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"World is suddener than we fancy it. World is crazier and more of it than we think, Incorrigably plural. I peel and portion a tangerine and spit the pips and feel the drunkeness of things being various."

- Louis MacNeice 'Snow'


“A few people have the wing of love and a few people have the wing of freedom – both are incapable of flying. Both wings are needed”

- Osho "Love, freedom, aloness: the koan of relationships"



Books which have touched me

It feels good to be back to LJ.

To honour the occasion, a list: favourite books. In compiling this it occurs to me how few books I really do love, but these I do (in no particular order - and it will be supplemented):


The God of Small Things _ Arundathi Roy
Shame - Salman Rushdie (and Midnight's Children and some sections of The Countess of Florence to a lesser degree)
Weight - Jeanette Winterson
The Passion - Jeanette Winterson
Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
The Alexandria Quartet (of course) - Lawrence Durrell
Astonishing the Gods - (but yet to find another Ben Okri of note) (thanks to Tess Corino)
The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood (thanks Dad)
The Mysteries of Udolpho - Anne Radcliffe (superb!)
Wild Ways (anthology of stories of women on the road) - Margot Daly (ed)
Enchanting Love - Marion Williamson
The Power of Now and The (a?) New Earth - Eckhart Tolle
The Golden Gate - Vikram Seth (thanks to Anne Barton)
Fugitive Pieces - Anne Michaels (thanks to Rachael Vincent)
Burning Your Boats, Angela Carter 's collected short stories
A sci-fi thing called something like 'The women of shora' (? Thanks to Sonia Lawless)
The Four Quartets - TS Eliot
Paradise Lost - John Milton

oh ok, while I'm thinking poetry I have to say Shelley's Ode to the West Wind, and lots more ...

Bios

Anything by Richard Holmes (the literary, not the military historian), especially the Coleridge volumes, and Footsteps, and Sidesteps
Patrick White, A Life - David Marr
Patrick White, Letters - David Marr
TS Eliot - Peter Ackroyd
James Joyce - Richard Ellman
Passage to Juneau - Jonathan Raban
Smiling in Slow Motion - derek Jarman
Rupert Brooke bio (Faber - by ???)

I know I've forgotten some but I'll add them later.

So: .... to be continued ....

Tags:

Longlost

I know it's been a while .....

just setting up big Mac in loungeroom for kids and homepage came up as LJ.

As I said, it's been a while.

Is this what happens when you fall in love? One day you're introducing her on LJ, a year later you've made precisely 4 entries.

Is it all all worth it.

YES. YES. YES. YES, YES.

instant mum (just add water)

 I haven't disappeared. 

I'm just still getting the dry Play-doh out of the carpet  and the wet from between my toes
I'm missing my LJ. About to emerge from the swamp of another Oncology Report (well, haematology strictly). Dying to post Derek Jarman rave.

Also preparing to move house... after trip to Sydney for workshop:

http://turiya4love.com/essence

As D. says, it's the Last Days of Chez Nous (Australians, at least, will get this reference)
hello : :waves::  still here, just caught up in love (mainly), yet more oncology (a good thing - repeat business) and soon-to-be-moving house (love and landlords). 

I can't wait to post an entry on Derek Jarman, on of my favourite authors (if not artists and film-makers).

Haven't even had time to join facebook, which many friends are doing.

... but happy

Here's a Patrick Heron painting of his garden which I have on the wall in my study



... in fact the study:

             




And a painting I just bought by Michael Kopietz.  It's in epoxy resin so glossier and even prettier than this picture captures. Now just need a big wall to put it on as a permanent home!



... so busy


 

LOVE

Anna Rogers, welcome to my blog. 

I just want to say, officially, that I am completely, gorgeously, vividly, exhiliaratingly, joyously, humbly  falling uncontrollably head-over-heels in love with you. 

You confirm that happiness has a richer and deeper hue than I've yet experienced. You've proved to me that what I always knew was possible is possible.

Book of the century

 “The sky was covered with clouds. A thunderstorm was breaking over Alexandria. To the east upon the icy green waters of the lake poured a rainstorm – flights of glittering needles pocking the waters; [Montolive] could dimly hear the hush of the rain above the whispers of the car. He glimpsed the pearly city through the dark cloud-mat, its minarets poked up against the cloud bars of an early sunset; linen soaked in blood. A sea-wind chaffered and tugged at the sea-limits of the estuary. Higher still roamed packages of smoking, blood-stained cloud throwing down a strange radiance into the streets and squares of the white city. Rain was a rare and brief winter phenomenon in Alexandria. Presently the sea-wind would rise, alter inclination, and peel the sky clear in a matter of minutes, rolling up the heavy cumulus like a carpet. The glassy freshness of the winter sky would resume its light, polishing the city once more till it glittered against the desert like quartz, like some beautiful artifact”
 
My enrapture by this book has meant I’ve waited almost a year to write about it. But, now almost at the end of Clea, it fills me with a joy which is overwhelming in its scale and luminosity. It exceeds one’s capacity to hold it: an excess that simply needs to be expressed and shared, to keep it in and let it out. (It occurs to me, apart from works of art stumbled upon serendipitously oneself, how much that which we come to love, and which forms us, is a gift from others. I’ll always be grateful for example, to D. for Buffy, to teachers at school and at uni for specific poets [Anne Mc C for Keats and Hopkins, GW for Milton and Spenser] … for the gift of a book from a friend).
 
