Category Archives: Experiences

Gimme Me Some Snow After Midnight…


Frankly, any time of the day will do, for as long as I don’t see it raining again. This is what it looked like in the Lake District another day.

I would happily go to the Lake District, had I not gone down with a cold. I’ve only got a sore throat so far, and hopefully it won’t go any further. Then, of course, it’s developed overnight, so I’m open to all scenarios. Strangely, though, I’d rather prefer to stay in bed, watching snow falling, instead of listening to the rain.

I’m taking some medicine, a lot of honey, and later in the evening it will be time for some hot milk. It’s amazing, how things have changed over the years. When I was in Russia, I absolutely hated milky tea and hot milk. These days I drink milky tea, and hot milk with honey has become the favourite treatment against cold. In fact, when I went to London recently and had a lunch there, the dialogue with the waiter went, as follows:

Me: Could I please have apple pie and tea with milk?
Waiter: Ok. [Memorises and repeats, to make sure] So, it’s apple pie and milk with tea, yes?
Me: Yes, it’s tea with milk.

Better yet, there’s a cafe at the shopping centre not far from where I live. It’s owned by a guy who looks a typical Italian, but in fact is half-Yugoslavian and half-Chinese. They make a delicious lemon tea there, but always serve it to me with a milk pot. Obviously, I don’t use it, but I wonder, if anyone would actually have milk in lemon tea?

Anyway, I’m just writing this to say that I’ll now retreat to bed where I’ll continue to battle this flu and also to read Big Sur and The Oranges of Hieronimus Bosch, and, hopefully, I’ll be back in time to wish you all a happy New Year. Hopefully, as well, I won’t have flu by then.

[The photo is courtesy of Tony Richards at www.lakelandcam.co.uk].

Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer)

I started reading Big Sur and The Oranges of Hieronimus Bosch by Henry Miller, and the waves of admiration engulfed me, which I had to share.

I discovered Miller’s prose in 2001, thanks to my mother, who’s got a knack for *discovering* things. On her way home from work she bought three books by him – Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring, and Tropic of Capricorn. I vividly remember that I was sleeping when she came home, because when I woke up I saw my mother reading one of the books. I enquired. She was reading Tropic of Capricorn, but quickly admitted that she wouldn’t be able to read it in full. I think I was reading something else at the moment (it was Maugham, probably), so I suggested she’d give the books to my granny, who has always been an avid reader.

We expected a fiasco, and we had it. Usually not avert on using an occasional strong word, my granny was deeply offended to read all sorts of four- and five-letter words and their derivatives in the text of Tropic of Cancer. She literally threw the books back to me, and I had no choice but to finish off with Maugham as quickly as possible, so as to start reading this horribly offensive Henry Miller.

The fact that it’s a “dirty” and “filthy” narrative cannot be refuted. But what about the context of the work? Miller was leading a life of an ex-pat in mid-war Paris, most of the time literally from hand to mouth, trying to see through the mist of people and events. That Paris was no longer strictly “bourgeois”, but the imminence of another war was palpable, which made people hide behind chimeric hopes and images. That mid-war reality needed a new language, neither too complicated, nor too refined. The swearing words have always been used in the literary works to create a certain impression or effect, but on my then memory they have never been used so beautifully, sumptuously and ruthlessly as in Tropics. Miller used slang as a living language, which in Russian translation was subjected to all relevant grammar rules. And that made me adore the books and the author ever more, because for all its “filth” the book was marked by an unrivalled artistic taste.

As I was still a student, I was reading the book mostly on the bus and on the metro, sometimes standing in a crowd during the rush hour, sometimes sitting between two men, almost always squeezed, which meant that anyone with a habit of reading over the shoulder would have read all those “dirty” words. What would they think of me? Did I honestly care? No.

If anything else, Tropics must have been the ultimate books that taught me a lesson of the necessity to delve deeper into the narrative, instead of being instantly offended by its exterior. The first lesson was definitely in the reading the works of marquis de Sade, especially 120 Days of Sodom. From the point of ‘offensivity’, Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn simply took de Sade’s initiative further and – perhaps – ad finem.

