Belles mains nerveuses,
Frétillantes, affairées,
Empressées à accueillir
Au mieux

Mirage des souvenirs
Qui hantaient à jamais
Enfin éteint,
  En une seule, belle journée.

Poussée des graines
Semées trop légèrement,
Une vieille jungle envahissante,
Inextricable, étouffante

Des tiges noueuses,
Bornées et piquantes,
Sans intérêt, sans importance.
 Impossible à traverser indemne

Une table si bien garnie,
 Bons vins choisis avec soin,
Des rires, des sourires
De bonheur

Le chemin du cœur,
Celui du ciel ouvert,
Bien plus court
Et plus beau.

Rien de plus beau
Que de se réunir
Après tant d'années
De se regarder à nouveau

   Comme dans le miroir du temps, 
De se regarder,
 De se rappeler  
 Et d'en sourire. 
Poem and images by Mirino. November, 2011

Robert Herrick

Robert Herrick  (1591-1674) seemed to have dreamed his way through life treating any imposed decisions he had to make, more as tedious disturbances.
His father was a prosperous goldsmith, which may not have stimulated Robert to excel in his studies or to have great ambitions regarding a career. He would have preferred to pass all his time leisurely, concentrating only on the studies that interested him, and in London, where he would often discuss literature with Ben Jonson, whom he greatly admired, whilst together they would drink sack (his favourite drink).

Yet despite all this, the inevitable, social duties caught up with him, and he was somehow persuaded to take Church orders. As a result, unenthusiastically he moved to the parish of Dean Prior in Devonshire.
Even though he didn't feel at home there, at least at first, he adapted well enough to be able to write a lot of poetry, but he never bothered to try to have any of his work published then.

He playfully invented mistresses for some of his poems, and his writings reveal his love of life and a fond respect for nature- which seems to have been as important a divinity for him as the One he was supposed to be serving. His major poem 'Corinna's Going A-Maying' also reflects this.

Such a 'semi-pagan' attitude of a Church minister would have been regarded as scandalous in the growing Puritan ranks, but apparently and rightly, Herrick felt no shame.

When the civil war ended transferring power to the Puritans, Robert Herrick was dismissed and he returned to London where he finally published the results of all his west country writing in 1648. The volume had two titles- Hesperides and Noble Numbers. The latter were dedicated more to sacred themes in relation to the former. In fact it was his life's work. Over fourteen hundred poems in one plump volume.

The serious, puritanical times were hardly conducive to any success of Herrick's published work. His light touch and humour were more or less dismissed, along with him at that time, as trivial. It was not before the restoration of King Charles in 1660, that the minister poet found some favour and was allowed to return to Dean Prior where he lived peacefully for the rest of his life, reaching the respectable age of eighty three before he died.

Here are four examples that emphasise his remarkable contemporaneity, endearing mischievousness, and lightness. A lightness however, which is often more profound that it might first appear to be.

The Vine

I dreamed this mortal part of mine
Was metamorphosed to a vine,
Which, crawling one and every way,
Enthralled my dainty Lucia.
Methought, her long small legs and thighs
I with my tendrils did surprise;
Her belly, buttocks, and her waist
By my soft nervelets were embraced.
About her head I writhing hung,
And with rich clusters (hid among
The leaves) her temples I behung,
So that my Lucia seemed to me
Young Bacchus ravished by his tree.
My curls about her neck did crawl,
And arms and hands they did enthrall,
So that she could not freely stir
(All parts there made one prisoner).
But when I crept with leaves to hide
Those parts which maids keep unespied,
Such fleeting pleasures there I took
That with the fancy I awoke,
And found (ah me) this flesh of mine
More like a stock than like a vine.

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying,
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.

Upon the Nipples of Julia's Breast

Have ye beheld (with much delight)
A red rose peeping through a white?
Or else a cherry (double graced)
Within a lily center-placed?
Or ever marked the pretty beam
A strawberry shows half drowned in cream?
Or seen rich rubies blushing through
A pure smooth pearl, and orient too?
So like to this, nay all the rest,
Is each neat niplet of her breast.

         Upon Jack and Jill. Epigram*            

When Jill complains to Jack for want of meat,
Jack kisses Jill, and bids her freely eat.
Jill says, Of what? Says Jack, On that sweet kiss,
Which full of nectar and ambrosia is,
The food of poets. So I thought, says Jill;
That makes them look so lank, so ghost-like still.
Let poets feed on air or what they will;
Let me feed full till that I fart, says Jill. 
*Jonson- On Giles and Joan
Intro text and image (last rose of the year) © Mirino. Source- The Norton Anthology English Literature Volume 1, Poems of Robert Herrick. With thanks. November, 2011

The Greek lesson

A clin d'oeil to The Venetian lesson or- how a State or a Republic can take advantage of a particular situation and the ensuing circumstances, also brought about by stupidity and hypocrisy, in order to come through winning, at expense of others.

But Greece isn't coming through winning. No one is, apart from the rich. Are the bleak results, and the prospects that they are not likely to get better, then worth the expense of others?

