful. He's obviously spoiled by the treatment provided at this Bloomsbury oasis we call home. He came to visit at the same time as the Pope and so Benedict missed out on seeing us as we were fully booked. We went to Arundel Park where my uncle became the pace maker, leaving us behind and completely out of breath, especially whenever there was a hill at which foot he'd double his speed. We finished the hike 2 hours before we had planned. Not bad for a 67 year old, recently widowed, prostate cancer treatment convalescent uncle.


The highlight of his visit, according to uncle himself, was attending a service at Westminster Abbey. We had good seats in the Quire and the music was excellent. It was his first Evensong and he loved it mostly because he's keen on singing and was impressed he could shake hands with the Canon and an ex-Bishop as we exited. Walks in St. James park and Regent's Canal, strolls in the British Museum galleries, a swim in a Lido, some excellent meals in carefully picked restaurants and the weekend was a success. Not to mention the family memories reminiscing which was my favorite part.

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I have to admit there's hardly any contemporary fiction that I look forward to reading these days but unfortunately I am not totally immune to hype. So I went to the LRB bookshop, picked up Jonathan Franzen's Freedom and sat down. This is hardly a book review for I read the first two pages. He lost me when he said somebody was greener that Greenpeace. Where's Saul Bellow when you need him? He should have been standing behind Franzen whacking him in the head every time he'd go for the facile, mundane comparison. Actually, he lost me by page 2 when he mentioned those times when you didn't feel self-conscious driving a Volvo 240. Or 420. Cars are not my thing. Feeling guilty for driving an expensive, polluting car does not, for the majority of the world, constitute a problem for various reasons other than environmental so I confirmed my suspicions that the reviews which said that Franzen describes contemporary life as it is, tragic realism and whatnot, were risible. This was before I read the TLS review which tries to be gentle but kills it off immediately when it says that quite a lot of the dialogue seems like something out of the flimsiest episodes of Desperate Housewives.

I'm not going to read Freedom. I may be the loser but I suspect that, presently, many an american book - which invariably is about suburban, environmental conscious americans who drive Priuses and shop local but who buy every new useless version of the gadget of the moment while petitioning against council housing in the neighborhood so their property value doesn't sink - is most likely irrelevant.

These same authors tend to be praised by the accurateness of the scientific, technical descriptions which are usually extremely detailed and boring rather than nonchalantly thrown in; authors seem to spend a long time researching and are praised for it rather than for their imaginations or style. I suppose this mirrors the tendency to praise movies with realistic 3D effects. As for me, I love fake scenarios. I love stylized settings. Imagine Casablanca filmed in Technicolor. Imagine The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari filmed in the streets of a real town. It wouldn't work, would it? But if writers insist on being realists, whatever that means, at least they could try to be interesting. Or deep. As in, try some empathy, try to look deeper than appearances, try to find out what are the big questions of our time for yourself rather than learning them through CNN or Wired Magazine.

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September 21, 2010

Also, Autumn is here.

My favorite season.


Ran to the farmer's market to get the first apples. The Red Windsors won the tasting contest.

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We went on yet another hike, this time in the New Forest in Hampshire. The english summer being pretty much over, - I'm still astonished there was a summer at all - my butterfly spotting has been replaced by the more autumnal fungi identification. I have signed up for a workshop but until then I'm doing the best I can with the help of Roger Phillips' tome.

Mushrooms are the most exquisite and mysterious creatures. Keeping an eye out for new species to photograph - I'm not into foraging yet - appeals both to this need of classifying the world around you- which in my mind is something very english - and to a child-like enthusiasm for exploration, for digging into leaf litter and touching dead wood with your bare hands. There might be something in it that also appeals to some primeval survival instinct: the identification of the edible. In any case and in short, I get heaps of pleasure from it.

Stomach Fungi or Puffballs - the ones whose spores are contained within the body of the fungus. As they mature, the outer case splits and the spores are released.
A Spiny Puffball - Lycoperdon echinatum.

Polypores - brackets growing on trees with pores and tubes instead of gills.

Dryad's Saddle - Polyporus squamosus.

Bay Polypore - Polyporus durus.

Macrolepiotas - with rings around the stems.
Parasol mushroom - Macrolepiota procera.

Hypholoma - means mushrooms with threads because of the thread-like veil that connects the cap to the stem.
Sulphur Tuft - Hypholoma fasciculare

Tooth fungi or fungi with spines - whose cap undersurfaces are covered by spines or teeth.
Terracotta Hedgehog - Hydnun rufescens.

Agaricus - the field mushrooms, common in the shops.
Meadow or Field Mushroom - Agaricus campestris

Chanterelle mushrooms

Boletus Mushrooms
Orange Oak Bolete - Leccinum quercinum.

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September 08, 2010

Stuff your Dreams

Lately I've been running across people, articles, facebook status and such, partially and incorrectly quoting Shakespeare: "We are the stuff dreams are made of." as if it were an inspirational quote à la Disney or a can-do American motto. Unfortunately, the quote - from Prospero's last speech in the The Tempest - runs as follows:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Or alternatively, Bogart/Sam Spade paraphrasing it rather clumsily at the end of The Maltese Falcon:

Detective Tom Polhaus: [picks up the falcon] Heavy. What is it?
Sam Spade: The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.
Detective Tom Polhaus: Huh?

So, unless you're trying to make a larger point about the transience of life or the futility of human pursuits, lay off it.

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August 23, 2010


If one had time to write the whole of one's life thus, bit by bit as a novel, how rewarding this would be. The pleasant parts would be doubly pleasant, the funny parts funnier, and sin and grief would be softened by a light of philosophic consolation.

-- Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea

I suppose you can say the same of your own memories, whether you write them down or not.


The Greeks thought of the past as stretching out before them while the future waited behind their backs.

-- David Wheatley, TLS review of the Letters of Louis MacNeice

My first thought was "Silly greeks!" but then I realized they were right. So right.


The highest ideal of a translation from Greek is achieved when the reader flings it impatiently into the fire, and begins patiently to learn the language for himself.

--Philip Vellacott in the introduction to his own translation of the Oresteian trilogy.



Throughout history the domestic pig has been sadly and unjustly neglected, while its more illustrious cousin the wild boar has, since classical times, been revered by warriors, hunters and composers of epic poems.

--Julian Wiseman, A History of the British Pig

Best opening line of a non-fiction book ever.I had to buy it. Got this one at Much Ado Books in Alfriston. With characteristic British dry wit, the customer ahead of me in line said "I almost got that one for myself".


The most powerful movement of feeling with a liturgy is the prayer which seeks for nothing special, but is a yearning to escape from the limitations of our own weakness and an invocation of all Good to enter and abide with us; or else a self-oblivious lifting up of gladness, a Gloria in Excelsis that such Good exists;

-- George Eliot, Daniel Deronda

The best description I've found of my secular meditations at prayer time whenever I'm attending a service.


Entertained by the Point of View Naming Syndrome: what the English call Peninsular War the Portuguese know as the French Invasions and the Spaniards as the War for the Independence of Spain.


As it was growing dark we passed under one of the massive, bare, and steep hills of granite which are so common in this country. This spot is notorious for having been, for a long time, the residence of some runaway slaves, who, by cultivating a little ground near the top, contrived to eke out a subsistence. At length they were discovered, and a party of soldiers being sent, the whole were seized with the exception of one old woman, who, sooner than again be led into slavery, dashed herself to pieces from the summit of the mountain. In a Roman matron this would have been called the noble love of freedom: in a poor negress it is mere brutal obstinacy.

-- Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle

I read the junior abridged version of this as a child. Lately I've decided I am grown up enough to read the real thing. I am in awe.

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August 16, 2010

Cézanne in Sussex

Some weekends ago, we went on a 2 day hike through Sussex ending up at the seaside. As usual, there were a few cultural/educational stops related to a literary theme - the Bloomsbury group. The sites of minor interest we visited were Berwick Church - decorated mainly by Duncan Grant - and the grave yard at Firle where Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant are buried.


Charleston Farm House, the country side seat of Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant & Co, is in stark contrast to the Woolf's Monk House. There is a sense of it being a hospitable place, luminous even in the darker rooms and filled with small little personal touches that it almost feels still inhabited. Of course, the hand made decorations - patterns painted on doors, walls and table tops, and even a frescoed bath tub - look like they were made by an eccentric old aunt but it gives it that warming personal touch.

The window of the studio, a beautiful airy room where photography is not allowed. Luckily, they sell postcards of it.

Vanessa Bell's experiments with "modern" art made the conservative in me come out. Her previous paintings were beautiful. If I were to do a memory exercise and try to remember all the paintings I saw hanging on those walls, the first that comes to mind is a small portrait of a man at a piano and the second a still life with what looks like a medicine jar. The pseudo Cézannes and especially Duncan Grant's works (of such uneven quality that you wonder if it was the same person painting all of them), I tried to bury in the deep drawer in the bottom shelf of the cabinet labelled as "You might need it sometime but it's not likely" in my brain.

Speaking of Cézanne, I learned the most entertaining anecdote regarding the Bloomsbury Group, a hedge and a Cézanne Painting. Keynes held a high position in the Treasury and Duncan Grant convinced him to raise government money to buy some masterpieces which were going to be auctioned in France. Keynes and the Director of the National Gallery went to secure some of the works for the nation but the latter couldn't be persuaded to buy a Cézanne still life so Keynes bought it for himself. Arriving in England, Keynes took a lift from a civil service colleague who dropped him in the middle of the road, in front of the path that leads to Charleston Farm House. As he was carrying too much luggage and couldn't manage it all by himself, he left the Cézanne painting sitting on the hedge and carried his cases instead. As he arrived and explained what happened, Duncan Grant ran down the path - probably establishing a sprinting record by an English artist - and rescued the first Cézanne to arrive in this island from the inclemency of English weather. Insert hedge fund joke here.


The Cézanne painting was later donated by Keynes to the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Seven Sisters.jpg
End of the hike, the chalky seven sisters covered in fog.

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August 13, 2010

Paço dos Negros

My mother, the portuguese history nerd, made me drive around in the middle of nowhere in Ribatejo (a region North of Lisbon by the side of the river Tagus) until we finally found some obscure ruin that she saw mentioned in a book. It turned out to be quite interesting - and mysterious, given the lack of ready available information about it.

The portico, chapel and water mill that still can be seen are the last vestiges of a royal palace built by King Manuel I in 1512, a second (or third, or fourth) home destined to hunting holidays. The Palace was initially named after the place where it was built - Ribeira de Muge - but around 1685 became known as Paço dos Negros or of the Negroes since the royal servants were mostly black african slaves who eventually mixed with the local population through the centuries. It's sadly neglected - it seems that people live inside it - and one can't help wonder if there have been any proper excavations. There were some holes covered with wood planks but considering there's also a legend that a treasure is buried there, I wouldn't put it past the locals to try to find it. Some informational signs were put up long ago but you can hardly read them anymore, being severely faded courtesy of sun, rain & badly planned signage materials.


My father, the source of anecdotes and gossip that balances my mother's research-like seriousness, remembered that one of my great-grandfathers was from this area. Who knows, there might be a little bit of african slave blood in me.

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August 04, 2010

I'm one aunt short

TiAna.pngLess than a year ago, my aunt and uncle were visiting London: their first time ever since their honeymoon in the 70's. My aunt had a nose for food, her beautiful green eyes would sparkle at the sight of a good raclette - cheese being a favorite - and she would lead you through throngs of people in farmer's markets ending up at the stall offering delicacies you wouldn't otherwise have noticed. One evening, my uncle and aunt made a little duet singing french songs and dancing under the rain in deserted London streets leading to St. John's restaurant where she had her first Welsh Rarebit. She told me family stories - how relatives told her she looked like her paternal grandmother, how her uncle went underground during the dictatorship period for opposing the regime and how all her family seemed to plagued by cancer, her twin brother having died 10 years ago at age 50. 9 months later she is dead. A few weeks before she died, despite the morphine and being pretty much paralyzed, she still described to me her hospital meal with delight and engaged in a discussion with a nurse on where to get the best fried squid south of Lisbon. I can't help thinking that the grandchildren who became the centre of her life in these past four years may grow not having memories of their grandmother. My aunt's mother has lived long enough to see her own children die. The unbearable cruelness of all this could only be redeemed if there was a sort of paradise with a 24 hour cheese buffet.

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July 28, 2010

Virginia Woolf and the South Downs

Yet another hike in the countryside made possible by including a visit to Monk's House, Virginia Woolf's last address, in the itinerary- the only way to make me exercise is to stick a nerdy carrot in front of my nose.

Virginia Woolf's writing shed. I will try not use the "room of one's own" cliche.

Inside there was a pot of green ink laying around which was a clever touch. No sign of the board which she would hold in her lap to write on.

Virginia Woolf's ashes are buried under this tree; Bust by Stephen Tomlinson.

After visiting the house - which despite the colorful flower gardens I found rather gloomy - we took the path to the river Ouse nearby where Virginia drowned. There are so many marked trails in the English countryside (thorough signage everywhere, impossible to get lost) we were surprised there isn't a Virginia Woolf Suicidal Trail. Turns out that she took a different path and actually drowned near Southease but seeing that the only lifesaver we saw on our 5 km walk on the river bank was at the end of the path leading from Monk's House, I suspect this must be a popular suicidal spot. Why people choose to end their lives in the same place as a celebrity is something I hope I'll never understand.

Obviously, only after this hike did I find out there is such a book as "From the Lighthouse to Monk's House: a Guide to Virginia Woolf's Literary Landscapes". I found it as I browsed the poetry section at the library. It was misshelved and I didn't even know it existed. Talk about a lucky find.


Nest stop: Charleston House. But this time I have extra info thanks to Katherine Hill-Miller. I will be looking for Keynes cottage too.

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July 21, 2010

Take Off!

Ulysses - Episode 1. If Joyce didn't write so well ("wavewhite wedded words shimmering on the dim tide") I wouldn't go further than the first chapter. It's boyish - I get the same reaction from reading Conrad. It's a high brow version of a nerd juvenile male life. I swear I try to read it with 1920's eyes but these boys are so much like any other boys who found out they can use their erudition to mock religion or to make clever Nietzschean jokes (and who have these prejudiced views of what girls are like) that I can't stop rolling my eyes once in a while. In any case, I am disappointed Buck Mulligan wasn't naked under his yellow gown: shaving au naturel on top of a martello tower first thing out of bed, wind engulfing the gown, was the very image I was entertaining in my head. But no, he had to be wearing trousers. I forgot Joyce is still a moralist; otherwise he wouldn't be so keen on smut. Fine continuation of Portrait: anti-british, anti-catholic, and generally bitter Stephen continues his non-adventures.

This chapter has already caused an odd conversation in this household. I was puzzled for a few seconds by one sentence and queried my male guinea pig for confirmation:

C: When you enter the sea does your scrotum tighten?
R: Ooooh yes.
C: Ah.
R: Why?
C: I just read the sentence "The scrotumtightening sea." and let's just say it's something I can't readily grasp the meaning of.

It goes to show what kind of public Joyce had in mind. Those of us who are scrotumless are left wondering.


The Martello Tower in Sandycove, aerial view


Oh, and I realized I couldn't care less about how this follows or not the structure of the Odyssey. I'll think about it later.

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July 08, 2010

How odd...

... I hadn't looked into my Google Docs account in ages and I just discovered this discretely hidden in the middle of all the useless files:

Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.
Yo la quise, y a veces ella también me quiso.

En las noches como ésta la tuve entre mis brazos.
La besé tantas veces bajo el cielo infinito.

Ella me quiso, a veces yo también la quería.
Cómo no haber amado sus grandes ojos fijos.

Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.
Pensar que no la tengo. Sentir que la he perdido.

--Pablo Neruda, Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada

Je me rappelle souvent de ce temps quand j'ai visité la maison de Neruda à Valparaiso - La Sebastiana. Ça m'amusait qu'il avait nommé ses maisons d'après des femmes, peut- être des amantes imaginaires. Neruda a aimé plusieurs de femmes; il y avait un temps que je croyait qu'il était un Casanova, qu'il utilisait sa poésie comme une arme de séduction. Mais seulement quelqu'un que a aimé si tant peut écrire des paroles si belles a propos de la perte.

J'ai une toute petite théorie qu'il y a des biographies de certains artistes qui devaient être écrites autour de ses femmes. Chaque chapitre devait avoir par titre le nom d'une femme comme les maison de Neruda. Picasso est le cas le plus évident. Il n'y a pas de période rose ou période bleu chez Picasso. Il y a une période Dora Maar, une période Jacqueline. Woody Allen et la période Diane Keaton, une période Mia Farrow en suite, une période Soon-Yi. Neruda et Matilde, Delia.

Eluard a aimé Gala, Nusch, Dominique. J'ai récemment acheté ses derniers poèmes d'amour. La dernière moitié du livre est lourdement remplie avec des poèmes écrits après la morte de Nusch. Je ne savais pas qu'il était possible d'écrire des vers si tristes. C'est surprenant qu'il n'est pas mort d'amour car je suis sûre que la duprass d'après Vonnegut n'est pas de la fiction du tout.

J'étais si près de toi que j'ai froid près des autres. -- Eluard, Ma Morte Vivante

(some Eluard induced francophilie, I assume)

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July 06, 2010

Against dullness

I think I need to read more W.H. Auden.

Keep well the Hermetic Decalogue,
Which runs as follows:

Thou shalt not do as the dean pleases,
Thou shalt not write thy doctor's thesis
On education,
Thou shalt not worship projects nor
Shalt thou or thine bow down before

Thou shalt not answer questionnaires
Or quizzes upon World-Affairs,
Nor with compliance
Take any test. Thou shalt not sit
With statisticians nor commit
A social science.

Thou shalt not be on friendly terms
With guys in advertising firms,
Nor speak with such
As read the Bible for its prose,
Nor, above all, make love to those
Who wash too much.

Thou shalt not live within thy means
Nor on plain water and raw greens.
If thou must choose
Between the chances, choose the odd;
Read The New Yorker, trust in God;
And take short views.

Extract from Under which Lyre, A Reactionary Tract for the Times

Oh dear, I've broken so many of these. How do you atone at the church of Auden?

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July 05, 2010

A visual guide to the fifth chapter of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Entrance to Trinity College at the en of the 19th century, from the National Archives of Ireland.

The grey block of Trinity on his left, set heavily in the city's ignorance like a dull stone set in a cumbrous ring, pulled his mind downward and while he was striving this way and that to free his feet from the fetters of the reformed conscience he came upon the droll statue of the national poet of Ireland.

—I don't know if you know where that is—at a hurling match between the Croke's Own Boys and the Fearless Thurles and by God, Stevie, that was the hard fight. My first cousin, Fonsy Davin, was stripped to his buff that day minding cool for the Limericks but he was up with the forwards half the time and shouting like mad. I never will forget that day. One of the Crokes made a woeful wipe at him one time with his caman and I declare to God he was within an aim's ace of getting it at the side of his temple. Oh, honest to God, if the crook of it caught him that time he was done for.


"Each player had a wooden hurley to strike the ball, generally of ash, about three feet long, carefully shaped and smoothed, with the lower end flat and curved. This was called camán [commaun], a diminutive from cam, 'curved': but in old writings we find another name, lorg (i.e. 'staff'), also used. The game was called iomán [immaun], meaning 'driving' or 'urging': but now commonly camán, from the camán or hurley." from a Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland.


The dean returned to the hearth and began to stroke his chin.

—When may we expect to have something from you on the esthetic question? he asked.

—From me! said Stephen in astonishment. I stumble on an idea once a fortnight if I am lucky.

—These questions are very profound, Mr Dedalus, said the dean. It is like looking down from the cliffs of Moher into the depths. Many go down into the depths and never come up. Only the trained diver can go down into those depths and explore them and come to the surface again.

—If you mean speculation, sir, said Stephen, I also am sure that there is no such thing as free thinking inasmuch as all thinking must be bound by its own laws.



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A visual guide to the fourth chapter of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

capuchin.pngThe director had begun to speak of the dominican and franciscan orders and of the friendship between saint Thomas and saint Bonaventure. The capuchin dress, he thought, was rather too...

Stephen's face gave back the priest's indulgent smile and, not being anxious to give an opinion, he made a slight dubitative movement with his lips.

—I believe, continued the director, that there is some talk now among the capuchins themselves of doing away with it and following the example of the other franciscans.

—I suppose they would retain it in the cloisters? said Stephen.

—O certainly, said the director. For the cloister it is all right but for the street I really think it would be better to do away with it, don't you?

—It must be troublesome, I imagine.

—Of course it is, of course. Just imagine when I was in Belgium I used to see them out cycling in all kinds of weather with this thing up about their knees! It was really ridiculous. LES JUPES, they call them in Belgium.


dalmatic.png humeralveil.jpg

A chasuble and a dalmatic from the fascinating Sacristan's Manual. A humeral veil from a catholic supply shop.

He had bent his knee sideways like such a one, he had shaken the thurible only slightly like such a one, his chasuble had swung open like that of such another as he turned to the altar again after having blessed the people. And above all it had pleased him to fill the second place in those dim scenes of his imagining. He shrank from the dignity of celebrant because it displeased him to imagine that all the vague pomp should end in his own person or that the ritual should assign to him so clear and final an office. He longed for the minor sacred offices, to be vested with the tunicle of subdeacon at high mass, to stand aloof from the altar, forgotten by the people, his shoulders covered with a humeral veil, holding the paten within its folds or, when the sacrifice had been accomplished, to stand as deacon in a dalmatic of cloth of gold on the step below the celebrant, his hands joined and his face towards the people, and sing the chant ITE MISSA EST.

Thurible.gif chaliceandpaten.jpg

A thurible, a chalice and a paten.

bull island.png
Bull island (is an island located in Dublin Bay in Ireland, about 5 km long and 800 m wide, lying roughly parallel to the shore off Clontarf)

From the door of Byron's public-house to the gate of Clontarf Chapel, from the gate of Clontail Chapel to the door of Byron's public-house and then back again to the chapel and then back again to the public-house he had paced slowly at first, planting his steps scrupulously in the spaces of the patchwork of the footpath, then timing their fall to the fall of verses. A full hour had passed since his father had gone in with Dan Crosby, the tutor, to find out for him something about the university. For a full hour he had paced up and down, waiting: but he could wait no longer.

He set off abruptly for the Bull, walking rapidly lest his father's shrill whistle might call him back; and in a few moments he had rounded the curve at the police barrack and was safe.

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A visual guide to the third chapter of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


Hell. The fear of it. Catholic guilt, etc.

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July 02, 2010

A visual guide to the second chapter of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Uncle Charles smoked such black twist that at last his nephew suggested to him to enjoy his morning smoke in the little outhouse at the end of the garden.

Black Twist Pipe Tobacco.png

(Got this image from a tobacco shop. This costs 150 euros! Made for coprosmokingphiliacs with too much pocket change if you ask me.)


I wanted to find some videos of musicians performing the songs Uncle Charles used to hum in the morning but they all sound like celtic music which causes no-no-no-no-please-no reactions in this household. So here's a link to a wonderful site called Music in the Works of James Joyce.


Belvedere College, which also still exists.


A horse drawn tram in Dublin:


It was the last tram. The lank brown horses knew it and shook their bells to the clear night in admonition. The conductor talked with the driver, both nodding often in the green light of the lamp. On the empty seats of the tram were scattered a few coloured tickets. No sound of footsteps came up or down the road. No sound broke the peace of the night save when the lank brown horses rubbed their noses together and shook their bells.

The Mardyke in Cork


The leaves of the trees along the Mardyke were astir and whispering in the sunlight. A team of cricketers passed, agile young men in flannels and blazers, one of them carrying the long green wicket-bag. In a quiet bystreet a German band of five players in faded uniforms and with battered brass instruments was playing to an audience of street arabs and leisurely messenger boys. A maid in a white cap and apron was watering a box of plants on a sill which shone like a slab of limestone in the warm glare. From another window open to the air came the sound of a piano, scale after scale rising into the treble.

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July 01, 2010

A visual guide to the first chapter of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Clongowes school not only still exists but has a James Joyce Library just to prove the point of how ironical life is. Or how the jesuits are such good sports. Or both.

Images stolen from here and here.

"Their master had received his deathwound on the battlefield of Prague far away over the sea. He was standing on the field; his hand was pressed to his side; his face was pale and strange and he wore teh white cloak of a marshal." - Maximilian Ulysses Browne was the ghost of Stephen's febrile delirium.


from Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, Wien.


I could't find a picture of a pandybat nor any allusion to it other than Joyce's when I came across some text saying he called it a pandybat as a pun with the latin word pendebat (a conjugation of the verb to hang). The correct name for the jesuit corporal punishment device is Ferula, a whale bone covered in leather.

Found a contemporary picture of a "Ferrula" on a S&M products website:

— Lazy idle little loafer! cried the prefect of studies. Broke my glasses! An old schoolboy trick! Out with your hand this moment!

Stephen closed his eyes and held out in the air his trembling hand with the palm upwards. He felt the prefect of studies touch it for a moment at the fingers to straighten it and then the swish of the sleeve of the soutane as the pandybat was lifted to strike. A hot burning stinging tingling blow like the loud crack of a broken stick made his trembling hand crumple together like a leaf in the fire: and at the sound and the pain scalding tears were driven into his eyes.


What people were wearing at the turn of the century Dublin:
From the Clarke Collection at the National Library of Ireland.

"The game of Conkers is a traditional English game where competitors use nuts from horse chestnut trees with a piece of string tied through them. Players take alternate hits at their opponent's conker and the game is won when one player destroys the other's conker. " says LIFE magazine as a caption to an illustrative photo:

"That was mean for Wells to shoulder him into the square ditch because he would not swap his little snuffbox for Well’s seasoned hacking chestnut, the conqueror of forty."


Where stood the city of Sybaris?
In Great Greece, near the southern extremity of Italy: its inhabitants were noted for their luxurious and effeminate lives.
How did the Sybarites betray the weakness of their character?
They are said to give marks of distinction to such as excelled in giving magnificent entertainments: they removed from their city those citizens and artisans whose work was noisy; and even the cocks were expelled, lest their shrill cries should disturb the peaceful slumber of the inhabitants.
-- extract from Magnall's questions


"Dante gave him a cachou every time he brought her a piece of tissue paper."

A cachou was a liquorice breath freshener produced by a french pharmacist.


And if you think this is an irrelevant detail, academic papers have been written about it and why it isn't a cashew nut instead.

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June 27, 2010

Claudia's Great Summer Enterprise

Me and Jimmy in Tarry-Easty
Me & Jimmy at tarry-easty, last summer.

It's official, this shall be a Joycean Summer. Everything is (almost) ready. I've got Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Hamlet, The Odyssey, will be getting a nice edition of Ulysses, a map of Dublin and also Gifford's Notes. I'm still considering if Campbell's Wings of Art will be post or concomitant reading.

I love Dubliners. I read Portrait many years ago. Read bits of Finnegan's Wake while shaking my head, baffled. I gave a go to Ulysses using a portuguese translation (now THAT was nonsense gibberish) as a teenager. I've listened to an Ulysses audio book while driving 6 years ago. I picked it up and browsed it a few times in bookshops and never felt ready. Here goes.

(this being part of that well-known anti-giving up strategy which consists in committing in public)


Another great enterprise for which I've been sort of preparing for will be to go on a 2 day walk through the South Downs, about 35 km in total. The highlight of the hike will be the Woolf's Monk's house near the river Ouse where Virginia took her own life. Also featuring cute little english towns and cream teas and ploughman's lunches and mysterious looking dark woods and all those things I thought Enid Blyton was making up when I read the Famous Five as a kid in sunny, quasi-desert lands where afternoon meals suffered french influences and the scones I dreamily yearned for were nowhere to be seen. this walk will certainly include a stop at Alfriston to visit Much Ado Books.

Charles Darwin's greenhouse
Hothouses at Darwin's house. 16 km walk around Downe.

Claudia hugging a tree
Hugging a beautiful oak tree on the Hever-Chiddingstone-Penshurt-Leigh walk. 16 km.

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June 22, 2010



I fell in love with this portrait at the National Gallery; it's almost a "naif" version of a renaissance painting with a limited palette. There's something childish about it that appeals to my motherly instincts. The National Gallery says it's by Vincenzo Catena. When I tried to look up more paintings by him I got confused because they presented such a variety of styles that something had to be wrong. It turns out that there is one good monograph about Catena by Robertson so all my information comes from there. Now I realize nobody knows who Catena is. Or else, comparing with other minor painters who died in obscurity, there is a lot of documentation about his private doings but almost none of his artistic endeavours. To top all that, he is said to have had gone through a lot of phases, mimicking Bellini in his beginnings and ended Titianesque, which further adds to the attribution confusion. As usual, very few paintings are signed. And when you try to figure out why a painting has been attributed to that or other painter you realize that everything seems a little arbitrary and depending on the "feeling" of some experts of the beginning of the 20th century.

For example, the above portrait was bought by the National Gallery at the Hamilton palace sale in 1882. It was lot 344 and was supposed to be a da Vinci. Thanks to Berenson this painting was attributed to Catena later on despite objections by Collins Baker who thought is could be at least a Basaiti (see below). An inventory of the property of the Duke of Hamilton from 1634 probably helped since it included a painting described as "A heade of Catena". And it looks terribly like the portrait of a man as a martyr in the Borromeo Collection:


I've made a picture in my head of this Catena after reading what little there that comes from reliable sources. He was an amateur. He was rich - a trader in spices - and had free time to spare. He convinced Giorgione to let him be his business partner and Giorgione accepted which probably means that the division of labour was something like this: talent lay with Giorgione and the funding with Catena who was allowed to use the studio and have lessons as a sort of voluntary apprentice. He may have been the first person to paint for pleasure. He was querulous and had a weakness for jewelry. He never married and had a live-in boy, Gherardo, to whom he left very little money and an older governess who was a mothering substitute. He was a social butterfly, mixing in with the right humanist circles, in intimate terms with booksellers but not owning one single book. He was a profound admirer of Bellini who he knew personally - having received a painted towel rack as a present from the great master - and desired to be buried side by side with him at SS Giovanni and Paolo in Venice where both lived for, in his mind, he was himself also a great artist. Alas, I have no idea which paintings he did paint or which he merely ruined - he's known to have "restaured" some works by Bellini.

Basaiti at the National Gallery, fortunately showing once a week in the basement. Good grief.

Some paintings believed to be Catena's have been attributed instead to Basaiti (pupil of Vivarini and "rival" of Bellini) by Berenson and others. I can imagine the experts discussing it: "Not even Catena could paint this badly!". Catena was indeed thought to be a mere copyist of styles - and even compositions - and lacking originality.

And couldn't they get another background at Vivarini's studio rather than that awful green curtain?

Vivarini and Basiati, two versions of Virgin and Child at the National Gallery


This one is at the Museo Correr in Venice and is supposed to be a Basaiti too. Looks more likely than the one at the National Gallery, if you catch my drift. Somebody painted that donor for him, didn't they?



Fun unexpectedly Catena-related anecdote: the above portrait of Doge Andrea Gritti at the National Gallery was used as evidence for the libel case involving Ruskin and Whistler. The painting belonged to Ruskin and was used by his lawyer to exemplify what "finish" was.

Here's a transcript of the action in the court room:

Examination continued: “Does it show the finish of a complete work of art?”

“Not in any sense whatever. The picture representing a night scene on Battersea Bridge, is good in colour, but bewildering in form; and it has no composition and detail. A day or a day and a half seems a reasonable time within which to paint it. It shows no finish—it is simply a sketch. The nocturne in black and gold has not the merit of the other two pictures, and it would be impossible to call it a serious work of art. Mr. Whistler’s picture is only one of the thousand failures to paint night. The picture is not worth two hundred guineas.”

Mr. Bowen here proposed to ask the witness to look at a picture of Titian, in order to show what finish was.

Mr. Serjeant Parry objected.

Mr. Baron Huddleston: “You will have to prove that it is a Titian.”

Mr. Bowen: “I shall be able to do that.”

Mr. Baron Huddleston: “That can only be by repute. I do not want to raise a laugh, but there is a well-known case of ‘an undoubted’ Titian being purchased with a view to enabling students and others to find out how to produce his wonderful colours. With that object the picture was rubbed down, and they found a red surface, beneath which they thought was the secret, but on continuing the rubbing they discovered a full length portrait of George III. in uniform!”

The witness was then asked to look at the picture, and he said: “It is a portrait of Doge Andrea Gritti, and I believe it is a real Titian. It shows finish. It is a very perfect sample of the highest finish of ancient art. The flesh is perfect, the modelling of the face is round and good. That is an ‘arrangement in flesh and blood!’”

Turns out that same painting was attributed to Catena much later and it's a copy of the Tintoretto at the Doge's Palace which on its turn was supposed to replace a Titian lost in a fire. It belonged to the art dealer with the propitious name of Gutekunst at the time it was donated to the NG.

Titian did paint the same Doge. There's one at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Another workshop of Titian at the Met.


Spotted this Bellini in the Uffizi which immediately reminded me of my favourite Catena portrait. Legend says it's a self-portrait.


This is also supposed to be a Bellini self-portrait at the Capitolini, in Rome:

Am I the only one to think that something doesn't quite add up?


I said Catena was convinced of being a great painter because a letter from Marcantonio Michiel from Rome to somebody in Venice mentions that Raphael had died, Michelangelo was ill and that he sends wishes to Catena to take good care of his health since all the great painters are dying. It sounds like a good joke to me.

Catena was a witness at Sebastiano del Piombo's sister's wedding.

The only contemporary description of Catena's paintings is the Anonimo Morelliano which identifies six paintings by him, untraceable to the ones we think he painted:
- an altarpiece with Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene in the Church of Crema;
- in the house of Antonio Pasqualino a half length madonna by Bellini in which Catena painted a blue sky over the original curtain background;
- in the house of Andrea di Odoni, a half-length portrait of Francesco Zio (Odoni's uncle) and another portrait of the same man in three quarter lenght, in arms;
- a portrait of Giovanni Ram and another one of a head of a young Apollo playing pipes, hanging in Ram's house in Venice (we supposedly know what Ram looked like as Titian painted him into a Christening of Christ);

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June 21, 2010


We reenact this little comedy routine over and over: whenever we enter a certain room in the National Gallery in London, R. invariably says in a surprised voice "Look! There's your king!" and I look eagerly to the painting he's pointing at as any other citizen of a lesser-known country in search of a token of national recognition would. Seeing that he's pointing at Philip IV "the chin freak" of Spain, I immediately do my best imitation of that Asterix character that shouted "I have never heard of Alesia! No true Gaul has heard of Alesia!" and with a mock patriotic air I reply: "He is not my king!". Loudly.

Yes, we are nerds.

(As a matter of fact there is a portrait of a Portuguese person in the NG: Damiao de Goes who was probably worth 15 kings)


R. spent most of the weekend in Lisbon reading museum flyers and posters in Portuguese and remarking how everything is written in a formal language more suitable for a power point slide presenting a business case. In the moor castle in Sintra an area was off limits because of construction. On the tarpaulin, a sign said something like "In order to increase customer satisfaction and to further the enjoyment of this monument, we are refurbishing this area to provide extra space which will potentially increase the number of activities available". R. says "In the US we'd say We're working on it so you can have more fun!". To prove his observations further, when we arrived at the airport a sign in Portuguese said "The esteemed passengers are required to present their identification documents when boarding their airplane otherwise they won't be allowed on their flight". The english translation underneath said: "No documents - No flight".


Trying to make my way through the greek tragedies and accompanying literature. I'm considering a joycean summer - a lot of rereading must be done. Maybe.

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June 17, 2010

More assorted stuff

Thanks to Uncle J, to whom I am indebted for a crash course in Mexican music, I had that etnographically induced pleasure of finding further evidence for my thesis on the similarities of the mexican and portuguese identities. And all that thanks to Amalia Mendoza who sings beautiful songs with titles like "Bitter Christmas", "A train without passengers", "My heart, you failed", "Put the blame on me", "Suffering alone", "Dove without a nest", "You will cry", "You will pay for this" and so on.

I can now successfully conclude that Mexicans and Portuguese share the curse of being the most fatalistic people on earth except that the portuguese see life and destiny as a burden that has to be endured while the mexicans have a much sharper sense of tragedy and refer more often to suicide. Whereas the Portuguese whine, the Mexicans weep.

And that is all for the quick stereotype of the day.


Speaking of Mexico, we watched another great movie entitled "Lake Tahoe" by Fernando Eimbcke, the director of the thoroughly enjoyable "Duck Season". I love deceptively simple movies where nothing much seems to happen but whatever does happen seems to have such an emotional charge that you find yourself trying to put together the pieces of the great puzzle which is somebody else's mind. Very touching. I'm also fond of any work of art on the seemingly absurdity of everyday life following a loved one's death, on how life teaches you about mourning and letting go using small trivial symbolic incidents.



In Wilkie Collins "The Moonstone", Colonel Herncastle is described earlier as a "opium-eater". So when I read that on his deathbed he was penniless because of his "Chemical Investigations" I thought that was a great euphemism for drug addiction. Turns out he was indeed funding investigations in chemistry. Oh well.


One extra benefit of having read War & Peace is that I found a great trick for when I have trouble falling asleep: I try to name the characters by the order they appear in the novel and I never go beyond Anna Pavlovna's soirée.


Had that classic realization that some things never change. I was reading one of those free newspapers on the way to the airport, more specifically one of those miracle life story pieces that become biopics on second rate cable channels: a woman who had been stabbed while pregnant and became paraplegic not only gave birth to that baby but has now given birth to another one despite doctors advising against it. The very british writer started the paragraph with "Mrs. XYZ, a catholic, successfully gave birth to..." in what seemed to me a vague recrimination on these papist anti-contraceptive manias. Or maybe it was because I was reading Villette on that same journey and the constant Bronte's anti-catholic rants stroke a nerve - some misguided loyalty to an institution I don't care much for.


Also thanks to uncle J, I now know the cutest stories from R.'s childhood that will make great blackmail material. (just so you know, I have my eye on a Trollope Palliser novels set which I will gladly accept in exchange for not blogging the piglet story).

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June 04, 2010

More breadth than depth

Tolstoy playing chess.

War & Peace ended up being more entertaining than I previously predicted (although I confess to have skimmed more than a few of the descriptions of battle fields; what can I say? It bores me to death). I realize now the novel is mostly a vehicle for Tolstoy to expound his views on history and faith - none of which I care much for - but the breadth of characters, situations and settings makes it a thoroughly absorbing read. I wish I could read it in the original Russian; would the romantic lives of some characters still strike me as having the emotional depth of adolescence? Would the metaphysical pursuits of the existentially anguished characters seem as vapidly pious? Would Tolstoy's amateur historian claims outrage me as much as they did?

Here are two bits that made me rant for hours (R. nodded as he patiently listened. Or maybe he didn't, which would explain why he looked glassy eyed).

"To us, their descendants, who are not historians and are not carried away by the process of research and can therefore regard the event with unclouded common sense..."

"When an apple has ripened and falls - why does it fall? (...) The botanist that finds that the apple falls because the cellular tissue decomposes, and so forth, is just as right and as wrong as the child who stands under the tree and says the apple fell because he wanted to eat it and prayed for it to fall."

So, simplistic summary: novel as vehicle to propound historical determinism and the romantic notion of the wisdom of simple folk vs. intellectual spiritual pursuits. Some leader envy; patriotic fluffiness in describing an ineffectual, constantly tearful Tsar; some confusion on micro versus macro actions - are individuals responsible for the course of history in their infinitesimal roles or is it an all-encompassing spiritual force that drives events? God, Natasha is annoying. Bitterness towards organized religion. Too many love at first sight/in a new light occurrences and idealized mates leading to disappointment. The women are either futile, immoral or excessively pious and admired by their faith, beauty or joyful mood. Mood seems to be confused for personality, by the way.


More entertaining national stereotyping (and more ranting against science...):

"A German bases his self-assurance on an abstract idea: science, that is, the supposed knowledge of the absolute truth. A Frenchman's self assurance stems from his belief that he is mentally and physically irresistible to both men and women. And Englishman's self assurance is founded on his being a citizen of the best organized state in the world and on the fact that, as an Englishman, he always knows what to do, and that whatever he does as an Englishman is unquestionably correct. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and others. A Russian is self-assured simply because he knows nothing and does not want to know anything, since he does not believe in the possibility of knowing anything fully."


Coming up next: Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd, for the sole reason that when it came out in installments by an anonymous author there was speculation it had been written by George Eliot. Can't get a better endorsement than that.

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May 24, 2010

Not much Peace yet

I find myself struggling with War & Peace. I know it's too early in the book to start commenting but the long descriptions of warfare strategy are incomprehensible to me. To this day I still don't understand what a victory in a battle means unless one of the sides has surrendered but it appears to be more complex than that. I don't care enough about military tactics to get excited about it. I find disconcerting the fits of patriotism and leader worship that some characters suffer from time to time ("Rostov... felt an even stronger access of love for his sovereign. He longed to express his love in some way, and knowing that this was impossible, he was ready to weep."). To sum up, so far the reading hasn't been wholly pleasant and it's pretty clear that it's not a novel in the orthodox sense of the word. Oh, and Tolstoy (or the translator, who knows?) talking about "our troops" breaks the spell of the invisible, nationless narrator.

Hat of Napoleon I, seized at Waterloo and now at the German Historical Museum.

Nonetheless, it does offer a glimpse of something I find fascinating which is Napoleon as a cultural product - in the sense that the myths about the man are so abundant that at this point we'll never have much information about him other than what his mesmerizing charisma allowed people to know and what anti-napoleonic propaganda succeeded in turning into beliefs. I've always found extraordinary that remnant of collective memory that still survives in cartoons and movies: whenever you want to portray a lunatic all you have to do is draw a man with a hand inside the front of a jacket.

Asylum Worker #1: Hey, Pierre! Here's another Napoleon.
Asylum Worker #2: That's ze twelveth one today.
[Drags Napoleon away]
(from Bugs Bunny's Napoleon Bunny Part)

I do have a secret pleasure in the less political correct bits, mainly the digressions of the more cosmopolitan superficial characters like Prince Dolgorukov, when he is stereotyping national characters:

"Very sorry you didn't find me in yesterday. I was busy the whole day with the Germans. We went with Weyrother to check the dispositions. And when a German starts being accurate - there's no end to it!"

"My brother knows him; he's dined with him - the present Emperor (Bonaparte) - on more than one occasion in Paris, and he tells me he's never seen a more subtle, cunning diplomat - you know, a combination of French adroitness and Italian theatricality."

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May 13, 2010

In which Claudia indulges in Proustian navel gazing

(I thought I'd take advantage of the so called democracy of content creation and answer the famous "adapted" Proust questionnaire since there is no plausible reason for Vanity Fair to interview me)

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being able to feel love, tranquility, fortitude in face of unavoidable obstacles, a heart free of resentment.

2. What is your greatest fear?

Clouded judgment. My own, that is.

3. What historical figure do you most identify with?

I know I am responding to a personal questionnaire and publishing it on the internet for everybody to see but identifying with an historical figure would be too presumptuous even for me. Let's just say in my pubescent years I had a liking for Queen Elizabeth I, if you catch my drift.

4. Which living person do you most admire?

Judge Baltazar Garzón for the noble pursuits, Amartya Sen for using his intelligence wisely, Agnès Varda for the aesthetics and irreverence, Sempé for drawing that which I wish I could draw.

5. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Taking friends and family for granted which results in carelessness in personal relationships. There's that cliche about nurturing relationships as if they were plants and I'm not exactly known for my green thumb. My love is relentless though.

6. What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Lack of frankness. Although compulsive liars are a source of endless entertainment.

7. What is your greatest extravagance?

Taking friends and family for granted.

8. On what occasion do you lie?

When there's no hope of improvement by saying the truth.

9. What do you dislike most about your appearance?

I have a love-hate relationship with my ankles. They're too thick and inelegant. High heel shoes with ankle straps help. Nonetheless, I have a secret pride in imagining they're the Darwinian proof of my descending from a long line of strong peasant iberian women accustomed to carrying heavy burdens.

10. When and where were you happiest?

I remember being happier than usual in San Francisco in August 2005. I knew exactly what this verse meant when I ran into it on one of the piers.


These days it's usually on sunny days in Lisbon when I'm with all the people I love most in the world.

11. If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?

Other than the trait I most deplore and since I made peace with my ankles? I'd be more daring.

12. If you could change one thing about your family what would it be?

I wish I had even more of it.

13. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Taming my impatience even though I'm not sure the merit is wholly mine.

14. If you died and came back as a person or a thing what do you think it would be?

A marble statue on top of a mausoleum with a jaw dropping in perpetual amazement that death wasn't the end.

15. What is your most treasured possession?

Worthless childhood mementos stored in a box as a monument to that time when I was attached to symbolic objects. These days, I can't thing of anything I'd regret too much losing.

16. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?


17. Who are your heroes in real life?

Gandhi. John Stuart Mill. Mary Wollstonecraft, George Eliot, Ada Lovelace and all the women who wouldn't stay put.

What are your favorite names?

Abigail, Diego.

18. What is it that you most dislike?

Being subject to arbitrary decisions.

19. How would you like to die?

In my sleep, of old age and - selfish bit here - before my husband. Considering almost all his grandparents died in their 90's and his great grandfather way into his hundreds I might be granted that.

20. What is your motto?

Like the Woody Allen character, I like "Whatever works" which could sound a bit mercenary at first but I interpret it as an unprejudiced willingness to try different solutions rather than submit to the status quo. If the status quo isn't working.

Or Sarah Vowell's "It could be worse".

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May 05, 2010

La Varda


I had somehow mixed feelings when R. announced he had booked tickets for a screening of a Agnès Varda movie followed by a Q&A avec elle-même. Living in London opens up the doors to seeing live all these people I admire and yet... Paul Auster talked endlessly about watching baseball on TV, Almodóvar about his vision for the clothes and hair styles in his movies...and I yawned all the way through a couple more Artistes and then gave up.

Varda was different. She is actually interesting - in the crazy artist sort of way. Not just in the movies. And she is now an old lady - everybody knows that the elder, not the teenagers, are the real rebels. Teenagers want to be different from the previous generations but end up being like everybody else and old people have finally shaken off the bonds of social pressure and do as they like.

First she confirmed R.'s theory that she had chosen to do the Q&A after the screening of a lesser known movie to make people watch it. Sure enough, she confirmed "Otherwise, everybody just watches Cleo and Vagabonde and end up not knowing anything about my other movies." and then proceeded to ask for a show of hands. Five people at the NFT1 of the BFI had seen "Jane B by Agnès V". Nobody had seen the short "Sept pièces..." that we were also about to watch.

In the middle of all this, her cellphone rings, she picks it up and says "I can't speak right now, I'm busy." as if she was bagging her groceries in the supermarket rather than presenting a movie. Hilarity ensued.

I loved Jane B not just because Birkin is one of those mythological women of my childhood but I just can't resist any movie with Doors on the soundtrack and with a special appearance by Gainsbourg (there's something about ugly mean bastards that makes them so attractive). And Varda always astounds me for her capacity to create whimsical poetry through images.

The Q&A could have gone forever. She was chatty. Somebody asked how did the Gainsbourg participation came about and she then described how he arrived late to shoot the scene and asked for pastis, drinking the whole bottle without diluting it. She also ranted a bit about how Birkin let him photograph her naked and handcuffed to a radiator; you could tell her feminism was wrestling withe her liberal side but her interviewer calmed her down by saying something like "It's some men's idea of love" and she replied "yes, I suppose it is". She revealed she wanted to make a mock-obituary movie of Jane Birkin: excerpts of interviews with her intercalated with some of her best scenes from movies - except they were all fictional.

The further downside of these Q&A's - other than when the auteur is boring - is when what I call "the creative process people" show up and start asking things like do you write by hand or use a laptop, what's the brand of your pen, do you write at home or do you have an office... as if talent is a magical formula you can emulate with the right ingredients. The good news is that these people weren't around and so the questions ended up being a gateway to Varda's ramblings. I'm not even sure she actually answered anything objectively. It was wonderful.

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May 03, 2010

Overview of Claudia's inner and somewhat outer life in the past month (cont'd)

A nice surprise was to arrive in Rome after lunch and pretty much walk in into the Musei Vaticani. No lines, even though there were some scattered crowds inside. I was pretty stunned considering my last visit consisted of a 3 hour wait in a line that almost reached St Peter's followed by a no stops allowed perambulation inside, still in line the whole time. And the Raphael rooms were now open to the public unlike the previous visit when they were being restored.

The next best thing was taking our binoculars into the Sistine Chapel and being the subject of every other tourist's envy. Ha! Never forget to take binoculars when visiting churches with ceilings covered in frescoes! Since the Sistine Chapel image rights are the property of a Japanese corporation, you can't take pictures inside. And there are some really stern guards there that almost whack your head off if you try anything funny. So, third best thing was being subject to an aggressive warning followed by an embarrassed apology on two different occasions from two guards who mistook the binoculars for a camera.

Still took a walk into St Peter's aka church of cheeze. Hate all that colored marble and overdone baroque tombs.


Speaking of hates, I am now a quick identifier of paintings by Barocci. I hate his paintings with a passion. I always complained about him at the National Gallery in London - it's hanging in the same room as Leonardo's Madonna of the Rocks, for crying out loud - and then ran into him everywhere, even at the Prado where the most odious portrait of children with rosy cheeks was hanging.

(detail from the painting in the NG)

God, I hate it. It's just something you stick on cheap christmas cards or cheap chocolate boxes.


The saga of reading thick 19th century english novels continues - Jane Eyre and Silas Marner in the waiting list. Can't live without them - even Austen! which I couldn't stand years ago. Trollope is still my favourite - slowly making it through the Barsetshire Chronicles and loving it. Still puzzled by the economics in them, though. What does "She has a thousand pounds a year", "Lord X had 14 thousand pounds a year" and all that exactly means? There was no inflation? Their incomes were steady even though they seemed to depend on rents paid on their property? Agricultural prices had no fluctuations? In what did they invest to get "3% interest a year"? Anyhow, something to look up but not spend too much time on.


Up next: internationalization with the same length requirements. Flirting with a lovely edition of War & Peace. Looks like a good translation too since the original bits in french are still in french. Can't understand why you'd translate them but it seems to be the case in most editions I've seen.


Flirting with the Seidensticker translation of Tale of Genji.


Having a hard time contemplating the idea of going back to reading any novel shorter than 300 pages. Nabokov will do the trick. Saving Ada for such an occasion.


Wanted to make this blog more of a commonplace book kinda thing. Will try.

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Overview of Claudia's inner and somewhat outer life in the past month

Just before heading to Tuscany, we visited the london zoo which has made me coin the expression "paranoid as a meerkat". Not even in a glass cage do they stop looking stressed out and constantly looking for predators. They must have short lives and suffer frequent nervous breakdowns.


At the airport, on the way to Pisa, there was a man reading a book entitled "Consciousness Regained" and at his feet, inside a transparent shopping bag, there was the biggest bottle of cognac I've ever seen. Should have taken a picture. It was a real life Sempé cartoon.


Don't let the guidebooks fool you. The best thing ever in Florence is the convent in San Marco. Dozens of monk's cells and each one decorated with its own Fra Angelico fresco. Amazing.

(stolen from the Web Gallery of Art as photos aren't allowed which is very smart otherwise I'd still be there trying to get the best angles)

Second best thing was being able to pry into the private quarters of Bernard Berenson (responsible for authenticating pretty much every renaissance painting hanging in your museum of choice) at Villa i Tatti and having the most highbrow, instructive guided tour of my life - Villa i Tatti is now a little haven for post-doctoral renaissance research.


Third best thing were the marble inlays at Siena's cathedral made by an ancestor of Hergé. Renaissance ligne claire.



Oh my God, Sagrantino wine.

(graffiti in Florence: "Don't believe in television. Inform yourself.")

Italian TV has to be one of the worst in the world. Hours and hours of mind numbing football commentary, half naked women, teenagers burping old italian classic songs, you name it when it comes to juvenile, crass, sexist entertainment. A volcano had gone off disrupting world travel and their opening news was some provincial incident, for God's sake! Not to mention how tired I get every single time I go there either because I spend my time either trying to avoid being scammed or because I want to grab the people who put up direction signs and squeeze their necks. I have a pet theory that states that the road signs in Italy are put up by blind people. Because all the others that can see and understand what road signs are for have immigrated to Germany.

With that in mind and after finding surprising embarrassing bits in some well regarded paintings and frescoes, I want to put forward the thesis that renaissance painters were in their most part crass italian men with a knack for drawing.

(detail from the fresco in Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, by Vasari and helpers)

(detail from Piero della Francesca's fresco in San Francesco's church in Arezzo, way up there, seen using binoculars)

I can almost see Piero sitting in mass giggling at the priest conducting mass facing a peeking scrotum.

I kept remembering Mary Beard's rant about how lots of scholars interpret the phallic engravings in Pompeiian walls as fertility signs or signs pointing to the brothels. Quoting from memory she basically responds to that with "these romans were just crass and juvenile". I'll add to that: only if you've never been to Italy and haven't seen the profusion of phallic graffiti everywhere would you have any romantic notions about it. Some things never change.


It's the third time this has happened to me: again, I helped a woman who was locked in a museum toilet. She had been there a while and everybody was ignoring her desperate knocking on the cubicle door. The previous tourist that didn't ignore her, informed the italian security guard in english who nodded and, in turn, ignored the tourist. I had to resort to italian vocabulary I didn't even know I had to pass the message across and almost had to fetch the lady that had the spare keys myself. Not to mention that the security guard initial reaction was "What? How stupid can you be to let something like that happen to you?" and took a good 5 minutes to figure out what to do next. I ended up spending 25 minutes more in the Galleria dell'Accademia than I intended.


A serendipitous volcano eruption extended our vacation into Rome to get on a flight to Madrid to get on a flight to Lisbon and wait it out there rent-free :)

Driving in Rome without a map is not for the faint of heart but I need not go into that rant again. Madrid was amazing: we had totally forgotten about the temporary exhibition in the Prado where they put side by side Las Meninas and Singer Sargent's portrait of Boit's daughters. It was such a joy to be able to see it.


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April 06, 2010


We were going by the news stand and the Daily Mail had on its front page something like "EXPOSED: Hospital's employees are nationals of more than 70 countries". We looked at each other and said "That's great!". I guess we're not the Daily Mail target audience.


March was Shakespeare Month. In this household at least. We went to see 4 Shakespeare plays of which 1 was great, 1 was horrible, 1 was awkward, 1 was entertaining. Interestingly enough, the bad ones were the most enjoyable since it made us think harder about what was wrong with them and led to nerdy research in academic papers. The play classified as "great" was Richard III at Riverside Studios, a minimalist production so well done and so well acted but which suffered from the fundamental flaw of omitting my favourite scene. How can you cut out the Strawberries from Holborn bit!? I have a special affection for St Etheldreda's Church in Ely Place - the last standing building of the property of the Bishops of Ely - from whose gardens the said strawberries were supposed to come from.


More tree hugging

Spent Easter in Canterbury, hugging big trees among other things. I lie. The main reason was to attend Easter mass at the Cathedral and listen to the Archbishop's Sermon - I have a weak spot for the Church of England. The sermon was a bit disappointing. Jesus had risen - shouldn't it be a moment of joy? - and all the Archbishop said sounded terribly bitter (reading the transcript doesn't sound half as bad; Rowan seemed a bit annoyed and gave his lines with a piercing irony). Quoting Monty Python didn't save it.

I was expecting something happy and joyful... oh well. Instead, motivated by some scandal about a nurse being barred from wearing her crucifix at work, I got myself on the listening end of a rant about how christians in England shouldn't victimize themselves and remember that there are people around the world actually being violently persecuted by their christianity so it's unjust to complain. Then he proceeded to decide that the "attacks" on christians in this country were because bureaucrats feared the Church of England. And then reminded everybody that also Jesus Christ was persecuted by the bureaucrats of his time. Therefore defeating the whole initial message of "Don't victimize yourselves" because if comparing yourself to a crucified Christ isn't victimizing, I don't know what is. I even thought it was a sin. But that might just be my catholic background.

Then more ranting about how the political power wanted to render the cross invisible and, meanwhile, I was thinking to myself what a paradoxical thing to say when you're talking from the pulpit from one of the biggest cathedrals in the country. Were we in a secret basement or behind a wall (like the synagogues in Portugal) I'd understand. But this? Nope.

This was one of those times when I felt there should be a Q&A slot at the end of the sermon. But most religions aren't that democratic, not even the anglicans for all their liberality.



I'm in awe of George Eliot. Middlemarch just entered my top 10 novels list. She writes with such intelligence and brilliancy, her characters are so complex, her philosophical musings are so interesting that I wish she was alive so I could hug her as if she were a big tree. Now all slim volumes pale in comparison to that big tome that made my arms hurt. It seems now impossible that a novelist can create a credible world in just 100 pages. It's a passing whim, I'm saving slimmer Nabokov's Ada for another literary pleasure induced coma. It may be a passing whim but now I'm reading bulky Vanity fair so this "passing" might be a bit long. I'm not very impressed so far; for satire I still love Trollope and Thackeray seems a bit too quick in passing judgement, not to mention that the use of an anti-heroine always annoys me - why, oh why, do women have to be portrayed as either saints or devils? But it's so long that it feels like there might be a whole world in there that I haven't met yet.


