Tuesday 2 September 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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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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »

Some Aspects of the Fall of the Fourth Republic

(Only interesting, I’m afraid, to those reasonably acquainted with the situation of France in May 1958)

• When the Gouvernement Général was stormed during the 13 May protest, the enterprising businessmen of Algiers took the opportunity to destroy all the police files relating to “economic crime” (smuggling, tax-dodging, and the like).

• The French-Algerian instigators of the military rebellion led by Salan didn’t know what to make of him when he was first appointed to Algeria so they decided, just to be on the safe side, to assassinate him on his first day on the job. Salan survived the bazooka attack on his office but his ADC was killed. The general later became the only socialist freemason to lead a right-wing terror group (the OAS).

• Once the Algiers rebellion commenced and travel between Algeria and metropolitan France was cut, many supporting figures made their way across the Mediterranean by whatever means at hand. Soustelle managed to escape his police guards and get to Algiers via a secretly chartered Swiss plane, but the more romantically inclined Roger Frey — later Minister of the Interior — first tried to get to Algiers on the actor Errol Flynn’s yacht. It didn’t pan out, and instead he was forced to hire the boat of an English ex-naval officer turned smuggler.

• The man in charge of wiretapping French telephones was unsure which side would emerge on top so cautiously refrained from giving the government the full picture of the information his wiretaps revealed.

• When Corsica was seized by the rebels, Moch, the Interior Minister, decided to send in the elite of the police force, the CRS. He was afraid, however, that military transport planes would fly them directly to Algeria, so he was forced to commission Air France planes instead. Upon landing in Corsica, the entire CRS contingent was met by the rebel parachute regiment and immediately defected to the rebellion.

• So widespread was the reluctance to support the government against the military rebels that even the meteorologists send false warnings of storms in the Mediterranean in the hopes of keeping the French Navy from moving against the rebels in Algiers.

• The air force was particularly keen for de Gaulle to take power, and took to flying planes in a Cross of Lorraine formation, as well as sending troop transport planes to Algeria in case they would be needed to invade mainland France.

• Regional military commanders in France varied in their loyalty to the government and sympathy for the rebels. One commander is alleged to have told the regional prefect “M. le Préfet, I am not here to defend your préfecture, but to take it.” Other prefects warned the cabinet that any orders for the police to arrest those suspected of aiding the rebellion might result in the prefects instead being arrested themselves.

• The government had sometimes ordered firemen to unleash their water hoses against rioters in the past. As popular support for the cabinet faded away, the head of the fire brigade felt compelled to inform ministers that his men would not take part in any anti-riot measures but would merely put out any fires that erupted. “And,” he said, referring to the home of France’s National Assembly, “in the Palais Bourbon, they wouldn’t bother.”

• As Philip Williams reports in his article “How the Fourth Republic Died”:

At that night’s cabinet Pleven summed up: “We are the legal government, but what do we govern? The Minister for Algeria cannot enter Algeria. The Minister for the Sahara cannot go to the Sahara. The Minister of Information can only censor the press. The Minister of the Interior has no control over the police. The Minister of Defence is not obeyed by the army.” Said a left-wing Gaullist in the Assembly, “You are not abandoning power — it has abandoned you.”

June 14, 2013 1:40 pm | Link | 5 Comments »

Danzig in Flag & Arms

The first time I met my friend Rafal, I noticed his necktie bedecked with a subtle heraldic pattern. “I gather you’re German,” says young Cusack, summoning his Sherlockian deductive genius. “What makes you say that?” “The coat of arms on your tie: it’s Danzig.” “Actually I am Polish, and it’s Gdańsk!”

Well, so much for my deductive powers, (and Rafal is a secret wannabe-German anyhow) but the arms and flag of the Baltic city — once German, now Polish — combine the usual strong characteristics of any design: simplicity and beauty. (more…)

April 26, 2013 2:30 pm | Link | 11 Comments »

Vienna Views

My written views of the city you will have to wait for (presuming they ever see the light of day), but here are a few photographic impressions from my jaunt to the Kaiserliche Hauptstadt. (more…)

April 7, 2013 10:50 pm | Link | No Comments »

Hark, the Heralds!

