Thursday, March 30, 2023

Joyce (#poem)

O, it was out by Donnycarney
  When the bat flew from tree to tree
My love and I did walk together;
  And sweet were the words she said to me.
Along with us the summer wind
  Went murmuring--O, happily!--
But softer than the breath of summer
  Was the kiss she gave to me.
-James Joyce

This is number XXXI from Joyce's sequence Chamber Music of 1907. It is--uh--much less adventurous than the general run of Joyce's later works, and Joyce wasn't entirely sure he shouldn't just squelch the whole thing. Joyce later wrote Nora, "When I wrote [Chamber Music], I was a lonely boy walking about by myself at night, and thinking one day a girl would love me." Nevertheless (or therefore?) I kind of like them.

Donnycarney is now suburban Dublin and seems to be best known as the home of a sports stadium. Not very romantic at all.

We're off to Ireland in a few weeks! Probably won't go see Donnycarney...

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Victor Gruen's Shopping Town

"For readers who hope to be entertained by description of adventures, or for those want to be enriched by reports of the success and various detours of a contemporary, I hope my story will suffice. After all, this contemporary was part of the first eight decades of the twentieth century."

-Vienna, March 8, 1979

" of the ten best architects of the twentieth century."

-Time Magazine

Victor Gruen (1903-1980), born Viktor Grünbaum in Vienna, is known today, if at all, as the 'father of the shopping mall.' As a title, it's ambiguous, not entirely admirable. He would agree. 

On the way to acquiring that title, there were indeed some adventures. Gruen was born to an upper middle class family in Vienna; his father was a lawyer. They were assimilated Jews, not practicing. (Gruen says he was in synagogue only for the weddings of family friends.) In 1918, at the end of the war, his father died of the Spanish Flu. Austria in general, and the Gruens in particular, were impoverished. 

Gruen had always been interested in architecture, but with no money for education, he apprentices himself as what seems to be basically a bricklayer. At the same time (this is the 1920s) he organizes a left-wing (Socialist) cabaret for which he functions as the MC. He wangles a year at a university architecture department, but the anti-Semitism as well as what he considers the lack of imagination on the part of the teachers keeps him from completing a degree. 

The cabaret is squelched with the rise of Austrofascism (Gruen calls it a 'dictatorship tempered by sloppiness') when Dollfuss becomes Premier in 1932. Still Gruen is managing some more architectural commissions, most notably shop fronts, and has nearly qualified as an official architect by means of experience and exams. But it's now 1938, and when in March Karl Schuschnigg says the Austrian military will not resist should the German army force Anschluss, Gruen realizes he has to be ready to run at a moment's notice.

This is the moment of the 'description of adventures' Gruen promised in the introduction (quoted above). US immigration law required an affidavit from a US resident, with a promise of financial support, to acquire a visa to enter the US at the time. Gruen had an uncle who'd emigrated to the US in 1914, but the uncle, while well-meaning, was still impoverished. But Gruen had made friends with a woman, Ruth Yorke, who'd come to Austria to learn German in the 20s. She became a star on a radio soap opera, and had rich friends; one of them agrees to become Gruen's sponsor. He gets the necessary  exit visa, now a German one, and the required transit visas: his plan is to travel via Switzerland, France, and the UK. (Anna Seghers' Transit covers some of the same visa complications.) But when he's about to go, he learns that the Gestapo has occupied his apartment in his absence, and he's advised not to go home. But everything he needs to leave is still there. 

Earlier a non-Jewish friend had told him that he was joining the Nazi party to keep his job, but that he was still a friend and if Gruen ever needed any help... So Gruen calls up this friend and explains the situation. A few hours later the friend shows up in a Storm Trooper uniform--Gruen is terrified--but he has the luggage and visas and tells him to go, go, go. It's only after the war, when he meets this friend again in Austria, that he learns the story: his friend had stolen a uniform, shown up at the Gruen apartment, and said, These are the belongings of the Jew Viktor Grünbaum and henceforth confiscated, carrying them all away. 

The story even has an amusing (?) denouement: this friend was labeled politically unreliable for this, was immediately drafted into the German army, and sent to various dangerous fronts. Promotions to officer class were refused for him. Still, he survived. At the end of the war, when the Russians occupied Vienna, he was arrested as a Nazi, but was able to prove that, though he had been a Nazi, he was also politically unreliable, and so was let go. 

