Saturday, 3 December 2022

Mis-sold by the marketers

Queenie In 2019 there was a lot of buzz around Candice Carty-Williams's debut novel Queenie. The marketing bods, of which Carty-Williams is one herself, did a sterling job. I was sold on the idea of a "smart and breezy comic debut", "astutely political, an essential commentary on everyday racism" in Black British life.

It starts when Queenie's boyfriend of three years, Tom, has just told her he wants a break. She interprets this to mean and then we'll get back together. However what he really means is that he wants to break up permanently.

So far so mid-twenties problems. I had to work hard to remember what life was like when I was 25, Queenie's age. I mean, the older you get, the easier it is to put life's problems into perspective. So yes, I admit that I rolled my eyes at the young woman's inability to accept her relationship was over, and tutted at the young man's weakness.

Pretty soon tho' it's obvious that for Queenie the episode is a catalyst for finally facing the demons she has kept locked up since childhood. Her life spirals out of control.

This isn't a "comic" situation. Even Kyazike, "pronounced 'chess-keh'", my favourite character, cannot lift the utter awfulness of what Queenie goes through. Her self-destructive behaviour is shocking, but even more difficult to read are the experiences that have led her to where she is. The last quarter of the book is filled with anguish.

What none of the blurb says is that this book is about abusive relationships and mental health problems, neither of which I would call "breezy". Don't get me wrong, it's a great book and the story needs telling, but if you're in a fragile mental state yourself go for Three Men in a Boat or The Uncommon Reader, or Good Behaviour. You won't get any references to casual racism, but at least they'll make you laugh and not cry.

Friday, 2 December 2022

I'm rich. Who the hell wants to be happy?

The Long Goodbye (Philip Marlowe, #6) I once knew a man who was an alcoholic. He was intellectually brilliant, literally a rocket scientist. When sober and not hungover he was charming, but under the influence of booze he became nasty, unreasonable and incapable of work. Why do I mention this? Well, I've just finished reading Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye in which there are at least three alcoholic characters.

Drinking and drunkenness pervade the book. Right at the beginning, Philip Marlowe meets Terry Lennox when the latter is "drunk in a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith." Lennox is an ex-soldier, the unhappy husband of a wealthy wife; "I’m rich. Who the hell wants to be happy?". The two men strike up a friendship over the next few months, drinking gimlets in a local bar until one night Lennox needs to leave town.

Later in the story Marlowe helps a writer named Roger Wade, another unhappy husband, this one struggling to finish his latest book. When he's drunk he's "‘Horrible. Bright and hard and cruel. He thinks he is being witty when he is only being nasty." Wade suffers black-outs, or he's off with the fairies on addictive medication.

The third alcoholic is of course Marlowe himself. Much like Lennox and Wade, he has become a man who doesn't seem to care about anything and has nothing to live for.

The Long Goodbye, then, is dark, filled with fatalism, addiction and corruption. There's plenty of shocking violence too, often perpetrated by the cops who are bullish and corrupt. The wealthy people who aren't addicts are bored and engaged in extramarital sex with their "Idle Valley" neighbours. None of them are likeable.

In spite of this I enjoyed it. It's narrated by Marlowe himself in the same fast style as The Big Sleep and Farewell My Lovely. According to the book's Wikipedia page, Chandler himself reckoned it "my best book", and of the ones I've read, I reluctantly agree. The Big Sleep is fine as an introduction to the hard-bitten Marlowe, and The Long Goodbye shares with the first in the series the characters of a powerful father and wayward daughters. Farewell My Lovely is full of fantastic descriptions and is more lighthearted. They both reflect Chandler's excellent education. In the later book there's a nod to the detective's Elizabethan namesake Christopher Marlowe, a jibe referencing Gustave Flaubert "that makes you an intellectual, a critic, a savant of the literary world", and criticism of Khachaturian's violin concerto like "working in a tractor factory... a loose fan belt." The Long Goodbye has serious themes and fewer wonderful descriptions, although they do still shine through; "The girl gave him a look which ought to have stuck at least four inches out of his back."

At the end I wanted some sort of redemption, but how could there be? Like "Scott Fitzgerald... the best drunken writer since Coleridge, who took dope", there was only the recognition that Chandler, himself an alcoholic, had somehow written a masterpiece.

Sunday, 20 November 2022

A load of old nonsense

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland "Why are you reading a children's story, Cabbie?" Well, I'll tell you. I've found yet another unopened book on my shelf, bought over 20 years ago in an airport shop; Jeff Noonan's Automated Alice. The Wikipedia page says it "tells of the character of Alice from Lewis Carroll's books in a future version of Manchester, England". I've never read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, so research is my motive.

