Like everyone else in blogland I’ve heard of Garance Doré, but after watching her keynote at Alt Summit, I now have a girl crush on her (like everyone else in blogland). Since then I’ve been stalking her blog, and I love that she has multilingual commenters: I think it trop cool that she has people who say “trop cool”.
In addition to some other short pieces, I’ve been luxuriating in The Beetle for a Victorian supernatural fiction reading group I’ve recently joined. It’s as mad as Dracula, and I don’t know how it’s not as famous. Check it out.
Like a kid in a candy store after discovering Podcast Thing, via not martha. Interviews with cool people such as Maria Popova, a Peace Corps volunteer, etc where they’re asked about their podcast choices.
I had an audition for a new choir on Saturday. On Friday, my boyfriend tried to help me brush up on my sight-singing. Unsatisfied with the examples I was finding online, all of them safely in a major key without lyrics, he went in search of something with both lyrics and some odd tonalities to test me. He returned to the living room, proudly bearing his complete sheet music to Steely Dan, and got me to sight-read “Doctor Wu”.
It worked, I got in.
You want an hilarious video in which Flo and Eddie, singers of the Turtles, describe their labyrinthine dealings with a series of shyster managers in the 60s? Of course you do! (Keep watching to at least 1.49 and see if you don’t want to finish the whole thing.)
I would pay some proper money to see the whole thing from which this was excerpted.
(Very early on in my relationship with my boyfriend, we were invited to a fancy dress party, and for reasons too boring to go into now, we dressed as Flo and Eddie [I was Eddie], back when I knew nothing about them. I’m so pleased that the more I know of them the more I endorse this as a costume choice.)
I have been reading a new biography of Michelangelo by Martin Gayford, belatedly as I’d hoped to get my large hardback read while hibernating in Dublin over Christmas (instead I’ve been shoving it into people’s faces on the Northern line at rush hour for over a week).
Michelangelo worked at the heart of Catholic power for the majority of his life, and as such this book is stuffed to the gills with cardinals and popes. One of the most likeable of the pontiffs that Michelangelo dealt with — at least in Gayford’s telling of it, and I have to take much of what he says on trust, as, to quote one of Michelangelo’s own pet get-out-of-jail phrases, sixteenth century Italy is really “not my profession” — seems to have been Pope Clement. As a Medici, it’s quite possible he was responsible for all sorts of nefarious goings-on, but in so far as his dealings with Michelangelo went, he comes across as a likeable, benign presence. Further, he was an artistically intelligent and adventurous patron, which was evidently a rarity. I was struck by the following passage:
In the view of several shrewd observers who saw him at close quarters, Clement’s character was unsuited to supreme power. The Florentine diplomat and friend of Machiavelli, Francesco Vettori, noted that Clement “endured an enormous labour to become, from a great and respected cardinal, a small and little esteemed pope”.
“A small and little esteemed pope”: this strikes me as one of the most chilling and bitter descriptions I’ve read. Poor Clement! I read it to my boyfriend, who wasn’t particularly moved by it, and asked why I was so affected.
Me: Because it’s Richard III! Because it’s someone reaching out for the thing they most want in the world, for the prize to turn to ashes in their grasp!
Him: [pause] It’s Gordon Brown, then.
Lots of avenues for further exploration glimpsed in the course of reading The Three Emperors (see my post below) — obviously Lloyd George is a man after my own heart:
The much-loathed Lloyd George had drafted his Budget and launched it with speeches which cheerily and baldly pointed out the gap between rich and poor in a way that no British statesman ever had, and with great panache and humour. ‘A fully equipped Duke costs as much to keep as two Dreadnoughts and is more difficult to scrap,’ he said. The House of Lords was ‘five hundred ordinary men chosen at random from among the unemployed’. In the Conservative press he was portrayed as a bomb-throwing anarchist or a highwayman – which he loved. (388)
My big Christmas read this year has been Miranda Carter’s excellent The Three Emperors — about Nicholas II of Russia, Wilhelm II of Germany and George V of England, cousins and leaders of the countries which went into the First World War. It takes the long view, going back as far as the 1880s — hence the English portion of the book is as much about Victoria and Edward VII as about George V. It’s a lovely, accessible read, managing to tell a sprawling story with economy and wit. There are some great anecdotes in there too. One footnote tells of how
Vladimir Nabokov’s great-uncle avoided being blown up with his friend Grand Duke Sergei only because he declined the offer of a carriage ride home. (He also refused a ticket for the Titanic.)
Clearly, Great-Uncle Nabokov was a man to watch.
This screenshot from the upcoming Death Comes to Pemberley adaptation caught my eye.
From Pride and Prejudice, ch. 43: “… and in front a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste.”
Thus: are we to infer that Lizzy has polluted the shades of Pemberley with a mania for ostentatious water features?
For the first time in a long time, I’ve been reading A Confederacy of Dunces. How did I forget how funny it is?
“Employers sense in me a denial of their values.” He rolled over onto his back. “They fear me. I suspect that they can see that I am forced to function in a century I loathe. This was true even when I worked for the New Orleans Public Library.”
“But, Ignatius, that was the only time you worked since you got out of college, and you was only there for two weeks. [...] All you did was paste them little slips in the books.”
“Yes, but I had my own esthetic [sic] about pasting those little slips. On some days I could only paste three or four and at the same time feel satisfied with the quality of my work. The library authorities resented my integrity about the whole thing. They only wanted another animal who could slop glue on their bestsellers.” (44-45)
I suspect such a powerful identification with Ignatius isn’t entirely usual.
