Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.

2015 April

A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

A Horror in the Hague

The old and new buildings of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts

SINCE 1682, the Hague has been home to the oldest art school in the Netherlands, the Koninklijke Academie voor Beeldende Kunsten or Royal Academy of Fine Arts. The school has its origins in the civic corporations of the late medieval period. The Guild of Saint Luke incorporated all the artists of the Hague, and later from this group emerged a self-selecting gang of painters and sculptors who founded themselves as the Pictura Brotherhood. This fraternity in turn founded an academy of art which on its 275th anniversary was granted the royal patronage and name.

Having had previous quarters in the Korenbeurs and the Boterwaag, the Academy engaged the architect Zeger Reyers (or Reijers) to design its own building in the Prinsessegracht in 1839 (above, top). This neo-classical temple to the arts was very much in keeping with the French academic tradition which the school practised at the time, but in later years this fashion faded. Just before the Second World War, the barbarians sacked the temple and erected in its place a Bauhaus-style box (below).

Like all too many changes, it was not an improvement. (more…)

April 29, 2015 3:11 pm | Link | 2 Comments »


United Nations Headquarters, New York

AMONG THE LEGACIES of my New York childhood is a sentimental fondness for the United Nations, and especially for the stylish swank of its headquarters at Turtle Bay in Manhattan. The name of the small neighbourhood originates (scholars tell us) not from the turtles which were once abundant upon the shores of the island and its environs but rather from a small inlet shaped, in the eyes of the old New Netherlanders, like a particular type of bent or curved blade called a deutal knife in Dutch. The woods and meadows surrounding Deutal Bay were easily rechristened as Turtle Bay once the English established their ascendancy and New Amsterdam became New York.

Over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the tiny port founded at the bottom tip of Manhattan grew further and further up the island, swallowing up the old colonial villages like Greenwich, Bloemendal, and Haarlem, or farms like Turtle Bay, Inclenberg, and Kip’s Bay, until as today there is just one giant urban mass stretching from the Battery at the bottom tip of the island all the way to Spuyten Duyvil at the top.

While New Yorkers like to think that there is no possible competitor to the city’s status as capital of the world, there was of course a great debate over where the United Nations should be based. Geneva was an obvious candidate, as the beautiful art-deco Palais des Nations provided a ready-made home for an international organisation. The fathers of the UN, however, did not want to associate themselves so closely with the failure of the old League of Nations the Palais was built for, and so the Geneva option was nixed.

Given the shifting balance of world power, it was thought a New World site might be a wiser choice than a European location. Quebec, as I have written previously, was an obvious possibility as the city is a beautiful melange of Old World and New, and for Europeans was easily accessible by passenger liner. Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific states, however, were in favour of San Francisco for geographic reasons to their obvious benefit, and cited the Californian city’s hosting the 1945 Conference on International Organisation which brought forth the UN Charter.

Fears that the United States would refuse to participate fully in the UN (as with the League of Nations of old) almost guaranteed that the US permanently hosting the world body in order to solidify American resolve in the UN’s favour, but the squabble over precisely where dragged on. The Rockefeller family intervened by offering to the fledgling United Nations Organisation, at no cost whatsoever, a large riparian site at Turtle Bay on the banks of the East River, largely consisting of slaughterhouses at the time. Settled then, but what would the complex look like? (more…)

April 20, 2015 2:05 pm | Link | 6 Comments »

What You Should Read

Three recommendations and some honourable mentions

Over at ISI’s Intercollegiate Review, there’s a post by Joseph Cunningham suggesting eight publications you should be reading. In September I came up with a handful of suggestions of what blogs or websites readers ought to take note of, particularly if they exist in the Catholic/traditionalist/conservative realm so difficult to sum up in a single word or term.

Of course, most of what you should be reading is by dead people (suggestions of who I proffered herein, including some actually alive), but while Chesterton described tradition as the democracy of the dead we would be remiss to carry forth in ignorance of the living.

Publications wise, then, what is the well-read gent, or lady, reading? I’ve judged this question by what I’ve managed to persuade/force/intimidate my friends into subscribing to or buying, as well as by my own habits.

London Review of Books

This fortnightly review is one of the last places where long-form essays are still the norm. One of the adventures of starting to read a piece in the LRB is that one has no idea whether it will continue for two of the Review’s large pages, or six, or maybe more. In addition to intellectual essays it also contains occasional reporting from Patrick Cockburn, arguably the best journalist reporting on the Middle East today. (You can read my review of Cockburn’s latest book over at Quadrapheme.)

Is it left-wing? Unquestionably. But if you’re only reading what you already agree with, you’re missing the point. Your principles should be strong enough to face challenges, or to be informed by them, and the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff is the most necessary task for any thinking person.

The New Criterion

This American monthly came in for a lot of flak from a lot of conservative intellectuals for propagating and defending the neo-con support for the Iraq War, but the Daily Telegraph’s description of The New Criterion as ‘America’s leading review of the arts and intellectual life’ remains true to this day. (Disclosure: I was an editor at TNC from 2006-2008.) Feature articles are informative and expanding, the book reviews provide a good guide for reading, and art-wise I’ve always admired the clean prose of James Panero’s Gallery chronicle.

In recent months New Criterion readers have had the privilege of learning about the Jesuit linguist Albert Jamme’s hatred for sleep — “I hate my bed because it keeps me from my texts!” — and a Duke of Mantua’s expensive interest in female dwarves while last year they published the Quaker pacifist classical scholar Sarah Ruden on the darker side of Mandela’s government. Worth reading every month.

Modern Age

Founded in 1957 by Russell Kirk — the greatest St Andrean of the twentieth century — Modern Age is an academic journal which Wikipedia describes as ‘traditionalist, localist, against most military interventions,’ as well as critical of neo-conservatism and generally sympathetic to religious orthodoxy.

Its archive over the past sixty years provides articles and essays of great value by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Virgil Nemoianu, Lee Congdon, Pierre Manent, and others. Take, for example, Lee Congdon on ‘Conservatism, Christianity, and the Revitalization of Europe’.

A rewarding, more scholarly read, with footnotes that will lead you elsewhere.

— • —

These three will prove worthwhile reading for any intellectual of sound principles, but are there any other honourable mentions?

My weekly workplace reads are The Spectator and The Economist which are useful for keeping tabs on things in general.

I have to admit I do read Monocle every month. While it’s aimed at wealthy jetsetters rather than our own constituency of cosmopolitan conservatives living in genteel poverty the magazine nonetheless combines an exacting stylistic excellence with an admirably broad focus.

First Things I would read every month but it doesn’t seem to be available anywhere in London except by subscription.

Two or three times a year I pick up The Art Newspaper, another superbly put-together periodical. Fr Christopher Colven of St James, Spanish Place, writes for it often, as it happens.

April 17, 2015 1:56 pm | Link | 6 Comments »
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