One also wonders why German central bankers adamantly stress that the consequences of Greece ever withdrawing from the euro-zone would be disastrous. How can they possibly be more disastrous than the results of Greece remaining in the euro-zone? Maybe the argument advocating dire consequences if ever Greece withdraws from Euroland, has something to do with central bankers' privileged relationships with Greek multimillionaires... Or would this be jumping to petty conclusions?

Yet when one considers that in 2001 the Hellenes fiddled the books to be admitted in the first place, shouldn't they be politely invited to leave before things get even worse? After all, it's reasonable to believe that they aren't likely to get better. The Greeks themselves will see to that.
In the meantime perhaps someone would be kind enough to explain exactly what the disastrous consequences would be, if Greece quit the euro zone?

Below is a report on the subject that, without due reflection, I first took to be written by Margaret Thatcher, hence the portrait. As one of her admirable qualities was her astuteness in economics, it would certainly have still seemed to be the case, despite the passage of time (86 years) had she been the author. But even if she didn't write it, she's probably still perfectly lucid enough to be painfully aware that the Grecian epic rip-off is not having a positive effect on her nervous system either.

Whatever, let this allusion to Margaret Thatcher be a small hommage in memory not only of her steadfast probity, but also in memory of such times of clarity, when sanity, common sense and even intelligence once prevailed.

Obviously it's written for the Brits, who are also negatively effected by the Greek affair, for good reasons. Taking this into account, one logically concludes that all Europeans of the euro-zone (if not the Greeks themselves) would be even more negatively effected by such Grecism. So, for all the many Europeans on the continent who can read English, this report signed M. Thatcher might come as an additional eye-opener.

Even on a stiflingly hot summer's day, the Athens underground is a pleasure. It is air-conditioned, with plasma screens to entertain passengers relaxing in cool, cavernous departure halls - and the trains even run on time.

There is another bonus for users of this state-of-the-art rapid transport system: it is, in effect, free for the five million people of the Greek capital.

With no barriers to prevent free entry or exit to this impressive tube network, the good citizens of Athens are instead asked to 'validate' their tickets at honesty machines before boarding. Few bother.

This is not surprising: fiddling on a Herculean scale — from the owner of the smallest shop to the most powerful figures in business and politics — has become as much a part of Greek life as ouzo and olives.

Indeed, as well as not paying for their metro tickets, the people of Greece barely paid a penny of the underground’s £1.5 billion cost  (1.74 billion euro) — a ‘sweetener’ from Brussels (and, therefore, the UK taxpayer) to help the country put on an impressive 2004 Olympics free of the city’s notorious traffic jams.

The transport perks are not confined to the customers. Incredibly, the average salary on Greece’s railways is £60,000, (69,600 euros) which includes cleaners and track workers - treble the earnings of the average private sector employee here (in GB, nota).

The over ground rail network is as big a racket as the EU-funded underground. While its annual income is only £80 million (93 million euros) from ticket sales, the wage bill is more than £500m (580m euros) a year — prompting one Greek politician to famously remark that it would be cheaper to put all the commuters into private taxis.

‘We have a railroad company which is bankrupt beyond comprehension,’ says Stefans Manos, a former Greek finance minister. ‘And yet, there isn’t a single private company in Greece with that kind of average pay.’

Significantly, since entering Europe as part of an ill-fated dream by politicians of creating a European super-state, the wage bill of the Greek public sector has doubled in a decade. At the same time, perks and fiddles reminiscent of Britain in the union-controlled 1970s have flourished.

Ridiculously, Greek pastry chefs, radio announcers, hairdressers and masseurs in steam baths are among more than 600 professions allowed to retire at 50 (with a state pension of 95 per cent of their last working year’s earnings) — on account of the ‘arduous and perilous’ nature of their work.

This week, it was reported that every family in Britain could face a £14,000 (16,240 euros) bill to pay for Greece ’s self-inflicted financial crisis. Such fears were denied yesterday after Brussels voted a massive new £100bn (116bn euros) rescue package which, it insisted, would not need a contribution from Britain .

Even if this is true — and many British MPs have their doubts — we will still have to stump up £1 billion (116bn euros) to the bailout through the International Monetary Fund.

In return for this loan, European leaders want the Greeks’ free-spending ways to end immediately if the country is to be prevented from ‘infecting’ the world’s financial system. Naturally, the Greek people are not happy about this.

In Constitution Square this week, opposite the parliament, I witnessed thousands gathering to campaign against government cuts designed to save the country from bankruptcy.

After running battles with riot police, who used tear gas to disperse protesters, thousands are still camped out in the square ahead of a vote by Greek politicians next week on whether to accept Europe-imposed austerity measures.

Yet these protesters should direct their anger closer to home — to those Greeks who have for many years done their damnedest to deny their country the dues they owe it.

Take a short trip on the metro to the city’s cooler northern suburbs, and you will find an enclave of staggering opulence.

Here, in the suburb of Kifissia, amid clean, tree-lined streets full of designer boutiques and car showrooms selling luxury marks such as Porsche and Ferrari, live some of the richest men and women in the world.

With its streets paved with marble, and dotted with charming parks and cafes, this suburb is home to shipping tycoons such as Spiros Latsis, a billionaire and friend of Prince Charles, as well as countless other wealthy industrialists and politicians.

One of the reasons they are so rich is that rather than paying millions in tax to the Greek state, as they rightfully should, many of these residents are living entirely tax-free.

