Friday, 29 June 2012

Einstein, Darwin and bee apocalypse

Bee swarm, Majorfield Road, Topsham, 12th May 2012

An update to Tracking bee story (9th June 2008) and That bee story again (13th May 2010).

Bonnie Taylor-Blake kindly e-mailed me with a link to her further exploration of the origins of the urban myth (much-repeated in popular ecology articles) that Einstein said: "If the bee disappears off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left". (Wrong, whether he said it or not - see On Einstein, Bees, and Survival of the Human Race).

In a post on the LINGUIST List, the American Dialect Society's discussion group's listserv) - Einstein on bees revisited ( 29 Jun 2012, and followups here) - Ms Taylor-Blake tracks a number of precursors to the story, including a 1941 letter to The Canadian Bee Journal, in which an Ernest A Fortin ascribes to Einstein the statement "Remove the bee from the earth and at the same stroke you remove at least one hundred thousand plants that will not survive", and a number of Charles Darwin quotations about the ecological interconnections involving bees.

Despite regular debunking, the bogus Einstein quote still regularly appears in media articles. For example: This mite be the bees' worst enemy (Sydney Morning Herald, 26th June); No sign of our extinction yet (Londonderry Sentinel, 13th June); Honeybees call Morris Canal Park in Clifton home (, 8th June 2012); Einstein was right - honey bee collapse threatens global food security (The Telegraph, 6th February 2011); and so on.

A quick Google finds Ms Taylor-Blake to be "a neuroscience researcher at the University of North Carolina, amateur word sleuth and the American Dialect Society's foremost authority on 'Black Friday' etymology": see The origins of Black Friday (Journal Sentinel Online, 24th Nov 2011). She also runs a blog, Spokelore ("Thoughts on folklore surrounding quotations, expressions of the spoken word, and apocryphal attributions"). There aren't many posts at present, but there are very good articles on the folklore of American political rhetoric (Dirty Politics: Smathers, Pepper, and Quasi Malediction in American Political Folklore) and the anecdote of charging WW2 Japanese soldiers yelling, "To hell with Babe Ruth".

- Ray

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Beatles Complete on Ukulele ... nearing completion

I mentioned a while back The Beatles Complete on Ukulele, the excellent project by the artist and music producer/writer David Barratt to create cover versions of the entire works of the Beatles (defined as the 185 original compositions produced between 1962 and 1970).

The project, begun on January 20, 2009, is now up to the 180th composition, and is due for completion on July 31st 2012, the eve of the London Olympics.

Done to a punishing schedule of one a week, the tracks all feature ukulele in some capacity: but this is often minor. It's a fascinating range of sympathetic and creative adaptations by artists in a variety of genres, performed largely by little-known musicians. All the tracks are accompanied by slightly off-the-wall companion essays about the making and inspiration of both the original and new versions. The list is highly worth exploring.

A brief sampler:
18, a vintage-bluesy Lady Madonna with Amanda Homi;
21, Papa Dee's reggae version of Blackbird;
57, an orientation-switched Yesterday by Colton Ford;
80, a remarkable adaptation of Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da as an anguished monologue by Victor Spinetti in the style of Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape.
81, a charmingly simple acoustic version of All You Need is Love with Nikki Gregoreff;
82, a very bright and upbeat cover of I Should Have Known Better featuring Samantha Fox;
84, When I was 64, spoken by the 100-year-old Dr Harry Steinberg;
108, a neat Motown version of Ticket to Ride by Jenny Dee & The Dreams;
119, Gerald Ross's gentle instrumental of Penny Lane on solo ukulele;
126, Lauren Molina giving a complex viewpoint spin to She Loves You.

The lineup has changed a little since I first encountered the project. The Flash player version below has some other tracks that I particularly liked the first time round, including Bruisercharles' joke-horror version of Maxwell's Silver Hammer ("The atmosphere is one of Tim Burtonish dread"); and Deni Bonnet's  plaintive Klezmer-style minor-key gender-reversed Please Please Me.

- Ray (Sorry about the whitespace below - it seems to be an artifact of the player embedding code).

Addendum: I just had a helpful comment from the organisers to a detail I hadn't spotted:
To download everything with one click, go to:

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Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Vie Hebdomadaires

Vie Hebdomadaires is a collaborative Wordpress weblog run by Varun Kothamachu, a PhD student at the University of Exeter. From the description:
“Vie hebdomadaires” started as a concept from an early morning dream about writing a weekly log book and sending it via post to a friend who writes for another week and then in turn sends it to another one of his friends’ to continue the chain. This idea has been growing in increasing measures with an exciting opportunity to come across amazing stories of the lives of people from across the planet.
The project is currently up to the 42nd week, and contributors have so far included bloggers from - of the locations identifiable - Amsterdam, Valparaíso, Paris, Bangalore, Vancouver, London, Michigan, Tennessee, St Petersburg, Poland, Peru, Pittsburgh, California, New York, Ann Arbor, Bangkok, Oxford, Surrey, Scotland, Goa, Texas, Oregon, Bolivia, Devon ... well, you get the picture. I'd briefly sum up the mix as strongly representing artists and writers, more female than male; and there are a lot of Anglophone ex-pats overseas, and overseas students working in the UK/US. Within that systemic bias - toward international media people - the mix of perspectives is varied.

