Gum-burning brandy

Gum-burning brandy

A toothache-anaesthetizing solution gives a jaunty air to this fun concept of the Dullest Exhibition-case Award.  But lest you think Winder is simply irreverent, note his comment on the entirely understandable tendency towards caution among ideology-pounded...
Long-somnolent border

Long-somnolent border

In the absence of functioning treaties or other guarantees of peace, let us pray for long-somnolent borders that they may remain in blissful turpitude.  I singled out this triologism a month or two before a ‘long-somnolent border’ woke up to the sound of...
Lacquer-black Vltava

Lacquer-black Vltava

Lovely vowel harmony in that ‘lacquer-black’, it deserves to entirely supplant the boringly bog standard ‘pitch black’.  Do me a favour and use it the next time you want to emphasize the essence of the colour. And oh, to see this midnight dark...
Brocade-trimmed orrery

Brocade-trimmed orrery

The stereotype of the anally retentive chamberlain mechanically following a ritual timetable reminds me of Sourdust in Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan, cleaving to clockwork rituals in cycles of days, months, years and centuries.  Here Simon Winder notes that even...
Headache-inducing explosions

Headache-inducing explosions

Now you know why the Jesuits’ stupendously lavish baroque churches needed all those gilded churrigueresque curlicues, to better serve a didactic purpose. Their churches, often the greatest examples of baroque decoration, may seem to us headache-inducing...
Soft-palmed servants

Soft-palmed servants

How to spot an aristo in disguise and on the run?  Check servants for implausibly soft hands.  Dead give away.  A superb summary of the topsy-turvy changeability in their fortunes during the closing decades of the Austro-Hungarian empire.  Now, where did they stash...
Faux-Tamerlane backdrop

Faux-Tamerlane backdrop

A tribute to Budapest Zoo includes this description of the Elephants’ House and the geographically incongruous background designed for it.  But I’m all for the faux-Tamerlane look, aren’t you?The elephants themselves merely chomp away, oblivious to...
Whey-faced neurasthenics

Whey-faced neurasthenics

Surely a candidate for a Triologism Trophy?  What a fun image, a perfect 19th century refined salon scene set in stark contrast to Winder’s own home context, where his attempt to listen to Hugo Wolf vies with computer games in the next room and planes overhead. ...
Lavender-flavoured comfits

Lavender-flavoured comfits

Winder’s witty and summary dismissal of the less interesting Haydn symphonies, cranked out for aristo-soirées. And isn’t that a marvelous phrase: ‘brocaded people who have not washed’.  Thus does Winder bring history to life. Go easy on the...
Drizzle-washed hamlet

Drizzle-washed hamlet

Winder captures the moment when galleons, packed to the rafters with silver from the newly discovered and increasingly exploited south America, somewhat change the calculus in terms of fighting over a few muddy inches of the European map for miserable bits of real...
Hysteria-edged frieze

Hysteria-edged frieze

Simon Winder is a particularly gifted triologist, with both the books I’ve read yielding dozens of superbly original phrases, exuberant, witty, entertaining. Here he comments on imagined histories of various central European states, and I liked too the...
Cryptic afterlife

Cryptic afterlife

Baron Franz von der Trenck (1711-49), despite dying young and in disgrace, somehow contrived to be preserved in long life unguents. I like the understated description of the vaults he shares with endless Capucin monk-mummies, though I have no desire to visit.Trenck...
An encounter with competence

An encounter with competence

One of the pleasures of reading Simon Winder, apart from his lightly worn, wit-woven erudition, is the passing comments regarding his failings and inadequacies, real or perceived. Here, he visits the Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt and finds himself falling far...
Of besieged landscapes

Of besieged landscapes

An unusual simile to describe a highly fortified landscape with a troubled history.  For some wondrous word-paintings of beautiful landscapes in this region, read Miklos Banffy’s Transylvanian Trilogy.One of the world’s most introvert, besieged landscapes,...

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