Saturday, March 5, 2011

"Hey, Mister, was you ever stung by a dead bee?"

He and I were fishing down in Key West, and I was trying to get him to write for movies. He said, "No, I'm top where I am. I don't want to go out to Hollywood." I said, "You don't have to come to Hollywood. We can go fishing or hunting. We can meet here, Sun Valley, Africa, any place you want, and write a story. Look, you're broke all the time. Why don't you make some money? I can make a movie out of the worst thing you ever wrote." He said, "What's the worst thing I ever wrote?" I said, "That piece of junk called To Have and Have Not." He said, "You can't make a picture out of that." So, just for fun for two weeks, while we were
hunting dove and quail and duck, and fishing, we worked on it and tried to figure out what kind of a picture we could make. He'd sold the rights [to Howard Hughes] for 10,000, and I paid the guy 80 for the story. I sold it to Warner for half the profit and got well paid besides. I saw Ernest in Paris later. 

I said, "Ernest, you got ten thousand, the other guy got eighty. I got about a million, two out of it." He got so mad he wouldn't talk to me for six months.

Once, I went down to Jamaica with only one book; this was it. The movie and the book don't resemble each other in the slightest, and both are far better than these guys let on. But we are dealing with pretty cool guys here, a social network that knew things without having to look them up. There's a way of life in this; and today, their heirs don't even know their names. They are enabled to believe they don't need to. Is it possible, this is the first generation ever bred to regard taste as an encum-brance? For that is what this means.

Ernest Hemingway
To Have and Have Not
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1937©

Howard Hawks, director
To Have and Have Not
Jules Furthman and William Faulkner, script
  Humphrey Bogart
  Lauren Bacall
  Walter Brennan
  Hoagy Carmichael
Warner Brothers, 1945©

Joseph McBride
Hawks on Hawks
  Interviews, 1970-77
University of California Press, 1982©

Saturday commute xvii: tonsorial maintenance

In the country, it might take your breath away to know that appointments for a haircut are unheard-of, and that feudal modes of social management result in every male's convergence in the back room of the local diner on Saturday for the requisite eliminations. It all looks very Guantánamo, and indeed it mercifully is just as simple. 

Back in the 30s, our county had a chair for this, but it had to be sold for kerosene one winter and we've been improvising the necessary submission, ever since. Any momentary indignity or discomfort, we find, is more than offset by abasement's reinforcement of traditional values.

So many people misconstrue the ancient bond between barbering and statecraft, on the assumption that it boils down to an enforcement of style, that we're happy to digress in this Saturday's commute to sort this out. Did Almaviva once instruct Figaro in how to make his vassals look? On the contrary. Figaro's job was merely to sustain the droit du seigneur, even with Susannah. We're happy to say, it didn't come to that.

Caron de Beaumarchais
La folle journée ou
  le mariage de Figaro
John Wood, translation
Penguin, 1964©

Friday, March 4, 2011

The cocks of Matapan

Is there companionship in language, itself? A child will tell you. One does not have to be so wise to sense it, but this tongue is a heartbreak of resources given to such shattering largesse, that if there were anything to conserve from its hegemony it would be this, its charity. 

I give you the example of a traveler in his 30s at mid-Century, spinning out a speculation late at night with friends and wine, in the impenetrable seacoast of the southern Peloponnese - and so, you know who this is. But do you remember the luxuriant, persistently erotic flow of this protracted arc, through delectations fusing learning and experience with its mounting, measured, endless image of one abrasive, raucous sound,  over and over enriched with the particular, telling of the world? The trajectory is vast; I cite only its migration through all of Greece. Follow it. 

Satiric, picaresque, rapturous, merrily ridiculous, melancolic, matter-of-fact; how protean, how free can the mind be, that's given this thing for traveling, to give it its head, and pass it on? Or let it come indoors on Friday night, and know there is this gift involving you, of discovery unbound.

