Nov 30 2018

Things I’ve been Reading the Past Decade to Prepare for a Trip to Germany (Part I)

porticos in Bologna, Italia

Things I’ve been Reading the Past Decade
to Prepare for Writing a Novel about a Trip to Germany (Part I)

Germany before Goethe and Schiller:

  • Julius Gaius Caesar, Commentaries on the Gallic War (58–50 BC)
  • Tacitus, Agricola and Germania (98 AD)
  • Jordanes, History of the Goths (551 AD)
  • Anonymous, The Book of Settlements (Landnámabók) (~800–900 AD)
  • Anonymous, The Poetic Edda (~1200 AD)
  • Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival (~1200)
  • Anonymous, The Song of the Nibelungen (Nibelungenlied) (~1300)
  • Johannes von Tepl, The Ploughman and Death (Der Ackermann und der Tod) (1401)
  • Sebastian Brant, The Ship of Fools (Das Narrenschiff) (1494)
  • Conrad Celtis, Poems (~1490–1500)
  • Erasmus, In Praise of Folly (1509)
  • Thomas Müntzer, Various Works (1520s)
  • Martin Luther, The Book of Vagabonds and Beggars (Liber Vagatorum)(1509)
    • –––––.To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (An Den Christlichen Adel Deutscher Nation) (1520)
  • Sebastian Lotzer, The Twelve Articles of Peasantry (Das Zwölf Artikel Gehören Zu Den Forderungen) (1525)
  • Gottfried Leibniz, Shorter Works and Political Writings (1680–1715)
  • Immanuel Kant, Dreams of a Spirit-Seeker (Träume Eines Geistersehers) (1766)
    • –––––.Perpetual Peace (Zum Ewigen Frieden) (1795)
  • Honoré Gabriel Riqueti comte de Mirabeau, Memoirs of the Courts of Berlin and St. Petersburg (1787)
  • Georg Lichtenberg, Aphorisms (~1750s–1800)
  • The Brothers Grimm, Children’s Stories and Household Tales (Kinder- und Hausmärchen)(1812)

****

  • George Madison Priest, The Classical Period of German Literature (1941)
  • Ernst Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (Europäische Literatur und Lateinisches Mittelalter) (1948)
  • J.Knight Bostock, A Handbook on Old High German Literature (1955)
  • Richard Marius, Luther (1974)


May 24 2018

Hosting the Italians: Part III of III

porticos in Bologna, Italia

Hosting the Italians: Part III of III

(Read Part II here.)

I.

So the gang got back to Austin early Saturday afternoon, their bellies full of eclairs and kolaches and peach cobbler from die gut Volk aus (“the good folks of”) Fredericksburg. Once everything was unloaded, David and Dyhana went back to their place to rest for the afternoon, while Cosimo, Chiara, and Scott did the same at the home of the latter.

Later that evening I went to Scott’s to see everyone. Our friend Calvin (a.k.a. DJ Cal Cutta) had also stopped by. Cal was instrumental in originally introducing Cosimo to Scott––some five years ago on an internet radio show that he hosted and both Scott and Cosimo performed on. I hadn’t seen Calvin in several years, so it was an interesting reunion all around. For our entire relationship with our Italian acquaintances originated in the celebration and composition of music.

Later that night, which was both St. Patrick’s Day and the penultimate night of SXSW 2018, all of us (Cosimo and Chiara, David and Dyhana, and Scott and Ciera) went downtown for the Holodeck records show at Central Presbyterian Church at the corner of Eighth St. and Brazos. This was a somewhat unusual venue, but the church has been hosting SXSW events for the last several years. No alcohol was served, though I saw some vitamin-fortified water and granola bars available at the concession stand near the church’s portico.

At about 10:00 that night we sat in the sanctuary on crimson cushioned pews and, though we were too late to see our friend VVV’s show, we got to see a performance by another friend, Dylan Cameron. I’d seen him deejay aplenty––and, incidentally, both he and I have fathers who are musicians––but this was my first time seeing him exclusively play his own produced work.

Just before the show began social media addiction triggered me to tag my location. Next thing I knew, an old acquaintance from a disbanded book club I used to attend seated himself nearby. He said he saw my post, that he was already downtown and was “looking for something to do for South-by.”


II.

Alas, it’s impossible to not be abstract when writing about music.[1] Overall Dylan’s performance of (what I would call) electronic impressionism was technically precise, but not so exacting as to sacrifice organic emotion. Regardless of whether the electronic instrumentation was analog or digital, the mood his music conveyed was authentic, not artificial. Psychologically, the tone proved utterly true, not just a dim clang of mere “truthiness.”

The acoustics in the church were outstanding, probably due to the woodwork on the walls where laser beams flickered, flashed, and burst against the shadows of the sanctuary. This was accompanied by a mellow aurora seeping in through the stained-glass windows that surrounded us—windows illuminated that evening from outside the church walls by Austin’s downtown nightlife.

It all reminded me of the great German writer Goethe (1749–1832) who once recalled that both music and architecture can charm in the same way.[2] Thinking along similar lines as Goethe, the socialite Madame de Staël (1766–1817) once remarked that “architecture reminds me of frozen music.”[3] Or, to bring the conversation closer to home, one could compare a line from the novel The Big Road (1931) by Texas writer Ruth Cross (1887–1981), when her character of David realizes that “music was a sort of cathedral.”[4]

III.

