Poem of the Week

The Swing

The swing was picked up for the boys,
for the here-and-here-to-stay
and only she knew why it was
I dug so solemnly

I spread the feet two yards apart
and hammered down the pegs
filled up the holes and stamped the dirt
around its skinny legs

I hung the rope up in the air
and fixed the yellow seat
then stood back that I might admire
my handiwork complete

and saw within its frail trapeze
the child that would not come
of what we knew had two more days
before we sent it home

I know that there is nothing here
no venue and no host
but the honest fulcrum of the hour
that engineers our ghost

the bright sweep of its radar-arc
is all the human dream
handing us from dark to dark
like a rope over a stream

But for all the coldness of my creed
and for all those I denied
for all the others she had freed
like arrows from her side

for all the child was barely here
and for all that we were over
I could not square the ghosts we are
with those that we deliver

I gave the empty seat a push
and nothing made a sound
and swung between two skies to brush
her feet upon the ground

Don Paterson

Source:  Granta Magazine (Welcome to the magazine of new writing)

Solstice-eclipse overlap first in 456 years

Montreal Gazette – By Rebecca Lindell

This year’s winter solstice — an event that will occur next Tuesday — will coincide with a full lunar eclipse in a union that hasn’t been seen in 456 years. The celestial eccentricity holds special significance for spiritualities that tap into the energy of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and a time that is associated with the rebirth of the sun.

“It’s a ritual of transformation from darkness into light,” says Nicole Cooper, a high priestess at Toronto’s Wiccan Church of Canada. “It’s the idea that when things seem really bleak, (it) is often our biggest opportunity for personal transformation. “The idea that the sun and the moon are almost at their darkest at this point in time really only further goes to hammer that home.”

Cooper said Wiccans also see great significance in the unique coupling of the masculine energy of the sun and the feminine energy of the moon — transformative energies that she plans to incorporate into the church’s winter-solstice rituals. Since the last time an eclipse and the winter solstice happened simultaneously was just under five centuries years ago, Cooper said she wasn’t familiar with any superstitions or mythologies associated with it.

Instead, she said, they can only be interpreted personally. “Wiccans don’t think of things as being good or evil — they just are. Our experience of them makes them positive or negative for us.” The winter solstice also played an important role in Greco-Roman rituals.

“It’s seen as a time of rebirth or renewal because, astrologically, it’s a time where the light comes back,” said Shane Hawkins, a professor of Greek and Roman studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. For the ancient Romans, it was also a time of great feasting and debauchery.

“If (the eclipse) happened on the 21st, they might well have been drunk,” he said. A lunar eclipse taking place during the solstice is not an event Hawkins has seen in research, but he said it would have been viewed as something special. “Eclipses could be taken either way,” he said. “Certainly it would have been an omen, but it would have been up to the interpretation of specialists of whether it was good or bad.”

And that interpretation would likely be based on whatever was happening at the time. The last time the two celestial events happened at the same time was in AD 1554, according to NASA. An otherwise seemingly unexceptionable year in recorded history, the darkened moon happened during a bleak year for Tudor England.

Lady Jane Grey was beheaded for treason that year, while Princess Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Mary of Guise — the mother of Mary, Queen of Scots — became regent of Scotland. Scientifically, however, it’s just a coincidence of natural cycles.

“It’s quite rare, but there’s no profound significance. It’s luck of the draw; you got dealt four aces,” said Robert Dick, an astronomy instructor at Carleton. The eclipse will start just after midnight Eastern Time on Tuesday, with the main event starting at 1:30 a.m. ET and lasting until 5:30 a.m., when the moon reappears.

Peter and Ben

Director: Pinny Grylls

When a video becomes an online hit, racking up views in the hundreds of thousands, it usually ticks a number of boxes – short, snappy, attention-grabbing. If it contains comedy, sex or violence, that’s a bonus. What you don’t expect an online hit to involve is a reclusive, grey-bearded man in the Welsh mountains and his friendship with a nonconformist sheep. “It’s a gentle, lyrical film,” says Pinny Grylls, the director of Peter and Ben, which has attracted more than 300,000 views since it was uploaded two years ago. “I don’t know who these viewers are.”

