Tuesday 12 December 2017
Daily Cusack: Tuesday 9 February 2016

For 175 years, the United States was a consciously anti-conservative country. But after the Second World War, that changed entirely. Daniel McCarthy looks at the mind of Russell Kirk and how the horrors of war led to the birth of American conservatism.

Twenty-first century scientists have described their collaboration with the remarkable thirteenth-century polymath Bishop Grosseteste in exploring some of the secrets of the rainbow.

Christopher Howse tells us what the tiny church of St Peter’s, Charney Bassett in Oxfordshire has in common with St Mark’s in Venice.

Alex Massie looks cold and hard at whether the Conservatives really could become the second-largest party at the upcoming Scottish Parliament elections.

After ninety years and comprising twenty-one volumes, the Oriental Institute’s dictionary of the Akkadian language has been completed.

The Irish Arts Review examines the curious case of Dublin Airport’s original terminal — a design far ahead of its time but the origins of which are murky.

If prices as well as almost every opinion poll show the public prefer traditional-looking homes, then why doesn’t the market respond by building them?

And finally, Margaret Thatcher’s former home in London is on the market.

9 February 2016 9:10 am | Permanent Link | No Comments »


Diary

Two Girls on a Tandem

Rose and Molly are two of my favourite people in the entire universe, and when they announced they were racing a tandem across the Cape Peninsula to raise money for the men’s charity Movember, how could one fail to get behind such an effort?

Movember is the charity that raises money for and awareness of men’s cancer (prostate, testicular, etc.), poor mental health, and physical inactivity amongst men. It turns out Molly happened to meet one of the global charity’s founders in a brewery not too long ago and was inspired to help out. Movember is most well known for encouraging men to grow a moustache and raise money during the month of November, but for obvious reasons this option is denied to Rose and Molly. And so instead they will be competing — on a tandem! — in the 2016 Cape Town Cycle Tour next month.

The girls have a blog going to publicise their training and efforts, as well as a JustGiving page to raise money, but they decided to throw a ‘Big Movember Lunch’ yesterday to raise extra dosh for the cause. This caused particular salivation in Cusackian quarters as both of them happen to be excellent cooks of the highest order, skills which draw many to their amusing parties in easterly bits of London.

So yesterday we satiated our voracious hunger at Movember’s UK headquarters in Exmouth Market where Molly and Rose treated us to culinary treats beyond one’s dreams — and Mark from Movember explained a little about the good work the charity does and how it’s expanded in recent years. The good cause and delicious food were only added to by the superb company Molly and Rose had assembled. If you have a shekel to spare, send them some love.

MENU

Canapés
Tostadas with Guacamole and Black Beans and chorizo
Dill Scones with Smoked Salmon and Horseradish
Stilton and Pickled Pear Puffs
Mini Meatballs with Mango dip
Beetroot and Goats Cheese Tartlets

Starter
Gammon and Mustard Terrine on Sourdough or Rye Bread

Main Course
Slow Cooked Chicken and Mushroom stew, Pomegranate and Quinoa Salad, Roasted Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato and Tzatziki on Beetroot and Buckwheat Pancakes

Pudding
Rose and Pistachio Cheesecake
Petits Fours and Coffee

8 February 2016 9:30 pm | Permanent Link | No Comments »


For quite some time, Leuven — in what is currently known as Belgium — was the only university in the Netherlands. It is still (barely, some argue) a Catholic university, and after the Protestant revolt sealed its rule over the northern part of the Dutch realms, William the Silent founded a university at Leiden as a Calvinist academy in 1575.

Leiden University has had strong links with South Africa from the earliest days. Ds. Johannes de Vooght — in the 1660s, the second leraar of Cape Town’s Dutch Reformed congregation — studied here, as did numerous predikante of that period and onwards, including Ds. Petrus van der Spuy, the first NGK minister to be born in South Africa.

