28 March 2013

Alfred Lord Tennyson in Auckland, New Zealand

What better way to spend a few minutes at an airport than make a blog post? Interesting to see this quotation from Tennyson at Auckland Airport by the check-in, on this, our final day in New Zealand, where the weather has been superb. I believe it's far less than superb in the UK. Ah well, briefly on for overnight in Singapore first though.
The quotation:
'For I dipt in to the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce,
Argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight,
dropping down with
costly bales'
'From "Locksley Hall
Alfred Lord Tennyson

24 March 2013

First Impressions of New Zealand: Christchurch

We spent the first two days in New Zealand walking because no sensible person drives after a long-haul flight (and this was a very long one). As we were staying in a hotel near the airport in Christchurch, I walked for about thirty minutes to Waimairi Cemetery on Grahams Road: there is a map online indicating the position of the grave of the poet Jessie Mackay (1864–1938), who incidentally was a writer Maurice Duggan struggled with at school because of his perception of her old-style colonial attitude. But although we searched for some time, and the graves were well spaced out and legible, we found nothing. But the walk was certainly not without interest:

Mail boxes are often located at the front of the sidewalk or pavement, as in many parts of the USA, and although I believe there's a general perception that Australia follows the States as a model, and New Zealand the UK, having spent two weeks here now I think the States have (probably obviously) the upper hand, if only in the general street layout: the US-style street grids prevail, land is plentiful, and (as in the US) it feels far safer to drive in towns than to walk in them.
Houses can be strikingly different too, such as this igloo-type one on Memorial Avenue.
The following day (our first full one in New Zealand) we took the bus into central Christchurch, and this photo, although manipulated in no way, is certainly an exaggerated view of the city after the earthquake. A week afterwards we stayed two nights in Wellington on North Island, where parking charges are at a premium. Here, on the other hand, because of the devastation wrought by two earthquakes, parking places go for peanuts.
However, the initial impression of destruction to the Central Business District of Christchurch (and areas inevitably remain fenced off) soon gives way to admiration for the tremendous resourcefulness of the people, of their ability to transcend the temptation of despair and rebuild on the ruins, as this new shopping area – largely built from containers – shows: out of the ugliness of ruin comes beauty – even in businesses, even (am I really saying this?) in bank outlets:
Perhaps the creation of a museum – Quake City – is one of the best illustrations of how to circumvent catastrophe, to create the necessary psychological attitude that isn't a denial, but a positive move into a future that incorporates the horrors of the past while simultaneously looking to the future with hope. I found Christchurch quite a humbling experience.
All places (like people, like memory itself) are palimpsests, but this city is an amazing example of one.
(As for the considerable literature of the Christchurch area, that shall be for a future post. Meanwhile we're in Hamilton, bound for Auckland (particularly the north shore) in the coming week, and the all too soon return to cold England next weekend.)

14 March 2013

The Butterfly Garden, Singapore

These shots are from the Butterfly Garden, Terminal Three, Changi airport, Singapore, and were taken on two separate occasions: when we were on our way to and from New Zealand. I've given the names of all the species of butterflies (which I believe are correct).

Large Tree Nymph, aka Paper Kite, aka Rice Paper.

Blue Clipper.

Common Sailor.
Great Eggfly (male), aka Common Eggfly, and called Blue Moon in New Zealand.
Great Eggfly (female).
Malay Lacewing.
Malay Lacewing (underside).
Grey Pansy.
Chocolate Pansy.
Cruiser (female).
Cruiser (male).

9 March 2013

Austin Dobson in Hanwell, Middlesex

The grave of the poet (Henry) Austin Dobson (1840-1921) in Westminster Cemetery (now usually known as Hanwell Cemetery, Uxbridge Road, Middlesex.

Below is a link to his collected poems:
Collected Poems (1895), by Austin Dobson

George Orwell in Hayes, Middlesex

Lived and Worked Here As
Senior Master Of The Former
April 1932–July 1933
Hayes Literary Society'

The school at 116-18 Church Road, Hayes, had about twenty boys and there was only one other teacher, who was younger than Blair. It was during his time teaching here that his first book, Down and Out in Paris in London, was published (in January 1933), when he was working on Burmese Days. He thought Hayes a 'God-forsaken' place, and his next (and last) teaching place was Frays College in Uxbridge, Middlesex, which he left in January 1934 on the grounds of bad health.

The George Orwell pub in Coldharbour Lane, Hayes, previously called the Famous George Orwell, is now closed, as indicated by the boarded up lower windows partly visible here. Previously it had belonged to the Wetherspoon group and named the Moon Under Water after a short essay Orwell wrote about his ideal, and obviously non-existent, pub.