Like the character Julia in Jean McNeil’s short story ‘Monterey sun’, I first read The Alexandria Quartet for the colours. (McNeil herself’s pays tribute to Durrell: “In Oaxaca … it is the colours of the houses that most impress us as we walk around the town: shell-pink next to asparagus, banana, dried blood colour, like a line of melting cherry, lime, banana and chocolate popsicles”).
 
To the extent that such claims are useful or meaningful, for me, TAQ is the preeminent work of English literature of the 20th century. More so than Ulysses, more so than The Four Quartets even, more than all of Hemingway put together; it has more visceral urbanity than the best Patrick White, it’s better than Toni Morrison, than Catcher in the Rye, than To kill a Mockingbird, Catch 22. Other 20th century books which could claim the title of truly great and enduring literature (not counting biographies) for me include The Waves by Virginia Woolf, Ford Maddox Ford’s The Good Soldier, Salman Rushdie’s Shame, Anne Michaels’ Fugitive Pieces, and The Passion by Jeanette Winterson (which just sneaks in), or Ben Okri’s Astonishing the Gods (specific and generic in its focus – but what a genre!). Of course there is much other worthy writing (Jeffrey Eugenides Middlesex, some excellent academic writing, e.g Stanley Fish Self-consuming Artifacts, but of the first and finest order, with a range and depth to make a work endure, for me nothing beats TAQ … including in its flaws, its infelicities, the unevenness of the books – Justine versus Mountolive).
 
I can’t help loathing its aspects of misogyny and nihilism (however well expressed). As when Arnauti say of Justine: “Like women who think by biological precept and without the help of reason. To such women how fatal an error it is to give oneself; there is simply a small chewing noise, as when the cat reaches the backbone of the mouse”. Or Balthasar - on Man: “How stupid, how limited we are – mere vanities on legs!.” / “That he is, when all is said and done, just a passage for liquids and solids, a pipe of flesh"– on two lovers: “Outside in the darkness by the railway bridge the lover of the man waits for him with the same indescribable maggotry going on in her body and blood; wine swilling the conduits, the pylorus disgorging like a sucker, the incommensurable bacteriological works multiplying in every drop of semen, spittle, sputum, musk. He takes a spinal column in his arms, the ducts flooded with ammonia, the meninges excluding their pollen, the cornea glowing in its little crucible …”. Or Pursewarden: “’Baudelaire says that copulation is the lyric of the mob". One of the things I love/hate about Durrell is that he does misanthropy so well.
 
Yes I see the problems in setting up hierarchies, of ‘best’ and ‘better’, and I ask forgiveness. But with that disclaimer – why do I say TAQ is the best novel of the 20th century?
 
Its exploration of love … the fallings, the heights and the depths, the misperceptions, the seductions, the wrong-headedness of love as pain. It is, among other things, (and perhaps above all else) a book about sexual and romantic love. … In its one liners, in its relationships; from the episodic, scattered, encounters of a life bereft of lasting love - tipping the hat to Cavafy, ‘the poet of the city’, if not Marlowe – in Balthasar’s obsession with the young and vain Panagiotis; … to the narrative of Darley’s travails through the train wrecks, the slash-and-burn, the immolations of searching for love in all the wrong places which glues the plot.
 
And in exploring love, as in weaving the other plot elements, the novels’ structure is masterful. Compare the transition of experience from Justine to Clea:
 
Justine: “There are moments which possess the writer, not the lover, and which live on perpetually. […] I recover another such moment lying beside a sleeping woman in a cheap room near the mosque. In that early spring dawn, with its dense dew, sketched upon the silence which engulfs a whole city before the birds awaken it, I caught the sweet voice of the blind muezzin from the mosque reciting the Ebed – a voice hanging like a hair in the palm-cooled upper airs of Alexandria. ‘I praise the perfection of God, the Forever existing (this repeated thrice, ever more slowly, in a high sweet register). ‘The perfection of God, the Desired, the Existing, the Single, the Supreme; the Perfection of God, the One, the Sole’: the perfection of Him who taketh unto himself no male or female partner, nor any like Him, nor any that is disobedient, nor any deputy, equal or offspring. His perfection be extolled.’
 
