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Sunday, May 01, 2016
Saturday, April 30, 2016
Alex La Guma: Time of the Butcherbird(1979)
|Original jacket, pulpy fun that blithely (or perhaps carefully) by-passes the novel's racial context|
This is the second La Guma novel that I've read. I've gone straight from his first (A Walk in the Night, 1962) to his last, Time of the Butcherbird (1979).
It was a controversial novel, and the implication of its relative inferiority to its predecessors has tended to linger on. (Maybe the original jacket didn't help much.)
South Africa was in crisis, and the novel partakes in that crisis. Violence spills over. (La Guma never pretends that violence is accurately-directed. Murile hits his bull's-eye with Hannes Meulen, but he also takes out Edgar Stopes, a man he's never met.) The novel laments individuality but sees it as dispensible, even unwanted, in present circumstances. For the first time La Guma devoted much of his novel's energy to white characters, but the prose is tense with its struggle to see those white characters as other than empty shells. There are two very different brands of racism in the bigoted Afrikaner and complicit English groups, but both are equally destructive. That of course is a humanist way of looking at it. Time of the Butcherbird could be seen as a novel where the novel's intrinsic humanism is in distress and is tested. Also tested is the noir style that La Guma began from: that too depends on a security of humanist response, on which its hard-bitten manner plays a piquant variation.
Noir, nevertheless, remains an important bedrock of the book. Whether it's Meulen talking to Steen or Mma-Tau talking to Murile, the prose makes no explicit judgments, it merely narrates. The compression and selection still accounts for a large part of the book's power and poetry.
I think it's a fantastic book. It certainly is less perfect than A Walk in the Night but then it's twice as long and much more ambitious.
What might be, and has been, considered thinness in the characterization is really down to a deliberate honing of repeated motifs. These are sparse people in a sparse country. Shilling Murile is nearly always "the one who was called Shilling Murile", and his only prop is his pair of boots. Madonele is always thinking about the tobacco. (Both the tobacco and the boots are connected to Murile's ten years in jail.) The unfortunate Timi is excited and innocently drunk: what else do we need to know about him? And characters of whom we see much, such as Edgar Stopes, turn out to be obsessively narrow in their outlook, always thinking and feeling the same things. In the drought (endless, so far as the book is concerned), nature too is composed of the faintest variations on repetition: every day the sun burns and the dust swirls. It's the passing of time, but it's also, as the title says, a time. A static condition. "Our course is set," says Hannes Meulen.
The primary images are of faces, land and sun. La Guma's writing is unashamedly inventive on these subjects, like a pulp author.
'There,' her father said. 'You see you are going to have a wife who will out do you in public activities, so be careful, son.'
Meulen chuckled, 'She can help me with her speeches.'
'What -- about wild flowers?' Rina asked and they laughed.
The rest of the meal was frikadells, yellow rice cooked with raisins, boiled vegetables, beet salad and apricot chutney. They passed dishes among them and Steen called on the servant to bring the peach brandy from the lounge. (p. 63)
[Image source: http://www.ispotnature.org/node/764019]
In southern Africa the "butcherbird" is the Southern Fiscal (Lanius collaris), a kind of shrike. (Unrelated to the Australian butcherbirds, which are in the magpie family.)
The bird was named from its habit of impaling insects and other food on thorns. The butcherbird is considered beneficial, especially by farmers whose animals were tormented by ticks. He is "a hunter and a smeller-out of sorcerers", as Shilling Murile says.
So the novel meditates on a time of violent cleansing.
Extensive essay by Kathleen M. Balutansky (Google Books has nearly all of it) in The Novels of Alex La Guma: The Representation of a Political Conflict (Three Continents Press, 1990). Structured around the symbolisms of the title and the opening and closing paragraphs.
