Albanian Letters by Arthur Evans

 

Arthur Evans Albanian Letters

Design for Albanian Letters, a compilation of letters and reports on Albania in the 1870s by archaeologist and journalist Sir Arthur Evans, the latest book from the Centre for Albanian Studies now in print.

From the blurb:

In Albanian Letters Evans not only explores the implications of the key political events of this period but also paints a vivid picture of the country’s complex social and cultural make-up. Albanian Letters looks at how Albanians’ views of their homeland were affected by developments taking place at the time, including increasing awareness of ethnic differences, population migration, and changes to its distinctive culture and tradition.

and the back cover testimonials:

‘These fascinating letters and reports – never previously collected – cast fresh light on one of the most vital periods of Albanian history. The crisis which began in the late 1870s would lead, eventually, to the creation of an independent Albania. But while the end-point of that process was a relatively simple solution, the starting-point was a complex problem, with many different interests competing for power. Arthur Evans was both an opinionated young man and a brilliant journalist, with a vivid pen and a keen appetite for information; his accounts of these tensions and conflicts, both internal and international, make him a very valuable witness – and a very good read.’

Sir Noel Malcolm, Senior Research Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford

‘Despite their biases as pointed out by the editors, Evans’ journalistic reports provide an impressive depth of detail as well as insightful analyses of events, personalities and intrigue within their cultural and historical context.’

George W. Gawrych, Professor of History, Baylor University 

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Bond Street Christmas lights, for this week’s WordPress photo challenge.

Also gives me the opportunity to let you know about my Mrs Dalloway and Virginia Woolf guided walk, 26 November, 6-8pm. More details and booking here.

‘Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.’ But even as she steps out into the clamour and commotion of the street, the squeak of the hinges casts her mind back to her youth and the fateful summer at Bourton when she stood ‘on the theshold of her adult life.’ Just as the past is always present in the fabric of the city, so our own past reverberates throughout our lives as individuals.

Westminster, St James’s, Piccadilly, Bond Street, Oxford Street, Harley Street, Fitzrovia and then across to the famous squares of Bloomsbury. This walk takes us through the historic centre of the dynamic metropolis, brought to life on the page so vividly in Virginia Woolf’s masterpiece.

Few books convey the sheer wonder, the miracle of being alive, here, now and in the city as vividly as Mrs Dalloway. This walk, in the footsteps of Mrs Dalloway and Virginia Woolf, provides the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the city and the novel. To immerse ourselves in a London busy, crowded and lit up for Christmas; a London, in other words, getting ready for a party.

As Virginia Woolf wrote in her essay Oxford Street Tide – ‘The charm of modern London is that it is not built to last; it is built to pass.’ Book here 

If we could show you the future…

The Future

would you walk all over it?

Back in the day, at the agency where I was working, we were pleased with this mailer to the customers of a flooring manufacturer announcing their new website.

If-show-me-the-future

Those were the days – when you sent out a mailer to tell people you had a website. In a world of contradictions, perhaps not a huge one. (And maybe, as the virtual world becomes ever more omnipresent, a return to actual letters and real mail may re-emerge as a useful way of differentiation).

But, in our increasingly digital-first world, it’s not only the paranoid who are questioning whether the future may be threatening to walk all over us – rather than the other way around.

The Circle

In Dave Eggers recent novel, The Circle,  he presents a dystopian view of the future in which social participation and connectedness allows for the individual’s entire day to be totally monitored. No choice or action goes unrecorded, as ‘Circlers’ joyfully embrace their social media duties – or opportunities:

“See, you’re getting all last week’s stuff, too. That’s why there’s so many. Wow, you really missed a lot.”

Mae followed the counter to the bottom of the screen, calculating all the messages sent to her from everyone else at the Circle. The counter paused at 1,200, Then 4,400. The numbers scrambled higher, stopping periodically but finally settling at 8,276.

“That was last week’s messages? Eight thousand?”

