Rosie Bell: There was so much news this year. You had barely digested one item when another meaty one was put down in front of you. Here’s a picture that for convenience combines two news items at once – 29th April and 1st May.
Translation innovation think tank, TAUS, believes that translation will become a ubiquitous service, “like the internet, electricity, and water, translation is one of the basic needs of human civilization.”
But will distant cultures ever be able to communicate effectively with each other? And will machine translation ever make perfect sense?
If the unusual wording on this gift is anything to go by, there could be some curious conversations at the Olympics in July:
China Yun brocade is China’s the gorgeousest princely brocade, a section previous dynasties’ baldachin’s craft art zhi Dacheng, because becausbe like in the sky de rosy clouds but“Yun brocade”zhi given name, be special for palace manufacture impenal robe, vestment, curtain, baldachin’S wait for palace drive appliance de fabricate workshop. “drive brocade spin”Yun brocade de manufacture chief adopt tradition’s flower’s a thread of loom’s handwork’s fabricate, by two people cooperations operation, a people carr turn lines sample spend this, a people dish of shuttle zhuang colorful manufacture, a day output nothing. but several centimeter, at fabricate huge amount of use gold thread in process, silver wire, and match as colorful si si’s wool rare valuable brocade line inweave but become make zhi sumptuous, brilliant, ens”inch brocade inch gold”de good reputation.
Although I rarely write about current affairs, either here at The Dabbler or over at Hooting Yard, I am an avid reader of the press, in both traditional and new media forms, and I like to keep abreast of what is going on in the world. For the final Key’s Cupboard of the year, then, here is my round-up of the most important stories of 2011, month by month, across the globe.
January saw killer bees on the loose in downtown San Jose.
Curiously, however, in February, a scientist in the respected journal Slaves To Armok : God Of Blood (Dwarf Fortress) published his findings that “Africanized killer bees don’t exist yet”. Mister Always gave few – in fact, no – details of the methodology of his study, and perhaps it was best to take his conclusions with a pinch of salt.
One couple who will have quibbled with the science were Eric and Deborah Uneberg of Florida, who, in March, were beset by Africanized killer bees swarming around their house. 10,000 bees swarmed from a beehive in a live oak tree in the couple’s backyard in Summerfield when a pizza delivery man approached their home. There is no record of any comment from Mister Always, but nor has the identity of the pizza delivery man been confirmed. These are muddy waters.
Then, in April, it was reported that “a massive swarm of killer bees attacked several towns in Southern Texas, killing over two hundred people”.
As the Arab Spring gathered momentum, elsewhere things were quietening down. In May, for example, only three persons were killed in “an attack of furious bees” in Brazil.
In June, killer bees were discovered in Bainbridge.
In July, killer bees terrorised the Wildomar neighbourhood.
Come August and killer bees had devised a new offensive weapon called “Pearson”. The morphology of this frightening development remained unclear, and there was still no sign either of Mister Always, nor of the Summerfield pizza delivery man.
It may have been the appearance of killer bees with added “Pearson” that led, in September, to Reed Booth, “the Killer Bee Guy” announcing that “hives are bigger and killer bees are meaner this year”. Mister Booth also offered the observation that “a thousand-pound pig is a huge thing”, and few of us would dare to contradict him.
In spite of all these important news stories, Call Of Duty MW3 correspondent “aixelsyd” felt able to ask, in October, “Where are the killer bees?” It is possible that “aixelsyd” is some kind of mangled anagram of “Mister Always”, still trying to claim the killer bees do not exist… yet.
One of the top stories in November was “dogs devastated by killer bees” in California. Poochophiles will be equally devastated to learn that one dog was dead and two others were clinging to life.
And bringing us up to date, in this very month of December, news came in that makes the whole “Pearson” hoo-hah pale by comparison. Killer bees, if I have read this correctly, are now at the controls of wolf-shooting aeroplanes.