Along street after street of opulent mansions and villas, surrounded by high walls and with their own pools, most of the millionaires living here are, officially, virtually paupers.

How so? Simple: they are allowed to state their own earnings for tax purposes, figures which are rarely challenged. And rich Greeks take full advantage.

Astonishingly, only 5,000 people in a country of 12 million admit to earning more than £90,000 a year, (104,400 euros) a salary that would not be enough to buy a garden shed in Kifissia.

Yet studies have shown that more than 60,000 Greek homes each have investments worth more than £1m, let alone unknown quantities in overseas banks, prompting one economist to describe Greece as a ‘poor country full of rich people’.

Manipulating a corrupt tax system, many of the residents simply say that they earn below the basic tax threshold of around £10,000 (11,600 euros) a year, even though they own boats, second homes on Greek islands and properties overseas.

And, should the taxman rumble this common ruse, it can be dealt with using a fakelaki — an envelope stuffed with cash. There is even a semi-official rate for bribes: passing a false tax return requires a payment of up to 10,000 euros (the average Greek family is reckoned to pay out £2,000 (2,320 euros) a year in fakelaki.)

Even more incredibly, Greek shipping magnates — the king of kings among the wealthy of Kifissia — are automatically exempt from tax, supposedly on account of the great benefits they bring the country.

Yet the shipyards are empty; once employing 15,000, they now have less than 500 to service the once-mighty Greek shipping lines which, like the rest of the country, are in terminal decline.

With Greek President George Papandreou calling for a crackdown on these tax dodgers — who are believed to cost the economy as much as £40bn (46.4bn euros) a year — he is now resorting to bizarre means to identify the cheats. After issuing warnings last year, government officials say he is set to deploy helicopter snoopers, along with scrutiny of Google Earth satellite pictures, to show who has a swimming pool in the northern suburbs — an indicator, officials say, of the owner’s wealth.

Officially, just over 300 Kifissia residents admitted to having a pool. The true figure is believed to be 20,000. There is even a boom in sales of tarpaulins to cover pools and make them invisible to the aerial tax inspectors.

‘The most popular and effective measure used by owners is to camouflage their pool with a khaki military mesh to make it look like natural undergrowth,’ says Vasilis Logothetis, director of a major swimming pool construction company. ‘That way, neither helicopters nor Google Earth can spot them.’

But faced with the threat of a crackdown, money is now pouring out of the country into overseas tax havens such as Liechtenstein, the Bahamas and Cyprus .

‘Other popular alternatives include setting up offshore companies in Cyprus or the British Virgin Islands , or the purchase of real estate abroad,’ says one doctor, who declares an income of less than £90,000 (104,400 euros) yet earns five times that amount.

There has also been a boom in London property purchases by Athens-based Greeks in an attempt to hide their true worth from their domestic tax authorities.

‘These anti-tax evasion measures by the government force us to resort to even more detailed tax evasion ploys,’ admits Petros Iliopoulos, a civil engineer.

Hotlines have been set up offering rewards for people who inform on tax dodgers. Last month, to show the government is serious, it named and shamed 68 high-earning doctors found guilty of tax evasion.

‘We will spare no effort to collect what is due to the state,’ said Evangelos Venizelos, the new Greek finance minister of the socialist  ruling party. ‘We promise to draft and apply a new and honest tax system, one that has been needed for decades, so that taxes are duly paid by those who should pay.’

Yet, already, it is too late. Greece is effectively bust — relying on EU cash from richer northern European countries, but this has been the case ever since the country finally joined the euro in 2001.

Two years earlier, the country was barred from entering because it did not meet the financial criteria.

No matter: the Greeks simply cooked the books. Two years later, having falsely claimed to have met standards relating to manufacturing and industrial production and low inflation, the Greeks were allowed in.

Funds poured into the country from across Europe and the Greeks started spending like there was no tomorrow.

Money flowed into all areas of public life. As a result, for example, the Greek school system is now an over-staffed shambles, employing four times more teachers per pupil than Finland , the country with the highest-rated education system in Europe . ‘But we still have to pay for tutors for our two children,’ says Helena, an Athens mother. ‘The teachers are hopeless — they seem to spend their time off sick.’

Although Brussels has now agreed to provide the next stage of its debt payment program to safeguard the country’s immediate economic future, the Greek media still carries ominous warnings that the military may be forced to step in should the country’s foray into Europe end in ignominy, bankruptcy and rising violence.

For now, the crisis has simply been delayed. With European taxpayers facing the prospect of saving Greece from bankruptcy for the second year in a row, some say even the £100bn on offer will pay off only the interest on the country’s debts — meaning it will be broke again within two years.

Meanwhile, there are doom-laden warnings that the collapse of the Greek economy could be the catalyst for another global recession.

Perhaps if the Greeks themselves had shown more willingness to tighten their belts and pay taxes due to the state, voters across Europe might not now be feeling such anger towards them.

But having strolled the streets of Kifissia, and watched the Greek hordes stream past the honesty boxes on the underground, it does not take a degree in European economics to know when somebody is taking advantage — at our expense.

