31 May 2012

Ducati Multistrada for sale

Well, I have finally got around to it!

I have bought a new bike (a KTM 690, about which I will give you a test report sometime soon) and my Ducati Multistrada 1000s is now up for sale. In case anyone is interested, here are the details.

It's a 2005 model that I bought with about 1500 kms on the clock 6 years ago from Ducati Paris, where it had been the boss's machine. It is the "S" model, with full Ohlins supension and stuff. I have made a few useful mods and some useless ones. Hand guards, Ducati Performance mirrors (these ones don't break at the base like the standard ones), a slightly higher screen for cruising and a rear mudguard are amongst the useful ones. Open clutch guard, gold anodised pressure plate and carbon lower fender are amongst the useless ones that may or may not add aesthetic appeal for you. On the perfomance side it has a 13 tooth pinion sprocket, Termignoni exhasts with the suitable card properly fitted by Ducati, and I have also scrapped the catalyser. It thus breaths better, sounds better, and accelarates more crisply. I have kept the catalyser if anyone wants it, as most of the other original parts. I also have the large side paniers (grey, not black, as they come from the Multistrada I had before this one) with their support and a tank bag, all being sold with the bike.

The machine has done 30,000 kms, has just been fully serviced and has a full service record with Ducati dealers. The cylinder heads were both changed at 20,000 kms for the ones with proper valve guide metal, the clutch has also been changed very recently (28,000 kms), as has the fuel tank (the old one had a defect and had started to leak. The tyres are almost new and are the excellent (amazing in the wet!) Michelin Road Pilot 3.

So no worries in sight and ready to go! One elderly owner, always stored on garage.
Price : 6,000 euros all in and can deliver (depends where though!)

You can contact me here : d.cobbold@orange.fr

Latest news (23/06) Its been sold for over a week now, so you're too late now !

28 May 2012

Language and thought

Been a while since I wrote much here, so I suppose this had better be interesting!

I certainly find the subject matter fascinating, and was very happy not to have thrown away an edition of Scientific American from February 2011 (goodness how this magazine has shrunk since I used to buy it more regularly some 40 or so years ago!). Happy, because in this edition there is a great article entitled "How Language Shapes Thought", by Lera Boroditsky, an associate professor of cognitive psychology at Stamford University. 

I hereby give full credit for virtually all the ideas exposed in my article to the above lady, and to Scientific American who published the article. Here is a link to her website :
and a list of publications by her can be found at the end of this article

It would appear that various theories about the interactions between thought processes and language have been thrown to and from between experts over the years. I know little of this inner fighting, but Boroditsky refers to it in her article, speaking of a theory known as the Sapir-Whorf theory that proposed, in the 1930's, that speakers of different languages may well think in different ways. This was contested through lack of evidence, but Boroditsky puts forward a whole set of examples and experiments in favour of this theory that, to me at least, are very convincing.

Benjamin Whorf

As a bilingual (English/French), I have often noticed that I think in slightly different ways according to the language to which I am currently tuned. For example, in my professional life, I am pretty much unable to describe a wine in exactly the same way when I switch from French to English. The "other" language is to some extent a barrier, but it also opens up new channels and throught processes. So I found that this article by Lera Boroditsky struck more than a bell with me (and one couldn't quite say that in French!).

Boroditsky starts off with a striking example. She asked a five-year old girl from an Australian aboriginal tribe to point to the north, which she did instantly and with precision. She has asked the same question of distinguished audiences in university lecture rooms around the world, asking them to close their eyes first (i-phones have compasses!). Invariably some refuse to answer, fearing ridicule. The others point in all directions. How is it that a five-year-old can achieve with ease a cognitive exercise that learned professors cannot manage? And she suggests that the answer may well lie, at least partially, in the realm of language.

The language of the aboriginal australian girl is called Kuuk Thayoore, and it uses cardinal points to identify the relative position of all places and objects. For example, if we were to say "you lay a table with the knife to the right of the plate", Kuuk Thayoore speakers would say, depending on which direction they were facing, "you lay a table with the knife north of the plate". Hence, if they were facing the opposite direction, they would say "you lay a table with the knife south of the plate".

It would appear that people who think differently about space also think differently about time. In another experiment, Kuuk Thayoore speakers were given card sets with images that showed temporal progressions, such as a man ageing (a boy, a teenager, an adult, an old man). They were asked to arrange these in the correct temporal order. They were tested twice, each time facing in different cardinal directions. English speakers were also tested, and they systematically placed the images in an order reading from left to right, whereas Hebrew speakers did just the opposite, equally systematically. The Kuuk Thayoore speakers would arrange the images from left to right if they themselves were facing north, but from right to left if they were facing south. If the aboriginals faced east, the images came towards them, and so on.

We think of the past as being behind us, and the future as lying ahead of us. In Aymara, a language spoken in part of the Andes, the past is said to lie ahead and the future behind. Lynden Miles, of the University if Aberdeen, found that English spekers unconsciously sway their bodies slightly forwards when they think of the future, and backwards when they evoke the past. In Aymara, the body language matches the manner of talking and Aymara speakers move in the opposite directions to us.

