Tuesday, March 04, 2008


This week's reading

After Montaigne, I started and finished the artist John Sloan's published diaries: John Sloan's New York Scene 1906-1913 (Harper & Row 1965). Over six hundred pages that flew by, after I'd trained my brain to slow down and carefully parse during the Essays. Easy, thoughtful, enjoyable reading about Sloan and his artist friends, Robert Henri in particular. A long vivid look at what it was like to be a struggling painter in the city.

After Sloan, I went back to finish re-reading Tim Mackintosh-Smith's travel narrative Travels with a Tangerine, about tracking Ibn Battutah through the Muslim world - I finally bought volume two but felt I should re-read the first one seeing as how it's been several years since I read it the first time. The book's just as good as I remembered it, and now I'm ready to start volume two, The Hall of a Thousand Columns. Bonus: I discovered, by looking at Mackintosh-Smith's webpage, that he turned the books into a three-part BBC series that aired last month, and that the episodes are available for free online viewing here. If you have three hours to spare, they're very good. (The books are better - there's so much more to them.)

In Travels with a Tangerine, Mackintosh-Smith says (p.269) during a lonely moment in a faraway land, his only companion was "...my diary, mute tyrant of my evenings." I know how he feels.

Back to Bruce Chatwin: Sarah, have you ever read his UTZ (or seen the movie based on the book)? Long before I discovered IN PATAGONIA, I came across UTZ and loved it. I was just wondering what you thought of it, if you have read it.
Yeah, I've read it a few times. I think it's a gem of a novel, near perfect, like a Faberge egg - small and delicate but still richly encrusted, lapidary, fantastical. And this richness in a cold-war setting, in a sparse novella, a neat trick. A great meditation on what collecting is - why collectors collect - what they love more than anything else. Makes me want to cry, thinking what else he would have written, if he'd lived longer. Never saw the film of "Utz" or Werner Herzog's film of "The Viceroy of Ouidah" (renamed "Cobra Verde"). Certain books I don't want disturbed in any way. Not least by literal pictures (film) - I'd rather keep my own imaginary visual images.
"[L]ike a Faberge egg!" I love it. How true. Actually, the film is a gorgeous piece. Armin Mueller-Stahl is outstanding as the Baron, and the Meissen porcelain pieces are exquisite when seen en masse. Bruce . . . what a loss.
It *would* be worth it to see the Meissen... I've always been fascinated by the Commedia dell'arte stock figures, in both eighteenth-century prints and porcelain - that disturbing mix of the grotesque and the beautiful. One of the same things that appeals to me in Chatwin's books, come to think of it.
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