memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Sailing to Byzantium (2)

Sailing to Byzantium (2).

Sailing to Byzantium (1)

Sailing to Byzantium (1).

Smuggling book out of the Papal States

One of my favourite forebears is my great-great-great-uncle William Milner who died tragically young in 1813 of tuberculosis.
He, like both his elder brothers, was educated at the Hipperholme School, (a famous contemporary was Lawrence Sterne, author of that literary anomaly Tristram Shandy)  near Bradford and took up an interest in modern languages – German and Italian.

In his youth he travelled extensively on the Continent and spent some time in Germany where, according to his cousin Thomas Asline Ward, he lived upwards of a year in Brunswick where he entered into all the gaieties of that dissipated place, and visited at the court of the Duke.

SMALL, FAT OLD BOOK

SMALL, FAT OLD BOOK

I have a small, fat, old, calfskin-bound, 17th century Italian book of his –IL Correiro Svaligliato, publicato da Ginifaccio Spironcini. MDCXLIV (1644), obviously acquired on the same occasion, because he first signed his name (in German script), then read it and was either rather scandalized by the its contents or more likely perhaps worried that he would be detained at the frontier of one the Papal States with the book in his possession.
Be that as it may, he carefully scraped away his surname from the title page, though it can still be made out (just) two centuries later.


What was it all about? My father describes the book thus:
It is indeed a curiosity – a collection of squibs or pasquinades violently attacking the Barberini pope Urban VIII, his rapacious family and the corruptions of the papal court. They are associated with the name of Ferrante Pallavicino and one (section) vividly records his betrayal by an agent provocateur, his trial and execution by the papal forces. After three and a half centuries the binding is sound and good – a tribute to the magnificent material.

17th century calf-skin

17th CENTURY CALFSKIN-BINDING

In my mind’s eye I can see the young man, bent over the page, gently scraping away with a razor, his face absorbed in the candle-light.

In 1811 he was diagnosed with the disease that was to kill him and transferred to the Isle of Wight for a cure. We have a letter from there to his father:
… he then hoped he was recovering and he would be soon back in Town. He thinks he has benefitted from the use of a kind of tobacco, Strabonum Herb Tobacco, which he smokes in a pipe. It has done (him) more good (sic) than fresh air or any other medicine.

(Over two centuries, does one detect the whiff of cannabis?

Staying in his boarding house is a Mrs. Campbell, widow of General Campbell who died lately in Portugal in consequence of his too great fatigue and exertions in disciplining the Portuguese Levies.
William died two years after the date of this letter and was buried at Attercliffe in Yorkshire.

The Flooded Plain

Annaba, Eastern Algeria.   January 1972

algeria

I stayed at the Paradise Hotel for about a month before the Company managed to arrange a furnished flat for me.

It was my very first flat – two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen and I was not yet 21 years old.

I bought a Telefunken sound-system – tuner/amplifier, turntable and two speakers, which I artfully placed at the requisite height and distance apart, angled for maximum effect for the sofa at the centre of the living room. I was fussy, I was finicky, I fiddled with them and adjusted them until they were just so.

(It was all new to us in those days – creating sound-stages, woofers and tweeters and so on).

The living room window had a tiny balcony which overlooked the dusty parched football stadium which proved useful in January as an emergency landing pad for helicopters from the American 6th Fleet during the extreme weather conditions which caused the flash floods from the mountains which inundated much of the coastal plain.

THE FLOODED PLAIN

THE FLOODED PLAIN

The previous evening the road between the site and the town was under about two feet of water in some places and it had been quite a little drama for us to get home.

The Company’s small fleet of cars consisted mostly of identical little Renault R8s, which were unequal to driving through the water and were stranded on the small islands along the road.

I however, not having yet been allocated a Company car, hitched a lift with two others in a VW Beetle driven by a visiting fireman from Head Office in Sheffield called Earnest, a field accountant (the first I’d met of the breed). He was a slow-talking, patient, pedantic and dogged Yorkshire man. He wore a rumpled dark suit and a white drip-dry shirt with a dark tie; a pork-pie hat and a pipe clamped between his teeth completed the effect.

While we expressed our doubts about the viability of the expedition he remained firm. What-yer-have-to-do-is-to-keep-the-vehicle-in-low-gear-and-keep-yer-foot-on-the-gas-pedal-so-as-avoid-stalling, he explained sternly, pointing the stem of his pipe at my chest.

So we set off though the darkness and driving rain and soon got to where the road disappeared in a large lake of dark grey water. Earnest crouched forward slightly at the wheel, pipe clenched between his teeth and drove the little car into the water. The level of water rose until it was an inch above the door-sills and started to leak into the cabin, but the gallant engine continued to turn over and the car didn’t stop its progress (although the exhaust-pipe was under water).

