Showing posts with label Art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Art. Show all posts

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Beer Lane


Another in the series of pub poems (previous entries here and here). This one is from the Lamb on Lamb's Conduit Street in Bloomsbury. The picture is Hogarth's Beer Street, the lesser-known sister of Gin Lane, and the poem runs thusly:

Beer, happy Produce of our Isle
Can sinewy Strength impart,
And wearied with Fatigue and Toil
Can chear each manly Heart.

Labour and Art upheld by Thee
Successfully advance,
We quaff Thy balmy Juice with Glee
And Water leave to France.

Genius of Health, thy grateful Taste
Rivals the Cup of Jove,
And warms each English generous Breast
With Liberty and Love.

And Chear is spelled like that. This picture and rhyme are not as obscure as the previous entries, and as my picture was rather shaky and disturbed by reflection, here is a good copy from the Internet.


P.S. If you see a poem up in a pub, do send it in.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Little Banquets


In Italian, the suffix -etto means little. So Giovanni Canal, because he was the son of the painter Bernard Canal, was known as Canaletto. It just means Canal Junior. (Similarly, Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, had an elder brother who was nicknamed The Keg, or Il Bottici. So he, the little brother, was nicknamed The Little Keg, or Botticelli.)

A bench in Italian is a banco. So a little bench was a banchetto, hence the English banquette.

Now, if you're in a terrible hurry and don't have time for a proper lunch, what do you do? You buy a sandwich, you sit on a park bench and you gobble it up into your greedy gob. Thus, a snack, the sort of thing you eat on a little bench, is a banquet.

'Eh?' I hear you cry. 'A banquet isn't a little snack. It's a bloody great feast that goes on for hours and involves quails and fried elephants. It's not something you munch on in a hurry.'

And you're right, dear reader, utterly right. That's what banquet means now, but once it meant a tiny snack, probably eaten between proper meals. And absolutely nobody knows how the word got from the one meaning to the other.

I'm now going to make myself a quick banquet.

A dinner party at Inky Fool mansions

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Curates and their Eggs


An old joke: If smoking's so bad for you, how come it cures salmon?

A curate is somebody who cares for souls. Cure and care come from the same Latin root: curare, which has nothing to do with the South American poison.

A curate is exactly the same thing, etymologicalwise, as a curator, and the sense of taking care of pork or salmon is a reasonably obvious eighteenth century extension.

In these fallen days, a curate is usually someone who substitutes for a vicar, which is odd as we've already seen that vicars are vicarious substitutes. None of which explains eggs.

Here is a cartoon by George Du Maurier. It was published in Punch in 1895. Much of its humour has been lost because it satirises two things: the ambitious sycophancy of the Church of England and boiled eggs in the days before refrigerators. The joke is, of course, that an egg cannot be part-rotten.


If you reworked it with a CEO and a middle manager, and replaced the eggs with lap-dancers you might have a good modern equivalent. Either way, the cartoon was so popular that the phrase entered the language.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

No Buts


Have a look at this paragraph from the opening chapter of the 1939 novel Gadsby by Ernest Vincent Wright, and see if you can tell what's odd about it.

Upon this basis I am going to show you how a bunch of bright young folks did find a champion; a man with boys and girls of his own; a man of so dominating and happy individuality that Youth is drawn to him as is a fly to a sugar bowl. It is a story about a small town. It is not a gossipy yarn; nor is it a dry, monotonous account, full of such customary “fill-ins” as “romantic moonlight casting murky shadows down a long, winding country road.” Nor will it say anything about tinklings lulling distant folds; robins carolling at twilight, nor any “warm glow of lamplight” from a cabin window. No. It is an account of up-and-doing activity; a vivid portrayal of Youth as it is today; and a practical discarding of that worn-out notion that “a child don’t know anything.”

