Paintings You Should Know: J. M. W. Turner’s ‘Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway’

Here’s a new series of posts, based on the book ’50 Paintings You Should Know’ by K. Lowis and T. Pickeral (2009).

Rain, Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway. J. M. W. Turner, 1844

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Treasure Trove: The Everyman’s Library ‘Stories, Essays and Poems’ by G. K. Chesterton

A month or so ago, I mentioned the late 19th and early 20th century writer (and journalist, and theologian, poet, literary and art critic, essayist, apologist, orator, philosopher…) G. K. Chesterton in a sermon. A few weeks later a gentleman from my church gave me a present: a 1936 collection of his stories, essays and poems, which I’ve been dipping in and out of ever since. Continue reading “Treasure Trove: The Everyman’s Library ‘Stories, Essays and Poems’ by G. K. Chesterton”

Christmas Classics: Carols

In my student days I spent several Christmases working in retail. Musically, it took me years to recover from spending ten hours a day listening to piped Christmas ‘muzak’, which tends to feature a lot of snow and very little religious sentiment, often while muttering darkly about how I live in a country where Christmas occurs in the middle of summer and ‘if it does f***ing snow I am NOT going to be impressed.’

Christmas carols, however, are another thing altogether for me, and it seems I’m not alone. Even in secularised New Zealand community-organised open-air carol singing events can still draw a crowd. Santa usually puts in an appearance, and there’s an atmosphere of good-natured celebration, if not exactly religious devotion, which is arguably fitting to the singing of carols. Continue reading “Christmas Classics: Carols”

Four Great American Novels (that I have actually read)

What is a ‘Great American Novel’ (GAN)? In a way it’s almost like one of Plato’s Forms: a conceived-of ideal only imperfectly realised in the real world. To write ‘the Great American Novel’ is the often-derided ambition of the young, idealistic wannabe American author who will somehow mysteriously prove possessed of the creative genius necessary to write the one book which definitively encapsulates and portrays for his – for some reason the Great American Novelists are overwhelmingly male – generation all that is America.

A modest goal, surely, but one which for some strange reason no-one has yet managed to achieve. But America has produced some great, and distinctively American, literature, and it is these works which are classed by broad consensus as Great American Novels, and read and studied as such both in America and throughout the world.

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Poet Profile: Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

It’s hardly applicable to a New Zealand Christmas (as I type this, the sun is shining, the strawberries and raspberries are ripening, and I’m planning a Christmas dinner which includes fresh cherries and salad straight from the garden) but, with its haunting melody and evocative portrayal of the contrast between the lowly circumstances of Christ’s Incarnation and the glories of His heavenly kingdom and coming reign, this is nonetheless one of my favourite carols. Written by Rossetti some time before 1872 in response to a request from ‘Scribner’s Monthly’ magazine for a Christmas poem, ‘In the Bleak Mid-Winter’ gained fame only after her death, when it appeared in the 1906 English Hymnal with a setting by Gustav Holst (1874-1934, most famous for his ‘Planets’ Suite). Continue reading “Poet Profile: Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)”

Wine Profile: Pinotage

Back in the 1920s applying science to agriculture was all the rage and Pinotage, a hybrid of Pinot Noir and Cinsault (known in South Africa as Hermitage, hence the portmanteau name), was the product of one such union. Its creators were hoping for a wine with the hardiness and yield of Cinsault, combined with the subtle, delicate flavour of Pinot Noir. They got the high yield, but in every other regard Pinotage was a disappointment.

Pinotage bottle
In New Zealand Kumala markets a popular range of low to mid-priced South African wines, including Pinotage and Pinotage blends.

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Classical Music: The Romantic Period

school of philosophy
The School of Athens, by Raphael 1509-1511, captures the Enlightenment ideal of a calm, ordered world dominated by intellectual pursuits.

The eighteenth century fascination with ancient Greek and Roman culture wasn’t limited to the artistic world. The intelligentsia, too, were exploring their ideas through books and scrolls faithfully preserved and copied by the monks of Europe and the scholars of the Near East. In them they found a philosophy and science which had since been overwhelmed in European thought by the squabbling feudal states and the vested interests of Church hierarchies. Invigorated by what they found (and conveniently overlooking the Roman penchant for conquest, oppression, infanticide, mass slavery and execution as sport and entertainment) they championed a world of order, logic and cool rationalism, presided over  in benevolent dictatorship by the kind of philosopher-princes envisioned by Plato. It wasn’t long before the artistic world rebelled. Continue reading “Classical Music: The Romantic Period”

Visit to Ascension Wine Estate, Matakana

Ascension winery
Ascension Wine Estate in Matakana, New Zealand.

Situated in Matakana, just north of Auckland, Ascension Wine Estate specialises in boutique wines: unusual varietals and a rich aged port, about which more later. My best friend, Becks, lives in Auckland, and the fact that she personally doesn’t like wine didn’t prevent her from arranging a trip to Ascension when I visited her in October. Continue reading “Visit to Ascension Wine Estate, Matakana”

Christmas Classics: The Night Before Christmas

When I was very little, my grandparents sent me a copy of Clement C. Moore’s classic tale, and my mother read it to us every Christmas Eve until I was well into my teens (mothers are like that).

My childhood copy of ‘The Night Before Christmas’, possibly c. 1970.

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Shakespeare’s Legacy

William Shakespeare

Let’s ‘give the devil his due’ (Henry IV Part I), in the history of the English language only the King James Bible has had the same influence as the works of William Shakespeare. In 1623, just a few years after his death in 1616, two members of Shakespeare’s playing company (The King’s Men) published the First Folio, a collection of all the extant plays Shakespeare had written in his lifetime. Continue reading “Shakespeare’s Legacy”