ON a freezing evening in March 2012, a sombre party of architects, planners, and local organisers met for dinner in the small Japanese port town of Ogatsu. Properly speaking, the town did not really exist any more, having been annihilated by the tsunami that struck the north-east coast of Japan’s main island, Honshu, almost exactly one year earlier.
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.
I moved to Buenos Aires the weekend before the 30th anniversary of the first day of the Falklands War. I knew enough not to call it that in Argentina, where those islands are known as Las Malvinas. To refer to them by their British name is a political statement if deliberate, and a dead giveaway if accidental.
THE first I ever heard of Rodolfo Walsh was when I read Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine in 2007. By that time, Walsh had been dead for 30 years, but Klein cited him as a posthumous source for her treatise on “disaster capitalism”, and introduced him in the most dynamic terms: “A gregarious Renaissance man, a writer of crime fiction and award-winning short stories … a super sleuth able to crack military codes and spy on the spies.”
WITH Bellow, Vonnegut, Mailer, and Updike all recently departed, Philip Roth is now supposed to be the last living giant of American literature. Roth’s late productivity has become an ongoing wonder of the publishing world, his sustained priapic raging a rebuke to every author and pensioner who has ever gone quietly into decline. At 76, he continues to cast the indignities of old age into one livid fiction after another, as if writing could dispel them, although some have noted that each of these senescent novels has been slighter and weaker than the one before.
IT IS the second and final day of the Body & Soul fair at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall, and the main event is sold out. Three hundred people, the vast majority of them women, have paid £15 each for a seat in the exhibition hall, where therapist, healer and author Diana Cooper will conduct a workshop under the same title as her latest book: Angel Answers. If Cooper and her readers are correct in their view of the universe, then the auditorium must be twice as full as it appears to be. They will gently insist that belief is not a such a simple matter of right or wrong, but everyone here is agreed that all human beings have their own guardian angels. So we must be, this afternoon and always, in the midst of an invisible multitude.
FOR all the tricks and habits that humans teach them, there may be something we can learn from dogs. We consider ourselves their owners and masters, but there is no way to know what they think, and we are only guessing when we say they dream of rabbits. On occasion, between frequent, inscrutable relapses into primaeval wolfishness, tongue-lolling lunacy, and dung-eating degeneracy, they act as if they might possess the secret of happiness. Harry Horse’s dog Roo was no different, except that she could actually tell him about these things.
LEAVING law and morality aside, the best argument against bringing back hanging is that the hangmen themselves are all dead. A final Home Office list of official executioners was printed up in February 1964, and made obsolete when capital punishment was suspended the following year. Those six whose names appeared on it have long since gone to their own graves. There is nobody left in this country with the relevant training or experience to operate a gallows, which was in the end a more complex piece of equipment than it looked.
TONIGHT, THE night of the Led Zeppelin reunion, the whole rocking world is divided between those who have tickets and those, like myself, who do not. Nowhere is this separation more obvious than at the high-tech turnstiles of London’s O2 Arena, formerly the Millenium Dome. Luck and money have decided who goes through to the concert. There are fewer than 20,000 seats inside, but an estimated 25 million people registered to pay the initial £125 asking price, with winners decided at random in an on-line ballot. After that, only the highest bidders could buy their way in through eBay, although the record was apparently set at a Children In Need charity auction by young Glasgow businessman Kenneth Donnell, who paid £83,000 for two VIP passes, despite not being born when Led Zeppelin disbanded almost 30 years ago.
I AM afraid. Merely admitting this does not make me feel any better about flying, and yet I often say it aloud to the person sitting next to me on a plane during take-off or turbulence, those two fixtures of aviation which always make my face and palms ice over with doom-sweat.