Category: language


modernismSo far this year I have read two prize-winning ‘novels’ – The Sell Out by Paul Beatty (Man Booker) and The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Pulitzer).

Both have been widely praised for their craft and cleverness. Both left me wondering what happened to good old-fashioned storytelling. These are driven by themes rather than plots, each with an unnamed narrator  respectively reflecting upon racism in America and perceptions of the Vietnam war.

The weightiness and worthiness of the topics is beyond doubt but masked by a knowing irony; neither author has any interest in a conventional narrative with a start-middle & end.

Far be it from me to knock the post-modernist slant of these works. As a worshipper of David Foster Wallace, I am fully aware that modern truths cannot always be told in a linear style but at the same time I find myself increasingly missing characters and plots.

I have come to realize just how many classics of English literature I know but have never read; for example Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe. While re-reading Infinite Jest I now intend to plug these gaps. Pre-modernism here I come.

new_skin_for_the_old_ceremony As a gift to a friend of mine who is retiring soon, a group of friends and colleagues have been asked to write articles about a poem or song.

These texts will be connected by the themes of one, or more, of the four elements – fire, earth, water and air.

I have chosen to write a piece on Leonard Cohen’s Who By Fire which, as you may know or recall, goes like this:

And who by fire, who by water,
 who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
 who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
 who in your merry merry month of may,
 who by very slow decay,
 and who shall I say is calling? Continue reading 

freedom-flagI read this passage today and, although it is from a book published in 1996, I was immediately struck by how topical it is. What do you think?:

“Always with you this freedom! For your walled-up country to shout ‘Freedom! Freedom!’ as if it were obvious to all people what it wants to mean, this word. But look: it’s not as simple as that. Your freedom is the freedom – from; no one tells your precious individual USA selves what they must do.[……..] What of freedom – to. How for the person to freely choose? How to choose any but a child’s greedy choices if there is no loving-filled father to guide, inform, teach the person how to choose? How is there freedom to choose if one does not know how to choose?”

pg 32o - Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

 

 

Verdena live at Rocca Malatestiana, Cesena – 8th September 2016

verdena1If I had been hipper to the local music scene when I arrived in Italy over 20 years ago I would have been able to follow Verdena from their inception as Nirvana wannabes to the distinctive individuals I witnessed at this stunning open air concert.

My belated appreciation of this excellent band from Bergamo is a good motive for shaking the complacent attitude that goes with smug slogan T-shirt slogans like : ‘I may be old but I got to see all the cool bands’.

I have my daughter to thank for ‘discovering’ this cool band existing right now playing songs from current releases not running through a familiar back catalogue from way back when. Continue reading

Harpa

The shadows and light in Harpa concert hall are stunning.

Preparations and expectations are as much a part of journeys as arrivals but it was a trial to face mundane considerations of what to pack for my short stay in Reykjavík.

Most bloggers, tweeters and travel guides recommend winter wear even when traveling in the summer months. They are not wrong. At this time of year it is light all day but this does not mean there is constant sunshine.

Temperatures rarely exceed 23◦ C and are often much lower. The evenings are cool and it also rains a lot so waterproof clothing is considered essential. Dressing as you would for a typical Autumnal day in Northern England is a good rule of thumb guide. While I was there the temperature was a little chilly at an average of around 17◦ C  (I needed a hat!) but the air feels so good and pure.

Soon after arriving, I experienced a prime example of the pragmatism of the Icelandic people when I asked a tour guide if I needed rainproof clothing for a day excursion to The Golden Circle. She replied: “If it rains, yes!”

Town

A birds-eye view of Reykjavik

I can’t remember exactly when I began to get obsessed about the idea of going to Iceland but the wealth of amazing music coming from this small country was certainly a major factor. For this reason I has to pinch myself when the co-owner of the apartment I had booked turned out to be named Sigurrós. This is akin to a foreigner visiting Liverpool for the first time and being greeted by a John Lennon.

In just three full days I could only get a fleeting impression of the city. My sole out-of-town experience was confined to a memorable eight-hour excursion (with commentary in English & Scandinavian) to Geysir hot springs, the Gulfoss waterfall and the National Park (the Golden Circle).

Still, I’m happy to say that my spectacles remain as resolutely rose-tinted as they were before my trip. I’d love to return with more time and money to explore the whole island.

So, without further ado, here are some of my impressions :

The Icelanders.
The people are universally kind, friendly and nice. I saw an middle-aged man looking for a CD of local music being helped by a young female shop assistant who patiently explained what Indie music is without a trace of condescension. Continue reading

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