Musings on Place, Travel, Books, Literature, Poetry, Literary Criticism, Collecting, Media, Life and the Arts
February 10th, 2015 • Posted in Authors and Books

Why privacy matters – Glenn Greenwald

February 4th, 2015 • Posted in Norway

The Perfect Conditions in which to Think

Credit: G. Lanting

Ludwig Wittgenstein the Austrian-British philosopher known, among other things, for his work on logic and the philosophy of language, had a horror of bourgeois life – both of the superficial relationships it imposed on people, and of the conflict he experienced between needing to withstand it, and needing to conform to it. In order to escape it, he used to take off to Norway:

 In Skjolden he could be free from such conflicts; he could be himself without the strain of upsetting or offending people. It was a tremendous liberation. He could devote himself entirely to himself – or, rather, to what he felt to be practically the same thing, to his logic. That, and the beauty of the countryside – ideal for the long, solitary walks he needed as both a relaxation and a meditation – produced in him a kind of euphoria. Together they created the perfect conditions in which to think. It was perhaps the only time in his life when he had no doubts that he was in the right place, doing the right thing, and the year he spent in Skjolden was possibly the most productive of his life. Years later he used to look back on it as the one time that he had had some thoughts that were entirely his own, when he had even ´brought to life new movements in thinking´. ´Then my mind was on fire!´ he used to say.


from Ray Monk´s, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius (Penguin, 1991)

For tourist information on Skjolden, click here.

January 30th, 2015 • Posted in England

How we got George and Orwell

Creek on the River Orwell

© jane reed

“How important names are, George Orwell once said…´If I have the choice of going through two streets, other things being equal I always go by the one with the nicer name´. He did not like the sound of his own first name, telling a friend in 1940, ´it took me nearly thirty years to work off the effects of being called Eric.´Presumably, he thought that ´George´was a solid, quintessentially English name. He did not have to look far to find the second half of his pseudonym. Snaking along the southern boundary of Suffolk, the River Orwell reaches the sea at a spot only thirty-five miles down the coast from Southwold. Unlike the Thames and the River Blythe – or the Irrawaddy, for that matter – the Orwell was not a river which he knew intimately, but its name was well-suited to his purpose – it was simple yet distinctive, and thus easily memorable´.

from Orwell, The Authorised Biography, by Michael Sheldon

January 29th, 2015 • Posted in Buenos Aires

Jorge Luis Borges and Buenos Aires

This from Edwin Williamson´s Borges, A Life (Penguin, 2004):

“Leonor Acevedo (Jorge Luis Borges´s mother) was indeed wedded to the past. She would reminisce about her childhood, communicating to her son a nostalgia for that older Buenos Aires that she was just old enough to remember, a Buenos Aires that was little more than a large village before it was subsequently ruined by the nouveaux riches who had taken over the republic. Leonor would describe the house on calle Tacuman where she had been raised and where he had himself been born. Her memories of its two patios, its water tank and modest porch, would find their way into his poems. He learned from her the traditional topography of the city, the street names and layout of the historic center before everything changed…

These secondhand memories of better times were to inspire in Borges a fondness for the run-down barrios on the south side of Buenos Aires. These were the areas abandoned by those criollo families who could afford to move to the fashionable districts of the Barrio Norte, when the north side of Buenos Aires was being redeveloped along Parisian lines. Those areas of the city to the south of the Plaza de Mayo were left to molder away, and as a result the neglected Barrio Sur was to retain a faded ambiance of yesteryear. Borges would always enjoy strolling along the streets of districts like San Telmo or Barracas, whose dilapidated buildings, with their crumbling masonry, narrow vestibules and Spanish patios, preserved something of the flavor of what the city had been like in the early decades of the previous century. These streets were to form the seedbed of many of his poems and stories, evolving within him an elegiac sense of the passing of a simpler, more noble age.”

Mythical Founding of Buenos Aires, poem by Jorge Luis Borges

English Translation (by Alastair Reid):

And was it along this torpid muddy river
that the prows came to found my native city?
The little painted boats must have suffered the steep surf
among the root-clumps of the horse-brown current.

Pondering well, let us suppose that the river
was blue then like an extension of the sky,
with a small red star inset to mark the spot
where Juan Diaz fasted and the Indians dined.

But for sure a thousand men and other thousands
arrived across a sea that was five moons wide,
still infested with mermaids and sea serpents
and magnetic boulders that sent the compass wild.

On the coast they put up a few ramshackle huts
and slept uneasily. This, they claim, in the Riachuelo,
but that is a story dreamed up in Boca.
It was really a city block in my district – Palermo.

A whole square block, but set down in open country,
attended by dawns and rains and hard southeasters,
identical to that block which still stands in my neighbourhood:
Guatemala – Serrano – Paraguay – Gurruchaga.

