Friday, 29 May 2015

Eric Ravilious and an eye for a path

Eric Ravilious at the Dulwich Picture Gallery: I'd been reading The Old Ways/Robert Macfarlane which discusses his work at length. Like the poet Edward Thomas (also extensively discussed) he was obsessed with the South Downs, and ancient paths. Both were depressives. Both walked apparently in search of a different mental state.
A friend quoted by Macfarlane said that he 'always seemed to be slightly somewhere else, as if he lived a private life which did not completely coincide with material existence'.
Very careful, controlled watercolours. So skilled - here the White Horse and the train up to London: how many times have I been on this train? (Are repeated journeys a form of pilgrimage?)

Such a contrast between these and his paintings as an official World War 2 artist - lots are in the Imperial War Museum. Paintings of the inside a submarine are very haunting and watchful. 
The story ends tragically. Ravilious left for Iceland for the last time just after his wife, Tirza, had a mastectomy and he never returned to the South Downs. 
In August 1942, he was asked to join three planes setting out to find a missing aircraft. They never did -  and only two planes returned to base. Ravilious was on the second plane to go down that day.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Day bed

Would not travel very far at all if I owned this bed.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery - I need a brazier.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Kind gestures on the Pacific Crest Trail

 Fabulous shot of the Pacific Crest Trail - and also of books, food, unwanted possessions left for walkers so neatly by the track ...
So American - in the best possible way.  Cheryl Strayed mentions this in her book, Wild.
Remember a friend in Minnesota telling me of a neighbour who had a huge glut of courgettes one summer - so he went round the district posting them into people's postboxes, just in case they wanted them.

Monday, 25 May 2015

The Pennine Way and sharp observation from Dorothy Wordsworth

Up north walk (the briefest) part of the Pennine Way. This would really be a long distance trek to reckon with: only really fun if you were very fit ... but perhaps that applies to all long distance walks.
Back home find a long forgotten copy of Dorothy Wordsworth's Journals - so sharp and strange.
On Thursday 2 June 1802 her brother William came across a woman named Aggy Fisher, walking to attend a dying baby in the village.

She said there were many heavier crosses to bear than the death of an infant: "There was a woman in this vale who buried 4 grown up children in one year, and I have heard her say when many years were gone by that she had more pleasure in thinking of those 4 than of her living Children, for as Children get up and have families of their own their duty to their parents 'wears out and weakens'. She could trip lightly by the graves of those who died when they were young, with a light step, as she went to Church on a Sunday."

Monday, 18 May 2015

The Dales Way 1993

Thinking of doing a long distance walk: come across these old photos of a trek across the Yorkshire Dales in 1993.  They have such a distant feeling - colours from another age, certainly another era in my life. (How utterly miserable I look, leaning back against a sign with my much too heavy backpack.) Did the sun shine at all?
But I do remember the novelty of walking day after day, mostly on paths. And the world of said backpack - in it - one dress for evening and one pair of shoes as well as (probably) at least one book.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

In search of ghosts

Robert Macfarlane in The Old Ways says there was renewed interest in walking after World War One - as people walked to get over trauma but also in search of those who had died but who often walked the same paths.... These were not traditional pilgrimages but an attempt to slip out of one world into another. People spoke of hearing ghostly voices.
"The shock of the Great War provoked intense British interest in the old ways. Some of the returning soldiers, wounded in body and mind, retreated to the English countryside, hoping that by recovering a sense of belonging rooted in Nature and place they might dignify their damaged lives (the wish that it had all be worth something).
Other people, traumatised into superstition by the war, took to the paths in search of ghosts - setting out on the tracks of he lost and the left-behind. Old paths became mediums in two senses: means of communion as well as means of motion. Interested built in the ghostliness of these ghost;lines. The convivial pilgrmiages described by Chaucer became tinged with a morbid historicism: spectres stepped from the verge and offered brief address."

