31 Jan 2012

Bach with gym

What do you do while in the gym? That is apart for the more or less strenuous efforts you are making to try and keep your body in shape. I mean gym is really boring, isn't it? And who wants to listen to the mindless pseudo disco crap that some places pump at you whether you want it or not?

So I go the the gym most days with a set of headphones and an i-pod and listen to radio  programmes or, mostly, to music. These are moments in the week when I can catch up with these pleasures, and doing so while pulling on ropes, pulleys, bars and weights makes me feel that I am using that time even better.

There are days when it is jazz, others when it is blues, others when I need a shot of rock to get me moving, days when I need the sound of a female voice, and so on. I had not, until recently tried classical music very much. But, the other day, I happened to press the button on a Glenn Gould recording of Bach's Toccatas and the English Suite number 4. And I now think I have found the perfect match for gym!

There is something about Bach's solo intrumental music, and its variations around themes, which makes it just right for the repetitious movements that one does on those machines in the gym. There is a relentlessness, a to and fro, a light and dark, a circling around the core of the effort that just makes it work. And the music is also incredibly solitary, just like you there trying to force your body to do stuff that it doesn't really want to, but somehow finding joy in the release once it gets into the stride. The effort of getting into Bach is very similar. The music, as played on the piano by Gould, is at first austere, then  it gradually opens up infinite horizons and feelings. The same goes for your gym sessions, I am sure. Repetition is all, but every detail makes a difference.

If you cannot stand gym, try it with some Bach. if you cannot stand Bach (hard to believe but possible), try him with some gym. If that doesn't work, try something else. Meanwhile here is a gift...

29 Jan 2012

Julian Barnes: The Sense of an Ending

I have only read a couple of Julian Barnes' books to date, both of them containing short stories or essays, but I have just finished his brilliant novel entitled The Sense of an Ending, which won the 2011 Man Booker prize, and I must say I was very impressed and am now impatient to read some more of his work.

This is a very short novel which comprises barely 150 pages in the above edition from Jonathan Cape. But we are not about to confuse quantity with quality, are we?

Barnes' writing is perfectly matched to the suject: a gradually unfolding introspection on memory, the construction of self with its illusions and deceits, and the way life (even an apparently banal one) holds surprises in some of its nooks and crannies hidden by the filters that selective memory places between present and past. He writes with an apparent honesty in the first person, making us feel that he is the main character whilst keeping the necessary distance through this character's own constant self-depreciation. The style is pure and subtle, allowing irony to mix constantly into feelings that are subdued yet latent. Barnes' acute observation of human behaviour and memories of his own experience become indistinguishable: the raw material constantly shifting, allowing events to take unexpected turns and his characters come under different lights as they do so.

I know that most book reviews usually begin by resuming the story of the work in question. I am not interested in doing this as I find it either tiresome or unnecessary. I rarely buy a book on account of a of its story, and why spoil the reader's pleasure in discovering this anyway? Better to concentrate on the formal aspects that make the thing work or not, the style of the writing,  the interest raised by the characters, and the emotions or thoughts that the work manages to induce in the reader (ie me). Books covers tend to give the résumé of the story anyway, but I always find this quite unsatisfactory.

Barnes divides this book into two parts: the first one dealing with the main character's life as a schoolboy and an undergraduate; the second with a section of his life shortly after retirement. Some 40 years separate the two periods therefore. And, as I said, the book is largely about memory, the construction of memory, its deficiencies and the ambiguities that these can produce as life takes its course. Barnes is acutely observant of the mores of those who grew up in the 1950's and 1960's in Britain and went to university. This is also his background (and was, to an extent, also mine). But we are not involved in autobiography here. His characters are what he wants them to be for the story. The rest forms the background, which he knows well enough to use it to its full.

The apparent frankness of the questioning that arises in the dialogues and the main character's recital of events are sometimes an illusion, hiding things that will only be revealed at the end. So the ambiguity of peoples' construction of their persona and their vision of those around them is shown for what it is : self-delusion and a form of protectionism that can only lead to misunderstanding, even if it does protect, momentarily, a small pool of tranquility.

Barnes is a master of this thin line between confort and acute pain. The Sense of an Ending is both refined and without pity.

Read on...

26 Jan 2012

More creative motorcycle riding

Almost a year ago I published an article, naturally with some pictures incorporated, about unusual ways of riding motorcycles. I called it creative motorcycle riding (click on the link to see it).

I have since come across a few other eccentric ways of practising the fine art of motorcycle riding and thought that I would share these with you.

I always thought that a hog rider meant someone on a large Harley-Davidson. The above picture gives me a new perspective.

I hope that nobody will accuse me of being "racist" if I say that, in all probability, this shot could only come from the USA. Apart from hoping that the guy loses a lot of weight soon, one has to sympathise with the monkey bike.

Australians are also pretty creative when it comes to 2-wheeled transport and its uses. Above is what they get up to in "the bush". Below is the urban mode when the barbecue needs moving from one place to another. Nice to see that he is wearing a helmet.

As to moving spare parts around on 2 wheels, here are a couple of interesting efforts.

