Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám is the title that Edward FitzGerald gave to his translation of a selection of about a thousand Persian poems, attributed to poet, mathematician and astronomer Omar Khayyám (1048–1131). An aruba'i is a two-line stanza with two parts (or hemistichs) per line, hence the word rubáiyát (derived from the Arabic language root for "four"), meaning "quatrains".

The Rubaiyat has seen many versions and interpretations since the first FitzGerald 1859 edition, reflecting its wonderful beauty and fluidity. Similarly there have been many attempts at illustration in various styles, several of which I have shown below. Amongst the many versions, Wallace Irwin’s parodical Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Jr. purports to be his translation from a language he calls “Mango-Bornese”. I have mashed up a number of illustrations, plus quatrains from the Shahriar Shahriari version with a few cheeky ones from Irwin. See which ones you can identify or scratch your head at.

Heaven is incomplete without a heavenly romance
Let a glass of wine be my present circumstance
Take what is here now, let go of a promised chance
A drumbeat is best heard from a distance.

O foozied Poetasters, fogged with Wine,
Who to your Orgies bid the Muses Nine,
Go bid them then, but leave to me, the Tenth
Whose name is Nicotine, for she is mine!'

This clay pot like a lover once in heat 
A lock of hair his senses did defeat 
The handle that has made the bottleneck its own seat 
Was once the embrace of a lover that entreat.

Then let the balmed Tobacco be my Sheath,
The ardent Weed above me and beneath,
And let me like a living Incense rise,
A Fifty-Cent Cigar between my Teeth

Mark how Havana's sensuous-philtred Mead
Dispels the cackling Hag of Night at Need,
And, foggy-aureoled, the Smoke reveals
The Poppy Flowers that blossom from the Weed.

Alas the youthful fire is a dying ember
The spring of life has reached December
What is termed youth, I vaguely remember
But know not whence and how from life's chamber.

Tonight I shall embrace a gallon cup
With at least two cups of wine I'll sup
I'll divorce my mind and religion stop
With daughter of vine, all night I'll stay up.

This clay pot like a lover once in heat
A lock of hair his senses did defeat
The handle that has made the bottleneck its own seat
Was once the embrace of a lover that entreat.

Khayyam, if you are intoxicated with wine, enjoy!
If you are seated with a lover of thine, enjoy!
In the end, the Void the whole world employ
Imagine thou art not, while waiting in line, enjoy!

Avaunt, acerbid Brat of Death, that sours
The Milk of Life and blasts the nascent Flowers!
Back to your morbid, mouldering Cairns, and let
Me do my worrying in Office Hours!

North Utsire

Sonny Rollins: Alfie's Theme (1966)

Alfie's Theme is the first track from the 1966 album Alfie by jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins, compiled for the film of the same name & year. It is, in part, featured in the opening scenes of the film infused with moody sights of London at night. The original British film soundtrack recruited Rollins with other local musicians, including pianist Stan Tracey, who sadly is not heard on the album.

North Utsire

Richard Strauss: Goebbels’ Decadent Neurotic

In March 1933, when Strauss was 68, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to power. Strauss never joined the Nazi party, and studiously avoided Nazi forms of greeting. For reasons of expediency, however, he was initially drawn into cooperating with the early Nazi regime in the hope that Hitler—an ardent Wagnerian and music lover who had admired Strauss's work since viewing Salome in 1907—would promote German art and culture. Strauss's need to protect his Jewish daughter-in-law and Jewish grandchildren also motivated his behavior, in addition to his determination to preserve and conduct the music of banned composers such as Mahler and Debussy.

In 1933, Strauss wrote in his private notebook:

I consider the Streicher-Goebbels Jew-baiting as a disgrace to German honour, as evidence of incompetence - the basest weapon of untalented, lazy mediocrity against a higher intelligence and greater talent. 

Meanwhile, far from being an admirer of Strauss's work, Joseph Goebbels maintained expedient cordiality with Strauss only for a period. Goebbels wrote in his diary:

Unfortunately we still need him, but one day we shall have our own music and then we shall have no further need of this decadent neurotic.

