Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Music for the soul

Central Market, Budapest. March 2013
Ligeti's Lontano at the Royal Festival Hall (the Royal Philharmonic conducted by Michail Jurowski).
Broadcast  live on Radio 3 (dismantled mobile phone so nervous was I in the front row pf a random call/alarm).
Jurowski, interviewed beforehand, said it was a gritty programme - Lontano followed by Lutoslawski's Cello Concerto and Schnittke's Symphony No 1.

But Lontano was a quiet start  - still and reflective - 'music for the soul'.

Hungarian composer György Sándor Ligeti  (1923 – 2006).

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Violent death and crucifixion

Took a break from reading Jerusalem as there were so many violent deaths. Too much atrocity to absorb.
Queen Jezebel torn apart by dogs....
Andrea Celesti/Jezebel torn apart by dogs
Then Absalom, with his lustrous head of hair and a physique without a blemish, wrenched from his horse when his hair snagged in the branches of an oak.

And of course the crucifixion.
Crucifixion was an excruciating death, designed to demean the victim publicly. Nails were driven through the forearms (not hands) and ankles. Nails from crucifixion victims were worn as charms around the neck to ward off illness (rope from the hangman was similarly - much later - thought to protect against evil).

Men were crucified facing outwards; women facing inwards.
The skill for the executioner was in ensuring that the crucified man or woman did not die too quickly. A ledge supported the feet.  The idea of a support to prolong the dying - the cruellest of touches.

Monday, 28 October 2013

"I was going as fast as anyone's ever gone on a bike"

"The magic of a good atlas is that you can scan its pages and conjure up in your mind images of distant landscapes. Mere travel will not do this: a knowledge of history is more vital. It is one of the most dangerous myths that travel broadens the mind. If the mind is not broad in the first place, mere tripping and junketing will make no difference."
Paul Johnson, The Spectator 20 September 2008
Cy Twombley/Apollo

"I was going as fast as anyone's ever gone on a bike."
Marcus, after falling off 
September 2008

"The wire was cut in four places. I mended it with my bare hands."
Mitch, after finding barbed wire fence cut in the fields at Bolankan

September 2008
Cy Twombley/Poems to the Sea
"The problem about writing directly of recent experiences is  - the memory is simply too unfinished. The feelings are still too engaged in the real situation. They are too painful and unresolved to say anything about." Ted Hughes, advising his daughter Frieda

"I had quantities of little germinal notes, all suddenly obselete."
Ted Hughes

"You have lovers all over Manhattan
They don't do you much good it is true
You seduce everyone but it isn't much fun
For little old lovemaker you."
Fran Landesman, The Thorny Side of Love

Sunday, 27 October 2013

As a piece of pomegranate (are thy temples)

The colour of autumn.

Wine, flowers in Cornwall and now the same shade again - the violet crimson of this pomegranate bought on Uxbridge Road... Still very much on the Elektra theme.... viscous red liquid dripping from it stains the kitchen table.

It looks so extraordinary - little wonder people read meanings into it. It's a symbol of fertility naturally - all those seeds - and of what else?

Remember once looking at the symbolism of the pomegranate in embroidery : pomegranate trees grow in Paradise according to Islamic tradition. It was the heraldic symbol of Catherine of Aragon, entwined with the Tudor rose on her ill fated wedding to Henry V111. There are a host of Virgins with Pomegranates - by Botticelli and by Leonardo to name a few.  It's not a fruit for the faint hearted.
Virgin with Pomegranate/Sandro Botticelli

Virgin with Pomegranate/Leonardo da Vinci

Two openings....

