Tuesday, 31 July 2007
The second involves the wonderfully named Cosimo Mele, an MP and member of Buttiglione's own party, who got anxious when the tart he was entertaining in a hotel room, presumably because his wife had guests, came over all funny after a substantial amount of cocaine. He called the police, distracting them, no doubt, from their kiss-watching duties at Rome's most historic buildings, and found his name in the following day's newspapers. He's resigned from the party, though not apparently from parliament, but nonetheless managed to pat himself on the back for having phoned for help. The idea that he might just have done a bunk was clearly there as an option.
It's fairly obvious what these two stories tell us about Italy. It's sad, though, that of all the news generated by the sixth economic power, NATO member, etc. etc. these should have been the only items considered worth printing by the Guardian. There's nothing, for example, about Cesare Previti resigning from the senate. Previti, Berlusconi's henchman and erstwhile business lawyer, not to speak of ex-Minister of Justice, and one of the most unredeemably sordid members of the buffoon's inner circle, was recently condemned definitively for corrupting a judge on his boss's behalf. He has finally given up his seat weeks before being booted out and can now devote his forensic energies to commuting his six year sentence to house arrest overlooking the fountains of Piazza Farnese.
This clearly wasn't seen as deserving of the ink.
Monday, 30 July 2007
Dublin airport comes as a shock: in a world that’s gone haywire with security measures while fast-tracking anything in a burka—male or female, in YSL knickers or gelignite corsets—an entirely pleasant one. We’re bussed to what would normally be the hermetic world of Arrivals and find ourselves shouldering our way through departing holidaymakers en route to Malaga or Warsaw; we wander through the endless retail opportunities of modern travel, mingling and mixing in the most promiscuous manner with Departures before we even hit customs, let alone passport control. It’s a refreshingly relaxed—I hesitate to say Irish—solution (surrender?) to the awfulness of air travel, even though AerLingus is doing its best to behave like its arch rival and would-be purchaser Ryanair. Examples? Payment for items of baggage (half-price online!). In-flight panini (one panini; two paninis? povero italiano mio) at €5 a shot, tea at €2. At least Giuseppe and I get to sit together without having to pay priority or queue for an hour and a half at the gate. (Relax, McLeary. If that’s your name. Sooner or later, it will all be yours. And then we die.)
We’re going to Ireland to celebrate the wedding of two dear friends of ours, Bridie and Dominic. Dominic is Maika’s brother and English, though of Irish stock, but Bridie, as her name suggests, is a genuine Irish beauty, born and bred. We’re touched and honoured to be invited, and only slightly phased by the difficulty of getting from the airport to the splendid hotel we’re booked into for the weekend. (A little product placement here. The Finnstown Country House Hotel. I have only good things to say about it, apart from the price of mineral water, but that’s a generic issue with the modern world. Fine food, fine beds and sofas and internet connections and gardens, fine freebies in the bathroom, constant hot water, by all accounts a fine Turkish bath and swimming pool, peacocks to die for, a dog we didn’t have the luck to meet. I recommend it.)
Fortunately, Maika’s sister, Samantha, and her sons, Alex and Mallory, have agreed to find room for us in their hired car and, with great generosity (theirs) and immense discomfort (Mallory’s and mine), we arrive, five people and five substantial suitcases, crammed into an Opel Corsa, with minimal disagreement as to what exactly constitutes a roundabout in the ongoing road works of the M40. If you’ve been there you’ll know what I mean. I was last in Ireland in 1976. Believe me, things were different. I saw the first beggar of my life outside Bewley’s. (This was before Thatcher modernised the UK and introduced beggary as a career option.) Now there’s a sprawl of expensive suburban housing everywhere we look.
The church is hexagonal and modern, like a theatre in the round, flanked by an old and sombre tower with a faintly Tolkienesque air to it. Father Sean, the priest, came with us on the bus. He wins me over when Bridie’s entrance is greeted by scattered, inappropriate applause and he says: ‘She’s looking absolutely beautiful. Let’s all give her a clap.’ (Or words to that effect.) The service is long but varied, with contributions from Maika and all the younger family members and a sermon from Father Sean, both authoritative and modest, that comes down to the need to be kind. Be kind, he says, be kind. I’m torn between my disdain for organised religion and a fondness for both the man and his message, which is so ecumenical it includes us all, worshippers and atheists alike. He wins me over once again when his grace at the reception begins with the words: “We are so hungry, Lord”. Because we are.
