Two museums: Mercator and Lascaux

1915
We managed a couple of excursions last weekend and this, to a couple of new arrivals on the Belgian museum scene.

Last weekend we went to the new Mercator museum at Sint-Niklaas near Antwerp, arriving on the day after it had reopened after a complete reconstruction. Gerardus Mercator was actually German, by most modern measures, and why exactly Sint-Niklaas (a town near Antwerp, and nearish to his birthplace, which otherwise boasts the largest market square in Belgium, and perhaps in Europe) had claimed him was not made clear. But the museum itself is a very decent presentation of the history of cartography from ancient times to the present day, concentrating on Mercator who gave us both the famous projection and the word "atlas"; you can play with electronic copies of his sixteenth century maps and admire the sincere craftsmanship that he brought to it. There are lots of gorgeous artefacts, real and replica, and nicely produced video interviews with actors playing Mercator himself and various other contemporaries such as John Dee (msteriously all speaking fluent modern Dutch with mild Flemish accents). Underplayed but present is the importance of cartography in the European colonial effort, just getting going in Mercator's lifetime (1512-1594). The biggest drawback to the museum - and it is fairly significant - is that absolutely everything is in Dutch. However, they had opened literally the previous day, and perhaps they plan to cater for non-nederlandstalig visitors in due course.

Yesterday F and I went to the Cinquantenaire Museum in Brussels, where they have on show the travelling replica of the Lascaux caves, complete with paintings. It's quite a small exhibit, and on the second Saturday after it opened it was pretty crowded, but if one can tune out the other people in the room it is really quite incredible - the artists descended into the caves, in the dark, 17,000 years ago to create amazing art - for what audience? Not for us their descendants of hundreds of generations later. And they were better artists than, frankly, I am; so how did they get that way? I did pathetic watercolour daubs at school, and pencil scribbles on pieces of paper, before giving up on my ability to draw; what on earth were the Upper Palæolithic equivalents? The bison and horses and aurochs and stags are not drafts or journeyman pieces, but finished compositions. There was a whole tradition of visual culture there, of which a few hundred cave paintings are the only surviving evidence. It's as if one tried to work out what was going on the sixties and seventies using only Doctor Who. I left with a lot more questions than I had had going in, and the pious intention of going back some weekday before it closes in March, if I can afford to take an extended lunch break from work. (I confess I didn't actually check whether the audioguide is available in English as wel as French and Dutch, but I'd be quite surprised if it isn't.)

Anyway, both strongly recommended, though perhaps non-speakers of Dutch should wait for the Mercator museum to broaden its outreach a bit.

November Books 6) Lungbarrow, by Marc Platt

doctor who
I first read this way way back in the month that David Tennant took over, December 2005; it was only the third original Who book I had read after New Who began, and the only the second of the Seventh Doctor New Adventures - and I think I had seen precisely one Seventh Doctor TV story all the way through, and didn't much like it. Now, almost nine years on, I have seen all of the Seventh Doctor stories at least twice, read all 59 of the preceding New Adventures, and perhaps equally importantly listened to the Big Finish series of Gallifrey audio plays which take the Leela/Romana relationship which starts here - heck, I've even had my picture taken with Sylvester McCoy - and I have a much better sense of Lungbarrow as the capstone to one set of stories, and the foundation of another.

I have warmed to it (rather more than, say, Phil Sandifer). It's still a bit weird - the new information about how Time Lords come into being, by being "woven" on Looms, did not survive into other strands of continuity, and the Doctor's relatives here (other than Susan) were never seen again. But the book does what it has to do in winding up six years of stories (longer than any TV Doctor's reign bar Tom B) and tying the TV Movie (retrospectively) into the Virgin story arc.

I said in my previous review that I loved the scenery, and I loved it even more this time, the Doctor's home of Lungbarrow being pretty obviously Gormenghast on Gallifrey, and the internal struggles between President Romana and the other power centres in the Capitol suitably obscure and yet comprehensible. This time around, I very much appreciated the notion of Leela and Andred lifting the curse on Gallifrey, which obviously was lost on me previously when I had not read Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible, and of course having now followed Chris Cwej through 21 previous books, rather than coming to him completely fresh, I appreciated what Platt did with him much more.

I read the version that was downloadable until 2010 from the BBC website, which has apparently some quite major surgery to the original text and also a decent set of notes by Platt on the process of composition and of where he drew his ideas from. He also has thoughts on Who as a whole, including this lovely tribute to another of its great writers:
Apart from Runcible, Unstoffe, Glitz and Dibber, I love periphery characters like Nellie Gussett and the wonderful denizens of Megropolis 3, Singe and Hackett. [Robert] Holmes was truly great at bringing his locations and characters to life with bizarre language, quirky personal details and references to unseen events, people and places. He could create whole worlds in a couple of sentences and had a gloriously evil sense of humour.
Time permitting I'll do a longer post on the Virgin New Adventures as a whole, but it may wait until after I have re=read The Dying Days next month.

