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Sunday 31 July 2011

Edward Dorn: Like a Message on Sunday


Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film


...the forlorn plumber
by the river
with his daughter
...staring at the water
then, at her
his daughter closely.

Once World, he came
to our house to fix the stove
....................and couldn't
oh, we were arrogant and talked
about him in the next room, doesn't
a man know what he is doing?

Can't it be done right,
............World of iron thorns.
Now they sit by the meagre river
by the water.......stare
into that plumber
so that I can see a daughter in the water
she thin and silent,
he, wearing a baseball cap a celebrating town this summer season
may they live on

on, may their failure be kindly, and come
in small unnoticeable pieces.

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Lititz, Pennsylvania. Scrap collection drive. Each household placed its contribution on the sidewalk. It was then picked up by local trucks whose owners had volunteered their services for civilian defense. The scrap outside a plumber's house consists of pipes: photos by Marjory Collins, November 1942 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Edward Dorn: Like a Message on Sunday, from The Newly Fallen, 1961

Saturday 30 July 2011

In This Great Nation


Women demonstrating against the Federal Equal Rights Amendment gathered outside the White House
: photo by Warren K. Leffler. 4 February 1977

Activist Phyllis Schafly wearing a "Stop ERA" badge, demonstrating with other women against the Equal Rights Amendment in front of the White House, Washington, D.C.
: photo by Warren K. Leffler, 4 February 1977

Ku Klux Klan members supporting Barry Goldwater's campaign for the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention, San Francisco, California, as an African American man pushes signs back
: photo by Warren K. Leffler, 12 July 1964

Man on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial holding a banner for the Revolutionary People's Constitutional Convention, at Black Panther Convention
: photo by Thomas J. O'Halloran/Warren K. Leffler, 19 June 1970

Joyce Favell and her children in a basement (?) holding bottles and a bucket of water, St. Louis, Missouri. (Photographer's note: "Joyce Favell, a St. Louis mother of five, is worried sick. Forced out of one apartment in mid-January, she must now leave temporary housing in a city-owned building before it is demolished in early spring...The apartments are to be restored and sold as condominiums. Favell's plight is shared by thousands of other city residents across the country who are being displaced -- pushed out -- as more well-to-do citizens snap up urban properties.")
: photo by Tom Ebenroh, 16 January 1979

Street in Baltimore, Maryland with rowhouses and building with sign "Neighborhood Housing Services"
: photo by Warren K. Leffler, 15 March 1976

Lines of people at the offices of the Baltimore City Welfare Office, Maryland
: photo by Thomas J. O'Halloran, 28 January 1975

Large stack of computer printouts at a New York City welfare office
: photo by Leo Choplin, 24 May 1976

Woman with a child on her lap, talking to another woman at a desk, at a New York City welfare office
: photo by Leo Choplin, 24 May 1976

Girl Scout in canoe, picking trash out of the Potomac River during Earth Week
: photo by Thomas J. O'Halloran, 22 April 1970

Smoke rises near U.S. Capitol, during riot, 1968. (Photographer's note: "D.C. Riot, April, '68: After curfew deserted streets in D.C. -- Smoky sky w/capitol -- damaged area.")
: photo by Marion S. Trikosko, 6 April 1968

Photos from U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Friday 29 July 2011

Pan in the Weeds: Classical American Architecture (Walker Evans, Chicago 1947)


Walker Evans: Chicago: a photo-essay: Fortune magazine, February 1947 (via fulltable)

Bare Hug at Tea Party


Wrestling with a bear: photo by R. H. Trueman, 1902 (National Library and Archives Canada)

Congressional Freshmen –- For Such A Time As This

by Sarah Palin on Thursday, 28 July 2011 at 1:03pm

Out here in proverbial politico flyover country, we little folk are watching the debt ceiling debate with great interest and concern. Today I re-read the open letter I wrote to Republican Freshman Members of Congress in November 2010, just days after they were ushered into office in an historic landslide victory due in large part to the activism of commonsense patriots who are considered part of the Tea Party movement. I respectfully ask these GOP Freshman to re-read this letter and remember us “little people” who believed in them, donated to their campaigns, spent hours tirelessly volunteering for them, and trusted them with our votes. This new wave of public servants may recall that they were sent to D.C. for such a time as this.

