memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Posts tagged ‘travel’

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 Journey of the Magi

January 6th (the Epiphany, la fête des Rois, die Drei Konigen, the Three Kings) seems an appropriate date to post another favourite poem by T. S. Eliot.

 

THE JOURNEY OF THE MAGI

“A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The was deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.”

And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

 

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

 

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we lead all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

THE JOURNEY OF THE MAGI

THE JOURNEY OF THE MAGI

 

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

Sailing to Byzantium (2)

I have always considered that this poem, Sailing to Byzantium by William Butler Yeats, to be very beautiful.

Sailing to Byzantium

THAT is no country for old men. The young

In one another’s arms, birds in the trees

– Those dying generations – at their song,

The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unageing intellect.

 

An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,

Nor is there singing school but studying

Monuments of its own magnificence;

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium.

 

O sages standing in God’s holy fire

As in the gold mosaic of a wall,

Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,

And be the singing-masters of my soul.

Consume my heart away; sick with desire

And fastened to a dying animal

It knows not what it is; and gather me

Into the artifice of eternity.

 

Once out of nature I shall never take

My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

a-perfume-brazier-in-the-form-of-a-domed-building

 

Supergirl

My wife has gone to the West Indies

Jamaica?

No, she went of own accord.

STAGE 1

STAGE 1

My brother went to Eastern Europe for a holiday

Romania?

No, I went with him.

STAGE 2

STAGE 2

I’ve been learning a Scandinavian language

Finnish?

Not yet.

STAGE 3

STAGE 3

It’s not the jokes that count, it’s how you write them.

STAGE 4

STAGE 4

I’ve got Togo

SUPERGIRL

SUPERGIRL

MERRY CHRISTMAS

The salt of the earth

Salt, also known as table salt, or rock salt, is a crystalline mineral that is composed primarily of sodium chloride NaCl, a chemical compound belonging to the larger class of ionic salts.

The time that I spent in the Sahara desert in the late seventies was during the hottest part of the year, between April and September.

Every morning the sun rose suddenly over the rim of the eastern desert. By midday it was implacable, shining fiercely down on all our endeavours. We used to move slowly from place to place like zombies, with our Ray-Bans and our low-brimmed caps. Only twice did I see to the south the rolling clouds of a sand-storm, driven by the fearsome winds of the Sirocco. Sometimes the sun was obscured by a slight haze but usually it was a great white ball of light burning from a clear sky.

At least that was our assumption; the truth is that one never really looked. There’s usually a sort of literary convention in descriptions of the sun in the desert. One of my favourites is from The Seven Pillars of Wisdomand the sun rose to greet us like a drawn sword.

THE SUN ROSE TO GREET US LIKE A DRAWN SWORD

Salt is not only an essential mineral, a sine qua non for the body’s survival but it also forms part of our linguistic heritage, serving as a metaphor for something fundamental – he’s just not worth his salt or she’s the salt of the earth.

During the Middle-Ages noblemen used to carry a small pouch of salt at their belts to feed to their falcons.

Thousands of years ago merchants and traders, tracking through the deserted wastes of Africa and Asia, would be paid in salt (hence the word salary).

At times our bodies would dehydrate to the point where we were urinating only once a day – time for some salt pills!

The camp medic would issue them on demand and anyone with an ounce of common sense would drink a commensurate amount of water to absorb the extra minerals.These salt pills were really heavy-duty, the sort that would give your average horse severe cholesterol problems, and yet some of the men would recklessly gulp them down (presumably guided by the precept that you can’t have too much of a good thing).

Sometimes there were dire consequences:

–          Station C calling Algiers, Station C calling Algiers, over.

–          Go ahead Station C, over.

–          We have a man down, suspected jagged kidney/gall stone, over.

–          We’re onto it Station C. tell the man to just hold on to his britches, help is on the way, over and out.

What happened next was impressive.

About six hours after the radio-signal to Algiers about the pill-guzzzler who’d been found behind the sanitation cabin (shit-house) lying in agony in the sand clutching his stomach, a neat little air-ambulance, a Swiss Red-Cross Lear jet, landed delicately at our landing-strip (in a cloud of dust) and disgorged the pilot, a doctor, a blond nurse and a stretcher and, while we were gaping at the nurse, transfer-documents were signed and exchanged and lucky, lucky, thicko Joe was stretchered onto the little aircraft which then took off, turning back north, it’s lights winking in the sudden desert dusk and whisked Jammy Joe into an operating theatre in a private clinic in Switzerland (all covered by the expensive Company insurance plan).

Plumbago

I first fell in love with the plumbago bush whilst on holiday in the Algarve more years ago than I care to consider

One minute I was innocent of plumbago, insouciantly minding my own business without a care in the world and then suddenly I discovered plumbagoa combination of the resonance of the name and the delicate beauty of the pale blue flowers proved too much for me.

From then on the final assessment of any garden was reduced to that one reference viz. did it or did it not contain a plumbago bush.

PLUMBAGO BUSH

PLUMBAGO BUSH

Many horticultural avenues fanned out at my feet.

Now I could join in conversations about gardens and gently steer them in the direction of shrubs and bushes, coyly circling the word plumbago like someone shy of mentioning a loved one’s name but nevertheless wanting someone else to bring it up.