Grylls, 32, cut her teeth making short documentaries for the Arts Council’s Creative Partnerships programme. Peter and Ben was a project she nurtured over several years and completed with funding from the UK Film Council. “Peter is an old friend of the family who became a recluse 30 years ago,” says Grylls. “I’ve always thought he was extraordinary.” Out of all the footage she shot of Peter, Grylls picked out the story of his relationship with Ben. “This sheep is more like his friend than a pet. The story is really simple, but universal in a quirky way: the son not wanting to join the flock, but eventually joining and the father not wanting him to.”

The film has won prizes and numerous accolades, not least from German director Werner Herzog, who awarded it first prize in a competition run by British film community Shooting People, remarking: “The soul of the sheep is inside the man and soul of the man is inside the sheep.” That, says Grylls, a huge Herzog fan, “was the greatest day of my life”.

She has mixed feelings, however, about the current state of short films. “There has been a lot of excitement about them recently, and it’s certainly growing, but short films haven’t become mainstream yet.” It all comes down to economics, she suggests. “You can’t really make a living out of them. It took an awful lot of effort to make Peter and Ben, but what money it made went straight back to the UK Film Council.”

Grylls now works primarily in television, although she sees the value of the internet as a platform. “You have a direct interface with your audience. They leave comments, which is amazing for a film-maker. I’ve had people email me from Korea, Afghanistan, saying how much they were touched by this film. You really get things back from people if you put work online.”

h/t UK Guardian: The best short films on the web

Tony Judt’s memory


Tony Judt was a passionate skeptic who never just kept his mouth shut. He passionately believed in the freedom of the individual, and at the same time in the solidity of a democratic state capable of providing fundamental services and ensuring the rule of law. He denounced the sectarian blindness in that part of the European left that refused to break with communism; but just as bluntly refused to have anything to do with the new fundamentalism of the market and newfound enthusiasm for imperial war.

Some people pass with ease from the dogmatism of the left to that of the right. Tony Judt was always a defender of European social democracy. He was always aware of the particularity of his origin: British, the son of Jewish immigrant parents, each from a different corner of Europe; Jewish but devoid of religious convictions. In his youth, he embraced leftist Zionism and went to Israel to work in a kibbutz, but emerged vaccinated against beliefs in ideology and racial identity. At Cambridge he was an outsider.

His origin, tastes in food, the languages spoken at home, marked him as a Continental. He went to Paris to study at the revered École Normale Superieure, and the French intellectuals he saw close up — Sartre, Althusser, Foucault, Kristeva, Lacan, Beauvoir — left him less than awed.

He belonged to the great British historical school that sets store by rigor, clarity of exposition and narrative drive. But these values fell under a shadow, in the academic fashion for Theory, Discourse and unreadable jargon. As he never shut up, he won new enemies every day. He was expelled from magazines, boycotted at conferences. He distrusted the seductive power of ideas, and was fond of a quote from Camus: “every wrong idea ends in a bloodbath — always the blood of others.”

In the early 1980s he took an interest in Czechoslovakia, a part of Europe known to the West mainly as a backdrop to spy novels, and began studying Czech. On this foundation he built the greatest of his books, Postwar, about the history of the continent since 1945.

He never shut up even when illness took hold of his body, paralyzing it little by little, muscle by muscle, limb by limb. He said it was like living in a cell that shrank by centimeters every day. Doomed to nights of immobile insomnia, he found consolation in meticulous reconstruction of his memories. He had once spent vast amounts of time in archives. Now the only archive within his reach was his own memory.

He knew that he had not much time, and that before he lost his lucidity he would lose the power of speech, and be reduced to a silent monologue with his own phantoms. He husbanded his forces: vividly remembering an episode, an epoch, a place, throughout the night, and then in the morning dictating, with ever more difficulty, what he had imagined.

These could not be long texts. The intensity, the precision, the inevitable fatigue, imposed a limit of a few pages. He liked to concentrate on a single experience and relive it in every detail. Trapped in bed, with a permanent feeling of cold, a plastic tube in his nose, he returned to a small hotel in Switzerland where he his parents had taken him on vacations as a child. Again he climbed the stairs, moved through the corridor, imagined the sound of steps; through an open window saw a landscape of showy slopes; breathed the cold, clean air. Hence the title of the posthumous book that has just come out: The Memory Chalet.

