Children Playing On The Beach At Guernsey

Guernsey is one of the UK’s Channel Islands, sitting there out in the ocean on the way to France.  Here it is seen from the air:

And that’s Renoir’s “Children On The Beach At Guernsey,” which you can see bigger here or here:

(That’s the Barnes Foundation in Philly).  But wait, here also is another picture of that same name?

With less prominent children?  What is Renoir up to?  Forgetting how to draw kids, looks like.  That second one’s in a private collection.

In 1883, Renoir spent the summer in Guernsey, creating fifteen paintings in little over a month. Most of these feature Moulin Huet, a bay in Saint Martin’s, Guernsey. Guernsey is one of the Channel Islands in the English Channel, and it has a varied landscape that includes beaches, cliffs and bays. These paintings were the subject of a set of commemorative postage stamps issued by the Bailiwick of Guernsey in 1983.

“small as a whorehouse beer”

from the Paris Review interview with James M. Cain:


Were there other signs [that you were going to be a writer]?


Well, when I went to Baltimore to work for the gas company, the first of the meaningless jobs I held when I was just out of college, I kept going down to this whorehouse on Saturday nights. I never did go upstairs, though twice I wanted to. One night I met this girl who was awful pretty, and she had pretty legs. I badly wanted to go upstairs with her, but I was afraid because of the disease which I imagined she had. (In Paris during the war I bumped into a girl, and I was horribly lonely, didn’t particularly crave her physically, but she approached me, and asked me to spend the night, and I’m glad I didn’t because I think she would have had my wallet with everything else.) But during this six months I worked for the gas company, I kept going down to that area around Josephine Street. At one of these places you could buy a bottle of beer for fifty cents. “Small as a whorehouse beer” was an expression then. They’d serve them up in glasses so small that thimbles were twice as big. For that fifty cents you were welcome to do anything, downstairs—get along with the girls, stick around—I was just eighteen years old. I listened a lot downstairs. Upstairs was another matter. I was a potential customer, of course. I guess the things you didn’t do . . .

It seems like there’s more to the story, but the interview moves on.  Later Cain claims that Alice In Wonderland is the greatest novel in the English language.


Cain on Chandler’s The Big Sleep:

That book about a bald, old man with two nympho daughters. That’s all right. I kept reading. Then it turned out the old man raises orchids. That’s too good.

The Field of Blackbirds

Larry McMurtry in Hollywood: A Third Memoir describes Peter Bogdanovich at the 1972 Oscars:

he sat in his tux looking like a Serbian martyr – the only survivor of the Field of Blackbirds, perhaps.

The Field of Blackbirds refers to the Battle of Kosovo of 1389, which was indeed a bad time for everyone involved.  The Prince of Serbia at the time was Lazar Hrebeljanović.  Here he is with wife Milicia:

The Ottoman Empire, meanwhile, was led by Mulad I:

The Ottomans decided to invade Serbia, and the two armies met on the Field of Blackbirds:

Wikipedia describes the grim scene:

The bulk of both armies were wiped out in the battle.

Both Mulad and Lazar were killed.

The Ottomans conquered Serbia, and Milicia had to send her youngest daughter Olivera to the harem of the new Ottoman Sultan, Mulad’s son, Bayezid I.

Before the battle Prince Lazar issued the “Kosovo Curse”:

Whoever is a Serb and of Serb birth,

And of Serb blood and heritage,

And comes not to the Battle of Kosovo,

May he never have the progeny his heart desires,

Neither son nor daughter!

May nothing grow that his hand sows,

Neither red wine nor white wheat!

And let him be cursed from all ages to all ages!

Today it’s inscribed on a pillar at the battlefield:

Peter Bogdanovich:

Photo of Greenland

From this NY Times slideshow, credited to Andrew Testa:

Marc Isambard Brunel

Marc Isambard Brunel was Isambard Kingdom’s father.  He was born in France and served as a naval cadet, during which service he built a quadrant for himself.

During his stay in Rouen, Brunel had met Sophia Kingdom, a young Englishwoman who was an orphan and was working as a governess. Unfortunately he was forced to leave her behind when he fled to Le Havre [because of the French Revolution] and boarded the American ship Liberty, bound for New York…

…Sophia Kingdom remained in Rouen and during the Reign of Terror, she was arrested as an English spy and daily expected to be executed.

Meanwhile, in New York, Marc was sick with worry:

In 1798, during a dinner conversation, Brunel learnt of the difficulties that the Royal Navy had in obtaining the 100,000 pulley blocks that it required each year to fit out its ships. Each of these was being made by hand. Brunel quickly produced an outline design of a machine that would automate the production of pulley blocks. He decided to sail to England and put his invention before the Admiralty. He sailed for England on 7 February 1799 with a letter of introduction to the Navy Minister

Back in London, Marc was joyfully reunited with the now-freed Sophia.  They had a son, Isambard Kingdom.   Marc went to work on an idea for a tunnel under the Thames.

