A very happy New Year’s Eve and a toast to a brilliant, realised and joy filled 2019
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Well, forget the rats, or a journey down into the terrible Paris sewers, and sing of the wonder Bobolan feels seeing Paris and just being alive…!
LYRICS – WHAT A CITY IS THIS!
What a city this is, what a brave new world
What people, what wonders, what streets
There’s everything here, like a banner unfurled,
Like a star-spattered heaven, where worlds have been hurled
Or a heart, that eternally beats.
What a town this is, what a marvelous dream
What houses, what buildings, what lights
A place that’s forever, where all can be seen
From a lord to a beggar, a cat to a Queen
From crime, to earthly delights
What a City is this?
Walk through the city, seeking a home
People all dreaming and people all scheming
And people all alone.
Lost in the city, walk on your own
Guard for the danger that creeps in…
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Well, dears, I can’t help it if nobody listens, but as Bobolan watches and dreams of the theatre and being an actor, so comes the return of the great Monsieur Moliere himself! Of course, longing to be a great tragedian, he was always better at comedy, but right now he is in great singing voice….
LYRICS – Mr Moliere’s Song
Some build ships, others fight
Some make pots of clay,
But since I was a boy I’ve longed to write,
To pen a marvellous play.
Some bake cakes, others sew,
Some just watch the sky,
But since I was lad, I’ve planned the show
To make you laugh and cry.
Look who’s back here in Paris
Just the name you should know
Life’s a marvel in Paris,
We’re hungry for a show.
Some stay young, others age
Some just turn to drink
But all I ever need is…
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But if the Mousettes are both troubled and noisy, and Victor is obsessed with practicalities, our stuttering hero Bobolan simply must go on dreaming…
LYRICS – ‘DREAMS’
Dreams, we’re all made of dreams
Or so it seems.
Dreams, we’re all in a dream
What can dreams mean?
I dreamt last night
While I wandered the moon
That her snout was made of cheese.
And I dreamt the earth
As I dozed in my room
Was rich with kindness and ease.
Dreams, we’re just made of dreams
Or so it seems.
Dreams, we’re all in a dream
What can dreams mean?
I dreamt one day that I’d walk like a King
And climb on a marvellous throne
Then love a girl on a beautiful swing
With her I’m never alone.
Oh Dreams, we’re all made of dreams
Or so it seems.
Dreams, we’re all in a dream
What can dreams mean?
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For a bit of a laugh and to say Happy Christmas and New Year to Pietrasanta and one and all, the opening of the Musical Cheese (AKA Mr Moliere’s Mouse) workshopped all those years ago at The Royal Academy of Music in London. ‘N as the man says, God Bless Us Every One!
LYRICS – THE SONG OF THE MOB
Where is this and what are we
Wondering what our fate will be?
Marching bravely through the light and shadows,
Paris raises alters and a gallows
Seeking our destiny
Bondage or liberty
Waiting gaily till they serve our supper
Slaving daily for our bread and butter
Yearning for a thrill
Learning how to kill
Look – we’re called the mob
That’s our job!
Have you known such poverty
Can they want equality?!