Anyway, those were the we're on to the successes and various detours. 😉

Actually, maybe a moment about the story of the book. Gruen did have an interesting life, wrote some works about architecture and city planning over the course of his professional career, and later in life, various people told him, you should write an autobiography. He wasn't especially interested, he says, made a few half-hearted stabs at it, but then his doctor told him he was near the end, and he took it more seriously. This is the book. It was originally written in German, but this English translation is from 2017. It's pretty finished, but wasn't published during his lifetime, and it's a bit imbalanced. It's clear the thrilling parts engaged him more. He writes about the first several projects that got him established in the US, but he doesn't say much about his professional career after about 1956. Instead he discusses a few failures: a plan to make central core of Fort Worth pedestrian-only, his plan for a residential development on the old Newhall Ranch in Valencia, California, (Suburban L.A.), and a plan to revitalize Teheran that collapsed when the Shah was deposed. (Though it was already going south before that.) The last third of the book discusses his idea of environmentally-oriented city planning: pedestrian-only downtown cores; electric trams and subways; but massive parking garages on a ring road that surrounds that core. After his part finishes, there's a couple of reminiscences by his children, and a rather annoyingly theoretical (Walter Benjamin! Gilles Deleuze!) afterword by the translator, who is an Austrian academic.

He started in the US, with changes to shop fronts to invite browsing:

These were on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Lederer, of the store on the right, was also a Jewish emigrant from Vienna. 

He came up with the idea for what would be a shopping mall--a pedestrian shopping center--during World War II, but it couldn't be built then. But he keeps the idea in mind for after the war. His first completed was for the owner of Hudson's, then the major department store in Detroit (and the second largest in the country); they built the Northland Mall in suburban Detroit, completed in 1956. His second, for the Dayton family, owners of the large department store of Minneapolis, was the completely enclosed Southdale Center, the first of its kind. This the maquette for it:

The raised access roads were for buses to get to the center. The interior was meant to be walkable and inviting; while this wasn't his vision, it seems obvious to me in retrospect that the acres of parking around it would inevitably lead to its being isolated from the community. But maybe he can't be blamed for the outcome? In any case he recognized the subsequent negative aspects of what he'd initially designed and had hoped for something different.

His idea of his relationship to his clients:

I was a bit surprised when he quoted from an early article by Jane Jacobs that praised his Detroit mall; I would have thought she would have objected. I wondered if she later changed her mind on Gruen, and I looked him up in the index of The Death and Life of Great American Cities of 1961 (A wonderful book! Read it if you care about US cities.) and he's there, but she's still quite impressed, and discusses his Fort Worth plan at considerable length. If you know the Jacobs, you'll know she's quite capable of doing down city planners she doesn't like. (Robert Moses, Lewis Mumford.)

Anyway, an interesting book about which I've gone on long enough...Though his second wife, Elsie Krummeck, was pretty fascinating in her own right: his business partner until they divorced, a talented designer in her own right, mother of his two children, and I could have devoted more space to her.

A couple of quotes:
[From a description of his Matura thesis]: "I argued that Faust could have saved his soul with a grand vision of liveable homes on land reclaimed from the sea. The idea was a little far-fetched, I now admit."

"They could not believe a Californian would take a train instead of a car." [In regard to the Valencia project--whoever 'they' were, they may have been right.]

"The mass use of individual transport machines [cars] within a collective is an absurdity, a life-endangering breach of all the values of a city. It means that all citizens may also insist on possessing their own wells, septic tanks, rifles." [Though it is the US: all citizens may insist on possessing their own rifles...]

