Spaghetti Romance — my new book

I was hop­ing he’d make me look like Audrey Hepburn.…

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A People Dream Died http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/261852

I’m not a his­to­rian — I have done my best to avoid inac­cu­racy in my book. But I’m quite sure that spe­cial­ists of the place and time will find mat­ter for a snig­ger or two. I don’t believe in pre­vi­ous lives, have no expla­na­tion for ‘Miss Winthrop and the Pur­suit of Hap­pi­ness’ arriv­ing fully fledged one morn­ing, almost a decade ago, from nowhere. I felt a duty, on receiv­ing such a gift, to sit down and write it, almost as dic­tated by a per­nick­ety, ghostly pres­ence. On read­ing it afresh I am struck by its rel­e­vance to the Amer­ica of today.

What is life?

It is the flash of a fire­fly in the night.
It is the breath of a buf­falo in the win­ter­time.
It is the lit­tle shadow which runs across
the grass and loses itself in the sunset.

Crow­foot, Black­foot war­rior and ora­tor 1830 — 1890

I’ve always had a pas­sion for Native Amer­i­can Indi­ans. Like the orig­i­nal inhab­i­tants of Aus­tralia, they tended to get along with each other. As Cap­tain John Under­hill remarked in his 1638 ‘Newes fro­mAmer­ica’, ‘They might fight seven years and not kill seven men.’ They fought ‘more for pas­time, than to con­quer and sub­due their ene­mies.’ They looked after each other, they loved their chil­dren deeply — so much so that it was com­mon prac­tice for the set­tlers to abduct them for bar­gain­ing pur­poses. Wives and hus­bands chose each other mutu­ally, women were treated well and protected.

The tribes were to a cer­tain extent matri­lin­eal, the women will­ingly did most of the work, owned the dwellings they built, and could well be tribal lead­ers. ‘There are no beg­gars amongst them, nor father­lesse chil­dren unpro­vided for’,  observed Roger Williams in the 17th cen­tury, con­trast­ing it with the ‘civilised’ land he had left behind where chil­dren starved to death in the streets of Lon­don. The Indi­ans made beau­ti­ful and prac­ti­cal objects with the raw mate­ri­als they had around them, they abhorred greed. They left a very light footprint.

It was our belief that the love of pos­ses­sions is a weak­ness to be over­come. Its appeal is to the mate­r­ial part, and if allowed its way, it will in time dis­turb one’s spir­i­tual bal­ance. There­fore, chil­dren must early learn the beauty of gen­eros­ity. They are taught to give what they prize most, that they may taste the hap­pi­ness of giving.…

The Indi­ans in their sim­plic­ity lit­er­ally give away all that they have–to rel­a­tives, to guests of other tribes or clans, but above all to the poor and the aged, from whom they can hope for no return.

Ohiyesa (Charles Alexan­der East­man) — Wah­peton San­tee Sioux

This appar­ently naive lack of mate­ri­al­ism, the extra­or­di­nary gen­eros­ity of the natives — mocked and exploited by the set­tlers — was the foun­da­tion of their sys­tem of wel­fare sup­port and gave the tribe inter­nal cohe­sion as well as forg­ing mutu­ally pro­tec­tive links with neigh­bour­ing tribes.

Among the Indi­ans there have been no writ­ten laws. Cus­toms handed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion have been the only laws to guide them. Every one might act dif­fer­ent from what was con­sid­ered right did he choose to do so, but such acts would bring upon him the cen­sure of the Nation.… This fear of the Nation’s cen­sure acted as a mighty band, bind­ing all in one social, hon­or­able compact.

George Cop­way (Kah-ge-ga-bowh) Ojibwa Chief — 1818–1863

The new­com­ers were com­pelled to admire the order­li­ness of Indian life, and to respect the sagac­ity of their sachems or lead­ers, both male and female. Though they had absolute author­ity, they took no action on col­lec­tive issues con­cern­ing war, laws or taxes with­out a gen­eral con­sen­sus. Accord­ing to most, this ver­sion of democ­racy worked. Of the sachems, John Law­son said at the begin­ning of the 18th cen­tury ‘they dis­charge their Duty with all the Integrity imag­in­able, never look­ing towards their Own Inter­est, before the Pub­lick Good.’

Before our white broth­ers arrived to make us civ­i­lized men, we didn’t have any kind of prison. Because of this, we had no delin­quents.
With­out a prison, there can be no delin­quents.
We had no locks nor keys and there­fore among us there were no thieves.
When some­one was so poor that he couldn’t afford a horse, a tent or a blan­ket,
he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift.
We were too unciv­i­lized to give great impor­tance to pri­vate prop­erty.
We didn’t know any kind of money and con­se­quently, the value of a human being
was not deter­mined by his wealth.
We had no writ­ten laws laid down, no lawyers, no politi­cians,
there­fore we were not able to cheat and swin­dle one another.
We were really in bad shape before the white men arrived and I don’t know
how to explain how we were able to man­age with­out these fun­da­men­tal things
that (so they tell us) are so nec­es­sary for a civ­i­lized society.

John (Fire) Lame Deer
Sioux Lakota — 1903–1976

‘Once I was in Vic­to­ria, and I saw a very large house. They told me it was a bank, and that the white men place their money there to be taken care of, and that by and by they got it back with inter­est. “We are Indi­ans and we have no such bank; but when we have plenty of money or blan­kets, we give them away to other chiefs and peo­ple, and by and by they return them with inter­est, and our hearts feel good. Our way of giv­ing is our bank.“‘ Chief Maquinna, Nootka

It reads like Golden Age social­ism, an instinc­tive chris­tian­ity with love at its heart that Christ him­self would recog­nise and applaud.  Like Christ, the Native Indi­ans were dig­ni­fied mar­tyrs, much more sinned against than sin­ning. The new­com­ers manip­u­lated them — as Cortes did the Guatemalans — set­ting each tribe against its neigh­bour in order to speed up geno­cide. The Indi­ans man­i­fested child­like trust, and the cyn­i­cal exploita­tion of this inno­cence by the immi­grants trans­forms the Native Amer­i­cans into saints and their adver­saries do not show up well by contrast.

If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian, he can live in peace…
Treat all men alike. Give them all the
same law. Give them all an even chance
to live and grow. All men were made by
the same Great Spirit Chief.
They are all broth­ers. The Earth is the mother of all peo­ple, and all peo­ple should have equal rights upon it.…
Let me be a free man, free to travel,
free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose my own teach­ers, free to fol­low the reli­gion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself, and I will obey every law, or sub­mit to the penalty.

You might as well expect the rivers to run back­ward as that any man who was born free should be con­tented to be penned up and denied lib­erty to go where he pleases.

Hein­mot Tooy­alaket ( Chief Joseph), Nez Perce Leader

Promises, lies and greed still char­ac­terise polit­i­cal (and some might argue, reli­gious) behav­iour uni­ver­sally, though the gap between the polit­i­cal promised land and cor­po­ra­tion poi­soned real­ity is most glar­ingly appar­ent in the USA (and an unpop­u­lar export). Like the Indi­ans before them, the major­ity of the present-day pop­u­la­tion of the United States is eas­ily led, happy to believe the com­fort­ing words and over­look the sin­is­ter deeds, sub­jected to the infan­til­is­ing indig­nity of hav­ing to over­look man­i­fest untruths that empha­sise the people’s impo­tence. The prece­dent Native Amer­i­can phrases are famil­iar, but still force­ful due to their truth, sim­plic­ity and pow­er­ful imagery. ‘Forked tongue’ says much in two words.

‘How smooth must be the lan­guage of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong, and wrong like right.’ Black Hawk, Sauk (1767–1838)Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak

Be care­ful when speak­ing.  You cre­ate the world around you with your words.

from the Diné

Like Cas­san­dra, the Indi­ans were con­demned to make pre­dic­tions of fright­en­ing accu­racy only to have them con­sis­tently ignored in the unscrupu­lous rush for power, land and wealth.

Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poi­soned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find money can­not be eaten. Cree Prophecy

‘Yet hear me, my peo­ple, we have now to deal with another race — small and fee­ble when our fathers first met them, but now great and over­bear­ing. Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil and the love of pos­ses­sions is a dis­ease with them … They claim this mother of ours, the earth, for their own, and fence their neigh­bours away; they deface her with their build­ings and their refuse.’  Sit­ting Bull’s Speech at the Pow­der River Coun­cil, 1877.

