The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Thursday, April 27, 2006


Haven't felt moved to post much recently - so it goes. Lying fallow for a bit. But here's a thing, from Iain McCalman's The Seven Ordeals of Count Cagliostro:

'For spiritual and medical prognostications, the cabbala was the standard tool, but it was not easy to understand or use. It comprised a body of Jewish mystical doctrine, as well as a system of prediction known as gematria. One could arrive at oracular predictions through calculations based on the correspondences between numbers and Hebrew biblical letters or words. Balsamo [the young Cagliostro] had produced several cabalistic predictions that seemed auspicious for the success of their treasure hunt.'

I'll bet he had. Cagliostro - or Balsamo - would stun his partner and run off with the money he'd been given to draw up maps and make magical preparations against the demons who were widely thought to be guarding the treasure. At least, according to McCalman that's what happened. I'm not sure how academically rigorous the book is, but so far it's extremely entertaining.

The point of interest is that this seems to be the same technique used by Michael Drosnin in The Bible Code - in other words, it's a 200 year-old scam, and it's still working today.


After about three weeks, have finally acclimatized to seeing daylight again. It always seems to happen around the end of March/beginning of April - it's still getting dark at 5, or whenever, and then bam! there's all this excess light around in the mornings and evenings. It seemed to hit everyone this year. It's like being let out of a byre. One day, I am going to live in a country where I can enjoy this without enduring six months of winter beforehand.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


For the present, anyway.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


Came across this while flicking through Claude and Madeleine by Edward Marriott:

'The pace of the German invasion [of France] rendered it mythical. "Reality was so strange," recalled the novelist Jean Dutourd, "that it became almost indistiguishable from fiction."'

Leaving aside the question of how the German invasion became mythical quite so quickly - does he mean fantastic? (I recently saw a blurb for a book which said it had been "ripped from oblivion", oblivion being apparently rather less absolute than it used to be. Enough) - this chimed with something Leonardo Sciascia wrote about the Moro affair. I can't find the quote, but it's something along very similar lines - either that the role of the writer had been usurped by reality, or that the drama had already been realised once in fiction and was now being repeated. Either way, a sense of things being misaligned, disjointed, unreal.

I felt like this on seeing the original version of The Manchurian Candidate a couple of years ago. It's a very, very queasy feeling, watching it and knowing that Kennedy would be shot the year after its release. What on earth had the filmakers tapped into? What was in the air?


The Moro Affair is a tricky read and seems to obscure as much as it makes clear - but then the real events seem to have been rather like that, too. Fortunately Sciascia's report to the Italian Parliament (he was a Deputy at that point) is reprinted at the end of the book, and is written more simply. The introduction, by Neil Belton, includes this:

'When the Red Brigades seized Moro and killed his five bodyguards, their continued existence was a surprise to most Italians. In 1976, they seemed to have been mopped up by the police. The mysteriously renewed efficiency of this ultra-left band gives Sciascia pause for thought. In Italy nothing works, yet "the Red Brigades function to perfection". In this respect, they are like the Mafia, about which Sciascia knew a lot. He suggests that the real function of the Red Brigades, mad as they are, might be to shift power around the places where it already resides. (He had already explored this theme in his novel Equal Danger, published in 1971.)'

As with much of Sciascia, I read this line about shifting power around the places where it already resides, admire the beauty of the phrase and nod sagely while stroking my non-existent goatee, and then common sense or native stupidity (a useful quality) kicks in and I think, but what does it mean? Why? For whose benefit? Equal Danger is elegant but confusing, frustrating, and impossible to solve - it's more an exploration of a theme, or a condition, rather than a mystery which procedes rationally and logically to a tidy conclusion.

Nevertheless, I remember when the Uffizi was bombed in 1993 there was a similar sense in the new reports of an absence of rationale. Fingers were pointed and blame apportioned, but without much conviction. One thing was certain: everything was abruptly less certain. The bombing seemed to be unattached, to have come out of nowhere, for no reason.

One is tempted to set the monkey mind to work constructing elaborate theories, but I think it's best to proceed slowly from fundamentals and demand a high level of evidential support, sources quoted, credentials established and so forth. If not, one finds oneself turning into David Icke or, worse, Oliver Stone.

However, one of those fundamentals is that when people are fearful, those in power become more powerful. Ain't that familiar? The really horrible thought is that it was as true in 1933, when the Reichstag burned down, as it is now.