Arrábida Bridge, Porto

Porto’s beautifully elegant Arrábida Bridge (Ponte de Arrábida) carries motorway traffic over the River Douro on the western portion of the ring road around central Porto.

From the River Douro:-

Arrábida Bridge, Porto from River Douro

Photo from Wikipedia (taken from the Vila Nova de Gaia bank of the river Douro):-

Arrábida Bridge

Statue on top of bridge pillar:-

Arrábida Bridge, Porto, Statue

Support pillars and statue:-

Arrábida Bridge, Pillar and Statue

Close up on one of the bronze statues (from Wikipedia):-

Bronze Statue on Arrábida Bridge, Porto

Arrábida Bridge looking back towards Porto:-

Arrábida Bridge Looking Back to Porto

Ghostwritten by David Mitchell

A Novel in Nine Parts. Sceptre, 1999, 446 p.

Ghostwritten cover

The novel is true to its sub-title. The first eight parts are all narrated in the first person from the respective viewpoints of a brain-washed cult member, perpetrator of a gas attack in a Japanese subway (in thrall to His Serendipity); a young half-Korean worker in a Tokyo shop selling jazz records; a compromised English banker in Hong Kong; a woman whose misfortune it was to live in China through most of the Twentieth Century; a mind-dwelling entity who can transmigrate from person to person by touch; a gallery attendant in the Hermitage, St Petersburg, who is an agent of an art-stealing syndicate; a London-dwelling, womanising ghostwriter; a female Irish physicist with the key to making atomic weapons worthless; and to round off we have transcripts from the broadcasts of Night Train FM, 97.8 ‘til late. The last two are awfully familiar but I can’t put my finger on from where (beyond the section set in Ireland in the same author’s The Bone Clocks.)

At first the connections between the parts seem tenuous, that between one and two is a misplaced phone call, between two and three seems to be a reference to the couple embarking on a love affair in part two, but gradually, the more sections come into play, the more resonances between them build up. Still, the Queen Anne chair mentioned in Hong Kong and a biography of His Serendipity seem lobbed into the London section when they arrive, gratuitous intrusions; the Music of Chance is the name of the ghostwriter’s band but also occurs as a phrase in a later section. Each part, though, is wonderfully written, suspending disbelief is never difficult – except in the case of the transmigrating mind entity, an interpolation of the fantastic which seems at odds with the realistic tone of the other parts. But then we find the fulcrum on which the novel comes to turn is a process called quantum cognition. This is not merely smuggling quantum physics into the literary landscape but making it the book’s focus – a piece of bravery (or potential folly) in a first novel which almost makes the previous mind-hopping seem mundane. “Evolution and history are the bagatelle of particle waves,” is not the sort of comparison common in literary texts.

Asides like, “For a moment I had an odd sensation of being in a story that someone was writing,” or “I added ‘writers’ to my list of people not to trust. They make everything up,” is perhaps over-egging the pudding, however. “Humans live in a pit of cheating, exploiting, hurting, incarcerating. Every time, the species wastes some part of what it could be. This waste is poisonous,” is a pessimistic view of humanity. The last bit is always worth repeating, though.
The pessimism is carried on by phrases like, “‘Loving somebody’ means ‘wanting something’. Love makes people do selfish, moronic, cruel and inhumane things,” but “‘womanisers are victims – unable to communicate with women any other way. They either never knew their mother or never had a good relationship with her,’” is more compassionate. The killer line follows as the womaniser is told, ‘I don’t quite know what you want from us. But it’s something to do with approval.’”

At one point one of the narrators says, “Italians give their cities sexes…. London’s middle-aged and male, respectably married but secretly gay.” I suspect all cities are secretly gay. “The USA is even crazier than the rest of humanity,” is either a prescient thesis or one now in the process of hard testing.

Ghosts, of memories and of sentience, begin to permeate the book. “Memories are their own descendants masquerading as the ancestors of the present,” while, “The act of memory is an act of ghostwriting….. We all think we’re in control of our own lives, but really they’re pre-ghostwritten by forces around us,” which leads to, “The real drag about being a ghostwriter is you never get to write anything beautiful.” Pessimism again.

But, “Technology is repeatable miracles.” That is the age in which we live.

I read in a recent(ish) review (of Slade House?) the opinion that Ghostwritten is still the best Mitchell has done. Not for me, of the ones I have read that would be The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet but in Ghostwritten I found the intrusion of the fantastical elements took away from the whole. Perhaps if they had been fully present from the start – part one is in the viewpoint of a delusion sufferer, true, but it is only the later parts which suggest it may not be a delusion – I would have felt differently, but I suppose in that case Mitchell might not have found a publisher. It’s brilliantly written and the characterisation is superb, but paradoxically, I thought Ghostwritten came to something less than the sum of its parts.