There can't be many who don't know the story. Disney's 1951 movie Alice in Wonderland introduced it to a wide audience, but I've never seen that either. If you're as ignorant as me then, here's a brief outline.

Saturday, 19 November 2022

Waiting, interminably waiting, and then...

The Tartar Steppe Dino Buzzati's The Tartar Steppe is one of those books where it pays to read something about it before you start. It's the sort of book they study in literature courses, the sort of book that you have to work at.

Fortunately the edition I have contains an introduction written by Tim Parks, but you could also check out the Wikipedia page before you buy. Buzzati originally titled it The Fortress, which is a better title. Most of us can visualise a fortress in reality as well as metaphorically, whereas The Tartar Steppe invokes a sauce I like to eat with fried fish. When the introduction tells you, "for an Italian, the northern mountains are the locus par excellence of military glory" it gives the title some meaning.

Tuesday, 8 November 2022

General Elektriks, merci infiniment!

In 2004 I went over to Cimiez Gardens, City of Nice, to the Festival de Jazz. You can't do that now, it's not held there anymore. But that night I heard a band that for me redefined the word funk. I remember being knocked out by their energy, their stamina and their tidy clothes. That band was France's now legendary General Elektriks. 18 years and 5 albums later General Elektriks is still going strong. So when I heard that the Elektriks was promoting a new album called Party Like A Human and was planning to perform in Monaco, well, needless to say I jumped at the chance to write the blog post that you're about to read. I wanted to capture the sights and sounds of a November Sunday night. (1)

Friday, 4 November 2022

Developing your sixth sense

Wild Signs and Star Paths: The Keys to Our Lost Sixth Sense In 2018 Stuart Heritage wrote a review for the Guardian of Tristan Gooley's Wild Signs And Star Paths and I immediately added the book to my "to be read" list. This year I finally got round to it.

Gooley explains what he's going to do in his Introduction: "I will show you how to sense direction from stars and plants, forecast weather from woodland sounds, and predict the next action of an animal from its body language–instantly."

Tuesday, 1 November 2022

Celebrate good times, come on!

Did you ever dream of being in a pop group? I certainly did. I was young and starry-eyed and I played bass guitar in a band called The Young Mark Twains. The practice sessions and politics are best forgotten, but being on stage... Wow! That was amazing.

The experience of performing music to an audience is what's behind Monaco On Stage, which opened on 15 October in the Salle d'Exposition du Quai Antoine 1er. It's not strictly an exhibition, more an immersive experience, a bit like a side show to the fun fair. Let me give you a tour.

Monday, 31 October 2022

Cabbie's Halloween

When I was a kid in the UK we didn't celebrate Halloween, but there was a time when I encountered the idea of vampires. I've no idea how, whether I saw something on the telly, or in a comic. Whatever or wherever, for a while I used to keep a bible under my pillow and pull the bedsheets tight under my chin so my neck was completely protected.

Cabbie's Halloween

When I go to bed tonight
I'll pull the covers very tight
So vampires cannot bite my neck.

Thursday, 27 October 2022

Abominable addiction

Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman I'm always on the lookout for fiction that's set on the French Riviera and came across a reference to Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman in a local newspaper. The article said it's a story about loose women and gambling, and best of all, some of the scenes take place in Monte Carlo Casino. What's not to like?

Wednesday, 26 October 2022

A joke of the first water

The A.B.C. Murders (Hercule Poirot #13) Sometimes you just want to read a page-turner, and you can't beat Agatha Christie for that. I've been working through John Curran's 2009 list of the best 10 Christie mysteries, and have reached number four: The ABC Murders.

One of the pleasures in reading Agatha Christie is that of getting reacquainted with old friends. In this case it's Hercule Poirot, the indomitable Belgian detective, installed "in one of the newest type of service flats in London" and exercising his "little grey cells" in investigating "only the cream of crime."

Tuesday, 25 October 2022

Address to a Crisp Sandwich on its feast day

Today we celebrate crisp sandwiches. The humble snack now has its own annual feast day on 25th October, which is also, of course, St Crispin's Day.

If you're new to this delicious treat I recommend you read The Guardian's How to eat: a crisp sandwich. It's very important to use the right type of bread (mass-produced white sliced toastie loaf) and spread (salted butter), as well as the correct style and flavour of crisp.

