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Monday, September 30, 2013

S-a stins viaţa falnicei Veneţii

Haunted Venice
no copyright infringement intended

S-a stins viaţa falnicei Veneţii,
N-auzi cântări, nu vezi lumini de baluri;
Pe scări de marmură, prin vechi portaluri,
Pătrunde luna, înălbind păreţii.

Okeanos se plânge pe canaluri...
El numai-n veci e-n floarea tinereţii,
Miresei dulci i-ar da suflarea vieţii,
Izbeşte-n ziduri vechi, sunând din valuri.

Ca-n ţintirim tăcere e-n cetate.
Preot rămas din a vechimii zile,
San Marc sinistru miezul nopţii bate.

Cu glas adânc, cu graiul de Sibile,
Rosteşte lin în clipe cadenţate
Nu-nvie morţii - e-n zadar, copile.



John Donne: A Burnt Ship

no copyright infringement intended

Out of a fired ship, which by no way
But drowning could be rescued from the flame,
Some men leap'd forth, and ever as they came
Near the foes' ships, did by their shot decay;
So all were lost, which in the ship were found,
They in the sea being burnt, they in the burnt ship drown'd.

ironic and metaphorical: starts by giving hope of senselessness then explaining how the people who drowned were actually in the burnt ship and those who escaped earlier from it were burnt while in the sea.

one stanza work with six lines; rhyme scheme a-b-b-a-c-c; the first five lines consist of ten syllables and the sixth line contains thirteen; the lines consist of no meter pattern like many of Donne's other poetry: he often changes feet depending on his purpose to expose his audience to another set of emotions.

futility of hope: our life like a vessel surrounded by its sea - destiny; sea as grave; and Donne's elegance of putting this into a stanza.

(John Donne)


Sunday, September 29, 2013

John Donne: Woman's Constancy

no copyright infringement intended

Now thou has loved me one whole day,
Tomorrow when you leav’st, what wilt thou say?
Wilt thou then antedate some new-made vow?
Or say that now
We are not just those persons which we were?
Or, that oaths made in reverential fear
Of Love, and his wrath, any may forswear?
Or, as true deaths true marriages untie,
So lovers’ contracts, images of those,
Bind but till sleep, death’s image, them unloose?
Or, your own end to justify,
For having purposed change and falsehood, you
Can have no way but falsehood to be true?
Vain lunatic, against these ‘scapes I could
Dispute and conquer, if I would,
Which I abstain to do,
For by tomorrow, I may think so too.

Donne’s poems often present arguments made (or, in this case, anticipate and preempt arguments), and his presentation of what passes for love in many contexts is often sarcastic, satirical, and even a bit cynical.

(John Donne)


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703)
portrait by John Hayls
oil on canvas, 1666
London National Portrait Gallery
source: Glyn Thomas
no copyright infringement intended

Samuel Pepys' Diary is addictive. You open it once by chance, then you'll need daily to browse it, your daily drug. It has an irresistible rhythm, sustained by syntactic constructions of elegant minimalism: through the pen of Pepys English becomes a language with no place for unnecessary words. And it has an amazing sense of immediacy, it's like a time machine. Actually not a time machine: we just read a sentence and the epoch of English Restoration, old of three hundred fifty years, becomes our epoch,  there we are, their problems there are ours, their mentalities are ours, all those dukes and lords make more sense for us than any politicians of today, because once we are within Pepys' Diary, our today is the one of 1660-1669, the ten years it covers. And the miracle to be complete, we live in the London of the 1660's. When you'll need his diary daily, I recommend an excellent web link that I am using, go to it and read also the annotations, they are very informative:

Pepys worked in the English Navy Board and was a Member of Parliament (and if we look at his portrait, he seemingly had also an interest in music). His diary became public only in the nineteenth century, more than hundred years after his death. Among other reasons, it had been necessary to decipher it firstly: Pepys had used a shorthand form to write it.