The original letter is pasted below, with added emphasis to certain passages that I feel are especially relevant to the current discussion.

All my best to you, GOP Freshmen, from up here in the Last Frontier.


Sarah Palin

P.S. Everyone I talk to still believes in contested primaries.

The "added emphasis" passages in the November 13, 2010 letter of congratulation and welcome to Republican Freshmen:

stick to the principles that propelled your campaigns. When you take your oath to support and defend our Constitution and to faithfully discharge the duties of your office, remember that present and future generations of “We the People” are counting on you to stand by that oath. Never forget the people who sent you to Washington. Never forget the trust they placed in you to do the right thing.

Republicans campaigned on a promise to rein in out-of-control government spending. These are promises that you must keep.

You’ve also got to be deadly serious about cutting the deficit.

In order to avert a fiscal disaster, we will also need to check the growth of spending on our entitlement programs. That will be a huge challenge, but it must be confronted head on.

Remember that some in the media will love you when you stray from the time-tested truths that built America into the most exceptional nation on earth. When the Left in the media pat you on the back, quickly reassess where you are and readjust, for the liberals’ praise is a warning bell you must heed. Trust me on that.

These are the men and women who sent you to Washington. May your work and leadership honor their faith in you.

With sincere congratulations and a big Alaskan heart,

Sarah Palin

(via Sarah Palin on Facebook)

John Boehner at the AT&T Golf Tournament, 1 July 2009: photo by Keith Allison

US debt crisis: Boehner's vote blunder edges US closer to the brink

Republican disarray and Democrat gloating is not a recipe for solving the US debt crisis and heading off financial turmoil

from Richard Adams's Guardian blog, 29 July 2011

The failure of the Republican leadership to even hold a vote on its own debt ceiling proposal edges the US government closer to running out of credit. Get ready for a rocky ride in the financial markets on Friday.

Quite what was going through the minds of the hardcore Republican holdouts on Thursday night is hard to fathom. Partly, one imagines, they could see that the plan proposed by their leader, House Speaker John Boehner, would get shot down in the Senate -- as the Democrats there were threatening to do -- and so were unwilling to blot their conservative credentials by backing a futile compromise.

This is not the first time that Boehner has proved himself to be an inept parliamentarian.
But this time Boehner was out-played by the tea party, the Club for Growth and even Sarah Palin, all pushing for the conservative rump to oppose his plan on the grounds that it didn't go far enough in throttling the government.

Palin even put out a chilling message on Facebook -- that's modern politics for you -- before the planned vote on Thursday, hinting at primary challenges from the right against those Republicans voting for the Boehner bill.

Some of the Republican nay-sayers may even believe the -- how can one put this politely? -- nonsense about a default being a way of curbing the growth of government. Well it is, assuming you also think that one way to lose weight is by cutting off your head.

What happens next? The House Republican leadership will probably try and retool their plan to win the last few crucial votes on Friday, a modest enough aim, although it eluded them on Thursday night.

Democrats were crowing at Boehner's failure to win over his conservative hardcore. But they should beware of premature celebration: the reaction of the financial markets on Friday alone may make them wish Boehner's plan had passed.

The potential default deadline of 2 August -- next Tuesday -- looms closer, and another day lost in arm-twisting and procedural wrangling does nothing to sooth the markets. But more importantly, although the House Democrats maintained an admirable unity they might have been better advised to at least offer to support the Republican debt ceiling bill.

Instead, the Democrats wanted to enjoy the Republican discomfort from the sidelines. Frankly the discomfort for Republicans would have been far worse if the House Democrats had backed Boehner.

I imagine many Democrats will disagree with me here. But I'd say the severity of the threats to the US economy means the Democratic party should be willing to avoid even a technical default. That's one way of showing a stark contrast with the selfish extremists of the tea party movement.

By the same token, the White House could also have backed the Boehner plan in the House -- on the grounds that something is better than nothing -- rather than posturing over vetoes. The smart move would have been to get something through the House and then retool it in the Senate. That seems a forlorn hope now.

