Wednesday, 4 January 2017

YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION (Records and rebels 1966-1970)


At the Victoria and Albert Museum  between 10 September 2016 - 26 February 2017

I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum recently to see the exhibition about the social, political, artistic and economic revolutions that took place in the late 1960s. This was a nostalgic experience for Marilyn and myself. We were teenagers in the 1960s,  the most developmental period of our lives, both emotionally and physically  . The revolutions that happened in the 1960s were very important to us, shaping our ideas, and responses to life. This personal connection with this period is a perfect example of why understanding and engaging with history is so important to the human condition. To develop as humans, we need to reflect. Understanding the past is a form of reflection and the study of history is a collective reflection.



I remember the 60’s; however the saying goes that some people who lived through those times don’t remember anything, for various reasons. I remember doing my o’levels in a small school in Shropshire and learning about General Wolfe in 1759 fighting the  battle of  Quebec; The South Sea Bubble , its causes and its implications, about Clive of India, the Industrial and Agricultural revolutions, a time which was  marked by a period of revolutions, echoing the time  this exhibition relates to. I remember reading 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell and Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, Laurie Lee's, Cider With Rosie and John Berger’s, Ways of Seeing and later on , when I was training to be a teacher, The Comprehensive School by Robin Pedley.  These books, in conjunction with what was going on in the world shaped my political, and social views and shaped my emotional life too. I remember, in my mid-teens, going in a coach with a group from the school I attended in Liverpool at the time, to Liverpool Cathedral, the Protestant one, for an interfaith service and experienced Ian Paisley leading a mob of Northern Ireland Protestants in a noisy and boisterous chanting of anti-Catholic slogans and beating the sides and windows of our coach with their placards. That was thrilling.  After I finished school at the end of the 1960s I wore flared Levi jeans, my hair grew long and bushy, I grew a beard of sorts and I listened to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Hendrix and Dylan and  so many more. I remember reading the poetry of Ted Hughes, visceral stuff and that of Thom Gunn, Sylvia Plath, George Macbeth , John Wain and Philip Larkin. The Second Vatican Council took place between (1962–65). That changed the format of the mass and prescribed a physical structure for how any new Catholic church should be built to fit in with the new thinking about the mass. Pope John XXIII advocated, what was thought of, as a more liberal approach to religion.Women were given a slightly, some might say cosmetic, higher profile role within the church. They could be ministers of communion.They were allowed to read the Epistle and some of the prayers during mass.Pope John XXIII advocated a more questioning approach to religion. It seemed to me you could question as long as the answers were what the church advocated.  He did not go far enough for many and too far for others. He was anti-abortion and anti-contraceptives but advocated more natural forms of birth control. This  has caused arguments ever since within the church and society as a whole. The Catholic Church remains an authoritarian patriarchy to this day. Abortion and the pill, freedom of thought, student rioting in Paris and in London against the Vietnam War; the more I sit here and think the more I remember and try and work out what it all meant and what it means now.
I remember all these things that crowd my thoughts in a sort of jumble. It was confusing at the time and even now I struggle to make sense of it. A lot of this stuff made my early life a challenging thought provoking time. My beliefs and the way I thought about life to begin with were influenced  by my grandparents beliefs and stories of their past, my parents views and the life they lived, the Catholic religion that I was imbued with from an early age and its very powerful strictures on the way to live and think. The Catholic Church was epitomized for me by Cannon Ibbit , my local parish priest in Woolston and the De La Mennais Brothers who taught me at St Mary’s College in Bitterne Park. They were benign to some extent and supportive but their guidance always lead directly to the rules of the church.There was no wavering from ,"the straight and narrow."These revolutions were powerful counterweights to these influences and my learned responses to life. This new way of living was presented in the news, the way people all around started to dress and behave, in books, in the cinema, in the music I began to listen to, in attitudes and in what people spoke about. Have you noticed that your inner thoughts and impulses remain hidden because they don’t fit what with what you have always been told. Even though you are thinking and feeling them, until you hear of others’ experiences, you can’t acknowledge them without them causing some sort of pain and rupture within you. Once you know others  think like you and are forming ideas similar to yours its like being given permission. Then you feel liberated and not alone in your inner responses and you can then permit yourself to  think and do the things you were becoming  aware of. We do need permission to do, say and believe things and it often takes others braver than ourselves to say and do these things first.
The exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum  charts the history of this time. It looks at social changes that included experimentation with drugs to enhance our minds, new ways of living, creating new social orders within communes and new economic models based on adapting to the  world in more harmonious ways. There were new concepts of communication. Cultural changes happened in music, drama, films, writing and art and a rewriting of history from the points of view of ethnic minorities, women and the working classes. Political changes included civil rights, women’s liberation, anti war movements,  education, and the creation of  new political movements. Many of these experiments have continued and  led to ways of living, doing, thinking and believing that we have now. Some experiments were disastrous such as the experimentation with mind enhancing drugs. The good effects were far outweighed by the detrimental effects. Music has gone on to develop through more and more synergies, the coming together of music  from various cultures. This is also seen in  the development of art and literature, developing new ways of seeing and thinking. Politics has changed, through new ways of communication and people feeling free to challenge, ask questions and promote alternative ideas.  Barriers to real meritocracy and equality still remain such as the two tier system of education we have, the private sector and the state sector. Womens employment still has glass ceilings and poor working practices which hamper their development within organisations. Consumerism has taken over much. There is a monitory price on everything.  It seems that we need a market economy for things to exist.
This exhibition uses three different texts from three different periods  to show how revolutions in thoughts, ideas, ways of living and politics are not just about the 1960s and that the new ideas that came to fruition in the 1960s were influenced by ideas from ages past. It is five hundred years since the publication of Thomas More’s,” Utopia ,” in which inhabitants of a fictional island reject intolerance, personal gain and property, and instead find peace and contentment as part of a community.” 



