the ocean at the end of my lane

the ocean at the end of the lane by neil gaiman is not an especially well written book, I thought while reading it last summer (maybe I was bothered by some repetitions, I am that way inclined). but, being maybe a little more conventionally, even “commercially” written to my ear than some of his older work,* it made me see what really strikes me in his novels and stories: a unique grace in making imagination meet reality, fishing deep in personal, vivid feelings while using well-loved props and figures from fantastic literature. whether it's in a more carefully crafted or a more script-like writing, nothing like a neil gaiman book makes my mind travel in a new world while feeling so much (and not safely) at home. 

this time, I found a bit of ocean that was quite literally about me. not just the general idea of a childhood spent reading, with obscure fears lurking in the shadows; that would be much too easy. no, it's the specific bit about living in an old house and liking it because it looks like something from the books you read, and climbing in and out of windows because that's what happens in the books you read. that I used to do – and climbing trees had the same appeal in spite of my non-athletic nature – exactly for that reason. I read ocean and it came back to me, the moment in time when I started to value real life things according to my own mind system, picking up not from examples around me, but from a larger cultural universe. that's when my inner life began (and my social life ended, possibily). and that does lead you to think of life and death in a slightly different way, you know.

so happy that garnant wrote this, so I don't have to (Internet reading and commenting is playing with mirrors in a way).

* I thought this also because, just after reading ocean, I picked up the bridge by iain banks (I had been wanting to read him for ages, how typical of me to start doing it after he's gone): the splendidly polished literary prose is there, but I still have to find a hook drawing me inside the story. I hope I will.



the heart and the book

More than ten years ago, at the National Gallery in London, I purchased a mouse mat depicting a fascinating detail from a Flemish painting (I’ve never seen the actual painting though).

It is still my mouse mat at work, but only today I discovered there is a whole (regularly shaped) book devoted to this subject:

«The notion of the heart as a “book” containing a person’s thoughts, feelings, or memories is one of most prominent forms of heart symbolism in the Middle Ages. In romances, lovers’ hearts were inscribed with the name or image of their beloved, while saints’ legends celebrated martyrs whose hearts received marks of special divine favor. Clergy were instructed to let their inner scribe copy God’s commands onto the pages of their hearts, and ordinary believers prayed for Christ to write the memory of his Passion in their “heart books.” Artists portrayed authors holding a heart and a pen, and some late-medieval paintings depicted the sitter as a scribe or reader holding a heart-shaped manuscript codex. Medieval artisans even produced actual heart-shaped manuscript books, some of which still survive.»
Eric Jaeger

the heart is a book

the Master of the View of Sainte Gudule:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The National Gallery, London

were have I been: a survey of recent online life 2

I'm actually talking about places I haven't been, this time: I don't have a tumblr account, and while I have a pinterest account, I haven't got round to use it yet.
my problem is that images collections lacking contest and source always feel shallow to me, unless the choice is very strongly edited. I'd say that my only comfort zone for collections of this kind is the marvellous if charlie parker was a gunslinger, there'd be a lot of dead copycats, which is not a tumblr, hasn't even got a cool layout, and yet is as fine a choice of culture-related pictures (photos, screenshots and ephemera) as one can imagine: a pronounced taste (for the witty, the popular, the oblique, and the artistically relevant) and a structure based on ongoing series keep it all together, so that the lack of sources is not a lack at all, but a main feature.
as for me, while I may be prone to spin out endless turns of unrelated and unrelevant photo shots of my own making, I'm not prepared to give out a flow of documental/inspirational images… yet (but the occasional squatting of my instagram account by record covers may be a worrying signal).

