Berry orange

Once I was supposed to take pictures of a play and they did not work out, they were all blurred. When I had the camera poised to snap Serge in his boater hat, he looked at me and I was intimidated and did not dare to take the picture. It was engraved deeply on the inner membrane that holds images. I felt that if I had just snapped the picture blithely, I would have forgotten about the image; we sometimes rely on the camera to remember for us.

Twenty five years later I surfed the web looking for Serge and lo and behold, I find him wearing his boater hat. Someone else was able to photograph him because he did not look at them.

in a blaze of glory

Hedging your bets

For at least a month now, every time I drive past this hedge I want to stop and take photographs. The day before yesterday I stopped. I love the orange berries, they are so bright.

I have tried to capture the hue before, not very successfully. This hedge has three shades of orange – pale orange, orange orange and red… I took the photos with my phone. Makes me almost want to try to acquire a real camera. It was a very bright and sunny afternoon, and you can see my shadow in some of the pictures. In this one, my shadow is right in the middle, as if it was part of the hedge.

I say almost because I don’t trust cameras. I have owned 2 cameras. One was a present from my sister; the other was a present from my mother. I don’t want to buy one because it would be just another cog in the wheel of consumerism. And also because part of my mistrust stems from the fact that I believe that sometimes you have to not take a picture to remember a scene clearly. And who do we think will look at all our precious images after we have gone, anyway?

I'm off to Scotland for Hogmanay. See you next year!


Les not so Misérables

I have always been fascinated by mosaic and recently I visited a friend who has just finished her kitchen wall. It took her a year. I came away with broken bits of tile and couldn’t wait to get started. I first did a small shelf and was very excited about the whole process and the result. I kept my eye open for suitable “supports” (I’m using the French sense of the word here, which seems to fit perfectly… how would I say in one word in English ‘things that are suitable to be covered in mosaic’?) and found a large tray, a mug tree and a plate for sitting hot cooking pots on the table. It is great fun putting in the white joints, and it dramatically changes the appearance, so I thought I would show these in the previous stage, before it has been added (see below).

It is not easy to break the tiles, especially into small pieces, and I beavered away intensely for a long time, thoroughly enjoying myself. Then I tried to lift the tray and was shocked to find how heavy it was. I felt really deflated. Although it occurred to me that the tiles and cement would help to weigh down the mug tree and make it more stable, it did not occur to me that my breakfast/tea/all-purpose tray would need a weight-lifter to shift it once completed. The feeling was similar to the time I filled a bucket with water at the kitchen sink and only remembered as I was carrying it across the kitchen floor heading for the door that I had punched holes in this particular bucket to use it as a large plant pot. There is something humbling about water lapping round your ankles.

The mosaic is an excellent metaphor for the blog, too. No two pieces are the exact same size, shape and colour but they are all stuck together by the same hand or some such.

I just heard on the radio that the French Courts have decided in favour of the publisher who produced a sequel to Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.

My initial reaction was that only Victor Hugo should have the right to write a sequel to his own work… and he can’t, so nobody else should. Then I read the article in the Figaro and was convinced by the argument that the dead baddy should remain forever dead and forever a baddy – the sequel brought him back to life and made him good…

But when you think about it, the sequel will not be signed “Victor Hugo”. It is just one person’s take on how the work could possibly evolve, so maybe it is no big deal.

Zapping, I caught a television interview with poseur Bernard Henri Levy. He said that psychoanalysis is of no interest to him because he bears no resemblance to the person he was as a child or teenager. He only became the real person he is when he started to write. “I have no childhood memories” he proffered, guilelessly.

I’m surprised I haven’t written about serendipity yet, it is one of my favourite words and favourite concepts!!!

Funny I had never before come across Obloquy; it is very pleasant-sounding and looking.

Trite has always intrigued me. It is not a word I have ever used. It seems to me to be very English...
And I wanted to mention Foley.

In Monty Python’s Holy Grail they click coconut shells together to make the sound of horses’ hooves and without the coconut shells they can’t travel. I found that hilarious. I didn’t realise it was actually pure Foley.

To create the sound of snow, they press corn starch, so I suppose there must be a lot of corn starch in custard powder. This took me to a search for Cremola custard, I wanted to find a picture of the moon on the tin, or that lovely yellow colour, but couldn’t find it.

Wellspring as a noun has 2 meanings:
Meaning #1: the source of water for a well
Synonym: wellhead
Meaning #2: an abundant source
Synonyms: well, fountainhead

One of the images that emerged in my writing and in psychoanalysis was that of being stuck down a deep well. I suppose I had always only considered the negative aspects of a well, from the point of view of someone trying to get out. This reminds me that wells can be good things! I have one in my garden and it might help me to have some kind of green grass in the summer here.

'Witches', 'bitches', or 'britches'.

“Contraltos are fairly rare in opera, since there is very little work that was written specifically for them. Most of the time, contralto roles are limited to maids, mothers and grandmothers, but they do occasionally get notable roles, often playing female villains such as witches or playing male figures that were originally intended to be performed by castrato singers. A common saying among contraltos is that they're only allowed to play 'witches', 'bitches', or 'britches'.”

Talking about who wears the trousers, I like the expression “the suits” to mean businessmen dressed in business suits.