Carefully planned trip coming up! Looking forward to an immersion in Renaissance art and italian countryside strolling.

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March 22, 2010

I just realized I have to go vote for the London local elections in May. Not that I have any doubts who I'm going to vote for but I thought I'd take a look around the three main parties to see what are they up to and got sucked into the general election campaign.

I visited the Conservatives' web site and found out that Cameron wants to fight vested interests which made me think that the vested interests will have nobody to vote for in that case. I have a weak spot for Cameron because I keep reading these headlines that make him sound like a liberal hero. "Cameron wants to stop inequalities", "Cameron says kids in school should be taught to respect gay people", "Cameron says that if it wasn't for the NHS his son would have been long dead", etc, etc. What can I say? He makes me feel slightly less pessimistic about the likely event of a Tory government. "Fighting vested interests" is the type of thing the communist party back in Portugal keeps as they pet slogan. Weird.

Although the parties have a button on their homepage to donate money, Labour is the most annoying. There's a little gizmo on their website with testimonies of people who have donated money. A gentleman says "The Labour Party is the best means we have of trying to build and maintain a better world.". That's what I call insularity. I'm used to americans thinking of themselves as "the world" but never heard this one before.
And gets weirder and weirder: there's a "parents for labour" who fear for the lives of their kiddies because the tory monsters will eat them for breakfast; in the "values we stand for" there's stuff like strong community, decency and reward for hard work. Yikes. These sound a lot like the stuff the far right wing party in Portugal defends. Weird.

The Lib Dems have the advantage of being able to sum their mission into a paragraph without bullets. Feels very professional and I can't personally find fault in it. It's probably the only statement of intentions of the three parties that matches my expectations. The only unfortunate random thing is that the top news on the website was that some lib dem said that the government has to honour the promise of cheap tickets for the olympics in 2012. This makes me feel at home. Sports as a major concern is something very Portuguese.

Usually, I just have to take a look at the crime and justice policies to know who do I support. In this case they're all pretty horrible:

Conservatives: "Under Labour, the privacy of convicted criminals, including dangerous fugitives, has
been prioritised over public protection. We will end the confusion over criminals’ anonymity and give police the power to identify offenders in order to protect the public and prevent crime." aka come out with your pitchforks, we're gonna have a fine lynching this afternoon.

Labour: "Continuing to introduce tough and effective sentences for the guilty alongside action to tackle re-offending, focussing on education and work and ending the early release scheme through provision of new prison places as part of the largest ever building programme." aka let's compete with the USA in % of population behind bars.

Lib Dems: "The best way to cut crime is as simple as it sounds – to catch the people who
commit crime and set them on the straight and narrow. Labour and the Conservatives prefer instead to posture on penalties, but that’s not much of a deterrent if there’s little chance you’ll be caught. That is why the Liberal Democrats are committing at this election to putting more police out on the streets, to catch criminals." aka get off your fat asses and go catch the petty criminals running around the streets while their bosses sit at home and then hmmm set them on the straight and narrow. Since penalties aren't an option I suppose this means walking the plank.

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March 16, 2010

1st Gent. Our deeds are fetters that we forge ourselves.
2nd Gent. Ay, truly: but I think it is the world
                That brings the iron.

George Eliot, Middlemarch

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March 09, 2010

En Amsterdam

I hadn't seen V. in almost three years and, remembering a shared fondness for the same authors - all the more exciting as we come from such different countries and backgrounds - I asked what was he reading these days. He replied "Have you heard of this old english novel called Middlemarch?". Had I heard of it!? I'm reading it! What's more, it turns out we are almost on the same page. Obviously we proceeded to discuss - almost felt like gossiping - what the heck was going through Dorothea's mind to marry that boring old man while admitting we were both charmed by Lydgate. It was like a book club for two.


Being with M. is always such a treat as we had that friendship version of a coup de foudre happen to us years ago. This time there was the added benefit of having her take us to the restaurant where I have had the best italian food outside Italy so far.

(cartoon by Peter Van Straaten for Lekker Amsterdam, a foodie guide written by Johannes Van Dam). The cartoonist wasn't there us but he correctly portrayed our post-prandial bliss - except that R. wasn't wearing a suit and coffee was not on the house.

We had a fabulous meal at L'Angoletto - a place not trying to look posh and closed on saturdays for dinner which is always a good sign - and if it wasn't for the fact that the kitchen is in the middle of the restaurant and so you literally can see what's cooking, I'd swear there was an old italian nonna in there dishing out this amazingly flavourful home cooked food. Turns out the cook is a Claudio from Milano. The man is a genius. And, like all geniuses he seems a bit temperamental and was a bit puzzled and looked around the room suspiciously when the waitress told him a client had asked which region in Italy was he from (that would have been me). For as long as I live I will not forget those perfectly fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella, nor the most amazing osso bucco that has ever touched these tastebuds.



At the sauna Deco, italian men were whispering about how odd to see women undress in the co-ed locker room and expressing a tiny bit of disgust at the situation. Since I was the only woman there I might as well have embarrassed them by saying "Some of us understand Italian" but we were all about to be sitting together naked in dark hot room and I though the better of it. Also, the vision of 5 semi-naked muscled italian men chatting in a locker room seemed too much like the beginning of a porn gay movie and I was expecting the cheesy muzak to start at any moment. Despite the odd start, Deco turned out to be a little slice of paradise tucked away in a non-descript house by the side of an Amsterdam canal and we envied the people who remembered to bring books and were lazily reading in the beautiful (art deco) resting areas. We now are perfectly convinced that spending afternoons at Deco followed by substantial dinners at L'Angoletto would make the perfect holidays.


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March 04, 2010

If I didn't have the attention span of a butterfly...

...I'd be writing some thesis on how the narco bosses in Mexico (and Colombia in the old days) resemble to a certain extent the old italian families of the Medici or the Sforzas. They hold court, they have intestine wars as well as wars with their rivals for territory; their business ethics aren't the most straightforward; they patronize architects and musicians and hold grand feasts. Ever since my kitsch hero singer Paquita del Barrio said that the narcos were classy people, I've been mulling this theory over. I'd name it "Escobares, Beltráns & Co: the kitsch Medicis". I suppose the right word for kitsch in the mexican context would be Naco (slang for "tacky") but Naco Narco sounds redundant both in meaning and in sound.

Here's Paquita singing her greatest success "Rata de Dos Patas" ("Two legged Rat"). She's known for the line "Me estás oyendo inútil?" ("Are you paying attention, idiot?) which she throws generously at male members of the audience.

Not only do the narcos sponsor mexican music - a number of bands have been arrested for being associated with the narcos - there's even a musical style called the narcocorrido.

Narcocorrido lyrics refer to particular events and include real dates and places. The lyrics tend to speak approvingly of illegal criminal activities such as murder, racketeering, extortion, drug smuggling, illegal immigration, and sometimes political protest due to government corruption. - from the wikipedia entry.

Here's a clip for a narcocorrido. Gory stuff, severed heads and corpses, not for the squirmish. The lyrics are fascinating: they are basically laying down the rules on how to deal with the Familia Michoacana (one of the most powerful cartels) and they say how they have the whole area of Uruapan under their eye and make a list of the types of guns they own. They also boast of bringing down military planes. I suppose all this singing about the glories of your patrons is a bit troubadorish.

And as if that wasn't enough, there's a mexican painter and restorer called José Espinoza who is known as the "Decorator for the Narcos". He paints frescos in walls and ceilings in the narco mansions. No, really.


The narcos even have a patron saint, a Sinaloan bandit called Jesús Malverde just like the Medicis had Saint Cosmas and Damian.

The existence of Malverde a.k.a. 'El Rey Guei de Sinaloa' is not historically verified, but according to local legends he was a bandit killed by the authorities on May 3 1909. Accounts of his life vary – sometimes he was a railway worker, while others claim he was a construction worker. There is also no agreement on the way he died, being variously hanged or shot. Moreover, the tree where he was hanged dried and never was green again.
Since Malverde's death, he has earned a Robin Hood-type image, making him popular among Sinaloa's poor highland residents. The outlaw image has caused him to be adopted as the "patron saint" of the region's illegal drug trade, and the press have thus dubbed him "the narco-saint."
-- more on wikipedia and some great pictures of the shrine here.

The Medici had a menagerie which at one point featured a giraffe and Escobar had a private zoo which has been abandoned since his murder and that recently made the headlines as one of his hippopotamus escaped and was shot down by the army.

What I didn’t know is that the Colombian drug lord, one of the richest men on earth then, had a hacienda (ranch) where he had kept many exotic wild animals shipped in from different parts of this earth.
Of these were four hippos which Escobar had bought from New Orleans in the 80s. When Escobar was gunned down in 1993, the Colombian authorities who took over the ranch did not know what to do with the hippos and so left them to roam the 20 km² Hacienda Napoles (Naples Estate).
In June 2009, three of the now more than 20 hippos escaped the Hacienda and were said to be roaming in the neighbourhood, destroying crops and threatening humans and their livestock. The Colombian Authorities after several complaints by residents and recommendation by security people, gave a go ahead for the hunting and killing these three ‘dangerous’ hippos.
-- from here.

The dead Escobar hippo.

Obviously, with power comes the need to show it also in the small things so ostentation also comes under the guises of gold and silver plated machine guns which can be seen at the Museum of Narco trafficking in Mexico City (which is on my must-see list for whenever I go back). So even goldsmiths are covered by this patronage.


When narcos die, their families build gigantic mausoleums which sometimes have air conditioned and are filled with a regular supply of tequila and tecate beer.
A cemetery in Culiácan, Sinaloa.

Not surprisingly, José Espinoza also decorates mausoleums:

Espinoza was hired to decorate his first mausoleum nearly 20 years ago. It was erected for a woman caught between a trafficker husband and a trafficker lover. She and her two young children were slain in a gruesome rivalry between the men. A portrait of the smiling mother and children floats on the ceiling "as if going off to heaven," Espinoza says.

He rationalizes this work, saying he paints for the survivors, for bereaved families who may not have been involved in the dirty dealings of the deceased. "It helps them in their communion with God. It helps them in their grief."

Given his clientele, it is no surprise that the Mexican army has raided Espinoza's studios. But they went away empty-handed.

"I am an artist," Espinoza says.

"People don't go to museums anymore, no one has time for contemplation. So at least, as they lie in their Jacuzzis, or climb their staircases, they can contemplate a beautiful work of art."

To sum up, let's just say that I believe there's more than enough material for UNAM to start an Ma in Narco Studies.

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February 24, 2010

Found it

My new favourite spot in London: the Thomas Hardy tree in Old St. Pancras Churchyard. Combining my love for cemeteries, old trees and literature.

Thomas Hardy was given the task of supervising the removal of tombs in 1865 for the construction of a raliwaly line while working as an apprentice to an architect. The tombstones were all placed around this ash tree which has been growing since making it look like a land art project of sorts.

thomas hardy tree

thomas hardy tree

Also, the churchyard won my heart as soon as I realized Mary Wollstonecraft (the philosopher not the novelist which would be her daughter) is buried there.

mary wollstonecraft tomb

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February 15, 2010


I had an excellent weekend involving jerusalem artichoke soup, slow roasted pork belly, cherry tart, mariage frères tea, the TLS, a walk in the Heath, the heating pumping at full steam, the prospect of a 800 page Middlemarch, R. creating relaxing music playlists on spotify, reading a big chunk of Middlemarch, Disney oldies at the Barbican, freshly baked bread & poacher cheese, long hot showers, canelles, scallops, sweet pineapple. To think I only weigh 51 kg.


Speaking of Disney oldies, The Jungle Book is a piece of social conservative drivel. The jungle is populated by spineless liberals who, at the first sight of the powerful bigot - the tiger Khan who has a prejudice against humans- will carefully review their positions and send the misfit - Mowgli - to where "he belongs". Bagheera is the sort of liberal with good intentions that would never start a revolution. Baloo will help Mowgli because he is a vagrant, a good for nothing. He is the resident hippie. He has no prejudices and he doesn't fear bigots, therefore it's considered that he has no common sense. King Louie is a mestizo type; too human to fit in with the animals and too apish to fit in with the humans. But he wants desperately to fit in. He's a social climber but his attempt at securing his place makes the little he has crumble into pieces. Kah has nothing against the misfit but will take advantage of Mowgli's less powerful, isolated position to his advantage. Kah is more of the mercenary type since he won't give Mowgli up to Khan. The vultures are another bunch of misfits who, nonetheless, have enough in common with the rest of the animals. And they have each other. Being castaways, they have nothing to lose by helping Mowgli. Also he has nothing for them to take advantage of. He has no meat in his bones for them to pick, literally and figuratively. Interracial marriage is out of the question, Bagheera asks Baloo the bear "Would you marry a panther?" to make a point about segregation. The jungle is patrolled by citizen's militias - the elephants - who, again, seem well intentioned but whose motives and goals are shady. And the story conveniently ends with the proof that birds of a feather stick together since Mowgli goes to the village of his own accord putting to rest any doubts whether ghettos are the answer to social unrest. It is also implied in the song the girl sings at the end that Mowgli will grow up to be a hunter despite his initial friendliness with the animals and therefore there is no hope for individual personal development when it comes to social inadequacy. Tradition will prevail.

I had fun writing that. I should start a conspiracy theory blog about conservative messages in kid's cartoons. Except that it's not much of a challenge. One thing is sure. This movie has the best soundtrack ever. We've been humming "I wanna be like you" ever since.


And then we watched Fantasia. And there was a jewish conductor starring in a 1940 movie, bacchanalia, paganism, nudity, sexual innuendo, bare nipples and hippos in ballet tutus. Makes you think the only thing Walt couldn't stand was commies.


A propos, giggle material seen in Lisbon last Christmas.
Walter Dias
Walter Dias Circus - the biggest show on earth (not related to me, as far as I know)

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January 21, 2010

Apparently I'm stupid and uneducated

"Speaking at a meeting in La Granja, Spain with other European Affairs ministers Ronchi said simply that there is no racism in Italy and that only uneducated people would make such claims. He even offered to provide a complimentary sight-seeing tour of the country for those who claim there is a racial question. Anyone who still believed that racism existed in Italy was just stupid according to Ronchi." from Italy claims to be the friendliest country in Europe.

Perfect Illustration for the redundant phrase "Fascist Stupidity"
"They suffered immigration and now they live in reservations"

I wasn't particularly surprised to see about the escalating of racism in Italy ever since seeing that Northern League poster in Mantova last summer (see above) and, most of all, because one of the RSS feeds I read is the Corriere de La Sera. One day doesn't go by when I don't read about those evil foreigners raping and robbing the God fearing italians. And this is a well regarded newspaper. I went back on my RSS feeds for 5 minutes and found these recent headlines pretty quickly.

"A 42 year old woman was brought down to the ground and raped in a industrial warehouse near the station. A bulgarian has been arrested."

"Three romanians end up handcuffed. They had raped a young barista on New Year's eve."

13 year old sexually abused, "arrested a 25 year old Colombian, a 45 year old and a 65 year old italian friend of the family"

"Homicide of a pizzamaker in Fenis, two Dominicans arrested" (and those are not friars)

"Frontal car crash in the Centre, a 26 year old girl is killed"
"The driver of the BMW, a Tunisian, was probably drunk and didn't respect the red light..."

"Girl beat up in Via Cenisio, one man arrested: perhaps a serial rapist"
"The man, an illegal Senegalese, was recognized by the victim and another passer-by who was robbed"

Yes. I do believe language matters and that naming supposed perpetrator's ethnicities and nationalities in headlines helps propagate prejudices in the minds of the readers.

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January 20, 2010

More new words

I can't believe I've lived my whole life without knowing about emic. I don't care if it's a technical term, I'm appropriating it for current usage. So, whenever we're in Portugal and R. jokingly points out some portuguese cultural idiosyncrasy I'll be able to say: "Meh, you don't get it, it's emic." Or, inversely, whenever I'm in a good mood and he successfully grasps the contradictions of the portuguese psyche and makes an insightful remark I will be able to say "Baby, you're getting more and more emic."
There. It works an a noun and as an adjective. "Emically" would be useful too.

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January 19, 2010


I wish I'd remember what made me pick up Max Frisch's novels. I have a vague recollection of someone talking about the effects of technology on our lives and mentioning "Homo Faber" in passing which prompted me to look for it in the library. It might have been Zizek. In any case, after being done with "Homo Faber", I'm now enjoying reading "I'm not Stiller". The novels are old fashioned at times as you'd expect from a product of the 50's to be but I still don't understand why did their popularity subside. Spiritual and identity crisis are always fashionable. What do I know, maybe Frisch is still selling well in Switzerland.


I'm keeping a journal of my readings, a hand written one. I needed it. My penmanship was getting worse and worse. I long for a calligraphy course; my luddite area of the brain is commanding it.


I've been good as I've already read one of the portuguese classics on my New Year's resolution reading list (not much to report other than it was a gripping, well crafted novel where all the characters are petty and provincial and that it could have been written in the 19th century rather than in the 40's). Five more are waiting already, brought in by my parents who seemed to have had a good time tracking down old copies in second hand book sellers in Lisbon. R. briefly browsed them and declared them either boring or depressing. Except for "O que diz Molero". He may be right.


Picking up reserved books at the library (most of them from the Reserve Stock aka the unreadables/unfashionable bin), a librarian I hadn't seen before holds my card and says: "Oh, so you are Claudia!". I'm sure the guy that has to drive the van to the reserve stock warehouse at least once a week would like to meet me too.


I found Iris Murdoch. A bit late, I know, but I'm working on improving the gender balance in my reading habits by increasing the number of female authors. Previously, I had great pleasure in making the acquaintance of Muriel Spark. The only problem is that, after reading The Green Knight, I went to wikipedia to get more info on the author and there was this: "Her novels often include upper middle class intellectual males caught in moral dilemmas, gay characters, Anglo-Catholics with crises of faith, empathetic pets, curiously "knowing" children and sometimes a powerful and almost demonic male "enchanter" who imposes his will on the other characters." Now, that pretty much describes The Green Knight. I wonder if I can look forward to the same gripping style and erudition but hopefully have some variety in the plots. We'll see, it is true that the good authors always write the same story, but I'm hoping it will be more subtle than this wikipedia description.


The next few months will be occupied by anthropology (the real thing, not the convenient name I give to my silly explorations) and food. Should be interesting. At the very least, I'll have new topics for dinner conversation openers.


The current mood is ochre yellow. It's a quieter yellow. Contemplative. Cozy.

Índice de Biografías - Francisco de Goya - Perro semihundido.jpg
(Goya, from the wonderful Dark Paintings in the Prado)

Degas and his candid photo-like paintings of yelllow walls. Who cares for the dancers.

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January 07, 2010

New useful words

Claudia has expanded her knowledge of mexican vocabulary and slang.

When in Spain you say "Joder, tío", in mexico you say "Qué onda, güey" ". The spanish are very fond of their "Joder" but I haven't found a suitable mexican corresponding word. But everybody's a "güey".

"Gusguerías" and the verb "Gusguear". Maybe the spaniards use this one too. So useful and it's one of those words that you can guess what it means just by the way it sounds. It's a bit like "Tapear" or to snack on yummy little nothings.

"A huevo". As in "I'll do what you're asking me to do in a bit because I have heavy testicles and therefore move slowly and lazily". Or that's how I interpret it in any case. Huevos meaning eggs but also slang for testicles.

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With a few hours to kill in Guadalajara, I found there a few of my favorite things, as Julie Andrews would put it:

A magnificent bandstand (I love bandstands and gazebos) made by the Fonderies d'Art do Val d'Osne, the famous parisian foundry! It was installed there in 1910 at the time of the commemorations of the centenary of Mexico's independence (100 years ago precisely) and caused many people to complain that it was indencent (because of the naked ladies). It is an awkward sight in the middle of modern and colonial architecture.



A homage to Palomo in a gallery I randomly walked into - one of the cartoonists I most cherish ever since childhood days and who I had almost forgotten about since putting my copy of his book "The fourth Reich" in storage. A chilean, he draws some mean political critique, courtesy of Pinochet and of his host country Mexico where he fled to.

- the writing on the wall says "Down with the Dictatorship" and he says "I think...."
- next he spots the political police thugs coming his way and he says "Although...er...actually...er"
- he walks away thinking "I play the fool...."
- last square, "therefore I am/exist".
Sensible advice for anybody living in a dictatorship, I suppose.


In the cathedral, an effigy of Saint John Nepomuk who I met for the first time in Prague and who is one of my favorite saints and not that easy to spot. Patron saint of silence and bridges, another two of my favorite things.


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January 06, 2010


My Christmas anthropological expedition to the depths of Mexico was a success since I spent time...
- surrounded by people shooting guns in the air as a way of commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ;
- digging old papers belonging to R.'s family and finding out his grandfather was, among many other things, a secret agent in charge of finding the murderer of a famous politician;
- hearing about ghost stories, corpses of zapatistas thrown down wells and hidden treasures;
- visiting pre-columbian and purepecha indian sites;
- trying fruits, vegetables and cooked foods I had never laid eyes on before; I didn't refuse anything I was given to eat so R.'s family was enthusiastic about food shopping and cooking for me. T. would bring me some concoction in a plastic cup and say "Hey, try this" and I would gulp it down without even asking what it was and invariably ending up saying "Delicious!". When uncle J. offered to cook us lunch and asked my mother in law what didn't I eat, she answered "Claudia will eat anything!". I guess she could have phrased it more elegantly;
(Anyway, the love of food always brings people together)
- freezing in the mornings and evenings and getting sunburnt during the day;
- hearing T.'s stories about the drug cartels that plague Michoácan and how the army, tipped by a jogger(!), found a stash of guns in an old abandoned house outside town;
- checking out A.'s fighting cocks. Alas, I didn't get to watch a cock fight. They say they put blades on their spurs to make it more exciting. And it's legal, believe it or not.
- listening to mariachi music until ears start to bleed.

I have much less respect for the magical realism writers. With so many oddities available, they were just writing what they saw.

Zapateria=Shoestore. Not sure it's a pun or it's just because it is on Zapata Street. Either way.


Fighting cocks. Notice how the crest/comb of the rooster on the right has been cut off to avoid its opponents grabbing it.


Pre-columbian ruins of Tingambato, very similar architecturally to Tenochlitan, complete with ball field (not in picture).

C: Why on earth are there dogs on every roof?
R (non-chalantly as if it were the most natural thing in the world): They keep them there because they don't have backyards.
Extremely annoying. You can't go down a street without being startled by barking coming from the sky. I have a flickr set of Roof Dogs of Mexico.


No Claudia Expedition is complete without a trip to the local cemetery. The local celebrity is, not surprisingly, the founder of a famous mariachi band.

Pragmatic people.

Tarascan/purepecha signs on public offices in the indian villages (this one's Inchán, I believe)

Freshly made corn tortillas are the best thing in the world. Free if you order 4 or 5 of them, 10 pesos (50p) for one kilogram. You have to try very hard to go hungry in this place.

Purepecha indian ladies and their colorful skirts.

In Nuevos Morelos, people dress as old men or witches and take advantage of the speed bumps to beg for money. It's kinda scary.


My new favorite food. Uchepos. Tamales (corn paste steamed inside corn husks) made of sweet corn, a bit of sugar and served with sour cream.

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December 08, 2009

'Tis the season

... for New Year's resolutions.

This coming year, I will commit myself to reading 12 books in Portuguese by Portuguese authors (some are well deserved rereads).

So, here's the list for my own reference:

- Húmus, Raul Brandão.
- O que diz Molero, Dinis Machado.
- O Dia Cinzento, Mário Dionísio.
- O Vale da Paixão, Lídia Jorge.
- No Reino da Dinamarca, Alexandre O'Neill.
- O Pequeno Mundo, Luísa Costa Gomes.
- Gente Singular, Manuel Teixeira Gomes.
- A Casa Grande de Romarigães, Aquilino Ribeiro.
- Mau tempo no canal, Vitorino Nemésio.
- Seta despedida, Maria Judite de Carvalho.
- Um homem de barbas, Manuel de Lima.
- Finisterra, Carlos de Oliveira.

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December 03, 2009

The week's collection

The actor-manager Henry Irving was a real-life inspiration for the character of Dracula (Stoker worked for him).

Everytime we walk by his statue behind the National Gallery I mention the Robertson Davies passage from World of Wonders that R. keeps saying he doesn't remember reading.

"I'm going to lay a few yellow roses - I hope I can get yellow ones - at the foot of the monument to Henry Irving behind the National Portrait Gallery. You know it. It's one of the best-known monuments in London. Irving, splendid and gracious, in his academical robes, looking up Charing Cross Road. (...) The Irving monument stands in quite a large piece of open pavement; near by a pavement artist was chalking busily on the flagstones. Beside the monument itself a street performer was unpacking some ropes and chains, and a woman was helping him to get ready for his performance. Magnus took off his hat, laid the flowers at the foot of the statue, arranged them to suit himself, stepped back, looked up at the statue, smiled and said something under his breath."


Saw Clive Wearing's diaries on Thursday at the wonderful new Wellcome collection exhibition (always a high brow cabinet of curiosities exquisitely curated). He has "an acute and long lasting case of anterograde amnesia and thus only a moment-to-moment consciousness".

His diary entries are eery and, as usual and by some fetishistic innate attachment to objects, seeing the diaries in the flesh was much more impressive than reading a transcript online:

8:31 AM: Now I am really, completely awake.
9:06 AM: Now I am perfectly, overwhelmingly awake.
9:34 AM: Now I am superlatively, actually awake.


Paul Dirac and Cary Grant were classmates as children. What an unlikely duo.


Reading surrealist artist Leonora Carrington's The Hearing Trumpet. Turns out the author is 92 this year, the same age as the protagonist of the story. The novel is comic and sad and probably the only one I've ever read where almost all the characters are senile old women.


"Everyone's had an interesting life," she says. "Unless they're interested in business or something." -- Leonora Carrington interviewed by the Independent.


(on describing a couple whose only daughter got married and moved away)
"the Clementses felt dejected, apprehensive, and lonely in their nice, old drafty house that now seemed to hang about them like the flabby skin and flapping clothes of some fool who had gone and lost a third of his weight." --Pnin, Vladimir Nabokov

How on earth did he come up with such wonderful similes?


Also as a result of the Wellcome Collection exhibition on Identity, need to research more about Claude Cahun's Héroïnes (part of which is online at the french national library).

"Feminism is already in the fairytales," Cahun remarked, the slightest shift in the angle of view will make the suppressed content plain. Cahun reformulated a dozen or so fables from the viewpoint of their "misunderstood" heroines and contributed several, including "Judith, la sadique," to the prestigious literary journal Mercure de France 6 for publication." -- in Acting Out

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December 02, 2009


"I want to thank the people of Britain for the legacy of Charles Dickens and the chance to tell this story. This story couldn't be more important now - it's about the immorality of greed."...

...Jim Carrey said as he switched on the christmas lights of the two biggest shopping streets in London as part of the publicity stunts for the opening of a Disney movie grossing $196.2 million since being released. Was he being facetious?

Also, Dickens works are on the public domain so the chance to tell the story is thanks to the fact that Mickey Mouse was born a few decades later. Otherwise...

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November 24, 2009

Anglicans and Hairs

Sign posted at St. Barts in the City (lovely church, lovely music).

"The current proposals for a Covenant between Anglican provinces represent an effort to create not a centralised decision-making executive but a 'community of communities' that can manage to sustain a mutually nourishing and mutually critical life, with all consenting to certain protocols of decision-making together. As Harvesting notes, Anglicans have been challenged to flesh out their rhetoric about communion through the crises and controversies of recent years, and this is simply part of a variegated response that will, no doubt, continue for a good while yet to be refined and formulated.
The recent announcement of an Apostolic Constitution making provision for former Anglicans shows some marks of the recognition that diversity of ethos does not in itself compromise the unity of the Catholic Church, even within the bounds of the historic Western patriarchate. But it should be obvious that it does not seek to do what we have been sketching: it does not build in any formal recognition of existing ministries or units of oversight or methods of independent decision-making, but remains at the level of spiritual and liturgical culture, as we might say. As such, it is an imaginative pastoral response to the needs of some; but it does not break any fresh ecclesiological ground. It remains to be seen whether the flexibility suggested in the Constitution might ever lead to something less like a 'chaplaincy' and more like a church gathered around a bishop."

Enchanted by the Archbishop of Canterbury's address in Rome. Still stunned that there are Anglicans ready to defect to the Catholic Church. Ever since I've moved here I've been continually surprised by the openness, tolerance, inclusiveness and diversity of opinion in the Anglican church. Why would anyone want to give all that up that is beyond me.


And now for something completely different.


I donated hair for an art project. I visited a independent/small publishers fair held at Conway Hall some weeks ago and there was a norwegian artist there selling a book with photos of stuff that was inside his vacuum cleaner. Since I have a similar, yet only in the realm of ideas, pet project involving belly button lint, I was interested. I ended up giving him two hairs and I am still fantasizing he is a mad genetics engineer who will populate some inhospitable part of Norway (shouldn't be hard to find) with Claudia clones, roaming the wilderness like little animals waiting to be tamed. Phew. Just reread the paragraph and, boy, does this sound terribly weird. Oh well.


Bought the book "Transmission" by Chisato Tamabayashi at the same book fair. It's so beautiful that tears come to my eyes everyt ime I open it and all this intricate sculptures of colorful paper pop out.

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November 20, 2009

Following Eco's Poetics of Cataloguing

I like Jerusalem Artichokes | Sempé's Cartoons | Mendelssohn | Camilleri's Montalbano | Conceptual art | Being read out loud to | Sunny, cold Autumn days | Warm clotted cream rice pudding | to cook | to read | to go on long walks | to be naked in the cold rain after a hot sauna | to drive abroad without a map | Caillebotte | the colosseum in Rome | BBC Radio 3 | Eric Rohmer's movies | Lamb's Conduit | snow | heirloom tomatoes | Freud's Wolfman paintings | Francis Alys | Mariage Frères Tea | the smell of roasted peppers | warm wool socks | head massages | Purcell | Stationery | quakers | pedestrianized bridges | the Prado | moss | ripe persimmons | ligne claire drawings | making quince paste | older people | the japanese garden in Holland Park | Amartya Sen | Turin | old cemeteries

I dislike the monument to Vittorio Emanuel II in Rome | celebrity chefs | almonds | shopping malls | pre-prepared meals | "working lunches" | strong winds | bitter fruit | italian operas | noise | shopping for shoes | having a haircut | yoga | bracelets | boats | long skirts | Berlusconi | strong coffee | the toes in the subjects painted by Botticelli | the smell of disinfectants | pink flowers | squirrels | cemented front yards | gps | Tony Blair | Dogu figurines | women wearing leggings without a skirt on | bull terriers | Barcelona | chocolate with nuts | Wedgwood's Jasper White on Pale Blue Porcelain | Live chickens | People speaking on bluetooth headsets | old plays adapted to a contemporary setting | guitar jazz other than gypsy swing | Rothko paintings hanging in brightly lit rooms | putting the liner bag inside the garbage bin | celtic music | when there's wet cardboard on the sidewalk | Schoenberg


Asked R. for help with the dislike list. He said "that's easy, you're always ranting about something" and then proceeded to remind me of my pet hates.

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November 18, 2009


It's such a joy for me to subscribe to Sotheby's auction announcements and to be able to browse their e-catalogues. It's as if I am awarded a glimpse of a beautiful work of art or of a piece of memorabilia that will soon submerge once more into the deep waters of private ownership. Almost in a week's time, they're auctioning off some wonderful items on a Paris book sale. My favourite being a doodle-like self-portrait of Merimée in prison.


Merimée has been lately on my mind ever since I compiled a little guide (self-published on Lulu.com and everything!) for our summer roadtrip in the south of France and realized how much of our sightseeing was provided by his conservation efforts as a Inspector of Monuments. This led me to find more about Merimée and his life which in turn made me want to draw a relationship map of his lovers, friends and acquaintances. I'm pretty sure it would cover a huge part of 19th century France's intellectuals. And through Merimée's biography I discovered Guglielmo Libri. Reading "The life and times of Guglielmo Libri (1802-1869) : scientist, patriot, scholar, journalist, and thief : a nineteenth-century story" is like paging through a bookish thriller, the sort where you end up hoping the bad guy will get away with it - even though he is a book defacer and manuscript robber. In any case, Merimée did side with Libri and that's why he ended up in prison. It's also why Sotheby's has this particular sketch to sell since otherwise, Merimée seems to have been a law abiding citizen.

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November 09, 2009

Historically induced awe

A feeling of awe: attending a book launch among a small audience that included 92 year old Eric Hobsbawm. It's like having the whole 20th century sitting there with you.

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November 04, 2009

Domestic silly scenes

C: What are you thinking about?
R: Nothing at all.
C: But that's amazing!
R: Huh?
C: There are people who spend decades in buddhist convents trying to achieve that.

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October 28, 2009

I've been having weird, weird, weird dreams. "Aren't they all?", you'd say. I know, I know. But mine are usually very frivolous and I wake up annoyed at myself for losing REM time with things such as Carla Bruni turning out to be Juliette Binoche wearing a wig. Yet, lately, I've been having dreams that sound like Umberto Eco plots. The best of them all was one where I was sitting in a dusty library reading manuscripts and I had made a fantastic discovery regarding John Chrysostom and cartography. Whatever the discovery was, it was so exciting that I woke up, convinced it was real and that I should get up and write it down. I didn't, so I have no idea what it was.

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October 26, 2009


Can anybody explain to me why is that the french trailer for the new Zemeckis animation movie boasts "Jim Carrey est Scrooge" when the movie is dubbed in french (presumably not by Jim Carrey, says I)?

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October 22, 2009

Fall out

The letter was suprisingly rather informal and asked her why hadn't she responded to the previous ones. It finally said "Take a look at the last New Yorker you received. How would you live without it?"

"Just fine", she said while she unfolded the Times Literary Supplement which was also in the mailbox.

(and to compensate for the lack of the odd Sempé cover, I'll buy a couple of the Phaidon albums)

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The education of an american

Walking by the British Library, I point at a poster with a Marie Curie quotation: "Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood."

C: That's a good one.
R: Didn't she die of radiation poisoning?

To think I am supposedly the cynical european in this couple.

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October 14, 2009

Catching up

I've been so neglectful of this blog and I blame Twitter and Facebook. And my laziness. It's so much easier to write a sentence and click enter. And then one fine day I'm trying to remember the name of an author or of a book that I've read, I google my own blog to find it and realize why I do this after all. It is public which means that at least I have to write complete sentences rather than jotting down some notes but, in the end, it's my own diary without the naughty bits.


I've been thinking that this obsession with cooking and chefs has to be related with that endangered species: the housewife. There was a time you'd learn how to cook with your grandmother or great aunt; they'd teach you the little tricks for the perfect steamed rice or how to skin a garlic clove in 1/2 a second. And they probably didn't even attend school. Now, you trust that some man (in most cases) knows all about that arcane science of cooking. It's a bit like all those books about child rearing. Everybody has been doing it for ages and humanity isn't, on average, getting any cleverer or less screwed up. So it is with cooking. There's no mystery.


Just as the Queen does, I moved my birthday to the following Saturday because of a sore throat acquired while visiting the fatherland. Yet, I couldn't miss going to the LRB's 30th anniversary party/book sale that coincided with my own birthday. Got meself the new Max Weber biography.


Also at the LRB, I attended a talk by John Bainville and John Gray about Simenon. It was entertaining in the way that listening in on a conversation by literate people around a table is but they couldn't claim to be experts in any case. The highlight of the evening was when during Q&A a Drunken-Zizek-on-a-bad-personal-hygiene-day-lookalike asked if Simenon wore a mustache or a beard because if he had slept with 3000 women he HAD to sport a beard since that's what women prefer. A reminder: Zizek has a beard and so did his lookalike.


We went on a adventure of epic proportions to Paris. Which means a family trip involving 3 people over 60 and a 59 year old. They all behaved really well, got along well and were very un-fussy and would have been happy to have been fed sweet crêpes all day.

Mom in a Toulouse-Lautrec background at Musée d'Orsay
Mom in a Toulouse-Lautrec background at the Musée d'Orsay


I need to get a book on Caillebotte. I don't think I was aware of the existence of this painting at the Orsay and, on entering the gallery, I was attracted to it as if it were a claudia-magnet.


I finally read "The Maltese Falcon". I was shocked: Spade is described as having pale brown hair. Hammett didn't have the prescience to imagine that Bogey would be the perfect Spade. All tough guys are dark skinned and dark haired. Everybody knows that.


Sociologist David Riesman's 50's book "The Lonely Crowd" summarized in one sentence: "Most people don't know what they want from life until their neighbor gets it".

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July 13, 2009


By the end of the nineteenth century, Florence was a key destination for cultured travellers from Europe and America. Writers such as Wilde, Rilke, and Mann, painters such as Degas and Klee, and, not least, the young art historian Aby Warburg and his wife, Mary, flocked to Florence to escape the encroachments of modern life at home and to revel in the city's rich artistic and cultural past. This beguiling book fuses narrative and ideas to consider how the encounter between modernism and Renaissance culture was experienced by both visitors to Florence and its inhabitants. Based on Aby Warburg's letters, diaries, and notebooks, on Italian and German archives and on conversations with E. H. Gombrich (director of the famous Institute Aby Warburg later founded), the book is an intimate guide to life in Florence and the theatres, restaurants, galleries and salons frequented by visiting cultural exiles. At the same time, the book paints an evocative picture of a city at the cusp of the modern age, adjusting to electricity and the motor car on one hand and to social unrest and a clash of cultures on the other.
-- publisher's blurb


I want to sing the non-scholarly-bookish-art-amateur praise of Bernd Roeck's "Florence 1900" published by Yale UP. In fact, I liked it so much that I hate myself for already having finished reading it. And for not knowing enough German to read his other books.

It's highly scholarly and yet very readable. Permeated with valuable information - and interesting tidbits - you'll never find anywhere else because Roeck read the unpublished sources (including Aby Warburg's personal papers and a magazine 'Il Marzocco" that I'd kill to get my hands on - preferably translated and annotated). If there's a book that can vividly portray the zeitgeist of any particular era or place this is it.


Meanwhile, I need to keep the links to all the interesting things (so many of them in the public domain!) I've learned via Roeck somewhere, so bear with me.

Leo S. Olschki, Florentine collector and bookseller of Renaissance books and prints.
Found a catalog of his ("Choix de livres anciens rares et curieux en vente à la librairie ancienne Leo S. Olschki (1907)" on archive.org from where this pre-darwinian drawing was taken from.

Charles Godfrey Leland's Etruscan Roman remains in popular tradition; (1892) should be entertaining since the information source for the work of this amateur ethnologist were italian "witches" who accepted money in return for the confirmation that secret worshiping of ancient gods and etruscan magic was still in use in Tuscany in modern times...

Jacob Burckhardt's "The Cicerone: An Art Guide to Painting in Italy. For the Use of Travellers and Students (1879)" is online! Burckhardt was seemingly against the "documenting" of history so it ends up being an entertaining collection of informed opinions. And it was the book everybody at that time used an arts oriented travel guide. Of it Nietzsche enthusiastically said: "It seems to me that one should wake up and fall asleep reading Burckhardt's Cicerone: there are few books that can so stimulate phantasy and prepare one for the conception of the artistic.

The aesthetic sensibilities of an age as seen through the writings about Botticelli in Anatole France's "Le Lys Rouge": "Darling, do you not know it is the custom of Florence to celebrate spring on the first day of May every year? Then you did not understand the meaning of Botticelli's picture consecrated to the Festival of Flowers. Formerly, darling, on the first day of May the entire city gave itself up to joy. Young girls, crowned with sweetbrier and other flowers, made a long cortege through the Corso, under arches, and sang choruses on the new grass. We shall do as they did. We shall dance in the garden."

In Zola's "Rome": "Narcisse for his part had not raised his eyes to the overpowering splendour of the ceiling. Wrapt in ecstasy, he did not allow his gaze to stray from one of the three frescoes of Botticelli. "Ah! Botticelli," he at last murmured; "in him you have the elegance and the grace of the mysterious; a profound feeling of sadness even in the midst of voluptuousness, a divination of the whole modern soul, with the most troublous charm that ever attended artist's work."

People in the quattrocento preferred Gozzoli to Castagno. "the affably conciliatory was preferred to the emotionally impressive" as Aby Warburg put it.

Isolde Kurz's Die Humanisten. Lost manuscripts and monks à la Umberto Eco.

Vernon Lee's "Renaissance fancies and studies (1896)".

Bernard Berenson's essays and catalogues. "Among US collectors of the early 1900s, Berenson was regarded as the pre-eminent authority on Renaissance art. His verdict of authenticity increased a painting's value. While his approach remained controversial among European art historians and connaisseurs, he played a pivotal role as an advisor to several important American art collectors, such as Isabella Stewart Gardner, who needed help in navigating the complex and treacherous market of newly fashionable Renaissance art. In this respect Berenson's influence was enormous, while his 5% commission made him a wealthy man." -- from wikipedia

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July 12, 2009

There must be a name for those perception errors in which we incur when, after finding out about something previously unknown, that same something seems to pop out everywhere afterward.

I had never seen people surfing on a river before the last two weeks (in Munich, in the English garden and it did indeed look like a lot of fun) and suddenly the NYT Travel section has a piece about it and how it all started in Germany and there seem to be more and more "standing waves" surfing in land locked places.

Likewise, just a couple of weeks ago I was strolling the streets of Trieste and admiring the antique bookshop previously owned by Umberto Saba. I had even compiled a little personal cultural guide to the city and had it printed on lulu.com - very nerdy I know - which included some of Saba's poetry among the literature references. And now I find the TLS has a piece on him and on his upcoming book, the first translation into english of his work.

Saba's Bookshop


Great finds:

Two Maigret novels in a bouquiniste in Uzés, Provence for 1 euro each. "Maigret hésite" and "Maigret et l'homme tout seul". This last one with a lame denouement but I have to admit I read them mostly for the food. Somebody needs to compile a book with the menus of food and drink Maigret goes through each adventure. My favorite bits are when Maigret gets caught up in work and calls home to say he's not coming to dinner. He invariable asks his wife what was she cooking and invariably gets sad he'll miss that meal.

"Dans son esprit, tandis qu'il dégustait l'andouillete juteuse et croustillante, accompagnée de pommes frites qui ne sentaient pas le graillon..."

"Ils en étaient au dessert. Ils avaient bu, avec les rougets grillés, un Pouilly fumé dont le parfum flottait encore autour d'eux."

"Trieste: Un'identitá di frontiera" by Angelo Ara and Claudio Magris from the nice bookshop at Castelo Miramare. My favourite type of non-fiction literature. What makes a regional or national character, the culture of a place and its people dissected preferably by a self-obsessed native. Or two.

Vies Imaginaires, Marcel Schwob. Bought at the excellent bookshop Goulard in Aix. I own a portuguese translation but it's somewhere in my storage boxes and there's nothing like the real thing.


The New Yorker has been disappointing lately. Hardly find anything I want to read these days. Too much Malcolm Gladwell type pop sociology based on anecdotes; too much profiling of romance writers and other celebrities of dubious interest and movie reviews I don't care for. The tipping point - aha, a pun - was Gladwell's review of Chris Anderson's Free. I was led to believe that book was a pointless exercise in platitudes and in which the author didn't even bother to reference his sources properly transcribing chunks of wikipedia articles and all. If that's New Yorker worthy...

But not all is lost. My Lapham Quarterly arrived. And it's the most wonderful thing ever. Add to it the TLS and either the LRB or NYRB and I'll be damned if I renew my New Yorker subscription.

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June 23, 2009

The apostles were a bit thick (Matthew 16)

6 Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
7 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread.
8 Which when Jesus perceived, he said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread?
9 Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?
10 Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?
11 How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees?
12 Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.



11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.
12 Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?
13 But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.
14 Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
15 Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable.
16 And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding?


Which makes me think that if these were the people closest to him and were supposed to spread his word they can't have done that a good a job, can they?

I understand parables are a helpful rhetoric device but you have to know your audience better than that.

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June 22, 2009

More Portogallo

R (still in shock over the low usability level of the Lisbon airport): Your slogan should be "Welcome to Portugal, where we unnecessarily complicate what could be extremely simple."


(comparing passports - forgot to bring reading material for the flight)

The Portuguese Passports
First page has an illustration of a scene from a 500 year old poem glorifying the feats of the Portuguese explorers. The illustration features naked ladies which means that immigration officers in sexually repressed countries usually say "Hmmm, I'll have to take a closer look at this in my office before stamping it. I'll be right back." The naked ladies are a Goddess and her companions who, by swimming alongside it, save a Portuguese ship from the enemy. As in, "Christ! We're lucky the tide turned!". So much for confidence on their sea faring skills.

The American Passport
It's the pocket version of those unbearable motivational posters + cowboy movies cliche imagery. Whenever an american is abroad and is feeling overwhelmed by, say, the portuguese pessimism or general european cynicism, he/she can get a boost in their can-do attitude by opening the passport in a random page and reading some of the inspirational quotes printed above old wild west drawings. You know, stuff like "It seems to be a law of nature, inflexible and inexorable, that those who will not risk cannot win" next to a cactus in a desert.


C: The latest news is that 28 notable economists say that all the big public investment projects should be re-evaluated - as in stopped. You know, the high speed train connecting us to Spain and the rest of Europe, the new and hopefully bigger airport, more highways...
R: Uh? Yeah, isolation will solve all your problems.


Trying to get to the check in area in Lisbon Airport. For some unknown reason, you have to cross a security barrier to get to it.
C: Hmm. Check-in counters are in there right?
Security: Yes. You need your ticket in order to get through.
C: My what?
Security: You know, proof you're on a flight today.
C: Well, I won't get that until I check in.
Security: But when you booked it you must have been given a ticket.
C: It's an electronic ticket.
Security: Yes, where's your print out of it?
C: It's an electronic ticket. The point is to not have to print out anything. I show up at the check-in counter, hand them my ID and they give me my boarding pass.
(meanwhile a hundred portuguese people better informed about this silliness and with no love for trees go by me waving around their sheets of paper and being let in)
C (sorry she was too lazy to check in online): Look, I have a flight in 1.5 hours and I need to check in.
Security (condescending): Oh well, ok, but I shouldn't let you. Next time, print your electronic ticket.
C (I'll be damned if I ever check in here ever again): Uh...sure.

First installment here.

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June 06, 2009


...you vote for the UK Independence Party whose main goal is to get the UK out of the European Union. A bunch of their candidates get elected for the European Parliament (I guess they want to work against it from the inside). Four years later they are running again and the UK is still part of the EU. Why would you vote for them again (nevermind that one of their MEP's has been jailed for fraud and another one is under investigation)?


...you are an editor at faber & faber and you have a lot of really great reviews and endorsements by significant publications and authors (like the TLS and Pritchett) on this volume of Flannery O'Connor's Short Stories. Do you REALLY want to print an endorsement by Dean Koontz on a prominent position in the cover? Because if you did this when you were sober and in full control of your mental capacities, I'll probably avoid editions of your books in the future. Please don't sell out like that again.

Can't wait to read what Danielle Steel has to say about the new Ishiguro. Not.

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June 02, 2009

Have I mentioned the weather's great in London right now?

MCCORQUODALE ( pause, weary). In the closet you'll find a rope.
        CAULFIELD opens the cupboard.
    I bought it a month ago. I intended hanging myself.
CAULFIELD. What stopped you?
MCCORQUODALE. The weather turned nice.

Funeral Games, Joe Orton

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April 07, 2009

Monet & Bouguereau

(self-portraits of each one)

When Claude Monet first put on a pair of glasses he exclaimed: "Good Lord, I see things like Bouguereau!".

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April 04, 2009

Baroque exhibition at the V&A

R: It says here the word "baroque" might come from the portuguese "barroca" which was used to refer to these misshapen pearls. So, your family name means misshapen pearls! That's you, a misshapen pearl!
C: Thanks a lot!
R: Well, you're precious but a little bit weird.
C: .... actually, I like that.


R: So this exhibition is about the history of cheesiness?


R: Hmmmm. How can you tell the difference between bad baroque art and good baroque art?

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April 03, 2009

Stages of the Annunciation in the Quattrocento

1. Conturbatio/Disquiet
(What are you talking about, I am the favored one? Leave me alone!)
Picture 17.png

2. Cogitatio/Reflection
(Hmmm, could it be true?)
Picture 19.png

3. Interrogatio/Enquiry
(But, but, but...I am a virgin and intend to stay a virgin. How am I supposed to become pregnant?)
Picture 18.png

4. Humiliato/Submission
(Oh well, if you say so, I am the Lord's humble servant)
Picture 20.png

5. Meritatio/Merit
(aka Annunziata)
Picture 21.png

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April 02, 2009



In a perfect world, Kathryn Hunter would be doing a different monologue every week in a theatre near me.

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March 26, 2009

On Gustave's Shelves

Des erreurs et des préjugés répandus dans la société.

Publiés à Paris en 1810 et 1811, par F. Buisson, libraire rue "Gille-Coeur" [Rue Git-le-Coeur], ce sont les oeuvres d'un certain Jean Barthélémy Salgues, né en 1770 et mort en 1830.

Les animaux sont très présents (ce qui est normal, les hommes vivaient en leur compagnie) et doués de pouvoirs mystérieux. Voici quelques unes des interrogations qui hantent les esprits :
- L'araignée annonce t-elle de l'argent ?
- Les abeilles ont-elles un Roi ?
- Les Abeilles piquent-elles de préférence les dames qui manquent à leurs devoirs ?
- Les vieux coqs pondent-ils des oeufs ?
- Les sangsues ont-elles le don de prophétie ?
- Une piqûre de tarentule fait-elle danser comme les meilleurs danseurs de l'opéra ?

From Pages napoléoniennes.

From a bulletin: "En 1853, de plus, Flaubert lit pour Madame Bovary un ouvrage de la bibliothèque paternelle: Des erreurs et des préjugés répandus dans la société, de Jacques-Barthélemy Salgues (Paris, Vve Lepetit, 1811-1813), qui semble avoir inspiré certains articles du Dictionnaire des Idées Reçues."


Hétérogénie; ou, Traité de la génération spontanee, basé sur de nouvelles expériences (1859)

Cet ouvrage est le fruit de trois années d'expériences et de recherches incessantes. Lorsque, par la méditation , il fut évident pour moi que la génération spontanée était encore l'un des moyens qu'emploie la nature pour la reproduction des êtres, je m'appliquai à découvrir par quels procédés on pouvait parvenir à en mettre les phénomènes en évidence : là fut la tache
laborieuse. (...)

La question de la génération spontanée a divisé les savants en deux camps opposés, et les hommes les plus illustres ont pris part aux luîtes animées et incessantes auxquelles ce grave sujet a donné lieu depuis tant de siècles. La victoire est encore indécise; aussi reste-t-il quelque gloire à conquérir pour celui qui la fera pencher de son côté.

Pour nous, nous combattons à l'abri d'une bannière bien respectable et bien imposante, puisque déjà, dans l'antiquité, elle portait les noms d'Anaxagore, de Leucippc, de Démocrite, d'Épicure, d'Aristote, de Pline, de Lucrèce et de Diodore de Sicile; et que depuis la Renaissance jusqu'à nos jours, on a vu successivement inscrire ceux de Rircher, Rondelet, Aldrovande, Matthiole , Fabri , Bonanni, Burnet, Gassendi, Morison, Dillen, BufTon, GuéneaudeMontbéliard, Needham, Priestley, ïngsnhousz, Gleichen, Stenon, Baker, Wrisberg, Fray , Werner, 0. F. Muller, Braun, Pallas, Rudolphi, Bremser, Goeze, Nées d'Esenbeck, Eschricht, Unger, Allen Thomson, de Lamélherie, Cabanis, Lavoisier, Lamarck, Saint- Amans, Turpin Desmoulins, Latreille, Bory Saint- Vincent, Dumas, Dugès, Eudes Deslonchamps, Gros, Tiedemann, Treviranus, Bauer, J. Muller, Burdach...

(I love the "I can't be wrong since all these clever people think like me" argument.)

Full text.

Voyage du jeune Anacharsis en Grèce, dans le milieu du quatrième siècle avant l'ère vulgaire

En 1788, l'abbé Jean-Jacques Barthélemy (1716-1795), philologue, publia les Les Voyages du jeune Anacharsis en Grèce, un récit de voyage détaillé et érudit décrivant les sites et la géographie de la Grèce classique (une version française de la Description de la Grèce de Pausanias).

Quel vide dans tout ce qu'il fait! que de variétés et d'inconséquences dans ses penchants et dans ses projets! Je vous le demande : qu'est-ce que l homme?

Je vais vous le dire, répondit un jeune étourdi qui entra dans ce moment. îl tira de dessous sa robe une petite figure de bois ou de carton, dont les membres obéissaient à des fils qu il tendait et relâchait à son gré. Ces fils, dit-il, sont les passions qui nous entraînent tantôt d'un côté et tantôt de l'autre; voilà tout ce que j'en sais. Et il sortit.

Full text.


(found while creating Flaubert's Legacy Library at Librarything; darn George Sand and her overabundant writings, I thought they'd never end)

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March 23, 2009

Quick thoughts and a reading list

UribeAtentado.pngExpediente del Atentado, Alvaro Uribe
I have this feeling only latin americans excel at building narratives around failures. This is a captivating book: an imaginary file of paper clippings, diaries, letters related to the failed murder attempt of Mexico's dictator Porfirio Diaz. It strikes me as a serious, more literary sibling of Jô Soares' Twelve Fingers. Found via Passou.
Modiano.pngLa petite Bijou, Patrick Modiano
It's so sad and beautiful. After reading his bio I have the feeling this is the type of writer who writes the same story over and over again. It becomes more art than literature, if there is such a distinction. Recommended by Amazon.fr through Régis Jauffret's Microfictions.
Beaumarchais.pngBeaumarchais in Seville, Hugh Thomas
Beaumarchais had such an adventurous life that it's actually possible to write a short book about only a couple of years he spent in Madrid. I wish there were more books like this: edifying entertainment. Found through the LRB's recommended books.
renaissance.pngThe Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, Jacob Burckhardt
It reads like an old mad professor telling you a bedtime story. This is History pre-"Nouvelle Histoire" and pre-"identification of sources required". My version has no footnotes and more than once I'm amused by the way the author just alludes to people and events as if he's expecting his audience to be perfectly familiar with the more obscure details of his subject. I love it. Where else would I find out about Ferrante of Napoli's room of mummies of his murdered enemies or that Attila was murdered by Dardanus who hit him with a chessboard? And even if this isn't true, I much prefer Burkhardt's version. Found in the National Gallery Bookshop.
Cucumber.pngLord Cucumber, Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell
All I knew about this pair was something about defacing library books, a penchant for dark humor and a real life murder tragedy. This book must be the most highbrow mix of camp and classical british comedy I've ever read. Suffice to say that the characters end up on a cruise of the Odyssey's locations. Classic gay fiction with homeric reference to boot. Seen on the local library shelf.

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Ko Un

I was browsing an anthology of middle eastern and asian poetry and fell in love with one of Ko Un's zen poems. I didn't memorize it - which just goes to show how relying on Google is a bit like storing phone numbers in cell phones: the result is a memory not exercised. Arriving home, I looked it up and what I found didn't quite match. I didn't remember the precise words but the image conjured by this version was all wrong.

I have spent the whole day talking about other people again
and the trees are watching me
as I go home.

So, today I went back to the bookshop and this time I've got it.

I spent the whole day being someone else's story again
As I journey homeward
The trees are watching me

Much better.

I wonder if this is a case of poetry which improves on the original with a certain type of translation like Cavafy's.

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March 21, 2009

Claire's Knee


As Roger Ebert said: ""Claire's Knee" is a movie for people who still read good novels, care about good films, and think occasionally.

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March 13, 2009

I "inherited" a box of diaries which belonged to my grandfather. In fact I seem to be the official family archive - my uncle and aunt saying "you keep that, you're the one who always cared about trinkets and mementos" while we cleared my grandmother's place after she died and as a I salvaged valueless chinese cups and saucers, my grandparent's wedding night linens, boxes of old eyeglasses, newspaper clippings.

The diaries run from the late 30's - when he came home after being stationed in Macao - to the early 70's after he moved from the south of Portugal to Lisbon with all the family. They're impressive and scary. My grandfather obsessively noted down on each day the time he started working, times spent having lunch and at what time he stopped working. This was Portugal in the 40's and 50's, under a petty dictator that glorified poverty, and he was working from 4 am to 10 pm almost every day. On the good days he wouldn't start until 8am and he'd be home by 7pm. He was a truck driver, delivering groceries all over the country and sometimes in Spain. I remember my grandmother feeling aggrieved that he never got any overtime payed. When the revolution came and, with it, rights for workers, I think she secretly kept the illusion that if there was any justice in the world they would be able to receive what they were, at least morally, owed. I think that's why she held to this absurd registry of punch ins and outs. That day obviously never came but knowing that the situation wouldn't be that bad ever again was at least comforting.

