Monday, August 31, 2009

The Ride

A few decades ago, when the internet was bright and new and the web was yet unborn, I noticed that people who work with computers tend also to be bicyclists. These things — the tendency and my noticing it — had advantages as I found I could buy and sell used bikes and gear via electronic communication with guys far distant. These transactions worked well quite a long time before there was an eBay, or Cragslist, or any of that. Geeks tend also, it seems, to nurture art and design and they can be good photographers and designers in their own right of course.

These thoughts coalesced when I came across yesterday's post in the Examiner's Bicycle Transportation Blog by Adam Voiland (which I recommend). It's Weekend Pick: Ilovedust illustrations and it concerns Ilovedust, (that is to day "I Love Dust") which is a British graphic design outfit. The post explains that they created some very nice bike pictures for the first issue of The Ride Journal. This issue is now available in pdf format: (It's a big file and may take awhile to download, but the wait is worth it.)

The journal explains itself here. It's a journal of personal stories by racers and commuters, roadies, cross-country riders, track racers, BMXers, and all, from whatevery country they call home, but most of all it's a magazine of good images and great design. These should give you some idea of the overall quality of its images and design:

{This graphic was made for the second issue of The Ride Journal. It's called Hokusai Ramp and is by Mig Pilot who says it's "my take on the mighty wave. Hand sketched, scanned and digitally painted." my source: flickr}

{This and the next two are by the ilovedust design group; my source: fishwithoutmeat on wordpress}

{my source: ilovedust on wordpress}

{my source:}

{my source:}

{my source: ilovedust on wordpress}

{my source:}

Note: I've put reduced-size images on this blog post under fair use provisions of Copyright Law. If you'd like your image removed, please contact me via comment and I'll take it down.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

small hands, hard work

Here are some photos that Lewis Hine took in Biloxi, Mississippi, during February 1911. Hine was working for the National Child Labor Committee to document the hard lives and difficult working conditions that young people then suffered. The Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress holds the collection of NCLC Hine photographs.

All these photos show men, women, and children in Biloxi who were associated with the oyster shucking business of the Barataria Canning Co.

As usual, click image to view full size.

{LC caption: Oyster shuckers at work in Barataria Canning Co. Small girls working on left of photo are Gertrude Kron, five years old, Pauline ---, eight years old. Also a small boy. Mildred Kron, three years old (not working in photo) works some every day, mother said.

{Group of oyster shuckers as above}

{Group of oyster shuckers as above}

{LC caption: Family of Peter Elvis, New Orleans, La. All except smallest baby work in the Barataria Canning Company. Youngest boy, Jo., seven years old works Saturdays. Alma, the three year-old by the door is "learnin' the trade" her mother said. }

{LC caption: Howard Simmons and Joe Elvis, two of the smallest here, both shuck oysters in Barataria Canning Co.}

{LC caption: Bessie, four years old, and Marietta, seven years old, both shuck oysters in Barataria Canning Company. Mother is Mrs. Ida Thompson, Baltimore.}

{LC caption: Alma Crosien, three-year-old daughter of Mrs. Cora Croslen, of Baltimore. Both work in the Barataria Canning Company. The mother said, "I'm learnin' her the trade."}

{LC caption: Olga Schubert, 855 Gruenwald St. The little 5 yr. old after a day's work that began about 5:00 A.M. helping her mother in the Biloxi Canning Factory, begun at an early hour, was tired out and refused to be photographed. The mother said, "Oh, She's ugly." }

These images bring to mind the work life of my mother's father who — his father having died — quit school in his home town of Passaic, New Jersey, so he could work to help support the family. In 1891, at age 9, he got his first job: tending cows. A bit later he worked in local spinning and rubber mills. At age 14 he apprenticed as a carpenter. Although he achieved considerable success before the Depression wiped him out, he never attained more than a 4th grade education.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

not a ganch, really

I'm fond of a blog called ganching. From what I can tell, the author is an Irishwoman, probably from the North, not South, now residing in London.* Her posts are personal, charming, and full of good humor. By her own account the blog is "funny, sharp and not to be taken too seriously." She's also an excellent photographer. She likes travel. She has many friends, some of whom she mentions (by codes names) and many of whom link to and comment upon her blog posts. The blog tells us not just what books she's reading and what films she's seen, but also "Things I have bought in John Lewis" (the UK department store chain).

This short post gives an idea of her writing:

We stopped for tea in Magherafelt in a pub that smelt of the night before. You found it charming that they brought an unasked for plate of biscuits. I called my mother to say we were on our way. 'Will I make something for you? A tart - that’s what I’ll make - I have all the stuff in for a tart.' A first-time visitor you drank it all in – the 'it is, so it is' responses, the metal-meshed barracks and the raggedy red, white and blue. We stayed longer than we planned and got lost coming out of town. Me, behind the wheel, shoulders hunched, the wipers on, and rain pelting down from the darkening sky. When we finally arrived my mother was all aflutter, reaching up to kiss me, embarrassed in front of a stranger. My father, in the front room in his chair, seemed more composed but as I bent down towards him, muttered, 'Youse are very late - they must have moved Magherafelt since I was last there.'**
Over the past few months she's been taking — and writing up — long, rural walks. (See for example this post and this one.) The hikes have been a prelude to a trip she's about to make to Portugal and Spain for the Santiago de Compestela pilgrimage. She tells us this in a post she calls Twelve Things I Dislike (And A Couple More For Luck) in which she ennumerates the reasons why she, of all people, is unlikely to make this trip.