We sat on in the cool silence of the floating garden, talking of these phantom cockcrows; and with a special reason. If the reader knows Mr Henry Miller's book about Greece, The Colossus of Maroussi, he will remember an appendix, a letter from Lawrence Durrell to the author soon after his departure; it describes how, following a tremendous dinner in Athens, Durrell and his fellow diners climbed up to the Acropolis but found the gates shut; Katsimbalis, suddenly inspired, took a deep breath and "sent out the most bloodcurdling clarion I have ever heard: Cock-a-doodle-doo..." and then, after a pause, 'lo from the distance, silvery-clear in the darkness, a cock drowsily answered - then another, then another. Soon, the whole night was reverberating with cockcrows: all Attica and perhaps all Greece. 

Perhaps all Greece. The distance between Cythera and Cape Matapan on the tattered map in my pocket, was somewhere between twenty and thirty miles. This enormously extended the possible ambit of Katsimbalis' initial cockcrow. If the Maniots, with a helping wind, could hear the cocks of Cythera, the traffic, with a different wind, could be reversed, and leap from the Mani (or better still, Cape Malea) to Cythera, from Cythera to Anticythera,  and from Anticythera to the piratical peninsulas of western Crete; only to die out south of the great island in a last, lonely crow on the islet of Gavdos, in the Libyan Sea ...

But a timely west wind could carry it to the eastern capes of Crete, over the Cassos straits, through the islands of the Dodecanese, and thence to the Halicarnassus peninsula and the Taurus mountains... The possibilities became suddenly tremendous and in our mind's ear the ghostly clarion travelled south-west into Egypt, south-east to the Persian Gulf; up the Nile, past the villages of the stork-like Dinkas, through the great forests ..

We thought with sorrow of the silent poles and huge bereaved antipodes, of the scattered islets and archipelagos that were out of range; of combed heads tucked in sleep under many a speckled wing that no salutation from the Parthenon would ever wake ..

Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor, DSO, OBE
Mani: Travels in the southern Peloponnese
John Murray, 1958©

i, photo Paschalis

We remember Claggart, very well

An aspect of life in my college to which I really didn't pay any atten-tion, was its ritual sorting of undergraduates into dining estab-lishments according to the very most exotically flickering finger of fate. The custom became a national scandal, repeatedly, and motivated countless worthy scholars to ignore an invitation to matriculate. It drove Woodrow Wilson into public office, for which we all apologise. I, how-ever, counted the place as the def-initive paradise of undergraduate development - which, it never failed to be for me - and reckoned its ec-centricities, although occasionally vulgar and cruel, puerile and repul-sive in the extreme, as beside the point.

Every such establishment to which one was likely to be invited, had its Claggart. We had several; but our defining Master-at-Arms' unease was couched in such a well-practiced drawl that his every utterance could be mistaken for exhalations as if a corset, were being laced. I'll never forget running into our MAA (just about), on the stairs to the library one snowy evening as I was dashing late for a movie. He snagged me, I was reminded not long ago, by an upper button on my blazer which I'd closed against the cold. 

That's a very pretty blazer, Laurent. 
We don't happen to wear them that way in the club.

Claggart and I never exchanged a remark again, as I fear the heel of my Weejun haplessly ground itself into the instep of his super-Peel, in my haste to keep an appointment with Joel Cairo in the offices of Sam Spade. But, not long ago, I enjoyed a reunion of sorts with a clone of this exalted mentor, as he sorted me out on the etiquette of tummy-publishing. (Oh, we have been well looked-after).

Here, with edits to conceal his identity, were the lamentations he brought forth to this underling's edification. I imagine he may have spoken for others, too; I didn't conduct an audit. At least, let's not suffer any ostentatious umbrage over the privity of e-mail, when it's sole purpose is to extoll display that's no fun if it's missed.

I feel I must let you know that I have removed RMBL from the blog list that runs at the side of [mine].  I did so because I felt the lead photograph in today's post of the naked fellow with the saucy rump was simply too racy for many of my readers, or at least those whose sensibilities are not ones that you and I share. I would be happy to reinstate RMBL on my blog list if you were to feature lead photos of a more "G" variety, with those of a more "R" type following within the story.  I am afraid that today's lead photo on RMBL rather pushed too far beyond the edge of the envelope for comfort ..