After the show we talked to Dylan (and his companion, the voluptuous Vi) for a few minutes. But it was approaching midnight, and with the inebriated city crowds participating in both St. Paddy’s Day and SXSW, we all knew we needed to get out of the downtown area as soon as possible. Traffic was beginning to clog near Congress Avenue. The crowd was beginning to roar, approaching full climax. Recalling that moment, I’m again reminded of Goethe:

I don’t pretend to be a great actor or a great singer. But this I do know: when music accompanies bodily movements, enlivening and at the same time controlling them, and the manner of delivery and the expression needed are indicated to me by the musical composer, then I am a totally different person from when I have to create these for myself, as I have to in a spoken drama, inventing my own tempo, my own manner of speaking, and always liable to be disturbed in this by my fellow actors.[5]


We were all muttering to one another about where we should go next to get a drink and some food when I was suddenly put on the spot:

“Christopher Landrum, you know this town better than anybody—why don’t you tell us where to go?” says Scott in a tone that was both asking and assertive.

So I shrugged my shoulders, did my best “awe shucks” gesture, and suggested going to Mr. Tramps––a self-described “sports pub and café” in our old neighborhood (that is, Scott, David, Dyhana, and my old neighborhood) in north Austin. A place well away from the chaos of the final hours of the music festival that was unfolding downtown.

At Mr. Tramps we had pizza and drinks. We also saw our mutual friend James, who is also a musician in a couple of bands who play things in the key of classical punk.

IV.

The next day, Sunday March 18, Cosimo and Chiara shopped around Austin (including the novel experiences of strolling down the aisles of Walmart and Ross). Then we all said our temporary goodbyes as they prepared for their drive to New York. By March 22 they would be on their way home to Italy.

Yes, temporary, because we all intend to see them again someday soon. And when we do, we shall share even more stories and music with one another.

NOTES

wood

[1] Perhaps similar to a passage from by Texas writer Ruth Cross:

These stories possessed her by night…. Sometimes the people in the story did one thing, sometimes another. But a few basic scenes persisted, and these she told over and over to herself, like variations on a beautiful theme in music. Only she didn’t know much about music, except that it was supreme—even over books. It could say what it wanted, straight and sure, without getting itself blunted and deflected and lost in words. (The Golden Cocoon, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1924) II, 10.)

[2] Goethe writes: “A heavenly music which issued from the building charmed me still more than this pattern of architecture,” in Aus Meinem Leben: Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth from My Own Life) (1811–1830), trans. R. O. Moon, (Washington, D. C.: Public Affairs Press, 1949). II, p. 43.

[3] Quoted from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks, eds. William H. Gilman et al, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1960–82).  Vol. IV (1832–1834), Journal Q, September 14, 1832, [p. 55], p. 40. Emerson is quoting Corinne, ou lItalie, (1807) Bk. IV, ch. 3… [Editor’s note:] “In 1834 Emerson traced the origins of this phrase much further. See p. 337, n. 250 below [ibid].”

[4] Cross, The Big Road, (New York: Longmans, Green & Co, 1931) I, xvi, 66.

[5] Goethe, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meisters Apprenticeship) (1795–96) ed. and trans. Eric A. Blackall, (New York: Suhrkamp Publishers, 1983) II, xii, 74.


Apr 24 2018

Hosting the Italians: Part II of III

Western book stack

Hosting the Italians: Part II of II

(Read Part I here.)

Onto the plains [of west Texas] you issue as onto a lighted stage, and with that sudden sense of isolation and exposure. The farther behind you leave [central Texas] the now-familiar prairie, the fewer people you see, the stronger grows the sensation of being watched. The silence sharpens the ear, the emptiness the eye. An ambiguous, double sensation comes over you: you feel at once taller, a very tall man, and smaller, a very small creature….

––William Humphrey (1924–1997)

I had to work the next few days and couldn’t journey into our state’s own Big Sky Country with the gang as they headed into west Texas. But I’ve been to many (though not all) the places they went. Most of what follows was told to me upon their return. And where any gaps in the narrative happen to appear, my muse has instructed me to turn to my books about Texas and conjecture the story accordingly.

The next day, after the late supper Cosimo and Chiara had prepared for us Tuesday night, our guests drove to Houston to meet an old friend. They returned to Austin on Wednesday evening and said they had eaten some great barbecue somewhere in that city. Later that night they visited our friend fbom and worked on music.

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(Cosimo working on music at fbom’s studio)

Because Wednesday was the official start of the music portion of the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, after work I went to my neighborhood bar [K]nomad and saw two performances. The first was a local gal named Kat Allison, who sang solo and played an acoustic guitar; her style reminded me a lot of Jewel. She looked pretty but her music was plain.