Yesterday's post, Language Lessons, describes some unusual and funny language lessons by a friend. Here's an excerpt:
Things he has attempted to teach me include:
Double olive oil on that please
Do you have any dishes on the menu that include offal?
I put out on the first date
When I attempt to speak any Spanish at all TB [the friend] does a lot of harrumphing and gives the impression that the only thing missing from our Spanish lessons is the opportunity for him to apply a sally rod across my knuckles when I make mistakes. His teaching technique is either to mock my pronunciation or shout or both.

"You have to pronounce ALL THE LETTERS! Now say hello"


"No - 'ola. You pronounce all the letters apart from h."

So far I can ask where the path is (although will not be able to understand anything said in reply to this) and say hello, goodbye and thank you. This does not bode well.

What does this word Ganching mean?

The blog's author gives these definitions in the blog's banner:
1. To talk in a halting, agitated way 2. talk stupidly 3. of a dog snapping of the teeth 4. of a horse biting
The OED says it means execution by impalement, gashing by boar tusk, and like horrors.

In a blog post the author says 'the proper definition of ganching btw is not the one at the top of this page; it is in fact "to talk shite."'

In Irish Slang a ganch is a person who talks to much. As a verb it means to slabber e.g. "I wouldn't listen to yer man...he's a pure ganch so he is"

The BBC Northern Ireland glossary says a ganch is an oaf or ill-mannered person, someone who's clumsy and awkward: "stop fallin about the place ye ganch ye"

A site called Detectives Beyond Borders: A Forum for International Crime Fiction has this exchange:
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said... "About time, ya big ganch."

Blogger adrian mckinty said... "Is Brennan a ganch? More of a pochle if you ask me.

Blogger Peter Rozovsky said... "What can I tell you? My grip on Northern Irish slang is shaky. A ganch is a big, bumbling fellow, isn't it? What does one call a somewhat smaller version of a ganch?"

He continues... "Ganch appears to have several unrelated meanings, raning from a cat's belly to a verb meaning to talk incessantly. Some of these meanings appear to have found their way to Australia, according to some Web site I found. I don't know if Irish immigrants brought the word there or if a separate meaning evolved independently. Whatever the case, I like the word -- which I learned from one of the Michael Forsythe books, by the way."


*To be specific, she lives in the smallest flat in South London and commutes to work in East London.

**Magherafelt is a town in Northern Ireland.

{Pub in Magherafelt; source:}

{On 'the raggedy red, white and blue' see here}

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

a newborn boy

Gloria Origgi is a multi-faceted Italian philosopher who works mainly in Paris at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and who lives in that city and in Italy. She is interesting, erudite, and fluent in at least three languages. She has her own home page and writes a blog — Miscellanea — on which she broke two months of silence with new posts last Friday and yesterday. The former explains her absence: "Mon fils Raphaël Ottavio Colonomos est né le 16 Août 2009. Evviva;" (My son Raphaël Ottavio Colonomos was born August 16, 2009. Hurray!).*
{photo source: Origgi's home page}

Last Friday's post also gives this poetic tribute — the song Raphaël** written and sung by Carla Bruni (an Italian-born, French singer, songwriter, and former model; now also the wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy):

The more recent post is about the ë in Raphaël. She tells us that the two dots over the e are not an umlaut but trema, or diaeresis. Readers of The New Yorker or Economist mag may immediately recognize the difference. Diaeresis is used to tell the reader that a pair of vowels is not a diphthong, nor is one of the pair silent. As in coöperate, reëlection, and naïve, the dots tell you that the second vowel is sounded. Big deal? Maybe; maybe not. A former New Yorker staffer says the style editor at one time was prepared to abandon the practice as overly fussy, but died without making the change, and "since then, no one has felt strongly enough about the diaeresis to risk it."

Here's the graphic Origgi used for the post:

{source: Origgi's blog}

In it she addresses her newborn son, giving him a short history of the diacritic and its importance to him. Google translate does a pretty good job with the text.*** She calls the diaeresis a "winged elf who slips between the letters" of his name and says "the tréma which will accompany you throughout life, tells you that language is alive, that names must speak of themselves, that names can be sounds that flutter in the air free, weightless, light and delicate as feathers, like the calls of animals, the screams of the birds in the trees in the morning, the cacophony of meows kittens looking for their mother. As strident screams and and hoarse bellows that wake me up at night, that make me get out of bed and come to take you in my arms."

