Descartes of the Dugout

Three World Cup teams were carrying a little piece of my heart: Algeria, France, Italy. When one by one they fell away, a large part of my own tournamental passion waned. As compensation, I picked up the recently published autobiography of my favourite Italian player, Andrea Pirlo, which glories in the frankly irresistible title I Think Therefore I Play. (Personally, I think a comma after ‘Think’ would have improved things no end, but I quibble.) More »

Waxen Jane

waxwork full length (low res)

A waxwork figure that may or may not resemble Jane Austen

It would be hard to draw a picture of one of Austen’s characters based on the books: the narrators offer little physical description at all (‘plain’, ‘tall’) and the other characters don’t go much further than ‘fair’ and ‘dark-eyed’ (how-much-a-year is far more significant). But Austen does tell us a lot about the way the valuation of appearance betrays prejudices. Bingley’s ardency is evident from his first sight of Jane – ‘Oh! she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld!’ – and Elizabeth is as firm in her loyalty: ‘You were about five times as pretty as every other woman in the room.’ Darcy considers Elizabeth ‘barely tolerable’ to begin with, but by the end declares her ‘one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance’. More »

Spare a thought for the armadillo

Sooner or later the Brazilian football team will be treated like lepers, or perceive themselves to be so. Unfair to lepers, but appropriate for an off-pitch reason. The official World Cup mascot, Fuleco, is a Brazilian three-banded armadillo. Humans apart, the armadillo is the only animal that gets leprosy. Admittedly, the evidence refers to the nine-banded kind; it is not known whether the three-banded armadillo is susceptible. It would be very hard to find out, because the Brazilian species is very rare and in danger of extinction. Fuleco’s name is a portmanteau of ‘Futebol’ and ‘Ecologia’. More »

Football v. Politics

The last time Argentina met Holland at the World Cup, in 2006, the match ended in a forgettable goalless draw. The time before that, in 1998, a meeting between the two countries produced a moment that never grows old: the exquisite winner scored in the 90th minute by Dennis Bergkamp, a seventy-yard pass that he controlled with one touch, redirected with another and flicked home with a third, a sequence that’s about as close as football ever gets to ballet. But the time before that, in 1978, Argentina v. Holland has some of the worst associations of any World Cup match. They don’t relate to what happened on the field, but to what was happening off it, in the prisons and torture chambers of Buenos Aires. More »

Institutionalised Disregard for Palestinian Life

One either rejects the killing of non-combatants on principle or takes a more tribal approach to such matters. In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, the global outpouring of grief and condemnation over the killing of three Israeli youths in the occupied West Bank is the moral equivalent of Rolf Harris denouncing Jimmy Savile.

Over the past 14 years, Israel has killed Palestinian children at a rate of more than two a week. There seems to be no Israeli child in harm’s way that Barack Obama will not compare to his own daughters, but their Palestinian counterparts are brushed aside with mantras about Israel’s right to self-defence. The institutionalised disregard for Palestinian life in the West helps explain not only why Palestinians resort to violence, but also Israel’s latest assault on the Gaza Strip. More »

Through the Looking-Glass

Well, it won’t be the Bite for which this World Cup is remembered after all. Something more shocking did happen. The form book turned out to be a useless guide (Brazil were undefeated in twelve games before last night). Home advantage counted for nothing in the end. Goldman Sachs got it wrong. Stephen Hawking got it wrong. I got it wrong. Everyone got it wrong. Sure, there will be people saying that this Brazilian team was there for the taking, that someone was bound to expose its manifold weaknesses. But no one predicted that result. It simply doesn’t happen that big teams concede seven goals at home against major rivals. It doesn’t happen in the Premier League or in La Liga or in Serie A. It’s inconceivable that Chelsea or Barcelona or Juventus would ship seven at home to anyone, no matter how weakened their team or how unlucky the performance. It doesn’t happen in the Champions League or in the European Championships. It’s certainly never happened at the World Cup. Before last night’s match some bookmakers had Germany as the slight favourites to win, but the margin of their victory is perhaps the biggest upset in the history of the sport. More »

The Art of Poetry No. 93

There’s a poem in the new issue of the LRB by August Kleinzahler, ‘A History of Western Music: Chapter 74’. In 2007, in a Paris Review interview, he was asked what prompted the series:

I was in Ireland and everywhere I went they were playing the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth. It seemed so odd in that context of airports and supermarkets. Then I went to London and in every pub there was Frank Sinatra. There was a special on Sinatra on TV and they were running Tony Rome on TV late at night for a week. So I began writing about Ireland and London through the filter of Mahler and Sinatra. I didn’t realize it was going to be a series but in those days I had my column in my head all the time and was looking for contexts to discuss music. So I fell into this idea of approaching all sorts of music in this fashion.

To take out a joint subscription to the Paris Review and the LRB, click here.

The old order reasserts itself

This World Cup has had most things but one thing it has lacked is a genuine upset. In the round of 16 each match was won by the team that had previously won its qualifying group. In the quarter-finals the likeliest winners in each case turned out to be the actual winners. Now we are left with four teams of impeccable World Cup pedigree whom the bookies cannot separate: any of them would be an entirely plausible lifter of the trophy (the Dutch have never won it before but with three defeats in the final and a history of heroic endeavour they are long overdue). Yes, there have been some mild shocks along the way: few people anticipated that Spain would be trounced by Holland in their opening match and Costa Rica’s victory over Italy was somewhat unexpected, though perhaps it shouldn’t have been given how the Italians were playing. On the whole, though, the form book has been an unerringly reliable guide. More »

What happened to the manuscript of ‘Under Milk Wood’

A decade after Dylan Thomas’s death, a lawsuit was brought by Caitlin Thomas on behalf of his estate to recover the manuscript of Under Milk Wood from Douglas Cleverdon. It was Cleverdon who had produced the play for BBC radio and had now put the manuscript on the market. The claim failed: the judge, Mr Justice Plowman, accepted Cleverdon’s case that Thomas had made him a gift of the manuscript.

The story as it emerged at trial was this. More »

Le Tour d’Essex


In the global league of immense sporting events, the Tour de France is third to the Olympics and the World Cup, or so the Essex Chronicle says. So how can a narrow lane in this corner of Essex between Chelmsford and Ongar, intensely rural though hardly thirty miles from London, accommodate the event? More »

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