The second act was a two-man band called Domico. They came all the way from Tokyo. I learned later that this was their first time to play in the States. They were very young, a little nervous, but didn’t seem necessarily anxious. Before they went on, one member approached the bar to order a soda. It appeared the bar had given the band a fixed number of drink tickets (not uncommon at some venues for SXSW shows), but––because the guy only wanted a soda (he looked under eighteen) and bars make their money selling alcohol, not soda––the bartender was nice enough tell him to keep his ticket and gave the guy a complementary coke. That may sound like a pretty mundane moment in the history of SXSW, but as soon as the Japanese patron learned that his soda was free, his eyes bugged out of his head in such an unexpected burst of excitement and gratitude that it was as if I were watching a hand-drawn anime from his homeland.

(Domico at Knomad, Austin, TX)

Domico’s style was very loud, rough, a lot in the vein of alternative rock from the 1990’s, but with more complexity—and that made it refreshing. After their set, I ended up purchasing one of their CDs as well as a t-shirt. Another member of the audience was at the merchandise table, and he also happened to be Japanese, though he wasn’t connected with the band. I was trying to convey to the band members what I thought about their music, but their English was very limited, so this other Japanese guy translated to them for me that I thought their music was “technically precise, but at the same time, emotionally wild”—and that this was a good combination.

The changeable winds [of west Texas] pass and repass over the dry grass with a sound like shifting sands, and running before the wind, the grass turns its nap, first this way then that way, like velvet pile when a hand is run idly back and forth over it. Flat as a marble floor, the land stretches away empty and endless as the bar boundless sky above. The eye strains ahead for a landmark, a rooftop, a spire, a tree, anything vertical, anything that thrusts above the brown level monotony….

––William Humphrey (1924–1997)

Thursday morning Cosimo, Chiara, and Scott, along with David and Dyhana all set out for Big Bend National Park, over 300 miles from Austin as the crow flies. They stopped for lunch in the old German town of Fredericksburg, at a Bavarian restaurant called Auslanders, which means “foreigners” or “outsiders” in German.

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(The gang at Auslanders, Fredericksburg, Texas)

After a shared appetizer of various meats, cheeses, and crackers, they ate Jagerschnitzel (breaded pork loin), bratwurst sausage and Rinderbraten sandwiches consisting of: “tender pot roast, piled high on a sweet sourdough bun with beef gravy, onion strings & roasted garlic mayo.” With their meal, they drank Altstadt beer. The name means “Old City,” and it’s made in the Altstadt brewery there in Fredericksburg.

Looked at long enough—and once embarked upon it, you look for a long, long time—the land [in west Texas] will seem to exhibit that phenomenon called seiche,[1] to rock slowly from side to side like the wallowing of a lake. That, and the absence of objects to relate yourself to, bring on land-sickness. Even the sun gives no direction, but hangs straight overhead all day, as if uncertain of the way. Under moonlight the plain whitens like an arctic snowfield….

––William Humphrey (1924–1997)

That evening they drove to Alpine, which over 300 miles directly west of Fredericksburg, and checked into some motel rooms. After unloading their bags, the gang drove to Marfa, only 25 miles farther west, to see the Marfa lights. I saw them once as a child, and all my adult friends said they saw them that night. As I remember them, the lights were not eerie like an alleged extraterrestrial encounter might be described. No, there is something so apparent about those lights that they lack mystery. In other words, they seem naturally perplexing, not artificially ambiguous. Yes, deep in the heart of Texas, the stars at night may be big and bright—but out in rural Presidio County, the Marfa lights might be better described as “blinking and benign.”

After seeing the lights, the crew headed back to their rooms at the Value Lodge in Alpine. Along the way they saw many jackrabbits in the night but no chupacabras. The next morning, Friday, March 16, they had breakfast at Penny’s Diner in Alpine, then, drove about 80 miles southward to Big Bend. Just before they got to the park, they stopped at the ghost town of Terlingua and explored its grounds.

When you do see a man you first see him at such a distance that he is like a fly crawling on a tabletop. There is no horizon [in west Texas]. Rather, there is horizon everywhere. The horizon is created whenever something or somebody stands up somewhere in the landscape. Then where a rooftop rises, the barren eye eagerly draws all lines towards it. You see clouds underneath the belly of a cow, see the sky winking between the legs of a walking man. It is a place without perspective, and things thrust themselves up isolated, unsurrounded by any of the close familiar objects by which one judges distances and size; and so the eye, as if out of focus, cannot judge, cannot relate it: is that a child nearby or a man far off, a haystack or a hummock, an insect or a bird—or nothing at all, a mirage? ….

––William Humphrey (1924–1997)

At Big Bend they saw its splendid scenery, the Rio Grande (and Old Mexico on the other side), as well as several coyotes (the canine kind, not traffickers of human beings). It was almost dark as they were leaving the park.

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(Cosimo and Chiara at Big Bend National Park, Texas)

On the long journey home, they stopped at a Sonic in Fort Stockton. It was almost midnight, but they managed to get some food before the place closed for the evening. Then they got back on the road, aiming for Austin. But both the desert and the darkness were starting to drag on everyone, so they got some motel rooms in Ozona (about 100 miles east of Fort Stockton) around 2:00 a.m. There they rested for a while.

And because you haven’t any landmark or person for so long in view, nor ever lose it, or him, under a hill or behind a bend, you seem to take forever getting there, and time hangs suspended and unreal. And yet when you finally reach the place no time has elapsed, for across that unarched plain of a sky the sun inches along and it is noon all day. Across the plain west from Fort Worth the road runs straight as a line left when a woman pulls out a thread to cut a piece of cloth along….

