Maria Reiche

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If Google’s user customisation means that their search engine banners are becoming a permanent rotation of amazing women, then I’m fine with that. Maria Reiche was a mathematician and archaeologist, who seems have to have been the same kind of enterprising character as Dorothy Carrington a few days ago.

Granite Island

We envied the Cesari. They had leisure, and we had not had any for several years. The farm work seldom needed more than two of the brothers at any one time; the sisters got through the household chores in a couple of hours of the day. In the long intervals between work Francois shot hare in the maquis that Antoinette cooked in a pot on the open fire with olive oil and whole cloves of garlic; Antoine and Jean-Baptiste repainted the living-room, experimenting with pale Etruscan red framing several shades of blue and grey; Marie embroidered sheets with intricate patterns of roses; Pierette studied a book of the geography of the world….there were hours too when no-one did anything…

In London I had not taken the true measure of our deprivations. I had not understood how far  my daily load of anxiety was a craving for the things every peasant know: space, silence and food that was not stale.

Dorothy Carrington first went to Corsica in 1948, and large sections of the book are infused with a postwar melancholy about the effects of civilisation and the need to retreat to a rough landscape and older society.

But there’s also a much more contemporary zest, akin to Patrick Leigh Fermor’s writings, of discovering beautiful vistas and a motley crew of companions, albeit in Dorothy’s case more archaeologists and shepherds than Leigh Fermor’s east European aristocracy and Consuls.

The simmering pot was taken off the fire; it contained a mutton stew, thick with vegetables. But first we had plates of smoked ham and several varieties of smoked sausage, and tomatoes and raw onions swimming in the local unrefined olive oil which gave to all this food a provocative musky flavour; and afterwards came a homemade cheese made of ewes’ milk, oddly tasting for nuts, and finally small, very sweet melons.

If the book had stayed with this it would have been nice enough – I am enthusiastically reading myself into the holiday I’m currently dreaming of – but what makes it really special is that quite soon, Carrington turns the book into a serious and detailed history of Corsican society, from the mountain peaks to the fishermen, from the vendetta, the folk singers, the people cursed to predict and bring death to those they know and the soothsayers, from the revolutionaries who attempted a parliamentary democracy in the 1730s to the prehistoric statues and spirit huts near the capital Ajaccio.

This was completely fascinating – Carrington’s love for Corsica comes through, and she must have carried out huge amounts of research, from Greek texts to political treatises, but wears it lightly. Most praiseworthy of all, she definitely lives up to that other heroine, Gertrude Bell, in her willingness to scale a mountain in pursuit of an archaeological quarry.

The Garden Museum

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I last visited the garden museum with @saintofsoho just before it closed for a two year renovation, and hadn’t been back since, despite its mention in one of my favourite books.

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However, the Cedric Morris exhibition did lure me there on a sunny weekend recently. As well as the permanent collection, excellent cafe and courtyard garden designed by Dan Pearson, I thoroughly enjoyed this show of 1930s-1950s art by painter and iris-breeder Cedric Morris. (By the way, didnyou know that the Norwegian painter Astrup was best known in his day as a rhubarb breeder? There must be some kind of natural link between the talents…)

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There’s also a pair exhibitin at Philip Mould gallery until 22 July of Morris’ paintings of Portugal and Ireland that I’m keen to see and which is free.

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You flew

Lynette #1

grandma
you flew once
over mount taranaki

and landed
on fanthams peak
before the snow fell

all over your city
and when they looked up
they thought they saw an angel

but it was just you on your way home
from the supermarket and your feet needed a rest

(Faith Wilson)

Podcast of the week

My love of podcasts is still going strong, and the latest one to cross my radar (very much in a sequence of Backlisted and The Reading Women) is the LRB podcast.

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The first pieces were very much in the nature of 20 minute reviews, so if you want to know what a Giorgione painting is or isn’t, and the chicanery is art attribution, or an investigation of if “international relations” is just “race studies”, then it’s here.

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But there’s also a longer-form interview style that develops, so you can also hear the Asia editor of The Times on North Korea, discussing with an American South Korean author the common iconography of north and south Korea, or a riveting, freewheeling, incisive interview with Carmen Callil of Virago fame (“such a lot of short malnourished people with bad teeth”) on Angela Carter and why Bohemia is bad for women.

In fact that latter one was ringing in my ears as I went to the Rodin Museum recently and thought of Augustus John saying with complete seriousness what a “great pleasure” it must be for his sister Gwen to serve such a man as Rodin…

Get travelling

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Fascinated by this video collection called The Sari Series, which shows you how saris are worn differently across the subcontinent. The aim is to remind younger women how versatile the garment is, how they can mound it to their own style and how it doesn’t have to be relegated to occasion wear.87738174-A991-48E4-AB2A-82EE7B7A46D2

You can search by region, and again there are several styles that are standard here, with some styles that cross state. “borders”.

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For anyone who’s followed Instagram feeds and wondered what the different style names refer to, this is your guide.

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Endurance

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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.

The Autumn Season

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Like most cities, London sees September shift from pop-up restaurants and pop concerts to a parade of plays, operas, history exhibitions and weighty films to get you thinking after the summer break. Here’s my list of things I’ve seen and would recommend:

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1. Aida at ENO: superb singing, including from the chorus, and most definitely a star in the form of this new Aida herself. Great sets – hats, masks and leopard skin a go-go – of the Hollywood musical kind and none the worse for that.

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2. The girl from the north country – at the Old Vic and now sold out, but the cast recording is available online and well worth the price for some gutsy, gritty, beautiful performances.

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3. Oslo, which is now transferring to the West End. I liked the political negotiation parts best rather than the drawing room marriage comedy, though despite the good cast in London, I wonder how I’d have felt if I’d seen Jennifer Ehle in New York.

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4. The Scythians at the British Museum – wonderful gold pieces discovered in the 18th century frozen in the Siberian tundra, along with the remains of silk, cheese, pottery and wooden coffins. All the wrong postcards, but it doesn’t matter if you’ve been to actually see the show. Quite big, but can be done in an hour. The BM is on fire still after their American Dream show earlier this year.