South African politicians studied here aplenty: Sir Christoffel Brand (first Speaker of the Cape Parliament); Jan Brand (fourth president of the Orange Free State); Marthinus Steyn (sixth and final president of the O.F.S.); and Nicolaas Diederichs (third staatspresident of the Republic of South Africa).

Probably the first South African to be granted an honorary degree by Leiden (c. 1830) was Antoine Changuion, the founder of the Dutch language movement which advocated preserving Dutch as the cultural language of the Afrikaners against the emerging Afrikaans.

It was in 1948 that Leiden granted the greatest Afrikaner — Field Marshal Smuts — a Doctorate of Law honoris causa. Smuts was on his way back from Cambridge where he had been granted the honour of being installed as Chancellor of the University. Even Die Burger, a Nationalist paper opposed to his Verenigde party, found the event worthy of a caustic near-compliment:

“We may differ from him on many issues, but the honour which he has won for the Afrikaner does not leave us untouched.”

5 February 2016 9:25 am | Permanent Link | 5 Comments »


Theatre

‘Five Finger Exercise’

The Print Room, Notting Hill (until 13 Feb 2016)

I remember as a child being confused when some people said they hated the holidays because it was awful having all the family together. The gatherings of our extended family were always occasions of mirth and merriment and not a few jibes — not to mention a long-term dispute over the precise location of Watertown, New York. The theatre of disfunctional families never hugely appealed to me, then, but over a few bottles of Erdinger in Kennington t’other night a friend dropped word of ‘Five Finger Exercise’ at the Print Room in Notting Hill (the old Coronet) and I thought I’d give it a go.

Peter Shaffer’s (‘Amadeus, ‘Equus’, etc.) play was first put on in 1958 under the direction of John Gielgud. The harmony of the Harrington family is not particularly upset by the arrival of a young German tutor Walter at the outset. Father Stanley — self-made man and head of a successful furniture company — is unbothered by his arrival at the instigation of the upwardly mobile mother Louise — imagine Mrs Bucket from ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ but half-French and with a cut-glass 1950s voice — who thinks it quite the done thing to have a live-in tutor teaching French to her daughter Pamela. The son Clive is just off to Cambridge so he’s all done and dusted and nothing to worry about. But then…

The remarkable thing about ‘Five Finger Exercise’ which makes it particularly close to life is how every character is effectively innocent and yet each character is to blame. Stanley has pursued work and the golf club while abdicating the rearing of children to his overbearing and pretentious wife, who is fixated into making sure they are just so. Clive has all the weaknesses of the typical self-obsessed teenager, but genuinely wants to love the father he feels only questions him. And Walter, so fixated with the mere fact of being in England and away from Germany and the past (and family) that he cannot see how his presence has upset a delicate balance. Little Pamela is mostly blameless, though.

Lucy Cohu as mother Louise is superb in voice, deportment, tone — everything. At first Jason Merrels (Stanley) fools the audience into thinking he is a settled old uncaring simpleton. But when push comes to shove Merrels displays the real emotion of the father who just doesn’t understand but wishes he could. Terenia Edwards is simply a delight — charming, sweet, and innocent, and perfectly conveying the hint that she may be on the cusp of something else. And I am surprised that the actor playing Walter (Lorne MacFadyen) is not German. (But then he was acting, I suppose.) Tom Morley, however, carried the weight of the play as Clive, taking a difficult role and giving us a convincing and credible performance. A brilliant actor.

The Director Jamie Glover deserves accolades for crafting a production that is fun, true to life, and, in the end, haunting.

4 February 2016 9:15 am | Permanent Link | 1 Comment »


The Umbrella
Paul Henni

[Photo by and copyright of Paul Henni]

3 February 2016 10:37 am | Permanent Link | 3 Comments »


Keeromstraat 14, Kaapstad

This Cape Town house was built in 1751 for Hermanus Smuts who sold it on to Johan Jacobus Graaff, the woodworker who collaborated with South Africa’s greatest architectural duo, the sculptor Anton Anreith and the architect Louis Michel Thibault.