‘No tribe has the right to sell, even to each other, much less to strangers.… Sell a coun­try! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Didn’t the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his chil­dren? The way, the only way to stop this evil is for the red man to unite in claim­ing a com­mon and equal right in the land, as it was first, and should be now, for it was never divided. We gave them forest-clad moun­tains and val­leys full of game, and in return what did they give our war­riors and our women? Rum, trin­kets, and a grave.’ Tecum­seh — Shawnee

The Indi­ans loved and respected native ani­mals and plants and knew how to hus­band their resources. They loved their land and its bounty with a hum­ble, spir­i­tual, and eco­nom­i­cal devotion.

‘When we Indi­ans kill meat, we eat it all up. When we dig roots, we make lit­tle holes. When we build houses, we make lit­tle holes. When we burn grass for grasshop­pers, we don’t ruin things. We shake down acorns and pine nuts. We don’t chop down the trees. We only use dead wood. But the white peo­ple plow up the ground, pull down the trees, kill every­thing. … the White peo­ple pay no atten­tion. …How can the spirit of the earth like the White man? … every­where the White man has touched it, it is sore.’

An anony­mous Indian woman

How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us.
If we do not own the fresh­ness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?
Every part of this earth is sacred to my peo­ple. Every shin­ing pine nee­dle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clear­ing and hum­ming insect is holy in the mem­ory and expe­ri­ence of my peo­ple. The sap which courses through the trees car­ries the mem­o­ries of the red man.

We know that the white man does not under­stand our ways. One por­tion of land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land what­ever he needs. The earth is not his brother, but his enemy, and when he has con­quered it, he moves on. He leaves his father’s grave behind, and he does not care. He kid­naps the earth from his chil­dren, and he does not care. His father’s grave, and his children’s birthright are for­got­ten. He treats his mother, the earth, and his brother, the sky, as things to be bought, plun­dered, sold like sheep or bright beads. His appetite will devour the earth and leave behind only a desert.

I am a sav­age and do not under­stand any other way. I have seen a thou­sand rot­ting buf­faloes on the prairie, left by the white man who shot them from a pass­ing train. I am a sav­age and do not under­stand how the smok­ing iron horse can be made more impor­tant than the buf­falo that we kill only to stay alive.
What is man with­out the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great lone­li­ness of the spirit. For what­ever hap­pens to the beasts, soon hap­pens to man. All things are con­nected.
You must teach your chil­dren that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of our grand­fa­thers. So that they will respect the land, tell your chil­dren that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your chil­dren that we have taught our chil­dren that the earth is our mother. What­ever befalls the earth befalls the sons of earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon them­selves.
This we know; the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are con­nected like the blood which unites one fam­ily. All things are con­nected.
Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend, can­not be exempt from the com­mon des­tiny. We may be broth­ers after all. We shall see. One thing we know which the white man may one day dis­cover; our God is the same God.
You may think now that you own Him as you wish to own our land; but you can­not. He is the God of man, and His com­pas­sion is equal for the red man and the white. The earth is pre­cious to Him, and to harm the earth is to heap con­tempt on its cre­ator. The whites too shall pass; per­haps sooner than all other tribes. Con­t­a­m­i­nate your bed and you will one night suf­fo­cate in your own waste.

That (your) des­tiny is a mys­tery to us, for we do not under­stand when the buf­falo are all slaugh­tered, the wild horses are tamed, the secret cor­ners of the for­est heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills blot­ted by talk­ing wires.
Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone.
The end of liv­ing and the begin­ning of survival.

All things share the same breath — the beast, the tree, the man… the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports.

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. What­ever we do to the web, we do to our­selves. All things are bound together. All things connect.

Man does not weave this web of life. He is merely a strand of it. What­ever he does to the web, he does to himself.

Chief Seat­tle

Chris­tian­ity played its usual manip­u­la­tive and divi­sive role. God is invoked in the annual cel­e­bra­tion of Thanks­giv­ing -  iron­i­cally with a dupli­cate of the feast inno­cently pro­vided by the native Amer­i­cans. As Pres­i­dent of the United States, George Wash­ing­ton pro­claimed the first nation-wide thanks­giv­ing cel­e­bra­tion in Amer­ica mark­ing Novem­ber 26, 1789, ‘as a day of pub­lic thanks­giv­ing and prayer to be observed by acknowl­edg­ing with grate­ful hearts the many and sig­nal favours of Almighty God.’ Grat­i­tude is a noble attribute, but the few remain­ing Indi­ans could not but take issue with the ‘many and sig­nal favours’ and ques­tion the jus­tice of this imported god. They were not fools — inno­cent and well-meaning, they pre­ferred to sleep easy in their integrity rather than lower them­selves to the level of the inter­lop­ers — they observed the effects of reli­gion as prac­ticed by the new­com­ers, and politely repu­di­ated it.

We do not want schools.…
they will teach us to have churches.
We do not want churches.…
they will teach us to quar­rel about God.
We do not want to learn that.
We may quar­rel with men some­times
about things on this earth,
but we never quar­rel about God.
We do not want to learn that.

Hein­mot Tooy­alaket ( Chief Joseph), Nez Perce Leader

Brother, you say there is but one way to wor­ship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one reli­gion, why do you white peo­ple dif­fer so much about it? Why not all agreed, as you can all read the Book.

We also have a reli­gion which was given to our fore­fa­thers, and has been handed down to us their chil­dren. It teaches us to be thank­ful, to be united, and to love one another! We never quar­rel about religion.

Sogoye­wapha, (Red Jacket), Seneca 1752–1830

Their spir­i­tu­al­ity is close to Bud­dhism in its sense of con­nec­tion with every­thing, and its con­vic­tion that the Great Spirit is every­where, within and with­out. It is close to Chris­t­ian prin­ci­ples in its sense of mutual sup­port and the over­rid­ing impor­tance of love.

The True Peace

The first peace, which is the most impor­tant,
is that which comes within the souls of peo­ple
when they real­ize their rela­tion­ship,
their one­ness, with the uni­verse and all its pow­ers,
and when they real­ize that at the cen­ter
of the uni­verse dwells the Great Spirit,
and that this cen­ter is really every­where, it is within each of us.
This is the real peace, and the oth­ers are but reflec­tions of this.
The sec­ond peace is that which is made between two indi­vid­u­als,
and the third is that which is made between two nations.
But above all you should under­stand that there can never
be peace between nations until there is known that true peace,
which, as I have often said, is within the souls of men.

Every­where is the cen­ter of the world.

Every­thing is sacred.

Black Elk, Oglala Sioux & Spir­i­tual Leader (1863 — 1950)

Epi­gram­matic wis­dom is the one remain­ing Indian legacy. Their pri­or­i­ties res­onate still with a san­ity which got lost some­where, as we grab more and enjoy less. They were cour­te­ous — when given the chance. They did not seem to feel the lack of Prozac. They were repelled by dis­sim­u­la­tion, ingrat­i­tude and ‘a churl­ish dis­po­si­tion.’ Karen Ordahl Kup­per­man quotes Rev Mor­rell say­ing that they ‘keep just promises and love equi­tie’, and his eccle­si­as­ti­cal col­league Father Andrew White in 1634 as say­ing ‘they are gen­er­ally so noble, as you can doe them noe favour, but they will returne it.’

Treat the earth well.
It was not given to you by your par­ents,
it was loaned to you by your chil­dren.
We do not inherit the Earth from our Ances­tors,
we bor­row it from our Children.

Ancient Indian Proverb

We could have learned and gained so much. The geno­ci­dal exter­mi­na­tion of so many, the destruc­tion of their par­tic­u­lar knowl­edge, of their essen­tial wis­dom dis­tilled from silence and a sense of con­nec­tion, of their way of liv­ing has left our world poorer and the con­tin­u­a­tion of our species parlous.

When you were born, you cried
and the world rejoiced.
Live your life
so that when you die,
the world cries and you rejoice.