Mbulelo Vizikhungo Mzamane, "Sharpeville and its Aftermath: The Novels of Richard Rive, Peter Abrahams, Alex La Guma and Lauretta Ngcobo" http://ariel.ucalgary.ca/ariel/index.php/ariel/article/viewFile/1886/1843. Argues that Butcherbird suffers from the author's long exile and resorting to a non-South African readership; it is less concretely imagined than his earlier urban works. Says there are minor mistakes "such as putting Sesotho words in the mouths of Xhosa-speaking Africans from the Cape where his novel is set".
Annie Gagiano, '"The Tree Goes on":Reconsidering Alex La Guma's Time of the Butcherbird' in English in Africa Vol 24 No 1 (May 1997). Available on Jstor: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40238836
Troubled by the novel's apparent celebration of Murile's revenge killing.
Louis Tremaine, 'Ironic Convergence in Alex La Guma's Time of the Butcherbird'. http://jcl.sagepub.com/content/29/2/31.extract . In the one-page extract, Tremaine refers to La Guma's observation, a few years earlier, that the colour bar made it impossible for any South African writer to portray both white and black characters with equal inwardness, and points out that Butcherbird is his first book to attempt to portray white characters at length.
Anders Breidlid, "Resistance and Reaction in Alex La Guma's And A Threefold Chord". http://www.soas.ac.uk/soaslit/issue1/BREIDLID.PDF Thinks in depth about Benita Parry's criticism that La Guma's realist fiction isn't an adequate form for a genuine resistance literature or oppositional discourse.
Simon Lewis's review of Nahem Yousaf's Alex La Guma: Politics and Resistance (2001) . Asks the question, how do we read La Guma's Fanonism now, given that the apartheid regime ended without a civil war in 1994? (La Guma died in 1985.) https://muse.jhu.edu/article/44713
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's In the Name of the Mother: Reflections on Writers & Empire has a chapter on La Guma's In the Fog of the Season's End, (Selected pages on Google Books.) He points out that some of the changes disernible in Butcherbird, compared to its predecessor, are down to the intervening Soweto massacres following the children's uprising in 1976. Time of the Butcherbird was written when the long-foreseen civil war seemed to be already under way.
My earlier piece on Alex La Guma's first novel, A Walk in the Night. http://michaelpeverett.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/apartheid-eyes.html
Labels: Alex La Guma
Thursday, April 28, 2016
Honoré de Balzac: Le Cousin Pons (1847)
Superbly read by the great Bruce Pirie, in Ellen Marriage's fine translation, for Librivox . There are not many securer pleasures in life than hearing Pirie read Balzac, unless it's hearing him read George Eliot or Tolstoy.
This note is for those who have heard or read Le Cousin Pons recently. It would be a shame to spoil that experience by knowing anything about the plot or characters in advance.
French text: http://visualiseur.bnf.fr/CadresFenetre?O=NUMM-101422&M=tdm
Online text (Ellen Marriage translation): http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1856
|Reproduction of Honoré Daumier: The Free Performance|
[Image source: http://www.oceansbridge.com/oil-paintings/section/1367/2/daumierhonore]
After an introduction in Balzac's most discursive manner, Cousin Pons explodes into drama, mostly in direct speech, the pace ever-accelerating until the end. Its titular hero is on his deathbed, and the book revolves around the efforts of a catalogue of rogues both high and low to plunder Pons' collection and thwart its settlement on his too-unworldly friend Schmucke. As a narrative of death and its aftermath, it's painful and accurate. Balzac isn't a comic novelist in the way that Dickens is, but there the energy of comedy; it's comedy in the sense that Beckett or Dostoyevsky are comic.
Despite the dying Pons' heroic last-ditch attempt to outwit them, the rogues triumph in the end. They comprise some of the most unsavoury characters in the whole human comedy; above all the bent lawyer Fraisier, and those equally horrific women from opposite ends of the social scale, Mme. Cibot and the Presidente de Marville.