“You can catch up,” Gina said brightly. Maybe even tonight. Now, let’s open your regular social account. […]”

Whilst it is explicitly NOT about Google, the recent claim by (Google CEO) Larry Page that fear of data-mining of healthcare may be costing as many as 100,000 lives a year could be straight out of the pages of The Circle.

Managing to be both hilarious and chilling,  The Circle is essentially a 1984 for the digital age.  With the twist that this time it’s not a political regime but a commercial enterprise that is making the bid for total control. And making headway fast in that direction.

[You could describe it as the author looking at the world around him and asking not ‘What would Google do?‘ but ‘What would George Orwell think?’]

Once you ‘go clear’ (Eggers appropriates a term from Scientology), the only escape from the all-seeing eyes of your ‘watchers’ is the bathroom, and then only for 3 minutes or your watchers will begin to bombard you with their concerns for your health. And of course you can’t visit the bathroom too often or you will provoke a similar torrent of concern.

But nothing is ever enough for The Circle in its voracious desire to be your friend, and every shard of privacy and autonomy is under threat in its bid to get inside your head and make you a passenger in your own life – for which the perfect metaphor, and the perfect vehicle, is the driverless car.

You can’t drive over a cliff if you’re not at the wheel. “If my thought dreams could be seen…” as Dylan sang all those years ago.

Day 1

In a recent profile in The Observer, hung on the launch of the Fire phone, I discovered the ‘Day 1’ obsession of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and his view – expressed in a recent letter to shareholders – ‘that we haven’t even reached Day 1 of the internet yet. That the “alarm clock hasn’t even gone off yet” and that the world is “still asleep” to what the rest of Day 1 will bring.’

Founded 20 years ago (5 July 1994) as an online bookstore, Amazon clearly intends to become (if at all possible and as soon as possible) the shop for everything.

The  recently launched Fire Phone is, as The Observer reports, ‘the latest salvo in the great three-way tech battle between Amazon, Apple and Google. They want each other’s business and are, as wired.com suggested, “all turning into each other”.’

At the launch Bezos is reported to have spent as much time talking about Amazon Prime as he did talking about the phone – which is expected to lose £176m this year and up to £330m next year, according to analysts. To make up for this loss, each phone owner would have to spend £207 more on Amazon products than the average customer.

Someone has clearly done the math:

The average Prime member spends £719 a year on Amazon, £411 more than a regular user. Prime members’ purchases and membership fees make up more than a third of Amazon’s US profits. And membership is projected to rise 150%, to 25 million, by 2017.

The in-built network connectivity of the Kindle makes it easy to purchase books, and also means Amazon can ‘see’ not only what you are reading but where you have got to in the book. And now comes… Kindle unlimited – the equivalent of a streaming service for books and audiobooks.

Between us, ideas become reality indeed.

 

Ripeness is all

I’ve been reading Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native for a walk I’m leading. The strange thing about Hardy is that you seem to feel the need to offer an excuse as to why you’re reading him, or maybe that’s just me. But anyway –

Clym Yeobright (the ‘Native’) has recently returned to Egdon Heath, where he was born, and has just told some of the local inhabitants, denizens of the heath as he was, that he plans to remain close to the heath and open a school. Whilst they say nothing, they are clearly taken aback; Why would someone who had escaped the heath and become a diamond-seller in Paris choose to return to this poor, backwater of a place – a place that everyone else dreams of leaving?

Thorncombe-3-web

The answer is that Clym has become an idealist.

Yeobright loved his kind. He had a conviction that the want of most men was knowledge of a sort which brings wisdom rather than affluence.

However, because of his studious time in Paris, he was far in advance of his erstwhile fellow inhabitants of the heath – ‘the rural world was not ripe for him.’

‘A man should be only partially before his time: to be completely in the vanguard in aspirations is fatal to fame [ … ] Successful propagandists have succeeded because the doctrine they bring into form is that which their listeners have for some time felt without being able to shape.’

Doesn’t this just perfectly describe Steve Jobs, by the way, and in particular the iPad? Just enough ahead of the game, and able to fulfil aspirations that people were only dimly aware that they had.