"Some of the evil of my tale may have been inherent in our circumstances. For years we lived anyhow with one another in the naked desert, under the indifferent heaven. By day the hot sun fermented us; and we were dizzied by the beating wind. At night were stained by dew, and shamed in to pettiness by the innumerable silences of stars. "
T.E. Lawrence Seven Pillars of Wisdom
Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages),
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.
Chaucer Canterbury Tales
(General Prologue, 1–12)
Links with Jerusalem later.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Caravaggio and dark things of the night

A very long day at the office but thought I should - even if tired - walk through the National Gallery on the way to the bus stop. It was Friday late night opening and unusually quiet.
It takes a while after staring for hours at a screen to see the depths of paintings.
Stopped, to try and focus my thoughts, by a group looking at Caravaggio Supper at Emmaus.

This was Caravaggio's last work, painted in 1601, before he went on the run after allegedly murdering a pimp. Perhaps he was himself a pimp, said the guide, we don't know. He certainly liked the night.
"Do we all know about the supper at Emmaus?" she asked.
I thought I did but of course I do not. Make so many assumptions - that all the Bible stories are lodged very firmly in the mind because they were taught at such an early age. They're not.
I had completely forgotten that this was the moment when Christ appeared to his friends after his crucifixion.
He had been walking with them and they had not recognised him.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Coincidence.... how small is the world?

Had talked in the office earlier in the day about coincidence: someone had sent me an email saying he had seen me at the Queen Adelaide bus stop the other morning. He was on the 260 bus but was upstairs so I had not seen him waving.

Curious to think of paths crossing in ways that we are unaware of: discovered another coincidence at Mansfield Street when sitting next at dinner to the brilliant Polish violinist. She said she loved London more than anything, more than anywhere she had ever been. She'd arrived to study with Vengerov a month ago. 
The other place she'd been to ... was Cornwall. She'd been to Prussia Cove in mid June for the wedding of Robin Green, the pianist in the trio.

I was back in mid June too for the first time for nearly decade I guess - another pasty on the beach but this time with champagne - and cooked - to celebrate a bit of a breakthrough at work.

Does coincidence mean anything at all? Norman Mailer wrote something interesting about that: must google.

Saved. What shall I do?

Thought of Anna Spafford's heartbreaking telegram this evening when I was at a concert in a Robert Adams house in Mansfield Street. It was a debut performance by a brilliant young piano trio - made possible by the Nicholas Boas charitable trust.
The colour of a Robert Adams' ceiling is  celestial blue. (Celestial is perhaps the only word. It's not as green as Eau du Nil and nowhere near as bright and enamelled as Cornflower).
Nicholas Boas died tragically young. His parents set up a charity in his memory and now hold concerts at their home in Mansfield Street, where young musicians have the chance to stage concerts at the start of their careers - often prior to performing at the Wigmore Hall.
This seems an extraordinary act of grace.

Earlier, on the train up from Cornwall, sped through Seneca's On the Shortness of Life,
See a link - the notion of a dignified and measured way of living. Life isn't short, Seneca says. It's only short if you let it slip by.

Key thoughts:
- distraction is more damaging than almost anything else. (The damage done by mobile phones and emails! - my thought, not Seneca's)
- the study of philosophy is key to a life lived well.
- regular reflection is essential
- as is sage management of time. (great men in Rome factored in holidays on certain days every month)

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested.

…we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it. Just as when ample and princely wealth falls to a bad owner, it is squandered in a moment, but wealth however modest , if entrusted to a good custodian, increased with use, so our lifetime extends amply if you manage it properly. 
… it is generally agreed that no activity can be successfully pursued by an individual who is preoccupied – not rhetoric or liberal studies – since the mind when distracted absorbs nothing deeply, but rejects everything which is, so to speak, crammed into it.
…learning how to live takes a whole life, and, which may surprise you more, it takes a whole life to learn how to die.
So you must not think a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived, long, just existed long. For suppose you should think that a man had had a long voyage who had been caught in a raging storm as he left harbour, and carried hither and thither and driven round and round in a circle by the rage of opposing winds? He did not have a long voyage, just a long tossing about.
Life is divided into three periods, past, present and future. Of these, the present is short, the future is doubtful, the past is certain…..
It is the mind that is tranquil and free from care which can roam through all the stages of its life: the minds of the preoccupied, as if harnessed in a yoke, cannot turn round and look behind them.
 And so the preoccupied are concerned only with the present, and it is so short that it cannot be grasped, and even this is stolen from them while they are involved in their many distractions.
Of all people only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only those are truly alive. For they not only keep a good watch over their own lifetimes, but they annex every age to theirs....

