Thursday 20 June 2024

Living in a Foreign Country

ὑμεῖς δ᾽ ἐς ἀλλόφυλον ἐλθοῦσαι χθόνα
γῆς τῆσδ᾽ ἐρασθήσεσθε· προυννέπω τάδε.

If you travel into some land of foreigners,
I warn you, you shall come to love their country.
Aeschylus, Eumenides 851-52. My translation.

Wednesday 19 June 2024

Eurystylus Coelestialium

Eurystylus coelestialium (眼斑厚盲蝽).

The ramie plants on Yuelu Mountain are always brimming with life. I have not seen many of this particular true bug, but there being so many insects about it is easy for a species to be overlooked.

Eurystylus coelestialium on Yuelu Mountain

Our Time

horae quidem cedunt et dies et menses et anni, nec praeteritum tempus umquam revertitur nec quid sequatur sciri potest. quod cuique temporis ad vivendum datur, eo debet esse contentus.

Hours, days, months and years pass by, the past never returns, and the future cannot be known: but we should be content with whatever time we are given to live within.
Cicero, On Old Age, 19.69. My translation.

Tuesday 18 June 2024

Ricania Taeniata

Ricania taeniata (黑带广翅蜡蝉).

In spite of the frequent rain, there have been plenty of insects out and active. On some reeds near the Xiang river there were many of these plant-hoppers. The are remarkable for the audible mating call they emit: I don't recall another plant-hopper one can hear!

Ricania taeniata by the Xiang River


Literary Delights

semper aut discere, aut docere, aut scribere dulce habui.

I always find learning, or teaching, or writing
to be delightful.
Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People (5.24). My translation.

Monday 17 June 2024

What Students Drink

From Ælfric’s Colloquy. My translation.

Teacher: & hwæt drincst þu?
Student: Ealu, gif ic hæbbe, oþþe wæter gif ic næbbe ealu.

Teacher: And what do you drink?
Student: Beer, if I have it or water when I don't have beer.

Japanese Knotweed Leaf Beetle

Japanese Knotweed Leaf Beetle (Gallerucida bifasciata, 二纹柱萤叶甲).

A ladybug-like beetle: they can be black and red or black and yellow with considerable variety in the patterns of their spots. Regardless of their colour, they all have large antennae.

Japanese Knotweed Leaf Beetle by Xiang River

Sunday 16 June 2024

Evergreen Wisteria

Evergreen Wisteria (Wisteriopsis reticulata, 网络夏藤).

A scrambling shrub, they started to bloom on Yuelu Mountain in the first week of June, though I saw some plants blooming a couple weeks earlier further East of here near Liuyang. Its burst of purple and yellow are always striking, whatever part of summer they first appear on the edges of the forests.

Evergreen Wisteria on Yuelu Mountain

Reed-like Men

Arundo etiam videtur exterius solida, sed intus est vacua: sicut sunt quidam homines, qui habent arundineas gratias, utpote corporis pulchritudinem, membrorum sanam fortitudinem, linguae facundiam, et hujus seculi sapientiam, et caetera hujusmodi, quibus raro merentur, sed saepius demerentur.

A reed, however seems outwardly solid but it is hollow on the inside: just like some men, who have reed-like graces: such as physical beauty, robust strength of limb, eloquence in speech, and the wisdom of this world, and other qualities such as these, which are rarely found, but easily lost.
Albertus Magnus, Sermones: de tempore, de eucharistia, de sanctis, ed. by Hippolytus a Cruce (Toulouse: Édouard Privat, 1883), p. 12 [In Dominica III Adventus. Sermo III.]. My translation.

Saturday 15 June 2024

Mussaenda Shikokiana

Mussaenda shikokiana (大叶白纸扇).

In the past I have only seen a few of these scrambling shrubs on Yuelu Mountain, but I believe this summer I have been seeing more: perhaps they have been taking advantage of some of the sparser tree cover, a consequence of a destructive winter?