Bee, joue

This bijou of a picture shows Jeremy Irons X 4, two of the images facing forwards and two ready to walk off into the distance behind. The wistful look on his face is very poignant – he could be thinking “Christ I wish it was Saturday night so that I can go and get pissed” or remembering his first night at boarding school:

As you get older, you look back and try to make sense of the sort of person you have become. And I think the most important thing that happened in my childhood was the first night I went to boarding school at the age of seven. I remember that night, and the loneliness. Also, my parents' marriage broke up when I was 15. But I think it was that first night at seven years old when I felt something had broken, and I've spent my life trying to get back to that feeling of home. It's the same sense of family that you find in the theatre and movies. In fact, I'm hoping to make a film about that very subject - the need for home. You don't really have a home until you have children. And that home is created by the children.”

As Valentin in Claude Lelouch's romantic comedy And now ladies and gentlemen please… Irons is casing a jeweller’s shop. He dresses in drag and makes off with a substantial haul from a bijouterie in Avenue Montaigne.

This week, with bling already in the news because Le Figaro newspaper drew attention to an expensive ring on Rachida Dati’s finger by removing it with an airbrush, four armed robbers, three of whom were dressed as women, stole jewellery worth 80 million euros from a store in … Avenue Montaigne.

The questions all these sparklers raise are endless, and include:

Will the Police call Lelouch in for questioning?
Who wrote the scenario?
Will the thieves be charged with breach of copyright?
Why did a newspaper try to hide the fact that the Minster for Justice owns a ring worth ten times the minimum salary? She is not a socialist…
What else do newspapers remove with airbrushes (President Sarkozy’s love handles, apparently, too...)
Is there really no system better than capitalism to regulate human society?
If more people went to the cinema, would the world be a better place?



Dancing to the beat of your own drum…

Un enfant terrible…

Oscar in The Tin Drum, perfected the art of breaking glass with his screaming.

I don’t know what I’ve been trying to break, or if I’ve been trying to break something, but I have certainly been striving to hit some invisible spot… sometimes mistaking loudness for intensity or getting other parameters mixed up.

Maybe the whole of this human’s endeavour consists in trying to explain why, or trying to give the coordinates of the target, or just perfecting the aim (“I may be off mark, but my aim is true” as Lone Kent sings in Point of View).

A friend sent me a Miles Davis track which reminded me of how distinctive a sound he created. A trademark. Like Keith Jarret, it is almost immediately recognisable. I then picked Miles Davis on a “make your own radio station” website, and it played me a track by Chick Corea which was very nice.

As I was listening, I was surprised to be finding it interesting, because I do not normally like instrumental jazz. Apart from the two musicians just mentioned and Eric Satie I need a singing voice to create the right kind of edge. The excruciating instrument solos of all those bands with no singer, no voice and therefore no real message… As if all music was accompaniment for a singer, a voice, a person … as if instruments were merely the equivalent of machines - something you switch on – you can programme - as if the voice was the only real expression of the soul and of creativity – A drum solo is like a kind of torture you put up with to be stroked in the direction of your fur (dans le sens du poil) by the singer’s voice. And not just any singer’s voice, it goes without saying. But that’s another kettle of fish.

Marciac jazz festival. The frustration of hearing English songs sung by people who stress all the wrong syllables and whose emotions are not in sync with the mood of the lyrics... the drunken Irishman who thinks he can make the words up because he’s in France and nobody will understand anyway (wrong)… then Françoise Guerlin, who understands the lyrics and knows what she is singing, and does it for me by sending the last note of In a sentimental mooooooooooooood gliding through the air like a love letter to Mars. Did anyone get it? Did she get any replies? The b******s can’t write, if you want my opinion.

So many misconceptions – or this one vast misconception, that all music is simply there to allow voices to sing – fell apart as I listened to Chick Corea and enjoyed the sophistication of the rhythm. And my mind (heart) silently admitted that it was pleased with that kind of creativity and it was not a problem that Mr Corea was not making the music with his mouth and body only but had added an instrument – so the instrument could actually be something more than the body and not necessarily always something less, a shield to hide behind, a disguise, a cop-out…

The female vocalist’s solo in The Dark Side of the Moon… Now you're talking. Incidentally, at the recording session, when she stopped singing, she apologised for having screwed up… that’s how difficult it is to know how you are doing in the middle, if you can’t read the audience and even if you…

Now I’m listening to instrumental music and it is not distracting me – it is a background – a beat, a tempo – for too long I was only and exclusively able to dance to the beat of my own drum… which was not always in the tempo… which often mischievously led me astray.

Instrumental music is non-intrusive – like email – you don’t have to listen to it if you don’t want to – it is not asking a direct question, it has no linguistic message – it can be as relaxing as a holiday in a foreign country whose language you do not understand, because you don’t have to make an effort to try to understand, you don’t have to strain to eavesdrop on your neighbours at the street café, on the beach, because you have no entry point, if you can’t visualise the words you can't divide it up into units to understand it piece by piece and if, perchance, the message does speak straight to your heart – as in Samba Pa Ti, for example, by Santana – then yes, it will arrest you and you will stop and listen to it and take it in with every cell in your body and “know” what it means – infinite sadness, love, emotion , nostalgia, human striving – beauty – and yet not "know" and it will become a part of you for ever.


