Tag Archives: Donald Trump

THREE FREE LIONESSES OUT OF THE CAN!

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She doesn’t have a name, such a beautiful wild lioness, even though the guides on our trip had at least got her used to the jeep.  We were about twenty five feet away, after having searched for two days, seeing old, dry tracks, and the remains of a zebra that had been killed months before. Then, bumping through the bush in the Kalahari, that lions will use as shade and cover to take animals, Jonah suddenly spotted what we couldn’t see at all.  He swung the jeep around and there they were, not one but three lionesses, the two more retiring companions almost lost in the tangle of Wait-a-Bit trees next to her, stretching and yawning in the African heat. Breath taking.

I don’t know if I could see the anguish in her face that my companion Arabella did, the tension and strain, that made us warier of moving where we sat. Apparently lions’ eyesight cannot easily distinguish shape and colour, they see blocks, so they react to things breaking out of the frame. That anguish though is because she had had two cubs, a male and female, but a lion, not the father, who had been following these three females around the area, had first killed the male cub, then driven out or killed the female too.  Perhaps new cubs will succeed the little tragedy.

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How gloriously different though, after our experience of meeting two lions in South Africa in a 4 hectare fenced enclosure in Plett Bay, to see these Queens of Jungle and Bush in the true wild and led by such a proud, beautiful, astonishingly powerful creature.  The story of lions though, and the collapse of populations in the late Twentieth Century, is as tragic as  so many wildlife stories.   It has a particular nasty Human side too, in the existence of what they call ‘Canned Hunting’, not here in Botswana where any such hunting is illegal, but in South Africa. Where it is legal to breed lions in captivity – there are something like 8000 captive lions there today – for the private zoo trade, or ‘Petting Tourism’, where Europeans pay high prices to supposedly suckle them for Conservation, but where their final destination is really death at the end of some high paying ‘hunter’s’  rifle. In South Africa three lions are shot for sport every single day and they go for around $60,000.  I don’t know if Donald Trump’s sons have taken such lions, but they have certainly been in the Press for their enthusiasm for Big Game sport shooting. The shameful, cruel and scandalous practice of Canned Lion Hunting, animals often drugged and baited before an easy and senseless kill,  I am sure the likes of that lion of a man Nelson Mandela would not have condoned, was confirmed in 2014 by the South African Supreme Court under Jacob Zuma’s administration.

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The irony in it though is that lion numbers in South Africa have probably gone up because of legal breeding.  Yet, compared with this vision of the true wild in Botswana, what kind of life do those captive animals really have? What kind of sport is it to slaughter them too? Or is that killing of this lioness’s cubs in the wild part of a brutal truth always in the background of existence, human and animal, with increasing populations and ever shrinking habitats, we just have no answer to?  Yet, for all the brutalities of life and the world, surely Man’s real talent could be to avoid that kind of senseless ugliness, and what the wildlife organisation Four Paws describes as “selling brutality”. In the Kalahari, with the raising of endless miles of fencing, partly to try and stamp out Foot and Mouth disease, European meat markets are so sensitive to, natural migration routes have been disrupted and both Zebra and Wildebeest populations decimated.  Inevitably predators like lions have suffered dramatically too.  But at least that hot day this beautiful February in Botswana, three graceful lionesses enjoyed their freedom, only caught in the photo can, and the true wild was there, in all its paradoxical wonder.

David Clement-Davies February 2017.  David travelled with Uncharted Africa, for their website Click Here  If you are interested in opposing the practice of Canned Hunting you can find out more by visiting the Four Paws website Click Here

 

 

 

 

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THE PHOENIX ARK CULTURAL ESSAY

THE INAUGURATION OF DONALD JOHN TRUMP

Despite the new attempt at an Orwellian Ministry of Truth from the Washington Press Spokesman in this statement that crowds at the 45th US President’s inauguration were huge, but Media coverage doctored, and of what has been universally described as a low turnout, I’ve been a bit confused by the coverage too, on TV and especially Radio Four. With commentators, although mentioning minor riots in Washington, in fact talking about the razzamatazz, glamour, triumph and good support. Perhaps we should all have been invited to the parties, or they are trying to ride some wave.

