blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Second Life

Je sais l’art d’évoquer les minutes heureuses ...

This is the quotation from Baudelaire that I was trying to remember as we sat in deck chairs on the deck of Jill's cottage yesterday, talking about Second Life. A a pod-cast in the Philosophy Bites series, mentioned by Chris, had got us arguing about the revolutionary nature of Second Life technology on the Internet, and its unprecedented escapist appeal, but I claimed that there was nothing new about this whatsoever; the technology might be new but the concept is not. On the contrary. Human beings have been creating avatars of themselves and / or imaginary worlds ever since we began to walk about on this planet.

Religion, to give an obvious example, which has been around since the year dot, is all about the promise of a Second Life that will occur after this first, inferior one.

"...and when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight."

Look at Moses encouraging his tribesmen and women to envision a land flowing with milk and honey, a Second Life for the exiled Israelites, and I'm quite sure that there were other people like Moses, in other parts of the world, well before his lifetime.

Look at Sir Thomas More's Utopia (1516), in book form. Printed books were a relatively new invention in More's day, but the concept of Utopia was not. Most of Gulliver's Travels and other such science fiction, ancient and modern, is an invention of different, parallel, universes good and bad, and so is regular fiction for that matter. I remember my French literature tutor at university, Dr Mein, saying that a novelist (she used Proust, Flaubert and Mauriac as examples) has the imagination to create in his characters and their settings other possible versions of his own life. I'm sure Jane Austen did that; if her heroines seem rather interchangeable, it's because they're all variations on the theme of her own inner life (within a rather restrictive and limited First Life environment).

Aren't paintings the creations of an alternative world as well? An obvious example are Watteau's landscapes and the fêtes gallantes that take place there. Significantly some of the faces in these pictures wear masks. In our discussion about Second Life yesterday Jill was reminded of Venetian masked balls and I hardly need mention theatre, the stage. In the old days unfulfilled people yearned for the Land of Cockaigne or what the Germans call Schlaraffenland. Nowadays they imagine themselves in Yoville.

I mean to say, what's the difference?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Where we've been, what we've seen

We saw John Felice Ceprano in the river, at work on his rocks, yesterday. At Wakefield on Sunday we came across a group of Quebec folk singers in full swing, singing and playing simultaneously for the entertainment of the people who'd come by steam train. Yesterday, because of threatening rain clouds, we had a large pleasure boat almost to ourselves for an hour and heard (at least, I heard; Mum didn't have her hearing aids on) quite an interesting talk about the first of the coureurs du bois, Étienne Brulé (1592-1633), over the loudspeakers as we sailed along. Nor was today too crowded; we visited Petrie Island, where the waterlilies were in bloom, at a quiet time of the week, before walking round the heritage museum at Cumberland. (Click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

More pictures of my mother's holiday

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sunset Embers

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894):

And when the west is red
With the sunset embers,
The lover lingers and sings
And the maid remembers.

Chris enjoyed singing those words (set to music by Vaughan Williams) at his singing lesson on Thursday, and here are some of the sunset embers we've lingered over this week (first two pictures taken by Dorothy Tullett and the other two by me).

Friday, August 14, 2009

Local fauna

Failed to get a photo of the pair of very large fish (perch? bass?) that we saw from a bridge over the Rideau River, but I did snap some of the other local wildlife. The squirrel accosted us by the Ottawa River Rapids near Mud Lake. The raccoon was in the sanctuary for stray cats on Parliament Hill. The dragonfly was in my friend Tanya's garden.

Walt Whitman preferred animals to human beings:

... They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things...

Monday, August 10, 2009

My mother's birthday, continued

Listening to the witty play Kafka's Dick by Alan Bennett on the iPod to keep myself awake, I sat in the bus that made its way via Bristol and Newport to Cardiff. Faith and Mel met me at the station. They drove me and the presents and a birthday cake to Mum's house, full of birthday cards and flowers. Her birthday had been celebrated in Wells too, at the weekend, at the 25th anniversary of the Somerset Chamber Choir whose inception she and my father had inspired.

A combination of no sleep and a surfeit of caffeine made me too groggy to function as a normal human being until the evening when I perked up over a wonderful meal upstairs at the Gwaelod y Garth pub.

The "barbecue summer" predicted by the Met Office had been a wash out, said the newscasters on the BBC next day, when it rained and rained. The Welsh National Eistedfodd was going to take place in fields of mud, so "bring your wellies," they said.

My mother and I played duets by Mozart that day,Werke für Klavier zu vier Händen, learning K123, which he'd composed at the age of 16, K497 and K521. In the evening we watched a dramatisation of the story of penicillin—Breaking the Mould—about the Nobel prize-winner Prof. Howard Florey, who was Australian. Sir Alexander Fleming took the credit for the miracle of penicillin, which was not altogether fair, it seems. In this version of the story, Florey, played by Dennis Lawson) and his colleagues Normal Heatley and Ernst Chain were the heroes. Our own Alexander (2-and-a-half) rang to "show" his great-grandma the card he'd made her—over the phone.

On Thursday the weather cleared up and Faith and I took Mum along the coast of the Vale of Glamorgan to a pretty little place called Llantwit Major and its rocky beach.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Two long hauls

Back in Canada after a week in the Old Country.

I brought my mother with me on the return flight after a night in Hampton Hill at The Roebuck. Heathrow yesterday was more crowded than ever, so that didn't go down too well, nor did the fact that Ottawa airport staff failed to put her suitcase on the conveyor belt so that we had to wait for it to be delivered (today). Even so, we have a few things to be thankful for. We didn't have to take off our shoes during the security checks and Chez Gérard saved us from misery in the Departures lounge by serving us tasty bowls of soup with a basket of fresh bread (and anchovy butter) in their restful, civilised surroundings. Furthermore the in-flight entertainment system only broke down once, so that I could watch a film in Hindi as well as a film in German right the way through, and AC889 managed to bring us to land just before the advent of the severe thunderstorms that were to last three hours.

I'll continue with the notes I wrote so as to keep myself awake on July 28th, my mother's birthday, on the 7:05 "Express" bus from Heathrow to Cardiff.

...I'm sitting on the bus—the driver, in a very Welsh accent, announced that "this bus is returning to Wales." Flight AC888 landed half an hour early. There'd been no more than two minutes' queueing for my baggage check in Ottawa, same story at this end. I had two seats to myself again on the Boeing 767, saw the sun set over grey clouds to the north west and less than three hours later there it was again in the north east over Ireland, so the night seemed very short. I also got a good view of the sunny Laurentians after take-off and of Wiltshire and Oxfordshire on the descent. Over Newfoundland I saw a thunderstorm from above and to the side, the blackness flashing with electricity and the anvil cloud flattening out above. Magnificent. When not gazing out of the window I listened to a podcast about the founding of St Petersburg and watched a film about Kazakh shepherds who lived in yurts. This film featured rather a lot of noisy camels and stillborn lambs, but I liked the people in it who spoke in their own language (with subtitles). It was called Tulpan. Coming into London we circled above Slough so as to land after 6 a.m. then swung over the city, giving me a great view of the Thames estuary, the Thames Barrier, the Millenium Dome, Greenwich Park and the series of bridges crossed by double deckers.