Radical Emptiness

 Posted by at 9:06 pm  Anti-Gravity Surgery, Holy Fool/Hero, OVER and BEYOND  Comments Off
Apr 292014
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Nothingness and boredom. Those were the two words I had expected to hear. That emptiness is – well – empty. Nothing, and a nothingness that somehow is also connected with boredom. A sigh, a yawn. Ennui…

… and despair like a creeping black cloud. Yes, nothingness, boredom, and despair.

So I hadn’t expected to discover that emptiness was exhausting. That was truly radical. Emptiness is exhausting. What a proposition.

He asked the disciples to watch with him through the night, but exhaustion overcame them and they fell asleep.

Radical emptiness.

What is the world coming to? Gabo Marquez died a couple of weeks ago aged 87, and a ‘farewell letter’ has been circulating:

“If for an instant God would forget I’m a rag puppet and would give me a bit more life, I would take advantage of that time as much as I could.

Possibly I would not tell everything I think, but I would definitely think about everything I say.

I would value things, not for what they’re worth, but for what they signify.

I would sleep a little, I would dream more. I understand that for every minute we spend with our eyes closed, we lose sixty seconds of light.

I would walk when others stop, awaken when others sleep.

If God would give me a bit more life, I would dress simply, would throw myself downward on my stomach under the sun, leaving uncovered not only my body but my soul.

I would tell men how wrong they are thinking they can’t fall in love when they are old, not knowing that they grow old when they stop loving.”

(It continues in the same vein).

A friend sent me an email with the last sentence (under a photo of Marquez). Perhaps it was sent in the spirit of emptiness. I liked it and went looking for more.

It was then that I found out about the rest of the ‘Farewell Letter’ and that it is a fake written by a poet from Mexico City many months ago, in fact years before Gabo died. Spirit of Cervantes? Spirit of Gabriele d’Annunzio?

It happened that Gabo found out about the ‘farewell letter’. He called it “cheesy” (in Spanish it means something worse than cheese) .

A few days ago the poet from Mexico City has given an interview claiming that Gabo visited him quite recently and gave him some more friendly words of approval concerning the ‘farewell letter’.

No doubt Gabo was exhausted suffering from his last illness. Radical emptiness encompasses all versions of the truth.

Tinkles the Ivories

 Posted by at 9:11 pm  Catastrophe Games, Echo Effects, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Apr 162014
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A central european city lies broken and divided. There are huge piles of bricks and the ruins of buildings. It is late, the scantily lit streets are silent, and the black and white world is full of long oblique shadows.

The word is out that Harry will make his run back to our side tonight. There has been a tip off and security men are waiting.

Which is our side? I reflect how odd it is that I don’t seem to have an answer to that question. Nor whether we, who are waiting, are here to welcome him. Or to apprehend him. Or worse. Because we all go armed. Perhaps the orders are to shoot on sight. We are all men here, and it is quite possible.

I have no idea what is expected of us, and I begin to realise with a sinking feeling that, if the situation arises, it is very probable I will simply take the lead from the others.

Nobody likes being the odd man out do they Harry? I remember The Third Man film too. I must have seen that film a dozen times or more, but the truth is that to this day I do not recall having ever watched it through from start to end.

Strange how the story is turning out, I don’t know what it is about, but the bit I do know is how it ends.

From somewhere a piano has started playing. It is that familiar central european theme tune, and it is being played over and over. I listen with a suspended feeling, simultaneously attracted and repelled. There is no end to this I think. The playing is mechanical but I notice that there are differences each time, slight pauses, or the occasional mistake with the notes that are played.

It is how Harry finds the way to say, And I am not done with my story.

Old spaces, new spaces

 Posted by at 5:27 pm  Atelier, Exodus, Hitting the Potholes  Comments Off
Apr 082014

Opening up new spaces, jamming the crowbar into the crack and pitching all one’s power and might to open it up. Actually the work of years. It might even take us years to become aware of the crack. We try to ignore it. Turn a blind eye. The crack – the evidence of that ‘old’ event.

Reading the Florentine writer Vasco Pratolini’s short story Lo Sgombero – The Removal – only to discover that the streets he names are part of the maze of tiny streets in the area of Piazza della Signoria. In other words five or ten minutes away. A grandmother and her grandson are under an eviction order. Grandmother resists and they are forced to live in the midst of the building work initiated by the new owners. If she continues to resist the compensation money will be withdrawn and they will still be thrown out. The bailiffs have already taken most of their furniture. Salvation comes in the form of one of the bricklayers who knows of a room available in a nearby street. She remains reluctant, the people there are not like the people she is familiar with, rougher, lower down the social scale. Eventually she is persuaded that she has little choice and they load their few pieces of furniture and other possessions on to a hand cart which the grandson proceeds to push out of via de’ Magazzini and then takes the via de’ Gondi downhill in which he starts to lose control of the cart. He just about manages the turn into via dei Leoni but then on the turn into via del Corno, the site of their new home, where the left wheel jams and the cart is upturned. People around come to their rescue – their new neighbours!