A general store pink as the back of a playing card
shone bright; in the back there was poker talk.
The corner bar flowered into life as a local bully,
already cock of his walk, resentful, tough.

The first barrel organ teetered over the horizon
with its clumsy progress, its habaneras, its wop.
The cart-shed wall was unanimous for Yrigoyen.
Some piano was banging out tangos by Saborido.

A cigar store perfumed the desert like a rose.
The afternoon had established its yesterdays,
and men took on together an illusory past.
Only one thing was missing – the street had no other side.

Hard to believe Buenos Aires had any beginning.
I feel it to be as eternal as air and water.


One person´s ad hoc, self guided Buenos Aires/Borges walking tour.

Here´s a short biographical documentary on the man:

January 26th, 2015 • Posted in Authors and Books

Ted Hughes on Hedgehogs

In the Letters of Ted Hughes (selected and edited by Christopher Reid) you´ll find a letter from Hughes to Edna Wholey in which he says he hears “a commotion in the hedge, and after a while, out trundled a hedgehog, merry as you like, and obviously out for a good time. I thought he might make a jolly companion for an evening so I brought him in. After a while I noticed he had disappeared and later heard a noise just like the sobbing of a little child, but very faint, and it continued for long enough. I traced it to a pile of boxes, and there was my comrade, with his nose pressed in a pool of tears, and his face all wet, and snivelling and snuffling his heart out. I could have kissed him for compassion. I don’t know why I’m so sympathetic towards hedgehogs.”

January 25th, 2015 • Posted in Hull

Here is Philip Larkin´s Hull

Just finished reading Andrew Motion´s revealing biography of Philip Larkin. Here´s how Motion intros Larkin´s poem ´Here´:

´Sweeping like a camera in a heicopter over the ´widinening river´s slow presence´towards the ´surprise of a large town´, he lingers over the clutter of civic detail before veering on again to the country between Hull and the coast, where he plunges into the solitude of one of the least visited, least known-about places in England. If Larkin wrote anything which gave the lie to his statement (made before leaving Belfast, in ´Places, Loved Ones´) that Í have never found/The place where I could say/This is my proper ground/Here I shall stay´, ´Here´is it:


by Philip Larkin

Swerving east, from rich industrial shadows
And traffic all night north; swerving through fields
Too thin and thistled to be called meadows,
And now and then a harsh-named halt, that shields
Workmen at dawn; swerving to solitude
Of skies and scarecrows, haystacks, hares and pheasants,
And the widening river’s slow presence,
The piled gold clouds, the shining gull-marked mud,

Gathers to the surprise of a large town:
Here domes and statues, spires and cranes cluster
Beside grain-scattered streets, barge-crowded water,
And residents from raw estates, brought down
The dead straight miles by stealing flat-faced trolleys,
Push through plate-glass swing doors to their desires -
Cheap suits, red kitchen-ware, sharp shoes, iced lollies,
Electric mixers, toasters, washers, driers –

A cut-price crowd, urban yet simple, dwelling
Where only salesmen and relations come
Within a terminate and fishy-smelling
Pastoral of ships up streets, the slave museum,
Tattoo-shops, consulates, grim head-scarfed wives;
And out beyond its mortgaged half-built edges
Fast-shadowed wheat-fields, running high as hedges,
Isolate villages, where removed lives

Loneliness clarifies. Here silence stands
Like heat. Here leaves unnoticed thicken,
Hidden weeds flower, neglected waters quicken,
Luminously-peopled air ascends;
And past the poppies bluish neutral distance
Ends the land suddenly beyond a beach
Of shapes and shingle. Here is unfenced existence:
Facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach.

Larkin, Philip. Collected Poems. 1988

Here´s a visual adaptation of the poem


November 6th, 2014 • Posted in Cuba

Hemingway’s Cuba house – Finca Vigia

Ten miles east of Havana is Hemingway’s Cuba house – Finca Vigia, meaning “lookout house”.

Finca Vigia is located in the small, working-class town of San Francisco de Paula. Cubans have always respected the famous writer’s choice to live in a modest town, among the people he fished with.

Hemingway liked to type standing up

Built in 1886 by a Spanish Architect Miguel Pascual y Baguer, Finca Vigia was purchased by Hemingway in 1940 at a cost of $12,500. Here he wrote two of his most celebrated novels: For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. A Movable Feast was also written here.

After Hemingway’s death in 1961, the Cuban government took ownership of the property.

View of Havana from the tower on the property, atop which Hemingway had another study.