The great prayer wound its way into my sleepy consciousness like a serpent, coil after shining coil of words – the voice of the muezzin sinking from register to register of gravity – until the whole morning seemed dense with its marvelous healing powers, the intimations of a grace undeserved and unexpected, impregnating the shabby room where Melissa lay, breathing as lightly as a gull, rocked upon the oceanic splendours of a language she would never know.”
 
versus Clea: “In the spring sunrise, with its dense dew, sketched upon the silence which engulfs a whole city before the birds awaken it,  I caught the sweet voice of the blind muezzin from the mosque reciting the Ebed – a voice hanging like a hair in the palm-cooled upper airs of Alexandria. ‘I praise the perfection of God, the Forever existing; the perfection of God, the Desired, the Existing, the Single, the Supreme; the Perfection of God, the One, the Sole’ … the great prayer wound itself in shining coils across the city as I watched the grave and passionate intensity of her turned head where she stood to observe the climbing sun touch the minarets and palms with light; rapt and awake. And listening I smelt the warm odour of her hair upon the pillow beside me. The buoyancy of a new freedom possessed me like a draught from what the Cabal once called ‘the Fountain of All Existing Things’. I called ‘Clea’ softly, but she did not heed me; and so once more I slept. I know that Clea would share everything with me, withholding nothing – not even the look of complicity which women reserve only for their mirrors"
 
And (still only half way through Clea) I wonder which love endures, the apogee of earthly, companionable love or spiritual self love (“There is no Other; there is only oneself facing forever the problem of one’s self-discovery!”)? TAQ juggles both.
 
Though arguably the quartet is not, ultimately, teleological. It’s full of the mess and excess of episodes, of failed plots (Nessim and Justine’s prescient Middle Eastern solution), of characters: the gargantuan Narouz, in his preacher’s trance, whipping bats out of the sky; one-eyed Hamid, the professional mourners “… for whom death was something of a public competition in the poetry of mourning”.
 
Or the barber Mnemjian, who – amongst other incarnations – descends one Cretan morning on Darley, off a caique: “walking along the shingle beach with an air of grotesque perturbation, as if balancing on corkscrews […] He radiated a precarious and overbred finesse. He was clad in a dazzling silver suit, spats, a pearl tie-pin, and his fingers were heavily ringed. Only the smile, the infant smile was unchanged, and the oiled spitcurl was still aimed at the frontal lobe”
 
 I love his fascinating comic vignettes (which are more than this, merely, in that they establish character), such as our introduction to Melissa:
 
“[Melissa] now began to sob in a voice which wore a beard and call for the police. Three sailors converged upon her with blunt fingers extended advising, exhorting, imploring her to desist. Nobody wanted a brush with the naval police. But neither did anyone relish a crack from that Promethean handbag, bulging with French letters and belladonna bottles. […] By now the fun had started, for the sailors had the roaring girl cornered – but unfortunately against the decorative Sheraton cupboard which housed Pombal’s cherished collection of pottery. Reaching behind her for support her hands encountered an almost inexhaustible supply of ammunition, and letting go her handbag with a hoarse cry of triumph she began to throw china with a single-mindedness and accuracy I have never seen equaled. The air was all at once full of Egyptian and Greek tear-bottles, Ushabti, and Sèvres. […] Pursewarden’s alarm was very marked indeed; as a resident and moreover a famous one he could hardly afford the sort of scandal which the Egyptian press might make out of an affray like this. He was relieved when I motioned to him and and started to wrap the by now insensible figure of Melissa in the soft Bukhara rug. Together we staggered with her down the corridor and into the blessed privacy of my box-room where, like Cleopatra. We unrolled her and placed her on the bed.
 
I had remembered the existence of an old doctor, Greek, who lived down the street, and it was not long before I managed to fetch him up the dark staircase, stumbling and swearing in a transpontine demotic, dropping catheters and stethoscopes all the way. He pronounced Melissa very ill indeed but his diagnosis was ample and vague – in the tradition of the city. ‘It is everything’ he said ‘ malnutrition, hysteria, alcohol, hashish, tuberculosis, Spanish fly … help yourself’ and he made the gesture of putting his hand in his pocket and fetching it out full of imaginary diseases which he offered us to choose from. But he was also practical, and proposed to have a bed ready for her in the Greek Hospital next day”
 
Or Scobie’s story, which keeps popping up like a troubling and persistent boil. Yet his is, in the end, an apotheosis, which, with all its comedy, is a down-to-earth mystical triumph when he reincarnates as El Scoub. And Durrell sets this up brilliantly, from when Scobie first appears:
 
“ … like a patron saint he has left little pieces of his flesh all over the world, in Zanzibar, Colombo, Togoland, Wu Fu; the little deciduous morsels which he has been shedding for so long now, old antlers, cuff-links, teeth, hair … […] Origins he has none – his past proliferates through a dozen continents like a true subject of myth […] His exiguous nautical pension is hardly enough to pay for the one cockroach-infested room which he inhabits in the slum-area behind Tatwig st. […] He lives in his sloping little attic like an anchorite. ‘An Anchorite!’ that is another favourite phrase; he will pop his cheek vulgarly with his finger as he utters it, allowing his rolling eye to insinuate all the feminine indulgences he permits himself in secret.”
 