To me the entire thing felt and looked like a funeral, subdued, fearful, ominous and Trump’s speech was sinister.  That super hotelier of a President, who does not read, clearly looked as if he needed a hug, and at times you were even tempted. But when he came out with that frightening garbage, I and I hope any of the civilised world, hung their heads in shame.  It lacked any breath of oratory or Statesmanship – from sea to sea, from ocean to Ocean (!), blah, – and was Messianic in its American bombast and virtually illiterate.  Protectionism, Isolationism, America First, wiping things from faces of the Earth, God leads us, We The People, or You, when he lost the popular vote. God, what a contrast to Obama’s superb and needed oratory, especially after George W.’s damage, so much a part of the rise of World Terrorism, with the arrival of a First Black President and his inspiring humility on his departure. Not that oratory is enough, but then, as Edith Clavell once said too, Patriotism is not enough either! Or not enough for the Planet now.

Trump is not only a Plutocrat with a dodgy history, but the First Americo-Russian Oligarch. Probably why he so seems to admire Putin. Or is that Putin’s grabbing of Pussy Riot? Perhaps that’s unfair, America was forged by big business men too, from Carnegie to Rockerfeller, as Putin’s power was secured with the rise of the Oligarchs, but you’d hope something might move on and it was Government’s job to hold their likes in check. His scornful comment about those people congratulating him who had once attacked him though is so totally to misunderstand what difficult but always preferable Democracy must deal with, and why others were at such pains to celebrate the peaceful transfer of power.  But now his arrogance and stupidity, not in the commercial sense, I’m sure he’s very savvy about how big business bullies, or he does, how his wife can get a commercial leg up, or how he goes serially bankrupt so he can make more money, as others loose out, and according to Channel Four advised by a lawyer to Crime Families , will try to take a chainsaw to complex checks and balances.  Rowe V Wade, the EPA, the PAA already negated, the end of abortion assistance in Developing countries, you name it.

Is it right to attack the corruption and swamp of Washington though, as if the only movie Donald ever watches is Mr Smith Goes to Washington?  He’s certainly no James Stewart or Frank Capra. Well actually I think elements are right, have experienced the corruption at the top,  yet the power of The Hill and US social divides is really about the problems of Super Capitalism and Wall Street, exactly what Trump is such an arch and tasteless exponent of, despite what he claims. Now in his cabinet he has several members of Goldman Sachs, that ‘Universal Spider’ so implicated in the Greek crisis. What is so wrong with a liberal elite anyhow, in comparison to a new hyper Conservative and Right wing elite of pure money and capital? Though it must be said that the Liberal Media seems to have just got it spectacularly wrong in the new series of Homeland, predicting that a Woman and Anti War President would now be in the Whitehouse.  Perhaps they are indeed deeply out of touch. As for movements, Hitler too really was a revolutionary, though at least he far Trumped Trump in being  a very eloquent demagogue. I am sorry though America, but for a Country that is rather great, the only Super Power, actually perhaps you deserve the Politicians or the Democracy you get.

So, The Paris Accord on Environmental initiatives and emissions is now a dead letter, because, er, it’s just not true, cos The Donald says so, any reference has been removed from the Government website, those guys are just making money out of it, Tump’s bottom line, and because we don’t want or can’t afford for it to be true! Um, it is true, 95% of scientists agree, while it is fatuously obvious that the little Earth is a finite resource, Rainforests are being decimated, species vanishing every second and the Ice caps going. Now admittedly, in the bewildering Extinction and Evolution of species, once upon a time the entire Earth was one great big snowball, but frankly that was 65 Million years ago and I don’t think the super survival of Donald Trump and family is the pinnacle of Human or Animal Evolution, or indeed taste.  Meanwhile Russia becomes more and more aggressive, but Trump denies that his own Secret Services are right in pointing to Russia’s attempt to influence the election, precisely because he is exactly of Putin’s dictatorial stamp and we will see far more of that. Already he has struck at Nato. His Office’s attacks on the Press are also symptomatic.  While here, We The Fractious People of once Great Britain, are now rushing as ever up America’s special arse, which included Tony Blair’s corrupt and also semi-messianic support of the war in Iraq, that caused so much extremism, because we are still obsessed with having once had an Empire, including America.  Can’t we see that now is exactly the time to turn back to a United Europe though, with the values that made or make us too, quite as much as anything American?