Thick skinned

According to our contemporary oracle, Wikipedia, the war in the Congo is the world's deadliest conflict since World War II, killing 5.4 million people.

Joëlle Sambi, a young scriptophile who lives and works in Brussels, has written a book about it called Le Monde est Gueule de Chèvre.

“The world is a goat’s mouth” which, apart from a pointed beard with Satanic overtones, makes me think of a goat’s cud and chewing the cud: slow and aimless mastication. Like a giant shredder, crusher. Mechanical madness. Automated atrocity.

Here is a rough translation of an excerpt from Chapter 1:

Numbers, numbers, and more numbers. Two, three, four… numbers and dead bodies. 162, … 164 dead bodies, thousands of them, dead bodies and their souls tossed about, ground into pieces, pushed around… there are 10,000 of them from one end of the world to the other… 10,000 of them between land and sky. Souls in distress wandering, drowning, seeking justice. In this writhing world, my mind is sinking…

My name is Jerry and I’m 13. Maybe a bit older. I don’t really know exactly. Whatever!
My name is Jerry, I have a job to do and I think I’m about 13. My job: counting the bodies. A bit like Papa Diallo counts his dollars, in my jotter I write them down, list them, calculate, enumerate, measure and count: 162, 163… 164! Today, we’re at 164.
What I know for certain is that 164 won’t get through the gates of paradise. He’s enormous. A pachyderm. 'Pachyderm, from Ancient Greek pachydermos, someone (or something) with a thick skin. Used for animals such as an elephant or a hippopotamus.'

Zoology was a subject I loved when the school was still standing. I had brand new jotters, so bright and clean. They all had an animal on the cover: a lion, a giraffe, an elephant, an okapi .'


By the way, "an Okapi (Okapia johnstoni) is a mammal living in the Ituri Rainforest in the north east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo". I, for one had never heard of it until I read this book. "Although it bears striped markings reminiscent of the zebra, it is most closely related to the giraffe. Until 1901 it was known only to the local people. The tongue of an okapi is long enough for the animal to wash its eyelids and clean its ears: it is one of the few mammals that can lick its own ears. Male okapis have short, skin-covered horns called "ossicones". They have large ears, which help them detect their predator, the leopard. "

Listen to Joëlle talking about her book (in French) :

and Now, Ladies and Gentlemen Please, here is the information you need :

Titre: Le monde est gueule de chèvre
Auteur: Joëlle Sambi
Editeur: Biliki
Année de Parution: Novembre 2007

to vote for Joëlle Sambi in the Rock Salt book competition !!!!!

Vote now!!!

and buy the book !!!!
or hide your tee-shirts!!!!

Book émissaire (page en français)



Sunday is a day like no other. I wrote a prose poem about it a few years ago in French.

Last Sunday was a degree beyond every other Sunday. I swear it felt like Christmas. It had the same fullness about it, everything being available, being in place - it didn’t matter that it was raining… or maybe the rain helped, by making inside cosier and outside palpable.

I got to the village shop before it closed – they had a farm chicken left for Sunday dinner. It felt like the opposite of the feeling in “Sunday morning coming down”…

“and there’s nothing short of dying half as lonesome as the sound”

… the empty city sidewalk with the Sunday smell of someone cooking chicken. For once, I was the one cooking chicken. I had crossed over to the other side. I was “in”.

and yet just the day before, I had been observing my awkwardness, my inability to make small talk, my uneasiness in company, and feeling very “out” of it.

Life is full of this kind of up and down, extremes that are connected, you feel excluded and a few seconds later you feel accepted. Just like this house. I was so excited about how great it is and how pleasant to live in and when I had finished sending the photographs I looked around and knew I was over it already. It’s not that it’s not important. But it isn’t everything.

Whenever I think I have mastered something I fall, fail, trip. Like learning to go a bike. When I think “I can do this” I lose my balance and fall off. But when I do master something, it becomes pointless.

I sat down at the piano and played, like a child with a toy. Starting at opposite ends I hit every key several times, moved up and down and thoroughly filled my mind and the room with the random sounds of the keys. Freedom.

I thought about the octave again and about repetition and how the most infinite of fields – music – on a certain level can be broken down into a small number of units and consists in how they interact.

Just like human beings…

But when I do master something, it becomes pointless… or, a related feeling is when I finally manage to accept something, it is too late – like when I began to feel I could psychologically cope with my periods, I was menopausal, they had already started to stop. Is there a connection? Was I able to achieve the feeling that I could cope with menstruation because it was secretely over?

There’s something about a Sunday that brings out feelings of finite and infinite…


The rain in Berlin

Among other things Gutta percha strongly evokes colonial horse-riding women, saddles, stirrups, whips and boots. Pavements, paddles, disgust, gotcha, gutting of predator fish, to kill a mocking bird, a pair of chas… guttural cries, perchance to dream, pervanche, peridots, perched high in a tree, pandemonium.