Often the book indulges emotively in the simple contrast of good with evil. But this is persiflage; behind it lies a much more searching analysis. Pons is not portrayed as a deeply lovable man, and Schmucke is too innocent; he is both good and not good for very much. Pons was once a composer, but he's come down in the world. His brilliant collecting, his eye for a bargain, creates an imbalance in the social fabric; you cannot bring this much wealth into a poor neighbourhood without having it taken off you. When Mme. Cibot belatedly understands that her old gentleman's bric-a-brac is worth a great deal of money, her behaviour, not her character, changes in the blink of an eye.
All the rogues do well for themselves, but a collection such as this ends up in the hands of the upper classes; at which point, you may say, a stable balance has been attained once more. Fraisier is clear-sighted in seeing that he can only have what it fits him to have. It's the triumph of a society on the make. The fearsome greed of individuals is only a symptom of larger economic forces at work. There's a certain irony in that the surrender of Schmucke's legacy is ultimately brought about not by the wholly corrupted Fraisier but by Gaudissart, the rather likeable impresario. The simple idea of a crime, of innocence and guilt, is replaced by the more neutral idea that it's just a matter of finding the right price for the person; one succeeds better if one possesses a certain amount of genuine human warmth. Schmucke's price is, of course, shockingly low.
|Sebastian del Piombo, portrait of Cardinal Antonio Pallavici|
Balzac's skill as a narrator is breathtaking; we're never sure where the story is going, and for much of the first 100 pages have little idea of what it's going to be about. (Pons' sudden interest in promoting a marriage for the unamiable Cecile, and Brunner's sudden withdrawal, are perhaps the least well-founded elements.)
|Snuff-box by Jean Frémin|
[Image source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/533817362052383372/. "Remonencq's eyes lighted up till they glowed like carbuncles, at the sight of the gold snuff-boxes".]
Labels: Honoré de Balzac
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
weeping white cherry
Here's a tree I've started to tune into this year. It's a weeping cherry with small single white flowers.
I'm not sure if it's:
A. Prunus 'Snow Fountain' aka 'Snofozam', which I've read is a weeping Higan cherry (P. subhirtella), but not to be confused with weeping pink varieties like 'Pendula rosea', 'Pensula rubra'.
B. Prunus 'Snow Showers' aka 'Hillings Weeping', which I've read is a weeping Fuji cherry (P. incisa).
C. something else.
I've seen it in two forms: parasol shaped (as here) (grown on a broomstick graft), or narrowly weeping all the way to the ground. It comes into flower about the same time as 'Tae Haku'.
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
sound poetry international + and swedish
|Öyvind Fahlström in 1961|
|Lars Gunnar Bodin and Sten Hanson in the 1960s|
|Semikolon LP sleeve|
[Image source: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/LARS-GUNNAR-BODIN-BENGT-EMIL-JOHNSON-Semikolon-Vinyl-LP-insert-/401013922400]
Friday, April 22, 2016
F O T O, poems 61 - 70
|Northern Crowberry (Empetrum hermaphroditum), photo by Anna-Lena Anderberg|
[Image source: http://linnaeus.nrm.se/flora/di/erica/empet/empeher.html]
Thursday, April 21, 2016
Lars Gustafsson: "The hare"
|Lars Gustafsson in 1978|
[Image source: DN.se (Dagens Nyheter): http://www.dn.se/kultur-noje/tidslinje-lars-gustafssons-liv/]
Timeline (in Swedish):
Lars Gustafsson's blog:
Gustafsson chief editor of Bonniers (major Swedish publishing house) for some years in the 1960s. He was a regular columnist for newspapers; his political/cultural views favoured liberalism, rationalism and science. He accused Sweden in the 1980s of drifting towards iron-grey East German collectivism. In his later years he spoke out for reason and science as not just another creed that can be compared to religious faiths and dogmas. He spoke out against fundamentalism and its apologists. Tolerance of intolerance, he said, leads to intolerance.
There's a few mysteries in the Bloodaxe Selected Poems.
In the brilliant "Sörby Elegy", I've found out that a "fyke" is a kind of fishing net, but there's a misprint in the same line. There's a few in the book; probably not important ones, but one sighs for a proof-reader.