Mussaenda shikokiana on Yuelu Mountain

Thoughts and Dreams

 אין מראין לו לאדם אלא מהרהורי ליבו
A person is only shown [in a dream] what is suggested by his thoughts.
Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth 55b My Translation.

Friday 14 June 2024

Ptecticus Aurifer

Ptecticus aurifer (金黄指突水虻).

Flies are not the most loved insect, but they can be some of the most fascinating. This soldier fly from Yuelu Mountain is a wasplike mimic and is very colorful: individuals come in a wide array of yellows, oranges, reds and blacks.

Ptecticus aurifer on Yuelu Mountain


 Dinner was announced and the two friends joined the surge of guests going towards the buffet in the garden. It was a feast of prawns, by far the most expensive delicacy in Pakistan at the moment. Tandoori prawn. Prawn skewer kebabs. Grilled prawns. Prawn pulao. Penne prawns. Deep-fried prawns. Prawn jalfrezi. Prawn korma. Sweet-and-sour prawns. Butterfly prawns. Prawn fried rice. Prawn-stuffed paratha. Prawn cutlets. Prawn salad.
‘Okay, Nadir Sheh, we get it!’ Alys said as she and Sherry joined the buffet line. ‘You can afford all the prawns in the ocean. And I’d thought the flowers ostentatious.’
‘I love prawns,’ Sherry said, taking heaping spoonfuls of each entrée. ‘I’ve only ever eaten them once, and even then we only got four each. This is why you marry rich: an endless array of prawns whenever you want and prepared however you want.’
Soniah Kamal, Unmarriageable: Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan (London: Allison & Busby, 2019), p. 166.

Thursday 13 June 2024

Good and Better

Et hoc oro, ut caritas vestra magis ac magis abundet in scientia et in omni sensu [Phil 1,9]. Caritas abundat, idest crescit in scientiam, ut probare et discernere sciat homo non solum mala et bona, sed etiam inter bona et potiora.

“And this I pray, that your charity may more and more abound in knowledge, and in all understanding” (Philippians 1,9). Charity abounds, that is it grows into knowledge, so that a man may know how to examine and discern not only between good and evil, but also between good and better.
St. Anthony of Padua, Sermones Dominicales et in Solemnitatibus , ed. by Antonius Maria Locatelli et al ., 3 vols (Padua : Sodalitas Universalis Sancti Antonii Patavini Edit ., 1895 ), II, p. 553. From his Sermon on the Twenty-Second Sunday After Pencecost (III.17). My translation.

Marcantonio Bassetti - St Antony Reading
Marcantonio Bassetti - St Antony Reading

Weeping Widow Mushroom

Weeping Widow (Lacrymaria lacrymabunda, 毡毛小脆柄菇).

There are many mushrooms appearing on Yuelu Mountain due to the humity and rain. These weeping willow mushrooms were not on the mountain itself but in a patch of grass nearby. They have hairy caps. The gills are yellow-brown when they are fresh but soon turn black and are often laden with dew (they drip or 'weep'). The spore print is black but one has to be quick to get it as the picked mushrooms quickly turn to oozing black mush.

Weeping Widow Mushrooms by Yuelu Mountain

Wednesday 12 June 2024

Life without Education

Instrue praeceptis animum, ne discere cessa;
nam sine doctrina vita est quasi mortis imago

Build up your mind with lessons, never cease learning;
for life without education is an echo of death.
Dicta Catonis 3.1.
Otium sine litteris mors est et hominis vivi sepultura

Free time without literature is death and burial for a living man
Seneca, Ep. Mor. 82.3.
ἐρωτηθεὶς τίνι διαφέρουσιν οἱ πεπαιδευμένοι τῶν ἀπαιδεύτων, "ὅσῳ," εἶπεν, "οἱ ζῶντες τῶν τεθνεώτων."

When asked how the educated differ from the uneducated, [Aristotle] answered "as much as the living from the dead."
Diogenes Laertius 5.19.

My translations.

Oxyopes sertatus

Oxyopes sertatus (斜纹猫蛛).