[notice: normal blogging in correct italian will be resumed as soon as possible.]

were have I been: a survey of recent online life

well, it seems that instagram really sucked up what little free time I had recently: I completed not one, not two but three self-imposed monthly challenges (of course I have to set goals and take things seriously, but that's just how I am).
so, what did I found out about it: it's satisfying not only because it's crazily easy to access from a smartphone (I mean, like twitter, but most of the time you don't even have to read), but because, while sharing things – moods, daily wanderings, meals, favourite objects etc. – you end up with a nice collection of details in your image folder, whose staying power is far superior to your twitterings', for example (if you happen to be keen on that–I am).
on twitter you edit news and links, and your thoughts and words, to the very bone, if you're so inclined. on instagram you edit your gaze, and and the effort of fitting that square cut is rewarded by the merciful influence of the app's filters on your photographs. I'm a bit ashamed to say I had not really understood what the iphone pictures' hi-res was about, up until now: but it's for enlarging and cutting, of course.
I still have to tidy up that folder and see what's really for keeps, if anything, but the ease of use and the networking motivation combined make instagram so often accessed that a nice photo app like hipstamatic, for example, feels cumbersome like using a reflex in comparison. and, while I'm all for slowness in general, I welcome quickness if it allows me to do something I wouldn't do at all otherwise.
the networking on instagram is very quick and apparently shallower than exchanging words through blogs and twitter, but it's more continuous (it depends on how many people you follow, of course, but keeping up to date seems doable) and therefore pervasive. exchanging pictures is so immediate that following people from the other side of the world on instagram instantly make a lot more sense than following them on twitter (and that's even if you share a common language).

(to be continued-probably)


my apple «cards» experience

so I decided to send myself one of the custom cards you can make with this new app: it is indeed a lovely printed cream cardboard, and my melancholy lake sunset turned out quite good.
I put no text inside because I wanted to be able to use it afterwards, so I don’t know about that, but there is a nicely embossed border.

the only thing is: if you forget the crazy price and plan to use this service to send cards from your vacation, do keep in mind they might get to destination bearing a stamp from the czech republic.


«the bob» and colleen moore

a few links about the actress whose eye (probably the brown one, as I can see from colorized pictures) & bangs I stole for my favourite buddy icon.
I'm not comfortable with buddy icons, but this stuck somehow – though I had never heard about her, when I found her portrait in the book il futurismo e la moda (in a page about the change of role models in the 20s and the french novel la garçonne).

it turns out moore was the first american actress to make bobbed hair popular (not louise brooks) and that she was (massively, we could rightly say) into doll houses.

colleen moore's fairy castle

colleen bobs her hair

the colleen moore project and a forthcoming new biography.

(seeing her movies seems nearly impossible now, but I'll look into it and report back.)


an italian apple/macintosh experience

so there I was, yesterday morning, grieving about about a russian poet who died at 56,* and moving on from his fine book about venice to another book about venice** opening with the notion that «having a dream» can sometimes be a bad thing (if you try to force your dreams on reality with violence), when the news reached me about the death of steve jobs. at 56. a man who daydreamed in a good way: he dreamed a way of living with technology that I was happy to embrace.

I really had no idea who steve jobs was, when I first used one of the computers he had contributed to create and sell – he probably wasn't even in the company at the time, as I might venture to place my first sight of a small and friendly macintosh in 1987-88. 
which model was that? I don't know – maybe a macintosh plus, if it had aldus pagemaker on it, as I seem to remember.  the mac was in a room at my university's journalism department.  we had been making a photocopied fanzine-style magazine, my friends and I, and a word processor was very welcome, and a pagination software even better.  our self-proclaimed editor soon bought a macintosh of his own: end of the collage and bricolage (but the magazine was shortlived too, I'm afraid – a first lesson of ideas being more important than the means you have to express them, though means may be crucial in bringing them out).

cut to my first job in publishing (1992 – meanwhile my dad had bought a sad ibm dos-only machine, much to my dismay, and I had wrote my thesis on it, using framemaker).
the owner of the editing studio was a huge macintosh fan, and he went on to write a manual on computer use in editorial departments. by then desktop publishing was all the rage, and in the next 5 years I saw every mac model parading on those desks, while our art director put away cutter and wax in favour of digital pagination on colour monitors. mind you, we still just had a few machines for public use at work (not personal, one-to-one computers) when I left in 1998. so yes, «macintosh» was indeed synonymous with «jobs» for me, but purely for working reasons…
meanwhile I had bought my first mac in 1995: it was needed for freelance editing (and, by then, I wasn't prepared to go back to ibm anyway). I can't say I've ever been really fond of my performa 5200, but it was sold in bundle with a 28,8k modem (I think), and, wow, I discovered the internet!