Three hundred years after More’s, Utopia, William Blake wrote “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” He raged against,” mind formed manacles,” and commented, “ if the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” Perhaps the use of LSD in the 1960s was  about the search for the same sort of enlightenment. 

The third text was written at the start of the 1960s. “The Port Huron Statement,” It addressed the cold war, the nuclear arms race, and called for the democracy of individual participation. It called for the means for the individual to participate in the social decisions determining the quality and the direction of his life.



The exhibition portrays Britain and America at this time but more specifically London  and San Francisco. It shows the sharing of social, political and musical ideas. The traumas created by US politics and its involvement in South East Asia are covered. It displays the counter culture and underground movements in music, art and the marches against racism, especially in the US south and the anti-Vietnam War marches in London and Washington and the student protests in Paris. It portrays the new youth cultures in the use of drugs, clothes, experimental living, music, art and writing. 




There is a large section in the exhibition focused on the Beatles and their development of new styles including the use of transcendental meditation, LSD, Indian influences from Ravi Shanker and their exploration of different sounds and instruments. The exhibition shows this through their musical transitions from   Revolver, Rubber Sole to Sgt Peppers. They wrote love songs, protest songs and music derived from the use of LSD. There were jokes and biographical memories included in their work. The Beatles moved from live performances to working in the studio and this helped in creating these developing styles. The development of their music was something they would not have been able to do to such an extent if they had concentrated on live performances. I always think it is a thrilling experience to see original drafts. To see the fresh, immediate creation just as it was made, gets you close to the creator and the creative process. John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics for, “Tomorrow Never Knows, “is displayed. There are the handwritten lyrics for Lucy in The Sky with scribbled corrections and crossings out.
This extract from a poem entitled, “On The Move,” by a young poet, Thom Gunn, encapsulated the youth of the time.
A minute holds them, who have come to go:
The self defined astride the created will
They burst away; the towns they travel through
Are home for neither bird nor holiness
For birds and saints complete their purposes
At worst one is in motion; and at best
Reaching no absolute in which to rest
One is always nearer by keeping still.


Today we can see how things have developed. The internet has created a sort of universal “mind,” something that LSD failed to do. It was the students coming out of the universities of the 1960s who invented the internet. Those who began APPLE and GOOGLE, created ways of communal working  where creativity and sharing ideas, a counter culture concept, formed and grew these great organisations of today. Music and fashions were freed from the constraints of the past  and they have continued to develop and be continuously creative. However  consumerism has attached itself to what has developed  and all these countercultural concepts and ideas have in many ways been brought into a new main stream culture of business and wealth. Some of the most tenacious parts of the old order have remained . We still have a class system in this country controlled by an education system split into private and state. Some people would like to destroy the National Health Service which although begun soon after the second world war in 1948 was a forerunner of freedoms dreamt of that developed in the 1960s. Big business and government want to keep the majority poorly paid on low incomes. The next big change seems to be coming from the right wing. Donald Trump has been voted into the presidency of the United States. Britain has voted to leave Europe at a time of austerity under a right wing government. I wonder where things are going to go from here?




It is interesting to see who the sponsors of this exhibiton are; Levis, the company that made the trouser choice of the 60s. Sennheiser,  provide the sound systems for the exhibiton. It is worth wearing the headphones that are provided. Walking around the exhibition is a musical experience, a continuous soundtrack of music from the sixties with appropriate music tracks connected to each part of exhibition.The Kinks ,”Waterloo Sunset” for ,”Swinging London,” fashion and the counter culture. Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction,”recalling Vietnam. That one  sends a chill down your spine. The largest exhibition room, its floor spread out with Indian patterned cushions to sit on, is a surround sound and filmic experience of the Woodstock and Isle of Wight festivals provided by Sennheiser. Sassoon, the creative hairdresser who started in the 1960’s who cut Twiggys hair  also recalls the fashion of Barbara Hulanicki and BIBA and Mary Quant.  Fenwick, the store company which started in the late 1880s and owns many of our High Street outles delivering the fashion of today also contributes. The Annenberg Foundation is a main sponsor too through its charitable trust and its belief in personal freedoms and the creation of outlets for the expression of creativity and the provision of free public facilities. It sponsors free public broadcasting and has promoted education, the arts and created places such as community beach houses, wetlands restoration projects and much more. Walter Annenberg who began the foundation was The American Ambassador to Britain under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.



Pete Townsend of The Who performing in 1968 at the first Isle of Wight festival.

And finally..................................ME AS I WAS THEN!!!!!! (God help us all!! Ha! Ha!)



References:
The New Poetry (Selected and introduced ) by A Alvarez (Penguin 1962)
 The Comprehensive School by Robin Pedley  (Pelican 1963)
You Say You Want A Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966- 1970  edited by Victoria Broakes and Geoffrey Marsh  ( (Victoria and Albert publishing 2016)
Bary McGuire ,”Eve of Destruction.”       https://youtu.be/ntLsElbW9Xo
The Kinks, “Waterloo Sunset.”                  https://youtu.be/N_MqfF0WBsU






Sunday, 20 November 2016

THE BOX OF DELIGHTS!!!!!

I don't  advertise things, but, this is one for books............



As I walked out one midsummer morning
The Little match girl huddled nearby and lit another match.
I Wandered lonely as a cloud,
Far from the madding crowd,
towards
Waterstones
Wimbledon,
On the road,
Past the
animal farm.
I had no
Sense or sensibility.
Matilda stood there browsing.
The tenant of wildfell hall hid her face.
Emma controlled everything with a look.
It was all set
For whom the bell tolls.
Ted's hawk hovered above.
A tempest blew through
the Old curiosity shop.
after
a comedy of errors
what a brave new world
presented itself.
The book  seller
Pronounced,
"As you like it,sir."
little women giggled in the corner with jack
 and
the Three pigs
scurried away
AND 
THE JOLLY CHRISTMAS POSTMAN LAUGHED.


