After Romulus by Raimond Gaita

If you thought that this was obvious, a sequel, cashing in, you couldn’t be further from the truth. This companion to Romulus, My Father is the product of, on the one hand, the needs of the philosopher Gaita to process various ways in which the consequences of this book affected him and on the other, the needs of everybody who read it. Although I complained in my review that Romulus, My Father had been ignored by the world at large, it deeply moved Australia.

So you write a book, a philosophical – because you are a philosopher – account of the life of your truly heroic and brave and encompassing of all the best human virtues, father and his friend. You write of your life in the Australian countryside, where nothing happens except madness and the aftermath of madness. You make the prose sing like a poem, but still, it is just a book about a migrant and other people around him going mad. And it becomes such a thing, that before you know it a movie is being talked about. And eventually is made.

Gaita warns the reader at the start of this book that it is hard to read. To paraphrase the xkcd cartoon ‘Stand back, I’m doing philosophy’. Things could get dangerous. And certainly difficult. At that they do. I put my hard hat on and my brain still got a bit of a battering. Clearly there are, as Gaita himself advises, chapters that need to be reread and rereread as he talks about Romulus, My Father from a relatively formal philosophical viewpoint.

But Gaita wants nothing more than to be there with the reader every step of the way. It might hurt, but I’m holding your hand, see? And much of it is straightforwardly interesting. By a complete coincidence just before I started reading this, I had put about 200 volumes of autobiography/biography on the shelves. I didn’t know why, given that it is not something I ever read. But his discussions of memory and understanding have given me some perspective on that now. Perhaps I will learn something about the process of writing this sort of thing from reading the books I’ve gathered together.

The musings on the nature of memory continue on in a different form. He discusses at length, partly because he has been asked to by his readers, the making of the movie. Very few people will have seen this movie outside Australia, it was a typical Australian triumph, small movie, small budget, big effect if one cared to watch. Some of you will even have heard of the actor who played Romulus because it was The Hulk. The making of the movie was an incredibly painful process for Gaita. Much as he highly praises it, (and certainly I thought it was wonderful, having watched some years before reading the book) it could never be the same as what was in his mind. Worse, though, it changed things. There were many discussions about this, much angst. The film still stays true to the soul of the book and the changes are minor in general, but how each one must have ripped a little of Gaita’s innards apart.

Imagine it is your memory being played with here. You go to the movie and from the moment you start watching your own true memories are being contaminated. It must be so hard. Everybody remembers things others don’t. We are surprised when our friend can’t remember x, he is equally mystified that we have no recollection of y. But sometimes, do you not find, that somebody else’s memory of you becomes more than just his memory, it becomes yours. I’m scared when that happens, it isn’t just adding to you in some way, it’s changing you. How does Gaita see his life now except through those movie scenes?

He talks of poetry. The important of the book being poetic. The movie capturing that. But above all it is this gift of more of his father and his father’s extraordinary friend Hora. If everybody lived like this two great men, the world would be okay.

I have this idea in my head now that Gaita is the antidote to the world as it is travelling at the moment.

Chapter one on Hora:

When I was fourteen and fifteen we often went sailing in the boat he built with my father. He told me stories as we sailed. Usually they were stories of men and women who had been persecuted or ridiculed for their beliefs or who had resisted tyranny. He spoke in a resonant voice that held me spellbound as we sailed our small boat. Sometimes he spoke with hushed tones about the men and women he admired. Always, he said, even in the most appalling circumstances, there has been a handful of men and women who redeemed humanity by the nobility of their vision and their courage to be true to it. He told me this often. Each time he paused, visibly moved, sucking hard on his tightly rolled cigarette.

 

 

 

 

The Desert Island aka Shackleton’s Antarctic Collection.

I doubt there could be a more real life example of the ‘What would you take to a desert island?’ than Shackleton’s trip to the Antarctic. There is an exhibition of the photographs of that trip on at the RGS in London at the moment. One of the photos shows a wall of books, his floating library. The RGS has been able to digitally enhance it, so that we now know exactly what Shackleton took on this unhappy expedition.