Strauss & Goebbels in the 1930's

Nevertheless, because of Strauss's international eminence, in November 1933 he was appointed to the post of president of the newly founded Reichsmusikkammer, the State Music Bureau. Strauss, who had lived through numerous political regimes and had no interest in politics, decided to accept the position but to remain apolitical, a decision which would eventually become untenable. He wrote to his family, "I made music under the Kaiser, and under Ebert. I'll survive under this one as well." In 1935 he wrote in his journal:

In November of 1933, the minister Goebbels nominated me president of the Reichsmusikkammer without obtaining my prior agreement. I was not consulted. I accepted this honorary office because I hoped that I would be able to do some good and prevent worse misfortunes, if from now onwards German musical life were going to be, as it was said, "reorganized" by amateurs and ignorant place-seekers.

Strauss privately scorned Goebbels and called him "a pipsqueak." However, in 1933 he dedicated an orchestral song, Das Bächlein ("The Little Brook"), to Goebbels, in order to gain his cooperation in extending German music copyright laws from 30 years to 50 years.

Strauss attempted to ignore Nazi bans on performances of works by Debussy, Mahler, and Mendelssohn. He also continued to work on a comic opera, Die schweigsame Frau, with his Jewish friend and librettist Stefan Zweig. When the opera was premiered in Dresden in 1935, Strauss insisted that Zweig's name appear on the theatrical billing, much to the ire of the Nazi regime. Hitler and Goebbels avoided attending the opera, and it was halted after three performances and subsequently banned by the Third Reich. On 17 June 1935, Strauss wrote a letter to Stefan Zweig, in which he stated:

Do you believe I am ever, in any of my actions, guided by the thought that I am 'German'? Do you suppose Mozart was consciously 'Aryan' when he composed? I recognise only two types of people: those who have talent and those who have none.

This letter to Zweig was intercepted by the Gestapo and sent to Hitler. Strauss was subsequently dismissed from his post as Reichsmusikkammer president in 1935.

Richard Strauss speaking at the German Composers'
Meeting, Berlin on 18 February 1934.

The 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics nevertheless used Strauss's Olympische Hymne, which he had composed in 1934. Strauss's seeming relationship with the Nazis in the 1930s attracted criticism from some noted musicians, including Arturo Toscanini, who in 1933 had said, "To Strauss the composer I take off my hat; to Strauss the man I put it back on again," when Strauss had accepted the presidency of the Reichsmusikkammer.  Much of Strauss's motivation in his conduct during the Third Reich was, however, to protect his Jewish daughter-in-law Alice and his Jewish grandchildren from persecution. Both of his grandsons were bullied at school, but Strauss used his considerable influence to prevent the boys or their mother being sent to concentration camps.

In 1947, Strauss made his first flight to conduct concerts in England arranged by his old friend Thomas Beecham. He was deeply depressed by having to justify himself to the denazification board, which was investigating those thought to have collaborated with the regime. In June 1948, he was cleared on all counts. Despite Strauss being cleared of collaboration, for decades his music suffered the same fate as Wagner’s: the composer’s association with the Nazis sullied the work, which was banned, ignored or reviled as a result. While Wagner is still verboten, Israel lifted its embargo on Strauss in the 1990s.

Strauss completed the composition of Metamorphosen, a work for 23 solo strings, in 1945. The title and inspiration for the work comes from a profoundly self-examining poem by Goethe, which Strauss had considered setting as a choral work. Generally regarded as one of the masterpieces of the string repertoire, Metamorphosen contains Strauss's most sustained outpouring of tragic emotion. Conceived and written during the blackest days of World War II, the piece expresses Strauss's mourning of, among other things, the destruction of German culture - including the bombing of every great opera house in the nation. At the end of the war, Strauss wrote in his private diary:

The most terrible period of human history is at an end, the twelve year reign of bestiality, ignorance and anti-culture under the greatest criminals, during which Germany's 2000 years of cultural evolution met its doom.