Or when Mountolive goes home to England, to mother: “He groped again for the old Yale key and smiled again as he felt it turn, admitting him to an unforgotten warmth which smelt of apricots and old books, polish and flowers; all the memories which led him back unerringly towards Piers Plowman, the pony, the fishing-rod, the stamp album. He stood in the hall and called her name softly.”
 
Durrel is, above all, a brilliant observer and raconteur, capable of the most evocative poetry
 
“In his memory’s memory …”
 “… God. I speak to the person I always imagine inhabiting a green and quiet place like the 23rd Psalm”
“Indeed, one was conscious of the desert here although one could not see it – melodramatically tasteless as a communion wafer”
“The smile upon Kenilworth’s face was one in which his eyes played no part”
“ … the dry snap of champagne corks”
“ Squeak of the brass screws as the lid went down”
“… the blind cattle turning the slow globe of their waterwheels. blind-folded against monotony – how small cab a world become?”
 
 ... and TAQ is also travelogue of the very first order:
 
“ … women churning butter in goatskins suspended from bamboo tripods or walking in single file down to the river with their pots. Men in robes of blue cotton at the waterwheels, singing, matrons swathed from crown to ankle in the light dusty black robes which custom demanded, blue-beaded against the evil eye. And then all the primeval courtesies of the road exchanged between passers by [..] ‘Naharak Said’ […] ‘Said Embarak!’ […] ‘May your day be blessed’ thought Nessin in remembered translation as he smiled and nodded, overcome at the splendour of these old-fashioned greetings one never heard except in the Arab Quarter of the city; ‘may today be as blessed as yesterday’.”
 
“A basket of quail burst open in the bazaar. They did not try to escape but spread out slowly like spilt honey. Easily recaptured.”
 
One reason TAQ stands for me an exemplary work of literature is because the book itself evokes so many other authors. Whether as homage or pastiche, deliberately or unconsciously, Durrell quarries key ideas and idioms of Western literature (in the best literary tradition):
 
The opening lines themselves have a Shelleyan flavour: “The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of spring”.
 
The book is full of Homeric lists (even, allowing for anachronism, in a lesser far-Eastern story of love and war, Ondaatje’s catalogue of winds in The English Patient);
 
·         “The very names of the tram stops echoed the poetry of these journeys; Chatby, camp de César, Laurens, Mazarita, Glymenopoulis, Sidi Bishir …”
·         “Alexandria, the unconsciously poetical mother-city exemplified in the names and faces which made up its history. Listen. Tony Umbaba, Baldassaro Trivizani, Claude Amaril, Paul Capodistria, Dmitri Randidi, Onouphrious Papas, Count Banubula, […] Athena Trasha, Djamboulat Bey, Delphine de Francueil, General Cervoni […]”
 
·         The litany of street-names: “Rue Bab-el-Mandeb, Rue Abou-el-Dardar, Minet-el-Bassal (streets slippery with discarded floss from the cotton marts) Nouzha (the rose-garden, some remembered kisses or bus stops with haunted names like Saba Pacha, Mazloum, Zizinia Bacos, Schutz, Gianaclis. A city becomes a world when one loves one of its inhabitants” This one of the ways Durrell creates worlds.
 
Like the Romantics and their followers Durrell anthropomorphizes the physical world brilliantly, investing it with perspective and agency as well as metaphor (Ruskin’s ‘pathetic fallacy’):
 
“Now on this tenebrous peninsula shaped like a plane-leaf, fingers outstretched (where the winter rain crackles like straw among the rocks), I walk stiffly sheathed in wind by a sea-line choked with groaning sponges hunting for the meaning to the pattern”
 
It plays with 20th century constants, such as Fitzgerald-like themes of decadence and melancholy (and the possibility of transcendence): “We idled arm in arm by the sea that afternoon, our conversations full of the debris of lives lived without forethought, without architecture.”
 
It recalls Dickens, or de Maupassant: “… I thought that an involuntary groan was about to burst from his lips; but presently in its place came the mockery of a laugh, harsh, mindless and unmusical. As if directed at the dead carcass of a joke so rotten and threadbare that it could compel nothing beyond this ghastly rictus gouged out in his taut cheeks. ’I know she is here’ he said, and one of his hands came running over the counterpane like a frightened rat to grope for mine.”  
 