Britain always trailed its feet in Europe, could never take any lead and perhaps a tragedy is that was just a fact of life, De Gaulle never wanted us in, although many here wanted reform, especially with the terrible example of Greece.  In that sense Europe is as much to blame, though Brexit is surely greatly to blame for Donald Trump, even more  worrying with the growth of far Right parties, and if a leader emerged who could sound that clarion call, economic, political, but cultural too, including the needed culture or awareness of World Environmentalism, perhaps there might be a Geopolitical shift away from what is happening now. But where is that kind of leader made in Britain anymore?  Nowhere.  It certainly isn’t Jeremy Corbyn, who seems eternally confused. Well, there is an interesting moment with the Supreme Court ruling here that both houses of Parliament need to decide on the enacting of Article Fifty to take us out of Europe. Ironically of course a true lead probably needs to come from that most recently reviled of Empire builders, Germany.

Henry Kissinger was interesting in saying maybe Britain can play the most unique of roles in still uniting America and Europe, but there is nothing that suggests it will do so in the right way for the World, or for what still drives the most decent and admired of British values. That Little Englander Nigel Farage is also a Trump kind of guy, our Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson makes fatuous jokes about punishment beatings, which forget that not everyone had fun at Eton and why should Europe give Britain everything it wants, and Theresa May has potential, though is no Margaret Thatcher, if I’ not sure if that is a compliment. What is it intellectually though that any of them can truly stand up for in the arrival of Donald John Trump, or that inauguration speech? These are very nervous times, or interesting times, as the Chinese might say.  Just before Christmas one of the most famous Shorters of shares and markets, Bill Bonner, who predicted the fall of Communism, The Dot Com Crash, The Japan Crisis, and 2008, and has a very interesting track record, came out with an almost apocalyptic prediction about a crisis beginning in America, the like of which the World has never seen.  Because of trillions in US debt, and the absence of actual physical US currency, since up to 50% and higher is in Foreign hands, and the ability of global bankers and private individuals to take vast amounts suddenly out of the Markets, he talks of ATM Machines just stopping, fuel stations running out,  Social Security cheques ending.  He says he doesn’t want it to happen, but feels duty bound to warn people how to protect their friends and family.  It has a survivalist American stamp, and of course he is a natural shorter who benefits by calamity, while his warning preceded a suggestion we buy into his monthly newsletter at his Global company Agora, which has two million followers around the world. Most people can’t afford to play at that level anyway. But even the FT this weekend was talking ominously about Black Swan theory, of unseen things around the corner, of Neom Chomsky’s warning now about the biggest and most dangerous centralisation of power in the form of the American Military-Industrial Complex.  And of course America’s spending on the Military is massively higher than any Nation on Earth and about to go up, as The Don talks new Arms Races and First Strike capabilities.  It is also the greatest consumer of Energy on Earth.

Well, what can you say?  Donald Trump has certainly stuck to being Donald Trump. If in fact his words have always wobbled like any businessman. Perhaps he is planning Soviet Style Show Trials of the likes of Hilary Clinton. Does he have a vision for American regeneration though, the likes of which Roosevelt used to inspire and unite a Nation?  I doubt it very much.  Roosevelt’s National works programme, that helped to build access to the Grand Canyon, was rooted in a sense both of Nature and good works.  Meanwhile, as the machine hurtles on, and we are all caught up  and implicated in it, Government should always have acted to enforce new Research and Development initiatives into different energy capture technologies, storage, emissions targets and so on, by powerful companies, to make them responsible at every level.  We could do with such a Roosevelt style initiative of regeneration in Britain. In the meantime, as Bill Bonner might say, you have been warned!  Then everything about Trump was a warning and America still let him in. Go on, The Don, give the World some hope, don’t put up walls at everyone else’s expense.

