Happy Birthday Claude McKay

Mackey

A Jamaican poet who came to the USA to be educated, McKay was horrified by the racism prevalent in the United States.  He became one of the leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920’s and his work is passionately pro-negro, anti-racist and yet a man of contradictions.

Early in his life he embraced atheism and communism, possibly courted by the potential for the equality of his race in the new order sweeping the world.  Ultimately he became disillusioned with communism and became a critic.  In his later years he became a Roman Catholic.

He was also appalled by the presentation of negroes as a hypersexual threat in Europe.  He denounced racist articles in the British Press in 1920.  European avant-garde  art at the time had a fascination with African primitive art and representations of fertility and sexuality.  Picasso famously incorporated African masks in Les Demoiselles D’Avignon in 1907. McKay himself posed for André Lhote and later wrote about the experience in terms of the relationship of the European white supremacist and the oppressed Afro-Caribbean.  Yet when he wrote of the Harlem Renaissance he was criticized by his contemporaries for reinforcing racial stereotypes by depicting the culture of drugs, alcohol, sexuality and prostitution in the dark underbelly of the movement.

What is clear from his body of work is that he was a passionate and motivated campaigner for the rights of black people.  He promoted “Black Lives Matter” long before most black people were socially or politically aware.

In 1977 the Jamaican Government named McKay as the national poet.

Enslaved: by Claude McKay

Oh when I think of my long-suffering race,
For weary centuries despised, oppressed,
Enslaved and lynched, denied a human place
In the great life line of the Christian West;
And in the Black Land disinherited,
Robbed in the ancient country of its birth,
My heart grows sick with hate, becomes as lead,
For this my race that has no home on earth.
Then from the dark depths of my soul I cry
To the avenging angel to consume
The white man’s world of wonders utterly:
Let it be swallowed up in earth’s vast womb,
Or upward roll as sacrificial smoke
To liberate my people from its yoke!

 

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Groceteria

Shop

In the 1890s the concept of a self-service restaurant developed in the USA.  Based on the Scandinavian model of the smorgasbord it was given the Spanish name “Cafeteria” by John Kruger when he was serving food at the World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago Worlds Fair).  Perhaps it was the association of Columbus with Latin America that inspired Kruger to call his format the Spanish for Coffee Shop.

On this day in 1916 the first self-service grocery store opened in Memphis Tennessee.  The Piggly Wiggly opened by Clarence Saunders was originally marketed as a grocery version of the cafeteria and was called a “Groceteria”.  You entered through a turnstile.  You were offered a basket or a grocery cart for convenience.  It offered self service, price marked goods and a customer checkout.  The supermarket was born.

I have seen the rise and fall of many groceterias over the years, including the Ballymun Cash Stores (which was in Finglas), H. Williams, Superquinn, Quinnsworth, Crazy Prices, Super Crazy Prices, Roches Stores.  The rise and survival of Iceland, JC Savages in Swords, Nolans in Clontarf, Musgraves/Supervalu, Dunnes Stores, Tesco and most recently the German invasion of Aldi and Lidl.

As a kid growing up in Dublin I was always exposed to supermarkets.  On the other hand my summers were spent in Kilkee in the West of Clare.  There were no supermarkets in 1960’s Clare.  I have vivid memories of my mothers frustration, on her holidays, having to queue at the butchers and at the grocers to be served one at a time with a long line of other mothers.  I always had the enjoyable job of going to the bakery.  Picking up fresh loaves, hot from the oven and bringing them back to the house for breakfast time.

Travelling to the continent in 1976 was an eye opening revelation.  The French Hypermarche was a decade ahead of Ireland.  All those wooden barrels full of olives, who knew olives were so popular?  Those were the days when you bought Olive oil in a pharmacy in Ireland to treat an ear infection. Very different days.

Happy Birthday William Henry Ogilvie

Ogilvie1

A Scotsman who spent 10 years ranching in Australia, Ogilvie was a friend of Harry (Breaker) Morant and another great horseman.  A bush poet; he is best remembered for his outback poems like the one below.   I have a special room in my heart for bush poets like Breaker Morant, Ogilvie, Banjo Patterson, Robert Service and Rudyard Kipling.  I love their songs of the wild road, open spaces, skies that go on forever and hearts set on adventure.

My Hat! ;by William Henry Ogilvie

The hats of a man may be many
in the course of a varied career,
and some have been worth not a penny
and some have been devilish dear;
But there’s one hat I always remember
when sitting alone by the fire,
in the depth of a Northern November,
because it fulfilled my desire.

It was old, it was ragged and rotten
and many years out of mode,
like a thing that a tramp had forgotten
and left at the side of a road.
The boughs of the mulga had torn it,
it’s ribbon was naught but lace,
an old swaggie would not have worn it
without a sad smile on his face.

When I took off the hat to the ladies
it was rather with sorrow than swank,
and often I wished it in Hades
when the gesture drew only a blank;
But for swatting a fly on the tucker
or lifting a quart from the fire
or belting the ribs of a bucker
it was all that a man could desire.