Angela Carter: “He had crossed into Poland lying in his mother’s arms, knowing only that the jewels she wore in that snowlit landscape were icy cold to the touch”

There are shades of Tolstoy, or Pasternak: “The central heating in the Embassy ballroom gave out a thick furry warmth which made the air taste twice-used; but the warmth itself was a welcome contrast to the frigid pine-starred landscapes outside the tall windows where the snow fell steadily, not only over Russia, it seemed, but over the whole world. […] In the gardens the branches of the trees bowed lower and lower under the freight of falling whiteness until one by one they sprang back shedding their parcels of snow, in soundless explosions of glittering crystals; then the whole process began again, the soft white load of the tumbling snowflakes gathering upon them, pressing them down like springs until the weight became unendurable”
 
Of Graeme Green: “Granier was a clever, witty and good-tempered man with some of the mental agility and drive of a French grandmother. It was easy to like him. He spoke rapidly and confidently, marking his sentences with little motions of the ivory paper-weight. Mountolive fell in naturally with the charm of his language – the English of fine breeding and polish which carried those invisible diacritical narks, the expression of its caste”
 
Of Henry James: “’You say you will be in Zagreb next month. Please visit and describe it t me ..’ she would write, or ‘How lucky you will be in passing through Amsterdam; there is a retrospective Klee which has received tremendous notices in the French press. Please pay it a visit and describe your impressions honestly to me, even if unfavourable. I have never seen an original myself’. This was leila’s parody of love, a flirtation of minds, in which the roles were now reversed; for she was deprived of the richness of Europe and she fed upon his long letters and parcels of books with the double gluttony. The young man strained every nerve to meet these demands, and suddenly found the hitherto padlocked worlds of paint, architecture, music and writing opening in every side of him. So she gave him an almost gratuitous education in the world which he would never have been able to compass by himself. And where the old dependencies of his youth slowly foundered, the new one grew. Mountolive, in the strictest sense of the words, had now found a woman after his own heart”
 
Of Alan Paton (Cry the Beloved Country): “The power and the tension flooded out of him into the room; all of us were electrified […] The tone, the range and the bottled ferocity and tenderness his words conveyed hit us, sent us sprawling, like music […] At times the speaker closed his eyes, letting the torrent of words pour out unhindered. Once he set his head back smiling like a dog, still with eyes closed, until the light shone upon his back teeth. that voice! It went on autonomously, rising to a roar, sinking to a whisper, trembling and crooning and wailing. Suddenly snapping out words like chainshot, or rolling them softly about like honey. We were absolutely captured – the whole lot of us.”
 
And father back even, say, of Marvel, Bacon, Pope, the Romans writing on gardening, Anne Radcliffe:
 
“A summer palace for Justine …. shade created the prongy abstract shapes of cactus and the bushy exuberance of Indian corn … A windbreak of Junipers contributed a dull copper humus of leaf-mould which in time would become firm soil nourishing first bushes and later other and taller trees.”
 
.. and no doubt even Shakespeare (I leave that to someone else to compend …)
 
Durrell is self-reflexive, not only in his considerations of the nature of art, of writing, but in glancing at other authors in various ways, e.g.
 
    in the novels within the novels of Anauti and Pursewarden
    in the Modernist commentary of past fiction (“A novel should be an act of divination by entrails, not  a careful record of a game of pat-ball on some vicarage lawn!”)

      in ‘D.H. Lawrence’s’ correspondence with Pursewarden, in which P., e.g. writes to Lawrence: “My dear DHL. This side idolatry – I am simply trying not to copy your habit of building a Taj Mahal around anything as simple as a good f__k’.”

·         in fact and content of the “Consequential Data” section appended to Balthasar: “Some shorthand notes of Keats’s [a photographer], recording the Obiter Dicta of Pursewarden [a novelist] in fragmentary fashion: ‘I know my prose is touched with plum pudding, but then all the prose belonging to the poetic continuum is; it is untended to give a stereoscopic effect to character. And events aren’t in serial form but collect here and there like quanta, like real life’.”

 
So yes, in its preoccupations, as well as forms and language TAQ is also arguably a truly postmodern novel, but with its feel in the Canon, not merely so like so many other self-consciously postmodern novels (the retelling of stories from different perspectives is as reminiscent of, say, 19th century dramatic monologue e.g. Browning’s The Ring and the Book, it is as informed by 20th century physics’ theories of simultaneous universes and new ways of understanding time. Durrell’s representation of such ‘postmodern’ concepts is grounded in poetry, not theory: “What a marvellous jest! But I love to feel events overlapping each other, crawling over one another like wet crabs in a basket”.
 