{This shows Origgi with her other, first, son; source: her home page}

Additional reading:

Definitions from OED

1. The division of one syllable into two, esp. by the separation of a diphthong into two simple vowels.
1656 BLOUNT Glossogr. s.v. Dieretic, The figure Diæresis, whereby one syllable is divided into two parts, as Evoluisse for Evolvisse. 1755 JOHNSON, Diæresis, the separation or disjunction of syllables; as aër. 1887 ROBY Lat. Gram. (ed. 5) I. 478 Diæresis, ‘separation’ of one vowel sound into two; e.g. Orph{ebreve}{ubreve}s for Orphs also the treatment of a usually consonantal v as a vowel; e.g. s{ibreve}l{ubreve}ae for silvae.

b. The sign [¨] marking such a division, or, more usually, placed over the second of two vowels which otherwise make a diphthong or single sound, to indicate that they are to be pronounced separately as bouë, queuë. 1706 PHILLIPS (ed. Kersey) s.v. Diæresis, An ë, ï or ü Diæresis, to show that such a vowel is sounded by it self and not joyn'd with any other, so as to make a Diphthongue. 1767 G. SHARPE Grk. Tongue 16 (R.) If any two vowels are to be read as two distinct syllables, the latter is marked with a diæresis, or two dots over it; {pi}{alpha}{giuml}{fsigma}, boy, and {alpha}{guuml}{pi}{nu}{omicron}{fsigma}, sleepless. 1824 J. JOHNSON Typogr. II. xi. 284 The diæresis [¨] separates two vowels, that they may not be taken for a diphthong.
[1844 T. H. KEY Alphabet 169 The Influence of Assimilation. Footnote, Sometimes called by Germans ‘umlaut’.] 1852 Trans. Philol. Soc. 25 June V. 200 The cognate languages clearly exhibit the fact, that the umlaut in these words has been produced by the weak vowel of a lost suffix. 1873 EARLE Philol. Eng. Tongue (ed. 2) §127 The Umlaut of the Indo-European languages is a phenomenon of a different order. Here the vowel of the after-member of the word influences that which has gone before.
attrib. 1873 EARLE Philol. Eng. Tongue (ed. 2) §128 No~where is any structural signification attached now to an Umlaut form, except [etc.]. 1879 Ibid. (ed. 3) §381 The modern s being imposed upon the old umlaut plural. 1879 Encycl. Brit. X. 519/2 In most [German] Midland manuscripts no special signs for the Umlaut vowels are used, except e.

b. The diacritical sign (¨) placed over a vowel to indicate that such a change has taken place. 1938 H. FAULK Common-Sense German Course 3 The so-called modified vowels are distinguished by the modification mark or umlaut(¨) on the vowel. 1952 M. PEI Story of Lang. I. ix. 93 English makes use of no subsidiary characters, save for the apostrophe. Many other languages use accent-marks, umlauts, cedillas. 1970 [see COMPUTER 2b]. 1611 COTGR. Nnnn, Diæresis is when two points ouer a vowell diuide it from another

*Evviva is an Italian word meaning "long live". It's used in English as well and appears thus in OED: "It is the cry of ‘Long live (the king)’; hence, a shout of applause. 1887 Edin. Rev. July 147 No loud evvivas from applauding Christendom."

**There are interesting parallels and some marked contrasts in the lives of Origgi and Bruni. Of Raphaël wikipedia says:
While living with Jean-Paul Enthoven, Bruni fell in love and started an affair with his son, philosophy professor Raphaël Enthoven (the song "Raphäel" from Bruni's album Quelqu'un m'a dit is named after him), who was at the time married to novelist Justine Lévy, daughter of philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy.[19] Bruni later denied ever having an affair with Raphaël's father in an interview published in Vanity Fair, "I never slept with him, not even a minute."
Carla Bruni: Raphaël Lyrics

{Two first ladies: Carla Bruni and Michelle Obama; source:}

***Via Google with some obvious corrections:
What is that little thing hanging above and your name, Raphael? How do you stay there in midair, like a Moschino, a butterfly wanders restlessly around the pistil of a flower? Or is your name that is suspended at that little thing? Or can not do without each other, like those animals symbionts that live below one another in doing good to each other .. Know that in coral reefs are tiny shrimp that clean and polish the fish that pass? They eat what they find on the scales of fish, and those are all happy to find themselves crossing the coral reef across the beautiful and shiny, like new. Or they told me of some brave birds perch on long crocodiles, to clean their teeth sharpened: we ate the remains of a meal of crocodile, and this beast is to be found happy, peaceful and teeth gleaming. Those two dots and make a bit about your 'well: they give a lift on your behalf and in return they do vibrate, shake like a rattle, they give a different sound. That little thing is an diaeresis, tréma is said in French, is a small sign, a diacritical mark as teachers would say, which means something that is not in words, but as a sprite of the air allows you to give small shocks to the words of, to separate the letters, in short a winged elf who slips between the letters and such a special sound to your name. Those two little eyes that slyly peep over your name, and divide the two vowels to prevent them from merging into a diphthong. We must therefore say ra-pha-el, three syllables, different, distinct vowels, kept separate from the umlaut, which, wholly unlike the tréma, acts as a magnet rather than a separator. The umlaut in Italian is used very little. In French, however, there are many words that use it: canoë, foëne, maërl, moëre, Azraël, Gaël, Ismaël, Israël, Joël, Judicaël, Michaël, Nathanaël, Noël, Raphaël, Staël, aïeul, ambiguïté, amuïssement, stoïle, naïf, païen, pagaïe, baïonnette, coïncider, stoïque, archaïque, haïr, ouïe, ouïr, astéroïde, maïs, voltaïque, laïc, Loïc…

In the Middle Ages to the twelfth century, the tireless Anglo-Norman monks began to use the mark on the words, first in the form of two small acute accents, then stylized into two dots. As when you shake a tree laden with fruit, words given the tréma become music, swaying with rhythm. And as in early music manuscripts at the same time, the notes are just accents, commas, flourishes, signs that only serve to drive the sound, not to dictate.