Jurnalul ţinut de Samuel Pepys între 1660 şi 1669 crează dependenţă. Il deschizi din întâmplare vreodată, ei bine, vei simţi nevoia imperioasă să umbli la el zilnic, drogul tău cotidian. Are un ritm irezistibil, susţinut de construcţii sintactice de un minimalism elegant: prin pana lui Pepys engleza devine o limbă în care nu-i loc pentru cuvinte în plus. Şi are un sens uluitor al imediatului, este ca o maşină a timpului. De fapt nu, nu o maşină a timpului, e altceva: de abia citim o propoziţie şi deodată epoca Restauraţiei engleze, veche de trei sute cinzeci de ani, devine epoca noastră, suntem deodată acolo, nu ne mai miră nimic, problemele lor sunt ale noastre, mentalităţile lor ale noastre, ducii şi lorzii lor vin în faţa noastră şi îi înţelegem mai bine decât pe orice politician care vine la televizor, pentru că odată ce suntem în jurnalul lui Pepys, prezentul nostru, cotidianul nostru, este prezentul, cotidianul din 1660-1669, cei zece ani pe care jurnalul îi acoperă. Iar ca minunea sa fie completă, trăim în Londra anilor 1860, umblăm pe străzile ei, intrăm în crâşmele de acolo, şi ne începem ziua cu un pahar sau două, ca sa intrăm în formă. Şi când veţi avea nevoia de a citi jurnalul zilnic, vă recomand un link web excelent, mergeţi la el şi citiţi şi adnotările:

Pepys a lucrat în Navy Board, consiliul de administraţie al flotei britanice, şi a fost membru al Camerei Comunelor. Jurnalul său a devenit public în sec. XIX, la mai mult de o sută de ani dupa ce a murit. Unul din motive a fost că trebuia mai întai descifrat: Pepys îl stenografiase.

(A Life in Books)


Brooklyn Bridge construction, c. 1880

Brooklyn Bridge construction, c. 1880
photo by J.A. Leroy
Museum of the City of New York
(posted on Facebook by The Old New York Page)
no copyright infringement intended

The Old New York Page: I thought this was a drawing but it said a photo.

(New York, New York)

(America viewed by Americans)

Girl on Stoop, Unknown Location NYC, May 1948

photo by Arnold S. Eagle
Museum of the City of New York
(posted on Facebook by The Old New York Page)
no copyright infringement intended

(America viewed by Americans)

(New York, New York)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Charles Cotton

The engraving above was based on a painting whose authorship is matter of controversy. According the the London National Portrait Gallery, the author was one of the sons of John Linnel. Another hypothesis goes toward Peter Lely. Philosophi certant (or, as the French saying goes, qu'il est de belles batailles).

Also the engraving had a history of its own: it was reproduced in 1897 in a study by Alexander Cargill dedicated to Izaak Walton, published in the Angling magazine (the image of the engraving was scanned from there by Mike Cline in 2008, to be used then on Wikipedia).

So the image of Charles Cotton in a study dedicated to Izaak Walton. Let's see the reasons. 

Charles Cotton remained best known for his English rendering of the essays of Montaigne, also for his contributions to the book of his friend Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler. Both Cotton and Walton were passionate anglers and they were very good friends. When Cotton erected the Fishing Home on the banks of River Dove, a secular shrine for all anglers, he made a cipher with his initials and the initials of Walton and placed it at the entrance.

Here is The Retirement, a poem written by Cotton and also included in the book of his friend, The Compleat Angler. Cotton (as also Walton) was a Royalist and during the times of English Revolution was forced to move to the countryside, far from London. So there is bitterness behind the bucolic lines of the poem.

Farewell, thou busy world, and may
We never meet again;
Here I can eat and sleep and pray,
And do more good in one short day
Than he who his whole age outwears
Upon the most conspicuous theaters,
Where naught but vanity and vice appears.

Good God! how sweet are all things here!
How beautiful the fields appear!
How cleanly do we feed and lie!
Lord! what good hours do we keep!
How quietly we sleep!
What peace, what unanimity!
How innocent from the lewd fashion
Is all our business, all our recreation!

O, how happy here's our leisure!
O, how innocent our pleasure!
O ye valleys! O ye mountains!
O ye groves, and crystal fountains!
How I love, at liberty,
By turns to come and visit ye!
Dear solitude, the soul's best friend,
That man acquainted with himself dost make,
And all his Maker's wonders to attend,
With thee I here converse at will,
And would be glad to do so still,
For it is thou alone that keep'st the soul awake.