One thing, however, I feel some readers may be missing about Tropic of Cancer is that it was written in the 1930s Paris, which was the Mecca for all innovative tendencies in art, especially surrealism. The book in fact carries a strong spell of surrealism. Some readers observe that the book has no structure, but by the time he embarked on it, Miller was already able to use the modernist technique of ‘stream of consciousness‘ and the surrealist technique of automatic writing. Throughout the book he is preoccupied, among others, with the topics of sex and death, Eros and Tanatos, which again were deeply explored by surrealists. And the breakneck speed of the narrative, when everything seems to be happening at the same time, strangely reminds one of the simultaneity of events in medieval paintings, from which surrealism had often taken its inspiration. In this light, the sumptuous, disturbing and revelatory descriptions and passages in Tropic of Cancer are very much like the otherworldly panoptical visions of Hieronimus Bosch.

I devoured Tropics and Black Spring, then I read The Time of the Assassins: The Study of Rimbaud, and shortly before I came to England I started The Rosy Crucifixion. I still haven’t finished it. Partly, I didn’t have much time for it because of everything I had to do before leaving for another country. In part, however, it had to do with my coming across another book, much smaller in size, which presented Miller from a totally different angle. It was The Colossus of Maroussi, and, God knows, it is probably one of my favourite travel books, if not the favourite. In fact, as far as travelling is concerned, my ultimate dream is to travel to Greece by Miller’s route. Admittedly, I’d need time and money to do that.

As for my granny, after a year and a half of my paeans to Henry Miller, she finally gave in and agreed to have another go. I saw her one summer day in 2003, fallen asleep, but keeping a page of the book with her finger. When she was half-way through Tropic of Cancer, I carefully asked her opinion.

‘Well, my girl’, she said, ‘there’s nothing that he writes that I didn’t know, but, of course, he’s a good writer’.

And I know she liked The Colossus of Maroussi.

More on Henry Miller – http://www.henrymiller.org/

Futuresonic Memories – 1


Whilst looking for something recently, I came across the Art in Liverpool blog, which in 2005 was chosen the Best British Art Blog by The Times. Bearing in mind that Liverpool will be the European Capital of Culture in 2008, it makes every sense to bookmark the site to keep track of what will be happening there (perhaps, this is what you’re already doing). The site is edited by Ian Jackson, and I was nicely surprised to have discovered that I knew this gentleman – I saw him and his lovely wife in Manchester during Futuresonic 2006 in July. I can’t marvel enough at my memory.

And this is the Christmas message from Ian & Minako

The blog will now be in my blog’s list, as I’m certainly cherishing plans to visit Liverpool in 2008, although I may well do so before. I have been there once, in 2002, looking for The Beatles Adventure, which was quite an adventure in itself. I was going to the city on the day of the firemen’ strike. I was woken up by the radio telling me that an old lady had died in the fire somewhere in Wales. A very uplifting piece of news, as you imagine. And in Liverpool it took me quite a while to find the Beatles Museum. I got eventually to the ‘right’ part of the Albert Dock, where I found myself between two poles with street signs, which both had ‘Beatles Museum’ arrows. The arrow on the right pole was pointing to the left, the arrow on the left pole was pointing to the right. One would assume, of course, that the destination point would be in the middle. In the middle there was a Royal Mail post box.

At the end of this Magical Mystery Tour I did find the Beatles Museum.

The Art of a Desktop, or Some Things to Buy (Maybe) for Christmas

When you visit Sir Paul McCartney’s official website, you begin to feel at certain point that good planning may, after all, be a key to success. Of course, exclusions apply, as Sir Paul’s latest album was apparently conceived over a cup of English tea in the backyard, where there was only a fine line between chaos and creation. [You see, I’ve listened to the album ;-)) ]. But as far as his fans are concerned, their free time is very appreciated. When you log on to the site as a member, this lovely desktop pops up right in front of you, containing everything you might need, from various photos and notes to a video of Jenny Wren. This is what it looks like:

I am sure Sir Paul’s website is a huge success among his fans, as are his songs.

Furthermore, I’ve got an email offering to buy Elvis McCartney print. The description reads:

Fantastic 20″x16″ professionally mounted print by Revolver sleeve designer Klaus Voorman. Entitled ‘Elvis McCartney’ this print was done for the ‘Run Devil Run’ album in 1998 and is said to be from the Hamburg Days when Paul dressed in leathers and resembled a young Elvis.
This print also comes with a certificate of authenticity and is perfect for framing.