And our hunger (and thirst) is amply and skilfully met by chicken and seafood roulades and mouth-melting beef. There’s a provocative gender distinction to round off an excellent meal, when the women are provided with pavlova and the men sticky toffee pudding. This causes consternation at my role-challenged table, with Giuseppe demanding pavlova and Maika and Sally sticky toffee pudding. And then we dance, and drink, and dance, and are treated to an exhilarating taste of Irish dancing from Bridie’s cousin, and dance and drink again and somehow find room for sandwiches and deep-fried mushrooms and coffee at some late point in the evening. Giuseppe requests I Will Survive and his request, to our delight, is met. I rediscover the joy of Guinness, on several occasions, and talk to Daniel at length about ducks and overall have a wonderful time. And then the evening begins to blur.
Most of the photographs I took are circumstantial, but I’m fond of this one, taken as the newlyweds cross the lawn towards the official photographer, safe and dry beneath a tree. It has a sense of both departure and arrival, a little like Dublin airport, but there’s nothing at any airport in the world as caring as the way Dominic holds the umbrella over Bridie’s head or as elegant as the way she has gathered her dress in her hand to keep it off the drive.
Monday, 23 July 2007
Monday, 16 July 2007
So it's good to get some heart-warming news from the British courts. Lydia Playfoot, the girl for whom saying 'No' just isn't in-your-face enough, has seen her case dismissed against the school that refused to let her wear her 'purity ring' (replacements obtainable for only £13 from It's a Silver Ring Thing, the
Suddenly, everything seems rosy again.
Sunday, 15 July 2007
I was looking down into the garden this afternoon when one of our three cats decided to relax. His name's Rocco, otherwise known as Tubs, Porco, Samsonite and the GFGO (the Great Fat Grey One). You can admire him here. And before you report me to any animal welfare organisations, maybe you can tell me how to put one cat on a diet and not the other two, both svelte and rangy by comparison, without separating them. Dogs are easy; they eat to order. Cats, as we know, are picky and approach eating much as Greeks seem to do, in a leisurely intermittent fashion, as though they had all the time in the world. As, indeed, they do. (Cats, that is.)
Putin is such a sensitive soul I'm expecting a visit from one of his henchmen with a little something for lese-majesté. People have died for less, after all, and not only in Russia.
If you want to see the transformation for yourself, just click on the label 'putin'.
Update, five minutes later. I just checked that the link worked and the fucking picture's disappeared. Now I really am worried!
Saturday, 14 July 2007
It will be fun to see if the ID cranks in the States and, increasingly, in the faith-friendly Britain created by Middle East envoy and peacemaker to the stars, Tony Blair, will jump into bed with their new Islamic brothers-in-codswallop.
Friday, 13 July 2007
Well, it ain't. It makes no provision for tax relief, is downright evasive about pension rights, postpones inheritance rights until the ninth year of the contract and even then allots the surviving partner no more than a quarter of what's left if a brother or sister of the deceased is still alive. It doesn't allow for leave when the partner's sick. Basically, it's a cock-up.
On the other hand, it's so gutless and bland it will be interesting to see what the homophobes of the centre-left come up with to attack it. The centre-right is already calling the CUS a do-it-yourself marriage, so let's all grab a hammer and a handful of nails and knock one up.
It's also an unfortunate acronym, unlike DICO, which had a nice ambiguity, and ring, to it. CUS stands for University Sports Centre in Italian, so expect some fun there as chest-heaving hearties defend their sexual integrity. What's more, it rhymes with only two words in Italian: pus and bus. Is this really the image we need? Unpunctual, overcrowded, and er, yellow?
Thursday, 12 July 2007
The rough grass and other scrub vegetation on this side - the southern side - of Passignano, the hill behind Fondi, has been burning off slowly but steadily since this morning and now there's a large patch of grey-black stubble the shape of Africa, extending from the peak of the hill, over 400 metres above sea level, to the highest house on the slope, a derelict stone building I've often coveted, maybe a third up from the foot. The fire's not out yet; as the light begins to fade the scurries of flame around its edges are more evident than before and almost beautiful. It's almost certainly someone's handiwork.
The land isn't cultivated and is too steep for building, so the culprits are unlikely to be farmers or developers. The only people who stand to benefit are the part time forestry workers who wait to be called, each summer, to deal with fires of this kind. It's a closed circuit, and as long as no one dies and no famous beauty spots are touched no one seems to care that much, although dogs don't like the low, rather throaty noise of the helicopters. Maybe, to them, it sounds like a growl.
