Flowers by Contrecoup

Being brought up in a family with three doctors gives one an odd outlook on life. It was not just the anatomy textbooks, with their foggy monochrome photographs, that rubbed shoulders with the wildflower guides and J.B. Priestley novels in the family library. Nor was it only the medical advertisements that came in triplicate by […]

In Vino Veritas

Take a piece of paper and write on one side: “The statement on the other side of this page is untrue.” Then turn the piece of paper over and write the same thing on the other side. Then apply for a tenure-track position in a university philosophy department, where they will tell you that this […]

Red Heat from Spain

I have often thought that the Forty Martyrs of Sebasteia should be the patron saints of Minnesota. Never mind that they are most likely mythical; they can stand for all the other martyrs the Romans executed in the first three centuries A.D. And the myth is certainly appropriate to our chilly state. The Forty, it […]

Anjou Reviver

Heaven knows the European Community (or whatever they are calling it this week) fails to warm the cockles of the English heart. (How would you like life in Minnesota regulated in detail by a bloated bureaucracy, living on expense accounts in a foreign land?) But one of its pleasanter side effects has been a scheme […]

Light and Holy Drinks

After twelve happy years in Oxford, the happy year I spent in Cambridge was a far greater culture shock than (several years later) coming to Minnesota. The first thing I learned was that in Cambridge, it is not polite to be rude to people. If you say, “I read your book; what a lot of […]

Rouge Almost Noir

If you go down to the woods south of London, you may be in for a big surprise. Not the teddy bears’ picnic—that seems to be what a good many urban folk seem to expect in the countryside these days, as though farms were all film sets and the animals, a collection of animated stuffed […]

that Speaks French

Of all the depressing novels I know, Jude the Obscure takes the prize for sustained doom and gloom. Don’t let the film mislead you; it is far too pretty. All those authentic Victorian sets (not to mention the delightfully authentic Kate Winslet) undermine the exposition of Jude’s law, that Sod and Murphy were incurable optimists, […]

Antipodean Sweetener

One of the unsung pleasures of a summer weekend in an English country house is the short shelf of books left in the spare bedroom for the entertainment of guests. If you are out of luck, the row of volumes on the bedside table consists of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, Regency bodice-rippers by the likes […]

Red-Blooded Australian

It is a drear thought that if you can remember the Pudding Shop on the north side of Divan Yolu in Istanbul you must be well into middle age. “Those were the days, my friend,” the Seekers sang, “We thought they’d never end, we would be young for ever and a day.” As the Roman […]

Magic Potion

No one ever added more acreage to the Roman Empire than Julius Caesar (the Roman geezer). Until his time, Roman territory in what is now France was the relatively narrow sliver along the Mediterranean coast that is still called Provence, precisely because it was the original Roman province. In ten years Caesar took over all […]