Reading those timekeeping records really breaks my heart. For a number of reasons but foremost because I know his children loved him dearly and were thus deprived of his company. But by the end of the sixties, when he moved to Lisbon and became a private driver, his schedule was more relaxed and he started noting down mainly what he had had for lunch that day. Occasionally the stress went up and he'd note down times and addresses where he would pick up his employer, a well known lawyer.

It fascinates me how much I can read into these simple annotations, apparently giving no clue to his private thoughts.

By the time he retired, he still kept diaries. But there were no more working hours, no obligations. So he started copying meanings of words from the dictionary (an orange thick volume of which I am also the keeper still). I guess he was a pioneer of the concept of "word of the day". Eventually he moved to notebooks since his schedule-free life didn't ask for any more diaries. I also keep finding, to this day, random pieces of paper torn down from newspapers with scribbled word meanings on them inside the dictionary and inside other books. He became a compulsive Dictionary-phile.

There is one diary, however, from 1959, in which he noted down a quotation which to this day I'm not sure what was the intended meaning of. It's something in the lines of "Even if God didn't exist, religion would go on being holy and divine. God is the only creature that doesn't need to exist to rule." I never understood if this was an atheist's lament or a misguided religious excuse*. And I certainly don't know what grandfather thought of it other that he found it remarkable enough to jot it down. I wonder if he was wondering about God's existence as he drove a truck heavy with bags of refined sugar through the night?

*So, I did the obvious just now. I googled it. It's from Baudelaire's Journal Intime.


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Unfinished theses

The Romanticizing of Motherhood: how men are being shut off from equality in parenting by self defeating pseudo-feminism.

inspired by: essay about breastfeeding in the Atlantic and all the feminist movements who strive to accentuate the differences between the sexes rather than what binds us together. And a conference I once attended where the chief apron wearing person of the Portuguese Freemasonry (I forget the title) said women weren't allowed in because they already contained in themselves the secret of life (undervaluing semen is fair game when it comes to prejudice).


The animistic stockbroker: how the stock market is fueled by superstition disguised as statistics and by the need for symbolic milestones to transmogrify a Bear into a Bull.

inspired by: stocks soar as Maddoff pleads guilty and, as some financial news agency put it, "marking the end of a negative cycle". Also, the superbowl indicator, irrational fear of the month of October, "Madoff rally", "Obama bear market", etc, etc.


Analyzing the contemporary Portuguese essay: is the lack of writers who actually get to the point an exercise of subtlety as a narrative style or is it a historical product of repression?

inspired by: reading an article in a portuguese magazine from 1968 and realizing that the subtle allusions, use of irony and noncommittal about anything, essential for it to clear the censorship office, made the piece completely unreadable. Which pretty much describes a big chunk of opinion pieces in newspapers these days, minus the censorship office. The thesis should be inconclusive and vague.


Hacking Ecclesiastes: keeping God out of Epicureanism.

inspired by: reading that some think the pious, ominous bits were introduced by an editor to compensate for the continual doubt about the fairness of God's justice and appeals to joy, making it look like it was written by a very confused person.


The end of the football club: how eventually supporters as emotional stakeholders will realize they are not supporting the team but cheering for a publicly traded company. It's just as ridiculous as wishing that Bayer will have bigger profits than Merck when you're not even a shareholder but only someone who is hooked on aspirin.

inspired by: one of the best bits of sports journalism I've seen in a long time. The need for sponsorship is having ridiculous outcomes. The football stadiums are named after insurance companies rather than named after great players (and then in smaller print, "sponsored by company X", as decency would have it) but some might argue that it's all business after all. Which leads to my pet hate of that thing Tate Modern calls the Unilever series. I swear the first time I saw it, it meant they were selling ice creams and detergents in the Turbine Hall. And I suppose I was right.

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March 11, 2009

Reading Jacob Burckhardt's The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy

Ferrante I of Napoli
"Besides hunting, which he practiced regardless of all rights of property, his pleasures were of two kinds: he liked to have his opponents near him, either alive in well-guarded prisons, or dead and embalmed, dressed in the costume which they wore in their lifetime. Fearing no one, he would take great pleasure in conducting his guests on a tour of his prized "museum of mummies".

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March 08, 2009

Edmund Crispin proved to be a clever, if lucky, choice. R. read The Moving Toyshop out loud to me in the evenings last week and there were times he had to stop for a few minutes while we laughed. The crafting of the plot around the crime is not what we would call a real master's work but the quips, literary references and pure farcical action make it a gem (also, there is a certain satisfaction in finding out that the murderer is the character who loves Jane Austen). The detective is a Professor of English Literature at Oxford, Gervase Fen, and every other character seems to have strong opinions about literature: the police constable tries incessantly to discuss Measure for Measure with the detective, there's a will which involves Edward Lear's nonsense rhymes, and two gangsters whose identity is unknown are named Scylla and Charybdis by Fen. Also, whenever the hero and his sidekick get stuck or imprisoned, they start playing literary games to pass the time such as listing unreadable novels or naming hateful novel characters that were originally portrayed to be lovable. Which started our classic household discussion since R. added Anna Karenina to the list and I jumped in her defense.


Schwob to dinner.
Daudet told us this. He was having dinner at Victor Hugo's . The great poet of course presided, but in isolation, at one end of the table. He was almost deaf, and no one spoke to him, the guests gradually drawing away, toward youth, toward Jeanne and Georges (his adult grandchildren). He had practically been forgotten, when suddenly, at the end of the meal, the voice of the great man with the bristling beard was heard - a deep voice, coming from afar: I didn't get any cake!

--from The Journal of Jules Renard, a mix of high brow gossip and clever aphorisms.



I love Patrick Caulfield for sentimental reasons. It reminds me of Herge's ligne claire and that brings back childhood memories.

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March 07, 2009

Are you the Messiah or what?

(this reads better with a new york jewish accent)

"(John the Baptist's envoys) said unto him (Jesus), Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?"

Matthew 11:3

Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead rise, and the good news is preached to the poor."

MAtthew 11:4,5

(what more do you want!?)

To be perfect, they should ask "yes, yes, yes, but are YOU the Messiah?"

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March 06, 2009

A break from the world of claudia; a bit of the real world

Either I have a short memory (or was half-asleep at that particular history of economic thought class which is improbable because an attractive lecturer -which was the case - is always a good motivator to open your eyes and ears) or I had never heard of Pigou.

Either way, I've been defending his theory lately without knowing it was his.

(also, these days, I'm so proud I went to a Keynesian college)


However, Keynes can be our savior only to a very partial extent, and there is a need to look beyond him in understanding the present crisis. One economist whose current relevance has been far less recognized is Keynes's rival Arthur Cecil Pigou, who, like Keynes, was also in Cambridge, indeed also in Kings College, in Keynes's time. Pigou was much more concerned than Keynes with economic psychology and the ways it could influence business cycles and sharpen and harden an economic recession that could take us toward a depression (as indeed we are seeing now). Pigou attributed economic fluctuations partly to "psychological causes" consisting of

variations in the tone of mind of persons whose action controls industry, emerging in errors of undue optimism or undue pessimism in their business forecasts.[5]

It is hard to ignore the fact that today, in addition to the Keynesian effects of mutually reinforced decline, we are strongly in the presence of "errors of...undue pessimism." Pigou focused particularly on the need to unfreeze the credit market when the economy is in the grip of excessive pessimism:

Hence, other things being equal, the actual occurrence of business failures will be more or less widespread, according [to whether] bankers' loans, in the face of crisis of demands, are less or more readily obtainable.[6]

Despite huge injections of fresh liquidity into the American and European economies, largely from the government, the banks and financial institutions have until now remained unwilling to unfreeze the credit market. Other businesses also continue to fail, partly in response to already diminished demand (the Keynesian "multiplier" process), but also in response to fear of even less demand in the future, in a climate of general gloom (the Pigovian process of infectious pessimism).

--excerpt from Amartya Sen's article at the NRB, yet another successful case of clear writing; it would make Feynman proud (he once said that if you really understand something in physics you should be able to explain it to your grandmother)

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March 04, 2009


(Paul talking to philosophers in Athens)

When they heard about a resurrection of the dead, some began joking about it, while others said, "We will hear you again about this." - Acts 17:32

As in, "Let's talk about it when you resurrect"?

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March 03, 2009

La vie en rouge


When Degas ran out of paint.

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March 02, 2009

The evening bliss

Mendelssohn's Lieder Ohne Worte played by Daniel Barenboim

"People usually complain that music is so ambiguous; that they are doubtful as to what they should think when they hear it, whereas everyone understands words. For me, it is just the reverse. And that is not for while speeches but for single words also: they seem to me so ambiguous, so indefinite, so open to misunderstanding in comparison with real music which fills one’s soul with a thousand better things than words. To me, the music I love does not express thoughts too indefinite to be put into words, but too definite…If you ask me what I thought (in connection with one or another of the Songs without Words), I must say: the song itself as it stands. If, with one or the other of them, I had a specific word or words in mind, I should not like to give them those titles, because words do not mean the same to one person as they mean to another; only the song says the same thing, arouses the same feeling, in one person as in another—a feeling that, however cannot be expressed in the same words…The word remains ambiguous, but in music we understand each other rightly. -- Mendelssohn in a letter (source)


Rouge Bourbon tea by Mariage Frères. The best tea in the world.

Grande finesse, thé rouge parfumé à l’arôme de vanille bourbon. Parfum délicat et goût subtil. 100% sans théine. Thé pour les moments agréables.


The Drunken Universe - an Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry.

The Persian poetry ends up being more of a set of mind bending puzzles than anything else:

within existence
is my rule
getting lost
in getting lost
my religion.
(Ayn al-Qozat Hamadani)

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March 01, 2009

Bookshop - Columbia Flower Market

In a hidden treasure of a bookshop, upstairs from the tulip-bouquet-carrying mobs of Columbia flower market, beautiful old editions of penguin pocket books line the hallway wall and someone who I presume to be the owner asks a kid - he couldn't have been more than 8 - sitting behind the counter:

Older man: Do we have a copy of the Six wives of Henry VIII?
Child: We did have one. I'll go look, it must be under History.
(runs away, literally, comes back)
Child: I'm afraid to say but we ran out of copies, granddad.
Older man: All right.

I couldn't resist it. I asked for George Orwell's essays. He looked at me and asked if I meant a biography or other writings. No biographies, I answered. He jumped from his stool, ran to the next room and pointed me to "Orwell's England". I'd hire this kid if I was running a bookshop.

Ended up making some entertaining acquisitions. Who can resist buying from a little bibliophile? It's also called buying-on-a-impulse-inspired-by-intriguing-book-titles.


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Entre les murs


Automatic reaction as the ending credits roll by: "I love plotless french movies."

Someone sitting next to me said "you cannot teach like that, this isn't plausible." Obviously he hadn't met my 7th grade Portuguese teacher (or for that matter my 7th grade class from hell) who, in moments of despair, would shout "You Brussel sprouts! You souls in purgatory!". The latter strikes me as a perfect description of that state in between pubescent creatures and teenagehood, now that I think about it. I Still don't know what he meant by Brussels sprouts.

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February 25, 2009


Sunday, Hopper

Today is the beginning of Lent. I'm giving up idly surfing the Internet and reading the news online for 40 days. I'll use the internet only when I need to communicate - and blogging is communicating - or for limited and necessary searches without getting caught on the vice of mindless site hopping which is the equivalent of channel zapping.

This is the best I could come up with. I can't think of any other things I indulge myself with to give up. I don't like sweets and I hardly ever eat dessert. The rest of the food I can't really afford to not eat or I'll slowly disappear. I don't watch TV. I don't eat snacks. I don't drink coffee. I don't smoke. Sex is non negotiable. I already avoid buying things I don't need as a principle so that wouldn't be much of a plan. Obviously there are things I love doing but to me the spirit of the thing is to abstain from activities or items without any real added value; I don't see it as much as sacrifice but as a way towards simplicity. Simplicity can also mean giving up things that are relatively useful but which aren't worth the time spent acquiring. I won't stop reading books, for example.

It's a shame I'm a non believer, I'm a sucker for arbitrary religious discipline. I even have my own version of the Sabbath which I must say I haven't been a good observant of: I try not to work, use machines or make noises on Sundays. I don't know, it just makes sense to me.

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February 23, 2009

Portogallo #2

More of the same.


The Portuguese: Publico says this was the saddest carnaval in recent history and that it was tinged by mourning.
The American: Why? What happened?
The Portuguese: Apparently some tourists were mugged.
The American: In Rio??? Nooooo...Anyway, I'm looking it up and the Times says there were 100 tourists robbed out of 200 thousand. Sounds like a success to me. Mourning? You know that in most countries in the world that word is actually used when people die.
The American: "Oh no! The side dish in this 10 course meal burned! The whole dinner is ruined!". It would take a gang waving machine guns and killing a couple hundred people in the Carnaval for the other journalists around the world to use the word 'sad' and 'mourning' in a headline.
The Portuguese: Yes, yes, I get your point.


The Portuguese: Remember I told you the government is giving away computers called Magalhães to kids in schools?
The American: Yes and everybody seemed to be against it for some unknown reason.
The Portuguese: Well... now they're saying that the delays in the distribution of the computers are causing anxiety and greed among children because they don't understand why some of their colleagues receive their computers before they do.
The American: Well, they're Portuguese, they can't help being anxious about irrelevant matters. Sounds like a good opportunity to explain the basics of logistics to these kids.

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February 19, 2009

Frabjous day

The G'vnor

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February 14, 2009



I don't get what is all the hype about. It's a nicely filmed biopic but could as well have been made in documentary form. What really puzzles me is the number of articles about it claiming it's some sort of hagiography. Am I the only one to think this man was not a saint at all? On the contrary, he came across as rather nasty - from organizing riots that could have ended badly to outing people against their will, there's no end to the man's bullying. And people wonder why Dan White shot him - the killer was obviously deranged but the movie does not try to conceal the dishonest tactics Milk employed to humiliate him. But then again I'm the kind of person who believes the ends don't justify the means, no matter how much I support the cause. And I do support Milk's cause.

Sean Penn does a nice job - although the prosthetic nose gets a bit in the way - but I have this nagging feeling that he's getting some homophobic disguised praise. As in "Oh look at that butchy heterosexual man playing a slightly effeminate gay guy... he's an excellent actor." I'm also disgusted at the thought that he'll get an Oscar for it. Mostly because I can't tell if he'll get it because he is indeed an excellent actor or for the same reasons the award went to Daniel Day-Lewis for his cerebral palsy character, Dustin Hoffman for faking autism, Jack Nicholson for his obsessive compulsive stunt. They were all essentially playing the part of "The Other", "The Different". And that seems to be a challenge which strikes me as mildly offensive. Gay roles also seem to be the way to go, considering Tom Hanks in Philadelphia (oh please) and William Hurt in Kiss of the Spider Woman.

But the main thing is that this movie helps the LGBT movement as much as a biopic of MLK would help against racism. Now, what we really need is a Bill Cosby type family oriented sitcom where the parents are gay and their kids are as happy or screwed up as any other kids.

(Josh Brolin is magnificent; probably the most underrated actor around.)

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Orwell's own surveillance camera


It's just too ironic to be true. But it is. It's in Hackney by Broadway Market. I'm not sure Orwell would feel vindicated or amused. I ordered his biography after reading several references to restaurants in London from which Orwell was thrown out because he insisted on taking off his coat.

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February 05, 2009

New finds

(copyright Yvonne Mayer / Crafts Study Centre)

I found Lucie Rie through Ipek (who turns out to share my favorite Monty Python skit - which is the more remarkable as it is an obscure one that no one else seems to find funny).


More than once, while browsing the non-fiction section, I can't help thinking that most of the books there would be fine reads as essays. Why ruin it by eliminating brevity?


At the LRB, I always have a nanosecond of excitement when, neck twisted reading spines, I find "Anatomy of Restlessness". The hope that it is a cross between the Anatomy of Melancholy and the Book of Disquiet is shattered as soon as I find out (again) that it is just a good title for some writings on the author's (who I particularly dislike) theories (which don't seem more than whims to me). I wonder why I keep forgetting it exists.


Thanks to Lisa, added Orwell's Diaries to my RSS feeds. Now I can keep track of the eggs myself. Also, I'm reading the Howard Zinn book she brought from Boston which R. says it gives me extra fuel for my fits of outraged, hand waving disgust at the occasional bit of political news.

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February 02, 2009

This is pathetic

I arrive in London to find that everyone's gone mad. My train was a bit late, I grant that, but it was speeding through snow covered plains like nothing was the matter. In London, cabbies were driving by with their usual disregard for human life. But, mystery of mysteries, there were no buses. Stopped by the supermarket on the way home from the train station and people were hoarding bread and pasta. It's 4 inches of snow. As Her Majesty should have said this morning - after all, what's a monarchy for if incompetent bureaucrats can decide to shut off the transportation system, making the country lose 1.2 billion pounds - "Keep Calm and Carry On".

Snow Blitz.png

Also, the view to the backyard is gorgeous. I love snow.


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January 29, 2009


or an exercise in frivolous commentary on what's going on in the little rectangle by the sea as seen from the living room sofa. C reads the Portuguese headlines, the American R comments.

(published on the Guardian on the day after the 1974 revolution)

C: The teachers are on strike again.
R: Why?
C: They don't want to be evaluated and don't want their career progression to depend on the evaluation.
R: Are they all incompetent?


C: So, this sociologist says that only peasants would care to think of a personal achievement like Cristiano Ronaldo being elected best football player in the world as something that a country could be proud of and claim responsibility for. And that the silly optimists in the government are trying to use it to make people believe Portugal is better than they think.
R: Hasn't he heard of role models? Of an enabling environment? Of self confidence being the key to achieve stuff? You people need to be less hard on yourselves.
C: Well, he says that there are more important achievements like the lowering of the child mortality rate.
R: Yeah, the crowds go wild when you throw data at them.


C: The Portuguese are the most pessimistic in Europe about the economy.
R: About everything... you people need to relax.


Watching the Pt news online on Inauguration day. Supposedly, a happy day as seen from the heights of American optimism. Wrong.

R: Why are they spending so much time on Ted Kennedy?
C: They're saying his seizures at the luncheon ruined the whole day.
R: What?? The images we're watching right now of Obama and his wife smiling and shaking hands with the people are from after that happened. Do they look like their day was ruined to you?
C: Anyway.
The anchor addresses the american correspondent and asks him if the americans were disappointed at the speech.
R: What?? That's the first thing she asks? Why would they be disappointed? What the hell? You people are so negative.
Fast forward to "reactions from other heads of state to the inauguration". Somehow, the conclusion of the segment lingers gloomily on Putin's "From great expectations come great disappointments".
R: That's it. I'm not watching this crap anymore. I'm pretty sure the show ends with someone singing a weepy fado.


C: Ooops. There's a possibility the current PM got a 4 million euro bribe years ago when he was the Minister for the Environment...
R: Who's investigating it?
C: What do you mean? The Police, the DA...
R: Oh, so he doesn't control them?
C: My country isn't a banana republic!
R: Well, you started out the conversation by saying your PM might be corrupt...
C ignores him.

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January 22, 2009

People who are about to die generally don't regret the parachute jumps they haven't made (unless they're falling from an aircraft without one). Instead, they regret the love they haven't given or haven't expressed. Generally, the reason they haven't done this is because they've been too full of hate, too in love with themselves or simply too crushed by the business of survival.
-Guy Browning, on the Guardian

(I wanted to save this not only because it strikes me as very wise in a pragmatic way but also because it will be a more articulate and compelling reply to anyone who invites me out for an adventure activity than my usual "Not in a million years, are you out of your mind?")

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January 21, 2009

The Old Vic is a beautiful intimate venue though


Quick review: Meh*. At heart is the usual liberal American difficulty to distinguish the country from the government and the "am I a patriot or not" conundrum that ensues. It kinda bores me, as a patriotic leftist - perfect candidate for the Misfit Party - who can't understand what the trouble is. Also, I didn't find the dialogue engaging enough to compensate for the sparsity of action and that device of not giving enough context to start with and then filling in the blanks progressively didn't work for some reason. Moreover, it felt like the actors didn't know their lines properly and so the timings were lost. Poirot - I don't care who he is, he'll always be Poirot to me - kept me awake on a otherwise soporific play.

Also, there was a mob of American students sitting around me looking like a bunch of meercats trying to spot Kevin Spacey in the audience who, judging by the speed by which he got up from his seat and zoomed backstage as soon as intermission started, wasn't feeling as lethargic as I was. I kept imagining him as a football coach whose team is losing badly, doing his motivational speech and changing the strategy so I stayed for the second part. One thing is certain, he is no Mourinho.

*(almost) Monosyllabic Scale: Wow!, Weeeee!, Hmmm, Meh, Double Meh, Yuck!.

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I needed this. I had just finished watching the last season of The Wire which was so darned pessimistic and portrays the world (as derived from the little human microcosm that is Baltimore) in such a fatalistic and disheartening way that my brain was tuned to expect the worst possible outcome of any work of fiction. The Times said it was a "feel good movie that doesn't insult your brain". And it is. A very odd feel good movie considering all the slaying and violence that goes on ( a little bit of religious fueled murdering here, kids living in a garbage dump there) but, still, it does leave you with a smile on your face. And it has a happy and highly improbable ending. A life without fantasy is pointless anyway. Also, it made me feel like watching the gorgeous Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham again in which stars Amitabh Bachchan who coincidentally makes a good point about western partiality when it comes to film aesthetics:

If SM projects India as Third World dirty under belly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky under belly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations. Its just that the SM idea authored by an Indian and conceived and cinematically put together by a Westerner, gets creative Globe recognition. The other would perhaps not.

The commercial escapist world of Indian Cinema had vociferously battled for years , on the attention paid and the adulation given to the legendary Satyajit Ray at all the prestigious Film Festivals of the West, and not a word of appreciation for the entertaining mass oriented box office block busters that were being churned out from Mumbai. The argument. Ray portrayed reality. The other escapism, fantasy and incredulous posturing. Unimpressive for Cannes and Berlin and Venice. But look how rapidly all that is changing. -- from his blog.

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January 19, 2009

Let me tell you the one thing I have against Moses. He took us 40 years into the desert in order to bring us to the one place in the Middle East that has no oil! -- Golda Meir

I've started rereading the bible. The first time I read it, I picked a Portuguese version from 1921. The narrator's voice in my head was an old catholic priest which I pictured looking at me menacingly, his reading glasses perched on the tip of his nose, his index finger a gun ready to fire. Which is obviously not fun and even a little scary since the classic catholic seminary speech style is also guilt inducing. This time, I'm reading the King James version. When I read it in english the narrator's voice belongs to a New York jew. Which makes it seem like I'm reading a script from a Mel Brooks movie. Other times it's a David Mamet character talking in that peculiar rhythm and in constant aporia. Now, THAT is fun.

Example (Exodus 17, Mel Brooks plays Moses, Fran Lebowitz plays "the people", the narrator is Jerry Seinfeld):

So they argued with Moses. They said, "Give us water to drink."

Moses replied, "Why are you arguing with me? Why are you putting the Lord to the test?"

But the people were thirsty for water there. So they told Moses they weren't happy with him. They said, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt? Did you want us, our children and our livestock to die of thirst?"

Then Moses cried out to the Lord. He said, "What am I going to do with these people? They are almost ready to kill me by throwing stones at me."

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January 17, 2009

The ugly little duckling mermaid


Zooming in the Garden of Earthly Delights (which reminds me it has been a while since I've last been to Madrid). Taken from the new VERY high resolution Prado Masterpieces on Google Earth. Perfect for busy paintings where a pack of tourists blocking it is a permanent fixture.

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January 16, 2009

Woody Schmoody


I've been trying to figure out what happened to Woody Allen. Following on my theory that his style of filming and writing is directly related to whoever is the woman in his life, it's been puzzling to see the decaying of quality - "and all the hype about his latest films proves just that", she said sporting a snobbish nose high up in the air - while he is still (as far as I know) with Soon-Yi. To be fair, a downward slope started in 1997 when he married Soon-Yi after some glorious years in between Mia and her, making the theory a bit more complicated since now I have to also include the girlfriend/wife dichotomy into the equation.

This pet theory came about while reading about Picasso and his muses so the logical thing to do is to look at the end of his career (Woody is almost 80) and try to draw some parallels. And I've got it. Woody is going through the Musketeer phase. He is impotent. He is a horny impotent old man, trying to get an erection out of filming his own little outdated fantasies about lesbian sex between hot film stars and such nonsense. The alternative theory is that if New York is a woman, he left her. And Woody filming away from New York makes as much sense as Spike Lee making movies about white folks.

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January 14, 2009



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January 05, 2009


It took Ezra Pound 1 year to write the image poem "In a station of the metro" which started out by having 30 lines and got reduced to this:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Now, I wanted to create a poetry poster for an empty frame that was lying around and considered Larkin's poem The trees ( I wanted a verbalization of the other "picture" on the wall: the garden's London planes framed by the living room sash window) but it was too long and the rhyming put me off so I Pounderized it. Much better.


We will have to wait until Spring for it to make sense.


I could spend hours looking at the Assyrian reliefs in the British Museum. Especially at the design of male legs. It's just one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.

assyrian leg.png


I think I saw a guerrilla book re-shelving action today. At Foyles, on the Bibles of every size, version and color display someone sneaked in one single volume of a beautifully red bound copy of Hans Christian Andersen's fairytales. There's too much sex and violence in the Bible for that comparison to be even remotely clever. Or else, it looks like something Dawkins would do. Meh for narrow minded atheists.


You know your brain has been messed up by the British press when distractedly looking at headlines and reading "Gaza" you wonder what's Paul Gascoigne up to again.


Found Luis Molina-Pantin on Babelia this weekend.


Informal study on hybrid architecture Vol.I. Narco-Architecture and its contributions to the community (Calì-Bogota, Colombia)2004-2005 is a series of images that shifts us towards another of the artist’s interests: cultural phenomena linked to architecture. The photos were taken between 2004 and 2005, in particular in the Parque Jaime Dunque near Bogotà, and in Calì, two places among those sadly known as the headquarters of important Colombian drug cartels.


This hybrid architecture, as Pantin defines it, shows a mix of local stylistic elements and occidental and oriental models, generating an architectural potpourri that once would have been defined as whimsy: it shows the obscene aesthetic taste of the Colombian drug lords of the 1990s. In those years, local schools of architecture were adulterated, victims of a civic variation due to the mad and heedless accumulation of wealth, combined with the arrogance and ignorance of the narcos. There is no human presence in these images; the vanished inhabitants and the detached gaze of the artist who does not judge, comment or document, demonstrate the taxonomic vision of a folly. The artist creates a de facto museum of narco-architecture pervaded by an unadorned poetic of places that brings to mind De Chirico’s Italian piazzas.---source

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January 02, 2009

Letting out excess bile or when Claudia rambles about stuff that has been annoying her for no particular reason

There's nothing like starting the year by completely breaking my only new year's resolution. A life of contradiction and of opinionated gibberish is so much more fun.


It's too late - and the 2008 Turner prize is as relevant by now as the work of most people who have won it in past years - but once in a while the interview the winner gave to radio 4 pops in my mind. I can't find it but it was even more entertaining than this stunthere. It involved something about how he uses the Simpsons to give meaning to the experience of contemporary life. Had he used Futurama and I might actually have cared. Not.

Also, about his favorite films: "I’m a big fan of the director James Cameron and I think Titanic (1997) is an incredible film – a big film about big ideas".

An excerpt of an essay by Orwell comes to mind:

"Here are a couple of generalizations about England that would be accepted by almost all observers. One is that the English are not gifted artistically. They are not as musical as the Germans or Italians, painting and sculpture have never flourished in England as they have in France. Another is that, as Europeans go, the English are not intellectual. They have a horror of abstract thought, they feel no need for any philosophy or systematic ‘world-view’. (...)

But here it is worth noting a minor English trait which is extremely well marked though not often commented on, and that is a love of flowers. This is one of the first things that one notices when one reaches England from abroad, especially if one is coming from southern Europe. Does it not contradict the English indifference to the arts? Not really, because it is found in people who have no aesthetic feelings whatever. What it does link up with, however, is another English characteristic which is so much a part of us that we barely notice it, and that is the addiction to hobbies and spare-time occupations, the PRIVATENESS of English life. We are a nation of flower-lovers, but also a nation of stamp-collectors, pigeon-fanciers, amateur carpenters, coupon-snippers, darts-players, crossword-puzzle fans. All the culture that is most truly native centres round things which even when they are communal are not official—the pub, the football match, the back garden, the fireside and the ‘nice cup of tea’."


Funny how the same people who get all worked up and rave about how greed caused the recession are the same ones who seem to only find time to speak about finance. So much for a shift in values.

Nonetheless, I've come across a number of sites and post-bubble gurus prattling about frugality and living with less. My favorite is one that has a title in the lines of "Simplicity: how to become rich slowly" (paraphrasing here, there's no way I'm going to link to that; heck, there's no way I'm even going to google for it).


I remembered recently a story by a brazilian writer who was staying in some remote village where there was no TV. He found reading the newspapers strangely relaxing since he stopped being manipulated by the lineup of the TV news, the anchor's histrionics, the skewed and useless people in the street point of views. Then there was some sort of storm and they didn't get the papers for a few weeks. Suddenly there were no news and he realized how the events he used to worry about didn't really have any practical effect on his life.

Considering how bad the media in general has become (I have to exclude at least El Pais from this generalization), the alternative to being news-less is the RSS reader. Every piece of news (discounting headline sensationalist phrasing, that is) has the same importance, the same typeface, the same colors, the same font size. You're your own editor.


Random aesthetic pet hate: I find blue jasper Wedgwood-style porcelain repulsive.


Picture 9.png
(from the epicurious blog)

So, instead of following and critically analyzing recommendations by people who devoted their lives to studying a subject and to reviewing the most items related to their field of expertise they are able to, we should rely on the opinions of random people on the internet and follow the majority ruling? Hmmmm. Someone is confusing entertainment with learning.


Paul McCartney should just give up. He's on a crusade to prove he's cooler than a dead man.

"In an interview with the intellectual journal Prospect, Sir Paul said that he persuaded Lennon to oppose the war in Vietnam."

"John's Revolution 9 is very far out. It came out of a lot of experimentation I'd been doing with two Brenell tape recorders at home. My greatest regret is that I've lost them all now. I'd take them round to friends' houses. John Dunbar [artist ex-husband of Marianne Faithfull] used to plug this little Philips tape recorder into his system and we'd play my avant garde experiments. Someone might have my loop symphonies in a box of tapes somewhere. Can I have them back please?"

In the post Beatles era, Lennon gave us "Imagine" and McCartney "Mull Of Kintyre". Oh God, and "Ebony & Ivory". Paul McCartney is a Knight of the British Empire and John Lennon returned his own MBE. In 1976, Time magazine was saying Paul was a sort of conservative Republican. John was providing funding for anti-war protests while under CIA surveillance. Enough said.



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December 20, 2008

The Holidays book stack


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November 30, 2008

At the National Theatre.

Pirandello at the Gielgud.

At the Barbican.

Beckett at the Young Vic.

God of Carnage.png
Reza at the Gielgud.


It is sometimes useful to remind ourselves of the simpler aspects of things normally regarded as complicated. Take, for instance, the writing of a poem. It consists of three stages: the first is when a man becomes obsessed with an emotional concept to such a degree that he is compelled to do something about it. What he does in the second stage, namely, construct a verbal device that will reproduce this emotional concept in anyone who cares to read it, anywhere, anytime. The third stage is the recurrent situation of people in different times and places setting off the device and re-creating in themselves what the poet felt when he wrote it.

Public taste is 25 years behind, and picks up a style only when it is exploited by the second rate.

Philip Larkin, The Pleasure Principle


Klee once wrote a poem and filled the spaces between the letters with various colors. the result was that the words revealed themselves to the consciousness in slow motion. The futurists composed their tavole parolibere according to this principle, while poems have also been written with one word in each page. (...) a good designer could set a text with the reading time varying according to meaning and emphasis, just as a person changes speed in speech. To a certain extent, of course, this is already done with punctuation.

Bruno Munari, Design as Art


Janus words, oxymorons in one word, also known as antagonyms or antiphrasis: clip (to cut a little piece of and to put a little
piece on), dust ( to remove dust and to apply dust), sanction (a punitive action and to endorse).
In portuguese: já (means already but also soon) and in Spanish: huésped (means either guest or host).

Seen in Mikael Parvall, Limits of Language


Arnold (Schoenberg) taught himself several instruments and played in a string quartet that occupied a room set aside for messenger boys. He learned instrumental forms by subscribing to an encyclopedia, and waited for the S volume to arrive before composing a sonata.

Intellectuals of fin-de-siècle Vienna were much concerned with the limits of language, with the need for a kind of communicative silence. (...) The impulse to go to the brink of nothingness is central to Webern's aesthetic; if the listener is paying insufficient attention, the shorter movements of his work may pass unnoticed. The joke went around that Webern had introduced the marking pensato: Don't play the note, only think it.

Alex Ross, The Rest is Silence.

Realized how it is so much easier to find these here again than in the notebooks that mysteriously disappear into the black holes - aka my purses which I'm am sure are gateways to other dimensions where all my tiny possessions gather together and make fun of me.

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November 06, 2008


I'm just furious that Obama won. I just realized how the moral power shifted in this household. How can I now make fun of the resident American here? He already started telling brits: "Oh, don't worry, I'm sure any black man can become king here...oh wait, no they can't!". Now we need to start working on electing a lesbian gypsy woman for that planned role of President of the European Union if we want to get back our sense of moral superiority. Sigh.

Just kidding. Couldn't be happier. As a little girl, those very scarce female role models in politics were the only reassuring fact that I wasn't completely screwed; so, I'm hoping non-white boys (and girls) all over are dreaming of becoming presidents of something someday...

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October 24, 2008

No fair.


She just went as she always said she would, paraphrasing a portuguese comedian: "One day, I'll wake up dead."

"To me the thought of my dead friend is sweet and appealing. For I have had them as if I should one day lose them; I have lost them as if I have them still." - Seneca, Epistles, On grief for lost friends

(us heathens have to find consolation in philosophy since that stuff about heaven doesn't stick.)

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October 19, 2008

Of late

Piemonte. Gastronomer's paradise. Wondering why would walking on Via Po where Nietzsche went definitely mad by hugging a horse in public would give me such a thrill.

Allegorical Statue River Po

Also, who would have guessed that only a few months after seeing the marvelous Vittorio Sella's pioneering mountaineering photos and learning about the Duke of the Abruzzi at the Estorick Collection, I would be visiting the Torino Section of the Clube Alpino Italiano?


At the Tate Modern:

The Turbine Hall thing is boring and predictable. The books left on the bunkbeds are War of the Worlds, Hiroshima mon amour and the like. If it was supposed to have a post-apolcalyptical feel, someone whould have considered not painting the beds in bright colors.

The Rothko exhibition was unnecessary. The Tate already had the Seagram murals in a dimly lit room which was practically deserted on Friday nights when the galleries close at 10pm. It was just perfect for any aspirer to religious ecstasy through contemplation of color. Now I'm dreading that it won't be there anymore after this.

Cildo Meireles is amazing. A brazilian conceptual artist that completely blew my mind.

"You recently paid tribute to Manzoni at Herning Park in Denmark by standing upside down on his Socle du Monde plinth. Like so many of your works, the title you gave the tribute – Atlas – is wonderfully ironic, inasmuch as you invert the mythological character’s performance."


Las Vegas wasn't the explosion of kitsch I hoped for or, at least, my expectations were too high. However, driving back to San Diego we found the cutest american tourist trap: a wild west ghost town complete with saloon, sheriff's office and silver mine.

Calico's Silver mine and Train


Oh. Oh. Oh. The Wire. Magnificent. I find myself mentally going over the episodes and marveling at the social commentary embedded in it.

Stringer Bell being my favorite character...gangster and macroeconomics nerd.


Found Thomas Dutronc, a fellow Djangophile.

Also, his is the 5th version of September Song on my iTunes now. I love September Song.


Standing on a red light on Market Street, a San Francisco homeless woman joined me and R. on a futile lover's quarrel. We ignored her as you do in a city full of homeless people who unfortunately seem in their most part deranged. She listened attentively to the arguments on either side and, as the light turned green and we were about to set out, she said "I wish I had your problems". End of discussion. And I suspect that just the memory of it will be a stopper to any idiotic quarrel to come.


Amazon's Recommendations on Drugs
Amazon's recommendations on drugs.

Obviously wanting to buy a foilcutter means I drink wine which means I have a toddler. And buying Pushkin's biography makes me the owner of an HP printer.

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July 28, 2008

Baden Baden and Strasbourg

Baden-Baden is a relaxing and quiet little town with one of the most beautiful little parks in the world: the Lichtentaler Allee with a paved waterway running beside it and many species of superb trees randomly scattered on the immaculate green lawn.

Lichtentaler Allee

The casino where Dostoievsky lost his shirt is very low key and doesn't feel like a casino at all, a perfect image of teutonic restraint in face of Fate and Luck.

The baths are reason enough for a trip there. Friedrichbad is the one where you go through 15 stages, from saunas, soap massages, wet saunas, jacuzzis, warm water pools, cold water pools...and at the end you feel clean as you've never been. On Sundays both men and women are admitted - it's a textile free place, or else, you're naked as a baby - and we had fun spotting a japanese gentleman who seemed to be lost all the time and never seemed to stop more than 2 minutes at each station after checking out all the women in sight. Caracalla's ground floor is for families; pools at different temperatures, saunas, waterfalls and everyone wearing swimsuits. Now, the real fun is upstairs where there is a bridge to the mountain right beside it where there are log cabins with dry saunas inside and cold water showers for the brave. And it's all nude. It's like being back in San Francisco. Avoid evenings and nights because the towel clutching freaks show up. The type of people who don't understand it's a faux-pas to not be totally naked in a nudist place while staring at others.

Petite France Neighborhood in Strasbourg

Strasbourg was an unplanned visit. France was just around the corner and that's the place to go in search of a fine meal. The Cathedral is one of the most monumental buildings I've seen, stretching dramatically into the sky. The town is beautiful and lively, full of quaint streets and medieval looking buildings.

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July 27, 2008

Mad Detective

I have a weak spot for Hong Kong made thrillers. Maybe it's because they're so good as opposed to Hollywood blockbusters infested by terrible actors with pretty faces declaiming cliches.

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July 25, 2008

What's on Mundo de Claudia reading pile

books of the day.jpg

Bouvard et Pécuchet is a treasure. R. has been reading it to me in the evenings, the perfect book to be shared as we follow the two gentlemen through their pursuit of knowledge and from failure to failure in putting it to practice.

The Rest is Noise is the proof that a lenient god exists as he answered my atheistic prayer for a book that would read like a long New Yorker article (the erudite yet accessible ones, not the Obama-is-our-God-and-all-Republicans-are-evil ones).

Carnegie's bio. I dunno, I was in the mood for a high brow excuse to peep into other people's lives. That's what bios are all about, no?

The Death of Virgil. I'm scared of it - shouldn't I be brushing up on my Aeneid beforehand? Thomas Mann says it's one of the most profound and extraordinary experiments to have been undertaken under the form of a novel. Steiner says it's the only genuine technical advance that fiction has made since Ulysses. We'll see.

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July 24, 2008

Veronese's Allegories of Love: the Set

These paintings were destined to be hanging in a ceiling in a order that is unknown. They've been called different aspects of love or paired as the pleasures and pains of love. There seem to be only four of them if we are to trust Veronese's preparatory drawings for it at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Whatever the narrative was supposed to be, there's an obvious moral purpose.


You should avoid the easy woman because easy as she is, others will possess her and she will bring you no fortune or children. But, if you lust after a woman who doesn't give in to your desires, who is chaste and virtuous, by marrying her Fortune will bless you with peace and fertility.

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Veronese's Allegories of Love: Happy Union


A married couple (the two main characters from the other paintings) is rewarded by Fortune, the holder of the horn of plenty, abundance and fertility, who crowns the virtuous wife. Not only are they married as symbolized by the golden chain held by the putto, they are faithful - the dog - and peace and harmony reigns between them - the olive branch.

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Veronese's Allegory of Love: Jealousy


A half undressed woman is dividing her attentions between two men and although she seems to be holding the bearded gentleman's hand (our main character from the other paintings) she's discreetly giving a written piece of paper to the other man. The fig tree was believed to be so obstinate as to destroy even marble. It is depicted here as a symbol of decadence. Maybe it is a barren fig tree, destroying everything in its way and yet having no future, bearing no fruit. Eros seems dumbfounded by the whole scene while he plays the clavichord, music leading men out of their senses, the woman being the maestrina.

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Veronese's Allegories of Love: Respect


I wouldn't call it respect but restraint. A naked woman sleeping in a drunken stupor - note the half empty jar of wine - isn't respectful, she is easy. Eros as sexual temptation, once again rather than love, is quite graphically represented here as he holds the phallic sword and points at the woman's vagina with his arrow. An older man, certainly wisdom, pulls the main character away from the sleeping woman and the meaning of the allegory is further reinforced by a scene of the Continence of Scipio painted on the ceiling of the archway. Scipio, the roman general, having conquered Carthago Nova and being offered a beautiful captive shows his clemency and sexual restraint by giving her back to her fiancée.

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Veronese's Allegories of Love: Scorn


A man is tormented by desire for a chaste woman.

Eros is savagely hitting the man with his bow, embodying the pangs of desire and not those of love or why else there would be statues of Pan - holding his flute in a suggestive way - and a satyr in the background ruins? It's the male as a sexual animal and the woman-victim running away and shown the way by Chastity symbolized by an ermine, an animal which won't let its white fur get dirty.

The woman has the upper hand in the moral dispute.

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July 12, 2008

The latest random annotations


"...They were mostly 'His Master's Voice' and 'Columbia'; the latter, however, although easily pronounced, had only letters, and the pensive doggy was a winner.(...) It took me a least a decade to realize that 'His Master's voice' means what it does: that a dog is listening here to the voice of its owner. I thought it was listening to the recording of its own barking, for I somehow took the phonograph's amplifier for a mouth piece too, and since dogs run before their owners, this label all my childhood meant to me the voice of the dog announcing his master's approach."
--from the essay "Spoils of War", so far the only of Joseph Brodsky's writings I have enjoyed, a poignant account of his childhood and youth in the USSR and the meaning of foreign objects left behind by Americans after the WWII in his life.


"Dearer to me than a host of base truths
is the delusion that enobles us." -- AS Pushkin


"il n'y a de bonheur que dans les voies communes" - Chateaubriand


"I hear from people who have seen you that you are becoming stout, optimistic and genial - in other words, Americanized. I believe that I had already noticed traces of this in your letters, and I'm not sure I entirely approve."

Edmund Wilson's letter to Vladimir Nabokov, 14 Jan 1946


"Don't let the smallest chance slip by; you never know until you try."
"If you're a salesman worth the name at all, you can sell razors to a billiard ball."
"The salesman who will use his brains will spare himself a world of pains."
"Well kept hands that please the sight seize the trade and hold it tight, but bitten nails and grubby claws well may give the buyer pause."

maxims from Montague Egg's Salesman Handbook (the other Dorothy L Sayers detective)

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May 14, 2008

How to write about an exhibition you haven't attended

Matthew Bliss, Beyond Abstraction, May 3rd-June 2nd (extended until the 8th!) at Sharada Gallery, Rhinebeck, NY

I met Matthew only once in a cold February day in New York City; my memory of this event is not an accurate but a cinematographic one: I remember it as if it were the scene of a Wim Wenders movie, a gritty urban environment, the streets dirty with the recently melted snow and the feeling that this could only have happened in this particular place - a geographical appropriateness. In the back of a yellow cab, like members of an underworld in a country where art was forbidden, Matthew carefully and almost in stealth extracted from a canvas bag a small sculpture that fitted the palm of his hand, a restless hand, anxiously showing a treasure. And there it was, a sturdy object that despite its small scale was the antithesis of flimsiness and that looked the more minute in its creator's long and elegant fingers. And it quickly disappeared back into its case.

Probably because of the secretive and intimate atmosphere I associate with this encounter, I imagine that in order to see this exhibition you'd have to whisper a password to get through the door, like a speakeasy. You climb down a few steps and there is a room, darkened and damp as a wine cellar, where flickering lightbulbs throw a blanket of yellow light over the exquisite little sculptures set in holes cut into the walls. They would possibly be lit from below casting long shadows on the rugged walls, adding a hint of drama. Exit this Boltanski's The Candles inspired stage and back to the most natural gallery setting, the ever-ubiquituous white cube. I start imagining that each sculpture has the right to its own white pedestal, high enough for the viewer not need to bend over to examine it more carefully but not as high as to leave the work at eye level either. Somewhere in between, a perfect height to see the sculpture from the front but still have a good grasp of its depth and dimensions.

These assemblages could pass for objects trouvés, industrial debris from a giant contraption, abandoned and corroded by the elements and the relentless action of time. Better even, they could be attempts at its reconstruction, the plans being lost and its aim forgotten.

Oh. Soft jazz should be playing.

As for the drawings and watercolors, they would be hanging in a small back room with a skylight. The false Rothkos, more simulacra than forgery, should be here in a contrarian stance to the Rothko hall at Tate Modern, as if Man Ray had come by and solarized the entire room. Rather than a somber and meditative atmosphere reminiscent of a chapel, a room evocative of a joyful and bright afternoon in the sun drenched roof of a house in Alexandria, a blue sky dome stolen from Klein, where the Quartet's characters would be contriving dissertations on the philosophy of love.

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May 12, 2008

Many years ago in Lisbon, my very British-crocheted-tie-and-tweed-jacket-type teacher Simon was telling me how he had gone back to London for a short break and how he made a fool of himself for not remembering the appropriate english terms for the several bank operations he had planned to take care of while there. The teller looked at him as if he was demented - or at the very least as if he had a very limited vocabulary - since with that fine Queen's accent there was no doubt he was an englishman. He concluded, "Not only do I speak a poor Portuguese, I'm beginning to forget my own language!".

I haven't been away long enough to have a similar complaint but, whereas I was before a gold card Amazon.co.uk client (if there was such a thing), I find myself now pining for some Portuguese literature. As they say, I can't get no satisfaction. In the absence of an Amazon.pt, my kind and patient parents brought me exactly what I needed:


A modern classic that I managed to procrastinate reading indefinitely until now; a posthumous work of a famous author; the most recent book by my favorite Portuguese contemporary writer.

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April 09, 2008

"Serenidad, Yulma, tu peor enemigo puede ser el miedo."


Help, my home is being invaded my Mexican memorabilia
how I learned about Lucha Libre and Kaliman, el hombre increíble.

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April 05, 2008

"Men, commonplace and ordinary, do not seem to me fit for the tremendous fact of eternal life. With their little passions, their little virtues and their little vices, they are well enough suited in the workday world; but the conception of immortality is much too vast for beings cast on so small a scale." -- A Writer's Notebook by Somerset Maugham

quoted by Julian Barnes on Nothing to be Afraid Of, a book I couldn't put down not out of reading pleasure but of suspense on what would he write next that I couldn't disagree more with. It's a memoir verging on becoming an anthology of quotations by famous novelists and artists about death and dying, as entertaining as any other anglo-saxon memoir and their typically detached accounts of family's eccentricities and anecdotes. Yet, I was appalled to find, even already discounting the different nationalities, generations and gender, that this man has a way of seeing the world that is so alien to me. From small insignificant details like "when you're a child you think your family is unique" - when I was a child I thought every other family was like mine and was very surprised to find they weren't - to his interpretation of Maugham's quote "The great tragedy of life is not that men perish, but that they cease to love" which, following a story by Browne, he believes is all about growing older, having everyone die around you until there's no one else to love - as if you'd stop loving the dead.

I hope to outlive Mr. Barnes - and I'm only saying this because he actually addressed me, the reader, asking me to consider that I might die before him. I think it will be very appropriate that on the day he passes away, there will be a book on one of my shelves in which his signature will become a sort of modern relic.


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March 26, 2008

Actually, this makes sense.

What do artist Jeff Koons and prostitute Ashley Alexandra Dupré have in common? Both can be had for a hefty price through the Emperors Club. Citing a report on Artnet, Le Monde's Harry Bellet discovers that the escort service, which counted the former New York governor Spitzer among its clients, also offered contemporary artworks through its online site. "Emperors Club was not satisfied with providing women to our financial elites but also took an interest in contemporary art," writes Bellet. "Their business, Emperors Publishing Media Group, owns a site called Emperors Club Contemporary Art, which is responsible for providing its clients with works by renowned artists like Jeff Koons, David Salle, and Richard Prince." Emperor's Club describes itself as "a highly informative venue through which you may acquire exceptional contemporary art directly from a group of highly selected artists, dealers, galleries, and members." Members are required to earn at least $450,000 per year. Sotheby's and Christie's logos appear on the site's page, although, according to Bellet, the auction houses insist that they were not informed about the posting. But auction houses are not the only ones to be roped in to the Emperor's Club experience. "The site offers images of artworks, each accompanied by a notice usually taken from the best sources," writes Bellet. "A painting by Jeff Koons is accompanied by a review by critic Jerry Saltz." -- from ArtForums's news digest

It's all about aesthetics, no? And power. And prostitution. Which has everything to do with the art market these days, Jeff Koons being one of the great meretrices. But I always thought that it was part of his artistic manifesto. No need to take it literally.

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March 04, 2008

As it happens, I was present during one delirious afternoon when the children finally did catch on to the basic principles of number - the fact that with numbers you can count anything. Released from the schoolhouse, the excited children ran hither and tither in little groups, applying their new found insight: they counted the houses, the dogs, the trees, fingers and toes, each other - and the numbers worked every time.

Account of Umeda children of Papua New Guinea learning to count numbers by Alfred Gell (cited on the Routledge Companion Encyclopedia of the History and Philosophy of Mathematics)

(I'm not sure if the Umedas originally could count up to 47 using parts of the body for each number or could count up to 5 using combinations of 1's and 2's. Either way, i found the account of this sudden realization of abstraction very exciting.)

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March 03, 2008

Visual Greguerías

pipa.jpg llave.jpg


by Chema Madoz, spanish photographer

(a Greguería, invented by Ramón Goméz de La Serna, is an aphorism based on a decontextualized metaphor, à la Dada)

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February 19, 2008

Gibraltar Airport Runway

Finally made the plane into Paris,
Honey mooning down by the Seine.
Peter Brown called to say,
"You can make it O.K.,
You can get married in Gibraltar, near Spain".
--The ballad of John and Yoko

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February 09, 2008

São Paulo Stripped Bare by the Aesthetes, Even

Last year, the Brazilian city of São Paulo outlawed billboards, logos, posters or any kind of advertisement in the streets or even on buses.

(from the wonderful Flickr set by Tony de Marco documenting the process)

This year, the famous São Paulo biennial will showcase an empty exhibition space:

(Biennial Pavillion stolen from Frieze)

Considering the fact that there are almost two hundred biennials around the world working on similar issues, showing the diverse art practices which constitute the territories of the current visual language, it seems necessary to ask: How does the São Paulo Biennial evaluates this cultural phenomenon, propagated through the so-called peripheral countries or in regions of political or cultural tension? What is a biennial's role in the era of globalization? What role do biennials play for the cultural, tourism and event industry? What contribution to the discussion proposes the São Paulo Biennial based on its experience, being the third oldest organization of this kind and the first outside the hegemonic centers?

In El Pais, an interview with the curator, Ivo Mesquita:
Hay una frase de Beckett al final de Esperando a Godot: 'We are nummbed' (estamos embotados). Y es lo que me parece. Doscientas bienales, ferias, revistas, premios, más arte... No estamos mirando. Estamos perdiendo el sentido de la mirada".


(I have a feeling they are actually light years ahead of us all)

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January 31, 2008

Free association

Tom Zé, "All the eyes" album, Brazilian Musician

And when I brought the razor closer and with my fingers separated the borders of his anus, Estefania, my astonishment knew no bounds. My first thought was that Palinuro mistrusted me and had decided to spy on me; you won't believe this, Estefania, but there, in his anus, Palinuro had an eye.
'It's an optical illusion.' he said.
'No sir, it's an eye.' I answered.
'What colour?'
'It's the Universal Eye.'
'That's a metaphor,' I said to him, 'And what you have in your arse is no metaphor but a real eye.'
'Are you crazy?'
'No, I'm not crazy. The General's glass eye, which you must have swallowed last night in your drunken stupor'.
--Palinuro de Mexico, Fernando del Paso

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January 27, 2008

The weekend's little pleasures

But a great deal of nonsense is written about characters in fiction - from those who believe too much in character and from those who believe too little. Those who believe too much have an iron set of prejudices about what characters are: we should get to "know" them; they should not be "stereotypes", they should "grow" and "develop"; and they should be nice. So they should be pretty much like us. A glance at the thousands of foolish "reader reviews" on Amazon, with their complaints about "dislikeable characters", confirms a contagion of moralising niceness. Again and again, in book clubs up and down the country, novels are denounced because some feeble reader "couldn't find any characters to identify with", or "didn't think that any of the characters 'grow'". -- James Wood in the Guardian, last Saturday.

This is pretty much an elaboration of what Nabokov said on his Literature lectures. They're also both as truculent:

Or, and this is the worst thing a reader can do, he identifies himself with a character in the book. This lowly variety is not the kind of imagination I would like readers to use.
-- Nabokov, Literature Lectures


Taking books out of boxes.



Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance. On Saturday evenings when my aunt went marketing I had to go to carry some of the parcels. We walked through the flaring streets, jostled by drunken men and bargaining women, amid the curses of labourers, the shrill litanies of shop-boys who stood on guard by the barrels of pigs' cheeks, the nasal chanting of street-singers, who sang a come-all-you about O'Donovan Rossa, or a ballad about the troubles in our native land. These noises converged in a single sensation of life for me: I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes. Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand. --Arabya in Dubliners by James Joyce


Roi Vaara, Artist's Dilemma, 1997 (my pic of the London South Bank Centre February leaflet)

Which illustrates perfectly why the cult of the author who researches extensively and writes realistically is actually very non-artistic. A novel is one thing, literature is quite something else.


Um homem que se passeava nu na Praça de S.Marcos em Veneza foi salvo no último momento de ser preso por atentado ao pudor, por um bando de pombas que o vestiram completamente de branco.

As autoridades marítimas investigam o misterioso desaparecimento da linha do horizonte ao longo de toda a costa atlântica.

Levaram-no ao Serviço de Urgências. Perdera a fala subitamente. O médico que o assistiu veio a apurar que ligara as cordas vocais entre si para conseguir escapar da sua prisão interior.

Extractos de A greve dos controladores de voo de Jorge Sousa Braga

(esperando que o Jorge Sousa Braga não se zangue) Here's a probably poor translation:

A man who strolled naked on St. Mark's Square in Venice was saved at the last moment from being arrested for indecency when a flock of doves dressed him in white.

The maritime authority is investigating the mysterious vanishing of the horizon along the whole Atlantic coast.

They took him to the Emergency Room. He had suddenly lost his voice. The doctor who attended to him came to the conclusion that he had tied together the vocal cords to escape his inner prison.

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December 31, 2007

Random 2007 Music notes

Top 10 on my iTunes (#Play Count)
Adieu Mario (Extrait de Mon oncle) Jazz Trio Rousseau, Tortiller, Vignon
What a Difference a Day Made Jazz Sarah Vaughan
Life On Mars? Pop Seu Jorge
Habla Con Hella Soundtrack Alberto Iglesias Featuring Vicente Amigo & El Pele
Yumeji's Theme (In the Mood for Love) Soundtrack Umebayashi Shigeru
Cantaloupe Island Jazz Herbie Hancock
Koop Island Blues Electronic Koop
I Say A Little Prayer R&B Aretha Franklin
Linus & Lucy JazzGeorge Winston
Just Can't Get Enough World (???) Nouvelle Vague

Recent and automatic favourite right after seeing them live at the San Francisco Jazz Festival: Tord Gustavsen Trio


In musicology, my main field of interest is the psychology and phenomenology of improvisation. Although recognizing the importance of established jazz analysis and jazz history, I try to develop this field of research in directions that are not covered very well in jazz theory as we know it. I draw heavily on the psychology of relationships developed by German psychoanalytic Helm Stierlin and Norwegian psychologist Anne-Lise Løvlie Schibbye, both of whom offer a very exciting approach to the ancient notion of dialectics. It's all about living the paradoxes of life and art dynamically and fruitfully. It's about coming to terms with contradictions recognizing both sides of polarities without getting stuck in the middle-of-the-road. It's about synthesizing – locally, non-monolithic and (if you like) "post modernist" – your dilemmas. It's about moving creatively in a neo-Hegelian "Aufheben" kind of way. I approach dilemmas like closeness vs. distance, moment vs. duration and gratification vs. frustration, and I try to explore them combining empirical jazz research (interviews and analysis) with contemporary "scenic" music theory, psychodynamic theory and dialectical philosophy. -- Tord Gustavsen on the themes of his Musicology Ph.d. Dissertation


In love with Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition". The piano original version, not the silly Ravel orchestration.

