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The highlighted words are from a song by Rick Astley.

Cunning work in 3rd period, though there are a couple of intentional typos to make it work. The teacher must be proud. Does this count as a poem? Probably.

Tweeted on World Teachers Day (5 October) by Book Week Scotland and Scottish Book Trust.


The Cloisters is an odd phenomenon. It’s a sort of medieval monastery building sitting in a park in northern Manhattan. It actually consists of bits of several medieval buildings from Europe most shipped over between 1934 and 1939 by John D. Rockefeller so that we benighted Murcans could get a bit of kulchur. At the same time Rockefeller bought up the real estate across the Hudson River in New Jersey, so that the view could remain perpetually pristine. In the picture above the Cloisters is that building in the middle distance showing its tower amidst all the trees in Fort Tryon Park. The buildings behind it are in the Bronx, and the cluster of buildings running down to the river in the far distance is downtown Yonkers.

The Cloisters is the medieval department of the Metropolitan Museum and houses their famous unicorn tapestry series along with a whole lot of other material, including four important illuminated manuscripts. The basis of the collection was the work of George Grey Barnard, acquired by John D. Rockefeller for the Met in 1925. (if you go to the Metropolitan Museum site linked to above, scroll down to the bottom and click on the link “History of the Met Cloisters” you’ll find a couple of videos, one showing workers building the Cloisters and the other, a fascinating 28-minute film showing the history and the demolition of the Fuentidueña apse.)

The exterior includes limestone and granite from a several European structures. There are in fact four complete cloisters in The Cloisters — from Saint Michel de Cuxa, Trie sur Baïse, Saint-Guilhem le Désert, and (probably) Bonnefont en Comminges. There are four Gothic windows from the refectory at Sens, and three chapels, including the apse from Fuentidueña — which is the museum’s largest room. Wikipedia gives an exhaustive listing. 

Apse from San Martin, Fuentidueña. This apse is on loan from the Spanish government and was not installed in New York till 1958-60









Jeff Peachey, a local bookbinder, has a blog on which he has posted about the 34 books and representations of books in the Cloisters.

Detail, Annunciation Triptych (Merode Alterpiece), Workshop of Robert Campin, Oil on oak, South Netherlandish. Photo Jeff Peachey

I’ve never noticed this, but apparently there’s also a library at the Cloisters (you need to make an appointment to visit) containing more than 15,000 volumes) used by museum staff for research.

Detail, The Dormition of the Virgin, Oak, German, Cologne, late 15th C. Photo Jeff Peachey


The hollowed out book is common enough for book historians to spend time debating the whys and wherefores. One of them has graphed it all out: from Vasil Zagorov via the SHARP listserv.

I don’t think there’s anything more to be said.

If you click on the diagram you’ll be able to see it more clearly.

See also Killer book


Here’s a quiz from Sporkle where you have to type the full title of sixteen books based on their consonants only. Note that there’s a time limit on this, so if you’re as slow a typist as I am, read the questions before you start.

Sporkle have lots of other quizzes which you can access by clicking on the “Literature”, “Authors” or “Books” links near the top. The Digital Reader sent a link to one (simpler I thought) from the same stable, presented by Mental Floss. Click on their “play another book quiz” link and you’ll be taken to Sporkle’s book quiz page where you can find 7,910 quizzes. Could this be more than you need?

And, via The Digital Reader, the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, who dispense with the backing strings and do it all themselves:

This reminds me of the postal workers cancelling stamps at the University of Ghana post office:

If you don’t see any videos, please click on the blog title in order to view them in your browser.

The Oxford Dictionaries blog has a small quiz which might amuse.

Well OK. Quite clever I guess. You can slip some little books in there horizontally under your bottom too. But don’t put too many books into the chair bit or it’ll be hard to move.

From Thames & Hudson’s blog, Bookshelf, where they have lots of this sort of stuff.

Madeleines are made from eggs, butter, sugar, flour, vanilla and lemon. Here’s a recipe.



Marcel Proust has stuck them into our minds as the prototypical memory stimulator. Here’s how it works, as explained by Gordon M. Shepherd in Chapter 20 of his Neurogastronomy: How the brain creates flavor and why it matters, Columbia University Press 2012. I quote:

Activating Proust’s Brain

We start with the knowledge that the taste of a madeleine must be mostly due to its smell. The stimulus for Proust’s taste experience was therefore the odors emanating from the mixture of pastry crumbs soaked in tilleul, the aromatic lime-scented infusion made from linden blossoms. What, then, might these smells have been?

