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

2016 November

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

Fête Chiracienne

AS TODAY IS the eighty-fourth birthday of Monsieur Jacques René Chirac, I thought it’d be best to share a few images of the underappreciated fifth president of the Fifth Republic (not to mention sometime Mayor of Paris, Prime Minister of France, and Co-Prince of Andorra) doing the things he does best. (more…)

November 29, 2016 10:15 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Wall Street

Well, actually it’s Broad Street looking down past the New York Stock Exchange to Federal Hall, which itself is on Wall Street.

Most of Broad Street was originally a canal (hence its width) but in 1676 it was filled in and laid out as a street.

November 17, 2016 10:20 am | Link | No Comments »

Muratie

The Stellenbosch estate of the artist Georg Paul Canitz

We had supper with Mr. Canitz, the painter, one Sunday night, by the light of candles in a fine Dutch candelabra, and drove back to Stellenbosch in moon light which had transformed the countryside into the most entrancing fairyland imaginable.

Great clumps of trees in unexpected places gave an eeriness to the white ribbon of road which stretched across the valley. The soft evening breeze of magic scents lulled us, and we drowsed to the hum of the car bearing us homeward.

That memory is still vivid to me so I shall turn from our Golden Road, and “…muse awhile, entoil’d in woofed phantasies.”

So the architect Rex Martienssen described a visit to Muratie, the home of the artist Georg Paul Canitz, in 1928. Canitz was a Saxon, born in Leipzig, where his parents had hoped he would pursue a military career. Both his zeal and talent as an artist appeared early on, and so he ended up at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. After further studies in Italy, Paris, and the Netherlands, a chest ailment drove him to the interior of Südwestafrika in 1907.


“…by the light of candles in a fine Dutch candelabra.” (Photo credit)

Canitz healed quickly in the dry air but could not find a cure for the striking beauty of the new world around him. His wife and children were summoned from Germany, and three years later he moved to Stellenbosch after falling in love with the “City of Oaks”.

Canitz devoted himself to his passions: riding, painting, and teaching (both at his own art school and at the University). Riding to a party at Knorhoek one day he stumbled upon the little house and farm at Muratie and was quickly enamored of the place. It wasn’t long before he had purchased it and moved his family there.


The kitchen at Muratie. (Photo credit)

G P Canitz

At Muratie, the painter developed a further art: that of winemaking. In this he was assisted by the legendary Dr Perold — first chair of viticulture at Stellenbosch. Canitz became a pioneer of the pinot noir grapes which have since become a South African staple. Perhaps even more he developed the skills of a kind and generous host, for which he was well reputed throughout South Africa. He would welcome friends and guests — among them Martienssen and his architectural students as cited above — throughout the year. In warmer months they came for the swimming pool and the breezy stoep, while in winter a fire awaited, or perhaps a few rounds of strong drink in the Kneipzimmer.


The Kneipzimmer (Photo credit)

I like to think this was Canitz’s favourite room at Muratie: bedecked with benches, the light streaming in through a stained-glass windows, and the walls covered in naturalistic painting as well as graffitied signatures and sayings in German, Afrikaans, French, and Greek.

The painter died in 1958, leaving Muratie to his daughter, who in 1987 sold it to members of the Melck family who had owned it from 1763 to 1897. (The house was first built in 1685.) I suspect Canitz would have greatly appreciated his handiwork being passed back to those who had looked after the place for many generations before him. The Melcks, unsurprisingly, have a great reverance for the history of the estate. They even go so far as to leave the cobwebs which have accrued go undisturbed and ask visitors to do likewise.

And, even today, the wine still flows!


A sign in Afrikaans points the way to cellar sales. (Photo credit)
November 16, 2016 10:17 am | Link | 2 Comments »

A Handsome Hamsun

Book design is a craft sadly neglected in the English-speaking world. In paperbacks, the French reign supreme, while the Teutons and Scandos design the most elegant hardcover books.

This German edition of Ingar Sletten Kolloen’s biography of Knut Hamsun was designed by Frank Ortmann for Landt Verlag, founded by the conservative popular historian Andreas Krause Landt (aka Andreas Lombard). Landt Verlag is now an imprint of Thomas Hoof’s Manuscriptum publishing firm. Hoof is better known for starting Manufactum, the retail company known for offering high-quality goods made through traditional methods.