In the light of that bombshell, it would be a brave soul who would predict what lies in store in 2012. Whatever happens, I wish all my readers a happy new, killer bee-free, year.
We’ve invited Dabblers to contribute their image of the year. Today, in our second installment, we hear from Brit, Noseybonk, Mahlerman, Jassy Davis and Daniel Kalder.
Brit: I’ve picked this image of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and others watching news from Pakistan of the mission that would kill Osama Bin Laden because I feel the death of Al Qaeda’s spiritual leader cannot go unremarked, even by The Dabbler.
The appalling insult of the 9/11 attacks transformed American and British foreign policy and the hunt for Bin Laden has been the single most controversial and important factor in global affairs for the last decade. And yet… what has changed since the hunt ended? Bin Laden’s death was strangely anti-climactic and is already almost forgotten as we transfer our fears from terrorism to economics. We live in a very strange world.
Noseybonk: Who can summon an idea of more nauseating horror than Ed Balls disguised as Santa Claus? Observe the agony on Osborne’s face as the Shadow Chancellor drives a sharpened stick deep into his anklebone while squealing from beneath the beard: “How’s this for a cut that’s too far, too fast, you Toff fugger?!”
Mahlerman: At the end of a year when my creaky belief system has been sorely tested, and the Christian Apologists and New Atheists seem to be getting planning permission where once a Nativity scene could be enjoyed, the enclosed picture from last summer in Clapham gives me hope that we are not irredeemably lost as a civilization. This, on the day when one of the greatest thinkers of our generation drew his last breath.
Jassy Davis: My image of 2011 has to be the post-riot clean up shot from Clapham. The riots played up to the worst of London’s reputation – that it’s a violent, feral place with no community – but the clean-up teams that gathered afterwards showed that we’re not totally detached and cynical; that there is a heart beating underneath the city’s stone.
Daniel Kalder: My image of 2011 is a screen shot of Colonel Gaddafi (bottom), taken shortly after his captors had attempted to ram a stick up his arse, and shortly before one of them would execute him with what Russians refer to as a “control shot” to the head.
I choose it not because I think it symbolizes the dawning of a new era of democracy in the Middle East or any of that fairyland nonsense, but rather for the unsettling emotions it evoked in me. Suddenly, at the end of his life, after 41 years of tyranny, following the fight to the death he had promised, The Brother Leader, The Man With The (literally) Golden Gun found himself surrounded by enemies- frightened, old, fat, bald, alone and utterly defenseless.
To my surprise, I found myself feeling pity for him in those last minutes. He didn’t deserve sympathy, but that’s how it was. It’s not often we get such an intimate glimpse into the last minutes of deposed man-gods. Suddenly he seemed very human, and I couldn’t help it. Perhaps too, I also felt sad for the jubilant humans around him, who will now surely enjoy more tyranny and violence, albeit at the hands of another.
We’ve invited Dabblers to contribute their image of the year. Today we hear from Gaw, Mark Pack and Susan.
Gaw: My picture of the year (top) is in memoriam: the cover shot from Christopher Hitchens’ recent memoir.
A grave-dancer left a comment on the New Yorker’s remembrance accusing Hitchens of being full of himself. So true. Rarely can anyone have been so completely full of himself: even his looks were of a piece with his sparkling written style (at least in the earlier days). And given he seemed to have read, and absorbed, just about everyone this particular self was multitudinously replete.
‘Sparkling’ is a word that often comes to mind when reading Hitchens’ prose, perhaps especially his literary criticism. However, it occurs to me now that it is potentially misleading. Surfaces sparkle, and though he could be sweeping in his judgements, he was usually forensic in how he arrived at them. He was an incredibly close and intuitive reader: individual words, a particular syntax, a brief sketch, could provide the key to a whole oeuvre. As a consequence, whilst his prose did indeed sparkle, it was rarely flashily superficial; like a bottle of champagne, the effervescence went deep. Champagne of a pretty old and rare vintage too – there’s a rather old-fashioned sententiousness amidst the fizz.
