Sunday, 4 June 2017

Lily Brik - muse and nemesis
I was given this biography of Lily Brik in 1999, the year that it was published, by the author Arkady Vaksberg.  For the first time since then, I have both the time and the motive to read it.  My motive is that the theme of our 2017 Moffat Russian Conference is 'Art and Literature in the era of the 1905 and the 1917 revolutions'. At the suggestion of our Russian partners we will be majoring on the revolutionary poet, actor and graphic artist/political propagandist Vladimir Mayakovsky. Brik was Mayakovsky's muse and, in some ways, his nemesis.

 It is an interesting story, that Vaksberg (who died in Moscow in 2011) tells well.  By all accounts, Lily Brik was an irresistible and highly promiscuous 'femme fatale' who was known on occasion to stagger out into the street, one over the eight, pick up an officer, and go with him to a restaurant with private booths, there to have her way with him.

More tomorrow!



Friday, 4 November 2016

Opportunity knocks

A caller on my mobile phone inquires whether we are still making our spruce products in South Lanarkshire. That same evening, I watch a TV programme,  'Hipsters', by trend-spotter Peter York. I conclude that, were we 'hipsters', wearing check shirts and sporting raggedy beards, we and our hand made,  'artisanal' , organic products would be the toast of Shoreditch, at ludicrous prices. However, we are not in east London and production is on hold while we fell and replant our spruce crop.

I am reading Alexander Herzen's 'My Past and Thoughts', a massive, unwieldy and unclassifiable collection of memoir, political polemic and letters, plentifully bestrewn with long footnotes. It is mystifyingly little known in this country, but treasured as a classic in Russia, Herzen's native land.

Since our fifth Moffat Russian Conference, I feel twinges of the old trouble: I sometimes introduce myself at public gatherings as 'a recovering Russianist'.  'That country' as my former husband John used to call it with a a mixture of despair and reverence. Since our Russian guests departed, I have had time to look carefully through a slim paperback volume they brought with them, about Marina Tsvetaeva, one of the five poets celebrated at our conference. It turns out to have an introduction by Mikhail ('Misha') Men', a governor of the Ivanovo region whence the Tsvetaevs originated, and a distant relation. Misha is now Minister for Building and Construction in the Putin government, a far cry from his early career as a hard rock musician. He and his famous father Alexander used to listen to a bootleg record of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Jesus Christ, Superstar' together. What a complicated country, populated by complicated people, Russia is.

Opportunity knocks

A caller on my mobile phone inquires whether we are still making our spruce products in South Lanarkshire. That same evening, I watch a TV programme,  'Hipsters', by trend-spotter Peter York. I conclude that, were we 'hipsters', wearing check shirts and sporting raggedy beards, we and our hand made,  'artisanal' , organic products would be the toast of Spitalfields, at ludicrous prices. However, we are not in east London and production is on hold while we fell and replant our spruce crop.

I am reading Alexander Herzen's 'My Past and Thoughts', a massive, unwieldy and unclassifiable collection of memoir, political polemic and letters, plentifully bestrewn with long footnotes. It is mystifyingly little known in this country, but treasured as a classic in Russia, Herzen's native land.

Since our fifth Moffat Russian Conference, I feel twinges of the old trouble: I sometimes introduce myself at public gatherings as 'a recovering Russianist'.  'That country' as my former husband John used to call it with affectionate exasperation. Since our Russian guests departed, I have had time to look carefully through a slim paperback volume they brought with them, about Marina Tsvetaeva, one of the five poets celebrated at our conference. It turns out to have an introduction by Mikhail ('Misha') Men', a governor of the Ivanovo region whence the Tsvetaevs originated, and a distant relation. Misha is now Minister for Building and Construction in the Putin government, a far cry from his early career as a hard rock musician. He and his famous father Alexander used to listen to a bootleg record of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Jesus Christ, Superstar' together. What a complicated country, populated by complicated people, Russia is.