Choosing a book is an adventure. Try it this Christmas.










Saturday, 5 November 2016

THE AMERICAN ELECTION RESULT!!!!!!!!!!!


Donald and Hillary. 

Tuesday 9th November 2016….. is so very nearly here.
The World awaits. Who will it be, Donald or Hillary?

It’s so close, we here in Britain can feel the heat from 3000miles away across a choppy Atlantic. Friction, that’s what it is. Anything that close and so abrasive causes a lot of heat.
There is the misogynist, abuser of women, bankrupt, litigiously incontinent, egomaniac,  and total nincompoop, ( that’s an English word for idiot.) Donald the Trump. I can’t bear to look at his face on the TV and  I can’t  bear to listen to the sound of his voice. 
Then there is Hillary, duplicitous, sneaky, a rather untrustworthy type who wants a national health service and wants to ban the carrying and ownership of guns. A pinky left wing socialist sort. 

So what if……………?

Trump WINS!! IT'S President Trump.

We have a President Trump. His own party, the Republicans can’t believe it. Nobody wants to be a part of his administration. He has decided to have a new series of the Apprentice whereby candidates for high political office in his administration compete for government roles. He is recruiting candidates from amongst the great American beer drinkers, golfing types and bar loafers who voted for him. Wolf whistling at women will be of high priority
 As America doesn’t own any shipping companies to deport immigrants  an upsurge in the inflatable airbed industry is underway. Airbed stock market rates have gone through the roof. Thousands and thousands of inflatable Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse air beds are to be seen off the East Coast and West Coast of the USA as desperate illegal immigrants paddle for the safety of the high seas. American citizens have been given the right to shoot on sight anybody they think are undesirable sorts. There are summary executions in the streets right across America. A few mother inlaws and ex wives have been mistakenly shot. This has of course preempted Trump’s  passing a bill through  Congress banning all mother inlaws and ex wives anyway.
 Illegal Mexican immigrants in the USA having been sent back across the boarder and  are now working for building companies right across Mexico. They are part of a desperate race  to build a high  concrete wall to keep out the undesirable Americans fleeing across their borders  from the USA in disgust at the Presidential result. Building companies, cement factories, brickyards, construction machinery companies,  and  yellow hard hat companies are flourishing. The Mexican economy has had a gigantic boost. 
President Putin has been invited to  the ,"Golden Gilt House ," formerly ,"The White House," A quick renovation to suit President Trump’s tastes was carried out soon after his election. President Trump has announced a ,”special relationship,” once attributed to Britain, with Russia. After all it was Russia who financed his Presidential campaign, got him out of two bankruptcies and provided him with a  docile, servile, wife who will do anything for her man.
The BBC was seen as insulting Donald in the run up to the election. Rumours that the British people were making fun of him also riled the bloated red faced one, so all political ties with Britain have been severed and the USA is now at war with its old ally. Trump is reserving a large section of the American nuclear arsenal  for the bombing and total eradication of Britain.  “Who wants those National Health Service, free education,  lefty bastards anyway? They don’t even carry guns.”, he has been reported as saying.
Also Europe is a little concerned that Trump wants to drop nuclear bombs on all major European cities.
Donald is suing all Hollywood and music industry stars for not liking him.
A new bright era of world dominance , let’s forget the Chinese, for the wonderful U. S. of A is dawning under this Donald Trump regime.
As for Hillary Clinton, the Clintons have been seen escaping to Britain,. They now live in a Liverpool, council house in the  suburbs of Liverpool near Paul McCartneys childhood home. Hillary always expressed admiration for the Fab Four in her student days. The Clintons have been made penniless after the hard fought election and are seeking housing benefits and work seekers allowances from Liverpool City Council.

ALTERNATIVELY:

Hillary is President. President Clinton the second.

The first woman President of the United States, Hillary Clinton. The world sighed a long sigh of relief after election night. She is the normal conniving, back stabbing politician we all know and love. The status quo will be kept. Americans might not get the jobs and rejuvenated industries they want but they might, unless Hillary does a U turn, get a National Health service and guns might just be banned. Which I am sure will be a good thing. Lets hope Americans get accustomed to what European countries have known for a generation. It will be best for Hillary to act quickly on these things of course while the Gun Lobby, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Drugs Industry have been incapacitated by the shock of Donald’s defeat. Best to get in there before they recover their composure.
The close relationship with Britain has been made closer. Hillary loved the sarcasm, and the denigrating commentary of Donald Trump by the BBC.
Relationships with Russia have soured even further and Putin is rather upset because the Russian economy is shrinking and he can’t finance his military ambitions of invading and nuking Europe. Donald had promised him support.
Mexico are feeling ambivalent. There is not going to be a wall between them and the USA but they had already decided they hate the USA and were looking forward to keeping Americans out of their wonderful country. They no longer have an excuse.
Donald Trump meanwhile has been spotted rowing a converted golf buggy towing suit cases full of his and Melania’s belongings, out to sea heading for Colombia. He is wondering if he can do a deal with the drugs barons there. He is bankrupt again after this Presidential campaign and he would like them to bail him out and set him up in ,"business," again. It has been discovered that Donald had mortgaged Trump Tower for every last brick to pay for the election campaign.



Election campaign badge.




