Tuesday, 24 August 2010


Some pictures I took over the weekend in a place called Pacifica. Usually, it's under a blanket of fog, but Sunday afternoon a brassy sunlight and a deep blue sky made it looked a little like the south of France.

Southern pacific / Red, white, and blue / Where are we running to? / Over the wide plains / Over the wide plains / Take me to someplace new--Josh Ritter, Southern Pacifica

Yes, all right, this is my new favourite couple...

Monday, 23 August 2010

A Sport and a Pastime

I'm not all that big of a sports enthusiast, so I'm not altogether sure why it should figure in two of my most recent posts. I suppose what I am interested in is the way in which sport embodies that most human of enterprises--making the most meaningless and trivial of things meaningful. I don't mean this dismissively. Rather, to say that such meaning-making is what essentially makes us human. The fact that some guy at the local deli can recount to you, with feeling, a game that was played fifty years ago is no small matter. For him, for us, even play can share something of the sacred.

'Walter Johnson' by Jonathan Richman
Walter Johnson (1887-1946) was a Major League Baseball pitcher from 1907 to 1927. Here is fellow hall-of-famer Ty Cobb:

'On August 2, 1907, I encountered the most threatening sight I ever saw in the ball field. He was a rookie, and we licked our lips as we warmed up for the first game of a doubleheader in Washington. Evidently, manager Pongo Joe Cantillon of the Nats had picked a rube out of the cornfields of the deepest bushes to pitch against us... He was a tall, shambling galoot of about twenty, with arms so long they hung far out of his sleeves, and with a sidearm delivery that looked unimpressive at first glance... One of the Tigers imitated a cow mooing, and we hollered at Cantillon: '"Get the pitchfork ready, Joe--your hayseed's on his way back to the barn."...The first time I faced him, I watched him take that easy windup. And then something went past me that made me flinch. The thing just hissed with danger. We couldn't touch him... every one of us knew we'd met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ball park.'

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Staring at the Shoreline

All these images are by Stephen Shore, a new visual hero of mine.

Michael and Sandy, Amarillo Texas, 1974

Staring down as we came into land, I tried reminding myself to use my time here wisely, lest I get stuck for good: I must not fall into old patterns, wallowing in nervous habits. No, none of the old aimless walks, or pining in the same small cafes. Focus on the City as its own salvation (museums, cinemas, bookshops, galleries). Send your resume out everywhere you can think of. Get out and network. Embrace public transport like a lifeline. And, most of all, read your little heart out, read as if your life depended on it. The plane had just tilted towards the west and I could see the sun setting over the peninsula, spilling coppery light down the nearest suburban slopes. Western light, pioneer light. The same gauzy saturation you get in old photographs by Stephen Shore.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Lover Lover Lover

Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses is one of the most theological works I know that doesn't overtly mention god or stray even a little from the things of this world, 'the world's hunks and colors' (as Richard Wilbur once gracefully put it). A few pages after devoting a long, lush paragraph to the Song of Solomon, or what she calls the most 'scent-drenched poem of all time,' Ackerman continues: 'A lock-and-key metaphor seems increasingly to explain many facets of nature, as if the world were a drawing room with many locked doors.' And yet, somehow, she seems to overlook the play of locks and keys that are part of the love-gone-missing and the love-regained in that biblical text she has just finished mentioning. Then again, perhaps, one thought does lead to another, even if it's not visible there on the page. An invisible key, a secret lock.

Not my picture

Driving Through Farm Country At Sunset

As I drive through farm country,
a damp reek brewing by the roadway
hits me. Manure, cut grass, honeysuckle,
spearmint. The air feels light as rusk.
And I want to lie down in the newly turned
earth, amid the wheat-chaff and the chicory,
while sunlight creeps up a mountainside

off in the distant whelm of color.
Each cemetery, flanked by poplars, looks ready
to play as a chess set. A dozen washloads
blow on the line, sock lanterns ablaze,
towels bellied like a schooner's rigging.
In a dogwood's petaled salon, bees leave
their pollen footprints as calling cards.

The occasional samba of a dragonfly
tightens the puffy-lidded dusk.
Clouds begin to curdle overhead. And I want
is to lie down with you in this boggy dirt,
our legs rubbing like locusts'.
I want you here with the scallions
sweet in the night air, to lie down with you
heavy in my arms, and take root.