7 March 2013

Marguerite Young's Miss MacIntosh, My Darling (1965) – to be continued

This monster Christmas cake of a book has stood ostentatiously, enticingly, on a shelf of mine for several months, since I found it going for £1 in an Oxfam bargain bin: a single leaf was detached, but I've now restored its integrity with sellotape.
I first learned of Miss MacIntosh, My Darling from Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist, in which the protagonist Macon Leary uses it as a subterfuge, a screen to hide behind to avoid unwanted flight encounters. Tyler herself uses it to dip into, which I can understand many people doing: at 1198 densely-worded pages it can be a daunting prospect to tackle this literary leviathan head-on, especially as it's a non-linear narrative. Especially as 948 of those pages take place on an almost empty bus. Especially as most of the descriptions come from the memory of the narrator, Vera Cartwheel. Especially as some, perhaps many, of those descriptions are unreliable.
Last night – in a spare moment – I picked up this gorgeous gift to literature, as I have several times before, and wallowed in its swirling, soaring poetic prose. I've not yet really explored much beyond page 37 – the end of the second chapter (and there are 80 more chapters to go) – but already I'm aware of many things: for instance, it's a bus journey initially through Indiana, a quest for the beloved former nursemaid Miss MacIntosh, who disappeared from Vera's childhood home near Boston, Massachusetts, and who may be dead; the driver whistles and swigs conspicuously from a whiskey bottle; the only other passengers are a young couple, the girl pregnant and dressed extravagantly; Vera is the bi-product of a brief, and bad, marriage: her vastly wealthy mother to a ne'er-do-well playboy; her maternal grandfather collected factories; her mother may have permanently taken to bed (perhaps kept alive by secret midnight exercises around the mansion) due to her relationship with her father, or perhaps due to her relationship with her husband, but she now obliterates the world – or maybe makes it real – with opium and its dreams.
This is a kind of cenophobic literature (and no, I've not made a typo). The reader thinks of Gothic novels, of Woolf, of Joyce, of the interstitial (what gets lost through the gaping cracks of life), of roads trips through the flipside of the American Dream, of The Great Gatsby, of Gloria Swanson playing Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard, of Chinese boxes of paradoxes.

5 March 2013

Camille Laurens: Philippe (1995)

Camille Laurens's Philippe is an example of autofiction, occasioned by the loss of her child Philippe. It is divided into four sections: 'Souffrir' ('Suffering'), 'Comprendre' ('Understanding'), 'Vivre' ('Living'), and 'Écrire' ('Writing').

'Souffrir' – The Philippe in the book was born in 'D[ijon]' where Laurens was born, not in Morocco (where he was conceived and where Laurens lived for 12 years), on 7 Febrary 1994 at 13:10, and died 7 February 1994 at 15:20: in two hours ten minutes the child became defunct, the mother defunct, the family defunct. DCD (décédé, or deceased). The ex-mother sees his reflection every time she looks in the mirror.

Pain, emptiness.

Comprendre – Recap. The second section begins with the narrator flying from Marrakesh to Paris, and from there to her mother's: she is wary of the Moroccan health system. Her waters break three weeks before expected, there are fetal heart rate abnormalities, Philippe is delivered with some difficulty, and dies.

Vivre – Early March, they return to Morocco. Life goes on, after a fashion. For some, this is an extreme kind of stillbirth, burial an excessively romantic luxury. Others establish a hierarchy of misfortune, and a real child, one who's lived some years and died, well then the memories crush you...

But this woman has memories too, of those prenatal ultrasound tests, he'd been on television! So many memories of future life. Then with others it can be like 'It's like failing the bac', or 'Not everyone succeeds in giving life', and others too just evade the death you're part of. Some behave as if nothing has happened, as if Philippe never happened. Paradoxically, of course, making him never happen makes him die again. Moroccans make it simpler, like talking of an afterlife, or just being banal, not knowing what to say but saying it by that very fact: those things can help.

Écrire – Doctors and writers are in a similar profession, reading signs, only one reads bodies the other the world, but it's still deciphering and interpreting. The writer's advantage is time.

Then the narrator thinks: but why should mathematics take priority from the start in medical studies, when medicine is a human science? Why not give importance to a text by Proust, a psychological test? Medicine is first and foremost a science of the Other. When will Emmanuel Lévinas be taught in first year med school?

Writing is strength, the narrator writes to see. She cries out because he didn't cry out, she writes so that the cry he didn't cry on being born will be heard. And why didn't he cry once in the light, the being who had lived so strongly in her darkness? Her final sentence implores the readers to shed tears, that they may draw Philippe from the void.