––William Humphrey (1924–1997) [2]

The next morning they continued on their journey back, driving through the wine country, and stopping in Fredericksburg again for lunch as well as for some peach cobbler for dessert. With the Wild West at their backs, they had only the hill country of central Texas before them now:

The vastness of the southwestern landscape is emphasized by the gradualness of its transitions. As you pass from east to west across Texas, the masses of moss hanging from gigantic oaks gradually become scarce. Gradually the trees scatter, and the growing gaps between them add a sense of expansion to the sight of land and sky. Fields of maize and grain around frail-looking but primly painted lumber homes suggest happy living. Their appearance is so gradual that no traveler can find the exact point of their beginning. The land, though absolutely flat along the coast, son begins imperceptibly to roll. At first the slopes are so gentle that valleys are apparent only in the recurrence of huge, moss-hung oaks with wild grapevines draped over their foliage. Instead of blocking visibility, the low hills only lengthen it. To catch the breeze above them, windmills are built on higher towers than along the coast, yet they seem hardly larger than toothpicks in the distance. Cattle graze on miles of green forage. Though scattered as the patches of shrubbery, they can be seen by the hundreds at a glance.

Before the earth’s undulations are high enough to be called hills, you can see them cutting waves in the horizon, far enough away to share a thin, transparent slice of the sky’s blue. Giant oaks, looking like tiny spots of dark blue, dot this slightly curved horizon. Farmhouses, appearing as beadlike blocks of white, freckle the blue. Roads wind like threads of gray between them. Yet all this is on a generally level expanse of land.

––Frank Goodwyn (1911–2011)[3]

They got back to Austin early Saturday afternoon.

(Read Part III here.)

NOTES

wood

[1] seiche: “(Swiss French) a short-lived standing oscillation of a lake or other body of water (as a bay or basin of the sea), somewhat resembling a tide, which may be caused by abrupt changes in atmospheric conditions or by small earth tremors.” (Oxford English Dictionary)

[2] William Humphrey, The Ordways, (New York: Knopf, 1965) 286–87.

[3] Frank Goodwyn, Lone Star Land: Twentieth-Century Texas in Perspective, (New York: Knopf, 1955) 82–83.


Apr 13 2018

Hosting the Italians: Part I of III

Mortadella in Bologna, Italia

Hosting the Italians: Part I of III

It’s been two years since Scott and I traveled to Italy to meet Cosimo and Chiara, and now, they were coming to meet us in Austin. We expected them to arrive sometime Saturday, March 10, 2018. So that afternoon I went over to Scott’s house in Pflugerville. We were a little anxious and a lot excited: anxious because we’d been so well-hosted in Bologna and Rome that we felt obligated to return the generosity; excited because we were enjoying good springtime weather and we’d taken off from work for the next several days. In other words, this would be a vacation for both of us, but one with responsibilities.

Cosimo and Chiara flew directly from Rome to Los Angeles. They said it took about fifteen hours. For a couple of days they toured L.A. and Vegas, then began working their way east from the Grand Canyon through New Mexico and eventually to Amarillo. There they saw the Cadillac Ranch (I think) and ate slabs of steak from the world-famous Big Texan Steak Ranch restaurant.

They texted us once they left Amarillo on their journey to Austin. But by that time the weariness of road travel had become burdensome. For not only did Cosimo and Chiara have (quite expected) jetlag from Italy to California, but as they began their trek across the Great American West, they had forgotten to account for the time zone changes occurring across the continent. In addition, they were unaware that that particular Saturday night was the Day Light Savings change-over. Talk about a triple-whammy.

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As Saturday afternoon turned into evening, Scott and I decided to watch The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), which is an Italian-made film starring American actors and shot in rural Spain. Before we knew it, we were approaching the end of this three-hour flick but were still awaiting the arrival of our guests. I told Scott that I expected “time had caught up with them,” and just before I left to go home for the evening, we received a text message saying they had driven from Amarillo to Brownwood but were going to stay there for the night. Having traveled half-way across the continent, followed by driving half-way across Texas––and all in the last 48 hours––we were not surprised.

 

So the next day we met them at Baby Acapulco’s in Pflugerville for a Tex-Mex lunch, one that lasted a few hours as we all conversed and caught up together. Scott’s friend Ciera also came and met everyone. Then we all went to Scott’s and helped them unpack and unwind.

That evening Scott said something to our guests like: “There’s lots of good food and restaurants here I want to show you, but there’s also good fast food,” so we went and picked up fried chicken from Raising Cain’s.

Later that night we went downtown to the intersection of Fifth St. and Congress Ave. where at the Ethics Lounge was an electronic music show, an event that was part of kicking off the South by Southwest 2018 music festival. Here we saw DJ-producers 6Blocc of Los Angeles and Von D of France, both of whom Scott and Cosimo were familiar with. Other than the elevator at the club not working, it was a great night.

