Friday, 25 April 2014

Impossible role models and 100 desserts (alphabetised)

Fiona Shaw at St James's Church, Piccadilly, talking about The Testament of Mary/Colm Toibin. (The play opens early next month at the Barbican).  She is perfectly at ease with herself  - such a role model.

She talks about role models: for a girl growing up in Catholic Ireland the Virgin Mary was an impossible role model. You could never really be the Virgin Mary. This is de facto an impossible role model.
In the book,Toibin contrasts two Marys - the pure, remote Mary in Titian's Assumption of the Virgin

- and the 'impure, chaotic, cruel, strange, unforgettable' Mary in Tintoretto's Crucifixion in San Rocco (the one painting I would have chosen to see in Venice, had I been restricted to one).

Detail: Mary in Crucifixion/Tintoretto

Most touching moment of the discussion came when someone in the audience said she sympathised with Mary leaving the scene of the crucifixion. This is criticised by some. But the death of a child can be impossible to witness. Words failed her; this was very close to home.

Millennia away: In Unless, Carol Shields also talks about the loss of a child - not the death of a child but alienation and trauma. I love Carol Shields usually - and in particular the domesticity in her books which seems to me to have a kind of greatness. It's so solid - such a grounded domesticity that it seems to encompass big issues - i.e. how to live life.
"Seven o'clock. I reached in the oven and removed the foil from the lasagna, then shut the red kitchen curtains which is my signal to my mother-in-law next door to put on her coat and walk up the hill and across the leaf-strewn lawn for dinner. She takes her evening meals with us and we have used the curtain signal for close to twenty years. She'll be watching from her darkened sun room, waiting patiently, her nose already powdered, a dash of lipstick applied, her bladder emptied, her house key in her pocket and it will take her exactly four minutes to travel the hundred yards uphill to our back door, which I leave unlocked."
Of the same mother-in-law (above) :
"She had a list of one hundred desserts, alphabetised in a recipe box, beginning with almond apples, moving to date pudding, on to nut brittle mouse (frozen) and ending with zwieback pastry cheesecake; she rotated this list around the year. It is no longer easy to find zwieback biscuits, but graham crackers can be substituted. Needless to say, seasonal ingredients mean that the desserts themselves are not served alphabetically."

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