"Pictures at an Exhibition was written as a group of pieces for piano in 1874. The pictures were mainly watercolours, painted by Victor Hartman, a friend of Mussorgsky, who had died the previous year.

The piece is a musical description of walking around an exhibition of Hartman's paintings. A recurring 'Promenade' movement represents the visitor. Each of the pieces has a movement conjuring up the mood invoked by the picture, or in some cases even painting the picture in music." -- from the BBC

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December 27, 2007

bhutto benazir.jpg

I don't want to discuss politics. This lady belongs to my private set of female figures for whom I'm grateful for comforting me at that defining moment in your childhood when you realize your possibilities are substantially narrower because you were born into the wrong gender.

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December 26, 2007

Francis Bacon, Oedipus and the Sphinx (after Ingres), 1983

This Bacon is, for some unknown reason to me, hanging on a far off corner in the new Modern Art Museum in Lisbon. And that's about the extent of my criticism of this fantastic new venue in my home city. It's a great painting - even despite the annoying powerpoint-like circles and arrow -, it's highly valued commercially these days and it's a great example of one of Bacon's greatest influences: Greek tragedies, fury waiting behind the door and all, as an impending doom over Oedipus' head as he answers the riddle. Commercial value shouldn't be a curator's main concern unless he works for the Sotheby's showroom but, please...

Unlike Ingres, Bacon chose to portray a submissive Oedipus, presenting his hurt foot as if it was an offerend. The name Oedipus can either mean "swollen feet" or "to be aware of one’s feet."


OEDIPUS: You were a shepherd, just a hired servant
roaming here and there?
MESSENGER: Yes, my son, I was.
But at that time I was the one who saved you.
OEDIPUS: When you picked me up and took me off,
what sort of suffering was I going through?
MESSENGER: The ankles on your feet could tell you that.
OEDIPUS: Ah, my old misfortune. Why mention that?
MESSENGER: Your ankles had been pierced and tied together.
I set them free.
OEDIPUS: My dreadful mark of shame—
I’ve had that scar there since I was a child.
MESSENGER: That’s why fortune gave you your very name,
the one which you still carry.

--Sophocles, Oedipus Rex


Maybe because I just finished reading Nureyev: the Life, when I look at the muscled figure in the painting with the bandaged foot, I can't help thinking of the ballet dancer's feet, crippled from decades of obsessively intense training. Also:

"One of these snaps, showing a gaunt Rudolf with his head turbaned in a towel, was given by Joule to Francis Bacon, who was so taken by the image that he stuck it to the wall of his chaotic studio. ... As the old master painted from photographs, Joule thought 'Maybe, just maybe' but Bacon returned the snapshot a week before he died saying 'You have it back. I know I'll never paint him.'. In the artist's archive, however, there are early photographs of Rudolf that he 'Baconized' with daubs and swirls of paint." -- Julie Kavanagh, Nureyev: the Life.

Ingres, Oedipus and the sphinx

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December 20, 2007

Despite the flu and the rain, today is a very happy day and I just wanted to convert a blog post into a milestone. For personal future reference.


2007 has been great. 2008 will be even better.

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November 27, 2007

Random notes from a trip to Mexico City

Museo Nacional de Antropologia
Figurine from Isla de Jaina, Campeche, 600-800 d.c.

According to the Lacandón creation myth, the Gods were born from flowers.

Self-Portrait from the author's papers at Princeton University

"There was once a lightning bolt that hit twice on the same spot; yet, he found that the first hit had caused damage enough, that he was no longer necessary, and he became severely depressed."

Augusto Monterroso



"And, finally, the guide showed Palinuro a special section from the museum of what might have been and for which a number of experts and computers had calculated all eventualities and possible internal and external factors, including hereditary and environmental, somatic and psychic, nutritional and climatological elements that might have affected the bodies of numerous historical figures had they lived another ten years, thirty years, fifty and, on the basis of these results, created a series of wax figures giving the idea of the likely physical aspect of these individuals. And Palinuro saw that Jesus was a man of ninety years of age, stone death and with a sizeable nose and stomach. And he saw that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was sixty years old, bald and with wrinkled hands. And he saw Marilyn Monroe, who had passed the half century mark and was immensely fat as a result of a glandular malfunction. And he saw Popeye on a wheelchair and Tarzan who had gone blind and Batman who had turned into an old pederast."

---Fernando del Paso, "Palinuro de Mexico"


Quesadilla de Huitlachoche

"Huitlacoche is the fungal, culinary delicacy Ustilago maydis that grows on ears of corn. Inhabitants of Mexico and indigenous people from the Southwestern United States enjoy this rich, smoky ingredient in foods like tamales, soups, quesadillas, appetizers, and ice cream. While farmers treat huitlacoche as an infectious affliction that ruins corn crops, it has a long history in the cuisine of Aztecs, Hopi, and Zuni.

The word huitlacoche, pronounced whee-tla-KO-cheh, comes from two words in Nahuatl, the language of ancient Aztecs occupying the area that became Mexico. "Huitlatl" means excrement and "coche" means raven. Europeans have tried to rename what they consider a grotesque word to popularize the unusual fungus by calling it Mexican Truffle, Aztec Caviar, or Maize Mushroom. Yet huitlacoche remains a regional specialty because it is best fresh, but has also been canned or frozen for export." --from Wise Geek

trotsys dictaphone.jpg

Leon Trotsky's Dictating Machine
Trotsky's house, Coyocan, Mexico City

"By about 1910, the Thomas A. Edison Company (the name of the firm that made dictation equipment changed several times over the years) and the Columbia Phonograph Company split the U.S. market. About this time they began promoting their brand names; Columbia began to advertise its Dictaphone, while Edison countered with the Ediphone. "Dictaphone" would become the generic term for dictation equipment, to the chagrin of the Edison interests." -- from recording-history.org

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November 15, 2007

More Bourbon & Branch

Music_Cocktails.pngThe first time we se William Powell in the 1934 film The Thin Man, he's educating a nightclub's bartender on the proper way to shake cocktails: "Always have rhythm in your shaking," Powell tells them. "Now a Manhattan you shake to a fox-trot time, a Bronx to a two-step time and a Martini you always shake to waltz time."

-- Eric Felten, "How's your drink? Cocktails, Culture and the Art of Drinking Well"



Amuse Bouche: Sparkling Raspberry Lemonade

Old-Fashioned: Bourbon, Angostura Bitters, Lump Sugar and mineral water

Vanilla Mimosa: Orange juice, Navan, Sparkling wine (duly noted and transmitted to A. for our next party brunch)


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November 13, 2007

A visit to the SF MoMA - Aesthetical Ecstasy


Also, I finished reading Yasmina Reza's Plays. I love "Art":

The comedy, which raises questions about art and friendship, concerns three long-time friends, Serge, Marc, and Yvan. Serge, indulging his penchant for modern art, buys a large, expensive, completely white painting. Marc is horrified, and their relationship suffers considerable strain as a result of their differing opinions about what constitutes "art." Yvan, caught in the middle of the conflict, tries to please and mollify both of them. -- summary by the wikipedia.

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November 09, 2007

(answering Rui)

I'm currently reading 3 books - in english, alas - so here it goes:

From: "Imbibe! From absinthe cocktail to whiskey smash, a salute in stories and drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, pioneer of the American bar" by David Wondrich (more here).

"Early evidence is lacking, but by the early 1800's Sangaree (usually based on Madeira) is a constant feature in traveler's tales of the Caribbean."

No, I haven't gone alcoholic. These days, I'm fascinated by cocktail trivia and, if may say so, its culture.


From: "Solaris" by Stanislaw Lem (more here)

"We have plenty of time."

I usually don't read sci-fi but this is too good to be missed.


From: "The Tempest" by Uncle Bill

"We are brought to the heart of the matter by the cantankerous assertion, spoken by Miranda, but obviously the thought and vocabulary of her father."

(unfortunately The Tempest is quite a short play so the above is from an essay by George Lamming which is included in my copy)


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November 08, 2007

Look! No fog!


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November 07, 2007


"the kitchen & the bar have collaborated to develop an innovative moroccan inspired cocktail list attuned to the restaurant’s cuisine."


Moroccan Caipirinha (I still think they should come up with a name for this, El-Caipira or something)
Tarragon, Cardamom, Lime Cubes, Cachaça

Gin Cocktail that tastes like cough drops (which I love btw)
Gin, Lavender orange blossom honey, Lime

(Aziza on Geary Boulevard)

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The Premier Tequila Bar on Earth

Margarita - Pueblo Viejo Tequila Añejo

"Tommy's, at present, carries 18 Extra Añejo Tequilas. No one else can say this." -- Tequila 101

(Tommy's Mexican Restaurant on Geary Boulevard)

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November 06, 2007

Bar Drake


Bar Drake Manhattan
Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Port, Angostura Bitters, Maple syrup

The Heated Affair
Partida Añejo Tequila, hot spiced apple cider, whipped cream

(at the Hotel Francis Drake near Union Square - where the cocktails are like candy)

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November 02, 2007

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks,—who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering: which word is beautifully derived from “idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean.

--Henry David Thoreau, Walking(1862)

the last clown.png

The Last Clown, 2000, is an endless animated loop by the Belgian Francis Alÿs. Set to the music of Charles Mingus, a man strolls along a path, lost in his thoughts. A pratfall and a glance over his shoulder elicit laughter, after which he returns to his private world.


"There was the pedestrian who wedged himself into the crowd, but there was also the flâneur who demanded elbow room and was unwilling to forego the life of the gentleman of leisure. His leisurely appearance as a personality is his protest against the division of labour which makes people into specialists. it was also his protest against their industriousness. Around 1840 it was briefly fashionable to take turtles for a walk in the arcades. the flâneurs liked to have the turtles set the pace for them."

-- Walter Benjamin


One of the basic situationist practices is the dérive [literally: “drifting”], a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.

In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.

--Guy Debord

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November 01, 2007

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks,—who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering: which word is beautifully derived from “idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. --Henry David Thoreau, Walking(1862)

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To provoke, or sustain, a reverie in a bar, you have to drink English gin, especially in the form of the dry martini. To be frank, given the primordial role played in my life by the dry martini, I think I really ought to give it at least a page. Like all cocktails, the martini, composed essentially of gin and a few drops of Noilly Prat, seems to have been an American invention. Connoisseurs who like their martinis very dry suggest simply allowing a ray of sunlight to shine through a bottle of Noilly Prat before it hits the bottle of gin. At a certain period in America it was said that the making of a dry martini should resemble the Immaculate Conception, for, as Saint Thomas Aquinas once noted, the generative power of the Holy Ghost pierced the Virgin's hymen "like a ray of sunlight through a window — leaving it unbroken."

--Luis Buñuel's autobiography, My Last Sigh


Erte, Cocktail party

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The reason I like Edna St Vincent Millay
Is that her name
sounds like a basketball
falling down stairs.

The reason I like Walt Whitman
Is that his name
sounds like Edna St Vincent Millay
falling down stairs.

David Mamet

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October 31, 2007

The Current Obsessions

Picture 3.png

House of Games. I was a Mamet virgin. I hate this movie. I hate it so much it borderlines passion. I keep re-watching scenes when I'm by myself. The more I watch, the more I complain about that awkward theatrical dialogue and weird actor's directing. I groan everytime I hear an expressionless and emotionless actor say something like "Give me the God damn money" or "The bitch panicked and blew it" in a casual tone of voice. I loathe Lindsay Crouse. I read about Psychoanalysis and Con Games and how the whole last shooting scene is a dream like sequence in which the psychoanalyst is actually performing a purging therapy on herself. I read about Jewish Aporia or the rhythm of talking in Mamet and how the characters ask too many questions which are in their turn only answered by more questions. It's driving me nuts. Help.



Cocktails. I was a cocktail virgin. Gone is the prejudice of seeing hard liquor as the monopoly of boozers. After slowly reading the brilliant collection of fictional articles by MEC about barmen and the art of mixing drinks, the refinement and gourmet skills needed to appreciate a good cocktail, I have surrendered. Throwing in some literary anedoctes about Hemingway's Daiquiris and Buñuel's Dry Martinis helped a lot too. Reading the simple statement that a cocktail is always composed of 1 or 2 doses of liquor, 1 dose of a liqueur and 1 dose of juice felt like deducing one beautiful equation. One of those evident truths you knew all along but never cared to systematize.

Tuesday night was my first visit to Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco. A 1920's speakeasy on a corner street bearing only an antique looking sign saying "Anti-Saloon League". A password is needed to get in. No cosmos are served. Only serious cocktails. Appropriately, the ground shook beneath my feet. Really. A 5.6 earthquake in the south bay area. The biggest since the 1989 one. I was an earthquake virgin.

The Menu

The Aviation: modified to be an amuse-bouche; the Gin was substituted by sparkling wine to give it an air of appéritif, Maraschino and lemon.

Negroni: Gin, Sweet Vermouth and Campari

1794: named after the year of the whiskey rebellion; whiskey, Campari, sweet vermouth.

Black Manhattan: a variation of the American classic; bourbon, Averna and home made cherry coffee bitters.

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The Life Aquatic


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October 30, 2007

More lists

manuitchezmaud.jpg rushmore.jpg
beforethedevilknowsyouredead.jpg genouclaire.jpg
houseofgames.jpg clode573tb.jpg
AdamsApples.jpg the_monastery.jpg

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October 29, 2007


Valencia Street, San Francisco CA

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October 18, 2007

What a good movie watching year this has been so far

lifeaquatic.jpg seventh_seal.jpg
sixth_sense.jpg RASHOMON.jpg
darjeeling.jpg wildstrawberries.jpg
unbreakable.jpg Hotel_Chevalier.png

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October 17, 2007


"I saw a rhinoceros there, just such a one as Hans Clerberg had formerly showed me. Methought it was not much unlike a certain boar which I had formerly seen at Limoges, except the sharp horn on its snout, that was about a cubit long; by the means of which that animal dares encounter with an elephant, that is sometimes killed with its point thrust into its belly, which is its most tender and defenceless part." ---Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, published in 1532 in Lyon


Portrait of Johann Kleberger by Albrecht Dürer, painted in 1526 in Nuremberg

During his sojourn in Nuremberg, in 1525-26, he had Dürer paint his portrait and, after having married the daughter of Willibald Pirckheimer - Dürer's friend - he returned to Lyon, where he acquired various properties. He gave enormous financial donations to the city, as in 1531 when, during the plague epidemic, he gave 500 livres to benefit the orphans of the plague victims. He was called le bon Allemand, and a monument was erected in his honour, of which a replica still exists today. -- source.



Drawing of a Rhino by Albrecht Dürer, 1515, Nuremberg

The inscription on the woodcut, drawing largely from Pliny's account, reads:
“ On the first of May in the year 1513 AD [sic], the powerful King of Portugal, Manuel of Lisbon, brought such a living animal from India, called the rhinoceros. This is an accurate representation. It is the colour of a speckled tortoise, and is almost entirely covered with thick scales. It is the size of an elephant but has shorter legs and is almost invulnerable. It has a strong pointed horn on the tip of its nose, which it sharpens on stones." -- source


A trace of Dürer in Rabelais
, Salomon in 1943

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October 12, 2007

lessing doesn't care less

Reporters opened the door and told her she had won the Nobel Prize for literature, to which she responded: "Oh Christ! ... I couldn't care less."

"I've won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I'm delighted to win them all, the whole lot, OK?" Lessing said, making her way through the crowd. "It's a royal flush."

"I'm sure you'd like some uplifting remarks," she added with a smile.

"I can't say I'm overwhelmed with surprise," Lessing said. "I'm 88 years old and they can't give the Nobel to someone who's dead, so I think they were probably thinking they'd probably better give it to me now before I've popped off."

She acknowledged the $1.5 million cash award was a lot of money, but still seemed less than thrilled.

"I'm already thinking about all the people who are going to send me begging letters. I can see them lining up now," she said. The phone in her house, audible from the street, rang continuously.


I like her. I don't know if I like her books but now I'm definitely going to read them. Also, I'm hoping her acceptance speech will be a riot.

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A gerund goes into a bar, and the bartender says, “What are you, drinking?”


The governor of the Federal District of Brazil, José Roberto Arruda, has ordered regional public employees to abolish the use of gerunds, a measure that he defines as a "nice" message against inefficiency.

Upon defending the decision, Arruda said that he has lost patience with some members of his own government who are always "doing", "getting", "studying", "sending" or "preparing" but never finish their work or establish ways to finish it.

Local government calls the use of gerunds "a plague", which only serves to make excuses for unsolved problems.

via vivirlatino

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October 07, 2007

Aaltra - Sonny - Bouli Lanners

I knew it wasn't finnish! But what the hell was he saying? Well, this kind gentleman has the transcription:

Sonny, you fucking haven't d[ø]ze, I'd happen to fire
Sonny, you fucking haven't d[ø]ze, I (k) happen to fire
Oh, your dick in the frost, I can lag in the side
You can snarfel the phones, I can snarf my baby
Sonny, once of you, I love you do

Sonny, you fucking half an h[ø]ze, I'd happen to fire
Sonny, you freaking half an toast, I'd happen to fire
Oh, you carfel the phones, I can hide in the phones
You can hardly defies, I can(s) house my honey
Sonny, once of you, I love you boo

Sonny (ah), your frequency even hind, I'm targling to fire
Sonny, you're afraid on of and h[y]se, I happen to fire
Oh, you haven't the frames, I can happen to frost
You can happen to face, happens half my honey
Sonny, wanted you, I love you ou

Sonny (ah), it happen you can find, I'm talking to find
Sonny, you fraking hick and h[y]s, I'm h[y]lting to find
Oh and h[y]ffen the phones, I can d[y]ppen the p[y]ms
You can happen to phones, happens half my honey
Sonny, wanted you, I love you ou ou ou

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October 04, 2007


Superman lies among men disguised as the journalist Clark Kent; as such he appears fearful, timid, not over intelligent, awkward, near sighted (...) From a mythopoetic point of view the device is even subtler: in fact, Clark Kent personifies fairly typically the average reader who is harassed by complexes and despised by his fellow men; through an obvious process of self identification, any accountant in any american city secretly feeds the hope that one day, from the slough of his actual personality there can spring forth a superman who is capable of redeeming years of mediocre existence.

--Umberto Eco, Il mito de Superman e la dissolozione del tempo (1962)


This made me want to watch Unbreakable again.

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October 02, 2007

I am obviously a cat person


So first, your memory I'll jog,
And say: A CAT IS NOT A DOG.

Now Dogs pretend they like to fight;
They often bark, more seldom bite;
But yet a Dog is, on the whole,
What you would call a simple soul.
Of course I'm not including Pekes,
And such fantastic canine freaks.
The usual Dog about the Town
Is much inclined to play the clown,
And far from showing too much pride
Is frequently undignified.
He's very easily taken in -
Just chuck him underneath the chin
Or slap his back or shake his paw,
And he will gambol and guffaw.
He's such an easy-going lout,
He'll answer any hail or shout.

Again I must remind you that
A Dog's a Dog - A CAT'S A CAT.

T.S. Eliot, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats


Much to Neska's credit, she does have some cat like traits which make our co-habitation bearable. By the way, why should anyone name that butch, oversized dog "Neska" - "girl" in basque - is a mystery to me. Even more puzzling is why the two other people in this house insist on calling the Great Pyrenees-white-fluff-ball-monster "poochie".

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October 01, 2007

The Adventures of Claudia in America



This blogger went to the big book sale in San Francisco and all she got was this because she is a narcissist who can't resist it when she sees her own name in print. This completely messes my project of writing "The Book of Claudia" to be added to the bible or to start a new religion, though.

It was a great buy. I'm sure it's not what the author intended but has made me roll on the floor laughing.

"It had been a beautiful night and she loved him more than ever in the morning. 'If it weren't real love', David told her, 'if it were only physical, it wouldn't be that way.'

Claudia, who was eighteen and who did not know very much about love, had the greatest respect for her husband's superior knowledge of sex. Not that he'd ever led a wild life, or run around, but he'd read a great many books on the subject and knew as much as a doctor."

Of course. There's nothing sexier than a gynecologist.

I also "found" and bought the fabulous Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats illustrated by Edward Gorey for 1 dollar and finally got the complete poems of Cavafy, among other cheap finds.


Big. Like everything else here.

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September 20, 2007

Making lists

1208Bucharest.jpg 08-the-bothersome-man.jpg
poncle26.jpg hukkle.jpg
aaltra0.jpg duckseason_large.jpg
hulotholiday.jpg brazil.jpg
aff_taxidermia.jpg transylvania.jpg

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September 06, 2007

Testing the "embed" feature of google books. Meh. Nothing I couldn't do with a screen capture but whatever. Also, Rabelais can be distracting.

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August 31, 2007

Lisbon Lemon


Lisbon lemon is one of the most widely-grown lemons in California and is planted extensively throughout the citrus-growing regions of the world. It is believed to be a Gallego seedling selection of Portuguese origin.

Lisbon is of Portuguese origin, although it is not known there by that name. It is believed to be a selection of the Gallego seedling clonal group, which in Portugal is somewhat comparable to the common sweet orange groups of Spain, Italy, and numerous other countries. A selection known as Portugal in Morocco and Algeria is said to be indistinguishable from the Lisbon introduced from California.

--from a page of the University of California Riverside

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August 23, 2007

Strange to know nothing, never to be sure
Of what is true or right or real,
But forced to qualify or so I feel,
Or Well, it does seem so:
Someone must know.

Strange to be ignorant of the way things work:
Their skill at finding what they need,
Their sense of shape, and punctual spread of seed,
And willingness to change;
Yes, it is strange,

Even to wear such knowledge - for our flesh
Surrounds us with its own decisions -
And yet spend all our life on imprecisions,
That when we start to die
Have no idea why.

---Philip Larkin, Ignorance

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August 22, 2007

Nectar vina cibus vestis doctrina facultas -- Venantius Fortunatus

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August 21, 2007

bronzino.jpg by Bronzino, National Gallery, London

"Venus holds an apple in one hand, and an arrow in the other. What does that say: I tempt you, and I have a wound for you. And look at all the secondary figures - the raving figure of jealousy behind Cupid, speaking so clearly of despair, of love despised and rejected; the little figure of Pleasure who is about to pelt the toying lovers with rose leaves -- see at his feet the thorns and those masks of concealments and cheats of the world, marked with the bitterness of age; and who is that creature behind the laughing pleasure - a wistful, appealing face, a rich gown that might almost blind us to her lion's feet, her serpent's sting and her hands that offer both a honeycomb and something beastly - that must be the Cheat - Fraude, in Latin - who can so prettily turn love to madness. Who are the old man and the young woman at the top of the picture? They are plainly Time and Truth, who are drawing aside the mantle that shows the world what is involved in such love as this. Time - and his daughter Truth. A very moral picture, no?" -- What's bred in the bone, Robertson Davies.

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August 19, 2007

Just wondering...

Why has Putin gone fishing (pictured below, Rambo style) with Prince Albert II of Monaco? This most unlikely pair's holidays sounds like the setup for a dry joke.



What to do with Poland in the EU, considering thy have a religious extremist, xenophobic, homophobic government?

The brothers appointed him last year as one of three deputy prime ministers, and as minister for education, a job he has exploited to transform Polish youth. Giertych started by laying down an “essential” reading list for schools that includes the popular Christian novel Quo Vadis? by Henryk Sienkiewicz, John Paul II’s autobiography, Memory & Identity, and a history of Catholic priests in Dachau. He wants to ban Joseph Conrad (a Pole, but too close to Nietzsche for comfort), Fyodor Dostoevsky (Russian, obviously), and the works of the Polish Jewish writer and homosexual Witold Gombrowicz. on the Sunday times

Not that there's a pulp fueled bonfire in Warsaw yet, but this reminds me of Heine: "Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too."

Prime Minister Kasimierz Marcinkiewicz, also of Law and Justice Party, has stated that if a homosexual “tries to 'infect' others with their homosexuality, then the state must intervene in this violation of freedom." -- Human Rights News.

A senior Polish official has ordered psychologists to investigate whether the popular BBC TV show Teletubbies promotes a homosexual lifestyle.
The spokesperson for children's rights in Poland, Ewa Sowinska, singled out Tinky Winky, the purple character with a triangular aerial on his head.
"I noticed he was carrying a woman's handbag," she told a magazine. "At first, I didn't realise he was a boy."
on the BBC.

Censorship in Poland is a deadly serious subject. The censorship situation with David Cerny's Shark represents a radical change in the nature of what is censored in Poland. Artist Dorota Nieznalska has been punished by Polish courts, ordered to perform community service after a work of art was found offensive to the Christian religion, she is still in court appealing the decision. In Bytom, Poland, gallery manager Sebastian Cichocki is currently being investigated for allowing a work of art by the Prague-based Guma Guar to be displayed. There is a serious ambiguity with Polish laws governing free speech, but it is clear that laws concerning religion and free expression have yet to be tested in court. on Prague TV.

A group of Polish members of parliament have submitted a bill seeking to proclaim Jesus Christ king of their overwhelmingly Catholic country. on the BBC.

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August 17, 2007

The death of Peter Fechter

At midday on 17 August, 1962, Peter Fechter and Helmut Kulbeik, two teenage citizens of the GDR, jumped from a ground floor window on Zimmerstraße, Berlin, into 'the death strip' - an area of no-mans land leading up to the Berlin wall.

As they reached the wall, ignoring orders from the GDR guards to halt, they were fired upon, with a total of twenty one shots. Helmut made it over the wall to safety but Peter was hit a number of times in the back and abdomen.

Seriously wounded, he lay a few yards short of the wall shouting for help. Having seen what had happened, hundreds of citizens of West Berlin gathered, shouting demands at the GDR guards and American soldiers to help Peter, though they did nothing.


After fifty minutes of calling for help, his calls fell silent. More than an hour after the attempted escape, GDR guards finally removed his dead body from the death strip.

Out of an impulse I signed up to go see this event being re-enacted this Saturday at an undisclosed location. I'll have to show up at the ICA door in the morning and a pack of us will be taken there by bus - not blindfolded I hope. Now I'm dreading it. Considering I have gun phobia and always get out of movie theaters with clenched fists, sore jaws from all the tension and puffy, swollen eyes from all the crying after watching any war movie, what the hell was I thinking? I suppose that's the upside of being brought up in a catholic country no matter how much of an atheist you are: the idea that sacrifice will be rewarded gets imprinted indelibly on your soul.

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August 16, 2007

And there were other things in our companionship that took strong hold of my mind: to discourse and jest with him; to indulge in courteous exchanges; to read pleasant books together; to trifle together; to be earnest together; to differ at times without ill-humor, as a man might do with himself, and even through these infrequent dissensions to find zest in our more frequent agreements; sometimes teaching, sometimes being taught; longing for someone absent with impatience and welcoming the homecomer with joy. These and similar tokens of friendship, which spring spontaneously from the hearts of those who love and are loved in return--in countenance, tongue, eyes, and a thousand ingratiating gestures--were all so much fuel to melt our souls together, and out of the many made us one. -- St. Augustine, Confessions (Book IV)

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August 15, 2007

Weekend in Dublin

Somehow found myself on a non-tourist mood so ended up doing whatever I would do at home and ignored most monuments - ended up at the Yeats manuscripts exhibition at the National Library by chance. If nothing else, Dublin has some good breakfast and brunch places. The magic words being "...served all day". Heaven.

The Mermaid Cafe on Dame Street

A classic: Bewley's on Grafton Street.

Saw "A Streetcar car named Desire" for the first time on a theater at the Irish Film Institute. Had forgotten the young Brando was a God. The middle aged Brando was fond of butter and the old Brando was a capo di tutti capi.

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August 10, 2007

Warwick Road, London

British raunchy humor or unintended pun by non native speaker?


The opening song is Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, and Adolf Loos singing "Form follows function", like "Fugue for Tinhorns" begins Guys and Dolls. It finishes and who enters but Alma Mahler herself, in a frock Jennifer Lopez would wave off as skimpy. With Alma is her composer husband, Gustav. "Let's go, gloom puss", she says, "move it."
"Just one more strudel", the fragile tunesmith replies. "I need the blood-sugar high to keep me from sinking into my quotidian preoccupation with mortality."
-- Woody Allen, Mere Anarchy (his first new humor collection in over 25 years, as they announce)

Ah, good stuff.

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August 09, 2007

Favourite tune to listen to while driving on highways. Usually on a loop, very loudly and when alone since no one else would put up with such foolishness. Had a sudden urge to send my CV to Jeremy Clarkson after watching this.

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August 07, 2007

Small Grand Tour

Went on an art fair marathon this last weekend visitng Kassel and Munster for Documenta 12 and the Sculpture Projects, respectively.

Not very impressed by either, I must say. Documenta was an amalgam of stuff with no curatorial guidelines that I could identify and the sculptures were nothing memorable to me. Anyway, always fun to find out on a friday night that my cell phone stopped working, my flight was late, the man at the rent a car insisted that 70% of europeans speak German so why would English be the lingua franca taking him 30 minutes to give me the car keys, the hotel I booked on a quaint town near a forest was closed at 1 am and no one would come to the door, that I had no map of Kassel so randomly drove around looking for an hotel, found a laptop case (with a laptop inside) in the middle of an empty street and finally found a shitty hotel that turned out to have one of the best buffet breakfasts I've ever had. I love breakfast.

The funniest thing was this Gonzalo Diaz piece entitled "Eclipse". You'd go into a drak room and a circle of light was projected on the wall, over a silver square. When I came in, about 4 people were looking at it from near the door. I obviously stood there. Nothing happened and they left. Another row of people came in and out. And then I thought "What eclipse? There will only be an eclipse if I walk in front of the damned light." So I did. And found that something was written on the square and hurriedly summoned all the germans behind me - looking at me in disapproval for my obvious lack of respect for the work of art - to come and read it. Apparently it says something like "You have arrived to the core of Germany because you are reading the word art in your own shadow". And then people started taking turns to do the same I did. I complained to the guard outside that there should be some instructions but now that I think of it... nah!

Someone told me that there was a great sound piece at the Munster Sculpture projects under the bridge over the Aa. I went there. Waited for it to start. It was a woman singing. Meh.

HIghlight of the weekend: The Museum for sepulchral culture in Kassel. Beautiful museum with a great collection of tombstones, coffins and funeral props in general. Also houses a beautiful collection of prints and drawings on the theme of death. If you're into that sort of thing. Which I am. It was founded by the Study group for cemeteries and memorials. How do I join this thing???

Museum für Sepulkralkultur

More pics of the trip here.

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August 03, 2007

Dobrý Deň

Charles Bridge

Had a great time in Prague but not necessarily because of the city itself. There are hordes of tourists everywhere, British stag & hen parties that invariably go wrong and it's basically all a big Kafka amusement park. And people who never read a line by the man flock to where he lived, where he studied, where he pooped and where he fucked since these are, of course, landmarks of touristic interest. "I often hear Kafka described as a Czech writer, but he wrote solely in German and considered himself a German writer" says Kundera. The irony of it all.


What I've learned: the Americans are loud, the French are arrogant, the Estonians are lazy, the Dutch are cheap and the Portuguese like to stereotype.


The Dutch: Portuguese is just bad Spanish.
The Portuguese: Dutch is just bad German.

Ah, the joy of making friends through mutual insult.


Somehow, found myself driving a Ford on a Czech highway on the way to a town that is today practically owned by wealthy Russians, with a Belarusian sitting by my side, a Kazakh, a Kyrgyz and a Dutch on the back seat while Johnny Cash sang on the radio. Carlsbad (or Karlovy Vary) is one of the prettiest towns I've ever visited. If it weren't for the Escada and Chanel shops I could almost say it had frozen in time.


Library Strahov Monastery
The Philosophical Hall.

Highlight: the beautiful libraries of the Strahov Monastery and the remnants of an 18th century Wunderkammer that are housed there.


A dodo.

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August 02, 2007

Hay on Wye


I managed to not buy a single book even though I spent a few days in the Welsh book town. I found that most bookshops hadn't much to offer other than editions of old books on gymnastics and MS-DOS. There was a good children's bookshop where I almost bought a "Famous Five" first edition. Then I realized 55 pounds was too much money for a book I wasn't going to read and that I craved out of childhood nostalgia. As an exception to the rule, the Poetry bookshop was excellent - again, I almost bought Cavafy's Poems but then realized there were three different editions on the shelf, each translated by a different person into English and they were strikingly different. On one of the prefaces, Auden commented on the difficulty of translating him, and hence the different versions, but also how Cavafy's poems were immediately recognizable since they don't depend on language but on their themes and imagery. Nonetheless, I couldn't decide on which to buy and left.

Also took some long walks to Clyro where the Baskerville Hall is. Even saw a grave at the village cemetery for people who perished during WWI where there was a reference to a Captain Baskerville. Supposedly Conan Doyle stayed here visiting the family and drew inspiration from local lore about a hound that haunted the moors.

Highlight: the B&B where I stayed had some books for guests to read and that' where I ran into Alan Bennett's Untold Stories. His fun and witty diaries kept me company through days of hard rain. Almost had to swim back to London...except that I can't swim.

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Picture 1 21-35-44.png

The New York Times Arts section. One step away from being removed from my RSS reader.

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August 01, 2007

The Daily Mail sucks

(the best caption they could come up with on the day of Bergman's death)

and so does most of the British press...and to think I saw an ad today in the tube that said something like "yadda yadda England brought culture and sophistication to the world...". Yeah, right. Before tabloid era, maybe.


Still have some posts to write about Hay on Wye, the floods in Wales, Alan Bennett's diary, odd coincidences, Prague, Carlsbad, the Strahov Monastery, Central Asia, stereotyping (as usual), Harry Potter and all the stuff I've been up to lately.

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July 13, 2007



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July 12, 2007

If I hear the word "Organic" one more time I'm going to puke. Too much sculpture appreciation.


Favorites: Doris Salcedo and Zadok Ben David. So much for British art.



Then again, I'll include Judith Dean's Field. Fake land art. Bronze.



Can't live without Circus Ponies Notebook Software ("Organization for Creative Minds") anymore. So glad I got a Mac.


How to spot an IT consultant in an art class at a sculpture park:

"The title of the sculpture is Oracle. What does this remind you of?"
"Greek mythology."
"Ah, right."

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July 10, 2007


I had never seen Zizek in my life until last sunday. He was giving a lecture at the Ethical Society as a sort of commemoration organized by the Freud Society on the centennial of the publishing of "The sexual enlightenment of children".

I'm glad he said it himself during the lecture because I'd be too polite to mention this. Or maybe not. He said someone asked him to be that person's analyst and his reply was "Look at me! I'm a nervous person! I'm crazy!" and the person agreed and gave up. He is insane. But, or precisely because of that, strangely stimulating. He was a nervous wreck all through the lecture, scratching his eyes, ears and nose compulsively and read from a typed sheet all the way through with the occasional stop to illustrate a point. He has a funny eastern european accent that, conjugated with the enthusiasm with which he delivers his speech and matching and vehement wave of the right hand, makes you think you're at a retro communist rally.


But he is fascinating in the way he shoots theories at you like a machine gun, drawing examples from the most sophisticated of philosophers to quirky pieces of news. I'm not completely sure everything makes sense, it was such an intense experience that I'm still digesting it.

In one hour he managed to talk about: Freud (obviously), the Masturbathon, the myth of Dapnhe and Chloe, Shakespeare's All's well that ends well, Lacan, Hegel, genetically modified beans that don't cause gas, Kant, David Lynch's Blue Velvet, The Da Vinci code, Chinese translations, the Bible and the Catholic Church, Claude Lévi-Strauss and the north-american tribe that thought all dreams had sexual meanings except the dreams about sex themselves, Antigone, advertisements for sun screens, the myth in communist countries that everyone believed the secret information officers were the inventors and propagators of jokes about the government and a lot more I can't recall right away. All this to arrive, through a very tortuous journey, to a thesis - there were some collateral ones along the way - in which he states adults need sexual education even more than children because they know the mechanics but lack the knowledge that each of us must have his/her own personal fantasy on which to focus on while having sex.

Best quote of the night, while answering a question: "I have written about this on one of my books, can't remember which, there's so many of them."

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July 09, 2007

Celebrity Spotting (kind of)

Went to the Art Car Boot Fair on Sunday. A strange fair on Brick Lane in which artists sell weird items - Tim Noble & Sue Webster were selling signed toilet paper rolls -for symbolic prices. Among others, I spotted Gavin Turk presumably haggling over prices of his signed car boots and Bob+Roberta Smith painting letters on wood.


Gavin Turk is the fellow that got himself thrown out of art school because he submitted one single piece for his graduation show which was a metal plaque to hang on the wall saying "Gavin Turk studied here". Bob+Roberta Smith is in fact a man and not a pair. He paints signs and banners and launched an amnesty on bad art in 2002.

I got myself an Ian Monroe sticker but when I got home I realized the bastard - who is very nice and chatty, by the way - had signed it in the back and I wanted to stick it to my laptop. So now I am the proud owner of an unsigned piece by Ian Monroe and also of a star shaped bit of paper - signed.


Other than the general craziness and drunkenness going around the funniest stand/car was the one where you could shoot a spinning diamond skull and win prizes if you hit the big diamond on the forehead. There was also a fake diamond covered skull for sale for 1000 pounds. And a Kunst Clown. And people selling puzzle pieces by the ounce. Very weird and strangely frivolous.

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July 07, 2007


Seen at the counter of Skoob books. You can tell when someone starts a second-hand book business out of love: this very persuasive anti-impulse-shopping quote is inconveniently located by the cash register. I almost returned "Breakfast at Tiffany's" to its shelf when I read this.

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July 05, 2007

Fascinating how someone writing a straightforward, one paragraph long biography managed to squeeze in such a huge value judgement.


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July 04, 2007


I'm not fond of Antony Gormley's work (for reasons a blog post is too short to contain) but Event Horizon, a major work that consists of casts of his own body on top of various buildings of London, sure makes cute pics.


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July 02, 2007

Several works from the National Gallery are hanging in the streets of London - it's the Grand Tour initiative and it's hoping to lure more visitors into the museum.


Holbein's Ambassadors is particularly fun since this public display makes it easier to see the anamorphic skull. It isn't easy to come this close to a painting in a museum.


I'm just sorry no one has defaced any of them. Artistcallt speaking, of course. Where are the Banksys, the Duchamps? Why hasn't any one stamped an HP logo stencil on it? Tss.

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July 01, 2007

This first got my attention.


Entering a little shop crammed with retro toys, I realized that was in fact a toy museum. A maze of little rooms in an old buiding holding spooky looking old porcelain dolls, antique toy soldiers, vintage robots, scruffy looking teddy bears and all sorts of victorian doll houses. Scary. Perfect setting for a horror movie, if you ask me. I should have never watched the Chucky movies. Can't stand the sight of a fuzzy channel on TV since Poltergeist either.


Pollock's Toy Museum on Scala Street, London

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June 30, 2007


The share of space taken by books devoted to gardening in London's chain bookshops is equivalent to that of self-help books in the US.


Out of nowhere, while walking in Soho it dawned on me that Elias Canetti's chess playing dwarf in "Auto da Fé" must be a reference to the Mechanical Turk! Duh!


The Gay Pride Parade in London was an oxymoron. Blame it on the weather or on the bomb scare, this was the dullest gay parade I've ever seen.


Strange country this is. They had running bets on the color of the hat the Queen would wear to Ascot.


Saw the cutest personal ad on a free London newspaper the other day but unfortunately threw it away, as one does with these ecological crimes disguised as information. It ran something like "Mature man seeks Rubenesque lady for wine, theatre and love." Hell, weren't I taken and more of the Modiglianesque build, I'd answer that :)


Amused by Pakistan's claim that making Rushdie a knight "breaches a United Nations resolution aimed at calming tensions between different religions". Obviously, the maintenance of a fatwa calling for the writer's execution is perfectly compliant.


So glad I got to read Nabokov's Lolita precisely when I was almost giving up on finding an engaging novel. Can't forget: the classics!. Got a cheap copy at Judd books. Such a beautiful, rythmic and sensual writing. Along with "A hundred years of solitude" this is one of my favorite ouvertures of all times:

"Lolita. Light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta."

Perfect alliteration.


Nerd. Orange. Tote Bag. Perfect.


Good title too, considering the crappy London street map I carry.

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Advanced Creative Portuguese - Lesson #1

Bijoquinzinhos - multiple kisses like the popping sounds of small fish in a frying pan.

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June 29, 2007


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June 27, 2007


Araeen's Third Text magazine

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June 24, 2007

Keep Clear


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June 22, 2007

An interview with Bacon is online over at the always wonderful UBU web.


"What do you gain by throwing paint directly at the canvas?"
"I only did that in a few paintings...I was sick of the look of them, I just threw a lot of paint on them..and they turned out well...I quite like them."

"I only paint portraits of myself because there's no one else around."

There's nothing like getting to know the deep philosophical and aesthetic choices of the artists through their own voices.

Apart from the bit where he seems to get drunker and drunker, I particularly liked the whole idea of wrestling with the canvas and the reason he gives to paint couples having sex: "because it's when they generally talk less and I'm not a conversational artist". The very last part is very gossipy, with Melvyn Bragg trying to extract an "I love S&M, do you want to see my dungeon?" confession from him in a rather insistent yet subtle way (if you disregard the number of times the word "pain" is used).

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June 21, 2007

is to grow in small steps.
We have learned to want less.

(from the Marjetica Potrc exhibition at The Curve, Barbican)

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June 20, 2007


I moved to London temporarily where I'll be busy busy busy drowning in paintings, sculptures and written assignments.

The view:



Made it to the White Cube gallery today and saw "For the love of God", the latest Damien Hirst. I loved his work when I first got to know it but by now it just seems too much mainstream/marketing stunt to me. He's no longer an enfant terrible but he insists on being outrageous. And however I try to cooly dismiss him, he keeps surprising me. Yes, it's just a skull covered in diamonds, big deal...but the fact is that it's really exciting. A group of people is let in a dark room where you can't see anything but the skull in a glass case, cleverly lit. We were allowed 2 minutes inside and we were advised to circle it. It was like a religious ceremony, 8 adults walking around a skull that shined with all the colors of the rainbow, like a tribe performing a ritual dance around a totem pole. Everyone was gaping for is a truly beautiful, strangely seductive piece. And the whole dark mystery setup just adds glamour to the bloody thing. Argh, 4 days I've been here, mostly surrounded by Americans, and still I have used the expressions "Bloody hell", "That's rubbish" and "Loo" way too many times.

(also saw Richard Hamilton himself at another gallery, an old man wearing a long white beard and levi's jeans chatting with an employee)


So much to blog about, so little time.

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June 07, 2007

Excitement Adventure Romance...

Picasso, La Joie de Vivre


When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,

pray that the road is long,

full of adventure, full of knowledge.


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June 05, 2007

It just occurred to me...

that all footage of Elvis either in his beardless, boyish, white sock wearing, teenage-screaming phase or in his bloated, cheesy white outfit, intoxicated, middle aged women on anti-depressants screaming phase should be erased. An Elvis in a fit body, wearing black leather and singing in a sexy, coarse voice is all we need to remember. Oh and, leather or no leather, I'd erase the teddy bears, lonesome girls and love me tenders crap too.

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May 29, 2007

Fascinating Stuff

(David - photo by Richard Carter)

In the domain of pleasures, for instance, the longer prepuce often serves as the object of erotic interest and as a signifier of the sexually attractive male, as demonstrated by the following ribald passage from the Lexiphanes of Lucian:

"Surely," I said, "you don't mean that notable Dion, that lusty, low-scrotumed, cuntish, and mastic-chewing youth who masturbates and gropes whenever he sees someone with a large penis [πεωδη] and a long prepuce [ποσθωνα]?"

Lucian is not satirizing the fact that a long prepuce should function as the visual cue that triggers Dion's erotic responses. On the contrary, he is satirizing Dion's general lack of decorum and self-control in the face of such self-evident visual stimulants. The desirability of the long prepuce, hence, remains beyond question.

The eroticization of the prepuce is also evident in the Thesmophoriazusae of Aristophanes, where the lusty father-in-law, pressing to his face a garment owned and worn by the young and handsome poet Agathon, exclaims: "By Aphrodite, this has a pleasant smell of [a little] prepuce [ποσθη]!" The diminutive posthion (ποσθιον), as opposed to the standard word posthe (ποσθη), is most likely used here as a term of endearment.

-- Frederick M. Hodges, The Ideal Prepuce in Ancient Greece and Rome: Male Genital Aesthetics
and Their Relation to Lipodermos, Circumcision, Foreskin Restoration, and the Kynodesme (in the The Bulletin of the History of Medicine)

The most erudite piece I have ever read on such an entertaining subject.

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May 23, 2007

The Queen of England posing for Lucian Freud (photo by David Dawson)

The photo is actually much better than the portrait. I can't help giggling at seeing her majesty wearing this glittery diamond covered crown in the badly lit, dirty and slightly run down corner of the studio. Looks like conceptual art to me. Just think, the power some artists attain. The queen succumbs to the vanity of having her portrait painted by the most famous painter alive
and submits to his conditions. Just one century ago, painters would fight for the honor. That's a lot to think about. But I'm too lazy.

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May 22, 2007

I wanted to write about...

...the centennial of Hergé and how despite being a Tintinophile I am also a contrarian. Hergé used to say that there was no place for sex or women in Tintin's male friendship world. So I started a post on Tintin porn parodies only to realize this site has a fantastic compilation of bootleg Tintin albums from the 80's and Arte channel aired a great documentary called "La vie sexuelle de Tintin". I also found a couple of bloggers or website owners who got sued (and condemned) for promoting "illegal" Tintin album versions. Which made me want to blog about copyright, civil liberties, the moustache on Mona Lisa, the power of dead people's wishes over the creativity of the living and trash Belgian law but I'm too lazy.

(Roy Lichtenstein is allowed to throw a Matisse painting on Tintin's living room)

...Elias Canetti's Auto da Fé and how if were this book edible it would leave a bitter-sweet taste on my mouth. It's a wonderful bizarre and funny novel, a chimera born of crossing Lynch with Ionesco with a german twist. Alas, the version I own seems like someone pasted the results of Babel Fish "German to English" translation into it (my book says the translation was supervised by the author). Here I am holding what could be one of my favorite novels of all times, wondering if this will be the final trigger to upgrade my current tourist babble german language level. Which made me want to blog yet again about the difficulties of translation, the wonder of learning a new language, post an hilarious excerpt of the novel when the main character tries to convince his books to go to war and faces the opposition of buddhist texts and of Schopenhauer who suddenly found the will to live, quote Walter Benjamin, add an excerpt of Saramago's Baltasar & Blimunda and show you how crappy the english translation is but I'm too lazy.


...Gilbert & George's downloadable art and how the open source paradigm should invade every corner of knowledge, cadavres exquis, the recent trends on how art can be an effective political and social integration tool, how weird that most art reviews I read are favorable and hardly ever anyone dares to say that - although Gombrich says there is no such thing as a bad work of art - that red canvas with a bit of newspaper glued to it brings nothing new and is a lame attempt at originality, the New Yorker article on Banksy and how even the most wannabe rebels give in to money and vanity despite maintaining their anonymity, the Hopper exhibition at the MFA in Boston, the underrated value of art in the developing world and Maslow's hierarchy of needs but I'm too lazy.

...my plans for the second semester of 2007, Cavafy's poems, Socrates' "know thyself", healthy doubts, status quo, Ecclesiastes, Ovid on fishing, missing oneself, the Bloomsbury group, low cost airlines, auction houses, journalism, aging, optimism, adventure, excitement and romance but that would be too personal.

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May 01, 2007

Ole Worm's Cabinet of Curiosities

" a goodly, huge cabinet, wherein whatsoever the hand of man by exquisite art or engine has made rare in stuff, form or motion; whatsoever singularity, chance, and the shuffle of things hath produced; whatsoever Nature has wrought in things that want life and may be kept; shall be sorted and included." -- Francis Bacon on the ideal Cabinet of Curiosities.


I'm compiling a list of museums or collections which first started as Cabinets of Curiosities or Wunderkmmern for my own future travel reference.

KunstKamera in San Petersburg, Russia - Today, collections of Peter the Great’s Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkammer) are among the most complete and interesting in the world. (includes anatomical specimens made by the famous Dutch anatomist Frederick Ruysch)

Biblioteca Ambrosiana
, Milano, Italia - houses the collection of Manfredo Settala, also known as the milanese Archimedes.

Ambras Castle, Innsbruck, Austria - houses the only surviving collection of the Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand II.

Museum Gustavianum, Uppsala, Sweden - The Augsburg art cabinet, the best preserved of the Kunstschränke made by Philipp Hainhofer, which was given to Gustavus Adolphus in 1632 by the City of Augsburg, is on display in the Gustavianum.

The Ashmolean Museum,
Oxford, UK - The collection presented to the University of Oxford by Elias Ashmole (1617–92) was in origin already half a century old by this time, having been founded by John Tradescant (d.1638) and displayed to the public (for a fee), first by him and later by his son John (1608–62) in their dwelling house at Lambeth, widely known as 'The Ark'. The contents were universal in scope, with man-made and natural specimens from every corner of the known world.

Museum d'Histoire Naturelle
, La Rochelle, France - houses the cabinet de curiosité Lafaille



Frederick Ruysch's Anatomical Curiosities


More info on Cabinets of Curiosities:

Peter Huber's excellent site (in german) on wunderkammern, featuring a list of museums mostly in germany.

Cabinets de Curiosités
(french), interesting site by a canadian phd student including his reading notes on selected bibliography.

A lecture on Museums and their functions, featuring slides with engravings depicting famous cabinets of curiosities.

A bibliography by the University of California.

The King's Kunstkammer is an Internet exhibition, which is a partial reconstruction of the Royal Danish Kunstkammer which was established by King Frederik III in the mid-1600s - a collection which was broken up some 200 years later when all the pieces it contained were distributed among newly created specialist museums.

(in french) has an extensive research on cabinets of curiosities based, as far as I can see, on Pierre Borel's inventory "Roole des principaux cabinets curieux, et autres choses remarquables qui se voyent ez principales Villes de l'Europe" or Huguetan's.

An article from Cabinet magazine. Very appropriate.



Stephan Zick, Anatomical teaching model of a pregnant woman
Nuremberg, around 1680

(seen on Georg Laue's Kunstkammer)


And from the New World, a cabinet of curiosities in itself:

The Wachsach Museum of Oddities and its shrunken heads and feejee mermaids;

The Museum of Jurassic Techonology which houses, for example, an exhibition about the dogs of the soviet space program;

P.T. Barnum's Museum turned Circus;

The National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington featuring, among other attractions, the stomach of the compulsive hair eating girl;

And my personal favorite, Ripley's Believe it or Not, a man's quest for oddities turned into a museum chain and turist trap.

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April 28, 2007

It's official...

....I am now a Mac person.


(wallpaper wallpaper by ~zygat3r)

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April 16, 2007

Alfama, Lisboa

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April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut died. So it goes.

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March 24, 2007


No sera la no dimensión del presente la que hace posible la vida, como la no dimensión del punto hace posible la geometría?
No vi el viento vi moverse las nubes.
No vi el tiempo vi caerse las hojas.
-- Escritos, Eduardo Chillida (exhibition at the Biblioteca Nacional)

"Pasó seis horas examinando las cosas, tratando de encontrar una diferencia con el aspecto que tuvieron el día anterior, pendiente de descubrir en ellas algún cambio que revelara el transcurso del tiempo.(...) El viernes, antes que se levantar nadie, volvió a vigilar la aparencia de la naturaleza, hasta que no tuvo la menor duda de que seguía siendo lunes." -- Cien años de soledad, Gabriel Garcia Márquez (got a new copy at the Paseo del Prado book fair)


Amused by the odd cataloging at La Casa del Libro. No self-help section so the next good thing seems to be philosophy.


Overheard at the Real Jardín Botánico in Madrid: "Un bonsai es um árbolito chiquitito".



Lazying in the sun at El Retiro park.


"Tenemos otros usos propios, al cristal le llamamos también luna. Así pueden enamorar sin querer a una española, cuando en un taxi le pregunte si quiere que le baje la luna" -- Marcos Martos Carrera, president of the Peruvian Academy of Language about the specificities of the peruvian spanish (a propos of the IV Congresso de La Lengua in Cartagena de las Indias, Colombia)

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March 12, 2007

Two things impressed me greatly this last weekend: a scene from El laberinto del Fauno and a Crucifixus Dolorosus at the exhibition of medieval art from the National Museum in Warsaw. And in a way they're related, being Jesus Christ the rebel par excellence.


The crucifix was hanging on the last room I visited. It's life size and dramatically lit. The Y cross somehow makes it look more real to me. And so does the position of the body and head: the crucified eventually would die suffocated as he wouldn't be able to exhale for his body's weight was suspended from his arms, the nailing of the feet being an extra aid to prolong the agony as he would be able to rise and breath from time to time. The Crucifixus Dolorosus was supposed to make the bystander meditate and this one worked for me. Whether Jesus lived or not, the capacity of some to die or withstand pain for their beliefs and as martyrs of causes is something that I have an immense admiration for.

(this painting came to my mind as one of the scenes unfolded and, sure enough, I find that Guillermo del Toro claims Goya to have been an influence in this movie).

And so, despite the dedication of the heroes in El Laberinto del Fauno and the sacrifices and readiness to die they showed throughout the movie, the bit where the doctor kills the tortured republican out of mercy by giving him an overdose of painkillers - although the orders of the Capitán Vidal were precisely the opposite, he should make him stay alive so that he could torture him more - will be the one scene I know will stay in my mind:

Vidal: Dígame, porqué no me obedeció?
Doctor: Es que-

Una larga pausa.

Doctor: Obedecer por obedecer - Así, sin pensarlo...

Vidal aprieta las quijadas, tienso.

Doctor: Sólo lo hacen gentes como usted, Capitán.

And Vidal shoots him in the back as he walks away.


It is better to die standing than to live on your knees. -- Emiliano Zapata or was it Che?


Des idées réclamant le fameux sacrifice
Les sectes de tout poil en offrent des séquelles
Et la question se pose aux victimes novices
Mourir pour des idées, c'est bien beau mais lesquelles ? ---Georges Brassens

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March 03, 2007

Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas

Paula Rego was commissioned by the Gulbenkian foundation to paint a Vanitas - a symbolic still life reminding us of the fleeting condition of life. It's also supposed to be the companion of a short story where the eponymous collector laments that despite his collecting of still lifes, he never managed to buy a Vanitas.

The tryptich is like a novel, there's a narrative that rises in intensity as it progresses.

I find this tryptich very upsetting. For me, it's not a Vanitas at all. All the symbolism is there: skulls (some of them reminiscent of Posadas' calaveritas and mexican day of the dead sugar dolls), withering flowers, a clock to remind us of the passage of time, a guitar and dolls symbolizing the temporary nature of enjoyment...

But I can't help thinking that the woman in yellow is a self-portrait. The central painting shows us her looking defiant, angry even. The body language of her crossed arms is saying "leave me alone". She seems to be awaken from the sleep that overcame her in the previous panel, suddenly aware of what those objects on the table meant: "What? Me? Die? Never!". And while she looked unaware of pending death on the first painting, on the last one she has snatched the sickle away from the grim reaper and looks menacing at us, a macabre glare. What I find upsetting is that the menacing look she's giving me should be directed to "Death". Or is she just saying that her paintings are her way to immortality? Anyway, it feels like Paula Rego has won.

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March 01, 2007

Infinite Library

"The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors." -- The Library of Babel, Jorge Luis Borges

(too much Borges lately)

Book Cell by Matej Krén

It's right there, upon entering the modern art museum. A tower of books with a passage through it. Cute, I thought. As I walked in I felt like Alice falling down the rabbit-hole, only this was an infinite tunnel of books - an illusion created by cleverly placed mirrors. Fighting vertigo, it became one of my favourite art installations of all time.

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February 28, 2007

Silence is underrated

"Don't talk unless you can improve the silence." -- Jorge Luis Borges



"Nestled deep in the postcard-perfect French Alps, the Grande Chartreuse is considered one of the world’s most ascetic monasteries. In 1984, German filmmaker Philip Gröning wrote to the Carthusian order for permission to make a documentary about them. They said they would get back to him. Sixteen years later, they were ready. Gröning, sans crew or artificial lighting, lived in the monks’ quarters for six months—filming their daily prayers, tasks, rituals and rare outdoor excursions. This transcendent, closely observed film seeks to embody a monastery, rather than simply depict one—it has no score, no voice over and no archival footage. What remains is stunningly elemental: time, space and light. One of the most mesmerizing and poetic chronicles of spirituality ever created, INTO GREAT SILENCE dissolves the border between screen and audience with a total immersion into the hush of monastic life. More meditation than documentary, it’s a rare, transformative theatrical experience for all."