 

 

 

 

 

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MEETING IVANA TRUMP

I met Ivana Trump once, it was in a little London art gallery, I think Cork Street, and remember well wondering about this botoxed, attractive, semi glamorous Eastern European woman and how celebrity, and this was long before Trump ever got anywhere near the most powerful office in the World, The President of The US of A, affects us all.  I was affected, just because this was Ivana, some kind of apprentice in Trump’s Celebrity life journey, or once the ultimate power couple, and wonder now how her ex husband’s new position will draw others out of the woodwork.  With new revelations about Trump’s private life I suspect they will be coming thick and fast, whether Monica Lewinsky made a fortune out of the Bill Clinton business or not, and for one take on that you should read Philip Roth’s The Human Stain. Such is life.

Actually though it wasn’t Ivana I remember most from the evening, she seemed a bit sad and was an ex, but an extraordinary guy who kept announcing he was a hypochondriac. Obviously having been in extensive therapy, part of the cure was the revelation, the speaking it, and though I smiled encouragingly, I was not entirely sure what normality really is, when, after cheap wine and swift tasties had been snacked, art sort of looked at and the coats ordered, he produced a huge sports bag and opening it revealed a forest of drugs, pills, hypodermics and tubes, that sort of reassured him on his way.  I am not being nasty to the hypochondriac, though life can be cruel, if I was not sure I had made it to the most exclusive opening, but now The Donald is in charge, I wonder who needs going into therapy the most! Come on The Don, Corleone or not, tell us the truth, you’re insane and so is the rest of the world, but who’s providing the cure?

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TRUMP’S NOT SO DIRTY SECRETS!

Antony Barnett’s silly Dispatches programme for Channel Four, Trump’s Dirty Secrets, especially so close to the most worrying Presidential inauguration in history, should never have been aired.  It was perhaps right to focus its thirty minute slot on one of the most serious aspects of the new administration, the Climate Change deniers, the oil and coal men, the hugely powerful business interests Trump has been involved with, and the new head of the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, that are going to make the Paris Accord a dead letter and wreck all the good work done by Nations around the world.

Except there was nothing new about it at all.  Seeing Barnett in Trump’s super hotel overlooking the White House, replete with sociopathically egotistical Trump products, from the Champagne to the Chocolates and monogrammed bathrobes, is nothing new at all and rather made a fool of the journalist.  Because it is the fact that we and America know all this, know about his business dealings, know about his arrogance and bizarre personality, and yet he was still voted into power that is the really despairing aspect of it all.  But half of America loves and believes in such ‘success’, sees it as part of the American dream, aspire to be that kind of man.  That is not to comment on why so many became so disillusioned with Washington and the Democrats.  But if Dispatches want to do a programme like that, please be serious and do it properly, come up with some real dirt, or something that is actually secret, don’t allow your journalist to go on a jolly.  Then I’ll take a trip to Trump’s hotel to see in what astonishing style the new First Lady will be redecorating the White House.  Surely a shrine to The Donald, next to the likes of George Washington, Adams or honest Abe Lincoln, with an award for ‘Greatest US President in the History of History’ from one of his own firms.

Meanwhile that Polish waiter of Politicians, Michael Gove, who consistently looks like a misunderstood weasel, a man famous not only for knifing Boris, but trying to take To Kill a Mockingbird off the curriculum, looked so awful scraping to Trump, so degrading Britain in his unctuous desire to prove we are now top of the queue,  that he and other famous Brexiteers should be spanked and sent back to school to be given a lesson in what really once made Britain great and why we should immediately bring to an end The Special Relationship!

