Monday, December 15, 2008

Iceland part of America now?!

Heh. Well, here's a novelty. The BBC News website's live stats map (linked from things magazine) thinks Iceland's part of North America!

Well, obviously it is, continentally speaking. Europe generally ends at the Atlantic Ocean, after all. But politically, Iceland has been a part of Europe, and has more recently proudly stood apart, very much a place unto itself, but still more 'European' than not. And while we're at it - how come the UK gets its own stats to itself but isn't included in with the rest of Europe? Why is this part of the BBC's map political whereas the Icelandic bit isn't?

What is most interesting about the BBC's decision to make a continental judgement about the affiliation of any given country is that this isn't a geography subsite but one focused on news. News is only, after all, the small part of what happens that people pay daily attention to and are fed by the newsgatherers. And people care about different things when you start thinking regionally or geopolitically. You could say that poor Icelanders' interests would be submerged by the flood of American and Canadian traffic stats, or (less plausibly) that the American stats would be skewed slightly by the more shark-eating, Scandinavian ways of thinking of the land of fire and ice!

It's probably just the way their servers are set up, or something. But it would be lovely to know in detail about their back end and how it affects fascinating little questions of the regional zeitgeist like this - and whether they think it's right that it should! ;o) Just a thought.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Little things

Noel, originally uploaded by peripathetic.

Last Monday morning, the door-knocker rat-tatted in Greenwich, and after some manoeuvring I propped Jonathan’s Christmas tree against the wall in the back garden, waiting for this weekend when he would decorate it.

This past Friday morning, he sent a photo (above, shamelessly stolen) of some of the old, white enamelled letters, found in a junk shop, which will decorate it. The letters spell NOEL. A cat shows obvious interest and delight.

Yesterday morning, I awoke to a quiet, empty house and what I will call frost-light — a promising brightness beyond the curtains and cold air — and found that everything in the garden and the street was coated with hoar frost. It didn’t disappear all day.

This morning, I awoke to more of the same. The bin lid is firmly frozen shut. Footsteps across the garden make tiny high-pitched noises as frost is compacted underfoot. The wooden garden table’s surface looks rather like a dark smooth cake dusted with icing. Coffee steams more thickly amd vigorously than ever in colder, crisper air. The bright, distant sound of a church bell somehow travels at least a mile. And there is a new recipe for a Christmas cake in the Sunday paper.

These are little things, but wonderful. They make me smile and feel excited. I just thought someone should know. :o)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The push and pull of London, paint and steel

Rothko big room at the Tate, originally uploaded by libbyrosof.

Back from Thanksgiving in London. I can’t really give you too much of an idea of any of it because it was all so wonderful, and therefore incommunicable in so many ways, but I will say that I had the most wonderful Thanksgiving day with Jonathan, Willie, Ruairidh et al, and that I had a lovely chorizo and rocket sandwich at Borough Market, and that aside from those precious experiences on winter days and nights, there were two others which just overlay themselves on my mind and don’t go away.

Last Saturday morning, I visited Rothko at Tate Modern. The exhibition presents a selection of Mark Rothko’s later works, including some seemingly plain and very luminously dark canvases — and the so-called Seagram Murals, some of which were intended for the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building, New York City. They are what we have come to see as quintessential Rothko: massive, insistent, throbbing presences. They were never hung in the restaurant after all; he withdrew from the commission but took the same care over them as over the rest of his work. And anyway, it would be impossible to eat near them.

I was somewhat sceptical of their ability to make me emote. I’d seen some of them before, many times, in the Tate collection, but this was the first time they were nearly all together, united from many different countries, in one perfectly-lit room. I got all choked up with real emotion after a couple of wanders around the other rooms and back to the one above.

The exhibition had the effect on me of at first intensely interesting me and almost pushing me away at the same instant, and then utterly compelling me to let myself get pulled in. It was the same with the Richard Serra sculptures at the Gagosian gallery in King’s Cross later that day. He uses huge, heavy sheets of thick corten steel, sometimes curved and twisted into funnel-shaped forms, sometimes almost sandwiched to create claustrophobia, sometimes left weighty and brutal and straight. They really are almost monstrously large, far far bigger than human scale, but as with the proverbial tree falling in the forest, they are transparent spaces, blank cinema-screens for your soul, and have no power beyond your engagement with them. If you aren’t there, they really don’t make a sound.

So if you get a chance before either of these things leave the UK, please go see. That’s all for now, folks.