"Caput Mortuum is a Latin term meaning 'death's head'. In alchemy, it signified a useless substance left over from a chemical operation such as sublimation. Alchemists represented this residue with a stylized human skull, a literal death's head. In its current limited usage, the caput mortuum represents decline and entropy.

Caput mortuum (also spelled caput mortum or caput mortem) is the name given to a purple variety of iron oxide pigment, an "earth color". It is used in oil paints and paper dyes. The name for this pigment may have come from the alchemical usage, since iron oxide (rust) is the useless residue of oxidization.

It is the name of a brownish paint that was originally made from the wrappings of mummies. It was most popular in the 1600s. It was suddenly discontinued in the early 19th century when its composition became generally known to artists. A London colorman claimed that he could satisfy the demands of his customers for twenty years from one Egyptian mummy. In recent years, it has been made with iron sulphate and impurities obtained from the residues of the distillation of scisti piritosi in the fabrication of sulphuric acid. The paint color is also known as Colcothar, Mummy Brown, Mummy, Egyptian Brown, and by combinations like Caput Mortem Violet."

This blog is called caput mortem because it's my sister’s favourite colour of oil paint. She has used it in the above painting of quince blossom in the garden of the last place I lived. As you can see, the effect is not always as sinister as the name suggests.

It is not so obvious in the one below, but I like the friendly feeling the horse gives.

Today is my sister's birthday.


Never Leave Me

I bought Kazuo Ishiguro's 'Never Leave Me' at Athens airport. I immediately found the book chilling. The atmosphere reminded me of Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale". I found myself gasping all the way through at the sheer skill of the work; this kind of writing is on a plane of its own. I admire and respect it.

If it was a wall, it would be a beautiful, if somewhat stark, white wall, and I would like to stick some nice coloured plates in it to make it less austere.

Monologue from Diary of an Analysand :-

"I am trying to be as honest as I can. I did not know that I was supposed to do what everybody else was doing. I misunderstood the instructions. I thought I was supposed to do exactly the opposite – something that nobody else was doing. There was a voice in my head telling me to do the opposite of what I was being told to do. I knew I would get there in the end, and in any case, I did not trust the voice that was giving the instructions. As far as I could see, the voice was erroneous. It was telling the wrong things. I knew different. I knew that my voice was more important, had to be obeyed, not the outside voice of so-called authority, but the inner conviction that I was not like everybody else. Those rules did not apply to me. How could they apply to me, when I had not been consulted when they were being devised? No, I would find my own way, thank you, and get on with things from a different point of view. I was not subject to the laws of nature the way everybody else was. I know not why. I know not how it happened. I was born that way, born this way, born. I was born to be myself and experience the excruciating thrill of becoming an entity that never bent to a rule, never admitted defeat, never gave in. Sometimes had to pay lip service to the world, there was no other way to survive, and survival was all-important. To get to where I was going, I had to first survive. Otherwise there was no point, no going, no becoming. Survival, first. And that meant giving the outward signs of obedience, pretending to execute the orders, but they were all questionable, all questioned. I could not recognise the well-foundedness of anything I was told to do because of this extremely strong conviction that I had to follow my own rules, dance to the beat of my own drum, even if my dance was awkward or pathetic, at times. I never doubted that I would get the hang of it, and emerge the swan. There was just no question about it. It had to be the way it was, the way I was, as if in the beginning some instance had ordered me to do something so extremely unfair, so totally unjust that it called into question the legitimacy of all future orders, and prevented me from ever following them."

Of my own making or not, yesterday I found out that I am, indeed, living in a Kafka novel.
While I was on holiday my son played up at school, turning up late and skipping classes. The school called in the Children's Judge on the grounds of educational incompetence.


Traduttore, traditore

Working on Boris Vian for a musical-literary evening.

“In 1946, he published a faux-French translation of a novel by a non-existent African American author, Vernon Sullivan. Emphasizing through parody and self-referentiality the "impossibility" of translation from American English into French, Vian simultaneously attacks both the notions of a constructed, fetishized "original" text and of racial authenticity.”

Of course translation is impossible.

I will be singing Corcovado on Saturday night, and as a courtesy to my French audience I have translated the English version into French, and will sing both. I have no idea whether the English is faithful to the Portuguese original, so any relationship between my French version and it will be tenuous. I intend to check with a friend who is a Portuguese to French translator, but I dare not till after the gig.

Rosemary Arrojo, Oficina de tradução (The Translation Workshop):

“Instead of considering the text, or the sign, as a receptacle in which ‘content’ can be deposited and kept under control, I suggest that its prototypical image becomes that of a palimpsest, from the Greek palimpsestos (‘rubbed smooth again’).

[…]Metaphorically, the ‘palimpsest’ becomes the text erased in each cultural community and each epoch, so as to give way to another writing (or interpretation, reading or translation) of the ‘same’ text.”


Terra firma

Two weeks on water, and now my bed sways.

We set off from Athens in three boats, and sailed between the mainland and Evia to reach the Sporades. The route includes one small road bridge which only opens briefly to let boats through at some point during the night. We were told any time after 10pm; in the event, it was 3am.

Legend has it that Achilles fought and killed the Amazon queen, and just before she died their eyes met and they fell madly in love.