Anyway, born in Vienna, he lived there until he was 35; later in his life when he was a successful architect, he had an international practice with homes in L.A. and New York, but he also had a place once again in Vienna, where he primarily lived after he retired at the age of 65. So I'm calling it the Austria book for my European Reading Challenge:

I first saw the book mentioned here which has more information.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Denial (#poem, #Dewithon2023)



When my devotions could not pierce
      Thy silent ears;
Then was my heart broken, as was my verse:
    My breast was full of fears
      And disorder:
  My best thoughts, like a brittle bow,
      Did fly asunder:
Each took his way; some would to pleasures go,
    Some to the wars and thunder
      Of alarms.
  As good go any where, they say,
      As to benumb
Both knees and heart, in crying night and day
    Come, come, my God, O come,
      But no hearing.
  O that thou shouldst give dust a tongue
      To cry to thee,
And then not hear it crying! all day long
    My heart was in my knee,
      But no hearing.
  Therefore my soul lay out of sight,
      Untun'd, unstrung:
My feeble spirit, unable to look right
    Like a nipt blossom, hung
  O cheer and tune my heartless breast,
      Defer no time;
That so thy favours granting my request,
    They and my mind may chime,
      And mend my rhyme.

-George Herbert

George Herbert was born in Montgomery, in Wales, in 1593. He took orders in the Anglican church, and lived most of his adult life in England, but represented Montgomery in Parliament at the end of his life. He died young-ish, of tuberculosis, in 1633. I like the way he lets the last line of each stanza hang, until finally God hears his request. 

It's Dewithon, the Welsh reading month at Paula's BookJotter.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Sunday Salon (and CCSpin Number Reveal!)


Last Week

Posted Chicago poet Keith Preston on 'Reading in Bed As A Fine Art'.

Blogged about Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh, a book from my Classics Club list.

And signed up for the latest Classics Club spin #33. The spin number is 18,

which means Honoré de Balzac's Cousin Bette for me. A good choice!

Some other books, including The Songs of Kabir, tr. Arvind Krishna Mehrotra:
The mind's a shortchanging
Huckster with a crafty 
Wife and Five
Scoundrel children.
It won't change its ways.

The mind's a knot, says Kabir,
Not easy to untie.

On The Stack

In addition to the Balzac, that's Early Irish Myths and Sagas, the Rae Dalven translation of Cavafy, and a volume of selected David Slavitt poems I'm making my way through.


I went to see the Eleanor Catton at the main Toronto Public Library talk about her new book Birnam Wood. Except there's apparently some suspense, so while she read from it, she didn't necessarily talk about it much. Not so long ago she wrote the screenplay for a version of Emma, so she mostly talked (very astutely) about that. She's impressive.

But now I do want to read the book. The Toronto library system bought a hundred copies, but I'm afraid I'm only five hundred on the list, so it will be a while...

I was going to post the video of the talk, but it doesn't seem to be available yet, though the library usually does post them here. I've also got tickets for Rebecca Makkai in May.

Eleanor Catton was born in Canada and lived here until she was six. (Her father was a grad student at the University of Western Ontario.) The Luminaries won the Canadian Governor General's award for fiction, as well as the Booker. The interviewer tried to absorb Catton into the Canadian borg, a thing which has been tried before and which I knew from some interview I read earlier, she politely resists. But based on her vowels, she's definitely a New Zealander, which you could check for yourself, if I could post the video... reflict, attintion, togither. 😉 

Chocolate Pots-de-créme, all gone now sadly...

How was your week?

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Reading In Bed As A Fine Art (#poem)

Reading In Bed As A Fine Art

That reading in bed is a rite with a ritual,
    Those couch-cognoscenti our essayists teach;
Ye novices, learn from us aesthetes habitual
    The bed written rules that the essayists preach.
Retire to your room with the paraphernalia,
    Some hoary old volume, your brier and pouch,
And garbing yourself in nocturnal regalia,
    Then kindle the candle that stands by the couch.

For bed books, no new books we essayists handle;
    For night lights, no bright lights are known to the game—
A second-hand book by a flickering candle,
    A tattered old tome by a tremulous flame.
We cling to the candle, so human, appealing;
    It weeps as it works, shedding tallowy tears;
So second-hand books touch us readers of feeling
    With lachrymose thoughts of delectable years.

How fondly we dandle in candle-lit darkness
    Fair folios veiled in voluptuous vellum,
And thrill to the mad Latin grammar of Harkness
    Or rakish old Caesar's wild Gallicum Bellum.
How dull and drab novels or newspaper colyums!
    Ye tyros, give ear to us urging instead
The old broken volumes, the vellum-bound volumes,
    The worm-eaten volumes we lug to our bed.