Sewing clothes that cover toff or peasant
Making, baking, plucking scrawny pheasant,
Theatres, for you to see
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By David Clement-Davies
“The time is out of joint.” Hamlet
Whatever side you are on in the Brexit agony, perhaps there is another way of seeing things too, highlighted by a rapidly approaching celebration next month, St Lucy’s Day, depending on if and when you actually celebrate it. It’s long been argued here that Shakespeare’s age represented a sea change in ideas, especially for England, perhaps even some kind of shift in human consciousness. Perhaps only equalled by what is happening now, a mere four or five hundred years later, a pin-prick in Geological time. Because of the explosion of Printing in Europe, seeing the dissemination of something like 6 Million printed books by 1500, equivalent to the number of books hand made in the past 15 centuries, along with penny pamphlets, and vital maps rearranging the World and knowledge, depending on how things were being discovered. Then with the rise of Protestantism and Henry VIII’s Reformation and split from Rome, the true start of a modern Capitalist system, so much centred on London. The dawn of the modern, Capitalist world, that so defines us now. Represented by Joint Stock ventures, reflected by new theatrical companies too, stocks and shares, the creation of a Tudor navy, Merchant Adventurers and the formation of Globally expansionist but essentially private Companies, like the East India Company . Which would also create private armies too, though in the name of the Crown, and by 1607 had established its first fort outpost in Madras, bristling with cannon. Of course our major Protestant allies by then, The Dutch, were much at work too, hence that race for the Americas, beyond the fight with Spain, and New York once being called New Amsterdam. While if Endomol or Euromillions concern you, plantings in the New World where engineered as early as 1611 with public ‘Lotteries’. Today’s sea change and equivalent in both possibility and threat though would be the Internet, which has reeked such havoc in the publishing and bookshop trades, online lives lived against the new map of hyperspace, Globalisation, and for the UK the trauma of maintaining an identity within or outside the European system, perhaps reflective of the old Catholic, Rome-centred world.
If that is a little simplistic, the equivalent sense of trauma is certainly not. Many have argued that Shakespeare’s plays so often attempt to heal a profound emotional dislocation going on in England then, both intellectual and religious, or in our terms perhaps ‘spiritual’ , if you are not an Atheist. Like Henry V, if not using primarily Catholic language, appealing to the troops before Agincourt by thrilling reference to “St Crispin’s Day”, the feast of those twin saints “Crispin Crispianus”, patron saints of shoemakers, if kit is all, and in one of the most rousing patriotic speeches and calls to arms ever penned. There are many examples of a tryst with a changing world and sensibility, but the most obvious is Hamlet. That troubled Prince of Northern European and by then Protestant Denmark crying “The Time is Out of Joint, Oh Cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right“, in his metaphysical anguish. Of course the time is out of joint for idealistic Hamlet for many reasons, not least the appearance of a ghost he is not sure he believes in, his father’s murder and what his duty is to do about it. It resulted in what the World considers, when talking about it, as the very greatest tragedy.
But by 1587 the time was very literally out of joint with the Continent in Elizabethan England, because of the Papal Bull Intergravissimus. Which introduced the Gregorian Calendar across Catholic Europe, as opposed to the old Julian Calendar, used in Britain until 1750. It’s importance is no mere historical foot note, because it must have been as significant in terms of attempted systemisation as leaving the Gold Standard, matching weights and measures, linking rail and road networks or Decimalisation. It is very possible too that the Papacy issued it in that year as a specific forerunner to trying to re-assert authority over England with Spain’s thwarted Armada invasion of 1588.
Before Brexiteers or Non-believers carp that everything that emanates from Brussels or Europe though is some kind of enemy plot, the Gregorian Calendar charting our Solar orbit and correcting annually for inaccuracies, is more accurate and more scientific than the Julian, and the one the West uses universally today. In that sense England and other protestant countries were simply wrong and remained so for nearly 200 years. Yet something else was simultaneously taking hold, the dominance of a Meridian line and Greenwich Mean Time, centred at Greenwich in London, which was by no means a given and only established as a now universal ‘Time and place Zero’ because of the success of British Naval and then Imperial expansion. Other claimed meridians have included Rome, Washington, Paris and Jerusalem and of course the Meridian point was essential to recording Longitudes at sea and therefore travel, exploration and mapping The Globe.