White Elk

 

I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and chil­dren lying heapen and scat­tered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that some­thing else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the bliz­zard. A peo­ple dream died there. It was a beau­ti­ful dream… the nations hoop is bro­ken and scat­tered. There is no cen­ter any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.

–Black Elk, Lakota


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An Astonishing Painting by my boy Will

Wild, clever, crazy — that’s my boy and his work

 

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Sighs Matter

 

They jab and sting like swarm­ing hor­nets, they scar and stab, infect­ing my skin with weep­ing sores and sup­pu­rat­ing boils. No mat­ter what I do — spew hiss­ing lava to swal­low towns, cough tsunamis, roll oblit­er­a­tion across entire coast­lands, ham­mer cities with earth­quakes, bury them in mud, incin­er­ate them, smash them — still they take one more, they always want just one more. Busy, mind­less of the hell they make, they look away, ignore my warnings.

ENOUGH.

I have helped these crea­tures grow, I have given them life. I can dimin­ish them. The greedy, reck­less, harm­ful ones. I gave them anti­bod­ies, killer-T’s to scav­enge free rad­i­cals. To pro­tect myself I must cre­ate killer-T’s. To minia­turise them, dis­able them.’

 

She sighed as she spun again, and released in that sigh:

 

A min­imis­ing mol­e­cule, tar­get­ing despots and sadists, wife-beaters and bankers.

A mag­netic chem­i­cal, track­ing the metal­lic smell of avarice and cru­elty, dis­cov­er­ing every averted eye, every mur­der by com­mis­sion or omis­sion, every act of gar­gan­tuan greed that left a nation starved.

A grief-seeking drone, that locked onto the blink­ered con­science ignor­ing rap­ine, geno­cide, torture.

In ratio to the hurt they caused, she made the per­pe­tra­tors shrink.

 

They learned too late that sighs matter.

 

Overnight it became appar­ent that the cor­ner offices, the pent­house suites, the exec­u­tive jets, the lake­side vil­las were all empty of their owners.

Con­sci­en­tious clean­ers inad­ver­tently vac­u­umed their employ­ers along with cocaine and dog hair. Anx­ious min­is­ters, all unwit­ting, trod on their tiny, naked supe­ri­ors while search­ing for them. Pedi­gree cats ate them, tro­phy wives sat on them, the chil­dren of priv­i­lege flat­tened their fathers and occa­sion­ally their moth­ers beneath skate­boards and rollerskates.

Arms fac­to­ries fell silent, wars ceased, the weak, the poor, the meek no longer lived in fear. There was enough for everyone.

 

She smiled as she spun.

 

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Calling up the Dead

It’s too hot to go.’

Have you seen a manila enve­lope? Hell’s bells! There’s some­thing I want to show you.’

That one?’ Fas­ten­ing an ear­ring, she indi­cated with her elbow the small pack­age lying on his bed­side table. ‘The food will be awful. She’s the most weari­some, opin­ion­ated woman. She has noth­ing inter­est­ing to say, and she says it ad nau­seam. Her friends are ter­mi­nally stuffy. Remind me, why are we going?’

He pranced up behind her and sought her eyes in the dressing-table mir­ror. She was busy out­lin­ing her full lips with a brush loaded with waxy blood-red lip­stick, and he knew bet­ter than to inter­rupt. She blot­ted her lips care­fully, pat­ted her black hair — glossy as molten tar and swept up Betty Grable style — and gath­ered lip­stick, pow­der and a sil­ver fla­con of Mit­souko into an ostrich skin clutch bag. She rose, unfurl­ing from her seat to stand eye to eye with her husband.

I don’t know how you do that. Three chil­dren, and you still rise like Venus from the waves.’

What?

What what?’

You wanted to show me something.’

I’ll show you some other time. Beat­rice may be dull, but she’s had a con­sign­ment of Ply­mouth gin. And Teddy may yet get us out of here.’

They stepped out into the sear­ing dust, the ragged palm trees, the beg­gars, the smell of don­key shit, the sound of jin­gling caleches and men shout­ing hys­ter­i­cally in Ara­bic that engulfed them beyond the gates of their small ugly house in wartime Cairo.

 

Boy — who had a name, Mohammed — had pol­ished the chan­de­lier in Beatrice’s court­yard house, had watered the bougainvil­lea and strewn the gar­net rose petals in the mur­mur­ing foun­tain. He stood, unde­cided, fin­ger­ing the but­tons on his white jacket, dread­ing another stac­cato bar­rage from his employer.

Boy? Boy! Come here. Flow­ers — flow­ers for the table. The roses. Where have you put them?’

Mutely he indi­cated the red con­fetti danc­ing on the trou­bled meniscus.

The blonde dumpling was for a moment paral­ysed. Sweat pearled her upper lip.

Are you mad? Oh my God. Why do you always….I told you to put the roses in water.’

She turned, mut­ter­ing sticky impre­ca­tions, and entered the din­ing room whose dou­ble doors were open to the court­yard and whose ceil­ing fans rotated lazily. A long table was laid for twenty, crowded with cal­en­dared napery, pris­matic cut glass, gold-rimmed porce­lain and buffed cut­lery. It was punc­tu­ated at pre­cise inter­vals by Geor­gian sil­ver can­de­labra. It did not need flowers.

Boy? Boy! Come here. Fetch can­dles, from the ice-box’. To her­self she mur­mured, ‘don’t think they’ll melt now. Thank God, it’ll cool down soon.’

At this point Teddy joined her, tall and spruce in immac­u­late ivory linen.

Ice!’ he called after Boy. ‘Well, Bea. Time to see if we’ve been sold a pup.’ He opened the clear glass bot­tle and was reas­sured by the sharp cathe­dral smell of juniper that wafted nos­tril­wards. ‘Smells like the real thing. Lemon!’ he flung after Mohammed as he shook the bot­tle of Angos­tura bitters.

Ice as per instruc­tions? Boiled water? Good. Don’t want the High Com­mis­sioner to come down with dysentery.’

He rarely looked at his wife these days, find­ing her a dis­ap­point­ment now that her belly quaked and her dim­ple was lost in fat. There was no short­age of avail­able women in Cairo, but Beat­rice ran the house and looked after his inter­ests. He was sorry for her. They’d never man­aged a baby. Pity. It would have absorbed her fuss­ing, kept her busy.

Instead he looked at the bil­low­ing sails of the Mayflower on the famil­iar gin label. ‘Tonic, Bea? I’m hav­ing a pink gin, there’s some Noilly Prat if you’d pre­fer…. This glass has got a fin­ger­print on it.’

Fol­low­ing this dis­cov­ery Beat­rice made a minute inspec­tion of the crys­tal tum­blers, hand­ing Mohammed another that did not pass muster. ‘Look!’ She bran­dished them under his nose, ‘not good enough.’

Who did you invite to replace George Cousins?’

It was very last minute. I invited that writer, Lawrence Durrell.’

Well! I just hope he behaves. I thought he’d gone to Alexandria.’

Some­one saw him at the club. He goes back and forth.’

You’d bet­ter be care­ful, Bea. They say that since his wife left he’s slept with so many women he can’t remem­ber them. A gen­uine Don Juan. Appar­ently women can’t resist him. I’ll be keep­ing my eye on you.’

That’s very crude, Teddy. I don’t believe it any­way. I don’t under­stand why any­one would fall for him. He’s not exactly Errol Flynn. I hope none of the women tonight…. I don’t think so….we know them all. Well, except Paul Innes’s wife, Eileen? It is Eileen isn’t it? I’ve only met her twice — at bridge and at the Williams’s. She seemed a bit racy. Scar­let lipstick…..No, no…. out of the ques­tion, they’ve got three chil­dren. And Paul is such a good-looking man. She’s very tall. Durrell’s tiny, shorter than me, and well, that pug nose. Not good on a man. No, I don’t think so.’

She noticed that Teddy was still hold­ing an empty glass.

Boy? Boy! Where is that crea­ture? Spends his life in a dream.’ Beat­rice marched towards the kitchen.

Teddy, with a nar­row cat­like smile on his face, moved Durrell’s place card to seat him next to Paul Innes’s wife. ‘Randy, meet Racy.’

 

Well, that went well, I thought. They liked the vol-au-vents.’

Paul is quite a racon­teur. I’d heard the story about the Chi­nese cook and the whisky bot­tle before though.’