A Humorous Guide to Heraldry
by Jack Carlson
133 pages, hardcover, $15.99

In anticipation of a party in Oriel recently, I enjoyed a pint with some friends by the fire in the King’s Arms and was given a copy of this book, mysteriously shrouded in a plastic bag. Jack Carlson’s Humorous Guide to Heraldry is a welcome addition to the Cusackian library. The author, who wrote the book when he was fourteen, is now an Oxford archaeologist (and rower) but his interests span a broad spectrum. (He is currently researching for a work on rowing blazers, a subject unjustly neglected by academics).

Aficionados of the light-hearted-guide-to-heraldry genre will notice one or two gentle riffs off of Sir Iain Moncrieffe of that Ilk’s Simple Heraldry Cheerfully Illustrated, and, since that book is long out of print, evangelists of heraldry will find A Humorous Guide to Heraldry a useful tool for introducing the uninitiated to the appreciable realms of this field. Godfathers will not want their spiritual charges to grow into adults without being able to distinguish the mêlée from the affronté and every life-long student of the world should be able to recognise a cinquefoil or a pheon.

In short: a worthy purchase for the heraldically inclined.

Jack Carlson’s A Humorous Guide to Heraldry is available here.

March 22, 2013 4:04 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Pope Francis’s Arms

The Vatican released information about Pope Francis’s coat of arms on Monday but the image they provided of it was very poorly drafted. Many of us were waiting for the Italian heraldic artist Marco Foppoli to craft his own rendering of our new pope’s arms, and he has duly released it today (see above).

The central motif is the emblem of the Society of Jesus — the Christogram with nails on a sunburst. The star represents the Blessed Virgin while the sprig of nard-flower represents Saint Joseph, the patron of the universal church. Thus the three emblems on Pope Francis’s arms together represent the Holy Family.

Further info available from Il Foglio, Fr Z, and Whispers in the Loggia. (more…)

March 20, 2013 7:50 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

The Kaiserforum

The Unrealised Vision of an Imperial Forum for Vienna

The Michaelerplatz façade of the Hofburg, Vienna.

SIDLING UP THE KOHLMARKT and entering the Hofburg through the Michaelerplatz is a glorious architectural experience, but viewing Vienna’s imperial palace from the Ringstraße end, one is left with a certain awkwardness. This is because what is now the Heldenplatz, open to the neighbouring Volksgarten, was conceived as part of a great imperial forum, the Kaiserforum, but the scheme has been left incomplete.

The original impetus for this forum was the plan to build the identical Kunsthistoriches Museum and Natural History Museum across from the Hofburg next to the former imperial stables. Emperor Franz Joseph held a closed competition for four invited architects — Carl Hasenauer, Theophil von Hansen, Heinrich Ferstel, and Moritz Löhr — to conceive of an overall scheme to expand the Hofburg in order to provide an architectural connection to the two new museums. (more…)

March 3, 2013 8:30 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Squabbles Over Szekler Flag

In Transylvania, a “flag war” has broken out between Romanian politicians and the representatives of the Hungarian-speaking Szekler people. As România Libera reports, no one is offended by flying the old Hapsburg flag over the fortress of Alba Iulia (De: Karlsburg, Hu: Gyulafehérvár), the Romanian government takes umbrage at the appearance of the blue-and-gold flag of the Szekler (or Székely) people who live primarily in three of Transylvania’s counties. (more…)

February 18, 2013 5:32 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Protestant King in His Catholic Realm

George VI in Quebec

In the midst of some unrelated research the other day, I came across these photos of George VI on his first visit to Quebec as King in 1939. I think the Parlement du Québec is probably the only Commonwealth legislature to have a crucifix in its plenary chamber (c.f. ‘Christ at the heart of Quebec’, 25 May 2008). No, no, of course the Maltese do as well, in their surprisingly ugly parliament chamber. But Malta is now an island republic, while Quebec retains its monarchy.

In the above picture, the King and Queen of Canada hear a loyal address in the Salle du Conseil législatif of the Hôtel du Parlement in the city of Quebec. Below, the King speaks at a state dinner in the Chateau Frontenac. Seated is Cardinal Villeneuve, the Primat du Canada and Archbishop of Quebec.