M. Thatcher.

This report was sent to me by email (thanks Sa). It's probably been in circulation for some time. Perhaps this is what M. Thatcher would have wanted, hence my also taking the liberty of publishing it. If however, it is protected by copyright, then naturally I should be informed asap. If this is not the case, then my thanks must go to M. Thatcher for allowing the publication of her text on Viewfinder. Intro and top water-colour (from a photograph) of Margaret Thatcher © Mirino (PW). November, 2011

Venezia, acqua passata..

Almost a meter of sea-water in Piazza San Marco. It has been predicted that Venice will 'sink' in a century, now some anticipate that it may take only fifty years.. Yet such an idea is inconceivable, unacceptable.

The Venetians have seen it all too often before. They accept it philosophically as a natural consequence of living in Venice. But true Venetians can't be fatalists. The descendants of an Empire, la Repubblica Serenissimo, and one of the earliest democracies of Europe, are hardly likely to stand idly by and watch their beautiful city slowly sink as if it were just a beautiful old dream, like the myth of Atlantis inexorably destined to finish foundering fathoms deep.

And if it were beyond the means of the Venetian authorities to improve and maintain the dike and pump systems to insure a stable water-level all year round, shouldn't some of the responsibility of saving Venice be shouldered by Europe as part of Europe's precious patrimony?

How many millions of people in the world have had the privilege and pleasure of visiting Venice? How many of them would care about this exceptional city of enchantment enough to want to contribute something to keep it above water?

In Cathy Newman's National Geographic article on the subject, when asked about the problem, the Mayor Massimo Cacciari, professor of philosophy, replied philosophically, 'Let them wear boots.'
The article then adds these statistics- The number of Venetian residents in 2007- 60,000. The number of visitors that same year- 21 million..

For Cacciari, high tide is not a problem. In his view it's more a problem for 'foreigners'. But the last flood, according to him, (from the time of the NG publication) was caused by torrential rain. And there is still the Mose project. Enormous flood barriers mechanically elevated by air pressure to block rising water levels from entering the lagoons of Venice. They would only be activated when necessary, otherwise presumably they would be discreetly hidden. These are under construction and were originally set for completion by next year.

Perhaps greater maritime control is also essential, for the movement and pressure of the water constantly churned up by large vessels contributes considerably to the erosion of the submerged wooden piles supporting the foundations of much of Venice.

The cost of maintaining the famous city is far too much for the Venetians to bear. The young can't afford to live there. Only those who are rich enough or who have inherited property can do so. About thirty years ago the Venetian population numbered 120,000. Now it's less than half that. The population decline is inevitable.

Cacciari seems to place Venice well above tourism. No doubt he is right. In fact in the article I refer to he half jokingly toys with the idea of setting an 'entrance examination and a little fee'..
Such an idea could certainly be part of the solution. An entrance fee in itself would be an examination, and a pass. It could also be the medication and the cure. The Venetian authorities could ascertain the figure required for whatever restoration, safeguard or preservation project, and as the tourists arrive, they could see the rising level of the amount gradually accumulated, thanks to the entrance fees. The figures could be digitally displayed on a sort of elegant, computer scope. Thus the figure level rise should always, in principle, cover the cost caused by the water level rise. It would also make the visitors feel as if they were leaving a small part of themselves as a modest contribution towards preserving for posterity certainly one of the most beautiful, enchanting and unique cities in the world.

Text and lower image © Mirino. Top image by an unknown photographer received by email. (Assuming I have permission to use this photo, I would be glad to credit the photographer if ever he or she can contact me. Thank you in the meantime for the use). Sources- the email, National Geographic, and the site on the Mose project. With many thanks. November, 2011

Anne of Cleves

Whenever I have the opportunity of visiting Le Louvre, Amongst other favourites I always go to see again Holbein's superb portrait of Anne of Cleves. In my view, and in spite of the surprisingly negative opinions of others one sometimes reads regarding this work, it's one of his best.

As Holbein was an outstanding artist, colourist and draughtsman, it must have been a good likeness, but he chose this symmetrical frontal pose, as it was most likely the only effective way of portraying Anne in the most appealing manner. For when one closely looks at the portrait, it's apparent that a three quarter view or an Italian renaissance profile view would be less to her- and thus also to the portrait's- credit.

Anne of Cleves was in fact Thomas Cromwell's choice bride for Henry VIII, as England needed Protestant, or even Lutheran allies at that time, to ward off the threat posed by the new alliance between the Catholic French, Spanish and Italian who were determined to repress 'Protestant heresies'.

Hans Holbein the Younger, also of German origin, seems to have been very much aware of the importance of this proposed marriage in order to have invested his talent to such a degree in this particular portrait, and probably just as much in the lesser known portrait, now lost, of Anne's younger sister, Amelia.

More than two years had passed since the sad death of Jane Seymour, not long after giving birth by caesarean to the much longed for but fragile son, Prince Edward of Wales. For this, as well as Henry's sincere devotion to her, Jane Seymour was the only queen of his reign to be buried in St George's chapel, Windsor. It was also Henry's granted wish, to be buried alongside her.

