Thursday 26 December 2019

Solstitial sunrises from a Palma balcony

We lucked out, as they say, with this view from an apartment recommended by our friend Sophie Sarin (currently in tougher climes back in Mali) via her Swedish diplomat friend from Bamako, Eva. It was enough at first to wake when the sun was already bright

and the coast opposite clear

but after an early lifting of the shutters to reveal a sunrise, 7.30am rising became a must. Praise be to the solstice for making such a daily revelation possible - sunrises are usually for me a rare and unforgettable occurrence, like getting up at 4.30am in Göttingen to head out for a clavichord recital by the Seeburger See with the sun beyond the windows rising through the willows. Given variable weather, with only a smattering of rain when Storm Elsa was supposed to be at her height (it was about 9pm and I was on the way back from a free recital of Fauré's piano music in the fabulous Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró (more on which in a future post), no one morning was quite the same as the other. Even on a day when a Mallorcan version of the haar hung low, there was a hint of blurry sun before it closed in,

 There was red sky in the morning on the day of the Elsa warning

after which the sunny weather returned for the solstice days: first heralded by a different kind of red, a rosy-fingered dawn

then as an orb rising from haze

while the next day, Helios made a simple ascent at its most majestic.

The fishing boat on the left seemed to account for the gulls circling before the levee

while I was more hard-pressed to account for the swarms above the terraces of olive trees in Deia; some of them look like skuas, others black-headed gulls.

In our own garden - well-kept, but they need to ditch the noisy, smelly leaf-blowers - the denizens were mainly blackbirds, collared doves and the very occasional butterfly (I think this is a Wall Brown, Lassiomata megera, but someone else may know different).

while down on the rocky seafront, cormorants dried their wings,

poised and skimmed. We could just have been idle, but there was too much to see in the mountains and the wonderful city on our doorstep, where one of the greatest cathedrals in the world had its sandstone facade further deepened by the sun setting opposite.

More on that wonder, on Chopin and George Sand in Valldemossa and Robert Graves in Deia, in future posts. It's nice to be back for quiet interstitial days, full of such vivid impressions and having gleaned such warmth, as well as respite from the sight of our Prime Monster, over 10 days.

Wednesday 18 December 2019

Good Chance conviviality in Dalston

So now's the time to forge closer ties with organisations within the UK that can make a difference, in line with the 'political re-wilding' George Monbiot writes about here. This breaking of bread - and what bread (chef Dina Mousawi, more on whom anon, pictured below) - a fortnight ago wasn't exactly a seasonal celebration, but better than any pre-Xmas event of a similar kind I've attended. Rarely met so many friendly and engaging folk as at this perfectly orchestrated fundraiser at the Ridley Road Social Club (a splendid venue, for a start, which clearly does good lunches and feels immediately welcoming).

Good Chance started out creating a safe and vibrant performance space for refugees in the form of a dome within the Calais Jungle. They'll be taking the same to Sheffield, where I hope they'll hook up with some musical friends of mine. The venture has expanded not only to mounting a much-acclaimed production about the Jungle experience, now in New York, and visiting more troubled zones where the GCers might make a difference. I got to talk to the charismatic Stephen Daldry. He's been down on the Mexican side of the border, where he found out how Honduran refugees are looked down upon by the locals: each 'tribal' group has the potential to hate another, but with a bit of work they can come to understand and welcome. He said the big problem, he'd learned from a very famous New Best Friend, was going to be climate-change related; in several years' time we'll see the new wave.

Above is J's (and now I hope my) friend Philip Cowell, Good Chance's Development Manager and one of the friendly circulators, while in the top picture you can also see second from the right one of the Co-Directors, Joe Robertson. All images taken by Aymen Mahamednor, courtesy of Good Chance. I was seated, as you can see from the top photo, next to Majid Adin from Mashad in Iran, a very talented artist who worked on this excellent short film to Elton John's 'Rocket Man' (thanks, of course, to Daldry's connections).

The food was superb, courtesy of Dina, Creative Director of Good Chance,  who's also produced a Syrian cook book - she is from Iraq, but her collaborator was born in Damascus, and they spoke to many women for the recipes.

I was pleased to see my all-time favourite starter dip, what I call muhammara, in the early pages, and so far  I've produced chicken in turmeric yogurt: needs fine tuning, but will be a good regular. At the feast, the turmeric cakes with pistachio were a special treat.

Dina charmingly introduced the speeches and the film, and then there was music from Sounds of Refuge's John Falsetto and Mohamed Sarrar.