It is sometimes argued that Proust dithered over exactly what kind of biscuit it was that stimulated his reverie, but it really does not matter. A traditionally made madeleine, in addition to possessing odor molecules that arise from the butter and eggs, would include several types of “aroma essences.” Flavors of foods are enhanced by heating and dissolving in water, which increase the vapor pressure so that volatile molecules are released into the air or within the mouth. Thus, as children learn, a humble pastry gives off its aromas with greater effect when its crumbs are dissolved in hot liquid. The aromas in a madeleine would include vanilla and several types of related odor molecules in the lemon, such as citral and limonene, which belong to the terpenes, a family of essential oils secreted by plants. As described in chapter 4, they are highly volatile, consisting of 5 carbon atom units linked together in various shapes and with various reactive functional groups such as esters, alcohols, and acids. The other source of olfactory stimulation in Proust’s concoction was the tilleul, which contributed its own scent.

How do these molecules give rise to a smell perception? As we have seen, receptor molecules in the fine hairlike cilia lying in the mucus are stimulated by the smell molecules as they are inhaled into the nose (the orthonasal route), and also by the smell molecules released from within the mouth that rise into the nasal cavity from the back of the mouth (the retronasal route). It is by this latter route, after the narrator has taken the brew into his mouth, that the smell molecules are released and carried by the warm and humid air of his nasopharynx to his olfactory sensory cells.

The smell molecules, absorbed into the mucus, act on receptor molecules in the cilia membranes. These in turn initiate the cascade of microkicks from one signaling molecule to the next to change a membrane protein formed around a tiny channel that lets electric charges flow through it. This alters the electrical potential across the cell membrane, leading to the discharge of impulses in the cell that is conveyed through its long fiber (axon) to the first relay station in the brain.

The narrator’s mouthful of crumb-laden tea thus activates a range of receptors tuned to the different volatile components, leading to impulse discharges that carry the information to the brain. But in addition to activating impulses, the signaling cascade in the receptor cells also contains a number of pathways for controlling the sensitivity of the sensory response. Repeated stimulation brings about desensitization of the secondary messenger pathway. In Swann’s Way, Proust appears to be describing precisely this effect: “I drink a second mouthful, in which I find nothing more than in the first, then a third, which gives me rather less than the second. It is time to stop; the potion is losing its magic. It is plain that the truth I am seeking lies not in the cup but in myself. The drink has called it into being, but does not know it, and can only repeat indefinitely, with a progressive diminution of strength, the same message which I cannot interpret, though I hope at least to be able to call it forth again . . . I put down the cup and examine my mind.”

Desensitization of a secondary response is well known in the experimental literature and is often referred to as sensory adaptation. It is a very general phenomenon that occurs any time a given nerve cell or neural pathway is stimulated repeatedly. As discussed in chapter 8, the logic of this is that the nervous system is not constructed to register every sensory stimulus imposing on it, but only those that signal a sudden change from a former state. It is these that carry the most critical information, until a different stimulus occurs.

It seems clear that desensitization of the initial sensory mechanism takes place during Proust’s initial repeated attempts to conjure up the “truth.” However, a close reading of the text indicates that several other neural processes are likely also occurring. A second process is adaptation in the neural pathways that process the odor information to give rise to the odor perception; these would occur in the pathways of the brain flavor system. Adaptation may also occur in the pathways that link an odor perception per se to the systems underlying odor memory. Finally, there are systems related to the narrator’s vision of the “truth” — the systems involved in the storage of the visual memories and their retrieval. The fading of the “truth” may thus be due to multiple mechanisms of adaptation, in addition to the desensitization of the receptors. But to assess this further, we need to ask what is the nature of the odor perception elicited by the potion.

Impulses in the fibers from within the sensory neurons give rise to spatial patterns of activity within the first brain related station, the olfactory bulb. These patterns are the smell images of the information carried in the smell molecules (chapters 4-10), which are projected to the olfactory cortex where they form a content addressable memory of the smell object (chapter 11), and are sent from there to the orbitofrontal cortex (chapter 12) to be combined with other sensory and motor systems to form the perception of smell and flavor (chapters 13-18). 

It is this flavor image that was recognized by Proust’s brain, at first only indistinctly, as being part of a more complex memory that initially seemed beyond recall. The flavor image of the tea-soaked madeleine is thus metonymic for the complex multisensory image of the town of Combray.

Smell, Emotion, and Memory Recall

The direct access of the smell pathway to these forebrain mechanisms is essential for understanding the nature of Proust’s olfactory-evoked experience. We have indicated the cortical mechanisms involved in Proust’s cognitive, perceptual response (chapter 18). This direct olfactory connection to the forebrain provides insight into the heightened degree of the emotional state evoked by the odor stimuli, the strength of the voluntary search for the missing “truth,” and the overwhelming quality of the “involuntary” memory finally brought forth.

The emotions evoked by the madeleine are central to the whole theoretical edifice of the madeleine episode . . . Brain research can best provide insight into the question “Whence did it come?” We have explained how, from the olfactory cortex, the pathway for perception is directed towards the prefrontal neocortex. But the olfactory cortex also gives rise to multiple pathways that connect directly to the so-called limbic regions of the brain that are involved in the mediation of both memories and emotions.

