Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 4 — talk to a Rabbit

Not just any rabbit. This rabbit: At the end of December 2002 Mister Rabbit drove me out to Sutherland… Mister Rabbit wondered whether I would be writing up our day in Sutherland (and Sans Souci) beyond what I had to say on the day… Mr Rabbit was 20 at the time, and had his say as well:

We passed my father’s old school, which has a great view (“The Catholics know how to buy land”), and the place of N’s early religion, which looked, I thought, not unlike a scout hall. And then an unexpected surprise: N’s childhood home, which he hadn’t been inside since 1952, was completely empty (on account of being ready for auction), and its front door was wide open. We ventured in and had a good look around. N pointed out the many structural changes, including the removal of fireplaces; thankfully, the house itself can’t be knocked down: built in c. 1913, it is heritage. It is, however, being encroached upon by medium density housing, of which there is much in Sutherland these days. But if I had a spare $400,000 in the bank, I’d buy the house tomorrow. N was glowing afterwards, and I was very happy too.

Only $400,000? You would need maybe THREE TIMES that these days, Rabbit!

Anyway, after an absence Rabbit has reappeared on Facebook. He is no longer 20 just as I am now much nearer 80! He is also a very experienced High School English teacher — indeed Head of English somewhere in the Blue Mountains, where he currently lives.

Our latest conversation was conducted via Facebook comments. I had posted a link to the following quite disturbing story in The Guardian, which certainly raises interesting ethical and aesthetic issues.

Björn Andrésen was just 15 when he walked straight into the lion’s den, being cast as Tadzio, the sailor-suited object of desire in Luchino Visconti’s film Death in Venice. Its release in 1971 made him not merely a star but an instant icon – the embodiment of pristine youthful beauty. Sitting alone in Stockholm today at the age of 66, he looks more like Gandalf with his white beard and his gaunt face framed by shoulder-length white locks. His eyes twinkle as alluringly as ever but he’s no pussycat. Asked what he would say to Visconti if he were here now, he doesn’t pause. “Fuck off,” he says.

No one who sees The Most Beautiful Boy in the World, a new documentary about Andrésen’s turbulent and tragic past, will be surprised by that answer. Visconti, he tells me, “didn’t give a fuck” about his feelings. He wasn’t alone in that. “I’ve never seen so many fascists and assholes as there are in film and theatre,” says Andrésen. “Luchino was the sort of cultural predator who would sacrifice anything or anyone for the work.”…

The Rabbit began:

Rabbit: haven’t seen the film but recently listened to the audiobook.

Neil James Whitfield: The book is very good.

Rabbit: It is. Shorter than I had realised too.
·
Neil James Whitfield: The movie is magnificent too — it is reading what it did to the boy playing Tadzio that gives me pause.

Rabbit: the Polish boy was played by a Swede?

At which point I posted the music from the movie.

Rabbit: well I think I will watch it during this lockdown

Neil James Whitfield: So I am rereading “Death in Venice” right now as it is in my eBook library.

Rabbit: The theme of pestilence seems relevant.

Neil James Whitfield: Parts of the last chapter seem very relevant. Yes, I have finished it now. That final paragraph really is something.

Rabbit: well I just watched the film. It’s quite something. They nailed the casting of Tadzio.

Neil James Whitfield: Yes, I was absolutely speechless when I first saw it — and I hadn’t read the book at that stage. The boy really IS Tadzio, and Dirk Bogarde is very good too. The cinematography, the music, everything — all so good. That’s why that Guardian article really does raise interesting questions.

Rabbit: visually such a beautiful film. [Referring to my comment.] Yes very true. I want to watch the new film about the boy actor and also other films with Bogarde who I don’t know much about.

Neil James Whitfield: Wikipedia as usual is a good intro — Bogarde was in some great films and had a very interesting life. What Wikipedia says about his sexuality is very true.

Rabbit: the film Victim is on YouTube and I’ll start with that.

Not all Facebook time is wasted!

Nor is listening to great music and viewing great movies a waste of time. Thanks, YouTube! Not so long ago we could not have had this pleasure.