Not that he appeared to care much for ‘poo: he thought it overrated, along with lobster, picnics and anal sex. With respect to this little list, I believe he was only half right, and he was, of course, capable of being wholly wrong. More often than not though, he was impressively wrong: one wouldn’t be too surprised to learn he’d arrived at his quartet of disappointments in the course of a single al fresco sitting.
I really will miss him, not something I can say about many people I’ve never met. At its most simple, just like excellent champagne, he’s given me an enormous amount of pleasure. I’ll be raising a decent glass of the stuff to him this Christmas.
Mark Pack: I could try to come up with some reference about how 2011’s scientific advances have taken us that bit closer to understanding the structure of the universe, or how a vista of cold, black space symbolises our economic outlook. But really, it’s just an amazing photo. Enjoy.
(Take a closer look here).
Finally, I saw a pink elephant in Cornwall (and I was completely sober at the time).
An eerily perfect etching casts a chilly spell over Jonathan Law.
Winter in the cathedral city – somewhere in the north of England, some time (we might guess) in the earlier 1500s. Gothic structures rise from the earth, rear ponderously skyward, and lose themselves in the glistening, frosty light. Snow on the ground, on the dark stonework, and ranged precisely along the thin branches of trees. Little sign of Christmas cheer, you’d say – but wait, though you can’t hear them, the small human figures at the centre of this wintry world are playing and singing a carol. In the left foreground, a man and a woman press on through the cold having received alms; almost, it might be, Mary and Joseph.
I first came across The Almonry – an eerily perfect etching by the English illustrator F. L. Griggs – in the pages of Peter Davidson’s book The Idea of North; it has cast a chilly spell on one small corner of my mind ever since. Davidson’s book is splendidly hard to categorize but perhaps best described as an exploration of the idea of ‘the North’ as reflected in the work of artists, mythographers, writers, and film-makers from antiquity to the present (with a particular emphasis on the 1920s and 30s). For Davidson, “North” is less a real place than an idea or state of mind, a mood compounded equally of “the milky air of Dutch snow paintings” and “the smoke-pale sky of 1930s photographs of northern [English] towns”, of little red-roofed ports with “wooden houses clustering to the harbour under treeless slopes” and bleak, Audenesque frontiers where “the man who knows too many secrets can make his escape over the moors”; it is a region of “austere marvels” and “complex nostalgias”, all the more seductive for its severity.
Griggs’s etching is haunting in the first place because it seems to capture a quintessence of this kind of northness or wintriness; the stark light, the massy but strangely delicate architecture, the wonders of the snow. To account for its power in more formal terms you’d need to say something about the opposites it seems to hold in tension – movement and stillness, music and silence, immense weight and a certain airy upwardness. On the one hand, the picture seems replete with wintry stillness and a hushed calm; on the other, its composition has the relentless upward thrust of a Saturn V. It all begins with the humble ladder in the bottom of the frame, with its suggestion of a deep precipice below, then continues through the ascending tiers of architecture, which seem to become as flimsy as the frost before they pass into the sky itself. The effect is dizzying, disquieting. By a similar paradox, and one that is perhaps true of any picture that shows scenes of music-making, Griggs’s snow-bound carollers cast a strong spell of silence – outside the cold citadel of art, we will never hear what they are singing.
Of Griggs himself (1876-1938) I have discovered rather little. Although entirely self-taught, he served an apprenticeship in the Arts and Crafts movement and by the 1910s was widely considered the finest architectural draughtsman of his day. His best-known work was almost certainly his meticulous pen-and-ink drawings for the Macmillan Highways and Byways series, popular guidebooks that introduced a generation of Edwardian travellers to England’s built heritage. Later, in the 1920s, he moved away from the delineation of real buildings into the romantic, medievalist fantasy that reaches a peak in The Almonry – a masterpiece at once sumptuous and severe. I know little enough about the practical side of etching, but in terms of technique alone this is surely a prodigious work – what Davidson would term an “austere marvel”. The effects of light and texture here – snow on stone and wood and the air fizzing with frost – have a delicacy that you would associate with the more impressionistic kinds of brushwork, rather than with the bite of acid on metal. It’s not altogether strange that some recent critics have claimed for Griggs, obscure as he now is, a key position in English romantic art: this late work seems to look back through Pugin and Pre-Raphaelitism to the example of Samuel Palmer (whom Griggs idolized) and forward to the neo-romantics of the 1940s, most notably perhaps John Piper.