Goethe’s poem Metamorphosis of Plants can be found here, but Strauss’ title Metamorphosen undoubtedly refers to both Goethe poems The Metamorphosis of Plants and The Metamorphosis of Animals. In both, the philosopher optimistically conceives of that process as “order in motion.” Strauss's Metamorphosen turns Goethe's concept on its head. In the musical work, self-knowledge does not elevate man; rather, it reveals his bestial nature. To symbolize the inversion of Goethe's noble concept, Strauss reworks a basic motive from his “Niemand” sketch in the Metamorphosen. In the vocal piece, the C-major tonic is initially undermined by either E-minor or C-minor harmonies, either of which may easily be transformed into C major by the shift of a single pitch. Jackson equates those slippery harmonic relationships, which he calls the Metamorphosenmotiv, with the elusiveness of Goethe’s unknowable self. In “Niemand wird sich selber kennen” the poet asserts that self-knowledge is the way in which man elevates himself, a concept that Strauss supports in his vocal setting through the triumph of C major over the E-minor and C-minor harmonies.

In the Metamorphosen, however, Strauss’s transformations of the Metamorphosenmotiv determine the work’s underlying harmonic structure and symbolically contradict Goethe. C major is defeated by C minor, self-knowledge is not redemptive, and only man’s most degenerate nature is revealed.

For a musical form, Strauss employs a loose sonata-allegro design in which the recapitulation necessarily emphasizes the triumph—-or in this case, the defeat of one tonality by another. To focus attention on this background tonal conflict, the six surface motives remain unchanged throughout the work, while the orchestration for twenty-three solo strings imparts a rich and solemn tone well suited to the serious subject matter. Alan Jefferson, viewing it only as a memorial to Munich, called the Metamarphosen “possibly the saddest piece of music ever written”.

The solemnity & simple elegance of Metamorphosen has similarities, at least in its intent, to Vaughan- Williams’ post war Elegy from the 3rd (Pastoral) Symphony and playing the two pieces one after another is sometimes a good exercise in reflecting on creative vulnerability in an age of mass warfare. 

Above is a picture of Munich after the allies had finished with it. Being an industrial city, Munich was a major target for allied bombing missions during World War II, which decimated much of its infrastructure. Most of the buildings we would see today had been heavily damaged or destroyed during the war. When the dust settled, many that remained standing were only a skeletal shell of their previous form. Most were painstakingly rebuilt over time, many in their former traditional style. Amazingly, over six tons of unexploded allied bombs are discovered throughout Germany each and every year during the excavation process of construction projects.

Richard Strauss: a reluctant Nazi collaborator (New Statesman; Jan 2014)
The Richard Strauss Companion- Schmid, Mark-Daniel (2003).
Wikipedia: Richard Strauss

North Utsire

My Dinner with Andre

My Dinner with Andre is a 1981 film starring Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn, written by Gregory and Shawn themselves, and directed by movie magician Louis Malle. The film depicts an intense conversation between Gregory and Shawn (not necessarily playing themselves) at the fictional Café des Artistes (actually the vacant Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia, which has since been restored and reopened as a luxury venue). Based mostly on conversation, the film's dialogue covers such things as experimental theatre, the nature of theatre, and the nature of life, contrasting Shawn's modest, down-to-earth humanism with Gregory's extravagant spiritual experiences. I was wary of watching 111 minutes of two guys having dinner in a restaurant, but found the film fascinating, a bit like my head had been peeled open with a tin opener and all the thoughts had poured out onto the screen.

North Utsire

Education for a Sustainable Future

Education For a Sustainable Future presents information on how today's practices in schools are socially unsustainable. The documentary film critically analyses what is considered socially relevant in a new education system which brings out the most potential in all of humanity whilst also detailing specific educational methods from a wide range of sources on how to nurture social skills, critical thinking techniques and a larger variety of important practices to positively reinforce from our earliest years onwards. It must be recognised that a sustainable education is one of the most critical components of any advanced society.

Education For a Sustainable Future is an independent film production and has been uploaded online for free download and distribution. The views expressed in this documentary are not necessarily shared by the originators of source material presented.

