Friday, 24 March 2023

Wisdom Of The Elders - Memory


This most excellent book bag was found hanging on a rack outside a bookshop I passed the other day. Apart from the reminder that there's no time for frivolities like twirling wreathes with a BFF when there's a book within reach, Your Correspondent thought it was time to dip into our rich medieval past and share some more nuggets of wisdom from our elders. If your memory is getting a little rusty then you are in luck today for Jacobus Publicius shares some memory enhancing tips from 1482.

For example: The tongue of a hoopoe, given to a forgetful person, will restore memory. 

Nota bene: no cooking instructions were given.

Fear not, we are not immersing ourselves bodily into the murky and uncharted waters of Latin texts, for I do profess ignorance of these matters; I merely provide this teaser page as both illustration of the lost art of beautiful typography and to show Mr. Publicius' popular and influential late-C15th treatise Ars Oratoria. Ars Epistolandi. Ars Memorativa, is no trifling matter!

His mnemonic alphabet (sampled above) could be the subject for another day, but we'll presently eschew the book's coverage of memory techniques as applied by the lofty ancients. Since he was a physician, the choice nuggets will instead come from his medical and dietary advice for improving memory, for goodness knows we could all do with some help in that department.

Pick and choose from the following regime, as you see fit, Dear Reader, of tips to keep your brain's psychical pneuma serene, lucid and clear and thus stave off a languid and dull memory*:

  • Moderate sleep at night.
  • Avoid midday snoozing. If you can't help it then sleep in bare feet as the thick soles of shoes will reflect harmful vapours back into the brain and eyes of one who slumbers deeply.
  • Keep your head moderately covered with cloths, according to the season, as both excessive heat and cold dulls the mind with stupidity.
  • Sleeping on one's back, thus warming the kidneys beyond what is reasonable, is a most harmful enemy of the mind. Men should sleep then on their side or tummy. Sleeping on one's back is fine, however, for women and for nocturnal delusions and pollutions**.
  • Upon rising, purge your body's channels with expectoration and motion. Then rub your head with an ivory comb and a rough, coarse rag.
  • After ablutions, swallow six raisins and as many juniper berries. This will do for breakfast.
  • A bit of exercise, then on to lunch. You don't want your wine too vehement, lest it inflames the blood, so light wine only or diluted with water.
  • Boiled meat then roast meat, in that order.
  • To avoid your stomach emitting the vapours from the digesting meat, clouding the mind and intellect and eliciting sleep, you need to close your stomach's opening. A list of fruits and nuts qualified in this respect can be furnished upon request.
  • Avoid horseradish, garlic, onion and leek as they are the enemy of memory.
  • Avoid noxious odours, they are harmful to the brain.
  • Keep your head and feet very clean with a decoction of water boiled with honey, bay leaves, and stems of fennel and chamomile.
  • The dulling of the mind can be alleviated by the sneezing caused by mustard, pepper and castoreum, and by the chewing of oregano, stavesacre and caper root.
  • Exercising some more at dusk and at night in the manner of the Pythagoreans is a great help to the memory and to the human mind and intellect. It's not specified if this is physical exercise or mathematical gaieties, so try either or both!
I do hope this unsolicited 500-year-old advice is found valuable, Dear Reader!

* I am quoting liberally here from the Henry Bayerle translation in The Medieval Craft of Memory: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures, 2002 edited by Mary Carruthers and Jan P. Ziolkowski.

** There are also provided the typical Pythagorean cautions against, ahem, immoderate coitus, but we don't speak of such stuffs around here.

Image credits: 1: Flying With Hands; 2: Royal Collection Trust; 3, 4: Internet Archive

Wednesday, 15 March 2023

Rust(ic) Scenes

The past couple of weeks we've had a bit of to-ing and fro-ing. Some out-of-town variety has lent spice to the season, it being the time for we Pisceans to have their moment. We've enjoyed both a lovely coastal visit to stay with family (prawns and oysters, tick!), and then took the train for a rather more agricultural visit to the Southern Tablelands property of friends, the Country Mice, our part-time neighbours in the condominio. We were truly entertained in style! But for a hint of the flavour of life on the land, behold some rust(ic) scenes.

Can you guess what this bit of machinery might be?

Flaunting its rusted patented wizardry as farm scuplture ...

A rotating tea blending drum!

A typical ruined farmhouse as seen on properties all over this wide, brown land

Cocksfoot grass and hawthorns in berry

Hello girls!

Cobwebs galore

Busy busy Saturday morning in the main street

Image credits: Flying With Hands

Monday, 27 February 2023

Table Talk

Miguel Mackinlay painting, Still Life with Eggs, 1923
Miguel Mackinlay, Still Life With Eggs, 1923
(Acknowledgement to the MJ McKinlay Trust)

Do please pass me another egg, Mr P.

Edouard Manet painting, Oysters, 1864
Edouard Manet, Oysters, 1864

[Later ... ] Yes, the oysters are delicious! 

Sarah Lamb painting, Bistecca ala Fiorintin, 2019
Sarah Lamb, Bistecca ala Fiorentin, 2019

[Even later ... ] How would you like your chop, my dear?

