Thursday, 29 November 2007
The university language centre, where I work, is on the seventh floor of one of Rome's ugliest buildings, halfway between the Pyramid and St Paul outside the Walls. Thrown up in the 1970s, it manages to seem both shoddy and hulking. It might have been modish at the time, with its matt grey panels and brutal silhouette, but time has done it no favours. It houses, among other things, Rome's traffic police, where people pay their fines, and the local tax offices. Not surprisingly, it's an unloved place. Which may explain why we all had to leave the building at 5 pm on Monday, following an anonymous call to say that someone had left a bomb. We stood outside for a while, then headed home.
Tuesday, 27 November 2007
So what are they doing there? Other than advertise the Union and its attention-seeking president, whose name I shall also not provide.
Sunday, 25 November 2007
- Little Monsters has been described by a certain Caitriona (thank you, Caitriona!) as a tear-jerker on the Picador blog. The novel's made me cry in the past for a variety of reasons, but it's slightly disconcerting (and, of course, wholly wonderful) to discover that it can have the same effect on others. The post is called Everybody Hurts and is well worth a read, comments and all.
- Little Monsters now costs £11.99 on Amazon. If you didn't pre-order it at the earlier price of £9.89 you have only yourself to blame. And don't say I didn't warn you. Get a move on before they hike the price up again...
- That's it.
Saturday, 24 November 2007
Until I heard Dolly Parton's version of Stairway to Heaven.
You can listen to it here. (Along with some other songs I like. I know, I've just discovered this neat little playlist thing and I think it's fabulous, but I'll get bored soon enough.)
Friday, 23 November 2007
Gomorrah has now been translated into English. There a review of it in the New York Times, where you can find the publishing details. Italy isn't just pizza and Piero della Francesca, as of course you know. The fact that a prime minister can control the entire television system to ensure that bad news doesn't happen ought to be proof enough. But the extent to which the country manages to live with its dark shadow, not only in Naples but throughout the nation, from Verona to Bari, from Milan to Palermo, remains a source of dreadful wonder. It's as though it were always noon and the shadow were a small tight circle hobbling the country's feet.
Conservapedia has published a list of its ten most visited pages. You have to see it to believe it.
Thanks to Joe.My.God for this.
Shocked? You should be. Except that it wasn't Tony Blair, the BBC and commercial TV. He never had the chance. It was Berlusconi, the RAI and Mediaset, which belongs to Berlusconi. Still shocked? You still should be. Berlusconi is. He's called the Repubblica journalists who published the story a couple of days ago 'jackals' and accused them of trying to interfere with the process of electoral reform. Next thing you know, we'll be told the RAI is now in the hands of the communists.
Thursday, 22 November 2007
|Gay Pride Rome June 2007|
Pomellato does a whole series of small gold animals in a range they call their Dodo collection; you can just see the silhouette of a dodo on the monkey's chest. Part of the cost is donated to WWF, so they're not just pretty, but marginally useful. Well, maybe.
If you believe that the soul weighs 21 grams (and, of course, I don't, but still), it would take seven monkeys like this to make a soul.
A little something Alberto Ruggin's local priest might enjoy. Or Ted Haggard. Or Larry Craig. Or Archbishop Arsehole of Nigeria. Or Eggs Benedict. Or just about anyone, in one way or another.
And if you'd like to know more about Pat Condell, click here.
Tuesday, 20 November 2007
And what do the ungrateful minxes do? They ask the Italian state for damages. They've filed a claim for €260 million (with 54 years' compound interest) for the 'moral suffering' they underwent while in exile. Plus all their confiscated belongings. Their lawyers have written a seven-page letter to the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister. Well, obviously their lawyers have written it. I mean, seven whole pages. The Savoia's Italian just isn't good enough. Maybe they should sue for linguistic suffering too.
By the way, the woman standing next to Vittorio Emanuele isn't Elizabeth Taylor. She's a fake. Still, he seems happy enough.