As it happens, Clare (my wife) is this week's contributor (from June 25th to July 1st), so check out Vie Hebdomadaires - but I highly recommend also looking at the previous weeks.

PS: I'd never encountered the word "hebdomadaire" (I didn't do French at school) - it's a French adjective meaning "weekly".

Addendum: see update, Vie Hebdomadaires again.

- Ray

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Chores ... and blogspam

I've just spent a deal of Sunday evening doing the weblog equivalent of scraping barnacles off the hull of a boat. The necessary change of address in November 2011 (from to meant exporting and reimporting the whole site within Blogger, and the process doesn't preserve internal hyperlinks. Mending them systematically is a chore I've been putting off, but I've just started by repairing all the pages up to December 2008 (along with any images that broke due to the change of hosting). I hope to get the remainder done over the next few days.

Meanwhile, I found something a little nasty. I found that all the defunct internal URLs went to a fake blog Looking at the owner profile finds that it belongs to a "splogger", who has a portfolio of similar blogs, either empty or with bogus content (some with malware links), that have clearly been created to leech the residual traffic from discontinued blogs previously at those addresses. I've reported the as spam, but I don't know if it's sufficiently overt to come under Blogger's definition of spam; furthermore, the Blogger report system has no mechanism for explaining the precise circumstances.

- Ray

Saturday, 23 June 2012

The works of Theodosia Garrow Trollope

Further to the previous post about Villino Trollope and its occupants,the works of Theodosia Garrow Trollope may be of interest. The entry from Dictionary of National Biography indicates the major sources:
TROLLOPE, THEODOSIA (1825–1865), authoress, born in 1825, was the only daughter of Joseph Garrow (d. 1855), by his wife the daughter of Jewish parents, and the widow of a naval officer named Fisher. Her father was a grand-nephew of Sir William Garrow [q. v.], and a son of an Indian officer who had married a high-caste Brahmine. From her mother she inherited skill as a musician, and she became an excellent linguist. By Landor's encouragement she became a contributor to Lady Blessington's annual, entitled ‘The Book of Beauty,’ and later she wrote for Dickens's ‘Household Words,’ and for the ‘Athenæum’ and other papers. The delicate state of her health prevented any extended literary toil, but she translated some of Dall' Ongaro's patriotic poems, and in 1846 produced a skilful metrical translation of Giovanni Battista Niccolini's ‘Arnaldo da Brescia.’ On 3 April 1848, at the British legation in Florence, she married Thomas Adolphus Trollope [q. v.], and as his wife she created at the Villino Trollope one of the best known salons in Italy. In 1861 some twenty-seven of her papers to the ‘Athenæum’ were reprinted as ‘Social Aspects of the Italian Revolution;’ at the time of their appearance these letters were thought to have rendered good service to the cause of Italian freedom. In the same year she contributed to the ‘Victoria Regia’ (‘A Mediterranean Bathing-place,’ Leghorn), and in 1864 she commenced a series of essays upon the Italian poets for the ‘Cornhill Magazine.’ She died at Florence on 13 April 1865, leaving one daughter, Beatrice. She was buried in the English cemetery at Florence.
[Gent. Mag. 1865, i. 670; Athenæum, 1865, i. 555; Atlantic Monthly, December 1864; authorities cited under art. Trollope, Thomas Augustus.]

- Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 57, Theodosia Trollope, by Thomas Seccombe
Theodosia Garrow showed her writing talents from girlhood, writing ambitious poems at 13, when Walter Savage Landor called her the "new Sappho" and predicting that she would eclipse the fame of other poets.

Unworthy are these poems of the lights
That now run over them, nor brief the doubt
In my own breast if such should interrupt
(Or follow so irreverently) the voice
Of Attic men, of women such as thou,
Of sages no less sage than heretofore,
Of pleaders no less eloquent, of souls
Tender no less, or tuneful, or devout.
Unvalued, even by myself, are they,--
Myself, who reared them; but a high command
Marshalled them in their station; here they are;
Look round; see what supports these parasites.
Stinted in growth and destitute of odor,
They grow where young Ternissa held her guide,
Where Solon awed the ruler; there they grow,
Weak as they are, on cliffs that few can climb.
None to thy steps are inaccessible,
Theodosia! wakening Italy with song
Deeper than Filicaia's, or than his,
The triple deity of plastic art.
Mindful of Italy and thee, fair maid!
I lay this sear, frail garland at thy feet.
True estimation or not, this networking led her to a correspondence with the Countess of Blessington, who was then editor of a popular annual of poetry and fiction, Heath's Book of Beauty, and the publication of her poems The Gazelles and On Presenting a Young Invalid with a Bunch of Early Violets (both 1839, when she was 14), Song of the Winter Spirits (1841), and On a Portrait of Her Majesty (1842). A similar annual, The Keepsake, published more of her early poems: Imagine's Reward: A Legend of the Rhine (1841), The Doom of Cheynholme (1842), and The Lady of Ashynn (1843) and Lethe Draught (1847). Critical commentary on these early poems was very favourable - see UK Red - and to the effect that it was the best content of a couple of journals that critics otherwise viewed as collective aristocratic vanity anthologies (see the bitchy summary, A Batch of Annuals, in The Spectator, Nov 21, 1840).

