Category Archives: New York Times

“Affordable and easy”?

Last weekend’s New York Times had a superbly self-contradicting travel article:

Luxury Trips for Less in Spain and Portugal

Despite that headline, the whole piece was about:

how to get maximum luxury for the lowest prices on a Spain or Portugal getaway

So far, so good. And some of the “tips” are valid — or self-evident, depending on your mood. For example:

Spain and Portugal have an abundance of small, family-run luxury hotels, which are often half the price of five-star chain properties… these locally owned properties, in some respects, could be more luxe than chains because their rooms tended to be comparatively more spacious and the service more personalized. If you mention during your stay, for example, that you are interested in the local architecture, don’t be surprised to find reading material about the area’s top architectural sites waiting for you in your room.

Well, stripe me pink and call me ham!

The one that really, really got me was this:

… AND THE TRAIN IN SPAIN The country’s reliable, clean, service-oriented high-speed train system, Alta Velocidad España, is an affordable and easy way to get around. A one-way ticket from Madrid to Málaga, in southern Spain, for example, costs as little as 50 euros.

I defer to nobody in my enthusiasm for travel by rail. And were I wanting to travel from Madrid to Malaga I’d certainly be tempted to do so by AVE. I would book ahead, on-line, and reckon on rather less than €50. Then, both at Seville and Malaga, the AVE arrival is a wee bit away from the centre. Still …

Bucket listing

My interest in this page-filler was, just a few weeks since, I ticked three items off my bucket list: Granada and the Alhambra, Cordoba and the Mesquita, Seville.

The joys of low-cost air travel meant we were in-and-out through Malaga. The commuter trains through Malaga Airport station go all the way in to Malaga-Centro Alameda: €1.80 — not AVE standards, but regular and efficient.

Now we could have made that Andalucian circuit by train, especially the bit from Seville back to Malaga. In fact we found that it was quicker, and cheaper to use the ALSA coach services. On top of which there would be no changes, and more frequent — at least hourly —  departures. Not to mention that the coach stations are, in at least two of those cities, more adjacent to the tourist centres.

Time and tide waits for the retired

The other dimension here is we didn’t racket around. We took a fortnight, which allowed several days in each city. That was just as well: the Alhambra for one allows only a ration of visits each day; and to do the whole site — the Nasrid palace, the palace of Charles V (no where near as spectacular, but worth the trip) and the Generalife — is going to take a full day.

Then, in Seville, you are not going to get into much of the cathedral, or climb the Giralda, on a Sunday …

And, doing it that way, meant it allowed us to rent an apartment in each location. It also gives access to a washing machine, so less baggage.

The bottom line is: luxury shouldn’t trump convenience.

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Filed under New York Times, railways, travel

Books and Bokes of the year

Boke? Or do you prefer Boak? Look it up!

One of the many aspects of the “festive season” (Bah! Humbug!) that I sincerely, utterly, quiveringly loath is the lists of “best books of the year”.

The New York Times one is up already, so I know what will puff out the “Culture” pages of the weekend papers and magazines.

My reasons for this dyspepsia are:

  • the lists prove what an illiterate, narrow-minded swine I am;
  • are usually full of stuff I see as detritus;
  • induce guilt that I didn’t read the one or two worthy items on the list;
  • and I’ve not caught up with the last century, let alone the last twelve months.

Taking the NYT as an example, I see just the one there that I intend to read: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railway.

My own list?

Well, it would have to include:

  • Ian Rankin’s latest, and 21st, Rebus: published on 3rd November, arrived, courtesy of Amazon Prime, a day early, read and shelved within a couple of days. One of the very few “newly-published” novels I’ve bought this year, along with the latest Donna Leon and Philip Kerr.
  • Under “military history”, Trevor Royle’s Culloden. Royle did a synopsis for The Scotsman, and that sold it to me.
  • A weekend in Belfast coincided with the Linen Hall Library pop-up second-hand shop, filled with cart-loads of rubbish. Still, I rescued a (apparently unopened) biography of Joseph Walshe and a couple of other items. Nolan on Walshe is a decent effort, not without faults, but it helps to join the dots. Across Fountain Street, a couple of doors down from the Linen Hall itself, is Waterstones. Any large “provincial” Waterstones is always worth a rummage, to see what the locals are keeping to themselves: there, three years late, I found Roger Courtney’s Dissenting Voices.
  • My expensive habit of buying exhibition catalogues means I now own You Say You Want a Revolution, Records and Rebels 1966-1970 from the Victoria and Albert. The whole exhibition seems to spring from the record collection of the late John Peel, padded out with ephemera. If you remember the ’60s, you weren’t there, of course. I was, and I do. Nice to meet old friends (and sing along with Country Joe).
  • Theatre: as age affects the hearing (and the Siemens earpieces help only a little) I tend to buy play-scripts. Confession time: I had never tackled Fletcher and Bill Shagsper’s Two Noble Kinsmen until a weekend in Stratford. Yeah, but nowhere near the exuberance and sheer fun of Aphra Benn’s The Rover in the afternoon matinee (my copy of that script goes back to the RSC production of 1986).
  • Oh, and two real goodies, thieved from one of those pubs which decorate with aged and crumbling books. Also always worth a rummage: there are treasures among the Farmers’ Handbooks for 1922 and the discarded law manuals. One was Anthony Hope’s wry, charming The Dolly Dialogues (a first edition, “reprinted from the Westminster Gazette“, 1896) and RLS’s St Ives.