Monday, 17 October 2016

VALDEMOSSA, MALLORCA. ( a Summer holiday trip)




The mountainous scenery around Valldemossa

During the second week of August this year, the 7th until the 14th, Marilyn, Emily, Abigail and myself stayed on Mallorca, the main island amongst the Ballearic group of islands. We had a hotel just a short distance along the coast from Palma, the capital city of the Ballearics. From Palma we could take bus trips all over the island. In planning our holiday, we researched Gaia, the little village on the north side of the island near the coast set amongst the craggy outcrops and peaks of La Serra de Tramuntana. Gaia was the small mountain village that Robert Graves made his home and we wanted to visit his house and find his grave in the little cemetery in the village. La Serra de Tramuntana is a range of craggy limestone hills and mountains, some over 1000 m high, that stretch from East to West across the whole northern part of the island. The steep sided valleys and ravines make a spectacular drive through this rugged landscape. One town we passed through was Valldemossa, set on the side of a steep mountain with a long beautiful valley extending south from it with views almost to the sea at Palma. When we got back to our hotel that evening, I found some brochures in the hotel foyer that described  Valldemossa. We discovered it had been a retreat for George Sand and her lover Frederik Chopin in the winter of 1838. They had stayed in rooms in the abandoned Carthusian Monastery of Valldemossa. When Marilyn and I read this we immediately thought we must go there. The next day the four of us got the same bus we had got to Gaia from the central bus station in Palma, except this time we alighted on the edge of Valldemossa town.


Valldemossa is well signposted.

Valldemossa is well sign posted. We started walking up the crowded thoroughfare, that comprised the main street, making our way towards the Chopin and Sand museum. It was crowded with visitors from the cruise ships we had seen in the harbor at Palma. They wore their cruise ship badges so we could even pick out which ship they had come from. They looked like and sounded like, a bored crowd of tourists. You could see and hear the fractious children with their worn out parents sighing and complaining back at their children in strained and reprimanding tones.Some just sat on low walls waiting to be herded back to their ship. Valldemossa is beautiful. The streets are lined with tamarisk and holm oaks. These trees create deep shade in the streets during the hot bright summer. The town is built from the honey coloured stones quarried from the surrounding mountains. Olive green shutters are placed over every window. Stone archways encompass heavy wooden doors. The streets are paved with worn irregular slabs of the same stone. The town is rustic, mellow and creates a warm comfortable feeling of human scale. It is the sort of place you need to walk around, stop, contemplate life  and speak to people. The atmosphere of Valldemossa seeps into you and makes you feel human again, if you give it time, away from the hurly burly of your everyday lives. Marilyn, Emily, Abigail and I made our way through the crowd and gradually the crowd thinned out and was left behind. It became easier to stop and experience Valldemossa properly.

Shaded streets of Valldemossa

Valdemossa is a mountain town,  reliant on tourism as is the whole of Mallorca in the 21st century but it is still home, to hillside farmers growing olives, almonds and grapes. Marilyn, Emily, Abigail and myself walked into some of the shops on the main street. There were the usual Spanish holiday mementos. We found, a variety of straw sombreros of different circumferences. There were stuffed leather donkeys with colourful rainbow tassels for manes and tails. There was a choice of brightly painted castanets.There were garishly coloured clothing and artisan wooden carvings of fish and other animals for sale. There were traditional sangria drinking bottles with a long thin sharp spout. By holding the drinking bottle at arm’s length and above your head height you can send a long thin stream of wine arching through the air to your open mouth and straight down your throat. Watching it done is quite a skillful business. There were traditional Spanish costumes for children. There were local carved wooden statues of The Virgin Mary and Barcelona Football Team shirts side by side. Various other paraphernalia, dishes, plates and bottled oils were on sale too. We walked on. Interspersed with the tourist shops there were local shops selling bread and groceries. Bars and restaurants, with tables spilling out on to the streets and into the square at the top of the town were everywhere. We saw red banners all over Valldemossa advertising the, “Festival Chopin.” 

A banner informing about the Chopin Festival.

We eventually reached the great monastic church belonging to the Carthusian Monastery at the top of the town. An old lady with a weather beaten faced  was selling entry tickets. She sat at a rickety wooden table. We asked about tickets to see around the old monastery and its church. She explained that the ticket allowed us to see the monastery. I asked where the rooms Chopin and Sand had stayed in were. She waved her arm in the air and grumbled at us with some guttural Spanish phrase gesturing to her right and then she had a go at English and said in a vague comment, “On thee urther side.”
The Carthusian Monastery of Valldemossa, dates back to 1399. It was secularised in 1835 under the Ecclesiastical Confiscations of Mendizabel. At the time there were anti clerical liberal movements in Spain and the government wanted to use the land to help the middle classes expand. The land and buildings of the monastery at Valldemossa were sold to a number of people.  The towns people,however, felt that it was wrong to use the old Carthusian property for their own benefit so the new owners would merely rent out the rooms to visitors.


Inside the Carthusian church.


Entering the vast monastic church from the sun drenched courtyard in front of the entrance it took a moment to adjust our vision. The inside of the church was cool with its white washed walls reflecting any light that entered from the large roundel window positioned high in the barrel vaulted roof at one end. It was strange in the sense that were no other windows, none of the elaborate gothic arched stained glass windows of a cathedral or local church. Carthusian spirituality is about solitude and living in silence. This is one of the Carthusian statutes.
 The primary application of our vocation is to give ourselves to the silence and solitude of the cell. It is holy ground, the area where God and his servant hold frequent conversations, as between friends. There, the soul often unites itself to the Word of God, bride to the groom, the earth to the sky, man to the divine. “
The church seemed to cut us off from the outside world. The interior was virtually empty. At one end there was an elaborate altar with a gilt painted baroque framed painting of The Virgin Mary hanging above it and a life size statue of St Bruno, the founding father of the Carthusians to one side. The walls were lined to about half height by intricately carved wooden stalls and friezes where I presume the monks had once sat during mass. There was no seating for a congregation. The body of the church was an empty space floored with stone tiles.  As we walked from the church into dimly lit whitewashed corridors this sense of the Carthusian contemplative life seemed palpable in the structure of the buildings. We came to a small verdant, cloistered square. To one side, appearing almost cartoonish, were two giants, two statues, at least twice life size, one representing Frederik Chopin and the other George Sand. They seemed totally incongruous. I can only suggest they had something to do with the Chopin Festival. I guess, either that they must stand in pride of place as the festival of Chopin piano concertos proceeds, or perhaps they are the outer costumes and masked heads of stilt walkers and the two creative, “giants,” walk amongst festival goers creating a sense of circus and fun.  