What I like best, perhaps, even above all this, is the sheer, evocative, poetry of his descriptions of place:
 
“In Autumn the female bays turn to uneasy phosphorous and after the long chafing days of dust one feels the first palpitations of the autumn, like the wings of a butterfly fluttering to unwrap themselves. Mareotis turns lemon-mauve and its muddy flanks are starred by sheets of radiant anemones, growing through the quickened plaster-mud of the shore. […] Here the open sea boomed upon the carpets of fresh sand the colour of oxidised mercury …”
 
Incredible extended descriptions like the duck shoot at Mareotis, or of the Hosnani’s lands, with their customs, and brutalities (the camel slaughter). Some snippets give an idea:
 
“The water is full of stars […] the suck and lisp of the pole in the mud […] And on all sides now comes the rich plural chuckle of duck […] If hit squarely a bird staggers and spins, pauses for a moment, and then sinks gracefully like a handkerchief from a lady’s hand […] The punts by now will be full of the sodden bodies of the victims, red blood running from the shattered beaks on to the floor boards, marvellous feathers dulled by death”
 
“… treading unwarily I came upon a grotesque scene which I would gladly have avoided if I had been able. The camels of Narouz were being cut up for the feast. poor things, they knelt there peacefully with their forelegs folded under them like cats while a horde of men attacked them with axes in the moonlight. My blood ran cold, yet I could not tear myself away from this extraordinaru spectacle. The animals made no move to avoid the blows, uttered no cries as they were dismembered. The axes bit into them, as if their great bodies were made of cork, sinking deep under every thrust, whole members were being hacked off as painlessly, it seemed, as when a tree is pruned. The children were dancing about in the moonlight picking up the fragments and running off with them into the lighted town, great gobbets of bloody meat. The camels stared hard at the moon and said nothing. Off came the legs, out came the entrails; lastly the heads would topple under the axe like statuary and lie there in the sand with open eyes, The men doing the axeing were shouting and bantering as they worked. A huge soft carpet of black blood spread into the dunes around the group and the barefoot boys carried the print of it back with them into the township”
 
I regard that as one of the most perfectly written pieces ever. Its cadences, its management of unimaginable horror, the way it conveys sadness, nobility, barbarity all together. Its imagery, the axes biting into the camels’ great bodies as if they were made of cork. The enduring picture of the desert sands being covered by a soft carpet of black blood. The cats simile, an epitome of defenceless-ness.
 
Durrell’s descriptions of landscape are unsurpassed:
 
“And then: the first pure draughts of desert air, and the nakedness of space, pure as a theorem, stretching away into the sky drenched in all its own silence and majesty, untenanted except by such figures as the imagination of man has invented to people landscapes which are inimical to his passions and whose purity flays the mind”
 
“The Mediterranean is an absurdly small sea; the length and greatness of its history make us dream it larger than it is”
 
“… a thousand dust-tormented streets.”
“ … the odour of hot pavements slaked with water”
“… the cherub-haunted ceiling”
“… the dark balcony above a city of coloured lights.”
“... falling snow as thick as meal …”
“…the sad velvet broth of the canal”  
 
And the crowning glory, his evocations of Alexandria:

… the town which breaks open at sunset like a rose”
“The city looked to him as brilliant as a precious stone”
“ … a city which knew that pleasure was the only thing that made industry worthwhile …”
“Alexandria, the capital of memory”
 
… I could, of course, go on. I’m hoping anyone reading this is inspired to tread the waters for themselves.
 
(I realise I actually started my first LJ entry with a quote from Durrell)

Bathrobe or no bathrobe?

A rather wankerish post I know … but I love the insights which travelling brings. Like the difference between a 3.5 and 4 star mentality. I’ve figured that in 3.5 star (quelle horreur anything less, unless, say a caravan park or camping, I mean ... it may as well be a full immersion) they really don’t want to give you anything. It’s about giving as little as possible, whereas in 4 star and above it’s the little touches that suggest they actually WANT you to be happy. The bathrobe, the tea pot (not just cup) in the room. The extra UHT milk. The breakfast which arrives with military precision at 7.03 if you request the ‘7-7.30’ option. The fact that when the swipe card malfunctions, they actually walk you up to your room with a new one.

 

Have had some interesting hotel experiences – the Henry Jones Art Hotel (Hobart), which is spectacular, and costs about the same through wot.if as, say, Miss Maud’s Swedish hotel (Perth), which is really properly a motel,  though with some quirky charm (D., after learning of MMSH, has rechristened ‘wot.if’ ‘WTF’). Staying in Perth centrally is not to be advised – it’s like Pigalle without the sex. Adelaide water is terrible – it tastes like London water looks – chalky and bland. I’m unconvinced, also, about South Australian oysters. They lack the subtlety and power of the Sydney Rock. But the view from my room at the Stamford in Glenelg .... pricelesss.

So, in the last month I will have have covered: Canberra, Brisbane, Byron area, Perth, Adelaide, Whyalla (regional South Australai), Hobart, Sydney, Melbourne and Geelong. One day I will sit down and mark all the places I've been on a map!

Highlights of the trip include:

- having a new and truly lovely client, who - though senior in a big government organisation is, like me, a psychedelic trance fan! Who'd have thought I'd be sharing my ipod on a work plane trip with a client. This makes me smile indeed.