Monday, 24 October 2016

5th Moffat Russian Conference 2016 'Poets and Power'

(left to right) Vicky Jardine Paterson, chair Moffat Russian Conferences; Richard Demarco CBE , chair Moffat Book Events; delegate Anthony Evans at the Moffat House hotel

Calum Rodger, Glasgow University-based poet and  authority on Malevich and Ian Hamilton Finlay

Anastasiya Ilyushenko, Deputy Consul in Edinburgh of the Russian Federation at the conference opening ceremony
Moffat's fifth Russian conference was a wonderful and exilerating weekend of scholarship and networking. More when my head stops buzzing!

Friday, 21 October 2016

Professor Andrew Wheatcroft 1944-2016

Professor Andrew Wheatcroft  
20 July 1944-18 Oct 2016



Andrew (‘Andy’) Wheatcroft was proud of sharing his birthday with the date of the von Stauffenberg plot to assassinate Hitler. He was born in Surrey and educated at St John’s School, Leatherhead before going up to Cambridge to read history at Christ’s College where former alumni Milton and Darwin had established a tradition of questioning.  His contemporary Simon Schama observed that of their small and talented group, Andrew was the most brilliant European historian. He spent a year at the University of Madrid working on the theme of the use of national image for propaganda, ‘soft power’ and the misuse of stereotypes to whip up  hatred. His subjects for later books focused on the Ottoman and Hapsburg empires.  He served as a senior commissioning editor for publishers Routledge and Keegan Paul, and Weidenfeld and Nicolson, also as Professor of Publishing Studies at the University of Stirling. As a result of teaching many Chinese students of publishing, he was appointed Foreign Adviser in Publishing to the Chinese government and was due to address a seminar of 100 Chinese managing executives in publishing in Oxford yesterday.   He and his wife Janet married in 1970, and came to live at Craigieburn House just outside Moffat  in 1983 with their four young children.  Andy and Janet became Trustees of Moffat Book Events in 2012, and Andy, as chair, co-signed the Memorandum of Understanding with the State Library for Foreign Literature. Andrew was a kind, thoughtful man who wore his academic gifts and learning lightly, was always helpful and direct, never pompous or patronizing. He delighted in good company, good food and laughter. He will be sadly missed. R.I.P.

ER 21.10.16

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The definitive Proust biography
I cannot count the times that I have tried, and failed, to read 'A La Recherche'. I am therefore trying another way to get into Proust, via this biography which is described by some as the best biography ever about anyone.  So far so good...

Friday, 16 September 2016

Little Sparta

Little Sparta  - A Guide to the Garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay by Jessie Sheeler photographs by Robin Gillanders (Birlinn 2015)
I am an admirer of Little Sparta, the garden created by poet Ian Hamilton Finlay on an otherwise bleak moorland site in south Lanarkshire, not far from where I used to live.

I am indebted to my sister Jenny Gough-Cooper for introducing me both to Ian and his garden many years ago, and to my friend Janet Wheatcroft for lending me this recent book (pictured above) about the artefacts in the garden.

There is a series of three watering cans in the garden, each of which exemplifies aspects of Ian's wide-ranging interests, allusions and word play in his concrete poetry.  One ceramic can records the date of the death of Robespierre, guillotined on the day in the French revolutionary calendar named 'Arrosoir' - watering day.  Another, a white can, bears the inscription 'a rose is a rose is a rose' -  a play both on the French word for the can 'arrosoir' and a quotation from the American author Gertrude Stein appropriate for a garden.  The third can has a typical IHF word-association string: Tea Kettle Drum Water Lily Cup.

These examples lead me to my garden at 23 Well Road in Moffat,  where I am planning some changes to the area currently lawn with narrowish borders of well-established shrubs and perennials.  By chance, before I was reminded of Ian's watering can theme, I had chosen a bright pink watering can to mark a focal point at the far end of my garden. 


Ian's master mason, Peter Coates, whose work is displayed in various mediums throughout the garden at Little Sparta, engraved the lines 'Heureux qui, comme Ulysse' on the pavement in my first garden at 21 Well Road

Let's see where all this will lead...