Marc’s helper in this project was 18 year old Isambard.

I’m stealing all this from Marc’s wikipedia page, which in turn seems to be stolen from a book called The Greater Genius? by one Harold Bagust.  Q: is that the perfect name for the biography of a father?

A good way to remember the Brunels is the lyrics of Irish traditional song “The Humours of Whiskey,” found here.

Come guess me this riddle, what beats pipe and fiddle,

What’s hotter than mustard and milder than cream?

What best wets your whistle, what’s clearer than crystal,

What’s sweeter than honey and stronger than steam?

What’ll make the lame walk, what’ll make the dumb talk,

What’s the elixir of life and philosopher’s stone?

And what helped Mr. Brunel to dig the Thames Tunnel?

Wasn’t it whiskey from old Inishowen?


Glad to learn this word.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

In 1843, while performing a conjuring trick for the amusement of his children, Brunel accidentally inhaled a half-sovereign coin, which became lodged in his windpipe. A special pair of forceps failed to remove it, as did a machine devised by Brunel to shake it loose. At the suggestion of his father, Brunel was strapped to a board and turned upside-down, and the coin was jerked free.

Everybody do your LSD* today

* long slow distance.  Picture of Steve Prefontaine from this tribute page.

More Robert Lowell, by popular request

The old South Boston Aquarium stands

in a Sahara of snow now.

Its broken windows are boarded.

The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.

The airy tanks are dry.

Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;

my hand tingled

to burst the bubbles

drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.

My hand draws back.

I often sigh still for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom

of the fish and reptile.

The Old South Boston Aquarium:

A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders

braces the tingling Statehouse,

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw

and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry

on St. Gaudens’ shaking Civil War relief,

propped by a plank splint against the garage’s earthquake.

Two months after marching through Boston,

half the regiment was dead; at the dedication,

William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

Their monument sticks like a fishbone

in the city’s throat.

Its Colonel is as lean as a compass-needle.

He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,

a greyhound’s gentle tautness;

he seems to wince at pleasure,

and suffocate for privacy.

Good story from Robert Lowell


I met Ford [Maddox Ford] at a cocktail party in Boston and went to dinner with him at the Athens Olympia. He was going to visit the [Allen] Tates, and said, “Come and see me down there, we’re all going to Tennessee.” So I drove down. He hadn’t arrived, so I got to know the Tates quite well before his appearance.


Staying in a pup tent.


It’s a terrible piece of youthful callousness. They had one Negro woman who came in and helped, but Mrs. Tate was doing all the housekeeping. She had three guests and her own family, and was doing the cooking and writing a novel. And this young man arrived, quite ardent and eccentric. I think I suggested that maybe I’d stay with them. And they said, “We really haven’t any room, you’d have to pitch a tent on the lawn.” So I went to Sears, Roebuck and got a tent and rigged it on their lawn. The Tates were too polite to tell me that what they’d said had been just a figure of speech. I stayed two months in my tent and ate with the Tates.

(That’s a Colemans pup tent.  Here’s a photo of the Athens Olympia restaurant, now closed, from the MIT Libraries flickr.)

This is all from Robert Lowell’s Paris Review interview, which ends with this:


Don’t you think a large part of it is getting the right details, symbolic or not, around which to wind the poem tight and tighter?


Some bit of scenery or something you’ve felt. Almost the whole problem of writing poetry is to bring it back to what you really feel, and that takes an awful lot of maneuvering. You may feel the doorknob more strongly than some big personal event, and the doorknob will open into something that you can use as your own. A lot of poetry seems to me very good in the tradition but just doesn’t move me very much because it doesn’t have personal vibrance to it. I probably exaggerate the value of it, but it’s precious to me. Some little image, some detail you’ve noticed—you’re writing about a little country shop, just describing it, and your poem ends up with an existentialist account of your experience. But it’s the shop that started it off. You didn’t know why it meant a lot to you. Often images and often the sense of the beginning and end of a poem are all you have—some journey to be gone through between those things; you know that, but you don’t know the details. And that’s marvelous; then you feel the poem will come out. It’s a terrible struggle, because what you really feel hasn’t got the form, it’s not what you can put down in a poem. And the poem you’re equipped to write concerns nothing that you care very much about or have much to say on. Then the great moment comes when there’s enough resolution of your technical equipment, your way of constructing things, and what you can make a poem out of, to hit something you really want to say. You may not know you have it to say.