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(Cosimo, Scott, Von D, and our friend Adam B)

Bologna is considered the food capital of Italy, and when we were their guests, Cosimo and Chiara treated Scott and me to some of the best food to be found in both Bologna and Rome. We therefore wanted them to try some of the best in Texas cuisine. Part of that meant taking them, along with Ciera, and my extended family David and Dyhana Landrum, to Storm’s Drive-in Restaurant in Lampasas, my hometown. A place with food so good that, back in the 1950’s, Elvis used to frequent it when he was an army draftee stationed at nearby Fort Hood. Today it remains just as much a culinary pilgrimage as it was back then for the King.

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(Dyhana, Chiara, Scott, David, Cosimo at Storm’s)

After lunch we went to the Landrum family farm, now called Finca de la Luna, where under sunny skies we inspected the vineyard, played with the dogs, drank some wine and Topo Chico mineral water, and listened to guineas meep and beep in the farmyard. At one point some homemade wine was brought out. It was negroamaro, a couple of years old. Cosimo was quite impressed. For though he is not a heavy wine drinker, he really enjoyed his glass, said it reminded him of Salento, his hometown in southern Italy—in the region where negroamaro originates. It was as if our two hometowns were united with this wine, for recalling this memory and writing about it now reminds me of a passage by the Southern writer Harry Crews (1935–2012):

I come from people who believe the home place is as vital and necessary as the beating of your own heart. It is that single house where you were born, where you lived out your childhood, where you grew into young manhood. It is your anchor in the world, that place, along with the memory of your kinsmen at the long supper table every night and the knowledge that it would always exist, if nowhere but in memory.
(A Childhood: the Biography of a Place, (New York: Harper & Row, 1978) 13–14.)

At some point later in the evening we were discussing burlesque dancing while Cosimo played piano. Despite everyone keeping their clothes on, it was still a fun night.

(At Finca de la Luna)

On the way back to Austin, Cosimo played a CD my father had given him of his punk rock band, Skull Shaker. The album had just been released during the South by Southwest music festival. Scott said they listened to it several times, so I assume they enjoyed it (we were in separate cars).

The next day I had to return to work, so what follows was told to me, though I did not experience it: that is, on Tuesday, March 13 Scott took Cosimo and Chiara to Lockhart. Scott’s mother Corally as well as David and Dyhana, also came along. After driving for about an hour south of Austin they arrived at the house of Scott’s grandmother. Scott’s grandmother, a.k.a. “Mom-maw” Ridge, proceeded to give everyone a short lesson on the history of Texas. Afterwards everyone ate lunch at Smitty’s Market, considered one of the best barbeque joints in Texas (and the world for that matter). They ate brisket, sausage, and pork chops, with Big Red soda to wash it down.

That afternoon they went to visit Scott’s uncle, who has a nearby ranch. There they explored the land on ATVs. Upon returning to Austin, they stopped by Whole Foods and grabbed a bunch of things to prepare a meal at home. After five hours of preparation and cooking, everyone was treated to some authentic Bolognese style pasta with sauce, a soufflé, and cauliflower cheese casserole. It was a terrific meal, but one that could not eaten and enjoyed until about 1:30 in the morning.

(Read Part II here.)

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(Big Red at Smitty’s Market, Lockhart, Texas)


Oct 13 2017

Recent Thoughts on Russian Conservatism (with Literary Comparisons)

la casa

Recent Thoughts on Russian Conservatism (with Literary Comparisons)

The structure of these regional directorates has remained largely unchanged for decades, which, when combined with the FSB’s system of personnel rotation, means that the fossilized provincial state security offices shape the FSB from within.

–Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, “Russia’s New Nobility: the Rise of the Security Services in Putin’s Kremlin,” Foreign Affairs, 89 (September–October 2010): 80–96 at 93.

*****

Russia has the third-largest gold and currency reserves in the world, but has become an international anti-model—a byword for non-modernization (and even de-modernization), uncompletitiveness, and chronic corruption….

One of the principle themes to emerge here is the Kremlin’s reluctance to graduate from its preoccupation with traditional security and geopolitical priorities to tackling a new global agenda.

–Bobo Lo, Russia and the New World Order, (London: Brookings Institution Press, 2015) 58, 72–73.

*****

Russian strategic theory today remains relatively unimaginative and highly dependent on the body of Soviet work with which Russia’s leaders are familiar.

–Maria Snegovaya, “Putin’s Information Warfare in Ukraine: Soviet Origins of Russia’s Hybrid Warfare,” (Institute for the Study of War: Washington, DC, September 2015)  7.

wood

For comparative purposes only:

The generation’s insularity began to change in the mid-330s. For some members of this generation (most notably Praetextatus) the early 330s saw their initial foray into public life, a step that certainly increased their awareness of the age’s political developments. Others, like Ausonius, would have seen their awareness increase when they began studying law or pleading cases. As members of the final pagan generation moved into their midtwenties, their focus shifted from the classrooms and parties of intellectual centers like Athens and Bordeaux to the social and political life of members of the imperial elite. These young men began assuming the duties and responsibilities of mature citizens. As the next chapter will show, they did so with a mixture of seriousness and conservatism that would become characteristic of their approach to public life.

–Edward J. Watts, The Final Pagan Generation, (Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2015) 58.

*****

“It was said [by Burke], that, as she [France] had speedily fallen, she might speedily rise again. He doubted this. That the fall from an height was with an accelerated velocity; but to lift a weight up to that height again was difficult, and opposed by the laws of physical and political gravitation.”