Theodosia Garrow seems to have been interested in the Italian language and Italy from an early age, but as she got into her 20s, that interest took an increasingly political spin. In 1846, she contributed to The Keepsake a polemical poem called She is not Dead, but Sleepeth that argued for the unification of Italy, and in the same year had published Arnold of Brescia: A Tragedy, her translation of Giovanni Battista Niccolini's 1846 epic about Arnold of Brescia, a 12th century cleric who failed in an uprising to break from the Papacy to form a Roman republic. Her 1847 The English Heart to the Roman Pontiff (in the short-lived ex-pat periodical Tuscan Athenaeum) is in the same vein, praising Pope Pius IX for his then progressive stance.

Her hoped-for revolution actually came in 1859 - the external and internal wars of 1859-1861 that led to the establishment of Victor Emmanuel II as king of a united Italy. She described its progress in her letters to the London Athenaeum - see pages 86-88, Beyond the Traveller's Gaze: Expatriate Ladies Writing in Sicily (1848-1910) for an account of their general style and context. The letters were collected as The Social Aspects of the Italian Revolution, in a Series of Letters from Florence: With a Sketch of Subsequent Events up to the Present Time (Theodosia Trollope, London, Chapman and Hall, 1861 - Internet Archive socialaspectsit00trolgoog).

Various obituaries mention other works, of which I've tracked down some. The Cornhill Magazine series appears to be the uncredited essays under the banner Contemporary Italian Poets: No 1 Giovanni Prati, No. 2. — Giuseppe Giusti (I haven't found No. 3). She's also reported as having written for Charles Dickens's Household Words and "papers on home topics" for All the Year Round. For instance, Kate Field's Atlantic Monthly article English Authors in Florence refers to an "exceedingly charming" poem - "Baby Beatrice, a poem inscribed to her own fairy child, that appeared several years ago in Household Words". It's uncredited, but the description fits Baby Beatrice, pp378-379, Household Words, Volume 31, 1855. This, and A Mediterranean Bathing-Place (1861) a nice piece of travelogue about "Leghorn" (Livorno) in the arts magazine Victoria Regia, show her work wasn't all politics. She also wrote a series, Notes on the most recent productions of Florentine sculptors, for The Art-Journal: see No I, No II (Hiram Powers) and No IV (Romanelli).

Thomas Trollope's 1887 autobiography What I Remember (Internet Archive whatiremembervo00trolgoog) devotes a chapter to her - see Chapter XVIII - with a few of her poems. There's also an extended analysis of her poetry and its relation to her political and social stance in Alison Chapman's 2003 essay collection Victorian Women Poets, particularly the chapter The Expatriate Poetess: Nationhood, Poetics and Politics.

To conclude: a bibliographic puzzle. As I mentioned previously, Theodosia Garrow was born in Torquay, and in the course of researching this post, I found this:
... last year All the Year Round contained a few chapters — reminiscences of her own early days passed in Devonshire.
- obituary, page 191, The Art-Journal,Volume 27, 1865
This sounded interesting. But All the Year Round is fully accessible online - see Archive - and unless the details are so unspecific that they're not recognisable, I can find no such articles.

- Ray

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Villino Trollope

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This somewhat low-key building - it houses an IT office for the Italian National Railways - on the north-eastern corner of the Piazza dell’Indipendenza, Florence, Italy, is a remarkable focus of literary connections. It's the Villino Trollope (often called the Villa Trollope), the household for around 20 years of  the historian and writer Thomas Adolphus Trollope (brother of Anthony Trollope).

The extended Trollope family that lived there was itself a huge concentration of talent. There was the novelist Frances Trollope (Thomas Trollope's mother) who bankrolled the building of the villa; Trollope himself; his wife Theodosia (the poet, illustrator, journalist and translator Theodosia Garrow Trollope); and Theodosia's father Joseph Garrow, an Anglo-Indian magistrate from Torquay who was known as a talented violinist and linguist (the Times Literary Supplement said of him: "it is a curious footnote to the literary annals of Anglo-India which proves that the son of an Indian mother lived to translate Dante and to move in a circle where the Brownings and Landor were the greater lights").

Theodosia is in many ways the most interesting of the bunch. Though born in Torquay, her background was exotic: her mother was a widowed Jewish musican who had been one of the celebrated Abrams Sisters singing trio; her father the son of an East India Company merchant and (according to some accounts) a Brahmin lady called Sultan. She also moved in artistic circles; as a girl, an invalid in Torquay, she had been befriended by the older Elizabeth Barrett (later Browning). (There's considerable background on her family origins in Hostettler and Braby's 2011 Sir William Garrow: His Life, Times and Fight for Justice - see chapter 15).

Despite constant ill-health (she died at only 40) she proved to be a charismatic and multi-talented hostess for the wide circle of literati who came to stay at the Villino Trollope. But beyond this, she proved a significant figure - indeed, the chief English apologist and supporter - in the non-Italian support for Young Italy, the movement that ultimately led to Italian unification. Consequently, the plaque that still exists above the entrance to Villino Trollope is devoted not to her husband or mother-in-law, but to her.