By the way, don't miss the testimonials...
I wonder how long they'll keep us waiting for Eggs. Hey, maybe it'll double up as a holy water douche bag.
Wednesday, 11 July 2007
The conversation went like this (but in Italian).
- A McMuffin and orange juice, please.
- That's €4.15.
- But it's only €3.90 if I have a menu with hash browns.
- So why should I pay more for less?
- You should have ordered a menu.
- I didn't want any hash browns. I didn't expect to pay more without them.
- You should learn to read.
- You should learn to be polite, signorina.
- Yeah, right.
After this exchange, the girl gave me change for a menu and stalked off into the rear of the place. A moment later, my McMuffin slid down the chute, the girl reappeared with a smug little grin, picked the thing up and gave it to me. I walked away, still fuming, sat down and ate it.
It wasn't until I'd finished that it occurred to me she'd spit on it.
Tuesday, 10 July 2007
The problem is that all 59 forms have now been revealed by investigating magistrates to be photocopied, completed by the same two hands, and bearing illegible signatures. Many of the forms don't even have the birth dates of the people who are supposed to have signed them.
Genoa's deputy police chief, now being tried for the events of the night following the death of protester Carlo Giuliani at the hands of the police, has called the attack on the sleeping demonstrators 'an act of Mexican butchery'. It's salutary to remember that butchery of this kind can take place in any country in which it's tacitly, and explicitly, condoned by the government, as this was. While the public Berlusconi was flower arranging in Genoa's prettier squares, his less savoury doppelgänger was putting the boot in at one remove.
The smiler with the knife under the cloak, as Chaucer put it.
I wonder what he's wearing on his holidays, devoted to walking, the thinking of deep religious thoughts and the gathering of woodland fruit, according to an ever-fawning Italian press. Something light and cool, I suppose, silk camiknickers, perhaps, last honoured by a papal arse three centuries ago; as flimsy as the vain old slapper's moral authority.
The magnificent papal wardrobe has been steadily modified since Vatican II. Pope Paul VI symbolically laid his splendid tiara on the altar of St Peter's at the end of the council; it was sold and the proceeds donated to charity. Benedict has yet to buy it back, but he has repeatedly stunned Vaticanologists with the variety of archaic hats, capes and other adornments he chooses to sport. In his first winter as Pope he donned the snug, Santa Claus-like "camauro" hat, red velvet with a border of white ermine (see right), which had not been worn since John XXIII, who died in 1963. He also affected the "galero", a cowboy-like number in red, and the "greca", the ankle-length cashmere overcoat last worn by Pope Pius XII. He has also moved to restore some of the dignity of the Pope sacrificed by his predecessors in the interests of humility and conciliation. Benedict has been photographed seated in the little-used golden throne in the Vatican's Sala Paolina, where Pius XII used to receive important visitors on their knees.
Nobody's bothered to tell us whether the lovely Georg is a-nutting and a-berrying with him.
(Update: On tonight's TV news, Georg was three paces behind as Eggs walked, and thought, and walked, in his simple monastic way, surrounded by other befrocked old men and, obviously, security. Security which is costing the Italian government over €40,000. Enjoy the break, Eggs! We'll pay for the omelette.)
Sunday, 8 July 2007
The encouraging news is that while 97% of Italy's population is baptised, 86% declares itself catholic and 57% practising, only 21.4% is actually prepared to shift its arse from couch to pew on a regular basis. And the arses that so inadequately line the peninsula's places of worship tend to be old, poor and southern. Not at all the human resources that old Prada-wearing Eggs is after.
The reasons 'practising' catholics give for not actually practising include boredom (33.7%), banal sermons (7.8%) and a lack of spirituality (11%). I'm sure a little Latin, Gregorian chants and the priest's back turned to the congregation will push up viewing figures no end.
Saturday, 7 July 2007
Friday, 6 July 2007
Thursday, 5 July 2007
Wednesday, 4 July 2007
You'll have to scroll down a little to find it.
A wild west so fictitious
only cowboys could live there.
I leave my cave and take some clothes to the water.
A fine dust in the water
stains them yellow. Someone arrives
and talks of a mythical beast,
recently slaughtered, gargantuan, bearded head
on the prairies of a land that
is also mythical. Myth hurts.
Myth hurts. I am being used
to describe an attitude towards value.
