Sunday 26 April 2020

Spring Journal Canto VI

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 Finally an extract from The Pale Usher’s unpublished memoir All Along the Watchtower.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.

No comments:

Post a Comment