Tactically, the Democrats may have won tonight (or more accurately: the Republicans lost). But strategically, nothing has been passed, the debt ceiling has not been raised, and a deal is no closer. A weak and humiliated Speaker of the House is not going to be a helpful partner in searching for an answer. Remember: many Republican votes are needed to pass any debt ceiling increase through the House.

The severity of the market reaction on Friday may bring everyone in Congress and Pennsylvania Avenue to their senses. Because nothing else looks like it is going to.

US President Barack Obama is greeted by Speaker of the House John Boehner before delivering the 2011 State of the Union address, 25 January 2011, 21.09: photo by Pete Souza (Executive Office of the President of the United States)

Thursday 28 July 2011

The Departed


Turquoise mosaic mask: Mixtec-Aztec, 1400-1521 CE: photo by Gryffindor, 17 January 2009 (British Museum)

Watched through empty eyesockets by ghosts the souls move wraithlike through the deserted streets in fog with no gods to hear nor book to record their silent cries

Fog settles on the deserted streets of San Miguel Cuevas, a Mixtec village in the highlands of Oaxaca; over 80% of its population has emigrated to the United States, leaving it little more than a ghost town: photo by Matt Black

Pre-Columbian Mixtec writing from Codex Zouche-Nuttall: photo by Kaihsu Tai, 2005 (British Museum)

File:Oaxaca ocho venado.png

Mixtec King and warlord Eight Deer Claw meeting with Four Jaguar, in a depiction from the Pre-Columbian Codex Zouche-Nuttall, a 14th-century codex recording genealogies, alliances and conquests of several 11th- and 12th-century rulers of a small city-state in highland Oaxaca: image by Ek Balam, 13 May 2006 (British Museum)

Monte Albán, Zapotec/Mixtec site, highland Oaxaca: photo by Reinhard Jahn, 26 December 2003

Left behind by his migrant children, an ailing man lies in his yard, San Miguel Cuevas, Oaxaca, Mexico: photo by Matt Black

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Now It Can Be Told: The Tea Party -- Descendants of Coneheads?


A society of patriotic ladies, at Edenton in North Carolina:
satire of American women from Edenton, North Carolina, pledging to boycott English tea in response to Continental Congress resolution in 1774 to boycott English goods; text reads: "We the Ladys of Edenton do hereby solemnly Engage not to Conform to that Pernicious Custom of Drinking Tea, or that we the aforesaid Ladys Promote the use of any Manufacture from England, until such time that all Acts which tend to Enslave this our Native Country shall be Repealed": Philip Dawe, 1775, for R. Sayer & J. Bennett, publishers, London (British Cartoon Collection, Library of Congress)

Ever wonder why in photos the Tea Party all-stars frequently appear with the tops of their heads not seen? Could it be because their heads, reverting to the original interstellar dimensions, like those of the curious conehead ladies in the above historical lithograph, keep getting outlandishly bigger? Is the truth about to out, or will it merely be the cones? Are these beings just here on this planet for a visit? Could it be they plan on sticking around only until the old and the sick and the poor have been eliminated, or might they have larger designs? Is this part of a Master Plan hatched in some distant galaxy where the ruling classes ensure their own grip on power by refusing taxes on their country-club greens fees? If we turn over what's left of this longsuffering degraded and depleted planet to them, will they settle for merely having colonized us, and depart for the deep asteroid belts from under which they crawled out in the first place?

The Coneheads at Home
: still from Saturday Night Live episode, 16 April 1977 (Saturday Night Live Archive)

Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck, Fox News Tea Party pundit-in-chief
: photo by Michael Caulfield/WireImage, via The Guardian 5 October 2010

Michele Bachmann

Tea Party candidate Michele Bachmann
launches her campaign for the 2012 US presidential elections: photo by JeffHaynes/Reuters, via The Guardian, 27 June 2011

Koch Brothers

Greenpeace airship with optimistic artist's rendering of the tops of the heads of oil billionaires and major Tea Party funders David and Charles Koch, flying over Rancho Mirage, California as they convene their latest political strategy meeting
: photo by Gus Ruelas/Greenpeace, via The Guardian, 30 January 2011

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Jean Selz: Benjamin in Ibiza


Old town of Eivissa (Ibiza), viewed from the sea: photo by Forbfruit, 14 September 2003

It was in 1932, in the western islands of the Baleares, that I first met Walter Benjamin. It was also the year that he came to Spain for the first time, crossing that fatal border where, as a German desperately trying to flee from other Germans, he was to take his own life eight years later.

