15 August 2019

Ain't Talkin'

Just Walkin'

Ain't talkin', just walkin'

Through this weary world of woe

High summer, and the harvest is coming in, despite the variable weather. Warm days, and pleasant walking in the Hertfordshire countryside, on the dip side of the Chilterns, near our home.

The brightest of the flowers have faded now, but there are still traces of colour about,

The hay meadows are ready for cutting, and   some fields are splashed with hardy ox-eye daisies hanging on,

But the creeping thistles have lost their flowers, and painted ladies are now replaced by drifts of downy seeds on the wind....

Though the smooth sow-thistle still colours the wayside....

As I walked out in the mystic garden
On a hot summer day, hot summer lawn

Excuse me, ma'am I beg your pardon
There's no one here, the gardener is gone

The oaks that dot the farmland, or shade the hedgerows are still in full leaf, 

At least most of them are, though nothing lasts for ever,

And while the farmers have brought home some of their harvest,

There is still much work to be done, and our paths are sometimes the only cut the fields have seen,

We walk, often without talking, enjoying the quiet and the sights and sounds. But then sometimes Amanda will point to an aeroplane high in the sky, excitedly exclaiming 'Look, up high!  I didn't know that was available!  She's lovely!' 

Or some bird will be startled by our approach, and she will tell it, 'Oh God is giving you lots of happy times, darling.'

Ain't talkin', just walkin'
Through this weary world of woe

Heart burnin', still yearnin'
No one on earth would ever know

As the closing track on Bob Dylan's 2006 album, Modern Times, Ain't Talkin' is a powerful and haunting song, which also exists  in a slightly different version on Tell Tale Signs.  The song draws on elements of Irish and American music, nods to Merle Haggard and Ralph Stanley, and suggests that the singer is a troubled pilgrim:

They say prayer has the power to help, so pray for me, mother
In the human heart an evil spirit can dwell
I am tryin' to love my neighbor and do good unto others
But oh, mother, things ain't goin' well

We walk most every day, sometimes twice.  Me and my wife of thirty something years.  But we don't talk much.  Semantic dementia has stolen sense from her words and from her understanding. She greets strangers with, 'Oh, you're having a lovely time,' as they walk, run or cycle by, and loves seeing new things around her.  But conversation, discussion, communication is bit by bit becoming very difficult.

They say prayer has the power to help.....

Though sadly I don't see it happening.

And sometimes it rains,

As I walked out tonight in the mystic garden

The wounded flowers were danglin' from the vine
I was passin' by yon cool and crystal fountain
Someone hit me from behind

Ain't talkin', just walkin'
You ride up high and down you go
Heart burnin', still yearnin'
No one on Earth will ever know

Ain't Talkin'
Bob Dylan

All photos taken on my iPhone 

26 July 2019

Let Me Sing And I'm Happy

Non, je n'egret rien

Every summer now for some ten years or so a friend and I have taken a couple of July days out to walk somewhere in England.  We have wandered on the Northumbrian coast, in the Yorkshire Dales, the Peak District, in Norfolk, Suffolk, the Cotswolds, along the Kent coast, around Malvern and Stratford, and, this year, in rural Essex.

This year we found ourselves alongside the thundering A120 near Colchester, attempting to appreciate the joys of Essex in the shadow of the new Caligula, Al (Mammy) Jolson [I'd walk a million miles.....complete according to taste....]

the Blue Boris Chafer

In fact, there is an Irving Berlin song that Alexander Boris Piccaninny Letterbox Kipper Caligula Jolson made famous, by the title of Let Me Sing And I'm Happy, which just about sums up the onanistic joys of these happy days in their full fretulosity.....

What care I who makes the laws of a nation
Let those who will take care of its rights and wrongs
What care I who care for the world's affairs
As long as I can sing this popular song
Let me sing a funny song with crazy words that roll along
And if my song can start you laughing I'm happy, so happy


In the muddy estuarine tracts of Essex I lose myself in reflections on life and love that are far, very very far, from Westminster or Brussels.  It is quiet here, and lovely.  A few oysters and a glass of stout and the soul develops resistance to the glib emptiness of daily politics.  Ancient toil and tidal wash provide an impression of things that matter more than greed and gain.

Godwits, rather than fuckwits, sift the silt here.....