Learn more here

November 6th, 2014 • Posted in England

Hadrian´s Wall and Literature

By Angela Youngman

Standing on top of Hadrian’s Wall in Northumbria, it is easy to see how it has influenced writers.  It stretches out for miles in either direction, snaking across the countryside.  All around are heather covered moors, hills dotted with sheep, and great crags rising out of the landscape.  The Wall just goes up and over crags or any obstacles in its way.

It is a bleak landscape in which mists can rise quickly and in winter, the weather can be cruel.  For the Roman soldiers stationed here, it must have been a shock.  Emperor Hadrian gave a simple order – build a stone wall up to 20 feet, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the North Sea marking the northern most boundary of his empire.

Much of it still remains and it is possible to track the route all the way. At places like Steel Rig and Housesteads, a head for heights is essential as you have to scramble up pathways over rocks and boulders.

The influence on literature has been immense. Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill refers to a Wall acting as a barrier between the Romans and the native European tribes. Crossing the Wall results in a world that is transformed.  A similar idea was followed in Neil Gaiman’s Stardust.

Garth Nix, the Australian author of the Old Kingdom fantasy series said “I saw a photo of Hadrian’s Wall that had a green field on the southern side and snowy hills on the other. It looked like one side was summer and the other winter, and that’s where the Wall and the division of Ancelstierre from the Old Kingdom came from.’

By far the most well known is George RR Martin.  He visited Hadrian’s Wall late one afternoon when there were few people around.  It was a lonely, bleak setting. A fort in ruins, and a wall built to hold back a different cultural group. It was an image that stayed with him – and led to his creation of The Wall in Game of Thrones.

The best place to appreciate Hadrian’s Wall is at Housesteads. It contains the remains of one of the largest Forts along the Wall and is built sloping down from the outside of the Wall.  On the other side is a massive escarpment falling almost vertically for many feet.  On either side of Housesteads, the Wall just continues on and on.  Within only minutes of leaving the fort, you quickly become nothing more than a dot on the landscape.

November 5th, 2014 • Posted in Jamaica

Noel Coward´s Blue Harbour

Blue Harbour is an idyllic seven-acre estate with three private vacation villas built by famed British playwright-actor-songwriter-raconteur Noel Coward. The inn is located in Saint Mary’s province on Jamaica’s north coast, east of Ocho Rios and just before Port Maria. Coward called Blue Harbour his ´bolt hole,´ a place to go to when life became too frustrating.Eventually, because of the many celebs who visited, Coward built another bolt hole to get away from his bolt hole. Located a thousand feet above Blue Harbour, this second home is called ´Firefly´.

Coward once wrote that Jamaica is, “where my heart is.” He explained why a letter he wrote in the 1950s:  

“Last Night we took a thermos of cocktails up … and sat and watched the sun set and the lights come up over the town and it really was magical. The sky changed from deep blue to yellow and pale green and then all the colour went and out came the stars and fireflies…The view is really staggering, particularly when the light begins to go and the far mountains become purple against a pale lemon sky.” 

Visit the website, here.

November 5th, 2014 • Posted in Jamaica

Ian Fleming in Jamaica

Source: Banjoman1

Goldeneye was the name given by Ian Fleming to his estate in Oracabessa, on the northern coast of Jamaica. In 1946 he purchased the land and built his house on the edge of a cliff, overlooking a private beach and the Caribbean Sea. The original house, constructed from a sketch by Fleming, was a modest structure, windowed with wooden jalousies, consisting of three bedrooms and a swimming pool. It now operates as Goldeneye Hotel and Resort, an upscale hotel consisting of Fleming’s main house and several cottages.

Fleming claimed a number of origins for the name of the estate including Carson McCullers‘s Reflections in a Golden Eye and Operation Goldeneye, a contingency plan Fleming developed during the Second World War in case of a Nazi invasion of Gibraltar through Spain. 

Fleming negotiated a contract with his employers, The Times, whereby he could spend January and February of each year at Goldeneye; and on 17 February 1952 James Bond first appeared in Casino Royale. It was during these two months, each year, for the next fourteen years that he wrote all of his James Bond novels. A number of the Bond movies, including Dr. No and Live and Let Die, were filmed near the estate. In 1956 British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden and his wife Clarissa spent a month at Goldeneye after Eden’s health collapsed in the wake of the Suez Crisis. The attendant publicity helped to boost Fleming’s writing career.

In 1976, 12 years after Ian Fleming’s death, the property was sold to reggae musician Bob Marley. Marley sold the estate in 1977 to Island Records founder Chris Blackwell. Eighteen years later, the estate’s name would be the title of the seventeenth James Bond film, and the first to star Pierce Brosnan as James Bond.

Goldeneye is located in the Oracabessa Bay Fish Sanctuary, which was established in 2011 to protect Oracabessa’s marine ecosystem. It is adjacent to James Bond Beach.

Check out the Fleming Villa here.

Source: adapted from Wikipedia.