This is a good video. Whilst I find myself agreeing with much of it, I can’t help thinking there is some hidden quasi- sectarian agenda embedded within it which is never quite stated explicitly. Much of this ‘feeling’ derives from the somewhat uncompromising, programmed narrative which leaves little option for plurality within our educational structures. It seems to question nearly every aspect of sustainability in education, but not the main question (in my opinion) which is one of the human scale; ‘schools’ of the future hopefully won’t be large industrial scale institutions which indoctrinate with an agenda of ‘scientism’, but an outgrowth of personal development at the home, village, or small- scale community level. My view of sustainable education is one of high tech, low ecological impact, on the human scale.

Whilst promoting the values of humanism, sustainability, cooperation and materialism, there is a didactic undercurrent to this film which I do not like. It seems to be predicated on a humanist model which is frighteningly totalitarian in its outlook, and politically naïve. I will take each one of these assertions in turn.

(i)                  Humanist outlook. An attempt to remove “dogma” of religion, politics, and belief from education actually becomes a kind of baggage itself. The whole documentary seems to have been conceived in a vacuum of knowledge of social constructivism, such as that outlined back in 1969 in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Thomas S Kuhn); In the film it says “there is no point in teaching redundant concepts in science which were disproved long ago” and “If scientists didn’t need this knowledge, they wouldn’t have developed that field of science”, whilst showing images of religiosity as “obsolete” (despite advancing multiculturalism & inclusivity as a desirable goal of their empathy training). To poo poo our historical and sociological ferment in the hope we can crystallise a new clinical outlook around a few trite ‘objective’ values is hopelessly naïve, and somewhat scary. Human beings are not atomised commodities to be trained in One Truth. They come with their own spirituality and wonderfully rich conditioning for a reason.

(ii)                Centralising (totalitarian). There is an idea that physical referents should predominate over social relativism. For example; “Science is the best tool we have so far [in achieving sustainability]”, and “Education needs to be founded on science” Which science??? Which epistemological basis is being used??? By whom??? Science is not quite the objective exercise which is portrayed. It comes with sociological and economic strings. For example the ‘scientific wisdom’ of pesticide use, vaccination, surgery, large scale energy and water projects, and GM technology will come to be looked upon as Medieval instruments of torture in the future, whilst being universally endorsed now.

(iii)               “A new social system with a scientifically advanced outlook, a system focussed on alleviating human labour via machine automation and creating an abundance of resources for all of humanity to share, would surely adopt the new education system conveyed”. This statement shows a failure to understand the intrinsic and spiritual relationship of humanity to the earth, to the harmonious singing of birds in the trees, their whistling words in the wind. And this disconnection between “science” and “nature”, which has its origin with Descartes, is promulgated in ignorance in this film. Where is the outdoor education? The meditation? The Steiner- type whole person approach to body, mind, nature, and education? The insertion of ‘mechanisation’ between man and nature  is a fundamental error which stands in the way of harmonic working with nature; for example Permaculture, the energy utilisation ideas of Nicola Tesla, Viktor Schauberger, etc.

(iv)              There is an absence of exploration of the dialectics of education (and science) as an outgrowth of capitalism. Industrialised education is a product of capitalism. Targets, exams & testing, and other such bean counting is an impediment to learning (see the work of Paulo Freire). Holistic education & self directed learning are true education. If you have had the opportunity of seeing any Jacques Fresco videos, you will notice his ideas are drawn on heavily throughout this documentary. Fresco has the opinion that human societies can be strategically planned and organised by robots, that there is no room for doctors, architects, lawyers or teachers when machines can do the job based on algorithms and mechanisation. To remove the human, the art from our material plane of existence is impossible. For we are an outgrowth of nature, (etymologically the word human comes from the word humus, soil) not a cerebrum standing loftily above it. This naiveté is well illustrated when the documentary writers wax lyrical about normative and criterion referencing, which are concretised and limiting methods of ‘training’ rather than education as I understand it, a path to liberty and wisdom.

That said, and having got my main beefs out of the way with this documentary, there are many things to like such as the Roots of Empathy program, Jacques Fresco’s futuristic ideas (minus the mechanised robo- communistic leadership), some deep questioning of what it means to be educated in a sustainable way, and divesting ourselves of limiting beliefs and politics that blight our industrialised educational system.

