29 – Fug

Steamed up

Another day of heavy rain and I escaped into a coffee shop. So many wet coats, so much moisture that hits the cold of a single glazed window and then condenses. It creates a nice fug that emphasis the difference between the warmth of inside and the inhospitable weather of the outside.

I wonder what the word is to describe this concept?

27 – Loanwords

The enjoyment in reading Robert Burns insulting his reviewer is the joy we can all sometimes find in someone else’s misfortune. As we do not have a word for this concept in english we have to borrow schadenfreude from german. But what does that say about our culture: are we rather noble in not to having a word for such a low pleasure or are we hypocritical in not wanting to acknowledge a feeling that everybody knows exists? Or, on the other hand, what does it say about us, as a traditionally buttoned up nation (though I do believe that tradition has now faded) that we have to rely on the French for joie de vivre? When words have to be borrowed to precisely describe a concept, it must mean that previously we had not thought the concept important enough to name. Why would that be?

I will leave that hanging whilst I take today’s fleeting pleasure in finding a couple of other words that should be adopted into the language:

Uitwaaien (pronounced out-vye-in) is a Dutch word meaning to take a brief break in the countryside to clear one’s head. Literally it means walking in the wind. Either way it is a word I ave wanted all my life. The concept of walking in a bit of weather to refresh the mind is so common why isn’t their an english equivalent.

Spaegie is a Shetland dialect word for delayed onset muscle soreness. DOMS has no poetry whatsoever and should be replaced forthwith.

P.S. The website to go to for such words is: BetterThanEnglish

26 – Eunuch of language

As long as you are a spectator, a well judged tongue lashing can be a thing of beauty, especially if someone getting a deserved comeuppance.

Following on from our Burns Night whisky we ought to celebrate the man himself excoriating a reviewer who criticised his poetry for obscure language and imperfect grammar. (Source: lettersofnote.com)

Thou eunuch of language;
thou Englishman, who never was south the Tweed;
thou servile echo of fashionable barbarisms;
thou quack, vending the nostrums of empirical elocution;
thou marriage-maker between vowels and consonants, on the Gretna-green of caprice;
thou cobler, botching the flimsy socks of bombast oratory;
thou blacksmith, hammering the rivets of absurdity;
thou butcher, embruing thy hands in the bowels of orthography;
thou arch-heretic in pronunciation;
thou pitch-pipe of affected emphasis; thou carpenter, mortising the awkward joints of jarring sentences;
thou squeaking dissonance of cadence; thou pimp of gender;
thou Lyon Herald to silly etymology; thou antipode of grammar; thou executioner of construction;
thou brood of the speech-distracting builders of the Tower of Babel;
thou lingual confusion worse confounded; thou scape-gallows from the land of syntax; thou scavenger of mood and tense;
thou murderous accoucheur of infant learning;
thou ignis fatuus, misleading the steps of benighted ignorance; thou pickle-herring in the puppet-show of nonsense;
thou faithful recorder of barbarous idiom; thou persecutor of syllabication;
thou baleful meteor, foretelling and facilitating the rapid approach of Nox and Erebus.

I particularly like “hammering the rivets of absurdity” I think I am going to adopt that as a job description

25 Lagavulin

whisky glass

January 25th is Burns Night, which is excuse enough for a moment of whisky appreciation. Today it’s: Lagavulin 16 year old. Perfectly splendid and one of my favourites but what do other people say? There is a whole sub culture of people who write notes, trying to describe the smell, taste, and feel of whiskies. A few are professionals, who have the reputation and ability to make a living from it, most  are amateurs, with a blog, pursuing a hobby. So what can they tell us about this whisky?

Reproducing full reviews would be a bit lengthy so I am just going to concentrate on the nose and see what some professionals have said about smelling a glass.

Dave Broom, ‘The World Atlas of Whisky’ is one of my favourite whisky books, which combines lovely, evocative photos and knowledge:

Big, robust and complex. Seriously smoky, pipe tobacco, kiln, beach bonfire, smokehouse  all allied to ripe fruitiness. Touch of creosote and lapsang souchong.

Ian Buxton, ‘101 Whiskies To Try Before You Die’ (although I hate the whole ‘before you die’ thing this is a very good guide and well worth looking out):

Intense peat rush, followed by sweet oranges and toffee.

Gavin Smith, from ‘The malt Whisky Yearbook 2014’, a book I like because it concentrates more on the industry than subjective opinions:

Soft and buttery on the nose, with dominant, fruity, peat smoke, grilled fish and a hint of vanilla sweetness. More fresh fruit notes develop with the addition of water.