I thought it rather coarse. I have to say, I really don’t like his wife much. I don’t know why Dur­rell engi­neered him­self a place beside her — I put her next to that mil­i­tary chap, Ash­bury. As it hap­pened, she hardly spoke to Dur­rell. I almost felt sorry for him. Silly chump.’

Didn’t seem to worry him — he was his usual ebul­lient self after a drink or two. He got her to dance with him. They made a pretty ridicu­lous couple….She’s a good-looking woman.’

He had been dis­ap­pointed by the fail­ure of his scheme to reveal an illicit pas­sion. He was embar­rassed in fact, to find him­self rather taken with her, sur­prised to have been piqued by a sharp lit­tle pin­prick of jeal­ousy, as he watched them in the court­yard, danc­ing close. Twice. Sina­tra, ‘All or noth­ing at all’, and Lena Horne. Noth­ing remark­able there — every­one was danc­ing, it was the stan­dard finale to a din­ner party. Teddy him­self was still in a cloud of Mit­souko after they’d danced to ‘Rhap­sody in Blue’ under the stars.

Bea shat­tered his pleas­ant reverie. ‘Mother would say she’s got ideas above her sta­tion — she comes across as so supe­rior, but what is she? What has she done?’

I think she’s a bit of a scholar. Some­one said she got a dou­ble first at Cambridge.’

Well, I cer­tainly don’t believe that. And what about him? He’s noth­ing spe­cial. He’s just a glo­ri­fied sales­man, when you come down to it.’

Bea, my angel. If I didn’t know you bet­ter, I might think you were jaun­diced. Paul kept the Shang­hai side of Shell in oper­a­tion, almost sin­gle­hand­edly. A bit more than a sales­man. They both speak Man­darin. There have been hints that he was placed there by the gov­ern­ment. MI6. There’s a rumour that she’s in it too. Did you notice, she didn’t drink a drop?’

What? Are you say­ing that they’re spies? Oh, come on! I don’t know who you’ve been talk­ing to, Teddy, but they need their heads examined.’

Who’d have thought she came from Argentina?’

Don’t be ridicu­lous. For God’s sake, how much did you drink? She’s from Bed­ford. Or Ban­bury. One or the other.’

Bea — when we played ‘Down Argentina Way’, she burst into tears. She grew up on an estancia, near Cor­doba. Both her broth­ers are fighter pilots — she doesn’t know where they are, whether they’re still alive, even. She was gen­uinely upset — you must have noticed. Don’t give me that look. You don’t know her — you said it your­self. You’re being very unfair.’

Well, you two cer­tainly got chummy. I’m off to bed. Boy? Boy! Get him to clear up, will you? I’m asleep on my feet.’

Teddy poured him­self another whisky, turned off the lights, and put Lena Horne’s smoky ver­sion of ‘Stormy Weather’ on the record player again, low. Rest­ing his heels on the table, by the muted light­ning of sput­ter­ing can­dles, he smoked a cigar.

 

Never again. Never have so many dull peo­ple been marooned around a table to eat such indif­fer­ent food. Don’t blame me if you get dysen­tery — I saw you wad­ing through those vol-au-vents as if Escoffier made them. What was in them? It looked like vomit. I couldn’t touch them.’

You’re a hard woman. By Jingo, I felt proud to be among staunch com­pa­tri­ots: it sounds like our boys are really get­ting some­where. Look, this war’ll be over by Christ­mas and we can go home.’

Home? Where is home? I cer­tainly don’t want to go back to Blighty. You go, I’d rather go back to China….England isn’t home. Dur­rell calls it Pud­ding Island. Not affectionately.’

So you did talk to him?  From where I sat, you didn’t seem to have much to say to him.’

No. Nor he to me. ‘

Paul was on the bal­cony out­side their bed­room, smok­ing a cigar. Some­where in the maze of streets behind the house a woman was ulu­lat­ing — a mar­riage. Eileen unpinned her hair in front of her mir­ror. Slen­der, lan­guorous body hinted at by a night­dress of oys­ter silk satin — one of the few things she’d man­aged to bring from China — she was a voluptuary’s dream. He stubbed out the cigar and ran his hands over her shoul­ders, with a louche grin.

She removed them.

Oh, no. Much too hot. Pass me the Pond’s, will you?’

Paul was nettled.

Smooth­ing cold cream onto her high cheek­bones, she con­tin­ued: ‘For a writer Dur­rell was curi­ously inar­tic­u­late, well, until the drink got to him. Then he was mod­er­ately enter­tain­ing. Not my cup of tea.’

You danced with him.’

You danced with Therese, Beat­rice and that giraffe-like sec­re­tary from the embassy.’ She paused. ‘What are these? “Apol­ogy Card”?’

Have a look.’

She tipped a wad of small cards from the manila enve­lope. She read:

Mr………..

regrets exceed­ingly

his deplorable con­duct while a

guest at your

Party

and humbly craves your pardon

for the breach of eti­quette checked in the

adjoin­ing column.

 

Oh, really, Paul. What non­sense is this?’

Turn it over. I thought I’d send Teddy and Bea one. As a thank you. It’ll make them laugh.’

“Spank­ing female guests. Pick­ing nose at table. Indis­crim­i­nate goos­ing.” Do you really think they’ll find this funny? “Fail­ure to but­ton pants. Fail­ure to unbut­ton pants.” Oh dear.’

She removed the cold cream with cot­ton wool. ‘“Locat­ing female’s com­plex” and “Look­ing for hid­den mole” are amusing.’

She pushed them aside wearily. ‘You’re still a child, aren’t you?’

This hurt more than her rejec­tion of him, and he turned away from her in bed.

And she, who had a secret pen­chant for short, funny, unman­age­able men, and could still feel Durrell’s hand, sur­pris­ingly clearly, sur­pris­ingly strongly, imprinted on the small of her back, turned away from her husband.

 

Eileen’s friend, Dilys Arbuth­not, invited her for a birth­day drink among the palm trees and jas­mine of Shepheard’s Ter­race. ‘Eileen, I’m tak­ing you out for a proper bash. Cock­tails, like it or not. We’re going to gos­sip, we’re going to ogle chaps in uni­form, and you’re going to get squiffy. You’re only 36 once.’ And so, Paul hav­ing pre­vi­ously com­mit­ted him­self to a bridge evening at the club, and the chil­dren happy to be in the care of bosomy Khadija who made them sugar and cocoa sand­wiches, Eileen went on her own.

Her birth­day gift from Paul had been an opu­lent emer­ald silk shawl. She knew that such expen­di­ture beto­kened guilt, but defi­antly wore the beau­ti­ful thing to sig­nal for­give­ness of his venial pec­ca­dil­loes. What­ever they were. It rip­pled in the evening breeze as the gharry trot­ted to Shepheard’s, where she found Dilys toy­ing with a plate of olives, an empty glass at her elbow.

Hello Dilys. I’m not late, am I?’

No. I was rav­aged by thirst. They’re ter­ri­bly habit form­ing. Gin fizz. That was my second.’

Eileen raised her eyebrows.

I did have some water first, but it didn’t do the job. I needed a proper drink.’

Half-way through her fifth, when her top but­ton had undone itself to expose a heav­ing, sweat­ing cleav­age, and her cop­pery hair was stuck to her fore­head, it tran­spired that the occa­sion for this drink was not in fact Eileen’s birth­day, but the defec­tion of Reg­gie who had recently announced that their mar­riage was at an end.

No rea­son. He said that one more evening with me, and he’d….’ Eileen never dis­cov­ered what Reg­gie would do, as Dilys slith­ered from sight beneath the table, land­ing with a soft flump.

Waiter!’ Eileen stood and waved to attract the atten­tion of one of the boys, whose fez bobbed weav­ing among the chairs and tables. ‘Oh Madame. Madame is on the ground!’ Some­one joined them from another table and between them they retrieved Dilys. The waiter ran to fetch coffee.

I know you. You’re the diva from Argentina.’

Eileen looked up, star­tled. ‘Oh, Mr. Dur­rell, thank God! I’m so glad to see a friendly face. We were cel­e­brat­ing my birth­day, and I think Dilys had…’

Five drinks to your one. I know. I was sit­ting just there.’