In "An early summer day at Björn Nilsson's grave" the word "mol" appears a few times; some sort of monster; I can't find a suitable definition online. Perhaps you have to read the Christopher Middleton poem "The Mol" that Gustafsson mentions.
I ought to speak about John Irons' translation. The only really important thing is that reading the Selected Poems I felt persuaded that I was meeting Gustafsson, I mostly forgot that this was a translation.
You can see a few of the poems in Swedish in the Google Books rendering of Elden och döttrarna: Valda och nya dikter (Bonniers, 2012).
It turns out that "Mörten bears his name with silence" ("Mörten bär sitt namn med tystnad") has an additional section at the start of the poem, not hinted at in the English translation. Why was it important not to write the idiomatic "in silence"?
Here's a poem I can access in full in both languages.
Haren / The hare
En eftermiddag fanns han plötslig.
Mellan syrenen och vinbärsbusken.
Precis som hos Dürer:
öronen längre än huvudet
och undersidan vit. Stora milda ögon.
One afternoon he was suddenly there.
Completely still between the lilac and the currant bush.
Precisely as in Dürer:
the ears longer than the head
and the underside white. Large gentle eyes.
Värför satt han så stilla
frusen till bild i eftermiddagsljuset?
Hade han ett större förtroende
till oss än till andre människor?
Vad hade han för skäl till det?
Why did he sit there so still
frozen to an image in the afternoon light?
Did he have a greater trust
in us than other humans?
What reason did he have for it?
Mycket rörd, nästan smickrad
stängde jag dörren. Gick tillbaka.
Till mitt eget. Nästa dag
fann jag honom liggande
i en egendomlig ställning,
Much moved, almost flattered
I shut the door. Went back.
To my own doings. The next day
I found him lying
in a strange posture,
något mellan sovande och embryo
Några droppar ur vattenkannan
fick honom att ta några tveksamma steg
som om han inte längre hade tilltro
something between sleeping and embryo
outside the workshop door.
A few drops from the watering can
got him to take a few hesitant steps
as if he no longer had any credence
till världen och dess bilder.
Det var nästa dag som jag insåg
att han måste vara blind.
in the world and its images.
It was the following day I realized
he must be blind.
Det var när jag fann honom
drunknad och mjuk som en trasa
intill båtbryggan. Vad jag hade
sett som stilla lugn och tilltro
var blindhet och ingenting annat.
It was when I found him
drowned and limp as a rag
by the landing-stage. What I had
seen as quiet calmness and credence
was blindness and nothing else.
>>Naturen är god<< står det
på något slags paket i kylskåpet.
Naturen är god.
Och hur vet ni det
'Nature is good' it says
on certain packets. Brand name Spreadwell.
Nature is good.
And how do you know that,
I'm not going to pick the translation apart. Some obvious points: two lines become one in the first stanza; "trust" and "credence" are used for the same word "tilltro"; "the next" and "the following" for the same word "nästa" ; most overtly "Brand name Spreadwell" (Irons' own idea, or a Gustafsson variant?) appears in place of "i kylskåpet" ("in the fridge"). ("Paket" is not as definitive as "packet"; it can mean "packaging" in general; so can well be used of a tub of marge.)
"Precis"(line 4) is a more everyday word than "Precisely" - the tone is casual - "Just like in Dürer..."
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
W. B. Yeats: "Blood and the Moon"
|Yeats in 1933, photo by Pirie MacDonald|
[Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1657420]
Blood and the Moon
Nevertheless this reading can't be regarded as orthodoxy.
a bloody, arrogant power
For me what's apparent in Yeats' poem is the Byzantium-style detachment of old age. That's certainly something to reckon with in our world. Life does become cheaper as one's own grave approaches... all the atrocities have been witnessed, yet somehow the world muddled on... Only the eternal images of butterflies and the moon are lovely ... what does it matter about passing screams and blood, now we stand above the centuries....