Eccentric. Eclectic. Pompous. Guilty as charged (even of those last two slight volumes).

Only then do I start to wonder what I’ve missed.

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Filed under History, Literature, New York Times, Northern Ireland, reading, Uncategorized

Don’t look back

Remember The Go-Between:

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

My past has a positive gazetteer of “foreign countries”:

  • In the beginning there was post-War London, with its winter smogs, watching the conductors with their bull’s-eye lamps leading — yes, leading —  trams through the filth of a London particular. And being totally embarrassed by the word “nun” in my father’s The Star crossword. But Londoners had the choice of three evening papers then.
  • There is Wells, Norfolk (see previous posts ad nauseam), where tumbledown flint cottages (yours for hundred quid a throw, or less) became the second-homes for Islingtonians (starting print £350,000 plus).
  • Schull, West Cork, which has suffered a similar fate to north Norfolk, and where I spent a series of mixed-miserable schoolboy-vacations, translating Euripides, swimming among the sea-wrack, and catching a huge pollack (which left the house-cat bloated). And where I was accosted by the Parish Priest and reminded I had not been in church that Sunday. When I protested I was not of his congregation, I was further told that was not the point: I should have been in my church.
  • The light-hearted, golden-age, early-’60s Dublin, where one could eye-ball the likes of Paddy Kavanagh, in the flesh, in his cups, in McDaid’s, for the price of a pint. Now he has a seat by the canal; and the pub has a website.
  • And one particular parenthood (after the other two). This the one we hadn’t expected. Carrying a toddler off the rocking ferry onto Staffa, and across the machair to Fingal’s Cave. Years passing, and having her near-pass out climbing a 13,000 foot peak in the Rockies (she would go on to camp at 18,000 feet in the Himalayas). Then having her escort her ageing Pa past the Spanish Steps, across the Piazza di Spagna, to acknowledge the Keats-Shelley House.

And so on. And so on.

Which brings me to this, in the New York Times. So tell it like it is, Angel Daphne:

NYT

I, too, am Eugene Gant. But I can’t look back: my old neck’s too stiff. But I, like Thomas Wolfe, recall my Lycidas:

Ay me! Whilst thee the shores, and sounding Seas
Wash far away, where ere thy bones are hurled,
Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
Where thou perhaps under the whelming tide
Visit’st the bottom of the monstrous world;
Or whether thou to our moist vows deny’d,
Sleep’st by the fable of Bellerus old,
Where the great vision of the guarded Mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona’s hold;
Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth.
And, O ye Dolphins, waft the hapless youth.

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Filed under County Cork, Dublin., History, Literature, New York Times, travel, Wells-next-the-Sea

Peacockery

The ScienceTake feature in the New York Times has an item on how peacocks use twerking and rustling to attract a mate’s attention. Ah, but ScienceTake had been this way before, and only a few months ago:

That’s the second time in a couple of days I’ve had peacocks drawn to my notice. This was the other:

I am thereby reminded of two further incidents.

The first was a TCD legend.

The graduates’ association felt that the Fellows’ Garden needed to be brightened by the addition of peacocks. One by one the daft birds escaped into College Green or Nassau Street; and met an untimely and messy end under Dublin Corporation buses. Some unkind souls suggested they were helped on their way by undergraduates who, like the protesting folk of Ushaw Moor, found the creatures disturbing their sleep.

The other came from an afternoon at Lisbon’s Castelo de São Jorge in Lisbon. Here, too, we find peacocks. They have enough wit to frequent the area around the café:

st-george-s-castle-castelo

So far, so good. The café is shaded by trees: itself a good idea when the sun beats down. However, the peacocks roost in these trees. And peacocks, especially when fed on the scraps from tourists tables, tend to be incontinent.