And this is the print:


And this is the best thing about it – it only costs £79.99, which, to use consumerist slang, is ‘less than £80’!!! And – £80 is less that £100 (My math skills must be strong…).

I guess I am still under the impression of watching North West Tonight, where they were offering to buy the Manchester United Opus for £3.000. I mean, they were contemplating on who may buy the book, which is so thick and heavy that you can barely turn pages. Not to mention the price you have to pay, before you can embrace this page-turner.

Then again, they should’ve looked at some volumes that were produced in the past centuries, The Statutes of the Realm, a collection of the Acts of Parliament that all English scholars have to see at least once in their career. I had to read one of the volumes in the Central Library in Manchester, and by mistake gave it back, instead of keeping it on my number. Next day I had to order it again, and the librarian said to me (rather kindly, I should note):

‘If you’re still not finished with it today, don’t give it back. We have to bring it from downstairs, and it’s too heavy to carry’.

Gosh, I could write a collection of essays on visiting and working in the library. If you’re an editor reading this and would like a regular column, drop me a line.

Exercises in Loneliness – III

Generally, I love sleepless nights. I love the time when I can read or write, without being disturbed. There is only one exception – I prefer when I am actually enjoying either writing or reading. At the moment, I’m about to embark on a very lengthy text on the topic of martyrdom in Sikhism. And although I already know and understand how the text should be written, I find it daunting to write because – God knows! – I’d prefer to write about something else. More inspiring. More creative.

To stay up in the night has never been difficult for me. I don’t even know how I came to develop such ability. When I was a student, however, my mates at the Uni used to ask me (quite seriously!), what to do in order to stay awake. The question would normally rise during the exam session. I could never give any sound advice, and from what I know, they never actually stayed up.

Writing daunting texts is also nothing new. Back in 2000, I was in my third year and had been writing an essay on Soviet literature between 1925 and 1935. Or, I’d better say, I’d been trying to write such essay. I knew the topic very well, but, strangely, the knowledge had put me off writing the text. The final day of submission was 15 May. 14 May was my mother’s birthday, and we had guests. They left at about 9pm, and I went to the computer. Ten hours later I had written 30 pages – exactly what was required. I took it to the tutor. A week later she told me that she absolutely loved my work and couldn’t find words to express her regret that we hadn’t discuss my essay in our seminar. Well… Perhaps, I’ll rework it for an article one day. :))

The text I need to write now is exactly a half of those 30 pages. The topic – martyrdom – borders on history, philosophy and religion, and I’m looking at the whole of the 17th c. Of course, Asia is not Europe, but the 17th c. is not something totally inconceivable. I think it’s because of him. He is Pascal Quignard. Ever since I read ‘Terrace a Rome’ I wanted to find and read as many of his works, as possible. I couldn’t start reading, but I actually found the Russian translation of ‘Tous les Matins du Monde’ (All the World’s Mornings/Все утра мира) and a couple of extracts from his essay ‘Le Sexe et L’Effroi’ (Sex and Terror/ Секс и страх). And it’s because I’d rather read these works that I find it difficult to write about those Sikh martyrs.

In my life as a reader I went through a series of very intense ‘love affairs’ with different authors. Those whose works I most hungrily devoured were Gorky, Chekhov, Bulgakov, de Sade, Henry Miller, Maugham, Sueskind, Marquez, Llosa, and Vonnegut. Oh, yes, also Wilde, Prevert, and most Russian poets. I’ve got to stop here, otherwise martyrdom will be completely forgotten.

Anyway, I know what I’m going to add to my birthday/Christmas/New Year list. It’s the works of Pascal Quignard. In English, French or Russian, it doesn’t matter.

And an extract from one of his interviews. You can read the article in full here.

