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Another poem by Tess Kincaid who lives by the Scioto River in Ohio and writes a blog called Life at Willow Manor.

I sunburn
under your
late-summer eyes,

our tongues hinge,
then come apart
like two rakes,
side by side.

We cull essence,
swallow brine
with the tang

of Russian vodka
in your mouth,
the silvery cold taste
of well water in mine.

Tess Kincaid writes a blog called Life at Willow Manor.

Gone the way
of the phone booth

and station wagon,
the morning tradition

is dunked or otherwise
reduced to an essence

added to the grind,
a kind of tribute.

Time-travel across
the politically correct,

wrap one in wax paper,
dribble jelly for old times’ sake,

the icing so sweet
it makes your teeth hurt.

I recommend you check out Penny Red.

Penny Red is … Laurie Penny, 24, journalist, author, feminist, reprobate. Lives in a little hovel room somewhere in London, mainly eating toast and trying to set the world to rights. Drinks too much tea. Has still not managed to quit smoking.

I’m huddled in the front room with some shell-shocked friends, watching my city burn. The BBC is interchanging footage of blazing cars and running street battles in Hackney, of police horses lining up in Lewisham, of roiling infernos that were once shops and houses in Croydon and in Peckham. Last night, Enfield, Walthamstow, Brixton and Wood Green were looted; there have been hundreds of arrests and dozens of serious injuries, and it will be a miracle if nobody dies tonight. This is the third consecutive night of rioting in London, and the disorder has now spread to Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol and Birmingham. Politicians and police officers who only hours ago were making stony-faced statements about criminality are now simply begging the young people of Britain’s inner cities to go home. Britain is a tinderbox, and on Friday, somebody lit a match. How the hell did this happen? And what are we going to do now?

Second lesbian blogger exposed as a man

A second supposedly leading lesbian blogger was exposed as a man masquerading as a gay woman, a day after the Gay Girl in Damascus blog was revealed to be the fictional creation of a married male student from Edinburgh.

Paula Brooks, who claimed to be the executive editor of a US-based lesbian site LezGetReal.com, told the Washington Post that “she”, too, was a man – in this case, a 58-year-old retired construction worker from Ohio called Bill Graber.

Linda LaVictoire, a contributor at LezGetReal.com who writes as Linda Carbonelli, told the Washington Post: “I was completely taken in. I have been completely taken in for three years.”

Before I am outed by various unsavoury, sexist, and worthless denizens of the blogosphere, I have decided to reveal myself that I am, in fact, a Syrian lesbian librarian and feminist freedom fighter. My bra size is 36HH. I started this blog because I was bored – the only other lesbians here in Damascus are visiting Americans who, apart from being intensely dull, disrespect my beloved country and the sufferings of our people, thousands of whom have fled to Turkey, which is shit.

Anyway, this article will tell you a bit more about my home city.

(Taken from The Book of Knowledge, edited by Harold F.B. Wheeler)

Before Athens was built, or Rome; before Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, Damascus, “the pearl of the desert” and the present capital of Syria, was a great and famous city. It is believed to be the oldest inhabited city in the world, and we can trace its continuous existence for 4,000 years.

To the Arab it is also the most beautiful city, and on it he bases his idea of paradise; for it lies in a lovely green plain on the edge of the Syrian desert, and its gardens – stretching for miles along the Barada River – yield oranges, lemons, citrons, pomegranates, mulberries, figs, plums, walnuts, pears, apples, and cucumbers, to the limit of his dreams.

It is a sacred city as well, and in the 12th month of every Mohammedan year, thousands gather at Damascus for the pilgrimage to Mecca, which every believer hopes to make once in his lifetime. About this city of romance many historic memories cluster – how it was taken by the Israelites under King David, and by the Assyrians under Tiglath-Pileser III; how Saul was miraculously converted while on his way to persecute the Christians of Damascus; and how it was captured by the Crusaders. Here died Saladin, the great enemy of the Crusaders in the days of Richard the Lionheart, and here he lies buried.

No city is more Oriental in appearance than Damascus. From a distance its great expanse of low-lying Arab houses, overtopped here and there by the graceful minarets of the 248 mosques, seems very picturesque; but when you come nearer, you find that the streets are narrow and crooked and dirty, and the houses seem very dingy and in bad repair.