They used to put it in the middle of golf balls. Do you remember opening golf balls? Carefully slicing through the tightly-wound elastic which sprang off vigorously, jumping all over the place, being careful not to burst the bag of white stuff in the middle but eventually getting to it…

Another concept from the plant world that knocks me out: Understory.
“the term for the area of a forest which grows in the shade of the emergent or forest canopy. Plants in the understory consist of a mixture of seedlings and saplings of canopy trees together with understory shrubs and herbs. Young canopy trees often persist as suppressed juveniles for decades while they wait for an opening in the forest overstory which will enable their growth into the canopy. On the other hand, understory shrubs are able to complete their life cycle in the shade of the forest canopy. Also some small trees such as dogwood and holly rarely grow tall and are generally understory trees.”

This left my mind reeling. “suppressed juveniles”. Nature can be so cruel.
My son is struggling through adolescence, natural sloth mostly winning over my attempts to goad him into action. “You must have some idea of what you would like to do” I said. He replied: “It’s like, we’re in France and you keep asking me what the weather is like in Berlin".


Collateral knowledge

Language is never-endingly rich. In addition to the fact that the combinations are endless, the actual building blocks are quite numerous as well. I am always coming across expressions I don't know, whether they are new to me or just plain new. I had never heard the expression “long tail” so I looked it up. My niche is at the very tip of the appendage - what I produce pleases me and maybe one or two other people. I can live with this.

“The angular gyrus, a brain region important for processing language”. Angular gyrus just tickles my poetic sensibility. I’m a sucker for unusual agglomerations of phonemes. “Humans, it seems, are like drunken poets”

Writing is a kind of Ariadne’s thread - "A labyrinthine man never seeks the truth, but only his Ariadne" – (Nietzsche, quoted by) Barthes:-

"Other countries drink to get drunk, and this is accepted by everyone; in France, drunkenness is a consequence, never an intention. A drink is felt as the spinning out of a pleasure, not as the necessary cause of an effect which is sought: wine is not only a philter, it is also the leisurely act of drinking."

Ariadne (in French Ariane, like the rocket launcher) saved Theseus, who broke his promise to take her with him and abandoned her on an island…

I see The Possibility of an Island is on at the local cinema – but I think I’ll give it a miss …

From the Guardian:

"Houellebecq, despite being hailed as France's most successful living novelist, was lampooned for his recent film-director debut in which he adapted his novel The Possibility of an Island, into what French critics said was one of the most boring and ludicrous films ever to grace a cinema screen."

I am often amazed at the things I learn through my work. Facts that are side effects of translation. Collateral knowledge. Recently I was working on plants, and discovered the GF:

"The general flowering (GF) events of forests in south-east Asia are perhaps the most spectacular phenomena in tropical biology. GF events occur at multiyear intervals. In GF, most dipterocarp species and many plants of other families come into flower and set fruit massively; these species and plants rarely flower except during GF events. GF is unique, because it can occur over thousands of kilometres and involve hundreds of plant species representing diverse families and life forms. (…) Satiation of generalist seed predators has been considered a primary force for GF."

So all these flowering plants decide to flower at the same time and satiate their seed predators, thereby saving their seeds. The mind boggles.

As part of the same job I had to translate a sentence to the effect that some plant species exist in New Zealand and Chile only. I was intrigued, tried to find out why, and discovered Gondwana.


L'art en traits

La rentrée is a big thing in France. I never found a completely satisfactory way of translating it, maybe because in English-speaking countries there is not the equivalent of everyone downing tools for the whole summer.

À la rentrée: at the end of the summer recess

I remember the thrill of the last minutes of school in June, and the excitement of having unlimited free time ahead, and the excitement of going back to school and wearing new clothes and having a new teacher and later on, new classmates. But the phenomenon didn’t seem to concern the rest of society.

Lard entrée - rentrer dans le lard...

Yesterday the temperature changed from thirty to thirteen. The sunflowers look decidedly wabbit.

Todd Rungdren - I Saw The Light.mp3 -

"Musicians talk of nothing but money and jobs. Give me businessmen every time. They really are interested in music and art."
-- Jean Sibelius, explaining why he rarely invited musicians to his home

"If one hears bad music it is one's duty to drown it by one's conversation."
-- Oscar Wilde


Stratum emoticum

<layers of the epidermis. These layers consist of the stratum germinativum, stratum spinosum, stratum granulosum, stratum lucidum, and the stratum corneum.>

As I was reading this, I could feel the analogy with perception, experience and behaviour. You are born, you spin around for a while in a pram pushed by adults, free-wheeling, then you grow a bit and become grand, then reality kicks in and you realise you are not so grand and finally you grow a hard shell to protect yourself from all that.

My mother passed away peacefully on August 4th.

Séjour is a stay, a holiday, and also a living-room in a house.

The word Ottoman to me is a blanket box. When I first noted it down I saved a link to the Wikipedia article on Ottoman furniture. However, I have not been able to post for a while and the article has now been deleted. The blog is truly a medium of the moment. There is no way of telling how long what we are “building” here will last. Maybe some of it has already disappeared. Like Denis Martinez filming himself drawing on the sand in the desert just before the evening breeze gets up and swooshes the traces away. Like Andy Goldsworthy’s ice sculptures and other ephemeral land art.

Part of me is far too slow in some ways, but not all.