But, unlike Jobs – at least in his speeches – Hardy is scornful of idealism:

‘Was Yeobright’s mind well-proportioned? No. A well-proportioned mind is one which shows no particular bias … It would never would have allowed Yeobright to do such a ridiculous thing as throw up his business [he was a diamond seller in Paris] to benefit his fellow-creatures.’

Yeobright dares to dream – and is punished for it.

By this time in his life Hardy had endured scorn and rejection himself – in people’s low expectations of the kind of job he might aspire to, and in the way his (now) in-laws had looked down upon him as the suitor of their daughter. Despite winning the woman and succeeding in the career he had set his hopes on – to be a writer – he allowed these early slights to colour his whole outlook.

Incidentally, not wholly unlike Picasso who, as John Richardson recounts in his biography of the artist, never forgave the lack of interest from dealers during his early years in Paris. But I digress.

Hardy damns Clym’s idealism, and throughout his novels those who aspire to escape the position into which they are born tend to pay a heavy price. Just think of Jude. And Clym.

I wonder if the reason Hardy feels so unfashionable right now is that in contradiction to today’s (welcome) mantra of ‘Yes you can!,’ Hardy seems intent on saying ‘No, you can’t’ and insisting on the insignificance of the individual. Despite the fact that he made it all the way to the top.

He is buried in Westminster Abbey – except for his heart. That’s back home in Dorset, in Stinsford churchyard, close to his birthplace. And the heath.

Jack Kerouac’s essentials for prose

Jack Kerouac (right) and Neal Cassady (photo by Carolyn Cassady)

Jack Kerouac (right) and Neal Cassady (photo by Carolyn Cassady)

I just picked up Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones and was struck by the four essentials that she quotes from Jack Kerouac’s ‘Essentials for Prose,’:

1. Accept loss forever

2. Be submissive to everything, open, listening

3. No fear or shame in the dignity of your experience, language, and knowledge

4. Be in love with your life

And of these the first and fourth run deepest, not just for writing but for life: Accept loss forever. Hitting the hard, flinty truth of what’s necessary to keep focused on today and tomorrow, and leaving yesterday behind. And perhaps a necessary condition for number 4.

There are others, including ‘Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in the mind’ and ‘Keep track of every day, the date emblazoned in yr morning.’ But I also like:

Like Proust, be an old teahead of time.

And coincidentally… in my inbox the latest from Jamie Jauncey’s excellent blog at A Few Kind Words – I love that title. This week he is talking about writing, mentioning in passing Stephen King whose ‘On Writing’ I have also just been reading, and sets out the ‘Flowers Paradigm’ of Betty Sue Flowers (who is emeritus professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin, amongst much else):

Every writer brings four people to the writing table: a madman, an architect, a carpenter and a judge. The madman is the unfettered creative genius, the source of raw energy and ideas. The architect is the visionary and planner who gives shape to the building born of the madman’s ideas. The carpenter hammers away bringing form to the architect’s plans. The judge waits till everyone else has finished, then goes round with a magnifying glass shaking his or her head. The trick for the writer, of course, is to understand that he or she needs them all at different stages of the process.

Written largely in a single burst of creative energy in April 1951, few books match On The Road for sheer exhilaration – the exhilaration of being alive, of being on the journey. I remember the first time I read it and how I was completely enthralled, intoxicated even, devouring page after page late into the night until I reached the end. Then starting all over again.

On The Road first editionThe extraordinary energy of the prose, poured out onto a single 120-foot roll of tracing paper sheets that he cut to size and taped together, retains its power, even if some of the attitudes have dated. The book’s essential wild mix of of hedonism and asceticism is still thrilling: Accept loss forever. Be submissive to everything, open, listening. Be in love with your life.

Two versions of the book are now available, before and after the interventions of the judge: The (standard) text as first published by Viking in 1957, which is the first draft revised and edited by Kerouac and incorporating changes demanded by the publisher, and the first draft itself (the madman unfettered), published as On the Road: The Original Scroll.