I don’t know how I’ll get her home. She lives in a flat over by the Ser­vices Club. It’s not far, but I don’t think she can walk. I cer­tainly can’t carry her.’

I’ll give you a hand. Let me just get my stuff.’ He paid the bill with an invol­un­tary groan, and between them they frog-marched Dilys to a gharry. She lived on the third floor. Get­ting her there took some doing, but even­tu­ally she was in her own bed.

Whew! That was warm­ing.’ Eileen passed a hand over her damp fore­head. ‘Thank you so much. I’ll stay here with her.’

Absolutely not. She doesn’t need you. She’ll just sleep it out. I’ve got a much bet­ter idea.’

It was not yet ten when they climbed over the fence of the Ser­vices Club. There was some kind of party tak­ing place within. There had been rumours that day of some sig­nif­i­cant allied putsch, and they could hear Vera Lynn pre­dict­ing an out­break of blue­birds over the south coast.

My hus­band was born in Dover,’ whis­pered Eileen.

Shh.’ The gar­den was absolutely still, not a whis­per among the palm leaves that made a mys­te­ri­ous Rousseau back­drop, lit by a cold half-moon reflect­ing placidly in the pool. She sat on the edge, her feet in the water, and Dur­rell lay back next to her look­ing up at the sky.

You’ve just had a birth­day, so what are you? Tau­rus. Mmm. Don’t know what Tau­rus looks like. Bull­ish I sup­pose. There’s me. Look, over to the right. There — Pisces. That zig-zag.’ He took her hand and guided her fin­gers towards the clus­ter of bright stars.

With a lit­tle shock of excite­ment, she retrieved her hand. Leav­ing her shoes at the pool’s edge, she slipped into the inky shad­ows of the gar­den. A moment later her ghost-white body emerged.

Oh, God, that’s won­der­ful,’ Eileen whis­pered from the cool dark water.

They swam lazily, and then lay naked on the radi­ant warmth of the stone ter­race. The seduc­tive musk of frangi­pani floated on the warm air.

What’s in the note­book, the book you had at Shepheard’s?’

Notes for a book I’m writ­ing about Corfu.’

Called?’

Prospero’s Cell.’

Not Caliban’s?’

He turned over and ran his fin­gers along her upper arm, caus­ing an out­break of gooseflesh.

Not Caliban’s.’

This exchange drifted ineluctably into what Eileen referred to, decades later, as a ‘skir­mish in a taxi.’

Pisces had almost slipped from the sky when Dur­rell asked ‘Another swim?’

Larry!’ she hissed, ‘Spawn of the devil. I’m in such trou­ble already. I must go home right now.’

Please don’t go yet. Have a last dip with me. You know you want to. Come on. Carpe diem — we may all be dead tomorrow.’

Five min­utes. That’s it. Oh! This water’s like silk.’

You know, I almost wish you didn’t have to leave. I like your com­pany. In Alexan­dria I’m awash with lan­guorous, musky women crav­ing my body, but I rarely come across an odal­isque with intellect.’

You didn’t come across me.’

Don’t be smutty. You’re much too grand. It doesn’t suit you.’

They stood, very close, in the water.

What is this gor­geous amulet?’

Gor­geous amulet? Oh, that. It’s a key-ring. Thoth. The Egypt­ian god of writ­ing. Writ­ing and wis­dom. Here, have it. So you remem­ber me when we’re apart.’

He fas­tened it round her neck, tak­ing his time. She held his face and kissed him, then climbed out of the pool and dabbed her­self dry with Durrell’s trousers.

Larry, we’ll never do this again. If we meet again, it’ll be as acquain­tances, not lovers. You’ve got your life. I’ve got mine — three chil­dren and a loyal hus­band.’ Her voice was firm, decisive.

I’ve got a daugh­ter, a lit­tle girl too….. some­where or other….. Penny.’ Very quiet, very sad.

Eileen allowed a glim­mer of doubt to dilute her resolve: ‘If we’d met 20 years ago, it would be different.’

Yes. For a start I’d be twelve.’ He snorted. ‘I mean I like older women, but…. Oh, hell. You’re being seri­ous, aren’t you?’

Eileen was look­ing for her shawl.

Yes. And I must go. Now. It’s way past midnight.’

How will I man­age? I need you now. I didn’t know until tonight. Can we write?’

No.  And no, we can’t be friends. I’m not going to join the sorry ranks of your rumoured liaisons.’

He was quiet for a cou­ple of minutes.

OK. So be it. Let me take you home.’

 

Unknown to them, this very minor skir­mish hap­pened to take place on what was sub­se­quently known as D-Day, June the 6th, 1944. It has been esti­mated that 4,414 allied sol­diers were killed dur­ing that oper­a­tion, which deci­sively changed the course of history.

 

Exactly 40 weeks later dur­ing a relent­less, gritty kham­sin, Eileen gave birth to another Pis­cean, a girl whose snub nose was gen­er­ally con­sid­ered to be a legacy from her aunt, Daphne. Eileen chris­tened me Miranda.

Eileen’s broth­ers were both killed shortly after­wards, within days of each other, in the final throes of the war. Their mother Eve­lyn left Bed­ford to join her other daugh­ters, Daphne and Clare, back in Argentina. Eileen brought all her four chil­dren to the UK in the polar win­ter of 1947, when Larry and Eve hap­pened to be there. The fol­low­ing year, Eileen took my brother and me to visit Eve­lyn, coin­cid­ing with Larry and Eve’s time at the British Coun­cil in Cor­doba, a four hour drive away.

When Eileen, Paul and I returned per­ma­nently to Pud­ding Island, the year of the new queen’s coro­na­tion, there was no one and noth­ing there to wel­come us. Eileen was not happy in commuter-belt Essex, and an inex­plic­a­ble ran­cour had infected her marriage.

With my three sib­lings away in board­ing school, I was a dreamy, with­drawn crea­ture. Eileen had no truck with just want­ing her chil­dren to be happy. She wanted intel­lec­tual super­stars, or boys. She was con­vinced that I was stu­pid, and could not look at me but with exas­per­a­tion. I was not a boy.

My par­ents and I cohab­ited each in soli­tary con­fine­ment, shar­ing noth­ing but the space we lived in. I had not one mem­o­rable con­ver­sa­tion with either of my par­ents. I was fond of Paul who pro­vided the warmth my mother lacked. But we didn’t have a sin­gle inter­est or opin­ion in com­mon. We had no fam­ily life — no trips, no hol­i­days, no talk, no jokes, no card games. We were strangers to each other. This is not a mis­ery mem­oir. One’s fam­ily con­sti­tutes real­ity, from which any­thing else is a devi­a­tion, an odd­ity. The result of com­ing, as it seemed, from a dif­fer­ent planet, is that I live in my head — a con­ve­nient locus for a writer. And neg­a­tive crit­i­cism acts like cap­saicin, a brac­ing condi­ment that unleashes a scrib­ble of endorphins.

When I was 15, Eileen gave me ‘Moun­to­live’ to read, an event I still remem­ber, as being a unique sign of inter­est in my cul­tural devel­op­ment. With embar­rass­ment I con­fess that I found it bor­ing. It could not com­pete with the urgent trivia of ado­les­cence: Brook Ben­ton, Buddy Holly, meringue net pet­ti­coats and bal­let shoes a la Bar­dot, stalk­ing boys and the hula hoop — although I did read Freud, and filled note­books with knot­ted prose.

There were no more ref­er­ences to Dur­rell until Eileen was wid­owed twenty years later. After a year of fierce alco­holic mourn­ing, she started rem­i­nisc­ing about that skir­mish, imply­ing that Paul might not have been my father, a notion I dis­missed at the time as the wish­ful think­ing of a woman who invented what life failed to supply.

 

Dur­rell died in 1990, Eileen in 1997, and I for­sook jour­nal­ism in Pud­ding Island to live in the hills of Andalu­cia: writ­ing, drink­ing, prac­tis­ing yoga and Buddhism.

Thoth, bat­tered and oxi­dised by age, retrieved from the junk in my mother’s red leather jewel-box, sits before me now.