Shackleton

Can you judge a book by its cover? The fact is that one often can. And taking that notion a little further, surely we can judge a man by the covers of his books. That’s something, with the advent of electronic book reading, that we will never be able to do again. It is so easy and cheap to download that one can never make assumptions about the relationship of the book to the machine owner. Here, however, of course we are entitled to draw conclusions. The man bothered to take the books to Antarctica. The books mean something.

I’ve arranged the list in order into:

  • literature
  • linguistic and general reference
  • exploration

Between the general reference section and the exploration books I’ve squeezed in two non-fiction books, one by the socialist JB Askew and one by Alfred Dreyfuss.

As for literature, it is interesting to note that it is relatively light on our notion of classics. Most of them are the best sellers or maybe, to convert to our idiom, the Goodreads trending books of his time. There are quite a few murder mysteries or similar.

I’m guessing that those reading this have never heard of:

Gertrude Atherton
Amelie Rives
Montague Glass
Ian Hey
AEW Mason
David Bone
Herbert Flowerdew
John Joy Bell
Louis Tracy
William J Locke
Rex Beach
Robert Hugh Benson
H De Vere Stacpoole

Yet Atherton was compared with Wharton, Rives was the EL James of her day, and William J Locke made the best selling US novels list in five different years. His stories were made into films 24 times, including Ladies in Lavender starring Dench and Maggie Smith in 2004 and four of his books made Broadway as plays. In fact, although not one of my 500+ goodreads friends has reviewed any of these authors, Locke is still well read and loved, judging by the reviews. I confess I did not know his name.

Potash and Perlmutter, the comic rag trade merchants of Monatague Glass, were all the rage amongst New York Jews. Stacpoole is the author of The Blue Lagoon of the film fame (some would say infamy) and Flowerdew used his novels to proselytise on the rights of women:

The Woman’s View: A Novel About Marriage (1903) is a marriage problem tale with a complicated plot drawing attention to the inaccuracy with which the marriage laws relate to how people, especially women, feel about marriage. Valerie marries a fortune-hunter, and discovers he had a wife who was alive when they were married but is now dead. Philip, who has always loved her, tells her she is free, but she still feels married, and remarries her husband. He beats her and her baby dies as a result, so Philip rescues her. The husband sues for divorce on grounds of adultery, and so she is once more free, though she has not committed adultery. She marries Philip to save his political career, but refuses to sleep with him, as she still has a husband alive. Her cousin, who is in love with Philip, tells her she must: Valerie then responds by telling him to get an annulment and going back to her husband. As in Retaliation, Flowerdew sacrifices plausibility for the sake of his thesis. Flowerdew published an article, ‘A Substitute for the Marriage Laws’ in the Westminster Review (September 1899). Oxford Index

 

Rives

Amelie Rives, whose steamy best-seller The Quick and the Dead?  earned her a vigorous campaign of hate mail. And there I was thinking hate mail was just a function of the ease of modern technology. 

Personally, I find it fascinating to read up on authors who were successful in their day but subsequently forgotten. I have included links to the biographies of the lesser known authors, leaving it to you to take your exploration from there. Be brave. Be inquisitive. Shackleton would be proud of you.

Books on Shackleton’s bookshelf:

 

After watching Under Milk Wood

I watched Guy Masterton’s amazing Under Milk Wood in Adelaide some years ago (back for two performances at the 2016 Adelaide Fringe, it’s a must see if you are in town).

As it happened, the next day in a comments thread on goodreads somebody said they were waiting for someone to write a story called “Slow Thighs” – from the poem “The Second Coming”. Apparently they are about the only words in the poem that haven’t been used.

So, in bed, still cocooned in the words of Under Milk Wood, I wrote this over the next two minutes.

A just woken up haven’t had a cup of tea yet poem.

