The Lights at Kew Gardens (Las luces de Kew Gardens)

I didn’t have a chance to take photos of London’s new year fireworks, so I’ll give you the lights at Kew Gardens instead – enjoy. (Click on the gallery to enlarge the photos.)

No tenía oportunidad para sacar fotos de los fuegos artificiales de Londres, así que en vez de eso os doy las luces del jardín botánico de Kew – ¡que las disfrutéis! (Haz click para ampliar las fotos.)


A Glass of Plutonic Champagne

Quote of the Week:

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

Oh to see the Earth just once as a full moon, from a pavement café on the empty shores of the Sea of Tranquillity, a glass of plutonic champagne in front of me on my platinum table, dreaming of an impossible trip to Spain!

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

Life Beyond Auto-Intelligent

 A Dummy’s Lessons in Photography – 2017

2017 – the year when I took the camera off Auto-Intelligent. Which, by the way, does not mean that I attempted to go fully manual; that is still a long way off, if it ever happens. But I experimented with the Program mode, with Aperture and Shutter Priority, with Manual Focus and Macro.

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Quote of the Week: Church-Shaped Air

Canterbury Cathedral

The late Romanesque façade of the abbey church is decorated with a row of frail columns lacking a base. Not touching the ground, supporting nothing, they simply frame the semi-circular arch through which I enter.

The coolness of the garden contrasts with the head of the landscape, the coolness of the church contrasts with that of the garden, it is almost chilly where I am now. The thick walls of a church prevent the outside air, the ordinary air, from having its way.

Suddenly I am standing before an arbitrary structure made of stone; its mere presence alters the quality of what little air has managed to come in. This is no longer the air wafting in poplars and clover, the air that is moved this way and that in the breeze. This is church air, as invisible as the air outside, but different. Church-shaped air, permeating the space between the columns and, deathly still, like an absent element, rising up to fill the pointed vaulting constructed of rough-hewn blocks of stone.

There is no one in the church. Enormous columns rise directly from the paved floor, the position of the sun casts a strange, static pool of light through the oculus somewhere on the right of the church. It’s a little ghostly. I hear my own footsteps. This space distorts not only the air, but also the sound of each step I take – they become the steps of someone walking in a church. Even if one subtratcs from these sensations all that one does not in fact believe in oneself, then there’s still the imponderable factor that other people do believe, and especially have believed, in this space.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

Why Read the Classics?

In 1981, the Italian writer Italo Calvino wrote an essay titled Why Read the Classics?. It’s less than ten entertaining pages, so I recommend you read it if you can lay your hands on it. (It’s been published in a book form, in a collection of his essays, bearing the same title.)

What follows here is the 14 definitions of what classics are as put forward in the essay – 14 definitions worth thinking about:

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Pausanias and the Spoils of Plataea (Pausanias y los despojos de Platea)

Quote of the Week

In the Battle of Plataea (479 BC), the allied Greek army was led by the Spartan Pausanias, son of Cleombrotus. In the aftermath of the Greek victory…

When some people were amazed at the costliness of the raiment found among the spoils of the barbarians, he [Pausanias] said that it would have been better for them [the Persians] to be themselves men of worth than to possess things of worth.

(Plutarch: Morals, Vol. III, Sayings of Spartans)

La cita de la semana

En la Batalla de Plataea (479 a. C.), el ejercito griego fue mandado por el espartano Pausanias, hijo de Cleómbroto. Después de la victoria griega…

Cuando algunos miraban maravillados entre los despojos de los bárbaros el gran lujo de su vestimenta, [Pausanias] les dijo que hubiera sido mejor para ellos ser hombres de mucho valor que poseer cosas de mucho valor.

(Plutarco: Obras morales y de costumbres, III, Máximas de espartanos)


Seven Snowy Stories

The winter’s first – and in these parts possibly only – snowfall put me in mind of books in which winter features prominently. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ones that came to mind immediately were children’s stories. So here are seven snowy stories to surprise your children (nieces, nephews, grandchildren, your best friend’s horrible brat…) with. Perhaps for Christmas? 🙂

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Quote of the Week: Rainbow

From rain into sunshine: double rainbow (Dorset, England)

We get only transient and partial glimpses of the beauty of the world. Standing at the right angle, we are dazzled by the colors of the rainbow in colorless ice. From the right point of view, every storm and every drop in it is a rainbow.

(Henry David Thoreau: Journal, 11 December 1855)

Roads to Santiago

Images of Spain.

But not in the form of the sickeningly familiar, glossy pictures of crowded beaches on the Mediterranean coast with their ugly hotel developments serving as backdrop, nor those of flamenco and bull-fights, nor yet the image that we receive through the daily news of RTE of a corrupt political and business élite, the pollution over Madrid or the meaningless posturing over the status of Gibraltar or Catalonian independence.

The images of Spain presented to us by the Dutch author Cees Nooteboom in his book Roads to Santiago go far deeper than the stereotypes that we are all familiar with. He searches for – and finds – a different Spain: one that is more ancient, more elemental, more real, if you will. A Spain that would take a lifetime of living there to get to know, even just a little.

The old town of Cáceres

As you can guess, Roads to Santiago is not a guide book, although you could do much worse than follow in the author’s footsteps.