 

Google is a boon for writ­ers — beyond being a source of infor­ma­tion it sup­plies a tsunami of diver­sion for those bleak droughts when noth­ing flows. One such after­noon, when my hus­band was sway­ing on per­ilous scaf­fold­ing, paint­ing the high ceil­ing of the yoga room, I turned to Images to see what Lawrence Dur­rell looked like.

I called Dan from his paint­ing to have a look.

Christ!’ he said, ‘It’s as plain as the nose on your face.’ We were faced with not just me, but my son Leo as well. A pos­si­bil­ity, now, that we could wear our noses with pride.

A cir­cuitous path, unex­pected con­nec­tions and coin­ci­dences, and I met Durrell’s sur­viv­ing legit­i­mate daugh­ter. Just four years older than me, Penny was lost in the cloudy purlieus of Alzheimer’s dis­ease. She embarked on sen­tences that dis­solved as she spoke and left her stranded in a strange place. The only iden­ti­fi­able shape that loomed from the mist was suspicion.

It was a meet­ing of exquis­ite poignancy: thick grey rain slick­ing down the drenched Here­ford­shire grass, a sud­den power cut, Dan and me try­ing to make sense of Penny’s shreds of mem­ory in the softly seep­ing dark­ness of a Novem­ber after­noon, by the light of dying can­dles wedged into a clot­ted iron candle-stick wrought by Dur­rell himself.

Grudg­ing, Penny con­sented to show me her pho­tos. As she opened the lid of the card­board crate, I felt a ter­rific jolt of affin­ity for Dur­rell — writer, drinker, yoga stu­dent, Bud­dhist. There he was, at a Bud­dhist fair some­where in France, and again, in a fear­less Urd­hva Pad­masana, an inverted lotus pose, in a garden.

She snapped the lid shut. ‘That’s enough of that.’ she said with star­tling clarity.

Penny’s hus­band was con­vinced of my case, con­stantly remark­ing that I was a vir­tual clone of Margo, Durrell’s sis­ter who had lately died. That I even had the same man­ner­isms. He repeat­edly referred to Dur­rell as ‘your father’ and Margo as ‘your aunt’.

But he refused to put Penny through the ordeal of giv­ing a dna sam­ple. Shortly after­wards she was dead.

I shall never know.

Carpe Diem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dan’s Art Course

SMART START

Con­tact Dan on danielmarescopearce@gmail.com

 

If it ever crossed your mind that you’d like to be able to do this…..

Fat Span­ish Figs

this….

Cubist water­colour of mmmmm vino

or even this….

Gilbert and George on Moroc­can Rug

 

 

 

Biddy’s Pears

The Road to Cetona

you are in luck.….

Dan Pearce

 

Typ­i­cal Dan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

has taught draw­ing and print­mak­ing at Colch­ester School of Art, and given print­mak­ing and draw­ing work­shops in the UK, Spain and now Italy where he lives.

Bosky, al fresco Studio

Still Life con Brio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He is an artist with loads of draw­ing, water­colour, oils, land­scape, por­trait, silkscreen print­ing, etch­ing and even car­toon experience.

 

From May 8th to 15th this spring he is giv­ing a six-day course

which will whizz you through a for­mi­da­ble ground­ing in accu­rate draw­ing and per­spec­tive, swoop you through an inspir­ing vari­ety of styles, tech­niques and mate­ri­als, and send you home with a paint­ing of your own to dis­play with pride upon your man­tel­piece. He’s happy to teach stu­dents of all abilities.

 

His mas­ter­plan is to cover these areas:

 

1: Draw­ing, com­po­si­tion, perspective

2: Basic oil tech­nique, basic water­colour technique

3: Land­scape painting/drawing

4: Still life paint­ing oil/watercolour

5: Fig­ure study — draw­ing technique

6: Com­po­si­tion using stu­dents’ ref­er­ence pix — pho­tos, sketches, draw­ing books

It may be help­ful to have an idea of what you want to end up with — land­scape, still life, flow­ers in the Dutch style or a la Charleston, per­sonal trea­sures to paint with the sharp del­i­cacy of Eliz­a­beth Black­ad­der — for which you might bring pho­tos, mag­a­zine pages, shells or objets. And, with­out being too inte­rior design­ery, an idea of the colour range might be use­ful. If you have water­colours, please bring them. Dan will pro­vide oils and canvases.

Ste­van and Matt tackle Mount Cetona

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quiet Pride, why not?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Miranda, Dan’s wife.

In Spe­cial Moroc­can yoga out­fit plus Ganesha

 

In addi­tion to the above, I’m happy to give hatha yoga classes (240 hour qual­i­fi­ca­tion, £10 per ses­sion) and, if you yearn to write, I have been a jour­nal­ist for a cou­ple of decades, have pub­lished some 20 books and would be delighted to give a lit­tle gen­tle coach­ing and direc­tion, for which I would not charge.

 

A typ­i­cal day

Yoga from 8.30 to 9.30 for those who want.

Break­fast of muesli, eggs, home­made bread, yoghurt, tea or coffee.

Painting/drawing from 10.30 until 1pm.

Light, sal­ady lunch from 1 until 2.30pm

More art until 5.30pm.

Sup­per from 7.30, with local Madrevite wine

 

Price

Bed and full board (break­fast and lunch every day, din­ner out the last night)  £450 each based on two peo­ple shar­ing a twin room. £200 sin­gle room sup­ple­ment. We can pick up Ryanair Peru­gia pas­sen­gers, for which we will make a small charge. Or if you fly to Rome, we’ll pick you up from Chiusi Rail­way Station

 

Santa Lucia



The estate looks like this in May

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The house is one of thirty or so on a farm­ing estate/agriturismo of 600 hectares. It has an ancient, out of date web­site www.lecoste.it which prob­a­bly tells you about its two ten­nis courts, three swim­ming pools, foot­ball pitch etc, but may fail to tell you about how lovely the nature reserve is, the vari­ety of wood­land walks there are, stuffed with deer, bad­gers, por­cu­pines, rab­bits, foxes, styl­ish black squir­rels, wild­flow­ers, funghi, etc etc

The swim­ming pools, used by all the pre­dom­i­nantly Eng­lish peo­ple who live here, are a beau­ti­ful ten minute walk away. The pre­vail­ing aura is Ital­ian hill­billy. Don’t expect Milan designer chic.

Our house, Santa Lucia, orig­i­nally built over 100 years ago, was flat­tened by Ger­man bombers in 1944 and imme­di­ately rebuilt. Occa­sion­ally elderly women fetch up here, who were born, mar­ried and had babies here, sur­vived the war and Ger­man occu­pa­tion, the destruc­tion of the house and its recon­struc­tion. This house was bil­leted to Ger­mans sol­diers who slept in what is now my work­space — both women said bel­liger­ently that the Ger­mans were ‘Very nice!’

At that time, mez­zadria was prac­tised — these big houses were dor­mi­to­ries (10 peo­ple lived in this one) for share­crop­pers who had to give half of every­thing they pro­duced to the land­lord in the big house on the hill. This — and life­long servi­tude to the Catholic Church which also owned slaves who had to give the church half — con­tin­ued until 1969. There were cat­tle in what is now our kitchen, goats in our work­rooms, plough-horses, pigs, chick­ens, and the main crop was tobacco, which belonged to the gov­ern­ment, whose inspec­tors would come to count every leaf.

We are equidis­tant between Rome and Flo­rence — both are an easy daytrip by train. You can see our pre­cise loca­tion on Google, PG 06062 is the post code. Moiano is the near­est vil­lage, a walk­a­ble dis­tance, with post office, new bar, old com­mu­nist bar, front organ­i­sa­tions for who knows what sell­ing hand­bags, jew­ellery, Hello Kitty lug­gage, life­size ceramic pan­thers. There is also a very good restau­rant, occa­sion­ally patro­n­ised by some­one who has just won an Oscar, whose m-in-law lives up the hill and does yoga with me on Thursdays.

If you would like to know more, please con­tact Dan at danielmarescopearce@gmail.com

 

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Yoga Pages - the online yoga resource

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Hoping Tomorrow Happens

This is the best pos­si­ble time to be a woman.

In some places.