You might say it's a slackening of ardour for human justice, in the growing dawn of the mystery of one's own extinction, the very sources of life and death... (I'm turning Yeats' wonderful language into cliches, but anyhow)... I wouldn't call this natural process fascistic, though I agree that the gradual indifference to small individuals contains its dangers and its terrors as well as its beauty. (It's why old people should never be in positions of power.)
Labels: W.B. Yeats
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
A characteristic spring sight in towns and cities, a group of normal-looking primroses with a sprinkle of magenta-coloured plants.
Does the urban primrose have its own taxonomic status, distinct from the country primrose, Primula vulgaris?
Or should the population be regarded as a hybrid swarm, like what happens when Red Campion meets White, or Herb Bennet meets Water Avens?
Presumably the magenta is due to introgression from garden Polyanthus species.
But what intrigues me is the uniformity of these populations. E.g. there always seems to be the same proportion of magenta plants. For example, you never see a group which is 95% magenta and 5% yellow.
What controls this proportion and makes this a stable population type?
Friday, April 15, 2016
Crux, see also crocks (TBC p. 90).
Traduced upon the southern cross
Whose shining pistels meet apart (ATBMOV p 83)
Birds and feathers. passim. ATBMOV pp. 74-75.
Important are both the umbrella and the parasol.
Also the shovel. (ATBMOV, pp. 80-81)
The adze. (e.g. ATBMOV, p. 82). Ancient tool. There survive prehistoric Maori adzes that were used for woodcarving. "The pounding of the adze" (TBC, p. 89) - unexpected use.
Labels: Lisa Samuels
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Prunus x yedoensis (Yoshino Cherry)
Japan's favourite cherry tree (as it's now become, though this seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon, mostly post-WWII) has a complex origin that is still being studied, but everyone agrees that it's a hybrid that arose in the 18th century. In many ways it behaves like a species cherry. It's easily grown from cuttings and it produces plenty of small, sour fruit.
Here's the most informative article I've found:
Botany Boy gives the parentage as a cross between P. speciosa (syn. P. lannesiana) and P. spachiana f. ascendens (syn. P. pendula f. ascendens) (Innan et al, 1995). But it's possible things have moved on since then.
Yoshino Cherry trees are propagated vegetatively and so are believed to be clonally identical to the original 18th-century cross.
But how then to account for the cultivars, of which there are several? The supposition is that these must be crosses with other taxa. Which means, I suppose, that the fruit sometimes produces seedlings.
I usually think of Yoshino Cherry as being absolutely smothered in blossom, but this is mainly when the tree is young and compact. As you can see from the photos here (an older tree in Swindon's now-moribund Moredon Tree Collection), it eventually develops quite an open canopy. It's still loud with bees and still extremely attractive; anyhow for a couple of weeks in April.
The bark on mature trees has distinctively thick corky lenticels. This tree doesn't look as if it's been grafted. (Most internet sources say that Yoshino cherries are grafted, but some say the opposite.)
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Two arguments for literary relativism
|estate fence through rainy windscreen|
1. Greatness is not absolute. One person builds a cathedral, and another makes a table-fork. A cathedral is a far greater thing than a fork can ever be, but it isn't so good for eating with. In short, a fork is a better fork than a cathedral is. Even a plastic one.
(This argument is adapted, or rather misremembered, from something C.S. Lewis wrote.)
2. I am fond of wild flowers. A few flowers are special favourites of mine, but for reasons that I recognize as purely personal. Generally I have no need to choose among them. My interest in, and enjoyment of wild flowers goes along quite nicely without any thought of comparative judgment. Why then should a reader feel compelled to describe one book as better or worse than another?
The two arguments are complementary. The analogy in the second argument (i.e. wild flowers) is carefully chosen. Wild flowers don't have a use, or rather, their use is principally a matter for themselves. They may appeal to you, but whether they do or not, we aren't interested parties. As soon as we become engaged, for instance as gardeners or farmers, plants begin to take on comparative values. (Some become judged as weeds.) The argument "I am fond of people..." is not so self-evident since most of us are highly judgmental of people.
