It Happened One Night

2nd December 2002

es fühlt stark in mein brost

From the Herzog film The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, here's the story that Kaspar tells as he lies dying:

It's about a caravan; and the desert; but I only know the beginning.
I see a great caravan coming through the desert, over the sand: and this caravan is led by an old Berber; and this old man is blind. The caravan stops, because some of them believe they are lost. There are mountains before them. They check their compass, but they are no wiser. Then their blind leader picks up a handful of sand and tastes it, as though it were food. 'My sons,' the blind man says, 'you are wrong - those are not mountains you see, it's only your imagination. We must continue northwards. They follow the old man's advice, and they reach the city in the north, where the story takes place. But how the story goes after they reach the city, I don't know . . .

I've never seen Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, but I can recommend The Great Ecstacy of Woodcarver Steiner, which slows down time almost to a standstill.

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A reader writes: My favorite Herzog story is the one told in "Heart of Glass" (or was it in "Even Dwarfs Started Small"?), where the visionary on the tiny isolated island sets out into the ocean on a tiny undersupplied boat with an insufficient crew: "The birds followed them out to sea, and they took this as a good omen."

3rd December 2002

soft city

Rome, July. The ants carry their strange burdens across the floor of the forum, making trails in the dust on the face of ancient mosaics. Smell of warm tar, brick, bread, leather, petrol. Sounds: shouts, car horns, a tremor of fine birdsong from the pines. Tastes: fennel, pistachio, bitter grappa, exhaust.
Which would be all very well were not the picture above taken in Kew Gardens in November, and I'm sure any meteorologist could tell you that that cloud's all wrong.

5th December 2002

C. S. Lewis, from the Preface to the Third Edition of The Pilgrim's Regress:

. . . a particular experience [which] is common, commonly misunderstood, and of immense importance. . .
The experience is one of intense longing. It is distinguished from other longings by two things.
In the first place, though the sense of want is acute and even painful, yet the mere wanting is felt to be somehow a delight. Other desires are felt as pleasures only if satisfaction is expected in the near future: hunger is pleasant only when we know (or believe) that we are soon going to eat. But this desire, even when there is no hope of satisfaction, continues to be prized, and even to be preferred to anything else in the world . . .
In the second place, there is a peculiar mystery about the object of this Desire. Inexperienced people (and inattention leaves some inexperienced all their lives) suppose, when they feel it, that they know what they are desiring. Thus if it comes to a child while he is looking at a far-off hillside he at once thinks 'if only I were there' . . . if it comes in a context with erotic suggestions he believes he is desiring the perfect beloved. When it darts out at him from his studies in history or science, he may confuse it with the intellectual craving for knowledge.

But every one of these impressions is wrong. The sole merit I claim for this book is that it is written by one who has proved them all wrong.
Every one of those supposed objects for the Desire is inadequate to it. An easy experiment will show you that by going to the far hillside, you will get either nothing, or else a recurrence of the same desire which sent you thither.

It appeared to me therefore that if a man diligently followed this desire, pursuing the false objects until their falsity appeared and then resolutely abandoning them, he must come at last into the clear knowledge that the human was made to enjoy some object that is never fully given - nay, cannot be imagined as given - in our present mode of subjective and spatio-temporal experience.

An excellent exposition, not so? of a position we all find ourselves in - but Lewis's response was to join the Church of England, and I don't buy that at all. I think the desire he details comes from something hard-wired into our heads, but why it's there probably has a more interesting answer than the one he comes up with. Lewis's straw men here are: 'Freud, D.H. Lawrence, the American 'Humanists', the Neo-Scholastics, and some who wrote for The Criterion.' But I think a discussion with a buddhist on the matter would have been more illuminating, though not necessarily providing any answers.

7th December 2002

way too happy

Look at his face!

9th December 2002

ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space

13th December 2002

66 shades of lipstick

The story, the plot of a novel is of no interest to me. When I write a novel I aim at rendering a colour, a shade. For instance, in my Carthaginian novel [Salammbo] I want to do something purple. The rest, the characters and plot, is a mere detail. In Madame Bovary, all I wanted to do was to render a grey colour, the mouldy colour of a woodlouse's existence. The story of the novel mattered so little to me that a few days before starting on it I still had in mind a very different Madame Bovary from the one I created.
- Flaubert

16th December 2002

love and pockets

The dough is the same stuff for both, made in exactly the same way. For pizza, you roll it out, put stuff on it (ham, goat's cheese and an egg on top for the last 5 minutes is the current favourite) and oven-bake it. For pittas, you break it up into balls, roll it out into smears (the classic shape of a pitta is just a smear of dough) and put it under a hot grill, where the magic takes place: it swells up as it cooks, and out of nowhere creates the desired pocket. So how does the dough know what you're having for supper? Does it have a Sheldrakian knowledge of its future development? Or is it the top heat of the grill rather than the all-roundness of the oven that does the trick? Certainly home-made pittas are worth the effort, crisp and crunchy and juice-tight, unlike the rather damp and liable to crumble store-bought ones.

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Today is Beethoven's birthday.

17th December 2002

all arched eyebrows and go-to-hell expressions

Glyn Philpot, Acrobats Waiting to Rehearse, 1935

Glyn Philpot (1884-1937) started out his painting career doing society portraits in the manner of Sargent (including one of Oswald Mosley - what was he thinking of?) before moving on to pictures of his lovers, of blacks, of homoerotic scenes like the one above. He died of a heart attack at the age of 53, and the day after his funeral his partner Vivian Forbes took a fatal dose of sleeping tablets.

18th December 2002

drink to me only with thine eyes, please

A young man took his young woman to a restaurant and asked her what she would have to drink with her dinner. 'I guess I'll have a bottle of champagne.'
'Guess again!' quoth he.
- Alice James, 19th November 1889

On the bus the other day a woman with a baby sat opposite, the baby bawled, and the woman at once began to unlace herself, exposing a large, red udder, which she swung into the baby's face. The infant, however, continued to cry and the woman said, 'Come on, there's a good boy - if you don't, I shall give it to the gentleman opposite.'
Do I look ill-nourished?
- W. Barbellion, Journal of a Disappointed Man, 7th August 1915

from The Assassin's Cloak, a large and addictive book.

25th December 2002

I sat down in my bath upon a sheet of thick ice which broke in the middle into large pieces, while sharp points and jagged edges stuck all round the sides of the tub like chevaux de frise, not particularly comforting to the naked thighs and loins, for the keen ice cut like broken glass. The ice water scorched and stung like fire. I had to collect the floating pieces of ice and put them on a chair before I could use the sponge, and then I had to thaw the sponge in my hands for it was a mass of ice. The morning was most brilliant. Walked to the Sunday School and the road sparkled with millions of rainbows, the seven colours gleaming in every glittering point of hoar frost.

- Kilvert, Christmas Day 1870

28th December 2002


To the house of Sir John Soane, to view his collection of antiquities, where we saw the Model of an Etruscan Tomb containing an Anatomy. Then to Peacock's Theatre to see the dramatic spectacle of the Snow Man, and thence to Covent Garden where in a shop I drank some Belgian beer, refreshing and pleasing. Outside St Paul's church a juggler amused the people with antics on a high velocipede and thence to Somerset House to watch the skaters, where were so many flaming cressets that my boy was in fear lest the buildings catch on fire. To bed by eleven.


Didn't sleep at all last night. First hot, tormented, then, after I had opened the window, wonderfully calm. Birdsong from the garden - like the touch of soft, busy hands.

- Robert Musil

Must not read novels.

- Leo Tolstoy

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