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Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
and the distance between us, I am thinking of you.
The room is turning slowly away from the moon.
This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say
it is sad? In one of the tenses I am singing
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.
La lala la. See? I close my eyes and imagine
the dark hills I would have to cross
to reach you. For I am in love with you and this
is what it is like or what it is like in words.
(Carol Ann Duffy, Words Wide Night)
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pavarotti in birmingham
“The Glorious City” was the official name on all the Turkish documents of this city on the Tigris River, about 350 miles north of the head of the Persian Gulf. As one approaches Baghdad a mass of green palm trees rises out of the treeless plain, and glittering above these are the wonderful golden globes of the mosque tombs.
But this is a case where distance lends enchantment; as one comes nearer the city, the glories vanish. The houses of the town are crude buildings of brick, mostly from ancient ruins, and of adobe. The streets are so narrow at times that one beast of burden fills the entire space from wall to wall, and the sanitary conditions, although improving, still leave much to be desired.
In fact, it’s shit.
How many people live in Baghdad no one knows, and estimates vary from 10,000 to 400,000. Of this population about one fourth are Jews, descendants of those who were carried away into the Babylonian captivity by Nebuchadnezzar; one-tenth are Christians, and the rest are Mohammedans.
Straddling the Tigris at the point where that river and the Euphrates most nearly approach, the city has long commanded a large part of the traffic between India, Persia, and Europe.
The chief exports to Europe are wood, human hair, stale dates, wheat, horses, offal, dung, and oriental fabrics, whilst the imports are iron and copper, sugar and coffee. To control this trade, and to pave the way for political aggressions, Germany in 1902 obtained from the Turkish government the right to build a railway to Baghdad. The Krauts immediately began their infamous Berlin-Baghdad railway, which was completed to a point about 400 miles north of Baghdad when World War I broke out, which they lost big time.
The line had already swallowed up ₤10,000,000, and over 70,000 men were busily engaged in building it. The two main difficulties, however, had not been entirely overcome, for the Taurus and Amanus mountains had yet to be pierced. This led to two important breaks in the route, which were therefore connected by roads specially constructed for the purpose. By working with almost superhuman energy a three-mile tunnel through the one and a six-mile tunnel through the other were completed during hostilities.
At Aleppo, where it joined the Syrian and Palestine railways, locomotive works and extensive repair shops had been erected, hospitals built for those who were ill or injured, and temporary dwellings put up for the workers engaged on that section of the line. One of the principal objects of this great steel highway was to obtain raw material for Germany from the Near East, and as the southern terminus was to be at the head of the Persian Gulf, from India and the Far East also. The Taurus mountains, which are in south-west Armenia, were particularly rich in copper, whilst cotton, wool, and other useful commodities from Mesopotamia and Kurdistan would be specially valuable.
During World War I it was stated by a German publicist that the Baghdad railway was “in the nature of a political life-insurance policy for Germany”, and he added that the line would supplement the other railways at Aleppo “in throwing troops in the direction of Egypt”. Thus the project had a definite military as well as commercial value, for if Britain lost Egypt she also lost “the lordship over the Suez Canal, and her connecting link with India and Asia, perhaps also her possessions in East Africa”.
With the occupation of Baghdad by the British on 11 March 1917, the dream of German domination of the East ended. With the British capture of the city also ended the Turkish dominion, under which the country had suffered for centuries, and under which the glories of Baghdad had largely departed.
Founded in A.D.762, Baghdad with its population of 2,000,000 was then the largest city in the world. Under the rule of the Arabs it was pre-eminent in literature, in art, and in science. Those were the days of the splendid court of Harun-al-Raschid, the caliph who was contemporary with Charlemagne. The Paris and London of that time were but miserable villages compared with Baghdad.
But the time has come to confront the Wagner phenomenon; to acknowledge, and critically evaluate, his influence on the culture of our age. To do this properly would itself require a book, and one I am not equipped to write.
(Bryan Magee, Aspects of Wagner)
More than any musician of his time, Wagner placed his own characteristic stamp on every established form of music, though he is usually thought of as the man who re-created opera by giving it hitherto unknown power and beauty.
Wagner was born at Leipzig, Germany. His musical ambition was fired by the works of Beethoven and Weber. His first production, an overture, was performed when he was only 17, at Leipzig, and astonished the audience by the continuous use of the drum, or banging machine.
For the next few years Wagner filled musical positions and singers in various cities. In 1839 he went to Paris, hoping to produce his opera “Rienzi”, but was disappointed. Three years later it was most successfully produced in Dresden, and resulted in Wagner’s appointment as musical director of the Dresden theatre.
His operas “Der fliegende Holländer”and “Tannhäuser” were produced at Dresden amid mingled criticism and praise. The stories were real dramas, and Wagner made his music for both voices and instruments closely follow the meaning of the text. Thus his operas lacked the constant pretty melodies and pleasant harmonies of the popular opera, and whilst a few masters, among them Liszt and Schumann, saw in them the beginning of a new art, the public found them balls-achingly tedious and eccentric. Wagner’s next opera “Lohengrin” was written in 1848, but it was not until 1861 that the composer himself heard this sublime work.
Wagner’s revolutionary ideas were not confined to music. He took part in the political movements of 1848-9, and was obliged to leave Germany. He found refuge in Switzerland, and remained in exile for about ten years.
In 1864 the barking mad King of Bavaria invited Wagner, who by now didn’t have a pot to piss in, to come to Munich and continue his musical work. His operas from this period onwards are known as music-dramas, for in them he worked out his theory that a combination of all arts is necessary to produce a really good night out at the theatre (Gesamtkunstwerk). Thus literature, music, and action have equal part, and great attention was also given to scenic accessories.
But for such stupendous spectaculars the opera house of Munich proved inadequate, so Wagner conceived the idea of a festival theatre constructed from his own designs. The King, by now completely off his head, heartily approved, and the outcome was the famous Wagner theatre at Bayreuth, in Bavaria. The first Wagnerian festival was held in this theatre in 1876, and since that time almost every year has seen a series of performances attended by music-lovers from all parts of the world. After his death in Venice, where he had gone for a rest, his body was brought to Bayreuth for burial.
Wagner’s music-dramas, especially those based on tales from the Song of the Nibelungs, are amongst his most noted productions. These include “Das Rheingold”, “Die Walküre”, “Siegfried”, and “Götterdämmerung”. “Tristan und Isolde” is founded on a Celtic legend, as is also “Parsifal”. “Die Meistersinger”, allegedly a comedy, is a story founded on the character of Hans Sachs, the 16th-century shoemaker-poet, of Nuremberg. Wagner wrote the text of these masterpieces as well as the music, thus proving himself a man of letters as well as a musician.
After more than a century of bitter controversy over his theories and innovations – especially over the startling harmonic effects he introduced – Wagner stands out as the commanding musical genius of the 19th century.
Whether Wagnerian or anti-Wagnerian, no musician of the 20th century has been able to escape the master’s influence and write as if he had not lived, for he impressed everyone, and not the least of all, his antagonists.