A lover of silence myself, I enjoyed this documentary immensely. I'm not sure if its even a documentary: there's no soundtrack or voice over, just a succession of short clips and beautiful images of the french Alps. But what made it truly remarkable was that it was the first time in my life where there was almost complete silence in a room ful of people for nearly three hours.

I understand the need for solitude and withdrawal but I frankly don't understand it as a way of life. Especially to be closer to God as one monk admitted. A life of ascetism in a high peak in the Alps is nothing to brag about. What else is there to do? Try to find God while waking up every day to go to work, be underpaid, try to raise a family and make ends meet, resist the temptation of getting yurself into debt to buy symbols of status, find what makes you happy even if it's not what is socially prescribed, be good unto others although they don't really seem to care, be immune to marketing strategies and, if you're a believer, still have faith in God despite all the difficulties. Now THAT is a challenge. Withdrawing from society is plain cowardice.

Silence is the key to find solitude in the middle of others. Silence allows us to think deeper and, if you're a believer, it's the way to listen to God. I've been thinking how it's getting increasingly more difficult to find silent places in cities. My favourites were museums but somehow the old rule of keeping silent doesn't seem to apply anymore. I find catholic churches too grim. I can't get any peace of mind staring at the sight of a crucified man. There isn't one shop, cafe or public place in general that doesn't have some background sound, the dreaded muzak most times. Most of my friends and family can't arrive home without immediately turning on the TV or the stereo even if they're not paying attention. I have my own pet theory that all this is related to fear. Fear of thinking. It's easier to limit your interaction with the world to hearing and seeing and not giving it much thought. If you are constantly bombed with sounds and images, there's a relief from not having to think, from not having to face the probable emptiness.

You know when you eat something that tastes so good that you have to close your eyes so that nothing else can interfere with that sensual pleasure? The same goes for a beautiful work of art; I want to enjoy it in silence, the needed silence of contemplation which allows beauty to be perceived as a religious experience.



Amused by the huge line of people at the Gulbenkian Foundation. There's an exhibition of jewelry by Cartier and I was doing my usual anthropological stunt by observing all these well dressed middle aged couples and groups of women. By the way they looked completely lost as where to buy tickets or how they spoke loudly on their cellphones giving directions to friends on the best places to park around there, I'm sure they had never set foot on the museum before. A strange setting. Reminded me of Bianca Castafiore. I may be a bit prejudiced but I can swear I saw a glitter of greediness on those eyes or whatever it is that makes people appreciate gems and gold. A woman who started mindlessly chatting with me about how she was anxious to see the Cartier exhibition was startled when I said I was not going there but to the museum instead. And even more startled when I said that no Cartier jewelry can beat the Lalique collection which is in the permanent exhibition.

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February 26, 2007


Seen "No sos vos, soy yo". My life - entertainment wise - just got more uncertain. Portugal is a small country where only blockbusters and a few strikingly good independent movies are shown. Argentina isn't, as far as I know, a big movie exporter. So, statistically speaking, if an Argentinian movie is shown in Portugal it's got to be good. But this one was terribly lame. It's one of those romantic drama/comedies where Hugh Grant could easily be the star. The cinematic version of those mushrooming novels in the genre "screwed relationships and finding real love for thirtysomethings". As I said, lame. The only interesting bits are the ones the main character's appointments with his shrink. And the credit goes all to the shrink who even quotes Borges which I'm sure is mandatory on any Argentinian production - there must be a law. If only the movie had some good shots of my beloved Buenos Aires, I'd be willing to forgive all those cliches and awkward plot reminiscent of a mediocre Woody Allen's "Play it again Sam". But not even that.

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February 23, 2007

Notes to self


“As a matter of fact, he almost never takes the liberty of being himself unless someone builds up his confidence and leaves him alone in an empty room,” Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in a 1957 essay, “The Venetian Pariah.” For Sartre, Tintoretto is an avatar of existential anguish, who was both behind his time—as the last native-born master on a scene ruled by a cosmopolitan élite—and ahead of it, as the ideal artist for a rising bourgeoisie that was too intimidated by the pomp of the ducal republic to recognize itself in his demotic trashings of aristocratic decorum. Intellectuals of the era, while in awe of Tintoretto’s gifts, scolded him for being too fast, careless, and insolent; when Vasari credited him with “the most extraordinary brain that the art of painting has ever produced,” it wasn’t meant as unalloyed praise. (Vasari also called him the medium’s “worst madcap.”) --- PETER SCHJELDAHL in the New Yorker

Go see the Tintoretto exhibition at the Prado and the Portraiture in the age of Picasso at the Thyssen. Go, go, go to Madrid.


Go visit Venice despite your long standing prejudice against a city that can only stink with that much canals. The biennale starts in June.


Graffiti on a wall, an ejaculation, spatters of bird droppings and chewing gum flattened on the pavement, inarticulate curses - "every body has prombles woste then mine" reads one hopeless message they found scrawled on the street and incorporated in a picture. Gilbert & George's London is more than a backdrop. It teems with life and dirt, shock, surprise, boredom and beauty. Their retrospective is as relentless, cumulative and varied as anyone could ask for. You exit winded - you've seen too much. Like the city itself, the show is uneven and sprawling, and goes from dark to garish, sexy to monstrous. Their best and worst are here - and which is which, one keeps on asking, and what do we mean by best and worst? Good filthy or bad filthy, raving mad or just raving? Are they brave or are they bores? They provoke ambivalence. The contrariness and contradictions are essential to their art, and to our responses to it. --- Adrian Searle on The Guardian

Go visit the Gilbert & George exhibition at Tate Modern. It ends in May! Go, go, go to London.


"Hay is a tiny market town in the Brecon Beacons National Park, It has 1500 people and 41 bookshops."

Go to Hay-on-Wye! Someday.

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February 22, 2007

Random belated posts

It's been a while.


I wanted to write something clever about a Milan Kundera article that was published on the New Yorker but I'm feeling sick. I derived much pleasure from it and had R. reading it out loud from the book "The Curtain" where it's originally from. Very apt too, since it speaks of the provincialism of both small and large nations.


Hated Scorcese's "The Departed". No one who has seen the fantastic Hong Kong "Infernal Affairs" trilogy - of which the Scorcese movie is a remake - can think this silly movie deserves an Oscar. I was deeply irritated by the use of foul language that seemed completely out of context. It seemed like a teenager wrote the script. Argh.


The only fun thing was seeing one of the characters sitting at Boston Commons looking up at the golden State House dome and a few hours later I was getting out at Park Street Station and having exactly the same sight. And also from a corner of the hotel room :)



Saw "The Lives of Others". So brilliant. One of the best movies I've seen in years. Made me prompt my parents to go look for their secret police files at the National Archives. If this one doesn't win the Oscar for best foreign movie, the little respect I have for that Hollywood event will never even have a tiny chance of being restored.


Saw "Little Children". The ending can be frustrating in two ways. The characters don't break up with the status quo and do not pursue their passions nor there is the edifying ending which would be something along the way of finding that it's not their lives that are wrong but themselves, hence the solution would not be trading a partner for another but finding out how to be happy regardless of relationships. That's why I said to Rui that I hadn't learned anything from it since I don't see how the problem posed has been solved. He seems to think otherwise.

The only fun part was when Kate Winslett appears naked and automatically me and Monica look at each other and whisper simultaneoulsy "She's got stretch marks on her thighs!". And we both sighed at that strange frivolous consolation.


Read "The Accidental Masterpiece", got Siri Hutsvedt's "Mysteries of the Rectangle" and Julien Levy's Diary at the excellent Museum of Fine Arts bookshop in Boston. The Museum in itself is chaotic. I couldn't follow a logical path to the exhibition rooms and found hilarious that they should hang a Tagore portrait in the India section, amidst the hindu gods statues, for no apparent reason other than he was from India.


And since it's been a long time I've insulted anyone through stereotyping (at least online), I can say that in Boston:
- people smoke a lot more than in any other place i've visited in the US
- everything, from a school, to a park, to a subway station, to a pebble in the street seems to be "the first in America"
- too many bricks.

Had a great time at L'Espalier but also at Ten Tables. Yum. No Boston baked beans, though.

It was freezing.


Had a fun sentimental tour of Harvard Campus and Adams House.

Enjoyed Piotr's Smurf Explosion and Lisa's Jesus Line up. And also the cheese fondue, reminiscent of Astérix in Switzerland childhood reading days.


Fascinated by cultural differences. The same game show - with a few modified rules - is on TV in the US and in Portugal at the same time. The portuguese version relies on the presenter's jokes and anedoctes to keep it alive otherwise the public is so passive that it could be a popular cure for insomnia. In the US version everyone seems to be on cocaine. Or speeds. Or something - I'm not very savvy when it comes to recreational drugs, I'm afraid. Also, the difficulty level of the questions is....very different.

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January 03, 2007



A foggy yet sunny first day of the year in San Francisco.

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December 23, 2006


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December 22, 2006

New Year's Resolutions

1. Be more decisive.
2. Hmmm....

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December 19, 2006


Buddhist temple in Hong Kong.

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December 17, 2006


I'm always saying I'm not a musical person but...here are the most recent acquisitions at the iTunes Store for slatkushee's iPod :)


Henry Mancini - "Pink Panther Tune" - coolest music ever.


Harry James - "You made me love you" - first heard on Woody Allen's "Hannah and her sisters". In fact, Hannah has the best movie soundtrack ever.


Fatboy Slim - "Bird of Prey" - because I love Jim Morrison's voice and The Housemartins were one of my 80's favourite bands.


Geoffrey Burgon - "Brideshead revisited (Main Theme)" and "Sebastian's Summer" - most beautiful TV series ever; the rare case, or probably the only case, where I find the series better than the book.


Beastie Boys - "Ch-Check it out" - I love the concept of jewish rappers.


Miles Davis - "So what" - second coolest music ever.

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December 15, 2006



The bottle next to this one was Portuguese wine. Very odd.


Picasso le reve.JPG

I had just read an article on the New Yorker about how the Las Vegas millionaire Steve Wynn had poked an elbow (and ruined) a 139 million dollar Picasso - Le rêve pictured above - he owned.


Wynn opened a luxurious casino in Macau. While walking around the obssessive looking gamblers, I said to R. I had no idea how did the roulette thing worked. Just to show me the mechanics of the thing, he bets on my birthdate. The roulette spins and the ball falls on 7 - I was born on Oct 7th! We collect our money and leave immediately; oh the joy of taking money from the I-have-so-much-money-I-can-dig-a-hole-on-my-own-Picasso Steve Wynn!


Macau has the feeling of a ghost town or something out of a twilight zone episode. There are signs written in Portuguese everywhere but I couldn't see any portuguese people neither meet anyone who spoke the language.



A pharmacy and Portuguese custard pies, a traditional pastry. Apparently it's a Macau specialty too.

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December 14, 2006

Amadeo Amadeo

There's a fantastic exhibition going on in Lisboa at the Gulbenkian Foundation! A very complete showing of Amadeo de Souza Cardoso's works, some of them held in private collections and unseen by the public until now. Fell in love with his drawings.



Amadeo de Souza Cardoso was a Portuguese modernist painter; he went to live in Paris in 1906 and was friends with Modigliani and Brancusi. He participated in the famous Armory Show:


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December 12, 2006

Wabi Sabi

"Imperfection is in some sort essential to what we know of life. It is the sign of life in a mortal body, that is to say, of a state of progress and change. Nothing that lives is, or can be, rigidly perfect; part of it is decaying, part nascent. In all things that live there are ceratin irregularities and deficiencies which are not only signs of life, but sources of beauty. To banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality. All things are literally better, lovelier, and more beloved for the imperfections which have been divinely appointed." -- John Ruskin, On Art and Life


It just came to me the memory of reading a Roman Polanski biography, that description of the moment he got the news of Sharon Tate's murder and couldn't stop thinking about a little scar she had on her knee and how he wouldn't see it ever again.


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December 11, 2006


I was thinking how I was such an avid reader as a teenager partly because I wanted to know so many things and books seemed to be the best source for instruction for whatever I didn't know yet, intellectually or emotionally. In part all this reading was helpful, in other ways I suppose I got some prejudices on matters I didn't have enough real experience to have an opinion on. Yes, I was - and I still am - an impatient person. And one of my favourite quotes is still Einstein's "There's nothing as practical as a good theory". Or something like that.

The best part of getting older, book wise, is rereading. If you're fairly smart, you'll understand the book on a first read. For instance, I read "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" when I was 17 and thought it was brilliant. I read it again 12 years later. As I finished it, closed it and laid it on the bed of a hotel room in a distant country that smelled of musk & sea & dirt, I put my hand on my forehand and realized how naive I had been. I imagined Milan Kundera, somewhere in France, in a control room filled with TV sets from floor to ceiling, monitoring his readers reactions, spying on me and going: "Ha! Silly girl! Did you think you could grasp the meaning of my book the first time you read it without having been through love & jealousy & desire & heartbreak?"

I wonder what will it tell me if I reread it 10 years from now?

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Before & After #4 (the last of the series)

Macau, Largo do Senado, 1930's and today



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December 10, 2006

Before & After #3

Macau, Post Office Building, 1930's and today



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December 05, 2006

Before & After #2


My maternal grandfather was stationed in Macau in the 1930's as an infantry soldier. The army duties weren't heavy since he was also one very good wing back at soccer and played for the Macau Army Football team. The childhood memories I treasure the most are the quiet afternoons when he would tell me stories of Macau, of football matches and of the goals he scored, the Chinese ladies he dated, how he found impossible to eat with chopsticks and when he'd show me the scar on his leg, the imprint of a boot stud a Hong Kong player left on him during a ball dispute.

So, my first visit to Macau felt like a revisit.


Macau, Camões Garden and Grotto, 1930's and today.



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December 03, 2006

Before & After #1

Macau, border with mainland China (Portas do Cerco), 1930's and today.



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November 16, 2006

Ding a ling a ling


Going over half of the world to:

- kill many saudades (a literal translation; give me a break, I'm portuguese);
- revisit a place where I've spent my early childhood dreams.
- attend a wedding - the main excuse.

I'd say it's mainly an anthropological expedition.

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November 09, 2006

In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki


It can be easily said of this essay that it is a set of jottings about the aesthetic power of darkness. The author's writing is like a stream that runs through architecture, takes a turn into gastronomy, goes swiftly by human beauty and ponders on old age, with a turn of prose so compelling that makes you wish you owned minimalistic decorated japanese house and were reading by candle light.

The considerations on architecture and decoration can be taken as the oriental counterpart to Bachelard's Poetics of Space, taking the way the lived experience of the space is that which matters for his aesthetics and practical purposes.

Tanizaki is a man who can write beautifully about sensuous experiences like sight or taste never losing from sight his theme.

But what exactly is the theme? It seems to me to be a mourning of a traditional way of life, or should we say of lighting, that was quickly disappearing. The view that glorifies darkness which makes lacquer and gold stand out or that softens the whites as opposed to artificial light which makes everything glitter and brings the unbearable brightness can also be just a romantic vision of a lost Japan that never existed. But that really isn't an issue if you are aiming to enjoy this book for its sheer beauty and bits of witty humor.


"It has been said of japanese food that it is a cuisine to be looked at rather than eaten. I would go further and say that it is food to be meditated upon, a kind of silent music evoked by the combination of lacquerware and the light of a candle flickering in the dark."


This edition is lacking a glossary of untranslated japanese terms used throughout.

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November 06, 2006

Itsy Bitsy Exhibition

My friend AP and his latest outdoor painting experiences at Quinta do Alcube...






I'm going to start charging a rent for this :)

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November 01, 2006


I remember the first time I saw a Fontana - a spatial concept one. It was at Berardo's collection, here in Portugal, and I admired the boldness of it, a creative destruction, the turning what could be a painting into a sculpture, the possibility of dimension, the birth metaphor, etc. A breakthrough in aesthetics and art language as great as Malevich's white square.

"Spatial concept"

After roaming around some modern art museums around the world and seeing Fontanas like this all over (there are many from Lisbon to New York, London or Buenos Aires), I couldn't help thinking that this guy had been running a great business; whenever he needed a new car he just had to get some canvas, sometimes not even bothering to paint it, and slit it open in any direction. There are things that have meaning if you only make them once.

And just last year I saw this work by the brazilian Nelson Leirner at the MALBA. So clever, I'm such a sucker for witty art. I remember saying, "look, he put a zipper on Fontana!" while laughing. Very nerdy.

nelson leirner.jpg
"Hommage to Fontana"

He made a series of these and tried to sell them at their production cost. He says: "If anyone now asks me if I make art, I reply: 'No, I make a product.' I have no wish to be an artist. Society wishes me to be one. If someone wishes to call me an artist, he can, but I’m not an artist. I’m the head of a business."

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October 31, 2006

The Pequod Meets the Jeroboam. Her Story,
Frank Stella (Moby Dick Series)

"It seemed that the Jeroboam had not long left home, when upon speaking a whale-ship, her people were reliably apprised of the existence of Moby Dick, and the havoc he had made. Greedily sucking in this intelligence, Gabriel solemnly warned the captain against attacking the white whale, in case the monster should be seen; in his gibbering insanity, pronouncing the White Whale to be no less a being than the Shaker God incarnated; the Shakers receiving the Bible. But when, some year or two afterwards, Moby Dick was fairly sighted from the mast-heads, Macey, the chief mate, burned with ardor to encounter him; and the captain himself being not unwilling to let him have the opportunity, despite all the archangel's denunciations and forewarnings, Macey succeeded in persuading five men to man his boat. With them he pushed off; and, after much weary pulling, and many perilous, unsuccessful onsets, he at last succeeded in getting one iron fast. Meantime, Gabriel, ascending to the main-royal mast-head, was tossing one arm in frantic gestures, and hurling forth prophecies of speedy doom to the sacrilegious assailants of his divinity. Now, while Macey, the mate, was standing up in his boat's bow, and with all the reckless energy of his tribe was venting his wild exclamations upon the whale, and essaying to get a fair chance for his poised lance, lo! a broad white shadow rose from the sea; by its quick, fanning motion, temporarily taking the breath out of the bodies of the oarsmen. Next instant, the luckless mate, so full of furious life, was smitten bodily into the air, and making a long arc in his descent, fell into the sea at the distance of about fifty yards. Not a chip of the boat was harmed, nor a hair of any oarsman's head; but the mate for ever sank."

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October 30, 2006

In March the gypsies returned. This time they brought a telescope and a magnifying glass the size of a drum, which they exhibited as the latest invention of the jews of Amsterdam. They placed one gypsy woman at the end of the village and set up the telescope at the entrance of the tent. For the price of five reales, people could look into the telescope and see the gypsy woman an arm's length away. "Science has eliminated distance" Melquíades proclaimed "In a short time, man will be able to see what is happening in any place in the world without leaving his own house".

---G.G.Marquez, One hundred years of solitude


from Signs that Say What You Want Them To Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You To Say by Gillian Wearing


Image and sounds are not enough to shorten distances.

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October 26, 2006


Rigo is in Lisboa! How funny, the artist I "found" in San Francisco last July is suddenly paining murals here - for the first time I think.

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October 25, 2006

Adam Cvijanovic, Love Poem (10 minutes after the end of gravity), 2005 (detail)

I need to go to the new Saatchi...

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October 24, 2006


At the aftermath of the recent spanish changes, there's an ongoing debate about gay marriage here with the government dismissing it as not important at this time and as being a dividing issue.

I can't resist to summarize this three-fold comment by Miguel Vale de Almeida on the recent polls in which some newspapers/TV stations have asked random people if they agreed with same sex marriage - to which a vast majority of Portuguese people said no.

- the right to same sex marriage is a political one and not just a law issue or a moral issue: its denial goes to show how citizens are not treated equally before the law thus going against the Portuguese Constitution;
- on surveys about "values" they never ask if the respondent agrees with the situation of there being so few rich people and so many poor ones: it's a given fact, it's not questionable;
- why not come up with a survey to see if Portuguese people agree with letting women vote (they should be given alternatives such as "Yes, but their vote only should count as half" or "Yes, with the bulletin pre-filled by their husbands"); no one asks this because the right of women to vote is not a "values" related issue, it's the product of an unquestionable right to being treated equally.


“I will never understand those who proclaim love as the foundation of life, while denying so radically protection, understanding and affection to our neighbors, our friends, our relatives, our colleagues. What kind of love is this that excludes those who experience their sexuality in a different way?”

— José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spain’s Prime Minister, May 11, 2005


“Prejudices are what fools use for reason.”

— Voltaire


“Same-sex relationships have long been part of our African history and heritage. There is ample research illustrating that African people have loved and had sexual relationships with people of the same sex for hundreds of years. For example, in Namibia, Kenya, Nigeria and SA, bond friendships, ancestral wives, female husbands and male wives have existed for centuries as forms of same-sex relationships.

All these relationships were accepted and respected in Africa, long before Africa was colonised. In addition, these forms of partnerships and marriages were protected by common law. Same-sex practices have always been a part of our sexual desires, intimacy and practice. In SA, the practice has been traced among the Zulu, Lovedu, Sotho, Tswana and Venda tribes. It is important to understand the traditional and cultural institutions that form families, marriages, and clans before we pronounce on these matters.

There is no record of traditional African societies legislating against homosexuality. Such laws are a western import, manifested through colonial penal codes and the criminalisation of sodomy across the continent. So, one could argue with authority that it is homophobia, not homosexuality, that is un-African.”

— Fikile Vilakazi, editorial: “Protect South Africa from Sexual Apartheid”
in Business Day, September 7, 2006

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October 23, 2006

Engraving from "Selenografia sive Lunae Descriptio" by Johannes Hevelius, 1647

From the many things that I've learned on this weekend's astronomy class- from equinoxes and the earth's orbit to parsecs and how to determine the latitude based on the North star, I know the ones that will last longer is the fact that I need to go to the southern hemisphere again since I've failed to notice Magellan's clouds before, the very poetic and intriguing thought that one is looking at the past when one looks at the sky and how Camões' Lusiads is filled with pieces of geocentric astronomy theory.

Por este largo mar enfim me alongo
Do conhecido pólo de Calisto,
Tendo o término ardente já passado,
Onde o meio do mundo é limitado.

Já descoberto tínhamos diante,
Lá no novo Hemisfério, nova estrela,
Não vista de outra gente, que ignorante
Alguns tempos esteve incerta dela.
Vimos a parte menos rutilante,
E, por falta de estrelas, menos bela,
Do Pólo fixo, onde ainda se não sabe
Que outra terra comece, ou mar acabe.

Assim passando aquelas regiões
Por onde duas vezes passa Apolo,
Dois invernos fazendo e dois verões,
Enquanto corre dum ao outro Pólo,
Por calmas, por tormentas e opressões,
Que sempre f az no mar o irado Eolo,
Vimos as Ursas, apesar de Juno,
Banharem-se nas águas de Netuno.

From this open sea I looked my last
At the constellations of the North.
For we had by now crossed the burning line
Which marks division in the earth's design.

Our sailors had discovered long since
In that new hemisphere, the Southern cross,
Though those who had not witnessed it
For a while doubted its existence.
We saw new heavens less sparkling,
And, for lack of starts, less beautiful
Nearing the pole, where no one comprehends
If a continent begins or the sea ends .

By now we had left behind both tropics
Where Apollo's chariot twice pauses
Coursing from pole to pole, making
Its contrasting winters and summers;
At times becalmed, at times wracked
By storms whipped up by Aeolus,
We saw both bears, for all Juno taught us
Plunging headlong into Netptun's waters.

Os Lusíadas, Canto V

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October 15, 2006

I'm jammed between Heidegger who was a boozy beggar, Nietzsche (there's nothing he couldn't teach ya about the raisin' of the wrist) and Benjamin whose name doesn't rhyme with any thing doing with drinking alcohol and therefore wasn't included in the Monty Python song. Hmmm. Maybe "Walter Benjamin would get suicidal with only a bottle of gin".

I'm pondering whether I should dip into the thick prose of "Time and Being" or just cut and dress old Martin Heidegger up.
(from the man who fell asleep)

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October 07, 2006

Birthday Girl

By the time this pre-scheduled entry is posted automatically, I'll have been away for some days and will be enjoying my 31st birthday in the middle of quiet Alentejo, reading the pile of books that my ongoing amazon shopping spree has provided and cherishing the gifts that have been sent from the other side of the Atlantic, a heartwarming array of pleasures (including a compass from a very special pirate shop). Oh, and I probably will have gained a few pounds from all the pancake eating!


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October 02, 2006

My theory, which is mine.

I was delighted to read Ricardo's post about Shakespeare and how one astrophysicist is claiming that by studying the astronomic events mentioned on his plays one can determine not the years during which he lived but rather the ones in which he didn't.

Many scholars have been researching the true identity of Shakespeare and there is a strong current in favour of naming Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, as the true author of the works. Many historians have also presumed he was the secret son of Queen Elizabeth I.

My own pet theory is that the only person to live at that time, that knew all the royal court's intrigues, who was in a position to know about the letter Christopher Hatton, Vice-Chamberlain, wrote to the queen and which is parodied on Twelfth Night, and who had enough time in her hands to come up with so many rhymes, was Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen herself!!!!

But...there's more.

Were Liz and Ed ever seen together in the same room? De Vere was appointed as a royal ward in the household of William Cecil, the Queen's most trusted and closest advisor. De Vere's mother wrote to Cecil:

“I confess that a great trust has been committed to me of those things which, in my Lord’s lifetime, were kept most secret from me”.

My own conclusion? The Queen and the Earl were one and the same person!!!!!! So Elizabeth was a transvestite which can explain why she never married or had any children: she secretly wanted to be a man but at the time there was no such thing as sex change surgery!

Elizabeth posing as De Vere and posing as the Queen

There's nothing quite as liberating as making public an outrageous pet theory :)

A special thanks to my research associate Ricardo! We could write a Dan Brown style book on this and make money!

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September 28, 2006


I realized Mother's Day was just two days
away, so I went into the florist and said, "I'd
like to send my mother a dozen long-stern red
roses." The guy looked at me and said, "My mother's
dead" I thought this was slightly unprofessional
of him, so I said, "How much would that be?"
--The Florist

Justine called on Christmas Day to say she
was thinking of killing herself. I said "We're
in the middle of opening presents, Justine. Could
you possibly call back later, that is, if you're
still alive?"
-- Making the Best of the Holidays

From "Return to the City of White Donkeys" by James Tate, a curious little book I've been reading at a slow pace, one poem every night before going to sleep.

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September 26, 2006

Luz de Luna

Lune by Bruno Peinado, an installation for Luzboa - the Lisboa's Art of Light International Biennale.

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September 25, 2006


I was reading on Spiked how ballet is slowly dying in the UK because of political correctness and general mass hysteria about child molesting:

"One problem is the virtual ban on teachers touching students. Child protection policies now mean that male tutors touching female dancers is ‘virtually prohibited’; students need a letter from parents in order to permit limited touching in certain circumstances; and classes must be observed ‘to make sure that there’s no indiscretion"

And suddenly all the corrective pushes & turns & smacks in the bottom I got from the now director of the Portuguese National Ballet Company Ana Caldas ("Have you ever seen a ballerina with her tush sticking out?!?!?!") when I was younger came back to my memory. I wonder if I can still sue? :D

(this was all a lame excuse to go dig for my old ballet shoes and take a photo, of course)

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September 21, 2006


"The astonishing reality of things
Is my discovery every day.
Each thing is what it is,
And it’s hard to explain to someone how much this makes me happy,
How much it’s enough for me.

It’s enough to exist to be whole."

From "Poemas Inconjuntos" by Alberto Caeiro (one of Pessoa's heteronyms), taken from a wonderful online project at the Portuguese National Library

(translation stolen from this wonderful blog which owes its existence to the fact that Pessoa's writings are now in the public domain)

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September 20, 2006


Peristil at Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croacia

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September 19, 2006

My grandmother moved and I realized that I am not as attached to the home where I spent so much of my childhood as I am to worthless, random objects with which I used to play. Old eyeglasses of every shape; a 60's record player and a ventriloquist's 45 rpm in which he engages on a dialogue with Donald Duck (how silly is it to listen to a puppet on a record?); old necklaces, some made of coffee beans and plastic beads; colourful buttons which I used to pick up on the streets (what happened? are clothes more resistant today and no one loses buttons anymore?); my grandfather's diaries and notebooks where he obsessively scribbled words and their definitions.

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September 18, 2006


I was resisting temptation....


On the hydrofoil from Split to Hvar - after attempting to translate a sign in croatian, dictionary in hand:
The American: So, is "HIJK" the croatian for row?
The Portuguese:...no, it's H-I-J-K for identifying the seats.....
The American: Oh no! You're going to blog this aren't you?
The Portuguese: Maybe not.
The American: I can foresee the post on your blog: the american said... and then the portuguese said...

If it's any excuse, croatians do use a lot of silent j's in words :D

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September 13, 2006

El Bosco

The Mimara Museum in Zagreb, Croatia has a painting by Bosch which seems to be either a cropped replica or study for the central panel of the triptych held at the MNAA in Lisbon, Portugal: "The temptations of St. Anthony". I had never heard of it before and never saw it mentioned here, where this Bosch painting is one of the most emblematic paintings of our museum.

Mimara Museum, Zagreb

MNAA, Lisbon

The Mimara version looks like a fake to me :)

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September 10, 2006

"There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method."

--Chapter lxxxii, Moby Dick (Melville)


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September 06, 2006

me, me, me

Manga me, Mucha me, Botticcelli me & Modigliani me

Playing with this fun, fun, fun face transformer thingie (through fellow flickrite Striatic)

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My hotel in Zagreb featured a quirky decoration: pillows, bed covers and curtains all had an interesting pattern of faces of famous/genial people in arts & science.

I particularly like the set on this pillow:

Clockwise: Matisse, Einstein, Stravinski, Manu Chao. Yes. Manu Chao. Croatian humor?

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September 05, 2006

Hadn't studied enough croatian grammar and already was getting suspicious about the large number of streets that seemed to be named after women. Until I saw this.

Zagreb, Croatia

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September 04, 2006

Library Thing

Having fun lately with Library Thing: "LibraryThing is an online service to help people catalog their books easily. You can access your catalog from anywhere—even on your mobile phone. Because everyone catalogs together, LibraryThing also connects people with the same books, comes up with suggestions for what to read next, and so forth."

Author cloud

That's what I call a social network! Just added the few books on my tiny bookshelf and some others piling around. I miss my stored-in-the-basement-of-a-friend books. Now I'm starting my own online library. Great!

(found it through misteraitch whose blog is such a source of many delights - which lately includes a post with my favourite Xul Solar painting and a mention to Javier Marías - the cause of my sunday El País newspaper obsession.

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September 01, 2006


Hvar, Croatia


Beautiful and - now- peaceful country. Didn't find a place to eat where I can truly say I had a great meal, though. The Croatian people I met were not even slightly customer-oriented and I got the "Oh no, here comes a tourist" facial expression in almost every bar/cafe/restaurant I went to.

Rent-a-Car in Split:

C: There's a road map in the car, right?
Employee: Road Map? There's only one road from here to Dubrovnik! What do you need a map for? The sea will be on your right all the way down there, you can't miss it.

At a bar:

After finally getting the attention of the waitress behind the counter - who was writing something that seemed to be as lengthy as War and Peace :
- A beer and a bottle of water, please.
- We don't have bottled water.
And promptly gets back to her unfisnished masterpiece oblivious of my existence.
-....can I have a glass of tap water then?
- Ok (shrugging shoulders)
And I could swear she rolled her eyes as I got back to the terrace.

Very strange, considering 40% of their GDP comes from tourism.


Dubrovnik, Croatia

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August 17, 2006

Mare Hadriaticum

"A bleak wind blew from the Adriatic among those mighty tombs. In a hotel bedroom, designed for a warmer season, I wrote long letters to Sebastian."

--Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh


Not Venice, no Charles Ryder around but a warm season to go on a break to indulge on (even more) selfishness, ignoring bombings on foreign lands & ex-nazi nobel prize winners & earthly worries in general.

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August 14, 2006

The Heart of the Mission

"El Corazón de la Missión is part mobile public art project, part site-specific performance, part tourist attraction and all serious fun. Guillermo Gómez-Peña —the renowned writer, border activist, performance provocateur, reverse anthropologist, and NPR commentator — has scripted and narrated this 80-minute tour to take you deep into the heart of the Mission, the place he has called home for almost 15 years. From Dolores Park to Clarion Alley and the 24th Street Corridor, ride shotgun with Gómez-Peña as he honors the Mission’s ghosts, from fallen labor leaders of the 1930s to testosterone-driven low-riders of the 1980s, and celebrates the ever-evolving social, cultural and political sensibilities of his favorite neighborhood in San Francisco."


R. got us tickets for a Mission tour organized by Galeria de la Raza - an awful name, I know, but apparently "raza" doesn't have a nazi connotation for latin americans. I didn't realize it was performance art until, shortly before hopping on the bus, a woman dressed in what I imagine to be a mexican hooker outfit tried to sell me vaginal enhancing cream while Gómez-Peña read a subversive statement that I couldn't follow since the woman was by then offering me a threesome and it was hard to concentrate on politics at that point.


We got on a pink and green bus with a mexican kitsch designed dashboard, were offered tequilla shots while Gómez-Peña's assistant sat on the participants laps and threw her skirts over their heads.

All this was accompanied by the pre-recorded narration of the tour by Gómez-Peña and the presence of the man himself. A discourse on immigration, american imperialism and the cultural mix of the city with a touch of sarcastic humour that made it an interesting experience.


Never heard the Mission being called "Chilli-con Valley" before but it is a very funny pun.


At one point the artist's assistant asks "Are there any Americans here?" and a choir of voices go "Yeah!". She goes on "What do you feel at the sight of the American flag?". The responses varied from "Shame", "Disgust" to "Anger". If it sounds strange to you, bear in mind that San Francisco is known to republicans as "that leftist enclave". She grabs her skirt, pulls it up and shows her american flag panties in a sexually meaningful pose: "What do you feel now???"


We stopped by at Clarion Alley - a street known for its beautiful murals and drug peddlers - and Gómez-Penã and his assistant tried to convince everyone that going down the alley naked would be a true and faithful experience to the culture of the Mission. Two couples almost promptly volunteered. While they undressed in the middle of the street I looked behind me and just across from us there was a police station.

Naked Man: "Come on, come naked with us...."
Me: "Well, I would but the police is just right there, isn't this dangerous?"
Naked Man: "This is San Francisco!"
Me: ...

Naked couple #1, the Assistant, Naked Couple#2 and Gómez-Peña.

Of course, by the end of Clarion Alley there was a group of people, immigrants and prostitutes among them, gaping in amazement at the sight.


After going to an art gallery - where the same couple got naked again for no apparent reason other than "This is San Francisco" which prompted the artist showing there to get naked himself and run around the gallery - , we stopped by at a "true immigrant's bar" where some latino men sitting at the bar or playing pool, not looking that hospitable, suddenly stopped to see why was a weird group of turists invading their space.

Me: So, are you guys going to get naked again here?
man previously naked : Nah, not here.
woman previously naked: I don't know...they've got pool tables....

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August 12, 2006

Old city, New Delhi - India

16th & Bryant, San Francisco - USA

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August 11, 2006

Note to self

Try This:

1. Ask yourself the same question, "When in your life did you feel most alive?"
2. What were you doing? Why did it feel so good? Which of your core values were you living?
3. It's likely you were taking some risks at the time.
4. If you've haven't felt that alive in a while, what could you do to re-engage, to push past your comfort zone?
5. Remember, the gift of risk lies not in what you achieve, but in who you become by taking them.

-- from the wonderful Fast Company blog; this particular entry by Doug Sundheim • Executive Coach, New York City


Promenade, Chagall

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August 10, 2006

Take me out to the ball game

My very first baseball game: San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals. Until that moment I had never understood the rules or even why is it such a cult sport in the USA. I kinda like it, to be honest. The game in itself is nothing much but it's one interesting cultural experience.

Firstly, it's the laziest game ever followed closely by chess. The pitcher throws the ball, the batter bats it (or not) and all the other players linger around, scratching themselves. Sometimes, when the batter actually hits the ball some of the players have to run a bit. If they see that the opponent team will easily catch the ball and throw it back to the base they are trying to reach, they won't even bother. The big aim is to hit a home run and I suspect that the extra motivation - beside the points - is that since the ball will be out of reach, the players can do a victory walk from base to base until they get home instead of sprinting which must be very tiresome. All the players are chubby - not to say plain fatsos - and I was marveled that they could actually run at a fair speed.

The Charlie Brown place for meditation is actually called the Pitcher's Mount.

Secondly, the whole game is very childish. It reminded me of the Little Lulu comic books that I used to read as a child where the boys would have their own club, secret codes and were always competing for lame reasons. The baseball coaches use an intricate code of hand signs which make them look like chimps. They touch both nipples, pat their own heads, do the Martini man thing with the lips and the like so as to pass to their own players what the strategy is without giving it away to the other team. Likewise, the players sometimes all get together on the pitcher's mount to discuss the game with their hands covering their mouths. You never know when your adversary can read your lips.

Thirdly, American supporters are extremely strange. Apparently it's ok to arrive after the game starts and before it ends, like it was some porn movie continuous session where the plot doesn't matter much. The only difference being that the plot doesn't matter much because this is all an excuse to eat and drink like pigs. I should have suspected it when I mentioned I was going to a ball game at the AT&T stadium and J. promptly remembered how good the garlic fries were rather than say something about the team's latest deplorable performance.

$26 for two corn dogs, a beer and garlic fries. I expected it to come on a gold plate.

Also, every little break is taken over by the announcers to advertise for something and I still can't believe they haven't thought of putting some ads on the players uniforms.

More quirkiness: "The seventh-inning stretch is a tradition in baseball that takes place between the halves of the seventh inning of any game. Fans generally stand up and stretch out their legs and other muscles and sometimes walk around".

I was rooting for the home team (mainly because I love San Francisco and it seemed arrogant that the other team should be called Nationals just because they were out from Washington) and was appalled to see how the Giants fans started trotting out as soon as their team was being hopelessly beat. By the 8th inning you could actually hear the flock of anxious seagulls waiting for the game to end to attack the food leftovers.

The Portuguese: Hey! Why is everyone leaving!?
The American: There's no way the Giants can turn this game!
The Portuguese: What!? But you should stand by your team until the end! Where is the American optimism, the can-do attitude?
The American: No one likes a loser.

And it's true. The Giants suck. Go Giants!


Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don't care if I never get back,
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game.

$3.95 for a bag of peanuts, by the way.


And, of course, now all that baseball metaphor used in Hollywood juvenile movies - which I believe is one of those cultural mysteries to any non-US national - makes much more sense.

* First base: Kissing, especially "French" kissing.
* Second base: Fondling or groping, especially of the breasts or genitals.
* Third base: oral sex, full nudity or a non-intercourse orgasm or dry humping (clothed genital to genital stimulation).
* Home run: Sexual intercourse.

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August 08, 2006



The outside walls of the Chicago Tribune Tower feature several pieces of rocks labeled as being once part of famous monuments from around the world. Apparently this was the idea of Colonel McCormick who asked correspondents for the Chicago Tribune to bring back rocks and bricks from a variety of historically important sites as mementos. This building on MIchigan Avenue is the modern day version of a reliquary, I suppose. Preserving tangible memorials would be similar to owning a bit of the wood of the cross where Jesus was crucified. Or a flask of water from the river Jordan.


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August 07, 2006

Portuguese people everywhere you look

I was walking from Potrero Hill to the Mission in San Francisco and I saw this neat piece of conceptual public art much
to my intellectual and aesthetic enjoyment. I'm just sorry there weren't any birds perched on the roof when i took this. And I'm not of the photoshopping kind.


Googling about it, I find that the artist's name is Ricardo Gouveia (RIGO) - a fellow Portuguese - and that he went to the USA at age 19, "earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1991 and a Master of Fine Arts at Stanford in 1997. He has been creating his large-scale outdoor paintings since the mid-1980s." -- more here and an interview with him here.

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August 05, 2006


I was trying to avoid it but this painting crept in when I wasn't looking. Running out of Hoppers, though.

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August 04, 2006


Triskaidekaphobia is a fear of the number 13. Sounds just silly to me especially because I work on a 13th floor and nothing relevant of an unlucky nature has happened. Except that freaky accident with the coffee machine grinder. Or the colleague permanently disabled because of that paper shredder. Hmmm.

Hotel Allegro, Chicago

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American Gothic


Art Institute of Chicago

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August 03, 2006



Temperatures soared in Chicago, the public, digital artsy fountains at the Millenium Park were invaded by kids in bathing suits trying to escape the heat.


Mandatory tourist photo of the bean:


North Milwaukee Avenue is a great place to wonder around or have a hearty american breakfast at the Bongo Room ; bought the first volume to the wonderfully entertaining Deptford Trilogy at Myopic Books; mouth watering dinner at Butter (I can still recall the taste of that salmon dissolving in my mouth).

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July 27, 2006


The interesting side of being away from Portugal on work related activities is to have a more distant and objective look at it.

I was thinking about a site that promotes random Portuguese silliness - from appalling spelling mistakes on roadside signs to steel barred emergency exits - and which is sarcastically named "Portugal at its best". I suppose this sort of things exist in most countries where self-deprecating comments and jokes are imbued into popular culture. But, the next time any Portuguese person looks at a lamp post planted in the middle of a road and says "Only in Portugal!", I'll remind her of this:

(through a naive spanish colleague who would never imagine i'd be blogging about this :)

Tough to beat that. Spain has managed to rise the concept of "making a complete ass of yourself" to such a high standard that I don't think most of us can even dream of getting close.


Ah. The joy of stereotyping and making fun of your neighbors.

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July 20, 2006




Off to the windy city. I'll be back in a couple of weeks.

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July 18, 2006

A rug was too tired to fly. --- James Tate


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July 14, 2006

I have the memory of a gossiper. I have a thing for the quirky, for the meaningless detail, for the piece of shiny shattered glass by the side of the road and seem to ignore completely the big picture or the big truck coming in my direction.

For some reason still unknown to me (maybe too much alcohol in my late teens) I majored in Economics. The only things I can remember from my History of Economic Thought are silly details of biographical nature. Most of them embarrassing. That and the jokes.

For instance, Keynes was married to a russian ballerina although he was gay. And he's known for saying "In the long run, we'll all be dead". Can I elaborate on the IS/LM model? Of course not. But I know he got rich by speculating in the stock market.

Walras proposed himself fot the Nobel Peace Prize for he believed his general theory of equilibrium would bring harmony between nations.

Jevons drowned while swimming in the south of England. Which seems to be a very un-utilitarian thing to do. And helped to give birth to the joke "An Economist Drowned While Crossing A River That Was An Average of 3 1/2 Feet Deep".

Mills had a nervous breakdown when he was twenty-one mainly because he spent his whole life studying and revealed himself to be a child prodigy since he had read all the classics - in the original greek and latin - by age 8.

John Kenneth Galbraith institutionalized, among other things, the phrase "the shit hit the fan".

Adam Smith died a virgin. It's not an historical fact. It's my opinion. Too many invisible women in his life.

Cantillon, a founding father of economics, was tried for usury, faked his murder and fled to South America.

Bentham's mummified body is on display in London as stated on his will. A hedonist: once his mummy disappeared and left the note "gone on holidays".

Lucas' ex-wife proved she knew what her ex-husband was talking about for she demonstrated very rational expectations when she asked for half of his Nobel prize money on a divorce settlement clause seven years before he actually got the award.

A student at a Milton Friedman class fell asleep. He was very upset and banged on her table with his fist. She awakes suddenly and says: "The answer is to increase the money supply".

And so, these are my mnemonics and ice breakers at economist's dinners.

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July 13, 2006

Stereotyping Portugueseness

Did fallen Lisbon deeper drink of vice

Than London, Paris, or sunlit Madrid?

In these men dance; at Lisbon yawns the abyss.

--Voltaire, Poem on the Lisbon disaster; Or an Examination of the Axiom, “All is Well”


I am convinced Portugal is an island. Most times there's this claustrophobic feeling there is no way out of here, just an endless ocean in front of us, a sense of isolation. Portugal has the oldest unchanging borders in Europe. A whole identity based on myths and fictions and immobility. An old, old country that sees that the best it could have has already gone by. The sea here is much larger than anywhere else I've been. An abyss of water. On our backs there's this improbable Europe, miles and centuries away. There's also a huge country called Spain but whose inhabitants have nothing to do with us, we like to think. We cannot understand their pride and passion. There's only melancholy and nostalgia for an imagined past in the blue, cold ocean ahead. An overwhelming sense of the power of destiny that inspires lethargy and throws life in the hands of fortune.

A country of people obsessed with the meaning of being portuguese and that can't help themselves (ourselves) from writing about it.


Malhoa, O Fado (1910)


"E assim o génio de aventura, decaindo, transformou-se na mais completa falta de persistência. Ela aparece em todas as manifestações da nossa actividade, a cada passo interrompida ou abortada, o que a torna tristemente caricatural. Ei-la passeando o seu desânimo, pelas estradas que pararam, mortas de cansaço, a dois quilómetros do ponto de partida. E vive num belo edifício público sem telhado."

"And thus, the genius of adventure, decaying, has become an utter lack of persistence. It appears in all manifestations of our activity, at each step interrupted or aborted, which renders it as a sad caricature. There it is, showing off its lack of stamina in the roads that stopped, dying of exhaustion, a couple kilometers away from the starting point. And it lives in the beautiful roofless public building."

The Art of being Portuguese (1915) - Teixeira de Pascoaes


"O já agora, e a variante popular Já que estás com a mão na massa..., significam a forma particularmente portuguesa do desejo. Os Portugueses não gostam de dizer que querem as coisas. Entre nós, querer é considerado uma violência. Por isso, quando se chega a um café, diz-se que se queria uma bica e nunca que se quer uma bica. Se alguém oferece, também, uma aguardente, diz-se: «Já agora.» Tudo se passa no pretérito, no condicional, na coincidência.(..) tudo o que sucede é absolutamente incontrolável. Por isso, a mentalidade do «já agora» traduz-se na ideia de que se deve aproveitar o acaso, já que nada mais se aproveita."

Note: "Já agora" is literally translated as "now now"; it actually means something like "As long as we are here...." or "Considering that this happened..."

"The 'Já agora' and the popular variation 'now that you're dealing with it'..., are examples of the particularly portuguese form of desire. The Portuguese don't like to say that they want something. Among us, wanting is considered an aggression. And so, when you go to a café, you say 'I could have an espresso' and never that you want an espresso. If anyone offers a brandy too, we say 'Já agora'. Everything happens in the past, in the conditional, in the coincidence.(...) anything that happens is totally uncontrollable. Therefore, the mentality of the 'já agora' gives meaning to the idea that you should take advantage of randomness, since you can't take advantage of anything else."

Explicações de Português(2001) - Miguel Esteves Cardoso


Oh sea of salt, how much of your salt
Is tears of Portugal!
For us to cross you, how many mothers wept,
How many sons prayed in vain!
How many fiancees remained to be wed
In order that you be ours, oh sea!

Mensagem, Fernando Pessoa


”O medo é medo do poder, mas também da impotência própria diante do poder. (...) O medo de «não estar à altura» impera, arruina as potencialidades criativas; medo que implica e arrasta outros, como o de ser avaliado, de ser julgado, de «ir a exame».”

"The fear is fear of power but also of the impotence in face of power.(...) The fear of not being up to the situation is ever present, ruining the creative potential; fear that implies and drags the others, like the fear of being evaluated, of being tried, of being examined."

Portugal today - the fear of existing (2004) - José Gil

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July 12, 2006

Random small pleasures

"No philosopher came close to solving the problem of guilt and weight until Descartes divided mind and body in two, so that the body could gorge itself while the mind thought, Who cares, it’s not me. The great question of philosophy remains: If life is meaningless, what can be done about alphabet soup?" --Thus ate Zarathustra, Woody Allen in the New Yorker


Weston, Pepper#3


"Yves Klein. Symphonie Monoton-Silence (1957). Meant to provide a sonic equivalent of his monochomes paintings, the second movement of Klein’s Symphony consists of twenty minutes of silence -- just enough time to give the audience a chance to shake the sense of ringing from their ears: the first twenty minutes consists of a sustained D-major chord." -- Unheard Music, Craig Douglas Dworkin on UBUWeb(PDF)


Moi je t'offrirai
Des perles de pluie
Venues de pays
Oú il ne pleut pas
--Jacques Brel, Ne me quitte pas

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July 11, 2006

The Women, directed by Cukor, script by Anita Loos based on a play by Clare Boothe Luce


Countess DeLave: This sweet thing is getting her first divorce too! She's a very dear friend of mine... What did you say your name was again darling?


Joan Crawford gets the best lines:

"Thanks for the tip. But when anything I wear doesn't please Stephen, I take it off. "

"There is a name for you, ladies, but it isn't used in high society... outside of a kennel. "

Pretty bold for 1939.

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July 09, 2006

Beatles & Geekiness

Hey you! You have never written a line of code and you don't know Beatles lyrics by heart. Skip this post.


All those backups seemed a waste of pay.
Now my database has gone away.
Oh I believe in yesterday.

There's not half the files there used to be.
And there's a milestone hanging over me.
The system crashed, so suddenly.

I pushed something wrong,
What it was, I could not say.

Now all my data's gone,
And I long for yesterday-ay-ay-ay.


Something in the memory I know
A pointer's got to be corrupted.
Stepping in the debugger will show me...
I don't want to leave it now
I'm too close to leave it now.

You're asking me can this code go?
I don't know, I don't know...
What sequence causes it to blow?
I don't know, I don't know...


Eleanor Rigby

Sits at the keyboard
And waits for a line on the screen
Lives in a dream

Waits for a signal
Finding some code
That will make the machine do some more.
What is it for?

All the lonely users, where do they all come from?
All the lonely users, why does it take so long?


When I find my code in tons of trouble,
Friends and colleagues come to me,
Speaking words of wisdom:
"Write in C."

As the deadline fast approaches,
And bugs are all that I can see,
Somewhere, someone whispers:
"Write in C."


import java.util.ArrayList;

public class Beatles
// Stores and modifies a list of band members.
public static void main (String[] args)
ArrayList band = new ArrayList();

band.add ("Paul");
band.add ("Pete");
band.add ("John");
band.add ("George");

System.out.println (band);

int location = band.indexOf ("Pete");
band.remove (location);

System.out.println (band);
System.out.println ("At index 1: " + band.get(1));

band.add (2, "Ringo");

System.out.println (band);
System.out.println ("Size of the band: " + band.size());

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July 07, 2006

Portrait of AP as a Young Artist

The most recent AP masterpieces :-)

Yet again, inspired on the Colors of Infamy by Cossery:

"Com a alma em paz, tirou do bolso a carteira de que acabava de se apoderar e abriu-a com a delicadeza de um amante rasgando o sobrescrito da missiva da sua querida. Era uma carteira em pele de crocodilo, sem dúvida de um preço inconfessável, e que exalava um forte perfume a corrupção. Continha uma carta. Ossama retirou-a e leu o nome do destinatário no sobrescrito previamente aberto com um corta-papel, pois estava hermeticamente fechado."

"With the soul at peace, he took out of his pocket the wallet he had just got hold of and opened it with the delicacy of a lover tearing the envelope of the letter by his beloved. It was a wallet made of crocodile skin, undoubtedly of a price beyond confession, and that exhaled a strong smell of corruption. It contained a letter. Ossama took it out and read the name of the addressee in the envelope previously opened with a letter opener, since it was hermetically closed."



AP's title: Gerês
RRP's title: Landscape nr 5 (to make it sound more artistic)

This one is being exhibited at Sociedade Nacional de Belas-Artes as we speak. It's the annual exhibition of student's works.


Why you should have dinner with AP:

after having cleared up the plates, on finding the crumbs of the garlic bread he had shared with Z: "Ah! The stories these bread crumbs could tell..."

Why you should play football with AP:

On why he had "Me" inscribed on the back of his Benfica jersey instead of his name: "Now I can lend it to anyone."

Why you shouldn't count on him for basic household maintenance:

"The electrician came over to see why the lights didn't work in the living room and it turns out the lightbulb was dead."

Why you shouldn't ask him to store your books in his basement while you look for an apartment:

AP: "I was reading Kandinsky's 'Of the spirituality in art' and...."
C: "Hey, I own that book."
AP: "I know, it's your copy I'm reading."

Why you shouldn't bring up the subject of sex, especially if there are religious people around:

C (poking him and in a low voice): "Don't ask the man that...."
AP: "A, do you ever have sex?"
AL: "No, I don't have sexual relations, I'm a missionary."
C (ironically): "How come they call it the missionary's position then?"
AP: "Because having sex in the missionary's position or not having sex is practically the same thing."

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July 03, 2006

Collective madness, as usual

I had a cunning plan to go buy me self a nifty new bag while everyone was watching the Portugal - England match, anticipating the fact that the stores and streets would be empty. What I wasn't counting on was that EVERYONE was watching it.

(blah, blah, the store will be closed between 16:00 and 18:00 because we're supporting Portugal)

I really mean everyone.

I particularly like the electricity plug.

And Portugal won. Yay. And that one was for Britain taking over Port wine. Ha.

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June 27, 2006

Like, Thousands. Thousands of Euros spent on english teachers from the British Isles and, like, this Californian dude, like TOTALLY ruins, like, my english, like.

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June 26, 2006

Childhood Nostalgia

Tough times, the late 70's and early 80's in Portugal. But my parents have always spoiled me. Still do.


Never understood this Barbie thing. My Sindy Ballerina was the cutest.


The Fonz action figure with moving thumbs. Can't believe I thought Henry Winkler was a hunk. And I loved watching Happy Days. What was I thinking?? (it could be worse, I could find Richie Cunningham cute - but I didn't)


I could spend hours making Mickey catch the rolling eggs. A bit numbing though.


Great success with friends and family. An italian cult object, a Mupi Super 8 projector. I had Disney tapes. Fun!



And my ZX Spectrum, of course. But I've written a whole post about it. I miss my Spectrum so much. I miss BASIC. 16Kb were more than enough. So odd.

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June 23, 2006

"I once read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right—now do you understand serendipity?" --Correspondence, Horace Walpole


"The kaleidoscope (...) has always fascinated me as a metaphor for life: how a seemingly slight incident can alter the course of one's destiny, just as an almost imperceptible shift in the angle of the lens changes the composition to form an entirely new pattern". --"The Cairo House", Samia Serageldin via J Ryder.


"Some dreamed of a new alphabet, a new language of symbols through which they could formulate and exchange their new intellectual experiences." -- "The Glass Bead Game", Hermann Hesse


"If you find your life tangled up with somebody else's life for no very logical reasons, writes Bokonon, that person may be a member of your karass." --"Cat's Cradle", Kurt Vonnegut

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June 21, 2006



Will someone please cut the top off that damned tree? It's ruining the view from Pousada de S.Bento.

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June 20, 2006


I don't think I ever used my blog to advertise anything (maybe a bookshop or two and my dentist :-) but I finally found a "product" I can sponsor with the greatest conviction.

A rainy evening in Porto. A crooked street near the the river Douro waterfront, in Miragaia. I called in advance to book a table and on the other side was someone who was not just booking tables but was trying to chat with me, addressing me by my name and asking if I knew how the restaurant worked. I dismissively said yes, believing it was one more of these places mushrooming all around offering a "menu degustation". How I was wrong.


I was surprised to find a tiny restaurant. The host introduced himself and asked for our names. From then on, a very presonal treatmet: "my good friend Claudia, please have a sip of this honeydew melon juice". On the table sat beakers bearing a greenish liquid. The lamp looked also like a beaker. Later I found that this was really a laboratory. Sensory experiments.

The host, Mario, brought chilled white wine and grapes "to dress the table". We were invited to taste the wine before and after having a grape. To feel the nuances between sweet and sour. We tasted different types of olive oil, we were given quizzes - which olive oil was used in the confection of this dish?, we were incited to moist the tips of our fingers with olive oil and flower of salt and suck them like kids. Mario, our host, is also the resident DJ; a cool, lounge music was playing. A popular party outside brought some new sounds and, while we waited for our next course, Mario invited us to take our white port glasses outside and dance. An unusual combination of tastes and smells were successively presented. He sprayed balsamic vinegar on my ice cream and you know what? It was delicious.


A series of the most carefully selected wines and tasty dishes - while we played with luminous gadgets - were accompanied by Mario's bright dissertations on smell, touch and taste.

A feast for the senses and a great experience. That is what I call service. And I'm not even talking about the food...

When we left, I almost felt like I just had dinner over at a good friend's place.


À mesa com Bacchus
Rua de Miragaia, 127
4050-387 Porto
Tel: 222 000 896

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June 19, 2006

Post-it Portraits





Sam the Eagle: Will you stop this foolishness?
The Great Gonzo: What foolishness would you like to see?

I rest my case.