I hoped to find friends on mov­ing to Italy, but I didn’t expect to find such a shoal of sup­port­ive, intel­li­gent, funny, adven­tur­ous, pos­i­tive women. They’re deal­ing with all the usual stuff that afflicts peo­ple on the brink of get­ting a bus pass — wid­ow­hood, errant part­ners, poverty, ill­ness, grumpy hips, being pul­verised between ancient par­ents and melo­dra­matic prog­eny — but they make it an absolute pri­or­ity to gather together and talk, share, cook, laugh, drink. 20 women can con­fi­dently arrange an event, men optional, and bask like cats on a radi­a­tor in the warmth of each other’s presence.

I’m com­par­ing my priv­i­leged free­dom to the con­straints imposed on my mother’s gen­er­a­tion, for whom finan­cial inde­pen­dence was still a chimera. She got a dou­ble first at Cam­bridge, but my father’s career took prece­dence. She had jobs wher­ever they fetched up, by def­i­n­i­tion tem­po­rary, ephemeral, cho­sen to dove­tail con­ve­niently into his life.

It would never have occurred to her to invite a coven of mates over for an evening of talk and laugh­ter. She didn’t have them, for a start, partly because of her hau­teur, and partly because of their peri­patetic life, pack­ing up and going wher­ever his career threw them: Peking, Nanking, Shang­hai, Amoy, Hongkong, the Philip­pines, Brent­wood. (Brent­wood? They were so inno­cent, didn’t know about Essex).

For her gen­er­a­tion, other women always threat­ened to become The Other Woman. There was too much at stake — liveli­hood, spend­ing habits, sta­tus — to let them get too close.

When my sons were small I once got the sour metal­lic taste of belong­ing to a man. I don’t blame him, who’d hap­pily vol­un­teer to sup­port another able-bodied adult? But when he said ‘when you make the money, you can make the deci­sions’, I did make a deci­sion. I chose penu­ri­ous inde­pen­dence. Laugh­able, in the eyes of my male employer at Nat­mags who paid lit­tle and expected much, dif­fi­cult and fright­en­ing at times for me and my boys, but a source of self-knowledge and strength to me. I’m not in any way heroic, but I do know who I am. Who are you if you’re defined by your rela­tion­ship to some­one or some­thing else?

A gen­er­a­tion ago, your man was not only your Beloved and all that, he was sur­vival. Even if you had a stel­lar edu­ca­tion, tal­ent, and energy, you were still one of his belong­ings and did as he directed. Cyril Con­nolly blamed the pram in the hall, the ram­pant tares of domes­tic­ity, among the ene­mies of promise, mean­ing of course mas­cu­line promise. How much more so for women, for whom babies rep­re­sent a career hia­tus at a cru­cial junc­ture, or a source of guilt if they are cared for by a min­der. I’ve seen the milky trail of infant puke on the left shoul­der, the mask of grief on the face of the deputy edi­tor at Coun­try Liv­ing, after leav­ing her dis­traught baby in the hands of a nanny.

Felix Den­nis said ‘the rea­son why we’re (men) all so bad-tempered now, Miranda, is that there’s nowhere left to explore.’ His notion was that we could make a bit more space and invent a spot of healthy extreme sport by decamp­ing to the moon, ‘not as phys­i­cal bod­ies, Miranda, but as holo­grams,’ to which I smiled politely and chomped on the Cadbury’s minia­ture swiss roll that the 74th rich­est man in the UK served as the grand finale to our lunch of British Rail sarnies. But he’s right — that is how this planet feels now — in the uncar­ing pos­ses­sion of angry and insanely pow­er­ful men who tram­ple about in the slurry they’ve cre­ated, look­ing for a fight. Ram­pag­ing around the nurs­ery, smash­ing each other’s toys.

The dis­like and sus­pi­cion of women for each other is a myth that men have grate­fully exploited. It is called ‘divide and rule’. Given inde­pen­dence and self-respect, women love each other’s com­pany. Con­trary to the myth, they work bril­liantly together. Any­one who has gone through the pain and has­sle of giv­ing birth is more dis­posed to coop­er­ate with and sup­port other peo­ple than to fight them. It is pre­cisely this easy, nat­ural attrac­tion and abil­ity to be open and share expe­ri­ence with other women that is so threat­en­ing for men. Hav­ing bul­lied their way to the apex of the pyra­mid, it is alarm­ing to look down and see the foun­da­tions rum­bling, the worker ants mov­ing off where they will, con­gre­gat­ing con­vivially with each other, refus­ing to fol­low orders.

But the fab­u­lous, feisty women of my acquain­tance dance on very thin ice: we co-exist in a time when in some places it is cus­tom­ary to stone a woman to death, jus­ti­fy­ing this psy­chotic com­bi­na­tion of cow­ardice and cru­elty with the slight­est hint of a sus­pi­cion. Or where the casual immo­la­tion of wives and wid­ows for finan­cial gain is unof­fi­cially condoned.

Women are built to work for peace and heal­ing — most women, of course there are excep­tions. Women are the cus­to­di­ans of the future. Women are vis­cer­ally com­pelled to pon­der the world of their grand­chil­dren: every female foe­tus has all her eggs four months after conception.

Astound­ing fact: Your grand­mother car­ried you as an embry­onic dot within the grow­ing body of your mother for five months.

It feels to me as though we’re liv­ing in a scary age of diver­gence — just as the gap between rich and poor is widen­ing, so is the gap between men and women. What could be more alarm­ing and call for more strin­gent stric­tures than the pos­si­bil­ity of women doing it for themselves?

But what women do for them­selves and every­one else is pro­vide the social glue that con­nects peo­ple to each other — remem­ber birth­days, invent rea­sons to bond, share feel­ings and expe­ri­ences, find com­mon ground. Nec­es­sary for the future of the planet. Long may it continue.

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Oscar Wilde — the Second Coming. Page 1

Oscar Page 1

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Souk. And ye shall find.

Car­pets in the Magic Souk

Archi­tec­tural Antiques

The rea­son we all go, is because Morocco is sunny and exotic. If shop­ping at Wait­rose tests the outer lim­its of your courage, Mar­rakech is not the place for you. But if you go for the rich tapes­try, like a bit of chal­lenge, can swag­ger with panache and nego­ti­ate with elan, you’ll have a won­der­ful time and make real friends, who will joy­fully shout your name a decade down the line.

Inside the Souks

They don’t play by famil­iar rules: that’s why you’re here. I mean, not only is the sun shin­ing, not only is every­one dressed like extras from Lawrence of Ara­bia, not only are you dip­ping a toe into the (actu­ally shal­low and safe) waters of extreme weird­ness, but you are just THREE HOURS from Gatwick and have landed in 1432 — check out the cal­en­dar on the bank manager’s desk and you will find that dur­ing those three hours you have time-travelled 600 years or so.

How much you pay?’

Mar­rakech is one vast empo­rium, whose male pop­u­la­tion has a thou­sand years of sell­ing exper­tise. Every­one will sell you any­thing — shirt off back, house, used chew­ing gum — you will find your­self being seduced into think­ing ‘Yes! That’s it.’ They gaze at you beseech­ingly and call you ‘gazelle’, caus­ing a momen­tary, thrilled tach­yarrhyth­mic fris­son, which the tirade of invec­tive that fol­lows if you don’t buy swiftly expunges. You are also accu­rately pin­pointed nation­ally and socio-economically. Marakchi sales­men know where you come from, and pre­cisely how much money you have in your bank bal­ance. They can see into your heart and know that what you really want is a love potion, a glit­ter­ing feline-green peri­dot ring the size of a Bel­gian endive, or a devore vel­vet kaf­tan pat­terned like a shower of autumn leaves. The object of your desires does not have a price — it is your price that the ven­dor is calculating.

Babouches

The wise old men who have spent half a cen­tury watch­ing the mot­ley just sit in their tiny booths, and barely look up as you pause. They just get on with stitch­ing orange leather onto another pair of babouches, and when you ask, do not harass you, empty the entire shop at your feet, offer you mint tea or oth­er­wise bully you — they sim­ply pick up a card upon which is writ­ten 800 dirhams, smile despite rheumy old eyes, and carry on stitch­ing. In his youth, sales­men would grab your arm — which put off every right-thinking vis­i­tor from ever return­ing to the coun­try. Now the ven­dors are not allowed to touch you, on pain of some­thing, prob­a­bly medieval.