Henry VIII was probably enchanted by Holbein's portrait, but in addition there were several reports sent to Henry's right hand man, Thomas Cromwell, regarding the beauty of Anne of Cleves. 'Every man praiseth the beauty of the same lady (Anne) as well for the face as for the whole body, above all ladies excellent,' wrote Christopher Mont. Anne's brother, the Duke William, stated that Anne's looks would get her a good husband. Cromwell himself, who had persuaded Henry of the importance of this alliance, conveyed the verdict that Anne surpassed the beauty of the Duchess of Milan (a particular favourite of Henry's) 'as the golden sun did the silvery moon'.

Such praise contrasted starkly with John Hutton's observation to Cromwell in 1537- 'The Duke of Cleves hath a daughter, but I hear no great praise either of her personage nor beauty'.

Whatever negative reports Henry may have had access to, he seemed to have been fully taken by Holbein's portrait. So eager was he to see her when she finally arrived at Rochester by New Year's Eve, that although their first meeting had been set for the 3rd January, 1540, he arrived at Rochester Abbey in disguise with five members of his Privy Chamber on New Year's day. He had come 'to nourish love', but he didn't stay very long to nourish anything, leaving as soon as decency permitted. He didn't even bother to give her the gifts of furs which he had brought for her, deciding that she didn't merit them.

Not only was Anne plain, dull and poorly educated, but her German maids of honour gave an even worse impression by their peculiar attire, all dressed identically in a ghastly fashion which made them look graceless, dour and more as if they belonged to some curious sect, than if they were maids of honour to the future queen of England.

Despite Henry's legendary appetite, Anne aroused nothing in him and made no effort to try. The king tried to get out of marrying her on the basis of her pre-contract of marriage to the Duke of Lorraine's son, but the Privy Council waved all such legal problems that could prevent the marriage from going ahead.
For Henry 'it was a great yoke to enter into.' Just before the wedding he informed Cromwell, 'If it were not to satisfy the world and my realm, I would not do that I must do this day for none earthly thing.'

Following the marriage Henry shared the same bed with her for only a few nights, but it was hopeless. 'For by her breasts and belly she should be no maid, which when I felt them struck me so to the heart that I had neither will nor courage for the rest.'
Anne was timid, frigid and terrified of the giant lying beside her. The marriage therefore was never consummated, and Henry referred to her as 'the Flanders Mare', which naturally was scathing irony, for the Flanders brood-mares of his stables were far more vivacious and receptive.

The king was already looking elsewhere, and one of Anne's maids caught his eye. It was Catherine Howard.

Henry wanted a divorce in any case, and Cromwell who had arranged the marriage, had to arrange the divorce. Thomas Cromwell was already being 'convincingly' accused of heresy by others eager to oust him to procure some of his powers, for he was the King's supreme administrator in most affairs.

After having received through Cromwell the documents he needed to annul the marriage, his loyal servant was sent to the block. Henry had been so shocked by the accusations against Cromwell that he did nothing to save him. Perhaps his ordeal with Anne made him feel less indulgent towards him, although later he was to admit that Cromwell 'was the best servant he ever had'. Ironically before he was executed, Cromwell admitted his faith to Catholicism.

Anne fully accepted the divorce without any problem. Henry was so relieved that he made sure that his 'adopted sister' had everything she needed to continue to enjoy a comfortable life. She was assigned to the Manor of Bletchingley in Richmond with a generous income of £500.
She transformed Richmond into a modest Rhenish principality. She could have gone back to Cleves, but no doubt preferred the comfort and the prestigious position of  'precedence over all the ladies of England, after the queen (Catherine Howard whom Henry married the day Cromwell was executed) and the King's daughters.'

Anne seemed to blossom somewhat more than she ever did during her short reign as queen, and she lived on quite contentedly for another seventeen years. She is buried in an obscure grave somewhere in Westminster Abbey.

Cromwell's accomplished administration was to influence Henry into leaving strict instructions regarding future management of the realm. Accordingly it should be handled by several regents instead of too few. Although such instructions weren't fully respected after Henry's death in 1547, (due to the Lord Protector, the Duke of Somerset) they could be still be regarded as additional, scattered seeds leading to Parliament. He had, after all, even if it were for selfish, illusive but 'national interests', divorced from Papal absolutism. This too paved the way to Parliament, more religious tolerance, and thus an earlier birth of British democracy, whilst on the continent, monarchial absolutism continued to reign until the end of the eighteenth century.

One of Cromwell's impossible tasks was the handling of royal finances, which, with Henry and his court was akin to trying to swim against a torrent.

To give some idea, here is an account of a full dinner menu of 1533.

First course. Salads of damsons, artichokes, cabbage lettuces, purslane and cucumber served with cold dishes of stewed sparrows, carp, capon in lemon, larded pheasants, duck, gulls, brews, forced rabbit, pasty of venison from fallow deer and pear pasty.

Second course. Hot stork, gannet, heron, pullets, quail, partridge, fresh sturgeon, pasty of venison from red deer, chickens baked in caudle and fritters.

Third course. Jelly, blancmange, apples with pistachios, pears with carraway, filberts, scraped cheese with sugar, clotted cream with sugar, quince pie, marchpane. To be finished with wafers and hippocras- a Tudor spiced wine similar to port.

And this, compared with special Embassy banquets at Whitehall, wouldn't be considered as particularly lavish. 
(No reproduction does justice to Holbien's portrait of Anne of Cleves. One only has to see the luminosity of the original to appreciate this).

