Sunday, September 29, 2013

Nostalgia for the Light

The Atacama desert: a 'vast open book of memory' whose clear skies have allowed astronomers to look back in time to uncover the origins of the universe, whilst archaeologists excavate human remains from pre-Columbian times miraculously preserved in the arid climate.  But it is also a place where women come to search for traces of their husbands, murdered by the Pinochet regime and disposed of at unrecorded sites, whose locations must still be known to those involved.  Patricio Guzmán's acclaimed documentary Nostalgia for the Light (2010) contrasts these researches into our distant past with the difficulties in uncovering Chile's buried history.  Not far from the observatories there is an old nineteenth century mining camp, whose remoteness and cramped old huts required only the addition of barbed wire for its conversion into a concentration camp after the 1973 coup.  The film interviews an architect and former prisoner who memorised its dimensions and exact layout so that if he was released he would be able to draw and bear witness to what he had experienced there.  At another camp, a doctor with some knowledge of astronomy taught a small group of fellow prisoners about the stars.  One of them remembers how "observing the sky and the stars, marvelling at the constellations, we felt completely free."  The military put a stop to this, convinced that the prisoners might be able to escape, guided by the constellations.

The fortieth anniversary of the coup was marked last week by the Whitechapel Gallery with a showing of Compañero: Víctor Jara of Chile (1975).  This deeply affecting documentary was built around an interview with Joan Jara, who fled to England with her two young daughters after the killing of her husband.  The evening also included readings and short film clips, beginning with a sequence from Nostalgia for the Light in which leaves blowing outside an old Santiago house turn into a galaxy of dust motes.  Watching this, memories stirred in me too, from a period when my wife was interviewing victims of the dictatorship as part of the legal team trying to have Pinochet extradited to Spain or prosecuted in England.  A few years after that, work took me to Chile and I went to visit Pablo Neruda's house, La Chascona, which he designed to resemble a boat and evoke ideas of water and the sea.  As journalist Jollyon Attwooll writes, 'the house's original plot of land had streams and a waterfall that so captivated Neruda and his wife they felt compelled to buy it, and, as the house took shape, water was diverted to flow right outside the galley-like dining room'.  On the day of the coup La Chascona was raided 'and the running water that had at first so charmed Neruda was used to flood the house.'  All these years later, we still do not know whether Neruda, who died a few days later, was poisoned.  Whilst the bones of the great poet are being examined now by toxicologists, lawyers are pursuing a new case against Victor Jara's alleged killer.  His widow Joan, like the women searching the desert in Nostalgia for the Light, refuses to let the past be forgotten: “we want to shine a light on the severe human rights abuses from this era and bring those responsible to justice.”

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The emptiness of fullness

'Sonata for Piano and Vacuum Cleaner' can be found towards the end of The Hall of Uselessness, the new volume of collected essays by Simon Leys, in a section entitled, 'Marginalia'.  In it, Leys tells of the revelation experienced by Glenn Gould when a maid switched on the hoover as he was trying to play the piano: the music could still be felt in his fingers and even sounded 'better' than it had without the vacuum cleaner.  Leys goes on to mention the profundity achieved by Beethoven, composing in his deafness, and Monet painting his waterlillies through eyes half blinded with cataracts.  These examples are very familiar, but perhaps less so is that of the literati painter and art historian Huang Binhong (1865-1955) who, like Monet, continued to paint in old age as his eyesight failed.  Leys writes that though Huang 'could not see the actual effects of his brushstrokes, he relied on the rhythmic sequence of the calligraphic brushwork, which he had mastered through the daily exercise of a lifetime.  For him, painting had disappeared as a visual experience, but it remained as a vital breathing of his whole being. In their fierce blackness these late landscapes of Huang Binhong are to the eye what the harsh complexity of Beethoven's quartets are to the ear.'

In a recent article on the artist David A. Ross goes further and compares the late 'black Binhongs' to the 'sheets of sound employed by John Coltrane or the feedback squalls of Jimi Hendrix.' Whilst a whole tradition of artists since the Song era used minimalist means to express 'the Daoist paradox of an infinitely full emptiness', Huang 'aimed to express not the fullness of emptiness but the emptiness of fullness and to this end evolved a style that was just the opposite of minimalist: dense, layered, self-impacted, black in the literal sense.'  Sometimes Huang would apply dozens of layers of ink.  At the end of his life he painted landscapes of Hangzhou which were more about the beauty of the brushstrokes than the reality of any particular scene.  Simon Leys likens Huang's daily practice in calligraphy to that of the guqin masters, who occasionally played 'silent zither', practicing a piece by fingering the whole composition without ever  touching the instrument's strings.  Leys concludes his text with an anecdote about Tao Yuanming, the great fifth century poet whose landscape poetry I have discussed here before.  When people asked why he carried around a stringless zither he said "I seek only the inspiration that lies within the zither.  Why should I strain myself on its strings?" 