We can get the flavour of Villino Trollope in its heyday from a December 1864 Atlantic Monthly feature, English Authors in Florence (see pages 660-671), which name-drops any number of celebrities, political as well as artistic: Tom and Theodosia Trollope themselves, Anthony Trollope, the late Frances Trollope, Colonel John Whitehead Peard (an English supporter of Garibaldi), the Irish social reformer Frances Power Cobbe, "George Eliot", Pasquale Villari, "Owen Meredith" (Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton), the composer Jacques Blumenthal, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. As to the house and its atmosphere:
Ah, this Villino Trollope is quaintly fascinating, with its marble pillars, its grim men in armor, starting like sentinels from the walls, and its curiosities greeting you at every step. The antiquary revels in its majolica, its old Florentine bridal chests and carved furniture, its beautiful terra-cotta of the Virgin and Child by Orgagna, its hundred oggetti of the Cinque Cento. The bibliopole grows silently ecstatic, as he sinks quietly into a mediaeval chair and feasts his eyes on a model library, bubbling over with five thousand rare books, many wonderfully illuminated and enriched by costly engravings. To those who prefer (and who does not ?) an earnest talk with the host and hostess on politics, art, religion, or the last new book, there is the cozy laisser-faire study where Miss Puss and Bran, the honest dog, lie side by side on Christian terms, and where the sunbeam Beatrice, when very beaming, will sing to you the canti popolari of Tuscany, like a young nightingale in voice, though with more than youthful expression. Here Anthony Trollope is to be found, when he visits Florence; and it is no ordinary pleasure to enjoy simultaneously the philosophic reasoning of Thomas Trollope, — looking half Socrates and half Galileo, — whom Mrs. Browning was wont to call "Aristidcs the Just," and the almost boyish enthusiasm and impulsive argumentation of Anthony Trollope, who is a noble specimen of a thoroughly frank and loyal Englishman. The unity of affection existing between these brothers is as charming as it is rare.

Then in spring, when the soft winds kiss the budding foliage and warm it into bloom, the beautiful terrace of Villino Trollope is transformed into a reception-room. Opening upon a garden, with its lofty pillars, its tessellated marble floor, its walls inlaid with terra-cotta, basreliefs, inscriptions, and coats-of-arms, with here and there a niche devoted to some antique Madonna, the terrace has all the charm of a campo santo without the chill of the grave upon it; or were a few cowled monks to walk with folded arms along its space, one might fancy it the cloister of a monastery. And here of a summer's night, burning no other lights than the stars, and sipping iced lemonade, one of the specialties of the place, the intimates of Villino Trollope sit and talk of Italy's future; the last mot from Paris, and the last allocution at Rome.

Many charming persons have we met at the Villino, the recollection of whom is as bright and sunny to us as a June day, — persons whose lives and motivepower have fully convinced us that the world is not quite as hollow as it is represented, and that all is not vanity of vanities.

- English Authors in Florence, Atlantic Monthly feature, December 1864.
This gushing luvvie-fest of a celebrity home description seems to have been as ill-fated then as it is in these days of Hello! magazine. Theodosia Trollope was dead within a few months of the Atlantic Monthly article.


ON 13 APRIL 1865

With nearly all his close family gone, the spell was broken for Trollope, and he moved to another district of Florence, then to Rome, and ultimately to Budleigh Salterton. It took him until 1872 to sell Villino Trollope, and subsequently, in the late 1880s, it was taken over by an American couple, the ex-politician and sculptor John McNamee and his wife Florence, who billed it as an "English and American First-Class Hotel-Pension (see the brochure ), as noted in The Critic by a writer with whom Frances Trollope's 1832 US travelogue still rankled:
IT IS A CURIOUS coincidence that a house built with money largely made by vilifying Americans and American ways should now be turned into an American boarding-house, or pension as it is called in Europe. This house is the Villa Trollope, in Florence, which was built by Mrs. Trollope, the mother of Anthony and T. Adolphus, from the sale of her book, 'The Domestic Manners of the Americans." But the whirligig of time has brought in his revenge, and the Americans who visit Florence now sit with their feet out of the front windows of her own house, or nurse their babies on the doorstep. At least that is what they do at home, if we are to believe Mrs. Trollope, and why should they not do the same abroad?
- The Critic, January 28, 1888
It continued to attract the literati, and not merely Americans, as mentioned in this late reference:
“THE FOLLOWING OF THE STAR,” the last novel by Florence L. Barclay, which has just appeared under the Putnam imprint, was begun at the Villa Trollope, in Florence. where George Eliot wrote "Romola." At this villa, Mrs. Browning. Maxwell Gray, and Lord Lytton often stayed - and more recently it has been frequented by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Thomas Hardy and Eden Phillpotts.
- The Publisher's Weekly, RR Bowker, New York, January 13th 1912
Hardy stayed there in 1887, (see Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited, Michael Millgate, p259); Francis Hodgson Burnettt in 1888. I don't know the date, but I strongly suspected that Maxwell Gray (the Newport-born novelist Mary Gleed Tuttiett) had been to Italy; Italian settings turn up in several of her novels, and she was a highly autobiographical novelist.