Here is a beautiful typing error – reproduice

It stresses the similarity between deduce and juicy.

Freize – freeze - freesia

“Oeillet” in French is carnation or buttonhole in English

Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) is “Oeillet des poètes” in French – does the English name refer to the Bard, I wonder?

œillet d'Inde (Tagetes patula) is French marigold.

Reminds me of the incomprehensible translation of Indian ink as encre de chine…

We were in the carpark at the foot of the Puylaurens Cathar castle, eating our picnic. Someone came along this road and bubbled excitedly that you only had to walk ten yards to get a fantastic view of the castle. So I set aside my sandwich and off I went in search of the view. I walked for a long time, and met Marty coming back from where I was going. We thought we had been sent on a wild goose chase. But when we were almost back at the carpark, the chateau came into sight. It would have sufficed to walk ten yards to get this view, if only we had turned around and looked back!


Two-tone buzz

I had to translate the word “buzz” from French to English several times in a marketing context – créer un buzz – and it reminded me of “what’s the buzz – tell me what’s a’happenin” from Jesus Christ Superstar. I wondered if it meant the same.
The honeysuckle at my front door smelt heavenly and was all abuzz with bees. To try to share the sensory experience with you I took a picture of it, but the computer refused to recognise my camera. Built-in obsolescence. I got it the day the twin towers were nuked. It was a present from my mother. I suppose I could get a card reader and salvage the pictures from the card... today I bought a 2 MB card for my digital recorder – watch this space, or, rather, listen to this space…

I love the French verb “butiner” which is also what bees do. (Originally I wrote 'what a bee does'). I have been to at least two fancy dress parties dressed as a bee to be able to flit from flower to flower. Or was it because I like Black and yellow stripes... (Another one I attended as Cleopatra with a black wig and a rubber snake round my neck.) I also like to think of reading as a way of gathering the nectar and pollen of other people’s minds.

Why is Wensday spelt Wednesday? Choose day, chews day…

1. Lacking power to evoke interest through overuse or repetition; hackneyed.
2. Archaic Frayed or worn out by use.

[Latin tritus, from past participle of terere, to wear out; ]

I had already used the words libel and slander and needed something for calomnier so I looked it up and there was “traduce”, from the Latin “traducere”.
For one fleeting moment, I thought maybe "traduction” existed in English? No. The noun is traducement. (faint echo: seducement). Dragging something from one language to another. But the very act of transposing anything from one code to another necessarily involves loss. Even one person passing on what they have heard without switching languages. We crave precision but live in the "à peu près".
Egregious = outstandingly bad

Shakespeare said it all. So many great quotes, out of context. I can’t remember the English for time being “sorti de ses gonds” – gonds are hinges and when my son was born, "They that went on crutches ere he was born desire yet their life, to see him a man.

In the mountains, there were lots of tiny star-like flowers all over the place. And these faintly phallic ones, whose name I forget… Alpine something or other. Strange how “alpine” has come to mean “relating to mountains” the way hoover means vacuum cleaner.

As the camera was not working, I took some pictures with my phone. If you look carefully enough, you will see two dark tunnel holes through which “le petit train jaune” went hooting.

I made up a sentence to help my American friends with their French: “Some of the blackberries on the wall are not ripe” she whispered. (“Des mûres sur le mur ne sont pas mures” murmura-t-elle).
And even in such a cursory glance at life – as I was marvelling at the sparkling brilliance and pure beauty of the clear mountain stream I remembered Mekas

I can’t sign off without a mention of Marginal Melon. The desert that Marty and Eva ordered (to remember who ordered it I remembered whose teeth went black) at Le Canard Gourmand. Our venerable veritable institution of a local restaurant where Xavier, the ultra-creative chef, doesn’t like making deserts… The ironic thing is that Marty’s starter was a savoury dish (fresh foie gras flipped in the frying pan) served with vanilla sauce. The desert was partly dyed black by encre de seiche... octopus ink. Which is pretty salty. Ok if used for colour only, as suggested in the description (the macaron) but when added to whipped cream the result was likened to shaving foam…


Gullible's travels

In my mind, I have a picture of Gulliver tied down with thousands of tiny ropes, especially his hair. This is not the exact image but it was the closest thing I could find. I think of it sometimes when I am lying on the couch. Psychoanalysis is a question of carefully cutting all the little ropes, but the ropes don’t want to be cut, and they automatically grow back, and you have to cut them again and again. In other words, you have to be really serious about being free or the bars of your prison will find you again.

Another similar image is of elephants. The cruellest picture I have of them is the adult females chasing pubescent males out of the group and forcing them to trot off and do their own thing in the jungle. The boys become a nuisance when they reach puberty, so they are excluded. It sometimes takes days to get rid of them. They hang around and cry and try to sneak back into the herd, but the females are relentless in keeping them out. I don’t know exactly how human mothers are supposed to push their male offspring out into the world, but I hope there is a less cruel method.

Here I was thinking of how elephants are trained. One ankle is tied to a post when they are young. They rebel and push and try to free themselves. They find they can’t run away because they don’t have the strength to break the chain or uproot the post. Then they grow up and increase in strength but they have internalised the experience of not being able to run away so they don’t even try anymore. Analysis is a way of identifying the parts of our behaviour that were adopted in childhood circumstances and no longer correspond to our adult setting and means. And ideally adapting the behaviour!