How calm and quiet a delight
Is it, alone,
To read and meditate and write,
By none offended, and offending none!
To walk, ride, sit, or sleep at one's own ease;
And, pleasing a man's self, none other to displease.

O my beloved nymph, fair Dove,
Princess of rivers, how I love
Upon thy flowery banks to lie,
And view thy silver stream,
When gilded by a Summer's beam!
And in it all thy wanton fry
Playing at liberty,
And, with my angle, upon them
The all of treachery
I ever learned industriously to try!

Such streams Rome's yellow Tiber cannot show,
The Iberian Tagus, or Ligurian Po;
The Maese, the Danube, and the Rhine,
Are puddle-water, all, compared with thine;
And Loire's pure streams yet too polluted are
With thine, much purer, to compare;
The rapid Garonne and the winding Seine
Are both too mean,
Beloved Dove, with thee
To vie priority;
Nay, Tame and Isis, when conjoined, submit,
And lay their trophies at thy silver feet.

O my beloved rocks, that rise
To awe the earth and brave the skies!
From some aspiring mountain's crown
How dearly do I love,
Giddy with pleasure to look down;
And from the vales to view the noble heights above;
O my beloved caves! from dog-star's heat,
And all anxieties, my safe retreat;
What safety, privacy, what true delight,
In the artificial light
Your gloomy entrails make,
Have I taken, do I take!
How oft, when grief has made me fly,
To hide me from society
E'en of my dearest friends, have I,
In your recesses' friendly shade,
All my sorrows open laid,
And my most secret woes intrusted to your privacy!

Lord! would men let me alone,
What an over-happy one
Should I think myself to be -
Might I in this desert place,
(Which most men in discourse disgrace)
Live but undisturbed and free!
Here, in this despised recess,
Would I, maugre Winter's cold,
And the Summer's worst excess,
Try to live out to sixty full years old,
And, all the while,
Without an envious eye
On any thriving under Fortune's smile,
Contented live, and then contented die.

(A Life in Books)

Izaak Walton and his Compleat Angler

A self-educated man with only a few years of schooling, and an ironmonger by trade, Izaak Walton (1594-1683) read widely, developed scholarly tastes, and associated to men of learning (Britannica). Among his friends were John Donne, Charles Cotton, George Morley, Henry Wotton, to name but a few. His trade brought him a good fortune, enough to spend his last forty years of life visiting eminent clergymen and others who enjoyed fishing, compiling the biographies of people he liked, and collecting information for The Compleat Angler (wiki).

Walton lived through complicated times. It was the epoch of the English Revolution, opposing Puritans and Anglicans, Parliamentarians (the so-called Roundheads) and Royalists (known also as the Cavaliers). As for Walton, he was a staunched Anglican and Royalist, and he had to leave London during the years Cromwell was in power. He retired in the countryside, as many other Royalists did (a move summed up by his friend Cotton in The Retirement).

Two books written by Walton remained firmly in the history of British literature: Lives of John Donne, Henry Wotton, Rich'd Hooker, George Herbert, and C and The Compleat Angler ot the Contemplative Man's Recreation.

Browse a little bit through Walton's Lives: a collection of biographies of his distinguished friends, beginning with John Donne.  I'll give you here a small fragment from The Life of Dr. John Donne  and I hope you'll enjoy the elegance of the phrase:

He was now entered into the eighteenth year of his age; and at that time had betrothed himself to no religion, that might give him any other denomination than a Christian. And reason and piety had both persuaded him, that there could be no such sin as Schism, if an adherence to some visible Church were not necessary. About the nineteenth year of his age, he, being then unresolved what religion to adhere to, and considering how much it concerned his soul to choose the most orthodox, did therefore, – though his youth and health promised him a long life – to rectify all scruples that might concern that, presently lay inside all study of the Law, and of all other sciences that might give him a denomination; and began seriously to survey and consider the body of Divinity, as it was then controverted betwixt the Reformed and the Roman Church. And, as God’s blessed Spirit did then awaken him to the search, and in that industry did never forsake him – they be his own words – so he calls the same Holy Spirit to witness his protestation; that in that disquisition and search, he proceeded with humility and diffidence in himself; and by that which he took to be the safest way; namely, frequent prayers, and an indifferent affection to both parties; and indeed, Truth had too much light about her to be hid from so sharp an enquirer; and he had too much ingenuity, not to acknowledge he had found her.

