Two more Leaps in the Dark, and our largest audience to date on Friday night. We enjoyed a reading by Sweet Home author Wendy Erskine; publisher Susan Curtis and translator Celia Hawkesworth recalled their friend Daša Drndić and her great novel Doppelgänger; Kevin Boniface delivered a Letter from Huddersfield and the answers to The Pale Usher’s Unusual Literary Quiz. The latter, despite generous contributions from Nemos' Almanac editor Ian Patterson, was not the super-boffo crowd-pleaser I'd anticipated.
On Saturday night we had a beautiful song from Melanie Pappenheim with Giles Perring on the harmonium and quayside bell (her performed live in his music room on the Isle of Jura); we had two blazing performances from poets Rhys Trimble and Amy McCauley; the novelist/translator Nicholas Royle talked about his translation of the chilling French novel Pharricide and gave us a quick tour of his unsettling bookshelves. Our New Zealand correspondent Oscar Mardell gave us another Letter from Auckland (about Silicon Valley billionaires and their down-under bunkers). Finally an extract from The Pale Usher’s unpublished memoir All Along the Watchtower.
A highlight of last Friday's programme was the latest canto of Spring Journal by Jonathan Gibbs, beautifully read by Michael Hughes. Here it is, with the author's kind permission:
And I remember Spain
In summertime, ripe as a mango on the point of dissolution,
Our holiday was a home exchange:
One terraced London house for one flat in suburban Seville,
But with a communal pool,
And air conditioning, for which no perfect setting could be found,
And the boys learning Spanish at school
Had the writing on the wall and the menus to read.
With cheap beer in tumblers,
With café con hielo over great lunks of ice,
With plates piled high with prawns in La Mar de Gambas,
With the walls of the Alcázar
Jealously hoarding its shadows,
And its floors rilled with ribbons of water,
And its gardens augustly disposed
For slow hot walks under oleander and jacaranda.
And the cathedral courtyard’s orange trees
In rows, though the inside reeked of glitz and gilt,
And the saints' bones in their reliquaries
Except where absent “for liturgical purposes”.
And the bat we found
In the Parque de María Luisa, by the Punto de Lectura,
Lying helpless on the ground,
And that we placed back in the shrubbery,
But carefully, lifting it slowly with sticks;
That bat the only visible portent of the coming disaster.
There were no other signs, no simple tricks
For avoiding what has now landed squarely on us and squashed us flat.
Yes, the standard of living was low,
But that, we thought to ourselves, was not our business;
What the tourist wants is the status quo
On a plate, at half the price, in a little place
Not even TripAdvisor knows about.
And to be a tourist today seems not anachronistic but absurd, or obscene.
Last month we were still holding out
For this summer’s holiday, already booked – not now.
Now we wonder
If we will ever see the Alhambra, Baixa, Rialto,
If we will have the gall to wander
Those ranked and storied European streets gloved and masked;
That’s what being a tourist is:
Walking other people’s streets uninvited and unasked
Those ‘sights’ are hers, are his, (Suggest: ‘Those sights are hers, are his, are theirs’)
Not ours; those cafes, restaurants and bars
If they ever take their shutters down,
Are for them to sit and eat and talk in, not us. Suggest: ‘not for us’
This crisis has thrown
The old ideas into abeyance,
And the new ideas are as yet
Untested: indistinct and inchoate,
They are the lens through which our grandchildren contemplate
Our lives with vast, appalled regret.
Frequent fights, a piece of meat (weak? Perhaps ’slab’ or ‘pound’ or ‘chunk’ or ‘slice’?)
On every plate; people housed like animals,
Animals crammed in concrete
Silos, and all of it hidden, from thought and sight.
And so I feel the pull
Of something I can’t fix down, for maybe this isn’t princely
Asceticism after all,
But base vindictive puritanism, that sits back and nods
As the economy rolls toward the precipice, towards? And perhaps a stronger word than rolls? Lurches?
And I work on my thousand piece jigsaw
Of Las Meninas
Bought in solemn homage at the Prado,
And only finished now
We have time on our hands – and our hands,
Needing to keep busy somehow,
Sift through the shreds and shrapnel of "the true philosophy of art".
So I remember Spain,
Not as a premonition of the current state of affairs
But as a quivering membrane,
A portal into a remembered time that no one wants to say is gone.
And the next day we flew
Home, not realising
That Spain would soon be a two-week-ahead preview
Of our own incoming fiasco, our shame;
So look to Spain, Italy, Germany, and compare
The policies, the testing regimes, the ‘all cause excess mortality’ numbers,
And then measure and compass and plumb your despair.
Countries will have to learn how to look at each other again.