I've just bought a brilliant version of Basin Street Blues by Keith Jarret from I-tunes. I can’t put it on here because it is “protected”. The same goes for The Blower's Daughter I bought specially for my life’s soundtrack. This is frustrating. I’ll have to find a way round it, somehow. Anyway, I was humming the song “Halleluja” the other day and was surprised to learn it was by Leonard Cohen, the man who moved me to take up the guitar to learn to play Suzanne and Bird on a Wire. The best version I found was Alison Crowe, and what do you know, I then found a You Tube tutorial on how to play it! Somebody took the trouble to clearly and slowly explain what to do and how to do it in front of a camera for people like me! That restored my faith in human nature. I never managed to play Danny Boy fluently enough on the piano to be able to sing along with it, so it looks like Leonard could be another first. Watch this space! For the moment, here is Alison Crowe singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.


Notes on quotes

There are sentences we read that immediately become a part of us forever. They strike a deep chord and stay there. Taken out of context, they evolve inside us, and polished by our needs, turn into something slightly different. One of mine comes from Proust. The context is a shared student flat in Dowanside road, just off Byres Road (what a name! they tried to change it to Victoria but the residents refused. It is a rather good antidote to the pretension that can grow up around Universities, especially ones as old and beautiful (if you like old things) as Glasgow.).

I remember Cath MacClean from Prestwick reading a passage to us that she found too beautiful to keep to herself – from the untranslatable “à l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs” (Within a Budding Grove or In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower...). It was breathtakingly beautiful, I think we all understood how beautiful the writing was without understanding really what he was getting at, which is as good a way as any of discovering aesthetics. My memory is of Cath enthusiastically reading a very beautiful passage from Proust which came to a satisfactory end with the words “les après-midis bleus de ses fenêtres” (“the blue afternoons of its windows”). In my mind’s eye, I can see the full-stop on the page, Cath’s finger on it, her eyes looking up at us in wonder, and then the book slowly closing with a sigh.

As the University was not in session in the summer, all my memories of it are in the other three seasons, and very dull, almost damp. So I suppose those few words encapsulated everything I imagined about France, a place where there was warmth, lots of bright sunshine, blue sky visible through the windows, and people who could live in cork-lined rooms and write for the pleasure of the words, write as a way of worshipping language, live completely for the activity of the mind, totally unconnected to anything involving physical work. If human experience was a spectrum then this was the opposite end from soul-destroying manual labour.

Today I looked up that quote and was horrified to find it ended with a semi-colon; “un tout petit (salon), vide, que commençait déjà à faire rêver l’après-midi bleu de ses fenêtres;”. It was unlikely that Cath would have stopped reading with such an emphatic feeling of satisfactory completion at a semi-colon; I was also horrified to realise that I had no recollection whatsoever of the preceding passage. And so my memory was part fiction.
Another Proust quote I live with is “J’avais un rendez-vous urgent avec moi-même” – ‘I had an urgent appointment with myself’.

Apron strings. The idea of a “mummy’s boy” has always annoyed me, as a jealous female sibling, d’abord, then as a girlfriend - they say that mother-in-law/daughter-in-law animosity is genetically programmed, for the survival of the species, which does not make it any easier to bear. I hate the idea of a man being “attached” to his mother. There is something unpleasant about the very words sycophantic infantilism. Maybe this is because one of my biggest worries, as the mother of a male teeneager, is “will he be able to stand on his own two feet?”. So imagine my horror as a translator when I read that Proust wanted to translate Ruskin, but his English wasn’t up to it, so his mother translated the text literally for him so that he could “write Ruskin in excellent French”. Yikes! Talk about silver spoon feeding!!

Tipping point.

Looking for info on Byres road I came across a passage from Alasdair Gray

Who did the council fight?"

"It split in two and fought itself."

"That's suicide!"

"No, ordinary behaviour. The efficient half eats the less efficient half and grows stronger. War is just a violent way of doing what half the people do calmly in peacetime: using the other half for food, heat, machinery and sexual pleasure. Man is the pie that bakes and eats himself, and the recipe is separation."

"I refuse to believe men kill each other just to make their enemies rich."

"How can men recognize their real enemies when their family, schools and work teach them to struggle with each other and to believe law and decency come from the teachers?"

"My son won't be taught that," said Lanark firmly.

"You have a son?"

"Not yet."

Lanark, p.411

One of my Shakespeare ones is "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

Nancy Huston did not win the Orange prize for fiction, but was shortlisted. As a translator, I feel compelled to react to the following delicious comment:

"First published as Lignes de Faille, the novel sold over 400,000 copies in France, was then translated by the Canadian-born author herself with a level of creativity and confidence simply not achievable by the average translator."

Well, I wanted to react, but words fail me...


Peas and queues

The important thing about the vase is the emptiness it can hold. But what about tiles? They hold whole kitchens.