Ibiza was not well known to tourists at the time, but a few Americans lived in Santa Eulalia on the east coast, and in San Antonio, on the west coast, a number of Germans were voluntarily practicing an exile that they would later be forced to endure. Between the two, in the small town of Ibiza, I was the only Frenchman on the entire island.

Steep staircase in Eivissa (Ibiza): photo by Hans Bernhard, 16 November 2007

[Benjamin] was awkward and shy, but these qualities were like a shabby suit worn by a rich man who wants to conceal his wealth. For Benjamin, wealth meant a powerful capacity for thought: his thinking was anything but timid and his dialectical skill was remarkable. Armed with both of these, he could easily afford to appear awkward.

Benjamin's physical stoutness and the rather Germanic heaviness he presented were in strong contrast to the agility of his mind, which so often made his eyes sparkle behind his glasses. I can see him in a small photograph I saved, with his prematurely gray, closely cropped hair (he was forty years old at the time), his slightly Jewish profile and black moustache, sitting on a deck chair in front of my house, in his usual posture: face leaned forward, chin held in his right hand. I don't think I have ever seen him think without holding his chin, unless he was carrying in his hand the large curved pipe with the wide bowl he was so fond of and which in a way resembled him.

Benjamin lived in a small peasant's house on the San Antonio bay called Frasquito's house, surrounded by fig trees and situated behind a windmill with broken sails. On a radio show in 1952 called "Ibiza, Its Mysteries Myths," I told the story of Frasquito and his mill, which no one was allowed to enter: he had given it to his son and had been waiting thirty-five years for him to return to South America where he had mysteriously disappeared.

Ancient quarry ("Little Atlantis"),San Antonio Bay, Ibiza, Balearic Islands: photo by Thomas G. Clark, 7 June 2011Hans Bernhard, 16 November 2007

Benjamin had difficulty walking: he couldn't go very fast, but was able to walk for long periods of time. The long walks we took together through the rolling countryside, among carob, almond and pine trees, were made even longer by our conversations, which constantly forced him to stop. He admitted that walking kept him from thinking. Whenever something interested him he would say "Tiens, tiens!" This was the signal that he was about to think, and therefore stop. There were times when he said "So, so," as if speaking to himself, but usually it was "Tiens, tiens," even while speaking German with other Germans, the younger and less respectful of whom nicknamed him Tiens-tiens as a result.

One day we were struck by the beauty and aristocratic bearing of the peasant women, whose gait imparted a particular movement to their long, pleated skirts because of the eight or more superimposed petticoats they wore underneath. The large number of these petticoats was a matter of some puzzlement for Benjamin, and he asked a peasant the reason for it. The man replied: "When the women work in the field, they have to bend over. If anyone is watching them, the petticoats are a lot more practical." Benjamin said "Tiens, tiens" and then found the conclusion to the peasant's words. "He is right. It is proper to include modesty under the category of practical matters." Thus, from a small observation based on a tiny detail, his thought always went very far, feeding the conversation with his most personal opinions.

