pallas_athena: (tarot)
My good friend, author and singer [livejournal.com profile] simonsatori, has posted some intriguing thoughts on atheism, which has given rise to some thoughts on my part.

You should go read his post, first of all, which ends thus:

If god doesn’t exist [...] then I will not just ‘… go and enjoy my life’. I will suddenly live in a meaningless universe. Not only will there be no hope or chance of any higher power guiding or interacting with us but I will have the sure knowledge that there never was and never will be and the infinite universe becomes a smaller and finite one. This is not my definition of enjoyment.


I agree with many of Simon's fundamental points, including that Richard Dawkins is a bit of an arse and that smug evangelical atheists are just as annoying as smug evangelical anything else.

Here's where I differ, though: a universe devoid of deities would not, to me, be meaningless. It would still contain wonders aplenty, and it would still beckon us to search industriously for any theories or systems underlying it all. It would still be expanding, challenging us to understand that. It would still contain the light and radio waves emanating from distant stars, quasars, pulsars and all their relations. It would still contain billions of other planets and their satellites, of which (even within our own solar system) we have sent probes to the surfaces of only two (plus two moons and two asteroids.) It would still contain whales, elephants, great apes and other social animals whose ways of communication and interrelation are largely unknown to us. It would still contain rocks whose crystalline structure the human eye finds elegant, and water droplets whose prismatic refraction the human brain finds beautiful. It would still contain us and our insanely complex biology, about which a hell of a lot still remains to be discovered. It would still contain the silky black cat with white feet currently attempting interspecies communication by arranging herself on my lap and purring. It would still contain the human affection I feel towards the aforementioned black cat, as well as the urges which would prompt other humans to kick her, or kill and eat her. And my desire to punch them in the face.

In short, a definitely-godless universe would still contain all the things previously thought to be evidence for the hand of an omniscient creator, only now they would be evidence that the universe is an amazing, fucking awe-inspiring place. Perhaps, in the absence of gods, we would begin to personify that universe which reveals its secrets so slowly and dangles its veiled areas so tantalisingly before us, daring us to discover it and cheering us on as we do. Within a generation or two, humans might not even miss the concept of God-- or might have redefined it along the foregoing lines.
Further thoughts below )
pallas_athena: (Default)
Every fool's an April fool
For foolery's in flower.
There's sugar in the salt shaker
And corn oil in the shower.

That heavy breathing call was me
Made to your office phone;
I cling-wrap-trapped the toilet bowl
For you and you alone.

The whoopee cushion sighs my love
Wherever you are seated;
And when you come to share my bed
You'll find yourself shortsheeted.

Oh every fool's an April fool
So take my hand and sing:
For you may hope to spring the trap,
But never trap the Spring.
pallas_athena: (Default)
The title of this post is Sir Christopher Wren's epitaph, but I think it applies equally well to Steve Jobs.
I was going to make this post a personal history. I was going to write about going to the computer store and learning to use the 128k Mac that became our first home computer. (After that, upgrading to a 512K seemed like a huge deal.) About the art I did with MacPaint, and the music notation I learnt by working with ConcertWare, and the term papers I wrote, and the dumbass games-- the games were the best. [livejournal.com profile] speedlime had one called Despair where there was no score and no timer: the only object was to kill the little stick-figure people that milled aimlessly around your screen. Typing that now, it seems kind of sad, even though I remember how cool it was to discover that if you froze them and then struck them with lightning, they'd explode.

Then I read the obituary thread on MetaFilter, and I realised my story is far from unique. It's my generation's story, at least in America, and possibly Europe too. We were, at the age of anything between five and sixteen, shown a computer that we instantly, instictively, fundamentally understood-- and it made geeks of us. We loved it.
Seriously. The old mainframes and such were sinister things that you could use to contact aliens or hack into the Pentagon or zap the entire world, but the friendly little computer became a much-loved character in a newspaper comic strip. A Mac would never have declined to open the pod bay doors. (Although it might have given you one of those annoying little bomb messages. Remember those? Yeah, they sucked. And OS9 in general was a pile of shit, but let's not dwell on that.)
I know I'm not alone in this, because a few years ago I visited [livejournal.com profile] badmagic's apartment for the first time, glanced over at the stubby rectangular monitor on a shelf in the corner and cried out "Holy crap! Is that a 128k?" Joe let me know that I was not the first person, nor even the first woman, to say this upon entering his apartment. How many of us hang onto our old PC boxen? The old Mac wasn't even designed to be that beautiful, and yet it's iconic in a way that no other computer of its time is.