The power of magic is denied
when it works. I too. I too
am afraid of power. As though
the boats would not have slowed down
to retrieve him whole. Only a little
time for that magic to work. A fine dust
in the folds of cloth,
in the knots and tangles of the wool.
The natives work themselves
into the imagination, like dust
that rubs off the nap
of a cloth, that penetrates
the fibres. Just as the cloth
falls apart the dust
stiffens into the rigid
form of the robe. The native
walks out of the cave and
towards the river
and everyone is scared.
Tuesday, 3 July 2007
Time for a little verse, I think. This is the first part of a group of poems inspired specifically by the myth of the golden fleece and, obliquely, by Pasolini's Medea (or maybe that should be the other way round). The group - complicatedly - forms the second half of the collection entitled VALUE, sections of which have appeared below (click on poem, or value, to find them). The Golden Fleece has two rather lovely epigraphs:
In one word, you reproach us with intending to do away with your property. Precisely so; that is just what we intend. The Communist Manifesto
Of course the stars were nearer before we could fly - why else should the universe expand? Tom Raworth
I seem impervious to pain.
Spectators applaud, I continue
to cross the archipelago, the tiny birds
collapsing like Asian kites
and the lights must be laid
on as the decoration of a blade’s
journey toward the clarity it
cannot stand. All of the stations are static.
Videos in the cancer ward in a ‘far off’
place, where he lovingly reinstates
the small neglected things,
gilds them with leaf of his heart.
Impassive housewives break wind
among shelves in a market under the buzzing
rails. They’re struggling as always,
they’re talking about the waves
of detached and sacred soap.
A bareback rider composed of
winking bulbs, stationary and
electric and blue as
benign flesh. Only the instruments escape
the taint of drunkenness in the maker.
Light moves across daring scalpels
in the surgeon’s hands, kindly
displayed to the objects, the gaudy
entrance of daylight into the
National Grid. His escape
is so often imitated it becomes
inimitable and novel
to walk back into the bar’s
description of itself, its
from wall to wall.
The cables are dangling from the roof.
The roof is a temporary structure.
Under the structure is a space, enclosed.
The space is organised.
O twinkling stars.
If only to cover the event
all objects that reflect the light
shall assemble here.
Demand that cannot frame
its words, a cloud
that enters the room
to fill it.
I think I was waiting for that light
to coax me in, to inherit the burden
of the torch-bearer, blinded
by so much improbable splendour.
I am walking a little apart from that.
I am leaning into the lit
mirror of a well. What’s opportune
throws smoking scarves round the sun.
It is always too late to get up
and even for the tulip
dawn remains simply decorative.
The mountains leave
the household, the household is anxious
to be left to its own devices
as it works its way into the heart.
I am staring down on the lit
riot of cells and the city is casting
about my hands a frayed ring
from a wistful and delicately drawn
exchange. The generator down
the line and a sudden
infusion of neon
attack my boxed ears.
I am walking toward the source
of the attack which becomes a bulb which
becomes a button which becomes a
bear which becomes a back
which becomes a rider
what you said I was all the time.
This too shall be taken apart
or be extended, infinitely,
through the city and all that we know
of the city’s madness shall be written
on the palm of one hand
that cannot even touch another
without leaving filth.
As I hold up chaos to the glass
I see my own hands hold it there,
a cowering frame that wards off
knowledge of itself. A bareness
an arm into fire and feeling
nothing, neither pain nor heat, only
the chain of the body’s affections,
appalling glimpses, barely
enough to see daylight by.
Monday, 2 July 2007
Which is why it feels odd to discover that a short piece of mine, titled The Growing, is about to appear in a very smart-looking left-wing weekly in the Netherlands called Vrij Nederland (Free Netherlands). In Dutch. In the whole world of my acquaintance, I know two people who will be able to read it, so I may have to ask them to back-translate it for me in the hope that something amusing emerges. It usually does. Repeated back-translation can effectively send a text haywire, to the general hilarity of those involved. The story itself is creepy and part of a longer thing I've been working on for, effectively, years now. One day, who knows? it may appear in English too.
I remember being disappointed some years back when The Barcelona Review did a story called The Time it Takes because I was under the impression they translated everything they published into both Spanish and Catalan and I was dying to see what it read like in both. But my impression, alas, was wrong and the story remained as it was. And now it feels oddly incomplete.
Sunday, 1 July 2007
Believe me, you won't regret it. (And it's worth taking a good look round the rest of the Ministry of Truth site as well.)