Well! There we were, in play-pen heaven, and no Sidney Greenstreet to cheer us on. If I wished the shade of the Maltese Falcon, I must feign not to appear as the Black Bird. But this tactic was impres-sively shrewd, objecting ostensibly to the timing of the objection-able, so that if one were to work the subject up enough, its presentation might be endured. Long nights of lonely practice, I dare say, might just reinforce that skill. Of course, we all felt this way about poor Beethoven, too, with his C major symphony. So precipitous.

But, marvel with one a moment, at the telling consistency between this note and the one published yesterday: the cudgel of censure, not for one's own worldly gaze, but for readers held in more contempt than any content ever published here could show. In loco parentis is equally the harbour of the cowering oppressed, that it more famously is of the anxious bully. My poor MAA on the stair-case wanted nothing more than to be told that he had an immaculate excuse for his abusive intimacy, and the present one, too, needed to change the subject, to distrib-ute coercion. 

I'd already written to Claggart, in one's halting way, to relate how many readers he seemed to be shunting over, and so I must fault myself for inspiring this little torture. He'd been tempted to flex, you may say. Yet, what commitment, it spoke of to me, to rationing reprimand with that sadistically multiplying effect, such as children exert upon the wings of unsuspecting flies who might stray into their sight. Possibly, some of his readers will have been redirected, perchance to mount his tease elsewhere. But, you know? I wrote to him, not to worry about it, and here we are, acquainted with each other well enough. Charming guy.

Everybody's been an MAA, sometime, I find. I remember quitting the club when a convincingly stunning student in a gay rôle at our little Triangle Club was wafted into membership against every scruple of the closet. I mean, really. I'll never forget; they were very good about this. The club sent our coxswain down to my rooms to see me about it, and the sight of this best of all packages of jockly blondness, squatting on my grandfather's rude Nain, to reason with me against making oneself per-fectly ridiculous, almost carried the day. But I was resolute, impervious, and quite silly. After a rustication in mediocre French food in town, I signed in again, and nothing more was said of it. 

A few years later, his name was among the first I saw on the AIDS quilt of the Names Project in San Francisco. Very legitimately, I cried in horror and shame, and there is no health in us. Allow me to make this as clear as I can. To embrace this intimidation requires me to relive the darkest acts I've ever committed. Would you?

Herman Melville
Billy Budd, Foretopman
Published posthumously, 1924

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Where had cinema left us, after 'Brokeback Mountain'?

Inhaling bloodied shirts from closets in a trailer, desolation crushing through the credits: the survivor's destiny, so it said. Again I turn to my friend Tassos Paschalis for his creative vision, thinking of Colin Firth's awakening on the ink-stained bed in the opening scene of A Single Man, a film by Tom Ford from last year, based on an Isherwood novel of three generations ago.

Annie Proulx is no mean writer, and she had a point to make in Brokeback Mountain which was necessary. Isherwood, however, had persuasively shown that her conclusion represented a choice, appropriate to its predicates but not inevitable - for all her observant candour about the virtual incarceration of the rural underclass in America, to say nothing of the intransigence of the closet. Ang Lee, a very fluent director, had brought that story to the consciousness both of the street and of its own constituency, as an almost unanswerably depressing projection of the residual lives of single men who survive their partners.

This page has readers who adopt that fate peremptorily and uncritically, and Annie Proulx certainly understands why. Some of our friends sneak in for our deliciousness and upbraid us for indecency. Good grief, Charley Brown. One can understand the terror of having to blog to drum up business, one can understand the male matron's need to boast of outgrowing us. But one can't understand the misconception that conjugal felicity has the power to suppress the erotic gaze, much less the right to rebuke it. If domestic partnership or worldly position were the remedies for human nature that these readers pretend they are, we'd never have met them. At least, not here.

Far from it, says A Single Man. Isherwood's hero, George, stops for a chat with a colleague outside a tennis court, and Tom Ford captures his natural study of competing torsos on the court. George shares a cigarette with a hustler in the smog, and Ford shows his concentration on his face. George arrives for work and some cute kid, in androgynous white, offers him a wave, and it's the one greeting of many he acknowledges all morning. He's still plunged in a relationship that's real to him, but he's alive.

