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17 November 2008

Adieu Mitch Mitchell

By Harry Williams

All roads lead to Google

Imperial Rome has been rebuilt. Never mind the tourists, the ruins, the choking traffic: if you really want to get to grips with 4th century Rome all you have to do is download Google Earthh. Their new programme ‘Ancient Rome 3D’ allows the virtual tourist to swoop amongst the 7000 digitally reconstructed buildings as they stood on the morning of April 1st AD320. The effect is rather like inhabiting a pixelated de Chirico painting, for the eternal city is curiously devoid of human life on this particular spring morning. At least there aren’t any advertising hoardings, which no doubt will soon be appearing on the Coliseum if Rome goes the way of Venice – enormous images exhorting you to buy a Lancia car currently adorn the Doge’s Palace. The technology officer at Google Earth stated on Wednesday that he would like to create virtual tours for other “historical cities”. Perhaps he might consider Babylon, which remains impregnable to all visitors save the American troops who are encamped there.

In the meantime we have the impressive new exhibition at the British Museum, ‘Babylon: Myth and Reality’ which opened yesterday. Google earth has a great debt to pay to the first exhibit, a small clay tablet incised with circles and cuneiform script. With Babylon at its centre, it is the first map of the world.

Afghan Goncourt

The Afghan-born writer Atiq Rahimi has been declared the winner of this year’s Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary prize, for his alliteratively entitled novel, Syngué Sabour. Pierre de Patience. Akin to the Man Booker Prize in the UK, the Prix Goncourt differs in that it hasn’t sold out to ‘a world-leading alternative investment management business’ named after the human race. The prize money amounts to 10 euros rather than £50,000, and in the thoroughly civilised ways of the French, the judging panel meets up once a month in one of the best restaurants in Paris to discuss the nominees. Given the stubbornly Chauvinistic attitudes of the Academie Française
with regards to the French language, it is notable that the prize-winner is not a native French speaker (all his other books were written in Persian), nor was the 2006 winner, Jonathan Littel, an American who has adopted French as his langue de plume.

Rahimi’s cultural and linguistic ambidexterity is a refreshing rejoinder to the furore which surrounded another recent novel about Afghanistan, ‘The Bookseller of Kabul’, in which the real life eponymous hero took the Norwegian author Åsne Seierstad to court over his portrayal in the book. On the other hand, given the woefully small amount of foreign fiction translated into English (when the French writer J. M. G. Le Clezio won the Nobel Prize for literature last month he was virtually out of print in English), we’ll just have to make do with ‘The Kite Runner’ for the time being.

Diana in danger

Visitors to the Art of Italy in the Royal Collection: The Baroque, which opened yesterday in Holyroodhouse, will be able to see two paintings recently identified as Caravaggio originals. The exhibition has already been shown in the English capital, but Londoners can seek recompense in the screening of Derek Jarman’s ‘Caravaggio’ at the BFI next Saturday, 22nd November. If the Queen has gained two priceless pictures in her collection, then the country may soon be losing another two. This week Tracey Emin, not usually associated with figurative painting, was chosen to deliver a petition signed by fifty prominent artists, including Lucian Freud and David Hockney, in an attempt to save the two Titian
masterpieces. If the Duke of Sutherland doesn’t receive £50 million pounds by midnight on December 31st, the first one gets sold. ‘Diana and Actaeon’ can be seen at The National Gallery until 20th November. Go and see it, and donate.

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THANK YOU

Lastly, this week saw the deaths of two great musicians. Mitch Mitchell, the manic drummer of the Jimi Hendrix Experience passed into rock immortality on Wednesday in Portland, Oregon. Here he is in 1969.

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Miriam Makeba, the legendary South African singer and prominent opponent of apartheid, died from a heart attack on Monday shortly after giving her last concert in Italy, in support of the anti-Camorra writer Roberto Saviano. She is perhaps best known for her song ‘Pata Pata’.