- learning how to treat a snakebite after a felow meditator was bitten at Gondwana (you bandage the entire limb tightly, don't wash off the venom under any circumstances and don't move them at all. Apart from being chastised by the triage nurse at Byron Hospital for "sub-optimal first aid" - or some such ridiculous term - we were told "It's better to leave them completely immobile in a paddock for an hour than have them hop to the car and move the poison around".) Anyway, he survived. I share this with you in case it ever becomes necessary.

- the sweat lodge in the bush ... amazing. Me sitting naked in womb-like dark on mud, volcanic rocks glittering with Osha root and chanting, punctuated by dips in a billabong and armfuls of starfruit fresh from the tree. Byron is Marvell's Bermuda, paradise (complete with serpents).

- also spending time with my darling new friend, Param, and Yoko, and reconnecting with my sister-in-law's sister Silver (in Byron and again in Adelaide).

It was also great to spend time with dad and the family here in Melbourne, not to mention the various the Festival of Forty events which continue in Sydney this weekend ...

I must say, having turned 40, I'm loving my life!!!

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Birthday meme

This is traditionally a ‘new year’ LJ meme which I thought I’d start a tradition of adapting as it’s my 40th birthday today (!)

1. What did you do at 39 that you'd never done before?

More technical film studies (rather than film theory). Dive on the Great Barrier Reef. Shed a lot of needless ambition.
 
2. Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I don’t make resolutions. More a go with the flow kind of person who lets good habits build and bad ones die by their own momentum.  
 
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Hmm, not really but one of my best friends started studying midwifery.  

4. Did anyone close to you die?

My grandmother in South Africa, but we weren’t really close. My beautiful Cobweb, the greatest cat ever.

5. What countries did you visit?

The States, Bonaire (more diving). Lots and lots of places in Australia, e.g in May alone: Canberra, Brisbane, Byron Bay, Hobart, Perth, Adelaide, Whyalla and Sydney!  (I’m going to post a map of everywhere I’ve been one of these days).
6. What would you like to have in 2007 that you lacked in 2006?

A full working knowledge of Final Cut Pro … and more time to play with it.

7. What date from 2006 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

2006, hmm, 2007 Feb/march (PoL). I finally made the move to Melbourne on June 13th 2005.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

A personal one. I discovered how to stop living exclusively and excessively in my mind. Work-wise I won every single competitive Brief I was asked to submit proposals for since starting my own company in June 2004.

9. What was your biggest failure? 

Not getting on top of video editing software … but I have faith in the process …

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Bikram-induced sacral aches but, again, that feels like it was processing.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

The complete collections of Buffy and Angel, the Path of Love course fee, my pink Fleuvog boots, a sewing machine, tickets to some excellent films (stand outs include The Lives of Others and Moolade), oh and Smeagol of course.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Al Gore gets a special mention. To extend this to who and what most moved me, I have to say discovering vidding, especially the work of heresluck and luminosity, and also Balletlab’s work, notably Origami, which I was lucky enough to see develop throughout its various stages.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

The American president for everything he does and says; the NRA for its fallacious arguments that the rights to carry arms is a civil liberties issue – it’s not, it breaks the fundamental premise of liberty and liberalism about rights not infringing on the rights of others or causing others harm; the Australian Prime Minister for his denial of the world environmental crisis and failure of leadership on refugee and multicultural issues; the media for its sheer gutlessness and stupidity. Alan Jones for inciting race riots. He is a really evil man.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Travel? Actually, god knows …

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Feeling truly joyful so much of the time. Riding my bike at dusk to yoga singing ‘Come Monday’ (by Jimmy Buffett) to myself. New friendships .. new families

16. What song(s) will always remind you of 2006/7?

The Once more with feeling soundtrack. ‘I built this city for you’ by Baxendale as remixed by Michael Mayer and played by Moonbootica. Booka Shade’s Movements album and Fat Boy Slim’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Night’. And I didn’t leave my loungeroom, promise. Also Iio's 'Rapture and Jakkata feat, Seal ‘My Vision’

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

i. happier or sadder? No question – happier. ii. thinner or fatter? Alas, I put on almost 10 kilos (fantastic dinners in LA with manic1066 didn’t help!) but I’ve whittled some of it away again. iii. richer or poorer? Richer, always richer, especially in non-financial ways.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Vidding. Visiting my mum.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Being a perfectionist about my work and driving myself to over-deliver. Mercifully I think I’ve let that one go now.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

With Ren, yum cha at Shark Fin Inn and seeing Marie Antoinette.

21. Did you fall in love at 39?

Yes, with Melbourne, with The Alexandria Quarter and, I have to say, with myself.

22. How many one-night stands?

I don’t tend to do one night stands, now that I’m more grown up.

23. What was your favorite TV program?

Buffy, Buffy, Buffy. This was the year I discovered it.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

I don’t hate anyone.

25. What was the best book you read?

Fiction: The Alexandria Quartet; Non-fiction: Margaret Mead’s Blackberry Winter

26. What was your greatest musical (re)discovery?

Simon Posford, especially Tales of the Inexpressible. Smetana’s The Moldau.