The story is delightful, written from the grandson’s viewpoint, sensitive to the pain and hardship and bad luck of life? It was fun to wander down from S. Lorenzo and view the scene. The streets essentially remain the same. The stables he mentions have gone as are the urinals. Stables are turned into garages. In the photo can be seen an immaculately restored early Fiat 500. It is outside a garage in which there are other Fiat 500s and Vintage Vespas. I assume these are all available for hire. 

A new generation comes along and opens up new possibilities. 

Apr 082014
Harry K sat in a chair142

Harry Kratchnikov’s face fills the mask:

Did he cry for help as he lay there?

Then after a pause, “Are you there?”

It was only luck that I had the radio on at 9pm, BBC Radio 4 (21/03/2014), began listening to  Four Trees Down from Ponte Sisto (NB click on this link to ‘listen again‘), and found myself instantly transported back by the poetry of Sharon Charde and the music/radio making of Gregory Whitehead. Back where? Back to the place where my older brother lies dying in the street in 1973. He had been hit by a car. Or a van, I think it was.

“There is no end to this”, reads a line in one of the poems of Sharon Charde in the FOUR TREES play/poems about the death of her son Geoffrey in 1987. Or were they her words? Or mine? Whatever, they are among those that I wrote down as I was listening bent over close to the radio in my kitchen three weeks ago. Geoffrey was a student in Rome in 1987. He fell of a bridge. He was 20 at the time. Ferrier (my brother) was 28 when he died in 1973.  He died in Callandar, Scotland. He was on foot, went to cross the street, and stepped in front of a fast moving car (or van). I was 21 at the time, and I was far away out in the pampas of Santa Caterina, Brazil.

These are some of the few things I know for sure. The rest I don’t know. By the time I got back from Brazil three months later, it was long after both the inquest on my brother’s death and his cremation.

Accident or suicide? The question also comes up for Sharon Charde in the FOUR TREES play/poems and she comes down firmly on the accident side. And for Ferrier? The answer to that question is among those many things I don’t know. He had been depressed for a few weeks. That is what I was told back then when I got back, although not exactly in those words. But back then it wasn’t easy to ask or talk more about mental illness or suicide. Or actually permitted.

So maybe I am suicide survivor, and I am glad I find that I can say that now.

Then there is the bit which I recall in the FOUR TREES play/poems when Sharon Charde describes  the moment now all these years later, when she meets new people, and they ask: ‘What happened to your son Geoffrey?’. There is the moment her mind expands as she pauses unsure which way to go with her answer. Like I do too, whenever I am asked what happened to Ferrier, and I also watch the moment expand and think about the uncomfortable conversation which will likely continue whichever of the forking paths I choose to follow in my answer.

“There’s no end to this”. That could have been the very moment I write that line down, and I am grateful because there is the chance to tell my story and his too.

Returning the favour

 Posted by at 9:46 am  Anti-Gravity Surgery, Holy Fool/Hero  Comments Off
Apr 052014

The photograph shows a demonstration in Florence on the 15th March – showing the flag, making a stand, resisting the values of nationalism and bigotry. There was drumming and shouted speeches. Yeah! Right! Business as usual. Then on Thursday of this week, almost accidentally, we found ourselves near to La Certosa outside of Florence. I say accidentally because all we had in mind was to walk out from the centre into the surrounding hills. But here we were looking at La Certosa up on its hill just outside of Galluzzo so why not have a look as we were so close. And even though it was the end of the afternoon we were in time for a guided tour of the monastery. It remains a working Cistercian monastery though I’m not sure how many monks are still there they still produce various liqueurs. There was the vast complex edifice of the monastery with its surprisingly large cells where the ordained monks lived, prayed and worked, the various cloisters, the church, the paintings but the impression that particularly stayed with me was about the nature of the monastic vocation as to the notion of practice. Practice as a way of life. Which is an idea I have been exploring for some years now. Not practice makes perfect; I don’t find perfection a useful focus, but what is a valuable way of life? Conversation – yes. Some sort of work – yes. Some sort of exercise, which merges with prayer, meditation – yes. Community – yes. The details will all need further refining but these things are a starting point. So witnessing the life at La Certosa, the centuries of tradition and history was a gift. It didn’t seem to me that the monks had been wasting their time but rather that their ceaseless labour is a gift for us. I, personally, do not wish to live in an all male community; my relationship to women is too much part of my life. But there is much that I can learn from. The treasure of prayer, contemplation, meditation built up over thousands of years is there for us to receive. After all we need to explore models of how we might learn to live in a post-consumerist society, to learn to live anew. Resistance can take many forms.