Text © Mirino. Main source among others- Henry VIII and his Court (Neville Williams) with grateful thanks. Portrait of Anne of Cleves, c. 1539, by Hans Holbein the younger (1498-1543) Oil and tempera on parchment mounted on canvas, 65 x 48 cm. Le Louvre, Paris. (Wikimedia Commons, with thanks). November, 2011

Justice sociale

'La justice sociale' est une belle phrase mais c'est une cause que la nature, y compris forcément la nature humaine, ne reconnaît pas trop, sauf de manière plutôt poétique et puis philosophique. Il s'agirait alors de la justice poétique, l'ironie du sort dont le temps n'arrive jamais à subjuguée.  
La justice sociale est donc aussi mythique qu'au moins le dernier tiers de la fameuse devise française. Partie d'un idéal jamais réalisé car irréalisable, depuis sa naissance de la Révolution Française- Liberté, Fraternité et Egalité.

Affirmer ceci ne veut pas dire permettre une sorte de fatalité irresponsable de laisser faire, voire de négligence. C'est une affirmation d'une réalité naturelle, et quoi que l'on ait comme aspirations, nous sommes nous aussi contraints, malgré nos prétentions, de vivre en fonction de la nature et de ce qu'elle nous accorde. Ce n'est pas non plus comme si Dieu, ou la Nature soit cruel. Ils sont aussi cruels que gentils, autant que le bon et le mauvais temps.

Même si Dieu ou la Nature n'accorde pas à chacun(e) qu'elle fait naître les mêmes qualités, capacités et talents innés, la même beauté, santé et force, elle nous accorde à tous quand même la plus essentielle- la vie elle-même, et c'est à chacun(e) de nous de jouir de ce cadeau unique et précieux comme on entend, et aussi bien que les circonstances, qui déterminent le destin elles aussi, nous le permettent.

Mais lorsqu'on est persuadé que ce que l'on estime être un malheur personnel est plutôt la responsabilité, sinon la faute- et en tous cas la charge- des autres, on se diminue par rapport à ceux que l'on blâme, en leur accordant ainsi en somme un niveau d'importance bien plus supérieure à la nôtre.

La protection sociale a ses limites, sauf si on préfère déléguer toute responsabilité qui nous concerne à l'Etat pour faire naître une autocratie. Un Etat utopique que l'on veut naïvement accréditer d'une capacité divine pour pouvoir protéger avec tant de soin et de dévouement nos intérêts. L'Etat parental qui prétend pouvoir tout gérer et tout guérir, où miraculeusement il n'y a plus de maux sociaux, et où tout le monde est égal et exemplaire en tant que nationaux. Ceci grâce à la répression de toute opposition, de tout intellectualisme et de tout individualisme. Mais ce serait un Etat qui courtise la mort par dégénérescence, usure et faillite économique et humaine. Le sort inexorable de communisme et de totalitarisme. 

Prenons donc la noble cause, le tiers idéal qui est l'Egalité. Si on était aussi myope de croire bon de tirer ver le bas le niveau de l'éducation nationale, par exemple, pour que tous les enfants atteignent le même niveau assez facilement accessible d'une éducation médiocre, comment obtiendrait-on les prodiges capables de développer des nouvelles entreprises ainsi créant des nouveaux emplois pour l'avenir? Comment arriverait-on à inciter l'inspiration, l'aspiration et donc la volonté de ceux et celles qui auraient par conséquence la capacité de se surpasser pour alors atteindre les étoiles ainsi faisant avancer l'humanité?

C'est aussi 'naturel' de prôner un Etat qui aide ceux et celles qui ont besoin d'aide, mais la meilleure manière de les aider est de les encourager à lever la tête vers les étoiles, au lieu de demeurer dans un assujettissement lamentable et une misère qui leur est indigne. Un état triste que l'on s'inflige à soi-même pour perpétuer indéfiniment l'indulgence de l'Etat ainsi que la condescendance dédaigneuse des passants.
Mais l'objectif idéal d'un Etat ne devrait-il pas être de faire en sorte que ce genre de misère devienne impossible, donc intolérable?

Ces quelques lignes simples ne sont point écrites pour moraliser, mais pour rationaliser.
Aujourd'hui, toujours dans l'œil du cyclone de la crise, c'est forcément évident que l'altruisme ou la justice sociale ne peut pas être la première préoccupation de l'équipage envers ceux qui pleurnichent dans un coin du bateau. Ceux qui regardant leur nombril sans se rendre aucunement compte que le bateau qui fait avancer la nation, s'il n'est pas assez bien gouverné, risque de couler tout entier lui-même.

Text © Mirino. Image- North American Nebula from the Spitzer Space Telescope, Nasa. With grateful thanks. 
November, 2011

Scottish myths 9

The Castle of Dreams

For Scottish myths 8,  I posted a picture of the Eiland Donan Castle of Loch Duich. It's one of the most picturesque and most photographed castles in Scotland, and seems to represent everything that is Scottish and beautiful. It's history is a legend in itself that certainly deserves retelling.