The “Great Khan” with its Moorish gate and its black and white marble cupola supported on granite pillars, is a magnificent structure. In this and several lesser khans (walled caravan headquarters), trading goes on in a cool twilight to the pleasant sound of fountains. The bazaars are noisier and busier, being simply streets of small shops, where bright silks, rugs, metalwork, and other articles are temptingly displayed. The longest, busiest bazaar of all is the “Straight Street” mentioned in connexion with St. Paul’s conversion. It is roofed for its whole length of a mile and a half.

The looms of Damascus have been famous for many centuries; and in this city, where everything is still done in the most primitive way, where meal is ground in stone mills turned by camels, you may still see the hand-looms worked by a weaver and his draw-boy. On these looms are made the beautiful damasks, woven in silks of brilliant colours, that were known throughout Europe and Asia as early as the time of the Crusades.

Few of the Damascus sword blades, for which the city was also famous in the Middle Ages, have been forged there since 1399, when Tamerlane, the terrible Tartar conqueror, raided the city and carried off all the great armourers to his own capitals. The twisting and welding of two grades of iron or steel gave them their cutting properties and also contributed a beautiful watermark pattern. To make them still more beautiful the Damascenes inlaid them with marvellous designs done in gold and silver. These blades were so keen that floating gossamer could be cut with them; so hard that they would shear an iron spear in two. Damascus today is still famous for its metal inlaid work.

The first mention of Damascus is in Egyptian records of about 4,000 years ago. After 1200 B.C. it became the most powerful of a group of Aramean kingdoms that long defied Assyria. In 732, however, Tiglath-Pileser III crushed its walls. The Bible tells of King David’s conquest of Damascus. In 333 it fell prey to Alexander, and in A.D. 63 to Rome. From 635 down to the time of the World War Damascus was in Arab and Turkish hands, except for a brief interval when it was held by the Crusaders of the 12th century. In quelling a rebellion, the French shelled part of the city in 1925.

(Source: Grauniad)

The mysterious identity of a young Arab lesbian blogger who was apparently kidnapped last week in Syria has been revealed conclusively to be a hoax. The blogs were written not by a gay girl in Damascus, but a middle-aged American man based in Scotland.

Tom MacMaster, a 40-year-old Middle East activist studying for a masters at Edinburgh University, posted an update declaring that, rather than a 35-year-old feminist and lesbian called Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari, he was “the sole author of all posts on this blog”.

“While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on this blog are true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground,” the update read. “This experience has, sadly, only confirmed my feelings regarding the often superficial coverage of the Middle East and the pervasiveness of new forms of liberal Orientalism. However, I have been deeply touched by the reactions of readers.”

Gay Girl in Damascus blog extracts

Australia’s favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, a.k.a. Lorraine Elliott, comes face to face with her namesake at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival:

There is a classic Nigella moment when she says “I like a bit of brutality in the kitchen” with that gleam in her eye and she leans onto a raw, whole chicken to flatten it slightly to make it easier to cook. Food is about legacy and passing recipes on, and along with this, recipes, traits or style are passed on. She amuses everyone with a story of a woman who made a pot roast and to start she would cut off both ends of the pot roast. When asked why she did this she answered that it was what her own mother had always done so she did it. When they asked her mother why she had done it she said that that was her mother had done. When they asked the grandmother why she had done it she said that the reason why she did it was because her pot was too small to fit the pot roast!

After browning the chicken, she places it in a pot to boil along with celery, and carrots, which brings us to carrot coins. “I find circles of carrots make me depressed,” she says, citing school meals with carrot circles as the possible cause. “But by all means if carrots don’t make you depressed, use them … If you had to be an expert to cook, the human race wouldn’t exist.”

(Source: Business Spectator)

Opera Chic (“I’m a young American woman living in Milan, and you’re not. I go to La Scala a lot, and you don’t.”) inspired this post by reminding me that Seiji Ozawa is back following treatment for throat cancer.

Béla Bartók’s music is beautiful. That’s the thing here. Now, I’m not much of a fan of Seiji Ozawa’s recordings. While I find his recordings generally well executed, I also find them, or at least a good portion of them, a bit on the dull side. Against this I needed to balance the fact that I haven’t bought a new version of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra for probably eight months or more. Clearly I was remiss in my duties. Sure, I could have opted for Christoph Eschenbach’s fairly recent recording, but Ozawa’s was available for a silly low price, so it got the nod. And so I undertook to listen to that most satisfying pairing of the Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta along with the wartime warhorse played by the still relatively new Saito Kinen Orchestra. In concert, no less.