Well, now if you ask me, soon enough John Donne would find his choice as a faithful member of the Church of England, and eventually he'd become the Dean of Saint Paul's.

The best known book of Walton is The Compleat Angler. He worked on that book for many years, coming back to the text to add new chapters, to change something on existent pages, to enhance the whole. It was first published in 1653, then three revised editions came during his lifetime. It is one of the most re-printed books in Britain, after the Bible and the Works of Shakespeare. Walton is in his whole entirety in this book:  a very nice guy, enthusiastic angler, enthusiastic in sharing his angling knowledge, his love for outdoors, his enjoyment of life, a book so well balanced, so elegant in the lessons he gives to the reader.

Izaak Walton and his scholar
wood engraving by Louis John Rhead, 1900
no copyright infringement intended

And actually his book (subtitled a discourse on rivers, fishponds, fish and fishing) is more than that. Consider the bitter political and religious conflicts of the epoch. This book is a plea for tolerance and moderation  (http://www.stmarysstafford.org.uk/Izaak%20Walton/Izaak_Walton.htm). For Walton, the fact that the Apostles had been fishermen led to the necessary conclusion that the waters and the fish inside belonged fully to the universe of Christianity, and angling was fundamentally a quest for the Christian ideal, in all its simplicity and life enjoyment. And as Walton was a member of the Church of England, we can say that for him The Compleat Angler actually meant The Compleat Anglican.

At this point it is good to compare a little bit Walton's Compleat Angler with Yeats' Song of Wandering Aengus: there angling was a quest for ultimate love. I think fundamentally both were engaged in the same quest: the angler's dream to find in the caught fish the essence of life.

I found on the internet a movie dedicated to the book of Walton. It is a 50 minute documentary written and narrated by James Prosek, a young American naturalist, artist, and passionate angler, who journeyed across Ireland and England in the footsteps of Walton, meditating his book and his teachings, angling on streams and ponds, making the knowledge of wonderful persons dedicated also to angling, trying to recreate the spirit of the seventeenth author in its compleateness.

The Complete Angler, TV movie, 2002
written and narrated by James Prosek
(video by wayupstream1)

The movie is divided in several chapters (separated each other by a black screen), and here is a brief synopsis (from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1r2nRfnpWxw):

Chapter 1 - James leaves Connecticut for Ireland and England, catching a few trout in his home streams and musing about his youth, fishing, and some Waltonian ideals. He visits the library at Yale and examines a first edition of Walton's Compleat Angler from 1653. Then he sits for a reading of Yeat's poem, The Song of Wandering Aengus, by Harold Bloom.

Chapter 2 - James goes to Ireland to experience the earliest form of fly-fishing, dapping live mayflies impaled on fine-wire hooks for brown trout on the lakes of the Connemara region. He visits with a boy who collects and sells live mayflies to the fishermen, and salmon fishes along the Eriff River.

Chapter 3 - James fishes a tributary of the Thames in London that Walton fished three hundred and fifty years before, the River Lea. Walton was forced out of London during the English Civil War and returned to the pastoral beauty of his homeland in Derbyshire and the beautiful River Dove in the Peak District.

Chapter 4 - James visits the
fishing temple on the River Dove, which Charles Cotton (considered the father of modern fly-fishing) built in honor of his friend Izaak Walton.

Chapter 5 - James fishes with Sir John Swire, an upper-class Englishman who talks about his love of fishing and of Izaak Walton's ideals and life philosophy.

Chapter 6 - James visits Victoria Wakefield who helped him secure fishing on the renowned chalk streams, the Test and Itchen in Hampshire. She introduces him to Roger Harrison, who owns a beautiful stretch of water on the Itchen with lots of wild trout. There, James encounters a milkmaiden.

Final Chapter - James visits Izaak Walton's grave in a chapel in Winchester Cathedral, and discusses the last years of his life. Then he sings a song in a meadow by the river and returns to the fishing at the pond near his home in Connecticut.