A few friends are coming round this evening for a traditional Crisp Sandwich Supper and we'll all be wearing our Apparel of Laughs crisp sandwich t-shirts. The butties will be solemnly piped in, piled on a silver platter. We invited the face of Walkers Crisps, Gary Lineker, to recite the Address to a Crisp Sandwich, but sadly he wasn't available.
Address to a Crisp Sandwich

Praise be to you, my childhood treat,
The best of butties, hard to beat.
Today's your day, today we meet
To celebrate.

Wednesday, 19 October 2022

Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren't

Flaubert's Parrot Three books have coloured my view of French literature, all set texts for study. They each feature a miserable woman, living a depressing life and turning to adultery as an escape: Marguerite Duras's Moderato Cantabile and its metaphorical magnolia flowers is a book I never, ever want to read again; Emile Zola's seedy Thérèse Raquin, saved only by its Parisian setting; and worst of all, Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary and its intensely annoying eponymous protagonist.

Monday, 10 October 2022

Not my idea of fun

My idea of fun Will Self's My Idea of Fun had been sitting on my shelf for about 20 years. I'd started it, didn't warm to the first few pages, so set it aside for another few years and tried again.

Reader, I finished it, but it wasn't my idea of fun.

Saturday, 8 October 2022

A remarkable escape from slavery

Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom: Or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery I was surprised to discover within one branch of my family's history, a chemist-druggist who travelled to America in 1862, leaving his wife behind, to join the Unionists of the American Civil War. He remained in the USA after the war ended and became a naturalised citizen. What on earth drove him to do that? Here's an hypothesis: perhaps he'd come across Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, the remarkable story of how two slaves escaped their bondage and gained their freedom.

Monday, 3 October 2022

Jimmy's Angels

Image: Sarah Jones, license CC BY-SA 2.0
I'm watching Leah Williamson lift the UEFA 2022 trophy and I'm not ashamed to say that tears are running down my cheeks. Forty-five years ago a few friends and I experienced our own success in the Beautiful Game, a much smaller one admittedly, but nonetheless a victory.

It was Monday morning, March 1977. English, maths, double German. My favourite subjects. Not such a bad way to start the week.

Tuesday, 27 September 2022

The Yachtsman's Ale

A little ditty I wrote to mark the return of the Monaco Yacht Show tomorrow. It's inspired by AA Milne's The King's Breakfast.
The Yachtsman told
The Captain, and
The Captain told
The Cabin-boy:
"Buy some ale and cheddar cheese
Before we set to sea."
The Captain asked
The Cabin-boy,
The Cabin-boy
Said, "Aye aye Skip.
I'll get it chop-chop from the shop,
That's just beyond the quay."

Monday, 26 September 2022

Vimto, Gonks, and Wayfinders. I remember them

Mean Time I opened Mean Time, Carol Ann Duffy's 1993 collection of poetry, and poured myself a glass of wine. My cheeks started to glow, my head became lighter, my shoulders dropped, and everything in the world was fine. I began to feel sentimental at the thought of happy times past. Was it the wine or the poetry?

Nostalgia suffuses Mean Time, especially the first poem in the collection, The Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team. It speaks directly to baby boomers, those who were at school in the 60s and 70s. The references tap on your heart with a hoppety beat; pop music, general knowledge, Vimto, Gonks, and Tuf Wayfinders shoes. What a great start to a great collection.

Friday, 23 September 2022

Definitely, absolutely and without a doubt, 'my sort of book'

Small Things Like These Some of the books I read for Book Club are really not my sort of thing. I like to think I read them with good grace, and I really do try to find the best in them whilst admitting that I'm not the target readership for that sort of thing. Well, Claire Keegan's Small Things Like These is definitely, absolutely and without a doubt, my sort of book.

Thursday, 22 September 2022

Massive prawns in Monaco?

It was Friday morning and I was texting an old friend in the UK I hadn't seen in ages.

"How's the expat life, Cabbie?"

"It's great, mon ami."

"Lots of massive prawns then, Cabbie?" (1)

And, it got me thinking. I can't remember the last time I had massive prawns in Monaco

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

A historic record of xenophobia

Heart of Darkness I was drawn to Heart of Darkness by the praise of a few academic fans. The book often appears in the English literary canon and I can see why it continues to be set reading for literature courses; it doubtless provokes much discussion.

The story concerns Charles Marlow, who relates his experiences in the African Congo, where imperialist traders sent "manufactured goods, rubbishy cottons, beads, and brass-wire... into the depths of darkness, and in return came a precious trickle of ivory". The depths of darkness relate not only to the unknown, unexplored lands beyond the sea shore, but also to the inhumanity that late 19th century traders expected to find there, as well as that of the traders themselves.