Thibault is believed to be responsible for the addition of the upper story and the current façade, seen above through an archway of the High Court.

The building next door was designed by the pioneering Afrikaner architect Wynand Hendrik Louw (1883-1967) for De Nederlandsche Club te Kaapstad, the city’s club for Dutch businessmen and expatriates. Louw was also the architect of the Dutch Reformed Church at Napier in the beautiful Overberg.

2 February 2016 8:45 am | Permanent Link | 3 Comments »


The Leipzig Opera House is the swansong of Socialist Classicism as an architectural style. The 1954 plans of the architect Kunz Nierade had to be toned down mid-construction, with some of the sculptural adornment simplified, as the official aesthetics of the German Democratic Republic shifted towards a more aggressive modernism.

While the Soviet Union provided the more well-known examples of Socialist Classicism, the Germans rather typically (but sparsely) excelled their Russian overlords. Admittedly, the quality was inconsistent: the Karl-Marx-Allee has some fine details but the overall plan leaves me cold, though postmodernists Philip Johnson and Aldo Rossi have praised it.

I enjoy the restrained classicism of this building, though the flatness of the façade leans a little towards the dull, with only the projecting portico providing a bit of comforting depth. Critics have pointed out the lack of light-and-shadow contrast during the daytime, and have tended to prefer the building’s nighttime appearance. It’s worth mentioning that the snowflake-like hanging lamps in the building’s foyer have a significant place in the design history of East German lighting fixtures (a subject about which I know now more than I ever expected).

The finality of Socialist Classicism’s end cannot more clearly be emphasised when comparing the Leipzig Opera House with the assaulting brutality of the Neues Gewandhaus concert hall (1977) across the Augustusplatz in a style we associate more closely with the DDR period. That the similarly styled Palast der Republik in Berlin — possibly the building most readily associated with East Germany’s socialist regime — has been completely demolished to be replaced by a reconstruction of the old city palace is a reminder of the hopeful possibilities we have at hand.

1 February 2016 9:10 am | Permanent Link | 1 Comment »


Sieg für die Schönheit

29 January 2016 9:25 pm | Permanent Link | No Comments »


Helmut Starcke, Alles Sal Reg Kom
1961; Acrylic on board, 34.8 in. x 24.8 in.

A man festively attired in a Tweede Nuwejaar outfit in patriotic colours (orange, white, and blue) stands in front of a side wall in Cape Town bearing monarchist posters urging voters to vote ‘No’ in the 1960 republic referendum.

The painting’s title – Alles Sal Reg Kom – means “everything will be alright”.

28 January 2016 10:20 am | Permanent Link | 2 Comments »


Daily Cusack: Wednesday 27 January

– Margaret Beaufort was one of the greatest women England ever produced, but her legacy has been plagued by misogyny combined with Protestant suspicion of her Catholic piety. Leanda de Lisle delves into the question of whether she was a hero or a villain.

– Speaking of powerful women, James Panero’s examines the monument to Joan of Arc on New York’s Riverside Drive. The artist was a female sculptor, Anna Hyatt Huntington, whose statue of El Cid in the forecourt of the Hispanic Society on Audubon Terrace is one of the finest sculptural arrangements in the New World.

– Lent is about to stare us in the face, but so far as I am concerned we are allowed to wallow in Christmas cheer until Candlemas comes on 2 February. Dr John C Rao (of St John’s University and the Roman Forum) offers us a reflection on the Christmas Crèche and its origins as Saint Francis’s giant “F.U.” to Cathar heretics, while putting the thinking behind that great saint’s actions in a modern context.

– It’s good to see neglected favourites receive a bit of unexpected attention. One such is the Irish writer George Russell, more often known by his pen name ‘Æ’. The Irish Ambassador to Great Britain, Dan Mulhall, begins a series on Irish writers and 1916 by looking at Æ in the context of the Rising.