Taco Bell ad inserted into this book?

“Mark Owen” has just returned to Virginia Beach after the Osama raid:

On my way home, I spotted the neon drive-through sign at the Taco Bell.  I always stopped for a south of the border fix on my way home from a deployment, usually in Germany.  I had made this stop several times over the years. Pulling into the line, I ordered two crispy tacos, a bean burrito, and a medium Pepsi.

At the window, a high school kid handed me my food and drink.  I pulled forward into the parking lot and took out a taco.  I spread the paper in my lap and drizzled some fire sauce over the cold, crisp lettuce and ate.

Sean Connery

on “believability”:

PLAYBOY: This brings up a point raised by many of Fleming’s critics:  While conceding that Bond’s adventures are entertaining, they denounce him as a caricature of sex appeal, and his erotic exploits as impossibly farfetched. Do you feel that’s valid?

CONNERY: No, I don’t. The main concern for an actor or a writer is not believability but the removal of time, as I see it. Because I really think the only occasions you really are enjoying yourself, being happy, swinging, as they say, are when you don’t know what time it is–when you’re totally absorbed in a play, a film or a party and you don’t know what time it is or how long it has been going on; then you’ll usually find there is contentment and happiness. When an artist can suspend time like that for an audience, he has succeeded. It doesn’t really matter, I think, whether it is “believable” or not. The believability comes afterward; or it doesn’t. If you want to question it afterward, that’s up to you. But the writer’s and the actor’s job is to remove time–while you’re still in the book or the theater. That’s exactly what Fleming achieved for millions of readers; and that’s what I’ve tried to achieve in the Bond films.

on Ian Fleming:

CONNERY: He had great energy and curiosity and he was a marvelous man to talk to and have a drink with because of the many wide interests he had. What made him a success and caused all the controversy was that his writing was such good journalism. He always contrived extraordinary situations and arranged extravagant meetings for his characters, and he always knew his facts. He was always madly accurate, and this derived from his curiosity. When he was discussing anything, like how a truck worked or a machine or a permutation at bridge, there was a brain at work and an enormous amount of research involved; it wasn’t just a lot of drivel he was talking. That’s what I admired most about him–his energy and his curiosity.

possibly Romney-esque in politics?:

CONNERY: … This sort of motivation is the great thing that’s lacking in present-day society. Everything is so smooth-running, so attainable, that one is deprived of initiative, lured into a false sense of security. In the days before the War, with high unemployment, many people simply put in an appearance every morning at the factory although they knew there was no chance of work. Sheeplike, they felt they just had to go. Today everything’s handed to them on a platter:  They know they can get work and enough food, and socialized medicine has taken the worry out of being ill. If there is a malnutrition of any kind in this country–and I think there is–it’s self-inflicted. The only competition you’ll find today is the conflict between those few who try to correct a wrong, and the majority who hope it will just cure itself in the end.

a controversial view:

PLAYBOY: How do you feel about roughing up a woman, as Bond sometimes has to do?

CONNERY: I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman–although I don’t recommend doing it in the same way that you’d hit a man. An openhanded slap is justified–if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning. If a woman is a bitch, or hysterical, or bloody-minded continually, then I’d do it. I think a man has to be slightly advanced, ahead of the woman. I really do–by virtue of the way a man is built, if nothing else. But I wouldn’t call myself sadistic. I think one of the appeals that Bond has for women, however, is that he is decisive, cruel even. By their nature women aren’t decisive–“Shall I wear this? Shall I wear that?”–and along comes a man who is absolutely sure of everything and he’s a godsend. And, of course, Bond is never in love with a girl and that helps. He always does what he wants, and women like that. It explains why so many women are crazy about men who don’t give a rap for them.

a recipe:

CONNERY: Well, for three or four people with some left over, I take a pound of the best beef and do it in olive oil and garlic for half an hour in a pot with a lid on it, so that all the juice is drained away from it, and while that’s going on I finely chop onions and carrots and have fresh tomatoes and tinned tomatoes all ready. Then I fry the carrots and the onions in butter, and once the steak has been cooking for about half an hour in the pot, I take it out and dice it up into squares–one- or two-inch squares–and then roll it in flour, salt, pepper and seasoning, and line the bottom of the bowl or stone dish. Then I cover all the meat with the onions and the carrots and the tomato–fresh and tinned–and the oil that’s left over in the juice that’s been taken from the meat I pour over the top. I then add a tube of Italian tomato purèe, and top it all off with either good stock or boiled water, and bake it in the oven for three hours and medium heat. It’s superb.

All these are from an interview in the Nov. 1965 issue of Playboy.

