Sunday, 28 February 2010

Il Pleut

Guillaume Apollinaire's 1918 concrete poem "Il Pleut" (It's Raining) translated into English, and the original manuscript below.


(for Jim)

Saturday, 27 February 2010


These images are from the SAIS blog for Lochaber (Nevis Range) - An offshoot of the Scottish Avalanche Information Service.
There's been some extremely heavy snowfall in Scotland this season. Some commentators are saying this is the most that we've seen in over 30 years. Hearing on the news yesterday that Glencoe had the heaviest and most snow anywhere on earth that day was quite astounding. One would hope that this meant that the scottish ski industry would get a welcome boost, but it seems that there's been so much that the roads are inaccessible - 8 feet of snow in Glenshee! Once the roads clear, there's bound to be some good ski-ing and climbing though.
The above image shows some off piste cross country ski touring in the col between Aonach Beag and Aonach Mor. Below are some climbers on the North face of Ben Nevis.

There have been disadvantages of course, and with this unprecedented amount of snowfall, there's also been a high incidence of avalanches, something that we're not really used to here, at least, not in the way found in alpine regions. And us Scottish walkers are, I hate to say, quite inexperienced in dealing with them. I know basic avalanche safety, but don't go out with avalanche probe, transcriever etc.

Large hoar frost crystals have formed, and once further accumulations of snow build up on top, this results in a weak layer where the new snowfall easily slides off as avalanches. There have already been many fatalities, and with windslab crust layers forming, the scottish hills are more dangerous right now than many of us have ever seen.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Karl Richter conducting Bach

Looking for advance notice of a performance of the Bach St Matthew Passion in Glasgow this Easter (there doesn't appear to be one programmed) got me looking for filmed performances of this, perhaps my favourite piece of music.
I 'grew up' on the 1958 Karl Richter version, always preferring it's significantly slower pace, and hearing it sung in German (in this way, not being a German speaker, the text is abstracted and it's religious meaning removed, leaving the listener purely with the sense of grief and mourning that's palpable in the work). I've since heard it perfomed live on numerous occasions, perhaps the most memorable being a perfomance in the round on period instruments, directed by Jonathan Miller in Tramway, Glasgow. This is the wonderful opening to the piece with Richter conducting the Munchener Bach-Chor and the Munchener Bach-Orchester in 1971.

The following  aria is for me, perhaps the highlight of the entire work. The contralto soloist is Julia Hamari.

clement bayard dirigible

Monday, 8 February 2010

Saturday, 6 February 2010

ultima thule

Thule (pronounced /ˈθ(j)uːli/; Greek Θούλη, Thoulē), also spelled Thula, Thila, or Thyïlea, is, in classical literature, a place, usually an island. Ancient European descriptions and maps locate it either in the far north, sometimes as the Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands or Scandanavia, or in the late middle ages and renaissance as Iceland or Greenland. Another suggested location is Saaremaa in the Baltic Sea.

Ultima Thule in medieval geographies may also denote any distant place located beyond the "borders of the known world."
(from Wikipedia)

Is this small island Ultima Thule - the mythical, farthest north piece of land? Before satellite imaging, google earth, GPS positioning and so on, our knowledge still knew some limits, and the mythical northerly land of Ultima Thule saw various claims to it's location, the proposed sites progressively moving further north as exploration and discovery advanced. Theoretically at least, we should be able to view from the sky where this most northerly piece of land lies, and allow the mystery of Ultima Thule to be solved. Thankfully, it's not that easy. Scientists and explorers (and the odd eccentric) have continued to try to locate the spot, and arguments and splits between opposing groups has meant that there is still continuing debate as to where the land might be, each faction claiming their own success in locating Ultima Thule.

The problem comes from what one defines as an island. A few years back, a group reached a bed of shingle and rock off the north coast of Greenland, naming it Ultima Thule, but the problem with naming and fixing any location so far north in the arctic sea ice, is that such land spits, shingle deposits, sand banks, etc, are mutable. As the ice pack ebbs and flows, land appears and disappears seasonally, often transformed along the way. With global warming, new land is constantly being discovered, only to be lost the next year - Phantom Islands, as it were. At the time of photographing, the image above was considered to be the limits of northern land, but even this has since been disproved. Looking for this evidence online, I was initially frustrated that even with modern technology, we still couldn't locate this place, but now that I think more, I'm relieved that at least one of the last mysteries of the earth's landforms remains elusive. As soon as the furthest posssible place in the world becomes a place, the unknown becomes known and leadenly fixed, and the space of dreams and imagination dies just a little bit more. And while the romance of going to the farthest place has sparked the imagination of a few, it doesn't quite have the draw of an Everest,  of summiting an unclimbed peak or any one of the many permutations that polar and mountain explorers have challenged themselves to (first woman, youngest, oldest, fastest, to reach both poles, 7 summitts, the 14 peaks above 8000m etc - the permutations of being the 'first' seem endless).

There's a distinct lack of glamour in the actual trip, and the cost of achieving this is so prohibitive that it remains unlikely that many will seek out the challenge, a challenge that looks equally likely to be disproved almost as soon as "success" is achieved.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

white out receeding, Carn Dearg, Loch Ossian, 2.3.05

This colour analogue photograph was made on the first of four winter walking trips with my students to the eco hostel on Rannoch Moor beside Loch Ossian. Only four of us climbed on this day (the whole group had had a long walk the day before), and this was a blustery, extremely cold one I seem to remember. The cloud came in and the light became so flat that we couldn't differentiate ground from air, but as it was so windy, we just decided to sit it out and wait for it to clear (which it did ten minutes later). This image was made just as we began to discern the ground again.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

the hunting of the snark

The chart used to navigate the ocean from Lewis Carroll's "the hunting of the snark".