Ibiza, old town: photo by Fijayc, 18 January 2008

[Spring, 1933]. An elegant new bar had just opened up in the port of Ibiza, and it took its name from a southerly wind: The Migjorn. It soon became the favorite meeting place for foreigners. It was in the Migjorn that an event occurred one evening which was insignificant in itself, but which was to have a strange and decisive effect on my friendship with Benjamin. He usually was a paragon of temperance, but on that night his exceptionally whimsical mood compelled him to ask Toni, the bartender, to mix him a "black cocktail." Without hesitation, Toni went to work and served him a tall glass filled with a black liquid of which I never found out the frightful ingredients. Benjamin drank it down with much aplomb. Soon afterward, a Polish woman whom I will call Maria Z. sat down at our table and asked us if we had ever tried this famous gin that was a specialty of the house. The gin in question was 148 proof: I personally had never been able to swallow a drop. It was a diabolical drink. Maria Z. ordered two glasses for herself and emptied them one right after the other, without batting an eye. She then dared us to do the same. I declined the invitation, but Benjamin took up the challenge, ordered two glasses for himself, and also downed them in quick succession. His face remained impassive, but I soon saw him get up and slowly head for the door. No sooner had he left the bar than he collapsed onto the sidewalk. I ran toward him and managed to get him back on his feet with considerable difficulty. He wanted to walk all the way home to San Antonio. Seeing the unsteadiness of his gait, however, I had to remind him that San Antonio was fifteen kilometers away from Ibiza. I invited him rather to come to my house, where he could sleep in a spare room. He accepted, and we headed in the direction of the upper part of town. I soon realized how foolhardy this was: until that night, the upper part of town had never been so far up. I won't recount how the climb was accomplished, how he required that I walk three meters in front of him, then three meters behind him, how we managed to escalate these streets that were so steep that some of them stopped being streets and turned into stairways, how he sat down at the foot of one of these stairways and fell into deep sleep.... By the time we got to Conquista Street, dawn had started to break -- that green dawn of Ibiza that doesn't seem to come from the sky, but rather from the depths of the old walls themselves, whose whiteness suddenly comes alive with a sickly tinge. Our expedition had lasted the entire night. I must have gotten up around noon, and I went into Benjamin's room to see how he was doing. It was empty! He had disappeared, and I found a little note on the bedside table expressing his gratitude and apology.

Scorcio (Disappearance), Ibiza: photo by simo884,14 May 2011

I didn't see him again for several days. He had returned to San Antonio, and I later learned from one of his friends that he was extremely contrite about what had happened. He didn't dare see me again and wanted to leave Ibiza. Naturally I urged the friend to tell him that such things were of no consequence whatever in my mind, and that it was far from me to hold that night, which after all had been quite out of the ordinary, against him. But when I did see him again, I felt that something inside him had changed. He couldn't forgive himself for having given such a display, for which he felt genuine humiliation and oddly enough, for which he continued to reproach me. Neither the affection nor the respect I held for him were able to convince him that the unfortunate effects of the 148 proof gin hadn't changed my opinion in the least. I first experienced a deep sorrow as a result, and afterwards a certain annoyance. We nonetheless continued our work on the translation of Berliner Kindheit. He no longer came readily to my house, however. One day I invited him to lunch, and he sent me a small note expressing his regrets. "The climb will be most difficult in this heat. I think I would arrive in an exhausted state." So we continued to work in San Antonio, but soon had to stop entirely. Afflicted with a case of brucellosis, I had to spend several hours a day stretched out on a mat without doing anything. Benjamin, for his part, began to suffer from malaria. The idiosyncrasies of his personality were not diminished as a result, and his acerbity became more and more acute, as we were all to experience. And yet, when I think back after all these years and view our little entourage in a more objective light, I can't help discerning the figure of some evil genie working steadily to bring us apart.

Nothing gave our imaginary feud an opportunity to materialize. Yet when Benjamin left Ibiza in October, our friendship had inexplicably cooled. I did receive a friendly letter from him after his departure, but only one. At the end of the year, I returned to Paris.

I was to see him only one more time, at the Café de Flore in March of 1934. He was living at the Palace-Hôtel in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. I wanted to finish the work we had already undertaken, and we exchanged a few letters concerning two new texts from Berliner Kindheit that I was in the process of finishing: "Zwei Blechkapellen" and "Schmetterlingsjagd." We were supposed to meet on April 20. The day before, I received a note canceling our appointment. "It is with great bitterness," he wrote, "that I find I must submit to the malevolent constellation which seems to have been ruling over us for some time. I'm writing these lines before an unexpected departure."

He did not give me the reason for this departure, and I never heard from him again. Our friendship thus vanished behind the veil of mystery with which he enjoyed surrounding certain phenomena of his life and thought, and this disappearance was never to be illuminated by more than the vague glimmer of a "malevolent constellation."