A a small (usually slightly under or over a centimetre in length) and very common lynx spider in Changsha: in warm or mild weather they are often laying in wait on reeds or leaves. They have long black setae on all their legs and a strange geometry: their abdomens form a stretched isosceles triangle, have two small eyes on their front and six larger eyes arranged hexagonally on the top of their heads.

Oxyopes sertatus by the Xiang River

Tuesday 11 June 2024

An Improvement on Holmesian Logic

When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes
   “But I understand nothing—but nothing of all this! The enemy that this Ratchett spoke of, he was then on the train after all? But where is he now? How can he have vanished into thin air? My head, it whirls. Say something, then, my friend, I implore you. Show me how the impossible can be possible!”
   “It is a good phrase that,” said Poirot. “The impossible cannot have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.”
Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express (Glasgow: Fontana, 1984; 1934), p. 116.

Fledgling Spotted Dove

Spotted Dove (Spilopelia chinensis, 珠颈斑鸠).

A common scene: a single child growing up in the city.

Juvenile Spotted Dove in Changsha

Monday 10 June 2024

Fledgling Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush

Juvenile Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush (Pterorhinus pectoralis, 黑领噪鹛).

I rarely see the young ones; this one has been keeping close to its mother and its flock but is slowly growing more bold in its explorations among the trees and bushes of Yuelu Mountain.

Juvenile Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush on Yuelu Mountain

Lumba Lumba

The Jesuit missionary Gabriel de Magalhães (1609-1677) gives one of the few early modern European accounts of the Dragon Boat Festival in his 1668 (but not published until 1688) account of the history of China. Magalhães refers to the festival as Lúm chuên, an obvious corruption of 龙船, but also mentions that the residents of Macao refer to the festival as Lumba Lumba: which I venture is derived from the Malay word for a ‘race’.

Relevant passages from the 1688 French and English editions:
Gabriel Magalhaens, New History of China, Containing a Description of the Most Considerable Particulare of that Vast Empire (London: Printed for Thomas Newborough, 1688), p. 107:

But in regard this Story is very like to that which occasion’d the Festival solemniz’d the fifth day of the fifth Moon, which the Inhabitants of Macao, if I am not deceiv’d, call Lumba Lumba, and the Chineses Lûm Chuen, that is to say Barks made in the form of a Dragon, wherein they sport themselves that day upon the Rivers [...].
Gabriel de Magaillans, Nouvelle relation de la Chine, contenant la description des particularitez les plus considerables de ce grand empire (Paris: Claude Barbin, 1688), p. 131:
Mais comme cette Histoire ressemble fort à celle qui a esté cause de la Fête qu’on celebre le cinquiéme jour de la cinquiéme Lune, que ceux de Macao, sa je ne me trompe appellent Lumba Lumba, & les Chinois, Lúm chuên, c’est-à-dire, barques faites en forme de Dragon, dans lesquelles ils courent ce jour-là sur les rivieres [...]

Sunday 9 June 2024

Long-billed Plover

Long-billed Plover (Charadrius placidus, 长嘴剑鸻).

Not a rare bird, but not one that is normally found in Changsha! Very briefly it was visible on the shore of the Xiang River between two thick banks of reeds, and then it was off, back on route to wherever it is journeying this summer.

Long-billed Plover in Changsha

An Old Bachelor’s Books

 The rest of the pretty sitting-room—looking into the orchard, and all covered over with dancing tree-shadows—was filled with books. They lay on the ground, they covered the walls, they strewed the table. He was evidently half ashamed and half proud of his extravagance in this respect. They were of all kinds—poetry and wild weird tales prevailing. He evidently chose his books in accordance with his own tastes, not because such and such were classical or established favourites.
Mrs. Gaskell, Cranford (London: W. Foulsham, n.d.; 1851-1853) p. 35.

Saturday 8 June 2024

Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush

Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush (Pterorhinus pectoralis, 黑领噪鹛).

A beautiful south Asian forest bird, occasionally one sees (one more-often hears) them throughout the forests on Yuelu Mountain. On this occasion there was a small and friendly flock of six adults and one fledging, scouring the foliage together.

Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush on Yuelu Mountain

More Particulars

GIACOMO        More particulars
Must justify my knowledge.
William Shakespeare, Cymbeline II.4.78-79.

Friday 7 June 2024

Summer Cicadas

Lawrence Durrell

The little gold cigale
Is summer’s second god, the lovers know it,
His parched reverberating voice
Deepens the gold thirst of the noons
And follows the black sun’s long
Fig-ripening and vine-mellowing fall
So leisurely from heaven’s golden car
Day by successive day to end it all . . .

And where the Latin heat has stretched
The skin of valleys will his voice
Rubbing and scraping at the lover’s ear
Oracles of past suns recall,
Prodigals of leisure and brown skins,
Wine mixed with kisses and the old
Dreamless summer sleeps they once enjoyed
In Adam’s Eden long before the Fall.
Lawrence Durrell, Collected Poems (London: Faber and Faber, 1960), p. 191.

Eastern Horse Cicada

Eastern horse cicada (Cryptotympana atrata, 黑蚱蝉).

Obstreperous male cicadas are everywhere now and when they are not singing, they seem to fly about blindly and with little purpose, as they usually return to the same perches.

Eastern Horse Cicada in Changsha

Thursday 6 June 2024

Garden Balsam

Garden Balsam (Impatiens balsamina, 凤仙花).

Growing wild in the hills of Wangling Park. Long used in folk medicines for joint pains and stomach ailments, and more peculiarly, dying finger nails.

Garden Balsam in Wangling Park

Reflection for the End of the Academic Year

    והיינו דאמר רבי חנינא: הרבה למדתי מרבותי ומחבירי יותר מרבותי, ומתלמידי יותר מכולן.

    And Rabbi Hanina said: Much have I learned from my teachers, and I have learned more from my colleagues than from my teachers, and from my students I have learned the most.
Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 7a:12. My Translation.

Wednesday 5 June 2024

Plum Judy

Plum Judy (Abisara echerius, 蛇目褐蚬蝶).

A new encounter for me: the wet season form of this butterfly was flying around the top of Tianma Mountain, in Liuyang. Even when perched on a leaf it was in constant motion: turning and dancing.

Plum Judy on Tianma Mountain, Liuyang

Nature and the Book

 In Australia, nature and the book existed in a state of war. Summer damp and heat reacted with the bleach in paper to produce ‘foxing’; an apparently pristine book could be marred on every page by its rusty blotches. A few of Sydney’s arrogant varnish-brown cockroaches were likely to scuttle out of any carton you started to excavate, but other bugs were more insidious. Some could drill a perfect millimetre-wide tunnel through the heftiest tome. Others confined themselves to the surface. When a publisher coated his covers with the wrong sort of ‘size’, bugs headed for them in the millions, slithering under the dust wrapper to browse until the boards were covered with winding white tracks. Certain books were notorious for this fault. In a shelf devoted to works by Randolph Stow, insects always singled out his collection of poems, A Counterfeit Silence. ‘It was bound in a turquoise cloth that was sized with gelatine,’ remembers Sydney bookseller Nicholas Pounder. ‘Once a critical humidity was achieved, it was like aniseed to a hound; the silverfish and cockies would scamper, slavering.’ But people could do far worse damage than any insect. Annotations, underlinings and marginalia were common, the reader carrying on an exasperated conversation with the writer. A scribbled ‘Fool!’ in the margin was common, as was ‘Yes!’ or ‘No!’, with the occasional ‘So true!’ Obviously they never expected anybody else to read these books, since, even when they wrote ‘False’, they never explained why it was false.
John Baxter, A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict (New York : Thomas Dunne, 2003; 2002) , p. 87.

Tuesday 4 June 2024

White-banded Flat

White-banded Flat (Daimio tethys, 黑弄蝶).

An East Asian butterfly, found throughout much of China as well as Japan and Korea: another find from our weekend trip to Liuyang.