I’ve never read any Hamsun myself though he has been strongly recommended by friends with reliable tastes. This Norwegian writer is widely read amongst the Germans but not so amongst the Anglos, and perhaps not surprisingly since he was an uncompromising Anglophobe and had praise for all things German.

Anglophobia was not his worse offence – a Nobel laureate, he ended up giving away the actual medal as a gift to Goebbels – but no less an unquestionable anti-Nazi than Thomas Mann hoped that “the stigma of his politics will one day be separated from his writing, which I regard very highly”.

The designer Frank Ortmann impressed the name of the publisher by incorporating letter-L initials into the rather Hellenic ornamental frame of the book. He’s also managed to banish the dreaded and ubiquitous barcode to a little banderole which also includes a short introductory text, preserving the visual integrity of the book itself.

November 15, 2016 11:45 am | Link | 2 Comments »

The Anthropophagus Has Quitted His Den

THE ANTHROPOPHAGUS HAS QUITTED HIS DEN

The Museum of Foreign Literature Science and Arts was a Philadelphia periodical edited by the prodiguously talented and unjustly neglected Eliakim Littell.

In January 1831 his review published this little snippet of headlines claimed to have been clipped from French newspapers:

The French newspapers which, in 1815, were subject to the censor, announced the departure of Bonaparte from Elba, his progress through France, and his entry into Paris in the following ingenious manner:

March 9

THE ANTHROPOPHAGUS HAS QUITTED HIS DEN

March 10

THE CORSICAN OGRE HAS LANDED AT CAPE JUAN

March 11

THE TIGER HAS ARRIVED AT GAP

March 12

THE MONSTER SLEPT AT GRENOBLE

March 13

THE TYRANT HAS PASSED THOUGH LYONS

March 14

THE USURPER IS DIRECTING HIS STEPS TOWARDS DIJON
but the brave and loyal Burgundians have risen en masse
and surrounded him on all sides

March 18

BONAPARTE IS ONLY SIXTY LEAGUES FROM THE CAPITAL
He has been fortunate enough to escape the hands of his pursuers

March 19

BONAPARTE IS ADVANCING WITH RAPID STEPS
But he will never enter Paris

March 20

NAPOLEON WILL, TOMORROW, BE UNDER OUR RAMPARTS

March 21

THE EMPEROR IS AT FONTAINEBLEAU

March 22

HIS IMPERIAL & ROYAL MAJESTY, yesterday evening, arrived at the Tuileries, amidst the joyful acclamation of his devoted and faithful subjects.

November 14, 2016 11:45 am | Link | 1 Comment »

In the Old Dutch East Indies

Little Holland’s rule over this vast land – today the world’s largest Muslim country by population – never loomed large in the European imagination (the Netherlands excepted) and thus has been too easily forgotten. Peter van Dongen’s Rampokan series of graphic novels (in Herge’s ligne-claire style) is the most prominent recent attempt to shine some light on the Dutch East Indies and it has obtained a bit of a cult following.

The colonial architecture went through the usual transformations, from awkward hybrids of the motherland and the vernacular to a cool and crisp classical elegance of the later imperial buildings. Henri Maclaine Pont’s work at Bandung is probably the most successful Dutch take on local building traditions, and in some ways Geoffrey Bawa is his spiritual offspring.

The ministries of Indonesia’s government still convene in elegant Dutch colonial buildings, though the names have all changed. The Daendels Palace is now the Finance Ministry, Buitenzorg is now Bogor, and the old Koningsplein is now the Medan Merdeka or Freedom Square. (more…)

November 10, 2016 12:40 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Church of St James, Spanish Place

Always interesting to see a building you know well from a perspective you’ve never seen before, as in this photo of the Church of St James, Spanish Place, taken from Manchester Mews. The church somehow seems more imposing — like a great rounded keep.

A few months ago I was corralled into some favour or other that required a bit of muscle to move this there and whatnot, the payoff of which was it afforded an opportunity to explore the triforium of this Marylebone church and see the interior of the building from an entirely new vantage point.

It also meant being able to view in better detail the beautiful stained glass windows — many of them the gift of various Spanish royals, given that this parish originates as the chapel of the Spanish embassy (hence its name).

November 7, 2016 10:35 am | Link | 2 Comments »

Arms of the Oudtshoorn Oratory

An explanation of the arms of the Afrikaans-speaking Oratory of St Philip Neri in Oudtshoorn, South Africa (edited from their own information).

The heraldic achievement or the coat of arms of the Congregation of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri, Oudtshoorn, was officially registered and recognised by the Bureau of Heraldry in the Staatskoerant of 20 August 2004. According to the Heraldry Act of 1962, these arms and motto now enjoy legal protection and the Congregation also has the right to make an official Oratorian flag and to fly it.
Die heraldiese afbeelding oftewel die wapenskild van die Kongregasie van die Oratorium van St. Filip Neri – Oudtshoorn is in die Staatskoerant van 20 Augustus 2004 amptelik deur die Buro vir Heraldiek geregistreer en erken. Ooreenkomstig die Heraldiese-wet van 1962, geniet die wapenskild en die leuse nou regsbeskerming en het die Kongregasie ook nou die reg om ’n amptelike Oratoriaanse vlag te produseer en te laat wapper.
DIE DRIE VOLSTRUISVERE verwys hoofsaaklik na die Bisdom, Distrik en Dorp Oudtshoorn. Hulle het egter ook Bybelse en geestelike betekenis omdat hulle ons aan die feit herinner dat God oor al sy skepsels waak, die diere van die veld, voëls in die lug en visse in die see – nie net die mens nie – en hulle versorg.
THE THREE OSTRICH FEATHERS refer to the Diocese, District, and Town of Oudtshoorn. They also have biblical and spiritual significance because they call to mind that God keeps watch over all his creatures, the beasts of the field, birds of the air and fish in the sea – not just humans – and looks after them.
DIE DRIE AGTPUNTIGE STERRE, simbole van die Oratorium, is in perfekte balans bo en weerskante van die brandende hart geplaas.
THE THREE EIGHT-POINTED STARS, symbols of the Oratory, are placed in perfect balance atop and beside the burning heart.
DIE PROTEAS, nasionale blom van Suid-Afrika, dui op die lewenskrag van hierdie unieke Suid-Afrikaanse gemeenskap en die potensiaal wat tot blom gebring kan word.
THE PROTEAS, national flower of South Africa, stressed the vitality of this unique South African community and the potential that can be brought to bloom.
DIE BRANDENDE HART in die middel van die asuur skild verteenwoordig die bron en oorsprong van die geestelikheid van St. Filip Neri, die apostel van vreugde en naasteliefde, wat as ’n spesiale genadegawe van God onophoudelik die aanwesigheid van die Heilige Gees in sy hart ervaar en beleef het.
THE BURNING HEART in the middle of the azure shield represents the source and origin of the spirituality of St. Philip Neri, the apostle of joy and charity, who as a special gift of God’s grace constantly experienced the presence of the Holy Ghost in his heart.
DIE LEUSE van die Kongregasie van die Oratorium van St. Filip Neri lui “God is ons erns”. Hierdie leuse is doelbewustelik ontleen aan ’n vroeë slagspreuk vir die erkenning van die Afrikaanse Taal. Hierdie selfde taal word nou ingespan om die oudste Christelike tradisie deel te maak van die Afrikaanse leefwêreld.
THE MOTTO of the Oudtshoorn Oratory of St. Philip Neri is “God is Our Earnestness”. This motto is deliberately taken from “This is Our Earnestness”, an early slogan for the recognition of the Afrikaans language. This same language is being used to bring the oldest Christian tradition to the Afrikaans-speaking world.
November 7, 2016 10:31 am | Link | No Comments »

Russia’s Demographic Turnaround

Most large developed countries have been facing demographic crises, with Russia one of the worst in the past few decades. The Financial Times this week reports, however, that Russia is facing a demographic turnaround: “Rising birth rate, tumbling death rate, and immigration drives population rebound” as the subheadline puts it.

In 2000, deaths at 2.23 million outnumbered the 1.27 million births by nearly a million. In 2013, 1.94 million births finally outnumbered 1.91 million deaths, while the first quarter of 2016 has witnessed a 5 per cent drop in mortality compared to just a year before.

Still, the low birth rates of the 1980s and 1990s will continue to have a reverberating effect on the working-age population, as the children who weren’t born then will obviously not have children and grandchildren. Pension ages are being changed accordingly, rising to 65 for men and 63 for women as compared to 60 and 55 respectively up until now — a Communist hangover ridiculously low in comparison to Western countries.

Despite a perilous economic condition thanks to collapsing commodity prices, Russians clearly feel their country is in a much more stable condition than the topsy-turvy 1990s. There can be no greater vote of confidence in the future than to have children.

Previously: The World Turned Upside Down

November 4, 2016 2:22 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Speyer

This 1961 postage stamp celebrates the consecration, nine centuries earlier, of the Imperial Cathedral Basilica of the Blessed Virgin of the Assumption and Saint Stephen at Speyer — today the largest Romanesque church still standing.

November 4, 2016 2:20 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Past and Future Meet in Peru’s Navy

Lima’s Latest Warship Boasts Four Masts and Full Rigging

Today the Peruvian Navy’s newest ship, the BAP Unión, returns to its home port of Callao after an 8,900-mile tour at sea that took in eight countries over 98 days. But though commissioned earlier this year by then-President Ollanta Humala, the Unión isn’t some grey-painted stealth frigate but a four-masted, steel-hulled, full-rigged barque. Named after a corvette that saw action in the War of the Pacific, the Unión was laid down at Callao’s SIMA shipworks in 2010, launched in 2014, and was commissioned this past January as the primary training vessel of the Peruvian fleet.

The unimaginative might be surprised that such old-school ships are being used to train modern sailors, but the Unión’s Commander Roberto Vargas is unambiguous.

“On modern warships, working with computers and satellites all the time, we forget that we have to learn the essentials of sailing,” Commander Vargas told the Miami Herald.

“On a ship like the Unión, these cadets learn leadership, they learn cooperation, they learn group spirit. It’s impossible to work alone with these big sails — you have to work with other people. And most of the basics, like navigation and oceanography, are the same.”

Many other Latin American countries use tall ships as naval training vessels. Argentina’s ARA Libertad was the subject of an attempted seizure by foreign vulture funds seeking payments on debts defaulted upon in 2002.

While most date from the 1960s (Colombia’s Gloria), ’70s (Ecuador’s Guayas; Venezuela’s Simón Bolívar), or ’80s (Mexico’s Cuauhtémoc), Chile’s Esemeralda was launched in 1946. The grande dame of them all is Uruguay’s schooner the Capitán Miranda, launched in 1930 but docked since 2013 awaiting decisions on upgrades.

One analyst notes that even two-hundred years later the old imperial connections are still thriving in the strong Spanish influence on many of these ships:

The Peruvian state-controlled shipyard SIMA (Servicios Industriales de la Marina) constructed the Union in its shipyard in the port of Callao, but the Spanish company CYPSA Ingenieros Navales cooperated in the vessel’s structural design.

As for other ships, many were constructed by Spanish companies. For example Colombia’s Gloria, Ecuador’s Guayas, Mexico’s Cuauhtemoc, and Venezuelan’s Simon Bolivar were all manufactured by Astilleros Celaya S.A., while Chile’s Esmeralda was obtained from the Spanish government which constructed it at the Echevarrieta y Larrinaga shipyard in Cadiz.

One exception to the rule is Brazil’s Cisne Branco, which was constructed by the Dutch company Damen Shipyard.

Given the return to tradition in Peru’s army that we had previously reported on, it’s a pleasure to see this continuing in the country’s navy. Peru continues to show the world that another future is possible.

Entering the old harbour of Havana, Cuba.

Above and below, decked out for commissioning in Callao.

President Humala at the commissioning ceremony.

November 2, 2016 12:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Courtyard of the Palazzo Bonagia

A photograph of the courtyard of the Palazzo Bonagia, the Palermo residence of the Dukes of Castel di Mirto, looking towards the rococo staircase.

The steps, columns, and balustrades are of red marble from Castellammare del Golfo, all conceived in the mind of Andrea Giganti, priest-architect of the Sicilian baroque.

The building was bombed during the last war and reduced to a shell, but thorough if slow-going restoration work began in 2009 and continues.

November 1, 2016 10:35 am | Link | 3 Comments »
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