Rugs, car­pets, dhur­ries, flatweaves.…

You should be aware that there is a range of cajol­ing tech­niques known to the locals as ‘Dje­maa el Fna tricks’, which have to do with unset­tling you into unex­pected expen­di­ture. Brits are per­fect prey for this because we are obsessed by our DEFENSIBLE SPACE, and panic when approached closely. One of the most suc­cess­ful ploys is the jos­tle and res­cue — which is quite alarm­ing until you are wise to the pathetic object of it — sim­ply to get you into a shoe/rug/jewellery shop.

Aloe silk

It goes like this. You are ambling mind­lessly — sated by the rain­bow over­load — along Souk Sma­rine on your way to kebabs and salad at Chegrouni. Sud­denly two youfs, hands in pock­ets, one with unfairly white teeth (given the quan­ti­ties of Coke he drinks), the other a hoodie bear­ing the leg­end ‘Niker’ on his bob­bly grey poly­ester zip-front, biff into you with their shoul­ders — not painfully, but annoy­ingly — come up too close, and bar­ing every bril­liant incisor, hiss ‘Inglees? Where you from? What you want?’ mak­ing you feel quite claus­tro­pho­bic and sur­rounded, though there are but two of them. So there you are, clutch­ing your pos­ses­sions and whim­per­ing. Being British, you are not mak­ing a fuss, scream­ing or call­ing the police (All per­fectly legit­i­mate tac­tics — there will be a plain clothes tourist police­man within five yards ready to spring to your assistance).

Tea Glasses

At this point the suave, urbane mem­ber of the trio shim­mies up and ‘res­cues’ you, keep­ing a respect­ful dis­tance, ask­ing politely whether you are all right, and send­ing off his broth­ers with a splat­ter of insults, involv­ing many a glot­tal stop. He then shep­herds you gen­tly into his shop to recover, sits you down, and brings you mint tea to calm your nerves — you are put­ti­fied and do not leave until you have bought the gar­nets and the sil­ver ear­rings, hap­pily grate­ful to the gen­tle­manly shop­keeper whom you rec­om­mend to all your friends.

Crewel-work

Theirs is a dif­fi­cult job. There are maybe 500 shops, all sell­ing EXACTLY the same wares. Some­how they have to get you into theirs, and blind you to all the oth­ers, block­ing your exit and woo­ing you with the qual­ity and vari­ety of their mer­chan­dise. ‘Yes, 100 per­cent silk/cotton/linen’ they will swear, as the poly­ester in ques­tion spits with sta­tic. “how much you pay for three?’ they ask in des­per­ate times, ‘What do you want to pay?’ Be pre­pared for the­atre. You will name your price and the guy will look tragic. He will say qui­etly, ‘no, be seri­ous. Seri­ous price.’ He doesn’t have to sell, you don’t have to buy, just try to remem­ber that when he’s blam­ing your tight-fistedness for the mal­nu­tri­tion of his entire family.

Hats and Henna

In my expe­ri­ence, you have to know your tex­tiles (Moroc­cans are BESOTTED with poly­ester) and glued shoes are best avoided. Stitched soles may get you home, but glued soles part com­pany from their uppers well before you’re out of the souk. And the ‘Con­verse’ that Dan bought for 500 dh had card­board soles that did not cope well with rain.

Dan buys a Carpet

It’s not all tat in the souks. Hand­bags, belts, backgam­mon sets made of deli­cious scented thuya (check that the hinges are up to the job), glazed ceram­ics, pierced tin lanterns — there are loads of good things. Decide what you want before you go into the melee, decide how much you think is fair, be ready for the cal­cu­la­tion from dirhams to some­thing man­age­able, name your price, stick to it, and walk away if the guy goes into the harangue-dance, know­ing that the same object is repli­cated in its thou­sands up and down the souks. My oth­er­wise won­der­ful friend Nan brought me to the brink of Nanocide by want­ing to buy a par­tic­u­lar scarf she had seen three days pre­vi­ously on the way to the square. Say, 50 scarf shops, each of which has prob­a­bly 500 scarves. She couldn’t remem­ber which shop but had total recall of the scarf. ‘No, it was like that one, but there was more blue.’ HOURS. If you love it, buy it. Right there and then.

Spices

Use a bit of com­mon sense. If you send Nourre­dine out for a pot of honey and it costs you £20 con­sider that maybe a) you should do your own dirty work, and b) in this desert coun­try where are the flow­ers? where are the bees? It’s just pos­si­ble that that is what honey gen­uinely costs. Though unlikely, I admit.

Berber Herbs

Talk­ing about food­stuffs, argan oil is quite deli­cious, fab­u­lously ben­e­fi­cial, and does not, as I used to believe, come out of a goat’s bum. That was once the tra­di­tional way of gath­er­ing the argan nuts, using the goats that skit­ter up those twiggy trees as a mobile col­lec­tion ser­vice, but these days the women sim­ply put the nor­mally (as in olives) har­vested nuts out on a rooftop to dry and then crack them by hand. BUT accord­ing to G, our friend from Essouira where the things grow and the oil is made, the argan oil you might buy in Mar­rakech is not fresh or 100%. Best to take the trip to the won­der­ful wide-open beaches and buy from one of the women’s coop­er­a­tives en route. Famil­iar­ity is no safe­guard — Dan’s really good (but quite often stoned) friend from the magic souk sold him a Fanta bot­tle of argan oil. It turned out to be eight drops of argan oil — enough to give the char­ac­ter­is­tic fra­grance at first sniff — rest­ing on a base of cook­ing oil.

Berber Phar­macy

You may well leave the Berber phar­macy or the spice souk, stunned that you have just parted with the equiv­a­lent of £30 for SPICES. You never use spices. You haven’t a clue how to use them. Two things here — learn how to use them, they’re good, fresh, deli­cious, and many have med­i­c­i­nal pow­ers about which you may be igno­rant. The other is you’ve got HALF A POUND of corian­der — not some pid­dly lit­tle ten grammes in a super­mar­ket bot­tle. Be prof­li­gate, throw them into every­thing and cure your inflamed hip joint (turmeric) or your husband’s lack of Whoopee (galan­gal) or share them with a friend.

Painted Wood

Don’t whinge, observe.

Cute Metal Basins

Don’t bleat. Celebrate.

Beau­ti­ful Bone Inlay

If you want to do seri­ous shop­ping, to go beyond gew­gaws and mixed kitsch into the realm of seri­ously desir­able, I rec­om­mend that you allow ‘Shop­ping in Mar­rakech’, by Susan Simon and Nally Bel­lati to be your guide. Their shop­ping routes — in pur­suit of taste­ful mer­chan­dise — take you to the derbs less trav­elled where get­ting lost is part of the buzz, and the book illus­trates what you will find.

Intri­cate Carved Fountain

Much of the wear­able stuff comes from the French part of town, where more sophis­ti­cated cafes line the moped and caleche choked boule­vards. You might stum­ble across the haven of calm and san­ity that is the Lit­er­ary Café where you could open your lap­top and try being J K Rowl­ing for an afternoon.

Posh Ceram­ics

Pro­fes­sional mav­er­icks can fol­low their hunches, and go way out of the main souks to try their luck — of course prices come down dra­mat­i­cally the fur­ther from Djemma el Fna you go. On the other hand, if bar­gain­ing brings you out in hives, you can just go straight to the gov­ern­ment prix fixe place and pay some­what over the odds.

Carved African Door

Dan thinks the above is very neg­a­tive and will put you off the whole place. I hope he’s wrong — if your dna has a shred of feisti­ness about it, you will have a great time. The kalei­do­scope city of Mar­rakech is an invi­ta­tion to adven­ture, and to explore it, and your­self a bit. I want you to go home happy — all I’m say­ing is that you have to be obser­vant and crit­i­cal, you have to know that the rules are dif­fer­ent, under­stand that they’re just try­ing to sell some of their Al Addin’s Cave of STUFF, and don’t take it too seri­ously. You set the lim­its, only you know what that pur­ple leather rhino is worth to you. This oper­atic mer­ce­nary dance is mind-expanding, and you might go home with a shim­mer­ing Chagall-blue bed­spread that you gaze upon there­after with a heartlift of pure exhilaration.

Metal Work

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