Frederik Chopin, myself and George Sand!!!!!

At the far side of the cloisters there was a long corridor also with a high barrel roof. Every place throughout the monastery was whitewashed and this was a plain white thoroughfare too, dimly lit like the rest of the interiors. We could see  to one side, set within the the wall opposite, the  courtyard,  a row of evenly interspersed wooden doors. They were each numbered. There were thirteen doors we discovered, each being the entrance to the cell of a past monastic occupant. Cell number four was the reputed abode of Frederik Chopin and George Sand and Sand’s two children during their stay in Valldemossa.


The balcony garden outside of the cells where Sand and Chopin stayed.

The rooms are interconnected nowadays and Chopin and Sand occupied at least two of them. There are two pianos within these rooms. One is the Pleyel piano that Chopin had shipped to Mallorca and eventually brought to Valldemossa for his use.  Pleyel was the company of piano makers that Chopin preferred above all others. His last concert was played on a Pleyel. There is another piano there that Chopin also used while he was waiting for the arrival of the Pleyel. The rooms have  a number of Chopin and Sand artefacts and manuscripts.There are receipts for the sea voyage they made to Palma from Barcelona. There are letters to friends and a first edition of Sand’s book ,"Un Hiver en Majorque,"(A Winter in Mallorca.)  


"Un Hiver en Majorque."

There are sketch books that belonged to Sand's two children, Maurice, born in 1823 who was fifteen years old at the time they visited Valldemossa and her daughter Solange, born in 1828, who was ten years old at the time. Their father was George Sand’s estranged husband, Casimir Dudevant. One particular artefact is a cartoon drawing that George Sand herself made depicting Chopin and her two children meeting the local priest. She is a true cartoonist, using caricature, depicting her nose and Chopin's nose far larger that real life. Sand has handwritten a legend stating that the priest was lecturing them about snow. He thought they might never have seen it before and Valldemossa experienced snow falls in the Winter. The facial expressions are very good. The two children are depicted sitting  politely showing quiet interest as she is but Chopin is grimacing in almost a snarl. 

George Sand,Frederik Chopin with children, being lectured about snow.

Chopin composed most of the preludes, opus 28.  while here. He had a prolific creative period during that winter in Valldemossa which is remarkable since he was suffering from pneumonia. Chopin wrote to his friend, Julian Fontana, a fellow Polish composer  in December from Valldemossa.
"Palma 28 December 1838
………………….or rather Valldemosa, a few miles away; between cliffs and the sea a huge deserted Carthusian monastery where in a cell with doors larger than any carriageway in Paris you may imagine me with my hair unkempt, without white gloves and pale as evert. The cell is shaped like a tall coffin, the enormous vaulting covered with dust, the window small. In front of the window are orange trees, plams, cypresses;opposite the window is my camp bed under a Moorish filigree rose window. Close to the bed is an old square grubby box which I can scarcely use for writing on, with a leaden candlestick( a great luxury here) and a little candle. Bach, my scrawlsand someone elses old papers…silence…you can yell….still silence. In short, I am writing to you from a queer place. I received two days ago your letter of the 2nd of this month…….”



Chopin at Valldemossa.


Chopin’s prelude in A minor  was undoubtedly composed at Valldemossa. It has a melancholy air. The weather during the winter of 1838 was cold and misty. The mood of the abbey at Valldemossa during that winter seems to have permeated this piece

A doll that belonged to Solange.


George Sand wrote, “Un Huiver a Mallorca,”during this stay in Valledemossa. Sand’s book is a curious, mixed sort of affair. It provides a history of Mallorca. It lambasts the Spanish Inquisition. It is part travel book and part autobiography using a dark gothic style first begun by Horace Walpole in his  “Castle de Otranto.”At times it also employs a Romantic element in the style of Wordsworth.In January Sand wrote to her friend Mariliani, 
“I write to You from my hermitage in Valldemossa […] In this no quarter is given me by the warbling piano of Chopin working in his normal, beautiful, way, to the astonishment of the eavesdropping walls of the cell’. 
 Sands also wrote,
"He could not curb his restless imagination. Even when he felt good, the monastery seemed to him to be full of phantoms and frights […] I found him at ten in the evening sitting pale at the piano, with a vague look in his eyes, with his hair on end…’ 
Chopin wrote to Julian Fontana, a Polish composer and close friend,
 "I send You the Preludes. Transcribe them, You and Edward] Wolff; I think there are no errors. You will give the transcriptions to Probst and the manuscript to Pleyel. […[ In a couple of weeks’ time You will get a  ballade [F major], polonaises A major and Cminor and a scherzo C sharp minor. Tell Pleyel to agree on the timing of the publication of the preludes with Probst. I still have not yet received any letter from my parents!’" 
In another letter, this time  to Pleyel, the piano maker, Chopin wrote, ‘At last I send You my preludes, completed on Your piano. […] I advised Fontana to hand You my manuscript. For France and England I want for it one thousand five hundred francs. Probst, as You know, purchased the German rights for Härtel for one thousand francs."
Sand’s book ““Un Huiver a Mallorca,”(A Winter in Mallorca) begins with an assessment of a book she  read about Mallorca written by  J B Laurens who had visited Mallorca a couple of years before Sand and Chopin. She enjoyed reading about the vegetation and the history and reading Lauren’s view of the island. George Sand took great interest in facts such as population numbers and the number of square miles the island consisted of. Sand uses the facts from Laurens book and goes into great detail about the temperatures at different times of the year and the differences between sheltered and unsheltered areas. An unfortunate overtone of the book though is that Sand complains about the |Mallorcan people at almost every moment.This comment provides a view that Sands held about Mallorcans in general, 
" There is nothing as sad or pathetic in the world as this peasant who knows nothing but praying, singing and working and who never thinks. His prayer is a mindless formula which seems to make no sense to him..."
and she goes on and on in this vein. She starts complaining from the beginning. They get to Mallorca by way of the ferry,” El Mallorqn,” a ship the Mallorcans had bought to help their trade with Barcelona and the rest of Spain. 