The last account I can find of Villa Trollope as a place to stay dates from 1918, when it appears in Lilian Whiting's 1918 autobiographical travelogue The Golden Road. (I've hyperlinked names not previously identified):
The house built by Thomas Adolphus Trollope, in the Piazza Independenza, had become a private hotel, admirably kept by Mrs. McNamee of New York; it was fairly enshrined in literary associations of the days when the Trollopes made their home one of such famous hospitalities; when on the terrace overlooking the garden with its ruined statue gathered the Brownings, Landor, Isa Blagden, Dall'Ongaro, and Pasquale Villari, then a youth from Sicily to whom Robert Browning took an especial fancy; when Charlotte Cushman, Harriet Hosmer, and Robert Lytton (later Lord Lytton, the "Owen Meredith" of poetic fame) were sojourning in Florence and joined in the resident group; when George Eliot and Mr. Lewes were for some weeks the guests of the Trollopes during the time that the author was making her studies for "Romola"; all these, and other delightful reminiscences related in journals and magazines by Bayard Taylor, Kate Field, and other writers, had so invested the Villa Trollope with interest for me that I joyfully embraced the opportunity of being domiciled under its roof. The long French windows in my room opened out on the very marble terrace where the famous folk had long ago assembled to talk of Italian liberty and Italian poetry, and to eat ices and strawberries on summer evenings. The full moon turned the fountain to sprays of silver, and the "ruined statue" gleamed from the dark greenery of orange trees at the end of the walk. To draw a chair out on this terrace in the witching hours and gaze on this scene was to fancy it fairly peopled again with those figures of the past. All the interior of Villa Trollope verified the descriptions I had read, — the broad marble staircase, the balconied room of George Eliot, overlooking the piazza, where in the evenings she had written out her notes for "Romola"; the faint strains of music from the streets that echoed then, as now, on the midnight air.
- The Golden Road, Lilian Whiting, Little, Brown & Company, 1918
 Villino Trollope has an entry on the database Repertorio delle architetture civili di Firenze (Inventory of the civil architecture of Florence): here.
L'edificio si presenta esternamente in forme sufficientemente anonime, sviluppato su tre piani con uno smusso in corrispondenza dell'affaccio sulla piazza. Abitò qui la famiglia inglese Trollope, che prese parte attiva nella rivolta contro il governo granducale. Una memoria (posta sul portone di via Giuseppe Dolfi) ricorda la morte nel 1865 di Theodosia Garrow Trollope, in funzione del suo impegno di patriota. Con la morte della moglie il marito, lo scrittore Thomas Adolphus, vendette la casa per acquistarne una a Ricorboli, e quindi lasciò Firenze per Roma quando la capitale vi fu trasferita. L'edificio è ora sede della Ferservizi, del gruppo Ferrovie dello Stato.
The building, which appears anonymous enough externally, is on three floors with a chamfer [at the corner] overlooking the square. Here lived the English family Trollope, who took an active part in the revolt against the Grand Ducal government. A memorial (located on the front door on Via Guiseppe Dolfi) records the death in 1865 of Theodosia Garrow Trollope, in commemoration of her committment as a patriot. With the death of his wife, her husband, the writer Thomas Adolphus [Trollope] sold the house to purchase one in Ricorboli, then left Florence for Rome when the capital was moved there. The building is now home to Ferservizi, the [IT services] group for the Italian National Railway.
There's a lot of further reading at Julia Bolton Holloway's, the city and the book website. While the sprawling GeoCities-flavour design is a trifle hard going, there's a lot here about the Trollope family and other ex-pat writers in Florence. The site is associated with Aureo Anello, an organisation that aims to preserve the 'English Cemetery' in Florence where they're buried.
Frances Trollope ... is buried in Florence's 'English' Cemetery. With her are also her daughter-in-law, Theodosia Trollope, Theodosia's father, Joseph Garrow, who was the son of an Indian princess, her Jewish step-sister, Harriet Theodosia Fisher, and the family's maid, Elizabeth Shinner, five Trollopes in all. With her are also Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Walter Savage Landor, Arthur Hugh Clough, Hiram Powers and Southwood Smith, all beneath the great cypresses of Arnold Boecklin and Sergei Rachmaninoff's 'Island of the Dead'.
Further reading. See the next post, The works of Theodosia Garrow Trollope.

- Ray

Summer calm

It was a beautiful mild cool evening, and I stepped out at dusk to take a few photos. It was one of those strange dusks when the sky retained an intense blue cast even as the light faded, and I took some long-exposure shots to convey the flavour. Click to enlarge.

Oops! - don't move camera before end of exposure


This is ultimately going to be a bit of a nepotistic post, but Clare and I finally watched - and then almost immediately rewatched - Ratatouille, the Disney/Pixar animated movie about a rat who becomes a great Paris chef.

It's a brilliant film, an example of how Disney have long since moved on from the safe and trite. It works at both a simple level - it's thoroughly heartwarming - but also at a deeper one, with many visual references to classic French movie actors, and even an unmistakable allusion to Proust's classic "Madeleines and Lime Blossom Tea" moment. If you haven't seen it, do check it out.

But this post is just an addendum to one on my wife Clare's blog. One of the central motifs in the film is the creation of a gourmet version, confit byaldi, of the French peasant vegetable dish ratatouille. The film and subsequent Googling made it look so tempting that we just had to try it, and it was ... well, see Clare's blog post Ratatouille.

- Ray

Monday, 18 June 2012

Loki, Lord of Lies, lyrics

TYR - Lord of lies by midnight-dancer

This is an interesting video by the Faroese folk metal band Týr - see the official website - whose songs focus almost entirely on old Nordic lore, mythology, and history. Lord of Lies has a rather odd and catchy metal-mediaeval riff , and its lyrics are a powerful and mythologically accurate description of the legend of Loki bound until Ragnarök.