As Marlow journeys upriver he hears of a Mr Kurtz, a trader who is both respected and despised, and about whom he says, "All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz". In order to reach this enigmatic man, Marlow suffers much misfortune, adventure and horror. For all the vivid descriptions of the journey, the most memorable scene takes place in England, near the end of the book, when Marlow visits Kurtz's fiancee.

Modern-day readers might find Conrad's language in relation to indigenous people shocking and problematic. The book plays on a stereotypical view of foreign cultures and races as primitive and barbaric, and while the author portrays white traders as savages too, they don't quite balance out. It stands as a historic record of the xenophobia that existed at the time of its writing.

The text is dense, and the language lush. Amazingly, Conrad was not a natural-born English speaker, and I dare say this is another reason his work continues to be read and analysed. TS Eliot was inspired by Heart of Darkness, and Francis Ford Coppola adapted it for his film Apocalypse Now. For myself, I was left with only my own thoughts and a few online critical reviews with which to compare them.

Thursday, 8 September 2022

A book that starts with the ending

A House For Mr Biswas It's not often I read a book that starts at the end, tells the story, and then ends at the beginning, but this is exactly what VS Naipaul's A House for Mr Biswas does. The opening reads, "Ten weeks before he died, Mr Mohun Biswas, a journalist of Sikkim Street, St James, Port of Spain, was sacked. He had been ill for some time". No need to worry about revealing any spoilers then.

Monday, 5 September 2022

The Prince and the Painter

I nearly missed this year's summer exhibition in Salle Antoine 1er, and you will too if you don't hurry. Le prince et le peintre - Albert 1er et Louis Tinayre, une amitié a la découverte du monde (1904-1922) has been on since mid-July and ends 11 September. It contains several items normally on show in the Oceanographic Museum, as well as loans from the Palace Archives and various institutions around France.

Entry is free in the afternoons from 13:00 to 19:00.

The artist

Louis Tinayre's life (1861-1942) was one of upheaval and adventure.

Monday, 22 August 2022

Christian Louboutin, L’Exhibition[niste], Chapitre II - Art or cobblers?

Make some time to see the Christian Louboutin exhibition before it closes on Sunday 28 August. I always find something interesting at the Grimaldi Forum summer shows, and this year is no different.

The official blurb calls it a "celebration of art through the wise and joyful eyes of contemporary designer Christian Louboutin". It's not just about the shoes then, plenty of which are on display. There are also examples of artworks that have inspired him, as well as collaborative projects with artists he admires.

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Mad Kane's limerick challenge

I do enjoy reading humorous verse and rhymes and have been trying my hand at writing them too. Madeleine Begun Kane has a blog dedicated to limericks and she issues regular writing challenges. The most recent was for a ‘Random Word Generator’ limerick, and not being one to leave the gauntlet on the ground I've had a go. The instruction was to use at least two random words from: shop, run, news, warning, first.
When I was a kid I drank pop
That I bought from the local sweet shop.
Then home I would run
'Cos I thought it was fun
When the fizz popped the cap off the top.

More stuff

Saturday, 13 August 2022

A senility rhyme for second childishness

On entering what Shakespeare describes as "second childishness", all sorts of little aches and pains begin to manifest themselves. It's easier to put on weight and harder to lose it. You don't sleep so well. Oh, yes, and although you can remember things from your childhood, you have no idea what you were doing yesterday.

So here's a silly senility rhyme for anyone having trouble remembering how to count:
One, two, Can't reach my shoe;
Three, four, My knees are sore;
Five, six, Mem'ry plays tricks;
Seven, eight, Putting on weight;
Nine, ten, Remember when?
Eleven, twelve, Projects shelved;
Thirteen, fourteen, Cutting down caffeine;
Fifteen, sixteen, When's my flu vaccine?
Seventeen, eighteen, Now I'm unseen;
Nineteen, twenty, Must spend a penny.

More stuff

Tuesday, 26 July 2022

Nostalgic notes from a small island

Notes from a Small Island I first read Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island when it was published back in 1995, and then a few years ago I picked it up again to see if it had anything to say about the Bournemouth area. It did (Chapters 6 and 8) because that's where Bryson first worked as a journalist in the UK. I can't say I found any useful insights for my holiday, but chuckled reading that the British "are the only people in the world who think of jam and currants as thrilling constituents of a pudding or cake". Well, I can't argue with that knowing my own fondness for an Eccles cake. So when I returned home I decided to give the book another go.

