Starting Over

Monday, September 18, 2006

Open House Weekend

This is a great annual event! Open House ( is a national event/organisation and lots of lots of houses and buildings open up for visitors, with guided tours and all that kind of thing. Last year we concentrated on the City as well as the small church up the end of our street. This year where explored a few places around Spitalfields, and the chapel round the corner from where we live (which dates back to Norman times). We went to 19 Princelet Street, which needs LOTS of work, and is being run as a museum of migration and diversity (apt for an area that has seen waves of migrants over hundreds of years). The house is Georgian (one of my favourite house periods - aside from drop dead contemporary)and has a synagogue attached. It was a really fascinating building and a complete contrast to no. 13, only a few doors away which has been renovated by the Landmark Trust, and offers accomodation - a lovely building with beautiful fire tiles but it looked bland and dull after seeing no. 19. We headed up to see Spitalfields Christ Church - a Howkmoor building recently renovated which I've always adnired but only from the outside before. It is a beautiful space with a real sense of light and openess but the highlight was seeing a bell-ringing demonstration (its odd but I'm tempted to take up a new hobby!). Next stop was Toynbee Hall - which had beautiful panelling. Yesterday we ended Open House with the Hospital Chapel, originally Norman, with a Victorian aisle added. Its a lovely building (which again I've been past many a time) and it was great to see the inside (again recently partially renovated and restored). One of the best things was seeing the enthusiasm of people for these buildings and for heritage generally. Next year we've promised ourselves to see some more modern buldings though.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Double - Jose Saramago

I first read Jose Saramago YEARS ago - reading Baltisar & Blimunda to review for my university student newspaper. I loved his take on fantasy and with his successive works the way he has used his bold imagination to comment on the world. The Double concerns a history teacher who watches a video and is disturbed to discover that one of the actors is physially identical to him. He then begins to obsess on this threat to his sense of self and individuality and begins a quest to find this double. This quest provides both a wonderfully suspenseful and reflective narrative, as well as an opportunity to provoke and question. Saramago asks the question of what is individuality and the importance of this notion to our sense of who we are. The Double explores what happens when this taken for granted quality is abruptly threatened.
Saramago was awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature so he doesn't need me to big him up - but all the same he's a delightful, playful and wildly imaginative writer and deserves devouring.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Blind Rider

"The book of his life lacked a plot: there were only fragments of pages, loose or ill-fitting pieces, outlines of a possible theme. The inconsistency of the drafts allowed for no closure or exemplary glow... He wanted to be beither role model nor statue. His attelpt to avoid any acceptable definition or morality responded to that wish. His writing left no traces: he wasn't the sum total of his books, but what was subtracted from them. Only the release contract was missing and that would be along soon."

Juan Goytisolo is a fascinating novelist. His earlier work is rich in density and anger but this, his latest, and claimed to be his last is a both shorter and more restrained affair. In this novel, the narrator, reviews his life in a fictional memoir of the last fisty odd years. It is an extended eulogy to loss - of his wife and the years of love they shared, of his mother, and of the hopes for a more utopian. perhaps more innocent, world. Goytisolo explores Tolstoy, grief, God, and the idea of home. With short beautifully written chapters he creates a work that is both tender and touching, and rages with anger against a perverse god who literally shat out the world.