So though, because of dual Western calendars, in terms of dates and festivals an actual time slip had begun with now Protestant England and the Catholic Continent, that can produce errors in the records too, which would eventually produce a mis-match of between eight and tens days. Just as London street and place names were rapidly changed from old Catholic locae, as would happen during the French Revolution. Does this have any special resonance or significance though, except that shared holidays like Christmas would not be celebrated on the same day, and Continental Saint’s Feast days were supressed, as the machine of working Capitalism engaged? For a long while in England too a New Year was not celebrated on December 31st, but on March 25th, the Festival of the Annunciation of the Virgin’s pregnancy, Lady Day, and also the day contracts, leases and debts fell due. Of course that average human incubation span takes you straight to Christmas Day, December 25th. Well, it was two years work looking for Shakespeare’s youngest brother Edmund in London that led to a link with the tavern in Southwark where he died, or was staying before his death in 1607, The Vine, and a Church called St Margaret’s. The little Norman Church stood on Long Southwark, today’s Borough High Street, more or less, and very literally that ‘Canterbury Road’ of Chaucer’s famous pilgrims, mouthing so marvellously and often very cynically in Middle English. Because the real Tabard inn, where it all starts, was right opposite. The Church is no longer there, but today is the site of the old town hall, at a building a bit like a miniature Flat-Iron building in New York. Now occupied in part by the Slug and Lettuce bar chain, in one of history’s lovely ironies.
On the right of the current War memorial on Southwark’s Borough High Street is The Slug and Lettuce bar. A plaque on the side of the building is all that commemorates the site of St Margaret’s Church
Vanished St Margaret’s Norman Church had the most astonishing history on that both real and fictional “Canterbury Road”. It was the place where the Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor William Waynflete, who founded Magdalene College Oxford, met the rebel Jack Cade, after the battle of London Bridge, who had camped in the White Hart inn just down from the Tabard. Cade, that rather dubious figure in the second of Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy, whose men of course marched to The London Stone and executed several nobles, was double crossed later, tracked down and his dead body brought back to London in a cart, with his head in his lap. Waynflete was acting during the regency of the young Henry VI, but in 1460 that very troubled Monarch granted rights by a Charter at Westminster to the wardens of the Southwark church to form a little Fraternity, called The Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption. So allowing them to wear a livery, collect alms and above all to buy land and property in Southwark. They started investing in two taverns especially, along the riverside so associated with brothels, gambling, bear and bull baiting and of course the rise of the new theatres, the Haxe or Axe, mis-logged in the London Metropolitan archives as the Har-, and The Vine. They were also paying ‘purse money’ up to the later much criticised Bishops of Winchester. Especially Henry Beaufort, who had been blamed for betraying England by ceding Anjou and Maine to France, though of course he was in fact Henri de Beaufort, in a world intimately entwined with France and Europe.
The very Catholic Church would be supressed at Henry’s Reformation, which also attacked and dissolved the Monasteries and Chantries, in one of the greatest land grabs in history. I’m yet to decipher the scrawled Latin documents, ‘Testi 1-5’, that suggest the five wardens, among them Watermen and Joiners, were accused of nefarious dealings, just as one record of the Axe in Henry VI’s day refers to an argument with a Flemish lady, in an area of many Dutch incomers at the southern gate to then walled London, over London bridge. Just too as local St Thomas’s hospital was shut for being a ‘bawdy house’ and the Stewes or brothels, protected since the 12th Century, were thrown down by Royal proclamation and ‘a blast of the trumpet’. Not for long. That Church became a little Compter prison and court though, where the man who built The Swan Theatre and Lord of The Manor in Paris Gardens, Sir Francis Langely, was brought up for not paying his dues, or keeping the ways clean. It would later be The King’s Head tavern, ‘in the middle of the King’s highway’ under James but it also stood right at St Margaret’s Cross where that World War II soldier now stands, and the famous, rowdy and often riotous Southwark Fair began. Later immortalised in Hogarth’s famous painting, which I think may well depict the claimed St George’s Church just down the road but St Margaret’s, and certainly making much of a reference to Henry VI.