Mention of Pugin points to another salient fact about Griggs: he was a Catholic convert of a particular stripe, one whose love of the medieval took strength from a fierce sense of the ravages of secularism, materialism, and industrialism in his own time. It is almost as if, having painstakingly captured a vanishing England in his drawings for Highways and Byways, Griggs set out to preserve a richly idealized fantasy version – what Geoffrey Hill calls a “Platonic England” – in these late etchings. And looking again at The Almonry – is it fanciful to discern a sense of threat, of looming catastrophe? Judging by the costumes, we are somewhere in the early Tudor period and this cliff-top citadel of art, music, charity and true religion, will soon fall to the fury of the iconoclasts. Back to that ladder in the foreground, with that breach in the wall above it – doesn’t it look ominously like a siege ladder? Are we about to see the orcs of Mordor, or Modernity, come swarming up from the depths to overwhelm everything?
I never know what to think about this sort of romanticism, this invocation of a deep England beyond the profit and loss, beyond all sense and reason: it seems at once perilous and laughable and irresistible – “complex nostalgias”, indeed. It’s probably for these reasons that I’ve come to associate Griggs’s perfect little etching with a poem by Geoffrey Hill, our foremost analyst of these things – appropriately, it’s a section from his An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England (itself a title cribbed from Pugin):
THE HEREFORDSHIRE CAROL
So to celebrate that kingdom: it grows
greener in winter, essence of the year;
the apple-branches musty with green fur.
In the viridian darkness of its yews
it is an enclave of perpetual vows
broken in time. Its truth shows disrepair,
disfigured shrines, their stones of gossamer,
Old Moore’s astrology, all hallows,
the squire’s effigy bewigged with frost,
and hobnails cracking puddles before dawn.
In grange and cottage girls rise from their beds
by candlelight and mend their ruined braids.
Touched by the cry of the iconoclast,
how the rose-window blossoms with the sun!
There is no end to the talent contained within that Brit. Here’s his Christmas poem. Festive doesn’t always equal blithely happy, you know…
Ghosts of Christmas
Christmas, like revenge or copulation,
Is mostly fun in the anticipation.
It’s weeks, it’s days, and now it’s here, it’s here!
And now it’s gone, in a haze of port and beer,
And leaves you wondering where the hell it went.
Children learn this lesson in Advent,
Or should do, or else what is Advent for?
To prise open each tiny cardboard door
And find this surprise: the trick is not to cheat,
But to let tomorrow’s star or chocolate treat
Come in its time, and surely Time will claw
Its agonising way to Twenty Four.
Or Mum will say “You really are the worst,
You’ve only scoffed the whole lot on the First!”
And Dad will say “Son, to delay such feasts
Is what separates us humans from the beasts.”
But come Christmas Day, Dad’s bestial enough,
Postprandial and, just like his turkey, stuffed.
Immobile as a slumbering manger ox
and mumbling that there’s nothing on the box,
(Except repeats of good old Tommy Cooper,
Just peeping through the brandy butter stupor,
And Morecambe and Wise – that one with André Previn)
Until half-awake at twenty-five to seven,
His head humming with Jingle Bells and Slade,
He’ll dimly total up the price he’s paid
In cash and flab and stress and indigestion,
Then dimmer still, the philosophic question:
How come every year it seems to me
That Christmas isn’t what it used to be?
And if it’s every year, should I infer
That Christmases were never what they were?
