The Greeks are right to stop Qatari cover-up of their nude artworks
Nudity is an all or nothing kind of thing, as Qatari authorities recently discovered. Seek to drape the naughty bits of a pair of ancient sculptures of nude male athletes, and you end up with no nudes at all.
A big brain isn’t enough in academia- you need style too
ACADEMIA is a strange world, a cross between The Apprentice and the catwalk, only more whispery and with a smidgen more substance. A don may aspire to higher things, but he is deluded if he believes he will be judged merely on the scholarship he churns out. In this world, presentation matters.
The Duchess of Cambridge: Defining a Portrait
Poor Kate Middleton. In the royal tradition of artistic and literary representation, what defines her at this moment in time? The creepy feature on her wardrobe statistics in February’s Vogue? Or Paul Emsley’s even creepier official portrait revealed last week?
Emsley’s Vaseline lens ‘Gaussian girl’ take on the future consort would have been appropriate had she the complexion of Doris Day, whose preference for the blurred lens was renowned. The fact we all know that Kate’s skin is like butter, her eyes sparkly, and demeanour jollier than her hockey stick makes her first official portrait instantly bewildering. Just imagine, though, if we didn’t know any of those things…
Plein-air pleasures and the great indoors
Some say it’s the walk there that does it. The promenade down a rambling city path and through a crowd of coffee-swigging commuters that fuels the inspiration that can only be spat out when one is positioned at a desk before a blank library wall.
In the fourteenth century in Italy the poet Petrarch rekindled classical ideas about the merits of a space not so dissimilar to this in character. Best to make one’s desk in a room adjoining the bedroom, he said. That way, the writer need not leave his cell at all. In ancient Rome, even more so, nature was often considered a distraction.
The Novelty of the Shock- Robert Hughes
The real shock of the new came in 1991. It was sobering, and it was reverent, which aren’t exactly the first words one would associate with The Shock of the New art critic Robert Hughes. No wonder it went largely unacknowledged when he passed away last month.
While Hughes’ seminal art history series continues to re-run on BBC4, it’s not without irony that one recalls that in ’91, 11 years after it originally aired, Hughes panned the whole concept of the art documentary.
The language of Patronage
Somehow, sex is less appealing when it’s characterised as ‘equitable return’. Though I’ve heard the phrase used in a similar context a dozen times since, I wasn’t quite sure what it meant when I first encountered it three years ago. I’d been drafted in to persuade a wealthy businessman at an art auction that taxidermy was a foolproof investment when I was informed that he wanted to invest in something a little livelier, in me. The intervener in this matter explained, with all the flamboyance of a Plautan pimp, that his client was willing to whisk me away to dinner and even pay my doctoral fees, but that after a certain time he’d expect an ‘equitable return’ on his investment. By this he meant sex, I checked.
Continue reading: http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/books/2012/09/the-language-of-patronage/
Reading in Madrid
The most obvious — but far from the only — author to read when in Madrid must be Ernest Hemingway. For a man so fond of the laconic line, his rambling, enduring presence in the city is at once ironic and misplaced. It’s not only the guidebooks which are directing me to his erstwhile favourite watering-hole in the north, south, east or west of the city; it’s as if he left a tangible reminder of his presence — an extra shiny spot or cigarette burn burnished into the leather of an armchair — in each of the now rather shabby-chic establishments….
The Pain in Spain
Something’s amiss when a nice glass of Rioja in the middle of Madrid costs just €1.90. As Spain’s credit rating approached ‘junk’ status yesterday the country recorded a dramatic decline in house prices for the first quarter. The scale and impact of the problem is everywhere visible on the city’s streets. A rising homeless population crowds the main arteries of the capital from Atocha Station to the Gran Via, searching restaurants and plazas for the elusive euro. For anyone but the tourist, the price of sustenance is felt to be high.
David Abulafia’s Great Sea- Review
It is a pretty toothy jaw of hell that Philip II of Spain, the Doge of Venice, and the Pope kneel before in prayer in a famous El Greco painting of the late 1570s. Philip and the other rulers of the so-called Holy League might just observe within hell’s mouth the skeletons of those they deemed Infidels — the very Turks, perhaps, their men had recently defeated off the Gulf of Corinth in 1571.