The main thing to note is that Bill Bryson has not written a travel guide. Sure, it describes a journey around Britain, but the chapters are numbered rather than identified by a destination, and there's no index. It's a memoir, and the places he visits mostly recall episodes in his life. For instance his first encounter with England in Dover, or when he met his wife in Virginia Water, or his first real job in Britain at the Bournemouth Evening Echo and his work at The Times newspaper in 1980s London during the "Wapping dispute".

It is funny tho'. I laughed out loud several times, really laughed. For instance when he gets drunk in Liverpool and when he can't understand the Glaswegian accent. I was thrilled to find he enjoyed the old Coronation Street Tour as much as I did, and nodded in agreement with his description of the rail journey along the North Wales coast. The humour is terribly British and may not be understood by all, nor be to everyone's taste.

If the humour's not your thing, a large amount of pleasure can be had in recognising destinations. Bryson's purpose is not to persuade you to discover new places, and although some towns sound horrible (Milton Keynes), the people are generally welcoming. Although I read somewhere that someone is attempting to recreate the tour and visit as many of the hotels, restaurants and pubs mentioned in the book that still exist.

Some things haven't changed. People still say you're brave if you're "planning to travel around Britain by public transport", and that "everyone, but everyone, you talk to in Oxford thinks that it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world". Also that "a place as prosperous and decorous as Harrogate could inhabit the same zone of the country as Bradford or Bolton". I can't speak for Bradford, but it's certainly true about the once great Lancashire town, tho' you wouldn't think so if you'd seen Bolton's eponymous fee-paying school in Cold Feet, and the town centre's Le Mans Crescent in Peaky Blinders.

Things have changed a lot in the past 25 years and I'm not sure it still reflects Britain and the British. Bryson mentions his "greatest admiration for the A-Z" but who uses that anymore in the age of mobile phones and Google maps? On the underground I was recently disabused of the "orderly quiet; all these thousands of people passing on stairs and escalators", after being elbowed out of the way and told to f*ck off at London Bridge tube station. One thing Bryson would perhaps consider a change for the better tho' is that these days the BBC is no longer showing repeats of Cagney and Lacey.

More stuff

Wednesday, 20 July 2022

Helmut Newton: Amazonian women and Wild West gunfighters exposed in Monaco

Newton, Riviera Gallimard/NMNM 2022
An exhibition of Helmut Newton's work is on at Monaco's Villa Sauber (5) until 13 November 2022. Newton, Riviera features photos taken mostly on the French Riviera from the 1960s until the photographer's death in 2004. Some 280 images include fashion shoots, personal snaps and private commissions.

What the pundits say

Newton's work has been labelled kinky, perverted, and misogynist, but a better description may be ambivalent. A large part of his output is not at all provocative, and pretty much everyone agrees that he's had a major influence on fashion photography.

What Helmut said

If you know nothing about the man, go straight to the end of the exhibition and start with the film Helmut by June (1995) (3). Shot by his wife, aka Alice Springs, it runs on a loop and captures Newton at home and at work. Be aware it's 53 minutes but well worth it.

The footage reveals his meticulous direction. Newton explains his use of the 'gunfighter stance' which stems from seeing "Gary Cooper as a gunfighter in High Noon. The outline of [the] body... the little waist, the big shoulders". Whatever the pose, it looks like hard work for his models, whether clothed or not, and it must have been an advantage to be strong, the type of Amazonian woman Newton says he admires.

In addition to the movie several of his famous quotes are printed on the walls of the exhibition. They reflect his opinions as well as his sense of humour:

Some people’s photography is an art. Mine is not. If they happen to be exhibited in a gallery or a museum, that's fine. But that’s not why I do them. I’m a gun for hire. (he's very keen to deny his work is art)

I also like to take landscape pictures but I don't get any commissions.

I love the sunshine. We don’t see it in Paris any more. (allegedly what he told the Monegasque official in charge of processing his residency paperwork)


What I think

At a superficial level I enjoy spotting Monaco landmarks in the photos, but what strikes me most is the sense of humour and playfulness. Just look at his portrait at the exhibition entrance in which he wears a pair of high-heeled, sling-backed sandals (Helmut in Pumps, Monaco, 1987).

Irony features in the images too. Woman Examining Man, Calvin Klein, American Vogue, Saint-Tropez, 1975 shows a woman manspreading while ogling a man. French Vogue, Plage du Carlton Cannes, 1981 portrays a female flasher in a bathing costume, her victim staring unmoved into the distance.

A more startling image is Mummy in the Garage, Monte-Carlo, 2000, a woman totally covered with bandages apart from her breasts and her feet shod with six-inch stilettos. It's somewhat unnerving. If Newton had not been so vocal in rejecting his work as art I'd view it more dispassionately, with an eye for the detail, the care with which it's constructed. I wonder if it's really any different from something like Manet's Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe, 1863 (2), or those pretty paintings of girls freeing birds from cages, which contemporary viewers considered erotic.