"El Mallorqn,"the ship Sand and Chopin sailed from Barcelona to Palma in.

There is a humerous description in her book that describes how she and Chopin got to Mallorca because of pigs. The Mallorcan sailors on board treated the 200 or more pigs they took aboard with far more care and respect than the human passengers. If it hadn’t been that the pigs were going to Mallorca Chopin and Sand would not have got there themselves. Sand’s was seasick, so that probably didn’t help matters. According to Sand, an apartment in Palma was merely a white washed box. Washing and cooking facilities were non existent. There were no windows in the rooms. According to Sand the people were lazy and stuck in their ways. They, after a short time, moved outside of Palma to a friends furnished house at Establiments, a rural area beyond Palma. She describes the cultivation and surrounding mountains in some detail. This was a silent place and she could hear babies crying at night and the slightest sound but the final straw was when winds the rains started. The deluge went on day after day. The book is worth reading because although it is a jaundiced and somewhat partisan view of Mallorca and does the people of Mallorca no favours, it is a wonder that Valldemossa actually celebrates the two of them, it is entertaining at times in its exaggerations and  ridiculous  negative descriptions of Mallorca. The book goes into all sorts of incongruous descriptions of buildings. There is a whole section on the three most important buildings in Palma for instance, The Cathedral, The Exchange and The Royal Palace. There are some dark gothic parts to it. Apart from the monastery at Valldemossa Sand’s also comes across another ruined monastery in Palma itself, one where the Inquisition had held sway. She goes into  detail about the beliefs and methods of the Inquisition. She had visited an Inquisition site before on mainland Spain and been into the caves used as prisons beneath the site, caves with walls hundreds of feet thick in places. She describes in chilling detail how the Spanish Inquisitors would imprison, Jews, reformers and anybody who didn’t toe the Catholic line. The worst offenders to the Inquisition were obliterated from existence, their names removed from any documents, their bodies burned to ashes, no record kept of their very existence. This persecution would go as far as their families too, mothers and fathers and siblings so there was no living memory of them either. Sand’s seems to take a prurient interest in this cruelty expressing her horror at the same time. Valldemossa, gets much description and similar negativity, especially about the local people, who she thought uneducated and coarse. 


A portrait of George Sand on a wall of their cell at Valledemossa.

The rooms that Chopin and Sand occupied , although cramped and cell like, had doors that opened out on to balcony spaces. These small enclosures to this day,contain pots of flowers, palm trees, shrubs and plants of all types. They were and are, small, luxurious gardens. A low stone wall ,at the furthest extreme, creates  the extent of each space and from that wall, looking south from the monastery,  down the v shaped valley created by the surrounding mountains you can see Palma and the sea in the far distance. The garden, its rustic stone surrounds and the mountains and the magnificent view affects all the senses and creates an uplifting experience. Sand and Chopin, for all their travails, were both inspired by Valldemossa and you can see why. The surroundings and the views are spectacular.

As well as commemorating Chopin and Sands the various cells in the Carthusian monastery also recall the life and works of the Carthusian monks who had originally lived there. There is an extensive library that the Abbot of the monastery possessed. There is also a pharmacy. The monks were great herbalists and chemists. They also had a printing press.


A monks cell.

The abbots library.


The monks chemist shop.
 Valldemossa was also home to the local saint, Saint Catalina Thomas. She was born on the 1st May 1533 in Valldemossa. Her house, next to the towns church, is now a chapel and a shrine and they celebrate her on the 27th and 28th July every year. While we were there in the second week of August, the white raffia streamers still crisscrossed an area of the town square and her portrait remained hanging amongst the fluttering decorations.

A statue of Saint Catalina Thomas.

She lived a life of prayer experiencing visions from an early age. She was visited by angels and devils and was reported to have experienced a sort of ecstasy for the last years of her life.  Walking along the narrow streets and alleyways of Valldemossa, making our way to the church and the home of St Catalina Thomas, we saw glazed porcelain plaques on many walls depicting scenes from her life showing her experiencing some of her visions in the countryside around Valldemossa. It is easy to explain her experiences as an overactive imagination. Her life, though, has encouraged people to prayer and devotion. 

A plaque on a house wall in Valldemossa depicting one of Saint Catalina Thomas's visions.

We can talk about all sorts of secular and religious techniques for harnessing the mind to create well being and improvements in our lives. Meditation techniques, mindfulness, forms of self reflection are helpful in both our own relationships and in our work place. Mentally rehearsing actions we are going to take, is another way to harness the power of the mind. Sports people use mental rehearsal in many situations. Maybe that is all Catalina Thomas experienced, some or all of those type of things and we can dismiss her for that. However she means something very powerful to many Mallorcans to this day and that is what really counts. She left Valldemossa and  went to Palma where she worked as a servant in a household before joining a religious order, the Canonnesses of St Augustine at the convent of St Mary Magdelene in Palma.

A shaded bar.