From high windows of the castle one can view the three famous sea lochs of Scotland- Loch Duich, Loch Long, and Loch Alsh. The castle is situated almost at the point where they converge.
As a result of the Jacobite rising of 1715, the MacRaes were using the castle to lodge infantry sent up from Spain in a bid to help defend the Catholic cause of the Old Pretender. In 1719 the Eiland Donan was under siege, and as the MacRaes refused to surrender, the castle was pounded by cannon fire from three English frigates (the Enterprise, Flamborough and Worcester).
After having graced Loch Duich since the 14th century, the Eilean Donan was sadly reduced to ruin. The MacRaes managed to escape into the hills but most of the Spanish troops were captured.

What little was left of the castle remained so for over two hundred years.
It was the grandfather of Mrs. MacRae's deceased husband who decided to take on its restoration, in spite of the enormous, personal cost it was bound to entail.

Mrs. Marigold MacRae, President of the Clan MacRae Society and one of the Trustees who maintains the castle for the public and posterity, is persuaded that originally, the Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae Gilstrap (the restorer) never in fact had any firm intention of doing much more than tidying up the ruin itself. It was all largely due to 'this wonderful man', a certain Farquar MacRae, an excellent stone mason, that the Colonel eventually decided to go to the full extent of completely restoring the castle.

When Marigold MacRae's grandfather-in-law returned from his First World War duties, he discovered that Farquar MacRae had done a lot more than 'tidy things up'. In fact he had already started to rebuild the whole castle.
Farquar MacRae spoke of a dream he had, and this dream was so vividly real that he saw every detail of the Eiland Donan Castle as it was originally. The dream made such a remarkable impression on him, that the stone mason apparently felt that he had somehow been chosen to accomplish the complete restoration of the Eiland Donan Castle, as though it was his bound duty.

Fortunately, for all concerned, the Lieutenant Colonel MacRae Gilstrap had married a very wealthy lady. Even more fortunate, Ella Gilstrap, his generous wife, was just as keen about the project as the Colonel and the inspired stone mason. The restoration took more than twelve years to accomplish.

But, according to Marigold MacRae, an extraordinary consequence followed the completion of the restoration, (a consequence which merits that this be also included as a 'Scottish myth'). The original plans for the castle were later discovered in the old archives of Edinburgh Castle. They correspond exactly with the dream Farquar had, which naturally determined the equally exact restoration. This is why the Eilean Donan Castle is also known as The Castle of Dreams.

Of course there were always the few who condemned the courageous and extravagant initiative of the MacRaes. The few who would have upheld that the old ruins should have been 'preserved' as such, to be ultimately, fully reclaimed by nature herself. But they would certainly be a mean minority. In fact it's a great pity that this initiative of complete restoration is so unique and wonderful, for there are other beautiful ruins in Scotland that might merit the same devoted care. But then such a liberal idea might be regarded even more as a myth. 

 Scottish myths 10
Scottish myths 8
Images and retelling © Mirino. Source- from the Scots Heritage Magazine. 
With grateful thanks. November, 2011


La chasse en France est toujours une tradition assez populaire et non pas autant indisciplinée que certains aiment faire croire. Qu'il y ait 'des bons et des mauvais chasseurs' comme avait présenté une fois les inconnus, est plutôt une caricature amusante qu'un reflet précis de la réalité, car la plupart, s'ils ne sont pas 'bons', reviennent le plus souvent bredouilles mais jamais trop mécontents. Et même pour les 'bons', passer une journée avec quelques copains en chassant le sanglier représente un tel plaisir qu'à la fin de la journée que l'on revienne bredouille ou non, n'a pas trop d'importance.

Ce n'est pas non plus comme si l'objectif acharné des chasseurs français serait d'anéantir toute espèce animale. Moyennement il y a trop de sangliers, par exemple. Parfois d'ailleurs il faut faire en sorte et de façon concertée qu'il y en ait moins, à cause des dégâts agricoles qu'ils sont souvent capables de faire.

La majorité des chasseurs sait bien faire la cuisine. Lorsqu'on rapporte un lièvre, un chevreau ou un sanglier, après le partage du plus gros gibier c'est la moindre des choses de l'honorer en préparant un  plat digne et délicieux avec le soin et le respect qu'il mérite.
Rare aussi sont les chasseurs qui ne connaissent pas les champignons, et à cette époque si jamais le gibier manque, pour compenser il y a parfois les sanguins, les chanterelles, les girolles et même des cèpes à rapporter pour imprégner les omelettes avec cet arôme et ce goût sublimes d'automne. 

Pendant deux ou trois ans j'ai illustré mensuellement pour le Chasseur Français.  Auparavant, comme beaucoup de sensibles, j'avais des idées plutôt préjugées et naïves à propos de la chasse en France, et en générale. Cette expérience m'en informait un peu mieux pour pouvoir juger de manière plus objective, réaliste et saine.
On pourrait même affirmer que les institutions de la tradition de la chasse, ainsi que la plupart de chasseurs eux-mêmes, sont bien plus concernés par les problèmes écologiques que beaucoup de soi-disant écologistes qui au fond n'y connaissent pas grand chose, et utilisent l'argument surtout pour des fins politiques. Il va sans dire que ce n'est pas le meilleur mélange car de tels problèmes ne sont pas à s'approprier de mode partisan. L'écologie ne s'agit pas d'une vogue d'appréciation provisoire et nationale; évidemment elle concerne en permanence le monde entier.