Some resources I would recommend in this area include:

North Utsire

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Lonely Tree

Work has started to try and save a Powys landmark - known as 'The Lonely Tree'. The Scots Pine has surveyed the Llanfyllin landscape for at least 150 years - but was brought down by the 100mph winds that battered Wales in February 2014. The town council hope to keep the tree alive by covering its roots in soil. The work started over the weekend by using a dumper truck and a team of volunteers. The tree will also be fenced off to keep hungry sheep from eating its leaves.Work to preserve - and potentially save the tree - got under way by covering two 'tap roots' to stop the tree from dying. It is hoped that it may also trigger what is known as a 'phoenix' reaction - where the tree is regenerated. The tree is such a well known landmark in the area, that it is used as part of the logo for the town council's website.According to local tradition, anyone planning to walk up Green Hall Hill should ensure they visit the tree and give it a hug.

Llanfyllin Mayor, Ann Williams said the tree would have to be left for a year to see if another sapling starts growing. The tree stood on land owned by the family of town and county councillor Peter Lewis. "The tree is important to many people and is a historical part of Llanfyllin and the Cain valley so we had to try and save it" he said. "My family have had many requests from people all over the world who wanted to spread their loved ones' ashes near it".

In addition to a huge voluntary effort to save the tree, covering the roots in 30 tonnes of soil, fencing it off and fundraising, it has inspired poetry and music, and much love. Lonely Tree won the European Tree of the Year award for 2014, and has a mention on the Ancient Tree Forum and Tree Hunter websites.

The Lonely Tree

There in a brown field all alone,
Sits a tree lonely.
Day after day,
the lonely tree watches the sun play.
Night after night,
he cries to the stars and prays.

He cries in the dark, "This lonely tree
can no longer bloom.
They have all withered away,
my little cherry blooms.
Aren't I still a pretty tree?"

Year after year,
the lonely tree sits there
waiting to hear
the footsteps of someone who might be dear.
All the lonely tree wishes for
is to show his cherry blooms to someone dear.

On one spring day,
A girl walks alone and sad.
There in a brown field all alone,
the girl sits by a lonely tree.

She cries to the tree, "This lonely girl
can no longer hold what's most dear.
He has gone away,
my dear fiancee.
Aren't I still a pretty girl?"

The lonely tree made one quiet wish.
"If I only could,
give her a reason to smile I would.
That would be my last wish."

And with the ease of a gentle breeze
cherry blossoms filled the air,
and kissed the girl's hair.
As if they tried to say,
"No more tears today or any day.
Just smile for me
because to me
you are a pretty girl and there's no other."

By T. Lauren Cole
North Utsire

Sunset #3 from Newborough

North Utsire

Tea: A Lament

A couple of months ago, I gave up drinking tea on account of the milk (I’ve discovered I'm dairy intolerant). Sure, I know you can use nut or bean milks like Soya milk, but quite honestly they don’t quite do the trick in neutralising tannins, or supply that sweet nutritive velvet quality cow or goat’s milk does. I also liked my tea STRONG; Yorkshire, Assam or Breakfast tea, and nut milks don't do much for that. So now I’m a reluctant black coffee freak. You can only drink so much of that stuff, so I transition to herb teas later on in the day. It’s sort of working, but then I see poetry such as Lu Tong’s In Gratitude For A Gift Of Fresh Tea and I wince. I guess he didn’t have his tea with any milk, so sipping weak green tea could be an option. I’ll blog again if I find a way through this gentlest of crises.

The first bowl moistens my lips and throat;
The second bowl banishes all loneliness;
The third bowl clears my mind of words and books;
At the fourth cup, I begin to perspire-
Life’s troubles evaporate through my pores;
The fifth cup cleanses my entire being;
Six cups and I am in the realm of the Divine;
Seven cups- ah, but I can drink no more;
I can only feel the gentle breeze blowing through my sleeves,
Wafting me away to the Isle of Immortality!