Even his death was shrouded in mystery. To this day I am not certain of its details. Professor Theodor Adorno, his close friend and the executor of his literary estate, wrote me the following:

The day of Walter Benjamin's death could not be determined with absolute certainty; we think it was on September 26, 1940. Benjamin crossed the Pyrenees with a small group of emigrés in order to find refuge in Spain. The group was intercepted in Port-Bou by the Spanish police, which told them they would be sent back the next day to Vichy. In the course of the night, Benjamin ingested a large dose of sleeping pills and resisted with all his strength the care that people attempted to administer to him on the following day.

Jean Selz: from Benjamin in Ibiza ("Walter Benjamin à Ibiza"), trans. by M. Martin Guiney, Les Lettres Nouvelles 2, 11 (January 1954), trans. by M. Martin Guiney in On Walter Benjamin: Critical Essays and Recollections, ed. Gary Smith, 1988

Jean Selz (left), Paul Gauguin (the painter’s grandson), Walter Benjamin, and fisherman Tomás Varó (with hat) sailing in the bay of San Antonio, May 1933: photographer unknown, via Cabinet, summer 2008

The preponderance of spirit radically alienated him from his physical and even his psychological existence. As Schoenberg once said of Webern, whose handwriting was reminiscent of Benjamin's, he had put a taboo on animal warmth; friends hardly dared put a hand on his shoulder, and even his death may have to do with the fact that, during the last night in Port Bou, out of shyness the group with which he fled arranged for him to have a single room, with the result that he was able to take unobserved the morphine he had reserved for the utmost emergency.

Theodor Adorno: from Introduction to Benjamin's Schriften (Einleutung zu Benjamin's Schriften), in Benjamin: Schriften, ed. Theodor W. Adorno and Gretel Adorno, 1955, trans. by R. Hullot-Kentor in On Walter Benjamin: Critical Essays and Recollections, ed. Gary Smith, 1988

Sunday 24 July 2011

Tears in the Empty Cathedral: The Travel Diarist (Walter Benjamin: Emotional Architecture of the Loire)


Cathédrale Sainte-Croix, Orléans: photo by Kamel15, August 2008

August 12, 1927.
I shall confine myself to notes. The familiar torment of loneliness that afflicts me particularly when traveling has for the first time assumed the features of growing old. L. has not come with me. The likelihood that this is because of a misunderstanding is no greater than 10 percent. The likelihood that I have been deceived in the ordinary way is about 90 percent. Admittedly, I myself have created this possibility. This now turns out to be a mistake. If she had come, that would have been the basis for enjoying this trip.

I can be certain that I shall now, alone, find all the places that would have been sheer delight with her. Here I am, for example, sitting in a very quiet and very good restaurant, the Hôtel St. Cathérine in Orléans. The table is precisely the right width for sitting opposite someone. The electric lights are so faint I can barely see to write.

Until midday I was uncertain whether I should travel on my own. If Scholem hadn't been arriving, I probably would not have done so. I simply did not think I could bear his sometimes ostentatious self-assurance.

This afternoon I saw Orléans Cathedral: modern colored-glass windows that mean nothing. Yet above, in the choir, plain glass. The rose window above the entrance, too, is plain: a polar sun. Behind the plain glass of the aisle windows the buttresses can be seen in the half-light, like a shoreline in banks of mist. In the transept the rose windows are in the harsh, barbaric yellows and reds. --- The exterior is incredibly beautiful. Outside, the chancel has a stone foundation from which the shafts and pilasters rise up. It is as if they are rooted in the stone walls.

Cathédrale Sainte-Croix, Orléans: photo by Narisa, 26 April 2011

While I was walking through the cathedral, the organist was practicing.

Everything, especially every trivial thing on this journey, makes me want to burst into tears. For example, the fact that on this trip I do not speak French. (At all!) I weep when I think about the rue de Reuilly, a magic name for me, one that I can no longer use.

Cathédrale Sainte-Croix, Orléans: photo by Kamel15, August 2008

August 13. I slept better than I had expected. From the hotel I went back to the cathedral again. This time I approached it from the Hotel de Ville, which is faced by some older houses rising up on a beautiful slope.