One man isn't the company, and Jobs didn't singlehandedly create all those great machines. But he is inextricably linked to all the pieces of hardware that inspire such irrational affection in geeks and others like us. That's our link to him, and that's why the passing of a CEO none of us met feels strangely personal.

Belief in an afterlife is irrelevant, really, because by the time it's going to matter to us we'll be past caring-- but the thought of one is such a good metaphor that there's no way an English-degree wanker like me could pass it up. So, in the metaphorical probably-nonexistent afterlife, I hope that there's a vision of perfection of form and a place to find out all the answers.

Alternatively, there's IKEA. (April Fool's column from 2005, a horribly irreverent note to end on-- but one has to end somewhere.)

Adventures

Sep. 9th, 2011 07:04 pm
pallas_athena: (Default)
(I started this post on my last day in Venice.)

It's been a very intensive week of rehearsals, and my way of relaxing has been to slip away in the breaks and have adventures. Luckily Venice is a very adventuresome city. Usually I'd end up in a mask shop, exercising my lousy Italian by talking with the maker.

Most good mask shops have someone sitting in there finishing masks during the day, to drive home the point that these masks are authentic and not imported. My particular passion is Commedia masks in leather, which only a few people make; most artists concentrate on the more highly decorated Carnival masks, which are traditionally made in cartapesta-- something between plaster-of-Paris and papier-mâché.

The first shop I staggered into was Artifex, up by Fondamente Nuove. The makers are a husband-and-wife couple, Giancarlo and Federica; Giancarlo was in the shop when I went. We had an excellent talk about eighteenth-century geekery and the history of Commedia characters. He also recommended two museums, Ca'Rezzonico (devoted to the eighteenth century) and Palazzo Mocenigo (the textile and costume museum). I bought an Arlecchino mask from him; a friendly face which pleased me. Arlecchino, the Harlequin, is traditionally shown with a bump on his forehead, as are some of the other servant-class characters. In the case of the less intelligent Pedrolino, said Giancarlo, the bump is the mark of a beating by his master; but Arlecchino's name comes from the same root as Hellequin and Erlkönig, and his forehead bears the stump of one of his horns from when he was a demon.

Speaking of demons, the best shop for fucking creepy masks is La Bottega dei Mascareri, just on the Cannaregio side of the Rialto. That maker did the masks for Eyes Wide Shut, and his shop is full of empty-eyed puppets and clowns that leer down at you from every side. He's a superb artist, but I actually couldn't stay there long because I was so creeped out.

The shop of Alberto Sarria is a tiny trove of mindblowing beauty. I was initially drawn to his leather commedia masks, which are things of beauty (he has many photos of troupes of actors wearing them), but his plaster ones are also made with great care and finely decorated. I bought a Capitano from him, which was my big expenditure this trip; only the aftershock of that kept me from also buying EVERYTHING else in the shop, which was so full of amazement I hated to leave. Alberto also has a real eye for how a mask fits, and if it doesn't suit you he'll tell you, which I found helpful.

Today's adventures involved the costume museum at Palazzo Mocenigo, and finding the best lemon granita in history at Gelateria San Stae. Oh yes. I'll be sad to leave this city.
pallas_athena: (Default)
Books about Venice I have read and liked:

Nonfiction:

A Venetian Affair, Andrea di Robilant
In the attic of the family palazzo, Robilant found and decoded a stash of 18th-century love letters which form the nucleus of this book. The intertwined lives of the two illicit lovers, Andrea Memmo and Giustiniana Wynne, take the reader from Venice to Paris and finally to London. A lovely snapshot of eighteenth-century Venetian society, guest-starring Casanova. Speaking of whom:

Histoire de ma vie, Giacomo Casanova
Probably mostly nonfiction, and such a fantastic read you don't care.

