Extra virgin olive oil to clean out the ears

 Posted by at 11:48 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Aug 272010

A few days ago I finished The
Anonymous Novel. Sensing Future Torments
Alessandro Barbero. Judging by the dedication you weren’t quite sure who to
give it to; the evidence of your indecision plainly on view. Anyhow, a couple
of weeks ago I picked it up and began reading and continued reading helped by
the fact that Leah was overloaded enough for her return journey to Norwich that
the weight of an extra book was 542 grammes too much. And helped by the fact
that this novel was enthralling. It was hard to believe that the writer was not
a Russian – it has such an insider feel to it. Set in Gorbachev’s about to
crumble USSR it manages to tell the story of the Russian attempt to create a
better world, a socialist people’s republic, and the failure of that attempt
through the eyes of a cynical narrator, a chorus, against which ‘his’ cast of
characters, from Moscow to Baku trace the fractures of failure and the
emergence of the forces that will dominate the shift from a brutal socialist
and comically inefficient economy to a brutal market economy plus for added
value the development of the radical Islam that has dominated our news for the
last ten or fifteen years.

It’s a book that marks those of
us lost in anonymity – not famous, not celebrities, not wealthy, not powerful –
and has been published this year in the UK (it was published in Italy in 1998)
by Vagabond Voices based on the Isle of Lewis. Vagabond – a word which we also use – to
define a position that we might or might not occupy at different times, in
different ways – suggests wandering, homeless, beneath the radar, disreputable
even criminal, on the margins, and what about ‘not to be trusted’? At the same
time it is a position chosen by, say, George Orwell (another disreputable Old
Etonian) in his Down and Out in Paris and London. A position which holds that those with power, wealth or celebrity to
defend cannot be trusted, we have to look down and from underneath, from where it’s
mucky, to see what is really going on, or to put it another way, that truth
might well be born homeless, amongst the animals.

A book I’m half way through
reading at the moment is William Fotheringham’s Fallen Angel The Passion of
Fausto Coppi
. The story of the great
Italian cyclist who rose to international stardom amidst the wreckage of
post-war Europe, from a desperately poor northern Italian peasant background, to
outrage conservative Catholic opinion, and die young (40). And, yes, there’s
the heroism and the grandeur of the rags to riches story, but there’s also the
messiness, the betrayals, the pettiness, the sheer falleness of our hero who
rides like an angel, with the gods, over the high mountains.

What are those whispered words
and who is whispering?

Unum or Unam

 Posted by at 11:18 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Aug 252010

I am here on the Via Reggio Lido in italy, and it is not Inception, but it could be; the broadwalk behind the scores and scores of bagno establishments, all with their dream names like Roberto, Delfino, and Sodini in Art-Deco signature lettering above their entrances.  later on dinner is taken at 8pm or later if you prefer, always at sensibly priced ostarias, and then you join the passagiata for all ages and conditions, some glamorous, some divine, and some bizarre.


It is the way it is with words, you try one thing, then you try another. For instance, here on the Lido I am hoping to meet the Russians again. They were here two years ago when we came last, and it would be good to meet up with them again and hear those strange accents which they bring to words (Like 'cows' for 'chaos' as I have noted here before, and so on.


Then there is the ex-Soviet man with a name that sounds like ‘Cabin George’ who seems to act as a catalyst for me whom I am especially keen to find. The one. And you never know what, he might be here, along with Benjamin and Trotsky, and those with other cover names like Viktor, Ernst Hess, Rudi, Stefan, Berndt… and of course Albert. Along with the women of course, some of whom are not to be trusted… there for example in the corner is sat Grete Wild, alias Mertens, continuously writing things down in her notebook. No good will come of it, I know, because no good came of it before.


And Russia – why the special desire to meet the Russians? Because their radio towers are higher than any others and their listening stations are recording everything underneath those towers of iron, albeit rusting, still capable of spanning from here to Saturn. Not spies of course. I don’t like using that overworked word. But agents surely. Or ambassadors if you prefer.

What can I get away with? What’s the pay-off?

 Posted by at 11:04 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Aug 202010


All the rush and noise, all the wishing for dread terror not
to be part of MY life. Can’t it be merely something that YOU suffer from,
perhaps as a patient of some benevolent medic/therapist. I must act fast,
movement is balance, speed along before I too slide into that patient place
(again!). I imagine an impatient patient – can’t you do something for me,
doctor? What if I dig deep into my pockets and go private, would that help?
Lull me to sleep; those words of Auden touch and frame, offer an image – Muse,
Clio – a sort of silent embrace or setting up the possibility of embracing
silence and yes, doctor, lulling me to sleep with a lullaby. Hang out the Do
Not Disturb sign. We call it falling asleep. Letting go of our fiendish desire
to control. Falling, a moment of terror and . . .  perhaps not even that, a seamless transition between conscious and
unconscious . . . and later I’ll read you a story.