He came out during a TV game show called Ciao Darwin, in which two groups compete to see which is better adapted for survival. In the past we've seen men up against women, so to speak, priests versus atheists, nurses versus doctors, fatties versus skinnies. As you can, it's not exactly the Brains Trust, but it does have its moments. Last week saw a team of heterosexuals compete against a team of gays, including Alberto Ruggin. I didn't see the programme myself, so I can't imagine what was involved, but Don Paolino, no doubt attracted by the prospect of seeing so many perverts in one place, didn't miss a minute. And there was his choir-boy and Sunday school teacher, all six sinful feet of him, parading his shame. The only word for it, as far as Don Paolino's concerned, was 'disgusting'. Followed by Fuori! Surprising? Not really. As my father used to say, What can you expect from a pig but a grunt?
Ruggin, in the meantime, seems to have devoted the last few years of his life to the parish and Berlusconi's Forza Italia, a party not renowned for its gay-friendliness. He could spend a few moments of his newly acquired free time to ask himself whether his energies might not be more profitably channelled into organisations that don't regard him as a social pariah and sexual deviant.
Monday, 19 November 2007
Magari is one of a thousand words that don't have any simple linguistic equivalent in English. Italian, on the other hand, doesn't have a host of mundane, earthy terms such as, well, splodge. You can't skedaddle in Italian or faff around (I don't think) or squish. The range of Duh is only half-captured by the more historic Boh, immortalised by Moravia. In language, evolutionary niches always get filled but no one would seriously suggest that a giant terrestrial parrot has the elegance of a gazelle. Nor that a gazelle has the wonky charm of the now sadly extinct giant terrestrial parrot.
If you're amused by this kind of thing, as I am, you'll probably enjoy, as I would, a book called Toujours Tingo by the splendidly named Adam Jacot de Boinod. For more about the book, see this review. Here's the first paragraph, to whet your appetite and, possibly, if you're French, to wet your finger (Yes, I'm thinking chapponage):
Tsonga speakers who have had a fruitless day's labour know it simply as walkatia. For Anglophones, it is the act of throwing down a tool in disgust. Someone fluent in Bakweri might soothe his walkatia by looking at a womba – the smile of a sleeping child. But all would probably shy at a Frenchman's offer of a spot of chapponage – the act of sliding a finger into a chicken's backside to see if it is laying an egg.
Sunday, 18 November 2007
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider'd God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he's a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord's poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually--Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.
Saturday, 17 November 2007
As long as you're popping a pill that contains no trace of 'active' ingredient (or - gulp! - listening to homoeopathic music) to get rid of a head cold, no harm's done. But when people start suggesting that homoeopathy can cure Aids, like the goon quoted below, it's time we all reached for whatever in rational discourse might pass for a gun.
Peter Chappell, whose work will feature at a conference organised by the Society of Homeopaths next month, makes dramatic claims about his ability to solve the Aids epidemic using his own homeopathic pills called "PC Aids", and his specially encoded music. "Right now," he says, "Aids in Africa could be significantly ameliorated by a simple tune played on the radio."
Oh yes, the forenamed Society has apparently threatened to sue bloggers who are critical of homoeopathic 'medicines'. Well, homoeopathy sucks.
Watch this space.
I love it.
As a reader, I'm convinced that this decision makes sense. Most of my reading these days is done on trains or planes or buses, or in bed, and hardbacks are simply inconvenient. They won't slide into pockets or side-by-side in bags, they weigh too much. Some of them don't even fit comfortably on shelves (at least not on those of the bookcases I've had made to hold my extensive collection of paperback novels). Nobody really wants them. Their only advantage is that you can use the jacket flap to mark your place. Even that awful commercial compromise, the 'special airport edition', is unwieldy and unlovable.
So why am I slightly anxious about the move? Because my own, my very own Little Monsters will be the last (or last-but-one) novel ever to be published by Picador in the traditional way, first in hardback, and then in paperback. This might make it highly collectable in years to come, regardless of its immense literary merit (although I doubt this), but I'm worried that it might also make it feel a little bit like yesterday's loaf from the word go. It also means I'll have to wait months and months for the paperback, which, as Crumey says, is the edition the author's friends - and everyone else - actually want to buy. Hmm.