It's a long time since I've been to a social gathering where so many people - in this case the regular team - were so adept at going round the room and talking to others. They all gave off such positive and friendly vibes. Time to do more.

Thursday 12 December 2019

The only reason... need concerning what NOT to vote for today.

If Clarke, John Major and Michael Heseltine are agin Diana Ditch and her Chamber of Horrors, while Tommy Robinson has cast in his lot with the monstrosities, where does that leave you?

I don't need to post much more, but where anyone with a fibre of moral integrity should vote depends on keeping the worst at bay.  It's simple in Hammersmith: our Labour MP with a large majority, Andy Slaughter, is a passionate Remainer and tireless hard worker. He helped save Charing Cross Hospital, he's campaigning against the Third Runway and working with constituent Alf Dubs (whose face can just be seen in the below photo; Andy's on the left) to do more for refugees. Ticks all the right boxes, I'd have thought, and Corbyn has campaigned decently; we'll cross the bridge of his pro-Brexit stance when and if we come to it. At least he's offering another public vote on the terms, with No Brexit as one of the options.

Meanwhile, just vote and please don't spoil your ballot paper; as I read someone else saying elsewhere, find where there is a bit of difference between what you hate and what you think could do even a tiny bit of good, and mark your cross accordingly.

I'm off tonight to hear Vaughan Williams's Fourth Symphony from Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra. Concert planning couldn't have known that this would be a significant date, but what could be more appropriate than an angry, dissonant work from a (left-wing) composer who cherished his roots but was also a true internationalist. Let's hope that tomorrow morning the total contrast, his radiant and mostly serene Fifth Symphony, will chime with my feelings about the results. This performance conducted by the composer in 1937 - by which time the angst expressed must have been even more extreme - is magnificent.

Tuesday 10 December 2019

First person singular: Ferrante and Tokarczuk

Here are two novels in which the narrators are so careful with their words that the response must be terse too - and elliptical, too, in order to avoid any spoilers.

The Lost Daughter is the last of Elena Ferrante's (relatively) early works I've read this year, since I finished the great Neapolitan quartet in hospital in early January and then moved on to the most haunting of the early three, The Days of Abandonment.

I was quick to buy a copy of Olga Tokarczuk's 2009 masterpiece Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead not after she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, but because I'd read that demiTory weirdo Rory Stewart had remarked on seeing someone reading it on the tube, and, clearly knowing nothing of its reputation, objected to the odd title (so much for being well briefed).

The title comes from Blake, one of the leitmotif preoccupations of animal-loving hillside dweller Mrs. 'don't call me Janina' Dusjecsko. You're drawn into her singular way of seeing things from the very first page, and even inclined to think that many of her views must be those of the author. Until... and that's about as far as I can go here, It reads so compellingly, too, in the translation of Antonia Lloyd-Jones, who's also rendered into very lucid English Artur Domosławski's superlative biography of fellow more-than-journalist Ryszard Kapuściński, which I'm halfway through at the moment.

There's also not too much I should say about The Lost Daughter, except that it contains many of the same preoccupations as Lenù's in the tetralogy. You can't help wondering if Ferrante has kept her real identity secret because of how much she personally may have invested in her memorable tale-tellers. Here the essence is a beachscape with a mother, young daughter and doll, and how those elements trigger the narrator's memories and obsessions. How else can I describe it but as great, serious literature?

Meanwhile, the saga of Lenù and Lila continues to haunt; having reviewed the National Theatre's compromised but theatrically effective zip through the whole story for The Arts Desk, I ordered up Saverio Costanzo's TV series based on the first volume, My Brilliant Friend (the others, apparently, are to be serialised too). One episode watched so far is enough to realise that this is visual narrative right under the skin of its subject. The casting of the children, is perfect, much as I imagined them.

Linn Ullmann's Unquiet is a very different case from Ferrante's works. Ullmann calls it a novel, but it is in fact a candid, unsparing portrait of her relationship with her father, Ingmar Bergman, and to a certain extent of that with her mother, Liv. In total contrast to a dreadful, sensationalist Swedish TV documentary about the master which I gave up on halfway through - not least because the tacky music was at odds with the film clips, though chiefly because its structure was unsound, its speculations dodgy - this is a portrait told with love but also a disarming honesty, catching angles of a filial relationship in which magic plays a greater part than disenchantment. I guess the selection, the honing, is what makes it novelistic. And like all great novels, it raises more questions than it answers.