The text is worth close examination as poetry, both for its mythological allusions and its verbal devices. It stands perfectly well as a piece of epic verse that makes strong use of alliteration like the Old Norse poetry it alludes to, as well as both tail rhymes and internal rhymes.
Shakes the ground in agony the Lord of Lies
Once for every drop of venom in his eyes
Anger festers in his heart and loud he cries
My revenge will be the end and you will

See me rise, out of fact and fiction, Sacrifice
Raise your hands

Truth of prophecies is always in your hands
When you heed her words and do as she commands
Seals your fate and your memorial it stands
All the world ablaze I'll set and you will

See me rise, out of fact and fiction, Sacrifice
Raise your hands for my lore
And legend of these lands

Bound upon the ground until the
Day the sun will go away
Three winters snow falls in a row;
Your bonds will break from me

Skelvur jørðin øll og rapa bjørg og fjøll
Brýtur hav um lond og slitena so øll bond

So you stand before the breaking of the world
Gather all your strength in vain for you will

See me rise, out of fact and fiction, Sacrifice
Raise your hands for my lore
And legend of these lands

End, it has begun, now I am free,
Your ending sails with me
My serpent son stirs up the sea;
The Ship of Nails breaks free.

- Týr, Lord of Lies, Ragnarok, 2006
The "three winters snow" is the Fimbulvetr, the abnormally long winter preceding Ragnarök. Loki's "serpent son" is Jörmungandr, the World Serpent and the son of Loki by the giantess Angrboða. The "Ship of Nails" is Naglfar, a boat made entirely from the fingernails and toenails of the dead, which is foretold to sail to the battlefield Vígríðr, ferrying hordes that will battle with the gods. As to the meaning of this couplet in Faroese ...
Skelvur jørðin øll og rapa bjørg og fjøll
Brýtur hav um lond og slitena so øll bond
... it isn't findable online, but (with the help of the Týr Forum and Føroysk-ensk orðabók) I've arrived at a tentative idiomatic translation:
Shakes all the Earth and tumbles berg and fell
Breaking apart the land and snapping all my bonds
Anyone know Faroese?

This is all a good excuse to mention a wonderfully cross-genre University of Ghent dissertation paper that I'd otherwise have put in the out-takes: Old Germanic Heritage In Metal Music: A Comparative Study Of Present-day Metal Lyrics And Their Old Germanic Sources (Lorin Renodeyn, 2010 - see bibliographic data). If you like your Norse mythology, this is great reading. The author (there can't be anyone else of that name) is from Brugge, a roadie for two bands - Schrywoud and Johnny Crash and The Knocked-Ups - and rather a good photographer.

- RG

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Vincent Ward: monks and monsters

I recommend the Vincent Ward Films site for a remarkable concentration of interesting content.

Vincent Ward is a New Zealand born film director and screenwriter (his involvement as storywriter for Alien 3 is probably his best-known connection) but also a visual artist in a variety of media: painting, photography and digital). Ward's filmography includes Vigil (1984, director and writer); The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (1988, director and writer); Alien 3 (1992, storywriter); Map of the Human Heart (1993, director, producer and writer); What Dreams May Come (1998, director); The Last Samurai (2003, executive producer); River Queen (2005, director and writer); and Rain of the Children (2008, director, producer and writer). If there is a common factor to his work, to me it seems that they focus on outsiders in an ethnic, archaic or apocalyptic setting.

The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey is one of my favourite, and seldom-shown, films (see the trailer). It begins with monochrome Boschian scenes in a Cumbrian mining village under threat of the plague in 1348. A boy called Griffin, who is known for his gift of second sight, has a vision that disaster can only be averted if they "Make tribute to God. Place a spire on a distant cathedral. Do so before dawn or the village will be lost". Perhaps in another vision, he joins a characterful group of fellow miners as they tunnel through the earth - to emerge in full colour to culture-shock adventures in modern-day New Zealand. Visually impressive - see production stills - and backed by an eclectic ethnic soundtrack by Davood Tabrizi, it's by turns witty, horrifying and poignant: it rightly won a number of (admittedly esoteric) awards.

And also on the medieval front, there's Alien 3: Unrequited Vision. The third in the Alien series, set on a prison planet, it was watchable enough, but it radically dumbed-down Ward's original concept, as described in David Hughes's 2008 The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made:
‘It wasn’t a retread kind of sequel it was a completely new idea rich with religious imagery, iconography and metaphor.”
Top: detail from "A star approaches from the east". Bottom: the classic 'Flammarion engraving'.

As reported by Dan Jolin in Empire magazine - Alien 3: The Lost Tale Of The Wooden Planet - Ward's concept was a decaying Gothic wooden space station inhabited by monks, and Ripley crash-landing there would bring the Alien mythos into an effectively mediaeval world that would see the alien in terms of demons. The concept foundered due, it seems, to creative differences and production pressures, There are, however, some 'fossils' of it in the final Alien 3, such as the quasi-monastic community of the prisoners, and the means of the alien's destruction (it was originally to have been in the monks' glassmaking vat).