I suppose the above picture would be construed as an attempt to adapt a bike to four-wheel drive. Or maybe he is a candidate for the Michelin man of the year?

In South-East Asia, moving food around is often the role of bikes as much as of 4-wheeled vehicules. In this case I just hope that the ride was not too long and the road very smooth. Imagine doing this on a firmly suspended sports bike?

Moving the family around can also be a problem....

Back in the west, people are not so much into basic necessities (maybe that is a point of view), so they tend to try the totally useless and silly...

And then wonder why they are prevented from pushing further in this direction. Quite obviously, the girl should have been wearing a helmet. How forgetful!

22 Jan 2012

Sexism and advertising

Some women complain that they are being used as objects in contemporary advertising. Maybe so. But then so are men, and in exactly the same ways these days. I don't really have a lot to say to defend advertising but it exists and does not actually harm anyone as far as I can make out. It also enables most newspapers and magazines to exist. If the "women's lib" extremists think that things are bad, maybe they should take a peep at some of these gems (?) from the 1950's and the US of A. I doubt whether any of them would be printable today. Who said that things were better in the good old days....?

12 Jan 2012

The Postmistress, a good read

I read this novel a month or two ago and enjoyed it. I have been wondering what to say about it since. It is definitely what I would call  "a good read", and I can recommend it to anyone taking a long train or plane journey. 

The book is well written and parts of it interested and/or moved me. Yet I also felt at times that some of the situations were too contrived to be credible, and also that some of the characters were not sufficiently developed to fill out the space that is alloted to them in the book.

I won't tell the story as I hate being told the stories of books before reading them. Suffice it to say that there are three main female characters whose lives manage to intertwine during the Second World War, with their stories being told alternatively from London, other parts of Europe, and a small seaside town on the north-eastern coast of the USA.

It has to do with small-town mentalities, American anbiguities about entering the war, life in a city under bombardment (London in the blitz), the Jewish tragedy, radio programmes (the famous Ed Murrow, the man who signed off with "good night, and good luck" is a minor character in the book and the boss of one of the main characters), love, loneliness and despair.

At times the book is powerful and hits just the right spots. At other it manages to seem a bit too neat and predictable. Almost very good, but not quite. Try it and see.

Read on....

11 Jan 2012

More news from the Paris metro

Following huge popular demand, I have a few more of Janol Apin's visual pun shots taken at various stations in the Paris metro...

White House (what else?)

This is a bit harder to translate. "Mon sceau" means literally "my bucket".


no comment needed I think

you know what a duplex is


there are no Paris metro stations called Fraternité or Egalité


no comment needed


just add a "k"

And a reminder of the source, which also happens to sell prints of these photos:

10 Jan 2012

Word plays in the Paris Metro

Playing on words, or punning, is almost untranslatable from one language to another, but visuals can help, at least when the words have the same signification in different languages. Here are a few visual puns on the names of some of the Paris metro stations.
Janol Apin set up these shots and there is a link below if you want to see more. A friend just sent them to me. French speakers will be in a better position to fully understand some of them, but I have added the occasional footnote to help the rest of you....

Gare du Nord is the metro that connects to the railway station whose lines lead to the north. We are in the Northern hemisphere.

You should manage the one above...

Ecole Militaire means Military School. This was founded by Louis XV in 1750 and looks like this above ground....no, the metro was not built by Louis XV. The tall bit in the middle is the top of the Eiffel tower, all of which lies about a mile behind.

Vincennes, on the eastern perimeter of Paris, is known for its horse-racing track.

I like this one. Pompe can mean a pump, but its other meaning is what you do before and during rugby training sessions, sometimes as punishment from the coach when you have dropped the ball. Do 20 if you haven't got it yet!

Alésia was the battle at which the Gaulois, under their chief Vercingetorix, were defeated by Ceasar. The Gaulois erected stone monuments called menhirs. Strange that they don't have a metro station called Crecy, or Azincourt, or Trafalgar, or Waterloo. Maybe I should suggest this to the authorities? Then again, maybe I shouldn't.


a "boulet" is a cannonball

8 Jan 2012

Photographs by Mario Giacomelli

Mario Giacomelli was an Italian photographer, painter and poet. He was born in 1925 and died in 2000. Anyone interested in more details about him can go to his official web site or to the Wikipedia biography. A few months ago I bought a book about him and his (black & white) photographic work and, looking at it from time to time, have been increasingly impressed with its formal beauty and its poetry.

He worked a lot with the landscapes of his native Italy, using high degrees of contrast and making these alternately look like fabric draped over a structure, and or else like an abstract and highly graphic composition.

Giacomelli also photographed people, usually, it seems, working in series and exploring a theme, like this astonishing one on priests and seminarists at play.

There seems to be a timeless and poetic side to the movement and superpositions the photographs manage to capture, and his framing enhances this...

And Giacomelli also appears to have immense tenderness for his sujects, who are definitely not the rich and famous of this world...

If you are interested, here are the references of the book:

Mario Giacomelli / The Black is waiting for the White (good title!)
edited by Alessandro Mauro, Contrasto
textes by various authors such as Christian Caujolle, Roberta Valtorta, Paolo Morello etc.