I then found a steady job where a power macintosh with a huge monitor (can't remember which model), mine to use all day long for editing, pagination, email and ramblings on the house bulletin board (running on lotus notes I'm afraid), started the kind of symbiotic relationship between me and the apple I still enjoy – nothing to do really with a supposed cool factor, only with an ease of use you can happily take for granted.  using windows for the first time at my 2003-2007 workplace made me really unhappy and frustrated, that's all I can say (though, admittedly, they were old and slow machines, because «you only work on text»).  despite the high prices of apple products, I never looked back: I kept wondering if I should look elsewere, but I simply could not find a good reason.

back to my jolly but cumbersome performa: it had moved houses with me, and contributed to some neat film catalogue designing along the way, but it was at last ready for retirement, in favour of the black 1999 powerbook. this was much loved, it made friends with a small nikon camera and my first ipod (2004 for both, I believe), and then I started blogging.
this was a real millennium turn in our western everyday life, this digital integration (computers+media+the internet), and for me it was largely based on apple products. technology you can use and trust, technology even luddist p., my husband, uses and trusts. we upgraded to a white intel imac in 2007 (the same model I then found on my desk at my present job), and that's his computer now, good for video tranfer/editing as it was for publishing.
because we discovered we needed 2 computers in the house, I got a laptpop again two years ago, my current macbook pro. everything happened in a seamless, easy, agreeable process made possible by apple's operative system (I mean, every piece of technology has its hiccups, but we've had only 2 major computer failures in 16 years – one due to power outage – and we solved them on our own. no repair expenses whatsoever).

looking back, I probably didn't learn who steve jobs was until apple branched outside the computer field. the first colourful imacs started the apple-for-the masses trend (people who dismiss this saying that focussing on design in electronics is futile are in a bad brain-senses relationship), but then the ipod came, and the rest is widely known (and too hyped, and often too wildly discussed).
venturing in portable technology often seems a bit tricky for me: my first discman got somehow power-burned (and I got another one as soon as possible), my first ipod suffered death by water (and I got another one as soon as possible), my first iphone was stolen, and I mean to get another one as soon as possible. I've had cell phones but never really put them to good use – it seems I seldom need them (and I've never liked telephone in the first place): instead I need an easy, non alienating way to have access to information – always – and to communicate the way I want to, easily linking to what already happens on my computer(s).
steve jobs – if it is possible or right to reduce to one person's work the products of whole industrial teams and strategies – gave this to me, and to millions of people trying to cope with this mad world we created, and maybe understand it a bit and finding our way in it without getting mad ourselves (with or without a cute black briquette armed with gps).


* iosif brodskij, 1949-1996
** simone weil, venise sauvée

proofreading and ebooks

let's suppose that one day book production will be devoted only to ebooks. the production process is already largely digital, but will we still have to print out book proofs?  I think yes, because proofreading – which can  be properly done only on paper, until e-ink really solves its readability issues… or maybe every copydesk gets a very big kindle… – will be even more important.  typos are annoying in a printed book, but should be avoided at all costs in ebooks, because they affect one of the e-text main features: searchability (also: since the reader can adjust the text size, they will probably look more prominent in ebooks). that's in theory, because the ebooks production I see happening is still so haphazard that near to nobody really cares for high standards content. anyway, it looks like those dusty proofs stacks are here to stay a while.

supponiamo che un giorno la produzione di libri sia destinata esclusivamente agli ebooks. il processo produttivo è già ampiamente digitale, ma sarà ancora necessario stampare bozze cartacee? penso di sì, perché la correzione di bozze – che si può fare bene solo su carta, finché l'e-ink non risolva le inerenti difficoltà di lettura… o magari ogni redazione non riceva un enorme kindle… – sarà ancora più importante.  i refusi in un libro stampato sono fastidiosi, ma a maggior ragione dovrebbero essere evitati negli ebook, perché inficiano una delle caratteristiche principali dell'elettronico: la possibilità di fare ricerche nel testo (inoltre: negli ebook probabilmente risulteranno ancora più evidenti, dal momento che il lettore può modificare il corpo del testo).  questo in teoria, perché la produzione di ebooks che sto vedendo è talmente improvvisata che quasi nessuno si preoccupa di un'alta qualità dei contenuti. comunque, pare che delle polverose pigne di bozze non ci libereremo tanto presto.