Language structures can facilitate or impede learning processes. Number words in some languages use a base-10 structure more completely than is the case in English, where we have strange teen words like 11 or 13. Mandarin, for instance, has no such tricky number words and hence children being taught in mandarin are able to learn the base-10 principle much faster.

Gender marking, which can vary greatly from one language to another, can also have considerable influence on learning curves and thought processes. Human relationships, more or less linked to families, are also influenced by language. We are familier with the importance of family in Chinese culture. If, for instance, you were to say "I have just seen a representation of Uncle Vanya on 42nd street" in Mandarin, you would have to specify whether the uncle in question is paternal, maternal, as well as whether he is related by blood or by mariage, since there are different words for all these relationships. In Russian, the verb would reveal one's gender. In Piraha, an Amazonian language, one could not say 42nd, since there are no words for precise numbers, just words for "few" and "many". And so on. Now tell me that language has no influence on thought!

For those of you interesting in other works by the Belarus-born Boroditsky, here is the list published by Wikipedia

  • Boroditsky, L. (2003), "Linguistic relativity", in Nadel, L., Encyclopedia of cognitive science, London: Macmillan, pp. 917–922
  • Boroditsky, L.; Schmidt, L.; Phillips, W. (2003), "Sex, syntax, and semantics", in editors, multiple, Language in mind: Advances in the study of language and thought, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 61–80
  • Boroditsky, L. & Ramscar, M. (2002). The roles of body and mind in abstract thought. Psychological Science, 13(2), 185–188.
  • Boroditsky, L. (2001). Does language shape thought? English and Mandarin speakers' conceptions of time. Cognitive Psychology, 43(1), 1–22.
  • Boroditsky, L. (2000). Metaphoric Structuring: Understanding time through spatial metaphors. Cognition, 75(1), 1–28.
  • 22 May 2012

    Coke on trial

    Supposed (I don't know for sure) Jamaican drug baron Christopher "Dudus" Coke goes on trail today in New York. Yes, Coke happens to be his real name. Just thought that this fairly useless peice of information was worth a couple of quick lines...

    Coke before...

    and during arrest

    21 May 2012

    John Fante and the Brotherhood of the Grape

    I have just finished reading John Fante's book called "The Brotherhood of the Grape". Auspicious title indeed for someone who works in the wine business! I had read a couple of Fante's books before, including Ask the Dust and Dreams from Bunker Hill. They seem/are strongly autobiographical, and are always powerfully emotional. The drink aspect that runs through many of these books may well have been a motivation for Bukowski's adoration of Fante, but that is not enough to make them as strong as they are. Anyway I have serious misgivings about Bukowski and no special admiration of people who drink themselves to death.

    John Fante

    Fante's work revolves a lot around his Italian peasant/craftsman descendance and the world that such personal history implied in western USA as from the thirties. He was born in 1909 and died (of diabetes) in 1983.The conflict-ridden, crazily passionate family relationships of Italian families are recurrent themes, as well as his immediate surroundings in and around LA. His writing is concise, strongly emotive and, to me, brilliantly visual. Not too surprising since he earned much of his living as a script-writer.

    This Italian family background with all its messy, hysterical and destructive aspects, and especially the conflictual father-son relationship, forms the whole theme of The Brotherhood of Grape. Fante manages to build this story into a deeply moving work in which full catharsis only comes through the death of the father (of guess what?: diabetes through too much booze). 

    Fante's writing is punchy and gloriously descriptive, and at times farcically funny. And his works are always short and powerful. Give them a try, and you won't regret the experience.

    Read on....
    Bibliography of John Fante (thanks to Wiki)

    8 May 2012

    The beauty of Northern Portugal

    I have recently returned from a 4 day trip to Northern Portugal, on a job tasting a lot of wines. This post will not talk much about wines. It is just to show the few pictures I was able to take, during a short break from almost constant rain that fell, not to mention the necessity for me to concentrate on the wines rather that shoot pictures.

    These photographs were taken on an i-phone, on a wet and windy day in and around a quinta (the word means "estate", or "farm") in the Vinho Verde producing region north of the Douro, in the province of Minho. The wines from this estate are almost as well made as the buildings are beautiful, although I took no notes on them during the lunch we had there, since we were all very hungry and only started eating at 4.30 pm!

    This place is called Louredo, and I find that it fully illustrates that strange and fascinating combination that exists in 18th century Portuguese architecture (at least this version) between a form of rural austerity and the baroque flamboyance that can be readily seen in most of the local ecclesiastical architecture.

    The blends and alternance between vine and other cultures, internal and external appearance (with the use of the courtyard as an intermediary), the occasional more elaborate decorative detail and the stripped white plainness of the wall space, soft and hard materials, all this is both harmonious and constantly exciting to look at. 