I recommend: Do not confuse your trémas with another mark, the umlaut, which is written the same, but that the other powers on words: the umlaut is used to change the way in which a vowel is pronounced, not to separate a diphthong: then ü will be different from u, the first amended by the umlaut will be more acute, closed, acidic, like some of u dialect of Milan. But the history of umlaut is quite another, never let anyone say that there is an umlaut over your name! It's a diaeresis, and that's a tréma!

That mighty tréma on your behalf, which will accompany you throughout life, tells you that language is alive, that names must speak of themselves, that your identity is light not leaden, that what is written is simkply an instruction manual for readers, that names can be sounds that flutter in the air free, weightless, light and delicate as feathers, like the calls of animals, the screams of the birds in the trees in the morning, the cacophony of meows kittens looking for their mother. As strident screams and and hoarse bellows that wake me up at night, that make me get out of bed and come to take you in my arms.
A mid-air Moschino shoe. Says wikipedia: "The brand was originally created in 1983 by the late Franco Moschino (1950-1994). Mr. Moschino and his fashion label became famous for his innovative, colorful - sometimes eccentric - designs, for his criticisms of the fashion industry and for his social awareness campaigns in the early 1990s."

Monday, August 24, 2009

of churches and fish nets

My cousin Alice preached this week on church buildings. In her sermon, she said "You could say that there are two main schools of thought on church buildings – one, that they are important visible reminders of God’s presence – centers of holiness, sanctuaries; two, that they are money pits, artificial expressions of reverence for God which are really more about ego gratification for the worshippers, absorbing money which should go to mission. Worship in a cathedral! – or — Worship in a storefront! Neither school of thought really addresses the heart of the matter, though – why do we set apart any kind of place for worship? Why do we have any kind of church buildings at all?"

This intro leads her to consider the etymology of the word temple, which, in the original Latin did not mean a construction of walls, floors, and ceilings but rather an area of the sky defined by the priest for his collection and interpretation of the omens.*

Alice develops her theme by discussing the medieval Christian hierarchy in which the lower regions of earth are hell and the empyrean regions above are heaven; between the two are located the orders of nature, man, and angels in ascending ranks of relative goodness. The Divine Comedy of Dante is one of the most familiar expressions of this cosmology.

She says Christians moved away from the idea of perfection above and nastiness below and reminds us that the technological and scientific advances which have forced revision of church doctrine have also brought us string theory in which all matter — earth, the heavens, and all else — are thought to consist of oscillating lines, points, or surfaces and can be envisioned (in a way) as multidimensional membranes.

She brings these thoughts around to the utility of physical spaces for worship — the church, in her case two churches &mdash. She says they are "visible reminders of the invisible. Visible reminders of invisible God [which help us to keep in mind that] God is real, that we are not alone. We need to be reminded to treat the world with reverence. Our buildings, indeed every aspect of our church life, can remind us of this, or distract us from it."

Alice's image of the Roman templum as imagined three-dimensional grid suspended above and the related multidimensional membranes of string theory brought to mind Indra's Net, which figures in a book I'm reading.

Unlike the European Christians of the same period, the Tang Dynasty members of the Huayan school of Chinese Buddhists imagined the earth and cosmos not as hierarchy but all-encompassing unified network. They used a familiar image, Indra's net as metaphor for this universal interconnection. They described it to demonstrate how all things are ultimately — if remotely — linked both in space and time. The concept makes sense, but, even with a visual aid, is hard to imagine. They asked the faithful to picture in their minds the fishing net of the Hindu god Indra. At each node of the net is a shiny round object — a pearl or jewel, and each pearl reflects the light of all the others, thus causing its own light to be part of their light and accepting their light as part of its own. Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter develops this theme in modern Western terms.

The Roman ethereal templum can be envisioned as a stone framework for watching birds in flight; something like this:

{Birds on Stonehenge — this blog post imagines that Romans used the stones for devination, a true templum; source:}

Neither Indra's Net nor string-theory's multidimensional elements of interconnected strings, points, and surfaces can be depicted in two-dimensional imagery any more than they can readily be imagined. The first is a bit more accessible. Here's one rough idea of Indra's Net:

{Indra's Net; source:}

And here, a less satisfactory interpretation of the oscillating strings:

{imagined strings; source:}

*"Templum is a term derived from Etruscan divination. First of all, it meant an area of the sky defined by the priest for his collection and interpretation of the omens. Later, by a projection of this area onto the earth, it came to signify a piece of ground set aside and consecrated to the gods. At first such areas did not contain sacred buildings, but there often were altars on such sites, and later shrines." Source:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

a thrust of breath upon a stubborn coal

Back in May we attended a wedding in and around Blue Hill, Maine. We were fortunate to find a very nice rental home at low pre-season cost. The place had a fireplace and evenings were just cool enough to give us pleasure in using it. As I read this poem those crackling fires came back to mind.
{The photo shows our homey fire.}

The white bark writhed and sputtered like a fish
Upon the coals, exuding odorous smoke.
She knelt and blew, in a surging desolate wish
For comfort; and the sleeping ashes woke
And scattered to the hearth, but no thin fire
Broke suddenly, the wood was wet with rain.
Then, softly stepping forth from her desire,
(Being mindful of like passion hurled in vain
Upon a similar task, in other days)
She thrust her breath against the stubborn coal,
Bringing to bear upon its hilt the whole
Of her still body . . . there sprang a little blaze . . .
A pack of hounds, the flame swept up the flue! —
And the blue night stood flattened against the window, staring through.
This is the fourth poem in Sonnets from an Ungrafted Tree, a set of 17 that Edna St. Vincent Millay included in The Harp-Weaver and Other Poems (1923).* It's obvious, is it not, that the atmosphere Millay coveys is very unlike the warm and cozy one we enjoyed that pleasant vacation week?