For a struggle so bloody, the Battle of Lepanto that inspired El Greco’s painting makes a relatively cameo appearance in David Abulafia’s masterful human history of the Mediterranean Sea. Even now in paperback, The Great Sea is still a very big book indeed. You expect sea battles, and get sea battles, but only as spots on a much more massive, enveloping canvas of history. And so the background to Lepanto, the fierce tensions which divided Francis I of France and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and father of Philip II, rightly form an important part of his history of the sea. Water could facilitate the sort of Ottoman expansion and flooding of the Islamic faith that they opposed, but also limit it; Turkish Muslims intentionally left the Balkans to Christians and Jews as they knew that they would provide a readier source of tax revenue. It’s not that the role of the sea in such engagements has been forgotten, more that the unity water provides (or divides over) nations in land-locked Europe can easily be obscured by events centred inland. The Great Sea reinforces just how central the Med has been to all manner of occurrences down history, not just those bobbing its waters, from the Minoans to the ravers of Club Med.
Read the rest here: http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/blogs/book/2012/june/out-of-the-deep
Simon Mawer’s ‘The Girl Who Fell From The Sky’ Review
(as published at www.spectator.co.uk)
In the US, Simon Mawer’s new novel The Girl Who Fell From The Sky is rather more optimistically entitled Trapeze. It opens as a girl with three aliases hurls herself through an aircraft hatch into occupied France. She’s an SOE spy, and the life she’s fallen into has all the surrealism of a circus. During her training a woman had told the young, bilingual agent, ‘We girls have an advantage over the men. We can always carry items – messages and the like – where no gentleman will ever see them. You might call it inside information.’ Heeding her advice, the spy (Marian is her natural name) takes a pair of radio crystals, wraps them in a condom, and buries the package inside herself. She’s good to go.
Mawer is a masterful storyteller. He knows exactly when to quicken the pace, exactly when to suspend the critical moment. His description of France during the Occupation is utterly convincing, from the farmland that serves as the parachute landing pad, to the intricacies of the 5th arrondissement. But elements of the story remain shadowy. Mawer (putting his years of science teaching to good use) can wax on about atoms, but we’re left in the dark at several points as to the details of communication. We witness Marian morse-coding her way onto the wireless, but as to how one spy circuit is communicating with another often remains a foggy issue. One can’t help feeling that this isn’t just a reflection of that reality.
Marian Sutro isn’t based on any particular historical agent, but her experience rings true with that of many sent into the field in the mid-war years. She neither falls nor is she pushed into that boggy field. Sniffed out for her fluency in French and English and familiarity with both their terrains, Mawer sketches with admirable subtlety why it is that she’s worth her salt. But is war the making or breaking of her? An outspoken twenty year-old becomes less and less certain of who she is, of what she wants. In some ways her service comes at the wrong time, in other respects perfectly in tandem with her burgeoning maturity. For years she has harboured a crush on a Frenchman named Clèment, now eagerly sought in England for his scientific expertise; it’s thought he has the ingredients to create the perfect ‘A’ Bomb.
Mawer persists in drawing a rather hackneyed comparison between Marian as Alice, her first nom de guerre, and Alice in Wonderland. As a civilian Marian, suitably enough, lives in Oxford. She walks along the banks of the Cherwell just before falling into the wonderland of SOE life and tells a fellow agent, quite coldly, that she wants to lose her virginity before leaving for France. The situation is later reversed in a brilliantly strung-out tension as Alice experiences love, or something approaching it, impinging upon duty, but not quite in the manner the reader anticipates. Emotion is never certainty, but by comparison with the oddities of duty – the constant peering over the shoulder, the dead-drops, the struggle to bring to fruition a plan with outcome unknown – it feels real, and is the more fathomable for it.
Life becomes so knotty and timescales so unclear amid the escalating drama that it is increasingly difficult to stand aloof from Marian’s story; in a metaphor Mawer would relish, one tumbles after her down the rabbit hole. Gripping and moving in equal measure, his story, Marian’s story, is unforgettable.
The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, by Simon Mawer, is published by Little, Brown on 3 May