The hand written Church records are the most fascinating little journey down a river of time, giving insights into its swelling ambitions, new roofing, and a new grave yard, in the then very intimate style of dating, taking you from a said year in the reigns of Harry V, Harry VI, Richard III, to both Henrys and it’s fall. That year-of-monarch dating rather echoes the intimacy of a closeness to both Crown and individuals in a far smaller world echoed in Shakespeare’s Crispin Day speech, but ran in parallel to the Anno Domini system, like 1460. But just in tiny details there too opens an emotional and imaginative doorway straight back to Chaucer and those Canterbury tales, on that part real and part fictive Canterbury Road. One I think in a sense was dammed up both by Reformation and Shakespeare’s transcendent genius, in also so rewriting the English language. Because the church documents record money being paid to ‘players’ too there, since before the time of Henry VI, on both St Margaret’s and St Lucy’s dayes: The type of travelling players performing Mystery and Miracle plays, before thy were banned by Reformation, or became professional companies with the rise of permanent and secular London theatre houses by 1550. St Margaret’s day was the Catholic festival of the Church’s Patron Saint, but it was St Lucy’s Day that caught my attention.
In today’s Catholic Calendar the Feast of Santa Lucia falls on December 13th, supposedly celebrating a 3rd Century Christian Martyr who brought food, via candlelight, to Roman Christians hiding in the catacombs. Or so the story goes. But take into account that 8-10 day shift with the change from the Julian and Gregorian calendars and where does that festival of lights, much celebrated in both Italy but also Northern Scandinavian countries by maidens wearing wreaths of burning candles, somewhat witch like, take you back (or forwards) to? December 21-22 and The Winter Solstice, the day, coming up in barely a month, that the Earth begins to turn in its orbit back towards the Sun. Just as the Feast of Christmas on December 25th was in the Ancient Roman Calendar the Feast of Sol Invictus, and effectively the birth and rebirth of the Sun.
Can this throw any light though on our current re or mis-alignments or Brexit fears and woes? Well, from my viewpoint, just as Shakespeare’s power springs so much from nature, essentially ‘pagan’ festivals bound inextricably with the seasons, and in human storytelling celebrating, as in so many faiths, the triumph of light over darkness and the rebirth of the Earth, could only underline both an ancient link with Europe, as Shakespeare and Renaissance London certainly had, but now the whole Planet. So the disaster of ignoring the warnings of Climate Change, and the dramatic need for Environmental protections and initiatives, like the Paris Accord, abandoned by Trump and so little talked about by Brexiteers, very keen on Fracking in the UK too. It is a major reason for my opposing Brexit, yet still questioning much about Europe and the way its individual member countries do things. As I would argue that though Shakespeare did give a changing England the most extraordinary language of National identity, the cannon is far more complex than that, as is the poet playwright’s journey towards Truth, meaning and above all dramatic effect. Before the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg dared to summon his name to push a Cameron towards a Referendum he assumed he’d win. “The time is out of joint” said Hamlet, “Oh brave, new World, that hath such people in it” declares Miranda in The Tempest, as does every new generation perhaps. Yet what ‘modern’ Super Capitalist or ‘brave, New World’ can the Planet afford now? Perhaps we have forgotten though that in both that storytelling language of Faiths, and in the attempt at absolute Scientific Truths, like dates and times and spacetimes, both are also kinds of languages, that so often collide when they think they are right alone, or are even saying the same thing. If you are trying to have a conversation then, at least learn to hear what others are trying to say, before you dismiss it as right or wrong, in perhaps a never ending journey down a part real and always part fictional road.
As for the Solstice, or St Lucy’s Day, the fact they once talked to each other, trying to find a road, or a diverging path, is proved beyond doubt by another famous London inhabitant of Shakespeare’s day, the soldier, Dean of St Paul’s, father of 11, and Metaphysical poet John Donne. Because he titles his “Nocturnal Upon St Lucy’s Day“, partly writing in mourning for the death of his favourite daughter Lucy, as “Being the shortest day of the year“. Namely not December 13th of the current Catholic Calendar, but The Winter Solstice. It itself is the most beautiful, heart breaking act of anguish, combing faith with astrology, alchemy and an emerging scientific language too, to try and find confirmation and hope in great darkness, above all in the search for some higher love.
