Thursday, October 30, 2003

A Faun's Afternoon
'I go to see the shadow you became'

'The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be.'
Paul Valéry

Fishing near Carterhaugh
Yesterday salmon fishing on the River Ettrick. Weather was fabulous. Beautiful autumn colours all the way down the Tweed valley from Peebles to Selkirk, with morning mist hanging over the river and in dense pockets in the hills. We caught 4 fish and J-F was delighted to get 3 in less than 45 minutes. 'It's easy, this salmon fishing!', he said after the third was netted, photographed and returned to continue its journey upstream to spawn.

I can never visit the Ettrick valley without getting the song *'Tam Lin' by Fairport Convention stuck in my head. This is where the story was enacted, and indeed the whole region is steeped in folk-lore and is closely associated with Thomas the Rhymer whose own story is similar to that of Tam Lin. I didn't realise when we were there that it was almost Halloween!

'O I forbid you, maidens a',
That wear gowd on your hair,
To come or gae by Carterhaugh,
For young Tam Lin is there.'

Carterhaugh is a tract of woods where the Ettrick and Yarrow rivers meet, and I was fishing there in the late afternoon just as darkness was falling. Tam Lin must have worked some magic because with my very last cast of the day I hooked and landed a six-pound sea trout.

*Tam Lin was the guardian of Carterhaugh Wood. He exacted the maidenhead of any maiden who went there, but his true love, Janet, rescued him from his bondage to the Queen of Faery. At Halloween Janet dragged him off his horse and held on to him while he was transformed in her arms into various wild beasts. At last he was his own self once more, and free of the Queen's spell.



The Brooktrout, superb as a matador,
Sways invisible there
In water empty as air.

The Brooktrout leaps, gorgeous as a jaguar,
But dropping back into swift glass
Resumes clear nothingness.

The numb-cold current's brain-wave is lightning -
No good shouting: 'Look!'
It vanished as it struck.

You can catch Brooktrout, a goggling gewgaw -
But never the flash God made
Drawing the river's blade.
Ted Hughes
From an old diary ...

You cannot fully understand Italian opera without visiting Italy. At a music festival in a Tuscan village the village square is bedecked with identical flags - possibly the local Communist party flag - beneath which almost the entire local population sits in rows on benches. A crescent moon has risen, free wine flows into plastic cups from a hose-pipe, dogs sleep at the side of the street, children run to and fro, bemused tourists and visitors perch on the battlements above the square eyeing the proceedings like anthropologists in darkest Africa. The old women sit stiffly in a row behind the performers, a few old men squat on steps smoking their pipes, and, from a window high above, two younger women smoke cigarettes, exchanging jokes and pointing at the young men with their swept back hair and white vests who loll against the wall beneath them. As they stretch their necks for a better view their long black tresses hang down over the window ledge.

The music is supplied by a group of musicians - electric guitar, bass, mandolin - augmented by a drum machine. A selection of male singers, some from the surrounding villages, take it in turns to sing popular arias and folksongs. Some of the singing is frankly awful, but the crowd claps each performance enthusiastically.

Among the six or seven vocalists, there is one, a tall bald man of about sixty, strong and powerfully built, reminiscent of Tito Gobi, with a genuinely operatic voice and real charisma. Throwing his arms wide, bending to one knee, cupping the microphone lovingly in his hands, his every gesture is greeted with rapturous cheers. Whenever the big melody returns the audience bursts into spontaneous applause. ‘Oh Sole Mio’ is, naturally, his piece de resistance. This music could only really belong to this flag-bedecked Tuscan village perched high on a cliff-face, on a balmy summer night with the red wine flowing freely.

After his third encore the great tenor walks back through the crowd, smiling and acknowledging the applause. He stops to greet an old friend. Their handshake involves each gripping the other midway up their forearm. A comradely handshake.

Friday, October 24, 2003

From 'The Treatise on the Steppenwolf' by Hermann Hesse
Now with our Steppenwolf ... in his conscious life he lived now as a wolf, now as a man, as indeed the case is with all mixed beings. But when he was a wolf, the man in him lay in ambush, ever on the watch to interfere and condemn, while at those times that he was man the wolf did just the same. For example, if Harry, as a man had a beautiful thought, felt a fine and noble emotion, or performed a so-called good act, then the wolf bared his teeth at him and laughed and showed him with bitter scorn how laughable this whole noble show was in the eyes of a beast, of a wolf who knew well enough in his heart what suited him, namely to trot alone over the Steppes and now and then to gorge himself with blood or to pursue a female wolf. Then, wolfishly seen, all human activities became horribly absurd and misplaced, stupid and vain. But it was exactly the same when Harry felt and behaved as a wolf and showed others his teeth and felt hatred and enmity against all human beings and their lying and degenerate manners and customs. For then the human part of him lay in ambush and watched the wolf, called him brute and beast, and spoiled and embittered for him all pleasure in his simple and healthy and wild wolf's being.

Thus it was with the Steppenwolf, and one may well imagine that Harry did not have an exactly pleasant and happy life of it. This does not mean, however, that he was unhappy in any extraordinary degree (although it may have seemed so to himself all the same, inasmuch as every man takes the sufferings that fall to his share as the greatest). That cannot be said of any man. Even he who has no wolf in him, may be none the happier for that. And even the unhappiest life has its sunny moments and its little flowers of happiness between sand and stone. So it was with the Steppenwolf too. It cannot be denied that he was generally very unhappy; and he could make others unhappy also, that is, when he loved them or they loved him. For all who got to love him saw always only the one side in him. Many loved him as a refined and clever and interesting man, and were horrified and disappointed when they had come upon the wolf in him. And they had to because Harry wished, as every sentient being does, to be loved as a whole and therefore it was just with those whose love he most valued that he could least of all conceal and belie the wolf. There were those, however, who loved precisely the wolf in him, the free, the savage, the untamable, the dangerous and strong, and these found it peculiarly disappointing and deplorable when suddenly the wild and wicked wolf was also a man, and had hankerings after goodness and refinement, and wanted to hear Mozart, to read poetry and to cherish human ideals. Usually these were the most disappointed and angry of all; and so it was that the Steppenwolf brought his own dual and divided nature into the destinies of others whenever he came into contact with them.

There are a good many people of the same kind as Harry.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Mount Fuji

'A great truth is a truth whose opposite is also a truth.'
Thomas Mann

Saturday, October 11, 2003

‘Once upon a time there lived a king and queen who had three very beautiful daughters ...'

'The Golden Ass' by Apuleius is one of my favourite books, and the story of Cupid and Psyche is one of my favourite sections from that book. I would like to have linked to the Robert Graves translation, but you can't have everything.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

grain.S : dramatic grainy animation movie
this is a great piece of animation.

It's my birthday ... I received Steve Earle's 'Jerusalem' and a muti-functional device for fishermen.

"Well I'm walking these streets, and I'm counting my steps,
And I'm dragging my feet, cos I ain't ready yet
To start all over again, cos everytime that I do
I remember you ..."