Charles Cotton's Fishing House on the banks of Dove (built 1674)
a secular shrine to all (particularly game) anglers
photo by neil gibbs, 2006
source: http://geograph.org.uk
no copyright infringement intended

(A Life in Books)


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Yeats: The Song of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Aengus was an Irish god whose fate had been to stay forever young. He felt in love for a girl who once came to him in a dream. The girl was metamorphosing herself in a swan, then back in a girl, again and again, and Aengus became sick with love, for ever. Yeats changed a little bit the legend, as in his poem the girl changes in a trout. Both trout and swan are associated with the universe of water, and the trout-girl recalls the Irish myth of the maighdean mhara (mermaids), who often bewitch men to fall in love with them (more in depth at http://literature-classics.knoji.com/the-song-of-wandering-aengus-by-wb-yeats-an-analysis/)

sung by Donovan
(video by Siss ham)

(William Butler Yeats)


Saturday, September 21, 2013

John Donne

a portrait of John Donne as a young man
c. 1595, artist unknown
London National Portrait Gallery
no copyright infringement intended

A page from John Donne is like a fugue by Bach (I'm quoting here approximately from a movie I enjoyed). Listen here: no man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main... all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language... (I'm quoting freely from MEDITATION XVII. NUNC LENTO SONITU DICUNT, MORIERIS).

[Nici un om nu este o insulă care să-şi fie întreagă; orice om este o piesă a continentului, o parte a oceanului cel larg... întreaga omenire este a unui singur autor, şi este un singur volum; când un om moare, nu este rupt un capitol din carte, ci este tălmăcit într-un alt grai, de esenţă mai aleasă]

(A Life in Books)


Moştenirea lui Q

Moonboat Café - a Place to Dream
un loc pentru visători
sursa: the blog of Cassandra Frear
no copyright infringement intended

(click here for the English version)

Totul a început cândva în anii treizeci. Helene Hanff era o adolescentă pe vremea aceea şi trăia la Philadelphia împreună cu părinţii ei. Vremurile erau grele, iar Helene nu-şi putea permite să meargă la facultate. Taxa de înscriere era mult prea mare. S-a hotărât sa înveţe mai departe de una singură, pentru că era interesată în literatura engleză şi visa sa devină într-o zi şi ea scriitoare.

S-a dus la biblioteca publică să găsească un manual bun sau altceva în genul ăsta, şi a început sa răsfoiască autor după autor în ordine alfabetică. De fiecare dată când găsea o carte în domeniu, o deschidea, pentru a fi imediat dezamagită: cartea părea pretenţioasă, limbajul folosit părea artificial. Era gata să se dea bătută când a descoperit la litera Q  o carte pe care a îndrăgit-o imediat. Cartea era Despre Arta Scrisului (On the Art of Writing), iar autorul era un anume  Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, profesor de literatură engleză la Universitatea din Cambridge. Numele autorului îi era total necunoscut, dar cartea părea foarte clară. A împrumutat cartea, iar după puţin timp avea să o cumpere, apoi avea să cumpere toate celelalte cărţi conţinând cursurile acestui Quiller-Couch. A aflat curând după ce a inceput să studieze că Sir Arthur folosea un pseudonim literar format dintr-o singură literă: Q. Ceea ce nu ştia încă Helene era că tot ce avea să urmeze în viaţa ei se va desfăşura sub semnul moştenirii lui Q.

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
fotografie publicată de W. Heinemann, 1903
no copyright infringement intended

Aşadar Helene se apucă să studieze cu toată nădejdea cartea lui Q, pentru a-şi da seama foarte repede că avea absolută nevoie să îşi extinda preocupările către autori pe care profesorul îi tot pomenea dela o pagină la alta. Ca orice alt manual bun, cartea lui Q deschidea drumuri: Chaucer, Shakespeare, John Donne, Milton, John Dryden, marile drumuri ale literaturii engleze. Şi pe măsură ce înainta cu studiul, Helene descoperea alte şi alte cărţi care îi erau necesare: Vieţile lui Izaak Walton, Jurnalul lui Samuel Pepys, Conversaţiile Imaginare ale lui Walter Savage Landor, Idea despre Universitate a Cardinalului Newman, eseurile lui Leigh Hunt, Stevenson, Hazlitt... Şi desigur poeţii elizabetani şi iacobiţi, Ben Jonson şi toţi ceilalţi.