Any guesses? I'll give you a clue. It's not about what's there, but what isn't. Still no idea? Another clue: the idea was repeated thirty years later by Georges Perec. Yes? No? All right, I'll tell you.

There are no Es. Not one. Gadsby is 50,000 words long and the fifth letter of the alphabet makes not a single, solitary appearance. He even went so far as to not allow himself Mr because it is a shortening of mistEr. You can read the introduction, and indeed the whole of Gadsby here. Its skill of composition is matched only by its insanity of purpose.

The word for such a work is, incidentally, a lipogram.

I was having a drink the other night with a girl who used to work for Bloomberg, the famous mayor manufacturer. Apparently, Bloomberg's style guide absolutely forbids the use of the word but. Nor can you replace it with however, yet, nonetheless or albeit. Each fact is an island, and they must remain in Gradgrindian lines and not use connectors to cancel each other out.

Moreover, at Bloomberg you can't use adjectives of value. Profits can be neither good nor bad, large nor minor. They certainly can't be unexpected.

It's good to know that the torch that Mr Wright lit has not gone out.


N.B. The reason the for the picture. This post is about things that aren't there, which makes illustration tricky. This picture is of Dickens' study and was painted just after his death. It is called The Empty Chair because the chair implies the man who is not sitting in it. The picture was wildly popular and thousands of copies were made. My tutor at Oxford had a copy in his study. Van Gogh, who was a big Dickens fan and moved to London a few years after the novelist's death, loved the picture. That's why Van Gogh did all those paintings of empty chairs and empty beds, because the furniture implies the absent person.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Poems and Pictures in Pubs


Pubs used to be full of pictures like this one, which I found in The Plough on Little Russell Street. (Click to enlarge)


I mean, it's not a good poem, and the picture is never going to make it to the Louvre. Like Lord Lucan, this sort of thing is interesting because it's vanishing. Pictures like these are being ripped down and replaced with chrome radiators and funky Ecuadorian carvings and ironic bits from converted churches, so this minor and meagre art-form will be lost forever unless Something is Done.

So I thought I'd preserve some on Inky Fool. If you see a picture like this, take a photo, e-mail it to me and I'll put it up on a quiet and snoozeful Sunday.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Rubens, Van Dyck, Monet and Carpaccio (with a Twist)


Leonardo Da Vinci once wrote that:

...the poet ranks far below the painter in the representation of visible things and far below the musician in that of invisible things. 

However, he didn't seem to notice that the poet was the only one who could wander in both realms, and describe the place where they meet, which is pretty much the human life.

Painting would seem to be the opposite of language, and yet painters have drifted into our vocabulary.

Some words are of obvious origin, such as rubenesque to describe those ladies of delightful plumpness, or Van Dyck to describe the pointiest of beards.

Some require a brief explanation. You might be happy to be described as a Monet, if you didn't realise that it meant that you were beautiful from a distance, but rather disappointing from close up.

Others are as obscure as a comma in hell. Few people have heard of the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio (1465-1526). He wasn't the greatest artist ever. In fact, his main talent was in the mixing of paints. He did the most lovely reds, and became famous for them. Have a look at the picture of the bedroom on the right. That is the work of a man who knows what his talent is.

There was an exhibition of Carpaccio paintings at the Doge's Palace in Venice in 1961. Just round the corner from the Palace, at Harry's Bar, a chef called Giuseppe Cipriani was wondering what to call his brand new dish of thinly sliced red meat. And that, dear reader, is why carpaccio is called carpaccio.

The dish and its name caught on, and that is why if you do a Google image search for Carpaccio, poor old Vittore is now down in ninth place, behind the food to which he posthumously donated his name.

Giusseppe Cipriani also invented a cocktail, which he called a Bellini after another Venetian painter, Giovanni Bellini*. Giovanni Bellini painted what's probably my favourite painting: the San Giobbe Altarpiece.


*I assume. I haven't checked up whether it was the Elder (and that's the worst line in Brideshead).