Live blogging :-)

1. Clouds
2. Thunder
3. Lightning

The light from the sky flickered across your body as you stood naked by the window.

4. Dawn



*dramatic music* ... "The Tower"


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June 18, 2006

Summer Interior, Edward Hopper

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June 11, 2006


But if there can be epidemics of crime or epidmics of fashion, there must be all kinds of things just as contagious as viruses. Have you ever thought about yawning, for instance? Yawning is a surprisingly powerful act. Just because you read the word "yawning" in the previous two sentences - and the additional "yawns" in this sentence - a good number of you will yawn within the next few minutes. If you're reading this in a public place, and you've just yawned, chances are that a good proportion of everyone who saw you yawn is now yawning too, and a good proportion of the people watching the people who watched you yawn are now yawning as well, and on and on, in a ever-widening yawning circle.

---Malcolm Gladwell, TheTipping Point


Ducreux, 1780


I'm trying to start a yawning epidemics :-)

I read this on the plane from SF to LIS and couldn't stop yawning as I did it. Since I'm always sleepy on planes I thought I should give it another try on firm land. I yawned. Five times. I'm actually yawning as I write this. And I'm not covering my mouth because I use both hands to type. So rude.

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June 10, 2006

So cute

Google is commemorating Portugal Day with us.


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.....too sexy for this blog.


random summer cheesy euro-disc silliness

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June 07, 2006

Sometimes memories come up unexpectedly, triggered by this Lisboa heat that glues to the skin, softens the movements and turns the act of remembering into a whole body experience. A remembrance of summers past, of joyful hours with friends or little pleasures. Portraits, glimpses of moments.

Prosciutto and cantaloupe melon at Sant'Andrea in Amalfi. A hot August in which each dinner was crowned by an intoxicating shot of limoncello. Andrea Pansa's delizia de limone pastries in a cove by the warm, green Mediterranean sea.

Escargots and red wine out in the terrace of Café Serpente after an evening concert in the cathedral. Feeling a child again, laughing and learning a mysterious foreign language. A labyrinth. A moleskine.

Mushroom and goat cheese tapas in La Latina. Too much Ribera del Duero and a long walk under a full moon, from Puerta de Toledo to Puerta de Atocha. I may have talked about going to Africa and saving the children.

Sitting in a clawfoot tub, dipped in hot sulfurous water. Raining outside, the cold air in the cheeks and the creek running wild, pretending to be bigger than it is. Pancakes and maple syrup. Naked bodies.

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June 05, 2006

XXX, NSFW, shocking content ahead, read this only if you're above 18, etc.

I found out that James Joyce was a coprophiliac through Javier Marías' entertaining little book "Written Lives". The idea of defying the authority of someone by means of ridicule is a dishonest one. But it's so much fun. I personally have a very mean strategy for the very few situations in which I find someone intimidating: if it's a man I picture him wearing nothing but socks and shoes and if it's a woman I imagine her brushing her teeth, drooling toothpaste all over her chin, looking like a dog with rabies. Works every time.

No one is intimidating as soon as you get to know them better.

Time Magazine, Coprophiliac of the year

I was googling for Joyce's letters to Nora Barnacle in order to see for myself if Marías' diagnosis wasn't the fruit of his own dislike of the man - which he bluntly states in the prologue.

"My love for you allows me to pray to the spirit of eternal beauty and tenderness mirrored in your eyes or to fling you down under me on that soft belly of yours and fuck you up behind, like a hog riding a sow, glorying in the very stink and sweat that rises from your arse, glorying in the open shame of your upturned dress and white girlish
drawers and in the confusion of your flushed cheeks and tangled hair."

"Have I shocked you by the dirty things I wrote to you? You think perhaps that my love is a filthy thing. It is, darling, at some moments. I dream of you in filthy poses sometimes. I imagine things so very dirty that I will not write them until I see how you write yourself. The smallest things give me a great cockstand - a whorish movement of your mouth, a little brown stain on the seat of your white drawers, a sudden dirty word spluttered out by your wet lips, a sudden immodest noise made by you behind and then a bad smell slowly curling up out of your backside. "

And lots more here.

This is perhaps one of the weirdest things I have ever read. The letters are at times beautiful, poetic, erotic, romantic and simultaneously...yucky (to me, at least....a big apology to all the coprophiliacs reading this). I find this insanely funny. I suppose he meant it to be private...tough luck. You're dead, buddy.

(I warned you)

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May 21, 2006

Book Bliss

Associação de Loucos e Sonhadores, Lisboa


Finally read Vonnegut's SlaughterHouse 5. My mouth is open in amazement. I love the simple and yet powerful and imaginative writing. Fascinated by the Tralfamadorian concept of time. (sighs with pleasure)

Now I can't hear anyone talking about death without thinking: "So it goes".

Can't wait to get my hands on Cat's Cradle.


One of those happy succession of synchronicities led me to Enrique Vila-Matas. His name came up at least once every day of this past week, through friends, articles in newspapers, referenced in books I was reading and culminated on the happy, thrifty find of a set of 6 of his books for 18 Euros at FNAC.

The sheer erudition of the man. Pure intellectual bliss and aesthetic enjoyment. So happy.

Also, he writes beautifully about Lisboa:

Lisboa es el nada nunca jamás. Lisboa es para llorar, puro destino y llanto, fado y luz de lágrima. Pero al mismo tiempo es una inmersión radical en la alegría. “Otra vez vuelvo a verte, / ciudad de mi infancia pavorosamente perdida /Ciudad triste y alegre, otra vez sueño aquí”. No es la ciudad blanca que creyó ver un suizo equivocado, sino una ciudad azul de alegres nostalgias inventadas.

Lisbon is nothing never ever. Lisbon is for crying, pure destiny and weeping, fado and light of tears. But at the same time is a radical immersion in joy. "I see you once again, / city of my dreadfully lost childhood / Sad and happy city where I dream again". It is not the white city that a mistaken Swiss thought he saw, but a blue city of cheerful invented nostalgia.

The original text is here (in spanish).



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May 16, 2006

Always learning from the new kids at work.


Recent hire: "Hey, your laptop's got a clitoris mouse!"
Claudia:"What? Ah! Shhhh!......" (bursts into laughter)


For the clueless: I've posted this extremely pedagogic one before and now this helpful diagram. And I can't resist posting this very entertaining one, just for fun ;-)

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May 15, 2006



El laberinto de la soledad / The labyrinth of solitude - Octavio Paz
O labirinto da saudade / The labyrinth of saudade - Eduardo Lourenco

A Mexican poet and a Portuguese philosopher. Both tried to put into an essay what means to belong or to be born in their respective countries.

I like it how soledad and saudade sound similar but carry different meanings. Soledad meaning solitude and saudade being that very Portuguese word for the longing for other person or time that is gone.

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May 10, 2006

Favourite name for....

...a video store

...an optics store

...a costume shop

....a pizza place

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May 09, 2006

Not at the same time, I hope

San Francisco

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May 08, 2006

Perfect Recommendation

Green Apple Books, San Francisco

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It feels as if one has stepped onto the right train. That is, even if you don't know the ultimate destination, it still has this overwhelming feeling of beautiful inevitability.

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May 07, 2006

“Observe the herd which is grazing beside you. It does not know what yesterday or today is. It springs around, eats, rests, digests, jumps up again, and so from morning to night and from day to day, with its likes and dislikes closely tied to the peg of the moment, and thus neither melancholy nor weary. To witness this is hard for man, because he boasts to himself that his human race is better than the beast and yet looks with jealousy at its happiness. For he wishes only to live like the beast, neither weary nor amid pains, and he wants it in vain, because he does not will it as the animal does. One day the man demands of the beast: "Why do you not talk to me about your happiness and only gaze at me?" The beast wants to answer, too, and say: "That comes about because I always immediately forget what I wanted to say." But by then the beast has already forgotten this reply and remains silent, so that the man wonders on once more.”

----Friedrich Nietzsche, “On the Uses and Disadvantages of history for life”


"The road to Hobb's orchard wound past a dairy farm where several dozen speckled cows passed the time grinding the wet grass with their blunt teeth. I'd tried making friends with them a year earlier, standing by the fence and waving sandwiches until their owner informed me that they didn't eat chicken or pork, not even as snack. They were dumb, these cows (...) Did these animals have any idea that their summer was coming to an end? Could they remember their lives as young, carefree veal? Did they ever look forward to anything or entertain regrets? I dropped my duffel bag and approached the barbed-wire fence, hoping they might rush forward, wagging their ropy, shit-smeared tails in recognition, but they just stood there, methodically working their jaws."

-----David Sedaris, "Naked"


Not everyone gets the philosophical implications of grazing cattle :-)

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Edward Hopper

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May 05, 2006

Globalization is...


...a can of Portuguese sardines bought at Lucca, an Italian grocery shop in the latino Mission district of the American city of San Francisco.

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I'm Not Your Sweet Baboo!

Went to Charles M. Schulz museum in Santa Rosa, California. As most cartoon museums do, they hang cartoon strips on the walls, exhibit art inspired by Peanuts and keep the office of the cartoonist like it was a shrine and nothing else much.

A lady there made sure she told us everything she knew about Schulz and his family and each time we'd say "Thanks" and made that classic body move of someone who wants to go on with the visit, she'd come up with some new anedocte until some other suckers, ahem, tourists drawed her attention. One of Schulz's daughters was on Ice Capades so I guess that's where the idea for "Snoopy on Ice" came from :-).

Highlight of the museum: Snoopy's doghouse wrapped by Christo.



And this post wouldn't be complete without this:


Which Peanuts character are you?

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May 03, 2006

Walked my feet off around SF; great murals in the Mission....


and spotted some cute sidewalk aphorisms on Valencia Street.



When in Rome be a Roman. Walden is a constant reference I had been missing and so I bought a copy:

American #1: Oh no! You're reading Walden?
American #2: Yuck! Thoreau is such a lousy writer...
American #1: Boring!
Portuguese: You guys had to read it in school, didn't you?

And so it seems that this mandatory readings in school have the same post-traumatic effect around the world and across cultures.


On May 1st there were huge demonstrations around the USA against the Bush Administration immigration policies which propose to criminalise illegal immigrants. In San Francisco the immigrants protesting were mainly Latinos; as a consequence of the "A day without immigrants" initiative, most of the shops and restaurants closed.


(in the middle of the protesters screaming "Sí se puede"):
Portuguese: This is great! Political activism in the USA! It's a rare sight!
American: Cut it out, you silly European snob!


After a great meal - including chocolate soufflé, crêpes and strawberry rhubarb crumble overdose - at Range:

A: You know how burping in some cultures is a sign of satisfaction? Well, I am anticipating the pleasure of burping this meal!



Bliss: Lying on a hot tub, having a funny New Yorker article about low cost airways read out loud to me.


Fridge magnets at Happy Trails:

"Marriage? I can't mate under captivity!"

"A clean house is a sign of a wasted life."


Listening to Fernando & Greg ranting about how would "A day without the gay" be on KNGY.

Their sports show tagline is "If they're playing with balls, I'm all over it!"


Too much fun!

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April 24, 2006


"It's an odd thing, but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco. It must be a delightful city and possess all the attractions of the next world."
Oscar Wilde


View from Coit Tower, San Francisco


"All this so that Marco Polo could explain or imagine explaining or be imagined explaining or succeed finally explaining to himself that what he sought was something lying ahead, and even if it was a matter of the past, it was a past that changed gradually as he advanced on his journey, because the traveler's past changes according to the route he has followed: not the immediate past, that is, to which each day that goes by adds a day, but the more remote past. Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreigness of what you no longer are or you no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places." - Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities


The changing light
at San Francisco
is none of your East Coast light
none of your
pearly light of Paris
The light of San Francisco
is a sea light
an island light
And the light of fog
blanketing the hills
drifting in at night
through the Golden Gate
to lie on the city at dawn
And then the halcyon late mornings
after the fog burns off
and the sun paints white houses
with the sea light of Greece
with sharp clean shadows
making the town look like
it had just been painted

But the wind comes up at four o'clock
sweeping the hills

And then the veil of light of early evening

And then another scrim
when the new night fog
floats in
And in that vale of light
the city drifts
anchorless upon the ocean

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

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April 19, 2006

Train Literature


I had been missing travelling by train. I missed the relaxing rythmic sound, the landscape outside blurred by the motion. And I certainly missed reading on a train. The most extraordinary things seem to happen on trains. At least in literature :-)


That night you have a dream. You are in a train, a long train, which is crossing Ircania. All the travellers are reading thick bound volumes, something that happens more easily in countries where newspapers and periodicals are not very attractive. You get the idea that some of the travelers, or all, are reading one of the novels you had to break off, indeed, that all those novels are to be found there in the compartment, translated into a language unknown to you.

--Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler


We hadn't a idea that she was close by at the station. In the wvening I had only just gone to my room, when my Marya told me a lady had throwned herslef under a train. Something seemed to strike me at once. I knew it was she. The first thing I said was he was not to be told. But they'd told him already.His coachman was there and saw it all. When I ran into his room, he was beside himself - it was fearful to see him. He didn't say a word, but galloped off to the station. I don't know to this day what happened there, but he was brought back at death's door.

-- Lev Tolstoy, Anna Karenina


A grimy European train compartment (Second Class) . . . In the window seat a pretty young widow in a heavy black veil and tight black dress which reveals her voluptuous figure. She is sweating profusely . . . The train screeches to a halt in a town called (perhaps) Corleone. A tall languid-looking soldier, unshaven, but with a beautiful mop of hair, a cleft chin and somewhat devilish, lazy eyes enters the compartment . . . He is sweaty and disheveled but basically a gorgeous hunk of flesh, only slightly rancid from the heat. The train screeches out of the station.
Then we become aware of the bouncing of the train and the rhythmic way the soldier's thighs are rubbing against the thighs of the widow . . . He is watching the large gold cross between the widow's breasts swing back and forth in her deep cleavage. Bump. Pause. Bump. It hits one moist breast and then the other. It seems to hesitate in between as if paralyzed between two repelling magnets. He is hypnotized. She stares out the window, looking at each olive tree as if she had never seen olive trees before . . . He rests his left hand on the seat between his thigh and hers and begins to wind rubber fingers around and under the soft flesh of her thighs. She continues staring at each olive tree as if she were God and had just made them and were wondering what to call them . . .
Then the fingers are sliding between her thighs and they are parting her thighs, and they are moving upward into the fleshy gap between her heavy black stockings and her garters and they are sliding up under her garters into the damp unpantied place between her legs.
The train enters a galleria, or tunnel, and in the semi-darkness the symbolism is consummated. There is the soldier's boot in the air and the dark walls of the tunnel and the hypnotic rocking of the train and the long high whistle as it finally emerges.
Wordlessly, she gets off at a town called, perhaps, Bivona.

---Erica Jong, Fear of Flying


And then, Messieurs, I saw light. They were all in it. For so many people connected with the Armstrong case to be travelling by the same train through coincidence was not unlikely: it was impossible. It must not be chance but design.

-- Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express


My grandmother, anxious as ever that the presents which were made me should take some artistic form, had initially wanted to offer me an ancient "imprint" from this journey, and for us to repeat, partly by rail and partly by road, the route that Madame de Sévigné had taken when she went from Paris to "L'Orient" by way of Chaulnes and "the Pont-Audemer". But realizing that "it would be a shame" to have me pass by beautiful things without seeing them, she was obliged to renounce her plan, on the advice of my father, who Mamma had kept up-to-date by letter, and who knew that when my grandmother organized any expedition with a view to extracting from it the utmost intellectual benefit that it was capable of yielding, what a tale could be foreseen of missed trains, lost luggage, sore throats and broken rules. In short we were simply to leave by that 1:22 train which over the years I had often sought out in the timetable where its departure time gave me the emotion, almost the illusion of departure. To take it, to get out at Bayeaux or Coutances for a long time had symbolized for me one of the greatest of all possible forms of pleasure; and as the delineation in our minds of any form of happiness depends more on the nature of the longings that it inspires in us than on the accuracy of the information which we have about it, we believe that we know this happiness in all its details, and I had no doubt that I should feel in my compartment a special pleasure as the day began to cool, should contemplate such an impression at the approach of a certain station; to such an extent that this train always awoke in me images of the same villages which I swathed in the light of those afternoon hours through which it sped, seemed to me to be different from any other train; and I had ended, as we are apt to do, with a person we have never seen but who we imagine constantly, by giving a distinct and unalterable countenance to this fair, artistic traveller who would have taken me with him on his journey, and to whom I should bid farewell at the foot of a cathedral before he disappeared towards the setting sun.

-- Marcel Proust, A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs

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April 18, 2006

Il Gattopardo


"What a great job Burt Lancaster does in this movie. I remembered him as some butch guy in westerns, can't believe he's so good!"

"When I was young, the star of the movie was that baby face Alain Delon, no one cared about Burt."

"Are you kidding? Burt Lancaster is much sexier than that skinny, clean-shaven Delon!"

"You're getting old."

(which is not true; I remember watching The Color of Money with my girlfriends as a teenager and while they drooled over that awful, ugly actor who has a squeaky voice when he gets excited and that has a neck and shoulders that makes you think he swallowed a coat hanger and whose initials are TC, I lusted after Paul Newman). Hah.

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April 17, 2006

Chemistry by Ignasi Aballí at the Fundação de Serralves, Porto

(stickers on a window)

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April 14, 2006

Random Pleasures


Apocalipse do Lorvão (12th Century)- Medieval Manuscripts at the National Archives Treasures

Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.

--Revelation 2:22


The event that made conceivable the realization that it was possible to “speak another language” and still make sense in art was Marcel Duchamp’s first unassisted Ready-made. With the unassisted Ready-made, art changed its focus from the form of the language to what was being said. Which means that it changed the nature of art from a question of morphology to a question of function. This change – one from “appearance” to “conception” – was the beginning of “modern” art and the beginning of conceptual art. All art (after Duchamp) is conceptual (in nature) because art only exists conceptually.

--Joseph Kosuth, Art after Philosophy


The shop seemed to be full of all manner of curious things-but the oddest part of it all was, that whenever she looked hard at any shelf, to make out exactly what it had on it, that particular shelf was always quite empty: though the others round it were crowded as full as they could hold.

--Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass



Browsing engravings at the National Library.

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April 10, 2006

The upside of moving and having to go through all the books and six years of accumulating assorted junk is to find little precious mementos of past times. I'm not talking about the sentimental, irreplaceable books offered once by loved ones but of those objects that evoke moments which had their uniqueness.



A warmish Sunday in Buenos Aires. A visit to San Telmo's flea market. It's like a treasure hunt, a search for something that can be taken home as a more original keepsake. The square is covered with stalls. Books, old Argentinian magazines, old metal boxes, used clothes, old Tango records. There's an antique shop behind almost every door in the streets around the main square of this neighborhood. A hunt for old stereoscopic images proves fruitless. But there's a man with two open plastic bags squatting on the sidewalk of the main square. I peek inside and have a glimpse of some copies of Sur, the magazine published by Victoria Ocampo. There's one that features an article by Jorge Luis Borges, from 1954. The man could obviously see by my face how much I wanted it - my eyes gave it all away, I'm sure. It was a hard bargain.



Senegal has a smell that I miss once in a while. All countries smell differently. Senegal's is a warm, humid smell of dust & sea & dried fish & wood & garbage by the side of the road & trees with red flowers. I bought some books in Dakar. Some folklore tales. So cute. Elephants and lions talking. I suddenly felt sorry for not asking the people in the tribal villages I visited to tell me these stories. The tale of some tree spirit as told by a Marabout must have been much more interesting. I eagerly sniffed the books but there's no scent of Senegal left. They're my gri-gri.



The plane to Chile was involved in an accident in Bogotá which meant another night in Lima. In the afternoon, while strolling trhough the park near the Museo del Arte, there was a big crowd watching some street performance. Lima has great weather. Or at least the kind of weather in which my body adjusts perfectly. As I reached the crowd, I saw a mime doing some silly stunts and making the children around him laugh really hard. I hate mimes. But not this one - he was funny and he had the extra attractive of being extremely handsome. Even under all that silly mime makeup. By the end of the performance, he comes around the spectators with a bowler hat. I gave him a good tip. A big one (everything was extremely cheap there). He gives me a flyer and a wink. What a great name for a mime company: "Sociedad del silencio". Inside some childish jokes.

Por qué se suicido el libro de matemáticas?
Porque tenia demasiados problemas.

Why did the maths book commit suicide?
Because it had too many problems.

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April 04, 2006

[Marco Polo to Kublai Khan] "I shall repeat the reason why I was describing it to you: from the number of imaginable cities we must exclude those whose elements are assembled without a connecting thread, an inner rule, a perspective, a discourse. With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unimaginable dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else."

"I have neither desires of fears", the Khan declared,"and my dreams are either composed by my mind or by chance."

--Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino

"On the banks of a great river in the povince of Cathay there stood an ancient ciy of great size and splendour which was named Khan-Balik, that is to say in our language, "the Lord's City". Now the great Khan discovered through his astrologers that this city would rebel and put a stubborn resistance against the empire. For this reason, he had this new city built next to the old one, with only the river between. And he removed the inhabitants of the old city and settled them in the new one, which is called Taidu, leaving only those whom he did not suspect of any rebellious designs;for the new city was not big enough to house all those who lived in the old." -- Travels in the Land of Kublai Khan, Marco Polo

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April 03, 2006

On the move


A: "Why do you keep all those books? You've already read them. You should open a store and sell them."

P: "But she knows where she bought and where she read each one of them. They have sentimental value."

A: "She could remember who bought each book afterwards."

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March 28, 2006

The obvious title would be "Big Brother"

(area under electronic surveillance, Barcelona)

Stolen from the wonderful tech art archive of igargoyle.

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March 27, 2006

I am intermittently afflicted by periods of portugueseness. Meaning that I am not much of a patriot but sometimes I get hyper conscious of how being Portuguese has a big role on who I am, on my personal identity. And suddenly I have this urge to explore this feeling of portugueseness just as I would explore a newly found land.

I don't often speak ill of my country as does the common Portuguese person (whining and complaining but not trying to solve the problem is kind of a national sport) nor do I overpraise it. But I went to the old books fair and suddenly I noticed I was carrying 3 books about the Lusiads. Such a great national epic poem. Homer who?

(it took me a while to get over the fact that it was mandatory to read it in school; everything tastes more sweet when it's not forced down your throat)



Os Lusíadas ("The Lusiads") is considered one of the finest and most important works in Portuguese literature. Written by Luís de Camões in the Homeric fashion, and first printed in 1572, this epic poem focuses mainly on a fantastical interpretation of the Portuguese discoveries movement, in the 14th through 17th centuries. It is often regarded as Portugal's "national epic", much in the same way as Virgil's The Aeneid is for the Romans.

In Os Lusíadas, Camões presents the Portuguese people as descendants from Lusus, companion of Dionysus and mythical founder of Lusitania, and loosely describes the country's history until the mid 16th century — concentrating on giving a heroic edge to the journey of Vasco da Gama, the first European to reach India by sea.

Consisting of ten 'cantos,' Os Lusíadas documents the voyage of Vasco da Gama from Portugal around the Cape of Good Hope, along the Eastern coast of Africa, and eventually finding some respite in Melinde, of present day Kenya. From there, da Gama and his crew travel onward to India and the East, eventually finding their reward on the Isle of Love.

--in the Wikipedia

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March 24, 2006

Snow White & The Black Dwarf


Joe Tilson,1969 (from the Berardo modern)

An excerpt from the texts in the collage:

When silence
blooms in the house,
all the paraphernalia of our existence
sheds the twittering of value
and reappear as heraldic devices - Robert Duncan

Heraldic devices: airplanes as penis symbols rather than "modern conveniences". One of the eternal verities is the human body as the measure of all things, including technology. The businessman does not have the last word; the real meaning of techonology is its hidden relation to the human body; a symbolical or mystical relation.

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March 23, 2006


I like it when a sudden reference to something new keeps showing up afterwards.

M. was talking about Joseph Cornell's boxes at the Pink Pony. I didn't recognize the name but mentally noted it down (which also reminds me: I have to dig up a recipe for eggs florentine).

The next day I saw one of Cornell's boxes at the MoMA with R.


Then, while reading Lee Miller's biography:

"Lee's friendship with Joseph Cornell moved each artist to depict the other. Julien [Levy], who was Cornell's dealer, may have mentioned the eccentric collagist to Lee during their affair in Paris, when he was combing the Flea Market for the antique boxes he brought back to encourage Cornell's homegrown surrealism. " - Carolyn Burke, "Lee Miler: a life"

I was checking out Berardo's Collection (a Portuguese millionaire who has one of the greatest private collections of pop art ) online after going to an exhibit about freedom of the press and I find out that he owns a Cornell.


(eggs, spinach and cheese. so perfect.)

Eggs Florentine

For Mornay Sauce:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1/3 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup unsalted butter

For Eggs:
1 lb. fresh baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup vinegar
8 large eggs


FOR MORNAY SAUCE: Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Sprinkle the flour over the butter and cook for 1-2 minutes without allowing it to color, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly add the milk, whisking or beating vigorously to avoid lumps. Return to medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Simmer for 3-4 minutes, or until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Stir in the nutmeg, then remove from the heat. Set aside, covered, and keep warm.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over low heat and add the spinach. Cook for about 5-8 minutes, or until dry. Set aside and keep warm.

Whisk the cheese into the mornay sauce, then whisk in the egg yolks. Season to taste, with salt and pepper. Place over low heat and mix until the cheese is melted, then heat until very hot but not boiling. Set aside, cover the surface with a piece of waxed paper and keep warm.

FOR EGGS: Half-fill a large skillet with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the temperature to low and add the vinegar. The water should be barely simmering.

Crack the eggs one at a time into a cup or bowl and carefully slide into the vinegared water two or three at a time. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the egg whites are firm but not hard. Very gently remove, using a slotted spoon and drain thoroughly.

Divide the cooked spinach evenly among four warmed plates. Place two poached eggs in the center of each mound of spinach and cover with the hot mornay sauce. Serve immediately.

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March 22, 2006

Girl Scout

My good deed of the day, posting AP's latest oeuvre:

But I was thinking that I should also post stuff he says. He's so quotable ;-), as quotable as a 7 year old kid trapped inside the body of a 30 year old man can be.


"You're so impatient that you get impatient with yourself for being impatient."


"You're so superfluous."

"You mean superficial?"

"And you're so fussy about words too."


Looking out of the window, no context whatsoever: 

"Where does the word Tango come from?"


 Driving and, suddenly, out of the blue:

"Why did WWI begin?"


Cooking spinach. Spinach reduces in volume when boiled.

"Look, spinach is slowly disappearing. Just like time."


"I'm not going to Lisboa's Erotic Fair. They treat sex in such a superficial manner."


"Imagine you have two bowls. The kind of bowls in which you have your cereals in the morning. Which one would you say is more perfect: the one produced in a factory or the one made by a craftsman?"

"That depends. What kind of cereal?"



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March 21, 2006

Great Ideas

Since I still have a pile of books to read, I was avoiding entering any bookshop; ah, the sacrifices I put myself through. But...since I lack the personal discipline to resist temptation, I did go to a bookshop in the weekend and ran into this wonderful set of books: the Great Ideas series published by Penguin. Such cute books with such simple yet beautiful covers. I *had* to bring a few back home with me and as I was chatting about it with the girl at the counter, she stops packing them and says: "Interesting. You just picked the same ones as Paulo Portas who just left some minutes ago". That's the kind of stuff that can ruin my pleasure. Paulo Portas is the former leader of a Portuguese right wing party and one of the last persons in the world I could imagine sharing reading preferences with. I bumped into the guy as I was walking away and I had a glimpse of *my books* inside his transparent plastic bag as he stopped to light a cigarette. He probably thought "Why is this lunatic peeking at my bag and why is she staring at me in disgust?".


On Art and Life, John Ruskin
Travels in the Land of Kublai Khan, Marco Polo
The Inner Life, Thomas a Kempis
On the Pleasure of Hating, William Hazlitt
The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus (had already read that one but couldn't resist the malevichian cover)

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March 20, 2006

Peddling a poet

I was waiting for an exhibition to open and this man comes up to me and asks where the door to the exhibition is.

- It's right here. They open at 3.
- Thank you. Are you a journalist?
(the exhibition took place at a portuguese newspaper gallery and I was standing at the building's front door which, obviously, qualified me for the job)
- No.
- Oh.
- You know, there's this great Portuguese poet no one talks about anymore...but I love his work so much. Pessoa used to say that he was the most trascendental of our poets. He was a great man. A fighter for freedom, a scientist, a man of ideas. At a time when the rate of illiteracy was 78% he said this sublime sentence: "There is more light in the letters of the alphabet than in all the firmament".
At this point I'm thinking whether I should give him the "get lost creep" treatment. But I'm a sucker for literature and curious as a cat.
- Who is this poet you're talking about?
- A great man, miss. A great, great man. One of our greatest poets. He's buried at the national pantheon, right next to Amalia. His name was Guerra Junqueiro.
- Oh, I've read "A Velhice do Padre Eterno" by him.
And so I have a new item for my "what not to say to weirdos" list. The man's eyes shined and he didn't leave me alone during the time I was wandering around the Schwitters, Warhols and Paiks.
He's carrying a plastic bag and excitedly takes out a sheet of paper with the poet's quotations which he gives to me.


- I also have here with me xerox copies of the newspaper edition when he died in 1923. He made the front page!
-Thank you (he's now between me and the Jacquet).

Alain Jacquet, Le Déjeuner sur L'Herbe (1967)

Manet, Le Déjeuner sur L'Herbe (1865)

- He was a great Republican. He fought to bring down that useless monarchy we had...what a man. Here, I have extra copies for you to give to your friends and let him be known to everyone.
(maybe he's founding a new religion)
As I was trying to read Jenny Holzer's electronic-display signboard he comes up to me again.
- You know, he was a man of ideals. He was very active politically, he worshipped freedom but got away from it all when he realized that the parties weren't fighting for the country's benefit but for themselves. He returned to poetry. And today our poets can't get away from politics.
(one of the candidates for last January's presidential elections was a poet)
- Ah.
(and he hands me another sheet of paper with quotations; but this time they're not by Guerra Junqueiro)

What matters most in life is not duration but intensity - Jacques Brel

- You really like culture and art, right?
- Right.
- Good, good. It's important that there is freedom of expression. People should be free to paint and write whatever they feel like. I belong to a very repressed generation. I wish the revolution took place much earlier, we could have avoided a war. It's one of the things I regret the most about my life: to have lived all my youth and adult age under a dictatorship. We have to prevent this from happening again. No more censorship, ever.
(and I'm also a sucker for anti fascists so I'm beginning to like the guy)

He hands me another piece of paper, a xerox copy of a text by Guerra Junqueiro, and walks away.

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March 15, 2006

A Benfica Match step by step

(to ZL who is one of the greatest Benfiquistas of all times - the kind that makes you feel guilty for not attending the upcoming match because you lost the will to go after enduring 90 minutes of a not so good performance by the team as if you were refusing to visit a old, sick relative- , closely followed by my parents)

As any Benfica supporter might testify, going to a Benfica match is more of a religious ritual than anything else. Also, I checked my blog counter stats and the Americans (23.86%) are beating the Portuguese (23.74%) so I thought I should write something about more homely matters.

Dress code: red.

Any match should start or end with a visit to the trailers outside the stadium. You have a choice between a variety of sandwiches which will increase your cholesterol to a probable-death-by-heart-attack level:

- "bifanas" - greasy pork meat sandwiches
- "entremeadas" - greasy pork meat sandwiches; can be identified by the stripe of pure fat in the middle of the rest of the meat;
- "coiratos" - greasy pork skin sandwiches; these are pure fat.

A tip: the trailer with the lowest standards of hygiene always has the best sandwiches



Entering the stadium, it is mandatory to praise its magnificence and mock the rival team's yellow and green bowl. Ridiculous.



An eagle (the team's symbol) flies from the top rows to a podium in the middle of the field. As it gets to the podium there is a collective burst of joy.



On the big screen, each player is announced. The opponent's team is basically ignored unless they are big rivals in which case they are booed. The team of referees are heavily booed and cursed at by both sides. They *always* rob us.


The Benfica hymn is played as the teams enter the pitch. It is mandatory to sing along. The hymn has been published on this same blog under happier circumstances.


The match starts.

You bond with complete strangers.

Otherwise good mannered people insult the referee's mother.

If Benfica fails to win, you insult the player's mothers. They are obviously not worthy of playing for the greatest team in the world.



You run into your cousin (who is a 1,90m tall married man by now but who will always be your baby cousin) who, after a brainwashing afternoon with my father 28 years ago, uttered his first word: "ben fi ca". Oh wait. That only happens to me.

Posted by claudia Permalink

March 12, 2006

The Streets of Lisbon

Whenever I can, I go in the Gulbenkian's Modern Art Center and just stand there looking at this.

Anna Hatherly, The Streets of Lisbon 1977

I always get a bit emotional looking at this collage. When I was a child, the walls of the streets of Lisbon were covered by political propaganda. Beautiful murals, walls crammed with posters glued one on top of another.This reminds me of my childhood and of a brand new country, born out of a revolution. It reminds me when the future was open and everything seemed possible. It reminds me of a people who were once euphoric because they felt they were finally free. Of how lucky I am for not being born under a dictatorship but, instead, being born on one of the happiest moments of a nation. A moment when, as the slogan stated, "poetry is in the streets".

And I'm not making any judgements about the political choices made back then. These are emotional memories which I have chosen not to critically review. I am just grateful to be born into a time where ideals were taken seriously, whatever form they took. I felt that I was born into a prison whose doors were opened. Everyone was running wild. Music and poetry everywhere. Old people were being alphabetized. Women could vote. There were never ending lines of people to see movies that had been censored before.

I particularly remember how children's day was a big event. How April was a synonym of freedom. How a red carnation was really more than just a flower. How there was this wave of solidarity towards countries under dictatorships or going though wars. Especially Chile - which may explain why I have this hate for Pinochet; Neruda's poems were finally read out loud. How my parents would tell me that, just a couple years ago, the books that sat on our shelves would be reason enough for them to go to jail. How my mother remembered that, as a child, the whole family secretly and silently gathered round the radio set and my grandfather would tune the BBC - the only way to know what was really happening in the world as the news outlets were controlled by the government. How my father remembered that the family of his best childhood friend vanished one night, how he got to their house in the morning and there was broken furniture everywhere - the police had taken them all for opposing the regime. How some of their friends were killed on a stupid war in Africa which was the last pathetic attempt to maintain the colonies of that moribund Portuguese Empire. How my father discovered that he was under surveillance by the regime's police and how he would probably have been - if not worse - interrogated if there hadn't been a coup.


Ok. Historical context ahead (have to keep in mind that 2/3 of my visitors are not Portuguese):

More on the Carnation Revolution on the Wikipedia.
More on the regime's police - PIDE - here.



Esta é a madrugada que eu esperava
O dia inicial inteiro e limpo
Onde emergimos da noite e do silêncio
E livres habitamos a substância do tempo

April, 25th

This is the dawn that I longed for
The first day whole and clean
when we emerge from the night and from the silence
and free we inhabit the substance of time

Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen


Assorted stickers; obscure little parties that were mushrooming everywhere; the newly born unions;new cultural centers; the agrarian reform and so on, and so on.

Posted by claudia Permalink

March 10, 2006

Pessoa by Almada Negreiros

Nenhum problema tem solução. Nenhum de nós desata o nó górdio; todos nós ou desistimos ou o cortamos. Resolvemos bruscamente, com o sentimento, os problemas da inteligência, e fazemo-lo ou por cansaço de pensar, ou por timidez de tirar conclusões, ou pela necessidade absurda de encontrar um apoio, ou pelo impulso gregário de regressar aos outros e à vida.
Como nunca podemos conhecer todos os elementos de uma questão, nunca a podemos resolver.
Para atingir a verdade faltam-nos dados que bastem, e processos intelectuais que esgotem a interpretação desses dados.

Fernando Pessoa, in "Livro do Desassossego"

No problem has a solution. None of us can untie the Gordian knot; either we give up or we cut it.
We brusquely resolve intellectual problems with our feelings, either because we're tired of thinking, or because we're afraid to draw conclusions, or because of an inexplicable need to latch on to something, or because of a gregarious impulse to return to other people and to life.
Since we can never know all the factors that a problem entails, we can never solve it.
To arrive at the truth we would need more data, along with the intellectual resources for exhaustively interpreting the data.

Fernando Pessoa, in "The Book of Disquiet"

(seen here)

Posted by claudia Permalink

March 06, 2006

“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”

“If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.”

-- Lyn Yutang

I've mastered the skil described on the first quotation but will have to work on the second one - too much restleness.

Posted by claudia Permalink

March 05, 2006

Forsyth St., NY


Posted by claudia Permalink

March 03, 2006

The Hotel Chelsea

A resident, taking the dog for a walk

I've been meaning to visit the Hotel Chelsea ever since I read Sarah Vowell's Take the Cannolli. Funny, clever woman:

"Then he saw Warhol's film The Chelsea Girls, a split-screen, three and a half hour bore/smut fest, which shows things like Ondine shooting speed and Nico in tears. Its poster, a nude woman-as-hotel in which the Chelsea's entrance is situated at her vagina, was like some exotic travel brochure to Lance Loud. To him, it was his dream destination: 'Some people want to go to Valhala. Some people want to go to El Dorado or Shangri-La. When I was a teenager I wanted to end up at the Chelsea Hotel. With or without a needle on my arm and lipstick on my face.' He arrived at the hotel as the companion of a psychotic drug addict. Who says dreams can't come true?"



The lobby

I arrived late. The few steps I had to take from the subway station to the hotel, along with the long flights and airplane food, must have made me look somewhere in between hoplessly cold and dead beat tired. As I walk to the reception desk, I see two middle aged men there listening to Aerosmith's "Walk this way" which was playing on a radio and following the rythm by ways of a very discreet headbanging.

They finally notice me and say "Hey! You've made it!". Which is nice, considering they had never seen me before :-)


Going up and down the stairs, it's fun to take a look at the semi-closed doors of the residents who, by the scent in the air, must have been reading Baudelaire. There's a praying altar in front of a canvas; there's art everywhere, even in the most hidden doors in badly lit corridors. There's a door where scraps of paper containing the words "Every story is the truth" are glued to.



"At least I end up facing 23rd street: Dylan Thomas got stuck in a dark room at the back on his final trip and everybody knows what happened to him." - Sarah Vowell, Take the Cannoli

So did I. Room 823 with a view to the roofs of the buildings across the street.



Here's a great site on the Hotel's architcture and history.

The official website: Hotel Chelsea - a rest stop for rare individuals.

Also: the Hotel Chelsea Blog - Living with Legends.

Posted by claudia Permalink

March 02, 2006



The Melancholy of Departure by de Chirico, MoMA


It was coooooold. And windy. That kind of wind that bites your cheeks and leaves them numb.

Central Park


Notes for a personal DSM-V (RD version):

- a pessimist is someone who has a backup plan for survival all lined out in case a severe crisis hits the world economy.
- someone who worries about terrorist attacks is just plain paranoid.


Staying at the Hotel Chelsea - (in)famous for being the place where Sid Vicious stabbed his girlfriend to death - was an interesting experience. Will have to blog more about that.

Funny related woody-allenesque-line on meeting M:

"You're staying at the Chelsea? When I had my first solo show my brother wanted me to stay there and commit suicide."



Great new acquisitions at St.Mark's Bookshop.



My mouth's watering for more fresh water eel nigiri at the Blue Ribbon.


And now I know that SoHo is the New York version of The Mission.

Posted by claudia Permalink

February 24, 2006

“If you're not in New York, you're camping out.”

-- Thomas E. Dewey, Governor of New York (1943-1955)

Posted by claudia Permalink

February 23, 2006

"Is a translation meant for readers who do not understand the original? This would seem to explain adequately the divergence of their standing in the realm of art. Moreover, it seems to be the only conceivable reason for saying "the same thing" repeatedly. For what does a literary work "say"? What does it communicate? It "tells very little to those who understand it. Its essential quality is not statement or the imparting of information -- hence, something inessential. This is the hallmark of bad translations. But do we not generally regard as the essential substance of a literary work what it contains in addition to information -- as even a poor translator will admit -- the unfathomable, the mysterious, the "poetic," something that a translator can reproduce only if he is also a poet? This, actually, is the cause of another characteristic of inferior translation, which consequently we may define as the inaccurate transmission of an inessential content. This will be true whenever a translation undertakes to serve the reader. However, if it were intended for the reader, the same would have to apply to the original. If the original does not exist for the reader's sake, how could the translation be understood on the basis of this premise?"

-- Walter Benjamin, The task of the translator


Tricky, the art of translating. Isn't it?

Banubula had a great post on the various English versions of a Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer poem.


The young daughter of the Honourable Master had a go at translating AB's poem I posted here.

I'm not sure he sent me this as any flaunty proud father of a talented (Portuguese) 15 year old would or if he means that "Even a junior high school kid can translate this better than you" :-)

Be attentive,
Be attentive to the conquests of your strength.
Tear the new days with what you've learnt from your weaknesses.
Pledge with the chalice of your tears
Hold it high and well.
Never, never detain yourself and cry out the dreams you will capture.
The springs you crave to discover await you.
Always follow the North of your woes.

Posted by claudia Permalink

February 22, 2006

Reading Yourcenar's biography.

On her reflections on the writing of Hadrian, there's such a beautiful dedication to Grace Frick, her life companion:

"This book bears no dedication. It ought to have been dedicated to G.F., and would have been, were there not a kind of impropriety in putting a personal inscription at the opening of a work where, precisely, I was trying to efface the personal. But even the longest dedication is too short and too commonplace to honor a friendship so uncommon. When I try to define this asset which has been mine now for years, I tell myself that such a privilege, however rare it may be, is surely not unique; that in the whole adventure of bringing a book successfully to its conclusion, or even in the entire life of some fortunate writers, there must have been sometimes, in the background, perhaps, someone who will not let pass the weak or inaccurate sentence which we ourselves would retain out of fatigue; someone who would re-read with us for the 20th time, if need be, a questionable page; someone who takes down for us from the library shelves the heavy tomes in which we may find a helpful suggestion, and who persists in continuing to peruse them long after weariness has made us give up; someone who bolsters our courage and approves, or sometimes disputes, our ideas; who share with us, and with equal fervor, the joys of art and of living, the endless work which both require never easy but never dull; someone who is neither our shadow nor our reflection, nor even our complement, but simply himself; someone who leaves us ideally free, but who nevertheless obliges us to be fully what we are. Hospes Comesque."

Posted by claudia Permalink

February 21, 2006

Radiation_Suzanne Duchamp.jpg

Suzanne Duchamp, Radiation de Deux Seuls Éloignés (Radiation of Two Lone Ones at a Distance), 1916-18-20.

The combination of wireless technology and erotic desire becomes more explicit in this work by Suzanne than in her brother's Large Glass. According to Linda Dalrymple Henderson "The upper form resembles a cage-type emitting antenna [see adjacent image] and the lower gridded one implies a surface on which the 'radiations' are to be recorded. [...] the theme seems to echo that of the Large Glass: here an antennalike 'Bride' (Suzanne herself?) projects her message." (Henderson, cf. note 6, p. 112). The metaphor of an electric or magnetic attraction between lovers has its roots way back in the age of romanticism: In 1827, Goethe told Eckermann "between lovers the magnetic force is especially strong." Around the same time, the possibility of telegraphy via the "loving needles" of two distant compasses synchronized by myserious forces was seriously discussed.

Posted by claudia Permalink

I've been meaning to write a post about the relationship between extra dimensions and art&literature, kind of inspired by my reading of "Hiding in the Mirror". But this won't be it. Yet.

"The erotic act is the perfect four-dimensional situation. This idea is important to me: a fixed idea, stemming from a tactile apprehension of all the facets of an object, provides a tactile sensation of the fourth dimension. Because, naturally, none of our senses have any application in the fourth dimension, except, perhaps, for touch. As a result, the act of love as tactile sublimation can be envisaged or rather felt like a physycal apprehension of the fourth dimension."
-- Marcel Duchamp

Posted by claudia Permalink

My friend António Bento, one of the sweestest, most uplifting people I know, just published his poetry! The book - Pegadas - can be bought online here. Not only he's a poet (in part-time as he says) but also is/has been a teacher, a swimmer, a consultant, an expert in psychosociology, a marathonist and father of two cute kids.

(the author's tie, the book and the blogger's necklace)

An excerpt. My own faulty translation was replaced by that of the Hounourable Master who kindly (or not so kindly "Get some rythm for Goodness sake!") emailed me a better one:

atenta nas conquistas da tua força
rasga os novos dias com o que nas fraquezas cresceste.
Brinda com o cálice das tuas lágrimas
ergue-o bem alto.
Nunca, nunca te prendas e grita os sonhos que vais agarrar.
Aguardam-te as nascentes que desejas
Segue sempre o norte das tuas crostas.

Mind the acquisitions of your strenghts
Break through new days, having grown from your weaknesses
Toast with your tears-filled chalice
Raise it further
Never ever imprison yourself. Shout your dreams about to be grabed.
Awaiting for you are the Springs you long to discover
Follow the North of your own wounds.

Posted by claudia Permalink

February 20, 2006

Schopenhauer, in his splendid essay called "On an Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual," points out that when you reach an advanced age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, as though composed by some novelist. Events that when they occurred had seemed accidental and of little moment turn out to have been indispensable factors in the composition of a consistent plot. So who composed that plot? Schopenhauer suggests that just as your dreams are composed by an aspect of yourself of which your consciousness is unaware, so, too, your whole life is composed by the will within you.

And just as people whom you will have met apparently by mere chance became leading agents in the structuring of your life, so, too, will you have served unknowingly as an agent, giving meaning to the lives of others, The whole thing gears together like one big symphony, with everything unconsciously structuring everything else. And Schopenhauer concludes that it is as though our lives were the features of the one great dream of a single dreamer in which all the dream characters dream, too; so that everything links to everything else, moved by the one will to life which is the universal will in nature.

It’s a magnificent idea – an idea that appears in India in the mythic image of the Net of Indra, which is a net of gems, where at every crossing of one thread over another there is a gem reflecting all the other reflective gems. Everything arises in mutual relation to everything else, so you can’t blame anybody for anything. It is even as though there were a single intention behind it all, which always makes some kind of sense, though none of us knows what the sense might be, or has lived the life that he quite intended.

-- Joseph Campbell

(see? always making me spend money on books I wasn't planning to read :-)

Posted by claudia Permalink

I'm fascinated by Gulliver's Travels. How come a book published in 1726 has, beutifully put, the reason I didn't vote for the man who is going to be Portugal's next President?

(a short explanation follows)

Last month, Cavaco Silva has been elected our next President.

He is an economist or even better, a technocrat. Portugal is, as always, in a not so good financial situation. The President has very limited powers and has merely a representative role. Somehow, he convinced everyone that, despite being able juridically to do next to nothing about it, he's going to boost the economy.

I didn't vote for him myself because:

- As any Portuguese person can confirm, his most popular quote is "I never make mistakes and I seldom have doubts.". No need to comment this one.

- his campaign slogan was "For a bigger Portugal" which made me think he wanted to reconquer parts of Spain;

- the only qualities I find in him are:
* that he dislikes our former prime minister Santana Lopes (the worse side effect of a democracy of all time);
* and, although he's 60-something, he looks good in a bathing suit.

Cavaco trepando um coqueiro.jpg
(here he is, some years ago climbing a coconut tree)

- and, last but not least and the reason I wrote this post, Jonathan Swift says it all:

"In chusing Persons for all Employments, they have more regard to good Morals than to great Abilities; for, since Government is necessary to Mankind, they believe that the common Size of Human Understandings is fitted to some Station or other, and that Providence never intended to make the Management of publick Affairs a Mystery, to be comprehended only by a few Persons of sublime Genius, of which there seldom are three born in an Age: but they suppose Truth, Justice, Temperance, and the like, to be in every Man's power; the Practice of which Virtues, assisted by Experience and a good Intention, would qualify any Man for the service of his Country, except where a Course of Study is required. But they thought the want of Moral Virtues was so far from being supplied by superior Endowments of the Mind, that Employments could never be put into such dangerous Hands as those of Persons so qualifi'd; and at least, that the Mistakes committed by Ignorance in a virtuous Disposition, would never be of such fatal Consequence to the Publick Weal, as the Practices of a Man whose Inclinations led him to be corrupt, and had great Abilities to manage, and multiply, and defend his Corruptions."

Posted by claudia Permalink

February 19, 2006

The lives of others

After a string of weekends where I didn't have much quiet time, these have been some great days consecrated to the pleasure of reading.

- Finished Frida Kahlo's biography. A sea of tears and the sudden urge to visit Mexico City;

- Finished Duchamp's biography. Realized how much I want to get back to the plan of spending sometime in Cadaqués (I was there for a couple of days in 2003 and adored it);

-Through R. I discovered what a joy it is to read Gulliver's Travels. I had never picked it up because, as a kid, there were so many cartoons and simplified versions of it that made me believe this was a story about a giant living among tiny people. Given my obsession for languages, as soon as R. told me about Yahoos and Houyhnhnms, I rushed to get a copy (I think it is now one of my favourite books of all time);

- I'm reading Marguerite Duras' bio now.

Marguerite Yourcenar's bio is waiting for me. I think there's a pattern here - I had read Maria Filomena Mónica's autobiography the week before (a Portuguese sociologist whose intelligence and cunning have always surprised me). Out of nowhere came this need to read women's biographies - a "femme de trente ans" need of reassurance perhaps. And such great women they are.

(looking forward to getting Lee Miller's and Peggy Guggenheim's bios on my next visit to NYC - I miss St. Mark's)


Posted by claudia Permalink

February 18, 2006

I know...

...I am going insane after waking up and remembering I dreamt I was having tea with the President and with the Central Bank Governor. They were having a childish fight over some economic theory and I kept shushing them.


...my professional image will never be the same after bumping into a client in the supermarket; he tried to reach my hand for a handshake and I was holding a pack of tampons.


Posted by claudia Permalink


Mi noche me observa. Su mirada es lisa y se funde en cada cosa. Mi noche desearía que estuvieses aquí para deslizarse en ti con ternura. Mi noche te espera. Mi cuerpo te espera. Mi noche quisiera que descansases en el hueco de mi hombro y que yo descansase en el hueco de tuyo. Mi noche quisiera ser el mirón de tu placer y del mío, verte e verme temblar de placer. Mi noche quisiera ver nuestras miradas y tener nuestras miradas cargadas de deseo. Mi noche quisiera ter entre sus manos cada espasmo. Mi noche se vuelvería suave. Mi noche gime en silencio su soledad al recordarte. Mi noche es larga y larga y larga. Pierde la cabeza pero no puede alejar tu imagen de mí, no puede tragrase mi deseo. Se muere al saber que no estas aqui y me mata. Mi noche te busca sin cesar. Mi cuerpo no consigue concebir que algunas calles o cualquier geografía nos separan. Mi cuerpo se vuelve loco de dolor al no poder reconecer en medio de mi noche tu silueta o tu sombra. Mi cuerpo quisiera besarte en tu sueño. Mi cuerpo quisiera dormir en plena noche y en esas tinieblas ser despertado porque tú lo besabas. Mi noche no conoce sueño más hermoso y más cruel hoy que éste. My noche grita y desgarra sus velos, mi noche choca con su propio silencio, pero tu cuerpo permanece inencontrable. Te echo tanto de menos. Y tus palabras. Y tu color. Pronto va a amanecer.

Carta al Ausente, Rauda Jamis in "Frida Kahlo"



"Diego on my mind", Frida Kahlo

Posted by claudia Permalink

February 17, 2006

Favourite Gallery Name

ARCO 2006, Madrid

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February 15, 2006



"Out of Print Books and New Editions"

How does that work? It was night time or I would have stepped in.

On the right side you have mouldy, old books, arranged alphabetically on wooden shelves and, on the left, the brand new editions, shiny dust jackets and sorted after El Pais chart of Top Selling books. When they don't sell all the new editions' stock, they carry it to the back of the shop where they have a paper mill (Hrabal's "Too loud a solitude" style).

Posted by claudia Permalink

February 14, 2006

La Lupe

La Lupe de Chueca, Madrid

The public humiliating confession: sometimes my love for kitsch takes hold of my body and I just can't control it. It usually makes me play the CD "Las canciones de Almodóvar" in the car, really loud, as I sing (or should I say scream?) to La Lupe's "Teatro" (from one of my favourite movies of all time, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown).

Such classy lyrics:

Teatro, lo tuyo es puro teatro
falsedad bien ensayada
estudiado simulacro,
fue tu mejor actuación,
destrozar mi corazón
y hoy que me lloras de veras
recuerdo tu simulacro
perdona que no te crea me parece que es teatro.

¨y acuerdate que según tu punto de vista yo,
soy la mala¨!!!

Posted by claudia Permalink

February 13, 2006

Spanish Kitsch

Rey del Pimiento, Madrid

I just got back from a quick visit to the Contemporary Art Fair (ARCO) in Madrid. Interesting stuff.

Bought a great biography of Frieda Kahlo.

Too much Ribera del Duero (so hard to admit that the Spanish have good wine ;-)

Found there's a bar there named Nietzsche. And no, they don't play Wagner there. They show old episodes of Thunderbird on a flat screen hanging behind the counter. And sofas where you can lie down trying to figure out why the hell did you have a crush on a doll when you were a kid. Maybe because his name was Brains. Always had a thing for the clever ones.

Posted by claudia Permalink

February 08, 2006

Just because a person is alone does not mean that he is solitary; just as when one is among many people, he is not therefore accompanied.

--Epictetus, Discourses


We must take the soul back and withdraw it into itself; that is the real solitude, which may be enjoyed in the midst of cities and the courts of kings; but it is best enjoyed alone.

--Montaigne, On Solitude


These hours of solitude and meditation are the only ones in the day during which I am fully myself and for myself, without diversion, without obstacle, and during which I can truly claim to be what nature willed.

--Jean Jacques Rousseau, The reveries of the Solitary Walker


Posted by claudia Permalink

January 31, 2006


"Under Suprematism I understand the supremacy of pure feeling in creative art. To the Suprematist the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling, as such, quite apart from the environment in which it is called forth.

When, in the year 1913, in my desperate attempt to free art from the ballast of objectivity, I took refuge in the square form and exhibited a picture which consisted of nothing more than a black square on a white field, the critics and, along with them, the public sighed, "Everything which we loved is lost. We are in a desert .... Before us is nothing but a black square on a white background!"

But this desert is filled with the spirit of nonobjective sensation which pervades everything.

But a blissful sense of liberating nonobjectivity drew me forth into the "desert," where nothing is real except feeling . . . and so feeling became the substance of my life.

This was no "empty square" which I had exhibited but rather the feeling of nonobjectivity.

I realized that the "thing" and the "concept" were substituted for feeling and understood the falsity of the world of will and idea."

-- Suprematism, Kasimir Malevich



"Like the old ideal of God, the abstraction itself in its nakedness is never directly apprehensible to us. As in the case of God, we can know its manifestations only through works, which, while never completely revealing the total abstraction in the round, symbolize it by the manifestation of different faces of itself in works of art. Therefore, to feel beauty is to participate in the abstraction through a particular agency. In a sense, this is a reflection of the infiniteness of reality. For should we know the appearance of the abstraction itself, we would constantly reproduce only its image. As it is, we have the exhibition of the infinite variety of its inexhaustible facets, for which we should be grateful."

-- The Artist's reality - Philosophies of Art, Mark Rothko


And thus I find a match between my suspicions about Catholic representations of God and naturalistic/realistic paintings.

Believing that Jesus Christ was God himself and spreading crucifixes all over the planet is a way of making the believer associate a human form with something that should be an abstract entity. Thus, abstract thinking, which can lead you to a deeper understanding of life, was replaced by this vague hope that a human could also be divine. This obviously can come in handy for any religion who is recruiting followers. No one wants to think hard, you just want an amulet to get you through life, a tangible proof of salvation.

So, in the same way many people can't think of God as an abstract concept and must give it some kind of recognizable representation, many people say they don't like abstract paintings because they can't understand them ("What is it?").

As Rothko says, it takes sensuality, emotionality and intellect to apprehend the beauty of a work of art. Too much trouble :-)

Also, as I learned from Vacapinta, there's a Mark Rothko Chapel in the US, "a modern meditative environment". Schopenhauer would be so proud. The perfect example of theory put to practice: salvation through aesthetic experience. (why is Malevich so hard on him ? :-)

Posted by claudia Permalink

January 30, 2006

Le Fil de Pensées - The Thread of Thoughts by Roger Vieillard

I saw this some time ago in Fundação Vieira da Silva. I love engravings and this one especially. Had it some knots and it would be a perfect illustration of my own thread of thoughts which sometimes becomes so intricate that all creative activity ceases, including blogging.

Wait. I just untied one. Hence this post.

Posted by claudia Permalink

January 22, 2006

"É na diferença entre aquilo que sentimos e aquilo que acontece, entre o que pede o coração e não pode a vida, que muito cedo encontramos o hábito da tristeza."