Dictating this book in the last months of his life, Tony Judt achieved a virtual escape from the cell of his body. Again he traveled on a freighter, at the age of 15, on the North Sea, and walked the streets of London, and crossed the United States. At the end he was in a small railway station in Switzerland, quietly waiting for the train.

Tony Robert Judt FBA (2 January 1948 – 6 August 2010) was a British historian, essayist, and university professor. He specialized in European history and was the Erich Maria Remarque Professor in European Studies at New York University and Director of NYU’s Erich Maria Remarque Institute. He was a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books.

In 1996 he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 2007 a corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. A Marxist Zionist as a young man, he dropped his faith in Zionism after youthful experience in Israel in the 1960s and came to see a Jewish state as an anachronism, and moved away from Marxism in the 1970s and 1980s. In later life, he described himself as “a universalist social democrat”.

Judt’s works include the highly acclaimed Postwar, a history of Europe after the Second World War. He was also well known for his views on Israel, which generated significant debate after he advocated a one-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. According to journalist David Herman, Judt’s directorship of the Remarque Institute, his book Postwar and his articles on Israel made him “one of the best-known public intellectuals in America”, having previously been “a fairly obscure British historian, specialising in modern French history”.

In an interview a few weeks before his death Judt said: “I see myself as first and above all a teacher of history; next a writer of European history; next a commentator on European affairs; next a public intellectual voice within the American Left; and only then an occasional, opportunistic participant in the pained American discussion of the Jewish matter…”

Judt was born in 1948 in London, England to secular Jewish parents. He was raised by his mother, whose parents had emigrated from Russia and Romania, and his father, who was born in Belgium and had emigrated as a boy to Ireland and then subsequently to England. Judt’s parents lived in North London, but due to the closure of the local hospitals in response to an outbreak of infant dysentry, Judt was born in a Salvation Army maternity unit in Bethnal Green, in the East End of London.

When he was a small boy, the family moved from Tottenham to a flat above his mother’s business in Putney, South London. When Judt was nine years of age, following the birth of his sister, the family moved to a house in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey. The family’s main language was English, although Judt often spoke in French to his father and to his father’s family.

Judt won a place at Emanuel School in Wandsworth, and was one of very few Jewish boys accepted at that institution at that time. Following his education at Emanuel, he went on to study as a scholarship student at King’s College, Cambridge. Judt was the first member of his family to finish secondary school and to go to university. He obtained a BA degree in history in 1969 and, after spending a year at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, completed a PhD in 1972. As a high school and university student he was a left-wing Zionist, and worked summers on kibbutzim.

He moved away from Zionism after the Six-Day War of 1967, later stating that “I went with this idealistic fantasy of creating a socialist, communitarian country”, but that he came to realise that left-wing Zionists were “remarkably unconscious of the people who had been kicked out of the country…to make this fantasy possible”. He came to describe his Zionism as his particular “ideological overinvestment”. Judt wrote in February 2010 that: “Before even turning twenty I had become, been, and ceased to be a Zionist, a Marxist, and a communitarian settler: no mean achievement for a south London teenager”.

After completing his Cambridge doctorate, he was elected a junior fellow of King’s College in 1972, where he taught modern French history until 1978. Following a brief period teaching social history at the University of California, he returned to Great Britain in 1980 to teach politics at St. Anne’s College, Oxford. He moved to New York University in 1987.

Judt was married three times, his first two marriages ending in divorce. His third marriage was to Jennifer Homans, The New Republic’s dance critic, with whom he had two children. In June 2010, Judt and his son Daniel wrote a dialogue about Barack Obama, politics and corporate behaviour for the New York Times.

In a review of Judt’s Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century, Jonathan Freedland writes that Judt has put conscience ahead of friendship during his life, and has demanded the same courage in others.

In 2008, Judt was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. From October 2009, he was paralyzed from the neck down. He was nevertheless able to give a two-hour public lecture. In January 2010 Judt wrote a short article about his condition, the first of a series of memoirs published in the New York Review of Books. In March 2010, Judt was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air, and in June he was interviewed by the BBC’s disability affairs correspondent Peter White for the Radio 4 programme No Triumph, No Tragedy.