I’ve been moved to comment on yesterday’s “Change: How?” “unConference”, run by leftwing think tank Compass, as a result of a review by another attendee. I really enjoyed the day, but in the spirit of the session on learning from our past failures, I do have some comments to make, some of which I hope could be useful in future.
Photo courtesy of Compass – the Open Space session in progress
Unsurprisingly, as a Londoner, I loved the location. I liked that it was in London but I also liked that it wasn’t a horrible corporate conference centre. Tick there.
I loved the way they played with formats, but in order to do so successfully they really need more forthright organisation. The first session started a good half-hour late so naturally the end was madly over time. I suspect this sounds trivial or bean-countery of me to single out as the downfall of the day, but it meant that some of the most interesting innovations — specifically the innovations of format which meant that the day was not a succession of passive panel discussions — were completely hamstrung by inadequate management. For instance, a chunk of the timetable was given over to an item called “Open Space”. The idea was that attendees set the agenda, with forty regular Joes stepping up to ask a question which would kick-start a conversation; other attendees could migrate to the conversations of most interest to them. I got one going on how to engage and mobilise young people politically. It was fascinating and I got to meet some really interesting people, but I felt we’d barely got started before we had to go, because we started late and had to try and make up some of the time, and they needed to set up the room for something else. The other reviewer above was so taken with the format that he suggested that conferences should be all Open Space in future without big names. While I wouldn’t go that far — I was drawn to this event by names like Zoe Williams, John Harris and Helen Lewis, and I’m happy to give a speaker as eloquent as Matthew Taylor a literal and metaphorical platform any time — I did think that it merited much greater time, especially given the numbers of people they were trying to wrangle. It also fed into my frustration of the day: what is the action that I am going to take from this day? So many conversations in the sessions were about how to define what we’re after, the alternative we’re seeking, to take better-informed action. I kept feeling that there was no time to get to a definition of anything, while there was also bloody loads of hanging around waiting for things to set up. (And queues for loos and queues for food, but maybe that’s just life.)
Maybe a bit more communication ahead of time to everyone if you are going with format innovations: a number of sessions had substantial amounts of time eaten up by convoluted instructions, and poor John Harris looked really quite uncomfortable in the session discussing failure, as it seemed he’d had this format foisted on him about five minutes beforehand. Brief your MC ahead of time!
I was surprised by the demographic. Something about the website and how I’d heard about it made me assume that it would skew towards my age, whereas in fact it felt that there were many more over-40s or over-50s than under-35s. (That’s not a judgement, just an observation!) Perhaps unfairly I associate mouthiness with older people, as I find they’re more likely to have realised that they no longer give a fuck — fine when you’re having collaborative sessions, but not fine when people feel entitled to heckle when it’s a less crowd-based session. The ne plus ultra of this came very early on, when Richard Wilson was giving a talk on definitions of leadership: many older voices felt entitled, and became increasingly irate, in asking for the lights to be turned off — which, to me, came off as very rude to Wilson as the speaker (the speech is surely more than the PowerPoint, no?). They were utterly silenced by someone in a tabard announcing that the super-duper eco lights took ten minutes to turn off and heat up again, so they wouldn’t be turning off the lights for the sake of the slides. I found this face-off hilarious, but it did derail Wilson’s train completely, which felt particularly unfair given that he’d chosen to come and speak in spite of the fact that his son had been born only the day before.
I’d love some follow-up from Compass in the next week. I’d like to see them sending evaluation forms todelegates, as, given the demographic, I suspect they won’t get a huge amount of feedback without something of the kind. I also want to see the mapping exercise carried through, as suggested by one lady from the audience in the closing session. I always feel pumped and buzzy after such events and then things inevitably peter out once you get home and no longer have that community of like minds to feed off: I think that map, which people could use to continue such conversations, would be quite a game-changer. A man in the closing session said that we need to have more conversations across the political spectrum, conducted with respect, and I endorse that view. But those of us on the left also need to have these sorts of conversations with people of broadly like minds in tandem. We need to come to our own definitions of things and know what we prioritise and where we stand, before we can head into more confrontational arenas. We need more of these discussions, whether it’s through events like yesterday’s or smaller, far more frequent local gatherings. I suspect the latter is key, hence why I think the map is such an excellent idea.
If anyone yesterday would like to get in touch, I’d love to hear from you — it’s my first name dot my surname [at sign] gmail dot com.
During September I holidayed in Croatia. Wandering around Split, and feeling by mid-afternoon that I’d exhausted most of its attractions, I decided to head a little out of the tourist-friendly centre to find the statue to Orson Welles that was featured on my Rough Guide map. (Welles’s partner in later life was Croatian, and he made Croatia into his second home, hence the statue.)
I didn’t quite get on with Croatian street signs during my time there; I am sure there is a system, but I never did manage to work it out. Thus what ought to have taken about ten to fifteen minutes took me well over half an hour before I found the shopping centre which, according to my map, was beside the statue. I did a lap or two of the place: no statue anywhere. I gamely approached a young woman saying, “Orson Welles?” (my Croatian, as you can tell, is advanced) and she looked perplexed. I did a bit more baffled wandering around. Where was the damn thing? I looked again at my map, and the front of the shopping centre, with the little café in front … when I saw it.