Word craft

“archipelago” is derived from the Italian “arcipelago” originally meaning “the Aegean sea” deriving in turn from the Greek “arkhi” (chief, as in “archbishop”) and “pelagos” (sea). (Concise Oxford Dictionary). For the Greeks then just the major bit of water around them but the meaning wandered to mean any sea with many islands.
We have “skerry” in English too, a small rocky island (from Old Norse via the Orkney dialect) but it’s perhaps now too narrow to be used as a synonym for “archipelago” which includes more substantial islands (otherwise it would be rather satisfying to refer to the skärgård as the Skerries).
“gård” has also made its way into English as “garth” – COD gives the meaning of “close” or “yard” as archaic but “cloister garth” is used (an open space within cloisters and perhaps a neat translation for “klostergård” without having to go burbling on about small courtyards, though yard too is related to “gård” through Old English “gearth” enclosure).
“Skerry garth” is tempting and there is in fact the odd usage of “skerry garth” in the Shetlands but we’d probably better stick to the Stockholm Archipelago for the time being.

It’s a very small place (Saratoga)

Irritating that my history education was so thin about the doings of the 318 million the other side of the Atlantic although I have made efforts to remedy this since visiting the States for the first time in my fifties. I console myself with a conversation with an American lady near the lighthouse at Edgarstown (Marthas Vineyard). We talked about our respective nation’s knowledge of the other country’s history and I mentioned that you could probably talk to a hundred Brits before finding one who knew the significance of Saratoga (one of the key battles/turning points in the War of Independence). She looked a bit concerned and then said “Well that’s not surprising. It’s a very small place”…..Still I shouldn’t get too cocky…I am a bit shakey on key battles of the Wars of the Roses too…

My history teacher ran out of time so Wolfe won the battle of Quebec in 1759 at the end of term and the next term opened bright and beautiful with a discussion of the Congress of Vienna in 1815, thus missing a couple of minor fracas like the American War of Independence and the French Revolution. Even gauche, half educated DK at the age of 17 realised that something had gone badly wrong…

Ansier and astylar etc.

The week’s new words for me

antsy (antsier)
restless, impatient, nervous. Origins stated as 1838 US English (rural southern), perhaps from the expression ”having ants in one’s pants”. Probably an urban buzzword but it didn’t get over
DK’s attention threshold until the Economist started using it.

farrago
a confused mixture, a muddle, hodgepodge. I’ve seen this word a few times before but have been too lazy to check it. I suspect I saw it used in the context of Brexit…..

astylar
(in the context of masonry) when neither columns or pilasters are used for decoration

orthogonal
(structure) “of or involving right angles” (Concise Oxford Dictionary)

Whatever next

After an unsuccessful attempt to ignore the presence of a step during a nocturnal ramble, I have flown in a helicopter for the first time (not so exciting if you’re lying on a stretcher but it had its moments), talked to an English doctor for ten minutes about Brexit (perhaps to establish whether I was confused or not, not sure what conclusions she drew…), and explored the delights of computer tomography, to eventually be given a clean bill of health and equipped with a pair of crutches for further exploration of the world (I am surprised by my technical finesse at handling crutches and suspect I may have (well) hidden talents). No long-term harm done then, apart from messing up our planned quality week with the grandchildren. I probably have to sit down quite a bit and read…lucky my character is sufficiently strong to deal with this

Coping with the challenges of the night

Coping with the challenges of the night (copied from Facebook 20 May)

I sleep well despite multi-hour blue light drenching but wake up far too early before relapsing into a dream. I am on a train, strangely an express train as Gunilla and I are packing to leave a conference hotel and I have only popped out on some minor errand. Stumbling back to my seat from the WC, I resume work on my I-pad, only to discover that it’s not my I-pad and not my seat, which is a few rows further on (and looks more or less identical, this is a weak attempt at mitigation). Fleeing from the unfamiliar statistics flashing past on the screen, I rapidly withdraw and crouch, hopefully invisibly, in my own seat.
I become aware of turbulence from the direction of the alien I-pad, where two men have returned from wherever. Unfortunately (and untypically), I decide not to lie low (in accordance with my life motto of “never try to explain what you have done or why”) but go up to them and make a clean breast of it.
The I-pad owner appears to accept my apology, his senior companion less happy and tending towards cross-examination. I think about offering him a non-disclosure agreement but feel it might complicate matters besides not being fully compatible with my principle of non-explanation.

Arriving at a station, we disembark and change to some local train (which seems oddly to run within the conference hotel) reminding me of the Docklands light railway, a kind of scenic route around the local architecture, which I introduce the I-pad man and his companion to as compensation for my mistake. Things seem to be developing quite well and I look forward to wrapping up this particular complication when I sneeze violently and uncontrollably and a large amount of very visible sneeze product of the gooier, yellowish kind lands on the I-pad owner’s sleeve. Despite my weasel quick mopping up, it’s not exactly a happy ending but they anyway disappear at this point, leaving me to get the lift up to our hotel room. Somehow I manage to press the wrong button and the lift deposits me directly inside a rather upper class lady’s room. I have seen her at the conference and start to withdraw making hasty apologies. Explaining that she is being bothered by a man, who is about to visit her, she asks me to stay, which I reluctantly do. A few minutes later, the man (much younger than her and very well tended with the charm of pre-silver temples) arrives (conventionally) at the door; she opens and he looks surprised to see me there. A complicating factor in this situation is that I seem for some reason to have taken my shirt off although I am wearing a T-shirt. I am worried that my quasi-undress might create the wrong impression but I can’t seem to find a particularly stylish way of putting it back on. Maybe the lady has nothing against her visitor jumping to conclusions.
I expect him to rapidly withdraw but he doesn’t. In fact, he’s joined by a couple of other people, who appear to be trying to make him apologise for bothering the lady. They all come in wanting to talk over the situation. I woke up at this point after becoming more and more concerned about missing our plane as the popping out to post a letter or whatever the pop-out reason was has clearly miscarried.