When it ought to have gone to the cleaners
(and stayed there, as somebody said!)
it was handy for flogging the weaners
from the drafting-yard into the shed.
And oft it has served as a dish for
a kelpie in need of a drink;
It was all that a fellow could wish for
in many more ways than you’d think.

It was spotted and stained by the weather,
there was more than one hole in the crown,
and it made little difference whether
the rim was turned up or turned down.
It kept out the rain (in a fashion)
and kept off the sun (more or less),
but it merely comanded compassion
considered as part of one’s dress.

Though it wasn’t a hat you would bolt with
or be anxious to borrow or hire,
it was useful to blindfold a colt with
or handle a bit of barbed wire.
Though the world may have thought it improper
to wear such old rubbish as that,
I’d have scorned the best London-made topper
in exchange for my old battered hat.

 

Happy Birthday Rupert Brooke

Rupert_Brooke

Described by none other than W.B. Yeats as “the handsomest man in England” Brooke is the quintessential war poet.  A product of Rugby school and Cambridge University, a confused bisexual, steamy good looks, went skinny dipping with Virginia Wolfe, associated with the Bloomsbury set of poets.  He had a nervous breakdown in 1912 and toured the world as part of his recovery process.  He may have fathered a child with a Tahitian woman along the way.

When the first world war began Brookes poems “The dead” and “The Soldier” captured the mood of the nation and brought him to the attention of Winston Churchill, first Lord of the Admiralty.  He was commissioned as a naval officer and sailed for Gallipoli.  He died of an infected mosquito bite before the fleet reached Turkey.  He is buried on the Greek Island of Skyros.

Here is a funnier and less heroic poem from the pen of someone who is way too godlike for his own good.

A Channel Passage; by Rupert Brooke

The damned ship lurched and slithered. Quiet and quick
My cold gorge rose; the long sea rolled; I knew
I must think hard of something, or be sick;
And could think hard of only one thing — YOU!
You, you alone could hold my fancy ever!
And with you memories come, sharp pain, and dole.
Now there’s a choice — heartache or tortured liver!
A sea-sick body, or a you-sick soul!

Do I forget you? Retchings twist and tie me,
Old meat, good meals, brown gobbets, up I throw.
Do I remember? Acrid return and slimy,
The sobs and slobber of a last years woe.
And still the sick ship rolls. ‘Tis hard, I tell ye,
To choose ‘twixt love and nausea, heart and belly.

Happy Birthday Hilaire Belloc

CautionaryTales.jpg

A prolific writer in politics, travel, religion and war Belloc is best remembered for his children’s poetry.  In truth his poems appeal far more to the parents than they do to the kids.

Belloc was also a sailor, he raced with the French team, and the Dermod McCarthy book “Sailing with Mr Belloc” details his cruising around Britain.

Born on this day in 1870, just outside Paris.

 

Matilda Who Told Lies, And Was Burned To Death; by Hilaire Belloc

 

Matilda told such Dreadful Lies,
it made one Gasp and Stretch one’s Eyes;
Her Aunt, who, from her Earliest Youth,
had kept a Strict Regard for Truth,
attempted to Believe Matilda:
The effort very nearly killed her,
and would have done so, had not She
discovered this Infirmity.

For once, towards the close of day,
Matilda, growing tired of play,
and finding she was left alone,
went tiptoe to the Telephone
ond summoned the immediate aid
Of London’s Noble Fire-Brigade.

Within an hour the Gallant Band
were pouring in on every hand,
from Putney, Hackney Downs, and Bow.
With Courage high and Hearts a-glow,
they galloped, roaring through the town,
‘Matilda’s House is Burning Down!’

Inspired by British cheers and loud
proceeding from the frenzied crowd,
they ran their ladders through a score
of windows on the ball room floor;
and took peculiar pains to souse
the pictures up and down the House,
until Matilda’s Aunt succeeded
in showing them they were not needed;
and even then she had to pay
to get the Men to go away.

It happened that a few Weeks later
her aunt was off to the theatre
to see that interesting play
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray.
She had refused to take her niece
to hear this entertaining piece:
A Deprivation Just and Wise
to Punish her for telling lies.

That night a fire did break out-
You should have heard Matilda shout!
You should have heard her scream and bawl,
and throw the window up and call
To people passing in the street-
(The rapidly increasing heat
encouraging her to obtain
their confidence) – but all in vain!
For every time she shouted ‘Fire! ‘
they only answered ‘Little Liar!’
And therefore when her aunt returned,
Matilda, and the house, were burned.

 

Happy Birthday Petrarch

christ-on-the-sea-of-galilee

Eugene Delacroix : Christ on the sea of Galilee

Born on this day in 1304 Petrarch is called by some the father of the Renaissance, by others the father of Humanism and by still others as the father of the Sonnet.  It takes a great man indeed to father so many illustrious children.  Mountaineers consider him the first Alpinist as he is the first person recorded to ascend a mountain (Mont Ventoux) for recreation alone.