The Vincent Ward site has a number of concept drawings, and is telling the story as a serialized graphic novel, Alien III Unrequited Vision. It's very nicely done, and is rich in visual allusion, such as the above unmistakable Flammarion quote.

- Ray

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The road more travelled ...

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At the risk of boring you with endless pictures of woodlands and cliffs - skip if you've already reached saturation - I have some photos from May 26th, a windy and majorly hot day when we took the fairly short walk from Niton to Blackgang, at the southern tip of the Isle of Wight. The interesting point is that this route follows the accessible end of the old coastal road between them, which was cut by a landslip in 1928 - the other end is the "Lost Road" I described previously - and goes up over the spectacular Gore Cliff above the landslip.

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You start by following the main road southward from Niton that descends Barrack Shute - alternatively the Southern Vectis "6" bus will drop you at the foot of it. Then you turn off the main road down a lane running south-west - Sandrock Road - which in turn has a branch prominently signposted Old Blackgang Road. Follow this through the woodland until it just ... stops.

At first it's densely wooded on both sides, but then opens out to give views of the wooded slopes on the landward side, and rolling open pasture on the seaward. There are gates with paths to this pasture, which you might want to follow; because the lane is leading to a viewpoint and parking spot at the end, there is a certain amount of traffic on the road.

And at the end is the location called Windy Corner, with this spectacular view.

The chalk cliffs in the distance are those of Tennyson Down, at the western tip of the Island.
Panorama - sorry, I clipped the top of the cliff
The cliff, capped by overhanging crags of chert-studded Greensand, is called Gore Cliff.  The overgrown slopes are the Undercliff landslip terrain; and the large arc in the cliff, and the ridge of rubble below, are the scene of the 1928 slip that disrupted the road through what is now a wilderness. The isolated segment of road - also disconnected at the other end - is somewhere in all that woodland ahead. And bear in mind that this is on the Undercliff: a ledge some 300 feet above sea level, with Gore Cliff maybe 200 feet more above.

The path down to the beach: that tiny thing mid-picture is a stile.

This pastureland, although still a consequence of landslips, is a very gentle contrast to the overgrown tangle immediately adjacent. We didn't go to the beach; it was so hot that 300 feet down and up didn't appeal (apart from which, it's a naturist beach and the etiquette would undoubtedly get complicated).

Looking down the overgrown landslip to the beach

Gore Cliff at Windy Corner
Instead, we returned along the road part of the way, and around 300 metres along, there's a signpost for a path leading to steps up the cliff.

Old Blackgang Road, looking east

Below, an image from 2011 of the "Lost Road": the section of this very same road in the section near Blackgang isolated by landslips decades ago and only travelled by determined walkers. It's quite a striking contrast as the 'post-apocalyptic twin' of the photo above.
Old Blackgang Road - "Lost Road" section - looking east

Part-way up was this stone basin and tunnel; I don't know what these are about. The steps carry on up the cliffside until you're high above the Undercliff and you can see St Catherine's Point lighthouse.

St Catherine's Point lighthouse and Knowles Farm

Looking along the brink of Gore Cliff

Looking down to the Windy Corner car park
It was stunning, if a little frightening in the stiff wind, at the top of Gore Cliff. The path runs approximately westward, with sheer drop to the left and the St Catherine's Oratory lighthouse ( the "Pepperpot" - the scene of Emma MacAllan's The Children of St Catherine's Chantry) up on the hill to the right.

Shortly after, you see the buildings of Blackgang Chine amusement park, and the vista across the whole "Back of the Wight". The path then descends via more steps to the car park and Chine entrance with its well-known giant smuggler.

- Ray

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Lyme Undercliff photos found!

In June 2010, Clare and I walked the Lyme Regis Undercliff - a classic if quite strenuous walk through what has been described as "the nearest thing we have to a jungle in England". But out of sheer lack of organisation, I lost most of the photos before uploading them to the associated blog post, due to an unrecoverable computer crash and failure to backup (there's a life lesson there). However, yesterday I managed to get Clare's old PC working to recover some other files, and was delighted to find the Lyme photos. See the updated post Undercliff: visited at last.

- Ray

The Landslip - Bonchurch to Shanklin

And so to the Bonchurch Landslip ... From Ventnor (see previously) we took the flat but rather dull route eastward along the sea wall via a couple of bays - Wheelers Bay and Horseshoe Bay - backed by rubbly cliffs. When you get to Monks Bay and the shoreline settlement called Bonchurch Shore, things start getting interesting.

The location was very popular with artists, as testified by this blue plaque to various watercolourists that were mostly unknown to me: Clarkson Stanfield, Edward W Cooke, Thomas M Richardson, Thomas CL Rowbotham, Myles B Foster, and Ernest A Waterlow.

At Bonchurch Shore, it's a very short detour inland up the Bonchurch Old Church (see previously) and to the new church, where Swinburne is buried. From there you can pick up the coastal path again, and after passing a playing field with the very ominous sign about there being a deep crack in the ground behind the goal, you ascend into the Landslip proper, which occupies a blunt promontory historically called East End.