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Archaelogical warriors and a poem by James Fenton

The title of Rowan Williams' (former Archbishop of Canterbury) lecture last night at St James's Piccadilly was Archaeological Warriors. He was talking about the destruction of holy sites in what he kept referring to as west Asia while meaning what I think of as the Middle East. He talked about people wanting to possess 'the title deeds' of history: possessing history means possessing identity. At the start he read part of a poem by James Fenton -  which is now what I remember most about the lecture. It sums up part of Jerusalem to me....

“Jerusalem” by James Fenton

Stone cries to stone,
Heart to heart, heart to stone,
And the interrogation will not die
For there is no eternal city
And there is no pity
And there is nothing underneath the sky
No rainbow and no guarantee –
There is no covenant between your God and me.

It is superb in the air.
Suffering is everywhere
And each man wears his suffering like a skin.
My history is proud.
Mine is not allowed.
This is the cistern where all wars begin,
The laughter from the armoured car.
This is the man who won’t believe you’re what you are.

This is your fault.
This is a crusader vault.
The Brook of Kidron flows from Mea She’arim.
I will pray for you.
I will tell you what to do.
I’ll stone you. I shall break your every limb.
Oh, I am not afraid of you,
But maybe I should fear the things you make me do.

This is not Golgotha.
This is the Holy Sepulchre,
The Emperor Hadrian’s temple to a love
Which he did not much share.
Golgotha could be anywhere.
Jerusalem itself is on the move.
It leaps and leaps from hill to hill
And as it makes its way it also makes its will.

The city was sacked.
Jordan was driven back.
The pious Christians burned the Jews alive.
This is a minaret.
I’m not finished yet.
We’re waiting for reinforcements to arrive.
What was your mother’s real name?
Would it be safe today to go to Bethlehem?

This is the Garden Tomb.
No, this is the Garden Tomb.
I’m an Armenian. I am a Copt.
This is Utopia.
I came here from Ethiopia.
This hole is where the flying carpet dropped
The Prophet off to pray one night
And from here one hour later he resumed his flight.

Who packed your bag?
I packed my bag.
Where was your uncle’s mother’s sister born?
Have you ever met an Arab?
Yes, I am a scarab.
I am a worm. I am a thing of scorn.
I cry Impure from street to street
And see my degradation in the eyes I meet.

I am your enemy.
This is Gethsemane.
The broken graves look to the Temple Mount.
Tell me now, tell me when
When shall we all rise again?
Shall I be first in that great body count?
When shall the tribes be gathered in?
When, tell me, when shall the Last Things begin?

You are in error.
This is terror.
This is your banishment. This land is mine.
This is what you earn.
This is the Law of No Return.
This is the sour dough, this the sweet wine.
This is my history, this my race
And this unhappy man threw acid in my face.

Stone cries to stone,
Heart to heart, heart to stone.
These are the warrior archaeologists.
This is us and that is them.
This is Jerusalem.
These are dying men with tattooed wrists.
Do this and I’ll destroy your home.
I have destroyed your home. You have destroyed my home.

James Fenton
New Selected Poems (2006)

Monday, 4 May 2015

Bluebells at Chartwell and never giving up

Ploughing through Wild (A Journey from Lost to Found) by Cheryl Strayed  - a memoir of her epic trek along the Pacific Crest Trail. At the moment, am more taken by the epigraphs at the start of each section than the narrative.... in particular the most recent 'Never never never give up'. Winston Churchill.
Coincidentally visit Chartwell in leafy Kent, his country house, where the bluebell woods are more captivating than the crowded, slightly faded rooms. It is a National Trust property on a Bank Holiday Sunday after all - what do I expect.
In the meantime, Cheryl in Wild is hobbling along 1,100 miles of the west coast of America, alone. It's a good read but has the feel of a book written long after the event (in 2012 - the trek was in 1995).  (Is this fictionalised autobiography, like Siegfried Sassoon? Memoirs of a Foxhunting Man etc written in the late 20s, long after the events he describes.)
Though in Wild at the end, an encounter with two very creepy and possibly predatory men on a fishing expedition made me truly frightened for her - and was I jolted out of my scepticism. And her memories of her mother (who died a quick and terrible death from cancer) are very moving.
But not, somehow, a book to return to.

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