‘TIS the year’s midnight, and it
is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world’s whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.
Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.
All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave
Of all, that’s nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.
But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.
But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s and the day’s deep midnight is.
Re-blogging a cultural essay with Brexit in mind:
A THIRD NORMANDY LANDING
Normandy, this Sunday, on a grey, early-February day, seemed empty and almost closed. Apart from the chattering and irreverent French school group, snaking down from the magnificent medieval gothic cathedral of Bayeux, vaulting in its simple brilliance, through the defiantly haute bourgeois and rather charming town of Bayeux. With its original 16th century wooden cross-beamed buildings, the lovely centre presents a French-Tudor aspect, to a head rooted in Shakespeare, though on the roundabout sweeping you into town, arms at his hips as ever, legs set attentively apart, is a far more modern vision, in the large metal statue of General Montgomery, with a stone gateway behind, staring towards the city of Caen, that he paused to attack for two months, for fear of casualties. But it is armed with a taped guide, piping jaunty medieval music at you, that you can enjoy Bayeux’s most famous ‘World’ attraction, that almost thousand-year old tapestry, that stretches for nearly seventy stitched metres behind its glass case in the town-house museum.
The great Bayeux Tapestry seems at first a bit of old cloth, perhaps a cover for a very long French bolster, until each scene is explained by the nifty recording in its full story-telling aspect. As it would have been displayed, for two weeks a year, in that great Cathedral, for a mostly illiterate medieval populace, to explain to them the ways of the Great and the Good, or not so good. The tapestry, of course, commemorates William’s and the Norman’s conquest of England. Commissioned by archbishop Odo of Bayeux, it does more than that though. It tells the very detailed story of the Confessor dispatching Harold to see his cousin William in France, of his capture at the hands of a local French noble, William suing for his release into his hands and Harold’s oath that the crown will pass to William on Edward’s death. It is of course a case of woven propaganda, even if oaths and the family relationships of noble houses were enormously politically important. As they believed they were, right up until the First World War, when Historians and theorists began to argue about other world forces, pressing to the individual, from economic imperatives to Marxist teleologies, sweeping us all before them.
The unfolding scenes also depict Harold fighting alongside Normans against a French nobility, local warlords really, like the English barons, his return to England and of course the Confessor’s death in 1066 and Harold’s coronation, so breaking his oath to William the bastard. So to the all-dominating theme of that remarkable tableaux; massed warfare and invasion. Most of the larger sequences are dedicated to the construction of that Armada and invasion force then, underlining how real warfare is a truly social enterprise, dependant not only on men and arms, hero or not, but ships, food, drink and supplies. The landing at Pevensey and the Battle of Hastings is presented in extraordinary detail, its triumphs and losses, with the bad omen of Haley’s comet streaking overhead, in barely faded threads, and the Saxon’s near rout of the French invading force, believing William dead, until he lifts his visor and the battle turns. The importance of the Norman archers, firing skyward, is stressed, as the lower strip is littered with mutilated bodies, until you reach that most piercing moment, to the Anglo-Saxon mind, Harold’s death from an arrow in his eye, and several in his body too.
It was rather appropriate then to ‘do’ those famous beaches, from which the French set out to cross the channel a thousand years ago, on the way to the Brittany Ferry back to the UK, from the incredibly badly signposted port of Ouistreham. The French still seem to want to look away when they contemplate ‘The Door of England’, La Porte D’Angleterre, and their arcane signposting can be its own kind of weave, in Bayeux or elsewhere. But I had set off that morning from my host’s house near Carentan and popped down to the beautiful sandy beaches at places like Colville-Sur-Mer, Arromanche and Pont Du Bessin. I had another purpose though, apart from interest and getting home, and that was trying to track the fate of an American friend’s relation, who died near St Lo in 1944, when an invasion force, the largest ever mounted in the history of the world, came the other way to the Normans, on D-Day, June 6th. Normandy may be stripped of tourists right now, but it certainly flags those events nearly seventy years ago, in giant roadside signs, and its seaside tourist industry makes full use of it too. So French place names have taken on others, far more modern and resonant, in the annals of change and time – Utah, Omaha, Sword, Juno and Gold, where the might of the allied Invasion force struck back against Nazi occupied Europe. Names that as a boy certainly stirred my blood heroically.