But the first argument specifically addresses use, and asserts that the relation of reverence to use is not simple. Indeed disuse makes meaning, as happens, according to Lars Gustafsson, with obsolete machines. And a Marxist view of art as surplus value would also be consistent with that.
|Yoshino Cherry (Prunus x yedoensis) in the Moredon Tree Collection|
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
I was only just starting to discover Lars Gustafsson's poetry, via this Christmas present, the 2015 selection translated by John Irons for Bloodaxe, when I discovered that he'd died; it was little more than a week ago, on the 2nd or 3rd of April.
This kind of thing is bound to happen occasionally to any reader of modern poetry; last year, too, I was finally getting down to reading Lee Harwood properly for the first time when news came through of his death.
It's a strange feeling. In the euphoria of discovery, delighted recognition of the solidity of the work, it's impossible to grieve. I don't only mean that I can't share in the raw grief of the poet's near ones - that goes without saying - I mean that I can't share in the heavy yet hollow feeling that long-term readers of Gustafsson will be feeling now.
When a poet has been, so to speak, your daily bread, then the poet's death is an upheaval that mysteriously changes the poetry. (I'm speaking above all of what I remember to have been my feelings when Peter Redgrove died in 2003.) The most basic fact for the reader is that there will be no new messages; only an archive. And evidently we read the poems of living poets that we "follow" in this different way: as messages, as updates, even from someone who doesn't know of our existence.
When a poet dies there's a little burst of sales and reading and celebration, like a pimple on an imposing statue's nose. And then, for some few years, comes a period of withdrawal, when the poet lies hidden behind a screen. Seamus Heaney lies there now. We need, as poetry-readers, to take a long breath and to re-inhabit the world that exists and continues to exist without that dominant voice. Are we even really ready, yet, to think about Ted Hughes again?
And for the devoted fan, now the immediacy of communication is over, a period of doubt enters in. Was Redgrove's poetry all I had thought it when I was living it? I became reluctant to open Redgrove's books, and I still feel that reluctance now. I want to preserve the memory of my own experience of the work's vigour and sappiness, in the days when it was still growing.
So in a way a poet has two separate readerships, those who read the living author and those who read the dead one; and they don't necessarily mix.
There's in fact a number of resemblances between Gustafsson and Redgrove; both poets with an interest in science, and with an interest in imagining beyond what science knows; both prolific, quotidian authors; both cheerfully detached from the poetic schools and conflicts of their time; both authors who have been often acclaimed, and yet perhaps with a certain defensiveness... but already I'm carrying the analogy too far. Gustafsson's poetry, for example, is preoccupied by our inability to wholly know ourselves, or anything else. It's a philosophical preoccupation. Redgrove's poetry is quite different in that respect.
When the air lies still, so do the lakes,
the great bright lakes, still like quicksilver. ....
An organ pipe plays the deepest sounds of all, felt only as tremblings. Then the poem drops on to its titular subject: it's called "Bombus terrestris" :
A flyer who lives in the depths of the forest
has folded his wings, and is asleep in the rain.
It is not at the start and not at the end.
It is mainland, vast tracts that are far
within maps and deep within time,
a forest of years protective on all sides,
and the larks soar up like a jubilant cloud,
but always some will fall dead, and perish.
The poem continues to switch direction after this too, but that idea of "mainland" is what lodges in my mind.
And here's an extract that chose itself. It's the beginning of a poem called "Concerning everything that still hovers".
As yet my grave is nowhere visible.
And thus I too am hovering:
resting, myself, unknowing,
I too in a sea of air, an atmosphere.
Floating with the floating,
living with the living,
resting with the resting,
and, perhaps also, without knowing it,
dead with the dead.
The hovering, existence as a continuous low hum, is a main focus of the thinking. (I find that, like Per Wästberg who introduces the Bloodaxe volume, I'm leaping from one poem to another, as if they're all part of a common statement.) So the poems are about life, really. But death is part of that.