Pedant’s corner:- “The rest of for ever in a cell” (forever,) in paper bag (in a paper bag,) the owner of the greengrocers across the street (greengrocer’s) he jubilated (as an example to be avoided of an alternative to “he said” that is an absolute cracker,) I stunk (stank,) flack (flak,) uppercutted (uppercut?) leeched (leached,) emporers (emperors,) wracked (racked,) a group of … were waiting (was,) “There are less than one hundred left” (fewer than,) noncorpi (Mitchell’s previous plural form for noncorpum was noncorpa.) “like a virus within a bacteria” (bacterium,) reindeers (reindeer,) Ulan-Bator (Ulan Bator,) more muscle that (than,) a trio were playing … (a trio was playing,) some passersbys (passersby,) Jesus’ (Jesus’s,) staunch (stanch,) acquatic (aquatic,) the only good thing about Oxford Street are (things; or “is”,) I’d betted (bet – used 12 lines above!) Kyrgistan (nowadays spelled Kyrgyztan,) scaley (scaly,) wrapped into ((wrapped in,) Maise (Maisie – but it may have been an affectionate diminutive,) “A Lighter Shade of Pale” (Whiter,) “ ‘We skipped the last fandango” (light fandango.) “The only words for technology is “here”, or “not here” (The only words are,) “in Dr Bell and my case” (in Dr Bell’s and my case,) the aerobatic corp (corps,) practise (practice,) Freddy Mercury (Freddie,) coup d’etats (coups d’etat,) the Brunei’s (the Bruneis.)

From the River Douro, Porto

Concrete tower. This was just beyond the Ponte de São João. It looks a bit like an aircraft control tower but there wasn’t an airport nearby:-

Concrete Tower, Porto

Multi-chimneyed building:-

Multi-chimneyed Building Porto

River bank Church. Note tiles on gable end facing the river:-

River Bank Church, Porto

River boats, buildings and Igreja de Santa Clara Church on hill crest:-

Buildings and Church, Porto

Igreja de Santa Clara Church on centre-left of photo:-

Igreja de Santa Clara Church, Porto

Port warehouses and old style boats:

Buildings 27 Warehouses + boats

On the hill here can be seen a dome that we were told by the river-tour guide was the only building left from an Exhibition that had been held in Porto:-

Exhibition Dome, Porto again

Buildings 25 Dome

Beyond the Arrábida Bridge before we had to turn back we got a view of the mouth of the river Douro as it meets the Atlantic:-

Mouth of River Douro, near Porto

Earth from Saturn

A stunning picture of Saturn’s rings backlit by the sun from yesterday‘s Astronomy Picture of the Day. And between them the spot of light is Earth with the tiny pinprick to its left, the Moon.

This is a view that would have been difficult to imagine seeing when I was a lad.

Between the Rings

On the River, Porto

Bank of River Douro, Porto, Dom Luís I Bridge to left of photo:-

Bank of River Douro, Porto

Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, Porto, Dom Luís I Bridge to extreme right:-

Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, Porto

Yacht on river:-

aBuildings 20 yacht  river bank

Riverside buildings and river cruise boats:-

Buildings 21 river bank

Another river cruise boat. Its inhabitants must have been visiting the port warehouses along the banks as they were in singing mood!:-

river cruise boat

More buildings, Arrábida Bridge in background:-

Buildings , Porto and Arrábida Bridge

Live It Up 36: Warm Wet Circles

A piece of late flowering Fish-era Marillion, the third single from Clutching at Straws, the last album to feature Fish as singer and lyricist.

Marillion: Warm Wet Circles

Down by the Riverside, Porto

I took this photo of the Arrábida Bridge (of which more later) from the road above the north bank of the River Douro before we found the starting point for the boat trip:-

Arrábida Bridge, Porto from North Bank

And I took this zoom from the bank itself:-

Arrábida Bridge Zoom

River bank buildings hard by the Dom Luís I Bridge:-

River Bank Buildings, Porto

Other river bank buildings:-

Buildings by River Douro, Porto

Heritage Tram, Porto:-

Heritage Tram, Porto

This bridge seemed to take a road out over the river,* presumably because the houses were right on the bank and allowed no room:-

Bridge Over River Bank, Porto

Cable cars. They seemed to come down from near the Dom Luís I Bridge:-

Cable Cars, Porto

*Edited to add:- it’s called the Viaduto do Caias das Pedras.