"It is in the difference between what we feel and what happens, between what the heart asks for and life can't afford, that early we find the habit of sadness."

--Miguel Esteves Cardoso

Posted by claudia Permalink

January 21, 2006

The Poetics of the Line

A great engravings exhibition in the Vieira da Silva Foundation in Lisboa.


Untiltled, 1935

"A very enigmatic artist indeed - Anton Prinner was born Antonia Prinner until he changed his name and sex at unknown time.(...) Passionate about occult sciences and esoterics, he stopped painting for a few years after his arrival in Paris. " - from the exhibition catalogue.


Minerve ou Le fil de Pensées, Roger Vieillard

(the thread of thoughts)

I especially liked this one because I've done this myself at times. Draw a line that bends and turns as my thoughts evolve. An abstract mind map.


Posted by claudia Permalink

January 20, 2006

A Theory of Contact

I will now turn my sullen mouth to the discussion of meaningless matters:

"I have sometimes thought of constructing a system of human knowledge which would be based on eroticism, a theory of contact wherein the mysterious value of each being is to offer to us just that point of perspective which another world affords. In such a philosophy pleasure would be a more complete but also more specialized form of approach to the Other, one more technique for getting to know what is not ourselves.(...) when each fraction of a body becomes laden for us with meaning as overpowering as that of the face itself, when this one creature haunts us like music and torments us like a problem (instead of inspiring in us, at most, mere irritation, amusement, or boredom), when he passes from the periphery of our universe to its center, and finally becomes for us more indispensable than our own selves, then that astonishing prodigy takes place wherein I see much more an invasion of the flesh by the spirit than a simple play of the body alone."

-- Marguerite Yourcenar, The Memoirs of Hadrian

Such a quotable book. I feel like copying it all to the longest blog post ever written :-)

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January 19, 2006

One of these days I'm going to write a story about a character from a book, a character in a novel mentioned in that same book and a dead abstract expressionist painter.

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January 18, 2006

Random Silliness

I know this post will sound xenophobic but it's not (I can almost see R. rolling his eyes and saying "Oh no, there she goes again!"). Actually, I am a xenophile :-). Americans come up with these cute, silly, distinctive ideas that I find particularly amusing. If you knew me personally you'd know I like the country, I just hate their foreign policy and that medieval insistence on maintaining the death penalty. Oh, and when they call themselves "America" forgetting there are other countries in the same continent(s). The European Community is picking up a similar habit. You just have to take a look at their URL (http://europa.eu.int) to see that they too over a whole continent themselves. But I digress.


Somewhere around Los Angeles

No need to comment on this one.


This fascinates me. I'm just sorry I couldn't take a pic of the section of the highway that was "adopted" by the Santa Barbara Masonic Lodge.


"Adopt A Highway Maintenance Corporation (AHMC) provides an opportunity for your company or organization to be recognized for sponsoring a section of highway. We do all the work and you get all the recognition!"

Obviously, this could lead us into a lengthy dissertation about the contrasting role of the state in the USA and in most European countries and to a critical evaluation of the choices made in American public expenditure....but this is not that kind of blog.


Power tools! Yeah!

San Francisco


Love Happened (in Monterey)

"A vanity plate (US), prestige plate, personalised registration (UK) or personalised plate (Australia) is a special type of number plate (license plate in America), on an automobile or other vehicle. The owner of the vehicle will have paid extra money to have his or her own choice of numbers or letters, usually forming a recognisable phrase, slogan, or initialism on their plate. Sales of vanity plates are often a significant source of revenue for North American provincial and state licencing agencies." - from the wikipedia which seems to be still a good source for information despite the use of "America" in the definition.

(didn't know they had them in the UK; never noticed it)


Every time I fly to the USA on an American airline there's always this magazine in the airplane seat pocket. I have to mention Hammacher Schlemmer and thank this store for so many good laughs during take off.

Double Decker Pet Stroller

Barzebo - A Gazebo with a Bar.

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January 16, 2006

Lit Quiz

(found in Anne's blog who saw it in Dick's blog who saw it in The Observer)

1. The Bible or Shakespeare?

Shakespeare. I don't find the Bible particularly well written. Maybe except for the Song of Solomon. And some psalms.

And Shakespeare wrote great jokes & great insults. And you don't get sexual innuendo like this in the Bible:


'Tis all one, I will show myself a tyrant: when I
have fought with the men, I will be cruel with the
maids, and cut off their heads.


The heads of the maids?


Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads;
take it in what sense thou wilt.


They must take it in sense that feel it.


Me they shall feel while I am able to stand: and
'tis known I am a pretty piece of flesh.


'Tis well thou art not fish; if thou hadst, thou
hadst been poor John. Draw thy tool! here comes
two of the house of the Montagues.

(Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Scene I)

2. A word you like

In Portuguese: Oxalá (I think it's an adaptation from the Arabic inch'allah - "may god allow" - but don't listen to me, I didn't even google for the origin of the word)

In English: Flabbergasting (must be said with an affected, British accent). Just because I have fun saying it.

3. Most romantic moment in fiction

If I assume that romantic is something that follows the rules of ideal love...then I choose Romeo and Juliet again. Can't help it.


What's here? a cup, closed in my true love's hand?
Poison, I see, hath been his timeless end:
O churl! drunk all, and left no friendly drop
To help me after? I will kiss thy lips;
Haply some poison yet doth hang on them,
To make die with a restorative.

Kisses him

Thy lips are warm.

(Act 5, Scene III)

4. Overrated writer

Dan Brown is the obvious one. Oh wait, a writer. Maybe Coetzee.

(and in my more personal universe I have a not-so-secret-anymore antipathy towards Hemingway)

5. Favourite translation

The recent translation of Homer's Odyssey to Portuguese by Frederico Lourenço. Not that I know Greek but it was the first time I enjoyed reading it. The previous Portuguese translations didn't keep the poetic form.

6. Best meal in English Literature

Not really a meal...but the first time literature made me hungry.

In every "The Famous Five" book by Enid Blyton, they'd never depart for yet another adventure without a basket full of goodies. I was intrigued by the obsessive eating of scones, butter and raspberry jam. I was nine, Portuguese and had no idea what a scone was. But it sounded delicious. And then I came across a recipe for scones on one of my mom's cookbooks...oh, the joy (how did I survive without the Internet?)

7.Underrated writer

Bohumil Hrabal. "Too loud a solitude" is such a fantastic book.

8. Favourite Children's books


As a child: "The Boy Who Was Followed Home" by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Steven Kellog. A surrealistic story of a boy who starts being followed home every day after school by hippopotami. Increasingly more and more of them.

Now: "The wind in the willows", Kenneth Grahame. Wait! Does the Harry Potter series count as children's books?

9. Book(s) by your bedside now

Bulgakov's "Master and Margarita"
Feynman's "Six Easy Pieces"
David Lodge's "Author, author"

10. Sexiest book

I can't pick one.

For a more poetic approach of eroticism: Anaïs Nin's "Little Birds"
For plain sex: Any Henry Miller's.
For some S&M fun: "Gordon" by Edith Templeton.
Funny and intriguing: Alberto Moravia's "Me and Him" - yes, I find a talking penis sexy :-)

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January 13, 2006


The reading of the adventures of Dr. Johnson remembered me of my grandfather. He was not an educated man but he was somehow obsessed with the meaning of words. After he retired he would spend hours filling in notebooks and the odd piece of paper with words and meanings he'd copy out of the dictionary.


I'm writing this and I'm looking at his thick dictionary with orange covers sitting on my shelf (along with the other emotionally indispensable books). My precious inheritance :-)

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January 12, 2006

Personal, Randomly

How ridiculous is it that I spent years of my life wearing a school uniform that included a tartan patterned skirt that actually looked more like a kilt? (in Portugal!!!)

I found out that it's called the Royal Stewart over at House of Tartan.



The building's tenants annual meeting. Big discussion on how much should they pay for an extra fund for maintenance emergencies. After 15 minutes of arguing to decide between a 20 or 25 Euro monthly payment:

My father: "I think each of us should pay 75 Euros."
Everyone: "What?? No! 25 euros and that's that".

He has a special gift to put an end to silly discussions by making up even more silly arguments. He's the only person I know who is happy to open the door to Jehovah's Witnesses just to come up with the silliest theories about religion and afterlife only to try their patience. Or that has surrealistic conversations with dodgy people who call to make him go to some hotel for a cocktail and sell him time-share holidays. I think he may have led some of them to suicide.

"Congratulations! you just won a mystery prize Mr. Dias! You have 3 hours to come and collect it at Hotel X."
"Prize? I don't recall entering any kind of contest."
"No, you were picked up randomly by our services to win this prize! How lucky you are!"
"Oh, ok. Do you have my address? Mail it, I'll pay for the delivery."
"No, no, you have to pick it up yourself!"
"Oh really? Ok. So give me the authorization number for this contest."
"Please....you must know that every contest must be authorized by the city's civil authority?"
".....but you've won a prize....I don't have that kind of information, I'm just letting you know you won! Aren't you coming to collect the prize at Hotel X?"
"Well. If it's an illegal contest I may be considered your accomplice. And this may be just a scam to get me somewhere and kidnap me, so I'd like to check."
"....No, no, no, it's all perfectly legal! You are throwing away the opportunity to win this extraordinary prize?!?!"
"What prize?"
"The mystery prize!"
"What is it?"
(puzzled pause)
"You'll have to pick it up yourself at Hotel X, it's a surprise"
"Hmm. I'm not sure. Is it tax free?"
"You know, if I win something I should declare it to the IRS. Is it a tax free prize or will I have to declare it?"
"I don't have that information either! COME AND COLLECT YOUR PRIZE!"
"You sell time-share holidays don't you?"
"YES!!!! I'M SORRY BUT I REALLY NEEDED THIS JOB!!!..." - hangs up.
Dad with a victorious smile.

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January 11, 2006



Found a board game I adored at the nudist hot springs resort: HuggerMugger.


"He put on his splatterdashes and sauntered over to the haberdashery. He got into a snit on hearing the woman with the flaxen hair stating that there should be gallows on their bailiwick."


"The Skeleton Key or Key of Knowledge represents the Definition category. The player will be given a word with its correct spelling and a choice of 3 definitions. He must then choose which of the choices (a, b, or c) is correct."

"What's a bosk? A- ..., B-.... or C - A thicket?
"What's a thicket?"
"You're right, it's a thicket."
"No, no, I was asking what a thicket is."
"Oh, I thought that was your answer."
"So what?"
"What's a thicket?"
"It's a bosk."
"I know that now! But what's a bosk?"
"It's a thicket!"


Hugger Mugger - the habit, practice, or policy of keeping secrets: clandestineness, clandestinity, concealment, covertness.

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January 09, 2006

Showing some skin

There's a hidden treasure somewhere in a valley in California. A hot springs resort in the middle of a forest, cute little wooden cabins, a creek. Naked people. Lovely setting, laid-back environment, great hot tubs where to stay for hours, reading a book, looking outside at the rain falling. And naked people. Lazy, fat cats sleeping on the lobby's couches, a game room filled with board games and gossip magazines. Have I mentioned naked people?


(and no cameras allowed, yet...)


I have never been able to go to nudist beaches in Portugal. I'm always imagining I'll run into my boss when I least expect it. And he's not naked or else that would even things out. But 9.000 km seems like distance enough to forget about my self-inflicted trauma.

And there I was, in a nudist hot springs resort. And it was cold. And everything is on the open air, the tubs, the changing room, the swimming pool.

At first I thought there would be no way I'd go around naked in that weather. Than I gathered courage, undressed in the changing room and headed to the lovely claw foot bathtub with hot flowing water. The private tubs are inside these cute, little rooms where you can leave the door open, look at the sky and the trees, hearing the creek run by. An interesting book - a good company - and it's heaven.

The water is so warm that feels great to step out in the rain and feel the cold drops of water on your skin. Then you run to the dry sauna (I can't breath in the wet sauna) under the rain. After some minutes of pure heat, the cold water pool awaits for you. Not for me, since I tried climbing down the pool steps until the freezing water hit my thighs and then I just ran back to get my towel. And then head off to the very hot redwood communal tub.

A doubt persists until today. Do nipple piercings get hot in the sauna? If so, don't they burn your skin when you walk and they dangle?


This place must have been originally a hippy camping or something. Now it has grown into the New Age style. People here are sweet, laid-back, easy smiling and talkative. And all are reading books entitled "The Call of the Sacred Mountain", "The Mysteries of Crop Circles", "The Power of Intention" and the like (I heard a woman sigh "Oh my Goddess" in the sauna).

Except for one, none of the cabins has a kitchen. So, there's a communal kitchen. You get your own bin to store the food. As I was choosing what to make for dinner, I peaked at the other guest's bins and they all had organic stuff, soy milk, tofu...

Nonetheless, they all seemed to be gourmet chefs and prepared the most amazing meals, complete with appetizers and decorated plates. Which could make you a bit self-conscious about bringing canned sardines.



I'm at the cabin (the one with a kitchen). It's the morning and I'm making breakfast. I'm always so hungry in the morning, eagerly anticipating the taste of maple syrup and buttermilk pancakes. As I'm drooling over the frying pan, someone knocks on the door.

"Sorry you guys, but you have to evacuate; the river's flooded and CalTrans is saying they're closing the road any moment."

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January 08, 2006

His birth

my birth - amazing! you shoulda been there, i mean jesus, there's this doctor guy, right? and he's all like "forceps" and i'm all like oh geez, here it comes, and then there's all this light and there's the doctor guy and he sorta looks like god, who i was talking with just before the link got severed, and then the nurse's all "it's a boy" and the doctor's like "shut up, saying that is my job" and he bitchslaps her, right? ooooh, my god, she just falls straight to the floor. then my dad comes in, and i'd never seen him before, he starts singing to me, but for the love of i don't know who, he's pacing back and trips on the nurse, then mighty man randy savage comes in and does a piledrive on the doctor, then some strange man in chicken outfit comes in and starts singing what he calls a telegram and i piss on him. he calls me a son of a bitch and my mom says "i'm gonna sue your ass you cum-mouthed dumbfuck" and that's why we're rich today, then we all go home, but when i get here i realise i have a sister, and she loves me very much and all, but i'm thinking geez, she's 14 years older than me, i'm never gonna be able to score with her friends, but then someone introduced me to the concept of "young boy toy" and i was like ok, that's cool, then i fall asleep and the next day everyone's calling me henrique, but my real name is edgar, so i didn't know what was up with that, so then they started telling me all these bed-time stories and i sorta lost most of the intelligence i had brought from the before-life

--Henrique on the verge of a caffeine OD

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The modernity of Lent

Disclaimer: I am faith impaired and have the spiritual depth of a soup plate. And I'm also tremendously envious of those who can find comfort in religion.


I have a hard time dealing with religious rituals and traditions because most of them are outdated and its meaning is lost in the dust of Time. And I hate doing anything just because I'm supposed to (I'm the nagging person in the last row of chairs in the church that keeps repeating "Why???"). Rituals shouldn't be followed like a superstition - as "if you don't go to mass you'll be punished" - but its original meaning should be acknowledged - "I attend mass because I'm celebrating my faith in God with fellow believers".

Once in a while I come across some clever interpretation of a religious ritual. Being able to get into the spirit of an action - rather than obeying mindlessly to some prescription - and coming up with new solutions fascinates me.

And this is what I found browsing through the very interesting, high brow blog The Penkill Papers. Yes, Anne, I'm fascinated! :-) And cheese....the supreme sacrifice!

"After the excesses of Christmas it's good to know that Lent will soon enough be here again (begins on Ash Wednesday, March 1). I've decided to keep it again this year in my own way by giving up sugar, cheese, wine and other alcohol. The wine and alcohol will be easy for me to live without, but life without sugar and cheese will present a real challenge. Especially the cheese. Oh, the cheese!

A forgotten benefit of fasting in our time is that what we don't consume ourselves becomes available to others. This is perhaps no longer true in our global economy, or at least not with quite the same directness as in the Middle Ages. In any small community long ago, the local population would be more or less dependent on whatever food was raised by local farmers. As Carolyn Walker Bynum documented in Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women, women who fasted for religious reasons (giving up much more than sweets and cheese, needless to say — Catherine of Siena was reported to have survived for extended periods on a diet of nothing more than consecrated hosts, an extreme dietary fetish that the Church frowned on) saw the direct results of their sacrifice in the distribution of surplus food to the poor.

In this spirit, I've decided to donate all the money I save on wine and other drinks and treats during Lent to charity. After seeing this World Society for the Protection of Animals commercial about bear farming in Asia (where thousands of wild bears are held captive in tiny cages to have the bile from their gall bladders painfully extracted daily), I've decided to give my 'Lent money' to the WSPA. (If anyone objects that my donation will benefit animals rather than people, let me assure them that my Lent donation is not made in isolation.)"

I just hope more people who were considering fasting will be inspired by this.

Posted by claudia Permalink

Let's get Physic-al

I'm reading Lawrence M. Krauss' "Hiding in the Mirror - The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions, from Plato to String theory and Beyond".

What's interesting about this book is the way the author links the developments in physics to art & literature. The quest - even if unintentional - for extra dimensions brings together Einstein, Bohr, Kaluza, Dirac and Picasso, Wells, Faulkner, Duchamp, Lewis Carroll.

Like in many other things in my life, I'm not that interested in the practical side of physics. I'm interested in the concepts and how they interact with or inspired other fields of study. Pure intellectual masturbation.

And also, Krass has a sense of humour (he was born in NY but grew up in Canada):

"Quantum mechanics is, as I like to say, just like the White House: As long as no one can measure what's going on, anything goes!"

"In cooking, the proof is in the tasting. In physics, it is in the testing."

"As any European high school student could tell you, the sum of the angles inside this triangle is 180º."

Although it's an easy read, I realized how much I need to brush up some basic physics concepts and my geometry.

I've always felt like physics was a low priority subject for me. Somehow, I must have had this mystical notion of nature and had no interest in understanding how the world works, risking stopping being marveled at things with a child-like innocence. And physics concepts were not as intuitive to me as other more abstract ones. I can understand the maths behind it but to say that I fully apprehend the meaning of it in practical terms takes me a lot of work.

So, it'll be like going back to school, only this time I have a purpose and no examinations. Which will be much more fun.

Not to mention being motivated by my private interest in space & time.



One example of these literature/science links I had run into before:

-"Are you saying I'm superficial?"
-"No...what others call profundity is only a tesseract, a four-dimensional cube."
in Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco

Although I know now what a tesseract is - especially after being enlightened by Banubula's post on Hinton's cubes and after checking an applet featuring a tesseract visualizer sent by István - I still have no idea what Eco meant.

Salman Rushdie mocked this same excerpt on "Imaginary Homelands" as intellectual pretentiousness/gibberish.

I kinda like it. I'm having fun coming up with alternative interpretations.

Posted by claudia Permalink

January 07, 2006


1. A disease supposed to proceed from a redundance of black bile; but it is better known to arise from too heavy and too viscid a blood; its cure is in evacuation, nervous medicines, and powerful stimuli.
--John Quincy

2. A kind of madness, in which the mind is always fixed on one object;

3. A gloomy, pensive, discontented temper

This melancholy flatters, but unmans you;
What is else but penury of soul,
A lazy frost, a numbness of the mind?
--John Dryden

(found on "Defining the World - The Extraordinary Story of Dr. Johnson's Dictionary" by Henry Hitchings)


Edward Hopper, Morning Sun

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January 06, 2006

The Standard Hotel, Hollywood

"Sitting up on the bed, it was one of those unexpected moments when the whirl of thoughts stops suddenly, a warm feeling of happiness invades the body. An unannounced grasp of the randomness of life.

It was dawn. His peaceful, rhythmic breathing was the only sound in the bedroom. The pale light coming from the window sharpened the contrast between his skin and the white sheets. Dreaming of distant galaxies, of imaginary cities, of lost books and unsolvable puzzles. Of chocolates. Curling up under his arm, she saw a tiny raven, black as the night, escaping from his hair."

- found on a torn piece of paper in the bottom of my backpack.

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January 04, 2006


There's nothing like starting the year in the middle of a natural disaster. More exactly in the middle of the California floods. Even more exactly, trapped in a motel in Ukiah zapping between a Twilight Zone Marathon on Sci-Fi, "The Blues Brothers" on Comedy Central and VH1's "I love the 70's". Water everywhere, roads closed. And I thought this kind of thing only happened on Hollywood movies.



So much to blog about, so lilttle time:

Los Angeles. Hollywood. Plates of Gargantuan proportions on a breakfast place where the waiter kept calling me sweetie.


(The triple threat - perfect for anyone carrying gallbladder stones, isn't it?)

The place is called the Saddle Ranch on Sunset Boulevard. A texan inspired restaurant (mechanical bull included) with an outdoor patio. Sitting outdoors, I was puzzled by how every tour van would slow down while passing in front. It turns out that it used to be the Thunder Roadhouse Cafe, opened by "Easy Riders" Dennis Hopper & Peter Fonda. And that makes it a tourist sight, obviously.


Big Sur and how I didn't get to visit the Henry Miller Library because of three clocks set to three different time zones, none of which was the proper one;


My very first stay on a nudist hot springs resort north of San Francisco (yes, it was cold, it's winter down there too). Before being evacuated to lovely and exciting Ukiah . This deserves a whole post. Later.



Of course it is. Apparently, Christmas is the perfect time to get a new vibrator in San Francisco.


Dinner in bed at the Supper Club in SF and meeting a woman who has been a standup comedian, a professional scrabble player, a sitcom writer (including some episodes for Sex and the City) and is now a "Namer". She names stuff. Like products or companies.


Too much time waiting for a connecting flight in Amsterdam. Hopped on a train and made the mandatory visit to the red light district. It's becoming a tradition for me to be offered coke by sleazy men and invited in by hookers from behind their windows.


Irene accepts major credit cards and publicizes her specialty buy hanging a bullwhip on her window.


VH1's "I love the 70's" showing a bit of an episode of a sitcom I had never watched:

Obese Kid character: "Don't make fun of me! Being fat runs in the family!"
Skinny Kid character: "No one runs in your family."


And much, much more.

Posted by claudia Permalink

December 21, 2005

Oh no, it's Christmas again!

Drowning in work, worries, Christmas lunches and dinners. A situation which is only worsened by the attribulations of gift finding.

Paralyzed by the cold weather.

Will find a way to inflict pain on myself for being so impatient and not waiting in lines to have someone wrap up my presents at the store. Hoping stapled plastic bags will be the new chic.

This blog will be completely neglected during the holidays which I will be spending far, far away.

Looking forward to some Christmas Tamales :-)


" I have an existential map; it has 'you are here' written all over it." -- Steven Wright

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The colors of infamy

"O que mais alegrava Ossama era contemplar o caos. Debruçado ao parapeito da passagem suspensa cujos pilares metálicos rodeavam a praça Tahrir, ele ruminava idéias atrevidamente contrárias aos discursos propagados pelos pensadores oficiais, os quais sustentavam que a perenidade de um país estava subordinada à ordem. O espetáculo que tinha diante dos olhos condenava sem recurso essa afirmação imbecil. Já havia algum tempo que aquela construção, imaginada por engenheiros humanistas para resguardar os infelizes pedestres dos perigos da rua, servia-lhe de observatório panorâmico, reforçando sua íntima convicção de que o mundo podia continuar indefinidamente a viver na desordem e na anarquia." - Cossery, As Cores da Infâmia

"Contemplating the chaos was what cheered Ossama the most. Leaning over the railing of the overpass whose metallic pillars encircled the Tahrir square, he insolently ruminated contrary ideas to the speeches propagated by the official thinkers, which stated that the longevity of a country was subordinate to order. The spectacle his eyes beheld condemned without appeal this imbecile idea. For some time now, that construction, imagined by humanist engineers to protect the unhappy pedestrians from the dangers of the street, served him as a panoramic observatory, strengthening his intimate conviction that the world could indefinitely continue to live in the clutter and the anarchy." - Cossery, The Colors of Infamy



AP's latest. Inspired by the excerpt above.


A la question : « Pourquoi écrivez-vous ? », Albert Cossery répond : « Pour que quelqu'un qui vient de me lire n'aille pas travailler le lendemain ».

To the question: "Why do you write?", Albert Cossery answers: "So that anyone reading it won't go to work the next day."

(AP! Stop reading that! You've got a mortgage!)


Albert Cossery is an egyptian anarchist who is 88 years old and has lived the past 56 years in a hotel room in Paris. He was admired by Henry Miller and Camus and has only written 8 books. It took him 16 years to write "The Colors of Infamy". Sometimes he would write only one sentence a day. As he says, he can't afford to waste any more time on writing because he's having so much fun with other stuff.

More on The Colors of Infamy here.

Posted by claudia Permalink

December 17, 2005

Slow blog

Lélé Senior has a new blog - a slow blog as he puts it.The fast blog doesn't leave much space for his more elaborate musings. I have loved his writing ever since we were college students.

When are we starting that Portuguese Knights Templar version of a Dan Brown's style novel? We could become filthy rich ;-)

Posted by claudia Permalink

The Odyssey from Stick Figures to Male Torsos



I am indeed a theory lover. I'm probably the only one at drawing classes to prefer the times when the teacher talks to the times we have to draw.

This is a very weird drawing course. The teacher is a very grumpy man, even rude, who takes his art very seriously. Which can sometimes be hilarious.

We were told to forget everything we knew about drawing (which in my case wasn't much) and start looking at the world with new eyes. We slowly integrate degrees of complexity into our sketches. Right now we've passed movement drawing (a doodle of the motion of the model) and we're starting volume. Anytime anyone complains about his own sketch as "It's completely out of proportion", the teacher says: "Good, we haven't covered proportions yet."

Oh. And there's a nude model on every class.


I arrived really late. I had no idea what the exercise was and tried to sneak a peak at the next colleague's sketch without any success. I started playing with my crayon, praying the exercise would soon be over. The teacher comes behind me:
Teacher: [blah, blah, blah, shouldn't have arrived late, no method whatsoever, we're doing volume drawing] "That drawing is ruined, you won't be able to make it transmit volume even if you crawl on your knees to Fatima * ".
Claudia:" It's OK, I'm not a believer so that wouldn't even be an option."


After being criticized yet again by something I did on a drawing, I promised to mend it. Of course I didn't, I am lazy and was hoping the teacher wouldn't pass by me again. He did.
Teacher(sarcastically): "So, I guess you're happy?" [with the drawing]
Claudia:" I'm not particularly happy today, but I suppose you weren't asking about my private life?"


We were told to look at the model, who is changing positions continuously; a beautiful, improvised choreography. Only when the urge to draw comes should we start. There was a day that it just wouldn't come to me so I just sat there, waiting for the "click". It was a male nude model.

My friend AP sitting next to a colleague who was asking him why I wasn't drawing: "She only comes here to see naked men live."


Teacher: "Some people come to me to share what their purpose is on taking this course. Some say that they're here as a past time. I tell those people that even if you don't come here, time will pass anyway. We're here to learn how to draw!"


One of the male models is sitting naked on a stool, head and torso slightly to the right, left hand on his knee, his legs open in my direction. I suddenly think how much fun these boring classes would be if he got a bit excited.


Chubby women are much easier to draw.


Everyone wants to finish their drawings. Sometimes students complain that there's not enough time to complete an exercise. That's when the teacher started accusing western civilization and how we only get to see the finished products and how everything that is incomplete is not worthy. And then he started showing slides of incomplete drawings/studies by Rembrandt.


*Fatima: Portuguese catholic shrine where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to 3 children. It's a popular pilgrimage destination and believers who ask for miracles and are granted them usually crawl on their knees around the shrine.

Posted by claudia Permalink

December 13, 2005

Stolen from AC's Encyclopedia

Tudo o que é vivo tem um ligeiro cheiro a morto – exclamou Marija de Breslov, parteira de William Möller, enquanto lhe cortava o cordão umbilical. Admoestada pelo pai da criança sobre a rudeza da frase, respondeu: – Quando nasce uma criança, sr. coronel, abre-se uma cova. O cordão umbilical é o que nos liga à origem e não nos deixa perder num labirinto, liga-nos à matriz. É o fio de Ariadne que nos cortam para sermos abandonados à mercê do monstro de Minos, à vida labiríntica. Esse cordão, o umbilical, vai para o lixo e é substituído por outro que começa nas minhas mãos de parteira e termina nas do meu marido. Ele é coveiro.


Everything that is alive exhales a discreet odor of death - said Marija de Breslov, William Möller's midwife, while cutting his umbilical cord. Admonished by the father on the harshness of the phrase, she answered: - When a child is born, Colonel, we dig a hole in the ground. The umbilical cord is what links us to our origin and saves us from getting lost in a labyrinth for it binds us to the womb. It is our own thread of Ariadne which is cut in order to abandon us at the mercy of the monster of Minos, to the labyrinthic life. That cord, the umbilical cord, is thrown in the garbage and is replaced by another one that starts on my hands as a midwife and ends on my husband's. He's a grave digger.


I would link to the blog from where I stole this but it's password protected. It's a precious little gem only some are allowed to enter :-)

Posted by claudia Permalink

December 10, 2005

Winter Sun


One of my greatest winter time pleasures is to sit in a bench in a sunny spot in a park, a new book in my hand. The promise of a quiet time, all to myself, the anticipating of the opening of the front cover and reading the first lines. You can easily judge a book by its opening lines. Some of them stick to your memory even though you can't remember anything else. They are the author's chance of making a good, lasting first impression.

Now that I am physically separated from my books, it seems I appreciate every new acquisition even more. It's like starting all over again, the excitement of building a new private library. It started out as an interesting - yet painful - exercise: having to leave your books behind and considering you can bring a dozen or so with you, which ones would you choose? My grandfather's dictionary; the Quartet, the Sheltering Sky; Gordon; Shakespeare; Palomar; Ficciones; some Kundera; some philosophy books. I get jealous of my books. P has been lending some to his new housemaid's daughter. Apparently she likes to read, they're poor and she got very excited when she entered the study, covered by books from wall to wall. I have mixed feelings about this borrowing.

I hadn't been to the Gulbenkian gardens for a while. I felt like a lizard desperately looking for a nice, smooth rock where to rest and warm up. But the winter sun was playing a trick on me. Hanging low in the sky, it completely shattered the picture I had imagined of a splendorous sunny garden. Only two months ago, I sat in the open air amphitheater, savouring a Gonçalo M. Tavares. Instead, I had to find my way through the maze of paths to find a decent spot. I didn't feel like sitting on the grass and all the benches were covered in the shade. My only option was to sit on the concrete pedestal of a modern statue which turned out to be quite comfortable. Is it just me or concrete is much warmer than stone?

I open the book, it looked promising:

"I was looking for a quiet place to die."

A woman comes and sits on the same pedestal on my left. I was thinking that the garden was big enough for her to find another place but I quickly returned to my reading. She starts smoking. I don't smoke. I don't like that people smoke next to me, especially on a public park and when the wind isn't blowing. In a such a situation and depending on my mood I either ask politely for the person to have her smoke somewhere else or I move away. It felt warm, I didn't want to move. I didn't say anything either. I remembered being told that sometimes what we call superstition is just sense of aesthetics or balance about how the world should work. First, I had to fight to find a sunny spot and now this. Maybe my reading just didn't fit the aesthetics of the situation. She finally finished her cigarette while I delved on my thoughts. Got back to the book.

"Like him, I had majored in English at College, with secret ambitions to go on studying literature or perhaps take a stab in journalism, but I hadn't had the courage to pursue either one. Life got in the way - two years in the army, work, marriage, family responsibilities, the need to earn more and more money, all the muck that bogs us when we don't have the balls to stand up to ourselves."

A man with a crooked back that had been walking back and forth on the pathway just in front of me suddenly stops. He too is enjoying the warmth of the winter sun. I could appreciate this scene if it wasn't for the fact that he was casting a long shadow, all over my feet and legs. I moved slightly to the right. He automatically throws his weight on his right leg, thus making me feel like I'm on a cartoon, a two dimensional Claudia running away from a shadow. He finally picks up where he had stopped that back and forth autistic stroll. My boots are getting warmer again.

"It's about nonexistent worlds, my nephew said, a study of the inner refuge, a map of the place a man goes to when life in the real world is no longer possible."

The woman sitting next to me turns out to be Spanish. Her family, who apparently had been visiting the museums while she waited outside, comes to join her. Now I've got 5 Spanish people next to me, speaking loudly, commenting on the hideous statue they saw and what they should do next. It's always hard for me to concentrate when someone next to me is speaking in a foreign language. I usually don't overhear other people's conversations but my brain can't stop from trying to decipher the weird, unfamiliar sounds that are coming in my direction. It seems that the next stop will be the Spanish department store El Corte Inglés. How imaginative. The equivalent of an American going to the Hard Rock Café when abroad.

"Tom put them off with his doubts and soul-searchings, his obscure disquisitions on the nature of reality, his hesitant manner."

I suddenly feel observed. What is this primitive skill humans still have, this alertness that doesn't leave us to rest, like preys waiting to be hunted? I look behind me and between the iron legs of that grotesque statue figure, I see a man with a camera taking a photo. Of the statue? A photo of me? It doesn't matter, by this point I am convinced there is a universal plot against my reading. The man puts his camera down and I see a familiar smile. Ricardo L. is smiling at me. A "gotcha" look on his face. "Too bad you saw me, I was going quietly away and then I'd send the photo by email". At least this was a nice interruption. R&A are very friendly, interesting people. After a short chat about hiking, rainy weather, crappy Portuguese translations of American authors from the 80's and ginger cookies they leave me to my book.

"Thousands of items were crammed onto the shelves down there - everything from out of print dictionaries to forgotten bestsellers to leather-bound sets of Shakespeare - and Tom had always felt at home in that kind of paper mausoleum, flipping through piles of discarded books and breathing in the old dusty smells."

Despite the occasional kid running by, the garden seems to have quieted down. Which is completely understandable, considering the sun has now dropped behind the museum building. I'm getting cold. I'm going home.


Posted by claudia Permalink

December 08, 2005

Depressed princesses and wizards

"The tradition of a deadened, lethargic woman aroused from her numbness by a man's call was well under way in the nineteenth century: suffice it to recall Kundry from Wagner's Parsifal who, at the begginning of Act II and Act III, is awakened from a catatonic sleep(first through Klingsor's rude summons, then Gurnemanz's kind care), or - from 'real life' - the unique figure of Jane Morris, wife of William Morris and mistress of Dante Gabriel Rosetti. The famous photo of Jane Morris from 1865 presents a depressive woman, deeply absorbed in her thoughts, who seems to await a man's stimulation to pull her out of her lethargy.
The philosophical name for this depression is absolute negativity, what Hegel calls 'The night of the world', the subject's withdrawal into itself. And the link between this depression and the indestructible life-substance is also clear: depression, withdrawal-into-self, is the primordial act of retreat, of maintaining a distance towards the indestructible life-substance, making it appear as a repulsive scintillation." - Slavoj Žižek, The Metastases of Enjoyment

Paula Rego, "Snow White choking on the apple" - which, had I painted it and would have entitled it "where's a Heimlich manoeuvre specialist when you need one?" :-)

This also reminded me of Bruno Bettelheim's interpretation of fairy tales and how all of them seem to be directed at conditioning women's behaviour ("Waiting for Prince Charming" Syndrome, etc.)

And how I immediately associated the description of the Dementors in Harry Potter's books with the symptoms of depression:

"Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can't see them. Get too near a dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself...soul-less and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life." - J.K.Rowling, Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban

( maybe this is the Jane Morris photo he's talking about)

Note to self: will have to post about that annoying habit people have nowadays of saying "I'm depressed" when they're just sad.

Posted by claudia Permalink

December 06, 2005

Why Dan Brown should pursue the "Jesus Lived In India" Theory

I read the DaVinci code last year. I was at New Delhi's airport facing a long flight to Frankfurt without anything to read. I rushed to an airport bookshop and bought it. I tend to avoid popular books - it's my intellectual pretentiousness, you see :-) - but it seemed an easy read for a flight and I wanted to see what everyone was talking about.

I enjoyed it immensely. Like I enjoy popcorn-eating-hollywood movies when I'm in the mood for it.

When some friends and colleagues started talking to me about it I was amazed to discover how everyone took it rather seriously ("Dan Brown did a lot of research for it", "There are several historians who say it's a very well written book with solid proof", "maybe it's all true", etc.,etc.)

I had fun reading it. The scholarly, conspiratory tone only made it more fun. Accurate or not, it doesn't matter. Like reading a magazine horoscope. Or it's like reading a much poorer version of some of Arturo Pérez-Reverte entertaining adventure novels.

And I'm not even a religious person, I'm not offended by some of the assumptions the book makes, I was quite amused by them.

So, I was relieved to read this article by Umberto Eco:

"G K Chesterton is often credited with observing: "When a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn't believe in nothing. He believes in anything." Whoever said it - he was right. We are supposed to live in a sceptical age. In fact, we live in an age of outrageous credulity.

The "death of God", or at least the dying of the Christian God, has been accompanied by the birth of a plethora of new idols. They have multiplied like bacteria on the corpse of the Christian Church -- from strange pagan cults and sects to the silly, sub-Christian superstitions of The Da Vinci Code.

It is amazing how many people take that book literally, and think it is true. Admittedly, Dan Brown, its author, has created a legion of zealous followers who believe that Jesus wasn't crucified: he married Mary Magdalene, became the King of France, and started his own version of the order of Freemasons. Many of the people who now go to the Louvre are there only to look at the Mona Lisa, solely and simply because it is at the centre of Dan Brown's book.

The pianist Arthur Rubinstein was once asked if he believed in God. He said: "No. I don't believe in God. I believe in something greater." Our culture suffers from the same inflationary tendency. The existing religions just aren't big enough: we demand something more from God than the existing depictions in the Christian faith can provide. So we revert to the occult. The so-called occult sciences do not ever reveal any genuine secret: they only promise that there is something secret that explains and justifies everything. The great advantage of this is that it allows each person to fill up the empty secret "container" with his or her own fears and hopes."


In the same aiport bookshop I bought another popular book in India: "Jesus lived in India" (synopsis here). It's even more outrageous which makes it even more fun than Dan Brown's fantasies. It's so far fetched I swear I wish it was true :-)

Jesus In India.jpg

I had read Catherine Clément's "Jesus at the stake" in which she writes about these jesus-lived-in-India theories in fictional terms. I found it very interesting and amusing that Jesus had had tibetan buddhist teachings, survived the crucifixion by practising yoga and fled to Kashmir, dying there of old age. As a secular humanist, it seemed as good explanation as the Vatican's :-). When I went to India I had the chance to ask some Indians about this theory. All of them said: "Of course he lived and died here! Everyone knows that! His tomb is up there in Srinagar...go see it for yourself!" - rather mockingly. Too bad that Srinagar is in Kashmir and that I'm rather cowardly or else I would have gone there.

"Ahmadi Muslims believe that the physical ascension of Jesus to Heaven is a later interpolation. The term "heaven" is used for spiritual bliss which the righteous enjoy after a mortal life.

Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 15:24). Out of twelve tribes of Israel, only two were in the region where Jesus preached. The other ten tribes, as a result of exile, were domiciled in the eastern countries, especially in Afghanistan and Kashmir. It was imperative for Jesus to migrate eastwards to complete his mission.

There is overwhelming evidence that the people of Afghanistan, Kashmir and neighbouring regions are of Israelite ancestry. Their physical features, languages, folklore, customs, and festivals attest to their Israelite heritage. Evidence also comes from the names they give to their villages, their monuments, and ancient historical works and inscriptions.

The presence of Jesus in India is recorded in the ancient Indian literature, and records of Kashmir. Jesus came to Kashmir from the Holy Land during the reign of Raja Gopadatta (49-109 AD) to proclaim his prophethood to the Israelites. He was known as Yusu (Jesus) of the children of Israel. It is recorded that great number of people recognized his holiness and piety and became his disciples. " - more here.

They're making a documentary on it in India.

"According to legend Jesus Christ's tomb lies at Rozabal in Srinagar's old town . "Rozabal" is an abbreviation of Rauza Bal, meaning "tomb of a prophet". Isa (the Islamic name for Christ) was in fact also known as Yuz Asaf (Leader of the Healed). At the entrance there is an inscription explaining that Yuz Asaf is buried along with another Moslem saint. Both have gravestones which are oriented in North-South direction, according to Moslem tradition. However, through a small opening the true burial chamber can be seen, in which there is the Sarcophagus of Yuz Asaf in East-West (Jewish) orientation.

According to advocates of this theory there are carved footprints on the grave stones and when closely examined, carved images of a crucifix and a rosary. The footprints of Yuz Asaf have what appear to be scars represented on both feet, if one assumes that they are crucifixion scars, then their position is consistent with the scars shown in the Turin Shroud (left foot nailed over right). Crucifixion was not practised in Asia, so it is quite possible that they were inflicted elsewhere, such as the Middle East. The tomb is called by some as "Hazrat Issa Sahib" or "Tomb of the Lord Master Jesus". Ancient records acknowledge the existence of the tomb as long ago as 112AD.

Thus the legend that Jesus Christ Himself is buried in Kashmir!"

More books about it here.

Posted by claudia Permalink

December 05, 2005

Christmas Escherism


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December 03, 2005

Deviant Delight

(After Bosch, 2005 by makeoutartist - copyright protected!! but I asked politely) - click to enlarge!

I can remember the first time I went to the Prado and saw the Garden of Earthly Delights. It was such a great impact that, to this day, I can't go to Madrid without going to see it - which usually involves waiting behind dozens of tourists and finally getting close, mouth open in amazement and always finding a new detail I hadn't noticed before.

I came across this fantastic, cartoon-like version of it on DeviantArt. So pop. So great. (thanks Kevin!)

More by makeoutartist/Kevin Strickland here.

Posted by claudia Permalink

December 02, 2005


Ramón Gomez de La Serna was a Spanish writer, inventor of the Greguerías - humorous and poetic epigrams which, for the most parts, were published in newspapers. He defined it as:

Greguería = Humor + Metaphor

Some make great quotations, others great jokes. All are just plain beautiful and witty.


El amor nace del deseo repentino de hacer eterno lo pasajero.

Love is born out of the desire to render eternal what is fleeting.


Entre los carriles de la vía del tren crecen las flores suicidas.

In the middle of the train tracks grow suicidal flowers.


Hay un momento en que el astrónomo, debajo del gran telescopio, se convierte en microbio del microscopio de la luna que se asoma a observarle.

There's a moment when the astronomer, under his big telescope, turns into the microbe which the moon sees with its microscope.



Serpents are the trees' neckties.

(Illustration by David Vela)


Tenía tan mala memoria que se olvidó que tenía mala memoria y comenzó a recordarlo todo.

He had such a poor memory that he forgot that he had a poor memory and started remembering it all.


Escribir con lápiz es marcar sólo la sombra de las palabras.

To write with a pencil is just to mark the shadow of words.


(found this in english only)

It is only in botanical gardens that trees carry visiting cards.


La ü con diéresis es como la letra malabarista del abecedario.

The ü is the juggler of the alphabet.


Los remos son las pestañas de los barcos.

The oars are the boat's eyelashes.


Era un pintor tan viejo que se le habían quedado calvos los pinceles.

The painter was so old that his brushes had gone bald.


El Pensador de Rodin es un ajedrecista a quien le han quitado la mesa.

Rodin's "The Thinker" is a chess player whose table has been taken away.


El libro es el salvavidas de la soledad.

The book is the life-guard of the lonely.

Posted by claudia Permalink

November 30, 2005


Took a fun personality test (quite accurate, me thinks)

* High Curiosity Level
* Low Emotional Reactivity Level
* High Multi-tasking Ability
* High Need for Variety
* High Assertiveness Level


(wondering if the image I have of myself is similar to how other people see me)

Posted by claudia Permalink

November 29, 2005


"While preparing to film a movie entitled A Night in Casablanca, the Marx brothers received a letter from Warner Bros. threatening legal action if they did not change the film’s title. Warner Bros. deemed the film’s title too similar to their own Casablanca, released almost five years earlier in 1942, with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. In response Groucho Marx dispatched the following letter to the studio’s legal department:

Dear Warner Brothers,

Apparently there is more than one way of conquering a city and holding it as your own. For example, up to the time that we contemplated making this picture, I had no idea that the city of Casablanca belonged exclusively to Warner Brothers. However, it was only a few days after our announcement appeared that we received your long, ominous legal document warning us not to use the name Casablanca.

It seems that in 1471, Ferdinand Balboa Warner, your great-great-grandfather, while looking for a shortcut to the city of Burbank, had stumbled on the shores of Africa and, raising his alpenstock (which he later turned in for a hundred shares of common), named it Casablanca.

I just don’t understand your attitude. Even if you plan on releasing your picture, I am sure that the average movie fan could learn in time to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo. I don’t know whether I could, but I certainly would like to try.

You claim that you own Casablanca and that no one else can use that name without permission. What about “Warner Brothers”? Do you own that too? You probably have the right to use the name Warner, but what about the name Brothers? Professionally, we were brothers long before you were. We were touring the sticks as the Marx Brothers when Vitaphone was still a gleam in the inventor’s eye, and even before there had been other brothers—the Smith Brothers; the Brothers Karamazov; Dan Brothers, an outfielder with Detroit; and “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” (This was originally “Brothers, Can You Spare a Dime?” but this was spreading a dime pretty thin, so they threw out one brother, gave all the money to the other one, and whittled it down to “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”)"

And you can read the rest here....(through GrowABrain)

Posted by claudia Permalink

November 28, 2005

So Happy!

Yet another borrowed nephew!

R&M are pregnant! (honoured to have my painting posted on R's blog as Lelezinho's first ultrasound!)

Correction: ok, ok, it might be a niece. But I've been calling him Lelezinho even before they were considering conception ;-)

Posted by claudia Permalink

Arpad & Vieira

Vieira da Silva is probably my favourite Portuguese-born artist. There is a museum with her and Arpad Szenes' works near where I work. I sneaked there the other day on my lunch break to see a temporary photo exhibition. Special photos: portraits of artists on their studios. From Braque to Picasso, from Vieira to Miró.


I've been fascinated with Vieira and Arpad not only because of their brilliant paintings but also because of how I perceived their relationship; realizing how their respective works intertwined and by looking at photos of them together. I've seen photos dated from the 30's to the 80's. 55 years of living together and in all of the photos we can sense this marvelous cumplicity, like art was a special bond that made them inseparable companions.


As a Portuguese artist, Mario Cesariny, said: "Arpad Szenes e Vieira da Silva são a mais bela história de amor e pintura que jamais conheci" - "Arpad Szenes and Vieira da Silva are the most beautiful love and painting story I've ever known."

Posted by claudia Permalink

November 27, 2005

I've made it!

I met the Great Persky; I tried to be discrete but someone has already found me. Off with his head!

Posted by claudia Permalink

November 25, 2005

ZX Spectrum Blues

I miss my ZX Spectrum. I've been avoiding downloading the emulator because the last time I did (before having to format the disk) I spent a weekend in my pajamas playing Chucky Egg II, jumping over spiders and rats, finding milk and cocoa.



I miss Lazy Jones (a video game using the Linking Room narrative device :-). My very first game after Pong.



I miss Hungry Horace, that incipient, fruit eating version of Pac Man.


I miss Auf Wiedersehen Monty, where Monty Mole goes around Europe collecting money to buy a greek island.



I miss Daley Thompson's Decathlon (desperately pressing "O" and "P" to make the characters run).



I miss Jet Set Willy II and its maddening, annoying background music.



I miss Herbert's Dummy Run, a toddler looking for his parents inside a department store.



I miss typing LOAD "" and hearing that awful sound coming from the tape recorder. I miss POKE.

( so 80's)

Posted by claudia Permalink

November 24, 2005


My very short mention to Yves Klein's patented shade of blue was too short and not that accurate, as AJ pointed out to me (handy links he sent me too). So, here goes another attempt.


"Klein rejected the idea of representation or personal expression in painting, and became obsessed with immaterial values, beyond the visible or tactile. He began making monochrome paintings in 1947 as a way of attaining total freedom. A decade later, he developed his trademark, patented colour, International Klein Blue (IKB). He executed a series of paintings using IKB, as well as sculptures made from objects such as sponges dipped in the colour.", from the Tate.


"Once, in 1946, while still an adolescent, I was to sign my name on the other side of the sky during a fantastic "realistico-imaginary" journey. That day, as I lay stretched upon the beach of Nice, I began to feel hatred for birds which flew back and forth across my blue, cloudless sky, because they tried to bore holes in my greatest and most beautiful work.

Birds must be eliminated."

---Yves Klein, The Chelsea Hotel Manifesto

Posted by claudia Permalink

John Currin

Dear George "help, I'm having writer's block" B. asked me if I liked John Currin's paintings. I had no idea who this was. Googling for images of his work, I realized I had seen this painting at the Tate Modern "Nude/Action/Body" exhibition when I was in London two weeks ago.

"More recently Currin has turned to the mood and atmosphere of Flemish and Italian Renaissance paintings as the vehicle for his exploration of the foundation of cultural clichés and the desires behind them."


R. said "Strangely beautiful". I thought it was creepy.

More creepy is the fact that "Most of Currin's women are blonde; most resemble him, and this is no exception."

There. Where's my short story?

Posted by claudia Permalink

November 23, 2005


"The Kugelmass Episode" is one of my favourite Woody Allen's short stories for two main reasons:

- he uses a fictional character crossover as a narrative device which is something rather common in film and tv but seldom used in literature;
- the idea of a magical machine that can transport me to the inside of a book sounds fascinating.


"In Woody Allen’s New Yorker short story “The Kugelmass Episode,” collected in Side Effects (Allen 1982), Kugelmass is a professor of humanities at the City College of New York who, longing for some excitement in his middle-aged life and sick of the sensible advice offered him by his analyst, hooks up with a magician named The Great Persky. Persky has invented a machine that can insert living human beings into books: the client climbs into a coffin-like box and The Great Persky throws in a book of the client’s choice, whereupon the lid is closed and the client is magically transported into the chosen book.

Kugelmass chooses [Flaubert's] Madame Bovary, and appears in Emma’s bedroom at an auspicious period in between her affairs with Leon and Rodolphe(...). They have a steamy affair, and college students all over the country wonder who this bald Jew is, kissing Emma Bovary on page 100. " --- more here

Emma couldn't hide her excitement at seeing him. The two spent hours together, laughing and talking about their different backgrounds. Before Kugelmass left, they made love. "My God, I'm doing it with Madame Bovary!" Kugelmass whispered to himself. "Me, who failed freshman English."


So, if you're reading "Alice in Wonderland" and all of a sudden there's a thin brunette wearing glasses walking around, making small talk to the Mad Hatter and taking photos, that means I found the Great Persky :-)

Posted by claudia Permalink

November 22, 2005

Kunst Bar

Clever online animation here: the Art Bar. In a few minutes a trip through History of Modern Art, alcoholic drinks involved.


(A Miró Menu at the Kunst Bar)

Posted by claudia Permalink

November 21, 2005

Random Thoughts & Notes

Listening to Leonard Cohen while driving this weekend. He's probably the only serious composer/songwriter who can get away with the verses:

Give me crack and anal sex/Take the only tree that's left

(The Future)



The subversive painter Yves Klein patented this shade of blue. I hope he's dead, otherwise I'm in trouble.


Since Ian Curtis commited suicide and you optimistically think that you're experiencing mild symptoms of SAD due to this uncommon lack of sunny days, Joy Division might not be the best choice of music to listen to while driving to work.


Thou shalt not reshelve books in bookshops according to your own filing system.


Just found out how I love Rooibos with lemon and ginger (perfect companion to Anna's Pepparkakor Ginger Thins).


Can't drive in the rain without humming a Tom Waits song:

Well, these diamonds on my windshield
These tears from heaven


I've been getting some visitors who are googling for odd stuff:

"everything to know about senegal chameleons" - I've been to Senegal and didn't see any;

"why does claudia run away from home?" - never did.

"claudia sexy web site" - thank you! :-))))

"examples of cyclical time in 100 years of solitude" - hmm. nice idea for a blog post.

"what does it mean claudia" - unfortunately, if you're named Claudia like me, you don't want to know. That's one big disappointment. You pick up one of those books about the meaning of names and every feminine name means either "beautiful", "gentle", "flower", etc. Claudia just means "the one who limps" after Claudius, the roman emperor with a leg shorter than the other.

My personal favourite:

"what do portuguese people look like?" - I'd post a photo of myself but since I've been told several times I look french that shouldn't be of any help.


My new personal favourite:

"claudia you are the center of my mundo" - the feeling is mutual ;-)

Posted by claudia Permalink

Mr. Mojo Risin'

When I was 13 I decided to paint my bedroom walls bright red. I hanged a huge Jim Morrison b&w poster (the young lion photo series by Joel Brodsky, see below) by my bed. I bought every biography of his life I could get my hands on - which was not that easy seeing that we’re talking about Portugal in the 80’s!


More often than I care to admit, I have been made fun of by pseudo-intellectuals for having been a Jim Morrison fan as a teenager. I know it’s a bit pathetic for a 13/14 year old girl to lust after a dead, alcoholic, drug abusing rock star but the fact is that Mr. Morrison was such a great intellectual influence in my life.

I realized this the other day, while meditating about synchronicities, and mentally mapped some of the connections(click to enlarge):

(I've been having so much fun lately drawing mind maps)

I read so many, many books during this period which in one or other way were triggered by these references. I became an obsessive reader - like a chain smoker, I couldn't stop. Then I found boys…… Just kidding, it’s hard to distract me from my reading even today ;-)

(even later, as any true morrisonite, when I visited Paris I HAD to visit his grave at Père-Lachaise. And take a look at the building where he lived –and died - Rue Beautreillis, nr 17)

And none of this would have happened if it hadn't been for my very cool parents LP collection (Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Queen, The Doors, AC/DC, Cream,Yes, Moody Blues, Procol Harum, Leo Ferré, Jacques Brel, Serge Gainsbourg and many, many more).


synchronicities, coincidences, etc. I went to see "The Constant Gardener" yesterday (fabulous movie). There was an intermission and as I was deep in thought about the brevity of life, how petty my own problems are compared to my other fellow human beings who are striving to survive, how my hapiness is sheer luck and all the thoughts one has on a particular sentimentally vulnerable day, when I suddenly realize that the theatre's background music is "L.A. Woman" by the Doors ;-)

Posted by claudia Permalink

November 20, 2005

"But there was no other place in the house so secure from prying eyes as this. He had the key, and no one else could enter it. Beneath its purple pall, the face painted on the canvas could grow bestial, sodden, and unclean. What did it matter? No one could see it. He himself would not see it.

Why should he watch the hideous corruption of his soul? He kept his youth-- that was enough.

Hour by hour, and week by week, the thing upon the canvas was growing old. It might escape the hideousness of sin, but the hideousness of age was in store for it. The cheeks would become hollow or flaccid. Yellow crow's feet would creep round the fading eyes and make them horrible.

The hair would lose its brightness, the mouth would gape or droop, would be foolish or gross, as the mouths of old men are.

There would be the wrinkled throat, the cold, blue-veined hands, the twisted body, that he remembered in the grandfather who had been so stern to him in his boyhood. The picture had to be concealed. There was no help for it."

--Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray


"But at length, as the labor drew nearer to its conclusion, there were admitted none into the turret; for the painter had grown wild with the ardor of his work, and turned his eyes from canvas merely, even to regard the countenance of his wife.

And he would not see that the tints which he spread upon the canvas were drawn from the cheeks of her who sate beside him.

And when many weeks bad passed, and but little remained to do, save one brush upon the mouth and one tint upon the eye, the spirit of the lady again flickered up as the flame within the socket of the lamp.

And then the brush was given, and then the tint was placed; and, for one moment, the painter stood entranced before the work which he had wrought; but in the next, while he yet gazed, he grew tremulous and very pallid, and aghast, and crying with a loud voice, 'This is indeed Life itself!' turned suddenly to regard his beloved:–She was dead!"

-- Edgar Allan Poe, The Oval Portrait


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November 19, 2005


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November 16, 2005


Random memories from last weekend's trip to London to attend my very first anglican christening.


Lunch at Upton House just before the christening. Looking at the map of the gardens, I see that number 8 is a "Ha-Ha". Neither the Brit nor the American knew what this was and there was no time to check it out...so the Portuguese had to google it up.

"A haha or ha-ha was a variety of sunken border used in formal European gardens and parks of the 18th and 19th centuries. They typically consisted of a garden wall set in a trench or dry moat, with the top of the wall at the garden's ground level. This would prevent cattle or unexpected guests from entering the garden without disrupting the sightlines." from the Wikipedia

(stolen from wordsmith)

"You will hurt yourself, Miss Bertram," she cried, "you will certainly hurt yourself against those spikes - you will tear your gown - you will be in danger of slipping into the ha-ha." - Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

Obviously, the first question that comes to mind is how is a "ha-ha" related to Pope's aesthetic principles...:-)


Paper poppies pinned to jackets - it was remembrance day.