There is so little left.
Of dogs for example
only their collars.
Normally sent home in an envelope
along with the bill
from the vet.
Of the really great writers
some extracts in anthologies
that are soon thinned out
over a couple of decades
and die away in the ever-shorter footnotes
of secondary literature as the century passes.
Of Admiral Dönitz, Admiral Nimitz
and Admiral Tirpitz?
A few rectangles and triangles.
Some red. Some blue.
Gustafsson was also a local poet. His dogs, his fishing, his family are very particular in these poems. He lived in the midland county of Västmanland, and the lake on the book-jacket is a lake that often breathes within or beside these poems.
[I will also be a belated reader of Gustafsson's lively blog. He was posting regularly until mid-March.]
Friday, April 08, 2016
F O T O, poems 51 - 60
|Martingården, at Nybyn, Överkalix|
[Image source: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Tourism-g800223-Overkalix_Norrbotten_County-Vacations.html]
51. (Sparkstötting, cartwheels, anchor ― Överkalix)
Back-story. 51-53. The road trip ends, with a day of driving through steady rain. Brief stop for coffee and a loppis at Överkalix in Norrbotten.
53, 57. While L. and I were cycling round Abisko (37 - 50), my dad was at a hospital in Kiruna having the stitches taken out of his hand, following a recent accident with an axe.
54. Waking up in the morning at the summer cottage in Utanede, last seen in Poem 2. This is the locale for the rest of the sequence. Fine weather suddenly, after a very wet summer. Time for the outdoor chores (57, 58, 60).
54. The ghost-farm. An abandoned building on the fringe of the village, hence higher up the slope of the river valley and catching the morning sun earlier. The rural villages of Jämtland (like rural areas elsewhere) are reduced in population; empty buildings are commonplace.
56. Långfil. A regional variety of fermented milk with added butterwort, which gives it a ropy texture (hence "long fil").
Thursday, April 07, 2016
My mum gave me this plant, grown from a cutting. She called it "femöringsplantan", which basically means penny-plant (a 5 öre piece is a low value coin). It's one of those popular names that attaches itself to lots of different plants. Perhaps it's most commonly used for another group of popular house-plants, Achimenes species (Widow's Tears, Cupid's Tears).
But this plant, it turns out, is Pilea peperomioides, most commonly known in English as the Chinese Money Plant. Other common names in Sweden are Elefantöra (Elephant's Ear), Missionärsplantan (Missionary Plant) and Parasollpilia (Parasol Pilea).
It has a remarkable history in the west; I'll give a summary version, but the link is better reading.
A Chinese Puzzle solved (by Phillip Cribb and Leonard Forman)
George Forrest collected the plant for the first time in 1906 in Western Yunnan, and his material ended up in Edinburgh, but the species remained poorly known in the west. From the mid-1970s members of the general public started to bring it in to Botanical gardens in the UK asking for identification, but the experts found it difficult to identify because the plant rarely produces flowers in the west, especially female ones.
On the other hand the plant was very easy to propagate, so it was widely distributed by plant-lovers and became quite well-known among indoor gardeners even though scientists didn't really know what it was.
After it was eventually identified (in 1984) researchers tried to find where the now-popular house-plant had come from. The British plants were eventually traced to Scandinavia, where, it turned out, the plant had become very popular indeed. (An easy-care houseplant that could tolerate the low light-levels of a Nordic winter was sure to be a winner.)
Finally the trail ended with a Norwegian missionary Aspar Espegren, who had brought a single plant back from China when he had to leave in 1944. The plant finally arrived, along with Espegren and his family, in Norway in March 1946. (It had survived a year in Kolkota en route.)
Like all subsequent owners, he gave away many cuttings to friends and relatives. So that's where it all began. My own plant, like all others in northern Europe, derives ultimately from Espegren's plant. A rather touching story in which commerce, for once, plays no part!
Ulrika Olsson's account, in Swedish.