Valldemossa and the surrounding area is good walking country. The landscape is spectacular. It is worth exploring for the wildlife, the vegetation and the breath taking views. The town itself is very photogenic. There are lots of wonderful restaurants and a few rustic hotels and guest houses.

References:



Chopin’s prelude in A minor  :
Played by Martha Argerich: 

https://youtu.be/8wegyayhHcU

"A Winter in Mallorca," by George Sand (translated by Shirley Kirby James)
pub: Classic Collection Carolina 















Monday, 26 September 2016

GOOD CANARY A play written by Zach Helm and directed by John Malkovich at the Rose Theatre, Kingston upon Thames




Good Canary, is a play about drug addiction, its consequences on people’s lives and livelihoods. It is about mental deterioration, driving ambition, the precariousness of literary talent, the consequences of sexual abuse and the dubious amoral world of publishing. A powerfully toxic, dark brew that is destined to take us into the dark side of human nature and help us explore our own motivations and perhaps darker side too.
Zach Helm, is known in France , Spain and Mexico for his acclaimed productions of Good Canary directed in each case by John Malkovich. The play has been translated into French and Spanish although first written in English. It is now appearing in Britain for the first time and being produced for the first time in English  at the Rose Theater Kingston. Zach Helm is also known for the film, Mr Magoriums Wonder Emporium. He is renowned as a teacher of drama. He has created a technique called ,”open input drama,” which encourages actors to use experiences from the real world.

Zach Helms with his wife, Kiele Sanchez
John Malkovich is famous for starring in Dangerous Liaisons, Being John Malkovich and starring and performing in over seventy films. He has two Academy Award nominations. He speaks both French and Spanish.
I must warn any reader of this before they start reading that this is not a review but my analysis of what I saw the other day at The Rose Theatre. There will be plenty of,” plot alerts,” whatever that means? So many people write that phrase when reviewing things. I thought I would have a go at using it too.
The two main characters are Annie, played by Freya Mavor and Jack, played by Harry Lloyd.
Good Canary, begins with Annie and Jack in their New York apartment. Jack has just had his first novel published and has received a good review by a highly regarded New York Times reviewer. Jack reads the review to Annie who is cynical about it and analyses every phrase for its real meaning not believing it could be good. Annie is pacing about frenetically. The discussion changes.There is a lot of arguing and the free use of the F word being shouted. Jack is asks Annie how many pills she has taken. Annie is a drug addict and uses amphetamines to function. References to drugs and the world of drugs underpin this whole play. Annie cleans the apartment continually. The computerized scenery allows the windows she cleans at one stage to shrink or enlarge at will and move about on the wall almost trying to avoid Annie’s manic cleaning attempts. “How many times have you cleaned the apartment today?” Jack asks. “Oh three or four times maybe,” Annie replies as though its normal. There is a scene where her drug dealer,Jeff, played energetically and with an element of nervous energy by Ilan Goodman, comes around. He seems to be a friend of the family. Annie buys two enormous bags of pills. He says he has had to search Manhattan to obtain so much in one go. She pays him $2000 for them. The drug dealer is very nervous about letting her have the drugs. A drug dealer with a heart. A dealer with a conscience. His addiction however is money and he can’t resist selling all these drugs to Annie. He wines about her being careful. He pleads with her to not take them all in one go. This is a joke of course. Annie is not good at rationing her drugs and drugs bought to last a fortnight last four or five days. She says she wants to buy in bulk so she doesn’t have to worry the drug dealer so often and to have easy access to drugs whenever she wants. As well as the bulk buying of drugs Annie also, randomly it seems, buys a large steal red box. The audience is immediately drawn into this dark crazy world that Annie and Jack inhabit.
Its not just drugs that are the problem. We assume that Annie has been sexually abused as a child. At a dinner party with a publishing executive and his wife she even hints that sexual abuse for women is the norm.”So when did you first get raped?” She asked Sylvia the executives wife. She goes on to say that she was nine years old when it first happened to her. We begin to discover the root causes of Annies drug addiction. At one time Jack tells Charlie how Annie pleaded with her to fuck her in the arse and forced him to try. He could see the pain he was causing her and stopped. She seemed to crave the abusive behavior she had experienced as a child.

Annie ( Freya Mavor) searching for the drugs that Jack has hidden.

Jack, also randomly it seems, buys a small yellow canary in a cage for Annie to look after during the day. He thinks this might give her a focus to help take her mind of drugs. Annie is completely taken by this beautiful little piece of life. She loves it. The canary hangs from a stand on the stage throughout the performance. A computerized text appears on a wall that explains the use of canaries down mines to warn of gas. A canary will visibly weaken and die with the onset of gas in the tunnels. We as the audience think this must be of great significance. Being aware of Annie’s fragility this must be the warning  for Annie’s later precariousness or even demise. However, although the canary is there on the stage virtually throughout the performance its actual significance is forgotten and references to it are no longer made. I think this is a weakness by this nonuse of a supposedly important piece of imagery.
In many plays that deal with dark subjects there is dark humour. Zach Helms has put humour into this play but it is intermittent. A more adept playwright would keep an underlying sense of the absurd as a continuous thread throughout a play like this. The scene  where Annie is cleaning the apartment whilst on speed is funny and strange. The scene where she is buying drugs from ,Jeff.her dealer has its light moments. Annie ends up in hospital at one stage because of her attempts to vomit. Jack eventually finds that she has stuffed a hair curler deep down her throat and nearly choked to death. The ridiculousness of it is evident.
Zach helms has tried very hard to use all the playwright’s techniques and strategies. However, they are so obvious it makes much of the play clunky. There are the dramatic pauses, too long at times. I thought the actors had forgotten their lines. We have the theater critic, who every writer is afraid off, because their review can make or break them. The publisher who doesn’t read the books he publishes. He may as well be selling potatoes as far as he cares. The wife of the wealthy publisher who sits in her expensive high rise Manhattan penthouse and who is lonely and is bored with life. These are so obvious techniques it makes me think that I have seen parts of this play before. Now where did that scene come from? Where have I seen that before?
There is also the matter of computerized text displayed on screens. They provide us with background information at times, for instance explaining the use of canaries in mines. I think modern technology is fine in a play, and I absolutely loved the way projectors and lighting were used to create the scenery in this play but I am not convinced about its use to provide dialogue. This is more appropriate for texts displaying information in museums and galleries perhaps but I am not convinced about its use in a play. The actors spoken dialogue should provide all. There was one other use of computerized text which worried me. There is a tender scene between Jack and Annie. They are holding each other expressing their love. They lie on stage in silence. Their inner thoughts are displayed on screens above their entwined bodies. Fist Jack’s words appear and then Annie’s. This scene is a prolonged moment. Anybody with poor eyesight might think the play had ended or come to some frozen standstill. Shakespeare would have used a soliloquy. Other playwrights might have used a voice to the audience.Probably voice overs from the actors themselves would have worked much better. It detracted from the dramatic moment.

