What’s Inside

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INDEX

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SELECTED POSTS

Angelic Landings – I don’t think anyone else has organised a gymnastics competition for angels. See some of the top contenders in action. Don’t forget to enlarge the pictures so as to be able to give your own scores.
Baristi d’Italia – My hymn to the skills of all the people who make espresso in Italian coffee bars.
The Heart of Chinese Poetry – About the way Chinese poems work. About the best introduction to Chinese poetry.
If vegetables be the food of music – Clips of people playing music on vegetables.
Istanbul – Above the Ring A poem about travelling on Istanbul’s ferries.
Leopardi’s Infinity – A translation of one of the greatest poems ever written.
A Minor Key – A poem about the wonderful things you can see if you remember to look.
The Most Beautiful Thing – I once spent a period asking everyone I knew what the most beautiful thing they had ever seen was. Here are the results.
My Accidental Greek Wedding – The mysteries and dangers of phrase books.
Reciprocating Soup – The Tantalising Cusine of Google Translate – To accompany your Pumpkin Avalanche would you rather have Baked New Button, Nervous Leaf Rolls or Pan Arab?
Ten Thousand Lives – About Ko Un, a Korean poet who decided to write one poem about every person he had ever met.
Two glimpses of Icarus – William Carlos Williams’ and Auden’s takes on a painting by Brueghel.
Undiscovered Amazon Tribes – If you pick a strange book on Amazon, it’s very likely that you will find that “People who bought this book also bought…” will come up with some surprising suggestions.

New Rome bus routes

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This is the third time this has happened to me. I open the Rome bus app (Roma Bus), click on the tab to check the route of a bus (it was the 32 this time) and a screen appears with a map of a large part of North-West Africa. Are there secret bus routes running down, for example, the border of Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin and Nigeria to a terminus near Lagos?

If there is bus of this kind what is its number: 13 ?

And what would it look like? Perhaps like this:

overloaded truck 3

 

The World is Big

Listen to the poem here

2018-Pacific

The world is big
but I would like it bigger still,
more different not less.
Maps show that there’s
still room for one large island
or small continent.
Within, let us suppose,
a people with another calendar,
new names for stars, and constellations
patterned on the shapes
of animals and plants
we’ve not encountered yet.
(The contralope, let’s say,
or else the peeping duck,
the two-toed toad
and then the dipsodillo bush
which moves ten yards
over a century.)
Complexions which we’re unaccustomed
to chime out upon the faces
of the men and women
when you make your mutual discovery,
as they assemble round you on the beach
displaying every shade of blue.
You will find out
they greet each other touching feet.
They have no clocks,
but they have trained
their dogs to softly howl the hours.
They have a way of telling fortunes
based on the bends the river waters
make when one steps in.
They have a form of speaking
called the disconjunctive
which we will never truly understand.
They carve out poems on the
bark of trees
and hang them in the branches.
“A ten-bark tree” is what they call
someone or something
that is much loved.
When sunset comes
some feel an urge
to dance wherever they may be –
lawns, streets or beaches,
porches, benches, tables,
bath-tubs, ladders, window ledges,
unicycles, boats – and while the sky
is flushing, their numbers
grow and grow.
“You’re only dancing well,” they say,
“when you make everyone around you
feel they must join in.”
They make great dives,
from off their cliffs.
“Blue into blue is ecstasy”, they say.
They have designed
musical instruments
with the most complex shapes.
The biggest, having the
span of eight of our pianos,
and thrice as tall,
is laid out when a storm arrives.
The rain and winds
drive surprising music
from its multifold appendages –
flute-chutes, adjusting bells, song-gongs,
murmur pools, gurgoyles and vibro-sieves,
just to name a few.
“Nothing can outperform
the sky,” they say.
So many other things are
there to chance upon
if you’re inclined to stop and look.
They also say, “the world
is big, our minds
should be so too”.

 

Phillip Hill 2018

Walking near the Roman Forum

Listen to the poem here

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Below,
next to our feet,
the present
just about to turn
into the past.
The plastic bottles,
and the beer cans
from last night.
The cigarette butts
impacted in between
the cobble stones

And next to them
the newly sprouted seedlings
thrusting upwards
like minute berserkers
insanely charging
our enormous flattening
human tide
trying to turn
everything back
to forest once again.

Below
the surface
which we tread,
bus tickets not yet
decomposed,
someone’s grandmother’s
favourite brooch,
a pen which wrote so
wonderfully
that there was a person
who still rued its loss
the day they died.
And here and there
lost coins which might have
saved who knows how many lives.

Below,
the years crushed
into millimetres.
Beams, tiles, mortar,
and porcelain and building
stones and bric-
a-brac;
and midden, midden, midden
through metres down to
the ancient centuries

Below,
with the remains of empire:
columns, undiscovered
temples, mosaics and
everywhere that’s else
the ruins of a million
not once remembered lives.

Above,
around my shoes,
the future imminent,
constantly undoing
my oh so carefully
tied laces.

 

,

Phillip Hill 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flann O’Brien’s Book Handling Enterprise

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Flann O’Brien was a pen name of Brian O’Nolan, an Irish author who is most famous for three novels, At Swim Two Birds, The Third Policeman and the Dalkey Archive.