Hôtel Groslot, siège de l'Hôtel de ville d'Orléans, et statue de Jeanne d'Arc, Loiret, Centre, France: photo by Tieum, 28 October 2004

In the cathedral I heard the story of the red hat that hangs from the ceiling.

Maison de Jeanne d'Arc, Orléans: photo by Vermessen, 25 August 2008

It belonged to a cardinal (probably Cardinal Touchet, who is seated at the feet of the statue of Joan of Arc), and will hang there until it falls of its own accord.

Cathédrale Sainte-Croix, Orléans: photo by Peter K. Domaradzki, 1984

-- From a distance, from the boulevard St. Vincent, the buttresses look like fragments of Christ's crown of thorns. Never have I seen such a thorny cathedral as this one, with its icy cold rose window.

Street, Orléans: photo by Kamel15, August 2008

While I was walking through the town and visiting all the churches listed in the guidebook, it occurred to me that it is quite possible L. really had gone away; in other words, that she may well have gone on a trip with him. Considered perhaps calling at her apartment again shortly before leaving for Berlin, or at the hotel in the rue de la la Chapelle, and observing her if possible.

View from the north bank of the River Loire, Blois
: photo by Stevage, 8 May 2006

In Blois. Here you have to sit on the terrace behind the Cathédrale St. Louis if you want to see the famous French clarté, the French limpidité, total harmony of landscape, architecture and the art of gardening.

Cathédrale Saint-Louis, Blois, East End
: photo by TTaylor, 2005

Thank God the sky is heavily overcast; the sun has disappeared. I still feel bitterness within me, churned up emotions that refuse to settle down. It was an infallible instinct that bid me make precisely this journey with L., a Parisian. The absent one retreats from me for a second time -- like a landscape, at every moment drawing further away. I place landscapes, courtyards, around her as frames, all of which remain empty. And the whole situation is made worse by my vanity's whispered insistence that all this happened by accident, not design. Even so, when I return to Paris, I will not let my efforts to find her again go too far. In Paris I can survive without her, and indeed cannot really make use of her, as matters stand. It was during the guided tour through the castle of Blois that I suffered most.

Château de Blois, Loir-et-Cher, Centre, France. Panorama of the interior façades. From right to left: the Louis XII flamboyant wing, the medieval Gothic castle, the François I Renaissance wing, and the Gaston d'Orléans classic wing
: photo by Tango7174, 24 September 2008

This was where her astonishment would have made everything bearable, if not agreeable.


Salle des Etats Généraux, Château de Blois: photo by Manfred Heyde, 10 May 2009

As it was, as I gazed around the empty rooms whose walls are painted in imitation of the Gobelins tapestries or Cordoba leather that used to hang there, I could see that I was almost the only person who was alone.


Chambre du Roi ([king's bedchamber], Château de Blois, with Henry IV's initial H in the floor tiles
: photo by MFSG, 13 June 2007

I am not far from tears.


"Chambre de secrets" in the Château de Blois, rumoured (probably apocryphally) to have been used as a hiding place for poisons by Marie de Medici, widow of Henry IV
: photo by Stevage, 2 May 2006

What was the point of it all -- not just of all these preparations, but of having made this huge change in my life -- if I cannot contrive to carry out the simplest little planned journey that any traveling salesman could manage? Am I never again to travel anywhere with a woman I desire?

File:Rooftops of Tours, France.jpg

Slate roofs, Tours: photo by Erin Silversmith, June 2005

August 15 [Tours]. To my surprise, I see that comfort is having an effect on my gloomy mood. Since I...

The same day, evening. In short, I have an excellent, luxurious room that will have to make up for L.'s absence as far as possible. I shall presumably not see her again, and I shall make only modest attempts to do so. But I have caught myself trying to conjure up her face, specifically to recall that expression (that coldness, that refusal to make contact with me) which is no doubt the source of my present situation. I made this effort this afternoon beneath the trees in front of the Cafe Universel, behind the big statue of Balzac which shows the master in his dressing gown.