27. What did you want and get?

Cobweb to live forever. A beautiful new kitten. Some important new friends and boosts to established friendships.

28. What did you want and not get?

A truly compatible lover.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?

Lives of other people, Marie Antoinette, Grizzly Man (on DVD)

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I honestly can’t remember

31.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Learning FCP and putting some of my ideas for vids together, and having a real reason to go to Vividcon. It probably would have made the year more frustrating too.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2006/7?

Moving away from dressing like I’m 35 (which was not so different from when I was 25). Yup, I’ve noticed my body changing. More ‘feminine’ now, better necklines for my cleavage, which I no longer attempt to disguise. My hair’s long now too, which I’m loving..

33. What kept you sane?

Meditation and yoga. My friends. My cats.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I admit to crushes on David Boreanz (at least in BtVS), Buffy and Willow. Kirsten Dunst in MA.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?

Humankind’s destruction of our physical environment. For me it’s the over-arching issue.

36. Whom did you miss?

Cobweb. My mum, dad and brothers, who I don’t see nearly enough of since moving south. I perpetually miss my uni friends Heide and Kantik, my old PhD supervisor, Anne Barton, and those who are no longer around -Damon..

37. Who was the best new person you met?

stormweava has been a godsend. I’ve also really enjoyed missyjackand it has been fantastic to reconnect with my cousin manic1066. Param also, and flaxgirl, Susie, Lina and Jasmine. Also enjoyed meeting Helen.

38. What valuable life lesson did you learn in 2006?

”It is as if we are trying to fly in the sky with one wing. A few people have the wing on love and a few people have the wing of freedom – both are incapable of flying. Both wings are needed.” Osho, from Love, freedom, aloneness: the Koan of Relationships

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

What can’t we face if we’re together

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... the best corn growing country in the world. It seemed as if we could hear the corn growing in the night; under the stars one caught a faint crackling in the dewy, heavy-odored cornfields where the feathered stalks stood so juicy and green"
 
 
“When spring came, after that hard winter, one could not get enough of the nimble air. Every morning I wakened with a fresh consciousness that winter was over. There were none of the signs of spring for which I used to watch in Virginia, no budding woods or blooming gardens. There was only – spring itself; the throb of it, the light restlessness, the vital essence of it everywhere; in the sky, in the swift clouds, in the pale sunshine, and in the warm, high wind – rising suddenly, sinking suddenly, impulsive and playful like a big puppy that pawed you and then lay down to be petted. If I had been tossed down on the red prarie, I should have known that it was spring.”

I’m reading My Antonia and loving it. It's like Enid Blyton for grownups through an American filter, a true bucolic: romance and nostalgia but with intellect! Hardy without the drama, a midwestern 'Fern Hill' - sweetness minus old world cynicism; Toni Morrison on honey-vodka-infused valium, guile-less Plath, Dickinson rewritten by Wordsworth and edited by Charles Tritten. 
 
Apart from writing beautifully of the land, its particular charm, she has compassion. This of a suicide’s burial place:
 
“As grandfather had predicted Mrs _____ never saw the roads going over his head, The road from the north curved a little to the east just there, and the road from the west swung out a little to the south – so that the grave, with its tall red grass that was never moved, was like a little island; and at twilight, under a new moon or the clear evening star, the dusty roads used to look like soft grey rivers flowing past it. I never came upon the place without emotion, and in all that country it was the spot most dear to me. I loved the dim superstition, the propitiatory intent, that had put the grave there; and still more I loved the spirit that could not carry out the sentence – the error from the surveyed lines, the clemency of the soft earth roads along which the home-coming wagons rattled after sunset. Never a tired driver passed the wooden cross, I am sure, without wishing well to the sleeper.”
 
… as my grandfather used to say (of Wilbur Smith, but hey) she “writes too beautifully”

Osho says "What you call poetry and passion are nothing but lies - with beautiful facades. Out of your hundred poets, ninety-nine are not really poets but only people in a state of turmoil, emotion, passion, heat, lust, sensuality. Only one out of your hundred poets is a real poet. / And the real poet may never compose any poetry, because his whole being is poetry.” (Love, freedom, aloneness. The koan of relationships)

As I get further and further away from the academy I'm inclined to agree. So much of literature is intellect without heart, or feeling so manufactured and filtered through thought and language that it's stripped on any visceral resonance. 

By Osho's definition we could probably keep some of Yeats and the later Eliot; the journey of the Four Quartet, especially the end of 'Little Gidding' , the notes on time, and the dance... but then it's a spiritual poem, after his conversion and the Sanskrit studies.. But Willa Cather , Willa Cather…

“All about us we could hear the felty beat of the raindrops on the soft dust of the farmyard. …”

In other news, I bought a dressmaker's dummy:

 
(Yes, OF COURSE I was tempted to head this post 'Children of the corn', but only for a minute)

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