The Sea in Winter

Portrait of Helen at the beach in winter. Posted for this week’s WordPress photo challenge – Fun!

Helen at Kimmeridge

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Bond Street Christmas lights, for this week’s WordPress photo challenge.

Also gives me the opportunity to let you know about my Mrs Dalloway and Virginia Woolf guided walk, 26 November, 6-8pm. More details and booking here.

‘Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.’ But even as she steps out into the clamour and commotion of the street, the squeak of the hinges casts her mind back to her youth and the fateful summer at Bourton when she stood ‘on the theshold of her adult life.’ Just as the past is always present in the fabric of the city, so our own past reverberates throughout our lives as individuals.

Westminster, St James’s, Piccadilly, Bond Street, Oxford Street, Harley Street, Fitzrovia and then across to the famous squares of Bloomsbury. This walk takes us through the historic centre of the dynamic metropolis, brought to life on the page so vividly in Virginia Woolf’s masterpiece.

Few books convey the sheer wonder, the miracle of being alive, here, now and in the city as vividly as Mrs Dalloway. This walk, in the footsteps of Mrs Dalloway and Virginia Woolf, provides the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the city and the novel. To immerse ourselves in a London busy, crowded and lit up for Christmas; a London, in other words, getting ready for a party.

As Virginia Woolf wrote in her essay Oxford Street Tide – ‘The charm of modern London is that it is not built to last; it is built to pass.’ Book here 

Edward Lear in Albania

Happy Birthday Edward Lear. Google’s reminder that today is Edward Lear’s 200th birthday is a good prompt to get Edward Lear in Albania down off the shelves, a book I had the opportunity to produce for IB Tauris and The Centre for Albanian Studies. It’s one of the book designs I am most pleased with, and still the only one that has inspired a reader to enquire (via the publisher) what font is used: Goudy Old Style.

The book essentially covers the Albanian part of Lear’s Journals of a Landscape Painter in the Balkans, documenting the 15 months in 1848-9 this intrepid traveler spent exploring the countries around the Mediterranean.

In the journals and drawings he vividly describes the remote landscapes in which he traveled and the people he met along the way, and the pleasures – and many inconveniences – of journeying in such rugged and often perilous countryside.

Describing Albania, he writes

Luxury and inconvenience on the one hand, liberty, hard living and filth on the other.

Yenidje and Vodhena, drawn at the scene in pencil, later in the studio ‘penned out’ in sepia ink then coloured using watercolor washes, based on notes he had made at the scene:

Here, in the entry for October 4th, he describes the landscape around Skodra:

Perhaps the grandest of all the views of Skodra was from the rock eastward of the bazaars; the castle, the mountains above – the ruined town below – the river winding beneath its bridges into far distance, form one of the finest pictures. As the sun was sinking low, its rays, clouded through the day, lit up the northern side of the landscape brilliantly, and from the steep castle hill – my last halt – nothing could have been more splendid than the rich foliage and glittering dwellings on the one side and the dark ranges of deep blue and violet hills against the bright sky.

Edward Lear in Albania: Journals of a Landscape Painter in the Balkans

Hello darkness my old friend

Down here the first week of November has been suitably wild and stormy, with a sharp, bright, beautiful full moon occasionally visible, hanging low over the trees in the darkness, and casting its quiet, implacable glow against the scudding clouds blown across its face. A view like an old negative held up to the light, ethereal and mysterious.

What to do with all the extra darkness? Embrace the intensity.  That’s the message of two excellent articles in the ‘Guide to the Night’ supplement with the Guardian and Observer last weekend – Sarah Hall on night swimming and Jeanette Winterson on evenings by candlelight – ‘when all the lights are on, people tend to talk about what they are doing …  in candlelight or firelight, people start to talk about how they are feeling’ – and making love in the afternoon:

To begin as the afternoon light is fading, to wake up, warm and heavy, when it is completely dark, to kiss and stroke the shared invisible body, to leave the person you love half asleep while you go and open wine … then the moment of standing barefoot in the kitchen, just a candle and two glasses to take back to bed, and a feeling of content like no other.

and concluding

Food, fire, walks, dreams, cold, sleep, love, slowness, time, quiet, books, seasons – all these things, which are not really things, but moments of life – take on a different quality at night-time, where the moon reflects the light of the sun, and we have time to reflect what life is to us, knowing that it passes, and that every bit of it, in its change and its difference, is the here and now of what we have.