Ponte de São João (St John’s Bridge) Porto

Back to more pleasant things.

This is the Ponte de São João or St John’s Bridge in Porto which appeared in the background of my photos of the Maria Pia Bridge and replaced it as a carrier of rail traffic across the River Douro.

Ponte de São João (St John's Bridge) Porto

It’s another elegant concrete structure:-

Under St John's Bridge, Porto

If you look to the left of the bridge support in the above photos you can see kilns. Those brown things look like kilns anyway. This closer view also shows the nice arches on the river embankment:-

Ponte de São João and Kilns, Porto

Bow Down. Know Your Place!

I have scarcely been disturbed so much by a British Prime Minister’s address than I was today by Theresa May.

The tone of her speech announcing her snap decision to have a General Election reminded me of nothing so much as President Erdoğan of Turkey who promised to ignore criticism by international observers of the recent referendum “result” in that country.

The way in which this has been greeted shows that the Fixed Parliament Act is not worth the paper it is written on. If a Prime Minister can just announce an election any time and everyone strings merrily along what was the point of it? Jeremy Corbyn’s acquiescence to the prospect merely gives him the opportunity to write his own long suicide note.

It makes a complete mockery of the electoral process – and to any objections Tories in Scotland may have to a second Scottish Independence Referendum on the grounds of weariness with ballots, or unripe time. The pretence that this is about anything other than embedding May’s own grip on the Prime Ministership is as breathtaking as it is mendacious.

And how can we believe anything she now says? This is something she emphasised she would not do and yet…. (OK she is a politician but this is brazen beyond belief.)

But none of that is my main concern. May’s line that “there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,” is truly chilling. She is effectively saying that there should be no quibbling with her policies, that everyone should do as she says.

This is not any kind of democracy that I know.

Does she not believe in opposition? That those who do not agree with her have not just a right, but a duty, to speak out? (And to be represented in Parliament.)

It would seem, from her own words, that she does not.

This is the stance of a dictator.

So. “All hail Theresa Erdoğan, saviour of the nation.”

NAT TATE An American Artist 1928 – 1960 by William Boyd

21 Publishing Ltd, 1998, 71 p.

NAT TATE cover

Complete with cover flap comments from David Bowie and Gore Vidal attesting to its subject’s importance this is an account of forgotten US artist Nathwell ‘Nat’ Tate, whose final artistic act was to burn as many of his works as he had managed to lay hands on (“perhaps a dozen survive”) before committing suicide by jumping off the Staten Island Ferry. The usual biographical conditions apply, obscure origins, father unknown, mother died young, adoption by her rich employer (emphatically not Tate’s father but an avid admirer and buyer of his work,) an influential teacher at Art School, chance viewing of his work by the founder of a gallery, socialising with other artists, the development of his style – aslant to that of his contemporaries and details of which Boyd provides – descent into alcohol, meetings with Picasso and Braque, disillusionment. The text is interspersed with photographs of three of the surviving paintings and various important stages of Tate’s life, four of which depict Tate but in only one is the adult artist the sole subject. Boyd gives us a convincing, if short, portrait of an artist and his life.

Yet the story of Tate is of course entirely fictitious. Not fictional, such biographies imagining the circumstances and lives of real people abound, but fictitious. Tate never existed. He is a total invention by Boyd.

On the book’s publication in 1998 the cover picture, containing as it does a cropped version of that black and white photograph of the adult “Tate” obviously photoshopped over a coloured one of New York, might have provided a clue to those not in on the joke but anyone at all familiar with Boyd’s work coming to it post hoc would be immediately aware of its confected nature on its first mention of Logan Mountstuart, protagonist of the author’s 2002 novel Any Human Heart. Boyd would also employ photographs to an equally verisimilituding end within the text of his 2016 novel Sweet Caress.

A hint of Boyd’s purpose in writing this book (apart from sending up the hagiographic artistic biography of the forgotten genius) may be gleaned from the passage where there are speculations on possible reasons for “Tate”’s destruction of his work and his suicide. “Tate was one of those rare artists who did not need, and did not seek, the transformation of his painting into a valuable commodity to be bought and sold on the whim of a market and its marketeers. He had seen the future and it stank.”
Pedant’s corner:- “the layers of white turps-thinned paint that was repeatedly laid over them” (Boyd treats this as if paint is the subject of the verb laid; that subject is in fact layers, hence “were laid”,) swop (swap.)

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