THE story goes that President Abraham Lincoln walked out of the White House in the middle of the night on February 20, 1862. He crossed Washington D.C. to Oak Hill cemetery, went into the crypt of his late son Willie, and sat there alone at his coffin. Willie had died of typhoid fever earlier that day, at the age of 11. His father, somewhat preoccupied through the boy’s short illness with fundraising for the escalating civil war, was now so possessed by grief and guilt that he may even have cradled the corpse.
WHAT’S your favourite cloud? Perhaps it’s one of the stranger formations. Altocumulus lenticularis, maybe, which settles in spooky hoops over high mountain peaks like an alien mothership. Or it could be the simple, humble cumulus, also widely known as the “fair weather cloud”. Surely everyone loves those puffy cotton balls that seem to morph into friendly and familiar shapes – elephants, teapots, diving bells – while you gaze at them against a backdrop of blue sky.
PHOTOGRAPHY and manned flight are roughly the same age. The latter may be a little older – the Montgolfier brothers sailed over Annonay, France in a hot-air balloon some 30 years before Nicephore Niepce took the first heliographic picture from the window of his Burgundy estate in 1826. But aerial photography was born soon after that, as balloonists brought some of the earliest cameras aloft in their baskets, while Victorian meteorologist E.D. Archibald tied them to kites, with explosive charges on a timer to trigger the shutter.
ON December 5, 2015, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that the long-lost San José treasure galleon had been found at last, some 307 years after it was sunk by English warships off his country’s Caribbean coast. The vessel was carrying a fortune when it went down – bullion, coins and gemstones en route from the mines of the New World to the coffers of Spain’s King Phillip V and his French ally Louis XIV.
THE street where Jimmy McGovern lives is not like The Street he writes about. His house is surrounded by tall trees. They look best, he thinks, at this time of year, most of them having turned to gold. Leafiness is not the only difference between this side of Liverpool and the postwar dockside where he grew up. But from his perspective, McGovern hasn’t moved far, or changed much.
To win the Pritzker Prize for architecture is like winning a Nobel Prize for literature, they say. The chosen laureate ascends into the pantheon of their art, and critics of that art take to second-guessing the jury’s decision. Two years ago, when the relatively young and little-known Wang Shu became the first Chinese national to receive the Pritzker, his selection was widely read as a political statement, though the meaning of that statement was open to question.
THERE is a place called the Zone, which looks more or less like the world we know, but the colours are fuller and brighter, and the natural laws are not quite so constant. Within the landscape of the Zone, there is a Room, where a person’s deepest desires are supposedly fulfilled. This is the premise of Stalker, a monumentally slow and meditative film made in 1979 by Andrei Tarkovsky. Relatively few people have seen it. “Not as many as have seen Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels,” admits Geoff Dyer. “But among those who have, you often hear that this film has been a big thing in their lives.”
BY his own count, Greg Dulli has played about 2000 live shows, give or take, in his long and ongoing career as a self-styled musical assassin. Sometimes travelling solo, but more often with a hand-picked gang of like-minded, hardened professionals, Dulli rolls into town, tunes up a little, and “executes”.
PAXMAN. The name comes from the Latin, meaning “man of peace”, which does not fit the pugilistic image of its best-known living bearer. Neither did it suit him to discover, as a recent subject of the BBC’s genealogy programme Who Do You Think You Are? , that this moniker was contrived by a distant ancestor – a politician called Roger Packsman, who replaced two prosaic Anglo-Saxon letters with that magic “x” to enhance his appeal among the 14th century electorate.
IN the woods west of Amsterdam, between the dunes of the North Sea shoreline and the vast floral-industrial greenhouses where world-famous hypercolour tulips are grown, there is a small working village of intellectuals. Current residents include experts on forgotten medieval cities, a team of linguists attempting to reconstruct the earliest human language, a German philosopher, a former adviser to Russian president Vladimir Putin and the novelist David Mitchell, who recently arrived to begin research for a new book.