I couldn't find non-copyright examples of Huang Binhong paintings to include here, so I have illustrated this post with details from Chinese postage stamps produced in his honour in 1996. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

A mythical whirlpool, coiling beneath the surface of the lake

Tacita Dean describes her latest film JG as an attempt to solve the mystery of Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, a challenge posed by J. G. Ballard in a letter he sent her not long before his death.  Having watched it today I can report that the mystery remains and the film deepens it.  As a work of landscape art it is rewarding enough: turquoise pools, salt encrusted shorelines, shifts in scale from a beetle on the sand to a distant train passing into the grey hills.  But the film's originality and its blurring of any specific sense of time and space are achieved through the application of Dean's 'aperture gate masking process'.  This is described at the Frith Street Gallery site as analogous to a form of stenciling, allowing 'her to use different shaped masks to expose and re-expose the negative within a single film frame. This requires running the unexposed film through the camera multiple times, giving each frame the capacity to traverse time and location in ways that parallel the effects of Ballard’s fiction and Smithson’s earthwork and film. Among the masks used in JG is one that references the template and sprocket holes of a strip of 35mm Ektachrome slide film. The accidental black of the unexposed outlines of the other masks—a range of abstract and organic forms that suggest mountain horizons, planets, pools, and Smithson’s Jetty, appear to be traced by hand' (Frith Street Gallery).

Anyone who felt slightly underwhelmed by Tacita Dean's installation at Tate Modern in 2011 (Film), which explored some of these techniques, will, I think, be much more impressed with how they have been used in JG.  In a short Guardian interview with Adrian Searle you can see, for example, at 1 min 44, one of the semi-abstract compositions created through this process: a panoramic saltscape overlayed with three circular images that may be close-ups of rock particles (it is hard to judge).  There is an indefinable strangeness to some of these sequences, as if a view is being overwritten with the after-image of some other place.  Sound is used to telling effect throughout the film, as you would expect from Tacita Dean's previous work.  Back in 1997 she approached Robert Smithson's submerged land art through a soundwork, Trying to find the Spiral Jetty (not so hard these days, as she says in that interview, now that there is a road sign pointing to it).  In JG you hear lapping water, buzzing flies and slide projector clicks, occasionally interrupted by words: "If only one could rewind this spiral it would play back to us a picture of all the landscapes it has ever seen."

The film's deserts, lakes and salt formations evoke the parched, drowned and crystalline worlds of Ballards fiction.  There are explicit references to 'The Voices of Time' (which Robert Smithson had read), in which a character constructs a giant mandala in the landscape. Re-reading this story just now, the correspondences with Spiral Jetty are obvious: 'He turned the car off the road along the track leading towards the target range.  On either side of the culvert the cliff faces boomed and echoed with vast impenetrable time fields, like enormous magnets.  As he finally emerged between them on to the flat surface of the lake it seemed to Powers that he could feel the separate identity of each sand-grain and salt crystal calling to him from the surrounding hills.  He parked his car beside the mandala and walked slowly towards the concrete rim curving away into the shadows.  Above him he could see the stars, a million cosmic voices that crowded the sky from one horizon to the next, a true canopy of time...'

Tacita Dean has written at the Pew Centre for Arts & Heritage that both Spiral Jetty and 'The Voices of Time' 'have an analog heart, not just because they were made or written when spooling and reeling were the means to record and transmit images and sound, but because their spiraling is analogous to time itself.  Ballard proposed that it was a clock that berthed at Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, which, he imagined, would have brought the gift of time to the Utah desert, whereas time is counting down inside the laboratories of his own fictional world. While Smithson’s jetty spiraled downward in the artist’s imagination through layers of sedimentation and prehistory, in ancient repetition of a mythical whirlpool, coiling beneath the surface of the lake to the origins of time in the core of the earth below, the mandala in 'The Voices of Time' is its virtual mirror, kaleidoscoping upwards into cosmic integration and the tail end of time.'