Two photos, Cigar Industry I and II, 1997, owned by a private collector, show women smoking cigars. I'm tempted to roll my eyes at the crude phallic imagery and resist the urge to snigger. Another voyeur might be turned on by it. What, then, if the model were a man relishing a big fat Toro?

By comparison Newton's portraits of the rich and famous look rather staid, like postcards a fan might purchase. Jude Law, Monaco, 2001 and Anthony Burgess, Monte-Carlo, 1985 are smoking. Bernardo Bertolucci, Cannes, 1996 clutches a curtain. Sylvester Stallone, Cap d'Antibes, Antibes, 1990 bizarrely wears a formal black dinner suit in the blazing sun.

Chris Roelandt et Gaetan Morlotti
A section is dedicated to photos of the Ballets de Monte Carlo. Male dancers Chris Roelandt et Gaetan Morlotti, Monte-Carlo, 1996 face off in front of Monaco's Salle Garnier. Their defined muscles and stance remind me of Olympic Discus Thrower by Leni Riefenstahl. Before escaping Germany in 1938 Newton was an apprentice photographer in Berlin and some of his images betray a 1930s aesthetic influence, as in one of my favourite photos of the exhibition, Nadja Auermann, Blumarine, Monaco, 1994. She poses with 'fräulein' blonde braids, gazing towards an optimistic horizon that she'll never reach wearing those six-inch stilettos. The way she holds her hands recalls the 'gunfighter stance' Newton mentions in his wife's film.

I don't agree with American writer Susan Sontag who told Newton in 1979, "Je ressens que vos photographies sont très misogynes et pour moi ça c'est des traits déplaisant" (1). Neither do I agree with Newton himself when he says his work is not art. Some images do provoke unease, but they invariably portray a sense of strength rather than submission. It may be a cliche, but in the case of Helmut Newton's work it's also a truism that 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder'. Go see the exhibition and decide for yourself.

More stuff

  1. YouTube - Apostrophes: Helmut Newton à propos de son travail, French discussion, 8 Jun 1979, incl. Susan Sonntag
    • English translation of Sonntag's quote: "I feel that your photographs are very misogynist and for me these are unpleasant features"
  2. Wikipedia - Déjeuner sur l'Herbe
  3. YouTube - Helmut by June, in 5 parts:
  4. Helmut Newton Foundation
  5. Nouveau Musée National de Monaco

Thursday, 30 June 2022

Junior Giscombe brings the groove to Monaco

Who would've thought that those of us who've qualified for a bus pass would be exchanging tips about music with millennials. The kids are now interested in artists from the 60s, 70s and 80s, since our music has been in the charts (Kate Bush), and our artists have played at Glastonbury (Paul McCartney and Diana Ross). In Monaco too Jeff Beck is opening Monte Carlo SBM's Summer Festival, 9 July.

Well, here's a tip for you, whether you're a millennial or a boomer or anything in between. Go and see Junior Giscombe, aka Junior of Mama Used to Say (1981) fame. Last weekend he was on stage for two nights only at Note Bleue,

Tuesday, 7 June 2022

Not a woman who bears grudges?

The Cactus I didn't have high expectations for Sarah Haywood's The Cactus. Goodreads places it in the Chick Lit category, and it's been described as endearing, heartfelt and charming. Reese Witherspoon chose it for her book club, and like 'Where the Crawdads Sing', which was one of my most disliked books of the past couple of years, intends to adapt it for the screen.

The story is narrated by its protagonist, Susan Green, who in the first sentence of the book describes herself as "not a woman who bears grudges, broods over disagreements or questions other people’s motives", which implies that she most certainly will do all of those things in the following pages.

Monday, 16 May 2022

What makes states: walls and writing

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States An acquaintance suggested James C. Scott's Against the Grain might be of interest. We'd been discussing the benefits of small, local forms of self-government versus the large state. I'd recommended Paint Your Town Red, and she countered with Against the Grain.

The author is an American political scientist and his book investigates the formation of the earliest states.

Thursday, 12 May 2022

A fine book let down by poor digitisation

Brown Girl, Brownstones Brown Girl, Brownstones is Paule Marshall's debut novel, published in 1959. It's the coming-of-age story of Selina Boyce, who when the story starts in 1939 is "a ten-year-old girl with scuffed legs and a body as straggly as the clothes she wore". She lives in Brooklyn with her family, older sister Ina, and parents Silla and Deighton, who are West Indian immigrants. They inhabit a 'brownstone' house, which the mother hopes one day to buy. Deighton meanwhile studies accountancy, hoping that when "I finish I can qualify for a job making good money".

