Sunday, 29 November 2009

should we order snipe again or grouse?

Saturday, 28 November 2009


Friday, 27 November 2009

An article in today's Monde about the negative side effects of wind turbines - those who live near them complain of the noise and the disorienting effect of having constant movement in their field of vision. There are complaints of anxiety, high tension and depression, and anecdotes of people who live with their blinds closed or have been forced to sell their homes (often at a loss because the presence of a wind turbine in the vicinity has reduced its value). Well, welcome to city life! I don't wish to come down too hard on the country mice but half the population of the world lives with these inconveniences on a daily basis. Given that rural living tends to have a higher carbon footprint than urban living it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect the country folk to do their part in shifting to a more environmentally responsible future. And doing your part means accepting a certain level of discomfort. Another article, this time in this week's Economist, has the president of the Maldives reacting to the rising level of the world's oceans by evoking the possibility of buying land in order to evacuate his population and restart the nation elsewhere. Town or country or island state, the same wind, the same rising sea surrounds us.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

head cold




can feel my heart,
the muscle, pump

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Is there a way to use all the light and heat and noise that we produce as by-products of other activities? Of course we should above all aim to reduce our energy use but there will always be a certain excess. Take light: there are many buildings that need to stay lit all night - hospitals, factories, car parks, hotels, prisons. Is there a way to capture this light and put it to use. Given that the world is soon to face a food shortage - 80% of arable land is already in use and the world population is set to increase to 9 billion by 2050 - would it be possible to incorporate greenhouses into well lit buildings? The light given off by artificial lights is weaker than direct sunlight but perhaps it could function as a top up light source for plants? In some of the cases mentioned above - hospitals and prisons for instance - plants would have a therapeutic benefit as well as providing nourishment for the people who live and work there. In others the plants would have to be transported elsewhere for processing and consumption but any activity that uses light can't be that far from a population that needs feeding so there would be limited transport costs involved. People like Dickson Despommier in the US and Plantagon in Sweden have developed prototypes for multistorey urban greenhouses that would occupy entire city blocks and produce food where it is needed - for the first time ever more than half the world's population lives in cities and that figure is set to grow - but until food gets so expensive that farming is more lucrative than real estate I can't see this idea getting off the ground (pardon the pun). As things stand the owner of a plot of land will make more money by building flats or offices on it than by building a greenhouse. But maybe if you could persuade a property developer to include some plant growing activity - perhaps through a system of government subsidies - in his or her plans we could at least see if the idea has legs.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


Monday, 23 November 2009

"Vraiment, le peu de morale que je sais, je l'ai appris sur les terrains de football et les scènes de théâtre, qui resteront mes vraies universités."
Albert Camus

Sunday, 22 November 2009


Saturday, 21 November 2009

So it seems Nicolas Sarkozy does understand the notion of separation of powers after all. Pressed to intervene in the France-Ireland affair his reaction was to point out that "I am not the referee"; pity he couldn't come to the same realization before appointing the prosecutor who would preside over the Clearstream libel case in which he himself was a plaintiff. FIFA have predictably refused Ireland's request to replay the game pointing to the law which states that the referee's decision is final. But this was never about the referee anyway. Referees make mistakes but unless one can prove they were doing so deliberately that's the end of the story. This is a story about Thierry Henry and about honesty in sport. It seems inconceivable that Henry didn't know what he was doing when he handled the ball - after all he touched it not once but twice - so the question is how to react to an incident of cheating. It is never likely to happen but wouldn't the appropriate reaction be for Raymond Domenech to drop Henry from his World Cup squad? This would be a severe punishment and so far as I know without precedent but would at least allow the rest of the French team, who are guilty of nothing more than turning in a series of lacklustre performances, to compete in the World Cup with a semblance of dignity. And who knows they might even, as was the case for Arsenal, play better without their ageing captain?