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Yesterday we went down to the Isle of Dogs, where the great brick sugar warehouses on the side of West India Docks have for the last decase housed the Docklands museum.  This summer they have mounted their first exhibition of contemporary art, perhaps inspired by the excellent art programme at the National Maritime Museum (Dan Holdsworth, High Arctic, Ansel Adams).  As Ken Worpole says in his review on Caught by the River, Estuary is terrific stuff: 'there’s a real feel for the wind and the waves, and the smack of saltwater in nearly every contribution. Its success may encourage the transformation of the Docklands Museum into a major new public gallery for contemporary work about this great historical mind-altering space.'  I hope so, although there were hardly any other visitors there yesterday (in contrast to the opening night, which Ken says was 'awash with beer, champagne and oysters').  This did mean however that I was able to enjoy alone the full 18 minutes of John Smith's beautiful installation film Horizon, a really impressive piece of work commissioned by Margate Contemporary last year.

As you enter the exhibition you encounter two of Jock McFadyen's panoramic views of the A13 hinterland and Michael Andrews' last completed work, Thames Painting: The Estuary (1994-5), which conveys the action of water on sand by mixing ash into diluted paint.  Other works document the course of the Thames in photographs and photogravures: the decaying seaforts, redundent industrial land ripe for urban regeneration, detritus washed up on the margins of the river, old ships sinking into the mud. You can watch William Raban's excellent Thames Film, which I described here three years ago, a fast-forward trip (Jaunt) from Southend to the Houses of Parliament by Andrew Kötting, who recently collaborated with Iain Sinclair on Swandown, and a long sequence by Nikolaj B. S. Larsen documenting the working life of the river.  Most enjoyable of all, there is footage of The Bow Gamelan Ensemble from 1985, performing 51º 29'.9"North - 0º11' East, Rainham Barges, bashing out music from makeshift instruments at the river's edge as the tide rises and night falls.  I'll end here with a clip from Youtube capturing the group members at that time (the Ensemble disbanded in 1990), talking rubbish.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Entertained with a rainbow

In an earlier post here I mentioned the chapter Edward Thomas devoted to John Aubrey in The Literary Pilgrim in England and his praise for the way Aubrey's description of places isolate telling details.  'Who but Aubrey would have noticed and entered in a book the spring after the fire of London "all the ruins were overgrown with an herb or two, but especially with a yellow flower, Ericolevis Neapolitana."' This attention to the more curious or illuminating facets of what he was writing about have made his biographical notes published posthumously as Brief Lives far more popular than many worthy but dull works by his contemporaries.  It occurred to me, browsing through a volume of these just now, that I might highlight here three of his subjects who had some connection with three of the arts of landscape: drawing, poetry and garden design.

Wenceslaus Hollar, St. Martin's Cathedral in Mainz, 1632

Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-77) was a Bohemian engraver, known now for his panoramic views of London. 'He told me,' writes Aubrey, 'that when he was a schoolboy he took a delight in drawing of maps; which drafts he kept, and they were pretty.  He was designed by his father to have been a lawyer, and was put to that profession, when his father's troubles, together with the wars, forced him to leave his country.  So that what he did for his delight and recreation only when a boy, proved to be his livelihood when a man.'  Hollar's talents were spotted by the Earl of Arundel, who engaged him as a draughtsman.  He travelled to Vienna with the Earl, 'very well clad', to 'take views, landscapes, buildings, etc remarkable in their journey, which we see now at the print shops.'  In 1637 he came with the Earl to England and 'at Arundel House, he married my lady's waiting woman, Mrs Tracy, by whom he has a daughter, that was one of the greatest beauties I have ever seen; his son by her died in the plague, an ingenious youth, who drew delicately.'

Hollar, we are told, was very shortsighted and his landscapes were done in such detail that they are 'not to be judged without a magnifying glass.'  During the Civil War he lived in Antwerp but returned in 1652.  'I remember he told me that when he first came into England (which was a serene time of peace) that the people, both poor and rich, did look cheerfully, but at his return, he found the countenances of the people all changed, melancholy, spiteful, as if bewitched.'  Hollar himself 'was a very friendly good natured man as could be, but shiftless as to the world [careless in his affairs] and died not rich.'

