Saturday, 22 February 2014

Merchants of Venice and the jewels of fairy tales

"She looks a sea Cybele, fresh from ocean,
Rising with her tiara of proud towers
At airy distance, with majestic motion,
A ruler of the waters and their powers:
And such she was: - her daughters had their dowers
From spoils of nations, and the exhaustless East
Pour'd in her lap all gems in sparkling showers...."
Byron/Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Mary McCarthy asks how merchants, commercial people, the inhabitants of Venice, managed to create such a fairy tale city. Because  - perhaps - images of richness are at the heart of fairy tales (is she right? Fairy tales lift the spirits - I have kept my Fairy Liquid bottle from 2011 and the Royal Wedding. Aren't - mainly  - fairy tales about dreams coming true? Kate Middleton
got her balding prince.... But there are also such scary, weird and sinister fairy tales  - Sleeping Beauty in her glass coffin amidst a dense thicket of brambles, pricking a finger and living/dying ....Bluebeard and his murdered wives....)

"Gold, caskets of gold, caskets of silver, the miller's daughter spinning gold all night long, thanks to Rumpelstiltskin, the cave of Ali Baba stored with stolen gold and silver, the underground garden in which Aladdin found jewels growing on trees, so that he could gather them in his hands, rubies and diamonds and emeralds, the Queen's lovely daughter whose hair is black as ebony and lips are red as rubies..."

Just look at the way those Madonnas dress.

"Florentine madonnas wear transparent veils and genteel 'old stuff' = faded blue and old roses with dulled gold trim- that have been handed down for generations in a miserly Tuscan family. This will not do for the Venetians.... No Venetian saint or secular figures is permitted to dress drably."

Monday, 17 February 2014

Lucretia Borgia and rad as tits

It is quite hard to think of many Byron poems that people quote today ... he's thought to be a bit out of fashion.... full-blown.... rather literary....dated... not relevant today.  No one reads him!

But don't think that any other poet was quoted by (the extremely irritating) BAFTA host Stephen Fry last night. Not bad for someone who died nearly 200 years previously. Though - I had to think - am not at all sure what Byron would have made of the BAFTAS.

So defining an age/sensibility/literary movement and lifestyle counts for something. It's fairly hard core as Alison in Story of My Life might say - or as might anyone who mastered that kind of junky punchy American prose/slang.

"Even if you weren't a trilingual doctor of arts and such with a badass resume and a dope setta skills you'd still  be rad as tits."

Byron liked Milan.
"I have been to the Ambrosian library (founded in 1609 by Cardinal Federigo Borromeo)..... I have been most delighted with a correspondence of letters, all original and amatory, between Lucretia Borgia and Cardinal Bembo preserved there. I have pored over them and a lock of her hair, the prettiest and fairest imaginable -  I never saw fairer - and shall go repeatedly to read the epistles over and over; and if I can obtain some of the hair by fair means, I shall try. I have already the librarian to promise me copies of the letters, and I hope that he will not disappoint me. They are short, but very simply, sweet, and to the purpose....
Abraham casting out Hagar and Ismael/Guercino
 The Brera gallery of paintings has some fine pictures, but nothing of a collection. Of paintings I know nothing; but I like a Guercino -a picture of Abraham putting away Hagar and Ismael - which seems to me natural and goodly. The Flemish school, such as I saw it in Flanders, I utterly detested, despised and abhorred; it might be painting but it was not nature; the Italian is pleasing,and their ideal very noble."
Letter to John Murray. 15 October 1816, Milan 

Friday, 14 February 2014

Story of My Life

Maybe Alison - sex, cocaine and parties -  in Story of My Life/Jay McInerney is a latter day Childe Harold.  On a journey to find something.... Though cannot imagine her sitting still on a train journey.
"So, okay, maybe I dreamed it. I was in bed after all, and he woke me up. Not for the first time. But just now, with these tranks they've got me on, I feel like I'm sleepwalking anyway and I can almost believe it never happened. Maybe I dreamed a lot of stuff. Stuff that I thought happened in my life. Stuff I thought I did. Stuff that was done to me. Wouldn't that be great? I'd love to think that ninety percent of it was just dreaming."