The Sonnets from an Ungrafted Tree tell the story of a woman who has escaped an unbearable life with a detested husband and who now has returned to their home to care for him in the illness of his final days. Her memories are not happy ones. She does not want to be where she is. She does not try to rekindle the love that they once shared. The first in the sequence tells us most of this. The rest elaborate upon the theme. They are wrought with anger and distaste and their images are harsh. They possess great emotional force and — not conventionally beautiful — are high works of art.

Born at the end of the 19th century, some 30 miles (in a straight line over water) from our much-loved rented home, she was unconventional, headstrong, and rebellious. Known to family and friends as Vincent, she was brought up by a single parent after her mother threw her father out of the house when she was seven. The mother, Cora, raised her and two sisters to stand up for themselves and make their own way in the world.

{Millay lived with her mother and sisters in this ramshackle house from age nine to sixteen; source:}

She had established a reputation as rising poet while still in high school and her talent earned a scholarship that put her in Vassar's class of 1917. As the Vassar Encyclopedia explains, she did not take well to the restrictions placed on college students at the time:
She gained a reputation for breaking many of the college rules and often found herself before the new president, Henry Noble MacCracken, for discipline. President MacCracken punished Millay with reprimands and limited privileges for her infractions, but he also respected the talent and intelligence he saw in the young woman. He once told her that no matter how she might flout college regulations, he wouldn’t expel her because he didn’t want another "banished Shelley" on his hands. To this Millay replied, "On those terms, I think I will continue to live in this hell-hole."
Throughout her adult life she was attracted to both men and women as sexual partners but, even in marriage, refused to commit herself to any lasting romantic bonds. The man she married (at age 30) was amenable to being a friend as much as husband. As Dorothy Thompson put it, he was a "husband, nurse, cook, business manager, and above all friend. . . ."**

{Millay and Boissevain; source:}

Although her poems could be bright and funny, most are somewhat bleak. They express
— the monotony of woman's life in her childhood:
I, being born a woman and distressed
By all the needs and notions of my kind...
— skepticism about romantic love:
This have I known always: love is no more
Than the wide blossom which the wind assails;
Than the great tide that treads the shifting shore,
Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales.
— a wish to escape:
And some day when you knock and push the door,
Some sane day, not too bright and not too stormy,
I shall be gone, and you may whistle for me.
— a love of travel:
Yet there isn't a train I'd rather take,
No matter where it's going.
— a conviction that her own love is both true and transient:
After all, my erstwhile dear,
My no longer cherished,
Need we say it was not love,
Just because it perished?
— and an ever-present awareness of death:
But dump or dock, where the path I take
Brings up, it's little enough I care;
And it's little I'd mind the fuss they'll make,
Huddled dead in a ditch somewhere.***

{Edna St. Vincent Millay by William Zorach; Ink, charcoal, and colored pencil on paper, circa 1923; National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; source:}

Edna St. Vincent Millay


*Although the book was only her second, it earned her a Pulitzer Prize. The elipsis in the poem is Millay's. This text comes from: SONNETS FROM AN UNGRAFTED TREE; source:

**source: Vassar Encyclopedia

***Sources of these quotes, in order:

Saturday, August 22, 2009

bill and miles, miles and bill

In my college years I had a couple favorite jazz albums: Sketches of Spain and Kind of Blue, both by Miles Davis. Many (many) other college students shared my affection for them and, though you might think our numbers marked us as somewhat unhip, there was no sense of this snobbishness at the time. The albums are still favorites; the latter, in fact, being the best-selling jazz album of all time.
{photo by Francis Wolff; image source:}

As it happens, that — most popular — one was first issued just about exactly 50 years ago. The historian, Ralph E. Luker, celebrates the fact and gives this link:

There's a great deal written about Miles* and about this album. A current book — The Blue Moment: Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue and the Remaking of Modern Music By Richard Williams — is reviewed in FT and the New Stateman, the former giving brief and the latter somewhat more extensive details about the work and its time.
{image credit:}

One academic critic, David Yearsley,** has written a tribute to the album which both acknowledges its greatness and gives some interesting side notes, particularly one involving another favorite jazz musician of mine, Bill Evans who would have celebrated his 80th birthday last week had his drug habit not killed him some 30 odd years ago.
{image source: wikipedia}

