the cultural highlights (in my immediate vicinity anyway):
feeling pissed off (and slightly stupid for not having hitherto realised) that the bp national portrait award doesn't accept work in gouache on paper. not sure whether it's snobbery, a disinclination to handle breakable works or an attempt to keep the floodgates closed. i wonder whether the award should be more honestly renamed (i quote and edit verbatim-ish from the smallprint) the bp paintings-predominantly-of-the-human-figure-in-oil-comma-tempera-or-acrylic-comma-on-a-stretcher-or-board-comma-preferably-framed-and-definitely-not-on-paper-comma-unglazed-and-definitely-not-watercolour-or-pastels award. oh well, i guess it eliminates the queasy competing-for-oil-money quandary...
this sunday i have the pleasure of helping open an exhibition in the museum of oxford (in the town hall) centred on the ardhive of the eminent archaeologist paul jaobsthal but taking in both his own experience as a jewish refugee from the nazis and refugees in oxford in general. the link below may seem a little dry but the story is fascinating. not least because of the way in which archaeology was of vital importance to the nazis (himmler was a great funder of archaeology) and to those trying to fight against their racial and cultural ideas. in addition, i had also never realised that archaeology and spying were so closely intertwined during the war. though the exact details of jacobsthal's involvement will only emerge when his records are released in 2031, up until which time they will be kept secret 'to protect a living member of the security services' .
... of the odyssey by zachary mason. one of the most insightful books i've read about the odyssey and the iliad in a long time, even though it's not about the poems, rather a series of shorts fictional variations upon sections of the homeric poem and events in the margins. it reminds us - well, it reminds me at any rate - among many other things, that the canonical versions of the stories of odysseus, indeed the canonical version of pretty much all the characters in greek myths, are merely the winners in a long game of tales waring against one another for dominance.
actually i think it's the most insightful book about storytelling that i've read for a long time. parts of it excited me in the precisely same way that i was excited by roberto calasso's the marriage of cadmus and harmony and tmoc&h is a masterpiece.
they reckon it was owl-strike, or a collision with one of the bigger witches. the sleigh jack-knifed, shearing the traces. this was four, five hundred feet up. they found the wreck a couple of miles above the saw mill. a rorschach of struts and runners, the man himself face-down on a pillow of red snow and a shrike’s larder of elves impaled on broken branches overhead. the sacks had split and the forest was peppered with gifts, many lodged in the trees like bright, little birds’ nests. the reindeer must have ridden out the turbulence, banked and come back to find their lives suddenly meaningless. kenny found them standing around, waiting for a whole string of things that weren’t going to happen.
we kept a couple in the paddock next to the goats. we called them prancer and vixen, but this was a guess. we thought the children might like them, but they stirred up too many bad memories. i liked the arctic strangeness of them but i don’t think it was a mutual feeling. they died in june, six days apart. angie said it was heatstroke but the vet couldn’t find anything wrong.
kenny cut the antlers off and screwed them to varnished pine shields and we hung them in the hall where the kids competed with one another throwing socks and underpants onto them.
i dream about it at night sometimes. not the crash. the gifts, mostly. i guess they’ve gone now. broken, rusted, earthed-over. but when i’m sleeping i see a milky way of chemistry sets and puppies and biros that write in six colours arcing through the black sky over the town. and i feel, for the duration of the dream at least, that spicy fire-crackle of childhood winters and i know that everything is going to be ok.
then i wake up.
i'm already nostalgic for certain kinds of spam. i just found this list i'd kept from a couple of years back when i was deluged (as doubtless were you) by offers of cheap painkillers and dubious penis enlargment treatments by fictional people whose names were, i presume, generated by a computer algorithm somewhere beyond the reach of international law, though many of them were so glorious i couldn't help thinking that there was a baroque parallel world of ruined monasteries and flying bicycles and whale hatcheries in which these people actually existed...
wanda bourgeois, boote fulton, samantha fontenot, elton melton, ichabod cloud, hanford gerd, isaiah looney, maude looney, mitzi looney, kippie shinming, logan boon, ferdie korny, hayward ping, crystal margaret, lawanna barbie, gershom festus, gaylord draxo, ricky spangler, kin corny, ebenezer donny, socorro childress, dolores broussard…
enough, I think. they’re like a box of chocolates. I’ll close the lid and put some more up later.
i get sick of fiction sometimes. just too much birthay cake. it's all made up and i'll probably forget most of it anyway. but what else to read? popular science usually does the trick but in the absence of any in the books-to-read mountain i chose this which, to my shame, i'd bought several hundred years ago and never touched. the best american essays of the century, ed. joyce carol oates & robert atwan. it's a treasure trove, as they say in blurb-speak. mark twain, zora neale thurston, martin luther king, maya angelou, joan didion, susan sontag. it's tempting to give a few synopses but the joy is finding the seemingly unpromising stuff you don't expect to enjoy.
... what you're doing and read this. out on boxing day, oddly. a collection of essays from vintage about the joys / importance of reading from zadie smith, carmen callill, tim parks, michael rosen and others.. including me.
ligeti etudes / pierre laurent aimard: joanna macgregor said that when these were written pianists were saying to one another that they were unplayable. thankfully they practised hard.
mondo paradoxa / kk null & john weise: some people might think this wasn't music. some people might think this was inconsiderate builders next door. i love it.
playbach 4/ jacques loussier trio: rather sickly. bach arranged for jazz piano, double bass and drums. but my dad had the lp it so it tastes of childhood. the dogtooth speakers covers, pears and custard, paddling pools... and digging up this stuff is what spotify does brilliantly.
paul simon / paul simon: ditto, but this is still fantastic.