Everyone who reads this page has seen this movie, many have read the novel. I cite the advice of one of them, which was accompanied by a portrait of a model in Armani underpants:

I love pretty young men and mature boys and the ones you show are truly beautiful. A couple of your recent posts have been more suitable for a general audience but it’s fundamentally esoteric. I would feel the same way about a comparable blog that spotlights sexy and pretty young women; this is not a form of homophobia on my part. I do not presume that my blog readers would have a taste for [yours].

Have you ever thought of creating a second blog, one that will bring you more mainstream attention? I think it would be pointless for you to try to change RMBL at this stage in the game.

Thank heaven for clear thinking! I haven't seen a blog, yet, which goes out of its way to chat up habeas corpus, the International Style, Le Corbusier, racism, sectarian bigotry, blue roan English dogs, and really nifty Sauternes on the backs of sexy and pretty young women, but it's high time that they got started. The question is not whose back is pretty, it's whether any life is coherent, any vision sustainable, without reference to the irrepressible. The question is not the taste of somebody else, it's the tragic assumption that to declare a taste represents the slightest disclosure, the slightest deformity, the slightest insult.
I give you the surgeon, about to correct your vision. He's quite famously domiciled with his boyfriend, but in obtaining your waiver of liability he stipulates that he'll deny you any of his love for life, any of his treasurings. Is that knife one for your eye?

Deny the red mug, the blue linen's empty. There is no second blog, for acceptance's sake. We are exhibiting the tenacity of wonder in this world in every honest pleasure and principle of value to the mind. It is absolutely never absent, it is absolutely never defunct, it is absolutely never untrustworthy. Upon the proportion, for example, depicted in the previous picture, every feature of longevity, every feature of stability, every feature of elegance and balance in Vitruvian architecture depends. The figure is the living avatar of Western civilisation, and it is sad if a connoisseur can't admit it. 

This page, too, took a long time to get here, making all of the excuses and more, that its conscientious objectors put forth; but it cannot buckle to them, it cannot be just the place where they can feel safe to admire a tummy. The objection to this page is not to its taste. It's to its pertinence. Henry James declined that lunch at All Souls, to stroll among the hobbledehoys. We'll walk with him, and gratefully.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I'm thinking of kicking back for a few days with Peter Robb

Anybody else out there like Peter Robb? You could write in, we might compare notes. I miss the guy and I'm loathe to ask what's become of him. But if we get another book, I know it will be terrific, and I'll re-read parts of it for years. Here's a really pretty good introduction to him, from the Australian press.

Meanwhile, all our cool friends need to pick up Colm Tóibín's new collection of stories, The Empty Family, while it's still in its 1st US edition. Particularly, those who favour good writing over our radical illustrations, need to know where to go for satisfaction. The page will certainly pick apart The Street, which found Whit and me being incredibly quiet, all the way through. Here's a face from a character in it - wrong ethnicity, right colouring and attitude. Guy's really neat, by the way. Figure'd I'd get the worst out of the way for you now. 

While we're doing faces, though, this was one Whit picked up on as I was researching physiognomies for this ongoing Iliad Project we run from time to time. You know, how Whit and his family have all been favoured with the very most drop-dead speckled masks, which has only made him even more discerning than I, when it comes to freckles - or, rather, chance genetic scatterings of pigment about the cheekbones. A subtle dog, that. I'm quite fond of him and you may not have him, but if you're running a blog or a dating service, say, and you need a qualified opinion on such matters, I don't mind asking him to take a look.

So, for a little while, we may post an entry here or there - we haven't run a phenomenal clavicle in some time - but in fact, the gigantic success of our Chatwin posting only proved conclusively that one's readers aren't mere picture-snatchers, but quite spiffy little wordies, so it shouldn't matter that Robb is immense and not blond, yes?

Colm Tóibín
The Empty Family
Scribner, 2011©

Peter Robb

Midnight in Sicily
  On art, food, history,
  travel, and La Cosa Nostra
Faber & Faber, 1998©

  The man who became Caravaggio
Henry Holt, 2000©

A Death in Brazil
  A book of omissions
Henry Holt, 2004©

  Songbird's Sparks Will Fly
Santa Barbara, upper right, 2002

Unmistakable presentiments of lilac interpose themselves just now

The subversions of Spring have yet to be catalogued with the slightest degree of orderliness. The dread season disgorges a flood of cliché, while for our oversight in mapping this most genetic of all solar domiciles, we accuse it of suddenness. On the matter of lilac, however, one was greatly heartened to find its tree attributed to the olive family, peerless pillar of Classicism that it is.