There is only one way to make me feel better about this. Scroll up and down the sidebar until you see a little box with the cover of Little Monsters inside it and the magic words Buy from Amazon. Click. You will be rewarded in heaven.
Thursday, 15 November 2007
Work as a subject is sorely neglected by fiction; few writers, with the notable exception of Magnus Mills who does almost nothing else, draw inspiration from the mundane tasks we perform or have performed for us on a daily basis. Gents, though, describes with lyricism and precision the working lives of the three men running a municipal public lavatory in London. The men, all three originally from Jamaica, have different attitudes to the use of the place by homosexuals – or, as they refer to them, ‘reptiles’. Jason the Rastafarian disapproves, but sees the problem in racial terms. Reptiles, for him, are white men:
“Whitey cold,” Jason said. “Cold inside.” He began to utter the dark poetry in his soul. “Colder than reptile. Don’ have no emotions. Come to de Gents for de sex wid another reptile. Don’ come for the wife, don’ wan family, maybe don’ even want de other man. Come. Afterwards go.”
The supervisor, Reynolds, is less judgemental. His main concern is that the council doesn’t decide to close the place down and put all three of them out of work. As he says: “We don’t keep their conscience, we only keeping order.” Later, he comments: “Reptile not dangerous. Danger come from man who hate reptile.”
The third man, Ez, who provides the novel’s main focus, is initially incredulous that such things happen, then, despite himself, curious and, finally, thoughtful. In one finely-written passage, he is described observing a cubicle in which two men are having sex:
Ez glanced at the cubicle. It seemed, in the fervent silence, that it was vibrating slightly, like a washing machine, as though various pieces of clothing were being thrown against the side. Then the machine seemed to switch itself off, to utter a soft sigh.
Talking to his wife, Martha, - and the relationship between Ez and Martha is one of the subtlest things in the book - he distinguishes between gay behaviour and what the reptiles get up to.
“Maybe these people not gay. Gay men mostly don’t have to come to dis place. Go to other places. Dese men family men, lonely men.”
As the novel develops, the complex, interdependent relationship between the two groups, each, in its way, oppressed and at risk, becomes more evident. When the ecological balance that enables the attendants and the ‘reptiles’ to survive is threatened by bureaucracy in the form of the implacable Mrs Steerhouse, something needs to be done. The solution the three men find – and I won’t reveal it here - is both humane and practical.
This short novel says more about racial tension, the economics of labour and sexual politics than many books ten times its length. It could have been anti-gay but contrives to have a grace and lightness of touch that distinguish it from more widely-known overtly gay-friendly books. As an ex-reptile I wholeheartedly recommend it.
You can buy it here.
As you can see, the labels below are quite irrelevant and are merely attached to this post to draw in the unwary and allow them to do something useful for a few moments.
I'm not sure how Amazon works, so this may not be a good thing. But it would be a pity to miss the chance to save some money. Unless, of course, you've already paid the full whack. In which case your reward will be karmic but not, alas, monetary. Either way, I love you.
"It is probably going to be more tea and cake than absinthe," said Graham Henderson chief executive of Poets in the City. "A lot of people have been working hard over a long period of time to get the house saved.The house is in Royal College Street, so if you're feeling vaguely maudit, you know where to go.
"It is all on the drawing board at the minute, but we envisage a place that is a celebration of Verlaine and Rimbaud, where poets and enthusiasts can meet, do research and hold events."
PS. By pure chance I spent two weeks last year in one of the buildings Verlaine lived in during his years in Paris, in rue Nollet, just round the corner from Place du Clichy. I don't have a photograph to prove this (and I'm sure you believe me in any case). But I do have one I took during my stay which captures something of the rather dark and perverse nature of the two poets' relationship.
Here it is.
And like most honours, it comes with strings attached. I have to: "list three things I believe are necessary for good, powerful writing; and then pass the award on to the five blogs I want to honour, who in turn pass it on to five others, etc etc." Hmm. I'll do my best.