Visitors have been enthusing about the East End Landslip for around two centuries. It's an odd thought, in this era of easy travel and Google Maps, that a spectacular landslip took place in 1817 or 1818 (accounts differ), and its scenic aftermath remained little-known for many years. John Albin's 1823 A companion to the Isle of Wight has a good contemporary account of the scene only a few years after (see page 80), and it begins:
To those who have time and inclination, we would recommend the examination of an highly interesting scene in the neighbourhood of Bonchurch, hitherto almost unknown to strangers; and indeed, from the remoteness and privacy of its situation, nearly so to the greater part of the inhabitants of the Island.
And this was what those with time and inclination got to see:

East End landslip, mid 19th century print - uncredited image from The Life Project
A few decades after the slip, when it had acquired a patina of vegetation, it must have been an amazing sight. At the time, when there was still the 18th century classification of landscape on a scale between "beautiful" via "picturesque" to "sublime"(awesome but scary) it was regularly described as "sublime".

East End Landslip, from WB Cook's 1849
Bonchurch, Shanklin & the Undercliff, and their vicinities
Descending the sloping grounds of Luccombe by a beaten track, we pass the gate of Luccombe Chine Cottage, and through an enclosed field, we enter the wood at East End, which leads immediately to the Landslip. Its devious path, winding through the thicket of small branching trees and brushwood, where —

"Huge fragments jutting forth, display
Their crowns of evergreen."

One of these fallen rocks, in the midst of the wood, is aptly converted into a seat for the accommodation of pedestrians, and here silence and solitude seem to fix their reign. Proceeding a little further, the scene suddenly opens, and the stranger is at once struck with the stupendous devastation spread around. A portion of the mighty rocks that have slipped from their bases appears leaning in towering grandeur, against the parent cliffs that still maintain their station, above the chaos below them, resembling an extended line of fortification, from whose yawning clefts protrude large trees, whilst among the detached heaps, huge roots of holly, ivy, and other evergreens are entangled and interspersed, presenting a fine contrast to the gray and hoary tinge of the vast rocky fragments with which the scene abounds. Wild flowers of various hues have sprung up amidst the verdure, peering in their native beauty amongst the ferns of this romantic tract.

Not a trace of human habitation is here to be descried, scarce a track, but of the cattle that graze the waste, or of stragglers from the sheep-walks that have made their way from the downs above. The hawk, the wild pigeon, and the lapwing, the inmates of the cliff, appear to be the rightful occupiers of the spot, or share it with the crow and chough, who frequent these scattered heaps, and feast upon the carcasses of luckless sheep and cattle that often fall over the rugged precipices of this desolate region and are dashed upon the rocks beneath.

- Bonchurch, Shanklin & the Undercliff, and their vicinities, WB Cooke, 1849, Internet Archive bonchurchshankli00cook
The Victorians and Edwardians added a level of safety to the sublimity, with broad paths, railed steps and amenities. Check out Isle of Wight Historical Postards - Bonchurch, the Landslip and Luccombe - for images that include the tea tent and the stone seat (which still exists as the "Wishing Seat" - see Flickr). Nowadays, much the same applies, though the landscape is highly overgrown with mature trees; the overall impression is of an attractively tumbling woodland, with only the general switchback nature of the path and occasional vistas  giving away the disrupted nature of the landscape hidden underneath. As I said before, if you want a kind of 'lite' preview of the landscape of the Lyme Regis Undercliff (see Undercliff - visited at last), it's very similar in flavour, but with better-kept paths and minus the sheer distance and isolation.

Note the fairly sparse vegetation - this area was the scar of the 1995 slip

Photo taken October 2010
I did, however, take a brief detour up the westward path that climbs out of the Landslip via the Devil's Chimney. As I mentioned in Balaam's and other narrow paths, this is a narrow crevice through the crags that top the Landslip. I didn't get there - it being a hot day and very close, it was a slow climb and I was keeping Clare waiting (she didn't fancy the detour, and we were a bit pushed for time). However, I got as far as the crags and the steps leading up to the Chimney, and it was rather sublime in the old sense.

What these photos don't adequately indicate is how dark it was in these glades under the cliff; I had a lot of trouble getting photos. It may not be as scary as the early Victorians experienced it, but it's still a magical and impressive place. It would be quite easy to spend a day exploring the many paths inside the Landslip, but we'd booked a meal and had to move on.

steps up toward the Devil's Chimney

Ivy and ferns fill a glade below a large slipped block of the Greensand capping the Landslip

Just some of the steps down through the wood below the Devil's Chimney
A definitely tulgey wood

The walled path as you exit the Landslip at the Luccombe end

The Landslip section proper is about a kilometre. After this, the path turns into an easy track through more open woodland, with the occasional upmarket villa and garden. We passed the signpost to Luccombe Chine, but this was still flagged as out of commission - a reminder that the Landslip is still active. This paper (which has a useful primer on the geology) - Geotechnical Study Area G3: Bonchurch Landslide, Ventnor Undercliff, Isle of Wight, UK - documents the major slip of 1995; and a house called North Court collapsed as recently as April 2011 as a consequence of that slip (see VentnorBlog).

Ultimately, the path joins a road, and from there it's an easy descent northward to Shanklin; the road forks at the end of the descent, the left going via the top of Shanklin Chine into upper Shanklin (where the bus stop is) and the right into Rylstone Gardens, from which there's a set of cliff steps to lower Shanklin and the beach.

Finally, the view northward to Shanklin (left) and Sandown (far right)
- Ray