Or I could cultivate plumbagos and become an elderly eccentric,

alone in a garden comprising only of plumbago bushes,

my family long since fled from this obsession.

And finally, like Orson Wells at the end of Citizen Kane breathing his last word «rose-bud»,

I would breathe mine

«plumbago»

PLUMBAGO BUTTERFLY

PLUMBAGO BUTTERFLY

The Master Cutler

Sheffield, UK

September 1978

There was a rather splendid train in those days called The Master Cutler (the honorific title of the Lord Mayor of Sheffield) which used to leave Sheffield at 7.30 and arrive at London, St. Pancras at 10 o’clock. I thoroughly approved of this service. It was a fast first-class-only Pullman commuter train with a dining car and reserved seats.

As it slid out of Sheffield I would doze for half an hour before making my way down the swaying coaches to the restaurant-car for a good old English breakfast – orange juice then eggs, bacon, sausage, tomato and toast (the whole disaster) washed down with multiple cups of coffee. I can see it now, the rattling silver cutlery, the attentive white-coated waiters bending to replenish one’s coffee cup and the damp grey-green country-side of the English Midlands flashing by.

Why do I remember that train so fondly? Maybe I select it as a metaphor, one of thousands, for an age which, however imperfect and tarnished, compares favourably with this present one with its instant gratification, communication, credit, culture of greed and corporate irresponsibility – and that jittery sense of the Human Race drifting towards some great social, economic or ecological calamity.

It’s no one’s fault by the way.

It’s just the thrust of history accelerating the world towards some inevitable conclusion.

Whatever happens, the planet (the bio-sphere) will survive, but will the Humanity which has been abusing it get away with impunity?

 Who shall inherit the earth?

Will the dominant species in the post-human era be the ant or the rat or (and here’s a thought) that twin pinnacle of evolution which decided to remain in the sea, the dolphin?

DOLPHINS INHERIT THE EARTH

Méchoui

ANNABA (formerly French Bône and Latin Hippo) is a town and Mediterranean port in north-eastern Algeria, close to the Tunisian border.

Its location on a natural harbour (Gulf of Annaba)  between Capes Garde and Rosa early attracted the Phoenicians, probably in the 12th century BC. It passed to the Romans as Hippo Regius, was the residence of the Numidian kings, and achieved independence after the Punic Wars (264–146 BC).

Hippo Regius later became a centre of Christian thought, housing the Council of Hippo (AD 393) and forming the bishopric of St. Augustine (396–430).

Destroyed by the Vandals in 431, Hippo Regius passed to the Byzantine emperor Justinian in 533, and about two centuries later (697) it was overcome by Arabs. An early centre of piracy, it remained one of the small cities of northern Africa under a succession of rulers until the French captured it in 1832. In 1848 it was created a commune administered from Paris.

Annaba rises from the shore up the cork-oak-covered slopes of the Edough foothills. The old town with its narrow streets dominates the centre of the city and is grouped around the Place du 19-Août and its early French houses and the Mosque of Salah Bey (1787). The 11th-century Mosque of Sīdī Bou Merouan was built with columns taken from Roman ruins.

The new town, built since 1870 along both sides of the thoroughfare Cours de la Révolution, contains the cathedral (1850) and basilica (1881) of Saint-Augustine.

Annaba also has the international airport at which I landed on 1st November 1971 for a two-year stint of work.

Here is a scrap from my memoirs:

On one memorable occasion the Company itself invited everyone, in honour of the visit of the Chairman of the Group, to a barbecue on our beach – when I say barbecue don’t go thinking of burgers, sausages and steaks; this was a Méchoui – a whole lamb cooked on a spit over a big fire – the aristocrat of barbecues.

So a convoy of Renaults and Fiats made its way up the winding road up the pine forest and down the other side at about 5.00 in the afternoon. Rashid, the barman of the Paradise Hotel, supplied the previously slaughtered and skinned lamb and set up a makeshift wooden bar under the trees. He and his assistant had arrived about two hours earlier in an old van full of boxes of booze and supplies and proceeded to gather all the bleached wood flotsam from the beach plus dried sticks and logs from the forest to make an enormous fire.

Various wives vied with each to bring large vacuum-Tupperware boxes of tasty snacks, cold salads, fruit, cakes and puddings of various sorts. All that afternoon the gleaming golden meat grilled slowly over the incandescent glowing coals of the great fire. One person was designated to feed it continuously with dried wood while another’s task was to rotate and baste the meat periodically.

Later we all gathered round the fire in the dusk to feast.

The hunters had worked well that year

And we all gorged on the kill.

Nostalgia

Autumn has rolled round again

I used to love this season

The fall of the golden leaves

The smell of roasting chestnuts at the corner of

Santa Catarina and 31 Janeiro

Walks in the park with the soft sun-beams

Filtering through the trees.

 

Time to get back to work

After the stress and sloth of summer.

It was the season of renewal

Academic years began

New jobs were started

New projects were initiated

New challenges to face

New meat to be trained up

Ruffled feathers to be smoothed in the staff-room

And on Saint Martin’s Day we would gather together

To eat roast chestnuts and drink the new wine.

 

Things would happen in autumn,

That season of sweet melancholy.

 

(By the way have you noticed that not even Nostalgia is what it used to be?)

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