In the dark

Illustration to go with last post (vaguely).

A friend of mine once confessed to flashing a camera into his eyes for the pleasure of it. As we head towards shorter days I find myself trying to get as much sunshine into my eyes as possible. I love squinting through almost shut eyes and seeing rainbows sparkling on my eyelashes.

Goethe asking for mehr licht! on his deathbed comes to mind. Light as consciousness. A torch shining on a blackboard. Is it coincidence that PJ Harvey’s latest album is called White Chalk?

We only shine the torch when we feel like it because “human kind cannot bear very much reality”.

I was translating a speech containing the French equivalent of "Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto", or "I am human, nothing that is human is alien to me" from Publius Terentius Afer (now there’s a name!).

The French source read “as the philosopher said” and I felt this was inadequate so I looked up the precise source. But the idea of letting the grass grow in order to be able to write (paint, sing…) I attributed to Walt Whitman without being able to give the source. I was 'sure' it was he but couldn’t pinpoint it – no wonder, I probably “pinched” it from one of the sites of our friendly commentor adfero affero (“bearer of news”).

Thinking about light reminded me of dialogue 8. I decided to put it online. While I was working on that, a small book fell on my head out of a cupboard – it was not a place I keep books normally. Beckett. Soubresauts (Stirrings still).

The inside cover says Paris Dec 4th 1989 in my writing. I don’t remember anything about it. I flick it open and read the first page.

“Car éteinte sa lumière à lui il ne restait pas pour autant dans le noir. Il lui venait alors de l’unique haute fenêtre un semblant de lumière”.

“semblant de lumière” is “kind of light” in the English version. Laura Cerrato suggests that when he translated his own text from one language to the other he was actually getting closer to the original.


Les Granges

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy.
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sun rise.

- William Blake

Rather than move the blog to another platform to implement categories, I have decided to use a method devised by another blogger (thanks will go here later) to put my writing online; separate blogs, one in English, one in French, which are shown as links in the left-hand column (Vita text). Eventually I will remove “stories” that have been posted as blog entries and generally tidy up.

Here is a tiny picture of a house I lived in when I was an English assistant in France in 1978 - don't know the date of the picture, found it on the internet. It is in a small village near Limoges, in La Creuse, called St Junien la Brégère. The lady who ran the local grocer's shop was in her eighties and assured me she had never been outside the village. In the attic of the house I found a trunk full of letters...


Holy shit

Yesterday I found a coffee widget and put it on my blog. It reminded me of the coffee machine on an island I used to work on. It would be easier to state the nationalities missing from that place than those represented. Some of my best friends today are people I met working in that multi-cultural atmosphere. As in all offices, there was back-stabbing and bad feeling, but it was easy to love the world during the coffee break. There is talk of a reunion… which would be quite incredible if we can bring it off.

I was excited about the new widget, which I think is a fun idea, but while I was chuckling to myself part of me felt ill at ease because here I was introducing money to a place I considered a haven in a heartless (capitalist) world. A bit like a Trojan horse.

It also felt like a necessary step into the real world; inviting money in on my own terms seems preferable to passively suffering continuous bombarding from the enemy I’m trying to keep out.

Whatever the ins and outs, psychoanalysis is a tool to escape the helpless bondage to repeated anguish that assails me.

Where there’s muck, there’s brass, so I rolled my sleeves up and typed ‘money and excrement’ in Google, which led me to the Tate Gallery and Piero Manzoni!

I then found an article about the acquisition in the Telegraph, which spoke of irony,
and the same article reproduced in Australia with the word irony changed to symbolism.

As an American translator-musician friend once put it, "We all want to do our own shit".


Ah, is this not happiness?

Here are my favourite three of Chin Shengt'an's Thirty-Three Happy Moments

20. To find accidentally a handwritten letter of some old friend in a trunk. Ah, is this not happiness?

24. A traveller returns home after a long journey, and he sees the old city gate and hears the women and children on both banks of the river talking his own dialect. Ah, is this not happiness?

27. To watch someone writing big characters a foot high. Ah, is this not happiness?

And here is a quote from the Guardian that spoke to me:

“the best music is often made by fantastically damaged people who can often barely tie their own shoelaces. Even the most impressionable pre-teen would surely realise that they are not "role models", but talented borderline lunatics whose proximity to the existential abyss defines at least some of their magic.”


Saturday morning

Saturday morning. I’m writing on the computer in my dressing gown. The bell rings; it’s a friend who wants to invite me to a 50th birthday party in a few months. I am suddenly more aware of the nagging unease that the garden is messy with weeds, the house messy with dust and dirty dishes and I feel slightly ashamed. After he leaves, I remind myself that when JK Rowlings was asked how she managed to write the first Harry Potter book while she was bringing up a young baby on her own she replied “I didn’t do any housework for three years”. Walt Whitman said to be a writer you have to be able to let the grass grow. It is not easy.

You don’t just decide to write one day and stick to the decision for life, as you would change your name by deed poll or convert to a religion. You have to claim the privilege every day, sometimes several times a day. It’s one thing saying “I’d like to write” or even, when your cupboard and hard disk are full of your unpublished production or you have won a few competitions “I’m a writer”. It’s quite another actually engaging in the activity.

In Arabic the word “art” means “act of life”. When someones writes (or paints or sings) there are a million other things they are not doing, pressing demands they are ignoring at their peril. I suppose I’m trying to say that writing is ‘dangerous’, it’s an intense struggle against the tendency to do nothing. At times everything seems to try to concur to prevent you from doing it.


Scotland the brave

I don't normally watch football but last night's France Scotland match was quite gripping. I was just back from Scotland and so I was feeling very Scottish, and we weren't exactly favourites.

Ryan Air cancelled our flights from Carcassonne to Stansted, and we had to go to Girona. The weather was superb when we took off and we had a wonderful view of the Pyrenees. Mountains are magical, both from above and from within.


I wish you love

At a party last night talking about music, Irla, who is German, mentioned the song “I wish you love”. She started to sing it and it seemed familiar, though I couldn’t place it. Then I realised the melody was familiar to me as “Que reste-t-il de nos amours?”. Irla told me she loved the song in English, finding it so positive, full of the wish for nice things, whereas in French she found Charles Trenet’s version terribly depressing, nostalgic and sad. Today I looked for the lyrics and the words don’t seem to bear this out. They start out with “this is where our story ends”. You can’t get much sadder than that. Irla had obviously picked out certain words – bluebirds, lemonade, etc., and decided the song was a happy song.

For years I hummed “Knights in white satin” until I saw it in writing and realised there was no “K”.

Music in English is successful more or less everywhere. For the average Anglophone I believe there is a bond between lyric and melody that is broken when you listen without understanding the words. But does the sentiment depend on the words, or the music, or a combination of both? If Irla experiences “I wish you love” as a happy song then it is a happy song for her.

Then I then sang My Funny Valentine and Irla said oh no, I hate that song, it is so bloody sad, and I said no it isn’t, it’s a beautiful song, and I told her what the words meant – each day is Valentine’s day said I – yes but only if I beg you to stay said Irla, who had already decided she didn’t like it because the sound of the minor chords made her feel sad.

I love minor chords. I love major chords. I love the “strange (…) change from major to minor”.

Sad music makes me think of emotional scales. I have seen my mother breaking down into tears and not being able to complete a song her mother used to sing. I think it is important to sing on through the tears.