Thursday, August 17, 2017

pre-van-trip gallimaufry

Autumn Hawkbit (Scorzoneroides autumnalis) again

Apparently the word "gallimaufry" meant (or perhaps still means) "an unappetising dish" in French.

Today's unappetising dish, in preparation and forewarning of three weeks off-grid in Europe, is just a hasty flutter through some books in my backpack.

Let's begin with a book I bought last time I was on the road, and have now picked up again, thinking to take it with me.

Un cœur girondin

Le soleil de septembre inonde d'une lumière dorée le jardin de mon presbytère. J'hésite à me priver de ces rayons en fermant les volets pour conserver un peu de fraîcheur dans la maison. J'habite une véritable chartreuse girondine, bâtiment de pierre tout en longueur, surmonté dúne seule fenêtre selon les usages de lárchitecture de la région. De mon logis, les rues coulent en pente douce vers la Garonne, contournant au passage les hectares de vignobles.

Ici, on produit du loupiac, un délicieux vin blanc liquoreux, dont les vendanges sont tardives. Pluie et chaleur ont alterné cet été; les viticulteurs pressentent que la récolte sera bonne.

(from Mémoires d'un curé de France by René Negré)

The September sun floods the garden of my presbytery with golden light. I hesitate to deprive myself of those rays by closing the shutters to conserve a little of the freshness in the house. I live in a true Girondine charterhouse, a stone building throughout, surmounted with a single window according to the architectural usage of the region. From my lodging the streets run in slow descent towards the Garonne past acres of vineyard.

Hereabouts they produce Loupiac, a delicious sweet white wine, harvested late in the year. Rain and heat have alternated this past summer; the winegrowers predict a good vintage.

(Loupiac, on the north bank of the Garonne about 30km SE of Bordeaux, where frequent mists encourage the botrytis; Sauternes and Barsac are grown on the southern side.)

Negré, from a fairly wealthy family (his surname, he wryly notes, probably indicates former slave-owning interests), discovered his vocation partly in dismay at the Saucats massacre in 1944 (when French military police and the Gestapo destroyed the farm of Richemont and all its young inhabitants) and partly from his own veneration for St Vincent de Paul.

Autumn Hawkbit (Scorzoneroides autumnalis) being visited by bee

Ken Edwards,


On Wednesday the corona
On Thursday a strange & hilarious day
On Friday my green gardens are blooming
On Saturday the sky was fresh

O braid my
             light-brown braid
I plaited you mechanically
             with the words of consolation.

One braid
becomes two,
             the army
of mechanicals
              attacca subita

(from eight + six, 2003)

The six sonnets titled "A Wedding" make reference to Stravinsky's Les noces (1923). "O braid / my light-brown braid" is part of the libretto; The bride-to-be Nastasia in the opening tableau is having her hair done. (Stravinsky wrote it in Russian, based on traditional Russian wedding-songs.) "Mechanical" refers to Stravinsky's percussive instrumentation, which he delighted in as "totally homogenous, totally impersonal and totally mechanical". Attacca subita  is the musical direction in Stravinsky's score, meaning to proceed to the next tableau without any pause in between.

I guess the sonnets also celebrate Ken and Elaine's wedding in 1999. "Corona" refers, Ken tells us, to the solar eclipse partially visible in London on 11th August 1999. (I remember watching it lying in a field in Somerset.) The "army of mechnicals" probably means cars for the church and has nothing to do with Snug the Joiner. The typically unsettled August weather ends, in the sixth sonnet, with light breezes and a sort of open contemplation of the future's constant changefulness; at the same time with a strong sense of the permanent transformation effected by marriage.

(Pondering on Ken Edwards' sonnets in relation to the Stravinsky of Les noces, on the cusp between modernism and neoclassicism, is a surprisingly fertile line of thought...)

Autumn Hawkbit (Scorzoneroides autumnalis) with the clock in focus

I'm slowly following Napoleon through Scott's epic Live of Buonaparte, which I downloaded to my phone a few months back. There was no vein of cruelty in Napoleon, but he could be ruthless, and once out of Europe and in the Middle East he committed an undoubted war crime following the taking of Jaffa in Palestine: some twelve hundred Turkish and Albanian defenders who surrendered and were given quarter, were later led out into the desert and shot, their bodies piled in heaps.* Napoleon never denied it. Apparently he wanted the story to get around. It was part of a comparatively crude programme of manipulating eastern hearts and minds. Napoleon had also taken every measure to respect Islam and to reject the imputation of leading a  crusade; the French Republic was determinedly secular. So far so good, but he also claimed wildly that in liberating Egypt from the tyranny of the Mamelouks he was acting as the instrument of Allah and in fact his arrival in Egypt had been several times prophesied in the Koran. His Moslem interlocutors kept their thoughts to themselves and remained politely silent when he spoke in this vein.

(The sacking of cities such as Jaffa, with consequent looting, murders of citizens, rapes of women, slaughter of babies at the breast etc, was not considered a war crime in Napoleon's time, but an inevitable concession to the soldiery that no general could do much to control.)

*Scott's conservative estimate. Higher figures (2,400, or 4,100) are often quoted.

Autumn Hawkbit (Scorzoneroides autumnalis), Swindon, 15th August 2017

A couple of 2017 poetry books to see me through the autumn: Andrea Brady's The Strong Room (which I've unfortunately left at home) and Laurie Duggan's no particular place to go, a remarkable mesh of annotations. In keeping with the vaguely French theme of this post, let's return to the banks of the Garonne, but a bit further upstream, at Toulouse.

The last city defences
demolished 1820,

red brick channels
the Garonne's rapids,

trees snagged on rocks
from a recent flood.

Movement of wind through plane leaves
is pointillisme.

In the riverside bar a student reads
One Dimensional Man.

(second half of "A short history of France".)

*One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society by Herbert Marcuse, 1964. Influential sixties bible delineating the pervasive dehumanizations of capitalism and the need for negative (critical) thinking.

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