Jack and Annie with the canary of the title.
The  Good Canary suddenly becomes something of worth at the point when Jack reveals  that he is not the author of the new acclaimed novel but it is Annie who is the writer. There is an awareness that the center of this play, where all strands lead, is Annie.This is the crux of the play. Everybody, whether they know it or not is reliant on Annie. Jeff the drug dealer needs Annie to buy his drugs so he has an income. Jacks publisher, Charlie,  the large publishing firm wanting to buy Charlie out run by Stuart, the New York Times reviewer, Mullholland , who seems to hold all the power and Stuart’s, bored, lonely, sophisticated wife Sylvia, they need her for their very existence. They need Annie’s creative talent to provide for their livelihoods and eventually all the characters realise this.
Jack was aware of his reliance on Annie from the start of the play. There are moments when we think, why is Jack so dedicated to Annie, he loves her yes, but love can be eroded by a partner living a drug addled existence. Charlie tries to get Jack away from Annie. He sees her as a liability. A party is to be held at Stuarts apartment. Charlie tries to persuade Jack to leave Annie at home because the party is about signing a publishing deal and he doesn’t want Annie to mess things up. Jack knows that Annie must be there. She is the real author. The audience thinks he is just being admirably loyal to his wife and I am sure he is being that but there are obviously other forces making him bring Annie along. Annie behaves in a self destructive way at the party.She ruins the party.Everybody is shocked and her behaviour appears to have destroyed any chance of a book deal. Charlie, Stuart and Mullholand display  blatant misogyny . Stuart has treated his wife badly. We see their marriage self destructing. Mullholland tells Jack that after Stuarts wife leaves him that Stuart won’t even remember her after a while. He will get another to replace her. The men, apart from Jack, all dismiss Annie’s cries for help. They want to discard her. Jack is forced to reveal that Annie is the real author to Mullhollnad. Charlie is informed. The realization that their own existence relies on Annie’s talent , creativity and writing, changes all their outlooks towards her. Charlie wants Jack to get Annie to write a second book. Jack can see that Annies drug habit is getting out of control. The publishers need a follow up novel to the first successful novel. Jack pays off Jeff to stay away from Annie and not sell her any more drugs. Jack gets rid of the drugs in the apartment. Annie can’t function. She becomes desperate. We realise that Annie needs her drugs to function and to  write. We can think of Dylan Thomas and his drinking or Earnest Hemmingway and his reliance on drink too. The beat poets and writers all took drugs. Ken Keysey and One flew Over The Cookoos nest comes to mind.Annie commits suicide in the apartment when Jack is away. She poors bottle after bottle of  bleach, chrome cleaner, anything she can get her hands on, down her throat. She dies in agonizing convulsions on the floor. It seems that with Annie’s death everybody else’s existence has come to an end too.
Jack is disconsolate sitting in the apartment alone. He sees the red steal box that Annie bought, what seems ages ago. He manages to get the padlock open. Inside he finds numerous brown paper parcels. As he sits there opening them, we the audience, realise along with Jack that each parcel contains a manuscript. Annie, her days spent high on amphetamines has not only been cleaning the apartment she has been writing prolifically. Screens appear all around the stage displaying the novels, and books of poetry in Annie’s name that all become national best sellers.

John Malkovich

Here Zach Helms tries to attempt dark humour again. Jack and Charlie appear amongst grave stones in a cemetery at Annies funeral and Charlie says, “ For Christs sakes , she died of kitchen cleaning products, goddam.” I didn’t laugh.
Zach Helms is not an Edward Albee, or an Arthur Miller. His writing makes the  themes, of drug abuse, misogyny, the affects of sexual abuse, hidden talent, appear to be derivative and hence contrived. There is something powerful in this play however. Its strength and importance is the realisation that our existence, our world can be founded on the weakest of things. Sometimes the greatest things can come from something weak and insignificant and damaged that we all want to ignore or want to discard. John Malkovich has made a creditable attempt at producing the play. There are weaknesses in the use of projected text instead of the spoken word. Some of  the dramatic silences lose their drama after a length of time. This is probably to do with pace.The actors do their very best with lots of energy and some truly moving and emotional parts, especially from Freya Mavor as Annie. John Malkovich however,needs to get a better play script for the world to work out whether or not he can be a good stage directer. It seems he has only produced this one play, admittedly in various countries and in two other languages. Perhaps he should try an Edward Albee or an Arthur Miller, or even Shakespeare. If Malkovich is over here dipping his toes into the world of British theater to test the waters, he needs something better. If he is here trying to emulate Kevin Spacey at The Old Vic then he has some way to go.

Reference: https://www.rosetheatrekingston.org/