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CYMBELINE FINDS HER TIME, OR BRITAIN ALSO LOSES THE PLOT?

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Thanks to the RSC, and Gillan Doran’s wonderfully ambitious programme for the 400th anniversary, not least for bringing me to a play I’d never even read, Cymbeline. Despite a sinking heart opening the programme to see a picture of Dave Cameron, and a journalist lecturing on about Brexit and why after being neglected for so long this is a play that has at last “found its time.” Hmmm. Shakespeare is always profoundly politically attuned, though better at exposing the imperatives and mechanisms, the nasty guts, than being didactic or ever lecturing. Was the graffiti on the concrete wall then, along with the programme’s nod to Banksi, or an anguished model of a Refugee boat, to make us suffer a Referendum all over again? I think the real irritation is that for nearly three and a half hours it had me imagining Gillian Bevan’s stout, very capable Cymbeline, part Britannia, part Boudicca, as Theresa May, (with respect, a bit of a look-alike), or is that Theresa-may-not? Not that Bevan is at all Lilly livered, and now I know Cymbeline means Cymbeline and there we are!

As for their Brexits, or their Entrances, in a proudly multi-cultural cast, what also irritated is directors (now trendily called Creatives at the RSC) thinking that a lot of running on and off stage and gabbling difficult lines passes either for theatrical energy or realism. Though when the actors settle into thinking and feeling through the words and poetry, there are some excellent performances. Not least from Bethan Cullinane as Cymbeline’s much tested daughter Innogen, the black actor Markus Griffiths as a very funny Cloten, James Clyde’s excellently malevolent Duke, and the Irish actress Jenny Fenessy throwing off the tyranny of the poor understudy to play Pisania, while a treasure chest of language is thrown open.

Jokes aside, busy director Melly Still it is quite right to suggest Brexit’s relevance, since Shakespeare was born out of the trauma and liberation of a disintegrating Christendom, (a reason today’s violent Religious and Scientific divides  or Terrorism might be even more pertinent), if Europa was a word and concept only just emerging at the time. As still Top Monarch, Queen Bess, who made a lot of cash from Hawkin’s African nastiness, and thugs like Francis Drake, saw the loss of any kind of Empire in France, though viciously trying to plant Ireland. While King James mooted but failed to achieve a Union with Scotland. So how did Britain really thrive and invent herself? By putting money in everyone’s purses, well those at the top, from little London, and ruling the waves elsewhere, away from the internecine battles  erupting in Europe. Oh brave New World.

You can argue then that much of Shakespeare is also inevitably about the very writing of a new English Imperial identity, if only through the most glorious expression of the English language. The world’s centre of Gravity was certainly shifting violently though by 1600, in a moment that probably did define how Globalisation and Capitalism would develop and which has not seen an equivalent sea change until now. It’s not just Brexit, of course, but how the Internet is probably the equivalent of the Printing Press revolution. Perhaps Shakespeare is a bit to blame then, at least for that outburst by Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg limply invoking tigers, to give Cameron a prod. I think Henry V is about the conscious manufacturing of a powerful new political rhetoric, soon adopted by the ‘Establishment’.  Even as a once far more intimate Monarchy separated itself from the lower orders, and banished honest Jacks to the bilges and top sails, it conquered half the World, with planting, privateering trade and slavery, and owned it for a very long time indeed.Is that what modern Breixteers want? Not of course that Bill did all this alone, bless him. The Virginia Company was founded in the year the Globe went up on Bankside, 1599, just opposite that walled fortress of London, still a Global epicentre today in UK PLC, and the little Tudor cannons of the terrifyingly powerful and private East India Company were bristling from a fort in Madras by 1607.