I feel refreshed and in a good mood but am unclear about the significance of this dream:- Is it (a) just the routine coming to terms with the chronic complications of steering David Kendall through life (b) working through age-related increasing stupidity (I bear just now a burden of guilt for calling out a washing machine repairer for a fully functional (but disconnected) washing machine or (c) a message from God that I should stop all this blue-light wallowing in the arcane and get on with my real mission in life of writing light comedies of the frothier sort where people lose items of clothing and hide behind screens and all that sort of giggle (if so, please review, God, so that I can get through life with a shred of human dignity intact…).

Nosh, grub and bub

Post dated 19 June, copied from Facebook

Nosh, grub and bub

Finishing my translation, I decide it’s time for a healthy walk, combining business and pleasure by picking up the latest tranche from Amazon or Ad Libris from our postal centre, cunningly located deep down in the dock area in order to stimulate and challenge the aged and infirm. Being a super-efficient synergy type of person, I think I’d better ask whether Gunilla is eating at home this evening and imaginary DK formulates a question in Real existing DK’s head “do you want some nosh this evening?” The first question is whether she will understand “nosh” (probably). But wait a minute, that’s an interesting word where does it come from…..

According to http://www.etymonline.com

1957, from Yiddish nashn “nibble” from Middle High German naschen, from Old High German hnascon, nascon “to nibble” from Proto-Germanic *(g)naskon. Related: Noshed; noshing. Earlier as a noun (1917) meaning “a restaurant” short for nosh-house.

This is adorable. I love words which float around in the undergrowth of our language. I wonder whether it is related to “gnash” (perhaps related to Old Norse “gnastan” according to the Oxford Dictionary).

Not knowing Yiddish or Hebrew is a real gap in one’s education and I will definitely “nashn” a bit at this some time (I have a Yiddish and a Hebrew dictionary….). It’s as relevant as classical Greek and Latin but neglected (except by nineteenth-century well educated priests).

It also directs my attention to another foody slang word “grub”. I learn (also from Etymonline) that grub (usually “larva of an insect”) is early 15c., perhaps from grub (v.) on the notion of “digging insect” or from the possibly unrelated Middle English grub “dwarfish fellow” (c. 1400)…. The slang sense of “food” is first recorded 1650s, said to be from birds eating grubs, but also often linked with bub “drink.”
If ever I open a greasy spoon place, I shall call it “Grub and Bub”.

Nosh is much more chic though and I shall elect it to my personal academy of favourite words.

Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture

I have just read and enjoyed Robert Venturi’s “Complexity and contradiction in architecture” (1966),  an important work for coming to terms with some of the problems of modernism.

I suspect the development of my attitude to modernism is fairly common. From an originally positive stance to increasing doubts about the perceptual monotony of many buildings from the 1950s and 1960s, a feeling that hard zoning of areas into residential, industrial and commercial sounded good but worked less well in practice and distaste for the disrespectful destruction of historical city centres. An increasing awareness of the need for communities to be able to relate to their history, that there was more space than I once was willing to admit between a static celebration of the status quo and a tabula rasa approach.

Architecture has (thankfully) moved on from some of the worst brutalist excesses. I find a lot of new modern architecture exciting and interesting and am at the same time critical of attempts to humanise architecture by disguising industrial building techniques behind familiar forms from earlier epochs (Leon Krier).

However, I have difficulty in relating these “person in the street” reactions to the discussions that have taken place within architecture during the development/retreat from high modernism. I would like to be able to do this, which is where Venturi comes in.

It’s a well-written book but not altogether easy as it was produced more with architects in mind.

He appreciates the achievements of, for example, Le Corbusier (though he is unsympathetic to many who followed on and applied Le Corbusier’s ideas dogmatically, crudely and disastrously).

His arguments are closely related to some of the main themes of modernism. As the title indicates, complexity and contradiction are important for him. He makes his point polemically that less is not more as Mies van der Rohe would have it, but less can be a bore.

He draw attention, for example, to how apparently some of the forms of classical architecture, for example, Doric columns, are much more complicated than they look, based on an intricate relationship between the form of the building and how the viewer perceives it.

He points out too how other art forms, literature, art etc. express the often complex and contradictory nature of our reality, whereas architecture in its high modernist period tried to move in the other direction, towards an exaggerated desire for simplicity and separation of function, which expresses our lives poorly.

I like Venturi’s approach, tentative and sometimes expressing himself with humility (for example, he was critical of Giovanni Michelucci’s Church of the Autostrada in the original edition (“willful picturesqueness”, “haphazard structure”) but in the later edition writes that he has now visited this church and regrets writing these words as it is a beautiful and effective building. I approve of people who don’t try to waffle over their past mistakes and who are capable of changing their minds!

He has also written about Las Vegas. This feels rather alien to me but I would like to know what it’s about.

It was a good book to start with, to try to organise one’s ideas about architecture better. I have to go back to read some of the foundation texts of modernism (for example, Le Corbusier’s writings) to have a clearer idea of what Venturi is criticising. And then tackle some of the important texts on Postmodernism (Jencks) and on Deconstruction where the darkness in my brain becomes particularly opaque…..

And after that perhaps I’ll re-read Venturi concentrating more on his comments on actual buildings in the latter half of his book…..you probably do have to look at buildings to understand anything about architecture.

But now I have another couple of tomes to get through – “Modern Architecture” by Kenneth Frampton, which seems to be a standard textbook on many architectural courses on the history of modern architectural ideas and “A Critical History of Contemporary Architecture 1960-2010”  by Haddad and Rifkind.