–“Substance of the Speech in the Debate on the Army Estimates in the House of Commons,” Tuesday, February 9, 1790. From The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund BurkeIn Twelve Volumes.” Vol. III. John C. Nimmo, London. 1887.

*****

What floods ideas are! How quickly they cover all that they are commissioned to destroy and bury, and how rapidly they create frightful abysses!”

–Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), III, iii, § 3.

*****

Historical experience [in intelligence gathering], even if inadequate, is the most reliable guidance system in existence. It may have to be discarded on occasion, but it must never be disregarded. In this sense, then, conservatism is mandated by prudence.

–Walter Laqueur, A World of Secrets: the Uses and Limits of Intelligence. (New York, NY: Best Books, 1985) 283.


May 12 2017

Ireland and the Pub: 21 Stops in 6 Days

Ireland and the Pub: 21 Stops in 6 Days

I don’t know if it’s possible to think about Ireland and not think about a pub. The Irish and the British love their pubs, and I love the Irish and the British for that. I drank Guinness, Harp, Smithwicks, Carlsberg, but mostly just Guinness.

Here follows (in no particular order) the pubs I crawled throughout the Isle of Éire:

Toners pub, est 1814, has the city’s best pint of Guinness according to James Joyce #Dublin #Literature

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A fine locals pub in East Belfast

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‘Tis a lovely pub

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May 11 2017

Morning with the Dead of North Dublin

Morning with the Dead of North Dublin

Some scattered thoughts:

I don’t know whether all boys have the same liking for horrors which I am conscious of having possessed—I only know that I liked the churchyard, and deciphering tombstones, and watching the labours of the sexton, and hearing the old world village talk that often got up over the relics.

–Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu,
The House by the Churchyard (1863), “Prologue”

 

The dead of Dublin #cemetery #Dublin

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On my first morning in Dublin,
I went to meet the dead.
On the day before Walpurgisnacht,
I heard rain fall on slabs on stone.
I smelled the grass of Glasnevin,
And from the cooing of pigeons nestled among the crypts
I heard the ghosts cry out.
The nearby magpies, meanwhile, seemed to mock me,
Or were they mocking the dead who dared reach out
And communicate with cowboy Chris?
De Valera is there, still stoic and serious,
And Michael Collins is still smiling as wide as the day he died.
And those who fell when famine came gave their thanks
By sending me sunny days in merry May
That made my journey all the more joyous.

Look about you, and say what is it you see that does not foretel famine—famine—famine! Doesn’t the dark wet day, an’ the rain, rain, rain, foretel it? Doesn’t the rotten’ crops, the unhealthy air, an’ the green damp foretel it? Doesn’t the sky without a sun, the heavy clouds, an’ the angry fire of the West, foretel it? Isn’t the airth a page of prophecy, an’ the sky a page of prophecy, where every man may read of famine, pestilence, an’ death? The airth is softened for the grave, an’ in the black clouds of heaven you may see the death-hearses movin’ slowly along—funeral afther funeral—funeral afther funeral—an’ nothing to folly them but lamentation an’ wo, by the widow an’ orphan—the fatherless, the motherless, an’ the childless—wo an’ lamentation—lamentation an’ wo.”

William Carleton,
The Black Prophet: a Tale of Irish Famine (1847), Ch. II.

 

Sun and rain among the dead, #Cemetery #Ireland #Dublin

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May 9 2016

Adventure Italia: Days 4 & 5 of 9

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Adventure Italia: Days 4 & 5 of 9

Day 04

Running through Bologna is Piazza Malpighi, a major roadway named for hometown scholar Marcello Malpighi (1628–1694), the “father of microscopical anatomy, histology, physiology and embryology.” Our host Cosimo had to finish mastering a song with his friend Tosco today (a song for an advertisement for which they’d already been paid), so while they were working in the early afternoon, Scott and I were let loose to explore downtown Bologna. We were dropped off at the corner of Piazza Malpighi and Piazza San Francesco, just in front of the thirteenth-century Basilica di San Francesco, the Due Torri (“Two Towers”) ever-hovering overhead.

Walking through the touristy district of Bologna near the base of the Two Towers, at the corner of Vicolo Ranocchi (“Frog Alley”) and Via degli Orefici (“Street of Goldsmiths”), Scott and I each had a slice of pizza and a beer at a café called Forno Quadrilatero (“Quadrilateral Oven”)

We next decided to try some mortadella (real bologna) at another café on Via degli Orefici called Loste. Here we had another round of beers, and the mortadella served two ways: first, cooked in and served with beans; next, sliced and stacked on pieces of bread.

It was about time to meet back at Cosimo’s apartment, so Scott and I tried to find our way back without getting lost. Just as we arrived at the correct building we saw Cosimo, Tosco, and another Giovanni (whose stage name is “Kappasaur”) laughing under the porticos. We all walked together for a few blocks till arriving at Via dell’Orso (“Bear Street”). Our companions were hungry, so Scott and I watched the trio eat American style fast food in a place called simply “Chicken Taste,” owned and operated by Asian subcontinentals.