February 10, 2013 9:20 pm | Link | No Comments »

The Other Modern in Madrid

Miguel Fisac’s Church of Espíritu Santo, Madrid

It might be difficult for some to imagine that the architect of the pagoda-like Laboratorios Jorba outside Madrid was an accomplished classicist, but, like many modern architects, Miguel Fisac began his career with more traditional works. His very first commission as an individual was to design a church for Spain’s Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (Higher Council of Scientific Research). The CISC had only been founded in 1939 and was originally housed in existing structures around Madrid. The Church of the Holy Spirit (constructed 1942–1947) was the first newly built structure for the research council, and the fact that it was an ecclesiastic building “eloquently expresses the spirit of commitment between religion and science that animated the new project” (according to the Fundacion Fisac). Around the corner from the Church of the Holy Spirit, the main headquarters of the CISC was designed by Fisac. (more…)

January 22, 2013 10:19 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

Tradtastic Hertfordshire

The bishops of England & Wales cunningly arranged for the Feast of the Epiphany to fall on the actual Epiphany this year. We had a great big festive lunch at our favourite little Italian place in South Ken, but the night before I went out to Hertfordshire, where I witnessed the tradition of a door being CMB’d with holy chalk for the new year (above).

Those unaware of this tradition can read a bit more here. The C+M+B stands both for Christus mansionem benedicat (“Christ bless this house”) and the names of the Three Magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.

January 10, 2013 10:10 pm | Link | No Comments »

The Impetuosity of Youth

From the Flickr feed of South Africa’s Etienne du Plessis:

These pictures were taken 2 October 1964: I was the pilot [writes Quentin Mouton]. The pictures are original and not ‘touched up’. The ‘Pongos’ (Army types) were on a route march from Langebaan by the sea to Saldanha. The previous night in the pub one of them had said: “Julle dink julle kan laag vlieg maar julle sal my nooit laat lê nie!” (You think you can fly low, but you will never make me hit the deck). Hullo!!!

I went to look for them on the beach in the morning and was alone for the one picture. I was pulling up to avoid them. In the afternoon I had a formation with me and you can see the other a/c behind me. (piloted by van Zyl, Kempen, and Perold).

A friend by the name of Leon Schnetler (one of the pongos) took the pics. The guy that said “Jy sal my nie laat lê nie!” said afterwards that he was saying to himself as I approached: “Ek sal nie lê nie, ek sal nie lê nie” (I wont go down, I wont go down) and when I had passed he found himself flat on the ground.

Memories from the past.

August 7, 2012 3:08 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

African Independence


The nifty ‘Tumblr’ site Afrographique, which Africa-related facts and statistics in a visually appealing and accessible way, created a handy chart of all the countries of Africa and the years they became independent. The chart correctly gives Zimbabwe’s date of independence as 1965, even though it had a brief return to colonial status for a few months in 1979-1980. Yet it lists Ethiopia’s “independence” year as 1941, despite the fact that Ethiopia has arguably been independent forever.

The Empire of Ethiopia was founded in 1137 with the ascent of the Zagwe dynasty (responsible for the country’s world-famous rock-hewn churches), and while it was occupied by the Kingdom of Italy (whose monarch usurped the title ‘Emperor of Abyssinia’) from 1936 to 1941 with a continued insurgency and a lack of abdication by the legitimate emperor, Haile Selassie, there’s a strong case that Ethiopia retained her independence throughout but merely suffered a temporary foreign occupation.

Despite this arguable discrepancy it’s not nearly so bad as Africa Report, which published a chart claiming that South Africa gained its independence in 1994. Pray tell, what colonial power ran South Africa before 1994? South Africa was unified and gained dominion status in 1910, and Afrographique goes for the much safer independence date of 1931 when the Statute of Westminster was adopted asserting the sovereignty of the dominions of the British Empire. Some Afrikaners claim South Africa did not become independent until the Republic was declared in 1961, but this is neither legally nor constitutionally the case as the country as an internationally recognised sovereign independent nation merely changed its form of government from a monarchy to a republic.

Afrographique has a number of other interesting posts, including African Nobel Prize winners (nine of them South African, across medicine, peace, and literature) and the ten richest Africans (fellow Matie Johann Rupert is #4).

August 7, 2012 3:04 pm | Link | 1 Comment »
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