White-banded Flat on Tianma Mountain, Liuyang

Useless Knowledge

   What is the attraction of [Charles] Reade? At bottom it is the same charm as one finds in R. Austin Freeman’s detective stories or Lieutenant-Commander Gould’s collections of curiosities—the charm of useless knowledge. Reade was a man of what one might call penny-encyclopaedic learning. He possessed vast stocks of disconnected information which a lively narrative gift allowed him to cram into books which would at any rate pass as novels. If you have the sort of mind that takes a pleasure in dates, lists, catalogues, concrete details, descriptions of processes, junk-shop windows and back numbers of the Exchange and Mart, the sort of mind that likes knowing exactly how a medieval catapult worked or just what objects a prison cell of the eighteen-forties contained, then you can hardly help enjoying Reade. He himself, of course, did not see his work in quite this light. He prided himself on his accuracy and compiled his books largely from newspaper cuttings, but the strange facts which he collected were subsidiary to what he would have regarded as his “purpose”. For he was a social reformer in a fragmentary way, and made vigorous attacks on such diverse evils as blood-letting, the treadmill, private asylums, clerical celibacy and tight-lacing.
George Orwell, ‘Charles Reade’ in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, ed. by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, 4 vols (London : Secker & Warburg, 1968), II pp. 34-37 (II, p. 34).

Monday 3 June 2024

Indian Red Admiral

Indian Red Admiral (Vanessa indica, 大红蛱蝶).

A relative of the far more widespread painted lady (vanessa cardui), though it is darker and the uppersides of the wings are a deeper orange. I see both species in the forests and sometimes in urban spaces.
Indian Red Admiral on Tianma Mountain, Liuyang


Tedium is the worst pain.
John Gardner, Grendel (New York: Vintage Books, 1989; 1971), p. 138.

Sunday 2 June 2024

Allotraeus Rufescens

Allotraeus rufescens.

A small red long-horn beetle, basking in the rain on Tianma Mountain, Liuyang. My son noticed it on the bottom of a mossy step.

Allotraeus rufescens on Tianma Mountain, Liuyang

Faking It

There is a mythical story about Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman, who co-starred in Marathon Man. At some stage of the filming the plot required Hoffman to be exhausted from sleeplessness. So Hoffman stayed awake for three nights until he was exhausted – and ready for filming. Olivier is reputed to have asked, ‘Have you ever thought of acting?’

There is a profound misunderstanding in this malicious anecdote about the nature of acting. A false opposition of technique (faking it) and method (living it), of trained Olivier versus literalist Hoffman. Acting is like literature in this respect. We read a book. We cry over the fate of its characters. We know the characters are not real. This is the theme of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: their fate is assigned by Stoppard’s title and Shakespeare’s antecedent play. They are fictions without back stories, they are without free will. Yet they have the illusion of free will – illustrated by the boat that takes them to England and their deaths. On the boat, they are free to walk around, to choose their movements, direct their actions – but they cannot alter the course of the boat or their destiny. Guildenstern reflects that the nails grow after death – an emblem of their situation. When they look for their pasts, they discover they are effectively non-existent. Is Hamlet their friend? Guildenstern tells Rosencrantz: ‘You only have their word for it.’
Craig Raine, Heartbreak (London: Atlantic Books, 2010), pp. 114-115.

Saturday 1 June 2024

Epicauta Hirticornis

Epicauta hirticornis (毛角豆芫菁).

Fairly common Hunanese burning blister beetle: I have seen them in the forested hills near Changsha (but never on Yuelu Mountain), but this one I saw today on a trip to Tianma Mountain (天马山), in the city of Liuyang.

Epicauta hirticornis on Tianma Mountain, Liuyang

A First Class Degree

A first in Greats left me neither a professional philosopher nor a professional historian; but it left me with a fierce love of sifting evidence and the power of not being fascinated into acquiescence when superior persons talked philosophy at me.
R.A. Knox, A Spiritual Aeneid (London: Longman, Green and co., 1918), p. 63.
Despite his first, the study of English literature seemed in retrospect an absorbing parlour game, and reading books and having opinions about them, the desirable adjunct to a civilised existence.
Ian McEwan, Atonement (London: Vintage, 2011; 2001), p. 91.