After they finished their dinner, we walked about a block to the corner of Via dell’Indipendenza and Via dei Falegnami (“Street of Carpenters”) where we sat at an outdoor table and had a glass of red wine, possibly at Piadineria Wine Bar. We then headed home for the evening.

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(more downtown Bologna)

Day 05

At brunch we were all too busy talking to each other to notice that the toast in the oven had started to burn. So after eating up and cleaning up and airing out Scott and Cosimo went to his music studio to work on a new track they later tentatively titled “Burnt Bread.” I worked on my novel while they composed.

Chiara’s car had been making a strange noise, and she wanted it diagnosed before our upcoming trip to Rome, so that afternoon we went beyond Bologna to the village/suburb of Calcara to see a Moroccan mechanic with whom they were acquainted. There we walked around for a few blocks in the suburb before the mechanic decided the noise was nothing important. As we were leaving, he asked Cosimo if I spoke French, perhaps because the straw hat I wore was banded with a tricolor of red, white, and blue.

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(blooming succulents in Calcara)

From Calcara we returned to Bologna, drove past the Ducati factory, and made our way to what Cosimio and Chiara described as the best restaurant for Bolognese cuisine in Bologna, Nonna Rosa Trattoria. The four of us shared three courses. The first was a platter with a soft cheese (similar, but not as tart as sour cream), sliced mortadella, fried bread, and a cooked vegetable root similar to onions, leeks perhaps. Second course was tortellini; third was fried pork chops topped with prosciutto and cheese. Desert was torta di mele, an apple pastry served over mascarpone. We finished this off with coffee some lemoncello.

Arriving home around 12:00 a.m., Cosimo suggested visiting a nearby record store, just off Via Sante Vincenzi, that sometimes holds late night listening parties. Here at a place called Mint Sound we listened to records and were served a glass of complementary white wine. Evidently Mint Sound has only recently opened, and the store had made a marketing deal with a local winemaker to where the winemaker made a limited number of bottles with the record store’s logo printed on the label. These limited bottles were then served to guests at the listening parties.

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(late night listening at Mint Sound)

Instead of white wine, Cosimo had coffee (because he was driving). The coffee must’ve been strong, because after leaving the record store Cosimo,  in a kind of manic euphoria, drove Scott and me around for another hour or so, through the hills surrounding Bologna, finding panoramic points from which we could see the entire city, sometimes up to three-hundred meters below. Atop one of the higher hills sits the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca (or “San Luca” for short), which was spectacularly lit at night (the moon was big and bright and crescent), and this special high spot can generally be seen from any point down below in Bologna. Or as Cosimo put it: “You know you’re home in Bologna when you can see San Luca.”

It was either very late or very early when we got home, took tea, and took to bed.

(Read “Adventure Italia: Day 3 of 9″ here.)


May 5 2016

Adventure Italia: Day 3 of 9

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Adventure Italia: Day 3 of 9

Because Cosimo had errands to run this morning, and Chiara had class, I had the privilege of making coffee for the first time while (being?) in Italy. Scott and I sipped coffee and surfed internet throughout the morning in our hosts’ Bolognese apartment—then, we ate some breakfast (mostly buttered toast, olive jam, parmigiana).

That afternoon the four of us drove for about an hour northward to the small city of Comacchio (pop. 23,000), situated in the Po River Delta region of Italy’s northeast coast. Parts of the drive were over the Via Aemilia (an ancient Roman road completed in 187 BC).

Comacchio is surrounded by a lagoon, where the Reno River empties into the Adriatic Sea. The day was ending as we arrived at the lagoon, then, drove down a peninsula with a dirt road that had fishermen’s shanties lining both sides. From here we bird watched. As the sun set we saw flamingos, ibises, ducks, pheasants, and other fowl we could not identify. There were also literal clouds of mosquitoes—Comacchio used to have a malaria problem––so we stayed in the car while we watched the birds.

Later we drove from one side of the lagoon to the other, that is, to where the actual town of Comacchio sits, that is, at the corner of Croso Garibaldi and Via Rosario, where we had a 9:00 p.m. seafood dinner at a restaurant called Al Cantion. The atmosphere inside was both elegant and casual. Interesting old photos of life in Comacchio dotted the walls, with a large portrait of Sophia Loren hung high on the center wall opposite the entrance. In 1954 Loren starred in La donna del fiume (The River Girl), a movie that was filmed in Comacchio, and the town, quite understandably, seems never to have gotten over her.

Translating the menu was the largest language difficulty we encountered on our trip. I had a platter of fried fish and shrimp, Scott a clam and pasta dish. I think the four of us split a half bottle of pinot grigio.

After dinner we walked around the town, which was still and quiet after 10:00. We saw the Trepponti (Three Point) bridge built in 1638—a three-part bridge that connects the city’s various streets stretching over canals (canals which are not quite as large as those in Venice, but impressive nonetheless).

As we drove back to Bologna, we played different songs for each other from Cosimo’s phone. Scott and I introduced our hosts to Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” and Willie and Merle’s cover of Guy Forsyth’s “Poncho and Lefty,” as well as Kool and the Gang’s “Summer Madness.” Cosimo later cued up “I Can’t Tell You Why” by the Eagles and told us about some remix ideas he had for this song.