He also wrote a column for the Irish Times from 1940 to 1966 full of wild imaginings.

I once read an anthology of his Irish Times pieces and one thing I have never forgotten is his proposal for a service which he called “Book Handling”. Even in this electronic age it could still be useful. Here are some extracts to show his thinking:

A visit that I paid to the house of a newly-married friend the other day set me thinking. My friend is a man of great wealth and vulgarity. When he had set about buying bedsteads, tables, chairs and what-not, it occurred to him to buy also a library. Whether he can read or not, I do not know, but some savage faculty for observation told him that most respectable and estimable people usually had a lot of books in their houses. So he bought several book-cases and paid some rascally middleman to stuff them with all manner of new books, some of them very costly volumes on the subject of French landscape painting. I noticed on my visit that not one of them had ever been opened or touched, and remarked the fact.
’When I get settled down properly,’ said the fool, ‘I’ll have to catch up on my reading.’
This is what set me thinking. Why should a wealthy person like this be put to the trouble of pretending to read at all? Why not a professional book-handler to go in and suitably maul his library for so-much per shelf? Such a person, if properly qualified, could make a fortune.

Read more…

Is it a duck? Is it a monkey? Is it a dog? No it’s @

Sam_Loyd's_Cyclopedia_of_Puzzles_Monkey_Puzzle_page44

 

Recently, I chanced upon a page in Wikipedia entitled “At sign”. It contains a long list of the names which @ has in various languages. It is quite amazing that one sign can have been interpreted in so many different ways. Here is a selection (some of the names listed are not reported as the most common ones):

In Finnish it is a cat’s tail, kissanhäntä, or a miaow-miaowmiukumauku.

Russians prefer calling it a dog, собака (sobaka).
In Kyrgyz it’s a doggy, собачка (sobachka).
In Armenian a puppy, shnik.
One of various names for it in Ukrainian is little dog, песик  (pesyk).
And in Kazakh it is sometimes a dog’s head, ит басы.

In Greek it is a duckling, παπάκι (papaki),

Another name for it in Ukrainian it is an ear, вухо (vukho).
In Kazakh the official name (dog’s head is unofficial) is the beautiful айқұлақ moon’s ear.

In Denmark, Sweden and sometimes in Norway it is snabel-A (elephant trunk A).  In Faroese the same but written snápil-a.
Read more…

An alternative Napoleon

Naposmile

 

In our universe, Genoa ceded the island of Corsica to France in 1768. Napoleone Buonaparte was thus born in 1769 as a subject of the King of France. (Later he changed his name to Napoleon Bonaparte to make it sound more French). Napoleon was sent to a French military academy, graduated as an artillery officer and then became a general, a consul and an emperor. He won many battles. But perhaps Napoleon’s most lasting legacy was the Code Napoléon, the French code of civil law, one of the few documents, it has been said, which has influenced the whole world.

In a parallel universe, Genoa never ceded Corsica to France.

Thus Napoleone Buonaparte, as a citizen of Genoa, never changed his name. He didn’t go to a military academy but studied cookery in Genoa.

He began his career as a pastry chef. It was immediately obvious to those around him that he was phenomenally talented. Determined to make a name for himself,  he toured Northern Italy (in what he later called his “Italian Campaign”) exhibiting his cakes and distributing free slices. He seems to have invented a new cake in every place he visited, often breaking with the most hallowed traditions. Those which achieved lasting fame were probably his lemon-flavoured Marengo Cake (Torta Marengo in Italian) and the Lodi Cake (Torta Lodi – cherries and walnuts). Read more…

The winter starlings

© Copyright Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
© Photo Copyright Walter Baxter 

Listen to the poem here

 

In early winter every year
the starlings in their hundred thousands
come to Rome.
They populate the branches of the trees
from where their shit rains down
in abundance and unceasingly.
Umbrellas must be opened
as you rush across the road,
weathering their excremental storm.
They whistle, grate and screech hysterically.
I’ve always wondered whether
it is the overwhelming thrill of being a horde
which causes them to shed
so many city-stopping droppings or whether,
conversely, it’s the collective defecation
which drives them to this state of frenzied ecstasy.
But then, at once and all together, they
take off. They fly as if
a giant hand were stirring up the sky
and they were swirling foam upon it.
Great swarms arching
at breakneck speed
across the air
splitting and recombining,
in balls, bursts, spirals and abrupt
departing arrows,
Birds flying in all directions inside
one greater common course
so that it would not be hard to believe
that skiddily those flocks are shaping,
too swiftly for our earthly eyes,
the secret letters
of a text of revelation
high above our heads.
It is magnificent.
It is, it is.
A pity then that these displays,
at some point have to end;
the starlings all regain their trees
and at that very instant,
if you are thereabouts,
a sudden truth descends:
shit – it strikes you –
sometimes outdoes magnificence

Phillip Hill 2017

 

A definition of Naples

A city where nothing is ever at the same angle

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Picture taken in May 2017 and processed with Prisma

I love Naples and the Neapolitan language. Walking around Naples in May 2017, I came across this street where nothing appeared to be at the same angle. It seemed to me to depict, not just physically,  one of the characteristics of Naples which make it such an interesting place.  So I took this photo, which I processed with Prisma, an app which turns photos into drawings, to try in order to emphasise all the loudly disparate angles.