A History Of Venice, John Julius Norwich
A bit drier than his three-volume history of Byzantium, but still worth reading. A thorough history of the city from the founding to the fall.

City Of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire, Roger Crowley
Currently reading this. The author is an expert on naval history, and he chronicles the era of Venetian mastery of the seas starting from the Fourth Crusade. Good to read in tandem with Norwich; well written with a nice sense of narrative.

Fiction:

The Passion, Jeanette Winterson
This is the book that made me want to visit Venice, and the book I took with me when I finally did. The female Venetian protagonist, Villanelle, is a spellbinding narrator; the male French protagonist, Henri, a cook in Napoleon's army, is more of a pathetic figure, and his sections of the book aren't as much fun. Worth it, though.

Consuelo: A Romance of Venice, George Sand
Opera singers, composers and spooky latter-day Hussites: it's like she wrote it with me in mind. Our heroine is an intrepid mezzo-soprano who starts out as a penniless orphan with a good heart and a fine voice as her only assets. If you're not a music geek, you might find this book boring; if you're a singer, you'll find it riveting. Only the first third or so of the book is set in Venice; Consuelo then takes off across Europe accompanied by the young Joseph Haydn. And what of the enigmatic Count von Rudolstadt? What indeed.

Scherzo, Tad Williams
Any book whose narrator describes himself in the first chapter as "debollocked" is okay by me. Yes, our hero is an operatic castrato and keen observer of the lifestyles of the powerful... which comes in handy when there's a murder mystery to solve. Well-written, sexy and funny as all hell, with ample footnotes referring to books that don't exist. Guest-starring Voltaire and Casanova (again. Is there any book set in Venice in which he doesn't appear?)

...And of course, I'd never miss an opportunity to link back to my own Venetian carnival story. Feel free to throw fruit. Just no pineapples, is all I ask.
pallas_athena: (Default)
From Tristram Shandy, vol. IX, ch. viii-ix, by Laurence Sterne

I will not argue the matter : Time wastes too fast : every letter I trace tells me with what rapidity Life follows my pen ; the days and hours of it, more precious, my dear Jenny! than the rubies about thy neck, are flying over our heads like light clouds of a windy day, never to return more ---- every thing presses on ---- whilst thou art twisting that lock, ---- see! it grows grey ; and every time I kiss thy hand to bid adieu, and every absence which follows it, are preludes to that eternal separation which we are shortly to make. ----

---- Heaven have mercy upon us both!

Now, for what the world thinks of that ejaculation ---- I would not give a groat.


Tristram who? )
pallas_athena: (Default)
I would be commenting on the recent News Of The World/News International kerfuffle, but [livejournal.com profile] webofevil is already doing a far better job. Short version: Newspapers have narrow profit margins; closing the News of the World will cost Murdoch nothing, and launching the new Sunday edition of the Sun will cost him pocket change. (Hell, it might even go into short-term profit-- a miraculous state for a newspaper.) The real prize is the BSkyB deal, which looks set to go ahead: proof, if proof were needed, that no matter how rank the cesspit in which Murdoch stands, he can always get Parliament to clean off his shoes. With their tongues.

But let's get to the real story: the imminent release of the next volume of A Thingy Of Thingies, AKA The Knights Who Say Fuck, AKA George RR Martin's ongoing shag-maim-destroy-and-piss-on-the-ruins party.

If you haven't read these, don't start: going by the evidence, it's going to be at least five years before the next book. But for those poor souls who've started and therefore must finish, here's the very thing you need: a handy and clever drinking game. Of course, you could just start drinking on Page 1 and keep on chugging till the pain stops, but then you might pass out and drool all over your lovely new book. Far better to undertake the necessary brain-soaking in a responsible manner, regulated by the following terms:
In the Game of Drinks, you win or you die )
pallas_athena: (Default)
On Thursday evening, I went to hear some Beethoven string quartets at the Wigmore Hall.