Yearsley points out that Evans had played on earlier albums that Miles cut and had since gone on to form his own group. Miles got him to come back for the Kind of Blue recording date. As Yearsley explains, Wynton Kelly, Davis's new pianist, was surprised to find Bill at the piano when he showed up for the first of the two recording sessions. Davis had Kelly play on only one cut of the album, "Freddie the Freeloader." Bill played on all the others and later wrote up the liner notes. For this work he got union scale, amounting to $64.67 for the day. Yearsley writes:
Given how much money the record made, [the vast amount Miles received] seems especially unjust in the case of Evans, whose harmonic sense and aesthetic vision were so crucial to the shape of the album, even though all compositions are credited to Davis, who was never shy or in the least apologetic about appropriating the work of others.*** How much his creation of the ostinato to the final track on the album, “Flamenco Sketches” is worth is hard to say, as are the tentative musing of Evans and Chambers that serpentine into the arid landscapes of “So What.” . . . Evans’s thing was never my kind of blue, but that unmistakable, searching sound so imbues the overall sense and effect of the album that the disparity between the earnings of Davis and Evans is far bigger even than the numbers of zeroes suggests. The blues have their price, too. The ghost in Evans’ melancholy chords will haunt Davis’s masterpiece recording in eternity. Given how much money the record made, this seems especially unjust in the case of Evans, whose harmonic sense and aesthetic vision were so crucial to the shape of the album, even though all compositions are credited to Davis, who was never shy or in the least apologetic about appropriating the work of others.

The ghost in Evans’ melancholy chords will haunt Davis’s masterpiece recording in eternity.**** . . .

Much is now made of the spontaneity of the recording, how all was done in the studio without rehearsal or reflection, how the tunes were new to all and that the entire effort is akin, as Bill Evans put it in his liner notes, to the “Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous, [and] must paint on a thin stretched parchment with a special brush and black water pan in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment.”

{image source:}

{image source:}

Additional Links:


*The wikipedia article provides a good starting point.

**His bio squib: David Yearsley teaches at Cornell University. A long-time contributor to the Anderson Valley Advertiser, he is author of Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint His latest CD, “All Your Cares Beguile: Songs and Sonatas from Baroque London”, has just been released by Musica Omnia. He can be reached at

***"Bill Evans assumed co-credit with Davis for "Blue in Green" when recording it on his Portrait in Jazz album. The Davis estate acknowledged Evans' authorship in 2002." — Wapedia v Wiki: Kind of Blue.

****To some extent, Miles wjould later acknowledge his musical debt to Bill. According to the wikipedia entry for Evans,
Davis wrote in his autobiography, "Bill had this quiet fire that I loved on piano. The way he approached it, the sound he got, was like crystal notes or sparkling water cascading down from some clear waterfall." Additionally, Davis said, "I've sure learned a lot from Bill Evans. He plays the piano the way it should be played." [In 1959] he recorded Everybody Digs Bill Evans, documenting the previously unheard-of meditative sound he was exploring at the time. However, he came back to the sextet at Davis' request to record the jazz classic Kind of Blue in early 1959. Evans' contribution to the album was overlooked for years; in addition to cowriting the song "Blue in Green", he had also already developed the ostinato figure from the track "Flamenco Sketches" on the 1958 solo recording "Peace Piece" from his album Everybody Digs Bill Evans. Evans also penned the heralded liner notes for Kind of Blue, comparing the improvisation of jazz to Zen art. By the fall of 1959, he had started his own trio.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

some legacies

The Will, by John Donne

BEFORE I sigh my last gasp, let me breathe,
    Great Love, some legacies; I here bequeath
    Mine eyes to Argus, if mine eyes can see;
    If they be blind, then, Love, I give them thee;
    My tongue to Fame; to ambassadors mine ears;
        To women, or the sea, my tears;
        Thou, Love, hast taught me heretofore
    By making me serve her who had twenty more,
That I should give to none, but such as had too much before.

    My constancy I to the planets give;
    My truth to them who at the court do live;
    My ingenuity and openness,
    To Jesuits; to buffoons my pensiveness;
    My silence to any, who abroad hath been;
        My money to a Capuchin:
        Thou, Love, taught`st me, by appointing me
    To love there, where no love received can be,
Only to give to such as have an incapacity.

    My faith I give to Roman Catholics;
    All my good works unto the Schismatics
    Of Amsterdam; my best civility
    And courtship to an University;
    My modesty I give to soldiers bare;
        My patience let gamesters share:
        Thou, Love, taught`st me, by making me
    Love her that holds my love disparity,
Only to give to those that count my gifts indignity.

    I give my reputation to those
    Which were my friends; mine industry to foes;
    To schoolmen I bequeath my doubtfulness;
    My sickness to physicians, or excess;
    To nature all that I in rhyme have writ;
        And to my company my wit:
        Thou, Love, by making me adore
    Her, who begot this love in me before,
Taught`st me to make, as though I gave, when I do but restore.

    To him for whom the passing-bell next tolls,
    I give my physic books; my written rolls
    Of moral counsels I to Bedlam give;
    My brazen medals unto them which live
    In want of bread; to them which pass among
        All foreigners, mine English tongue:
        Though, Love, by making me love one
    Who thinks her friendship a fit portion
For younger lovers, dost my gifts thus disproportion.

    Therefore I`ll give no more, but I`ll undo
    The world by dying, because love dies too.
    Then all your beauties will be no more worth
    Than gold in mines, where none doth draw it forth;
    And all your graces no more use shall have,
        Than a sun-dial in a grave:
        Thou, Love, taught`st me by making me
    Love her who doth neglect both me and thee,
To invent, and practise this one way, to annihilate all three.

