Friday, 11 April 2014

A Merchant of Venice: manners makyth man

Portrait of Iseppo da Porto and his son, Leonida (another Veronese currently in the National Gallery, viewed in my lunchhour). So affectionate; such wealth - the fur trimmed capes (of both of them); the boy leaning into his father's body, hands clasped and the lines of their arms mirroring the movement of the fabric. Da Porto was one of Vicenza's richest citizens. He was a silk merchant - responsible no doubt for the importing some of the fabulous fabrics worn in Veronese's paintings....
He looks an upright man. What makes a man? The motto of New College, Oxford: Manners makyth man - has to mean profoundly i.e. not that not merely manners but one's manner towards other people - the way you treat other people - defines you.
Struck by Alain de Botton's remark in A Week at the Airport about a pilot that he met during his stint at Heathrow. He is in awe of this man.

"I looked at his steady, well-sculpted hands and thought of how far he had come since childhood.
He, too, must be capable of petulance, of vanity, of acting foolishly, of making casually cruel remarks to his spouse or neglecting to understand his children. There are no directional charts for daily life. But at the same time, I was reluctant to either accept or exploit the implications of this knowledge. I wanted to believe in the capacity of certain professions to enable us to escape the ordinary run of our frailties and to accede, if only for a moment, to a more impressive sort of existence than most of us will ever know."
I don't 'want to believe' - I certainly do believe that professional callings can lift you into a different stratum of being: piloting hundreds of passengers through the air certainly does. People entrust their lives to you; literally put themselves at your mercy.

This is living in one sense at a frontier - negotiating a knife edge between life and death. Facing up to responsibility; putting yourself on the line.

Medics handle this too, of course, particularly people who deal with trauma injuries and heart conditions. Have to think that daily contact with this transports you into a different space: after repeated contact with sudden death, you have to think differently about the world.

Back at Mad Men: Don Draper has had a breakdown. He has become an alcoholic. Strayed across the line into dependency. A tragic dichotomy: he looks iconic, so handsome, so whole - and is apparently fatally flawed.

Haven't thought at all about people who help you travel - or enable you to travel. Pilots, guides, bus drivers....

Reading and watching

  • Foot by Foot to Santiago de Compostela/Judy Foot
  • The Testament of Mary with Fiona Shaw at the Barbican
  • The Testament of Mary/Colm Toibin
  • Schwanengesang/Schubert - Tony Spence
  • Journals/Robert Falcon Scott
  • Fugitive Pieces/Ann Michaels
  • Unless/Carol Shields
  • Faust/Royal Opera House
  • The Art of Travel/Alain de Botton
  • Mad Men Series 6
  • A Week at The Airport/Alain de Botton
  • The Railway Man/Eric Lomax
  • Bright Lights, Big City/Jay McInerney
  • Stones of Venice/John Ruskin
  • The Sea, the Sea/Iris Murdoch
  • Childe Harold/Lord Byron
  • All The Pretty Horses/Cormac McCarthy
  • Extreme Rambling/Mark Thomas
  • Story of my Life/Jay McInerney
  • Venice Observed/Mary McCarthy