On The Road original scroll
Original scroll of ‘On The Road’Jack Kerouac – Beliefs and Techniques for Modern Prose

Here’s the full list of Kerouac’s essentials. As you can see, not necessarily just for prose, but also for life. Or the other way round.

1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy

2. Submissive to everything, open, listening

3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house

4. Be in love with yr life

5. Something that you feel will find its own form

6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind

7. Blow as deep as you want to blow

8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind

9. The unspeakable visions of the individual

10. No time for poetry but exactly what is

11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest

12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you

13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition

14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time

15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog

16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye

17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself

18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea

19. Accept loss forever

20. Believe in the holy contour of life

21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind

22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better

23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning

24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge

25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it

26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form

27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness

28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better

29. You’re a Genius all the time

30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

The Balkan Wars

Balkan Wars Running Sheets

Today received the running sheets for ‘The Balkan Wars’, my latest book design project. Always slight trepidation mixed in with the excitement of seeing the printed book for the first time. Happily all in order.

This is my first book project with versions being published in three languages (almost) simultaneously – English, Macedonian and Albanian. Being published in the UK by I.B.Tauris in association with The Centre for Albanian Studies. Looking forward to the book launch in Macedonia in a couple of weeks.

Balkan Wars Cover

Lunch and art: The fictional and real

Renoir Boating Party Luncheon

I’m reading Edmund de Waal’s brilliant memoir ‘The Hare With Amber Eyes’. Very late, I know. But, better late than never. I’ve had the book for quite a while, a charity shop purchase, but every time I picked it up the picture of the netsuke on the cover put me off. I’m still not sure I actually like the netsuke but, as so often, a good book finds you when you are ready for it.

No doubt any day now – perhaps already – editions will include access to reproductions of the objects being described. But even reading the old style printed paperback all you need to do is google and… there is Renoir’s Le Déjeuner des Canotiers, (The Luncheon of the Boating Party), in front of you, as you read the story within the story:

A red-and-white striped awning protects the party from the glare of the sun. It is after lunch in Renoir’s new world of painter, patrons and actresses, and everyone is a friend. Models smoke, drink and talk amongst the detritus of the empty bottles and the meal left on the table …

The actress Ellen Andrée, in a hat with a flower pinned to it, raises her glass to her lips. Baron Raoul Barbier, a former mayor of colonial Saigon, his brown bowler hat pushed back, talks to the young daughter of the proprietor.

Her brother, straw-hatted like a professional oarsman, stands in the foreground surveying the lunch. Caillebotte, relaxed and fit in a white singlet and boater, sits astride his chair looking at the young seamstress Aline Chaigot, Renoir’s lover and future wife.

The artist Paul Llhote sits with a Proprietorial arm around the actress Jeanne Samary. It is a matrix of smiling conversation and flirtation. And Charles is there. He is the man at the very back, in the top hat and black suit, turning slightly away, seen glancingly. You can just see his red-brown beard. He is talking with a pleasantly open-faced, poorly shaved Laforgue, dressed as a proper poet in a working man’s cap and what could even be a corduroy jacket.

The ‘Charles’ is Charles Ephrussi, cousin of the author’s great-grandfather, art collector and the first owner of the netsuke collection de Waal has inherited. Charles Ephrussi was also a friend of Proust, and part model for the aesthete and dandy Charles Swann.

De Waal draws our attention to this intriguing extract in which Proust’s fictional artist, Elstir, reflects upon the real painting (above), and the real Charles:

A gentleman … wearing a top hat at a boating party where he is clearly out of place, which proved that for Elstir he was not only a regular sitter, but a friend, perhaps a patron.

Carpe Diem – Proust on fishing

water-birch

There’s no irony (is there?) that a novel the length of ‘In Search of Lost Time’ is in fact about seizing the moment – or rather, trying to understand / appreciate / experience the full depth of every moment.

In this it is closer to the more accurate rendition of the phrase ‘carpe diem’ as ‘enjoy the day, pluck the day when it is ripe.’ (thank you, phrases.org.uk).