Lu Tong, eighth century Chinese poet
From: In Gratitude For A Gift Of Fresh Tea

Reproduced from 
The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing  by Kenneth S. Cohen (2000)

North Utsire

Hard Boiled Eggs in a Rich Moghlai Sauce

There are two types of people in this world; the “yum, egg curry” people, and the “ewwww how could you?” caliber. This is pretty much divided along the lines of those who have eaten egg curry (yums) and those who have never had the pleasure (yum nots). If you’ve never had an egg curry; try it! You’ll not be disappointed. Below is the best recipe of the lot, of course from Madhur. It is adaptable to make a veggie alternative. The only sticking point (and it is a literal one) with this recipe is the necessity of boiling & shelling the eggs, which can prove awkward. Make sure you allow plenty of time. You could boil the eggs in the a.m & shell them once they are cool. I used to keep two very healthy chickens who were great layers but their eggs were so tightly bound with a tough inner shell membrane that my eggs used to end up looking like the surface of the Moon once shelled. Egg membranes are a good source of naturally occurring glycosaminoglycans and proteins which are used in the treatment of joint pain & stiffness so it’s not all bad. I think its nature’s way of keeping you supple if you have to chase the buggers off your vegetable plot every so often.  Moghlai cuisine has origins dating back to the Moghul Empire. The food is often characterised by its richness and distinct aromatic flavours.

½ tsp cayenne
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp garam masala
1 tsp coriander
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ - tsp salt
black pepper to taste
1 tbsp water

Mix and set aside.
2 tbsp oil
50g (2oz) onion, finely chopped
2.5cm grated root ginger

Fry onions until they turn brown at the edges.
Add the ginger and stir for 10 seconds, then
add the paste from the cup and stir for 30

2 tsp tomato puree
150 ml chicken stock
300 ml single cream
2 tbsp fresh coriander

Stir in the tomato puree, chicken stock,
cream and fresh coriander and bring to a
simmer. Cover and simmer gently for 23

A tin of coconut milk is a perfectly good substitute for the cream if you are dairy/ lactose intolerant.

The chicken stock can be substituted for a suitable vegetable stock if you are vegetarian but be careful which type you use (you dont want it to over power the dish). An alternative is to omit it altogether.

Using coconut milk/ vegetable stock will transform your Moghlai into an ethical veggie dish if you keep chucks.

6- 8 boiled eggs, peeled and halved

Lay the egg halves in the sauce in a single
layer and spoon the sauce over the top.
Cover and simmer very gently for another 23

North Utsire

Manchester Pale Ale

Manchester Pale Ale



4.1% (bottle); 3.7% (cask); 3.6% (keg)

My abiding memory of J W Lees beer is of standing like an arthritic penguin in their brewery- owned Rain Bar on Great Bridgewater Street one rainy Saturday at the start of a pub crawl with my dad & brother. They both seemed very impressed by the bitter (probably due to the price) but I found it bland, contemplating the irony of being in a rain bar, on a rainy day, drinking rain water.  J W Lees describe their bitter as “Clean & Dry”, with a “Grapefruit & Zesty” nose but I don’t know how they arrived at that. For many years that was the sum total of my relationship with J W Lees, although inwardly I knew I must have been harbouring an unfair grudge, such is their popularity.

Recently I tried their Manchester Pale Ale from the bottle. I’m glad I did. It was a completely different prospect from those gray days of tupperware skies & standing with funereal solemnity at the Rain Bar. The Liberty & Mount Hood hops give a sunshine twist to the pint which is not so much citrus but pleasantly acetone with floral aromas awakening the inner Heidi in her Alpine splendour, dancing amongst the noddling flowers reveling in a glacially enlivening breezes. The head flattens off quickly, and the sensation is that you are drinking a decadent lemonade of beer, not to be confused with some soggy shandy. This comes with some slight baggage; the ever present gas though is surprisingly tolerable. The hoppiness is clean. It would go well with something like Ennerdale pipe tobacco. The intrinsic lightness of the beer would suit vegetarian food, or chicken & white fish. Its quite an uplifting party beer.

Since having such a pleasant J W Lees surprise, I have discovered they are not so much a one trick pony and in fact have a wonderful array of beers (see weblinks above) including LAGER !! Mentioning their Bohemia Regent seems appropriate here. The sheer range of the brews on offer (including the salvation of lower ABV session ales) demonstrates a heroic intent on behalf of John Willies to offer a comprehensive beer repertory to assuage the pains of humankind. I SHALL go to the Rain Bar again.

Marks /10

North Utsire