You’ve got to be clean, to be on the scene

April 28, 2011

Gibbon says of Caracalla (Emperor – 209-217 AD)

that Caracalla was the common enemy of mankind

that the repentance of Caracalla only prompted him to remove from the world whatever could remind him of his guilt, or recall the memory of his murdered brother

and refers to

the wild ambition and black passions of Caracalla’s soul

his  timid and brutal cruelty

and describes with some enjoyment, tempered by a little scepticism, how from the Caledonians under Fingal  he fled from his arms along the fields of his pride

also

how he killed 20,000 men and women who he suspected of being sympathetic to his murdered brother Geta

De Quincey suggests that on his subsequent wanderings over the empire he was

pursued into every region by the bloody image of his brother

So what would you do if you’d made such a filthy great stinking macchiato of your soul?

Build a rucking great bath.

The hot rooms to either side of the great circular caldarium offered a range of different kinds of dry heat. Their missing front walls were composed almost entirely of glass, taking advantage of natural solar energy. The surrounding surfaces on the outer facade wall were finished with coloured glass mosaic, so that the whole block will have shimmered in the afternoon sun.  All that survives of the caldarium proper (which equalled the Pantheon rotunda in height and was three-quarters its diameter) are two piers of brick-faced concrete 35m high. It contained seven plunge baths and the domed ceiling was probably lined with gilded sheet bronze.

The baths could seat ten thousand people.

Hot damn, wish I could have seen that.


Leave the Capitol! Exit this Roman shell!

April 28, 2011

The view south-eastish from the Capitoline Hill, from which the auspices of the flight of birds in the skies were taken by the augur from the Auguraculum.  It also held, *gazes down quickly at a book held beneath table level*, a Temple of Juno famous for its sacred geese, who had raised the alarm when the Gauls tried to attack the citadel one night in 390 BC and were thence looked after at State expense, carried each year on litters with purple and gold cushions in a ceremony at which dogs were crucified as a terrible reminder of the guard dogs who  had failed to bark.

So, birds basically. On the Capitoline Hill. Look, I can’t help it if it’s boring, I just wanted to use that Fall line.

Anyone drunk Fernet? It’s utterly revolting and rather more-ish. Here’s the wikipedia list of ingredients:

Fernet is made from a number of herbs and spices which vary according to the brand, but usually include myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and especially saffron, with a base of grape distilled spirits, and coloured with caramel colouring. Ingredients rumored to be in fernet include codeine, mushrooms, fermented beets, coca leaf, gentian, rhubarb, wormwood, zedoary, cinchona, bay leaves, absinthe, orange peel, calumba, echinacea, quinine, ginseng, St. John’s wort, sage, and peppermint oil.

The effect of taking it down in one was once memorably described by Kingsley Amis as being like ‘throwing a cricket ball into an empty bath’.

The way it works is this: you take a sip and think ‘that’s disgusting, it’s just like black mouthwash’. Then you put it down, vowing never to drink any more. Then you think, after a suitable interval, ‘There was something else there, I wonder what it was’. Whereupon you take another sip. ‘No,’ you say to yourself, not mouthwash, what’s that bitter taste?’

Sip.

‘Coffee?’

Pause.

Sip.

‘Or, wait, is that … marjoram?’

Pause.

Sip.

‘Surely that can’t be…’

Sip.

Sip.

Sip.

‘My tongue’s gone numb! That’ll be the wormwood! Pour me another!’ (crawl to kitchen singing Twa Recruiting Sergeants)

Because I was reading Wallace Stevens while drinking Fernet, and my mind couldn’t stagger too far from the immediate set of stimuli, it occurred to me that the way the flavours both mingle and rub abrasively up against each other was a little like the sonic effects of Wallace Stevens’ poetry. There’s little of the Fernet’s murkiness of course, the precision of the way the sounds explore each other is part of the appeal:

Insinuations of desire,

Puissant speech, alike in each,

Cried quittance

To the wickless halls.

The Ordinary Women

The way ‘insinuations’ and ‘speech’ each fight over/seduce/tug at the word ‘puissant’, so that a sort of exploration of the mouth, an articulation of unusual sound flavours akin to reading the perfumed auspices of the Fernet, occurs in the mind of the reader. The way also ‘quittance’ and ‘wickless’ have clearly been chosen for each other, their comparative obscurity, not least so close together, making them look like choices of sound more than whatever sense, which in turn paradoxically leads the reader to a greater secondary emphasis on meaning than might otherwise be the case…

So my mind ran drunkenly on.

Sip.

I searched for some more or less satisfactory formula: The way in which his poetry revels and toys with the specific sounds of words tests the meaning of those words… maybe. ‘Tests’ isn’t quite right, ‘weighs’ or ‘proves’ maybe. I read Sunday Morning several times. It’s more lyrical than many of his poems, and I felt that at least part of the mystery was described  in lines given the woman of the piece:

She says, ‘I am content when wakened  birds,

Before they fly, test the reality

Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;’

Fields are words, poetry the sweet questioning of their reality. The lines continue:

‘But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields

Return no more, where, then, is paradise?’

Several more or less trite paradises are sketched before a half-answer given:

There is not any haunt of prophesy,

Nor any old chimera of the grave,

Neither the golden underground, nor isle

Melodious, where spirits gat them home,

Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm

Remote on heaven’s hill, that has endured

As April’s green endures; or will endure

Like her remembrance of awakened birds,

Or her desire for June and evening, tipped

By the consummation of the swallow’s wings.

By following the analogy of poetry’s sweet questionings above not too hard, these lines contain I think at least some sort of sense of the importance of poetry. Very often the paradise of a poem is found just after the poem has been finished, in its remembrance. Of course the lines in themselves contain a greater sense of the power of poetry than any half-assed drunken analogy drawing.

But birds, you see, birds again… and you thought I was just rambling.

Pass the Fernet.

Barp.


Oh, a day in the city square, there is no such pleasure in life!

April 25, 2011

I

Had I but plenty of money, money enough and to spare,

The house for me, no doubt, were a house in the city square;

Ah, such a life, such a life, as one leads at the window there!

II

Something to see, by Bacchus, something to hear, at least!

There, the whole day long, one’s life is a perfect feast;

While up at the villa one lives, I maintain it, no more than a beast.

Up at the Villa – Down in the City (As distinguished by an Italian person of quality) – Browning

Of course instead of admiring Browning’s deft and accurate way with a persona all I really wanted to know is how this dual text ed. I’ve got translates the line ‘Bang-whang-whang goes the drum, tootle-te-tootle the fife’.

Here goes…

‘Tan-tan tan-tan tan-tan fa il tamburo, perepé perepé perepé la trombetta’

So the translator used ‘trumpet’ because they needed something to rhyme with the next line, which ends ‘è questo il piacere piú grande della vita!’ And I guess as in the original the tan-tan, tan-tan, and perepé perepé nicely match the contrast between the Italian’s excitability about the city square, and pompous gloom about the country villa. But when the Italian word for fife is ‘il piffero’ surely another way could’ve been found. Il piffero!

Rome btw, funny place. Nice asparagus.

Il piffero, il piffero. Can’t stop saying it.

Il piffero. Tootle-te-tootle.

Poetry, eh. Rum business.