This is a bit of a departure for me. If I'm at the Wigmore Hall, I'm normally there to hear lieder or other vocal music. But my mother's in town, and she loves the wild-haired deaf guy, so we got tickets for the Artemis Quartet's show. On the menu: op. 18 no.6 in B flat; op. 18 no. 3 in D; op. 130 in B flat with the Grosse Fuge.

I first heard the late Beethoven quartets in the autumn of my very first year in Britain, at the house of an English tutor who was helping me prepare for the Oxford exam. I'd asked my friends what this tutor was like, and they said "He basically is Chaucer." So I rang the doorbell and was met by, essentially, the Franklin, with a floridly pink face and a shock of tousled white hair. He offered me a drink-- and insisted when I demurred, a marked contrast with every single American high school teacher from my past.

This chap did have a reputation for constant inebriation-- but he was a mellow drunk, and generally cheerful, so it was cool. He knew I was a classical-music sort, so after our study sessions he'd get out vinyl records of the late Beethoven quartets, and he'd hand me the score to follow-- he knew them all by heart-- and we'd listen to them. His very favourite was opus 130, and I still remember how lovingly he pronounced the words "alla danza tedesca", the heading of the fourth movement ("in the manner of a German dance").

I had hardly thought about those evenings until I glanced at the programme from my seat in the Wigmore. There, again, was alla danza tedesca. The esteemed Chaucerian tutor is, of course, long dead; I don't think I properly grieved for him until now, or thanked him nearly enough while he lived.

And only now do I have the years, and the regrets, to understand what those Beethoven quartets are saying to me.

(A coda: I knew I'd heard the melody from the alla danza tedesca movement used as shorthand for "posh people dancing" in the soundtrack to... a film? A Jane Austen TV series? I couldn't place it, until I finally realised that it's the music for the ball scene in the Firefly episode "Shindig": an elegant touch by series composer Greg Edmonson.)

Not cricket

Jan. 8th, 2011 07:42 pm
pallas_athena: (Default)
Looking back on it, yesterday's poem seems like a lazily obvious choice. Anyone know any better cricket-related poems?

Also, I should confess that I really hate Henry Newbolt. This is not entirely Newbolt's fault (though his tendency towards horrible sub-Kipling bombast doesn't help.)

I fucking loathe Newbolt largely because of the guy who introduced me to his work.
A tale of relationship horror lurks below )
pallas_athena: (Default)
I probably won't be able to post tomorrow, so here are my advance Halloween links for your viewing ?pleasure?.

When I was a schoolkid, I (like all my friends) had the shit scared out of me by a book called Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. Thanks to a post on MetaFilter today (whose every comment is along the lines of "I remember that, oh god") , I learned that the illustrations that horrified me so are online for all to see. Galleries One, Two, Three.

I reread some of the Alan Moore Swamp Things recently and yes, they are still as fucking disturbing now as they were during my teenage years. I mean, it's Moore, so there are the philosophical ones and the psychedelic ones and the ones with John Constantine... but the straight-up horror ones still fragment your rational mind and leave what's left screaming, knowing the vultures will come eat it and there's nothing it can do.

Also, the really gory deer-butchering verses of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight have come up just in time for Halloween over at [livejournal.com profile] gawain_project.

On a less frightful note, there's a good article on the BBC's website about people who decorate their houses extravagantly for Halloween. This is mostly a US phenomenon: I remember a couple of houses like this in the neighbourhood where I grew up, and I remember thinking it was the coolest thing ever. The article makes the excellent point that Halloween in the US is basically about personal expression, which people are a lot less shy about there than here.

A UK friend with whom I was talking recently expressed satisfaction that Bonfire Night is still holding out against the inroads Halloween is making into Britain. It is easy to see the two holidays as competing-- but I do rather love the osmosis that seems to be occurring between them. The political backdrop of Bonfire Night highlights the anarchic side of Halloween: the misrule that comes with the masquerade. And Halloween's shadow casts Guy Fawkes in a supernatural bogeyman role, one of the malign spirits to be feared and gleefully propitiated.