November Books 5) Rules, by Cynthia Lord

family, child
A decent and humane American YA novel about a teenager whose younger brother is autistic; she develops friendships both with the boy in the wheelchair who is a fellow client of her brother's therapist, and with the new neighbour's daughter; and the two friendships compete, though as it turns out mostly in her mind. More about growing up than anything, but in a real world where real people are dealing with real disabilities.
earthsea
Seven years ago, I read and enjoyed the first book in the series, of which fortuitously the third has just been published. Home tells the same events, but this time from the point of view of the two adult children of Robert Boughton, the best friend of Gilead's narrator John Ames. I confess I didn't remember enough about Gilead to appreciate exactly which scenes in Home were being retold from another perspective, but in any case I enjoyed the moving characterisation and the clear slow pace of the writing, everything gradually being taken out and laid on the table to see, with a decent twist ending (which possibly was in the earlier book too; if so I had forgotten it). 

Links I found interesting for 20-11-2014

summer

Wednesday reading

books
This post comes to you from Waterstone's Piccadilly, where I am being massively entertained by Claire North, Marcus Sedgwick, Adam Roberts and Leila Abu El Hawa.

Current
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
Beach Music, by Pat Conroy
Lungbarrow, by Marc Platt
σ2

Last books finished
ξ2
ο2
π2
ρ2
Rules, by Cynthia Lord

Next books
Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Time Zero, by Justin Richards

Books acquired in last week
None yet, but I am sitting in a big bookshop that doesn't close for a couple of hours.

The agony of choice

questions
Tomorrow evening I happen to be in London, and I face a difficult choice:

Will I attend Parliament 2115: re-imagining a democracy of the future at Portcullis House, Westminster, featuring Chris Tyler, Mike Carey, Joseph D'Lacey and Mike Fell,

or

will I attend The Post-Apocalyptic Book Club: Dark Societies with Marcus Sedgwick, Claire North and Adam Roberts at Waterstone's Piccadilly?

(I thought I'd signed up for the BSFA meeting, but turns out that's on monday when I won't be in England.)

Are you planing to attend either of these?
tardis
Set in the gap between Time Flight and Arc of Infinity, like a half-dozen Big Finish audios with the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa; it's a bit uneven, with the afterlife / alien invasion theme uneasily echoing with what I was watching on Saturday nights earlier this month at the time I was reading the book, and some very off-target stuff about abortion at the very beginning, but also some excellent characterisation of Nyssa who hasn't generally been well served in print. Bishop always has original ideas, and in this case about half of them come off.
train, tintin, leuven
The last of the trilogy of weird graphic story books by Charles Burns which began with X'ed Out and continued with The Hive. I felt it a very satisfactory resolution to the story: I see I hoped after reading the second volume that the punchline would be something sufficiently disturbing to justify the emotional energy we have been asked to invest in the central character, and indeed it is. I was a little disappointed that the pltline involving the real-world characters reading comics slightly fell away, but we got plenty of both the real-world story and its parallel in the world of Doug's dreams/nightmares. I strongly recommend getting all three together; there's no need now to delay between each book!

Links I found interesting for 15-11-2014

summer

Wednesday reading

books
Current
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
Beach Music, by Pat Conroy
ξ2
Lungbarrow, by Marc Platt


Last books finished
Sugar Skull, by Charles Burns
μ2
Empire of Death, by David Bishop
Home, by Marilynne Robinson
ν2

Next books
Rules, by Cynthia Lord
Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Time Zero, by Justin Richards

Books acquired in last week
A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Non-fiction, by Terry Pratchett
Who's Next?, by Derrick Sherwin
Sugar Skull, by Charles Burns
Chooz, by Santi-Bucquoy

Links I found interesting for 11-11-2014

summer

Poppies, St Paul's and Pepys

gibbon
I had most of yesterday morning free in London, and decided to try a commemoration of everyone's favourite blogger, Samuel Pepys. Insufficiently thorough research led me to this walk proposed by the Daily Telegraph, and so I set off to Tower Hill to give it a try.

It wasn't actually much help, but I enjoyed the poppies and St Paul'sCollapse ) Glyn Thomas has compiled three excellent walks, one for Westminster, one for the west of the City and the South Bank, and one for the east of the City and Greenwich. Thanks to my recent change of job, it is likely that I will be in London a lot more often in the next year or so. Would others be interested in joining me in doing any or all of those walks, either on a winter weekend or a decently daylit evening?

Hacking the portals

questions
Poll #1988397 Ingress

Are you:

Enlightened?
5(10.0%)
Resistance?
5(10.0%)
Not playing?
19(38.0%)
Baffled?
21(42.0%)

Links I found interesting for 08-11-2014

summer

Links I found interesting for 07-11-2014

summer

Tags:

Wednesday reading

books
Current
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
ℵ1
Beach Music, by Pat Conroy
Home, by Marilynne Robinson
Empire of Death, by David Bishop

Last books finished
TARDIS Eruditorum Volume 5: Tom Baker and the Williams Years, by Philip Sandifer
θ2
ι2
κ2 (gave up, won't finish)
λ2

Next books
Rules, by Cynthia Lord
Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Lungbarrow, by Marc Platt
 
Books acquired in last week
TARDIS Eruditorum Volume 5: Tom Baker and the Williams Years, by Philip Sandifer
CHOOZ, by Santi & Bucquoy

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