Judt died of ALS at his home in Manhattan on 6 August 2010. This was two weeks after a major interview and retrospective of his work in Prospect magazine and the day before an article about his illness was published in the Irish Independent indicating that he “won’t surrender any time soon” and comparing his suffering to that of author Terry Pratchett, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2007.

Shortly before his death, according to The Guardian, he was said to have possessed the “liveliest mind in New York.” He continued his work as a public intellectual right up until his death, writing essays for the New York Review of Books and composing and completing a synthetic intellectual history under the title Thinking The Twentieth Century with fellow historian Timothy Snyder.

He also wrote a memoir entitled The Memory Chalet, which was published posthumously in November 2010. During his illness, Judt made use of the memory palace technique to remember paragraphs of text during the night, which he placed mentally in rooms of a Swiss chalet and then dictated to his assistant the next day.

Following his death TIME said he was “a historian of the very first order, a public intellectual of an old-fashioned kind and — in more ways than one — a very brave man”. He was also praised for carrying out what he himself described as the historian’s task “to tell what is almost always an uncomfortable story and explain why the discomfort is part of the truth we need to live well and live properly. A well-organised society is one in which we know the truth about ourselves collectively, not one in which we tell pleasant lies about ourselves”.

Mark LeVine, a professor of history at the University of California at Irvine, said that Judt’s “writings on European history and the need for a new social contract between rulers and ruled can inspire a new generation of scholars and activists in other cultures”. Timothy Garton Ash, in his obituary in the New York Review of Books, placed Judt in “the great tradition of the spectateur engagé, the politically engaged but independent and critical intellectual.”

Source:  Wiki

The day Niagara Falls ran dry: Newly-discovered photos show the moment the iconic waterfall came to a standstill

Daily Mail – By Graham Smith

It’s taken 41 years, but a previously unseen set of photos of the mighty Niagara Falls reduced to nothing more than a barren cliff-top have finally surfaced. The stark images reveal North America’s iconic – and most powerful – waterfall to be almost as dry as a desert.

In June 1969, U.S. engineers diverted the flow of the Niagara River away from the American side of the falls for several months. Their plan was to remove the large amount of loose rock from the base of the waterfall, an idea which they eventually abandoned due to expense in November of that year.

During the interim, they studied the riverbed and mechanically bolted and strengthened a number of faults to delay the gradual erosion of the American Falls. The team, made up of U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, blew up their temporary dam in November 1969 and six million cubic feet of water once again thundered over the falls’ sides every minute.

Now, after lying unseen for more than four decades, a set of images showing the eerie calm at the American Falls that year have been unearthed by a man from Connecticut. Russ Glasson recently stumbled across the pictures, which were taken by his in-laws, and had been left in an old shoebox in their garage for over four decades.

Mr Glasson said: ‘My in-laws took these pictures during the six months through June to November that the Army was working to improve the health of the American Falls.’ Two rockslides from the plate of the falls in 1931 and 1954 had caused a large amount of rock to be collected at the base.

In 1965, reporters at local newspaper Niagara Falls Gazette revealed that the America Falls would eventually cease to flow and stop altogether if the rocks were not removed. Four years later, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers were charged with de-watering the falls to clean the river bed and to remove any loose rock at the bottom of the falls.

To achieve this the army had to build a 600ft dam across the Niagara River, which meant that 60,000 gallons of water that flowed ever second was diverted over the larger Horseshoe Falls which flow entirely on the Canadian side of the border.

The dam itself consisted of 27,800 tons of rock, and on June 12, 1969, after flowing continuously for over 12,000 years, the American Falls stopped. Over the course of the next six months thousands of visitors flocked to the falls to witness the historic occasion.

Once the engineers had removed the collected rocks from the falls base and made geological testing to make safe the rest, the falls were re-watered on November 25 in front of 2,650 onlookers.

The month in photography

The Observer New Review’s monthly guide video to the 20 best photographic exhibitions and books, with images by William Eggleston, Gerda Taro, Bill Brandt,  W Eugene Smith, Richard Avedon and many more.

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