On night swimming Sarah Hall brilliantly describes the visceral shock and the intensity of physical sensation as you enter the water:

At first the sensation is electric, almost unbearable, yet bearable. Lung and nerve and blood mechanisms go into shock. Your body enters an elation of rage, because an extreme thing is happening. An andrenaline supernova follows, a burst of emergency energy. After a second or two your system recalculates, adjusts; there is a brief physiological acceptance.

And then you are swimming. There may only be a minute’s worth of swimming … but that minute is a rare, certain period in life. You are extraordinarily alive during it.

Inspiration enough to join the OSS swim at Parliament Hill lido on 5th Dec. It’s daytime, but it’s a start. See you there.

I had hoped to link to the full articles, but couldn’t find them on the net. You’ll have to make do with Sarah Montague’s interview with Will Self and Ralph Steadman on the Today programme. It becomes increasingly surreal and hilarious as Steadman gets involved.

 

The blue of the sea

I started reading ‘My Cousin Rachel’ (by Daphne du Maurier) because we were going to Fowey in Cornwall for the weekend, where she lived (see below).

Despite the bravura opening – ‘They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days’ (she certainly knew how to write an opening sentence) – I was struggling to get into the book and, though making sure to take it with me, needless to say didn’t even open it when down there. Then I read this paragraph:

… I paused and looked back over the sunken fence. The wagons were silhouetted on the further hill, and the waiting horses and the moving figures black dots on the skyline. The shocks of corn were golden in the last rays of the sun. The sea was very blue, almost purple where it covered the rocks, and had that deep full look about it that always comes with the flood tide. The fishing fleet had put out, and were standing eastward to catch the shore breeze. Back at home the house was in shadow now, only the weather-vane on the top of the clock tower catching a loose shaft of light. I walked slowly across the grass to the open door.

The lyricism of this passage brilliantly captures the Cornish coastal landscape, and deftly, imperceptibly, draws you into the scene with the use of ‘that’ – . ‘had that deep full look about it …’ You are there.

This is followed in the next sentence with ‘the fishing fleet had put out’ … echoing the inexorable movement of the tide, in and out, and of the ebb and flow of life – and death. We are perfectly in the landscape, and in the moment of the story, experiencing timelessness and the passage of time, and change, thinking about the past whilst moving towards the open door of the future.

Now I’m enthralled.

Plans … and life.

What started out as a spur of the moment, kind of work-related plan for a long weekend in Cornwall became something else entirely as we tried to set out on the Friday – the day of the heaviest snowfall in Dorset for twenty years.

And no, we didn’t admit to the policeman, who turned us back barely five miles from home, where we were really headed. That we were trying to make a 150 mile journey ‘in this weather’. We finally managed to slide back home, and waited out an hour with a cup of tea but, unable to settle, we once more took to the road, this time heading south and west as opposed to north and west. But not for long. A lorry had spun on the road, creating miles of tailback. We had to turn back home once more.

But Saturday morning broke in dazzling, frosty sunshine, so we headed out again and this time made it all the way. So we finally got to see the blue of the Cornish sea, in bright February sun. Even if we didn’t, this time, get to the gates of Menabilly, one of the inspirations for Manderley:

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me.

Be drunk

‘You have to be always drunk’ wrote Baudelaire, and how right he was. Right now, I’m drunk on this frozen landscape, and drunk on trying to capture its beauty and the play of light in the crisp, rosy dawn.

Drink in the moment. Cold pastoral!

Be Drunk

You have to be always drunk. That’s all there is to it—it’s the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: “It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”

by Charles Baudelaire
Translated by Louis Simpson

Cold stream