The disc opens with the M.S.P.C. It’s a bit hard to determine what’s coming in the opening passages of the Andante tranquillo. It opens with hushed pianissimo playing, with nicely delicate string playing. But it seems a little too rounded, a little too warm. As things gradually build up, and then build up some more, things stay on the soft side. Still the tension and volume continue to build noticeably until at 4’16” a big ol’ thwack of the bass drum and full cry of the orchestra announces the arrival of the meaty (or at least meatier) part of the movement.

The orchestra plays extremely well. The only thing that really seems to be missing is bite. Sure, the strings sound nicely dissonant, but surely they should sound more astringent than they do here. Anyway, after the big outburst, Ozawa and company quiet things down again and create a nicely sinister air.

One thing that simply cannot go unnoticed is the amazing sound quality. Detail abounds throughout the orchestra, with the best sounding celesta I recall hearing and a pinpoint xylophone ringing out stage right among the highlights. Yet even with all that glorious detail the recording retains a pleasing warmth. It rather reminds me of Daniel Barenboim’s Mahler 7 recording; that is, it’s essentially a perfect sound.

So, on to the second movement. The sound captures the wonderfully played strings in all their not-too-dissonant glory, and then Ozawa changes the playing style to sound almost jocular. A minor blemish comes with the piano-percussion doubling, which lacks that last degree of snap, though the playing is solid. The Adagio opens tautly and quietly, with that razor-sharp xylophone reappearing, and the strings do their thing. Greater tension is achieved and maintained than earlier on, and the playing is deliciously colourful, and that ravishing celesta comes back to tickle one’s ears.

To close the work, all concerned play with greater tension and energy, yet maintain the glorious, rich, warm sound that has defined the recording up to this point. The strings start to sound just biting enough, and the percussion adds enough zing. What to make of it all? Well, sadly it lacks that certain something, that certain Hungarian-ness that some other notable Bartók conductors bring, and it sounds just a bit too polite at times. But it also sounds amazingly beautiful and lived-in. I’m guessing Ozawa knows and loves the piece, because so much attention has clearly been lavished on it. This will not be to everyone’s taste, but so what?

The mighty Concerto for Orchestra isn’t quite as good, though it ain’t too shabby. To start with, the sound isn’t as good. Oh, sure, it’s very high quality, and it shares the same warm overall sound of the M.S.P.C., but it’s not as detailed and precise, with the orchestra sounding like a giant blob of beautiful sound at times, not that I’m complaining. That quibble aside, there are other quibbles, but they’re mixed in with decidedly un-quibble-inducing playing. The first movement opens with nice and beefy if not super-detailed low string playing and shimmering violins. The overall effect is not exactly dark or eerie or foreboding, but it does possess a hint of theatricality. When the movement transitions to the Allegro vivace section, all the strings swell in a grand manner. Too old-world grand for this piece? Dunno. Don’t care. As for the tasty winds, well, they’re, um, delectable, but they aren’t quite pungent enough. As things progress, the strings take on a nicely sharper sound which builds up to a loud, but not edgy enough fanfare before winding up the first movement strongly.

The second movement finds the paired instruments doing well enough, though I could have done with more ‘cackle’ from the oboes, and the stage right strings really catching one’s attention when the clarinets and then the trumpets play. Some minor imperfections in the playing are so minor as to make the playing seem better. The great Elegia is appropriately sombre in mood and ethereal in sound, with fine, clear winds led by more robust oboe playing. The piccolo playing rises above the din nicely enough, even if some other recordings boast sharper, more articulate playing than here (Ivan Fischer’s, say).

“Bartók is beautiful”. Nowhere is that message more emphatically reinforced than in the interrupted intermezzo. The main theme is played more beautifully than in any other version I can recall, with the strings so sumptuous sounding that one wants the theme repeated before going on. Is it too romanticized? Perhaps. So what? As for the crude interruptions from Shostakovich 7, I must say that I found them a bit too polite. So’s the response. The carnival music afterwards is nicely done and fills the stage, but it’s not quite sharp enough – but, did I mention that the main theme is beautifully played? It is at the end, too. The finale opens with a slightly too slow and thick fanfare, but then it’s off to the races, with the entire band playing extremely well and with plenty of drive. While the sound is not as spectacular as in the opening work, it is here where one really begins to appreciate the wonders of contemporary digital recording: the sound is rich, loud, clear, and massive, without any hint of compression or hardness, at least at the volume at which I listened – just shy of concert level. All told, this is a good version, certainly better than I anticipated, though it’s not one of the greats in my estimation.

The 2010 Manchester Blog Awards will be held on Wednesday 20 October 2010 at 7 p.m.