That year Shakespeare’s youngest brother Edmund died at just 27, an actor too, and his daughter Susanna was married in Stratford. While ‘savages’ were attacking the new fort at Jamestown, King James’s town, and a little merchant ship called the Red Dragon, Henry Tudor’s badge, did performances of both Hamlet and Richard II off the coast of Sierra Leone. Britain had truly set to sea, and it was coming back in bucket loads. For hundreds of years the scholarly Establishment claimed that record had to be a forgery though, because the Common Man could not possibly understand their Bard, if still stuffing him down School children’s throats. To improve us all and claim Shakespeare was essentially Conservative and there’s nowhere like an England!

If we think Euromillions is an innovation though, the first free standing lottery was launched in 1612 to help colonise Virginia, soon taken up by all thirteen original Colonies, to give very early origins to that ‘American Dream’. Talking of which, having a snack in Café Rouge before the show I’d opened The Times to read with even more sinking heart that the usually balanced and liberal Matthew Paris had just suggested we toughen up on the asylum rules by suggesting what constitutes danger should now only be the threat of Death! Then that Donald Trump was ahead in the bell-weather State of Ohio, invoking the example of Brexit. If we think our own Liberal sentiments (or not) can sway US Politics though, when people were asked to email Americans to complain, they got some very rude replies indeed, about being stupid, Lilly-livered Brits and worse.

A little credence then to the relevance of the traumatised Brexit line, four centuries on, although the production has faced much criticism. Some slack too in Ms Still peopling a Roman court with Mafiosi Eurotrash in lounge suits, sipping cocktails and speaking in Italian, translated onto big screen sur titres, that then translate Latin too, when the big Romans claim their imperial tributes from the smelly Britains. Who dares to translate the greatest translator and interpreter of them all – Shakespeare? Well, Melly Still! That rather heavy handed moment is about the river of history, peoples and languages that made Britain and which Shakespeare’s astonishing English emerged from too. The first dictionary was only printed in England in 1604 and Shakespeare is profoundly a Renaissance writer. While to set us up for losing our heads, the set is dominated by a tree stump, in a glass box, perhaps to echo the production of King Lear. The rest is as hip, with film, and part concrete and vegetative back revolves, to suggest Nature will always break on through, complete with images of modern Rome’s Empire-littered streets and Dad’s Army Invasion maps to have you suddenly asking – Who D’yer Think Yer Kidding?

Actually I should underline that Cymbeline is a tragi-comedy. So to any grasp I got on the plot, untangling which might win you Brain of Britain. Cymbeline’s daughter Innogen and Posthumus are star crossed lovers, or most crossed by Cymbeline, so Posthumous has to flee abroad. There, boasting of Innogen’s love and fidelity, he is tested by Oliver Johnstone’s excellent Iachimo, who travelling to Blighty, as Rome seeks tribute, emerges from a chest in her bedchamber to discover Innogen asleep, nick her bracelet, and spy a starry mole by her breast, rude fellow. So being able to trick Posthumous into believing he has done the act of darkness and Innogen is false. Like Michael Gove Iachimo pays Manhood’s price later, when the War of Men without Women erupts into horror, or is that Boris Johnson?

There is a tangle of poison that isn’t poison and lots of people trying to bump each other off, like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. As Cymbeline revolts against Rome, Innogen flees to the forest, to encounter an exiled General good-of-heart, Graham Turner’s splendid Belarius, and her kidnapped brother and sister, Arveragus and Guideria, emphasising all the healing Nature virtues, and played very well by James Coonie and Natalie Simpson, especially Simpson as Guideria. Though in the tangle of tree roots or Brain-stem ganglia they first appear swinging from, and the whooping hunting cries, perhaps nicking far too much from Avatar. Mind you, did you see that article in the Sunday Times about tree roots being connected and talking to each other, even nurturing or throttling their young, in this global world of ours? With a very peculiar dream Mask, when Jupiter is invoked, to explain the meaning of names via a prophecy, everyone loses identity in going to war, or finds their manhood, though the Brits win, but still need a Cultural head, so pay tribute to Ancient Rome. So Cymbeline ends with the most astonishingly uncomfortable series of resolutions, more than any in Shakespeare, that had many laughing aloud, including me.