And in the Stour Valley, where John Constable created the two dimensions that England has become (no offence, JC, you meant no harm: Ed.) the Common Darter does what a Common Darter does, not what some self-important hyper-ambitious ill-informed cabaret minstrel would decree.....

And the people of this world attempt to live their lives as well as they can, by the skiff.....

Or by the spray can.....

The haves, the have-nots.....

The ducks, raising their young....

The swans, loving their families.....

And the Drakes [pirateering, as some do]....

Let's be honest, Essex is no Shangri-La, but it's worth the detour.  It still surprises, and delights, me how one can find solace on the banks of a muddy creek, with the fluffy clatters and screeches of birds tempering the rotting reeks of the slimes, while gleaming insects sparkle over the shiny weeds.....

Yup, Essex is neither Magaluf nor the Maldives, but it saves air miles and carbon footprints, or exchange rates (and commission).  Maldon has a sweet gold and a tart salt, Mersey has all the oysters you can eat, and Clacton is 'on-sea'.....

On our way to our respective homes in the nondescript netherlands of this scabied aisle, we pause in the rain at Perry Green, to commune with some of Harry Moore's patient figures....

I admire these stoical unmoving, unmovable figures, who care nothing for rain nor dark.  It's an intriguing staging post.

In an ancient barn, tapestries tell silent stories,

While bronze casts stand impassive under the raindrops in quiet corners of the grounds, pieces of ordnance yet to be dropped on the innocent by the bombasts who preen to rule....

Let me sing a sad refrain of broken hearts that love in vain
And if my song can start you crying I'm happy

And thence to home, where peace comes dropping slow (if I am lucky). 

Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait
Ni le mal
Tout ça m'est bien égal
Non, rien de rien 
Non, je ne regrette rien
C'est payé, balayé, oublié
Je me fous du passé
Avec mes souvenirs 
J'ai allumé le feu
Mes chagrins, mes plaisirs
Je n'ai plus besoin d'eux
Balayé les amours 
Avec leurs trémolos
Balayé pour toujours
Je repars à zéro
Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait
Ni le mal
Tout ça m'est bien égal
Non, rien de rien 
Non, je ne regrette rien
Car ma vie
Car mes joies
Ça commence avec toi

Songwriters: Charles Dumont / Michel Vaucaire

6 July 2019

Ode to Cologne

Tosca on the Rhine

This picture (above) doesn't show Cologne today, but does contain an early likeness of the famous cathedral, together with a popular Rhine Cruise Ship in the foreground, and the brutal martyrdom of St Ursula, who, perhaps, had upset one of the city's notorious Köbes, a disgruntled class of servants, tasked with dispensing  Kölsch, a frothy, acidic excuse for beer that is inflicted on indigenes and unsuspecting wanderers alike... 

The image does not show the railway station....

This picture (below) shows the cathedral in a more modern aspect, with building site in the foreground, and later towers in addition.  Shot through the coarse muslin drapes of the wonderful Wolfman Rothfisch Museyroom (I suspect that's not the name, but this is not supposed to be accurate.....)

I try not to travel with preconceptions, as these inevitably lead to disappointment (and weigh down your hand baggage), but it is Bill Nighy impossible to voyage without some scepticism.... So I thought perhaps that Cologne would be a little old school, somewhat sedate, not without charm, shall we say?

But no!  This is Brühl.   On the outer garments of the colonial city, and in a moderate condition of health, given the times (our times, hard times....)

{By the way, a native of this suburb was Max Ernst, and the much improved Neo-classical Benediktusheim here is a very fine museyroom indeed.....}

Separately, in Bonn (one time capital of the West) we see them film Meggie Merkhel (some mistake? Ed?) arriving at the Rathaus.  A seventeen stone minder asks politely through gritted moustache whether I am Presse, but I refuse all royalties and recognise no one.

And then, in Aachen, or Aches le Chapeau as I think I hear it described, I see the eternal struggle of mankind enacted in the sulphurous confines of the central gardens....

And then kneel in awe of the extreme ceiling where Charles the Great (Charles Le Mange, or Karl Der Mango) was born/created/christened/married/crowned/died/buried..... [I said this wasn't a guide book....]

Back in Cologne the natives are unimpressed....  [Try hugging this hoodie, Davie....]

But there are reminders of how great it was [once upon a reich] to spur and boot.....

Though it is much more Adidas these days....