One project that TCD or UCD – or anyone for that matter – needs to take on is digitising the entirety of The Irish Statesman, the journal mostly edited by Russell which presented a fascinating counterpoint to the more common narratives, first in 1919/20 and then from 1922 to 1930.

– And finally, some Goethe love from The New Yorker’s Adam Kirsch.

27 January 2016 10:55 am | Permanent Link | No Comments »


I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires—and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings—the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consum’d,
And men were gather’d round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other’s face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain’d;
Forests were set on fire—but hour by hour
They fell and faded—and the crackling trunks
Extinguish’d with a crash—and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil’d;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and look’d up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash’d their teeth and howl’d: the wild birds shriek’d
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl’d
And twin’d themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless—they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again: a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought—and that was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails—men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devour’d,
Even dogs assail’d their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish’d men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lur’d their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answer’d not with a caress—he died.
The crowd was famish’d by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap’d a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they rak’d up,
And shivering scrap’d with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other’s aspects—saw, and shriek’d, and died—
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend. The world was void,
The populous and the powerful was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless—
A lump of death—a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr’d within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp’d
They slept on the abyss without a surge—
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir’d before;
The winds were wither’d in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish’d; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them—She was the Universe.

— DARKNESS, Lord Byron, July 1816

This year — 2016 — will be the two-hundredth anniversary of the Year without a Summer, caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies the year before. The extremely high levels of volanic material in the atmosphere led to darker skies which meant colder temperatures and failed harvests. Brown snow was reported in Hungary and red snow in Italy.

But the abnormalities in the sky were also responsible for the spectacular sunsets that inspired artists like Caspar David Friedrich and J M W Turner and the unceasing rain that provoked Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein and Lord Byron to write ‘Darkness’. It’s no coincidence that, soon after this year of darkness, John Polidori published his book The Vampyre and the modern concept of this undead creature began to haunt the gothic imagination.

Topmost: Cathedral in Winter by Ernst Ferdinand Oehme, 1821; Above: Sunset (Brothers) by Caspar David Friedrich, c. 1835.
26 January 2016 10:20 am | Permanent Link | No Comments »


Theatre

A memorial to Conscience

Sharon Jennings’s new play on Franz Jägerstätter

It is often said that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter — but what inspires the man who refuses to fight? Is he a coward? A man of conscience? Or a mere contrarian who goes too far? Sharon Jennings’s new play, ‘Memorial’, explores the surprisingly not yet well-known story of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian executed during the Second World War for his conscientious objection to military service under Hitler.

This clever telling frames the martyr’s life mostly in retrospect, as the Mayor (played by the very capable Joe Cushley) assembles the leading villagers of St Radegund (actors Richard Evans, Carianne Dunford, Richard Ward, and Meg Depla-Lake) to compile the list of names to be etched permanently in stone on the village’s war memorial. The list is finalised but there is one name that cries out to be remembered: their poor lamented Franz.

We meet the main character (played by Felix Dunning) both through the memories of his rural contemporaries and his own letters home to his wife during basic training. For his refusal to take the military oath of absolute obedience to Adolf Hitler, he is thrown into prison. ‘Memorial’ reaches its apex in the confrontation between the uncomplicated but principled Franz and his cunning and clever military judge (a role brilliantly performed by Gary Merry). The chilling battle between good and evil is made all too real and the viewer is reminded of the battles of conscience ongoing in our own lives and the lives of thousands of others every single day.

In the end, it is through the lens of his fellow villagers that we remember Franz. Why can’t he just sign the dotted line? All the rest of us did. It’s a mere formality. We didn’t have a choice!

Deviant? Rebel? Hero? Whatever we think of men like Franz, in this play Sharon Jennings has carved and crafted a memorial to conscience — a healthy but haunting reminder of that freedom which always remains even when all others disappear.

Written for Oremus magazine.
25 January 2016 2:30 pm | Permanent Link | 1 Comment »


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