Train journeys still - to me - seem the most significant journeys.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Difficult journeys and music for a noisy pub

Difficult journeys today because of the tube strike. This morning very early there is relative silence in my bedroom. Trains start around five usually -  dull thuds in the distance nearly a mile away in Shepherds Bush, but not today.

On Radio 3 as I get ready early for a long journey into town for a concert there is talk of music 'for solitude' or being alone.  They play Knockin' on heaven's door - Bob Dylan's  soundtrack for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid one of my favourite films -  love the music - but why is this music - in particular - for solitude? (Is this a trend? Music for something.... music for prayer.... music for solitude... Why not just - music?  Why am I tired of labelling, packaging, bundles, people's 'top tens', what's in and what's out?)

(On solitude: one thing  about travelling on your own: you are never alone. There is always someone to talk to - companions along the way. In the best sense like Chaucer's crew of travellers in The Canterbury Tales. At the very least someone to chat to on a bus. A journey itself has a trajectory which means engagement - a start and an end, even if the path is unplanned. )

Later on the Wigmore Hall at lunchtime hear two new songs composed by the baritone Roderick Williams (performed by him with the Britten Sinfonia Voices). Intrigued by the programme note by R.W. which suggests that one of the songs In his cups takes place against extraneous and distracting background noise '(of a loud pub for example)'.

So this is the opposite of music for solitude: music for a noisy place.

Alas no recordings yet of this - it is too new.

For the second time in a week an amazing Schumann song (among others brilliantly delivered) - Auf einer Burg  - '.... and the fair bride, she weeps'.

And .... a difficult journey home. It's raining so the walk through Kensington Gardens is quite poetic.

A continent and a world view away spot romance in Chevrolet's Super Bowl ad - featuring cowboys and a pick up truck - back to the Wild West and its mythologies.  The punchline: 'Find new roads."

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Passion, life's journey and a robust Biblical quote

I Look Into My Glass

I look into my glass,
And view my wasting skin,
And say, "Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk as thin!" 

For then I, undistrest
By hearts grown cold to me,
Could lonely wait my endless rest
With equanimity. 

But Time, to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide. 

Thomas Hardy

Andrew Motion reading his work last night said this poem struck through to his heart as a schoolboy - and made him want to be a poet.

Odd to think of a poem written near the end of  a life (Hardy's) to inspire a trajectory through life - a journey. (The Lloyds discocerting slogan 'For the journey' and its intimations of the journey's end).

Motion was poet laureate and I cannot bring to mind a single poem of his. He is soft spoken and his hands are shaking. He says at the end of the ten years he committed to, he could not write. The poems dried up. He is writing again now and looks full of life, tanned, healthy, just flown in from a Caribbean beach.

New poems with Images of the Baltic Sea and  a fight in a neighbouring hotel room - poems for the dead.  Emotion muted and hidden.

On the way out a stout elderly woman in a mauve sweater holds open the Ladies' Powder Room door for many to file past. Quite a task as it is on a heavy spring. Thank you, thank you, everyone mutters.

"I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of The Lord than to dwell in the tents of the heathen,"
she says robustly.

Commendable passion from the Psalms. Songs of fervour and longing: music for prayer and life eternal.

Monday, 3 February 2014

In the chaos of ice and polar night - and music for prayer

"Les caravanes partirent. Et le Splendide-Hotel fut bati dans le chaos de glaces and de nuit du pole."

And the Hotel Splendide was built in the chaos of ice and polar night.
Iceberg hit by the Titanic

Reflections about the Chelsea Hotel in the London Review of Books by Jeremy Harding.

My only experience of the Chelsea Hotel is through Leonard Cohen.

On Radio 3 the Sunday morning programme is dedicated to music for prayer: choral evensongs and masses.Wonder why this - in particular - is music for prayer.

What is music for prayer? Later - go to a recital - Benjamin Appl singing Schumann's Dichterliebe.

Depends what you are praying for, and to whom or what, I guess.

Note to follow up:  Jeremy Harding mentions Gilbert Sorrentino's Splendide-Hotel (1973) - 27 meditations from A-Z with one extra.

 The entry for Z: "Z. Everyone is asleep in the Splendide-Hotel."

Alphabets are like lists - of endless fascination. An attempt to organise the chaos perhaps.

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