Utah and Omaha, where the Western Invasion force landed, US troops in Operation Overlord, lie West and East of the twin legged estuary that feeds the sleepy town of Carentan and competes with the canal system that once brought French butter to the coast, to be imported surprisingly into England in the 19th century. The British and Canadian troops landed east of them, at Sword, Juno and Gold, the Eastern Invasion force, and although Utah, Omaha and others have returned to a golden vista of sand and surf, edged with low slung chalet style holiday homes, and to remind you that life really should be a beach, it is only really at Arromanche that you get a taste of what it must have been like, and of the ‘monstrous anger of the guns’ that day, to quote Wilfred Owen’s grizzled First War lines. There the beach, despite the shrugging, insouciant disinterest of the French desk clerk at The Museum of Disembarkation, perhaps a residue of a Gallic or Norman contempt for all foreigners, especially English ones, is still littered with huge metal hulks from one of the most remarkable episodes of the war. Just as the wide bay is ringed with a large metal semi-circle of what constituted ‘Mulberry B’, a transportable Mulberry Harbour, to protect the men and crafts trying to disembark, from the wrath of the sea itself. Apparently it was Churchill’s own idea, to raise that vital visor of leadership, and even Bastard William on that other shore that day, despite so much criticism of Churchill’s own military tactics and input. Hence this place too has been given another name, ‘Port Winston’.
If the Bayeux Tapestry highlights the importance of the ‘war effort’ as a mass enterprise, a thousand years before, Arromanche writes it across the coastline in rusting pontoons and humble though crucial metal memorials. Memorials not only to the men firing weapons, but to the engineering corps that constructed the thing in the first place, and so much else, and the numerous support units of war too. Like the portent of Haley’s Comet though, back in 1066, a storm had struck the channel – to return to the weave of cloth and clothes, ‘The sleeve’ in French, La Manche – and almost delayed that fateful D-Day on June 6th. It went ahead, but another terrible storm was to strike in the week of the 9th June, 1944, the Great Storm, that lasted until the 17th. That Mulberry Harbour withstood its natural bombardments though and did its remarkable work too, far outlasting its envisioned use, and making Arromanche perhaps rightly ‘The Key to the Liberation of Europe’, as the sign says, and the vital foothold that fed the advance south: The door to France.
Of course it was the mass effort that constituted the astonishment of those Normandy Landings too. The months of prior bombing, disrupting bridge, rail and road in occupied France, the work of intelligence networks, the sea and merchant war and the massive Armada of Men and materials that was stock-piled across the channel and then set in motion. Like those Norman archers, the domination of the skies too. If, in driving through Normandy’s flat, crow-specked fields you also touch an earlier if recent age, in contemplating war, the horrifying vision of dug-in, mass trench warfare, man to man, bayonet to bayonet in the First ‘Great’ War, World War II was marked by enormous leaps in technology. It defined the power and direction of the rapidly moving German Panza Divisions, for instance, or ultimately the race for the Bomb. Who can say if such things are better or worse, but to return to those broken bodies below that ancient tapestry, and the agony or thrill of fighting on the ground, I turned my thoughts back to my friend’s relative and made a little pilgrimage to Colville-Sur-Mer.