This year, the Manchester Blog Awards moves to a new home: the cultural hub that is the Deaf Institute, which is situated at 135 Grosvenor Street on the university campus.

The awards evening is a popular event and features readings, music and, of course, the largest annual meeting of Manchester bloggers.

So come along if you’re a blogger, a reader or a curious onlooker – all are welcome.

You can nominate your own blog, as well as someone else’s. You only need to be nominated once to be considered; multiple nominations don’t count. To qualify, a blogger must live, work, or go to school within commuting distance of Manchester.

The deadline for nominations is 5 p.m. on Friday 10 September 2010.

Foreign Secretary William Hague issued a statement in response to rumours over his relationship with former special adviser Christopher Myers (yesterday the political gossip blog Guido Fawkes, run by Paul Staines, revealed Hague and Myers shared a hotel room during the election campaign):

I feel it is necessary to issue this personal statement in response to press and internet speculation over the last ten days.

Earlier this year a Sunday newspaper began questioning whether my marriage to Ffion was in trouble, and last week another media outlet asked whether there was a statement about our supposed separation. This seemed to be linked to equally untrue speculation surrounding the appointment of Christopher Myers as a Special Adviser.

Christopher Myers has demonstrated commitment and political talent over the last eighteen months. He is easily qualified for the job he holds. Any suggestion that his appointment was due to an improper relationship between us is utterly false, as is any suggestion that I have ever been involved in a relationship with any man.

This speculation seems to stem from the fact that whilst campaigning before the election we occasionally shared twin hotel rooms. Neither of us would have done so if we had thought that it in any way meant or implied something else.

In hindsight I should have given greater consideration to what might have been made of that, but this is in itself no justification for allegations of this kind, which are untrue and deeply distressing to me, to Ffion and to Christopher.

He has now told me that, as a result of the pressure on his family from the untrue and malicious allegations made about him, he does not wish to continue in his position. It is a pity that a talented individual should feel that he needs to leave his job in this way.

Ffion and I believe that everyone has a right to a private life. However, we now feel it necessary to give some background to our marriage because we have had enough of this continued and hurtful speculation about us.

I have made no secret of the fact that Ffion and I would love to start a family. For many years this has been our goal. Sadly this has proved more difficult for us than for most couples. We have encountered many difficulties and suffered multiple miscarriages, and indeed are still grieving for the loss of a pregnancy this summer. We are aware that the stress of infertility can often strain a marriage, but in our case, thankfully, it has only brought us closer together.

It has been an immensely traumatic and painful experience but our marriage is strong and we will face whatever the future brings together.

Several years ago one Sunday paper reported that Ffion was three months pregnant, without ever checking the story with us. This made even more difficult the fact that we had only just experienced another disappointment.

We have never made this information public because of the distress it would cause to our families and would not do so now were it not for the untrue rumours circulating which repeatedly call our marriage into question. We wish everyone to know that we are very happily married.

It is very regrettable to have to make this personal statement, but we have often said to each other “if only they knew the truth…”

Yeah, yeah, whatever … but he is a shirtlifter isn’t he? And Ffion’s a beard.

The self-taught Argentine tenor, star of David McVicar’s new Aïda, talks to Emma Pomfret of the Times.

He is in town for Verdi’s Aïda, directed by David McVicar. It is Alvarez’s debut as Radames, the heroic Egyptian general caught in a love triangle between Aïda, a prisoner, and the scorned princess Amneris.

“I’m very engaged with the production,” Alvarez announces, explaining that this Aïda is no “earthy” Egypt but a mix of evocative ancient traditions: Aztec Mexico, Ancient Greece and samurai warriors. “It looks a little like Stargate.”

“Normally Radames is sung with a big warrior voice: ‘Wah, wah, bah, bah!’ ” Alvarez barks like an hysterical seal.

“I don’t have the body of a young man, but I’m athletic. I can move well on stage.”

“The audience think we are capricious billionaires; 20 or 30 years ago, yes, but not now. It’s not true.”

His greatest vitriol is reserved for opera bloggers, whose continual criticism and sniping gossip, he says, damages singers. “Perhaps you sing one bad performance and these websites attack and blow it out of proportion. They always write: bad, bad, bad!” he rants, drowning out the translator in English. “Some artistic directors read these sites and a lot of contracts go.” This hasn’t happened to him, and he cannot give me a direct example but, he says: “I know it has happened. This is the real cancer of our opera world.”

They know who they are.

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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