Three necessary things (assuming that one has something to say) for good, powerful writing:
1. Experience of other people's good, powerful writing. By which I mean that you shouldn't just write, write, write, but read, read, read, read. Read.
2. The ability to revise, ruthlessly, and to listen to criticism (which doesn't necessarily involve its blind acceptance).
3. An awareness that what you write might have weight, might hurt or flatter, or change someone's day or invite response; in other words, that what you are doing is not solipsistic, but social, and consequential. Be brave, be honest, but listen.
Five blogs I'd like to honour? This is much easier:
Go forth and multiply.
Sunday, 11 November 2007
If you haven't, just google Blair + China + Catholic.
And then move on. After all, isn't that what Jesus would have done?
Friday, 9 November 2007
Remember Dewey? The man who classified books in a meaningful way? (Because all taxonomies are meaningful.) Well… Browsing in the Wolverhampton branch of W.H. Smiths today, I noticed that the Biography section has a subsection entitled Tragic Life Stories - occupying, incidentally, slightly more than half of the section, for without tragedy we are nothing.
And there, among the various descendants of Angela’s Ashes, from Peltzer to whoever that man was who lied to Oprah and was subsequently execrated (A Thousand Pieces of Something? I honestly can’t remember), what did I find? David Blunkett (ex-Home Secretary) and Victoria Beckham (ex-Spice Girl).
What a fragile thing happiness is.
I have a thing about camels. I love their stoicism and superciliousness, as though their hump or humps contained not only life-maintaining fat but also life-enhancing forbearance. I have a small gold camel round my neck; I stroke it often, for inspiration. There are days, I admit it, when I aspire to camelhood.
So, I’m amused but also slightly hurt, to see that someone very important in Saudi Arabia has issued a fatwa (remember: short for fatuous waffle) against camel beauty contests. On the grounds that the camels, when asked what they most want, say “World peace”?
Wednesday, 7 November 2007
One of the saddest aspects of the way Silvio Berlusconi has skewed political and civil life in Italy is the arsenal he's chosen to vilify and discredit his adversaries. As long as these are politicians it’s part and parcel – unfortunately – of the way debate is conducted here, in no small measure thanks to Berlusconi himself – surely the only national leader in the west who would claim that communists not only eat babies, but boil them first – and to the gaggle of publicists and lawyers he’s surrounded by, mud-slingers all. But his vulgar ad hominem attacks have also been directed at two men, both journalists, both now dead, whose professional behaviour was never less than impeccable and whose political positions were far closer to any normal idea of what a respectable centre (-right) might be than is Berlusconi’s own: Indro Montanelli and Enzo Biagi. By attacking these men, Berlusconi has shown his contempt for the principle of a free press.
Montanelli died in 2001. Fiercely anti-communist, critical of the Christian Democratic hegemony, the target of a knee-capping attack by the Red Brigades, Montanelli had worked for Corriere della Sera until it veered left, after which he edited Il Giornale. Heavily indebted, the paper was bought by Berlusconi in 1977. In 1993, when Forza Italia was founded, Berlusconi apparently turned up at the editorial offices and informed the staff that the paper would support his every political move. Montanelli resigned, accusing Berlusconi of being anti-democratic. Berlsuconi’s campaign of vilification began, and continued until the journalist’s death.
Enzo Biagi died yesterday, after a 60-year career as a journalist in print and, subsequently, television. Berlusconi was gunning for the man long before he officially entered politics, after Biagi questioned his financial links with Bettino Craxi, the then-head of the Socialist Party, so it wasn’t surprising that he should have included Biagi’s name in his famous Bulgarian edict against those who made a ‘criminal’ use of the television. A feature of totalitarianism – and advertising – is that things rarely do what it says on the tin. Indeed, as Orwell taught us, they tend to do the opposite. So it’s wryly amusing – the kind of humour Biagi most appreciated – that Berlusconi should regard Biagi as criminal. What is less amusing is that the journalist was profoundly hurt by the supine way in which Italian state television simply turned its back on him, and kept it turned. By the time Berlusconi was once more in opposition, Biagi was too ill to do more than make a token come-back to TV.