It is of course, despite that Museum man’s insistence on the French name, which reminded me of how my Dad exploded once with Churchillian fury on a Paris railway platform, crying ‘you weren’t so bloody rude when we liberated you in 1945’, part of Omaha Beach, and just above it lies The American Cemetery in Normandy. If the coast has now been re-defined by the macho utility of military operational names, I stepped back seventy years when I rounded a rustic, medieval bend of French houses, grouped about those famously perpendicular ‘Norman’ church spires that would be built all over England, to see ‘Big Red One’ emblazoned on a farmhouse wall. Big Red One was of course the US First Army and its thrusting point was at Colville-sous-Omaha.
So to a walk in the sand and then to the hugely well signposted cemetery. If America, that land of salutes to the flag, in 11am school bells, tolling the free or brave before school shootings kick off again, knows how to do one thing extremely well, it is of course memorials, in its near obsession with the fallen. The cemetery is a shrine, a beach head for the dead, and truly stirring in those rows upon rows of simple white marble crosses, on the rise of land above the sea, that tell how men from Florida, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and every US state, with names as varied as Mazzinni or Carruthers too, met their end on the beaches and in the fields of France. Like the Lincoln Monument in Washington, it echoes not so much with triumphalism, but an endless seeking for some lasting and hallowed ideal; that great American split, perhaps, between high idealism and true hard ball, defined in size and the monumentality of power and might. Yet, and not forgetting our own war effort, it is there too where you shiver to remember just how important those days were, and what we were really fighting for too. As my host commented, in dismissing so many who argue the ‘impressive’ might of the German war machine, whether it first foundered on the Russian Front or not, and in talking of their viciousness and in the end human obscenity, he stressed, in the hard terms of a veteran military historian, ‘well, I consider that a failure’. He meant Nazi soldiering. Of course, and in so many other ways too.
In its generous grounds, and clipped, well-tended box hedges that US satellite in Europe is of course also extremely well-funded. So, in the museum beside it, there is a brilliant exhibit, relaying war footage of the landings, and news footage of Eisenhower and others. It also highlights a mass effort, like the tapestry, and in its spare physical exhibits reminds you of the importance of the soldiers kit bag, while before you step out among those serried graves, in a large glass case there is simply a WWII rifle, stuck into gravel, bearing just a tilting tin helmet. That icon nearly made me cry. Though my investigations into today’s cultural values did not, in stopping at the Macdonalds on the way to the ferry to compare tastes and find them exactly the same in France, London, or New York, fill me with the wonder of World union, it is, on that spit of land, a fanfare to the common man indeed, Copland’s dawn. For all its problems in terms of America’s enormous capacity for forgetting, or for sometimes glorifying the wrong end of war, the barrel of a gun. Very striking too in its difference to Paris’s great cemetery, that I had visited the week before – Pere La Chaise.
There lies the monumental masonry not only of the French dead, but intense cultural hierarchies and the impossible aspirations of families and dynasties to outstrip eternity itself. The tombs in eerie, ancient Pere La Chaise are like little stone beach huts, row on row, casketing the blown ashes, literally, of what we cannot hold back individually. Yet of course it is a place of defiant individuation too, in the names of many famous Frenchmen and women, including the fallen in both wars, but also others that made a far less conventional mark, whether it matters or not, from Jim Morrison to Oscar Wilde. It was Wilde’s rather bizarre grave, an art deco monument to a semi-eqyptian angel of inspiration, that I paused over most, among the gravelled dirt and nearly melted snow in Paris. The snow drops were coming. In the end I found those marble crosses at Colville more moving though, if less interesting – perhaps it was that movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’, always tipping us towards the point of human meaning, though verging too on American sentimentality. If those crosses told you very little about what happened to the US soldiers, and what they did, saw and felt. Perhaps it does not matter, because we all know it now. You do not have to wander through to find something of your own past either, because on screens inside the effective museum you can now call up that honoured roll call at the touch of a button, and find out where they lie.