-Keith Preston

Keith Preston (1884-1927) wrote a column for Chicago Daily News, which often included poetry.  I suppose Ogden Nash is the best-known newspaper poet, but it used to be a common genre, and there are a bunch of fun things to be found: Don Marquis, Eugene Field, etc.

That's the Chicago Daily News building up above, where presumably Preston worked. The building's still there, but it's not the Daily News, which folded when I was a teenager, and was my parents' newspaper until it wasn't...

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Classics Club Spin #33

How can you not spin for #33? I feel like I should add a 1/3rd to that.

I'm nearing the end of my original list; the last couple of spins I added a few books from a potential new classics club list. But not this time! I'm concentrating on knocking off those remaining books, so there will be some doubling up.

(For full directions on how to do a Classics Club spin, see the organizing post. But you know all that...)

The First Five

1.) W. Somerset Maugham/The Razor's Edge
2.) Virginia Woolf/The Waves
3.) Balzac/Cousin Bette
4.) Boccaccio/The Decameron
5.) James Baldwin/Notes of a Native Son

The Second Five

6.) W. Somerset Maugham/The Razor's Edge
7.) Virginia Woolf/The Waves
8.) Balzac/Cousin Bette
9.) Boccaccio/The Decameron
10.) James Baldwin/Notes of a Native Son

Hmm...those look a lot like the first five.

The Third Five

11.) W. Somerset Maugham/The Razor's Edge
12.) Virginia Woolf/The Waves
13.) Balzac/Cousin Bette
14.) Boccaccio/The Decameron
15.) James Baldwin/Notes of a Native Son

Whoa. I'm picking up on a pattern here...

The Final Five

16.) W. Somerset Maugham/The Razor's Edge
17.) Virginia Woolf/The Waves
18.) Balzac/Cousin Bette
19.) Boccaccio/The Decameron
20.) James Baldwin/Notes of a Native Son

Yes, there may have been some copying and pasting going on!

They've all appeared on spin lists before and have failed to be selected. Of those 20 (whoops, I mean 5) books, which do you particularly like? Sunday, the 19th, will reveal all.

Happy spinning!

Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh

"Embryo minds, like embryo bodies, pass through a number of strange metamorphoses before they adopt their final shape."

That's said of our hero, Ernest Pontifex. He's got some growing up to do.

Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh came out in 1903 after Butler's death; he felt the book was too critical of family and organized religion to appear during his lifetime. But it was written in the 1870s and 1880s, being finished and then set aside in 1885.

That's Samuel Butler at the side there--or is it Ernest Pontifex? They're about the same age and both grow up to be iconoclastic writers. 

The story is narrated by Edward Overton, Ernest's godfather. As you see above Overton is capable of being ironic about his godson.
"I may very likely be condemning myself, all the time I am writing this book, for I know that whether I like it or no I am portraying myself more surely than I am portraying any of the characters whom I set before the reader."
The novel is set up as a history of the Pontifex family, though, and begins with Ernest's great-grandfather John, whom Overton knew as a boy. In the next generation it's George, who becomes a publisher of religious books and makes good money doing so. George has five children, one of whom, Theobald, is Ernest's father; another is Alethea, whom Overton is in love with, but who dies young-ish, and they don't marry. Theobald becomes a minister in the Anglican church, but only because he's pressured into it by his father. Theobald reacts to this by becoming especially rigorous and self-righteous in his religious practices.

But as far as I'm concerned the novel doesn't really take off until the arrival of Ernest, about a fifth of the way in.

Ernest first appears on the scene for his baptism, which is...funny? His grandfather:

   "'Gelstrap,' he said solemnly, 'I want to go down into the cellar.'
   Then Gelstrap preceded him with a candle, and he went into the inner vault where he kept his choicest vintages.
   He passed many bins: there was 1803 Port, 1792 Imperial Tokay, 1800 Claret, 1812 Sherry, these and many others were passed...[then] a single pint bottle. This was the object of Mr. Pontifex's search.
   Gelstrap had often pondered over this bottle. It had been placed there by Mr. Pontifex about a dozen years previously...the last chance of securing even a sip of the contents was about to be removed for ever..."
But grandfather George stumbles and the bottle is smashed. George Pontifex prepares to fire his butler Gelstrap for his own clumsiness. Turns out the bottle held water from the river Jordan, saved for the baptism of the first Pontifex grandchild. The quick-witted Gelstrap sponges up the water from the cellar floor, squeezes it out into a new bottle, and this is the water with which Ernest is baptized. "Eventually it was found that half a pint was saved, and this was held to be sufficient."

