Bread and ashes

Tabasarn, in south-eastern Daghestan, spoken by about 90,000 has, I was once assured by a tipsy linguist, eight genders. Scholars, he assured me, enjoyed introducing new, unfamiliar objects to the Tamasars to see which gender might be assigned. Apparently a samovar was unanimously assigned to the seventh gender, though no one could say why.

IMG_6358

A typically hitchhikers-guide-to-the-galaxy type intervention from this delightful book that talks you through the politics, landscape, history and languages of this region, along with a good smattering of rollicking travel tales (Tony’s friend Chris generally sleeping upright in his green sleeping bag like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, and staring at the local cheese trying to decide whether it would make his hangover better or worse.)

Here’s some more on the local linguistic melting pot:

Many languages here have a prolix proliferation of cases: one analysis of  Tsez identified forty-two different locative case markers, which can describe precisely what space someone or something is in, at, under, by, near, away from: a hollow space, a flat space, a space that might be a trifle uncomfortable or sadly lacking in alcohol…Abkhaz, a notoriously difficult language, has fifty-eight [consonants] ; one of its dialects, Bzyp, has sixty-seven…Essed Bey insisted that Tabarsarn was so difficult that the Tabasars…preferred to speak an easier, neighbouring tongue.

Bridget Payne Watson

IMG_4521

Really enjoyed both this interview with Bridget, and Rachel Harrell’s illustrations for Bridget’s book The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up.

IMG_4524

It covers everything from reasonable expectations to how to open champagne to going to bed on time (yes, it works).

IMG_4520

Everyone would have their own list of life wisdom, but I liked Bridget’s calm tone and witty illustrations.

IMG_4519

Blog of the week

IMG_3560

I was searching for something else which will feature on the blog soon when I came across the blog Ornamental Passions, dedicated to noticing all those small details on buildings’ windowframes and doormantels, carved plaques and now-baffling statues that London teems with. To my delight, one of the first posts I read shed light on this statue that I often pass in Lincolns Inn Fields.

Belief

Beyond Belief is a BBC podcast and one of the best out there: a changing panel of experts debates for half an hour each week, intercut halfway through with “the view from the street”.

IMG_3262

Thus a debate about whether you can enjoy CS Lewis without knowing the Christian and mythic subtexts to Narnia, and if he’d even get published nowadays (“I was asked to rewrite Pilgrim’s Progress without the Christianity, which I thought a bit much.”) was interspersed with a dad talking about writing a book to explain her Muslim heritage to her daughter. A panel talking about the symbolism of hair covered both young Sikh girls claiming the turban for themselves and an Afro-Carribean woman who took on dreadlocks and a whole lot of politics at once.

I’ve also listened to episodes on state-funded religion in Belgium, the effect of the Somme on religious belief and Magna Carta. Each debate is thoughtful, well-informed and intellectually provoking. In no way does it seek to convert or proselytize, but its discussion provides an intensely human experience, reminding us of the importance of having opinions and values, understanding where they came from and accepting others’ paths.

Aratea

At seemingly random points across the composition (but not at all random in reality) the page is studded with tiny squares of gold leaf. These are the stars in the constellation depicted. The text, which runs to several pages, explains that the stars rotate ceaselessly between the celestial poles, and that these are guarded by the bears of Crete, who had protected Jupiter as a baby from his cannibalistic father, Saturn, in return for which they had been set in the sky to mark the poles. They are known as Helice of the seven stars and Cynosura, who has never deceived Phoenician sailors guided by her. Between them…runs a giant snake, like a river, with stars along its body…These are the constellations which we still know as Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, with the Plough.

IMG_2769

Tantalising writing by Christopher de Hamel about the Leiden Aratea, here. Image from Medieval Fragments.

Blog of the week

I’ve followed Kristabel at I Want You To Know on and off for about three years now, and she’s the reason I’ve given Boden’s clothes a go again, after thinking of them as Country-Sloane-central all my life. She’s also a girl after my own heart with her love of travel.

IMG_2601

However, apart from her style, energy and love of colour (yes! SUCH a relief to find a style blogger who’s not always mooching round in shades of beige, looking smug/sulky), what makes Kristabel hit it out the park is her blogging with a conscience.

IMG_2600

Unlike other writers, whose “what I’ve learnt” posts breathe of carefully-constructed interview-style answers and humble-bragging, Kristabel is honest about the learning curve she’s out herself on and the challenges of being self-employed. Even greater to see are these deeply authentic posts about black, female entrepreneurs, ethical gift guides (with gifts that you actually want), and interviews with other business-women about being the different one in the room. For my vote, the entrepreneurs posts could be a series on a par with A Cup of Jo’s Motherhood Around the World: direct, honest and enlightening.

IMG_2599

I particularly liked the point that whilst the fashion sector claims to champion difference, the money-trail is far more cautious. And I’d suggest that there’s an element of questioning to be done about if marketing commissioning editors and their teams actually know where to go and look for the new voices. Diagnostic algorithms on your own social media feed are hardly going to help…

IMG_2602

Much to chew on, and always worth a read. Plus, what a great gallery wall!

(All images via Kristabel’s blog)

Candlemas

 

img_1181

A lovely feast, poised exactly between the winter and spring solstices, and a time of hope. It is also 40 days after Christmas, and is therefore the mirror feast of Pentecost, in this case for the presentation of Christ in the Temple (the prophetic word arriving in the sanctuary), rather than the flaming Spirit descending on earth (God’s revelation shared with and through us all).

img_1169img_1172img_1173

These photos were taken in the dark of the week before Christmas, in Salisbury Cathedral. The installation of giant paper peonies and roses was suspended behind the high altar in a candlelit space, lavender oil scenting the air, and above duvets and pillows laid out so that visitors could rest and look at the ceiling. It is one of the most magical and peaceful things I’ve seen, and again had a dual twist of blossom/snowfall and the spirit at Pentecost.

img_1181img_1180

All photos by me, December 2016.

Podcast of the week

A riff on Blog of the Week, as tout le monde tells me blogging is dead. Whatever.

img_9377

I love a good podcast too, as those who’ve had me bang on about Chat 10 Looks 3 or Backlisted will attest. This one features two women who made a sci fi film in the first episode, and the other two broadcasts of The Violet Sessions so far sound just as good. One to settle in with on the train home / the sofa and a cup of tea – serving suggestion included above courtesy of Raphaelle Peale, my photo from the Met.