Wandering Shadows or the insecurity of thinking
I certainly was not planning to embark on anything so long, I wanted to write books that did not exceed the capacity of my head, if I can put it that way, that I could skim through panoptically. But something like a wave began to get bigger and bigger and to engulf me, as though it was saying to me “Don’t be so cautious with your own life.”
Les Ombres Errantes is the book that has the greatest biographical content. It is important to me that a thought is totally involved in the life you are leading. In this book, I make clear my determination to create a hermitage within the modern world where I praise insecurity of thinking, while the societies in which we live advocate the opposite. The same thing happened at the end of the Roman Empire: in order to counter the return of religious monotheism and imperial pacification, many hermitages were created. The values that are now coming back are all the ones I detest. The return of faith terrifies me and I am filled with despair to see my own friends becoming believers and doctrinarians. We are living in 1571. This St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre atmosphere had to be described. The Wars of Religion are beginning again. Woman is being deified. Death adored. Democracy more violent and inegalitarian than in Pericles’ day. Technology, the object of all worship, and the all-pervasive cult of youth is worse than primitive – it is untamed, psychotic.
Interview conducted by Catherine Argand

…Won’t You Please, Please…

… exactly, HELP ME! Under the workload this is the song that comes to mind, and I found this rare video on YouTube (thanks to modcentric, whose blog you can read). On modcentric’s account on YouTube there is also a wonderful video of the Awesome Four eating fish&chips, while also singing I Feel Fine. The video is called The Beatles Fish & Chips Intertel Video.

Back to HELP, my Irish neighbour, a musician, always says that this song affected him a lot in his youth because it sounded very sincere. As for me, I was introduced to The Beatles by my father, who was (and still is) a huge fan of Paul McCartney. The introduction took place in about 1990, when I didn’t know English half as well as I do now. The first two albums he gave me to listen to were recorded on an audio cassette, A Hard Day’s Night on side A, and Let It Be on side B. And I vividly recall trying to log the lyrics of the song I Me Mine, literally pressing my ear against the tape recorder. Like I said, I knew very little English then, which is why I couldn’t make out most of the song.

Of course, I listened to a lot of music during my school years, but The Beatles have had the decisive influence. I was the best pupil in my year, and everyone thought I spent days and nights studying. Little did they know that I used to do away with my homework as quickly as possible, sometimes even forgetting about it and leaving it until late in the evening. What I did instead was turning the tape recorder on as soon as I’d get home from school. There is no wonder therefore that I knew all Beatles’ albums by heart by the time I went to the University.

However, my favourite Beatle has always been John Lennon. I loved his talent, his music, his lyrics, his appearance, and that has never had anything to do with the fact that I was born on December 9, 1980. [My looking all over Moscow for round specs did, though]. I do regret slightly that Imagine has become so popular because, I think, people occasionally begin to take it as a commonplace. And, yes, there is a lot of idealism about Lennon, but now and again I find myself thinking things many people would not share. So, in his words, ‘you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one‘.

Anyway, enjoy the movie, and I’ll get back to my work…

You Are What You…

[This post is dedicated to the playwright from Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, who was gifted, but liked listening to The Monkees’ I’m a Believer].

Listen

Psychologists have found out that the music young people listen to can tell (almost exactly) who they are. In simple terms, if you’re a jazz aficionado, you’re probably a very brainy person. If you like pop, you don’t like overcomplicating things. If you like dance or soul, your tongue is likely to be your enemy. If, however, you’re a fan of gangsta rap, it’s very possible that you’re timid by nature.

Music, claims an article by Lane Jennings in The Futurist (vol. 39, 2005), is forming the communities, and portals like Last.fm and, of course, My Space, certainly prove the point. But, personally, I have reservations about the idea that it is iPods and iTunes that are causing this change. Rather, they ferment or even bring to the surface the long-existing tendency. And we’ve become more aware of it because fans don’t have to travel miles to the annual meeting of Ella Fitzgerald or ABBA fan clubs – they can simply meet online as often as they like.

To test the findings, follow this link, to listen to The Wicked and Unfaithful Song of Marcel Duchamp to His Queen. The text of the poem was written by Paul Carroll, and was put to music by John Austin. Feel free to tell us what it made you discover about yourself.

[In case if the link doesn’t work, please go to www.toutfait.com, to ‘Music’ folder, and look for ‘The Wicked and Unfaithful Song…’ in the list of works. I do hope, however, that the above link will take you there directly].

Eat
Another researcher’s findings (in the article by Kathy Lane in The Mail on Sunday, April 2004) have revealed that in England your eating habits stand for your social status. Apparently, if you’re an upper-middle-class person you won’t be seen dead eating bacon and chip butties, prawn cocktail with Marie-Rose sauce, or rice salads with sweetcorn – typically working-class or lower-middle-class foods. [Strictly speaking, you may indulge in any of these, but only if you’re socially secure enough to be eccentric].