Ernest gets an education: a good prep school and then Cambridge, but doesn't seem to learn much for a while. Ernest's father Theobald shoves him toward a religious career, just as George had done to Theobald. At first Ernest resists, but then gets religion. Ernest veers between Methodism, a high-church Anglicanism approaching Catholicism, but also scientific atheism. (This is the late 1850s. Wesleyanism is still an active force. But also the high-church Oxford Movement: Newman had converted to Catholicism in 1845. On yet another hand, The Origin of Species comes out in 1859.) Ernest's Aunt Alethea and Overton see other possibilities in him; Alethea moves to Cambridge to keep an eye out, but dies of a fever. But not before she wills her money in trust to Ernest, Overton administering the trust and not saying anything to Ernest, with nothing to be done until Ernest turns twenty-eight.
"...Ernest could not be expected to know this; embryos never do."
Up to this point, Butler's life isn't so different from Ernest's, but Ernest's adventures in his early twenties are melodramatic, and surprising, and I think I won't say anything else. (Spoilers!) Butler himself emigrated to New Zealand and became a sheep rancher, doing quite well at it, before returning to England. Ernest's path is a little rockier...
"He had, in fact, to burn his house down to get his roast suckling pig."
Anyway, Ernest does come round.

Did I mention Butler felt the novel couldn't be published in his lifetime, because of its disregard for Victorian pieties? I did. 😉 In case you didn't believe...

"They would have been equally horrified at seeing the Christian religion doubted, as at seeing it practiced."
"Christianity was true in so far as it had favoured beauty."
Hmm. Not very orthodox that last one.

"Ernest could never stand being spoken to in this way by his mother, for he still believed that she loved him."
"A man first quarrels with his father about three quarters of a year before he was born."

Butler is particularly hard on familial relations, and at times I was irritated by how much he stacked the deck against Ernest's parents. Theobald and Cristina are self-righteous hypocrites. Still Butler over-generalizes a bit. I dunno: there are bad families out there. But I rather liked my parents...


"It was the system rather than the people that were at fault."

I was amused to discover via Wikipedia that the Dr. Skinner of Ernest's prep school (Roughborough in the novel; Shrewsbury School in real life) was the Dr. Benjamin Hall Kennedy of Kennedy's Latin Primer. Still at least sometimes in use, and that's my copy I've taken a photo of. The Dr. Skinner of the novel is portrayed as not very loveable...

All in all, though, a pretty great novel, I thought, even if slow to start. Overton's ironic and knowing telling keeps it moving along pretty well. "It happens that a faithful rendering of contemporary life is the very quality which gives its most permanent interest to any work of fiction,..." Sure. But a little irony doesn't hurt either.

One of the novels on that Modern Library list of the greatest English language novels of the 20th Century, and one off my Classics Club list...

Thursday, March 9, 2023

There Are Roughly Zones (#poem)


There Are Roughly Zones

We sit indoors and talk of the cold outside.
And every gust that gathers strength and heaves
Is a threat to the house. But the house has long been tried.
We think of the tree. If it never again has leaves,
We'll know, we say, that this is the day it died.
It is very far north, we admit, to have brought the peach.
What comes over a man, is it soul or mind--
That to no limits he can stay confined?
You would say his ambition was to extend the reach
Clear to the Arctic of every living kind.
Why is his nature forever so hard to teach
That though there is no fixed line between wrong and right,
There are roughly zones whose laws must be obeyed?
There is nothing much we can do for the tree tonight,
But we can't help feeling more than a little betrayed
That the northwest wind should rise to such a height
Just when the cold went down so many below.
The tree has no leaves and may never have them again.
We must wait till some months hence in the spring to know.
But if it destined never again to grow,
It can blame this limitless trait in the hearts of men.