Next time I’m in Pittsford, Vermont…

I’m going to visit the New England Maple Museum:

ht Chestnut Hill office.

Scene from “Seven Samurai” (1954)

The main characters in Helen DeWitt’s excellent novel The Last Samurai are deeply emotionally invested in the Arika Kurosawa movie Seven Samurai.

Here is a scene from the movie they often reference:

The Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York City

Is an under-visited place.  Pittsburgh Office told us about it awhile ago

H.P. Lovecraft referred to the “strange and disturbing paintings of Nicholas Roerich” in his Antarctic horror story At the Mountains of Madness.

Jeff Bezos citing Warren Buffett

From this old Fast Company article (worth reading).  Bezos is talking about getting investors who understand Amazon is playing a long-term strategy.  But of course it goes beyond:

“With respect to investors, there’s a great Warren Buffettism,” he says. “You can hold a rock concert and that can be successful, and you can hold a ballet and that can be successful, but don’t hold a rock concert and advertise it as a ballet.”

Some Paintings Mentioned in “The Last Samurai” by Helen DeWitt

Highly recommended, this book has no connection at all to the Tom Cruise film of the same name.  It’s 1000x better.  It’s about a child genius in London. A painting the child sees in the book:

Odysseus Deriding Polyphemus, by J. M. Turner, 1829:

Wikipedia on Turner:

He died in the house of his mistress Sophia Caroline Booth in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea on 19 December 1851. He is said to have uttered the last words “The sun is God” before expiring.

More to come??

(found the image here).

Someday My Prince Will Come

Recently we were invited by a correspondent to test-listen to some new speakers.  It had been a long time since “listening to music” was the whole activity we were doing.  Among other things we tried out this Miles Davis album, recorded March 7, 20, 21st of 1961.

During the next session, while Miles was about to wrap up “Someday My Prince Will Come,” John Coltrane suddenly appeared in the studio between two sets at the Apollo Theater where he was performing.

So says, which continues (demonstrating why reading about jazz is associated with being a huge douche-out):

In two choruses,Coltrane conveyed the quintessence of his art. The next day he returned bringing, forthe last time, the intensity of his flame to the music of Miles, who in “Teo,” took advantage of his presence to extend the modal explorations of “Flamenco Sketches” even further.

Anyway.  The following anecdote was once reported in The Guardian:

In 1987, [Davis] was invited to a White House dinner by Ronald Reagan. Few of the guests appeared to know who he was. During dinner, Nancy Reagan turned to him and asked what he’d done with his life to merit an invitation. Straight-faced, Davis replied: “Well, I’ve changed the course of music five or six times. What have you done except fuck the president?”

Snopes however tells us it wasn’t so, and quotes Davis’ own autobiography, where he wrote:

Reagan was nice to us, respectful and everything.  But Nancy is the one who has the charm between those two.  She seemed like a warm person. She greeted me warmly and I kissed her hand.  She liked that.

Too bad.

What a great album cover.  That’s Miles’ then-wife Frances.  According to a message board we came across, she was working as a hostess at Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset Blvd. as of 2004.

She’s still beautiful and has the body of a dancer. Totally charming woman… She seemed totally open about who she is and her past with Miles and would probably be happy to chat with anyone about it should they stop by the restaurant.

Hamburger Hamlet is now closed.

Lionel Pries

Reading up on some Disney animators and writers.

Ken Anderson, one of the credited screenwriters for The Rescuers, Aristocats, The Jungle Book, and Cinderella, was (wikipedia tells me) “particularly influenced” by his University of Washington architecture professor, Lionel Pries.

Lionel Pries designed the Andalucia building in Santa Barbara:

Here’s a house he designed for himself:

“He used affordable modern materials — concrete, concrete block and cement-asbestos board.”

Here’s another house Pries designed, in the Laurelhurst neighborhood of Seattle:


Pries was gay, but deeply closeted in the University of Washington community. He anticipated teaching at least until he reached retirement age, but was forced to resign his university position in 1958 after he was picked up in a vice sting in Los Angeles. The reason for Pries’s abrupt departure from the university was concealed at the time.

Pries worked as a drafter until he was able to retire in 1964, then lived quietly until his death in 1968.

Lionel Pries:

(Pries photo is credited to Dorothy Conway and the Pries Collection, Special Collection, UW Libraries, Pries house photo to Charles R. Pierson from the same collection, Laurelhurst house photo “courtesy Max and Helen Gurvitch, and I got them all from this Seattle Times article by Laurence Kriesman.)

Headshot of an opera star I discovered on an Internet ramble which will now haunt my dreams.

“Hello.  I want to be near you.  Forever.”