Friday, 20 November 2009

"The more impoverished his own life, the stronger is his faith in the mysterious, inaccessible center, in - if one may put it this way - the absolute of the city. Tourists traveling to the great capitals naively pursue this elusive spirit in nightspots and suspicious neighborhoods. Part of the myth is the feeling that the daytime, the surface city, is not it, that somewhere beneath the cover of the quotidian, the real city exists, boisterous and crazy, about which the local inhabitant who prowls the streets can provide information and reveal it to others. The den of the city is created from inflated fantasies about people who disappear from view, about their hoarded goods, their battles, their successes and failures. In just the same way, hunters, never able to come upon the bones of animals who have died from natural causes, create a legend about an animal cemetery concealed in the heart of the wilderness, where elephants, lions and bears go when they sense their imminent death. People always mythologize the absent, it seems."
Czeslaw Milosz, The Legend of the Monster City

A couple of streets away work has restarted on a Center for Documentary Film and Photography
, the brainchild of the photographer, film-maker and photojournalist, Raymond Depardon. Construction was halted for almost a year owing to the discovery of a thirty square meter void underneath the building which will house the new center. In a previous life this building was home to the largest betting shop in France and before that it was the site of Chez Isis, a legendary 1920s brothel. In the 19th Century this street was a notorious hangout for criminals of all kinds. In this thirty foot hole we have a real example of Milosz's mythologized absence, an actual site in which to place our urban fantasies. (The fact that these fantasies are forced to exist in the past only adds to their mythic potential; the real Paris was that of 1968 or the 20s or the 1890s or the Paris of Balzac, just as the real New York was that of the punk rock 70s or the hard-drinking New York of Pollock, O'Hara and Dylan Thomas. You should have been here yesterday.) How fitting that this endlessly evocative empty space, a space about whose past and original purpose we can know nothing but hence can imagine everything should now house a center for documentary images, a means to record, to bring things to the light.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

A sleepless night last night as Paris' sizeable Algerian population celebrated their country's qualification for the 2010 World Cup (their first since 1986) and victory over their arch rivals, Egypt, by driving around and blowing their horns until dawn. Made me all nostalgic for the much-maligned England fans who at least have the good grace to collapse in a drunken stupor around midnight. There may have been a few French fans tooting as well as France also qualified last night but the circumstances of their victory over Ireland left little to be proud of. A team of France's calibre should never have been in the play-offs in the first place, they were outplayed for much of the match and their winning goal came after a flagrant handball from their captain and former Arsenal legend, Thierry Henry. It appears that neither the referee nor his assistants saw the handball but as the commentators on French television pointed out Henry could have admitted to what he had done. I got the impression from the post match commentary that the French were rather ashamed of what had happened. The various pundits watching the match spoke of little but the Henry incident and former World Cup winner Bixente Lizarazu couldn't even bring a smile to his face when asked for his reaction. So a shame-faced qualification for France who, like Milton's Satan, carry hell within them in the form of their atrocious (and atrociously arrogant) manager, Raymond Domenech; defeat last night would have seen the automatic termination of Domenech's contract. The TV coverage ended (as always in the banana republic that is Sarkozy's France) with an interview with the President who pointed out that even people who don't follow football will want to celebrate France's qualification for the World Cup. Perhaps that should have been "only people who don't follow football"...

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


Tuesday, 17 November 2009

More cases of cannibalism in Russia, where one man was found guilty of killing then eating his mother, while three others were likewise convicted for murdering and eating a homeless man. The leftovers were sold to a kebab shop. What is it that bothers us so much about this? To kill and eat someone seems far worse than merely killing them but why? And why is it that eating someone you haven’t killed – whether unconsciously as in Titus Andronicus or consciously as in the anthropophagic reenactment that forms the basis of the world’s most popular religion – provokes entirely different reactions of pity and compassion? Later this month a film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” starring Viggo Mortensen goes on general release. Some of the most disturbing scenes in the novel are those that deal with cannibalism but in the post-apocalyptic world McCarthy describes eating human flesh seems, if not quite pardonable, understandable. How else are these people meant to survive? For Freud (who would have had a field day with the first of the two cases above), cannibalism, along with murder and incest, was one of the three great taboos. For him it tended, unlike the other two, to manifest itself primarily in repressed forms in modern society or as a stage in infant development. Given that the number of hungry people in the world has passed the one billion mark and that climate change is likely not only to exacerbate this problem but also to bring with it others such as natural disasters, population displacement and war I wonder if he would have the same opinion today?