Monday, 21 October 2013

Wild Poseidon and other demons

Wonder how on earth a journey can help to tackle personal demons? Because they are well hidden and too rarely acknowledged - certainly in my case. Hard to imagine how hymn singing might tackle them (so many pilgrimage books seems to have appendices of useful hymns to sing at certain points).
At the moment my most useful point of reference is Ithaka by Cavafy.
Don't let monsters spoil the journey - whether or not you're actually travelling anywhere.

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Why go on a pilgrimage?

Thought for the day: why go on a pilgrimage?
Remember writing an article for Christian Aid about this to coincide with an exhibition on pilgrimage at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Interesting points: for Christians, the actual journey is important - physical hardship - carrying your possessions on your back. You realise what is really important to you. What you can live with, and what you can live without.  For Muslims, the emphasis can be slightly different: the moment of arrival is the most important thing.

For the article I interviewed Judy Foot. I first met Judy when working at Breakthrough Breast Cancer in the mid 90s. She had made the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in the late 90s in memory of a dear friend of hers, Lesley Elliott. She published a book about her journey which I have kept ever since. She describes in detail the walk and her companions - and why the pilgrimage was important: it was a long hard trek and she felt tested mentally as well as physically. But at the end, nonetheless, she was taken by surprise when she arrived at the Cathedral in Santiago.

'At the beginning the list of pilgrims who had arrived the previous day was read out. I heard my name, Judithian Foot, and that I had walked from St Jean Pied de Port, then some Spanish and quite clearly, loud and strong, the name Lesley Elliott.
'This sound in the vast Cathedral, so many many miles from home, was like an arrow piercing my soul. This was the reason why I was there… I also knew that for me, my walk was not over, it had only just begun.'

A bracelet of bright hair about the bone

Later in the day: two glasses broke, one after the other. Wrapped them up together in newspaper for the bin as if they were two lovers. Remember the John Donne poem The Relic.
Not for the first time wonder how this eventual Dean of St Paul's wrote such wildly passionate poetry.

The Relic

by John Donne

When my grave is broke up again

Some second guest to entertain,
(For graves have learn'd that woman head,
To be to more than one a bed)
And he that digs it, spies
A bracelet of bright hair about the bone,
Will he not let'us alone,
And think that there a loving couple lies,
Who thought that this device might be some way
To make their souls, at the last busy day,
Meet at this grave, and make a little stay?

If this fall in a time, or land,

Where mis-devotion doth command,
Then he, that digs us up, will bring
Us to the bishop, and the king,
To make us relics; then
Thou shalt be a Mary Magdalen, and I
A something else thereby;
All women shall adore us, and some men;
And since at such time miracles are sought,
I would have that age by this paper taught
What miracles we harmless lovers wrought.

First, we lov'd well and faithfully,

Yet knew not what we lov'd, nor why;
Difference of sex no more we knew
Than our guardian angels do;
Coming and going, we
Perchance might kiss, but not between those meals;
Our hands ne'er touch'd the seals
Which nature, injur'd by late law, sets free;
These miracles we did, but now alas,
All measure, and all language, I should pass,
Should I tell what a miracle she was.

At dinner, realise that the sebum on the table is exactly the same shade as my glass of wine.

Elektra and a bloody pasty

Find the Sunday School book in Cornwall on a windy sunny afternoon. En route back from a shopping trip in Penzance, stop at a beach cafe in Marazion and buy a pasty to eat by the sea. The chapel on St Michael's Mount was of course a pilgrimage site (some people thought the Holy Grail was kept there). But I wasn't thinking of pilgrimage.

