Milan’s Pitch-Pine Cone Shapes

{[. . .] That hard closed cone, which defied all violent attempts to open it and could only be cut open with a knife, has thus yielded to the gentle persuasion of warmth and dryness. The expanding of the pine cones—that, too, is a season. —Henry David Thoreau, Wild Fruits}

31 October. Last spring somebody brought home a handsome pitch-pine cone, which had freshly fallen and was closed perfectly tight. (Squirrels always love stripping some pitch-pine cones.) It was put into a table drawer. I was greatly surprised to find that it dried there and opened with perfect regularity, filling the drawer; and from a solid, narrow, and sharp cone has become a broad, rounded, open one—has in fact expanded with all the regularity of a flower’s petals into a conical flower of rigid scales and has shed a remarkable quantity of delicate winged seeds.

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Ibrahimovic’s Crab Walk

{He who enters into the viscera of the earth to see the metals, minerals, stones, and gems; who observes the plants, quadrupeds, and serpents on the surface of the earth; he who immerses himself in the sea in order to contemplate the fish and other marine things; who lifts himself into the skies to wonder at so many different kinds of apparitions and generations, the birds and so many flying insects; and then perceives in them the mechanisms and the harmony of each smallest particle so well adapted to the whole—how could he then, seeing everything so infused with Providence and Divinity, how could he not detest Atheism [. . .]? —Carlo Dati, “Delle lodi del commendatore Cassiano dal Pozzo,” Florence 1664}

26 October. Heard today in my chamber around 9:20 A.M., while reviewing the Champions League match between Milan and Bate Borisov, a singular, sharp cracking sound of the ball, which made me think of the snapping of an insect (with its wings or legs striking something). It was produced by Zlatan Ibrahimovic in his exuberant attempt to score a goal from an area in the middle of the pitch, which, as I gathered, in this part of the season is set to lay squarely in the sun like the glossy rubbing of a green vase on the window-sill.

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Editor’s Picks: Pyramids, Russian Ballets, and Ephemeral Stadiums

On The Guardian‘s beloved column “The Question,” Jonathan Wilson has launched a curiously fascinating inquiry, based on new evidence, about the changed conditions of play in the 1920s, implying that the W-formation was already widespread before Herbert Chapman used it to secure Arsenal’s dominance at the end of the decade and in the first half of the following. Like so often for Wilson, the John Dos Passos of football tactics, his writing is both a way to explore interconnected histories and a nifty way back in time—like a portal to a heavily forested network where soccer formations block the trail and hang like great three-dimensional spider-webs, big as weather balloons, thick as cotton candy. And indeed, apart from the hard facts on the goal-scoring frequency of the withdrawn inside-forward, who doesn’t like a tribute to a now-vanished sport diorama where a lone maverick gains reputation as a tactical mastermind, heavy defeats with Newcastle and Southampton demand tweaks and changes, and a columnist who called himself ‘Cherry Blossom’ makes a point about the pivotal possibilities of feeding the strikers from deep in the game’s future? Short passes and the 2—3—5 are all fine, but without the pencils running riot in the press box, what a shame.

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Wings of Solitude: A Daguerreotype of Alberigo Evani

Here we see a shepherd on a harsh stretch of land, standing next to an odd pair of white dogs—one crouched, the other with an half-open mouth, spitting out countless hours under the blazing sun—and leaning on a slender stick that is held up by the right hand just in front of his clumsily sewn uniform of goat skin. It’s the oldest picture of such a scene in Maremma, the marshy swamp in the South of Tuscany, I’ve managed to obtain. The man gazes intently (or else sunken into sleep) through the lens, while the two dogs look away, their hair so obviously trimmed and unruffled to look like stuffed pets. This is clearly an uneventful moment in their unremarkable lives. Yet the image has a wounded, almost desperate look, like an old-time circus bear working his way from village to village, earning money for his masters and food for himself.

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Things Seen from Right and Left

Since beginnings cast a practical spell, like a slab of musique concrète of the late 1940s, which chimes with surrealist practice, I recently (re-)watched the opening fixture of the Serie A between Lazio and Milan with two aims in mind: a) disconnect primary-coloured rectangles and white background; b) translate musical structures into plastic form. In other words, I wanted to describe on musical principles the workings of two midfields, Milan’s notoriously belligerent 4—3—1—2, a staple formation in Italy despite all the nagging discomfort of its narrowness, and Lazio’s elongated 4—2—3—1, with its symmetrical bedfellows. These assertions, I thought, had remained untested. An arbitrary cut-off point, my goal was unrealistic and likely to find itself confronted with a baffling variety of choices. (Meanwhile, the fans in the terraces of San Siro, filled by retired factory workers, school thugs, all-purpose intellectuals and malcontents, looked like nothing that has yet existed.) Choices, however, are only as baffling as you want to make them, and they are usually made up by quite straightforward, deterministic strategies—soccer is like a John Cage composition, a space of potential sound, open to whatever noise might drift in.

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Fleeting Comets #1: Luther Blissett

What would it have been like, for the Milan fans in the terraces, to fall in love with the young Luther Blissett, one of the first black men, before George Weah’s bravery, ever to come play in San Siro? Stooped shoulders, long strides, and a smile radiating with Disneyan candor, he was very homesick—too obviously homesick for his languid charm not to become immediately calamitous. The first thing about Blissett was his request, as soon as he landed at the international airport of Milan, for Rice Krispies, and it was almost the last thing too. Continue reading “Fleeting Comets #1: Luther Blissett”