Cam prin 1940 Helene Hanff s-a mutat la New York şi a devenit scriitoare. Însă pentru următorii treizeci de ani succesul a fost pentru ea o Fata Morgana. A scris piese de teatru (admirate de unii din producătorii importanţi de pe Broadway, însă cum-necum niciuna neajungând vreodată să vadă luminile scenei - wiki), cărţulii pentru copii cu povestioare din  istoria Americii (cu noroc schimbător în ceea ce privea publicarea lor), scenarii TV (asta până când producătorii de televiziune s-au mutat toţi la Hollywood), povestiri publicate prin reviste de tot felul, cam genul ăsta de lucruri. Şi între timp îşi studia autorii indrăgiţi, intrând din ce în ce mai mult în intimitatea universului literaturii engleze şi visând din ce în ce mai mult la Londra. Un vis hrănit neîncetat de cărţile pe care le iubea şi de filmele la care se ducea să îşi scalde ochii cu imaginile străzilor Londrei. Însă un vis imposibil de îndeplinit de către cineva care se lupta lună de lună  să facă faţă cheltuielilor casnice.

În 1949 Helene  a dat de adresa unui anticariat din Londra, care vindea cărţile ce o interesau pe ea la un preţ foarte rezonabil. A urmat o corespondenţă intensă între ea şi Frank Doel, anticarul de pe malul Tamisei. O corespondenţă care a durat douăzeci de ani. O prietenie de un soi foarte special între doi oameni care erau opuşi ca temperament, în timp ce împărtăşeau aceeaşi dragoste de carte.

Frank Doel cu soţia sa Nora, şi fiicele lor Mary si Sheila
fotografie făcută la începutul anilor şaizeci
no copyright infringement intended

Nu s-au întâlnit niciodată, ea în America, el în Anglia, au corespondat de-a lungul anilor, scriindu-şi despre cărţile pe care le iubeau amândoi. Frank Doel a murit pe neaşteptate în 1968. Helene Hanff a pus întreaga lor corespondenţă într-o carte: Strada Charing Cross 84. O carte care i-a adus deodată faimă. Succesul a fost imens, iar cartea a devenit ceea ce americanii numesc cult,  cu fani absoluţi din toată lumea anglo-saxonă. A fost reeditată în Anglia, iar Helene  a putut în sfârşit sa îşi implinească visul de a veni la Londra. Pentru ea, capitala britanică era inima universului ei literar, şi inima asta a găsit-o acolo. Fiecare stradă, fiecare casă aproape, îi spunea ceea ce ea aştepta să audă, povestea visurilor ei. A ţinut un jurnal al călătoriei ei londoneze, care a devenit cartea ei următoare, Ducesa de Bloomsbury Street. Nu am avut şansa să o citesc, dar am citit  Strada Charing Cross 84: este o carte fermecătoare, este proaspătă, e inteligentă, este echilibrată cu eleganţă, este clasică şi este modernă, toate astea la un loc.

Şi astfel anii şaptezeci i-au adus Helenei Hanff succesul literar pe care îl aşteptase atât de mult. 84 fost adaptată pentru televiziune, apoi pentru scenă, iar în 1987 a fost ecranizată (un film pe care l-am văzut chiar azi). Şi Helene a putut sa revină la Londra de multe ori.

casa lui Izaak Walton, 120 Chancery Lane
(în care a trăit între 1627-1644)
sursa: George Walter Thornbury, Vechea şi Noua Londră, 1872
no copyright infringement intended

În 1985 Helene Hanff a scris Moştenirea lui Q, o carte în care şi-a povestit viaţa. Am citit-o de curând. E scrisă cu multă sinceritate, dar aş zice totuşi că multitudinea de amănunte o face să fie o lectură dificilă, dacă nu ai citit înainte Strada Charing Cross 84 (şi nici asta nu e suficient: dacă n-ai fost la Londra, şi dacă nu eşti familiar cu literatura engleză). Dar, daca reuşeşti să o citeşti odată, vei reveni la ea să îi răsfoieşti paginile şi să citeşti din ea la întâmplare, şi va fi o lectură fabuloasă.