Sunday, 8 May 2022

She was only Anne

Persuasion I was heading for Bath and read that Jane Austen's posthumously published Persuasion is set there. Ideal reading for my visit, I thought.

The first few chapters set the scene. Anne Elliot, unmarried middle-daughter of Sir Walter of Kellynch Hall, still pines for her first love, Frederick Wentworth.

Thursday, 5 May 2022

"Lies, lies, adults forbid them and yet they tell so many."

The Lying Life of Adults Who would want to be a teenager again? Not me. Nor, I imagine, the fictional narrator of Elena Ferrante's The Lying Life of Adults.

The book begins with Giovanna Trada remembering an incident when she was 12 years old: "my father said to my mother that I was very ugly". He goes further, explaining, "Adolescence has nothing to do with it: she's getting the face of Vittoria" his sister, whom Giovanna has never met. Piqued by a further description that in her aunt "ugliness and spite were combined to perfection", the young girl contrives to meet this woman to whom she bears a resemblance. As a consequence Giovanna discovers the working-class roots of her academic father, and learns that what adults say is not necessarily true.

Friday, 22 April 2022

The legacy of apartheid

The Good Doctor Damon Galgut won the 2021 Booker Prize for The Promise, but at book club we decided first to read his 2003 shortlisted The Good Doctor.

The story is told by Frank, a middle-aged, listless doctor who "had swallowed a lot of frustration over the years" and works in a hospital where there are few, if any, patients. It's set in a Homeland region of South Africa, described by Galgut in the Author's Note as "impoverished and underdeveloped [...] set aside by the apartheid government for the 'self-determination' of its various black 'nations'".

Thursday, 21 April 2022

Networking in Monaco

There are lots of businesses hoping to gain a foothold in Monaco, but making contacts can be difficult. Bradley Mitton's Club Vivanova is one of the organizations putting buyers and sellers in the same room. So...

When business in Monaco's slow
There's a bloke that you should get to know.
Don't sit there and pout
Give Bradley a shout.
Your network will soon start to grow.

Check out Vivanova's website for events in and around Monaco (and Berlin).

Sunday, 17 April 2022

Nice use of the subjunctive mood

Farewell, My Lovely (Philip Marlowe, #2) On a warm day at the end of March, LA private detective Philip Marlowe is idly looking at a neon sign for "a dime and dice emporium called Florian's". Another man, who "looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food" looks at the sign too, then enters the building. It wasn't any of Marlowe's business, but he pushed open the doors and looked in too.

So starts Raymond Chandler's second Marlowe novel, Farewell, My Lovely.

Friday, 15 April 2022

A limerick about limericks

I've been writing verses recently, trying my hand at metre and rhyme. Apparently there are rather strict rules for the rhyming elements of limericks, and I'm still not sure I've got them right. Here's another attempt.

Limericks bring such delight
But they're really not easy to write.
I have a hard time
With the rules about rhyme,
And try as I might, mine are sh*te.

Thursday, 14 April 2022

A limerick for Lola

I thought Barry Manilow's classic song, Cobacabana, could be briefly explained in a limerick.
A punter in Copacabana
Was aroused by a showgirl's fine cha-cha.
Her boyfriend saw red.
One man was shot dead.
The poor girl's now old, drunk and gaga.

More stuff

Song with lyrics on YouTube

Tuesday, 29 March 2022

Ghosts of loss, death, injury and trauma

The Greatcoat Helen Dunmore has been described as "first and last, a poet", but I discovered her through her ghost story, The Greatcoat. Set a few years after World War II, it is unnerving and nightmarish.

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

A limerick for today

I logged on to Facebook this morning
To make a quick check on a posting.
I've sat and I've scrolled
For three hours, all told,
When I could have been limerick writing.

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Marcel Marceau, miming artist

Source: Chariserin-Flickr
Creative Commons
French mime artist Marcel Marceau was born today.
Here are a few lines about him.
Marcel Marceau, miming artist,
Stripy shirt and whitened face.
He, the art of silence practised;
Pulled on inconspicuous ropes,
Leant on walls that went unnoticed,
Took large bites from fruit unseen,
Struggled in the face of tempests.
Famously, in Mel Brooks' Silent
Movie (nineteen-seventy-six)
Marceau speaks. He says quite clearly,
"Non!"