I watched for a few minutes, but the inevitable didn’t happen. Well, it didn’t happen just then …

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Filed under BBC, New York Times, travel, Trinity College Dublin

The joy of … whatever

It’s called serendipity, making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident. In itself, a serendipitous word — a “sleeper”, like one of those books, pieces of music or any other cultural trivia that emerges into wider appreciation after long hibernation.

Horace Walpole coined it — and we can date that with unusual precision, because the first OED citation is one of his letters, 28th January 1754. Only in the 20th century did the term achieve general currency. Joyce’s Shem is a semisemitic serendipitist [page 191].

My serendipity is finding good writing at random. Oddly enough, those fillers in the travel and property-porn pages often rise above the chuck-away stuff regurgitated by wannabe journos. And the ultimate “filler” is the Sunday supplement, usually worthy articles to space out the prestige advertising.

Which is my case in point, here.

510eVzWc4wL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_The New York Times Magazine is the gold-medallist among Sunday supplements. It provides a regular piece, Letter of recommendation, which is a direct descendant of the essays of Addison, Charles Lamb, or even of Montaigne, the form’s true inventor.

This week’s was Avi Steinberg on Squirrels, 900 words of well-hewn prose. I recognise Steinberg from two earlier, longer, works: Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian and The Lost Book of Mormon: A Journey Through the Mythic Lands of Nephi, Zarahemla, and Kansas City, Missouri. Steinberg might readily be approached through an online Harvard Magazine profile. he’s well worth the effort.

Steinberg on squirrels:

… regardless of how you answer the Squirrel Problem, the key just might be its perfectly ordinary premise: It assumes proximity between human and squirrel, and it also assumes that this close relationship means something. And why not? Because our daily paths are inevitably crossed by running squirrels, shouldn’t squirrels run through our philosophical questions too?

… we are a party to an unusual social contract with the squirrel. She is the only mammal who lives free and works in open, direct contact with humans. Rats and raccoons hide in the shadows. Coyotes lurk on the periphery. The deer and the bunny might as well occupy a kingdom of thin air. Dogs and cats, noble souls though they are, have been turned into a class of indentured clowns.

Squirrels, though, are right there with us. They live on our level and toil on the same schedule as humans, in every season. They share our approach to life’s problems: They save and plan ahead, obsessively. They make deposits and debits (of nuts and seeds, mostly); build highways (returning to well-known routes in and around trees); manage 30-year mortgages (they can inhabit a single nest for that many years); refrigerate their staples (in their case, pine cones); and dry their delicacies for storage (mushrooms, as we do). They work the day shift and live in walk-up apartments. And like stock traders, they gamble in the marketplace. While most animals breed as food becomes available, squirrels have developed the ability to predict a future seed glut and reproduce accordingly, like bullish investors.

I differ from Sternberg in two essentials. First:

Squirrels are scarce in literature, but the few appearances they have made are telling. Herman Melville identified the flying squirrel as the fiction writer’s model for a realistic character: The creature is exactly as weird and incongruous as an actual person. One of Kafka’s most unsung creatures was a squirrel whose “bushy tail was famous in all the forests,” and whom he describes, in a jot in his notebooks, as “always traveling, always searching.”

Shakespeare — only the once, but nevertheless in a well-known context — had a squirrel. It lurks in the Queen Mab speech:

O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep;
Her wagon-spokes made of long spiders’ legs,
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
The traces of the smallest spider’s web,
The collars of the moonshine’s watery beams,
Her whip of cricket’s bone, the lash of film,
Her wagoner a small grey-coated gnat,
Not so big as a round little worm
Prick’d from the lazy finger of a maid;
Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.

That speech, by the way, (and I suspect because of the Prick’d) is where the school internet porn-filter cuts in. Then, I’ve long argued that, were the Powers-That-Be aware just how filthy — filthy I tell’ee!Bill Shagsper can be in the classroom of a dissident teacher, the whole oeuvre would  instantly be proscribed.

And who, with any sensitivity, could overlook the Greatest Squirrel escapologist of them all — Squirrel Nutkin:

10-color-drawing-of-squirrel-giving-owl-a-flower

The other issue is red versus gray.

The prime culprit is — but of course — a banker. In 1876 Thomas Unett Brocklehurst, a Victorian banker decided to ornament his estate at Henry Park, Cheshire, by releasing a pair of American gray squirrels (which is why I eschew “grey” in this context). Other landowners found this charming, and copied Brocklehurst. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

The British — and Shakespearean — revenge was and is the common starling.

Again, we can name and shame the villain: Eugene Schieffelin, who was a drug millionaire and a Bard-nut. In 1890 he released into New York’s Central Park five dozen starlings. The fool was inspired to reproduce in America every bird-species mentioned by Shakespeare.