C'est certain cependant qu'il y a un besoin de contrôle efficace à l'égard de certaines traditions de chasse comme celles des oiseaux migrateurs, mais ce n'est pas nécessairement les écologistes qui se chargent de cette responsabilité non plus. Puis les projets très mal inspirés, et d'ailleurs cruels, d'essayer de réintroduire des espèces disparues comme les ours et les loups dans certaines régions françaises, où pour des raisons naturelles ils n'avaient pas pu survivre depuis au moins un siècle, sont totalement irresponsables et naïfs. De telles initiatives toutes seules indiquent à quel point ceux qui s'appellent les 'écologistes' n'y connaissent pas grand chose ni ne comprennent pas beaucoup aux réalités de la nature.

Cette allusion simple à la chasse française est fondée sur mes propres observations et ma propre appréciation, y compris celle du palet..
S'il y a des chasseurs qui pourraient en ajouter avec des arguments pertinents, ou des vrais écologistes avisés qui aimeraient avoir l'occasion d'exprimer un autre point de vue avec des précisions actuelles et authentiques, de tels commentaires seraient toujours les bien venus.

En ce qui concerne le sanglier Bertrand, inutile d'ajouter qu'il s'agit d'un des rares exemples de 'mauvais chasseurs'..

Bertrand is an awful boar
Who never seems to care
He shoots at everything that moves
No matter what nor where

Up early in the morning
And late home at night,
Bertrand shoots his nasty gun
At everything in sight.
Bertrand le sanglier
Toujours de mauvais foi,
Tire à tout ce qui bouge
N'importe où ou quoi

Se levant tôt le matin
Rentrant tard le soir
Il tire son vieux fusil
A tout ce qu'il voit.

 Text, doggerel and images © Mirino (PW) November, 2011

A Ghost of Deadly Night

She was a ghost of deadly night
When first she caused me such a fright:

A ghastly apparition, sent
To terrorise and to torment;
Her eyes as sockets lit with red;
Like bleeding wells of fatal dread;
And nought at all about her seemed

  From wickedness to be redeemed;  
A dancing shape, an image bleak,
  To haunt, impend and of death reek. 

I saw her upon nearer view,
A spirit, yet an old-maid too!
  Her spectral motions grim and dour,
A leering hag, toothless and sour;
A countenance inspiring awe
And bitter reveries so sore;
A creature hideous to the eye
For living mortals to descry,
For only one transient glance
  Could send you into deathly trance.

And now I see with inner-mind
The very evil of her kind;
A spectre wheezing fetid breath,
A baleful harbinger of death:
Of firm negation and ill-will,
blind and deadly chill;
A hateful hag, ignoble wraith
  To harm and provoke loss of faith;
And yet a spirit still, and fell
  With something of infernal hell.  


With apologies to Wordsworth
She was a Phantom of Delight

The Windmills

Poem parody and image © Mirino (PW) November, 2011


 After the rain the sky gradually clears leaving hill hugging mists like slow, ghostly rivers. Then there are those windswept days, with ribbons of clouds sweeping across the sky, and the sun casting its long shadows, sensuously sculpting the mountains' forms.

Or their silhouettes subdued by magnificent, violet or 'electric', cerlulean, blue shades of reflected light (Maxwell blue).
Autumn always evokes reflection and nostalgia, and the 'end', in its characteristic crescendo.

The termination of Nature's patient work, from young shoots, new leaves, sweet blossom, to the final fruit of her year's effort. It beautifully displays the magical effects of opposing colours, and in contrast to spring it appears to represent the dying embers of life heralding death.

The mirror of polarity, when green turns to red, when colour reaches its third and final stage, of transparent golds and even delicate silver tints from the synthesis of green and red violet. A magic so fleeting that it subtly reminds us of the ephemerality of life.

The glorious colours of autumn sometimes seem to veil the interim months of the year, simply by so vividly bringing back to mind those of the previous autumn. One is sometimes left slightly confused. Is time so fleeting as to dismiss a whole year so easily? Could it be because the lazy days of summer are comparatively long and immutable, before we are once more taken aback by this spectacular, culminate display?

The 1st of November, 'All Saint's Day'. As in France this day is a bank holiday, it's the French custom, especially for villagers, to take flowers to the graves of their deceased relatives, rather than do this the following day, Défunts, when the Catholics officially commemorate the deceased. The flowers that bloom at this time of year are of course Chrysthanthemums. Originally golden, (Gr. chrys) it's the November birth flower. It symbolises the sun, longevity and spiritual immortality. It also represents perfection, happiness, optimism and truth. Confucius regarded this flower particularly suitable for meditation.

Paying such homage is an endearing custom for those who cherish the memory of loved ones. To remember the good times, perhaps leaving the less good more deeply buried and forgotten.
In northern Europe, graves might now be regarded as extravagant, or urban impossibilities that belong to the past, and endearingly old, village Church cemeteries.


But to look up at an autumnal sky, or gaze at the sea on a calm evening, or admire the mountains lit by the last rays of the sun, is more than enough to evoke sweet memories, and see in one's mind those wonderful smiles again.

Text and images © Mirino. November, 2011

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