Wenceslaus Hollar, Landscape Face, unknown date

Sir John Denham (1615-69) is of interest here as the author of 'Cooper's Hill' (1642), the first English topographical poem.  Aubrey writes that at Oxford University, the young Denham 'would game extremely; when he had played away all his money, he would play away his father's wrought rich gold cups. ... From Trinity College he went to Lincoln's Inn, where (as Judge Wadham Windham, who was his contemporary, told me) he was as good a student as any in the house.'  Nevertheless, on one occasion 'having been merry at a tavern with his comrades, late at night, a frolic came into his head, to get a plasterer's brush and a pot of ink, and blot out all the signs between Temple Bar and Charing Cross' (they were caught - 'this I had from R. Estcott, esquire, who carried the inkpot').

Denham's play The Sophy was a huge success - the poet 'Mr Edmund Waller said then of him, that he '"broke out like the Irish Rebellion."'  His poem 'Cooper's Hill' was published after the Battle of Edgehill 'in a sort of brown paper, for then they could get no better.'  As a Royalist, Denham was not welcome during the Commonwealth but returned from abroad and eventually became Surveyor of the King's Work. 'In 1665 he married his second wife, a [Margaret] Brookes, a very beautiful young lady; Sir John was ancient and limping.  The Duke of York fell deeply in love with her, though (I have been morally assured) he never had carnal knowledge of her.  This occasioned Sir John Denham's distemper of madness ... but it pleased God that he was cured of this distemper, and wrote excellent verses, particularly on the death of Mr Abraham Cowley, afterwards.  His second lady had no child; was poisoned by the hands of the Countess of Rochester with chocolate.'

Aubrey gives us some details of Denham's physical appearance: thin hair, a slow gait, tall but 'a little incurvetting at his shoulders, not very robust.'  He 'was satirical when he had a mind to it' and 'his eye was a kind of light goose-grey, not big; but it had a strange piercingness, not as to shining and glory, but (like a Momus) when he conversed with you he looked into your very thoughts.'  He describes the delight Denham took in the landscape around his home - Camomile Hill, 'from the camomile that grows their naturally', and Prunewell Hill, 'where was a fine tuft of trees, a clear spring, and a pleasant prospect to the east.'  This house was near Cooper's Hill, 'incomparably well described by that sweet swan, Sir John Denham.'

Thomas Bushell (1594-1674) was a servant of Francis Bacon, from whom he learnt the science of metallurgy, and whose writings inspired him, after Bacon's death in 1626, to live for three years on the Isle of Lundy as a hermit.  Having married and moved to Oxfordshire, he designed for himself an extraordinary grotto with elaborate water features, including a silver ball that rose and fell on a jet of water and a sequence of fountains designed to surprise the ladies as they walked over them.  Aubrey says that it faced south 'so that when it artificially rains upon the turning of a cock [tap], you are entertained with a rainbow.  In a very little pond (no bigger than a basin) opposite to the rock, and hard by, stood (1643, August 8) a Neptune, neatly cut in wood, holding his trident in his hand, and aiming with it at a duck which perpetually turned round him, and a spaniel swimming after her.'  Bushell lived above this grotto in three rooms, one painted with Biblical stories concerning water, another with the story of Christ told in wall hangings and the third, a hermit's cell, hung in black baize.  In 1636 Bushell presented his 'Rock' to King Charles and Henrietta Maria to the accompaniment of music - Aubrey unhelpfully notes that 'I remember the student of Christ Church which sang the songs (I now forget his name)'. 

A year after the royal visit, Bushell was made King's farmer of minerals in Wales and spent the rest of his career putting Bacon's science into practise in a series of mining schemes. 'He had so delicate a way of making his projects alluring and feasible, profitable, that he drew to his baits not only rich men of no design, but also the craftiest knaves in the country ... As he had the art of running into debt, so sometimes he was attacked and thrown into prison; but he would extricate himself again strangely.'  Aubrey relates that after offending parliament or Cromwell, Bushell hid at his house in Lambeth Marsh, dating his letters as if they had been sent from overseas.  He had a room there hung all in black, with a painted skeleton and 'an emaciated dead man stretched out.  Here he had several mortifying and divine mottoes (he imitated his lord [Bacon] as much as he could) and out of his windows a very pleasant prospect.'  He was, according to Aubrey, 'a handsome proper gentleman when I saw him at his house aforesaid at Lambeth.  He was about 70, but I should not have guessed him hardly 60.  He had a perfectly healthy constitution; fresh, ruddy, face; hawk-nosed, and was temperate.'
Engraving showing Thomas Bushell's hermitage at Enstone,
from Robert Plot's Natural History of Oxfordshire, 1677.
(Aubrey read this and modelled his own unfinished book about Wiltshire on it)

