Orlando Innamorato

By Matteo Maria Boiardo (trans. Charles Ross).

Orlando InnamoratoBoiardo’s rambling epic poem published in the 1480s is principally the tale of the ad­ventures of Orlando, one of Charles the Great’s paladins, after he falls in love with the beautiful Angelica, daughter of King Galafron of Cathay, who has been sent to the French court with her brother, Argalia, to ensnare as many knights as they can.

The plan does not quite work as intended, although Angelica succeeds in drawing away Orlando, Ranaldo, and various others, thus triggering a series of adventures across Europe and Asia. Two conflicts become the backdrop to these stories: An­gelica has made a lot of enemies, who besiege her in the city of Albraca; King Agramante, the ruler of Biserta, raises an army to invade France and carry off Ranaldo’s horse, Bayard, and Orlando’s sword, Durindana.

The main characters in the story are Orlando and his impoverished cousin, Ranaldo, who absolutely hates Angelica who absolutely loves him, but there are a large number of other characters such as the boastful English knight, Astolfo, and the brothers, Aquilante and Grifone, the Saracens, Marfisa, Feraguto, Rodamonte, and Brandimarte, the villains, Morgana, Alcina, and Falerina, who all cross paths with Orlando and Ranaldo.

The action is typically hyperbolic. When faced with a hero of comparable stature, Orlando and Ranaldo can fight for hours or even days. When they fight against armies, they mow down enemy soldiers like a scythe mows down wheat. Even in Boiardo’s day this level of exaggeration was nothing new. Chaucer (who would not have been the first) did the same in the Knight’s Tale when the two protagonists ended up wading ankle-deep in blood during a duel.

The stories employed in the poem are often taken straight from classical myth with “Heracles” crossed out and replaced with “Orlando” or “Ranaldo”. A lot of the stories tend to begin in the same way with, for example, a meeting with some lone woman warning the hero of perils ahead, who also happens to have an instruction manual on her.

Boiardo does skip from one plot to another at opportune moments so as to carry the reader along with him.

The Oxford World’s Classics version of Orlando Innamorato is the translator’s abridgement of his complete translation of the poem, which includes prose sum­maries of the parts which have been omitted, thus sparing readers the likely tedium of yet another battle in which some champion has his armour gradually hacked from him.

With the apparent boom in fantasy literature in the early 21st century, Orlando Innamorato may not be as daunting to readers today as Ross thought it might be in 1995 when this version was published, or in 1989 when he published the full translation. The problem with the poem is that after Spenser, Malory, Chrétien de Troyes, and even Ariosto (although Orlando Furioso is properly the sequel to this work) the material and style are quite familiar. The allegorical aspect of the text may pass modern readers by, although, for example, there is obviously a message when the indigent Ranaldo is unable to carry off a golden chair from Morgana’s treasury. Overall, the poem is not so alien today, at least on one level, as Ross thought it was twenty years ago.


But last week it was February

I’m sure it was.

And so the 2012-13 academic year comes to an end. Although the final two weeks dragged on, the rest of this term seemed to whizz by, mostly in a shower of rain. I know that in other years, spring and early summer have been grey and wet, but this one seems to have been greyer and wetter.

The PAL classes this year contrasted starkly with each other. Normally by the end of the year, any difference between them is very slight (and vanished entirely last year). This year, the gap between them had increased by the time of the mocks back in March.

To make things worse, in spite of me explaining to them how they could choose an appropriate class for IB English next year (A and B → HL; everyone else → SL), most opted to do HL. When I surveyed the classes, I thought a roughly 50-50 split was more realistic.

The AS SL classes also contrasted with each other, although not to the same extent as the PAL classes. AS 1&3 seemed to be inhabited by students who were, with a few exceptions, lazy and indifferent. AS 2, on the other hand, was inhabited by students who should’ve been in the HL class. As a consequence, the flattering benignity of Paper 1 (reading) resulted in unrealistically good marks, although Paper 2 (writing) tended to throw some cold water on that.

We were given next year’s timetable yesterday. I’m continuing to A2 with my cur­rent AS classes. I’ve also inherited Fred’s HL IB English class, and will be teaching one of the AS HL classes, although I don’t know what the composition will be. I assume that it may be a mixture of this year’s PAL 1 and 2, but there may also be some new students. As far as I’m currently aware, we’re not going to have a third AS class, although considering how full the PAL classes were, a few extra students would stretch them to breaking point.

Things are going to be busy because of all the internal assessment that we’re going to have to do, and unlike a lot of schools with IB programmes, we don’t just have a few students to deal with.

Not everyone is returning, of course. Daniel got his marching orders and is off to an international school in Shanghai. (“I want to go to Xiamen,” said Daniel. “Here’s some money,” said some people with money. “I love Shanghai,” said Daniel.) Luca, Kam, Ken, and Fred are all going elsewhere. Fred’s off to be the CP at Tianyi, which leaves the spot for English HOD open. Eduardo announced that he wouldn’t be returning.

So what am I going to do now? I do have books to read and DVDs to watch. I thought I might have a go at learning (about) Old Persian. I’m off to see Linda (natch), but the cost of getting to Chengdu is putting me off thinking about Hong Kong.