Dominic Roskrow, also in ‘The Malt Whisky Yearbook:

A monster truck nose with rich smoke.

 Apart from smoke, which is a common theme ( and that is fair enough as it could not be avoided) if you didn’t know I don’t think you would be able to tell they were talking about the same thing. That’s the problem with subjective opinions. It like the great quote, which I once thought came from Frank Zappa but now know was from someone I had never heard of called  Martin Mull, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

if a lot of whisky writing might be in the form of representational dance I might as well join in and say when I smell Lagavulin I sense an underlying sweetness, sometimes a bit like custard, sometimes fruit beneath the smokey top.  I actually get the lapsang souchong more in the finish than on the nose.

From that and the other opinions you get the sense of why whisky  is a perfect subject for fleeting pleasures. You get hints of other flavours and smells. They come and go and you are scrambling after, trying to make sense of them.


24 – Correction

This was posted on Twitter from the New York Review of Books account (nybooks):

 Correction: January 23, 2014

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the plantings on the building’s green roof. They were native flora, not native fauna

 It is one of those mistakes that just makes you smile. However the moment of pleasure was quickly followed by an irritating little thought: “I hope it is genuine?”. No source is given, so there is no way of checking. No – it is the New York Review of Books, surely it must be right. They wouldn’t hoax us; would they?

23 – Regulating the Harmony

Yesterday I talked about messing about with photographs and how time can disappear. The following quote is from the biography of Laszlo Moholy Nagy, by his wife Sibyl, shows how proper artists go about things

“If this bar —“ Mondrian pushed one black strip across the sheet, moving it a fraction of an inch at a time.
“Stop!” Moholy watched intensely. “Go back again.” The bar was returned to its initial place.
“Now try upwards.”
“No — no — not upward” Mondrian protested. “To the left, if at all only to the left.” Moholy knelt beside him. As Mondrian moved his strip to the left Moholy pushed another one to the right, slowly, slowly, almost imperceptibly slow. For a while they said nothing.
“It’s off balance,” Mondrian finally exclaims. “It’s off balance don’t you see?”
“Yes, I see.” Moholy was crestfallen. “Now I know.” With swift moves he rearranged the black strips. Then he jumped onto a chair, looking at the sheet on the floor. “Come up here,” he called to Mondrian, who was still kneeling. “From up here the tension is harmonised.”
Mondrian looked for another chair. It was the one on which I was sitting. I relinquished it and they both stood above my head pointing —
“To the left —“
“Higher — but to the right.”
it was Moholy’s task to execute the turns.
“Non—non—non! Mondrian’s quick fire objections in the French language. “Too much, I say, much too much!” …
The room was chilly and my feet were ice cold. I would have liked to leave. I was tired of standing. But I couldn’t make my prosaic presence known. The two men on the chairs were like seers, regulating the harmony of the universe with strips of black paper.

22 – Cropping

Just the head

I can waste a lot of time playing about with photos. It is purposeful if there is something obvious that needs fixing but often it is just idle play: ‘what does this look like, what about if I did that?’.

Cropping is particularly open ended as the overall shape and width of view can alter the subject. Sometimes a lot of background gives context, other times you need to focus on a detail. It could be you can’t decide which you like best but that doesn’t matter because you can keep both. However if you end up wishing you had taken the picture from a slightly different angle or paid more attention to all the elements in the frame, then you have a more serious problem. You might be able to go back, if you think it’s worth it, but most often you can’t. As I said  play might be productive or it might not  but it doesn’t matter too much, as with everything, it is the process that counts.

As the process takes time, it can’t be my fleeting pleasure. Instead it has to be one of those sudden realisations that happen during the time you are playing. In this case it is noticing something you didn’t really see when you took the photo.

Yesterday I posted a picture of a gull on the head of a statue. It was actually a crop of an already cropped picture. I did it for the post because the bird on the head was the thing that had amused me; however as a picture I prefer my initial crop, which is a wider view, showing the statue is of two dancers. Now though I have looked more closely at the detail and if I wanted to crop I would go further and concentrate on the head and shoulders. This forces you to look at the texture and weathering – something that was not at all on my mind at the time. 

20 – Blown Highlights

Blown highlights

Blown highlights are a classic defect in a photo, too much light concentrated in a small area will remove all detail and leave a patch of white,  like a hole in the picture.  Sometimes, however, I like them. On a bright winter’s day the low sun can be dazzling in the way it will reflect off a damp road or windows and those blown highlights show something of that ferocity.  On such a day, when walking towards the sun I am far more likely to be blinded by the light than I am on a summer’s day when the sun is higher in the sky.