Şi acum, dupa ce am citit cartea, pot să spun că Helene şi-a trăit întreaga viaţă sub stăpânirea unei vrăji. A trăit şi vremuri mai grele, a avut şi vremuri mai bune, dar totul a plutit invăluit de farmecul unui vis.  A existat o singură realitate, prima carte a lui Q pe care a găsit-o cândva prin anii treizeci pe un raft al unei biblioteci publice din Philadelphia. Şi uite ce spune ea în ultima pagină a cărţii:

De va fi sa trăiesc până la adânci bătrâneţi, toate amintirile mele despre zilele de glorie vor deveni din ce în ce mai vagi şi mai confuze, până când nici nu voi mai fi sigură dacă toate astea chiar s-au întâmplat. Dar cărţile vor fi acolo, pe rafturi şi in mintea mea - singura realitate care va dura  şi de care voi fi sigură până in ultima clipă a vieţii mele. Dintre toate darurile pe care mi le-a adus moştenirea lui Q, primul dar va fi cel mai important si cel mai îndelungat.

Helene Hanff a murit în 1997. Peste numai câteva zile ar fi împlinit 81 de ani.

(Helene Hanff)


Friday, September 20, 2013

Helene Hanff: Q's Legacy

The Moonboat Café - a Place to Dream
source: the blog of Cassandra Frear
no copyright infringement intended

(click here for the Romanian version)

It all began in the 1930's. Helene Hanff was by then a teenager living in Philadelphia with her parents. Times were difficult and Helene could not afford going to college. The costs would have been overwhelming. She decided to continue her instruction alone, as she was interested in English literature, dreaming to become one day a writer herself.

She went to the public library to find a good manual or something, and she started to browse the authors in alphabetical order. Each time she was seeing some book in the domain, she was opening it, to be immediately disappointed: the book seemed too pretentious, the language seemed somehow artificial. Helene was about to give up, when she discovered in the Q section a book she fell immediately for. The book was On the Art of Writing, and the author was Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, a professor of English Literature at Cambridge University. While the author's name was totally unknown for Helene, the book seemed very clear and effective. She borrowed the book, after short time she decided to buy it, then all other books containing Quiller-Couch's lectures. She found out soon that Sir Arthur used a single letter as pen name: Q. What she didn't yet know was that all that was going to follow in her life would unravel under the mantle of Q's legacy.

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
published by W. Heinemann, 1903
no copyright infringement intended

So Helene began studying the book of Q, to realize very soon that it was necessary to extend her interests toward the authors referenced by the English professor. Like any good manual, the book of Q was a road opener: Chaucer, Shakespeare, John Donne, Milton, John Dryden, the great roads of British literature. And, as she was advancing, Helene was discovering other and other books she needed: the Lives of Izaak Walton, the Diary of Samuel Pepys, the Imaginary Conversations of Walter Savage Landor, Cardinal Newman's Idea of a University, the essays of Leigh Hunt, Stevenson, Hazlitt... And of course the Elizabethan and Jacobean poets, Ben Jonson and all the others.

Around 1940 Helene Hanff moved to New York and became a writer, and for the following thirty years success was for her a Fata Morgana. She wrote plays (admired by some of Broadway's leading producers but which somehow never saw the light of day - wiki), history booklets for children (with so and so luck in publishing), TV scripts (till the TV producers moved to Hollywood), stories for various magazines, that kind of stuff. And meanwhile she was studying her beloved authors, living more and more intimately in the universe of British literature and dreaming more and more at London. A dream nurtured by the books she loved, and by the movies she was watching to immerse her eyes within the images of London streets and buildings. A dream impossible to fulfill for someone fighting each month to make ends meet.

By 1949 Helene found the address of an antiquarian in London selling the books of interest for her at a very reasonable price, and an intense correspondence followed between her and Frank Doel, the bookseller from London. A correspondence lasting twenty years. A very special friendship between two people with opposite temperaments, while sharing the same love for the same kind of books.