A couple of evenings ago I went up (it’s out of town and up
the hill) to the local cinema to see Inception, the newish film from
Christopher Nolan. A very watchable, even enthralling movie, though it shuffles
about on the edges of incoherence. Come to think of it, shuffling about on the
edges of incoherence sounds oddly familiar, like I might be catching a glimpse
of myself in the mirror, inadvertently, so to speak. A story about planting an
idea in another’s mind – a theme that is banality itself given that we are
always engaged in conversations that attempt to do just that. But to make it interesting
you have to bring in power and control. How do you get an idea into some
powerful person’s mind to your own advantage? So it’s business as usual:
powerful wealthy people making use of clever skilful people who need a bit of
cash or some other favour, but here digging into the mysterious nature of the mind and its ability
to tell us all sorts of stories whilst we are asleep. Stories that are so real
when we are in them but after waking, begin to fragment, drift into the air
like smoke, leaving us with fractured images that may mean something or

Anyway the movie is very noisy and they all have lots of fun
jumping into each others’ dreams, killing endless numbers of anonymous 'baddies', fascinating special effects, and at the same time exploring the dynamics of
loss and mourning.

4 X 4

 Posted by at 11:07 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Aug 192010

After the mote and beam parable you gave. If only… meaning, if only the obstacles to my speaking out were not so large. Or meaning like you say, if only it wasn’t impossible to remain calm.


And quiet – mutam nequiquam.


Do you recognise the words? And those odd phraseologies she employs – as for silentia muta noctis, which she translates as the ‘deep speechlessness of night’? And nequiquam – pointless to go on.


Teach us, dea muta, teach us! While I was also alongside her reading some fragments from WH Auden’s ‘Homage to Clio’:


…I have seen

Your photo, I think, in the papers, nursing

A baby or mourning a corpse; each time

You had nothing to say and did not, one could see,

Observe where you were, Muse of the unique

Historical fact, defending with silence

Some world of your beholding.


…but we, at haphazard

and unseasonably, are brought face to face

by ones, Clio, with your silence. After that

nothing is easy.


And lastly next to this fragment too, from out of all last June’s obituaries on Saramaga –


“Gradually, he came to recognise that, for him, the genesis of his novels occurred best with the flash of an idea and then (oddly, perhaps) a name, and a literary category. Thus The Manual of Painting and Calligraphy: A Novel and his original title Ensaio Sobre a Cegueira (Essay On Blindness, 1995) which, to his extreme annoyance, was rendered in the 1997 English edition simply as Blindness. (Its sequel, Ensaio Sobre a Lucidez – Seeing – was published in 2004.”

The work that is given to words

 Posted by at 11:55 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Aug 132010

    With no wish to diminish the
disastrous tragedy unfolding in Pakistan – how unsettling it is to see reports
of the English cricket team joyously beating the Pakistan cricket team whilst
floods threaten ever greater swathes of their country, as though the English
are gloating over their wounded Pakistanis opponents – but the 12 million you refer to (14
million according to yesterday’s Guardian) is the number of people effected by
the flooding rather than made homeless. That number has been estimated to be 2

Meanwhile how do we remain ‘one holy
catholic people’ amidst the jabber of riotous discourse, argument and counter
argument? We are an excitable bunch. I often notice how impossible it is to
remain calm, still and quiet when whoever I am with is struggling to work out
how to do something; I can’t wait to get my hands/mind on the pesky problem. If
only the mote in my eye were not a damned great length of 4X4.

It seems to be accepted as a fact
of life that in our fabricating accounts of this thing we variously call life
or reality, we make use of fiction and non-fiction, we lie and steal,
occasionally attribute, more often unaware of what comes from where. After all
there are deadlines to be met, salaries to be earned, fees to be claimed. When
attacked we tend to defend ourselves, vaguely aware that our defence is
compounding our lies, but what else can we do? I listen to the Church or BP
defending themselves with finely honed PR skills and I groan in despair at
the inadequacy of the exercise. But I also have to accept that when my integrity is
under threat – and integrity and being must be closely related – I have to act
(internally or externally) to reintegrate, to repair the damage.

Words have a job to do and it is
probable that seeking truth is only part of that job. 