Here he is on catching the fleeting glance of a stranger through the window of a carriage travelling in the opposite direction:

… as soon as her individuality, a soul still vague, a will unknown to me, presented a tiny picture of itself, enormously reduced but complete, in the depths of her indifferent eyes, at once, by a mysterious response of the pollen ready in me for the pistils that should receive it, I felt surging through me the embryo, equally vague, equally minute, of the desire not to let this girl pass without forcing her mind to become aware of my person, without preventing her desires from wandering to someone else, without insinuating myself into her dreams and taking possession of her heart. Meanwhile our carriage had moved on; the pretty girl was already behind us; and as she had—of me—none of those notions which constitute a person in one’s mind, her eyes, which had barely seen me, had forgotten me already.

For Proust, every day is ripe for the picking; it is only habit and familiarity (and laziness) that dulls our vivid experience of every moment.

In the first place, the impossibility of stopping when we meet a woman, the risk of not meeting her again another day, give her at once the same charm as a place derives from the illness or poverty that prevents us from visiting it, or the lustreless days which remain to us to live from the battle in which we shall doubtless fall. So that, if there were no such thing as habit, life must appear delightful to those of us who are continually under the threat of death—that is to say, to all mankind.

And to fully appreciate every moment, it’s no good standing back, on the sidelines:

in the state of mind in which we “observe” we are a long way below the level to which we rise when we create.

To truly catch the fleeting moment we need to engage our imagination:

We need, between us and the fish which, if we saw it for the first time cooked and served on a table, would not appear worth the endless shifts and wiles required to catch it, the intervention, during our afternoons with the rod, of the rippling eddy to whose surface come flashing, without our quite knowing what we intend to do with them, the bright gleam of flesh, the hint of a form, in the fluidity of a transparent and mobile azure.

Proust on fishing! Who knew?! It certainly slipped by me first time around. But caught this time. All of which is to say, in a roundabout way, that after a break I’m just limbering up for Volume III: The Guermantes Way.

Penelope Trunk homage

Penelope Trunk

I read this paragraph. Then I read it again. It’s so wonderful and perfect I’m co-opting it here until I can write one this good:

The books were late, but of all the people who bought books, I only got one really angry note. Unfortunately she put the note in my comments section on the blog, for everyone to see. Fortunately, it’s my blog and I can do whatever I want, so I deleted the comment. I sent her a nice response, though. I did not tell her that she is outside the US and because I am a mail-order rube, I gave all international orders free shipping. But at least now I can say I’ve got experience in the export business.

I’m about two years late bringing this post to your attention (even later than her books!). But I think it’s a gem. if you haven’t read the whole thing, go straight there now. Enjoy.

Beauty and daily life

Milan Kundera

Milan Kundera

Stop. Listen. Think. Look
The point of art is to remind us to be alive. To open our eyes. This is a great quote from The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera:

It is wrong to chide the novel for being satisfied by mysterious coincidences, but it is right to chide man for being blind to such coincidences in his daily life. For he thereby deprives his life of a dimension of beauty.

Thank you musicthoughts.com (a new site by Derek Sivers) for reminding me of this great quote from the book by Milan Kundera. The site is a growing compendium of quotes, mainly about music. Here’s another great quote on the site, from Proust:

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

Remembering the Holocaust

Stolperstein

When one works, one suffers and there is no time to think: our homes are less than a memory. But here [in Ka Be, the infirmary] the time is ours: from bunk to bunk, despite the prohibition, we exchange visits and we talk and we talk. The wooden hut, crammed with suffering humanity, is full of words, memories and of another pain. ‘Heimweh’, the Germans call this pain; it is a beautiful word, it means ‘longing for one’s home’.

Primo Levi, ‘If This Is A Man’ (from Chapter 4 ‘Ka-Be)

A ‘Stolperstein’ (‘stumbling block’; plural Stolpersteine) on Nollendorfstraße, Berlin, just down the road from No. 17, Fraulein Thurau’s boarding house, where Christopher Isherwood lived between 1929 and 1933 and wrote the stories that would be published as Goodbye to Berlin (and inspired the movie Cabaret).