Having fun with britishisms: Got to go to the loo and take off my knickers or Got to go to the bathroom and take off my panties?


Always a nice topic of conversation:

"Oh, you're Portuguese? I once was in Portugal on holidays and had my appendix removed there."

And after someone said that the same story had been told to a spaniard:

"Well, it's all Iberia, isn't it?"

(actually, Spain has taken over the word Iberia; no Portuguese actually thinks of him/herself as an inhabitant of Iberia)


Ruth running away once the Vicar said that she would be cleansed of all sin by baptism. Ruth crying and screaming before being taken to the stoup by her godmother and staying put, completely stunned, once the freezing holy water hit her head.

Such a great church in the middle of nowhere. Well, not nowhere but somewhere in Burton Dassett, Warwickshire.


Feeling back in India while having dinner at the Red Fort.


Mandatory visit to Tate Modern. Big Rousseau Jungle paintings exhibition.


"He couldn't paint, could he? These are awful."

" What do you mean? Apollinaire praised him!"

" Well, Apollinaire was a big joker, wasn't he?"


Drooling over books by Foucault and Barthes at the Tate Bookshop.

"You really like theory don't you?"



Perfect: Sex & Books. What a great idea ;-)
(Charing Cross Road)


Jan (the proud American grandfather named after the polish politician and pianist Jan Paderewsky) convincing me how the Portuguese used Chinese maps copied by a Venetian to go on their seafaring explorations. (note to self: got to buy 1421)

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November 14, 2005

personal map

jim morrison

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As r. says, "You're full of hates!".

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November 11, 2005

Time gifts

"Do you remember the story about the astronomer?" Without turning around she pointed her thumb to the right to one of the three paintings on the wall. "If it hadn't been for his nighttime visit beore the execution, Lazar would have happily gone to the stake, convinced of how correct, even exalted, his sacrifice would be."
"But it was a mistake. Visiting the future showed him that his sacrifice had no meaning."
"Do you think that people should be freed from their mistakes? Even when it ends up destroying their happiness?"
"Happiness based on illusion, deception?"
"And what happiness isn't?"
He did not know how to reply at first. He felt like a chess player whose opponent had made what seems like a quiet move, but with many traps hidden behind it.
"What is the meaning of happiness if it entails the loss of a life?" he asked at last, in a muffled voice.
"And what is the meaning of life without happiness? That is the impossible choice Lazar was forced to make. With the best intentions. Everything would have been much simpler if he had not seen the future."

--- Time Gifts, Zoran Zivkovic

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November 10, 2005

Plagiarism :-)

claudia_green.jpg ricardo_green.jpg

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November 09, 2005



"On one occasion, he did not move for four hours, the time it took him to read a large novel by Balzac, from start to finish. Then he would undertake his long tour of the bookshops, after which he would go to another café, where he would sit but not mix with a few acquaintances of his with semi-intellectual pretensions. He would listen to "their nonsense" and hardly say a word, and then, after all these marathon sittings and feeble peregrinations, return home on the bus. He is always described as walking wearily along, looking very distinguished, but with a somewhat careless gait, his eyes alert, holding in his hand a leather bag crammed with the books and cakes and biscuits on which he would have to survive until evening, since lunch was never served at home. He carried that famous bag with great nonchalance, quite unconcerned that volumes of Proust were sitting cheek by jowl with titbits and even courgettes. Apparently the bag always contained more books than were strictly necessary, as if it were the luggage of a reader setting off on a long journey, who was afraid he might run out of reading matter while away."

Javier Marias on Giovanni Tomasi di Lampedusa (what a sexy name! - to be honest, it was the only reason I ever started reading Il Gattopardo); at the ThreePenny review.

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November 08, 2005



The nerdiest birthday gift ever: roman numeral dice.

(sort of an excuse to post this nerd joke)


He was so upset that he went to a bar near his house for a drink to settle his nerves.

"What'll it be?" asked the bartender.

"A martinus," said the latin teacher.

"Don't you mean martini?"

"If I wanted more than one I'd ask for more than one."

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November 07, 2005

My thighs hurt like hell

Another R&A guided hike. This time we walked (and climbed steep, rocky hills) from Cabo Espichel to Sesimbra. A great opportunity to go to some small, pretty beaches which are usually only accessible by boat.

"The Sea is Water's exaggerated way of not being shy." - Gonçalo M. Tavares in A perna esquerda de Paris

(author exchange with Sunday Morning and founding out that Pedro is blogging too)

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November 04, 2005

Avoir l'apprenti dans le Soleil

To have the apprentice in the Sun, Duchamp, 1914

Or how to make the viewer uncomfortable wit this total incoherence between the pictorial and the verbal image. The absence of the usual complementarity between image and written word leaves us perplex. The title, or signifier of meaning, and the object, the signified meaning, do not produce a sign, a way to understand.

Duchamp later explained that "To have the apprentice in the Sun" is the caption of a drawing that represents an ethical cyclist climbing a hill which is reduced to a line". He also said that art shouldn't just be visual. It should also increase or desire to think and understand. It carries us to the land of metaphors.

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Note to Self

Stress is your enemy. Stress is your enemy. Stress makes you want to murder your drawing classes colleagues and teachers for stating the obvious during one hour and a half. Stating the obvious in a painful, needlessly detailed way while I'm tripping on my own adrenaline, on the edge of the seat, refraining myself from shouting "get on with it!". I should have signed up for something more physically demanding. How can anyone take one hour and a half to go through a list of drawing material consisting of ten items as complex as "25 sheets of A4 paper"? Have I mentioned how hate when people state the obvious? *take a deep breath*

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November 03, 2005

The Center

Woodcut from William Cuningham The cosmographical glasse, 1559 -- Copyright Adam McLean 1997-2004, This image is taken from the alchemy web site www.levity.com/alchemy

"This illustration from William Cuningham's The Cosmographical Glasse (1559) represents Ptolemy's conception of the universe. Atlas, dressed like an ancient king, bears on his shoulders an armillary sphere representing the universe. In the center of the sphere is earth, made up of the elements of earth and water. Surrounding the earth are two more elemental spheres, for air and for fire. Other bands represent the spheres of the planets, the firmament of fixed stars, the crystalline sphere, the primum mobile, and the signs of the zodiac. Below Atlas are lines on cosmological themes from Virgil's Aeneid." ----taken from world treasures of the Library of Congress

I've always been so much fond of the Ptolemaic conception of the Universe. And it is accurate in conceptual terms if not scientific: the Earth is currently the center of my Universe! :-)

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November 02, 2005

It sounds just perfect

 Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."
--Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass


There. I'm feeling nepheloid. Figure that out.



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Conversation inside a car - closed windows

C: I've read this silly theory on the internet the other day that explains why yawning is contagious: you yawn to equalize the pressure on your eardrums. The air you expel while yawning unbalances other people's ear pressures, so they too must yawn.


Lunatic at the wheel: Does that mean that if I pass gas right now you'll yawn? 



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October 31, 2005

Posted under protest


Ok! Ok! There! I posted it! Get off my back!

(AP is trying to turn my blog into his online portfolio)

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"Simonides was engaged to recite a poem at a banquet, given by one of his patrons, and after doing so the room fell in, burying all in its debris, and disfiguring the bodies so as to render identification impossible. Simonides, however, had noted the position each guest had occupied, and was thus able to point out the remains of each. Cicero and Quintilian both refer to his system and advocate its use; and we may add that it is the basis of most modern methods. Simonides found that to fix a number of places in the mind in a certain order was a great help to the natural faculty. His plan was to form in the mind a building which was divided and subdivided into distinct parts arranged in a certain order. The order of these parts were to be thoroughly learnt. As many words as there were parts were then symbolised by the images of living creatures, and when a number of things were to be committed to memory in certain order, mental images representing them were to be placed regularly in the several parts of the building.."



"The Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci went to China in 1582 and spent the remaining 32 years of his life there.
In 1596, Ricci wrote A Treatise on Mnemonics, in Chinese, for the governor of Jiangxi Province. In it he recreated the medieval European idea of a memory palace - an edifice you build in your mind and furnish with mnemonic devices. Recollection is a process of walking through the rooms and associating information with their contents. Those contents must be distinct and dramatic."



Johannes Romberch, Congestorium artificiosae memeoriae, 1533



Robert Fludd, Utriusque Cosmi, 1619



Giulio Camillo, the Theatre of Memory

"Various accounts describe the structure as a building which would allow one or two individuals at a time within its interior. The insides were inscribed with a variety of images, figures, and ornaments. It was full of little boxes arranged in various orders and grades. Upon entering the Theater, the spectator will be able to discourse on any subject no less fluently than Cicero as he stands on a stage looking out towards the auditorium where the images are placed among seven pillars or grades. Each grade representing the expanding history of divine thought. In the first grade there were the 'seven essential measures' depicted by the 'seven known planets' which were the First Causes of creation and from which all things depended. The highest grade of the Theatre was the seventh level, which was assigned to all the arts, 'both noble and vile,' and is represented by Prometheus who stole the technology of fire from the gods."


"Ireneo began by enumerating, in Latin and Spanish, the cases of prodigious memory cited in the Historia Naturalis: Cyrus, king of the Persians, who could call every soldier in his armies by name; Mithridates Eupator, who administered justice in the twenty-two languages of his empire; Simonides, inventory of mnemotechny; Metrodorus, who practised the art of repeating faithfully what he heard once. With evident good faith Funes marvelled that such things should be considered marvellous. He told me that previous to the rainy afternoon when the blue-tinted horse threw him, he had been - like any Christian - blind, deaf-mute, somnambulistic, memoryless. (I tried to remind him of his precise perception of time, his memory for proper names; he paid no attention to me.) For nineteen years, he said, he had lived like a person in a dream: he looked without seeing, heard without hearing, forgot everything - almost everything. On falling from the horse, he lost consciousness; when he recovered it, the present was almost intolerable it was so rich and bright; the same was true of the most ancient and most trivial memories. A little later he realized that he was crippled. This fact scarcely interested him. He reasoned (or felt) that immobility was a minimum price to pay. And now, his perception and his memory were infallible."

-- Jorge Luis Borges, Funes the Memorious


"Memory is, therefore, neither Perception nor Conception, but a state or affection of one of these, conditioned by lapse of time. As already observed, there is no such thing as memory of the present while present, for the present is object only of perception, and the future, of expectation, but the object of memory is the past. All memory, therefore, implies a time elapsed; consequently only those animals which perceive time remember, and the organ whereby they perceive time is also that whereby they remember."

-- Aristotle, On Memory and Reminiscence




"One of the things for which I am still grateful is the way in which we were taught to memorize. Most Tibetans have good memories, but we who were training to be medical monks had to know the names and exact descriptions of a very large number of herbs, as well as knowing how they could be combined and used. We had to know much about astrology, and be able to recite the whole of our sacred books. A method of memory training had been evolved throughout the centuries. We imagined that we were in a room lined with thousands and thousands of drawers. Each drawer was clearly labelled, and the writing on all the labels could be read with ease from where we stood. Every fact we were told had to be classified, and we were instructed to imagine that we opened the appropriate drawer and put the fact inside. We had to visualize it very clearly as we did it, visualize the "fact" and the exact location of the "drawer". With little practice it was amazingly easy to - in imagination - enter the room, open the correct drawer, and extract the fact required as well as all related facts."

-- Lobsang Rampa, The third eye


An excerpt of Proust and his madeleine here.

"But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection."

-- Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu

"Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains; another, a moonlit beach; a third, a family dinner of pot roast and sweet potatoes during a myrtle-mad August in a Midwestern town. Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines hidden under the weedy mass of years. Hit a tripwire of smell and memories explode all at once. A complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth."

-- Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

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October 28, 2005

A prophylactic post

It struck me the other day that there are awkward names for condom brands (yes, weird topic on which to waste my time but I am addicted to language in general).

It's funny how we get so used to or familiar with some brand names that most times we won't think about the real meaning of the word or what does it evoke.


Trojan from the USA

My own free association: Trojan ----> Trojan Horse.

Trojan horse: a way to gain malicious access; (from the wooden horse where the greeks hid to conquer Troy to the computer programs that perform undesired functions)

Hmm. It sounds like it's hiding an unpleasant surprise. Not the least appealing.


Durex from the UK

I personally associate it with the latin phrase "Dura lex, sed lex" - "The law is tough but it's the law". But the company says that "The Durex brand name was derived from the three principal attributes of the product – Durability, Reliability and Excellence." Durability? In most cases it really doesn't need to be THAT durable and it's not like it will be reused or anything ;-)))

I don't know, it just seems to be the appropriate condom brand for lawyers :-)


Control from Italy

Control: to adjust to a requirement; regulate; to hold in restraint; check.

I understand the rationale behind that one. But shouldn't sex be about losing control? You go to the chemist and ask "I need control"??? How repressed does that sound?


But then again Durex does have some fun ads that make me forget how judicial it sounds:

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October 27, 2005

Feeling like a foreigner

On the last post before my holidays I quoted Chesterton:

"The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land."

So were I a foreigner and I would probably blog about:

- Portugal's banking system shuts down at 5am. Never try to pay anything with your VISA card at that hour: that's when they're "restarting the servers" :-))) Even the ATM's: "For technical reasons you are not allowed to withdraw more than 25 Euros"!!!

- A musical time warp: in every hotel, restaurant or shop it's playing music from the 80's. Really. Everywhere. Alphaville rules.

- Only a Portuguese person will feel it's natural that an old woman's gigantic panties are hanging outside a window on the ground floor; in the middle of a street in the Castle district in Lisboa;

- Will have to give this another thought: "Portuguese people like to look at problems from different angles, appreciate the exploring of possibilities but never really come up with a solution." - which could explain the high level of hours spent in meetings in every company or public institution in this country with little results;

Other random thoughts not really in any way related to Portugal but holidays-induced:

- Why does it take me no more than 5 minutes to check in at the airport counter but every other passenger ahead of me takes... forever? (e.g. people who chat God-knows-what-about with the assistant for ages or those who, carrying two carts with 37.987 bags, look very surprised when they're told they've got to pay for having exceeded the luggage weight limit)

- Another one I have to spare a bit of time to think about: the relationship between memory and olfact. There are some feelings that can be "felt" again by smelling something that evokes a memory. It's not that the smell brings back only the memory of the feeling but also the feeling itself. Like Proust's madeleine.

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Life Instructions

ExperimentaDesign, Lisboa

Sounds good to me. But I suppose you should just be happy just by following the instructions and not really strive.

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October 26, 2005

Lately, I've been...(among many other things)

shouting numbers in german...


pretending to be a tourist in my own Lisboa and feeling at home in Madrid...


completely offline/unreachable...


taking naps...


amused by Smullyan's "5000 bc and Other Philosophical Fantasies" (what a great birthday present from R!)...

"Saul Gorn once told me his theory of asceticism :"It is well known that the longer one postpones a pleasure, the greater the pleasure is when one finally gets it. Therefore, if one postpones it forever, the pleasure should be infinite."



finding out about Remedios Varo eerie paintings at Reina Sofia's bookshop...



fantasizing about buying every book at Librería La Central in Atocha...


communicating with an otter...


finding secret doors at Quinta da Regaleira...


laughing at Hugo & Nicole's purple outfit dancing and singing on the Eurovision Song Contest...



singing silly portuguese cartoon songs...


trying to understand spanish slang/smut on the El País classified ads while sitting on a bench in Parque Del Retiro...


Hah. In short, great holidays.


and more recently...

irritated by an HR coworker who insisted that I should have had my cellphone on during my holidays because she had something very urgent to tell me. Since that urgent call was not about having been fired or given a raise, it was obviously not that important....

(which makes me want to post about the "cellphone induced social high availability syndrome" and how everyone assumes that just because you own one or because it is on, you MUST take all the calls no matter where you are or what you're doing.)

Maybe later.

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October 14, 2005

Paseo & Tapeo

"The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land." - G. K. Chesterton

I'll be back (can't write this without hearing Schwarzenegger saying it in my head; damn it!).

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October 13, 2005


Gomes Freire, Lisboa

I have no idea what this is. There's an art gallery across the street...I wonder.


Addendum: Miguel tells me this is an art project from a visual art school - Maumaus.

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October 12, 2005

Cold feet

I definitely need one of these...before the winter comes.

Design by Maria Vinka for IKEA

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Maria Cecília Marra

I realized why I liked Manuel Mujica Lainez drawings (see this post) so much. They remind me vaguely of some Brazilian books of my childhood which were beautifully illustrated by Maria Cecília Marra (who, according to my googling, is now the art director of a magazine).

One of my favourites was Ruth Rocha's Romeo and Juliet story where the characters were butterflies.


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October 11, 2005

Slowness, Milan Kundera

(one of my favourite books ever)


There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting. Consider this utterly commonplace situation: a man is walking down the street. At a certain moment, he tries to recall something, but the recollection escapes him. Automatically, he slows down. Meanwhile, a person who wants to forget a disagreeable incident he has just lived through starts unconsciously to speed up his pace, as if he were trying to distance himself from a thing still too close to him in time.

In existential mathematics, this takes the form of two basic equations: the degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting.


The feeling of being elect is present, for instance, at every love relation. For love, is by definition, an unmerited gift: being loved without merit is the proof of real love. If a woman tells me: I love you because you are intelligent, you are decent, because you don't chase women, because you do the dishes then I'm disappointed. Such love seems a rather self-interested business. How much finer is to hear: I'm crazy about you even though you're not intelligent nor decent, even though you're a liar, an egotist, a bastard.


...the man hunched over his motorcycle can focus only on the present instant of his flight; he is caught in a fragment of time cut off both from the past and the future: he is wrenched from the continuity of time; in other words, he is in a state of ecstasy. In this state he is unaware of his age, his worries, and so he has no fear, because the source of fear is in the future, and a person freed of the future has nothing to fear.

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I've been fascinated by this grafitti for a while; then I started reading Paul Watzlawick's "How real is real?" and there was a very similar sentence in the preface.

Campo Mártires da Pátria, Lisboa

"The worst illusion is to think there is only one reality."

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October 10, 2005


pointingit - Finding architecture with Google Earth.

Backwards - a Google Mirror, literally.

Muppets take over Google - The Swedish Chef was one of my favorites. Bork, Bork, Bork.

Living is easy with your eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see - Beatles' Strawberry Fields Original Video (love them, one of these days will have to post a photo of my mother, as a teenager, wearing a Beatles hairdo ;-)

I love me - the shower curtain at the Triton in San Francisco!

Walking project - Desire lines are those well-worn ribbons of dirt that you see cutting across a patch of grass, often with nearby sidewalks — particularly those that offer a less direct route — ignored. In winter, desire lines appear spontaneously as tramped down paths in the snow. I love that these paths are never perfectly straight. Instead, like a river, they meander this way and that, as if to prove that desire itself isn't linear and (literally, in this case) straightforward. - wordspy.com


Map of the Kingdom of Love from Cartographical Curiosities (Land der Lüste sounds promising)

Le Cool Magazine - What's happening in Madrid, Barcelona, Lisboa?

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ExperimentaDesign's Lounging Space, Sta. Catarina, Lisboa


A reflection on a Chinatown ad. San Francisco.

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Short Anthology of Erotic Mirrors

The Chevalier stops, dazzled, at the door: the mirrors covering all the walls multiply their reflections in such a way that suddenly an endless procession of couples are embracing all around them. (Slowness, Kundera)


Eugenie: (lies down) How comfortable I am in this haven! But why, my friends, have you put up all these mirrors?
Saint-Ange: There is a great sensual excitement in seeing lewdness multiplied around oneself in an infinite variety of positions. All parts of the body are exposed simultaneously, and perceiving the splendid combination of images adds enormously to one's pleasure. (Philosophy in the Bedroom, Marquis de Sade)


He was in a bedroom with a canopied bed on a dais. There were furs on the floor and vaporous white curtains at the windows and mirrors, more mirrors. He was glad that he could bear these repetitions of himself, infinite reproductions of a handsome man, to whom the mystery of the situation had given a glow of expectation and alertness he had never known.
There were mirrors all around them, repeating the image of the woman lying there, her dress fallen off her breasts, her beautiful naked feet hanging over the bed, her legs slightly parted under her dress. (Delta of Venus, Anaïs Nin)


Each home elicited a specific way of looking at it. In Éric's apartment the bed was the nerve center in a kaleidoscopic arrangement of camera lenses, screens and mirrors. (The sexual life of Catherine M., Catherine Millet)


...she was seated on this chair, naked, and they kept her either from crossing her legs or bringing them together.
And since the wall in front of her was covered from floor to ceiling with a large mirror which was unbroken by any shelving, she could see herself, thus open, each time her gaze strayed to the mirror. (The story of O, Pauline Réage)


I had such a good image to go with these excerpts...but this is a respectable blog after all ;-)

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October 08, 2005


"Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living."
-Miriam Beard

"There is a third dimension to traveling, the longing for what is beyond."

Jan Myrdal

"I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move."

Robert Louis Stevenson

"Traveling through the world produces a marvelous clarity in the judgment of men. We are all of us confined and enclosed within ourselves, and see no farther than the end of our nose. This great world is a mirror where we must see ourselves in order to know ourselves. There are so many different tempers, so many different points of view, judgments, opinions, laws and customs to teach us to judge wisely on our own, and to teach our judgment to recognize its imperfection and natural weakness."

Michel de Montaigne

"Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag."

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

"Traveling is not just seeing the new; it is also leaving behind. Not just opening doors; also closing them behind you, never to return. But the place you have left forever is always there for you to see whenever you shut your eyes."

Jan Myrdal

"The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land."

G. K. Chesterton

"We need only travel enough to give our intellects an airing."

Henry David Thoreau

I'll be back. (Shit. Why can't I write this without thinking of Schwarzenegger???) :-)

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October 07, 2005


(from Story People, by Brian Andreas)


"Only to certain women at a certain age is it given to put language into their attitude. Is it joy or is it sorrow that teaches a woman of thirty the secret of that eloquence of carriage, so that she must always remain an enigma which each interprets by the aid of his hopes, desires, or theories?" - Balzac, A Woman of Thirty

Marilyn had no idea what she was singing about. Books are a girl's best friends.


(yes, I'm turning 30 years old today :-)

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October 06, 2005

They do it with mirrors


A (very) pregnant mother, a smiling (as usual) father and a couple of (very) 70's looking friends. 1975, a funfair.

One of those photos that sticked to my memory. And that would made me put my head in the middle of the open mirror-covered wardrobe doors to see myself reflected a hundred times. I thought I might just put it online so that I can take a look at it any time I miss it.

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"Either we remember the words but their meaning remains obscure; or we discover their meaning when we forget the words."

loosely translated from Gilles Deleuze's remark on Klossowski's "Le Baphomet".



Deleuze as created by Toogle (fun, fun, fun)

"Toogle is a Text version of Googles Image Search. Currently it creates images out of the very term that was used to fetch those images, later we will endeavour to create images out of the search terms entered by users past and present. But for now please, go play."

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October 04, 2005

Natural Habitat

bookshop, Lisboa

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Mr. Valéry did not like to compete.

Of any competition he would say that from the first to the last, any place was a bad place to finish.

And he would wonder:

- To win a competition from others or to lose a competition for others; what's the point!?
- I prefer to be vice-last or sub-last - he said, ironically.

And explained:

- A competition is fair only if all competitors start on equal conditions. But such a situation does not exist, it's a known fact. And if all were equal, how could one be better than the other? In a competition people finish as they started - concluded Mr. Valéry.

And Mr. Valéry added:

- I would like to see a 100 meters race where each track would finish in a different point.

- Imagine four 100 meters tracks like this ... (and he would draw)


-... in this way - continued Mr. Valéry - when finishing the competition, each athlete would better understand what was waiting for him on the following day. Even if he had won the race he would end it alone, which is a small life lesson.

And after this somewhat ambiguous statement, Mr. Valéry continued his daily stroll, with his slightly crooked body, the hat stuck in his head, and alone, completely alone, as always.

"O sr. Valéry", Caminho, 2002


Gonçalo M. Tavares is one of my favourite Portuguese contemporary writers. Highly exportabe but I doubt it if he has been published abroad.


Portuguese version down here.


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I dream of the day when everyone will wear wigs

I don't know why, but I keep taking philosophy books to read at the hairdresser.

Well, I'm lying, I do know why. Going to the hairdresser is a painful experience for me. It's the most wasted of times. Making small talk about hairdos or shampoos is the ultimate torture. And I do feel guilty for wasting my time with frivolous matters so I always take a highbrow book with me. A Linus & the blanket kind of thing.


"We're running a bit late, do you mind waiting?"
C: "No that's all right. Where can I sit to read while I wait?"
"Oh, you can sit here; wait, I'll bring you some magazines."
And she starts handing me gossip magazines, "women's magazines" - whatever that means-, while I reach for my purse and take out William James' essays on pragmatism.


I'm not faithful to any salon in particular which means that I usually don't make an appointment and get my hair cut by the only available hairdresser.
"Have you got any preference on the hairdresser?"
"Let me see who's available..."
It turns out the only available hairdresser is invariably a trainee or the woman/man with the most extravagant haircut in the room. Or both at the same time.
"X will cut your hair."
C:"OK", while gasping at the sight of a woman with a side-shaved head and a rainbow colored Mohawk.


Random weird hairdressing memories:

The Tom Cruise in "Cocktail", hairdresser version: a woman juggling with the hairdryer. Impressive. And scary.


The hairdresser who would knock my head to make me shift it to the position she wanted to.


"Why don't you dye your hair? Men find blond women much more attractive."
C(sarcastically):"Sure, that would look lovely with my black eyebrows..."
"Oh, we would dye them too."
C:"OK, let's stop it here."


"I once cut a hair of a man who hadn't part of his skull due to an accident. It was really weird, I could feel his brain, it was like a sponge or something."


The woman who was wearing these eyeglasses with the thickest lenses I have ever seen. She takes them off before starting to cut my hair.


High-pitched voice, too much enthusiasm: "So, are we doing something special today? Let's make you look pretty for the boyfriend?"


"Here, take a look at this hairstyling magazine...I think this haircut would suit you." - (the most awful haircut, beautiful model who would look beautiful even if she was bald) - "When we finish, you'll see. I'll make you look like that."
C: "Are you a plastic surgeon then?"

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October 03, 2005

Time smiles in my hand

Is it because I'm turning 30 soon - and I'm strangely feeling very good about it - or is this just the perfect verse?

Somewhere on the Promenade by the Piers, San Francisco


Waking in the morning
Time smiles in my hand.
This dawn
Lasts all day.

Deena Metzger

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Hiking Sunday

I had the chance of practising two of my three favorite aerobic activities ;-) this past Sunday: Walking and Laughing.

I went hiking in Sintra with a group of fun people; after a somewhat stressing week at work, there's nothing like physical exhaustion (not quite, but it was kind of a long hike) to rebalance the energies.


I met Sunday Morning; great photos, V! And I met Mônica who is the sweetest girl!

(thanks to Ana and Ricardo for all the planning and guiding!)

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September 30, 2005

Brazilian Visual Poetry

Here is the site for the online Brazilian Visual Poetry Exhibition.

This one is by Bené Fonteles (it says "discover the other"):


Omar Khouri ("Vagina/Ioni among the vaginas or Sapho and the Girls"):


Paulo Miranda ("a POE m"):


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September 29, 2005



An umbrella-like iron structure above a bench at the Jardim do Torel, Lisboa.

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I just recently found out there's a name for something I do almost since I learned to read.

"Stichomancy or Bibliomancy is a form of divination that seeks to know the future by randomly selecting a passage from a book, frequently a sacred text. The most common procedure involves placing the book on its spine, and with eyes closed, allowing the book to fall open to a random page. Then, with the eyes still closed place a finger on the open page and read the passage indicated."


Not that I do this to "predict the future". I use this method just like I use my I Ching cards: as an aid for meditation. It's a very useful exercise in imagination and self-analysis to try to come up with an explanation that links the passage that I just read with the problem/doubt that is troubling me.

Well, I just felt like sharing this after I got Salman Rushdie's newest book "Shalimar the Clown" yesterday. Which I used for my very particular variation of stichomancy:

"And memory was not madness was it, not even when the remembered past piled up so high inside you that you feared the files of your yesterdays would become visible in the whites of your eyes. "

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September 28, 2005

The Theologian & the Philosopher

"A philosopher," said the theologian, "is like a blind man in a darkened room looking for a black cat that isn't there."

"That's right," the philosopher replied, "and if he were a theologian, he'd find it."

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Aspen Magazine

Aspen Magazine is online!

Aspen was a multimedia magazine of the arts published by Phyllis Johnson from 1965 to 1971. Each issue came in a customized box filled with booklets, phonograph recordings, posters, postcards — one issue even included a spool of Super-8 movie film.

Found at Aspen#3:

VAROOM by Roy Lichtenstein

One of the things that interests me is solidifying an action, like an explosion— something that is ephemeral— formalizing or symbolizing it in concrete terms.

Another interest is the visual representation of sound— such as "Varoom! !" Some call it "audio-scription."

Explosions give me a perfect opportunity to do a completely abstract painting which seems, on the surface to he realistic.

— Lichtenstein

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Two magic squares found in Lisboa in one week. How odd.

Grafitti, Sra. do Monte, Lisboa

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September 27, 2005

Post Secrets

(Through BV who sent me this great link.)

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September 26, 2005


Parque Subway station, Lisboa

My favourite subway station in Lisboa is an enigmatic cave of walls filled with maps, mathematical and astronomical references, symbols, philosophical and literary quotations...the main theme being the Portuguese seafaring explorations.

(Mare Incognitum - The Unknown Sea)

(Ptolemy's Theory)

"Ptolemy formulated a geocentric model of the solar system which remained the generally accepted model in the Western and Arab worlds until it was superseded by the heliocentric solar system of Copernicus." more on Wikipedia

("I don't evolve, I travel" - Fernando Pessoa)

(Dürer's magical square)

"The order-4 magic square in Albrecht Dürer's engraving Melancholia I is believed to be the first seen in European art. It is very similar to Yang Hui's square, which was created in China about 250 years before Dürer's times. The sum 34 can be found in the rows, columns, diagonals, each of the quadrants, the center four squares, the corner squares, the four outer numbers clockwise from the corners (3+8+14+9) and likewise the four counter-clockwise (the locations of four queens in the two solutions of the 4 queens puzzle), the two sets of four symmetrical numbers (2+8+9+15 and 3+5+12+14) and the sum of the middle two entries of the two outer columns and rows (e.g. 5+9+8+12), as well as several kite-shaped quartets, e.g. 3+5+11+15; the two numbers in the middle of the bottom row give the date of the engraving: 1514." - from Wikipedia

(Segredo - Secret)

"The Ouroboros is an ancient symbol depicting a snake or dragon swallowing its tail, constantly creating itself and forming a circle. It is associated with alchemy, Gnosticism, and Hermeticism. It represents the cyclical nature of things, eternal return, and other things perceived as cycles that begin anew as soon as they end.
In alchemy, the ouroboros symbolises the circular nature of the alchemist's opus which unites the opposites: the conscious and unconscious mind.
Christians adopted the Ouroboros as a symbol of the limited confines of this world (that there is an "outside" being implied by the demarcation of an inside), and the self-consuming transitory nature of a mere this-worldly existence" - more on Wikipedia.

(Zacuto's astronomical tables)

"Abraham Zacuto perfected the Astrolabe, which only then became an instrument of precision, and he was the author of the highly accurate astronomical tables that were used by ship captains to determine the position of their portuguese caravel in high seas, through calculations on data acquired with an Astrolabe. His contributions were undoubtedly valuable in saving the lives of portuguese seamen, and allowing them to reach Brazil and India."- more on the Wikipedia

(L'éthique est être à la hauteur de la situation/ Ethics is to be up to the situation - Gilles Deleuze)


(a Françoise Schein project: "It was through working on the physical mapping of cities that I discovered how human rights principles were a geological bed on which societies had transformed into permanent, physical democracies: that is, the conception, expression and recognition of human rights was an integral component in defining the physical form that cities, societies, and communities ultimately took. From that moment on, I was determined to incorporate written expressions of fundamental human rights, such as the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, into my projects; thus emerged the urban inscription project that is the backbone work of Inscrire today. By inscribing this and other fundamental expressions of the rights of man in artworks throughout the world, we leave behind indelible reminders to all who see them.")

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September 23, 2005

Linguistic Jokes

A linguistics professor was lecturing his class.

"In English," he said, "a double negative forms a positive. However, in some languages, such as Russian, a double negative remains a negative. But there isn't a single language, not one, in which a double positive can express a negative."

A voice from the back of the room piped up, "Yeah, right."


Dyslexics of the world untie.


A team of archaeologists was excavating in Israel when they came upon a cave. Written across the wall of the cave were the following symbols: a woman, a donkey, a shovel, a fish, and the Star of David.

They decided that this was a unique find, and that the writings were at least three thousand years old. They chopped out the pieces of stone and had them brought to the museum, where archaeologists from all over the world came to study the ancient symbols. After months of conferences to discuss the meaning of the markings, they held a huge meeting.

The president of the scholarly society stood up and pointed at the first drawing and said: "This looks like a woman. We can judge that the race was family-oriented and held women in high esteem. You can also tell they were intelligent, as the next symbol resembles a donkey, so they were smart enough to have animals help them till the soil. The next drawing looks like a shovel of some sort, which means they even had tools to help them. Even further proof of their high intelligence is the fish, which means that if a famine hit the earth, they would take to the sea for food. The last symbol appears to be the Star of David, which means they were evidently Hebrews." The audience applauded enthusiastically.

Then a little old man stood up in the back of the room and said: "Idiots! Hebrews read from right to left. It says: 'Holy Mackerel, dig the ass on that woman!'"


And many more here.

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Panties for sale over at ThinkGeek.com

Why on earth don't they sell:

- 503 Service Unavailable
- 402 Payment Required
- 303 See Other


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September 22, 2005



Estoril, Portugal

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September 21, 2005



There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.

Hamlet, Shakespeare

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The Pirate Shop

There's a Pirate Shop on Valencia St., San francisco. No, really. They sell eye patches, fake glass eyes, pirate hats, pirate shirts. Books.


There's also a lard bucket.


Of course they also hold writing workshops and promote young unknown authors but that's not the fun part :-)

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September 20, 2005

Ripley's Believe it or Not!


As a kid, I was a big fan of the "Ripley's Believe it or not!" TV Show hosted by Jack Palance.

So I HAD to go to the "Ripley's Believe it or not!" museum in San Francisco. There isn't much to see there apart from some photos of odd people and other curiosities.

But I do like the idea of Ripley roaming around the world looking for the odd and the unthinkable. A quest for strangeness, for anything or anyone that is different or unimaginable. Isn't that what travelling is all about, after all?


(the life size kaleidoscope)

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September 19, 2005

The Semantics of Emotions

"Saudade is a Portuguese word generally considered one of the hardest words to translate.

In his book In Portugal of 1912, A.F.G Bell writes: The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness."

Fado and Saudade are two key and intertwined ideas in Portuguese culture, "Fado" meaning "Fate" or "Destiny". It is, in part, the recognition of this unassailable determinism which compels the resigned yearning of Saudade, a bittersweet, existential yearning and hopefulness towards something over which one has no control."

From Wikipedia which has a great article for Saudade.

Saudade Street near the Castle, Lisboa

I've always been fascinated by the interface between language and reality. How can one be sure that translating a word that conveys a feeling into a foreign language will actually express something we believe to be an abstract universal concept? Are emotions really universal or culturally formed?

“Anyone who has attempted to define a word precisely knows that this is an extremely difficult matter, involving intricate and complex properties. Ordinary dictionary definitions do not come close to characterising the meaning of words.” - Chomsky

"Everything that can be thought at all can be thought clearly. Everything that can be said at all can be said clearly. But not everything that can be thought can be said." - Wittgenstein


Having said that, I already feel excused for the translation of this poem by lobalpha which will be the crappiest one on this blog to this date. And I'm not translating the word Saudade...just because I don't know how.

Fado da Saudade

Quero falar-te da Saudade
Este fado português
Que há muito não lembrava
Sinto falta dos momentos
Aqueles que ainda não partilhámos
Sinto falta do teu cheiro
Aquele que não tive tempo de reter
Sinto falta do teu toque
O teu beijo
A minha mão passeando em ti
Tenho Saudade
Saudade que não conheces
Onde estás não existe
Aqui, tenho-a comigo desde que partiste
Um abraço fugido
Um beijo esquecido
E eu aqui
Neste fado da saudade que te guardo

Fado da Saudade

I want to tell you about Saudade
This portuguese fate
That I hadn't felt in a while
I miss the moments
Those moments we haven't shared yet
I miss your smell
The smell I haven't had enough time to retain
I miss your touch
Your kiss
My hand strolling along your body
I feel Saudade
Saudade which you don't understand
Where you are, Saudade doesn't exist
But over here, it's with me since you left
A quick hug
A forgotten kiss
And here I am
In this fate of Saudade which is my fate because of you


Listen to contemporary Fado here and here.

The classic Fado: Amalia.

"Fado is a traditional song styling from Portugal, rising out of Lisbon's lower classes in much the same way that rembetica (urban Greece) and jazz (urban America) did. The genre's name has usually been translated as "fate" but the real meaning is as untranslatable as "saudade", the phrase frequently used to describe fado's emotional core, a mournful, fatalistic sound often crafted around lyrics radiating a resigned despair." - conscious choice

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Yet another self-centered blog post


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September 18, 2005

No Comment

The commenting feature on this blog hasn't been working for a long time now (several spam incidents have been affecting weblog.com.pt) and I have better things to do than to rebuild the files of this damned thing every day.

Now I'll just shut off commenting for good so that every visitor's email message won't start with "Commenting isn't working, I'm writing to let you know blah, blah.."

Email address on your right. Use it with parsimony.

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How Portugal time travelled 50 years back on one weekend

I went to the opening of the Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in Lisboa, on of the many LGBT events going on here at the moment. It should be a sign of the modern times of a otherwise conservative country but...

At the same time a bunch of pathetic people who founded a pathetic little fascist party organized a public demonstration against homosexuality. Whatever this means. The horror is that it was authorized by the public authorities. And so I'm left with this mixed feeling: should I just emigrate in disgust and disappointment or stay and do something about it? Without abandoning completely the idea of moving away, I'm doing something about it:

(image stolen from MVA)

Here is the link for the online petition for the approval of same sex marriage in Portugal.

(and now I patiently wait for the emails from the usual bigots who think that writing "you fucking lesbian" is an insult :-))))) - yes, every time I post anything related to LGBT matters I get them. If you know me personally, you know how much fun I have with this kind of ironic stuff.)


Implicación by Julián Quintanilla is a brilliant short movie. Chary, a mother who stands up to Don Francisco, her son's ex-boss. Through a very cleverly written dialogue Chary shows Don Francisco that his latent homophoby was the reason he fired her son.


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September 17, 2005


"There are similarities between hot air and excrement, incidentally, which make hot air seem an especially suitable equivalent for bullshit. Just as hot air is speech that has been emptied of all informative content, so excrement is matter from which everything nutrtive has been removed. Excrement may be regarded as the corpse of nourishment, what remains when the vital elements in food have been exhausted. In this respect, excrement is a representation of death that we ourselves produce and that, indeed, we cannot help producing in the very process of maintaining our lives. Perhaps it is for making death so intimate that we find excrement so repulsive." - Harry G. Frankfurt, On Bullshit.

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September 16, 2005

Language X is essentially language Y under conditions Z

English is essentially Norse as spoken by a gang of French thugs.

English is what you get from Normans trying to pick up Saxon girls.

American English is essentially a tool to keep a person from ever being able to speak another language.

American English is essentially British English without the redundancies, including the monarchy.

Norwegian is essentially Danish spoken with a Swedish accent.

Danish is essentially Norwegian spoken with a sore throat.

German is essentially a language developed by a group of Teutons who gathered in the forest one day to come up with a language that their enemies would have no chance of grasping.

Germann ist eßentially Dutsch and Englisch with a few Tschanges.

Spanish is essentially Italian spoken by Arabs.

Mexican is essentially Castilian Spanish as spoken while excreting hot peppers, therefore without the superiority complex.

Italian is essentially bad Latin.

French is essentially the language that Americans don't learn before travelling abroad.

Portuguese is essentially bad Spanish, mumbled.

Portuguese is essentially Brazilian without vowels.

Catalan is essentially Spanish and French spoken at the same time.

Romanian is essentially a Romance language trying really hard to blend in with the Slavic languages around it.

Irish is essentially an Indo-European language cunningly disguised as gibberish to perplex the English.

Hungarian is essentially all counterintuitive consonant pairings.

taken from here and compiled by John Cowan.

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September 15, 2005


She was feeling so impatient, she wished she could insert hyperlinks to whatever she was saying so as to not having to explain it all.


(is allusion a different form of hyperlinking that only knowledgeable people can click on?)

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City Lights

City Lights Bookstore is dangerous. I wasn't past the first set of shelves and already felt like buying all the books I'd seen :-)


"Founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin, City Lights is one of the few truly great independent bookstores in the United States, a place where booklovers from across the country and around the world come to browse, read, and just soak in the ambiance of alternative culture's only "Literary Landmark."


I went there with Ricardo and he got me interested in Murakami, Sebald, Mexican Wrestling (he bought a great book filled with the kitschiest photos ever) and Osman Lins. It was the favourite authors exchange moment of the holidays :-)

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September 14, 2005

The Mirror


Taken at Swallowtail. A specialty interior design shop on Polk St., San Francisco

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September 13, 2005

Alamo Square, San Francisco

While most tourists are taking photos of this:


Right on their back there is an odd shoe garden:


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September 12, 2005

30% Off

A clever Saatchi & Saatchi Milan campaign for Mondadori Books.

(1984 - 30% = 1388.8)

(The 3 Musketeers -30% = The 2.1 Musketeers)

(100 years of solitude - 30% = 70 years of solitude)

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Altered Murakami


(an attempt to do something I first saw at this wonderful, wonderful project: Altered Books)

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September 09, 2005



Rafael was born today. Cool! Another kid for me to spoil and leave the repairing of the damage to the parents.

Rafael was tagged. He has this giant RFID tag on his ankle. Fancy high security hospitals.

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September 08, 2005

Time Travel


"If there was anything that grabbed me about the book, it was the underlying conceit, the notion of time travel itself. Yet Wells had somehow managed to get that wrong too, I felt. He sends his hero into the future, but the more I thought about it, the more certain I became that most of us would prefer to visit the past(...). If given the chance of going forward or backward, I for one wouldn't have hesitated. I would much rather have found myself among the no-longer-living than the unborn. With so many historical enigmas to be solved, how not feel curious about what the world had looked like in, say, the Athens of Socrates or the Virginia of Thomas Jefferson?(...)To see your mother and father on the day they met, for example, or to talk to your grandparents when they were young children. Would anyone turn down that opportunity in exchange for a glimpse of an unknown and incomprehensible future?"
Paul Auster, Oracle Night

This bit affected me particularly. Thinking about it, if I could travel in time, I had no intention of visiting the future whatsoever but it didn't even cross my mind to visit my ancestors. I actually had a cunning plan :-) to change the course of History of the entire western civilization which I can't really post about (XXX-rated, I'm afraid).

I also asked some friends where/when would they travel to, out of statistical (and personal) curiosity. I'm posting a very non-representative sample of answers - since in its composition there are only highly intelligent beings of the opposite sex - but a high quality one :-)

I'm developing a theory that links the answer to the person's personality...

"The Holistic Bourgeois" said:

"I would go nowhere before the 20th century. I can't imagine myself not driving a car or not having paper to wipe my ass :-)
I'd go to the roaring 20's, USA. It must have been a great time socially, economically and culturally; also it should be a lot of fun mingling with artists and gangsters."


"The Cautious Curious" said:

"Although there's the temptation to confirm some 'truths' that we think we know about the past, if given a chance to travel in time, I'd risk it and travel to the uncertain future (like 500 years from now), even if inside an indestructible device that would protect me in case I decide not to "land" there. The reason? This is the supreme curiosity, what's there for us on the following day, the only land of chances that we have. The Past, we slowly discover it through History and that itself is a Time Machine that has improved with the years. Discovering the future is much more complicated. Ah immortality, immortality..."


"The Ambitious Inventor" said:

"Maybe back to the time of Leonardo Da Vinci or Isaac Newon - the time when great ideas / inventions / discoveries were being made. Today, revolutionary science is usually revolutionary to 10 super-experts in a corner, not the general public. Being the inventor of the parachute or discovering gravity - now that would be cool!"


"The Lazy Laid-Back" said:

"Time Travel? What for? I like the Present. The Future is ours to build and the Past is of no interest to me. It's gone." - after which he makes me read out loud a passage from a book by Gonçalo M. Tavares about how there's no point in wanting to change the past since the connections between any two events are far too complex for us to understand. So destiny isn't really predetermined but we have no way to figure it out out either.
"Oh, wait. Maybe I would travel to the beginning of August 2005 so that I could go on holidays again."


"The Hesitant Traveler" said:

"I'd like to meet Leonardo da Vinci because he was, probably, the most brilliant mind ever to have lived. I'd like to travel aboard the Niña with Columbus and the Espera with Cabral because, if it is great to travel, it must be unbelievable to travel on a (re)discovery expedition, and those were two of the greatest (re)discovery expeditions ever. But there were so many times and places to go, it's tough to choose... I just feel like traveling, so I went for the Discovery option... :-)))"


"The Intensity Craver Cartographer" said:

"I'd like to travel back maybe 30,000 years into our past. What was the world really like then? Were we still cowering from beasts or starting to come into our own? During the Paleolithic, we were just starting to write on bones. The sky and stars and moon must have been like some strange fire lighting up the night sky. The howls of beasts a reminder that Death could come tomorrow and swiftly. That this very moment was a borrowed moment. The next day would bring on a new struggle, a new fight to survive. The depths of despair must have been deeper but the joys of the abbreviated life, I imagine, must have been euphoric."

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September 07, 2005

I'm not afraid!

This Firefox extension has been amusing me lately:



Get it here. (If you don't know what a Firefox extension is...well. Start here and then download it here.)

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A night at the Castro

The organist playing at the Castro Theatre, San Francisco

Harold Lloyd: "Safety Last" and "Girl Shy". I hadn't laughed so hard in a long time. I still have flashes of the movies' scenes now and then and will start laughing for no apparent reason.


Whatever happened to Harold Lloyd? Bio here.

I don't know why but it seems natural to me that someone who played shy, innocent characters would end up taking stereoscopic photos of naked girls :-)

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September 06, 2005

The longest path

Golden Gate park, San Francisco

Tourist: Look. That building looks like the DeYoung Museum.
SF resident: Oh no! Not again! We've been walking around in circles! I was sure we were going West!
Tourist: I've got a compass.

(and I did have a detailed Golden Gate Park map but I didn't notice it until the next day :-)


I hate stereotypes but I do stereotype a lot for the sake of a joke (and only among friends). I did that a lot in SF (mostly about American people) and made a very nasty (and unusually loud it was too) remark about the so-american profession of "bag boy" in a supermarket.

A practical example.

At a restaurant, by the end of the meal:

Waiter: Would you like an espresso or american coffee?
The European: An espresso, please.
The American: American Coffee.
The European: You know that the Monty Python joke about american beer* could be easily applied to american coffee too?


As a kind of punishment for my behavior here's some American stereotyping of Europeans:

- All Europeans drink a lot of espressos;
- All Europeans wear denim jackets;
- All Europeans smoke;
- All European women don't shave their armpits;
- All Europeans think they're superior to Americans.


* The joke:

Bruce #1 (Eric Idle): I find you American's beer like making love in a canoe.
Bruce #3 (Michael Palin): Why's that, Bruce?
Bruce #1: 'Cause it's fucking close to water!
-An aside in the Bruce sketch from Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl

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(near Chinatown)

The advantage of having a local San Franciscan showing you around town is that you feel relaxed enough not to keep looking up the city's map, right?

Unless the San Franciscan, at least once a day, suddenly stops walking, looks around and asks: "Where are we?".

I was hoping it to be a philosophical doubt and that it would be followed by "Who are we?" and "What is the meaning of life?" or "Why didn't I shave this morning?" :-)

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September 05, 2005

Good Vibes

There's a fantastic shop in San Francisco called Good Vibrations:

"Good Vibrations is the San Francisco-based retailer women have trusted for nearly three decades to provide a comfortable, safe environment for buying sex-positive products and educational materials to enhance their sex lives."


Or else: it's like a sex shop but rather clean looking, ran by women and one of the nicest places to sit down, read a book on oral sex or S&M (surrounded by all kinds of sex toys and other props) and feel strangely at ease with the whole thing :-)))

"We look forward to the day when talking about sex, shopping for sex toys and teaching our kids about sex is so easy, so comfortable and so common that we take it for granted. We like to think our work is bringing us one step closer to that day and we cheer on those with the same mission."


There should be more interesting, educational places like this one in the world.

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The Flower

Parque Eduardo VII, Lisboa, Portugal

Lisboa's sidewalks are covered with white cobblestones, making it the brightest of cities. On some areas, there are also black cobblestones, forming intricate patterns sometimes geometrical, others just figurative. Here are some examples. Even the symbol of Lisboa (a caravel with two ravens) can be found all around the city's pavements.

I suppose a municipal worker fancied leaving his mark on the park's sidewalk and sculpted this simple, lonely flower there.


A shadow is a kind of mirror, isn't it?

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September 03, 2005

Claudia in every language


My name in Sumerian.


My name in japanese.

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September 02, 2005

Vitia Carnalia

This is more of a gourmandise memoir post than anything else.


Here's what I want to remember:


This is the kind of gastronomical delight that makes me look like a slightly more discrete Sally at the diner. I just close my eyes and sigh with pleasure. Gluttony or Lust? I think I'll take both ;-)


56 Gold St
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 433-6300


"In love, as in gluttony, pleasure is a matter of the utmost precision." - Italo Calvino

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Fake B&W


It looks like a B&W photo but it was actually a very gray day at Stinson Beach, San Francisco.

What I've learned about how to cope with San Francisco weather: Layers of clothing.
It can be freezing in the morning;
then the sun comes out: you remove a layer;
the wind stops: you remove another layer;
the fog crawls in: you put on a layer;
the wind starts blowing: you put on the last layer and pray it doesn't get any colder.

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September 01, 2005



The common San Francisco tourist pic: it feels like the cars are going to flip over anytime.

(and the reason why my leg muscles are a lot stronger than before)

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August 31, 2005

The Triton

I missed a connecting flight on my way to San Francisco which means I arrived a lot later than expected. I was so tired of all those hours of flying and waiting; all I wanted was a shower and a bed. I got much more than that.

As I walk into the hotel room, I couldn't stop laughing. This must be the quirkiest hotel decoration ever. There was this huge king-size bed with what looked vaguely like a zebra-patterned headboard by a dark red wall. With a sun shaped mirror. I'm just sorry it didn't have a mirrored ceiling.


So, I'm in a good mood now but I still need a shower. And I found the cutest shower curtain waiting for me:


I'm "so clean" now, "naked and happy" and go directly to the cupboard to see if there are any snacks. Not only they provide lots of snacks but also bright yellow rubber duckies (the baseball duck is sitting on my shelf right now). A little plastic case with the label "Intimacy Kit". A yoga meditation CD. Some mints. Chocolates.


The staff is great. The guy that checked me in would say every time: "Have a good night Meeezzz Diazzz!"

And they have wine tasting parties every day at 5pm.

The Triton Hotel 342 Grant Ave. San Francisco, CA 94108 local: 415.394.0500 fax: 415.394.0555

(and the next time I'm in San Francisco I'll be asking for a special discount for all this free publicity ;-))))

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End of August


August Street, San Francisco

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August 30, 2005

Escape aka The Perfume Ad Shot


Stinton Beach, San Francisco

A woman wearing a bikini is escaping from R's dreams.

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August 29, 2005

Random San Francisco Travel Notes



A beggar in the street holding a sign: "Testing for human kindness".



A dutch guard at Schiphol Airport passport control, not reading my itinerary correctly:
- You're going on holidays to Detroit??
- No, San Francisco is the final destination...
- Ufff. That would have been suspicious.




At a winery in Napa Valley:
- What kind of food would you eat with this wine?
- I'd personally have a Big Mac but that's probably not what you're asking.


"I know this great restaurant in the Mission."
"There's this great bookshop in the Mission."
"There are great coffee shops in the Mission."
"The best bars are in the Mission."

(and yes, I give up, the Mission is my favourite neighbourhood too :-)




San Franciscan: "Everyone around here knows what Madeira wine is! Look." (to the bartender) "You know what is Madeira wine, don't you?"
Bartender: "Sure. It's that Spanish wine, right?"





(in case you're wondering: yes, I've enjoyed my holidays very, very much.)


Things learned & new or renewed interests:
- Mexican Wrestling;
- Haruki Murakami;
- Hiking;
- Pirates;
- Edgar Arceneaux;
- Good Vibrations;
- A very cool internet radio station (downtempo, lounge, chill out): SOMAFM;
- & much, much more coming up on the next posts.

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August 12, 2005

Holidays (again)


I won't be wearing flowers in my hair but I sure hope to find some gentle people there.


"Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection." - Lawrence Durrell


I was taking a look at my site counter, more specifically at the search terms that have lead visitors to my blog. Lots of them are about sex. Duh.

A message for a visitor from Japan who is persistently googling for "I had sex with Claudia": I'm pretty sure that's not me. Give it up.

A word of caution to another one looking for "photos of me and claudia having sex": I sincerely hope that's not me. You'd be in great trouble.

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August 11, 2005

AP Syndrome


My friend AP has been taking painting lessons and here's the result. I'm impressed. I thought he couldn't even draw :-) and went there only to see naked girls live.

It's 100 cm x 116 cm and it's on sale. 800 Euros. I get a fee. Email me :-)


In Italy, the magnetism of museums is irresistible. Last June the Roman Institute of Psychology released the results of a national study involving 2,000 visitors that found 20 percent of them had embarked on an "erotic adventure" in a museum. Also according to the study, a Caravaggio painting or a Greek sculpture is more likely to lead to sex than works by Tiepolo or Veronese. The experts have even compiled a hit parade of Italian museums, listing the institutions in order of their ability to awaken Eros. This state of emotional arousal has been called the Rubens Syndrome, a term derived from the sensuous, superannuated nudes painted by the Flemish Old Master.

from ArtNews (through Banubula)


Now I know why AP wants to hang the painting in his bedroom ;-)

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August 10, 2005



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August 08, 2005

Words of Wisdom #467873

"I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone."
-- Rainer Maria Rilke

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August 07, 2005

Moi, je t'offrirai
des perles de pluie
venues de pays
où il ne pleut pas.

Jacques Brel, Ne me quitte pas



A french weekend, not in the mood for translations; try google.

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Great Expectations

I have a friend who says that teenage girls shouldn't watch porn movies. It creates false expectations about a man's anatomy :-)


I suppose this advertisement has the mission, among others, to lower those expectations :-)

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August 05, 2005

Freud's 50 minute Wristwatch

Then there's the psychiatrist. Why is that with the psychiatrist every hour is only fifty minutes? What do they do with the ten minutes that they have left? Do they just sit there going, "Boy that guy was crazy. I couldn't believe the things he was saying. What a nut. Who's coming in next? Oh no, another head case." - Jerry Seinfeld


This actually can be bought at the Unemployed Philosopher's Guild.

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August 04, 2005

Conceptual joke

21. Two artists talking, one a conceptualist:
(Conceptualist) - What's the matter, do I have to draw you a picture?

from "Comments for an Art interview (a Source Book), Installment one" by John Baldessari




Thanks to J and to David, I got the MuMoK Catalog of the current Baldessari exhibition; an express personal delivery from Vienna. Very nice :-)

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August 03, 2005


My mind's sunk so low, Claudia, because of you, wrecked itself on your account so bad already, that I couldn't like you if you were the best of women, —or stop loving you, no matter what you do.

- Catullus


"Claudia Pulchra Tertulla, born in circa 95 BC, was the third daughter of the patrician Appius Claudius Pulcher and Caecilia Metella Balearica. Despite being a woman, Claudia was very well educated in Greek and Philosophy, with a special talent for writing poetry. But she shared the recklessness of her younger brother, the political agitator Publius Clodius Pulcher. Her life, immortalized in the poems of Catullus and the writings of Marcus Tullius Cicero, was lived on perpetual scandal.

Madly in love with her, Catullus wrote several poems about his feelings towards Lesbia, the name he gave her."

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August 02, 2005

Words of Wisdom #564678

Don't worry about avoiding temptation. As you grow older, it will avoid you anyway.

(adapted from I.)

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As any other portuguese from my generation might agree, "Marco - Dos Alpes aos Apeninos" was one of the cartoons (japanese anime, in fact) on TV during our childhood which left the most enduring impression. I used to cry my heart out watching it - the theme song was particularly depressing.


"3000 Leagues in Search of Mother is, as can be gleaned from the title, the chronicle of one boy who sets off all alone across an ocean and makes a grueling, bitter journey in search for his moth