This poem shows a skill credited to Donne by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Donne, he said, could "Wreathe iron pokers into true-love knots".* If the iron pokers are the constraints of poetic convention, all poets could be said to strive for this. Coleridge meant something more: as well as these constraints, Donne bound himself with high conceit, a provocative wit that distances the poet from his audience and seems to seek applause for brittle intellectual virtues rather than deeply felt emotional ones. Coleridge says Donne's genius lay in his ability to deliver genuine poetry via "fancy's maze."

This particular iron-wreathed true-love knot is a very satisfying one to me. Donne directs the poem to Love itself, which he says has taught him hard lessons: that to his mistress his affections are superfluous, that she is incapable of appreciating them, that she has no regard for them, that he is merely reflecting back what she provoked from him, and that she really cares more for younger lovers than he is. He concludes by complaining that Love has defeated itself by attaching his affections to one who cares for neither him nor his love.

Donne packages these observations in a petition drawn up as a will — legacies that he asks Love's permission to bequeath: "Before I sigh my last gasp, let me breathe, great Love, some legacies; I here bequeath . . ." They are both witty and moving.

{John Donne, by Isaac Oliver; source: wikipedia}

{detail from a painting of John Donne; source: Reuters photo in}

{Argus Panoptes is a figure from Greek mythology. Argus "the all-seeing" is sometimes depicted as a monster, other times, a hero. Hera enlisted him to guard the maiden, Io, from the intentions of her unfaithful husband. Zeus countered her tactic by sending his messenger, Hermes, to deal with Argus. Hermes told Argus one inane story after another until the last of his hundred eyes went to sleep at which point Hermes dispatched him with one blow. Hera felt so badly for Argus that she set his eyes in the tail of the peacock. Source: }

{Goddess of fame; wikipedia: "In Greek mythology, Pheme (pronounced /?fe?me?/ FAY-may; Greek: ????, Roman equivalent: Fama) was the personification of fame and renown, her favour being notablity, her wrath being scandalous rumors." Source: wikipedia }

{Capuchin: member of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin: "The Capuchins, whose origins date from 1525, began as a reform Order of the Observants. The Capuchins desired to follow more closely the Rule and Testament handed down by St. Francis. In particular they sought a more contemplative life-style coupled with a stricter observance of poverty in accordance with the earliest traditions of the Order." Source:}

{Fourteenth century image of schoolmen}

{From a book by Mary Gentle: 1610: A Sundial in a Grave (in US A Sundial in a Grave: 1610). London: Gollancz, 2003.}

Some definitions from OED:
1. Want of capacity . . . 1611 FLORIO: Incapacita, incapacity, vncapablenesse.

2. The quality of being unlike or different; unlikeness, dissimilarity, difference, incongruity. . . c1555 HARPSFIELD: There is a great disparity and odds between them.

1. The quality or condition of being unworthy . . . 1589 NASHE: Let my vnschooled indignities conuert themselves to your courtesie. a1618 SYLVESTER: Accept my Zeale, and pardon mine Indignitie.

3. One engaged in scholastic pursuits; a professional teacher or student. 1651 HOBBES: The frivolous Distinctions, barbarous Terms, and obscure Language of the Schoolmen.

1. a bell tolled to announce a death; also houseling-bell, lich-bell, sacring-bell, sanctus- or saunce-bell; death-bell. c1620 Z. BOYD: Thou a passing bell, 'Gainst their transgressions did so loudly knell.

1. trans. To render or make out of due proportion.
1593 SHAKESPEARE: Shee did corrupt frayle Nature with some Bribe..To shape my Legges of an vnequall size, To dis-proportion me in euery part. a1631 DONNE Nothing disproportions murmuring.

An internet search will turn up many sources for the text of this poem. I first found it in Immortal poems of the English language: an anthology, compiled by Oscar Williams (New York: Washington Square Press, Inc., 1968 printing of a 1952 edition). I picked up this handy anthology on the sale rack at my local public library — one dollar well spent.
{image source: librarything}

{This fragment contains at top the lines:
    To nature all that I in rhyme have writ;
        And to my company my wit:
        Thou, Love, by making me adore
    Her, who begot this love in me before,
Taught`st me to make, as though I gave, when I do but restore.
Burlington, Richard Boyle, earl of, 1612–1698. A book of verses collected by me R. Dungarvan, ca. 1630; source:}


With Donne, whose muse on dromedary trots,
Wreathe iron pokers into true-love knots;
Rhyme's sturdy cripple, fancy's maze and clue,
Wit's forge and fire-blast, meaning's press and screw.

Poems of Coleridge, Selected and Arranged with an Introduction and Notes by Arthur Symons (London: Methuen, 1905)

Monday, August 17, 2009

easy living, not always easy to maintain

Golf in communist Cuba, migrant workers in Depression-era California, these are precursors to today's post on the impact of current recession in the US on what we used to call the country club set.