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Connemara: The Last Pool of Darkness

And so, after my last two posts on Aran and the Burren, I come to Connemara, the third of Tim Robinson's ‘ABC of earth-wonders’, and the subject of his great topographical trilogy. In a review of the second volume, Connemara: The Last Pool of Darkness, Robert Macfarlane describes Robinson's method.  'Each intricately structured chapter of the book begins in or at a specific Connemara place, before gyring off into history, metaphysics, politics, ecology, geology. Robinson weaves the stories and actions of smugglers, fabulists, priests, landowners, actors, farmers, fishermen, poets, herbalists, talkers, industrialists and entrepreneurs — the cast of people who comprise the alternative history of the region.'  Our brief visit to Connemara was always going to seem superficial in comparison to the depth of study and years of conversations and exploration that have gone into these books.  We came back with impressions of the landscape but a richer sense of place would have required a serious investment of time.  In the final volume, Connemara: A Little Gaelic Kingdom, Robinson says that 'often when visitors ask me what they should see in this region I am at a loss. A curious hole in the ground? The memory of an old song about a drowning? Ultimately I have to tell them that this is a land without shortcuts.' 

At Roundstone on our way to the beach at Dog's Bay, we went down to the quay to see if we could identify Tim Robinson's house and the Folding Landscapes studio that he runs with his wife (they are described in the the first volume of Connemara).  But my young sons were keen to get on to the beach - a place of bones according to Robinson, consisting of the shards of mollusc shells and exoskeletons of foraminifera, under which there are the traces of Neolithic settlement.  There, with the sun out, a fresh breeze blowing in from the Atlantic, and children happily splashing in the surf I wondered if it was better just to lie back and put the book aside.  Towards the end of Connemara: The Last Pool of Darkness there is a poignant moment of doubt when Robinson watches some young girls swimming in the sea and envies their 'unreflecting immersion in the flux of the world'.  But there in the waves he sees a luminous detail - orange-red thong weed coiling round the jelly-fish like entities known as 'by-the-wind sailors' - and the landscape, an interlacing of history and nature, suddenly feels enhanced and enchanted.  He decides that this is a vindication of his ways.

The Connemara books are in part a memoir of Robinson's map making days in the seventies and eighties, when he first explored Aran, the Burren and Connemara, trying to establish the names for every lake and island, seeking out and pinpointing tombs and burial sites, cairns, limekilns, stone huts and ancient cooking places.  We found these maps invaluable but seductive (at one point on Inis Meáin I decided to allay complaints on a walk by suggesting we explore a nearby cave marked on his map, but soon realised my mistake, shoulder deep in brambles, with no clue as to what it looked like or whether in fact it might now be half buried or inaccessible).  In Connemara: A Little Gaelic Kingdom, Robinson talks about his particular compulsion to trace holy wells that can be found on the shore, mere puddles of rainwater, but formed by erosion of cracks in the rock to form perfect triangles that came to be seen as the work of saints, and, by Robinson, as 'paradigmatic places or nodes of being'.  These are 'the purest springs of what makes Connemara itself.'  Their three sides echo the dimensions of place that Robinson has explored in Connemara: 'the intimacy of settlement with wilderness, the persistence of the deep past, and the echoing treasure house of its language.'

These photographs of Connemara are from our holiday, August 2013

Monday, September 02, 2013

The Burren

Seamus Heaney has died and, if I may borrow some links from Arts & Letters Daily, you can read tributes everywhere: NY Times, Irish Times, Boston Globe, Telegraph, Dan Chiasson, Chronicle of Higher Ed, Poetry, Sean Brady, Daily Beast, Guardian, LA Times, Henri Cole, Boston Review...  Back in January I wrote here about the treatment of landscape in some of his poems.  One of these was  'Postscript', which describes a drive to the Flaggy Shore: 'the ocean on one side is wild / With foam and glitter, / and inland among stones / The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit / By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans.'  A fortnight ago we were on this very road, led by Heaney's poem in the hope of experiencing a landscape epiphany, although when we stopped the car (ignoring the poet's advice) it was spitting with rain and the swans looked forlorn under dark clouds, floating around on the muddy brown water.  But our few days in the Burren also yielded moments of joyous surprise, like the realisation that we had a sunlit limestone pavement all to ourselves, stretching away to the sea, a moment to 'catch the heart off guard and blow it open.'