-Robert Frost

This first appeared in Robert Frost's book of 1936, A Further Range. The book also includes 'Two Tramps in Mud Time' and 'Neither Out Far Nor In Deep'.

That's the cedar that was bent over to the ground on Saturday. Though not as upright as it was a week ago, I think it's likely to make it. (Yay!) The poem doesn't fit our story so well: it's needles, not leaves; this is still well within a cedar's natural range; and it's only weeks to spring, not months. But it was enough to make think of the poem... 😉

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Sunday Salon


Last Week

Put up a poem by Emily Henrietta Hickey which I've always liked.

Blogged about Eric Ambler's The Levanter, a spy novel. Pretty good, but not one of his best.

The rest of the reading week:

Ethel Wilson's Hetty Dorval is one of those books that gets labeled a lost Canadian classic--and it kind of is! Frankie Burnaby is a naive teenage girl in Lytton, a small British Columbia town. Hetty Dorval moves into town. Hetty seems glamorous to Frankie, but maybe she's too glamorous? Or glamorous for the wrong reasons? It comes out in 1947, and it compares well, I'd say, to other mid-century female authors, the sort of thing that Virago brought back to light. 

I'd known of it for a while, but read it now because Alexandra Oliver's volume of poetry Hail, The Invisible Watchman has a sonnet sequence based on the novel.

Where I am

Our winter's been pretty mild, but then this happened Friday night. I hope the cedar in our front yard recovers--it was bent over nearly to the ground. It was so bad they closed all the libraries in town. (Noooo! 😉) Fortunately they'll be open again tomorrow...

How was your week?

Thursday, March 2, 2023

The Ship from Tirnanoge


The Ship from Tirnanoge

We two were alone by the sea:
I and the man I loved with me.

Our eyes were glad and our hearts beat high,
As we sat by the sea, my love and I;

Till we looked afar, and saw a ship:
Then white, white grew his ruddy lip;

And strange, strange grew his eyes that saw
Into the heart of some deep awe.

His hand that held this hand of mine
Never a token gave, nor sign;

But lay as a babe's that is just dead:
And I sat still and wondered.

Nearer and nearer the white ship drew:
Who was her captain, whence her crew?

Her crew were men and women bright,
With fair eyes full of unknown light.

From far-off Tirnanoge they came,
Where they had heard my true-love's name:

The name the birds and waves had sung
Of one that must bide for ever young.

Strong white arms let down the boat;
Song rose up from many a throat.

Glad they were who soon had won
A lovely new companion.

They lowered the boat and they entered her;
And rowed to meet their passenger:

Rowed to the tune of a music strange,
That told of joy at the heart of change.

I heard her keel on the pebbles gride,
And she waited there till the turn o' the tide;

While they kept singing, singing clear
A song that was passing sweet to hear:

A song that bound me in a chain
Away from any thought of pain.

They paused at last in their sweet singing,
And I saw their hands were beckoning,

In a rhythm as sweet as the stilled songs,
That passed to the air from their silent tongues.

He rose and kissed me on the face,
And left me sitting in my place,

Quiet, quiet, life and limb,
I, who was not called like him.

Into the boat he entered grave,
And the tide turned, and she rode the wave;

And I saw him sitting at the prow,
With a rose-light about his brow.

The boat drew nigh the ship again,
With all its lovely women and men.

I saw him enter the ship and stand,
His hand held in the captain's hand.

The captain wonderful to see
With eyes a-change in depth and blee;

A-change, a-change for ever and aye,
Blue, and purple, and black, and gray;

And hair like the weed that finds a home
In the depth of a trail of white sea-foam.

I wist he was no mortal man,
But he whose name is Manannan.

They sailed away, they sailed away,
Out of the day, into the day.

-Emily Henrietta Hickey

Tirnanoge, more commonly spelled Tír-na-nÓg, is a name for the Celtic Otherworld. I lifted the image above from Wikipedia; it's Oisín and Niamh traveling there, from an illustrated edition. But the poem isn't entirely something out of Irish Celtic tradition.

Emily Henrietta Hickey (1845-1924) was an Irish poet, about whom I know next to nothing... 😉 I found the poem years ago at Carol Rumens' Poem of the Week in the Guardian. She had more information there.

It's Reading Ireland Month at