--Diane Ackerman, from Wife of Light (1978), collected in Jaguar of Sweet Laughter (1991)

My lover thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him. I arose to open for my lover, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with flowing myrrh, on the handles of the lock. (Song of Solomon 5:4-5, NIV)

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

An Ode to Knox Overstreet

Old Cliftonians, Clifton Thirds Cricket Team, 1903-1904. An amazing group picture. I could write a book, I think (or a chapter at the very least) for each one of these faces. So evocative, so characteristic are the looks, these lives from the past. And what names! The back row includes the likes of John Henry Board (third from left), Gerald Herbert Douglas Metcalfe, Clifford Oswald Bretelle, Henry John Carew Gribble (second from right), Wilfred Fabian Waite. Middle Row: Joseph John Leech Harvey, E.N.N.Sellman, Cecil Leecroft Watkins Baker (Captain), Stuart Bertram Sleeman. Front: Edward Alfred Harris, Edward Featherstone Briggs (third from the right), J. Merrick Lucas.

Mr Keating: Now I'd like you to step forward over here. They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils...But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you...

Anonymous Halloween Party, turn of the century, from Being Human: Enigmatic Images of People by Unknown Photographers

Mr Keating (cont.): Go on, lean in.

Listen, you hear it?

Carpe --- hear it? --- Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.

The Clifton Club website states enigmatically that the above is "a mystery photograph from between 1903-05. Clifton with unknown opposition." It occurs to me that there is a life, a vitality, in these pictures that is very rare in posed group photographs. A rugged, if somehow ghostly, intimacy. A thoroughly English earthiness, like the tumbling of fallen leaves from those trees in the background. Or like the whispers of these men coming down the through years, perhaps, their strange, outdated accents curling in your ear with haunting muscularity...It seems a vaguely Sebaldian backdrop somehow, all those tattered trees, perhaps hinting at battle-scarred fields to come...It also occurs to me that I look a little like the young man sitting in the front row, third from the left, with the doppleganger's stare. He's hunkering down in his jacket, as I'm sure I myself would have been, setting himself apart from the rest of the team.

(A gardener by trade, John Henry Board played 6 tests for England, making his debut against South Africa in 1899. It was, in fact, on a return trip from South Africa in 1924 aboard the Kenilworth Castle ship that he had a heart attack and died.)

(Henry John Carew Gribble came from a long line of cricketers. It seems he lived in Clifton until about 1888, when he moved to Courthorpe Villas, Wimbledon, and became a member of the London Stock Exchange. In 1925 he was living at Briarwood, Udnet Park, Teddington. He died there on 12th June 1942.)

(Edward Featherstone Briggs attained what was, at the time, a record altitude of 14,920 feet in a Bleriot aircraft on March 11th, 1914. Eight months later, he was taken as a POW at Friedrichshafen. Apparently, Briggs's son Michael died in 1941 piloting a Spitfire IIA P8049 in Yorkshire, while he himself died of natural causes in 1963.)

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Crystal Springs, Sunday, Late Afternoon

Some pictures I took yesterday...

'Now the upper edge of that low blue bank is gilt where the sun has disappeared, leaving a glory in the horizon through which a few cloudy peaks send raylike shadows. Now a slight rosy blush is spreading north and south over the horizon sky and tingeing a few small scattered clouds in the east. A blue tinge southward makes the very edge of the earth there a mountain. That low bank of cloud in the west is now exactly the color of the mountain, a dark blue. We should think sacredly, with devotion. That is one thing, at least, we may do magnanimously...'

'May not every man have some private affair which he can conduct greatly, unhurriedly? The river is silvery, as if it were plated and polished smooth, with the slightest possible tinge of gold, tonight. How beautiful the meanders of a river, thus revealed! How beautiful hills and vales, the whole surface of the earth a succession of these great cups, falling away from dry or rocky edges to gelid green meadows and water in the midst, where night already is setting in! The thrush, now the sun is apparently set, fails not to sing.'--from Thoreau's Journal, 27 July 1852

Damion Searls recently edited a new edition of the journal (singular, even though 7000 pages of manuscript) for the NYRB. Interviewed recently in the Huffington Post, he said, 'It's kind of remarkable how many of these Thoreau journals end up sounding like Rilke poems in prose, or vice versa.'

Monday, 2 August 2010

Nostalgia of the Infinite

Heartbreakingly lovely, this. The thought of stepping onto a train in the middle of the 1960s and finding in one of the carriages, Jacqueline du Pre playing a Franciose Hardy song. Are such dreamy, off-the-cuff things possible anymore?

(Indeed, I wonder if anyone can listen to du Pre now and not hear, amidst the earthy brilliance of her playing, also how unforgivably short her life was?)

I first saw this footage, this snapshot, at the beginning of a du Pre documentary and it stunned me then. I've been looking for it ever since. I guess it's fitting that the person who clipped it here has also named it 'Nostalgia of the Infinite', perhaps hinting that such mercurial moments can be found again, regained, just as easily as they are lost. Something so private and effervescent about the whole thing, that scenery gliding past the windows all those years ago. Makes you want to run somewhere, maybe catch a train at the last minute.

I swear, the BBC would be doing itself a favour if it went back to 16mm black and white cameras (something it may very well have to do in the near future, anyway).