My thoughts in fact turned to Elektra - the play - that I'd been reading in the garden before I left. Since I saw the Covent Garden production of Richard Strausss' opera a few weeks ago I've not  been able to get crazed Elektra out of my mind. Other opera seems light-weight compared to this .

And then the pasty disintegrated in my hands: it must have been frozen but not fully thawed before being baked. The pastry was cooked on the ends but not the meat in the middle. Everything fell to the sand. Blood in my hands. A visual metaphor for the themes of the play....
Couldn't even bring myself to take it back to the cafe.

Later, en route to the Star Inn, Porkellis, listened to this on the car radio. Mary Coughlan.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Books from Sunday School

Most vivid images of the Holy Land come from Sunday School books. In particular pictures of Holy Week - from Palm Sunday to the Passion and Crucifixion. I have one given to me by my grandfather at least 50 years ago. It's what I think it all looks like.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Early notes

On the train from London down to Cornwall - Simon Sebag Montefiore's Jerusalem in hand. A decomissioned copy from the Oxford and Cambridge Club library, very kindly given to me by the librarian (two copies were bought originally when it was the book of the moment due to the TV series....)

I had a fear that this book might be 'of the moment' rather than an essential read: was recently disappointed by Natasha's Dance by Orlando Figes).

But there are handy facts within.
Cannot ever imagine reading from start to finish - so many names, so much barbarity.

But today - as the woman on the train in the seat opposite sews buttons on to a cushion opposite while chatting to her husband ...

- the American Colony. (Have heard often over the years of the American Colony Hotel). What was the American Colony? It was founded by the Spaffords.

Anna Spafford was travelling across the Atlantic with her four daughters on the Ville de Havre when it was struck by another ship. All four daughters drowned.

She sent the news by telegram to her husband Horatio, a lawyer in Chicago:

What they did: they abandoned their lives in the States and went to Jerusalem where they founded the American Colony just inside the Damascus Gate. They prepared daily for the Second Coming.

They made friends with General Charles Gordon, who had settled in Ein Kerem (John the Baptist's village) after famously governing Sudan.

He became obsessed by the view of the hill from the roof of the American Colony and believed that he saw a skull clearly in the rocks.
 He became convinced that this was Golgotha - where Christ was crucified - 'the place of the skull'. So persuasive was he that this became the site of the Garden Tomb.  


Thursday, 17 October 2013

Definition of terms

Pronunciation: /ˈpɪlgrɪmɪdʒ/

A pilgrim’s journey: he wanted to go on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, a place of pilgrimage

A journey to a place of particular interest or significance: 'His passion was opera and he made annual pilgrimages to Bayreuth.'

Chiefly literary: life viewed as a journey: 'Now is the thirty-first year of my dark pilgrimage on this earth

Middle English: from Provençal pelegrinage, from pelegrin 

Reading and watching

  • Foot by Foot to Santiago de Compostela/Judy Foot
  • The Testament of Mary with Fiona Shaw at the Barbican
  • The Testament of Mary/Colm Toibin
  • Schwanengesang/Schubert - Tony Spence
  • Journals/Robert Falcon Scott
  • Fugitive Pieces/Ann Michaels
  • Unless/Carol Shields
  • Faust/Royal Opera House
  • The Art of Travel/Alain de Botton
  • Mad Men Series 6
  • A Week at The Airport/Alain de Botton
  • The Railway Man/Eric Lomax
  • Bright Lights, Big City/Jay McInerney
  • Stones of Venice/John Ruskin
  • The Sea, the Sea/Iris Murdoch
  • Childe Harold/Lord Byron
  • All The Pretty Horses/Cormac McCarthy
  • Extreme Rambling/Mark Thomas
  • Story of my Life/Jay McInerney
  • Venice Observed/Mary McCarthy