Talking of cuisine, with a large proportion of the world’s population starving, we in Europe have apparently lost touch with the idea of seasonal alimentation, and want to eat everything all year round. This is not 100% true in France because the arrival of certain products is still in evidence, asparagus, for instance. At the weekly market, on Monday mornings here, some small growers still sell their own produce.
I know I should wait till the right time to mention this, I’m definitely off season, (what does “off-side” mean?), but I was very surprised to find that the khaki, an orange fruit that ripens here in August, is called persimmon in English.

persimmon took me to Persepolis,

which took me to entropy (reminds me of lithops.)

“In thermodynamics, entropy is a measure of the unavailability of a system's energy to do work.”

I knew there was a word for it. So much depends on how you define "work".

The word "entropy" is derived from the Greek εντροπία "a turning toward" (εν- "in" + τροπή "a turning"), and is symbolized by S in physics.

Now where did that S come from? Lacan’s subject before it was barred from pottering about?

More tiles. Photos by Robert Grezes.



Whenever I come across a new word for the first time, I invariably come across it again very soon afterwards. It’s that second time that makes me want to think about it. Funny how the first and second times are always so close together…
Sybarite is the latest word. It means "a voluptuary”. Something like a hedonist with luxury thrown in.
I came across it in a blog. I was reading the blog because I had been very impressed by a concert. Reese, aka Yves-Henry Guillonnet, is a first rate musician, and he was playing guitar in a duo with a certain Manu who has the sexiest voice I have heard in a long time. Their compositions were subtle, interesting, tender, cocasse, and amusing. In a word, they were brilliant! Unfortunately they have not yet released the recording of the gig, but they will, one day.

It was Saturday 10th May, and there were two concerts of interest on the same evening! The odds against this happening in (or, rather, around) a place like Lombez are mind-boggling. The first concert was at aperitif time and it was Vicky La Sardine (top picture), a friend who writes her own songs and plays them accompanied by an accordionist. She is also an excellent performer, and had a bit of success with a comedy act at one stage.

The second occurrence of sybarite came today, in a crit of the film by Claude Lelouch, “And Now Ladies and Gentlemen, please”. I watched it last night, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I fell asleep the first time I watched it, but I was very tired… Part of the reason I like it is because Patricia Kaas sings some of the songs I’m practicing now for my piano/voice duo with Bertil Sylvander. Bertil’s day job is running a clown school, at La Robin, and we are working on some nice jazz standards and improvising. I hope he doesn’t want us to wear red noses… (Ha ha! They're not that kind of clowns - "Send them in", I hear you say). Yesterday we worked on “Que reste-t-il de nos amours” and I switched blithely from that to "I wish you bliss, but more than thiss...". When I watched the film last night, you guessed, that’s what Patricia Kaas does, starts off in French and switches to English... well, at least I know where I got that idea from... a lot of the time I am convinced my ideas are original and all it means is that my memory is not as good as it could be…

Which is another thing I like about the film – the main characters are suffering from amnesia and at the end the line between phantasme, reality and memory becomes very hazy...


Lemons from Algeria

In the news, London. A young barrister starts shooting out of his window, without opening it. He didn’t hit anyone, or aim at anyone, although he fired shots into his neighbours’ homes. What was he aiming at? The police returned fire and killed him. Suicide using the police as a means?

These lemons are from Algeria. There is a long story about them. It is taking a long time to write.

In my post on 15/04/07 I included a short excerpt from “Diary of an Analysand” which is not a diary but a collection of pieces of writing about the psychoanalytic journey – ending with Why? What follows is what followed.

I don’t know why. In truth I was a wanderer, wandering. I was a wanderer seeking something I had never found and until I found it, there was no way of knowing what it was I was looking for. All I knew was that it was something I had not yet found. The unknown. An unknown me, my god.

And there was something about not deliberately going somewhere to avoid missing the undeliberate, magical destination. It had to be happened upon as if by chance. A miracle. I was wandering around earth waiting for a lightning beam to strike me and make me what I was, what I wanted to become. I was expecting to be actuated from the outside. But that’s not how I perceived it. I perceived myself as self-sufficient. I didn’t want anything from anybody. I didn’t want anything from anybody except consecration from the Big Unknowable Other. The Big Unknowable Other that held the secret to my realisation. The BUO had to tell me that I was on the right track by not being on any track, by avoiding all tracks.

I believed that was what it meant to be alive, to not follow a direction laid down by anybody, even myself. My only direction was to keep on, go on, reach as far as I could without having a direction. Like an organism that tries to get as far away from its point of origin as possible, for no other reason than to find out what it is like as far away from home as it is possible to get. For no reason other than to be able to say “I went as far as I could, I went all the way” even though ‘all the way’ didn’t mean anything till I had found the end of the road, found the end of my road, reached the outer limits of my movement. And that could never happen, because I knew I would drop off the end of the earth. I would die lost, running round the globe for the Nth time, happy at never having been in the same place twice, happy that there was enough earth to make this possible.

I don’t know even now what is important. The means of transport I used, the places I ended up in simply through not wanting to be in another place, the discoveries. I don’t know if any detail is more important than any others. I suppose the only thing that is important and that allows me to think about all that is the fact that I finally stumbled on a destination. I finally found myself with a direction. Tobruk, for better or worse, temporary or permanent, pointing like an iron shaving under a magnet. Magnetised.