We shall go down to the gymnasium, then, inquiring of our scholars how best to pass this gauntlet.

All gone, the snow: grass throngs back to the fields,
the trees grow out new hair;
earth follows her changes, and subsiding streams
jostle within their banks.

The three graces and the greenwood nymphs, naked, dare to dance.
You won't live always, warn the year and the hour,
seizing the honeyed day.

Odes, iv, 7
Rosanna Warren, translation
J.D. McClatchy, editor
Horace: The Odes
  New translations by contemporary poets
Princeton University Press, 2002©

Une boîte for David John

keeping an eye 


     I am sober and industrious
     and would be plain and plainer
     for a little while
                       until my rococo
     self is more assured of its

Samuel Boux, anon

Frank O'Hara
To a poet
Donald Allen, editor
The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara
University of California Press, 1995©

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

On a displaced person, finding a way to write his life

David Toms' reminder to us all, that today is St David's day, would tend to put anyone in mind of a contemporary who placed Wales more vividly on the imaginative map than anyone else, going so far as to fuse himself with the vision he creates. People don't go to Wales, but English speakers are enchanted by its existence, and rightly don't resist contemplating it. For my generation its celebrant would not be Jan Morris, who is partly Welsh and partly lives there, whose The Matter of Wales: Epic views of a small country (1984) is certainly the best, first book to read and to keep for Wales. It happens not, however, to linger in the mind.

On the Black Hill (James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Whitbread Prize, 1982) does, as will its writer, for everyone who read this book when it came out. Naturally, there are critics who've suggested we are a passing fad - a verdict of less concern than any spirit of judging could imagine. One doesn't boast to say, we'll always have Bruce Chatwin; it's simply the case, that 90 percent of readers of this book's first edition were waiting for it before it was written. 

Their syndicate would have subscribed it, if necessary. And it was. They had read In Patagonia (EM Forster Award, Hawthornden Prize, 1977); they had read The Viceroy of Ouidah (1980; filmed by Werner Herzog); they had seen the riveting Mapplethorpe portrait, and by 1982 they would go with Chatwin to that 'end of the earth' which they'd learned would never be where they thought it was. Not even his hand-picked patron-mentor, Patrick Leigh-Fermor, would draw that character of following, on Chatwin's scale and intensity.

Bruce Chatwin (1940-1989) was the beau idéal of that culture and cast of mind whose slaughter by HIV had only begun when he bestowed Wales as a story they could love. He did such things, to what he saw. One of the most gorgeous things that can be read by him is a visit to Mme Vionnet, a destination which the many would have no reason to consider but for his gifts. Chatwin almost lost his eyesight for one of those talents, a brilliant appraiser's gaze that made him a director at Sotheby's, an extremely plausible spot to find a fair alumnus wraith of Marlborough, but not a common rank for a twink. 

The kid, for such he always seemed, was electric; but one resists saying his electricity was childlike, because there was something much, much more unsettling about him. He dreamed. A flickering physical resemblance to John Clare only underscored the natural poignant connection in their writing.

Since his death, many have leapt forward to name him as a fraud, and (by all means, the field is open) as a snob, a panderer, a user, a professional house guest. Such aperçus - all containing more than a silo of truth - are alike less in their self-indictments than in begging the question: Yes, isn't he a scandal, and what year is your Whitbread Prize? Of course he 'knew everybody' - the man was almost unendurably attractive to know. This page will not pile on that pyre of pals with Chatwin stories; it isn't why we're here, as he put it, and Rimbaud before him. 