And then he’ll root around the plastic tree,
Scavenging for scraps of childish glee,
And finding none, he’ll conjure up at last,
That great parade of Ghosts of Christmas Past,
The Great-Grandmas and Grandmas and Grandads,
Their grins and gins, and ‘when-I-were-a-lad’s,
And carol-singing schoolmates in their dozens,
And lonely aunts, and plain annoying cousins,
Who, all on separate currents, drift apart,
With all that love and loss, to break your heart.
It all came in its time, and Time claws past
Each long-awaited Christmas ’til your last.
But did those ghosts believe it, every one,
That this is really it now, this is fun?
Or were they all just waiting, and then it went.
We should have learnt that lesson in Advent.
So we’ll shovel snow from the graves of our relations,
But there are no graves – these days it’s all cremations,
And there is no snow – English Christmases aren’t white.
So instead let’s drink, and bid a Silent Night
To the days when only laughs and presents mattered,
And to family and friends and ashes: scattered.
A Christmas Day treat for you, from Mahlerman…
That Johann Sebastian Bach was the most inspired master of polyphony (the mixing of two, or several, melodic voices) to arise since the dawn of Western music is no longer disputed, but it is worth reminding ourselves that he was nothing if not a practical composer, serving up music to suit the often limited forces to hand and, like most creative artists, rarely wasting a good idea. Never was this more true than in the mammoth six sections of the Christmas Oratorio. Unfortunate the man who finds himself in church having to endure it at one sitting – too many jubilant choruses, variable inspiration, and ‘cribs’ from earlier works transferred in a rather perfunctory manner. But then there is this majestic opening to Part One!
Notice how Gardiner gets the piece rocking and swinging in the first 20 seconds, the almost unbelievable virtuosity of the valveless trumpets, and a chorus from your dreams. What a way to get the day started!
Franz Gruber’s ‘Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht’ was first heard 180 years ago at Midnight Mass in St Nicholas Church, Oberndorf, Austria. Today, around the world, it is as familiar as an old pair of slippers, the simple four note motif lodged in our subconscious and brought out just once a year. Simple is best with this miniature masterpiece, but that fact hasn’t stopped countless ‘arrangers’ from adding layers of slime to its simple frame over the years – and, in the case of arch-plagiarist John Williams (don’t get me started), ‘adapting’ it for the Alien’s tone row in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The late Russo-German master Alfred Schnittke, a heroic branch of the family tree that started with Bach, embraced Mahler and Shostakovitch, even today has the power to shock. He reduced the piece to a violin and piano solo, and gave it as a present to the Russian virtuoso Gidon Kremer. It may not be your cup of absinthe, but tell me that it’s spooky beauty didn’t force you to think?
J S Bach’s exact contemporary was the great Anglicised German George Frederic Handel, whose life bore little comparison with the Continue reading
As a Christmas treat, The Dabbler briefly goes 3D and with a very special seasonal slideshow (glasses not provided).
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…
If you ever owned a 3D View-Master, you may be familiar with this endearing poem. By the 1970s, the space age style specs (originally invented for viewing travel photography), had become a Christmas stocking essential for children of both sexes. I’m not sure what happened in my case, but I was never given one of the coveted red plastic viewers. Instead, I had a rather less sophisticated looking blue plastic 3D Picture Viewer, into which I placed stereoscopic viewing cards.
My favourite 3D story was The Night Before Christmas – and as a special Christmas treat I thought I’d show this to you. The only problem is how to achieve the 3D effect on the internet. Apparently, it’s possible to interchange the duplicated images for ‘cross eyed viewing.’ But I hope you will be able to share my sense of wonderment at this colour-filled visual extravaganza via retro 3D (ie age-speckled 2D) viewing alone. These marvels of illustration kept me enthralled for hours on end. However basic the viewing case, I think my Night Before Christmas far surpasses the View-Master version…
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Today we present a Dabbler Christmas extravaganza. Later Susan takes us on a 3D Christmas Eve adventure, but first we invited Dabblers to contribute an image of Christmas and here are those of Nige, Skipper, Philip Wilkinson and ZMKC.