I didn’t find my friend’s relative, ‘JT’, just as I know nothing about him, but then only 40% of the US dead lie here. The rest were shipped back home, or perhaps lie in cemeteries elsewhere. But since this was a pilgrimage, I lit a little night light that I had brought along for JT and others, wrestling to stay alight in the stiff sea wind stirring the clipped grass, in front of one of those crosses, of which there are many, that say the same thing in the end, “Known only to God”. In a thousand years time, perhaps as distant yet telling an image of the Unknown Soldier as those barely recognisable faces, beyond the identifiable Kings and Bishops, on that great weave in Bayeux.
Just to say via Phoenix Ark too that Scream of The White Bear, and another book as well, will now not be going ahead with Jonathan Thurston and very probably at all. I’m sorry. After being further exposed by one of his own editors on Facebook, he seems to have run for the hills and unfriended me! Hardly a surprise from such a person and fighter for truth, environmentalism, wolves or bears. So if anyone else is hooked up do feel free to share this to his Timeline, strictly on my behalf of course. DCD
If you think the world is you, and all your pain, again consumed by self obsession,
Grieving, fearing, failing to be brave, or blaming others.
Again the severing of the powerful feminine too, and hence,
So tediously troubled by your selfish woes and inabilities. Perhaps your lack of love.
Then comes some unexpected news, which should always be expected, some day, if not
Katy is gone and very present. So very young. Four years at war with some aggressive
Cancer, in this aggressive world. It bolted through my chest like horror and woke me up
Again, to every path we take apart, but then together. Inevitably. Like Robert Frost’s, or
Dear, sweet and gentle Katy. Friends knew it and I was some friend, but didn’t know
Your troubles. Some friend! That American girl with giant, febrile eyes, who came to
England with the gentlest soul, decked with the grandeur of an age of Innocence,
Refusing to be startled by the headlights. A child of Edith Wharton. A Lamda actress
Somewhat out of time, so filled with grace and hopes and dreams and kindness too. It
Troubled sometimes, all that vulnerable innocence.
In the gulf of time, and our own disappearing, I forget some things we shared, but hear
Your lovely laughter, and I knew you Katy and am very proud I knew you too, in London
and New York. In the Apple we sat together in a fizzing Spanish diner and I talked of
conquering the world and you tried to reign me in with disapprovals.
Perhaps America was turning the wrong way, even then, or I was and you were right.
Perhaps it is all too big for all of us.
I told you of my father’s coming death and how I wrestled or resented and you told me
How you laid out your bed in your father’s hospital, at his side, and mounted vigil.
“Do it for you” you said, and you were right. I told you of the rage that came with a girl
In New York, at the centre of everything, and foolishly asked your advice and you told
Me it would frighten you. Foolishly, because first I should have heard you, with someone
Equally gentle, but secondly a man should ask a man how to act, or not ask at all, and
Act, and acting is real love. Such empty male rage.
Your voice is there, speaking your admiration for true art, your lovely idealisms, out into
The swirling, noisy, nasty, brilliant world: Recorded Books. You read out the very best
And walked with the very best, always. And so others read it too and hear it
Always. Katy’s special voice. If they listen. And listening is love.
The grieving tribute that your husband sent is a gift beyond everything, the reaching
Out with love, not asking. For that is you and him and what you shared. No more
Intrusion. Grief, like fear, should be silent, contained, as dignified as you, and none of us
Knows what happens in the fight for real love, which is no fight at all. Good night, sweet
Katy, like flights of angels seeking rest, beyond pain, something is singing.
We think our greatest pains, our passions, are the thing, our selfish ‘us’, but you touched
me more than any with real sorrow.
David Clement Davies
Well, you can feel it here in Italy, but we’ve passed the Solstice, St Lucy’s day in the old English calendar, and are moving back towards the sun. Now we just have to get through all those festive strains, but HAPPY HOLIDAYS, HAPPY CHRISTMAS and a very HAPPY NEW YEAR from PHOENIX ARK PRESS