Slow thighs wait. Patient.
Wait for man. Men. A man.
And should they chance upon one,
Open up, invite him into the dark of darkness, that sloe black,
Slow black place where he dreams wicked and
In that dark of dark places cries out
As he becomes impossibly light.
He floats away.
And slow thighs wait, patient, for him to return
For the Second Coming.

The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare

In London recently we saw the Almeida Theatre’s interpretation of The Merchant of Venice. Concerned that I hadn’t seen it before, I set out to watch the film version with Pacino and Irons first – half way through there was a hitch in reception and I was happy to abandon the exercise as by then it was clear that this was a straightforward exercise by Shakespeare, background research not needed.

Imagine my surprise, those of you who might also have watched the first half of Pacino’s Shylock and Iron’s Antonio, to discover that this is a comedy. The production in Islington was in a long line of productions that serve to demonstrate the incredible robustness of Shakespeare’s work. It is set in Las Vegas, complete with an Elvis look-a-like performing Elvis songs. Portia is a southern belle, an absolutely hilarious performance with, as the play demands, the capacity to wear an entirely different hat as well. The language works, the plot works, Shakespeare is a master like no other. I imagine he would have loved what was done to his play on this occasion.

Over the years, this particular play has been made in every possible way. It’s been done by the Nazis and it’s been done by directors utterly sympathetic to the idea that Shakespeare’s play is far more profound than the facile treatment accorded it by the anti-Semitic Germans. The performance we saw had comedic effect where the film had none, but still took the view that Shakespeare was as critical of the anti-Semites as he was of Shylock. Given the historical circumstance of the play’s creation, one needs little convincing that this is the case and the play is able to tell this story.

As a comedy, this should have a happy ending, but at the Almeida we saw a brilliantly ambiguous ending in which nobody was happy and nobody seemed to know why. ‘Know thyself’? These people didn’t have a clue and in that, it had a modern message for the dis-ease rich white people have without really wanting to know why. It’s a play whose message is as apt now as it ever was. I’d love to see it again.

Four days in London. Four pieces of theatre.

First up Cans by Stuart Slade at Theatre503. In brief this is the story of how family members cope with the aftermath of a celebrity sex abuse case such as have been prominent in the UK recently. In this case the man is found not guilty, but subsequently kills himself. His brother and his daughter comprise the characters trying to come to terms with this. The play could easily not work. Graham O’Mara is an absolute star, whose perfectly hilarious and sad performance ensures the success of the play. Apparently Slade has worked a lot with O’Mara:

So far I’ve written five plays, and Graham O’Mara’s been in all of them. I always write a part specifically for him, because he’s just the most incredible actor – spectacularly funny, crazily versatile, and brilliant to work with. This Week London

The daughter, played by Jen Clement, is the straight man. I gather Slade wanted her for the part and expects great things of her in the future. I couldn’t tell that. It isn’t an easy job, playing a role like that where one is the foil for the main character, but nonetheless, I did not get excited by her performance. I felt like O’Mara had to be there, whereas the daughter could have been anybody.

Well done, Theatre503. We got 3 tubes, a train and then jogged for a couple of kms in the rain to get there and it was totally worth it.

The next night could scarcely be a greater contrast. Sonnets by Shakespeare held in the archaeological dig that is the Rose Theatre. At some point this will become a nice modern theatre whilst keeping in some way with its past – it was built in 1587. But for now it is some temporary seats next to a large pool of water, no heating, no loos. Wonderfully atmospheric, which was nicely exploited by Martin Parr: I can’t help thinking we got to see it at is best. The sonnets themselves were performed by Katherine Heath and Lucia Capellaro, who gave the them the urgent immediacy of Shakespeare’s plays; Parr’s organisation turned them into a story, a very moving one at that. A really nice combination, music that fitted in, all in all a bargain at twelve pounds.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing something at Finsbury Park theatre, a great addition to this London suburb. Man to Man by Manfred Karge is a monologue performed by a female, most famously, I expect, by Tilda Swinton, but here by Tricia Kelly. I struggled with this, I think maybe because I wanted more insight into the period instead of the person. I wasn’t able to engage with the person – I read the word ‘creature’ somewhere online and it may well be the better word – or her dilemmas. If you happen to be a person who feels complete without having produced babies, it is difficult to empathise with somebody for whom this is evidently important and this was one of the prominent themes.