Before this, I was a short circuit, emitter and receiver – oh I had plenty of energy. I certainly emitted, loud and clear, but I was not happy with what I received. The short circuit was not satisfactory but I did not know why. Why was always my weak point. Why not? Everything was arbitrary, anyway, or so I thought, so I felt, and I did not ask to be an emitter and a receiver, I did not ask to come into existence, at least, if I did ask to come into existence, if I was the one who had actually chosen the time and place and circumstances of my birth, I had no recollection of it and came into life completely and utterly surprised by the whole thing. Unarmed. Naked. Confused.

I still am confused, but I’m no longer naked or unarmed. I’m still an emitter and a receiver, but I’ve found the tuning button. Or I have added a tuning button. Or the tuning button magically appeared, came into existence without knowing why, like me. In any case, there is now a tuning button and I can’t imagine why there wasn’t one before. Surely we should all be born with access to our tuning buttons? My only conclusion is once again that I am a freak of nature. No tuning button, then tuning button appears. There was no tuning button because I had not discovered the concept of tuning. Tuning in; tuning out. I did it automatically, frustrated at all that interference. Static. Crackle. I wasn’t doing it properly. My parameters were wrong. I was a 20th century adult, using the parameters of some kind of prehistoric protozoa.


Toast to jube jube

My son had set the toaster to “2” which merely warms the bread, in my opinion. Maybe he doesn’t want butter to melt in his mouth… When I noticed this I turned it up full. The toaster got confused, or did both settings at the same time and the toast came out burnt. As I looked at the black edges the word “carbonised” tip-toed across my mind in slippers. We are carbon-based creatures. I had never made the connection before! When we say someone “is toast” we mean they are finished (the complete opposite of saying they are “the toast of”…) but we are all the product of cosmic combustion, so we actually start out as toast. We could well be the black bits scraped off the breakfast of some mysterious greater entity…

The village of Catrine. Cotton mill built 1787, demolished 1963

Catrine was a hamlet of eleven houses when a cotton mill was built there in 1787. The mill burnt down in 1963. When I was growing up, my father worked in the nearby Barony pit and my mother worked in the textile industry. The shops in the village included a fish monger and an ironmonger, where you could find everything from nails to washing machines. Today, most of the shops are boarded up, except for five or six pubs. The coal mines have closed down and the cotton industry has been delocalised. Wikipedia says Catrine is now “a picturesque village”.

Someone asked me where the cotton came from to run the mill, and I replied America. Glasgow also flourished as a port importing American tobacco. I am currently taking a drug called Champix to stop smoking. It makes me field weird, depressed one day, elated the next.

The first word that caught my attention since my last post is “inadvertently”.

[Middle English, from Old French, from Medieval Latin inadvertentia]

I just like the word, as I also like jeopardy, which, who would have guessed, comes from the French ‘jeu parti”

  1. Risk of loss or injury; peril or danger.
  2. Law. A defendant's risk or danger of conviction when put on trial.

[Middle English juperti, from Old French jeu parti, even game, uncertainty : jeu, game (from Latin iocus, joke, game) + parti, past participle of partir, to divide (from Latin partīre, from pars, part-, part; see part).]

Phonetically so close to leopard, no doubt some Martian trying to decipher English would think the meanings were related. Not so, not even the origins of the word:

“In Antiquity, it was believed that a leopard was a hybrid between a lion and a panther, as is reflected in its name, a Greek compound word derived from λέων léon ("lion") and πάρδος párdos ("male panther")”.

Another single letter change takes us to leotard, as in tutu (jube jube...)

“Writing is a performance art, so expect to experience performance anxiety, almost every time you write. Think of it as page-fright. :-)”

One of my favourite artists in one of my favourite newspapers:

I was reading in the aforementioned news-paper about arms being shipped to Mugabe via South Africa and the wooden language of diplomacy clunking out “we don’t have the authority” to not deliver this cargo when all of a sudden the sun came out:

“Dockers in Durban were refusing last night to unload the ship. The SA Transport and Allied Workers Union's general secretary, Randall Howard, said: "Satawu does not agree with the position of the government not to intervene with this shipment of weapons. Our members will not unload this cargo, neither will any of our members in the truck-driving sector move this cargo by road."

Phew. There are still some people alive in the world.

, pl. -crums or -cra (-krə).

  1. The point or support on which a lever pivots.
  2. Zoology. An anatomical structure that acts as a hinge or a point of support.
  3. An agent through which vital powers are exercised.

[Latin, bedpost, from fulcīre, to support.]
(point d’appui, pivot.)

“Pivot” in French is also the name of the presenter of the longest-running book programme, and so his name has become synonymous with literature.

I had never heard of an “Interest-only mortgage” before. The mind boggles.

And the last word of today is allay:-

“Research allays fears that the rapid draining of water from the top of Greenland's ice sheet may be contributing to the rise of global sea levels”

Oh, I’m so relieved. I think of the little Dutch boy determined to save his community by sticking his finger in the hole in the dyke, but the adults can’t decide where the hole is, or there are so many holes they can’t decide which one he should be allowed to try to dam with his finger, and meanwhile the tsunami approaches...

And the myth isn’t based on true, European experience. There was no little Hans the Dutch boy. The Americans made it up.