Nige: Let us define our terms. As the scrupulous Nigel insisted in that wonderful Rev Christmas special the other night (if you missed it, for heaven’s sake catch it on the BBC iPlayer), Christmas is the festival that begins at midnight on Christmas Eve. It is preceded, as Nigel didn’t mention, by Xmas – the X denoting eXcess. This orgy of conspicuous consumption is the unfortunate product of a healthy human urge – the desire to give – inflated by commercialism into a grotesque travesty of itself, sweeping away that generous impulse in the stress, frustration and exhaustion of the ever longer, ever madder Xmas frenzy. Mercifully it ends (if only until the Boxing Day sales) with the coming of the first day of Christmas. In this, the Christian festival, we celebrate a great and solemn mystery as best we can – with reverence and merriment, charity and silliness. As is only right and human. Happy Christmas, everyone.
(Top: nativity scene by Conrad von Soest)
Skipper (Delhi, India December 20, 2011):
This week before Christmas, I am going around the world; considering the means with which I keep the creditors at bay, this is a regular occurrence. Outside those countries where Islam reigns supreme, it is difficult to find a place where Christmas goes unnoticed. Where Christianity is scarcely to be found, the reason for the season must be completely unmoored from its religious underpinnings. So, in explaining why The Season is so viral, there can be only one answer: the profane trumps the sacred. People like getting and giving stuff.
Yes, it sounds tawdry, and there is no editorial itch more relentlessly scratched this time of year than the evergreen tirades against the evil twins commercialism and consumerism.
But. Giving and getting is fun. Figuring out why an excuse to do so has spread around the world is easy. So is skipping the scolds.
Philip Wilkinson: What is it about stained glass? I’ve found that my posts about stained-glass windows have consistently been among those attracting the most interest from readers, eliciting many comments, emails, and other responses. I think it’s partly the fact that stained glass windows tell stories, and people like stories. The rich iconography also has something to do with it – the religious imagery in these windows has depth and layers, and readers are often surprised to find that there’s more going on there than they’d thought. And there’s another thing. In England, most of the medieval stained glass was destroyed by iconoclasts in the 17th century. Only a handful of churches (such as York Minster and the parish church at Fairford in Gloucestershire) have anything like a full set of medieval windows. It’s more common to find just a few fragments of old glass, or nothing at all.
So even a 19th-century window can provoke a feeling of reaching back to previous ages. Few more so than this example (below) from Huish Episcopi in Somerset, I felt that sense of reaching back when I wrote about it in a post a year ago:
This is the stained-glass window of the Nativity, designed by Edward Burne-Jones and produced in the workshop of William Morris. Crowded round with onlooking and music-making angels, Mary reclines on the straw of the stable, cradling the infant Jesus in her arms. The Magi wait on the left to present their gifts. It’s an unusual composition, dominated by the pale robes and pinkish wings of the host of angels, topped by the stable roof and the hint of a starry sky, and the elongated figures are very much of their time. If the recumbent Mary seems odd to our eyes, she has a long pedigree: there are examples of this posture in Nativity scenes in medieval stained glass in Chartres and Cologne, worthy sources of inspiration for a window in this noble building crowned with its wonderful tower.
Quick as a flash, a commenter picked up the thread. In the Byzantine Empire, Mary was often pictured as a recumbent figure, and in the Orthodox Churches this was part of an ancient way of portraying the Nativity in a cave, beneath the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Immediately memories of frescoes and mosaics seen on holidays in Istanbul, on visits to the Byzantine churches of Ravenna, on a trip to the magical town of Mistra in Greece, its hills studded with ruined churches, came back to me. Of course, Burne-Jones in this window was drawing not only on western Christian images of the birth of Jesus, but of eastern ones too. Artistic threads coming together from one side of Europe to other.
ZMKC: Surf, beer, tinsel – what more could anyone want on an Australian Christmas morning?