Then, as a treat, Tom Owen, principal oboe with The Gürzenich-Orchester Köln [Der gebürtige Engländer Tom Owen erhielt seine musikalische Ausbildung an der Purcell School of Music, an der Royal Academy of Music und an der Musikhochschule Hannover bei Klaus Becker. Bereits mit 19 Jahren gewann er den „Royal Academy of Music Oboe Prize“, dem viele weitere folgten. Er gastiert regelmäßig als Solo-Oboist bei führenden Orchestern wie dem Bayerischen Staatsorchester München, dem City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, dem Gewandhausorchester Leipzig und der Staatskapelle Dresden] invites us to the Köln Oper, to see Tosca, at Staatenhaus 1, in the Rheinpark.  

The opera (in Thilo Reinhardt's production, premiered here in 2012) opens in the church of San Andrea della Valle (near where I once caught my daily bus in Rome) and aerial bombardment interrupts the mass.  Deafening percussions shake the altar, and the congregation flee in fear.  

I am not sure who is bombing who, as black-shirted fascists, marshalled by a Hitler/Himmler figure - himself is in thrall to the loud and leery Scarpia (South Korean Samuel Youn, reprising his success in 2016) - soon appear to be in charge, but perhaps the native Colonials in the audience understand.  When the dark sky flashes with airborne ordnance, and your safety is blasted to ruins with the lives of your loved ones, no one knows nor cares who is triggering the bombardment.....  

It is too much to consider, but the real agents of destruction tend to be far from the front line, sitting proud in their tousled crowns, bunkered in arrogance and ignorance, pleasuring themselves at the expense of others.  Cologne was smashed out of recognition in the Second World War, and now, after nearly eighty years, it is still attempting to revive itself....

Praise be it can't happen again?

The mighty Dom rises above the Rhine, above the morass of swirling peoples.

Admired by all sorts.....

All sorts.....

None of whom (me most certainly included) would ever have the nerve to climb a true stairway to heaven, like this one.....

Back at the Oper, Tosca is brilliant.  The cast (including American Adina Aaron and Argentine José Cura) is cosmopolitan and the chorus magnificent, and the terrifying story of perfidious arrogance and abuse of power, combined with the horrifying destruction of innocence, is so frighteningly pertinent to our times that I don't notice the passage of Erdinger Weissbier, herring salad and schnapps until it is way too late to turn back......

By coincidence, Tosca has been associated in another way with Cologne since 1921, for Tosca Eau De Cologne Splash is a true German classic. Still one of the most popular fragrances in Germany today, this fragrance was first made in 1921 and has a dedicated following.

Tosca Eau De Cologne Splash possesses top notes of fern, honeysuckle and magnolia, middle notes of pink peony, peppercorns and heliotrope and finishes with base notes of amber, vanilla and magic lantern orchid.

Spicy. Fresh. Totally Tosca. 

{The original Eau de Cologne is a spirit-citrus perfume launched in Cologne in 1709 by Giovanni Maria Farina (1685–1766), an Italian perfume maker who had settled here.  The famous Eau de Cologne 4711 is named after where it was made at Glockengasse No. 4711. It was developed in the 18th century by Wilhelm Mülhens and is one of the oldest still produced fragrances in the world. On 12 December 2006, the perfumes and cosmetics company Mäurer & Wirtz took over 4711 from Procter & Gamble.}

It is night. A warm summer night in perfumed  Cologne. Birds flutter above the Hohenzollernbrücke as trains rock back and forth, trundling into the dark, shaking the forty thousand or so 'Love Padlocks' shackled to the fencing

Cyclists flit by.....

Flit, flit.....

Flit, flit flit.....

And then we are startled by the latest vehicle to hit the streets of Cologne (barely two months legal here but now ubiquitous)....  An electric scooter, leading to utter confusion in the cycle lanes, 

And also on the pavements.....

And so, fortified by a small flask of Jägermeister (a digestif made with 56 herbs and spices at a strength of 35% alcohol by volume.... the flagship product of Mast-Jägermeister SE, headquartered in Wolfenbüttel) we take refuge in an underpass, amongst the spirits of Köln, past, present, and future.....

Spicy. Fresh. Totally Tosca. 

Nell'ora del dolore
perché, perché, Signore,
perché me ne rimuneri così?

Vissi d'arte

From Act 2 of Puccini's opera, Tosca

Screen Shot 2019-07-07 at 1.11.57 PM.png
For my mother