Posts Tagged ‘life and death’

Magnolias at Riva del Garda

August 8, 2014

The grass by the lake at Riva is spread with brown leaves, and more are falling all the time. In the town, too, broad Haussmanesque avenues are dignified by double rows of the same shady broad-leaved trees, some on the footpaths, some sheltering a park-like area down the middle of a road. They have been there a long time, from way before our century of mass tourism and razzamatazz, maybe from when the great hotels were built to house the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie, who could afford to travel. The trees have lasted better than the hotels.

These are fine mature magnolia trees, covered in blowsy white flowers. With their grey solid trunks the trees remind me of the Moreton Bay figs of my home, while the whole concept of a flowering tree feels tropical. They are not the briefly gorgeous magnolia soulangeana that we know in England, nor the pretty flurry of the magnolia stellata, but something much grander. The floppy, blowsy petals have a creamy fin de siècle decadence – worldly-wise, glamorous, indulged. These can only be magnolia grandiflora.

They flourish and decay all simultaneously, just as we do. New buds are opening, while full-blown beauties gradually tinge around the edges with chestnut brown, and then fall, separating and curling down, out of the air. Those are not leaves on the grass, but petals. At first they are crisp and shapely – curious, shell-shapes as if they want to pretend that Garda is the sea, and they are shells on the shoreline.

Magnolia petal on white paper

Magnolia petal on white paper

Three petals on white paper

Three petals on white paper

But they can’t be collected or kept like shells, for inexorably they turn floppy, and, darkening, move towards their earthy finality.

Three petals darkening on paper and table-top.

Three petals darkening 0n laminate table-top with paper.

Petals and shadows.

Petals and shadows.

“The Dogs Who Came to Stay”

December 8, 2012
A friend sent me a book to read and comment on.  Here is what I emailed back to him.
Dear Joe
You asked for my thoughts on the book by George Pitcher.  I whizzed through it in a day – it’s that kind of book.  I think I had feelings and reactions rather than thoughts, because I took a bit of a dislike to the author.  He seems unaware of the rest of the world, but also quite unwilling to  open up about the interesting bits within himself.  Perhaps he has a wide circle of friends who all urged him to write it, but at the end of the day the memoir just isn’t his medium.  (Joyce Carol Oates for goodness sake!  And Anthony Storr comments on the endpapers.  What’s that about?)  And indeed he does seem to be a bit of namedropper (though trying hard not to be).  It’s a very old book by a very old person – who else would call a longstanding gay relationship “two bachelors”?  I can understand his wish for concealment, but I don’t like the feeling it gave me.
Writing style: educated amateur/ banal.  The topic calls for much more poetic diction and for some richness.  As we say in the trade ‘show don’t tell’.
content: he mentions life and death, and the fact that dogs can teach us a lot about these things.  But somehow choosing not to get stuck in to that idea – not to philosophise it, I guess – diminishes it.  The story of the dogs would have something, if the writing was stronger, but as it is we have fairly low-grade natter.
Books about practical topics have the opportunity to inform – but he doesn’t get into that.  I have found the same problem with books about canal boating: neither poetic enough, nor informative enough.  Either focus would be great, but a skimpy bit of both doesn’t cut it. Maybe reading the sensitive and complex Kathleen Jamie has spoiled me for less skilled matter.  (Do you know her stuff? – the prose, I mean, more than the poetry.  Blackwells shelves her work, Findings, under “Travel Writing”, which is misleading, almost perverse).
I do know of a work that does these things really well – but it’s a film – called ‘My Dog Tulip’ – very clever cartoon/animation, based on material by J R Ackerley, who really can write.  The film trailer is a bit American – the film is better and more creative than the trailer – but this gives you an idea.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-CEDsZstdI .  Ackerley too describes himself as a ‘bachelor’ – but I don’t mind that from 1956, especially when his insights can be so neatly and beautifully put forward.  The American voiceover pre-judges and falsely contextualises – try to ignore that, and get hold of the film!
Tulip
(Actually I didn’t send him this picture – I added it for the blog.)
 
Your word was disappointed – I’m thinking frustrated.  It’s on its interrupted way to Oxfam now.
(I hope you get it that I thoroughly enjoyed tearing it to shreds! Thank you for the opportunity!)
All good wishes  for Xmas!

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