Et unam sanctam catholicam

 Posted by at 8:31 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Aug 122010

I am caught up in a week of music at the Dartington International Summer School, and find myself rehearsing to sing Haydn’s Harmoniemesse . Happily I am with a particularly strong group of tenors because it is a late piece by the indefatigable master, and full of musical invention, cunning twists and turns, tricky fugues and unusual syncopations to catch the unwary, but also includes in plain four line harmony containing the text of these particular Latin words and delivered with simple and absolute certainty.


Unam Sanctam Catholicum – despite Haydn as an old man experiencing the savagery of revolution having witnessed the siege of Vienna by Napoleon, he proclaims these words of harmony – these words which in these later days, contain an improbable and problematic wish we might tend to think.


Except I am brought to a juddering halt these last days in our weekly conversations here by the presence of the twelve million people – or is it more – made homeless by the floods in Pakistan, and – the report broadcast last night using these words – being “under the threat of the fear of death”. It was meant as a journalistic phrase to be used by the television reporter in situ speaking to camera to add weight to his report, but I quickly realized after hearing the words that I lacked the imagination to understand them. It was and is simply too many people for me to bring to mind at one time, and all of them under the threat, not of death itself because it is certain that not all of them will die as a result of the floods, but under the fear of the threat of death; this certainty – unam – all of them, one and all, in fear.


Our humanitarian response to natural disasters being one of the abiding ways we continue to act together– unam, one and all – in fear, and I have placed this remark by the television reporter alongside that other more perplexing phrase which I had previously referred to, the one used by Tony Judt in his ongoing NYRB ‘Series of Memoirs; “The Democracy of Fear”. And also besides another reference – Hopes and Utopias. Jose Saramago gave this heading for his blog for 30th September 2008, which year of blogging by this other indefatigable master now forms a book that I am reading currently, one of his last published before his death last June. It is called The Notebook. Saramago was no friend of the Catholic church, and this transcribed blog entry (along with several others in the book) delivers an attack on the very partial – not unam – compassionate hand of the church.


And yet, in a way I am unable to explain (and I am not a member of the Church of Rome), I find myself singing with heart and conviction as we rehearsed today – Et unam sanctam catholicam.

Did you see me?

 Posted by at 11:14 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Aug 062010

Ai! Those red green eyes! Did you
see me? Did you bother to look? Wrapped in my own dreams I missed you – and
yes, I can hear you say, surprise me. The red eyes of the green man, the green eyes
of the red man. Red man walking, green man walking, freed from the confines of their shared metal box, a
nimble leap to the ground and they're off down the road and what’s more hunger's in the air, though at first this aching discomfort confuses and energy courses into
those green/red eyes abuzz with lascivious greed, or to put it another way,
dripping lust – acid drops burning holes in the scarred asphalt. Restaurant
detritus piled high, fear in the streets, Uncle Wally humming – to himself or
some unknown, unnamed god, sees red green, green red waves of democratic joy laced
with the thin excitement of fear. Have you noticed the pervasive, penetrating
power of fear? Tracing lines, contours of granite brutality. Oh yes, ever bigger green/red red/green men have a first thought bursting through which I shall translate/interpret as joy. A joy
of hunger in the midst of the waste of possibility – that joy–fear that is
life’s response to life. Uncle Wally loves to see the working of mind, the
waking of mind. In the night. Luminosity. Uncle Wally knows the how and why.
And, come to that, knows where Pinky and Perky have hidden themselves.

Nocte fratris

 Posted by at 7:58 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Aug 042010

ipso fratre miserior: in the zone of the peripheral, that is perhaps better called – night vision, where the written word is becoming barely legible, but the other senses grow sharper, more aware.


The fire burns down and we huddle down, curling up together for warmth under cold, clear stars. Except one of us must stay awake, taking it in turn to keep watch. Remember, when the torch is held high, the green eyes in the dark spell safe. And the red eyes? Red eyes spell out the warning, That one could be coming to take you. And you. And you.


Not a bad definition I think for the democracy of fear. Ever since that time when there were no fences, no boundaries, and no walls to tell us apart. Frater. Brother. Sister. All one people, free. Yes, free! All of us that is, who know the value of the gift of death.


Our coinage of exchange. But it would be wrong to call it primitive. The reflex. Only peripheral, when that relaxation of the muscles of the eye reveals more. Noctis fratris ipso fratre miserior. Did you see where that one was? I am counting on you to have spotted it. Brother, sister, seeing in the dark, and were the eyes shining green or red?