The Stolpersteine are a memorialisation project by artist Gunter Demnig. These small, cobblestone-sized brass memorials to the victims of Nazism are set into the pavement in front of buildings where a victim once lived or worked, calling attention both to the individual victim and the scope of the Nazi war crimes.

So far more than 32,000 Stolpersteine have been installed in over 700 cities across Europe, including Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, Belgium, in the Czech Republic, in Poland, in Italy (Rome) and Norway (Oslo).

Posted on Holocaust Memorial Day. Photo: Westrow, Berlin, 5 Sept 2012

David Bowie and George Orwell meet in blank space

Blank space is the central theme in the design for two iconic works released this month.

The album cover for the thrilling and unexpected release of new music by David Bowie, with strong allusions to his Berlin period, is presented in a blanked out cover of Heroes:

Album cover for 'The Next Day' by David Bowie

Album cover for ‘The Next Day’ by David Bowie

In his post on the design, Jonathan Barnbrook writes

The obscuring of an image from the past is also about the wider human condition; we move on relentlessly in our lives to the next day, leaving the past because we have no choice but to. [read full text here]

In the new edition of George Orwell’s 1984 released to commemorate the inaugural ‘Orwell Day’ (today! 21 Jan 2013), the text is blacked out using matt black foil over debossed type, leaving just enough of an imprint for the reader to make out the words – and subtly communicating the idea that censorship and authoritarianism will never fully succeed in eradicating memory or possibility.

Cover for 1984 by George Orwell by David Pearson

Cover for 1984 by George Orwell by David Pearson

We can be heroes, for more than one day …

Proust on Procrastination

Proust, portait by Jacques Emile Blanche

In this wonderful passage Proust nails procrastination and all the evasive and equivocal excuses we give ourselves for putting off until tomorrow what we should be doing today. Incisive, but also very funny. We may deceive others, or even ourselves, temporarily, but deep down we know:

Had I been less firmly resolved upon settling down definitively to work, I should perhaps have made an effort to begin at once. But since my resolution was explicit, since within twenty-four hours, in the empty frame of the following day where everything was so well arranged because I myself was not yet in it, my good intentions would be realised without difficulty, it was better not to start on an evening when I felt ill-prepared. The following days were not, alas, to prove more propitious.

[ … ]

Confident that by the day after tomorrow I should have written several pages, I said not a word more to my parents of my decision; I preferred to remain patient for a few hours and then to bring to a convinced and comforted grandmother a sample of work that was already under way. Unfortunately the next day was not that vast, extraneous expanse of time to which I had feverishly looked forward. When it drew to a close, my laziness and my painful struggle to overcome certain internal obstacles had simply lasted twenty-four hours longer.

[ … ]

To my parents it seemed almost as though, idle as I was, I was leading, since it was spent in the same salon as a great writer, the life most favourable to the growth of talent. And yet the assumption that anyone can be dispensed from having to create that talent for himself, from within himself, and can acquire it from someone else, is as erroneous as to suppose that a man can keep himself in good health (in spite of neglecting all the rules of hygiene and of indulging in the worst excesses) merely by dining out often in the company of a physician.

[From In Search of Lost Time Vol.II]

He goes on (of course!), but it really is time I got some work done …

How to do what you need to do to achieve what you want to achieve? It’s summed up perfectly in this morning’s daily truthbomb (#193) from Danielle LaPorte:

Love the necessary hard work.

 

Nymphette, I think I love you

It’s getting close to the day I see a printed copy of the Biographical Dictionary back from the printers. As ever, excitement mixed with some trepidation, especially since I have not seen the proof.

I was looking for typographic adornments or glyphs to use in the design and found Nymphette. Perfectly named and perfectly shaped. Can’t wait to see it in print – for real.

Nymphette

Starting Over

The ability to start over, forgive (oneself and/or others) and move on: isn’t this at the heart of personal success, as well as the ongoing success/prosperity of nations?