... And there you basically have it, Dear Reader; nothing juicy yet to report on the new carnivorous régime about these parts. We're still alive and trundling along. Which all rather makes dull fodder for this blog's Something-to-Eat creed. Where are the thrilling anecdotes from the growing store of culinary adventures?, you may cry. Regretfully lacking at this juncture.

So, rather than continue with the monotonous litany of "oysters, eggs, chops, ... &c &c", which may only titillate the oh so curious, I shall instead, from time to time, steal some table talk from the literary world for these pages, such as may be found in Patrick White's marvellous 1981 memoir, Flaws in the Glass:

The kitchen stove, antique electric, had Queen Anne legs like so much of the furniture in the house. We had many cooking accidents before learning how: there was the day Rosemary Dobson Bolton brought her first baby to lunch and the oven in which I was grilling the baby's chop caught fire: the Christmas dinner during the heatwave when the pair of drakes (or swans) we had bought from Mrs Poulter bounced on the lino before I dished them up; there was the whole coq au vin I spilled on the floor, but mopped up, schnauzer hair and all, and served John Gielgud. Although I say it, that coq au vin was about the best I have tasted.*

Anyway, in other news, we went to the most excellent touring exhibition of Melbourne-born Art Deco printmakers, Ethel Spowers & Eveline Syme. As ever, the show has already moved on from Sydney, where it was held at the S. H. Ervin Gallery, but there is still opportunity to see it in Brisbane before the delicate prints get packed away again for some unknown more number of years in June. Spowers and Syme were friends and daring trailblazers of contemporary art and after studies in London's Grosvenor School with Claude Flight, embraced linoprinting to great effect. 

Ethel Spowers woodcut, Melbourne from the river, circa 1924
Ethel Spowers woodcut, Melbourne from the River, c. 1924

Ethel Spowers linocut, The bamboo blind, 1926
Ethel Spowers linocut, The Bamboo Blind, 1926

Spowers had a particular affinity for imagery of childhood, writing and illustrating children's stories.

Eveline Syme linocut, Skating, 1929
Eveline Syme linocut, Skating, 1929

Both born into families of newspaper magnates, they were educated, independent and well-travelled. They both championed modern art and their work is instantly identifiable as of its time.

Ethel Spowers linocut, Wet afternoon, 1930
Ethel Spowers linocut, Wet Afternoon, 1930

Eveline Syme linocut, Sydney tram line, 1936
Eveline Syme linocut, Sydney Tram Line, 1936

Ethel Spowers linocut, School is out, 1936
Ethel Spowers linocut, School is Out, 1936

The exhibition was a delight, not only to see their familiar images** but earlier works and the associated ephemera of the era, and linocuts by contemporaries who'd also fallen under the spell of the charismatic Flight. Fellow student Dorrit Black wrote of him: 'He is a very small man with very bright eyes, little bits of side-curls, and one feels instantly at one's ease with him. During the summer he lives in a cave in France, a very attractive cave, apparently, but still a cave; and in the winter he comes out of his cave to teach lino-cutting to students at the Grosvenor School.'

Nota bene: Not Claude Flight but a
Lenci porcelain, Squirrel and Acorns, 1929

Ethel Spowers linocut, Still life, 1932
Ethel Spowers linocut, Still Life, 1932

Sybil Andrews linocut, Speedway, 1934
Sybil Andrews linocut, Speedway, 1934

In other news, the Musical Year has started for the Pipistrellos. Our beloved Utzon Series, the intimate recitals by visiting international stars, was a Casualty of Covid and looks not to be revived, but we got to sit in the gorgeous room again last week to hear the home-grown Australian Haydn Ensemble. A very pleasant change to the old routine is the ability to reserve seating when you book, and Mr P. nabbed front and centre seats, normally the domain of a gang of silver-haired Utzon Series stalwarts who'd stake this territory as an assumed right (and invariably fall promptly asleep after the complimentary tipple once the music started.)

Our repast consisted of a selection from Bach's The Art of Fugue; Haydn's String Quartet in A major (Sun Quartets); and Mendelssohn's String Quartet No. 2 in A minor Op. 13. Super delicious!

Lorna Singleton Oak Spelk Basket

Finally, do you love a basket with which to collect your comestibles from the shoppes? There are baskets to be found herein about the casa, and their usefulness is fully appreciated, however I was surprised to learn that there is a type of basket make from oak! Well, oak splinters not logs, obv. 

There is a mere slip of a girl living in the woodland in South Cumbria in England making a living from weaving these traditional baskets. Once a thriving craft, the resulting baskets were used for everything from charcoal scuttles on steam ships and trains to tatty and turnip baskets in the field to swilling cockles in the sea, whence comes the name oak swill baskets. There seems to be only a handful of weavers left, including the lissome Lorna Singleton. 

Here's a tantalising 15-minute documentary film on her and her work: Oak Swill Basketry.

* The take-away here, of course, is not that Nobel Prize-winning writers nor those who rub shoulders with the glitterati at the tea table have the best lines, rather it's schnauzer-lovers who seem to have all the fun!

** Stalwarts of ye olde Pinterest.

Image credits: 1: Miguel Mackinlay; 2: National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; 3: 1st Dibs; 4-12: Flying With Hands;, 13: Lorna Singleton; 14: Graphics Fairy

Bats In The Belfry