Then, of course, we can bring the whole bunch of food advice in the picture, and it will turn out that the lower classes shop for ready-made foods in cheap supermarkets, while the upper branches shop for organic and ‘healthy’ foods in more expensive stores, or even have their friendly butcher and greengrocer.

It all looks kind of funny and superficial if we take this simply as the reflection of class differences in food consumption. However, I was astounded to read a booklet containing advice on healthy eating for those who suffer from MS (multiple sclerosis). This is the list of products they were not supposed to have: lard, butter, cream of soups, caffein, and – most importantly – fish in batter and chips.

Why ‘most importantly’? Because all of us who’ve been to England at least once already know that fish in batter and chips are one of the favourite English meals, especially in the North. As a matter of fact, the statistics show that the Northerners are more often affected by MS that the Southerners. I asked a representative of one MS Care Centre in South Manchester, if the food guidelines for the MS sufferers can also be used as general guidelines for MS prevention. His answer was ‘yes’. ‘Then doesn’t it look like’, I asked, ‘that the favourite Northern food may also be the cause of MS?’ I would like to be wrong, but I felt that his ‘yes’ to my question contained a lot of astonishment.

So, eating habits evidently define much more than just your social status, which sounds quite commonsensical, and is exactly what Jamie Oliver has been uttering for a long while. Perhaps, then, it is time to do something about it?

Say

What you say and how you say it is also manifestant of your class background. Two years ago I was returning to Manchester from my research spell in London. It was an evening train, and in the carriage there was this group of young office workers, two men and two women. They were talking loudly, and eventually I heard one man, speaking in RP [Received Pronunciation, also known as the Queen’s English], explaining to a woman, how he could tell her social background. She referred to her father as ‘Dad’, which gave away her not-so-high social status. If she was posh, he explained, she’d call her parent ‘Father’.

Read

Until now we may be thinking that everything that is written here may or may not be true. In the end of the day, the egalitarians will say that people must not be judged by the music they listen or by the words they use in their speech. On the other hand, all people like coming together in groups, and the entering criteria must be defined. So, whether one likes this or not, if there are people who want to be ‘upper-middle-class’, there will always be those who don’t fall into the category.

However, reading habits is my most favourite example of how little reading tells about who you are. To define people by their bookshelf is totally futile, because they may be buying books simply to decorate the room or to impress the visitors. Such thing as the entire edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica standing in the most prominent place in someone’s study never means that the owner has actually read it.

Then there are people who read Dan Brown and Gabriel Garcia Marquez with the same degree of pleasure. There are also people who we’d assume are very cultivated because they listen to Antonio Caldara (an Italian Baroque composer) and read Martin Heidegger. I’d imagine that reading Heidegger’s musings on language would at least make one more attentive and sensitive to their own speech. And yet, I’ve been proved wrong.

The Initiation of Winston Churchill

I’ve been recently to a provincial Masonic Lodge in Cheshire, on behalf of a non-Masonic charity. Among the stands in the room there was one that listed ‘Famous Masons’. Quite a few biographies have been taken from an American database, including the one of Winston Churchill. At a certain point, when reading his profile, I thought my research into Tudor history had begun to bring the most unexpected fruit. I was reading on the sheet that Churchill had been initiated in ‘1591’. Fortunately for me, ‘1591’ was, of course, a typo.

That typo came as quite a surprise, since I never scan these kinds of profiles for the purpose of finding errors in them. So, I carefully let one of the members know, and he promised to try and do something about it. However, the story he told next confirmed to me that most people (even including me, perhaps) would never notice that ‘1591’ thing. The map of Cheshire on the Lodge’s stand was an extremely zoomed version of a nice colourful table mat from Little Chef, the bygone chain of road cafes. It was chosen simply because of its colour and slightly moderated, so to distinguish the names of the places where provincial halls are located. What could not be moderated, were the black signs designating the locations of Little Chefs on the Cheshire roadways. The signs were, predictably, in the form of a chef.

In five years nobody has asked what that black symbol meant‘, the Mason told me.

They probably think it is a Freemason‘, I replied.

I never knew a man could laugh so loudly…