An aside in Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, which I’ve just begun and is every bit as engrossing and electrifyingly well written as its predecessor, Wolf Hall, suddenly brought this to my mind. Cromwell, he, reflecting:

 A generation on, lapses must be forgiven, reputations remade, otherwise England cannot go forward, she will keep spiralling backwards into the dirty past.

Forget the past and you cannot learn from it, live in the past and you stagnate. Or, in terms of nationhood, the murderous stupidity of Pol Pot’s year zero or the disastrous consequences of the Kanun, the Law of Lek (Book 10, ch. 3) and the blood feud that can engulf families (even blight whole districts) for generations. This is the subject of Ismail Kadare’s excellent novel Broken Spring.

He not busy being born is busy dyin’ as Bob Dylan once wrote: well, it’s alright Ma, (I’m only bleeding). By coincidence, while writing this, the latest email from Chris Guillebeau (The Art of Non-Conformity) just dropped into my inbox, on ‘Destiny, Influence, and the Impossibility of Being Self-Taught, which ends:

The point is that we all learn from one another every day. You can learn to improve yourself, or to advance in a discipline. You can also pass on your knowledge and influence to others…

Things that seem small at first will come along and affect the remainder of our lives. Is it due to fate, chance, or destiny?

Sometimes it’s hard to say for sure. And does it really matter? Either way, lives are changed, and the next step is up to you.

Launch of ‘Birth of Albania’

It’s always good to see a project come to fruition, especially one that you – and many others – have put a lot of work into: in my case, the design and production of the book. So it was great to attend the launch party for The Birth of Albania at the Albanian Embassy in London last week.

Written by Nicola Guy, the book explores how an independent Albania first came into existence, and how later actions during and after the first World War by the Great Powers in partitioning ethnic Albanian territory gave rise to problems that are still unresolved.

Fittingly the book is published, by IB Tauris in association with The Centre For Albanian Studies, in the centenary year of the declaration of the Independence of Albania (from the Ottoman Empire), in Valona on November 28th 1912.

The book is set in Adobe Caslon Pro, a font that I think works really well for books. The front cover features a detail of an illustration originally used on the front cover of the Italian journal La Tribuna in 1914, and depicts the 1914 uprising.

In the photo above Noel Malcolm, Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College, is speaking, with His Excellency Mal Berisha, Charge d’Affaires at the Albanian Embassy in London, at left and the author, Nicola Guy, to the right of the picture.

Edward Lear in Albania

Happy Birthday Edward Lear. Google’s reminder that today is Edward Lear’s 200th birthday is a good prompt to get Edward Lear in Albania down off the shelves, a book I had the opportunity to produce for IB Tauris and The Centre for Albanian Studies. It’s one of the book designs I am most pleased with, and still the only one that has inspired a reader to enquire (via the publisher) what font is used: Goudy Old Style.

The book essentially covers the Albanian part of Lear’s Journals of a Landscape Painter in the Balkans, documenting the 15 months in 1848-9 this intrepid traveler spent exploring the countries around the Mediterranean.

In the journals and drawings he vividly describes the remote landscapes in which he traveled and the people he met along the way, and the pleasures – and many inconveniences – of journeying in such rugged and often perilous countryside.

Describing Albania, he writes

Luxury and inconvenience on the one hand, liberty, hard living and filth on the other.

Yenidje and Vodhena, drawn at the scene in pencil, later in the studio ‘penned out’ in sepia ink then coloured using watercolor washes, based on notes he had made at the scene:

Here, in the entry for October 4th, he describes the landscape around Skodra:

Perhaps the grandest of all the views of Skodra was from the rock eastward of the bazaars; the castle, the mountains above – the ruined town below – the river winding beneath its bridges into far distance, form one of the finest pictures. As the sun was sinking low, its rays, clouded through the day, lit up the northern side of the landscape brilliantly, and from the steep castle hill – my last halt – nothing could have been more splendid than the rich foliage and glittering dwellings on the one side and the dark ranges of deep blue and violet hills against the bright sky.

Edward Lear in Albania: Journals of a Landscape Painter in the Balkans