A Happy new Year to all of you from this absent blogger. Spring is around the corner – I took this cyclamen a few minutes ago and I see snowdrops shoots all around.
Among the books I read during the upheavals of 2017 are three I want to tell you about. If you read no other book this year get your head into this one: In No is Not Enough Naomi Klein describes, with terrifying clarity, the power play in the western world, and its effect on the whole world. Much more importantly, she tell us what to do if we want to change this. She has seen at first hand how successful counter measures work, and how we can learn from this and adopt and adapt them to different situations. This is a book that enables you to see a better future and, best of all, how you as an individual can help to make this happen.
If you want to understand and empathise with an economic migrant read this:The Road Home is beautiful, heart-breaking and ultimately heart-warming. It gives a view into Eastern Europe that is absent from the papers, it also shows us the streets of London in all their mixed glory and dilapidation. Best of all are the characters – from many backgrounds – who inhabit these streets and who an immigrant is likely to encounter. The ending reminds us not to make presumptions about the economic migrant story.
Finally a small bombshell of beauty and tragedy:A Bargain with the Light is one of the delightful miniature publications by Hercules Editions. It packs into a slim 5+inch square book, the life history of Lee Miller, extraordinary photographs both by and of her, and a poetic tour de force – a crown of sonnets – by Jaqueline Saphra. All of these elements cohere to make an exquisite, informative and satisfying whole.
Miller was a front-line war photographer, an abuse survivor, a celebrity, an artist’s model.
A crown of sonnets is series of 15 sonnets, where the last line of each is the first of the next. The fifteenth sonnet is composed of lines taken from each of the sonnets. When done as beautifully as this, the result is almost three-dimensional and has an extraordinary rhythm.
White souls have been inhabiting the garden last two mornings. These rather beautiful ghosts are the frost covers that I wrap around vulnerable plants that are just coming into new leaf. And yes, I know I should only grow hardy plants, but sometimes the tender growth on tree peonies gets zapped and one of the great joys of spring is waiting for the oh-so-slow buds to open into fragile cabbage-sized blooms. I am equally soppy about the new growth on my maples. In fact I go a little gaga each spring as I watch the leaves unfolding (and again in autumn as they blaze before dying).
Last night was a treat beyond description. We had recorded a performance of Mahler 1, conducted by Simon Rattle with the Berlin Phil, in Singapore. I am a Mahler addict anyway, but this was so beautiful, intense and powerful, that I cannot imagine a more fulfilling experience. I so much prefer to have my heart beating too fast because of a musical crescendo than because a foolish character in fiction or TV drama is blatantly putting themselves in danger and we are invited to watch their downfall.
Shattering, but immensely satisfying day playing with bricks. The brick paving on the drive was washed so all the sand has gone. Over the twenty years they have been there many bricks have sunk and there are bad, wobbly patches. I found I could extract the bad bricks, introduce sharp sand and make them level again. I have also been robbing the bricks from the area that is being redone (THEY START TOMORROW – only a week later than scheduled) and my brick paths can progress at last. The garden is a war zone now, with piles of earth, turfs, pots full of uprooted shrubs and bulbs, bags of rubble and sand.
The birds are unfazed and nesting industriously. The early martins have stayed and settled and are burbling away outside the bedroom window.
On Thursday I did some serious work on Border Line and managed to post another submission yesterday. I don’t plan to talk about politics in this blog, but the events in Boston and elsewhere have made an uncomfortable backdrop to our domestic and very lucky and privileged lives.
This morning I finished 1853 A Year in Music by High MacDonald. It sorted out a whole lot of misconceptions about composers’ and performers’ lives. Liszt, Berlioz, Schumann – Robert and Clara, Brahms, to name only the most famous, were zig-zagging about Germany performing, meeting, talking and planning non-stop. Every now and again they managed some composing. Wagner was exiled from Germany, but they all went to Switzerland or Austria to meet him, or they all spent time in Paris where technically Berlioz lived and worked, he also visited and performed in London. Verdi dropped by, but didn’t meet up with them. It was the amount of travelling they did, both the famous and many others less well-known today, that astonished me.
I had always thought of Brahms as a big solid man with enormous hands. Pianist friends had told me that you needed a giant span to reach his chords. He turns out to be (in 1853) a slight, shy, beautiful young man, with a high voice and modest bearing. Nearly silent in company, but an acknowledged genius both as a pianist and a composer almost from his first appearance. He was also a perfectionist. Many of the compositions played in 1853 were never published as he felt they were not good enough.
Clara Schumann comes to life as both a hardworking pianist/composer and an astonishingly devoted wife and mother. Liszt is a dynamo, moving, stirring, managing, travelling non-stop, composing, playing. Robert Schumann, firing on half his cylinders, a somewhat lost soul, in the last year before his confinement in a mental home. Wagner a frustrated exile, a troubled hypochondriac, full of gigantic plans and dependent on friends, both for society and money.
I just don’t know how they coped with all the travel. It was dizzying even to read about it.