Starting Over

Friday, July 28, 2006

Proms - Part 1 (Prokofiev rocks)

Have booked a few sessions at the Prom's this year. It might be too hot sometimes and the acoustics aren't great but it makes up for it with a sense of seasonal occasion and I'm too rubbish at going to see classical music any other time of year.
So started with Prom 8, which included Prokofiev's War and Peace Overture, and excerpts from Romeo and Juliet. Prokofiev's music is exciting, full of movement and energy and I loved this for the expressiveness and exuberance.

Modernism at the V&A

Caught this exhibition on its final weekend - aside from niggles about to much stuff in too small a space (especially at the start of the exhibition) and too many people standing in the way (yes, I know it was the last weekend, what did I expect) this exhibition was great. Having been to Tate Modern's Albers and Moholy-Nagy exhibition earlier this year and then whilst in Berlin to the Bauhaus Museum it was good to see an exhibition that took an overview of the 'movement' if that is the right word.
Modernism has its critics of course (perhaps especially in Britain, where modernism is associated with poor quality cheap social housing) but its hard to imagine a world without the influence that modernism has brought to the way we design just about everything. The sense of a new world was portrayed well in the exhibition and modernism was seen not only as a way of designing but a way of being and a vision of the future - in some ways a utopic vision that rejected poverty, etc associated with the years that preceded it.
Also briefly walked through a few other small galleries while we were there - must go back to continue browsing the treasures!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Hangover Square

I came across Patrick Hamilton via the excellent BBC adaptation of his trilogy Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky. Hangover Square post-dates these novels and is centred on pre-WW2 Earls Court - and more specifically its boarding houses and pubs and those who inhabited these. George Harvey Bone lives an idle existance, obsessed with the undeservingly adored Netta, who manipulates his obsession to her own selfish advantage. Hangover Square depicts a drunken idle selfish lifestyle that would soon be broken by the advent of war. It shows this life from the perspective of an disillusioned and heart-broken insider, and ends of course, as it must, in tragedy. Hangover Square reveals loneliness, solitude and a sense that there is no future to aspire to. In more modern times Hamilton's depiction of schizophrenia rings less true and seems a forced device - no doubt this reflects contemporary views and beliefs - but for a slice of pre-war London (and forays into Brighton) life, engagingly written with the slang and conversational tones of the period, this is a fascinating read.

Johnny Come Home

Johnny Come Home continues Jake Arnott's fictional exploration of the underbelly of English history begun with the 1960's The Long Firm, and continued through He Kills Coppers, and Truecrime. Arnott sets his latest novel in 1972, centred in the political unrest of the Angry Brigade and the birth of glam rock. In these turbulent times Johnny Come Home explores the emotional and sexual turmoil of his four main characters as they each attempt to forge their identities in this new age. Arnott's strength is in creating characters that feel very real and yet are fictionally placed in the midst of recent social history. He evokes a strong sense of time and place, of central London in the early seventies, and depicts queer lives in a frank, honest and rounded way.
What's more he gets the untimate in appropriate praise - on the cover David Bowie himself is quoted "Whenever he's got a new book out I drop everything". I couldn't say it better myself - a must for the summer reading list!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Nixon in China at the English National Opera

I'm catching up a bit today - so although we went to the opening night (a birthday present from my loved one) you've missed it already.

I was REALLY keen to see this, and disappointed when this was delayed (it was meant to have reopened the refurbished Coliseum in February 2004). Nixon in China is a classic of modern opera. Now, I'm not an opera buff and nowhere near the kind of knowledge and experience of many but I guess I know what I like and love many of John Adams's musical work so this was on my must see list.

The opera depicts Richard Nixon's groundbreaking visit to China in February 1972 - not as satire, but as a historical or heroic opera - and with very much larger than life characters this works. In brief, singing was great, Mark Morris's choreography of Madame Mao's didactic ballet a delight, and the design looks terrific. (Not sure if sur-titles were required but they were relatively easy to ignore)

I was really pleased to be able to clearly hear Adams's minimalist score, setting Alice Goodman's libretto (unlike Glass this is a real libretto and not merely repeated phrases) against repetitive but evolving cycles of notes. A stunning show!

Robert Pinget - Baga

I'm blessed with the willingness of others to share literary treasures and guide me on reading pathways that transcend the three-for-two offers tables of local bookshops.

One such discovery is the French author Robert Pinget. My starting point (available at my local library) was the comic novel Baga. The story is of a corpulent king of a mystical nation who seems to want no more than to be left alone. Leaving actual management of the country to his Prime Minister (a somewhat sinister and manipulative character) drags the country into war leading to the king retiring to the forest to live as a hermit. Later he poses as a women and lives with a pair of nuns, before being restored to the throne. The novel is delightful, absurd and irrelevant - taking well aimed sideways potshots at the great institutions of monarchy, government and the church. A small but perfectly formed book which deserved re-reading.

Dead Europe

Christos Tsiolkas rocks - ever since I saw the film Head On, based on his first novel Loaded, I've been a big fan. Tsiolkas writes from a queer, working class, immigrant minority perspective that both celebrates and criticises aspects of gay, working class and Australian Greek/immigrant communities. So yes, seen the film, read the book and the following co-written Jump Cuts, and then from half-way across the world Jesus Man.

Dead Europe in some ways then follows me, largely being set in Europe from the perspective of an outsider/visitor. And it resonates strongly with many of the ways I see/saw Europe and the sense of belonging/not belonging.

Dead Europe for me represents Tsiolkas as a matured writer. This book is breathtakingly good, moving and thoughtful and a damn good and intriguing read, which deals with history, migration, poverty, anti-Semitism, belief and blood (just a few bog themes in 411 pages of beautiful prose).

The plot centres on Isaac, a Greek-Australian photographer invited to Athens to help celebrate the culture of the Greek diaspora. However Isaac relationships with his friends from his visit 10 years previously, and with Europe more generally, has changed. When Isaac's mother is accused of forgetting the people she left behind, he defends her, stating: "It is you who have forgotten us." As Isaac travels across post-Communist Europe, through Italy, Prague, Berlin and Paris and then to England, he finds a Europe that is a strange and in many ways unhappy continent.

Parallel to this journey is another - a ghost story. Isaac's family has been cursed following a broken promise made in the midst of the terror that washed across Greece in the wake of the Nazi invasion and the accompanying flowering of anti-Semitism. Isaac's visit to Europe unleashes this curse, and this story intertwines with that of Isaac's travels. Europe is a dead and cruel continent, haunted by spectres and its history of hate.

While this might sound heavy-going the novel is also fill of moments of hope and beauty. And of course elegant, tender and heartrendering writing. Well worth sending off to Australia for and get this published elsewhere - Tsiolkas's voice deserves more than merely an Australian audience.