More stuff


Monday, 21 March 2022

First day of spring

Here's a little verse to celebrate the first day of spring.
A blustery breeze and bright sun in the sky.
Thus far escaped Covid. So why? Tell me, why
On this first day of spring, when buds start to unfold
Must I sniffle and snuffle and suffer a cold?

Friday, 4 March 2022

This was not the face in the doorway

The Fortune Men Nadifa Mohamed's The Fortune Men was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and praised as an excellent example of historical fiction that explores present day issues, in this case, racism and injustice. But it's more than fiction. The characters are real people whose voices have never been heard, and the story is taken from a real life incident that happened 70 years ago.

Monday, 28 February 2022

A teenage boy with raging hormones

The Rachel Papers Charles Highway is a "chinless elitist and bratty whey-faced lordling". He's the protagonist of Martin Amis's The Rachel Papers. His saving grace is that he's young, nineteen going on twenty, and if you can remember how awful you were at his age, you'll be able to laugh at the "devious, calculating, self-obsessed" little twit.

Thursday, 24 February 2022

Antigone, Iphis, Electra and more

Antigone Rising: The Subversive Power of the Ancient Myths It was eighteen months after reading a review of Antigone Rising before I bought it. I'd forgotten what had drawn my attention to the book and assumed it was just a general interest in the Greek myths or perhaps a recent book club choice, Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie's modern retelling of Antigone. So it was something of a surprise, a pleasant one, to find it was actually about how those myths are being appropriated by feminists and non-binary people in the 21st century.

Friday, 11 February 2022

Living through a period when politicians don’t merely lie

Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia When Boris Yeltsin became President of the new Russia, I was working for a bunch of London-based management consultants who were looking for opportunities to provide advice to the new Russian entrepreneurs. Our strategy was to employ two young Russians. The man introduced himself. He took my hand, bowed slightly, and I swear I heard his heels click. As for the young woman, she was terrified of flying, something of a disadvantage for a jet-setting consultant. Throughout a flight she would grip the arm rests but as soon as the Captain announced our descent she reluctantly let go and fished in her handbag for lipstick and mirror. No matter how terrible the situation, she told me, no Russian woman would ever allow herself to be seen without make up.

Other than a handful of students, that's been the limit of my personal knowledge of Russians.

Monday, 7 February 2022

A cock that could drill a hole through stone?

Beautiful Antonio: Il bell'Antonio Beautiful Antonio ticked a lot of my boxes. It's set between WW1 and WW2, with themes including fascism, hypocrisy, and gender inequality. Unfortunately I wasn't able to give the book my full attention, and read large chunks without digesting them. So it's a good job Tim Parks, the British novelist and translator of Italian works, had written a helpful introduction.

The story is set in Italy, the Sicilian town of Catania to be precise, and concerns a sensitive young man named Antonio, reckoned by family, friends, and random women to be the epitome of an "Italian stallion". All is not as it seems tho'.

Monday, 17 January 2022

Our pockets not picked in Paris

This is a true story. The events described took place in Paris in 2018 and are narrated by The Man. Sometimes he thinks he's in a Philip Marlowe novel.

It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid August, with the queues not moving and a look of resignation on the face of The Dame. I was wearing my navy-blue long shorts with leg pockets, white polo shirt, black sandals and no socks. I was cool, clean, bearded and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed traveler ought to be. I was crossing the City of Lights.

My lack of imagination?

Harmless Like You This is a review of the first 13% of Harmless Like You. Perhaps it's a good story. It was in a list of books I'd found on the theme of family relationships. It was shortlisted for a few awards too. The two main characters are Yuki and her son Jay, whom she abandoned when he was 2 years old. I found it mostly unreadable.

Saturday, 8 January 2022

Do I like this?

Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery Art Objects is a book for readers who relish language, its rhythm and its sounds. In other words, the art of the written word. In it Jeanette Winterson explores the idea of literature as art in a series of essays, using examples of the literature which she admires: the modernists, especially Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein.

I did wonder if I'd get much out of the book, since the only reading I have in common with Winterson is Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, Winterson's own books, and Shakespeare. But I didn't let it put me off, and neither should you. This is a book that oozes love of literature.

Thursday, 6 January 2022

The worst of times

Autumn In simple terms, Autumn is about the relationship that develops between a 9-year-old girl called Elisabeth, and her elderly next door neighbour, Daniel Gluck. There's a lot more to it than that tho'.

It's a book firmly set in its time, that of the UK post-Brexit. Lack of funds for community services have led to libraries being closed, the way the Brexit referendum was framed has led to thoughtless tribalism, and the idea of protecting the land from invasion by foreigners is rife.