Cathédrale de Saint-Gatien, Tours
: photo by Parsifall, 2009

Only the sight of the buildings gives me the feeling of having arrived here in Tours, or wherever it may be, and nowhere else. I stood behind the chancel of St. Gatien. My gaze turned to the dead, gray, nondescript exterior view of the famous stained-glass windows. A moment before, I had been sitting on a bench, looking at the façade; now I was looking at the back of the church, leaning against a wall. It gave me a shock. Compared to this peace, this immediate sense of presence that comes from gazing at great works of architecture, all our ordinary activity is like traveling on a train that suddenly stops with a jerk. Here we are; nothing will take us any further.

Cathédrale de Saint-Gatien, Tours
: photo by Parsifall, 2009

Tours has the most cheerful, most childlike rose windows I have ever seen, especially the one over the main portal.

Old houses in the Place Plumereau, Tours
: photo by Parsifall, 2009

After that I took a walk behind the cathedral through little streets with low squat buildings. But with what names! Rue Racine, rue Montaigne. And this square is the place St. Gregoire de Tours. A woman was delivering newspapers, and she blew a horn -- a last vestige of the medieval town crier, probably. The houses have two stories, but much lower still are the courtyard walls with the doors in them.

In the cathedral I suddenly cheered up, It occurred to me that a month previously I had been in Chartres -- it was not yet a month since I had met L. -- and she had been marvelously planted (this Parisian rose) between those two cathedrals. And that was as it should be. She had her place.

Nave of the Cathédrale de Saint-Gatien, Tours
: photo by Guillaume Piolle, 4 July 2009

August 16. I went back to St. Gatien. The stained glass must have had this appearance of faded velvet cloth right from the start.

Main altar and choir, Cathédrale de Saint-Gatien, Tours: photo by Tango 7174, 22 September 2008

Incidentally, this rose window is an unsurpassable symbol of the Church's way of thinking: from the outside, all slaty, scaly, almost leprous; from the inside, blossoming, intoxicating and golden.

Northern rose window and main organ of the Cathédrale de Saint-Gatien, Tours: photo by Guillaume Piolle, 6 July 2009

When you walk over to the other side of the Loire, St. Gatien does not stand out, as it should, in Gothic splendor above many gables, but rises above the leaves of the trees on the Loire islands and the riverbank promenade. -- Yesterday I saw two chimney stacks on a roof high above the town: a new paradise that Virgil shows with a dramatic gesture to a Dante who recoils with a shiver. -- From the front the cathedral looks out onto the place Quatorze Juillet, and from behind on to the place St. Grégoire de Tours. It looks as if its is resting its head on a cushion and has its feet in the water. Concerning street names: on the sign for the rue August Comte, together with his dates, appears the word Positiviste. What must the good townsfolk think that means? -- (Behind the cathedral: rue du Petit Cupidon.)

I would have had a photograph of L. made on this trip. Apart from that, I find I have to restore my equanimity by imagining that her failure to come was the result of the influence of someone else. For my vanity, and the probabilities of the situation, do not allow me to consider the possibility that she deceived me from start to finish. And to contemplate the thought that we may have missed each other as a result of a misunderstanding would drive me mad.

Cathédrale de Saint-Gatien, Tours, seen from rear
: photo by Touffi, 1 May 2006

Before coming to Tours I had never seen a town (other than Heidelberg) that allows the landscape to come so much into its own. There is scarcely more than a ribbon of gray along the banks of the Loire as they pass through the town. And the boulevard Grammont passes into the countryside as if through festively built-up, uninhabited meadows. The great stone bridge is suspended shallowly above the river, like a hand stroking it. Everything is low, apart from a few lofty towers.

Pont Wilson over the River Loire at Tours, with Cathédrale de Saint-Gatien in distance: photo by Guil37, 3 April 2007

It is a town à la portée des enfants; it gives me pleasure to reflect the great Catholic children's-book publisher Mame is based in Tours.

Looking back towards central Tours from the north bank of the River Loire, adjacent to the Pont Mirabeau
: photo by Ozeye, 13 September 2007

Walter Benjamin: from Diary of My Journey to the Loire, August 1927, unpublished in the author's lifetime, trans. by Rodney Livingstone in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 2: 1927-1934, 1999