Eternal Rome

June 12, 2015 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | TRAVEL |

(April/May 2013) From the hell of Fiumicino Airport, an official looking chauffeur took us on a mid afternoon drive past the Forum, Trajan’s Column and the Colosseo and deposited us, bang on cocktail time, at the Hassler, atop the Spanish steps.  The Varnished Culture knew from the H.H Kirst novel* that we were due a treat and so it proved.  The hotel guests were just as exotic: Japanese in fluorescent sports gear, dancing a jig; a rich Italian with a blond 2/3rds his age; an odd couple feted by the staff; a short, plump American with dead, gold hair, accompanied by…

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Death Cloud Over Pompeii

May 31, 2015 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | HISTORY, TRAVEL |

"The Last Day(s) of Pompeii" (Karl Briullov, 1827-33)

(Pompeii, AD 79) On a pleasant warm day, a soft breeze soughing through the pines, we chugged on a local caboose through Campania from Sorrento to Pompeii. Buried under a massive blanket of ash and pumice from the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79, only uncovered in 1750, ruins remain but ruins of startling length and breadth, including extant frescoes, streets and buildings, and corpses. Pliny the Younger was a 17 year old and described in a letter how some of his family’s land went up in smoke (initially in a cloud of vapours, shaped like a pine tree) along with his uncle, who died attempting…

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The Geography of Bliss

It won't be long

(Eric Weiner) This is another of those sorts of books which are labelled “holiday” or “beach” reads but for once, it really might be worthwhile to read at 30,000 feet while jetting in to meet some joyful Icelanders (by far the best chapter in the book) or away from the moaning  Moldovans (who, TVC is surprised to note, don’t even seem to be cheered by their relative success at Eurovision). Is  Bhutan really the happiest country in the world?  Despite its telegenic crinkle-faced monks, its measure of Gross National Happiness and its being the site of Shangri-La (which was, interestingly enough, the former name…

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Bayreuth Was Closed

May 16, 2015 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | TRAVEL, WAGNER |

"We're here...who's singing at us?"

22 MAY: Happy Birthday, Richard! In May 2013, we drove into Bayreuth, figuring we would get our fill of tributes to the Master. However, the famed Festspielhaus was closed till bicentenary performances scheduled for June.  No one seemed particularly keen on giving us information…surely they aren’t ‘over’ the Master? There appeared to be no direct road connecting to Richard Wagner Strasse.  We drove the wrong way down a one way street* and at the corner of RW Strasse and Wannfried Strasse, an information booth attendant told us the Wagner Museum was closed. For a town that owes much to Wagner,…

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Mad King Ludwig

April 6, 2015 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | HISTORY, TRAVEL, WAGNER |

The Moon King

June 13, 1886: what happened? Ludwig II King of Bavaria, son of Crown Prince Maximilian and grandson of Ludwig I, died mysteriously that summer day in Lake Starnberg, Bavaria.  If he was mad, he was our kind of mad.  But he was also a threat, and this is why his ‘death by drowning’ has serious questions hanging over it – he was found floating, with his asylum doctor (also dead) near the shore, in shallow water, no water in the lungs, and he was a strong swimmer. As accidental drownings go, it has as much cogency as the water commissioner’s in…

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