The editors of yesterday's Washington Post decided that an article on the financial hardships of wealthy suburbanites deserved front-page placement above the fold. The article, Squeaking by on $300,000, gives information about the inhabitants of "Birch Hill," a $2.5 million house which the author calls "a majestic property of tender grasses and low stone walls and a whimsical sculpture next to the swimming pool." Maintaining this place is expensive: the house requires $8,000 to $10,000 a month in outlays and other costs pile up: the live-in nanny, for example, at $40,000, as well as pricey schools, shops, and services. Kids expect, and get, clothes and possessions to match the prevailing standard of living. And — these days — the income of the owner, divorced mother of three, is not quite commensurate:
As a vice president at MasterCard's corporate office in Purchase, N.Y., she earns a base pay of $150,000 plus a bonus. This year she'll take home 10 percent less because of a smaller bonus. She receives $75,000 a year in child support from her ex-husband. She figures she will pull an additional $50,000 from a personal investment account to "pick up the slack."
The author of the piece profiles the nanny alongside the employer:
"I hit my recession 15 years ago in the Catskills," the 55-year-old nanny says one morning after everyone is gone. , and her words tumble out with a loose honesty. Plugging a leak under the sink, she stands up and gestures toward the pipe and says, "I fix things, too. Being as how once I had a house."

In 1994, Shellogg was working at a cement plant in Upstate New York as a chemical analyst earning $40,000 a year with a union card. "I had everything in that job," she says. When the plant shut down, she lost her position and then her home. A help-wanted ad for a nanny lured her to Rye, and now, three families later, she has the hang of Westchester County.
Steins wears a dark Armani suit and take-charge heels; has blue eyes that are lustrous and skin that is golden. "Even with wet hair and no makeup, she radiates confidence." Shellogg is also tan and blond, but has a chunker figure, less patrician face; wears comfy sweats (view images 6 and 7 in the Post's gallery accompanying the article). "Yet," the author concludes, "they can also seem like two exhausted blondes trying to keep a house going."

The Post article includes a photo of the house (no. 9 in the gallery). And it's pretty easy to find others like it, with its pool, gardens, and quarter-mile long driveway. For example, the New York Times did a real-estate background article on Harrion a few years ago: A Lovely Stretch of Suburban Opulence. It gives this photo:

{EMERALD LAWNS A house at Archer and Stratford Roads in Harrison; source: NYT}

Also, a page called Harrison Real Estate shows what's currently on the market in the range of six down to a mere one million dollars.

I've some small experience of the environment. The last reunion of my high school graduating class took place close to a Harrison-like suburb and a classmate invited some of us to lunch at her home, one very much like Laura Steins's Birch Hill. She was recently widowed and, with grown kids, was planning to sell out. I was very happy to be a visitor there: large, traditional house set on sloping hillside with floral and vegetable gardens, groves of fruit tress, a pool with pool house, lawns and old trees.


I was raised in a suburb near Harrison but not too much like it. It possessed lots of open space, a quiet village atmosphere, and an exceptionally good public school system. Though pretty much homogeneous as to ethnic origins (as in northern European), it wasn't an enclave of rich bourgeois; there were lots of little houses on small lots, like the one in which I grew up. I now live in a close-in, small-lot suburb which is coping with a "mansionization" problem but still has many small homes (again like mine). It too isn't much like Harrison. There's lots of wealth and power here, but also lots of neighborliness — no vast expanses of lawn or quarter-mile driveways.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Dorothea Lange - Resettlement Administration photos

One of the most famous photos to come of the Great Depression in the US is Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother. I expect it's on par with Korda's iconic photo of Che Guevara which I discussed yesterday.

{LC caption: Florence Thompson with three of her children, mother of seven children; age thirty-two; one of many destitute pea pickers; photo by Dorothea Lange; source of this an all images on this page: Library of Congress}

The image is one of five that Lange took in Nipomo, California, during February or March of 1936. The five are within the Farm Security Administration collection in the Prints and Photos Div of the Library of Congress. LC gives a brief overview of the set.

Here are two more from the set of five:

This photo shows Lange with her enormous 4x5 Graflex.

{LC caption: Dorothea Lange, Resettlement Administration photographer, in California, 1936 Feb.; source: LC}

Here are some more of her photos, all taken in California between 1935 and 1939.

{LC caption: Motherless migrant children. They work in the cotton. 1935 June}

{LC caption: Children of Oklahoma drought refugee in migratory camp in California, 1936 Nov.}

{LC caption: Grandmother of twenty-two children living in Kern County migrant camp. California, 1936 Nov.}

{LC caption: Son of migratory worker from Kansas in squatters' camp near Farmersville, California, 1936 Nov.}

{LC caption: Tom Collins, manager of Kern migrant camp, with drought refugee family. California, 1936 Nov}

{LC caption: Daughter of migrant Tennessee coal miner. Living in American River camp near Sacramento, California, 1936 Nov.}

{LC caption: Young Oklahoma mother, age eighteen, penniless, stranded in California. Imperial Valley,1937 Mar.}

{LC caption: Children of migratory carrot pullers, Mexicans. Imperial Valley, California, 1937 Mar.}

{LC caption: "This is a hard way to serve the Lord." Oklahoma drought refugee, California, 1937 Mar.}

{LC caption: Industrialized agriculture. From Texas farmer to migratory worker in California. Kern County, 1938 Nov.}

{LC caption: One of migratory family in Farm Security Administration (FSA) labor camp. Calipatria, Imperial Valley, California, 1939 Feb.}

{LC caption: Migratory labor workers. Brawley, Imperial Valley, California, 1939 Feb.}

Some links: