Saturday 26 July 2014
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Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.
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Rowing Blazers Book Launch


© Steve Finn Photography


© Steve Finn Photography

Rowing Blazers
by Jack Carlson, 2014
Thames and Hudson, 255 pages
£34.95 / ISBN: 978-0-500-51755-0

I am probably Jack Carlson’s worst friend — luckily for me, he is long-suffering. Many have been the mornings I have awakened in Oxford on some friend’s uncomfortable sofa (or worse: floor) and toddled haphazardly down to Jack’s regular coffee place for a restorative morning brew and inflicted upon the poor fellow my recounting of the previous night’s events in untrustworthy detail. Jack sits there, politely, smiling, waiting for the caffeine to take effect on me so that my tedious monologue can miraculously give way to the honoured pastime of friends: conversation.

It was during one of these chats — or it may have been over a winter evening pint in the King’s Arms; or a late summer afternoon pint in the Bear — that Jack revealed his book project: a coffee-table book on rowing blazers.

How tedious is that term ‘coffee table book’ which contemptuously mediocratises such beautiful, large-format, lusciously illustrated, and well-researched printed volumes into a mere additament of interior design. This format is probably my favourite kind of book, and I’m frightened to think how many pounds, dollars, rand, and euros I’ve invested in them over years.

But never mind. Rowing Blazers is now hot off the presses from Thames and Hudson here in Britain (and soon from Vendome Press across the Atlantic). And of course the perfect accompaniment to a good new book is a launch party to celebrate.

Jack assembled an impressive array of friends, rivals, and rowers to launch his latest book at Ralph Lauren in Bond Street last Thursday. There was an even more impressive array of stripes, colours, and piping on display amidst the bottomless glasses of Pimm’s and flutes of champagne generously refilled to no end by our hosts.

What about the book? It is beautifully presented, well-written, and includes a surprising variety of clubs from across the world. Rowing Blazers is a perfect gift for any rower — a must-have — so keep it in mind for birthdays and Christmases.

A number of the guests on Thursday flicked through the book’s pages to find their own clubs, rival clubs, friends photographed, and a fair amount of gossip was shared as well. Even when it came time to close up shop (literally, for once), the party continued at Bodo’s Schloss late into the wee hours. (more…)

June 9, 2014 10:45 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Evolution of a Napoleonic Parliament

The Salle des états in the Palais du Louvre

Among the numerous rituals of the ordinary visitor’s pilgrimage to Paris — trip up the Eiffel Tower, lunch at a tourist-trap café — braving the teeming hordes in the Louvre to view da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’ ranks near the top. What very few of the camera-toting hordes realise is that they are shuffling through the room that once housed France’s parliament. The history of the Palais du Louvre is long, exceptional, and varied.

Originally built as a stern castle in the 1190s, the Louvre’s secure reputation led Louis IX to house the royal treasury there from the mid-thirteenth century. Charles V enlarged it in the fifteenth century to become a royal residence, while François Ier brought the grandeur of the Renaissance to the Louvre — as well as acquiring ‘La Gioconda’. In 1793, amidst the revolutionary tumult, part of the palace was opened to the public as the Musée du Louvre, but the Louvre has always housed a variety of institutions — the Ministry of Finance didn’t move out until 1983.

Napoleon III took as his official residence the Tuileries Palace which the Louvre was slowly enlarged towards over the centuries to incorporate. The Emperor needed a parliament chamber close at hand so he could easily address joint sittings of the Senate and the Corps législatif (as the lower house was called during the Second Empire) which opened the parliamentary year. By doing so at his residence, the Bonaparte emperor was following the example left by his kingly Bourbon predecessor Louis XVIII. (more…)

March 4, 2014 9:05 am | Link | 4 Comments »

Italy inspired by Wall Street

Il Foglio is one of the most interesting newspapers in the world, and quite unique. It’s not a “great” newspaper like the FAZ or the Financial Times, with reporters in every major city around the globe, but this little “sheet” — usually just four or six pages — contains both a gazette of the day’s events alongside some of the best analysis and commentary in Italy. I’ve often thought that a London-based newspaper of a similar mould — not an everything-paper but instead simple, accurate, brief reporting combined with intelligent insight — could have an impact in Britain (and perhaps even America).

Its editor is the affable atheist, anti-abortion campaigner, and friend of Benedict XVI Giuliano Ferrara — an ex-Communist and former minister in Berlusconi’s first cabinet in the 90s — and it’s been said that Il Foglio comes closest to being the Italian proponent of a more Anglo-Saxon style of conservatism.

Today is Il Foglio’s eighteenth birthday, and looking back at the first edition, the design of the front page (above) obviously takes its inspiration from that of the Wall Street Journal. Things have changed since then, and while the Italian daily still clings proudly to its broadsheet format, the WSJ converted to what I call narrowsheet in 2006, as reported by us at the time.

In honour of this anniversary, Il Foglio has made available in PDF form its first ever edition (shorn of advertisements) which you can download here. (more…)

January 30, 2014 11:45 am | Link | 4 Comments »

Les jours heureux du Liban

Being an omnivore of nations I’m not short of favourite countries, but the Lebanon is towards the top of my list. I’ve spent some weeks there each summer for the past few years and we’re hoping to return this July (God willing). Friday night B. invited a few of us round for an impromptu supper and in the kitchen I happened to mention that I had met his ambassador the day before — the Lebanese ambassador.

This provoked a lament on B’s part as he relayed the history of his family’s service in the diplomatic corps and of Lebanon in the old days: black-tie dinners, summer in the mountains, the casinos and the glamour of the Beirut he was born too late to experience.

It’s become a cliché for foreigners to cite Beirut’s former glory as ‘the Paris of the Orient’ and Lebanon ‘the Switzerland of the Middle East’. Civil war wreaked its devastation on the country but its revival in more recent years has still been remarkable. Everything, of course, is exceptionally tenuous, but despite the clouds of uncertainty there remains a lot for which to be grateful.

We both wished, however, that today’s ordinary culture in Lebanon was a bit more informed by the style of the past. While old buildings are often restored, far too many of the new buildings are horrendously bland or offensively modern. Perhaps most unfortunately, a large proportion of Lebanon’s women — already endowed with a natural beauty unparalleled in the Middle East — are too mimicking of American styles: nosejobs and dyed blonde hair.

For my part, however, the conversation provoked a little dip into the photographic archives, seeking out some images of Lebanon in its halcyon days. (more…)

January 27, 2014 1:20 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

The Crowned Banner

The Emblem of the Scottish Parliament

Legislatures often have their own symbols. Often these are appropriated or stylised versions of national emblems. Stormont uses a flax plant. Some time ago Westminster adopted the Tudor portcullis which now represents the Parliament of the United Kingdom — in green for the Commons or in red for the Lords.

In Scotland, however, the unicameral parliament has adopted a crowned banner as its distinctive insignia. (For previous posts on prominent emblems of modern Scottish design, see the Clootie Dumpling and the Daisy Wheel). The crown expresses authority — ultimately the sovereign power of the monarchy — while the corded banner hanging from a pommelled pole displays the Saltire, Scotland’s national flag. While early versions of the emblem were in blue, it is now standard that the symbol be depicted in purple, long a colour associated with Scotland through the national florae of heather and thistle. (more…)

January 27, 2014 1:00 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

End of the Line for Rizzoli Bookshop

Another New York bookshop bites the dust

In New York, good things are only allowed to last a little while: eventually they must all be destroyed. The latest to add to the pile is the Rizzolli bookshop on West 57th Street, which has received notice that the landlords intend to demolish the 109-year-old structure in which the bookshop is housed.

Rizzoli, publishers of some of the finest and most luxuriously printed books on the market, have not yet said whether they will be opening shop elsewhere.

If so, it would be the second move for the shop, which opened in 1967 at 714 Fifth Avenue (below), just around the corner. A developer tried to tear that building down as well, but preservationists managed to have the façade, with its lalique glass, incorporated into the new tower. It’s now home to Henri Bendel.

Other New York bookshops to close in recent years include the Librairie française, Coliseum Books, Gotham Book Mart, Urban Center Books, and further back more venerable institutions like Scribner’s and Brentano’s.

Top three photos: Mais Uma Pagina

January 15, 2014 7:00 pm | Link | 6 Comments »

A Bunny Rampant

The carto-heraldic creativity of MacDonald Gill

If anything, I am a lover of maps, and as a cartophile it’s a fine thing that I spend half my life in South Kensington. Here you will find two of the best antiquarian map merchants around: the Map House on Beauchamp Place and Robert Frew across from the Oratory and right next door to Orsini. Milling about in front of church after mass today I received a tip-off from a friend suggesting I have a look at the window of Robert Frew, as there was a London Underground map with coats of arms of mostly abolished boroughs.

“Sounds like the sort of thing MacDonald Gill would do,” I said, and sure enough upon investigating earlier tonight it is the work of that inventive designer (and brother of Eric Gill).

The most splendid and ridiculous aspect is that in the central place among the municipal heraldry was a putative coat of arms MacDonald Gill thought up for the Underground: a rabbit rampant. Indeed, given the twin characteristics of being speedy and digging the earth, the rabbit is a perfect animal avatar for the London Underground to adopt. Don’t go looking for this design anywhere in the rolls of Garter King of Arms, though: it’s merely the invention of the creative mind of master map-maker MacDonald Gill.

January 5, 2014 11:20 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Two Flags Based on the French Tricolour

The French tricolour is one of the most influential flags in history, inspiring most prominently perhaps the Italian and Irish flags, but also dozens other, including the nationalist triband flags (like those of Germany, Russia, etc.). Indeed, the national flags of nearly sixty UN member states are based on these vertical or horizontal stripe combinations.

While long identified with revolution, republicanism, and nationalism, the French flag originally represented a combination of the blue and red of Paris — the colours of Saint Martin and Saint Denis — with the white of the French monarchy. Two (non-national) flags based directly on the French tricolour are those of the Acadians in North America and of Franschhoek in South Africa. (more…)

December 27, 2013 4:24 pm | Link | No Comments »

L’Osservatore Romano goes Hungarian

Magyarophiles will be pleased to learn that L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, will begin appearing in Hungarian. The new edition will appear every other week as a four-page insert into Új Ember, the Hungarian Catholic weekly founded in 1945. “We are a small editorial staff,” Balázs Rátkai, editor-in-chief of the weekly, told L’Osservatore.

“However, our intention is to probe and to make our readers think. The collaboration with the Vatican daily is of historic importance for the life of the weekly and of the entire local Church; it not only brings the Universal Church and the Pope closer to us; it will also enrich readers, and through them all of Hungarian society, with new thoughts, opinions and answers.”

Printed as a daily broadsheet in Italian, the Vatican newspaper also has weekly tabloid editions in French, Spanish, English, German, and Portuguese, as well as a monthly version in Polish.

December 17, 2013 11:20 am | Link | 4 Comments »

Kolmanskop

Ghost town of the Namib

NAMIBIA IS A LAND that fascinates me, which is perhaps surprising. This arid land is sparsely populated — just 6.6 people per square mile — but its deserts are believed to be the oldest in the world. Those who haven’t experienced its harsh beauty may wonder why this land has attracted its odd and varied collection of peoples, but here the Ovambo, the Kavango, the Herero, the Afrikaner, the German, and the Bushman all call home.

I have already written somewhat about Lüderitz and beyond it the Diaz Point. As you speed down the B4 from Keetmanshoop to Lüderitz — a four-hour drive passing through just the one small village of Aus — you can turn off just before you reach the coastal town and pay a visit to the eerily ghost town of Kolmanskop: Kolmannskuppe in the original German. (more…)

December 13, 2013 3:15 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Football at S. Maria Maggiore

The enormous church of S. Maria Maggiore stands on one of Rome’s seven famous hills. Originally the site was very unkempt, as can be seen in an old fresco painting in the Vatican. Later, the slopes were smoothed and articulated with a flight of steps up to the apse of the basilica. The many tourists who are brought to the church on sight-seeing tours hardly notice the unique character of the surroundings. They simply check off one of the starred numbers in their guide-books and hasten on to the next one. But they do not experience the place in the way some boys I saw there a few years ago did. I imagine they were pupils from a nearby monastery school. They had a recess at eleven o’clock and employed the time playing a very special kind of ball game on the broad terrace at the top of the stairs. It was apparently a kind of football but they also utilised the wall in the game, as in squash — a curved wall, which they played against with great virtuousity. When the ball was out, it was most decidedly out, bouncing down all the steps and rolling several hundred feet further on with an eager boy rushing after it, in and out among motor cars and Vespas down near the great obelisk.

I do not claim that these Italian youngsters learned more about architecture than the tourists did. But quite unconsciously they experienced certain basic elements of architecture: the horizontal planes and the vertical walls above the slopes. And they learned to play on these elements. As I sat in the shade watching them, I sensed the whole three-dimensional composition as never before. At a quarter past eleven the boys dashed off, shouting and laughing. The great basilica stood once more in silent grandeur.

— Steen Eiler Rasmussen, Experiencing Architecture (1962)

December 12, 2013 11:20 am | Link | 1 Comment »

Flags, Northern Ireland, and the Union

Flags have been in the news of late, perhaps as a late hangover of the disruptive protests over Belfast City Council’s decision to fly the Union Jack from Belfast City Hall only on the United Kingdom’s designated flag-flying days. Ironically, this would have brought the Six Counties further in line with normal British practice, but disgruntled unionists viewed it as a diminution of “their” flag and a bit of a fracas ensued with the once-traditional death threats and intimidation returning.

The BBC raised the issue of how Scottish independence might affect the Union Jack. (Pedants only refer to the British flag as the “Union flag”, but the Flag Institute points out both terms are perfectly acceptable). Scottish independence would have no automatic effect on the flag whatsoever, but it has provoked a round of speculation over what changes, if any, should be made to the Union flag.

Then Richard Haass, the American diplomat charged with chairing the inter-party talks on unresolved issues in the Six Counties, waded into matters vexillological when he wrote to party leaders seeking their views on the possibility of a new flag for Northern Ireland. (more…)

December 12, 2013 11:10 am | Link | 3 Comments »

‘Bon Voyage’

Bon Voyage
Jean-Paul Rappeneau
2003, France
1 hour 54 minutes

Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s ‘Bon Voyage’ (2003) is one of those superb films that come around all too rarely. It manages to balance perfectly all the elements of drama, comedy, action, and romance, set in a convincing historical context.

In 1940, Viviane Denvert (played by Isabelle Adjani) is a fickle, self-promoting film star who enlists her childhood friend, Frédéric Auger (Grégori Derangère), to extract herself from a compromising situation. As war creeps upon France, Auger finds himself behind bars for Viviane’s crime, but in the confusion of battle he manages to escape with the seasoned ne’erdowell Raoul (Yvan Attal). All of Paris is fleeing the German advance, and on the train to Bordeaux the two come across physics student Camille (Virginie Ledoyen) who helps them reach the western city by car when the train is stopped on the line.

In Bordeaux we come across government minister Jean-Étienne Beaufort, Viviane’s lover whom she uses to get Frédéric out of a sticky situation resulting from her own manipulation of him. Meanwhile, with all of Paris in Bordeaux, Viviane comes across another ex-paramour, Alex Winckler (Peter Coyote), keeping an unnatural interest in the affairs of the government, while the physics student Camille and her mentor Professor Kopolski are harbouring an important cargo they are determined must not fall into the hands of the Germans.

For fear of spoilers, that is all I will say about the plot, but it all comes packaged in a score by Gabriel Yared, better known for his scoring of ‘The English Patient’, ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’, and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s ‘Das Leben der Anderen’. The film was nominated for eight César awards in 2004 — best costumes, best director, best editing, best film, best original score, best sound editing, best supporting actor, and best writing — while it won three Césars that year for photography, best set design, and, for Grégori Derangère, best promising actor.

(more…)

November 20, 2013 9:08 am | Link | 2 Comments »

Zeitung für Deutschland

Given my total obsession with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung it will come as no surprise that my favourite advertising installation is the massive logotype for the world’s greatest newspaper which spans the railway tracks at the Frankfurter Hauptbahnhof.

In glorious Teutonic blackletter, it proclaims the newspaper’s ownership of the city to all comers:

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE — ZEITUNG FÜR DEUTSCHLAND.


Photo: Erhard Bernstein

And while it looks great in daylight, as the evening descends it is illuminated in neon blue. Like the FAZ itself, old-fashioned and modern all in one.


Photo: Otzberg

November 18, 2013 9:09 am | Link | 2 Comments »

Diary

It is truly a sad thing for a summer to end, and yet it is an inevitable part of the endless cycle of life. July was full of its annual rites: two weeks in Lebanon and then the traditional festivities associated with the return of the OMV contingent from Lourdes — jugs of Pimm’s at the Scarsdale followed by the manic dinner, drinks, dancing, and smoking at Pag’s late into the night. Miss S. had always avoided the Pag’s part of the festivities, decrying it as a futile attempt to prolong the jollity. She decided to come along this year, however, and enjoyed it so much she stayed well past two in the morning. In fact, I think she was still there when I left.

So it didn’t really seem like summer really kicked off until August. (more…)

November 15, 2013 7:30 pm | Link | 7 Comments »

The Tragedy of Romeo and Rosaline

The performance reviewed here took place in the Cathedral Hall in April and I scrambled together this little review for Oremus, the magazine of Westminster Cathedral. — Cusack

After an interlude of barely a month, the theatrical troupe of Fentiman returned to the Cathedral precincts with a presentation of Sharon Jennings’ play ‘The Tragedy of Romeo and Rosaline’. With the intriguing tagline of ‘Whatever happened to Romeo’s first love?’, the work explores the most famous love story of all time from the perspective of Rosaline, the niece of Capulet mentioned yet never seen in Shakespeare’s play.

A jaunty mix of ancient and modern, ‘Romeo and Rosaline’ includes some brilliant moments in its dialogue, peppered with occasional drops of the Bard’s own lingo and allusive humour ranging from the religious to the architectural. The action moves back and forth between just two locales: Rosaline’s own bedchamber, from which we view Verona, and Friar Lawrence’s cell, where we explore the meaning of transpired events.

Rachel Voldman as Nurse varies from the matronly to the almost sensuous. Philippa Tathum as Rosaline’s pushy mother exudes the confidence tempered by social-climbing of a minor landowner’s wife in colonial Kenya (Fair city of Verona meets the Happy Valley?). Althea Steven’s Rosaline is of course the crux of the action and capably carries off a teenage mix of coquetteishness and self-conscious over-introspection, finally consumed by the tragic epiphany that crowns the play’s final act. The theatregoer is lured in by fun and intrigue only to be hit suddenly with the full implications of has-been-ness.

In the end, ‘The Tragedy of Romeo and Rosaline’ is an exploration of isolation and ex-importance, displaying for us the furled banners of forgotten hopes and dreams, with all the faded, wasted glory of “You were the future, once.” Sharon Jennings has shined a well-aimed arclight on an unexplored realm and revealed the very essence of cathartic tragedy.

November 15, 2013 7:00 pm | Link | No Comments »

Late Summer, Early Autumn

As the light of summer dies and the cold grey monotone of winter approaches, here are a few photos from the past month or two.

(more…)

October 18, 2013 3:30 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

St Paul’s Gothicised

Victorian England went mad for the medieval, often neglecting or destroying buildings and structures of classical design along the way. Wren’s classical rood screen for Westminster Abbey is probably no great loss, but just imagine if his masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral, had been gothicised.

Just such was imagined by the architectural sketch artist C.A. Nicholson in two drawings he sent to the Architectural Record (albeit in the 1910s, not the Victorian era). Nicholson was inspired by an image printed in a previous issue of the Record showing the front of Peterborough Cathedral transformed into a classic design.

Of course before the Great Fire, Old St Paul’s was a Gothic cathedral.

September 25, 2013 6:30 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Florence to London on Twenty Euros

Our roving continental correspondent Alexander Shaw recently hitchhiked from Florence to London on a mere twenty euros. Herein he recounts his tale, which in his customary fashion is usually calculated to offend. (Readers are reminded that the writer’s views are his own, not mine).

THERE COMES A POINT in every young man’s life when his trust fund manager goes on holiday. It is fitting that what follows occurred during International Poverty & Homelessness Awareness Week and, certainly, I hope that my experience will raise awareness among the demographics concerned as to how they should conduct themselves.

ITALY

Let me tell you about poverty: there is poverty, there is urban poverty, and there is urbane poverty. The story of my rapid regression through these strata starts in the billionaire’s playground that is Forte dei Marmi. I had already accepted the invitation when I realised I had blown my last €30 on a bottle of Frescobaldi (I’m not a wine snob, but I only buy from friends). We had arrived in Vieri’s 1988 Posche 911 and being a Friday night in early August, Mina’s Bussola club was chocked to the gunnels with a vast array of Eurotrash. There were refugees from Biarritz, Ibiza clubbers who got rich, Moscow clubbers who fell out with Putin, abstract artists, Botox-pumped bankers wives and industrialists’ daughters from Munich and Frankfurt, all vamped up on HRT, champagne, and Prozac. It was as raucous as the bombing of Dresden, and nearly as fun. Imagine someone had pumped laughing gas into the celebrity arrivals gate at Heathrow, and you’ll get the picture. (more…)

September 24, 2013 9:05 am | Link | 8 Comments »

A Lecture by Andrew Cusack

The
College of Arms Foundation
and the
Committee on Heraldry
of the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society

cordially invite you to a talk by

ANDREW CUSACK
on

‘THREE ANNULETS OR’
THE VAN RIEBEECK ARMS
& THEIR SOUTH AFRICAN LEGACY

Tuesday 17 September 2013
at
6:00 PM

Reception to follow

New York Genealogical & Biographical Society
36 West 44th Street, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10036

Open to the public. No charge.
Please rsvp to rsvp@coaf.us to reserve a place.

This lecture will provide an overview on the history and evolution of South African heraldry by explaining the significance of the coat of arms of Jan van Riebeeck (1619-1677). Van Riebeeck was the founder of Cape Town and the first governor of the Dutch colony at the Cape.

As the founder of the oldest European settlement in southern Africa, he came to be seen as the father of South Africa after the country was unified in 1910. The central elements of his arms — three annulets or — obtained local, regional, and finally national significance, and influenced the design of a wide variety of South African coats of arms, many of which will be examined in this lecture.

September 11, 2013 11:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »
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