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Por qué no deberías leer Shakespeare (Why You Shouldn’t Read Shakespeare)

Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)

Hace mucho tiempo el escritor argentino, Jorge Luis Borges estaba enseñando literatura inglesa en la universidad de Buenos Aires. Un día dijo a sus estudiantes:

A long time ago the Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges taught English Literature at the University of Buenos Aires. One day he said to his students:

La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week:

Si Shakespeare les interesa, está bien. Si les resulta tedioso, déjenlo. Shakespeare no ha escrito aún para ustedes. Llegará un día que Shakespeare será digno de ustedes y ustedes serán dignos de Shakespeare, pero mientras tanto no hay que apresurar las cosas.”

(Jorge Luis Borges: Curso de literatura inglesa en la universidad de Buenos Aires)

If Shakespeare interests you, that’s fine. If you find him tedious, leave him. Shakespeare hasn’t yet written for you. The day will come when Shakespeare will be right for you and you will be worthy of Shakespeare, but in the meantime there’s no need to hurry things.

(Profesor Borges: A Course on English Literature)

The View from My Window (La vista desde mi ventana)

Recently I had to spend several days in a building in Central London. (I leave you to speculate whether I’ve been arrested, called on jury service, hospitalised or something else. 🙂 ) What consoled me for having to be away from my family was the view from my window.

Recientemente tuve que pasar unos días en un edificio en el centro de Londres. (Os dejo hacer conjeturas si me han detenido, llamado al servicio de jurado, estaba ingresada al hospital or alguna otra cosa. 🙂 ) Lo que me consoló por no estar con mi familia fue la vista desde mi ventana.

Enjoy this ‘study’ of the changing skies of London, November 2017.

Que disfrutéis este ‘estudio’ de los cielos cambiantes de Londres, noviembre de 2017.


Quote of the Week: The God of Triangles

It seems to me, Usbek, that we never judge anything without secretly considering it in relation to our own self. I am not surprised that black men depict the devil as brilliantly white, and their own gods as coal-black, that the Venus of certain peoples has breasts that hang down to her thighs, and in short, that all idolaters have depicted their gods with human faces, and have endowed them with their own propensities. It has been quite correctly observed that if triangles were to make themselves a god, they would give him three sides.

(Montesquieu: Persian Letters)

The Grammar of Ornament (The Beauty of Patterns II)

The Beauty of Mathematics

Back in July I almost managed to convince myself that mathematics was beautiful.

And certainly, the result of mathematics at least is often quite beautiful:

Chambered nautilus shell by Jitze Couperus via Flickr. [CC BY 2.0]
The bit of mathematics illustrated above is a favourite of nature, and goes by the name of the Fibonacci sequence. Today, however, we’re going to ignore nature to see instead what man can do with a bit of mathematics. Or rather, what one particular man did with a bit of mathematics.

Decorations from Pompeii, image plate in The Grammar of Ornament. Photo by Eric Gjerde via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
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Van Gogh in the Bookshop (Van Gogh en la librería)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)

So often, in the past as well, a visit to a bookshop has cheered me up and reminded me that there are good things in the world.

Vincent Van Gogh: Letter to Theo Van Gogh, 30 October 1877

A menudo, en el pasado también, una visita a la librería me ha animado y me ha recordado que haya cosas buenas en el mundo.

Vincent Van Gogh: Carta a Theo Van Gogh, 30 de octubre de 1877

The Battle of Marathon (According to Herodotus)

Casus Belli

In 491 B.C. King Darius I of Persia sent out his envoys to the various Greek city states, demanding of them earth and water – in those times, a sign of submission, the acceptance of, in this case, Persian rule. Some city states were cowed into complying while others refused; but the demand went down particularly badly in Athens and in Sparta:

…the Athenians cast these heralds, when they made their request, down into a pit, and the Spartans had thrown theirs into a well; and the heralds were told to take their earth and water to the King from there!

(Herodotus: The Histories, Book VII.133) 

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Water (Agua)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Lao Tse (6th century BC) [public domain via Wikipedia]

There is nothing in the world more soft and weak than water, and yet for attacking things that are firm and strong, there is nothing that can take precedence of it.

Lao Tse: Tao Teh King 78:1

No hay nada el mundo tan blando como el agua.
Pero nada hay que la supere contra lo duro.

Lao-Tse Tao te king LXXVIII

Quote of the Week: The Council of Trent

George Borrow portrait
George Borrow (1843), courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

In 1842, a  nobody called George Borrow wrote a detailed, 550-pages long account of his day job. Sounds boring? It isn’t: Borrow’s day  job was to sell Bibles in war-torn, Catholic Spain. The Bible in Spain is a book I cannot recommend enough; it’s a travelogue, an adventure story and comedy all in one. If you want to know more, you can read my review here.

Today’s quote is rather lengthier than usual but gives you a flavour of Borrow’s style of writing. Enjoy this excerpt about his run-in with the famous Spanish bureaucracy:

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Passport to Pimlico

There’s an old (1949) British comedy film in which Pimlico, a part of London, becomes the Duchy of Burgundy practically overnight with all the complications that this entails – the kind of complications that Carles Puidgemont, the Catalan ex-president, should have foreseen before he unilaterally declared independence from Spain.

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