It isn’t just mud on Berlusconi’s hands.
Tuesday, 6 November 2007
And if you're hungry for more, click here.
Monday, 5 November 2007
Friday, 2 November 2007
«Le relazioni omosessuali sono contro natura e sono nocive al Bene della società… L'omosessualità è una deviazione. Se uno non lo cura è un vizio... (translation: Homosexual relationships are against nature and damage society. Homosexuality is a deviation. If it isn't treated it becomes a vice).
If you speak Italian, you might find this interview instructive.
They’re pushing and shoving to get through
the gate, where darkness appears to be
calling the numbers out. He rides
in a Ferris wheel, wearing the hats of his
numerous god-like fathers. Erotic blockades
slow them all down for a second’s
check on the purchase of their sexuality
and they’re off! harried by waves
into lines of hysterical
bunting above the judges.
A scent of madness
is one thing they share with
the mythic world, which is perhaps
eager to see them gone. It walks
towards an open window without flinching
at the word ‘outside’.
Those waters run deep.
They have, it would seem, been somewhere else
and to drink
is to be alone with them.
To be alone
is one way of living with darkness.
To live with darkness
is one way of counting the flags in the breeze.
And then the breeze drops and the flags are still.
It does not always want to be heard.
We extend the untended colonies
just as the travellers
hung in suspension
like an uncut coil of piston rings
will spiral down a staircase
to possess the earth.
And isn’t that
the kind of spiritual miscarriage
only a man with imagination could father,
his long-range devices scattered
across a favourite landscape
whose colour is local to itself. Nostalgic barque.
The fruit of the pine.
This is where nothing need be named.
The least confusing thing
opens the voice to boredom and so the voice
becomes desperate, at times confused,
seeming to shut itself out of whatever is
likely to happen. As though I were on the point of
telling you a story about yourself
that has barely begun or describing the room
in which you read
or inventing a language whose logic
would be glass-like and open
onto a brighter garden than the one you know.
All that could be done. Like plaiting strands of
or waiting for the wind to lift or crawling
through the mouth of a cave towards the sound of
falling water and an unexpected, unwanted light.
Anything that doesn’t hurt is transparent
as finding an old
unanswered letter from someone who
signs himself ‘J’. A story
that does not ask to be told. All of its
trickily-guarded secrets are realised before the end.
It makes up a bed in the guest-room for the voice,
flirting before it dies.
Love becomes local and woven
into the webbing as dark wings
cover the cathedral square.
I think I am shelling peanuts
or leaving the floor to be cleaned
by someone else as a part of me
scrapes the earth and a part
of me dreams one plausible
end after another. Hopeless
languages are house guests here,
waiting to be entertained with
wine that loosens the tongue as a
prelude to the bird’s vain
silvery gift on your shoulder.
Nothing to be done to protect oneself from that
danger, I told him. He listened
as one listens to wind make small talk out of empty
withdrawing hours. The weight of a slow and reluctant
withdrawal into space,
out of the body, into the space of my own. Nothing
can be done. Do everything, emulate
everything. The weight of the city is only partly
disguised by its crimson balloon-like walls
and the voices you hear are truly the voices of
wanting to be possessed. The sadness and evasions
vanish or become
a crueller, more substantial element
than you are used to,
and what is left you can be had.
What wants to be possessed is soft and heavy
as soaking cloth or the terrible lack of
colour inside the body
and the bands that herald darkness are coming soon.
One day I shall be taken
into that darkness, and left with the drum.
I shall hold out my arms to be written on,
waking to silence.
This will happen
and no way of talking about it now
can stop me taking the slips,
unfolding them, calling the numbers out,
assigning them each to each.
But the events call out their own,
are pushy like people who make it
in small boats off the cold, unpopulated
coast, or lean on the rails of liners
staring down. The several skins
hold everything, howling, at bay as
small waves eat the moon.
Thursday, 1 November 2007
You can read a story from the collection here. And don't miss the links for other stories at the bottom of the page.