1st february 2005

lost in space

I come out of a formica kebab-house alone after lunch, my head prickly with retsina. The air outside is a sunny swirl of exhaust fumes; that faint, smoky-turquoise big city colour. I stand on the pavement waiting to cross at the lights. Suddenly I know that I don't know the direction of the traffic. Do cars here drive on the left or the right side of the road? A cluster of Italian au pair girls, their voices mellow and labial, like a chorus escaped from an opera, pass me; I hear, in the crowd, an adenoidal Nebraskan contralto, twangy as a jew's-harp. Turned to a dizzied tourist myself, forgetful and jet-shocked, I have to hunt in my head for the language spoken here . . . at moments like this, the city goes soft; it awaits the imprint of an identity.

- Jonathan Raban, Soft City

I never really knew what this meant until a few years back: it was summer, a hot day of sticky tarmac and extra drinks, and I was in Wapping visiting a bookshop - now closed; I came out of the Tobacco Dock shopping centre, looked up and saw this:


Tableau. I didn't know at the time that it was Hawksmoor's 1729 church, St George-in-the-East: I didn't know what it was - I didn't know where I was. Standing on the pavement, I wondered, Istanbul? Somewhere in the Levant, at least; and how long have I been here? And then London crowded back in, and disappointment.

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6th february 2005

It has only just struck me that a kind of informal diary would be rather fun. No driving as to putting down something every day, just a sort of pipe to draw off the swamp water.

- Henry Green

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10th february 2005

an imam's calendar

January is thirty-one days; the power of phlegm is strong in it; one must have a mouthful of warm water before breakfast; sexual intercourse is praiseworthy therein; one must have hot vegetables such as celery, watercress, and leek; entering the bathroom and massaging the body with ointment is useful in it; one must be careful of sweet things, eating for example fresh fish, and having yogurt.

February is twenty-eight days; the winds become different in it; rain increases; grass appears; water flows in the hollows; it is useful to eat garlic, the meat of bird and animals which are hunted and fruit; one must decrease eating sweet things; abundant sport and movement is praiseworthy therein.

Continue reading 'an imam's calendar' . . .

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20th february 2005


Still from unidentified film, Africa Remix exhibition, Hayward Gallery.

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24th february 2005

air temple

Humans as birds, human figures with the heads of birds we feel we know quite well (apart from this peculiar Edward Burra painting, called by him Birdmen and Pots: despite its coy title, surely this is an Italian renaissance pox-doctor's surgery, with clients masked to preserve their respectability).
But what about birds as humans? The other day in the British Museum's Islamic Art room I came upon this (apologies for poor photo, I wasn't even sure whether photography was permitted at this point; it is):

and recognized it straight away from childhood readings of an Escher book from the public library. It figures here, from 1934, and better known here from 1947.
In my excitement I forgot to write down where it came from or what it is, and so have no idea: it isn't on the Museum's website, rather oddly. But it kind of looks as though Escher either owned one, or knew it well.

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A poem is a little machine for remembering itself.

- Don Paterson