NOTE: I am replacing the final video I had earlier as I see its maker has produced something even better, and more relevant to The Guardian article.

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 3

Things have not improved significantly. Hopefully my on-line order (see yesterday’s post) arrives this morning, keeping me in food and such necessities!

Now one thing you can do in lockdown is read. As well as my few library books, I have the vast eBook library I have posted about before. That now stands at 2,830 books! One recent acquisition — and 99.9% of my eBooks are freebies — is E M Forster, A Passage to India. I would say it has just emerged from copyright, as it was not available from Project Gutenberg before.

Now of course I had read it before, first while a student at Sydney University around 1961-2, and again later on. Naturally I also saw the movie.

All sorts of interesting things can be said about the book and the movie! We perhaps need to be reminded of three things: 1) E M Forster was a closeted gay man 2) the book appeared in 1924 3) the emphasis on the Muslim in India was one with the way the British tended to think about the “natives”. The novel, while not autobiographical, is rooted in Forster’s own experiences in India and with Indians. Much has been said, and fair enough too, along the lines of post-colonial critique; the first and still most famous example of that is Edward Said.

But what struck me most as after all this time I read the first few chapters is what absolutely brilliant writing it is. Also, that it really is better than any movie or other adaptation. Let me close by indulging in a long quotation from Chapter 1.

I quote the entire chapter!

Except for the Marabar Caves—and they are twenty miles off—the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary. Edged rather than washed by the river Ganges, it trails for a couple of miles along the bank, scarcely distinguishable from the rubbish it deposits so freely. There are no bathing-steps on the river front, as the Ganges happens not to be holy here; indeed there is no river front, and bazaars shut out the wide and shifting panorama of the stream. The streets are mean, the temples ineffective, and though a few fine houses exist they are hidden away in gardens or down alleys whose filth deters all but the invited guest. Chandrapore was never large or beautiful, but two hundred years ago it lay on the road between Upper India, then imperial, and the sea, and the fine houses date from that period. The zest for decoration stopped in the eighteenth century, nor was it ever democratic. There is no painting and scarcely any carving in the bazaars. The very wood seems made of mud, the inhabitants of mud moving. So abased, so monotonous is everything that meets the eye, that when the Ganges comes down it might be expected to wash the excrescence back into the soil. Houses do fall, people are drowned and left rotting, but the general outline of the town persists, swelling here, shrinking there, like some low but indestructible form of life.

Inland, the prospect alters. There is an oval Maidan, and a long sallow hospital. Houses belonging to Eurasians stand on the high ground by the railway station. Beyond the railway—which runs parallel to the river—the land sinks, then rises again rather steeply. On the second rise is laid out the little civil station, and viewed hence Chandrapore appears to be a totally different place. It is a city of gardens. It is no city, but a forest sparsely scattered with huts. It is a tropical pleasaunce washed by a noble river. The toddy palms and neem trees and mangoes and pepul that were hidden behind the bazaars now become visible and in their turn hide the bazaars. They rise from the gardens where ancient tanks nourish them, they burst out of stifling purlieus and unconsidered temples. Seeking, light and air, and endowed with more strength than man or his works, they soar above the lower deposit to greet one another with branches and beckoning leaves, and to build a city for the birds. Especially after the rains do they screen what passes below, but at all times, even when scorched or leafless, they glorify the city to the English people who inhabit the rise, so that new-comers cannot believe it to be as meagre as it is described, and have to be driven down to acquire disillusionment. As for the civil station itself, it provokes no emotion. It charms not, neither does it repel. It is sensibly planned, with a red-brick club on its brow, and farther back a grocer’s and a cemetery, and the bungalows are disposed along roads that intersect at right angles. It has nothing hideous in it, and only the view is beautiful; it shares nothing with the city except the overarching sky.