Cymbeline is certainly about a crisis of identity, but it sits not at all in Shakespeare’s overtly Historical or straight political plays. It comes among the later Romances, like Pericles, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, when politics, life and suffering had probably confounded the Bard a great deal and he turned his hand to achieving effects through acts of artistic magic. Perhaps his brother Edmund’s tragic death was influential in that sea change. Pericles was written in 1607, for instance, all about incest and lost daughters, but with a family crest that shows a withered branch only flowering at the top. It may be more true though that rather than Cymbeline not being popular for centuries because we had an Empire now, imposing its own tributes, it is because it is a very easy plot to lose. Melly Still throwing the baby and the bath water at it hardly simplifies, or leaves us quite knowing how to vote either. Even if Jacob Rees-Mogg should be told that despite the Histories, most of Shakespeare’s plays are set in interesting foreign and Renaissance climes. I thoroughly enjoyed Cymbeline though and it did not drag for a moment, though the bloke playing the School Master at the new Edward VI museum, backed I think by Mr Gove, told me, rightly or wrongly, it originally ran to five hours! Enjoyed it because just when you’re wondering how Cloten, chasing after Innogen, can get away with possibly being Posthumous in his very ill fitting clothes, so to trick Innogen into believing her lover is dead, his beheading by Guideria is almost hysterical. While Innogen’s burial, then waking to mistaken grief, and true horror, is probably one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen in the theatre. Not least too because Shakespeare, inventing everything, even comes up with the phrase “Brain of Britain”!

 The photo is from the RSC’s rather startling and controversial production of Cymbeline, directed by Melly Still, showing a disguised Posthumous going to war with the Romans, as everyone wrestles for their identity and they try to shake us over Brexit.  Photo Copyright Ellie Kurttz. Ticket courtesy of the RSC Stratford on Avon.

 

 

 

 

 

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THE FIRST PHOENIX ARK ‘CULTURAL ESSAY’

‘OPULENCE’ – a cultural ‘short story’, by Philip Mount

Some time ago I was asked to write a piece of work regarding ‘Opulence’. I don’t really know what I wrote, or in fact if it really looks directly at opulence. I’m not really sure which of the below has any ‘truth’ in it. Which is truth – thought, memory or history? If any of it. Some of the people are, or were.

It is what it is

Living in New York offers the privilege of being a part of a wealthy family. A commune of one and a half million, in Manhattan alone. Of the many advantages to a large family, one is being privy to, and sharing, the collective turn of phrase. I left the city in 2006 – at this time the phrase on many a New Yorkers lips was: ‘Suck it up’.
One of my favourites was ‘This is not my movie’, or variations of: ‘This is turning into a bad movie’ or, ‘Thisisnotmymovie’ (in monotone, under breath). Of course there are the New York Staples: ‘…the f***?!’, shortened from ‘What the f***?!’ ‘Fergedaboutit, what are you gona do?’ There are more, many.

So, in my brief visit there, in early 2008, whilst delivering a new piece of artwork to collector Darren, and wife Margarete, and in the company of my young friend, Mary the Dancer, we decided we should celebrate with a drink and a bite. Dipping into fondue, whilst sitting around an elegant kitchen table, in their newly decorated minimalist Soho loft, I was pleased to be witness to the phrase of the moment, delivered to me from my young friend, Mary. Darren scans the artwork from a distance… ‘And have you titled this one, Philip?’
‘Ammiratore Vicis…Which, loosely translated, is the vicarious admirer… The painting is most happy when seen. It likes to be seen. Doesn’t hide away, it’s not introspective – it looks out, comes out – it’s bigger than the canvas. It demands you look at it and then sees itself through your eyes.’

The eyes of the table move off me and look toward the painting, hanging above the fireplace, a few painful moments pass and, much to my relief, heads begin to nod a little in collective agreement…Mary comes to my rescue; ‘Yip, I guess… It is what it is.’ ‘It is what it is,’ agrees Darren.