Everyone understands, in everything written by Bruce Chatwin, he's the traveller, looking in. His style of travel writing, that great genre of empire's island language, is rather that of the exile accommodating himself to brief encounters and their demands for alacrity of response, performance, extraction, satisfaction, precise commemoration. His immoderate genius as a writer was the gift for putting the mosaic together again, as no one had seen it before. This creativity is the mendacity some idlers in criticism don't like; it's what many of us live for, and not only in our reading hours. We see it as bravery, we see it as honesty, we see it as a gift; but it is none of those things if you don't care for writing, and would just as soon forget about a man.

The man is at stake in the books. 

Going down to Comodoro Rivadavia I passed through a desert of black stones and came to Sarmiento. It was another dusty grid of metal buildings, lying on a strip of arable land between the fizzling turquoise Lake Musters and the slime-green Lake Colhué-Huapi. I walked out of town to the petrified forest. Wind pumps whirled insanely. A steel-blue heron lay paraylysed under an electric cable. A dribble of blood ran along its beak. The trunks of extinct monkey-puzzles were broken clean as if in a sawmill. (i)

All through that month the hyenas came into the streets at night and the city was silent by day. The King had played with his prisoner for a season and now had grown tired of his plaything. And the prisoner looked on death as a face unfolding from a mirror: he let himself hang limp when they dragged him out and threw him on the ground before the throne. The King stood over him, his shadow falling in a dark diagonal stripe: 'Why has Portugal sent three hundred and thirty-five ships to attack Ouidah?" "It hasn't." "Why did you kill my greyhound?" He opened his mouth to speak, but the guards stoppered it with a wooden gag. "So you think you're a white man?" the King sneered, and ordered him off to prison. (ii)

We climbed the length of Neruda Street and walked around the Hradschin: the scene of my futile researches during the previous week. We then sat in an orchard below the Strahov Monastery. A man in his underpants sunned himself on the grass. The fluff of balsam poplars floated by, and settled on our clothes like snowflakes. "You will see," said Utz, waving his malacca over the multiplicity of porticoes and cupolas below us. "This city wears a tragic mask." .. I commented facetiously that a taste for giants was usually a symptom of decline: an age that took the Farnese Hercules for an ideal was bound to end in trouble. (iii)

On the way home, Lewis took a short cut through Lurkenhope Park. He skirted the lake and then entered the gorge that leads to the mill. The sky was hazy and the beeches were bursting into leaf. Above the path was the grotto, reeking of bats, where - so the story went - a forbear of the Bickertons paid a hermit to gaze at a skull. Below, the river splashed against the boulders in mid-stream, and big trout lazily flicked their fins in deep green pools. Pigeons cooed, and he could hear the toc-toc of a woodpecker. In places, the winter floods had washed away the path: he had to watch his footing. Twigs and dead branches had caught in the bushes along the bank. He climbed a bluff. On the downward slope some lilies of the valley pushed up through a carpet of moss. He sat down and peered past the branches at the river. Upstream was a thicket of ash-saplings, leafless as yet, and beneath them a carpet of bluebells, wild garlic, and wood-spurge with sharp green flowers. Suddenly, above the sound of the rushing water he heard a woman's voice, singing. It was a young voice, and the song was slow and sad. A girl in grey was walking downstream through the bluebells. He froze until she started to climb the bluff. Her head had reached the level of his feet when he called out, "Rosie!" (iv)

How many canvases, had Chatwin scrutinised for Sotheby's, before her head had reached the level of his feet so infallibly, that the entire world could fall into place? His writing goes beyond the conventionally lapidary (which is all he claimed for it, himself) to the depth of memory's fusion with instinct. He understands when the picture takes place, and of course he makes it up. Famously, he would stay nowhere very long, he would make love with no one very well, he would befriend no one very truly. Yet he would see for them, as some people can sing, and they would love him for it.

On the Black Hill was ultimately filmed in Wales, and quite beautifully and successfully, given the odds against. I think it is known well enough, to be the chronicle of the lives of twin boys in a rustic farmstead, and the trials and dear pleasures that might be those of any simple family in the first two-thirds of the 20th Century, when all of its horrors but one could be known. The rapport of the brothers is too original and universal, eccentric and authentic, indisputable and implausible to be characterised, second-hand. In that bond is the place we readers will always call, Wales. It takes great daring to see, and release to inhabit. It's a terminus.