The sky too has its changes, but they are less marked than those of the vegetation and the river. Clouds map it up at times, but it is normally a dome of blending tints, and the main tint blue. By day the blue will pale down into white where it touches the white of the land, after sunset it has a new circumference—orange, melting upwards into tenderest purple. But the core of blue persists, and so it is by night. Then the stars hang like lamps from the immense vault. The distance between the vault and them is as nothing to the distance behind them, and that farther distance, though beyond colour, last freed itself from blue.

The sky settles everything—not only climates and seasons but when the earth shall be beautiful. By herself she can do little—only feeble outbursts of flowers. But when the sky chooses, glory can rain into the Chandrapore bazaars or a benediction pass from horizon to horizon. The sky can do this because it is so strong and so enormous. Strength comes from the sun, infused in it daily, size from the prostrate earth. No mountains infringe on the curve. League after league the earth lies flat, heaves a little, is flat again. Only in the south, where a group of fists and fingers are thrust up through the soil, is the endless expanse interrupted. These fists and fingers are the Marabar Hills, containing the extraordinary caves.

I just revelled in that!

Inspiration point

It is very tangentially related to the above, if you give yourself enough leeway! But in fact it is from our local Wollongong news, and is a marvellous example of human kindness and also of Australian multiculturalism at its best.

You may have read here in the past about one of the favourite restaurants of my friend Chris Turner and myself — Samara’s. See for example Munching against the fear of “the other”…

On Facebook I remarked by way of introduction:

Samara’s is such a great restaurant, and such wonderful people. Their restaurant is halal.

If that worries anyone, then those worriers have the problem, not Samara’s.

Chris Turner and I were meant to do Friday lunch at Samara’s when the signs of what we are now going through became apparent — before Gladys actually called it.

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Now see what they are up to in the current lockdown.

Update

The grocery order arrived! Early, in fact!

Shuggie Bain — I have lived other lives…

On Facebook I said this is one of the best novels I have ever read, and that was when I was only half-way through. Now I have finished it I have not changed my mind. “You have probably noticed that I like this book, troubling as it is. In reading it you find yourself living the lives… Or I do…”

There is any number of reviews out there — I will let you find them for yourselves. Most of them are positive. Similarly the ordinary readers on goodreads trot out the maximum stars, with some exceptions — one of whom is someone I know through other connections, whose opinion I respect.

I am of course not the son of an alcoholic mother, nor have I ever been to Glasgow, lived in a desolate coal-mining village after the mine has closed, lived in Thatcher’s Britain, or ever aspired to be a hairdresser… But on the other hand there were so many resonances. I will leave those who know me to guess what some of them might be! I will say however that as a 10-year-old in Sutherland I did find myself pretty much in the position of looking after my mother who was bedridden for some time with a thrombosis in the leg, as I cooked the family dinners… And there were some interactions at Sutherland Primary School: the accounts of playing soccer seemed very familiar.

There are also many excellent videos featuring Douglas Stuart and the novel. Here are two — the first just 15 minutes, the second 52 minutes — but with a writer I greatly admire, Colm Toibin.

For the novel of course, but also for both of those interviews — for the wisdom and humanity of all three. Such rare qualities, it seems sometimes, these days!

Extra:

Good review, but she fails to pick where Shuggie Bain ended up in the Booker!

The first jab done…

Here is the proof:

The morning after…

And yes — AstraZeneca,

The medical staff at our local Medical Centre were somewhat pissed off about this, the advice coming out around one hour before we were set to get our jabs. I of course am well over 59!

Effects so far? In the 15 minutes wait after I did feel a kind of flush go through me — whether actual or psychsomatic who knows? However, no big allergic reaction.

I have had a few bits of pain in the joints, but on the other hand at 77 who doesn’t? The main thing is that I woke up early, in fact around 4.30 am. So I got up and made a cup of coffee and continued to read Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, about which more another day — except to say it is one of the best novels I have ever read! Best not read perhaps if you are feeling particularly depressed….

Just went back 5 years, now how about 1?

Not that (perhaps apart from Victoria) we in Australia have too much to moan about, but COVID does seem to me to have changed our perception of time itself, so there is now since 2020 and before 2020 almost as different ages! One bonus of course is that it also ended the weirdest rule in US history in my life time, the aberration — one desperately hopes — which was that clearly not a genius, and clearly not stable, charlatan Donald J Trump.

