As the Advent pilgrimage season continues, here’s some stunning photos from @martinrhartley’s Instagram feed. Martin seems to specialise in capturing Arctic expeditions and as well as these incredible images, his text is worth reading. He outlines how just standing still will kill you even though you might be in full protective gear, how an arctic explorer is also a mother of four in a classic “man pulling shed” shop, how clipping the corners off food packets and unnecessary zips and mosquito nets in a tent can save vital kilograms, and how salt leaches into the ice making it ironically very difficult to find ice to melt for drinking water. Fascinating and with no trace of self-pity.
Monsoon Rains, Monghyr, Bihar, 1967 by Raghubir Singh.
Wishing I could see the Met Breuer retrospective of Singh’s works, which is currently on, but condoning myself with a planned visit to the Science Museum’s show on Indian photography instead, which also looks cracking.
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.
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.
Really enjoyed both this interview with Bridget, and Rachel Harrell’s illustrations for Bridget’s book The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up.
It covers everything from reasonable expectations to how to open champagne to going to bed on time (yes, it works).
Everyone would have their own list of life wisdom, but I liked Bridget’s calm tone and witty illustrations.
An interesting, witty and self-deprecating talk from Michael Bierut about the New York public libraries that don’t look like this.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
Tantalising writing by Christopher de Hamel about the Leiden Aratea, here. Image from Medieval Fragments.