Lastly, La Soiree at the Spiegeltent camped at Southbank. As far as I know, the oldest Spiegeltent is in Australia.

The Melba Spiegeltent, located at the Circus Oz home in Collingwood, was built in Belgium in 1910. It travelled across Europe and saw numerous performances through its bevelled doors, including Edith Piaf and Kurt Weil in the ’20s and ’30s. In 2006 it came to Australia and was renamed after one of Australia’s fabulous opera soprano, Dame Nellie Melba. Circus Oz

Then there is the ‘The Famous Spiegeltent’

A European Mirror Tent – the ultimate cabaret and music salon’.
Spiegeltents are hand-hewn pavilions used as traveling dance halls, bars and entertainment salons since they were created in the early 20th century. There are only a hand-full of these unique and legendary ‘tents of mirrors’ left in the world today. Built of wood, mirrors, canvas, leaded glass and detailed in velvet and brocade, each has its own personality and style.
The most beautiful of the last remaining Belgian Spiegeltents, The Famous Spiegeltent, was built in 1920 by master craftsmen Oscar Mols Dom and Loius Goor. This Grande Dame has spent her lifetime at the bequest of festivals and fairgrounds throughout Europe and beyond, playing host to the world’s greatest cabaret artists, musicians and circus burlesque performers.
Since Marlene Dietrich sang ‘Falling In love Again’ on The Famous Spiegeltent stage in the 1930’s, its magic mirrors have reflected thousands of images of artists, audiences and exotic gatherings.

The Famous Spiegeltent is the very essence of a festival club, ‘kabaret salon’ and intimate concert hall. Like every old theatre, her ghosts travel with her, woven into ballooning velvet canopies, circular teak dance floor and stained, cut-glass windows. Her intimate booths, ornate bar and beveled mirror columns hold a million secrets while her glorious Art Nouveau chandelier, or trapeze rig, swings overhead.

The Famous Spiegeltent is a mainstay of the Edinburgh Festivals season and is a star in her own right, hosting parties, concerts, clubs and a myriad stunning performances. She has launched the careers of countless artists and travels to the four corners of the world from Edinburgh to Melbourne, Brighton to Montreal.

The Famous Spiegeltent embodies the living spirit of her operational team of the cheekiest hat checkers in the business. She is a living legend and will forever remain the stuff of dreams!

I have no idea what the history of the Southbank’s Spiegeltent is; it doesn’t strike me as being as pretty as the one that sits on the Southbank in Melbourne. We took the secondbest seating: “These seats are ideal for relaxing and enjoying an incredible view of the show.” In practice, several rows for our price category were unstaggered, we had tall people in front of us and that meant disappointing viewing. I’d pay top dollar or get there really early to avoid this. But then you would have to listen to the same five minutes of circus music played over and over really loudly until the show started and this drove us slightly crazy.

I guess in a variety show you get some duds, not many in this case. One of them is the compere, so hang in there, he goes away. The usual physical skills, saliva swapped through pingpong balls, trapeze, jugglers who might drop their knives; no big surprises. I thought the standout best was Australian Asher Treleaven. His second stint, which involved sex education via Mills and Boon was completely hilarious. He was a wonderful discovery for me, I’ve been away from Australia so long I seem to have lost track of comedy there.

A nice selection of theatre, don’t you think? And now back to Geneva. I need the rest.

Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis

i’ve always loved archie…i’m rather tempted now to see the archie in all cockroaches and love them too

except sydney cockroaches
and brisbane cockroaches
in fact i’ll leave the east coast right out of that

but the cool, sort of laid back, stoned, sort of man-i-am-not-moving-fast-and-you-are-not-going-to-kill-me, sort of maybe hippy cockroaches of st. kilda, i could try loving them

maybe