Dahn ter da Smoke and a Sicilian Vesper

Country-people when going to the Metropolis say they are on their way to the Smoke. [JC Hotten, 186o]

Tomorrow it’s hit the A64 for the A1. It’ll be the first time in quite a while that we’ve done it by road. Since our point of interest in Norf Lunnun is right beside the 91 bus route, and there are excellent trains (Virgin Rail permitting) from York to Kings Cross, that’s been the norm.

360_d21cd0280364a3b5cd55ce2f4a5ea346This time, though, we’re bringing back a Habitat chair and sofa, and it’s the rational way.

The real reason for doing so is this was the first major purchase we made, when we first married. That means the things are almost through their fifth decade — which counts as half-way to official antique status. When — perhaps that should be “if” — we get them home here, some restoration is needed.

Note I said “first major purchase”. The very first acquisition was a revolving bookcase, and that cost (as I recall) all of about six pounds. The Pert Young Piece has that.

On the trip I want to catch the revival of O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars at the Lyttelton. This will be my first viewing since one in Dublin. The reviews suggest the National Theatre production might, just might be a bit more polished than last time.

Then there are two promising exhibitions at the British Museum.

One is based on the discoveries of two drowned cities — Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus — at the mouth of the River Nile. For the last twenty years an underwater team, led by Franck Goddio, have been exploring these sites. What adds interest (at least for me) is one of the cities, Thonis-Heracleion, was a trading port, while the other, Canopus, was more of a religious site. As I understand, the main focus isn’t the Egypt of the ancient Pharoahs: it’s much more getting towards the “Hellenistic period”. In terms of Egyptian history that means it runs from the conquests of Alexander the Great into the Ptolomaic dynasty. For any passing ignoramus, after Alexander’s death, one of his generals (Ptolomy) declared himself Pharaoh; and his descendants ruled until the Romans took over in 30BC — the last of that lot was Cleopatra. Got that? Cleo was a Greek, not Shakespeare’s gipsy or Antony’s serpent of old Nile.

There’s another exhibition at the BM on Sicily, due to close in a week or so time, which I like to catch. What I know of Sicilian history comes essentially from John Julius Norwich.

iuPause there for a moment.

There’s a nicety about how that book is differentially sold. In the American market the sub-title is An Island at the Crossroads of History. That reflects the layer upon layer of different cultures over the millennia: Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, the Byzantines of the Eastern Roman Empire, Arabs from North Africa, and the Normans of Robert Guiscard (that cognomen being a distortion of the Latin for weasel). So there’s layer upon layer of different cultures. Meanwhile, for the British book-trade, John Julius is subtitled A Short History from the Ancient Greeks to Cosa Nostra.

One needs to read John Julius with close attention. For example (page 77 of my paperback):

King Roger II of Sicily — there was no King Roger I — was duly crowned on Christmas Day, in Palermo Cathedral.

Absolutely correct. Roger I was merely the Great Count of Sicily, brother and understrapper of the Weasel, and the subject of John Julius’s preceding half-dozen pages.

Let joy be unconfined

Beyond all that, the chief delight of a few days in London is access to a wide choice of book-sellers.

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Filed under History, London, reading, Theatre

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