The key structures include the hippocampus, a central organizing node for single-event “episodic” memories, and the amygdala, which, in parallel with the orbitofrontal cortex, is involved in stimulus reinforcement association learning. 

So now you know.


Why does the peer reviewer need a monument? Why in Moscow? Why outside the Higher School of Economics? Why carrying the inscriptions “Accept”, “Minor Changes”, “Major Changes”, “Revise and Resubmit”, “Reject”? The answer apparently — because it was there. (It being the block on the left.)

Nature has an account of the monument’s origin.

The picture shows Ivan Chirikov who came up with the plan and raised $2,500 to realize it. The concrete cube, which was perviously just in the way, has also been carved with the titles of 21 papers. These are papers written by the largest donors, who are thus immortalized in return for their generosity. Now they too* may cry “Si monumentum requiris, circumspice“. Of course, given the monument’s location, maybe this should be said in Russian. Fortunately Pushkin stands ready with his riff on Horace’s take on the topic:

Exegi monumentum

Я памятник себе воздвиг нерукотворный,
К нему не заростет народная тропа,
Вознесся выше он главою непокорной
        Александрийского столпа.
Нет, весь я не умру — душа в заветной лире
Мой прах переживет и тленья убежит —
И славен буду я, доколь в подлунном мире
        Жив будет хоть один пиит.
Слух обо мне пройдет по всей Руси великой,
И назовет меня всяк сущий в ней язык,
И гордый внук славян, и финн, и ныне дикой
        Тунгуз, и друг степей калмык.
И долго буду тем любезен я народу,
Что чувства добрые я лирой пробуждал,
Что в мой жестокой век восславил я Свободу
        И милость к падшим призывал.
Веленью божию, о муза, будь послушна,
Обиды не страшась, не требуя венца,
Хвалу и клевету приемли равнодушно,

        И не оспаривай глупца.

I’ve reared a monument not built by human hands.
The public path to it cannot be overgrown.
With insubmissive head far loftier it stands
               Than Alexander’s columned stone.
No, I shall not all die. My soul in hallowed berth
Of art shall brave decay and from my dust take wing,
And I shall be renowned whilst on this mortal earth
               Even one poet lives to sing.
Tidings of me shall spread through all the realm of Rus
And every tribe in Her shall name me as they speak:
The haughty western Pole, the east’s untamed Tungus,
               North Finns and the south steppe’s Kalmyk.
And long shall I a man dear to the people be
For how my lyre once quickened kindly sentiment,
I in a tyrant age who sang of liberty,
               And mercy toward fallen men.
To God and his commands pay Thou good heed, O Muse.
To praise and slander both be nonchalant and cool.
Demand no laureate’s wreath, think nothing of abuse,
               And never argue with a fool.

Translation by A. Z. Foreman at Poems Found in Translation.

Here’s Nabokov reading the poem in another translation.

Pushkin was of course paying tribute to Horace’s Exegi monumentum, which for good measure here follows with a translation from the site Lost in translation.

Horace, Ode 3.30.

Exegi monumentum aere perennnius
regalique situ pyramidum altius,
quod non imber edax, non Aquilo impotens
possit diruere aut innumerabilis
annorum series et fuga temporum.
Non omnis moriar multaque pars mei
vitabit Libitinam; usque ego postera
crescam laude recens. Dum Capitolium
scandet cum tacita virgine pontifex,
dicar, qua violens obstrepit Aufidus
et qua pauper aquae Daunus agrestium
regnavit populorum, ex humili potens,
princeps Aeolium carmen ad Italos
deduxisse modos. Sume superbiam
quaesitam meritis et mihi Delphica
lauro cinge volens, Melpomene, comam.
I have finished a monument more lasting than bronze
and higher than the royal structure of the pyramids,
which neither the destructive rain, nor wild Aquilo
is able to destroy, nor the countless
series of years and flight of ages.
I will not wholly die and a great part of me
will avoid Libitina; I will continuously arise
fresh with later praise. While a priest will climb
the Capitoline with a silent maiden,
I shall be spoken of where the violent Aufidus roars
and where Daunus, poor in water, ruled
a rural people, powerful from humble origin,
the first to have brought Aeolic song to
Italian meters. Accept the proud honor
obtained by your merits and with the Delphic
laural, Melpomene, gladly encircle my hair.

I guess we’ve strayed quite a long way from a concrete block abandoned in a Moscow park. Enough already.

* This is the inscription on Sir Christopher Wren’s monument in St Paul’s Cathedral.


Photo: Cambridge News

Cutting-edge as ever, the University of Cambridge has just announced the first LEGO Professor of Play in Education. The Cambridge News story was sent to us via Publishing Cambridge.

Professor Ramchandani looks like he’s ready to have fun.

Does this mean we should look for more translations into LEGO?