Thus we glugged and gurgled our way across the flooded plain, phutting and farting sedately past the stranded R8s until we reached terra firma once again. There was the smell of tobacco smoke in the little cabin – it was Earnest puffing away triumphantly at his pipe.

Fruta da Epoca

CHERRIES

CHERRIES

Sweet Cherry.

Vigorous tree with strong apical control with an erect-pyramidal canopy shape, capable of reaching 50 ft. In cultivation, sweet cherries are maintained 12-15 ft in height. Leaves are relatively large (largest of cultivated Prunus), elliptic with mildly serrated margins, acute tips, petioled, and strongly veined.

I love cherries – I reckon they are just about my favourite fruit, except possibly the-perfect-peach (do I dare to eat a peach?)

Consider the cherries which are harvested in due season from the orchards of the Douro valley – red, plump, succulent, delicious.

I doubt that these will end up on the shelves of Sainsburys or Safeways like the strawberries of the Algarve that are whisked away by the waiting refrigerated trucks, throbbing in the misty dawn and driven along the hot dusty motorways of Spain and France and through the Chanel Tunnel to the London vegetable warehouses at dusk.

No, these cherries will flood the fruit markets of Penafiel and Bom Successo and each kitchen-table in the region will have a laughing overflowing abundance and children shall dangle them from their ears and youths and maidens shall dance joyously in the church-squares of the golden valley.

GIRLS DANCING ON BEACH – PAINTING BY THOMAS MILNER

In the Home the appearance of cherries will be greeted by the incurious and unexpressed satisfaction of the continuance of the seasons – of course, cherries, what else? The old people will think.

Because we are not anywhere near this season, the presence of a bowl of shiny dark cherries in front of one of the old dears (brought that afternoon by a visiting daughter) drew tacit attention from some of us.

It was supper-time and the rest of us had boring old stewed apple; but not this old dear who set about her bowl of cherries with a will, spitting out stones while the cup of her curved fingers fed another one into her chewing mouth. From time to time she would lift her crouching face from the plate and glance around with a look that said: eat your hearts out, suckers and if anyone thinks that they’re going to get a bite of my cherries, well they’ve got another think coming …

Blessed are the Ungiven for they shall inherit … for they shall inherit what? … I know, for they shall inherit all the cherries!

Dover Beach & Rugby

During the early sixties the Port of Dover still had medium-priced respectable hotels with names like The White Cliffs with potted plants in the lounge and middle-aged bow-tied pianists playing sub-Cole Porter numbers with rolling eyes and a sort of louche panache. The town itself, with its tangy sea-air, its cries of sea-gulls and its dazzling white cliffs seemed to offer shelter and solace from the long and confusing journey through childhood.

WHITE CLIFFS OF DOVER

WHITE CLIFFS OF DOVER

And later, as the ship edged out of stone harbour of my boyhood to meet the butting pitching sea, I would linger in the stern watching the shoreline of England – those famous gleaming white cliffs – receding to the horizon and feel an unfamiliar ache in my heart.

(I have since discovered that the Portuguese language, that melancholy vehicle, encapsulates that emotion in one single word – saudades).

Be that as it may, I should now like to share with you another of my favourite poems.

MATHEW ARNOLD

MATHEW ARNOLD

Written by Mathew Arnold (poet-son of Dr. Thomas Arnold, the charismatic and pioneering headmaster of Rugby School,

RUGBY SCHOOL

RUGBY SCHOOL

who features memorably in the novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays

in 1869, it is called Dover Beach:

The sea is calm to-night.

The tide is full, the moon lies fair

Upon the straits; on the French coast the light

Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;

Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.

Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!

Only, from the long line of spray

Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar

Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,

At their return, up the high strand,

Begin, and cease, and then again begin,

With tremulous cadence slow, and bring

The eternal note of sadness in.

 

Sophocles long ago

Heard it on the Agaean, and it brought

Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow

Of human misery; we

Find also in the sound a thought,

Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

 

The Sea of Faith

Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.

But now I only hear

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

Retreating, to the breath

Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear

And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Eye-catching Headline

I must say one sees some rather odd headlines in our newspaper:

MUSEU DE ETNOLOGIA DO PORTO VAI SER EXTINCTO

(ETHNOLOGY MUSEUM OF PORTO IS GOING TO BECOME EXTINCT)

Due to lack of funding, one assumes.

WINTER TREES – PAINTING – BY THOMAS MILNER

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