The Burren, as Robert Macfarlane says in The Wild Places, 'rises, silver, in the north of County Clare, on the mid-west coast of Ireland.  Its name comes from the Gaelic boireann, meaning 'rocky place', and the region is so called because most of its surface is made up of smoothed limestone, intercut with bands of clay and shale.'  I think one of the reasons we went there this summer was that it has featured so often on this blog, as the subject of film, art, music and literature.  I thought therefore I would return here to those old posts, beginning with the most recent, Field Notes, on the writings of Richard Skelton and Autumn Richardson.  There I mentioned The Flowering Rock, 'a new collection of poems describing the landscape of the Burren: madder and thrift, eyebright and hart's tongue living in the seams between the shattered rocks; beneath them, arterial passages where the 'wailing notes / of water and wind' create 'hollow songs / of hollow hills.''  As I write this I'm listening to 'Of the Sea' from Verse of Birds, the album that was composed in response to this landscape.

Last October, in Wild Track, I talked about Pat Collins' film Silence in which the protagonist, a field recordist, sets up his microphone at Mullaghmore (above) before moving on to locations further north.  The film recently came out on general release and has received muted praised, although Philip French, in one of his last reviews for the Observer, saw nothing in it that that would stick in his memory.  The most fatuous comment I've seen was the FT''s suggestion that you 'think of Brian De Palma’s Blow Out, then imagine it refilmed by a team of Trappist monks.'  Look instead at the BFI site, which has a Sight and Sound review by Mark Sinker and an appreciative article by Geoff Andrew

In a post about Jeremy Deller's inflatable Stonehenge last summer I mentioned that there had been some controversy over its resemblance to 'a 2010 work by Jim Ricks, the Poulnabrone Bouncy Dolmen, a twice-scale replica of the megalithic portal tomb in the Burren; but it all got sorted out amicably.  Perhaps we need more of these structures, hyperreal bouncy simulacra at every prehistoric site, leaving the actual stones to become poetic, overgrown ruins again.'  As you can see (below) we got to see the real Dolmen, albeit roped off.  Running round it proved almost as much fun as the bouncy Stonehenge, although it is easy to lose your footing among the clints and grykes (there were tears before we left).

There is another passing reference to this part of the world in my post Theoryscapes, describing a seminar on landscape theory that was held in 2006 at the Burren College of Art.  The focus of discussion was on culture and geography generally, rather than the specific qualities of the Burren.  However, it is relevant to distinctions between land and landscape: the participants recognised that there has been a long history of habitation here - it is not simply a starkly beautiful wilderness - and that this part of Ireland has been important in resisting British rule and preserving the language. Nevertheless the seminar leader, art writer James Elkins, detected in his colleagues an intoxication in their experience of the Burren that he ascribed to 'our not-so-secret addiction' to 'ideas of landscape articulated by the romantics, and more directly to second-, third-generation, regional, local and belated romantic Western landscape painters, filmmakers and photographers.'

Rebecca Solnit was one of the participants in that seminar, but she had visited the area previously, as described in A Book of MigrationsOn that earlier trip she couldn't fail to be struck by the Burren's strange hills, resembling topographical maps, 'eroded into ledges or sills as regular as elevation lines'.  However, she obviously had miserable weather and felt that the influence of tourism and the efforts of environmental campaigners was turning an old 'local' place into something 'almost exclusively exotic'.  In my post I quoted what she had to say about the Cliffs of Moher, just to the south of the Burren, seeing there, 'a deeper blue than my own churning gray Pacific, blue as though different dreams had been dumped into it, blue as ink.  I imagined filling a fountain pen with it and wondered what one would write with that ocean.'  This passage had slipped my mind when we visited the cliffs, but I was so struck by the colour of the Atlantic there that I took a photograph of it...

Finally, back in 2007, in The Wildness of the Gryke, I quoted a review of Robert Macfarlane's Wild Places and made a connection with Auden and his poem
‘In Praise of Limestone’ (1948).  In his chapter on the Burren, Macfarlane talks about the special qualities of its rock.  'Limestone's solubility in water means that any fault-lines in the original rock get slowly deepened by a process of soft liquid wear.  In this way, the form into which limestone grows over time is determined by its first flaws. For Auden, this was a human as well as a geological quality: he found in limestone an honesty - an acknowledgement that we are as defined by our faults as by our substance.'

All photographs from our holiday, August 2013