Of that final horror of the Century, Chatwin is sometimes regarded as an apostate, for pretending in his final collection, to a diagnosis of radically alluring rarity and glamour, as if served from a salver of discernment to his plate at Le Gavroche. Nobody I knew was so brain-dead as not to welcome his exertion of imagination as the most obvious corollary of one's own, in the face of the extreme arbitrariness of the human immune deficiency retrovirus. An improvisation of meaning was surely permitted to that Dixie eschatology with a Cross, which prayed for the death of one's friends. It seemed reasonable to cut Chatwin some slack.

He is at stake in the books and now, is extravagantly laid open in the Letters. It's said, by the prettiest critics, that they show how he lies; let us close with a fragment of one that shows what they mean, not what they say. It was written to his cousin in January, 1978, who had almost brought suit against him through his own father, for purloining family papers for his Patagonian book; she is named in the 2nd US edition, as a partial holder of copyright. (Later, in On the Black Hill, she would inspire a jealous cousin's hauling away of our heroes' mementos). Here is Bruce Chatwin, pleading to his family, a displaced person finding a way to write his life:

The picture I wanted to convey was of two people, of different ages and backgrounds, both stranded at the end of the world; both wronged by a society (which, for all I can learn of it, was considerably off-beam), both of whom found consolation in each other's company and fell in love. Otherwise, to me at least, their behaviour is inexplicable.

Orchids, Robert Mapplethorpe


In Patagonia
Simon & Schuster, 1977©

The Viceroy of Ouidah
Simon & Schuster, 1980©

Viking Penguin, 1989©

On the Black Hill
Viking, 1982©

Bruce Chatwin
Under the Sun
  The Letters of Bruce Chatwin
Nicholas Shakespeare and
  Elizabeth Chanler Chatwin, editors
Viking Penguin, 2011©

Monday, February 28, 2011

"Were you there .. ?"

Corporal Buckles drove an ambulance and kept a warehouse of death-dealing matériel on behalf the dynasty whose side this Nation took in the Great War. He died today. We can not conceive of the disson-ance to which this horrific dichotomy condemned this man's mind. We were very certainly there. He was a man before we knew him, who had the misfortune to survive as a public figure.

What would we like, one wonders, to recall our fond rapport? A leafy tree? A lark in Spring? A prettily surpliced chorister to limn the delectable sacrifice, abiding with us these 9 decades?

Whether or not as debris, refuse, garbage, filth, or writhing, moaning stench hauled back from the front in his wagon, we were there, today, as suppliers of his warehouse, of shiny implements of righteous, gleaming carnage, onward christian soldiers of immaculate benevolence. Garbage in, garbage out. Open churches, if it helps, and may our Lord let it. But give us our Homer, give us our civil-isation. Give us what we indolently praise as facts on the ground. Give us what we are. It doesn't run red. It runs black. It shouldn't run at all, but it does.

Willie Nelson
He was a friend of mine
Brokeback Mountain
Original Motion Picture Sound Track
Verve Music Group, 2005©

A picture I want in this blog


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Blue shade Sunday

The other day, an especially hip page cited a recent roll-out of frocks from a noted House, in which their differentiation seemed to depend upon the arbitrary selection of colour, as in an automotive show-room. The presentation raised the question of why the implications of colour - universally perceived if not universally agreed - were not more exploited in a searching act of design.

Prudence is fine for a hundred dollar work shirt, but it struck one as a little mean in a pricey statement, recalling, paradoxically, Henry Ford's "available in every colour as long as it's black" approach to the Model A. Can a profile, expressive in orangoutang-tongue coral, be inter-changed with one in drowned-for-two-days blue, one wondered. More to the point, in these matters, Would we like to think so. The first sense that enters the mind in the use of coverings, is touch, in the broadest sense. We are aware of transforming our texture, which bears on how we are seen. The first obligation of the devil, then, is to comprehend desire.

I see my vices
lying like abandoned works of art
which I created so eagerly
to be worldly and modern
and with it
what I can't remember
I see them with your eyes.

Frank O'Hara
Poem V (F) W
 Texas Quarterly, Spring, 1962
Donald Allen, editor
The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara
University of California Press, 1995