    For those of you interested in learning more or indeed in visiting Portugal, which has many more treasures to offer, including the fabulously spectacular landscapes of the Douro valley, the Alentejo and its cork forests, Lisbon and Oporto, and much much more, here is a link to the national tourist site :

    2 May 2012

    Original, “in the style of”, or copy: the dilemma of the artist’s studio system

    Damien Hirst (and some former assistants?)

    Until the advent of the romantically embellished figure of the poor, misunderstood and solitary artist, which can be broadly dated to the late 19th century, most painters or sculptors who had some kind of a career would manage a large studio (or studios) and fill it with a small army of apprentices and assistants. Maybe not as many as contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons, but probably on a par with Andy Warhol and his “Factory” in the 1960’s and 70’s in New York. The business of producing what we may think of today as “unique works of art” was very much about producing images that were desirable to the rich and famous who bought them, thereby generating instant desire for similar objects in the hearts and pockets of all those wanabees that flitted around the courts of the dukes and kings of the period. As with clothes, decoration and architecture, fashion in paintings and painters took its lead from the top social levels, and the most visible and powerful usually called the tune.

    Leda and the swan, by Leonardo da Vinci: but just how much of this did the man himself paint?

    This created a considerable market for works of art “in the style of” Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Rubens, Goya or whoever. And these artists, who enjoyed considerable success during their lives, did their very best to respond to that market opportunity by producing huge numbers of works: drawings, paintings or sculptures. Of course they were not able to produce all of them single-handed. They enlisted teams of assistants to help them. Some, like Rembrandt, delegated many of the works they signed under a complex contractual system. Others, like Leonardo or Goya, organized what could be likened to a production line in which the master reserved the key parts of the work for his own execution (composition, key figure, face of key figure, etc.) delegating most of the rest, or just the background, to assistants.

    Who is who and who did what?

    These methods of production were current practice at a time when apprenticeships were long. These apprenticeships, as well as subsequent employment as assistants, usually involved extended periods of slavishly copying the style, and even the works, of the master. This system was so widespread that it caused, in the following centuries, endless problems for museum curators and other experts in the attribution of works from these periods. To add to the difficulty, the “masters” very often signed everything that left their studios, whether they had personally laid their hands on the brush, pencil or chisel or not. For instance, the list of 5000 drawings attributed to Rembrandt by Fritz Lugt in 1933 was whittled down to 1300 by Otto Benesch in 1950, and has since been reduced further. In 1984, just 78 signed drawings were considered to be truly by the hand of Rembrandt by the twin expertise of Martin Royalton-Kish, of the British Museum, and Peter Schatborn from Amsterdam.

    Which, is any, of these "self"portraits were drawn or engraved by Rembrandt himself?

    Rembrandt would apparently sign any drawing produced in his style by an apprentice or assistant, if he considered it to be worthy and in his style. This was current practice at the time: the master got the money, and the apprentice/assistant gained experience and the possibility of adding “former assistant to x”, to his visiting card. The same process continued, to some extent, through the 19th century, although this is better documented in the case of artists such as Delacroix or Rodin. At the height of his glory in the Amsterdam of the mid-17th century, Rembrandt’s studio, like that of Rubens in Anvers, operated somewhat like a modern day art school, but with a single teacher. Rembrandt had around 50 students who paid him 100 florins each per year whilst producing works under his guidance. Some 2400 drawings have been catalogued as coming from this studio. Most of them were sold as such and some were signed by the man himself, even if he had not actually touched them otherwise. The conditions imposed on his pupils were radical: they had to remain silent about studio practices and secrets (including these production methods) for five years, during which, in addition, they were only authorized to imitate the master’s style. And this period remained valid even if they left the studio. The works they produced were commercialised at the time without any clear line being drawn between them and works from Rembrandt’s own hand. It was only a century or so later that a distinction began to emerge between drawings or paintings “from the studio of Rembrandt” or “in the style of Rembrandt” and true originals. These practices continue to cause headaches today for experts designated to authenticate works that come up for auction, or which, already in museums or other collections, have their attribution brought into question. Few experts ever agree on such subjects, such was the quality of the work of many pupils.

    But, in the end, does “authenticity” really matter that much. Of course, we have become so obsessed with money that the change in the market value of a work according to whether it is considered to be authentic or not is huge. But surely it’s aesthetic value has not changed. If the work was admired when considered to be by the hand of some master, does it become less beautiful because it is discovered to have been painted by some anonymous student (or team of students)? In a sense, I would say that the removal of a well-known name from the plaque beside a painting in a museum actually liberates one’s own aesthetic judgment of that work. Many people who visit museums and exhibitions seem to be so obsessed with the name of the artist on the plaque that they barely even look at the work itself as they pass by in their constant, tramping flow, before ticking their little mental box of “seen the Cézanne show” (or whatever). Seeing a work by someone who is anonymous, whose name has not been preceeded by endless laudatory prose and a mountain of postcards, certainly lifts the burden of pre-judgement.