Open to negotiation

Easy? Moi?

As I was going into the Far Eastern at lunchtime, the woman was just leaving. The slogan on her T-shirt said, “I’m not easy, but we can discuss it.”


I’ve been editing some of the very early entries here, partly to fix the formatting, and partly to add tags, which Spaces did not have. I have been wondering about deleting some entries, which were ephemeral even when I wrote them.

I’m also wondering about adding a page with links to the most frequently visited entries, although I don’t know whether that will help or not.

I haven’t been editing everything, but have generally focused on the entries which seem to be worth the effort.

Bzzz… Bzzz… Kssshhh!

The term seems determined to fizzle out once again. Classes have been cancelled next Wednesday because of some sort of universities recruitment fair, although I don’t know what this has to do with us.

We’re having a final assembly on Tuesday, but the Friday assembly, which we heard about earlier today, turns out to be one of those student faerie stories.

We’re going to be having our staff dinner at Province on Monday.

Once again, the end of the term drags on long after its use-by date has passed.

Speaking of tall tales.

Somehow the little darlings have got hold of a copy of a draft of next year’s time­table which they think is the final timetable. How did they get this? I have a theory how they might’ve got it.

I’m hoping that I can avoid doubles split by lunch so that I’m not having to rush to get lunch, get back here, and have it before class.

As far as I’m aware, I’m not teaching PAL next year, but the details of what I’m actually teaching have yet to be revealed.

A2 – The Video

Why bother with highlights when you can have an epic.

The A2s had their passing-out ceremony on Friday. They call it “graduation”, but it’s nothing of the sort just as students move from one year to the next regardless of how appallingly badly they’ve done in their exams.

There were speeches, and there were tears. There was the headmaster, a gentleman whom we’d never seen before; and there was the video, the philosophy of which seemed to be that you can never quite have enough A2.

It was a good idea underlyingly, but if it had been a highlights reel, it might’ve worked well. I made a couple of appearances, including a picture which must’ve been taken two years ago. I also did a short video piece in the office the other day in which I used the word “nefarious” twice. In the bilingual subtitles it came out as “fairest”. And you lot think you’re geniuses at English.

I do like to see who’s got into what university, although there were no surprises as far as I could see. Quite a number are off to Rutgers; fewer, it seemed, to various Canadian universities; even fewer to the UK, which may be a consequence of changes to entry regulations. We’ve also got one into Oxford and one into Cambridge – subject to confirmation.

After the ceremony, we had to wait for the group photo to be taken at the gate. This year we had four A2 classes to squeeze into shot. Next year it’ll be three, and the year after that probably only two.

And with that, the year is almost over.

What does the smart money say?

It says it’ll be fine on Monday and Tuesday when we’re having our weekend stolen off us.

Once again it’s the infamous 高考, China’s equivalent of A-levels or SATs. After three years without any meaningful exams, a bunch of egotistical 17-year-olds with a grossly inflated sense of their own cleverness will be enjoying the the ultimate three-day extravaganza in the Chinese education system.

As a colleague of mine observed on Facebook, there’s a whole battalion of ninjas on guard around the school ready to make any noise-making miscreants regret their actions, whereas we have been afforded no such consideration during our exams.

And thus we get at least one day off.

The Dragon Boat Festival also falls on some random day around this time because a fixed holiday would be sensible, and that (being sensible) is not part of the Chinese Dream™. This year the Festival is Monday to Wednesday next week. In a civilised country, we’d probably have the whole six days off, but this is a country devoid of human decency, and while we get Wednesday, we’re back at school on Monday and Tuesday.

Currently, though, we’re having the day off. The weather is utterly appalling again, possibly being even worse than the previous occasion. Heavy rain and high winds all morning, and copious amounts of surface flooding – water gushing up from the drains, water gushing out of drainpipes, and water streaming down every available slope.

While my raincoat and over-trousers protected me to some extent, this is the sort of rain which tends to overwhelm my defences. Although I zipped up all my pockets, the rain got through.

When I got to Carrefour, I looked utterly dishevelled while everyone else looked, well, shevelled, which was rather annoying because none of them were armed with anything more than an umbrella.

All the girls in their hooker (stripper/porn star/70s throwback platform) shoes won’t even be getting their feet wet, but my shoes got soaked, and my socks, and my feet.

I’m predicting that next week while the rest of the country has Monday and Tuesday off, the weather will be fine, dry and pleasant. It’ll then rain again on Wednesday.

Later. As it turns out, neither Monday nor Tuesday was that nice, and Wednesday is supposed to be overcast, but I won’t be too surprised if there’s more drizzle.

From the annals of scepticism

Putting the ‘cred’ into ‘credulity’.

In this morning’s post, I forgot to mention the recent survey which claimed that China was the most atheist country in the world. If this was some measure of how enlightened the place was, then there might be something to celebrate, but I wonder whether the wrong question was being asked. Also, there’s a difference between being an atheist and being sceptical about a whole range of beliefs.