A latin scholar he encouraged other scholars to scour the libraries of the world for the writings of ancient Greece and Rome.  He acquired a copy of Homer’s Odyssey but lamented his lack of Greek saying that “Homer was dumb to me and I was deaf to Homer”.  He had more success with his discovery of a cache of the letters of Cicero, who is our key primary source for the political and judicial goings on in the late Roman Republic when Cicero wrote of the day to day doings of Julius Caesar, Pompeii, Brutus, Cassius, Cato, Marc Anthony et al.

As a writer he was a contemporary and a correspondent of Boccaccio.  His writings had a major impact on the evolution of the modern Italian language.  His use of the poetic form of the Sonnet had an enormous impact on the world of poetry and especially on the works of Shakespeare.  Sonnets are somewhat easier to rhyme in Italian than they are in English, but here is a translation of one of his poems.  It sits nicely in this blog site as it is a classic “Mind Ship” as he uses the metaphor of a storm battered ship to personify the ravages of age.

La vita fugge, et non s’arresta una hora; by Francesco Petrarch (Trans A.S. Kline)

Life flies, and never stays an hour,
and death comes on behind with its dark day,
and present things and past things
embattle me, and future things as well:
and remembrance and expectation grip my heart,
now on this side, now on that, so that in truth,
if I did not take pity on myself,
I would have freed myself already from all thought.
A sweetness that the sad heart knew
returns to me: yet from another quarter
I see the storm-winds rattling my sails:
I see no chance of harbour, and my helmsman
is weary now, and my masts and ropes are broken,
and the beautiful stars, I used to gaze on, quenched.

VR is future tourism.

Newgrange

When I was a teenager I was lucky enough to be trucked around Europe by my parents.  We visited attractions such as the Tower of London, the Eiffel Tower, Peniscola in Spain, Chamonix Mt Blanc, Seville Cathedral, the Alhambra, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the British Museum, Stratford upon Avon, Nimes Amphitheatre, the Pont-du-Gard etc etc.

Later, as a young adult I visited the Parthenon, Ephesus, the Palace of Minos at Knossos, Mycenae, Venice, the Vatican Museums, St. Peters Basilica, Il Duomo in Florence, the leaning tower of Pisa, Pompeii etc etc ad infinitum.

The last times I was in London, and Paris, and Rome and I saw the length of queues for the major tourist attractions I pitied those who have not seen them yet.  The queue for the Vatican Museums (I don’t remember any queue in 1986) was about 4 hours, just to get in the front door!

Tourism is killing the very attractions that stimulate tourism.  There is a sea of humanity trekking to tourist sites and filling them up with……tourists.  So many tourists that you can no longer see the attractions, let alone appreciate them.

Many, if not most, of these tourists have little real interest in the attractions, other than ticking off some box on a virtual bucket list, taking a selfie and posting it on Facebook.

In some circumstances this sea of humanity is causing physical damage to the attractions.  Last time I visited the Alhambra I was told (very sensible I thought) to take the backpack off my back and wear it on my front, to prevent the bag from banging the delicate tile mosaics.

Sensitive sites like the Galapagos islands are under serious environmental threat.  Governments the world over are struggling with the balance between protecting heritage and permitting access to it, with all the attendant economic advantages.

The future is VR.  Not Victoria Regina, but Virtual Reality.  We can allow all area access to our most fragile heritage sites using the wonders of both Virtual and Augmented reality technologies.  Virtual reality will allow us to tour sites in an immersive way using a VR headset without having to visit the attraction.  Augmented reality allows us to tour real places and imagine what they looked like in the past.  We can experience the New York Wall Street of the 17th Century as we stroll down the modern street of today.

By visiting the Coliseum in Rome without ever leaving your home you incur no flights, no taxis, no carbon footprints.  The challenge facing the worlds great heritage sites will be a balancing act.  How to monetize worldwide VR access is step 1.   How to price the remaining restricted access to the sites is step 2.

One example that tourism operators might like to consider is Newgrange in Ireland.  This iron age passage tomb is in extreme demand for one day a year, the winter solstice.  On that morning, if the sky is clear, the site is transformed from passage tomb to ancient timepiece.  Access to this rare event is by lottery.

Using VR we can reopen access to sites that have already been closed such as the prehistoric cave paintings of Lescaux and Altamira.  The future is now.

 

 

A Grain of Sand:  Robert William Service

If starry space no limit knows
And sun succeeds to sun,
There is no reason to suppose
Our earth the only one.
‘Mid countless constellations cast
A million worlds may be,
With each a God to bless or blast
And steer to destiny.

Just think! A million gods or so
To guide each vital stream,
With over all to boss the show
A Deity supreme.
Such magnitudes oppress my mind;
From cosmic space it swings;
So ultimately glad to find
Relief in little things.

For look! Within my hollow hand,
While round the earth careens,
I hold a single grain of sand
And wonder what it means.
Ah! If I had the eyes to see,
And brain to understand,
I think Life’s mystery might be
Solved in this grain of sand.