(Kool and the Gang’s song Summer Madness)

Then, around 1:00 a.m., on our return to Bologna we stopped (almost suddenly) in the middle of a small city. Cosimo started asking a bystander  directions about touring around town. The whole conversation was in Italian, but Cosimo later related some of the details to us: he had started by asking the bystander something like, “Hey, I’m from Bologna, do you know where we can walk around and tour the town etc.?” and the bystander immediately responded, almost in jest, “If you’re from Bologna, why don’t you speak with a Bolognese accent?” (because Cosimo is originally from southern Italy), to which our host responds: “Ah, come on man, help me out, I’m just trying to show the sights to these Texans here in the car with me.”

At the mention of “Texans” the bystander immediately perked up his shoulders and looked in the back of the vehicle at Scott and me, as if we were exotic animals being transported to the zoo.

The little city we began exploring in the wee morning hours was Ferrara (pop. 133,000). It’s a university town, and even after 1:00 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, there were plenty of students still in the streets. Among other things we saw were the twelfth century moated castle Castello Estense, the tenth century Ferrara Cathedral, the Piazza Savonarola and its statue of hometown book-burner and excommunicant Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498) as well as the façade to the entrance of Ferrara Synagogue that included a plaque of the 96 names of Jewish citizens of Ferrara whom Fascists sent to the camps near World War II’s close.

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(random façade in Ferrara)

Comacchio was cool and Ferrara was fun. (I’m definitely ready to go back.) We got home around 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., had some tea, watched some videos on YouTube then went to bed.

(Read “Adventure Italia: Days 4 & 5 of 9″ here.)

(Read “Adventure Italia: Day 2 0f 9″ here.)

 


Apr 29 2016

Adventure Italia: Day 2 of 9

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Adventure Italia: Day 2 of 9

After sleeping through the late morning we were served a large breakfast/brunch that started with buttered toast on whole-wheat bread, black olive jam, slices of cheese (cut from what looked like a two-pound block of parmigiana), and Italian flatbread (piadina). The butter went well on both breads; the jam too tasted great on the breads as well as simply smeared on slices of parmigiana. Sometimes we glazed our morsels with a thicker form of balsamic vinegar–a cream–that, upon contact with our food, congealed like liquid fudge drizzled on ice cream. The main course was spaghetti from Tosco’s mother’s homemade sauce.

We drank lots of espresso and were also offered sparkling water, fruit juice, milk. After the meal, we were given a glass of Cosimo’s grandmother’s homemade cherry wine. We also had some sips of amarezza (bitters, liqueurs) “to settle the coffee.”

After our stomachs had relaxed, Cosimo and Chiara guided Scott and me on a walking tour through the 900-year-old city of Bologna. One of the first things we saw was the Porta Galliera (city gate) where in medieval times folks would pass through to enter this once-walled city. Nearby were a group of book stalls and stacks under a large white tent. We browsed these wares for a while. I found some specimens from the mid-1800s that were a good price but nothing in English. Scott found some old comic books and bought them.

We strolled through Bologna southward down Via dell’Indipendenza (Independence Avenue) until we came to Finestra sui Canali which reveal the ruins of Bologna’s canal system. Between the 1200s and the 1600s these canals, fed by the River Po, were used for travel and commerce from Bologna to Venice.

Next we came upon some of Bologna’s most famous and recognizable landmarks, the Due Torri (Two Towers), and while plenty of visitors shuffled about the bases of these towers, the scene was nothing like the infestation of tourists one finds at the one in Pisa. Bologna’s towers were built in the 1100s, and, like Pisa, they lean.

We continued south for a few blocks until encountering Palazzo Re Enzo, built in 1244. Some of the acoustics beneath the covered archways and porticos of this palace made for whispering galleries. Here under the arches, before the days of texting, Renaissance lads and lasses used to flirt and court each other by whispering back and forth.

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(whispering gallery at Palazzo Re Enzo)

On the east side of the Palazzo stands the Neptune fountain, a special place for Cosimo and Chiara because ’tis the spot in Bologna where they, our hosts, first met. Immediately to the south of the fountain spans the Piazza Maggiore, overlooked by the Basilica of San Petronio.

Our breakfast had been large, but by evening Scott and I needed a snack. So at a mini “food mall”––possibly a place called Eataly on Via Drapperie; right off Piazza Maggiore––Scott and I split a tuna steak sandwich over some pinot grigio.

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(Piazza Maggiore at night)

We walked back to our host’s apartment, then, got in their car and drove around before finding the “right” gelato place. We must’ve driven for over an hour, because lots of places close early on Mondays. Soon enough Scott and I found ourselves in a version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Cosimo and Chiara couldn’t decide where we should eat gelato: one saying, “No that place’s stuff is too soft, let’s go to so-in-so’s”; the other replying: “No, theirs is too hard––somewhere else.” Yet, like the porridge in the children’s tale, the gelato we ended up eating was “just right”––each of us trying three or four different flavors scooped, piled, and slathered atop petite cones. Specifically, I remember there being a lot of pistachio and strawberry cheesecake.

(Read “Adventure Italia: Day 3 of 9″ here)

(Read “Adventure Italia: Day 1 of 9″ here)