But enough of him.

In the latter stage of our COVID lockdown City Diggers here in Wollongong, thanks to the lovely Sharyn who was made redundant when the Golf Club took over the club later in 2020, had been running puzzles and games via Facebook. And in June I did rather well:

I’ve won, I’ve won! So that means a music post…

Posted on  by Neil

Books and gumbo did well for this blog yesterday! However, back to music because, you see, I won! At City Diggers that is. And a picture puzzle about Beatles songs during the lockdown. Thus:

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That means free meals! So I reckon I should honour the Beatles without whose songs this could not have happened.

And it looks as if that was also my first gumbo, mentioned in that post. Things were opening up. Of course I had another just two weeks ago.

Yesterday: books and gumbo in that order

Posted on  by Neil

Back at City Diggers after lunch with Chris T at Soco Kitchen (please book; COVID-safe capacity 14) I posted this on FB labelled “having a post-gumbo red wine.”

I do indeed look suitably replete. And no wonder! Here is SoCo Kitchen’s gumbo:

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Before that I had been to Wollongong Library returning the crop of books I had had for months (except for two they posted to me when my reservations became available). The entire operation of visiting the library nowadays under COVID is rather like visiting a speakeasy in the Roaring 20s. Find the side door. Knock and wait….

And here are the books I returned. Quite a bunch, all but one really interesting and some outstanding.

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Now the ones I borrowed yesterday. Look how long the due-by dates are! Not expecting COVID to go anywhere soon, are they? It’s usually three weeks.

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I am going to frustrate you by not saying anything about the books yet. Perhaps you can try Goodreads out on them — they are probably all there.

I have quickly checked the books borrowed yesterday myself and it seems I am in for some good reads. My random choices quite often turn out well.

Of course there were many other things I blogged this time last year, but I will conclude with something musical as #3.

I discover Mongolian rock!

Posted on  by Neil

Well not really. It already existed before I came around, and its cultural roots long before that. But first: there are two Mongolias. The country Mongolia has a population of just 3.5 million.  Inner Mongolia (内蒙古) is an Autonomous Region of China, with a population of 25 million. Mongolia once dominated China.

763px-Siège_de_Beijing_(1213-1214)

That’s a Persian painting of  Genghis Khan in 1213-14. We’ve all heard of him, but most of  us know very little about him, despite his creating one of the most extensive world empires ever.  The Mongolian rock group The Hu certainly remember him. 5,156,745 views — premiered Aug 23, 2019! (The band is from non-Chinese Mongolia. Look again at the population! They tour a lot, in fact were stuck in Sydney because of the pandemic.)

… Another artist of Chinese Mongolian origin is Tengger. This video is part of a competition,  Singer 2018, which an English woman ended up winning. And this brings me to how I ended up watching all this.

Yesterday I posted on Facebook:

When you see comments like these — “One of the greatest artists alive and to have ever lived!” and “Appreciation and respect from USA. What a great singer!” — you sit up and take notice. Immediately I see the horse-head fiddle and know this is Mongolian, but in this case Inner Mongolia — that is in China. He [Tengger] really is AMAZING!

(The video below is the song that attracted those comments.)

And this is how I encountered Mongolian music just over a week ago, thanks to Michael Xu who posted some items from the modern Chinese music shows that appear on CCTV-3. (Trump never watches them. Xu Jinping probably does….) Then it just took YouTube’s algorithms to steer me to such as The Hu (Mongolian) and Hanggai (Chinese Mongolian), after which I told Chris Turner who was hooked, and yesterday Colin and Adam at Diggers. Overnight an ex-SBHS student said very nice things about one of my postings: “I doubt I would have ever come across that in any other way, as I have no connection to that culture or history and live in the philistine island oasis that is Australia.”

I have cut a couple of videos there, one because it has since disappeared from YouTube though I have now replaced it, and the other as less necessary.

Do go back and look at June 2020. There is a lot there!