Frank Doel with his wife Nora, and daughters Mary and Sheila
photo made in early 1960's
no copyright infringement intended

They never met, and Frank Doel died unexpectedly in 1968. Helene Hanff made a book of their correspondence: 84 Charing Cross Road. A book that suddenly brought her fame. The success was immense, and it became kind of a cult book, with unconditional fans all over the place.Very soon the book was reprinted by a British publishing house, and Helene was then able to fulfill her dream of coming to London. For her, the British capital was the heart of her literary universe, and she found it there that heart. Helene kept a diary on her London trip, that became her next book, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. I didn't have the chance to read it, but I have read 84 Charing Cross Road: it's charming, it's fresh, it's smart, it's elegantly balanced, it's classic and it's modern, altogether.

And so the beginning of the 1970's brought Helene Hanff the long deserved literary success, that continued in the 1980's. 84 was made a television play, then a stage play, then in 1987 a movie (that I watched right now - it was aired today at TV). And she came back to London many times.

Izaak Walton's house and shop at 120 Chancery Lane
(where he lived 1627-1644)
source: George Walter Thornbury, Old and New London, 1872
no copyright infringement intended

In 1985 Helene Hanff wrote Q's Legacy, a memoir telling all her life. I read it very recently. I think the multitude of details makes it a difficult reading, if you haven't previously read 84 Charing Cross Road (and even this is not enough: if you haven't been to London, and more, if you are not familiar with the English literature). But, if you succeed to read Q's Legacy once, then you'll come back to it often, to browse the pages and to read at random, and it will be a fabulous lecture.

And now, that I read it once, I can say that Helene lived her entire life under a charm. She had bad times and she had good times, but everything was like in a dream. There was a unique real thing, the first book of Q she found sometime in the thirties at the public library in Philadelphia. Here is what she said in the last page of her memoir:

If I live to be very old, all my memories of the glory days will grow vague and confused, till I won't be certain any of it really happened. But the books will be there, on the shelves and in my head - the one enduring reality I can be certain of till the day I die. Of all the gifts in Q's legacy, the first still mattered most and would matter longest.

Helene Hanff passed away in 1997.

(Helene Hanff)


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pope Francis: A Home for All

The Pope amidst his flock - St.Peter's Square
Alessandro Di Meo/European Pressphoto Agency
source: NY Times
no copyright infringement intended

This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people...We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity  (Pope Francis).

Read the transcript of an extensive interview Pope Francis gave in August to La Civiltà Cattolica:


Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Thai mobile telecommunications company TrueMove has launched Giving, a three minute film telling the moving story of two families transformed by the spirit of giving without hope of return. A young boy caught stealing medicine for his sick mother is given a break by restaurateur with a heart for the poor, helped by his daughter. Thirty years later tragedy strikes and the daughter faces a 792,000 Baht ($25,000) hospital bill. Enter Dr. Prajak Arunthong.

video by Nx08"L
(shared on Facebook via Sorina Brb)

(Indian Cinema)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Jean Béraud: Au Bistro

Jean Béraud: Au Bistro
oil on canvas
private collection
no copyright infringement intended

(Jean Béraud)


Jean Béraud: Paris Kiosk

Jean Béraud: Paris Kiosk
date: 1880-1884
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
no copyright infringement intended

(Jean Béraud)


Labels: ,

Jean Béraud: Le Billard

Jean Béraud: Le Billard
oil on canvas
private collection
no copyright infringement intended

(Jean Béraud)


Jean Béraud

Self portrait
oil on canvas, c.1909
no copyright infringement intended

Jean Béraud (1849-1935) could be situated some place between Academic art and Impressionism. His paintings render Parisian scenes from La Belle Époque.

(The Moderns)


A. E. Stallings: Momentary

Sometimes a snake is just a snake: a beautiful, mysterious creation of Nature. Forget the demonic components of the Abrahamic tradition. And it is good to read this poem also in opposition with Emily Dickinson's A Narrow Fellow in the Grass (http://banjo52.blogspot.com/2013/05/when-snake-is-just-snake-emily.html).

I never glimpse her but she goes
Who had been basking in the sun,
Her links of chain mail one by one
Aglint with pewter, bronze and rose.

I never see her lying coiled
Atop the garden step, or under
A dark leaf, unless I blunder
And by some motion she is foiled.

Too late I notice as she passes
Zither of chromatic scale—
I only ever see her tail
Quicksilver into tall grasses.

I know her only by her flowing,
By her glamour disappearing
Into shadow as I’m nearing—
I only recognize her going.

(A. E. Stallings)