The next morning I’m walking with my young friend, Mary the Dancer, back to the apartment on W19th; I’ve asked her if she’ll let me photograph and sketch her. As we cross our street South to North, through the jammed up traffic, a driver leans on her horn for a nerve breaking amount of time.‘…the f***?!’ hollers Mary, ‘Y’know, people have a greater sense of entitlement in New York more than anywhere else in the world. It drives me crazy.’

IT IS WHAT IT IS? by Philip Mount – Later that day I’m on my way to an apartment in ‘Nolita’. I pick up some perfect roses on the way to Mulberry Street and duck into Fanelli’s tavern on Prince Street for a quick sharpener. I see Bill, the NYU film professor, in his usual seat at the bar.
His head cranes a hypermobile 180.‘Hey there… take a seat!’ he beckons, patting the bar next to him. I ask him what movies he’s seen lately and what he thinks of it all – ‘Coen Brothers – Thieves, totally derivative. Kevin Costner – guy still can’t act. Diving Bell Butterfly – artists becoming filmmakers – what are you gona do? Favourite film of the year – without question – Ratatouille! Y’know who I bumped into the other day…? That actor… English guy… worked with Sean Penn…’
‘Gary Oldman?’ I try.
‘Naaah… Tim Roth! So we’re at the bar talking and I say ‘Is Roth your real name?’ He tells me – Nah! It’s Smith – he changed it to Roth out of respect, something to do with his father, who knows, maybe he liberated a camp back in the war…’

Equity of fear

The motivation for Louis XIV to build Versaille, and to such Majestic splendour, was possibly brought about from an equity of absolute fear. The fund from which his inspiration sprang most likely derived from a glamorous party, hosted by Nicolas Fouquet (then finance minister), at his proud residence – the chateaux at Vaux-le-Vicomte.
In 1661, then green-eyed Louis claimed the finance minister had built this estate through embezzling from the crown. Louis confiscated Fouquet’s property and took into employment the talents used by Fouquet – the architects of his stolen dream; Louis Le Vau, André Le Nôtre (landscape), and decorator and painter Charles Le Brun, to build Versailles.

Don Trump

He was my first thought, as I walked into Darren’s loft. His new development , Tower Soho – 460 million dollars, 45 floors – is clearly visible from the north windows of the apartment. A couple of weeks before I arrived, Margarete heard a bang, an explosion, she called it – ‘well, after what happened… you hear a bang and think God no!’, but it wasn’t a bomb, or an airplane, it was a construction worker falling to his death, hitting the ground with such force that Margarete could hear his finality 4 blocks away. Some of the gaudy creations of Trump may put Midas at a loss for things to do. There is probably some other psychological or god-worship intention behind his wish to alchemize. Compromise comes when there are two elements in conflict. Doesn’t it? Following this logic, is Versailles compromised? And many other Grand Palaces I can think of.

I’m often lightly charmed at the amount of serious landed-gentry millionaires I know that ‘don’t know where the next pint of milk is coming from’ or announce they’re heading off to Barbados or Monaco in the ‘in-season’, but will walk around in worn out shoes, telling of how ‘vehy pooer’ they are at present. This false poverty serves the upper classes and their peers well – they have little need to show wealth, though this binary living may compromise their residences, their context.


So I looked to Waddesdon Manor. The Rothschilds, upon building it, were neither established nor noble, nor were they new money. Their Manor at Waddesdon, transformed a hill top into uncompromised and sheer sumptuousness. Opulence. In it’s pure form. A very rare thing. With no other intention, from what I can feel, no compromise or conflict, it simply is what it is.

Philip Mount – February 2011

Return to Cultural Essays

Philip is profiled with his web link below. The second Phoenix Cultural essay will be another perfect addition to ‘The Storyeller’s Publisher’ and entitled ‘The Child’s Eye’ by Donald Sturrock, music impresario, and the hugely lauded biographer of Roald Dahl.

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