 

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Filed under Literature, New York City, New York Times, Shakespeare, United States

& and ⁊

That’s an ampersand and the “Tironian” sign for “et” (and so, in the Irish uncial we were taught at school, “agus”).

I’m seriously worried how this will show outside my Mac. Indeed, as I see on the review, it’s already been truncated down to a pathetic right-angle. Thank you, wordpress, for such ignorance: can you do a Hebrew final Kaf? Irish Posts and Telegraphs could:

old-irish-post-box

But it involves something I discovered only today, and feel an urge to share. Woo-woo.

Yeah, I know. Long time, no post. Something to do with “time out’, real life, a couple of weeks away (Madeira, since you didn’t ask), and too much time on politics.ie. That’s where this one first appeared, and drew the instant reply:

reply
For April 1st, the New Yorker‘s “Comma Queen” posted this:

The Illustrious Ampersand

What do law firms, lithographs, and sex clinics have in common? (No lawyer jokes, please.) It’s the ampersand: Masters & Johnson, Currier & Ives, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Developed from the Latin et (“and”), the ampersand, formerly the twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet, is a character with a cult following among students of typography. In prose, the word “and” is preferred, but designers love the ampersand, and publishers use it in “display copy.”

The ampersand — & — has an allure that cannot be denied.

There’s stuff in there which was new to me (and — I hope — to others).

formerly the twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet

Well, yeah, according to Wikipedia:

The ampersand often appeared as a letter at the end of the Latin alphabet, as for example in Byrhtferð’s list of letters from 1011. Similarly, & was regarded as the 27th letter of the English alphabet, as used by children (in the US). An example may be seen in M. B. Moore’s 1863 book The Dixie Primer, for the Little Folks. In her 1859 novel Adam Bede, George Eliot refers to this when she makes Jacob Storey say: “He thought it [Z] had only been put to finish off th’ alphabet like; though ampusand would ha’ done as well, for what he could see.” The popular Apple Pie ABC finishes with the lines “X, Y, Z, and ampersand, All wished for a piece in hand”.
The ampersand should not be confused with the Tironian “et” (“⁊”), which is a symbol similar to the numeral 7. Both symbols have their roots in the classical antiquity, and both signs were used up through the Middle Ages as a representation for the Latin word “et” (“and”). However, while the ampersand was in origin a common ligature in the everyday script, the Tironian “et” was part of a highly specialised stenographic shorthand.

So far, so good.

But:

  • Byrhtferð; who he?
  • “Tironian” what that?

Byrhtferth (c. 970 – c. 1020) gets his own Wikipedia entry, which made that easy. So he’s whom I blame for Old English grammar? —

Byrhtferth’s signature appears on only two unpublished works, his Latin and Old English Manual, and Latin Preface.

An old friend?

I also discover Marcus Tullius Tiro. Why does that name seem familiar? Aha! —

Marcus Tullius Tiro (died c. 4 BC) was first a slave, then a freedman of Cicero. He is frequently mentioned in Cicero’s letters. After Cicero’s death he published his former master’s collected works. He also wrote a considerable number of books himself, and possibly invented an early form of shorthand.

Tiro appears as a recurring character in Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa crime fiction series, where he occupies the role of sometime sidekick to Saylor’s investigator hero, Gordianus the Finder. He is also Robert Harris‘s first-person narrator in the trilogy of Cicero: Imperium (2006), Lustrum (2009, published in the US as Conspirata), and Dictator (2015).

Sadly I realise I was recognising the fictional characters there, rather than recollecting my undergraduate studies. After all, Cicero’s letters Ad Familiares got a fair old doing-over, often as … err … unseen translations.

I hope I won’t alone in welcoming this  also, errr … useful addition to personal knowledge.

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Filed under fiction, Literature, New York Times

… Haven’t got the t-shirt

The Penny Farthing, East Village? I remember it … almost.

D+25

Then it cropped up in a New York Times piece about “Young Republicans”.

Me? I’d vote Democrat; but there’s a philosophical edge to this.

What astounds me is how the Republican Party — the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt — has become the mouthpiece of hard-right money, the gun-makers, the loonies and the fundies.

Whereas almost anything sane about the GOP seems in the last century  to have come out of New York.

I suggest the bright young things John Eurico encountered should give up the fizzy booze, sit down and address the way the (Republicand) Rockefeller) family has used its wealth and influence.

Not a bad record.

And the notion, implicit in this NYT piece, that Republicans are a persecuted minority is crap.

 

 

 

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Filed under New York City, New York Times, politics, Republicanism, US politics