For one thing, there was no shortage of people making offerings to the idols in 雍和宫 in Beijing, or 青羊宫 and 大慈 in Chengdu even if, I believe, they tend to pray for very modern things. There’s no shortage of churches in Fuzhou or people to attend them, and there are plenty of temples to native deities as well.

Although there are native Chinese gods, I’m not aware of them being organised per se. Buddhism and Daoism got thrown into the pot, and like the Roman Empire, China seems to have been fairly pluralistic. I know there were phases when the Bu­ddh­ists or Daoists were predominant, and one side or the other was persona non gratia. The situation was, I presume, different from the schism between the Cath­ol­ic and Protestant churches in Europe, and no one here ever thought that their religion should be imposed on others whether they were willing or not.

If I had a hammer

I would not hammer in the morning.

Yesterday morning I woke up early again. I’ve been waking up too early all week. At 6.27a.m. (yeah, a.m.) I start hearing hammering coming from the island. Saturday, 6.27a.m.

This morning, same again. I wake up too early, and at around the same time the banging commences. It’s now over 2½ hours later and only in the past few seconds have the hammers fallen silent.

What are they doing over there? I don’t know. It must be over a week since the planks were taken up. As far as I can guess, the metal plates of the framework underneath might have got warped at the edges and they’re being hammered to make them flat again. But this is just a guess.

Is there a tool for the job? Probably, but the hammer seems to be regarded as a Jack-of-all-trades here. I think I mentioned the day I saw the frame of a shop sign being pulled apart using a combination of twisting and hammering. Ever hear of a hacksaw? (I have no problem imagining a hacksaw blade being used, but not the whole tool which I see in my mind when I think of a hacksaw.)

The result is that whatever they’re doing over on the island, it’s inefficient, labour-intensive, and noisy. It’s probably also being done on the cheap. Why spend the allocated money on the job, when a chunk can be pocketed instead?

No wonder Apple has made such a huge amount of money.

Out of curiosity, I bought a couple of albums from iTunes – selections from Leclair, Op. 5 and Castello and Fontana, Sonate concertate in stil moderno, which are not available via other sources in digital format. But the prices?! Eek! Apple are charging CD-level prices and providing the bare minimum in return. The albums didn’t even come with booklets.

I watched a piece on the Guardian the other day about how Apple avoids paying tax on its profits by sending them through Apple in Ireland, and I regret con­trib­ut­ing to Apple’s coffers.

Pizza Factory.

A hole-in-the-wall pizza place has opened in the block of shops outside Jinma, which makes real pizza at ¥8 or ¥9 a slice. There’s only a small range, but it’s nicer than, say, what you get from Pizza Hut.

Pacific Coffee.

Pacific Coffee opened in 远东百货 yesterday. I had a look as I passed by, but the mob of people deterred me from stopping and having a look. I was surprised that Daniel T. wasn’t there, fighting everyone else of to be first in line for the first cup of coffee.

My impression of the place was that it’s too exposed. I’ve been to one in Harbour City, which has no walls, but feels as if it has an interior. (So, too, one in Time Square, although that was a little more exposed.) The Pacific Coffee here feels like it’s on a traffic island, and lacked a sense of cosy intimacy with lines of tables next to the aisles because there isn’t the room for an interior.

I’ll pass by again today when I go shopping and have another look.

The weather.

I haven’t posted anything here for two weeks because I’d largely be posting about the weather, which continues to be fairly awful. I’ve cleaned my bike twice in the past two weeks, and two or three days later, it’s started raining again. The temperature is still showing a wide diurnal range, and quite a bit of variation from day to day. It was 17° to 19° a couple of days ago.

Another, more annoying pattern is when I look out of the window and it’s dry. Two minutes later, I look out again and it’s wet.

So much for flaming June.

The Internet.

A few days ago, I had a message from Google informing me that Buzz was being put down. I told Google to delete what little I’d ever said on Buzz and got sent to my G+ profile page. I thought that was odd, and I tried G+ itself, which was unexpectedly accessible, but the next day, it was blocked again. I tried it yesterday, and again, I could access it; but this morning, it was obviously blocked.

Perhaps Nanny doesn’t care that much about G+ which was refurbished recently, but still feels impersonal to me. (In an aside, I’ve also heard that gmail is going to be refurbished again.)

Shopping news.

I went into the supermarket in the basement of Parkson just recently and found the place was having a sale, with the prices of certain wines (Australian and Chilean, for example) being slashed by over 50%. I’ve rather indulged because this has saved me quite a bit of money, and the wines are much nicer than the stuff I usually buy.

Last week.

Last week was entirely exam free. I gave the AS students classes on the interview text type, but only a double for each because the rest of the week, numbers of them were off in Hong Kong doing SATs. We’re giving them an IB English exam (reading) on Tuesday, and after looking at the form over the next two weeks, I find I probably can’t give them the writing until Friday next week. Ugh. Mind you, it’ll give me something to do in class.

Signing out.

And the hammering continues. It’s lessened over the past hour and a half, but nearly four hours after it started, they’re still going strong. I’m hoping that they’ll stop after lunch because I need a snooze.