Which is as much as to say: Trick or treat?
pallas_athena: (Default)
It's certain that fine women eat
A crazy salad with their meat...

W B Yeats, A Prayer for my Daughter


Last night, I made my favourite summer salad. Seriously, this is summer in a bowl. It sounds incongruous but tastes divine:

-Cubes of watermelon
-Pieces of fresh tomatoes
-Leaves of basil
-Crumbs or cubes of feta cheese
-balsamic vinegar (The secret ingredient that ties all the flavours together)
-a splash of olive oil
-black pepper

And as a bonus, a piece of silliness I randomly posted to MetaFilter a year-and-a-bit ago:
Your own personal cheeses )

Why?

Feb. 22nd, 2010 07:25 pm
pallas_athena: (Default)
Typing "why" into my browser's Google search window currently yields the following suggestions:
why do men have nipples
why are black people so loud
why is the sky blue
why can't i own a canadian
why is my poop green
why did i get married too
why do dogs eat poop
why are people posting colors on facebook
why do cats purr
why did the chicken cross the road

Obviously these are all questions that need answers, so once I finished clutching my head and going "What!?!?" I thought I would employ my superior knowledge and resolve these matters once and for all.
All shall be revealed )

If anyone has any further insights into these burning questions, then the world demands that you post them. Thank you.
pallas_athena: (Default)
I want to write something, but I don't know what. Throw me a title, will you?
pallas_athena: (Default)
Shortly afterwards, the messenger, about to depart, was stayed by the artificer’s sharp call. She ran to the carriage and tucked the leather pouch in beside the birdcage and the box, bidding the messenger a good journey.

A good journey he must have had, for scarcely had the moon waned to a crescent when he returned at the gallop, bearing a letter for the Queen. She opened it, noting the courtly terms of respectful address; shortly thereafter, she informed her daughters that His new Majesty had requested their presence at his court for the formal presentation of their gifts, and for the Coronation Ball, to be held at the next full moon.
Read on... )
pallas_athena: (Default)
Shortly afterwards, the messenger, about to depart, was stayed by the artificer’s sharp call. She ran to the carriage and tucked the leather pouch in beside the birdcage and the box, bidding the messenger a good journey.

A good journey he must have had, for scarcely had the moon waned to a crescent when he returned at the gallop, bearing a letter for the Queen. She opened it, noting the courtly terms of respectful address; shortly thereafter, she informed her daughters that His new Majesty had requested their presence at his court for the formal presentation of their gifts, and for the Coronation Ball, to be held at the next full moon.
Read on... )
pallas_athena: (Default)
The three princesses nodded and withdrew, each to her work. The magician consulted her library of old and dusty books, until she found an ancient spell written in Byzantium by-- she gasped as she deciphered the signature-- Hermes Trismegistus himself. Straightaway she began casting circles, committing invocations to memory, seeking out long-lost pathways of truth and mystery.
Read on... )
pallas_athena: (Default)
The three princesses nodded and withdrew, each to her work. The magician consulted her library of old and dusty books, until she found an ancient spell written in Byzantium by-- she gasped as she deciphered the signature-- Hermes Trismegistus himself. Straightaway she began casting circles, committing invocations to memory, seeking out long-lost pathways of truth and mystery.
Read on... )
pallas_athena: (Default)
Story told extempore in the beer tent at Berkeley, to take a friend's mind off her aches and pains. Assembled from various bits that had been knocking around in my head for a while.

Once upon a time, there was a widowed Queen who reigned over a small but prosperous country. Its prosperity was due in large part to her careful rule, and she applied the same care to the raising of two of her three daughters.
Read on... )
pallas_athena: (Default)
Story told extempore in the beer tent at Berkeley, to take a friend's mind off her aches and pains. Assembled from various bits that had been knocking around in my head for a while.

Once upon a time, there was a widowed Queen who reigned over a small but prosperous country. Its prosperity was due in large part to her careful rule, and she applied the same care to the raising of two of her three daughters.
Read on... )

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