Monday, 16 November 2009

I went to a reading last night in a venue right near me but which I had never heard of before, the Fondation Boris Vian. It’s a nice space which occupies the ground floor of the building in which both Vian and Jacques Prévert used to live. The reading was part of a series where 12 American writers had been invited to read at various events all around France. I went along to hear Forrest Gander, a poet whose work I enjoy who was reading from his recently published novel, As a Friend. Part of me feels that poets ought not to venture into the more popular genres as a sign of solidarity to their noble yet marginalized art but I suspect I’m full of crap. Why not write what you want? Moreover since virtually anyone who has had a bit of success in another field will have no problems finding a publisher if they decide to bring out a book of poems what’s wrong with reversing the flow a little? Anyway, principles aside, I enjoyed what Gander read and look forward to getting hold of a copy soon. Sitting just in front of me was a rather elegant, elderly woman. Before the reading started she took out a sheet of paper and wrote down the date, the venue and the names of the readers (as well as Gander, the Greek-American poet Eleni Sikelianos was reading from her work) in the kind of handwriting you would expect an elegant, elderly lady in France to have, the writing she had learned at school. There are so many things that after a certain age one cannot change one had better get them right early on. That afternoon I had seen a photo in the paper of war criminals on trial in Argentina; they wore grey and brown, check shirts, zip up jackets, cardigans. Looking at that line of thin-lipped old men it seemed all but impossible for one of them to admit to what he had done let alone to repent of it.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Steak and Kidney,

Pancreas & Spleen

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Porcine realpolitik

Friday, 13 November 2009

It seems that His Eminence Lord Ferguson of Ferguson is to receive a touch-line ban for comments made in the wake of [insert the name of any game United have lost or drawn over the last three years or in which one of their players was booked]. What this means is that, barring an appeal on the grounds that the FA are a bunch of senile cretins who don’t know the first thing about first growth claret, he will have to watch United’s next two games from the stands rather than from the dug-out, and will be unable to advise his players during the match. If he commits a similar offense later in the season a further two match ban will immediately come into force. It was about time that some kind of punishment was doled out to Ferguson; his repeated verbal attacks against the referee had long o’erflowed the measure. Many football fans (and I should at this point declare an interest as a Chelsea supporter) got the impression that he was receiving special treatment, either because of his stature within the game – a kind of Sarkozy/Berlusconi system of immunity – or because of his advancing years which led to him being treated as one might an embarrassing uncle at a Christmas dinner: don’t bother replying, you know what Alex is like, he’ll be asleep soon anyway. Either way there was something grossly inequitable about the whole thing and it is good that he has been disciplined. Players who insult the referee in the heat of the match rightly receive their marching orders, so why should managers who do so in a calm and reflective manner afterwards get off Scot free? Of course the referee makes mistakes but this is how it should be; his is an Old Testament justice, cruel and sometimes arbitrary that, if only one learns to roll with the punches, prepares one well for the setbacks and disappointments of the spiritual life.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

It’s not the fact they’re transsexuals bothers me (or maybe it does bother me but in a way that has more to do with my own psychological makeup than it does with the dance of respect and compromise that is urban dwelling/civilization) as much as the fact that they are prostitutes. And even then it is not so much the fact that they are prostitutes as the fact that prostitution (or to be more precise, soliciting) is illegal. Is there any illegal activity that does not bring with it others? This is one of the reasons I do not think I would ever be able to live in Italy; on a daily basis one would be forced to enter into semi-legal (ie. illegal but not illegal enough or else so widespread that the law-enforcement apparatus does not deem it worthwhile to intervene) arrangements whose consequence is to perpetuate a much larger system of illegality and corruption that pollutes the lives of everyone. My girlfriend has a purse made of eelskin; today I will eat eel for lunch. Can one live, move through the world, without causing violence? Or is the whole game to orient oneself to cause the smaller violences, to pick one wriggly, mute species on which to inflict it?

A little way

A little way
outside Rotterdam
men play base
ball in the rain,
and just before
Antwerp mules.